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September 19, 2017

An adult man’s humble quest to run a sub-3:30 marathon while training like an idiot

Here are CITIUS MAG, we’re an open book when it comes to sharing the common runner’s journey when it comes to taking on idiotic tasks like running 200 miles in a week or an inspirational quest like targeting a sub-2:00 800m. This one has peaked out interest. Nicolas Smith, the brother of NAZ Elite marathoner Scott Smith, will be chronicling his quest to run a 3:30 marathon at the CIM Marathon in December but there’s a catch. We’ll let him explain…

When I tell people my brother runs marathons for a living, they usually ask if I’ve done one. My response is always the same: “No, and I don’t plan on ever doing one.” I’ve just never understood the appeal. I enjoy running as much as the next guy, and probably a fair bit more, but 26.2 has always seemed a bit…excessive. Furthermore, there’s never been much mystique for me in terms of doing it to prove I can, particularly as marathon running has become such a common pursuit in our culture. If Steve down the street can do it, let’s just say the shine is officially off (no offense Steve).

So how exactly do I find myself signed up to run the California International Marathon on December 3rd, with the stipulation that I’m not allowed to do any training run in excess of 5 miles? Well, there’s a bit of a story there.

The “Original” Challenge, and Surprise Fitness

I’m an assistant coach for the cross country team at the high school I teach at. The head coach has been running at least 3 miles a day for over 1000 days straight. He challenged me to join him for 2017, in addition to doing “1 more pushup” every day (one pushup January 1st, two on January 2nd…261 today, September 18th). While I’ve missed a couple of the push ups, I’ve stuck to the 3 miles a day.

Whatever other fitness stuff I do, I at least do those three miles. Is it OCD? Maybe a little. Are there times I probably shouldn’t have done my daily run because of illness? Most likely. Does the compulsive need to “get my run in” drive my girlfriend crazy on occasion? Definitely.

But it has also produced some surprising results with regard to my running fitness. The first six months of the year I literally just ran 3 miles a day. There might have been five days total I did more. When the cross country boys started training again in July, I joined in for a few of their runs, but was still doing pretty low mileage. One of their first time trials was a mile and a half on our home course. I decided to jump in to see what I could do. The result: 7:58. Whoa. Granted, it was a net elevation loss, but still. For a guy with a high school 3 mile PR of 16:44 (more on that some other time), it got my attention.

A week later we did two miles on the course (another net downhill) and I managed 10:37. Suddenly I had visions of breaking 16:00. We had two full time trials throughout the summer, and I managed 16:22 and 16:14. While I fell short of the sub 16 goal, I still felt pretty good about a lifetime PR off of pretty low stress, low commitment training.

The Idea

Fast forward to last Thursday. I can’t tell you why exactly the thought jumped into my head, but it made its way from my head to my fingertips and into a text message to my brother:


Maybe it was just the natural progression from the sub-16 experiment. I had found out just how fast the low stress, low commitment training plan could get me, now a part of me was wondering how much endurance I could muster off of the same plan. When the conversation ended, I was happy to keep it as a thought experiment, with the possible idea to just go run 26.2 miles back and forth along the coast at some point.

Scott, it seemed, had other ideas.

The next morning I woke up to a series of screenshots from my brother, who had taken it upon himself to post to his twitter a picture of me chaperoning the senior prom in a Jedi costume (when you’re a first year teacher, you don’t know how to say “no”), with the same question I had asked him. He being the semi-literate, not-sure-he-actually-has-a-college-degree paragon of clear communication that he is, he sort of left off the part about me not doing any long runs, and so, understandably, most people were replying, “yes of course a 17 minute 5k guy can run a 3:30 marathon.”

One of the people who chimed in was a former teammate of his who works for the California International Marathon, who said I should make the attempt up there on December 3rd. A few more pestering texts from Scott, and I gave him the fateful response:

“Sure, what the heck.”

The Challenge

Here are the particulars of the challenge:

  • On December 3rd, 2017 I will run the California International Marathon
  • Between now and December 3rd, I will run no less than 3 miles and no more than 5 miles each day
  • Success criteria: a sub 3 hour and 30 minute finishing time on December 3rd

Some disclaimers:

  • I am in no way taking this lightly. I fully appreciate the monumental effort required to run a marathon. I am in no way trying to belittle the efforts of those who train intelligently and diligently for the marathon distance. I understand this is going to suck, and that I’m likely setting myself up for a spectacular failure.
  • Despite that, I’m betting on myself
  • I blame Scott entirely for turning this into a reality

Here goes nothing

I’ll be posting bi-weekly training updates leading up to the race, and sprinkling in more about my athletic background as well.

Got questions, thoughts, encouragement? Email us at [email protected] and I’ll respond in future updates.

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