Mike Naff had a goal and it was a big one; he wanted to break 3 hours in the marathon. For a young runner that is a lofty goal, for a masters runner breaking a 3 hour marathon is an even bigger goal. Thank you Mike for sharing your story, it is inspiring and exciting. Thank you Coach Jerry for sharing your athlete stories with us, they do not disappoint. Here is Mike’s story and his take-aways as he met his long standing goal of running a sub three hour marathon.
When I started training for my first marathon in 2005, I’m pretty sure I was familiar with the prestige surrounding the Boston Marathon. But I wasn’t aware of the whole Boston-qualifying process and I certainly wasn’t wrapped up in the frenzy that we see today, to meet the high standards. After all, completing my first marathon was the goal. However, based on my 20 mile training runs at 7 minute pace, I had friends telling me, “You could qualify for Boston!” I discovered that at age 34 I would need a 3:10:59 to qualify; gotta love those 59 seconds! So, admittedly, I was a little disappointed in my 3:41 finish at the Mayor’s Midnight Sun Marathon in Anchorage, Alaska. Not so much that it wasn’t a BQ but because I knew I could do better, and blowing up at mile 16 was a miserable experience.
Over the next 2 years, I chipped away at my time in Victoria, Dallas, Kodiak and Scranton, eventually qualifying for Boston in Tucson with a 3:15:01. For obvious reasons, I wasn’t very happy with the gimme 1 second. That didn’t stop me from running my first Boston though. Later, I followed up with Marine Corps and Richmond before moving to Arlington over Christmas of 2007.
Feeling like I could still do better, I joined the Northern Virginia Running Club (NOVA) in August, 2009. I only attended the Bluemont tempo runs that first year before then president Dan Wallace encouraged me to come out to the track. I also have him to thank for introducing me to Coach Jerry as “Coast Guard Mike”. Within the first several practices, Coach said I had great turnover and saw huge potential for a marathon PR. In less than a year, Coach helped me with a breakthrough marathon time at Rehoboth Beach 2010 in 3:02. It was a perfect day and a first negative split, by 1:27.
Never did I imagine that a sub 3 hour marathon was in the realm of possibility for me. But running a 3:02 gave me great confidence. That 3:02 also took a new level of commitment. In 2011, I had a medical setback so the quest for sub-3 would have to wait. I started my come back in 2012 and got better each year but managed to come up short by seconds twice. Most recently at Marine Corps last year with a time of 3:00:18. So close! By the way, that was a 1 second PR if you can believe that.
Last year was an epic year for me, achieving personal bests in most* distances and finishing with 26 races, including the trifecta of Spartan races. (My half marathon personal best came this March in the Rock ’N’ Roll USA half). I met all but 1 goal, running sub-18 in the 5K (at Clarendon Day then again in the Jingle All the Way) and sub-60 in the country’s best 15K, Utica’s Boilermaker Road Race. All that was missing was the sub-3 marathon. I’m not quite sure how many times I’ve legitimately gone for it…maybe 5 or 6 times. MCM’s 3:00:18 was particularly difficult because I was in the best shape of my life and on pace for 2:58 until the very end. The wheels just completely came off in the last 2K. Hearing the announcer say so clearly, “10 seconds until 3 hours” was heart-breaking.
This year has been a good year too, with 9 of 12 top 3 age-group finishes, and a year of repeat marathons. Of 41 (36 road) marathons, I’ve repeated only Boston and Marine Corps until this year. Now, I can add OKC, Chicago and Tucson. I wanted to be ready for a sub-3 at Chicago. But I knew it wasn’t quite time so I decided to be smart and use it as a training run, and to earn a free pair of shoes through the Strava//NB challenge with a negative split. For the next 8 weeks, I trained really hard eventually committing to Tucson over Rehoboth Beach. I did take great inspiration from the amazing NOVA performances at Chicago (Jessica, Eric, Brent and Mark) and Richmond (Ben and Nene).
It was a great day in Tucson. I ran through the half at 1:29:15. I felt strong and confident finishing with a very rewarding 2:57:56 and another negative split. I helped pace the first place female to her first sub-3 finish. It was great to have company and a much needed distraction in those lonely miles between 17 and 22.
Jerry definitely gave me the foundation I needed to be a better runner. Longer long runs and more of them (22s & 18s vs. 20s & 13s), higher weekly mileage (50+ vs. 40-45 max), run at least 6 days a week and make the recovery runs close to an hour (7-8 miles vs. 4-6). Most runners probably have 3 key quality runs during the week: long run, tempo run and intervals. I’ve been doing those for years. But this training cycle I decided to double up on the tempo runs and skip the intervals. And, I made them longer, 6-8 miles mostly. I also got down to what I consider ideal race weight and worked a little more on my core strength, similar to what I did to earn that breakthrough marathon in 2010.
Although last year’s Army Ten Miler (the day after I ran a Spartan race) will most likely go down as my best race ever (59:13), my performance at Tucson will be one of my proudest moments.
I would like to thank Coach Jerry, the NOVA gang, my closest running friends and most importantly, my family for their support.