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General Running • January 30, 2012

How dailymile helped me go from a 3:58 marathoner to a 3:20 marathoner (and make some friends along the way.)


When I first found dailymile I had lost my running buddy to burnout. I had run four marathons and the Grand Canyon Rim to Rim with this guy. We did several runs a week together. I was bummed when he told me he was done for now. Who was I going to share my running obsession with?

I had been using Nike+ around the same time, and was sharing my running there and on twitter. Through interactions with @britishbulldog (Steve Spiers) and @andyo22 (Andy O’Brien) I found out about dailymile. Andy actually was the first person to comment on my workouts. My runs looked faster back then because of the Nike+, It broke my heart when I finally got a Garmin and the pace and distance was more accurate. The nurturing environment of dailymile provided me with virtual friends to talk about running, share my training, and be inspired by other runners workouts. It wasn’t long before I met Steve and Andy in person at the HAT 50k. I have run several races with them since then. They have become real world friends that I stay in touch with over dailymile.

After a while more local runners starting joining up and I found myself having fun meeting and going for runs with them. It was so nice to have a place to talk about my running passion with other people passionate about running. It was the perfect outlet, my non-running friends and my wife benefited from it too. They had already had their fill of my run talk.

My new friends on dailymile were inspiring me to run more miles and to run them faster. After all, I was posting my miles and pace on a near daily basis and getting feedback from multiple people. I was also seeing what they were capable of. I couldn’t believe it when I saw that people were running long miles in the six-minute mile range!

One of these super fast runners is Caleb Masland. Caleb and I were both on the 2010 dailymile team. I noticed in Kathy’s post that she was getting some coaching from Caleb. I decided to see if Caleb could help with my training.

Caleb cheerfully put together a running plan for my New York Marathon. I followed it to the letter with one exception. I had a 20+ mile training run on the schedule the same day as the Baltimore Marathon. I asked Caleb if it would be okay for me to run the marathon as my training run. He said it would be ok, but “save your ‘A’ race for NYC.” I ran Baltimore smooth and easy, it is a tough course so I was surprised at the finish when I saw my time. I had PR’d by 13 minute with a 3:45. Unfortunately I had run under someone else’s bib. My PR would not go down in my books. This made me extra eager to crush my next marathon. Two weeks later I was lining up at the NYC marathon, Caleb gave me my plan for the NYC marathon. I thought, I didn’t try that hard at Baltimore and had a good PR; maybe my problem was that I wasn’t trying hard enough. So, I didn’t follow Caleb’s advice to the “T” in NYC. I paid the price. I went out way to fast and hit the wall at mile 16. The rest of the race was horrible. I finished sub 4, but had the worst marathon experience to date. I ended up in the medical tent at the end of the run. It was bad. I beat myself up good on the bus ride back to Baltimore.

I got a hold of myself and plotted for my next attempt at a new PR. Caleb worked with me again and before I knew it I was at the starting line of the Arizona Rock n’ Roll Marathon. I learned my lesson in NYC, this time I would run with a pace group. I ended up running a 3:38!

After the performance in Arizona I had a insane thought, could I actually shave 18 minutes off and qualify for Boston? I confided in Caleb that I might be interested to see if I could BQ. I expected him to tell me I was getting a little ambitious. Caleb said “yeah, I was thinking that might be a good goal for you.” Now I thought he was crazy.

Caleb was back at it. He sent me a new training plan week by week based on the previous week’s performance. This was the most aggressive training I had ever done. There were a lot of high mileage and speed workouts in the plan. I was still full of doubt. My paces were not adding up to a BQ. Caleb reassured me I was heading in the right direction.

My first real test was at the Baltimore half marathon two weeks before the Marine Corps Marathon (MCM.) Your half mary pace should be faster than your marathon pace. I was going as hard as I could and couldn’t finish any better than 1:46 an 8:01 minute mile pace. I thought to myself, there is no way I can run a marathon in the 7s. The one thing I had going for me was, Caleb was coming to MCM to pace me. This was huge. I was worried I might let him down. I had met Caleb only once briefly at the NYC marathon expo. Now he was going to pace me for an entire marathon.

The weekend of the MCM was great. Huge groups of dailymilers were running the race. I had family responsibilities so I missed out on the gigantic dailymile meetup. I was a little bummed that I didn’t get a chance to make more real world connections, but family comes first. I was able to get together with a handful of my online/real world friends, that is always fun.

The night before the race I was nervous. I had worked hard following Caleb’s plan but had a lot of lingering insecurities that I would be able to run the race I wanted. That night I went to dinner with Caleb, Michelle J., Sean B., Steve S., Ally S., Jenny J., and my wife. Side note; Sean, Steve, Ally, and Jenny are on my Ragnar Ultra team, we also ran the Ragnar Del Sol last January together. Caleb made our marathon goal of 3:20 public. I think there was skepticism around the table; I was one of the skeptics. Don’t get me wrong everyone was very supportive, just tentative with their affirmations. After all, 3:20 would be an 18-minute PR. Caleb believed in me when I wasn’t sure.

It was a chilly morning and we were quite cold walking to the start from our hotel. We lined up in the front corral; you could feel the nervous energy pouring off the runners. Then someone came along and lightened the tension. Andy O. in a pair of flannel pajamas! We chatted just long enough to get us close to gun time.

The gun went off and the race started. All I had to do now was follow Caleb’s cadence and he would guide me to the finish. We were running smooth. I felt great. All the little phantom aches and pains I had during the taper vanished. Caleb was giving me updates at the 5k, 10k, half and he said we were right on target. When we got to mile 18 I started to feel some fatigue. I kept repeating the thought, “today is my day – I worked hard – Do whatever it takes” over and over. At mile 20 Caleb asked if I had more to give and if we could pick up the pace. I said this is what I can give, so we held the pace steady. We made it to the 24th mile, only 2.2 to go. I was stretching it thin at this point. I just gutted these last miles out. The great sound that every marathoner knows and loves is the sound of the crowd at the finish line. I could hear it and a surge of energy came to me, one last bit in the tank to push. I started picking up the pace again reaching deep. Then BOOM! Someone put a big hill about 150 yards from the finish. I blurted out “Oh fuck.” Caleb said “Hang in there you got it.” The hill used up any energy I had left. I was able to get my steady stride back to gut it out to the finish. When I saw the clock I couldn’t believe it. I finished 3:20:26. Caleb had called it on the nose. Amazing.

I still can’t believe I am a 3:20 marathoner. Even more ludicrous, now I want to be a 3:10 marathoner. The whole experience is surreal to me. Through dailymile I have met some truly great people, great people that are now my good friends, coaches, and supporters.  I feel so fortunate to have the virtual friends and real friends in my life. I can’t thank dailymile enough for bringing us all together. Find a way to connect with other athletes on dailymile and let their friendship and your passion for exercise / life to a new level.


Have something to say? Leave a Comment

  1. Steve says:

    this post is all sorts of awesome. well said and thanks for sharing.

  2. Tammi Scott-Lynch says:

    I love this post Thomas. So motivating and awesome. Thanks for sharing it with us.

  3. Sean Brown says:

    Love this post, Thomas.  You're right on the money about Dailymile (and about Caleb for that matter).  Hugely supportive, amazingly helpful on both accounts.  I can't wait to see what you've got up your sleeve for your next goal.

  4. Matt says:

    Excellent post, very inspiring!

  5. JennyJ says:

    Love the post, T.  It's a privilege to have you as my friend.

  6. Molly white says:

    Excellent work Thomas!  I don't know how you find the time to devote to the habit. I love running but I can't seem to find enough time in the day to do it all!  I now run in chunks or prepare for a race rather than regularly and I miss it!  Best of luck on the 3:10!

  7. David says:

    I vividly remember when you posted your 3:20 finish time and my jaw dropped.  Great post, remarkable achievement.

  8. Tom R says:

    That is a great post, Thomas. It was an easy read despite the length. I normally don't read long posts, but it didn't seem long at all. Awesome accomplishment and something to aim for. I have only run one marathon. I started running and in 2 1/2 mo, I ran the Shamrock full in Va Beach with a time of 4:33. I am trying to break 4:00 in March. Your story gives me hope. Thanks for sharing.

    1. Thanks, btw Shamrock was my first sub 4 marathon. Breaking 4 is a great day.

  9. Brian Adkins says:

    You should be proud of your accomplishments as a runner and marathoner, T.  You've really grown since I first teamed up with ya on Twitter in 2009.  I can't thank you enough for your friendship and support over the past 3 years; amazing how we still haven't met live yet.  Maybe '12's the year.

    1. Thanks Brian, it sure has been a journey. I am thinking North Face 50 miler, Leigh Valley Marathon, and Richmond Marathon are all up after the HAT 50k. See you at any of those?

  10. Kristen says:

    Truth be told, I contacted Caleb to help with my training after watching your success with his coaching. let's hope I conitnue the trend…..

    1. Kristen, You will do great, all last summer you were killing your training runs in the 7s pace range. I can’t wait to see what you end up doing.

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