“I’ve always felt that the marathon was my calling,” said 25-year old Will Nation.
Nation answered that calling loud and clear last week at the California International Marathon (CIM) on Sunday, December 3, where he broke through with an Olympic trials qualifying run, crossing the finish in 18th place with a 2:16:59. A cautious, but solid build-up, along with great weather and a fast course contributed to his success. All told, the race boasted a stunning 87 Olympic marathon qualifiers.
“We had near-perfect conditions to run a marathon this past Sunday,” said Nation, a former University of Texas stand-out who’s gone 29:33 for the 10,000. “It seemed like everything aligned just right to produce fast times. The weather was ideal (low 40s at the start with little-no wind), which is something I haven’t had in my previous attempts at the marathon [Houston 2017 and the Olympic Trials in 2016, both of which were hot].
“The course itself is undoubtedly fast, although it doesn’t run the way many people think,” added Nation. It’s known for being a downhill course, but the reality is that you see most of it in the first few miles. Your adrenaline is already pumping from the start of the race, so you don’t see as much benefit opposed to if you had the downhill part towards end when you’re starting to feel fatigued.”
Course, weather and strategy all play a big role, but pre-marathon training is certainly one of the biggest determinants of success.
Injury-Free, Targeted Buildup
Nation’s buildup for CIM was a bit different from his previous marathon buildups. He was especially aware of not overdoing it and wanted to make sure he was 100% healthy on race day.
“Given that I didn’t want to beat myself up over the summer, I didn’t start my buildup until September which only allowed for about three months of preparation, relatively short in comparison,” said Nation. We got the mileage up to 90-95 miles per week knowing that I’ve struggled to stay healthy running any more than that.”
In this case, “we” refers to renowned University of Houston cross-country coach Steve Magness, dubbed, “the mad scientist of running” by Outside magazine.
“I started working with Steve Magness after my former coach, John Hayes, was no longer able to provide workouts after taking the head coaching job at Wake Forest,” said Nation. Their approaches to the marathon are quite different, but I have complete faith in both and knew that my former work with Hayes and my current training with Steve was going to pay dividends on race day.”
Nation’s goal coming into the race was to, at the bare minimum, run 2:19:00 and get the Trials qualifier for 2020. He figured if he had a good day then he could run somewhere in the ballpark of 2:17-2:18.
Expectations Exceeded; Pack Running Makes the Difference
“I went out a little faster than I had planned and found myself bouncing between a few small packs of runners,” said Nation, who had gone 2:21:29 last January at the Chevron Houston Marathon. “I couldn’t get into a groove and panicked a bit around 5K when I noticed that my legs weren’t feeling that great.
“Eventually I settled into a large pack of guys that were gunning for a similar time as me, and that ultimately made all the difference. We had a group of guys that essentially all stayed together from about mile four to mile 21, which made it easy for me to turn my brain off and not think too much about looking down at my watch every quarter mile to see if I was still running the right pace. I also felt like it was positive reinforcement to see all these guys hanging together for so long, and that it made me feel better as we get further into the race.”
As Nation, a top Austin runner who won the 3M Half in 2015, approached mile 20 of the race, he fully expected that he was going to hit the inevitable “wall” and have to really gut out the last five to six miles.
But it never hit, and after mile 21 Nation, a web developer at FantasyPros broke away from the pack with a couple of other runners and kept pressing towards the finish.
“The course flattens out the last six miles or so, which lets you really get after it if you’re feeling good on that day. With two miles to go I tried to drop the pace quite a bit, but my stomach was not cooperating, and I had to hold steady. It was thrilling passing some of the big-name guys towards the end. After passing the #3 bib with a quarter mile to go, the only thing that was left was the finish. You have to make two turns at the very end, and when I came around the final turn I saw that I had about 10 seconds to break 2:17:00. Luckily, I was able to turn the legs over fast enough to just sneak under it…2:16:59 feels a lot better than what 2:17:00 would have felt like! Perhaps my favorite takeaway from the race were my paces at the 4 official splits. Nearly dead even between the first half [1:08:33] and the second half [1:08:]!”
Upcoming Races: Saturday, December 16, Vern’s No Frills 5K at 8:00 a.m., Berry Springs Park & Preserve, in Georgetown. Sunday, December 31. Rockin’ Resolution Race 20M, 10M, 5K at Old Settlers Park in Round Rock. Races start at 7:30 a.m. to 8:00 a.m.