Pete Tanguay

Memphis Marathon – sub-4 at last

by on Dec.05, 2009, under Races

Ever since my first marathon in 2001 (this is my 6th), my goal has been to run under 4 hours.  At times it was not a goal but an obsession.  It’s a goal that my brother Ed and I share and I have no doubt he will do it someday.  After the Oklahoma City marathon this Spring I was so discouraged and took a month off and went back to work, learning from my defeat at that race.  Decided to do the Flying Monkey marathon which was very hilly, primarily because I would not have the sub-4 monster on my back.   I prepared well and ran a good race, finishing in 4:26 which was good enough for that course.  Mostly it met my goals which were to finish, not walk, run within myself and finish strong, not dragging myself through a wall toward the finish line. 

The next week I was out running again and felt surprisingly good.  Then Brad, who also wanted to get under 4 hours, mentioned me coming to Memphis with him to pace half of the marathon.  One thing led to another and we went yesterday and I decided to try to run the full, with the joint goal with Brad to get under 4 hours.  There was not a lot of pressure as this was a last minute decision and I had just run a marathon less than 2 weeks ago but I really felt well and committed to giving it 110%.  This is what it looks like at the end of a race when you leave it all out on the course.  :)


I ran with Brad – he was pacing me and I was pacing him – or at least that is how we kept our focus off of ourselves.  After doing all of the marathon “right things” the night before to carb load, etc. in our past races where we didn’t get under 4 hours, we decided that it never worked before so we went out and had BBQ and a pitcher of beer.  He got up and ate a big breakfast at Dennys.  I had a banana and toast.  We decided to run with the 4 hour pace group but let them cross the starting line about 45 seconds before we did and our goal was to run 9 minute miles the first half (4 hour is 9:10) and we did that almost exactly.  First half was 1:57.  After the first half there is a little uphill and I felt like I was starting to struggle a bit on those miles but looking at my pace was fine.  The 4 hour pace group was with us at the half, although that meant we were about 45 seconds ahead of them chip time.  At mile 17 I was struggling to stay with them and they were moving ahead of me.  Rather than trying to stay with them I listened to my body and tried to run a smart race.  I would watch them and if they passed an underpass I would check my watch and see how long it took me to get there.  I was staying about 45 seconds behind them and maybe at one point was a bit further.  Moving into mile 19 and 20 I was trying to keep a good pace but also preparing to “start the race” to catch them.  I had planned to start that at mile 20 but did not feel I had enough and so I decided to keep the pace I had and make my move at mile 22.  I had run through where I normally hit the wall and I was tired but not fatigued and not out of gas.  I knew there was downhill coming up and I’ve been working on my down hill running.


I had the main screen of my Garmin watch set to give me total miles and total time and my second screen to give me current lap pace.  At mile 22 I felt if I could hold a 9:30 pace and do better if I could, I would get under 4.  I started running with more bounce in my step and tried to pick it up.  At this point I was passing a lot of people, both running and walking.  People just like me in Oklahoma City this Spring who hated where they were and just wanted to be done, people bent over holding their legs and some sitting at the side of the road.  At mile 23 I threw off my gloves (race temp was 25 degrees at the start and in the 40’s to finish but very sunny) and the remaing GU that I had and thought “I have trained for this and I am in striking distance”.  I tried to get closer to the 4 hour group but didn’t close much of a gap, but knew I had 45 seconds to spare.  I calculated that if I could get to mile 25 at 3:48 I could finish at a 10 minute pace and make it.  I got to mile 25 at 3:48:05.  This was now mine to lose and I stepped it up and ran hard, running one of my fastest miles of the race in mile 25.  Although the chart makes this look downhill, it was really rolling up and downs and net down.  I was gaining on the 4 hour group and we came around a corner near mile 26 and went up a hill and then down into the stadium.  I almost caught the pace group as they had to let some of their “cushion” go at the end and I finished about 5 seconds behind the pacer. 


I had not registered for the race and was running with a half marathon bib number.  When I came through I couldn’t believe it.  I wrapped myself in one of the foil blankets they give you and got me a medal.  My time is unofficial as far as the race goes but official as far as my Garmin says. 


As I walked away toward the steps I almost had to fight back tears.  This is such a great way to finish a year, especially knowing how much I’ve put into understanding what it would take for me to do this and putting in the work to accomplish it.  What’s next?  Holiday time with my awesome family.

Brad stayed with the 4 hour group longer than I did and then picked up his pace and passed the 3:55 pace group and finished in 3:54:24.  Although we didn’t run the last 9 miles together, running the first half together and having a good plan and following it was awesome. 


As a side note to the spirit of the St. Jude Memphis marathon, this race raises money for cancer research at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis.  You run through the campus, which is unbelievable, during the first half of the race.  There you see these children in wheelchairs watching you run and throughout the race families are yelling out their appreciation for your effort.  As you run you see the names of specific kids on the back of runners.  There was a sign on the side of the road encouraging runners to run through their pain that said – “Blisters don’t require chemo”.  It really makes the marathon struggle insignificant and tugs at your heart as you run.

6 comments for this entry:
  1. Brother Ed

    That is one of the most inspiring running stories I have ever read, Pete! Very nice comeback. And a picture that sums up what it must feel like to finally accomplish a sub-4. Can’t believe you finally did it after so many years, truly a life accomplishment! Time for you to wear the family marathon crown, I’m 5 minutes and 7 seconds behind you now, and time for me to rethink a training plan, I’ll definitely try the BBQ/beer tip, thanks! Again, Pete, CONGRATULATIONS ON THIS!

  2. Dan Dobson

    You are an inspiration my friend. Great story. Next step – Boston qualification! Dan

  3. Beth

    AWESOME!! Your photo says it all. Congratulations!

  4. Lorraine

    Brilliant Pete. What a great ‘real life’ story. Amazing lesson…learn to listen to your body, be in touch with what it can do, and it will come through for you. And ….wow…blisters don’t require chemo. But I love the lesson…sometimes we think dealing with the pain and struggling will make us achieve our goals, but it’s being smarter that gets us where we want to be. You set aside plans at the end to run a smarter race…lots of lessons there. Now the icing on the cake…holiday with your family…Enjoy!!! Thanks for the inspiration!!

  5. Dad

    Congratulations again, Pete! And what a great summary. And a special thanks for favoring me with a phone call almost immediately after the race (I believe you had just crossed the finish line so that I was “up to date” instantly) with a most thrilling account of your successful accomplishment. That made me almost feel like I was part of the endeavor!

    The picture at the beginning of your summary says it all: a vigorous pose; wearing your favorite Tee-shirt; a medal proudly displayed around neck; a clenched fist of achievement; and a triumphant smile which puts an exclamation point on the fait accompli!! [Nike should negotiate with you for this picture to adorn their motto, “Just Do It”!]

    Well Done!

  6. Vienna City Marathon 2011 - Pete Tanguay

    […] finally broke the 4 hour barrier with a 3:58 in Memphis in December 2009.  I had some injuries in 2010 but started training hard for the Little Rock […]

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