CJ Albertson Just Ran a 2:09 Marathon on the Treadmill. He Doesn’t Care What You Think About It.
By Jonathan Gault
November 26, 2020
Ask American CJ Albertson why he decided to run a marathon on his treadmill on Sunday, and he offers a few explanations. He wanted to get a hard effort in. He was supposed to run outside, but the air quality outside his home in Fresno, Calif., was in the orange zone (“unhealthy for sensitive groups”). He wanted to see what heartrate was sustainable for a long period of time, and he’d get instant feedback by seeing it on the treadmill screen.
But these aren’t reasons. They’re rationalizations. They don’t truly explain why Albertson climbed onto his treadmill Sunday morning, cranked it up to 12.1 miles per hour, and ran for 27.22 miles.
The true explanation is elemental. It cuts to the core of who CJ Albertson is.
“You see things, and you’re like, well I can do that,” Albertson says. “So then you just see if you can do them. I feel like that’s kind of what life is.”
Albertson, 27, has been doing a lot of cool things recently. His highlights from the last month:
- On November 1, he ran 50.4 kilometers on his treadmill in 2:42:00. The treadmill world record for 50k (and fastest time anyone had covered 50 kilometers, period) was 2:42:56.
- On November 8, he ran a 50,000-meter world best of 2:42:30 by running 125 laps around his old track at Buchanan High School in Clovis, Calif.
- On November 15, he ran 37 miles on his treadmill at 5:56 mile pace — the longest run of his life.
His most recent effort was his most impressive yet: on Sunday, he ran an approximate 2:09:58 marathon on his treadmill, and felt so good, he added on an extra mile even faster.
Though Albertson knew what the treadmill world record was (2:17:56 by Tyler Andrews in June), he didn’t go into his run thinking of it as a world record attempt. He just wanted to see if he could run a 2:10 marathon on a treadmill.
So he went into his guest bedroom, opened the French doors, and set up a fan to get some air flowing from outside. He laid out his fuel: seven gels, one bottle of water, and one bottle of carbs and electrolytes. He cued up the Panic! At the Disco station on Amazon Music. Finally, he wheeled in his television and prepared to binge Community. He didn’t mind that his music would mostly drown out the dialogue.
“I’ve seen all the episodes like, five times,” Albertson says. “It’s just something that clears my mind.”
And then he set his Peloton treadmill to 12.1 miles per hour (2:10:00 marathon pace) and he ran. And ran and ran and ran.
Six miles in, he began to hurt.
“I’m like, okay, I’m probably not going to go a marathon,” Albertson says.
But he muscled through the rough patch, and as he neared the end, he was feeling good. So good, in fact, that he didn’t want to stop. So after passing 26.2 miles, Albertson cranked the treadmill up to its max speed of 12.5 miles per hour (4:48 pace) and ran one final mile before stepping off with a final time of 2:14:46 for 27.22 miles.
Albertson says that before Sunday, he’d never experienced the “runner’s high.” But after his 27.22-mile effort, it hit him.
“I was walking around the house pumped up, kind of like a fighter when you see them just hopping around, randomly yelling,” Albertson says.
That feeling, and the fact that he accomplished his goal of running an entire marathon at 2:10 pace, is enough for Albertson. He won’t be submitting the effort as an official world record; he didn’t record the run or calibrate the treadmill prior to the attempt. And though he set the grade to 1.5% to account for the lack of wind resistance (“I read something that said that’s about accurate for that pace”), he isn’t going to waste time trying to figure out what the performance was worth. (Albertson thinks he came through 26.22 miles in just under 2:10 — he set the treadmill to 4:55 pace for the final mile of his marathon (2:10 pace is 4:57 pace)– and says he split roughly 2:09:50 from mile 2 to mile 27.22).
“That’s kind of the fun, that’s kind of the mystery — what was that effort worth really?” says Albertson. “I’ll never know. No one will ever know.”
Albertson says he still considers his marathon personal best to be the 2:11:49 he ran to place seventh at the Olympic Trials in Atlanta in February, but is hoping to break 2:10 at the Marathon Project on December 20 in Arizona, where he’ll face Scott Fauble (2:09:09 pb) and Canadian record holder Cam Levins (2:09:25 pb), among others.
The fact that breaking 2:10 is now a realistic goal for Albertson, who works as a professor and head cross country coach at Clovis Community College, is fairly remarkable. He was a solid runner at Arizona State, posting personal bests of 7:59, 13:50, and 8:45 in the steeple, but by no means a future star; he never even qualified for the NCAA cross country championships (he did make it to NCAAs in the steeple as a junior in 2016, though he didn’t make the final).
After graduating in 2017, Albertson spent a year away from competitive running. But when he returned in 2018, training for the Two Cities Marathon in Fresno, he tried a different approach, throwing in several long runs of over 26 miles in his buildup. It worked: he won the race in 2:17:45, qualifying for the Olympic Trials.
Since then, Albertson has incorporated hard long runs of 26-32 mile into his weekly routine, doing them almost every Sunday when he’s in serious training. And he has improved drastically. In March 2019, he shaved 58 seconds off his personal best by running 2:16:47 to win the Modesto Marathon and followed it up with a world best for the indoor marathon, clocking 2:17:59 at the Armory in April. In the fall, he ran another big pb of 2:14:51 to repeat at Two Cities before running yet another pb of 2:13:40 a month later to finish second at CIM. Then he took almost two minutes off of that time to finish seventh at the Trials.
Albertson, who is self-coached, views his Wolverine-like ability to recover as a gift that must be nurtured. He tried traditional training in college, but it was only once he leaned into making these long, hard efforts a regular part of his training that his career truly took off.
“It comes really easy and natural for me to do what people would say [are] hard long runs,” Albertson says. “So I feel like I kind of have to take advantage of that, and it works for me. I was decent in college. But I was not seventh in the nation in college, ever. I wasn’t even close.”
Mentally, Albertson is also well-suited for the monotony of grinding away on a track or treadmill for hours on end. He likes running best when he doesn’t have to worry about splits or surges and can just lock into a pace, comparing it to meditation.
“I like the rhythm,” Albertson says. “A treadmill, you’re in perfect rhythm all the time. A track, you can get into that rhythm too. There’s just something about it that is relaxing but also allows you to push hard. And so I don’t have to think about anything, I just get the physical act of running hard and fast. There’s something really soothing about that to me.”
Albertson posts all of his training on Strava, and because many of his workouts are ridiculous, they tend to generate a lot of discussion (example: this five-page thread on LetsRun after Albertson ran 27 miles at 5:09 pace in February). Albertson says he sometimes gets a laugh out of seeing strangers on the internet overanalyze his runs, but for him, setting obscure records and logging mind-bending treadmill workouts are a way to have fun and keep training interesting. They’re not what the sport is about.
“Any race is gonna mean a lot mean than any sort of a record, because competing, that’s what the sport is: you race people,” Albertson says. “…It really doesn’t matter what you do in practice. When I line up December 20, it’s like, who cares? I don’t care what anyone else did [in practice], no one cares what I did. We’re just racing and the person who crosses the finish line wins.”
Talk about Albertson’s run on our messageboard. MB: CJ Albertson (Brooks) 2:10 treadmill marathon