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How to Pace Yourself Like an Idiot: River Towns Marathon Recap

Posted May 06 2013 12:03pm
I had two goals going into this race, which I briefly mentioned in my last post : take it easy and practice pacing myself. I failed miserably at both.

Because you're just going to scroll down to the bottom anyway, I finished in 3:51:44. If you had asked me prior to the race what number I had in my head, this is about right. About six minutes slower than my current PR, but well enough under 4 hours to still feel like a solid time.

So yes, I finished with a time I was hoping for, but I took the worst possible way to get there. Before we get there, however, lets back up a bit.

Choosing what to eat the night before a marathon (or any long distance) is always tough for me. So far though, I've found fish to be a good pre-race meal. I had salmon teriyaki the night before JFK and it hit the spot, fueled me up, and didn't give me any stomach issues. Friday night we headed to the local thai place for salmon pad thai. It was cargo-loading deliciousness all around.


Saturday morning we were up at 3:15 am. The race started at 7 am and was about a 2.5 hour drive. I actually slept pretty decent albeit for only 6 hours.

3:30 am fake energy. Yay.
We were in the car by 4 am and started the long drive. Since Mike wasn't running, we brought the pups along. They were thrilled to be rudely awakened at an ungodly hour and carried to the backseat of the car.

"Why the hell are we up so early? You know I need 20 hours of sleep a day."

The River Towns Marathon  is a very, very small race on a pretty straight forward 13.1 mile out-and-back course. The full marathon had 106 sign ups and about 90-some people made it to the start line. There was also a half marathon with about 500 sign ups, but the half didn't start until 9 am. This is pretty much the opposite of every race I've ever done that had a full and a half. Both have always started together and around mile 13 the half marathons detour to the finish while the full marathoners keep going, usually finding the roads to suddenly be much emptier, which can definitely wear on your motivation when you need it later on.

At this race however, the marathoners would be on their own for the first 75% of the race and meet back up with the halfers around mile 20 when they hit their turn around. This sounded pretty nice to me. I figured that if at any point during a marathon having more runners around me would be helpful, it would probably be during the last 6 miles when I'd most likely be struggling.


At 7:05 am the race director drew an "official" start line across the road with orange spray paint, counted down to zero and we were off!

Wear bright compression socks if only so your significant other can find you in a crowd
I truly (truly!) tried to run by feel at the beginning of this race. Since we were only 90-some runners the crowd thinned out very quickly. By mile one we were already out of the little town of Danville and onto the scenic River Road where a majority of the race would be.

As I passed the mile 1 marker I looked down at my watch to see 7:53 staring back up at me. Umm, too fast! By mile 2 I calculated that I'd run the second mile in about 8:20. Better, but still too fast.

P.S. I don't wear a GPS watch. I use a regular old $20 stopwatch. I find that calculating the splits out in my head gives me something to do (though the math gets a little shaky after 20 miles).

At mile 3 I calculated that I'd done a 9 minute mile, but by mile 4, it showed that I must have done a 7 minute mile. It was pretty apparent by that point that the mile markers were not placed correctly. There was no way I was sliding between 7 minute miles and 9 minute miles that quickly, especially since my energy output each mile felt the same. I decided to just keep going as I was, figuring I was probably doing around an 8:30, but really having no idea.

As I said, the course was a 13.1 mile out-and-back course. The first 9 miles were on a scene road along the river. We weren't really that close to the river, but it was sort of in view at times. Mostly it was just a lot of foliage on either side of the road and towards mile 8, some houses. Very pretty, but I had a feeling I wouldn't like it too much on the way back. There was absolutely no tree coverage along the road. At 7 am, this didn't matter much, but it was supposed to go up to the low 70s and there wasn't a cloud in the sky.

For those first 9 miles I ran alongside a guy who was doing his first marathon. We didn't say more than a few words to each other, but it was nice to be near another person. There was a pack of three people about a hundred yards ahead of us and a few people way behind us. Other than that, however, I may as well have been running alone. I suppose that is what happens with a 100 person marathon though, right?

At mile 9 we finally veered off the main road and made our way towards to the short 1.5 mile trail section. I was a little annoyed by the time I got over to the trail because, frankly, it was slowing me down. Even though I couldn't be sure of my actual pace, I knew I was going pretty fast, probably even on target for a PR (the PR I wasn't supposed to care about, remember?). At least the trail was pretty and we went over a very scenic bridge.

Courtesy of the River Towns Race Series Facebook Page
We were back out on another road by mile 12. They didn't take splits at the halfway point, but my watch was showing 1:48:45 when I made the turn around (8:17 pace). On its own this would have been a half marathon PR for me by 1.5 minutes. I only set the previous PR back in March and that had felt ridiculously challenging. I definitely didn't have another 13.1 miles in me after that race and I had no idea if I would this time around. I knew I probably wouldn't be able to maintain the same pace, but I'd be lying if delusions of a sub 3:40 finish weren't starting to trickle through my head.

On top of this, after I passed the turn around, people running in the opposite direction of me started yelling as they went by "you're the third woman!" Like I said, small race. Still, it would be pretty neat to get a top 3 finish.

By mile 14 I could feel my legs starting to wear. I started trying to mentally prepare myself for the last 9 miles of the course when I'd be back on that awful road. The sun was really out at this point and it would just get worse. At mile 17, when we got back on that road, I turned my music on, hoping it would help me power through. It had the opposite effect, however, and I shut it off after three songs.

At mile 18, the fourth woman passed me. I wasn't even upset at that point. She looked like she was feeling great and was even carrying on a conversation with someone next to her. I, on the other hand, was dying. I don't think I've hit so many walls in one race as I did here. Probably six walls over the last 7 miles. I was so tempted to pull over to the side of the road and just curl up in a ball and start crying. My quads started cramping. My knees were aching. I started walking through every water stop.

At mile 20 (assuming it was correctly placed) my watch read 2:53, which means since the halfway point I'd slowed to a 9:15ish pace. It was around this point that the half marathoners joined our course. The half marathoners at their turn around were about 50 minutes into their race, meaning these were 1:40 half marathoners. Here I was, slow and dying in the sun, with a bunch of speedy, relatively fresh looking runners whizzing past me. I thought there presence would perk me up, but instead they just made me feel even slower.

Mentally I felt a little better by mile 21, but physically my body was shot. It wasn't hard for me to give up any PR dreams. I reminded myself what I had wanted out of this race and that I also had another marathon in 8 days that I'd really like to run. At mile 24 I started walking more. I decided if my body really felt like it needed to walk, I should just let it. No sense getting injured right then and there. Thankfully, the course unexpectedly veered off that terrible death road around mile 24.5. I was so ridiculously happy to be on a new part of the course, that I decided to just push it to the finish at that point.

The final 1.5 miles
Courtesy of the River Towns Race Series Facebook Page

Finally, I crossed the finish line at 3:51:44. I ended up coming in as the 6th woman. Hey, if Kara Goucher can be happy with 6th place, so can I! I don't think I've ever been so tired after a race. Not even after JFK. I literally collapsed on the grass afterwards and now, two days later, my legs are still extremely sore.

So, even though I ended up with a time I'm happy with, I really took a jackass route to get there. You know how they say to be careful not to go out to fast? This is why. Because you fucking die at the end. To recap, I ran the first 13.1 at an 8:17 pace and the second 13.1 in a 9:30 pace. Textbook poor pacing, my friends. The funniest part about this whole experience was that I could probably have finished with the same time by running even 8:50 splits the whole way and not felt like death for the last 7 miles.

I think a lot of things contributed to my demise. The course was nice, but not 26.2 miles nice. Being alone out there for that many miles with no shade was not fun. Clearly I wasn't the only person who suffered on the way back. The 1st place female was probably on track for a 3:30 finish (based on when I saw her at the halfway point), but finished in 3:41, only 10 minutes before me. It appears we all died a slow, painful death in the hot sun. Also, not having properly placed mile markers doesn't help.

Hopefully my legs will be back in action by Sunday. I'm taking it super easy this week. If I do make it to the start line Sunday morning, my number one goal will be proper pacing. At least I can't mess it up more than this race, right?
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