Well, my big Spring race is finally in the books with a new marathon PR! So let's take a stroll down memory lane and recap the race .
The short version
I had a great weekend in VA Beach - enjoyed getting away, staying at a nice hotel, and spending some quality family time away from home. As for the race - on a tough day, I ran as strong as I could, and managed to run a 3:14 while battling some serious headwinds for seemingly 20+ miles despite a course that loops back onto itself. I'm happy with the 6 minute PR, but never satisfied.
The long version
I'm going to start this on Friday night, only because of a fateful event that happened...while sleeping no less. In the middle of the night, I sprung up out of bed to the feeling of a cramp. In my calf. Never a good thing, let alone less than 2 days before a marathon! So I popped out of bed to try and work it out and relax to the point where I could regain mobility enough to walk, nevermind run. After about a minute, I had massaged the knot enough so I could limp to the bathroom and take a closer look. My life flashed before my eyes as I quickly considered the possibility that my race could be over before it began. But after I massaged it for a few minutes, I tried to fall back asleep and hope that when I woke up the next day, it would be gone as if it was just a nightmare to forget. When I woke up Saturday morning, I was given a quick reminder that the calf cramp WAS real and did in fact happen. It was tight and I had to walk with a slight limp. So I did what any other person would do - went into rehab panic mode! I went on to do some active mobility exercises in the hopes of loosening it up, before getting a little deeper with my fingers to try and break up the knot. By the end of the session, I had a little more mobility, but it wasn't equal to my right side. I began to wonder whether this would impact my running gait and cause compensatory issues. Well since I was warmed up, I had my shake out run to accomplish, which would allow me to see how things would feel. The run itself went fine. Legs felt fresh and nothing bothered me. However, after I stopped, I did notice that the calf tightened back up a bit. Oh well, I figured, nothing I can do about it now. Guess I'll have to see how things play out!
Having a baby with you ensures you don't need to worry about sleeping in. On his usual schedule, the Z man got us up at about 5:30, which was right when I was hoping to get up. By 6, I had eaten my breakfast of applesauce, protein powder, and a banana. Until just before the race, I'd sip on some sports drink, but otherwise it was just time to hang out. I did a bit more mobility work, which helped loosen my calf up some more, but I could still feel the bulk of the knot. I just hoped that the compression socks would support the muscle enough that it wouldn't be a problem. With about an hr to go until race time, we gathered up our gear and headed down toward the race for a bit of a warm up.
About 10 minutes before the gun, I lined up in Corral 1 and seeded myself about 10 rows back from the front. I could see the 3:05 pacer a few rows up, so I wanted to make sure I'd stay behind him, as I was targeting between 3:05-3:10 as my goal. And then shortly before the race started, I heard the 3:05 pacer describe to those that were planning to follow him, that because of the winds, they would be using the tailwind at the start to go out faster than goal pace so they could factor in running into the headwind later. This was exactly in line with my thinking, so I was glad to see someone else thinking along the same lines.
Miles 1-6 7:03/7:06/7:05/7:08/7:06/7:03
Before I knew it, we were off and the race was underway! I took off pretty slowly to build my effort and to minimize the potential for getting caught up with anyone. It didn't take long for the packs to start separating themselves. I noticed the 3:05 pack quickly pulling away at a pace I'm pretty sure I wouldn't have been prepared to start a marathon at, so I was glad to be running my own race. I just progressively picked up the pace over the 1st mile until I locked in that feeling I had spent so much time practicing. As I started to pull away and find space, I could feel the tailwind. I came through Mile 1 in 7:03, but it didn't scare me. I knew the effort was wind aided, so I just kept on moving. After taking it easy up and over the one bridge we cross twice, I opened up on the downhill and just let my stride find itself. Still with a tailwind, I kept moving around the same pace.
It was shortly after the bridge that another guy ran up to me and started chatting. He noticed my =PR= shirt and he happened to be wearing one as well. Noticing that I was running pretty steady, he asked if I was shooting for around 3:10. Since we were pretty close in goals, I said I'd welcome the company. Turns out, his name was Erin and he's on the =PR= Triathlon Team so we knew some of the same folks. We chatted a bit on and off for the next mile or so, before a group of runners came upon us wondering if we were running around 3:10. I explained to them that we should all try to stay together, because once the headwinds hit, working as a group would be the ideal way to ensure everyone gets through the race with minimal impact. At the same time amidst the group of guys was a girl who had asked what pace we were running, since her watch was full. Since we were running around her goal pace, she also joined. (I later learned her name was Lindsay and after the race, came to find out that she also has a blog ) Having effectively formed the group and the one who had previously run this race, I became the "pace leader". I enjoyed the role, as it kept me from being too serious this early, but also with a sense of responsibility to those that were trusting enough to run with me. While there was no official 3:10 pace group, we certainly looked like one - with 10-15 people strong to start, but I believe it grew up to 20 at some point! I was proud to have formed this group, and hopeful it would work to everyone's benefit. So our group pressed ahead, nailing pretty steady splits along the way. When we'd come to water stops, everyone would fall in single file line before re-forming a few moments later. It was pretty cool. We'd call out turns coming up, point out objects, puddles, etc in the road. It was great.
It was around Mile 5 that I noticed that first hiccup of the race. The course markers were off. I don't mean this to be one of those idiots claiming that their GPS measured 1.000002, so therefore the course was long. I mean that I was spot on with my autolap through Mile 4, but suddenly my watch beeped about a minute before we crossed the Mile 5 marker while still showing a steady pace. The added benefit of running in a group is that you can ask around! We had some folks manually tracking, while others on autolap, and everyone agreed. The guy who was manually lapping had Mile 5 at 7:58 and Mile 6 at something like 6:08, so I can confidently say they were off! Shortly before Mile 6, we turned around and just like that, we felt the now headwinds starting.
Miles 7-13 7:07/7:07/7:077:12/7:11/7:16/7:18
Once we started getting some early signs of the headwinds, we started falling in line a little more than previously. However, after only a mile or so of running into the wind, we turned into Camp Pendleton. This section was mostly a blur, with a lot of twists and turns, but largely absent of the crowds of military folks I remembered being there two years ago. We were cruising now, pretty much on auto-pilot (see those three 7:07 splits in a row!). Once we exited, it was time to go back up over the bridge and prepare to face the winds.
Miles 14-20 7:15/7:15/7:12/7:17/7:13/7:25/7:37
The stretch of Miles 14-16 might feel like the most difficult section mentally. Having just passed the halfway mark and leaving the crowds, you begin to run along a concrete highway with an ever so slight incline for the next three miles. There are half marathoners finishing, few spectators, and not much else to look at. This is where I did a full body scan to think about how I was feeling thus far. With the exception of a little tightness starting to develop in my hamstring, all things were good. To combat this early before it became a problem, I started taking in some of the Gatorade at the aid stations that were opposite the ones where I'd take water to go with my gels. Knowing the Gatorade had higher amounts of sodium, I've already learned that it would help. And sure enough, each time I'd have some, those feelings would go away for a while. Once we got to Mile 16, we split off into First Landing State Park, which is a scenic stretch of tree covered road that begins the final loop, before heading back toward the finish on the boardwalk. Our pack was still running strong, but there was far less chatter. The race started to get real and I think everyone began internalizing and going through some self reflection about how to proceed. It was around this time that Lindsay's husband caught a short clip of our pack as we ran by, which was pretty cool that we stuck together for so long.
(brief note - amazing how slow running a ~ 7:15/mi pace looks on video!)
As we edged toward Mile 18, I could tell that my hamstring was becoming more of a pain and I had my first flashback to 2011 when I was sidelined with 6+ miles to go, but unable to run due to my cramping. To keep things at bay, I started running with a slightly faster cadence so as to minimize the stretch on the hamstring. Then I came upon a aid station where I downed some more Gatorade. Between Miles 18-19 is where our pack splintered. My body told me I needed to back off ever so slightly or else I'd be onto some full blown cramping. I sadly obliged as I backed away and quickly watched my dreams of maintaining a steady pace fade. A few of the pack members pulled away as well, but I also noticed that not that many people had passed me either, so they must have suffered issues earlier and backed off as well. But with some positive self talk, I just kept on going. Relentless forward progress is the motto I turned to. If I was going forward, no matter the pace, I was getting close to the finish. So while my pace had slowed to a speed that wasn't ideal, if I could hold onto it, it would be significantly faster than trying to keep up, only to have to sit on the side of the road unable to do anything. So I pressed on. It was also right around this time that we made that final turn back toward the direction of the finish. When planning this pacing plan, I was expecting a tailwind, since we were fighting a headwind going the other direction. Well what happened was that we were the lucky recipients of changing winds, which ended up being more of a head/side wind, where we were hoping for a tailwind. Oh fun! So while I was still putting in an effort that felt like 7:20/mi pace, I was actually running in the 7:40/mi range due to the winds. I simply could not run faster or else my hamstring would go. I was right on that edge and I just made it my goal to stay there. It was kind of frustrating too, because even at this effort, had there been a tailwind, I probably would have been pretty close to on pace. Oh well, can only go as fast as the race conditions allow.
Miles 21-26 7:40/7:52/7:48/7:51/8:11/7:46/7:41 (last .2)
Final time: 3:14:35
1st half: 1:34:40
2nd half: 1:39:55
20/252 in Age Group
After crossing the line, I saw some of my fellow pack members. Some had already crossed the line ahead of me, while others began coming through the finish as I slowly made my way through the finishers area. It was kind of funny to "recognize" so many people I didn't know. I chatted with those I saw from our pack and congratulated everyone. We all were shocked with the winds in those last miles, but we did what we could. Shortly after exiting the finishing area, I found Rebecca and a passed out Z, as we began the walk back toward the hotel. Having stopped running and headed back into the wind toward the hotel, I began to realize how cold I was getting. Despite the sweet fleece blanket finisher item they handed us after crossing the finish, I was COLD and starting to shake. But eventually we made it back, where I could finally start to warm up.
- After it all went down, I kept replaying the race over in my head, trying to figure out if I made the right decision to go harder from the start due to the winds. I am still convinced I made the right call. I've tried to chart out several scenarios on paper factoring in an easier start, but a bit more steady pacing through the end and I still come pretty close to where I finished. I don't regret the decision at all. I just wish the circumstances were different and I was able to run the race I wanted to.
- Comparing how I ran this race to how I ran it in 2011 , there are a few things I can point to for improved performance. First, I covered 26.42 mi rather than 26.48, so I ran the tangents a bit better. Second, I ran the 2011 one with a race plan similar to what I planned on doing before I learned about the winds (start slow, finish fast). Conditions were similar in both races. In 2011, I took the first 6 miles easy, pushed the gas peddle too hard into the wind, and blew up. The fact that I purposely slowed running into the wind this time, and used the initial tailwind to my advantage, allowed me to stay in the race without blowing up. As I previously said, I think I made the right call on this one.
- I don't like seeing the 5 minute positive split in my race result. However, knowing the full story puts it into perspective. Because most of that added time was due to the headwind, I didn't actually fade all that much. I probably gave up 1-2 minutes in the later miles due to fatigue, but the rest was due to factoring the winds. This post makes me feel better about the conditions and its impact, since even the top guys felt those winds and believe it cost them at least 3-5 minutes off a "regular" time. I think that's a fair assessment.
- A 6 minute PR is nothing to sneeze at, but I am very aware that it is not where I should be. I am already thinking about when I might get another shot at a marathon, because I still have some work to do. However, I won't be running any redemption races (if there is such a thing after already PRing). With a focus on the Brooklyn Half as my next race, I have a 13.1 PR to crush next. Maybe I'll have another go at my marathon PR in the Fall.
- Nutrition-wise, I took in at least 700 calories in the race, which is a record for me, and also a factor in why I didn't bonk. I practiced this in training and never had any issues upping the caloric intake, but I felt like I wasn't take in enough in previous races, so I wanted to try taking in more. I took gels at 4, 8, 12, 16, 20, 22 and also Gatorade on course starting around Mile 14 and took a cup or two at each aid station I didn't take a gel. I figure the Gatorade was worth at least 100 calories, maybe a bit more between all of the aid stations. Never had any stomach issues or urge to use the facilities once the race started. Drank water by feel as I passed aid stations, but always following a gel. Didn't use all of the aid stations though, so I drank when I felt it necessary.
- After a series of social media friends and links in the days after the race, I came to find out that the girl running in our pack was Lindsay and she has a great race recap of her race on her blog , where she rocked a 3:13. I was happy to help her during the windy section by blocking the wind, as it was the right thing to do. While not everyone did their part, I know I did and I'm glad it helped her save some energy to finish strong. I run with strong women runners often and while some men might feel threatened or competitive, I encourage it and want to do what I can. I often find myself running with the upper end of the women's field of most races, so I try to pull them along when I can, since many of them are running for place. I was able to chat with her after crossing the finish line for a bit and congratulate her on running such a strong race. I learned she is also a new mom and still managed to crush her previous PR by 11 minutes - Very impressive!
- Post race, I felt pretty good physically. I was fine walking around and didn't have any particularly soreness issues. What amazed me most was that I had ZERO blisters! During this training cycle, I've come to trust the couple of pairs of Pro Compression socks (paid for with my own money, so I have no affiliation) as my "go to" for long runs. Since using them, I have NEVER gotten a single blister. This is the first time I've ever gone through a race, let alone training cycle, without a blister. I did not think it was possible. For all the talk of black toenails (trust me, I've lost 2 nails to them) and nasty blisters, I didn't have a single issue with it this time. The only change I've made is to my socks.
- As of this writing, my body feels completely back to normal. And while some people will assume training can resume, it is important to respect the fatigue caused by a marathon. Week 1 is all about recovery with active, but limited bouts of movement (ie walking, cycling, LIGHT running, etc). Week 2 is when you can start getting back to some regular easy runs. So while I do plan to go for some runs in Weeks 1 and 2, it will all be easy peasy until Week 3.