Not a whole lot good to say about this one, but I’ll stay positive and say that I completed my third marathon, and from the viewpoint of me, say, five years ago, that’s pretty amazing. And, out of the three marathons I’ve done, it was not the worst time, merely number two.
First I’ll give a recap of the race, then do an “analysis”.
The Baystate Marathon and Half Marathon both run along the Merrimack River, starting in Lowell, MA. The half marathon is a two loop course, down the southern side of the river and back on the northern side. The full marathon goes about 8 miles down the river, through Chelmsford and into Tyngsboro, crosses the river, then back about 5 miles, then looping around back to Tyngsboro then back to Lowell.
The run started OK for me. But just OK. In running several longer races – three marathons, two halfs and a 20 mile race, I’ve seen that sometimes there is a “magic” that happens on race day. And, sometimes there isn’t. I don’t mean magic like crystals or horoscopes. Just that all the training, your physical condition, diet, weather, mental attitude, and a score of other factors all come together just right. This has happened in three of my five longer races, so it’s not something rare, but neither is it guaranteed. This Sunday, I did not feel the magic.
In the last few weeks of training, I’d been having a lot of tightness in my left quads and in my right achilles tendon. Actually, the achilles had started acting up very early in the year and caused me to take a few weeks almost totally off of running. It had gotten better, but with the increased mileage had started tightening up again. So I was worried about these two things, but it turned out they didn’t cause me any problems at all throughout the marathon.
Again, it was all OK for the first half of the race. Nothing bad I could put my finger on. But maybe felt like there was a bit more effort to keep the pace than on other times I’ve run. At the Eastern States 20 Mile Race in 2012, I was amazed at how fast the miles were going by. It felt like every time I turned a corner, there was another mile marker. Yesterday, it seemed like those miles, even in the first part of the race, were a whole lot longer.
I’d lined up at the nine minute marker in the corral. The 4:00 pacer was there and a bunch of us were chatting with her. I kept up with her for a while, but I was doing around 8:46 per mile and she was pulling well ahead of me, indicating that she was doing significantly faster than a 4-hour marathon, which would have been around a 9:00 pace. I let her go and settled into an 8:50 pace. At some point the pacers switched off and I wound up catching up to the new pacer who was doing a more conservative pace of right around 9:00. I followed right behind her until her shift was done, and the original pacer came back. She held on at the same pace for a couple of miles, but then started speeding up again, so I let her go.
Around mile 15, I started getting pretty bad nausea. I was eating those chomps – gel chewey things. I’d used them in the Cape Cod Marathon and the Eastern Stated last year and did well with them. I’d also trained with them for those races. But I didn’t train with them this time around. I was also carrying and drinking Powerade, while I had done all my training with Powerade Zero. Cardinal racing rule number one broken: don’t do anything new on race day. So, every time I ate and drank, I’d get a wave of nausea that would last for 5-10 minutes. That lasted from about mile 15 through the rest of the race. Actually, I couldn’t eat anything until a few hours after I got home. The result of this was that I was not able to get enough fuel into my system during the run itself. Which meant I hit the wall nice and early.
The other thing that happened around mile 18 was that my abs just locked up. At first I thought this was just a stomach ache to go with the nausea. But it was actually my core ab muscles cramping up. If you’ve ever done a whole bunch of situps or crunches – more and faster than you’re used to – you might have experienced that sudden painful clenching of those same muscles for several seconds. This was like that, except it just went on and on. Extremely painful. My plan for this was to just keep going and hope that it went away. Surprisingly, this plan worked. I did have to start taking short walk breaks in mile 19, but by mile 21 or 22, the ab muscles had relaxed a bit.
But between the nausea and ab cramps, I felt my sub-4:00 slipping away. Actually, I think I knew it was gone pretty early on in mile 18 or so when the abs started acting up. But by mile 21 or 22 I knew it was gone. There was still the chance of a PR if I could beat 2:06. But I think by mile 23 or 24 I knew that was probably not real either. At the same time, I knew that unless I stopped running altogether, I’d still be able to beat my first marathon time of 2:26. So there wan’t really any goal to try for at that point. I just ran as much as I could. Took a lot of short walk breaks and ticked off the last few miles. It wasn’t fun at all. For the most part I tried to keep the walk breaks short. Either 30 seconds by time, or 0.05 miles by distance. And tried to give myself goals of running 0.3 or so miles between breaks. But near the end, the walk breaks were closer together, and some of them may have gotten a bit longer. It wasn’t pretty. Even in the last half mile, I couldn’t rally to a non-stop run. Blah.
My wife took this photo a block or so before the finish line. Don’t let that smile fool you. I was dying.
Crossed the finish line at 4:11:18. Five minutes longer than my Cape Code Marathon time, though this was a MUCH easier course. 15 minutes faster than my Hyannis Marathon time. But this mirrored my Hyannis run in so many ways. The 15 mile breaking point, the nausea (I was using gels in Hyannis and nearly barfed the last one up – haven’t had another gel since), the abs tightness, the early hitting the wall around mile 19, the death march of the last 4 miles.
Earlier I used the word analysis in quotes. Because it’s not really so much of an analysis as much as viewing the obvious factors that were in my face.
1. Don’t do stuff on race day that you haven’t done in training.
2. Pick a race fueling plan before your training, train with it and then race with it.
3. Core work. Strengthen those abs.
At this point, I know that I can run (or mostly run) a marathon. I can make it 26.2 miles on my own power and cross the finish line. I’ve done it three times. I can do it again, I’m sure. There’s nothing to prove there anymore. I would like to:
A. Finish a marathon in under four hours.
B. Finish a marathon without walking, or maybe just walking through a few water stops, but avoiding the death march.
To do this, I think it’s a matter of training smarter, not just harder. I know that sounds like a mindless cliche, but it means a very specific thing and is very real to me. Not sure what my next marathon will be yet. Right now I’m a bit burnt out on marathons. But there will be more, and I know what I need to do.