Nearly four weeks ago I ran my eighth marathon. This race was important to me as it was a return to racing, in a way. I continued to run but I lost the drive and passion that I had when I raced my first marathon. I was getting tired of using stories from 2-3 years ago as a source of pride. With strong encouragement I set out to train, and train hard, for the Rochester Marathon. I used the Pfiztinger/Douglas 12 week, 70 mile program. The last time I attempted to race a marathon I attempted to follow the 18 week 70 mile plan but it proved to be too much for me at the time. This time I conquered the training plan! I followed it very closely needing to adjust only one week (due to a minor illness and exhaustion). My goals for the race were to get a PR (better than 3:09), qualify for Boston, and to break 3 hours. Based on my training I didn’t think breaking three was in the cards (yet!) but I felt strongly that I could PR.
Sleeping in your own bed is a rare and wonderful thing for a marathon. Waking up with your girlfriend, the single biggest source of encouragement for my training, was even better. Though she generally is invisible to cameras my Dad was able to capture a picture of us shortly before race start. Just minutes later the gun went off. I was surprisingly emotional, on the verge of tears actually and I’m not sure why. This is, however, why I love running. It seems to amplify emotion. A good run feels euphoric. The nerves on race day are powerful. The feelings can be overwhelming.
Blah, blah, blah, feelings… What about the RUN? The weather for the race was amazing, almost ideal! It would be in the 50s with sunshine and a moderate headwind. Less wind, overcast skies, and just a couple of degrees warmer would have been the ideal. I couldn’t use the weather as an excuse if I had a bad day!I went into the race confident that I could PR based on intense training and taking care of my body through diet and sleep. I wanted to run at approximately a 7 minute mile pace and adjust that based on feel. It had been so long since I’d run a marathon (the last was Boston in 2011) that I wasn’t sure how best to handle race strategy. I know that an even paced marathon is best, that very few people negative split a marathon. But so many people blow up and have MASSIVE positive splits. I felt that my biggest weakness would be endurance.
It’s important to stay warm before the race. I had ample amounts of throw-away clothing. I keep a bag in my closet for clothing that I do not want and always save some for pre-race mornings. By the time the race started I still had three shirts and hoped to run shirtless. I ended up shirtless after three miles though I kept my winter hat and gloves on. It likely looked ridiculous and I’m sure I looked incredibly narcissistic but I want to be comfortable and my bald head often requires a hat! I kept the hat until about mile 17 and toss the gloves at about mile 25! When I removed my last layer my sunglasses fell off and the lens popped out. I reached down onto the road to get the lens and re-assembled them. It was the only real snafu of the race!
I was worried in the beginning of the race about effort. Was I running too easy? You can’t make up time in a marathon! If you race properly you’ll end up with, at best, even splits. But was I running too hard? Would I blow up and miss my goals? I decided I should push a little harder than I was comfortable with. I would prefer to give it my all and make a mistake than to look back and wish I had tried harder.
At the halfway point I knew I’d reach most of my goals. It was 1:31:40 (I think). I knew I would PR. The rest was up in the air. Somehow I thought I might still break three hours but I wasn’t thinking clearly. The race started to get difficult at mile 17. My legs started to tire and my left calf felt started to hurt and I was afraid I’d have a bad race. I decided to try to not think about it and hope the pain would disappear. Indeed, it did, and my focus became trying to maintain my pace.
In the late stages of a marathon you increase effort DRAMATICALLY in an effort to maintain pace but often still can’t maintain. I started losing 10-15 seconds per mile but I didn’t let it discourage me.
Tired and satisfied I collected my medal and limped towards the refreshments (side note: Rochester has the best post race refreshments of any race I’ve run — ever). I was drained. When my girlfriend found me in the finish tent I was a bit confused, “who is tugging at me?”. I later learned that we had a mini-makeout session there. I wish I could remember that!
There is no such thing as perfect and I learned a few things training for this race. I do not have enough experience to race marathons properly. I don’t run them often enough to retain the proper respect for the distance making it difficult to strategize. I felt that I was lacking in endurance (but not too badly). I don’t think I was rested enough for the race. Just a week or two later my legs felt infinitely better, more powerful, than when I was standing at the starting line. I learned that pace during training doesn’t matter very much. My runs were slow, excluding the important workouts. There’s no point in fretting about those paces.
Next time I will do things very much the same but I’ll run more marathons (run, not race). I will train longer so that I can have more 20+ mile runs. I will try not to worry about pace…but I’m sure I will anyhow.