Sunday, March 22, 2009

National Marathon Race Report

Well the good news is that I made it through this year's race without injury. It is also good news that I managed to PR, though given last year's performance, I expected nothing less. However, the marathon holds no prisoners and strike you down anytime. Final numbers on the race:

Official time: 3:49:14
Avg Pace: 8:45/mile
Avg HR: 158 bpm
Place: 673/2094
Age Group: 99/229

Bottom line was that I finished in 3:49:14, which is 8:43 faster than my time last year. So I did accomplish 3 out of my 4 goals. If you recall from my post a couple days ago, I outlined 4 possible goals.

a) Finish without walking a majority of the last 6 miles - CHECK (though I did have to stop and stretch a good 8-10 times, killing my average pace, but no actual walking)
b) Finish in a time that is faster than my PR of 3:57 - CHECK
c) Finish in less than 3:50 - CHECK
d) Finish in less than 3:45 - I almost had it but as you'll see in my recap, it slipped away from me

Definitely not where I know I can be, but again, given the circumstances, I am happy with the results. The injury bug seems to like to bite me for marathon training so far, but who knows, maybe the 3rd time will be the charm and I'll be able to race at my full potential next time. I hate to keep using being undertrained as an excuse, but it is true, as I'm sure you all know by now. In another post, I'll provide more details about this.

Onto the race! I'm going to recap my strategy and compare it to reality.

The morning was actually pretty simple. I forgot how simple running race mornings are compared to triathlon race mornings. I went over my checklist the night before and felt like there was something I was forgetting. Nope! Shoes, gels, chip, HRM, Endurolytes, clothes. That's it! Much easier than my 100+ item triathlon checklist.

Rebecca and I drove down to RFK and pulled into the lot around 5:45. Around 6 or so, we got out of the car so she could head over to the metro to get to her volunteer station at Mile 3. But before that, I ducked into a porto potty, which to my surprise had zero line! I walked Rebecca to the metro and walked to the DC Armory, where they were letting people in this year, to stay out of the cold and warm up a bit. I was glad, because I was pretty darn cold just standing outside for the 15 minutes or so before.

Shortly before the start, I left the Armory to go find my coral (Coral 4). Without much room to move, since it was jam packed, I stayed where I was until we began walking forward as the race time approached. The gun went off and we stood still waiting for the people in front of us to start moving. Some people shuffled, some jogged in place...I walked as easily as I could until I hit a couple steps before the start line. And I was off!

Miles 1-4
The recap the goal of this section - KEEP IT EASY! The plan was to hold a low zone 2/8:45 pace and start off slow, increasing pace each of the 4 miles. I sort of did that, but my HR was a good 5-7 bpm higher than normal. I'll attribute that to the adrenaline. I hit my first mile in 8:59, which was mostly due to the congestion at the start of the race. Even though there were corals, walkers still managed to find their way toward the front. It was frustrating, but I told myself I'd remain calm, not dodge people by going up onto the sidewalks and wasting energy. By mile 2, I had room to breathe and my pace was at 8:36, which was a little too fast this early, but brought my average back to 8:45 where I wanted to be. With a steep downhill for part of mile 3, and trying to look fast infront of Rebecca as I passed her water station, mile 3 came by in 8:30 as well, even though I was trying to slow my pace a little. Mile 4 was pretty flat, but because of the fact that they put the mile 4 marker on the wrong side of the street (it was out and back), I didn't mark off mile 4 until I saw the sign after the turnaround. Averaged between miles 4 and 5, it came out to 8:30 pace, which was still a little faster than I planned. However, I knew I'd lose the time back over the next 3 miles, which were all uphill.

Miles 5-8
The goal of these miles was to increase level of effort, but hopefully keeping the pace around my planned 8:45 pace. I kept it pretty consistent through the climb up to Adams Morgan. I took my first ClifShot just before mile 5 and the water station. Shortly after I saw my mom, who was waiting at the beginning of the climb. Mile 5, was close to 8:30 and I knew I needed to back off a bit more on the hill. I hit mile 6 in 8:47, which was much closer to where I wanted to be. According to the official results, my 10k split was 54:23, an average of 8:45 - spot on with the plan. The climb definitely was starting to work the legs and I kept backing off the keep my HR under 160 to stay in zone 2 so early into the race. Mile 7 came in 8:55. After finally cresting the hill and starting to get my legs to turnover faster, I clicked up the pace for the start of what was to be my race pace through Mile 20. Mile 8 clocked in at 8:19.

Miles 9 - 13.1
The goal of this section was to pick my pace back up and start hitting my goal marathon pace, which was anywhere comfortably under 8:30 but with a HR of no higher than 159. Mile came through in 8:25, right where I wanted to be. Once we turned onto North Capitol St, the real downhill pace was in full effect. Mile 10 was in 8:15 and Mile 11 was in 8:16. Then we hit H St, which was a false flat/uphill and my pace slowed a bit to 8:34 for Mile 12, but still within goal pace. Around this time, I caught up to the 8:45 pace group. Based on the way they started, it seemed like they started off a bit fast, but since I started off slow and gradually picked up the pace, they probably were right on based on the averages we were hitting at the time. I pulled up next to the leader and started asking him how he was pacing it out. He said they were doing even splits the whole way. To me, this set off a couple bells in my head. 1 - Since I am progressively pacing, I should pick up a good lead to allow for the expected fade toward the end, if I want to hit my D goal of finishing under 3:45; and 2 - Whenever i hear their footsteps, I better pick up the pace or else I'm going too slow. For the rest of the race, the 3:45 pace group was like my SAG wagon. Any sight of them and I wanted to speed up so I could feel secure. But strangely enough, they seemed to keep reeling me in, even after a few good miles of faster than their pace. It helped me get through the middle of the race though, by taking my mind off other stuff that I could be thinking. So away I went with the 8:45 group at my back. Mile 13.1 came through in 9:14, which I assume is right on track or ahead of my 8:30 pace goal, since I remember moving pretty swiftly at that point. I just don't feel like doing the math to figure it out. I came through the half at 1:52:21. My goal was to come through in 1:54, so I was slightly ahead of the plan but feeling good.

Miles 13.1 - 20
During this section I honestly felt too good. I went through all these landmarks that I remembered from last year where I began to feel depressed as I came to the realization that my body was about to explode. This year, I couldn't have felt more comfortable. My pace was quick, my HR was consistent, and most importantly, I still had a smile on my face! Mile 14, came though in 8:24, which included a pretty long uphill out of the RFK parking lot and back toward the start line. Mile 15 was 8:25, and similar to what I remember from last year, felt a lot more uphill on the 2nd lap than at the start. Go figure. Finally Mile 16 was the flat/downhill, which I hit in 8:16.

At this point, I started to notice my HR drifting up, which is normal. I just had to closely monitor it. I told myself I can go over 160 a bit after the 13.1 point. Mile 16 is where I began to average above 160 for the rest of the race. However, I still felt great, so I pressed on. I saw Rebecca again at her water station. She asked me how I felt and I said I felt great with a thumbs up - and I meant it! I was all smiles going into the tunnel of death (9th St tunnel). There isn't anything particularly terrible about the 9th St tunnel, except for the fact that all the spectators are gone, you are in a dark tunnel that seems like an endless uphill leading to nowhere. It drew on for quite a while. (This is where they made a few changes due to some ongoing construction. We continued uphill toward an off ramp, instead of going straight in SW, like we did last year. Nothing like a few more hills!)

Mile 17 clocked in at 8:15 and Mile 18 in 8:32. The SW Waterfront area is a great part of the course. Its a refreshing feeling after going through the 9th St tunnel to find green grass, boats, and water. But that was short lived, because a quick turn off the waterfront and back into the city toward the Nationals Stadium brough Mile 19 in 8:31. The legs were starting to tire, but I was going OK. I knew it was coming though, because Mile 20 is where I lost it last year. I wasn't expecting this year to be any different. A good portion of Mile 20 is on the South Capitol St Bridge. This bridge is terrible for running. Last year, if I wasn't mistaken, I thought they had placed some wooden boards along the bridge to even out the surface for at least parts of it. The majority of the bridge is the metal wire material. The worst part was that each step landed differently, because the metal wiring was not flat. As my legs were tiring, my hamstrings and calves were about to call it quits by having to take extra energy to stabilize my body differently with each step. I finally go off the bridge and was happy to never see it again. Mile 20 came through in 8:57. I could start to feel the 8:45 pace group over my shoulder. When I clocked my Mile 20 split, I knew they had to be close. I'd pass by some spectators and then only a few seconds later I'd hear, "Go pace group!". They were coming to eat me. I tried to pick up the pace for Mile 21 and came through in 8:27, still feeling good. I was thinking that maybe, just maybe, I'd make it through the race without crampage or walking. Too bad the success of Mile 21 was short lived. I started to feel the twinges in my calves and hamstrings that I knew were inevitable, but I kept on moving until they told me no. Mile 22 came through in 8:57. At this point, I was even with the 8:45 pace group, but barely holding my pace. They started to pull away a bit, but they mentioned that they were about 1 minute ahead of their pace group, so I still felt confident that even if I slowed a bit over the next 4 miles, I'd still be able to get close to 8:45.

Unfortunately, Mile 23 is where my calf first said to wait a second. A short but sharp cramp forced me to stop and stretch for a few seconds. I picked the pace back up with the 8:45 group still within striking distance. Only a few seconds later, the calf went again. This time I stopped for 15 seconds and thoroughly stretched in hopes of settling it down. I started to pick the pace back up, albeit slower, but I was moving again. Mile 23 came through in 9:30, which was reasonable, considering a few stretching breaks.

Mile 24 was the toughest stretch for me. It was a long uphill, which I slowly jogged up safely without a cramp. However, on the backside was a steep downhill. From this point on it was the downhills that were my nemesis. I couldn't run without a twinge, so I had to stretch/awkwardly run down the hill to get to the next uphill that followed. Again, once I reached the top, awkward downhill running ensued. However, I had to stop and stretch a good 5 or so times in this mile alone. Mile 24 came through in 10:01, my slowest split by fall all day.

I finally spotted the last water station, which brings runners to the bridge that heads back to RFK for the finish. Mile 25 and 26 were a straight shot to the stadium, but a constant uphill the whole way. Lucky for me, that was the only type of running I could do. Mile 25 came through in 9:46 and Mile 26 came through in 9:31. I am happy to report that I made it through the last 2 miles without having to stretch or walk. It was a slow jog, but I made to the final straightaway. The last .1 came in at 1:55, which doesn't make sense, because I know I was running faster than that pace would work out to. I'm guessing they put the mile 26 marker a bit early to get people's hopes up. It was definitely not .1 from that marker to the finish. more like .25. Anyways, I heard Ray's voice as I turned the corner toward the finish and which helped me to squeak through in just under 3:50, at 3:49:14.

In all, I am very happy with my performance. I accomplished 3 out of my 4 goals, held my nutrition and race strategy almost to the T, and finished with a smile on my face. For the first time after finishing a long endurance race, I was instantly thinking about when my training begins for my next event! More on that later, since this post is long enough already.

Update: I'm an idiot. My original thinking was that since the first half had a marker or 13.1, the 2nd half marked 13.1 as well, hence my comment about the last .1 being longer and closer to .25. Thanks to Danielle for pointing it out, that my head math is wrong and it would be .2, since the race is, you know, 26.2. I'm stupid, I know.


peter said...

Congratulations on your PR, despite the adversity of the last miles. Prs are always nice, and hitting 3 or 4 goals is very close to the gold standard.

jeanne said...

nice work and nice report! what a great race you had! that bridge sounds like a total misery. Way to pull it out!

and so THAT's what happened to mile 4!! and no wonder mile 5 was my fastest mile ... cuz it wasn't actually a mile. duh.

Audrey said...

well hello!!! congratulations on the PR!!!!! i'm glad you had such a great day out there.

Danielle said...

That's a pretty good race considering you were injured!

(and isn't it 26.2, not 26.1, thus from the 26 mile marker to the end is .2?)

Rainmaker said...

Funny, I was thinking the same thing about how simple running mornings are compared to triathlon mornings...

Nicely done in mile 7 in keeping it in zone up the hills.

Interesting you mention the pace groups. I noted that the 3:40 pace group came in at least 2 minutes (based on gun time), but more like 4-6 minutes - fast. Random tidbit for you.

Good to see Danielle was able to assist you on the math. ;) Things are rougher at that stage of the race, mental-math wise. :)

Congrats on getting out there and kicking butt. Especially given you were injured so much of the first portion of the year...very impressive!

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