When I first started planning for this marathon training cycle, I knew I had a weight lifted off my shoulder, given the BQ time had moved to 3:05 and I am just not in that ballpark yet to train at those paces. I still have some work to do to prove my fitness before stepping into that territory. So after last year’s race where I raced on the edge and succumbed to dehydration and working too hard running into the wind for so many miles, I wanted to run this marathon more conservatively. Now based on my times in other distances up from 5k up to the half marathon, I am capable of running around a 3:08 according to my (marathon adjusted) vDot. So my conservative goal was to pace for a 3:12 and see how I felt at Mile 20 and speed up if I still felt good. That was my plan anyways going into the race, assuming good running conditions. Now as I found out at my last marathon, the wind can really wreak havoc on your pacing strategy, so while the temperatures forecast for race day were perfect (low 38 high 45), I kept an active eye on the wind forecast, which called for relatively light winds at the start (5-10 mph, gusts to 15), but shifting to much windier as the day went on (10-15 mph, gusts to 30). So with that in mind, I knew I’d just have to manage my effort accordingly if the winds picked up and run my race based on what the day brought.
The B&A Trail Marathon is run primarily on the B&A Trail (duh), which is a paved former railroad trail that runs approximately 12 miles long, while the remaining miles are done on neighborhood roads. It goes south 6.5 miles out and back, and then north 6 miles out and back. Some might consider it somewhat boring, but it was a new place to run, so it didn't bother me. I wouldn’t classify the course as pancake flat by any means, but there are lots of flat sections, 1 solid hill, a number of shorter steep pitches, and some longer false flats. It was honestly a pretty good mix of surfaces, so you never get stuck using the same muscles over and over again.
Being that Severna Park is only about 1:15 away, I chose to drive the morning of rather than try to get a cheap hotel. I woke up at 4:40, ate my pre-race breakfast, and was out the door by just after 5. I arrived at Severna Park HS by 6:15, checked in to get my race bib, took care of business, and went back to my car to get set up. After about 10 minutes of warm up doing dynamic stretches, I went out for a short 10 minute jog, followed by 2 30s race pace strides. By the time I was done, I had just broken a sweat and felt loose.
My pacing strategy had me averaging 7:30 for the early miles. Since both the marathon and the half marathon start at the same time, I seeded myself a ways back so I wouldn’t get caught up in the mad rush at the start. So while I still found myself running in the low 7s for the first ¼ mile, I also noted that the road was downhill, and just made sure to find clear space and slowly easy back on the pace. The miles were clicking away, as the first half of the race was full with so many runners (1000 total). I’d come to find out later in the race, that the great majority of them would be turning off at the halfway mark to finish their 13.1 (only 329 marathoners vs 671 half marathoners). So during this time, I made sure to soak in the fun of the spectators at each trail intersection, and the very chatty Navy cadets (we were only a few miles from Annapolis - home of the Naval Academy), who seemed to outnumber those running my pace 2 to 1. It was welcome change from keeping to myself, which I knew I’d need to do much later on.
Mile splits: 7:28/7:32/7:37/7:33/7:23 avg pace: 7:30/mile
My plan here was to start picking up the effort toward goal pace, which was anywhere in the 7:15-7:20 range, erring on the side of 7:20 through 13 miles. Once you hit 5.5 miles, you move off the trail and onto the road for the next 1.5 miles. I also knew there was a steep downhill to the turnaround at Mile 7, followed by having to climb up it, so I factored that into my pacing to allow for me to head downhill a bit faster while in control, and just run strong by effort on the way back up to even out. I’d estimate based on the elevation profile from my watch that the hill was about .6 miles long. It was fairly steep, but since it comes so early in the race, running it on fresh legs wasn’t much of a challenge at all. After cresting the hill, I went back to being in full control, chugging along with a now smaller gaggle of runners. It appeared that many less prepared runners weren’t able to make it up the hill as well (or they just went out too hard too early), because by the time I was back on the trail, I appeared to be running with far less people. Once you head back on the trail you also pass back through the most congested section of the course – an aid station at Mile 5.5 on the way out and 7 on the way back that hits runners coming through in both directions, with volunteers on both sides. Unfortunately, many people took the opportunity to walk/stand in the middle of the trail and I had to forcefully move people out of the way to make my way through. No issues though, so I pressed on. As I began the route back to the halfway mark, I noticed that the wind was starting to pick up. I was running with 2 other half marathoners and I just kind of stuck off to their side, trying to draft as much as I could. The wind was something between a crosswind and a headwind, so I couldn’t get all of it to hide, but it was effective at cutting out some of it. We finally made it through the turnoff, where I was left for my own, but my legs were still feeling fantastic, like I barely had used much effort at all.
Mile Splits: 7:16/7:16/7:26/7:21/7:17/7:16/7:21/7:21 Avg pace: 7:19
Now that time was moving right along, I knew this would be the part where I had to focus, because everything was going to slow down and get lonely quick. I could see a runner or two up in the distance, but I had nobody around me to help shield the wind, which continued to get stronger and become more of a headwind. At one point, a gust nearly blew my hat off and I had to catch it before it blew back. I was out there on my own and had to make a conscious decision to forget the pace goals and just run by feel. I didn’t want to get to Mile 18 or 20 with nothing left, like I did at Shamrock, while trying to hit a specific pace number. If I could just manage the effort, I knew I’d be able to come much closer to running the whole race. The first couple of miles were on flat trail. I closed in on the two runners I saw up ahead at mile 14, ready to grab a ClifShot for my 3rd gel on the day. While I got the gel out of my pocket, a few steps later, one of my other gels managed to pop out and fall. And while I packed an extra emergency gel, my gut reaction was to stop to go back and pack it up, so I did. I can’t say my body really enjoyed that change, but within about 30s of running, I was back in my rhythm. So while the winds picked up as the miles ticked by, so did the elevation. Nothing significant, like the hill at Mile 7, but it just seemed like a general uphill climb, with a couple of relief spots in between. As I later found out in my elevation file (see above graphic), it was largely uphill through Mile 16, where we crossed a highway. So in order to get to the bridge over the highway, there was a last bit of a steep hill, which was followed by relative downhill toward the turnaround just before Mile 20.
Mile Splits: 7:26/7:31/7:24/7:24/7:27/7:33/7:30 Avg pace 7:28/mile
After hitting the turnaround, I found myself still running pretty well from a mental and physical standpoint and excited to only have a 10k left. However, the short downhill after Mile 20, led to the next 3 miles being primarily uphill to head back and the toughest (or so I thought at the time) to get through. The long uphill started getting to me and my pace started to slow a bit. Nothing too drastic, but I kept the effort steady. It was during the short, steep kick up in pitch to go back over the overpass bridge, that my body made its first sign of getting tired – my calf started to twinge. Knowing that I was at Mile 22, I was encouraged that I “only” had just over 4 miles to go, so I slowed up just enough to keep it at bay for the time being. And then, I got mentally sideswiped – after crossing the bridge and looking forward to the general downhill toward the finish, the volunteers were directing us to the right, to some other trail connector along the highway. So that meant a short, but steep drop down to get there (and in my head thinking how was I going to get up this if my calf just cramped on something less steep) and then about a ¼ mile out and back that was gradually uphill out and down on the way back. So here I was, having looked so closely at the course for months, and I never saw this section. After looking at the official hand-drawn map I posted above (hey, it was a low key race), I can see a light scribble of the out and back, but only because I now know I had run it. I think if I looked at it again, I still wouldn’t have noticed it. So anyways, I slogged my way up the hill, which left me very close to wanting to walk. After approaching the next aid station, I decided to take a 30 step walk break, while I took in some Gatorade on the course. Given my dehydration experience at Shamrock, I knew the calf cramp I was starting to feel was likely the result of cramping from the added dehydration effects from the wind. So I chugged down 2 cups of Gatorade and slowly continued on my way. At this point, I had 3 miles to go, but I could only go as fast as my body would let me. I didn’t want to put myself in the situation of pushing to the point of full blown cramps, where I’d be on the side of the road trying to stretch and not moving forward. That sucks and I’ve done it before So I decided to take another short walk break of 30 steps at the next mile to prevent the tightness from getting worse again. Seeing my pace quickly slow and being pissed about the extra out and back section, my mind short of shut down on me and it made me more frustrated. I took one more walk break, which in hindsight was stupid and unnecessary, and shortly after, I finally saw in the distance the turn off from the trail, which meant only the last .2 (uphill of course) to the finish. I used whatever I could (mostly my arms, because they are SORE) to propel myself up that hill without cramping and finally cruised through to the finish.
I was proud to have PRd by a large margin (9 minutes!), but when I saw that clock as I crossed the finish line, I again became frustrated. That stupid last walk I took likely cost me from dipping under 3:20. I realize it is pointless and only a matter of 17 seconds, but it is always frustrating to leave free time out on the course. Of course, that’s why there’s always the next one! And hey, it is what it is and I still PR’d by 9 minutes. And THAT is something I am proud of. I ran a relatively conservative race and executed it largely as I had planned, save for the slowdown in the last 3 miles. I am convinced that if it weren't for that mental breakdown, I wouldn't have stopped to walk at all. Physically, I felt alright – obviously sore, but probably less terrible than any previous marathon. I figured there might be a shot at winning an AG award, since I didn’t recall seeing too many people ahead of me that looked my age, so I stuck around for the awards. So sure enough, when they came to Males 30-34, they called me up for 3rd place!
So a marathon PR of 9 minutes and AG award all in one day – can’t ask for much more!
Avg pace: 7:38/mile
OA Place: 36/329
AG Place: 3/16
- This was the 1st time I’ve worn my HRM, but never looked at it during a marathon. I made sure that my screens wouldn’t display it. After racing the same way at the half marathon a month ago, I’m convinced that after you’ve trained long enough with one, that it becomes self-limiting in race situations. Seeing a specific HR and associating that with a given effort gives your mind an excuse to shut your body down before you have a chance to let your body show it’s wrong. In both races, I pushed harder than I would have if I displayed my HR. And I truly believe that if you can keep the mind at bay, your body will do whatever you ask of it within reason (central governor theory anyone?). So going forward, I plan to continue to race with HR for recording purposes, but not for use in the actual race.
- My nutrition was spot on for this race. I had about 600-700 cals total for breakfast 2.5 hours before. I felt slightly hungry in the middle of the race, which is great, because it likely meant no unexpected bathroom trips! I took gels at Miles 6, 10, 14, and 18. I had planned to take another at 22, but also gave myself the option of Gatorade if I was sick of the gels or had cramping issues, since it has higher sodium content and might help. So combined I took in about 500 cals during the race or about 150 cals/hr.
- For anyone considering a cheap ($50!), alternative to some of the larger races in the Spring in the DC area (or from elsewhere - people were from all over the US representing), I’d rate this as a solid one to do. Despite the lonely 2nd half of the course and my issues with the “unknown” out and back section, it was extremely well run, started on time, had great volunteers at the aid stations, and even had results posted the same day! There were also tons of Marathon Maniacs racing, likely checking off MD in their 50 states quest, or just enjoying a cheap, lower key marathon. I'd do this race again.
So that's all for now. I'm sure to have many more thoughts to come, but I just wanted to get this already too long race report out there.
Time for some R&R for the next couple of weeks!