Sunday, March 29, 2015

B&A Trail Marathon Race Report: In the Zone

This morning I ran my 19th marathon at the B&A Trail marathon in Maryland. I had run this race once before in 2013 and I liked it quite a bit. I like to run marathons of all sizes-- big city races with millions of spectators like Chicago, medium-sized ones like Richmond, and of course really small ones like this one.

I think there are only 300 runners and the whole thing takes place on a paved trail. The race is extremely well organized, with chip timing, mile-markers, aid stations, etc. But it's definitely no-frills-- no bands, no cheering squads-- nothing fancy. Just a small marathon for those who want something low-key. It's a USATF certified course, which means it's a Boston Qualifier.

My training for this race had gone extraordinarily well, with just a few hiccups due to all the snow and ice storms. This was by far the toughest winter I've trained in, with record-breaking low temperatures on a regular basis, along with our fair share of snow and ice. I did a few treadmill runs, but ultimately the treadmill started to hurt my foot so I had to steer clear of it. I averaged 50-60 miles per week, which each week including two speed work sessions. Many of the workouts were completely new to me, which made things both fun and challenging.

Weekly Training Mileage

Thankfully, I avoided injuries because I was religious about doing my hip and hamstring exercises, my two biggest problem areas.

11 days before the race, Greg broke his ankle by playing basketball. He hadn't played basketball in years (not since I've known him) but his co-workers asked him to play, and so he did. He rolled his ankle going for the ball and it broke. I was extremely upset about this for obvious reasons, and it also meant that he wouldn't be able to run the marathon. I'm down a training partner for the next 6-8 weeks at least and he's in a boot and crutches.

Despite his broken ankle, Greg still wanted to support me during this race. I was extremely grateful for his support, and I knew it would be hard on him to get around on crutches.

In terms of my preparation, I felt ready. I've been working hard to reduce my pre-race anxiety for the past three years now and finally I feel "normal" during the week of the race. Every night I slept wonderfully--sleeping straight through the night with deep, restful sleep. For years I struggled with this and it's nice to finally have gotten past it.

Major drama on marathon eve
Ironically, the night before the race didn't go so well. We stayed in a hotel room, and at around 11:00, Greg and I were awoken by the sound of men yelling at each other outside of our hotel room. Doors were slamming (make a choice people-- in or out!) and two guys sounded like they were about to get into a fight. So I called the front desk and they sent up security. We heard the security person go into their room and both men said "everything's okay". After that, it got quiet and Greg and I tried to go back to sleep.

A short while later, the yelling resumed again. This time, it was just one man yelling and I heard the muffled scream of a woman. It sounded like this man was attacking her. So, once again I called the front desk, and they called the police. The hotel manager and the police arrived, entered the room, and we never heard a peep after that. I can only assume they were quietly escorted out.

This is not how I wanted to spend the night before the marathon. And once all the noise stopped, it took me awhile to fall back asleep because of the adrenaline rush. I can't believe I got them to call the police. All in all- I think I got maybe 4 hours of sleep. Ugh.

Before the Race
Finally, race morning arrived. I got dressed, had my bagel with peanut butter, and drove to the race. The race is located in a suburban town, so the nearest hotels are 10 miles away. I kept debating over what to wear. My original plan was compression capri pants, a lightweight long-sleeved shirt and then a light jacket over it that I would throw off to Greg once I warmed up. But some of my friends were wearing shorts. I didn't want to get too hot! But it was 25 degrees with 10-12 MPH winds, so I stuck with my original outfit. I also had headphones. I don't train or race with music unless it's a marathon. I find that the music helps relax me and prevents me from over-thinking things.

Overall, I was pleased with the forecast. I'll take sunny and 20's over sunny and 60's any day. Heck, I'd probably even take it over sunny and 50's. The wind was going to be annoying, but I guess it could have been much worse. My friend Chad and I lined up at the start together 5 minutes before race start and it wasn't long before the gun went off.

Miles 1-6
My plan was to start the race at a pace of 8:20 for the first 6 miles and then gradually drop it down to 8:00 by the end. I wanted to average somewhere around 8:10. I treated these first six miles like a training run. It was easy to do because the race course was a trail, similar to one that I run on near my house, and there wasn't any fanfare. It was just chill and relaxed. I decided to focus on my music and just keeping things feel easy. I purposely chose music that wasn't too hyped up.

One thing that kinda sucked was that parts of the course were icy. I had to run around the trail on the grass to avoid the icy patches. This wasn't a huge deal, but it slowed me down because the grass was muddy and also icy. Just not easy to run through.

In terms of fueling, my plan was to take a Honey Stinger Gel every 40 minutes. I took my first one just after mile 5 and it went down well. I experienced digestive issues during my last marathon in Coumbus and I didn't want a repeat. I made sure to drink plenty of water with each gel.

Greg was waiting for me almost immediately after I finished my gel. He had brought our "game day" folding chair (which folds into something he can carry on his back) and was sitting along the side of the course. I ran past him and didn't say much, as I was in "the zone".

Mile 1: 8:21
Mile 2: 8:22
Mile 3: 8:27
Mile 4: 8:25
Mile 5: 8:14
Mile 6: 8:10
Power Songs: Rumors by Waking Ashland, Armageddon by Anberlin

Miles 7-12
Mile 8.2, grabbing a water bottle

This race has a few inclines, but only one major hill. I knew the expect it during miles 7-8. It wasn't nearly as bad as I expected. It was kind of long, but not all that steep. I was so thankful I had run the Reston 10 miler four weeks ago, giving my confidence to run hills strongly. Those Reston hills were steeper than this one, and it was a whole race of hills! So this hill didn't even affect my pace.

I saw Greg just after mile 8, and I took a water bottle from him along with a Honey Stinger gel. I always run marathons with a hand-held water bottle so I don't have to stop at the water stations. The challenge with this morning's race was that I wasn't able to hold onto a bottle for very long before my hands would go completely numb. I was wearing big gloves, with hand warmers inside the gloves (between my hand and the bottle) but it wasn't enough to keep them from going numb. So thankfully I was able to toss bottles and keep getting new ones every time I saw Greg. And I also didn't have to carry all 4 Honey Stingers, which was good because my capri pants don't have pockets. Usually I race in a skirt that has plenty of pockets!

I ended up taking the second gel at 1:20, right around the mile 10 mark.

Everything continued to feel good. The hill at mile 7 was a turnaround point, so miles 8-19 would be into the headwind. I was mentally prepared for it.

Mile 7: 8:03
Mile 8: 8:19
Mile 9: 8:18
Mile 10: 8:07
Mile 11: 7:56
Mile 12: 8:10
Power Songs: Miss Jackson by Panic! At the Disco, Favorite Record by Fall out Boy

Miles 13-19
Tossing my jacket to Greg at the halfway point
I knew I would see Greg at the halfway point or just before. I had a decision to make: should I toss my jacket to him? The headwind was making things very cold, but when the sun came through the trees, it felt hot. I told myself I wanted to start pushing at the halfway point and working harder. This meant I would get hotter, so I decided tossing off the jacket would be a good idea.

I tossed it off to him, and got a new water bottle and Honey Stinger gel. The wind was making things cold and my fingers started to get numb. I didn't let that phase me though, I just kept my hands in fists around the hand warmers inside the mittens, while still trying to carry the water bottle and the honey. Unfortunately, this didn't work and I dropped the honey. I decided not to pick it up because I had a spare tucked in my elastic waistband for an occasion just like this.

I crossed the halfway point in 1:48:30 which was in line with my plan. I was really pleased with how everything going, but I actually wasn't thinking too much about it. I was really just zoned out. I had my music, and I just needed to run straight. This course has very few turns, no distractions, and it's easy to just "go" on autopilot. I started running mainly by feel at this point. I was no longer worried about going out to fast and I had executed exactly as planned.

I knew that the other turnaround was at mile 19 and I was counting down the miles to get there. This entire section was into a headwind so that made running harder and it was making my hands numb. I'm not complaining because the wind could have been much stronger. I would guess this was a 10-12 mph sustained wind, so it was definitely run-able, just not necessarily pleasant. But marathons aren't supposed to be pleasant!

I saw Greg at mile 17 and took a water + Honey Stinger. This would be my last gel of the race. Holding that cold water bottle with my practically numb hand was nearly impossible. And it was definitely uncomfortable. I wanted to take my honey/water combo earlier than planned so I could toss the bottle. But I was very disciplined. I wanted to avoid digestive issues at all costs and I wanted my 2:40 fueling to be the last one-- hold me through those final miles. Finally, my watch read 2:40 just before the mile 19 turnaround and I took the honey.

Mile 13: 8:10
Mile 14: 8:19
Mile 15: 8:05
Mile 16: 8:03
Mile 17: 8:08
Mile 18: 8:01
Mile 19: 7:59
Power Songs: Half-Light by Vertical Horizon, Time to Dance by Panic! At the Disco

Miles 20- Finish
Mile 22

It felt so wonderful after the turnaround! The wind was at my back, I didn't have to carry the water bottle, and mentally I was running toward the finish instead of away from it.

I felt strong at this point. I was pretty sure a PR was in the bag, but I didn't want to think too much about it. I wanted to just focus on pushing and getting to the finish without slowing down. I saw Greg at mile 22 for the final time before the finish. I threw off my gloves to him since the wind was no longer making my hands cold and it had warmed up a few degrees. I took a water bottle and had a few sips and tossed it.

What they do to you during mile 24 of this race is just cruel. They veer you off the B&A trail to this side bike path. Not only are they taking you off your path to the finish, but that section was directly into a headwind, and this was the strongest wind of the race. It had to be at least 15 mph sustained. And it was up a hill. It. Sucked. This was much harder than the mile 7/8 hill. Having to deal with all that wind so late in the race and to be taken "off track". I didn't let it phase me though. I just let the music motivate and energize me to keep pushing.

Finally at mile 24 marker I was back on the trail and ready to hammer it home. Things were tough. My legs hurt. I was tired. I had to really dig deep to keep the effort up. It would have been so easy to slow down to a 8:30 pace and still PR. But I didn't want to do that- I wanted to continue to push to my max. Thankfully all the ice on the trail had melted, so I didn't have to run through the grass again.

When I saw the mile 26 marker, I turned off my music so I could hear the volunteers direct me where to go. Wouldn't that be horrible if I missed the finish line because I didn't her the course marshals and went the wrong way!

That last 0.2 was directly into a headwind, but I was so motivated to get there that I just tore right through it.

Mile 20: 7:52
Mile 21: 8:04
Mile 22: 8:11
Mile 23: 8:18
Mile 24: 8:27
Mile 25: 8:07
Mile 26: 8:09
Last 0.31: (8:00 pace)
Power Songs: Medication by Waking Ashland, Twin Skeltons by Fall Out Boy

The Finish and Beyond
I crossed the finish line in 3:35:29. This is a PR by 4:31 and a Boston Qualifier by 4:31. My previous PR had been a BQ on the dot, so these two numbers match!

When I finished, my spirits were so high! I was so happy to be finished and to have gotten my goal time. I can't wait to run Boston in 2016! I was iffy about it after my previous BQ time, but now I am pretty sure I will get in.

I found Greg and my other friends and everyone had PR'ed! It was such a great day. I looked at the
Age Group Award: A blanket!
results and assumed the age groups were 10-year, which means I didn't win one. We left the race pretty quickly because my legs hurt so much and I had no desire to stick around.

One of my friends later posted on Facebook that I won 2nd place in my age group (they were 5-year groupings) so we drove back to the race site and I picked up my award. It's a nice travel blanket with the race logo! I love winning "things" instead of gift certificates.

This was such a wonderful day for me. I have been working for a race like this for so long. Finally I had a race with good weather, no digestive issues, I slept well, and my training went well. It all came together for me and I executed flawlessly.

I had a negative split of 1:31. First half in 1:48:30 and the second half in 1:46:59.

A big part of my plan was just to get in the zone and stay there. I wasn't overly happy or chatting with Greg. I didn't really smile at him that much either! I was all business. Emotion-neutral.

And now, I am so elated! I am looking forward to some time off now. I might not even run a fall marathon and just wait until Boston 2016.


  1. Hi, friend! I shut down my blog for awhile; so I have't ben actively reading others' as much. I just wanted to say CONGRATS on such a fantastic race. I hope you know how far you've come, nut just in the physical aspect of marathoning, but mental, too! I'm so proud of you!

    ENJOY Boston 2016!

  2. SO HAPPY for you! You paced it well and have put your mental demons to rest, hooray! And I know you must be pleased with your improvement over the past few years at all distances. Congratulations again!

    1. Thanks. Yes, for me the marathon has been more of a mental/anxiety problem than anything else. I think of all the amazing training cycles I've had, and they didn't result in anything until I was able to just CHILL OUT.

  3. Thanks for the visit to my blog/comment. Congrats to you on a great marathon and a BQ with room to spare. Great negative split as well...looks like a well executed race! Those are the best. Enjoy Boston!

  4. That is so great!!!! I would have also been annoyed with the commotion at the hotel. You've come a long way and that makes me so happy for you.

    1. Yes, it was so annoying that those people were so loud. Really inconsiderate and glad that they eventually left.

  5. Congratulations on another BQ! Really impressive negative split between the first half and second half :)

    I LOVE the graph that you made -- great way to visually break down all the different things you have done so that you know before race day that you've put in all the effort and work to deserve an amazing time. I definitely need to be more serious and organized with my training!

    1. Thanks! I look at my daily/weekly/monthly mileage every time I update my training log (almost daily) so it's good to keep the big picture in mind!

  6. i think the biggest thing I noticed was the smile on your face in each picture. it could be because your husband is taking them and he makes you smile - but its obvious you were more relaxed this marathon. congrats Elizabeth! You killed this one!