I did something crazy and ran my marathon a week earlier than planned. Instead of running the Richmond Marathon, I ran the Marshall University Marathon in WV. Why?
As I posted about in my training recap, I have felt crappy during most of my training runs mostly due to the unseasonably warm and humid weather. Each run felt harder than it should have for the paces I was running, and I didn't have any "breakthrough" workouts. Usually in every marathon cycle I have a workout where I PR something
. Maybe it's an 800 on the track. Maybe it's my fastest 20 miler. Maybe it's my highest mileage week. Maybe it's the most reps for mile repeats. But this cycle, while my workouts were pretty good, they weren't particularly remarkable. None of them inspired confidence that I could PR.
But last week, when the weather cooled down dramatically. I noticed a change. It dropped from the mid 50s and humid to the low 40s and then into the 30s. And I felt like a whole new runner. My legs felt fresh and peppy. The extended forecast for Richmond was looking to be like most of my training runs - high 50s to low 60s and humid. Not a recipe for feeling good.
And so I decided that better weather might be more advantageous than a full taper. So, my choice was to cut a week off of my taper and get ideal weather, or have a full taper and get potentially the same weather I've had for most of my training. The weather for the Marshall University Marathon looked to be perfect and it was within driving distance (six hours) so I decided to go for it on Thursday of last week. Here is what my taper (or lack thereof) looked like:
Saturday, Oct. 30: 17.6 miles with the middle 10 at marathon pace, averaging 7:30 for the MP miles
Sunday: Oct. 31: 7 miles at 8:52 average, legs felt surprisingly peppy post long run
Monday, Nov. 1: Rest Day
Tuesday, Nov. 2: 5 x 1000m with 200m recovery jogs, 4 x 200m with 200m recovery jogs the 1000s averaged 6:30 pace, the 200s averaged 5:40 pace. Legs felt energized and fast.
Wednesday, Nov. 3: 7.3 miles easy at 8:54 average
Thursday, Nov. 4: 4 miles easy at 9:01 average. This is the day I decided I would probably do the Marshall Marathon instead of Richmond. I was originally scheduled for 9-10 miles.
Friday, Nov. 5: Rest Day
Saturday. Nov. 6: 2.62 miles shakeout run with strides
Aside from the Saturday long run of 17.6 miles with 10 at marathon pace, this week is almost like a normal pre-marathon taper week. I had a rest day planned for Monday originally. If I had known I would be doing the marathon I probably would have backed off the Tuesday workout, but of course I didn't know that.
As I said above, I think that the benefit I would have gotten from a full taper would have been countered by warmish weather. Of course, you cannot trust a forecast 10 days out, but I didn't want to risk it. I knew that perfect weather was a sure thing for Marshall, so I went with it.
The day before the race
After my short shakeout run on Saturday morning, Greg and I left for WV. We left the house at 8:30 and the drive was projected to take 5 hours and 50 minutes. But we would be stopping for gas, lunch, and to stretch our legs.
|WV Route 48|
The drive through West Virginia was gorgeous. A bit nauseating at time with lots of hills and curves and windy roads, but with the fall foliage at its peak, the reds, yellows, and oranges were stunning. There was nowhere we trusted along the way for lunch, so we packed sandwiches in a cooler and ate them in a gas station parking lot. I snacked on almond butter pretzels and drank water combined with Liquid IV. My plan was to get in as many electrolytes as possible on Friday and Saturday so I wouldn't need any electrolytes during the race. If its cool enough, I don't need electrolytes while running; pre-loading works just fine.
We arrived at packet pickup shortly after 3:00. Online registration had closed but the website said runners could register on site. I filled out a registration form and handed it to a woman behind a computer. And as she was processing it, she got an error message "application failed." Oh great! Turns out our credit card was charged twice, but that can be easily disputed. I'm just thankful the registration went through. On the way to our hotel, we passed a hospital with workers on strike outside of it. There were about 25 workers with signs. I don't think I have ever seen workers on strike, so now I can say I have.
For dinner, we went to Rocco's Ristorante, which had been recommended to me by my friend Chad, who
had run the race three years ago. I had spaghetti with marinara sauce and chicken. Very bland. Also bread and a plain salad that consisted of iceberg lettuce, a tomato and an onion.
After dinner, it was time for a course preview. We drove a good portion of the course, but we were not able to preview the gravel section by car, obviously. I knew that miles 7, 8, 9 and 21, 22, and 23 were on a gravel section. It was a two-loop course so at least I would know what to expect in the second loop. The course looked to be flat (particularly for WV) with a several short but steep hills. It would start at the Marshall University Stadium and then go two loops, finishing on the football field.
When we got back to our hotel, I had about half a serving of the Maurten Drink Mix 160. I didn't want to drink the full serving because that's a lot of liquid before bed! But the drink mix has easily digestible carbs and was a good way to top off carb stores as opposed to overloading on spaghetti.
I slept about as well as I normally do in a hotel the night before the race. I went to bed at 8:40 and woke up about 3 hours later. I was up for half an hour, and then slept for maybe 3 more hours. And then I was up for good, despite my best efforts to fall back asleep.
The race started at 7:00 which meant I wanted to be done with breakfast by 5:00. Thankfully, it was daylight savings time, so I had an extra hour. I had an English muffin (un-toasted because there was no toaster) with almond butter. It wasn't at all satisfying and I wasn't hungry for it, but I ate it anyway. I also made another full serving of the Maurten Drink Mix 160 and drank that throughout the morning, finishing at 6:45. I could have opted for the Maurten Drink Mix 360 (which would have been more calories and carbs) but I didn't want to press my luck with my sensitive stomach.
I got dressed in my outfit which matched the Marshall University colors: green and white. And my shoes, the Adios Pro 2, were also a perfect match! I wrapped my water bottle in KT tape, and then zebra print duck tape. Why? My hands go numb in the cold and even with a gloved hand, that water bottle gets too cold to hold quickly. So the KT tape created a barrier between the cold bottle and my hand. The zebra duck tape ensured that everything stayed in place - I wasn't sure if the KT tape would start to fall off without something that had a stronger seal. Credit goes to Greg for the KT tape idea and to my coach Angela for the zebra duck tape idea.
I also used my vibrating Hyperice massage ball on my glutes to get them activated. Doing this before the run helps bring awareness to the area and gets those muscles ready to work.
It was a 10-minute drive to the race and parking was super easy. We parked in the stadium parking lot and the start line was about a quarter mile from where we parked. Greg waited in the car while I found a porta potty line to wait in. I waited for about 15 minutes, which is on the longer side, but thankfully I had the time to spare. It was only 30 degrees at this point, but I had pants and a jacket over my shorts and tank.
|Pre-race warm up|
After the porta potty, I went back to the car, ditched my pants (but kept the jacket) and told Greg I was ready for him to get out of the car. I ran around the start line area for about 7 minutes to keep warm and get the legs moving. Then I lined up at the start line and handed Greg my jacket. I was now wearing shorts, a tank, and arm sleeves. Zebra socks to match my zebra water bottle!
The weather gets a 10/10 on my race weather scale. 30 degrees at the start line, warming to 45 by the finish. Clear with fog, winds at 1-2 mph.
Goals and Strategy
My main goal was to have a race in which I paced it well, didn't bonk and felt good. My past three marathons have had major slow downs at the end and I wanted to break that cycle. I thought a PR would be possible if I had a good day (Sub 3:15) but certainly wasn't a given.
I was at my lifetime fittest last spring as evidenced by some of the workouts I did and my tune-up race. I was confident I was in shape for 3:10 or faster but I ended up with 3:19:30 at the Two Rivers Marathon. I think it was a combination of the fact that I actually injured my adductor during that race, I was slightly overtrained with an extra-long training cycle, and I had an off day. So my goal here, if I didn't PR, was to beat that 3:19:30 and have a faster time to submit for Boston. Not that I was worried about getting in with a cushion of over 20 minutes, but I wanted a low bib number!
So the plan was to start in the 7:30s and see how I felt. I thought it was possible for my average pace to be as fast as 7:20, and I would have been disappointed if it was slower than 7:38, meaning I didn't beat my spring marathon.
Fueling was a big focus for me with this marathon, probably more so than any other marathon. Even though I didn't have digestive distress during my spring marathon, I felt like I didn't have enough energy at the end. My stomach rejected the gels I tried to give it later in the race. Here is the plan I came up with:
Maurten 160 Drink mix gradually throughout the 2 hours leading up to the race
Sipping from my water bottle every 20 minutes (no electrolytes, just water)
Alternating between a Maurten Gel and 2 honey stinger chews every 20 minutes:
0:20 2 chews
0:40 Maurten caffeinated gel
1:00 2 chews
1:20 Maurten regular gel
1:40 2 chews
2:00 Maurten caffeinated gel
2:20 2 chews
2:40 Maurten regular gel
The race started and WOW did I feel amazing! I was so happy with how easy it felt. It felt like my easy pace but I was in the 7:40s to start! That cold, crisp weather was exactly what I needed. We started by going around the outside of the stadium. At the back end of the stadium was a steep downhill made of uneven bricks. I definitely had to work to stabilize here and I had to watch my footing. For the second loop, we would go around the stadium in the other direction, meaning this brick portion would be uphill. I made a mental note of that.
|Mile 2.5: zebra socks & water bottle|
I saw Greg at mile 2.5, which was close to the start line (we had made an extended loop around the stadium). He snapped photos and wished me well. I was feeling amazing and I kept having to reel myself in. I couldn't believe how easy these 7:20s felt! I knew that I had absolutely made the right choice with this marathon. I felt so much better than my previous three marathons:
- CIM had been ridiculously humid.
- At Harrisburg I had been nauseous from the very start.
- Two Rivers had felt stale.
I just needed a "good day" and this was my good day! Or at least I hoped it would be and all signs were pointing to that during the first 6 miles. As we got further away from the stadium, starting at about mile 4, we encountered a very thick fog. I liked it, because I would prefer that to sunshine. But I could only see about 20 feet in front of me. It was surreal. Thankfully there was another runner that I could follow otherwise I would just be running into a cloud of nothing and uncertain if I was on the right course!
My first Maurten gel went down easy. The biggest challenge was using my numb hands to get the gel out of my fuel belt and open it with my teeth. Even though I had already pre-cut it, it was still hard to open with numb hands. And then it took me forever to get the fuel belt to sit properly around my waist again. It kept riding up.
Mile 1: 7:41
Mile 2: 7:31
Mile 3: 7:24
Mile 4: 7:20
Mile 5: 7:20
Mile 6: 7:27
I knew to expect gravel here, but I didn't expect the section to be as challenging as it was. My PR of 3:15 was set on a course that is 70% gravel, so I figured it would be like that. Plus, it was only 3 miles of gravel with each loop, which was much less than my PR marathon. What made this section hard was:
- The gravel miles were net uphill
- There were fallen leaves in places which were extra slippery
- I couldn't run straight because I had to weave around super leafy sections
- The course goes off the gravel, onto the road for very short bits, and then back onto the gravel, which stole momentum. This was a "tease" and happened about 3 times.
- It was a twisty and curvy in places and was hard to get into a good momentum with good rhythm
I could see the 3:15 pace group about 30-45 seconds ahead but now wasn't the time to try and catch them. Instead there was one other runner who was holding steady at an effort level that felt appropriate for me, so I let him lead the way. It was also helpful to follow his foot path through the trail as he was also avoiding the slippery parts.
I saw my paces slow on my Garmin but I didn't let it discourage me. I vowed to speed up once we were off the gravel. And yes, I felt so much better once we were off the gravel. I had my momentum and my rhythm back, but it wasn't as amazingly easy the first 6 miles. The 3 net up hill gravel miles had taken a toll on my legs so I had to work harder to hit my paces.
After my 1:20 water sip, I tossed my bottle. It was still half full and I hadn't drunk much from it, but continuing to carry it felt like an effort and I needed the boost of not having to hold anything. I figured I could use water stops for the rest of my hydration. Also, based on experience, I know that when it's in the 30s and I have pre-hydrated, I don't need much water during a full marathon.
Mile 7: 7:25
Mile 8: 7:32
Mile 9: 7:43
Mile 10: 7:23
Mile 11: 7:17
Mile 12: 7:30
Mile 13: 7:26
I crossed the halfway point at 1:38:xx. This is from memory as the results do not yet include our split times. So I was on track for a 3:16-3:17. I felt decent but not good enough to be confident in a negative split, which is what would have been required for a PR. So I adjusted to my "B" time goal of beating my Two Rivers Marathon time for the spring.
I saw Greg shortly after the halfway point. I wanted to throw my annoying fuel belt off to him because by this point I had taken both gels from it and it was empty. After trying to unclip it with numb hands, I realized I could just remove it by sliding it off over my head. I was still hanging with the guy from the gravel section. We were leap frogging a bit, and it was nice to not be alone. The half marathoners had turned off and I was happy that this guy was in the full.
Then it was time for the bumpy brick road again. It was a short section but it was a steep uphill. I repeated over and over again "Follow the Yellow Brick Road" until I made it up to the top. Once I did, I knew it would be smooth sailing until the gravel portion again.
And it was. It was nice to know what to expect for the second loop and even though I had to really work for my paces, I felt like I could sustain it for a while more. I saw Greg again at about mile 15.2. I threw my arm warmers off to him because the temperature was starting to rise. It was still only about 39 at this point, and I would have been happy to have my arm warmers for another mile or two, but this would be my last chance to throw them off before the finish.
At this point, I could see runners in the other direction who were in their 11th mile. These runners cheered for me so loudly and I was very appreciative.
My third gel at 2:00 didn't go down so well. I ate it in small "bites". The first two bites went down okay. I had to hold the gel in my mouth until I was confident in my ability to keep it down. But as soon as I put the third bite into my mouth, I spit it right back out. So I am guessing I had about 2/3 of that gel, as the last bit made the packet nearly empty. I am not sure why I slowed down so much during the 19th mile. There was one of those short but steep uphills but it was still on the road surface. I think I went up the hill pretty slowly and then failed to speed up post-hill to compensate for it.
Mile 14: 7:26
Mile 15: 7:32
Mile 16: 7:32
Mile 17: 7:35
Mile 18: 7:29
Mile 19: 7:51
I had no idea how well I'd be able to keep it together on gravel section part 2. I told myself to stay positive no matter what and not to get annoyed with the gravel. I told myself to not use it as an excuse to stop pushing and that I would fight my way through that gravel. Thankfully, my original gravel buddy was still with me!
I had passed about 2 runners shortly before the gravel section and nobody had passed me. I had no idea what place I was with regards to other women. I hadn't seen any other women since around mile 4. I think the race only had 79 females, so this makes sense. I figured that no matter what happened, I would probably at least maintain my place in the female field.
The gravel started again and posed all the same challenges as the first time only I wasn't as fresh. My hamstrings started to hurt at around mile 21 and they became the limiting factor. Usually it's not my hamstrings that hurt in marathons-- it's my quads or hips. So I am guessing the hamstring thing is from using extra effort to toe-off the gravel.
Unfortunately, my gravel pal stopped to chat with some spectators early on during the gravel portion, so I was now alone. I was hoping he would catch up to me but he never did. I'm pretty sure I passed 1-2 runners during the gravel section but it's hard to remember.
Mentally I was doing okay. I wish I had told myself to give more on the gravel. I think I was physically capable of pushing harder through the gravel but the "you're doing fine just keep going at this effort" mindset was much stronger. I was still on track to be well under my 3:19:30 so I wasn't super motivated to go any harder on the gravel than I was. My hamstrings hurt and I felt like I was doing good just making it through in the 7:40s.
I decided to take my 2:40 gel at around 2:35. Because I had spit up the last portion of the 2:00 gel, I was doubtful that this gel would go down. My strategy was to gradully "sip" it over the course of 5 minutes. Amazingly, this approach worked and I was able to get the entire gel down. Since my legs were hurting, I wasn't pushing the pace as hard as I had been at 2:00, so my body was more able to digest the gel.
Mile 20: 7:42
Mile 21: 7:48
Mile 22: 8:05
Mile 23: 7:55
Miles 24- Finish
Now that I was done with the slowest portion of the course, I gave it everything I had to get to the finish. I told myself I only had 20 minutes to go and that I could tolerate 20 minutes of pushing hard. I sped back up to a pace of 7:24 for mile 24 (of course, this makes me think I really could have gone faster in the gravel). During the 25th mile, a man flew past me at lightening speed. He must have been going 7:00 or faster. He had so much pep! I knew I wouldn't be able to stick with him, but I made it a goal to keep him in my line of sight. Mile 25 was 7:33, which I was super happy about. Usually mile 25 is my slowest mile of the marathon. I'm really glad I was able to get that final gel down because I had a really good amount of energy.
Mile 26 was annoying. We ran through campus and this meant varying types of sidewalk surfaces, on and off curbs, around around little circles. Think of it as a pedestrian traffic circle where you can't go straight, you have to go around to go straight. There were 3 of these and they were momentum killing. I had a good amount of energy and I just wanted to cruise but kept having to pump the breaks. I was still able to run a split of 7:30.
My heart sunk a little when I reached mile marker 26, but my Garmin had beeped for 26 a while back. I had failed to run good tangents. And this meant I wouldn't be running a 3:17 and would have to fight for a 3:18.
At mile marker 26, we entered the stadium and ran down a very steep hill. I had to slow down on this hill to avoid falling. At the bottom, they handed me a football, which I knew to expect. I hated having to slow down to grab it because I was fighting for precious seconds here, but it made me happy to have it. At first, I had no idea what to do with the football. I held it in both hands but quickly realized that wasn't going to work. I had to run down the field one way, turn around, and back up the field to the finish line with it. This series of photos says it all:
So I finally figured out how to best carry the football after trying a few different positions. I ended up running 26.34 miles according to my Garmin and that final 0.34 had an average pace of 7:10. Pretty good considering I had to slow on the steep downhill, get a football, and figure out how to carry the football. All after running 26 miles.
I crossed the finish line and the clock read 3:19:01, and I was happy because I knew I had started a few seconds after the gun went off. I stopped my Garmin and it read 3:19:00. And of course, this was not an immediate stop of the Garmin as I had a football in one hand. Why does this matter? Because the race does not yet have our chip times published. My gun time is published as 3:19:03, and I definitely stopped my Garmin at least 2-3 seconds after crossing due to the football.
Edited to add: My official chip time is 3:18:57.
|3:19:02 on clock, hoping for 3:18:xx chip!|
Even if getting that football did cost me a few seconds, it was worth it for the experience. Also, Strava has my
26.2 time as 3:18:04, so I am pretty bummed about my inability to run good tangents. I tried my best, but on the gravel, I had to go where it was the least slippery and was not running straight.
After crossing the finish line, I got my medal, and walked to a section on the football field where I could sit down. But before sitting down I dry heaved a few times. Some spit came out, but it wasn't a significant vomit. It felt amazing to lie down on the football field and be done. This was my 30th marathon!
I found out that I won the female master's race and placed 5th out of 79 women. My first top 5 marathon finish! My award was a football made out of glass by a local glass artist. Pretty cool!
Later in the day Greg and I had lunch in Ohio and dinner in Kentucky. We had to take advantage of being in the WV/OH/KY intersection! I had never been to Kentucky, so I was able to cross another "state I've visited" off my list. And this WV race adds another state to my resume as well.
Final Thoughts and Key Takeaways
Overall I'm happy with how this race went. Part of me wonders if I will ever beat my marathon PR of 3:15:34. Now that I am 42 (turning 43 on Thursday) will I continue to slow down and have to deal with more injuries? I definitely need a flat course and very cool temps to PR, and there are only a few years left to do it, with 2 marathons per year, at most. So I might have to be content with 3:15:34 being my lifetime fastest, but I'll keep trying regardless.
My overall feeling about this race is that it was a huge success in terms of nailing my fueling and feeling energized throughout. I was not fully tapered but yet I still ran faster than I did in the spring when I was in much better shape. This gives me a faster time to use for my Boston registration with a buffer of 21 minutes or more.
I think I wasn't as fit for this marathon as I was for my previous 3-4 marathons because I didn't incorporate enough speed. I am going to talk to my coach about having a few more VO2 max workouts. Shorter, faster intervals. I am naturally strong with endurance, but I am not gifted when it comes to speed. And I think that in my 40s, I need the really fast stuff to stay sharp. Every training cycle is a learning "experiment" so I don't regret this, and I had specifically asked my coach for more marathon pace work.
I'm thankful that my Achilles behaved and that my groin injury was not an issue. And today both of those feel decent.
My coach asked me what I learned and what would I have done differently:
What I learned
- I now have a fueling strategy that works. The combination of gels and chews and the timing was great. In warmer weather, I would likely need to have an electrolyte strategy, but this was great for cold weather.
- I would rather have cold weather and a shortened taper than warm weather and a proper taper
- Just because you have a few slower miles in the middle of a marathon doesn't mean your race is over; you can speed back up to where you were before.
- Even though I had run 17.6 miles with 10 at marathon pace just 8 days before the race, I was still able to run a really strong marathon
What I would have done differently
- I needed to be bolder and more aggressive during the second gravel section. My hamstrings were hurting and my mental state was "just hang onto this effort" and I think I could have had a mindset of "be bold, show some grit, give it everything you have." Without a PR on the line, I lacked the motivation I needed to give more. The fact that I sped up so much on the road afterwards shows I had more in the tank than what I was giving.
- Tangents. On the one hand, I didn't have much of a choice when it came to the gravel section as I didn't want to slip, but on the other hand 26.34 miles on the Garmin for a course that wasn't crowded and didn't have a ton of turns was not ideal.
- Hills. There weren't that many of them, but I allowed myself to slow down substantially on them. If I had it to do over again, I would have worked harder there.
I'm definitely glad I ran the Marshall University Marathon instead of waiting an extra week for Richmond. I seized the opportunity to have great weather, and I really enjoyed the experience. It was my second fastest marathon out of 30 even though I wasn't as fit as I have been for previous marathons. Finishing with the football in the stadium was fun, and it was a memorable experience.