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?
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|
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
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|
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|
- CIM had been ridiculously humid.
- At Harrisburg I had been nauseous from the very start.
- Two Rivers had felt stale.
Mile 2: 7:31
Mile 3: 7:24
Mile 4: 7:20
Mile 5: 7:20
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
Mile 8: 7:32
Mile 9: 7:43
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.
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!
Mile 21: 7:48
Mile 22: 8:05
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.
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.
|3:19:02 on clock, hoping for 3:18:xx chip!|
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.
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.
- 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
- 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.