Ran My First Full Road Marathon - Race Report!

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3,590
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Nashville, TN via Memphis
Well, this past Saturday, I ran my first full road marathon, the Rocket City Marathon, in Huntsville, Alabama. Some might remember the thread I posted back in August about wanting to qualify to race the Boston Marathon: https://www.bobistheoilguy.com/foru.../any-boston-marathoners-here#Post4850784 The goal, when I started my official training plan, in late August, was to qualify for the 2020 Boston Marathon, by which time I'll be 40 years old. At that time, when I developed my training plan, the qualifying standard for males ages 40-44 was 3 hours, 15 minutes. However, due to the fact that tens of thousands of people apply, the fastest runners are accepted first, meaning that, for the last several years, an applicant needed to be faster than the qualifying time. For the 2019 race, that cutoff was 4 minutes, 52 seconds, meaning that a male, age 40, would have needed to run a marathon at one of the accepted courses in no more than 3 hours, 10 minutes, 8 seconds. However, after I'd started my training plan, the Boston Athletic Association announced that, due to ever-increasing numbers of qualified applicants to the Boston Marathon, the bar for qualifying standards would be raised. So, now, instead of 3:15, a male, age 40-44 would need to finish a marathon at one of BAA's accepted courses in no more than 3:10! BUT...that's not including the certainty that there will be so many qualified applicants for the 2020 Boston Marathon that not everyone who finishes in 3:10 or under is guaranteed a spot in the race. So, again, in reality, in order to ensure a spot, a runner would need at least a 5-minute cushion (e.g. a 40-44-year-old male would need a 3:05 marathon in order to pretty much guarantee a spot in Boston 2020). So, of course, I found out the above information after my training plan was written and after I'd started my plan. This being my first full road marathon (I have raced several road half-marathons, a couple of 25K trail races, a couple of 50K trail races, and a handful of 5Ks, 4-milers, etc.), I decided to just go for a sub-3:10 marathon finish at the Rocket City Marathon on December 8 in Huntsville, AL. In order to do that, my coach and I decided on a goal pace of 7:05/mile, which would have gotten me to the finish line in just under 3 hours, 6 minutes. A lofty, but definitely not unachievable, goal, for me, in the running shape I was in. After all, I had about 3 months to train, and I was starting from a pretty good place, with a half-marathon personal best of 1:37, at the Nashville Rock 'n Roll Half Marathon of 2017, which is a very hilly course. Over the summer, I'd been running around 25 miles or so, per week. My training plan would have me running between 40-60 miles per week with one track workout where I'd work on my speed, per week, and one long run every Saturday. I would be running 6-7 days per week. My training went fairly well; my ankles did start to protest on me at about the 5 or 6-week mark, after doing 50-60 miles per week, with the track workouts, etc. So, I had to cut back a bit for a couple of weeks, which did set me back a little, but I pretty much got back on track. I did continue to have some pain and discomfort in my ankles and feet for the rest of my training period, up to the race. By race time, my feet and ankles were feeling pretty good, due to the fact that part of my training plan included a "taper", in which my weekly mileage was reduced in order to allow my body to rest and get ready for the grind of the race. So, I was feeling good until about a week and a half before the race, when I came down with a nasty upper respiratory tract and sinus infection (I think I caught this bug when I traveled to Memphis to hang with my sister and my nephews, age 4 and 7, and we went to "Urban Air", which is an indoor trampoline-jumping facility). A few days after I got it, I went to a walk-in clinic and got a shot of antibiotics and one of steroids, as well as a prescription for a "Z-Pak" (oral antibiotics). The meds fixed me up pretty well, but I was still dealing with a little bit of sinus/nasal/cough symptoms at race time. The day before the race, I went for a 3-mile "shakeout" run (the purpose of this is just to help you to not feel "rusty" or "tight" the next day for the race), and felt great. On Friday, the girlfriend drove down from Indiana where she lives, and we drove to Huntsville together. The race started at 7 am Saturday, and the weather was beautiful. Actually, it wasn't. 40*F, steady rain, and a 10-15 mph wind started up in the latter half of the race. I wore a half-zip cool-weather running shirt, running shorts, a light "water-resistant" jacket with hood, ballcap, and a pair of gloves I picked up at REI on the way down that were advertised as "waterproof". I carried 3 energy gels. Water and Gatorade would be available at multiple aid stations along the course, so there was no need to carry my own hydration. The race started and I was feeling really good, actually having to slow myself down from running faster than my goal pace of 7:05/mile (I didn't want to go too fast too early). Still, I ended up going <7:00/mile for almost the entire first 10 miles, only rising to 7:07/mile for mile 8, which had some hills. Perhaps I went a little too fast starting out. Took my first energy gel at mile 10, and still felt very good from miles 11-15, but I had crept a little bit above goal pace, running around a 7:07-7:19 pace. Around mile 16, fatigue had started to set in, and some rolling hills we went over definitely hurt a little. Took another gel at mile 16, trying to time it with an aid station so I could wash it down with some water. Miles 16-22 or so were probably the toughest of the race as far as the course was concerned, with the course going through the Huntsville Botanic Gardens, where there were some good-sized hills, as well as going through the outdoor part of the US Space and Rocket Center, which, any other time, would have been fantastic to get to walk around, with Saturn rockets, the Shuttle, rocket engines and turbines from the turbopumps, etc, on display. But, being as I was in a marathon, the paved (and unpaved) paths they routed us through made it a challenge to keep speed up. So, after mile 16, I went above a 7:30 pace and never was able to get back under that mark. But, I didn't lose hope, and thought maybe I could somehow get a 2nd wind and start feeling better. But, the hills continued, and by around mile 22 or 23, I saw my coach, Dave Milner, which did cheer me up. I was feeling pretty darn fatigued at this point. Mainly my thighs and lower core were feeling very tight and fatigued and sore, as well as my hamstrings. I had one energy gel left (the only one I had with caffeine - 35mg), and decided to roll the dice and take it. The reason I say it was a gamble is that I've always found it tough during the later stages of longer races to choke down enough liquids and nutrition - the reason being that my stomach just tends to want to rebel against me putting anything down there. I took the gel, but it really seemed to have no effect. On the contrary - around the end of mile 23 or beginning of mile 24, I developed a severe stomach cramp that made it hard to breathe, much less run. And, that energy gel with the caffeine could very well have been the reason for the stomach cramp. A few minutes later, my right hamstring, then my left, started to try to cramp. At this point I just prayed that I would be able to finish the race, and my pace crept up to 8:24 (mile 23), then 8:28 (mile 24), as I fought a 10-mph headwind. Miles 25 and 26 were among the hardest miles I've ever run, with my stomach feeling like a pair of hands was reaching inside and wringing it out like a dishrag, and my hamstrings on fire, doing their best to make me bend at the knees. I thought I was going to have to stop and bend over and touch my toes to stretch my hamstrings out, but I was able to push through without stopping. My pace rose to over 9:00/mile for the last 2 miles. By this point, I'd known for a while that my original goal was well out of reach, but my secondary goal (plan B) of a sub-3:20 finish (as well as personal best race times in the half-marathon and full-marathon) was going to be possible if I could keep on for a little bit longer, so, that kept me going. Having a Garmin 220 GPS watch, I was always aware of my pace and elapsed time, so, I was surprised and frustrated when I approached, then passed, the 26.2-mile mark and the finish line was not even in sight! It turned out that the course was actually more like 26.5 miles. Let me tell you, that was the longest .3 mile I've ever run! They finished us in the Von Braun Center arena, and I crossed the finish line with an official time of 3 hours, 18 minutes, 52 seconds. Official pace was 7:35/mile, though my Garmin says 7:30/mile. I haven't done the math to determine which is more accurate. I felt pretty rough for about 45 minutes to an hour after I finished, just due to being very cold (I was soaked and it was still in the lower 40s), and having some pretty severe leg pain, and then having to walk about 10 minutes to the car without a jacket or anything, soaking wet. The gloves that I wore, that were advertised as being waterproof? Ha. They were soaked all the way through an hour into the race. But, after I got into the car and got warmed up a bit, my legs and stomach stopped hurting. Got back to the room and took a long, hot shower and was golden. Went and got a good meal, followed by some good, hot, black coffee, and felt like a new man. So, all in all, I can't say the race was particularly fun, just due to the weather (first 15 miles were pretty good), but I really enjoyed the experience of training for the race. The 3 months of training were awesome and fun, and completing my first full road marathon while earning personal bests in both the half and full marathons felt really good! And I still have until September to qualify for Boston 2020! Just need to pick a couple of races to make my attempts! I know I am capable of shaving another 13-14 minutes off my current best in order to reach that goal, and I will do it!
 
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Congrats. That would have been good training for this year's Boston where it rained during the whole marathon and then it rained some more. I knew a few people who ran it and they said it was probably one of the worst conditions they'd ever run in. Colder you can wear more cloths, hotter you can splash water on, and snow doesn't weigh you down like water.
 

JHZR2

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Thanks for the story - great read. Sounds like it's more a prep/hydration/nutrition strategy issue than that you can't make your goal. First one you've done, you've likely learned a bit about the need for pacing, and perhaps you can rethink the strategy with food before, gels, etc. Perhaps it also gives some insight into stretching? How far was the longest you had ran before this? Congrats on getting through. 8-ish minutes on 26 miles isn't that much to shave off, and given your time with the slow pace at the tail end, surely you'll get there!
 

john_pifer

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Nashville, TN via Memphis
Originally Posted by JHZR2
Thanks for the story - great read. Sounds like it's more a prep/hydration/nutrition strategy issue than that you can't make your goal. First one you've done, you've likely learned a bit about the need for pacing, and perhaps you can rethink the strategy with food before, gels, etc. Perhaps it also gives some insight into stretching? How far was the longest you had ran before this? Congrats on getting through. 8-ish minutes on 26 miles isn't that much to shave off, and given your time with the slow pace at the tail end, surely you'll get there!
Thanks - that's some good insight. I do agree that it would have helped a good deal to have had better nutrition and hydration during the race. I also didn't do a great job hydrating in the couple of days leading up to the race. I will do better with that next time. I think you're also right about the stretching. I need to figure a way to get my legs looser to help with the hamstring cramps. I've done 2 50K trail races before (that's about 31 miles). Different ballgame. More of a slow burn vs. the fast burn of a road marathon. I did my last 50K at about a 13:00/mile pace vs. the 7:30-7:35/mile pace of this road marathon.
 

Astro14

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That's a great story, loved reading it. The balance of training, race prep, nutrition, hydration, and even gear has a profound impact on performance. I'm too old to run that far, never have, but it's interesting to read about your experience and thoughts. Good luck getting to Boston!
 
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Winnipeg MB CA
Congratulations, OP, you did very well under trying conditions! My marathoning days are long behind me, but my two best, both back in '92, were nowhere near as good as yours.
 
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nebraska
My first and last marathon ( and that was a half marathon a 13 miler) was 35 years and 40 lbs ago. speed walked pretty much from mile 10 on. I was still on active duty Army then and did little training for it other than the normal running we did in PT, usually in the 3 to 5 mile range. Checked that off my bucket list at least.
 
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MA
My first and last marathon ( and that was a half marathon a 13 miler) was 35 years and 40 lbs ago. speed walked pretty much from mile 10 on. I was still on active duty Army then and did little training for it other than the normal running we did in PT, usually in the 3 to 5 mile range. Checked that off my bucket list at least.
Doesn't sound like you ran a marathon. By default, any marathon is 26.2 miles. Half marathon would be 13.1 miles.

It's much easier to run a half marathon. Ran my first one without basically any training, longest run was about 9 miles prior to that. Usually I do 5k, 5 miler, 10k races and I like to run it in at the finish. But I was completely dead after 13.1, just enough to keep going and cross the finish line. Did a bunch of marathons too, but need at least 3 months worth of long runs to get up to that distance, last one typically a 20 miler 3 weeks before the marathon.

If you're really up for it, there are ultra marathons, anything over 26.2. Known a few people who have done 100 mile ultra marathons. But there's a few other distances like 50 miles and 50k.
 
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Location
nebraska
Doesn't sound like you ran a marathon. By default, any marathon is 26.2 miles. Half marathon would be 13.1 miles.

It's much easier to run a half marathon. Ran my first one without basically any training, longest run was about 9 miles prior to that. Usually I do 5k, 5 miler, 10k races and I like to run it in at the finish. But I was completely dead after 13.1, just enough to keep going and cross the finish line. Did a bunch of marathons too, but need at least 3 months worth of long runs to get up to that distance, last one typically a 20 miler 3 weeks before the marathon.

If you're really up for it, there are ultra marathons, anything over 26.2. Known a few people who have done 100 mile ultra marathons. But there's a few other distances like 50 miles and 50k.
I stated that it was a half marathon in my post. Of course it would be easier as it is half the distance. I was not used to running much more than about 5 miles. I was young in my 20's and had youth on my side as well as lower weight. I was about 230lbs at that time. did it on more of a whim than anything else, never any desire to do it again and certainly no interest in the full marathon Did enough running and rucking in the Army over the years to pretty much kill any interest in running. Though rucking with a 50lb ruck over varying terrain builds pretty good endurance it does tend to trash the knees and back over time. Been done with it for years now.
 

john_pifer

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Nashville, TN via Memphis
Doesn't sound like you ran a marathon. By default, any marathon is 26.2 miles. Half marathon would be 13.1 miles.

It's much easier to run a half marathon. Ran my first one without basically any training, longest run was about 9 miles prior to that. Usually I do 5k, 5 miler, 10k races and I like to run it in at the finish. But I was completely dead after 13.1, just enough to keep going and cross the finish line. Did a bunch of marathons too, but need at least 3 months worth of long runs to get up to that distance, last one typically a 20 miler 3 weeks before the marathon.

If you're really up for it, there are ultra marathons, anything over 26.2. Known a few people who have done 100 mile ultra marathons. But there's a few other distances like 50 miles and 50k.

I‘ve done a few 25K trail races and 2 50K trail races. Much, much different game than attempting to run a road marathon in ~ 3 hrs and qualify for Boston.

Typically, road marathon courses, especially Boston qualifiers, are flat and fast, while most ultras have lots of elevation gain built in.

For example, I ran the Blood Rock 50K (Oak Mountain State Park, Birmingham, AL) 4 years ago. That course is more like a mountain climb than a run, with >18,000‘ of elevation gain over the course. In fact, some sections were so steep that ropes had to be affixed.

In that race, my average time per mile was about 13:00, while I averaged about 7:30/mi. for the Rocket City Marathon.

Both were very difficult. But in different ways. I didn’t train enough for either, but the training for the road marathon was definitely harder on my body, due to the speed workouts and long runs on pavement at relatively quick pace.
 
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