Thursday, October 31, 2013

Marine Corps Marathon

On October 27th 2013 I ran in the Marine Corps Marathon.  This was my third marathon ever and my second in 2013.  I ran my first marathon in March of 2012 so this made for 3 marathons run in 19 months.  I hope it won't be my last, but I have no plans to run another one in the spring. My legs are pretty beat up and as much as I don't like to admit it, I'm starting to get a little past my prime.

The short version:
  • Training for this marathon was difficult.
  • I suffered two injuries along the way that both sidelined me for a couple weeks each.
  • I decided to shoot for 3:45 which would have been a 10 minute PR.  I was on pace to hit that until mile 17 when my calf injury really started to hurt.  I slowed my pace but ended up walking a lot after the 21 mile mark.
  •  I finished in 3:53:18 which is a PR by about 90 seconds.

The long boring version:

Training:I used Pfitz 18/55 again for this training.  I planned to get in as much of the speed work as possible although that didn't work out for me very well when I trained for my last marathon.  As I said above, my training for this race didn't go very well.  I developed PF in my right foot in early July which sidelined me for a couple weeks.  When I was able to return to running I couldn't push my pace without pain for another couple weeks so I lost a lot with that injury.  August and September went OK and I had some decent long runs.  I managed to get in a few quality sessions but not nearly as much as the training plan called for.  Still, I felt like I was getting back into the groove by the first of October when I developed a calf strain in my left leg.  I (again) stopped pushing pace wise and just focused on keeping my miles up but the injury just kept getting worse.  I went to see my witch doctor (chiropractor) for ART four times in the last couple weeks before the race.  That helped some but I knew that race day was going to be painful.  The last three weeks before the race I hardly ran at all which didn't help my confidence.

The last two weeks before the race were complete mental torture.  I was tapering and I didn't feel prepared because I had missed some runs the week before and I couldn't decide on a race plan. I considered just running it at my long run pace and enjoy the crowd support and water tables.  Eventually I decided to go for my A goal of 3:45 and see what happened.  I had never really blown up in a race before so if nothing else, it would be good experience and a chance to see what I'm made of.

My boss lives in Crystal City and agreed to let me set up camp at his apartment about a mile from the start.  It was great having a place to get myself together and use an actual bathroom instead of a port-o-potty.  I got to his place at about 5:30, pinned on my bib, took care of business and chatted with him for a while before heading off to the bag check.  Eventually I made my way through baggage check, two security screenings and found my way to the start area.

MCM is a really big race. 30,000 runners and all of them running the marathon distance.  The start line is huge and there are no corrals or a wave start.  Just signs up with projected finish times for people to line up next to. I took a few pictures of the crowd but they really don't show just how many people there are.   I worked my way up through the crowd to find the 3:45 pacer.  I asked him if he planned to run even splits and he said he was.  There was not any room to warm up my legs so I braced myself for the calf pain that comes with a cold start.

Skydivers during the national anthem.

The crowd. You can make out the red arches in the distance that are the start lines.

The Race:
The race started and that was pretty much the last time I saw the pacer up close and personal.  The crowd was really big and the streets were narrow.  I immediately got held up by a lot of people in the way.  I don't know why it still surprises me that so many people line up way too far up front.  I tried my best not to panic or get frustrated but it was difficult.  My calf hurt a little but it settled down after about a mile or so.  After three miles the crowd started to thin out a little and I wasn't dodging quite as many people.  I could see the 3:45 pace group about 10 seconds ahead and was content to just keep them in sight.  Because of the slow start I expected the pacer to try and make up some lost time but I didn't think he would try to do it all at once.  He had other ideas and took advantage of the long down hill that started after the 3 mile mark but it felt too fast to me.  I followed along anyway which was probably a mistake.  I've had both good and bad races when following a pace leader.  This was one of the bad ones.  I have decided I will not use a pace group again for a marathon.

Splits from my Garmin:
1    8:55
2    9:00
3    8:18
4    7:32
5    8:18

According to my pace band we were right on schedule here and the next few miles went well. I tried to close the gap and catch up with the pace group but couldn't quite get there in the crowd although I did get close. I didn't want to waste a lot of energy going around people so I gave up on that and settled in about 5 seconds behind them.  The next few miles felt smooth and I started to gain a bit of confidence.

6    8:30
7    8:27
8    8:29
9    8:22

On mile 10 the pacer picked it up again and I couldn't figure out why. We were still right where we needed to be.  I followed him anyway but when I saw the split time of 8:05 on my Garmin at the 10 mile mark and I decided to let them go.  I settled in to go it alone.
10    8:05
11    8:28
12    8:28
13    8:38 - According to the official results my HM time was 1:51:59 (8:32 pace)

At the half way I felt pretty good but my calf injury was making itself known.  Nothing terrible but just an occasional twinge or spike here and there.  I decided to back off my pace a little and shoot for sub 3:50.

Random memory #1: Somewhere the course went under a bridge and there was a large group of young men. I happened to be running near someone carrying an American flag and the spectators started shouting "USA" in unison. It was almost deafening in the enclosed space and gave me chills.  I'm not normally a big GO USA kind of guy, but this race your national pride swell.  We might have the most dysfunctional government on the face of the earth but the American people as a whole are fantastic.

Random memory #2: There was a spot along the river on the DC side that was lined with large pictures of fallen service members. They were all captioned with the name, age and other information about the person that was killed in action. There were dozens of pictures and it was hard to take it all in.  After a few minutes I had to look away because it was overwhelming.

14    8:43
15    8:44
16    8:32
17    8:48

At mile 17 I knew I was toast. My calf was getting progressively tighter and I had to fight the urge to walk.  I told myself that if I made it to mile 20 I could take a 30 second walk break.  When I passed the 20 mile marker I told myself that I was just kidding and that I should stop being such a wimp and run this fucking thing out.  I almost made it to mile 21 and found myself walking on the I-395 bridge. I was only walking for a short time when another runner that was really struggling passed me and said something along the lines of "OK, that's enough now pick it back up again. That seemed to be enough to get me going and I started running again.  I thanked him as I ran past.

18    8:54
19    8:54
20    9:12
21    8:50
22    9:15
23    9:31

The rest is kind of a blur. I don't know how many times I stopped to walk. Maybe once each mile for about 20 or 30 seconds?  I remember seeing my boss as I hit one of the water tables on mile 24.  He yelled for me and I managed to give him a wave and then I kept going.

I stopped to walk up the ramp leading to S. Washington Blvd and saw a familiar face standing on top of the hill cheering.  The lady I know as Julia1971 from the running forum I frequent had posted that she would be on mile 25 near the Pentagon. We are friends on Facebook too so I had seen her picture but I had never met her before in person so I wasn't 100% sure it was her.  As I walked up the ramp I caught her eye and then we recognized each other. I stopped for a real quick hug (brave woman to hug someone who just ran 25 miles) and told her how much I was hurting.  She asked if I would finish and I said I would and might even PR.  Seeing her gave me a nice boost and I ran off but I didn't have much left at that point.

24    10:15
25    10:21
26    9:31

The last thing I want to mention is how great the Marines were.  All through the course you would find them cheering and encouraging runners.  It was really inspiring. I don't know how many times I yelled out "thank you Marine!" to be answered back with a loud "OORAH!" in response.

MCM ends with a short but steep climb to the Iwo Jima Memorial.  I tried to muster a sprint up that hill and was surprised to feel my RIGHT calf cramping with every step. I guess I had been favoring that leg for so long it couldn't take any more.  Half way up the hill it locked up and I had to stop.  Three Marines came to me and started shouting words of encouragement and pointing to the finish line up the hill. I couldn't do anything but try to run and I managed to limp up the hill and cross the line.
27    4:22.0     (0.45) - According to my GPS I ran an extra .25. That could be from not cutting corners tight enough or from all the dodging around other runners or just the GPS being a little bit off.  Most likely it is a combination of all three of those.

In hindsight, it was really stupid for me to run this race injured. It is now four days after the race and I'm still in a lot of pain. My right leg feels fine but the left calf is damaged and I probably won't be able to run again for weeks.  Still, it was a good experience and I would probably do it again if I had to choose over again.

Time: 3:53:18 (Previous best was 3:54:51)
Age Group (males 45-49): 330
Males: 2989
Overall: 3963

Finish Time
Finish Net3:53:18
Finish Gun3:55:40
LocationNet TimeClock TimeTime of DayPacePace Between
5K 27:10 29:33 8:29:37 8:44 /mi
8:05 /mi
10K 52:19 54:42 8:54:46 8:25 /mi
8:47 /mi
15K 1:19:39 1:22:01 9:22:06 8:32 /mi
8:30 /mi
20K 1:46:03 1:48:26 9:48:30 8:31 /mi
8:41 /mi
Half 1:51:59 1:54:21 9:54:26 8:32 /mi
8:42 /mi
25K 2:13:05 2:15:27 10:15:32 8:34 /mi
8:31 /mi
30K 2:39:33 2:41:55 10:42:00 8:33 /mi
9:09 /mi
35K 3:07:59 3:10:22 11:10:26 8:38 /mi
10:17 /mi
40K 3:39:57 3:42:19 11:42:24 8:51 /mi
9:47 /mi
Finish 3:53:18 3:55:40 11:55:45 8:53 /mi

After the finish. I talked to another runner and we took pictures of each other so we didn't have to pay Marathon Foto $1,000,00 each for race pictures.

In the car on the way home.  I wish my parents would have made me get braces when I was a kid.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Rock n Roll, USA 3.16.2013 - Race Report

Here is my race report for the Rock n Roll, USA Marathon on March 16, 2013.

The short version
This was my second marathon.  My first was almost exactly one year before and I finished that one with an official time of 4:29:54.  My goal for this one was sub 3:55.  I finished in 3:54:51.

The long version
Training for this race went very well. I'm learing more and more about myself and what my limitations are.  I am an injury prone runner that is learning that I can't push too hard when it comes to pace improvements.  Patience and progressing in small increments is the way for me.  For the most part I stayed true to that thought in this training until about 2 weeks before race time.  Without going into exhaustive detail, I started pushing too hard and I ended up injuring my right Achilles tendon. It wasn't a show stopper but I had to spend the last week of my training on the couch instead of tapering. Another lesson learned.  Actually, the same lesson learned again.

I didn't run at all the week of the race until the morning before when I got out for a four mile shake out run.  Race day arrived at last and I drove down to the city. The plan was for my wife and one of my daughters to take Metro down later and meet me at the finish and we would drive back together.  The alarm went off at four and I got up and took care of all the pre-race stuff. A little coffee to get things moving, I put four coats of New Skin on my nipples to guard against chafing. I can't recommend that enough for guys that have chafing issues but don't want to shave their chest in order to get band-aid's to stick.  The drive to the race was uneventful. I parked my car and grabbed my energy gel's and other supplies and put them in my belt. I decided not to check a bag so I didn't have to deal with the drop off and pick-up later.

A short walk to the Metro and 15 minutes later I was at the start.  The port-a-john lines were long but I had a half hour to kill.  I chatted with a few people in line about other races and all the usual runner stuff to keep from being focused on my nerves too much.

Once done with that I found the 3:55 pacer and talked to him for a few about his strategy.  He said he wanted to bank "a few seconds" in the first 3 miles by going out at 8:50 and then run even splits after that. After that mission was accomplished I jogged around for a couple minutes to warm up and then it was time for the first coral to start.  I ditched my warm-up clothes that I bought from Goodwill and fell in with my group.  A few minutes later, off we went.

Miles 1-3.
The pacer was a little off here.  It felt like he went out much faster than advertised.  By the time we got to the two mile mark I was kind of pissed and I had decided to let him go. All of a sudden at mile three I passed him. I was pretty confused by that and I decided to just keep going.

 Miles 4-7.
I tried my best to keep even splits. My GPS was still pretty close to the mile markers but I just focused on my time, the pace band and the mile markers.  My splits were pretty close. I was still a little ahead but I wasn't gaining or losing time so I just kept at it.  Then I hit the hill at mile 6.  That thing was really steep and a lot of people started walking.  I slowed way down and expected the pacer to pass me but he didn't.  At mile 7 I used my first energy gel.
Miles 8-13.
Getting up the hill without losing too much time was a real confidence booster.  There was a nice downhill stretch and then the course leveled out for the most part for a while. I just tried to focus on keeping on pace.  Somewhere around mile 12 I caught up with a couple other runners that had "3:55" tags on their backs that had ventured out on their own.  We talked for a little bit and it seemed like we were on the verge of deciding to run the rest of the race together when all of a sudden the 3:55 pacer caught us.

Miles 13-18.
The three of us fell in with the pacer and the (8-12) runners that were with him.  I honestly don't remember a lot about this part of the race.  I just focused on staying with the group and keeping an eye on my pace band. According to my pace band we fell about 45 seconds behind but the pacer kept saying that we were right on.  I don't think he had a pace band and was doing the math in his head.  I thought about pushing out on my own again but I was starting to struggle a bit with some pain in my hip and lower back so I just hung on.

 Miles 19-20.
The big thing I remember clearly about this part of the race is listening to the pacer talk with someone else that was asking if we were on pace when we hit the 20 mile mark.  He said "Yep, we've got it easy. We just hit 3 hours on my watch so all we have to do is hit 9 minute miles from here and we'll come in a minute under."  When the lady responded "but then we have to run another .2" I said "Which means we are a minute behind" and I picked up my pace.  The pacer came with me and everyone else followed.

Miles 21-25.
I was able to hold the (slightly) faster pace until about the mile 24 mark and I really started to struggle.  We made up the lost time (which was actually only 45 seconds) but I was pretty fried and my legs were trashed.  The group left me at a water station somewhere in mile 22. I don't drink gatorade when I run because of GI issues but I use energy gels instead.  I have to drink a lot of water with the gel in order to keep my stomach calm and that is just too hard to do without slowing down a lot.  When I got to the 24 mile marker the pace group was long gone and I all but decided to give up on sub 3:55 and be happy with going sub 4:00.  Mile 25 was really slow.

Miles 25-26.2.
I checked my time when I got to the 25 mile mark and realized that if I picked my pace back up I for the last 1.2 miles I might be able to still hit my goal despite the lost time.  I mustered every bit of determination I could and went for it.  The last mile was just a blur of pain in my hip and feet (I don't remember when the blisters came) but I hung on as best I could and crossed the finish line with 9 seconds to spare.


Splits are from my watch. I decided to keep the auto lap on because I didn't want to deal with remembering to hit the button, worry about hitting the wrong button, etc...

TypeDistance DurationTotal DurationPace

1 Interval 1 mi 8:53.23 8:53.23 8:54
2 Interval 1 mi 8:38.98 17:32.21 8:39
3 Interval 1 mi 8:33.06 26:05.27 8:34
4 Interval 1 mi 8:39.05 34:44.32 8:40
5 Interval 1 mi 8:55.22 43:39.54 8:56
6 Interval 1 mi 8:50.58 52:30.12 8:51
7 Interval 1 mi 9:20.85 1:01:50.97 9:21
8 Interval 1 mi 8:57.27 1:10:48.24 8:58
9 Interval 1 mi 8:46.35 1:19:34.59 8:47
10 Interval 1 mi 8:58.86 1:28:33.45 8:59
11 Interval 1 mi 8:08.70 1:36:42.15 8:09
12 Interval 1 mi 9:00.69 1:45:42.84 9:01
13 Interval 1 mi 9:04.95 1:54:47.79 9:05
14 Interval 1 mi 8:52.19 2:03:39.98 8:53
15 Interval 1 mi 7:41.78 2:11:21.76 7:42
16 Interval 1 mi 9:38.55 2:21:00.31 9:39
17 Interval 1 mi 9:14.25 2:30:14.56 9:15
18 Interval 1 mi 8:58.79 2:39:13.35 8:59
19 Interval 1 mi 9:07.94 2:48:21.29 9:08
20 Interval 1 mi 8:59.21 2:57:20.50 9:00
21 Interval 1 mi 8:38.99 3:05:59.49 8:39
22 Interval 1 mi 8:47.20 3:14:46.69 8:48
23 Interval 1 mi 8:45.08 3:23:31.77 8:46
24 Interval 1 mi 8:52.31 3:32:24.08 8:53
25 Interval 1 mi 9:09.04 3:41:33.12 9:10
26 Interval 1 mi 8:32.54 3:50:05.66 8:33
27 Interval 0.58 mi 4:48.31 3:54:53.97 8:18

ETA - The times for miles 15 and 16 are way off.  There was a long tunnel in the middle of all that and the GPS didn't like it.  If you take the average of the two it should come out pretty close.

ETA Again - I actually found the pacer after the race.  They finished it in 3:54:09.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Taper Madness

Wow, I have done a really poor job of updating this blog!  I can't believe it's been since the middle of December.  I guess I shouldn't be surprised though, I don't write all that much normally so why should this be any different?

For my first marathon I really had no idea what I was doing.  I found what I thought to be a reasonable training plan on the internet and followed it.  This was a very basic plan, designed to get you across the finish line but just barely.  There were no "quality" workouts (speed, hills, tempo) at all, just miles on a calendar.   Eventually I figured out that my plan had me running a lot less miles than most "beginner" plans but by that time it was too late.  I couldn't safely increase my miles significantly without risking injury.  I was still clueless about most aspects of training for a marathon.  The good part is that I didn't know how much I didn't know.  I was just focused on finishing the race and I wanted to finish in less than 4 1/2 hours.  I accomplished both of those goals and I was and still am really happy with the way it turned out.

After that race I went on to make a whole series of bad decisions that resulted in getting injured a few times and missing out on running a fall 2012 marathon.  Somewhere along the line I decided I should probably get at least a little bit educated about this sport that I find myself infatuated with.  So I started reading more and corresponding with a group of people on the Runners World website.  Eventually that group of people moved to a different website called Running Ahead. The group is pretty varied, men and women, young and old, married and single, fast and slow but all with a shared interest in training to run marathons,sharing information and encouragement to other runners.  These folks have been an invaluable part of my training.  The really cool part is that there are some very FAST runners on this site.  People that run at paces I can only dream of. The great part about that is they treat everyone the same. You might expect the "elite" runners to be a bit snobby and well, elitist but not in my experience.  They treat us mere mortals great and I think that is a great testament to the running community. Runners always want to win but they always encourage each other too and I really like that.

Several training plans were recommended to me by online friends.  I looked at a few and ended up selecting one from a book called "Advanced Marathoning".  By no means am I advanced, but I really wanted to make a big improvement for this race and I felt like the quality workouts included in this plan would be a big benefit to me.  I still don't know what I'm doing, but I have a much better idea of how much I don't know.  At least I think I do, maybe I'll look back later and realize that I was wrong!

I felt like I had a pretty solid base laid down before staring this training.  I was running 25-30 miles per week.  I struggled to get the runs in the first few weeks and looking back though I think I should have been getting a few more miles each week.  I also should have varied my distances more.  Most of the time I was running three of four 5 mile runs during the week and then a 10-12 mile run on the weekend.  I think that getting one mid-week run of 8 miles or more and stretching the long run to 14-16 would have been better.  Still, I adapted to the training plan fairly well.  The big exception to that was the additions of speed work to my training.  It seems that I'm perpetually on the edge of Achilles tendon injuries.  I had a lot of AT soreness after runs that included any runs that were faster than my half marathon pace.  After the injury scare that I had at the beginning of December, I decided to replace all of the really fast runs with "tempo" runs at either marathon or half marathon pace.  That seemed to work for me pretty well.

January went well. I hit all of my runs and got a new weekly mileage personal best of 57 miles and a new monthly mileage personal best of 216 miles.  Most importantly I stayed injury free.  I had several long runs that went really well.  I ran a 20 and a 22 mile long run that both went great.

February was good too.  I can only remember one run that didn't turn out good and that was my half marathon time trial.  I ran too fast.  I knew I was running too fast but I couldn't slow down enough and ended up blowing up at mile 12 and walking the last mile back to my car.  I don't think I let that shake my confidence much.  It was a good lesson in learning to pace properly and what happens if you try to run faster than your ability.  Other than that, all my runs went pretty good and my only complaint was starting to feel a bit burned out from all the running.  I learned from some others that this is just part of the process and even the crazies that run 75-85 miles (and more) a week start to feel that way after a while.

The other big news from February is that I changed races!  The logistics of driving all the way to Virginia Beach to run on the 17th just weren't working so I registered for Rock n Roll USA in Washington DC on the 16th instead.  The course looks really cool but it has hills which is not something I had to worry about in Virginia Beach.  To try and prepare for that, I stopped doing all my long runs at the C&O Canal and switched to running long in my neighborhood instead.

So that brings us to March.  I officially started my "taper" the last week of February but I like a two week taper better than three so I added an extra run during the week to keep my mileage up a little bit.  I also capped the week with the 16 mile run that was on my training plan, but I decided to treat it as something of a dress rehearsal and did a 1 mile warm-up followed by 15 miles at marathon pace.  I ran this one at the canal, which I really missed.  It was my good-bye run at the canal for a while.  I probably won't get back there to run again until April.  I ran the 15 just a little bit too fast but not enough to make me blow up.  I took a rest day yesterday and had planned a 7 mile easy run today. My legs felt good yesterday but they were sore when I started out today so I slowed down and ran at "recovery" pace instead.

That brings this blog up to date.  I don't know if I'll make time to write more before the race to help me deal with the "taper madness".  For those that don't know that is really just the stir crazy time that runners experience the last two or three weeks before the race.  You run a lot less to let your body recover from all the training which is what it needs, but at the same time you get more and more anxious as your race approaches and you don't get to burn off your worries with running.  Many runners use running as a way to deal with stressful situations so it's a bit of an irony that the one thing that that will help you deal with being nervous about a race is the one thing you can't do (very much) if you want to run well.