ORN: 26.2 miles, 4:43:43, R3/W1, 10:49/mile
Now that’s the way a marathon should go!!! On a perfect autumn day for running, the Indianapolis Marathon went as well as the USAF Marathon went poorly four weeks ago. My new hydration and calorie plan seemed to work; I carried the 3/1 ratio all the way to the end, finishing strong. I felt terrific afterwards. A marvelous day.
The Gory Details
Growing up on a cattle farm in Nebraska, we always had horses and Dad taught me to ride around age 6. He’d hoist me up on a big quarter horse (no ponies on that farm) and then help me learn to direct the huge animal. Invariably, the horse would have his own mind, ignoring my puny efforts. I’d get thrown or get off in disgust, telling Dad how the horse “wouldn’t work.” Vividly, I remember him, calmly leaning against a fence post, saying “Joe, get back on the horse.” Despite my protestations, he’d calmly but firmly say again “Joe, get back on the horse.” And eventually I would. And I learned to ride.
This metaphor for overcoming a setback came back to me repeatedly in the past four weeks. After the frustration of bonking so badly at the USAF Marathon, I simply HAD to get back on the marathon horse, to see if I could get through it enjoyably. I was lucky to have a race available so soon to test a better method of hydration and electrolyte replacement, something I failed miserably in doing at USAFM.
This race is wonderfully convenient for me, a mere 70 minutes from my driveway. I slept in my own bed, was on the road at 5:30am, stashed a plastic bag of Gu and supplies under a bush at the halfway point of the race by 6:45, picked up my bib and chip and still had nearly an hour to relax in my car before the 8:30 gun. The field numbered near 6,000 runners, with 1,100 running the marathon, the rest doing a half.
The weather could not have been more perfect. Partly cloudy, a slight breeze out of the north, a temp of around 50 at the start and never got to 60 even at the finish. I wore a long-sleeve tech shirt underneath a short sleeve tech shirt at the start. The gun went off on time and I was back on horseback, hoping for a 4+ hour ride without getting thrown off.
The first five miles went smoothly. I got into my 3/1 run/walk ratio from the start. I had to work to hold my running pace to the calculated 9:45/mile. But it all seemed to work OK. At mile 5, I was about 70 seconds ahead of my planned pace.
At Wes’ suggestion, I have taught myself to take a couple of sips of water during every walk break. While not perfectly executed yet, it worked pretty well. I downed my first 10 oz of electrolyte water in the first 30 minutes of the race and knocked off another 20 oz of water in the next 30 minutes. This pattern followed all day; 10 oz of electrolytes at the top of each hour, followed by water the rest of the hour. The course had plenty of port-o-potties fortunately. At mile 10, I was 40 seconds ahead of my planned pace. The miles were just clicking off.
We came past the breakoff point for the half marathoners where I had stashed my bag earlier. I dropped off the long sleeve shirt, swapped my cap for my visor, reloaded three more Gu packs and headed out on the much-less-crowded out and back portion of the marathon course. The day was beautiful as we moved through a state park, full of trees in splendid fall foliage. At mile 15, I was 14 seconds behind my plan.
Surprisingly quickly, we got to the turnaround point at mile 19; we were heading home, I was feeling good. Would this continue?? I just stayed with the plan, running 3 minutes, walking 1 minute, drinking two or three swigs every walk break, downing a Gu every 45 minutes, enjoying the day. Amazingly, I had my second fastest mile of the day in mile 20; it’s 10:09 was bested only by a 9:56 during the mostly down hill mile 10. With 6.2 to go, I was 16 seconds ahead of the plan. Miles 21 and 22 went smoothly. I knew I was moving into the real test.
I still felt good at the mile 23 marker and a slight hill faced me, one which proved difficult on this course a year ago. Yet the mile went smoothly and mile 24 was done. A mild but long incline extended from mile 24.5 to mile 26. It was here I felt the most pain of the day. My left ankle had begun hurting around mile 17 due the camber of the course sloping mostly to the right. On the hill to mile 25, I had pain in and around my right knee, perhaps from the same camber issue, perhaps from fatigue. In both cases, though, I had none of the cramping or nausea I felt at the same points four weeks ago. It was just pain and it wasn’t all that bad.
As we slogged up the hill, I determined to stay with the 3/1 all the way to the end. Fascinatingly, it seemed to work. After three minutes of painful running, a 60 second walk really made a difference. The course finally made it to the top of the hill and we reentered the park hosting the start/finish line. With about a half mile to go, I could see the finish line and the slope was flat. The pain disappeared and I got the biggest, dumbest smile on my face you could imagine. I ignored the remaining walk break, accelerated to the finish line and crossed feeling terrific. My final chip time was 4:43:43, exactly 60 seconds better than my projected time. I had hit the splits all day.
One further test remained; how would I feel post-race? Boy, what a difference. I had no cramping at all. I was joking with the race volunteers at the de-chipping station. I grabbed some more water, a couple of bananas and walked back down the course to cheer on the folks coming in to a 5 hour finish. I was pumped; I walked and walked and yelled and cheered for them. I yacked with spectators. I made Purdue jokes. I downed the bananas. I headed for the food tent, got a hamburger, found some folks with whom I had run to sit and laugh and talk with and enjoyed the whole surroundings. After a little while, I walked comfortably back to the car, called my wife (who was relieved to hear me laughing) and drove home.
After getting home I did a little more analysis (you are surprised??). I kept up with the fluids, averaging about 25 oz/hour for the race. I slurped down six Gu packs during the race, the most Gu I’ve ever eaten in a marathon. I ate about 24 Wheat Thin crackers as well, which added more salt to the 400mg/hour of sodium I got from the electrolyte drink and Gu. And I had no cramping during or after the race. Further, I cut 5 minutes from last year’s time in the same race, not to mention finishing with more enthusiasm.
What was the timing impact of all the fluids?? Reviewing the per mile splits, it appears the four bathroom breaks cost me about 4.5 minutes of clock time. Comparing to the USAFM, where I had almost the exact same time through mile 21 as I did yesterday, the improved hydration cut my finishing time by 24 minutes. So, to “invest” 4.5 minutes and get 24 in return seems like a pretty good deal, not to mention feeling good at the end.
Yeah, Dad, I got back on the horse. I wish I could give you a phone call to laugh about it together, but you know how it went.
It was a terrific day. It was "the best race conditions allowed." I hope my experience can help you as well as we all persevere and keep learning.