The Blueberry Stomp 15K on September 2, 2013 is a fun race and, this year, proved a very valuable lab for me to experiment with pacing plans for my fall marathons. The pacing worked, though the race also confirmed that carrying this pace through 26.2 will be a challenge.
Why a 15K race in the middle of a stream of fall marathons and ultras? Some necessary background follows as I go public with the plan brewing in my head (and legs) since spring.
I was utterly surprised by running under 4:30 in last April's Carmel Marathon when I only intended to go 4:40. This altered my plans for the Wisconsin Marathon two weeks later where I ran a 4:17 to my further shock. I started asking myself then "Just how fast could I run a marathon?" These two marathons really rocked my expectations of just what I might do with the marathon. As a result, I investigated several ways of projecting VO2max. Each said a sub four hour marathon was within my reach. So, I've been working on a plan all summer.
The first step was to test some short distance racing. In June, I ran 2 mile and 10K races on the same morning at the Hog Jog, with both times besting the targets I needed to project to a sub 4 marathon, even on a hot, muggy morning. Next, I had to keep the miles up during the summer, which I've managed to do, culminating in a trail marathon on August 24.
The third domino in this prep was this Labor Day 15K. Being a card-carrying nerd/running geek, I had worked out a specific pace plan for my run/walk method to carry me to a sub 4 marathon. I've even laminated the mile splits for this pattern. I carry this card in a pocket in my running shorts and thus, at any mile during a marathon, I can have a feel for my projected finish time.
The method I've concocted calls for running the first two miles continuously at 9:00 minutes each. At the two mile post, I take my first walk break and then fall into a pattern of running 5 minutes and walking 1 minute for the remainder of the marathon, running continuously at the end if I feel like I can. To keep the 9:00/mile aggregate pace, I need the 5 minute run segments to proceed at an 8:30/mile pace. For miles 19 to 26, I give myself an extra 30 seconds per mile.(Trust me, I'm an engineer, I do numbers and these numbers all work.) If I hit all these perfectly, I will finish a marathon at 3:59:54. So, the Blueberry Stomp 15K was a dress rehearsal...can I run this pattern for 9.3 miles on a warm day on legs which ran a tough, hilly trail marathon 9 days previous?? This race was perfectly positioned as the decent test.
I've run the Blueberry Stomp 15K twice before...it's about 90 minutes from my house and has a very scenic route with some modest, rolling hills. I knew the race-day drill, where to park, how to get there, so that all helped. I couldn't find anyone else interested in getting up before dawn on Labor Day morning, so drove by myself and got to the site in plenty of time.
Check in was super easy and I even caught the local high school girls soccer team posing for a photo before they ran together.
But the pacing plan seemed to work. My mile splits were as follows:
- Last 0.3 miles at 8:19/mile pace
My official finish time was 1:22:04, an 8:50/mile pace overall.
I did the 5/1 run walk from mile 2 to the end. I like doing that. It breaks things up and my legs seem to thank me each time. I used my HR monitor today as well and my overall HR was 138 bpm, creeping up to the mid 140s over the last 2 miles, which I ran too quickly. Yet, the HR usually dropped about 20bpm by the end of each 1 minute walk segment...so I didn't strain the ticker. At the finish line, I felt fine...not winded at all, no bending onto my knees, was able to chat with other runners of my pace who really didn't feel like talking.
So, what do we conclude from this experiment? I think there are three points.
- Yes, I can carry this plan on legs 9 days removed from a tough trail marathon. But I need to hold back a bit...I got caught up a bit at times and will need to leave more gas in the tank.
- It will be tough to carry this pattern for 18 miles and then only give up 30 seconds per mile for another 8 miles. Today, around mile 8 or so, I could feel fatigue setting in.
- Weather will be key. No surprise with this conclusion but I will need a cool day to pull this off. If it's over 60F, I don't think it will happen. Maybe 4:10 but not sub 4.
Experiments are good. Especially for geeks.
So, looking ahead, I am registered for three marathons this fall...I'm hoping one of them has weather that proves helpful. On Saturday, September 28 I'll run the inaugural Mill Race Marathon in Columbus, Indiana. November 2 has the Monumental Marathon in downtown Indianapolis. A week later, November 9, has me running the Veteran's Marathon in scenic Columbia City, Indiana once again. Each course is quite flat and provides an opportunity for a fast race. Can I get sub 4 though??? I'll watch the forecast leading in to each race and will determine the expectation for each event. But, we will give it a go.