ORN: 26.2 miles, 4:49:53, R4/W1, 11:03/mile
Sweet...so nice to have a good marathon. Cool weather made all the difference making this oh-so-friendly, small-town run through Indiana countryside a pure joy. This race is about the way I should be running marathons...nice to know it can actually happen.
The Gory Details:
The Veterans Marathon is in its second year. Columbia City is a small Indiana town near Fort Wayne, just a couple of hours from my home. With an 8am start time, I decided to save hotel bills and do a day trip. Up early, I backed out of the garage at 4:05am and figured I'd see virtually no one on the road. To my surprise, though, there were quite a few pickups on the road...but why?? Then my fuzzy brain reminded me this was the first weekend of deer season for firearms. Oh well...
Got to the start area in plenty of time, stashed bananas (more below on that), picked up my bib and still had time to relax, stretch well and work though one stubborn work-related matter in my mind. About 200 marathoners and 250 half marathoners gathered at the start line and off we went at precisely 8:00am.
The truly remarkable thing about this race was that there really was not a lot of amazement about it! It was, quite simply, a chance to execute a plan for a marathon and let it just gradually happen.
The first half of the race looped east of town. We were on county roads past harvested corn and soybean fields, small woods, hog farms and lots of the rural homes which fill the Indiana countryside. The first half of a marathon is always fun, as people are chatty and upbeat...nothing hurts too badly yet. Quite a few of the half marathoners were first timers. It was fun to chat with them, sense and remember the excitement of taking on something previously unimaginable. Some were clearly struggling as we headed back to town in miles 10-11 or so. It was fun to encourage them and let them know the thrill of accomplishment they would soon sense. I hit the halfway point at about 2:19, feeling fine, knowing the race had hardly begun yet for me.
As expected, the size of the field dropped dramatically as we headed west of town for the second half of the race. Not many conversations now but not for a lack of friendliness. We quickly got back into new rural areas, this with more roll to it than on the first half...I enjoyed the variety. Around mile 16, David fell in with me. He had never really run a disciplined run/walk pattern and asked if he could piggy-back off my 4/1 rhythm. We had a nice chat and he thanked me for pulling him through to mile 20.5, when he wanted to walk a little more. Before I knew it, we were at mile 23 and it hit me solidly that this race would be different. I still felt fine, mentally engaged and aware of form and posture. We made the last turn back towards town at mile 24. The only real problem in the race came during the first half of mile 26. My left leg protested and just plain hurt. I held onto the 4/1 though and as we entered town again, I could clearly see ahead of me the final stretch down the town's main street and the right turn to the finish line. The leg didn't hurt any more, I picked up the pace, realizing if I hustled I could get under 4:50. Oh, the allure of those round numbers. I hit the mat, hit my watch to show I had 7 seconds to spare and smiled ear to ear. Marathon #18 was done and it felt fantastic.
Yeah, I'm analytical. It's how I learn! But rather than looking at per-mile splits, a topical analysis is more appropriate for this race. Here goes.
Weather. Since the cramping episode I had in Chicago five weeks ago, I went through all my marathon records. What was the common denominator of good vs lousy marathons?? It was clear...the temperature on race day. Under 60, it goes well. Over 60, highly likely to be tough. It's not more complex than that. The weather matters more than anything else. So, the start temp on this day of 43 and the ending temp in the low 60s was fine with me.
To stay comfortable, I dressed in layers, knowing it was forecast to warm during the morning. I started in 2 short-sleeve tech shirts, fashionable tube-sock arm warmers, cotton gloves, a cap and a sweatshirt. I peeled the sweatshirt at mile 4.5 (stashing it by a telephone pole, where I retrieved it later). At the halfway point, I stopped at my strategically-parked car, pulled off one of the T shirts and swapped the cap for a visor. The gloves came on and off depending on the relative wind direction. Around mile 15.5, I peeled the arm warmers and ran the rest of the way in just the Brooks ID T-shirt. It all worked. And I've come to simply face it, the weather is THE BIG DETERMINANT of how a race will likely go.
And there are some other helpful factors.
Pace/Effort. Since August, I've been experimenting with using heart rate as the guide to effort, rather than an arbitrary pace target. I shoot for the mysterious Zone 2 heart rage range, which for me has evolved to 113-133 bpm. This serves, wonderfully, to hold one's pace down early in the race and help to pick it up towards the end. When coupled with the run walk, I have found the amount to which my HR falls back during a run break to give a clear reading of fatigue and breathing. Thanks to Wes' advice, I didn't worry too much if my rate crept over 133 later in the race either. Overall, though, I saw my heart rate get to around 135-140 at the conclusion of each run sequence and it fell back during the walk break, never staying elevated for long periods.
Not content to ignore pace, even if it became a dependent, not independent, variable, this spreadsheet-loving engineer added a laminated pace chart to this mix. Now, I can extrapolate to an expected finish time from any mile marker (email me, if this is an interest for you). All in all, it worked. The 4:49 was what this day had. It became evident that would be the finish time by mile 6 and the projections stayed that way all day long. I was fully satisfied with it.
Nutrition. I tried two new things on the food front for this race. Pre-race, I ate more food and good quality food in the time about 2 hours before the race. In all, I took in about 800 calories, including carbs (bananas, whole-wheat bread) and some good protein (lean turkey, low-fat Swiss cheese) between 4:30 and 5:30am. Filling the fuel tank, so to speak.
During the race, I ate bananas, not gels. Using Google maps, I found spots in the first and second halves of the race I would pass twice. Then, in the pre-race darkness, I stashed two bananas at each spot. Further, I put one banana in my car, which I parked on the course, two blocks past the mid-way mark. So, about every 4-5 miles, I had a nice banana. This worked wonderfully. It sat fine on my stomach, gave me a healthy 110 calories each and kept me fueled. Now, I realize I'd never be able to do this in a big-city setting but on small races, it is clearly possible.
Hydration. The third leg of the stool was drinking. Rather than taking salt tabs, I found a electrolyte powder mix which I put in my 10 oz water bottles I carried. In all, I drank 70 oz of the electrolyte mix, plus another 20 oz of water. The mix tasted better than regular water, making it more likely I'd drink it. I had no cramps at all. I'll take it.
General Race Organization. In addition to factors I could control, this small race was just well run. Rather than the usual T shirt, covered with advertising, we received a nice fleece top with a discreet race logo only on it. What a nice treat! The mile markers were clear and accurate. The aid stations were wonderful!! Most of them outside of town seemed to be simply parties folks organized in their front yards! They were very friendly and helpful. Many folks sat out on their driveways, warmly cheering all of us on. It was a treat to be part of it and I hope to run this race again.
It was a good run and a great way to conclude the major races for 2010. Thanks for listening.