Sunday, February 12, 2012

Mercedes Marathon RR

Fresh off a shiny new half PR, how much to do over the next 2 weeks was a bit tricky. I could lose some fitness if I took it too easy but I did not want to be the least bit burned out either. I ended up doing 41 miles the week after the half and just 12 leading up to today. Overall, it was a fairly calm taper. I had just a trace of funny feeling in my IT bands but I would not call it discomfort and it was most likely paranoia. On the medical front, I have now been free from the instability of the Thym-Adren for 6 weeks (praise God) but I still have to take something for my blood sugar. Fortunately, if I miss a dose here and there or take too much, it will not be a significant problem. I still don't know the optimal dose and being a little off could cost me maybe 1-2% (2-4 minutes).
The goal race for this training cycle was the half and I got the time I wanted. This one was more for fun and though I fully expected a big PR, there would not be much disappointment if it did not go well.

Prior day:
I got up early to cheer on a couple of buddies who were running the 5K then met my buddy Nick in mid-afternoon. There was no real drama here. The expo went smoothly and we got our usual steak dinner at Logan's in Fultondale. The biggest concern was the weather forecast. It's been a mild winter so far but we got our coldest morning of the year on race day. The forecast low was 19 degrees F with a 10 mph wind (close to single digit wind chill). Fortunately, the worst of the wind came the previous day and the fact that it was sunny was a plus. 20 degrees with cloudy and blustery conditions would be miserable. I opted for a hat, pants and 3 layers of clothing (short sleeve tech, long sleeve tech with a tank on top. I was comfortable once I got moving and maybe just a tad warm at the end as the temp warmed to just above freezing by the finish. The course was a double loop, which I actually prefer because I knew exactly what was coming and when it would come. It's a moderately difficult course, between 4-5 on my scale. The hills would seem fairly tame in the first loop but would pack a punch in the second.

The plan was to go out right around 7:30 pace and hang on as long as I could. I predicted a time between 3:15-3:20 based on my long run training pace. I expected to fade in the last 10K but if I could keep it under 8, I had the sub-3:20. At the very least, I wanted under 3:30 (sub-8 pace) and figured that barring disaster, that was a safe bet.
As soon as I crossed the timing mats, it quickly became apparent that I had lined up too far back despite the fact that I positioned myself between 7-8 minute pace. I had to use the sidewalk for the first half mile or else my pace would have been close to 9. Finally, I began to get in a groove by Mile 2. I can often tell very early on what kind of day it will be for me. Today, it seemed that I did not have my absolute top notch stuff but I was sure it would be a pretty solid performance. The pace of 7:20-7:30 did not really require much effort but I hoped that I would have to be holding back to hit my splits and that did not happen very often. Early miles were measured short but the Garmin was pretty accurate overall. Here are the early splits through relatively flat terrain:
7:33 - (7:33) crowded
7:22 -(14:55) too fast
7:34- (22:29) pick it up a little
7:27- (29:56) good, near perfect avg. pace
Now, on to the midsection of the first loop, which is the most challenging. Mile 5 went through UAB and was largely uphill but early enough that it would not hurt too much. Most of the next mile was a nice slow decline and it was here that I felt like I was holding back which was a good sign. 6.5-8.4 were tough. There was a couple of small breaks but it was almost all steady uphill. It was not terribly steep but certainly enough to take a lot out of you. Fortunately, the rest of Mile 9 was steadily downhill.
7:30-(37:26) good
7:28-(44:54) holding back a hair
7:38- (52:32) uphill, working harder than I'd like
7:36- (60:08) uphill, feel the same
7:26- (67:34) back down and back on pace.
By this point in the race with the worst of the hills over, I felt fairly comfortable but it was not as effortless as I had hoped. I was still predicted a solid finish time but not a performance on the level of 3M. Mile 10 was a gradual uphill for the first 3/4 followed by a steep decline that allowed you to regain most, if not all of your lost time. 11 seemed to be mostly a gentle decline but 12 had a bit of an incline (less than 1% grade) and barely noticeable in the first loop. The loop ended with flats and gentle downhill. It was here that I felt the best during the race.
7:27- (75:01) strong
7:26-(1:22:27) back under 7:30 avg.
7:30-(1:29:57) on target
7:26-(1:37:23) good.
I had completed the first half in roughly 1:38:15 via Garmin. Based on how I felt, 3:15 seemed highly unlikely but I still had a chance at 3:20. I still felt strong but I would have to be very careful about running this next section too hard because I knew those hills would hurt so much more the second time around. They weren't exactly a piece of cake the first time.
7:31- (1:44:54) working harder to hit splits
7:28-(1:52:22) still feel decent
7:36-(1:59:58) slipping a bit
7:36-(2:07:34) hanging on
Mile 16 is often where I can feel the glycogen begin the deplete but I've never hit the wall suddenly. It's always a gradual process between 16-20. I can usually keep it semi-respectable through 22 but my last 5K is always ugly. This time, however, I was in the best shape and best health of my life. Surely, the fade would not be so bad this time even with the hills ahead.
As expected, the UAB hills hit me hard and I was working to stay under 8. I had been calculating a finish time based on a "disaster" (10 min pace), a nasty fade (9 min) and a strong finish (8 min). With 9 miles to go, I'd need to hold an 8 pace and have something left at the end to break 3:20 but even a nasty fade would bring me home below 3:30. Soon, even a disaster would get me a PR (3:35). I knew that Miles 19.5-21.5 would be downright mean but if I could avoid a meltdown there, my outlook would be pretty good for the remainder of the course.
7:56 (2:15:30) UAB hills
7:51 (2:23:21) down and trying to conserve energy
8:11 (2:31:32). Mile 20, and not melting down too bad
8:15 (2:39:47) despite slow pace, I feel in control
8:10 (2:47:57) not much better on the downhill
By this point, I basically declared the bid for sub-3:20 to be over. With 4.2 miles to go, I estimated my finish time to be somewhere between 3:20:30-3:24:30. Anyone who has run a marathon knows that by this point in a race, you just want to get to the finish line. With a massive PR assured (barring disaster) and little hope of breaking 3:20, I could push all out to the line and risk a meltdown at the finish or worse, before the line. Also, I could hold on to the last little bit of relative comfort and leave a minute or so on the course. I chose the latter and soon after finishing, I was glad I did.
8:13 (2:56:10) 5K to go. I can do this.
8:01 (3:04:11) downhill, could have run sub-8 here.
8:19 (3:12:30) whole cup of Gatorade and water.
8:05 (3:20:35) no real effort to kick
1:21 (3:21:56) solid finish last .18
Final thoughts:
A very good performance (A- grade) but I do not think I had my absolute best stuff. Eugene and Fargo were flat. Huntsville was gently rolling. The was my toughest full marathon course and I still PR'd by more than 13 minutes or 30+ seconds per mile. Obviously, more miles are needed for optimal results but I chose not to subject my body to higher volume and do not regret it. I have a high tendency to get injured if I train at 60 MPW. I never topped 55 in a cycle geared toward the half marathon. With the tapers and holidays, my weekly average was more like 45. My time was not quite as fast as I had hoped but I can still feel very good about this one. The marathon remains my least favorite distance but my ultimate goal is to run a sub-3:10 on a downhill course in the Fall 2014 or Spring 2015. I have no plans for another before that. My top 2 choices are St. George or Phoenix. Both are downhill and possibly worth up 4-5 minutes over a normal course. I believe that my current upper limit is around 3:15 on a flatter course with A+ stuff. With 2.5 more years of good health, I feel I have a realistic chance at 3:10 at age 34, which would qualify me for Boston. If/when I get in, it will be my last marathon.


maria said...

Crazy J!!! GREAT marathon time....I PR'ed too...4:19...can you tell me...what was your total Garmin mileage? Mine was short. :(
26.09.....please advise...i noticed your miles were short early on....

Matt B said...

Congrats on the PR! I did the half and can relate to what you said about the crowded start...I lined up between the 6:00 and 5:00 (way faster than my estimated pace) and ended up passing quite a few very slow runners (practically walking pace) within the first 1/10th of a mile. Not sure what they were thinking or how the announcers could have made it any more clear.

Crazy J said...

Thanks to both of you.
Maria, My Garmin distance was 26.18 (short by .04). I think I ran longer than you because I did some weaving early. Only the first few miles were short and perhaps something was messing with the signals. It's a USATF certified course so I must believe it was accurate.

I wish they had a corral system with a wave start. That would make it safer for all of us.

Looking forward to hitting the training again next week but for now, I'm being a lazy bum.

Anonymous said...

Nice work. I passed on the full there this year but will hopefully be ready next year. I did PR the half though!