Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Race Report: Back On My Feet Marathon

ORN: Sept 21, 2013: 26.2 miles, 4:08:55, 9:31/mile, R/W 5/1 (mostly)

Summary:    I took my first shot ever at a sub four hour marathon and ended up with a PR of 4:08:55 at the Back on my Feet 42K Relay and Marathon on September 21. I learned a ton about what effort will be required if I am to ever get sub 4 and had an enjoyable race on a perfect autumn day.  

NOTE:  This is the first in the series of three blog posts on 8 amazing days of running.  Here's the report of the second marathon and the half marathon.

Gory Details:

As Dwight Eisenhower famously said during WWII, "Plans are nothing.  Planning is everything."  This became evident as I got into the meat of this year's marathoning schedule, which I outlined a few weeks ago.

My first marathon of the fall was to be on Saturday, September 28.  But, about 10 days before that, we got the wonderful news that our youngest son, just back in the USA after a 9 month Army tour in Afghanistan, would be arriving at the Indy airport at 10:15am on Saturday, September 28!!  First things first, we'll be in Indy to welcome him home, as I didn't want to be on a marathon course as he landed!

I was fine with that; in fact that's why I had three marathons scheduled, knowing something could come up.  But then, a pleasant surprise.  A friend casually mentioned to me a loop marathon in Indy on Sunday, September 21.  I checked it out, and decided, on the Thursday before, to enter.  When I started running marathons in 2006, I marveled when I heard of people deciding to run a marathon on just a few days notice.  How can you do that??  Well, I guess you can and I did!

The weather looked favorable, so I decided to make this race my first shot at a sub four hour marathon.  I already had the plan in place, had done the training and it was only a week sooner than the race I had intended to try to go sub 4.  So, the plan fell in place quickly.  Plans are nothing. Planning is everything.

The 9am start in downtown Indy made logistics easy for me.  I "slept in" till 5:30am, enjoying a hot bowl of oatmeal at home while reading the sad news on the Sunday sports page of my Boilermaker football team being pummeled by Wisconsin the day before.

The 60 minute drive was easy, though parking was difficult.  It turned out, in addition to our marathon, there was a large charity 5K plus a sprint triathlon going on in the same area at the same time, with all three courses bumping up against each other.  Good thing the Colts were out of town.   It was a beautiful day, sunny, no wind and temps in the 50s.  One of the sponsors was the famous Mexican bread conglomerate with it's mascot, Osito Blanco.  How often do you get to run with a white bear in a chef's hat?   And they even gave me a single digit bib!!!! 

The race was a 12 lap marathon (2.18 miles per lap) in a large park area in downtown Indianapolis.  Most of the participants in the race were 2, 3 and 4 person relay teams but they also had a solo runner division.  I stashed my water and bananas just past the start/finish line, we lined up and off we went, pretty much on time. 

I executed the plan I described earlier; running the first 2 miles, then shifting to a 5/1 run/walk, seeking to run 8:30/mile pace when I did run.  I planned to drink 10oz of water with Nuun every two laps and grab a banana to eat every other time past the start/finish line.  The first 8 of the 12 laps went well and quickly.  The weather was perfect, I felt good and it was a matter of knocking out the miles.  At the halfway point, after 6 laps, I was at 1:57:14 and, since I went to Purdue, I know that is underneath a 4 hour full marathon pace.  

On the 9th lap, about mile 18 or so, I started to feel the race...not unexpected to feel it at 18.  I managed to keep my per mile pace at the required 9:04 level but it clearly took more work.  I had to really concentrate to keep the legs turning over properly.  At the end of lap 9, I was still on a 4 hour pace.  Lap 10 was more of the same and I finished it 23 seconds under a sub 4 pace.  

The 11th lap was tough, though.  Around mile 22, it just got tougher and tougher to keep the legs turning over at the necessary rate, despite my best efforts.  I had no pain but the energy was slipping away.  I gave away nearly 3 minutes to the sub 4 pace on this penultimate lap.  

As I headed out for the final lap, the legs just got heavier.  I did the physical assessment and the mental math (see the Purdue reference above), and it was clear I was not going to make up those lost 3 minutes on the final trip around.  It was also clear to me that if I merely kept moving reasonably, staying vertical, I would had a marathon PR in the bag.  So, I conceded the obvious and decided to enjoy the last trip around.  I wanted to express my appreciation to the several volunteers who had cheered me all day.  I also wanted to be present to absorb the last 2+ miles.  

I came around to the start/finish line, had nice encouragement from the many relay runners who were astounded someone would do this solo and hit the finish line just under 4:09.  A PR in hand on a beautiful day in the autumn in the Midwest.  It also turned out I was second in the solo division, so won a nice prize, a free night at the new high rise Marriott Hotel in downtown Indianapolis.  Sweet.   

The marathon is a wonderful yet exacting teaches you much and gives no quarter.  On reflection, I realized I hurt my chances for a sub 4 by going out too quickly.  Even though this was my 41st marathon, I still get amped up on race day, especially when the weather is perfect and the atmosphere encouraging. Gotta remember that, dude.

I also wonder about my run/walk ratio and plan.  Pushing to a 8:30 run pace may be a bit much.  I am truly thinking about idling back to a pace of 9:00/mile even, walking briefly through water stops and trying to make a go of the sub four that way.  The next serious shot will be on November 2, again in downtown Indy, at the Monumental Marathon.  I will ponder this a good bit between now and then.

In the meantime, I have a 4:08 in hand.  This means I ran a marathon faster at age 59 than I did at age 27, my prior PR of 4:16.  That makes me smile and makes me grateful for the gift of health over many years.

Thanks for your support.  Persevere.


Monday, September 02, 2013

Race Report: Blueberry Stomp 15K, Labor Day, 2013

ORN: 1:22:04, 8:50/mile, R/W 5/1, 131 of 312 overall, 14/21 Men 55-59

Quick Summary:

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.

Gory Details:

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'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.

The gun went off pretty close to the 9:00am stated time after a very moving story of a cancer survivor who ran with us.  My focus was almost entirely on the pace throughout, though I did manage some nice conversations, one brief song-fest of the old standard "You Gotta Have Heart" and my usual jokes with bystanders about the quality of their morning coffee.   The hills on the course are modest and added welcome variety to the flatness of most of my training runs.  The weather was in the low 70s and, while some felt it was low humidity, it felt muggy to me.

But the pacing plan seemed to work.  My mile splits were as follows:

  1. 8:32
  2. 8:41
  3. 9:15
  4. 9:09
  5. 8:32
  6. 8:54
  7. 9:07
  8. 8:39
  9. 8:26
  10. 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 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.