The pasta dinner speaker’s jokes may have fell flat with an audience that was probably more concerned about “will I freeze my butt off at tomorrow’s morning 29-degree marathon start,” and I was most doubtful that his much-hyped “Six Secrets Guaranteed to Make You Run a Faster Marathon” were anything but secrets.
However, the speaker’s presentation did indeed inspire me to settle on a more conventional strategy than “just run your guts out from the start and try to hang on at the end.” These were his six suggestions:
- Determine what is your optimal pace from previous results of shorter races. A good rule of thumb was: marathon time = (2 * best half-marathon time) + 15 minutes. In my case, that would equate to: 2 * 1:30 + 0:15 = 3:15. Adjusting for altitude (sea level vs. 5,000 feet where I train at), I figured 3:10 was a reasonable goal.
- Run an even pace throughout the race. Do not try to “bank” time early on as it will come to bite you at the end with an interest penalty.
- Drink before you’re thirsty, and don’t wait until the end to intake carbs and electrolytes.
- Do not overdress, wear cotton or run in shoes that have not been broken in.
- Prevent chafing and bloody nipples by using Body Glide or petroleum jelly, or by shaving one’s chest and covering his mam’s with bandages. Extra credit: wear sunscreen.
(Hmmm, I seem to be missing one of them. The final one may have been “don’t listen to an iPod” or something like that.)
“You can follow one of these suggestions or all of them,” said the speaker. I already had appropriate clothing and never have had a problem with bloody nips, so I kept in mind his first three suggestions.
After the eardrum-bursting gun went off on race day, I settled in within the group encircling the 3:10 (7:15/mile) pacer, a tall man named Scott who was capable of running 2:45. The group initially had seven or eight runners, but eventually swallowed up a few more runners including one of the front-running non-elite women who was rather garrulous.
We started out relatively slowly and by the second mile had already had dug ourselves a hole of 1.5 minutes by doing so, but I tried not to be alarmed and kept faith that Scott knew what he was doing. After this initial warm-up period, we did start taking back time, usually running 4-17 seconds under our goal mile pace.
By the halfway point, we were almost back on track (1:35:45) for 3:10:00. Of course, it was the second half where the race got interesting.
Our group pretty much stayed together until Mile 14, when a couple people lost contact. Shortly after, I took to the front instead of hiding inside the pack.
At Mile 16, the chatty woman proclaimed, “This is usually where I start dying.” Then I never heard from her again as she fell behind.
By Mile 17, I had a few steps on the pacer guy and, feeling good, I added many more meters to that in the next few miles. By that point, I was thinking, “If I’m still feeling well by Mile 20, I’m going to take off like it’s a 10k race.”
This actually happened and I started to focus on reeling in people who had been ahead of me the entire race. I had a person in orange in sight for the next couple miles before finally passing him.
Mile 23: sub-seven-minute-mile pace with just over three miles to go! But this is when things started to go wrong.
At this point, I decided it was pointless to accept any more liquids or gels, as I reasoned they would take some time to be absorbed and I was going to be done in twenty-some-odd minutes anyhow. I also had been good about sucking down a gel every 45 minutes and had maybe five cups of Gatorade and four cups of water throughout the race, so I didn’t think nutrition would be a problem.
But I started to bonk and within the next mile Scott the Pacer caught me all alone. “You are the only one from the original group who’s been able to keep it steady,” he said. I was amazed at how the later marathon miles (which were essentially flat and pleasant like most of the course) decimated the group, and also a bit alarmed that Scott had caught me as I fully intended to stay ahead of him when I had first gotten away.
We ran side-by-side for another half-mile. Then, when we passed the 24-mile mark, I looked at my watch and upon seeing an 8:09 split, I muttered, “That was a weird split,” thinking that that last mile must have been measured incorrectly.
In fact, I had cracked.
In the final two miles, I helplessly watched Scott run away from me and then two other racers catch and drop me, including the guy in orange I had worked so hard to catch a few miles earlier. As much as I wanted to, I could not force my legs to help me maintain contact with these people as the gas tank was now empty and my legs had become cement blocks.
Ultimately, my slowdown cost me not only a sub-3:10 finish but also an age group award, as the guy in orange took third and I took fourth in our age group.
On the brighter side, I finished in 3:11:42, which was good enough to qualify for Boston again due to my age group change later this year. It was also my second fastest marathon to date and my best effort on a course that was not gravity-assisted (i.e., downhill).
Furthermore, it gave credence that the pasta dinner speaker’s marathon success “secrets” really do work. At least I will be trying them again…
Mile 1: 8:17
Mile 2: 7:45
Mile 3: 6:58
Mile 4: 6:58
Mile 5: 7:31
Mile 6: 7:15
Mile 7: 7:10
Mile 8: 7:12
Mile 9: 7:08
Mile 10: 7:09
Mile 11: 7:11
Mile 12: 7:13
Mile 13: 7:18
Mile 14: 7:05
Mile 15: 7:11
Mile 16: 7:10
Mile 17: 7:05
Mile 18: 7:03
Mile 19: 7:02
Mile 20: 7:12
Mile 21: 7:04
Mile 22: 7:19
Mile 23: 6:56
Mile 24: 8:09
Mile 25: 7:49
Mile 26.2: 9:38 (8:02/mile)
First half: 1:35:45
Second half: 1:35:57