The analytical person that I am is asking…What did I do this time that I haven’t done before? What was the magical thing I did or not did that allowed me to run the full marathon without so much as a muscle twitch? I didn’t even feel the “wall”…where usually I feel drained and my pace starts to slow. Oh, there were spots in the run that my pace did slow down. The first time was through the first series of hills…miles 10-12, which I was just trying to maintain a steady effort…but the splits were only off by about 15 seconds. Then crossing the Robert E Lee Bridge, going up Main St and Boulevard from miles 14-20 in the head wind…but again only off by 10-15 seconds. And the last 2 miles from 24-26 where I backed off a bit on purpose to make sure the evil cramps didn’t rear their ugly heads. And of course the first mile in 8:28 doesn’t count…but may have contributed to the success. So I looked at different parts of the race to see what made the difference.
The Weather: Was mostly overcast, cold in the 40’s with a good 10-12 mph chilling wind…but Shamrock in March was about the same and I still cramped then around mile 20. I love running in the cold more so than warm…so this was perfect weather as was Shamrock, Frederick and MCM.
The Terrain: It was mostly rolling hills at the beginning with some undulations towards the middle. You would think flat like Shamrock would be better on the legs but maybe the rolling hills let different muscles work…but again, Frederick, in May also was rolling hills and I cramped there around mile 21 and MCM had almost same type of terrain and I started cramping around 17.
The Nutrition/Electrolytes: I always eat well…pasta, breads, potatoes as well as greens and other nutritious foods at least a couple days before a marathon and always hydrate well. The morning of the marathon I eat a good breakfast that includes some type of oats, bananas, bagels and coffee…this time I didn’t get a chance to get my morning coffee and had planned to get some before the race. If I don’t have coffee during the day…I end up with headaches the rest of the day…Okay…I’m an addict! During the marathon I try to make sure to keep hydrated and will take offered water or electrolyte drinks after the first water stop. Last three marathons, I carried gel packs/Bloks, Endurolyte capsules and sometimes sports beans and try to take them regularly…every hour to half hour. I would also eat what is offered on the course…bananas, gels, sports beans, Fig Newtons, pretzels, gummy bears, etc…I’m a good eater before, during and after running. This last race…I carried a package of Clif Bloks, a package of sports beans and Endurolytes in a baggie. I only took the Endurolytes every hr after the first half hr for only two hrs or two doses. I didn’t touch the blocs or the beans but I did take an offered gel at around mile 14 which I carried till just before mile 18 where I washed it down with some water from. I did have the offered cup of Coke at the “Junk Food” stops at 16 and 22…This Coke junkie couldn’t resist…but I did resist the beer from the Hash House Harriers around mile 22…last year I took two cups of offered beer since it was hot that day and I was not setting any time/distance speed records with a finishing time of 5:33.
The Physical/Fitness Level: I had no real nagging injuries for this marathon…well, my left lower leg was still a bit tender from a problem sustained during a August Mud Run but it did well during the MCM and I didn’t notice any leg/foot problems anytime during this race. The Frederick Marathon in May also was injury free with no real problems other than the cramps during or after the race. For this marathon I had just run the MCM two weeks prior, the Fleet Week Half a month prior and RnR Half in early September. My training plan had been interrupted from August to September due to an injured left lower leg…but I set PRs in both the Fleet Week Half and MCM. Training for the Shamrock Marathon was interrupted by shin splint problems from January to middle of February but still managed my first under four hour marathon at 3:55. Before the Frederick Marathon in May, I had just run Shamrock in mid March, the Dismal Swamp Stomp Half in mid April…a PR…and ended up running Frederick two minutes slower than Shamrock even though I thought I was in the best shape that I could be at that time.
The Pace/Speed: I did start the race really slow with the first mile coming in at 8:28 but the pace increased to around 7:45 for the rest of the race with a few fluctuations due to hills or wind. Most races I start off fast…usually in the 6:45-7:20 mpm pace and end up suffering bad when the leg cramps come on later and my pace ends up in the 9-11 mpm. I did experiment in the RnR half by going out slower than normal and trying to maintain a steady pace throughout but ended up slowing down significantly towards the last third of the race…but not because of leg problems or cramps…more through mental fatigue. I ended up with a half that was six minutes slower than my last one. So for the next half I just ran it the way I normally did…relatively fast at the start and even though I had a bit of fade at the end, ended up with a new PR.
The Mental: The other marathons…I was on a mission…Break 3:30…Qualify for Boston. I like to talk to people when I run distance races…it takes my mind off running and the miles seem to go by faster. I usually end up finding someone that’s doing a pace that I want to do and hang with them until either one of us drops off…usually me. This race, the mission was to take it easy, enjoy the race, the scenery and the crowds. I didn’t attempt to hook up with anyone and stayed pretty much to myself, running the pace I wanted to run. There were occasions when I would talk with runners as I came upon them but never for long. There were lots of time to think and reflect…but none affected me negatively…I was always aware of my legs…wondering when they would start cramping…reveling in the fact that they were performing so well. As the miles drew to a close…my mental psyche started to soar…which had never happened before.
The Things that were Different: I’m just drawing straws here but…I didn’t get a chance to have my morning cup of coffee before the race…which in effect made me want to go to the bathroom less…I only had two potty breaks just before the race where normally I would have the urge to go 5-6 times and then one more during the race. This race, I had the urge to go around mile 7 but held off and pretty soon the urge was gone and I never had to stop during the race to go…which was a first for me. Maybe by not having the caffeine…a diuretic…in other words makes you go…in my system preserved body fluids and electrolytes which may have helped? Since I didn’t need to stop for a potty break, I ran the whole 26.2…Yes, I did slow down at water stops to get my drink down but never stopped or walked. How about the two Cokes I had during the race? The Coke has a bit of caffeine and mostly sugar…would that have helped in any way…I can see myself carrying a small flask of Coke on my next marathon…hey if it works…I will do it!
So in closing…I don’t know what the difference was. Maybe it was just one thing that I mentioned or something that wasn’t obvious….or it was a combination of the above…or a magical formula from a mixture of what was listed. Maybe my legs are now just used to that distance and now I can concentrate on faster paces and the dream of a sub 3:00 marathon. I just hope that the cramping problems don’t come back…Ever!
I can hope.