When I started C25K back in early 2011, running a marathon wasn’t something that necessarily occurred to me as being possible anytime in the near future. I just wanted to get back into shape. By the end of 2011, I had made some pretty good progress, running that first 5K after graduating from C25K in May, completing B210K in July, training for and then running my first half marathon in October, and then running two more half marathons by Thanksgiving. I’d gotten myself to a sub-1:50 PR for the half and was looking forward to focusing on the half distance in 2012. I was asked again late in the year if I planned on running a marathon anytime soon, and I wrote this on another forum in December 2011:
. . . I don't have any plans to move up from the HM distance to a full right now. I quite enjoy the half distance and want to focus on it. Except for a few races in 2012, all of my races will likely be half marathons. I do want to run a full eventually, but I'm not ready yet. I've laid out some criteria I need to satisfy before I consider training for a full: (1) have been running for over a year (maybe even two years); (2) be able to run a sub-1:40:00 half; (3) be able to make the time to increase my training volume to at least 45 MPW (but preferably 50+ MPW); and (4) be reasonably confident that I will be able to finish in under 4 hours. The third criterion will take the most work - I'm only running right around 25 MPW right now (would like to be closer to 30 MPW), and it's tough enough to fit that in (me running 45-50 MPW while the kids are as young as they are would probably be highly annoying for DW). One or two of these criteria could be met in 2012, but who knows when the stars will align and all four will be satisfied . . .
The stars started to align just a few months later. By mid-March, after a cycle and a half of the Ryan Hall half marathon plan, I had gotten myself up to 5 days/wk., 35 MPW and run a couple more HM’s, nabbing that sub-1:40 half (1:37:22) I expected to be chasing all year. At that point, I revisited the marathon question, and since I had some flexibility in my schedule to make time for more running, I decided to go for it and registered for a Fall 2012 race – the Chickamauga Battlefield Marathon. I had heard a lot of folks mention that Chickamauga was a great local race to run your first marathon at. It’s within easy driving distance of Atlanta, it’s not a mega crowded race, the location (Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park) is scenic, the weather’s great for racing that time of year, and the organizers always put on a great race. Also, the mid-November date would give me a good bit of time to build up my mileage before starting a formal training plan for the race. Game on!
After a light week of mileage to recover following my half in mid-March, I had 15 weeks before I needed to start an 18 week marathon plan. Since I had only been at 35 MPW for a few months at that point, I used those 15 weeks to basebuild. Having gotten used to a healthy dose of quality workouts week in and week out on the Ryan Hall plan, I decided to keep a weekly tempo run in the mix (and at times, an interval workout in its place) and ran a couple of shorter distance races for fun and additional racing experience. I also added a 6th running day. Basebuilding went much better than expected, and I was able to ramp up my mileage very quickly. I ended up averaging 53.03 MPW for the 15 week period (peaking at just over 70). Most of the miles were easy-paced, other than my weekly tempo/interval day (added a second weekly speed day in early June to give me some extra pop for a 5K in mid-June and the Peachtree Road Race on July 4th), and I felt like I was making tangible gains in endurance and speed. As gravy, I was able to run my first sub-20 5K (19:49) at that race in mid-June, and the Peachtree Road Race also went reasonably well (42:03, which was good enough to get me a trophy mug for finishing in the top 1000, but it was a really soft result in retrospect).
Since basebuilding had gone so well, I ultimately decided on Pfitz 18/70 for my marathon training plan. I knew it wouldn’t be an easy plan, particularly for a first marathon, and I was ready to drop back to 18/55 if need be. I input the 19:49 5K from June into several running calculators/tools (McMillan, Daniels VDOT spreadsheet, Runbayou, Attackpoint) to seed my training paces for the plan. That made for some tough and challenging workouts, but I was almost always able to hit the prescribed paces. I had to tweak my running schedule again in order to make the time for the longer midweek runs in the plan, so I pretty much became a predawn runner. I needed to be back at the house by 5:45 on weekday mornings to have enough time to get ready for work and get the kids to school, so I would wake up as early as necessary in order to fit in the miles called for on a particular day. When the plan called for a 15 mi medium long run on a weekday, that meant getting up at 3:30. On a 5 mi recovery day, I could sleep in until 4:45. As part of the new schedule, I also worked on extending the distance I could run on an empty stomach, so I could eliminate the need to get up even earlier to eat before longer runs. I had also read that running some longer runs on an empty stomach could be beneficial for marathon training, helping to improve glycogen storage and fat utilization. While I continued to have a light meal (PB&J, banana, and water) before speedwork days, race days, and long runs of 16 mi or more (in order to simulate and practice for race day), I got to the point where all other runs of 15 mi or less could be done without fuel before or during. The new schedule worked wonders for getting the miles in while reducing intrusion of training on family life, but my crappy sleeping habits (typically going to bed at 11:30 or later) probably compromised recovery a bit and sure made for some sluggish mornings at work.
In the end, I had a great training cycle with 18/70, avergaing 59+ MPW before the taper. The schedule was demanding and exhausting, but I made it through relatively unscathed and felt well-prepared for my first marathon. The occasional day of punishing humidity (it’s Atlanta, so no surprise there) and cumulative fatugue made a couple of the tempo runs and MP runs less than stellar, but I nailed all of the other workouts. As the marathon drew closer, I was still a little unsure what my goal marathon pace should be. The 5K time I used to set my training paces gave me a 7:17/mi MP for training purposes. It was a tough pace to hold for the four MP workouts in the plan. I got these workouts done, but I don’t know that I ever really felt like it was a pace I could hold on race day. I put more stock in the tune-up half I ran in early October. I PR’d that race with a 1:30:59 on a hilly course (I didn’t tpaper because I didn’t want to sacrifice volume of mileage too much while still in the meat of the race prep mesocycle of Pfitz). That time predcted a marathon of 3:09-3:14, according to several running tools, but I wasn’t running the 70+MPW that many of these tools assume. I’d heard that another decent prediction of marathon time was twice half marathon plus 15-20 minutes, which suggested 3:17-3:22. I put up a pace request thread over at the Marathoner’s forum, and the gurus suggested a 3:15 goal, as did many other running friends. Other suggestions ranged from 3:30 all the way down to BQ (sub-3:10). I was still on the fence the last week of training, but after an honest look at my training, the tune-up half, and other factors, I ultimately decided on an “A” goal of sub-3:15, a “B” goal of sub-3:20, and “C” goal of sub-3:30.
Originally, the plan was to head up to Fort Oglethorpe late on Friday night and then to pick up my race packet on Saturday morning right before the race. Luckily, I was able to leave work early, and DW, the kids, and I were able to get up there before the expo closed at 8:30. Packet pick-up was quick and easy, and it saved me some unnecessary stress on race day. I got a very nice long sleeve tech shirt, as well as branded gloves (touchscreen compatible gloves to boot) in my swag bag. I didn’t stick around to see if there were any freebies at the expo since we were all hungry for dinner. I wonder if I missed anything. A quick stop at Zaxby’s on the way back to the hotel, and we were set for the night.
I was up just before 4:30 the next morning and had my usual pre-race PB&J, banana, and bottled water. I passed on my morning cup of coffee, as I didn’t want to run the risk of having to pee during the race. I was out the hotel door at 6 in order to beat traffic heading into the park. Good thing I left early, as it took me close to 20 minutes to get into the park once I got there. It was still pretty cold at that point (mid 30’s), so other than a trip to the portalets, I just hung out in the car. The temps were supposed to warm up a bit to the low 40’s by the start of the race, so I wasn’t too worried. It was perfect weather for racing!
About 15 minutes prior to the start, I finally left the comfort of the car’s heater, and headed to the starting line to find the 3:15 pacer. Once I found him, I asked if he had a particular pacing strategy in mind, and he replied that he was going to run even splits the entire way. I had a nagging feeling that I should be more conservative and go out slower than 3:15 pace, but I went for it and decided to tag along with the pace group. Before the start, I ran into a Drew, a friend from dailymile (he ended up winning his AG in the half). I knew that a few RWOL folks were at the race as well, but I did not get a chance to meet them. Moment of truth . . . 18 weeks of training (and 15 weeks of basebuilding) all came down to the next few hours . . .
Here's the elevation profile of the race:
The race started with the loud boom of a cannon – a nice touch and fitting for a marathon held at the site of a Civil War battle. As we headed out, I tucked in just behind the 3:15 pacer along with several other guys that wanted to join the pace group. The first couple of miles were a loop around Barnhardt Circle and a semi-paved trail connecting to the park. Thanks to some keen advice from a fellow forumite, I lined up on the left at the start to minimize the distance I had to run around the initial loop. I knew there would be space throughout the race, so I was really determined to hit those tangents. Once we got into the park for the first of two loops, the group settled into pace, which varied just a bit with the terrain. The various Garmins in the group disagreed a bit as to the splits, but the effort seemed pretty even to me. The runnes spread out fairly quickly in the first few miles, which made for a fairly quiet and serene run. There was a stretch of rolling hills between miles 5 and 9 (which I had been advised to take note of on the first loop of the course) where we lost a few people from the pace group. The hills in this stretch weren’t steep or terribly difficult, but I could see how things could be different on the second loop. I was happy that I was able to keep cruising along with seemingly no ill effects or fatigue. Just past the mile 9 marker, there was a short out and back stretch of the course (not really a fan of those), which gave us a view of the runners several minutes ahead of us on the course. In miles 11 and 12, the course exited the park for a short stretch on a side road across the railroad tracks, heading gradually uphill to the highest point of the course. A nice downhill stretch followed, reentering the park in mile 12 and continuing through mile 13. There was a short, steep hill at the end of that stretch which took some effort, but I recovered quickly and continued to feel strong! Overall, I thought that the first half of the race went very well. I hit the half at 1:37:16, just slightly ahead of pace for my “A” goal. I wasn’t having any trouble with the pace we were running, and I was able to easily hold my own with the pacer throughout. The rolling terrain required some effort in spots, but it was not unduly taxing. Looking back, while the pace felt pretty easy, I can’t honestly say that it felt “stupid easy” like many have said it should have felt.
I finally made it back to Barnhardt Circle, and it was a downhill finish! My legs still hurt, but with the finish line in sight, I kept moving and even mustered up a bit of a “kick” (at least it was faster than the debacle that was mile 26 . . . smh). I was gonna cross the finish line running strong, and the cramps could have their way with me later (they did)! As I made my way around the circle, I saw the 3:15 pacer heading in the opposite direction, and he cheered me on. I was still kinda bummed that I hadn’t able to hang with him the whole race. I thanked him for the pacing earlier, but no time to chat, obviously. I smiled and gave a thumbs up to a photographer as I came around the final turn. Once I saw the clock, I ran as hard as I could to the finish line!
My first marathon was in the books! Despite the disappointing meltdown in the last few miles, I was happy that I was able to gut it out and at least salvage my “B” goal. My final results were as follows:
Chip Time: 3:19:47 (Auto PR)
Gun Time: 3:19:52
Overall Place: 18/530
Division Place (M35-39): 4/43
Splits: 1:37:16; 1:42:31 (5:15 positive split)
As I crossed the timing mats, a volunteer removed the timing chip from my shoe, and I got my medal and framed bib (which the race organizers give as a special award for first time marathoners). I posed for a couple of pictures, pounded a bottle of fruit punch Powerade, and then made my way over to the food tent. I got a little bit of everything: half a banana, 1 oreo, 1 chocolate chip cookie, 2 mini Moonpies (for the kids), a slice of pepperoni pizza, a cup of chicken tortilla soup, and a cup of banana pudding. I found a nice place to sit on the grass (that’s when the cramps came back and had their way with me), and I scarfed all of my food down, only momentarily feeling guilty about it. For some reason, that banana pudding was the most freaking-amazing banana pudding I’ve ever had! With the leg cramps in full force, it was tough getting back up and walking to the car, but I knew there was a bottle of water and 800mg of ibuprofen waiting for me there. Once that kicked in, my legs felt surprisingly decent the rest of the day.
After checking out of our hotel, DW, the kids, and I headed into Chattanooga for lunch (had some pretty good ribs at Sugar’s Ribs) and for a trip to the Creative Discovery Museum, which is mostly a huge set of different learning and play areas for kids. DD and DS loved this place! Though I had just run a marathon, I was still able to chase the kids around and climb up and down the huge jungle-gym playing area. Yay for ibuprofen! After a quick stop at Ben & Jerry’s, we headed back to Georgia, and I spent the rest of the night relaxing and watching movies with DW and the kids, and wearing out the F5 key on my netbook waiting for official race results to be posted. Adusted results later in the week bumped me up a spot to 18th, and according to the posted half splits, I passed 8 people in the second half of the race.
Pacing – I should have been more conservative and gone out behind the 3:15 pacer instead of with him. Had I shot for say a 7:30 or 7:35 pace for the first half, perhaps I would have avoided (or at least significantly reduced) the fade in miles 22 and 23 and the fatigue/leg cramps/pains/meltdown in miles 25 and 26. Maybe I would even have been able to pick up the pace and finish a good bit faster than I did. Surely, post-marathon recovery followed by another training cycle will consolidate the gains made this first time around and payoff for me in future marathons.
Tangents – Since the crowd spread out pretty quickly, I had plenty of room to run tangents on this course. I guess I must’ve done a pretty good job, as my Garmin ended up recording only 26.30 miles. Since many of the roads on the course were cambered, could running several the tangents against the camber have contributed in some part to levels of fatigue or the pains and aches (particularly, the pain in my right ankle) towards the end?
Fueling/Hydration – I had two packages of Cliffs shot bloks (12 shot bloks total, margarita flavor with extra salt) with me for the marathon. I had 2 shot bloks 20 minutes before the start and then 2 shot bloks each around miles 8, 13, 17, 20, and 22, with hydration at the next available aid station. I wonder if I waited too long to start using them. I never had any problems in training with a similar fueling schedule (I normally waited around 12-13 miles before having any shot bloks). In the next marathon (and in training), I will try fueling earlier to see if that may give me a bit more to draw upon in the final miles. As for hydration, the only times I hydrated during the first half were when I had the shot bloks, and I skipped all other aid stations during that stretch. During the second half, I believe I picked up a cup at each aid station (taking in full cups at the last 2 aid stations I passed; only a few sips at the previous stations). I normally don’t hydrate much on training runs (typically, I don’t need any water on runs of 15 miles or less (unless it’s extremely hot), and on longer runs, I’m usually fine with a 10oz handheld), so I didn’t expect this to be an issue on a cold day. I don’t know that it was an issue for this race, but it’s probably something I should be more dilligent about.
Strength training – I’ve never done much to begin with, and I completely blew it off the last half of training. Maybe some legwork is in order if that can help stave off some of the aches and pains that surfaced in the closing miles of the race.
Weight – I was at 133.4 pounds on the Friday prior to race week (I didn’t weigh myself the Friday immediately before the race, as I did not need to see what kind of weight I might have put on with the carbo-loading and reduced mileage from the taper), which corresponds to a BMI of 21.2. I guess I’m fine with this weight, but technically, I could still lose a bit more and not be in danger of dropping into the unhealthy range of the BMI scale. Perhaps I’ll see about getting my weight down to 130 (BMI=20.7) and try to squeeze some extra seconds/minuites of race time out of that. DW would not approve, so shhhh . . .
Oh, the lingering disappointment with how the last few miles turned out . . . but I am still pretty happy with my first marathon. It was a learning experience, and hopefully, a glimpse of potential for future marathons. I most certainly have unfinished business with this distance and am itching to get back at it. I’m hoping to run marathon #2 early in 2013, probably between February and April before the weather starts to get hot. That should give me enough time to properly recover, perhaps basebuild a bit depending on how much time I have, and finish another cycle of Pfitz (I’m considering doing just the last 12 weeks of 18/70 instead of the full 18/70 or even 12/70; I’ve seen a few folks recommend this). I haven’t decided which marathon I want to run yet. A destination marathon would be nice, but we already have lots of travel plans for 2013, so another trip just for a race for me probably isn’t in the cards. Besides, I think I need to keep the logistics simple for DW’s sake. She has been incredibly understanding and supportive (and tolerant) this year with all of the time I’ve spent running, and I don’t know that I want to make a whole big production out of marathon #2 unless it were somewhere she really wanted to go. Under the circumstances, staying local and running the Publix Georgia Marathon in March is probably going to be the most logical choice, though it certainly won’t be the easiest marathon course to run, even though I kinda like hills. I’ll table this decision for now, though, since I really need to work on warming up DW to the idea of marathon #2, and less than a week after #1 would definitely be pushing my luck.