Breathe in....breathe out. Ok.
Now that I've had a day to take in yesterday's Pocono marathon and reflect upon my performance, I feel that I have a good grasp on what my strengths and weaknesses were during the race, and what led to my overall result; a result which put me less than 5 minutes away from a Boston Qualify time.
First the official details:
- Official Times are Posted HERE. My official chip time is 3:20:47
- There are some pictures and videos already posted in the Pocono newspaper HERE.
- Bryan Morseman won the race for the third year in a row with a final time of 2:20:11
- Official race photos are not posted yet.
So...on to the race:
This was my 3rd Pocono Marathon. As I stated in the previous post, I ran the race very evenly, and very strongly...until mile 22. I was able to maintain an almost mathematical pace until about mile 20, with every mile being right to the second. Between 20 and 22, I had slowed a slight amount, but still felt ok. At mile 22, I looked at my watch and somehow had lost almost 30 seconds. This is when the bonk hit. Combined with the morally deflating fact that I was losing time on my splits with only 4 miles to go, my muscles had also run out of precious fuel. The last four miles were very difficult and I was passed by well over 20-30 people. I was in very rough shape and even walked through the aid station after mile 24 (I had run through every aid station all day). I had mentally given up on 3:15 and knew I would still PR, so I convinced myself that I was content. There was no way I was going to run 7:28 miles for the last 3 miles, let alone 7:15 or whatever I would have to to make back up the time I had lost in mile 23 and 24. It was a devastating moral blow to have a Boston Qualifying time be so close, and then in an instant be so out of reach with the finish less than 4 miles away. 4 miles....a short run around my neighborhood....seemed like an impossible distance.
The new course was fantastic. Right up to the mile 13, the course was different from the one I ran in both '08 and '09. It was absolutely more enjoyable, more flat and downhills, more running on curvy back roads and less running on big state routes. At the half way point, the course met up with where it ran in previous years and the back 13 were the same as always.
Before the race...it was raining. Miserably. Everyone was gloomy and worried that the race was going to be sloppy. When we arrived by bus at the start, the rain had stopped but it was still "misting". With the early morning temps, and the wet air, many of us (myself included) began shivering. It was damn cold. Huddling around the start, everyone was cold and ready to start running, if only just to heat up a bit. The start was densely packed. Over 800 of use crammed into a corner behind Tobyhanna elementary school. It took me almost 10 seconds just to get to the start when the horn sounded. I started out at an assertive pace, but not an aggressive one. I kept a vigilant eye on my heart-rate for the first 2 miles to make sure I stayed steady. I hit the first mile in 7:15, which was a bit fast, but not alarmingly. My heart rate had not gone over 164, so I wasn't worried. From mile 1 to mile 13, I ran with a group of 4 runners that all had crazy GPS running watches that told them their active pace. This kept me moving at an exact pace, but as I found out after the half-way point that it was NOT the right pace (more on that later). I hit the half-way point at exactly 1:35:00. Following the old standby of "doubling your half time and adding 5", this would put me right at 3:15:00 for a finish. Miles 14-20 were a little lackluster. I could feel myself starting to hurt a small bit. This section winds its way through a nice wooded area, but there are a number of annoying ups-and-downs that really kicked my butt. Still, I kept my pace. I had a printed out wristband with three different paces on it (3:15, 3:30, 3:39) and every mile I kept coming up exactly on pace. I wasn't losing time and was maintaing a ~7:28 tempo. As I crossed the bridge just before mile 21, I noticed that I had lost a little time....but not much, maybe 10 seconds. And then it hit. After the infamous climb from mile 21-22, I checked my watch again and was now down almost a minute. This is when I had to make a decision. I told myself to fight for it. I got angry and tried to push...I wasn't going to give up. I turned up my music, tried to find my zen place, and just "pound them out". My body did not respond. I put down gatorade and water at the next station...no help. I stopped and walked at mile 24 aid station, didn't help. This is when I knew, after already losing almost three minutes, that I was not going to make 3:15:59....the absolute highest time to Boston qualify for my age group. I hobbled the last couple of miles towards the stadium. As if I wasn't deflated enough, just before entering the stadium for the last 0.2 miles, the 3:20 pacer (the fastest pacer in the race) passed me and said, "you're going to let me pass you now?". I wanted to punch him...but instead just shrugged and said, "meh". Talk about a slap in the face though. So that's how it went. I was killing it until my bonk. I was strong and confident until my bonk. In the end though, I still shattered my previous PR by almost 19 minutes...and this is what makes me smile. I may not have BQ'd, but I achieved both of my goals, and had a great race. I never would have believed I could have run a marathon in sub-8 minute mile pace. Yesterday I ran 7:40. Crazy.
I've thought a lot about why I crashed so hard at 22. My first year at pocono in '08, I had a similar experience. I hit a good wall around mile 18. In 2009 though, I ran the entire race strong and never bonked. I crossed the finish line smiling and feeling good. So what changed this year that led to my epic crash? Here is what I've come up with to explain it, in my non-professional opinion:
- Wrong Pace for first 13 miles: For the first 13 miles, I ran smoothly and confidently with a group of four guys. They all had fancy GPS watches that allowed them to run at an exact pace. I stopped looking at my watch vigilantly after about mile 3 and just ran with these guys. I noticed that I was gaining some time on each split, but not a lot. I figured these guys were running a pace for a 3:15 finish, but just building a small amount of cushion. This was a big mistake on my part. At mile 13 I finally asked the guy next to me, "So...shooting for 3:15 too eh?", to which he replied, "No...we're running for a 3:10 finish". DOH! It turns out that these guys were running a very steady and even pace for a 3:10 finish. The early mile math was so small that I didn't realize this and thought they were just building a small cushion. So in a nutshell, even though it is only 5 minutes faster than the 3:15 I was shooting for, that equates to about 10 seconds per mile faster. So, instead of running an already brisk 7:28, I was running more like a 7:17. This was just too fast for me for a marathon...and I didn't realize I was doing it. I crossed the half-way point in exactly 1:35:00. EXACTLY 1:35:00. At a constant pace...this would mean a 3:10 finish, which is exactly what these guys were shooting for. Running at this pace for the first 13 miles, definitely cost me precious fuel, as my body just wasn't adequately prepared for it.
- Too high of a Heart Rate, for too long: During the first few miles I was good about my heart-rate. I tried to keep it around 160, but did let it go up to 165 a few times. At training pace, 155 is my average, but at race pace 160-162 is closer to what I aim for. It's ok to go over 162 here and there, and even go as high as 170-173...but never for too long. This puts me well into anaerobic zones, and burns energy way to fast....and energy that can't be replaced quickly. During the first 13 miles, for some reason, I chose to listen to my body rather than my heart-rate monitor. I felt great! So, I didn't pay too much attention to the fact that my heart-rate was constant at about 167-170. This was a big problem and had I paid attention to this, might have figured out that I was running at the wrong pace. But I got a little over-confident and chose to not think about it. Letting my heart rate go above 167 for too long, on several occasions led to me prematurely running out of energy at mile 22.
- Didn't drink enough water: I did well with aid stations. I didn't walk a single one until mile 24. The mistake I made though was not enough water, and too much gatorade. Sports drinks have their place, and are a good way to replenish electrolytes, but you need to drink water too. I had a couple of salt tabs, so electrolytes weren't an issue....yet I always managed to grab the gatorade at the stations. After about mile 17, I realized this and started focusing on water. But I think it was too late at this point. Drinking too much gatorade and not enough water, played a part in not keeping me properly hydrated.
- Getting sloppy with gels, nutrition, and salt: I'm usually very good about this. I have my gels, salt-tabs, and whatever other nutrition/supplies I need. For some reason, I was so focused on the race and the times, that I got sloppy about these things. I quickly wolfed down gels when I was supposed to, often leaving a lot of gel still in the packet. I only took one salt tab, when I probably should have taken 2 or 3, and I didn't eat enough before the race or during. I had a small breakfast (usually I have a large one before a long run), and left the small bag of dates that I was going to bring with me for the race. Putting down a couple of sweet dates during a long run gives me a nice boost of energy. I had planned on brining some, but left them in my car. Not handling my gels and nutrition properly, led to my lack of energy during the last few miles.
- 10k last weekend: As much as I told myself it wouldn't affect my performance yesterday, I think racing the 10k last weekend as hard as I did, DID affect my taper and my preparedness for the marathon. The taper and rest leading up to a big race is absolutely critical and I abused this. I probably should not have run the 10k at all as it most certainly affected my pre-marathon rest and taper.
- Training long runs were too fast: During my training, I think that I did my long runs too fast. The point of weekend long runs is to train your body and muscles to function for long periods of time, NOT JUST over long distances. Your body needs to learn to store enough glycogen in the muscles to support a 3-4 hour run. I ran my long training runs too fast, and while I did the miles, I didn't do the time necessary to properly prepare my muscles for a race-pace marathon. If you look at the split times for the elite runners for this race, you'll see that they basically had even splits for the entire race. (i.e. 1:15 first half, 2:30 finish)
So there you have it. Another successful race, and another successful PR! It's funny how had I not cared about Boston, I would be ridiculously ecstatic about my time. I never even thought I'd get close to qualifying, so I put it out of my mind. As my confidence rose throughout my training though, I started to think......"maybe". Because of this, it's turned what would otherwise be an achievement that I'm very pleased with...to one I'm moderately disappointed with.
But...instead of beating myself up and beating the proverbial dead horse here, I will focus on the positives...and smile and think about how happy I am to have a new marathon PR of 3:20:47! Now I get to take a few days off (woo hoo!) and start thinking about the trails. I have a rather full docket of trail and ultra races this summer and I am super excited about it.
so hike on my friends,
keep on running,