October has been a strange running month for me. Ever since I didn't do the Bellingham Marathon on September 26, my running has been at loose ends. I've been running, 40+ miles a week most weeks (the exception was the week of the Portland Half Marathon, when my weekend mileage was 13 miles instead of the 26 per weekend for the three previous weeks). But I've done virtually no speedwork or tempo work (at least not successfully), and the only nine-minute range miles I've seen were in Portland.
This is meant to be about yesterday's marathon, not about October's slump, but I suppose they go hand in hand. I don't know whether to account it to burn-out after a summer of racing, mental stress weighing my legs down, or lack of recovery from all my long runs. (All of which seem silly as there are so many who run many more races than me, have REAL stress and difficulties as opposed to my mild levels, and run much higher volume on an easy week than I do on a hard week.) I do believe that external factors come into play a little bit...the increasingly dark mornings do drag me down (not only is it difficult to get up, I run more cautiously in the dark)...and my ankle and achilles tendon have been nagging me, not enough to stop me running, but enough to keep me aware that they were there.
Up to September 26 I was training for a nine-minute marathon pace (and doing okay with my pace runs and such), but it was difficult enough that I felt a 9:15-9:30 pace would be more realistic (and perfectly satisfying).
Yesterday, approaching the marathon as a training run rather than a race, and aware of my limitations, I thought that a ten-minute pace would be great and 10:30 would be satisfactory (and in line with my other long runs). (Not so much.)
I got into this when I was doing some internet searching for half marathons I could do as training runs this fall. (Same way I found the Defiance 30K from last weekend, race report in progress.) Lake Sammamish offered both a half and a full, but the half was already sold out (there were limited spaces in each). I got on the wait list for the half, and a few days later, when there were only a few marathon spots left, I signed up for that. I could always transfer to the half if a spot opened, and in some ways the full would be "easier" to do, as it began and ended in the same place, while the half was point to point.
So there I was, registered for a full marathon. No biggie, if I can do 20 and 22, what's wrong with a 26 mile training run? Of course, at that time I thought the Defiance 30K would be 18.6 miles (rather than 22.5) and didn't realize how much a hilly trail run (Defiance) would take out of my legs.
This is beginning to sound like a lot of excuses for a mediocre marathon. Yeah, mediocre. I'm not going to say crappy, even though it was SO much slower than any prior marathon, and even slower than I'd anticipated.
Most of the race was on packed gravel trails, and although lots of people like this surface, it confirms to me that my pace slows on any surface other than pavement or sidewalk (even if those are hard on the body).
Even though I don't have my splits in front of me, I have a pretty good sense of how things progressed. The race started in Marymoor Park, and mostly followed the Sammamish Trail to Issaquah and back. We started with a short out and back (just under two miles) that would repeat at the end to make up the distance. This section was was on paved trail, which I like a lot, even though the little out and back was kind of irratating (and much more so at the end).
Going out at a comfortable-feeling pace, I saw my pace fluctuating around 10 and 9:45, which I liked. (Ah, if I could have sustained that!) But before long I was seeing more 10:15 and 10:30. Eventually, when we were on the trail, I dropped into the 11-minute range, which was where I pretty much stayed.
There were probably 100 marathoners, so once we got going everyone spread out and I was running pretty much alone. There were a few Marathon Maniacs (all men) that I essentially ran with all the way, sometimes behind them, sometimes ahead (they eventually lost more steam than I did, so I did finish ahead of them), but since they were running around the 11-minute pace too, they contributed to my status quo.
The trail is pleasant and scenic, with views of Lake Sammamish and passing some very nice, expensive lakeside homes. I am sure it is a very popular running and walking (and biking) trail (although it's gotten some bad press lately as a couple of women joggers have been attacked on the trail). It's a pretty flat, straight stretch, which lends itself to plodding.
I was wearing a long-sleeved shirt and no jacket. The weather forecast threatened rain, and we did get light rain for the first few miles (enough to get me wet beyond my sweating), but it wasn't torrential and later on it was just overcast, with sunbreaks by the end of the race. I started out wearing gloves but took them off after a couple miles and just carried them the rest of the way. (They came in handy for wiping my face.)
The first aid station was at 4.5 miles, and I think I ran through without stopping (I was carrying a fuel belt with nuun). This was the first time I passed my Maniac buddies, but they would later pull ahead when I stopped at a porta potty.
There were porta potties and bathrooms on the route, but they were most heavily concentrated in the first five miles or so. After that they became sporadic. When I started needing a bathroom around seven or eight miles, I decided I should stop if I had a chance. I had one false alarm when I thought I spotted a porta potty but it turned out to be a storage container! I finally found one aroing mile ten, and do not regret the stop at all.
I took a Gu (espresso love) at around mile 8, so I could discard the wrapper and drink some water at the mile 9 aid station. The aid stations were really generously stocked with water and nuun and all kinds of food (more stuff than I would want to put in my stomach during a "race.")
The half marathon started at the other end half an hour after the marathon, so at some point we started encountering the half marathon runners. First we saw front runners, then eventually, thicker crowds of midpack runners. I was probably around mile 8 when I met up with the most runners. That would mean they still had eight miles to finish (yeah and I had 18).
Around ten or eleven miles in we came off the trail and started running in town, on sidewalks. The turnaround (and half-marathon start) was at Lake Sammamish State Park. In the park was the only time I had a little trouble finding the route, but after a moment of concern I spotted orange flags and followed them to the aid station that was the turnaround.
I had planned to take another Gu at this point, but instead ate two Oreo cookies at the aid station. I dawdled a little too much at the aid station, but then got on my way and headed back. Now I had no choice but to run another 13 miles!
Despite some off and on nausea, I never needed to stop at a bathroom again. The nausea was troubling, not because it was very bad at all, but I really didn't feel like taking any more Gu, even though I knew I would need to at some point.
By this time the easiness of the first half had worn off, and running started to feel like more work. I felt aches in every muscle group that had anything to do with running. I started setting objectives to look forward to. Fifteen miles would end my third five-mile segment; seventeen would be the next aid station.
At the aid station I drank a cup of water and took a shot blok (which I ate) and a packet of Gu (which I stored in my fuel belt for later). I am always torn about whether to take Gu at aid stations. Not whehter to eat it, but whether to take the free stuff or just use my own. I usually take the free stuff, because I've paid for it in my entrance fee.
At mile 18, after a LOT of deliberation, I decided to walk a little. This was the first time I've ever walked in a race, except for a couple of steep hills in the past and, of course, the trail run. I decided to do it very deliberately, so as not to get too bogged down walking or make the race any longer than necessary.
My plan, which I followed through mile 24, was to walk for one minute in every mile. The trail had blue markers every half mile. Each time I finished another mile, I ran to the corresponding blue marker, then walked for exactly one minute. Then I started running again, knowing that when I passed two more blue markers I could walk again. I think the real benefit of this plan, more than just resting my legs, was that it really helped the miles tick by.
Somewhere in mile 20 I pulled out my "free" Gu and ate most of it, so I could toss it at the 21.5 aid station. My stomach was still a little queasy but I thought I needed something to fuel me. At the aid station I refilled an empty water bottle with nuun but didn't take any more food.
I also passed the Marathon Maniacs who had pulled ahead of me a little in my walk breaks. I think they started doing more walking here and I ended up finishing ahead of them.
Around 23 miles I caught up with a man who had clearly been running faster (and had been ahead of me the whole race), but now had turned to mostly walking. He looked VERY unhappy. I walked with him for one minute. He asked how far it would be when we got into the park. I didn't know exactly but I told him we were at 23 miles so had 5K to go. He looked depressed. I told him, see you at the finish, and went on. Maybe I should have suggested he run with me...but he could have followed me if he wanted to.
I took my last walk break at mile 24, and decided I wasn't going to walk any more till the finish. The out-and-back turnaround was just after mile 25. In mile 25, two girls came running by me at a decent enough clip that I wondered how they had been behind for so long. They wore shirts that said "Two Marathons in Two Weeks," referring to Royal Victoria on 10/10/10, and this one. They passed me, but I decided to take their cue and push it to the end.
Even though I didn't go TOO fast (maybe 9:30 pace at the fastest) it was surprisingly possible (not necessarily easy) for me to pick up the pace for my final mile. I even passed a guy who had been ahead of me all along. I took the final turn, crossed the finish line, and stopped my watch at 4:51:33.
Um, yeah. That is 41 minutes slower than my last marathon. About 11:12 pace. (Official time: 4:51:29, pace 11:08.)
Because I ran this so much slower than I would consider any "real" marathon pace, it's easy to forget that yes, this was a REAL MARATHON and I just ran 26 miles. And I am entitled to give myself some credit for that.
My legs were pretty achy as I walked back to the finishing area. I ate a couple handfuls of pretzels and LOTS of apple slices. I took a small piece of pizza, two small chocolate chip cookies, and a few m&ms back to the car, when I finally staggered back there.
In the car I changed into yoga pants and recovery socks, then drove over to the restroom where I changed my shirt before driving home. I stopped at QFC for two bags of ice and a mocha, then took a 15+ minute ice bath. After that I let my legs thaw before taking a hot shower.
For dinner: a ginormous bacon cheeseburger and some fries. If I can't have a big burger after a marathon, I guess I never can!
What's on my plate now? Well, I guess I can reveal that I signed up for the Seattle Marathon on the Sunday after Thanksgiving. That will be my "real" fall marathon and my final race of the year. (I've decided to take December off from races.) I would like to do REASONABLY well in Seattle, which means 4:15-4:30.
So if October was my month of slow, November needs to be the month I get some speed back. I've decided to respect the strain I've put on my legs over the last few weeks, and take Sunday-Tuesday off running. Today has been a really lazy rest day (two naps so far), but I'll go the the Y on Monday and Tuesday. Then maybe run on Wednesday.
It's also time to start being careful about what I eat again. It wouldn't hurt me AT ALL to lose a few pounds before Thanksgiving!
Addendum: Analyzing the splits
I pulled up my Garmin splits and my impression of my pace above was pretty much right on. I started out well, dropped to okay, and deteriorated significantly in the second half.
1 - 9:44
2 - 9:45
3 - 10:15
4 - 10:18
5 - 10:33
6 - 10:42
7 - 10:39
8 - 10:50
9 - 10:55 (water at aid station)
10 - 10:48
11 - 13:32 (potty)
12 - 10:46
13 - 11:02
14 - 11:52 (aid station turnaround)
15 - 11:20
16 - 11:24
17 - 11:37
18 - 12:54 (aid station and first walk)
19 - 11:31
20 - 11:54
21 - 11:53
22 - 12:42 (aid station)
23 - 11:35
24 - 11:19
25 - 11:20
26 - 10:05
Interesting notes - after I slowed down significantly in the second half, the miles where I walked for a minute were not much slower than the ones I slogged through (except for aid station stops). Embarrassingly, mile 25 (where I did not walk) was one second slower than mile 24 (where I did)!