December 8, 2008

How to run marathon in 3:55 when you shoot for 3:30

Few days after completing the marathon in Philly I wanted to find answers why I did not have the race I wanted. I did a full review of the race, looked at my heart rate monitor log from the race and mentally walked through the whole race. I summarized my findings and ran them by Craig who confirmed most of them and added few findings to complete the picture. Here is the summary of what made the day go the way it did. I made some rookie mistakes and paid for them dearly. I suggest you review this article before your next marathon. It may help you get a better race.

  • Prepare good race plan - I had a very basic race plan going into the marathon and as the day unfolded I found the race plan was not thought through well enough to carry me through the day. I did have just plan A. I did not have plan B, C and D as I usually have and had to change things on the spot as the race went. You may know that the longer you run the less you can rely on thinking clearly. According to Craig I did pretty good job reacting to the circumstances and changed the tactics according to conditions. I also pushed through the rough spot between miles 18 and 21 when I felt really bad. I may have performed better if I had more detailed plan. But it is hard to build one if you do not really know what the race will be like. Just like my first HIM race I blew-up on the run. But next year my HIM was without any blow-ups. I'm learning by mistake.
  • My water intake during the race was not sufficient. The cold weather made me think that I do not need to take in water. I should have drank at least a bit at every aid station instead of sticking only with the Perpetuem mix I had in my bottles. According to Craig I took in more than enough carbs (actually about 40 calories per hour more that I should have) and not enough water. Which made me feel bloated and and my stomach was full of fluids that were not processed. I should have stuck with my other fuel belt with two large bottles or I should have drank water at the aid stations.
  • Never try to play catch-up during the long distance race. I mentioned in my race report that I had to stop at around mile 10 for quick bio break. I lost contact with the pace group and at that point I got the stupid idea that I can catch-up with them by picking-up the pace a bit. It was actually quite easy as from the point I took the break the road was downhill. This was by large my biggest mistake of the day. I looked through the log and it looks like I just killed my race on that downhill. I basically ran too fast down that hill - from average pace of 8:00 min/mi I sped up to 6:40 min/mi on the downhill. Yeah you read correctly I was running at higher than my 5k pace race during the marathon. Silly me. About a mile after that heroic effort (after I settled back to 8:00 min/mi) I had to take a walk break. First of many walk breaks.
  • Get better clothes that protect from cold wind. I believe I ran in enough clothes for the race conditions, but I did not account for the wind especially on the stretch on Kelly Drive. Although I had base layer, warm compression shirt with long sleeves, long sleeve compression top, long compression pants and two hats (one for wicking the sweat and one to keep me warm) I never felt completely comfortable. I was more on the cold side the entire race. I think I should have had either different base layer (the one I had feels cold against the body) or I should have a wind protection layer. I will need to experiment with this during the winter.
  • I need to get better timing of the bathroom breaks. I should have used the time after warm-up to get to the bathroom. That way the 10mi stop would not be necessary. Well I just hate the porta-potties lines at race venues.
  • Hard races at the end of long season are not easy to prepare for - I had hard time getting my head in the game for this one. I posted comment in the original race report about this. As I said I did not want to break the 3:30 bad enough and was not mentally ready to push very hard. If I run another marathon I'll be better equipped.

So there you have it. In case you wanted to look at the breaking point in my race here are two pictures - first one shows the altitude, pace, heart rate for the entire race and the second one zooms on the critical part of the race. E.g. the part where I stopped for bathroom break and then sprinted down the hill. I still can not comprehend what I was thinking at that time. Another reason to have good race plan not to kill your race before the half point.



So there you have it. If you can prevent the above mistakes I made - especially trying to play catch-up you will do better on the race day. Good luck everyone.


NJFred said...

That a very good time, especially for your first. I went through the same exercise with my run and my lesson learned is not to play catchup too. I think because I missed the pace group I mentally tried to catch them and ran a little faster than I should have.

Well it's end of season recovery time. Time to energize for a great tri-season ahead.

kxux said...

Thanks Fred. I recognize I worked my way through the rough spot and recovered quite OK. I'm not disappointed with the result it is the best I could do on that day. I just need to recognize I was aiming higher. Well I'm sure I'll have a chance to redeem myself in the future (not sure if it will be next year though).

Database Diva said...

I don't have any advice about how to run a fast marathon, but I can see that running faster than your 5K pace was not going to carry you through.

One thing I take somewhat seriously is wardrobe. I actually keep a log of what I wore, the weather conditions, and if it was a good match. I have clothes for wind, rain and cold weather. For a short race, you can tough it out, but when you are going to be out on the course for a few hours, or at a big race where you have to wait around before the start, you really need the right weather gear.

The great thing about a first race is that it is a guaranteed PR, and you also learn a lot, which means your second race at that distance is nearly always a PR.