"Training for a marathon requires a LOT of running," and other epiphanies learned over the past 3 months.
Coming off of World's Duathlon Championships in Penticton last summer, I was left with a bit of a void in my training. Melissa and I had maintained a very disciplined and determined training regime for months leading up to the race, and exhausted ourselves physically and emotionally in 2 dramatic hours late last August.
We returned to Calgary completely drained, but on a high of satisfaction and relief. I took part in a few more races that fall, starting with Provincial time trial championships, a MEC fondo, and Victoria half-marathon. Each of these events left me a little unsatisfied; I couldn't hold my expected power during the ITT, I flatted and chased for about 90km of the fondo, and I literally stumbled across the finish line in Victoria without nabbing the PB I fully expected.
While my fitness was at an all-time high, my mental game was done for the year.
So, I was as surprised as anyone to hear my mouth say "Yes!" when Melissa suggested we sign up for a marathon in February.
Part of me went along with it because I knew it could provide a tremendous boost to her running ability, and part of me felt like I could pull this off with little pressure on myself; I'm not a runner…guaranteed a PB having never raced this distance…
The timing also fit perfect with my off-season training. I could focus on running until February, keep my weight down over the winter, and start bike training on March 1st.
So, we registered and bought flights to Phoenix, booked a BnB, and Melissa drew up our 3 month training plan.
The first long run was 25 km, and I was bored immediately and in pain by km 20. Hmm, not a great start.
"Marathon pace is actually pretty damn fast!"
The runs got progressively longer, and more speed work was added. I recall a cold, icy run along Calgary's bow river with Darryl Penner, which was to include 12 km at marathon pace (MP). It was then that I realized how quick MP actually is! I struggled in an out and back route, questioning my decision making ability.
The weekly volume went up as did the length of the long run. Set a new distance record for me when we took advantage of a fortuitously timed trip to Seattle and notched 32 km along the scenic Burke-Gilman trail. Though I finished with my intestines upended and my feet in pain, it gave me a much needed lift in spirits that the distance could be achieved.
I also started to really care! No longer was I content with just finishing my first marathon, but I recognized how much work it was going to take, and how much dedication, how much time away from my bike, that I did not want to finish it feeling like I could have done better. There was no second chance at this.
I also wanted to represent Melissa properly. She had designed a creative and challenging program and I owed her my 100% commitment to this plan.
A few weeks later was a planned a 25km run with 15km at MP. It happened to fall on the same weekend as the first MEC running race, which featured a half marathon. Perfect! Sticking to the plan, I warmed up for 4km, then ran at a steady 4:05 / km for 15, along with Melissa and a few others. I felt really comfortable and had the coach's blessing to "do whatever you want after the 15 km" so decided to open it up. The pace felt so easy I couldn't believe it. I finished the final 6km with a 3:53 pace, catching but losing out to 1st place in a sprint finish.
The next big milestone was "peak week." I would amass my highest volume running mileage at >80km, including a Yasso's workout, and finishing with a 36km long run. 2 bike workouts added in there, just for sanity's sake.
The Yasso's workout I did at the 200m track at Repsol Centre. If you're not familiar with the Yasso's workout, it's a mean workout often used a few weeks prior to a marathon to help predict one's finishing time. It indicated 2:51 was possible. Grain of salt applied to these as it assumes one has the physical and skeletal ability to run the full distance and not just aerobically capable.
That weekend was -30C plus blowing snow and high winds, so the long run was going to be inside, again. Sick of treadmill workouts, we went to Mt Royal University track, also 200m in circumference. Just under 3 hours, 180 laps, and 720 right turns later, I finished. I had dialed in my nutrition strategy and, more importantly, had found my zen. My mind and body entered into a rhythm such that I was not going to falter or stumble until it was over.
"Tapering is a leading cause of divorce in endurance athlete marriages"
Sounds like fun on paper… relax, take the night off, carb-loading… far from it. There were some dark days and nights in there as anxiety levels arose and our coping mechanisms were limited (no bike, easy runs only, limited alcohol)!
This is probably the main reason they suggest not doing more than one or two marathons per year.
"Running a marathon is 33.3% physical preparation, 33.3% pacing, and 100% mental fortitude"
Race report: Mandatory belligerent neighbours yelling in the middle of the night outside our room, check. On the plus side, we didn't need our 3:30AM alarm.
Down a bagel with peanut butter and pack our gear and jog the 2km to the busses. Hop on and get carted out of town, to wait in the cold (4C) at the start line, lined up for port-a-potties and huddled around barrel fires like gypsies.
Last minute clothing drop and the fireworks announce the start of our journey back to the red glow of the Phoenix skyline, far away in the distance.
After jostling through the crowd in the opening km, I catch up to Melissa and we settle into a comfortable pace for the first 6 downhill kms. Hundreds have flown past us, succumbing to the allure of the net descent and listening to their lying fresh legs.
The road then turns up for a couple miles, and into a slight head wind. Melissa gracefully and predictably drops me, and soon I am passed by dozens of others, many of which are already wheezing from effort.
Patience. Run within myself. I glance at my HR, which has risen steadily from 150 to 160 on the climb. Ok just hold it there, there's a lot of road left to cover.
Atop the climb I push forward, legs now loose and ready to turn over.
I see that Melissa has not managed to find her first bottle at the aid station (elite runners are able to bring their own bottles and fuel, and have them placed at certain aid stations, however this race had them quite obscured). I bridge up to Mel and share my bottle and offer a gel. It's enough to hold her over until the next station.
Ian Jeffrey rejoins, and soon we are in a pack of about 8.
I cross the half at 1:26:46. A little slower than I figured, but feeling fantastic and confident I can maintain this.
Melissa gaps us after the half as our pace ebbs & flows while she drives steadily forward. Ian and I slog it out over the long expanses in the 2nd half, sections of road several miles long without a turn. I let Ian know that around km 32 I plan to "open it up."
As I cross km 28, I prepare for the "the wall," feared creature of marathon lore that has been known to chew up and spit out nearly every runner around km 30-32. Some say it has to do with low glycogen levels around the 2 hr mark. Some say it's a mental barrier we have fabricated. Either way, I'm totally ready to battle and yell out loud "I'm going to make this wall my bitch."
I anticipate the odometer reading on my Garmin watch displaying 32km like the count down to New Year's. Bring it. I start talking to myself and though my quads have been arguing with me since the early miles, their nagging is increasing in frequency.
But each time it hurts, it also goes away. I remind myself of this every time now. Km 33 arrives and now I'm into single digits. I can tell the wall is starting to doubt itself, though it hasn't surrendered yet.
The next couple km's it fights me, especially as I turn corners and have to regain my cadence. I see what the wall is trying to do… "bring it on, corners!" I bellow.
Then it succumbs, around km 35. I start getting faster and faster. I see Melissa in the distance and hope I can make it up to her so we can cross the finish together. She's looking strong, wow! I am further inspired. I catch her with about a mile to go, on a descent to the finish, and my legs are screaming but somehow only getting faster. I clock a final 5km in 19:45, with the last km at 3:38, completing my 2nd half in 1:25 50, including a 1 min negative split for a total time of 2:52:35.
So, what now? Yes, it meets the qualifying times for my age for Boston, Chicago, and London (3:15), and even NYC (2:58). Not gonna lie, even though I'm still limping 2.5 days later with no end in sight, I kinda liked it. I enjoyed having a race that allowed enough time to screw it up, enough time to think, to dial in to myself and my mind, and push myself beyond anything I've ever done before.
There was a sense of urgency in this first one as I'm turning 42 this year and it felt poetic to run 42 kms. Right now I'm shifting my focus back to bike racing and we'll see how 2018 unfolds.
Or maybe I'll leave my fate in the hands of the almighty rollup…
Full results here.
Strava link here.
- 1/2 whole wheat bagel with natural peanut butter
- starbucks oatmeal with brown sugar & nuts
- small coffee.
- Half a bottle of water on the way up to the start.
- 1 hand-bottle (20 oz) with Skratch Matcha Green Tea & Lemons mix (80 cals)
- 1 Endurance Tap Energy Gel, maple syrup (100 cals) - eaten at km 10
- 1 pack of Jelly Belly sport beans (100 cals) - 1 bean every km from 20-35
- 1 sip of water at each aid station, every 2 miles
|Enjoying post-race pool-side Pina Coladas with legendary runners, the Deere's, Keith Bradford, Jody Draude, and Ed Bickley.|