Rock n Roll San Diego Marathon Comeback: Still a lot of work to do
On June 1, 2014 I ran my first marathon since June of 2007 at the Rock n Roll San Diego Marathon. Ironically I was returning to the last marathon I ran 7 years previously (and my fastest marathon time posted). It was a long 7 years without marathon running in my life. In 2013 I started to train in late March to try to squeeze in the Rock n Roll Marathon, but after a horrendous 20-mile training run in mid-May, I scrapped my plans to run it. I wasn't ready. I knew it would be a struggle and I knew I would be unhappy with my result. So I just didn't do it and focused on a possible winter 2014 marathon. Then when it came time to train in the fall, I decided to just wait until spring 2014 and I made plans to run RnR in June here in San Diego.
I may not have been ready to run the RnR Marathon this year either. But, I did complete the race, just not in the time I wanted. So here goes. This is my story and analysis of what went wrong and how I can learn from it.
Leading up to this race, I was able to several long runs of 14+ miles. I started tracking my training in January and began doing my long runs on the weekends. I started out with 8 and 9 mile runs by mid-January. By Feb I was up to 10 & 11 milers. In March I really turned the training up with a 14 and 15 mile run. My paces, according to my Nike + on my iPod, said I did those runs at close to 7:00 per mile pace, just under at 6:57 in fact. I never doubted the accuracy of the Nike application. I had calibrated it in February so I thought it was the truth. I felt strong. I felt confident. (FORESHADOWING HERE).
April 5, a 19 mile run at 7:07 pace in the sun. I felt decent. Everything was going my way. I never doubted anything. I felt I could sustain my pacing. I followed that run with an 18.5 mile run on April 12 at 7:09 pace, again in the sun. April 19, a 20-mile run at 7:03 pace. Things were looking up. My goal was to do at least 2 runs at 20+ miles. Ideally I wanted 4 but I didn't want to push it too much. It was my first marathon in 7 years. I wanted to make it to the starting line.
Here are the final long runs I did in the training cycle:
April 26: 14.6 miles at 7:03 pace
May 3: 18.69 miles at 7:09 pace
May 9: 22.1 miles at 7:01 pace (FINAL LONG RUN)
May 17: 17.07 miles at 6:55 pace
May 24: 14.06 miles at 6:50 pace
Based on my training, I felt I had this marathon in the bag. My original goal was to just run anything under 3:10:00, my Boston Marathon qualifying time for a male 35-39 years old. I'm 38 now. I figured that I could easily get under 3:10 but I was really training for a 2:59 (my secret goal) so I would have some cushion should anything go wrong in the race. I felt that if I could hold the paces I had during training, I could go a little faster (6:50 pace) in the race and possibly toy with another sub-3 hour marathon. I have done it twice in my marathon career.
SIDENOTE: The first time was at the 2006 Boston Marathon where I ran the race of my life and finished at 2:59:07. Then, the next year at the Rock n Roll San Diego Marathon I ran another PR with a 2:57:41 finish. I was on fire those years. Then I got injured in Dec 2007 playing tennis and tearing my right hamstring badly. All bets were off. Off and on PT sessions and I sat 7 years on the sidelines without running another marathon until 2014. I missed the best marathoning years of my life (ages 32-37).
MARATHON SUNDAY - June 1, 2014
Miles 1-6: I purposely didn't run too fast in those early miles when it's so easy to do so. Everyone is pumped and full of adrenaline. I wanted to stay EXACTLY on a 1:30:00 pace for the first half. I wanted to to have enough juice for the second half. These miles go from Balboa Park up through Hillcrest, down Park Blvd to downtown. Then it crosses through Little Italy (a few inclines). I crossed the 10K split at 42:24 (6:49 pace). Right on target.
Miles 6-13: I kept plugging along. There definitely were some minor hills here and other inclines I didn't expect. Through Little Italy after the 10K I definitely felt these. I also felt like I was sweating a lot more than normal. I was drinking the bottle I had around my waist and grabbed water at the stations every 2 miles.
Around mile 7-8 we entered Mission Hills and another small incline. I decided to take one of the GU gels they were handing out. Just in case. We made our way through Old Town (more inclines), then along Morena Blvd adjacent to Mission Bay Park. I knew the half-way point was along the bike course in Mission Bay Park. So in order to get over there we had to cross a bridge over the 5 freeway around mile 11 that also was a minor hill. I took my Cliff shot bloks here with water. Actually my bottle fell so I had to stop and grab it. My goal was to get to the half marathon by 1:30. I crossed at 1:30:18, 6:53 pace! RIGHT ON PACE!
Miles 14-20: Once I passed mile 14 I knew trying for a sub-3 hour marathon was out of the question. I was already fatigued, but I felt like I had some room to slow and not blow my chances at at least the sub 3:10:00. I kept moving and just focused on staying within distance and keeping a cushion. Miles 17-19 were definitely challenging me. I fought and fought and tried not to slow down. Before we went onto the 163 and faced the MAJOR hill, there was a minor hill in that we had to go across a bridge to get to the other side of the 5 during the last part of mile 19. I didn't like this at all. We were on the freeway now and mile 20 was right in front of me. I crossed mile 20 at 2:21:42, a 7:05 pace overall.
My actual time from crossing the half marathon split to mile 20 was 51:24 (6.89 miles at 7:27 pace). So I did slow down considerably from my first half pace. If I held this pace I would finish at 3:06-3:07 and change. I knew I would lose a few minutes on the hill though. It was going to be close. The sun also came out right as I was getting onto the freeway. Great.
Miles 20-21: I knew going in that the race had this MAJOR hill from mile 20-21. I figured it was less than a mile and I didn't think it was going to be that bad. I even drove on it in the days before since it was on the northbound side of the 163 freeway. It seemed gradual but I really couldn't assess the true nature of it.
I am going to say this now and I honestly believe it's the truth. This was the most difficult hill of ANY race I have EVER run in my ENTIRE LIFE. Period. Having this hill at this stage of a marathon is absolutely INSANE. Since I have run Boston Marathon 4 times, I honestly believe RnR is MORE DIFFICULT. This hill is EXACTLY 1 mile long with no breaks, all incline. There are no areas where the hill levels off and then continues to ascend. On Boston Marathon's Heartbreak Hill, there are areas where you have breaks of flatness. Not on this one.
I tried my hardest to NOT WALK. I made it about 3/4 of the way up and I just felt I needed to walk in order to save myself from collapse. I walked about 30 seconds and then ran the rest of the way up. The hill ended with the on ramp to get to Hillcrest and University Avenue on 10th ave. I had nothing left. As I crossed mile 21, I looked at the clock and determined I needed to run 7:40 pace the rest of the race (5.2 miles) to just squeak by with a sub 3:10:00 and a Boston Marathon qualifying time. Given the state of my body and my mind I knew odds were against me. I tried though.
Miles 22-24: As I crossed mile 22 I looked at the clock and I knew I wasn't going to break 3:10:00. I kept thinking about the 163 hill and how truly devastating it was. I was becoming extremely thirsty since the sun was out in full force now. This isn't how I wanted this marathon to end. At this point I was toying with the idea of walking the rest in. But I still wanted to post a decent time. I just didn't know if it was worth it to kill myself since I knew I wasn't going to finish under 3:10:00. I ended up walking portions of mile 22 and 23. I tried to walk only 20-30 second spurts. I only did this a few times per mile. As we made our way through Morley field, yet another hill. Not fun. Then finally we were on Pershing and I knew mile 24 was at the top of that hill. I decided I would run the rest of the race in (as much as I could). I flew painfully down Pershing and as it flattened out I walked again for 20 seconds. I then forced myself to run.
Miles 25-26.2: My legs were completely shot. It was painful to move. I could barely run but I ran. I just wanted to be done with it. I wanted to eat the pecan roll my good friend Alex promised she would bring to me at the finish line. I felt disappointed that all this training resulted in a sub-par performance. As I made my way down the final stretch I saw the clock read 3:18 something. I ran as hard as I could to stay within the 3:18 minute and finished at 3:18:52. It was my 4th slowest time out of the 11 marathons I have run since 2001. I finished 159th overall out of 5400 runners. Not bad, but I've certainly done better.
Finish line delirium: After I crossed the finish line I bent over to stretch my hamstrings, which felt awful and like I had lead in my blood. I had so much pain in my legs. I actually sat on the ground for a moment to catch my breath. I was not in a good state. I got back up since I was determined to find Alex and Jason who were waiting for me somewhere in the family meeting area. I told them to go to the "B" section and to expect me around 3 hours after the race started. So I was a little off. I then became very lightheaded.
A half marathon finisher girl asked me if I was ok. I could barely answer her. I told her I was dizzy and needed to sit down. I was stumbling as I walked, almost like a drunk, but a medicated drunk. She got someone from the medical tent to come over and I was wheeled into the tent. I was there for the next hour. They gave me Gatorade with added salt (disgusting!!), ice bags and told me to put my feet up on a box whileI laid in the cot. After the dizziness was mostly gone the next task was to be able to stand up. It took me 15 min to be able to do that. I then had to lay back down again and start over again. Finally I decided to leave and try to walk it off. I found Alex and Jason, who were miraculously waiting in the Family Reunion section. The walk out of the finish area to that section felt longer than the actual marathon itself! I bit into the pecan roll (despite not having much of an appetite).
Marathon Post-Mortem: When I looked at my Nike+ tracker on my iPod it said I ran 28 miles instead of 26.2. This meant that all of my runs using that application were inaccurate. This meant that it said I was running faster then I really was. This wasn't good. This wasn't good at all. I was led to believe I was in better shape than I actually was. All those "7:03" paced training runs were actually a lot slower. I have determined the pace was most likely off by at least 20-30 seconds per mile. I can't quite nail it down. Regardless, if I had had an accurate training device, I may have approached the race differently.
I have a few options if I still want to qualify for the 2015 Boston Marathon.
Option 1: Run another marathon before registration begins in mid-September for the Boston Marathon. That means I need to run a full marathon in under 3:10:00. I have found one race in Ventura, CA. The Ventura Marathon on Sept 7. The course is relatively flat from what I have read and there should be good coastal fog and cloud cover up there. I would basically start formalized training in late June through Sept. That means an additional 8 weeks of training. I'll probably need to build up to another 20+ mile run, maybe 2. It's a short time span but I am utilizing the training base I already have.
Option 2: Focus on running a marathon in early 2015 to qualify for Boston Marathon in 2016. Since I will be turning 39 in December, that means for the 2016 race I will be 40 (YIKES) but my Boston qualifying time becomes 3:15:00 instead of 3:10:00. Five more valuable minutesI will gain! This seems more realistic.
I am leaning to Option 1. Still undecided. I'm not ready to give up marathons just yet. I have run 6 qualifying times for the Boston Marathon. I still feel I have a few more in me.