For the past 4 years, our annual marathon has been the Twin Cities Marathon in early October. It so happened that in 2011 I had a conflicting Half Ironman event on the same day, and thus couldn't be at the TCM. Additionally, my running group was interested in trying out a different Marathon for 2011 - just for a change of pace. After some back-and-forth debate over a few different events - we finally decided upon the Atlantic City Marathon.
This was to be the fifth marathon for Josh and I, and the third for B.
I came into the this marathon better trained and stronger physically than any of my previous marathons. The aggressive triathlon schedule during the summer saw to that. It's my belief that my swimming 3+ times a week improved my overall cardiovascular strength, breathing, and oxygen transport. I had new veins popping out in my legs that I'd never seen before (athletes will be impressed with that. Women, may not). The increased biking combined with my normal running strengthened new parts of my legs. And, oddly, the hurricane that blew through in late summer also strengthened me in an unconventional way:
Typically, I do my weekly 'long' training run out on a river trail - which is extremely flat. When Hurricane Irene blew through in late August, that running trail got mostly washed out - and was out of commission for 3 months. Therefore, I had to switch my long runs to different courses - all of which had considerably more hills. This had the unintended (though fortuitous) consequence of making me far better equipped to handle hills, and further strengthened my legs.
The final part of the puzzle was dieting, and I entered race day at about 181 lbs. I took up eating Greek Yogurt for breakfast, and probably about 20 eggs a week (mostly whites). It'd take a personal chef and some monk-like dedication for me to get much lower...but I'll give it a shot in 2012.
Once arriving in Atlantic City, we reserved a floor of suites at The Borgata Casino for our base camp, and managed to leave the poker tables long enough to make it to the starting line.
Atlantic City sits right on the ocean shore at sea level, with most of the marathon course along the boardwalk. Only the first 8 miles were run on the city streets with a few very modest hills. The rest of the course was very flat - and we knew fast times would be a possibility. The holy trinity of fast marathon times are cool temps, flat course, and good hydration/nutrition.
At race start, we had clear skies with a temperature of about 56. Compared to some of our other marathons where we're shivering at the start and wearing multiple layers - this one was pretty mild, and we started in just our normal running shorts and short sleeves.
The three of us hadn't specifically planned to run together, and we suspected there may be some differences in our pace (Josh admitted he hadn't trained as often as he'd liked). By the first mile I was 15 seconds ahead of Josh and B, and started to lengthen. My main goal was to set a PR, with my previous best marathon time being 4:54. I knew I was well trained, so I set 4:45 as my ideal goal time. I figured that if I started with the 4:30 pace group, and hang on as long as possible, I could fade a bit toward the end - and still set my PR.
As we got into the first mile or two, the 4:30 pacer lady was keeping about 10 steps in front of me - but I could tell by my watch that she was running faster than she should have been. In any case, by mile 4 I had passed her - which meant I was running ahead of a 4:30 pace.
|Pacers carry these big signs, so you can't miss them.|
Around mile 8 we left the city streets and hit the boardwalk. By mile 9 I found myself running and chatting with this guy 'Blaze'. It turns out he actually spelled it 'Blaise', and was named after Saint Blaise, who was martyred and beheaded in the 3rd Century (these are the things you learn when you have hours on end to idly chit-chat). This was his first marathon, but we were keeping a 10:00-10:15 per mile pace - and helping to pace each other. He had one odd quirk in that he wasn't able to take energy gels while still running. So every few miles he'd have to walk a bit, take his nutrition, and then he'd run and catch back up with me. We ran together for probably 10 miles, but he eventually pulled away from me when my pace dropped slightly.
Occasionally the course would double back on itself, and I could somewhat keep tabs on where Josh and B were. It seemed to me that they ran together until about mile 12 or so, and then B eventually pulled ahead of Josh.
I managed to run the first 23 miles nonstop, which was by far my longest non-stop run ever (by probably 9 miles). As I've mentioned in all my previous marathon write-ups, when I'm out on the course I become a slave to my Nike+ GPS watch. Constantly calculating where my pace is at, estimated finishing time, etc., etc. I also knew that I was well ahead of my goal time (4:45) - and realized that beating 4:30 was possible (something that I'd only considered as an absolute miracle best case).
Furthermore, I was ecstatic that the 4:30 pacer woman was still behind me. The pacers are chosen because they can reliably run a very specific time - and if you stick with them, they'll get you to the finish line about 1 minute ahead of the goal time. Therefore, by mile 23 when I hit the final boardwalk stretch into the finish line - and she still hadn't passed me, I came up with a very specific strategy to hit that 4:30 time. Simply, "When she catches me - just latch on, and you'll beat 4:30." Simple.
Because I was ahead of even my 'miracle' finishing time, I figured by mile 23 I could take a little walk break. Though, the second I took those first few walking steps, I had an immediate rush of lactic acid and pain strike my right knee. It was as though my body and adrenaline had been holding the pain at bay, but when I stopped running - BAM. I did a few limp/gimp kinda steps, and decided I better start up running right away to prevent any further pain. Nope. Pain stuck.
Now I was kinda pissed. I'd run this great marathon, and suddenly I had a momentary panic that maybe this odd knee pain was going to sink me with only 3 miles to go. Luckily, I managed to get my shuffle going again - and while I wasn't pain free, I was able to continue and get back on pace....albeit with the occasional limp and a grimace on my face. No shame in saying that - I'd run faster and longer non-stop than I ever had in my life; pain is to be expected.
My plan was still in place - wait for the 4:30 pace group to catch me (any minute now), and then just latch on to them and let them pace me to the finish.
Mile 24: No 4:30 pace group. Great, still ahead of schedule.
Mile 25: More walking, still no 4:30 pace group. I start looking back - thinking I'll see them. Nothing.
Mile 26: "Well, I'm still ahead of the 4:30 group - I'll just cruise in, no need to kill it now....
As I crossed the finish line, (at least 20 minutes faster than my old PR), it's a bit hard to tell your exact finishing time right away - as it's all calculated by your computer chip...and not the gun time. I grab a bottle of water, and decide I'm going to stand at the finish line and watch the 4:30 group come in - mostly because I'm curious how much I beat them by. Couldn't be long.
5 or 10 minutes later - still no 4:30 group. Something was up.
I found out the next day that the 4:30 pacer got dehydrated, and had to drop out around mile 16. She was taken to the hospital by an ambulance....and thus why she never caught me.
My finishing time: 4:30:16 I'd blown away all my goal expectations, and run my best marathon by far - but had failed to beat 4:30 by 16 measly seconds. I easily left that out on the course, but my strategy of waiting for the pace group meant I hadn't pushed it in those last few miles.
B also set a Marathon PR: 4:51:08
Josh faded a bit, and finished: 5:15:04
- Took Gu every 4.5 miles
- Only took 2 Advil on the course. One of which I tried to take without water (at the time of the knee pain) - and I learned I can't take pills without water. Lodged it in the back of my throat, and then gagged it back out. Something to work on.
- Speed workouts during the summer definitely improved my mileage times
- Losing that last 5 pounds makes a big difference
- I did a bit longer taper this year - pretty low mileage that last week (only maybe 6 miles total). Helped.
- Carbo-loaded for 2 to 3 days before race day...whereas in the past I really only carbo loaded the night before. Longer carbo-loading felt like my glycogen stores were really topped off.
- Wore a visor and sunglasses - a first for both. I routinely wear both in triathlons, which I think is why I carried it over into this marathon. Also, on the shore - there's no shade whatsoever.