Sunday, January 13, 2013

Still Learning....

Do I really know how to run a marathon?

The answer to that (I'm pretty sure) is no.

I have now run six of them, and I've learned many things. But the main thing I've learned is how much I still have to learn.

The major thing I'd like to be better at is how to pace myself in a marathon. Here's a look at the paces for my last three 26.2s, mile by mile, according to my Garmin data (I don't have this data for the first three I ran, and because of Garmin discrepancies these numbers may not add up to my official finishing times or match the official race data exactly):

Top of Utah--September 2011
Mile 1--8:29
Mile 2--8:11
Mile 3--8:15
Mile 4--8:28
Mile 5--8:28
Mile 6--8:44
Mile 7--8:38
Mile 8--8:27
Mile 9--8:35
Mile 10--8:53
Mile 11--8:30
Mile 12--8:28
Mile 13--8:31
Mile 14--8:34
Mile 15--8:21
Mile 16--8:40
Mile 17--8:31
Mile 18--8:54
Mile 19--9:30
Mile 20--10:03
Mile 21--9:14
Mile 22--10:36
Mile 23--11:10
Mile 24--10:36
Mile 25--9:41
Mile 26--9:40
Final .2 pace: 8:35
RESULT: 3:59:11

Houston Marathon--January 2012
Mile 1--9:26
Mile 2--9:01
Mile 3--8:33
Mile 4--8:25
Mile 5--8:19
Mile 6--8:36
Mile 7--8:31
Mile 8--8:36
Mile 9--8:46
Mile 10--8:46
Mile 11--8:47
Mile 12--8:49
Mile 13--8:45
Mile 14--8:29
Mile 15--8:36
Mile 16--8:46
Mile 17--8:47
Mile 18--9:00
Mile 20--8:59
Mile 21--9:04
Mile 22--9:08
Mile 23--9:12
Mile 24--9:08
Mile 25--9:19
Mile 26--8:57
Last .2 pace--7:50
RESULT: 3:53:28 (my current PR)

California International Marathon--December 2012
Mile 1--9:19
Mile 2--8:57
Mile 3--8:39
Mile 4--8:51
Mile 5--8:56
Mile 6--9:00
Mile 7--9:07
Mile 8--9:01
Mile 9---9:00
Mile 10--8:47
Mile 11--8:45
Mile 12--8:59
Mile 13--8:51
Mile 14--8:53
Mile 15--9:00
Mile 16--9:06
Mile 17--11:36 (bathroom stop)
Mile 18--9:04
Mile 19--9:14
Mile 20--9:17
Mile 21--9:05
Mile 22--9:12
Mile 23--9:18
Mile 24--11:40
Mile 25--11:08
Mile 26--9:57
Final .2 pace: 9:02
RESULT: 4:06:32

What do these races have in common? If you said, you hit the Wall, Terzah, and right around the same time in all three races, well, you'd be right.

The fact that I markedly slowed down in Houston, too, albeit more modestly than the other two drama fests, surprised me. In each list, I italicized the mile where I think the Wall came. Each race had its own unique reason: Top of Utah killed me when the screaming downhill turned flat; CIM killed me due to the headwind and my stomach...and even Houston, a race I am still mostly proud of and felt good for the entire way, featured a noticeable point where my pace slowed. In that case, I don't really know why. Poor fueling, maybe? Hard to say, because I was enjoying myself.....

These data also show me that in each race I put in some early miles that were faster than what I was ready for. Top of Utah--which lures you in with a screaming downhill for almost 15 miles--is understandable. But someone like me shouldn't have been doing an 8:11 mile that early in any marathon, for any reason, and especially not in my first marathon in six years. In Houston, I started too slow (9:26?! really?!), but I made up for that with too-fast times in miles four and five. And for that day at CIM, knowing the worst of the headwind was still ahead, I shouldn't have run Mile 3 in 8:39. I was trying too hard to keep up with a pace group that, on that day, was too fast for me.

So here's my homework for April's Eugene Marathon:

1. Be honest about my possible pace, and not only that but be honest about my possible pace for the weather and health Mother Nature deals me on THAT day, NOT necessarily what my pace could be on a perfect day. Darren can help with this, but Darren isn't going to be with me in Eugene on April 28. In the end, I have to know my own body and be honest about the weather.

2. Aim for an even pace, tilted toward slightly slower in the first half and slightly faster in the second half. This will be the hardest part, I think.

3. Fuel properly. Practice this in training. Truth is, I hate eating while running. I barely ate anything during Top of Utah or CIM, and I may not have consumed enough calories in Houston, either (though I'm less sure about that). Time to get over that. This cycle I plan to experiment more with sports drink and Gu-type things. Shot Bloks work well for my gut, but they are bulky and cumbersome to carry and after 13 or 14 miles, my mouth just doesn't want to chew them.

I'm in good company in cultivating true humility in the face of this distance. In my weight training sessions with her, Colleen has said a couple of times that the marathon must be respected, no matter how talented a runner you are or how many you've done (she told me she's lost count of her marathons, but I know they include four Olympics and at least one Olympic Trials victory).

Any other advice? How did you run your best marathon: even paced, or negative split, or positive split? Has anyone really mastered the marathon (maybe Meb has....but anyone less, um, gifted)?


  1. Having run nothing further then a 10K, I have no advice. But I'm hard pressed to sit still for 4 hrs and not eat, never mind be running that long and not eat. So I'd be guessing it's the eating side of things too. There's a post about it on the another mother runner fb page today, people were writing things like eating hardboiled eggs, which actually appeals to me, though you'd have to remember to salt and peel them before you go.
    I've heard of people eating PB sandwiches too. Plus, it gives you something to think about for the next few miles while you're sucking PB out of your teeth! Good luck figuring it out.

  2. The even pace thing is hard for me. I tend to just run by feel...and my "feel" isn't so good. I usually use gu on longer runs because it's easy to carry, but that didn't work so well this weekend so I might be back at square one. Good luck figuring out what works best for you!

  3. I've run 20 (I think) and I think only 1 did I actually negative split. That's the race where I really held back at the start and did not begin at 'race pace'. I let gravity help speed me up later in the race since it was a downhill course, but more importantly I fueled spot on, and I think this is vital. I had Gatorade at every other aid station and drank an enormous amt of water (as you know, this lowers your HR). I also carried a little flask of super concentrated Perpetum and carried it in my pocket. This was my calories. I cannot tolerate gels 99% of the time; the sugars in those things cramp my stomach but a maltodyxtrin mixture like Twin Labs Endurance Fuel or Hammer's Perpetum work well. Not always the easiest to carry since I don't like anything on my waist, but if I can sip on those regularly through out the race, I can guarantee a much better stomach result.

    It's all trial and error and I'd practice, practice, practice on the long run!! There is a nugget I learn about myself in every single marathon I do - and that's what I love about them so much!

    I don't think I'm going to make it to your birthday bash run :(. We have finals the week before and are off school the later part of the week, so I asked off to be with my kids since I never see them. So I'll probably have to work that day. But in the off chance I don't, I'll let you know (schedules come out on THur).


  4. I know absolutely nothing about learning a marathon. But I think you are awesome!

  5. I LOVE how you are analyzing your data and have the facts to work from. As you know, I've never run a marathon and wonder if my ultra mtn bike endurance fueling will work for a marathon (~a 4+ hour event seems so short in my world!). I'm hoping I have enough time to practice the fuel part as I KNOW how crucial it is.

    If you can swing it - I'd do the FUEL test at BCSM. The FUEL test will give you the *cold hard facts* of how much fuel you are burning at specific paces. The test also gets you a nutrition consultation - I'd see if you could take Colleen or Darren with you to help get the fueling dialed in.

    I love data because it won't let me "lie to myself". BUT the one thing data can't measure is heart, drive and determination - you have plenty of that. Confidence is huge in any race and if you have confidence in your fueling + your heart/drive/determination - you will truly be unstoppable.

  6. raina_smalltownrunnerJanuary 14, 2013 at 10:55 AM

    What great evidence you have to look through here. I don't have mile splits for all three of my marathons, but i would bet that my first was actually the most evenly paced. I went out VERY conservatively, and had plenty of endurance to keep it up. However it was my slowest race. And I think that the harder you begin to push toward a *tough* time goal, the harder it is to maintain that true "race pace". Both of my races after Eugene 2010 were positive splits after mile 18. I will probably go out 10-15 secs slower/mile than goal for the next marathon and then try to increase as I go. This is hard to do under fatigue, though.
    I know you will have a great race at Eugene. The last few miles are pretty flat, so get your flat-land muscles ready :)

  7. Yes, consistency is tough! I was hoping to negative split yesterday, but, as Raina said, it's so hard to do when you're legs are getting fatigued. Your #1 is so true- setting something realistic is key, and then holding on for the ride. My first marathon I started too fast and felt fine until mile 20, and then it went downhill fast. Thankfully, I stuck to my goal pace yesterday and it turned out better!

  8. when i BQ'd i ran dead even spilts. i'm still amazed at how dead even they were! even splits are the best approach for me, provided that your GMP is realistic.

  9. Pfft. I'm still new to the marathon distance, how can I give advice? LOL!

    That being said, I learned during my second half marathon that I had to respect fueling. And, that I had to suck it up and find a GU or gel-like fueling option that I could stomach, because having to chew anything during a race sucks. Now, I just have to learn to bring enough of them, because I ran out during the Disney Marathon and had to chew my backup option of sports beans. I think running well will always be a learning experience! :)

    Smart gal to look back and evaluate previous races to improve.

  10. I've ran about 20 marathons now. I always have a goal pace, but my actual pace is always faster or slower (there are races where I've really surprised myself with the finish time. I know you use a HR monitor, and that is the key for me. No matter what the conditions or the terrain are, I know what my HR needs to be at the beginning, middle and end of a marathon. So going up hills, I slow down to maintain goal HR.

    I love to try to negative split. It's a lot easier to make up lost time at the end if you still have something in the tank than to run too fast at the beginning and hit the wall and walk. Here's my last marathon splits with HR based pace. No negative split, but very constant times. I was hoping for a sub 8:10 pace, but I figured out real quick thanks to HR that it wasn't in the cards that day (thanks to wind).


  11. I would tend to agree that fueling probably play a big factor in the "wall". I *think* I finally have my fueling down, but I have experienced similar walls in my marathons too, so maybe not? Also, my first mile in Houston was almost 9:00 too, with a goal pace of was SUPER crowded up there!