Previous “Notes for Next Time” posts (like this one and this one) have proven helpful to me, and popular with you. Why make the same mistakes twice, or risk forgetting something that could help us achieve better results on a second attempt? Here are my takeaways from last weekend’s Colorado Marathon:
- Tempo efforts offer the best indication of race day potential. After Steve and I ran a hard 17-miler at 6:21 minutes/mile pace, for example, we figured that averaging 6:25 on race day was within our wheelhouse.
- To improve the accuracy of race day predictions, try to replicate the race course. This is something that we did not do. Specifically, we did not know how an average negative grade of 0.8 percent would impact our pace. It will be a similar story next year when I run the Boston Marathon at sea level.
- As an ultra runner, the marathon distance was not intimidating to me. But the pace was. If you are moving up to the marathon, you may be in the opposite situation. Either way, by doing a marathon-length tempo 3.5 weeks before race day, I felt much more confident about my abilities.
- Track workouts were helpful in improving my leg turnover and lactate threshold. My favorite is a 5 x 1-mile with a 400-meter jog (about 2.5 minutes) between reps. Without these workouts, the last of which I averaged 5:24 for the session, I’m less certain that I could have maintained a sub-6 pace for the final 7 miles of the race without my legs flying off or blowing up aerobically.
Race day prep
- I did a 1-mile warm-up, so that race pace would not be a huge shock to my system at 6:30 AM. Given my fitness, I was unconcerned about an extra mile ruining my day.
- The forecast was for low- to mid-30’s and a “chance” of precipitation of around 30 percent. Because of that uncertainty, I appreciated having a few clothing options at the starting line so that I could make a last-minute decision based on the exact conditions.
- With a big field, try to be ahead of the curve on pre-race rituals. Pee and poop before everyone else starts to line up. Deposit your drop bag before everyone starts shedding their layers. Secure your spot on the starting line before the crowd is too dense. Anxiety is already high on race day; don’t add to it by being in the Port-o-Potty when the announcer gives a 2-minute warning.
- With a 2:30 AM wake-up, 2 hours of vehicle transportation, and a 6:30 AM start time, I was concerned about being able to flush my GI fully before the race. My solution: a cup of Traditional Medicines Smooth Move Tea at 5 PM the night before the race.
- It’s effective, but I’d recommend experimenting with it beforehand — like before a Saturday long run — so that its personal effect is better understood. I would also recommend having it earlier in the day, and after your final shakeout run.
- For me, it turned all intestinal matter into pudding, thankfully with no bloating. I had enough opportunities to expel it completely before the race. If I had not, a mid-race stop would have been necessary.
- The marathon is similar to an ultra in at least one respect: if you go out too fast, you will hemorrhage time later in the race. By “hemorrhage,” I mean you will lose all the time that you gained by going too fast, and then some amount beyond that.
- You can see this pattern even in the Top 20 finishers, six of whom ran 20+ seconds slower per mile in the second half than they did in the first half. The data is unavailable, but I bet the difference is probably more like 40 seconds per mile if the first five miles were compared with the final five.
- The average slowdown is more pronounced with later finishers, who generally lack the physical endurance or racing experience that the top finishers have. Among finishers 201 through 220, for example, 12 racers ran 20+ seconds slower in the second half than the first half, and seven of those ran 60+ seconds slower. One racer was more than 2 minutes slower per mile in the second half. Ouch.
- Given how fast we closed, Steve and I probably went out too conservatively. (We ran 15 seconds per mile faster in the second half than in the first half.) However, as a first-time marathoner on an unfamiliar course, I felt that our conservatism was prudent.
- Towards the end of a race, it’s WAY more fun to be the passer than the pass-ee.
- With proper training — specifically long tempo runs — you should have a decent idea of your race day potential. Don’t ignore this data: for most marathoners, race day performances are not magic. Most runners get in trouble because they have a false belief in their fitness or the correlation between training performances and racing performances; or, they lack discipline early in the race to hold back.
- My heart rate monitor was much less useful than it has been in ultras. The reason: on a flat course, pace is a very good indication of effort; in contrast, pace varies wildly on a mountain ultra course. However, if I had not done multiple tempo runs, my HR might have been helpful governor in the early miles.
Hydration and nutrition
- Between 3:00 AM and 5:30 AM I consumed two Premier Protein Bars, which are available from Costco and Amazon. I find them to be easily digestible and to have an acceptable taste and texture. They are not as carb-laden as most energy bars.
- For an effort of less than 3 hours in near-freezing temperatures, hydration and nutrition considerations were minimal.
- I had gulps of Nuun at a handful of aid stations, and one gel at Mile 19, and never sensed that I was low on blood sugar. YMMV; recall that I’m a butter-burner.
- My aid station procedure probably leaves room for improvement. I would slow to a walk, take the cup from the volunteer, gulp it down, and then start running again. I imagine I am leaving some time on the table due to the walking pace and the effort to re-accelerate. If anyone has thoughts, please share.
Gear and equipment
- At race effort with temperatures in the mid-30’s, my clothing needs were still minimal:
- To prevent early-race chill and as insurance against later precip or wind, I carried the 2.5-oz Salomon S-Lab Light Wind Jacket. When not in use, I tucked it into the back of my shorts.
- My calves and the lower portion of my quads remain completely exposed. To help weatherproof them, I coated them heavily with Bonnie’s Balm.
- A small pocket in my shorts for salt tablets and calories (and maybe my ID and car key) would be useful. In an ultra, I normally carry the Ultimate Direction AK Race Vest, which has capacity for such items. Without it I had no cargo capacity.
- My go-to racing shoe continues to be the Salomon Sense Pro. These shoes fit me like a glove, have a great balance of cushioning and sensitivity, and are lightweight. Durability is shockingly good, too: my first pair has 500+ miles and I still wear them for some track workouts or light runs.
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To avoid bottle-necking at ASs during marathons where some runners will stop without getting out of the way while I like to “grab ‘n go” mid-stride, I avoid the first few individuals offering water/ sports drink, make eye contact and point to a particular volunteer later in the line who generally responds with equal effort to hand me the beverage. Rather than retrieve one or two cups, I make an effort to grab cups thruout, but pour most of contents out while crimping the cup. Essentially taking a sip every now and then is easier and faster than stopping or slowing to down a full cup, and I believe it reduces potential sloshing.
Im considering running this race this year for a BQ attempt. In your opinion, does the net downhill, reliably cold temperatures and non humid environment overcome the high elevation for someone who lives and trains in the lowlands of east Texas?
Not sure I’m the best to answer this. It does have a high number of BQ’s despite the elevation — the downhill is considerable and steady, at least through about Mi 18 or 19. Heat will rarely be an issue, due to time of year and day (6 or 7 AM start, if I recall).
My only question is the effect of training at sea level and then racing at altitude. In the opposite direction, mile-highers struggle with running fast enough in training to take advantage of the increased oxygen at sea level. In the marathon, race pace is just below lactate threshold (until near the end) so 5,000 vertical feet make a big difference here — 10 or 15 seconds a mile push you over the edge and severely curtail the time at which race pace can be maintained.
But what happens in the opposite direction? Your legs are plenty fast, but your lung are unaccustomed to the thin air. So cardio will be your governor, not leg speed.
So long as you get up here well beforehand so that you’re not having any altitude- or climate-related symptoms, I would imagine that you’ll be okay.