Last year’s racing season opened with a dirty wake-up. But I’m ecstatic about its start this year, with a strong finish at yesterday’s Colorado Marathon:
- My time of 2:44:42 (6:16 minutes/mile pace) was faster than my goal of high-2:40’s
- Race execution was textbook: running partner Steve Clark and I were relaxed and steady through about Mile 18, and then dropped the hammer in the final miles to pick up nine places in the last 10k, finishing 4th and 5th overall.
- Our pace in the closing miles — 5:58 for the final 7.2, and 5:47 for the final 4.2 — surpassed what I thought I could still handle.
For more race data, find me on Strava.
Priorities and expectations
My original motivation in registering for the Colorado Marathon was to qualify for Boston in 2017, which for my age group requires a prior finish of about 3:05 or faster (7:03 pace) . At 35 years-old, I’ve sadly realized that I’m on the back end of my physical prime, and setting an admirable lifetime marathon personal record is only going to get harder. Boston seems like the right race for this effort: it’s one of the premier running events in the world, and it will give my entire family something to do on Patriots Day. I chose the Colorado Marathon because it’s a local race and because the course has a net downhill of over 1,000 vertical feet, which partially makes up for the mile-high elevation.
Based on my first tempo workouts in late-March, however, I realized I could do better than just a minimum qualifier. A faster time would help to run fast in Boston, too, since the field is sorted by seed times. Three specific workouts in April pointed me towards a goal time in the high-2:40’s:
- Marathon time trial with 1300 vertical feet of gain in 2:57
- 5 x 1-mile workout on 400-meter jog with a 5:24.3 average
- 17-mile tempo at 6:22 pace with Steve
Race day weather
I probably fare better than most runners in inclement weather, but I’m no different in wishing for perfect conditions on race day. Unfortunately, that’s not what was in store. A few days before the race, a late-season (but normal) upslope winter storm rolled in, and it was not supposed to kick out until Monday. The race day forecast was low- to mid-30’s, with a chance of snow and rain, and a stiff wind out of the north and northeast.
If the precip was heavy enough to soak us, I struggled to see how that would not affect our times. Ultimately, I decided to bring several clothing options to the starting area, and to make a spontaneous decision a few minutes before we took off. We lucked out, and the weather was mostly a non-factor: 30-degree temperatures, very light snowfall that was not accumulating, and a mild breeze out of the northeast.
The first half
Steve and I came through the first 13.1 miles in 1:24:00 (6:24 pace). This was slightly faster than our goal pace, but the effort had felt fairly easy and I was not concerned. We agreed to hold the pace for another 10k before making another pacing decision.
When the course exists the Poudre canyon around Mile 16, the landscape gets big and the road straightens out. With some racers now in sight, we naturally began to pick up the pace. It was about time to start slowly turning the screw anyway: Fort Collins was only 10 miles away.
At a major junction at Mile 18.5, we were told by a race official that we were in 12th and 13th place. This surprised both of us, since we did not recall that many runners getting ahead of us at the start and since we’d passed multiple runners through the canyon. But we were not overly concerned: we were racing for a time, and there were three runners immediately ahead who we rightly assumed would not finish as strongly as we could. Between Miles 20 and 21, we moved into 9th and 10th.
Just before Mile 21 the course peels off the road and joins a paved bike trail along the Poudre. We had good momentum at that point: we had been steadily dropping our pace, had just passed three runners, and were feeling strong with the finish quickly approaching.
We hit Mile 22 in 2:20:20, and Steve pointed out that we had a chance to break 2:45 if we could hold 6-minute pace until the final kick. That sounded neat to me, but I was even more motivated by the sight of a bright yellow jersey ahead of us. When we passed him, we saw another one, and did the same, and then two more guys shortly beyond. No racer attempted to counter our moves.
At Mile 25, I caught myself succumbing to Steve, who is 9 years younger and more talented. Plus, he’s such a nice guy that you feel bad beating him. But I opened myself to the hurt and took the lead for most of the next mile, which we dropped in 5:40.
Just before the 26-mile mark, we pulled up to a young Air Force cadet who we had written off sixteen miles earlier after he made a strong move and essentially disappeared from view. The three of us turned onto Linden Street together, with 600 yards to go. Steve showed off his 4:04-mile speed and dropped us both, while I got ahead of the cadet and managed to stay there despite dry-heaving three times before finishing strong in the final 200. Steve finished in 2:44:35, and I pulled in 7 seconds behind.
The ultra season begins today. My first workout will be a 5-mile jog — and, yes, a “jog,” not even a run.
My next race is San Juan Solstice 50-miler, now seven weeks away. Hopefully the trails dry out soon, because I need to start getting in more vertical and more long runs. Speed will not be a weakness. Long mountain slogs will continue to be my MO through September, when I return to Steamboat Springs for a second go at Run Rabbit Run 100.
For Boston 2017, I’m thinking that I can break 6-minute pace, or 2:37:17. This is going to require some work, however. I’ll probably have to start doing tempos and getting on the track in January or at least February, rather than waiting until late-March. And the pace of these efforts will have to be notably faster. I know I’ll be a year older, but I think that’ll be offset by knowing that in the crowd will be my parents and the rest of the family.
Hi Andrew, do you use a heart rate monitor for road marathons? Would like to know what’s your average HR over the distance, and how much higher versus a an ultramarathon?
Yes, I do. It’s not as helpful as in an ultra, because the pace (and thus effort) is much more consistent on a flat course, and presumably through training you have a good sense for what kind of pace you can manage.
All of my data is available here: https://www.strava.com/athletes/4649627/training/log
It’s also summarized nicely here, https://andrewskurka.com/2016/intended-pacing-strategy-for-silverheels-100/.
I would not include my data for my last two races, Silverheels or Indian Creek. The former was not a great race for me, and the latter was a really easy effort.
I’m running CO Marathon next weekend. Thanks for the preview/review.