First off, thank you all for your kind words! Baystate was definitely a break-through race for me and I’m very lucky to have friends/readers/family like you all to share my stories with!
These past few days I have really been soaking in the whole zero running experience and it has been slightly glorious. It’s also given me time to reflect on what made this marathon so different from my previous two. One of my main reasons for signing up for Baystate was that I wanted to give myself more experience at the marathon distance so that I can continue to learn how to manage the distance and improve in my running. So far, I’ve gone from running a 4:36 (2014) to a 3:57 (May, 2016) to a 3:53 (Fall, 2016). I’ve already seen some huge improvements and I’m confident that I can continue to chip away at these times.
These were the biggest lessons and improvements I saw in this third marathon.
1. I picked a goal pace that was representative of my current fitness level. Like many runners, part of the attraction of the marathon for me is aiming for that Boston qualifying time. I went into my training cycle for Delaware with this goal in mind. About halfway through the cycle, I realized this was not realistic for me and I adjusted the target paces of my workouts. However, I was still amped up about the race and chose a goal pace that was pretty aggressive (for my fitness level at the time). I ran that race stubbornly trying to hang onto that goal pace. In hindsight, I should have been able to tell I was working too hard to maintain that for 26.2 miles, but it took blowing up at Mile 20 to really drive home the message.
With this marathon, I dialed back my expectations in terms of pace. I took an honest look at the paces I was running hard on long runs, and let that information guide my race plan – not my ego. I also picked a pace range (8:45 – 8:55/mile). I remember in Delaware, constantly checking my watch and trying to adjust my pace practically every 2 minutes to stay at my goal. That was not exactly conducive to staying relaxed and mentally strong during the race. The pace range worked really well at Baystate. For the first 3 miles, I kept my pace slower than my goal pace (right around 9:00 min/mile) before easing into the slower end of the range for the next few miles as I warmed up and then I was able to pick it up gradually over the second half. This also led me to negative split the marathon (i.e., I ran the second half 1 minute faster than the first half). Strava published this excellent blog post on negative splitting marathons if you are interested in reading more about it. Strava also announced a challenge in which they have partnered with New Balance to provide Strava users who negative split a marathon with a free pair of sneakers! I’ve applied and hope to be getting a new pair of sneakers sometime in December. 🙂
Along with pace, I kept checking in on my effort levels, asking myself if I felt like I could keep up what I was running for 26.2 miles. If I had done this in Delaware, I probably would have slowed my pace earlier and possibly saved some time I lost during the second half of that race.
2. I incorporated more “fast finish” miles into my long runs during this training cycle. I didn’t aim to do every long run at marathon goal pace for the entire duration, but I did try to pick up the pace during the last 5-6 miles of some of my 15-18 mile runs. Like most first-time marathoners, I used to train my long runs entirely at “LSD” – Long Slow Distance. The more I have read up on different marathon training schools of thought, the more I have realized this approach is flawed when you are aiming for time goals. In my future training cycles, I plan to continue to work on using more race-specific workouts at my goal pace.
3. I got my fueling right this time. In Delaware, I started drinking Gatorade from the aid stations in the second half despite the fact that I had never used Gatorade on any of my training runs. It was getting so warm at the time that I thought I needed the electrolytes, but I think it was probably the Gatorade that had me feeling so queasy and sick to my stomach by Mile 20. This time around, I stuck to my gels (1 GU, 4 Hüma gels). I took one every 5 miles and did them with water from the aid stations. I never felt my energy levels wane in Baystate (not until the last couple of miles at least) and I definitely attribute that to staying on top of my fueling.
While there was only a 4-minute difference between my time in Delaware and my time at Baystate, there was a HUGE difference in how I felt between these two races. Delaware was one of those marathons that made me question whether I would ever run the distance again. I felt horrendous for the last 6 miles, my pace fell way off, and I had to walk stretches of the last few miles. When I crossed the finish line, I had to go straight to the med tent and had a minor case of heat stroke. In Baystate, I never once felt like I had to walk. I felt strong at Mile 20 and even as I got tired by Mile 23, I was mentally strong enough to keep myself pushing forward at my goal pace. Even though I am losing toenails once again, I’m already feeling the itch to run again (and to sign up for my next marathon). I guess third time really is the charm. 🙂
What lessons have you learned from previous races (marathon, half, 5k, whatever!)?