Tuesday, October 21, 2014

My 2014 Chicago Marathon post-mortem.

We're now more than a week out from the 2014 Chicago Marathon. My post-race pint of Ben and Jerry's Chocolate Cookie Dough is long gone and I just finished taking seven days off from running. So, now that my head is a bit clearer than it was this time last week, what better time than now to examine why I did not meet my 3:05:00 PR marathon goal (I ran a 3:09:00)? Here are some of the reasons I came up with:

Pre-Race Pace Planning:
Pace calculators don't always work for me: Pace calculators seem to be spot on for me when the distance I'm converting to and from is somewhere between one mile to a half marathon. For some reason they fail me at the marathon distance. I ran the Chicago Half Marathon five weeks before the marathon and it predicted my fitness was at a 3:03:00. So, I thought a 3:05:00 marathon goal was actually conservative. The problem with those calculators is, I'm much faster at shorter distances. Maybe this Runner's World article could give some insight into why this is. The ideal height for a marathon runner is around 5' 6" and I'm over 6' 1".  Taller people overheat faster. Also, maybe I'm just built slightly more for speed than distance.

* Planned pace: I planned to run the first half of the race in 1:33:00 and the second half in 1:32:00. Knowing the information above, I should instead have planned for a pace on the first half that would have allowed me extra time (say 30 seconds) to use the bathroom as I always make at least one pit stop in the 1st half. So a 1:33:30 and 1:31:30 would have been a better fit, even assuming I was in 3:05:00 shape.

* Not learning from my previous analysis: In this pre-marathon post, I graphed the average of my marathon paces and identified six phases that I go through in my marathons. "Yo-Yo Paces", "Already Slowing", "Surge", "Calm Before the Storm", "The Wall" and "Kick". It turns out this was an excellent predictor of how my next marathon would go. For fun, I overlayed my Chicago 2014 splits onto the graph to see how my paces fit in the same six phases. That is, I didn't move the colors, I just used my 2014 Chicago paces with the same color-coded background:

My 2014 Chicago Marathon paces overlayed on top of my six typical marathon phases
As you can see, I still did yo-yo paces in the first 8 miles, and I did my "surge" one mile early at mile 13 instead of my typical mile 14, but not much of a difference. From then on out it was a typical race. I was able to hold pace until mile 20 when I ran a 7:10. I hit the wall at mile 23, 24 and 25 and then kicked at 26 and 26.5. So, it would seem that I ran a typical marathon for me with yo-yos in the beginning, a stupid mid-race surge and a desperate struggle to ward off the wall. Classic.

The Race:
* Wind: Although the temps were perfect, the 9 mph wind messed with my paces (and my mind) from miles 8 through 23. I should have backed off my pace slightly over those miles to account for the headwind and saved my legs some pain. I could have "made back" a minute or two over the last 3 miles with fresher legs and a tailwind.

* Hydration/Nutrition: Maybe my leg cramps (which I experienced in the last four miles) were attributable to a combo of dehydration and nutrition. However, I never felt nauseous during or after the race unlike last year, which is a positive. I will have to do more research into this, although this never seems to be an exact science.

* The urge to "surge": My legs got tight right after my fast 6:29 mile at mile 13. I was able to fight my tightening legs until mile 20, but they were never the same after I sped up needlessly at mile 13.

* Too many "stops": I stopped at least three times in the first half of the race (hi-fives, bathroom, HRM readjustment). Each time, after I resumed running again, I tried to "catch up with my mile pace" after stops. This also contributed to leg fatigue. I need to readjust my pace to account for the stops or else I'll burn up too much energy.

Training Mistakes:
* Did not do enough miles at a steady pace: One reason for my yo-yo paces is that yo-yo-ing is exactly the way I train. If I get too comfortable while training, I like to kick the speed up a notch to make things more interesting and push myself. This is a habit I need to break myself of for the next marathon cycle.

* Increased mileage too quickly, not enough adjustment time: I crammed in two 80+ mile weeks right before my taper. I never got used to the extra high mileage. Maybe if I had done two 70 mile weeks instead?

* Need more strength training, quads, calves: Once things got tough at about mile 21 and I started to cramp up - my quads and calves took over from my other running muscles which were fatigued. Then my quads and calves cramped - badly. I need to do more strengthening exercises focused on these areas in case I need them for when I dig deep next marathon.

Note: I did include my max long run of only 16 miles on this list. This is because I was able to run a 7:09 even during mile 22. If I had a noticeable collapse around 16, I might have correlated the collapse with only doing 16 mile long runs in training. But I didn't collapse until at least mile 22.

2014 Chicago Marathon Finish
Anyway, I now need to focus my energy to looking forward. I'll enjoy the next couple of months of running fewer, but faster miles. I have the Hot Chocolate 15k next month and will be gunning to top my PR performance from last year. After that, I will do at least one turkey trot. I hope to keep up with some decent mileage in December so I have a solid base going into my marathon training starting in January. To kick my spring marathon training off, I've registered again to run the "S-NO-W FUN" RUN with the Wurst Running Club Ever. I did it last year, and it's the craziest race/post race party, I've ever seen, and I'm pumped to do it again. I'm going to get there early to ski and spa for the day before the race.  In any case, I'm looking forward to an awesome winter of running!

Monday, October 13, 2014

Chicago Marathon 2014 Race Recap

Race Highlights:
* Perfect marathon temps 45 to 50 degrees. 
* Course PR, 2nd fastest marathon ever
* BQ-minus-16 minute time of 3:09:00 for 26.5 miles
* Meetup with fellow BRC team members

My main goal was to a sub-3:05:02 PR, and I came up short. But my backup goal was a course PR, and I did that by almost 2 minutes. I have yet to figure out how to negative-split a marathon, or even how to run an even-paced marathon. I really want to figure out this distance, even if I have to spend the rest of my life doing so!

Shortly before 6am, I shared a cab with my neighbor Stacey to Grant Park. The cab dropped us off 100 yards from one of the main gates. We were there early enough that there were no lines at the security check point.
In Grant Park
After clearing security, we wished each other well and headed in separate directions. My other neighbor Tad, who could not run this year due to an injury had gifted me his Balbo Hospitality Tent pass ($125 value) and I found my way to tent (thanks Tad!). The first thing I noticed was how nice and warm it was inside which was a bonus because the pre-race temps were in the low 40s. Very nice. The tent had a huge breakfast spread, tons of unused porta potties, private gear check and a massage room. I grabbed a cup of coffee and took a seat and watched some pre-race coverage on the tvs.  

In the Balbo Hospitality Tent
The tent director eventually told us that it was time to start heading to our corrals, so I checked my bag, used one of the 50 empty, pristine porta-potties, and headed over to my corral.

I got into corral "A", found a nice spot over on the far side from the entrance, and sat down for about 10 minutes. With about four minutes before the race start, I threw my old sweatshirt and pants over the fence and got ready to go.

The Race

First Half
My goal was to run the first three miles at 7:20, 7:15, 7:10. I actually ran them in 7:18, 7:10, 7:00 despite my best efforts to keep it slow (note to self, set slower first 5k marathon goals). By mile 3, I had to use the bathroom (probably the coffee I had in the tent), but decided to wait until Lincoln Park where I knew there were lots of porta potties. Another thing happened: Since I hadn't trained running with multiple Gu's attached to my shorts, I was surprised that the added weight of the Gus meant that my shorts started to slide down! So I had to fold over the waistband to get a little more support. Would have been interesting if they had dropped around my knees suddenly!

Anyway, I was very comfortable running up to Lincoln Park, probably due to the nice tailwind we had. I knew once we hit Addison St., however, and headed southbound, the wind would be in our faces. I spotted the porta-potties just after the mile 7 aid station. Most of them were locked, so I had to go way down to the end of the row to find an open one. Once inside, I noticed that my breathing was a little too heavy for so early in the race. Maybe my pace had been too fast? After I was finished, I jumped back in the race and sped up a little too much to make up for lost time, burning energy needlessly at such an early stage.

After mile 7, my goal was to run 6:58/mile the rest of the way in. So, all I had to do was flip my Garmin over to the "average pace per mile" setting and make sure I came close to that pace each mile until mile 26.2. Just south of Addison St., I spotted Lynton and he cheered me on. At mile 8 on Broadway, my dad, aunt and uncle and family friend were waiting for me to cheer me on. I stopped for a few seconds to hand them my gloves and empty water bottle and to thank them for coming out. My dad snapped this photo of me:
Just after mile 8. Still feeling good.
Running down Broadway some guy offered me a blue Jolly Rancher. I grabbed it and popped it in my mouth. It really hit the spot and was happy to have a little sugar! Anyway, now the wind was actually in our faces as we headed south, so it was going to be a long slog all the way down to 31st Street with the wind pushing against me.

Old Town
I ran south through Lincoln Park, but now I wasn't carrying water, so I grabbed a cup of water or two at each aid station. Once through the Loop I took my first Gu, which went down easily (and also lightened my drooping shorts!), and headed west on Adams. My heart rate monitor readings seemed way off, so I tried to adjust it under my shirt. All of a sudden, the strap popped off and my monitor started sliding out from under my shirt! So, I quickly grabbed it and tried to put it back on, unsuccessfully. I knew I would have to stop running in order to put it back on. Just at that moment I saw Erica, so I moved over and stood right in front of her to put my heart rate monitor back on. She offered to take it from me, which was very nice of her, but I got it on quickly, gave her a high-five and was back on the course. My goal for the first half was 1:33:00, and I nearly hit that perfectly, however it was probably a tad too fast considering I stopped three times.

Total time for first half: 1:32:42 (avg: 7:01/mile)

Second Half
I was still feeling really good to start off the second half. I had no problem keeping my pace at right around 7:00/mile. As I entered the "Charity Block Party" around mile 14, I sped up as the crowd roared and the music pumped. It was a great boost of energy, and I felt really confident with my pace at that point, however it was to be just a temporary energy jolt. Miles 13 and 14 were my fastest miles of the race (6:28, 6:48). This is a recurring theme with me at mile 14 of marathons. Maybe my mind thinks this is a half marathon and I have a sub conscious need to kick at that point? Whatever the case, I need to relax more during these middle miles. 

Right at mile 15, the effects of the speedy miles were making themselves known in my legs. My quads were cramping just slightly, but I ignored the symptoms and kept soldiering on taking another gel at mile 17. Miles 15, 16, 17 and 18 were 6:51, 7:00, 6:56, 6:56. It was a nice boost to see Maggie and her husband as they cheered me on at mile 18, I waved to them and Maggie got this pic:
I'm in the white with the yellow hat (src)
All was picture perfect pace-wise, but those minor leg cramps should have been my indicator to slow down. By mile 19, my legs were tightening noticeably, I could not muster any more sub 7:00s and I really started letting the headwind get to my head and frustrate me. I was dreaming of finally reaching Michigan Ave. and heading north again so I would have a tailwind for the final 3 miles. Anyway, I ran 19 and 20 and 21 in 7:08, 7:10 and 7:20. I could feel the wheels slowly falling off. I have been in this situation a few times before and didn't want a complete disaster to happen, as had happened in a couple of marathons past (Chi '10, NYC '11), so I threw my PR ambitions out the window, slowed my pace, and readjusted my goal to be a sub-3:10 for a course PR. I figured even if I ran 7:30s from that point in, I would probably achieve that goal.

In Chinatown, mile 21.5
However, right before mile 23, my left quad cramped badly, which forced me to walk. I let out a string of curse words partially from the pain and partially from the frustration of not knowing how long the cramp would last. I had visions of both legs locking up and having to lie down like they did in Chi 2010. So, not wanting the cramp to take over my legs, I started running again about 20 seconds into my walk, and luckily the cramp dissipated, however my pace had slowed even further. I knew Annabelle and Xaarlin would be at mile 23, so I had some fan support to help get my mind off of the cramp and focus on just getting to the finish.

Unfortunately, I missed seeing Annabelle for some reason. Luckily, however, Xaarlin was right in my line of sight holding up her phone snapping pics and holding out her hand for a high-five. 
Just about there!

Just after mile 23, about to high-five Xaarlin (cred)

We high-fived and I was able to continue running all the way to Michigan Ave. Once I was about to make the turn onto northbound Michigan Ave. a few runners talked about how excited they were to finally have a tailwind after so many miles of headwind. I agreed with them and then joyfully, made the turn onto the homestretch. However, my joy was short-lived as I had to walk again due to another enormous leg cramp. I could feel my course PR slowly slipping away, and I started to do mental calculations to figure out how fast I needed to finish in order to get my course PR. Luckily, I was able to start running again after about 30 seconds but my pace slowed even further. I crossed my fingers that I could make it all the way without having to walk again. I passed the BRC gang in front of the Weathermark Tavern and could barely muster a wave as I was starting to really hurt. So, I guess I could say I hit the "Wall" during mile 26.  

I started to actually look forward to running up the hill at Roosevelt Road because I would be able to use a different group of muscles which would hopefully give my quad a break. As I made the turn, the guy in front of me stopped to walk, and I had to jump out of the way, which of course made my leg seize. So, I had to start walking up the hill. I was so upset with my fate that I was determined to suck up the pain and start running after only a few steps. The crowd was screaming loudly at that stage so I took that energy and crested the hill running slowly, but running nonetheless. I spotted the finish line, glanced at my watch and realized I could perhaps go sub-3:09. I sped up down the hill and crossed the finish line, thinking I had squeaked in at sub 3:09.
and still in one piece!

Near the finish line

  Total time for secnd half: 1:36:08 (avg: 7:20/mile)

Analysis: My official time was exactly a 3:09:00 for an official pace of 7:13/mile. My Garmin shows that I ran 26.5 miles for a 7:08/mile pace average. I got my course PR by almost two minutes. I also BQ'd by 16 minutes, which means I'm pretty much assured of getting into the 2016 race if I so choose. More importantly, it also means that I qualified for the 2015 Chicago Marathon next year! So, now I can just focus on that elusive marathon PR in the spring without worrying about qualification times. My overall time was exactly 4 minutes slower than goal, and I will have to analyze all of the factors that went into why I didn't attain my goal (including the wind, and 5+ stops, nutrition, etc), but I'll do that on another day.
All Done!
 Post Race
Once I stopped, my legs felt okay considering the pounding they had taken. I got a golf cart ride to the hospitality tent because I took a wrong turn and a volunteer offered me a lift! As soon as I got in the hospitality tent I headed straight to the back for a massage. I was led into a room full of massage tables, and all of the massage therapists applauded me. I then got on a massage table and TWO massage therapists worked on me, one on each leg! It was awesome, just what the doctor ordered! Once that ended, I got a bowl of chicken noodle soup from the lunch buffet and had a giant chocolate chip cookie. Annabelle texted me that the rest of my BRC teammates were over at the Weathermark. So, I left my VIP confines and headed over there. Just off Michigan Ave. I saw an older marathon runner on a stretcher getting loaded onto an ambulance with about five paramedics working feverishly on him. I sure hope he is okay!

Anyway, once at the Weathermark, which is right on the 26th mile of the course on Michigan Ave, I met up with the BRC.

Me, Annabelle and Ken
After chatting and laughing for a couple of hours, we went out on the street to watch and cheer the 5-hour marathoners including some of Annabelle's friends. Eventually, I decided to leave, so I had to cross back over the race course in order to take the Red Line home.

All-in-all it was a great day. I wish I could have gotten a PR, considering all of the training I put into this race, but am happy with my course PR and will use this race as a learning experience for my spring marathon. In any case, it wasn't a bad way to spend a fall Sunday!
All Smiles! (src)

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Pre-Race Stats, Thoughts and a Tip: Chicago Marathon 2014

Today is the first rest day I've had in the last 33 days. I actually went for a swim this morning to help me loosen the legs and burn off some nervous energy. I only have one more shakeout run on Saturday and after that I will sit and twiddle my thumbs until I head down to the marathon on Sunday. Instead of twiddling my thumbs today, I thought I'd keep busy by reflecting back on my training stats. As Kim mentioned in the comments of my last post she tracks lots of stats. I do as well! I tracked stats on every single workout and tracked every single thing I've eaten this training cycle. So without further ado, here are some of those stats from my marathon training over the last 3 months:

2014 Chicago Marathon Training Stats (7/6 to 10/8):
Number of days:91
Number of days run:80
Number of training runs: 133
Total miles run: 843
Average weekly run count:10
Average miles per day:8.6
Number of 16 mile long runs completed:    3
Number of "tune-up" races:  1
Number of yoga sessions:12
Number of strength workouts:42
Average daily calories consumed:2869
Average daily calorie burn from exercise:1278

The statistic I was probably most concerned about when coming up with my training plan was the "Average Mile per Day". That is the stat that determines my "Marathon Collapse Point". Basically, the Marathon Collapse Point theory states that you need to run 1/3 of the marathon distance per training day to avoid hitting the "Wall" during the race. So that means I needed to average at least 8.7 miles on each run day to avoid the Wall completely on race day. However, in the end, I averaged 8.6 miles (including my taper). So, if the theory holds, I should hit the "Wall" at mile 25.8. So, I'll only really struggle for 0.4 miles! I really hope this theory works!

I Have a New Race Nutrition Strategy
I have decided not to take chances on my mid-race nutrition, which has always been kind of spotty in past marathons. I used to simply eat everything sugary that was handed to me during the race. Sometimes that's okay and sometimes (like last year) it causes me some late race nausea from OD'ing on glucose. So in order to be more scientific about my nutrition, I ran a couple calorie deficit calculations and sought advice from marathon experts Erin and Sara. After getting their input, I think I now have a good plan in place and have a good idea of how much sugar I'll take and when I'll take it. Thanks for the tips Erin and Sara! 

A Small Marathon Race Tip
If you want something to help you get through some of those slow, lonely miles near the end of the race, all you need to remember is the number 42.2. That's the distance in kilometers of a marathon. You'll see a lot more kilometer markers on the course than mile markers (16 more actually!). So, near the end of the race, when mile markers are seemingly few and far between as we struggle to hold onto our paces, it's nice to see the kilometer markers in-between the mile markers. When you see the "37 km" sign, you know you are only about a 5k from the finish. Then you'll start seeing alternating mile and kilometer markers right up until the finish. Be on the lookout for them and they can be smaller milestones to look forward to passing as you make your way down Michigan Avenue!

Anyway, that's about all I have. If I think of another tip, I'll try and post it before Sunday! 

Monday, October 6, 2014

Chicago Marathon 2014: The Most I've Ever Trained for a Race

For all intents and purposes, my 2014 Chicago Marathon training is in the books. Less than a handful of easy runs stands between me and the starting line on Sunday. As I've mentioned before:
 My preparation for this race is the most I've ever trained for a single race in my life. 

Taking it easy on my 11 miler yesterday
Starting in February, when I came back to running following an injury, getting in shape for the 2014 Chicago Marathon has been my single goal. I ran and ran, gradually building a base from February to July until I was comfortable running 40 to 50 miles a week. Then I ramped up the mileage:

From July through September I got stronger via physical therapy and weight training, and I eventually was able to score back-to-back weekly PDRs in September of 82 and 83 miles. Finally, I started a three week taper to try and get some fresh legs back.

So how does all of this training compare to previous training for my previous marathons? Well, I updated this table that I used last year and as you can see, based on the metrics I used, it is the most miles I've every run to train for a marathon:
Average Training Mileage Before Marathon
vs. Actual Marathon Finish Time (ranked by finish time)
So, since this training cycle sits at the top of the heap, does it mean that my 2014 marathon finish time is guaranteed to be a PR? Hardly. There are many factors to consider other than training mileage, such as:
  1. Track work: I did absolutely no track work to prepare for this marathon. I was afraid of over-doing it. Previous marathon training programs I have done have all included some track work, usually weekly.
  2. How my legs feel: My legs are currently as stiff as they have been in the last few months and I am working at trying to get them to loosen out a bit. Most likely high mileage has put them in this condition. At least I have a few days remaining to get this taken care of (hello recumbent bike and yoga)! 
  3. How I feel: If I'm not feeling it on marathon morning for whatever reason, I may have to pull back and modify my goal time. Also, if I don't hydrate or sugar load correctly during the race, it will have an adverse impact.
  4. Weather: As of now, the weather is looking fantastic for the marathon, but nothing is guaranteed. A strong headwind for the last few miles or a spike in the temperatures could turn this race into a death march.
  5. Pacing: Marathon pacing has always been a struggle for me. This chart says it all.
Well, the best I can say is that if any of the previous five things affect my finish time, at least I gave this training cycle my all. If something doesn't go right, it will be a learning experience for my next marathon. If all goes well then I will have a good training plan going into my spring marathon. Either way, it was a blast getting to this point, and on Sunday I will be running with a big smile on my face!