Friday, September 25, 2015

Running a Smarter 2015 Chicago Marathon

Last year, I missed my marathon PR at the Chicago Marathon by four minutes. In order to improve on that time and perhaps actually PR, I've outlined the things that I plan to do differently at this year's Chicago Marathon:

Around mile 8 in 2014
1) Negative split: I've run seven marathons and I've run positive splits all seven times. Check out the blue line in this graph of last year's marathon's mile splits.
My 2014 Mile Paces
All you need to see is that the line slopes upwards after mile 13. I would like to finally see that line that slope downward (or at least be flat) after mile 13!

2) Add extra time to pace calculators: According to the McMillan Pace Calculator, based on my last 5k time I should be able to run a 2:58:00 marathon, according to my last half, I should be able to run a 3:00:00 marathon. However, as I've learned in the past pace calculators don't work for me for the marathon distance. I am better off adding a few extra minutes to my predicted marathon finish time and go with that pace (say a 3:04:00). If I feel good later in the race, then I can speed up and attack the lower number.

3) Plan for a bathroom break: I've had to stop at a porta-potty in the first half of all of my marathons. I need to factor this extra minute "break" into my pace calculations. Also, once I leave the porta-potty I need to not speed up to try and get back with the "group" I was running with, or to try not to make back lost time as quickly as possible.
My 2014 port-potty stop according to my GPS map
4) Try not to stop: Besides the bathroom stop last year, I also had to stop because my heart rate monitor fell off. This year if I don't use the porta-potty (by not drinking too much pre-race), I could save a minute. Also, I recently bought a Garmin 225 watch with a wrist-based HRM. So, unless my watch somehow falls off, I won't have to stop to adjust anything this year.

Keep right on moving...
5) Don't surge at mile 13 or 14: At the halfway point of every marathon, I throw in a reckless fast surge (see chart above) for a mile that wears me out. After this surge, my pace gradually drops off and I start hurting. I simply need to cut that out!

6) Take extra nutrition: Last year, during the final four miles I got three separate leg cramps. Although a lot of that may have to do with diminishing form as I got tired, I need to get an extra gel down to deliver some carbs and sodium to my muscles which could help avoid the dreaded leg cramps.

No plan is ever perfect, but I just want to avoid repeating the same dumb mistakes that I seem to make at most marathons. Saving just a minute or two by racing smart, could mean the difference between a PR and not a PR.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Why I wish the Chicago Marathon was next week (and why I'm glad it's not)

I'm entering the last two and a half weeks of "quality" training for my PR attempt at the 2015 Chicago Marathon in October. I'm feeling like I wish the race was next week instead of in four weeks. Here are some of the reasons why:

1) I'm injury-free: Who knows what could happen injury-wise in the next four weeks? I rolled my ankle 10 days before Boston 2012, and had to take a deferral until 2013. A marathon is difficult enough when I don't have any injuries. The more time I spend training the greater the chance that I will overdo it (or do something stupid) and end up in injury jail.

2) Any improvements in fitness from now on will be small: I feel as though I'm as fit as I'm going to be for this marathon. I can knock out my quality (i.e. tempo, strength, long) runs now without a problem. I've been on my training plan for the last 13 weeks, and since February of last year I've probably averaged 40+ miles per week. So, how much will two and a half weeks of quality runs really improve my fitness?

3) I am close to my ideal racing weight: I am reading "Racing Weight" by Matt Fitzgerald and am following his running nutrition methodology (for the most part). I've been eating lots of lean protein and salads, and I have brought my weight down 12 pounds since February. How much longer can I keep up with this healthy eating?!  I'm looking forward to a rich German meal washed down with a giant German beer and a big slice of apple strudel on October 11th.

Near mile 23 of the Chicago Marathon 2014 (src)
On the other hand, here are some reasons I'm glad the marathon is not next week:

1) I need a little more quality: They say the most important quality work is done in the weeks just before the marathon. I have seven more quality runs and they are set to be the hardest so far. If those seven runs help me to build just a little more strength in my legs, maybe the last 6.2 miles won't be as grueling during the race. If these runs help to improve my finishing time by two minutes that may be the difference between a 3:06 (not a PR) and a 3:05 (PR).

2) Maybe I could still lose a couple of pounds: They say that an extra pound equals one extra minute of marathon finishing time. So if I can somehow shed two or three more pounds in the next two weeks, I would (theoretically) be about two or three more minutes faster during the marathon without expending any extra effort. Plus, I wouldn't have to lug that extra weight around for 26.5 miles for which my joints will surely be thankful. I'm only giving myself two more weeks to shed any weight, because during my taper, I will need to start fat loading and it's not good to focus on weight during a taper.

3) It should be cooler! I hope I'm not jinxing anything here, but October is usually cooler than September, so for each degree it's cooler - I'll be just that much faster.

Me and Declan with beer post-race 2013.
Anyway, maybe my "hurry up and get here" mentality is due to the fact that I'm looking forward getting some time back on my calendar, when I don't have the whole week jammed with (slower) marathon-specific training runs. Maybe I'm also looking forward to racing shorter (i.e. faster) distances. In any case, I can't change the date of the marathon, and it's probably a good thing I can't. I'm pretty confident of my abilities now, but hope to be more so come October.