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First Marathon Race Recap

An Ironman triathlon concludes with a 26.2 mi run (a marathon).  As part of training, it would make sense to complete this distance on it's own, so ... low and behold the Vancouver USA Marathon this past Sunday.  I had heard the course was pretty flat which is always a nice thing for running.

Vancouver, WA is about a 3.5 hour drive from the Tri Cities, so we went up on Saturday and stayed at a hotel across from the starting line how convenient is that?!

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The calm before the storm

Pre Race

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Getting prepped

The race started at 7am, so I set my alarm just before 5am - enjoyed a coffe while eating a bagel with peanut butter, some carbo-pro with a nuun tablet, and started "lubing up" - many people report getting very bad chafing while running marathons, so I used generous amount of Body Glide all over (feet, toes, arm pits, thighs, etc) to try to prevent this.  I start warming up around 6:30am, and my friend Nicole came to the starting area to take some things from me - my long sleeve, phone, water bottle.

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About to head to the starting line

After speaking with my coach and reading numerous articles about marathon strategy, the overwhelming advice is to go slower than your target time for the first portion of the race and negative split.  My target goal was between a 3:30 - 3:40 finish time, so my plan was this:

 

  • First 8 miles: 8:15 min/mile pace
  • Next 8 miles: 8:00 min/mile pace
  • Last 10: below 8:00 min/mile pace, ideally 7:45 min/mile
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Writing down the mile markers for when to consume my four gels

Race

There were three starting waves based on projected pace - under 8:00 minutes per mile, 8:01 - 10:00 minutes per mile, and above 10:00 per mile.  Since I am trying to go conservative - let's go in wave 2, which started one minute after wave 1.  Weather was great, high 50s at 7am, warming up to the low 60s.  The sun never came out during the race which meant no overheating.

The First Eight Miles

The starting line was electric!  They played the Final Countdown, which as an Arrested Development fan, I was a huge fan of and I was so amped!  Wave 1 goes, then wave 2 goes - the start of a great morning!  After a few blocks in downtown Vancouver with good crowd support it goes really, really quiet.  Check my pace - sub 8:00, uh oh, let's back it off.  Some people start passing me, I resist temptation to pass them back, I am thinking to myself - "I will see you again".  I relax, and it feels like a great endurance-paced run.  After about mile 1, I need to pee already.  Really?!  I peed four times this morning!  There was a porta-pottie available at the aid station in mile marker 2, so I decide to stop.  After what seemed like forever (maybe 15 seconds) I get out and get on my way.  My calves start to feel a little tight as well as my right IT band.  This gives me a little bit of concern so early on, but this isn't uncommon for me, and they loosen up after about mile 5.

I take my first gel just before the aid station at mile 5.7.  This was a really enjoyable eight miles, the atmosphere and the energy of the other runners was fantastic and I think this was perhaps the easiest and most enjoyable eight miles I have ever run.

111269-006-016hAnd we're off!

 

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Staying relaxed through mile 5

Average Pace: 8:07 min / mile - maybe a little fast but it felt great.
Average HR: 141 BPM (Mid Zone 3)

The Next Eight Miles

I'm feeling great, I let my pace increase slightly and pass about ten people in a group in front of me... but wait - I have to pee again!  Seriously?!?  I see an open porta-potty around mile 10, so I stop and go again.  What seemed like another impossibly long 15 seconds, I step out to have that same group catch up to me!  GRRR!!  Well, the aid station was 200 feet down the road and I take some water at full speed and pass that group back without any extra effort, ha!  I take my next gel prior to the aid station at mile 12.

I pass mile 13 and look at my watch, I'm right around 1:45 and I am thinking - "Hm, I just set a new half marathon PR, sweet!"  I am now thinking - this is the longest I have ever run before ... and now I just need to do it again.  Hm, that's not helpful thinking.  How about - "imagine this is a half-ironman, I've just completed the swim and bike, and now I only have a half marathon run remaining to do - let's see how many people I end up passing?"  OK that kinda sounds like fun!  Miles 14 and 15 go back through Vancouver downtown with some crowds and it's awesome!  I'm feeling great and start counting.  I think I got around to around 15 people by the end of mile 16 and aside from some blisters starting to form on my feet I am feeling great!

Average Pace: 7:55 - Looking good
Average HR: 146 BPM - Top of Zone 3

The Last Ten Miles 

Shortly after mile 16, I see the 3:30 pace runner!  Hey, I could break 3:30!  I push myself a little bit and catch up to the pace runner around mile 17 (my fastest mile of the day - 7:24), and I'm feeling good so I pass it.  This is great!  However, I started getting some foreshadowing of what is to come ... after an aid station around mile 17 there is a turn in the road and my legs are acting like they have a mind of their own and are not as responsive.  Hm, weird ... 

Halfway through mile 18, we go down a hill and all of a sudden my left IT band starts hurting, badly.  I go up a hill and it's no better and I have no choice but to stop and stretch it during mile 19.  It helps a little bit, and my feet really hurt and my legs are feeling the distance, it's a struggle to maintain pace.  Many people say that they hit a wall somewhere on the marathon.  Mine occurred just after mile 19.  Then, something happened - the 3:30 pacer catches back up to me and I decide that I will NOT fall behind them.  This is just the distraction I needed.  After about a mile running with the pacer - suddenly my IT band doesn't hurt and my feet don't feel as bad.  I move on past the pacer around mile 22, and then the struggle comes back - feet hurt, IT band hurts, all I want to do is walk.  The pacer catches back up, I stay with her.  I talk to her a little bit and it's a great distraction.  It's also great to just run and not look at my watch, not check my pace or my heart rate.  

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Spent a lot of time with the 3:30 pacer down the stretch

Miles 23-25 are really, really tough.  I spend most of my time alternating running beside the pacer to 10 feet in front of the pacer, and everything hurts.  Thinking about form and stride rate helps the pain but my legs are so tired it's difficult to do so.  

The light at the end of the tunnel comes when I check my watch and I'm at 25.3 miles complete, 0.9 to go, and I'm even with the pacer.  I KNOW that I'm going to finish my first marathon at the top end of my goal pace - I am going to be at or under 3:30.  I pick up my speed, distancing myself from the pacer, wow my legs have nothing left.  I get into Vancouver downtown, there are more people around, more cheering, I hear the rock music blaring from the finish, I see the final turn, pick up the pace even more.  Final turn - there it is, round the turn, I hear "YEAH ERIC", check the crowd - I see Jenn!, there is the finish, give it everything, they announce my name, and raise a fist as I cross.  

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Rounding the final turn

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Crossing the finish!

(Last 10.2 miles):
Average Pace: 8:01 - wished for a little faster but was doing what I could to survive!
Average HR: 151.5 BPM - low Zone 4 

 

Final time: 3:30:10

Good for 81st out of 631.  The pacer was about 15 seconds off, but no big deal - I can still say I am a 3:30 marathoner!

Post Race

A young child hands me my medal, someone gives me some water, I can barely walk.  Holy shit.  My left leg wants to lock up, but I can walk, very very slowly.  Jenn and Nicole come by to see me and I walked by to say hi.  I head to the athlete finish area, make some jokes about "I feel like I just ran a marathon", stop and stretch my IT bands, pick up a bunch of drinks and food and regroup.

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Finisher

Alicia and Matt did the half marathon, which started two hours after the marathon, so I showered up and very slowly went back to the finish to watch them come through.

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Alicia and Matt finishing the half marathon

Overall, a really great day - I did about as well as I thought that I could have, had good support from friends and had some fun checking out some neighborhoods/restaurants in nearby Portland, OR.  I will say this was by far the hardest physical challenge I've ever had.  Towards the end it was a combination of my fatigue plus pure physical body pain that made it so, so, difficult, but I can finally say I am a marathon finisher - and it was worth it.

Would I do another marathon?  Well, not right now :)  I've never been so sore following the race.  I would probably up for doing a major marathon in the future, with 10,000+ participants with lots of crowd support.  I do also think running in Boston some time would be awesome, but I'd need to drop 25 minutes off my 3:30 time.  Might be a bit of a stretch - maybe reconsider in the next months or years, no hurry :)