Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Race report: Marine Corps Marathon

Marine Corps Marathon
Arlington, VA and Washington, DC.
October 26, 2008

An excellent day.

Excuse me if I'm still a little shocked, but part of me still does not believe the result. The conditions could not have better. From the very first Marine private I met Friday at the expo to the hundreds of servicemen and women that lined the course to work the water stations and finish line, the MCM is a race that lived up to its billing as "The People's Race." As expected from the military, every detail was tended to and lined up dress right, dress. Save for the sparse spacing of water stations after mile 20, I have no complaints with the race course. Though with over 20,000 runners, I imagine that those in the mid to back-of-pack experienced more crowding, especially on the narrower streets. I appreciated that all mile markers were accurate. All-in-all and with help from friends, everything on this day fell right into place for me.

Weather: A rain front spoiled our Saturday touristing, but the weather broke Saturday night to provide a brilliantly sunny race morning. Temperature near 50F greeted us for the 8 AM race time that barely reached 60F by 11 AM. I never felt too cold or too warm for the duration.

Training season: Starting eighteen weeks ago in early June, I aimed for 50-60 miles each week on 6-7 single runs. I ended up averaging 54 miles/week, excluding a tapered final two weeks. Except for one quality run per week, all other runs were done at "easy" pace, averaging 8:00-8:45 pace on roads and 10 minute miles on trails. The initial five weeks of training was spent building mileage to several 60 mile weeks. After the base-build, I used 4-5 week training phases to periodize the season. Using then-recent race results to set VDOT training paces, my VDOT increased from 52 in June, to 54 in September and 55 in October. In September and October the quality workouts focused on threshold pace (T-pace, as per Daniels VDOT). Twelve days and eight days before the marathon, I included a couple shorter and faster interval (I-pace) workouts -- 4x 1200m and a 5k race -- for final sharpening.

Expectations: Up until last week I thought 3:00-3:02 was doable. The 5k PR I set last Saturday provided added confidence. Heading to Washington, DC, I clearly aimed for sub-3, but was not sure by how much. I didn't wear a pace band, but I did write down a few splits on my bib. I had the 5 mile splits for my A and B goals (2:59 and 3:03) on my bib. Along the way, I'd keep track of my standing every five miles.

Pre-race: I had great help to prepare. We have Cleveland friends in DC that hosted us, one of which talked me through a detailed map reconnaissance of the course. I was ready for the two hills and the bridge. My girlfriend Andrea, familiar with DC from school, was an excellent navigator and guide around the city. She knew where to go and I appreciate her getting us through the expo on Friday in order to relax on Saturday morning. After sleeping in best I could, I ran three miles easy and a few strides to loosen up. The rest of Saturday would be spent walking and stretching.

Sunday morning I topped off my fuel tanks with with a bowl of oatmeal and small coffee, finishing breakfast by 5:45 AM and ready to depart by six or so. The metro train dropped us off at the Pentagon station, a walk which seemed more than a mile to the staging area. After final porto-john use, stretching, and bag check-in, I was left with 10 minutes to gun. The highway to the start line was longer than expected, adding another 800m or so before reaching the starting area marked by pace signs. Andrea and I jogged a little. It wasn't until this moment that the pomp and circumstance hit me. Military parade music blasted from the speakers and Andrea noticed my step. "You've marched to this before," she asked.

Uh huh. The stage was set to run with the Marines. Having served a few years in the Army Airborne, when the race announced "one minute" I thought about one final equipment check before the green light signaled, "Go."

The race: The gun sounded and I crossed the line 19 seconds later. The first mile was crowded and there were a few slow folks in the first 800m who should not have been. Otherwise, I get a clean start up the left side. Miles one and two climb hills in Rosslyn. Carrying my own small water bottle, I fumble the cap and end up abandoning the my handheld water earlier than expected. I sip a couple times and toss. I remove my throwaway shirt by mile 2 and crest the hill in relaxed but deliberate pace. The third mile down Spout Run was fast but comfortable and I was pleasantly surprised to find myself on target by the fourth mile. Here I start talking with a young Marine who was a newly commissioned officer and graduate of the Naval Academy. We exchange a few military stories and he keeps griping about having to report for field duty at 0300 Monday morning. Oh, to be young and spry.

Crossing Key Bridge (mile 4) I take my first S-cap and I'm enjoying this start. Miles 4-6 follow the north bank of the Potomac below Georgetown. Here I pass Army Captain Castro, a blind runner, led by his guide Lieutenant Colonel Dummar. I know of them from the article of their Air Force Marathon as shared on the ultra list. Castro was injured on a combat mission. He runs, led by Dummar and a shoestring. I figure they took the 7:50 AM start and I get a thumbs-up when I call them by name.

I discovered that my befriended Marine had some serious talent when he stated that he ran his last PFT 3-mile run in 16 minutes. Running in his first marathon, he helped to occupy my time with marathon questions to me. I offer my best sage advice, "if it feels like you're holding back, you're doing it right," and "twenty miles is the halfway point."

The remaining substantial climb came in mile seven up to the Georgetown Reservoir before a generally downhill grade in miles eight and nine. The crowds in Georgetown were large and loud.

I reach ten miles in 1:08 and about thirty seconds ahead of sub-three hour pace. Perfect.

Andrea and Meredith met me with a water bottle near the eleven mile mark. I take my first gel and settle into a pack with my marine friend as we headed south along the Potomac and towards Hains Point. With less specators around, I welcomed the pack of runners in what I assume was an informal three-hour pace group. Miles 11-13 we draft behind a group of about 20 runners with about 50 total in our vicinity. The pace felt comfy and I knew the drafting was conserving energy. A water station at the south tip of Hains Point near mile 13 broke up the pack. The marine and I find ourselves cruising and now leading the pack. We continue to talk some and work together to mile 15.

Andrea waited for me at mile 15.5 with another water bottle. Looking at the splits I figure I surged some with a 6:31 split in mile 16. The marine was no longer with me and I didn't look back. The course now headed into the wind as I ran out of others to draft behind. The combination of gel #2 and the enthusiastic crowds around the Lincoln Memorial livened me up. I felt energized turning onto the National Mall heading east towards the capital. I caught a bunch of runners in miles 17-19. I knew today was my day when seeing 6:38 and 6:39 splits in miles 17 and 18. Mentally I was backing off but my legs were still moving.

I reach the Capital Building and wham I find out it was wind that aided my recent pace. Suddenly there were less runners in my vicinity and I felt alone. Passing the Smithsonian heading west through the mall and towards the bridge, I face a slight wind with mile 20 and the 14th Street Bridge looming ahead. I take S-cap #3 as I leave the mall. Andrea meets me one final time near the mile 20 marker in front of the Holocaust Museum.

Reaching mile 20 in 2:15 and about 110 seconds ahead of sub-3, I gave some thought to my outcome. Last year's final 10k in Grand Rapids came in about 43 minutes. Today was definitely my day, now it was a matter of by how much. My mind turned to some of my faster training friends and I gave thought to what they would do here in my shoes. It was time to close the deal. Knowing that I could hold 7 minute pace and still break three hours gave me a boost.

I was advised that the bridge (miles 20-22) is a long stretch without water, so I was happy to have a bottle. I consumed gel #3 by the 21st mile. I don't remember anyone passing me since the half. The field is sparse now, but I hang with the only runners around -- a loose pack of 2-3 runners to help break wind across the bridge. Mostly now I was on my own.

The splits were slowing to 6:50s but I still feel strong. I rely on my go-to mantra, "today is my day," and I know if I hold on I will make it. Sub-three is the motivation. The crowds liven me up in Crystal City, but its tall buildings create a wind tunnel. We endured an upwind 23rd mile to be rewarded with a downwind mile 24. I was ready for water at mile 23 and was a bit grumpy having to wait for the next water near mile 24. I choke down half of my last gel and cup of water. My breathing was now increased and I found it more difficult to consume fluids. The remainder of course is lonely highway around Pentagon and along highway 110. The lone runner to pass me in the final 3 miles was a female Marathon Maniac. She impressively pulled away from me in the final two miles yet drew me closer towards the finish.

I cross mile 26 still grinding and thinking 2:57:xx and all that is left is the final hill. This famous incline is really steep for about 75 meters, changing to a gentle incline for the final 100 meters and towards the Marine Corps War Memorial. I sense the crowds are large but all I can see is the finish. The clock reads 2:58 and change.

Mission accomplished. I cross the line, amazed, surpassing my goal with a personal record that bettered last year's Grand Rapids marathon time by 5 minutes and 50 seconds.

Final time: 2:58:16

Overall place: 134/18,302
Gender place: 125/11,142
Age group: 20/1,996

Andrea was there waiting for me. She was a huge help and sharing my race with her was the best feeling of all. I never saw the marine lieutenant after mile 15, but I was happy to see him cross the line exactly at three hours and only two minutes behind me. After waiting for a massage, we head into Rosslyn to reunite with others who ran the race.

Race nutrition: I carried four gels and three S-caps (electrolytes.) My basic plan was similar to past marathons: Consume water at every chance and avoid the provided energy drink. Take an S-cap at 30 minutes, then every hour after. Run on my stored glycogen until the first GU gel at 75 minutes, then every 30 minutes to the end. If extra sugar is needed at the end, take the provided Powerade in the final 4-5 miles. The nutrition went as generally planned. I happily report that I successfully maintained sufficient energy and electrolytes levels to reach the finish.

Conclusion: The conditions were ideal with the Marines providing a well-supported race course, adequate competition, and the scenery of the District of Columbia to help motivate me along. Part of me wishes I were not in such a hurry in order to enjoy DC's buildings, monuments, and sights a little more.

I feel lucky to have had great race-day weather and for all the details to fall into place. I exceeded my goals and am very grateful that I had the opportunity to show it. The marathon is cruel in that sometimes weather or other conditions hinder an optimal performance. Not on this day.

I hope to recap the details of my training season in a future post. A few days removed from the race, I am happy. This summer's training season peaked at just the right time that resulted in two huge PRs in the span of the last eight days.

Now, it's time for some rest and recovery from road racing. The trails are calling my name.

Thanks for reading.


Tuesday, October 28, 2008

MCM splits

Mile splits, for the numbers peeps:

1- 7:16
2- 7:09 (Up Lee Hwy; shed throwaway shirt)
3- 6:31 (Down Sprout Run)
4- 6:41 (Cross Key Bridge; take first S-cap)
5- 6:44
6- 6:44
7- 7:02 (Climb to Georgetown Reservoir)
8- 6:47
9- 6:39 (Leaving G-town, descend to river)
10- 6:34
11- 6:43 (Gel #1 at 73 minutes)
12- 6:44 (S-cap #2 at 82 minutes)
13- 6:49
14- 6:48
15- 6:42
16- 6:31 (Around the Lincoln Memorial; Gel #2)
17- 6:39 (mile 17+18 along north side of National Mall)
18- 6:38 (heading towards Capital Bldg)
19- 6:51 (whoa, turn west into wind; S-cap #3)
20- 6:55 (uh oh, bridge looming ahead, am I slowing down?)
21- 6:50 (first half of 14th St Bridge; Gel #3)
22- 6:56 (second half bridge and into Crystal City)
23- 6:50
24- 6:55 (Half of gel #4)
25- 6:52
26- 6:53 (final 0.2, 1:36)

Finish - 2:58:16 (6:48 pace)
Half splits - 1:29:06/1:29:10

5 mile increments:

5 miles- 34:20 (6:52 pace - right on 3 hour marathon)
10- 1:08:06 (6:46 pace - 33 seconds ahead of sub-3)
15- 1:41:51 (6:47 - 67 seconds ahead of sub-3)
20- 2:15:25 (6:46 - 1 minute, 53 seconds ahead of sub-3)

Monday, October 27, 2008


Race turned out as a great day to run: Brilliant sunshine and 50s throughout.

Andrea and I did a lot of walking yesterday post race. A massage and stretching helped to keep most of the soreness away and all-in-all I am not feeling too wasted today. We are doing some visiting in DC before a 6.5 hour drive home, so I'll post a more detailed report later. In the meantime, here are some splits. The website initially posted gun time splits and now it is corrected. My gun time/chip time differential was 19 seconds.

1st half: 1:29:06
2nd half: 1:29:10
Chip time: 2:58:16 (6:48)

5k splits:
9:32 (last 2k)

Overall: 134/18273
Age group: 20/1993

More reporting to come.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Running with the Marines

The Marine Corps War Memorial sits atop a hill near the finish line of the Marine Corps Marathon. The monument is but one of many to see along my 26.2 mile tour of Washington, DC on Sunday. Though I will try to run as fast as possible, I won't resist the chance for reflection. I'll think about the servicemen and women who have sacrificed so that I am able to enjoy the freedoms offered to me as an American. Having served 9+ years on active duty, I'll think about those who have come before and after me.

See you at the finish line. My number is #22863.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

One year ago

Link to my October 2007 archives.

Having the blog is such a useful tool in race preparation. This year, reflecting back to last year is helping ease the mind that I can do it again.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Local 5k report

Saturday morning Andrea and I headed to my old neighborhood for the Green Lakewood 5k, a first year race offered by and HMA promotions. Nature's Bin provided the goodies. The proceeds go to enhance public recycling programs in Lakewood.

One week out from goal marathon, the race was a last hard workout before final tapering.

The conditions couldn't have been any better:

- A completely flat and familiar course in my neighborhood. I've raced it before.
- Clear and sunny 44F at 8:00 AM.
- Arrived early enough for thorough warm-up and strides.
- I'm in week 15 of a 16 week marathon training cycle and my fitness is peaking now.
- Cash prizes drew a stronger field than normal for a new race. I have not seen official results yet, but I estimate 80-90 finishers, 100 tops. Despite the small field, I had a local training friend to pace off and chase.

After a 3.5 mile warm-up, 5x 100m strides, and 1x 2min at goal race pace, I was 10 minutes before gun. Stretch, sip water, and get to line in time. Tara G., a strong local runner who I no longer keep up with, has PRs in the range of 17:40 and 2:53 for 5k and marathon. I haven't run close to her in a race in a few years. On this day and based on recent workouts I aimed for 5:50 pace, which would better my 18:30 PR, and hoping to finish 18:10-18:15.

The course is a flat route on a familiar course from Lakewood Park. I've run dozens of times along these streets and felt like on home turf.

The race starts and I find myself in 8-10th place through the first 800m and find myself in 7th at the mile. I kept 15-20 yd contact with T, kept it relaxed, and avoided looking at my watch until I hear the timer calling time: 5:31, 5:32, 5:34...

Mile one at 5:40 and was just holding what I got. After 1.6 miles, the course is a full 1.2 mile straightaway stretch. I caught Tara at mile two in 5:41 and asked her to pull me. Survived the straightaway and turn into park. With 500m to go the leg turnover was still there. Tara was right behind and I could hear her breathing. Approaching mile 3 and still turning over! Sub-18 was now in my view and focused on that. Breathing was maxed, but I had some in reserve. Didn't look at my watch at the 3 mile mark and just ran. Clock comes into view: 17:33, 34, 35...

Short version: Scored a huge PR by 45 seconds. Splits: 5:40/5:41/5:47/0:36 =

17:44. (6th OA)

Tara said that if there were 200 more meters she would have caught me (she wins women's race easily.)

I can't believe this result. I've run a 5k like this, one week out from marathon, in each of past 4 training cycles. I feel the course was legit. I am planning on peaking next week and this result provides a huge boost in confidence for my goals.

The conditions for racing were ideal on this day. Running is so much fun when the pieces fall into place. Both Andrea and I win AG awards and to share that makes it much sweeter.

Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Akron marathon pacer report

This year was my fifth year pacing the Akron Road Runner Marathon. This well-organized race, which features full and half marathons, a two-person relay and five-person Ekiden relay, has become a great community affair. In its sixth year, the city of Akron has embraced the event and in my mind, it falls a close second to the Flying Pig as Ohio's best marathon event.

Also included on this day was the USATF Women's 8k Championship which no participants were able to view since that race started 30 minutes after the marathon. Sara Slattery beat Katie McGregor for the title.

After working 10 hours at the expo at two booths, I missed the pasta dinner. In part honor to DanQ (who was among the KR contingent here) and part out of convenience, I fueled up with dinner at Skyline Chili which was nearby the hotel. After the normal pace team meeting, it was off to sleep before an early wake up before the 7 AM start.

In past years, I was assigned the 3:40 group and this year I moved up to 3:30 (8:01 pace.) The pre-race weather report indicated high humidity and 55F at the start. Not exactly ideal for racing, but not entirely bad.

The race has grown in size and I had trouble getting to the start early enough to talk to the 3:30 hopefuls. So I just lined up and answered a few questions from the runners, rather than give a short talk like I normally do.

The race started on time and I noticed right away that there were many more runners than in past years. My 3:30 group was at least 35-40 runners. And my first mile was SLOW in 8:25. Oops. At least that's better than 25 seconds too fast. No one in the group seemed to panic and by mile 3 we were back on pace. Perhaps the first mile marker was off.

With no wind, the humidity was stifling. I was concerned because this hilly course is already difficult enough and 90% humidity would certainly take its toll later on. Luckily a breeze picked up after about an hour to make the air feel a little better.

The first relay exchange point came at 10k and boy was it crowded! And the water station was placed too close to the relay exchange, which further complicated traffic congestion. In future years, I think they'll have to have water stations on both sides of the road because it was dicey trying to get a water cup.

The course tours Firestone Park in miles 6-8 and after the 15k relay exchange point enters the University of Akron. Miles 9-11 are mostly downhill as we return to downtown and decend to the Towpath Trail. As usual, the pace picks up significantly down this hill. Miles 11-15 are along the scenic Cuyahoga River on the dirt Towpath. We hit the half on time in 1:44:50 and I could tell that some runners were in over their head with miles at 7:55-8:00. This is normal.

After the Towpath, the course passes the 25k relay exchange point and enters the teeth of the course with three gradual uphill miles from 16-19 along Sand Run Parkway. Marathoner attrition is normal in this section but on this day my group was larger than past years. I still had 15+ runners after reaching the top of the hill.

As is common in marathon pacing (at this race), most runners who are capable of the pace go ahead after mile 20 and those who are not fall off the pace. I still had 6-8 runners with me through mile 21, but the steep hill prior to Stan Hywet gardens (mile 22) took out most of those still hanging on. Three runners remained with me.

The beauty of the Akron course is that if you can hold it together to the end, miles 24 and 25 are a gradual downhill along Market St. One can naturally pick up the pace without added effort. In an effort to keep those last couple runners with me, I lost about 45 seconds to the pace by mile 24, but easily made up the time on Market St with a couple 7:45 miles which felt comfy.

The Akron finish is great fun as the final 100 yards are in Canal Park baseball field. You enter the stadium in center field and run across the field to the finish line. Crossing the line in 3:29:57, I was happy to be done and hung around until the 3:40 pacer finished. My runner of the day award goes to a 58-year old woman in my running club who ran with me through 18 miles. She finished in 3:33, PR'd, and won her age group. All this as a training run for Richmond in November!

All-in-all, another successful year for the Akron marathon, although if their numbers keep growing they'll have to do something about adding water stations. I'm not sure the Towpath section is wide enough to support additional runners.

Road marathon #24 in the books and now less than 4 weeks to go to goal marathon. Recovery seems okay and I look forward to some final sharpening workouts before I tackle my own marathon PR.