I ran in the Portland Marathon last Sunday October 7th, for the second time and my sixth open marathon. I had a good race overall, I think, and I learned a lot (by hard experience) that I can use for in January when I run the Rock 'N' Roll Arizona Marathon. My goal in Arizona is to beat 3:20 and qualify for Boston, and I found out in Portland that it's not going to be easy to accomplish that. My time in Portland was 3:39, which is a PR but I was hoping for 3:35 - halfway to 3:20. And I failed to follow my race plan, which was the most disappointing for me.
Theresa and I drove down on Saturday, visited my father and sister, then checked into the Benson. We wandered downtown for a bit, discovering that the famed Transit Mall is all but destroyed as it is being rebuilt for light rail. In middle and high school teenager I used to ride the bus everywhere and spent a lot of time on the Mall. It was strange to see it gone like that.
I wanted to be finished with dinner by 6pm, so we headed to to the Macaroni Grill but discovered that dozens of other people had the same idea - a 2 hour wait. So we went to Alessandro's instead. They had immediate seating, but clearly didn't understand that marathoners eat early - they were badly understaffed for a fully packed dinning room at 6pm on a Saturday. So after a fairly lengthy wait, I had an excellent pasta dish, and Theresa enjoyed the saltimbocca.
Back at the room I setup my equipment and reviewed the race plan. My plan was to run by pace / RPE the first 5 miles, then by heart rate the remainder of the race. I wanted to negative split each of the segments of the race like so:
Start to Mile 5: target HR 150. It's hard to figure out pace-to-HR for a race, but maybe an 8:35. No higher HR than 155 bpm. I know that I warm up slowly, and I finish stronger on long runs if I take it easier the first five miles. So it’s critical for me to avoid starting too hard.
Miles 6 – 13: target 160. Maybe 8:15
Miles 13 – 20: up to 175. Maybe 8:00
Then to the end: flat out. Maybe mid to high 7s.
Nutrition Mostly Gu gels and on-course water and energy drinks. I’ll have some Endurolytes along that I’ll take in the morning and at the 10 mile point. I purchased an Amphipod RunLite Trail Endurance at the Expo, and I loaded it with 8 gels, a snack bar, and 21 oz of a Carbo-Pro / Gatorade mix. I'd have a gel at 15 minutes then every 45 minutes, and half a bottle of at 5, 10, 15, and 20 miles, with water on the course to dilute.
Also, I planned on eating a lot more beforehand. I awoke at 3:30 in the morning to eat 500 calories of 50/50 simple and complex carbs (bars, nuts, candy), then at 5:30 to eat some more complex carbs.
I seeded myself just a ways back from the starting line, instead of with my pace group. I wanted to minimize the difference between the gun time and chip time, in case by some miracle I found myself already running a 3:20. This kind of back-of-my-mind thinking was already setting myself up for failure to follow my race plan, which you'll see in a minute. The gun went off and we were off!
Here's the Garmin data for the run.
In short, I blew my race plan pretty much entirely. I started too hard, ran strong in the middle, then faded at the end.
First, I ran the first mile and a half way too fast. Yes, I was caught up in the excitement. My HR was 115 just standing there at the start. But more importantly, I looked at my Garmin and it said "9:30" and I thought, way too slow and I sped up what felt like a good amount. Then it said "8:50" and I thought "really?" and sped up a little more. Then I looked at it and it said "6:30" and I thought "OMG! I misread the 8:50 - it must have been 6:50". What a dope!
Miles 2-5 felt good and I was letting lots of people pass me. But you can see that my HR was 10-15 bpm above plan, and my pace was 8:08 not 8:35 which would have been more sustainable. RPE was good, though, so it didn't feel wrong at the time. The weather was perfect - low 50s, high clouds, no rain.
Miles 5-13 also felt good, but my HR was too high for my RPE so I went by RPE. My HR was around 170 or something - 10 higher than my plan. Well, I'm thinking this was a mistake and I should have ran 160 or so regardless of pace. Also there was a headwind after the turnaround at mile 9 or so, and I kept trying to draft people but I couldn't find anyone to pace.
My half-marathon split was 1:45. I was sort of surprised by this - I missed the 10, 11, and 12 milepost signs and suddenly there was the 13.1 timing mat. 1:45 was a bad sign, because I wanted my splits to be 1:50 and something less. I wasn't aiming to beat 3:30. So clearly I was running too fast...
Mile 13-20 were tougher. I sped up again per plan and my HR was again about 10 higher than plan with RPE feeling right.
In retrospect, this was the critical decision point of the race. I should have abandoned my negative split plan and aimed for a 1:50 for the second half. But I didn't, I just stayed on plan. At mile 13 beating 3:30 didn't feel impossible at all. I had no pains or problems with my legs and body, and I still felt strong. My nutrition plan was working fine.
But by mile 17, I was starting to feel tired. And the hill just before mile 18 was tough - tougher than I recall from last year. My average dropped by like 25 seconds per mile, and I couldn't regain it.
Mile 20-22 were a slog. My HR was high but RPE was dropping. My legs started to feel like lead. It was like my brain said "Faster" and my legs said "Nah, we don't feel like it". I just couldn't get the pace back up. I'm sure the faster first half was catching up to me! I took a fairly long break at the mile 21 aid station for a gel, some of my Carbo Pro mix, and two waters.
Miles 22 to the end had a headwind most of the way, same as the wind after the turnaround. It was a slog, and I did manage to pick up the pace the last mile which was mostly downhill for a good finish. That food break at mile 21 kicked in about mile 24, and I felt a lot stronger.
Just a few dozen yards from the finish line, I was coming up on a struggling runner and being passed by two faster runners. The struggling woman stumbled to the ground in exhaustion, and both of the faster runners stopped to scoop her up and help her get going again, sacrificing their own time. The crowd cheered mightily for this act of selfless good sportsmanship. Two women spectators, obviously friends of the woman, came to out to help so the two men could continue on.
I was happy and surprised to see my brother Brian at the finish line. He has not been able to make it before, so that was cool. I felt good - no injuries on the run, no calf pain, no ITB, no shins. Back at the hotel, I spent 15 minutes in the tub, in the coldest water the faucet could make.
Monday and Tuesday I felt beat up but in a good way - enough to know I had ran hard enough, but not injured. I went to my Master's swim class on Tuesday night, and that seemed to really help. I was totally back to normal Wednesday morning.