Sunday, April 22, 2007

Marathon Post #2: The numbers and technical stuff

This post is for the runners out there and for those who are really dedicated to reading my blog. The rest of you might fall asleep. If you have insomnia, read on; if not, consider yourself warned.

So people keep asking "How was Boston?" There are a couple of ways of answering that, and in the next post, I'll get to the more colorful and atmospheric and experiential answers. But some people actually want to know the hardcore statistics and technical stuff. Not most people, but some. This post is for you. I've also divided it up into sub-topics for easy reference, in case there's something in particular you want to know.

The basics
I qualified for Boston with a 3:43:13 (also my PR - an 8:30/mile pace), but I finished Boston in 4:18:57, my slowest time ever (in 6 marathons total, run between 2000 and the present).

My training and condition on race day
Even if we'd had perfect weather conditions for the race, I wouldn't have had a stellar race or finishing time. At the beginning of my 16-week training, I started out doing a three-day-a-week training plan called "FIRST" that promised to increase speed and finish times if you stuck to it. (If you want to know more about it, go here.) It was an intense plan with hard speed workouts, tempo runs, and race-pace+ long runs. As it turns out, I just didn't have the base miles or the cardio-vascular fitness to keep up with it. I hadn't really run much in the previous year, since finishing the 2005 Columbus Marathon in 3:43 to get my Boston qualifying time. So my inability to do what was asked (either in terms of speed or length) in the FIRST program got me down. I switched to the Runner's World 3-day/week Beginner Plan (see a four-day/week version here), modified with longer long runs, based on the FIRST program. In other words, I trained to finish, not for speed.

I did all runs, including the long runs, at a 8:45-9:00 minute pace, because I was still hoping to finish under 4 hours, at least. But I didn't get many hill workouts into my runs, other than a few gently sloping ones here and there, because Rust Belt is a flat place. So I knew that a sub-4-hour marathon on the very hilly Boston course might still be wishful thinking.

And then, on top of being undertrained, I came down with a bad head cold a week before the race. Usually when I get sick -- and I rarely do -- it goes by quickly. But I'm *still* getting over this one. On the Friday before race day, I thought I was going to show up at the race expo on Sunday and ask for a deferral to 2008, which you can get for injuries and I was hoping you could get for illness, too. But on Sunday I was feeling a lot better and the energy of tens of thousands of runners at the expo, in my hotel, and around town, was infectious in a different kind of way. So I said the hell with the cold and planned to run.

The night before the race my cold entered the nagging cough stage and I barely slept. During the race, I suffered from an almost unbearable dry-mouth from the decongestants, and a constant thirst. The coughing ceased as long as I was running, but I think a lot of the aches and pains in my back (see more below) might have been from the night and morning of coughing prior to the race. Plus, any time I tried to eat my Gu energy gels, my nose would run and I'd be unable to breathe. I had 6 Gu packets with me, and meant to eat at least 3 during the race and one at the end, but ended up using only 2. Drinking water was also hard, and sometimes I had to stop to do, which brought the coughing back on. Argh!

My gear and its problems
A couple of days before my last long training run, I tried to get new shoes to replace my worn out old ones. I hadn't kept track of their mileage, but I was starting to feel sore in my shins and knees, which only happens when I have old shoes. But my local running store -- and there's only one in Rust Belt -- didn't have my shoe in my size. And it was too late to switch to a new brand to get it thoroughly broken in and make sure it was right for me. Had I been able to get the exact same shoe, that wouldn't have been a problem to break in, but a new style or brand would have.

I wear a Saucony Trigon in the "Ride" version and I'm loyal to Saucony (I've been through various versions of this shoe) because they work for my narrow heels, wide fore-foot, and need for room for my blister and callous prone toes. I'm a heavy heel-striker with as perfectly neutral a gait as you can get, which means I land on my heel and roll forward straight down the center. Other people roll out or in and need a different kind of shoe. (If you're a runner or want to start running and have never been fitted by a professional at a specialty running store, do so. Running in the wrong shoe for your bio-mechanics can cause injury.) Those of us with neutral gaits, and especially those of us who are heel strikers, need cushioning to help absorb the impact. My worn down shoes were definitely not doing that.

So, as a result, by mile 14, my entire back was screaming in pain. My legs were fine, and in fact, I don't think I felt the build-up of lactic acid in them at all this race (in part because I slowed down so much in the second half -- see below) but it felt like I could barely carry myself upright in the last miles. (Plus, my cardio-vascular fitness was relatively low given the undertraining.) At mile 14 I made the command decision to slow down in order to guarantee that I would finish, especially since I've had recurring lower-back problems in the last few years. And as you'll see below, I really slowed down.

The weather
It turned out not to be quite as bad as predicted. The winds got up to a mere 20 mph, and by the time the second wave runners started (and that included me), the rain cleared up. I think it rained again on us, gently, once on the course, but by that time I was feeling a little hot in my thermal outer layer and Coolmax base layer, so it was actually welcome. It got colder as we approached Boston, though, so I was ultimately grateful for the layers, the full-length running tights, and the gloves.

The worst part was standing around before the race, getting my shoes wet from the rain and muddy from the fields where the porta-potties stood. I kept mostly warm and dry with a disposable clear parka (which I continued to wear for the first three miles of the race, ultimately ripping in off Superman style) and a mylar blanket. But the wind kept blowing the hood off, so my hat soaked through and my pony tail and neck got wet, which couldn't have been good for me. As you'll see below, I did feel the winds at many points -- annoying, mostly while going uphill! -- but in such a big race, when you're a "pack" runner like me, there are lots of bodies around you to block it.

Amazing -- no blisters!
I don't get this. Most runners worried about wet feet causing blisters, and so many of them had plastic bags wrapped around their shoes, at least until the start of the race, and others wore get-ups that kept the top dry but kept the sole free so that they could run in them. I didn't have either and so my feet got wet, mostly in the hours before the race. And never once in the race did my feet hurt, and when I took my shoes off at the end of the day there wasn't a single blister or black toe. Compare that to my Columbus experience in *perfect* weather, where my right little toe turned into a giant blood blister and I lost the nail. Back in 2000 I ran a rainy marathon and also had blister-free feet. What gives?

The split times
For those of you who've already done the math, I ended up with about a 9:53 pace, I think. But really, I ran two half-marathons, the first in 1:57:38, or just under 9 minutes/mile (my over-ambitious goal pace), and the second in 2:21:19, or about 10:50/mile, the slowest I've ever run anything. Like I said above, I decided to slow down at mile 14, and boy did I slow down in some of those subsequent miles! I meant to keep it under or around 10, but it just wasn't happening. (If you want a course map, complete with elevation info, go here. Warning: opens a PDF.) Here's the breakdown:

Mile 1: 9:07
(Letting the crowds hold me back for an easy start -- I'm actually proud of this, as it's the first time I didn't start too fast.)

Mile 2: 8:43
Mile 3: 8:45
Mile 4: 8:44
(Look how evenly paced I am for these three miles -- this is also a minor achievement, as pacing is still something I'm working on. This also makes me cocky. Running is easy and I'm having fun.)

Mile 5: 8:55 (a gently uphill mile)
Mile 6: 8:49
Mile 7: 8:52
Mile 8: 9:11 (We're spreading out and the winds are more noticeable.)

Mile 9: 9:04
(Getting back closer to pace in the next two miles, despite the winds across Lake Cochituate)

Mile 10: 9:09
Mile 11: 9:14
(The last mile and half have been gently uphill, and the effects are starting to show in my time.)

Mile12: 8:55 (Ah, back on track at last with the help of some downhill running)
Mile13: 9:05
(Nice -- might have been slower if I'd stopped to "Kiss a Wellesley Girl" as their sign demanded -- wouldn't she have been surprised!)

Mile 14: 9:18
(As we enter Wellesley's main drag, we start to turn NE and the wind really hits us. Plus my back is killing me, so I decide to slow it down, take it easy. I wouldn't realize how slow I'd really get until after this.)

Mile 15: 9:47 (Well, at least it's under 10.)
Mile 16: 9:47 (OK, I could stay here, I think...)
Mile 17: 10:46
(Really? Crap! But wait, it get worse as we start to climb up the hills of Newton. They tell you about Heartbreak Hill at Mile 21. Somehow, though, I wasn't prepared for the three miles of hills *before* that.)

Mile 18: 11:15
Mile 19: 11:04
Mile 20: 11:39
Mile 21: 13:11 (OK, so I walked up Heartbreak Hill. Sue me.)
Mile 22: 11:13
Mile 23: 11:55
Mile 24: 10:54
(My hotel is right across the street. Sooooooo tempting. But at least I nudged myself back under 11 minutes/mile.)

Mile 25: 10:10
(By this point, my new friend Jody, whom I met at the pasta party, has caught up with me and rallies my spirits back to a less embarrassing pace. She is also a 3:43 qualifier and running under bad physical conditions -- a sore tendon -- but she smartly maintained a 10 minute pace the whole way instead of being unrealistic like I was in the first half.)

Mile 26.2: 11:16
(Just over 9 minutes/mile from the "1 mile to go" point marked on the road -- hooray!)

I nearly throw up in the post-race melee for the crappy amount of food the BAA supplies (boo! worst. post-race food. EVER) but I did it! And now I can get on the T back to the hotel at mile 24 and take a shower. When I got back, I noticed that I certainly wasn't the last to finish, as the course is still full of runners, some of them now walking.

Next time -- the spirit and atmosphere and characters that made Boston actually the most fun I've ever had in a marathon, despite my crap time.


Bardiac said...

For a total non-runner, I found this absolutely fascinating!

I'm glad you had such a good time, because it sounds like this was a really tough marathon (department of redundancy department), tougher than others for the reasons you've told us.

And wow, congrats on finishing!! That's such an amazing accomplishment, really.

Thanks for the report!

Self-Congratulator said...

I am so freaking envious of you (although I'm not sure whether "envy" or "admiration" or something else is really the "ruling passion" in my response to your very welcome, detailed posting on your effort in the Boston Marathon. Screw Ivan Tribble and his anonymous sycophantic admirer who comments in response to your previous post. I think he's more envious than I am--or more "something else" than I am, too!

Dr. Virago said...

Thanks Bardiac and S-C!

And Bardiac, you bike long distances, so you're at least a kindred spirit.

Lydia said...


Bardiac said...

Well, I bike about as far as you ran. But I think it's WAY easier on a bike. And there are no heartbreak hills here in the North Woods.

I'm really glad you enjoyed the race, though, because that's the big thing!

Ancrene Wiseass said...

Congrats, Dr. V! As always, your marathon running amazes and impresses me--especially so this time, since you were under the weather in both ways at once. And I'd sure have loved to be there for your Superman imitation.

In other words, I trained to finish, not for speed.

Hmm. Sounds oddly like what I'm trying to tell those who keep inquiring when I'll be finished with my Ph.D.

hermance said...

I found your comments on the FIRST program interesting. I used it for my first marathon, about a year and a half ago, and found that it did not sufficiently prepare me mileage-wise for the marathon. I kept up with the program, but I don't think I ran enough week to week. I'm going to use one of the Runner's World programs for the next marathon, but I was just interested to hear another runner's experience with it.

Aside from that geeky stuff, congratulations on the run! I'm so impressed. All of the images I saw of the marathon on CNN seemed just about nightmarish!

Dr. Virago said...

Thanks, Lydia, AW, and Hermance.

And AW -- You know, I often compare grad school to marathon running (and so did the major sponsor for my first marathon, which ran ads that said something like "It's like getting a PhD...").

Hermance -- I simply didn't have time for 5 days/week this time around, or even 4, so I tried the FIRST program. Maybe if I'd stuck with it, I might have performed better. At least you know you can *finish* a marathon with only 3 days/week training. But yes, I'm skeptical that it would *improve* my time if I really stuck to it (though note that it suggests cross-training on off days, and I didn't do that at all, unless you count walking the dog!).