Tuesday, January 10, 2012

BankTrust First Light Marathon 1/8/12, Race Report-part3

As I wrote in Part 1 & 2, the BankTrust First Light Marathon of January 8, 2012 in Mobile, Alabama marked the second marathon of the Alabama 3N3 Challenge. I took the opportunity of having these 3 events relatively close together to experiment with a few different race strategies. 

Goals for the First Light Marathon
  1. Evaluate a "no taper & short rest" for an open-26.2 race effort
  2. Evaluate the Run/Walk strategy for an open-26.2 race effort
  3. Pace for a sub-3 early and hold on for at least a Boston Qualifying 3:05:00
I will address goal 3 in this post as my race report.  Click on either of the first two goals to read more.

Welcome to Mobile, Al

Venue-Mobile, Al
Considering the race schedule we have for this winter, we just couldn't spend as much time in Mobile as we'd like. We were fortunate to get a good dose of it in the 20 hours we were there.

GoDaddy.com Bowl Parade

Just as we arrived into downtown Mobile on Saturday night, we hit the GoDaddy.com Bowl Parade. After spending 30 minutes trying to get around, we just watched.

GoDaddy.com Bowl Parade

-Admiral Semmes Hotel
They sold our room that I booked 4 months ago.  Turns out they over sale and stick people at the Holiday Inn that they also own.  It wouldn't have been a big deal except it was already 10 hours until race start when we finally made it to check in.  It took another hour to get us room. 

-Holiday Inn Hotel
Dump.  We were on the second floor and the noise from the street was ridiculous.  I hated every second of it and was glad to get out. $90/night  It was directly across the street from race start, and we had access from our balcony.  It was around 2 blocks from the finish, and they allowed us a late checkout which gave us time to shower.

First Light Marathon
Relatively inexpensive and doesn't sale out.  The race loot was a long sleeve shirt, a small bag, and a hand made medal rated #10 of the top 25 medals in America by MarathonandBeyond.com.  The race doesn't use chip timing, so your time is from the gun to the finish line clipboard.  The half marathoners leave the marathon course around mile 8 and rejoin at mile ~24.  The course is mostly ran on one lane of a major road, but there are some interesting sections that wind around the water and through Spring Hill and USA colleges.  The finish is the best part, lots of cheering through downtown as they announce your name and hometown.  Big plus is the free beer and BBQ on the other side of the finish line.

-taper-none.  1 week rest at 35% of my average weekly volume
-breakfast-2 cups of coffee and a pair of Ensures (700C)
-nutrition-300C of hammer gel Espresso. 
-caffeine-550mg as 200mg at 6 miles, 200 at 13 miles, and 150mg trickled through the flask.
-hydration-1 paper cup of water at every aid station 1-23

Rise and shine, little one.
Eyes open at 4:15am; I was hoping for at least 4:30. With the bowl game parade last night, there was a lot of action outside our window. Between cheers, music, sirens, and shouts, I think I grossed 4 hours of rest Saturday night. That brings my 48 hour total to 9 hours of interrupted sleep. Lack of sleep, no taper, and that bowl of soup I ate for dinner last night should make this an interesting race.

We aren't wearing any clothes under there.
I started the process of coffee, calories, and hydrating right away. The two hours I had until the gun quickly turned into standing at the starting line explaining why we have on two different colored shoes. It wouldn't seem that strange except we are wearing garbage bags and folks are keying in on the shoes. The crowd begins to sing the National Anthem in a soft mumble and the little old man on stage needs help squeezing the starting gun trigger.  Bang!
The starting line.  The Azalea Trail Maids
and the Boy Scouts were in charge of security.

Usually the first few miles fly by.  First Light, however, was interesting from the starting line.  I went from being on the front row to being swarmed by a flood of racers.  I was running a too-fast-for-me 6:30 and was being overtaken by droves of people.  I thought "what is going on? I should be top 10 here; where are all these folks going?" 

By the end of the first mile I had identified "Prancing guy."  I say prancing, because he was a flurry of fist pumps and hand waves as he hopped along to his tunes and zig-zagged across the race line.  He ran in random spurts ahead of me as if he could not make forward progress between music tracks. He only entertained me to mile 3 before he had some sort of electronic device malfunction and had to abandon his pace strategy. 

M-Dot, the IronMan Logo
Fortunately, I had discovered a guy with a nice red M-Dot tattoo on his calf.  He had a smooth and efficient stride pushing his Brooks Green Silence shoes.  I was curious as to why I was catching him.  If he was a runner whose stride and pace had earned him a position ahead of me, he should be maintaining his pace, not slowing.  As I studied M-Dot, I was interrupted by Mr. "IP Team" stamped on the back of his white tank top.  Typically, I don't get passed outside of the first mile or two.  Usually the fast guys are gone, and I move through the field of over-achievers on my way to the finish, so this guy stood out.  IP Team had a long, inefficient stride. He ran as though he was clearing tiny hurdles only he could see.  He quickly made his way around me and M-Dot but only made it about 50 yards away before he settled into the same pace we all 3 seemed to be on.

M-Dot Seen in the background

By mile 5, I had started this yo-yo thing with M-Dot where I would get on his heels, he would hear me and speed up only to come right back to me.  After just a few of those exchanges, he deliberately slowed his pace to let me pass.  At this point, we had separated from the half-letes and most of the field was gone.  My world was IP Team 50 yards up, M-Dot somewhere back, and the occasional random marathoner running out of gas.  We held this position until mile 10, the first hill.

M-Dot has a super power.  It is the ability to foolishly charge a hill.  I was fortunate enough to talk to him about it after the race.  He takes pride in his ability to climb.  He passed me around 1/4th of the way up the 175ft climb just as I began to walk.  As he passed, I cheered "Way to go man! Running strong!"  He replied one syllable at a time "easy. after. this."  We were at mile 11, it was not easy for a long time.  I continued to walk and recover, M-Dot charged up the hill, and IP Team slowed to a trot. 

Team IP had opened up a small gap.

We continued the dance of me catching the pair only to walk as they pulled away over the next few rollers before finally passing and dropping M-Dot at mile 15.  This put me about 25 yards behind Team IP and unknowingly into the top 10.  I had every intention of sitting in his wake and letting him pace me for a while, but as we hit the next descent I reeled him in so quickly that he was startled into a dead stop.  I realized that he had no clue that M-Dot and I had been stalking him.  He hadn't seen us since mile 5.  I spent the next few miles thinking of how the perspective of the rabbit is different when he isn't aware he's being hunted. 

M-Dot replied, "Easy. After. This." at mile 11.
By mile 16, I became as uncomfortable as I usually am at mile 23.  I began focusing on what I could control.  I picked perfect lines around the corners.  I ran the best form I could deliver.  I concentrated on relaxing as much as possible.  By the top of the last climb at 18, I was done.  I told myself to suck it up until mile 23, that was the final downhill.  If I wasn't in position to go sub-3, I would cruise.  Unfortunately, the last downhill was at mile 21.  Just as I was about to pull the 'chute, a volunteer yelled "You're in the Top Ten" as I passed. 

"Whoa, I can't let those jokers catch me.  I've got'ta hold on." 

The mile 23 aid station came earlier than expected.  I realized I was 23 minutes under 3 hours.  I had plenty of time to go sub-3.  I picked it up and refocused.  Unfortunately, the official mile 23 marker came shortly there after and I needed a 21 minute 5k to make it.  I made the typical bargains with myself to help with morale and began hammering away.

At mile 24 my watch dropped the satellite signal.  Love these little blessings late in a race.  I just kept hammering using my respiratory rate to pace.

Those finish lines keep looking better and better.
At 25 I needed a 6:40 to go under-3hrs.  I arrived at mile 26 right on pace, just in time to see 3 hours roll by.  I had no clue where I lost the time, but I enjoyed the next 96.5 seconds I spent on the last 0.2.  (~8 min mile pace)  I was going to walk, but there was a 13.1 finisher jogging ahead of me.  I thought, if "yellow pants suit" dude can run for 3 hours, so can I.   

Officially I finished in 3:02:04, 9th overall.  IP Team rounded out the top ten in 3:08, and M-Dot took 1st M30-34 in 3:10.  This was a challenging race, and although not my best finishing time, it was my best performance on what wound up being my worst preparation ever.  I enjoyed the race and learned a lot about myself and racing.  I missed my sub-3 hour goal, but I was able to hold on for my 3rd of 3 Boston qualifying marathons. 

Mercedes in 5 weeks!

9th Place Male

Race Stats
-13.1 at 1:30:15
All the medal and awards
are handmade by the community.
-Final 5k in 22:04
-Averaged a 5.25 second -loss per mile from line selection
-0.3 miles of poor line selection, I'm getting better.
-Elevation 1,010 feet

Best part of being early, I can eat all the chocolate donuts.
A spectator screams "Don't let her catch you, Billy!" Billy was unsuccessful. 
Hitch Hiking may be part
of a well executed race strategy.

I'm spent.  Emily is always
ready for another round

Of course, it's nothing a little
Gulf seafood can't fix.

Monday, January 9, 2012

BankTrust First Light Marathon 1/8/12, Run/Walk-Part2

As I wrote in Part 1, the BankTrust First Light Marathon of January 8, 2012 in Mobile, Alabama marked the second marathon of the Alabama 3N3 Challenge. I took the opportunity of having these 3 events relatively close together to experiment with a few different race strategies.  If you've found this page searching for a review of the BankTrust First Light Marathon, click here to read my race report.

Goals for the First Light Marathon
  1. Evaluate a "no taper & short rest" for an open-26.2 race effort
  2. Evaluate the Run/Walk strategy for an open-26.2 race effort
  3. Pace for a sub-3 early and hold on for at least a Boston Qualifying 3:05:00
I will discuss each goal in separate entries with the last goal being a traditional race report.

2.    Evaluate the Run/Walk strategy for an open-26.2 race effort goal

   I've read about the run/walk strategy for long distance racing since I began running in the Winter of  '09.  As a new runner, my goal was always simply to RUN.  Initially, I saw any form of walking as failure.  It wasn't until I actually became interested in my FASTEST results that I saw some potential with the run/walk as a strategy.  Note:  Its important to differentiate between a run/walk strategy and running until you are forced to walk. 

Rock-N-Roll Mardi Gras Feb 2011
A 3:10:59 was the last tick on the clock to get a Boston qualifing time. 
I certainly did not think there was any time available for walking.
   For my first marathon in Feb '11, I was completely focused on a Boston Qualifying time and refused to walk a single step.  I ran with my Gatorade strapped around my waist because I couldn't take in on-course nutrition while running.  The paper cups defeated me.  Once I began training for Beach2Battleship in August '11 and following one of Endurance Nation's training plans, I was confronted by their advice to not only race with a run/walk strategy, but train with it also.  I, of course, immediately dismissed it as bunk and continued my typical long runs.  Being new to ironman training, I made a few mistakes that lead me into a lot of fatigue and began struggling to get through the training blocks.  Luckily, I spent some time casually chatting with my swim coach, Larry Baskin, about how he trained for a Boston Qualifying marathon.  He mentioned using Jeff Galloway's approach and shared a few pearls with me.  This was my third encounter within a year of this run/walk idea.  I'm a "first hand experience" guy; I need to see for myself.

Gulf Coast Triathlon 70.3 May 2011 in Panama City Beach, FL
I was dying in the heat and absolutely refused to walk
through what became my worst 13.1 run split ever. 

  Using a 20-30 second per mile walk strategy, I was able to comfortably complete my long training runs without creating unnecessary stress.   I then carried this practice over to Beach2Battleship where I executed a comfortable 3:37 marathon split on my way to a 10:45 debut at the iron distance.  Despite my success, I doubted the run/walk strategy as I approached an open-26.2 marathon pace. For me, an open-26.2 is about 70 seconds per mile faster than an ironman run pace.  The idea of running and walking at a consistent easy pace isn't much of a stretch but to run and walk into a max potential race result seems counter intuitive.  After all, the best strategy is an even effort, not run-awhile then walk-awhile.  I struggled with this idea and again deviated from the run/walk to a traditional strategy for the Rocket City Marathon on my way to a 2:59 personal best marathon
  In my mind, at some pace and distance the strategy must break down.  Is it a half-marathon? Maybe a 10K? 5k? Eventually, you can't recover your average pace from the time spent walking, at least, according to this guy (points finger at himself).  I'm not sure where it lies, but I no longer believe it is at marathon pace for me. 
  You can read at length about the pros and cons involved in the run/walk with a quick Google search.  I won't go into it, but I think every runner should read and personally evaluate it.  Ultimately, each athlete is responsible to themselves for personal training decisions.
   My run/walk plan included two parts: walk every major hill and every aid station between mile 1 & 23.  It is by no means scientific or definitive.  I just had an opportunity to see how I responded to different race strategies on back to back marathons. 
Sometimes, a finger to the face is the
only way to say I need your water. 
   At every aid station, I used short walks to take in calories and water.  I simply grabbed a cup and walked until I finished it.  Mostly this was a precious too few seconds but never longer than 20".  The aid stations were sporadic, but there were around 15 aid stations between 1 and 23.  Once I resumed running, I monitored my pace closely to slowly return to my goal average pace.  I found this strategy to be effective in getting a quick break while downing my calories and water, but it was most useful for managing the elevation. 

First Light Marathon Elevation Profile
1,010ft per the Garmin

  On the hills, I chose the conservative approach of walking to manage the elevation challenges of the course. I knew from the elevation profile there were 3 major hills, but I encountered 2 more walk-worthy hills.  Personally, a "walk-worthy" hill is determined by a combination of my stride length and my perceived effort.  As I began up a hill, my pace would slow as I tried to hold my respiratory rate steady and ultimately approached a walking pace.  At that point, I assertively walked (not stroll, not dally) to an arbitrary point near the crest of the hill before slowly returning to my normal pace.  The whole hill-walk typically lasted 45-90".  Walking the hills gave me an opportunity to recover in a place where my competition was bouncing off the limiter.  This recovery came at a particularly low cost as the field of racers had slowed around me anyway.  Once I topped the hill, I was anxious to get going again and able to return to my average pace within 2-3 minutes.
BankTrust First Light Marathon 9th Overall
only walking around 20 times

For comparison sake, my 3:02:04 First Light walk/run lead me to a best ever finish at the top 1.9% just 27 days after a top 2.9% finish at Rocket City Marathon.   Additionally, Rocket City is one of the fastest courses in the country, ranking 11th in the States on "percentage of the field qualifying for Boston" (23% BQ rate).    

It is also worth mentioning I went into First Light with a considerable amount of chronic fatigue.  Within the past 72 days, I have completed my first ironman and 2 marathons.  This marathon, First Light, was done on no taper with only a single rest week.

Considering the difficulty of the course, relative finishing position, and my limited recovery, I view this particular run/walk strategy a success.
In the future, I like knowing I have this weapon in my arsenal.  I won't be tethered to an "all or nothing" run/walk approach for my main races, but I am definitely not afraid to walk a bit anymore. 

Feel free to post questions, comments, or throw rocks.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

BankTrust First Light Marathon 1/8/12, No Taper-Part1

   The BankTrust First Light Marathon of January 8, 2012 in Mobile, Alabama marked the second marathon of the Alabama 3N3 Challenge. I took the opportunity of having these 3 events relatively close together to experiment with a few different race strategies.  If you've found this page searching for a review of the First Light Marathon, click here.

Goals for the First Light Marathon
  1. Evaluate a "no taper & short rest" for an open-26.2 race effort
  2. Evaluate the Run/Walk race strategy for an open-26.2 race effort
  3. Pace for a sub-3 early and hold on for at least a Boston Qualifying 3:05:00

I will discuss each goal in separate entries with the last goal being the traditional race report.

  1. Evaluate a "no taper & short rest" for an open-26.2 race effort
First, let me qualify "no taper" & "short rest" as a single week preceding the event with a ~65% reduction in 8 wk average run volume while maintaining weekly cycling volume.  Also,I need to add that there is absolutely nothing scientific about this. I just had an opportunity to try some things while evaluate my performance.  It seemed like a better plan than "I'll just run hard."

8 Weekly Average Run Volume Followed by 1 Recovery Week and Race Day

   I've ran three open-26.2s.  The first with a traditional 3 week taper, then a 2 week taper, and now a single rest week. The races were all within the last 11 months, and the results were at what I consider best performance for that day.  My intention is to describe how the short rest effected me as compared to the traditional taper.  I will divide my perception of the short rest's effect into 3 sections: Pre-race, 1-23 miles, and the last 5k.

My typical pre-race mentality is that of a caged beast. Mid-taper, I begin to feel strong and focused. I become mentally excited about the race and welcome the challenge ahead. The one week rest left a large psychological deficit going into race day, I was neither tired nor prepared. Rather, I was "meh" and was faced with a lack of confidence in my ability to perform to my potential irrespective of my goal.

Please, no "woo-hoo'ing" early in the race.
Miles 1-23 were completely manageable despite having some cramping issues. I rarely experience cramps during racing or training, but I was napalm-ed with clusters in my calf, hamstring, and glutes.  I know a lot of readers will wonder about hydration and electrolytes (all in the race report,) but I tend to experience cramps from increased exertion relative to my fitness.  Considering my history, I attribute the cramping to the lingering fatigue I brought into the race.  Although there were issues, the cramps did not seem to effect my performance, and I felt I was able to maintain my plan.  My mentality was the bigger issue.  Psychologically I was beat by mile 16, far earlier than my typical 23.  I was at constant odds with my ability to continue to execute or revise my plan and doubted myself from the first 10k. Despite this, I was able to maintain pace, entertain myself with some race tactics, and properly manage the course elevation putting me into a good position for the last 5k.

The Final 5k was a different story. My marathon strategy is based on getting me to the final 5k in shape to suck-it-up and empty the tank. Unfortunately I was already on fumes as I arrived at the final 5k. I was still able to pick up my pace and finish strong with a 3:02:04 for a 9th overall award. However, the typical imperativeness I experience as I approached my time goal was far overshadowed by both my lack of motivation to continue pushing and my inability to physically respond to the request I was making on my body.
Couldn't be happier to finish the 5k
with a little 23.1 mile warm up.

This is my perspective on how a short rest versus a traditional taper effected my race performance.  It's worth noting that First Light was my best marathon performance despite my physical and mental perception of the event.  In the future, I will confidently use the short rest approach for  low priority races realizing I am gaining an extra week or two of training at the expense of 40 seconds or so an hour for an open marathon.  As I continue to race, I will undoubtedly build more information and be able to better predict how I will respond. 

I hope my experience helps you in some way.  Feel free to post comments, questions, or punch holes. 

The next post will address my Run/Walk race strategy for an open-26.2 race effort.