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.


  1. I loved reading this review. Congrats on all your recent achievements !

    1. Thanks Amy!
      I am glad somebody likes it. After nearly 1,000 hits, you are my first reply!