Sunday, March 9, 2014

Philadelphia Marathon - November 2013

Philadelphia Marathon - Philadelphia, PA November 2013

Not loving my race performance
This was the culminating race of my fall season.  I was shooting for a new marathon PR and, more importantly, attempting to qualify for the Boston Marathon.  To qualify, I would need to run under 3:10 (7:15/mile pace).  Based on my half marathon time back in October, this should have been no problem.  My half marathon time of 1:23:55 projects out to a 2:56:36 according to McMillan's Calculator.  Of course, this website is not always 100% accurate, especially in terms of marathons.  Such long races have more room for unpredictability.  But, even if it were way off, I should still be able to qualify easily.

I also ran the Philadelphia Marathon last year, where I set my current PR of 3:15:17, even though I had a cold. So, I would need to shave off a little over 5 minutes this year to qualify for Boston.  But to actually get into Boston, you usually need to beat your qualifying time by a couple minutes.  So, just to be safe, I planned on running with the 3:05 pace group.  If I beat my time by 5 minutes or more, I would be able to register for Boston early, and basically guarantee entry.  Also, this would leave me a little flexibility if I had to slow down later in the race, or stop for a bathroom break, or to tie a shoe, etc.

Philadelphia Marathon shirt front
The plan and my training leading up to the race was rock solid.  Unfortunately, circumstances did not work out in my favor.  On Thursday of race week, my old nemesis - the common cold - made another unwelcome visit.  I was still able to run, but certainly was not 100% with the runny nose and congestion.  Also, I swear that every time I checked the Weather Channel website during the week leading up to the race, the temperature kept rising!  I was hoping for a nice morning in the high 30s like last year.  This is the kind of weather that you want for marathons.  But by the time race morning rolled around this year, it was in the mid-50s!  This was way warmer than average for Philadelphia in mid-November.  I know that to the average person, 50s sounds nice, maybe even a little cool.  But for marathoning, this is the point where it is just getting too warm to perform your best - especially since the temperature would continue to rise as the race went on.  30s would have been perfect. Heck, I would have even settled for 40s.  But 50s at the start, which turned into mid 60s by the end of the race, along with high humidity was just not the kind of weather that would allow me to be successful.  It was sooooo frustrating that these two simple events - catching a cold and temperatures that were about 20 degrees above average - conspired to basically erase all the benefits of my training over the previous 4 months.  I feel like I was in even better shape than last year. I was also about 5 pounds lighter, at 163 lbs.  And I was ready to go out and run an awesome race! But with the circumstances, I ended up being worse off than last year.  I was sick last year too, but at least we had decent weather.  It is really frustrating to not be able to go out and show what you are truly capable of.

I don't know why I have had such bad luck with marathons.  I think I stress out too much about them, which contributes to me getting sick.  And I have had bad weather on a few of them, which I really can't control.  The marathon is frustrating because you train for so long for it, and then it just comes down to one day, and a lot of stuff that you have no  control over.  And once you finish, you are basically out of commission for a few weeks after.  It's not like you can just do another one the next week if you have bad luck.  Realistically, you probably can't do another one for at least 4 months at best.

I really wish I had just not run this race at all, and found another one a few weeks later instead.  Runner's World actually has a "Plan B" for marathoners who encounter bad luck - race cancellation, bad weather, sickness, etc.  (Runner's World Plan B Marathon).  Basically, it suggests either running a different marathon one week later or five to six weeks later.  Finding a different marathon one week later would be ideal because it would just allow slightly more time to taper, while not effecting your race performance very much. Although it might be difficult to find a marathon with open registration on such short notice. Five to six weeks later would also work because this would allow you time to get in a few more weeks of quaity training and still allow time to taper again before the backup marathon. Interestingly, two to four weeks is sort of a "no-man's land" where it is not really enough time to resume training and then taper again before your back up race. And waiting more than six weeks is too much time to lose fitness gained from your training.

Philadelphia Marathon shirt back
I much prefer racing everything from 5k to half marathon.  If  you screw up one of those, you can usually find another one a week or two later, and go out and do better.  You also don't need as much recovery time.  I have raced half marathons before, and then raced well in a 10k or 5k the very next week.  I have even mowed the lawn the afternoon after running a half in the morning.  But full marathons are much different, and take much longer to recover. 

I really do love running - the way it makes you feel, the way it makes you look, the friends that it helps you make, and the things I have been able to achieve. And I have a lot of fun racing 5ks, 10ks, 10 milers, and half marathons. But, when I really think about it, I have not enjoyed running ANY marathon since 2005 when I ran Marine Corps.  I think I will probably eventually try one more time to qualify for the Boston Marathon. But I also might not.  Maybe I am better off sticking to what I enjoy. After all, running is not a job. It is supposed to be fun! So, we shall see.

Back to the race....My wife and I had a hotel pretty close to the start line, so we just walked down.  We bought throw away pants, shirts, gloves, and hats for the race to keep us warm until the start.  But it ended up being so warm, that we left them back at the hotel, and I just walked down in shorts.  Our old friend, Bill Rodgers, was the race starter!  Here were my mile splits along with average heart rate for each mile

1 - 7:17 (151)
2 - 6:49 (158)
3 - 6:47 (159)
4 - 7:01 (161)
5 - 6:52 (165)
6 - 6:55 (167)
7 - 6:57 (166)
8 - 7:02 (170)
9 - 7:00 (167)
10 - 7:07 (170)
11 - 7:07 (165)
12 - 7:04 (169)
13 - 7:10 (171)
14 - 7:13 (170)
15 - 7:14 (171)
16 - 7:18 (172)
17 - 7:16 (174)
18 - 7:25 (174)
19 - 7:23 (176)
20 - 7:23 (179)
21 - 7:06 (182)
22 - 7:12 (184)
23 - 7:31 (186)
24 - 16:51 (145)
25 - 17:55 (124)
26 - 12:22 (135)
final 0.2 - 10:21 pace

I ran well for the first half and was exactly on pace for a 3:05.  My heart rate also was not too crazy, so I thought I might have a chance.  Due to my sickness and the weather, I was thinking of just dropping out at the halfway mark if I wasn't feeling it.  But my heart rate was just reasonable enough to convince me to keep going.  I intentionally slowed down in the second half to try to conserve energy to get me through to the end.  I was not really feeling a 3:05, but I knew that I only needed to average about a 7:27 pace for the second half to get my sub-3:10.  My heart rate started to get a little too high during the 20th mile.  I'm not sure why I sped up and ran a 7:06 on the 21st mile. I think it was downhill, but still my heart rate climbed into the dangerous territory of the 180s.  I think if I had run the 21st mile more conservatively, I might have had a better outcome.  By miles 22 and 23, my heart rate was skyrocketing well into the 180s.  I thought I could actually hold 180s for a while, through the finish.  But I think what I learned, is that there are varying degrees of the 180s.  I probably could have sustained a heart rate in the LOW 180s (180-183) for a couple more miles.  But during the 22nd and 23rd mile, I was in the mid and upper 180s.  My heart rate during the 23rd mile actually got up to 189, which is my max!  And that is no way to run a marathon.  During a marathon, your heart rate ideally should be between 79 and 88% of your max heart rate (certainly not 100%!)  Of course, my heart rate was higher than it normally would have been because of my cold and also because of the warm weather.  Try wearing a heart rate monitor in cool and hot weather.  You will see it makes a huge difference!  If I were not sick or if the weather had been cooler, I think I could have kept my heart rate low enough for long enough to push "the wall" out past the finish line.  But as it was, once I hit the upper 180s, I basically red-lined, and had to start walking during the 24th mile.  I briefly started jogging again, but could not get my pace back to where it needed to be in order to finish under 3:10.  So, I started walking again.  As I walked, I calculated in my head that if I just jogged an easy pace to the finish line, I could probably come in right around 3:12 or 3:13.  This would have been a new PR, but it also would have been mind-numbingly frustrating to only miss my qualifying time by 2 minutes despite warm weather and sickness.  It was all or nothing for me. As the wise Ricky Bobby once said, "If you aint first, you're last." 

I have never dropped out of a race before, but I seriously would have dropped out of this one at that point during the 24th mile.  The only problem was the course.  After the half way point, you basically run out to Manayunk, turn around at mile 20, and then go back down the same road along the river back to the finish at the Art Museum.  So, once you hit mile 20, there is literally no short cut to get you back.  You might as well just keep going to the finish - unless you are injured.  They actually did have a truck driving along checking if people were injured and needed a ride back.  They checked on me as I was walking, but I told them I was fine. I don't think anger or bitterness count as an injury.

I felt better as I walked.  The only annoying thing was the spectators.  I had my name on my bib number.  And people kept cheering me on. "Come on, Duane!"  "You can do it, Duane!"  "Let's go Duane! You're almost there."  They obviously meant well, and are all good people.  But I was just so angry!  I wanted to shout back, "Yes, I KNOW I can do it!! Maybe I just don't WANT to do it! Did you ever think of that?!"  But this, obviously, would make me an insane person. So, I did not, and instead just continued walking. 

During the last mile, I finally wisened up and decided that I would just tear my bib number off my shirt so that no one would see my name and therefore they would not be able to cheer for me and remind me that I was "almost there!"  Right after I tore my number off, I felt a spectator tap me on the shoulder and heard him cheering something.  How obnoxious! I continued walking, but then the spectator followed me, shouting, "Duane! Duane!"  How did he know my name? I already tore my bib number off.  I looked back and saw one of my fraternity brothers from Syracuse University, Rob!  He had run the half marathon, and was watching the marathon finish to see if he could find me.  Well, luckily for him, I was moving at a very slow pace (walking), and therefore easy to find!

Rob pushing me to the finish

It was great to see Rob.  He walked along with me and cheered me up.  I told him about my frustrations with the race for a few minutes as we walked.  Eventally, he suggested that we RUN to the finish. It was only another half mile or so.  I was kind of reluctant, as I had made a strong committment to being bitter and just walking to the end.  But eventually he talked me into it.  And so we ran together, and talked, and finally we finished the race.  I was really glad that Rob found me.  I was in such a bad place mentally during the end of the race.  Catching up with him at the end really helped a lot.  When we crossed the line at 3:34:20, he noted that many people would kill for that marathon time, which to me was a "failure."  It is good to put things in perspective sometimes.

2013 Philadelphia Marathon medal
I collected my massive medal (Seriously, largest medal I have ever seen!) at the finish line and Rob headed back home.  Once I came out of the finish corral, I met up with my wife (who had run the half marathon), and two other friends who had come to watch the race.  I feel bad for the friends who came to watch the race, as it was not a very good "show."  My aunt also came out to see the end of the race.  Afterwards, we went back to her house to watch some Philadelphia Eagles football and have a nice family dinner.

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