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My First Marathon - Jacksonville Bank 2012 Race Report

  • Saturday, January 19 2013 @ 12:29 PM UTC
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I finished my first marathon! Here I am crossing the finish line of the Jacksonville Bank Marathon with a chip time of 3:26:14.

Photos copyright brightroom, Inc.

I received a nice finisher medal and t-shirt. Some people may wonder about wearing minimalist shoes for 26.2 miles, but I have to say that the lightweight Inov-8 Bare-X 150 shoes were just great for this race.

For those interested in more detail, allow me to describe the events leading to an event that I can only describe as the "Full Body Cramp"...

My pie in the sky target finish time was to run the marathon in under 3 hours. On a perfect day, this might have been possible. I had used the pace calculators based on my recent 10k and half marathon times and also hoped I'd get a little boost from my taper. I set a fallback goal of 3:10 (Boston Qualifying time for my age group) which was still somewhat ambitious for my first marathon but well within the realm of possibility. My final fallback goal was "to finish" and I figured that even if I went out and died I would come in under 3:30. Well, I almost didn't make it.

I knew it was going to be warm during the race. I failed to consider how the temperature would affect effort and pace. I was also not quite as well-rested as I could have been. There was a Florida Track Club social event earlier in the week where I stayed up late discussion the merits of barefoot running and Zero Drop shoes (a great night, BTW!). On the morning of the race, I woke up at 3am to drive to Jacksonville. I had bonked hard on my longest training run (25 miles), feeling like I just couldn't pick up my legs, but I never had any cramping. The possibility of severe cramping just didn't occur to me. The first half of the race was cool but humid. It warmed up considerably during the second half of the race. No, this was not going to be a perfect day to run a fast time. If only I had grasped this bit of reality earlier in the race.

From the start, I went out controlled and easy. Meredith DeFranco was running the Half (she set a nice PR!) so we ran together for the first mile or so and she introduced me to a few of the solid runners she knew as she spotted them. A lot of people were bunched through the first 5k and my first three miles were over 7 minutes per mile, but by the fourth mile I was up on my planned pace of around 6:52 per mile. I found myself with a pack of runners maintaining just under 7 minutes per mile. In my mind, I knew that a 7 minute pace would not allow me to hit my goal of a 3 hour finish time. I wanted to DO IT and be a sub-3 hour marathoner, dang-it! I knew I needed to speed up, so I broke ahead of the pack.

Well, that didn't last long. After hitting a 6:41 pace for mile 6, I had to ease back and recover my breathing. That pack caught back up to me during the next couple of miles. By this point I knew that a 3-hour finish time was probably not going to happen, so I did the best I could to just hang with the pack. I went through the half marathon in 1:31, which is 5 minutes slower than my half marathon personal best from a couple weeks before. I just kept telling myself, "don't let this pack get away." I managed to stay with them until mile 17 when my breathing became labored and I knew I had to slow down, dropping off the back of the pack. I started getting some mild cramps in my hamstrings. I was still ok through mile 19, I just had to keep the pace under 7:40 per mile to avoid the cramping. Gradually over the next few miles the cramping got worse... and worse. I was forced to walk every so often to stop the hamstring cramps.

I carried two soft plastic Hammer Gel flasks filled with Hammer Gel in the back pockets of my Race Ready running shorts. The plan was to take water and/or gatorade at every aid station. This seemed to be working well, although there was a period where I couldn't get myself to swallow any more of the super-sweet sugary goop. I finished my gel somewhere near mile 23 and I didn't accept any gels at the aid stations provided by the event. Towards the end of the race I started walking through the aid stations drinking and re-filling my flasks with fluids. It didn't matter, the cramping continued, gradually spreading to more and more muscles, including my lats (shoulder blade area) and quads.

The graph shows pretty clearly how the last few miles of the race went:

I finished! I did it! My first marathon! I found my runner friends. Someone handed me a banana. I found my way to the ground to recover.

Marathon medals tend to be large... and heavy. With the medal sitting on my chest I felt pinned as if trapped under Thor's hammer, Mjollnir:

Photo by Ashley Arthur

I was all smiles, though. My muscle cramps were so intense and insane that there wasn't anything else left to do but laugh about it. The "Full Body Cramp" was a new one for me. The legs and shoulder continued to cramp sporadically if I moved too eagerly. One of my toes started to cramp but if I tried to reach my foot to rub it my hamstrings would cramp up. Eventually I gave up and just let the toe sit there... cramping. Ouch. I knew that I needed to eat so I tried to sit up. That's when my abdominal muscles started cramping hard. The only way I know to stop cramping abs is to stand up and stretch them out by extending the spine. When I tried to stand up my quads started cramping so I couldn't stand up straight. I bent down to keep the legs from cramping the abs started up again. I was trapped! I had to lay back down again and just like with the toe, I gave up and let the abs cramp. Ouch again.

I was finally able to eat the banana laying down and later I was able to sit up gingerly. Meredith saved the day by bringing me a delicious bowl of soup.

Walking back to the car I had some pretty bad pain in the outside of my hip (tensor fasciae latae?) that lingered on for a day or two and gave me that good post-first-marathon limp that everyone expects to see. I'm pretty sure this was caused by the fact that I couldn't bend my knees very much during those last 4 miles... my hamstrings would cramp if I bent my knees too much. My legs and hips took a good pounding during those last few miles.

And finally... a few more pictures from the finish inside the stadium. Here I am after just hitting the track with less than a quarter mile to go:

Photo by Ashley Arthur

By the final 40 meters my legs and shoulder muscles were cramping again, but I couldn't let myself stop and walk with so many people watching and being so close to the finish!

Photo by 1st Place Sports

Now, some words about my marathon training...

I know people who run over a hundred miles per week to train for the marathon. I can't imagine trying to fit that much running time into my schedule. There is no way I would get adequate recovery time (e.g. sleep!).

The marathon has long been a mysterious and daunting distance to me. It was only after reading about the Canova system that I felt I could train for the marathon and feel confident going into it. My main takeaway from reading Canova is the need for long intervals near marathon pace. Leading up to the marathon I did a lot of track work at marathon pace with lots of intervals and short recovery times. I had only three 50+ mile training weeks prior to marathon week. My longest run was a little over 25 miles. I raced three events in the month before the marathon which included a 5k, a turkey trot 10k, and a half marathon. The 10k and Half were both lifetime Personal Records. I was feeling very fit.

This led me to be just a bit overly-optimistic about planning my marathon race pace / finish time target. I didn't really take the temperature into account and even during the race when I had an opportunity to listen to my body and slow the pace, I instead chose to compete and push on with a pack or runners. I have no regrets really, since a first marathon is supposed to be a learning experience. If I ever decide to run another marathon I will have some nice experience under my belt.

I ran the marathon during week 51 in the following weekly mileage graph:

The monthly mileage graph shows that I have not really been running a crazy number of miles, and chose to lower mileage but increase intensity during November and December:

During the weeks following the marathon I took some time off and did mostly social runs or easy running. I even forced myself to take an entire week with zero running after the holidays. My body did not like the idleness. I ended up stiff and with pains in all sorts of strange places. My "rest like a Kenyan" experiment is over, I don't plan on taking complete rest or a long idle recovery period ever again.

Now I am beginning to ramp up my training again for 2013. This is my year to run shorter and faster and try to hit my goal of running under 17 minutes in the 5k.

The Jacksonville Bank Marathon was held on Dec. 16, 2012, with race results posted here: http://www.1stplacesports.com/jm12res.html
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