Carmel Marathon Recap

The Carmel Marathon was this last weekend, between early-spring snow storms here in Indiana. Despite the race being bookended by terrible weather, the race itself was blessed with overcast skies and moderate temperatures for the end of March.

This year the course had undergone some significant modifications, not the least of which was the design of an overall flatter course. I haven’t run the race in prior years, but my understanding is that this course was a marked improvement over the previous course.

I had a pretty short build-up for this race, only an 8-week timeframe. I already had some good base miles on my body, especially after completing the 4x4x48 challenge (which I suppose I ought to do a post on, I’ll get to that) in December. But, the build-up was still less than ideal for running a marathon PR. Ramping up into higher mileage weeks quickly while not making it to the kind of mileage you would typically see in a “serious” build-up meant that the runs I did had to be extremely high quality, every time.

As you may also be aware, I do CrossFit, and the later half of this training cycle coincided with The Open. I was a bit concerned that doing The Open and getting high quality training runs in would be in conflict, but that’s one of the lessons I learned in this cycle: Strength training and cross training in the midst of high quality endurance training seemed to improve the quality of the long runs and their effect. Even if I felt as though a run was of middling quality, the fact that it had been preceded by strength training meant that it was still of higher quality due to the existing fatigue in the muscles.

My early cycle runs also took place heavily on a treadmill. January and February in Indiana can be a strange time to run outdoors, and adding in a limiting schedule meant that it was too dark outside, or I was in a place where outdoor running was not an option. So, cue the dreadmills. As a rule, there are 3 things I do when treadmill running: 1. Stretch more than I would for outdoor running; 2. Air squats and deep squat stretching to properly activate the glutes; and 3. Set the treadmill at 1% incline as a minimum, typically earlier training would be 2%, backing off to 1.5% for runs over 10 miles, then 1% during taper.

Outdoor runs were primarily focused on 2 kinds of running: Slightly above race pace, and race pace. That is to say, I didn’t run any “junk miles” in this cycle. I did a bunch of runs at 8-15 seconds faster than race pace mixed with some about a minute slower than race pace in between interval sets. These days were almost always followed by a minimum of 5 miles at race pace.

All told, 8 weeks of high intensity running, mixed with strength training and winter weather was a lot, and at times I got run down physically. At one time I caught the flu, and was unable to leave the couch, let alone get out and run. School and work get crazy, and at times I simply didn’t have time to run.

Coming into taper, I was a bit concerned about the mileage. My longest runs had been 18 miles, a full 8 short of the marathon distance. My biggest weeks had gotten just over 40 miles, and my average felt low. Nonetheless, I trusted that my coach knew what he was doing, and I settled in to the taper crazies. Thanks to N for putting up with me during my incessant cleaning and obsessing!

I tend to forget how much easier it is to prep for a single-sport event. Then night before I did minimal prep, just making sure my watch was charged and the clothes I might want to wear were in fact clean. Got a great night’s sleep, and got everything around in the morning before leaving.

We parked at my office, about a 12-minute walk to the start/finish line. It was about 36 degrees when we arrived, and it felt every bit of it. I was cold, and grumpy because I didn’t have all the coffee I thought I needed. I was trying to stay calm and relaxed, and maybe got a little too relaxed. I went to use the port-a-johns for the last time before the race and dropped my bag at gear check about 20 minutes prior to the start.

While I was in the port-a-john, the race started. I was assigned to corral A, the first corral to leave, but by the time I was ready to go, I left with corral D, the final corral. As such, the first 10 or so miles were spent passing and dodging in and out of other runners. This was the first race I’ve ever seen other runners trip, and nearly take others out in the process. It was sketchy at times, but seemed like everyone was ok.

The plan was to negative split in halves, to run about 7:40 for the first half, and then run closer to 7:30 in the second half, feeling out the final 4-6 miles for speed. I had to work hard to keep myself near that 7:40 pace on the first half, because I felt good and wanted to go faster. But, I knew that to run a successful second half I needed to hold back in the first half.

My first half was around 1:40, Right where I wanted to be. Incidentally, this also matches my PR for a half marathon, in fact it set a new PR (1:39:50). I’m looking forward to running a half marathon sometime soon to see how fast I can go.

With the first half going exactly to plan, I got a little excited. I felt fresh, my heart rate was in check, my legs felt good, and I was on to the second half! But, I got a little too excited. The pace was supposed to be around 7:30 for 13-18, not going faster than 7:30.

This is where things went off the rails. Or more accurately, where I laid the ground work for things to go off the rails. I pushed the pace a bit too high, running about 7:20-7:30 for miles 13-20, including one at 7:19. I started struggling around mile 20, and realized the mistake I had made. I tried backing the pace off to more like 7:40, but the damage was done.

The pace slowed further and further from 20-24, and at 24 my legs decided they had had enough, and I started cramping up. A knot about the size of a half dollar formed in my right calf, and would not go away, moving up and down the calf with every step I took. When I stopped to try to massage it away, my quad would start to cramp up, so I needed to keep moving.

Eventually these cramps went away on their own, marking another new thing I learned: my cramps have changed. It used to be that my muscles would cramp and I was debilitated. I couldn’t go anywhere with any pace, and I was reduced to walking only. This race showed me that by keeping my body in motion, despite the pain, the body would recognize that I wasn’t stopping, and take care of the muscle cramps on its own. This is going to be really valuable in Florida in November.

The last miles of this race were tough, especially knowing that I wasn’t going to get my goal time of 3:15. But, I continued my walk-jog all the way to the line, which came after an up-hill climb for a mile into a gusting wind. I was happy to get across the line with most of my dignity intact, still with a PR.

My official time was 3:25:05, marking a nearly 25-minute PR for me. Average pace was 7:50, despite my average pace up to the 20-mile mark being 7:30. The final 10k pace was what killed me, but I know I did the damage in keeping that pace too high too early.

I learned an awful lot in this race, and in the build-up. I also learned a lot about post-race activity, and the importance of getting into dry clothes right after finishing. I spent some time in the massage tent trying to get my muscles massaged, but was unable to stop shivering long enough for the massage to do any good. After I changed out of my race gear, I was able to get warm much more quickly, and stop shivering.

A big PR, a lot of lessons learned, and a training cycle done. Cognitively it feels good to have gotten the marathon mileage in before November, to know it’s in my legs. That will help fuel my training later this summer/fall, and in the race it informs my abilities. I learned a ton, and I’m really looking forward to a little time off before we start a big build to Ironman Florida.

Later on…

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