Race Report: Jack & Jill Marathon 2017

On July 30, 2017 I ran the Jack & Jill Marathon, finishing in 5th place overall with a time of 2:51:07. The guys I ran, Wes & Jonathan Coopersmith, finished in 3rd & 4th place respectively, with times of 2:47:23 and 2:49:02. Here is the race report.

Synopsis

This is a race I should be happy with. I didn’t plan on racing this year and only did so to train with my friend Coop so we could get a Boston Marathon Qualifying time for next year. After the time stress of my 2016 season, I had a conversation with my wife and we decided that I should cut my training to three runs per week, 1-2 of which I’d take kids in the running stroller. I averaged just 27 miles (just barely longer than a marathon) each week. Running a 2:51:07 off of that training plan is more than I had expected going into the season when I had hoped I’d be able to get across at 3:02 or 3:03, barely a BQ.

That said, I am pretty bummed at how I crashed at the finish. My training ended up going really well and I took the first half of the race very conservatively. I expected I should have been able to finish strong. I’ve crashed during a marathon before, but at least with NYC last year, where my crash was even more spectacular, I have very clear evidence that I just went out too hard. Here it seems like I did everything right and still, the wheels came off one mile to the finish. That is what hurts the most. As I think about future races, I’m less confident in my training and race strategy now.

Goals

  1. Finish – ACCOMPLISHED
  2. Get a Boston Marathon Qualifier:  3:05 – ACCOMPLISHED
  3. Whole group qualifies for Boston – ACCOMPLISHED
  4. Sub 3:00 – ACCOMPLISHED
  5. Qualify for the New York City Marathon: 2:53 – ACCOMPLISHED
  6. Top 5 overall – ACCOMPLISHED
  7. Average heart rate over 166.15 (my best for a marathon) – Not Accomplished
  8. Beat my personal record: 2:42:25 – Not Accomplished
  9. Sub 2:40 – Not Accomplished
  10. Win – Not Accomplished

Controlled first half (At least 4 of the following) – ACCOMPLISHED

  • Between 1:23-1:25 – YES (Technically 4 seconds over – but I’m counting it)
  • No miles >165 heart rate – YES (Highest mile in the first half was 159)
  • No going into the 170s at all – YES (Highest moment was 165)
  • No miles faster than 6:15 – YES (One mile said 6:13 via GPS but was slower by course marker)
  • Consume 450 calories – Was probably closer to 380
  • Consume 1 liters of fluids – Was probably closer to half a liter

Courageous second half (At least 6 of the following) – Not Accomplished

(Did many of these for the first ~10-12 miles, but failed in the last two)

  • Negative split – faster second half – was 59 seconds slower
  • No miles <165 heart rate – the last two were 155 & 149
  • No going under 160 at all – low of 147
  • No miles slower than 6:30 – last full mile was 7:45 and last partial was at 8:30 pace
  • No miles lower than 180 average cadence – was at 166 by the end
  • Last mile is the fastest of the day – mile 22 was the fastest
  • Have my highest 5-mile-heart-rate-average hits after mile 18 – YES – mile 21-25 were my highest heart rate
  • At least 3 of the last 5 miles are 168+ – YES – miles 22, 23 & 24 were all 168+

Successes

What am I proud of from race day?

  • Demonstrated I can run sub-3 on 3 days a week training
  • Our whole group achieved our goal of getting BQs
  • Kept as a pack for 20 miles (learning from last year)
  • Executed my first half strategy really well (learning from last year)
  • Transitioned & began putting in the effort to hit my second half strategy
  • When the floor fell out, pushed enough to grab the NYC qualifier
  • Tried a new pre-cooling strategy that seemed to work
  • Really restful pre-race week and morning (learning from last year)
  • No flashlight failure (learning from last year)

Failures

What areas could I improve for future races?

  • Weak final 2 miles
  • Messed up my 1/2 way frozen-towel grab
  • Used a pair of flats with a hole in the drain-mesh that let rocks in
  • Didn’t have a frozen water bottle at the half-drop

Thankfuls

What that was out of my control am I thankful for?

  • A cool morning
  • Two friends to run with
  • A healthy training season

Frustrations

What that was out of my control do I wish had happened differently?

  • Rocks in my shoes – didn’t have this issue last year
  • The guy right behind us for miles 2-10 with the watch that beeped every 20 seconds

Race Recap

Like always, I hardly slept the night before the race. I just get too nervous.

The morning however was very restful as we had it coordinated like a space shuttle launch. Instead of meeting the busses at 3:30 AM, which would have meant leaving the house before 3:00 our group took one vehicle right to the start at 4:30 AM. We had our wives meet us at the finish line with another vehicle. We got an extra hour of sleep because of that and didn’t have to sit around at the start line for a really long time.

Due to having run this race last year I had a bit of insider knowledge. We ended up pulling an advanced move and dropping off a bag at the half with a few emergency supplies, extra water & nutrition before we went to the start.

I tried a new pre-cooling strategy for this race. I was doing some reading that one of the main inhibitors in longer races is heat accumulation and that the colder it is, the faster runners tend to go. Interestingly, there doesn’t seem to be a point at which it is too cold. This is very different from other races like the 5k where you want to be warmed up and ready for your top gear the second the gun goes off or the 100 meter sprint where you need to be warm so that you don’t pull a muscle.

Because of that I tried some pre-cooling – a technique I had read about runners using in races where the temps were in the 70s or 80s, even though it was 50* on my race morning. I drank a slushie of some juice, I wrapped myself in a damp towel that had been the freezer and I held a couple of ice packs against my wrists, where a lot of blood flows. I was freezing. I also skipped warming up, opting for just some light stretching cold. I would use the first miles of the race as my warm up and save the calories for that rather than spending them before the race.

Gun went off and our group, Jonathan, Wes and I went out in the front. Two runners ended up going a bit ahead of us by the 1 mile, but we figured we’d see them again – turns out we didn’t, they finished 1st & 2nd and our group got 3rd-5th.

Our goal was to split the half at 1:25 – exactly 6:30 mile pace. We wanted to do that by running the first few a bit closer to 7:00 pace, then holding just under 6:30s for the rest, maybe dropping a few seconds off mile 12 & 13 to get ready for a faster second half.

The first miles felt so easy it was actually hard to go that slow. I’d only ever raced two marathons, one where I was having equipment trouble over the first miles and one where I went out way too fast. So this was a new feeling for me – being in peak race performance, going race pace, and feeling like it was a walk.

As we came out of the tunnel they snapped this shot of me doing the banana phone. Yes, I ran the first few miles with a banana and then ate it while running. Yes, I was feeling that good at mile 3 that I was making jokes to the photographer.

Miles 3-12 were really uneventful. We just held our pace, drank some water, took down some nutrition and made sure we were all feeling well. I ate the banana and I believe 3 gels. Once in a while someone would stop at an aid station to fill up their water bottle, get about 10 seconds behind us and then close that gap over the next quarter mile.

Looking at my watch, my heart rate was around 155. In my best marathon my average was 166 for the whole race. So at this point I felt great and knew I was sticking to my conservative strategy.

We crossed the half in 1:25:04 – just four seconds behind our target. Basically we were running like clockwork and barely breaking a sweat. My hair only looks wet in the picture below because I was dumping ice water on it as part of that cooling strategy.

So we started to pick up the pace a bit.

You’ll recall that before the race we dropped off a bag at the half way point – actually it was a bit beyond the half way point where there was road access to the trail. As we approached it we agreed on a 30 second stop. Jonathan was going to change shoes into his backup pair. I was going to get my frozen towel. Wes was going to grab a water bottle. We were all going to pee.

We executed well and after that stop we got back moving again, now beginning to pick up the pace. After averaging 6:30 for the first half, our next splits were 6:16, 6:15 and 6:12.

Somewhere in this stretch Jonathan got a cramp in his calf that he thought was related to changing his shoe. He started to worry it was going to get worse and that he wouldn’t finish. He was debating dropping out and trying to find another race a few weeks later to get his BQ, rather than running all-out, missing the qualifying time and being too injured to run another race.

We talked it out and did some math. 16.2 miles in, we had been running for 1:45. With a BQ time of 3:05 that meant he could run 8:00 pace for the next 10 miles and still get it. Pretty reassuring, especially since we had just logged a few low 6s. I dug out a few salt pills from my water bottle’s pocket, handed those to him and convinced him to give it a few more miles. Our cheering squad was going to be at mile 21, so if he still felt bad then, he could drop out, but if he could hang at 6:30 until then, he would be able to hit 9:00 pace to the finish and still qualify. We backed off of the pace a bit and he was able to hang on. I think I had my 5th gel around this point but am not positive.

Around mile 20 is when our pack split apart. I was really excited we were able to run this much of the race together after running the previous year’s race completely alone. We stopped to fill up our bottles, one of the longer stops and got split apart a bit. When we started running again Wes was maybe 15 seconds ahead of Jonathan and me. I picked up the pace a little, like we’d done the rest of the race to catch back up to each other, but he wasn’t coming closer, so I dropped back and ran with Jonathan for a bit. Turns out he wasn’t coming back because he had just clocked a 6:02 mile. Apparently as we got close to mile 20, Wes just clicked into the zone and was heading to the finish like a heat seeking missile.

As we crossed mile 21 I decided to give it another go, I had hoped to catch Wes and that maybe we could work together to get the #2 or #1 runners. We weren’t sure how far ahead they were but knew that anything could happen at the end of a marathon. Jonatan was doing well, mostly recovered from the cramp, but clearly didn’t have a big push in him, so after making sure he was ok to hit at least those 8:00 splits I started pulling away.

My wife and kids, along with Wes’ wife were cheering on the 21st mile. That ended up being one of the fastest of the day.

My wife grabbed a shot as I passed by them, at this point I was about 20 seconds behind Wes and 20 ahead of Jonathan. I look pretty happy & casual for a guy 20 miles in, logging low 6s.

My next splits were 6:06, 6:04 & 6:10. 23 miles in I’m looking at 2:27 on the watch which means I can hit 2:45 or 2:46 if I keep this pace going. That would have been amazing – only 3-4 minutes slower than my PR from the year prior when I had double the training.

My heart rate was no longer 157 though, I was up near 175, which is dangerous for me. 185 is about my max and I’ve found once I start going past 170 I tend to cramp or shut down within a mile or two. I was supposed to have a 6th gel around here, but skipped it because I wasn’t sure I could keep it down and I thought I was close enough to the finish. That was probably a bad move. My body can’t process the gel fast enough to use the energy consumed at that point for the race, but sometimes just putting them in tells your body it is ok to use the last bits of energy it has, because it knows there is something else coming.

This was the tricky part about this race strategy, and using heart rate to gauge it. My heart rate was so low for the first half, that if I were going to try and get my average up to 166, what I had raced last time, I was going to need to be in the high 170s. But racing in the high 170s was begging for a crash.

I felt the hurt happening. I noticed as I started worrying less about how far Wes was in front of me and more about how for Jonathan was behind me. I caught myself looking back for the first time, which isn’t a good sign. My next miles were a bit more relaxed, 6:30 and 6:45 with my heart rate at 168 and 166. This was probably healthy, but at this point the results were written. I was starting to crash.

Jonathan had closed the ~30 second gap I had put on him during those two miles and caught me at mile 25. I had hoped to run it in together but he was actually running really strong, all that cramping business was behind him. Meanwhile I was getting worse with each step.

This is where I start doing math in my head. I have 1.2 miles left to go I’m looking at about 2:42 on the clock. That means I can basically walk and I will still get my BQ. I know I can’t catch Wes or Jonathan at this point, set a new record for myself. There is no one else behind me as far as I can see. The only other milestone of note is the NYC qualifier at 2:53, which requires me to go about 9 minute pace – that is what I locked on.

In retrospect, I was actually really close to hitting my second half goals. Had I thought about that a bit more and locked in on that target, perhaps I could have stayed around 7 flat and shaved that minute off my time to keep me in the 2:40s. I would have needed to keep my heart rate at 165, which is a pretty solid effort level, but not impossible. Unfortunately I wasn’t thinking about that, a clear planning failure, that is why it is always good to have some fallback goals, so that even if you miss your top goals, you still have something to push towards.

Mile 26 was a 7:45 and the final .2 miles was around 8:30 pace. I crossed the line at 2:51:07. That means my second half was 59 seconds slower than the first half of the race. At mile 24 I was actually 2:45 ahead of first half pace, meaning I had gained 15 seconds per mile, but I was able to blow all of that and a minute more in a horrible last 2.2 miles.

Despite that, it was a great finish. Our crew went 3, 4 & 5 and took home some age group medals. After the race we picked up our car from the start and had a picnic at a nearby park. That ended up tying the whole season together nicely – what had started as a team plan, ended up as team training, a team race and a team meal. Very much different and more enjoyable than my solo experience in 2016, even if I was 9 minutes slower.

Most races give our participant medals to every finisher – it is always nice when you walk away with an age group medal as well. Funny enough those always tend to be the smaller ones. That middle award is my favorite though. Half of my training runs had the stroller in tow and my boys’ favorite thing to yell was ‘go faster daddy’. I’m so happy they could see me in the race and be a part of that.

Data Breakdown

It wouldn’t be a Greg post without a few charts. Here are a few of the interesting bits from this race.

First, here is the breakdown of all finishers by 15 minute increments – I was in the red bar – not the top one this time.

If we filter to just young males, 34 and under specifically, the results are a little less pronounced. Part of the reason the red bar is so high is our group of 3 who showed up together to turn in that time. The BQ time for these age groups in 3:05 – about 12 of the 45 finisher got it, which is really high. Its a fast course thanks to the continual slight elevation drop.

Looking at pace (blue line) and heart rate (red line), you can see 20 miles of a very consistent race pace with a continual heart rate drift. Basically it gets harder to run the same pace as the race goes on. That all starts to come apart around mile 23, but I managed to hang onto the pace until closer to 25.

Drilling into just the heart rate, you can see I hit peak exertion during the 23rd mile.

My cadence, how many steps I took per minute, was low early on as we started off at such a slow pace. It got up to speed around mile 3 though and stayed relatively consistent until mile 22, minus a stop during mile 13 to pee and a longer water bottle fill up around mile 19. In the end my cadence was dropping, despite my focusing hard on keeping it up, my legs just turned into bricks.

Here you can see a scatter plot of my heart rate and pace for each mile of the race. Generally these follow a trend where the faster you are going the higher your heart rate is. Usually due to exhaustion, the latter miles are a bit slower, even at the same heart rate.

Evidence of my crashing not being a complete lack of effort is clear in those two dots to the far right. Those are my last mile and 0.2 miles respectively. You can see that a 155 heart rate had gotten me around 6:20-6:40 earlier in the race, but by the last mile all it got me was a 7:45. That is bonking right there.

Another thing that stands out to me is that 166 bpm, the rate I averaged last year, would have gotten me about 6:15-6:20 per mile, according to a best fit line. That comes out to a 2:46 finish. I probably didn’t have the stamina to hit quite that level of exertion for that long, but a 2:47-2:49 definitely should have been possible.

Here is a look at my breakdown at mile 25 compared to another runner. The red line is the distance between Coop and I at any given point. You can see we ran together the whole time an the deviance is usually GPS error. Around mile 20 I started to pull ahead and managed to get about 30 seconds ahead. Then around mile 22 or 23 he started to reel me back in. He made the pass at mile 25 and then immediately stopped to get some water, allowing me to pull a few feet ahead. I tried to go with him at that point, but I was just dead. That last spike from 25-26 looks much steeper than from 23-25. That is the difference between shutting down but fighting to get any speed possible and shutting down while giving up. I still ran into the finish, but there is a big difference in speed between digging deep and just running – especially at the end of a marathon.

Here is my time compared to the winner of the race. We exited the tunnel around the same time and he slowly gained distance until mile 20 when I started going their exact pace for about 4 miles – I might even have gained some ground. I would have loved it if he had been there last year, his finish time was 2:39:18, which is about 3 minutes faster than I ran last year. Having him there the whole time would have given me someone to pace with though, so perhaps I would have been able to break 2:40 had he been there.

This next chart is my heart rate per mile in all of my marathon races. You can see the red line which is last year’s Jack and Jill, the race I won, is fairly consistent, with a slight drop in the latter miles but a strong finish. New York in blue started off higher in the first few miles, remained high and then crashed huge.

This year’s Jack and Jill race, in orange is really interesting. Is is incredibly low for the entire first half, then quickly becomes the highest output I’ve ever had in the latter miles, until the crash. Had I been able to keep that orange line above the red line at the end, I’d be happy with my strategy and probably my time as well.

We can see that in comparison to NYC 2016, this crash was about the same trajectory, but because it happened later, it didn’t end up getting as bad. In an ideal race, that crash starts happening at mile 26, but the excitement of the finish lets you push through it for just a bit and then you never see the drop on the chart. I think that is what happened for me in the red line, I was going to crash but decided to finish hard and did so just in time.

In retrospect it appears like I just pushed too hard from miles 21-23 and that cost me the energy for the last mile. Had I gone 6:20 instead of 6:10, maybe I would have been able to go 6:20-6:40 instead of 8:30 at the end. What is so difficult about that idea is mile 21 seems like the right place to start pushing if you’re feeling really good and your heart rate is way below target. By this point you only have 5 miles left to make a dent in your time that you’ve been logging for 21.

What I always try to identify after a race is whether the result was because of a training error, a race strategy error, and execution error or just a bad day. With the marathon it is so hard to tell because you can only race a few times per year.

With the 5k in college I used to sometimes get really down after a slow race and think my training was off, only to have a great race the next week with the same race strategy and realize I just had a bad day the previous week.

With this marathon, I’m really not sure what it is. It could be a training failure. I know I cut my training by a ton. I only ran 3 days per week, logged half the mileage and only had 3 20 mile+ runs leading up to the race, as opposed to 7 the year prior. But my expectations weren’t to get another low 2:40s, I would have been happy with a negative split and 2:49 finish and ecstatic to finish with Wes around 2:47.

I can’t blame the race strategy that much either, because three of us ran that strategy and the other two ended up doing great.

I think it comes down to a bit of execution failure. I missed my half way cool down towel because it was too frozen, I didn’t eat as much as I had wanted to, especially near the end, and I pushed a bit harder than I would have liked to during miles 22 & 23. Combine that with what was possibly just not a great day and I think that is difference between a crash that cost me 2-3 minutes and an otherwise strong finish in the high 2:40s.

One final interesting point. This race actually ran twice over the weekend, once on Saturday and once on Sunday. Had we been there Saturday and ran the same times, we would have ended up 1, 2 & 5 instead of 3, 4 & 5. Having those other runners closer to us might have been enough to change things a bit though – perhaps they would have gone faster if there were competition, or perhaps we would have gone faster knowing we could pull 1, 2 & 3. Either way, it is interesting how races often come down to a bit of luck and who shows up on a given day.

What is Next?

I qualified for the Boston Marathon with this race, so I intend to go out and run that in the spring. That course is a bit slower, but there will also be a lot more runners around my pace for me to group up with.

I’d like to try the same training plan, except focus a bit more on finishing stronger. I’ll likely emphasize more long runs where the last few miles are at race pace to get me into the mentality of digging deep when it seems like I have nothing left.

I’ll also try a similar race strategy, with a conservative start and courageous finish. Probably aiming for the same paces, hoping to hit 1:25 and sub-1:25 for the two halves. On Boston’s course a 1:25 first half will seem a little less conservative and so I won’t try to run any 6:00-6:10s in the second half, I’ll probably aim for 6:25s or so with a strong finish to just barely hit a negative split.

Prediction: 2:49:10. We’ll see…

Race Report: New York City Marathon 2016

On November 6, 2016 I ran the New York City Marathon. I finished in a time of 3:11:37, about a half hour slower than my best marathon. Here is the race report.

I debated writing this – I wasn’t sure it passed my litmus test of being a race – or of deserving a report. In my mind the goal of writing a race report is to document the ins and outs of an all out effort in order to learn from it and also to serve as way to remember a momentous event. I ultimately decided to write this because I think I have something to learn from it, and it was quite memorable.

If you’re interested in the training I did leading up to the race, you can read more about it here.

Successes

What am I proud of from race day?

  • Finished
  • Was leading my heat for the first mile
  • Solid effort through the first 22 miles
  • Finished before 96% of runners
  • Was able to run well off of minimal training

Failures

What areas could I improve for future races?

  • Lost to Chris
  • Did not take it easy enough the days leading up to the race
  • Did not get to the starting area early enough and missed my wave
  • Did not have a good read on my fitness
  • Went out way too fast
  • Ultimately did not have a sound strategy or unified goals
  • Didn’t stick to my fueling strategy

Thankfuls

What that was out of my control am I thankful for?

  • The random number generator that accepted me to the race
  • Amazing weather
  • The people of New York City
  • Volunteers with water every single mile
  • The New York City Mets
  • Getting to have a celebratory dinner with Chris, Gretchen & Rob
  • My wife for letting me leave her alone for two days to check an item off my bucket list

Frustrations

What that was out of my control do I wish had happened differently?

  • Morning logistics
  • No one to pace off of for the first 19 miles
  • Having to weave to pass a LOT of people
  • Having to walk almost a mile after the race

Race Report

The following is a detailed account of my race. It is long. This is my way of paying it forward to future athletes & documenting it so I can remember later on.

Pre Race Day

Before the race I changed my mind a few times about what my goal was.

My original intent was to run the NYC Marathon as a celebration after doing well at Jack & Jill over the summer.

I missed my 2:37 goal there by 5 minutes though and so I thought I could use NYC as a second chance. After studying the course I realized that was going to be improbable due to the travel stress & race course difficulty. So I signed up for CIM, the fastest course on the west coast, in order to give myself the best shot at hitting 2:37. I planned to skip NYC since I qualified for next year.

My friends Chris & Gretchen were signed up for NYC, and beating Chris is one of my favorite pass times, so around October I decided to go and run it as a workout, one month before CIM. My high hopes were to run about 3:00 easy at NYC, which I knew would beat Chris, and then turn around to run a 2:37 a month later at CIM.

My training hit a few kinks, mainly due to my third child being born, and so by late October I realized a 2:37 at CIM wasn’t going to happen. I ran one tempo run that suggested I could hold 6:30 pace at NYC and finish around 2:50-2:55 though, which seemed like a great plan. Plugging some data into the NYC Marathon pace calculator tool, my plan seemed to line up with what they thought. I made the call to taper for the race rather than train through it and decided my goal was to have as much fun as possible while still beating Chris.

My strategy at that point was to go out slow, around 7:00 pace, drop to 6:45s for the bulk, catch up with him around mile 18-20, and then finish strong, leveraging a solid base from earlier in the year. (You will soon see that this is the exact opposite of what occurred.) I had another goal in mind of finishing with my average heart rate above 166 BPM, which is what I averaged during my fastest marathon. I knew I wasn’t as fast as I was then, but I figured if I was able to work that hard again or harder, that would be an accomplishment.

The day before the race I made a few big decisions – never a good idea. I decided that my goal was to have as much fun as possible and make this a memorable event. After all, I knew it wasn’t going to be fast (by my standards), so I might as well make it fun. I decided to wear a New York Mets hat to get the crowd support. I made the call to abandon a few of my pre race rest tendencies and go do a few NYC things. I opted to run with my phone so I could take photos & videos to remember it by.

I also decided that, since my qualifier time had me seeded with group 1A, I would go out fast & run the first miles with the professionals. I had this vision in my head of running out in front on across the bridge, side by side with runners I could never compare myself to. I could only hold their marathon pace for a mile or two, but perhaps I would even make it on TV during that time so my family could see me. After that I would likely need to take a breather, then get back in a fight through a tough and slow race. I was going to blow my race but enjoy the first 10 minutes of it.

What I hope is obvious is that I didn’t have a clear and locked goal. My plans were changing quite frequently based on the circumstances. Sometimes rolling with the punches is a good thing, but often it results in confusion and failure on all accounts.

Morning

I woke up at 6:00AM, caught an Uber with another runner and got to the ferry terminal plenty early for the 6:45 ferry to Staten Island. The race was scheduled to start at 9:45, which meant I had over three hours of waiting.

I did by best to stay warm and sit as not to burn energy. I stayed hydrated. I tried to be patient with the large crowds. I have never been to a race this big. In fact, very few people have since this year the NYC Marathon set a record for largest marathon – only a few other shorter races have ever been bigger.

I somehow bumped into Chris & Gretchen on the ferry and we acted like tourists the whole way over to Staten Island.

Once at the ferry terminal on the other side, we decided to stay inside for a bit rather than getting on the bus. A large part of that was spent waiting in line for the last nice bathroom we would see. The janitor there had a sense of humor about the crowd that remains a highlight of the day.

We eventually got in line to get on a bus, and made a mistake of getting on a full bus rather than waiting for the next one. We were standing in the isle and the bus was in traffic & not moving. We eventually sat down in the isle as best we could and watched our clocks as we realized we would likely miss our wave. We did hit another highlight though, a 70-something year old man who has run the race ~30 times telling us why he loved it so much and where the best bathrooms on the course are.

The bus pulled up and we ran to try and find our starting area. Hearing over the loudspeaker that we had missed our wave, I had to abandon my plan to go out in front and decided to go with Chris’ wave so we could run together. We got separated though and so I ran back over to my start area. After a bunch of shoving through crowds I found out I nearly missed the next wave too, but ended up making it to the front of 2A.

The Start

I asked around to find out what sort of paces heat 2A was set for and heard mostly 8:00-range. A fine pace for a marathon, but I had run a marathon at 6:11 a few months earlier. I was going to need to go out fast to avoid getting bottlenecked.

By turn of fate I would end up being in the perfect place to fulfill my vision of being in front on the bridge, without having to run 5:00 pace.

The cannon went off at 10:15 and I took off. I was in front. A quarter mile in I started to feel winded, and realized I was going sub six, uphill. Not a good idea. I slowed down a bit, but around then I spotted Chris’s wave.

The Bridge

I need to provide a bit of context. The way the NYC marathon start works is kind of complex. There are three color starting lines: blue, green & orange – each of which takes a different course through the first 8 miles before combining.

I was in Blue and Chris was in Orange. Both of those crossed the bridge on the top level, but were separated by a concrete barrier. Our paths would later split in Brooklyn, only to recombine at mile 8.

When I saw Chris up ahead I figured I would go catch him so we could run together. We said hi and ran side by side, like we have for hundreds of miles. (Except there was a concrete barrier between us – which, honestly, is probably a safe measure to implement on future runs). I was leading my wave and he had only a few people ahead of him in his. We essentially got to run on the narrows bridge with nothing else around – another highlight of the day.

My watch beeped after one mile, 6:25. 50 seconds faster than the plan. The, 20 second later I heard Chris’ watch beep. That is when I realized that our courses were parallel but not even – I had gone out faster, though we were now running the same pace.

You can see in this image a blue and orange line showing the different courses – notice blue starts further back but orange has to run a few extra blocks in Brooklyn.

Around then the bridge crested and started heading downhill.

We cruised down the hill and hit 6:03 for the second mile. Again, much faster than planned. At that point our courses split into Brooklyn, they would reconnect around mile 8.

Brooklyn

The miles through Brooklyn were my favorite of the race. The joke is that I loved the Brooklyn half-marathon – I did quite well too. The crowds had so much energy and that was the first time we got to experience them since there had been no spectators on the bridge.

Their energy kept me pumped up. ran a 6:21 & 6:36 for my next miles and took my first gel. Around that point I started to catch people from wave 1. I was relieved that I wouldn’t be running alone. I was foolish.

I took some video, a selfie and settled into a better pace. 6:47, 6:35, 6:41, 6:42.

During those miles I passed the stragglers of wave 1 and made my way towards the majority of the runners. I love passing people, which probably kept my pace a few seconds faster than it would have been if I had been running with people my own pace. I took my second gel around mile 8.

Around mile 8.5 I ran past my cousin Rob’s house. I’ve been out to see Rob in NYC a half dozen times over the past 15 years, so it was great to run through his neighborhood. He was out there cheering and we connected for a high five – another highlight of the day.

At this point in the race the three waves combined and the course got really crowded. I was catching runners from wave 1, which had started 24 minutes before mine. So the runners I was passing were running about 3 minutes per mile slower than I was (doing the algebra, I was at 6:45 pace and they were at 9:15). That meant I had to plot a course around them essentially like they were standing objects – it was much like running rapids. It was draining and I wouldn’t be surprised if I ran an extra half mile weaving back and forth to either side of the road to pass people. This went from fun to frustrating.

Some rough math – I finished in 1,762 place and had started at the front of wave 2 of 4. So there were probably 12,500 people in wave 1. I passed most people between miles 5-15, of which 3 of those miles the course was still split in 3. I figure I passed around 10k people across 10 miles, roughly 1 person per 5 feet. I took a video that confirms those ballpark numbers.

Queens

I crossed the half at 1:27:31, right on schedule actually. I figured at that pace I could keep pace to hit a 2:55, go faster to get closer to 2:50 or slow down a tad and still break 3. This was a great place to be. I took my third gel somewhere around there – I can’t quite remember.

Around this point I was averaging a heart rate of 166, which was one of my goals, so I was feeling great about that.

Unfortunately I got bottlenecked on the Queensborough bridge and ran my first 7:00 split. There was just no way to pass people and I my early decisions were starting to catch up with me. I didn’t have the motivation to yell to pass them by a few seconds so I settled into pace.

Manhattan

Despite going slow, I couldn’t manage to pee, so I stopped right after the bridge hoping to put that all behind me.

As I turned down 1st avenue I decided to give it another go and put up a 6:48 & 6:52 and had my fourth gel. I had two more on my belt that I planned to take during the race but ultimately did not do that – it was a mistake that cost me.

Mile 20 I found a runner who was going a bit faster than me – likely someone who also had to start in the later wave – and I forced myself to stay with him until the mile marker. I figured if I grit it out and hold hold pace for a bit, I would get back in the groove. It was a 6:57 and that was my last sub 7 mile of the race. My hypothesis did not hold true.

Bronx

As we turned through the Bronx, which they let you run in for all of one mile, my pace was 7:20. This was now easy run territory but it didn’t feel easy. I started checking my phone to see where Chris was. As it updated I realized he was closing in on me. At one point I had a 2 minute gap on him but he had nearly caught me.

Manhattan Again

We turned back into Manhattan and just then I saw Chris pass me – we were right around the 22 mile mark. He didn’t see me so I called out to get his attention and we exchanged a few words. I thought he would run with me but he seemed pretty focused – I think he was trying to break 3:00. We were both clearly hurting. I regret that we didn’t just run the race together – that probably would have been more fun given the situation we were trying to deny we were both in.

At this point I knew it was going to be a rough finish. I decided to make a cut then and jog slowly to make sure I could finish. My next miles were 8:20 and 8:40 – that seemed like a deep enough cut in pace to enjoy the finish but was not.

I should have likely gone closer to 9:00 pace and focused on refueling. Unfortunately at mile 24 I thought my race was nearly over and that I could just push through it. It would ultimately be another ~30 minutes until I finished. I wish I had respected that time and taken in some calories.

Central Park

As I hit the park my body bonked. Full on “you don’t have the calories to move that fast” bonk. My heart rate dropped from 170 to 130 – I just didn’t have the energy to push harder. Even at that I had to take a few breathers.

The way to understand bonking is to think about fuel for a car. My body was dripping fuel into the engine at that point and if I tried to move faster than about a 9:00 mile it would burn through it and I would be forced to walk so a bit more energy could accumulate.

I walk/jogged the last two miles. It was unlike anything I’ve ever done before in a race. My mile pace was about 11:30. In the race report I wrote for my fast marathon this summer I described how towards the end everything was breaking down and I had a tough time finishing my last miles. Looking back, my slowest mile that day was a 6:37. This time around it was quite shocking to be moving at nearly half that speed.

I’ll include this picture only because I think it captures how much I was trying to grit through the pain. Not having available glycogen isn’t something you can just grit through though.

One of my big miscalculations was thinking I could hit 166 BPM for this race. What I failed to realize is that energy use is a factor of time, not of distance. This is less obvious with short races and on the track, what I am used to. I had previously proven that my body could work at a level of 166 BPM for 2 hours and 42 minutes – not 26.2 miles. When I checked my watch throughout the race and saw 166, I felt good. In reality, all that would get me was 2 hours and 42 minutes of running before a crash. In order to run for a longer time, I would need to be running at a lower effort. In fact, checking my splits, I crossed the 2 hour 42 minute mark at mile 23.5. That is almost exactly when I crashed.

I ended up finishing with a 162 average. If I had thought about this more before the race, I would have aimed for that earlier, gone out a bit slower and likely finished much faster.

This was a hard lesson but will be important if I ever run on trails where distance is often a bad predictor of time, due to elevation climbing. In those cases it is important to think about energy as a function of time. I won’t forget that.

The Finish

I timed my walking so that I had a bit of energy to jog across the finish line. It wasn’t really a celebration other than the fact that I could stop moving and get on with enjoying New York and my friends.

I regret that I didn’t do something more fun at the end. I should have just stopped at a deli around mile 24, had something to eat and gotten back on the course. Then I could have jogged it in and maybe done some pushups at the finish line for good measure. That would have been fun and my time would have been in indistinguishable 3:25 – still a great marathon time. A fun poor performance is much better than a miserable one. Misery is fine if you’re setting a record for yourself though. I wish I could have realized sooner what was happening and made that call. If ever I end up in that situation, I’ll know what to do.

Post Race

The post finish experience was one the worst I’ve ever experienced. We essentially had to walk one mile (I mapped it below) to where we could meet our family and get on the subway. Thankfully they gave us calories right after the finish – I sat down to eat and eventually met up with Chris. We got pretty cold before the .75 mile mark where they finally gave us our ponchos.

That mile probably took close to 40 minutes. I guess that was my slowest mile of the day.

Data Breakdown

It wouldn’t be a Greg post without a few charts. Here are a few of the interesting bits from this race.

I mentioned earlier that I went at a good pace and caught up with a lot of runners that started in an earlier wave, only to have many of them pass me again. Here is a nice chart that shows how it played out with one particular runner I found on Strava who ran a 3:24. Their splits were really even so the change in time between us is all due to my pace dropping. I started ~20 minutes behind them, meaning they were about 4 minutes back into wave 1. You can see that I steadily gained on them until the 23 mile mark. At that point they started gaining on me and ended up putting a good bit of distance on me in the last few miles.

Here is my pace (blue), heart rate (red) and foot turnover (pink) during the run. This is one of the charts I look at for every run. Here I see a nice build up at the start (perhaps too fast for the first half mile), then a solid steady run at a good cadence. The pace bumps around mile 15-17 are mostly due to GPS noise. You can see my bathroom stop at mile 16 where my cadence drops for a bit. At mile 22-24 things start to look a bit rough, mile 24 sees a major slow down and then you can see my alternating walking for the last few miles.

Heart rate is one of the metrics I pay a lot of attention to, so here is a look at just that.

You’ll notice a few spikes, the first one at mile 1 when I sped up to catch Chris, the spike at mile 2 when I started passing people, mile 8.5 when I saw Rob, mile 16.5 after I got out of the bottleneck of the bridge, mile 19 when I decided to push and hold onto another runner, mile 24 I made a big push to get over the last bit of the hill.

I mentioned before that I had hoped to have my average heart rate over 166. I essentially hovered at an average of 166-167 from mile 3 to 21. At that point it slowly started to drop. Going into mile 25 I was still at 166 but those last two miles dropped the average to 162.

 

What is Next?

2017 is going to be a light year for me. I won’t be trying for any records. I am signed up for the Boston Marathon, might repeat Jack & Jill to pace a buddy and have my eyes on a few really cool races including the legendary Dipsea & Bloomsday races.

Three Day Per Week Marathon Training Plan

After the birth of my third child, I realized my previous six day per week marathon training plan would no longer be possible. We simply had too much going on to spare that kind of time for running.

I decided that all hope was not lost though, I would change my plan and see if I could get more efficient and take another shot at running a 2:37 marathon.

Below are the changes I made to adjusted my previous plan – if you haven’t read that plan yet – you might want to start there: here is the link.

Things That Stayed The Same

Season Schedule

My season would progress the same way it always had – see the previous plan for details.

I want to note however this is one piece I have fully tested since I only implemented this plan for the eight weeks of September and October, between when my daughter was born & the NYC Marathon. I started those eight weeks in pretty good shape, having run a 2:42 marathon in July and maintaining about 40 miles per week after that.

The one thing I am concerned about if I try this for a full season is building up to mileage on three days a week. The typical advise is to add one mile per week per run you do – so a five day week could add five miles per week during the build stage. Running three days a week would mean that building to 50 or 80 miles would take a really long time if you were only adding 3 per week. I’m hesitant to go faster than that though for fear of injury.

Variance In Pace

This stayed the same, I tried to span a wide range of paces across my days, hitting easy running as a warm up & cool down, marathon pace on a few days and some fasters bits on speed days.

6:00 Pace

I continued to emphasize target marathon race pace. One of my strategies was to build up the number of miles I could run at that pace until I could comfortably hit 15 in a single workout. The idea is that if you can do that mid-week, once you taper, doing 26.2 should be possible.

Rest A Lot

I continued to emphasize rest and active recovery on days where I was not running, there were just more of those since I was running fewer days per week.

I also continued my plan to take every 4th week as a 50% week.

Things That Changed

Weekly Template

This was my area of biggest change. I went from running 6-7 days per week to three.

During the weeks of the season, each followed a general workout template – though the total distance, speed & quality volume of each day was determined by where in the season that week fell.

The template is 1 long quality run of around 18-22 miles and 2 medium quality runs of around 10-15 miles. I would do no training on the other days but as much physical activity as normal life could allow for, which included bike commuting, walking to the park with my kids, etc. Note that even though that is only three days of running, I was still able to hit 50 mile weeks due to the high volume.

The quality long runs were the same as what I had run before. Instead of going out to do 20 miles slow, my long run would consist of some miles at or close to marathon pace. This was designed to train my body to work at a high intensity, even when exhausted. Some examples include:

  • 120 mins w/ last 4 @ Marathon Pace
  • 130 mins w/ last 20 min progression (MP down to 10k pace)
  • 22 miles @ 45 seconds per mile slower than goal MP
  • 21 miles: 3 warm up, 15 @ MP, 3 cool down

For those medium quality days I had two different types, marathon race pace & speed. Both days my goal was to go run a few miles to deplete my glycogen stores and then complete a workout. Total miles for those days was in the 10-15 range.

For race pace days my run might look like:

  • 6 easy, 6 at marathon pace, 1 mile cool down
  • 3 easy, 8 at marathon pace, 1 mile cool down

For speed examples, my run might look like:

  • 6 easy, 10 x 800 @ 5k w/ equal jogging rest, 1 mile cool down
  • 5 easy, 90 seconds 5k effort/90 sec jog x 10, 1 mile cool down
  • 6 easy,  8 x 1k @ 10k with 1 minute rest, 2 mile cool down

Run As Much As Possible

I explicitly removed this from my training plan when I dropped to three days a week. My goal was to run less in order for it to be less time intensive.

To some degree I increased the miles per day, because running a few extra miles on days I am running actually takes less time than what I am saving from not running on other days. Every run comes with overhead for getting dressed, stretching, showering, etc., so you can actually run 50 miles in 3 runs in less time out of your calendar than you could run 50 miles in 5 runs.

I knew I couldn’t hit big miles though, that just requires running a lot of days and even doubling – neither of which I was going to be doing.

To state it really clearly, my goal with this training plan was to get 90% of the benefit of my previous training plan with ~60% of the time investment.

Go Long

I continued to emphasize the long and medium long runs as great ways to get my body used to running depleted. I failed in execution this time to run >20 more than once, but the plan called for more.

What I do what to mention is that previously my plan included ~30% of days being >10 miles. This new plan with reduced days and extra miles per day meant that during peak season, 100% of my runs were >10 miles.

Key Learnings and Next Steps

It is going to be really hard for me to judge the results of this plan based on the results I have. I only used it for one solid three week block and the race I ran after it had a lot of caveats. I did manage to put up a 3:11:37 though (with a 1:27:31 half) – not bad for three days a week of running in the two months leading up to the race.

What I can judge is how running three days affected my life. I felt like I had so much free time – I would do my long run Sunday afternoons and the other two runs at night, mid-week. That meant that I had five nights a week with no running, where I could focus on getting things done at home, let my wife have the night off or spend time with her.

It felt so relaxing as opposed to the stress of having to get a run nearly every day. At one point my wife even commented that I wasn’t running enough and should go do some more – that is a huge metric of success. Perhaps some of it was due to us just being used to five days a week of running, and this being a delta, but that didn’t feel like all of it. Something about three days a week just feels normal and sustainable. My wife goes to the gym about the same amount so my hobby became much more like her fitness routine and less like a giant challenge. That is important to being able to do it long term.

What I would like to do is continue to use this training plan in 2017 and see how I perform at Boston Marathon and a few other races I’m signed up for. My goal is to be 90% of the runner I was last summer with 60% of the training time. I’ll report back in a few months.