Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Race Recap: The Rocket City Marathon

This was supposed to be the post where I described my latest marathon PR. It was supposed to be the time I got to write about finally getting to run a marathon all-out, when I wasn't trying to qualify for anything, just go as fast as I could on a very fast course. Rocket City is a well-run marathon with a fantastic history. Typically the weather is very cold for this race; it's been in the teens more than once. I wasn't worried about that -- I run well in cold weather.

Then the weather forecasts started coming out. I tracked them almost religiously. 8 days out from the race the forecast looked fairly good: A low of 43 and a high of 55, with a chance of showers. 7 days out the forecast was the same. Then things changed. 6 days out, the forecast high was 70 degrees.

That's good weather for a 400-meter dash, but not for a marathon. I made a graph to show how the forecast changed day after day:

As you can see, the forecast wasn't improving. The only major change was that the forecast low was getting higher -- which meant I'd hardly even have good weather at the start of the race, let alone the finish.

At the pre-race pasta dinner, Bobby Aswell and I got to hear Bill Rodgers talk about his experience running marathons. "The thing about the marathon distance," he said, "is that there is a lot of luck involved. I was really, really lucky."

The Rodgers luck was about to run out.

My plan for the race, under ideal conditions, was to run a 7:15 per mile pace, steady, for all 26.2 miles. If I could hang on, I'd set a new PR, 3:10, which would beat my previous record by more than 12 minutes.

On race morning the temperature was 62 degrees, with 93 percent humidity. The temperature would rise to about 68 by the finish of the race.

It still felt cool, and I'd be running into the wind, so I decided to give the race a go at my planned pace.

For the first few miles, this pace didn't seem too bad. The few hills on the course were easily handled, and the breeze was keeping me relatively cool. Here are my splits for Miles 1-6:

1. 7:27
2. 7:15
3. 7:15
4. 7:15
5. 7:18
6. 7:21

Then during Mile 7 we passed through a parking lot and under a tunnel. It was a little confusing and I missed the mile marker; I finally pressed the "lap" button at 1.09 miles and recorded 7:52 for the split -- still a 7:14 pace for the mile. I was flustered. And I was starting to feel worn out, just 7 miles in. Could I keep this up for another 19 miles? I doubted it. Then I realized I hadn't had a gel yet: I was supposed to be eating them every 4 miles. I quickly opened and consumed one, but that slowed me even more. I kept running.

8. 7:22
9. 7:30
10. 7:34
11. 7:25

We were now on a seemingly endless four-lane road, heading straight into the wind. It was much more of a struggle to maintain pace, and I was gradually slowing down. I had planned to drop my pace to 7:30 a mile if 7:15 seemed too difficult, but now even a 7:30 pace felt like a struggle.

12. 7:50
13. 7:48
14. 8:10

My backup-backup plan was to hit an 8-minute pace for the last half of the race. If I could do that, I'd still have a shot at a PR: My 7:22:55 was an average 7:42 pace, and I already had a lot of faster miles in the bank. Then we turned and started heading back north into town. What had been a headwind was now a tailwind, which meant that we could feel no wind at all. It was like running in a sauna. I started taking walk breaks. Then I started taking longer breaks.

15. 7:55
16. 9:29
17. 8:12
18. 8:34

Now, there was no backup plan. The plan was simply to finish. Another runner pulled up beside me and told me his day was ruined and he was just hoping to finish under 3:30. Not long after that, the 3:30 pace team passed us.

19. 9:04
20. 10:13
21. 11:15

Could it get any worse? Soon I was passed by the 3:35 pace team. I tried to stay with them for a while, then let them go.

22. 9:34
23. 9:15
24. 11:39

Finally the 3:40 pace team pulled up behind me. Surely I could stay with them, right? There was only one runner still in the group, a woman running her planned 3:40 pace, about 8:23 per mile. I resolved to stay with the pace team all the way to the finish, and somehow I did. The woman was running her first marathon, and it was amazing to see her pull it off as she had planned. I ran across the line just behind her, with an official chip time of 3:39:09, or not much better than I had done at Thunder Road for my "easy training run."

Here's the picture Bobby snapped of me just after I crossed the line:

I'd say this photo just about sums up the day.

And here's a photo of the two of us with our medals:

Don't we look lovely?

Bobby fared a little better than I did, finishing in 3:19 and just out of the age-group awards.

At the airport a woman saw the two of us waiting for our flight and correctly guessed that we had run the marathon. "Did you think the heat slowed you down?" She asked.

We assented, then learned that though she was the second overall woman, with a time of 2:52, she was still quite disappointed because she was shooting for a 2:46. No matter your pace, the marathon is still a very tough race. Not tough enough? Just try to run it a little bit faster, and it'll get plenty tough.

My race didn't go as planned, but if they always did, there wouldn't be much reason to run them, would there? Next marathon: Boston. Maybe I'll be able to do a little better there.

Details of Saturday's marathon are below.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Carbo loading, again

Another race, another carbo-loading regime. The goal is to consume 4.5 grams of carbs for every pound of body weight. I had been hoping to get down to 175 for this race, but as of now I weigh 185, so that's 832 grams of carbs, or 3,330 calories in carbs per 24 hours.

I'm going to follow last year's plan of carbo loading for only 48 hours.

Here's the plan:


First breakfast: Bagel/Cream Cheese (60 g)

Second breakfast: Cereal (80 g), milk (24 g), V8 (10 g)

Lunch: Bagel sandwich w/pb/j (2) (140 g)

Snacks: Apple (29), banana (27), raisins (66), granola bar (17).

Dinner: Spaghetti (1/2-pound uncooked = 160 g carbs), sauce (26), salad (1), bread (40)

That is still only 720 grams!

Extra carbs come from regular coke -- 117 grams in 3 cans.

Total: 837 g


First breakfast: Cereal (80 g), milk (24 g), V8 (10 g)

Second breakfast: Scone (59 g), coffee.

Lunch: Bagel w /pb/j (70)

Dinner: Pre-race pasta dinner (180).

Snacks: 2 apples (58), raisins (66), granola bars (48), banana (27).

Drinks: 3 cans of Coke (117 g)

That wasn't so bad -- 817 grams. The Coke really helps.

Finally, on Saturday morning I will have a light snack when I wake up at 6.


Breakfast: Granola bar (24). Honey Stinger Waffle (21). Possibly a half-banana (28).

Pre-race: 1 vanilla GU at 15 minutes prior to start (25)

During race: 5 to 6 GUs (one every 4 miles, with mile 24 optional) (125-150)

A similar regimen was effective at Richmond last year, so I'm not changing much this time around.

As usual this week, here's the weather update:

Remember, this graph charts the predicted weather for December 8, not the actual conditions on that day. I'd really prefer for these numbers to go down, but I ran in similar weather this morning and it's not too bad.

Just three more days to the race!

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Geeking out on the Rocket City Marathon

In four days, with any luck, I will have just finished the Rocket City Marathon. It's pretty clear to me that the folks putting this race on are serious running geeks. Case in point: The official course map. Here it is:

As you can see, there's tons of information here. Not only is there a detailed elevation profile, but the key high- and low-points are marked with exact figures. It's pretty clear from the map that Mile 8 and Mile 17 are the toughest, but overall these hills are pretty small compared to what I'm used to running. As a point of comparison, the biggest hill in the race stretches from Mile 16-17, with a total climb of 88 feet. You'd be hard pressed to find any two-mile stretch in the Thunder Road Marathon with less than 88 feet of climbing. My standard 6-mile run with DART has only one two-mile section with less climbing.

20 of the 26 miles at Rocket City have 25 feet or less of climbing, which is less than any of the miles on the DART loop.

None of this is to say that Rocket City will be easy — you can always make a race harder just by running faster. But it is to say that when I do a training run at marathon pace here in Davidson, it's a harder run than what I'll be facing at Rocket City.

Further geekiness: A mile-by-mile charting of the climbs in the race:

The big climbs are in Mile 1, 8, 17, 21, and 23. I think Mile 21 might be the toughest in the race — it's after Mile 20 and it can be demoralizing to have a significant hill at that point. But again, all these hills are small enough that they won't last long. If I can just maintain an equal effort — maybe run these miles at a 7:30 pace instead of the planned 7:15 for the race, they shouldn't pose too much of a problem. For me, the temperature is a bigger concern.

Which reminds me: Here's my updated temperature graph:

As a reminder, this graph charts the forecast for December 8 on a given day, not the actual weather on that day. Today's forecast is similar to the past two days, so the weather pattern may be stabilizing. Looks like I need to be preparing for a race that will mostly be in the high 50s and low 60s.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Weather Update, 5 days out

We're now just five days away from Rocket City, and the weather forecast has taken a fairly dramatic change. The forecast high has gone from 53 to 68, and the predicted low is now just 1 degree less than the predicted high two days ago!

The chance of rain has also gone down significantly, from 60 percent to 30 percent.

Presumably as we get closer to race day the forecast is getting more accurate, so I need to start thinking about racing in temperatures that are 10+ degrees warmer than what I'd prefer.

Remember, this graph represents the predictions for December 8 put out on a given date, not the weather on that date.

On the plus side, we've now reached the point where the National Weather Service has predicted hourly temperatures, so we can make some guesses as to how this prediction will pan out in terms of actual temperatures during the race:

The red line represents the temperature and the green line is the dew point. At the 8 am start, the NWS is predicting a temperature of around 53, rising to 61 around the time I'll be finishing -- with any luck that will be about 11:10 a.m.

61 is a lot better than 68. It's still a little warmer than my ideal temperature, which is probably around 45-50 degrees, but there's no point in drastically altering my race strategy yet. I'll keep my obsessive runner's eye focused on the race day weather all week.

In other news, yesterday's long run revealed yet another thing to worry about as the race approaches. As I got ready for the run, I noticed that the battery on my GPS was dead, despite the fact that I had placed it in the charging cradle the night before. Garmin claims that the cradle for the 910XT is secure, but I've experienced this problem several times. If the unit is not seated properly in the cradle not only will the watch not charge, it will drain the battery. Argh!

My plan for the race is to simply not charge the unit the night before. It's got a 20-hour battery life, so if I have it charged before I leave for Huntsville and leave it turned off until race morning, I should have plenty of juice for the race.

Otherwise, tapering has been going well. I'm decreasing the mileage on my daily runs, but trying to include at least a couple miles each day at race pace of 7:15 per mile. This is helping me dial in to the pace I'll be running on race day. Details of this morning's workout are below.