A few months ago I tackled my first marathon. I decided to run the GO! St. Louis Marathon in April, relying on my half marathon training for my base fitness. I followed a 12 week program by Runner's World's Smart Coach and was logging about 60-70 miles per week.
My weekly training consisted of Monday, Wednesday, Sunday runs of 8-12 miles. Tuesdays were speedwork days, (mostly done on the treadmill with 1.0 incline so I would be held accountable to the pace) and Fridays were long run days. I ended up completing 3 20 mile runs, 3 16 mile runs, and 3 half marathons in my training cycle. On race day I was confident that I was ready for the challenge. None of my long runs ever felt too labored, I completed my last 20 mile run with an average of 8:22 pace, and I was in the best shape of my life.
The number 3:35 resonated in my head for months. I may have been overambitious on my goal of BQ'ing in my first marathon, but I honestly thought my half marathon PR of 1:41 indicated that I was ready to take on the challenge. That, and I thought I had the mental toughness to run through the mile 20 wall and grind out the last few miles at around a 8:12 pace. Reality check. The marathon is NO JOKE, and quite humbling.
That 3:35 turned into a 3:56, 21 minutes off schedule. I ran with a pacer, keeping up until about mile 18. Then I just could not do it anymore. My right hip felt like it was caving in on itself and my stomach was so confused. That mental toughness I had been proud of carrying me through a rough 12 week training cycle quickly faded away. The last 8 miles felt like a march to my death. If it weren't for my friends waiting for me at the finish line and the fact that my splits were being posted to my facebook account, I don't know if I would have finished. Well, I finished, but it was not pretty. I stopped to go to the bathroom and walked more than I ran. At the finish line, I proclaimed in tears lying on the pavement that I'd never run 26.2 again.
A few days later, I reflected upon my performance and quickly had a change of heart. I went from not being able to run ONE MILE to a marathoner in one year. That alone is something to be proud of. Additionally, as a first time marathoner I was able to run a sub 4 hour marathon. I have so much room to grow and so many more races to run. NOTE: I do credit my relatively fast race PR's (for a new runner) to my natural ability as I've been blessed with long legs and a slender body.
I knew I had made critical mistakes leading up to the race. Here they are. Plain and simple. You'd think that with all the research and running magazines I read that I would have avoided these basic rules. Nope. I guess I was in denial and rendered myself invincible.
1. I never really practiced taking in adequate nutrition/hydration during training runs. Sometimes I would drink water and slurp down a Gu, but more often than not, I would run 20 miles without putting anything in my body. I thought that by training on "low energy" I would be even faster and better come race day with the added boost of hydration and glycogen. WRONG. On race day, I ate a Gu at mile 7 and 14, and drank water at every aid station, which was about every 2 miles or so. This left me EXTREMELY bloated and uncomfortable by mile 18.
2. I did not taper. at all. I had good intentions to taper for a good 2 weeks. However, the week before the marathon I walked into a local running store to buy compression shorts for a lingering hip pain. The lady at the counter asked me if I was ready for next week, taking me by surprise. Apparently I had written down the wrong date from the start... causing me to run my final 20 mile long run a week before the race. How tragically embarrassing. I think that if I had rested longer, the lingering hip pain would not have surfaced at mile 18.
3. I ate an entire 12 inch pizza the night before.. so I was still full the next morning. I still ate my pre-race oatmeal with peanut butter. For the first few miles of the race I was still digesting food in my stomach. Not fun.
4. I went out too fast. This is one of the downfalls of running with a pacer. Pacers maintain a constant pace throughout the race. I would have benefited from studying the course elevation and running strategic splits with the uphills and downhills.
I'm ready for redemption. July 29th. Four weeks. Bring it, San Francisco.