I had a full week in Vancouver after the marathon before heading home and made a point to enjoy the vacation. While in town I probably didn’t set in front of a laptop for more than an hour at a time before flying back to Vegas. Plus, this week at work was somewhat busy, as I not only had to catch up after a week away but we also had a plan to execute this week and that always requires considerable work. So there wasn’t much time to debrief or really write out how I felt about the new training process and how I handled the marathon, before now.
Having just switched my entire training approach two months before, I was as curious as anything how my body would handle the marathon. I threw out any sense of racing or pace in advance, and just set out running easy with the plan to enjoy the scenery and adjust as needed. Thankfully, my sleep had been better than past years and I was better rested for this marathon than any of the prior ones.
Ran out the Hallowrock 5K in 27:52, the first race I managed to complete since March. Yes, it hasn’t exactly been a great year, and by no means was that anywhere close to a PR. But I got what I wanted out of this run.
My goal was simple and based on my Stryd power rather than a goal time: Run the entire course at 250 Watts or greater. A couple of prior steady runs in weeks prior showed me this was an entirely reasonable goal.
Since getting my Stryd my calculated Critical Power (CP) rating (roughly what your lactate threshold should be) hasn’t been as high as I know it actually is. Interval workouts and long runs don’t quite get it where I know it should be. I realize it was going to take a sustained tempo-like effort for the pod to accurately calculate my CP… something like the 5K I signed up to run today.
I filtered in at the start line with a group I figured would be running closer to the pace I could do, and calmly went with the flow as others went out too hard (as usual), finding the 250W groove and calmly sticking with it. I did surge past people as needed but otherwise settled into 250W effort. I had a couple of people pass me (and had one older guy aggressively run/walking past me then me past him, etc) but mostly I was passing people here and there.
I didn’t make any effort to reel in or catch anyone, and the one person I did end up latched behind for most of the race did ultimately pull away in the final mile. I just ran steady the whole way, didn’t worry at all about pace, and whenever I saw I drifted under 250W I stepped up the effort as needed.
The first mile I ran a bit fast, as with a bigger crowd I did have to surge a bit more here and there. After that the only surges were to avoid bottlenecks, including one case where one racer with a dog was approaching pedestrians on the trail who also had a dog. I skipped the 1.5mi water station but did take water at the last station a bit over 2mi in.
Obviously, I tired as the race progressed, and for the first time in a long while I finally felt a lactic burn in my lower legs. Towards the final mile I had to breathe hard and steady to keep things moving. So without looking at my heart rate I knew I was going somewhat hard… not as all-out hard as my better 5K efforts, but I was treating this like a race.
At a quarter mile from the finish I initially picked it up a bit, but my right hamstring began barking again, not close to enough to need to stop but enough that I dialed back to my regular effort. I was fine as long as I didn’t push hard with the right leg. Whatever kick I had at the end was driven by my left leg, my right leg calmly following along at a normal effort. It turned out I ran the last 110 meters substantially faster than the other miles, so I guess that worked out. Plus, remember that my left hamstring and groin were a problem for months. I felt no pain whatsoever in that left leg.
Stryd tells me my measured Critical Power has jumped about 25W, which is much more like it.
So, while I’ll still take a few days easy from running before resuming any running, I’ll certaintly take that and move along.
I made it, guys. A long, brutal slog with a fast finish ended in 5:21:40, and the Vancouver Marathon Revenge Tour is complete.
Any amount of heat above 60 degrees makes running a challenge. Even at an otherwise mild 64 degrees, the temperature, extra humidity (it had been cloudy the previous week) and abundant sunshine made 42.3km (the Vancouver course is a hair longer than the required 42.195k distance) a brutal struggle.
I was not by any means racing for speed in this marathon. After the setbacks of the previous couple of marathons, I had two goals for this race….
Yesterday I ran the Mardi Gras Chaser 10K on the Chicago Lakefront Trail, experimenting with a different race strategy based on my training. It worked remarkably well and at 52:40 I PR’d by about 32 seconds.
In fact, given better training and circumstances, I could have possibly run this race another minute or more faster. To PR so well despite no specific endurance speed workouts during the past month, despite extreme cold setting back some workouts, was pretty remarkable. I came into this race a little more speed-rusty than I would have liked.
This strategy allowed me to run probably the most evenly paced race-level effort I’ve ever ran. I may have run one or two better races in my time, but this was the most sustainably strong and even effort I’ve given over any full race distance beyond 5K.
I hit the turnaround (the course was an even out and back) at 26:24, meaning I ran the last half of the race at 26:16, a slight negative split.
So how did I do it?
Throughout the (better parts of) winter I had done some 10K-specific training, most specifically The McMillan 10K Workout. That workout is simple: 3 long cruise reps of 2 miles each at 10K pace, with a few minutes of active recovery between. If you manage your desired pace during the reps, you can probably nail the pace in your 10K.
I did the workout every fortnight or so during the early winter, before the F3 Half, the start of my Vancouver Marathon training, and the brutality of Chiberia all intervened. Even then, conditions on the track were often icy enough to slow my desired pace, so I had to focus more on fast cadence and not worry as much about splits.
Other than that, I did no real tempo running outside of the races I ran (Tour De Trails, and the F3). Thanks to the Half and the weather, I went about a full month without doing the workout. Even if I felt confident about my ability to hit a 10K tempo, coming into this 10K I wasn’t convinced I could hold anything close to it for a full, uninterrupted 6+ miles.
The 2019 Mardi Gras Chaser 10K course. (The organizers ended up nixing the shortcut on the way back at the sharp Montrose turn, so it was an equi-distant out and back course.)
The course was a simple setup, with two tables along the course serving as double aid-stations: The first table out was the 1st and 4th water station, and the second table was the 2nd and 3rd water station.
Some approximate measurements indicated the tables were about 1.3 miles apart, with the 1st table being about 1.28 miles from the start line… meaning it was also 1.28 miles from the finish.
By simple math and inductive reasoning, knowing the turnaround would be exactly 5K away (3.11 miles), the turnaround was 0.53 miles from the 2nd table, meaning about 1.06 miles of running from station 2 to station 3.
Despite knowing I could comfortably hold an 8:25ish pace over 2 miles, I didn’t know if I could sustain that pace over 6.21 miles without having trained at speed at all over the last month.
I decided to hedge my potential lack of ability to maintain pace over the distance by turning the race into a long version of the McMillan workout:
Run at race pace until reaching Aid Station 2. I planned to start at race pace, moving my feet light and quick and sticking with it for the 20 or so minutes it would take to reach the 2nd aid station, about 2.6 miles away. This was just a bit longer than a McMillan rep, but from my experience I always finished those workout reps strong, and maintaining the cadence/pace for an extra 3-4 minutes wasn’t that big a deal.
I would blow past the 1st water station and keep moving. The plan was to get to the 2nd aid station before I would…
… slow down, take fluid, and run easy for 1 minute. Previously in races, I would either try to keep pace while taking fluid at stations, or slow outright to a walk and take it easy until I drank what I needed before speeding back up.
I had never tried the middle ground, and I was going to. Slow down to a regular running pace, something like 10-11 minutes/mile, while taking and drinking water. Even after finishing, I would run at this pace until a minute had passed, and then resume running at pace.
This was very similar to the workout, as during my recovery intervals in the workout I didn’t stop. Instead I ran easy around the track and kept moving. This would basically be a slightly higher intensity of the same thing. Once the intervals were finished I was always ready to go again at full speed, and I felt I’d be able to do the same here.
Resume race pace, and keep it until Aid Station 4. This particular “rep” would not be as long as the first, at about 2.3 miles or so (after the recovery interval) instead of 2.6. And that was fine, because fatigue should begin to set in down the stretch, and it would help to finish the 2nd stretch a little more quickly than the 1st.
I’d circle the turnaround, skip past the 3rd aid station, and plan to slow for fluid at the 4th and final station.
Again, slow to a regular run for 1 minute at Aid Station 4 while taking fluid. I would repeat the process for fluid, finish and make sure I got in one minute of easy running, before…
… resume race pace, and finish the race strong. At this point, there should only be about 1.1 miles left, far less of a chunk to run at race cadence. And that never minds whatever kick I could give at the end.
THE PLAN WORKED!
I stuck to the plan, to the letter, up until the 4th aid station, where I felt strong enough that, after a moment to take fluid, I just resumed race pace without any more rest, and finished the race from there. That might have shaved a few seconds off of what was ultimately a sizable P.R., so no regrets about that decision.
The whole race felt surprisingly easy. This wasn’t entirely because of the plan itself: I did focus more on a light, quick cadence and not falling into the trap of straining or overstriding for extra pace. That kept me from unduly wearing myself out in the early and middle miles.
But the plan also gave my effort clear boundaries. I knew that, no matter how badly things were feeling, I only had to get to the 2nd or 4th aid station before I could relax a bit. I knew my training had prepared me for 20 minutes of solid race-pace effort at a time, and for multiple reps of that same 20 minute effort.
It may not be how most people run a race, but this approach gave me the ability to run a better race than I otherwise would have.
DO I RECOMMEND THIS RACE PLAN?
This is honestly a perfect approach for any race where you don’t feel comfortable with your ability to run the entire race strong, from the 5K to the marathon. By building in recovery intervals around your visits to key aid stations, you can ensure you maintain an even, strong race effort to the finish.
There are two key caveats:
1) Obviously, you need to have the aerobic endurance to run the desired distance.
I consistently run 4-7 miles in workouts, plus do longer runs beyond that distance, plus on speedwork days (between warmups, recovery runs and the actual workout) I may log over 10 miles. You don’t need to run that much to do well in any distance below the Half… but no plan will work for you if you don’t safely run several days a week, and you ideally should run a weekly mileage of at least 3 times the race distance.
2) You need to do workouts where you practice this approach.
This plan worked for me because I was experienced with the McMillan 10K workout, which basically follows the same pattern. The plan obviously is based on the workout.
If you’re not used to running at your desired pace for at least a couple miles, this plan is going to be very difficult.
The plan can be adapted to where you slow to a regular run for one minute at every aid station, which allows for about 1.2-1.4 miles at your pace. But you still need to be able to run at race pace for reps lasting that distance, several times a workout.
However, that’s still a lot easier than trying to hold such a pace for an entire race without stopping… especially if you’re not used to doing it.
While ideally I can run races without having to do this every time… this is a fine fallback option for any race where the confidence to run the full distance at pace isn’t totally there.
And it can be adjusted for any distance: For example, I could decide to run a 5K as two 2500ish meter reps, taking fluid at the one water station and going easy for one minute before picking it back up and finishing strong. Or I could run a marathon as a series of very long 3-4 mile M-pace reps, taking 2-4 minutes of easy running (and, as needed, hard fueling) at key aid stations.
Even if your race has no aid stations or they’re spaced very far apart, you could bring hydration and just decide to go a set time period, like 20 minutes… then slow to a regular run, drink from your stores and go easy for 1-2 minutes before resuming for another 20 minutes. In fact, if you carry hydration you could do this even if the race has aid stations. You decide on your own how far to go during each “rep”.
Who knows… maybe I’ll do this at Vancouver this May. Or Chicago Marathon this October. Or next month at the Lakefront 10 Miler. Or maybe I feel much stronger for those races and don’t do it at all.
But The Plan worked! And now I have a proven, workable fallback plan for every race where I don’t feel fully confident in my ability to race.
Though 10 degrees Fahrenheit was far warmer than it had been in Chicago throughout this week, the cold at Saturday’s F3 Half Marathon was stiff enough to compel organizers to do most of the pre-race festivities (including the National Anthem) inside the Soldier Field concourse.
Your intrepid running writer struggled Friday night to find an effective race-day-gear middle ground between minimal racing weight, and functionally layering for the cold.
Because this was basically a goal race on my schedule, how I did today was important enough to not just dismiss this as a throwaway result in icy conditions. I didn’t train for the Half distance just to phone the race in.
I knew a PR was probably unlikely: I knew I’d end up a bit heavy (and thus slower) due to layers, and that despite the cold I might end up a bit overheated due to what layers I wore. This was just about seeing how close I could get in these conditions.