Veterans Marathon Race Report

date November 16, 2020 location Columbia City, IN

In 2009 I ran the Green Bay Marathon with an unrealistic goal of achieving a Boston qualifying time under 3:10 (7:17/mi). I ran the first 5 miles at a 7:21/mi pace, slowing down to a pace of 7:26/mi after the first 10. By halfway, the wheels were beginning to fall off, and my 13.1 split was 1:38:28 (7:31/mi). After a hellish 1:56:49 (8:54/mi) second half of the race, I crossed the finish line in 3:35:17 with a net pace of 8:17/mi, nowhere near the 3:10 I as hoping for, and a full minute per mile slower than I needed to hit my ridiculous goal. I wouldn't run a competitive race for the next 9 years.

Having learned my lesson from the dreadful 2009 Green Bay Marathon, when I finally re-gained my running passion many years later, I approached the sport with an emphasis on setting realistic goals. In the spring of 2018, I finally tried my hand at another marathon, setting a new PR of 3:14:24, and just 6 months later I reached my unicorn goal, running the Richmond Marathon in a Boston qualifying time of 3:01:10. By 2019 I mastered the art of incremental progress and goal-setting, running the Grand Rapids BQ.2 marathon in 2:51:12.

Due to the cancellation of the 2020 Boston Marathon, I had several extra months to train for what would be my next race, the Veterans Marathon in Columbia City, Indiana. I knew it would be tricky to set a goal for this race, having to balance the benefit of some added training time with the now distant painful memory of the overly ambitious goal setting fiasco that was the 2009 Green Bay Marathon. Having bested my marathon PR time by nearly ten minutes in Grand Rapids, and running a sub 1:20 tune-up half marathon this March, I settled on a goal of 2:45 (6:18/mi) - a nice round number that also happens to represent the qualifying standard for two of the World's Majors: Tokyo and Berlin. The race did not go as planned. I managed to stay on pace for the first half, with a split of 1:22:38 (6:18) and while not at the same level as 2009, I experienced the pain, both physical and mental, of grinding out the final miles of the marathon with absolutely nothing left in the tank. At about mile 20, the devastation of missing my goal set in, and knowing that I would still have to fight through the toughest 10 km of my life, I felt pain, frustration, and disappointment.

Having adopted several running best-practices during the cerebral rebirth of my running career, I find it helpful to retrospect on my races, documenting the factors that led to my successes and failures.

What Went Wrong:
- It's most important to reflect on the things in my control, but both the race conditions and weather proved challenging. The frigid temps and blowing winds, at 23 degrees and 10mph respectively at the start of the race, on top of unprotected rolling farmland hills, made for some difficult miles.
- My legs weren't prepared for hills. Training on Chicago's pancake-flat terrain did not prepare me for this race. While I've had success on hilly half-marathon courses, the relentless ups and downs during 26.2 took their toll on me.
- I showed some signs of overtraining. I started training for the 2020 Boston Marathon in November 2019. After a race-postponement to Spring, rehabbing through an achilles injury, a hip injury, the eventual race cancellation, and finally setting my sights on the Veterans Marathon, nearly a year had elapsed since the beginning of my training and while there was some time off in that period, I was both physically and mentally exhausted in the final weeks of my training. While I didn't take a single day off during the 18 weeks leading up to the race, and my workout paces were consistently hitting record efforts, there were several days, particularly in the latter stages of my training, where I just didn't have it in me to hit the desired paces of some of my long and aerobic runs. This has me wondering if...
- I focused too much on volume and not enough on quality. While usually the opposite is true of amateur runners, I wonder if an emphasis on more quality runs (tempos, repeats, etc) with just a tad less volume would better prepare me for a marathon.

What Went Well:
- Pre-race preparation went without a hitch. I was able to get get a good meal both morning of and the night before, got a good night's sleep and felt ready to go at the start line.
- Strength training FTW. I've welcomed my new work from home life, which has enabled me to sneak in a few Bulgarian Split Squats, box jumps, and some resistance band exercises between zoom calls.
- Track Intervals. Unlike previous training cycles, I did all of my interval workouts on the track which provided the dual benefit of 1)enabling me to push faster and 2)reducing the soreness that usually comes with running at high speeds on even terrain.

Unlike 2009, I will not let this race kill my passion for running. I believe that I'm capable of a 2:45 on a flat course in good conditions. This knowledge, combined with some things to try for next time, already has me pondering my next race, though I am looking forward to a mental and physical break from training for at least a few weeks.