On Marathons + Steamtown Marathon Recap
Marathons are great in that they make every other race seem short. Suddenly the 13.1 of a half feels a little less far to go. Every half that I've done just after a marathon has felt much easier than it usually does.
However, I do dislike certain qualities about the marathon: (Sorry to all of you who are obsessed with this distance...please indulge me here.)
Why the Marathon is a Little on the Annoying Side:
1. To some extent it feels like you're "putting all your eggs into one basket." If something goes even a little awry--the weather is not conducive to fast running, you miss an essential GU at mile 20, etc.--your plans can go totally out the window and your race results don't reflect your current fitness level. This can happen in any race, but the little details are amplified over the marathon distance.
2. The marathon takes forever to recover from as compared to shorter distances, or even the half marathon. While everyone is different, I can pump out a quality half at least once per month. The marathon, though, puts you out of the racing circuit for probably at minimum a good month and a half. (For someone who really REALLY likes races and competition, this is one of the most difficult aspects of the 26.2. I ran 42 races in 2014.) The long recovery period is even worse if you have a problem like #1 where you aren't happy with your race; it takes so much longer before you can try again and redeem yourself, so you just have to sit around being kind of angry. (Good thing I do yoga!)
Why I Should Like the Marathon:
This distance is more of a challenge to get just right. I like challenges. I also am typically much better the longer I go, so the marathon should be right up my alley. In college, my coach would make jokes before every indoor track meet to the effect of, "Well, Ann, what do you want to run tomorrow? The 800?" because I am in no way, shape, or form, a middle distance runner. At Notre Dame, we'd have a track workout which went something liker 5*800, 4*200. No matter what I did, I kept the same pace for the 200s as I had done for the 800s. We had another workout that went something like 1600, 1200, 2*800, and then a bunch of 200s. I would inevitably be at the front of the group for the 1600 and 1200, and somewhere around the middle of the bunch but hanging on for dear life for the 800s, and THEN be dead last for the 200s because I was still going my 1600 pace though trying my utmost to go faster. I actually think somewhere along the line after college--actually in the past two years--I got a lot better at sprinting. I am sure I have a couple extra fast gears that I didn't have in college, but I'm still at heart (at "legs"?) very much an endurance athlete in every sense. In college, I always loved the terrain of cross country season, but I also typically moved up in place once the race distance jumped from a 5k to 6k. That extra k actually helped me out a good bit. In track, there was no doubt that the 10k was my event rather than the 5k.
In the past couple years, the 10k and half-marathon have been my go-to race distances. I actually think I prefer them over the marathon--I enjoy going actually fast instead of going medium-fast for a super long time.
ON THE STEAMTOWN RACE EXPERIENCE:
Unfortunately, this did not go as I hoped. I am not so much disappointed in myself (as I truly did the best I physically could do) as I am in my time, since I know this doesn't reflect my current fitness. I would like these to match up better. This is just my third marathon, so I'm trying to not be too hard on myself but I am disappointed. I've still added to my "marathon experience bank" with this last one, so I'm tying to keep that in mind as I regroup and see when I might try this whole thing again.
Steamtown is advertised as a downhill marathon. I would say it has quite a few uphills too. I've learned that it is one thing to look intensely at a course map and even plan your training around it, and another thing to actually run the course. I had trained really consistently on hilly courses, but my body was evidently not ready for what Steamtown actually required. Charlottesville hills are NOT like Scranton, PA hills! There was a continuous nonstop downhill from mile 2-5, which felt probably like what running down Afton Mountain would be like. There were several other lengthy downhills with a few short steeper uphills in the first 10 miles. Beginning at mile 12, I had some quad cramping which became quite severe as I continued. (From miles 13-15 I was mentally saying Hail Marys...praying is always good but not that early in a marathon!!!) In some ways, I am proud that I was able to mentally tough it out and hang in there over what was essentially 14 miles. On the other hand though, I am not at all happy with a 3:03 as an end result. At around mile 18-20, I did some mental math, and knew if I just held 7:30s or faster, I'd still break 3:00. I had found a way to deal with the pain and got into a certain rhythm and was knocking out 7:08s. I thought, "I can do this!" and then I hit mile 23 which is the most inhumane mile I have ever encountered in a race. This was steep. This was very uphill. If the block party DJ hadn't been playing "Cotton Eyed Joe" as I ran by, I am not sure how very slow this would have been, but it almost certainly would have been less pretty.
IF I would do Steamtown again, I would definitely prepare differently by:
-- adding in intensive quad specific exercises in the weight room!!! I currently do no lifting and this apparently works just great. (Yoga is really all body-weight "weight training" if you want to look at it that way.) However, I would make an exception for the demands of this course.
-- replacing hilly runs with more runs that closely resemble the actual course. Honestly I think I'd probably have to run down Afton, a big old mountain in Charlottesville, or find somewhere similar with a VERY long steady-state downhill on which to practice. This experience showed me that one can be super ready for 26.2 generally speaking, but not ready for 26.2 of a SPECIFIC course. At least I know that now, and will take that much more seriously in the future. I did a lot of extremely hilly long runs in Cville, but these changed more frequently from uphill to downhill so there was a lot more variation.
-- possibly wear longer compression type shorts that hit just above the knee to help keep the quads more comfortable?? Similar effect to compression socks on the calves?
On a positive note, I give myself an A+ for nutrition and hydration on this one (something that I did NOT quite have figured out for marathon 2). I got in all the GUs, dumped lots of water on my head, and drank lots of electrolytes. I timed all of that just right, mostly thanks to my family stationed out on the course at very specific points that I gave them ahead of time.
Mile 6: Dad, Uncle Joe, cousin Clare
Mile 12: Aunt Steph
Mile 17: Aunt Debbie and Noni (Clare's 80-year old grandma who did an awesome job cheering)
Mile 20: Mom (if there's anyone you want to see at mile 20 of the marathon, it would definitely be my mom)
Mile 23: Dad, Uncle Joe, cousin Clare
At various points in the delirious last mile or so: practically everyone above.
My family did an overwhelming awesome job supporting me, so it was doubly disappointing to not be able to pump out some awesome results for them. A low 2:50 could have won this. My current races and long runs suggested to me that the 2:48-2:50 range was very doable. The most frustrating thing about this race was that cardio-wise it was extremely easy (maybe I should try to see that as a good thing?) but I basically had one part of my leg function entirely knocked out for the second whole half. (This reminded me a little of my first ever marathon, where I had calf cramping from 18 onward--in that case it was because had not trained enough in flats and my marathon shoes were too light for the distance. My first marathon was a 3:17 at Kiawah in 2012, but I was in shape for a 3:00-3:05. My calves for Steamtown were great the whole time, so I learned from that mistake! I guess it's really all a learning experience.) My family was still so proud of me, but I wish I had run faster for them.
I clearly have some unfinished business to attend to with this distance, which I'd rather settle sooner than later. I'm looking at a couple December marathons, and assessing over the next week or so whether my body will let me do this again because I am quite frankly pissed off. The great thing about a December marathon is that there aren't that many road races around for December/January anyways, so I otherwise wouldn't be missing too much in that circuit!