So here I am, enroute to run THE race (and totally road tripping it to get there!!). My upcoming Long Beach Marathon, 2 days away now, is the race that has deemed all other races I’ve run over the past few months ‘training runs’. THIS is the one that actually counts. As if to say the others don’t.
No, wait. They most certainly count! In fact, it’s in reliving those races / training runs I will find my confidence for this Sunday’s marathon. Because at this moment, my goals feel incredibly ominous – just short of impossible.
I dedicated the past 12 weeks to this marathon training and within it held an average of 115 km per week (71 miles per week). I also ran my first 100 mile week ever and capped off that milestone by running the inaugural VanRace 30km race.
When I’d first learned of VanRace 15k and 30k, I’d immediately brushed it off. Why race an odd distance like that? I like my 5k’s, 10k’s, halfs and fulls. In fact, I’m still getting used to the 8k – a racing distance I was exposed to for the first time 7 years ago, upon arriving in BC. Apparently Ontario doesn’t do 8k’s. That, or I was out of the loop back then!
But upon further reflection, and the fact that many members of the WestVanRun team I’m a part of were doing it (peer pressure lol), I decided to give the 30k distance a go. I figured it’d be a great way to get in one of my long marathon pace workouts – I had 3 of them on the schedule in total: two 21kms and one 24km.
Coach worked it so that VanRace would essentially be my 24km marathon pace run. I was to go out at an easy pace for the first 5km, then pick it up to marathon pace and continue the next 25km at my goal race pace. Ironically, my two 21k marathon pace runs were also completed within races and I can attest to the fact that it is MUCH easier to do pace workouts within a race rather than by yourself!!
As I mentioned, VanRace was to be the final 30km in my 161km week (100 miles). Which also meant zero taper. Needless to say, it felt odd to go into a race so ‘unprepared’. But crazy enough, it worked perfectly. Here’s how it went down…
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After a double run on Saturday, the day before VanRace, Sunday, September 6th dawned bright and clear. You know, one of those perfect racing days. I’m treating this as a ‘dress rehearsal’ for marathon day, so I wake at 4am (three and a half hours before race start) and jump right into my now well-established pre-race breakfast of Qi’a instant oatmeal with walnuts, hemp hearts, maple syrup, honey and banana. And my matcha – of course!
Knowing there was a small parking lot at the start line, hubby and I wanted to arrive early in order to nab a spot there. And herein lies my one mistake of the morning. We leave later than scheduled, on our best guess of when the parking lot might fill up, and as we are driving there I know if we stop to grab me my usual triple shot espresso (which I religiously have exactly one hour prerace), we might miss getting a parking spot.
Because being late was totally my fault, I give the okay to just drive straight there. As we pull in, we literally get the second last parking spot – at the expense of my espresso shots. I don’t let it bug me though, telling myself this isn’t a ‘real’ race so don’t freak out. And lesson learned for real race day – maybe buy the espresso shot the night before to ensure I’ve got it with me race morning!!
The great thing about being parked right at the start line is after going down to grab our race packs and saying hi to my RunWestVan team members, hubby and I end up back in the car, hanging out there in the warmth, pinning on our bibs, relaxing. I shoot back my BeetElite shot – the other ergogenic aid I use regularly – at exactly 7:00am, 30 minutes to race start.
It’s about 15 minutes before the gun is to go off so we saunter down to the start area and take our places. Being the very first year for this race, it’s a small gathering of runners – 144 racers in the 15k and only 95 in the 30k. The 15k racers line up on the west side of the start mat while I line up with the 30k racers on the east side of the mat. It’s a funny sight, the two sets of racers ready to head off in opposite directions.
And go! Immediately I find it incredibly difficult to stick to an ‘easy’ pace for those first 5km. I always think it to be completely ridiculous and inexplicable how a pace that usually feels like I’m pushing it can feel so crazy easy. There I am, literally floating along at a 5:20/km or so pace and I actually feel like I’m crawling (to give you context, my easy runs are done at 5:40 to 6:00/km so obviously I am not crawling). Furthermore there is NO WAY I can slow it down any further.
I latch onto a couple of runners going my ‘easy pace’ – okay fine, my ‘faster than easy pace but feels crazy easy at the moment pace’ – and settle in. I think I recognize one of them. Wouldn’t it be embarrassing if it really was the person I think it is and there I am not saying anything to them but literally hanging off their elbow? So I think I might call out their name. But what if it isn’t them and now I’ve waited until like 2km in to check… Gah.
So I float along just barely behind them and then before I know it my GPS is almost at 5km. I pull up beside them and begin to explain why I’ll all of a sudden be dashing off and thanks so much for putting up with me hanging off of them… When I realize it totally is the person I thought it was! We get 30 seconds to catch up and then my GPS clicks over to the 5km mark. It is time.
I pick up my pace gradually just until I land perfectly on my marathon pace and hold it there.
I immediately jet off and fall into my 10k race pace for an entire kilometre. Yep, don’t ask me why I think it might be a good idea to burn up so much at the front end of this run, but clearly I am having a lot of trouble with pacing!
So as I click over to the 7th km I pull back and fall into my marathon pace, which is supposed to be about a 4:55/km pace or so. Well, almost. I am possibly a few seconds faster than marathon pace. Clearly I don’t learn. Like, ever. It is quite possible that banking time will forever feel like a brilliant idea when I am racing. LOL.
Because I’ve ‘held back’ for the first 5km, I’d automatically assume I’ll start passing loads of runners. I’d forgotten to consider the amount of racers actually participating – 95. I eventually see another racer and pass him. And then another. Eventually another. But they are few and far between.
One runner surges when I pass him and I can hear him behind me for the next 2 minutes. Then he passes me!! I let him… But then I swear he slows down because here I am passing him and I’m darn certain I’ve not picked up my pace! So we play back and forth for nearly 4km. Eventually, he doesn’t pass me again. I have lost him.
At this point I’m about a quarter of the way around Stanley Park and nearing the 11km mark. Total. Meaning I’m only about 6km into my 25km marathon pace portion. I’m now feeling it and it would be lovely to just back off the pace and slow down a bit. In fact, were I not in a race I probably would.
But I see a guy up ahead of me I need to pass to I keep going.
Ah shoot, he was just a runner out on the seawall for a causal run. Too easy. Gimme another racer!
But nothing. No one. I round a corner and see a volunteer. I ask, “How far ahead is the next racer?” At least that’s what I think I said.
But he only says, “Yes yes, just keep going!”
Right. Going. I am running hard and my face is twisted in a grimace. I’m trying to imagine how on this earth I will do this on marathon day… And I cannot. My brows furrowed, I round another corner… And see someone I know who’s out for their training run, running towards me. I smile and wave. Later he tells me that was the fastest he’s ever seen someone go from a look of totally about to die to super happy smiley. Haha yep, sounds about right!
And then… I fall into a zone. I love these zones. I can’t tell you were time goes or how I cover so many kilometres at that pace. It just happens.
I snap out when I realize there’s a bit of an out and back – I get to see how many racers are in front of me! But I’m disappointed, because there’s not too many that are within catching distance.
I fall back into ‘the zone’. With about 6km left to go I’m approaching a water station. I also realize I’m gaining on another racer! I grab water as I fly by… And he stops for a second. I don’t see him again.
I know my paces have slowed slightly. At this point however, all I can do is hang on. Overall average is now slower than marathon pace. I know this is not supposed to be how you race. I’ve raced very few races with a negative split. Wait. One. I’ve run one negative split race. I think it was an 8k.
With exactly 1 mile left to go, I turn a corner… And there is my hubby, looking for me. He starts running with me and I’m so overcome by emotion to see him I nearly begin crying. Note – tears and trying to run fast don’t mix well. I pull it together! He’s come to run me in, and I know he knows just how much I appreciate the support.
I can hardly talk, but I ask him how he did… He says, “I finished.”
Not knowing what that means but thinking it might be bad I leave it alone. Besides, I can’t talk! So he talks. As he encourages me, my pace picks up.
I’m all of a sudden catching up to a number of racers, so we pass them. Three in total! And then there is the finish line. Hubby sends me off with 200m to go and I cross the finish line with hands in the air.
I am over the moon ecstatic! Not only did I finish with an overall time of 2:28:54 which equalled an overall average pace of 4:56/km including the 5k ‘warm-up’ (a pace I’d be happy with on marathon day), I’d also just accomplished 100 miles in a week. Hubby found me on the other side of the finish line… And I again ask him how his race went.
“Oh, I won the race!” he says.
So I guess you could say it was a good day for us both then.
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I sit here, nearly a month later, reliving that race / training run over and over again in my head. Reminding myself how sluggish I felt the day before, how many miles I had in my legs… Yet how I rocked that run.
We hear it over and over again – trust in the training. For good reason, coaches know what they are doing. Training plans are devised from what has been shown to yield best results time and again. Plus, I know my body well after so many rounds of marathon training. This will be my 18th marathon, and my PB’s have all been run of off ridiculously high mileage. Let me re-phrase that – what most see as a crazy amount of kilometres. It is in fact nowhere near the amount that most elites run. My average week is ~115km. According to his Strava account, elite marathoner Rob Watson’s average week is like ~225km.
I ran my half marathon PB one week after running a 30km training run, exactly 8 days prior. I ran my marathon PB a mere 5 days after running an 8km trail race as well as running a long 27km run exactly one week prior, plus my total mileage the week prior was 120km. Those stats aren’t necessarily normal… Or how one is “supposed” to train for a marathon. Yet obviously they’ve worked for me.
But I’ve had a relatively traditional taper this time round. Coach and I have pretty much copied to the letter what I did leading up to my Eugene Marathon 3:31 PB last July. Only I have a much stronger and longer training cycle behind this taper. I still don’t know exactly what my best recipe for success is, but I’ll be one step closer to knowing very soon!
In the end, there is only so much we can do to prepare. And I actually think I’ve done literally all I could do this round. Yet I know there are always lessons to be learned from each go. Hopefully any lessons learned this Sunday will accompany a shiny new PB. So here goes!!