Sunday, April 30, 2006

My 43K Training Marathon

The Short Version:

Today I participated in the Northern Black Forest Marathon, finishing in 4:42:00 (the time was rounded off, it was actually a couple seconds under this). Due to some construction the marathon was extended from the traditional marathon distance to 43K/26.7M – which is about a half mile further than normal. The race consisted of two loops with about 1/3 asphalt bike trails or roads and the rest mostly gravel logging roads with a few dirt sections here and there. There were no mile (or kilometer) markers, which caused me (and many others) to go out too fast, but I was able to hang in there. Despite taking 3 minute walk breaks every 30 minutes, I still finished within 8 minutes of my best marathon time to date (and today was a half mile further). All in all a satisfying “training” run.

The Long Version

The race today was a dress rehearsal for my 50K race on May 25th. I wanted to test my run/walk strategy, which is 30 minutes running/3 minutes of fast walking for the duration of the race. With my previous marathons I always tried to run straight through, so this was a new concept for me and one that I have been training with during my long runs over the past month or two. The race was primarily a Nordic walking race, but walkers and runners were invited as well. There was no mass start, marathon participants could start between 8-10 a.m., 10K and HM participants could start between 8-11 a.m. On the back of the start number was a list of checkpoints (5K, 10K, 15K, 20K, 25K, 30K, 35K) whereas the participants had to stop at these check points and have their number signed. The start number was in a plastic envelope which could be attached to a belt or shirt. The starting time was written on the start number at the starting line when the participant wanted to start the race.

The entire course was a continuous bunch of rolling hills, with the highest elevation gain being around 100 meters (approx. 300 feet). The marathon route basically consisted of two loops. As I mention in the short version there were no mile markers, and only about half of the checkpoints (aid stations) posted the distance, so participants were pretty much on their own as far as determining speed. It was a cool and frosty 3C/37F at the start of the race, but was sunny and warmer by the time I returned.

I didn’t taper for this race, my only pre-race preparation was to reduce my 20K run to 14K last Wednesday and my 14K run to 8K on Thursday (I actually ran it Friday).

In any case we were up at 6 a.m. and on the road by 6:45. I wanted to try to start at 8 a.m., but it took longer to get to the race than I had anticipated, so I started at 8:36 a.m. The first 4K/2.5M were asphalt paths running between the neighboring fields and over gently rolling hills. I passed probably a dozen Nordic walkers on the way, I noticed write away that everyone was friendly and not in any particular hurry. I exchanged greetings with almost everyone I passed, it was an awesome environment compared to city marathons.

Just after the 4K point I turned and headed into the forest on a gravel logging path and eventually caught up and passed a few runners. At the 5K checkpoint the girl didn’t have a pen so waved us through. Shortly after the checkpoint was the highest climb for the course, but very gradually, rising a 100 meters over probably 500 meters distance – with the first loop it felt almost effortless.

So the trail continued over the rolling hills and the 10K point popped out of nowhere at a road crossing. The young man manning the checkpoint at least had a pen, but no cups – I refilled a half-liter water bottle that I was carrying with me. I was a little skeptical that the 10K checkpoint really was at 10K, based on my time I would say it was closer to 11K or 12K – but no matter. After the checkpoint began one of the most scenic portions of the run, on a dirt and gravel path that wound along a stream for about 30 minutes, ending by an old mill of some kind. This was also where the next checkpoint was, this one was marked 17K (34K for loop 2). I wish I had my camera with me, it was a really beautiful location – the mill, a small goat farm and a little waterfall – all nestled in a small river valley surrounded by forest.

The climb out of this little valley was short and abrupt, I ran it the first loop, but had to walk up it the second loop. After a couple rolling hills the trail turned back onto the original asphalt path where I started. Here we had to backtrack to within 1K of the finish, then loop around a field and onto the asphalt path again for the second loop. I am curious how many people gave up with the sport club within view – definitely not a motivating factor.

So by the end of the first loop I was still feeling fine, keeping the speed down, taking my walk breaks, drinking, eating etc. It was first around the 34K/21M point where my legs started feeling really tired. I munched on some salted pretzels and it seemed to get better for a short time. For the most part I tried to ignore the pain and kept going. I did notice that my speed was declining rapidly, but managed to keep moving anyway.

The last 4K, which were on the asphalt path, where pure hell – my legs were hurting and on the asphalt they were being beat to a pulp! As I was not overly concerned with my race time I elected to take a couple extra walk breaks. I at least managed to run the last kilometer in, albeit without any sprint and glory this time.

I was satisfied with my 4:42:00 finishing time, I really hadn’t planned on returning in under 5 hours, as this was a training run.

My wife was waiting for me in the sport clubhouse – she had brought her homework from the evening class with her to work on. We were generally disappointed with the food that was available from the group and elected to wait until we got home to eat. I did have a sandwich and a coke before we left. I was also disappointed that the race T-Shirt was not included in the event registration. My wife told me that several people had already complained about this and several other things, so I left them alone this time.

So as I said this was a dress rehearsel for my 50K and I did learn a few things. I started out too fast and ran too many of the hills on the first loop. I think my legs would have felt better if I slowed down and walked the hills. The salted pretzels seemed to have helped, I need to try them on my two remaining long runs before the 50K. I also carried a couple pieces of candy with me which I consumed after the 20M point to bring my blood sugar up – this really seemed to help in the energy department – I didn’t feel as much fatigue as normal.

In any case, 5 hours later my legs feel much better, a little achy, but I can walk up stairs (the ultimate test, right ;-). I will probably try to go out for a 15 minute jog tomorrow as a damage assessment. I hope that I am able to continue training on Wednesday with a 14K/8.7M recovery run. On Saturday is the 8.88889K Baden Mile race that I do every year with my company – I told everyone that I am going to walk it this year – no one believes me ;-) In any case this means I have to do my hilly long run on Friday. I will decide how long when once I get out and start running – I would like to do at least 2-2 ½ hours.

Have a great week!

nice marathon "training" run jack!
That's awesome Jack, a marathon for a training run. You did rather well out there, and if you had tapered and ran it as a race, you would have smashed your previous PR by some serious margin. Well Done!
that sounded great, Jack! seems like a good training run.
Sounds like a great run Jack. I enjoy using marathons as training runs. It takes some of the pressure off and gives me a chance to enjoy it a little more.
Great job on the "training" marathon! I bet it feels great to have a marathon as just another run and not any huge event! It sounds like a beautiful course.
Nice training! i would KILL for that time for a real marathon! It's interesting that you still accomplished that time even taking walking breaks. It all sounds too beautiful for words (except for the legs falling apart, part.)
I hope I have a similar experience in two weeks when I run my "practice marathon." Good job on running well without the serious marathon hype. Sounds like a very laid back race where you should feel good about your personal motivation to do well.

Also, I don't have stairs at my house so my ultimate test has always been how hard it is to sit down on the toilet. Good thing nobody's in there to see me sometimes.
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