Twin Cities Marathon Recap

Take two: My browser just crashed before I could save my 1000-word recap.

Wow! What an experience! My first ever marathon on a beautiful course with the most amazing crowd support. And a race that went as perfectly as I could have hoped.

Marathon resultsMy main goal going into this race was not to hit the wall and have a miserable time. The plan was to go out slowly and keep even splits and maybe speed up in the second half. I did have a time goal – which is not recommended for newbies like me. But it was a very loose goal and I wasn’t going to beat myself up if I was falling behind. I wanted to feel comfortable for the first 18 miles and the goal was to run by feel. I did pick up a 3.45 pace band at the expo but only started to look at it at the halfway point where I was 2 minutes behind target pace but was pretty sure I would finish sub 4 hours. I actually only hit the goal mile splits at mile 26! I wanted to enjoy the race but also to get the most out of my 18 weeks training and get a race time that I could be proud of. For my first full distance I decided to be conservative and it definitely paid off (hello – almost 3 minute negative split!).

Now to the race details. Race day started at 5.30 AM with a breakfast of toast and a little bit of water (I ate half a granola bar at 7 AM). I was feeling surprisingly relaxed – maybe because I hadn’t put too much pressure on myself and I would have J running the entire course with me. We left at 6.15 AM and parked in downtown Minneapolis about two blocks from the race start.

The weather was a little cooler than I had expected –  38 F at the start with a high of about 50 F for the day. The morning was pretty sunny and I wore shorts with a long sleeve shirt plus some running gloves that I kept on for the whole race. My fingers and toes were a little numb for the first couple of miles but after that I felt fine. We dropped our sweat bags at 7.45 AM and headed to our corral. We placed ourselves between the 3.35 and 3.45 pacers and waited for the start. We crossed the line at 8.02 AM and headed towards downtown.

I had expected to feel pretty emotional at the end of the race, but it was actually at the start where I got a lump in my throat. Being surrounded by 8000 runners and ready to see where my 18 weeks of training would get me – I was already on a high.

The first couple of miles were through downtown Minneapolis and some of the nearby suburbs. We went out slower than goal pace and were just trying to take it all in. There were a couple of smallish hills and plenty of spectators lining the route. I felt sluggish for these first couple of miles and was a little worried that I was going to have a bad day. Then I remembered that it usually takes me 3-4 miles to warm up on my long runs and I just tried to relax and talked to J about all of the cool things that we were seeing on the route.

Mile 1: 8.48

Mile 2: 8.54

Mile 3: 8.29

After mile 3 we headed towards the parkway that runs around some of the lakes.

Twin Cities courseThey don’t call this the most scenic urban marathon for nothing. Most of the race had views of the lakes and the parks that surround them. There were also beautiful houses (we made a game of finding our dream house as we ran) and people out biking and running on the trails. It was so scenic – although these roads are normally for one way traffic and at some points turned a little narrow which made it a little difficult to pass people.

And the crowds! Holy crap! They were amazing. There were people out in their front yards blasting music, holding up some pretty funny signs, offering plenty of free high fives, fruit, popcorn, beer. We ran under a balloon arch, by drum bands, brass bands, a guy playing bagpipes, a guy playing a piano. Everything you could imagine. It was immensely humbling that people would give up their Sunday morning to watch people run 26.2 miles. It felt like we were running through a whole bunch of block parties. Being my first marathon, I have nothing to compare it to but it’s hard to imagine better spectators.

I’ve read a couple of race reports that say the first half of the marathon always goes by really fast, and as hard as it sounds it’s definitely true. The first half was pretty flat and maybe a little downhill. I was feeling good – just a little tight in my hip flexors – but overall very comfortable.

Mile 4: 8.36

Mile 5: 8.36

Mile 6: 8.39

Mile 7: 8.43

Mile 8: 8.31

Mile 9: 8.37

Mile 10: 8.23

Mile 11: 8.22

Mile 12: 8.25

Mile 13: 8.28

We went through 13.1 miles in 1.53.46. I knew that we would be crossing the bridge into St Paul at mile 19 so we kept a steady pace and tried to take everything in.

Mile 14: 8.36

Mile 15: 8.26

Mile 16: 8.28

Mile 17: 8.33

Mile 18: 8.28

Mile 19: 8.28

Mile 18 was the first place that I started to feel tired. On my long runs I had started to tired as early as mile 14 so I felt confident that we were going at a pace that we could keep until the finish line.

If you look at the elevation profile for this race, there is a monster hill from mile 20-23. I made a deal with myself that I would push through this hill and then hold on for the last three miles (which are downhill). Luckily for me, all of my hilly training runs around Salt Lake paid off, and to me this section was largely a non-event hill wise. Sure there was one short, steep section but overall it was fine. If you did any hill training you would be totally fine for this section.

Mile 20: 8.20

Mile 21: 8.13

Mile 22: 8.32

Mile 23: 8.30

Mile 24 is where things stared getting tough. My legs were tired. I knew that if I dug deep I could keep my pace for two more miles. And that’s the game I played with myself – you can run two miles, 1.5 miles, one more mile. Just before mile 26 we turned a corner and suddenly saw the Capitol building and the finish line. I looked at my watch and saw that I had two minutes to finish under 3.45 – so I went for it.

Mile 24: 8.20

Mile 25: 8.26

Mile 26: 8.18

Second half in 1.50.51 and a finish time of 3.44.37 (average pace 8.35 min/mile).

I think what helped during those last few miles was a familiarity with being uncomfortable. I had done long runs on tired legs, tempo runs where I had to really push to finish, trail races where I had to run up and then up so more. My training really got my used to reading my body and knowing the difference between real pain and when I was tired but could still keep going.

Once we were done I ate everything in sight – chocolate milk, fruit cup, chicken and veggie broth, chips, and clif bars. We then picked up our sweats and tried to stay warm (they give you a foil blanket when you get your medal). I also got a massage (would recommend) before picking up a finishers shirt and heading to the beer garden for a celebratory can of Summit beer.

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My calves and quads were not happy and are still sore today but I can live with some muscle pain after such a great race. I couldn’t have asked for a better debut. I surprised myself by actually ENJOYING it way more than I thought was possible. I’ve even signed up for my next full in May 2015. This may be the start of a major marathon addiction!

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Reflections on training for my first marathon

Yesterday marked the final training run in my 18 week marathon cycle. A chilly 4 mile tempo run. 2 miles at 7.14 min/male pace sandwiched with a downhill warm-up mile and an uphill recovery mile (7.41 min/mile average). I have a two mile shakeout run scheduled for Saturday and then M-Day – the Twin Cities marathon – my first ever 26.2 miles.

J has agreed to run this race with me (he has already qualified for and been accepted into the Boston marathon and this one is just for fun), and last night he asked me what pace I was planning on running. For me, as a first-time marathoner, this is a surprisingly difficult question to answer. I’ve trained hard over the last 18 weeks and want to show that in my time. Personally, it’s not enough just to finish. I need to do “well” but I’m not exactly sure what that means. On the other hand my major freak is hitting the all – and especially hitting it early by going out too fast. I had the pleasure (!) of experiencing this on my first 20 miler and do not want this to happen with another 6ish miles to go.

I started to look back over my training schedule. I followed Hal Higdon’s Intermediate plan (Hal has gotten me through my first 3 half marathons).

Monday: Rest or strength training day

Tuesday: Slow, recovery run. These varied from 3-5.25 miles and generally ranged in pace 8.50-9.20 min/miles.

Wednesday: For the first couple of weeks I took these easy. I ran a half marathon on the second weekend and was coming back from injury. But from week 6 onwards this became a steady state run. Ranging from 5.5-9.3 miles with paces averaging 7.50 min/miles.

Thursday: For 10/18 weeks this was a morning trail run that was super fun mainly because I had a running buddy which definitely makes the time go by so much faster.

Friday: Rest day

Saturday: I ran four races during this time, all of which fell on Saturdays;

Utah Valley Half Marathon 01.40.35

Park City Trail Series 5K 00.23.33

Park City Trail Series 10K 00.54.01

Park City Trail Series 15K 01.19.41

There had to be a couple of switching things around to make room for awesome vacations to Great Basin National Park and white water rafting. And of course the Hood to Coast relay which I realized I have yet to do a recap on. Oops. Six of the other Saturdays were also fast (for me). Ranging from 5-8 miles around 7.45-8.05 min/mile pace.

One of the things I wanted to practice during my training was to get used to running long runs on tired legs. So the Park City Trail races and my Saturday fast runs were followed by Sunday long runs. I peaked with two 20 milers but also had 15, 15, 17, and 18 mile runs in too. The average pace was around 8.55 min/mile. Peak week hit 45 miles but over the 18 weeks I was averaging 35ish miles for a total of 550ish miles total. Can you tell I’m a data nerd?

I feel pretty prepared. I made all of my scheduled long runs. I only missed one run due to injury (way back in week 3). And I think I’m as ready as I can be. But I’m still running a new distance for the first time and am a little totally nervous about it. On the plus side – I’ll be running a pretty flat course at sea level on fully rested legs. I have friends who have run this race multiple times and tell me the crowd support is amazing so I’m hoping for a race day adrenaline boost. And it looks like it’ll be pretty cool temperatures.

Using a race time predictor with my half marathon times (all around 1.40 -/+ a couple of minutes), it suggest that I should be able to run 3.30. I feel that this is way too ambitious for a first marathon, so I’m thinking around 3.45 (8.35 min/mile pace) if everything goes perfectly. I’m pretty confident that a sub-4 is on the cards but who knows – the marathon is a crazy beast.

I knew going into training that it would be tough, time-consuming and I would have to sacrifice some of my other hobbies (hello dusty yoga mat). But overall I’ve enjoyed it. Sure I’ve had some bad runs and a lot of mornings where I have not wanted to get up and run 8 or 9 miles before work. I guess what I’ve learned is that I really enjoy running. And following a schedule really works for me. It helps me get focused – I leave my house knowing exactly what workout I’ll be doing that day – distance, pace, hills etc. I like knowing I’m getting better even if those improvements are small and almost unnoticeable from day to day. I’ve read before that the actual race is just the victory lap for all those 6 AM starts and 3 hour long runs. I guess I’ll find out on Sunday!

Any last minute marathon/pacing advice to share?