Average pace: 6:47 min/mile
Despite strong winds, the Shamrock Marathon went almost exactly as I’d planned and--after almost two years of chasing this sub-3 hour goal--I finally broke through with a 2:57:40.
I like this mid-size marathon because it’s well organized, the hotels are cheap in March, restaurants are good (try Aldo’s on Laskin if you ever go), I have lots of friends in Virginia Beach, and you can stay a few blocks from both the start and the finish. The Shamrock Sportsfest now offers an 8K and a half marathon along with two kids races. They do the rock band thing, but in March….it’s a little chilly to hang around the beach for long. The marathon course is fast, relatively flat and fairly scenic on the north side.
I went down Friday afternoon with my 11 year-old son who was running in a kid’s race on Saturday. The 8K and kids runs are on Saturday, the half marathon and marathon on Sunday. My older son took the train down from NYC with his girlfriend – we have a nice weekend -- and then they hang out with the 11 year old while I run, meeting me at the finish line.
For me, this was one of my A races, with a full taper – after the B&A Half Marathon, I cut back substantially on my workout volume. I limited race week to one work out per day – running only 3 days (12, 8 and 6 miles working up to and beyond marathon goal pace and higher for the leg turnover). I tried to get 8-9 hours sleep a night, hit the protein hard until Wednesday, then started carbo loading. After an hour of easy spinning on Thursday on the trainer, I completely stopped working out. (Please forgive me, Jesse – but this works for me.) Nothing until the race – except sleep and carbohydrates – trying to keep the weight gain to a minimum.
Race day temp was perfect – 46 degrees at the start, about 50 at the finish – but the winds were strong: 20-25 knots from the north, with higher gusts. I was comfortable running in shorts and a singlet.
I’d planned on a goal pace of 6:50 per mile and set primary “checkpoints” at 6 miles (at or just under 41 minutes); 12 miles (1:22:00); 18 miles (2:03:00) and 24 miles (2:44:00). The first three checkpoints are also where I take accelgel with the final gel at about 22-23 miles.
I started a little too fast, but settled in hitting mile 6 at 40:37, mile 12 at about 1:21:15, the half at 1:28:31; mile 18 at 2:01:36 and mile 24 at 2:42:09 (I’ll never forget that split on my Garmin). At mile 24, I was about 2 minutes ahead of schedule and knew I was home free – I probably slowed a little as the quads were talking back by then. I was passed by about six people in the last two miles, but I’m not sure I cared too much – I knew by then I was going to break 3 hours with a couple of minutes to spare. At that point, I just wanted to back away from the wall and ensure I finished.
What was different? I think mainly my focus during the race – and my mental state. Beginning at mile 1, I really only looked ahead to the next mile. Each time I passed a mile marker, I’d add 7 minutes and subtract ten seconds, setting my goal for the next mile. That, and drafting during the 12 miles north into the wind, had my full attention. It seemed to work. In the past, I’ve lost focus around mile 19 or so. Not so today – this approach “kept me in the moment.” No negative thoughts – I felt strong or at least told myself I did for the full 2:57:40.
My training was a slightly different than in the past. I did “progressive long runs” – starting slow and then building to marathon goal pace for the last half or third of the long runs – sometimes as much as 10-12 miles to finish a training run at marathon goal pace. I also ran at MGP or better (sometimes as much as a minute faster) during tempo runs. Basically, I think my body was more used to running at this pace for longer period of times than ever before.
Drafting was critical today – the Shamrock course heads south for 6 miles, then we turn around, 12 miles north in the wind, then home with the wind. I hooked up with a group of runners and several of us (not everyone, there are always freeloaders…) took turns drafting in the strong winds and stronger gusts. This made all the difference.
Bottom line: it was a satisfying, but windy, day in Virginia Beach. And a PR day.