Half marathon splits: 1:25:54 and 1:28:40
Average pace: 6:40 min/mile
The B&A Trail Marathon is a good local race sponsored by the Annapolis Striders: it’s well-organized, run mainly on the B&A trail, and they open Severna Park High School on race day, allowing us to use the showers and other facilities. I used it as the first test of my fitness after a three-month base period that started December 1st and I was pleased with the results – a PR and first in the age group.
It was good to see Bob Reid at the race – and I heard a lot of friendly “Go Mid Maryland” shouts during the out and back course. We have a very supportive group in our Club.
My base period this year was heavy on running miles and swimming. I averaged about 65 miles a week in December and January, with long runs starting at 16 miles in mid-December and increasing by 2 miles per week to a 26-mile training run at about 7:20 pace by the end of January. I would try to include hard tempo or lactate threshold runs during the week, and starting February 1st, added speed work – mainly 6-12 mile runs where the pace increases steadily as the run progresses – progressive runs or, some people call them, predator runs. They hurt, but with pain comes progress.
The main difference in my training this year was adding more intensive core work following my bout with piriformis issues (commonly known as a “pain the butt”) last fall. My inner self (and Maria at Sport & Spinal) told me that I’ve neglected my inner core long enough – I think it’s true – with a new series of core exercises 3-4 times a week, my running posture has improved, shortening my stride which has resulted in less pressure on the Achilles tendon and less lower back pain. The B&A Trail Marathon this year is my fastest so far, and in many ways, it was easier than some marathons I’ve run with slower times.
The forecast for race day was ominous: snow and sleet, winds 20-25 knots out of the north, mid-30s temps with wind chill in the 20s. It didn’t turn out that bad – starting temps were in the low 30s, but the precipitation was light and the winds weren’t bad – maybe 10 out of the northeast. It was actually a fairly decent day to run, although the only good drafting opportunities for me were in the first half marathon. (After the half marathoners turned home, there weren’t many of us left).
I tapered for this race, meaning I cut back to 40 miles two weeks out, and 20 miles the week before the race. I shortened my daily training distance (to 4-8 miles) but increased the intensity (pace) of the runs to promote leg turnover. I also maximized my sleep – trying to get 8-9 hours a night. Eight days before the race, I ran the second half of the marathon course, because I hadn’t seen it before. It was one of those days where it just feels good to run hard and impulsively I ran it at or below marathon pace. That wasn’t in my training plan. Afterwards my hip was complaining and I thought I blew it – but the hip recovered in 48 hours and didn’t bother me at all during the race.
I kept my standard race morning routine – I get up and eat at least four hours before the race – a bagel, sportsbar, banana, 20 ounces of accelerade and coffee. I quit drinking fluids two hours before the race, which eliminates the need to make a pitstop during the race. 20 minutes before the race – just before I warm up, I usually drink another 8 ounces of water.
I left for Severna Park just after 5 a.m., arriving about 6:15 in light snow. Packet pick-up was easy and I went immediately to the locker room to claim a locker. I brought dry clothes, a lock and my post-race recovery drinks. After locking everything up, I made a couple of pitstops and stretched. Here’s the real secret at B&A: everyone lines up in long lines for the single stall restrooms in the locker room and the dual stall restrooms in the front of the school. But, if you walk to the other side of the school, there are plenty of restrooms and absolutely no waiting.
At about 7:10, I started my pre-race warm-up – ten minutes of easy running, then back inside the school to stretch and stay warm. I went out about five minutes before the start and positioned myself in about the fourth row from the starting line – you’ve got to love small races. The race started on time and even then the weather was improving. The only real treacherous part of the course was the bridges on the trail – still covered in snow, slush and ice – very slick.
My race goal was to run 2:55 with even mile splits of about 6:40-45 pace and halves of about 1:27:30. I started a little fast at about 6:30 for the first several miles – it’s all those half-marathoners taking off at 6 minute pace, you get caught in the flow. What I have found to be most effective in pacing is to look ahead only a mile at a time. Each time I hit a mile mark, I added 7 minutes and subtracted 15 seconds, setting my goal for the next mile split. This helped me maintain concentration as I focus on hitting the split, thinking mainly about my running form and breathing. It worked Sunday – I think I was on or under all of the mile splits on the first half marathon and only missed two or three times late in the second half. (For the last 3 miles, I didn’t subtract the 15 seconds – math was getting harder by then I guess).
The B&A Trail Marathon is somewhat unique in that you run the first half with the half marathoners, who turn off at about 12.5 miles – but for those first 12.5 miles you don’t know who is going on and who is not…. I was drafting nicely for most of the first half, changing groups every so often depending on whether their pace was too fast or too slow. But once they turned for home, I was all alone -- I could only see one person about a mile or so ahead of me. The second half marathon was, in a way, somewhat lonely – except for the fact that I spent most of it chasing Maurice Pointer.
I was under my goal split at the half, hitting 13.1 at 1:25:54 – making me a little nervous that I went out too fast with the half-marathoners but I calculated that I only needed a 1:29:00 or so second half to make my goal.
At about mile 17, I caught the only one I could see and, almost simultaneously, Maurice Pointer pulled even with me. We ran stride for stride for maybe a half mile and he pulled away slowly. Maurice took about a 150 yard lead on me by mile 20, which he held until almost the end, finishing 20 seconds ahead of me. I thought I could catch him, because I seemed to gain ground on the hills – but there weren’t enough hills on this course. It’s really a fast and flat course.
What is nice about the course is that you get several opportunities to see where the leaders are and you can assess how those who are chasing you are feeling. With a double out and back course, as well as a short loop at mile 23, you can see who is where and get some idea of how they are feeling by the pain (or lack thereof) on their faces. Sunday the top 3-4 looked pretty relaxed when I passed them heading north (they were on their way south around mile 21), then there was no one else but me and Maurice, who was pretty much even with me at that point. Eventually, we both were passed by a guy who was surging at mile 23 – he looked pretty fresh too. An impressive kick. Maurice and I both kept a pretty steady pace until the end – I just couldn’t close the distance on him but he didn’t pull away either.
I started to feel a little glycogen depletion near mile 24, but nothing serious. I took 4 Accelgels during the race, one each at miles 6, 12, 18 and 24. (Bob Reid saw remnants of the chocolate caffeine gel on my chin immediately after the race – which might make a good picture). I alternated between Gatorade and water at the stops. I usually take only Gatorade, but I felt nausea at mile 8, and water tends to settle my stomach – a trick I learned at Ironman Coeur d’Alene after the broth made me ill at mile 14 of the marathon.
The final quarter mile of the course is a slight uphill, but it wasn’t enough for me to catch Maurice. No worries, both Maurice and I had PR days – he was the runner-up in masters and, with him out of the way, I got the age group award.
I’m still assessing both the race and my recovery, but even though it was a PR, this was not my hardest marathon and, 24 hours out, I’m not nearly as sore as I am normally after a hard marathon. I attribute much of the progress to core work during the base period. Thanks to Maria at Sport & Spinal, who told me last fall my problem was a weak inner core probably from so much running and cycling -- I’m now a believer and hopeful that her exercises will take me below 2:50 in a regular marathon and below 3:15 in an Ironman marathon leg.