Sunday, May 6, 2012

Colorado Marathon Race Report


As many of you know, I ran the Las Vegas RnR Marathon in December and had a frustrating and disappointing experience. Some of that was a result of a poorly organized race. Some of it was a result of poor race execution on my part. And some of it was likely due to poor strategy for remaining fueled for a night race. Nonetheless, I missed my goal of 3:15 and I still feel STRONGLY that I was capable that day.

I'd be lying if I didn't admit that my decision to sign up for the Colorado Marathon was influenced by my disappointment. The CO Marathon was filling at a record pace and I was forced to make a quick decision. Bummed about my efforts in Vegas, I wanted to redeem myself. There were points during training that I just didn't feel "into it" and even had a little "buyer's remorse". This was particularly true when I was injured and forced to think about whether or not I should have taken more time off to recover after a huge 2011. Training was overall good, but it was interrupted by injury and I was forced to keep it balanced as I work toward the Leaville 100 in August. It wasn't until my Platte River Half Marathon that I even considered this race as more than a training run.  A strong showing led me to believe that I was marathon ready, despite not being totally marathon focused. Jon tried convinced me that 3:10 was a possible outcome if I had a good day and was prepared to give a full race effort. More importantly, he convinced me that 3:15 was a reasonable outcome with less than full effort and minimal recovery time. Sorry for the long prelude, onto the report...

Leading Up to the Race

As part of my ultra training (and my frustration over Vegas), I have gone bananas reading all I can about nutrition and hydration. There was a very clear and precise plan for this race:
  • Eat 300 calories for every hour I was awake prior to the race (2 hours = 600 calories)
  • Consume 250 calories per hour from easily digestible carbs, fluids being the preferred way
As part of my research, I have been toying with GU Roctane Brew. It is a relatively new product and one of the few that can provide 250 calories per serving. It tastes very good and leaves my thirst satisfied. The problem was that the course serves GU Brew (same company, different product), which is roughly half the number of calories. I am not a big fan of gels and they require lots of water to be usable to your stomach or you wind up dehydrated. Add this all up and it meant one thing, I was carrying my own beverage for the entire race. I used a little waist pack and had individual baggies of Roctane Brew powder ready to mix. I know from testing that I can comfortably nurse a 21 ounce handheld every hour or 8 miles. That ratio is perfect because that is one serving and 250 calories.

The second point of emphasis was starting the race with a full tank of carbs (glycogen). For this I dug a little deeper and decided to experiment with some Sustainable Energy Powder by Heed.  The product offers 320 calories per serving.  It is made mostly of carbohydrates, but with just enough protein to satiate hunger, kickstart recovery, and facilitate efficient glycogen use. My plan was to down a serving of this immediately upon waking up and then nibble on a protein/energy bar (another 250 calories) on the bus ride. I figured that would leave me plenty of time to settle things and use the restroom before the race started. This last part was a bit of a crapshoot as I don't often get up 2 hours before a run, so it was somewhat untested. It seems to have worked like a charm.

Miles 1 - 12

I went back and forth all week on how to approach this race. 3:10 or 3:15? Despite Jon's efforts, I just didn't have faith in a 3:10. When the gun went off, the race started with a furious pace and almost all of the runners that I expected to finish near me took off quickly. My 3:15 plan was to start somewhere around 7:22 and ease into the race. The early splits where sub-7:20, and while it felt easy, I learned a hard lesson in Vegas. I was happy to back off and stay near 7:20. I rarely lost sight of Dave as he remained about a quarter of a mile of head of me for most of this stretch. My first stop to make my own GU Roctane was a little bumpy.  The aid station volunteer accidentally overfilled my container and I wasn't quite as prepared as I should have been. Then I had to stop and water a tree at about the 10 mile mark. Finally, just after mile 12 I caught up with Dave and we began running together. I told him I hoped to stay in the high 7:20's until mile 20 and then I would pour it on (assuming I could).

Miles 13 - 17

Dave and I continued running together. We crossed the halfway point together at 1:36:42. It was at this point that I knew 3:10 was not going to happen, I was running the course long and needed to make up too much time.  Toward the end of this section together, things got a little disjointed. First I stopped to make my final GU Roctane drink at the 16 mile mark. (The second powder mix went off flawlessly and took me less than 10 secs.) Then I took my only GU of the day (a Roctane GU as well) and I had an instant pick me up that pepped up my legs. Shortly there after, Dave dropped something and stopped to pick it up. I continued on running and that end our stint of nearly five miles together.

Miles 18 - 21

As we cleared Ted's Place and turned toward Fort Collins, I could hear Dave from behind asking the crowd to "cheer on his friend AJ". That was a welcome cheer and a great gesture by him.  I pumped my fist in the air to acknowledge Dave and the crowd. I was feeling strong and ready to hit the hill that everyone talks about -- the only hill in this race. As I approached 18.5 miles on my Garmin, I could see the hill off to my right. We turned and headed straight toward it and I thought, "that's it?!". It didn't look all that bad to me. I hit it hard and kept a strong split (7:25). It did hurt a little, but not like I had expected. Once I crested that hill, my mind was free and my legs wanted to go. But I continued to  keep the pace conservative because 7 miles was still too much race to turn on the after burners. 

Dave had told me that Nico was "way up there" before he and I departed. I sort of expected to see Nico at some point, but I was shocked that it was not until mile 21. He looked strong. We exchanged pleasantries and then he started talking trash with a young guy and picked up the pace. I was still not ready to blow it out and I let him go ahead.

Miles 22 - Finish

Finally at mile 22, I decided it was time to start gradually pouring it on. And pour it on I did. I would like to have kept a count of how many people I passed, but there were countless half marathoners (and runners in the 5K and 10K) that I was passing as well. It was impossible to decipher from behind who was a torn up marathoner and who was a "walk-only" half marathoner. Nico remained strong with me until 23 and then I really started pouring it on. The remainder of the race was a bit of a blur as I just kept running harder and harder until I couldn't run any harder. Once I had determined for sure that 3:15 was in the bag, I let up a little until the final stretch into town.

Maybe my best marathon photo ever -- raising my hand to celebrate a well executed race and finally breaking 3:15.

At the Finish

After I finished, the first person I saw was Jon. He is such a good friend that he let me talk on-and-on about my race and Chuck's amazing performance. He finally told me his time and I was just stunned! I felt like a jerk for yammering about myself when he had blown it out. Then the rest of the crew started pouring in and the times were ALL amazing. Jen came in with the gutsiest performance of the day. Nico managed to put the finishing touches on an incredible race and a BQ. Dave had a strong race with a course PR. And on it goes. It was a great day for all.

My family and I had a LONG and exhausting Saturday, so we decided to check out and hit the road early. Unfortunately, we did not stay around to see Kegan, Ellen, Joanna, and many of our other friends finish. (I heard they all did amazing!)

Closing Thoughts

I guess my indecision in picking a race strategy showed as I pretty much split the difference between my goals. There is always a part of me that hopes/wishes for more, but that is the same side of me that keeps pushing harder for bigger goals. I think a full race effort today could have put a 3:10 in play, but I'll never know. Sorry for that little bit of lament, but I had to do it :)

The good news was that I felt strong and in control the whole run. I spent at least 20 of the 26 miles trying to hold myself back. My nutrition and hydration plan went off with almost machine-like precision. (I think I am starting to get a handle on it). And, the other piece of good news is that I don't feel blown up. My quads are not overly sore and I feel relatively fresh considering that I just raced a marathon. There is one more good push in me, but it will have to wait until at least 2013. This course will definitely get serious consideration when that day comes. It is beautiful, fun, and built for speed.

Final numbers: 3:13:29, 59th place (of 988), 53rd among men, 11th in my AG (35 - 39).  A near dead perfect split for the two halves of the race (about 3 or 4 second positive split).

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