On two marathons

After finishing the 2016 Twin Cities Marathon almost an hour later than I was hoping, making another attempt soon was never too far from my mind. I put it off for a while. I completely stopped running between September 2016 and August 2017 other than to do two little 5k races and one 10k — the latter was supposed to be my second marathon but got drastically downgraded.

Eventually, though, I had to get past this, to do better somehow, so on the last day of July I signed up for the 2017 Seattle Marathon. It was scheduled for November 26th, leaving seventeen weeks to train. That works for following the typical marathon training plans — a week longer than we gave ourselves for the TCM.

But training this year was similarly dismal. I started TCM training with a half marathon and started Seattle training with a 10-mile run. I ran 26 training runs each year. They totaled a paltry 241.4 miles before the TCM and 240.2 miles before Seattle. I used a different training plan this time, still torn from the pages of Runner’s World, but my original longest runs of 20, 21 and 22 miles were reduced to a single run of 19.74 miles. Overall, my ten long runs averaged 14.6 miles in length this year versus 15.6 average miles for eleven long runs last year.

To make it worse, my taper this year really fell apart. After the ~20-mile long run, I did two 15-mile runs. From there, 22 days remained until the marathon, and I just stopped running. Other than three miles around the middle school’s track with seven days to go, I did not do much of anything except work. And occasionally I stretched for a while.

The Seattle race falling six weeks later in the year than the TCM pushed the later weeks of training well into short fall days, wet fall weather and two-day weekends instead of a summer schedule of four-day work weeks. I just did not want to run, especially in the shorts and long-sleeve base layer than have been my running uniform for a while now. Knowing I was supposed to be running didn’t help, because I hate being told what to do (even by a non-judgmental page from Runner’s World).

All of these comparisons make my preparation this year look as poor as or worse than last year’s. However, for all but the last few weeks of the season I felt better about my training. The reason, I think, is reflected in these two numbers from each year:

2016 training runs over 17 miles
Average pace: 11:27 min/mile
Average cadence: 161 steps/min

2017 training runs over 17 miles
Average pace: 10:33 min/mile
Average cadence: 170 steps/min

Most of the difference in both pace and cadence is due to walking less in the final miles of long runs this year. That, in great measure, was due to less cramping, which I believe was aided by better nutrition. I emphasized pasta and other carbs for the night or nights before long runs. Instead of relying on an empty stomach that works great for short races, I doubled breakfast before long runs to two English muffins with peanut butter and honey (three before the marathon this year). I used Gu packets only at miles 10, 13, 16, 19, etc., rather than starting each run with Gu drops and eating a steady diet of Gu. I concluded each long run by drinking a large bowl of chicken broth, which seemed to bring water and salt levels back to normal most quickly.

So I felt better, other than knowing I had not been running enough. With no significant time nor will remaining to correct the lack of mileage, I bought a new set of running layers made for colder weather, ran those final three training miles in the new suit and concluded it would work, and took off very nervously for the marathon. My goal of a sub-four-hour finish had long been replaced by the simple goal of running the race I wanted to run: a completed marathon largely free of significant cramping and completely free of unplanned stops, hobbling or otherwise slow walking.

2016 vs 2017 marathon pace
2016 and 2017 marathon pace by mile

The chart above shows this year’s pace in blue over last year’s pace in yellow. My Seattle time was 4:29:02 versus last year’s 4:57:09. Notice all of the complete stopping in the Twin Cities race. Not this year. Other than a bathroom break and stopping to leave gloves with my cheering section, I only slowed my run when it was necessary to walk off leg cramps. I did not stop on the side of the course in fruitless attempts to stretch the cramps out of opposing groups of leg muscles. I instead lengthened my stride and walked or slowly jogged until they loosened.

You can also see in the final mile of each that the tired runner can glimpse the Space Needle (end of Seattle) from a greater distance than he can hear the bells of St Paul’s Cathedral near the end of the TCM. It is amazing how much energy can be summoned and how much pain decreases with the smell of the finish line.

Seattle Marathon cropped.jpg
On the left around mile 17 with an estimated two thirds of the race left to run (more photos)