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Category Archives: marathon

2011 Cleveland Marathon recap

This past Sunday, I finally got a monkey off my back. After failing to best my marathon PR from the 2007 Akron Marathon in my last 3 attempts, I was finally able to break through and set a new PR at the 2011 Cleveland Marathon, my 9th full marathon. And I didn’t just squeak past it by a few seconds. I shaved 5 minutes and 37 seconds off of it. Finishing around 3:40 had been my goal when I started training, but I’ll be honest that I was feeling very negative all week between knee pain I was feeling and the forecast for cold and storms.

My strategy for the race was pretty simple. Start with the 3:40 pace group and try to hang with them as long as possible. This proved to be quite a challenge, particularly at the beginning of the race since the starting area and first mile were very cramped and about a half mile in, the pace group found a seam and surged forward and I was stuck behind slower runners and struggling the get through. Happens with almost every race, yet I still get frustrated every time. I really wish every race would institute starting corrals based on pace, which helps (but doesn’t eliminate) this problem. Anyways, I was able to catch up by the one mile mark, but we had logged over a 9:30 mile, which was well off our needed pace of 8:23. My knee was aching the first few miles, but it finally calmed down and I fell into a nice rhythm.

This was my first time sticking with a pace group, and now I have no idea why I don’t do this every race. While I’m not one for interacting with other runners during a race, it was nice to be around a consistent group and eavesdrop on various conversations. And the 3:40 pace group leaders (there ended up being 3 of them), were awesome. They offered a lot of advice and encouragement during the race, and would often take turns dropping back to help pickup some of the group that was falling behind. They focused on the girls in the group, as 3:40 is a Boston Marathon qualifying time for them, but that was fine by me. I hit the halfway point at 1:50:23 (a little off since I had to stop and grab my own water cup off the table at the stop right before the mark), so I was right on pace, though I have always run the 2nd half of my marathons slower than the first half. Every single time.

I got nervous a few times after getting held up at water stops and then starting back up and seeing the pacers way ahead, but each time I was able to kick in a little bit and catch up. Also, after the halfway point when we were heading out east on Euclid and then Chester, there were a number of times when I really started to slip and fell maybe 50 yards back of the group, but I surprised myself by being able to claw my way back even each time. The pacers were hitting their marks perfectly. I think after the first mile, we were no further off the overall pace by more than 15-20 seconds. Heading towards the lake along MLK, we were approaching the dreaded 20 mile mark, which is usually when things start to fall apart. But I was pounding the energy gels, and I honestly wasn’t feeling too bad. I was starting to have some chaffing issues, but luckily I found the lone medical tent and got some Vaseline (really, just one medical tent along the whole course? Other races have them almost every water stop). Once we hit the lake, the long trek back downtown began. The last time I ran Cleveland, this was the worst part of the race as we were fighting a nasty headwind. But surprisingly it was not bad this year, at least when I was out there.

When we hit mile 24, our group was starting to disperse. I imagine a few people had already gone ahead, but it seemed like quite a few were starting to fall behind. The pace leaders were taking turns falling back to encourage people to keep up, and I decided that now was my time to kick it in. Usually I “hit the wall” well before this point, but I was still feeling relatively good, besides my knee which was starting to bug me. I pulled ahead of the pace leaders, and that was the last time I saw them (though I wasn’t going that much faster, so I could still hear them for some time, pushing the others). It seemed to take forever to get back downtown, and the last mile felt like a maze, dodging down side streets. Once I hit E.9th, and the crowds, and the downhill, it was on. I went as fast as my legs would allow me, knowing I had a good chance of coming in under 3:40. I hit 26, turned the corner and stared down that finish line. Apparently my wife was right there with her friends, screaming for me, but I was so zoned in that I didn’t notice. I hit the finish and stopped my watch, which read 3:39:20. Mission accomplished. Finally.

My Garmin watch was a little off on it’s distance, but it shows the last 3 miles of the race were my 3 fastest miles, and I was running almost a 7:00 pace that last .2 of the race. So the 2nd half of the race I finished in 1:48:57, which is 1 minute and 26 seconds faster than my first half. I had finally achieved the coveted “negative splits” in a race. I thought it was only a myth (at least for me).

Not sure what to credit for my breakthrough. There are a number of things that probably helped to contribute:
– New training plan with heart-rate monitoring
– Sticking with pace group from the beginning of race
– Lots of energy gels (six!) during the race
– Lots of carbs in the days before the race

Whatever it was, it worked. So I’ll probably incorporate all of these in the training for my next marathon (which is TBD). Usually after marathons I claim they are my last. And after running my best one, it’s very tempting to say it was my last. But it was marathon #9. Being able to say I’ve run 10, a nice round number, sounds a lot better. So I’ll probably be back at it at some point. Looking forward to some down time and some shorter summer races.

Here are my stats from the race:

Chip Time: 3:39:20
Division Place (M, 30-34): 80th of 249
Gender Place: 469th of 1632
Overall Place: 568th of 2636
Pace: 8:22.0
Split10K: 0:52:13
Half: 1:50:23
Split30K: 2:36:19

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Cleveland Marathon countdown

The 2011 Cleveland Marathon is just two days away, and it is hard to avoid being preoccupied with that knowledge. This will be my 9th marathon, but I still get as anxious as I did for #1. As is typical, I am dealing with some injury concerns which always seem to pop up during these last couple weeks of training. This time it’s a new one for me, a rather sharp pain at the back of my left knee. It just started a few weeks ago, but seems to be getting worse. Yesterday I lasted one minute on the treadmill before having to stop, though I was able to go outside (before the storms) and get in 30 minutes of running with bearable amounts of pain. Here’s to hoping it holds up for 26.2 miles on Sunday.

Hoping for a PR, as always. But those have been hard to come by the last few years for me. I did manage to set a new PR in the 5K last year, but my marathon PR is now nearing 4 years back. Here is a recap of my marathon history, with it’s progressions (and regressions):

– 2005 Akron Marathon- 4:07:49
– 2006 Flying Pig Marathon- 3:52:13
– 2006 Detroit Marathon- 3:49:18
– 2006 Philadelphia Marathon- 3:52:55
– 2007 Akron Marathon- 3:44:57 (PR)
– 2008 Cleveland Marathon- 3:54:30
– 2009 Akron Marathon- 4:14:03
– 2010 Pittsburgh Marathon- 3:50:32

Looks like I should have quit while I was ahead, after Akron in 2007.

Sunday’s strategy is to try to stick with the 3:40 pace group as long as possible and hang on to get in under 3:45 (or more specifically, 3:44:56). I have a tendency to go out too hard and flame out later in the race. Part of me thinks that I am going to flame out late in the race anyways, so why not bank some faster miles early on? But I am always told that is a bad idea, and my experience has pretty much proven that, though it’s still hard to resist the urge. The weather is looking pretty iffy, upper 50s/low 60s, but rain/storms? Would prefer to avoid the rain as I’ve already had one waterlogged Cleveland Marathon experience (2008).

Heading out to the expo in Euclid tomorrow morning, and then home to rest, deal with my anxiety, and eat a big bowl of spaghetti. Good luck to the other runners (particularly my wife Kristy who is running the half)!

Oh, and for those interested, here is a cool 4 minute time-lapse video from Cleveland.com of the marathon course.

Marathon #5 in the books

Today was a great day for a marathon. The weather was perfect, in the low 40s at the start of the race, at 7am, and it only got up to the mid 60s by the end. It was my second time taking on the Akron Marathon, and fortunately I fared much better this time than I did two years ago. Not to say that it was easy though. Running 26.2 miles is never easy, especially when it involves what seems like a lot more uphills than downhills.

Fortunately we made it down to Akron and found parking with a good 25 minutes to spare. I’m usually super-early, but Akron isn’t a huge event and I know my way around fairly well. Which is a good thing, because the exit I was planning to take was closed for the race. I spent my 10 minutes in the line for the obligatory pre-race port-a-potty stop. In the starting area, I managed to get near the 3:40 pace runner, which I was going to try to stick around since that was my stretch goal for the race. But once the race started, I lost track of him and don’t remember seeing him again.

I tried to avoid the “sprint out of the blocks” habit that I have in distance races, and managed to do fairly well. I found myself hitting almost exact 8 minute miles for the whole first half of the race. In fact, I hit the halfway point (13.1 miles) in 1:44:30, which is a 7:58/mi average. There were a number of interesting sites along the way, including a number of local marching bands, about 30 hippies of all ages hanging out in front of some house singing songs, and a group of old ladies hanging out in lawn chairs, one with a sign to wish her a happy 88th birthday, which I did. One thing I love about Akron is the people. Lots of people come out, many setting up chairs out front of their houses, and cheer on total strangers like they would their closest friends.

The fluid station coverage was good, averaging about one every 1.5 miles or so, and I made sure to grab something at each one to try to avoid dehydration & muscle cramps. I also choked down some GU energy gel about 4 times, to try to get some carbs in my system. My halfway point time was awesome for me, but things got a whole lot tougher shortly after that. Once we finished the 4 mile stretch on the towpath trail (part of the Cuyahoga River valley), it was time to climb out of the valley, from about mile 17 to 22 (see elevation chart). I managed to run the whole thing (well, at times it was slow enough to arguably not be running), but it took a lot out of me.

Miles 23 & 24, when we go out by Stan Hywett Hall & Gardens, I was pretty wiped out from the hills, but I kept putting along, barely. Fortunately, mile 25 is mostly downhill on Market Street, past Highland Square, and I was able to approach a more running-like pace. The last mile had some tough uphills mixed in with the downhill, but it helped that the last quarter mile, before entering Canal Park, was jammed with cheering fans. Once I hit Canal Park, I made a pretty good sprint from the outfield to the finish line, and I crossed the line in 3:44:57, a new personal best. That beat my previous best, from last year’s race in Detroit, by over 4 minutes, and beats my 2005 Akron time by 22+ minutes. So needless to say, I was pleased.

About 30 feet after I stopped running, my stomach let me know it was not too happy with my end-of-race sprint, and decided to empty it’s contents about 6 or 7 times. Not exactly what you want to happen at the end of race, let alone in front of a stadium full of people, though hopefully most of the them were watching the finish line instead of me. A volunteer was nice enough to grab me some water which made me feel a bit better, and after about 5 minutes I was up and ready to leave. Needless to say, I opted not to claim my 3 free Michelob Ultra beers. I did grab some food, but didn’t end up eating until about 3 hours later. Of course by now, I’m super hungry and looking forward to a feast at the Chinese buffet this evening.

So despite my little situation after finishing, I was happy with how things went. While I did expect to beat my old Akron time, I didn’t think there was much of a chance to beat my best time overall given the very non-flat nature of the course. I think Akron is a great event, and I’ve really enjoyed both my experiences there (other than the mass chaos inside Canal Park in the area where runners meet up with family, which took me like 25 minutes to claw my way through, while trying not to get trampled). Like after my last race, I’m contemplating stepping away from marathons for a while. Five seems like a good number to me. No matter what, I plan to keep running. I haven’t lost my passion for that yet.