Sunday, November 23, 2008

Marathon #1

I am in utter heaven - I am a marathoner!

It is not my temperament to do the suspenseful build-up and big reveal, so I will just say up front that I ran quite a bit slower than I had hoped/imagined, but in what I would describe as a good way rather than a bad way! 4:17:03 - an honorable and strong time for me, and I do not honestly think I could have run a lot faster, though obviously my pacing was very uneven and cost me quite a bit of time.

I feel extremely cheerful - exhilarated, really! - and unnaturally energetic!

(The splits on my watch seem slightly useless - I've taken a quick look, and clearly I was pressing the button erratically! But perhaps a general account is more interesting and relevant anyway?)

My "nothing ventured, nothing gained" goal was 4:00, and I ran the first twelve miles with the pace group. So that is fairly disastrous "positive splits" - just to explain for the non-marathoner, even or slight "negative splits" (i.e. first half a hair slower than the second half) have been consistently shown to yield best marathon times across the whole range of speeds - I was a minute per mile slower for the second half, more aptly described as 30 seconds per mile slower for miles 12-18 and into the 10:00s rather than the 9:00s for the last six or eight miles.

It was interesting - I had not really thought through the extent to which a pace leader will often be going as much as 30-40 seconds faster than goal pace in order to keep the splits unrelentingly even (i.e. a congested water station needs to be compensated for by some fast running), and I was worried throughout the first half (though I was running pretty well) that I was working too hard.

I also always willfully forget the extent to which HR will be higher in a race situation than during training - I should really be running in the 150s for at least the first third to half of the marathon, but I was in the 160s right away (average HR according to the watch was 164, which is certainly too high)...

At the mile 12 water station, it was incredibly slippery - with temperatures below freezing and water thrown onto the ground in a very thin layer, I walked through out of fear of slipping (the volunteers were recommending this precaution), and felt a fit of anxiety as I saw the pace leader's balloons disappear ahead of me.

It seemed suddenly totally clear, though, that I had really been working too hard already, and that though I could probably hold with him for another 4-5 miles, I was going to risk walking the whole last part of the race if I did so. So I slowed down and ran at a pace that seemed comfortable, and decided just not to pay any attention to time.

It was increasingly slow - I felt the cost of the pacing error for sure. My legs and body were fully fine, and indeed my digestive system was fine also so it was not the more disastrous form of pacing error, but my huffing and puffing system was simply not up to the job!

I ran very steadily and strongly throughout, though, and I really enjoyed pretty much every minute of it!

(Felt a bit queasy in final miles - not actually sick to the stomach, not even really feeling nauseous, but the combination of lactate buildup and too many gels always takes me a bit this way - it was the only negative physical symptom I experienced, I didn't have even any slight twinge of muscle cramp or pain or anything - legs really felt strong, though sore/tired by the end! But I was bursting with energy afterwards, and I didn't get super-cold at any point either, this was good...)

Beautiful day for a run, can I just say?!? Crisp, clear, sunny, relatively windless other than a few stretches - in the 20s for most of the race, I think, but blissful nonetheless!

So, in sum:

With what I know now (but I didn't know it beforehand!), I should have run with the 4:15 pace group. I am pretty certain I could have picked up the pace for the last 4-5 miles and gained a couple minutes, so there's a clear scenario where I could have pulled off a 4:12.

If the pace teams had been on 10-minute rather than 15-minute intervals, it is conceivably possible that I could have run 4:10 - it's funny, at various points this fall I found myself idly thinking (even as I resolved to aim for the alluring sub-4:00) that it was quite possible that 4:08 is my maximum achievable marathon time at current levels of fitness and experience, and I think that that really would have been the utter perfect-day outside limit for this race, but with 4:10-4:12 more likely.

In short, 4:17:03 is a highly honorable result for me!

I have surprised myself over the last few years by being a considerably better runner than I would ever have expected r imagined, but in fact I am not inherently super-fleet of foot - my strengths as a runner are physical and mental stamina and a good work ethic, not sheer zippiness, if you know what I'm saying. And in fact for a female marathoner to go sub-4:00 on a first attempt almost certainly requires either native zippiness or a considerably longer athletic history than I possess.

I overheard a rather funny conversation on the way home on the train - the girl sitting behind me was altogether elated at having qualified for Boston. As I covertly listened (I did congratulate her before we all got off the train in NY, it was benevolent eavesdropping!), it emerged (I do not know how old she was, probably in the youngest age group though - so probable female BQ time in that case is 3:40) that she had run eleven marathons in order to reach that time.

I am the kind of person who likes very much to have a five-year plan! Even when I was a little kid I always had one - and so I can try for 4:10 in the New York Marathon next year, and sub-4:00 somewhere faster the year after, and in fact I am now 37 which means that my Boston qualifying time is the slightly unattainable-seeming 3:45, but once I reach the 40-44 age group it is 3:50, and I am pretty strongly thinking that this is something I could pull off - now that really would be something worth working towards!


ShirleyPerly said...


Wonderful to hear the weather was ideal for you. And to run strong and steady late in your race shows how well prepared you were, in spite of the recent bout with illness. Love that you're already thinking ahead to running more marathons. For those of us not blessed with natural speed, consistency is the next best thing.

(Oh, and I've not had much luck running well with a pace group. Their strategies vary and rarely seem to mesh with mine.)

Wendy said...


Very good decision at mile 12!

You deserve to be over the moon.

Spokane Al said...

Congratulations on a terrific first marathon! It sounds like you have a terrific experience and are excited for the next one - it does not get much better than that.

Becca said...

Congratulations!! My first was also 4:17, so you can take me as a model for getting faster. But there is one burning question left in the minds of your faithful readers: tights or shorts? (I am truly hoping tights, because 20s in shorts sounds unbearable, though I will believe you if you tell me you did it and it was fine.)

jay said...

nice job! finishing is usually the whole deal with a first marathon, and any kind of happiness you feel is a total bonus, so congratulations.

i ran my first in 4:17, and the second one was considerably faster. you can totally do it.

Laura said...

Congratulations!!! That's a really fantastic first marathon time - ten minutes faster than mine :)

Dorothy W. said...

Congratulations! That's wonderful -- and inspiring!

Levi Stahl said...

Congratulations, Jenny! It sounds like a great race, and a time to be proud of!

It also sounds as if, like a true scholar, you've already learned the lessons the day offered you. Your next race will be all the faster for them.

Brent Buckner said...


(Much more a pacing *experiment* than a pacing error.)

Leah said...

Congrats! That is more than a respectable time; it's fantastic! I'm so glad you're elated.

lauren said...

congrats! this sounds like a rewarding (and informative) race. looking forward to hearing more about it in person. let me know when your legs recover...