Race Report: ING Hartford Marathon, 10/13/2012 (Read 803 times)

    Summary: ING Hartford Marathon, 10/13/2012, first marathon on my 40th birthday, 3:58:52.


    I've written an epic about my successful first marathon last Saturday. I don't post here much, but the forums have been an invaluable resource for me since I started running last year. Hopefully others coming after me will benefit from bits of this in some way. It's pretty long, but hey, it's my first marathon, so I hope you'll cut me some slack. Smile


    Earlier this year, people started asking me if I was going to do anything fun or interesting for my upcoming 40th birthday. Since my nascent running career was going well, I started thinking about a marathon. I knew from a practical standpoint that it probably wasn't a good idea -- I didn't have enough miles under my belt, and it would be tough to get in enough training without getting injured. But still, it would be pretty cool if I could pull it off -- my first marathon on my 40th birthday. My birthday fell on a Saturday this year, so I'd be able to run the marathon on the actual day.


    By five months before the day, I had a training plan in place and was getting started. I had narrowed down the races to two: Baltimore and Hartford. I finally chose Hartford because it was flatter (Baltimore's hills were intimidating for my first) and because it was closer to NYC (I could spend the rest of my birthday weekend there).


    My training turned out good but not great. I ended up with some good weeks of 40+ miles but also some really crappy weeks where illness, kids' illness, work travel, and general sloth got in the way. The North Carolina heat and humidity was a huge factor. For much of August and September, I was having trouble with runs longer than an hour, no matter the time of day. At "easy" paces my heart rate would spike and I'd struggle. This hurt my confidence and motivation quite a bit, because my lack of experience meant I didn't know if the weather was really the problem or if it was something else. The overall result was an inconsistency that you can see in my log.


    When the weather finally broke, my training instantly got better. Suddenly my easy runs were faster than they had ever been, and in general I was feeling very good. And this is when I made a classic rookie mistake. The final week before the taper, I was conscious of my inconsistent training and I was anxious to 1) test my fitness and build my confidence and 2) maximize my final week of hard training. So I went out and crammed 50 miles into five days, culminating in a 20-mile run. That 20-miler went great! I completed it well with a huge amount of gained confidence. Unfortunately, two days later on a recovery run, I discovered my mistake. My right knee started out stiff and I ended up having to cut the run short at 3.5 miles because of the pain. Up to this point I had prided myself in staying injury-free, so this was a pretty huge mental setback. Over the next few days I discovered that with enough rest I could run short distances with little or no pain, so I decided to just cut the miles way back and rest it during the taper, and hope for the best.


    Marathon week arrived and work issues had me missing a lot of sleep the 3rd and 4th nights before the race. I got maybe 4 hours of sleep those nights. The 2nd night before the race my wife and I had to get up early to travel to Hartford, so I missed some sleep there too. Not ideal and not good for my nervous mind. Otherwise, I was doing a pretty good job of staying off my feet, increasing my carb intake, and staying hydrated.


    We got to Hartford the day before the race and hit the expo, where I picked up my race number but forgot to grab safety pins, LOL. (The hotel helped me out with that.) I also picked up some cheap arm warmers and some throwaway gloves for the cold race start.


    At some point during the training cycle I started thinking about goal times, despite the advice I'd read to just enjoy the first one and finish comfortably. My few shorter race times gave me McMillan equivalents under four hours -- the last being a 10K four weeks before the marathon that gave me a marathon equivalent of 3:51:04, or 8:49/mile. I was not so naive to think that I could hit that time with the amount of training I had done. Still, that was 0:20/mile faster than four-hour pace (9:09/mile), so I thought I had a pretty good shot at getting in under four hours. I finally decided that I'd try to run even 9:00 miles, which would give me a few minutes of buffer. With my inexperience, my knee injury, and the marathon being what it is, I really had no idea if that goal was realistic. But I decided that I'd try my best.


    Race morning came, and I woke up at 4:30 to eat and drink. I could only stomach a granola bar, maybe eight ounces of Gatorade, and a cup of coffee. I didn't drink anything after 6:00. My wife and I finally started walking from the hotel to the start line (maybe 0.75 miles?) at around 7:15. It was cold -- 35 F or so. I waited until 7:45 for one last bathroom stop, hoping to avoid having to pee during the race. Then I ate three Clif Bloks with a bit a water, kissed my wife goodbye, and headed for the start.


    I had waited a long time to get to the start because I didn't want to stand around in the cold for longer than necessary. This meant that I couldn't get anywhere near the 3:55 or 4:00 pace groups, who had gathered quite a ways closer to the line than I could hope to get. There were a lot of runners -- 3000 for the marathon and 7000 for the half, all starting together.


    The gun finally went off a couple of minutes after 8:00. I had thought about the traffic during the first miles but didn't really have a strategy to deal with it. The first mile ended up having the largest negative impact on my race than any other factor. I was immediately stuck in traffic and the running was slow but difficult, having to dodge slower runners, walkers, cast-off clothing, potholes, etc. through the middle of downtown. I did my best to wind my way through the crowd but when my Garmin auto-lapped the first mile, it was at 10:18. At the time, I didn't think that was a big deal at all -- it was a nice warmup pace, I had built a buffer into my pace time anyway, and hey, maybe I could take back some of that time later.


    I pretty quickly got onto my goal pace after the first mile, and I remember casually noticing that the Garmin was auto-lapping pretty well ahead of the official mile markers. I didn't think much of it at the time -- I was too focused on maintaining my pace, dodging slower runners, and staying relaxed.


    Just after mile 8, I had to stop to pee, which cost me about 45 seconds. When I started running again, I immediately noticed my right knee pain start up. The pain was noticeable but not bad enough that I had to slow down. By mile 10 though, the pain was considerably worse and it was affecting my concentration.


    When the Garmin auto-lapped mile 10, I took inventory. The Garmin said I was 1:36 behind my goal pace. My knee was hurting pretty badly, but I could still keep up. The knee and the knowledge that I still had a long way to go distracted me from the fact that the Garmin was still auto-lapping way before the actual mile markers. I decided that even though I was hurting, while I could still keep pace I'd try running the next several miles a few seconds faster than goal pace to try to gain back some time.


    By mile 15 my knee was still hurting, but now my right hip and ankle were also hurting pretty badly. The effect was a general burning pain throughout my right leg. But still, I could run, and I was still keeping pace. In fact, I had taken back around 35 seconds since mile 10. The crowd support in this section was fantastic, by the way. Miles 12-22 of this course are basically a long out and back through a neighborhood, and the locals provided plenty of encouragement and distraction. I was keeping up on my gels (one every 5 miles) and hydration (roughly one cup of water of Gatorade at each stop, depending on my mood). I was running through the water stops instead of walking to drink as I had planned. I was still plenty motivated.


    By this time I had finally figured out that the Garmin was auto-lapping a consistent 0.15 miles ahead of the mile markers. Which of course meant that I was behind my goal pace by quite a bit more than I had realized (roughly 1:21 more, though I couldn't do the math in my head by this point). I don't know why it took me so long to clue in about this. I guess the general excitement of the race and my focus on managing the leg pain was enough to keep me from thinking straight. After the race when I downloaded the Garmin data, it became clear what had happened -- running through the tall buildings of downtown, the Garmin had gone way off track, and had recorded the first mile well ahead of where it actually was. I think that first mile was probably more like 11:30+.


    So now I knew that my time buffer was dwindling, though my fuzzy brain couldn't do the math to figure out how close to missing the four hour mark I was. Mentally, I was still committed and focused on running well for as long as I possibly could. I decided to just continue to run evenly and reassess at mile 20. I remember being excited for mile 20 to come. Despite the leg pain, I really felt like I was keeping it together well, and was anxious to test myself beyond the mythical 20-mile barrier.


    At around mile 18, my right calf started threatening to cramp. I backed off the pace just enough to allow it to settle down, and it ended up only being a problem for a mile or so.


    Mile 20, time for another inventory. The Garmin showed that I was still over a minute behind my goal pace, but I knew by then that I was really over two minutes down. Physically, all of the pain in my right leg was gone. It was odd -- that acute pain was replaced with a general deadness in both quads that I can only describe as an even mix of fatigue and dull pain. I was a little concerned that the knee and hip pain had just disappeared -- that was kind of freaky. Was my brain playing tricks on me? At this point I was more mentally and physically exhausted than I had ever been in my life. And I still had 10K to go. I really couldn't formulate any better plan than to just keep chugging along at as close to 9:00/mile pace as I could muster. I scarfed some caffeinated Sport Beans and kept on.


    Miles 21-25 were pretty bleak. The course wound back through the less attractive parts of downtown. The crowds had thinned out and lots of runners were starting to fade. The water stops were chaotic. Runners at the side of the road were hurling or working out cramps. Others were stopping at the tables, right in front of me. I ran into a few as I didn't have the capacity to dodge them anymore. I missed water at one of these stops due to the chaos. I couldn't understand how my legs were still working. They seemed almost numb. Mentally, I was doing my best to focus on getting through each mile on pace, keeping good form and steady breathing, rather than thinking about how many miles were left. That seemed to work well.


    I don't remember even checking the time at mile 25. Pretty quickly after that mile marker, the final "hill" -- the bridge back over the river -- started. It was murderous on my quads. I was running alone at this point, which made getting over the long, stark bridge all the more difficult. But on the other side... I found that I was actually able to pick it up.


    I didn't know where I was time-wise, but I knew it was going to be close to four hours. I wanted so badly to get in under my goal time. So I picked it up as best I could. Pretty soon I went past the 26 mile marker and began to realize that I had done it. I picked it up a bit more. I turned the last corner, and just before the Memorial Arch, my wife called out to me from the crowd. She was on the rail with her phone out, ready to take my picture. I looked right into the camera and gave a fist-pump of victory. Then I sprinted to the line. In the finishing video, you can see that in fact, I just shuffled to the line like everyone else. But I felt like I was flying.


    I crossed the line hollering "YES!", fumbled with my watch for a couple of seconds trying to stop it, saw 3:58Tight lippedx, and was overcome with a wave of elation. After walking through the first few yards of the finishing chute, that elation was quickly replaced with surprise. Astonishment, even. I was having trouble believing what I had just done. Because that race was *hard*. Even after all the months of reading about the marathon, nothing could have prepared me for the mental and physical challenge. I had had to dig very deep, and before this race, I had no idea that I was capable of it. I had gone way beyond what I thought my limits of endurance might be.


    I shuffled as far as the water fountains in the chute, and my wife called out to me from the fence again. I went over and leaned on the fence for a bit. I was starting to realize just how bad off my legs were. My quads and feet hurt so bad that I could barely walk. Eventually I made it through the rest of the chute, collected my medal, and found my wife again. She said I looked a lot worse off then most of the other finishers. My legs sure felt like it, but I'm pretty sure I was grinning anyway.


    During the hour that followed, while waiting for a massage, I was shivering uncontrollably -- just completely spent. The post-race food was pretty meager by this point. They had given us a bag with a banana and a few packaged items in it, and there was a food tent that only had a couple of cookies and some cold apple crisp. Luckily the massage folks had warm broth to hand out, and after the massage I found a keg in the sun in the beer garden where I planted myself for another hour. My wife found some food trucks in the park and bought me the best freaking grilled cheese sandwich I've ever had. That and the beer helped a lot!


    Hilariously, the rest of our weekend involved heading down to NYC and doing touristy stuff. The next day in the city, I still couldn't walk very well. My quads were shot of course, and my knees ached. But worst of all, I had an injury in my left foot that was very painful. It wasn't something I had noticed during the race at all. I ended up buying a cane from Walgreens and using that to limp around the city for the next few days.


    The foot is feeling a bit better now, and an x-ray shows that it's not broken. But the foot and knee injuries are a price I paid for doing that marathon on too little training. That's a cautionary tale that's been told many times, but I think it's important to say it again.


    I find it kind of funny that just a few days after the marathon, even though I'm still very happy with my performance, I'm also a little disappointed because I know I could have done even better had I avoided that first-mile snafu. I feel pretty silly for paying so much attention to the Garmin rather than the mile markers. Thank goodness it didn't cause me to miss my goal time.


    And about that goal time: I've also been thinking a lot about why it was so important to me to come in under four hours. I pushed really hard to get there, to the point that I was willing to risk further injury. I can't think of any particular reason why I put so much focus on an arbitrary time, other than the fact that it would have been a huge disappointment to miss it, especially if I had missed it by just a little bit. That is some weird circular reasoning. Something I'll have to think about while I rehab my knees and foot.


    The Hartford Marathon itself I think was very well put together overall. There were a few little things I might have changed, but in general it was a well-run race on a nice and fast course with good community and crowd support. I'd certainly recommend it to others.


    The End.


      Congrats on your first marathon.  Very solid effort. 

       201x goals: run a bunch....race some.....repeat...

        Congrats, Hung. Great report! You learned a lot in your first experience, especially cramming in training on your body (doesn't work--laws of recovery always apply) and the safety pins (I usually bring a stash for me and other runners--I've been to marathons where they've either forgot them or ran out). That slow first mile helped you in the end. Again great report---well written. Keep going!Cool

          Congratulations on your achievement and thanks for sharing your report with us.

          I enjoyed reading it and it made me think a marathon might be doable for me too....someday.

          Go as long as you can, and then take another step.

            Congrats Hungoveer.  The part about buying a cane had me rolling with laughter.   Take a break and slowly come back your body will get use to it over the yeears.  You will also learn to take it easy and let the performance come.  Not sure I have learn that lesson as yet after many years at marathoning.

              Congrats Hungoveer.  The part about buying a cane had me rolling with laughter. 


              Thanks everyone. My wife had a good time ribbing me about the cane all weekend. But it did the job, and now the foot is feeling a lot better. Plus, at the airport they let us go to the front of the TSA security line because of it, so there's that.


                Thanks for that honest report. It's nice to see someone put into words the mental and physical struggle of a marathon. I'm very impressed by your toughness!!! I'm gald you are feeling better already.


                I'm doing my second in December and I hope to break 4 hours too! Reading your and Wing's race reports have really motivated me and scared me a little,  knowing that it probably won't be a cakewalk, but that if you put your mind to it and focus anything is doable.

                  Thank you for the report.


                  I felt I was running the marathon from your report.


                  When I read  "Pretty soon I went past the 26 mile marker and began to realize that I had done it." my eyes were wet. I felt the achievement after all the hard work.


                  It is not the time matter, but the goal you set and your striving for it inspires me.



                  5k - 20:56 (09/12), 7k - 28:40 (11/12), 10k trial - 43:08  (03/13), 42:05 (05/13), FM - 3:09:28 (05/13), HM - 1:28:20 (05/14), Failed 10K trial - 6:10/mi for 4mi (08/14), FM - 3:03 (09/14)

                    That was a GREAT report Hungover -- I especially like this line and I quote  "She said I looked a lot worse off then most of the other finishers"  


                    Nothing like haveing a little encouragement from your wife every now and then is there??  And probably just about what my wife would have said to me too.....


                    Enjoyed reading your report - I didnt realize that Hartford Marathon/HALF had so many runners........


                    SOLID SOLID first marathon...

                    Champions are made when no one is watching