It started to rain as I drove up to Congers on Thursday morning (Yes, Thursday). I didn’t pack a hat. I wasn't prepared for rain.
Actually, I didn’t bother check the weather the week before, the night before, or in the morning. For some reason, I just wasn't concerned at all. I put on what I wanted to wear (new Rabbit running clothes, new VaporFly Next%) and tried to get on the road before 5 am. I don’t know why I was so trusting that it would all work out, but I just was. The drive took less time than predicted by Waze, a perk of driving when most others are sleeping. By the time I arrived the light rain stopped. The morning was off to a good start.
The Race Details.
Sri Chinmoy Marathon used to be called the Self-Transcendence Marathon. It is almost 9 complete laps (2.95M) around Rockland Lake in Conger’s NY. There are very minor grade changes but it hard to call this anything but flat (my Garmin's altimeter is not accurate).
It was about 65-70 degrees during the time I was running with the humidity at about 88-90%).
The race is small, about 300 runners. After the first lap everyone becomes co-mingled which makes it feel like a much larger race.
There are 3 aid stations per lap. They had Skratch Hydration Energy Drink which is what I have been using lately. The race organizers and all the volunteers are amazing. The aid station staff had signs pinned on their shirts that identified what they were holding ("Water" or "Energy"). This was the first time I saw this done at a race and it was helpful.
Every mile was marked with signs that stated which lap you were on if you were on that mile. There was no chip mat. It was gun time only and the laps were counted manually. I am used to this from past ultras that were hand-scored so I made an effort to call out my bib # as I approached the lap counters hoping this would make it easier for them.
There were at least 3 different photographers on the course, who all shared their photos freely after the race.
Many of the runners were not from the USA which made it feel international. The race is organized by the Sri Chinmoy Marathon team. The positive energy at this event always makes me feel hopeful and contemplative. At the start of the race, after general announcements, there was a moment of silence for quiet meditation and then we were off.
I have run this race several times. This was Dave's first time. We used this marathon as a final long run before our next marathon. This wasn’t a goal race. It was a place to practice pacing, to assess gear, to practice fueling, to practice pre-race routine, to get more exposure to race day stressors. etc...
But a timed event is still a timed event. Pace will reflect that. Racing frequently is the best way I know to prepare myself for racing well. Training speed, endurance, and strength can happen at home. Training for race day logistics, timing of meals, managing or deflecting the energy/anxiety of everyone around us takes practice. Developing a solid pre-race routine can only happen by practicing it at actual races. These are all skills that need to be developed. So I race a lot. Not many of my races are "Goal Races". Most are used as a training ground to practice a skill.
Two weeks ago, Dave and I made sure we did NOT miss our last long run again, like we did for Aspen. This helped my sense of preparedness. But last weekend my life got very busy with many distractions including a sick/stressed out Lapis (one of my dogs) who decided to refuse food for a few days (she is happily back to eating well again).
I wanted a 16M over the weekend and missed it. I decided to run 14M on Monday. Dave asked “Do you really need a 14M three days before a marathon?” Good question. He probably wanted a short answer (or probably no answer at all), but instead I texted him a thesis on why I do the things I do. Trust me when I say nothing happens without a cost/benefits analysis. I put a lot a thought into how I treat my body and what I ask from it.
In this case, this marathon was not a goal race, it was a long run. I am building volume right now for other longer races that are more important to me. I am fine with running on tired legs if that means I get to race better next month or later on in the year. I have felt great lately so I had no aches or pains I needed to rest. My pace for my 14M would be easy and enjoyable. I was confident I would be able to recover in time to feel good enough at the marathon for it's purpose.
Wednesday before the Thursday race, I mentioned to Sid that I had the morning free if he wanted his 14M LR. He is training for NYCM training schedule. (First let's be clear. Sid is a minimalist, not asking for coaching, and doesn't have a goal. He plans to have simply have fun. Accordingly, Sid’s NYCM marathon scheduled has 6 identified long runs on it. These runs are a guide to help him stay on track to complete 22M by peak weekend. The rest of his training will use an opportunistic approach. No workouts, just running. He will do what he can when he has time to run. So once I noticed there was rain coming over the weekend I thought maybe he might like to get his 14 done early. So Wednesday, one day before this marathon, I ran 14M easy miles with Sidney. If I am being honest, this decision took pressure off. If I had a tough race it would be very easy to tell myself that it was because I was depleted from the 14M.
Sid and I ran from the parking lot across the street from a farm where I have CSA gift cards. As soon as we finished we refueled immediately with awesome fresh food and whole fat chocolate milk (which I never drink). Usually I don’t care about restocking glycogen asap after a run. But this time I knew it was imperative to not miss any opportunity for my muscles to restore fuel. The chocolate milk was awesome after this run. We shared a low sugar (10g) Blueberry Lavender soda (wow!) and a mozzarella, tomato, basil pesto sandwich on thick focaccia. I got a pasta and kale salad plus a brownie to go. I ate back everything I burned and then some by the time I went to bed. I was ready to race.
Another reason I wanted a 14M before the marathon is I am racing 6 hour race soon. I would like to be prepared to run about 1.5 times the marathon distance in that event. Back-to-back long runs has helped me prepare well for ultras in the past. Running a marathon hard after an easy 14 gives me 40 miles in 2 days. This is good 6 hour training for me. And with this marathon being just a training run, this decision made sense to me.
Nutrition Pre-race and Race day:
I am continuing with what works for me. Travel-friendly high-carb fuel with an emphasis on including branched chain amino acids. I am training my gut to tolerate more calories than I ever have before while trying to running "fast."
Wall Avoidance starts the day before the race for me.
I weigh in often when training. I like data and I want to know how my body is responding to what I put in and what I burn off. I woke up 3 lbs heavier than my average morning weight despite running a 14 miles the day before. This means I ate and hydrated very well. I splurged on extra carbs and dessert I normally do not eat. I drank a lot of water and tea.
For every 1 gram of carbs stored the body also stores with it 3-4 gram of water. Dehydration is more likely to lead to bonking than running out of sugar/carbs so a carb-load for me is also a hydration load. I want my body to have enough fluid to use. There is no way I can drink enough on a course to match my sweat rate. I know on average the gut absorbs 400ml-800ml per hour. When I track my sweat rate on a long run, especially in warm weather I come home several pounds lighter… despite drinking 40-60 oz of fluid. Having some stored hydration and glycogen helps me.
I also believe that pacing "comfortably" in the beginning permits blood to flood to the gut to help maintain fluid and calorie digestion. I feel starting off too hard will actually make a bonk more likely, not because I get physically tired or because my body can’t handle a pace a few second faster than “comfortable hard” but rather because there is a tipping point where my body starts to shut down energy used to process fuel and fluid. This is why I don’t try to hold any specific pace for the first 14. I try to find a pace that I feel is “fast enough”… a feeling I learned by racing often and making mistakes with fueling and pacing.
I came home at my average weight for the month, having only consumed a protein shake post-race .This shows me I fueled well and never went into a hole.
Goals Setting and Pace Planning:
In July I ran The Aspen Valley Marathon in 3:27. The course came up a little short on my watch. I would have been under 3:30 even if I added more distance. Aspen wasn’t easy due to the high altitude, but the net descent helped make it less hard for some of it.
I predicted my Aspen and Sri Chinmoy time (if I was in the same shape) would be pretty similar. If I ran slower at Sri Chinmoy, then my Aspen time was probably more of a result of the gravity assist than I would like to believe.
Running at least a 3;30 was important to me. But more important was pacing this race into a negative split. I wasn’t confident I could do it. The course was flat. I was afraid this race might reveal my “true” fitness in a way that make me realize I wasn’t where I wanted to be. I was ready to accept that. I knew that I just needed the first mile to help me get a better sense of what I could do.
I planned to start around 8s (ideally 7:50-7:59) and hold that for 14M. Once past 14, then I would think about racing. I wanted to feel like I had another gear in me for the last 12.2 while I patiently clicked off the first 14.
1M was right at 8:04. I felt like it was very sustainable. I picked up al little to get under 8 and planned to sit there for the next 2 hours at that speed. I turn to Dave, “Negative splitting a marathon is hard because we have to be very patient for over 2 hours. That is such as long time to wait."
I was very patient. I held an pretty even effort until I hit 14M. I decided to hold 1 more mile at the same pace before testing to see if I had more sustainable speed. I did not want to fade.
I came through the half on my watch (which was beeping a little earlier than the markers) at 1:43:10 (7:52 pace). I held 7:48 for M13 and M14 to finish off the lap. At the start of 15, I decide it is time to be brave and see what I could do.
M15 - 7:42. I wanted to make small changes every 1-2 miles. I felt in control. I wasn’t concerned that I would push too hard. I just wasn’t sure how it would play out. If 7:42 was all I got I would be happy.
M16 - 7:41
M17 - 7:39
With 3 laps left I start doing math. As I hit Mile 15, I knew I could break 3:25. On this lap I started to wonder if breaking 3:20 was possible. I picked up a little. I would have to run remarkably fast. I wanted to see how close I could get.
M18 - 7:37
M19 - 7:33
M 20 - 7:32
With two laps to go, I was started to push myself harder. I rarely kick with 6 to go but today felt like it was a good day to try it. The more I push myself the louder I breathe. I have asthma, my airway gets tight. I can open it by whooping. I remind myself to open my chest like I did in Aspen. It helped. My whooping gets attention. Some people pick it up to run with me. But the thing about mastering a negative split is very few people around you in the last 5 miles are likely to be able to go with you. It is always great to have company for some of the work. But more than not, often at my current pace, I will be moving faster than most of those around me at the end of a marathon.
M21 - 7:23,
M22 - 7:17. I know that the last lap is 2.95 miles and then we run up the grass through the finish shoot. I connect with a guy from Staten Island, He asks me what lap. I say "Finishing 8." He says the same. He asked if we have a shot at breaking 3:20. I explain, "we have to FLY if we want it. We need to hit the start of the final lap before 3:00 and move faster than 7 minute pace to do it." He asks for our pace. I say 7:17. We aren't moving fast enough yet. say breaking 3:22 is more likely a more realistic goal.
M23 - 7:16. He lets me go. I start the last lap at 3:00:xx, too late to break 3:20 BUT now I want to see if I can go sub-7:00 for a mile before I hit the finish. Someone asked me in a post “Does it get boring to run laps.” Not if I have a strong enough “why” and if I have challenging but achievable immediate goals that keep me pushing. I could have been disappointed that I wouldn't go sub-3:20, but instead I immediately made up a new challenge to go after… sub-7 pace for the last mile... and that felt motivating.
M24- 7:16 There was some wind and nothing blocking it. There was no shade. I waited until the court turned and started to push my pace. I was breathing loud. Wheezing. Whooping. It was Intense. It was Surreal. Nothing hurt. Everything Hurt. I felt like I could fly. I felt like I was running through quick sand.
My watch was showing me hovering at 6:59-7:01. A guy glances back at me and starts running really fast. He keeps looking back and then he waves me to on to catch him. In time I do. He fades. I wave him on. He doesn’t come along. I am not sure what that was about but it was a helpful diversion. I wanted that 6:xx and I was getting close.
M25 - 7:00 … almost there. One more chance.
I dig with everything I have in me. I am talking out loud to myself "Push. Half mile to go. You got this. Push for it! Less than half to go. Dig. You got this…" The watch shows 6:58, 6:57… people are cheering. I feel like I am winning the race. I was winning my race, that’s for sure.
M26 - 6:56
I am thrilled! But I aim not done yet! I pushed with everything I have left in me. I really wish the finish was not inclined though bumpy grass but it was still glorious. I hear my name. The announcer adds “This is our 3rd female finisher”. I had no idea I was third. It was such a gift.
Last .43 - 6:53 pace.
I finish the race and it immediately (but only briefly) starts to rain. I should have pack a hat next time.
Shannon McGinn, JD, MS, MA, EDS, NBC-HWC, ATR-BC, LPAT.