Wednesday, September 24, 2014

2014 Rochester Marathon - Race Recap

The first event in my Race-A-Rama was the 2014 Rochester Marathon. I ran the Half Marathon in 2013. Back then it was organized by the Arthritis Foundation and there were several snafus including running out of shirts and medals. Over the winter, Fleet Feet Rochester and Yellow Jacket Racing announced they were buying the event. I was excited to hear that because their races are always top-notch, from their shirts and medals to marketing to pre-race communications to race day logistics and volunteer support.

After a two-week taper my legs were feeling fresh and I was eager to run. A day or two before a long race, I like to map out my strategy in Excel. I create a little cheat sheet which I print and laminate and carry in my pocket. It helps me remember what pace I should be running as well as the location of water, food and bathroom stops.
Everybody does this, right?

I've been training with :30/:30 run/walk intervals but I wanted to increase those to :60/:30 for the race. My "A" Goal was to finish under five hours, and with keeping to the paces you see above, I would have about 10-15 minutes to spare.

All week the race day forecast called for thunderstorms all day, with temperatures in the low-to-mid 70s and humidity around 85-90%. Not really ideal conditions to push myself physically, but with a month between this marathon and the Marine Corps Marathon I knew that I would have plenty of time to rest and recover if needed.

There were more than 600 people registered for the Marathon, 2,000 for the half and an additional 160 teams for the Marathon Relay. We all gathered on Andrews Street for a moment of silence for fallen Rochester Police Officer Daryl Pierson, listened to the national anthem and then we were off, running beneath a giant flag hoisted high by two Rochester Fire Department Hook and Ladders.

The course wound through city streets for about a mile before hitting East Avenue, which we'd take all the way to Fairport where we'd pick up the Erie Canal Path around mile 9. From there we'd follow the Canal west to the Genesee River and head back up to the city, ending at Frontier Field.

In a race situation, even when I'm intending to use run/walk intervals, I usually run straight through for a mile or two until I'm free of the typical early race congestion. For the first couple miles of this race I kept to a pace between 9:15-9:30 and was feeling so good, I just kept running.

I run with a couple of water bottles on my running belt in case I need a drink between water stations, so I skipped the water stop at mile two, but got some water at mile three and walked through the stop. When I started running again I still felt so good I just kept running. I was starting to feel like I needed a port-a-pottie and there was one coming up at mile 6, so I decided to run to it, and then start my intervals after that.

When I got to the mile 6 bathroom stop there were 6-7 runners in line for each of the two port-a-potties they had. It was also the relay exchange point and there were tons of spectators, so I just kept running, knowing my wife and daughter were about a mile up ahead waiting for me, and there'd be another bathroom stop between mile 8 and mile 9. I was still feeling great but consciously backed my pace down to about 9:30. I was worried about going out too fast.

I easily found my personal cheering section at mile 7, shared some hugs and fist bumps and then kept on running, feeling the need to find that bathroom becoming a little more urgent.

I didn't see any bathrooms between mile 7-9 (other than one at an active construction site) and I was getting a little frustrated. This was also one of the biggest elevation changes on the relatively flat course, so starting at about mile 8, I added in some walk intervals. In an entirely unscientific way, I would walk 30 seconds after each song on my iPhone - so about 3-4 minutes of running and 30 seconds of walking.

At mile 9 we got to the canal and I mercifully found an unoccupied port-a-potty. My legs were still feeling great so I stuck with the 30 seconds of walking after each song plan.

It hadn't seriously rained at all up to this point, despite the dire forecast and ominous looking clouds. There were a couple of momentary sprinkles, and it was humid but the cloud cover was much appreciated.

Around mile 11 I passed my Twitter friend and fellow #TeamRunDisney mate Stacey, although I didn't recognize her. I distinctly remember passing a woman in an Alex's Lemonade Stand shirt, and I was going to say something like "Yeah! Alex's Lemonade Stand," but I thought it would sound dumb. It turns out when she saw me run by with @DopeyRunr on the back of my Mickey Milers team shirt, she was going to yell something too, but didn't.

I spotted another friend and #TeamRunDisney mate Nita waiting for Stacey at the relay exchange point after mile 12. We shared an awesome/awkward jumping high five (she supplied the awesome, while I'm always reliably awkward) and I kept going.

Nita in the yellow shirt and Stacey in blue.
Spoiler Alert: they finished, and received medals.
My legs still felt good but I wasn't even halfway through so I decided to (finally!) downshift into my :60/:30 run/walk interval. I know this stretch of the canal path VERY well, as I do almost all of my long runs on it. It makes such a difference mentally to know the course, and have a good idea of what's coming next in terms of elevation changes or bends in the path.

I shot this a couple of weeks before the race.
On race day, that pile of logs had been completely shredded into wood chips. 
I can't remember exactly when, but sometime before hitting Schoen Place at Mile 15, where my wife and daughter were waiting for me, we hit the first of a couple of torrential downpours. It was raining HARD and with about 20 mph winds blowing straight into our faces it was not pleasant.

This should give you a sense of what we were running through...
By the time I reached Schoen Place I was wet, but the rain had let up a little bit.

I got another fist bump from my wife and bone crushing hug from the kid, and kept moving. They were heading up toward Mile 23 with a container of Twizzlers to hand out to runners. The stretch of the Erie Canal from mile 16-18 represents a pretty major elevation change (for this course, anyway). Having run it countless times, I knew what to expect, but I started feeling nauseous at about mile 17. The temperature had started to rise, and despite the stiff headwinds people were starting to get overheated. I passed several people who looked overtaken by the heat including at least one being attended to by medical personnel.

My stomach problems, however, were probably due to the GU. I had been hydrating very well throughout the race, and taking electrolyte pills, or as some people call them, "salt tablets," every hour. I had been training on long runs with GU and while I had an upset stomach using them at times in the past, I didn't experience that in my long training runs, so I thought I'd be fine.

I had taken a GU at mile 14 and was due for another at mile 18 but the thought of it made me want to throw up. I actually considered making myself throw up to see if I would feel better, but decided instead to just keep moving, knowing there would be Twizzlers waiting at mile 23... if I could grind out the next hour or so.

I kept to my :60/:30 run-walk intervals, with my running pace dropping from mid 9's to closer to 11:00/mile. I texted my wife to let her know how I was feeling.

Could have used a little help there, auto-correct!
As I ran past each mile marker, I'd consult my cheat sheet to see if I was still on pace for a sub-5:00 finish.  My cushion had dropped from about 11 minutes ahead of pace to 2 minutes ahead when I thankfully reached my family at mile 23.

A beautiful sight!
I got another big hug, love and encouragement, and a couple of Twizzlers. I slowly chewed one down and my stomach started to feel a little better. As you can see, the sun was out in full force at that point, quickly driving temperatures up into the mid-70s. The river path we took until mile 24.5 was mostly shaded, but it was still very humid. The last mile and a half would be on city streets, though, and in the full sun.

This final stretch of the course is shared by the half marathon so I was familiar with it from last year. I kept to my :60/:30 intervals, with my run pace still around 11:00/mile. Checking my watch I knew that I could walk it in and still beat the five-hour mark, but I wasn't taking any chances. It was a tough finish, with just one Twizzler to fuel me over the last 12 miles, but I managed to pick up the pace for what FELT like a sprint to the finish line.

I kept checking over my shoulder to make sure I didn't get passed.

With a finish time of 4:54:00 I put the Rochester Marathon IN THE BOOKS!

Final Thoughts:

  • I definitely made the race a lot more difficult on myself by abandoning my intervals right from the start. I should have stuck to the plan and I would have had more in the tank at the end of the race.
  • I give up on GU. There are alternatives that are less convenient to carry, but I don't want to risk another upset stomach mid-race.
  • Having my family cheering me on was incredible. Knowing where they'd be gave me something to look forward to and broke up the long run. They'll be rooting for me at the WDW Marathon in January and I can't wait for that.
  • I was envious of people running the race together. I saw so many people encouraging each other, or just chatting along the way. I don't mind so much for a two-hour half marathon, but I'm not sure I want to run another full marathon solo.
  • I didn't really do any speed work in my training leading up to this race. I think if I put in the work I could definitely go sub 4:30 within the next 6-9 months, maybe even 4:15 or better.
  • But... I'm not sure I want to devote the time to do that.
  • I was surprised at how relatively unemotional I was at the end of the race. I was so stricken with emotion after finishing my first marathon I had expected at least SOME tears, but other than feeling proud at my effort, I didn't have any tearful moments at all.
Next up for me is the Tower of Terror 10 Miler at Walt Disney World on October 4th, followed by the Marine Corps Marathon on the 26th. I intend to run both of those with my friends on the Mickey Milers.