Melbourne Marathon 2011 - Race Report
Experience played a very important role this time around. The time on the clock was far from my original goals. I had overcooked myself in training so the final few weeks were no where near what I believe is required for a good marathon. Fighting the green snot that my family kindly shared took something away from an optimal condition. These aren't excuses, just the couple of negatives that created some obstacles. On the other side there were many positives to be taken from this marathon.
My pre-race thoughts on pacing can be found in: Pacing - Melbourne Marathon.
The carbohydrate loading went to plan (Carbohydrate Loading - Melbourne Marathon), and I found myself feeling full and energised. There is a certain look to the body on race morning when this goes to plan. I had that look.
In the taper (Short Taper) I completed the least amount of training that I have ever done in a taper. This was because I fighting the germs making there way around the family and I still required some extended recovery from even moderate training sessions. The end result was that I felt rested and recovered, but no where near peak form. Usually after a good build and taper I feel like my skin can't contain all the energy I have. This time, I just didn't feel trashed from the training any more.
Weather reports are misleading. Watching the long range forecast go from Mostly Sunny, to Chance of Showers and progress to Rain around dawn, easing to showers was a little disappointing. On the day, the rain came overnight and cleared before I awoke. The wind of cold, but with plenty of cloud cover, a small amount of drizzle in the middle of the race the conditions were perfect for a marathon. Now I know there's always complaints about the wind at races, but I will say, despite some short lived, strong gusts, it wasn't strong enough to make any genuine impact on the race.
Easy walk from the car. Right now would be the right time for a big thanks to my sister for getting up early to drive me in. We talked some rubbish about running, shoes and extremism style of arguing of a number of barefoot runners. Not much about the race itself. Soon enough I was by myself for a very easy paced 15min warm up. Just enough to kick my body back out of the concept of resting it had been enjoying. With a few minutes before the gun I worked my way to around the 3hr pace sign. This was a few rows back from as close as I was allowed to be behind the elites and preferred starters. This was good for me. Strangely I didn't feel like I was about to run a marathon. Maybe it was experience and while I had respect for the distance, it wasn't as daunting as it used to be.
"...30 seconds before race start..."
Okay, now my mind flicked into race mode. I checked my watch was ready and noticed my heart rate was already climbing.
I'm not sure what was used to start us off, all I knew was the race had started. It took 30 or 40 seconds to get across the timing mat. As it turned out, my starting position was less than perfect. I found myself boxed in amongst some very slow starters. Not wanting to waste energy or spike my heart rate and lactate production I just went with the flow, if I could call it that. It took the first 2km to get myself some space just to find a rhythm.
Eventually my legs were somewhat smoothly. Over the next few kilometers the intensity level felt to be at the limit of what I would be able to hold. This was supported by my heart rate as well. The problem was the pace slower than I wanted. The running also felt forced. So far the race was requiring a lot more concentration just to keep running at something close to a reasonable.
Not much changed around Albert Park or along with the views along the beach. The running always felt kind of forced, but I got used to it. I developed an acceptance that today wasn't going to be a personal best. With that I added in the strategy of trying to maintain what I was doing already. Of things picked up then I might be able to get some time back once we started heading back up to the finish. If not, then I was still likely to come out with something respectable.
The 3 hour pacers was out of sight, but I did seem to comfortably ahead of 3:10 group. At the 10km and 20km points I ran the numbers. Definitely a strong possibility of getting my second best marathon time. At the halfway point I crossed in about 1:33. Even with a slight fade over the second half (from my current speed), it was still likely I would have a 3:05 or 3:06 because of the very slow first 2km. It wasn't going to sub-3hr, but that was a training issue, not a racing one today.
Strangely as I hit each key split or recognisable feature on the course, I couldn't help but be surprised I was there already. The race was flying by faster than any previous marathon. Yet, the running did feel generally more difficult over the first part than it ever has before.
Running Slightly Angry
Somewhere between 25 and 30km, the first few warning sensations passed through my body. Nothing major, but enough to make some important decisions. The first was the body was tentatively suggestion sleep would be a good idea about now. Adding to this was if I wasn't concentrating on each step, then the next step would be much shorter and slower. I also realised that my stomach was beginning a bit too bloated. I had been following a slightly front loaded consumption of carbohydrate today, so a little bit of bloat early was acceptable. However at this stage, and with everything combined it was clear my gut wasn't working well, and that I had the first warnings of hitting the wall.
To some it seems counter-intuitive, but the solution here was to only consume a small amount of water at the next aid station and back off the pace slightly. This allowed for the gut to kick back into action and absorb what had been sitting there almost stationary. Magic. A couple of kilometers later and I was feeling a lot better. I felt lighter and there was actually some spring in my step.
Passed the 30km mark and I was traveling okay for a marathon. There aren't exactly any hills on the course, but the flatness make any small gradient change seem a lot bigger. The short incline of Fitzroy St felt very comfortable for me, and gave me a mental boost as those around me slowed significantly. Then we merged with the half marathon runners.
As the timing worked out, there is a large speed difference between the two groups. With the half marathoners of 2 hour territory mixing with the 3 hour marathoners, there is always going to be a bit of difficulty. Unfortunately many of the half marathoners didn't stay on the left side of the median strip as they were directed to. There was a lot of blocking of the faster runners. I was surprised by the number of people that abused myself and other marathoners coming through as we called out for them to keep left so we could pass. This stoked my fire and in some way made this section easier than it could otherwise be. However, it is still a major flaw in the race that to my mind has a couple of simple fixes.
This Is The Marathon
Eventually we separated from the half marathons and entered the section which had anything resembling a hill. Up Birdwood Av, just prior to 37km the marathon started softening me up to deliver what the it is famous for. I ran through my checklist, and everything otherwise as best it could be. My nutrition was okay, there wasn't anymore I could do with. The effort up to this point had been even, with a gradual rise in intensity to maintain pace over the last few kilometers. It looked like I was just reaching that endurance threshold. To mitigate a more serious slow down, I eased back on the mild uphill and tried my best to relax and keep good form. As I hit a downhill, my initial hope would be to try my usual controlled fall and pick up some time, but my quads, calves and glutes spasmed with each foot strike, and I lost a lot of coordination.
Then just past 38km the bitumen opened up and sucked out any bit of strength and energy I had left in my legs. I had been here before. Yes I was still taking in glucose, but that is like trying to refill a collapsed dam using a bucket. What was left was mainly mental. The body tries every trick it has to make you stop or at least walk. The battle is to override as many of the body's defense mechanisms as possible. I kept running.
The pace dropped from somewhere in the 4:20's/km to 5:00/km and kept slowing down to 5:30/km. My legs certainly didn't feel as painful or trashed as they have in some previous marathons. This slow down was more a reflection of physiology and how it dealt with substrate utilisation rather than local muscular fatigue. This was further reflected in a steadily decreasing heart rate through to the finish. No matter how hard I tried to raise the intensity, I just couldn't override the steady shut down my body was going through. Thankfully I got past the finish line before it powered off completely.
On the clock was 3:12:18.
Slower than my what a aimed for months ago, but it is still my 3rd best time at the distance. A result I am very happy with. The mistakes were with training. During the race I think I got very close to my potential based on my fitness leading in. Something I am very happy with.