Monday, April 8, 2013

I Forgot How to Run a Marathon...

...but hopefully I learned something from the experience.

It's been nearly 2 years since I ran my last road marathon.  A messy calendar packed with work and personal travel left my training and racing plans in limbo most of this winter.  It also forced me to spend a lot of time training on the roads and kept me away from the trails.  After training for some really long trail races last year including Western States 100, I honestly enjoyed honing in my road speed again.  I was really pleased with how quickly I felt I was returning to respectable marathon shape.  So, before heading back to the trail ultras this year, I wanted to wrap up this phase of training and test myself in a race.

With such short notice though, I really couldn't get into a big marathon like Boston.  So, I picked a small race an hour from my house - the ORRRC Marathon just outside of Dayton in Xenia, OH.  It's usually won with a time around 2:30, so I thought I might have one or two people to run with.  I ran a half marathon a few weeks ago in 1:11 at the end of a 110 mile week of training, so I felt like I had a decent idea what kind of speed I had.  I said I would have been happy with a 2:30, but I felt like I could go even faster under good conditions.

The course vs the wind.

But, good conditions were not on the menu.  The forecast called for overcast skies, and good temperatures, but also a wind from the southwest of 15-25 mph.  I knew this was going to be a big problem because the course is mostly just an out-and-back where the back part is 11 miles heading directly to the southwest on a perfectly straight bike path.  I was hoping a tree-lined bike path would provide more protection than an open road, but it turned out to be just one of many "hopes" on Sunday.

The race began and I quickly settled in behind 3 or 4 half marathoners.  I was content to sit on their shoulders for a few miles, but as I started getting into rhythm, I felt several of the others weakening.  I began taking a little more control of the pacing hoping to keep the pace honest.  One of the half marathoners was just a little fitter than the others and we pulled away a bit.  We were running side-by-side for a few miles and really got into rhythm.  I split two 5:20s with my buddy before he split off and headed for home around mile 8.  I knew I would be all alone for the rest of the race.

I looked really good early.

I had no business running 5:20s in a marathon (faster than my recent half marathon pace), but I had the wind at my back and I was feeling great.  This is what I mean when I say I forgot how to run a marathon.  It's so easy to feel great at mile 7, but you have to run the first half of a marathon with your head, knowing what pace you are actually capable of maintaining.

I realized that was a little fast though, and attempted to make some corrections.  But even after the adjustment I was still running low 5:30s - much faster than my goal pace.  I used the wind at my back as an excuse to put some time in the bank, even though I know that rarely ends well.  I felt the first hint of fatigue at mile 11, but I continued running well splitting 13 miles in 1:11:40.  I was still confident at this point because I knew I was on sub 2:25 pace and felt I could hang on well enough to run a decent time.  I was running 5:40s when I turned for the finish at 15 miles.

The wind was soul sucking.  My pace instantly dropped 15 sec/mile and I was struggling to even maintain that.  I remember running through a wide open aid station and it was so windy that dust and cups were flying all around me.  It was miserable.  That's really the only description that fits.  By 18 I couldn't even run under 6 minutes per mile.  I knew my hopes of a good time were gone, and I just had to survive to the end now.  It was strange though.  I didn't feel like I was bonking (low on calories), my legs were just too fatigued to maintain the effort needed to hold pace into the wind.

I rejoined the tail end of the half marathon race around 22 miles.  This gave me a little boost since I was no longer completely alone and was now able to pass someone.  I never did completely regroup, but I was able finish strong, win with a healthy margin, and sneak 1 second under 2:32 with a little kick.

Ugly, just like my race.

It wasn't the race I planned.  It wasn't the race I was capable of running.  I forgot how to run a marathon and I made some mistakes.  But there is no doubt in my mind that those last 11 miles would have been much worse without the lessons learned from ultra running the past few years.

So, what now?  I plan to return to the trail on May 11th at Ice Age 50.  But I still have this nagging feeling that I didn't quite accomplish what I set out to do in the marathon.  I might take another stab at it, but I have to be careful not to interfere with my goals at Ice Age.

Finally, I just wanted to say the Ohio River Road Runners Club ( is just a fantastic organization. The race was well organized and results and pictures were posted before I went to bed. Thank you to everyone who made the race possible.


  1. Nice win man! Love the Singlet!

  2. Way to suck it up, and get the W!

  3. great work Dave, I ran this last year and agree that ORRRC is a wonderful organization. Also I am the women's winner from the Mini-Heart Half as well as 8th place finisher women's JFK in 2012...are you running JFK 2013?

  4. Tina, congrats on the win at the half marathon. Sounds like our paths have probably crossed a couple times and I imagine will again. I'm thinking I probably won't be running JFK again this year though. The World 100k champs are scheduled for late Oct or early Nov so that's cutting kind of close. Plus, I've always wanted to run the North Face 50 championship race in early December, so this may be the year to skip JFK. You doing it again?

  5. Yes, Mike Spinnler and I have become good friends and he's helping coach me some--and has convinced me to run the JFK again in hopes to qualify for the women's US Ultra team. I am looking to get to 6:45 this year. Racing in the elite women's Masters Division in Boston on Monday. Hoping for a sub-2:52. We'll see! :) Good luck in all your races and keep blogging so I can follow :):):)