My fourth marathon, a race report in three graphs and eight images.
Settle in, this one got long (4000 words long). I wrote it in the format of a scientific paper as that is what I am also working on at the moment and it seemed a useful exercise. Hopefully, it’s a bot more interesting though. And it’s not written in the passive voice like so many science papers (incorrectly) are. (Had it been, there would be statements in it like, “A marathon was run by the experimenters. The results of this marathon can be interpreted in a number of ways, but that the successful running of this marathon (hereafter referred to as GMM) can be reasonably concluded…lucky for you, it’s written in a slightly more enjoyable fashion.)
I ran my fourth marathon on Sunday, bested my previous PR by over 7 minutes, was rained on, got sunburn, had the wind in my face, stayed ahead of the 4:00 pacers and their red balloon the entire time, was cheered on twice by a guy in a motorized wheelchair blasting ’80’s pop music, saw running beer bottles, a red indian that I didn’t understand, several dwarves, and lots of really excited spectators despite the crap weather. I had an icy shower, saw the Wife finish smiling and with a new PR of her own, and had one of the best post-race massages I’ve ever gotten. Then I spent the next three days climbing stairs like an old lady and explaining to well-meaning friends that I didn’t win and this marathon is 42 kilometers long. I’ve also been making lots of graphs from the GPS and heart rate data I have from my Garmin. I usually don’t race with so much tech so it’s a bit overwhelming. The majority of those plots do not make their way into this report.
(and with scientific papers, here is where things would be behind a paywall, but again, lucky for you, all you have to do is click the button.)
The Gutenberg Mainz Marathon is an odd duck in the world of racing. It has three distance choices, half marathon, full marathon, and a 2/3 marathon option. That’s not what makes it really odd (ok, the 2/3 thing is. It’s basically the distance to run when you don’t feel like hitting the wall today.) What is odd is that everyone starts together and they literally do not care which option you take or which you signed up for. If you signed up for the marathon and you feel crappy, whatever, stop at the 1/2 way point, get your medal, and no one is the wiser, you get your time and medal and it’s like you always meant to do the half, anyway. It’s a bit insidious. That half marathon finish that you have to run right past to start the second half calls to you, singing a siren song of beer and pretzels.
Here’s the breakdown of all the folks running (not counting the 54 handbikers and the 545 groups of school kids running the half as a relay):
Note that of the 7337 adults running, only 158 of them were women running the marathon. That’s right, I was part of an elite group of only about 2% of the total runners (and 14% of the marathon finishers). In total, combining the half, 2/3, and full marathon finishers only 31% were women. Sad, really. Germany needs more women who think that marathon running is an appropriately feminine activity. Contrast that to the 2014 Shamrock Marathon and Half in Virginia Beach:
At the Shamrock, of the 2792 marathoners, 1261 were women, 45% of the marathoners and in the half, a total 5538 of the 8976 finishers were women. 58% of the total runners were women at the Shamrock.
Background and Methods
We were at the expo to pick up our numbers and so the Wife could stop being a 75 year old guy named Wolfgang and turn back into a proper woman again (She bought his race number on the very active race number exchange forum for this race because it closes registration in early March before anyone actually knows what they’re doing in May). That procedure took about ten minutes and resulted in two race numbers, both with a big F in front of the number (That’s F for women. They don’t have any that say HF for Hausfrau, otherwise that’s what mine would have said). Then we wandered around the relatively sizeable expo where I found a pair of my new favorite shoes ever (Saucony Kinvara 4’s) in my size but a somewhat horrible color on sale. I also picked up a new pair of compression sleeves as I’ve worn my old ones so much in the last year that they’ve gotten stretched out. The race swag was only ok. Unlike the local triathlon, we didn’t get boxes of whole grain pasta, but we did get coupons for free loaves of bread at one of the local supermarkets (I don’t know, maybe the grain industry in Germany is using race swag as a means to combat the gluten-free diet craze sweeping the sports community). The free gift was a pretty nice running cap, it’s very soft and fleecy and of course too big for my tiny head, but still nice. The race shirt I had to pay for, but is also really nice and has fewer advertisements than they usually do.
We skipped the pasta party and headed home to distress and relax and take more ibuprofen for the pulled muscle in my back from aikido class that morning. I did mention that I did something idiotically stupid, went to the usual three hour aikido class and for the first time in years messed up my back during a roll, right?
OK, back to my race. The day started partly sunny and a perfect temperature for racing (around 10°C) as we made our way to the train (filled almost entirely with runners at 8 on a Sunday morning) to take us to the start. Despite the fact that I was running a marathon in a few hours and the aforementioned disastrous back-wrenching accidental fall the day before (yes, I know that I had absolutely no business going to a 3 hour advanced aikido class the day before the race.) I was remarkably non-nervous, had all the things packed and had managed to get nearly a full night’s sleep. I was running in my skirt (this one, in fact) because it has giant pockets on the sides of the inner shorts and I can stash all my gels there. With the pockets loaded, it was a bit like wearing an old fashioned skirt with panniers, but more importantly, it was comfortable and held all my stuff. I also had the obligatory packet of tissues in case of bathroom emergencies (including but not limited to lack of TP in the portalavs, and unavoidable visits to the bushes in less populated areas, none of which actually happened), a bunch of ibuprofen in case the back injury really started to bother me, and a bendy straw. So, overpacked as usual, but not too badly.
Best race accessory ever
Let me tell you about my straw. I read on some runners’ forum that bringing a straw can help with the drinking from the supplied cups along the course and since we had a few straws floating around from the last party and they don’t really weigh anything, and I had pockets anyway, I brought one along to try it out. Best thing ever! Grab cup, insert straw, water goes right where it belongs and I could keep running most of the time. Highly recommended as a race accessory.
The weather in the morning was nice, cool, partly cloudy, perfect for running. Then the moment that I crossed the start line, it started to rain. Naturally. Things were pretty crowded in the first ten kilometers or so, and especially the first kilometer, which meant that it was unavoidable that I went out (marginally) slower than I would have liked (especially km 3) and that I stepped in a huge puddle that I couldn’t avoid without running someone over, thoroughly soaking my right foot all the way through. I also carried a throw-away water bottle with me for the start so that I didn’t need to stop at any water stops for the first 10 km at all. I also discovered that I’d caught up with the 4 hour pace group who had crossed the start line about a minute before me. I ran with them for the next five km or so. Then they weren’t going as fast as I was, so I passed them. I was running without looking at the watch or my heart rate as I really wanted to run by feel and not get into that cycle of obsessive worrying that always leads to me running unnaturally slow or fast and generally not being my most effective self.
Is the race half started or half finished?
At the halfway point, I’d seen the Wife once (looking happy despite the rain) and was still feeling remarkably good and was still ahead of the 4:00 pace group. I got to the half and heroically stayed left to continue running while most everyone around me headed to the finish line. Incidentally, I crossed the half faster than all but two of my standalone half marathons (the very first one and the latest one). Still feeling good (and obsessively self-assessing every two minutes or so, now that I knew how much faster than intended I was actually running), I headed over the bridge for the second half of the race. The sun briefly came out, warmed everything up, I shed my arm warmers and stashed them in one of my ubiquitous pockets and kept running. Despite the excellent spectator coverage and the regularly spaced high school bands, I started to get a bit bored around here. I wasn’t running with the iPod (Which was apparently allowed at this one. We didn’t even check because music hasn’t been allowed at any German road race or triathlon since we started racing here.), was going slightly too fast for chatting in German with the guys around me (my German gets progressively worse as my hours of physical effort go up) and basically was really wanting things to be done.
Two thirds done
At km 29, the folks quitting at 2/3 split off just before going back over the bridge and we got even more lonely. Then a 20 knot headwind and the heaviest rain of the day started as I was going over the big bridge (over the Rhine River). It was the most miserable few minutes of the race for me and completely sapped my will to keep going. At that moment, I saw a familiar pair of gold lamé arm warmers and the Wife was still smiling as she headed over the bridge in the other direction (well, she had a tailwind, no wonder she was smiling) and I tried to pretend like running uphill with a headwind driving rain into my face hard enough to hurt was fun.
By the last ten kilometers, I was hurting (mostly my thighs and also my right foot where a blister was making its presence known between my toes) and really wishing very hard that I was done when it started pouring again, but wasn’t appreciably slower than earlier except that I did stop at a few water stops and walk while I drank. Those and the bridge were the only kilometers that I ran that were over a 9 minute pace. There was one other, but it involved running under a really long overpass and I suspect that the GPS had some issues in there – possibly also the reason why according to the GPS the course was long. It was right there that based on the posted kilometer signs I realized that instead of an extra tenth of a mile, I was going to have to run an extra quarter of a mile. I didn’t figure out that the GPS might have been at fault until I saw my pace and heart rate plots together. All the other times when my pace slowed, there was a distinct dip in the instantaneous heart rate where I stopped and walked a bit at the aid stations. I knew that the red balloons were hot on my tail, though (and yes, 99 Luftballons was going through my head the entire time, also this one for some reason) and I was NOT going to let them pass me, so I dug deep as they say. And the guys in the yellow shirts that I was right behind most of the way were slowly pulling away and some woman who looked fresh as a friggin daisy asked me at around kilometer 40 how far we still had to go and all I managed was a grunt that meant, “I understand your question, but my watch is in miles and my German has deserted me along with any possibility of me being able to do math conversions in my head at this time, sorry.” I don’t think she got all that, but whatever. Finally, the finish line got around to showing itself. It was so long in coming that I was half convinced that I’d made a wrong turn somewhere and had miles to go, except that I was surrounded by the same guys that I’d been surrounded by the entire race and the 4:00 pacers were still in hot pursuit. When I finally hit the finish and got to walk, two of the yellow shirt guys were there and congratulated me. I looked them up later and it turns out that they both crossed the start line about a minute ahead of me so I actually beat both of them. Not that I got any petty pleasure out of that discovery at all. Not me. Heh.
Mainz is a great race to run. It’s well-organized, there are about eight times as many spectators as runners, you get to decide on the fly how far you want to go, the spectators are well-spaced throughout the course, so there’s pretty much always someone there to cheer, especially on the first round, and there’s only one “hill”, the bridge over the Rhine which I’m sure is quite pretty when it’s not windy and raining in your face. Mainzers know that a marathon is a good excuse for a party and it shows. The runners get into it a bit more than in Frankfurt as well, with all seven dwarves and a sleeping beauty (a sex doll in a wagon that they pulled along with them) running along with a six pack of beer bottles (one of whom was faster than me), a red indian (actually pink) from a German children’s book series that I don’t know, the inevitable Pheidippides, and a few other costumed folks as well. Also, portalavs. Plenty of portalavs. Enough portalavs. And massages. With most folks doing the half, there was no line at all for the massages and the folks who did ours spent a good twenty minutes on us which was really lovely. Unfortunately, in order to get those lovely massages, we needed to be clean first, which meant that after a cold, wet marathon, we had to take a shower. The Red Cross provided shower tents, but failed epically on the hot water end of things.
Things that were less than perfect at this one:
- The weather. Mainz should fix this for next year ;-). It rained, then the sun came out and then it rained, and then the sun came out about five different times during the marathon. The brief periods of sun were nice, but made each subsequent rain feel even colder and more demoralizing. Actually, each subsequent rain was colder. And windier. There was a front moving through.
- The cold showers.
- That’s about it. They did a really good job running a marathon. It was very much like fun and only slightly different.
So how did I really do?
And now more about me. Because this post is all about me and how long I can write about a race that at this point took less time to run than this did to write up. Exactly how did I do? Well, the last full marathon I ran was in 2012 and there I ran a 4:02:25 and was very happy with that. I really wanted to break four hours here and see how much work I still have to do to run a 3:54:59 qualifying time for Boston 2016 in the fall. I now have the answer to that question and the answer is NONE! That’s right. If I were only three months older, I would have qualified with this one. To say that I am pleased with this time would be an understatement. I ran a 3:54:50, blowing all my predictions out of the water, holding consistent sub-nine-minute miles (by the GPS my average pace was 8:54, but that was for 26.43 miles, and for the actual race distance, the average pace comes out to 8:58. Still. Amazing. When people ask my marathon time now, the answer starts with a three! I did not negative split this one, but it wasn’t that far off, I ran the first half in 1:56:46 and the second half in 1:59:03, 2:18 slower, but both the “hills” and the driving headwind were in the second half and I did slow down and walk a couple of times for water in the second half. My water and nutrition were also spot on, with a total of five energy gels consumed at miles 5, 10, 16, and 21. There were water stops every four kilometers or so, but I only stopped at every other one except near the end where once I did hit two in a row. It was tempting to slow down and drink for every one, but I knew that I didn’t need it, so I didn’t.
I am really pleased with myself. I even followed my race strategy, even if it was an idiotic one that involved going to a dark place in the last tem kilometers. It turns out that it wasn’t as dark as it looked, anyway. As for my secret goal, the one that was in my heart that I didn’t tell anyone, did I make that? Honestly? I didn’t have one. I laid everything I really wanted to do out there with the full knowledge that I was not going to make it. But then I did! Smash! A full five minutes better than my actual goal that looked a bit like it was made of unobtanium based on my training numbers. But I know better. I train slow, it works for me, and heart rate numbers are subjective. My average heart rate for the race was 157 and for the last ten kilometers, it was 164. So now I know what’s sustainable, now all I have to do is get faster at those levels of effort. I believe there is some speedwork to look forward to this summer.
More fun with statistics
Last time I ran a marathon, I created a line plot of my marathon times and did a linear best fit through them. It predicted that by the time I’m 53 or so, I’ll be the fastest runner in the world. Here’s the updated version of that graphic. Using this as a guide, in October, I might be able to run a 3:50, which would be nice. I also plotted how much faster I’ve gotten at each successive marathon and that graphic shows that the amount of time I’m getting faster by has decreased quite a bit. I don’t have enough points yet to do any sort of statistical analysis on it, though.
Enough about you. What about your better half?
I am so proud of my Wife. She is a hell of a runner and smashed her PR as well, ran the entire way, looked happy at the end and had no issues with the shin and ankle problems that have been plaguing her this season. Our orthopedist did a great job with the magic tape and orthopedic insoles. Sadly, I do not have a picture of her crossing the finish line as I was so excited to see her that I pretty much dropped the phone and took a picture of the pavement instead.
As mentioned ad infinitum the other day, my goals were as follows: 1) run hard but not too stupidly; 2) go under four hours 3) finish hurting. I am happy to report that I managed all three goals spectacularly. I’m actually still hurting a bit from the effort. Or the back issue, or the fact that I’ve been biking, swimming, running, or doing more aikido every single day since Sunday. I’m not particularly good at post-race resting, apparently. Or writing succinct and direct race reports. I’m getting better at running marathons though. And achieving my goals. My goal for this weekend is to not run a marathon, possibly get a pedicure, maybe go to the sauna, and generally not do anything too strenuous. Not counting the ever-present aikido class, of course.
I signed up for the next marathon yesterday. It’s in October. I’m going to qualify for Boston there. My confirmation for it went directly into my email’s spam filter.
This race could not have been run without the support of my wonderful Wife who ran long runs (and all the other runs) with me all spring, made me smoothies and dinner for the few that I ran without her, filled up my hydration vest for me pretty much every time, managed to get me off the couch and out the door despite the sometimes overwhelming depression that I was dealing with (I suppose that’s another post) through a lot of it, and generally survived my crazy. Also, the folks at Running Etc in Norfolk took a lot of time to help me pick the perfect marathon shoes for me (and that’s another post as well) and I didn’t have any of the usual foot issues at all with them (I might even keep all my toenails this time). Friends I and R gave me excellent advice on how to run the race without which I probably would have done something utterly stupid. My mom sent Easter candy and that acted as inspiration for me (a chocolate bunny waiting for me at the end of the race, rabbits are good luck and also appropriate runner symbolism as well). And additional thanks to everyone who wished me well or thought good thoughts last Sunday. Without Matlab, I couldn’t have wasted quite so much time making plots that didn’t even make it into the race report. If you’ve read this far, you deserve a very big thank you and a mention here in the acknowledgements.