Last Sunday I ran The Tunnel Vision Marathon, my first race since the Boston Marathon more than 2 years ago. The race took place in the beautiful North Bend and Snoqualmie area, 40 miles outside of Seattle, WA. It includes an epic 2-mile / 3.2 km tunnel spitting you out straight into The Pacific Northwest paradise.
My goal was to run Sub 3 hours and qualify for the Boston Marathon. It would be my one and only BQ chance for 2018. I had a proper training and racing plan in place, however these plans had to get adjusted to plan B, C and D. My goal was to run a 2:57 marathon and I’m stoked to reach this goal in 2:55:34, and 9th place overall.
The video below shows the race experience A to Z with my learnings, filmed on my phone:
In this blog post below I’ll go discus some of the things I’ve learned about training and racing when things really don’t go according to plan. Like Charlie Engle said in an interview last week, good and bad things happen to everybody, what matters is how you deal with the situation. I thought about this several times in this training cycle and on race day. Let’s dive right into the details.
Training Plan for Sub 3 Hour Marathon / Boston Qualifier
At the beginning of my training cycle I came up with a training schedule for the next 5 months. This schedule would get me ready for a Sub 3 hour marathon, with 35 to 53 miles per week (56 to 85km / week). Beating my 2:44 PR was out of the question because I had other priorities and didn’t want to train 70-80 miles per week (113 to 128km) consistent. The training schedule I had in mind:
- Monday – rest day
- Tuesday – 6 miles lunch run
- Wednesday – 13 to 15 mile commute 1 way
- Thursday – 6 miles lunch run
- Friday – rest day
- Saturday – 8 miles
- Sunday – 6 to 20 miles
I planned to run for about 2 months at MAF HR only to build up my aerobic base, then add 1 to 2 higher HR runs a week. Depending on length and terrain of the long runs, this would be 35 to 53 miles (56km to 85km) per week or 5 hours to 9 hours per week. The minimum amount of miles I would feel comfortable with for my Sub 3 hour goal.
Then real life happens!
The last 4 months have been a wild ride, with lots of things happening at once. A few examples:
- Our 4 year-old daughter fell off the Monkey Bars, gnarly chin wound and needed a bunch of stiches.
- 6 weeks later our 1-year old daughter fell off the bed, fractured her head and had brain swelling. 24 hour stay in the hospital.
- Many exciting projects at work for Tillys during Spring Break and Back to School, requiring at least 50 – 60 hours of intense productivity a week.
- I wrote a 32 page E-book about the Fundamentals of Marathon Training, growing my email list to 1500 subscribers. (Free download here)
- I launched my new website Extramilest and transferred my old site content over.
- I started The Extramilest Show with YouTube videos and Podcasts on iTunes, Libsyn, SoundCloud, etc.
- My wife and I wanted to buy a house. For 2 months we read a lot of Real Estate Books, visited 25 houses, put in 3 offers and won 1 bid, finished escrow in 30 days.
I realized sleeping 5 hours or less a night for extended periods is pretty bad for you, so I made it a point to not waste time on useless activities and try to sleep at least 6 hours a night (should be 7+ hours I know). My family always comes first, so spending quality time with my kids and wife is important.
That being said, my training plan had lower mileage than ideal for a Sub 3 / Boston Qualifier attempt, see breakdown below.
- Week 1 = 26 miles / 42km
- Week 2 = 28 miles / 45km
- Week 3 = 32 miles / 51km
- Week 4 = 40 miles / 64km
- Week 5 = 48 miles / 77km
- Week 6 = 36 miles / 58km
- Week 7 = 43 miles / 69km
- Week 8 = 34 miles / 55km
- Week 9 = 36 miles / 58km
- Week 10 = 23 miles / 37km
- Week 11 = 21 miles / 34km
- Week 12 = 24 miles / 39km
- Week 14 = 53 miles / 85km
- Week 15 = 25 miles / 40km
- Week 16 = 47 miles / 76km
- Week 17 = 5 miles / 8km
- Week 18 = 38 miles / 61km
- Week 19 = 42 miles / 68km
- Week 20 = 27 miles / 43km
- Week 21 = 20 miles / 32km
- Week 22 = race week, 5 miles / 8km
- Total from 22 weeks 653 miles / 1050km
You might experience the same thing as well. You might make a training schedule and then life gets in the way. Negative thoughts and self-doubt can drag you down. Keeping calm and focusing positively on your goal is key here.
8 days before my Tunnel Marathon I was in Chicago for a work event. Shonduras and other friends were skating around so I borrowed a friend’s skateboard for a fun session. At the end I got over-confident and the skateboard flew full force into the side of my ankle. It was extremely painful, like bumping your elbow on a table (telephone feeling), but then in my ankle. My 3 biggest toe on my left foot were completely numb for 5 days, then on day 6 feeling slowly started coming back. The 10 days before my marathon I only jogged once for a few miles, for the rest I chilled and tried to get to a good spot mentally.
I strongly believe in The Law of Attraction, sending positive vibes into the universe and it comes right back at ya. Lately I’ve also been fascinated about the results of placebo drugs, several of them performing better on patients than real drugs. This tells you how much believing in something can influence your end result. Although I was very concerned about my foot injury and my low training miles, I focused positive energy on my goal. I told myself I was going to run a Sub 3 hour marathon and qualify for Boston.
Race Day Finally Arrived
It’s good to have some nerves leading up to a race, it means you care about your performance. Normal levels of stress help to get your body ready for action by releasing adrenaline and endorphins that help physical performance. This can stimulate you and allows you to focus!
From previous races I know things will not always go according to plan on race day. That being said, there are ways to prepare well to limit stress levels:
- Research the course. Know in advance the details about the course, like elevation gain / loss, how many aid stations are there, what do they serve, where are the rest room along the course, etc.
- Have all your race gear laid out the day before your race. Think not only about what you’ll wear, but also any nutrition, insurance card, ID, car keys, etc. That way when you wake up early in the morning, you don’t have to think.
- Allow yourself plenty of time to be able to use the rest rooms before the race, warm up well and get to the start line area.
- Turn on your GPS watch well in advance, so signal is ready before the gun goes off.
- Set alarms on your watch for when you should take nutrition. This avoid forgetting to take in calories, especially in the 2nd part of your race.
When you feel nerves coming up before the start of your race, here are a few things that help for me:
- Winners don’t win because of their great race performance, they win because they have put in months of consistent training.
- If you didn’t train consistent (like me), that’s ok as well. Look back at all the training you’ve done for your race. Take a closer look your longer training runs that felt good. Often when I scroll through my previous runs on Strava, I realize there have been several good runs that helped build a solid training foundation.
- In the last 10 days before a marathon, you can’t really change much of your performance. Running intense and / or high mileage in those last days could do more harm than good.
- Focus on eating well, meaning, stick to whatever worked for you before and during a long marathon training run. (see my favorite long run here). Race day is not a time to try new things!
- Focus on rest and sleep some additional hours. Rest is one of the most underestimated parts of a training cycle.
Marathon Race Strategies for a Sub 3 / Boston Qualifier
- This was my first downhill trail marathon going through a tunnel. Running on a trail vs road typically slows you down significantly, however the gradual downhill should offset this. It’s a fast course, but not sure what to expect.
- My strategy was to aim for a 2:57 marathon, so aim for consistent 6:45 min / miles to have a 3 minute buffer.
- I’d keep an eye on my HR, not wanting it to go over 158 for the first 20 miles, then 160 – 165 until the finish
Marathon Go Time!
- At 7am 400 runners lined up and the gun went off. I ran towards the front to avoid having to slow down, several fast runners in the front. ½ mile in my watch indicated 6:15 min / mile pace (3:53 min / km), slow down!!
- After ½ mile (0.8km) we went into a long 2 mile / 3.2km tunnel that was pitch black, so I ran with head lamp. GPS in the tunnel seemed to work, showing 6:30 min / mile for mile 1 (4:02 / km), 6:35 min / mile for mile 2 (4:05 / km).
- After the tunnel my watch indicated 3.7 miles (6km), the course marker showed 3 miles (4.8km), something was off!! From there on my GPS watch had issues the entire race, showing paces from 4 min / mile to 14 min / mile, SHIT!!
- I decided to focus my pace purely on HR, because my pace was feeling pretty fast.
- To know if I was still on Sub 3 pace, I used my phone stopwatch to calculate time per mile from mile 5 (8km) onwards. Although my pace was pretty consistent, 1 mile the time between mile markers was 6:05 minutes, the next mile 7:20. Then I realized THE MILE MARKERS WERE WAY OFF TOO!!
- As long as on average I’d be below 6:45 minutes between mile markers, I’d be in an ok spot. My HR was pretty consistent first 20 miles (32km) around 156-158.
- At mile 20 (32km) my injured foot started to hurt more, I avoided sending negative feelings to my foot and focused on the positive. Several runners ahead up me slowed down and I was able to pass them.
- At mile 22 (35km) I ran strong when someone came up from behind running next to me. I looked over and it was the first female runner named Nicki, in very strong shape. Her PR was 2:57 and she was trying to break it.
- We ran together for 4 miles, pushing each other to maintain a fast pace. The last few miles between mile markers we were flying, mile 24 @ 6:20 min / mile (3:56 / km pace), mile 25 @ 6:17 min / mile (3:54 / km pace), mile 26 @ 6:11 min / mile (3:50 min / km) The mind was all focused on executing those last few miles, no distractions, purely in the zone.
- A few hundred yards from the finish I was not able to keep up with her, she came in 6 seconds before me and crushed her PR.
Looking Back at This Marathon
I’m super stoked with how the entire day turned out. I had so much fun running this race, slapping high fives along the way and thanking all the volunteers. Although my training was far from ideal, my foot was still injured and the GPS and Mile Markers were off, I focused on what I could impact, then executed and reached my goal. I hope this race report will help you, especially when your training or race day does not go according to plan.