Thursday, October 20, 2011

Wichita Prairie Fire Marathon Race Report

My final marathon as a non-master didn't turn out the way I envisioned.  I trained pretty hard, set some impressive PRs leading up to the race, but in the end, I can't help but feel disappointed.  The irony is that I ran faster than I have ever run a marathon in my life.

Feeling good at the start.
My 3 year old, Lacey, waiting for something, anything,
to happen at the start.

Before I get into how my race went, I'll mention a little bit of background on the marathon.  The Wichita Prairie Fire Marathon is in it's second year.  They announced about 4,000 participants who chose between a 5k, half marathon, or full marathon.  On the 5k, the pace bicyclist took a wrong turn and all the runners followed him.  When all was said and done, they ended up running about 3.8 miles, and no prizes were given for various reasons.  Of course some runner's were pissed.  I think it's inexcusable (and kinda funny) not to know where you're going when you're responsible for about 1,000 paying runners following you like the pied piper.

The marathon itself is a dual loop course, kinda like a figure 8, but the loops are separated by several miles.  It's mostly flat and fast.  Even though there was the snafu with the 5k, everything went well with the marathon.   The events in general were well organized with more free food afterward than what you'll find at most big city marathons.  I partook in some post-race pizza, beer, donuts, and hot chocolate.

Going off road around mile 10.
Let me start out with the good.  I finished the 26.2 miler in 3:34:18; over a minute and a half faster than the PR I set last year, and I did so in a little less than optimal conditions.  That comes out to an 8:11 average pace, and 15 of my splits were under 8 minutes.  I've never broke the 8 minute mile in a marathon before.  The other positive from my race was taking 3rd place in my division.  I had never won any award in any race over 4 miles.  More on that later...

Money Shot

Now for the bad which I plan on spending most of my time on.  While I should be happier about my PR, my planned finish time was a sub 3:25:00 under ideal conditions.  Reaching that time would mean I'm making good progress on my BQ goal as I need a 3:15:00.  I have set the bar high, and not performing up to my expectations is depressing.  Striving for certain time goals is what drives my training.  I guess it's just the way my brain is wired.  I think I have a decent excuse for not running better, but I'm having problems coming to terms with forces beyond my control.  Yes, I'm talking about the weather.  At first glance, the conditions were near ideal; low 60s with cloudy skies and intermittent light rain.  The problem is those aren't perfect conditions.  With all the rain before and during the race, the humidity was around 97%.  Also, the temps remained a constant 64º, about 10 degrees above optimal.  Let's explore temperatures for a second.  Here is an excerpt from Jeff Galloway's webpage about how temps affect running.

Most runners begin to slow down at 55 degrees and start suffering at 65 degrees. Of course, the body can adapt to heat stress and push the threshold up a bit, but you usually can't run as fast on a 75 degee day as on a 45 degree one. High humidity is also a major problem. It's like a wet blanket; it doesn't allow much evaporation or perspiration and your body heat builds up.
If you try to run too hard in hot or humid conditions you'll hit "the wall" sooner than expected. Trying to maintain a goal pace in heat is like going out too fast early in the race. Temperatures generally increase hour by hour; therefore you must adjust your pace for the temperature expected at the end of the race.
Adjusting Race Pace for Heat: Estimated temperature at finish - Slower than goal pace - 8 min mile becomes...
55-60 degrees - 1% - 8:05
60-65 degrees - 3% - 8:15
65-70 degrees - 5% - 8:25
70-75 degrees - 7% - 8:35
75-80 degrees - 12% - 8:58
80-85 degrees - 20% - 9:35
Above 85 degrees - Forget it... run for fun
* Note: This chart is based upon my own experience in the heat and talking to other runners. It has no scientific verification.

His assertion makes sense to me.  Based on the above chart, my race pace should have been a good 3% (15 seconds) slower solely based on the temperature.  I didn't take Jeff's chart into consideration and hence, started out too fast for the conditions.  That came back to haunt me about mile 20.  What I haven't figured out yet is how much the weather gets the blame, and what blame if any goes to my process of nutrition, tapering, and starting out too fast.

To illustrate how the weather affected my performance, I've included some Garmin data I collected.  On the left is an 18 miler I did 2 weeks before the marathon to cap off a 63 mile week in sunny 55º weather.  The chart on the right is my first 18 miles from the PF marathon done in 64º cloudy weather with 97% humidity:

Training Run 9/24/11
PF Marathon 10/9/11

The moral of these 2 charts is that my 55º training run averaged a 7:49 pace with an average heart rate of 168.  For comparison, The first 18 marathon miles averaged a 7:52 but with a heart rate of 178.  In a good example of over analysis, that works out to 1,631 extra heartbeats worth of oxygen my blood had to try and deliver to my muscles over those 18 miles.

Based on my own experience and some research, I estimate my lactate threshold to be around 175 bpm.  This further illustrates why hitting the wall was only a matter of time in the marathon.

Remember I mentioned earlier I took 3rd place in my division?  Well what if I told you my division was the Clydesdale division?  I'm not so bad-ass anymore, huh.  I know most people think of me as a typical skinny runner, but according to the entry form, if I'm over 170 lbs, I've got a handicap.  When I signed up I was 171 lbs in case you were wondering.  The only positive thing I can say about being in the Clydesdale class is that I had to beat out all my plus sized peers from across all age groups (assuming they declared their fatness).  I was a good 20 minutes away from placing in my age group.  By the way, race morning I weighted in at 167 lbs since I was very diligent about my diet that week, so I don't know if I should be feeling any guilt, but ethically, I'm in the clear because what happens after signing up is kinda like what happens after boxers or wrestlers weigh in:  They are locked in the weight class no matter how much their weight fluctuates.  (I am back up over 170 now)

Back to the race...  The last 6 miles I hit the proverbial wall.  I was saddened to look down at my watch and see that mile 24 was a 9:20 split, but in my defense my legs were really burning the last 4 or 5 miles.  Despite the burn, they weren't trying to cramp.  Any lesser man might have given into the urge to walk, but I forced myself to keep the legs churning and actually got faster the last couple miles.  The way my legs felt after hitting the wall, I was actually impressed I ran as fast as I did.

Prairie Fire Marathon, Final Hit the Wall 10k

Currently, I'm still in my marathon hangover.  The muscle soreness left after 3 or 4 days, but most days running 5 miles is a struggle even at recovery pace.  I have yet to get back into any kind of speed work.  I know this is nothing out of the ordinary.

I'll leave you with a couple bullet points:

  • This post represents my one year anniversary of blogging.
  • Did everyone hear about that 100 year old guy who finished the Toronto Marathon in 8 hours and change?  WOW


Jill said...

I've been waiting and waiting for your report after I saw your time on FB! Now...after reading, I don't know what I want to say exactly because I want to process this more...but I knew you weren't excited about your time and I am sorry it didn't turn out better for you. If it helps any, I think most of us who have done many marathons have been in your place ... there are no guarantees on race day and sometimes that is hard to swallow after vesting so much time into that one race!

I have learned about the 55 degree thing too and I know I struggle when temps just reach the high 70s but I also can't help but wonder if we can't train our bodies to equally efficient in less ideal temperatures. I don't know...I just know it's nearly impossible to find a race that hits those exact 55 degree temps. I find, at least for me, the marathons I run in the spring are always slower than the ones I run in the fall because training all winter in cooler temps is ideal and then whammm, hit the marathon in much warmer conditions and I just can't get the legs to turn over fast. But, when I train in the mucky summer heat and then hit a cooler temp'd fall marathon, my legs seem to have more juice. I'm very fearful of my January marathon for this sole reason.

That was just some ramblings...nevertheless, I think you did very well and I hope you don't stew over this race too long and pick up the training and find another race to dangle the carrot from...the 3:25 is in you, I know it is, and it will come!! Maybe you just need another high altitude, low oxygen race again! :)

Oh...and I was laughing my head off at YOU in the Clydesdale division....something is not right when 170 lbs skinny kids can be considered a Clydesdale. But hey, it's their rules and you won fair and square! Enjoy!!

Being Robinson said...

well congrats, that's still a spectacular finish time, even if it isn't what you envisioned :) i'm still impressed. it was great to see you that morning! hope to see you around soon, i'm going to TRY to make it by J&L tonight, but not sure. i made plans WEEKS ago with an old friend and totally forgot it was j&l night. sad.

congrats again!

Christi said...

I will say that I am very happy for you! I am sure you will do better but color me impressed! Great race!

Nelly said...

lol on the 5K pace biker going the wrong way on the course! While I would be pissed if I was on pace to set a PR, I guess you never know what can happen.

As for the weather, the temp of 64 seems okay, but the humidity probably was the problem - 97% is insanely high! It must have felt like it was going to rain any second during the race.

Yea, seems like your heartrate was a little high during the early part of the marathon, I guess that's why I like to run races based on heartrate so that I can try to avoid getting into trouble later in the race. Because for me pace does not always equal the right heartrate. I'm not sure if you have figured out what is your optimal heartrate for finishing a marathon on, maybe this is something to try to look more into. Maybe 170-175 might be a good number for you to aim for?

Regardless of all the analysis you did on your race, congrats on the PR - that is awesome!!

And I can't believe that you qualify as a clydesdale, haha 170 lbs seems like a light clydesdale, I was thinking it should be around 190 to 200 lbs...

Caroline said...

Congrats on your PR!
I am not in marathon league...yet
but for my halfs...the ones I did in warmer weather were by far my slowest.

The heat is hard, the worst enemy. I live in California and for the whole summer I was in the

Above 85 degrees - Forget it... run for fun ZONE!

Hannah said...

Though you are disappointed, I am still going to congratulate you on a great performance. And congrats on your first sub-8 miles in a marathon!

Running is tough. You can train and train and train, and on the big day, so many things can affect how you perform. I think it is a rare thing for the sun and moon and stars to align. So, pat yourself on the back for doing very well despite a condition beyond your control coming into play.

Hope to see you tonight!

P.S. I'd totally have been the lesser man and walked. Kudos to you on pushing through!

Hannah said...

Also, Happy Blogiversary!

Death Race said...

Nice pics, Congratulations for a great job well done. Keep it up, looking forward always.

Michael said...

We are always way to hard on did awesome and still had a PR and you ran a solid race until mile 24 - which is super impressive...and frankly miles 24-26 were way better than anything I could do even in a 5K so it's hard to say you faltered there, but they were definitely slower than your previous pace. I personally think you did an amazing job! Pat yourself on the back and enjoy your PR!

Cory Reese said...

I just had the exact same thing happen! I trained hard and planned to cream my PR and then only ended up PRing by 1 minute. Who knew a PR could feel so crappy.

I think Galloway is right about the heat adjustments. Way to push through despite less-than-ideal conditions!

Amanda@runninghood said...

I can relate to being hard on ourselves! Another learning experience to make us even stronger for the next time. Congrats on your PR no matter how small of a pr it is.

Jim ... 50after40 said...

Sorry I'm just now catching up on your race Jon. I've been disappointed a lot this year in races, so I understand where you're coming from, but that is STILL a great race! The new Boston times are tough for all of us, but I know you'll get there!

I did quite a bit of reading and studying on heat and humidity this summer. I don't remember the facts exactly but it was something like "at 80 degrees & 80% humidity, your heart rate is elevated about 10 beats per minute at the same pace as 55 degrees and 50% humidity. Most of the reports I read attributed increased heart rate, and thus slower performance to humidity over heat. If the race was 97% humidity, that was probably the main cause for a slower race than what you trained at. But also, 64% is getting pretty warm for marathon.

Like me, I know you'll never make excuses for the weather, but it was a HUGE contributing factor in your race. That being said, I still think it was an awesome run.

Maybe we can run it together next year - I think I'm doing it in 2012, but maybe 2013. Good luck and great job!

Terzah said...

Hi Jon! I found you through Jill originally and am excited to follow you because we are on the same quest and at about the same age. Your race sounds very similar to my marathon last month, though in my case my own stupidity going out too fast contributed more than the weather (which was fine). For what it's worth, I resolved not to be disappointed and celebrated the PR and learned learned learned. My next marathon is in January. We'll see if the BQ can happen.

I am looking forward to following your journey, too. Just based on your times, I know you can do it.

misszippy said...

First and foremost, you set a really nice PR--congrats! Focus on that big positive.

Weather, unfortunately, is one of those things we can't control. I am like you, I need those 55-degree, cloudy conditions. I always put my marathons in November, b/c this gives me the best odds for that. Your perfect day will come and hopefully sooner rather than later. Look out Hopkinton!

The Slow One said...

I was so self-absorbed with my own marathon that I didn't realize you ran another recently. I'm sorry that you were disappointed. I know it's all relative. Your time is very impressive to me! You can't help the conditions. Good job!