Over the past several months I’ve documented my training in preparation for the Vermont City Marathon (VCM), which I ran last Sunday morning. Like any marathon training cycle there were a lot of ups and downs, and a number of memorable runs (some good, some bad).
The story of this marathon training cycle for me was the meltdown I had in the final few weeks of training. As the weather started warming up, I had to abort an 18 mile long run after about 13.5 miles, and my final 20 miler turned into a walk-run mess that left me cramping in places I’ve never cramped before. Those runs were a major blow to my confidence, but I also knew that I’d had run some solid long runs in cooler weather, so my performance at VCM would likely be determined by the weather on race day. I’m happy to report that Mother Nature decided to smile on me and she served up near ideal conditions!
My big decision the day before the race was what to do about shoes (of course!). I had intended to run in the Saucony Fastwitch 6, but after chatting with a Saucony rep at the expo he indicated that the drain holes in the sole might actually be a negative if there was a lot of standing water on the ground. Drain holes can help drain water from the shoe, but can also let water in through the sole when running through puddles. I hadn’t considered that, and given the near constant driving rain we had on Saturday, it was a certainty that there would be a lot of water on the course (and there indeed was!).
I brought along two other pairs of shoes, a prototype Skechers GoBionic 2 (not an option due to water absorption by the material under the sockliner – will hopefully be fixed), and the Saucony Virrata (read my Saucony Virrata review here). I left the Kinvara 4 at home since I only did one long run in them. I made a last minute decision to go with the Virrata – I had run a bunch of miles in them this cycle and though I was a bit concerned about going zero drop in a marathon, I was more worried about soaking up a ton of water in the Fastwitch 6s. Turned out to be a good choice. My feet had no issues in the Virrata – they shed water well, never felt soggy, and I got no blisters despite my feet being damp the entire race.
Saucony Virrata – My Race Day Weapon of Choice
Here’s the rest of my gear rundown:
Socks: Injinji Lightweight No-show Toe Socks. I’ve used Injinji socks for my last several marathons and they’ve made a huge difference in preventing toe blisters for me. They did so again – despite the rain and wet feet, no toe blisters from the race. The lightweight socks are super thin, which is my preference for socks these days.
Calf Sleeves: No idea if they provide any real benefit, but I usually wear calf sleeves when I race. I like Zensah sleeves, and was recently sent a pair of Zensah Reflect sleeves to try out. Nice compression and very comfortable.
Shorts/Shirt: Team Wicked Bonkproof gear! Big thanks again to Caleb Masland for coaching me through the training cycle!
Arm Sleeves: An old pair of Nike sleeves that I had. Didn’t plan on wearing them, but figured any added warmth from additional layers would be helpful.
Jacket: Merrell Torrent Shell. My other last minute decision – to wear a jacket or not to wear a jacket? Given the temperature and the rain, I decided to err on the side of layering, and the Merrell Torrent Shell is super thin and light. If need be I could take it off and tie it around my waist. Glad I wore it, actually felt plenty warm for most of the race. Never wound up taking it off. It got wet, but it dries fast and doesn’t soak and gain weight.
Gloves: Old pair of lightweight Brooks gloves. Took them off and carried in-hand for the final few miles.
GPS: Garmin FR10 (review sample from Clever Training) and Garmin FR610 (my watch). The FR10 actually measured the distance more closely than the 610. Not bad for an entry level GPS watch (review coming).
Gels: Running Warehouse connected me with VFuel and they sent me out some samples to try, so I went with their Peach Cobbler gels for the race. Mixed three gels in a Hydrapak Soft-Flask, then filled up the remainder of the space with water to thin it out. This has been my practice in my last several marathons and it works really well for me. I hand-hold the flask (it’s small) and take small sips through the first half of the race, and when the flask is empty it packs down small into a little belt pouch that I use to carry a few additional gels. I find it much easier to sip watered down gels than to take them straight from the pouch while running (though VFuel is a bit thinner out of the pouch than most gels). The peach VFuel tastes good, and I had no stomach distress at all during the race. Very happy with how it performed (Running Warehouse recently posted a group review of VFuel as well). Took one additional GU from an aid station around mile 14. No gels after that – just Gatorade from some of the aid stations, a slice of orange, and a slice of watermelon.
I knew going in that I wasn’t in PR shape, so that wasn’t even on my radar. Given that, my goals for the race were threefold:
1. Finish without hitting the wall. I’ve run this race twice before and both times I crashed at Battery hill at mile 15. In fact, I’ve managed to avoid the wall in only 2 of my previous 8 marathons. Cool weather and good pacing would be key.
2. If I managed to avoid the wall, I was pretty confident I could run a personal VCM course PR. My previous times at VCM were 3:43:38 and 3:36:12.
3. Run sub-3:30. Given that it’s been two years since my last marathon, and I built up my mileage pretty rapidly over about 12 weeks, I trained to be able to run the marathon at a conservative pace of around 8:00/mile. Slower than that would have been a disappointment.
Had two bananas and a bagel with peanut butter and cream cheese for breakfast, all finished at least 1.5 hours before race start. One cup of regular coffee, some OJ, couple sips of water. Went real easy on the pre-race hydration given my past issues with overhydrating. Had one mini Clif-bar right before the race started.
Vermont City Marathon Elevation Profile – Recorded by Garmin FR610
Everyone who ran VCM in 2013 will remember it for the cold, rain, and wind. The temperature was in the low 40s Fahrenheit at the start, with the wind making it feel much cooler. Light drizzle alternated with steady rain throughout, though it eased up toward the end of the race. I actually felt like the weather was more of a positive than a negative as nearly all of my race PR’s have come in cold weather.
My plan going into the race was to go easy for the first few miles, then settle into a comfortable pace and see where it took me. The big challenge in any race is to not go out too fast, and in the marathon this is absolutely critical. I didn’t get a chance to do any kind of warmup, and my legs were cold at the start. Pushing the pace from the start would have been dangerous, so I remained disciplined and held back when the gun went off. Let everyone go, then catch as many as possible later on was the plan. I skipped the first few water stops, again part of my plan to go easy on hydration.
I was feeling really tight for the first few miles, but I knew from experience that it would take at least a few miles to warm up the legs, and that this would probably be prolonged a bit more by the rain and cold. Sure enough, around mile three I started to loosen up and the roughly 7:45/mile pace I had settled into was feeling smooth. Made a brief pit stop during mile 5 (apparently I was still plenty hydrated despite my limited intake of liquids prior to the race!), and did a good job resisting the urge to cruise on the long downhill from miles 3-7.
Splits for miles 1-7:
Between miles 7-8 I ran for a bit with a female barefoot runner who was moving along really well. We chatted for a few miles, then she took off when we reached the top of the hill back in town and I never saw her again (looks like she beat me by about 5 minutes!)
I started to feel a little tightness in my calves around mile 8, and was worried that maybe the zero drop Virratas were a bad choice. Fortunately the soreness never progressed to pain, and the tightness subsided a bit later in the race.
My goal as I approached the halfway point was to be consistent and to stay disciplined about my pacing. I was running more by consistent effort than consistent pace, so I’d speed up just a bit down hills, and slow a bit on the ups. Pace continually hovered around 7:45/mile and it was still feeling smooth. Mile 15 remained in the forefront of my mind – Battery hill crushed me twice before, and I was determined to not let it beat me again.
I crossed the 13.1 mile marker in 1:42:34, on target to meet all three of my goals and then some. I was pretty confident I could keep it up.
Mile 14 was a bit slow because the wind was whipping along the lakefront, and at one point waves were crashing over a concrete wall onto the trail we were running along. It was the only time I really felt that the weather interfered with the race.
I was still feeling strong heading toward Battery, and I ran up the big hill without issue – in fact, I passed a bunch of people on the way up. I’d run a ton of hills in this training cycle and it clearly paid off in a big way.
Splits for miles 8-15 :
When I hit the top of the hill I got a bit of an adrenaline boost – I didn’t crash, and the rest of the course was mostly downhill. It was just a matter of holding pace. I got a bit overly ambitious in miles 18 and 19 – the thought of picking it up and shooting for 3:20 crossed my mind. I wisely reeled it back in and decided to not risk the race by getting greedy with my time. A 10 minute course PR was a pretty strong possibility if I could just hold the 7:45-7:50 pace I had been running pretty consistently throughout.
The challenge with the late miles of VCM is that a lot of it is straight along roads that are pretty flat. I like a bit of up and down in marathons, and the long flats tend to grate on me a bit. I kept plugging away, started taking Gatorade at the aid stations since I was done with gels (had been having a few sips of water at each station starting around mile 5, but not a lot), and passed through miles 20-22 still feeling pretty good.
Splits for miles 16-21:
The challenging portion of the race for me really started around mile 22. Though I was mentally lucid and not feeling depleted, my legs were starting to tighten up. Nothing atypical of late marathon soreness, but it took focus to keep moving along at sub 8:00/mile pace. I’d feel my pace slip a bit, then have to give myself a little push to kick it back into gear. The last several miles of VCM are tough because they are along a bike path that is flanked by trees on both sides. It’s a long, relatively flat stretch without a lot of spectators where you really can’t see that far ahead of you. It’s challenging to maintain pace on that trail, and I could tell a lot of the other runners were having a similar mental struggle (there were surprisingly few people walking though, probably a testament to the cool weather).
I kept my eye on my watch, dumped some cold water on my head at each aid station I passed on the trail, and kept plugging away. You emerge from the trees shortly before the final stretch to the finish, and the crowds at that point were out in full force. I caught a second wind, and ran the final 0.2 faster than I ran any other portion of the race, even sprinted the final bit to the finish – good thing too, as I crossed the finish line in an official 3:24:59. One second to spare for my third sub-3:25 marathon! It was over a 10 minute PR on the course, and all three goals were fulfilled!
|Final 0.2+||6:41 pace|
I caught up with my friend Alett in the finishing chute and chatted for a bit – her husband Hugh had gone sub-3:00 and got his BQ. I watched a woman get wheeled by who was shivering violently and uncontrollably – possible case of hypothermia, which I suspected might be an issue for some on the day. I felt surprisingly good – no cramping, not particularly cold, and clear-headed. My hips, quads, and calves were sore, but I was otherwise fine – a relatively comfortable post-marathon experience for me, which is pretty unusual.
The finish area was a muddy mess, and my wife wasn’t able to find parking and was driving around the city. I opted to skip the post race food and met her down the road a bit and we headed back to the hotel for some lunch and a swim (my immediate post-marathon recovery involved spending an hour holding a 3-year-old in a pool, not relaxing at all, but fun nonetheless!).
Vermont City Marathon – My Pace Chart from SportTracks
I was content and really happy with the way things went in the race – I met my goals, re-connected with the marathon, and proved to myself that a couple of lousy long runs to end a cycle don’t necessarily mean that you’ve lost your ability to run long. I learned once again that disciplined pacing and sticking to a plan is key for me to have a good marathon, and I executed my fueling/hydration plan to perfection.
Everything fell into place on Sunday, and I’m ready to head into summer with a solid race under my belt. My big decision now is what to do about Fall – go for a marathon PR, or switch things up and try my hand at another trail 50K…I’ve got some thinking to do!
Below is my race summary from Garmin Connect: