Monday, May 26, 2014

Run For Water Marathon

Run for Water, Abbostford
May 25, 2014
Finish time: 4:32:37

Splits from my garmin:

I ran my fifth marathon yesterday, my first since fall 2011. It has been a training season with lots of challenges, and I am very grateful that I was able to do this race. It turned out to be a much more difficult race than I planned, and I finished with a time of 4:32 for a PW. I have been having trouble writing this report, but I will do my best to put my experience into words.

I started training for this race in January, with the plan of following a modified version the Hanson Beginner Marathon Plan. The Hanson plan is a challenging plan and has the unique aspect of maxing out at 26K long runs (vs the standard 30K+ runs). Instead of placing so much importance on a single long run, it spreads out mileage more evenly through the week and maxes out at pretty high volume. The plan also has marathon-paced tempo runs which max at 16K at pace, plus various speed workouts. The concept of the plan relies on “cumulative fatigue” which makes the training effect of the 26K runs more like the longer runs of other plans. Rob has done really well on this plan, improving significantly over the past two years. I was anxious to give it a try, although I was still dealing with some injury recovery issues from last year. I used 4-hours as a tentative goal for setting the paces of the workouts, but I modified the plan to reduce the early speed work. Overall I was able to handle the workouts and the mileage in the plan fairly well. I did have a setback in February when I had difficulty recovering from an early season half-marathon, but was able to come back strong in March and April. A very strong 30K road race at the end of March gave me the confidence I needed to keep training for the marathon. However, things did start to go a bit south at the end of April. I had some strong weeks of training, but then was starting to feel some fatigue. I had worked two races more into my plan, with the intention of modifying the paces of the weeks’ workouts to accommodate them (a 10K on April 27 and a half-marathon on May 4, three weeks before the marathon). Looking back I realize it probably was not wise to do both of these training races, although I might have simply been suffering from a bit of over-training by then anyway. In this plan it was hard to tell the difference between the expected cumulative fatigue and actual over-training, and think I might have crossed that second barrier. 

I have to repeat that I am very grateful I got to the start line of this race. That was half the battle. The half-marathon on May 4 went really well and I executed my plan perfectly, but afterwards I had a very difficult recovery. By adding a 5K warm-up and keeping the pace in control, I worked it into the plan as my last 26K run. I modified the paces of some of the runs before and after the race, and was hoping to be able “train through” it to finish the last three weeks of the training. The plan continues with another week and a half of pretty tough workouts and mileage before the real taper begins about 10 days before the marathon. And I was not able to do any of those. So this de-training combined with already losing some before the half probably contributed to my marathon difficulty. Still, I thought with a modified goal I would have a decent chance of finishing well.

My race plan was to start around 6:00/km, a bit slower in the first 10K and close to that in the second. If it felt good after 20K I would pick it up a bit for the next 10K, and then try to hang on for the last 12K. The plan actually worked really well for about the first 30K. The 6:00/km pace felt smooth and I kept it fairly steady with it for the first half (crossed the half-way mat at 2:07, right where I wanted to be). The pace came pretty naturally, and the kilometres seemed to pass with ease. After the half-way point, I did start to get a burst of energy and ran the next few kilometres just a bit faster, trying to execute the race plan as well as I had on May 4. But I worried that I was getting overzealous and just continued to stay close to 6:00. I was taking my gels every six kilometres, so mentally I was thinking of the race in 6K chunks. After 24K I was thinking, “OK, make it to 30K, then just one more 6K segment. The last 6K will be tough after that but I’ll just tough it out by then… this can work.” Up to around 27K I still felt pretty strong. But soon afterwards, I started to get slight twinges in my right calf, which in past half-marathons have preceded all-out seizing cramps. “Oh, no- not again.” I still had a long way to go, and did not want to be hobbling in this marathon. I modified my gait and slowed my pace a bit to make the cramping stop, and walked through the next water station. I thought I could manage it, but I knew I would have to try to relax and keep my pace slower. As I was approaching the 3-hour mark I started to think about Rob who was hoping to finish under 3:20. He said he would text me when he finished—so I was expecting I would be at about 33K by then. In fact, I was just over 33K when he did text me at about 3:25 to tell me he had finished in 3:20:something. I was ecstatic. He also texted me some short inspirational messages – “Go Jen Go, You can do this!” It really helped and I tried to relax and keep going strong. I managed to text back, “I’m hurting.” He was worried and asked, “Are you ok?” I answered back with a simple “Yes” just to let him know I was ok enough to finish. In fact, at this point I even hoped I could run reasonably strong and still come in close to 4:20-ish. I really hadn’t lost that much—yet.

After about 34K the cramping stopped, but I was going so much slower and walking every 10 minutes or so. I just couldn’t go faster. I guess the proverbial wheels fell off somewhere in there, so it was not just the cramping that slowed me down (maybe that was more of a symptom than a cause). When the cramping had started, I also noticed that my fingers were quite swollen. Not enough salt, apparently. I had taken my usual diluted Gatorade bottle plus fluids on the course, and gels with electrolytes every 6K. But maybe I didn’t eat enough of a salty meal the night before. I also forgot my morning banana. All of these things didn’t help, but in the end I think I just wasn’t prepared, for several reasons, for the pace I was trying to run. Despite it being essentially my long run pace and much slower than the so-called “marathon pace” I was using for my long tempos in the plan.

The last 7-8K seemed to last forever. I was passing a few people, being passed by others. Jogging easy was not always possible, so I walked every 10 minutes or so. We merged with the half-marathon route at around 35K, but these people were already over 2 hours into their race with 7K to go. So most were walking. It was very tough, but I just kept moving forward, waving at volunteers and spectators and trying to encourage others. I kept smiling as much as I could. At some point the plan became just to finish and I wasn’t even that upset when the 4:30 pace bunny passed me with about 2K to go.

At about 500m from the end I could see the finish line and was ecstatic. Just keep moving. Cheryl was watching and cheering about a hundred metres from the finish, and Rob shortly after that. It was so great to see them. My husband and son were watching on the other side, but unfortunately I did not see them. Still, it was nice that they came out to see me finish. I heard Steve King announce my name and my 4:32 finish time, and I was just so glad to be done. I wasn’t walking all that well afterwards and cried a bit at one point, but was able to get myself together and change into some dry clothes. The beer at lunch never tasted so good. 

So there it was—my “comeback” marathon after a 3-year gap. I am still not sure what is next, but I plan to focus on a strong recovery this month. This wasn’t the strong race that I wanted, but I am truly happy that I was able to run another marathon. Running is a gift that I will never take for granted. 

Thanks for reading.


  1. Gutsy performance Jen. Congrats

  2. I'm so glad your calf cramping went away and you were able to finish the race. I wasn't sure what to expect after your slow recovery from the Vancouver half marathon. Way to go Jen!