The Columbus Marathon was one of those days where everything came together. Before I go any further, I have to say: thank you to everyone who sets a good example, sets the bar high, and encourages [formerly] relativity average runners like me to work for big dreams. I will never be as fast as many of you, but you inspire me to work really hard to try to be as fast some day.
The Columbus Marathon is a favorite of so many Ohio runners. I am really glad I chose it to go for my big goal. Clove and her husband, DB, the race director of the Nationwide Children’s Hospital Columbus Marathon, put on a great race! The course is most definitely not flat, but I wouldn’t call anything on it a hill. The weather was perfect. The race course was interesting enough to be fun. And it’s as good to spectators as it is to runners: My parents watched the second half of the race and had a good time.
The best thing about my Columbus Marathon, though? I hit my goal!
2:58:54 official net time.
Gun time 2:58:58, 14th place in the women’s race.
Considering this is the first real race of my life, pretty darn impressive! An awful lot went into this race.
The Race Plan
The goal for the year was a sub-3-hour marathon. On Wednesday, I reviewed my last few marathon pace runs and set the race target at 2:58:30 (6:48.5/mi). I felt sort of cocky setting the target time 90 seconds faster than the original goal, but after reviewing my last marathon pace specific runs, that was a realistic target. I planned a one mile warm up with at least a quarter mile of marathon pace and on taking the first gel around mile 6, second around mile 12, and more every three-to-four miles as I thought I needed them, doubling up if I could handle it. The goal was 6-8 gels in total (all 20mg caffeine chocolate GU) and only water, as I didn’t do well with sport drink in training.
The plan was to set up bottles with two gels taped to each, extra gloves as an option on each bottle, and several gels on me as backup. Pepper gave me hints on water bottles and someone told me where the three water bottle tables go (the Secretary of State’s wife is a local elite and lobbied for another water bottle table, so now there are four!) I know it all sounds nuts, but there is something to be said about setting an achievable plan and trying to execute it perfectly.
Sunday started started with me getting up at 4 a.m. I started fueling and poo-poo-ing by 4:30 a.m. Having never practiced pre-race fueling, so I am pretty lucky my instinct was right on this one. I started with a granola bar, Cheerios and a gel (20mg caffeine) around 4:30 a.m., and straightened my hair (seriously). I snacked on Cheerios for a while, and had two pieces of toast in the hotel. The goal is about 150g carbs and a good but not excessive amount of water. I agonized over the weather and the potential of a 38-degree race start. I decided on a Pearl Izumi elite tank-style thing, the shorts I train in with two waistband gel pockets, light arm warmers, and knit gloves; five gels in my waistband pockets and an extra pair of gloves down my pants, and jeans and a coat to ditch at the start.
I walked over to the hotel with the elite room to drop off my water bottles around 6:15 a.m. Now, I was not a registered elite for this race, but they were really, really cool about giving me a good chance to attempt the elite qualifying time for this race when I asked about it in August. It made all the difference in the world. I hung out in the hotel, met Catnip in person, and eventually walked over to the race start with the elites just after 7 a.m. Most of us jogged the last quarter mile and then a few of us warmed up on the starting line for the next ten minutes.
I lined up about the fourth-deep behind the starting line, the gun went off, and we started. I tried really hard to hold target pace and not get carried away with the half marathon runners going out fast. It took everything I had not to get carried away, but practicing pacing discipline paid off. I didn’t feel the pace of how fast I was really going until the third mile. I also rolled my arm warmers down pretty quickly after the start.
GPS Splits (1)6:42, (2)6:48, (3)6:42, (4)6:47, (5)6:47, (6)6:41.
GPS was about a tenth mile ahead of the markers pretty quickly, so add about 2 seconds to all my splits posted here. My first water and a gel were right after I grabbed my first water bottle around mile 6. Screwing around with the first water bottle is probably reflected in my next split.
(7)6:51, (8)6:48, (9)6:49, (10)6:45
I think I tossed my second gel, I don’t remember, and grabbed the next water bottle after mile 10. I think I had two gels because I ended up with chocolate all over my face and gloves.
I changed gloves around mile 12.5. My second pair of gloves were in a plastic bag down my pants.
I crossed the half marathon point somewhere around 1:29. I couldn’t see the clock, but I was pretty sure I was on pace and still felt pretty good, but this is when I start thinking, “Oh shit, I have another hour and a half of this!!” Next water bottle was somewhere after mile 13. I had at least one gel, but I really don’t remember.
(14)6:43, (15)6:49, (16)6:47
I started to feel the fatigue set in around mile 15 or 16. I remember being somewhere on the OSU campus and swearing out loud when it happened. I think the stadium was somewhere in mile 16, but it felt a little bit further after the fatigue started. The ramp into and out of the stadium is really steep. I saw my parents at the stadium and ditched my arm warmers here.
(17)6:49, (18)6:55, (19)6:59 (uphill), (20)6:44,
I think the next water bottle was somewhere around here. I thought I had missed it, but I’m glad I didn’t because I botched the last water station. Oh my god, most of that last cup ended up on me. I ended up carrying this bottle and working on it until almost the last mile. This is when I noticed I started to pass a few women.
That fifteen-second-too-fast mile is when it got tough… and then it got really tough. I passed the clock around mile 22. It said something like 2:30, and I started talking to myself. Dig deep. Stick it out. You’ve got this. My parents were cheering somewhere around here, and I needed them!
Then it got really tough. I definitely felt real fatigue coming on and I had a gel here for the caffeine boost and played with the pace a little to hold it off.
I ditched my water bottle, headband, and everything else I was holding somewhere approaching mile 26. I could see myself closing on a girl about 50 meters in front of me and the goal was to catch her.
I almost caught her. I was on top of her at the finish.
Clock said high 2:58’s, maybe 2:59:something. I couldn’t see.
I must have looked pooped right after I crossed the finish because they were ready to hold me up when I was catching my breath. Come on, I wasn’t that far gone! I just needed a few seconds to catch my breath and cough up all the snot in my throat. There was a woman who looked like someone important. I wish I knew who she was when I thanked her for the great hospitality that let me make their elite time and come back next year. She handed me a bottle of water and took me over the wall to the tent after I caught my breath.
I was in the tent for nearly an hour and a half. I found my stuff, put on my dry clothes, had some cookies and other snacks while working on drinking water. I found Catnip, who told me she dropped out. Bummer. I didn’t want to leave until after I peed once. Actually, my mother came to find me first, then we went to go take pictures including a well deserved picture at the PR gong.
What Went Perfectly
- Race plan was nearly perfect for my training. Most importantly, it was set to be achievable.
- Pre-race fueling and hydration.
- Pre-race poo-poo-ing.
- I felt pretty good through mile 16 and didn’t have to push through a rough patch at mile 6 like I often had to do in training.
- Water bottle pickups went perfectly — absolutely perfectly.
- Race hydration.
- ZERO blisters.
- All things considered, pretty darn good pacing and a strong finish.
- Warm-up, though I probably could have gotten away with half a mile.
Better Next Time
- My two attempts at water station cups were miserable. I don’t think I can ever race without bottles.
- Cary fewer gels. I had five backup gels on me because I didn’t know that the water bottles were going to go so well. I probably only needed two backups. I could have shed three ounces which would have translated into about 18 seconds. Crazy when you think about it like this, right? (3oz/112lbs = 0.17% less weight which results in an equivalent speed increase and over a 10800 second race, that translates into about 18 seconds)
- Less clothing, lighter watch. I was concerned about the forecasted 38 degree start, but otherwise it was warm enough to race in a sports bra. Every ounce counts.
- Chafing on my stomach where one of the gels rubbed because I had them standing up.
- My pre-marathon simulator run should have come about a week earlier and been on unfamiliar terrain, ideally with a bike pacer. Unfamiliar terrain would have stressed race condition pacing more.
- Type up my race plan and carry the final printed copy to the starting line.
- I need to wear a pacing wristband.
- I still don’t have a nice thing to say about any GPS watch I’ve ever owned.
Over the last few months, I’ve heard from both the fastest runners and runners racing in 5-6 hours how much they like the Columbus Marathon. My goal was to make the qualifying time to run in Chicago Marathon’s American Development Program next year (3:01:00). I made it with a good margin, and yet I’ll probably be back in Columbus instead.