This was my 5th road marathon. My goal was to qualify for the Boston marathon. I hired coach Chris Vargo for my training. All my previous attempts were self-trained (or from books, websites, etc.). As a 43-year-old, my qualifying time for Boston is 3:15:00. For 2016, you needed 2:30 under your qualifying time to get in. Through my 17 weeks of training, Chris and I felt I should be able to easily run a 3:10:00. I thought I could break 3:05:00 and made that my goal.
My previous marathon attempts were in the 3:43:00 to 3:55:00 range.
In April of 2015, I ran the Garden Spot Village marathon and attempted to break 3:30:00. That resulted in a miserable failure. I partially blamed running a 40-mile ultra just two weeks prior to that race. But I wasn’t really training for a marathon at the time, either.
I decided to start the race at a 7:00 minute/mile pace. Steamtown has some really long downhills in the first eight miles. A 3:05:00 marathon is a 7:03 pace, and I figured with the benefit of the downhills, a 7:00 pace would be comfortable. And it was for a long time. I held onto that average pace more or less for 18 miles.
Then that old familiar feeling set in. It started with fatigue in my hamstrings and calves. Then the general fatigue that begins to affect your cadence. Miles 19-22 I kept at around an 8:00 pace. Miles 23-26 were all over 9:00 pace, the worst being mile 24 at 9:59 (that mile also featured 78 feet of vertical climbing, the most difficult mile of the race). I finished the last 0.2 (a downhill to the finish) at a decent clip.
I gave it everything I had, but came up short at 3:18:58. Still, this was a PR marathon for me, by almost 25 minutes. A huge improvement.
I am still struggling to figure out marathon pacing. My fitness improvement over the past 17 weeks made it impossible to use my previous marathons as a benchmark, so I took a good guess based on my training (and a recent 1:29:28 half marathon finish). The takeaway here is that 7:00 was probably too fast for the first 18 miles. In the future, I want to experiment with a slower initial pace, and work towards even or negative splits.
Two days after Steamtown, while chatting online with a friend who is also trying to qualify for Boston, it was pointed out to me that your qualifying time is based on your age on the date of the Boston marathon. Not your age on the date of the qualifying race. Since I am trying to qualify for 2017, and I will be 45 at that time, that adds 10 minutes to my qualifying time.
Instead of coming up short by 4 minutes, I actually qualified for Boston 2017 by a comfortable 6 minute margin!
My head was spinning the rest of the day. First I thought I missed qualifying and my goal by 9-14 minutes, yet set a PR by 25 minutes. Conflicting feelings on that. Then I found out I did qualify, by 6 minutes. Still didn’t hit my goal time, and hitting an easier qualifying time somehow felt a little like cheating, yet its completely in line with Boston qualifying standards.
The end result is that I’m extremely happy with my race. I learned a lot about pacing. I also signed up for the Philadelphia marathon which takes place six weeks after Steamtown. I hope to be recovered, re-training and re-tapered in plenty of time to set a new PR at that time.