Michael Miller’s Sugarloaf Marathon Recap

Breaking Three

On the bus to the start line of the Sugarloaf Marathon, five other Whippets were with me, which really helped with pre-race jitters. Jehan sat next to me and asked what my goal was. Inexplicably superstitious, I hesitated to answer. I said, “2:58 is my Plan A goal.”  This was my 10th marathon and, though I had been gunning for sub-3 in half of them, my results had been sub-par. I hoped that my training, nutrition, race strategy, and execution would get me there this time. Here’s what happened:

Training – Going Far and Fast

I started my marathon training program with a base of about 50 miles per week. During 16 weeks of training, I ran 6 times a week and averaged 58 miles per week for a total of 935 miles. This was easily 50% more mileage than I had done for any of my preceding marathons. One week, I hit 82 miles and two other weeks were in the 70s. My training program was a mix of Whippet training runs (Tuesday night speedwork and Saturday mornings are my faves) and a custom plan bought from RunSmart (Jack Daniels). Every week consisted of 2 quality runs and 4 easy runs.

Peak week, with a total of over 80 miles

Every time I had speedwork, I worried that I wouldn’t be able to do it; each interval was a struggle, so I would just focus on the current interval to make it through. Those workouts did make me feel faster and gave me confidence that I could handle the intense last 10K of the marathon. I raced a 10K and 5K during the training cycle and PR’d in both; struggling through the speedwork was working.

My favorite run of the training cycle was a 22-mile run in 52 degree pouring rain on a Tuesday night.  Running up the West Side Highway in the dark with rain pelting my face was no walk-in-the-park, but part of me enjoyed the thrill of doing something so ridiculous. When it was over, I felt ready for whatever could be thrown my way.

Nutrition Plan – Carbs, Carbs and More Carbs

Nutrition was definitely an important part of my training. I read a great book a couple months before my race called “The New Rules of Marathon & Half Marathon Nutrition” by Matt Fitzgerald. As a result, six weeks before the race, I adjusted my diet so that 60-70% of my daily calories came from higher-quality carbs. Eight days before the race, I switched to a high-fat diet. Five days later, I switched back to 70% carbs for the last three days. In addition, to heighten effects of race-day caffeine, I fasted from caffeine for seven days before the race.

Course Pacing and Fueling Strategy

Sugarloaf is a fast course with a net-downhill profile. My race strategy was to run even splits, adjusted for the hills. On Strava, I studied seven different people who ran sub-3’s the year before, all of whom ran even splits, and copied their strategy. As a result, I knew that if I ran the 24 flat miles at a 6:45 pace and the 2 miles with hills at 7:20, I would hit my goal of 2:59:59 with a minute or two to spare. For in-race fueling, I aimed to consume 50 grams of carbs per hour (more is better, but my stomach is a light weight). I planned to take six GU Roctanes with water (120g carbs) and three gatorades (30g carbs) evenly spaced out throughout the race. Given the complicated and precise strategy, I wrote the plan on my hand.

The Race

Gun Goes Off – Miles 1-8

Being a race of 700 people, the start was a bit haphazard. People crowded to the front and, the next thing I knew, the gun had gone off and we were running down the street. From the start, I kept an eye on my watch, specifically my current mile pace. The plan was to keep it around 6:45.

A beautiful start to the race

Sugarloaf is a beautiful course and the day was amazing. The sky was a deep blue and the temperature was in the high 40’s at the start. There was a team of runners in front of me that I settled in behind. We ran through some woods and ran across the middle of lake making it some of the most beautiful running I’ve done.

Miles 9 and 10 – Taking the Hill

Sugarloaf has a 400-foot climb. It’s not the biggest hill I’ve ever climbed, but I knew it could cause trouble. Among the people I studied on Strava, those who kept their even pace on the hill bonked at the end of the marathon. When I hit the hill, I checked my watch and caught myself going too fast. I backed off the pace and enjoyed the view, knowing I could do 7:20 for the next two miles. My training on Harlem Hill paid off and the climb wasn’t that bad. Funnily enough, I didn’t practice enough on the downhill! There’s a huge drop in elevation after the top of the hill and I let everyone fly by me as I tried not to tumble down the hill with my tiny little stride.

Miles 11-20 – Enjoying the View and Keeping Pace

I still felt really strong at mile 11 and for the following nine miles. I focused on making sure I hit my paces. I never looked at my total time, but just tried to keep it cool.

Keeping pace through the middle miles

Miles 20-23 – “When are my legs going to fail me?”

My heart started to race by Mile 20. Obviously, because of the effort, but more so because I knew that I was hitting my paces and my legs weren’t quitting. In all of my previous nine marathons, I’ve hit the wall in some measure, so I was waiting for the “wheels to come off.” But my legs were holding strong. I focused on my current mile pace and didn’t look at my net time. Also, the view was amazing!

Scenic views of the Sugarloaf Marathon

Mile 24-26 – “I can turn on some speed?!”

At the beginning of Mile 24, I looked down at my watch and saw I had just run a 6:39. I thought I could push myself a little more and shave a few more seconds off per mile. I was feeling great and the next three miles came in at 6:35, 6:29, and 6:42.

The Final Stretch – All the Emotions

I really started to freak out here: Was this actually happening? Was I about to break 3? I couldn’t believe it. Sugarloaf does not have huge mile markers so, as I passed the 26 mile marker, with 200 meters to go, I was waiting for something bad to happen. I hadn’t even checked my total time yet. I turned the final corner and saw that the race clock said 2:55!! A huge smile broke on my face! I had shaved three minutes off my goal time. I started blowing kisses to the small crowd. I barely remembered to cross the finish line. It wasn’t until later that I realized I had finished 2nd in my Age Group. Later that night, I figured out I finished 12th overall.

If I could pull off this race, I know there are other goals I could hit!

On the way to a sub-3 finish!
Stephen Gnoza

More about Stephen Gnoza

Stephen joined the Dashing Whippets in January 2016. The only racing he did in high school and college was Mario Kart 64... but now he's run 10 marathons, 2 Ironmans, and is gearing up for his first 100K.

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