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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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!