by Rory Coons
I recently completed the Mohawk Hudson River Marathon with a 27-minute PR. I highly recommend the course, which is fast and a net downhill. It was a very hot, humid day and I had to push myself. To say that I struggled for the last 6 miles would be an understatement! And although I’m happy with my time (under 3:20 was my main goal), I know I left a lot of minutes out on the course.
In the spring, just before the Brooklyn Half Marathon, I joined the Dashing Whippets. I had just completed my 2nd marathon (the NJ marathon) and wanted to take my running to the next level. At most of the Whippet workouts in Prospect Park on Tuesday and Thursday nights, I worked my butt off trying to keep up with the fast group. The Whippets pushed me beyond what I had done in previous training cycles and brought many more quality miles and speed into my weekly mileage. I pushed myself through the summer’s tough, humid weather knowing that my marathon was going to be run in October in upstate New York, presumably in cooler temperatures.
The forecast was a high of 81 and 80% humidity. How could this be happening? Where is Fall? In the week leading up to the marathon, I kept checking the weather and hoped a storm would miraculously appear on the radar to cool everything down. I went for a jog the night before and it felt like someone was sitting on my chest with every breath I took. I spoke to some fellow Whippets and decided that I needed to adjust my pace since the conditions were going to be so tough.
On the morning of the race, as I got to the start line, it was overcast and already in the 70’s, but raining. I think the rain was deceiving; it kept me cool and I wasn’t able to feel the humidity yet (big problem). The night before, I read a quote originally thought to be by Steve Prefontaine (though I’m not sure who actually said it) and read about his front running philosophy (another mistake). The quote that was stuck in my head that night/morning was: “the best pace is a suicide pace, and today looks like a good day to die”.
Looking back, it was a bad mantra, especially as I hit 20 miles of the race.
So much for the words of wisdom I received about adjusting my pace.
The course is absolutely beautiful and very scenic. The first 8 miles are mostly flat/downhill. Still raining, the humidity had not hit me yet. I followed my nutrition and hydration strategy exactly the way I planned it. But, looking back, the cups were not filled that high and I probably should have grabbed more cups a lot earlier on; the second half was going to be tough because of the weather. I also thought Gatorade Endurance Formula would be on the course, which is what I trained with, but it was just regular Gatorade.
Once the rain stopped, my pace still felt good, but I could feel it was getting hotter and more humid. I came through the halfway point at a pace that was my “best” time goal (for ideal weather). I decided I still felt good and would try to hold it for as long as I could. If I couldn’t hold it, I would just dial back the pace. Little did I know what I was getting myself into.
I got a boost from my wife at mile 8 and knew that I would see her again at mile 18. But when I hit mile 18, I didn’t see her. I was approaching a train crossing that I had worried about for months, fearing that it was going to come just before I got there and that I would get stopped. The train didn’t come and I crossed it no problem, but I still didn’t see my wife. I finally saw her at 19.5 and I immediately said to her, “I’m hurting.” She knew it, but still cheered me on and yelled for me to keep going.
Trying to hold on, I crossed mile 20… and that’s when my right calf cramped. I slowed to release the cramp, but then my quad/hamstring cramped. I slowed to a walk to let the cramps go away. As soon as they did, I tried running again and, within a few minutes, both legs were cramping. The next 6 miles were spent run-walking.
My crazy pace was gone and now I would potentially miss my “good” goal of under 3:20. I started calculating and decided I would run 4-5 minutes and walk for 1 minute. At this point, a lot of runners were doing the same. I walked through the water stops and took six cups; 2 went over my head, because I was so hot, and I drank the rest.
As I approached the finish, I saw a fellow Whippet for a high-five and words of encouragement. Then, I saw my wife, who cheered me on the final 50 yards. I gave it all I had for the final 200 meters and knew I would make it in under 3:20. I really struggled getting to the finish, but was happy that I didn’t give up and walk it in.
What did I learn this race? Stick to your plan. Suicide pace in hot weather is dumb and will result in walking. Weather is no joke and is not something to mess around with.
My advice for anyone running NYC in a few weeks: if you have ideal race weather and are feeling good after tapering, go for it! Find that “suicide” pace that will get you a PR or BQ time. We don’t know what we are capable of until we go for it. But if the weather isn’t going to be ideal, you have to adjust your goals.
Run your race, run with no regrets, and when the going gets tough, don’t let your mind quit, even when your body is failing you.
Have a great marathon and drop the hammer Whippets!