Monday, May 25, 2009

Ottawa Marathon Report

The plan was simple: Get it done under three hours (6:52 pace). I planned to run 6:48 for the first 20 miles, and then take it from there.  If things were good, I’d keep at 6:48 and run a 2:58.  If things weren’t so good I had a couple minutes wiggle room to still bring it home under 3.  Training had been solid, I felt great.

Course was described as honest; some rolling hills in the first half, but nothing major. Forecast called for 52 at start, low 60s at the end and 6mph winds from the west.  Overall, not bad conditions.

Start logistics were good and I met up with a couple other runners I had met online who were also shooting for sub3.  We planned to run some/all of it together.  It felt pretty warm, definitely more than 52 degrees (found out later it was 61 at the start).

Course was marked in kilometers versus the normal miles so I had some funky pacing worked out.  I’d broken the course up in my mind into 9 chunks: Eight 5Ks, followed by the final 2.2km.  I had planned paces for each section based on hills etc and planned to just take them one at a time.

One approach to long runs is to try and disassociate yourself from the task at hand by thinking about something else.  Another way is to focus intently on running form, stride rate etc.  I tend to do both during a race.  To help with the disassociation someone told me to “dedicate” each section to a specific person, and think about them during that time.  Seemed a little touchy feely to me, but I figured I’d give it a try.  Went with my family in England and my family at home in Los Altos – 9 people in total.

Chunk 1 – KM 1-5

  • This section was ‘dedicated” to my big brother Richard – someone who is not likely to be running a marathon anytime soon.  Gun went off and we were off fast – 6:15 pace.  Slowed it down a little but the first 3KM went by at 6:33 pace, despite the rolling hills (distances are kilometers and my pace times are minutes/mile, just to confuse things).  Got a little more controlled at that point but finished chunk 1 in 20:47, 24 seconds ahead of plan, feeling excellent.  So Richard had done his job.

Chunk 2 – KM 6-10

  • This one was run for Dad, who would hopefully be tracking me online from England if he was able to work out the instructions I had sent him.  Hills continued for a bit then we crossed back from the French side to Ottawa and started running thru a pretty nice neighborhood.  Kept things smooth and comfortable and ran this chunk on pace, finishing up overall by 27 seconds. Dad had done just perfectly (although he had failed with the tracking thing so he wasn’t aware of this….)

Chunk 3 – KM11-15

  • This was Mum’s section.  She’d be waiting for updates from Dad at home in England, but given his computer prowess, she had no idea what was happening in Canada. This section felt easy, just rolling off miles about 6:46 pace.  Uneventful, easy running and feeling very good. Smack on pace, ended up by 28 seconds overall.  My best section so far.  Good job Mum! 

Chunk 4 – KM 16-20

  • This was for Dave, my other brother, who is hoping to complete his first marathon next Sunday in Edinburgh.  We headed back West here and could now feel the wind for the first time, and it was a lot more than 6mph. But I still felt really good and this was another uneventful section run at 6:53 pace.  This was about 20 seconds slower than plan due to the wind, but still left me 9 seconds ahead of my schedule and feeling relaxed.  So Dave did his job, hopefully I can help him next Sunday.

Chunk 5 – KM 21-25

  • Next up was little sister, Kayte, who lives in Spain.  Not a marathon runner.  This brought me thru the halfway point, in 1:28:55 - 5 seconds ahead of my plan and feeling really good – this sub 3 was going to be easy!  I was running smooth and relaxed, sometimes on my own, but some portions with one of the 2 online runner friends or with random people I spoke to (most of whom spoke French…).  Got thru this chunk a little off pace, but still figured I was OK since I was pacing for 2:58 and I was only 8 seconds behind overall.  Thanks Kayte! 

Chunk 6 – KM 26-30

  • Having worked thru my English family it was time to start with Los Altos. Next up was Anna, my little princess who was at home asleep.  This section was when I started having to work a little to keep on track – It was now feeling like a race and not a run.  We were out in the wind and I was no longer running easy.  Figured I could still go sub 3 as long as I could run below 7 minute pace.  Ran this chunk at 6:57, now 36 seconds behind plan, but still within reach of sub 3 if I could keep it up. Princess Anna had done her job

Chunk 7 – KM 31-35

  • This was for Nick, my little boy.  He’d probably be waking up pretty soon.  OK I am feeling it now, but determined to stay on pace – Manage kms 31-33 at 6:59 but then there’s a hill in km34 and it just kills me.  Can’t do better than 7;35 pace and I’m dying.  It’s windy, sunny and hot and I am losing it fast – it is weird when you can feel things start to shutdown.  My quads are completely shot – I guess it was payback time for those fast early rollers.  Get to the top of the hill and decide that I need to suck it up and get back under 7 minute pace or this game is over.  Manage to get to 7:03 but it is soooo hard.  This chunk cost me another 48 seconds, and now I am 1:24 behind.  Doing the math (which was not easy with no oxygen in my brain) I worked out that I was in deep shit, and needed to close this round about 6:55, which looked awfully daunting.  Nick had kept me going but I could feel it slipping away at this point.

Chunk 8 – KM 36-40

  • This last 5k chunk was for Liz, my wife who puts up with all my running crap and is incredibly supportive.  If anyone could get me thru this one it would be her.  All I had to do was run a 5k in about 21 minutes for this chunk and I would be close enough to gut it out and get my sub 3. I tried to get back down to under 7 minute pace but I just couldn’t do it.  Managed to get to 7:13 and that was so bad that I knew that I was done – today would not be the day.  I was bummed but there was nothing I could do about it.  I’d had 3 goes to get back down to pace, tried every trick I knew but my legs just didn’t go that fast anymore.  Now it was time to roll back to plan B. Unfortunately there was no plan B.  I figured a PR (under 3:06:13 was gonna be pretty easy as I could jog it in at 8:30 pace and still hit that). So I sort of wallowed a little bit and eventually decided to just keep going as fast as I could without puking. Turned out that was around 7:45 pace, so that’s what I did.  It was getting ugly out there, I was not enjoying myself anymore and I was surrounded by people having a similar funtime.  Lost almost 2 minutes in this chunk and was now 3:33 behind plan – officially it was over.  Liz did her best, but I just didn’t have it left in me.

Chunk 9 – KM 40-42.2

  • Final chunk was for me, for all the miles I’ve run, for all the injuries, and for the surgery.  Just 2.2 kilometers to go, which is less than 6 laps of the track, but I was empty.  Legs were trashed, and I felt worse than I have ever felt.  However, I was determined I was not going to walk and that I’d continue to push as much as I could. KM41 was at 8:01 pace – it was a kick in the butt to see 8:XX on the watch when I was meant to be running 6:XX, so with 1.2 km to go I went into my finishing sprint…… this got me down to 7:30 pace and I was flying…… final 400 meters and I am into the final stretch, people cheering from the grandstands and the announcer calls my name out.  I give it one final surge and cross the line at 3:03:39.  Not the 2-something I had been looking for but I am just happy to be done.   I have absolutely nothing left so I sit down quick, before gravity does it for me and drink 3 bottles of water.  After 10 minutes I can stand, just. Off with the shoes, got my medal (which is a very cool medal), drink 3 Gatorades and lie down.  10 minutes later I am almost feeling human.


  • So it was something of  a trainwreck finish and a big missed goal but a new PR for me, of about 2:35. And this was on a day when there probably weren’t a whole load of PRs.  I came 96th out of 4,200 registered runners.  I was 14th in my age group (M40-44). 
  • In terms of race strategy it was solid.  Execution was OK thru 25km then it started to go pear shaped, and the wheels came off big time at 33km.  I did not handle the heat and wind in the second half of the course well.  Looking at the top 100 (which along with me, included some true elites like David Cheruiyot) only 6 of them managed to negative split (second half faster than first).  And no-one in the top 20 negative split at all.  Cheruiyot ran a 1:05/1:08, so he also buggered up the second part (although he likely didn’t run an 8 minute mile to close it out, plus he won the thing).  In post race interviews all the elites talked about the wind in the second half slowing them down, so it wasn’t just me.

  • Overall I am really pleased with my training leading up to this race.  6 months ago I was having surgery and hadn’t run in 3 months.  I worked really hard to get back to racing shape and I have had big PRs in every distance from 5K to the marathon.  I’m confident that the next one will be sub 3.
  • Maybe I went a little too fast that first 5km but it honestly felt easy thru 25km.  I had decided that I was not going to adjust my plan for the weather.  I did that in Edinburgh last year because of the wind and finished strong, feeling I could have gone faster. This time it was going to happen or I was going to die trying – Unfortunately, today I died.

They printed the top 100 in the Ottawa paper toady, and I just made the list down at #96.  I never expected to be on the same results sheet as David Cheruiyot.  (And yes, I am ignoring the fact that he beat me by about 50 minutes, or almost 2 minutes/mile)


Anonymous said...

Great report, Alan. I loved how you dedicated a 5k portion to the important ones in your life. That sub-3 is coming, friend.

Rob (chances141)

Unknown said...

Great report Alan. I haven't heard "pear shaped" in years. :) Anyway, sub3 is within your grasp.

Anonymous said...

From you little sister Kayte - more a marathon eater than runner!!
Well done Alan, you´ll make the 2012 olympics yet!! Love you tons from the spanish lot, you should come run one over here its hot!!!

Anonymous said...

Great race report Alan! It was great to meet you and run with you at various points along the course. Congrats on the fantastic results and the Top 100 placement! (Beth)

Unknown said...

No matter what, you ran a great race. I didn't manage the negative split either. The second half was windy and to love ice cold sponges! Congrats on the great race and making the paper!

Anonymous said...

Allan you ran a very good race. Congrats on the PR and you placement. I'm sure you'll go sub 3 next time.

sneakersister said...

Alan, I had no idea you were British. Maybe I should have figured it out from your last name. I love how you focused on all the important people in your life during each 5k. I still think you did a fantastic job. Congratulations on making the top 100! (Jill)

Peter Lubbers said...

Sorry to hear you did not quite make it, but you're going to break that barrier very soon.

Nice report and good idea about the dedicated sections.

Chris Rumble said...

Great race report! Congratulations on the new PR. See you either at HQ or SF for my next race.

Alex said...

It was a ballsy race Alan...maybe a smidgen too aggressive while feeling so good early, but you went after your goal with everything you had. At least you only failed yourself out of your dedications...

I kid, I kid...I'm nowhere near touching that race time for quite some time. Huge props to ya.

JorgeLarre said...

Very very good, Alan. Almost everyone has already praised your writing style and your racing strategy, so I just say good work and hope to see you somewhere on the Redwood Shores road.

Amy Andrews said...

Wooo! You have come a long way and should feel very proud (but you're still crazy). When you need a reeeeaaalllllyyy slow recovery run, let me know! :)