The big marathon was yesterday. I ran the marathon distance of the North Face Endurance Challenge at Bear Mountain, NY. My previous two marathon times were 4:32 and 4:29, which were disappointing since I walked significant portions of both races. Clearly my goal in this race was a new pr, but my stated goal was to be able to run "at any point I wanted during the race." This acknowledged that there were parts of the course that were essentially too steep to run on and that breaks would be necessary to complete it. This marathon was off-road which added an extra element of difficulty. My plan to accomplish the goal included interval training early in the season to work on speed, practicing with water to help with hydration, and running lots of long distances to get my endurance up. I also spent a lot of time over the last month working on tempo runs where I would set a pace and stick to it to work on a good 8 minute mile stride length and frequency. I knew that pacing myself early would be key to being able to finish strong.
We got good weather for the day, although a little hot. My friend Ian was doing the 30km race so we got up to the site just before 6AM for his 7AM start. My start was not until 9AM. I took my time getting over the line to start as I had no interest in being with any front runners. In the early going with the big bunches of groups there were many situations where I would get passed going up grades and repass going down. In the past I have blogged about bicycling up hills and how what you want to do is maintain a constant energy level. This holds true in running and I could tell a lot of people were pushing way to hard in the first several miles. An important lesson I've learned from many races is to just say to myself "I'll see you later" when they go by, a statement that ended up being very accurate. After 1 hour I was just over 6 miles deep, which was a touch slow for my 4 hour goal. At the end of the second hour I was not quite 12 in and realized that 4 hours was not going to happen. However, I just stuck with my plan and my pacing. There was a rest area at the 15th mile and I took a few minutes off to refill my water bottles and have some gu and drink a little gu brew. Brief aside: Gu Brew is really good, not super sugary. After this rest the trail was very empty, I passed a lot of people working on the 50km course and did not pass or get passed by any runners from my race before the 21 mile break. At that point I was feeling good, but a bit tired. I refilled again. As I was heading out I saw two other marathoners coming in and resolved that I would not get passed by them. I probably had about a 2 minute advantage.
The last 5 miles of a marathon are what the training is all about. It's where you really race. You have to get there and be able to run. I was really counting down the miles into the finish. After I went over a very technical muddy part of the trail I glanced back and could see the two runners had gained a good amount of ground, but there was only about 2.5miles left. I realized it was time to put the hammer down and start legging out some miles. Conveniently a girl ran by who was doing the marathon relay, her 9 minute mile pace was excellent for pacing. With around 1.5 to go I passed another guy in my race, he was stretching and had clearly hit the wall. I felt bad for him, but was excited to get one spot higher in the classification. Another marathon runner came up behind me and started putting pressure on too. The runner who was stretching got back in it and the three of us were passing each other repeatedly for the next mile. With .5 to go I saw an opportunity, it was a clear moment of adrenaline, but there was a quick sharp uphill and I booked it up and put them in the rear view mirror. The rest was a nice gentle run through the parking lot and into the finishing shoot. I finished in 4:57 which was a touch disappointing, but I was very satisfied with how I had run the race. After relaxing and re-hydrating for a few hours I check the results and was shocked to find out that I placed 17th! This was extremely exciting and a better result than I could have imagined.