Overall Time: 2:53:03 (1:27:00 / 1:26:03 split)
Overall Place: 23 of 1145
Age Group Place: 3 of 89
This fall my marathon target was the Mohawk Hudson River Marathon. This race came after a period of injury that sidelined me the first quarter of 2015, but despite that I wanted to set a new marathon PR.
This was the site of my first real marathon race (back in 2011) and also my PR (2014). It’s a lovely course that I’ve had experience on, and the flat terrain allows for a fast race.
Based on my training leading up to the race and the race-day weather, I knew a PR was possible but it was by no means certain. After having done endless rounds of training analyses, I came to the realization that the training numbers (paces, distances, overall mileage) indicated I was roughly just as fit as when I ran this race (and PR’ed in 2:53:52) a year ago. The difference this year might lie in the modified taper I tried. I would count on that to get me to the finish line faster than last year.
My goal going into the race was a 2:51 +/- 2 minutes. On the chance that I had perfect weather and magical legs, I’d shoot for a 2:49. If I struggled, then I’d at least like to hit 2:53:00 and at least hit a minor PR. That margin is rather narrow and specific, but it was large enough to feel like it was a good certainty.
I planned on accomplishing this with a first half of 1:26:30, and a second half that could then range from 1:23:29 (best-case scenario), to 1:27:00 (worst-case).
Raceday weather was a little warmer than ideal. Early morning temperatures were in the high 40s, but would hit 60 degrees and sunny by noon when I would be finished. This wasn’t a death sentence, but it did give me reason to worry that I would overheat in the last few miles when no one feels that good anyway. Additionally there would be a 7-8 mph constant headwind for the final 8 miles of the course. I wasn’t exactly sure how much I’d be able to feel this, and at least it wasn’t anything like the 15+ mph winds at NYC Marathon last year. I figured I’d be just fine.
As always the start of the race is quite undramatic. I kept my warm clothes on until only 5 minutes before the start, at which point I hopped into the corral, heard the national anthem, and waited for the gun to go off. Small races are great like that: start line logistics are so simple. The bag drop bag was 50 feet away and fully staffed up until the start.
With little notice, the gun went off and so began the race. Marathon race starts are always undramatic, so there isn’t much to write about this one. The first miles came in a little slow as I warmed up (first mile of 6:45, second in 6:50), and soon I settled into what I hoped would be my race pace. These were all a few seconds ahead of last year’s effort, which is what I wanted. Surprisingly the next several miles were all very comfortable and consistent (6:33, 6:32, 6:34, 6:49, 6:40, 6:39,6:36, 6:34, 6:33, 6:35). I had never hit 6:30s feeling so relaxed.
It’s quite odd for me to be able to run mid 6:30 miles and feel so relaxed in the middle of a marathon. If you asked me on any random training run to go and do 8 or 10 miles at 6:30 pace I’d have to mentally prepare myself for what I would consider to be a hard run. It would not be a stroll in the park. But after a ten-day mental and physical taper for a marathon, all of a sudden this pace becomes completely manageable and… dare I say it?… easy. I knew it would not be easy to hold onto the last few miles, but as far as I was concerned these opening miles were in fact easy.
These opening miles are aided by a very beautiful course — the first half is easily the most scenic. At Mile 5 you emerge from city streets to join the Mohawk River bikepath, and the descent down to the river is pretty amazing. The fall foliage greets you and gets you through the first half feeling very positive.
There are some gentle hills in this section which can catch some people off guard when they expect a flat and downhill course. While the course loses about 375 feet overall, the middle section of the course is a net uphill and you need to be mentally prepared for this.
At this point in the race, there are also enough people around you in a small race (~1100 finishers) that it doesn’t yet feel like a solo time trial. The pack mentality certainly comes out and it’s easy to maintain pace with a good group.
The halfway mark came in 1:27:00, exactly 30 seconds off pace. Although I was minorly disappointed I wasn’t worried. The previous year I had hit the halfway mark much slower and ran a 1:25 second half struggling the entire way. This year feeling much better, I had realistic expectations of a 1:24 second half and dreams of a 1:23.
I knew that the miles after the halfway mark (roughly miles 14 – 18) were the fastest since there are the biggest downhills of the course. Passing the 13.1 mark I started to push the pace a bit. After the half mark, my miles quickened to 6:26, 6:30, 6:28, 6:34, 6:25, 6:31. I was feeling good and knew that keeping this pace would get me a second half of 1:24 and change. If I could pick up the pace in the final 10 kilometers, maybe I’d slip under 2:50 (unlikely) but if not I should be able to cruise in with a 2:51.
Unfortunately beginning at mile 18 we ventured off the bike path and hit some road. Road isn’t so bad, but the trees that had been shielding us from the wind and sun were no longer around. Heading due south along open roads, I could feel the direct headwinds. Normally a 7 mph headwind wouldn’t be too bad but at this point I was pushing as hard as I could and I didn’t appreciate the wind pushing back.
It was also around this time that the race started to thin out. Everyone who went out too fast soon fell back, and I found myself running alone. There was no one to latch onto, and no one to push me — only myself. This is fairly evident looking at the results. I finished in 23rd place. The 22nd place finisher? He was three whole minutes ahead of me. I couldn’t even see anyone to chase the final miles. And the 24th place finisher? He placed 1 minutes and 49 seconds behind me — more than a quarter mile. It was definitely a sparsely populated race course in the final 6 + miles.
Shortly before Mile 20 (6:35) I passed the then 2nd place female runner and mentioned the headwind, which she wasn’t taking very kindly to either.
At Mile 22 (6:47) the course goes from the streets to another bike path along the Hudson River. I was hoping for enough trees to block the wind, but this wasn’t the case. The headwind was still there, but at least I had only 4 miles to go. I put my head down, quite literally in fact in an effort to lessen the wind, and tried desperately to run as fast as I could.
The ensuing miles were particularly painful and slower than I wanted (6:33, 6:37, 6:37) but I was still holding a decent pace and would negative split the race. Still, I knew that a 2:51 had slipped away and the changes of a 2:52 were quite low as well.
With a mile left to go I tried to put in one final solid mile, which resulted only in a 6:26 (and a 1:17 final .2 miles @ 5:53 pace). I could see the clock ticking up… 2:52:57, 2:52:58, 2:52:59… and I sprinted as hard as I could… but crossing the line I ended with a 2:53:03. I had run the second half in a respectable 1:26:03, a minute faster than the first half.
I was mildly disappointed to not have finished under 2:53:00 by only a few seconds. Looking back at the weather, it didn’t appear that the relatively warm conditions affected me much but unfortunately only because there was a headwind to cool me in the final 8 miles. The headwind wasn’t a huge deal; it cost maybe 8 seconds per mile. But these 8 seconds over 8 miles were the difference between a 2:51 and the 2:53 I finished in. While a very small difference, it’s one that was fairly big to me.
Any sense of disappointment quickly gave way to relief and happiness. I had set a new PR by 49 seconds. Also as I would realize later, not a single person passed me the entire race. I started with a conservative pace and for the last 24+ miles did nothing but passing. That’s something my friend Gen would appreciate.
When injured and not allowed to run all February and March this year, I worried how long it would take to get back into the shape I was in 2014. As I started back with a run-walk program in April, I was frustrated how much patience I was required to endure as I gradually built myself back up. All May was easy running, and only in June did I finally permit myself to do any sort of light speed work after almost 5 months.
To be able to have only a 4-month buildup after a serious injury, and to then PR at the marathon distance was a big win for me. I didn’t hit the magical 2:49 marathon time, but there’s plenty of time and road left for me to do that. More important was that I was able to run faster than last year, I did so without re-injuring myself in the process, and I felt good and positive the entire race experience.
If someday anyone stumbles across this and is wondering how long it takes to come back from a tibial stress fracture or stress reaction, take some comfort knowing that by skipping my spring marathon (Boston) I was able to come back faster than before by focusing on a fall marathon. It was a long and uncertain process, but it totally paid off.
Breakdown of splits: