Distance Totals

Monday, July 9, 2012

Missoula Marathon - my Boston redemption and a 9 minutes PR

Last April 16th, Boston registered record-high temperatures. This was bad timing, since the Boston Marathon was run on that particular day. Faced with the decision of what to do, I decided to run it much slower than what I had prepared for, and to enjoy the run and the crowds. This decision would also allow me to recover faster and train for a race a couple of months later. I stuck to the plan and ran a 3:34 at Boston, taking a lot of pictures and enjoying what could have been an atrocious day for racing. After a couple of weeks of low volume, I focused the next two weeks on doing speed workouts to get some turnover on my legs, and then the next 6 weeks on marathon specific work, before a two week taper. During the marathon minicycle, I ran a 30s half-marathon PR (1:26:47), which showed me that the fitness was there, and that I had improved since Boston. I also incorporated doubles twice a week, which boosted my overall volume and endurance. At the end of these 6 weeks my target marathon pace was between 6:55 and 7:00, based on heart rate (HR) data and how I was able to manage the pace on a couple of fast finish long runs.

I flew to Missoula on the Friday before the race and checked in at a Motel6. On Saturday I drove the course and also ran 2.6 miles on it. The effort on that short run felt higher than usual for the pace, and after checking the heart rate data, it was significantly higher than on my normal easy runs. I did not fully understood it at the time, but this was a sign that I would have to adjust my pace on race day, possibly because of the elevation. It also felt warm at 8am on the course - considering that I would be around mile 16-17 at that time. On Saturday night I had dinner with Neil (Longboat on RWOL) and a few of his friends at an italian restaurant. I went to bed at 8:30pm, and had some decent sleep considering the early wake-up time (3:30am).

After eating two muffins with honey and drinking a cup of coffee, I showered, foam rolled, and was on my way to the bus, a short 15 min walk from the motel. Bus pick up was efficient, and we arrived at the start area by 5am. Immediately after we arrived, fireworks gave the signal for the marathon walkers to start. I then used the port-a-johns and tried to relax before the start. Checking my heart rate resting it was 10-15bpm higher than usual, either because of the elevation or because of the pre-race jitters. 20 minutes before the start, I decided to go for a warm-up jog, a short 0.6 miles out and back to get the legs moving. Immediately after, I drank a Gatorade prime and entered the starting chute, where I waited less than 10 minutes for the start.
In the start area, around 5:15am
Coming back from my warm-up

There was a cannon shot to signal the start, and off we went. I tried to hit my target MP (6:55-7:00), but it was too hard during mile 1, so I decided to see what felt like MP and it ended up being around 7:05. I checked my heart rate several times in the first 20-30 minutes, and the garmin showed around 165-166, right where it should have been. So I didn't push more, knowing that I was in the right zone. 
At the gun - I am on the right with sunglasses (video capture)

Mile 1-9 were on an exposed highway on Mullan Road. At mile 4 we passed a pulp mill. I ran miles 2-6 in the company of two runners who were talking way too much for my taste. One of them dropped quickly after mile 4, the other passed me, but I ended up passing him again around mile 6 because he was running in sandals and had some issues with them. I took my first GU at mile 4. 

On Mullan Road, at the spot of mile marker 3, looking at the pulp mill site on Mile 4
There was a slight head wind right on our face but it wasn't really annoying. The temperature felt cool and crisp, great running weather. However the first miles did not feel completely comfortable, I could feel my left shin at every step, and I had the feeling that I was banging my feet on the road - not a smooth relaxed running style. This made me worry that it might degenerate later on into some more serious issues. However the feeling on the shin disappeared for good after mile 5-6.

Aerial View of miles 3-6 of the course, with the pulp mill; on the right is the river that we crossed at mile 9; the forested area that we ran on is also visible on the far left side.

I focused on running the tangents and my Garmin ending up beeping exactly on or right after each mile markers for the entire first half. I was content on hitting splits close to 7:05 pace, since periodically checking my HR validated my feeling that I was at the right effort.

After mile 9 we turned onto Kona Ranch Road. I think this is the first place where I saw Neil (longboat), who came to support the runners he knew. I took my 2nd GU at mile 9.5. Mile 10 felt slightly downhill and I tried to get a bit faster, but could not get better than 7:03. That's where an older guy whom I was running with until then dropped me, and I never saw him again. However I found out later looking at the results that I must have passed him later on during the late stages of the race. We crossed a bridge over a beautiful river.
At the cross between Mullan and Kona Ranch Roads
Crossing the river at Mile 9.8
We then turned onto Big Flat Road around Mile 11. As its name does not indicate, Big Flat Road is neither big, nor flat. The road was more curvy there, winding through a forest, so I really focused on hitting the tangents. Mile 13 felt slightly uphill - this was validated by the elevation chart. Around that time, I passed Ed Ettinghauser, one of the most famous Marathon Maniacs, who took the early start.

Elevation chart showing the incline at mile 13 and the hill at 14.
There was a timing mat at the "half", but it was way off, being located at 13.4 by my Garmin (which I knew was accurate, since I was in sync' with all the other markers). I hit the 'real' half at around 1:33:05; 3rd GU at 13.5.

Right after mile 13, we encountered "THE" hill of the course. It wasn't long, but it was steep, making up the last 0.3 miles of mile 14. I ran according to effort, which slowed me down to 7:25 for that mile; I recovered relatively well but the next section was rolling in the forest - not quite the downhill that I remembered from driving. Mile 16 was coming down the hill and out of the forest, and I got my fastest mile of the day (6:55)...but not enough to recover from the lost time on the uphill on Big "Flat" Road.
On Big Flat Road, right after the uphill
Coming down Big Flat Road, looking back at the downhill
7:57AM - just before crossing the one-lane bridge

Mile 17 was still relatively rural, and we passed a single lane bridge over the river. However unlike the day before, I did not appreciate the scenery much. I started to struggle a bit to keep pace. Another cool sight in that area was a guy playing a grand piano in his front yard....   

The grand piano player (photo by Tom Robertson during the 2011 edition)

4th GU at 17.5. This is in this section that I started to consistently douse myself with water at every water station, as it started to feel warm.  It wasn't actually that warm, but I could feel the sun heating up on non-shaded areas. At mile 18, I hit a rough patch, feeling a side stitch. I tried to breathe differently and after about 10 minutes it went away. However I felt that I was putting too much effort to maintain pace, too early in the race. Around that point, I saw longboat who encouraged me, but I guess I probably did not look great there. 

Right after that mile, I got passed by a runner in green T-shirt who shouted at me  "hey run2thehills" - it was jpride, that I had "met" on  RWOL on the Missoula thread. We chatted briefly. His goal was 3:04:59 for a BQ, and I told him that I had to back off of my initial pace. He ran ahead of me, but I tried to stay within relatively short distance of him, using him as a 'rabbit' to keep me on pace. In that section we passed a female runner who was escorted by a bike. She was the 3rd female runner, and we never saw her again.

Mile 19-20 were a grind. There were some parts of the course exposed to the sun, which made it feel warmer, although the water dousing at the aid stations really helped cool me off. On the shaded sections, my Garmin lost good reception, which annoyingly made my pace slow down. In addition, we were now passing an army of Half-Marathon walkers, who had started at the same time as we did. This was a nuisance, as many of them were walking several abreast and using the tangents, which made it hard to keep running straight.

After mile 20, the course was now in suburban Missoula, with a lot of turns. Some resident spectators had turned their sprinklers on, which was really helpful to help cool off on the non-shaded parts of the course.  After staying a few feet behind jpride until mile 21, I saw him suddenly jump in pain, hit by a calf cramp. I told him to keep going, but there was not much I could do to help at this point. I passed him and left to myself, I tried to keep plugging, thinking that after mile 22 I might try to finish faster. However at that point, just keeping the pace close to 7:05 was the only thing I could manage. I took my last GU after mile 21 - although I did not feel like I wanted it, I thought it might help.
Coming out of the tunnel, mile 21

I ran into the issue of slow half-marathoners until the end, since a lot of them were occupying most of the road width and not keeping a straight trajectory. On several occasions I had to yell at some of them "WATCH OUT ! ON YOUR RIGHT" to get space; retrospectively I feel like I was being a jerk, but it was really annoyed at them at the time. Nevertheless a few of them were genuinely nice, encouraging me as I was passing them.

Although maintaining pace felt harder, I started to feel better after mile 23. At that mile, I had one of those emotional highs that I usually experience during the late stages of goal marathons, with the feeling like I was going to cry, and making it harder to breathe. It did not last long but it had the effect of getting me to realize that I was getting close to the end, and that I could finish this run strong, if not fast.

At that point, the perceived effort was much, much higher, but all I could do was sustain the original pace close to 7:05. Interestingly, I felt that the hardest part was the breathing, as I had the feeling that I risked getting out of breath or getting a side-stitch had I tried to run faster. Looking back at the heart rate data, it never went higher than 170, in contrast to some other races I did. I felt some twinges in the calf and hamstring, but nothing bad - I knew that I would not cramp. I passed several male marathoners, who obviously started too fast and paid the price in these later miles. At mile 25, there was an ambulance backing off on the course, to pick up a runner who was down. I also saw longboat a last time.

After mile 25 I had the feeling that I really dropped the hammer, but all I could get was 7:01 pace... My Garmin beeped in sync while I passed the mile 26 marker. This gave me great satisfaction, as this was the first time during a marathon that my Garmin would show the perfect distance. I ran faster to the end, but bumped and almost crashed onto another half-marathoner on the last curve to the bridge, cursing at her on the way. My Garmin showed 6:40 pace, as I ran up the bridge on Higgins Ave, and I started to feel overcome with emotions. I passed the finish line, pointing out at the sky, picked up my medal, and immediately bended over on one of the fences of the chute, and started crying.

I stayed there, bended over for a couple of minutes, crying, before I was able to pick-up myself.  I wasn't hurting anymore physically, but was emotionally drained. This was a major PR (9 min), and although it was not what I had trained for, I left it all on the course that day. 

I will never know if the slower pace than what I had trained for was due to the elevation, or to some other factor. I did not expect any effect from the elevation; however after checking Daniels Running Formula book, he mentions that at 3,300 ft elevation, for a ~3hr long race, acclimatized runners should expect adding ~3.5% to sea-level time...unacclimatized runners (like myself) could add "up to double". So I guess the adjustment was up to par with these figures - or even better. I am glad I adjusted the pace regardless, otherwise, the finish would have been ugly considering how difficult the finish felt. 

Checking the placing, I found out that I finished 6th in my age-group...the first 3 spots being taken by the 3 guys who also won overall Masters. Somehow being in the M40-44 AG sucks !

3:06:36 (1:33:05/1:33:31)
32nd OA -- 30th Male -- 6th AG/92

Here are the splits - thanks for reading.

(uphill)         167
(downhill)      162
6:40 pace


  1. Way to go, man! Your splits are unreal. If you take out the hills, I bet your standard deviation is around 2 seconds. Super consistent. Well done. Interesting that your HR ramped up quickly and then stayed there. Mine instead was a steady upward progression.

  2. Great report...you always get such great photos from your races. Awesome splits, pretty much perfect pacing for the course, conditions, and your fitness. Very happy for you, but not surprised...your training was really awesome going into this. And you don't have to feel bad about yelling at the half marathoners...they need to get the hell out of the way. ;)

  3. Wow, talk about Steady Freddy, that's a fantastic set of splits. And to have felt stronger at 23 had to have been a wonderful gift from the Running Gods (a.k.a. your stellar fitness). I also love the emotional aspect, the tears at the end. Such a strong, sweet runner you are. Can't wait to see what you do at sea level on a cool day, you're in for some stunning PRs.

  4. Great running. You'll need some tips on how to clear the road of pesky half marathoners.

  5. Yay you! The photos are great. And your splits are impressive (not to mention the tangents). And now we are one handshake (or really, one dinner) away from having met, as I hung out with Neil in Houston.

  6. Thanks guys. A muse, what are your suggestions ?
    Ilana, we will meet in NY - I am in (as the emails from the NYCRR keep reminding me).

    1. Haha, yeah, I guess I'd better actually line up flights and stuff some time...

      My strategy for dealing with pesky half marathoners is a shoulder-mount cannon.

  7. Fantastic race report, R2tH! Great run, great splits ... I encountered pesky half marathoners last year at Erie, too, so if muse has suggestions, that would be great :D


    Sarah (sfarrant on RWOL)

  8. Well, there are issues to consider. A hatchet or baseball bat are effective, but heavy and may impact running economy. Grabbing and throttling multiple runners can be tiring and cause you to break stride (one, though, is do-able).

    I have two favored methods. The first is to entice a fellow Competitive Jerk (who isn't running the race) to eliminate the offenders with the method of his choosing (this animates his sense of industry and shows confidence in his initiative -- prescribing a specific course of action wouldn't do for a Competitive Jerk).

    The next is to barrel through the barrier with elbows flying. Granted, you are a tiny, tiny man, and the obstacles may be very very large. Just remember: a crazed, rabid jackal will always scuttle a herd of wildebeest.*

    [*in actual fact, I'm not at all sure that's true]

  9. This is awesome. What a great race! You really got your redemption and I have a feeling that CIM is going to bring you even better things.

    No suggestions to make about the half-marathoners - wow, that would have been intensely irritating. I would have been shoulder-charging them even if they were 3 times my size (which is entirely possible).