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Breaking the 3-Hour Barrier My Story

Breaking the 3-Hour Barrier, Part 5

New York, new training plan – less scheduled long runs, more strength training, more speed work, more cross-training. I incorporated three different strength routines (2-3 times each per week) and swam one mile sessions three times per week. Another big change was alternating my long runs with long tempos (10 miles) and by doing so, worked up to a 28-mile peak run. It was the longest run I had ever done.

Throughout this cycle, I had gotten leaner, lighter, and stronger. I didn’t have any injuries worrying me, but I always try to stay extra sensitive. Two weeks from race day and two days after my peak long run I did a 15k prep race, and ended up with a nine second PR. This was the best I had ever felt before a marathon. Prepared and excited, I went into taper time knowing this was going to be a good race as long as I didn’t screw up food or hydration and over think things.

On Friday, two days before the race, I landed at JFK anxious to get to the hotel. My husband was flying in from Paris to meet me there and I hadn’t seen him in seven months (talk about a fool-proof plan to eliminate pre-race nerves!). We both went to the expo on Saturday to get my bib, but I made sure to keep it quick and not even go into the actual vendor section. It’s easy to spend too much energy at a race expo the day before. Chipotle was next, that being my day-before-a-long-run meal in training, then back to the hotel to rest and relax the rest of the day.

4 a.m. race morning my alarm went off and I felt fueled, rested, and fired up. It was a little less than a mile walk to the bus and I was assigned to board at 5:30. The streets were already buzzing with race day jitters, and I had plenty of time. I was told the bus would take 90 minutes – it only took 40. With four hours to kill before go time, I found my way through security, gear check, and four more bib checkpoints. It was a little chilly, but I had throw-off layers and thankfully it wasn’t raining. The forecast said it would, but I hoped it wouldn’t start before the gun.

The wait time is annoying, but one of the things I love about these big races are the people. You get to see many different countries represented, but also the diversity of the running community as a whole. I simply like watching. I sat down on the cold concrete with fluid and food. Lots of people were running with friends, some were nervous loners, some were wearing costumes, and some were clearly out for blood. I listened to conversations of marathon veterans and first-timers, saw a few instagrammers, and enjoyed looking at footwear choices. However, the most interesting thing I observed was a runner chomping on whole carrots, celery stalks, and broccoli. It looked like he had just dropped by the grocery store on the way. Interesting choice for pre- endurance event fuel, but hey – whatever floats your boat…or…fuels your run?

Finally moving into my starting corral, I didn’t have to wait too much longer before moving onto the bridge where the start line was. During the national anthem it started to sprinkle, but that’s all it ended up doing. I was starting with a 3:05 pacer, but had no intention of sticking with him.

It was time! Though I was cold just standing there, before I hit the second mile I regretted wearing a shirt. I should have known better. My arm warmers were already tossed to the side. My first mile was relaxed at 7:47, but I didn’t want to “waste” another mile at that pace. My second was 6:16, which was  not a pace I felt I would be able to sustain. “Find the grind,” I told myself. By mile 4, I decided that the grind should be in the 6:30-6:40 range. Strong and relaxed, I enjoyed the next dozen miles. My fueling strategy felt really good, and I was making most water stops.

All body systems felt fine at mile 20, but my hip flexors killed. Did I start too fast? Why isn’t anything else falling apart? I tried to adjust and focus on just getting 6:50s in, but the pain became worse and spread to my lower back as I began to lose form. This was awful. I didn’t want to, but around 23 I started to take walk breaks. I knew with the circumstances it would make me finish faster. Breaking three hours was no longer in reach, but I needed to at least PR. I was disappointed, but really all I could think about at the time was the pain.

Hobbling across the finish line at 3:06, I shaved off five minutes from my previous personal best, but I couldn’t say I felt proud of the race I had just run. I also couldn’t walk – 6.5 on the pain scale and my hamstrings were starting to seize. A medic came over to me, but I knew everything was fine – heart rate, breathing, no lightheaded or dizziness, nausea, no body temperature issues, etc. so I refused the medical tent. It really was just muscular.

Unfortunately, I had a long ways to walk to get to my bag. So at a 40-minute per mile pace (not exaggerating), I was handed from one volunteer to another to help me get to the UPS truck that had my stuff. One runner came along side me and told me he’d done this marathon for the past 29 years, and that I shouldn’t be discouraged about my time. He walked and talked with me all the way to my bag. Once I pulled my phone out and told my husband I was sort of on my way, the volunteer currently holding me up wanted me to sit down and put on my pants and jacket. The fellow runner was my advocate in assuring the volunteer that that was a bad idea. We both knew I wouldn’t have been able to get back up. I was passed off to one more volunteer who walked me past the exit barricades to my husband, though I don’t think he was actually supposed to leave the park. My husband had me drink my Vega recovery accelerator and put on my clothes for me. I was helpless.

Getting back to the hotel was a trip, but at a snail’s pace we got there. I sat in a hot bath that at least made me be able to stand and move forward on my own, but the rest of the evening and next day were rough. Never have I ever been in so much pain after a race. At first I thought I had simply gone out too fast, but I’m not so sure that’s all that it was. I’ve hit the wall before, with total body exhaustion, and that wasn’t it. My “gut,” heart, and lungs weren’t tired. And why did it start with just my hip flexors? My fueling felt great, but I think my hydration and electrolyte balance wasn’t. I was shy on my pre-game water intake due to my last marathon disaster.

I’ve experienced severe dehydration and severe over hydration in endurance activity, but there’s still a lot of space in between the two that affect performance. With travel and the weather being cool and humid, I don’t think I drank enough. It’s easy to under estimate how much you need based on feel in that type of weather. So I’m not going to say I simply went out too fast. I think if I was smarter with fluids, I could have sustained the pace to hit my goal time.

I didn’t break 3 hours and I didn’t finish strong, but I am happy that I got a new PR, executed a good fueling strategy (which hasn’t been easy for me in the past), had a productive training cycle, and experienced the largest marathon in the world.

New York, I can’t say I love your vibe, but you do have a pretty cool marathon. They say you’re tough, but I disagree. You’re just not easy. It’s what makes you real. I don’t want any crazy advantages in a marathon course. I won’t be back for awhile, but I’ll see you again.

Final Stats

3:06:17

1,505th of 50,647 overall

110th of 21,060 women

38th of 3,469 age group

           

          One reply on “Breaking the 3-Hour Barrier, Part 5”

          great recap, janel! the marathon is such a puzzle trying to fit everything in together. congrats on taking another big chunk off and getting closer to your goal. you’re going to get that sub-3 sooner than you know it.

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