Thursday, November 10, 2011

Race Report: Manchester City Marathon

by Joe Kurtz

I had finally decided it was time. After years of answering the question “Have you done a marathon?” with a bit a stumbling about how yes, but not really as it was part of an Ironman, so I really don’t have a legit marathon time, etc., I decided it was time. Plus, in the past several years, both noble and petty reasons had become apparent that I needed to address. On the noble side, the last couple of IM races I did had runs that were below expectations, such that I wondered if after mile 17 my body would ever let me run at a pace that I thought I could hold. On the petty side, my sister had recently grabbed the title of Fastest Family Marathoner, which required an appropriate response by me. So now I needed to see what I could do in a straight marathon.

The Manchester City marathon seemed like a perfect race to achieve both of these goals. I was not sure my legs would bounce back from IMLP in time for Bay State, and Manchester was a month later and a short drive from Boston, so no hotels required. So after a brief rest, I started building up the running miles again. In fact, in one 7 day stretch, my training (thanks Jeff Cap!) brought me to over 67 miles on the road. No biking, and even worse, only swimming once a week. This was exactly the sort of thing five years ago I would have pictured hell to be like.

Race day came, and I was as ready as I thought I could be. Goal was to get a Boston Qualifying time for 2013 (which was 5 minutes faster than in 2012, so I needed to be under 3:10). It was going to be a perfect day, although the temperature did lead to some concern about what to wear: starting temp was ~30 degrees, but would rise to 50 by midday. But after a nice little warm up (again, something I never, ever thought I would consider doing in my former life – how crazy it seems to run extra before the start of a marathon!), I went with shorts, gloves, and the tri-top. A bit chilly at the start, but the perfect choice in retrospect.

Now as for the race, I had looked at the profile and comments from others on the website, and knew it was a ‘challenging’ course. But I figured that if my goal was to assess my running in conditions similar to IMLP, that this would be good. The profile I found online was this:

So I figured, easy on the first 5, hold steady but quick on the next 8 (and enjoy the speed from the downhill), then focus on the next 6 miles climbing up, and then bring it home starting at mile 20, knowing I would suffer like a dog the last 2 miles up hill.

And for the most part, I was able to follow this sort of mental plan. I was surprised how quickly the miles went by, to which I attribute to having a strong plan for the course, fresh legs (compared to an IM), and an excellent playlist on the iPod. I rounded the ½ at just over 1:30, which was spot on for my goal of being quick, but not having overexerted myself. But I had noticed that there did not seem to be any flat areas, and that I was always either going up or down. My speed was ranging from going 6:10’s to 7:45’s, but I was using my heart rate and perceived effort to maintain what I hoped was a good effort that I could sustain for the entire race. The second half of the course was much like the first, except the up and down seemed to be even more exaggerated. When I got to mile 20, and mentally I was expecting to start the downhill back into town, I was still climbing what seemed to be some of the steepest hills, only to be then followed by downhill sections that were so steep that it actually hurt just as much on the legs. But the end was close, and I had made it past the 17 mile ‘wall’ I seemed to hit in IM races still able to hold a decent pace. So when I got to mile 24 and the legs were seriously starting to hurt, too late: mind beat out body and I was even able to outsprint someone at the finish. (Side note: I would love to have seen just how ‘fast’ that last sprint was, as I am sure it was no where near as fast looking as I felt the effort was producing.) When I looked at my watch, I was pretty psyched to see that the final time was a 3:07 and change, which was not only under the 3:10, but also faster that the qualifying time minus 1:14 that was needed for Boston entries for 2012. To quote one of our teammates “Not bad for a swimmer.” Plus, to my surprise, I finished 19th overall (out of 390 finishers), which is relatively better than I do in many open water swim races L More importantly, I had proven to myself that I could run a marathon without cracking, which means that I just need to continue working towards putting together the entire package for IM. (Hello Training Weekend!)

All in all, it was a good day. The race is very well run, and I would suggest it to others looking for a Fall marathon. But only once I got home and looked at the elevation profile from my watch did I fully appreciate the ‘challenging’ nature of the course: (WTF indeed.)

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