Wrightsville Beach Marathon: BQ or Bust!

I had a strong finish last season with 400 mile “bike race” (AML 400) and Beach-to-Battleship ironman (now Ironman North Carolina).  As I considered my options for this season, I kept returning to the marathon. My first and only stand-alone marathon (Tobacco Road in 2012), was decent (3:50) but a death march for the last 8 miles. I began to toy with the idea of what it would take to qualify for the Boston Marathon. It turns out the qualifying time for Boston is a 3:40 for my age group. Trimming 10 minutes off my previous marathon did not seem out of the realm of possibility.

Next, what marathon to run? First, any Boston-qualifying (BQ) marathon has to be USATF sanctioned (Even USATF sanctioned doesn’t mean you are going to Boston; check out the Chattanooga  marathon fiasco–course was too short). And the flatter the course, the faster the course. Tobacco Road is relatively flat but Wrightsville Beach was flatter. Sealing the deal was a list of marathons with the largest percentage of BQ’s expected for 2016. So March 20th was the date, 3:35 was the target (8:12 pace) and BQ was the goal.

Training

With a reasonable amount of base, I spent most of the early winter doing cyclocross and some running but started in with serious training after the new year. My training plan was fairly simple:

  • Monday: Rest
  • Tuesday: Track workout
  • Wednesday: Light mountain bike
  • Thursday: Fast tempo run, building to 60 minutes
  • Saturday: Medium run, 8-10 miles
  • Sunday: Long run, building to 20 miles

The pace for doing these workouts was a bit of a mystery. I’ve used heart rate in the past but don’t find it reliable (I find my HR much lower the day after a hard workout).  I got help from Dave, our local multisport guru. Based on some previous half marathon races, we came up with the following paces (min/mile):

Long run
9:15 to 9:30
Steady pace
8:15 to 8:45
up to 90 min or 16 mi
Tempo
7:25 to 7:45
20 – 60 min
Intervals
7:05
400: 1:46; 800: 3:32; 1000: 4:25
10k
45:53 with training (7:23 pace)
Marathon Pace
8:23 ==> 3:40
8:12 ==> 3:35
8:00 ==> 3:30

Being a more “mature” runner and dealing with some hip issues, I wasn’t interested in putting in a huge amount of volume and risk an injury.  I take my recovery seriously. My training volume averaged  ~24 miles per week:

Weekly Distance (Nov-Mar)
Weekly Distance, November to Race Day Average: 24 miles/week (dotted line)

My training was unique in that 1) I could focus on one sport, compared to my training in the fall where it was three sports, with a heavy dose of cycling and 2) I tried to have the attitude of being given the “opportunity to train”. As “maturing” adult, being able to go out to the track and run fast or going for 20 miles long runs is a real blessing (Don’t get me wrong, there were days when it was a chore but most days I looked forward to the runs).

Pre-Race

My wife and I drove to Wrightsville Beach on Saturday for packet pick-up. Not much of an expo but most of the activity was around a 1mi and a 5k for breast cancer. I saw a t-shirt that said ‘Trust the Training”. How apropos. Training is like spending days, weeks, and months chopping a stacking wood. And on race day, you hope you have enough wood and the right kind of wood to build a big enough fire. They were also having the traditional pasta dinner. I wonder when folks will get the word that eating a huge meal the night before doesn’t help and leaves them too full the next day (a high carb meal two nights before is ok; the area of carbo loading has changed so many times I can’t keep with what is the best approach).

We went to see a movie and watch Carolina beat up on Providence, both nice distractions. I actually got a decent night’s sleep. The big difference for this race was there was not a ton of mystery here. Sure, I needed to run fast and yep, it was going to hurt but questions like “Will I finish?”  or “How hard will it be?” easily answered: “yes” and “hard”.

Race Day

Up at 4 am, took a shower and had breakfast (banana, PB&J, fig newton, tea). In general, I try to eat two hours before the start of a race. Clothing choice was thin hat, SS base layer, long sleeve top, shorts, thin gloves. I also had a wind vest that I was goTobRd Ouch2ing to decide on at the start. Over that, I put a fleece and warmup pants (I had not forgotten the nipple fiasco at Tobacco Road so I took the appropriate precautions–Andy and I have something in common). The shuttle over to the start was smooth but the weather was a bit cooler than forecasted (low 40’s) and wasn’t supposed to warm up appreciably. With the north wind, most folks were huddled up against buildings. I took my pre-race gel and 250 mg of caffeine, checked my bag, and made it to the first corral for the start.

The race plan called for trying to not go out too fast, maybe 8:20-8:25, for the first three miles and then move to a faster pace (8:10) and try and hold it for the rest of the race. I had five gels, salt, and chamois cream on board.  I put the aid stations on my watch for when I needed to take the gels (along with my target HM split and different target paces and times):

WBMarathon-watch0WBMarathon-watch1

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Waiting in the coral, I was surprised by the diversity of clothing. Everything from singlets to rain jackets to fleeces. A little rain started coming down (foreshadowing) and I was glad I had my wind vest on. The race unfolded like this:

Mile 1-4: This was a loop around Wrightsville Beach that took you back to the start. As anticipated, I could not run anything below an 8:17 pace but felt fine. Got back to the start and threw off the wind vest, feeling a little warm.

Mile 5-11: This section went through the Landfall subdivision. Lots of turn which broke up the run but probably slowed the pace a bit. I felt like I was running in zone 1, hardly breathing. Not wanting to get myself into trouble with too fast a pace and knowing the real work was going to start later, I enjoyed this section. I was having a little pain in some of my right hip muscles (flexor, adductor/abductor) but nothing serious. Calves were good. Hamstrings good. Feet good. Knees good. All systems go! I was with the half-marathoners till mile 11 split. There were a bunch of folks around me breathing really hard; I hoped they were the HM’rs because otherwise, they were going to be in a world of hurt. There were lots of people out on the course encouraging folks on, which was nice.

Mile 12-19: Once the M/HM split happens, it turns into a different race since there are very few people left which is good and bad. The course took a second loop around Wrightsville Beach, headed down a long, straight road, eventually turning onto a greenway heading to the UNC-W campus (This was a new course; in years past, the course would take you through the Landfall sub-division again). It started to rain lightly. Heading into UNC-W, you could see the leaders coming from the turn-around. Wow, super strong runners!

Lookin’ strong down the home stretch

Mile 20 to finish: As they say, a marathon is a 10k with a twenty mile warmup. This is where the real work started. I noticed my mile splits drifting higher but I didn’t panic. The good news was my running form was holding steady (no shuffling) and the body was holding up (no cramps, significant pain points)l. I worked hard to keep the pace steady and pushed the effort as much I could. I tried the “I really need to dig deep” thing but there wasn’t much deeper to dig; the gas pedal was on the floor and mashing it more wasn’t going to get me going any faster. Mostly I focused on and succeeded at good running form: no shuffling, good cadence and high turnover. The second thing I did was not look at the people coming at me (folks heading into the turn-around). The grimacing. The shuffling. The suffering. I kept my head down, not wanting to see myself in those faces. Somewhere around mile 22 the bottom fell out of the sky. It just poured. Cold rain on an already wet runner. Now my wool socks were full of water so I had a little extra weight on board (I felt sorry for the folks still out on course with a long way to go). There was no real magic here. Just keep on keepin’ on until I heard the crowds (muffled by the rain) and made push to the finish line.

Result: 3:38:00, a BQ by two minutes (9th out of 31 in my age group)

WBMarathon-results

Post-Race

The Soggy Finish Line
The Soggy Finish Line

I was met by my sweet wife who had this view for about an hour (we didn’t communication effectively on my expected finish time). I was so glad to have hit my BQ goal, although I might not be going to Boston in ’17 (see below). I took my medal and foil blanket and sat in a “heated tent”.  After quickly realizing I wasn’t getting any warmer, I suggested we head to the car. The 100 yard walk to the car was harder than the last three miles of the race. A combination of disorientation, hypothermia, and driving cold rain resulted in a slow, shivering shuffle to the car.

WBMarathon--fiinsh photoWBMarathon-bedBack at the hotel I thought about taking a cold bath (for muscle soreness) for about 3 milliseconds and instead opted for a warm bed and some hot tea.

It took an hour or so but eventually I got my body warmed up.

Race Analysis

Looking at my mile splits, I kept a reasonably solid pace most of the race. I slowed down a bit over the last three miles (rain, cold, fatigue, wet socks), but nothing significant.

WBMarathon-splits

It was interesting comparing these splits to my only other marathon, Tobacco Road, (2012), where the wheels definitely came off the bus at the end.

WBMarathon-split comparison

I’ve worked hard on shortening my stride and trying to increase my cadence to the magic 180 but I can’t seem to break out of the 165 range.

WBMarathon--Cadence

Overall, very pleased with the result. My pacing was steady; I kept good form throughout; I was focused and in race mode the entire time; nutrition was good (no upset stomach). Could I have run faster? Maybe, by a few minutes . I might have been able to up the pace a bit and hit 3:35 ( 7th in my AG). Being a few minutes faster may make a difference when it comes time to register for  Boston (see below).

Mostly, I feel blessed to be able to do things like this. I’m not a gifted athlete and certainly not a natural runner but with some hard work, dedication, the right attitude, and good luck, I’ve been fortunate.

Boston Bound?

BQ = Boston. Not so fast, buddy. As the Boston Athletic Association (BAA) says:

The athlete registration procedure ensures that the fastest qualifiers will be accepted first. However, achieving one’s qualifying standard does not guarantee entry, but simply the opportunity to submit for registration. Those who are the fastest among the pool of applicants in their age and gender group will be accepted.

In September, the folks with a time 20 min faster than the qualifying time register first, then those 10 min faster register, then those 5 min faster, and then they fill the remaining slots according to their finish time until they are full (~80% of the field are time qualifiers; the rest are pros, sponsors, charity, etc.). The delta between the qualifying time and the acceptance time has varied over the years, usually in the one or two minute range:

 Year  Delta  Field Size  Runners Turned Away
 2016  2:38  30,000  4,562
 2015  1:02  30,000  1,947
2014 1:38 36,000  2,976
 2013  N/A; the qualifying times for 2013 were made 5 min faster which resulted open slots unfilled  27,000 0

So, I’ll find out in September if I’ll be toeing the line in Hopkinton next April. Stay tuned…

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