It has been 6 days since I completed the NYC Marathon and set my new marathon PR of 4:25:07 (still unofficial but I’ll be within seconds of that time). My goal this year was always to beat my 2014 time (4:33:33) and although I did it, I am somewhat surprised at the way in which it happened. For much of 2017, the signs have not been good. In most of my races, and in all of my training, I was slower in 2017 than in 2014 although I ran more miles and more consistently in 2017 (912 miles up to Marathon day compared to 848 miles, and additionally in 2017 I only had 2 weeks with zero mileage, compared to 4 weeks in 2014). It seems it’s true what they say, miles count.
So while 2014 was my first full year of running seriously and I was highly motivated to get into shape after years never really having a fitness regime, 2017 was a year I thought I could build on that base fitness.
So let’s take a quick look at my 2014 preparation and performance Vs 2017. First off, the races.
So what’s going on here? In 2014, my long races were consistently in the 9:10 – 9:20min/mile range, which is pretty consistent, all the way to the Bronx 10m. That was one of my best races in 2014 (and perhaps of all time) with a pretty cool 8:31mins/mile pace over 10 miles (my current PR). The Staten Island Half 2 weeks later was another PR at 8:52min/mile. In 2017, I haven’t run any races over 10m at faster than 9:38/mile and although I slowly increased my pace, it didn’t come close to even my 1st race of 2014.
The 18m tune up is really what I thought would be the major predictor of my marathon form. 31 minutes (1:40/mile) separated my 2014 form from 2017 which is huge. There is no doubt that 2017 me could not possibly keep up with 2014 me in any of those races.
So what happened in the marathon? Well truth be told, I ran a pretty poor marathon in 2014, considering my condition – looking back now and seeing I only consumed 2 gels and missed breakfast, it’s amazing that I finished at all.
If there’s one chart that tells the story of my two races, it’s the one below.
This chart shows my cumulative average pace per mile, so is effectively a smoothed out line of my pace from start to finish, where the last mile is my average pace for the whole race (not the actual pace of my last mile).
Miles 1 – 5 show a similar trend. Mile 1 is just getting started, some selfies, some crowding and an uphill start – it’s supposed to be slow. Mile 6 both times was when I took a pit stop (my bladder was consistent, even if my pace wasn’t) hence the sudden brake on my pace, but from then onwards it’s two very different stories.
In 2014, from mile 7 – 10, I am maintaining a 9:30 pace pretty evenly. From mile 10, I start to slow down for the rest of the race. That’s a 16 mile decline in pace which gets more and more dramatic. Remember this is a smoothed out chart and each mile the impact of the decrease is less and less (because you’re averaging it out against the whole distance) and yet that line gets steeper and steeper as I slow more and more dramatically. To give you an indication, my pace at mile 10 was 9:34 (close to the 9:31 average at that time) whereas my pace at mile 20 was 10:57, a full minute slower than my average at that time.
In 2017, there’s a completely different story. From mile 6 all the way to mile 21, I am slowly getting faster, and more remarkably from mile 7 to 21, there is only an 8 seconds per mile difference in average pace. To contrast with 2014, mile 10 was a 9:51 pace (17 seconds slower than in 2014) and mile 20 was 10:03 pace, or 55 seconds faster than 2014.
I read somewhere once that for every 10 seconds you try and ‘bank’ in the 1st half of a marathon, you will loose 30 seconds in the second half. What that really means is going out faster than you’re able to maintain in the 1st 13 miles will cost you 3x more than you’ll gain. With my slow and steady pace this time around, I did not start to slow significantly until mile 23, and by that point with only 5k to go, you can dig in really deep and finish it off. In 2014, I was feeling the same way by mile 15 with still 11 miles to go. That can crush anyone.
I knew from the start that to get my PR, I had to beat 10:26 per mile, and keeping my pace as close to 10:00/mile would certainly do that. I didn’t know if this was something I could maintain over 26.2 miles for certain, especially given my 18m tune up was actually slower than this, but two significant things changed since then.
The first was that my NYRR Virtual Running Coach scorned my after my 20 mile long run, because I reported how much water and gel I consumed, which was far too little. Despite access to the right information, it never dawned on me that given my age, weight and gender, I really needed to be consuming gels every 3 – 4 miles, not every 6 – 7 miles which I had been doing. Changing that strategy in my last few long runs took out almost all of the fatigue I was feeling in the last few miles.
The second was the temperature. In was 55 degrees on race day (most of my long run training days had been in the 70’s or 80’s) and there was misty rain as well, which kept me cool. Had it been in the 40’s, I could have been faster still, but it’s been such a warm autumn in New York that it could have easily been in the 70’s.
I am honestly not sure if I will run another NYC marathon, or another marathon at all. You sacrifice a lot, you can’t really train for other types of races at the same time, and almost everything defers to it for 4 months of the year. Having said all that, it’s an amazing feeling and something I am still buzzing about six days later. Tomorrow I am having a recovery run with my running club, and will have just a slightly lighter spring in my step than if I’d missed this PR. This really has made my 2017!