Wednesday, November 09, 2005


(warning: some negative thoughts coming...)

When you run a marathon, especially your first one, everyone just congratulates you. It doesn't matter how you finish, just that you did finish.

To a certain extent, I agree with this sentiment. But there is still a part of me that needs to analyze my performance. I can't completely accept the idea that just finishing is the major accomplishment. Especially when I realize that out of 37,597 people who started the marathon, 36,847 finished. That's more than 98% finishing - on one of the hottest days ever for the marathon. So while for Jonathan Mendes, who's 85, finishing the marathon in just over 8 hours is an amazing accomplishment. But for me, that wouldn't be so satisfying.

I trained to run this marathon, and set myself certain goals. In discussing the race with other runners, it seems that most people missed their goals by about a half hour. But I'm still somewhat unsatisfied with that. I'd like to figure out what went wrong.

For reference purposes, here's my splits. They are not completely accurate as I relied on the GPS rather than hitting the lap button each mile.

You can see the first half going well. Mile 15 includes a bathroom break and some stretching. Mile 16 I slow down going over the Queensboro bridge. I try to pick it up again in Mile 17 as I hit 1st Avenue, but slow down again over the next few miles. As I realize my 4:22 slipping away, I stop for some stretching during Mile 20. The remainder of the race incorporates walking breaks. From Mile 21 through 24 they were increasing in frequency. As I entered the park at mile 24 I was somewhat energized, and decreased the frequency of the walking breaks. That last split should probably be faster, but then again it shouldn't read 26.64 either. It probably incorporates my last little break I took before "running it in" for the last quarter mile in the park.

So what happened?

Was it just the heat? It's hard to accept that. I trained through a tough NYC summer this year, and was running in similar temperatures. The Manahattan Half Marathon was run in 77 degrees and 82% humidity.

How about the distance? The longest I'd run in training was 20 miles. Maybe 26.2 is really that different. They do say the marathon begins at mile 20. Again, it's hard to buy into that completely. I was already having problems by mile 17 or 18. The 20 I ran in training was tough, but I went back to my normal life right afterwards. In the marathon I was totally cramped up and hobbling well before 20 miles.

What about the hills or bridges? Maybe. I trained in Central Park which has quite a few hills, including the big one in the Northwest corner. (See the bottom of this page.) That hill rises 84 feet over 0.32 miles. The Queensboro bridge rises 130 feet over about half a mile. A little bit longer, but not that different in grade. I did slow down on the Queensboro, but I'm not sure that was the cause for me cramps. Maybe. I didn't even notice the elevation on Verazzano, which is even higher. (First mile split at 10:15.)

What about dehydration? Again, I don't think so. I had a water bottle with me for the first 6 miles or so. After that I pretty much had two cups of water at each water station. (They were usually half empty, so it was probably about 5 or 6 ounces a mile.) I was definitely somewhat dehydrated, as it took a while after the race before I had to go to the bathroom. But I don't think I was overly so, and I certainly drank as much as I did during training. (Besides, how much can I drink? I followed the advice of the "hyponatremia police" pretty well.)

I suppose I could have had sports drink rather than water, but I didn't train with it. Besides, I'm not sure about the whole electrolyte imbalance thory. I did have 5 packs of sports beans, which have 60 meq of sodium in each one. (I also salted my food the day before race day.) Maybe it wasn't enough, and I'm should take those Succeed capsules as Nancy does, and others have suggested. But again, I didn't during my training.

That's what I keep coming back to - my training. In training I ran 18 miles in just under 3 hours, and 20 miles in 3:12. And on both those days I felt totally fine. No cramps, no limping. Nothing. So what was different on race day?

I didn't go out too fast. My splits there aren't that accurate, but I can tell you that I crossed the half with a net time of 2:07:24. That's well behind my half-marathon PR of 1:52:29, and also far behind the 1:55:44 half I ran in August. So what was the problem?

The one thing I can think of that was different was that in my training runs I usually stopped every 5 or 6 miles to stretch or go to the bathroom. On race day I didn't stop the first time until mile 15. I tried to stetch briefly then, but it was too late. I went into spasm, and was really unable to stretch properly the rest of the race. Every time I tried I just ended up in more pain.

I wonder if just stopped for a minute or two every hour is the secret. I've read of people taking "strategic walk breaks". I wonder if just giving my muscles a chance to "come up for air" every once in a while might have prevented these problems.

I have the third edition of "Lore of Running" by Tim Noakes. At least in that edition, his understanding of leg cramps is that they are probably from glycogen depletion. His "cure" for them is simply more training. That's definitely a possibility, that I was undertrained. But I was really taking it easy, running the marathon like a training run. Why can I run 20 miles in training without too many problems, and than during the marathon completely fall apart? I'm still limping!

Now that I've said all that, I do want to make clear that on the whole, I am very happy. I recognize the overall accomplishment of finishing a marathon, and I enjoyed the experience of running the marathon in NYC. I certainly enjoy having run the marathon! But it is an athletic endeavor to me, and I'd like to be able to do the best I can. And I think I can do better. (In fact, now I feel as though I have to!)

So if anybody out there has any thoughts or ideas, please feel free to share them with me. (And everyone else!)

If you're still reading, I've got one more treat. I showed you my splits from the Garmin before. I really wasn't using them too much during the race. To be honest, the main reason I wore it was to have the map of my route when I was done. I had to make a few corrections, but how cool is this map?

(Yup. I ran all of that!)

I'm getting close to being done talking about the marathon. I think I might have a few more posts in me about it, but that's about it. But then I have to address the blog title, and future goals. I'm not ready to do that just yet!


Blogger JimR said...

Meh, you trained, you ran, you finished...what more do you want? :)

Okay, the first one is just that..the first one. Few get it right the first time out. If it's not the training, it's the race prep...if it's not the race prep, it's the race day conditions.

When it comes time to try again, you need to remember a couple of things. Train the way you're planning to race, race the way you've trained ('cept a bit faster). It's like taking gatorade in your training runs, then opting for "Joes special running soda" on race day...bad idea. You may have had the luxury of stretching half a dozen times and taking washroom breaks and watching the traffic go by on training runs, but if that's not what you'll be planning to do on race day then it ain't helpin' any. So, you've got to plan for those sorts of things. It's not the hills, it's not the heat, it's not the food or what's in the cups at the waters stops. All of that, except for the weather, can be found out ahead of time. And you can prep for any weather if you're really keen.

Heck, I was faced with blasting face-on winds and cold rain in my first two fulls. I ran the second slower than my first. It took 3 tries to 'get it right'. What I learned was that I need to be ready on race day, for that exact time the gun's going to go off. I needed to train the way I was planning to run. I needed to face the start of the race with great 'familiarity' so that I was in the same state I was in for long runs, but in much better condition with taper and fully fueled and my training condensed thoroughly in my legs.

Once I figured that out (and the fact that I needed to train my butt off), that's when it all worked out.

Nice job. Good luck next time (and you know there'll be a next time ;) )

Thursday, November 10, 2005  
Blogger Michelle Fry said...

I have run 8 marathon now and I can honestly say that this one ws the hardest and it was the combination of the heat and the crowd. I ran 2 long runs of 23 miles and many many long runs of 20 plus speed work, etc. All I can say is pick a cooler marathon next time and you will take off at leat a half hour from your time. I am going to do the Newport marathon in Oregon next and it's a great one if you can afford to travel.

Thursday, November 10, 2005  
Blogger nancytoby said...

I wouldn't be so quick to discount the effects of sodium, especially on a warm day when you're working hard. I'll bet you didn't sit around and hydrate for 4 hours before you ran your training runs, either. :-)

Take a look at

Salting your food beforehand won't have much affect at all. What's important is the few hours immediately before the marathon, and what you sweat out during the marathon itself. Think about a gram of sodium per hour. 60 meq is a negligible amount.

As far as acclimatization goes, those summer runs were weeks and weeks ago - you've already gotten substantially acclimated to cooler temps.

But to be sure, you'll have to try it again and see what happens when you change your strategy!

Thursday, November 10, 2005  
Blogger nancytoby said...

Arrgh! Effect, not Affect!!!!

Thursday, November 10, 2005  
Blogger Danny said...


first of all, i'm glad to see you following my progress all the way, albeit usually silently. things weren't looking so good when i first met you, but i made it. (sort of.)

i think what you're saying makes sense. i was thinking of making my marathon more like my training, and you're saying to make my training more like marathon! (truth is, i probably need to make them meet somewhere in the middle.)

michelle fry:

it's amazing to me how many people had trouble out there. it makes me thing that more training wouldn't have helped. it was just a tough day.

i will definitely run a different marathon next time. i don't know about oregon though. maybe jersey shore in april. (oops, did i say that out loud?)


i checked out those links. i have to look into it more. 60 meq of sodium is actually a lot, but when i went back and checked it's actually only 60 mg of sodium. you're right, that's not a lot.

Thursday, November 10, 2005  
Blogger Raul! said...

There's also the X-factor that goes with running in an actual race. Whether it's nerves, the amount of weaving you were doing, or some other reason, there are some things about running in a marathon that can't be accounted for. I noticed during the Nike Marathon that my stride wasn't comfortable, I was stuttering, because of the crowds. I focused on remaining relaxed and taking it slow in the first few miles.

I kind of think that you actually started out too fast, and I'm guessing to run a 9 minute mile in your first mile, you had to weave past a lot of people. That's going to tire you out. Take it slow the first few miles, treat the first 5 miles as warm up, then pick up the pace. You should also take it easy on the downhill portions and treat that as a time to recover from going uphill. Also, consider varying your strides so you can relax the muscles you utilize more. One way to do so is to take a walk break, but if you don't then sprint for a bit or slow down. It will use different muscles giving the others a break.

Anyway, I'm not an expert, but I think you do learn something from your first marathon. One thing I learned is to keep running when cramps come on. Stopping was the worst thing I did in my first marathon and the next thing I knew my calves were locking up. Keep moving! I'm not sure if there's any articles on it, but I'm not sure stretching in the middle of a run helps. Again, amateur here.

The great thing is that you still want to run another one. We had very similar experiences. I did my second as an act of pride. I had to prove to myself that the first marathon was not indicative of my ability. You're limping? Hopefully you haven't injured yourself. Take it easy.

Once more: congratulations!

Thursday, November 10, 2005  
Blogger Jack said...

I've run two marathons, both this year. I had similiar problems that you had with my first. I trained harder for the second and did better, but still had to stop and walk. I think the biggest thing I learned was not to stop. I ran up to 23 miles in training without any stops and had no trouble at all. I stopped a few times with both marathons and had trouble getting going again. I just started training for my third marathon in March of next year, I plan on making a few more adjustments to see if I come up with the right formula. I think that is what it is all about.

Friday, November 11, 2005  
Blogger Uptown Girl said...

Reading through your post and following comments...I have a few words myself.

First off, the first one should be treated as that. You just have no idea what to can do all the training in the world and you can NEVER fully have the same conditions as race days. As jack was saying, so many "X" factors. I had a warm day for my first marathon last year too and I definitely felt as you do. Just too may unpredictable things...and hence the allure of a marathon!

I think the best way to look at it is you can be all the more excited to get back out there in a little while and shoot to do better next time. I know I did and the results speak for themselves:)

Friday, November 11, 2005  
Blogger Louis said...

An acquaintance has run marathons all over the place, including Chicago, San Francisco and Paris. He says NYC is by far the best experience.

But if you want to try a new one, check this out: the Cincinnati Flying Pig Marathon. May '06 will be its eighth running. I've never done it, but it gets rave reviews from locals and out-of-towners.

Friday, November 11, 2005  
Blogger Yvonne said...

I could write pages in response to this excellently-put post, but I'll try to keep it brief. What I say is that, unfortunately, you can't compare your training times to your race times, especially for your first marathon. Why? Because for your long training runs you don't have to: get up 5 hours beforehand, dealing with crowds and buses and sitting around, you don't have to deal with thousands of other runners around you the whole way, you don't have to deal with the adrenaline that only comes with racing - that saps your energy etc etc. I think the main progress we make the more marathons we do, is getting used to all those things (and more) - and not letting them affect your performance. And of course, the main thing we don't do in training runs is actually run the whole 26.2. As you said, marathons really do start at mile 20. The whole deal with marathons is being able to put in a good (mentally/physically) 6.2 miles with 20 miles already under your belt. And since we cannot replicate that in training - ever -that skill only comes with doing more marathons.

Friday, November 11, 2005  
Blogger Donald said...

My two cents: I agree with Yvonne a lot. The distance is a major factor. Even though you did 20 in training, it's not the same as 20 at race pace.

Two pieces of advice - I do my long runs at the end of the week, so there are already a lot of miles in my legs, to mimic the fatigue somewhat. I also like to crank up the pace for the last 3-4 miles of a 22-23 miler, so you get your body accustomed to maintaining your race pace even when the tank is on empty.

I also agree with what has been said here that first marathons are learning experiences. Even world-class marathoners need a few attempts to run a great race. Good luck with the next one.

Friday, November 11, 2005  
Blogger nyflygirl said...

One of my teammates-a veteran marathoner and triathlete said this once about the marathon:

"The Marathon is the race in which your seasoned self has the best chance of outperforming your rookie self. The Marathon requires less raw speed than shorter races. Experience and training strategy play a greater role."

And that being said, I also agree with what everyone else has said...a first marathon should be a benchmark, no? Something to improve on next time.

Friday, November 11, 2005  
Blogger Susan said...


I totally understand your semi-disappointment. I encountered the same problems during my marathon. I cramped up around mile 14 on my last 2 marathons and I can't figure out why. Especially Chicago. I NEVER cramp during training runs. The only thing I can think of that was different was the lateral movement. I spent so much time going left to right navigating between people, I think I was using muscles that I don't normally use? Can that make the legs cramp? I'm not sure if that's it, but it ticked me off and added about 30 min to my overall time. I ran a 4:57, but I was trained for a 4:15 - 4:30. Does anyone know how much extra you run weaving between people? It felt like a million extra miles.
Yes, there are a lot of X factors - but 30 min worth?

I really gotta get on of those garmin things. That map is very cool . . . and I really stink at pacing.

You did great, and your next M will be even better.

Friday, November 11, 2005  
Blogger Jon (was) in Michigan said...

If you were targeting a 4:22 time, that's a 10:00 pace. Looking at miles 3-7, those are some of your fastest paces in the race. You could argue that you were starting faster than you needed to, if you follow the idea of starting out slower and speeding up later. I know there have been some articles that say that the glycogen depletion from starting faster has a synergistic effect on your stores, multiplying the drain.

And I would have to second the heat factor. I don't remember how hot it was on your 20 miler, but the heat will suck so much out of you. I was really surprised how much just 10 more degrees destroyed my last 5K.

The walking thing really puzzles me. I know I was thinking of Jack's advice during my race, and I had tried to make "race-like" walking stops for the gatorade during my 20-miler to simulate race conditions. I still don't know if walking is good or not. Walking a little and then trying to run again was very bad for me. Walking a loooong ways seemed to work better.

And also ditto Yvonne talking about what time you got up in the morning for race day vs the long runs. I think I need to think about this too for the next race.

Lots of factors to consider, but I do understand your desire to find out what changed for you so you can improve for next time.

Friday, November 11, 2005  
Blogger Brooklyn said...

Danny said: I was definitely somewhat dehydrated, as it took a while after the race before I had to go to the bathroom.

Not necessarily. I read a bunch of stuff handed to me by the medical director before the race - and the focus was all on hyponutremia. If I understand what I was reading, both your cramping late in the race and your inability to urinate for a while after point to low sodium / overhydration. I have to agree with nancytoby; you probably didn't have enough salt in your system.

I know we always say "don't change anything on race day", but don't we also say "if the game plan isn't working; change it!"

I encourage you to start training with better fueling and hydration. I know you have to stay Kosher. Hammer Nutrition recently announced a new, KOSHER, powerbar. You might inquire as to whether their other products are Kosher as well.

and hey, don't overanalyze this event! besides being's time already to look foward.

Friday, November 11, 2005  
Blogger Kurt in Boston said...

Hey, great job with the first marathon! Really. Now, on to the cramps...

I had similar experiences with both of my marathons. The first one I started cramping around mile 21 (and there was NO WAY to run through those kinds of cramps). Stopped and stretched, walked briefly, then resumed running. over the last 5 miles the cramps just kept coming closer and closer together. I wondered about too much hydration, electrolytes, etc. Second marathon, a little warmer and more humid. Big crash and burn. Cramps started at mile 16. I'll spare you the gory details.

My take -- we need more fluid/fuel (and the hyponatremia concern is probably overblown). I know I drank less (sweated more) in the second marathon and cramped more. Also, it's not just sodium that you need. You also need potassium. They work together. I'm gettin' some of both in the hour or so before my next marathon. I also drink gatorade and take in gels (and use them on long training runs).

Good luck on the next one (and I'll let everyone know how I do on my next one -- Arizona Jan 15th -- my goal is sub-4:00 and no cramps!).

Saturday, November 12, 2005  
Blogger partyrunner said...

i only train with water but on race days i drink sports drink. don't change anything on race days? to each his own. the first gu i ever had was during my first half marathon. i'm not sure that advice is helpful/recommended. ;-)

but i will say, i enjoyed your reflection. i know completing a marathon is the shizzle but like you, i am both highly proud and quite critical of my race days. and that's ok. to me, it pushes me to be better. sounds like maybe it does the same for you?

Sunday, November 13, 2005  
Blogger Bex said...

First, congratulations on finishing your first marathon. There will be many chances to accomplish a better and faster time.

Second, I do think that you ran a bit fast in the first half of the race. And don't forget race pressure. Running a good 20-miler is not the same as racing a 26.2 mile marathon.

You're going to run a much smarter and more satisfying marathon the next time around.

Also, don't neglect the shorter races. They may be short, but they can be long on pain. And I think that training for fast 10K to half-marathon times will result in better marathon times.

Sunday, November 13, 2005  
Blogger runr53 said...

And you believed them when they said it would be a piece of cake! Welcome to the club of the ever questioning, why? hehe! Great job!

Sunday, November 13, 2005  

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