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The Commentary

The receptacle that catches what falls out of my head as I run.

The 2015 Skagit Flats Marathon Race Report

Chris Aronchick

Garmin

The backstory:

  • I ran the Skagit Flats Marathon in 2014 with a solid (for me) time of 3:13, but 3+ minutes too slow to qualify for Boston.
  • Since then, I completed the Tacoma Marathon (3:12:59) and Seattle Rock 'n Roll (3:10:26).
  • I had a good string of marathons from 2006-2008 in which I ran a 4 qualifying times with a PR of 3:00:24.

With all that background, I had high hopes going into Skagit this year. Both the Tacoma and Seattle marathons are VERY hilly, and to be within sniffing distance of my BQ time (3:10:00), I felt I had a great shot not only to qualify but potentially to achieve an early entry time (3:05:00). While no guarantee, 3:05 allows you to register during the first week that it is open rather than having to wait until the second week, so your chances of qualifying are much greater.

  • I think it's worth mentioning here that, for me, sub-3:10 was the key. While I can't wait to run Boston again, I'm in no rush. But I was starting to get concerned that I had some sort of psychological block going on since my first and only Boston Marathon in 2009 (post to come).

In any case, a little more backstory:

  • During the Seattle marathon, I was on pace for a BQ when, during the last mile or so, my left hamstring totally seized up on me. While trying to get it going again, I probably lost the 30 seconds I needed to qualify.
  • During a tempo run after the Seattle marathon, I hurt my left foot somehow and was diagnosed with plantar fascitis. During that run, I could feel my hamstring tensing up. It has since gotten better, but during the run itself, I could feel my left hamstring start to get nervous like it was going to seize again.
  • Both of these had left me with some strong concerns about my body, even though, as of the Saturday prior, neither was particularly bothering me.

On the day of the race, all was pretty normal. I felt fine overall. As I started to warm up though, I started to feel a little reminder of my foot. It wasn't terrible, but I knew it was there. It wasn't going to stop me, but now I had to worry about the whole left leg, so that was a fun way to start.

My plan going in was not quite fly-and-die, but I knew that I really needed to move pretty fast during the first 16 or so miles to have a good chance at qualifying (the Boston post will describe in great detail what it means to fly and die). In my most recent races I had a positive split between 4 and 8 minutes. As such, I was shooting for 7:00 miles through the first 16. If I was able to do that, I was pretty confident that any reasonable decrease in pace would not be enough to overcome the time that I banked (at that point, would have been close to 4 minutes ahead). To be more precise, I was pretty sure that only a physical failure would cost me the BQ time.

One additional preparation I made was to bring 6 Clif Shot packs (36 total chews) with me. I knew I'd be running a faster pace than my maximum aerobic function (MAF) pace (another post on that to come), in which case I'd be burning more sugar than fat. During my Tacoma run, for whatever reason, I did not eat the fuel that I had brought with me when I should have, and I slowed down considerably. I wasn't going to allow that to happen again. I was going to eat every 20-30 minutes regardless of my hunger.

The last (possibly major) change I made prior to the race was eating. I try to maintain a low-carb, high-fat diet, and for my long runs at MAF, I don't eat anything prior to going out and have never had an issue with hunger or fatigue. However, I figured that, again, running at a faster pace, I'd need more sugar on-board in order to make sure I didn't bonk. So I ate a couple of UCan bars prior to the race for about 400 calories.

The race started ominously. Literally within the first hundred yards from the start line, my left leg started complaining. I honestly couldn't believe it, but I simply started arguing with it to try to hold on a little longer. A few miles later, I simply kept repeating to it one of my favorite lines from The Wire.

As the race went along, the leg calmed down mostly, and I eased into the 7-minute pace I was hoping for. But at about 20 minutes into the race, I started to feel some hunger. Reminded of my useless stockpile of gels at the end of the Tacoma Marathon, I decided to try to keep my hunger at bay and eat at the first sign of hunger. I basically repeated this again every 30 minutes thereafter.

And that was how things looked like it was going to go until around mile 17 or 18.

At that point, my left hamstring started to tense up significantly. to the point where it felt similar to the end of the Seattle Marathon and that at any moment it'd cramp up and I'd be done. So I kept talking to it, trying to calm it down. I was able to maintain a sub 7:15 pace through Mile 20, so I still felt like I had a pretty good chance.

Then, around mile 22, my right leg started feeling tense as well. So now I'm arguing with both legs, trying to maintain as perfect form as possible so as not to induce any muscle imbalance. Additionally, it wasn't just the hamstrings, but the quads as well, so it was quite a party.

Interestingly, I was also eating about every mile or so at this point. My body definitely felt better after taking on some food, but it was interesting to see how I clearly was running out of resources.

In any case, as my pace slipped below 7:15, my watch alarm started beeping, telling me to speed up. I never knew I could despise a watch so deeply. I was reminded roughly every minute that I was at an at-risk pace, but I kept doing the math in my head and assessing my situation. Basically, I knew that, as of Mile 20, I had 50 minutes to run 6.2 miles (as it turns out, it was 6.3 miles) An 8-minute mile would put me over 3:10 by about 25 seconds, so I knew I needed to try to hold off as long as I could.

As I said, I simply tried to maintain form as best as I could, and that meant being careful about everything, from looking at my watch to potholes to curbs. When I made the last big turn onto the main road  and started running along the sidewalk, even going up and down the curbs was frightening.

So after all that, I turned back towards the school with maybe two minutes to 3:10, saw the finish line through the chain-link fence, and knew I had it. I was actually able to up my pace a bit, and I pumped my fist as I ran through the gate and to the finish line, crossing at 3:09:18.

Some takeaways:

  • I am skeptical of eating prior to my next race. I certainly doubt I'll eat as much. I really think I was burning far more sugar than I should have been - and that I was during Seattle - and I think it was because I ate too much prior to the race. I may just eat some sweet potato hash browns or something like that rather than an energy bar.
  • Running a super flat course may have had an unanticipated consequence: extreme repetition. For all of the downsides of hills and such, the Seattle marathon's variety of terrain may have allowed my hamstrings some rest on the downhills (and quads on the uphills) that it they didn't get at all during Skagit. Rather, the constant stress the entire time may have caused the tension that I felt.
  • I am really going to push the base-building for the next four months. I am going to try to build my mileage at MAF to 40-50 miles a week. If I can get to that, I believe I'll be able to drive my MAF pace down so that, by Tacoma next year, I'm running a 7:15 at 145 bpm.
    • I honestly believe that running at 7:15 at 145 bpm is the holy grail for me. To be able to run at that pace means utilizing mostly fat for fuel and keeping the stress on the body very low. That's what I'm working towards for the next 4 months. I'll keep a log of how that's going so you may be able to follow my journey.

So after all that, I qualified, but totally screwed up my calculation. I looked up the timing for the race in 2016 and thought it was the day before my son's birthday, so I said, "Next year.". Turns out, it was 3 days before, so I could have easily made the trip, and now it's too late. Additionally, I found out this week that my Skagit 2015 time doesn't count towards Boston 2017, so I have to run another qualifying time between now and Skagit 2016. So that's funny. But in the end, it was about hitting the qualifying time and less about the trip itself.

The one key question I have to ask now is whether to run Skagit again next year or to run the Tunnel Lite. My friend down the street ran it this year and ran a 2:56(!). I asked him if he had any advice, and he said, "Yeah, run a downhill course." I have a weird pride issue or whatever that makes me feel like that's cheating. But we'll see.

In any case, I hope you enjoyed reading the race report. If you stayed this long, kudos.

-MRC