What I Learned from the “7 Bridges Marathon”

Wow.  There is so much to say about this race.

I did  a lot of thinking and analysis before this race.  My previous PR was 3:55:59.  In that race, I began to slow down at about mile 17.  I had run low on energy and electrolytes.  I was also low on water, but I did not understand that at the time.  What I did believe was that I could have run 10 or 15 minutes faster if I had a better nutrition/hydration plan.

The goal I set for the 7 Bridges marathon was to demolish the old PR through what I had learned.  In training, I practiced drinking and nutrition.  I had my fuel belt loaded with Gatorade Pro to drink along the way.  I also dropped by water fountains on the long runs to add more.  I practiced with different gels and foods until I finally settled on Power Gels.  After months of preparation, I believed I had the right amount of everything prepared.

As for time, my training runs had gotten much faster in the month before the race.  I actually ran a 5:21 mile in the middle of a short run.  I managed to hold a 7 minute pace for several short runs.  I had not pushed it so much on the long runs.  I knew that I could hold an 8 minute mile pace for a very long way, but I had not tried it for 20 miles.

Two weeks out, I knew that I had a small chance of qualifying for Boston.  At my age, this would require a 3:25:00 to qualify for the 45-49 age group in the 2013 race.  This was my pie-in-the-sky-lofty goal.  If the wind was at my back the whole way AND I actually had the right nutrition/hydration plan, then I could reach this lofty goal.

Not wanting to be too unrealistic, I set one other goal.  My I-would-be-happy-with-this goal was anything in the 3:30’s.  Anything slower than that would be a dissappointment.  I had already finished 2 marathons.  I already went sub-4.  I was getting faster.  I needed to at least reach the 3:30’s.

My race plan:

Hydration: My fuel belt was loaded with Gatorade Pro & I would drink water periodically along the way.

Nutrition:  I had 5 packets of Power Gel with caffeine.  The calories in the Gatorade added to this.

Electrolytes:  The Gatorade and Power Gel both had electrolytes.  I also took Endurolytes before the race.

Pace:   I actually wrote the following info on the palm of my left hand in permanent marker…

5      0 :35
10   1:10
15   1:45
20   2:20

I did not actually plan to run 7 minute miles, but I wanted to run faster than 8 minute miles.  For me, it was easier to do the math this way.  My intention was to run as close to that time schedule as possible in the first half and then see how well I could hang on in the second half.  If I could be anywhere close in the first part, that meant I could ease up and still have a shot at the lofty goal.

The actual race:

I followed the nutrition/hydration plan very closely.  I paced the Gatorade & gels throughout and had a few drinks of water periodically.  If anything, I drank a little more water than I had planned.

The pace plan started out very well.  I sprinted out a little fast, but then stopped to stretch for a few seconds.  When I rejoined the race, I fell into a steady pace that was just right.  In the first half of the marathon, I ranged from 7 minutes per mile to 7:39.  My time at the half-way point was about 1:37, which is about a 7:24 pace.

I held that for a little while longer but pacing became more difficult.  It was a small race and there were not many people to pay attention to while I ran.  I have a $12 watch from Walmart, so I can’t really tell what my pace is until I pass another mile marker.

By the time I reached the 16th mile marker, a lot of my get-up-and-go had got-up-and-went.  I still maintained around an 8 minute mile pace.  At this point, I was still way ahead of pace to meet my lofty end goal.  In miles 16 to 21, I just sort of floated along the Chattanooga Riverwalk.  This was a really cool scenic area that you should visit some time.  I did not have the same intense focus as before, but I kept checking my watch and my pace was still going to get me there in plenty of time… or so I thought.

By the time I hit the 23 mile marker, I was just happy to still be running.  I knew I had slipped to a 9 minute pace, but I had gained so much time earlier, that I still thought I would be good.  So here it comes…if I can run the last two miles at a 9:30 pace, I would meet my lofty goal and qualify for Boston.  Unfortunately, the gas tank hit absolute zero.  I was draggin myself through the last mile.

As I crossed the seventh bridge, I was 3:23 into the race with less than 1/2 mile to go.  I got most of the way across and I could see the finish line down below me when it hit me.  Every muscle in my legs tried to cramp at the same time.  I stopped, relaxed as much as I could, and mustered the strength and composure to jog the last bit.

I realized that I had missed my lofty goal, but I was still exceeding my happy goal.  Given that, it was easier to relax and enjoy the scenery of downtown Chattanooga.  Once again, I saw the smiles on the faces of the people cheering.  I saw the cool little shops that I passed along the riverfront.  As I turned to enter the park for my victory lap, I saw various runners and families hanging out in the park.

I smiled as I approached the finish line.  I stopped across the line and gave a Hulk Hogan pose.  I went to the snack area and munched and drank.

I was a little light-headed.  I was very tired.  I thanked the volunteers.  I went  for some extra fluids.  I was dehydrated and my blood sugar was a little low.

What happened to my plan?  I followed it.  It almost worked as well as I had planned, but I fell short by about a liter of fluid and several hundred calories.

Post-Race Feelings:

At first, I was angry and generally upset about missing the cut for Boston.  I knew I had run really well.  I knew that I am still basically a rookie because it is only my 3rd full marathon.  Still, I was mad at myself for not getting it just right.  It was difficult to stay mad at myself, however, as I reported to my friends and fellow runners that I had beaten my previous PR by almost half an hour.  That rocks!

The results were slow in coming, but I finally heard…

Time:  3:27:27
Place:  21st out of 261 finishers
40-44 Age Group:  5th place

Here are some conclusions that I have come to:

I have been allowing the Boston Athletic Association define excellence.  Qualifying for Boston was the end-all of my existence as a runner.  I had to give up that standard and realize… I had a great race when you take everything into account.  I am excellent.

There were a few other minor things learned from this experience but here are the big 2…

My new guideline:

Excellence as a runner is defined by you. You set goals. As you reach them, you excel. The more it happens, the more excellent you are.
My new hydration/nutrition strategy:
Get so much faster than “goal pace” that frequent breaks for consumption (or elimination) will be of no concern.

.

I believe that with these 2 new guidelines in place, I will be able to enjoy the races more and continue to push & excel.

I have set new goals for myself.  As I seek them, I am determined that I will continue finding the joy in running while training AND racing.

Happy Running!

 

 

  1. Great race, and excellent perspective. Looking forward to what you have in store in the future!

  2. Fantastic race– you did a tremendous job, and I’d say you are talented enough to qualify for Boston. I also need a 3:25 to qualify, hoping to do it at Richmond. You might consider investing in a GPS Trainer — you can get a Garmin 205 for about $140 on Amazon. I’d also suggest trying for an even pace throughout the race. I think if you had kept a consistent pace throughout you would have made it.

    I will be shooting for 7:40 per mile, which will give me a cushion and computes out to a time of 3:21.

    I ran the half-marathon and very much enjoyed it — my write up is here.

    Good luck to you in the future. Maybe I’ll see you in Boston next year!

    • Hi Mark and Dave: Just found your post. I am interested in both yours and his training plan to see what I can use. We all have similar goals, but you two have more marathons than I. I am training for my second this March, after bombing my first. During my training run I slow after 10 miles, so trying to learn how to improve.

      Good Luck to both of you as you continue excelling. Congrats on past accomplishments. Having run a marathon I know what you have done is no easy task.

  3. Great race! If Boston is your goal, you will reach it some day. Ultimately, you scored big in this race by coming to the conclusion that we are our own barometer of excellence.

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