Dave and I ran the Mardi Gras Marathon on Sunday, February 1 down in New Orleans.
I finally broke the 3:30 barrier setting a PR of 3:29:41. For those of you who are getting older, like me, I wanted to write about how I did it. Maybe some of my methods will help you achieve your race goal.
First, I did the requisite training – a long run of 24-26 miles about a month before the event. For Mardi Gras, I ran a marathon in Springfield, MO five weeks before this race. That was a 5K loop marathon, which was a crazy course that ended up being a slow marathon, but a great training run. Two weeks before the big race, I ran a set of 1 mile repeats. 12 x 1 mile at 7:30 pace. I chose the 7:30 because Jeff Galloway’s first marathon guide recommended doing mile repeats at this pace for a 3:30 goal race.
Second, I chose a flat and fast course. Mardi Gras is extremely flat. The only hill to speak of is a highway overpass between miles 16 and 17. In addition to being flat, it’s at sea level – a boon to those of us who train up here.
Next, I actually tapered a bit for this race. Usually, I never do, but I decided that if this was my goal race, I should act like it and give myself as much rest as I could. I ran shorter and slower in the week before the race.
After that, I chose to run with a pace group on race day. I heard about the groups and decided if I was serious about breaking 3:30, I would run with the group. My plan was to run with them until I blew up or finished. When I made this decision, I was thinking it would likely be the blow up part. But, I decided to go for it.
On race day, I ran with the group. I did the walking at aid stations part to give my legs a break in the rhythm. My pace group leader carried a sign, so it was easy to see him in the crowd and catch up by running a little faster. We had a group of 25-30 people running together in the first half of the race. Some of these were half-marathoners, making the group big in the early going. I had started running in the middle of the group, but decided it was too crowded. I settled in right off the back and cruised along.
We ran the first half in 1:44:58, which was 2 seconds faster than my goal time. Our pace leader then said we were going for a negative split and if we stuck w/ him, we’d meet our goal. I made it my personal mission to stick with this guy – speeding up when he did and slowing down when he did. This method made for a less stressful race because I didn’t have to keep calculating finish times in my head and worry about the pace. I just followed him.
As we got farther into the race I started believing I could do it. My first thoughts of success were at mile 11. After telling myself that was way too early to get excited, I focused on one mile at a time. At 18, with 8 miles to go, I started really believing it was possible. After that, every passing mile made me realize my dream was within reach. I kept thinking about how much longer I’d be running – 7 more miles, a 10k, a 5 miler like my morning run, then a 5k and finally 2, then 1 mile to go. I ignored my tightening quads and calves and kept my eyes riveted on the back of the pace group leader.
Our group kept dwindling – we were down to 6 people at the end, running in a tight little bunch. Our pace leader kept encouraging us – telling us we were doing great and that we could do it.
That last 1.2 miles (I missed the 26 mile mark) was run at 7:48 pace. That saved me 15 seconds of the 17 seconds I gained in the 2nd half of the race and got us the negative split. As we approached the finish line, I saw the clock nearing 3:30. I was thinking – nooooo – I can’t have run this far only to miss out at the end! As I kicked with what little I had left, my muzzy brain remembered the chip timing and wave start and realized I had some time to spare. The pace leader had talked about 30 seconds and I hoped it was true. As I frantically reset my watch & looked at my finish time, I breathed a sigh of relief. It turned out that I had that 30 seconds, and that cushion allowed me to finish just 19 seconds shy of 3:30.
That last mile was what did it. I’m happy I didn’t realize until later how fast we were going.
I honestly didn’t feel that winded compared to other marathons I’ve run and it was the first time I can say I really noticed the lift from running at sea level. After I stopped at the finish, it all hit me and I realized just how tired I was. My heart rate monitor read 188 (my max, I thought) when I clicked at the finish, but somewhere in that last mile I hit 189 – probably when I caught sight of the finish line clock. The 189 was a new max heart rate for me and explained whey I felt like crap when I stopped!
The 3:30 made it all worthwhile. After trying to run that fast for the 13 years I’ve been running marathons, I can finally say that I did it. None to soon, I’ll add. At 47, I’m continuing to slow down. This race was my best shot and a bunch of things came together to make it happen. The biggest of these was the pace group. Although I trained hard and was ready, the pace group provided the structure to slow me down at the start and push me at the end. I’m not a talker when I race, but it was nice listening to the chatter within the group. I highly recommend a pace group if you’re going for a marathon PR!
Finally, thanks for reading my blog about Mardi Gras. Hopefully, some of the things I tried will work for you and will help you achieve your marathon goals.