Last Sunday, I ran my third marathon. I signed up because my wife, Barb, was keen to run her second. It didn’t take long for me to think about how I could beat my best time. There is something addictive about making progress, especially when measurement is in seconds.
I knew I had to run differently if I wanted to beat my last time of 4 hours, 8 minutes and 12 seconds – my goal was under 4 hours. My first two marathons were plagued with leg cramps and lost time seized up in thesecond half. Training harder would have made things worse.
My plan was to run smarter with a lighter stride to save my legs, to run continuously for the first half and save my breaks for when I needed them, and to better fuel and rest before the race.
The race started well and I exceeded my half-time goal of 1 hour and 50 minutes by 40 seconds (every second counts). Another good sign was that I had no cramping. Things were going as planned.
At the 15 mile mark, I got my first tingle in my left leg. It happened 6 miles after it did in past marathons, which was a good omen, but I knew it was only a matter of time before it would get worse. I started taking 60 second breaks to stretch and walk. It felt counterproductive knowing the clock was ticking but I knew from past experience what would happen if I didn’t.
By 20 miles, both legs were intermittently tightening but I could still run. By 22 miles I felt like I had to walk. Slowing down, however, made them cramp (and hurt) more. I realized that to avoid more intense pain and seizing I had to run on medium pained legs. It was a strange feeling knowing that staying in pain would save me being in greater pain.
At 24 miles, my right leg locked. I knew that if I stopped moving it would spasm so I kept running with one normal leg bending and the other tapping on the ground like a broomstick. I heard one onlooker say, “Get it going, get it going!” Within 30 seconds I was back to running with medium pain – a relief.
With 500 metres to go and the finish line in sight, I though to myself, savour this moment, it might be your last marathon. I did my best to look around at the wonderfully supportive crowd. I even managed to sprint for the last 50 metres, something I couldn’t do in my first two races.
I crossed the line at the 4 hour, 6 minute and 44 second mark; I had knocked 90 seconds off of my personal best time. I didn’t reach my goal but I made significant progress.
After recovering for a few hours, I assessed the changes I had made to get a better result. Here is what I wrote down:
- Changing my stride – it helped preserve my legs but it didn’t eliminate my cramping problem
- Running continuously versus intervals – It was more fun, not sure if it helped me
- Limiting weekly training miles – I didn’t get injured prior to the marathon, but I probably cut too many miles
- Running more preparation races – this helped with first half speed
- Seeing a physiotherapist – hard to tell
- Managing what I eat – who knows?
- Getting more rest – didn’t happen
Barb achieved a personal best too (16 minutes!). It took us about 20 minutes before we committed to running this race again next year. There are more changes to come and many seconds to be won.