I'm just back from Italy where I ran the Lake Garda Marathon and spent the best of a week on vacation in what must be one of the most beautiful places in the world. Here’s what I learned from running my first full marathon: Don’t try to predict your time in advance. There is only one way to find out how fast you can run a marathon, and that is to actually run it!
Those of you who read my previous blog entry have seen my feeble efforts to predict the finish time for my first marathon. At the end of those calculations I ended up with a goal of running under 3 hours 15 minutes. Two weeks before the race I did a 27 km trial run, and decided I could not possibly keep the necessary pace. So I dropped my goal to 3:20 – not much, but 10 seconds per km is significant enough.
On race day I felt good. The conditions looked perfect with 15 degrees Celsius, overcast and very little wind, and the course seemed inviting with its flat profile. Lake Garda Marathon was looking to be a perfect place to run my first marathon. Nice scenery and not to “professional” with less than 500 runners entering the marathon distance, mostly Italians but also a few from other countries including 4-5 from Norway.
The start gun fired a couple of minutes behind schedule, and I found a good back to follow; a sturdy guy from Vicenza Runners as far as I could read from his T-shirt. The first 7-8 km went amazingly fast and easy. I was at a 4:20 pace, indicating a finish marginally over 3 hours!
Then the course turned back on itself, and it became obvious that we had started with a tail wind which now had picked up and now became a really nasty head wind. I had no one close behind, so I decided it was important to keep the back of my Vicensa comrade. The problem was that this guy didn’t seem to notice that the wind made any difference. He kept on going in the 4:20 pace, and my pulse inexorably went from pretty OK, to strained, to critically high.
At 14 km I decided I had to change tactics. I had covered a third of the marathon in 4:20 pace, and my brain was beginning to pick up the message that my body was shouting at me; this was much faster than I could sustain. I tried to fall back and find someone at a 4:45 pace, but only partly succeeded. Of course, at this point I was running among the best 10% of the pack, and no one was interested in a lousy 4:45 tempo...
I clocked 1 hour 33 minutes at half point, 21 km. That was only 6 minutes behind my personal best for a half. No celebration though: I was slowly realizing that it was going to be a challenge to even finish this race.
I set my mind on keeping a decent pace up until 28 km. That would mark two thirds of the race completed. My pace started to oscillate between 4:45 and almost 6 minutes when allowing a bio break. I passed 28 and made it through 30 k before I really met The Wall. Much can be said about The Wall. I have no doubt it was a great concert experience, but there is nothing great about it's marathon name brother. With 12 km to go, I was seriously questioning if I could finish the race however much I wanted to.
At 33 km I needed to walk for the first time. At 38 km I was fighting to keep around 7-8 minues per km, and everything was going the wrong way. At the 38 km mark I as number 99, and when I finally finished it was as number 129. I only found some last reserves for the final leg thanks to the 41 km mark being misplaced – probably it was at 40.6 km – fooling me into thinking I was nearly done.
My finish time was 3 hours 35 minutes. If you think you can do better even if you have never run a marathon before then please give it a try...
I think a sub 3:30 marathon would have been quite achievable if I had run a slower on the first half. But I don’t think my calculated 3:15 or better was really realistic. I haven't run very much on hard, flat surfaces. I think terrain and fell running is much less injury prone. Not to mention much more fun. My legs are still hurting one week after the asphalt experience in Lake Garda. And I have already said those same words that have been uttered by so many before: I will never, never ever again run a full marathon again. But let me add, at least not on flat asphalt!