Let’s face it, we all love to race. The excitement and energy of race day makes all those early mornings and brutal track workouts worth it. Some of us chase seconds, while others horde race bling, whatever your motivation may be it’s wise to have a plan for your year. An important part of my job as a coach is to help athletes plan for success; this starts by discussing the season’s goals and working with them to creating a roadmap for the year. This week I have asked Prana Endurance athlete Shira Catlin to provide her thoughts on her training and how we worked together to prioritize her races. Her season included an Ironman, a marathon, and less than a week later, an ultra (50 miles). With this type of schedule she had to train smart, not only to avoid injury, but also to avoid overtraining.
Prepping for Marine Corp Marathon consisted of IronMan training and the broader goal of running a 50 mile race less than a week after Marine Corp. Training wise it was a tough for me to think about running a marathon and not trying to PR but thanks to my coach Frank I realized it was ultimately the best decision to use Marine Corp as an enjoyable experience- one to try to practice negative splits and enjoy the vibrant city and epic spectators.
I had a choice at the start of the race to start with the 4:10 pacer or the 4:15 pacer. I knew that the 5 minute difference in these pace groups would have a substantial impact on my ability to run a negative split. I have been working on starting out slow and being conservative but even starting with a 4:10 pacer could even slightly encourage me to run a little too fast at the beginning. I chose to start with the 4:15 pacer and am glad I did. The pacer was in good spirits and reiterated multiple times that we should not try to zig-zag at the start around people ahead of us. With approximately 30,000 runners this race was substantially larger than any event I had participated in; and the crowds at the start reflected that. It was hard for me not to zig-zag around people as it felt like I was merely walking for the first mile. This was the most challenging part of the race, being conservative and thinking about the larger picture of a negative split race.
Though the pacer was generally sticking with the 9:43 pace the congestion in the first few miles made it challenging, my watch was showing closer to 10 minute miles. I fueled with gatorade and water at each aid station and took a Gu every 5 miles, every other 5 miles I would take a caffeinated gu. I used this method because I had been training with Gu and knew my body would be happy with the choice.
At mile 13 I knew it was a good time to gradually pick the pace up. I had inadvertently been leapfrogging with the 9:15 pacer for a few miles because of aid stations and crowds so I new that I could maintain a pace without having a group to hold me accountable. As I picked the pace up the heat also became a larger factor in my performance. I don’t run well in the heat. As my Strava shows this summer was a real struggle, anything above 65/70 degrees and my body would fall apart. The forecast predicted 80 degrees around the finishing time and Marine Corp had sent out a forewarning to runners giving a heads up about the uncharacteristically high temperatures for this race. I began to feel the heat more and began grabbing gatorade and water at the aid stations to supplement my nutrition and to stay hydrated. I’m grateful for one aid station that was handing out a limited supply of mountain dew, the little bit of extra caffeine helped keep me going.
Once I was in the vicinity of the Pentagon the struggle bus around me became clear. Many runners were doing a hobble walk, it was clear that the sun was affecting many athletes. In this moment I was incredibly grateful for my conservative start. I still felt like I had a substantial fuel. In Crystal City there was a fantastic water mister set up which was a nice brief relief from the heat.
The final stretch going down Jefferson Davis Highway felt strong and heavy. My legs and body were working together best they could to pick the pace up just a little bit more to have a solid finish.
That final hill was rough. Many runners were walking and in large packs so making it up the hill quickly wasn’t any easy option so I wiggled my way through with many “excuse me, thank you’s.
In Shira’s recap of the Marine Corps Marathon not only can you see her passion and excitement for the sport, but also how to run a perfect negative split race. Going into a race with a strategy and sticking to it takes most of us years to master. In her race, not only was Shira able to hold back and conserve energy, she was smart in recognizing factors which were out of her control (the heat) and adjust as she needed. Her accomplishments were even recognized by Strava who provided a free pair of New Balance sneakers for running a marathon on negative splits. In 2017 Shira has set her goals to complete another Ironman and will test her limits with a 100 mile foot race. To your success Shira!! Look forward to working with you in 2017.