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Race Result

Racer: Aaron Schwartzbard
Race: Philadelphia Marathon
Date: Sunday, November 21, 2004
Location: Philadelphia, PA
Race Type: Run - Marathon
Age Group: Male 25 - 29
Time: 2:37:42
Overall Place: 24 / 6281
Comment: I guess that's what happens when you actually race one of these things.

Race Report:

Date: Thu, 30 Sep 2004
From: aaron
To: Tom

> You mentioned thinking about a fast marathon at Philly.
> Will you be trying for a PR? Do you have a goal time?
> Have you been specifically training for a fast marathon?

Well, I should note that my primary goal is really Hellgate. It just turns out that A) Philly is three weeks out, making it a nice last long speedwork session, and II) my marathon PR (2:44) is old and (I believe) quite soft. Most of my training will be geared toward long running on trails. What I'll do specifically for Philly is I'll make it a point to do a bit of road running, and once or twice a week, I'll do some threshold running (2-5 miles of "as fast as I can go for 2-5 miles"). If I really had a burning desire to do the fastest possible marathon I could do, I'd increase the amount of road running I do, and work some intervals into the schedule. Because of my conflicting goals, I figure that whatever happens at Philly happens. So the goals would be something like:

- run happy, and don't die at the end
- a new PR (even 2:43 would be fine)
- break 2:40
- break 2:37 (6:00 minute pace <- not bloody likely without more specific training)


During the last couple years, I've run several marathons. Of course, there were the marathons in the ironman races. Then there was that one in the blizzard, the day after I ran a 50 km trail race. And the one during the heat wave two days after a 50 mile trail race. People still bring up that marathon I did when I started at the finish line, early in the morning, then ran the entire course in reverse, to get to the starting line in time for the official race start. Oh, and don't forget about the one that was a whole week after the ironman, which was two weeks after that double ironman --- the legs were feeling mighty fresh on THAT day. Yup, lots of marathons in lots of conditions. But what I haven't done is run a marathon that didn't come shortly after some event that would turn the race itself into an afterthought.

The Philadelphia Marathon seemed like a good opportunity to right that wrong. I wasn't totally committed to the idea of running it, since it wasn't my main goal for the season. However, it seemed to work well as a secondary goal. It also worked well for me because I had done it several times in the past (so I knew what to expect) and it's the right size for a fast marathon (few enough people that it's not a circus, but still enough people that I knew I wouldn't be in no-man's land, running by myself).

As I mentioned in an email to a friend a couple months before the race, the only thing in my training that was really specific to marathon running was an occasional fast couple of miles during training (and even THAT was on trails). That plan lasted for exactly two and a half weeks. I don't doubt that it would help my running speed to do something other than comfortable-paced jogging on trails. I just prefer to take my time. Ehh, que sera...

By the start of the race, I was thinking that something in the low-to-mid 2:40s was in the cards. Since I never run with a watch and I don't usually run on roads, I have no idea what kind of pace I run. My estimate came from this line of reasoning: I ran 2:44 a couple years ago, and there's a high probability that I'm running as well as, or better than, I was running then.

So the race started, and we all started jogging down the road. I spent a few seconds in the first mile weaving and bobbing around the several hundred folks who seemed to think that the "5:00 - 6:00 per mile" area was the correct starting position for someone who was planning on running 11 minute miles.

By the third mile, I was starting to settle in. Before the start, I had decided to cruise the first five miles as a warm-up, then decide what to do. The first three miles were all under six minutes, and that felt very comfortable. Based on my pace, and my assessment that the pace felt right for the early miles of a marathon (ie, quite easy), I decided that it would be a reasonable day to aim for 2:37 to break the 6:00 per mile pace. If anything, I found myself holding back. If I weren't so intimately aware of how the last few miles of the race would feel, I would have entertained thoughts of 2:35. But if I had a shot to reach my best case scenario, this was not a time to start getting greedy.

I went on running, using my normal throttle for pacing: breathing. The first 10 miles are four-four. That is, four paces breathing out, four paces breathing in. If I started to feel winded, it meant I needed to slow down. I reached mile 10 in just under an hour --- right on pace. More important, mile 10 is where I switch to a four-three breathing pattern.

Mile 10 is also where I picked up a small pack of people who also seemed to be aiming for 2:37. I had been avoiding running too close to others because I didn't want to get caught up keying my pace off someone else. I knew I'd be stuck in the group for about a mile and a half. But a big downhill that descends from the gardens of Fairmont Park to the Schuylkill River would allow me to gap them by a few dozen meters.

On the flat section along the river, I was able to pick up the pace (while still breathing four-three). I hit the half-way point slightly ahead of schedule, but with the big downhill to the river, that didn't concern me. Before mile 14, the course passes the start/finish area, then we start the six mile out-and-back to Manayunk. I looked forward mile 16, when I would let myself switch to three-three breathing. Between the slightly downhill trend to Manayunk and the extra air, I was feeling good. My legs were starting to feel tired, but I still felt like I was on pace. I passed a couple people on this section. Every time I passed someone, I noticed that the person I was passing would be breathing like I might breath during a 5k (if I ever ran a 5k). I couldn't really go much faster, but I didn't feel like I was running at such a high intensity (I suppose that's what too much ultramarathoning does to you). If I couldn't pass authority, at least I could try to psych out the competition in other ways. Complete sentences work well for that.

*pant* *pant* *pant* "hey," someone might say as I'd inch by.

"Hi there. How are you doing?" I'd respond, and close my mouth while waiting for some answer (which never came).

At one point, while passing one guy who was wrapped up in his own running and chainsaw-like breathing, a spectator on a bike called out some encouragement. I carried on a little conversation with her, thanking her for coming out to cheer, and commenting on how nice a day it was for running.

The mile 20 mile marker is at the turn-around in Manayunk. I passed it just under two hours into the race. I was still on pace, but I'd need to run a 37 minute 10k on a slightly uphill course to finish it. Time to put the head down, elbows out, and to march boldly forward. At mile 22, I just start breathing as much as I need to maintain pace. That means mostly three-two and two-two. I passed that point, and started to chip away at the final four miles. I kept my eyes on the other side of the road, looking for Bob, but even on a good day, I'm no good at picking someone out of a crowd. When I started to get dizzy (either from watching runners going in the other direction, or from running twenty-some miles), I gave up. Sure enough, he picked me out. We gave each other a rousing cheer, and I refocused on the mile or two I had remaining.

The spirit was willing, but the legs were weak. I knew I didn't have much time left when I started to hear my feet slapping the street. Normally, I run pretty quiet. If my feet are slapping the street like that, and if I can't make them quiet, the legs are done. My calves were feeling sore, too. I wasn't getting the push-off I'd need to get in under 2:37. I could feel the pace starting to fade. A few people passed me. I tried to pick it up, then I remembered that there was nothing in my training that should make me think I'd be able to "pick it up" in the last couple miles of a road marathon. Okay, actually, I wasn't in any state to put that much together. Nonetheless, I was unable to pick it up.

My final time was at the high end of 2:37, which gave me an average pace of 6:01. Close... Very close. Overall, I feel that I ran smartly. If I were to run it again, the only change I might make would be to continue to throttle my pace by breathing to mile 24 (rather than to mile 22). That might or might not have made the difference between a 6:01 and a 6:00 pace, but it wouldn't have gotten me to 5:59. I'm also thrilled to have done better than I expected. Yup, so a successful day, donchano.


Marathon, by the numbers...

10 miles: 0:59:47
13.1 miles: 1:18:01
20 miles: 1:59:47
26.2 miles: 2:37:42


1. 5:57 (weaving around bad seeds)
2. 5:45
3. 5:49
4. 5:58
5. 6:03 (slightly uphill)
6. 5:54
7. 5:54
8. 6:09 (big hill)
9. 5:47
10. 6:15 (bigger hill)
11. 5:50
12. 5:47 (big downhill)
13. 5:57
14. 6:03
15. 5:53
16. 6:05
17. 6:00
18. 6:06
19. 6:07
20. 6:08
21. 5:55 (starting the "back" of the "out-and-back")
22. 6:00
23. 6:03
24. 6:14
25. 6:11
26.2. ?:?? (missed the 26 marker, and forgot to stop my watch at the finish)