2018 New York Marathon

Today I competed in the 2018 New York Marathon. My unofficial time was 2:50:05. This was quite a bit slower than what I was targeting (ideally sub 2:40, but would have been happy with sub 2:45). It was also one of the most painful marathons I’ve done, with a nine and a half minute positive split (first half: 1:20:20, second half: 1:29:45)! But the atmosphere during the race made it one of the best races I’ve entered.

The journey to New York began on the 27/10/18. I took an unusual route that involved two 13 hour flights to get to NYC. I then flew to Toronto and stayed there until the day before the race. This helped me recover from the 46 hour ordeal (including layovers, customs and the flight to Toronto) and become acclimatized. It also helped that I was able to stay in the comfort of my brother’s (and his girlfriend’s) apartment!

Fast-forward to Saturday, the day before the big race. I have already picked up my race pack from the NYC Marathon expo. I have also mapped out how I am going to get to start line and have packed all of the things I need to take with me, including my breakfast. I have even written down the 5K splits that runners on Strava of the previous year did with a time similar to my target time. I assumed they did even effort (can’t use even pace on an undulating course!).

 

With everything set and planned in advance, there was one thing left to do. With Daylight savings ending in the early hours of Sunday, I decided to manually “wind the clock back” on my iPhone.
Sunday morning. I wake before the alarm sounds and have had a good night’s rest. I head to the subway. I notice that the time on all clocks is an hour later than what mine says. A mild sense of panic overcomes me. But after talking to someone who has done the race before my concerns are put at ease. I can catch the 0700 ferry when I was scheduled for the 0600 one. There should be heaps of time before the race. I arrive at the terminal to board the Staten Island ferry, along with thousands of other runners.
On a fine morning The Staten Island ferry is the way to get to the start line. There are fantastic views of NYC as well as a view of the Statue of Liberty. The ferry ride ends but then there is massive queue for the bus to Fort Wadsworth. The wait for the bus is agonizing. Finally I board the bus. After 15 or so minutes, the bus driver does something odd. He does a three point turn and begins to backtrack for 10 whole minutes! The bus driver was lost! He manages to find the correct route but by then it is a mere 30 minutes until I am meant to be started. Everyone in the bus is flustered.

 

I run to the “Start Villages”.
20 minutes remain!
With my heart racing I search for the bag drop.
15 minutes remain!
I line up to go to the toilet.
10 minutes remain!

 

With a mere 10 minutes before start (instead of the planned 2 hours), there is zero time to have breakfast. I will start this marathon without sustenance!

 

I search for my start corral. I eventually find it but have have to un-apologetically weave through thousands of runners! I finally arrive with minutes to spare. And the race is off!

The first mile is up the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge and is uphill. I reach the first mile marker right on track (6:49), and same with the 5K/10K/15K/20K points. Despite feeling fine, I’ve noticed that my heart rate has been higher than usual. I reason to myself that this is just to do with state of euphoria that I’m in. With most streets packed full of passionate supporters, who wouldn’t be excited?

 

I reach half way at 1:20:20. This is well within my target time and I’m happy with this. But as the 30K marker comes around, I’m feeling worse for wear. Would I soon pay for the higher than usual heart rate? Would I soon pay for the lack of breakfast? Unfortunately, the “wheels fall off” from herein. And the wheels really fall off at 20 miles!

A mere six miles remain to the finish line, but this is a long, long way when your tired and fatigued! I eventually slog it out to the finish line in 2:50:05. While it is not the time I was aiming for, it was certainly an unforgettable race!

Notes to myself:

  • 74.6kg two days before race (76.0kg race weight).
  • Ran in Asics Kayanos 23 (US 11 / UK 10, 340g per shoe). They have had 1200 – 1500 km of running so far.
  • After the two week taper I felt fresh, but hard to tell how well it worked due to pre-race drama and lack of breakfast.
  • First marathon without strapping feet! Did not have any blisters afterwards.
  • Had a gel and a muslie bar before race. Usually I have this and a large serving of oats with brown sugar. Next time have breakfast!
  • Had four gels during the race, and generally a third of a cup of water or Gatorade at each mile aid station. There was no problems holding two gels in each hand.
  • Bring hot water in a thermo flask next time! This would have allowed eating breakfast during transit.
  • The Race Screen app for my watch worked well. Remember to disable auto lap (need to manually lap)!
  • Set my watch to use GPS + Galileo (normally GPS only), as per advice from Garmin at the marathon expo. This worked well – the watch overestimated the distance by 230m (less than usual).
  • I still don’t know where the hour discrepancy came from! Perhaps my iPhone further adjusted the time, despite disabling automatic timezone settings? Darn daylight saving time changes!
  • Consider printing name on singlet! Some runners did this and got an extra boost from bystanders!

Auckland Marathon

Today I ate humble pie. Determined to go sub 2:45, I could only manage 2:54:07 on the day. That’s a huge disparity! Let me explain…

The Auckland Marathon starts at 6am. Despite beginning at the crack of dawn, it was unusually warm this morning at 16C. By the time I finished my run it was 18C, making it the hottest marathon I have run. The air was also uncomfortably “sticky” and estimated to be 90% R.H!

Despite a significantly slower pace and easier course profile, my average heart during the first 10km of the marathon was similar to that of a typical 10km tempo!

Ten kilometres into the run and my heart rate is higher than usual. I’m travelling at 3:50 min/km pace and my heart rate is at 170 bpm – 5 bpm higher than I’d like. My bib is also drenched sweat, no doubt from the hot and humid weather! I reach half way at 1:21:34.

It’s now 26km into the race and I approach the first of two drink stations that I’ve left my own water bottle and energy gel. However, the people manning the station offer no help and I’m lost searching in a sea of nondescript water bottles for my own one! After stopping for a frustrating 10 seconds, I forgo a crucial hydration and energy stop.

Kilometre split comparison between 2016 and 2017 Auckland Marathons.

From this point on, I begin to slow down and start paying for going too hard in the first half. I persevere but the “wheels fall off” at 33km as I begin the slow and painful run back home.

It’s now 36km and I’ve arrived at the last special drink station. This time I yell out my bib number and the course volunteer swiftly finds my drink and energy gel and hands it to me. Much better!

It’s been a long slog but I’ve managed to cross the finish line after several agonizing 4:50 min/km kilometers. This is a pedestrian pace compared to the 3:53 min/km I averaged over the first 29 kilometers! The second half split was 1:32:33, giving me a 11 minute positive split. Ouch!

All was not lost. I’ve come away with some valuable lessons:

  1. Adjust expectations based on current conditions. Hot and especially humid conditions can completely change the course difficulty.
  2. When approaching a “special drink station”, yell out your race number well in advance to the course volunteer so they can fetch your drink for you!
  3. There’s a lot of techniques for breathing while running. In today’s high humidity, I would have been better off breathing “through the mouth”.
  4. Peanuts can give laxative-like effects! By the skin of my teeth I avoided a toilet stop during the race. Never again!
  5. I was happy that I achieved the much vaunted 180 steps per minute over the course of the marathon. A high leg turn over is more energy efficient and reduces the likelihood of over-striding / injury.

Some things to work on:

  • Try breathing “through the mouth” as it is apparently better for running. The only time I should be breathing through the nose is when the air is cold and/or dry.
  • More long runs at marathon pace on profiles similar to that of the course.
  • Consider reducing the number of interval sessions I do with tempo runs or long runs as these are more marathon-specific workouts. Trouble is I actually enjoy the interval sessions!
  • Find out how to “reset” the distance my GPS watch thinks I have run during the race. It always overestimates the distance!
An enjoyable 6x1200m interval session!

Notes to self: I was 77kg on the day and had three gels (8km, 17km, 23km). I missed one gel at 29km and did not feel like eating the one I picked up at 36km. I had either water or sports drink at each of the aid stations. I had flat soda for two of the stations following the mishap at station 29km.

Christchurch Marathon

Today I competed in the 2017 Christchurch Marathon. My official time was 2:49:46. A new personal best!

Despite the poor weather (rainy with cold Southerly winds), I also achieved my most consistent marathon pacing yet. With estimated half splits of 1:23:20 and 1:26:26, I had a positive 3 minute split. I also “hit the wall” much later than usual at this occurred at 38km / 4km from the finish. The flat course definitely helped with this!

Compared to my previous marathon, there was no issue with my nutrition. A colleague of mine recommended that I consume four gels, and that’s what I did!

From the start I took two energy gels with me. One was taken at 10km (GU, 22g CHO, 0mg CAFF) and another at 20km (GU, 22g CHO, 20mg CAFF). My third energy gel (GU, 22g CHO, 20mg CAFF) was attached to a water bottle and was picked up at the 26km aid station. I took my time consuming this gel and ended up finishing it three kilometers later! My last gel (SIS, 22g CHO, 75mg CAFF!) was consumed in a similar fashion to my third one and was picked up at the 36km aid station. However, unlike my previous three energy gels this was an “isotonic gel” and was a lot easier to swallow — especially late in the race! This was the first time I have made use of the “Special Drinks” facility and plan to use it in subsequent marathons.

I also had water or Powerade at each aid station. The night before I had a scrumptious dinner at my Grandparents place consisting of Mac and Cheese, steak casserole, steamed vegetables and an Apple Crumble! The breakfast before the race was porridge and a banana.

Race weight was between 77kg – 78kg. I ran with new running shoes (ASICS GEL Nimbus, 11US) and found the extra half size better for my foot.

Rotorua Marathon

Last weekend I competed in the 2017 Rotorua Marathon. My official time was 2:58:31.

Adamant to improve my personal best on this notoriously tough course, my goal time was 2:50. Things were looking good at the half way mark (1:22:30). With my heart rate below my threshold value (and also below what it was my previous marathon), I was feeling good and had “time in the bank”. Unfortunately, the wheels fell off shortly afterwards at the 28 kilometer mark! With a second half split of 1:36:01 (i.e., a +14 minute split), one could imagine how painful the long slog back to the finish line was!

In hindsight, I was too ambitious on my goals for this race. I have done the Rotorua marathon twice before, and just like this time, I also had a horrible second half (read: greater than 10 minute split)! Ironically, the “wheels” also fell off in a similar fashion to my  2015 Rotorua Marathon):

Although heart rate is a indicator of workload, I suspect a contributing factor to my second half demise was going down the hills too fast. Carelessly racing down hills causes a lot of stress on your knees. Meanwhile going up hills too fast can also strain the body as its easy to go into lactate threshold territory. In this case, lactic acid begins to accumulate faster than the body can convert it back into energy. I’ve felt this on runs before and made sure to take it easy up the hills. Nutrition could have also played a key role, but I had a similar diet before and during the race compared to some of my previous marathons.

Race weight was around 77kg and I took an energy gel at 9.3km and 27.8km. I had a third spare gel which I didn’t use. I also took a drink at each aid station (either water or Powerade).

Back to the drawing board.

Auckland Marathon

A new marathon PB! Yesterday I ran in the 2016 Auckland Marathon, completing the run in 2:53:41!

Although I’m happy to have knocked three minutes off my personal best, I have fallen an agonizing 41 seconds short of my sub 2:53 target!

I was 77kg-78kg on the day, consumed three energy gels throughout the race (0km, 16km, 29km), and had either a cup of water or Powerade at each aid station. I’ve also mastered the “art” of drinking while running!

My preparation for this year’s marathon was to run faster and run less! I decreased the amount of mileage I did by a whopping 45%! From the start of the year to date I have ran 1980km.

Other “interesting” metrics:

  • This year 39% (60/154) runs were on the treadmill. Compare this with last year where 33% (61/183) runs (up until the marathon) were on the treadmill. (I’m not sure whether running on a treadmill this often is good, but it sure was convenient!).
  • In 2016, my [min/mean/max] speed on the road and the treadmill was [9.5/12.8/16.7] and [13.0/16.1/18.8] km/h respectively.

  • Meanwhile in 2015, my [min/mean/max] speed on the road and the treadmill was [9.2/12.4/15.8] and [12.0/14.4/17.6] km/h respectively.

  • This is my sixth marathon. Despite a steady improvement in speed, I’m still a long way from achieving a negative split.

Year Marathon First split Second split Difference Net Time
1 2011 Christchurch 1:31:05 1:50:37 0:19:32 3:21:43
2 2012 Auckland 1:25:16 1:42:58 0:17:42 3:08:15
3 2014 Rotorua 1:28:00 1:43:00 0:15:00 3:10:48
4 2015 Rotorua 1:29:00 1:44:00 0:15:00 3:12:49
5 2015 Auckland 1:26:15 1:30:43 0:04:28 2:56:58
6 2016 Auckland 1:24:17 1:29:23 0:05:06 2:53:41

Compared to my last year’s marathon, my speed at each kilometer segment is similar and generally follows: 1) the profile of the course (dip at 15km is the habour bridge) and 2) fatigue in the last 10km! The bar graph below shows the average speed over each kilometer (2016 = blue with text, red = 2015, 2016-2015 = green).

I have also volunteered myself to be a test subject in a couple of running studies. In addition to getting a free VO2 Max test, I’ll also get some general training advice – heart rate zones, training drills … even how to improve my running technique! A week or so ago I had a VO2 max test and got 58.4mL/kg/min with a maximal oxygen uptake of 4.46L/min. Although this is a reasonable V02 Max score for a “weekend warrior”, it was noted that my running technique has plenty of room for improvement. Stay tuned …

Auckland Marathon

20x30-AUTC2438
Today I competed in the 2015 Auckland Marathon! My official time was 2:56:58 and I was 50th across the finish line! I have conquered the elusive sub 3 marathon!

0415 h. I drag myself out of bed and carry out my usual pre-race ritual – eating a big bowl of rolled oats for breakfast! I’ve stayed the night at a friend’s place. Michael, just like me, set his sights on a sub 3 marathon finish this year. Unfortunately, he has injured himself but is still going to complete the race — a real strength of character! Helen, Michael’s significant other drops us off at the start line in Devonport.

20x30-AAMO00720500 h. We head into a café which has opened early for the 2015 Rugby World Cup (RWC) between New Zealand and Australia! We continue watching the first half of the match outside near the start line, where the organizers have graciously erected a large screen. Hundreds of runners and supporters gather on the lawn. It is a fantastic atmosphere and a great way to start the day — especially as we are in the lead!

0555 h. With one hand on the Ellis Cup, my mind shifts from the RWC to my own future glory — crossing the finish line within three hours! All that stands in my way is a mere 42.2 kilometers at an average speed of 14.07 km/h. Easier said than done? One last check and disaster strikes! I’ve lost one of my energy gels! I’ve got no idea where I lost it and suddenly I’m down to four gels.

Before I know it, the race has just begun!

I ease into the run and join in with a bunch of Wellington Scottish runners. I look at my watch and notice I’m going too fast. I drop off the group and dial my pace back to 4:10. Paranoid about losing another energy gel, I check my gel belt. It is a mere two kilometers into the race, and I’ve lost yet another energy gel! I lament to the runner beside me that my gel belt is going straight into the rubbish after the race!

I’ve got three energy gels for the entire race and can’t afford to lose another one. I remove two of the gels out and hold onto them — firmly — in my hands.

20x30-AAML0072Soon enough I’m running up the Auckland Harbour Bridge. It is one of the joys of the run and is one of the few chances you’re able to cross the bridge on foot! It is a steady climb but is made difficult by a head wind along with drizzle. Fortunately, the rain is brief and I consume one of my gels at the 16 km mark. According to my watch I reach the half marathon mark at 1:25:17 but in reality it is 1:26:15. A good time never the less, but somewhere my watch has overestimated the distance by some 300m. I take my second gel at 26 km.

I make good progress towards the St Heliers turn point and maintain 1 km splits between 3:46 and 4:09 pace, well on track for a sub 3 finish! However, at the 34 km mark, my tired and fatigued legs begin slowing down. I keep glancing at my watch, foolishly hoping that by doing the time goes quicker. By it just adds to the agony; I see my average speed drop and my 1 km splits slow to a 4:35 pace!

20x30-AAMB0074As a few runners I passed earlier in the race overtake me, a familiar face appears. It is my colleague Grant, who has come out to watch the runners on his Sunday bike ride! I ask Grant to accompany me for the remaining seven kilometers for moral support. I also take my third and final gel at 36 km.

Surprisingly, I hold on to 4:40 pace and am at downtown and only a couple of kilometers from the finish! With Grant riding beside me on bike I get a further boost as I pass another familiar face. Michael, who still recovering from surgery, briefly stops for me, does a short ‘dance’ and gives quite vocal words of encouragement. I slog out the last kilometer and complete the race in 2:56:58 (official/mat time of 2:57:04)!

I have conquered the elusive sub 3 marathon!

20x30-AANB0404

I catch my breath at the finish line then head back home. Later that afternoon I doze off for an afternoon nap…

DSCN87672355 h. Hunger wakes me and I’m longing for some greasy food. And why not? I’ve earn it today! Sausage rolls and chicken nuggets have never tasted so good! I reflect on today’s achievement and amuse myself reading of others sub three hour achievements and marathon statistics. I also take stock of my own race:

  • Official time: 2:57:04, net time: 2:56:58
  • 50th across the finish line (out of 1,496 finishers)
  • First half split: 1:26:15, second half split: 1:30:43
  • Race weight: 79kg
  • Average heart rate: 174 bpm
  • Energy gel at 16km, 26km, 35km and Powerade at every station

gps

speed

Rotorua Marathon

Last Saturday I competed in the 51st Rotorua Marathon!

Hoping to improve on my previous attempt, I started the race with the aim of following the three hour pace runner. My goal was a personal best marathon time – I was aiming for under 3:08. Like last time, one of my energy gels fell out of my fuel belt early on in the race. I compensated by having more Powerade early on in the race.

Things were going well at half way – I was on target at 1:29. However, by the 26th kilometer I felt I could no longer keep up with the three hour bunch and decided to go into “damage control”. I was not sure why I did this, as my legs were not too sore and I still had “fuel in the tank”. I tried to maintain 5:00 pace but ended up going slower than that for most of the last 10 kilometers.

I ended up finishing the race with an official time of 3:12:49. This is two minutes slower than last year’s attempt!

Despite not achieving my goal, my mother completed the course making Rotorua her first full marathon! A huge achievement for her – I’m so proud of you!

Running a marathon is always hard. Especially those last 10 kilometers! I’ll continue to strive for a sub three hour marathon, but feel I am still some way off from achieving this.

On the day I was 80.5kg and used my new Asics Kayano 21 running shoes. These were worn in for a month and did not cause me any problems. I took six energy gels but lost one and only consumed four. I took either water or Powerade at the drink stations.

 

Rotorua Marathon!

Last Saturday I competed in the 50th Rotorua Marathon! I finished with a net time was 3:10:48. It was great being part of Rotorua’s Golden Jubilee marathon, along with the 3510 other runners who completed the run. In fact, The Rotorua Marathon is the longest running marathon in Oceania.

The marathon consists of a 42.2km single lap circuit, clockwise around Lake Rotorua. It starts and finishes at the Energy Events Centre, which is in central Rotorua. I have only visited Rotorua once, but one of the first things you notice is its rotten-egg smell. This comes from Rotorua’s sulfur pools. The region’s volcanic activity makes it one of the most distinctive towns in New Zealand. However, it doesn’t take long to get used to this and did not bother me during the race. The race is moderately scenic, but the last 10 or so kilometres are boring as it follows a long straight road.

Much like my last marathon I was hoping to get finish under 3 hours, but once again the sub 3 hour marathon proves to be elusive! The first 28 km or so of the race was going to plan (on track for <3 hours), but progressively my quads and toes became sorer and sorer. They were never sore enough to stop running, but the last 5km consisted of a pedestrian 5:25 pace to the finish line. I taped my toes like I did last marathon, and did not pick up any major blistered from the race.

There are some hills on the course, but nothing too challenging. Having said that, the small hills after the half way mark are deceptively challenging; after running 26km, the last thing you want are hills!

My nutrition consisted of six energy gels as well as taking either a cup of water or electrolytes at each aid station. Early on in the race one of my gels fell out of my running belt and I almost lost a few more. Note to self: Leppin Squeezy Gels can fall out of my running belt! Even five gels seemed adequate and I didn’t run out of energy during the race.

For the next few months I plan to work on ensuring my quads and toes don’t get sore before the end of the race. Ideas that I have include:

  1. Looking at my running technique. Am I putting too much stress on some muscles and not utilizing others?
  2. I should do some leg strengthening exercises.
  3. I should do some core strengthening exercises. I understand that having a strong core helps to maintain a good running form.
  4. Increase the length of some of my longer runs every now and again. My current long runs are 32km.
  5. Integrate some high intensity intervals into my training. My training usually does not consist of high intensity work outs, except the odd 5km trail run.
  6. Drop a kilogram by next race day. I was 81.5kg for this marathon.

Time will tell whether these ideas help in the next marathon…

Auckland Marathon!

Just finished the Auckland marathon with a net time of 3:08:15. Mixed feelings really. Was adamant that I was going to finish under 3 hours, but it wasn’t to be. My excuse for not doing so will be due to a rookie mistake!

A minute before the start I was jogging on the spot and positioned up near the front (where the 3 hour runners line up). I looked down and then my stomach sank. I have forgotten to bring my timing chip! I swiftly moved to the side and jumped the metal barrier. I frantically ran to the race official who could give me a replacement timing tag. By now the race had already started, and due to this ordeal my heart was racing already! The official put on a replacement timing tag and gave me another race number.

I was now at the start line 4 minutes late and ready to race but everyone, including the walkers, had left. For the first 10 km or so my pace was quite high and erratic.  Not ideal. I must have passed 2,000 or so competitors at this stage. Despite feeling amped, I would later pay for this in the second half of the course. Before the half way mark it was a real treat being able to be able to run over the harbour bridge (it is otherwise strictly for motor vehicles).

I was stonking along and reached the half way mark at 1:25. I was happy with this, but a few kms later I really started to feel my legs. I think the constant weaving between people and lack of a consistent pace must have put unnecessary stress on my legs. I realized this and eased back on the throttle. What a shame I thought, especially since the first half of the course was the hard hilly part!

Unsurprisingly it was a struggle to get to the finish line. During the last quarter of the race I had the humbling experience of having 100 or so people who I would initially sped past overtake me. Serves me right for lack of preparation and poor pacing. I sucked it up and gave it all I had in the home run. Since I had to change my race number at the start of race the announcer didn’t call out my name on the loud speaker as I crossed the finish line. This kinda sucked.

The split for the second half was 1:43, some 18 minutes slower (-21%!) than the more difficult first half. But all was not lost. I still completed the run with a respectable time and improved on my previous marathon time. The legs are quite stiff and I think I’m going to be sore for a few days. But today’s lesson was to always put the timing chip on your shoe the day before the race!

Auckland marathon build up

As part of my build up for the 2013 Taupo Ironman, I’ll compete in the 2012 Auckland marathon. This will be my second marathon after the 2011 Christchurch marathon. This time round I’m hoping to improve on my previous effort and with a bit of luck, finish under the magical 3 hour mark. I know it will be tough but I believe I’m capable of doing it. With all the training I’ve done this year, I think I’m a lot more prepared than last time. However, I’m well aware that the Auckland course is more difficult. For one, it is not flat and it is likely to be warmer on the day. It is also not too long enough since I had a major surgery. Stay tuned!