19) Queen City Marathon, Cumberland, MD, 2nd April 2016

M running Cumberland marathon (21) 02-04-2016My aim for the spring was to run a Boston Qualifying time.  Having struggled with cramp at the end of marathons, I decided to run a couple as warm up to get my body used to the later miles.  Completing the JFK 50 miler on 22nd November, Cayman marathon on 6th December and Hawk Indoor marathon on 20th December had given me confidence in my bodies ability to recover. Also as a marathon maniac a couple of ‘training’ marathons would bump up my totals.

With my wife away with work I had two weekends to dedicate to training (as long as I did some housework in between) and it fitted with an early May goal race marathon.  I entered Reston Marathon on Feb 18th which was April 10th.  Having toyed with the idea of marathons on consecutive weekends, I looked around for one fairly local.  It was a toss up between Charlottesville and Cumberland.  Charlottesville looked a nice course but was bigger, a higher entry fee and more expensive accommodation.  I knew Cumberland as we had stopped off there for something to eat on way down to (and back from) Ironman Kentucky.  A nice town and really good family run restaurant just down the road (which swung it, though I didn’t end up going!) Both courses looked interesting but liked the idea of running along an old railway line up into the hills, and a 10 mile uphill and 10 mile downhill to finish a marathon sounded an interesting challenge.

I finally entered QCM on 17th March, giving 16 days to prepare.  No plan to taper but I did take a day off beforehand and reduce my running mileage the week before.

I decided to drive down Friday after work and booked a hotel near the start.  The initial plan was to leave work early and register the night before but as is often the case, work got in the way.  I bought pasta and a blondie from Little Red Fox on way out of town to eat in hotel room. (and resisted a beer – Having coconut water instead).

I didn’t sleep particularly well as I was kept awake by trains but eventually drifted off. Coffee in the morning and a bagel with pb&j woke me up. I walked over to the start to register.  Ate banana, checked out of the hotel and parked at the race.  I drank a starch drink whilst wandering around the start chatting to people (There was a good community atmosphere) and I walked the finish, hoping I’d still be running at that point …

I had been thinking race strategy and decided I would see how I felt.  It was only a training run but good to experience BQ pace so I -pushed on the flat, ran slower uphill and fast downhill to finish.

After the National anthem, everyone was standing in a group near start with nobody willing to stand at the front on start line.  Chatting to people around me I was able to work out who was doing the Half Marathon and who the full. The gun went off. I had spotted a tight turn and section just after the running track so started quick to get through it. Straight away I was in third place and feeling good along the canal.  I checked my watch a couple of times and was well within BQ pace.  I decided to knock off a bit but push on flat 3m out and back as it would then be 10 miles uphill on the old railway.

There was good support from volunteers at turnaround then encouragement from other runners on the way back to the start.  More good support at start (and photographer which always helps focus on form).  Then start the uphill on the old railway after a couple of road crossings in town.  I was joined by a cyclist from a local club to follow me.  Thankfully he did most of talking as I’d overridden my pre-race plan and decided to push the 10m uphill as it would be any easy 10 back to the start, wouldn’t it?! I was going well and on pace all the way up.  One guy peeled off at the HM mark, leaving me in second place but a long way down on first.  Passing through more aid stations meant more good support.  My strategy was a gel every 30 mins (one which I have now reverted back to) and I was carrying some water but mostly using aid stations.

I passed a sign saying the turnaround was coming up.  A few yards further on there were a couple of cones beside trail.. but no turn-around so I carried on.  My watch said I had passed the turnaround but the guy in front hadn’t come past. It got to half a mile beyond the turn-around and having looked at the map beforehand, knew we’d passed it.  The accompanying cyclist agreed based on his mileage and cycled on to see if he could see anything.  Meanwhile I’d stopped to walk and took on food and drink.  The cyclist came back and we made the decision to turn around, still with no sign of the guy in first place.  Half a mile back down the trail, the cones were now in place, with a marshall to instruct people to turnaround!

I still had good lead on third place but my rhythm had gone from stopping and psychologically I knew that I wouldn’t be getting a BQ or PR.  I was blaming the stop and start but I could feel my legs were starting to tire – Obviously nothing to do with pushing BQ pace 10 miles up hill 😉  I carried on and got back up to pace.  On the way back down it was a good chance to encourage other runners coming up and they were giving good encouragement back.  Around mile 20 I started to struggle with legs feeling like cramp coming so stopped to stretch my calves and carried on at slower pace.

The encouragement from volunteers and support at road crossings helped and overtaking some of the HM runners gave me more encouragement.

At mile 23 (my mile 24) I had to walk to let cramp subside and then it was a mix of running, jogging and walking to get down hill.  I was overtaken at mile 25 by the woman who was on for the course record.

My watch showed 3:16:56 for 26.2m.  Some way off a BQ but only a minute outside my PR, which was encouraging given the course profile and the slowing / stopping at the turnaround.  I managed to jog into the last aid station, took a Gatorade and jogged to the high street then managed to run all the way into a winner banner. I finished in 3:24:44, first male home and 2nd overall, despite running an extra mile.  A big improvement on the previous month at Rock n Roll DC. The race organizer was very apologetic about the mix up at the turnaround and promised it wouldn’t happen next time. It didn’t bother me too much as this wasn’t a goal race and it was lovely countryside to be running in. I think I would have fallen apart before the finish at the pace I had been running, even without the stop.

The guy who had been in first place ran an extra 5 miles and was only a couple of minutes behind me so would have won the race by a long way!!

There were wraps and sandwiches at the finish but first I went to the car whcih I’d manage to park 200m from the finish (the beauty of smaller races!) to get a recovery shake and warm layer.  I had a couple of sandwiches whilst cheering in other runners, and a wander round the town to give my body time to recover before the drive back to DC.

All in all, a great event.  Well organized and a fun friendly atmosphere.  I’d definitely come back.  It’s not a big city marathon but having done a few of those I much prefer the smaller more relaxed races.  It’s great being able to register on race morning, park near the start etc.

Lessons learned….

Know the course.  This is another example where I have benefitted from having studied the map beforehand, meaning I only ran half a mile before turning around.  If I can, I drive / ride / run the course beforehand but for races further afield, studying the course map or using google maps can be a great help.

Adjust pace expectations for terrain (which I’d done beforehand but then decided to ignore)  This is what training runs are for…

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