I haven’t done proper full marathon race yet. My first one was to be the Standard Chartered Marathon in Hong Kong in February 2014. Then by chance I found out that back in my home town Christmas Run over different distances is organized every year. Knowing I will be there at that time I thought that it would be good training run ahead of HK100 (not for the hills, just for the distance). And I also found it quite cool to run my first marathon in Žilina, back in the place where I grew up. So I signed up.
I got quite used to doing 40km training trail runs but this of course was going to be a bit different. First of all this was a road race on pretty much flat course so the pace would be much faster than on my hilly training runs. The other factor would be the weather – hard to tell how the freezing temperatures would affect me over the course of the race (it was -6C when the race started).
The route was simple – 5 and a bit laps on 8km loop around the reservoir. First half of the loop mostly in the shadows with slippery icy patches, the second half on the sun and totally dry asphalt. My plan was to finish somewhere around 3h30mins mark, keeping the pace at about 5mins/km. I decided to run with a bottle of sports drink in hand and get a fresh one after each lap rather than relying on the only refreshment station after end of each lap.
I started a bit faster than my target pace running the first lap somewhere between 4:40-4:50min/km. The quick guys disappeared into the distance and for quite a while I was running on my own keeping a stable distance to few runners ahead of me.
After about half a lap I hooked up with a runner and a speed walker. The runner had a number and was obviosuly running the marathon and at the same time he was pacing the speed walker who was clearly on a training “walk”. This was the first time I had the opportunity to see race walk up close and personal – the technique was really amazing and the pace – well, training walking pace for the guy, a race running pace for me. I ran with these 2 guys till the end of lap 2, then I lost them at the water station, I believe that was as far as the walker went. I finished 2 laps (16km) still keeping the pace under 4:50min/km.
My pace dropped a bit on the lap 3. I was getting a bit tired and my legs stopped responding well to the cold. I was still doing sub 5min/km pace though that still was not that bad. I managed to maintain this pace for the entire lap 3 but towards the end I started to struggle a bit.
2-3 km into the 4th lap my pace dropped again and I was now running at just over 5mins/km. On approximately 30th kilometer, just before half of the lap 4, I begun to feel cramps in my calves. I am used to it already as it happens to me often in later stages of races. And I am slowly improving my cramp management skills. But once they come the pace goes down. My pace dropped initially to about 5:15min/km and for last kilometer of lap 4 I was down to 5:35min/km pace.
The end of lap 4 was a great opportunity to abandon the race and I was really tempted. But after getting this far I knew that few hours later I would regret the decision. I was not injured or anything, just tired and mentally lazy and that should not be the reason to withdraw from the race. I also told myself that surely I will feel even worse during the HK100 and this was a perfect training for my brain. And I so I started the last lap – 8km to go.
I overtook few marathon people while many of those running half marathon were overtaking me on this lap. I managed to keep the pace at about 5:30min/km on the first half of the final lap. But after the turn the cramping got much worse and on the 39th km I was “attacking” 6mins/km pace … I managed to shake the cramps off for a while and picked up the pace bit on final 3km. Pretty much frozen to the bone and with legs hurting I finished my first full marathon at 3:33.30, with average pace 5:02min/km. Happy with the time but not too happy with my pacing. I am not sure if I struggled that much in the later stages because of way too fast first 20-25km or if it was because of the freezing cold. Probably mix of both factors. I will need to pace myself smarter during the Hong Kong Marathon. And perhaps in warmer weather I can target sub 3:30 finish.