Last Sunday, I ran my third marathon. I signed up because my wife, Barb, was keen to run her second. It didn't take long for me to think about how I could beat my best time. There is something addictive about making progress, especially when measurement is in seconds.
I knew I had to run differently if I wanted to beat my last time of 4 hours, 8 minutes and 12 seconds - my goal was under 4 hours. My first two marathons were plagued with leg cramps and lost time seized up in thesecond half. Training harder would have made things worse.
My plan was to run smarter with a lighter stride to save my legs, to run continuously for the first half and save my breaks for when I needed them, and to better fuel and rest before the race.
The race started well and I exceeded my half-time goal of 1 hour and 50 minutes by 40 seconds (every second counts). Another good sign was that I had no cramping. Things were going as planned.
At the 15 mile mark, I got my first tingle in my left leg. It happened 6 miles after it did in past marathons, which was a good omen, but I knew it was only a matter of time before it would get worse. I started taking 60 second breaks to stretch and walk. It felt counterproductive knowing the clock was ticking but I knew from past experience what would happen if I didn't.
By 20 miles, both legs were intermittently tightening but I could still run. By 22 miles I felt like I had to walk. Slowing down, however, made them cramp (and hurt) more. I realized that to avoid more intense pain and seizing I had to run on medium pained legs. It was a strange feeling knowing that staying in pain would save me being in greater pain.
At 24 miles, my right leg locked. I knew that if I stopped moving it would spasm so I kept running with one normal leg bending and the other tapping on the ground like a broomstick. I heard one onlooker say, "Get it going, get it going!" Within 30 seconds I was back to running with medium pain - a relief.
With 500 metres to go and the finish line in sight, I though to myself, savour this moment, it might be your last marathon. I did my best to look around at the wonderfully supportive crowd. I even managed to sprint for the last 50 metres, something I couldn't do in my first two races.
I crossed the line at the 4 hour, 6 minute and 44 second mark; I had knocked 90 seconds off of my personal best time. I didn't reach my goal but I made significant progress.
After recovering for a few hours, I assessed the changes I had made to get a better result. Here is what I wrote down:
- Changing my stride - it helped preserve my legs but it didn't eliminate my cramping problem
- Running continuously versus intervals - It was more fun, not sure if it helped me
- Limiting weekly training miles - I didn't get injured prior to the marathon, but I probably cut too many miles
- Running more preparation races - this helped with first half speed
- Seeing a physiotherapist - hard to tell
- Managing what I eat - who knows?
- Getting more rest - didn't happen