As a coach, I always tell my athletes that when you finish a race, you should take a moment and jot down some things that went right and things that went wrong. Best to learn from your mistakes, better to learn from others.
I went into my first double marathon weekend back in January, but Mother Nature had other plans and iced over Jackson, MS canceling that marathon. It was disappointing but I also learned that it is best to travel in 2 days before an event so you are already in the city and not stressing over travel delays the day before a big event, like 2 marathons in 1 weekend. Won’t make that mistake again.
With that in mind I flew into DC on Thu and arranged to stay with a good friend, Jaco. His hospitality was great. His suggestion to do packet pick-up on Thu night was spot on. Friday was spent relaxing (off my feet) doing work and hydrating Great to have a job that really only requires internet connection and my laptop.
Saturday morning was a huge cluster. No reason to get into all the things that went wrong prior to the race because they were outside my control. Much more stressful than it should have been since I had paid for the VIP experience.
I ran with the 3:30 pace group and used them to keep me from going too fast. It was fun and yes it was easy. I pulled away from them at around 21 miles and finished about 90 seconds ahead of the group (which at that point was about 3-4). I waited at the finish line and thanked the pace leader. He wished me luck for the next day.
Believe it or not, DC was my 51st marathon and the only one that I have run with negative splits.
Things that I learned and will repeat. When it is below freezing my hands get cold (my hands get cold below 50 degrees), but I grabbed some hand warmers at the VIP desk and tucked them into the mitten cover over my fingers. Amazing!! In Mobile, I was constantly messing with my gloves trying to keep them warm, but not in DC. I used them again in Maryland. Best 74 cent investment.
After the race, I ate and drank as much as I could to refuel. I will say that Sunday morning I was pretty hungry still.
I have learned that recovery compression clothing is critical. I put on my compression tights and even slept in them (even though they are a tad warm). I woke up feeling amazing for running a marathon and nothing was sore. Only spot was a very small blister on my second smallest toe. I will say that leading up to the double that was my biggest concern… blisters on Saturday. It is also why I made the shoe choice that I did. Yes an older pair that I had rebuilt the heel a little using Shoe Goo. They didn’t fail me.
What did I learn from Sunday’s race? No matter how good you feel, you still ran a marathon the day before. I ran how I felt and that meant that I ran faster than I should have (faster than the day before) through 10 miles. Miles 10 to 20 were a suffer fest and I wallowed in it. Not a good thing. When I say I wallowed, I was doing calculations of how slow I could go and still break 4 miles (my ultimate goal, so I could still qualify for the 50sub4 club). That isn’t what I should have been focusing on. I will remember that next time.
Things that made Sunday harder than Saturday. Obviously doing a marathon the day before. But things I didn’t anticipate. Bitter cold both days (below freezing for both marathons), which I was dressed for. Complete sunshine on Saturday and even though it was colder temperature-wise, it felt warmer. Sunday it was cloud covered, which is great during a warm marathon, but not when it is cold. It was completely sunny for Mobile too. I am not sure what happened first at around mile 20, I got out of my funk or the sun came out. I do remember thinking how good the sun felt on my black tights and warmed my legs. It remained sunny the last 10k of my race and the solar energy definitely helped. Sunshine… an amazing thing to lift your spirits when it is cold. Lesson learned and only because all 3 marathons this year have been in sub-freezing temps. Only one Austin marathon was close to that.
The other thing that made it tougher on Sunday than Saturday was the fact that 26,000 people ran the half (22,000) and full (4,000) and Sunday there were 73 finishers, so you run alone. I wish the races were switched because the crowd support for the second and energy around all of those people would have helped. Other people’s energy is crucial. Bigger races mean more energy.
The biggest thing I wasn’t prepared for was the mental tiredness, which makes complete sense. On Saturday I was focused for 3:30 minutes on maintaining a pace, getting fluids, not tripping in the countless number of potholes, enjoying the views of historic DC, and trying not to think about Sunday. I kept using the coach’s cliché of focus on today’s game. On Sunday when I pulled myself together and picked up the pace again at mile 20, physically, there was nothing wrong. Each mile got quicker. My muscles didn’t give out even though I pushed them harder than the previous mile. I finished with a closing mile of 7:32 and a final 02 in 1:23 (passing 2 people, who as it turned out were in my age group). You are so much stronger than you will ever know.
Above all, I am very happy with the outcome because it was something I had never done before and I succeeded on my first try. I had 3 goals going into the race… sub 3:35 for both, sub 4 for both, or just finish them both. I ran 3:28:36 on Saturday and 3:35:23 on Sunday.
Would I do it again? Obviously yes, mainly to get 2 states completed within the same weekend. I would examine the course and size of the field for both, definitely to gauge what I was getting myself into given my new found knowledge.
Big thanks to Marc Bergman and Ed Childress who I had consulted with about back-to-back marathon weekends.
Bill has been racing since 1974 and competes in distances from 800m to ultra-marathons. He has been coaching since 1981 and is currently coaching with No Excuses Running and Rogue Running Cedar Park. He is President of the non-profit Georgetown Running Club.