Two weekends ago, the annual Charlotte Thunder Road Marathon & Amica Insurance Half-Marathon were held, despite the below-freezing temperatures. This was my second time participating in the event in some capacity, however in 2007 I only ran the anchor leg (10 miles) of the Marathon Relay. That year, I specifically remember the starting temperature being 16 degrees, however this year I believe we may have crept up to a warm 20-22 degrees when the opening gun went off.
I finished in 2:15:49, which isn't going to send me up to the Boston Marathon any time soon, however it was fairly consistent with the 10:00-per-mile pace I used during my training sessions. I've got close to eight weeks to train and prep for the Myrtle Beach Half-Marathon in February, so here are a few of the key learnings and experiences I took from the Thunder Road event - hopefully you can either take advantage of my mistakes, or simply use them for comedic value.
1. Don't Over-value Cold Temperatures
Dating back to high school football, I always over-dressed for competing in outdoor cold weather. My philosophy is that I'd rather be so warm that I am nearly sweating underneath, than risk cold muscles. My eight (yes, 8) shirt layers mostly took care of upper body warmth, however there did come a point when it was too restrictive and I felt as if I was running in a bulletproof vest. I learned why some runners value shedding layers after a few miles in, your body will eventually acclimate (to some degree).
As for lower body, I am not one of those runners who can wear shorts in cold weather. This is important to know about yourself, since years ago I got talked out of wearing pants for a cold weather race by a friend at the starting line, and my legs never warmed up until I got back in the car for the drive home.
2. Periodic Outdoor Training Is Valuable
I badly underestimated the value of getting in a few outdoor training runs in the cold. Most of my training was done indoors on upstairs tracks or treadmills - and while pure practice miles are the ultimate goal, there is something to be said for knowing how to navigate a long run outside when the air is cold and sharp to breathe, and the concrete is cold and unforgiving. I only got one outdoor 7-miler in two weeks prior, and that was not enough.
3. Allow for Life's Interruptions
This one is nearly common knowledge but bears repeating, life and work will ALWAYS interrupt your training. I also lost a week to knee soreness and chose rest/recovery over additional mileage. But when sharing stories with others, it seems as though no one enters a race feeling like they had a flawless, trouble-free training schedule.
4. The Correct Shoes are Key
I bought a pair of Asics Gel Kayano 15's with the intention of them being my training and race shoes, but chose incorrectly. They're a great stability shoe, however I over-thought the shopping process and needed to get a pair with more of a cushioning focus (since I'm still about 10-20 pounds heavier than i'd like to be). The Asics began to hurt my feet during training, but it was too late to go for a new pair. I chose to stick with the "nothing new on race day" strategy and went with my trusted Under Armour runners, since they had carried me through my longest training run (10 miles) weeks earlier. They held up fine, but this was definitely the retirement performance for these awesome shoes, as they will now be relegated to cameo appearances during fitness classes. Thanks to some gift money from Santa - I'll probably go after a pair of Nike Zoom Vomero 5's for the Myrtle Beach race, since I got great runs out of a pair four years ago.
5. Peer Support Can Make All The Difference
I have never been a big fan of running in groups. I'm not necessarily against it, I'm just not in-shape enough to run with others without fearing I'm the "Slow Guy" in the group. Plus I need the freedom to be able to stop intermittently for water breaks (or possibly the occaisional dry heave in the bushes when no one is watching). However my group during the race was a major key to me finishing with a somewhat respectable time.
As you know from reading my site - Philip Ciccarello is one of Charlotte's more elite runners. Philip (and one of his friends, Dana) motivated me to meet them before the race and start together at the opening gun. Dana's goal was a 1:50 finish, and though Philip could have probably run that time while carrying a sack of charcoal over his shoulder - he pledged to run with us as to set the pace. It did not take long into the first two miles for me to drift back into the slower pack, but this was to be expected. However true to his word, Philip helped Dana power through a sore hip muscle to finish in 1:49:28 - her new personal record.
Then, when most normal humans would have found a Gatorade and a warm place to sit down, Philip ran back to the Mile 12 marker to pace me through the finish line. His timing was perfect since I was definitely contemplating another walk break along with the others around me. It goes to show that there is definitely something to be said for having a pace group and encouragers along the way.
To the right is a photo of Philip (orange) and myself (blue) with about 800 meters left until the tape, and you can read Philip's excellent race recap here.
Another friend actually Tweeted live during the race (a great concept I wish I had thought of).
As I mentioned, I've got about eight weeks to get ready for the Myrtle Beach Half-Marathon in February. After that, the goals shift back to a combination of reducing my mile time significantly, CrossFit-style metabolic workouts, and hopefully a few 5K races once the weather warms up again.