Wayne’s Analysis of his Marines Corps Marathon PR

1 11 2007

Written by Wayne Itano on 11/1/07

My Marine Corps Marathon Report

To make a long story short, I finished in 4:03:53, which is over an 8 minute PR.  As of today, three days after the race, some of the numbers on the website are still changing.  For example, I have been bumped from 107 to 110 in my age division, out of 638.  I am writing down what I can remember, which may help me the next time I run a marathon.

I felt good going into this race, as the training had been going well, I haven’t had an injury in quite a while, and I have had no major interruptions in training this season.  My overall mileage has been lower than before my previous two marathons, but the quality has been better (more speed and hill work, and somewhat higher speed on the long runs).  I have been following the Fast Forward schedule for the three quality workouts per week, running 3-5 easy miles on three other days, and taking one rest day per week.  I did as much as 50 miles in one week and 140 in a month.  Before my previous two marathons, I did as much as 60 miles in one week and 200 miles in a month.  My times on shorter races, from 1 mile through the half-marathon, have improved over the last year. 

My original goal for this marathon was to break 4 hours.  My previous PR was 4:12:15 (Austin in February 2007).  This was my fourth marathon.  My time at the last Boulder Backroads half marathon (September 2007) was 1:45:55, compared to 1:48:39 on the same course the previous year.  Plugging this year’s half marathon time into the race predictors like the one on http://www.mcmillanrunning.com predicts better than a 3:45 marathon.  Also, since the Backroads is a somewhat hilly course at altitude, a sea-level, mostly flat course like the MCM should be even faster.  By the time of the race, I had come up with three time goals.  The lowest was to PR, the middle one was to break 4 hours, and the highest was to do 3:45, which happens to be the Boston qualifying time for my age.  A 3:45 marathon requires an 8:35 minute per mile average pace, 30 seconds slower than my half-marathon pace of 8:05.  I thought a lot about whether to play it safer with say, a 9 minute mile, which would still allow me to break 4 hours, or to take a risk and try to qualify for Boston.  In the end, I decided to take the risk. (Did ANY of the guys from Fast Forward qualify for Boston?  Several of the women did.  Congrats to them!)

The race course has two long hills in the early part and then is pretty flat, until the very end, where there is a steep uphill to the finish.  The course differs a little from last year, because of construction on Rock Creek Parkway.  Thus, the second hill is over a new area.  I don’t know whether it is harder or easier than the old course.  My race plan was to try to settle down to an 8:30 pace, after the two hills in the first part of the race.  I figured the uphills would be slower than 8:30, but I could make up some time on the downhills.  Also, I expected the first mile or two to be slow anyway because of crowding.  If 8:30 on the flat part felt too hard, I would back off until it felt right.  I carried a pace band with the mile splits required to finish in 3:45. 

As usual, I wore two watches.  The Nike watch was just for manually timing the mile splits and keeping track of total time.  The Polar watch had the heart rate monitor and pace measurement, using an accelerometer (a footpod sensor worn on the shoe).  I find the footpod gives a steadier pace indication than a GPS, though it requires calibration.  I set the Polar watch to autolap each mile, so I could later read off the mile splits and average heart rate for each mile.  At the end, the Polar watch read 26.71 miles, which is within 2% of the actual distance. 

My memories of the race course are kind of indistinct.  Actually, it’s kind of a blur.  I was just focused on the course ahead and trying to keep track of my pace, heart rate, hydration, nutrition, etc.  I was only vaguely aware of the sights and scenery.  I did keep an eye out for my daughter Michelle and her boyfriend Kevin, who had driven up from North Carolina to cheer me on.  They managed to link up with me at least 4 times during the race, or maybe it was 5 or 6.  I saw Scott and Liz 3 times, I think. 

The chart has my splits and heart rate for each mile.  I missed the first mile marker.  This was just as well, since I heard that it was misplaced.  I got the split for that mile from the Polar watch.  The rest of the splits were manually timed using the Nike watch.  Also, I don’t think there was a marker at mile 26.  You can see where the uphill and downhill parts are by their effect on my heart rate.  I found myself averaging faster than 8:30 miles, so around mile 10 I deliberately held back.  However, in retrospect I was still going too fast.  I hit the halfway point in about 1:48:46.  This was an average 8:18 pace and WAY too fast, but it’s hard to hold back when you’re feeling good.  I had actually gotten a couple of minutes ahead of where I needed to be to run 3:45 for the full distance.  However, I still felt pretty good at that point.  At around 18 miles I started feeling some pain in my quads, and I had to struggle a bit to keep up the pace.  At this point I knew I wasn’t going to make 3:45.  By 20 miles I had slowed down a lot, and it looked like even 4 hours would be out of reach.  I started to get passed by those who had started out behind me and had kept to a more sensible pace.  I remember getting passed by Brett, Debbie, and Jean.  I made one stop at a porta-potty where there wasn’t a line.  I can tell that it was around mile 22 because my heart rate is down for that mile. The last 5 miles or so were simple.  I just ran as fast as I could without cramping.  I never had to stop or walk, but I just couldn’t make my legs go any faster.  This is reflected in the downward trend in my heart rate. 


The graph shows different pacing strategies and my actual race.  The solid red line shows the distance versus time required to finish in 3:45 at an even pace (Boston qualifying).  The solid black curve with squares at each mile is my actual race.  Note that this lies higher than the red line for the first part of the race, and then falls below it after mile 20.  The dotted blue line shows a more conservative strategy at a pace just over 9 minutes per mile, finishing in just under 4 hours.  The gentle curvature downward of the black curve shows me “hitting the wall.”  The expression isn’t quite apt, since running into a wall would be painful, but it would only last a second.  This was an hour of intense pain and suffering.  Somehow that gentle curvature doesn’t quite do justice to how this feels.  But as I said, at least I never had to stop or walk, like I did in my first marathon.


My nutrition and hydration went according to plan.  I drank at every water station except the last one.  I usually took Powerade, sometimes water.  I took a total of 4 gels.  I took one salt tablet at around 18 miles.  The tablet contained 180 milligrams of sodium.  A gel contains about 40 milligrams.

I can’t complain much about the weather conditions, especially after hearing about how bad the conditions were at this year’s Chicago and Denver marathons.  The temperature was 50-60, and it didn’t seem too humid.  Some people complained about the wind, but I wasn’t much aware of it.  Actually, it might have helped cool me off.

Lessons:  Obviously, I started out too fast.  If I had gone out at a 9 minute pace, maybe I wouldn’t have hit the wall and would have finished in under 4 hours, feeling relatively good.  However, had I done so, I would have wondered whether I could have BQed.  Now I know that it wasn’t possible for me on that day.  I still want to qualify for Boston some day.  I think that this will take more mileage.  Quality versus quantity only goes so far, even though I was able to PR on significantly less mileage this time.  Maybe more long runs of 22+ miles would help. Or maybe progressive long runs with the last quarter at race pace. Some people recommend running long runs on pavement, since the race will be on pavement.  My long runs were mostly on dirt.  I have been blessedly injury-free for some time, so I think that I can safely increase mileage a bit.  The main problem is likely to be interruptions in training due to travel, etc.

Final lesson: Have enough goals so that you can make at least one of them!

Wayne Itano




One response

7 11 2007

From an unbiased opinion… I think you did great, Dad! We were able to see you at miles 1.5, 5, 9, 13.5, 21, and 23. Unfortunately, due to intense spectator traffic at the metro, we weren’t able to catch your finish. Even though you say you hit a wall at mile 19, a picture we took of you at mile 21 shows you looking great! It was a beautiful day and great to see you and the f4 group do so well! I have a few candid pictures of the f4 group talking after the race, which I will email tonight. Congrats again… and maybe you can push for the outerbanks marathon, which is supposedly one of the flattest marathons around…

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