Monday, 20 May 2013

CPH Marathon 2013

Monday, May 20, 2013
So the day for the first "real" race of 2013 finally came, the Copenhagen Marathon.  

3 days before:
I started carboloading already Thursday (3 days before race start), not by taking more calories but simply trying to eat more carbohydrate filled food, e.g. white bread. The 2 days before the race I tried to take in more calories but I find it really difficult to eat so much. In the end I just focused on having loads of snacks (e.g. slice of bread, a pancake, etc.)

The day before:
I had chosen to stay at a hotel close to the start line the evening before, in order for me not to focus on getting there on race day. That enabled me and my girlfriend to walk a bit around in the city and enjoy the 25 degrees and sun! (Great way to prepare yourself for running 42 km, walking around in the heat).
Gumball 3000 was in town so we walked by and enjoyed the nice cars - lots of nice luxury cars!!!

Gumball cars - lots of nice cars! (The sign says "Parking only for electrical cars" - I would not mind an electrical car like that!)
In the evening I had reserved a table at a restaurant called Famo 51, as it was walking distance from the hotel and should be rather good. Wauv what a nice place! Definately something I can recommend.
The hotel we stayed at had views over the Tivoli Gardens and in the distance we could see the start/finish area on Islands Brygge - great place to stay the night before. We could also see Rådhuspladsen (city square in Copenhagen) where there was a big party going on when we went to bed Saturday night. The reason for this being the Eurovision Songcontest - which Denmark actually ended up winning. A bit annoying be so "in the center of all things" and then having to go to bed early! But the day after I was glad I did so.
The view from our room.

 Race day:
Before the race:
I got up at 6:40 AM (roughly 3 hours before race start), which was later than I had hoped for, but breakfast was not served before 7 AM - one of the draw backs of being at a hotel instead of at home.
I got to the breakfast restaurant where they were running around trying to get everything ready, when they heard I was going to run the marathon they got a bit excited on my behalf and got the usual "you are not a sane person" look on their face which I am used to see on people who have not run a marathon (and even on some who have actually run one! :-)
When leaving I stopped by the waiters to say thanks and farewell, to which one of them responded "good luck in the marathon, kill 'em all!" Rather funny way of saying good luck - but at least enthusiastic! :-)
Breakfast consisted of:
1 Banana
0.5 Orange
1.5 dl oat with milk and raisins
1 breadroll with chocolate
2 x double espresso - to get the the whole machinery up and running
 A bit on the "heavy side" considering this was only 2.5 hour before race start! I was a bit nervous I would not have enough time to digest it all, however I knew from my training runs in the weekends that I usually prefer to run within 2-3 hours after breakfast as it means my tank is not empty.

Breakfast - felt strange to eat so simple breakfast at such a nice hotel.

The start area:
The start area was well organized and people were very good at getting into the correct "start areas". CPH Marathon does not use start groups but have "pacers" indicating a predicted finish time and you then just line up behind the one matching your expectations.
I had planned to try for a finish around 3:30 (dependent of the weather and the actual form of the day) so I lined up behind the 3:30 balloon to keep the 3:30 pace until the half marathon marker and then assess if I should change the pace.
As mentioned earlier I would be following a scientific fuelling strategy, so I would be having two gels 20 min. before the race and then 9 (!!!) gels during the race. I was fearing for how my stomach would react, even though I had tried the strategy in the latest half-marathon it would be a lot more gels to throw down this time around.
To avoid getting too tense and to settle my nerves I had a small chat with some guys from Belgium and afterwards with a lady from Sparta (the running club organizing the marathon). For me the best tool for staying calm those 15 minutes before race start is small talking with a few of the strangers around you, takes my mind away from the clock and ensures I start my race in a calm and steady state.

The start:
We started to the tune of "Warrior's call" by danish rock band Volbeat ( Great song to get you started!! Only problem was the volume was not high enough in my view, these kind of songs deserves to be played at LOUD volume!! :-) Still gave a great sense of energy and the start went smooth without the usual "start/stop" issues.

0-5 km (split 25:12 - pace 5:03)
The first km in a race like this is all about finding a steady rythm, unfortunately the route pretty quickly had a few tight corners and narrow gaps causing some of the dreaded "start/stop" sections, this was mainly between km 2 and 5, however was really frustrating for me as I prefer to keep a steady pace and simply let me mind slip into it.
To avoid getting to frustrated I focused on ensuring my breathing was effortless. If you start a marathon in a pace higher than you can sustain you will start building acid in your legs and you will most definately hit the wall later in the race. For me, the best way to gauge this is by focusing on my breathing, if it is not effortless I am running to fast.

5-10 km (split 24:30 - pace: 4:54)
At around 5 km (25 minutes after the start) the rain started falling heavily and we were all soaked after a few minutes. A few of the runners around me were cursing and getting really annoyed with the rain however I tried not to focus on them and instead kept my focus on my pace and breathing. It is difficult to explain but the best thing for me in a marathon is the meditative state that I am entering, where I focus mainly on my body, breathing, pace and running form.
I got into that "meditative zone" in this section as the pace settled and got into a nice rythm.

10-15 km (split 25:14 - pace: 5:03)
My breathing was still feeling effortless however my legs were already starting to feel a bit weird so I started considering my options; Should I keep my pace high and try my luck or fall back a bit taking it more safely? I decided to keep my pace for now and then assess the situation later as originally planned. It was clear that the rain was cooling down my muscles and it was taking its toll on my energy reserves. I kept my pace around the 5 minute per km and crossed my fingers hoping my muscles would warm up.

15-20 km (split 25:19 - pace 5:04)
This section was a mix of running and jumping, trying to avoid the big water puddles. The pace started to feel better and my legs seemed to be accepting the rhythm. Running through the "Vesterbro" section of the course was the most positive surprise for me as I had not expected that many spectators to be out in this section. I was wrong though and I most say it was one of the most pleasant sections of the course. Also at this section my girlfriend met me for the second time on the course, she was cheering from the sideline - trying to stay dry under her umbrella.

20-25 km (split 25:28 - pace 5:05)
The big up and down section.
Crossing the half-marathon marker in a split time of 1:45:42 felt good, I knew I would have trouble making a negative split and thereby breaking the 3:30 barrier however I also felt I would have no problem loosing a maximum of 30 seconds per km on the homestretch, meaning I would be breaking the 3:40 barrier which was my original goal.
The euphoria quickly escapped my body though, as the section between 22 and 24 km was out at "Kalvebod brygge" (just after the shopping mall "Fisketorvet"), a deserted place with no spectators. Furthermore there were a bit of head wind. When making it down to this stretch I lost focus for a second and suddenly found myself alone. Of course you are never truly alone in a big marathon like this, however I had about 15-25 meters up to nearest people and the ones I had just overtaken was not running at my pace so I could not simply slow down and follow them. This meant I was left with battling the head wind and my own demons completely alone. This section was one of the worst of the entire race and I was annoyed with myself for being so reckless and not staying focused when making it down the ramp to "Kalvebod brygge". I ended up loosing about 25 seconds on that section but it felt like minutes when I was in it!
Luckily there was a big salsa band under the bridge at the 24 km mark, with loads of spectators (shielded from the rain by the bridge) and lovely salsa ladies dancing for us as well. This really got my mood up again and I started thinking positively again - thank you lovely salsa ladies and spectators!

25-30 km (split 26:05 - pace 5:13)
The energy from the salsa music (and ladies) quickly escaped my body though when entering the next section. Once again the rain had gotten the better of the spectators and we were running across wet cobble stone without any spectators along the route. This section was partially out by the harbour side and once again we had the headwind. I really think the route planners could have done a better job as some of these "tough" sections were placed in the 2nd part of the race. But most likely there would have been plenty of people here along the harbour and in the parks if the weather had been better.
Around 27 km I started feeling a small cramp mobilizing in my left calf and a pain was building in the lower part of my right thigh. I knew a sub 3:30 time in this race was impossible given the heavy and cold legs so I decided to adjust my pace slightly to avoid injury and to avoid hitting the wall. However I also knew that I still had 15 km home, so focus had to be on staying positive and continue to break the race into small chunks. Pace got re-adjusted to be between 5:00 and 5:10 per km.

30-35 km (split 26:36 - pace 5:20)
I knew this section would be tough as in my last (and first) marathon I experienced the pace "slipping away"  without me noticing it. I was determined not to let that happen again, however this time I could feel my legs were simply to cold and heavy for me to push them for a 5:10 pace. Instead I decided to simply let my body determine the exact pace while my mind would focus on ensuring it would be between 5:00 and 5:30. This resulted in only one km at 5:30 with a few km at around 5:14 and even one at 5:06 - the one around "Trianglen", the place on the course with the best supporters. All in all a pretty decent section even though it did not feel decent while I was in it.

35-40 km (split 27:58 - pace 5:36)
My GPS does not agree to the official timing here as I kept my pace just below 5:30 in this section, however this could be caused by a small GPS error or something.
The finish line was now within reach and focus was now on just keeping the pace to avoid loosing to many seconds to the clock. My body was trying to get me to slow down and stop, however my mind kept screaming back that the legs should shut up and just get the damn thing over with. My heart-rate was fine so I knew it was only my cold legs that was the problem. I kept repeating to myself that this section should simply be run on the routine and this was the section where I would benefit from all my training and the experience from my first marathon. Running 7 km is nothing and I knew my legs were feeling heavy however it would soon be over.

40-42.2 km (split 12:00 - pace 5:28) - Finish time: 3:38:17 - pace 5:11
This section was all about keeping the rhythm. A few people decided to pick up the pace for the last home stretch, however I preferred not to push it as I knew I would be hitting my goal and 15-30 seconds would not make any difference for me.
I crossed the line in 3:38:17 and felt pretty okay with the result, it was within my goal and what I had trained for - though not the sub 3:30 I had hoped for. :-) However, given the weather I was satisfied to have completed the race in the planned pace.
Crossing the line, doing my best to look fresh.

After the race:
My legs felt heavy and stiff and it was clear they had been pushed close to their limits. For the Berlin marathon I have to work more on speed sessions to get the last bit of speed needed for breaking 3:30. Plus ensure my legs are not getting so cold!
As part of the scientific survey I had a blood sample taken before/after the race, and my blood sugar levels were really good, indicating that the strategy seemed to have worked. I had still lost around 3 kilos during the run (even though I drank around 2.8 liters of water during the race). All in all it went well, I am looking forward to seeing the results of their study.

The day after:
I quickly put on compression calf guards after the race, to limit the stiffness in my calfs. This seems to have helped a lot. My legs are of course stiff and a bit heavy, but not as bad as my first marathon.
Today my mother will come by with home-made cake and bread - nice! :-)

Lessons learned:
15 degrees + rain is not warm, dress as if it is 10 degrees (3/4 trousers and a compression sweatshirt underneath the race shirt).
Get a light "race" rain jacket.
Get compression thigh guards for recovery after the race.
Get more speed-work into the training.
Possibly consider bringing some music for the long "boring stretches" without spectators.

About the author

I am a 29 year old guy, who just loves running. I also love planning, order and goals. Which is why I am combining all of that into, The First Project..