Marathon #3: Rocket City Marathon 2015

On December 12, 2015 I ran my 3rd ever marathon, completing all 3 over a 14 month period. I ran the Rocket City Marathon in Huntsville, AL, and I have run all 3 at different races. My 1st marathon was the Indianapolis Marathon in October 2014, followed by the Carmel (Indiana) Marathon in April 2015. Everything about my 3rd marathon was different, from the location to my training, physical conditioning, weight, attitude, preparation, speed, endurance, goals and finish time.

A DIFFERENT APPROACH

My 1st marathon I had 2 goals that I was determined to accomplish, no matter what it took:

  1. Finish!
  2. Break 4 hours

I finished that marathon in 3:58, running/walking through intense cramps in every leg muscle starting at mile 15. Then for my 2nd marathon, I trained hard all winter, mostly on a treadmill at 2% incline. I did tons of speedwork, including 400 meter repeats, mile repeats, regular all-out 5K runs, etc. I had several training weeks over 70 miles and peaked at 85 miles in 1 week. I also lost 10 lbs between my 1st and 2nd marathons. I had a time goal of breaking 3:45, but I really wanted to get into the 3:30s. I was in the best shape of my life, and I ran my 2nd marathon in 3:47. This was a little slower than I had hoped, but I made some pacing mistakes on race day that cost me later in the race. I was still very pleased with this time and the progress I made from marathon #1 to marathon #2. The hard work also led to PR’s at nearly every other shorter distance that spring.

For marathon #3, I just ran because I love to run and to see if I could do it on a really short training cycle. I had no time or pacing goals. I did not really do any speedwork, but I focused all my training on just building back up to the marathon distance. I ran high mileage in July, but an Achilles Tendon injury destroyed my momentum and caused me to barely run in August. I started getting back in shape in September, deciding in October to sign-up for the marathon knowing I only had 8 weeks to train. I was out-of-shape (compared to 6 months earlier), 20 lbs heavier than I was in April, and my training paces (and paces at shorter distance races) were much slower than they were in the spring. I knew this would be a slow marathon, but I still wanted to do it for the experience and because I like having something to work toward. An 8-week training cycle did not leave time for for me to concentrate on weight-loss or speed, but I simply had to work toward building enough endurance just to finish the race.

I do not want to say I went in with a “do not care” attitude, but I did go into this marathon without putting any pressure on myself to run fast or accomplish anything other than finishing 26.2 miles and being a part of that wonderful race day environment you always find at marathons. I still trained hard, just slower, peaking my training with a 77-mile week that included 5 double digit runs and 2 long runs of 17 and 21 miles. That training week alone gave me quite the sense of accomplishment considering that just a few weeks earlier I went a whole month without running longer than 7 miles.

Not every race is going to be a PR, and it is not always going to be “your day” on the race course. The Rocket City Marathon on December 12 was a positive experience, but it was not my day. I finished my 3rd marathon in 4:29:48.

70º IN MID-DECEMBER?!?

I knew it was going to be a long race when my palms were sweaty and sticky before I ran 1 step. I struggle running in hot weather, which is largely why my running times have suffered so much since we moved from Indiana to Alabama last summer. Luckily by the time I started training for the Rocket City Marathon, the temps had dropped into the 50ºs and 60ºs, sometimes even cooler. My ideal running temperature is 50º, and according to historical weather patterns the temperatures for this marathon in Huntsville on December 12, should have been between 35-55º, with much of the race probably falling in the upper 40ºs, which would be an excellent temperature for a marathon. Unfortunately, El Niño had other plans, and as marathon day approached, the forecast kept getting warmer and warmer. When race day arrived, even with an early 7 am start time, it was already about 66º with 90+% humidity. By the halfway mark, it was 70+º with the same humidity. After doing most of my training in the 50ºs, and my last long run (21 miles) in the mid-30ºs), I was not prepared for such heat and humidity for a mid-December marathon. I was planning to rely solely on water tables for hydration, but the marathon emailed everyone the day before advising us to carry water bottles because there were some parts of the course that went over 3 miles without a water table. So I made a last minute decision to carry my handheld water bottle, and I needed it because I sweat like a pig in hot/humid conditions and often became dangerously dehydrated during summer runs.

HIP/IT BAND PAIN

I have had a recurring issue with my right hip that began while training for my 1st marathon. It is either IT Band Syndrome or Hip Bursitis, and it flares up for a couple weeks Then I usually get it to go away with stretching and foam rolling, and I might go weeks or months without much issue. It had not been bothering me leading up to the Rocket City Marathon, but I think my muscles and joints got too tight during my taper. My hip started bugging me in the 1st mile and did not stop for the following 25. I stopped multiple times during the 1st 10 miles to stretch the muscles around my hip, and I also tried to get it warmed up with some dynamic stretching by throwing in short speed bursts. Nothing helped, so I was just going to have to run with the pain.

MUSCLE CRAMPS

Despite running painfully slow the entire time, my right hamstring started twitching by 15 miles, probably because of the hip/IT Band issues. I felt much worse at 15 miles than I did at the end of my 21-mile long run a couple weeks earlier (when it was 35º). I hydrated as much as possible, but the heat/humidity just zap my energy and cause me to sweat faster than I can hydrate. This all combined to get muscle cramps earlier in the marathon than I would have expected. Even drinking constantly and running very slowly, I still had to run-walk-run the last few miles with most of the muscles in my legs cramping/spasming. While I had similar cramping in my other marathons, I attributed it more to overworking my muscles by running too fast for the 1st half of those races. At this marathon I ran even slower than my long slow runs and still had bad cramps, which I would attribute to dehydration and to my hip tightness.

STILL A POSITIVE EXPERIENCE

I just never got anything going during this marathon, but at least I was able to finish a marathon on only a few short weeks of training! It is a little disheartening to finish over 40 minutes slower than my previous marathon 8 months earlier, but after a rough last few months of running, it is still a bit of a confidence booster that I can even run a marathon when I am a bit overweight and out of shape. If I can drop the extra weight and get in some quality speed workouts, I hope to get my marathon time back under 4 hours next time.

Just like my other 2 marathons, the Rocket City Marathon was very well organized, with friendly volunteers at all the water tables and police everywhere keeping us safe from traffic. We got to run through nice neighborhoods, and I had the unique experience of running through the U.S. Space and Rocket Center. Some volunteers went beyond the call of duty and handed out baggies of mandarin oranges, candy and orange slices. There were high school bands and local musicians playing at various points throughout the course, and everyone I met had great attitudes. Marathons are always a good experience if you just take it all in and enjoy the moment, regardless of how fast or slow you run the race.

Here are some pics from the Rocket City Marathon. The official pics from the marathon were given away for free!

I had my marathon shorts, tank and running belt ready 2 days before the race.

I had my marathon shorts, tank and running belt ready 2 days before the race, adding the race bib the night before.

I have a "Marathon" playlist that I use for all my long runs and marathons, but this time I made a new playlist with lots of fast Christmas songs. Unfortunately it was 70º during the race, and it felt very strange listening to Christmas music.

I have a “Marathon” playlist that I use for all my long runs and marathons, but this time I made a new playlist with lots of fast Christmas songs. Unfortunately it was 70º during the race, and it felt very strange listening to Christmas music.

Marathon starting line selfie.

Marathon starting line selfie around 6:55 am.

Here I am a few miles into the Rocket City Marathon.

Here I am a few miles into the Rocket City Marathon.

I was feeling pretty good at 13.1 miles.

I was feeling pretty good at 13.1 miles.

Running through the U.S. Space & Rocket Center around mile 20 was a pretty fun distraction from "the wall" that was attacking all my muscles with cramps.

Running through the U.S. Space & Rocket Center around mile 20 was a pretty fun distraction from “the wall” that was attacking all my muscles with cramps.

Even though my time was slower than previous marathons, I did "kick" the last quarter mile to catch 2 people (this lady right at the finish line) and keep my time just under 4:30, finishing in 4:29:48.

Even though my time was slower than previous marathons, I did “kick” the last quarter mile to catch 2 people (this lady right at the finish line) and keep my time just under 4:30, finishing in 4:29:48.

This was taken just after crossing the finish line of the Rocket City Marathon 2015 with my finisher's medal. They also gave away nice running hats to all the finishers.

This was taken just after crossing the finish line of the Rocket City Marathon 2015 wearing my finisher’s medal.

They also gave away nice running hats to all the finishers. Girls got pink hats.

They also gave away nice running hats to all the finishers. Girls got pink hats.

Back view of the running hats they gave out to every finisher.

Back view of the running hats they gave out to every finisher.

Closer look at my finisher's medal.

Closer look at my finisher’s medal.

Back view of the Rocket City Marathon 2015 finisher's medal.

Back view of the Rocket City Marathon 2015 finisher’s medal.

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  • Phil

    Nice write up, Stephen. Keep up the great running. I really want to run Rocket City. It’s been on my running “Bucket List” for a long time! > Question: which marathon course did you enjoy better, Carmel or Rocket City? Thanks!