I know I know, one is not supposed to run a full marathon in Ironman training. The beating a body takes during a marathon is considered to be too much and the gain too little to come out on top training wise after the event…

However…..I just couldn’t stop myself. For good reasons (me thinks): I simply wanted to run a marathon to have it in the bag for my mental preparation. Turns out somehow along the way I turned much older than I thought and it turns out the last time I ran a marathon (without swimming and biking before the run) was in 2002…yikes!!! The last marathon I ran with a bit of biking and running before was in 2010 when I did the Penticton Ironman. Back then it was a bit of a stunt and I jogged most of the marathon. This time in Whistler I will actually have to run it to make the top three and guarantee my Hawaii qualification.

Long story short. I thought I had a good reason to run this thing so that I know this old body can actually do it.

So off to Calgary I went, dropped the kids off with a good friend on the way; because despite all their support kids are more interested in spending a weekend on the farm with their godmother, riding horses and having bonfires than hanging in Calgary for 3 to 4 hours waiting for a destroyed dad to come back – I don’t blame them :-). I stayed with some old University colleagues I hadn’t talked to in waaaay too long, which was super nice and a great opportunity to catch up on things. The Calgary marathon starts early (7:00 am) so off I went for a good nights sleep after a dinner of the most amazing pizza made by man (thanks again guys!).

Race morning had me at the start line at 5:30 not realizing that this is not a triathlon, no bike to be set up, no wetsuit to be put on…seems like everybody else got the memo because I was literally the only one there, so accompanied by some good old Calgary tumbleweed I hunkered down and relaxed a bit waiting for my fellow runners to show up. 

Finally, the place filled and with 30 minutes to spare I start my warmup, jog 2km along the creek and do some leg swings and drills…clearly I am race ready.

Shortly before 7 I assume my position and am starting to look for the 3 hour and 15 minute pace bunny – most bigger city marathons provide marked runners who hold a certain pace giving runners an opportunity to latch on and (if all goes well) achieve the pre-set goal. My intention was to run with the 3:15 bunny for about half of the race and then take it easy for the rest of it, monitoring my heart rate and staying within the comfort zone (at a comfortably uncomfortable pace) through the end of the race. I see all pace bunnies 3:30, 4:00 and so on, but the 3:15 is nowhere to be seen. Ah well, I can keep my own pace, and off we go.

I trudge along with the masses (half marathon, marathon and 50K runners star in the same wave) and keep a nice relaxed but solid pace at around 4:35 per km for the first few kilometers. I get talking to another runner who tells me that the 3:15 bunny is just behind us. Okay, I can deal with that, keep trudging away and by about 9km the bunny and a group of about 6 or 7 runners catches me. I understand why I hadn’t seen the pace bunny before, the gentlemen is 5 feet max and looks like he is out for a Sunday morning walk, which I am sure for him he actually is….complete with baggy shorts, an old fanny pack and, well… pace bunny ears.

So I join the group and enjoy the convenience of not having to watch my own pace. But Mr. Bunny has no mercy, he clocks 4:35 minute kilometers very solidly, he is not slowing down for any of the (what feels like) 2 million bridges we have to go up and down and not for the bigger climb around km 12 either. I start feeling how the sum of small climbs and the longer one start driving my heart rate up. Fortunately, after every climb there is a bit of relaxation again (coming down the bridge) but overall my heart rate is on average 10 beats higher than I had planned.

Ah well, I feel great and relaxed and I stay with the group until about km 28. At that point, on one of the shorter hills I let them go but keep them in about 100m distance head of me. They are still going the exact same pace as me…all good 🙂
Up to roughly km 34 that is….I realize my heart rate gets higher even and some pain and weakness sets in. I am secretly happy because I have already made it beyond the 30km mark which is so often referred to as the spot where ‘The Wall’ is that many people hit full on and crumble – indicating really where the most difficult part of the race begins. I have to do an internal self check and realize that somehow, I didn’t follow my carefully thought through nutrition plan. I have way too much gel left in my flask. I am instantly mad, because testing nutrition was one of the tasks for this race… darn it! It had also gotten quite warm and even though I took on water at almost every aid station (every 3km) I don’t think I had gotten enough liquid in….rookie mistake.

I feel energy dwindling and make the decision to walk for the first time at an aid station around km 38, spend a good 30 seconds, take a big shot of gel and wash it down with two big cups of nuun and off I go again. This gives me the boost I need to make it to the finish line in a respectable (for me) 3 hours and 20 minutes.

Overall I think the test went quite well. It turns out that this old body can run a marathon 23 minutes faster than the much younger body did in 2002. I negotiated the pain over the last 10 km of the run and found the exact spot of scratching along ‘The Wall’ without hitting it. I also learned I have to focus even more on nutrition and to trust myself when I realize I need a quick break.

I did not negative split the marathon – which I attribute to the many short climbs on the course, which hurt my legs (and my heart rate) much more than I anticipated. As a result I ran at higher intensity and heart rate than I had planned. I definitely need a few more solid longer runs in my training.  I now have 8 weeks to fix that before I start tapering for the big race on July 29th.

In the end I am pretty darn positive and glad I did this little experiment. I know with 8 weeks of training I will be able to run a solid marathon off the bike – Whistler here I come!