I Won a Marathon! (Plus Another Almost Unbelievable Announcement)

by Jason Fitzgerald

It’s true: last Sunday, I won the Potomac River Run Marathon in 2:50:27.

Before you think that this is super impressive, know that it was a small local race capped at a mere 350 runners. So I didn’t exactly win a major race…

Potomac River Marathon

Now, race reports can be valuable when they illustrate some key lessons and I think this is one of those times. Besides, many of you have written asking for this update so here goes!

First off, I had no intention of winning this race. My goal was very simple: to qualify for Boston by 10 minutes and run just under 2:55.

Sure, I’ve run 2:39 and could have run faster. But my training hasn’t been 100% and the recovery is too long for a max effort marathon. The BQ was all I wanted.

If you want to see the “official” write-up on the Washington Running Report (with a great photo of yours truly) see the news story here.

Lesson #1 – Pacing, Pacing, Pacing

When the gun whistle went off I surprised myself with a 6:18 opening mile. I was with three other runners who were targeting around 3 hours so this was too fast for me and WAY too fast for them.

That’s how you fail at marathon pacing: start the race over 40 seconds faster per mile than your goal pace…

After the faster first mile, I slowed down to about 6:30-6:35 per mile (which was still under my goal pace of 6:40) for the rest of the race. My slowest mile was 6:47, not including the miles where I stopped briefly. More on that later…

No matter what effort level you’re racing – a max effort PR attempt, a “moderate” run, or simply an easy-paced marathon to prep for an ultra – pacing is critical. Stay within the right range and start a little slower than your goal pace.

Less than halfway through the race I was in 3rd place and another runner encouraged me to catch up to the leaders. I thanked him but thought, “The race hasn’t even started yet.”

Marathons are a waiting game until well after the halfway point. Anyone can be a hero through 12-14 miles. Only the truly prepared can crush the last 10k of a marathon.

Lesson #2 – Trust Your Training

For some reason, I was really nervous before this race. Even though it wasn’t supposed to be “hard,” 26.2 miles is still 26.2 miles.

When fatigue started to creep in around the 16th mile, 6:30 pace wasn’t easy any more. I actually had to work for it and doubt saturated my brain. Could I keep this up for another 10 miles? What if I lose the extra time I’ve banked so far?

Conquering doubt is a required skill for any marathoner – you have to believe in your abilities. If you’ve done the training, the race is just a logical extension of that training.

In the SR Boot Camp, there’s an entire lesson on how to increase your confidence by trusting your training. It’s a valuable strategy that is more important for marathoners than any other type of runner.

Remembering the 21 mile long runs with 3-4 miles at 6:00 pace or faster made me believe that I could maintain my pace. And after defeating those inner doubt-demons, my final two miles were a slight negative split in 12:50!

Lesson #3 – Fueling Still Matters

Alright, I wasn’t redlining like I was at Philadelphia. But I still carb-loaded and had four gels during the race.

26.2 miles is a long way even if you’re running far above your lactate threshold and burning a smaller percentage of carbohydrate. Besides, why take any chances?

I’m bullish on carb-loading for marathoners because the research shows it works. And you don’t have to go through the old-school depletion protocol, which can leave you sick or hurt in the days before your race.

Instead, focus on ingesting 7-10g of carbs per kg (or 2.2 pounds) of body weight in the 1-2 days before your race. A good carb-loading schedule will fully stock your liver and muscles with fuel so you can finish strong.

Judging from how I felt during the last two miles (they were 6:24 and 6:26), I’m happy with how things went.

Lesson #4 – Pay Attention to Your Body

While my finish time exceeded expectations and my place was a welcome surprise, I didn’t feel great during the final 10 miles because of my left IT Band. It started to get tight around the 15 mile mark and there was even a small amount of pain.

I had been running under goal pace so I knew I had almost four minutes to “play with” and still get my BQ-10 goal. Taking advantage of that, I stopped three times during miles 19, 22, and 24 to do a few leg swings to loosen up my hip and glute.

Each stop only slowed me down about 30 seconds and I still ran between 7:01 – 7:12 for these miles. But it gave me a good scare!

During any marathon you’ll experience an increasing level of soreness and fatigue. It’s your job to monitor what’s normal and what can lead to a real injury. For me, a few preventive measures were all that was needed to make sure my ITBS didn’t recur and I could finish strong.

Lesson #5 – The Course Matters

If this was my “A” race goal, then I would have failed at running a PR. There’s no question about it.

The terrain was a rocky dirt path with lots of loose gravel.

The course was open to the public and I had to weave around pedestrians.

double out-and-back loop created three 180 degree turns around cones (and a lot of boredom).

If you’re shooting for a stretch goal, the conditions need to be as perfect as possible.

Dirt roads are great for training, but the uneven surface isn’t ideal for performance. Weaving around pedestrians walking their dog can slow you down. Meager crowd support on a 6.55 mile stretch of trail – that you repeat four times – can be mentally exhausting.

Choosing a major road race has its drawbacks, but there are obvious benefits that help propel you to set a personal best: the crowd support, the more consistent running surface, and a less mind-numbingly boring course.

Be smart about the type of race you choose and be realistic about what you can accomplish given the environment. There are a lot of “non-fitness” aspects of a race that can help you succeed – or slow you down.

Announcement #2: I’m Going to be a Dad!

Run with Daddy

In less than two months, I’ll be a dad!

My wife and I are expecting our first child at the end of June and couldn’t be more excited. We decided to not find out the sex of Baby Fitz so I haven’t bought pink or blue baby running shorts yet…

About a month ago I was toying with the idea of a hilarious April Fool’s Day post – well, at least to me – about how I was going to raise the perfect athlete with strict training schedules for my wife and then for baby.

Well, I tested the idea on a few friends and they all thought it was horrible. Why am I cursed with this advanced sense of humor?

Anyway, I’m sure Baby Fitz is excited to meet the SR community and watch dad do a lot of core work in the living room!

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Hans Reitzema

Congratulations on both achievements!

Staffan

Congrats Jason on becoming a dad and on winning a marathon! Excellent comments and advice to marathon runners in this blog post, I couldn’t agree more on pacing, carboloading, and returning back to the performed training and trusting your abilities on race day – great post!!

Sherry

Congrats!! on the win, and the baby. This is such an exciting time in your life, enjoy every moment!

Chris Wilks

Congratulations!
I’m doing the same and just getting used to the idea!

Andrew Benham

Hi Jason,

firstly congratulations on your baby news; it will be interesting to hear how you juggle keeping fit with fatherhood as its a challenge!

I’ve just been reading a post on UltraStu about negative splits and how maybe they aren’t really all they are cracked up to be. If you don’t know about Stuart Mills he is a Kiwi ultra runner and has a habit of starting runs very fast and tailing off at the end (while often placing very well). I’d love to hear your take on this post:

http://ultrastu.blogspot.co.uk/2013/05/the-negative-split-realisation-that.html

Kat @ Eating The Week

Congrats on both counts! Personally, I think that April Fools post idea was comedy gold.

Chuck Swanson

Congrats on both achievements!! Nothing is better than becoming a father….nothing. Just say bye bye to modesty….

Rev, Run

Congratulations on a great race and on the upcoming birth of your child! I *did* do the April Fool’s joke thing to announce that we’re expecting our fourth (which was totally a surprise for us)… I think there are some people who still don’t believe. LOL

Wes

Congratulations, YES! on both accounts :-)

niall

Hey! I liked the joke…

Kris

Great news! Parenthood is an incredible experience. Sort of like a marathon that never ends, changes constantly, and keeps getting harder – in different ways. Can’t wait to see junior’s training routine :)

grace

Congratulations on both counts!

jonathan

Congratulations on your impending arrival and on winning the marathon.

Austin

Congrats on your marathon win, and a huge congrats to you and your wife!

chris

Congratulations on the marathon win…and congrats to you and your wife on the parenthood around the corner!

Laura

Yay Jason!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
CONGRATS to you and your wife!!!! Your life will forever change – for the better!
And not finding out the gender is the way to do it. We didn’t find out for our 3 – GIRLS!
It makes the labor pains worth it having a surprise at the end ; )

Congrats on the win too!!!!

Deb

Congratulations on Baby Fitz and of course, the marathon! Catch up on sleep now, because parenthood involves a crazy amount of sleep-derived nights. Once he’s a little older, you can use your son as extra body weight for some of those core exercises (which is partly why I have back problems!).

Melinda

I can see a whole new set of routines being developed by Jason using the baby as a weight. Bonding time, entertainment AND exercise! :-)

Amy

Congratulations! What an exciting time in your running and family life!

Elf Martin

Congrats Jason! Super excited for you!

Mats

Congratulations!!
Best of luck to you and your wife.
Thank you for all the great advice.

Catherine Burke

Congratulations Jason on your qualifying for Boston again, your winning the marathon race and your new addition to your family. Wow!

Trent

Congratulations on winning the marathon. Oh, that dad thing’s pretty awesome too.

chris

Congrats on both counts!

John Sifferman

Congratulations, Jason! Now, get ready for the marathon of your life (fatherhood).

Alan Smith

Well done on the race!

But AWESOME news on the baby!! Nothing like a living being that you’re totally responsible for to give one perspective on life!!

We’ve just had mother’s day here in NZ and my wife and 4 children did a 5km charity fun run/walk for women’d health! It was great to see families out running together!! Enjoy every moment!!

Alana

Yay for baby and winning the race!

MaryEllen

Congratulations!! So exciting for your family! I hope you have a smooth, event-free delivery!

Lydia Hintze

HOORAY!! I’m so excited for you two! Tell Meaghan I said so!

Jason Fitzgerald

You bet! Thanks Lydia, hope you’re doing well.

Steve

Congrats on both – especially the baby! I love running but no comparison to the joys my three boys bring me.

Roz

Congratulations!! On all counts – a win, a BQ and a baby. What a perfect time in your life. Wishing you all the best. And I can guarantee that you can get some superb advice on twitter from the #momsrunning ladies as to the best stroller to run with and how to keep children occupied during the long runs. :-) Well done.

Namita Patel

Congrats Jason, on both counts! You deserve it!

Corrie

Congrats on being a new dad! That’s wonderful!
And congrats on winning the marathon!

Shelly Browne

Well done Jason! Congrats on the nice race too ;-)

—Shelly

Mark Duffield

Congratulations on all accounts, Jason! BTW, I could use some of that “conquering doubt” stuff for my late miles.

John

Jason, thats great news. Congrats on the new baby.

Also, quick question on the IT Band issue…ran Bay to Breakers last week and mine tightened up. Only had mild pain that I was able to run through. I’ve been doing your recommended stretches and core exercises, but I’m still feeling some tightness (very slight pain) 4 days later (haven’t gone running). Should I lay off all exercising till I feel no pain and then go after the stretching and exercises or is it ok to keep plowing through with the ITBS recovery regimen?

Jason Fitzgerald

Thanks John! You’re still fine to continue with the exercises – just stop with any sharp/stabbing pain.

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