Sunday, November 02, 2008

Marathon in the Big Shitty

First, congrats to Alan, Jim H., Kenn V, Denny W., and Mandy for their great races at IMF.

Second, the NYC Marathon is a great race in an amazing place. The organization is superb and all endurance athletes should run this at least once.

2:58:28. Am I satisfied? With the day and the experience, definitely. With that time, definitely not. I worked it today though, so what you see is what you get.

I knew coming into this race that I was way under prepared. No need to beat a dead horse. September and October were wash outs in terms of training. I knew that if my energy and cardio fitness would come around by race day (after that brutal virus last week), then the one thing that would get me at some point would be my structure. Basically, did I deserve to be on the starting line today? Sure, I earned my way there, but training wise, no.

A huge thanks to Paul Moyse and Randy Chamberland. I tagged along with them this morning and it made the experience that much easier and that much more enjoyable. We took an organized bus out of Stratford that dropped us off at the Verranzano around 7:30am. Then, we had to just wait until our start time at 9:40. Runners are way different than triathletes and here, there were 40, 000 runners. They were lying around everywhere, making it challenging to just walk without stepping on someone. Everyone had throwaway clothes on, so it looked like a big homeless convention at the starting line. People are sleeping, changing and peeing everywhere. Above all, everyone was just trying to keep warm. Then you are ushered into your corral. Paul, Randy and Gus were in the same color corral, but were in the C corral, and I was in D. With 1000 runners in each corral, I wasn't thrilled about this, so I followed Paul and Randy through the security gate into their corral, pretended like I belonged there and barely flashed my bib number with your corral assignment listed on it. Problem solved. This helped a bunch, because when the gun sounded, it took only 20 seconds for me to cross the starting line.

We had a huge headwind over the Verranzano and it's very crowded, making the first mile slow - a 7:30. I then settled into a very comfortable pace and was clicking off 6:30's. I went through the 1/2 way point in 1:25 and cardio wise, it felt easy, but structurally, I had some signs showing that the last part of the race was going to hurt. I didn't go out to hard. The pace felt easy, but the hips and it band on my left leg were starting to act up a bit. If I had been running slower, it probably would have been worse since I'd be out there longer. The Verranzano Bridge was really cool, then you run through Brooklyn into Queens. The crowds are simply awesome at this race. The course is lined the whole way with cheering people and lots of bands, the only exception being the Queensboro Bridge around the 16 mile mark. Thank god for the crowds, because otherwise, this course though Brooklyn and Queens is fugly.

Lisa and Baker came in and were tracking me on MyAthlete - the only way to spectate this race. With the amount of runners and the amount of fans, you'd never see each other. I spotted them in Brooklyn at a cool spot around the 8 mile mark. Hitting the incline on the Queensboro bridge, i was really beginning to feel it structurally. This part of the course, as Paul warned me, was tough. It's an incline and dark since you on the lower bridge level, and quiet since there are no fans. However, coming off the bridge into Manhattan is amazing! The crowds on first ave yelling and cheering are the most impressive I've ever witnessed in a race.

The last 8 miles were painful. Again, my cardio or wind, felt fine. In control and relaxed. It was my hips and more so my left ITB that were screaming. My pace slowed as I felt my form go to shit. At the 25 mile mark, I saw Lisa and Baker and then had to stop and walk - it felt as though my left ITB was going to snap. I walked for four depressing minutes, then I looked at my watch and had a little self talk that went something like "come on you bastard! If you don't go under three your pathetic!"

I crossed feeling as though you might feel if you squelched on a bet and the bookie and his thugs took it out on your legs with baseball bats. I snagged some Tylenol from the med tent and borrowed a cell from a nice lady to give Lisa and Baker a meeting spot. From there, we headed back to the car, stopping for some burgers and black and tans.

This was my marathon debut. I have run a bunch of marathons in IM's but never a stand alone. Many athletes had told me that they feel running a stand alone marathon is harder than racing an IM. Their philosophy being that the harder pace of a stand alone marathon is extremely challenging and painful. I was curious to see if this was true. I mentioned that I wanted to really experience this race, but at the same time, I raced hard, despite my slower time. That's the only way I know how to race. I have to say that those who feel a stand alone marathon is harder than an IM clearly haven't pushed hard enough in their IM race. There is no comparison! Yes, a marathon is very challenging and it beat the hell out of me. But it's only three hours versus nine, and you don't have the nutritional issues that you experience in an IM. Sorry, but as hard as a marathon is, an IM is WAY harder. Paul was telling me before the race that he's often criticized for taking races out to hard. I responded that I feel most race too conservatively. I've said it before - you don't know how far you can hit it if you don't swing for the fence once in awhile.

Now, I'll get myself healthy and give Boston a fair test and see what I can really do.




Megan said...

Sickness?!? A sub three marathon for a first time effort? Well done! I agree that a stand alone marathon is much harder than an Ironman run. Nothing to warm you up like 112 miles on a bike! Great job today.

Eric said...

Thanks Megan. I think an IM run is much harder than a stand alone marathon.

megan said...

I think pure marathons are harder for me for two reasons:
1. I have "pace issues" and it is harder to control in a running race. I do better when I am already running tired.
2. I am not a pure runner and to start a race running is not comfortable for me. (perhaps becasue of #1 above)

alan said...


Great job out there. I think you're right- the marathon is one tough effort, but I have to say I felt something Saturday I never felt in any marathon.

I have a feeling you're going to have a spectacular Boston

MandyB said...

Awesome job E-Rock - way to make the best of a hard day and a rough prep - you are always inspiring and it makes me happy that someone can give a "true account" of racing - whether the prep or even the race itself is perfect or not. Can't wait to see you race Boston in top form!!

I think we need to get a group together for Beers - off seasons all around! YAY!

Anonymous said...

Hi Eric,

Congratulations on finishing NY in less than 3 hrs after a tough few months of training. I've never done an IM, but have done a few 1/2 IMs as well as 3 marathons. To me, the marathons are much easier than the triathlons. There is only one thing to prepare for, you have no equipment and no transitions. I can't really imagine doing an IM, but a marathon could happen. Anyway, I agree with your view.

Ed S

Anonymous said...

Hey Eric,
I have a simple theory on this subject of which is harder. The shorter the event, the harder you go, the worse you feel.
Since you'll be running slower pace in an IM you won't feel as bad at the finish. Usually I run my marathon pace in a half IM and I feel about the same at the finish as I do in a marathon.
Taken to the extreme, the hardest event I have ever done was the 400 meter, either the open event or part of a 1600 meter relay. I think we can agree that the human body was ment to sprint for about 350 meters, the last 50 is as close to a near death experience that you can have. And once you've finished, if you raced it right, you wish you were dead.
Anyways, I think when get healthy and really pop a good marathon you'll agree with me.


Eric said...

I disagree Mark. Yes, the intensity may be more severe in shorter events, but it's short lasting. I have raced across the board from sprints in running, swimming and short time trials to triathlons, road races, long distance events... I still believe that the physical demands of an IM put you more in the hurt box than a marathon or anything shorter. I still claim that those that say the slower pace of an IM doesnt beat them up as much havent pushed an IM to the extreme point. To compare the hurt of a 400, come on Mark! Yes, that's a painful event, but veruy shortlived, and you keep your form for the most part. I've run it and I'm married to an all american in that event. Hard, yes, but to say it hurts more than an IM?! Please! An 800 hurts worse anyways, and my wife will agree with me on that.

Thanks Alan and great race at IMF!

Mandy, definitely agree that we should plan an off season beer get together!

Eric said...

One other thing Mark - regarding your quote "Anyways, I think when get healthy and really pop a good marathon you'll agree with me."
If you push hard, it doesnt matter whether you are sick and not really prepared or whether you are in top shape. Pushing it when you arent "ready" for the race is actually harder on you mentally and physically. Oh, and my wife who ran the Philly marathon laughed when I asked her if a 400 was harder than a marathon.

Ed, thanks for the note!

Anonymous said...

Did Someone say beers??

There's a nice little ski house in Maine open for drankin'!


Anonymous said...

Hey Eric,
Sounds like a pandora's box has been opened. Pain is subjective,so until a "pain-o-meter" has been developed we'll never be able to resolve this arguement. Have Brennan start working on one.
But if the info I've read is correct, science may be a little bit more on my side. If one looks at the human body, it is built more for endurance the speed. Apparently our ancestors would run down there prey over a course of days. So our bodies have developed more of a tolerance for endurance then strenght. Therefore, one could deduce, the human body can handle the pain from and endurance event better then a power(speed) event. If not, we would have never caught our dinner and we would have gone the way of the dodo bird.

PS Let's keep this civil, I'm not going tho bring my wife into this.

Eric said...

Of course civil Mark! However, your argumaent is flawed because you are talking about "pacing". Sure, if you pace easily, you can endure. My original claim was that if one feels a stand alone marathon is harder than an IM, then they paced there IM too easily. I do believe that you are the only one though, besides maybe some die hard track runners who have never raced a marathon or an IM, that will claim a 400 is harder than the mentioned distance events. But the bottom line is that if you are pushing hard, a longer event will wear you down more. Just look at the necessary recovery for the events mentioned above.

alan said...

Great discussion.

I've run some marathons and done a few IM races and my opinion on this has evolved over time.

Up until my last IM, I think I might have tried to argue the point that while the IM is the hardest overall effort which requires the greatest fitness, a marathon requires you to dig deeper over a shorter period of time.

I no longer buy that.

The marathon is a very unforgiving race, no doubt. If you get into a bad place in a marathon, there might be no coming back- that happened to me when I ran Boston.

However, my feeling is that if the marathon of an IM isn't hurting you more than the marathon hurts you, you aren't going hard enough.

I know, because I have yet to dig deep enough in the marathon of an IM- none of my runs to date have been successes. Having said that, this last one, I finally started to hurt the way I need to be hurting at the end of an IM to have a good one.

There was a point where the level of intensity, the pure suffering exceeded anything I have felt during any of the marathons I've run, and I've run a couple of half-way decent marathons- and I wasn't even running as hard as I should have been at the end...

Eric said...

"However, my feeling is that if the marathon of an IM isn't hurting you more than the marathon hurts you, you aren't going hard enough."

You get it Alan.

Greg Pelican said...



Eric said...

Thanks Greg, I think it's definitely time to set up a get together date for some pizza and beer (sorry Straz, Maine's a bit of a commute). I'll get on that.

I am also searching for a 400 meter race to do in April instead of Boston:)

Anonymous said...

Hey Eric,
First, pain during an event and pain after an event are two different things. Pain during an event is one's ability to tolerate discomfort. Your body is telling you something is wrong, how one handles that is personal. The winner of a race isn't necessarily the one who can handle pain better. On the flip side, the athlete who can take the most pain may finish last...he may just be really slow.
But let's get back to how you feel after a marathon compared to an IM. Since you are starting with fresh legs your body is able to absorb the inefficient fast pace for the majority of the race. (An aside, walking would be the most efficient way to cover the ground, but this is a race and running is a faster means to the finish.) As you damage the muscle tissue, changes start to occur. When this happens is variable to each athlete but generally occurs close to the finish.
With an IM, you are already starting with legs that are beat up and you're not near the finish. So your body tries to adjust for this by changing pace and form, you feel like you're at mile 23 but you are at mile 1. These changes call for the recruitment of new muscle groups. The running muscles, which usually move you faster, are fatiqued from the bike. So the most efficient way to move forward is slower but less traumatic to the running muscles. I'm not saying it is not painful though. So, in a nutshell, the reason you don't feel as bad after an IM is because you are running more efficiently longer. Just a theory...
As for your recovery comment about these events, most elite runners and IMer's only do a couple of "A" races a year. There are exceptions - ever heard of Joe Bonness?

PS Ever wonder what your marathon split would be if you flipped the bike/run in an ironman? When was the last time you busted a 400 and what was your time?

alan said...


Your analysis makes perfect sense to what most people do when they get to IM run.

However, my opinion is that what people do is either wrong, or wrong for going fast. During my long runs leading into last week's race I came to a radical conclusion. I was going to try and shoot for 10 hours and that meant no running an IM marathon like an IM marathon with that short shuffling 'easy' stride.

It meant getting off the bike, and firing into a regular, longer running stride, maximizing my distance coverage and energy return. I opened my marathon with a 6:50.

That ultimately wasn't sustainable and wasn't meant to be. However, I maintained better form longer than any of my other races. It hurt from the first step, but rather than allowing the pain and fatigue to change my stride and pacing, I concentrated on maintaining both.

That's the same thing you do in a straight-up marathon.

So for me, running the IM marathon just means running the way I would run a matrathon.

To EH's recovery point, I also agree. I jumped into Hartford last year untrained, ran around the same time he did at NYC, then ran a 5K the next day (odd circumstances). I could not have run a 5K Sunday. Or Monday. Or yesterday.

Eric said...


We are going to have to agree to disagree. First, I think that an IM is harder during the race and the recovery is more challenging than an open marathon when raced. Yes, in an IM the body is fatigued from the prior bike ride when beginning the marathon, but what you suggested about changing pace and form is what I disagree with. If you have trained correctly and consistently, you should have conditioned yourself to "run" off the bike (this is of course assumming that you paced the bike correctly). Most that race an IM either are physically drained at the start of the run because they didnt prepare correctly, or they rode to hard. However, I feel many fear blowing up and settle into a very conservative pace. They also suffer mental fatigue and this prevents them from pushing harder.

During the marathon on Sunday, the last 8 miles hurt bad. I wasnt prepared for the distance and pounding and structurally began to pay. Each step hurt and hurt bad to the point where I just wanted to stop. I have run almost an entire IM marathon like this.

You are trying to back up your argument with science which makes no sense. If you want to be more scientific, it's quite simple; The amount of work you did during an event correlates with the energy demand AND duration.

I havent run a 400 recently but I have in the past and know that yeah, the last 10 seconds hurt, but it's only 10 seconds!!! and guess what? I was ready to run another event in 15 minutes or so. And my fastest IM marathon wasnt far off my time from Sunday.

Are you sure you believe your points Mark, or do you just like a debate?

Anonymous said...

"So, in a nutshell, the reason you don't feel as bad after an IM is because you are running more efficiently longer. Just a theory..."
Who doesn't feel as bad after an IM? Jesus... I'm shot for 4 weeks with an elevated HR after a "good" IM where I was able to push myself to my max (or what I thought was my max).

After some IMs it was a chore to get off the couch for 2-3 weeks!


Anonymous said...

Congratulations Eric on your first Marathon! Boston Huh? It is all down hill from here, literally. Having run Boston twice now, just be ready for the net downhill. It caught me by surprise the first time. The second time it felt like a sprint compared to IM so you know where my vote lies on that issue. However I write this with an Ice pack on my knee after arthroscopy, a present from Boston. I have heard folks say that IMFL is easy, Well I must have put it all out there because I was way more hurting after it than IMLP.
Anyway I am jealous as Boston is addicting. Maybe I will give NY a shot next year, nah need to do another IM.

Mark F (F for FAT)

Straz are you sure you got off the couch? What hill are you near? I will bring beer!

Anonymous said...

Hey Eric,
First, I want to say the I tend to believe more in religion the last few miles of a race then science (Please God get me to the finish. I'll go to church every Sunday and ...). But as far as science goes, a 150 lb athlete will burn approx 200 cal/hr walking at 2.5 mph. The same athlete running at 5 mph (12 min/mile) will burn approx 550 cal/hr. Walking is more efficient. Look it up if you don't believe me.
Second, your point about prep for an IM is valid. If you don't prepare for any race you'll pay for it. But my question still stands, why do some athletes say doing an IM hurts less afterwards then doing a straight marathon? I stated my theories, you, yours.
Your feelings on pain can't be debated. They are subjective. I might say having a corneal scraping is the most painful experience, you might say kidney stones and Alan might say cluster headaches. Whose right? Also, duration of pain comes into play. Which would you rather have, a short intense pain or a dull constant long lasting pain? Pick your poison. (An aside, women tend to feel pain before men, but they also are able to handle more pain then men. One would tend to think women would make better endurance athletes, no?)
So, I guess the debate is like Miller Lite, less filling or taste great? Straz, what's your feeling on this one?

PS I got to go practice my starts, got an indoor open 400 this weekend.

Eric said...

The only thing is that here are many in the less filling camp and only one in the tastes great camp.

Anonymous said...

Mark F - I'm 45 mins south of Sugarloaf and 5 mins from a local hill "Titcomb" huh, huh... You're always welcome. I just got a fresh 12, I mean 10 pack of Newcastle! I did get my sorry butt off the couch this year for 6 olys and 4 half marathons. Next year I'm an IM canada jerky.


alan said...

While I'm dusting off my starting blocks and screwing in my fieldhouse 3/8" cleats, can someone tell me what a cluster headache is ?

Anonymous said...

Hey Alan,
You don't want to know.


Wookie said...

Hi there Eric,

First, congrats on your first marathon. I stumbled across your blog and couldn't help but notice the pain debate between IMs and marathons. Just like you, I did my first pure marathon in NYC last week after doing one Ironman in 2006.

After NYC, I came to the conclusion that the marathon hurt more than my Ironman. While this may be the case, I agree with your view: there is no way that, all else equal, a marathon can hurt more than an IM.

Here are some thoughts:

(1) Because humans are for the most part risk-averse, the more uncertainty there is (the longer the race), the more conservative are our actions (the slower our pace). As you said, most people cannot pace optimally for a really long race like an IM. I know that going into IMWI I just wanted to make sure I finished. I scrapped any aspirations that I had to completely "empty the tank". I would rather have finished 30 minutes slower than my "potential" time with a significant amount of energy left than crash and burn at mile 23 of the run. That being said, I was definitely in the hurtbox, as I realized that I was on track to go sub-12.

(2) How hard a race is depends on your preparation for the effort that you are looking to put in. I trained like a monster for the IM that I did. I didn't train like a monster for NYC. I still had a very good run for my marathon debut, but I blew up. Looking back at my photos from the last 8 miles or so, the facial expression that I have on my face is similar to one you would see if you had been stabbed in your lower back. It was excruciating pain and far worse than the IM.

(3) Tied in with (2), how hard of an effort you are looking to put in matters tremendously. You can be the fittest guy in the world, but if you are trying to race faster than this level, you are going to be in a lot of pain. If, on the other hand, you only aspire to put out 50% of your potential effort, you will not. Some people are naturally extremely competitive and want to push their limits every chance they get. Others just want to go out of their comfort zone for a bit but refuse to enter the "red zone". It's partly a thing of the human temperament--we always seek more.

(4) People differ in their skills. Some may just naturally be good (i.e. efficient) at running and can put out an extremely solid effort for a marathon. When it comes to an IM, though, the swim and bike throw off their run. These innate differences (specializations or comparative advantages) make it that much more difficult to compare relative levels of pain.

(5) Points (1), (2), (3), and (4) all indicate that there are just too many factors that determine whether or not an IM or a marathon hurts more. We kind of have to accept that without knowing the specific context and circumstances behind a race, we cannot make generalizations about the level of pain, even on a relative scale.

In conclusion, an IM should, all else equal (i.e. ceteris paribus, as my economics professor would say), hurt more, but there are certainly some occasions in which a marathon can justifiably be said to be painful or harder (these are rare).

These are my thoughts. I'm still a young naive college student, but I have done both an IM and a marathon (one, exactly, of each), so I definitely feel like this debate is worth conducting.

Eric said...

Very good response. yes, it is very true that this discussion is very subjective. My thoughts really boil down to the fact that I feel most who race an IM do so in fear of blowing up, as you described - at a pace that will get them across the finish line. The very long day in itself makes it difficult no matter what. But the pace is usually somewhat conservative.

Congrats on your IM and NYC and thanks for checking out my blog and posting.