Monday, November 15, 2010

San Antonio Marathon Race Report

The weather gods would have had to work even harder to make conditions for the 2010 San Antonio Marathon any better. It was cloudy with moderate winds and the temperature was in the 50s.

As this was my first San Antonio and Rock & Roll Marathon I deliberately didn't run with my normal iPod so-as to better appreciate the music and interact with spectators and fellow runners. This worked out quite well, and the groups along the course were quite good - especially a blues band playing at the half-way point.

The San Antonio Marathon logistics were excellent, far better than the numerous complaints from runners whose primary gripe was the former starting location requiring frequently delayed busing (now solved with the new downtown start). The course continues to include great scenery including the Alamo, though I was a bit disappointed with sparse spectator support for many late marathon miles owing to the remote municipal airport routing. My worries of elevation changes along the San Antonio course proved to not be a non-issue, though they were larger than Houston's pancake flat terrain and comparable to Dallas White Rock's (and nowhere close to the very technical and challenging Austin course).

As to my performance... well, I was very disappointed. But, I learned some good lessons through the experience.

I felt good on the morning of the race, albeit with some lingering sniffles from a nasty cold that I was nearly over. As such, I decided to line-up with the 3:15 pacing group hoping they'd guide me to a 4-minute P.R.. The pace group leader Derek was very good, and he held the group to generally consistent 7:20 splits, which I was able to hold onto without a problem until the 16th mile when the 'wheels fell of the wagon'.

At that point, quite unexpectedly and very suddenly I bonked very hard. Within a quarter mile I suddenly felt very hot and began to feel a bit lightheaded - as I had in the Chicago Marathon five weeks previously when I'd similarly bonked shortly after the 20th mile marker. I immediately slowed down hoping that I'd get my Mojo back, as I had somewhat demonstrated in Chicago's late stage while approaching the Grant Park finish. However, no dice; my proverbial goose was cooked.

In my emotional let-down in the remaining 10 mile walk to the finish line watching stronger and better paced marathoners quickly pass I briefly thought of calling it quits and DNF'ing my first race by jumping into the sag wagon. I didn't and was glad. I really wanted the medal, and am now glad to have it! While I hope I'd not hesitate to DNF should medical issues necessitate, I knew my problem was ultimately simple glycogen depletion caused by poor preparation and bad race execution.

During my long walk, where I was only briefly able to jog slowly for brief quarter-mile segments, I was glad that I didn't have my iPod since it forced me to interact with the incredibly supportive San Antonio spectators. I also talked extensively with numerous other runners whose bad fortunes matched mine, and was encouraged to find many first time marathoners who were enjoying their inaugural runs. While walking-in to a discouraging 4:32 finish, I genuinely enjoyed the race, though immediately began plotting how to avoid a similar fate.

In retrospect I believe that my undoing was several-fold:
  1. While I'd shaken the worst of the very bad cold that I'd picked-up only four days before the marathon, my body's energy reserves in the preceding days were spent fighting the cold virus - versus storing glycogen energy reserves as ideally occurs during a taper.
  2. My most recent marathon in Chicago was only five-weeks prior to San Antonio's. While I'd shown remarkably resiliency in the past (most recently in January with an even shorter four-week delay between my Houston and Austin P.R. Marathons) the difference was that unlike Chicago I hadn't bonked Houston. As such my legs had felt great afterward allowing me to train well through both Houston and Austin without a hiccup in training to either (conversely, in the five weeks preceding San Antonio I only had one good 12+ mile training run which was itself lacking through only being 16 versus the ideal 20+ miles.)
  3. Once again my ambition on race-day got the better of me. Deluding myself into the conviction that I was ready to slam another P.R. I ignored my wife's good advice (and doubtless Coach Sean Wade's, had I asked) to choose a slower pacing group then target a negative split late in the race.
So, as the bottom line on this day after the marathon, though facing worse-than-normal body and muscle aches I'm truly very glad that I ran the San Antonio Marathon and highly recommend the course (comparing Texas Marathons I'd still list Houston's as the very best, followed by San Antonio, Dallas White Rock then Austin.) I learned, and re-learned, some lessons along the way and I hope to be ready for Houston - now only 11-weeks away.

Here's an apt post marathon day humorous video well describing my current situation:

Finally, here's a great article by Matt Fitzgerald on the inherent challenge to appropriately pace a marathon, even for very experienced marathoners.

Post Script: After the race was completed I discovered that several hundred runners who began the race a few minutes behind me were held-up by an unscheduled train by as much as three to four minutes. I was contacted by the race organizers afterward asking me whether I was held-up by the train, and if so by what length of time. Naturally, I responded that I wasn't held-up at all, so was very surprised earlier this week when I was informed that my finishing time was adjusted by subtracting four seconds (evidently a mathematical calculation was made for all runners using their potentially train-interrupted first 5K split versus their 5K to 10K split.) While this approach is probably the most defensible methodology it obviously over-estimates  runners' train-induced delay for those individuals like myself who in fact were not delayed (as most individuals in Corrals 1-3 were not), and for those individuals who attempted to make-up for lost time and therefore ran significantly faster afterward. Given the alternatives of denying individuals a hard-fought P.R. or B.Q. by under-estimating the train delay I guess the organizers have made the right decision - but the whole thing just rubs me the wrong way, and I sure hope trains are stopped in the future! 


  1. Thanks for the report, Mark. I'm sorry to hear that it didn't go as well as planned, but, as always, if we can walk away from these things and learn some lesson in the process, you can mark it in the "win" column.

    Good luck resting, recovering, and training for your next race!

  2. Once of the wonderful aspects of distance running is that we're always learning and adapting. Wonderful...and frustrating. I would say your analysis is spot-on and well thought out. Like you, I'd have a hard time DNF'ing (minus the med tent scenario, of course...assuming I'd recognize the seriousness).
    Rest & recover, have fun at your 10k, then nail Houston in January!

  3. Nice recap and as Colin says your analysis is spot-on. Rest well and recover completely, you'll be ready for a great Houston. Thanks for sharing those videos, really enjoyed them. Take care!

  4. I love the flora commercial more every time I see it. Sorry to hear it didn't go well. Now at least you can focus on getting healthier & recovered. Feel better!

  5. Several positives to be taken away from this race. Obviously the medal, but also a slightly humbling experience that yielded a wealth of knowledge for the next race. Conditions permitting, you should rock Houston.

  6. Bummer Mark. As you mention though it seems like we can always learn something new (or relearn something forgotten) regarding how to race our best.

    I've made a big point of trying to take in more food before the race than in my early marathons along with really working at drinking lots of fluids on course. I also started taking gels - about 5 typically - over the course of the race.

  7. It's funny, I read alot of blogger race reports and 90% of them somewhat mirror yours. It made me realize that marathons are frigging hard.

  8. Thanks for the tip about the S-caps. Are they a pill you can pop and swallow, or do they need to be dissolved in water? I don't want to carry water with me, so I'm looking for something that can be swallowed or dissolved in a small amount of water.

  9. IMHO S!Caps are better than Nuun since they're pills, and as-such the pill is directly popped versus being dissolved in water. However, owing to the pill's high salt content it should be taken with some fluid. Check to learn more. On topic, I've got a good friend who nearly died after a long afternoon Texas run while re-hydrating solely with water, and as a result our running group is extremely attuned to the importance of electrolytes (and all of us carry S!Caps on nearly every 10-mile run or beyond).