The "Broken Marathon Challenge" Race Report

You want a challenge? Looking for a race to partake in? I was, too! So, I made my own.

On May 17th, I embarked on what I'll call the "Broken Marathon Challenge". This was not a straight forward marathon. At the beginning of each hour – first run at 8AM, last run at 8PM - I ran at least 2 miles (the first run was 2.2) until I got to a full marathon (and with a couple 2.01/2.02 segments, I ended up at 26.31…I digress). There were many goals for this race:

  1. First a foremost, raising money toward Cancer Research through the Pan-Mass Challenge and Dana Farber for all those affected by cancer.
  2. Wanting to see the pace I could hold throughout the day (or what COULD I hold)
  3. Seeing how nutrition would play a factor over the course of 13 runs

A couple things to note as I dive into the nitty-gritty:

  1. I chose to do this broken down marathon because, full disclosure, I am undertrained for a marathon. However, I knew I was fit enough to complete the distance.
  2. Unless otherwise noted, I consumed any foods between 25 and 40 minutes past the top of the hour (I note some time stamps, but not all).
  3. All runs took place in an environment where I would pass a minimal amount of people (many runs it was 0 people). Because of the current state of the pandemic, however, I do choose to run with a buff around my neck, prepared to place it over my face for any amount of time needed to feel comfortable upon seeing people.

Let this be my “diary” entry for the day of Sunday the 17th. Here we go!

Dear Diary…just kidding. Here’s an hour by hour report.

7:30AM Wake up: I didn’t want to overthink the day. I wasn’t looking for a PR, I knew I had the ability to correct nutrition early on, so I felt it best to sleep in a bit, wake up, and get run #1 in. Did not need applesauce (and didn’t have any). Only thing consumed prior to the first run was Stok Iced Coffee with a little almond milk (about 12 oz fluid total).

8AM: Run 1 – 2.20 miles, 16:32 (7:30/mi). As indicated, wanted to knock the .2 out of the way early. I knew because GPS watches aren’t perfect that I’d likely pick up the extra .02 along the way (I did), but didn’t want to chance having to add on .1-.2 miles at the end of the day, not knowing the level of fatigue I would have. Treated this run like a warm-up…steady, loosened the body, got the HR up, and got it done with time to fuel and get ready for the next run.  Between 8:25-8:35AM, I had a Clif Bar (Chocolate Chip), 16 oz water, and a hot coffee. I didn’t want to overfuel with gels or electrolytes too much early on, because I didn’t want to risk any bonky type feelings before the halfway point from relying heavily on carbs and electrolytes. I did want to keep moving on the caffeine, but in moderation.

9AM: Run 2 – 2.01, 14:43 (7:20/mi) (4.21, 31:14 total). I should note here that my cumulative goal was to average under 7 minutes per mile on the day. But I wanted to really ease into that, so a slightly quicker run here did the trick. Body was still getting loose – you think about the way you start any long race after your initial warm-up, it sometimes takes the body a little extra time to find its rhythm. Once I got back, I threw two slices of bread in the toaster to have toast with peanut butter. Since I had ample rest and felt the body could handle it, I felt it important, to try to have “breakfast”, without overdoing it (an omelet wasn’t happening, for example). But I did drink Gatorade Endurance here – about 12 oz.

10AM: Run 3 – 2.01, 14:02 (7:00/mi) (6.22, 45:16 total). Now I was starting to settle into a groove. Heart rate was still in control, body felt ready to run, and energy was as if it was my first run of the day. Mentally, nothing was too challenging, but a lingering idea started here where I thought “I still have 10 more runs to go”. I had another cup of coffee at 10:30 – I average 2 cups per day – along with 12 oz of water and a chocolate chewy bar from Trader Joe’s. Again, keeping food consumption “normal” was important to me early on - at the very least mixing it in with race-type fuel – until I felt that the body needed quicker access to carbs and electrolytes through sports specific foods.

11AM: Run 4 – 2.02, 14:00 (6:57/mi) (8.24, 59:16 total). I spent the first 5-6 runs trying out different roads, to the point where this loop put me on some roads that I have never been on. I wasn’t quite sure at this point if it would be easier or harder mentally to do the same route or different routes, but I wanted to know some options. I have a pretty good idea of my neighborhood and knew what would be too short or too long. Everything physically felt about the same after this one as I crept toward a third of the way through. I did feel like I may have overconsumed food to this point, so I stuck to normal Gatorade and a package of Gatorade Endurance Chews, so the body could use this fuel going forward.

12PM: Run 5 – 2.00, 13:49 (6:54/mi) (10.24, 1:13:05 total). Being around 72-73 minutes through 10 miles for me is pretty standard, which made me feel good about the amount of effort I had put forth thus far. This is probably the first run that I noticed that, although it would start to feel “stiff” to start some of these runs, my body very easily fell right back into the same paces as the previous run left off. Energy still fine and mentally still going well up to this point. I wasn’t quite hungry yet for lunch (I knew I was eating a sandwich at some point) but did want to stick with the trend of including regular food. I chose the saltiness of some tortilla chips, washed down with a 20 oz bottle of Skratch (I wanted to keep the fluids a little different too, which is why I opted to switch brands for this one). Just before I left for the 1PM run, I took in a Caffeinated Gatorade Endurance Gel (hey – these are pretty good!) and carried on.

1PM: Run 6 – 2.01, 13:30 (6:42/mi) (12.25, 1:26:35 total). Well, that caffeine certainly kicked in! I switched to a route that I know pretty well (I’ll loop here on a run all day if I fear overcrowding or a storm is coming and need to get home), which may have helped push the pace a tad. And my HR average actually went DOWN, which was encouraging. I wasn’t ready to eat lunch yet, and I knew I wasn’t going to have a real meal again after I ate lunch, so I went with a regular Gatorade gel and about 10 oz of regular Gatorade, at about 1:45PM. Lunch was going to happen after the 2PM, but if there was any risk of being undernourished for the 2PM run, I wanted to offset it with some electrolytes.

2PM: Run 7 – 2.01, 13:03 (6:29/mi), (14.26, 1:39:38 total). Oh boy. Pace got pushed again, but knowing I was over the halfway mark helped. I’ll also note here that I was now under 7 minutes per mile on the day and felt like this type of effort was attainable for a bit. I expected a small fade at some point in the day – more on that later – but wanted to push it when I felt I could to really see how fast I could get. And the best part – I made myself a Peanut Butter and Fluff sandwich (and had homemade iced coffee from my client KB)! Who wouldn’t run faster if they knew that was coming?! Additionally, I made the executive decision to shower and change clothes. When I first started, I actually planned to change more often – I started the day off in an outfit that I figured would last two runs and is normally one of my back up pairs, assuming I wouldn’t want to wear it later in the day. Now that it was hotter, and fatigue was coming on, I chose to get in a preferred outfit.

3PM: Run 8 – 2.01, 13:05 (6:30/mi), (16.27, 1:52:42 total). The power of pure sugar! This run felt incredible. My heart rate averaged dropped from the previous run, legs felt great, and I only had 5 runs left! Woohoo! NOW, the goal was to break 3 hours of running. I knew that the energy would feel better on this one, but I also knew it might go away quite quickly. So to get more calorites, I had a Clif bar, with another iced coffee, to try to keep that momentum going. To top it off, I had a non-caffeinated gel just before 4PM to get the energy flowing.

4PM: Run 9 – 2.01, 13:15 (6:36/mi), (18.28, 2:05:57 total). Yeah…the sugar wore off. I figured that at some point, I would see a small fade. I had covered the last 6 miles in under 40 minutes, which was also after running 10 miles already and, coincidentally, was my longest run in 2 months. I noted in an earlier run that I was pressing my luck, and while it didn’t show in the pace so much, I was feeling the fatigue. I had a banana the moment I got back, sipped on Gatorade endurance (probably 12 oz), and took a caffeinated gel about 10 minutes before 5PM to try to right the ship. At this point mentally, I’m fully in the “When does this end” mindset. A pretty big 180 from where I was only one run previously.

5PM: Run 10 – 2.00, 12:43 (6:20/mi), (20.28, 2:18:40 total). While my mind was fading, my body was still in the fight. It STILL wanted to maintain the pace. I switched the route for this one after doing the same route for Runs 6-9, which maybe helped mentally. Had 8 oz Gatorade Endurance and a Clif Bar. I also had a challenge in front of me – two friends told me early in the day that, if I were to break 12 minutes for just one run, they would add to their initial donation. I liked the challenge, but I didn’t know when it would tactically be best to execute. Had I tried earlier in the day, would it have destroyed me for the back half of the marathon? If I were to wait until the end, would I be completely destroyed? It was after this run that I knew I could give it an effort. Because I had just run my fastest time, I chose to wait until the 7PM run to try for it. Had another non-caffeinated gel just before the 6PM run.

6PM: Run 11: 2.01, 13:05 (6:31/mi), (22.29, 2:31:45 total). I spent most of this run freaking out about if I should or should not try to break 12 minutes at the 7PM run and went slightly slower here. I was pretty confident that I could keep this up, and also didn’t want to jeopardize finishing the day by getting hurt or causing an injury long term. But I had the main goal of raising money toward cancer research and I knew that I could at the very least go 11:59. Plus, OF COURSE I wanted to see how fast I could go after running 22 miles! Duh! So, I accepted the challenge, I presented it to my friends on social media, and I went all out for this. I had 12 ounces of Gatorade Endurance, and a caffeinated gel 15 minutes before 7PM. I even switched to my race shoes! Here goes nothing…

7PM: Run 12: 2.01, 11:24 (5:41/mi), (24.30, 2:43:09 total). Yikes! No, this isn’t a world record time, but I was honestly shocked this wasn’t a total disaster. I was fully ready to explode and run 2 minutes per mile slower at any point during the day and would not have been shocked if it happened here. This run right here brought in a couple hundred dollars to Dana Farber and made my body ache pretty badly the next day. I took the nutrition after this pretty non-seriously. I had one run left that I was confident in, I was going to break 3 hours (even at 8:20 pace), and I had pretty much nothing left to prove to my body physically. So, I had a few swigs of Gatorade, some tortilla chips, and some chocolate chips. Why not, right?! One more to go!

8PM: Run 13: 2.01, 14:27 (7:11/mi)
FINAL TOTAL: 26.31 miles, 2:57:36, 6:45
Done! I celebrated with Jen, laid down in the grass for a bit, and accomplished what I set out to do. We brought the fundraising total to close to $3K for the year, which is huge in a year where the PMC is going to be down in fundraising this year (you can still donate, and can ALWAYS donate, here: pmc.org/jd0491). And for those wondering, I capped the nutrition off with two homemade turkey burgers (based on the Bison Burger recipe in Shalane Flanagan’s book, for those wondering), a mountain of French fries, and a seltzer. And then I had a blondie brownie and passed out.

But wow – what a day! It was amazing to do this event solo and still feel so much support. I was extremely curious what this event might reveal about pacing, fueling, recovery, and mental fortitude when it comes to endurance sport. Proper pacing is clearly something that should be targeted for any race – you can’t get the OUTCOME without knowing how to get there. And it also evidently relied on a good warm up. I didn’t go faster than my average total pace until the SIXTH run – over ten miles into the day! Fueling being helpful was supported too, both in what you fuel with and when you consume it. I didn’t note this too much, but it was also pretty clear during the first mile of each run if I did a good job recovering from the accumulated miles (i.e., did I put my legs up on the couch or just sit on my phone at the kitchen table) during the time off. Lastly, the mental portion is huge. Finding the right intrinsic motivators for why you accept and embark on certain challenges is a great thing to remember on race day, and letting your support crew (family, friends, coach) help you along the way is only going to be beneficial.

Even in a world without races, YOU CAN STILL CHALLENGE YOURSELF! I hope this might inspire you to do your own fitness test!

- Joe Rich, Cycle Life Studio Manager and OutRival Racing Leve 3 Coach



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