Race Report: Morgan Hill Marathon

Sore legs and a new Personal Best!

On Sunday 23rd October I took part in the Morgan Hill Marathon, a beautiful & scenic race taking place around the town of Morgan Hill, which is about 25 mins south of San Jose in Northern California.

Uvas Reservoir

It felt strange to be running a marathon without first swimming 2.4 miles and biking 112 miles! Psychologically, this makes a big difference because you know that the distance is not going to be a problem, and it turns into more of an actual race against the clock. More than anything I was curious as to what time I’d be able to do in a straight marathon compared to an Ironman marathon leg.

As the name would suggest, the Morgan Hill Marathon is pretty hilly. The first few miles are relatively flat, and then you climb up to the Uvas reservoir, have rolling hills until about 15 miles, then a really steep downhill before hitting the final 10 miles which is pretty flat.

morgan hill marathon course elevation

course elevation, pace, cadence and heart rate

I wanted to test my limits, so my race plan was to head out as fast as possible, running at a heart rate of 1-2 bpm below threshold for as long as possible (my threshold is around 170, and I was averaging about 168). I would aim to run at this pace until I broke. Easy plan to stick to…

Pre race I didn’t  do much tapering. It felt like enough of a rest that I didn’t have to ride 112 miles first 😉 but I basically did a hard workout the weekend before and took 1 week of recovery, doing very little running and a few long bike rides. In terms of nutrition I was on high protein, lowish carb for most of the week, with a relatively carb-heavy day 24 hours before the race (no sugars, mainly raw oats & veggies, with a homemade pizza thrown in for good measure). The day before I also did some pre-race sharpening as prescribed by my taskmaster Coach Coady.

On race day, I got up at 5am, had a large bowl of rice crispies and a latte at home before driving down to Morgan Hill. I got there an hour before the start which was enough time to get another coffee + powerbar at the local Starbucks/Safeway. As a warm up I re-did my race sharpening workout (3 x 1 min @ marathon pace + 2 x fast strides) and some stretches. I packed my gels into my tri vest according to my race nutrition plan I tried to take in a little more compared to Ironman races, mainly because I would be running at a much higher intensity. At 168 bpm I’d be burning a lot of glycogen, whereas during an Ironman I don’t run much above 145 bpm, where I am using a high % of fat stores and am therefore less carb dependent. My planned intake was 1 gel every 15 mins, which worked out fine for me.

I started out pretty fast, but not too fast, about 7 min/mile. I was part of a small group of 3 that would run more or less together until the 19 mile mark. I stayed at a consistent pace of around 6:55 or so for most of the first half, going through halfway in just over 1:30. I felt very good at this stage, like I was holding a little back. The other 2 guys were about 45 secs in front of me at this stage. From here on I picked up the pace a bit to around 6:50 min/mile, with the goal of running a negative split. However, I did take the time to look around – the scenery was just stunning – such a beautiful course! Just before the 16 mile mark, we met the half marathon runners who were at around 8 miles. The course went up a pretty long hill before plummeting down (90 meter altitude drop in 2km). Once we hit the flats I was feeling super strong. I could see the 2 other guys in front and I set out to catch them, which I did at about mile 18. One of the marshalls called out that we were in positions 8,9 and 10th. Although a top 10 was nice, I was more concerned with keeping up this pace so that we could get there in a sub 3h. We were flying along the flats now at around 6:40 and I felt invincible. At 20 miles one of the other guys faded so it was just the 2 of us now. I was still feeling good. I was constantly measuring my pain on a level of 1-10, and it was around a 2 or 3. Suddenly, shortly after mile 21, I just started slowing down and the other guy dropped me. I just couldn’t go much faster than 7:15 / 7:30. By mile 23 the time was about 2:41, and I couldn’t get myself faster than 7:00 min/mile so I knew I’d miss the sub-3. I still pushed though, and the pain level escalated from 3 to about 7 in a very short space of time. The last mile felt like an eternity although I did it just under 8 minutes, it was very painful.

I crossed the line in 3:06:37, in 9th place overall and 1st in my age group. This was a new personal best for me, 17 minutes faster than I did Florence Marathon a year ago. I know that sub-3 is within grasp with a little extra distance in the run training! I would at least be very happy with a 3:06 at IMCdA next June… must just get off my butt and train harder!

PS: Post race, I actually feel worse than after an Ironman. It’s 2 days later and I still can’t really walk down stairs!