Last month, I ran my 3rd ever marathon in Falmouth Cape Cod and it was the best one yet! Grateful for the marathon journey that I have been on these past 2 years.
In this detailed blog post, I share my deep dive reflection with you on how I executed nearly the perfect race day strategy despite the unexpected challenges I faced. I hope by sharing my marathon race recap with you that you will be able to learn something and apply it to your running journey.
Listen to the Podcast Episode during your next run!
For context in our Spark Healthy Runner how to grow as a runner framework. I am going to fill your race day bucket
This was race #72 for me in my 12 year adult onset running journey and my 3rd marathon.
My first marathon was in 2017 in Hartford, CT right after I graduated with both my doctoral degrees (PhD and DPT) and this was the first time I attempted to train for anything longer than a half marathon. I followed the free Hal Higdon plan online like most do and made all the rookie mistakes in terms of mileage, recovery, and pacing (running my easy runs too fast). My experience was not very rewarding because I walked/jogged through painful cramps for the last 6 miles…I didn’t know about proper sodium replacement or race strategy. My final time was 4:15:03.
My second marathon was 5 years later in 2022 in Hartford, CT. It took me 5 years, hosting 150 episodes on the Healthy Runner Podcast, becoming a run coach myself, designing and helping others crush their marathon dreams, to go back for seconds! I detailed my marathon journey deeply on social media and the podcast, sharing my wins, doing advanced marathon training and crushing the training! However, during race week, I suffered a bout of race anxiety the days leading up to the race with all the build up, which really sent my GI system into a tailwind a couple of days before the race. On top of this, my sleep was terrible 3 days before the event. I ran the whole thing without leg cramping this time, but suffered from the worst GI crams, bloating and needing to use the porta potty TWICE. I was frustrated. I was not able to test my fitness that I had in training, but proud for pushing through the struggle and finishing the whole 26.2 and still, miraculously getting a personal best, with a final time of 4:03:39.
Therefore, my primary goal leading up to the Cape Cod Marathon was to stay relaxed, double down on my self care strategies that I talked about in the Recovery for Runners Episode (episode 196 on the Healthy Runner Podcast).
Being a beach guy, the Cape was a great place to get into relaxed mode before the marathon.
I checked into my hotel on Thursday evening and spent a great beach day on Friday in shorts and enjoyed feeling the sun on my skin. This was so fantastic this time of year to get a glimpse of summer, especially before the race. I even enjoyed the next day in sweats when it was cloudy and cold but it was so nice to hear the crashing waves and feel the sand under my toes.
I added a second session of guided meditation to my daily routine (I also do one every evening thanks to Rebecca Doring –> (Episode 151 on the Healthy Runner Podcast)
I listened to the audio book Endure from Alex Hutchinson (I highly recommend this) on the car ride up and while relaxing at the beach. I finished reading Do Hard Things by Steve Magness (a suggestion from Stefanie Flippin, Thank You!!)
I studied the race course map and my race day plan that my coach set out for me 1x/day and followed that up with a guided race day visualization of me executing the plan with the images I saw on the race website and YouTube.
I stayed off of social media and resisted the urge to share all of these pictures because I wanted to avoid talking about the race too much before it happened, given the experience I had last year.
I ate normal portions of food that I would normally eat and just changed the percentage of carbs a bit more as well as taking out any high fiber raw veggies and fruits out of my diet…there was no crazy carb loading.
I went for a shopping spree at the race expo to commemorate this experience for lasting memories!
I got a solid 7 to 8 hours of sleep for 4 straight days leading into the race without any anxious thoughts or waking up at night.
I prepped my Flat Duane race kit the day before and I
felt confident going to bed that I was
ready to have a breakthrough marathon and execute another hard long run that I have done many times in training consistently these past 2 years. It was just another long run and I was ready to execute the plan!
The weather forecast for race day… 58 degrees, full sun, 47 degree dew point, 68% humidity and wind 20-30 mph with 40 mph occasional gusts.
In tracking the weather leading up to race day, I was more concerned about higher dew point and hard down pours from a tropical storm off the east coast. I was happy that the cold front came through the day before which dropped the dew point considerably.
I really didn’t give the wind a thought until race morning in which I started questioning my running outfit and plan for the day… would I be cold with 18 mph wind in the lower 50’s to start the race? Should I use my arm sleeves? With the temperature I wasn’t planning on it…but with the wind, would I be too cold? Should I wear gloves to start the race? I did buy a “throw away” pair the day before at the expo just in case…Will the wind impact my performance or race plan?
I only ran one race in windy conditions and that was the Surftown Half Marathon right on the coast of Rhode Island and I remember the constant wind coming off the ocean making the effort feel a lot harder and that was a 13 mph wind which definitely affected my performance that day. This was 18mph and 20-30 mph gusts.
So what did I do? Googled running in windy conditions.
Here’s what I learned.
Adjust pace based upon the wind with the following scenarios:
5 mph wind – add 0-15 seconds per mile
10 mph wind – add 20-30 seconds per mile
15 mph wind – add 30-45 seconds per mile
20 mph wind – add 50-60 seconds per mile
I knew the wind would impact performance but I was ready to execute the plan my coach had for me with the only difference being to adjust to the wind direction (whether it was a headwind or tailwind). So my pace may alter a bit from the plan.
The face that this minor surprise didn’t send me into a tailspin and make me anxious before the race was a testament to the self care strategies I had outlined and executed in Part 1 of my Marathon Recap.
I decided to go with the gloves to start (no arm sleeves) and I was happy I did, as I wore them until mile 8 then just put them in my pocket and decided to keep them as a souvenir because they did say Cape Cod Marathon on them!
Can you find me in this “Where’s Waldo?” picture above??
The race starts and here is the plan and goals I had after meeting with my coach…
Goal – warm up for these miles with a speed limit of 8:15 pace or so. I have been training at my current fitness level of 7:58 -8:00 marathon pace based upon my half marathon in June.
I went out feeling good that I was right where the plan put me and was mindfully adjusting pace on effort as I did have a headwind right on the ocean there at mile 2 and then again at mile 4 so that is why those pace were a bit slower.
Goal – closer to 8:05 – 10s.
Faster during mile 5 going on effort and taking advantage of no headwind as we were guarded surrounded by woods on this section and there was a slight downhill elevation loss.
Mile 6 was tough as we were totally exposed at the tip of the island here right on the ocean and remember having to turn my head for 10 minutes just to control my breathing so I wasn’t sucking in straight up wind. This mile also had the most elevation (looks silly being at 30 feet but tried to not expend too much energy running the short steeper hill).
The end of my first segment of the race was a bit slower than the plan but I knew it was the most important to get in control and get into a good rhythm which was a bit more challenging with the wind and some hills. I knew I had plenty of time to make up for it as it is far better to play it more conservative in the beginning of a marathon versus more aggressive.
As mentioned in part 2, I accomplished getting to the start line calm and well rested and feeling like how I do for all my long runs in my training.
Next, I was able to stay in control and get in a rhythm in the first segment of the race conserve energy I would need later in the race. Now for the “middle miles” which can be the toughest miles of a marathon as the brain can get “lazy” and you can drift off of your goal pace.
The goal my coach laid out was to ease into marathon race pace now – 7:58 to 8:00. Mile 7 was better than the previous mile (8:33) and I was back on the plan. In retrospect, I wished I pushed this mile a bit more but I was trying to focus on getting into MP rhythm, while keeping the breathing calm and didn’t realize I wasn’t actually running at MP.
In mile 8, I locked in on marathon pace and this had some nice downhill running which helped on the effort!
This section felt right where it should feel but looking back now that is probably because this was the only section of the course that I had a full tailwind during miles 9, 10 and 13. Knowing that would be the only section I probably would have not played it as safe knowing how hard the headwind would be miles 20+.
My goal was to cross the halfway mark at no faster than 1:45 so I would run the second half faster. Obtained this goal (1:48:07) though 3 minutes slower than anticipated but was feeling pretty positive as I knew I was setting myself up for a strong finish!
I felt really good coming through the halfway mark and did the self assessment my coach wanted me to do and I really didn’t feel like anything needed to change. I was in a good mindset, fuel and hydration were spot on and I was happy I didn’t need to use the bathroom at all during the race!
As a matter of fact, I passed a race photographer during a relay exchange point and pulled out the flex pose as I was feeling so strong during this point and like I wasn’t even racing (the photographer and the crowd got a kick out of it).
I was cruising through miles 13 to 15 right on 8 minute pace staying patient to not push too hard with the effort and adjusted the effort on mile 16 based on a slow climbing elevation down this one residual block which was pretty boring and really was the first time my legs were going as fast I felt the effort was. This was the highest my HR got during the race (based on wrist data metrics).
After seeing 8:29 on my watch at mile 16 (I was like Oh Sh_t!!) So I picked up at mile 17 starting to focus on someone in front to go fishing ( a bit earlier than I thought I would be doing this) and got a huge boost of confidence when I saw 8:03 that next mile and even said “whoo!” giving a first pump to the air out loud as I was running through a small cheer section
Mile 18 – ran straight into headwind and it really felt like hard effort again!
Mile 19 and 20 – was in and out of this little residual area making a square, it was really boring and quiet and I was trying to stay focused on the only runner in front of me and catch them. Effort started feeling hard here and I was just trying to hang on without having to go full dark mode as I was planning on doing that after mile 20. I wish I pushed more these 2 miles as the wind wasn’t bad here as we were protected with houses and trees.
13.1 mile – 1:48:07, 8:15
15.8 miles – 2:10:36, 8:16
19.8 miles – 2:43:14, 8:15
Would my conservative start actually pay off?
Now the fun starts and the real race begins! I have done ALL THE WORK and the goal was to focus on picking people off as I passed mile 20.
Mile 21 – Out of the little neighborhood and was running on a straight away with a little net downhill, and I felt pumped to pick up the pace a bit after having my 6th gel at mile 20 because I felt like I needed that SPARK! I brought an extra gel in case I dropped one, so I knew I had another one to have at mile 23/24… 8:01 time.
Mile 22 – This was the worst mile of the day by far. The whole mile was right along the ocean which was gorgeous, but fully exposed to the 20 mph constant headwind and no one to drag behind as I was out on my own, exposed. It felt really hard here, not only because this is the hardest part of the marathon but it felt like I was running in place. From this point forward, I followed my coach’s advice to run with heart and not check my watch anymore. I knew I ran the first half pretty much where I wanted to be and knew I would have extra energy at the end here and I was trying to kick it into the next notch but really couldn’t with the wind which was a bit frustrating… 9:06 time.
Mile 23 – This was another annoying square route into a residual neighborhood which was a bunch of turns but luckily protected from the harsh winds for the most part but the effort still felt hard here with a little bit of elevation. I had my 7th gel at the end of this mile… 8:53.
Mile 24 – I was back into full blown headwind, exposed on the ocean front, but I was really determined here! I was pulling out my fight mantras and the one I wasn’t planning on using was how my coach wrote as a process goal to “finish without any regrets” so I kept using the mantra “no regrets” from this point forward… 8:51.
Mile 25 – I couldn’t believe this point of the race came in so quick actually. The feeling was weird because I am used to feeling like my breathing is super heavy and the last 3 miles of a half marathon just completely sucks more because you are running your fastest miles and it is HARD. This felt different in a weird way as this was the only marathon and I have run the whole thing… that first one I had to walk the last 6 miles with painful leg cramps, the second I had weird GI symptoms and was just jogging at the end. This race felt different than the half marathons because I was trying to push my body to run faster and I felt like my lungs could breathe fine and my legs were fatigued but they weren’t cramping or painful. They just didn’t turn over any quicker. It was like my mind wanted to run faster, but my body was generally fatigued? Have you ever felt like this on a marathon?
So I pushed harder, pulling out my fight mantras and breathing with a loud exhale to get my body to run faster and fought to have a strong finish, not worrying about pace, but just pushing my body to it’s limits. I got into tunnel vision mode and couldn’t respond to people cheering me on and just focused on what was in front of me, trying to chase people down. I was happy to see I ran this mile faster than the 3 previous miles as it was really starting to feel like a 10/10 effort here… 8:37.
Mile 26+ – I looked at my watch and saw my total time and knew I would be close to the 3:40:00 cut off and gave it all I had. I ran with heart, pushed to a 10/10 effort and didn’t want to have any regrets! Would have loved to see my marathon pace here at 8:00? Heck yeah, but I am happy that I ran mile 26 faster than miles 22-24. I am AWARE my brain saw the finish line and had one goal and purpose at this point.
I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t disappointed when I crossed the finish line and saw I missed sub 3:40 by 38 seconds but that thought passed in about 30 seconds as I know in my heart I turned it on at the end with a strong finish after some really tough miles (22-24) into some crazy headwind. 8:48 and 8:12 last half mile.
After my last call with my coach, I wrote out my outcome goals….
When I saw my coach’s outcome goals based on my fitness and the training I completed (ranged from sub 3:30 – 3:36), I’m not going to lie, I thought she was being a bit optimistic.
Now, experiencing my first marathon race in which I raced the whole thing, executing a smart strategy with pacing, varying effort based on elevation and wind, and maintaining a positive mindset throughout and running with heart, I am confident that her goals were reasonable and attainable.
The reality of the situation was on this race day, the headwind especially at mile 18 and miles 22-24, really played a factor in my time outcome goal. I was grateful to meet my B outcome goal and that I shaved 23 minutes off of my PR. Most importantly, I am proud of myself for meeting all of my process goals, especially believing in myself and finishing without regrets.
Overall, I am really proud of this effort and I have enjoyed the journey getting here. Like my coach predicted, this would be a breakout marathon performance and it was for sure!
No race is going to be perfect conditions and I felt like this is one in which I stepped up to the challenge of this weird windy day and left no regrets on the course. I am grateful for this opportunity and feeling healthy before, during and after this race.
As a result of this experience, after 12 years into my adult onset running journey and 3rd marathon, I can (finally) call myself a marathoner!
Thank You to the amazing Stefanie Flippin for allowing me to have gratitude for each step, running with joy in my heart, and allowing me to finish feeling strong. Your coaching expertise and guidance has been invaluable in allowing me to believe in myself relentlessly.
Thank you to coach Lu for equipping me with the tools to tackle marathon training in 2022 and improve my running fitness with 2+ years of structured and progressive training which served as the foundation for this latest marathon training cycle to flourish.
To Coach Brooke, registered dietician for teaching me to fuel early and often as CARBS give me Spark!
To my wife Deb, for your love and support during all of the training and for allowing me to take a self-care long weekend getaway.
To my Spark Healthy Runner team coaches, Whitney, Cat, LaToya, Lu and Allie for providing support and helping to decrease my workload stress and being so amazing at what you do for our running community!
If you want personalization for your marathon breakthrough or strength training for running into your busy schedule and want clarity, focus, accountability and support That is exactly what we do within our Spark Healthy Runner Coaching Program! We guide you back on the road doing what you love without having a setback. Let us take away the guesswork and support you along this process getting back on the road.
We act as your guide in mastering the six key steps of your running journey…
Mindset, Strength Training, Structured Run Plan, Nutrition, Recovery, and Race Strategy.
When you get the structure to execute the 6 key steps of your running journey, you’ll not only feel more confident in getting stronger and faster — you’ll stay healthy and enjoy the process of running again and crush some races along the way (like I did) and beyond (like I hope to do!)
There are six parts of your running journey that need to be optimized so you can run strong and last long! Learn them here: [Download] How to Grow as a Runner (6 Steps)
In the context of my personal running journey, this was a major step forward and one that was quite enjoyable as I continue to learn, grow, and challenge the mind and body!
In the words of the great Bill Rodgers “Aiming for the marathon is a task of sorts which can include terrific highs and lows” for me, grateful to have more highs than lows during this training cycle and my 3rd marathon experience.
Stay tuned for continued marathon growth in 2024 starting off with the runDisney Dopey Challenge in January!
Until then, let’s maintain a strong mind, strong body, and just keep running!
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Connect with Dr. Duane:
Dr. Duane Scotti, DPT, PhD, OCS is a running physical therapist, run coach, host of the Healthy Runner podcast, and founder of Spark Healthy Runner and has been a leader in the rehab and running community for 20+ years.
Duane initially started running as an adult, wanting to add some cardio to his gym sessions. After having a hip surgery, his doctor advised him to get off the treadmill and run outside. Without having fully recovered, Duane suffered a running-related hamstring tendon injury and many others as a novice runner.
As a coach, he has guided thousands of athletes back to running, finishing their first marathon, crushing a personal best, and even the elusive Boston Marathon qualifying time.
He is truly living his passion educating the running community that they don’t need to stop running to get over a running injury. Through his signature 1:1 coaching program, weekly videos, and podcast episodes, he empowers runners to get stronger, run faster, and enjoy lifelong injury free running. Dr. Duane truly believes that anyone can run and that all runners should be treated differently when recovering from an injury. He is on a mission to change the traditional thinking that running causes “overuse injuries” or “your body is just not meant to run” and you must “take a break” to get better. Through strength and run specific training you can grow a strong mind, strong body, and just keep running!
Duane received his Bachelor of Health Science degree and Master of Physical Therapy degree from Quinnipiac University in 2001 and 2003. He then went on to receive a clinical Doctor of Physical Therapy and a Ph.D. in Physical Therapy from Nova Southeastern University in 2017. Duane is a board-certified Orthopaedic Clinical Specialist, RRCA Certified Running Coach, Certified Mulligan Practitioner, certified in dry needling and has advanced training in spinal manipulation and rehabilitation for runners.
As an athlete, Duane is an adult-onset runner, avid half marathoner, and enjoys challenging himself to learn and grow in his personal running journey!
A native New Yorker from Long Island, Duane currently lives in Cheshire, Connecticut with his wife Deb and his two teenage daughters who are competitive volleyball players. They all love to explore new beaches along the east coast.
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You can teach an old dog new tricks!!! I have never considered myself a runner and I knew I needed to be smart about it because I am no spring chicken. Spark preached getting strong and healthy to be injury free and they practice what they preach. I am soooo glad I made the investment in me! I finished my half marathon last weekend and couldn’t be any happier! The program fed me all the steps I needed to essentially learn how to run long distance, build strength, nutrition help, a forum of other runners and probably most important was the 1:1 coaching. I had no idea how to tackle training for a 1/2 marathon and this program broke all of it down, had it individualized for me and we tweaked as we went to make sure I was staying healthy and strong. I had so many questions the week prior to my race and Coach Cat was always there for me and answering all the questions and issues I had-and believe me there were a lot! The biggest benefit I think I got was the strength. I am strong and fit. But most important was what I gained emotionally. I built confidence and strength I didn’t know I had, even at my age. Honestly could not have done this without Spark Healthy Runners!
My Healthy Runner journey started after I had battled bilateral achilles pain for a few months and was frustrated how it affected my running. As soon as I talked to Duane I knew I had made the right decision. His positivity, enthusiasm and genuine care are infectious. The training plan that was tailored to me included specific exercises to rehab my injury and I was so excited that I didn’t have to stop running. It took patience to only run slow for a few weeks but I trusted the process and it got me me to where I am now: running pain free. We made adjustments to the plan throughout whenever needed having someone in your corner that is always there with guidance and support throughout the process was invaluable.
I just ran my second half marathon, both with Duane’s coaching, and PR’d by over 9 minutes! I got all choked up in the last mile when I realized that I felt strong and could still kick it up a notch.
I’m so thankful for the Healthy Runner program, community and the entire coaching team for all the support!
Wanting to run more consistently, and to increase my long run distance and total weekly mileage, I was concerned about hip pain due to hip alignment issues. This is an issue I had when I trained for my first half marathon several years ago. Having listened to the Healthy Runner podcast for the past couple years, I knew Duane Scotti could help. I signed up for the four-month strength and running training program and am extremely happy with the results.
The program Duane and Coach Whitney developed for me was exactly what I needed. It was tailored to my needs and to my target race. Coach Whitney was very helpful, and with the biweekly coaching calls, we were able to fine tune the program based off my performance and feedback.
At the end of the program, I completed a 10K trail race feeling strong and pain free.
I highly recommend Duane Scotti and the Healthy Runner training programs.