Last week's plan called for a long run of 18 miles with the last 15 at marathon pace. Since I know that the Colorado Marathon course is downhill, I really wanted to get the feel of running at my goal marathon pace (7:13) downhill. So, I devised a plan to run the 18 miler down Spearfish Canyon, the mouth of which is about 15 miles south of my house. The Canyon runs consistently downhill from south to north and I've run two half-marathons on it (both PRs because they are the only two halves I've ever run), so I knew it would be the closest I could come to simulating the Colorado course (although if you do the math, the Canyon is a little more of a downhill). Here's the route I ran, if anyone cares (and even if no one does):
The week before this run, I drove up the Canyon and marked each mile with hot pink flagging so that I'd be able to keep track of my pace. The day of the run, my wife and two kids shuttled me up the Canyon and then headed back to Spearfish to do our weekly grocery shopping (bonus for me: I get my long run in and I get to avoid a trip to Wal-Mart!!). I started off with three warm-up miles and then set about picking up the pace. My first "marathon pace" mile was actually too slow, in the 7:20s. The next was too fast, in the 6:40s. This continued for the first 4 marathon pace miles as I had a hell of a time zeroing in on 7:13 pace....I could comfortably go too fast or too slow, but for whatever reason couldn't find the middle ground. Finally, after a bathroom break, I was able to reel of three straight miles in the 7:00-7:03 range and decided that was close enough for government work. I then reeled off three straight miles at exactly 6:55 (how's that for pacing?...sure it was too fast, but rock solid none the less). I was comfortable, so I went with it for fear of trying to slow down and slowing too much. I ended up reaching the Spearfish city park (with my kids cheering me on enthusiastically) in just over 2:09, for an average of 7:10/mile for the entire 18 and 7:03/mile for the last 15. Oops.
So, there were two general results from this dress rehearsal. First, my quads took a beating like no other they've received in a long time. I honestly felt like I had run a marathon afterwards and actually think I was less sore after my last marathon than I was yesterday (thankfully, they feel much better today). Second, I think I might actually be able to run a 3:10:59 (or less) at Colorado. Although the Colorado course isn't as downhill as the Canyon, I think that might actually be to my advantage by inflicting less abuse on my quads. I also noticed that it seemed harder for me to hold the faster pace on the steeper downhills than it was on the more gradual ones. I think the more downhill it is, the more I tend to relax and try to let gravity do too much of the work, consequently running slower.
In any case, I've got two more weeks of "real" training before taper time, and taper madness, begins. I'll label myself as cautiously optimistic at this point...