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Race Report: Virtual TCS New York City Marathon 2020

Race report of Virtual TCS New York City Marathon 2020 by Aravind Ajad Yarra

Aravind

12 minutes read

Aravind

We are living in a unique time; lockdown, social distancing and gladly huddled at our home, the only way to channel my energy during these times is through running. I have been running for a while now and as there were no marathon events in the near future, I have had a big dilemma on what to do for this running season. I and four of my training partners came together and decided to run a self-supported marathon. It is quite a journey of emotions and challenges, and I have tried to capture it all here.

Date: 17 Oct 2020
Start time: 5:15 AM
Location: Muthsandra - Sarjapura Road, Bangalore
Goal(s):

Previous Best: 4h:05m

Goal Time Pace Achieved?
Good Sub 4h:00m 5:41 min/km Yes
Happy Sub 3h:55m 5:34 min/km Yes
Target Sub 3h:50m 5:27 min/km Yes
Delight Sub 3h:45m 5:20 min/km No

Training

I had put together a 16-week marathon training schedule loosely based on Daniels’ Running Formula, and customized to my goals. The plan included base building, focus on speed & strength training, and endurance training. It was a meticulously laid out plan with 4-week cycles, and the end goal was a sub 4-hour marathon.

During our training period, we included pace simulations and time trials at every 4 weeks cycles; this also included a half marathon. For the first 4 weeks, it was a mix of threshold running and long runs over the weekend.

Sample workouts from our plan

Intervals Pace focused Runs Long Runs
3k WU + 3x 1.6k Tempo/2min + 2x 200m/200m + 2k CD Easy running of 5k + 8K at Marathon pace 22k Easy pace
3k WU + 2x 1.6k Tempo/2min recovery + 2x1k/3min + 4x200m/200m + 2k CD Easy running of 5k + Alternating Fast & Slow around Marathon pace for 8k 4k WU+8k Marathon pace + 2k easy + 6k Marathon pace + 3k CD

Once our base was built we brought in more variety in our training such as hills repeats to improve form, progression runs to build endurance, and also running on successive days over the weekend, to get used to running on tired legs. This was not as simple as I pen down, there were tempers, emotions, doubts, the “why” and “how” for the emotions I’m not aware of yet. One thing was clear: we will be running 42.195kms at the end of the training cycle.

Thus we continued with our training. At the end of our second cycle, we ran a half marathon time trial to check on our progress. We picked a route on the outskirts of Bangalore keeping social distancing in mind. During the run, we had assigned a few hydration points and parked our cars there, with water bottles.

I completed the time trial in 1h:40m:40s, this was a definite confidence booster and better than expected. I went back to the drawing board for my marathon timing. A sub 3:50 marathon seemed doable.

I’ve focused on building endurance in the next cycle, which was also our third cycle of training. Endurance building focused on adding mileage, 30+ km weekend runs with elevation, longer threshold distances, running on tired legs to simulate fatigue. During these runs, my focus was on my form, cadence, stride length, and heart rate. Another important thing we did in our training is building pace awareness. I have tried various pace variations and see how the body feels. During longer runs, I have simulated 70% of the run at marathon pace, taking gels, salt capsules, pre/post-run dynamic, and static stretching. These elements played a huge role in running a good marathon.

Race/Route Planning

Well, these are unique times and we are the race directors of our own races. We tried out new routes every other weekend in the outskirts, trying to find the best. From our half marathon experience, we also realized the need for hydration support and volunteers.

We finalized our route on Muthasandra - Sarjapura road, mapped the race route on GPS, got the elevation, and ran a few times on that route. The route is the best of what rural Bangalore can offer, very scenic, low traffic, and some really challenging sections with an overall elevation of 150-200m.

Race Route - out and back with fewer loops

We’ve found out that virtual events are organized by TCS NYC Marathon and Virgin Money London Marathon, close to our planned race day. I’ve lived and visited both these cities several times, which made our race more interesting. We have signed up for the virtual event of the TCS NYC Marathon, and it was a breeze as all of us were Strava users.

Pre-race

We started to taper 3 weeks before the race data, but kept the intensity high and reduced the mileage by up to 50%. I increased my carb intake around a week before the race and was conscious about hydration. We have reached out to friends in our running group (Team Miles Ahead), and if they could volunteer to help us with hydration and pacing. I was amazed to see how many of our friends jumped in, to volunteer. Runners are so awesome, and running communities are what makes running so satisfying.

We had, 3 hydration stations, the first one starting at 5:00 am, a few of us had pacers. Volunteers with first aid, fruits, electrolytes, and salt you name it and we had it. Post-race breakfast and yes we had a choice :)

Call me a bit biased towards my clan; I think this is the best-organized race to date, so meticulously organized with all T’s and I’s crossed.

Race

I reached the start point by 4:45 am, for the planned 5:15 am start. The weather was good, and there was a bit of chill in the wind. We have warmed up well, as our friends started setting up the stations. The route was dark. One of us came up with an idea that we can have a car guide us with headlights till the day breaks. We started the run in a smaller loop around the start point.

Start line

Kilometers 1-8

These kilometers were as smooth as butter and uneventful. This part of the course is relatively flat. I could quickly settle into my rhythm and was able to maintain a pace well below my target pace range of 5:20 to 5:30 min/km. Took an electrolyte drink at the 4th kilometer and took a gel break during the 8th kilometer.

Avg Pace: 5:14 min/km ; Avg HR: 151; Avg Cadence: 178; Avg Stride Length: 1.08m; Elevation Gain/Loss: 25m/33m

Kilometers 9-15

Post the break continued pacing myself by feel. Took a salt capsule at the 11th kilometer. The cheer and encouragement from the first hydration station kept my mood up. The 13th kilometer has a decent elevation drop, but I had to control my pace not to overuse my quads. Took a second gel break during the 15th kilometer at the second hydration station. A good section from the pace perspective, though I was running solo.

Avg Pace: 5:17 min/km ; Avg HR: 153; Avg Cadence: 178; Avg Stride Length: 1.07m; Elevation Gain/Loss: 15m/30m

Kilometers 16-24

I continued to feel good about my pace and hooting and cheers were still plentiful at the second hydration station. The diversion in the route towards Muthsandra is narrow, but it was good to see people around in the village. As I was returning back from Mutsandra village (17th km) saw Aditi. She was running strong and a big grin said it all. Bhaskar was a few hundred meters behind her. Took an electrolyte drink at this point, and started running towards Muthkur. This is the most scenic section of the route with a few streams and the sun hiding behind the clouds. Met Anand, and Bhagya, both were running strong. Encouragement from Smita, Diganta, Hareesh, Sudha, Naveen, Prakalp really helped. Met Vivek at the ‘u’ turn point, and he seemed to struggle a bit. I tried cheering him up a bit and we ran together for a few kilometers. As I returned to the second hydration station, I took my third gel break.

Avg Pace: 5:16 min/km ; Avg HR: 155; Avg Cadence: 181; Avg Stride Length: 1.06m; Elevation Gain/Loss: 23m/32m

Kilometers 25-29

A flat route, lots of cheers from fellow runners, made me run a shorter loop around the Muthsandra section again. This is definitely an advantage in a virtual marathon, where you are at your will to select your route. Diganta paced me on his bike for a few kilometers and saw Bhagya, Rohit, Anand, Arun, Tuheen, Naveen, Prakalp on the route. The cheering continued, so it was how I felt about the run. Unfortunately, I have lost some time in this section due to dogs and had to walk for a few seconds at Muthsandra village. Took my fourth gel break as I was anticipating and preparing the challenging section of the route ahead.

Avg Pace: 5:31 min/km ; Avg HR: 159; Avg Cadence: 181; Avg Stride Length: 1.04m; Elevation Gain/Loss: 12m/19m

Kilometers 30-34

As I approached the 30th kilometer, I could feel a bit of tiredness in my glutes, and my legs were overworking. Sun was up too. My HR was drifting towards my threshold. Definitely, not a good feeling to have at this stage. I was careful as I ran the elevated section back to the first hydration station. Naveen ran along with me for a few hundred meters here. Took a few salt capsules to ensure I am good with electrolytes and gently stretched glutes, hams, and calf muscles. Took fifth gel break at 34th km, as I ran towards the toughest and final section of the route. Lost quite a bit of time in this section because of breaks, but that is probably needed to compose myself for the rest of the run.

Avg Pace: 5:49 min/km ; Avg HR: 160; Avg Cadence: 182; Avg Stride Length: 1m; Elevation Gain/Loss: 27m/13m

Kilometers 35-40

Tougher miles

This is the toughest part of the race. In all my earlier marathon runs, I have struggled with cramps after the 35th kilometer. The inevitable had come. I was determined to ensure the damage is minimal. Kartik on his bike paced me through this section, and that had really helped. Encouragement at the third hydration station made it better. Kartik kept talking and that helped me take my mind off the pain. As I ran up the elevation towards Sarjapur, my calf muscles locked up, and I had to take a few walk breaks. I could get back to running quickly, as Kartik continued to remind me about the finish line. As I took the ‘u’ turn on Sarjapur road, downhill helped but couldn’t take advantage because of locked-up calf muscles, and tired glues. I had to depend on my hams to power my stride. As I reached the third hydration station again, I took my final and sixth gel break at the 40th kilometer, which probably is an excuse to take a walk break.

Avg Pace: 5:35 min/km ; Avg HR: 164; Avg Cadence: 182; Avg Stride Length: 1m; Elevation Gain/Loss: 27m/27m

Kilometers 41-42.2

Finish line

I felt really good after the break at the third hydration station and all those hootings. I tried to up my pace, but the cramps came back harder. It was a war between my mind and the cramps. Neither has given up, and I continued running to the best pace I could. Kartik continued with his talk, reminding me about how many meters left to finish. Seeing the finish line helped. Crossed the finish line at 3h:48m:54s, as our friends at the finish line cheered. Ran a few meters extra to ensure I am not at mercy of GPS watches to say, I fell short of the distance. It is one amazing run, finishing under 3h:50m really made it special.

Avg Pace: 5:27 min/km ; Avg HR: 169; Avg Cadence: 181; Avg Stride Length: 1m; Elevation Gain/Loss: 1m/5m

Summary

Finish Time: 3h:48m:53s ; Avg Pace: 5:25 min/km ; Avg HR: 157; Avg Cadence: 177; Avg Stride Length: 1.03m

Post Race

I now have lot of interesting data to analyze and get insights from. My stride length had dropped significantly after the 29th kilometer, and an associated drop in pace too. I think this drop is to do with my glutes not able to endure the distance. An area definitely to work on.

Cadence and Stride Length across the distance

Correlation of vertical ratio and stride length confirms the above observation about my glutes not able to endure.

Stride Length and Vertical Ratio correlated

Maintaining a perfect balance between the Left and Right parts of the body is tricky for the entire marathon distance. As we get fatigued, the impact of the weaker side amplifies. Luckily for me, there hasn’t been much imbalance. However, there is always scope to improve.

GCT Balance

Happy to see my training partners Aditi, Shikha, Vivek, Vineet, Dilip, and friends from my running group Murali, Anand, Bhagya, Bhaskar, and Shweta finished super strong. Thanks to all our friends who came to support us; Prachi, Purnendu, Naveen, Diganta, Rachna, Lavanya, Sudha, Nishant, Rohit, Arun, Devendra, Mandar, Smita, Tuheen, Pavan, Prashant, Reji, Rajiv, Sajit, Senapati, Nagraj, and Sunil.

Finishers(L-R):Bhaskar, Vivek, Shweta, Bhagya, Shikha, Anand, Dilip, Aravind, Vineet, Aditi

Too many learnings post the race, I’m happy to have outperformed my expectations. Marathon is still a beast to tame. Now the focus is on improving speed endurance and really making myself stronger in those final kilometers. I will continue to work on my weak areas bringing more specifics into my training. Now onto my next goal.

Your body will always listen to what our mind says”, it’s our mind that needs to open up to newer possibilities.


Aravind

Aravind is a techie, running geek, and a marathoner. He is a CrossFit Level 1 Trainer. He loves all things technology and specifically technology in running, with special interest in running form analysis. Aravind is a certified running gait analyst.

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