Orlen Warsaw Marathon 2017 – race coverage

Orlen Warsaw Marathon was the final race of my winter training cycle. After twenty eight weeks of preparations I was pretty sure that I was going to deliver a good run and achieve my desired goal during this race, but it turned out differently. As usual a marthon race can expose easily any flaw and any bad preparation of any runner, regardless of his experience and level. This is how it went for me this time:

In my post about last two weeks of training I have described what I have been doing before the marathon in terms of running, but to show the whole picture I have to mention several things that has happened during my final week before Orlen Warsaw Marathon. The last week before marathon was unusually stressful at work for me. Lots of things were going on and the last two days before the weekend I spent mostly in Polish parliament at committees working on draft laws that I was handling in my ministry. This had two consequences for me: First, it disturbed my carbs loading plan and second, it increased my energy expenditure. I thought I could get away with it by eating more in the evening and providing enough carbohydrates during the race. I never had any digestive problems during my races, so I didn’t pay much attention to this.

I picked up my race kit on Friday evening so I had a free Saturday, just for resting eating and doing pretty much nothing.

The runners’ area was located near Polish National Stadium on a big parking area. Everything looked good as usual – the organization of runners’ area has always been a strong point of Orlen Warsaw Marathon.

On Saturday I went through my check list and prepared all the stuff for my race, so that I would not worry about anything on the Sunday morning. This time I did not make my own carbohydrate solution but I planned to use seven High5 gels that I tested during my long runs. Those gels had 20% more carbohydrates per portion in comparison to my home-made formula, but I didn’t think this could be a problem, as I was still going to drink enough water to dissolute them to some 8-10% of carbohydrates.

As usual, I couldn’t really fall asleep the night before the race, so I just lay in bed and tried to rest. I had eight hours of sleep during the preceding night so I was prepared for such inconvenience. I woke up early, just before six and had my usual race breakfast – white coffee and two buns with jam and honey. I packed all my stuff, prepared my pre-race isotonic drink and my post-race carbo/protein drink and went out to catch the bus. After several minutes I was in the metro station. Even though I was in a different district there were lots of runners heading for the national stadium for the marathon. The atmosphere was electrifying and I couldn’t wait for the start

When I finally got to the runners’ area I had an hour until the start. I walked around the area and I headed for the toilets. Next I went to the changing tents and slowly put all my race gear on. It was quite cold, just few degrees above zero so I stayed in the tent until there was twenty five minutes till the start. When I went out and started heading to the start zones it started to snow. I was really happy that I took a big plastic bag that I put over myself. I went again to the toilet on the way to my start zone and finally I took my spot in the start zone few meters behind the group trying to hit three hours time.

Until that moment I was one hundred percent happy with the organization of this event, but the starting protocol was my first disappointment. No real countdown, no person shooting a gun, no song, no nothing. The speaker sounded like he didn’t know exactly when the bell will ring and he pretended to build up the atmosphere, but it was rather pathetic – actually it was by far the worst big event start that I took part in. Fortunately I didn’t woke up that morning for singing and cheering but for running, so as soon as the start was announced I focused only on the run itself.

On my races I usually wear bands with split times that I do myself. I prefer a slight negative splits but I do take into account the profile of a given course. If consecutive kilometers are to be run in the same tempo I skip every other kilometer to make the band shorter. In my opinion this is the best way to keep the pace right as GPS devices get usually off by several seconds and no runner runs the perfect (shortest) path so the actual distance run on a given course is in most cases higher than the official distance. That is why one should always check the actual time from the stop watch with official kilometer markings on the way and own split time band.

Anyway, on the first kilometer there was quite crowdy as the faster people were pushing forward and the slower ones were being passed. My first kilometer was done in 4:34, so it was almost perfect. On next few kilometers the crowd has reduced and passing other runners got slower. This is always a nice part of a race when one runs with other runners in similar pace and everyone is still happy and full of energy. On the fourth kilometer it turned out that the official profile of the course was not so precise and the uphill was mostly on the fourth and not the fifth kilometer. As it turned out later most points on the profile were off by around one kilometer – I wonder what is the point of showing a course profile that is so poorly drawn…

When I run up the hill at the fourth and fifth kilometer I was surprised by a refreshment station. First of all it was not announced by any sign and second, it was so short that I was able to grab just one cup of water… Now that was a problem as I didn’t want to stop on refreshment stations and I wanted to drink two cups on every station… It turned out later that all the refreshment stations were unmarked and very short. Refreshment stations were by far the worst point of this run in terms of organization: unmarked, located not in even distances, short and most of them on the left side of the road… I don’t know what were the organizers thinking about when they arranged them, but one thing is certain – they did not think about the runners.

Around 5th kilometer I felt really fine. My mood was good, my legs were fresh my pace was a notch faster than planned and I thought that everything is going to go well. My average pace so far was 4:31/km and my average heart rate was 145 (77,5% hrmax)

 Next five kilometers were more even in terms of pace. I stabilized everything and was cruising forward. I still felt good and was having a lot of fun. My average pace of 6-10km was 4:28/km and my average heart rate was 161 (80,5% hrmax).

Kilometers 11-15 on the Mokotów District were a bit windy and I was trying to run in a group of runners to preserve as much energy as possible. The pace was still comfortable but I was more focused on my moves and not on what was going on around me. My average pace of those five kilometers was 4:26/km and my average heart rate was 162 (81% hrmax).

On kilometers 16-20 I was slowly starting to feel the run in my legs. I still wasn’t struggling with my pace, but it was slowly getting more and more challenging. I was also getting thirsty. On four consecutive refreshment stations with water I wasn’t able to get as much water as I wanted. Now I think it was a bad decision to run fast through those station and not slowing down or even stopping to get my water. There is a good chance that this was one of major steps to my failure. My average pace of those kilometers was 4:30/km and my heart rate was 164 (82% hrmax).

Kilometers 21-25 were the beginning of the end of my dreams about realizing my plans and of a new great personal record. Everything was OK until the half way point. My official split time on half marathon mark was 1:35:15 so I was exactly where I wanted to get to the finish line on time.

Everything started to break down during the downhill run on the twenty second kilometer. I planned to run it some 15 seconds per kilometer faster than my average pace and after getting over it I wanted to speed up a little bit to my new pace of 4:27/km. Unfortunately during the downhill I had difficult time running freely and I was all tensed. Just after the downhill I felt that my muscles were very fatigued and I had a hard time running. I couldn’t pick up the pace to my desired 4:27/km and instead of running faster I started slowing down. I felt that my temperature got higher and I had a hard time catching my breath – and that was pretty much it. My average pace of those kilometers was 4:36/km and my average heart rate was 165 (82,5% hrmax).

Next five kilometers were a real struggle for me. On the Przyczółkowska street the wind was terrible. It was awfully cold and people were struggling just to keep moving forward. I was slowing down – I was feeling worse and worse. I started getting cramps in my hips. My cadence dropped from 180/178 to 174 steps per minute and my step was getting shorter and shorter. I suffered from general pain in my legs and on 27th kilometer I stopped for the first time. I stretched my hips and hamstrings and got back on track. I felt better and I thought that I would stay on a slower pace for few kilometers and try to pick up the pace after getting away from the windy part of the route. My average pace of this part of the race was 4:55/km and my average heart rate was 152 (76% hrmax).

Kilometers 31-35 were not so windy so I took another gel and picked up the pace. I continued the run for several minutes and that was when I got stomach cramps. I felt nauseous and I had to stop. I felt a huge knot in my stomach and I knew that the run was practically over. It never happened to me before so I was really furious and irritated that it happened on a marathon race, but I guess everything has led to this point. I didn’t have enough carbohydrates loaded before the race, I ate too much carbs during the run and I didn’t have enough water… when you add a strong pace and a long run to this equation that is what you get. Anyway, the rest of the race was partly shuffled and partly walked. I wanted to finish the race as I have finished all four previous editions, but I wasn’t interested in time anymore. I just wanted to cross the finish line and get back home.

The pace of this five kilometers was 5:44/km, kilometers 36-40 were done in average pace of 6:13/km and the last two kilometers were covered in average pace of 6:48/km. All in all I finished the race in 3:33:52 which meant that I lost almost twenty five minutes from my desired time during the last twenty kilometers – a disaster. Still, this is my third best time on a distance of marathon, but this time I was prepared for a way better time than this one.

Now I am regenerating and resting – this means at least two weeks without any kind of running. I just do some physical work, some swimming, some light strength work and some bike riding… and of course a lot of thinking about what has happened and why I haven’t reacted to all of this fast enough to prevent an upcoming disaster. I guess I will be smarter the next time – at least I hope so. Now I realize that I have to pay more attention to carbohydrate loading and that my stomach has its own limitations in terms of gel ingestion and proportions of carbs to water.

I haven’t decided yet if I want to run a marathon this autumn, but I am pretty sure that I will be ready for the next year Orlen Marathon edition. I will spend summer working on my speed on shorter distances and maybe I will be ready to attack 3h marathon next year. It would be a nice way to celebrate my tenth jubilee marathon 🙂

See you all on running paths!

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