In my pre-race post (Copenhagen Marathon – Race Week Update), I talked about my up and down final weeks of training leading up to the Copenhagen Marathon.
I talked about two minor injuries and a short bout with Covid that impacted my training and forced me to adjust my target time in the marathon from sub-3:10 to sub-3:20.
I talked about an 11 mile run (16 days before the marathon) that felt like a turning point for me and got my confidence going in the right direction again.
I also talked about how the final three weeks of training further boosted my confidence with some easy runs and a few miles at my projected marathon pace.
Each run over these final weeks, until I got on the plane to Denmark, felt productive and like I was giving myself a chance at success come race day.
Eventually though, the talking ends and it’s time to race.
Arriving in Denmark
I arrived in Denmark a few days before the race feeling well-rested and ready to give my best effort on race day. There’s always a chance that something could go wrong on race day no matter how your training goes, but I tried my best to push those thoughts aside and do everything I could to enjoy the days leading up to the race and then the race itself.
Luckily, I was spending the days before the race with my friend Rune, who would also be pacing me in the race, and his family. We had a couple of easy runs – including one with Rune’s friend Niels – on each of the two days before the race, which helped to settle my nerves and continue to build my confidence.
In the days before the race, Rune and I talked about a realistic race plan to give myself the best chance of getting my target time. The plan was pretty simple – get right into marathon pace (7:36 per mile) from the start and keep that going until 10k (6miles) left. At that point we would make any adjustments necessary.
This was the first time I had a very specific target time for a marathon. In the past, it had always been just to get a personal best time, which I had successfully done in each of my previous eight marathons. While the sub-3:20 would be a new personal best for me again, it still required a very specific plan in order to achieve it.
After talking it through, I trusted the plan and was ready to execute it.
Perfect running conditions awaited us in Copenhagen on race morning. With a 9:30am start time, which is later then what I am used to, there was a little bit more pre-race time to navigate before actually getting started. Luckily I was in the good company of Rune and his friend Niels (who was on his way to a big personal best time!) as well as many other runners. This helped to pass the time a little bit easier without thinking only about the race and what would or wouldn’t happen.
As the start time got closer, I was considerably less nervous than what I had felt in the past. I had a simple but good breakfast of bread and jam and coffee. And I decided not to risk eating anything else immediately before the start, which I have done at most of my other races. If necessary, I had my gels and a small energy bar that I planned to use for fuel during the race.
Finally – it was start time!
The days, weeks and months of preparation and anticipation were all coming together and it was time to actually run the race!
Even though the first mile was congested (as always), we were able to get right into our intended pace. And after the first few miles of just getting warmed up and into a good rhythm, we were even a little ahead of pace and feeling really good.
The next several miles started to go by smoothly as we enjoyed the on-course entertainment and big crowds in downtown Copenhagen.
I think that’s about the best start you can hope for in a marathon!
Halfway Done and Still Going Strong
Then as the halfway mark of the race approached I started feeling the need to pee. I mentioned the possibility of needing to stop to Rune, so that we could make small adjustments to the pace to make up for any lost time. I was able to temporarily forget about it and go a few more miles before needing to stop about 15 miles in.
Much relieved now, we were quickly able to get right back into our race pace. I think we only lost about 30 seconds, but we were now over the halfway point of the race and still feeling good.
While the distance to the finish was getting smaller and smaller, I knew that we were doing very good on time and were likely several minutes ahead of the target time.
I felt mentally ready to keep going at this pace until the finish. I think I had even started to picture crossing the finish line with a few minutes to spare on our target time.
Getting through 17 or 18 miles of a marathon with relatively few problems and even being a few minutes ahead of our target time, mentally I was feeling very positive, but physically one or two things were just starting to give me some doubts.
At different points in the race, I remember having thoughts of uncertainty. Mainly about how long I could maintain the pace.
The uncertainties in my mind mostly stemmed from the issues I had during my training cycle. And also, because of some stomach issues I’ve had in past races, these concerns will sometimes linger in the back of my mind during a race.
The best (and sometimes most difficult) thing to do is push these thoughts out of your mind and let your training take you the rest of the way.
Easier said than done.
This is where it gets tough – both on race day and still as I am writing this.
With only a few miles left, I was still thinking of the increasing possibility of finishing well under our target time – around 3:16 or 3:17. I knew that if I could just keep it together for 3 or 4 more miles, I would have a time that was unthinkable to me only a few short weeks before.
Beginning around mile 20 though, my legs began feeling a little heavy. And that feeling seemed to increase with almost every step.
As much as I was just trying to focus on the finish, my legs were making that more and more difficult.
Then, it happened.
We went over a small incline and then down a bigger decline. After a couple quick turns, another incline awaited us.
And I said “Guinness” to Rune.
“Guinness” was the safe word that Rune and I decided on when talking about the race plan. Guinness – because we both like the beer and it rhymes with finish. I was hoping I wouldn’t have to say it, but unfortunately my legs and mind worked together to decide that they couldn’t go any further without walking.
So, we walked up the hill. I’m not sure how long it took, but once we were at the top of the hill the target time was slowly slipping away. But the chance of beating my personal best time (3:21:11) was still within reach. Just barely though.
At this point, while I was still hopeful of a new personal best, I also remember being frustrated at how quickly things turned this way.
We started running again and got back into a “comfortable” rhythm and all eyes were once again on the finish line. With about 2 miles left, my now deluded brain still thought that I was closing in on a comfortable personal best.
Turns out I was getting the math wrong in my head!
I wanted to walk some more in the last mile and a half, but I was “gently” encouraged by Rune that there was no way we were walking anymore.
Finally, the countdown was on.
Then, only 400 meters left when we made the final turn.
As we made that turn and I could see the finish line up ahead, I took a quick peak at my watch and knew that I would be VERY close to a new personal best time.
I mustered up everything I had and pushed as hard as I could to get to the finish line.
Once I crossed the finish line, I stopped my watch.
I had missed my personal best time by 1 second.
Immediately afterwards, I felt dizzy and sick which can happen after a race like that. Once I rehydrated and was feeling better, it’s safe to say that I was having some bittersweet feelings.
The fact that I’ve run my last four marathons in sub-3:30 is not lost on me. I know that those are really good times and ones that I didn’t even consider possible a few years ago.
In the future, when I remember this race, I will talk about a lot of things.
I’ll talk about how small one second is in the grand scheme of things. And how many things could have gone differently to make up that second.
I’ll talk about how one thing I might have changed would have been the pace in the earlier miles when everything felt so good. And how that might have affected my legs in the final 3 miles.
I’ll talk about how I felt like I missed a great opportunity for a much better time in the race, even with the issues I had during training. And how much falling short of this goal still frustrated me.
I’ll talk about the great weather on race day and the mostly enthusiastic crowds that lined the route in and around Copenhagen.
But mostly I’ll talk about running this race with a great friend.
A couple of years ago, Rune said I should go to Denmark and run this marathon with him. After being postponed due to Covid, this was finally the year we could make it happen.
Even though this race came less than a month after he ran the Boston Marathon, he still offered to pace me in my attempt at a new personal best. And even though we came up just short of that goal, there is no way I would have been that close without Rune’s help.
I can’t really thank him enough for the help in the weeks and months leading up to the race, including welcoming me into his home in the days before the race. And then, of course his help on race day itself, where he provided energy all along the course and much-needed encouragement in the last miles.
As with any race, I plan to use this as a learning experience to keep getting better and help myself prepare for what’s next!
More from RunPatRun (upcoming posts):
- Traveling to a Race: As a follow-up to my post about Traveling While on Vacation (click here), I will give some tips on how to get yourself ready to compete in a race while on your travels!
- Boston Marathon: After seeing the Boston Marathon in person in April, I have some new thoughts on what it would mean to take part in this race someday.
- RunPatRun Race Series: Two of my favorites races – Seattle Marathon and Munich Marathon – are ones that I think and talk a lot about. I’ve been working on new posts for a while on why they are a couple of my favorites.