The Story Of My Third Marathon

Last Sunday I finished my third marathon, the Bucharest International Marathon. My result: 4 hours, 33 minutes and 30 seconds. 7 seconds more than my last marathon, a year ago, in Vienna. The goal was to make it under 4 hours, but I didn’t make it. This time.

What follows is the story of the race, what went well, what went wrong, what were the lessons.

The Story

Sunday was rather coldish. But coldish is good for running. I got at the starting point with half an hour before the start. I left my bag (which had only a top) in the storage area, took my running belt and stuffed it with two protein batons and one energy gel. Other than that, I was very relaxed, recognized a few runners and briefly socialized. Then I took my place in the designated sector and did my warm up. Before leaving home I did some extra stretching (which means a 30 minutes yoga session) so I felt already warm.

Since this year there were significantly more runners, we had to walk for like 6 minutes before actually hitting the start point. And then we started.

The first kilometer was fast and crowded. At some point we were so crowded that we had to stop for a few meters and walk. But then the road became larger and I could pass by the slower runners.

I ran along with a buddy which ran his first half marathon and, from time to time, we were chatting. Didn’t have time to get bored. The race had practically no history until the 15th kilometer. I easily maintained a steady 5m28s/km, without feeling the smallest fatigue. At km 15 I decided it’s time to hydrate myself. A very, very bad decision (meaning that I hydrated so late, and not at the 5th km, as I had in the race plan). After that, I started to feel like I was a bit tensioned. The upper part was somehow difficult to relax, and this made me spend more energy in the running.

At km 20, just one km before the half-marathon finish, I stopped again for hydration and I realized something was not ok. I started to feel fatigue, although during the latest trainings I never experienced this so early. At km 21, I split with my buddy, who made his first half in 2 hours and 1 minute and then continued my race.

As expected, the second 21km lap was much clearer, since all the half marathoners were out. And around km 24 it started to feel bad. I had difficulty with breathing, then I started to really feel my muscles and lost a big part of my concentration. At km 26 I stopped to catch my breath, realizing that I hit the wall (way too soon, because the late hydration, of course).

I set up the walking / running plan: 90 seconds walk, 200 seconds run. For the first three or four sessions it was very bad, but then I gradually started to catch my breath and regain a bit of control over my body. At km 33 I was already better so I changed the numbering to 50 seconds walk, 200 seconds running. It went slowly upwards, in terms of overall feeling and speed, and I was able to recover. The last kilometer was only running. I passed the finish line quite numbed, but recovered relatively fast, within 15-20 minutes.

One thing that was kind of disturbing was that my iPhone, which I used to measure the race, screw up the calibration. And it was with 2-3 km ahead. For instance, when I was at km 33, it was telling me that I was at km 36. I know it sounds silly now, but during the race didn’t fell comfortable at all.

What Went Well

1. Recovery

I did recover very fast, way faster than after my second marathon. The day of the marathon I just had a short, half an hour nap, and that was it. Legs were hurting, but not much. Two days after that I did the first recovery run, 6 km at 5:28/km and it went really well. I didn’t have any other problems, nothing with my toes nails, or blisters, or anything like this.

2. First Half of the Race

I had a consistent 5:28/km and I consider this to be a good time (for me). This spring I ran the Bucharest Semi Marathon in 2 hours 11 minutes. This first half of this marathon was ran with at least 4-5 minutes faster than the half marathon in the spring. Which I consider to be a good thing.

3. After Wall Discipline

The fact that I hit the wall so early is not good (see below, at what went wrong) but keeping the discipline after that, namely, keeping a strong calculation of walking and running, well, that was a good thing. It helped me get back on the track and I think it had something to do with the fast recovery too.

What Went Wrong

1. Bad Hydration

I started it very late, at km 15, and it really took its toll on the whole race. During trainings I always hydrate starting with km 5, but this time I skipped it. Bad.

2. Training Time versus Race Time

I realized now that there is a big difference between training time and race time. During training I had very good times, half marathons at around 1h:54m, and a 30km race at 2h:52m. In a real race, there are many other things to take care of: other runners, unexpected level differences, and so on. I expect form now on training time to be better with 10-15% than the time I set myself up to get in an official race.

3. Focus Problem

I have a problem and I have to face it. During official races I can’t keep a constant pace. I get easily distracted by other runners, or, to be more precise, I get distracted by the fact that I have to manage them. Sometimes I have to pass them by, sometimes I have to make room for them. Either way, that’s something that should be worked on. I know no better method to work this on than to participate in as many marathons I can :).

4. 21 km Mental Block

After the race, I looked at the race chart (I track my runs with Nike+, on my iPhone) and I realized I have a mental block. Before constantly running half marathons in my trainings, I had a similar problem, only it was at 10k. I remember it very clear: once I was hitting the 10k, I was thinking “that’s it, I’m not designed to run more than that”. When I realized this is a mental block, I started to work on it. First, I set up 12k goals. Instead of running just 10k, I set up the goal to be 12k. The first two, three races were tough, but after that, I nailed it. I easily got up to 15k and then 18k and upwards. I intend to do the same with this 20k block, by setting up 25k goals for my long races.

Lessons Learned

1. Train Better (Not Necessarily Harder)

I need improvement in the quality of my training. A month ago I got injured by over-training and that made me lose one week of preparation. Training harder is not always the best option. From some point on you need to focus on training better and avoid getting injured.

2. Training Time versus Race Time

Like I said, training time will no longer be used as an exact predictor for what I may do in an official race. Instead, I will target a 10-15% worse time in the official race than in my best training session.

3. Hydration, Hydration, Hydration

And stick to the race plan.


Well, that’s the story of my third marathon. For now, I’m focusing on the next 2 races: one 10k on November 1st and my first ultra-marathon, 59 km, on November 11th.


3 thoughts on “The Story Of My Third Marathon”

  1. Congratulations and thanks to the honest post! We need to be able to analyze our results and performance in order to improve. Although I have been a marathon runner for years, I always take the time to analyze my performance and draw some conclusions for the next race! Thank you!

  2. Congrats Dragos, I’ve seen you during the marathon 🙂
    Nice lessons and I have to mention that I also had a mental block before enrolling the marathon based on my weak trainings 🙂


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