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HISTORY: My first open race was in 2008 at 47 years old. I'm 52 now. Before this, I had run 7 marathons. My fastest had been 3:24:03 (at Tupelo). My 2012 YTD miles before this race is 2,021. Training up to my September 2 race was excellent. After the race, I recovered, built up to about 65 miles for a couple weeks, then quickly began tapering again for this race. This is my 2nd heart rate governed race, and I strongly recommend heart rate training and racing.

PRE-RACE THOUGHTS (written before the race): Tomorrow (11/11 of 2012) I will run the Pensacola Marathon. Race weather looks good for the most part. Starts at 58 degrees, 90% humidity and 10MPH winds... ends at 70 degrees with 15 MPH.  I could do without the wind and hope that where we are, it's minimal, but the temp should be OK (and it's partly cloudy). The primary goal is to qualify for Boston 2014. That way, I can race Boston 2013 more aggressively because I'll already be qualified for 2014 (thus, if I hit the wall, it won't be a big deal). I'll run by heart rate, but my successive goals are 1. 3:30:00 or better to Qualify for Boston, 2. 3:24:02 or better to set a new PR, 3. Go faster than 3:20:00, a goal that's been haunting me.
RACE DESCRIPTION: Overall, this was a great marathon. It's a candidate for a strong run. Even with the head-wind it was a fast race. I just might go next year too! There were about 1900 runners total, and about 600 of those were full marathoners. KNOWN: Pensacola Marathon gently raises about 100+ feet over the first half, then has gentle rollers, then gently drops back down. So it's not far from flat, yet there are some smaller hills that are not too significant (but it's not as flat as Disney or Chicago - neither of which have I run). The average temps are 60. The race starts at 6:30 AM. (I'd prefer an earlier start to avoid higher temps.) RISKS: With full-on sun, this could be much hotter. Temps started at about 58 and rose to 68. I was lucky with a cloud cover the entire race, so I never really overheated. The signage should be improved but in the end, did not hurt me. The wind was the only significant performance issue, especially in the last few miles.

Race Report

I drove an hour, parked, and only had a couple blocks to walk. Used the same-day packet pickup, ran back to the car and prepared. Small races are SO AWESOME for easy logistics like this. They were calling for runners at the starting line while many were in line for the potties. Are there any races with enough potties to prevent that pre-race stress? Hey, it's chip-timed so no worries.

The Start - Mile 6

The line-up was informal and easy. I just went near the front. It wasn't long before the wheelchairs were going. To my surprise, we runners were started only a few minutes after the wheelchairs. We caught up and passed many of them (because the first half is gently uphill... they're very fast downhill).

Pensacola Marathon Elevation Profile
Pensacola Marathon Elevation Profile

As we started I watched pace and kept myself around 7:30 regardless of heart rate (until I was warmed up). There was a fair bit of runner traffic, but it was not irritating (yet), likely because I was near the front. We shared the road with cars but we usually had a lane (or a bike lane) to ourselves. Usually this worked. I was surprised that I recognized (and had previously run) much of the path from a training run I took while on a beach weekend here.

For Those Interested in Heart Rate Running

After a few miles, I saw that my HR was not going to skyrocket like it did in Tupelo... a valuable bit of knowledge. (My first HR governed race started at 75 degrees, and I knew my heart might react differently to this much cooler 58 degree start). It stayed close to the Pfitzinger "Marathon Pace" heart rate range (156-173 with a ~164 mid-point). So I set my target effort level at lower 160's to assure I would not burn out. It's possible that I should have targeted slightly higher... I'll know for next time. My concern was that, because my heart was not working as hard as in Tupelo, my muscles might be more easily overtaxed. So I took the first half conservatively (see the Mile Splits).

At about mile 5 another runner and I started chatting. He asked if I was targeting a 7:25 pace. I told him that I was going by HR, but 7:25 would yield a dream time, but it was not directly the goal; a specific HR was. He'd been using me as a pacer for a few miles. We talked for a while and at mile 6 I found that he was a half marathoner, and we split ways around the 6 mile marker.

Mile 7 - 13

The wind was fairly bad around miles 7-9 as we were passing the airport. I tried to draft some, but the one person near me stepped aside so I just passed. The wind kept me down to an 8 minute pace for a small bit but seemed to let up periodically and I was able to maintain speed using HR to govern a consistent effort.

At some STRANGE mile location (around mile 8.6) I crossed a timing pad. I could not figure out a reasonable measure for this pad (not 10k, 15k, 10mile, or half). The race official there required the guy in front of me to return to cross it (wasting seconds, and energy for 2 U-turns). So I aimed straight for it. I later learned that it was intended for the RETURN, and it was the half marathon mark. Not only did the guy not have to cross it, but it gave us super-bogus half times (estimating my marathon time at 1:54 or some such non-sense... world record, here I come!). There was lots of lonely running, which is fine for me. I could just get in the zone and did not have to focus on going around people.

The first half felt MUCH slower than it was. I was feeling very strong and slowed myself down several times as I saw a sub 7 pace on my watch... I sometimes allowed the faster speeds if my HR was still below 165 (~79% HRR). I was in disbelief at times because I maintained bits of a 7:05 pace and a nice 162 HR (~77% HRR). I had to keep saying "trust your training runs."

Mile 14 - 17

By mile 15, my left foot hurt, which also hurt in the week before the race, causing me to skip a training run. I'm glad I took care of it, or it could have had a significant impact. By mile 17 I was feeling good, but feeling a little more fatigue. We joined the half marathoners again which turned out to be more annoying this time, because the ones present were MUCH slower than we were. This was just over the 2 hour mark and my mile 17 was their mile 7.5... so they were doing less than half my speed, and they were often walking and talking side-by-side in a narrow path. I often had to swing out into the car lane or fight with a curb. I really don't think this added time and it wasn't their fault, but it was irritating. The half-ers didn't expect us. I even heard a few comments on the full marathon bib color... "Oh, there's a white bib".

Mile 18 - 22

I knew that I was doing very well compared to any previous race. My excitement was building as I saw I was not fading, yet knew things could still go wrong, so it was not yet time to poor it on. By mile 18, my left foot was downright painful. Around mile 19, I started feeling the higher effort. The wind was at times significant just after mile 19, as we rounded a corner to run toward the South. We had some stretches that were better, and even had a very mild push from the wind for a little while.

I saw one runner talking to an official and heard him say "I just got so turned around and now don't know where I am". I felt so bad for him and knew how easily it could happen. I was hoping this was not a "milestone" race for him too. I knew how I'd feel if that happened to me at that point. Then, just down the road, fear gripped my heart...

Gratefulness to Volunteers and Race Officials

I'm so very grateful for all the volunteers and officials. They make these races possible and add SO much to our experiences. I don't want my next paragraph to be mistaken as a lack of appreciation. I want to highlight the importance of clear, sturdy signage and anything that offers fast understanding to a runner (who may not be thinking as clearly as usual and who may be desperate for a fast decision). We runners SO APPRECIATE the volunteers, officials and race course audience, who help us so many times and make these events so fantastic! Thank you so much!

There was a spot around mile 21 that the half marathoners split AGAIN... I didn't expect this and started to go their direction. Yet I saw a sign that pointing the way that said "half marathon." I saw nothing for the full marathon. Fear tore through me; I might be lost. The closest official was in his vehicle (likely because of the wind). There was one official near the half-marathon sign. I loudly yelled "WHERE'S THE MARATHON?" and was quickly pointed the way. It was a HUGE relief to see the "full-marathon". No analysis of what happened... I quickly moved on.

Around mile 21 I took a gel but I should have waited for mile 22 (where I could take in water with it). My stomach revolted. I asked an officer if he had any water (yes, I was desperate). He did not but pointed to the mile 22 station. I could see it, but it felt like forever when fighting an angry stomach. I paused a bit to take two (small) water cups, walking a few paces. The water quickly calmed my stomach (whew) and I hadn't lost any time... just endured pain. (If we couldn't endure pain, we wouldn't be marathoners anyway.)

Mile 23 - Finish

I crossed the 23 mile mark, and immediately rounded a corner, slamming into head-on wind. It was merely bad for a little while (maybe 8 MPH). Then it started to really rip past me, causing what felt like significant slowing. I fought the wind and fought a childish anger about it. For the entire last 3 miles the headwind was brutal... unrelenting and felt every bit of the predicted 15 MPH, and at times higher. I put my head down and monitored my HR, and repeated "even with this, the time will be strong... go go go."

In one case (~mile 25) I was to go straight, but the sign pointed more to the right. The officer was inside his car and even stopped traffic with hand motions out the window... didn't give me a confident feeling that the cars would stop. His hand motion to me was not too clear, but I recognized some surroundings and correctly gleaned that I should stay straight.

With just over a mile left, I was pushing as hard as I could and didn't bother to look at my watch any more. Mad at the wind and determined, I pushed a little harder. I saw an arch. Must be the finish! It was not. But I then saw the timing pads and kept pushing while trying to see the official race clock. Seeing the 3:15:something on the clock made my brain jump around with excitement! I pushed hard across the line and stopped my watch which showed one second under my official time of 3:15:38.

I did my cool-down jogging behind the finish, absorbing what happened. I finally did what I was sure I could do. I've waited 2 years to see this time. While elated, I kept vacillating between "I KNEW I COULD!" to "Did I REALLY do that?" It's certainly a day I'll remember.

END of Race Report - Additional Details Follow

Race Results

The race results and statistics are as follows:

Other notes:

  • Personal Best by 8:25
  • Boston Qualified by 14:22
  • HRR average 78% (164 BPM for me... compared to the Tupelo's 82% - 170 BPM)
  • This was my first negative split (the one I believe is a 1:18 negative split.. see below if interested)

Heart Rate Graph

This my HRR % for this race. While I'm happy with it, I was not as consistent as it could have been, especially miles 8-13 and 20-22. The REAL key information was that this closely matched my training runs, leading me to believe that elevated heart rate in my prior HRR governed race (Tupelo) was greatly affected by the heat/humidity IN SPITE of the fact that I trained commonly in the same conditions. Pensacola showed that my HR in a race with good conditions, will be close to that of training runs.

Heart Rate Graph
Heart Rage Graph


Mile Splits

I'm very pleased with these splits. The wind did significantly affect miles 23-the finish, making it appear that I was merely consistent... I wasn't. The effort was increasing there, and it only somewhat reflected in the average HR.

Time Distance Split pace Elev. chg. Avg. HR Max. HR
0:07:34 1.00 7:34 -22 148 (68%) 160 (75%)
0:15:10 2.00 7:36 +68 160 (76%) 166 (79%)
0:22:21 3.00 7:11 -32 161 (76%) 166 (79%)
0:29:40 4.00 7:19 +6 163 (77%) 166 (79%)
0:37:05 5.00 7:25 +38 163 (77%) 166 (79%)
0:44:29 6.00 7:24 -1 163 (77%) 166 (79%)
0:51:47 7.00 7:17 +18 164 (78%) 167 (80%)
0:59:12 8.00 7:25 +8 163 (77%) 168 (80%)
1:06:33 9.00 7:21 +14 162 (77%) 167 (80%)
1:14:00 10.00 7:27 -12 161 (76%) 165 (78%)
1:21:31 11.00 7:31 +22 161 (76%) 166 (79%)
1:29:01 12.00 7:29 -5 163 (77%) 165 (79%)
1:36:25 13.00 7:25 -20 161 (76%) 164 (78%)
1:43:53 14.00 7:28 -5 163 (77%) 167 (80%)
1:51:01 15.00 7:08 -4 166 (79%) 171 (82%)
1:58:02 16.00 7:01 -11 168 (81%) 172 (83%)
2:05:12 17.00 7:10 +0 169 (81%) 172 (83%)
2:12:42 18.00 7:29 +5 169 (81%) 174 (85%)
2:19:57 19.00 7:16 -29 170 (82%) 173 (84%)
2:27:10 20.00 7:13 -20 168 (81%) 174 (84%)
2:34:45 21.00 7:35 +23 166 (79%) 169 (81%)
2:41:59 22.00 7:14 -50 166 (79%) 170 (82%)
2:49:37 23.00 7:38 +12 166 (79%) 170 (82%)
2:57:11 24.00 7:34 -23 167 (80%) 171 (82%)
3:04:58 25.00 7:48 -7 168 (80%) 171 (82%)
3:12:56 26.00 7:57 +27 167 (80%) 169 (81%)
3:15:37 26.39 6:55 -18 171 (83%) 181 (89%)

Negative Splits

Negative Split Thoughts

Basically, unless one is an elite runner, negative splits (or big positive splits) may be a sign that a person could have gone faster. Those of us who are far from elite will have a fair amount (or crazy amount) of fatigue, regardless of how easy we take the first half. I DO BELIEVE in increasing effort in the second half, but fatigue will usually prevent this from being a negative split.

As an example, I see my Tupelo race as close to perfectly run (slightly better than Pensacola, in my opinion). The slower result is likely just the heat at Tupelo. My assessment is partly based on the heart rate graphs, and partly because, in Pensacola, I was worried about muscle fatigue in the first half, and kept myself a little slower than I probably could have gone. (In Tupelo, I had a positive split of about 1:14 [watch based]).


Negative Split Accuracy

This race came out to be a negative split. I was not trying to do this directly, but did attempt to stay a little conservative in the first half. I was governing my speed according to my heart rate.

In short, I believe the watch based split. I think the official split was a guess, possibly needed because of the bogus crossing of the pad at mile 8.6 (see race report - the half-way projection of my finish was something crazy like 1:56... which would be a stunning new world record).

Description Official Watch Based
First half Split Time 01:39:00 01:37:57
Second half Split Time 01:36:39 01:36:39
Difference -2:21 -1:18

Further Notes: My Garmin measured distance (always overstated) was 26.39 miles. I started and stopped accurately (only 1 second below my official time). The watch based splits are derived by using 13.20 miles on my first half, and 13.19 on my second half. This is likely a very fair distance split and the time is likely correct within 10 seconds either side (I allowed for the Garmin inaccuracy and the .01 distance difference).


This race had been called The Blue Angels Marathon. I don't know the reasons for the switch, but the tie with the Blue Angels is still evident. I appreciated the medal.

2012 Pensacola Marathon Medal
Pensacola Marathon Medal


Grand Master Champion Plaque/Picture

I was expecting an Age Group placement (50-54) but didn't know that they had a Grand Master prize (50-59) and was happy to have earned that.

2012 Pensacola Marathon Grand Master Plaque/Picture
2012 Pensacola Grand Master Champion Plaque/Picture


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