Monday, April 28, 2014

Q&A with Rachel Clattenburg

As part of our continuing Q&A series, here is a quick chat with New Jersey Marathon champ and swell person Rachel Clattenburg:


HUGE congratulations on the win at the New Jersey Marathon, and the big PR. According to my research, your 2:57:58 was a nearly 13 minutes faster than your previous best (MCM 2013 - 3:10:36). First off, tell us about the race. What were your goals/was your mindset going in? What was your final race plan?

My goals were to run as close to 3 hours as I could and especially to run a smart race. My race plan--concocted by Dan and Alan, with Drew's advice mixed in--was to reach mile 19 feeling relaxed, comfortable and ready to race the last 7 miles. I settled in with a pack of about 6 guys who were all shooting for 3 hours. We stayed together until mile 18. It helped a ton to have people to run with for all those miles.

It was quite windy and I knew there would be a tough headwind the last 10k. In retrospect, the wind might have helped my race. I was so worried about it and that concern made me more conservative in those first 19 miles than I otherwise might have been. 

RC at Mile 5
More below:

At what point did you start thinking about place? How, if at all, did the possibility of winning change your approach to the race?

Ha! I thought about place from before the starting gun went off, of course. I always eye my potential competitors milling around the starting area. There was another woman running in our pack for the first bit.  Then around the 10k mark I noticed that the cheers changed from "Go ladies!" to 'You go girl!" and I looked back and couldn't see her anymore. But I was nervous the whole way that there was someone gaining on me. I wanted a lot in the tank for the last 10k in case another set of pigtails got close.

Any surprises during the race? What were the hardest parts?

My first surprise was when we turned onto Pemberton Ave in the first 5k. I decided that had to be a good omen! I was surprised I felt so good at 30k. For the first time ever, I didn't have any really bad stretches during the race. But the whole race took a lot of focus and I found that hard. I also ran the whole race afraid that something was suddenly going to go wrong. That feeling didn't go away until I crossed the finish line. My first reaction after finishing was a big wave of relief. Oh, and I got my own bike escort the whole way. That was a fun surprise.

How did you approach nutrition during the race?

My approach to race nutrition is always the same: eat as much sugar and caffeine as I can without feeling ill. In my perfect race, all aid stations after halfway would be stocked with flat Coke. I carried a disposable bottle with Nuun in it (Gatorade bothers my stomach) and drank most of that. I ended up carrying the bottle through mile 19, which was probably not so smart; I should have ditched it sooner. I ate one gel 5 minutes before the start and then I had 3 others, all by mile 18. That's the most I've ever consumed in a road marathon.

Now stepping back a bit, lopping off 13 minutes is a HUGE jump, particularly for someone who's fairly experienced with distance racing. How did you make such a big jump this time around? What do you think were the key elements to your training?

Three things:

1. I've finally figured out some strategies that keep me healthy for long stretches of time, so I came into this training cycle with a lot of uninterrupted running in my legs.

2. The workouts, specifically: the Dojo Tuesday/Thursday workouts, WRC Sunday long runs and Alan's training plan. I haven't done specific marathon training like that ever before, and I've certainly never done such hard workouts. 

3. Most importantly, my awesome training partners. I would never have run so hard, or so long, or so frequently, without their company. This training cycle has spoiled me forever because I only had to run by myself once per week.

Breaking the tape

You seem to be someone who likes to race frequently, over lots of different distances, and on different surfaces. For example, in 2013, you raced over twenty times! What impact do you think that has on your marathon performances? Do you think it helps to have the variety and/or volume of racing?

For a few years, every time I would set out to train specifically for one goal race, I'd end up injured and unable to race.  In an effort to break that pattern, in 2012 and 2013, I just ran and raced a lot, but without any goal races. It worked in that I didn't get injured, but I was a bit over-raced at times! I don't recommend it as a training strategy. But maybe it gave me a good base.

The 50k trail races are good crash courses in mental toughness and how to pace based on effort. In every single one of those races, I've hit a very low low. Learning how to stay positive even when I'm pretty sure I'll be bivouacking on the side of the trail for the night has helped me in rough patches during road races. Also, pace is not a useful metric in most trail races, so I had to learn to run based on effort.

RC rocking the Dojo hoodie! Oh, and getting a big trophy
In terms of racing/training, what are your plans for the rest of the year?
First off, plenty of easy running, which will abruptly end with the Dojo women’s team trip to the Virginia Wine Country Half Marathon. Then some shorter races this summer. I also plan to do lots of running in the woods.  Trail running is good for my head and all the upping and downing is good for my legs.  This fall I'm planning on the Steamtown Marathon unless I can nab a transfer bib for Marine Corps.

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