Fish Out of Water

Musings and observations about life from an East Coast native now living on the Left Coast in the California State Capitol since 2004. This fish has made her home in Madison, WI (7 years); Portland, OR (2 years); Las Vegas, NV (7 months); Middlebury, VT (3 summers); Marne-la-Vallee, a small town east of Paris, France (6 months); Middletown, CT (3 years); and Marshfield, MA, the fish's coastal hometown 40 miles south of Boston (17 years).

Location: Sacramento, California, United States


Post-Race Musings

Last Sunday, May 27th, I ran my third marathon. It was my second Madison Marathon (Mr. E and I ran the same event together in 2004 - the first marathon for both of us - the day before we climbed into the car with Muffin to drive cross-country to Sacramento).

The weather was absolutely beautiful - sunny, clear, light breeze, low 50s at the start, no humidity - perfect for running. My clothing choices of shorts, sports bra, t-shirt, and gloves were right on. I shed my shirt around the halfway point and removed my gloves around mile 16.

Mr. E provided awesome support throughout. He surprised me with the new Kathrine Switzer book Marathon Woman a few weeks before the race to provide some additional inspiration, he scheduled a post-race massage for me at Kneaded Relief Day Spa on Tuesday morning, and he totally focused on making sure I was taken care of in every way for that weekend. During the marathon, he cheered me on and took photos at the start, around mile 10 as my pace team approached the Edgewater, miles 12 & 14 near Picnic Point when I threw him my t-shirt, and mile 16 as we headed up the long slow Monroe Street incline by Trader Joe's. Then he joined me near mile 21 in the Arboretum to "run me in" to the end at the Alliant Energy Center. This was so wonderful, because I was really struggling for those final miles, so having his companionship helped me to keep going and finish strong. I couldn't ask for a better partner, and I'm so blessed to have my pooka-E!

So these are my times so far:
  • Madison Marathon, 5/04 - 4:26:14 = 10:08 pace
  • California International Marathon, 12/06 - 4:19:19 = 9:57 pace
  • Madison Marathon, 5/07 - 4:07:01 = 9:26 pace
However, my goal for this time had been to run 9s, which would have given me a sub-4:00 overall time. So what happened? And what lessons did I learn to carry with me into the CIM this year to help me achieve that original goal?

Timing Miscalculations
I started thinking "sub-4" rather than "run 9s." I looked at the pace calculation based on my Davis Stampede 1/2 marathon PR of 1:44:01 in February, which put me right around 3:50 for a marathon. Then I looked at the BQ stats and realized that I'd moved into the next age group of 35-40, so my BQ time would be 3:45 (max 3:45:59) rather than 3:40 for the 30-34 age group (BQ times are based on your age on the day of the next Boston Marathon, not your age on the day that you run your qualifier).

And I got greedy.

I started thinking about how great it would be to BQ, and I lost sight of the original (reasonable, feasible) goal of achieving a sub-4. After all, cutting 20 minutes off my overall total was much more likely than trying to cut off 35 minutes. And my CIM time had been affected by the fact that my left knee started hurting at the half-way point, which is why I missed my goal time of 4:15 in that race, but that would still have meant improving by 30 minutes.

I should have maintained my original focus. My four 20-milers during training were all right around 9s, and my Shamrock'n 1/2 marathon in March was 1:49:46, which estimated to a 3:58 marathon time. If I had stuck to that plan, I'm confident I would have achieved that sub-4.

Going Out Too Fast + Hills = Leg Cramps
Based on that initial poor decision, I started with the 3:50 pace team (8:48 pace). This was my biggest downfall, and the most common mistake for any runner - going out too fast at the beginning of the race. In a shorter event, you may be able to recover from this or even maintain a faster pace for the majority of the distance, but not in an endurance event like a marathon (26.2 miles, let's not forget).

I felt fine for about the first 12 miles, although the pace team took the hills a bit faster than I was used to. Not to mention that I didn't train hills at all here in Sacramento. I knew the Madison course had some rolling hills, but I didn't factor in how I'd need to adjust my stride to handle them and keep a consistent pace.

By the time we hit the halfway mark, I had already dropped behind the 3:50 group and realized that goal was out of reach. However, even on my own, I maintained a 3:50 pace until mile 15, which was one of the many small victories that I celebrated as I continued the route.

Soon thereafter, however, the leg cramps really hit. I've never had this experience before, so it was really difficult to know how to handle them. The worst spots were my left calf and my right quad, and I'm sure the combination of starting too fast and not being ready for the hills was the reason for the pain I endured.

At that point, I started to walk through the water stations. And yet I was still exactly on target for 9s when I hit mile 20 and saw the 3:00:00 race clock. Unfortunately, the worst was yet to come, and those final 6.2 miles were a major struggle for me.

I managed to find a little burst of energy at the end to finish with the 4:07:01 time, but I definitely paid for it. My leg cramps were nasty, and my left calf seized up when I was stretching afterwards, to the point that I had to sit down on the ground to avoid falling down! Yep, that was a new experience, and one I'd like to avoid at all costs in the future. Stairs were quite challenging over the next two days as my muscles slowly worked themselves out.

I'm familiar with the CIM course at this point, and I know that it also has a fair number of hills, despite the fact that the course overall is considered "downhill." So once I start up my training for CIM in September, I'll need to figure out a way to incorporate some hillwork, either on the treadmill and/or on pavement.

Insufficient Fuel
My training regimen for long runs (over 12 miles) had been to eat 1 protein bar prior to the run and then 1/2 bar every 4 miles during the run. For my 20-milers, I also had a bag of Jelly Belly Sport Beans to add a little extra motivation and energy for the final 2 miles. I planned to follow this same pattern during the marathon, but once I started getting tired and sore, I didn't feel like eating anymore. I had 1 bar at the hotel along with some water with the power shot powder before heading to the start, but then during the race I ended up eating only 1 1/2 bars rather than the 3 that I had brought with me. And the Sport Beans stayed in my pocket the whole time, too.

I did take water frequently, and started to alternate water and Gatorade after about the halfway point. But I'm sure that the lack of fuel affected my overall energy and electrolytes levels, which made the leg cramps and fatigue even worse.

Next time, I need to stick to my re-fueling plan, whether I want to or not. I also need to start experimenting with Gu or other non-solid types of fuel as I train, since those would be more easily absorbed (and carried!) during a race.

Luckily, this didn't impact me until after the race! My normal regimen is to apply anti-perspirant to my feet to prevent blisters, and sometimes I put a little Vaseline under the straps of my sports bra to prevent any rubbing. During my training, however, I didn't experience any chafing, even during my four 20-milers. Unfortunately, I didn't think to take extra precautions for the marathon, and I ended up with a nasty patch of chafing between my cheeks. I didn't feel it until I had changed after the race, but the next 3 days were rather uncomfortable with walking and sitting and driving.

This abrasion, more than my recovering leg muscles, kept me from running again until Friday (5 days after the marathon). I did 7.2 miles on a treadmill that day, and the chafing acted up again just a bit. Luckily, it seems to have healed now, and my run today (8.2 miles) was just fine, although I did apply some Vaseline ahead of time, just in case!

But I've learned my lesson and will be sure to lube up sufficiently before all of my future races.

Small Victories
Once I realized that 3:50 was out of reach, I had to shift my paradigm. I could easily have gotten frustrated with myself and been grumpy and unhappy for the rest of the race, and since I have very high expectations and put pressure on myself to be perfect, this would have been an easy trap to fall into. However, I figured that wouldn't be a very good way to spend the next 13 miles, and I didn't want to spend all this time training and running only to be pissed off at the end because I'd missed a goal. So instead, I re-adjusted to focus on getting that sub-4, as I told Mr. E when I passed him before the halfway point.

I was psyched to see that I was still on the 3:50 pace, according to my pace chart bracelet, at mile 15 and that the pace team wasn't too far ahead of me yet. That was pretty cool.

But then I started to slow down and hurt more. So I decided I needed to remember all the training and preparation I had done, all of the time I had put in, the tempo runs and speedwork on the treadmill that I endured since I knew they would help. And I focused on how the journey itself was a triumph, since I'd never trained this way for a marathon, with such specific running and weights regimens, not to mention the four 20-milers along the way and the many times I got up early to run 9-12 miles before work. All of that in itself was an accomplishment. I now know that I can do tempo runs and speedwork and that I'm stronger and have more stamina than I give myself credit for. That's a good thing to remember when you're hurting badly and still have over 8 miles to go in a marathon.

I let myself walk through the water stations. I even mentally decided I could walk up the hills if I needed to (Breese Terrace, Monroe Street, Nakoma, the Arb ups & downs). But I didn't have to do this. I managed to keep running up every single hill, even that long stretch of Monroe Street and the steeper grades in the Arb. Considering how my legs were feeling at this point, this was definitely a small victory. Oh, and of course I had to run for the race photographers as we rounded Monona Bay during the last 2 miles!

I think the very best thing to come out of this was that I was truly ecstatic at the end, even though I hadn't run the race I wanted to run or that I planned to run. I was beaming (as the photo Mr. E took of me in the car afterwards attests), and I felt great and victorious for the entire rest of the day, despite the aching muscles and chafing skin. I know some of this comes from the "runner's high," but some of it also comes from being able to change my focus to the positive rather than dwelling on the negative.

And since I know at least some of what went wrong, I also know how I can fix those challenges in the future. I'm so close to making that sub-4 goal, and I'm sure I can do it. I don't usually try to do two marathons in a year, but I really want to reach this goal, and I want this training to pay off, so I'm definitely going to run CIM in December.

Here's the plan:
  • Maintain weekly mileage at 30-35 miles
  • Include at least 1 weekly pre-work run of 9-10 miles
  • Increase long run base to 15s prior to September
  • Implement weights maintenance workout
  • Continue treadmill speedwork every 3 weeks and tempo runs on the off weeks
  • Experiment with different types of food during long runs
  • Ramp up to similar training regimen in September
  • Stay focused on the goal of running 9s
  • Enjoy the journey!!!
I ordered an official race photo today to commemorate my PR. Even though I detoured from my goal, I still want to remember this race and the lessons I've taken away from it. In Marathon Woman, Kathring Switzer says something like, "Running is like life. You can plan and prepare all you want, but you never know what will happen." That's a good motto, and it's a conclusion I'd already reached over the past decade or so as I've gotten more serious about my running.

A good mantra to adopt for the long run, no?


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dr. J!

GREAT JOB! Well documented too. I will support anyway I can.

Je T'aime!

Mr. E!

1:07 PM  

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