So after last year’s disastrous Austin Marathon, I discovered the Gusher Marathon in Beaumont, TX. I had so much fun running the Gusher that I decided to do it again this year in lieu of Austin. I did the Florida Ironman triathlon in early November and the date of the Gusher Marathon would allow me a full month off before I needed to start marathon training. I thought surely a month is enough time to recover and get back into training (hint: it’s not).
I should have taken more time to just do fun stuff, but instead I jumped back into marathon training. Early in the season I was doing really well. Had a successful 3M and rocked a few local 5k’s. I did well on my first two 18 + mile runs (even the one I did sick – I went out to fast and tanked in the middle, but was able to recover for the end which, for me, is a pretty big deal). But…
But really I was tired. I even considered bailing out of the Gusher over a month before, but than I’m never one to quit (in fact,I’ve tanked several races I was too proud to back out of).
I had my race plan, but kept reading that my long runs should be slow and I should save tempo for shorter runs. In fact, “they say” long runs should be a minute a mile slower than your race pace. So I started doing my long runs at 10 minute miles. Now regardless of what your pace is, if you slow down by a minute a mile you will feel pretty dang slow. But I suffered through slugging along.
The experts also have some brilliant ideas about race taper, but we’ll ge t to that in a minute.
Now, far be it from me to tell you not to listen to the experts (oh, you don’t know the experts, go check Google. There are about a million of them). [DISCLAIMER: I am not an expert. I am not medically trained. I am not certified by any group that could certify that I knew anything about race training. Basically, I’m not trained to teach you anything].
So I have been told and read and heard that you should really cut back on your training and taper for three weeks, which I never do. Usually my idea of a taper is to shorten my longest run, then do everything else the same. But not this time. THIS TIME I was gonna do it right. I put up a 3 week taper schedule written in black sharpie on a poster board and put it on the wall right next to my desk. I would not screw this up.
So the first week of my taper after my 19 miler on February 17, I totally screwed up the taper. I tried to do easy ride in spin class, but when someone is yelling at me to up that resistance and the gal next to me is trying so hard, I feel like a total fake pretending to turn my knob. So I did spin class twice that week, then pretty much did everything else I had been doing. Week #2 would be different!
Taper week 2 I did an easy spin and ended up leaving the class early (because I felt like a fake), then finished up with some stretching and foam rolling. I did my mid-week speed workout and tempo run, then ran 14 miles nice and slow on Sunday… after my 3 hour Saturday bike ride. I took it easy on the bike. Really it was more a social thing. So taper week 2 went much “better” than week one.
7 days til the marathon. I took Monday off, did an easy 5 on Tuesday, ran three with the dog on Wednesday, swam Thursday and did foam rolling and stretching Friday before heading up to Beaumont late Friday morning. I would call week #3 as success in as much as I followed the schedule.
Had a bagel for breakfast Friday morning with green tea, took a full water bottle with me in the truck and drank that, got a Quiznos turkey and cheese on wheat for lunch during the car ride up and drank a V8, bottle of Gatorade and water during the rest of the ride, and I had been hydrating like a feigned all week (I was ready to move my office to the restroom). When I got to Beaumont, I picked up my packet before even heading to the hotel. I got to the hotel after less than 15 minutes at packet pick-up, checked in then had a granola bar as a snack, drank a bottle of GU Roctane.
I texted Andrew P to see where he was since Andrew, his wife Sarah and I were supposed to do dinner together. Unfortunately Andrew got stuck in Beaumont rush hour traffic (It is actually much worse than you would’ve thought). When I started getting hungry again, I had a 1/2 bagel, being careful to stay off my feet. I had plenty of time to lay everything out for the next morning. I would catch the hotel shuttle to the start line at 6am, for the 7:30am race start.
OMG, I was going to be so freaking rested for this marathon. Look out!
The weather was predicted to be a bit warm: low’s in the high 50’s highs in the low 70’s, but cloudy (which makes it seem a lot less hot), and also windy with winds starting at 7mph then heading upwards to 14 with a wind advisory. I’d hoped all that would come after the race.
Andrew and Sarah got in at about 7pm and we headed to the hotel restaurant for dinner. I ordered a grilled chicken salad with a side of penne pasta with mariana and ate about 1/2 (probably due to the 1/2 bagel earlier) and just drank water. After dinner I headed back to my room and determined that after the long drive I was tired enough to go to bed at 8:30pm. I immediately fell asleep.
I woke up at 3:30am after a bizarre dream (someone called claiming to be the police saying someone had broken into my truck and the alarm was going off, but I knew it couldn’t really be the police since my truck alarm was broken, so I derived that someone was trying to lure me downstairs… but the dream isn’t actually important). I was nauseated and headachey. Really? Oh, for crying out loud, what the hell is this? I got out of bed and took some aspirin trying to remember if it is a good idea to take aspirin before a race, then ate another 1/2 bagel hoping the breadiness would soothe my nausea. I laid back down, but really didn’t get much more sleep between going to the bathroom and trying to figure out what could possibly have made me sick.
I got out of bed at 5am feeling a lot better but still not 100%. I hoped being up and getting some more food would help clear out my tummy before the race. I had plenty of time, really. I ate breakfast at the hotel (bagel and peanut butter), but had to choke it down, and drank a bottle of Gatorade. And to be honest, by 7am, after getting to the race site and using the port-o-john for the last time, I felt tons better. I was ready for this.
I had my hand held 10 oz water bottle and four gels on me, figuring I could replace the gels as I used them and use most of the fluid on the course. This is a really well stocked course with water stops at least every mile and sometimes more often as part of the course was out and back on the same road.
I remembered from last year, when I ran an extra .2 miles, that I really needed to be aware of running the tangents, especially on all the turns in the downtown area.
At 7:30am we were all lined up (well all the marathoners and 1/2 marathoners, the 5k’ers would start at 8am), my Garmin had a signal, my iPod was charged and the gun went off.
I’m gonna put this video here because
I thought it was so dang funny
OK, so the gun went off and we all started. I had a very specific race plan, so I was pretty much running on my own, starting off slow, at a 9:28min/mile pace, then gradually getting faster. This has worked for me on many past races and during last year’s marathon.
So here I am soooo well rested after my taper. My legs should be fresh. I should be like a race horse, just chopping at the bit. So I start at a 9:30ish pace, and yeah, it feeling kinda fast. Wait, wut? Ok, just gotta knock the cobwebs out. Sometimes it takes 2 or 3 miles. I settle into what feels comfortable and wait to start feeling loosened up. OK, Mile one a 9:35, not bad. I can make up those few seconds later. Mile 2, a 9:36, again, no panic. I was supposed to run 1 and 2 at a 9:28, then drop back to a 9:18 for miles 3. Hmm, still not feeling it. Ok, mile 3 a 9:27. Still, that’s ok. A lot of the time it will take 3 miles to loosen up and I’m at least at that 9:28(ish) I was looking for.
It took until mile 5 before I could get my 9:18, but it still felt like I was running too hard. Now I wasn’t tanking, but these early miles are supposed to feel not hard at all. If a 9:18 felt a little hard at mile 5 what was that 9:09 gonna feel like at mile 19?
I’m not going to take you through ever mile, but sufficed to say, early on in this race I knew it was not going to be a PR kinda day. I resigned myself to shooting for about a 4:10 based on how I was feeling in those early miles. I didn’t write anything off if I got a great second wind, but I wasn’t going to be beating myself up and be miserable for the next 3 to 4 hours. I could only hope that Andrew would also have a horrible day 😉
(ok, the truth, yeah, early on I was hoping he would tank, but after about 1/2 hour of that, I was really hoping he would do well because, really, how Andrew does has no bearing on my life. So you go Andrew… just don’t leave without me, Sarah has my wallet and phone).
I really do enjoy this race. The downtown area is really cute and totally closed for the race. On the first loop there are lots of folks around because all the 1/2 marathoners are out there, too. I was careful to run the tangents and look ahead to see where the road went so I wouldn’t end up on the wrong side of the road through some of the zig-zag turns.
At about mile 7 you leave the downtown area and end up back on MLK highway – 6 lanes closed to traffic for the marathon.
Ok, yeah, so the guy said there would be red-flag wind warning in the afternoon? So at about 8:35 in the morning running down MLK into a head wind that wa actually making it difficult to breathe!
Holy crap! I eased off a bit because I knew that killing myself into the headwind was unlikely to bode well for the second loop of the race. I was back in the 9:40’s pace. So should I kick it when I have the tale wind then hope for the best when I get o mile 21 and back into the headwind late in the race? Luckily I has about 4 miles to try to figure out a new race strategy, but I really didn’t know.
What I did know was that even if I kicked it up to 9:00min/miles on the way out, it was extremely unlikely that I would be anywhere near the sub 9:10’s I would need to get anywhere near my goal. One of the nice things about becoming absolutely positive that I would not meet my goal was that it took a LOT of pressure off me. Seriously. I thought, well new goal, let’s at least have fun and enjoy this. And that I did. Screw my pace goals, I just ran whatever I felt like running.
I headed out for my second loop settled into a 9:30 pace and on the portions where you were close to the folks running in the opposite direction, I called out encouragement. I mean, these folks were still running into the headwind (it wasn’t as bad at miles 11-13, but folks were starting to get tired). ” You look strong!””You’ve got this!” ” Way to go runners!” and my personal fav, “Hey, I could be worse, you could have another loop!” (marthoners had yellow bids to the half marathoners white, so it was easy to see who was finishing).
So when I got back to the highway, I kicked it up a notch when I had the tail wind, because why the hell not. Miles 21-23 were gonna suck anyway, might as well have some fun. So my “kick it up a notch pace” was a 9:14 (yeah, not a PR kinda day at all). I got back into town and actually felt alright, but my tummy was feeling bloated. Not nauseated, not crampy, just not like a lot was not moving past the tummy part of the digestive tract. Hmm, I figured I would stop taking solids, but continue with Gatorade until things started moving again.
At mile 18ish I tried to belch but I threw up. Yeah, not really what I was shooting for, but it actually made me feel a lot better, so I continued on my Gatorade only diet (after some swishing with water – yay for my hand held waterbottle!).
Thing is, I never bonked. I never felt like I was gonna bonk. I never cramped; not my tummy, not my leg muscles. But by mile 20, damn my legs really hurt. Like really hurt! Like how the hell could my legs hurt this much when I’ve been moving this slow the whole race. Every muscle from my lower abdomen, groin, quads, hammies, knees, calves, everything hurt. A lot. My plantar faciitis? Oh, that made a niggly appearance at about mile 16, then went away. I had to stop walking through water stops because I could not start running again (yay! handheld water bottle).
[rant] And this is why I will NEVER taper like that again. WTF?! Doing practically nothing or two weeks before a big race does not make me stronger. It makes me fat, lazy and weak. I started the race feeling tired and slow and I never felt not tired and slow during the whole race. I’ve never had a race this bad when I was not actually sick with, like, a really illness! Oh Red you’ve GOT to taper. Oh you’ll be so well rested! Oh bull! Based on everything I have heard there is no way I should have lost that much fitness in two weeks to be that much slower than all of my training runs, which I was doing too damn slow anyway. Seriously, how can you know that you will be able to run/maintain a 9:10 at mile 18 if you have never run 18 miles at or near 9:10’s? See? That’s what I mean! But even at that, if I was able to run 9:18’s for 18.9 miles, why today could I not run anywhere near that pace at the same distance? Then I had to run another 7 miles. [/rant]**
** results (allegedly) not typical. this rant is not intended to dissuade you from taking the advice of learned professionals in this field. Not all side effects will affect all individuals the same way
So as I was approaching the end of town there was a guy and a gal running near each other (I have no idea if they were running together, but they were running next to each other when I rolled up on them). “Hey,” I said “how would y’all feel about making a little drafting train on MLK? It’s gonna suck.” They were in. Boy, this sure felt like cheating, but I know that drafting is only cheating when you are on the bike. So me and my new-found friends took turns pulling all the way down MLK, until they stopped at the waterstop. My legs had earlier informed me that if we stopped again, that was it. Call a freaking cab.
So I ran the last 1/2 mile with my head down, the skin on my arms and face flapping in the breeze behind me.
Did I mention the wind?
Ow. Ow. Ow. Ow. Ow. Dang my legs hurt, but I was back in the Lamar college campus, only about 2 miles to go. Just. Keep. Moving.
I saw at mile 24-something that I had been running for four hours. At my current pace I realized that I wasn’t even going to break 4:10. but ya know, oh well. Ok, so at this point I’m thinking “Gee, I sure hope Andrew and Sarah aren’t feeling really bad that I totally blew my goal and discussing how to console me. How embarrassing would that be?” I have no idea if this thought ever entered there minds, but hey, they had no idea what kind of condition (mental, physical) I would be in when I came through the finish shoot. I sure hoped they weren’t wondering if I was carried off the course.
As I rounded the corner on my way to (finally!) the finish shoot, I saw Andrew and Sarah and put my arms up in mock triumph “Yeah, it was windy out there!” I called out.
4:17:02 (9:48 min/miles). Oh, yeah and all that “running the tangents” I did? I still ran a 26.46. WTF? That’s worse than when I wasn’t trying!)
When I stopped running I was feeling nauseated, shaky and suddenly very emotional, like I was just gonna start crying, even though I really was cool with the way the race turned out – there is a benefit to doing a ‘long, slow dissolve’ over several miles, versus having a great race, but blowing up late. I had already gone through the 7 stages of grief by the time I finished, so I was totally cool (ok, I’m still in the anger stage over the whole taper thing). But I got an IV (yay, IV’s!) and almost immediately felt a lot better.
So it was sort of a let down at the end of my running season, but then I don’t think I’ll every seriously try to run a marathon a few months after Ironman again, either.