Monday, November 15, 2010

Chickamauga Battlefield Marathon - Final Thoughts

I've probably written more than enough about this marathon experience, but I've had two days now to process it and here are some final thoughts.

My legs started feeling better today, but I'm wondering why they haven't bounced back quicker. It's probably not a good idea to compare myself with others, but I was amazed that Gordon said his "Legs feel great!!!" the very next day. The thought of going for a 20-mile bike ride on Sunday was inconceivable. Did he do something different? Is it genetics? Training? Diet?

Yesterday I finished reading Again to Carthage, John L. Parker, Jr.'s follow up to Once a Runner. There's a part in the story where the protagonist, Quentin Cassidy, recognizes a competitor's pain and cramping during the later miles of a marathon. This paragraph caused me question my theory of hydration being responsible for cramping at mile 19.

They ran in silence, Cassidy empathizing, unable to help. He remembered Denton's lecture: "In the marathon you can get cramps almost anytime. They're not like the ones we used to get toward the end of hot-weather workouts, not based on electrolyte depletion. I got them halfway through my 2:15 when I picked up the pace suddenly. They're usually in the hamstrings, sometimes the calves or quads. You're over your anaerobic threshold, but just barely. You start generating ketones from burning fat without enough oxygen, the ketones start circulating, confusing your synapses, causing them to misfire. You cramp. Joe Vigil laid it out for me. The thing is not to panic. They feel pretty bad for a while, and you may think you're done for, but they'll go away if you back off a bit and run them out."

I didn't pick up the pace suddenly and I know I didn't take in enough fluids, so I'm still pretty certain my problem was dehydration. However, I'm going to see if I can learn more about the ketones and if there's anything that can be proactively done to manage their generation.

Lastly, I recalled some of the mental aspects of the race. I remember how confident I felt miles 13-18. I'd completed over half the course at that point and was feeling really good about my chances of meeting my goal. I felt strong and in control. And then I remember the spirit draining out of me at mile 19 when I had to stop. Looking at my Garmin and knowing it wasn't a training run. Knowing I couldn't just stop it for a couple of minutes while I dealt with my injury. It sounds melodramatic when I type it, but running into the unknown and having all you've worked for for 18 weeks taken away is a humbling experience. No, it's not the end of the world. It no longer consumed me after I crossed the finish line, but in that instant it was crushing.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Chickamauga Battlefield Marathon - Race Report

I suppose I deserve to be humbled. Was it foolish to think I could qualify for Boston on my first marathon attempt? I don't think so, but it's hard to argue with the results.

After a long, cold wait in line for the port-o-lets I just barely managed to get back to my car, put on my Garmin and jog over to the starting line. With only a few minutes to spare I spoke to the 3:20 pacer and told him of my intent to stay with him for at least the first few miles. He said his plan was execute even splits the entire race. I also was fortunate to spy Logan and Gordon. We didn't get to chat long, but Logan and I did spend some quality time grimacing at one another out on the course.

The cannon went off and around Barnhardt Circle we went. I tried staying with the pacer, but he was jogging at about a 8:30/mile pace. After only a quarter mile I'd abandoned my plan and decided to stretch it out a bit. Despite that sounding like a bad idea, I thought I managed to keep myself under control, taking my time ramping it up to my marathon pace of 7:30/mile.

As you can see from my splits I was a little too quick miles 3-5. I kept a close eye on my Garmin as my average pace dropped down into the range I was looking for, but I should have spread that out over a few more miles. I'm not sure it hurt me in the long run, but this marks lesson # 1.

I'm most happy, of course, with miles 6-17. As much as I've struggled with my pace runs during this training program it's nice to see how consistent I was. The only real mistake I made during this time was at mile 11 when I missed a turn where the half and full split off. I got distracted at the water stand and had to double back when course workers started shouting at me. I think I lost maybe 10-15 seconds.

At around the 18-mile mark you can see where I started to slow a little. All of a sudden I started to notice twinges in my legs if I didn't land just so. It was a gradual uphill section of the course, so I didn't give it much thought figuring I'd make up time on the other side.

I had just crossed the 19-mile mark and was coming up on an intersection full of spectators. Out of nowhere my left hamstring cramped and I had to immediately stop to ward off a charlie horse. I stretched it for about a minute and then tried to run on it again, but was forced to the side one more time. Muttering and cursing I stretched it some more and then somehow got going again.

It surprises me to look at miles 21-23 and see that my pace was in the high 8s, low 9s. I was in a world of hurt and moving just to make it to the next water station. When I got to the first one I took a cup of water, and that's when I realized how little was actually in it. That's right, damn it. The cup was half empty. I'm intentionally being a pessimist here purely for your amusement.

The last three miles were excruciating. At the last water station I came to a stop and took two cups of Powerade and a cup of water. I was praying it would get me through the last few miles, but it wasn't enough. My calves were seizing up, my toes were curling in my shoes and I was actually trying to kick in front of me on each stride in an attempt to keep the hams from clenching again.

Me at 26.15 miles
At the 24-mile mark I stopped to walk again and was assisted by an on-course aid. She offered a bottle of Gatorade and some salt tabs, and told me twice that a bus was just around the corner if I wanted a ride back. I told her I'd rather crawl, but fortunately it didn't come to that. She never could find the salt tab in her bag, so I limped on as best I could.

Miles 25 and 26 I alternated between walking and running. Being acquainted with the course I knew I was almost home and made sure to jog the last quarter mile. True to her word, I couldn't miss Hilary. I rounded the corner to the last straightaway and there she was holding a huge sign with my name on it. I somehow managed a smile, though it probably looked like a smirk. Out of the corner of my eye I could see her sprinting across the field to set up for a photo. To the left you'll see one she took that's easily better than 99% of the professional race photos I've seen. You almost can't tell that I'm about to collapse.

I crossed the finish line and was greeted by Dave with a hug. For a myriad of reasons I had to pull away from him and just collapse on the nearby curb. After a couple of minutes I composed myself and looked up to see Hilary, Kym, Dave, Barb and Justin around me. They offered comfort and a few bottles of water, which was all I needed at that point. I was still in a stupor, but it was nice to be surrounded by such good friends. You know, the kind that will stand there patiently waiting for you to say something. Anything. We took a few photos and then slowly split up as I went looking for food.

In the end I finished with a chip time of 3:45:36 and gun time of 3:45:41. I placed 84th out of 502 finishers, and 18th out of 72 in my age group. I didn't achieve my goal, but will take lessons away from the race and make another attempt. When, I'm not yet sure.

Speaking of lessons. You've heard of oxygen debt? Well, if the term hydration debt hasn't been coined yet, I'm taking credit for it. Even though I took water at every station, I should have taken more. At some stations the cups were barely half full, and I believe not getting enough water was ultimately responsible for my breakdown. By the time I realized it I couldn't get water in me fast enough to compensate for all I'd lost, and never was able to recover. Lesson # 2. Walk through each station and make sure to get at least one full cup of water. If it's not full, get another. Sure, I might lose 5-10 seconds every couple of miles, but that's a lot better than losing 5-10 minutes.

Finally, lesson # 3 is to strengthen my calves and quads more. I think I took my strength routine a little too lightly in these departments, and could do a better job conditioning them.

In closing, I think I was capable of meeting my goal today had it not been for the dehydration. I never felt like I'd hit "the wall," and believe that even though my pace might have slowed I still would have come in under 3:20. I suppose there's only one way to find out.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Chickamauga Battlefield Marathon - The Taper

It is Saturday, November 6th, and I am knee deep in the tapering period of my training for the Chickamauga Battlefield Marathon being held one week from today. No more hill sprints or speed to work to speak of, and tomorrow's "long run" of 8 miles sounds like a joke.

I've experienced pre-race anxiety before, but not quite like this. This is my first marathon, and there are more unknowns than usual. What if this, what if that? And one thing that's been surprisingly difficult to cope with has been the reminders I hear from those I'm fortunate enough to have supporting me. BQ! I blame myself, of course. After all, I'm the one that foolishly proclaimed my intent to qualify for the Boston Marathon back in April.

Today I sit here wanting to tune out the encouragement I've so appreciated the past few months. I've put enough pressure on myself already. To accomplish this I've decided to stop visiting one of my favorite sites, dailymile. It's not that I don't want to share my thought process or training updates. If I didn't I wouldn't be writing this blog post. It's just that right now I feel I need to focus. Inward. Be selfish, if you will. What does suck is that I already miss interacting with so many good people. Reading about your workouts and being apart of such a great online community.

 creative commons credit: psd
I do want to thank everyone that's supported me the past 18 weeks. From those who have no idea how long a marathon is, to fellow runners that know what it takes to get from there to here. I especially want to thank Hilary, James, Andy and Greg. Each of them in their own way have played a vital part in getting me through this training.

Finally, I'm dedicating this marathon to a very special person, Kym. This marathon represents the final step in a journey she helped me begin and follow to completion. If it weren't for her it's doubtful any of this would ever have happened. Thank you for motivating me and, more importantly, inspiring me, Kym. I am eternally grateful.

I intend to publish this post before I go to sleep on Friday night. I'll have enough things to worry about before I leave for the race on Saturday morning. I'll update it daily throughout the week and try to treat it like a series of dailymile posts. To kick things off, here's a quick status update.

Physically I'm feeling pretty good. With the decrease in mileage this week it's felt like a wave slowly washing over me. I'd reached that state of perpetual tiredness and soreness the weeks leading up to this one, and now those aches and fatigue are dissipating. My legs feel fresher than they have in months, and it no longer hurts to get up out of a chair. My only concern is an injury that's been with me for 3-4 weeks. It started out as what I thought was a lower abdominal strain. From there it made its way down to my hip flexor, and now it's moved even farther south to my groin. It's not painful, but during a run feels tight. Post run there's a mild burning sensation that extends down the inside of my thigh to my knee. Will it be healed in a week, and if not will it affect my race? Time will tell.

Mentally, well, you know know by now I'm a bit of a mess. I still think I'm capable of achieving my goal, but worry about the things I can't control. I worry about the wall, injury, illness, cramping, etc. So, I'll carbo load in the coming days, routinely wash my hands like a crack fiend with OCD, and do my best not to let the unknown consume me.

T-7, Saturday, November 6
4.03 miles, 30:06, 7:28/mi avg

I ran four miles in about 30 minutes flat. Hal said he didn't care how fast I did the workout, so I just started out slow and ramped it up from there. What I liked about this run was the the overall average pace: 7:28/mile. I've been a little concerned about the start of the marathon, going out too fast and/or not going out fast enough. If I can replicate this run over the first four miles of the marathon and then settle into my race pace of 7:30/mile I'll be ecstatic. The temp was 33°, which was, hopefully, a little cooler than what we'll get on race day. Still, I was pretty comfortable in shorts, a long-sleeve tech shirt and pullover. I'd just prefer to keep it to one layer.

T-6, Sunday, November 7
8.11 miles, 1:09:29, 8:34/mi avg.

Today marked the last "long run" on the training schedule. At only 8 miles it was the shortest since week # 3 of my training. Hal once again counseled to keep the pace a minute or two slower than marathon pace, so I did. I ran through the Brookstone, Silver Hills and Overlook neighborhoods, much as I have the past couple of months. There was a pretty steady wind coming out of the northwest, but it wasn't awful. This was one run I wished I had brought along an iPod. I could have used the distraction. Anyway, still feeling pretty good. All showered and shaved, and now enjoying some steel cut oats with strawberries for breakfast. It's the first time I've ever made them, and they're not too bad.

Note 1: I just shelled out $4.99 to Universal Sports in order to watch the New York City Marathon. It said that fee would give me access to multiple feeds. Instead, after I paid I got an Asics commercial and then a black screen saying "Competition will resume shortly." Um, what happened? Did everyone pull over at the side of the road for a breather? Ugh!

Note 2: Crap. Just as I got the feed Haile pulled out with a knee injury.

Note 3: Disappointing to see Shalane fade at mile 24, but impressive to see her battle to the finish and take second. And even though an American male didn't place, it was still fun to watch Gebre Gebremariam pull away the last couple of miles and enjoy his victory. A contrast in comparison to the women's winner, Edna Kiplagat, who barely showed any emotion.

T-5, Monday, November 8

One of the first things I've been doing the past few days the moment I wake up is check the 10-day forecast for Chickamauga. I didn't put much stock in it 10 days out, but days 7, 6 and today the prediction hasn't changed. Low of around 43° on race morning with a 30% chance of showers. Unless it's a downpour, which seems unlikely, it should be ok.

My choices this morning were to take an additional rest day or run 3 miles in the 32° temperature. I chose the former for a couple of reasons. First, it hardly seemed worth getting out there for just 3 miles when it's this cold out, and second because I figured my groin injury could use the morning off. Besides, it's not like I won't be doing anything today. I'll hit the gym later for a strength and core workout.

I'm trying to heed Hal's eating advice and not consume too much this last week. I don't weigh all that much, but at this weight I can tell the difference a pound or two makes. Since I'm not running as much I've cut down on my portions and effective today will not be allowing myself cookies, candy, etc. That last part won't be easy, but my mental makeup will ensure I follow through. When I set my mind to something like this I know I'll comply.

Weights Workout

I think this is the last weights workout I do before the marathon. The next regularly scheduled one would be on Thursday, and since I should be resting from Wednesday on it's probably best to skip it. If I do anything it will be restricted to upper body. I hope I've pushed myself enough in this department to make a difference come race day. I'm no infomercial model, but it's kind of cool to see the definition on my abs.

2x12: Chest Press (120), Lat Pulldowns (90), Leg Curls (90), Leg Extensions (75), Calf Raises (120), Arm Curls (55), Diverging Seated Row (75)
6x30: Abdominal Crunches (90)

T-4, Tuesday, November 9
3.14 miles, 28:56, 9:12/mi avg

Who knew getting in a 4x400 workout could be a challenge at this point? The plan called for these intervals to be run at a 5k pace. I actually had to look that up to see what it meant. Apparently, my pace should have been around 6:46/mile, though in reality it was all over the place. It's been so long since I've raced a 5k and I've grown so accustomed to 800m intervals that I didn't know how to do it.

My first interval was - as my daughter would say - an epic fail. I'm sure I'm supposed to spell that in some quirky, ironic fashion, but that'll have to do. Since I've run intervals in this neighborhood before I thought I had a good idea how far 400m would be. But the light on my Garmin never turned on. Finally, I just stopped and found that instead of hitting my lap button to start the intervals I had pressed the start/stop button. Argh. I took a short breather, started the watch again and then pressed lap.

My first official split pace was 5:47/mile. Yikes! Way too fast. Hal said I should be taking it easy and come away from this workout feeling like I could do a lot more. So, I slowed things down and my next split was 6:23! Still too fast! On my third one I did better - only 6:54 this time, but the last one I still went too fast at 6:21.

Oh well. It's in the books and I don't (yet) feel any worse for the wear. One thing I was thinking about in the midst of all this was how this effort might translate in a 5k. There's plenty on the schedule in the coming months, so I think I'll look for one with a certified course and see what I've got. I'd love to legitimately break 20 minutes. The 19:55 I used to have on my PR list was held on an uncertified course widely thought to be short.

T-3, Wednesday, November 10

An easy 3 miles on the schedule today - if my marathon were on Sunday, that is. Since it's on Saturday I've moved up things up and will take today and tomorrow off instead, with a 2-mile shakeout on Friday. I think I'll get that in after arriving in Chattanooga, checking in and picking up my packet.

T-2, Thursday, November 11

I can't remember the last time I didn't run for two days in a row. Fortunately, I have a lot to do today in preparation for traveling to the race tomorrow, so I haven't thought about it much. Still, it's weird.

I've been carb loading since yesterday, and though I've been eating a lot it hasn't felt like enough. So far my carbs of choice have been whole wheat bagels and bread, oatmeal, quinoa and potatoes. Today I'll be introducing pasta when I take my daughter out for lunch, and will likely follow up with more of the same for dinner. The challenge has been keeping my protein ratio where it needs to be. For example, I really wanted a latte this morning, but passed since I'd already had peanut butter on my bagel. Fortunately, I'm not having to stray too far from my usual diet. I'm no health nut, but for the most part my everyday eating habits are shaped by running.

I've been thinking a lot about my race strategy. Initially I wanted to aim for steady splits the entire race since it's a relatively flat course. I noticed the other day, however, that there will be a couple of pace groups. My latest plan is to start with the 3:20 group for the first 3-4 miles and then pick it up from there until I hit my desired average of 7:30/mile. I figure this will keep me from going out too fast, which is something I have a habit of. I'll try to maintain that pace thru miles 21 or 22, and if I feel good try to pick it up the last few.

T-1, Friday, November 12

Today I travel to Chattanooga for the race. I'd thought about sleeping in and then hitting the road, but was up on and off all night. At some point I reasoned it would be better to get up early so as not to screw up my sleep schedule. I'll already be losing an hour to the Eastern time zone, so when I saw 4:30 on the clock I rolled out of bed.

For the road trip I figured I could use some new music. I went to the Amazon MP3 store and browsed through some of the albums on sale for $5. I'm not normally a "greatest hits" kind of guy, but made an exception for The Cars and Jimmy Cliff. Also, I picked up the Underworld's latest release, which I've been intending to buy at full price anyway. I noticed they had A Twisted Christmas by Twisted Sister, but those days are long gone. I'm not linking that one, so if you want a copy you'll have to degrade yourself to find it.

Yesterday I took my daughter to lunch at the Olive Garden. We parked in the Arby's parking lot next door. On the way out walking back to our cars we had to cross over the grassy median separating the two. I was paying attention to something she was telling me when all of a sudden my left leg stepped into a hole about 12"-15" deep. I didn't fall, but felt it tweak my groin. It didn't hurt, though I wondered how it might react after sleeping on it. So far it doesn't seem like a setback.

T-18 Hours, Friday, November 12
2.08 Miles, 18:52, 9:03/mi avg

I got into town around 12:30 and drove down to the Battlefield. I needed to give my lunch a little time to settle, so I drove around the course for a few and visited the Wilder Monument. The best way I can think to describe it, is that it looks like a tall rook. I climbed the stairwell to the top and took in the view, which was very nice.

I drove down the road and parked in a a recreation area parking lot. From there I ran around a section of the course in the shape of a triangle. I kept the pace slow and mixed in a few strides, per Hal's recommendation. A few times I slowed down to a walk and just took in the scenery. Not a bad way to officially wrap up the training.

When I got back to the parking lot I noticed a car next to mine with plates from my home state, New Hampshire. A few minutes later the owner, Kevin, showed up and we chatted for a few. He, too, is running the marathon tomorrow, and it's his first. Pretty ambitious considering he just started running in January.