Product Review: Elevation Training Mask 2.0

SubdueTheSloth Elevation Training Mask

There is a reason many of our best endurance athletes live in and train at altitude: altitude training improves performance. The real question is can amateur athletes achieve similar results without moving to Boulder, Colorado. Over the past year, I’ve tried to find an answer that question by training with the Elevation Training Mask 2.0.

Strange things happen to my body beyond 15 miles. In each of my 3 attempts at the Route 66 Marathon, I endured breathing that felt like a friendly grizzly bear was hugging me to death. Not only does that feeling make it tough to run, it also makes me question whether it’s just normal long mileage exhaustion or something much, much worse. At the outset of every long training run or marathon, I promise my wife I won’t die, and when you’re struggling for each breath, it’s tough to decide between keeping a promise and going for a PR.

After the 2013 Route 66 Marathon, my frustration with my breathing led me to the Elevation Training Mask 2.0.

Prior to purchasing the Elevation Training Mask, all of the reviews I read about it indicated that wearing it was not the same as training at altitude. Although I’ve never trained distance running at altitude, I have played my fair share of tennis in both Lake Tahoe and various cities in Colorado. In my experience, the Elevation Training Mask is definitely not the same as training at altitude. But…does that matter?

In my opinion, it doesn’t matter. If you don’t have mountains (or $2,000+ for a hypoxic air generator and tent), you don’t have any elevation for training. If you don’t have any elevation for training, how many other options do you have? We’ll get to options in a minute, but first, let’s talk abut the product itself and the benefits I’ve seen from using it.

The Elevation Training Mask is a rubber mask that fits over your mouth and nose. It has 2 intake ports with interchangeable valves to control the level of breathing restriction. The documentation equates each intake valve with an elevation ranging from 3,000 to 18,000 feet in 3,000 feet increments. There is one exhaust valve in the center that seals upon intake. It’s not unlike simple respirators available at your local hardware store.

Unfortunately, the Elevation Training Mask is not comfortable. The mask must seal around your face so that you inhale and exhale only through the 2 intake ports and 1 exhaust port respectively. The rubber-like material chosen does not feel great after a few miles of sweat, and with some facial hair, you have to crank it down that much tighter to get a good seal. The velcro strap that secures it to the back of your head does not fit me well and always feels like it’s slipping down my neck. There is also a strap that goes over the top of your head to help hold the horizontal strap in place vertically. The top strap seems more like an afterthought than a properly thought out design, but it works for its intended purpose.

Like I said above, this mask bears a striking resemblance to respirators available from hardware stores. Respirators come in 2 basic varieties, disposable and reusable. While either mask could potentially be used for this kind of training, I think you’ll find either alternative less than ideal. One is made of cloth and gets soaked with sweat which restricts breathing too much, and the other can be larger, heavier, and difficult to wear when running. In both cases, there is no straightforward way to control the level of intake restriction (i.e. altitude).

Getting beyond the product design, fit, and comfort, let’s talk about the benefits. The benefit I wanted to see was more strength in my diaphragm for the back half of the marathon, but a funny thing happened along the way. I got faster.

Within a month of occasional use of the Elevation Training Mask, I went from barely being able to run 1 lap on my treadmill at 10 mph to running 3-4 laps. I don’t know if you can attribute all of that progress to the Elevation Training Mask, but I think it’s reasonable to attribute some of it to the Elevation Training Mask (look ma, no science!).

Unfortunately, I was injured in my first marathon after beginning to use the Elevation Training Mask. The injury forced me to walk a lot on the back half of the course so it was hard to know if my breathing had improved. I can say that my long training runs went well enough that I never noticed a significant problem with breathing, but most of those runs topped out around 20 miles.  The breathing problems usually don’t show up for me until that last 10K.

Like I said, I’m not offering you any science. I’m telling you flat out that this is not altitude training, and the jury is still out on whether or not this will help with my particular endurance problems. That said, I can tell you that I do not consider the money wasted, and I continue to use the Elevation Training Mask at least 2-3x per month to supplement my training.

It might be important to note that I do have very mild asthma, and the limiting factor in my running speed is almost always my lungs. My speed improvements as a result of training with the Elevation Training Mask may be unique to my lung condition.

 

 

 

 

 

Product Review: Newton Distance S III

2012 Newton Gravity vs. 2015 Newton Distance S III

2012 Newton Gravity vs. 2015 Newton Distance S III

Well, this is unfortunate. This is my 2nd pair of Newton Running shoes, and I absolutely loved them except for a couple of glaring issues, one of which may keep me out of Newton’s shoes permanently. Let’s get into it.

POP

When you read the rest of this review, you’re going to wonder why I buy Newton’s at all. It’s the POP. I know some people have mixed feelings about it, but the lugs that make up their POP system work for me. I feel faster with less effort in Newton’s than in any other shoe. I can definitely match my speed in a similarly weighted pair of shoes, but it will feel like more effort.

If I want to test my 5K or 10K PR, I would definitely want to have on a pair of Newton’s.

5 Lugs

The only reason I didn’t keep training in Newton’s following my first pair in 2012 was due to the 4 lug system. It always took me a couple of miles to feel comfortable, and they never felt all that stable to me.

More recently, however, Newton introduced 5 lugs. The change solved all of my issues with running in Newton’s. 5 lugs felt extremely stable, and I still felt the same speed and endurance benefit from the trampoline effect of the lugs.

Durability

Newton Distance S III Lug Wear Pattern

Newton Distance S III Lug Wear Pattern

I have never felt compelled to contact a shoe company about the durability of their product until the Newton Running Distance S III. Why? It should be obvious in the above picture. The outer lug on only my left shoe wore down almost completely within the first 120 miles of use. Let me say that distance again: 120 miles.

I don’t know exactly when the lug wore down. It might have been 50 miles, or it might have been 100 miles. Either way, it was not 500 miles. The older Newton Gravity pictured alongside my Newton Distance has over 500 miles on it, and there is almost no wear to any of the 4 lugs. They’ve lost some of their pop, but I bet I can still run in the Newton Gravity for another 500 miles. I’m at over $1/mile in the Newton Distance S III.

So I contacted Newton Running support to see if they had an explanation. Without looking at video of my stride or asking any further questions, the support agent diagnosed me as a supinator and told me I should be in a neutral shoe instead of a stability shoe. My old Newton Gravity are neutral shoes, and I knew I had more outside wear on most of my shoes so I accepted the explanation and went on my way.

It really kept gnawing at me, though.

Why do NONE of my other shoes show a significant wear pattern difference between left and right shoe?

Why did the local running store identify my foot strike as neutral?

Why did stability shoes solve a lot of lower leg problems I was having in neutral shoes?

I’m not sure why it took me so long, but clearly it was time to shoot some video on the treadmill and see what was really going on.

I spent some time researching pronation and supination to make sure I understood fully after seeing this video. The basic difference is which way the ankle moves when you land.

With pronation, your ankle will shift inward as your weight transfers toward the ball of your foot and big toe.

With supination, the weight transfer doesn’t happen, and your ankle might shift outward on impact.

As you can clearly see, I pronate. On the left side, it is more pronounced. This is due to my right ankle injury, and the hardware holding it all in place. My right ankle can only move so far before the internal hardware says it can’t go any further.

You can also see that I land initially on the outside of my midfoot. With a heel strike, that landing would show up in the tread on the outside of the heel, and then the pronation would show up with wear on the inside of the forefoot. Looking back at my first pair of running shoes from when I was still heel striking, you can see exactly that wear pattern. Most of my walking shoes also show the same pattern. The outside of the heel wears first followed by the area beneath my big toe’s metatarsal.

However, I no longer heel strike. I used Newton’s and Vibram’s to shift to a mid-foot strike to avoid injuries I thought were being caused by heel striking. So now my initial landing is on the outside of the mid-foot, right where the 5th lug is located.

I’m definitely impacting the outside lug on the left foot more than any other part of the shoe. There may also be a bit of scraping as that part of the shoe begins to contact the ground. That explains the wear pattern, but it doesn’t explain 120 miles.

My Altra Provision 2.0 which were in rotation during the same training cycle as the Newton Distance SIII have about 200 miles on them. The wear pattern is symmetrical and barely visible.

My Brooks Pure Cadence, 2 pair from 2014 and 2 more pair from 2013, all have around 200 miles of use. The wear pattern is symmetrical and barely visible.

My Newton Gravity from 2012 look like they’ve been barely worn and have 500+ miles of use.

My concern is that I don’t know why that particular lug wore down so severely. You would think I’ve been riding a bike and dragging my foot to stop. That’s how bad it looks. Given Newton Support’s misdiagnosis and lack of interest in pursuing the issue further, I’m not sure I want to spent $150 more on another pair just to see if it was a fluke.

Comfort

My other issue with Newton shoes is not new to the Newton Distance S III, but it was a bit more severe. The shoes have to be tight to keep your metatarsals right where they need to be over the lugs. That tightness, in my experience, translates to pain right where the laces tie together if you run far enough.

If you’re staying below 1/2 marathon distance, you may not even notice. At 10K or less, I never notice a problem, but on a 20 miler earlier this year I did enough damage that I was having trouble tying any of my shoes properly for weeks. I had to use some creative lacing techniques to be able to run a 1/2 marathon at the end of April and a marathon in early May due to the pain from that one 20 miler in my Newton’s.

Pros:

  • 5 Lugs for Stability
  • POP System for that Trampoline Effect
  • Extremely Comfortable Upper Except for Lacing Issues

Cons:

  • Lack of Durability (approx. 100 miles)
  • Cost (due to lack of durability)
  • Lace Discomfort
  • Responsive but Inaccurate Support from Newton

 

 

Tips for Running in the Summer Heat

Tulsa Triathlon 2015 Run

Doing My Impression of Burnt Toast

Yesterday I participated in my first triathlon, a 50 mile race where I crashed and burned in the run. In fact most of the field crashed and burned in the run. It was so hot at Lake Heyburn that the run became more of a survival exercise than a race. The heat index was well over 100, and the course offered absolutely no shade for relief.

Through the 9 mile run, I averaged 13 minute per mile pace consisting of a lot of walking and very little running. My heart was racing when I tried to run, and when it wasn’t racing, I was feeling a strange pain in my flanks that had me somewhat concerned about my kidneys.  Granted, that might have been from the 2000 meters of swimming and 40 hilly miles of cycling causing some muscle soreness, but when it’s that hot outside, I try to err on the side of caution.

At this point, you may be wondering why I would write an article about running in the heat. While I may not have my Hot Weather Running degree from Vermtech, I do have a lot of experience running in hot weather. During the Summer, I typically spend at least 2 days a week running midday in the Oklahoma heat. I routinely run sub-25 minute 5K’s in triple-digit weather, and I’ve been known to throw in 6.2 and 13.1 now and again. With what I learned yesterday, hopefully I can provide some insight beyond just hydrate and be careful.

Hydrate and Be Careful

Whaaaat? I said I would provide insight beyond hydrate and be careful, but I can’t just ignore the basics. If I failed to state the obvious, somebody might go out on a 20 miler without a single sip of water and then blame me when they wound up dead on the side of a trail. So since we’re here, let’s look at hydration and caution in depth.

Before you know how much and what to drink, you need to have a better idea of your sweat rate. While one person may only lose a few ounces in an hour of running, another person might drop a 2 liter with enough salt to supply the local Chinese restaurant for a few weeks. The only way I know to measure your sweat rate is to weigh yourself before and after exercise taking into account any hydration or elimination.

So far this Summer, my sweat rate has been absurd. Through a 30 minute run last week in a 107 degree heat index, I lost 3 pounds taking into account the 16 ounces of fluid I added back through hydration. That’s 6 pounds per hour if I continue at the same rate. In previous years, my sweat rate has been closer to 4 pounds per hour.

Since 1/2 a liter of fluid is around 1 lb, that means I need to drink around 3 liters/hour to replace all of the lost fluid. Needless to say, that’s absurd. My body couldn’t hope to process that much fluid in that short a time. And, that’s alright. Ending your run in a slight fluid deficit (3-4% body weight) is not going to affect your health or performance negatively. The goal is to avoid the level of dehydration that leads to fatigue, dizziness, and potentially other, more severe symptoms.

For a 1 hour run, a single, handheld 1/2 liter bottle would probably suffice. For 2 hours, I probably need 2 bottles. For 3 or more, I have to look at rehydrating at a much higher rate to avoid losing too much fluid.

But YOUR numbers will be different. You need to keep track of your fluid losses, come up with your own numbers, experiment, tweak, and go back out and try again. And when you’re out there running, look for these warning signs of a potential problem:

  • Chills: The first symptom I experience when body temperature and/or hydration have gone off the rails are chills.
  • Pit Stops: I don’t see this anywhere online, but it definitely happens to me. I almost never stop during a race, but when it’s hot and I get behind on fluids, I sometimes have to stop.
  • Swollen Extremities: Did your wedding ring suddenly get really tight? Maybe you’re having trouble making a fist? If it’s hot, chances are you’re dehydrated, but this can also be a sign of hyponatremia so you have to think clearly before you take action. Hyponatremia is deadly so you have to make the right decision in this situation or get medical help.
  • Dizziness: You’re too far gone. Stop running, cool off, and hydrate. Or, if you’re like that guy at my last triathlon, just keep moving forward and miraculously survive. Just don’t blame me if you take that route and end up dead.
  • Cramping: It’s tough to come back from cramping, but as long as you’re not dizzy and not vomiting, you can try to work your way through the cramps.
  • Fainting, Vomiting: Stop and get help.

Any Summer run you finish without a stop in the ER is a win. Check your ego at the door and be careful out there.

Adapt and Conquer

Like any other challenge in running, your body must have time to acclimate to the heat. It’s like running at higher altitude. Your body just needs some time to adapt to the new stress.

The easiest approach is to make sure you’re maintaining your running volume through the Spring warm-up. If it’s gradual, you may be able to adapt without any particularly difficult runs, but if it’s not gradual or you miss some training during the late Spring and early Summer, it may be more challenging.

This year, I’ve struggled to adapt after a cold, soggy May followed by a month off for vacation. When I resumed running in July, heat indexes were North of 100 degrees fahrenheit. My training pace fell from a high-7 average to high-8’s because of being forced to walk. After a month of more consistent training, I’m finally starting to feel better heat tolerance during midday runs.

Protect Your Skin

Unlike my training runs, my triathlon run took place after I had already been out in the sun for 3 hours. Even though I had used sunscreen, the trisuit I wore left part of my back, shoulders, and upper arms exposed. It also exposed more of my legs than normal. The result was a moderate sunburn in all of those areas.

It’s hard to find studies relating sunburn to endurance exercise, but I did manage to find one, Human Thermoregulatory Responses During Heat Exposure After Artificially Induced Sunburn. Unfortunately, the structure of the study did not mimic the kind of situation I experienced so it’s hard to draw too many conclusions, but one issue the study does demonstrate fairly conclusively is that you will produce less sweat from skin that is sunburned. It also demonstrates a higher rate of perceived exertion (RPE), but RPE is obviously completely subjective. I can’t imagine feeling better with a sunburn than without.

My guess is that there is more to sunburn than just sweat rate and RPE, but even if we just look at sweat rate, it’s clearly important to protect your skin. At extreme levels of heat, even a minor adjustment in cooling capacity can make a huge difference. Whether you prefer sunscreen or covering up with clothing, take the appropriate steps not to sunburn.

Delay the Inevitable

There are a variety of effective tactics to delay your body’s need to cope with the heat. It could be something simple like running with a non-insulated handheld filled with ice water. Even in the worst heat, your hand will still get too cold to hold the bottle for more than a few minutes at a time. Eventually, the ice will melt, and the water will warm up, but your body will have benefited from blood being circulated through the hand carrying the bottle.

A similar tactic I’ve used for long runs is filling my hydration pack bladder with ice water. How long it lasts will vary from pack to pack and bladder to bladder, but there’s a good chance you will get 45-60 minutes of cooling over your entire back. I’ve also heard of runners using ice gloves or various other clothing items dipped in ice water and/or filled with ice. If someone hasn’t invented a hat  with a pocket for ice on the back of your neck, then there’s your billion dollar product idea for the day.

At the triathlon, the water stops were offering towels dipped in ice water. On my first lap, I didn’t take one, and I paid dearly for it. Had I taken that towel, I might have been able to run most of the first 5K loop. Instead, I found myself less than a half mile into the first 5K struggling with heat exhaustion. Once you’re in that kind of deficit, it’s hard to get it back, especially on a course with neither shade nor wind. During the 2nd lap, I found a towel and started using it to keep cold water on my neck. The water stops also started giving us cold bottles of water to carry instead of just handing off cups. The net result was a drastic improvement in my heat stress to the point that I ran more in the last lap than I did in the first lap.

Running in heat is hard. Delay the full impact of the heat on your body as long as possible with whatever combination of cooling approaches is suitable for your race or training run.

Dress for Success

When running in the heat, you really have two choices: (1) Cover up (2) Strip down.

If the sun is out with little chance of shade accompanied by high humidity, covering up may be your best option. It’s the approach you see taken by people who work in the heat across the globe, and it’s hard to imagine they’re wrong. The clothing will protect you from sunburn and keep your temperature down by keeping the sun off of your skin. The obvious negative is that clothing will reduce the amount of cooling through sweating and blocks any wind or breeze.

On the subject of clothing, it’s probably good to discuss color. In my own experience, lighter colors will help in extreme heat, but there is considerable debate on the topic. My recommendation is to try both light and dark colors and see which feels better to you. If there’s no difference as shown in some studies, go with what you think looks best. That said, a Google Images search for Badwater Ultramarathon gives a lot of white clothing.  White might be good…

If there is any wind on the course or the humidity isn’t too high, stripping down may be a viable option. The more skin you can expose, the faster your body will cool through evaporating perspiration. That said, please don’t get nekkid and tell the cops I told you it was a good idea. You still need to keep all of the relevant bits appropriately contained.

 

 

 

 

Product Review: Altra Provision 2.0

Altra Provision 2 0

Heading into the Oklahoma City Memorial Marathon undertrained due to a 3 week battle with the flu, I stopped in at Tulsa Runner to find a slightly more forgiving road shoe to protect me as I ramped up my mileage way too quickly. My original plan had been to train mostly in Newton’s and run in an existing pair of Brooks Pure Cadence, but after a couple of long runs, I knew I couldn’t get my lower legs ready fast enough without injury. So I tried on a few different shoes and eventually settled on the Altra Provision.

If you are not familiar with Altra, there are a few common features of their running shoes:

  • Zero Drop
  • Large Toe Box
  • Lightweight
  • More Cushioning

This is actually my second pair of Altra shoes. My first, the Lone Peak 2.0, served me reasonably well on the trails but disappointed me some in their durability. Nevertheless, they are a good pair of trail shoes.

My experience with the Provision, however, has not been all that good. In fact, the experience has been literally flipped upside-down from the Lone Peak 2.0’s.

Let’s take a look at the issues.

Blistering

Altra Provision 2 0 Big Toe Blister

The last time I blistered to any significant degree was when I trained for my first marathon in cotton socks and tennis shoes. I may have had wicking shirts, but yes, I was the newbie in cotton socks carrying around bandaids and athletic tape to deal with all of my well-deserved blisters. In my mind, blisters were just part of running because they had always been a part of tennis.

Fast forward a few months, and I discovered Injinji socks. The blisters were just gone. I could run as long as I wanted, and my feet would not blister. In fact, I haven’t had a significant blister in 3 years of training for trail and road races from 5K to marathon distance. That is, until the Altra Provision 2.0.

I’ve worn the Altra Provision 2.0 on a half marathon distance run, a 20 miler, and for the Oklahoma City Marathon. In all 3 cases, I was wearing Injinjji OTC Compression underneath Injinji original weight socks, and in the case of the OKC Marathon, I had a bandaid on my big toe as further protection. In all 3 cases, my big toe on my left foot was blistered severely.

Let me make the absurdity of this a bit more clear. The spot that blistered was a ridiculously thick callous formed back in 2007 while I was playing tennis. That skin was so hard you could cut it with a knife, and I probably wouldn’t feel anything. It hasn’t blistered since cotton socks and tennis shoes with a ton of side-to-side movement over 8 years ago.

I have run hundreds of miles between Vibram’s, Newton’s, Brooks’, Pearl Izumi’s, and even my Adidas tennis court shoes without blistering that particular piece of skin. Nevertheless, even with 2 layers of Injinji and a bandaid, the Altra Provision 2.0 blistered my toe like this repeatedly.

One major selling point of the larger toe box with Altra shoes is NOT having something like this happen to your feet/toes during a run.

Bruising

That’s right, my Altra Provision shoes bruised my foot. Admittedly, this wasn’t as egregious an issue as the blistering, but it’s something I’ve never experienced with any other shoe I’ve worn. My photography the day after my marathon was somewhat poor, but if you look closely, you should see two different bruises on the top of my right foot. One is just behind the big toe, and the other is midway between the pinky too and my leg.

Altra Provision 2 0 Top Of Foot

I’m honestly not sure how the shoe did this or why it was only my right foot affected, but somewhere in the last 10K of the Oklahoma City Marathon, I started feeling significant pain in both of these areas. My best guess is that something in the upper or the tongue was jabbing the top of my foot as I ran. The left foot was strangely unaffected much like the right was strangely unaffected by that blistering on my left.

Heel Slipping

Not unlike my experience with Newton’s, I found it very challenging to secure the Altra Provision on my heel. This often led to tying the shoes too tight around my ankle which caused a significant amount of discomfort. The tongue is a good thickness, but for whatever reason, it still wasn’t enough.

For the Oklahoma City Marathon, I actually resorted to an alternate lacing method to reduce the pressure on my ankle but still get the shoes secure on my feet.

Altra Provision 2 0 Lacing

It’s hard to see in the picture, but I skipped one hole before the last two at the top, went through both of those on the same side, and then crossed back to the skipped hole to tie in the middle. This allowed me to secure the upper sufficiently but transfer the pressure on my foot below where the laces were causing discomfort.

If you spend some time on Google, you can discover a variety of lacing techniques to circumvent various problems.

Tread and Cushioning

My experience with the tread and cushioning was much better than the rest of the shoe.

Altra Provision 2 0 Tread

I love the fact that Altra used a tread pattern somewhat similar to the Newton lugs. My main challenge with my Brooks’ in 2014 was that my metatarsals were getting sore because of lack of support in the mid-foot area. I had to use metatarsal pads for the 2014 Tulsa Run and 2014 Turkey and Tatur’s 25K trail race due to the damage from training in Brooks’. Newton’s always felt great in the mid-foot because of the excessive support from the lugs. Now Altra seems to have found a nice space in between the two.

The cushioning also worked reasonably well for me for longer runs. I usually run with more minimal shoes so I can feel the ground better. With 3 weeks of missed training due to illness, I bought the Altra’s in hopes that the extra cushioning would help protect my legs. The Provision are not soft and spongy like other maximal shoes I’ve tried. They’re a stiff, supportive cushion that is still fairly forgiving on the lower legs.

Pros:

  • Large toe box
  • Good tread with great mid-foot support
  • Zero drop, if you like that sort of thing (I do)
  • Firm but forgiving cushioning
  • Color options: Thank you for not forcing me to look like a peacock

Cons:

  • Blisters
  • Bruises
  • Insecure fit

I hate to say it, but if you’re looking for a good stability road shoe, I think you should pass on the Altra Provision 2.0. Altra has some work to do on the upper before this can be a good shoe.

 

 

Race Report: 2015 Oklahoma City Memorial Marathon

OKCMarathon2015Medal

My last blog post was astonishingly prophetic. Looking over it today, I now wish I had reread it the morning of the 2015 Oklahoma City Memorial Marathon. If I had, maybe I would have made some better decisions on the course. I closed the post with this: “I hope we win.”  We did win….and we lost.

Although not nearly as severe as my first Oklahoma City Memorial Marathon, the Oklahoma weather came out to play. The temperature swing from Saturday evening to Sunday morning was 20-30 degrees. The sun hid behind overcast skies, and the wind came up into the teens with gusts into the 20’s and 30’s. Having dressed for sun and less wind, I found myself cold through most of the run, bordering on hypothermia for the mile around Lake Hefner.

But being cold was the least of my problems. The wind was the variable that I think truly unraveled my performance.

If you aren’t familiar with the Oklahoma City Marathon course, it typically starts in front of the Oklahoma City Memorial in downtown Oklahoma City and heads South. There is a quick turn to the East into Bricktown, and then a turn North toward the State Capitol area. At that point, the race continues North toward Lake Hefner with various turns in and out of neighborhoods on its way there.  Once you arrive at Lake Hefner, you turn around and head back to downtown along a slightly different route.

My goal was to run 3:30, and I was hoping to stay near the 3:30 pace group for most of the race, but there was a problem I didn’t discover until I arrived at the starting line. The 3:30 pace group was in Corral A, and I was in Corral B. The 3:45 pace group was the fastest in Corral B. Looking back, I should have tucked into 3:45, but I was focused on 3:30 so I set out at 7:45 pace hoping to catch up with the 3:30 group.

7:45 pace is not too fast for me. I ran my Aquarium Run Half Marathon 2 weeks ago at 7:36 pace, and that was with 3 miles already on my legs and a final mile around 7:10. The problem is that I was adding a stiff headwind and much more significant elevation changes along with an injury. 7:45 was too fast given the conditions.

In the first 2 miles, the pain coming off of my achilles was severe. It was more severe than last year when I ran a 20 mile training run with my left achilles similarly injured. When I saw the 5K turnoff sign, I seriously considered calling it a day. Every push off on my right foot felt like someone was stabbing a knife into my leg, and I couldn’t imagine running the entire marathon that way. All I kept thinking, though, was that the rest of my body could do 3:30 if I could just endure the pain.

Even with the conditions against me, I finally caught sight of the 3:30 pace group around mile 8. I might not have noticed them, but I saw a teenager from the Aquarium Run who I knew was planning to run for 3:30 as well. He had stopped at a water stop and was being called back up into the group by the pacer. They were literally only a block ahead of me, and the kid sprinted past me to catch back up. The problem was I didn’t want to sprint because of the pain it would cause, and I never could quite close the gap to get into their group.

The 3:30 pace group was huge. When I saw them, all I could think about was tucking in behind the wall of runners to stay out of the wind. Maybe I should have sprinted to catch them. It might have been better than trying to close the gap slowly as I had been. I doubt I could have stayed with them all the way to the end anyway, but the wind break might have gotten me further into the race before I blew up. Unfortunately, they got away, and I knew at that point I was in serious trouble.

From that point forward, I was just trying to reel off 8 minute miles on my watch. Every mile I could hold 8 was a victory, but by mile 11, I began slipping. 8:15, 8:16, 8:22, 8:35, 9:00.

The wheels were coming off, and I knew I was going to have to walk a lot to get to the finish. My first walk by Hefner was mainly to switch my Salomon Hydro Park Handsets. The arm where I was carrying my gel was extremely sore, and I was out of water on the other arm so I thought switching for a while would help.

It was at this point that I started having a problem I’ve experienced at every marathon I’ve attempted to run to date. I couldn’t breathe well. It’s a strange problem, one I don’t fully understand yet. Most people that talk about hitting the wall seem to be referring to muscle fatigue, but honestly, I could have kept my muscles going if I could get enough air. I walked because I felt like I couldn’t get a good breath.

In my training during the past year, I thought I had solved the breathing problem. I started adding caffeine to my gel, and the breathing problem seemed to go away. It’s obviously something more complicated, possibly a confluence of factors. I do have a touch of asthma (not medicated) and the usual allergies so maybe the cold, windy day set off a chain reaction.  It’s hard to control the weather, though, so I need to figure out a way to work through the problem, and maybe that just means a higher volume of training in less than ideal conditions.

To add to the fun, whatever compensations I was making to deal with the pain of my achilles started causing serious problems in other parts of my body. To reduce the pain in my right leg, I was staying on the left side of the road where the camber made my right leg feel better. Eventually, that led my left calf to start cramping. As a result, I endured more pain in my right leg and ran near the middle of the road as much as I could.

My left calf seemed to do alright from then on, but my left hamstring flared up around mile 20 forcing more walking.

My arms even locked up on me due to the weight of my handhelds. The weight of my handhelds was one major concern I had going into the race, and it was worse than I expected. It’s hard to run without arms, and cramping forearms made the arm swing a challenge.

Somewhere around mile 22, my right hamstring cramped so severely that I didn’t think finishing was even going to be an option. I could feel with my hand that it was twisted up horribly, and I couldn’t imagine how it was going to let me run again. I saw another runner at the time dealing with calf cramps, and I could see his calf dancing in circles just above his compression socks. Weren’t we quite the pair?

I don’t know how or why, but the cramp worked itself out. I jumped back to the left side of the road to keep from stretching the right hamstring anymore than necessary and completed the marathon as best I could.

My official finish time was 3:55:05, a 27 minute PR over my last marathon. By any rational measure, that is a huge success, but keep in mind that I knew from a training run that I was already capable of a sub-4 hour marathon. This was just confirmation in the most difficult, painful way possible.

Within 24 hours of the marathon, my left leg looked like this:

OKCMarathon2015AchillesInjury

I can barely move my ankle at all and have kept myself in a walking boot and compression anytime I am up and around. It’s very slowly improving, but I’ve probably knocked myself out of running for a few weeks.

I also have some bad swelling and bruising on the other side of my leg near the bottom of my titanium fibula plate. There were some strange pains near the plate during the marathon so I’m hoping nothing major has gone wrong. Anytime strange pains show up in my fibula, I worry about fractures around the plate. Some people have to get rid of their hardware eventually due to complications, but mine has saved my ankle so many times that I would really like to keep it if possible. Hopefully these are all just symptoms of the damaged achilles and nothing more.

The rest of my body, however, was basically fine within a few hours. It’s frustrating, too, because feeling basically fine within 24 hours after a marathon makes me wonder if I didn’t push hard enough. In fact, I felt good enough Monday night to make it out to my Masters swim workout. I had to be extremely careful due to my achilles injury, but I still got in 1600 yards of freestyle swimming.

Moving forward, the next goal is to participate in a Half Ironman in the late Summer or early Fall. Then I’ll turn my attention back to the marathon and try to knock another 30 minutes off of my PR.

Official Results:

  • Overall:  438th out of 2,488
  • Age Division:  36th out of 201
  • 10K:  48:53
  • 15K: 1:13:27
  • 13.1M:  1:44:33
  • 27K:  2:17:08
  • 32K: 2:49:24
  • 26.2:  3:55:05
  • 8:58 mile pace

Believe it or not, I made the news. Several firefighters walk the half marathon with their equipment every year and ran across a half marathon runner struggling a couple of miles from the finish line. They helped her in from there. It was nice finding the story after the fact because it was a confusing scene for the marathoners around me while we were sprinting for the finish.