Race Report: 2015 Route 66 Marathon

2015 Route 66 Marathon Medal Photo

Mistakes were made but goals were still attained.  I think that’s the best way to look at my performance in the 2015 Route 66 Marathon in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

Going into the 2015 race, I had 2 primary goals. First, I wanted to run the marathon. I realize that sounds odd, but keep in mind that I still have yet to run a marathon without significant walking in the last 10K. Second, I wanted to finish in about 3.5 hours (8:00 minute mile pace). Unfortunately, I was not able to run the entire marathon distance without some walking, but I did meet my time goal.

In my previous marathon, the Oklahoma City Memorial Marathon earlier this year, I arrived at the starting line significantly injured having fought off an ankle injury and a long battle with the flu only to find myself with severe achilles tendinitis the week before the marathon. That injury brought me a very painful PR, my first sub-4 hour marathon. For the 2015 Route 66 Marathon, I decided toeing the line injury free was far more important than having a perfect training log or a full race calendar.

Training

I began training in late August for the November 22nd race. I originally wanted to run 4 times per week with 2 longer midweek runs, a shorter mid-week run, and the usual weekend long run. Strength training would be reduced to 1x per week to try to maintain as much of my upper body mass as possible (because vanity) and to build lower body strength. Because I was having trouble working the 3rd midweek run into my schedule, most weeks only included 3 training runs.

  • Monday, 90 minutes
  • Wednesday, 90 minutes
  • Thursday, 60 minutes total body strength training
  • Saturday, 13-20 miles

The 90 minute runs coincided with my daughter’s swim practice. I would drop her off at the pool and run from there to Tulsa’s trail system. Giving myself a 10 minute cushion, I would do an out and back route and whatever pace I felt like running that day. Early in the training cycle, I was often running only 8-9 miles in 90 minutes, but by the end of October, most of my runs were 10-11 miles.

For my Saturday long runs, I tried to change things up a bit as well. The biggest change was that I tried to run slower than my goal pace by 30-60 seconds per mile. To me, that approach seems counterintuitive, but people smarter than me who have run far more successful marathons than me swear by time on your feet so who am I to argue? I’m the guy doing 10K death marches at the end of every marathon to date so I thought I should take the freely available expert advice.

Divorcing my long runs from pace goals also allowed me to make some more minor changes. I frequently wore heavy trail shoes instead of my road shoes so that I could run up into Turkey Mountain as a way of getting in some extra hill training and further strengthening the lower legs. I also wore a fully loaded hydration pack on some runs (+10 lbs) but also experimented with using only handheld gel with water fountains on others. These water fountain runs finally gave me the confidence to run a race without carrying my own water.

Strength training consisted of the following exercises most weeks:

  • Weighted Chinups/Pullups
  • Bench Press
  • Standing Dumbbell Curls
  • Lateral Dumbbell Raises
  • Dumbbell Shoulder Press
  • Dumbbell Front Raise
  • Leg Press
  • Standing Barbell Calf Raises
  • Lying Leg Curl
  • Planks

Some of these exercises really are purely vanity. 3 years ago I was doing weighted chin-ups with 100 pounds, and my biceps were, needless to say, fairly large for my body size. Currently, I struggle to do more than a handful of chin-ups at 50 pounds. Bench press is basically the same, just me trying to maintain mass I worked hard to build a few years ago.

The rest of the exercises, I would argue, are useful to marathon training. Standing Dumbbell Curls do target the biceps, but they also hit the forearms, shoulders, core, and back to some extent. The lateral and front raises also hit the shoulders, back and forearms as well. This work can and will help maintain your arm swing through the marathon distance. Even with all of this work, I had some cramping in my forearms near the end of the Route 66 Marathon.

The leg exercises are those that I feel I can do without risk of serious injury. Unfortunately, my back continues to give me trouble with squats and deadlifts. If it didn’t, you would see both of those exercises listed here as there are few strength exercises as beneficial to overall strength and endurance as the squat and deadlift. These 3 exercises are what my home equipment allows me to do safely, without fear of injury.

The only thing all that unusual about how I do these leg exercises is the amount of weight I use on the calf raises. Assuming I’m not having any injury concerns with my calves, most weeks saw me doing 3 sets of 10-12 reps with at least 220 pounds on the bar. When you consider how much weight you want to use for calf raises, keep in mind you’re trying to launch 100% of your bodyweight with one calf while you’re running. So I weigh 165 pounds most of the time. That means the total weight I’m pushing on 2 legs is 165 lbs (bodyweight) + 220 lbs  on the bar for a total of 385 lbs. Cut that in half to get the load on each calf, and you have 192.5 lbs. That means each calf is only lifting 30 pounds more than bodyweight which isn’t really that much when you consider the extra force you apply in running to counter momentum with each stride. Go heavy on your calf exercises. Your running will thank you for it.

Racing

Like I said, I wanted to keep my racing schedule a bit more subdued to help avoid injury. Missteps on the trails took their toll on me in late 2014 and early 2015, and I didn’t want to suffer any setbacks.

One thing I knew I wanted to do was test my 5K fitness if I felt healthy. With almost no speed work, I jumped into the Trojan Tough 5K at the last minute both to run with my wife and son as well as take a shot at a sub-20 minute 5K. There was a snafu in the route resulting in the race going 1/2 mile too long, but based on GPS data, I ran approximately 20:30 for the 5K.

The second goal was to do a marathon dress rehearsal by running a local half marathon. I ended up running the Jenks Half Marathon here in Tulsa 2 weeks prior to the Route 66 Marathon. My goal was to run 7:30 minute per mile pace or better using handheld gel with water stops as my fueling and hydration strategy. I ended up running a 5 minute PR of 1:34 which is around 7:10 pace.

This more minimal racing strategy basically worked. I may have missed one goal time, but both times I ran pointed to 3:30 being attainable while at the same time giving me the all important race day rehearsal that helps limit mistakes heading into a big goal race.

Injury

For the most part, I made it through training injury free, but I was constantly battling what I believe to be Hamstring Origin Tendonitis in my left leg. At the outset of every run, the dynamic stretching I do for my hamstrings would reveal tightness at the top of the hamstring that was never present in my right leg. During training runs, pain would show up if I tried to run too fast or climb too many hills. Because of the condition, I had to give up on hill training after my first attempt in early October. I also avoided speed work and limited tempo runs.

Race Strategy

Pacing…why is pacing so hard for me? I’m getting better and occasionally have races where the pacing works out, and I’m still strong but tired at the end, but those races are usually shorter than marathon distance. At every marathon so far, I’ve crashed and burned somewhere in the 18-20 mile range.

Based on my experience using water stations at the Jenks Half Marathon, I knew I would need to walk some stations to be able to stay hydrated. I just couldn’t get enough fluid if I ran through every station. I sweat a lot, and a few ounces of water every 2 miles doesn’t get the job done. My assumption was that the 3:30 pacer would run most of the water stops so I wanted to set out at a slightly faster pace and let them catch me somewhere in the final 10K.

Much like the OKC Memorial Marathon earlier this year, my goal was to average 7:45 minute per mile pace as long as possible. If I had any gas left at the end, I could switch gears and start running 7:30 or faster. If I was spent, the 3:30 pacer would catch me, and I would try hard to stick with him.

Of course, there’s race strategy and then there’s…

…Race Day

All race days start for me about 3 hours prior to leaving the house for the race. With a race in downtown Tulsa at 8 am, that meant getting up at 4 am to be out the door by 7 am. The purpose of this long, excessively early morning is to make sure my stomach is settled and ready for the race. During that time, I eat the most bland breakfast you can imagine (hello canned chunk chicken and corn chips), hydrate, prepare my race fuel, double-check all of my gear, and waste a bunch of time watching television. After 2 1/2 hours of trying to stay awake, the last 15 minutes before I leave the house are complete chaos as I try to shower, dress, and get out the door to the race.

We left the house a little later than planned, but with my wife and son having done the 5K on Saturday at the same start time, we felt pretty confident about the timing. My wife’s work parking lot is across the street from the Corral D entrance with no road closings in between it and the highways so we don’t have to hunt downtown parking on marathon day.

With the weather forecast showing temperatures just below freezing at the start, I didn’t mind getting there pretty close to starting time so I wouldn’t have to wait in the cold as long. As it turns out, I barely had enough time to use the facilities, walk to Corral A, stretch, and work my way up to the 3:30 pacer for the start.

As I’ve said in the past, cold is not my friend. I know I run faster in 40’s and 50’s, but I don’t like running in the cold. I would choose slower times over colder weather any day of the week. As a spectator for the 5K Saturday, I was dressed in 3 layers head-to-toe, and I was struggling. Granted, there was a stiff wind, but the temperature was actually slightly warmer than what was expected for the start of the marathon.

Fear of how I felt watching the 5K prompted me to try hand warmers for the first time at the marathon. I think this is the only time I’ve tried something new on race day that wasn’t a disaster. The hands I could barely feel inside gloves on Saturday were relatively comfortable for the entire race Sunday, and for the most part, my body was never cold.

The rest of my gear for Sunday included:

  • Under Armour Long Sleeve Cold Gear Shirt
  • Nike Short Sleeve Dri-fit Shirt
  • Nike Dri-fit Skullcap
  • Nike Dri-fit Gloves with Hand Warmers
  • Champion Compression Shorts
  • Injinji Compression Socks
  • Injinji Socks (yes, 2 layers)
  • Hoka One One Clifton 1 Shoes
  • 2 x Ultimate Gel Flasks with Holsters

Between Saturday night and Sunday morning, I spent a lot of time fretting over whether or not to wear tights. The forecast called for sunny and low-40’s by about halfway through the marathon so I decided to leave them at home and just run faster if I was cold at the start. That turned out to be a good decision as around mile 8, I almost warmed up too much. Tights would have overheated me in that section if I had worn them.

With what I was wearing, the first solution was uncovering my ears with the skullcap. It’s amazing how much heat you can dissipate by exposing your ears. When I warmed up a little more in the sun, I took off the skullcap, but those were my only temperature adjustments. The gloves and hand warmers stayed on throughout the race. I noticed some other marathoners dropped their hand warmers shortly after passing the halfway point, but they were obviously running faster than me and generating more heat.

So back to the starting line. I was about 1/4 of the way back in Corral A, positioned about 15 feet to the West of the 3:30 pacer, stretched, and ready to run. I had my Garmin on and prepped so I just had to hit the start button to begin tracking and pacing the marathon. When the gun went off, I crossed the first timing mat and clicked the Garmin’s start button. Seeing as I often mess up when I start my watch, I looked down again quickly to double-check it was tracking. The clock was going, but the pace and distance were doing nothing. I ran a bit and looked down again…nothing.

Knowing my pace was very important to my race plan, I decided to restart the activity tracking on the Garmin. How I managed to stay on my feet while I ran among all of those people, I have no idea. For my trouble, I was rewarded with…nothing. And as a software developer and general tech geek, I’m embarrassed to say that was the extent of my troubleshooting. Why didn’t I power cycle my stupid Garmin? Why? I made the decision not to stop and not to keep fiddling with the technology and just run my race.

By that time, my eyes had been down on my Garmin for a 1/4 of a mile or more. Runners were streaming past me because I was running slower than I intended coming out of the starting line. I had no idea where the 3:30 pacer went. I didn’t see him in front of me, and in the one glance I took behind me, I didn’t see him either. My Garmin failed, and the pacer was not within sight. All I had left was to run as close to 7:45 pace as I could and stick to my plan.

Within 2 miles, I saw the time and realized I was ahead of the pacer, but even though I may normally be pretty good at math, my run brain consistently fails 1st grade math. I tend to round everything to even numbers so dividing time by number of miles doesn’t really work out well for me if I’m targeting 7:45 instead of 8:00. I did find a runner I knew around mile 3 and found out I was probably doing about 7:30, and I would occasionally ask a runner with a watch what we were running, but it’s still hard to maintain without being able to check the watch a couple of times every mile.

On top of pacing issues from not having a watch, you have all of the hills. It seems strange to say Route 66 is a hard course when I know there are much harder courses out there, but in terms of major marathons, it’s more NYC and less Chicago in terms of overall elevation changes. Unlike NYC, Route 66 goes up and down more frequently to smaller degrees.

I’m not sure how you are supposed to run a steady pace when you’re never running level. My calves view hill climbs as a personal affront. If I’m not tired or hurting, it’s hard for me to ascend any slower than I run in the flats. At the Jenks Half Marathon 2 weeks ago, I went from a 7:30 mile mostly flat and downhill to a 6:45 mile mostly uphill at mile 6 of the race. That’s normal for me. On a short hill, I will often accelerate as I climb. It’s not the best way to extend my endurance, but it’s what my legs tend to do.

What goes up must come down, and I don’t think I notice descents in any race as much as I do Route 66. For two years now, I’ve run descents with the intent of sparing my quads because I’ve blown them out braking on downhills in other races. That means I try to run with gravity as long as gravity doesn’t force me to spin my legs so fast that I run out of breath.

Between climbing and descending, I’m often running a 7:45 climb into a 7:00 descent. It’s tough to get into any sort of rhythm on your pace under those conditions. I could tell I was all over the place because I was trading positions with many of the same runners repeatedly throughout the first half of the race. It’s obviously something I need to practice more.

I ended up running the first half in 1:38:14, the 2nd fastest half marathon I’ve ever run. That’s 7:30 pace, exactly what I didn’t want to do in the first half of the marathon. 15 seconds per mile doesn’t seem like a lot, but for where I am in my fitness, it’s huge.

Needless to say, I was concerned heading into the 2nd half of the marathon, but I felt really good. I knew I needed to get more water, but other than that, my legs were basically happy (excepting my injury), I wasn’t tired, and everything was generally working.

After the half marathoners peeled off toward the finish line, I started walking the aid stations to get more water. Other than that, I still kept my pace under 8:00 minutes even with walking the aid stations.

At 16 miles, I knew I was fading a bit, but my body was fine so I didn’t change anything.

At 18 miles, the wheels came off. My minor injury announced itself in a big way. I was coming down a hill and making a left turn to head North toward the University of Tulsa. My hamstring cramped severely right at the point of the injury. Honestly, I thought I might be done, but I cramped at OKC earlier this year due to injury, and I knew it might be possible to work through it.

Camber…when I cramp, that’s my first thought as to a solution. You can often run the camber in a way that will minimize the cramping if it’s only on one side. I tried running with the left leg higher, and it got much worse. I then hopped to the other side of the centerline and ran with the left leg lower. Yahtzee! I could run. There was the constant feeling of impending doom screaming from the top of my leg, but I could run.

My success was somewhat short-lived. I came out of the University of Tulsa headed South for the dreaded turn onto Cherry Street for two of the last and biggest hills. I had to walk a bit due to my injury, but for the most part, I was running.

I came up on a marathon maniac who pulled up with visibly severe cramps. I apologized and asked if he was alright. I knew the answer because I’ve been there before and was already battling the same thing. Another 1/4 mile down the road, and it was my turn. My other hamstring cramped.

Here I was, past 20 miles, right at 7:45 minute per mile pace, and I was cramped in both legs with the single worst 1 mile section of race ahead of me. Needless to say, there was a lot of walking, but I knew my family was waiting on those hills, and I hoped a quick breather and some water with them might get me going again.

I did a lot of high-stepping over the next 1/2 mile to try to stretch my hamstrings out without stopping my forward progress. I would run a bit and feel alright, and then they would seize up again. I knew from experience not to push them too deep, or the cramp would be so severe I’d be like Baghdatis trying to beat an aging Agassi at the US Open (yeah, tennis reference…get over it…life before running…click the link and watch the video).

When I got to my family, the 3:30 pace group finally caught me. There was no way I could go with them. They were cruising at about 8:00 pace, and I could barely walk, much less run. They were a little early, though, so I held out hope I might still be able to get in at 3:30 but at least under 3:40. For some reason, staying in the 3:30’s was important to me. I don’t even remember why.

After my family cheered me up, I was able to run quite a bit, but I would still walk a lot and stretch out my hamstrings as I went. The one time I got up a decent head of steam, we turned West into downtown Tulsa, and a 30 mph headwind gusted out of nowhere. The next turn was a short distance ahead so I walked to the turn and started running again.

That’s pretty much how it played out in the final 5K. It was a rough way to achieve my marathon time goal, but I’ll take it.

2015 Route 66 Marathon Sloth Running Midtown

Results

  • Overall: 145th out of 2,590
  • Division: 22nd out of 192
  • 10K: 45:52
  • 10M: 1:14:05
  • 13.1M: 1:38:14
  • 20M: 2:34:58
  • Chip Time: 3:35:32
  • 8:14 mile pace

So the marathon puzzle remains complex and elusive, but there are thousands in every race that would kill for a 3:35 finish.

In my 2013 Route 66 Marathon Race Report, I somewhat prophetically said that mid 3’s might be possible before age catches up with me and posed a question to myself….do I want it enough?

Let’s double-down. I might be able to cut my first marathon time of 5:55 in half before age catches up to me. Just in case you’re running and struggling with the math, that means sub-3. The only question is…do I want it enough?

Marathon Taper Madness

Marathon Taper Madness

This is me…trying to taper….

Is that a stress fracture in my foot?

What’s the weather forecast for race day?

Is it time to race yet?

Should I lengthen today’s run a bit?

Is it time to race yet?

Maybe I should run some hills today.

Is it time to race yet?

Is it bad to do VO2 max intervals during the taper.

Is it time to race yet?

What’s the race day weather forecast? No, I need hourly.

I haven’t run over 13 miles in 2 weeks. Have I lost all my fitness already?

Is it time to race yet?

Maybe I should reduce my PR goal time. Let’s see what the marathon time calculator says.

Ooh, 3:15. 7:30 per mile for 26.2 when I’ve trained for 8:00? Maybe?

Is it time to race yet?

.

.

.

I think you get the idea.

Taper Madness is a confidence sapping exercise of patience and will, and I suck at it. My races show it, too.

My best races have always been the late entries in the middle of training, not the actual goal races. Prior to the 2015 Oklahoma City Memorial Marathon, I set a 15-minute Half Marathon PR at the Aquarium Run with a 1:39. Just 2 weeks ago, I PR’d at the 2015 Jenks Half Marathon with a 1:34, and I left at least a couple of minutes or more out on the course.

To be honest, some of my marathon issues are lack of training and injuries, but several of my injuries have come during the taper. I didn’t run the 2014 Route 66 Marathon due to an achilles injury exacerbated by an extra long run during the taper. I went into the 2015 Oklahoma City Marathon injured due to an achilles injury on the proper length long run during the taper. I was on the hills for that 8 miler. Should I have been on hills during the taper?

Anyway, the point of all of this is if you are struggling with your taper, you’re not alone. The best advice I can give you is to plan your taper at the beginning of your goal race training and stick to the plan religiously.

Other than that, just keep checking the weather. Speaking of which….

Uh-oh. Last time the forecast looked like this at Route 66, the temperature dropped during the race.

I wonder if I should wear 3 layers instead of two…

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.

The Highs and Lows of Marathon Preparation

 

Feet Up, Recovery for Marathon SundayIt’s Wednesday before Marathon Sunday. I’m sitting in a chair with my feet up instead of standing at my desk because of shin splints and achilles tendinitis in my right leg. The shin splints are new to me as a runner, but I’ve experienced shin splints several times in my life due to basketball and tennis. I worked through achilles tendinitis in my left leg late last year. It led to a DNS at the 2014 Route 66 Marathon.

It hasn’t even been 2 weeks since the Oklahoma Aquarium Run, arguably the best I’ve ever run in any race. Instead of being the runner blowing up in the last few miles, I was catching runners and accelerating through the final mile. After running just under 1:40 for the Half Marathon, a sub-4 hour Full Marathon was a foregone conclusion. The only question was whether I should aim for 3:45 or 3:30. If the weather was in my favor, 3:30 was the likely answer. Maybe adrenaline and some wind at my back would push me below 3:30. If it was too hot or windy, maybe I would adjust my goals and look to 3:45.

3 weeks ago, I ran a 20 miler with my full hydration pack (extra weight) and a plan to run 9 minute miles to test my endurance without hurting myself. It was the first time a run of that length felt reasonable after 3 weeks battling Influenza B. Other than a minor foot problem due to tying one of my shoes too tight, it went perfectly. I ran an 8:30 mile 20 to finish up in about 2:55. That would have given me 65 minutes to beat 4 hours, and given the way I felt, 65 minutes was more than enough. I couldn’t have run a 45 minute 10K at that point, but I certainly could have gotten in under 65 minutes. A sub-4 hour Full Marathon was a foregone conclusion.

Sub-4 hours is no longer a foregone conclusion. I’m optimistic I might be able to walk without pain by Sunday, but I know from past experience that my achilles will flare up early in the race and continue to hurt throughout even if the pain abates over the next 4 days. And, there is absolutely nothing I can do about it. I will rest, roll, stretch, and strengthen, but a few days won’t be enough. There will be pain. The question is whether my calf will continue to function properly. If it will, I can endure the pain.

Why not go ahead and attempt 3:30? Sub-4 in and of itself might lead to a death march due to injury. The death march might be shorter if I go ahead and attempt 3:30.

It will take a remarkable injury to force a DNF out of me for this one. Looking back at 2012’s Route 66 DNF, I still regret stopping. I don’t want to stop again.

Years ago when my right ankle was in a cast, I used to hop around the house on one foot because it was quicker than crutches. If my achilles goes really bad, can I hop my way to the finish line?

And so it goes with marathon training and racing in my experience. I have had some great success in this training cycle, but I’ve also had injuries, illnesses, and a couple of unexpectedly tough races.

Now the optimistic and pessimistic sides of my personality will do battle until the gun goes off at 6:30 am Sunday morning. In that moment, there will be peace, but somewhere out on the marathon course the pain will begin again. Maybe it will be near Lake Hefner like my 2011 OKC debacle. Maybe it will be somewhere in the final stretch on Classen. Regardless, the battle will begin again. I hope we win.

 

 

 

 

Finding Fuel

In my morning procrastination ritual of browsing social media for news, I came across the article “Running Wild: Long Run Packing List.” The article is a fairly straightforward examination of the obvious requirements of a long run.  Having only been in the running game for a few short years, I can attest to the fact that some of the “obvious” recommendations are not always obvious. For example, in training for my first marathon, I thought I could hit 20 miles with little more than a couple liters of water.

“Hello hyponatremia, nice to meet you.”

I consumed way too much water trying to match what I now know is a higher than normal sweat rate with sweat so salty you might as well be pouring cayenne pepper into my eyes. My fuel and hydration plan was experimental and insufficient, and I had no backup other than calling my wife to save me. Being far too proud at the time, I walked the final 2 miles to my truck wondering through my long run stupidity why I could barely close my hands.

During the subsequent 4 years, I’ve been on a seemingly endless quest to find a good fuel to help me complete a marathon healthy, and I’ve tried some pretty unusual concoctions in the process. Salt pills? Yep. Nuun? Of course. Kelp? It’s salty, no? Pirate’s Booty? Guilty as charged…

Let’s stop there before it gets weird. What I’m trying to say is that I have some experience with testing fuel for long runs.  Consequently, the article from iRunnerBlog particularly caught my attention with this sentence:

“Pick up a variety and use the long run to test drive your options.”

Do you refer to yourself as having a cast iron stomach? If not, you may want to be a little more cautious in your approach to long run fuel testing.  Here’s my process:

Try the prospective fuel as a snack in between meals. Did you experience any GI issues? If so, give the rest of that stuff away and don’t even try running with it. You likely just saved yourself a wasted long run.

If the fuel survived the snack test, take it out for a spin on a shorter, mid-week run. I can usually get through a 5k with almost any fuel, but a 10k+ will expose most potential problems. If it goes bad, you’ve only lost a short portion of a mid-week run.  Being completely paranoid about my long runs due to what are often compressed training schedules, I usually go out for another mid-length run before risking a long run.

If the fuel survives the mid-length run test, it’s time to try it on a long run. Getting back to the long-run packing list, take some kind of backup fuel. You can overcome a lack of calories, but if the hydration portion of the strategy fails, your long run will end unceremoniously.  Assuming you have sufficient water available with you or along the route, you can carry something simple like salt packets to overcome hydration missteps in either direction.

Looking at just the fuel part of the equation, I pack the following items for long runs and marathons:

  • 1 liter of Zico Coconut Water in my hydration pack bladder
  • 1 20 oz bottle of water
  • 1 20 oz bottle of water mixed with 1/3 cup of EFS
  • 1 extra bottle of unmixed EFS
  • 1 small bag of dried Kelp (my salt packet alternative)

Of course, most of you aren’t as digestively challenged as me so you should alter this list significantly. If you plan to take fluids at the race’s water stops, pack those fluids for long training runs. Match the flavor of sports drink if you know what they will offer. I don’t know about Gatorade, but last I checked, blue Powerade is completely different from the other flavors.

You also probably don’t need to consume anywhere near as much fluid as I consume during my long runs. Like I said, I’m a heavy, salty sweater. You may be fine with a single 20 oz bottle of water and a single GU energy gel per hour.

The end goal is to get in your miles AND find a race-day fuel strategy, both without dying.