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Saturday, December 15, 2018

Rocket City Marathon - a dud

Last week, I drove to Alabama to run the Rocket City Marathon, and ended up with one of the worst races of my life! And the terrible part is, I'm not even sure why.
I drove up the day before with a teammate, and arrived at about 5:30 pm. We picked up our packets and then met with the rest of the group at a Thai restaurant. Here's where I think things started to go wrong for me - I ate very little on the car ride up, much less than I'd normally eat in a day, and not a lot at the restaurant, either. I mean, I finished my dinner, but it was light and a small portion, and frankly, I eat quite a bit normally. So I think I already dropped the ball on glycogen stores.

I shared a room with two teammates, and slept just fine. We woke up at 4:50 and I had some coffee and attempted to eat the oatmeal I'd packed, but - that didn't go well. I never can eat very much marathon morning. It was cold, rainy, and windy for our walk to the start (a little under a mile) so we wrapped up in contractor trash bags to stay dry. The forecast wasn't going to change for the whole day, so I hoped I'd made the right outfit choices: shorts, singlet, arm warmers, ball cap. I didn't wear glasses, since there wouldn't be any sun out that day, so I needed the hat to keep the rain out of my eyes.
Getting ready
We lined up right on the line, because we like photo-ops (we do, it's good for club publicity!), and right after the anthem I shed my bag. I kept my latex gloves on, though, and actually I never took them off. We started up a short incline, and soon we started to spread out. Right away alarm bells started going off: "Major problem. Sore calves". Sometimes I get this annoying tightness in the fronts of my calves. It's due to one of three things: shoes tied too tight, unstable footing requiring my calves to stabilize, or poor warmup. I hoped it was #3, and REALLY hoped it wasn't #1, which I can only fix by re-tying.
The start. Count the VaporFlys!
About three miles in, I was freaking out. My calves were on fire, and I felt terribly uncomfortable, for no real reason. Was I cold? Working too hard? Was it just that I am not used to hills? I knew for sure the turns were killing me - this course has a lot of corners, and my Nike ZoomFlys were NOT handling the corners well. They're too tall and unstable. They weren't doing great on the wet surfaces either, and I decided that lack of stability was the cause of my tight calves. But then I snapped out of it. I thought, there's no reason to be upset you don't feel perfect. Nothing feels like hard work, you're pacing well, and you can't change your shoes or the weather at this point. Your calves will loosen up in a few more miles. And if you're struggling with tight turns and little hills, so is everyone else. Those little thoughts did the trick, and immediately I felt better. I was manually lapping my watch, and I was way off by mile five. Garmins don't do turns very well. Miles one through five were 7:01, 6:54, 6:51, 7:06, 6:56.
Tom, me, Jeremy
By now I could see Tom ahead of me, and he was running in a small pack with another man and a woman. Don't try to catch her, you're already a little fast for so early, I told myself. For the next few miles, I was enraged to see that the man had a bicycle pacer assisting him, which was clearly against the rules. This race has cash prizes, so they strictly adhere to USATF guidelines (you can't even win money if you wear headphones, although you won't be DQ'd). The prohibition against outside aid is mentioned many, many times on the website, yet this guy was not only pacing, he was handing off water, gatorade, and gels, all of which count as outside aid. I was bothered for three reasons: 1. The runner looked to be Tom's age, and could be fighting with Tom for an age group award. 2. The runner was handing off the bottles to the woman in their pack, which meant that she was also benefiting, and HELLO, she was in front of me! and 3. The biker wasn't behaving safely on the course, cutting runners (me) off and zipping unpredictably between people. My righteous indignation helped the next miles flow by at 6:57, 6:42, 6:54, 6:51, 6:51. What it didn't do was help me with my gel situation. I dropped my first gel while opening it, and didn't have enough time to get another gel out before we passed the water stop. Then, absurdly, my cold hands failed to open the next gel before the next water stop, and oops - missed another one. 6:43, 6:51, 7:00 all ticked by with still no gel. And suddenly I felt terrible. Like, BAM, wall. I actually felt the first inkling at mile 11, but it seemed so silly to hit the wall at mile eleven that I ignored it. But by the half I had massively hit the wall!

It's raining in my face and I feel like death, why am I smiling? 
Well, I thought grimly, I'll see how long I can hold on. And I got a little boost because the woman in front of me suddenly dropped out. But then Tom suddenly zipped into a port-a-potty, and things were getting sort of lonely. I FINALLY managed a gel. 7:00, 7:00, 7:27. That 7:27 at mile 16 was like the death nell. I couldn't believe how fast this race went south. I was completely out of it, couldn't string together two words, could barely lift my legs. It was the worst wall-hitting I've experienced in years. Tom caught up to me right then, and as he passed, I made a last-ditch effort to stay with him. Aided by a downhill, I ran a 6:47, but the exhaustion I felt made it clear that that was all I had left in me.
For real, why am I smiling?!
That grim face is more like it.
The final miles were a total death march. Tom crashed, too, and we spent the rest of the race trying to drag ourselves to the finish in some semblance of running. 7:20, 7:13, 7:02 (marker was short), 7:58, 7:45, 7:55. It was raining, there was a gravel path, I was disoriented, my feet kept slipping, the wind picked up - I can't even describe how miserable this section felt. And then, I slid fully into the wall and finished the race in the 8's - 8:17, 8:16, 7:43, something for the last (I didn't hit stop). Tom and I finished three seconds apart, in 3:09:13 and 3:09:16, and stared at each other in disbelief. The outcome was so much worse than what either of us had planned or hoped for that we really couldn't believe it. I ran an EIGHT minute positive split, nowhere near my goal, and felt really bad.

Extremely disappointed at the finish. 
Meanwhile, the rest of the club did amazingly well - Paige and Dave ran huge PRs, both right under 2:52!!!, Tyler ran a 2:36 in his second marathon, and Jeremy ran 3:10, which was a 32 minute PR. Me? No PR, no 3:01, no reason why. I definitely underfueled (2 gels total for the race, not good at all), but that isn't the only reason. Sure, the rolling hills were hard for me - I train in total flat - but everyone else in the club did just fine with them! Same with the weather, which honestly, I barely noticed. I think the timing of my injury was the biggest factor. It's like I had a six-week taper. I just didn't get the quality long runs in - in fact, only ran over 20 once (and hit the wall!). I also think these super long training cycles don't work well for me. I peak too early. And I tend to get hurt! I think twelve weeks is plenty.
Oh, and Drew was second in the half marathon. 

Since then, I've been pretty sedentary, but I have Boston in the spring, so I have to gather up my wounded ego and try again later. And pray that I figure out what went wrong and avoid the same mistakes!


  1. Ugh, I could absolutely feel the struggle as I read this - so sorry the race was so rough, and props to you for finishing it out. I am totally in agreement with you on the 12 week training cycle...I think it's Soo hard not to peak too early with anything longer than that. Hopefully despite the bummer outcome this training and race will set you up for Boston success!

  2. Ugh, I'm sorry the day went so badly for you. It stinks to put so much work into something and then be left at the end wondering "what just happened?"

  3. Ugh, I am sorry to hear that you had such a rough race experience. I would have been SO PISSED about the biker. I think we are alike in that we are huge on following rules and get soooo pissed when people aren't following the rules. I would want to report that runner for cheating!! Jerk! Ugh, now I'm mad on your behalf - ha!

    It sucks that you had a really crappy race experience but it sounds like you've learned from this training cycle and know what to do differently next time. It does sound like a shorter training cycle is a better approach for you!

  4. I've learned that fueling is critical! I pay close attention to the week and day before a race. I would have been furious over the biker as well, hopefully they were reported for that. I ran a race in February and there were people turning before the clearly marked turn around and there was no one monitoring. I won't do that race again because of that. I'm so sorry that this one didn't go as you wished! Here's to a shorter training cycle and strong next race!

  5. Sorry to hear the race didn't go as planned! Next time!

  6. That's a really fast time for hitting the wall! I think you held it together pretty well, given how horrible you were feeling. I think this has more to do with the fueling than the 2-week training gap. You clearly were in excellent shape and usually the wall is a result of not enough fuel, and it sounds like you didn't eat enough the day before, the morning of, or during the race. Your pacing was on target and you had a good strategy. I'm excited to see you train for Boston!

  7. So sorry that it didn't work out for you! I would mention the bicycle pacer to the race directors--they are really friendly and would probably appreciate knowing! I was a 4:15 pacer and called out to you near the finish (you were walking back to your car/hotel?). I think I called you "New Orleans runner?" It was the best I could do at that point in the race!