May 29, 2011

What a Beautiful Bonk (Coeur D'Alene Marathon Race Report)

All in all, it was a great race -- friendly runners, well organized, gorgeous views at every turn. E and I already talked about coming back one day (although folks on the course spoke highly of Windermere as a local alternative, so perhaps I'll do that one next time).

The race was a great size -- only 2500 total runners (1/2, full, and 5K), and just 600 marathoners, including the walkers, who started 2 hours before the runners. At the 7 AM marathon runners start, it was a cozy group of 200-300. We had the course to ourselves until the half marathon leaders started passing us (staggered starts for appropriate space are such a nice perk that many races don't manage well).

One interesting difference between this race and others I've done, due to their local roots, there were many Marathon Maniacs on the course (seemed like at least 5% of the pack). They lent a fun spirit to the day, constantly cheering each other on when they passed one another and offering tips of the trade to us non-maniacs. At one point, I sided up to a black-jerseyed-maniac and asked him how many marathons he'd done.

This is my 161st. But, I'm trying to get back into shape, so I'm treating it like a nice easy training run.

So much for my plan of using him as a pacing buddy...his training run left my race in the dust shortly after that conversation.

So, as the title of this post might indicate, I hit the wall. Hard.

Before the wall, all seemed quite well.

The weather, despite predictions of showers, had changed to beautifully cool partly sunny skies just two days before the race. The views on the course of the lake were some of the best I've ever had on a race.

I'd had chips and salsa and pasta for dinner (I love me some excuses to carb load!) and had hydrated while watching The Fighter for inspiration before a bedtime of 11 PM.

I woke early, relatively rested, and ate a good breakfast of a banana, a waffle with peanut butter and honey, coffee, OJ, and water.

I jogged to the start, waited just 7 minutes in the cold, and we were off.

My original goal was to break 4 hours, or, if I couldn't do that, then to try to beat my PR of 4:04:27. I successfully reigned myself in on the early miles (partially thanks to the continuing digestion of breakfast -- a good trick if you, like me, have a habit of going out to fast). I finished the first 3 miles in 25:49.07, despite feeling like I could have gone much faster.

Even with the conservative approach, I felt good and strong, and hit the half marathon around 1:58:30 or so (I forgot to hit lap on the garmin, so I'm guessing by a few seconds).

I kept the pace, comfortably, enjoying the gorgeous views of the lake and the river, and I managed to hit mile 18 at 2:46:42 -- a 9:16 average pace, which would have put me at the finish line at 4:02:47 -- and there were some downhills left.

Unfortunately, it was not to be. My average pace for the next 8 miles shows the explosion I had no idea was coming -- 10:49.50. I wish I could blame it on hills... but no. The worst was definitely behind me. In fact, there were some very nice forgiving downhills in the last few miles. I just couldn't take advantage of them.


At one point, I reassessed my goals and tried to set 4:10 as a new finish goal. But, no, I couldn't muster the energy for that one either.


An average pace of 9:40.

Certainly, nothing to complain about. I'm healthy, which is always something to celebrate. It's the fastest time I've run out of all of my 5 marathons except for my PR, when I was almost 4 years younger and more than 6 pounds lighter on the awesomely downhill course of CIM.

Plus, my mom was able to come to the finish line since she was nearby to help with my sister's new baby. I never thought my mom would come watch me finish a marathon in Idaho, of all places. It was so fun to see her there and to enjoy lunch with her and E afterwards.

But, I'd be lying if I said I wasn't disappointed, and I definitely learned a few lessons.

#1 -- It is not good to discover, the night before the race, after the expo has closed, that you forgot your preferred race fuel (in my case Gu). I read race reports and comforted myself with the claims that there were many aid stations and they were well stocked. Much better than nothing, but I would have preferred to bring my Gu. Next time, I will not make this mistake.

#2 -- Not all race fuels and sports drinks are equal (corollary -- it is not a good idea to learn how unequal they are during a marathon). For the first time in my life, I suffered a calf cramp on this run -- for about 4.5 miles from 19 - 23.5 I had to slow down by quite a bit to deal with the inability of my right calf to do its job. I was shocked. This is a very common runner's issue, but since I've never had one, I thought I was immune. My calves are kind of over-developed due to genetics, gymnastics, and diving (both sports in a past life, at this point) and I'm usually very good about making sure I've got my electrolyte intake nice and high, both before and during races.

This time I'd gone so far as to have a nice salty dinner and I'd eaten a banana before the race for potassium. During the race, I alternated the race-fuel options of Hammer Heed (not such a great taste) and Hammer Gel coupled with water at every other station.

To the race's credit, there were more aid stations on this marathon than any other race I've ever done. It seemed as if there was almost one every 1 - 1.5 miles. My experience would claim that this should keep me nice and well-fueled, especially given the pleasant temperatures of a start at 47F and a finish in the low 60s.

But, I sure didn't feel that way. From post-race research, I discovered 2 important differences between the Hammer products (which I'd never tried) and those I've used in the past: a) Hammer products have no simple sugars. They are sweetened with the no-cal sweetener Stevia and avoid glucose and sucrose. b) Hammer products have about 1/3 the sodium of other sports gels and drinks.

I can't be certain, but given how much I hit the wall, I think I'll err on the side of caution next time and be certain to stick to fuels with higher sodium and glucose/sucrose in addition to all the other goodies that Hammer's products contain.

#3 -- Racing experience can make up quite a bit of time. While this may be my 2nd fastest marathon, it did not feel that way. I hurt much more than I have in slower races. I was relatively well-trained, hitting a higher average weekly mileage than ever before during the marathon training cycle and thanks to the hills in Washington.

But, as I mentioned, I'm nowhere near my ideal race weight, and I've only been doing consistent longer distance weeks for 3-4 months instead of the more than a year of straight high mileage I've had under my belt for past marathons. I was pleased to see that these disadvantages were more than offset by my refusal to go faster than 8:45/mile (and my exception to the speed rule on downhills, where I let myself go as fast as I felt comfortable) and my refusal to walk without a very good reason -- I know I'm in good enough shape to run the whole 26.2, no use drawing it out.

So, I only stopped to walk through aid stations and once, on a hill during mile 26, when I was running on empty and it was apparent I wasn't going to break 4:10. I suspect that if I'd deployed these tactics in earlier races, those times may have been faster than this one, as I was lighter, younger, and had a better aerobic base. Chalk one up to age and deceit over youth and vigor [grin]!


Arvay said...

Awesome job! I am so proud of you!

Did you know that "to bonk" is Brit slang for... something else?

Also, I, too, refuse to run faster than 8:45/mile! Only for other reasons (hint: rhymes with 'haziness'). :)

bt said...

Awww... thanks Arvay.

Hope to see you soon!

bt said...

And no. I did not know the British slang. But I like to think if I heard it in context I could figure it out [grin].