April 20, 2008

Lessons from the Nagano Marathon

My sore legs and tight shoulders conspired to wake me at 5AM this morning. Yesterday, you see, I ran the Nagano marathon. Slowly. And I got one of the worst sunburns I've had in quite some time.

I really should have reset my expectations for my performance earlier than I did (somewhere around mile 18). I certainly had enough reasons to think it might not go exactly as I had hoped.

First, two weeks prior to the race, there was the amazing weekend of wine and food, where I ate and drank with abandon and managed to put my long run on hold 'til the next week. That alone should have let me know where my focus lied. But no, I held on to the dream of the potential that my earlier training had created.

Also, as I mentioned, I've never gained weight while training for a marathon. Now, this time, I've done more speed training, and it certainly did change the structure of my leg muscle, so I attributed the majority of the weight gain to muscle. But, extra weight is extra weight for 26.2 miles, and I knew that. I just chose to ignore it. Well, until the reality oh-so-pleasantly set in on the second day of the trip when I squatted and ripped the inner thigh of one of my favorite pairs of jeans.

Originally, we planned to fly to japan, go to nagano, do the marathon and then take the remainder of our trip. That would have been preferable, from a training perspective. But, Golden Week would have been in the way and that increased to price of the vacation to an unreasonable level. So, we decided to arrive earlier and spend about 9 days in Japan before the race.

On the long run before the race, where I was scheduled to do an easy 8 miler, I found myself in Tokyo (not a very running-friendly city), and it was raining. I went to the hotel's gym to find that there were 2 treadmills and a long line of westerners waiting to use them. I didn't want to schedule the entire day around my run -- I was on vacation. So, we walked and toured much of tokyo, and I told myself that 10 miles of walking is just as good as 8 miles of running.

Over the next week, I comforted myself with alternating theories about each day's sight-seeing walks, namely that either (a) the walking was just as good as a day of scheduled rest and shouldn't affect my taper, or (b) the walking could replace the day's run. Yes, I now see the flaw in that logic.

One day 3 of the trip, I ripped my right contact. I cannot run in my glasses. Perhaps this was a sign that I should give up on the race? Oh, no. Not me. Instead, I called guest services, and between their best english and my best Pimsleur japanese and wild gesticulations, I magically found myself in an eye doctor's office, whereupon I was given a "testu rensu" (test lens). It worked!

Let's see, what else? Oh yes, my fuel belt grew some scary mold during the trip, so I wouldn't be having it on the race. I didn't pack any fuel and couldn't acquire any in Japan, so I'd be eating whatever they gave me on the race (cut up bananas, which worked perfectly, actually).

And, I forgot that I acquired a nasty cold on day 2 of the trip that I managed to fight off before the race with the help of an OTC combo including phenylpronanalomine (why-oh-why did the US ban this stuff? So wonderful!!). Sure, you can't get psuedoephedrine here at all, but who cares with the Phen of Fen-Phen at your disposal?

The weather forecast on the day of the race, of course, called for rain on the day of the marathon, and I hadn't packed any water-resistant running clothes. Still, not to be discouraged, I thought, better cold than hot! I also didn't bother to put sunscreen on my chest and shoulders.

The morning of the race, it was beautiful. Cloudy, slightly cool, but nowhere near the predicted 45F. Silently, myself and approximately 8,000 very serious japanese people (okay, so there were 150 foreign runners) walked to the starting line. Apparently, they thought a 20 minute walk from the train to the start was a reasonable thing to do before a marathon. What's an extra mile?

The first several miles went wonderfully. Faster than I expected. Easy. E cheered me on around mile 3 and was surprised at my pace.

Ganbate! Ganba-des! Fight-Go!

I remembered the lessons from my last marathon, and forced myself to take walk breaks, to slow down, to save some energy for the finish. But, it wasn't until mile 18 or so when I realized I should have reset my expectations entirely.

I was not in anywhere near the shape I needed to be in to hit my goal time. Plus, the promised rain had turned into gorgeous sun, and there was no shade on the course. I slowed further, took more walk breaks, and was very conscientious about throwing water on myself and drinking fluids.

At Km 32, I made a deal with myself. Run 1 Km, walk a minute, 10 times and you'll be done. And, that is what I did. Slowly, but surely.

I crossed the finish line about 10 minutes before the absolute cut-off time I gave E -- as in, if I'm not there by then something went very wrong. But, thankfully, nothing was wrong except my unrealistic expectations...

Overall, it was a wonderful experience, and by going slowly I was able to experience it more fully. Plus, now that I see the extent of my sunburn, I suspect I could have gotten into some serious trouble if I had tried to go faster.

Hindsight, friends. Don't try to run a PR on your first international marathon. Just do it for the experience, which will be amazing.

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