December 5, 2011

California International Marathon (take two)

Quick Summary:

-Perfect weather (gorgeous clear day, below 40F at the start high 50s at the finish) and a fast, rolling, downhill course (8 U.S. Men and 25 U.S. Women ran the Olympic Marathon Qualifying Standard!)

-Great 4 Hour pace team leaders (Karyn Hoffman, 10 days after completing the Cozumel IronMan; and Bill Finkbeiner, 27-time Leadville finisher)

-Awesome hydration and fueling. The best I've ever had for a marathon. Thanks to JB, E2's mom, & the SRA!

-My 2nd fastest marathon to date: 4:09:26 (5 minutes short of the PR I was hoping to break)

My training was probably the best I've ever done for a marathon. 721.59 miles in 18 weeks. An average of 40.3 miles per week. Weekly speed work or strength work. Weekly tempo runs (if I'm honest, this is where I cut the most corners. My running buddy didn't. She ran a 3:49!). Sure, I didn't hit all of the workouts perfectly, but I definitely hit more than I ever had in the past.

Nutrition and hydration-wise, I was thrilled. I really messed these up at CDA, so I was very happy that I've figured out what to do.

A huge thanks to JB for the Powerbar products, they aided me through the entire training segment and on race day I easily put away a breakfast of coffee with milk and chocolate syrup, 2 Irongirl bars, and 1 Simply Energy bar -- 500 calories and it felt like nothing in my stomach. No cramping. No GI issues. Perfect.

E2's mom made her mother's chinese noodles for pre-race dinner -- boiled chinese wheat noodles topped with hard boiled eggs, chives, pulled chicken, soy sauce, and homemade chicken stock (you know your friend's mom loves you when she makes homemade stock the night before you visit because they live 0.5 miles from the start and she wants you to have a good pre-race meal!). E and I added rooster sauce to the mix. Delicious. Easy to digest. High in carbs, light proteins, and sodium to pre-load my electrolytes.

I'll avoid the detailed report, but by the time I was leaving the house for the race, I was comfortable from the evidence that I was headed to the start with the perfect balance of water, electrolytes, and a light, relatively empty GI tract.

On the course, I took electrolytes at all aid stations where I didn't have Gu and water where I did. I had GU/water at 7 miles, 13 miles, 14.5 miles, 20 miles, and 23 miles. I've never had that many GUs in a race and I'd heard stories about folks having serious GI issues, so I was pleased to learn that I could handle it just fine. Now that I know I can handle it, I think on my next marathon I'll try to do GU every 25-30 minutes starting at 1 hour.

So, what went wrong? First, I came down with a cold 2 days before the race. I took every over-the-counter remedy I could find, and rested, and hydrated as best I could to get the major symptoms under control. But, I was still producing more mucus than normal at the start, I had some post-nasal drip, some coughing, etc.

I'd done some research, and it appears that the majority takes the position that if your symptoms are entirely above your neck (and you have no fever), a cold shouldn't get in the way of your run. For me, after 2 races with colds, I can say this isn't true. I don't think running with a cold harms me, but I do think it affects my performance. At this year's US Half I was disappointed with my performance (and beat it by 8.5 minutes 3 weeks later, when not sick). On the course at CIM, I began to cough up mucus at about mile 14. After the finish, there were 30 minutes where I coughed deeply and almost without pause until I'd cleared a bunch of crud from my lungs.

Other than the cold, I think I can attribute my failure to beat my PR on 2 things: 1) I seriously considered dropping out and having E come to pick me up at mile 20. This decreased commitment, between coughs, resulted in a decreased pace until I decided I'd just tough it out. 2) Now that I've finished the Hanson's training program with its higher overall mileage but shorter long runs -- I think I personally need at least one 20 mile (or longer) long run during my training cycle so I've practiced the mental toughness to push to the finish. This was the first time I'd trained for a marathon without completing at least one 20-miler and I found myself nervous and doubtful before the race, which was compounded by the cold, and resulted in a significant lack of commitment and slow-down during the 17-20 mile segment because I was very suspicious of how I'd hold up.

I owe the fact that I finished to my 9-yr-old niece and mom. They'd run the 2.62 fun run and were waiting for me at the finish. I knew E and E2 would completely understand if I decided to drop out, treat it as a training run, and enter a replacement marathon in 8 weeks or so, but I also knew my niece wouldn't understand at all.

The truth was, if I dropped out, she's see it as an example saying it's okay to quit. And sometimes it is. This time, if I wanted to save the energy and go for the PR at the Surf City Marathon it totally would have been. But she wouldn't have understood why. She wasn't going to be at the finish line at Surf City. She was as the finish line at CIM. So, I pushed past the 20 mile marker and after the 21 mile marker confirmed that I really didn't have that much to go, I started to speed up again.

By the end, I was back to faster than my goal pace, pushed along by the specter of the closing 4:10 pace group that I wasn't about to let pass me. It was so great to see my niece at the finish, high-pitched screeching with my mom, holding a sign with my name. She told me all about her 2.62 mile run, being filmed by the TV crews, and watching the winners and the qualifiers for the Olympic Trials. I gave her my medal -- and I told her she was the reason I finished. She told me I was stinky.

When all was said and done, it was not the performance I was hoping for, but it was great, nonetheless. I ran the whole thing and didn't stop except to walk through the aid stations (vs. CDA where I took a walk break on Mile 26). I made a 3:46 improvement over Coeur D'alene and ran my second fastest marathon. More importantly, I ran a much smarter race than Coeur D'alene, without hydration and fuel issues and with a smarter, slower start and a 4:59 improvement on the back half, despite my 3-4 mile lack of commitment and slowdown.

So, while I'm disappointed, I'm excited to think about how close to that PR I am if I can avoid a cold and stay committed through the late teens and early 20s miles of the race. I'll get that last 4:59 somewhere, someday.

For the short term, I'm going to give myself a few days off and think about what my next goal might be. I really liked the idea of going for the PR in Huntington Beach, but after completing the full 26.2, I'm hobbling around and not sure I have enough time to recover and get back into marathon shape by early Feb. Perhaps it's time to do some shorter distances...

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