Race Report: Catoctin 50k

They don’t call it the pain cave for nothing.

Finishing this year meant a lot to me.  Last year I DNF’d at the turnaround.  I had plenty of explanations but at the end of the day that DNF meant that I just wasn’t tough enough to handle the course.  I was okay with that decision for about three months.  Even swore off trail running entirely.  But when the fall came and I started thinking about the year of running 2016 – a year decorated with so many accomplishments and high points – that one red mark at Catoctin started to bother me and when I thought about my goals for 2017 I knew that completing this course before the time cut off was going to be one of them whether I liked it or not.

Just me and my tumor

As I wrote last time, I discovered in early May that I have a large benign tumor on my pituitary gland.  As you can imagine that month was a bit of an emotional roller coaster and it affected my running significantly and I clocked only 100 miles that month.  June was a little better but I missed a lot of long weekend efforts.   I could have been in better condition for this race.

I am on hormone replacement therapy for the consequences of the tumor, which may be a rest-of-life situation depending on how well, if at all, my pituitary gland decides to resume normal function after the tumor’s out.  In about 40% of cases everything returns to normal.

One of the hormones I have to replace is cortisol which plays a really important role in fat burning and the adrenal cycle.  During long events, it’s just one more thing I have to manage manually, on top of nutrition, hydration, and salt balance.  Bring it on, I say.  Ultras are too easy.  It’s just a 50k right?

I am having surgery to remove this tumor in ten days.  My surgeon is a Boston qualifying marathoner and ultra runner himself with an amazing JFK 50 time of 7:26.   In fact, we delayed the surgery specifically so I wouldn’t miss Catoctin, a detail which helped me tough it out on the course.  I knew my highly talented and successful neurosurgeon to whom I am trusting my very life would ask me how my race went and the last thing I was going to tell him was “thanks for delaying my surgery so I could DNF again.”

Training

Last year, I spent a huge amount of time up on the mountain – every weekend and some week nights for almost two straight months.  I needed to do that to learn the course and to learn trail running.  By the time race day had come along I was so sick of being up there that it wasn’t fun – or even a beautiful forest anymore.  I had a photographic memory of every rock on that trail and tripped on most of them.

This year I decided that my mountain training would be limited.  I only did three long runs in the watershed this year and one short trek up the TV trail, which isn’t part of the course.  I did other trail running on the AT, Little Bennett, and Worthington Farm to get some trail practice but I made sure not to spend too much time on the course itself lest I suffer the same burnout I felt last year.

Two weeks prior to race day, I ran the first full half of the trail with my friends Ruth, Art, and Bill from the Tea Room to Manor, and I ran strong.  The medication I’m taking for the tumor is really helping me stay energized over distance, something that has eluded me for the last couple of years.  I ran the runnable uphills and hit PRs on almost every section of the northbound trail.  I needed a confidence run and I got one.

I started tapering through July, running only around 50 miles in two weeks and came into race day feeling fresh and rested.

The Race

Strava Link

We lucked out with the weather this year.  It stayed in 80s all day and we had a southerly, gentle wind to cool us off in both directions.   I only felt genuinely hot once, during an shadeless climb toward the end.

I ran a strong first half, earning a couple of PRs in that direction.  I made it to Manor at around 11:20 AM, about 10 minutes ahead of my ideal goal.  In hindsight, I hit the first half too aggressively.  The aid station cutoffs were to me a sword of Damocles and I knew that any risk of missing them would demoralize me, so I wanted to make sure I banked a lot of time.

Too much time, as it developed.  I began to feel the first stirrings of cramps between Fishing creek and Manor, so I downed as much salt as I could and kept trucking downhill.

Unfortunately the salt didn’t work, even though I would guess I took at least 20 salt caps in eight hours.  I was never able to get my leg cramping under control for the remainder of the day, so although I did run periodically I did a lot of hiking back to the Tea Room.  For large stretches of the race I could barely straighten my legs.  When I tried to raise my calves to avoid tripping hazards, they cramped.  When I used one leg for the tough inclines too much, I developed a shooting pain in the inside of my thighs.  Even my feet and hamstrings cramped occasionally.

And I fell, a lot.  I had prided myself on not falling on the trails at all this entire training season, but because high feet were cramping my calves, I kept my feet low, caught a lot of rocks, and stumbled quite a bit.  On four or five occasions I took a bad spill which left me on the ground with cramped legs.  I had to grab the nearest tree and pull myself up to get my legs straight.  Fortunately with fewer than 200 runners on the trails over such a vast distance my shame went mostly unobserved.  An innocent bystander helped me up once whose name I regret taking (but if you’re reading this, thanks a bunch!)

Despite this debilitating muscle failure my spirits were generally high. I tried not thinking much about the cutoffs.  I did the mental math a few times and computed that were I to do 20 minute miles from here until Tea Room would I make it and the answer was always yes.  That made it easy to keep moving forward.

A couple of years ago, one of the HURT guys at the C&O aid station said something that stuck with me: on these long mountain ultras, it’s not about how fast you run, it’s about how fast you walk.  I tried to keep this in my head and maintain a brisk pace, and I think I did that successfully.  In each mile I tried to run at least a little and I kept my pace below 16:00 except on climbs.  It’s hard for me to even type that out because it seems so absurd; my 3 year old runs faster than that for our quarter mile runs around the neighborhood, but 16:00 is much better than 22:00, a fact which I reminded myself every time my watch clocked the last mile.

When I got to the final aid station at Hamburg road at around mile 26, Jenny reminded me that if I could make the southbound valley in 1:45 I’d finish under 8 hours.  That would be a phenomenal time for me and way beyond my expectations.  The valley is six miles and though there are some gnarly climbs there are also some gnarly descents so I thought that if I could capitalize on the descents – one of the few grades I could still adequately run without cramping (much) – I might be able to sneak it in.  I’d have to do each mile in around 18 minutes.  That seemed doable.

On the way coming down the steepest part of the valley, I took a nasty spill.  I had to grab a tree to stop my fall and I took rocks to both knees, hard.  I had massive bruises on both, a gash on my left, and somehow hit my left hip as well.  This crash stole the wind out of my sails, and I realized that going for sub-8 was reckless.  I was letting the nickel hold up the dollar.  One more nasty fall like that and I might not be able to get up again.

So I resigned myself to walk it in.  That descent is shouldered by one of the hardest climbs in the course.  It’s long, it’s steep, and it’s at mile 29.  That was the emotional low point for me.  I was hurt and barely cogent.  I kept moving and only stopped when my legs cramped so badly that I couldn’t keep walking.  A few people passed me in this section but I didn’t let it bother me.  I knew that this race was mine to fail now.

finsh line 3When I got to the lower parking lot, Paul and Telly were there taking pictures and beating the cowbell like it owed them money.  Paul mentioned that we only had half a mile to go and relief washed over me like an awesome wave.  I thought I still had a full mile to go.  That last Tea Room climb was tough but knowing how close I was to finishing gave me all the strength I needed.

I crossed the finish line in 8:13.  I went into the day thinking that if I everything went perfectly I might squeak in a little under 8, but I knew I’d be happy with anything under 8:45.  Considering how badly my legs were cramping all day, this is a slam dunk as far as I’m concerned.

The Event

with bill

Catoctin is a special event for the local community because so many of us are either running the race, working aid stations, cheering, or moving around the course taking pictures.  Conservatively, I would guess that I am on a first name basis with at least 50 people out on the trails. Everything is a little less painful when you’re in the pain cave with your friends.

I ran almost 10 miles with Bill who went on to go sub-8 for his first Catoctin at the tender age of … well, I won’t say but he’s a couple of decades older than I am.  Incredible athlete and incredible running partner.

janI ran at least three or four miles with the long lost Jan, the person who is more responsible for instilling both passion for and success in running than anyone else.  She’s since moved to California and actually bought a plane ticket just for this race… and people say I’m crazy.

Jan got me into trail running initially (i..e, declared “we’re training for Catoctin now, meet at Hamburg Rd. 8am Saturday”).  She introduced me to this race.  She taught me the blue trail.  Running with her was just like old times.  When she casually mentioned that she and I were running “faster than last year” I should have wised up and slowed down!

I saw Jenny at almost every aid station.  Her energy, enthusiasm, and encouragement helped me and so many others throughout the day.

But I think what I will remember most about this race was encountering Crys at the Delauter aid station.  Crys is a truly talented ultra runner with a long successful career in front of her.  She’s been training with a local legend with the goal of a top 10, if not podium finish.  The first time I saw her was on her way back up from the manor as I was going back down and she was either in second or third place at that time.

But things change during a race, as I experienced and so did she.  One minute I’m running a banner day and the next my legs are cramping so badly I can hardly walk. And I guess something changed for her, because when I ran into her there, she was in the process of DNF’ing.

I was advised not to ask her questions by her aid station honor guard but I knew what needed to be done.  I asked her one question: “do your legs work?”  Good, they do.  That’s a start.  At that point, my legs barely worked and I had full intention on walking every inch between Delauter to Hamburg which is historically my least favorite and emotionally lowest part of the course.  I suggested to her that as long as she can still walk she might as well walk with me to Hamburg road.  At least she’d be 3 miles closer to the finish line.

So we talked a little bit and I heard her recite all of the thoughts that were in my mind when I quit the race last year.  It wasn’t enough for me to just finish Catoctin, I had to finish really well.  In 2016, I was killing all of my races.  Two months before I had shaved 27 minutes off of my half marathon time.  Catoctin was going to be no different.  And so when I came to Manor and realized that I was not going to finish well, I remember thinking, “I can walk, but what’s the point?”  Since my wife and kids were there, I turned in my number and walked off the course.  And I had 12 months to think about it and regret it.  There are worse things, I told her, than walking it in.  You could always just give up and quit.

We talked a little about Western States.  So many amazingly talented runners ran such amazing races for 70 miles and then lost it.  When you go for it, when you’re running in the red, you might burn out.  It’s a risk you take when you’ve got the pedal to the metal.  You’re never going to know what your potential is if you don’t run that way, but you’re also guaranteed to have days like this when you do.  You just can’t win them all.

crysI was so happy to see her get moving again.  “Let’s run a bit!”  Okay.  I look down at my watch.  11:30.  11:00.  10:30… 9:00… 8:20…. we’re doing 8 minute miles here and I’m dying.  She wasn’t happy to lose me but I promised that if I found her sitting on a log I’d get her moving again.  I didn’t see her for the rest of the race.  She didn’t hit her goal time but she won’t have the regret of quitting.

Learning how to rally in an ultra race is something that Javier has really emphasized to me and I kept hopeful the whole race.  30+ miles is a long time to be out there.  Sometimes you have to walk for five miles before you can run again.  Maybe you never can.  You won’t know until you find out.

As it turns out, Javier had also helped her rally earlier in the day and had said almost exactly the same things that I said to her, even including referencing this year’s Western States race.  We joked that we had a pre-game conference and went over our talking points for “words of encouragement.”

We met up post-race at Tea Room and she expressed some regret that perhaps if she had just kept going she could have hit her goal anyway.  I reminded her that we learn more from our failures than our victories and the next time she’s on a course and she’s in that dark place and thinking about quitting she’s going to remember today and she will be able to draw on that thought.  Maybe if I had just kept going I would have hit my goal.

She also confided in me that when she saw me plodding along through Delauter she had thought to herself, “well if this guy has a brain tumor and is getting brain surgery in 10 days and he is going to finish, then what’s my excuse.”  I’m glad my little tumor actually did a little good in the world before being savagely murdered ten days hence.

Closing thoughts

My second goal for the year is now complete, and I can safely choose to close the book on Catoctin but I have a feeling that I won’t.  This event is an expression not so much of physical fitness but of sheer will.  That I found the mental strength to push through this masochistic suffer-fest will be a feather in my cap for the rest of my life.  Whether I am running it next year or paying it forward as a course volunteer I will be back on that mountain next July with a couple hundred of my closest friends.

 

 

 

So, I have a brain tumor

Shortly before Northface 50k I started taking anti-depressants.  Over the last six months I’ve felt worse and worse and worse to the point where it was affecting my work.  The new meds impaired me during the race, specifically stomach-wise.  I’ve historically been iron-stomached, but not that day.

When I described my life situation to the prescribing GP he suggested that I should also have physiological causes ruled out.  He’s treated depression for a long time and young healthy grounded family men without financial or other substance problems just don’t become depressed out of the blue like this.

One CT and one MRI later, we found this:

tumor3

 

That’s my head… and that golf ball with the red circle is a 3cm brain tumor.

Technically it’s not a brain tumor, as it’s not technically in my brain tissue.  It’s a growth of the pituitary gland, or otherwise known as a pituitary adenoma.

I spent a few hours on the Tuesday after Northface fretting impending death.  I had the initial CT scan at 9 and at 10 the doctor wanted to see me that same day.  The prognosis on brain cancer is pretty bad.  It was a tough day.

A week later I had the MRI done.  I’m not a radiologist, but it’s easy enough to compare pictures like these to the ones on Google.  My GP suspected that this adenoma was “micro” – tiny, like 5mm or something.  The MRI obviously painted a different picture.  That was a tough day, too.

I’ve since been to an ophthalmologist and an endocrinologist, and the results are in.

Other than the depression – which is most likely caused by this condition – the tumor is impacting me in the following ways:

  • The blurriness and lack of peripheral vision in my left eye particularly when running – which I previously thought was my contact lens drying out – is the tumor pressing against my optic nerve, exaggerated by elevated blood flow;
  • I have significant hypothyroidism, reducing my metabolism and causing me to gain weight and sleep a lot.  That I still have a normal BMI is due only to the large volumes of running I do, evidently;
  • I have rather low cortisol despite running 40 miles the week of the test.  Long distance running supposedly tends to elevate cortisol levels.  One of the main jobs of cortisol is to increase the glucose concentration in the blood to make more energy readily available to the muscles.  The impact of chronically low cortisol levels should be evident to training & race performance.

This is all due to the tumor compressing the pituitary stalk and impairing its function.  It is not able to produce its signaling hormones to inform the other glands, e.g. my thyroid and adrenals, to produce their hormones.

On one hand, I’m naturally bummed that I’m afflicted with these problems.  On the other hand, at least some of the inexplicable fatigue I occasionally encounter is now at least partially explained.  I can’t blame ever bad run or bonk on a tumor but I have really begun to wonder.

The bad news is that I am going to need neurosurgery to correct this condition and there’s a non-zero chance of disastrous complications including but not limited to meningitis, partial or total blindness and even death.  I am going to need to find a specialist who has already performed at least 300 of these surgeries to limit my risks.  Fortunately I live within driving distance of Johns Hopkins which has such surgeons on staff.

In addition to the emotional toll this has taken on me in the last few weeks – which has also exacerbated my abnormally long recovery window from NF50k – it is impossible for me to make long-term training plans.   When I have this surgery – and that is a date yet undecided – I will most likely be unable to run at all for at least an entire month; possibly longer, depending on how well I am recovering.

It’s hard to program the next 6 months of the year.  It’s hard to sign up for races.  It’s hard to find motivation to put in the miles each week, and I’ve let it slide.  I was hoping to establish a baseline 5k time this season at Parkway this past memorial day, but I’m not in shape for it and I’m not mentally or emotionally there.

I’m in running limbo and I think that’s worse than the tumor.

 

 

 

 

Spring Report: Up to the North Face 50k

I signed up and ran this race about 3 weeks prior.  It was my “reserve” race, meaning if I didn’t feel ready to run a strong marathon by mid April, I’d defer that until Fall.  But I still wanted to run something big and North Face fit the bill.

The boring part that I’m writing for myself to look back at several years from now

When I rebooted my running career 2 years ago, I needed stability shoes and wore mostly Saucony Guide 9’s.  Last autumn I began to notice growing discomfort in my Achilles during training.  The chickens finally came to roost in December last in response to a “strong start” for the year, and something finally pulled for real.  Some PT was required.

This put me off-kilter in the early months of the season.  I only managed  88 miles in January, 24 month low for me and against a goal of 175.  Between the confidence-shattering Richmond marathon in November and the low mileage my conditioning took a beating.

I spent the entire winter base-building.  In 2016 I averaged around 36mpw.  In 2017, I’d like to increase that to around 50.  In aid of that goal I started training with a heart rate monitor.   One of the clearest signs of over-training is elevated heart rate for same-effort runs.  In other words, running the same course Monday to Monday at same effort should have similar heart rate profiles.  If your heart rate is increasing, that’s a sign to pull it back and take more rest.

Of course it’s not the only sign.  I had to pay very close attention to my lower body.  No repeat injuries.  Jared, my PT, advised against hills, so I worked the flattest roads I could find at a leisurely 9:30.  This is hard for me.  I am very “Strava proud.”  I overcame this problem.  Not that I had much of a choice.

I began increasing my mileage.  I hit my first ever 50 mile week ending on 2/26.

Although PT helped it didn’t eliminate the tightness in my heels, and it was slowly creeping back into my workouts, likely in response to an aging pair of trainers.  Enough is enough, so I made a trip to If the Shoe Fits, now part of Charm City Running.

I’ve felt limited by lower body discomfort especially at distance.  Coupled with that I’m admittedly a bit of a Sage Canaday fanboy and I thought I’d give Hoka One Ones a try.  I test drove the Cliftons on their treadmill and despite being a neutral shoe and a lower drop they felt good, so I took the plunge and drank the Koolaid.

I walked out of the store with them on and proceeded to run a full marathon on the C&O canal towpath in 4:11 moving time, around 4:30 total with time at my car refueling.  Even though this constitutes my slowest of 4 marathon efforts, it is notable because at no point did I bonk and feel like I had to walk.  This was a major confidence booster for me at the time and reinvigorated my training.

No “junk” races

By 2016 I had only raced a half and a full.  I had never really raced any other distance hard.  So I wanted to establish a baseline against which to develop goals to aid in training milestones.  I raced a lot.

In 2017 I had no desire to run winter races just to run them.  Pushing hard efforts just for the sake of racing is contraindicating that goal, and frankly I didn’t want to notch out sub-par performances when I’m not ready.

A note about training paces

Between weeks starting February 21 and April 10, my mileage pattern was 50, 40 51, 51, 61, 42, 60, 47.  This a big step up in mileage and was only possible because I finally wised up and slowed down my pace.

Prior to starting heart rate training I was under the delusion that my easy pace was much, much faster than it actually is.  I have relatively low respiratory rate.  At easy pace I often breathe once every 4 steps or so, and when I’m at tempo it’s not much more.  This gives me the illusion that I’m not working very hard, but my heart rate tells a different story.

My resting heart rate is very low.  I had an EKG four days prior to North Face at my wife’s request so that she wouldn’t worry that I might drop dead on the trails from a heart incident.  My resting heart rate was 36.

But my maximum is probably around 180.  I’ve done a few hard intervals and my heart rate monitor isn’t tracking anything higher than about 175 ever, which means either the monitor tends low, or I have a lower max.

Needless to say, I was running my “easy” runs at around 150, 155.  I now understand that true easy pace is (currently) more like 130.  At the start of this season that was around 9:30, whereas at the end it’s more like 8:45 or 9:00.

How not to taper

One of my 2017 goals was to run a strong half.  I predicted at Army 10 that I could have done a half at that pace.  The week before this race I wanted to do a “short” long run and the last Frederick Half training group happened to be that Saturday.  The weather was perfect for fast running: 55 degrees and lightly raining.  I wanted to take it easy, but the pace groups stopped at 9 not by design but because nobody volunteered to run 8:30 or lower.  I was shooting for 8, so my choices were try to hang with Jenny, Louis, and Conny or run by myself, in the rain, on Schifferstadt.  I went for it.

It was a hard run but when I got to 10 and realized I was only about 45 seconds off my time at Army,  I went for it and ended up hitting a 1:38:45, a PR by about 6 minutes and completing my annual goal.  This was a relief because I didn’t want to try to run a strong half a week after an ultra.  The downside is that this was a hard effort and not the best for a taper week, and I think as with Richmond (running a 5k PR the week prior), this affected my race.  But I look at it positively:  a sub-1:40 was an annual A-goal and has now paved the way for a 1:35 adjustment for the fall, whereas North Face was a backup plan in case I didn’t manage to get in the right speed workouts in time for a marathon and still have time to taper (which I did not).

What was I thinking?

I have suffered from dysthymia most of my adult life, with the added bonus of something called “double depression.”  It basically means that I feel generally worse than normal people all of the time, with bouts of severe clinical depression.

At a particularly low point when I was really struggling, Javier took me up to the Appalachian trail and “invited” me to participate in North Face.  I knew I wasn’t trail ready  – even “easy” trail would not be easy – but at a certain point it’s poop or get off the pot.  No reason to run 60 miles per week and never do anything with it.

4 days before the race I began taking Bupropion to treat the dysthymia, and it worked immediately.  I feel like a new person… but.

There are some side effects which calm down over time.  It’s a stimulant, so it raises heart rate (mildly – I tested this before the race).  It dries my eyes and mouth, but mildly.  Considering that taking it makes me feel like a normal person these are easy side effects to accept.  I liken it to drinking really strong coffee on an empty stomach.

Race Day!

Okay, the good stuff:

  • “A” goal: Finish
  • “B” goal: under 6 hours

Since I had explicitly avoided hills for 5 months and barely run trails I really went into this with a “let’s see how this goes” attitude.  I met Javier at Point of Rocks to carpool into Virginia and we enjoyed the starting area and met up with Nicole & gang at the Steeps tent.  North Face puts on a tight ship.  We took a snap with Dean Karnazes:

18198601_1467096516675160_8429805670403228559_n

Before long we were off.

Miles 1-15

The first 3 hours of the race felt good.  The temperatures were low, the muddy patches on the hard packed soil were sporadic, and I was eating and drinking at the aid stations.  I took 2 salt caps every hour, and ate (as I can remember):

  • A bite of PB&J
  • Banana halves
  • Watermelon
  • Some pretzels
  • A handful of M&Ms

None of these were experimental, it was all real food, and I felt okay.  However, although my heart rate was in the right range for the paces, I had a feeling in my chest like my heart was working harder than it should be.  I think it’s a side effect of the medication that I hope subsides, but it was unsettling.

The only other comment I can make on this section is that I occasionally got caught on a single track behind a rather slow person with no option to pass.  I ran with Bill Duke (who won his age group in his 50k debut – amazing!) and we caught up to Steve and Elaine (who came in 1 and 2 in their age groups, respectively) around mile 5 and ran with them briefly.  I got caught behind another slow train and lost Bill and didn’t see him again until the turn around.  Steve and Elaine dropped me on the first hill.

These hills were crazy.  I expected them to be steep, and although there were only a couple of them they really took a lot out of me.  Without climb experience my quads were not up to the task at all.  The downhills were also so steep that a couple of times I almost lost it and took a dive.  I flew off the trail once and grabbed a sapling to save my butt.

I managed to get through the first half in around 2:45.  I felt optimistic of sub 6:00.  I knew I’d run the second half slower than the first, but….

Miles 15-23

It was only 10:00AM, but it was already getting hot… and humid.  I could feel the heat affecting me, but I historically run well in the heat.  Keyword is historically.  Prior to starting medication I could not function without socks.  I ran cold.  I’d be wearing a jacket in 70 degree weather.  That was then; this is now.  I no longer run cold.  I no longer need socks.  This heat hit me like a ton of bricks.

I began to develop several symptoms of heat stroke, the most notable of which was the nausea and the headache.  I am not sure if my nutrition was off point or whether it was the medication, but it became debilitating.  Any time I began running I felt so nauseous, but I couldn’t vomit.

Around mile 21 I texted Javier to let him know if he needed to dip I’d find another way home.  The fear of holding him up was causing some anxiety that I wanted to do without.

When I finally got to the mile 23 aid station – which clocked me at 9 miles in over 2 hours – I sat down on a log and an EMT reluctantly gave me some of the dwindling ice supply which instantly revived me.  This moment defined this race for me.  I wanted so desperately to quit.  I didn’t know how I was going to make another 9 miles feeling the way I did.  I couldn’t really run, I couldn’t really eat.  But I managed to let the desire to succeed overcome the desire to relieve the pain.  When I walked out of that aid station, I felt like an ultra runner.

Miles 23 to Finish

Early at this juncture I did the napkin math and calculated that as long as I kept moving forward I would finish; time was now irrelevant.  I still felt hot and tired, but I kept the focus on first the mile 26 aid station (and ice) and next the mile 30 aid station.

I ran into a pair of first timers who were also struggling and I know they helped me push forward.  Knowing I wasn’t alone helped me keep the dark place contained.

The hills in the 23-26 section were a bit humbling.  My quads were exhausted and I had to take breaks to get up these steep mountains, a first for me except for the Manor to Overlook slog up in Gambril.  The three of us were looking at each other with that look of dread knowing we had one more.

The last little bump of only 90 feet or something took everything I had.  I was not sure if I was going to be physically able to climb the (now) muddy mountain.  I felt my quads locking a little, but at no point did I ever cramp.

After that, the Potomac River trail was now a muddy slip and slide.  I felt like I was getting a little bit of a second wind once I crossed 26.2 and was making decent time despite what felt like mostly hiking (and probably was).  I still felt very nauseous and wasn’t eating but I was forcing myself to drink (which also caused nausea).  I couldn’t run the mud even if  wanted to, so I consigned myself to just getting it done.

Mile 30 felt so great and felt like it came fast.  I thought the course was long at 32.5, but when they told me I only had 1.5 to go and now I was out of the mud, I was able to alternate 1 minute running 1 minute walking.  I was holding out hope that I might slip through under 7, but I ended up coming in around 7:06, which meant it took me around 4:20 to cover only 15 miles of the back half.

Crossing the finish line was great.  Fantastic course support.  I’ve never been emotional at the end of a race until now.  I almost teared up crossing the finish line, but I didn’t want that to be my finish line photo and kept it together.  I almost teared up again when I saw Javier.

It was a long day.

Thoughts on the course

I loved the smells in the morning.  Wildflowers in the Potomac River trail, American chestnuts along the gravel paths, and that crisp river smell at Great Falls.  The scenery was vastly prettier than Catoctin and I enjoyed the surroundings.  They helped me get through the tough parts.

The trail blazing is the best I’ve seen.  North Face runs a tight ship and the race was really well organized.  At every wrong turn opportunity, they put up a “wrong way” sign and had volunteers at ever junction where any of the various events were splitting off (e.g., 50 mile left, 50k right).

Biggest cons was the use of single track for moments of the race where varying levels of freshness is to be expected – it was very annoying to constantly have to dip into poison ivy to let a relay runner who’s only doing a 10k fly past you.  I couldn’t have listened to music even though it would have helped late in the race.

Second, which is unavoidable in a public park, were the “forest walkers” who were walking a mile an hour up the steep and fast middle hills three abreast.  They didn’t speak english, were totally oblivious to their surroundings, and made that section much harder.  At one point I had to physically move a pair of ladies off the trail because they were about to be run over by guys flying down hill at 10 miles per hour facing a huge crowd coming up.  They were practically screaming “on your left” and they were ignoring them.

Look, I get that it’s a public park, I get that this race is probably ruining your hike as much as you are ruining the race, but at least have some awareness.  They could have dipped to single file, but instead they just ignored everybody and did what they want.  Very disappointing.

What’s next?

My sub-par performance on the hills at this race was highly disappointing and a major limiting factor here.  I was having energy problems due to the nausea but otherwise my legs felt strong.  I was fatigued, but not in pain.

I might be heading toward the dark side.  I might “trail out” and drop road racing.  I don’t know.

I’m skipping the Frederick half.  I am focusing on getting Catoctin done this year.  Last year I didn’t have the mental strength to push through in a similar situation – fast first half, looking at walking the second.  This year I will, and with the right focused hill training (on roads, to take the technicality out of the climbing) and power hiking I hope to be able to beat the race this year.  I doubt it will be hotter than it was at North Face.

The plan is to continue the high mileage weeks and get in doubles on the weekends.  Big day will be trails and hills with lighter day on roads.

 

 

 

 

The week(s) in running – 12/11 & 12/19

I started my use it or lose it vacation on 12/15.  I had great expectations for this block of December as an opportunity to build to my target 2017 weekly average of 40 miles per week before the year began.  This year has been rough at work, so I really needed this PTO.

Naturally, on Saturday I started feeling symptoms and on Sunday my 4 day bout with influenza knocked me on my ass.  I was mostly bedridden for most of the duration, and I am devastated.

For the week of 12/11, pre-flu:

Monday: Rest; we ran long on 12/10 (14 miles), so I needed this.

Tuesday: I ran a 10 mile Tempo Tuesday, with 4 miles easy warmup followed by 6 miles about 20 seconds slower than M pace.  It’s all about building base right now, so I don’t want to risk injury by adding miles and running hard.

Wednesday: 7.2 miles around the neighborhood at an easy 8:45 pace.

Thursday: 60 minutes on the treadmill at a nominal 8:52.  I had a hard time with this run; I was bored.

Friday: rest.

Saturday: Spent the AM on my feet cleaning up the house and then did 10k on the treadmill.  Intent was 60 minutes, but I had to stop at 6.2 miles because my right calf started to hurt in a bad way.  I was also beginning to feel sick.

Sunday: flu begins; no long run for Evan.  Bedridden with fever.

For the week of 12/19:

Monday: Bedridden with fever and major sinus congestion.

Tuesday: Bedridden with fever and major sinus congestion.

Wednesday: Bedridden with fever and major sinus congestion, though I was beginning to turn the corner.

Thursday:  5 easy miles as a test of recovery at 8:36 average with fastest split of 8:24.  My Strava notes were: throat sore; chest affected. Minor joint pain. Significant weakness in quads. Also, left foot (big toe area) numb until mile 2.5, right foot unaffected.

Friday: This was December 23rd and I had to do the shopping I meant to do earlier in the week but had been too sick to do which meant taking the kids out to buy for their mom, so I just didn’t have time to run.

Saturday: 8 really easy miles, bordering on turtle pace with an average of 9:02.  I rarely run post 9 minute miles these days but  I was having some significant trouble with my right calf, and I had pulled a hip muscle getting into the car on Friday and I just felt generally nervous about the state of my lower body so I took it very easy.  There are a few very short, steep inclines in my routes that are more like climbing stairs than running uphill which tend to engage my calves; I walked those to spare my right leg.

Sunday: 7 total miles with 5 at the slow end of marathon pace and two easy ones at the end.  No calf issues.  Fast split 8:00.  Run felt good for a change.  Hopeful that I’m over the sickness hump.  I ran my 1600th annual mile today, completing my goal for 2016.

Over the past two weeks I have been trying to emphasize cadence by shortening my stride.  I’ve had limited success actually increasing my cadence but I have managed to create a painful tightness in my Achilles tendons on both feet and overuse my calf muscles (which I’m fairly certain should not be engaging).  I’m doing this wrong so I am going to hold off on this work until I actually train with a form expert as I’m doing more harm than good.

Stay tuned for my Year in Running report for 2016.  It’s in the works.

The week in running – 12/4

Monday: 2 miles on the treadmill.  Short warmup followed by 01/01’s – 0.1mph increase every 0.1 miles run, peaking at around 9mph.  Felt easy.

Tuesday: 9 miles in the cold, dark rain.  Met Dustin for the first time – the guy who sniped my even 10 Grand Prix points at the Gettysburg Marathon.  Solid runner, solid guy.  The top 5 spots are going to be hotly contested next year.  This run was very tough and we took it slow.  The weather conditions were not conducive to “throwing down.”  We did a few sub 8’s on the well lit boot loop but slowed it down when we started running into a raining headwind.

Wednesday: 6 unremarkable easy miles in the neighborhood.

Thursday: I planned on doing some treadmill miles in the AM but I had 2 straight days of DC commutes and just didn’t feel like it, so I rested instead.

Friday: rest.

Saturday: 5 miles on the treadmill.  Did some cadence practice.  Using Jenny’s 1-2-3 method I was able to hit 180’s when I was focusing on it.

Sunday: 14 cold miles on the Frederick half course with a group of Steeps buddies, 8:35ish average pace.  Felt pretty easy.

My goal was 36 miles this week and I finished with just over 37.

 

 

The week in running – 11/28

Three weeks have passed since the Richmond debacle and my batteries are beginning to recharge.  I am still feeling residual fatigue both generally and in particular on hills, where climbing strength is conspicuously absent.

Our club hosts one last Grand Prix race in early December which marks the end of the racing year.  Though I had planned on racing the Goodloe Byron memorial 10 miler for most of the year, I changed my mind and skipped it.

My reasons were:

  • The Byron course is essentially a mountain with 1000ft of gain, and I’ve been struggling with hill climbs in the last couple of weeks.
  • I have been over-racing (while under-training) lately, and racing a hard course is only going to delay my recovery further.
    • If I’m going to race, I’m going to race.  Showing pace restraint is not a strong suit of mine.
  • My Grand Prix position is secure; I can’t break into the top 5 overall and I can’t be knocked out of it in my age group.
  • I woke up at 2am on race day and simply could not fall back asleep.   I took this as a message my body was trying to tell me.
  • My heart just wasn’t in it.  I was already emotionally done racing for the year.

I enjoy the race because most of “the gang” – the core racers in the running club – were attending and I revel in their company.  But, I very rarely have Saturday mornings “off” from running during the year so instead I took my kids to the Home Depot Kids Workshop and got in some family time instead.

So, my year in running for 2016 is mostly over.  I’ll be posting a 2016 review soon.  For now, I’m starting to plan 2017.  I have been running with broad general goals, and remarkably little direction in the last six months.  That should change.

At present, I am considering these as my top 3 goals of 2017 (in this order)

  • Sub-20:00 5k
  • Finish the Catoctin 50k
  • Run 2000 miles

Note that a marathon is not on that list; however:

Scott shared with me a plan he and Linda, my teammates at the Army 10 miler, are going to use for a Boston qualifying attempt at the Two Rivers marathon in March (3:25).  This is a bit aggressive for me and I don’t have a particular time goal for the marathon distance next year, rather only to run it smart and actually run the whole thing.  That goal has still eluded me after three race attempts.

One aspect of their plan which appeals to me is the mid-week “long” run – e.g., 10 miles or more.  I’ve heard good things about this strategy and am giving it a try.

In order to accomplish my C goal of 2000 miles in 2017 I will need to run an average of 40 miles per week, though as a stretch goal I would really like to increase that to around 50-55 and take it to the next level.  I also think that will help me achieve the goal of running a complete marathon without hitting the wall.

Thus, I am slowly ramping my mileage up.  The goal this week was 32 miles, up from 26 the previous week.  This is a little more than the recommended 10%, but I have a base average of 30 for the entire year and therefore I am comfortable in the 30-35 range already.  The light weeks have been only a result of recovering from a major race.

Monday: rest

Tuesday: 3 miles with Jenny @ 8:00 followed by 6.4 @ 8:35 with Ruth for a total of 9.4.  Usually I run fast on Tuesday but I wanted to save it for Byron in case I had a change of heart.  I was struggling a bit in the last mile or 2 and started to fade.

Wednesday: 5 miles at 8:05.  Pace felt easy, bu it was also pouring rain for large portions of the run.

Thursday: 6.4 miles at around 8:20.

Friday: rest

Saturday: rest.  I was going to do an easy training run instead of Byron but as earlier stated I only had about 5 hours of sleep and was up at 2, and I felt like death the entire day.  Did a little core workout cross training, but mostly just binge watched Netflix like a schlub.

Sunday: 12 miles starting around 10am.  I really thought about quitting at mile 2, because thanks to my core workout and generally uncomfortable Saturday, my entire body was sore.  My abs and shoulders were in worst shape.  If late marathon pain is a 10, this run felt like an 8.  As a result, my pace suffered and I struggled to hold a 9:05 average.  This was a character building experience.

Next week’s goal: 36 miles.  Loose plan is 10 Tue, 6 Wed, 7 Thu, and 13 Sat.

 

 

 

 

 

Race Report: Richmond Marathon 2016

You win some, you lose some.  That’s really all I can say about a rather disappointing finish at Richmond.  I missed my A goal, my B goal, and I didn’t even come close to my C goal.  I didn’t prepare for this race well enough and it showed on race day.

I had strong reservations about signing up, and I only registered three weeks ahead.  I knew that my training wasn’t consistent and that I had prioritized other events this fall that would negatively impact my readiness to execute a strong marathon.  I signed up mostly because I felt like I should.  I had done enough marathon-like training that it seemed like a waste if I didn’t run one this fall, so I succumbed to the sunk-cost fallacy and went for it.

Training Plan

For my first and second marathons I followed a structured plan dictated by our running club.  We had a start date and a target race each time, and each time I started on the start date and ran the target race.  It was easy; it was simple.

This time around, the club’s plan wouldn’t work for me.  The target races this fall were Baltimore which I had already done, and Marine Corps which I don’t want to do.  I had to pick an alternate race.  There were plenty of other races to choose, but the biggest hurdle which confounded my schedule was the Army 10 miler which landed in early October.  The Army 10 miler was going to be my “A” fall race, so I knew I’d be running it hard and running a marathon even as close as two weeks after was risky.

I picked an early November race.

As such, throughout this training cycle I was always a few weeks behind the main group.  When they were doing 20, I was still doing 16.  When they were tapering, I was doing 20.  I had to come up with a strategy on my own.

Except I didn’t.  I went into this season without any plan.  My second race performance in Gettysburg gave me unfounded confidence that I could just wing it and still perform well on race day.  I routinely cut long runs short or skipped them entirely because “I can just bust out a 20 whenever I want.”  Yes, I can just bust out a 20 whenever I want.  However, the two 20’s that I did were foreshadowing for a sub-stellar race day.  I’ll get to those in a moment.

First, let’s contrast my mileage patterns between the three months ahead of Gettysburg (3:46) vs. the three months ahead of Richmond (3:54).

Gettysburg Richmond
Race month – 3 160 138
Race month – 2 141 122
Race month – 1 120 139
Total 421 399

On its own they look comparable, but from a marathon training perspective one of the more important training aspects is long run progression.  Let’s compare the two.

x means “no long run this week”,  a/b means two long runs that week, and n* means a race

Gettysburg:  10, 13/13, 11, 10*, 14/15, 16, 10*, 10/18, 5*/10, x, 20, 15, 16, 11, Race day

Richmond: x, 11/14, x, 14/10, 14, 20, 20*, x, 10, 10*, 20, 4*, 12, 3*, Race day

In my training for Gettysburg we can see a clear progression of long runs with step down weeks, multiple double longs per week, and 5 weeks without racing prior to race day.  For Richmond, my training story shows an unfocused and arbitrary weekly mileage pattern punctuated by races.  Note the complete absence of any runs between 14 and 20 miles in length.  I suspect most coaches would take a look at this and shake their heads.

I got exactly what I deserved in Richmond.

I should also make a note of how the three 20 mile distances went for Richmond.  The first was a split 8/12 run with a 30 minute break in between.  Stomach troubles and a bad choice of shoes forced me to head home early.  I had previously quit a few long runs early and I really didn’t want to quit this one early either so I ran another 12.  My first 8 that day were strong – close to race pace.  My last 12 were slow and torturous, closer to 9:20 which is safely in Active Recovery (zone 6) for me, but they sure didn’t feel like recovery.

The next 20, the following weekend, was a trail race and it’s only 20 in name since I walked the last 5 with Javier.  I would say I “ran” about 10 miles and casually strolled another 10.

I like to use the final 20 of a training program as a barometer for how prepared I am for the race.  For Gettysburg, I ran a pace which worked out to be my final average at Gettysburg, around 8:35.  For Richmond, my final 20 was in a sense a metaphor for this entire cycle.  I left the house without any food or water and ran a slow 20 (around 9/mile).  By mile 18 I was totally fatigued and walk/ran the remaining 2.  At the time I blamed the lack of nutrition and that I had run the Army 10 the previous weekend, but really, it was lack of preparedness in general, and I knew it – thus the hemming and hawing about registering at all.

Ego is a dangerous thing

I’ve only been running a short time – it will be 2 years since my first road race on Thanksgiving of this year, but I’ve already observed first-hand the cyclical nature of seasonal pacing.  The summer heat artificially lowers my pace significantly only for me to watch it improve again in the fall to its real potential.

With the arrival of this fall and the cooler weather, my running paces dramatically improved.  I was finally recovered from the ill-fated Catoctin 50k attempt.  Where last year I was comfortably running 8:30s,  I found myself comfortably running 8:0os, sometimes even 7:40s.  I ran the Army 10 miler at an average 7:20 pace with a top 5% finish overall, an almost 20 second per mile improvement over my previous best.  While it was an easier course, I also felt that I left a couple of minutes out there, especially at the beginning, having placed myself too conservatively in the corral and underestimating how many very slow people would start at the front (in violation of the rules, I might add).  I ran a 1:14:12 but I had enough left in the tank to run another 3 at that pace.  I am probably in close to 1:12 shape.

The week prior to the race I won my age group at a 5k and cut my PR in that distance by 40 seconds down to 20:40.  If the Army 10 miler was my “A” goal for this fall, a strong 5k was my “B” goal.  I accomplished both of these things.

At the same time, some of my training partners who run similar paces to me in shorter distances were hitting just over 3:30 marathon times.  I glossed over the very important fact that these people also have significantly more running, racing, and marathon experience than I do.  I glossed over the fact that the people with approximately the same marathon experience as I do who also hit 3:30 times this season were also significantly faster than I am in shorter distances.

Objectively speaking, there was absolutely no evidence to suggest that a running career spanning two whole years and a whole 2 marathons that I would be able to execute at the level of runners with superior pedigrees.  But why would I ever let something like facts and science get in the way?  I had a race to run, and I’m fast.  I don’t need training, I can just waltz on to the course and bang it out of the park.  I’m me, after all.

Race day

This is the first race which I’ve traveled and needed a hotel.  The traffic to and from Richmond from Washington was atrocious.  What should have taken us 2:15 ended up taking us almost 4.  My wife and I had hoped to drop the kids off at the grandparents’ and enjoy a weekend in Richmond together but that didn’t pan out, so we had to bring them along.  They were marginally distracting, but not terrible.

I went through my normal routine with food brought from home in the AM and my wife drove me downtown.  I stayed in the warm car until about 7:25am for a 7:45am start and only spent about 10 minutes with quivering butt cheeks.  I wore my long sleeve Baltimore shirt – which surely jinxed me – shorts, gloves, and my Buff head scarf thingie which I kept covering my ears the whole race.  I wore the gloves the whole time too.

The weather was beautiful.  Truly perfect running weather.  Start line was high 30’s, maybe low 40’s and I finished in the low 50’s.  Sunny with a 10mph northerly wind which only really bothered me once on the whole course.

I lined up with the 3:35 pace group.  Richmond had pace groups in 5 minute increments from 3:30 up to 4:30, except for my A goal time of 3:40 of course.

The race

I had carefully planned my strategy for this race.  I knew the pace I wanted to run, I knew how I was going to stop myself from going out too fast.  I knew how I was going to manage nutrition, when I was going to supplement with vitamin T(ylenol) to stave off the lactic acid agony to push off the need to dip into the time bank as my legs started to fatigue.  I was ready to execute this race masterfully.

aim_small_miss_small_1024x1024

Naturally, I threw all of that completely out of the window as soon as the mayor said “Go” and from the start ran at least 20 seconds faster than my intended goal pace, often 30 to 40 seconds faster.

My training partners were nailing 3:30s, and I was going to nail a 3:30 also.  Aim small, miss small.  6 minute PRs are bullshit.  15 minutes or nothing.

2a50a6de84db99fb075cacf498ea576791fc3bf5547528dbd444ea3dfe48abc7

That bold strategy did not pay off for me.

At first, it did.  But that was short lived.  Every aspect from my pacing to my nutrition plan failed.  I never took Tylenol and I stopped taking Gu after mile 16 because I could no longer stomach them.

First 10k

I ran the first mile following the 3:35 pace group and trying to break through a barrier of runners abreast literally spanning the entire road.  It took me a while, and it took the 3:35 group a while too.  They were off pace by 25 seconds for the first mile.

But hey, I didn’t go out too fast, right?!  Mission accomplished.  That means it’s time to open up and then proceed to run the next 28 kilometers too fast, which is exactly what I did.

first10k

I felt fantastic.  I hadn’t run a step since Tuesday – the longest stretch I think I’ve done, intentionally, anyway – in 2 years.  The early Richmond course is beautiful and swarming with spectators since it winds through downtown.  Everyone’s fresh, everyone’s feeling good.  The miles flew by and my spirits were high.

Richmond has water stops precisely located every 2 miles.  I made sure to take in water every 2, and I downed a Roctane Gu gel thingie every other stop.  I was carrying 6 of them, so one every 4 miles made sense.

10k through 13.1

During this part of the race, we crossed a southbound bridge courtesy of a pleasant tailwind and then headed onto a paved trail running parallel to the river.  It was a beautiful and scenic and lovely.

2nd10k

The downhill mile 7 was truly glorious and for a period of time I was doing 6:40s.  In a marathon.

I felt great.  I was executing.  I had delusions of grandeur.  I had the chance to not just hit 3:30 but break it.  I had almost caught up to the 3:30 pace group – they were only a hundred yards or so ahead of me.  I had already written the first few paragraphs of the alternate universe version of this race report which you will sadly never get to read.  During these miles I was finding it harder to find the humility to sufficiently describe the stunning success that was unfolding before my eyes.

When I crossed the 13.1 mat, I said to myself: “You’re going to catch up to 3:30 and hold.  You’re going to negative split this, and New Balance is going to give you not one, but two pairs of free shoes, just because.”

Of note:

2ndbesthalfmarathon

Strava thinks it’s my 2nd best, but it’s actually 2 seconds better than my half marathon PR of 1:44:17.

Word on race strategy, a.k.a. the blind leading the blind: don’t do that.

13.1 to 30k

3rd10k

The next 3 miles flew thanks to a generous elevation profile.  This section of the course really reminded me of the winter 10 mile races (Lewis, club challenge).  These were older neighborhoods with mature trees, hills, sort-of maintained asphalt.  My gloves were the RRCA challenge premium and I looked down at my hands and thought back to that race – the first one I ever really dug deep and ran faster than I thought I could.

The marathon stayed all roses until mile 16 where the uphills began.  I suddenly began to doubt my 3:30 pace group strategy.  I had never fully caught up to them and once I started the 8:13 and 8:15 splits they started to really slip away.

At mile 18, I began to feel like something was wrong.  It was getting harder to keep my paces.  My legs were beginning to feel heavy.  This ain’t my first rodeo and I knew what was coming, and that was:

best30k

The 3:35 pace group caught up to me when I crossed the 30k mat.

30k – 26.2, or, Bonk City

I have never had stomach issues during races other than a mildly nauseated feeling from generalized fatigue but this time around I had to remind myself not to trust farts after mile 20.  I had major stomach uncertainty, and at times like this “better out than in” doesn’t apply.

When I hit mile 19 I could no longer continue to run.  I was entirely out of energy, having spent it all running 20 seconds per mile faster than I intended, 20 seconds faster per mile than my training justified.  Every book, every coach, every online calculator and all of my running buddies assure me that I am capable of a 3:30 and maybe with proper training I am, but the level of pain that slammed into me like a ton of bricks at mile 20 surely came from another planet.

At Baltimore when I experienced IT band pain, my whole lower body also hurt but the IT band took center stage and in a way helped drown out the rest of the pain.  No so this time.  From my hamstrings to my quads to my knees to calves to the balls of my feet.  I can only conclude that my legs were swimming in lactic acid.  My cadence fell, I struggled to hit 9:00’s, then 9:20’s, then 9:40’s.  Cue insensitive polio jokes here.

Also, around this time I began to notice an unsettling sensation that was new to me: despite my heart rate remaining relatively low throughout the race, by this time, when I took walking breaks, I could feel my pecs jump up and down with my heart beat.  I didn’t feel winded or bad in any other way.  It was just… different.  I wonder if the caffeine in the Roctane had something do with it, but I didn’t much care for it.

Needless to say, once I crossed the 30k threshold the race was over.  I knew it; I accepted it.  I held out some hope that I might be able to at least pull off a 3:45, having put 10 minutes in the bank.  But my average pace had fallen so precipitously that the 3:45 group passed me around mile 23.

In past races, I went to a really dark place when I ran out of energy.  This time around, that didn’t happen.  I just kind of shrugged my shoulders and accepted it.  I knew the marathon was a gamble this season and you can’t come up flush every hand.  I still pushed a run when I could.  I wanted to be done with it and I wanted to salvage at least some modicum of dignity.

I had run with a small tribe for most of the race and no fewer than 4 of my tribe were also bonked out and we played leap-frog for the last 6 miles.  I slogged past one such guy and just kinda joked to him, “Hey man, we ran a great 30k.  We tried!”  He caught up and passed me, saying “You motivated me, let’s go man!”  So we ran for a while, but we were both walking again in due time.  You don’t come back from a bonk.

At one point, an overly energetic race supporter attempted to motivate me while I was walking.  He went on and on for a full minute or so, until he finally let me speak, to which I told him, “thanks, but my race was over four miles ago.  I missed my goal time big.  I’m just trying not to injure myself.”

Oh well.  If you want to see what a bonk looks like, this is it:

final10k

My final time was around 3:54.  I wasn’t really even looking at the clock.  My final time doesn’t really interest me.  Strava says it’s a 3:54:08.

One amusing shower thought I had is that a marathon is essentially 8 5ks wth a little extra.  Even just one minute slower per 5k results in 8 full minutes slower, which in this case is the difference between my PR and this effort.  1 minute per 5k.  Interesting.

Closing thoughts

My goals were:

  • A: sub 3:40
  • B: sub 3:46 (PR)
  • C: run at least 23 strong miles
  • D: finish

I got a D on this race.

The course in Richmond is really beautiful and the crowd support is by far the best of the three marathons I’ve run and is in fact better than any race I’ve done.  There were only a few areas were the spectators were sparse, and even then, they weren’t completely absent.  The riverside area is absolutely gorgeous.  The finish line is a big downhill, which I didn’t get to take advantage of because of my condition; I’m sure it’s great if you’re still actually running at some high fraction of your average pace by then.

I think Richmond would be really tough to negative split at.  There are some huge downhills in the first half and it’s significantly prettier than the second with better crowd support.

I feel somewhat ashamed for not running up to the performance potential I think I have, but I came away with some lessons about the marathon:

  • You absolutely cannot “wing it” on training for a marathon.  For shorter distances that can work.  You can finish a marathon without proper training, but you can’t race one well.
  • Don’t let race day excitement encourage your ego get the better of you.  There’s a big difference between running an 8 minute weekday 5 mile run and an 8 minute marathon.  Race magic works much better for short races than long ones, and race magic is not going to boost you past mile 20.  Only smart training will.
  • Know when you’re beaten.  If you bonk, just let it happen.  You’re not going to recover and you’re only going to risk injury and prolong your recovery time.
  • For the love of God, don’t PR your half marathon on race day!

I’ve run 3 marathons so far and all of them have been painful and agonizing experiences, and mostly that’s because I’m doing it wrong.  I’ve made the same basic mistakes at all three of my attempts and I haven’t yet learned my lessons.

This race was a big fat slice of humble pie, and frankly one due.  My strong performances in shorter races distracted me from my marathon training.  They built my ego muscles but didn’t do anything for my lower body endurance and that’s a combination that doesn’t spell success at the 26.2 distance.

I said I wasn’t going to do marathons “for a while.”  I’m already back to thinking that “a while” might be 4 months.  I came away from Baltimore with time left on the course and ability left understated, and a 21 minute PR the following Spring in Gettysburg was the result.  I left 24 minutes on the course at Richmond and ability left understated.  With a light winter race schedule and something to prove in the spring, a 3:30-something marathon may just happen sooner rather than later.