Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Marathoning as a Deadly Sport

On Sunday evening, and all day long on Monday, I had many people call, email or ask me in person if I had heard about what happened at the Chicago marathon on Sunday. Of course I heard! I was tracking 6 runners online (including my friend Randi who I was originally planning on being there with). I was glued to my computer all morning, virtually "watching" my friends cross each 5K split mark.


It was hot. Record-breaking heat, actually, and the temperature was said to have gone up to about 93 degrees. Most of my friends ran about 30 minutes slower than expected, except for Randi, who lives in Texas and is used to running in hot weather. Congrats to Randi for finishing her first marathon and keeping a steady pace throughout!


My cousin Brian even called me on Sunday night to make sure I was okay. (Thanks Brian!!!) He wasn't sure if I ran the race or not, be he also heard about the runner dying at the Army Ten Miler on the same day.


Someone just e-mailed me: "Did you see what happened at the Chicago marathon this weekend -- someone actually died during the race, and I think someone also died at a race in D.C. this weekend, too. Who knew it was such a deadly sport?" It's not a deadly sport! That is, if you train properly and don't have a heart condietion.


I don't like how the media is handling this. The reactions of my non-running friends and family were "OMG- Did you hear someone DIED because of the HEAT!" Well, yes, but this actually is not all that uncommon, unfortunately. Someone died at the Virginia Beach half marathon when I ran it in 2005, and also at the Marine Corps marathon in 2006. These are just races that I ran, so I am sure there are plenty of other marathons, half marathons, and even shorter races where people have died. In each of these instances, the person had a pre-existing heart condition.


What really annoys me about this situation is that people are blaming the marathon for that guy's death, saying that the marathon should have been shut down earlier, or even cancelled altogether. He had a heart condition! You can't blame the Chicago marathon for that. Furthermore, after this weekend's incident, people are now viewing marathons as deadly and dangerous. Even my dentist yesterday was talking about this!


Marathons, in and of themself, are not dangerous. They are only dangerous if you have a pre-existing condition, or aren't properly trained. And if you feel like the marathon is hazardous to your health while running it, STOP! I know that runners are stubborn and they will get to the finish line if it kills them. I understand that mentality. But this is their choice, and the marathon, itself, is not to blame.


The first time I ran a marathon, my father thought that something horrible would happen to me. When he called me a few hours later, he said "ELIZABETH!!!!!! You're okay!!!!!" He was shocked. He was surprised that I was talking normally and was energized and had no injuries. He was almost just as worried after the second marathon, but I think by marathon 3, he realized that I wasn't going to die from doing this.


So this one guy's death is being sensationalized because the entire Chicago Marathon was such a fiasco with the heat. He had a heart condition, and very well might have died even if it weren't hot. During the Marine Corps Marathon, it was in the low 60's and someone died. I passed out after a half marathon in 90-degree, humid weather. But I definitely didn't blame the race organizers for that. That being said, The Chicago Marathon was not well prepared and they ran out of water and gatorade. That certainly was a mistake, but we can't blame this man's death on that.


So now, marathons are getting this reputation of being dangerous and potentially deadly. And it annoys me.

Monday, October 1, 2007

20-Mile Roller Coaster

I ran the National Capital 20-miler yesterday morning, a race coordinated by the DC RoadRunners Club, of which I am a member. I've been a member of this club since February, but I haven't been on any runs with them. My membership got me a $5 discount to this race. Only $35 for a 20-miler with a long-sleeved Brooks dry-weave shirt. Not too shabby! The shirt is nice and simple—navy blue with the name of the race in white lettering on the left chest. The shirt isn't overloaded with race sponsors or anything. They even had X-Small! Okay, enough about the great shirt.

I left my house at 6:15, stopped at Starbucks for a coffee, and I was on my way. I like to drink half a cup of their "tall" coffee on race morning, any more and I feel sick. Thanks to Yahoo! Maps, I got really turned around on the way to the race. It was in Mount Vernon, an area of Northern Virginia that I am completely unfamiliar with. In my 28 years of living in this area, I've never had to go there. After making several wrong turns and using the map I keep in my car for times like these, I made it to the elementary school where the race was starting. I got my lovely shirt, stretched, put my bib number on, and I was ready to go.

The race had 500 entrants and was not chip timed. I'm not sure how many people actually ran it because the official results aren't up yet, but I would guess about close to 500. Everyone I talked to was using the race as a training run for a fall marathon. Most of them were running the Marine Corps Marathon.

Goals & Strategy

I wasn't quite sure of my goal for this race. I thought it would be nice to finish in under 3:00 (a sub-9:00 pace) but I wasn't going to kill myself and sacrifice this week's training to do so. However, I did want to gage my fitness level for my November marathon. Prior to this race, my longest run had been 16 miles, three weeks earlier. Then there was the PDR, and last weekend I had the hike. I did run 17 miles before leaving for Italy, but that was before all my injuries, so I don't know if that training was still "useful" for today. I didn't really taper for this race. I took yesterday off, of course, and only ran 3.5 miles on Friday, but the rest of my week was training as usual. I say all of this because I want to be optimistic about my marathon, which I will have tapered for, and I will have had more training for.

Pre-Race

Everyone gathered around the starting area and the race director spoke. I wasn't really listening until I heard "No headphones! If we see you with them on the course, you will be disqualified!" I was devastated. I had my playlist all prepared. I even deprived myself of those songs all week so I would be really pumped for them when I finally heard them (a musical taper, if you will). Someone in a DC RoadRunners shirt who looked like part of the race organizing team told me that I should run with them anyway! I was shocked. I folded my headphones up and put them in the back pocket of my shirt. I figured I would try to follow the rules, but if I really needed the music, I had the headphones with me.

The weather was about 65 at the start and sunny, and it rose to about 73 by the end of the race. Warmer than the Philadelphia distance run, but not by too much.

Miles 1-5: A fast start
I went out too fast in the first mile, but got on pace for the second mile, when I realized I had done a 7:58! This was because I started close to the start line. With no chip timing, every second before you cross the start line adds onto your time, and I wanted to minimize that so my clock time would be accurate. I was with the fast runners. We ran through a neighborhood for two miles, and then went onto a trail in the woods. It was extremely hilly. There were very long uphills followed by long downhills. I felt good. I didn't listen to my iPod for any of these miles.

Mile 1: 7:58 (oops)

Mile 2: 9:00
Mile 3: 8:45
Mile 4: 9:14
Mile 5: 9:08

Mile 6-10: Give me my music!
After passing a water station, I decided to put my headphones on. The course was through the woods on a path, and there were no cars in sight and no race personnel. I actually saw about 5-10 other runners with headphones, so I didn't feel too guilty. And I saw them wearing them at the start of the race too! I had to fumble with my playlist to get to where I thought I should be at mile 6. I ate my sports beans after passing the 7 mile marker. I recognized this course. It's the Mount Vernon trail (asphalt), and I ran a half marathon on it in July 2006. I had bad memories of that half marathon because it was in the 90's and humid. I literally passed out after that race. It was constant rolling hills. Hardly any part of this trail is flat! I train primarily on a treadmill with no incline, so this was very challenging for me. Richmond has some hills miles 15-18, but there is no way it can be as hilly as this trail was. At about mile 9 we came out of the woods and ran through neighborhoods for about a mile. I took off my headphones and ran without music for awhile.

Mile 6: 8:37

Mile 7: 8:48
Mile 8: 9:02
Mile 9: 9:04
Mile 10: 9:25

Miles 11-15: Yay! A Roller Coaster!
I felt like I really got into the "zone" at mile 11. We were back on another part of the trail, my music was back, and I was actually having fun with the hills! Not only was the path hilly, it was also windy. There were lots of twists and turns and ups and downs, and it felt a bit like a roller coaster ride. I really enjoyed this part of the course and it felt like I was driving a car or something with all the steering I had to do. "Boys of Summer" by The Ataris was playing on my iPod, and it was perfectly timed for September 30. I might have run these miles too fast, because I would pay for it later. On the other hand, the pace of these miles probably saved my race from being disastrous. I ate my sports beans at mile 14, and of course they made me feel nauseous.

Mile 11: 8:46

Mile 12: 8:46
Mile 13: 8:44
Mile 14: 9:04
Mile 15: 9:06

Miles 16-20: Okay, these hills are NOT fun.
It started to feel really hot and I was wishing for more water stations. This course had water stations about every 3-4 miles, which isn't really enough. There is only so much water I can drink at a time without cramping or feeling nauseous, so more frequent water stops would have been appreciated. I passed a water fountain and contemplated stopping, but I didn't. There was a turnaround point and I was back doing the same windy part of the course I did during miles 12 and 13. I tried to rally that same energy and enthusiasm of a roller coaster ride, but it wasn't there! What had been enjoyable earlier in the race was now extremely challenging and tiring. The hills were really taking a toll on me. I walked for about a minute through a water station, and that did murder to my time. There was this massive hill during mile 19 and I walked part of it. I just felt so dead. I told myself I would probably be walking most of mile 20. But Mile 20 wasn't quite as hilly and (headphones off now) there was actually some crowd support, encouraging me to keep running and telling me that I looked strong. It helped. I got back to the school and we had to do a lap around the track before finishing. I had a very strong finish, but I felt like I would die when I crossed the finish line.

Mile 16: 9:30

Mile 17: 9:44
Mile 18: 9:27
Mile 19: 9:49
Mile 20: 9:12

Finish time: 3:01:20
Average pace: 9:04

After I crossed the finish line, it took me about 15 minutes to get "back to normal" I was really spacey, and I felt like I was going to pass out. I was also very nauseous and I wanted to vomit, but I can't induce vomiting. I was breathing extremely hard (like heaving) for about 10 minutes and a few people asked me if I was okay. No one else looked like they were having as much trouble as I was recovering. I saw a table with pizza and I couldn't imagine how anyone could be eating hot pizza at a time like this. Ewwww. I tried to have part of a bagel, but I felt too sick. I poured water over my head. I poured another cup of water down my shirt. Finally, after like 15 minutes, I felt "normal" again.

I am not really happy about how I ranked. But this isn't like a 5K or 10K where sometimes-runners come out. This race wasn't publicized very much, and 20 miles is no small feat. So it seemed like almost everyone who ran this race was somewhat of a "hard-core" runner. If I look at it that way, I feel okay about about my ranking:


12 out of 40 in my age group (number 11 passed me when I was about 50 meters from the finish line, and her time was only 2 seconds faster! ARGH!!!!!!)
62 of 180 women.

I typically rank in a much higher percentile in races, but I am trying not to be too discouraged by this. Oftentimes, I will run a race and not be pleased with my time, but my ranking is much higher than expected. This race was the reverse.

All in all, it was a good race, and I am pleased with my time—considering the nonstop hills. This morning I managed a recovery jog of 3.5 miles, so it's nice to know that I wasn't completely taken out by it!