Sunday, May 16, 2010

Expectations

Today wasn't what I expected it to be. After waiting over a year since my last marathon to try again, I was really expecting to blow it out of the water with a 3:35. Even so, my strategy was to start out conservatively (slower than BQ pace) and then negative split.

Expectations & Training Analysis:
All the signs pointed to a BQ (3:40) being attainable, with something like 3:35 being perfectly realistic.

1. In March 2008, I ran a 3:51:49. This was based on a 7-week training cycle, averaging about 40 miles per week. Since then, I have had quite a few marathon training cycles, each one peaking at 55 miles per week or more, and each one at least 12 weeks in length. I would expect significant improvement based on this training.

2. In March 2009, I ran a half marathon at 1:44:04. This predicts a marathon from 3:37-3:40, depending on whose calculator you use. This was over a year ago, and my fitness level has increased significantly since then, and I have continued to train with weekly mileage in the 40s and 50s.

3. Most recently, I ran a 5-miler in 37:10 and a 5K in 22:21. Both of these races predict times faster than 3:40. Although one could argue that you can't predict marathon times based on these calculators, I have always found my longer races (half marathons and full marathons) to be "faster" than their equivalent shorter races. In other words, endurance is my strength. My body works aerobically at a higher percentage of max heart rate than most people, which correlates to better performance in longer races.

4. Two weeks ago, I ran 18.5 miles at an average 8:33 pace, and I had sped up during the last five miles to an 8:20 pace. I felt great, and I thought I could have continued at a 8:33 pace or faster for at least another 3-4 miles. This was despite the heat (in the 70's) and humidity.

5. The largest indicator was the fact that my paces per heart rate had dropped dramatically. I do all of my easy runs at a heart rate of 155-165. This is my "easy zone" according to a VO2 max test I took. With that in mind, my average training paces for the past 5 months have been:

January: 9:16
February: 8:59
March: 8:52
April: 8:45
May: 8:44

I figured that to BQ, I would only need to run 20 seconds per mile faster than my easy pace.

For "marathon pace runs" I would target a HR of 165-174. This would usually correlate to an 8:10 or sometimes faster. This heart rate zone is below my lactate threshold zone. Most importantly, it felt like marathon pace. Just a tiny bit faster than "easy".

Today's Race
I went into this race with a great deal of confidence. I wasn't sick or injured, and the weather was reasonable. It was in the mid 50's and overcast at the start and rose to the low 60's and sunny at the end. These aren't ideal conditions for me, but they are decent, and I didn't think they would make me bonk.

I started out at a very controlled pace. I reached the halfway point at 1:51:45, which is a slower average than BQ pace. I knew that the first half was a net uphill and the second half was a net downhill, so I did this purposely. I figured that I could easily log 8:10's on the way back and smash the BQ. Only that's not what happened.

Things did get much easier after the halfway point, and I logged an 8:16, 8:22, 8:17. But after that, I could feel myself starting to fade. 8:17 became 8:30 became 8:40 became 9:00 and so on. I knew at mile 16 that I wasn't going to keep the pace I needed to BQ, but I was still hopeful about a nice PR. This is very similar to how I felt in New Jersey last spring.

I was miserable. I was in so much pain and I didn't know why it got so hard for me. I was well hydrated (carried a bottle for most of the race) plenty of Gels, calories, etc. I had slept well the past few nights. I was a bit suspicious of that 18.5 miler two weeks ago, but that seriously felt "easy". Going into the race, I was a somewhat worried that I had missed my peak. I think I felt strongest in mid-April when I ran that 5K. All of my training was targeted toward a March 22 race, and then I just kept tapering, ramping up, tapering, etc. There was no structured "training plan" for today's marathon. I was just banking on the training I had been doing since September.

Even still, I don't think that any of this really explains what happened out there. Maybe the weather wasn't perfect. Maybe I missed my peak. But still-- I am in so much better shape than I was two years ago and yet I couldn't even beat that time!

In complete agony (both physical and mental), I crossed the finish line in 3:53:55. I do think this is a respectable time, but nowhere near what I am capable of. My fiancé was waiting for me, and I knew he understood exactly what I was going through. I didn't need to say a word. I was in shock, I was drained, I was in pain-- I felt broken in so many ways. I didn't speak for a good 10 minutes. I regretted not having gone for the PR two weeks ago. I regretted not "racing" the GW Parkway 10-miler at full effort when I was feeling amazing. I felt stupid. I felt I had sacrificed so much for this one goal, and I didn't even come close.

I started crying. I just felt so crushed, so defeated and so ashamed for having been so cocky. Guilty, even, for having solicited the support of so many of my runner friends. And that I let them down.

The race director approached me and asked me how I did, I just looked at him with tears in my eyes and said that I didn't do it. (He had known he was a BQ attempt for me). Everything I had worked so hard for. . . it all came down to this.

I met my friends shortly after and I perked up a bit.



What I Learned
Maybe there was a higher power at work trying to teach me something by not letting me BQ or PR. Part of the reason I wanted this so badly was to cross it off my list and move on. I've been obsessing about it throughout my entire engagement and it's overshadowed the happiest time of my entire life! I guess what I've learned is that BQ or no BQ, I need to change my focus. I am extremely motivated and goal-oriented-- and it typically "works" to get me what I want. But for some reason, not in this case. And I think that reason is that I need to see the bigger picture of my life, appreciate what I have, and focus on all the wonderful changes.

As with all of my best races, it will come when I least expect it to. The week before I ran my 3:51 back in 2008, I thought I was seriously injured. I thought I'd probably have to drop out at mile 5. But instead, I exceeded my goal. In London, I was also injured and expected to drop out. But instead, I exceeded my goal. When I ran the Houston half marathon in 2008, I had been injured for three weeks, and I expected a 2:00 "fun run". Instead, I PRed with a 1:50. Completely unexpected. Two weeks ago, I wasn't even trying to run a marathon, but I ran a good percentage of it at an awesome pace given the weather conditions. When I least expected it.

From now on I think I need to go into races with no expectations. I should know where I am at fitness wise and what to target, but ultimately, I need to realize that every race is a gamble, an unknown. No matter how much training you do or how great you feel, the race could still be miserable. Or, no matter how badly you feel or how unprepared you are, you could rock it! I put far too much pressure on myself and from now on I am just going to back off and let it happen. With that approach, do I worry that I won't be as motivated to train? A little. But I know I will be more balanced if I keep a more laid back approach to this whole thing.

So. . . . what next? I'm running the NYC marathon with my fiancé. He got accepted through the lottery and it's going to be his first one. I am running it for charity. I'm going to focus on raising the $3,000 for the Central Park Conservancy, and coaching him to his first marathon finish. NYC is not a course to PR on (very crowded, lots of hills) and my intention with this race is to enjoy it with my fiancé. I'll create a training plan for him, train with him, and then run the race with him. The BQ is going to be out of sight and out of mind for awhile. I have a bunch of shorter races between now and then and I am just going to get out there and see what happens.

14 comments:

  1. (((HUGS)))) You're right about everything you said, but one thing. YOU DID NOT LET ANYONE DOWN! No one is disappointed in you. You worked your butt off and did your best, nothing to hang your head about. I know it hurts, and I know how you feel. No real words of advice, just that you aren't alone, and DO NOT feel stupid. Your friends and family care about you and would support ANYTHING you are involved in, running or hopscotch. There are always lessons to be learned, but sometimes life just sucks in some ways. Regroup and get back out there. (((HUGS))))

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  2. I am 110% impressed, even if you didn't reach your goal. I agree that taking a step back from trying to BQ is a great idea with all you have going on.

    Oddly enough, mile 16 is where I fell apart as well. Not sure what happened.

    Have fun at NYC!

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  3. One more agreement. It's so easy to get fixated with a particular goal, and to let it take over things, so that it becomes an albatross. I know I had a devil of a time hitting my 5K time goal, and couldn't do it until I decided to stop worrying about it (then I did it).

    Get yourself to a point where you love running and training. Then enter each race with a) pride in solid training, b) a focus on non-time goals (such as staying determined on hills, or not going out too fast, and c) acceptance that what happens will happen -- all you can do is your best.

    I've found this has worked well for me. I don't always run the times I think I should be running, but I'm much happier with the races.

    -Cris/Darkwave

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  4. You know all about my experience at London last year and, as someone who bailed at 22 miles mainly because I couldn't cope with how devastated I was about missing my goal, I firstly just think completing a marathon when you feel that way is pretty awesome. Secondly the whole putting so much importance on a target time probably had a major impact. You start obsessing over every single second and every second that makes that target less likely is like carrying extra weight. The mental side of marathons is so damn important and when your body is already knackered from running a certain amount of miles anything that might undermine your mental strength will have a major impact. My marathon PR was when I didn't particularly have a goal in mind, I thought I would PR but thought the next sort of mile stone time from my previous PR was too tough, so just aimed to run strong. It meant that instead of stressing and seeing my time slip from a target pace I ended up enjoying simply running it and was pretty damn shocked at my time - the fact my garmin died in the last few miles may have actually helped!

    What I'm trying to say is I really understand how gutting this experience can be, but I really think how you have evaluated it and plan to approach NYC is perfect. Oh and you didn't let anyone down at all! You are awesome and always will be. xx

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  5. congrats on a finishing another marathon! I'm running my first at the end of June and I'm trying not to get obsessed with times. I would love to finish under 4 for my first but I have no idea what to expect. I would love to BQ someday but heck, I have no idea if by the time I finish the first, I might never want to do it again! ;) I figure it is a hard line to not get obsessed with it and still work hard for the goal. I think you have a very healthy perspective right now. Hang in there.

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  6. Elizabeth,

    It was great to see you just before the mid-way point, yesterday... you looked strong then, but of course, we all did. :)

    This was my 4th marathon and I missed Boston, yet again. This time, I was there until about mile 18, when it slipped quietly away.

    As I keep telling myself, if it were an easy goal to hit, it wouldn't really be worth it.

    But like you, I'm stepping back for a bit, regrouping and focusing on some shorter races for a while. Because, as we both know, Boston's not going anywhere.

    M

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  7. I think you got the handle of it. It'll fall in line soon enough. Yep, the MP-ish run for 18 miles wapped you more than you thought.

    Now get moving on all your wedding plans girl!!!

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  8. I'm sorry you didn't make your goal, but you will. It's easy to get caught up in goal seeking, but when it comes to the marathon, so many things have to align perfectly for you on that particular day!

    You're running great and I'm sure that 18 miler and the warmth (it wasn't as hot, but it was still pretty warm Sunday for a marathon) of the day played a factor as well.

    Have fun at NYC, a marathon for fun is what you need to make you remember why you run! :)

    More importantly, enjoy your engagement, good things come when your not looking for them! ;)

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  9. LA Runner: Thank you so much for your support. I feel like so many people just don't understand this type of disappointment.

    MCM: I loved your blog. I think maybe that Gravel trail wasn't the best idea for a marathon, considering we hadn't trained on that surface.

    Cristina: I love your approach. I love reading your blog about your non-time goals, and I see now how important those can be, because they are more within your control. Staying focused on hills, for example, can happen no matter what the weather conditions are! I am really going to change my attitude for these next few races. Being that it's almost summer, PRs will be impossible, so it's a good time to "practice" that type of mentality.

    Rosa: Thanks so much. I really wanted to just stop at mile 22 and call it quits. But because it was such a small race, there was no one around to really help me back to the start. So I had no option but to continue on.

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  10. You have never disappointed me! You've trained hard and given it all you've got. You're an impressive athlete and I admire you and wish I had your dedication!

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  12. That's the one thing about the marathon...or any race for that matter....it just comes down to that one day. It could be any number of factors that slowed your pace. The training cycle approach with multiple peaking phases is interesting. I've never heard of that. Seems like you possibly could peak too soon with that, but I've never used that approach, so I don't really know. When you train that hard, it is really hard not to be disappointed when you don't reach your goal, but relish in the fact that you did put in all that training and like you said, you're in much better shape now than previously. That achievement is much better in the long run than a BQ. You'll get there, no doubt. Trust in your training and hang in there. It will come. I'm still waiting for my BQ, but I know it will happen eventually. Awesome post.

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  14. Hi.
    I read your blog sometimes and I just wanted to chime in and give you some encouragement.

    I have been there very recently so I know what you are going through.

    Don't give up on your goal because your hard work and dedication WILL pay off.

    I have found that when I made strides in my 10k times (not 5k, although they improved along with them)that the marathon time came down too.

    You probably know this, but improvements in races that work your lactate threshold, rather then VO2 max are better for your marathon performance. And this is good news since you have said that longer races are your strength.

    Good luck to you. I look forward to your upcoming PRs!!

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