Saturday, October 29, 2011

Wicked Windy 10K

If you're ever considering running a 10K when the last 1.5 miles are directly into a 21 mph sustained headwind with 35 mph gusts, don't do it. Unless the race is the Blue Moon Wicked 10K in Virginia Beach. That race is wicked awesome.

Why Wicked?
The Expo was very festive!
There were many reasons for my decision to run this race. Unlike most races, I didn't announce that I was running this race on my Facebook page beforehand and I only told my husband, some co-workers and my friend who lives in Virginia Beach. I wanted this to be a no-pressure stress-free fun run. Here are some of the reasons I chose this race:

  • I've been getting emails about this race from J & A racing for the past few years and it's always looked fun to me. These are the same folks that organize the Shamrock marathon, so I knew it would be just as fun, only shorter.
  • This was a great way to gauge my fitness for my target 10K in two weeks
  • I wanted to do a race where the focus was on having a good time, not running a good time!
  • One of my best friends lives in VA Beach so this race was a great reason to visit her
  • I thought it would be fun to see all of the costumes.
  • Great swag! Just as much as if you ran the full marathon: a long-sleeve dry-wicking running shirt with an awesome design, a finisher's medal, a finisher's hat. I also bought the "J & A Brewing Company" pint glass and some black shorts that say "Wicked" on the back of them.
  • I wanted to wear all of my zebra running gear at the same time and be a zebra.
Weather & Outfit

This is actually post-race with my medal.
The hourly forecast predicted a 100% chance of rain-- and this was less than 24 hours to race start. I did not feel one drop during the race. Just goes to show you how forecasts can be completely wrong. The temperature was predicted to be about 50 and it ended up being in the low 60's. 

Based on the forecast, I decided to wear a hat to keep the water out of my eyes along with a pair of zebra print gloves and zebra print arm warmers. I have this wonderful GIM Headband in zebra print, but I didn't even pack that because I was so certain I was going to wear the hat. I ended up not wearing the hat and really needing the headband because my wispy hairs were flying all over the place in the wind. I didn't end up wearing my gloves at all and I got hot so I had to remove the zebra arm warmers mid-race.

My friend who I stayed with has a cat. I am very allergic to cats and typically cannot be in a house that has a cat for more than 10 minutes. However, with the help of some Allegra D, I was good to go. 

I made sure that I got a non-drowsy allergy medication because Zyrtec knocks me out and I didn't want to go into the race like that. Allegra D had the opposite effect. I fell asleep at 9:30 and woke up at 12:30. And that was my sleep for the night. I could feel my heart beating fast and I felt like I had a lot of caffeine in me. I wasn't at all anxious about the race and I didn't even think about the race. I might have slept for a little between 2:30 and 3:30, but I'm not sure. Essentially I ran the race on 3-4 hours of sleep. Fortunately I slept wonderfully two nights before the race, which is far more important than the night immediately before the race.

I got to the race super early because they said it could be hard to park. The convention center was open so most people were hanging out in there. I got to use a toilet with running water which was nice.

I warmed up for 1.2 miles and did a few drills. Then I headed for my corral. The announcer noted "not many people in corral one are wearing costumes!" Which was true. Only about 25% of the people in my corral had a costume. Most of the costumes were further back.

Miles 1-2 (7:27, 7:27)
I thought I'd go out at a pace of 7:30 and see where that took me. Ideally I would speed up later in the race but if not, that was okay. I had to keep reining myself in on the first mile. It felt so easy and I didn't trust that I was actually running in the 7:20's. It felt more like an 8:00 pace. But of course, things do feel super easy at the beginning of a 10K. The first mile ran east directly into the head wind (coming from the Southeast). However, there were plenty of people to draft off of so I didn't feel it that much.  Mile two was headed south, so I started to really feel the effects of the wind. People started to space out so it was harder to find a consistent runner to draft off of. And since the wind was coming at me from the side as well, I would have needed someone in front of me and on my side.  

Miles 3-4 (7:22, 7:15)
Bib Numbers had Names!
During mile 3 I started to notice I was getting hot. I could feel that burning sensation in my face and I knew I was probably getting a very red face like I do when I overheat. Ironically, 8:00am was the warmest time of day and then it started to fall throughout the day. I rolled down my zebra arm warmers and by mile 4 I had gone as far as to take one of them completely off. The good news was that there was a turnaround in mile 3 giving a slight tailwind, but the bad news was that we were on the boardwalk and the wind was still coming at us pretty heavily from the ocean. Throughout the race I could hear the rattling of paper bibs. Whenever a gust would come, I held my bib in place for fear it would fall off. This race used the B-Tag so I really didn't want anything happening to my bib.

Mile 4 was awesome. We got off the boardwalk and there was a slight tailwind. I swear though, the headwind seemed far more powerful than the tailwind. There was this nice woman who suggested I tuck right into her "pack" so that they could shield me from the wind. I was able to keep up with them until we turned around and were back into the headwind in mile 5.

Miles 5-6 (7:51, 8:16)
The last 1.5 miles of this course was the worst of both worlds-- on the boardwalk with no buildings to block the wind from the ocean and a headwind. There were a few times when the gusts were so strong I was literally running in place. Even after I finished and was walking around there were times when I struggled to maintain balance and not be pushed around by the wind. It was just very, very painful and difficult to be running into that kind of wind. I've had headwinds in races before, but nothing like this. I told myself to just stay strong and keep pushing. I knew that this last mile would ruin my chance of a PR but I told myself it was good practice for the Shamrock marathon finish. That race can be very windy as well so I wanted to have confidence going into that race in March. Even though the splits look like a bonk, I did not bonk. I stayed strong and pushed very hard.

Last 0.2
I think this really tells the story. Average pace of 7:50. It was all I could muster. I did have a final kick, but with the wind having tired me out so much and it still going, all I had in me was a 7:50 pace. 

When I finished, it took me my usual two minutes to feel "right" which meant the medical people were trying to help me. When I give a good final kick, which is pretty much always, I feel dizzy and out of sorts at the finish line and it's normal for me. I guess I'm unique because I'm always the prime target for the medical people. It's rare that I ever actually need their help-- I just always look like death from pulling out 100% effort at the end.

I got a medal and a finisher's hat which I was super excited about. In all honestly though, this race was much harder for me than the Shamrock half marathon in 2009. I pushed myself harder today than I did back then and fought a tough mental battle. "It's just a 10K" is BS. This 10K was harder than many of my half marathons and so the medal is very well deserved!

I AM the 1%.
If I haven't already mentioned how awesome this race is, they sent me my results in this virtual certificate-- just hours after the finish! Percentile wise, I finished in the top 1% of my age group and the top 1% of all females. Interestingly, this race had exactly 7000 total finishers.

It would have been nice to have been in the top 10 of my age group. But 11 is my favorite number, so I'm happy!

The race is exactly 1:00 slower than my PR. If it had been a bit cooler and less windy I think I could have shaved over a minute off of my time, so that leaves me optimistic about my fitness level and the potential for a PR at the Veteran's Day 10K. 

I had such a fun time, despite the wind, and I'm already thinking about how I can plan my 2012 fall marathon around this race!

Monday, October 17, 2011

Nike Women's Marathon: The Non-Race Report

Here I am in San Francisco for a conference that my company is hosting. It's 4:00am here and I have been up since 3:20. My body clock is extremely rigid and it's very hard to get it to adjust to another time zone. I'm able to stay up until about 9:00pm here, but regardless of when I fall asleep, I wake up super early.

Even though this conference is important for my work and I was looking forward to seeing the event come together, I was not looking forward to the trip as a whole. Before I left, I was feeling depressed about my running and the fact that I don't get to spend much time with my husband this month because we both have work travel (but at different times, of course!)

In my last post, I mentioned that I was struggling with the mental issues that contributed to my bonk at Milwaukee. I've decided that I need to address these issues not because I want a good marathon time, but because I want to be a more balanced person. I want to be more laid back, I want to take life one day at a time and I want to be less obsessive about my running. At the same time, I can't jump back into running because my hip has been bothering me-- I think it's bursitis. My dear friend Cristina suggested that I use this "break" from running as an opportunity to work on all of the above challenges.

View of the bay from a Duck Tour
I had a choice to make. I could either be miserable for this entire trip and let it affect my mood at the conference. Or I could really try and work on being positive and letting go of some of my anxiety about my hip and my fall racing schedule. I chose the latter.

I registered for the Nike Women's Marathon back in April because I knew I would be in San Francisco at the same time. The start line is actually just one block from my hotel. Even though Milwaukee Lakefront was my target race, I figured I would do Nike as a fun run or even a fun run-walk and really enjoy the scenery. After all, I was going to be here anyway so it was a perfect opportunity to participate.

With everything that went on with Milwaukee and my hip not feeling great, I decided I would just run the half instead of the full-- but still at a very easy pace. But last week, my coach strongly advised against me running at all. He told me not even to start the race because I would be rationalizing with myself about how it was okay to keep running. Once again I had a choice-- do I run the Nike Women's half marathon and then take off a few weeks from running and put my fall racing schedule in jeopardy. Or do I skip the marathon completely and focus on recovering my hip. Many people would have chosen to run Nike because it's such a cool race with amazing scenery and course entertainment. Not to mention the Tiffany necklace you get at the end and the finisher's shirt. It's a once in a lifetime opportunity because I don't see myself coming all the way out to San Francisco on my own just to run this race. I chose to focus on recovering my hip. Now and not later.

On Saturday, I searched the Craigslist postings and found someone who was willing to pay $150 for a bib (that was how much I actually paid for mine). I am generally against unauthorized bib selling, but I figured if I removed the timing device from the bib then it wouldn't be someone else running under my name. The buyer was fine with that and he just wanted to run for fun anyway. So with $150 cash in hand, it made it a little easier for me to not run the race. Plus, I knew I wouldn't be tempted to just get out there on Sunday morning and ignore my previous decision.

My friend Meredith ran the half marathon
What made it even more difficult was that my co-workers were all asking me if I was running in the race and I had to keep saying no and explaining my hip injury. Since none of them are runners, this responses resulted in a lot of "so the running is finally catching up with you" and "hips are the first thing to go". Not helpful.

So on Sunday morning, I got dressed in my bathing suit and headed out the door of the hotel to the pool next door. At this point, it was 6:45am and the race started at 7:00. There were 22,000 people running this race and the start line was so long that runners were even lined up in front of my hotel. I loved the "vibe". And it felt great to be enjoying the pre-race excitement without being nervous about the race. I heard the National Anthem and a few other announcements. And then I headed into the building next door with the pool. Even the guy at the front desk asked me why I was swimming and not doing the race!

As I swam (I think pool running might be aggravating the hip, so I am sticking to swimming) I had a bit of a revelation. I thought to myself that there are 22,000 people out there doing the race. But only one person swimming in this pool. Well, actually there was one other person-- but you get the point.

One of the reasons I love marathons is the challenge. But wasn't it actually MORE of a challenge to be swimming alone in a pool when there was a super exciting race going on outside? For me, yes. And if we want to speak just physically, swimming laps is not easy.  No, I definitely was not slacking off. No, I shouldn't think I failed because I couldn't run Nike. Yes, I am doing the best I can given my circumstances. Yes, it is more of a challenge to NOT run the race than to run it. Kinda backwards thinking, but given what I know about my personality, I have to realize that I actually am challenging myself by not running. It's just a different kind of challenge. One that I actually think I need right now.

Yes, I will lose a lot of the fitness I built up over the summer. I simply need to accept that and be okay with that. It's not the end of the world! We can't always be at peak fitness all the time.

I don't know when I will attempt to run again or even pool run. My hip has actually never hurt that much, but it's one of those things you can just "feel". I've already taken a full week off of land running so hopefully it shouldn't be too much longer. But once again, the uncertainty and the lack of control is something I need to learn to just accept. Right now I am focusing on the bigger picture of my attitude, so my actual fitness level is taking the back burner.

Since I do acknowledge that I am losing some fitness, this provides me with another opportunity to race without any expectations. Once my hip is fully recovered and I think I am ready to race at full effort, I will honestly have no idea what to expect, so I'll get to just run by feel without being a slave to the Garmin.

Even though I never want to compete in a triathlon, it's nice that my swimming is getting stronger. I swam a full mile yesterday (all freestyle) and only stopped twice for water. I'm not trying to be fast with my swimming, I just want to be able to swim for a decent amount of time to keep my cardiovascular fitness up and maybe get some upper body strength.

I'm actually headed out for a swim now, and then I will be focusing on the conference all day. Hopefully the event goes smoothly and I continue to be positive about this challenge to re-frame my mindset.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011


I've spent the past week and a half trying to recover from the marathon, both mentally and physically. But more so mentally.

I'll start with the physical-- that's easier. My hip felt a bit sore going into the marathon. It started about a week prior to the race, and I'm not sure why because my mileage was super low from the taper. The marathon didn't seem to make it any worse. In fact, the hip wasn't even an issue at all during the marathon because my entire body just felt so horrible. 

For the most part, my legs recovered pretty quickly. I kept all my workouts in the pool until Thursday, when I did an easy 4-miler. My next run was an 8-miler on Sunday and that's all the running I've done post-marathon. I could feel my hip during the 8-miler but it wasn't bad-- just nagging. I saw Dr. Maggs (an ART provider) on Monday and he told me that I should focus on resting my hip. Even though it wasn't a big problem now, it could become a lot worse. 

My coach agreed. I had been planning on running the Nike Women's half marathon as a training run this weekend, but my coach thinks that's an "awful idea". I've been looking forward to running this race since March, just as a fun run, and now my coach is advising against it and my doctor isn't thrilled with the idea either. If my hip were really hurting me, it would be much easier for me to just abandon the race. But since it's just a small amount of soreness, it's very difficult for me to not still want to do it. I don't even have an official diagnosis, but it's probably something like bursitis. It' doesn't hurt in one particular area, though, it's like the entire hip area. 

As for the mental recovery, I'm trying to rid myself of the idea that my marathon PR is the ultimate indicator of how good a runner I am. My marathon PR does not define me as a runner or a person. It's just a number. I really hate it when I meet someone new and I tell them I run marathons and then they ask me what my best time is. It's like they want to know how fast I am and my marathon PR is how they are going to judge me-- without knowing anything about my training or other races. 

I know that I shouldn't care about what other people think. Especially strangers I just met. But I think my marathon PR from 2008 is a misrepresentation of who I am as a runner, so I hate that question. I've come so far since March of 2008 as a runner and yet I still answer the "what's your fastest time" question the exact same way.

It also annoys me when I hear about people who don't run much, and decide they want to run a marathon with the goal of qualifying for Boston. They run all their training runs at their qualifying pace. They go into the marathon, qualify for Boston and then move on to something else. And then there's someone like me, who should have been able to BQ over 2 years ago, who has read books about marathons, has a coach, wears a heart rate monitor, wins age group awards at all other distances, does everything "right" but then just can't pull it all together on marathon day. It doesn't seem fair, but as we all know, life is not fair.

I know this is happening to me because I'm supposed to be learning something that is a  lot larger than running. I need to work on being less anxious. I need to not be as perfectionistic. I have to be ok with the fact that many things are not within my control. I need to stop using numbers to validate my success. I need to be less uptight. These are all areas that I have tried to address in the past and I've made significant progress on. But apparently, I still have a ways to go. These are the areas that I need to focus on-- not my training or my marathon times. 

Not focusing on a particular marathon time is exactly what I tried to do with Milwaukee. I actually didn't have a goal time, but rather a large range where I expected I would fall. I had a strategy about how I would run the race and I was confident that my time would be good based on my fitness level.

But now I'm in a spot where I've been told to keep all of my workouts in the pool until my hip feels better and I just feel like all my hard work from over the summer is going down the drain. I won't even have access to a pool for an entire week when I am in San Francisco.

I think I just need to remove myself from being so immersed in running and so I apologize in advance for my lack of comments on the blogs I regularly comment on.

I don't feel burnt out. I love running and I have never dreaded going into a run. If I could go run 10 miles right now that would make me very happy! Even on days when my runs don't go well, I still enjoy them. Heck-- I even enjoyed Milwaukee. It was a miserable experience, yes, but I enjoyed that I was there and that I was taking part in the event. Running is "fun" for me, but I don't run for the sole purpose of fun. If "fun" was all I was after I would find something else to spend my time on. I enjoy the challenge. I love the personal fulfillment I get out of each run. I love setting goals for myself and attaining them. Whether the goal is to run an easy 5 miles or to pass as many people as possible in the last mile of a race.

While I'm far from burnt out, I'm definitely discouraged. I worked really hard all summer and now that the weather is finally nice, I am stuck in the pool with no marathon glory and no idea how the rest of the racing season will play out.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Milbonkee Lakefront Marathon

Yesterday morning I completed my 13th marathon-- the Milwaukee Lakefront Marathon. It was a huge disappointment for me, but I think I took away some valuable lessons.

I think it makes the most sense for me to write this blog backwards, starting with the race itself, then moving on to the taper, and then taking a look at my previous marathons.

The Race
Even though I was miserable for the majority of this race, I have nothing but words of praise for the Milwaukee Lakefront marathon. It’s a great course, extremely well organized, a highly competitive field, not too large or too small, and with plenty of runner amenities. Before the race started we waited inside a high school with access to bathrooms that had running water. We weren’t called to the start line until about 15-minutes pre-race, so there was minimal waiting around in the cold.

The weather was near perfect. Low 40’s and sunny at the start, mid 50’s at the finish. A 5 mph tailwind. Everything was in my favor. Training had gone well, I avoided injuries and illness, I had some good tune-up races. I was ready!

I didn’t have a particular time goal in mind for this race. My coach recommended that I go out at a pace of 8:20-8:30 for the first 10K, and then gradually speed up. I assume he based this starting pace on my training paces, successful training cycle, recent 8K race and half marathon PR. He’s a conservative coach with a “start slow finish fast mentality” and I agreed that a pace of around 8:25 was easy for me.

He told me not to over-think it or look at my Garmin too much. This sounded like a great plan. Before I got a Garmin, I ran all of my marathons on feel and I had a streak of 7 races that all went better than I hoped for. Somewhere along the way I got addicted to the Garmin’s feedback and stopped running marathons by feel.

My mentality going into the race was to “just do it” and let the race come to me. I wasn’t going to be constantly monitoring the Garmin. I was going to enjoy the marathon and I was confident in my fitness level. I know I tend to psych myself out over marathons, so this time was going to be different because I was just going to relax and run by feel—like how I used to do before my series of bonks.

Miles 1-13
During the first few miles I just focused on being relaxed and enjoying the scenery. I listened to other people's conversations and was trying to focus on my surroundings instead of the fact that this was my marathon. This was just like a long run.

It was a bit crowded and the 3:40 pace group was just ahead of me. I told myself that I shouldn’t try passing them until after the 10K mark, or even later if I didn’t feel comfortable speeding up soon.

It felt very easy. In fact, I could hear others around me breathing heavily. I knew I was in great shape because I felt like I wasn't exerting much effort at all.

After mile marker 6 I knew I had the coach’s ok to pick up the pace a bit, but I didn’t feel ready for that.  My official pace at the 7-mile split was 8:27 and I didn’t feel like I should be speeding up. I was okay with this. I thought maybe by mile 8, 9 or even 10 I would be ready to start picking it up. But instead, I just started to feel worse and worse. 8 miles into the race and I knew something was wrong.

Yup, something is wrong.
Once again, trying to stay mentally positive, I told myself it was okay if I couldn’t speed up. A 3:40 would be a great time for me, so just continue at this pace. By mile 10 I knew my race was not going to end well. I just felt exhausted. A bit nauseous. Lacking energy. I didn’t feel out of shape, I just didn’t feel physically well. I know that positive self-talk can go a long way, so I kept reminding myself that I was very well trained and that this feeling would pass. I would be able to maintain this pace for awhile. I was doing great!
I crossed the halfway point at 1:50:xx. I had planned on being there at around 1:48, so I wasn’t too far off, but the fact that the race was no longer in my control at the halfway point was not a good sign.

Normally bonking is a sign of going out too fast. A rookie mistake. And if I had felt this bonk at mile 19 or 20, then I would have thought that I went out too fast. But after just 8 miles at a pace of 8:27, I was feeling “off” so I think that there was a lot more going on here. After all, I recently ran 5 miles at a pace of 7:13 and felt fantastic at the end. Yesterday, I ran 8 miles at a pace of 8:27 and was feeling drained.

Miles 14-Finish
The bonk didn’t “officially” start until mile 15 when I went into a porta potty and then just couldn’t get going again. I thought I might just finish the race at a slower pace until I realized that I didn’t think I could run much further. I still had 11 miles to go and I wanted to stop completely.

Then, the all-too-familiar bonking things happened. I started getting passed by pace groups that were slower than my PR, and as they passed I remember how great I felt when I ran that 3:51 at Shamrock nearly 4 years ago.  I was reduced to a run-walk. My easy pace is now faster than my marathon PR pace. So when I was able to run, I was running at around an 8:50. But I could only run for about 5 minutes at a time before feeling just completely knocked out.

My husband had struggled with Plantar Fasciitis this entire training cycle, so he was in shape for somewhere around 4:00. I knew that eventually he would catch up with me, I just didn’t know when. We had joked before hand that he’d better not find me walking on the side of the course at mile 20, and that’s exactly what happened. He said his heart sunk when he realized it was me. He was running at about a 9:00 pace and I was able to run with him for almost a mile until I had to stop again. I told him to finish and that I didn’t want to ruin his race. He insisted on staying with me and I felt so guilty. At this point, I sat down on the grass, and then lied down on the grass. I just felt completely defeated. I could not go one step further. He told me that I shouldn’t lie down on the grass, got me to my feet again, and we began walking.

The last six miles were torture. I started getting side stitches, I felt like I needed to vomit. I was thirsty, but whenever I drank water, my stomach would revolt and I’d feel even more nauseated. I thought maybe I had overdone the hydration thing because my body didn’t like the water. I was crying, I was depressed and I was hurting. I couldn’t understand why this was happening to me again and why it always happened to me.

Maybe I drank too much water the day before and the morning of. I don't measure my water, I just try to drink lots of it along with electrolytes. Maybe I struck the wrong balance. Maybe I shouldn't have force fed myself so much food the day before because I had very little appetite. My best marathons were all run under cloudy skies, maybe I can't handle the sun at all. I couldn't figure it out. There seemed to be no logical explanation for why I felt so horrible, and why it started so early in the race. One thing that I am certain of-- I did NOT go out too fast for my fitness level. I have far too many races and tempo runs and other factors that indicate that 8:25 is a very conservative pace.

I was crying off and on. I felt like I had ruined my husband's race and I had let everyone down. Why was this happening to me?

Greg told me that I had the rest of my life to think about that but for now I had to focus on finishing the marathon. I just wanted to wallow and cry and not finish, but Greg helped me run/walk.

The last three miles were actually easier than miles 20-23. The course was mainly downhill for those last three miles so we were able to run without too much effort. The scenery started to get really good with a nice view of the lake and some gorgeous houses. That actually helped. We finished the race holding hands and I was so relieved to be done with it. 4:18:51. My third slowest marathon out of 13 and my 6th bonk.

I got my medal, but I just wanted to throw it on the ground. I didn't feel like I deserved a medal and I didn't feel at all proud of myself. I didn't even want to take off my shoes (which is normally the very first thing I do post marathon). I just wanted to be miserable.

When we got back to our hotel I called my coach. I wanted answers and I knew he’d have them. He did. He said he had a feeling earlier in the week that this could happen to me, simply based on my Facebook wall. He said that the race got built up so much and that I had so many people tracking me that I likely caved under the pressure. He told me how he once won a half marathon in a time of 1:05 and was the favorite to win a subsequent marathon. But the pressure got to be too much and he ended up dropping out at mile 20. He said he’s seen this happen before, when the athlete gets too hyped up about the race beforehand.

I was really trying to NOT do this during my taper, but I just couldn’t help it. He told me I should have stayed away from Facebook the week before my race and relaxed more. Most importantly, he assured me that I was a good marathoner in great shape, and I should just brush this one off and get there and try again as soon as possible.

The Taper
I took what my coach said and then I combined it with what I knew to be true about my taper. Suddenly all the pieces started to fit. In the two weeks leading up to my marathon, I was a ball of anxiety.

For those of us who love the adrenaline high of running a lot, the taper is not a fun time. We're forced to cut back our mileage and simply rest up for the marathon. It sounds easy to non-runners: all you need to do is eat well, sleep well and just relax. I know that these things are critical to marathon performance, but my anxiety often gets the better of me and this was my worst taper ever.

Aside from the usual taper anxiety, I was also dealing with other stresses. Squirrels were getting into my house and my husband was out of town on business and unavailable to assist or help calm my nerves. Additionally, my job has been really stressing me out as the environment there is changing rapidly and we have a huge event coming up. In fact, one of the reasons I chose Oct. 2 as a target marathon date was because I didn't want that large work event to interfere with my training.

I was trying so hard not to think about the race, but by doing that, I think I made my physical anxiety worse. On a daily basis I was dealing with:

  • Night sweats: waking up at around 2:00am covered in sweat
  • Insomnia: Not being able to fall back asleep after waking up at 2:00am
  • Loss of appetite
  • Weight Loss
You aren't supposed to lose weight during the taper. If anything, you gain it. I lost 4 lbs in the two weeks before my race, and that's a lot for a person of my height. I could just feel that my body was on overdrive and I'd wake up in the middle of the night with my heart pounding. 

To combat all of this, I used Advil PM on some nights and was able to get a reasonable number of hours of sleep. The quality wasn't great, but I was sleeping so I thought I'd be fine for the race. Even though I wasn't at all hungry, I ate anyway. Bagels are one of my all-time favorite foods and on Friday morning, it was just so uncomfortable for me to be eating one. 

Despite all of this, I never doubted that I would still have a great marathon. I thought I had done everything right in terms of training, nutrition, hydration, etc. I went into the race with a good attitude and I didn't feel stressed on race morning. I had a healthy mentality during the race, but by that time it was too late.

I had already worn out my body in the weeks before my race with physical anxiety. This was my mistake and this is where things went wrong. It's wonderful that I can identify what the problem was, but now I have no idea how to fix it. It's like when someone tells you not to think about an elephant, you can't help but think of an elephant. 

The more I tell myself to relax about the marathon and not to have anxiety during the taper, the more I will probably stress about it. And even if I shove it out of my mind, which I did during the taper, the anxiety is there under the surface. 

Previous Marathons & The Big Picture
I think I'm finally starting to see what's has been going on with my previous marathons. The first 7 marathons I ran went perfectly and I exceeded my goal each time. The next 6 marathons were all bonks. Yes, some were weather related. But I think weather was only part of the problem.

Here's my theory. During my first 7 marathons, I didn't use a formal training plan and I ran relatively low weekly mileage. I was just doing my own thing and enjoying PR after PR. I was doing so well with marathons, that I couldn't get my 5K and 10K times to be as fast as my marathons suggested. Physiologically, my V02 max test revealed that I work aerobically at a higher percentage of my max heart rate than most people, which means my body is more suited for distance than speed. I was a great marathoner. I always ran negative or even splits. It came naturally to me. 4:46, 4:24, 4:13, 4:05, 3:56, 3:51, and then a "fun run" in London of 4:11. 

So I thought to myself, if I can run so well with no formal plan, just imagine what I could do if I followed a plan and increased the mileage! I could probably qualify for Boston!

That's when I started following training plans and got my mileage up a lot higher. Along with this came huge PRs in other distances. My 2:00 half marathon PR gradually turned into a 1:41. My 53:00 10K shot down to a 46:34. Instead of a middle of the pack runner, I was winning age group awards on a regular basis and almost always in the top 5th percentile. And yet, the marathons started to go in the other direction.

In January 2009, I had my first shot at a BQ after a fantastic training cycle. I wasn't sure if I could run a 3:40, but if I missed that, I figured that a 3:45 was certainly realistic. Unfortunately, Arizona had an unexpected heat wave and I wasn't at all acclimated to the warm weather, so I bonked at mile 16. It was awful. It was my first marathon that did not go according to plan.

This race was a legitimate heat bonk and many others were having a tough time in the heat as well. Since then, I've been terrified of running a marathon in hot weather. Also, by the time the next marathon finally rolled around, over a year after my 3:51 PR, I felt like I was long overdue. I had been training to BQ since June of 2008 and now it was April of 2009, so it was definitely time to show off my hard work. But once again, it was a bonk. True, I ended up in the medical tent with hypothermia, but there could have been something else going on. So it was just bonk after bonk after bonk and I chalked it all up to being bad luck. Yes, luck was a huge part of it, but the common factor in all of these marathons was ME. I was the problem. 

I don't mean this in a negative way, but the problem is that with every bonk, the more and more determined I became not to bonk. The more and more anxiety would build up pre-race, and I couldn't perform. A good example of this is the Shamrock marathon 2010. That was a very hot race. However, I started feeling awful at mile 10 before it even got to be 65 degrees. I DNFed at mile 13.5 and I felt like I had run a full marathon I was so spent. 

Another interesting example was the Potomac River Marathon. That was my back-up race after my Shamrock DNF in 2010. However, when the forecast a week out was for 70's and 90% humidity, I found another back-up two weeks later. I still went to the Potomac River Marathon with the intent of having it be a nice training run of 13 miles. There was zero pressure on me because I wasn't racing it. However, I just felt so great, despite that heat and humidity, that I just kept running and running. All the way to 19. Stupidly, I stopped because I wasn't on pace for a 3:40. (I also had run 10 miles just two days before and was worried that I would be paying for that). But I felt pretty good at mile 19 and I am sure I could have run a 3:45. I performed SO WELL at that race in horrible conditions because. . . .I wasn't racing. I was relaxed.

The pieces are finally coming together for me and I know what the problem is. I know why I keep bonking. I have too much pre-race anxiety and it wears my body out. Unfortunately, this isn't something you can just fix overnight like a hydration issue. I'm probably going to see a sports psychologist and really find a way to let go. I'll probably do another marathon later in the season, but I'm skeptical that I will be able to solve the anxiety issue before then. This has just been snowballing for years.  

The good news is, I do know how to run a great marathon. I have seven of them that were well-executed and perfectly paced without the help of the Garmin. I just have to find some way to get back there.