Monday, March 26, 2012

1 + 1 = 3

I realize that I am beating a dead horse with this topic, but I'm both frustrated and fascinated by what happened during my 13 miles two weekends ago. It is what it is, but WTF is it?

Series of Events
I went into the race well trained, rested and confident. I ran 13.1 miles at an average pace of 8:38 and then pulled off the course because I didn't feel like I could continue running. The race started to get hard for me at around mile 8. (Note: this was not a half marathon, I was actually attempting to run a full marathon here. My half marathon pace is somewhere around 7:35-7:45). By mile 11, a 9:00 pace felt like tempo effort. By mile 12, I wanted to stop.

When I pulled of the course, my coach asked me about my legs, and I said that they felt 100%. It was purely a fatigue thing. I was actually amazed at how good my legs felt, given how wiped out I was.

The next day, I realized I was wrong. My legs were extremely sore, much more so than most half marathons I've raced at full effort.

Last week, I naturally wanted to resume training, but my legs wouldn't have it.

Monday: Rest
Tuesday: Rest
Wednesday: Swimming for 30 minutes + 20 minutes easy pool running
Thursday: 2.7 miles easy
Friday: 4.5 miles easy
Saturday: 80+ minutes of very easy pool running + swimming
Sunday: 8.6 miles

On Sunday, I had hoped to run at least 12 miles, but my body wouldn't have it. I felt extremely tired and my legs started to feel tired seven miles into it. Then Greg and I went to the mall (after 8.5 miles) and my legs were so tired, that I just wanted to leave after going to one store. Walking around was killing my legs.

It feels like I am recovering from a full marathon. The inability to run more than 8 miles a full week later is frustrating and fascinating.  13.1 miles at 8:38 requires over a week of recovery!?!?!?!

Unless I am just getting older and I should just accept a slower recovery, this makes no sense at all. I only ran 13.1 miles at my easy pace. Last May, I ran the Alexandria Running Festival half marathon in 72 degree heat + humidity at a faster pace, and was fully recovered just three days later. I can't think of any half marathon I've ever run (except for maybe my first) where recovery took so long. And this wasn't even my half marathon pace. Heck, this wasn't even my marathon pace!

Does not compute. 1 + 1 does not equal 3.

Some Technical Stuff
I almost always wear a heart rate monitor when I run. However, I rarely wear it in races because I know my heart rate will be elevated due to adrenaline, and I don't want that the psych me out. However, I will wear a HR monitor the next time I attempt a marathon.

I know what my heart rate zones are based on a VO2 max test. When I train, my paces fall in line with my zones in this way:

145-155 Zone 1 (Recovery/Very easy): 8:55 or slower
156-165 Zone 2 (easy): 8:10-9:05
165-174 Zone 3 (no official name, but this is where marathon pace should be): 7:35-8:25
174-183 Zone 4 (lactate threshold/tempo): 6:55-7:45

The above paces are what I can almost always expect to see during training. There is some overlap.

Last 10 miles of a 20-mile run on Feb. 11, 2012. Left column is pace per mile, right column is avg. HR for that mile.

However, effort level isn't measured by pace. Your body doesn't know the difference between a 7:00 mile and a 9:00 mile-- your body just knows the effort level required. You can't assume that because you are running a particular pace that your HR is going to be at a certain level. Even though 99% of the time an 8:38 pace means zone 2, it's not a guarantee based on other factors.

So while I was running a pace that normally corresponds with a Zone 2 HR, on race day, I'm guessing that my HR was probably in high Zone 4. WHY? I don't know. Probably a combination of the heat and me freaking out about the heat. And it was just a viscous cycle.

In terms of my recovery, it's probably taking so long because of the effort level I put out. Once again, it doesn't matter what my pace was. It was that my body had to work SO HARD-- harder than half marathon effort. I don't think I could expend that much effort during a half marathon if I tried!

Now what?
I continue to be both depressed and curious and I wonder what the future of marathoning holds for me. Next time I plan to gear up with some music and a heart rate monitor. It might mean starting the race at a pace of 9:30 if that's what I need to do to keep my heart rate down. I just need to zone out, let the music relax me, and keep that heart rate down-- no matter how slowly I have to run to do it.

I have to hope that if I keep my heart rate down initially, I will be able to run at my actual fitness level later in the race.

As for now, recovery continues to be a priority. No running for me today or tomorrow, although tomorrow I  plan to go to the pool.


  1. Sometimes our bodies do weird things that we will never be able to figure out? I hope you are starting to feel back to normal this week.

  2. I know that my training is a completely different animal than yours, even beyond the fact that I swim/bike/run and you are training for a marathon. But my IM training has all been based around training on the MAF method. It mostly deals with how to run based on HR, but it has made a huge difference in my training. For example: last November I ran a 2:01 13.1, average HR was 168. Last weekend I ran a 2:01 13.1, average HR was 153. Let me know if you want to chat about it - I can wing some articles and a book recommendation your way. But it might be something to experiment with - and it certainly can't hurt.

  3. Thanks Katie! I am not necessarily looking to change my training paces. I am in zone 2 for easy runs, zone 4 for tempos. This data is just interesting when it comes to comparing how my body handles a particular pace during a marathon (with added anxiety) versus a normal training run.

    Sarah- Yeah, I really have no clue why my body is acting this way, but it's in my nature to try and figure it out!

  4. I'm going to suggest that maybe this needs to be put to the side? Just for a while? I know that when I stew on stuff sometimes, it's like picking a scab.

    It wasn't what you wanted. It sucked. And you don't know why. And no one has any answers.

    And that really sucks.

    But I know that I always need to put a time limit on the introspection (in my case, sulking) and then move on. Otherwise, you just get stuck.

  5. Why don't you get a complete physical? Make sure they check your thyroid. When my thyroid is out of whack I'm all over the place and then it calms down and makes me think I imagined stuff. It can't hurt.

  6. This sounds like how I feels when I'm pregnant and running these are the symptoms that clue me in to the fact that I'm pregnant before I even take a test....are you pregnant? Because in that case 1+1 would equal 3 ;)

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  8. Sorry, posted too soon... (deleted comment)
    I think these are the mind games that you play on yourself (based on your hx of the marathon) which only sets you up for the next (anxiety) Despite how hard u try near and on race day not to let it (anxiety) effect you, subconsciencely it does.
    I really suggest seeking, even just one time, a sports therapist- it's amazing what a non biased 3rd party can tell you.
    and yes, I also agree with Cheryl, get a physical...hormone levels can make you feel fatigued easily ( near your lady time, or thyroid...)
    I have no answers for you, but just suggestions
    Good luck hun!!! You're an amazing athlete and even the pros go through times like this...keep believing!

  9. Beat the dead horse! I think after my last unhappy marathon I bead the dead horse for about two weeks after the fact. You gotta let it all out, you gotta clear that head of yours!
    Like I said in my last comment to you, if you can, set that Garmin to show distance only.

  10. Elizabeth - I was watching you for this one - I thought for sure you had it in the bag, and I'm sorry you didn't get there. I'm thinking you could beat that dead horse and then eat it for dinner if that's what helps you move on from it. Now for a suggestion, and you can just write it off and move on, but have you ever thought of breaking it down into portions? 3:45, 3:40, 3:35 so it doesn't seem so daunting? It might help you get there? Regardless - keep running, you'll figure it out.. sllygrl