Sunday, November 5, 2017

Indianapolis Monumental Marathon Race Report: Riding the pain train

I'm going to kill the punch line by saying up front that this marathon went poorly for me. I wasn't even close to reaching my goal and I felt miserable for nearly half of the race.

Race Weekend
Greg and I flew into Indianapolis on Thursday afternoon. We arrived at our hotel, relaxed for a little bit, and then headed to the expo. One of the things I love about Indianapolis is that everything is so close. The expo was a five-minute walk from our hotel, and then dinner was a five-minute walk from the expo.

For dinner, we met up with my friend Anna, and spent the entire meal talking about running! Afterward, we retuned to the hotel and I was fast asleep by 8:15. The following morning, Greg and I did a 20-minute shakeout run through a park and ended at Au Bon Pain, where we procured bagels for race morning.

Throughout all of this I was oddly calm. The race was "just something we were doing" the next day. It didn't really feel like the big event was finally here. There are plusses and minuses to this. Basically, my sports psychologist has taught me to be emotion-neutral when it comes to running. While he definitely wanted me to experience all the positive emotions that come with pursuing and attaining goals, he also wanted me to temper it by acknowledging that running is just one aspect of my life, and it doesn't define me. And going into this race, I almost felt too neutral. Maybe I've mastered the art of being zen-like. Or maybe now that I've run a 3:21 marathon, I feel like I've already run faster than I ever dreamed, so running even faster is kind of redundant. I don't know.

Anyway, Greg and I had lunch with Anna, and we reviewed our race plans in detail. Greg and Anna decided they would start off together because they had similar goals. Anna wanted to break 3:26 and qualify for NYC, and Greg wanted to run somewhere in the low 3:20s. I was sticking to my plan of starting out in the low 7:30's for the first 10K, and then speeding up from there. After lunch, we walked through the hotel lobby, where I discovered that they were serving free hot apple cider. This apple cider really hot the spot. (Remember this for later!)

A few hours later, I had major digestive distress. And after going to the bathroom, I felt like I needed to lie down because I felt a little spacey. I was somewhat worried that this would impact my race, but I tried to push it to the back of my head. I ultimately began to feel more normal, so Greg and I went to dinner where we had our normal pre-race pasta with chicken.

Before the Race
My sleep was pretty typical of night-before-the marathon sleep. Solid for the first 4 hours, and then fragmented for the rest of the night. When I woke up for good, I was eager to start preparing for the race. I ate my bagel with peanut butter, put my outfit on, pinned my bib on, made my Generation UCAN gel, etc. Finally it was time to leave for the race.

After a short 3-block walk, Greg and I arrived at the start line. I did a quick jog to get my legs moving and then we entered the first corral. Everything felt good. I was ready! We met up with Anna just after the national anthem finished.

It was 46 degrees, overcast and damp/humid. Near-perfect running weather! I shed my throwaway jacket and a few minutes later, the race began.

Miles 1-5
I was not happy with how these miles went. The race was extremely crowded, the streets were narrow, and three pace groups were all merged together. The 3:15, 3:20 and 1:40 half marathon pacer were all within about 10 seconds of each other and I was stuck behind this huge mass of runners. It was more crowded than Boston for the first five miles. It was extremely frustrating because I wasn't able to pace my own race-- I was at the liberty of the crowd. And because there were so many runners blocking my view, I couldn't see where the turns and tangents were. I couldn't even get ahead of Greg and Anna for the first two miles.

We also ran under a few bridges during these miles, so my Garmin got messed up. I couldn't even see the mile markers to calculate my pace because there were so many people. Finally at mile 3, I saw the marker, and I looked down to see 23:03 on my watch. I figured that an 8 minute pace would be 24:00, so take away 3 x 20 seconds would be 23:00. Okay, that meant I was running about a 7:40 pace. Slower than planned, but not significantly. I tried not to let the crowding and inability to pace affect my mindset and mood, but it was frustrating.

Miles 1-3: 7:41 average
Mile 4: 7:29
Mile 5: 7:28

Miles 6-10
Finally after five miles I had passed the 3:20 and the 1:40 pacers, and had enough room to see the course and pace the race according to my plan. I hadn't felt all that great during the first five miles,
and I assumed it was because I wasn't able to establish a rhythm. Surely now that I could run my own
Around mile 10
race, I'd find that groove and feel good.

For hydration, the plan was to take a sip of water every 15 minutes. When I took a sip of water at 45 minutes, just before the 10K mark, I felt my left ear clog up. This was a bad sign, a very bad sign! I starting cursing inside my mind.  This "exercise-induced eustachian ear dysfunction" only ever happens to me in races when I bonk. It happened most recently at the Parks Half Marathon and at the end of a warm marathon pace run that didn't go well. Deep down I knew that this symptom, particularly so early in the race, meant that I was in for a bad day.

But the only thing to do was to ignore it. I wasn't going to let it become a self-fulfilling prophecy. I was going to keep executing my race strategy and just hope that this inner ear clogging wasn't indicative of a pending bonk.

Overall, I felt off. These paces should have felt easy this early in the race and they didn't. I briefly contemplated turning off course at mile 8 with the half marathon runners and then trying a full the following weekend in Richmond. But I quickly dismissed that thought because I didn't want another week of tapering. I wanted the marathon training cycle to be over today.

Mile 6: 7:24
Mile 7: 7:27
Mile 8: 7:25
Mile 9: 7:28
Mile 10: 7:34

Miles 11-15
I didn't worry about falling off pace during mile 10 because it was slightly uphill. But then the 7:30s became hard. I ended up taking my Generation UCAN gel about five minutes early, just so I could ditch my water bottle (I needed to drink the water with the gel). The bottle was getting really cold in my hand, and I knew it would feel better to run without the burden of carrying it. It had been a mistake to ditch my gloves at mile 5. It was getting colder instead of warmer, and this was probably a factor of being farther out from the city.

I tossed the bottle, but it didn't help matters. I was fading, and it was only mile 13. When I ran the Myrtle Beach marathon and the B & A Trail marathon (my previous two fastest) I felt really strong at the halfway point. I have enough experience to know how a marathon should feel at the halfway point, and this was not it!  I kept reminding myself that marathons have bad stretches and good stretches. You can feel bad one moment and good the next. I was trying to be as optimistic as possible, but the good stretch never came.

My half marathon split was 1:38:47, which was in line with my pacing strategy. So at least I know I executed the race according to my plan, and didn't let the crowding in the first five miles prevent me from hitting my halfway target.

Mile 11: 7:30
Mile 12: 7:33
Mile 13: 7:32
Mile 14: 7:45
Mile 15: 7:49

Miles 16-20
I was fading. And I started to feel like total crap. I got a cramp at the top of my left front ribs, below the breast bone. It hurt quite a bit. At some point, I knew Greg and Anna would catch up to me and pass me. And I knew that would upset Greg. So now it was just a guessing game on when I'd see them. They were targeting a pace of around 7:45, so I figured I'd probably see them during mile 18. When that didn't happen, I figured Greg must be running a little slower than planned.

Oddly, the point at which I would see Greg became my only focus, and I was no longer focused on my pacing strategy or my missed goal. I knew it was going to be a bonk, so I just tried to hang on as good as I could. My hands started to get really cold, and I felt chilled to the core. Either it was below 45 degrees out in the suburbs, or the fact that it was damp was making it extra chilly feeling. The forecast was for 48-50 degrees and I am never cold in those temps.

Hurting.
Finally I had to do it. I had to stop. I couldn't keep going. Somewhere in mile 19, a running club had put out a large jug of water and a few bottles of coke. I poured some coke into a cup because it actually looked good to me. The idea of water disgusted me, which is why I think I may have over-hydrated the day before the race. After ditching my bottle at mile 12, I didn't consume any water for the rest of the race. My stomach didn't want it and the clogged inner ear also didn't want it.

I knew that once I stopped, I would be stopping again. But it was unavoidable. I could only run for a few minutes at a time and the pain got so bad I would be forced to stop. Even though I knew that stopping would simply prolong the pain, the situation was no longer in my control.

How was I going to go another 7 miles? That seemed impossible. This was not going to be pretty.

Mile 16: 8:03
Mile 17: 8:02
Mile 18: 8:33
Mile 19: 8:36
Mile 20: 9:28

Miles 21-Finish
We ran under a fancy "20-mile" inflatable archway. Shortly after, Greg and Anna caught me. Anna was looking strong and Greg encouraged her to run ahead to go get her goal. Greg said "Wanna bonk
Mile 25
with me?" And I said "Yes!" But then I realized he was going faster than me so I told him to go ahead because I couldn't run that fast, and he did. About a mile later, though, I caught up to him. He was walking. I told him to come with me, and he replied that he couldn't run. I kept going- I was feeling a little better. But that didn't last for long, and he caught up with me. At this point, we ended up just
sticking together. We ran a bit, and then we walked. And when it was time to run again, he said he couldn't. I really wanted to get this race over with as soon as possible, and he said he didn't care if I left him, so finally I left him for good and jogged most of the way to the finish.

I didn't take in any water or fuel because I felt too nauseous to do so, and my cramp continued to be painful. My inner ear continued to feel clogged. My hands were frozen and all I wanted to consume was that apple cider from the day before. I high-fived as many people as I could just so I could touch their gloves and mittens.

Mile 21: 10:09
Mile 22: 13:05
Mile 23: 11:10
Mile 24: 9:50
Mile 25: 10:28
Mile 26: 10:25
Last 0.2: 8:57 pace

I crossed the finish line with a smile on my face. It wasn't a victorious smile, but rather "I am so glad this is over" smile. My official time was 3:43:38. Which is actually a BQ by 1:22, since I'll be 40 for the 2019 race. (I don't actually want to run Boston in 2019, but I think it's cool I still managed to BQ after such a "monumental" bonk.)

After the Race
I was shivering and was so relieved to be able to put a space blanket over myself. I waited for Greg to finish, and he didn't show up. I figured he'd be about 4-5 minutes behind me. When he didn't show up after 10 minutes, I started to get worried. Or maybe I somehow missed him? But eventually he turned up, crossing the finish line in 3:57. (Anna, by the way, had met her goal by running a 3:25). Greg's legs had totally given out and he walked for most of the last two miles.

All I could think about was that cider. I turned down all the food and water options at the finish line and Greg and I headed for the hotel lobby. But alas! There was no cider. It was the only thing I had an appetite for. My high hamstring kept seizing up during this entire walk. It was extremely painful. Meanwhile, my Achilles tendons had been silent the entire morning.

Reflections
I think I need some time to truly process this, and will likely write a separate post later. My main feeling right now is "oh well, onto the next race." I'm honestly not upset. Five years ago I would have been crying my eyes out and now I have swung to the other side. I'm numb to it. Maybe I just haven't had enough time to reflect yet, and maybe I'll feel more disappointed in the days to come. Or maybe not.

Approaching the finish, determined.
While a sub 3:20 would have been nice, and I truly believe I am capable of it, it's kind of an arbitrary goal. My true goals were qualifying for (and running) Boston, and also running a marathon that was representative of my fitness level and training. I did that at Myrtle Beach. It'd be nice to have it again, but the desire isn't as strong. So the non-attainment isn't as heavy of a blow. It may sound like I'm burnt out or bored with running, but I'm not. I am still really excited about my future races and goals. And I'm still very motivated to achieve my goals. I just realize that one race doesn't make or break me as a runner. I still have a few years ahead of me to push even further before slowing down with age.

I did what I could today with what I had. And I didn't have a lot. That could be due to over-hydrating the day before, or it could be related to something I ate. It could be that I missed my peak. I know that I was in amazing shape the day of the Army Ten Miler. 10 Miles in 74 degrees + 100% humidity at a pace of 7:13 felt much better than the first 10 miles of this race-- in ideal conditions at a slower pace! This is a perfect example of an "on" day versus on "off" day. There is no way I lost fitness in the past four weeks, as I continued to train. But a 7:30 pace in ideal conditions for 10 miles hurt a lot more than a 7:13 pace in horrible conditions.

Performance is dynamic. No matter how well you prepare, you can't be guaranteed that your body will be up to task on any given day. I'm a human- I'm not a machine. That said, Greg suggested I test my over-hydration theory by drinking lots and lots of water the day before a medium-long run and seeing if my inner ear clogs as a result.

I am proud of myself for actually finishing. The thought of getting a cab to the finish crossed my mind at multiple times. I am amazed that I was able to finish given how horrible I felt when I stopped the first time during mile 19. I'm proud that I didn't freak out about the crowding in the beginning, and I didn't let the inner ear clogging affect my positive mindset. I would say that I'm proud of myself for not being upset, but it's not like I'm trying to not be upset. I honestly am just neutral feeling at the moment.

Ultimately, I know that this training cycle is part of a bigger picture. This cycle built on my Myrtle Beach cycle, and my Boston cycle will build on this cycle. I know my coach will continue to push me with higher volume and more challenging workouts. So maybe for the next one I will be in shape for a 3:10-3:15. When I bonked in Boston in 2016 (running a 3:48), my next marathon was a 14-minute PR. So I think that good things are in store for me. I need to be patient and I will be.

I'm now going to take some time off to let my Achilles tendons heal fully. They felt great during the race, and during the walk back to the hotel. But once I sat down and stopped moving for 20 minutes, and then got back up- OUCH! The left one continued to hurt pretty badly for the rest of the day. I'm not sure how long it will take, but if I am religious about doing the exercises, and avoid running, it shouldn't be more than two weeks. My three-day hiatus worked wonders, so I just need to extend that for this to hopefully permanently go away.

Thank you to everyone who's made it this far in the blog post! And who has followed my training over the past few months, or years even. I appreciate all of your support as I continue my journey.

15 comments:

  1. I'm so sorry that this happened to you! Altho after reading one of your posts a few weeks ago, when you were nervous about having to take time off for your Achilles, I wondered then if you were going to have the race you had hoped for. You're so focused with your training--do you think that break in your rhythm had anything to do with it? I"m sure you're analyzing everything that happened and I know you will figure it out! You've had a phenomenal year and I can't wait to see what happens in 2018!

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    1. I think that the break in my rhythm could have been a factor- as I never felt quite the same after I took the break. But I had to do it! Thanks for all your support.

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  2. I'm sorry - marathons can be so cruel. I do believe that the bad races are just karmic downpayments on the good ones, so now you've got $ in the bank :)

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    1. Thank you. Maybe I am on a rotating schedule of bonk/PR/bonk/PR.

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  3. You just never know with the marathon - anything can go wrong, and sometimes you can't even tell what! Rest and recover for the next try!

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    1. So true. It's never a given. Thank you!

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  4. I'm sorry the race didn't go in your favor, despite all of the training and prep. From your writing, it seems like you are looking for the positives in the experience, which is great. I also know from experience that races like this can be hard to process emotionally so hugs to you. Can't wait to see what's next for you.

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    1. Thanks, Amy. Hopefully I can heal my Achilles quickly and find out what's next!

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  5. I think you have a fantastic attitude towards how your race went. The marathon can be so cruel and when it isn't your day it can be so hard to keep pushing forward, so congrats on the finish. I hope the time off gets your achilles back to feeling good and your Boston training cycle gets you to a great marathon finish!

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  6. Honestly, aside from the miles after the cramp, you had a really strong race. I totally believe you were well prepared and ready for it, and I'm glad your Achilles didn't sideline you. That half marathon split itself shows how well trained you were- the conditions just weren't on your side and cramping is never fun. Our bodies are unpredictable and many times even when we put in the work, it's out of our control. 26.2 miles is a long time for things to go right! I hope you can get recovered and get ready to train again- you have so much going for you and I agree, bad races are nothing to get too worked up about.

    BTW, I read Boston Bound while on vacation last week and it was a great read.

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    1. Oh that's great you had time to read the book! I'm glad you enjoyed it. And thanks for your ongoing support. It truly means a lot to me.

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  7. About a month ago I found your blog online. I was planning on running in Indianapolis and was searching for what people had said about the race or training for the race. This was going to be my second marathon and let's be honest, I wasn't really prepared for the first marathon. But I had trained very hard for this marathon and felt ready. Upon reading about your races though I realized that no matter how hard you train there is not guarantee that the race will go well. So, as I stepped up to the Starting line on Saturday I didn't focus on the finish and how far I had to go. I focused on the Start and how far I had come just to get here. I focused on all of the wonderful experiences I had in the training process. The Start is worth celebrating. So, thank you for writing about the good and the bad experiences. It helped me enjoy the Start so much more and also helped me ignore the overcrowding at the first water stop! I am sorry that you had a bad ending of one race, but your journey to the Start was inspiring. Congratulations! And may your recovery be a speedy one.

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    1. Hi Jason, nice to "meet" you, and I'm glad you found my blog. I love your outlook and I've never thought of it in quite those terms - celebrating the start. Arriving there healthy and prepared is perhaps the biggest accomplishment as it takes months to do. And the actual race is over within just a few hours. Congratulations on marathon #2-- they are addicting, aren't they?!

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  8. It's a shame it didn't work out for you because you had such a stellar training lead-up to this race. But sometimes it just doesn't work out... and the marathon is such a slippery beast. You still did awesomely even if you bonked and had to walk when you didn't intend to. You're still a fantastic runner. One race doesn't define your ability.

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