Monday, January 19, 2009

Melting in the Arizona Sun

To train for my 3:51 marathon:
- Seven weeks of consistent training
- Average 40 miles per week
- Peak mileage was 48

To train for yesterday's marathon:
- Six months of consistent training
- Average 50 miles per week
- Peak mileage was 56

I ran the P.F. Chang's Rock 'N Roll marathon yesterday. I awoke at 2:00am the morning of the race. That's 4:00am EST, when my body always wakes up naturally. I could not get back to sleep, so I just played around on the internet and watched TV until it was time to get dressed.

I started to realize how thankful I was that I would be running this race with a perfect training regime behind me, without any injuries, and without having gotten sick in the past few months. I had been plagued by injuries and illness a lot during 2008, and finally I felt awesome, and ready for my BQ. I got dressed in my running skirt,sports bra, visor and sunglasses. I headed out the door and walked to the area where the shuttle would take me to the race start.

I got on the shuttle bus and arrived at the race nearly two hours before it started. Better to be safe than sorry! It was dark and in the lower50's. My feet went numb because I wasn't wearing my "warmer" socks. The weather prediction was for a much hotter race than I had originally anticipated so I wore my lightest pair of socks.

Miles 1-5
I lined up in the start corral and one of my friends from the Runner's World forums found me. We had eaten dinner together the night before along with Yulyia. We chatted for a bit and then the race started. We didn't plan on running together, so I let her pull ahead while I stayed back. The 3:40 pace group was in the corral behind mine, so I let them pass me in the first mile.

I've always walked through the water stations because I am a believer in Galloway's theory that just a 10-second walk is enough to help preserve your legs. On the plane, I sat next to a woman who consistently ran about 3:20, and she told me she did the water station walk breaks always.

My goal was to go out at a pace of 8:30 and then speed up to goal pace (8:24) by about mile 4. I missed the first mile marker, so I had no idea what pace I was at. During the third mile, the 3:45 pace group passed me. I knew that there was no way they were going at a 3:45 pace. They had to have been going much faster. This is the reason I don't run with pace groups. But it annoyed me that they were now in front of me and I felt like I was on target for a 3:42 at that point.

I passed the mile 4 marker, and my split was a 7:48. I was sort of pissed because I only sped up due to the fact that the 3:45 group passed me so quickly. And even after the 7:48 mile, I was still behind them. I knew that a 7:48 was way too fast, so I slowed down substantially.

I didn't really feel good during these first miles. My stomach felt kind of heavy (I drank a ton of water) and I felt BLAH. But I reminded myself that I typically don't feel "right" about a run until mile 5 or 6.

Miles 6-10
These were probably the best miles of the race. I averaged about 8:25 during this time and felt relatively strong, despite the stomach tightness I was having.

At about mile 7, I passed the 3:45 pace group and I told myself I would not let them get ahead of me again.
I debated how much water I should drink. It was starting to heat up and the sun was beating down on me. And yet my stomach cramp seemed to begetting worse and worse, and I was beginning to have some upper back pain.

Miles 11-15
This is really where the race fell apart for me. I wanted to cross the halfway point at 1:50 or 1:51 because I knew that a lot of people were tracking me and I wanted to give the impression that I was right on target. But as soon as I crossed over the halfway point (1:51:5x), I dramatically slowed down. Little did I know that my stupid D-Tag wasn't even registering my splits. So it didn't even matter.

Igot to the mile 14 marker and I hunched over in pain from my stomach cramp. My back was also really hurting. Additionally, I had major foot pain. I had felt this same foot pain before in a hot half marathon, so I wasn't terribly worried. I think it was from my foot swelling so much in the heat and then pushing against the top of my shoe. But it only hurt when I ran on it, so it almost felt like a stress fracture. I just reminded myself that I had felt this before and it turned out to just be pain from the shoe.

The 3:45 pace group paced me at about mile 14, and I realized that there would be no way I could BQ. The bestI could hope for would be a PR.

Miles 16-20
I've never hit "a wall" during a marathon, but starting at mile 16, the whole race felt like one big brick wall. And I knew it wasn't my fault.I know I had trained better than I had for any other marathon. And I didn't go out too fast with the exception of the one mile that was7:48. I was even giving myself walk breaks.
The foot pain started to get really bad. I sat down on a curb and removed my shoe.The top of my foot was red and swollen, and my big toe felt weird and numb-like. I eventually put the sock and shoe back on and continued. At this point, I could still feasibly PR if I miraculously got my speed back.

Miles 20-25
After crossing the 20-mile mat about 10 minutes off of my target pace. I realized that a PR was not going to happen for me. At about mile 21 I sat down on a park bench for about a minute and watched the 3:50 pace group speed by me. I remembered how easy it felt to run at a 3:50 pace for most of the Shamrock marathon. I remembered how awesome that felt. And now, despite the fact that I had trained 500% longer and with much greater weekly mileage, I couldn't get my butt off that bench. The heat was just zapping me.
I guess I am just really sensitive to the sun. I do fine if it's upper 60's and overcast (Miami Marathon, Richmond half marathon) but if it's at all sunny, I feel it. My face always gets bright red after speed work and stays that way for over an hour. 

The red face even happened to me as a child and teenager after 4minutes of doing a dance routine all-out. At this point, it was about 62 degrees and very sunny. My body didn't feel hot in the traditional sense because it's a dry heat that I am not used to. But it was reacting the same way it did when I ran the really hot VA Beach half in 2006, and also some 10Ks as well. I totally bonk in the heat, always.

I got up from the bench and I realized that I simply couldn't run. But then I reminded myself that this was all mental, so I just told myself"yes, you can run". So I did.

I had a friend waiting for me at mile 25. I didn't want him to leave or think that he missed me, so that was really all that was motivating me. I kept making bargains with myself: "Just run to that water station up ahead, then you can walk."It was a run/walk from there out. My running pace was actually about9:00/mile, but there was so much walking that my splits were about 10:30's.

I started to hear the songs on my iPod that I was hoping to finish to, so I just turned the damn thing off and took my headphones off of my head. It was too depressing to be at mile 22 and hear my finish line songs.
Finally, I came to mile 25 and stopped to chat with my friend Steve. I told him that I was having the worst marathon of my life and how much pain I was in. He said "you're almost done. . . just go run to the finish now!" And I said that I wanted to just stop and chat with him for longer. So that lasted for about two minutes and then I finally made my way to the finish. If it weren't for him being there, I would have had no motivation to run at all during that last portion.

He took this photo of me:

26 and the Finish
I did a run/walk to the finish, but did run that last 0.2 very strong and smiled for the camera as I crossed the finish line in about 4:10.My gun time and net time are identical on the web site, but I was a 4:10 according to my watch. A few years ago, I would have been elated with this time. But now, I realized I was 30 minutes off of my goal.

My friend, Eric, found me and I started bawling my eyes out the moment I saw him. My foot was killing me, I was so exhausted. And I just felt like such crap. They were handing out popsicles and mine tasted amazing at that point.

Final Thoughts
I just find it highly ironic that I have never had a bad marathon until now. And I had run 7 previous marathons. Each marathon had been better than I expected, and I had always exceeded my goal by 2-5 minutes. And yet, I never had a training program that was so strong. I did everything "right" this time around. I trained for a full 18 weeks (actually more if you consider everything I was doing in July and August before I got sick). And I averaged about 50 MPW. I did multiple 20 milers and in the past, the most I had ever done was just one.

I definitely don't think I was over trained. I think I was optimally prepared to BQ, or at least set a significant PR. But I don't deal with heat well. The foot pain and the stomach cramping also really played a factor before the heat started to kick in. Last summer, I ran a 4-mile race at a pace of 8:56 because it was so hot and sunny. Slower than my marathon PR pace!

If I had it to do over again, I wouldn't have changed anything. However, if I knew that the heat was going to be this bad, I would have changed to the half marathon at the expo and not even run the marathon to begin with, I was really lucky to have gotten through this training without any injuries, but extremely unlucky when it came to race-day weather.

Now I am trying to think about my next marathon I want to redeem myself ASAP because I know I am in such great shape! But I also don't want to rush recovery. Today my legs feel better than they typically do after a marathon, probably because I did so much walking. And yet, I ran the London marathon in about the same time, and recovery only took me a few days. (It was a fun run, and I didn't exert myself the way I did yesterday). I will either do the Shamrock Marathon on March 22, which might be too soon, or the NJ Marathon in early May, which seems like too far away!

I just have to say that the best thing to come out of this was all the support from all of my friends. The RWOL BQ girls especially! Not to mention all the support I have from my three friends who live here in Phoenix. They were so amazing to help me with everything. What's most important is that I have an incredible support network.

In a way, I feel like I let you all down because I know you were all rooting for me. And then I just ended up with this epic failure. But ultimately, I know I did the best I could in those circumstances, and I'll just have to pull myself back together and crank out the next one.


  1. I look at it this managed to run more miles in 4 hours than I have logged since Jan. 1! I'm sorry you didn't have the race you wanted, but I'm still ridiculously impressed by your talent. :) You'll get it next time!

  2. Elizabeth, congratulations! i know you're disappointed and i can relate--the conditions sound worse than the ones i had in Chicago and i was miserable there! that's the terrible thing about marathons--you never know what kind of weather you'll have until you're there toeing the line and that's when you've already invested hours and hours of training.

    it sounds like you had a lot to deal with out there, and i admire your dedication to sticking it out. a lot of people would have pulled out and chosen the DNF route with crappy weather, back problems, etc. and to sit down, adjust your shoe, talk with your friend for a few minutes and still get a 4:10? fantastic.

    i don't know your history, but despite the difference in marathon performance, you are probably a stronger runner now than you were for your PR marathon. let yourself recover and put all that training to use for another marathon. i'm not familiar with the Shamrock Marathon or the NJ Marathon, but i'd go for sooner rather than later.

    good luck, and congratulations again.

  3. Oh, I am so sorry that it was so rough for you :( I am convinced it was all down to the heat. You mustn't let it put you off marathons (that's what happened to me after London in 2007, and I still haven't really got the urge to do one) because you are in awesome shape and you will get the time as long as the temperature/weather works. So much of the marathon is dependent on that.

  4. Sorry this race went far below your expectations. And it seems like you were in the perfect shape, timing etc. You just can't control the heat and stomach problems. I know you'll redeem yourself soon!

  5. Hi Elizabeth! I was gone all weekend with no internet access, so I was wondering how it went for you. I am sorry it wasn't the race you planned on. I felt like I was right there with you as I was reading your report. I am glad you were able to see that sometimes there is nothing you can do about the conditions. You know you were trained and ready. This is exactly how I felt last year when I ran the Salt Lake Marathon. I got a 4:03 and felt miserable the entire time. 6 weeks later I wanted to redeem myself and was able to run a 3:48. Still not a BQ, but it reminded me that I really was ready at Salt Lake, it was the heat and elevation. I hope you jump back in. I think if Shamrock was such a great race for you last year, you should go for it!! (If you are looking for another good race, I will be trying to BQ at the Newport Marathon in Oregon, come join me!!)

    Keep us posted. I hope you are enjoying your rest. Thanks for your inspiration, I know your BQ is coming!!