4 weeks ago I ran 18 miles at an average pace of 8:45. Miles 9-17 (8 miles total) averaged a pace of 8:13. This was my projected marathon pace. The 8 miles felt only slightly challenging and I truly believed that I could have continued on at that pace for awhile. It was 35 degrees and sunny. The next day, my legs felt great and there were no signs of soreness or fatigue.
Yesterday, I ran 13.5 miles at an average pace of 8:30 and did not feel like I could run any farther. Today, my legs feel like I put out a major race effort and I'll probably need a week to recover fully.
The difference? About 25 degrees.
When I realized that the weather for the Shamrock Marathon in VA Beach was going to be sunny and in the 60's, I pretty much knew that a BQ wasn't going to happen. I posted this on my Facebook and on Runner's World online. The reaction was that I needed to think positively and have confidence. However, I wasn't being negative. I was simply being realistic. I ran the Rock 'n Roll Arizona marathon in similar conditions and I bonked. I had to run/walk from mile 15 to the finish and then it took me three weeks to recover fully. The experience was miserable, I was disappointed with my time, and I was left completely beat up and not able to train at my normal capacity for another month.
I was trying to be positive about Shamrock, so I even made a list of things that were going to be different from Arizona. For example, I was better rested and there was no time zone change. I was also in much better shape and down about 5 pounds. I thought that maybe with these things going for me I had a shot, but ultimately I knew that a BQ simply wasn't realistic.
On race morning, I headed to the start with a positive outlook. I was calm and I was determined to do my best. I wore sunglasses, a visor, my sports bra and a running skirt. No headphones.
I started off at a pace of 8:25 and it felt ridiculously easy. It felt like "marathon pace" felt when I did my best performance ever back in 2008. It was short lived, however, once we came to an area that was unshaded and the sun was rising higher in the sky.
Things started to get tough at mile marker 9 but I held the pace anyway. At mile marker 10 I felt like I was racing at half-marathon effort but I still maintained the pace. At mile marker 11, I knew that my race was over. It all happened very quickly. I didn't feel uncomfortably hot. I just got extremely tired and exhausted. I had no choice but to slow to a 9:00 pace, and then to a 9:15 pace. Swarms of people started passing me and I just couldn't keep up. I wanted to stop after mile 11 but I knew that my fiance was waiting for me at mile 13.5.
I continued on and I saw some friends from the Runner's World forums after mile 12. I stopped running to hug them and I realized how horrible I felt. I don't think I could even communicate properly at that point. I felt like I might pass out. I told them that I had to run to mile 13.5 where my fiance would be. I continued on, running at about a 9:30 pace and my friend Lindsay passed me. I told her that I was struggling really bad and that I wasn't going to finish. I wanted to keep up with her pace (8:50) until I reached 13.5, but I couldn't.
Lindsay was running with the 3:50 pace group. Back in 2008 when I ran this marathon, I ran with the 3:50 pace group from about mile 13 to mile 22. And now, two years later, after much more training than I ever did for the 2008 race, this pace group was passing me at the halfway point. In fact, when I ran the race in 2008, my peak mileage was 45 MPW and my average was in the upper 30's. In preparation for yesterday's race, I had averaged 50 MPW, peaking at 57. I knew that I was in substantially much better shape, and yet I just felt so extremely drained. (Note: the weather in 2008 was low 40's and overcast).
When I reached mile 13.5 I stopped and I just felt horrible. I could barely even talk to my fiance. He pulled me over into a shaded area and sat me down on the ground. He had water, a bag of ice, a cookie and a granola bar with him. I hung out there for about 30 minutes before I felt ready to walk back to the hotel.
This is the first marathon out of 10 that I Did Not Finish (DNF). At mile 11, when I was coming to terms with the fact that my race was doomed, I asked myself if I would regret it if I stopped. And the answer was an immediate no. I knew that one of these three things would happen:
- I would continue to push at an 8:25 pace and pass out.
- I would run/walk to the finish like I did in Arizona with a mediocre time and then not recover for 3-4 weeks.
- I would stop at mile 13.5 and cut my losses.
I chose the third option and I have no regrets. If it hadn't been for Arizona then perhaps I would have continued. But I learned a valuable lesson in Arizona and that's that my body has limitations in sunny weather. Even in the 50's and 60's where many runners are absolutely fine. I simply don't tolerate it. If I had Arizona to do over again, I would have stopped at the halfway point. I wasn't about to make the same mistake twice.
The tough thing for me is that I am so much less heat tolerant than the average runner. No one was slowing down at mile 11. I heard of people having to slow down at mile 18 or 20, but not at mile 11. I even "bonked" at the Cherry Blossom 10-miler (at mile 6) last year when it was sunny and 55. When I told my runner friends that it was too hot and sunny for me, it was hard for them to believe. Sunny and 55 are the ideal race conditions for a lot of people.
As I was slowing down, another runner encouraged me to keep going. I said that I was not going to finish. He said "Walk if you have to. Just do whatever it takes to finish the race." I completely disagree with this. Granted, he didn't know me or my marathon history. But why would I kill myself to make it to the finish line of a marathon that I have already completed, just to do it slower and then be beat up for the next three weeks? What would I gain? I would have hated myself for making such a poor choice. And this is if I even made it that far and didn't pass out before getting there.
The bottom line is that I know what my body can and can't handle. My limitations with regards to sunny/warm weather are greater than most runners. I should not attempt to run a marathon in conditions that make it impossible to meet my goal. Especially considering how much time and effort I put into training. I really thought I would be safe with a March 21 marathon, but apparently I was not.
I now have the option of throwing in the towel for Boston 2011 or attempting again at the New Jersey marathon in six weeks. I suppose I will try to preserve everything I have worked so hard for since October and try again in New Jersey. But if they are calling for sunny and a high of 60 or greater, then I just won't make the drive. I'm getting married in August so running an early fall marathon is out of the question. If it's not NJ, then my next attempt will either be NYC in November or Memphis in December.
What upsets me most is that I have not had a positive marathon experience in over two years. And the irony of this is that my fitness level has significantly improved during this time period. My last good marathon was at Shamrock in 2008. Ever since then there has been a major illness, an injury, two cases of heat exhaustion and one case of hypothermia. My first 6 marathons were so wonderful. I just want to experience that joy again.