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.
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.
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.|
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Oh - you and I deal with so many of the same issues. And we will both get through this.ReplyDelete
One of the things I"m working on is just making sure that I'm always focusing on just WHY I enjoy this sport. Times are what they are -- it's the enjoyment that is ultimately why we run. And sometimes we lose sight of that. To our detriment.
Lick your wounds, and then let's go have fun!
Have you ever read Advanced Marathoning? I recently read it and I really like it. I'm loosely following his 12/55 plan right now (loosely because working part time + a baby doesn't allow me to follow it outright). He makes some great points in there and gives some great examples of elite marathoners who all have very different tolerance to mileage, speed, etc. They talk a lot about finding out what works for your body. You are so focused and driven that maybe you're right, maybe you do need to step back and run more by feel. Can you put the Garmin aside for a while? The previous poster makes some good points too about remembering *why* you run.ReplyDelete
Oh, Elizabeth! I'm so sorry! But it's all true about anxiety and stress and the pressure we put on ourselves. Rest up...and can I talk you into running the USA Marathon with me and Amy? ;)ReplyDelete
Sorry honey, that sucks bigtime. But I can so see how your coach's response of why it happened makes a huge amount of sense. It really can get overwhelming between FB and forums and everyone's expectations of you, not to mention your own. Add to that the BQ monkey on you back, it's a crapload of pressure!ReplyDelete
Glad you're ok, that's the main thing, and can use this one to your advantage for the next time out.
As I said yesterday, do not let this race get you down, just move on, it's no indication of where you are at. Like Cris said, lick your wounds and have some fun!ReplyDelete
I agree with everything on the stress. On the advil PM, yikes, that stuff can wear you out and stay in your system for quite a few days, definitely adding to feeling tired and not right!
I told you yesterday, you should run USA with Liz & Amy!
Dear god I could have written so much of this!ReplyDelete
You know how since my DNF at London in 2009 I've struggled with marathons and running in general due to anxiety/stress etc. Again this coincides with thinking "hey I've done pretty well without a proper training structure, imagine what I could do if I followed one?". My PR was 3 years ago now and was the most relaxed and enjoyable marathon I've ever done. I was there to enjoy it and wasn't really expecting to get the time I did. Since then running has been a disaster. I am stressed out during any training plan I attempt to do. Have become obsessed with *not* having done what I *should* have done. Completely back fires. I was supposed to be doing Dublin (the site of my PR) in 4 weeks but I've recently decided to DNS as I simply haven't done the training.
I was having regular nightmares about training and what I *hadn't* done. I couldn't complete long runs or sessions because all I could think about was what I hadn't done. Basically I've decided I need a break from thinking like this and am just going to run for 'fun' until the new year to hopefully fall back in love with it.
Sorry for such a long, and memememe, comment!
Basically I understand a lot of what you said. I also think the description of your taper sounds like hell and it would be a miracle if you *didn't* feel like death trying to run a marathon in these circumstances. So dealing with these is definitely crucial. You always have and always will be one of my biggest running inspirations and I know you can deal with this and come back stronger.
Cris- You and I have very similar personality types. It's easier said than done to just relax sometimes!ReplyDelete
The Cohens-- Yes I have read that book. I've experimented with lots of different approaches over the years and I think my new approach of less mileage and more pool running/swimming has been more effective than anything in the past.
lizard- I wish I had known everyone was going to do USA. Last year most of CAR did Shamrock! I registered for Shamrock a few months back. I LOVE that race and wasn't able to do it this year because of stress fractures. I will cheer for you gals though.
GIM: Yes, tons of pressure. I might disappear from the Blog world and Facebook for awhile. I disappeared from RWOL for that very reason. Too many people "watching". I love them all but it's a lot of pressure too.
DASH- I didn't know that about Advil PM. I didn't take one the night before the race but I took one Friday night. I woke up at midnight and could not fall back asleep and I knew it was really important for me to get that sleep so I popped the pill. I hate relying on a sleeping pill but if I don't then I am awake for hours.
This reads a lot like my MCM race report. I've been there and know it sucks. Like my friend Pete says though, put that in a little box so that you can look back at it and say, there's no f'ing way that's happening again. I've called on that advice more than once! You'll get this figured out, I promise. If I can do it, you definitely can do it. Can't wait to run with you once you're recovered!ReplyDelete
I have been a follower of yours for years. I have bonked at more races than I want to admit, and mostly because of stress. It is embarrassing and I have cried at way too many finish lines.ReplyDelete
Last year, I stopped blogging and reading the runners world forums. I had a terrible fall marathon so decided to take some time off. After a month of 5k training, I decided with 5 weeks to go to run the Disney Marathon. I got to that starting line with no expectations at all as my goal race was in May. I qualified for Boston at that race. My husband wasn't there, it was just me, having fun and it finally happened. I have never felt that relaxed at a race nor so happy at a finish line.
You are obviously trained and capable. (I knew the same thing about myself.) You will run your time. Telling someone to relax is crazy, as I have heard it too much. Good luck to you on forgetting everyone else and running your dream race. It was worth it.
I'm so sorry to hear how hard this race was! I know exactly how you felt at mile 8 because I felt the exact same way about 10 miles into the Baltimore marathon last year. It was so frustrating, but the only thing I could do was learn from it and move on (which is sounds like you are already doing). I know you'll get this figured out!ReplyDelete
I also think it is true that we don't realize how much stress, anxiety, expectations and pressure are affecting us pre-race.
Dang. I love Gregs comment bout feelingsorry for yourself later! Did you at least get some good race pics perhaps?ReplyDelete
Martianmarathon.com no tracking no results for days nobody famous does it (except sara and me) perfectly cold april weather
have you thought of doing a bunch of them for awhile (maybe 5 per year) until it doesnt get you all jackedup?
I like your post here. Very thought provoking. But. Who in the world could sleep if there wasa squirrel breakin possible? Using the toasterin themiddleof the night?
Lots of great comments here. Another thought: before running another "official" marathon, do a 26.2 mile run sometime--no pressure, no stress; just enjoy it.ReplyDelete
Hey Elizabeth! Hugs and I'm so sorry. I literally teared up reading this post. You train so hard and you totally deserve a good race!ReplyDelete
I have to say I am really, really proud of you for finishing and am glad to hear Greg stayed with you! You helped him through NY and now he was able to help you which is awesome - you guys really are a great couple and I'm happy you found each other. I know you don't believe it and can do better but that's still a time a lot of people would love and try and remember all your other PRs lately!
I can totally relate to what your coach said - there was a lot of pressure on you and I think you put a lot on yourself as well. I think you should sign up for another marathon soon - after work calms down and NOT really tell anyone! It may take some of the stress off. We are all supportive of you and love hearing about your training but maybe you should just do it for yourself next time - we all know you can! Take care and feel better!! Ally
How true about the race anxiety and stress we place on ourselves, despite trying not too (really hard) It effects a lot of us BUT at least you know now the issue, and will beign to address it.ReplyDelete
I am sorry about how the run turned out, you're a great athlete, you'll get your day!! :) (just like I believe I'll get mine!)
PS. I think I'm 90% in for Shamrock- perhaps we could pace eachother to a PR? :)
Oh, sweetie. I totally see what you're saying, and I think your plan to deal with it from the emotional/mental direction makes good sense. Good luck recapturing your no-pressure joy in running the marathon. I know you are capable of it!ReplyDelete
Wow...what a story. You have really thought through everything and looked at it from all angles, Elizabeth. I think it is so smart to come away with lessons learned and a new perspective. You are a strong runner. You love the sport. You are smart. You are putting a lot of pressure on yourself and if putting it out there on FB and your blog is creating anxiety you are wise to be aware of that and make some changes ... Though I would selfishly miss visiting you here. In all truth, your story is just as inspiring to me as if you had run a PR and a BQ. I am learning from you and I appreciate you putting it out there and sharing your thoughts and experiences with training and racing here. I do understand though, but as a reader and fellow female runner I value your knowledge, experience and advice in the blog/running community. So take a break from writing/sharing if you need to but please come back :-)ReplyDelete
Oh Elizabeth, it just breaks my heart to see you go through this again. You may not know it, but I've been reading your blog since at least when you ran Arizona. I was pulling for you SO HARD to finally come out on top of this distance. Your training cycle this time around has been rock-solid, and I'm glad to see you aren't blaming anything in your training.ReplyDelete
Listen to George - he's super smart about racing (and all things) and listen to Amy - she went through this late last year, and it was such a struggle, but she finally beat it, and you will too. We're all here for you.
Elizabeth - Its been a long time since we've 'talked' but I think what I got most from this post is that your husband loves you very much, and I remember from being on the womens forum with you, that you really wanted to find someone who made you happy, and it looks as if you have. If you get nothing else from this race, you should walk away with that notion. There are people everywhere who want that, its harder to find than any race PR that's for sure.ReplyDelete
Everyone has given you enough thoughtful comments and reassurance so I thought I'd just say that I got away from the forums as well because everything ceased to be mine in comparison to how others were doing - I venture on there for other reasons from time to time, but running has finally become something I do, and I have moments where I got lost in the mire of what everyone else is capable of, but that never helps me get to the finish line.
Your 8k is proof enough that you have what you need to get you there, as are your other shorter races, but perhaps you need to allow yourself permission to say that whatever it is you can achieve is what is good enough, not what others will say before or after your race and I think what you want most will finally come.
All very valuable responses here, but probably none are more important than your own insight. I had this experience in Chicago and it has been a long road with much work and reflection to get back the love( just in time to break a foot, no less).
You are a wonderful runner with great ability. I will be ready with bells when you are finding your next race..
Just wanted to say love you friend! You're still my inspiration no matter what.ReplyDelete
I think that's great that you and your husband finished together, it's great that he refused to leave you behind, and I think it's great that you've taken the time to think and reflect on all that happened.ReplyDelete
I think the pressure build up is HUGE, personally.
Sorry to hear that it was a disappointment. I think finishing, feeling like that is a major accomplishment. You could have at any given point just said, "I quit". But you didn't. So congratulations to that.
AND YOU DESERVE your medal!
In our ideal running world, every awesome training cycle would promise a PR Marathon. Unfortunately, life does not work this way. We've all seen the images of Paula on the side of the road during the marathon, seen Kara not meet her goals, and Deena experience injury during a race. They eat, sleep, and breath running. We are actually more fortunate- we have jobs, friends that don't run, and success that comes from other outlets.ReplyDelete
My point here is don't feel alone, and don't EVER feel like a failure. Every.single.runner has "one of those days." Go back and read your own blog. You have had some kick butt training and racing.
Sometimes it takes awhile to meet those goals. Look at me... how many years have I been chasing Sub 3?
As far as RWOL. I loved that place. The problem was- too many experts, many of which have never met you (or me). Distance yourself from wherever you need distance. Keep around the people that make you feel good and ditch the rest.
You ARE awesome!
Ps... I've REALLY been wanting to lead a BQ women's pace group....
Elizabeth, I feel your pain, every single step of it. I have had my fair share of disastrous, embarrassing marathons, most recently Boston 2010. I was plagued by insomnia for days prior, basically OD'd on Ambien, and had a panic attack on the course. When I ran St. george on Saturday, I could feel disaster looming once again. I was sick and it was hot, and I was filled with dread. And then something weird happened: I let it go. I just went out and ran and said to hell with it. I'm here to have fun, and I'm just going to relax and enjoy it. And I had a great race. I know it is all easier said than done, and if I knew the secret I would not have had multiple bonks myself, but there is no question the mental factor has played a huge role for both of us. If I were you, I'd sign up for a marathon "for fun," something where you know BQ is most unlikely so you won't even think about it. Get the joy of running back, forget about your times, and the rest will follow.ReplyDelete
I know you already know this, but your husband is a total keeper!
Thanks for your kind comments on my blog. So sorry that Milwaukee didn't go as well as you hoped.ReplyDelete
I am so very sorry Elizabeth. :( Regardless, I think you are an AWESOME and GREAT runner!! No matter what you are still an inspiration!!!!ReplyDelete
By the way, my word verification is bless. So many blessings in life!!!
just came across your blog and this race report-I definitely felt I could have written a lot of this post!! I've had a sub-3:40 monkey on my back for the last 3 years, and I just ran NYCM and thought that was gonna be the one, but my race seemed like it went a lot like yours.ReplyDelete
What the future holds for me as a marathoner, I don't know, all I know is I'm determined to end this year on a good note with some short races, and it looks like you're doing the same. best of luck to you! :-)