Monday, February 3, 2014

Surf City Marathon: run report

Run Report # 4, or "Once again, how NOT to do a long race," by Nellyda Anslow

First let me say that I did train for this damn race.  I did it right, followed the schedule, had a reasonable time goal for a first marathon, and didn't skip any of my long training runs.  I carb-loaded, tapered, cross trained, stretched, foam-rolled, and got lots of sleep. With this program, I was quite sure that I could finish my first marathon in the top quartile of marathoners-- that is to say, in under 4 hours-- despite my lack of experience.

 Marina and I feeling confident the night before the marathon...

That, apparently is where the righteousness stops.  My whole approach was a study in wrongness.  Classic Nellyda, learning the hard way.  I learn things in a tactile way. I really have to suffer in order to understand things, apparently.  This is the only way for me.  I'm hard-wired to try stupid things, make mistakes, and then improve upon the disaster.  Thus, it shall be.  Indeed, this was how it was this weekend.
First, lets examine the official split times from the race and try to see where I went wrong.  In order to run a sub-4 hour marathon, one must keep his or her split times under ~ 9:12.  A full race of 9:16 splits will get you under the wire in exactly 4 hours.  In order to accomplish this goal, a novice runner is best advised to run a steady pace for the entire 26.2 miles.  More experienced racers will try to run "negative" splits, meaning that their late miles will (somehow miraculously) be faster than their earlier ones.  How this is possible boggles the mind of a novice slug like myself, but they do it.

Looking at the above splits, it almost looks possible!  In fact, I thought so during most of my run.  But there were dire problems, many of which began to plague me after mile 17...  the worst of them being GI distress.   I'm talking nausea AND diarrhea.  Also, I had developed posterior tibial tendinitis about 12 days prior to this race due to a foolish desire to do just a few more tempo runs with the hope of improving my pace a bit in the final month leading up to the race.  Moreover, I somehow failed to remember salt, and ran the entire race without this vital electrolyte, thus worsening my nausea and confusion due to what I suspect was mild hyponatremia.  Yup.  I was injured at the start of the race, nauseated throughout the second half, and I had to stop-- not once, but three times-- to poo.  You can bet that these things took a serious bite out of my plan to run a sub-4. 

First, the GI distress.  Why was it so bad?  Never mind the serious nerves, adrenaline, and shunting of blood away from the gut that happens when you decide to run 26 miles.  I also had consumed no fewer than 5 bowls of salad the day before the race.  "Seriously!?" my dear readers might ask.  Yes.  I know.  It's probably rule # 1:  NO FIBER the day before a big race.  I know this.  And ironically, I've never eaten 5 bowls of salad in any one day of my entire life.  But driving down through LA just made me feel slow and dirty, and road food sounded horrible, so Marina and I decided to buy one of those big plastic boxes of mixed organic salad greens and make a road-salad... which we did... and ate happily on the road as I drove, and it was delicious.  It was still early in the day, and we had planned a delicious, bland dinner of rice and potatoes later that evening.  Lots of starch, no fiber.  I thought I would be safe.

But...  Nichole's awesome friend who lives in Huntington Beach decided to come to our hotel later that night and surprise us with...  you guessed it: SALAD! Fresh from her organic garden, a huge, delicious salad with sorrel, kale, spinach, lettuce, cilantro... all hand picked by her and delivered with love to our hotel room.  How could I say no?  So, I ate about 3 more bowls of delicious FIBER.

Need I say more?

Suffice it to say that I stopped to visit the bathroom facilities at miles 2, 17, and 21.  The stop at mile 2 isn't reflected in my splits above because, at that early point in the run,  I still had ample amounts of energy to make up the lost time.  But when the second wave of nausea, cramps and full-blown urgency hit at mile 16 it felt like the end of the world.  I was hot and sweaty, just keeping pace with the 4:00 pace leaders, and in no mood to duck into a hot port-a-potty in the sun which had been attended by no fewer than 18,000 other potential users.  But I had no choice unless I wanted muddy shorts.  I ducked out of the race and made my way into the plastic toilet.  I was off balance-- somewhat clumsy from runner's-brain.  I lost more time than I wanted.  When I got back on course the nausea had subsided to some degree but my morale had taken a serious nose dive.  The toilet stop had caused my legs to cramp.  I slowed down a bit to recover my strength.  At about mile 19, the 4:10 pace leaders passed me and I wanted to die.  But I kept plugging towards my goal, still feeling like I could make up some time in the final 6 miles if I kept my head together. 

For those of you who've run a marathon, this point in the race is interesting.  You've had plenty of time to start to really doubt your own sanity and wonder what it would feel like to quit.  Your judgement begins to fail you.  You have developed a healthy skepticism of marathons in general.  You see people around you start to drop out.  People start walking.  People start falling down (literally).  People start massaging their calves and hamstrings and quadriceps.  People start frowning and grimacing.  It's not pretty.

That's where I was at, mentally, when I can upon the Bacon and Beer station.  This was a well-devised plan (specifically designed to crank up my nausea a few notches), executed beautifully by a bunch of Huntington Beach-ers.  These well-wishers had created their own aid station with just two essential items:  bacon and beer.  There they were, frying up plates and plates of greasy pork belly in the sun.  It was murder.  Basically, at miles 18- 19, which come along on a very boring strip of concrete "boardwalk" the race is sandwiched between a giant parking lot and the beach.  All the fans and well-wishers, etc, can come along and aid runners in their own special ways.  People dress in costumes, play classic rock on guitars, play classic rock on boom-boxes, dance, hand out Vaseline, red vines, pretzels and...  bacon.  And beer.

Normally, this would have been awesome.  But when I was 2 inches away from vomiting nothing in the world could have smelled worse than burned pig belly wafting towards me on the ocean breeze.  I bravely pushed through that area without losing any more bodily fluids, but dreaded the up coming turn-around (this being the out-and back stretch of the course) which would necessitate a return visit to this horror.

Let me take a step back for a minute to remind you that most of my run was not hell.  I fully enjoyed miles 0-15.  I smiled, laughed and had good heart-to-heart conversations with myself.  There were lots of cute, hand-made motivational signs held by junior high kids, bands playing, people waving.  It was pretty fun.  I felt great and my PTT (posterior tib) wasn't acting up yet.  Nichole had jokingly consoled me in the days leading up to our run that I shouldn't worry about my ankle (PTT) because so many other parts of my body would hurt that I wouldn't have time to think about my ankle.  "You won't even believe what hurts!" she said with a smile. Indeed, the right PTT didn't talk to me once during the run.  However, the left ankle suddenly, out of absolutely no where, began hurting so badly at mile 14 that I was pretty sure I had been bitten by a small monster.  Or maybe it was just Mysterious Wandering Body Pains, as perfectly described by Haruki Murakami in his memoire, "What I Talk About When I Talk About Running."

But seriously, my race was pretty good.  I packed a few Satsumas in my little fanny pack and ate those judiciously, as well as some Clif Shots provided by the aid stations.  The race was very well supported, with aid stations almost every mile.  Looking back, this may have actually contributed to my problems later in the race.  While training, I normally carry a water bottle (spiked with non-sugary electrolytes and table salt) and some salty snacks, and generally could run 16-18 miles in the mountains, in the heat, with no residual aches, pains or any such nags at any point during or after my efforts.

However, with friendly volunteers handing me little cups of water at every mile, it seemed natural to drink water frequently.  To make matters worse, I didn't bring salt tabs, and the aid stations provided nothing in the way of salt replacement.  I'm almost certain that my sudden fatigue and loss of performance ability at mile 15-16 can be partially attributed to a lack of salt.  Not to blame my lazy ass on externals.  In truth, I'm a novice with lots to learn and much muscle to build.  But I can see where an electrolyte imbalance may have hindered me to some degree...

Anyway.  I loved my run until mile 15 or so, then I began to deteriorate.  I realize that training for one marathon gives one what is physically necessary to run one marathon.  It doesn't make me a winner or a superstar.  It prepares me for the next effort by showing me where I am deficient.  This has been my approach to running, and it will continue to be my approach.  I have much to learn.  I've been running now for about 24 months.  Prior to my first race in the summer of 2012 I had never really run more than a mile or two.  Alas...  the steep learning curve.

Mile 20.9 was the turn-around point.  You can see by looking at my splits that I had slowed down considerably between mile 16 and mile 20.9, but not so much as to destroy my time goal just yet.  But when I rounded the turnaround spot all hope was immediately crushed.  The headwind coming from the south was stiff.  I'm talking a 15-20 knot wind.  I read somewhere that a 10mph wind will add 15-30 minutes to a 4 hour marathon.  OK.  That's bad news.  I still had almost 6 miles to go.  Plus, miles 12-17 were also run into this same wind (although at that point I still had physical and mental reserves, so it wasn't as terrible or cruel). Also lets not forget that I still had bacon grease to encounter again.  And nausea.  And... what's that?  More explosive diarrhea?

That's correct.  Shortly after passing the bacon station again, at mile 21, I once again felt an urgent need to find a toilet.  Again, there was no ignoring this call.

When I came out of the bathroom this 3rd time, the 4:15 pace leaders were just passing by.  Again, my morale took a steep dive.  But now, I didn't have a tail wind to push me along.  I was running directly into an ever-stiffening head wind filled with the smell of bacon grease and stale keg beer, and I knew that I still had 6 miles left to run. My legs felt like troughs of soup.  My feet didn't so much as leave the ground-- they were more like injured snakes, slithering across the rough asphalt.

They say that the last 6 miles of a marathon is its own race.  A different race.  Totally. Fucking. True. A race of injured snake/ grease trough lower extremities, diarrhea, confusion, nausea, bacon and headwinds. 

 The last 6 miles aren't captured in my official race split times above, but I have them on my GPS.  I also have them burned into my own mind as the very idea of living hell.  Upon my return to the hotel room I said, "those last six miles can just fuck right off... " Mile 21 was run at a brisk 10:26, mile 22 was 11:59 (bathroom stop), mile 23 was a glorious 11:25, mile 24 in 11:27, mile 25 was 9:58 (found a larger person to draft for a mile), and mile 26 was 11:46.  Yikes!  That's about 2 minutes per mile slower than the rest of my race.  This explains why my pace for the whole race was 10:01, despite having splits averaging about 9:20-ish for the first 21 miles.  Egads. Even Nichole, who has never run a race over 3:45:00 (and this is her 7th marathon), ran a 4:02:00.  We had about 10 miles of God forsaken headwinds.

here is a fun theoretical model that describes the effect of wind on runners:

Also: regardless of wind, the complete system failure at miles 20-26.2 was what they call "bonking."  Ah ha! The experts were right.  Now I will take my ego home and put it to bed.
This is what we look like after the marathon.

Which is exactly what I did.  I'm pretty sure that the First Aid crew in the Medic tent gave me a second glance (should we bring the stretcher now, or wait for her to collapse first?).... I was white as a sheet and dazed as a deer when I finally crossed the wire.  I staggered back to the hotel, looked at Marina's bloody feet, laughed at Nichole's arthritic walk and shared some war stories with the girls before eating some salt straight out of the jar, guzzling some coconut water and passing out.  The girls said I looked like I needed a blood transfusion.

I finally woke up after three hours of near-dead sleep and began a 29 hour eating spree that started with macaroni and cheese, progressed to Pad Kee Mao, continued with 1/2 a hamburger, a slice of carrot cake, 2 spring rolls, 1 beer, some Lays potato chips, 2 oranges, 1 banana, 1 power bar (all last night)... then continuing today with 2 more spring rolls, coffee, orange juice, a foot-long turkey sandwich, 2 snickers bars, and a yogurt.  I still need to eat dinner tonight.  

Today I walk like someone who has had multiple hip replacement surgeries.  I hobble, but I am laughing.  Strangely, I look forward to running again, though not on asphalt.  I look forward to finding myself on the trails again, to planning another "race" in the woods or the mountains.  The Surf City Marathon, for me, was not about running so much as it was about solidarity with my friend Nichole, who turns 40 in a few days.  Solidarity with girlfriends who love to laugh, love to travel, and who find the joy of pain as amusing as anything else under the sun.  What was really important about this weekend was the fact that I spent 3 days away from school in an altered mental state due almost entirely to the fact that I pushed my body to an extreme that put all kinds of things in perspective. 

While showering this morning, I was trying to figure out why my abdominal muscles hurt.  I know that running for 4 hours hurts everything, but I'm a dreadfully bad belly-breather.  Why my abs? I prefer to use my scalene muscles, my shoulders and my upper back to breath (ha ha!), totally wrong, totally my style.  So where did these abs come from?

Oh, yeah...  I've been laughing my ass off for days.

1 comment:

marian said...

sorry your marathon turned out different than planned!

same happened to me when i did a half during my first year of running. i got a weird knot in my diaphragm which prevented me from drinking. and gave me hiccups for 5 hours after.
and not to forget the rumbling gut during!!!

ps i love how much you ate after.