Monday, May 26, 2014

Run For Water Marathon

Run for Water, Abbostford
May 25, 2014
Finish time: 4:32:37

Splits from my garmin:

I ran my fifth marathon yesterday, my first since fall 2011. It has been a training season with lots of challenges, and I am very grateful that I was able to do this race. It turned out to be a much more difficult race than I planned, and I finished with a time of 4:32 for a PW. I have been having trouble writing this report, but I will do my best to put my experience into words.

I started training for this race in January, with the plan of following a modified version the Hanson Beginner Marathon Plan. The Hanson plan is a challenging plan and has the unique aspect of maxing out at 26K long runs (vs the standard 30K+ runs). Instead of placing so much importance on a single long run, it spreads out mileage more evenly through the week and maxes out at pretty high volume. The plan also has marathon-paced tempo runs which max at 16K at pace, plus various speed workouts. The concept of the plan relies on “cumulative fatigue” which makes the training effect of the 26K runs more like the longer runs of other plans. Rob has done really well on this plan, improving significantly over the past two years. I was anxious to give it a try, although I was still dealing with some injury recovery issues from last year. I used 4-hours as a tentative goal for setting the paces of the workouts, but I modified the plan to reduce the early speed work. Overall I was able to handle the workouts and the mileage in the plan fairly well. I did have a setback in February when I had difficulty recovering from an early season half-marathon, but was able to come back strong in March and April. A very strong 30K road race at the end of March gave me the confidence I needed to keep training for the marathon. However, things did start to go a bit south at the end of April. I had some strong weeks of training, but then was starting to feel some fatigue. I had worked two races more into my plan, with the intention of modifying the paces of the weeks’ workouts to accommodate them (a 10K on April 27 and a half-marathon on May 4, three weeks before the marathon). Looking back I realize it probably was not wise to do both of these training races, although I might have simply been suffering from a bit of over-training by then anyway. In this plan it was hard to tell the difference between the expected cumulative fatigue and actual over-training, and think I might have crossed that second barrier. 

I have to repeat that I am very grateful I got to the start line of this race. That was half the battle. The half-marathon on May 4 went really well and I executed my plan perfectly, but afterwards I had a very difficult recovery. By adding a 5K warm-up and keeping the pace in control, I worked it into the plan as my last 26K run. I modified the paces of some of the runs before and after the race, and was hoping to be able “train through” it to finish the last three weeks of the training. The plan continues with another week and a half of pretty tough workouts and mileage before the real taper begins about 10 days before the marathon. And I was not able to do any of those. So this de-training combined with already losing some before the half probably contributed to my marathon difficulty. Still, I thought with a modified goal I would have a decent chance of finishing well.

My race plan was to start around 6:00/km, a bit slower in the first 10K and close to that in the second. If it felt good after 20K I would pick it up a bit for the next 10K, and then try to hang on for the last 12K. The plan actually worked really well for about the first 30K. The 6:00/km pace felt smooth and I kept it fairly steady with it for the first half (crossed the half-way mat at 2:07, right where I wanted to be). The pace came pretty naturally, and the kilometres seemed to pass with ease. After the half-way point, I did start to get a burst of energy and ran the next few kilometres just a bit faster, trying to execute the race plan as well as I had on May 4. But I worried that I was getting overzealous and just continued to stay close to 6:00. I was taking my gels every six kilometres, so mentally I was thinking of the race in 6K chunks. After 24K I was thinking, “OK, make it to 30K, then just one more 6K segment. The last 6K will be tough after that but I’ll just tough it out by then… this can work.” Up to around 27K I still felt pretty strong. But soon afterwards, I started to get slight twinges in my right calf, which in past half-marathons have preceded all-out seizing cramps. “Oh, no- not again.” I still had a long way to go, and did not want to be hobbling in this marathon. I modified my gait and slowed my pace a bit to make the cramping stop, and walked through the next water station. I thought I could manage it, but I knew I would have to try to relax and keep my pace slower. As I was approaching the 3-hour mark I started to think about Rob who was hoping to finish under 3:20. He said he would text me when he finished—so I was expecting I would be at about 33K by then. In fact, I was just over 33K when he did text me at about 3:25 to tell me he had finished in 3:20:something. I was ecstatic. He also texted me some short inspirational messages – “Go Jen Go, You can do this!” It really helped and I tried to relax and keep going strong. I managed to text back, “I’m hurting.” He was worried and asked, “Are you ok?” I answered back with a simple “Yes” just to let him know I was ok enough to finish. In fact, at this point I even hoped I could run reasonably strong and still come in close to 4:20-ish. I really hadn’t lost that much—yet.

After about 34K the cramping stopped, but I was going so much slower and walking every 10 minutes or so. I just couldn’t go faster. I guess the proverbial wheels fell off somewhere in there, so it was not just the cramping that slowed me down (maybe that was more of a symptom than a cause). When the cramping had started, I also noticed that my fingers were quite swollen. Not enough salt, apparently. I had taken my usual diluted Gatorade bottle plus fluids on the course, and gels with electrolytes every 6K. But maybe I didn’t eat enough of a salty meal the night before. I also forgot my morning banana. All of these things didn’t help, but in the end I think I just wasn’t prepared, for several reasons, for the pace I was trying to run. Despite it being essentially my long run pace and much slower than the so-called “marathon pace” I was using for my long tempos in the plan.

The last 7-8K seemed to last forever. I was passing a few people, being passed by others. Jogging easy was not always possible, so I walked every 10 minutes or so. We merged with the half-marathon route at around 35K, but these people were already over 2 hours into their race with 7K to go. So most were walking. It was very tough, but I just kept moving forward, waving at volunteers and spectators and trying to encourage others. I kept smiling as much as I could. At some point the plan became just to finish and I wasn’t even that upset when the 4:30 pace bunny passed me with about 2K to go.

At about 500m from the end I could see the finish line and was ecstatic. Just keep moving. Cheryl was watching and cheering about a hundred metres from the finish, and Rob shortly after that. It was so great to see them. My husband and son were watching on the other side, but unfortunately I did not see them. Still, it was nice that they came out to see me finish. I heard Steve King announce my name and my 4:32 finish time, and I was just so glad to be done. I wasn’t walking all that well afterwards and cried a bit at one point, but was able to get myself together and change into some dry clothes. The beer at lunch never tasted so good. 

So there it was—my “comeback” marathon after a 3-year gap. I am still not sure what is next, but I plan to focus on a strong recovery this month. This wasn’t the strong race that I wanted, but I am truly happy that I was able to run another marathon. Running is a gift that I will never take for granted. 

Thanks for reading.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Plan the run, run the plan

BMO Vancouver Half-Marathon
Celebrating my 10th anniversary of my first half-marathon 8)
May 4, 2014
Finish time: 2:02:37

My goal race this spring is the Abbostford Run for Water Marathon on May 25, but I also wanted to participate in the BMO Vancouver Marathon in some way. This year marks the 10th anniversary since my first half-marathon (on the old Vancouver half-marathon course). I could not run it last year, and I knew I would be sad to sit on the side-lines again of a race that begins practically in my backyard. So I registered for the half-marathon with the intention of “training through” the race and doing it at approximately marathon pace. A 5K warm-up run before the race would complete the 26K mileage needed for the day. Rob is training for the same marathon, so he planned to run with me for the half. For him it would be an easy training pace, for me a substitute for the marathon pace run and speed work of the week. In theory it sounded good, but in practice it became difficult make it work with my training plan. Yesterday was scheduled to be the last 26K run of the plan, at the end of the highest week of mileage (over 90K) of my Hanson beginner marathon plan. I have been feeling the effects of the cumulative fatigue of the program, including after last Sunday’s Sun Run on tired legs (another race I would have been sad to miss). I ended up cutting back my mileage a bit for the week, but I was still feeling very fatigued. In this plan it is hard to distinguish normal “cumulative fatigue” from overtraining, and I feared I had entered the overtraining zone. But somehow on Sunday morning I felt much better, and felt like I could have the day I wanted.

The weather on Sunday was not great; it was raining pretty steadily when I woke up, but at least it was not cold or very windy. The race started at 7:00; the plan was for Rob to come by and get me at about 5:45, and he would park his car near the Skytrain station to make it easier to get to later. We started our 5K warm-up from the car, jogged to the bag check (about 1.5K), checked our bags, and then finished the warm-up. A long port-a-potty line-up meant we were not waiting around in the corrals at all during the start, but managed to get in and start with the second wave.

In my journal last week I wrote that I was not trying for my best time in this race. The plan was to practice controlled pacing for the marathon, at a pace that would allow me to recover well to finish the last three weeks of marathon training. The plan was to run the first 5K about 6:00/km (and since this is net downhill, the effort should be easier), the middle 10K about 5:40-5:45/km, and the remaining 6.1K no faster than 5:30/km. This plan worked out about as perfectly as I could have hoped. Finish time was 2:02:37, average pace of 5:49/km. First 5K was at just under 6:00/km, next 10K at about 5:45/km, and the last 6.1K at about 5:35/km. We passed the half-way point at just over 1:02, so finished the second half in about 1 hour. The splits can be found in the Strava link above (although these are Garmin splits; course splits were a little off but not too much). I had forgotten how rolling the course is—there are not many spots of flat running. I also didn’t carry water, so I was stopping at some of the aid stations to drink. (I still have not mastered drinking from a cup while running.) Rob stuck with me the whole time, but I was setting the pace. He was worried he would have to keep me in control, but he did not have to. The “sea of humanity” that Ian predicted was a reality—we were always in a huge crowd of people with goal times of about 2 hours. This might have been annoying if I was trying for a time goal, because a few times I actually had to weave around people slowing down, run-walkers, and others. But on a day when I just wanted to run strong and well, it was nice to be in a crowd. The course is beautiful, but definitely challenging. I found myself using the power of positive thinking to convince myself that I actually like hills. “Hills are fun!” Yeah, right. :)

There were a few other times when my brain started thinking too much. At just before 5K when we were getting ready to pick up the pace, I was thinking that I had been already running for 10K easy by that time (with the warm-up). I pushed that thought out and just reminded myself to keep it strong. Approaching 18K I remembered that was where I cramped badly in this race in 2012. I kept saying to myself, “today I will stay strong.” In the last 6K I was able to find a groove and just stuck with it without really thinking about the pace. The last kilometre was brutal—around the bend and up a gradual but significant hill on Pender Street to the finish. It was hard to pick up the pace, but I did stay strong and controlled, and finally heard Steve King doing his monologue at the finish. I heard Rob’s name, but not my own. :) That’s ok- it was just so nice to be done and I felt great. Thanks for sticking with me Rob, and I am glad you didn’t have to yell at me to slow down. It was great to run with you.

I am very happy with how this race went. The pace felt challenging and hard, but “comfortably hard” like a long tempo run. I always felt in control. I am not sure how I will pace the marathon, but I somehow want to find a pace that does not force me to slow down. This will be tricky and I have never succeeded in this for marathon pacing. I will see how these last three weeks of training and taper go, and decide later on. I am looking forward to the next challenge.