Tag Archives: Marathon

I Am A Marathoner…

…or at least that’s what I need to tell myself.

Before we get more into that, however, let’s take a look at some of the nitty-gritty stats:

What?: Charleston Marathon

When?: January 18th, 2014

Where?: Refer to the “What?”

Why?: Well, it seemed like the next logical step…

Who?: Yours truly!

Kicks: Brooks Ghost 5’s

Fuel: Clif Shot Bloks, Sport Beans, Pretzels, Gatorade

Tunes: Varied mix with heavy doses of The Gaslight Anthem, Pela, Fake Problems, The Killers, Arctic Monkeys, Frank Turner, Jukebox The Ghost, Spoon, etc

Results: 4:20:38 (9:56 Pace)

The very good news is that I crossed the finish line in my first ever full marathon this past weekend. The bad news is that I am admittedly my own worst critic and thus cannot say I’m satisfied given the fact that the race did not go according to plan (though really, what does?). The other piece of good news to finish off this good/bad news sandwich is that my outlook is shifting more and more towards the sense of accomplishment spectrum and further away from the “you suck” spectrum.

Let’s start from the beginning, shall we? First off, I do want to say that it’s my opinion that the Charleston marathon was organized well from beginning to end and executed extremely well on race day. I have heard others coming down on this race for one reason or another, and whereas it is true that there are indeed areas that the race directors can look to improve upon in future iterations of this event, it is my newbie marathoner’s (though not newbie racer or runner) opinion that this was an excellent event overall. Plus you have to remember that this is only the fourth year that this race has been around and the first time that the event sold out (it capped at a combined 5,000 participants for the half and full). In any case, the fact that 46 States and 10 countries were represented must mean that they were doing something right here! (or maybe just that people love to visit Charleston?…nah)

The race expo on Friday night was a no frills type of affair (which was more than fine by me!). I wanted to get in and get out, and the set up at the expo allowed just that. A free (well, with the registration fee) technical shirt and my race bib was all I was searching for, and so I snatched them up and got on out of there!

Shizz was getting real.
Shizz was getting real.

After taking the above photo of the ol’ race shirt, tweaking my marathon playlist a bit, and setting up my race gear for the morning, I set off to bed. I managed to get to bed around 11pm which is early for me and good considering the anxiety I was beginning to feel more acutely. I slept well and awoke to my alarm at 5:30am feeling well-rested along with a mixture of nerves/excitement. One cup of coffee, a peanut buttered bagel, and a shower later and I was out the door accompanied by my lovely driver/cheerleader/motivational speaker for the day, Alicia.

As expected, there was race day traffic near the starting line but nothing too crazy and the future ball and chain my beautiful fiancée was able to drop me off a few blocks from the jumping off point. While walking over to the starting area, a black cat did cross in front of myself and two other runners walking in front of me. Was this an ominous curse or a good luck blessing? I’m still not sure. Maybe I should try to find out how those two other runners fared so that I can establish a final verdict…

The race started at 8am, and it was sunny but cold (at least by Lowcountry winter standards). The temperature was around 34F when the race began and only rose to about 45F during the course of the event. Although it was a tad bit chilly while standing around before the race, the cool air felt good for the most part while running. I’ll always prefer cooler temps during a run as opposed to warmer ones given the overall lesser degree of stress on the body and hydration status. It is worth pointing out, however, that gloves may have been a good idea given the fact that I found my fingers to be largely non-functional the first time I went to grab some Shot Bloks out of my Fitletic pouch. Opening up the Shot Bloks packaging was also quite challenging. Yikes!

The sun rising and doing its best to warm us up as we stood waiting for the gun to go off!
The sun rising and doing its best to warm us up as we stood waiting for the gun to go off!

At 8am, the gun went off and the race began! The first four to five miles were jumbled as any race that draws more than a few hundred people is. These miles were perhaps the most scenic as we ran along The Battery and up along the “touristy” part of King Street. I focused on staying relaxed and not pushing my pace, keeping it around 8:40 per mile. I told myself to just enjoy the experience (“This is your first marathon and it’s awesome!”).

The problem is that I never felt good. You know those runs when you realize you simply don’t have it within the first five minutes? Well, this was one of those runs…and it was my first marathon! It would be one thing if this was a 10k or even a half marathon since then I could just say, “Meh, you’ll get ’em next time”, and take it easier than I normally would have while knowing that I would still finish (or at least most likely would!). Having never run more than 20 miles at a clip, I didn’t know what this all meant for my morning as I would ultimately be heading into uncharted territories…

I told myself things such as, “Well, they don’t call it a marathon for nothin” and “If it was easy, everyone would be doing it” to try to motivate myself.

Ultimately, around mile 6 I started to have some significant GI distress. I’ll spare you all the details, but suffice it to say that the Shot Bloks were not sitting well with me that morning. This fact was both surprising and a bummer given that this was the fuel I had been training with all along while preparing for this marathon, and it had never disagreed with me before. Did I say something to offend the Bloks? I’m not sure. Regardless, we were like an old married couple locked up in an epic argument that made it painfully clear we could not even be in the same room together.

After hitting a port a potty at the mile 8 aid station in an attempt to smooth over the disagreement myself and C. Bloks were tangled up in, I actually felt pretty good. There was a bounce in my step and I was able to pick up my pace a bit. I passed the 4:00 hour pace group somewhere around mile 13 and was feeling pretty good…

…until the Bloks and I began not seeing eye to eye again. This resulted in another call of nature stop at mile 16, but unlike last time no magical rejuvenation coursed through me after exiting the green construction site staple beacon of hope.

My pace again began to falter. I switched to Sport Beans, which were apparently friendlier on my system but didn’t work any miracles.The 4:00 hour pace group passed me looking like a group of Olympians. My left ankle began hurting (that was weird). My right quad began screaming out in pain. I felt like I was stuck in quicksand and I’m pretty sure a teeny, tiny ant zoomed passed me and shook his head in disgust.

Around mile 20, I began questioning whether it was even worth it to continue running. After all, I was a failure–I was significantly behind my goal time, I felt like death, and I was even considering walking. For some reason, that was the part that stung the most. I was ashamed to even consider engaging in such a preposterous and lowly act! How embarrassing would it be to walk past volunteers and spectators?! After all, this is a run! What would they think of me?

Now I don’t know where these ridiculous thoughts were coming from. After all, I am nowhere near an elite runner and am instead a middle of the packer at best on most days. Furthermore, I have always had a healthy dose of respect for any variety of distance runner (respect which has only grown since this past weekend).

Luckily, my brain was still functioning enough to realize it was indeed being absurd and convince my legs that walking is ok. “After all”, my brain said, “we want to get out of here in one piece”. They tried, but ultimately my legs could not argue with that logic.

So that’s what I did. After mile 20, I alternated walking with bits of running. When my body felt like it was going to give out during these running spurts, I stopped and resumed walking. I leisurely hit up the aid stations along this stretch and consumed electrolyte laden Gatorade. Around mile 23, I called my partner in crime, Alicia, to tell her that I would be nowhere near my goal time and would instead be lucky to cross the finish line. (She missed the first call and subsequently called back to ask if she had missed me at the finish–this was around the 3:41 mark; I wish!).

Still, I’m not going to say the last 10k or so of the race was easy by any stretch of the imagination even with the walking. There were still times when I thought about just throwing in the towel. How easy would it have been to have just walked off the course, sat down on a park bench, and called my chauffeur up?

I didn’t, though. Simply put, I didn’t want to quit. So I kept putting one foot in front of the other–sometimes it is as simple as that.

The volunteers and spectators were great as they offered support and kind words even when I dared to walk! (How bout that?) The cheers of the crowd were enough to motivate my legs to run the last 0.40 miles of the race and even pass a couple of other runners on the way down the straightaway (a girl in the crowd actually met my eyes and called out to me that I’d better “watch out” because a guy behind me was making a last kick and going to pass me down the final stretch; maybe I would’ve cared another day, but I didn’t on this day). I crossed the finish line and pretended I wasn’t going to die long enough for Alicia to greet me and act as a support beam as I became a lean-to.

In the festive atmosphere of the post race festivities, I wasn’t feeling good enough to stomach the free shrimp and grits or even much of the complimentary brews (though it should be noted also that it was Bud Light), but I did begin to feel proud of what I had accomplished out there on the 26.2 miles of pavement I left behind. Sure, the clock didn’t read what I had hoped but I persevered through one of the most physically challenging runs I have experienced and the most mentally challenging run. That is something that I’ll always remember and hopefully be able to draw from in the future.

Someone will need to help me off this bench...
Someone will need to help me off this bench…
Alicia got me roses for finishing. I told her she should have thrown them at me as I crossed the finish line.
Alicia got me roses for finishing. I told her she should have thrown them at me as I crossed the finish line (and I do mean “at” instead of “to”).
Celebratory grub (inhaled and thus not pictured) and brews (Dos Equis Amber) at Taco Boy.
Celebratory grub (inhaled and thus not pictured) and brews (Dos Equis Amber) at Taco Boy.

 

In the end, it's all about the bling (and the brews as provided by the lovely Alicia).
In the end, it’s all about the bling (and the brews as provided by the lovely Alicia).

Final thoughts:

1) Major thanks to the lovely and talented AJH. Without her support (emotionally and physically following the race), I would not have survived!

2) Next time (and let’s be honest–there is clearly going to be a next time), I’m going to nail down my fuel plan and have a stronger base going in.

3) I hope I at least look good in the race photos. Ha!

Until next time, thanks for reading!

 

 

It’s The Final Countdown!

AKA Sh** is getting real.

Tomorrow I shall be attempting to run and complete my first full marathon at the 2014 edition of the Charleston Marathon (at least it’ll be flat!).

Before we get to my anxiety  thoughts on that, let me rewind a day and mention that I went for my last pre-marathon run yesterday afternoon (two days before race day). The training plan schedule that I’ve been following pretty closely (at least with respect to tempo and long runs, as well as total weekly mileage) called for two days off before running a final 2 mile run today. As I tend to not run the day before a race (I like to keep my legs fresh) but also do not like taking two consecutive days off before a race (I don’t want my legs that fresh), I opted to go out for my last run two days before the big race day.

Thus, I took to the beach late in the afternoon yesterday for an easy, breezy two miler. I felt good and focused on going nice and slow, which made the jaunt peaceful and calm. The upside of running on the beach during the “magic hour” was that it afforded some beautiful (albeit blinding at times!) views.

Mr. Sun, why you be blinding me?!
Mr. Sun, why you be blinding me?!
Always trying to catch the sun and never succeeding...yet!
Always trying to catch the sun and never succeeding…yet!

Back to the lecture at hand (shout out to old school Dre and Snoop…I know you two G’s are following along), I have to admit that I am pretty anxious about the run tomorrow. I generally don’t get too nervous before a race (it’s not like I’m anywhere near an elite runner and am not challenging for any sort of age group (or otherwise) win or placing), but I definitely find myself feeling anxious as I sit here typing away. Part of it has to do with the fact that this is a new distance for me, and a distance that I have never covered before. Yes, I guess the unknown is indeed scary. However, I feel as though most of my uncertainty and unease come from the fact that my last long run was less than stellar.  Had I dominated (or at least survived) that training run, I am pretty sure my head would be in a different place (as would the butterflies in my stomach).

But none of that matters now! The past is the past, right? No need to dwell on that and I should instead focus on the positive and visualize myself crossing the finish line tomorrow so that I can add “marathoner” to my CV. That reminds me that I need to add “blogger” to that as well…

So tonight and tomorrow morning, I’ll carry out my typical pre-race/pre-long run rituals and have faith in the notion that these acts have gotten me this far and thus will help power me through to the finish line tomorrow.

For me, these rituals include constructing and subsequently devouring a home-made pizza this evening along with a couple of beers (as you need those liquid carbs…and some of us need to write blogs incorporating running and craft beers!), getting to bed early (often the hardest part for a perpetual night owl like myself), getting together my race gear tonight so I only need to do a minimal amount of thinking in the AM, eating a bagel with peanut butter in the morning along with only one cup of coffee (below my normal day-to-day intake but I’ve found greater quantities can be hazardous for longer runs), and getting to the race early enough to hit a port-a-potty (hey, you gotta do what you gotta do!).

Perhaps I’ll also watch some sort of inspirational or running themed movie tonight to set the tone. Or maybe I should just watch one of my favorite movies to put my head in a good place? Hmmm…

I’m curious to hear about anyone else’s race eve or race day morning rituals along with any suggestions for a good flick to check out the night before a race. Also, is there anything you do to ease your mind or get yourself focused before a race? I’d love to hear about it!

I shall be calm and serene like the afterglow (maybe that'll be my mantra for tomorrow morning...)
I shall be calm and serene like the afterglow (maybe that’ll be my mantra for tomorrow morning…)

 

Dirt Is Good For Your Soul

I had my long run scheduled for today, though it was a taper run of 12 miles given the fact that I am now less than two weeks out from running my first ever full marathon (yikes!). Speaking of taper runs, let me just say I am definitely not one of those people who experiences any sort of phenomena even remotely resembling “taper tantrums“.  When I see that both my scheduled weekly mileage and my long run distance for the week are significantly less than the week prior, I breathe a sigh of relief rather than becoming riddled with anxiety or overcome with an irresistible urge to cram in a few more miles. Does that not make me a “real runner”?

Regardless, I had initially planned to complete my 12 miler out on the Wannamaker North Trail. Mother Nature and the Charleston County Park and Recreation Commission had different plans for me, however. I checked the trail website last night (as it has a tendency to be shut down when there’s been significant rain in the recent past), and sure enough the trail was closed. Boo! Though as of right now, I see that the trail has re-opened. The Parks Commission probably reopened it as soon as I set off for my back-up running destination this morning. Yup, the whole world is against me. Is that paranoid?

That back-up destination was the West Ashley Greenway. This is a spot that I ran pretty frequently when I first moved to the area roughly seven months ago, and have just re-discovered recently. Essentially, it’s an 8.25 or so mile trail/greenway with one terminus in West Ashley over by the Windermere Shopping Center (where Earth Fare is) and the other end on Johns Island. Strangely, numerous websites list the trail as being 10.5 miles in length, though my own experiences and examination of Google maps leads me to believe that it is indeed only 8.25 miles (unless I’m missing a little over two miles somehow?). Thus, if you were hypothetically planning on running a 19 miler on this greenway, you may end up running along a train track on the Johns Island end of things. Though that is illegal and thus cannot be recommended. Hypothetically.

Back in the day, I essentially abandoned running the greenway due to the fact that the first four miles from the West Ashley end is all paved greenway and at the time the county was doing construction on a good portion of the trail. It was my fear at that time that they were opting to replace all the non-paved trail with new pavement, and that was part of the reason I decided to take my running business elsewhere. “I can run on roads anywhere I want, why would I come to your “greenway” just to do that?!”, I exclaimed to no one in particular.

However, as the fates would have it, the powers that be did not pave the dirt portions of the trail, but rather cleaned the trail up overall and brought in some hard packed dirt to smooth out the trail. Hooray! I discovered all this a few weeks ago when I came out to the greenway to do a long run and mix up my running terrain a bit. I can safely say I was pleasantly surprised. I also learned that the “far” end of the trail (the Johns Island end) offers some great views of waterways, runs along a big ol’ organic farm at one point, and does not have nearly as much stops for street crossings. Plus this end tends to be less crowded (although I fear that may be changing). Needless to say, I now always park and start off from the “awesome” end (read: Johns Island end) of the greenway nowadays.

Intense clouds during the run!
Intense clouds during the run!

Views like the one above made the run much more enjoyable. The clouds were threatening rain for most of my time on the greenway, but luckily they were all just bluffing in the end. As for the run itself, I actually felt pretty solid. Prior to the run and early on during the first couple miles, I think I made the mental mistake of thinking that I could knock out 12 miles easy as though that number of miles was “nothing”. Hey, after all I am running a marathon in a couple of weeks, right?

Well, I learned (or rather re-learned) that thinking in such a way is foolish. I am clearly nowhere near the level of running excellence where 12 miles is something to laugh at. Luckily, I remembered that early enough that I didn’t fall apart or bonk or cry (what?) during the run.  At the end of the run, I was happy with my overall pace and the fact that I felt pretty good all things considered. Could I have run 26.2 miles today if I had to? No, I honestly don’t think that I could, and that’s a semi scary thought with my marathon approaching so quickly. Maybe I’m not supposed to be able to throw down 26.2 right now since I’m just coming off my highest mileage week? Maybe I really could run that distance, and rather it’s just that my mindset was to run 12 today and that’s how my body responded? I don’t know.

Look, it’s the sky and water again!

My doubts and uncertainties aside, I did observe an interesting phenomena out on the greenway today. As a bit of a backdrop, you have to know that I belong to the breed of runner guys (and gals) that will always shoot you a nod or a wave or a smile when I pass you. Why? Well, I guess because I think it’s the polite thing to do and also because I’ve always felt a strong sense of community and camaraderie with fellow runners. Hey, we’re all out here sweating, breathing the same air, and pounding the same pavement, right? Totally, dude…

In any case, as I ran into the more populated and less awesome portion of the greenway (read: the West Ashley side), I noticed that the runners I passed were becoming increasingly antisocial. Either they would fail to make any sort of eye contact (ok, that’s somewhat understandable) or they would blatantly ignore the wave I shot their way (now, that’s not cool!). Were all these other people having the worst day of their collective lives? Did I look like a serial killer? What is the deal here?

Thus, after I made the turn to head back to the awesome end of the trail where my car was parked, I continued to think about anything and everything (as you do on a long run) which appropriately included this blog. At that point in time, I had landed on “Running With Jerks” as an apt title for this entry. However, this title was thrown in the mental trash bin a few miles down the road when the strangest thing happened. Other runners started to wave and smile towards me as I passed them. Some even initiated these basic social gestures before I did. A dog even ran with me for a short bit (after I had chatted with his owner for a second, and thus knew it would be ok). What was happening here? Had I entered a twilight zone of happiness?

I found my answer as I looked towards my feet. I was back on the beautiful, hard pressed dirt and off the unforgiving and punishing blacktop that lines the trail near the non-awesome side.

And thus, I concluded that dirt is good for your soul.

Curious Pete, Unamused Alicia
Curious Pete, Unamused Alicia

 

18.76 Miles and Broken Down

So I opted to complete my long run for the week today (Friday) rather than on a weekend day as I typically do. I had the day off as part of my holiday vacay and you take what the week gives you, am I right?

Given the clear schedule that inherently comes with a holiday day off, I set off for my favorite local-ish (45 minutes from my front door) running spot, Francis Marion Forest. This national forest is a vast stretch of undisturbed, natural forest and wilderness, and it adds even more reach to its vast domain as it merges with Sumter National Forest. Thus, the possibilities are seemingly endless! Great trail running, camping, mountain biking, fishing, hunting, and much more–it’s all here!

Myself, I set out for the Swamp Fox Passage, a 42 mile portion of the much longer Palmetto Trail that lays down some of its length within the boundaries of Francis Marion. I’ve run portions of this trail numerous times in the past, and it always makes for a great run. The trail is far from technical with no elevation gain and largely smooth trails (aside from the occasional stumpy areas). The trail meanders through pine forests, pass the Halfway Creek campground, and over the occasional small bridge. It’s largely well-groomed single track and doesn’t see too much foot traffic so you don’t find yourself elbowing your way past others.

Boy oh boy, was it a beautiful day to hit the trails! The sun was shining brightly and temps were hovering in the low 50s. Perfect weather for a romp in the woods.

Trees For Days
Trees For Days

Sticking with my trusty Hal Higdon Novice 2 Marathon Training Program, I was slated to run 20 miles today. For better or for worse, today’s run was also meant to be my longest of the “long runs” with tapering afterwards until the much dreaded/anticipated marathon in 3 weeks (aka “The Real Show”).  So I set off on the trail…

At first, I felt good. In fact, I felt surprisingly good. So good that I daydreamed of someday running a trail ultra and also envisioned myself as an ancient Tarahumara superathlete runner (perhaps I was hallucinating already at that point…). At one point, I even considered taking what I told myself would be a “slight detour” down a side trail that I had never travelled before. Luckily, my sane mind chirped in and told my illogical Tarahumara wannabe mind to hush up, and ultimately the wiser mind prevailed. So there I was bouncing along the trail, trading pleasantries with a couple of backpackers I passed and snapping the two photos you see in this blog. Life was good! After all, I was a future ultramarathoner envisioning future trail conquests.

At mile 9.5, I started to tire (I should mention that despite how great I felt early on, I didn’t push my pace as I feared such a move could only end poorly). Though I began to feel a bit fatigued, it wasn’t anything out of the ordinary–legs a little heavy, pace dropping a bit–you know, the kind of stuff you may expect after 9.5 miles of running.

Around mile 15, I started to feel much worse. I was very weak and fatigued, as well as uncertain as to whether I could make another 5 miles. I slowed my pace and went into “survival mode”. Jack Johnson’s “Breakdown” ominously came onto my iTunes shuffle.  I continued to take a swig or two of Gatorade every mile, and then began to do so every half mile or so. I continued to consume a couple of Clif shot bloks at regular intervals. However, none of it mattered. I continued to fade more and more. I tried to look at the run as half mile increments, telling myself to just make another half mile. And then one more half mile. And then one more…

At 18.76 miles, I had to stop. I felt as though my body was shutting down. I was nauseous, light-headed, and my feet/legs didn’t seem to be doing what my head was asking them to do. In addition, my shoes suddenly felt very tight on my feet. I stopped and sat down on two occasions, the second of which I untied my shoes to loosen them up a bit and even gave my screaming feet a bit of a massage in an attempt to quiet them down a little.

The 1.24 mile walk back to my car was much more difficult than it should have been. I drank the rest of Gatorade I had in my handheld bottle hoping that it would bring a bit more energy and a bit less light-headedness. It didn’t. I felt as though I may faint numerous times on the short trek back to my car. It was scary and something I haven’t experienced before. Sure, I’ve had my share of painful and draining runs, and I’ve hit “the wall” tons of times in the past. This, however, was different…

Ultimately I did make it back to my trusty chariot. I immediately plunked down into the driver’s seat. My head was still swimming and my legs were shaking as though I was taking them dancing after all this. I drank the rest of the Gatorade I had in my car and forced myself to have a few bites of an apple I had brought along as a post-run treat. Let’s just say that the apple and Gatorade decided to make the visit to my stomach a quick in-and-out affair rather than making a weekend of it.

I lied down in my car for a bit until I felt well enough to make the 45 minute drive back home. Ultimately, I clearly felt better after some time, a hot shower, and some homemade pizza.

Still the question remains as to what caused this less than optimal ending to my already shortened trail run? Hyponatremia? Dehydration? Simply not taking in enough fuel before and during the run? I’m thinking it may have been a touch of hyponatremia given my symptoms though I don’t think low sodium to such a degree to cause this picture usually happens at 18ish mile distances. Plus I was consuming an electrolyte enhanced drink during the run.

The most disconcerting aspect of all this, however, is that it clearly does not inspire much confidence in my ability to run 26.2 miles in roughly three weeks. Yikes.

Maybe a handful of pretzels along the run is the only solution I need…

Hey, a boy can hope!