Highway 35 to Duluth

Going north to do some running on pavement.

Things that ran through my head, in the minutes and hours after I finished Grandma’s Marathon, my second marathon, yesterday afternoon:

  • Holy cow, that long straightaway approaching the finish line just seemed to get longer and longer, like it was a hall of mirrors. I was so, so happy to cross that finish line!
  • After discovering that I didn’t beat the time from my first marathon, some pretty vocal disappointment (“sh**!”). This was not so much at the lack of a new PR.  It was more in frustration at the discovery that my plan to “save it for the end” by running more conservatively at the start … did not work as a plan to help me feel more energetic for the last 6 miles and/or able to get a new PR.
  • carnation from a marathon

    I missed all the postrun snacks BUT NOT THE FLOWER

    Gratitude! For the Grandma’s veterans, Allen and Mike who knew the easy way to get to the YMCA (uphill and across an interstate from the finish area) where we could shower and put on dry clothes. For weather that ended up optimal – not just for keeping our bodies cool but also for this Tacoma-raised kid who prefers running in rain. For my superfan husband who joined us on this adventure and for the running friends and Grandma’s spectators that made this anything but an ordinary day outside in running shoes. For the terrific friends and other fans, volunteers and race officials that made this a great and fun event.
  • This came later, as in today, but also: gratitude also for this strong body -and mind- that held together for the duration and presented me with no blisters and with a time that wasn’t very much slower (four minutes) than my PR. For finishing the beastly test of a marathon, again.
  • Back to a big thought, last night: Maybe I’ll be one of those impossible people – someone who only runs two marathons? More on this, later.

The facts:

My main goal for this event was to run more conservatively in the first half (than I did in the Medtronic Twin Cities Marathon last fall) by sticking to my goal pace. I did exactly that. Goal achieved! But it feels like I was tricked by one of those riddle-goals that a genie might present to you. The idea is that it would help leave more energy in my tank to tackle the last 6 miles of the event which will be hard, no matter what. Well, those last 6 were even harder. My pace just seemed to keep slowing down (except for the last 2 miles!). Check out these charts of my pacing, captured from Strava:

What felt to be the main problem: I struggled with a side ache (or really more of an entire front-side, complete rack-of-ribs ache) from mile 20 onward. Not the worst one I’ve had but one that ticked me off! I used to get plagued by these but it’s been a few years since it last impacted my running. There was a water stop in every one of those miles and I used all of them for a short walk-break to try and loosen up that tightness, while also periodically trying Coach Greg’s “exhale eveything you’ve got, three times, that’ll clear it up” prescription, to little avail. I pressed on. Both knees were sore (it was sore ankles at the marathon prior) but those front-muscles (abs, diaphragm, whatever) were giving me quite a fight. Many times, my working mantra drifted from my planned second-half “Light. Soft. Strong.” to “It won’t hurt any more intensely if I run faster so GO FASTER.”

This morning, after a difficult afternoon yesterday of failing to nap or even rest comfortably and then a slightly less fitful night of sleep, the analysis began. I didn’t necessarily do anything wrong, but if I did, what could it have been?

  • Flat Arah

    Planning the outfit, gear & nutrition

    Maybe my mind & body aren’t folks for whom that “save it for later” theory works. Maybe we are more of a “use it or lose it” type of a crowd? I have yet to a) not finish a marathon or b) crawl to the finish line. Fitbit tells me my average heart rate for this was 153. Perhaps I could have turned it up a few notches.
  • I only ran once, in the prior 7 days and it was a 6 mile run with 6 100-yard strideouts. My schedule got difficult and my rationale was that if I found an extra hour somewhere, it would be better spent sleeping than fitting in a workout. Given how tired my quads were throughout the race, maybe a couple shorter runs that week would have been better. Or maybe I’d needed more strength training. Or maybe 26 miles on pavement is simply that hard on one particular set of muscles.
  • As I detailed in an earlier post, my training plan was a bit of a hybrid – which I fear meant it may have been lacking in professional guidance. My plan included 3 easy midweek runs , and 2 harder weekend runs; my club pretty much did the reverse, but now and then I crossed the streams and did hard midweek and hard/long weekend runs. Maybe it resulted in overtraining?
  • Mentally, I think the run 5-days-per-week plan qualified as overtraining for me. It may have worked back when I had a five-minute commute, but it was simply too much to fit it into a week containing five 8-hour workdays that each contained 90-120 driving commute minutes.
  • Due also to schedule complications, I was unable to keep at the weekly yoga class for strength, though I did fit in a climb night or two each week. It’s possible that this flexibility made the plan more workable overall, but maybe I had a strength imbalance that resulted in the side ache?
  • My sleep quality (length) seemed to suffer, this time around.
  • Nutrition wise, in terms of the few days before the race: I had good pasta dinners 2- and 3- days out. The day before the race, dinner (out, in Duluth) was nachos and fish tacos: maybe more salty and meat-heavy than optimal? I felt fine on race day, food/digestion wise. I may be hyperfocused on the snacking of the Grandma’s vet in our group (who finished ahead of me), but maybe I’ll try a few handfuls of Cinnamon Pecan Special K the night before my next endurance event.
  • I opted out of using a pace group, though I’d considered using one, based on feedback from experienced friends. I spoke with the people at the expo pace group table who were somewhat helpful but frankly not very encouraging or enthusiastic at all. We arrived at the start line a little late for me to find the pace group I’d thought of joining, but I figured maybe I’d end up near them or at least using them as a marker. Alas, I passed one of the slower pace groups and fairly quickly determined that I needed to get as far away from them and their brethren as soon as possible. I’m sure the pacers & racers were all nice people and a possible recipe for success, but … I needed space and peace. Maybe this is a sign I need to go back to trail running, or maybe it’s a sign that I was in a mood that needed fixing? Not sure. I will say that I could’ve used a little more conversation on the course, in the form of a buddy or fewer other runners clammed up in headphones.
  • GPS watch! It may have to go, for races/events. I finally got a new one about 5 weeks ago, but maybe not having one is key to finding the right pace in my body, during an event. Constantly looking down at my pace made me feel neurotic in the first part of the race, and just frustrated in the last part.
  • Perhaps a negative-split is a foolish goal for a marathon.
  • Maybe I needed to run harder though the darn side ache. My running pal Maggie advised me to use a “you are stronger than you think you are” mantra for this race’s final miles and though I consulted it and riffed off of it, maybe I needed to sing it.

Or, maybe there’s nothing to study except the fact that it’s an endurance test, and each one you do is different, even if on the same course but certainly if it’s not on the same course. There’s no promise of improvement, ever. There can be promise of new insight and growth and I am the one in charge of my attitude and how I choose to feel about how the day went. If I find that I want to do another one of these, so be it.

Let’s see what the next several months hold. I’m looking forward to less structured free time for awhile, and a few 200-mile relay events with good friends, and at least one fun trail race.


2 thoughts on “Beastly

  1. That’s a lot of post race analysis. Good insight and good for you for writing it down. Now to learn from it for next time. Good luck on the next one.

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