Below is a 1;15 min video of our day! It was awesome.
“What we resist persists.”
Losing my ability to run should have been a devastating emotional blow. I am grateful to have navigated successfully the years of not running/racing by using skills like acceptance and refocusing. It is nice when coping skills actually work like they are supposed to.
If all I focused on was my injury, I would exist only as an injured person. By resisting accepting that my achilles was damaged, I would have imprisoned myself into a world where I felt defeated and broken daily. Instead, I focused on what I could do, what was possible, what felt rewarding, and I felt strong.
It is not unusual to be both very strong and very weak at the same time.
"We are what we focus on."
I bought other cardio equipment and I did other things with my time. Life is short, life is hard, life is not fair, life is filled with good and bad. I prefer to not spend my time emotionally tuned into problems and suffering without working on change.
Of course, fully accepting that I would not race again helped my achilles function again. The bone spur from Haglund’s Syndrome doesn’t go away. I still feel my achilles get irritated, but it just stopped getting in my way. long enough to allow me to enjoy racing again. This was a pleasant surprise.
NYC Marathon Lottery
At the end of February, the NYC Marathon Lottery opened. The race was on my birthday.
In early February both my parents became very sick and both were hospitalized for what felt like an eternity. My dad recovered after a week and was released. My training almost stopped. Thank goodness I had that spin bike. It kept me moving in the morning before sitting at the side of her bed waiting for my mom to wake up.
Even at its longest, life is still very very short. Life will most likely be taken from us by surprise, I need to prioritize the things that make my life enjoyable while I can. This means doing things that bring me a sense of meaning and purpose (like helping others) and it means doing things just for me when I can.
I will never again be sure of what I could reliability do as a runner, but does that really matter? I put my name in the NYC Marathon Lottery and let the Universe decide if I will spend my birthday in NYC.
On the day of the drawing with my fingers kind of crossed, kind of not, not really sure what I was hoping for...I opened my NYRR email to a strong wave of emotion. I was NOT selected. Bummer.
Flatwater Foundation Charity Bib
I was not going to sit at home on my birthday while Sid runs the NYCM marathon. I guess the universe DID want me to run the marathon but it wasn’t going to make it easy for me to get there. This race couldn’t just by my private goal, something I quietly worked on, waiting to see how my body held up.
Nope. I needed a charity bib. This meant I had to share with the world that I was going to run the marathon.
For those who know me best, as a rule, I tell only a select few individuals about my race plans. I write race reports after the races but I don’t post about what I am doing before unless I have a good reason.
Some think that running a marathon as a Charity Runner is the “easy way” in to races but this is so far from the truth.
There is a lot competition for charity runner bibs for the world majors. You need to plead your case, demonstrate capacity to raise money, and hope that you get picked. If you are not on top of the charity runner application process in the first week or two after the lottery results are posted good luck trying to find a charity you are sincerely interested in that will accept you. All charities are worthy causes but it is more meaningful to find a charity you have a personal connection to. I applied to several charities that were still open only 1 week after the lottery was drawn. I was denied by at least 5 before I heard I was accepted by Flatwater.
Once selected you need to raise about $3000-$4500 or more before you will be granted the opportunity to run the race for the cause. This means months of begging everyone you know for monetary support, (which feels awful ... so I raffled off some coaching packages to give something back to my generous donors).
The pressure to perform well after asking friends and strangers to help is more than most people feel during a training cycle. This adds something that isn’t necessary pleasant. The reality is most people don’t donate and then expect a runner to run hurt in return. But charity runners do feel a sense of obligation to those who donated and to the charity.
As someone who really dislikes announcing my race plans, I definitely felt extra pressure. But it was my choice to put myself in this situation when I asked for a charity bib.
A Good Run of Check-Ins.
I would like to believe I know how to manage performance pressure. I chunk the work into check points and stay focused on the moment (chunk) I am in. I don’t finalize a race plan until the week before a race so that I have the opportunity to reflect on what I did and how that information can be used to project a realistic reasonable race goal.
With NYCM was going to be in my future, I got to work on task-mastery, picking check-in races and training for them one chunk at at time:
- At the end of April I ran Jim Thorpe and BQ’d with a 3:45 out the gate! Great start.
- In June/July raced a few 5ks to test my speed. 6:50 pace. I was happy.
- In mid-July, I negative split Aspen Marathon as check in race and took 5th (3:27). I felt like I was coming back.
- In August, raced Sri Chinmoy Marathon with a huge negative split, finishing sub-7 pace, running a 3:21 and taking 3rd place. These were training runs not goal races.
- Early September, I negative split at the Belmar 5, averaging 6:45 pace, placing in the masters race and wining prize money. Getting faster!
- One week later in September, I negative split up at Big Cottonwood Marathon. I negative split, ran the 2nd fastest time for women (took 3rd OA, gun-time rules for top 3) in 3:06. I projected this to be about a 3:14 on flatter course.
I was doing my job. I was meeting my check-in goal. Running NYC in 3:10 or faster felt realistic. Maybe a sub-3 might be a reach goal? Anything felt possible.
Oh no no no …. not my back!
I got home from Utah feeling great. My training schedule was set. A few more check in races were selected. I was ready to elevate. I felt strong and fit and contemplating what else I could add to my training to help me achieve my goal.
And then I moved wrong in the kitchen, being down to pick something up. My glute felt weird and running triggered sciatica. After a week of pain, I saw PT for an assessment. She determine that I slipped disc that put pressure on my sciatic nerve. I needed time to let to move back into place. I was cleared to run only if running didn't hurt. She gave me exercises to help encourage the disc to return to it’s home. I was able to run 9:30-10:30+ pace on flat ground with out pain so that is what I did. Faster running irritated my sciatic nerve.
On 9/24, I was able to run Sid’s 18M long training run with a bail out plan in place. I was healing, The following week, we ran the LBI 18 together. Sid negative split and finished remarkably strong! Although I wasn’t 100% yet, I was feeling again that NYC would happen for me.
However, training for NYC for me degraded into what was basically the bare minimum. I would do Sid's long runs with him. I would spin or run short runs midweek. This was not my vision back but it was happening.
On our 22M run on 10/21, my right knee starts to bother me. Seriously! This was starting to feel like a roller coaster that I didn’t enjoy.
So once again, I was listening to my body and I wasn't sure if NYC was a good idea. I have not had knee pain in 15 years. So I looked into deferring. I would need to completely drop or ask my charity for a 2024 bib which is not necessarily possible.and then raise $3000 again.
If it was just me on my own deciding what to, I likely would have dropped out. I hurt my achilles trying to train to run Boston when I know my body felt pain. It was happening again. But the entirety of the circumstances mattered. I had a lot of support and people donated a lot of money to help me run this race. Sid was running it. I could run train free at 9:30-10:30 pace which is what Sid would run. I wanted to be there with him on my birthday..
I felt obligated to not give up which as a "smart runner" I know this is the exact situation that leads to injury. But also as an adult who can make bad decisions whenever I want to, I weighed pros and cons and made my choice.
Rather than run the race alone on my birthday I asked Sid if he would like company on race day. Sid doesn’t run marathons often (this is his 2nd and probably his last). This was a big deal for him. I wanted to witness his experience at the most outrageously energized marathon in the world.
There is truly nothing like NYCM.
Weather: 60s and minimal wind! Perfect.
Shoes: Vaporflys because they were light. I felt they wouldn’t bother my knee. Good call.
Clothing. I love my rabbit sports bra with the back pocket for my phone. I still used a waist pack to carry some things we might need along the way.
Goal: Sid was in charge of the pacing. The only other marathon he has run was a 4:45 and he said he would like to beat that time, maybe finish under 4:30 if possible BUT we were not actually out there chasing a time goal. We wanted to feel like we were getting it done swiftly but with any performance pressure. And this is what we did.
Nutrition: Sid wanted "A Donut." He went to get two for use before leaving for the race and returned with a box of Munchkins. We split that box. We got in tons of calories before the start and we didn’t bonk from low energy.
Transportation: Getting to the start was stressing me out. I wasn’t sure what roads might be closed because information is sparse. Thanks to Janet and Tom, getting to the start was easy. They are great friends and live next door. They drove us the 25 minutes over to Staten Island and dropped us off at 8:45. We had a 10:55 start. Then they went back home to feed and play with our dogs while we ran. This made my experience 1000% better than it would have been had they not helped us.
It takes a team to run a marathon. There are many behind the scenes people doing things to clear the way. I am so grateful.
The start was slow. VERY SLOW. The first 2.5 miles were packed tight. It was hard to move. The mile long uphill didn’t help the pace but even if it was flat it would have been slow. It seems that since most people are running around a 4:30 total time, if you start near the 4:30 pacers is exceptionally packed. The amount of runners stopping on the Verrazano to take photos did slow things down. I share this to say, if you are trying to run a goal time, expect to not be able to move freely until 2.5 miles after the start.
Running with Sidney was the best decision I could have made. To share every mile with him, to see him do something so amazing for himself, I had such a great time!
I suspect marathoners who race marathons at lot might forget how amazing running a marathon really is. I got to see the NYCM through Sid’s eyes and this was such a gift. One of the most beautiful observations he made was:
“You know, people believe in a lot of different things. We fight about politics, about religion, about everything. People have so much trouble getting along… but today everyone is cheering and screaming for each other. Everyone is doing this together, all these people running, all these people cheering, everyone is getting along today… “
And that’s it! That is part of the magic of the marathon. It gives people who may not otherwise care about each other a reason to feel what it feels like to be on the same team even if for just a day. And when you are part of that experience, people in general seem to suck a little bit less for all those miles.
And then he added “But honestly… I just don’t think I can take much more of this cheering!! This is insane. It’s so loud! Is this going to happen the whole way?!”….
And I said, laughing at him “You know this is only mile 11 right, and it gets louder once we hit First Avenue.” LOL
These photos make me laugh. During the entire race every time I noticed a camera I would remind Sid "We are supposed to raise our hands and waive!" At first, he gave a little half wave.
I said "Not like that, we have to raise our hands over our heads!" He wasn't really sure why we needed to do that and to be honest I am not really sure why either. "I think it is to show we are excited to be here and to prove we are having a good time".... I don't know why this felt so funny to me but it was.
I can also honestly say the running with Sid was such a good time. I can see myself smiling in every photo and those candid shots are the ones that prove to me what a gift spending this 26.2 miles side-by-side with Sid was for me.
The Universe wished me a Happy Birthday.
I did choose my "Run More, Age Less" shirt intentionally because it was my birthday. I did not make a sign for my shirt announcing this to the world. However, during the entire last mile, there must have been someone running behind us with something on their shirt announcing it was their birthday.
All I heard over and over for the last 10 minutes of the race was the crowd cheering "Happy Birthday" over and over... and even though in reality I know they were just reading someone else's shirt, I would like to believe in my heart this was the Universe speaking to me.
I had a very Happy Birthday for sure!
Life is short.
It will most likely be taken from us by surprise.
Celebrate life by sharing the things you love with the people you love.
Buy the photos.
Share your stories.
This can help to make all hard parts worth it.
Revising the Vision:
I had an initial vision of crushing NYC on my birthday, running a time that made me feel proud, like I was outrunning Father Time by taking care of my health. It was my 48th birthday. To run a marathon at all is amazing. To run a marathon fast is remarkable. To run a fast marathon at 48 would feel like magic to me. We are supposed to slow down as we age. But I don’t want to slow down just because of the date on my birth certificate. I know the clock is ticking and at some point I wont be able to run "fast" (for me) times. But if/when I still have a chance I need to try.
I believe the mind gets tired before the body. I want to run out the clock trying to peak as an athlete. I want to feel like an athlete for as long as I can. And when I can’t, then I can’t. And everything will be ok.
I already know what it feels like to truly believe that I can never race again. And I survived. There will be more chapters in my life where I invest my energy into mastering other things, but I do really like this chapter where I get to try to master long distance running...and I am not ready to turn the page yet.
NYC was a gift to me in so many ways:
- The massive amount of support, love, and appreciation I felt from friends, family, and even social media acquaintances was incredible.
- Sidney ran a marathon at my side, well-trained, and able to fully appreciate and understanding “my sport” from my point of view and he gets it. And I got to experience the NYCM from his point of view and it was a beautiful lens to look through.
- My family followed Sid and me on the live tracker texting us to celebrate our adventure which made this special. .
- Janet and Tom were a remarkable "crew" to us, taking care of us in every way they could the entire day in the exact ways we needed to free our minds to fully enjoy the run. Without them this race would not been as much fun for me.
- And all of you, the people who donated money to my Flatwater fundraiser, you helped people affected by cancer access therapy which is incredibly important, but you also gifted me one of the best birthdays of my entire life.
I am so grateful.
Oh and one last tip.: if you didn't pre-order photos, consider waiting for the Black Friday Sale which I did. The plaque of Sid and me running together arrived today. And this is what took so long for me to share my NYCM Birthday Run Race Report.
Tomorrow I planned to run a 6 hour race at One Day at the Fair. I planned this back in May. I had pre-registering for races. But I did it anyways because I love the 6 hour. It is my best event. I find it to be incredibly hard. I have run more than 43 miles in 6 hours. I had a vision of going after my lifetime PR tomorrow. I ran 38 miles in May unprepared for a great race. I did a lot of good work since May. I really had a chance at great run. It is disappointing to not get there.
This 6 hour was one important goal race on my way to preparing for a great NYC Marathon. I knew I would be primed for a fantastic effort at NYC Marathon if I crushed a 6 hour one month before. I was on track during my training. I was meeting all my checkpoints. I felt like my vision was becoming a reality. Big Cottonwood was my last long run for this. I just needed to recover from that race and taper a bit.
I am an artist.
Running is my medium.
Over the past many months, I have been creating a new masterpiece one step at a time. I have been immersed in a body of endurance work, I was feeling very proud of myself.
With my heart as my chisel (don't do this... it hurts), I chipped away at the giant cement block that encased my dreams. It was shocking for me to watch them actually take shape.
These dreams started off as little whispers of wishes floating around in the back of my mind... but they landed, planted themselves, and grew.
Just two weeks ago, I could almost reach out and touch what I hoped to achieve as an athlete. I felt fit, strong, resilient, healthy.... I was back doing what I love.
My runner-self had returned. But for how long? We shall see.
The body is incredibly resilience.
The body is incredibly fragile.
Nothing is promised.
Nothing is off the table either.
Run out the clock.
There is no way to pursue peak performance without risk of harm. It is a cost/benefit analysis. And the harder we push, the closer we get to big goals, the greater the risk.
I accept this. But accepting risk doesn't inoculate me from feeling great disappointment when I fumble or fail.
My last race report was about running a 3:06:59 at Big Cottonwood. This was a raging success for me. I was ahead of my checkpoint.
I shared how hard Big Cottonwood Marathon is on the body even though it yields fast times. I accepted that risk. I felt good racing. I felt strong. I felt resilient. I was still concerned it would beat me up but by the end I felt like I made it through.
I walked away feeling solid, healthy, and strong. I made it 7 days post-Big Cottonwood without feeling any concern that I was injured. I have come to learn that the first 7 days can offer a false sense of security. I have gotten "randomly" hurt as much as 7 days after a hard race on more than one occasion, but not often. More often I am fine.
By mid-week after this race, I was running again without any aches or pains. I had no lingering concerns. I started registering for races I wanted run for training or as a goals. I planned to take it easy over the weekend. I wan't pushing myself. I planned for an easy 10M LR and to ride my spin bike for cardio.
But prior to going out for my 10 miler, I squatted down to do something, held that position for a few seconds, and then got up. It was not an exercise session. I headed out for my 10M and felt fine... until 5 miles from home. That is what I noticed my glute getting uncomfortable, tight, and bothersome. I suspect that squatting down movement tweaked something. I ran/walked back home not thrilled that something felt very wrong. I hoped a few days of rest would be enough to get me ready for this 6 hours race.
But the next morning I was definitely NOT ok. I tried to no panic. I got used to being healthy. This pain wasn't from anything traumatic. I didn't fall. I wasn't sprinting. The squatting motion was not really even that significant. But something happened to my Piriformis muscle that showed up on the run.
Today is 2 week later. I am still not 100%. I am not training. I had to stop. This timing stinks. I am feeling much better but this is taking a long time for a random problem. It feels like my piriformis muscle irritation somehow aggravated my sciatic nerve. I know the nerve release stretches. I know to not do anything that aggravates it. I can spin without any pain. It is getting better daily. I am over the hump and on the side of recovery now, but I lost two weeks of very crucial NYC Marathon Training. I lost the chance to chase a 6 hour PR that my heart was hoping for.
Dreams can be incredibly fragile.
Dreams can be incredibly resilient.
Nothing is promised.
Nothing is off the table either.
Run out the clock.
My dreams feel like they got doused by a new batch of cement and I can't do anything but sit here and watch it all harden around them. My heart is tired. The work of chipping away all over again is really hard to imagine right now. I chipped away for months, patiently, relentlessly, with meaningful and motivating results... only to suffer a random injury that set back my effort during peak training where time is of the essence.
So what can I do?
I have choices.
(a) I can feel sorry for myself and let this suffocate me... but that is really not useful. Life is short, I don't care to spend it feeling disappointed about what I can't do. Let's be real, I was/am disappointed. I am allowed to be disappointed. But for how long does this feeling get to dominate my emotional tone? I think two weeks has been more than enough. I am ready to move on.
(b) I can pivot. I can make decisions that will help me refocus. Goals are future wishes. There are more whispers of wishes I can work on nuturing. Goals, Dreams... they are never guaranteed. That is what makes them so incredibly special when they manifest.
To squander my time and drain my limited emotional bandwidth festering on the negative isn't my way. I need to recalculate my route, reset my target, revise my plan, and refocus on opportunities around instead of the obstacles in my way.
I believe that we are surrounded by opportunities to feel successful and opportunities to experience hardship at the same time all the time. I believe we become what we focus on.
A few years ago, I re-learned the lesson we all learn as runners: Trying to run through injury doesn't work. The problem with this lesson is it isn't always clear if what we are feeling is an injury. It seems like it should be obvious but it never is.
Sometimes things hurt for no good reason. We learn this lesson too. This is why we run for so long in trouble, when in hindsight we can see that we should have stopped. But we run all the time with little aches and pains that come and go an never cause any problems. We may not even identify them or realize they exist. But periodically one of those random aches or pains sticks around and turns into disappointment.
A few years ago, I tried to train for Boston 2021 with intermittent Achilles pain because Boston was so very important to me at that point in my life. I had qualified for Boston after having a year of sepsis infections. I didn't think I would run again. Then I when I realized I could, I got fit very quickly and ran a 3:03 marathon. I earned my BQ in January 2020 and then Covid shut down racing. When Boston was back on, my 3:03 still was good enough to get me in for October 2021. I really wanted to race Boston in the Fall. As I worked on training again in May 2021, my Achilles didn't want to do it. But it was intermittent post-run bursa swelling and not alway a problem. I called it "a mechanical problem, not an injury." However, over time it became less intermittent and more chronic. I had to DNS Boston 2021... and eventually stopped running to finally give myself a real chance to heal. It took me from Sept 2021 through early 2023 run again. I ran my first marathon post-Achilles injury on April 30, 2023.
It took me years to heal. I can't do that to myself again.
When I had to stop running, I had once again suspected I was done racing. I accepted that. Then I started run/walking again last Fall. I slowly rebuilt my identity as an endurance athlete almost by accident. I felt no pressure to do anything. I was running for health.
Coming back to this sport again has been a gift. It felt like a rebirth. I don't care what they say, sometimes you can return home again. I felt like I was exactly where I belonged. I appreciated every step.
I started to plan for the future.... for the NYC Marathon.. I was able to collect $3000 in generous donation from those who care about me and/or the cause I raised money for. All the fund raised for The Flatwater Foundation will provide free psychotherapy to people with cancer and their families
Over the past few months, I got faster and faster. And one of those little whispers grew into a strong voice that sounded like my own. I started to allow my a dream about running sub-3 in NYC on my 48th birthday take shape. And then I ran a 3:06 at Big Cottonwood with 2 more months to train! I felt like I really had chance at that sub-3 again. I was getting more and hopeful. I felt like I had caught a great wave. I was standing up riding strong... until I squatted down randomly and accidentally fell off my board.
So now I sit here knowing that if I want to race NYC in just over 1 month, I have to train for it, but I also can't power through either like I did trying to train for Boston 2021 that I never got to run.
My piriformis feels better today. I need a few more test runs to be sure I am ok. I don't want to allow NYC to do to me what I allowed Boston to do to me two years ago... to put pressure on me to do more than I can. I don't want to elevate a race to feel more important than my health. Yes it's NYC... but my body can only do what it can do.
Deferring to next year is an option. I don't plan to take that option just yet. I need to see how I feel. I need to go out for long easy run and assess what happens next. Three weeks of down time since my last marathon is not complete detraining. But I know I have definitely lost ground. I can feel it.
This means no 6 hour race this weekend. Definitely not. I am disappointed about that. But that too will pass.
Rather than feel sorry for myself, I am pivoting. No sub-3 in NYC on my Birthday. That one goes back into the cement. It was pretty to look at from a short distance, but it is not for me right now... not at NYC. Maybe later. Maybe never again. Either way it will be ok. I have run sub-3s before.
The key is to focus on what I can do.
I am what I focus on.
Look for the opportunities exist around me.
Listen for whispers.
I am about to jump on my spin bike. I can ride without pain. I rode 140 miles last week without a set back from that .... I'll watch a movie about someone crushing the Boston Marathon while contemplating how to revise my focus in away that allows me to start chipping away again...
Run out the clock chasing dreams. That is how to get to most of this life. We only live once.
Mile 4: Starting around mile 2.8 and ending just before M4 we spur up towards Brighton. As per Garmin, it looks like a steep 9+% uphill for the first .25M before the grade reduces a more moderate incline for the remainder of the mile. All of this happens at about 8700 feet.
I warned Dave about Mile 4. I told Dave that when we hit the start of M4 my plan was to go into my pain cave, find my happy place, and not come out until I start going downhill again. No thinking. No assessing. No stopping. No walking. Just trusting that no matter how awful it feels, it will get better.
Once through M4, we head back downhill without any relief until mile 20. It seems to get steeper after M13. Then flattens some as we approach 20 on a bike trail. There is nothing you can do to stop the mountain from beating you up from the ground up. But in return your splits look like magic.
If you have not done anything to prepare for the relentless beat down that the mountain will give you (and even if you have done some work), your quads will turn into lifeless jello by the time you leave the glorious canyon. The is not the race to aim to finish the last 10K faster then the miles before it. Not for me at least.
The last 10k was new this year. I think it felt harder to me than the rolling highway that used to end the race. It was about 35 degrees warmer at the bottom than the top. The beat down and then the heat up together made those last 6.2 miles a challenge. Anything flat felt like it was uphill and anything uphill felt impossible. All I could was try to control the fade, to try to hold on to my negative split by watching the average pace screen. I wanted a negative split (first half vs second half). All I needed to do was not let the last 10k eat me alive.
I do believe that if I can hold on, absorb the shock, and tolerate the altitude, this course has the ability to gift me about 15-20 seconds per mile (more or less) faster than what I could run on flat course.... if all goes well. This is just my opinion but Grade-Adjusted Calculators and websites that compare races help me identify how to set expectation for a goal time. It fast but hard. I don't plan to move well for a few days longer than I would after at other less punishing race.
Struggling to Prepare and Risk Acceptance:
The first year I raced Big Cottonwood was in 2016. I did everything I could think of to prepare for a gravity beat down and it worked. I ran my first sub-3 there with a negative split. I was able to race a half marathon 1 week later. I was in great shape.
This year I was unprepared for hills. I knew I should train for the decent but I had to avoid hills because my achilles was not doing well with climbing until recently. It's hard to run down a hill when you can't run up one. I did add jumping- literally 2 minutes of jumping x 3 sets, 3 sessions per week for a few weeks. I knew this wasn’t going to be enough but it was what I could tolerate. I arrived minimally prepared and I knew this was very risky. I decided to accept the risk for the opportunity to do something I love in one of the most beautiful places I get to enjoy.
Deer Valley & Park City: One of my most favorite places to be,
We got out to Park City on Wednesday afternoon and immediately ran my favorite high altitude Deer Valley 3 mile loop - twice - before doing anything else. It is a beautiful loop, especially at sunrise. It drops and climbs between 8000 and 8500 feet altitude. The grades of the climbs are up to 7-10% in some places.
The uphill start of this loop makes me dizzy immediately, but I learned that by the time I get around it once I feel better going up on the second lap. Sid runs one lap with me and Dave. Dave and I go out for a second lap, testing our downhill speed, happy to see a 7:28 mile on the descent without much pain or effort.
The next two mornings (Thursday and Friday) I run 5-6 miles around the top of the mountain before breakfast. Dave runs with me. We accidentally discover a Strava segment on the loop (a 0.23 mile climb at 6.1% grade). We think we can "win it" but we aren’t sure where it starts and stops. We try on Thursday morning and check later to find that we stopped too soon. We do some light hiking that afternoon, so we can keep moving and enjoy the mountains. But because Dave and I are idiots, and we don’t want to get sucked into spiriting up a mountain the day before we are supposed to sprint down the mountain we decide to go back after the kick, run over to the segment and complete the job. I am happy. I get extra miles and some hard work. Dave crushes the segment at a 6:00 pace which is outrageous because sprinting up a 6.1% incline at over 8000 feet when you live close to sea level is hard. I took the ladies top spot in 6:35 pace. This helped us build some confidence for “Mile 4.”
Dave and I woke up at 3 am and were on the race provided bus outside of our hotel by 4 am. I anticipated it would be cold on the mountain in the dark but it wasn’t too chilly at all (about 47 degrees with no wind0. I had already eaten and drank everything I want to. We had two hours until gun time. This was a long time to do nothing.
I learned over the years that the top of the mountain is cold and dark. Bring layers to stay warm and a headlamp. The race provides mylar blankets and gloves in the gear bag. Everyone seems to use these while waiting around. I wish I brought a warm wool hat. There is a drop bag truck and bag that can hold a lot of gear. I checked a protein shake and my warm up clothes and a few other things. Next time I want to check training shoes to get out of my racing flats as soon as possible post race.
The starting area has become awkward. They used to have us linger around Guardsman Pass but this year were down a little lower on the road, just sitting in one lane of the narrow two-landed, shoulder-free road, with busses coming up the other side dropping over more runners (and leaving in the same direction they came). I would rather them start us one mile down the other side of the pass, where there is an off-road parking area for hikers. Have us run 1 mile uphill first (yes it will be awful. People will walk, it won't be pleasant, maybe get rid of M4 and t this would make the start more reasonable, comfortable, and safe. Maybe have us walk up towards the pass when it get close to gun time?).
The Weather at the start was perfect. Around 48 degrees with low humidity and a light wind that really effect running speed but it made it chilly while sitting around at the start. It actually got cooler as we ran down into the canyon shaded by the mountain. As we opened up into the roads, the last hour was 35 degrees warmer and this wasn’t helpful.
I felt a little off because I wasn’t sure what my target was for this race. I didn’t know the end. I know the net decent was huge. I thought the last 10k would be faster than the prior course’s rolling out and back on a highway but it seemed harder to me. I wanted to commit to something before I started. I decided 3:15 would make me happy but sub-3:10 was my Reach Goal. I would determine what I could do by 20M when the course flattened. Dave and I lined up between the 3:10 and the 3:20 pace groups.
I did want to negative split even with a fade at the end. I know that 13M through 20M was going to be the fastest part of this race, with the exception of the first mile, so the course was setting me up to negative.
I was concerned about my toes. The last few times I ran this race my toe nails were destroyed. I know all the things to do. I trim my nails short. I know the fit of the shoes matter. I know how to run descents efficiently.. I also know that sometimes there is nothing you can do about your toes. Sometimes it is just the way our feet are shaped vs the shape of the shoe vs the conditions were are in. Sometimes you need to accept your toes will get the worst of it.
I wore Nike Vaporfly Next% 3. The shape of the toe box is apparently great for my feet. My toes survived the best this year that any other downhill race. I was shocked after the race ended to see them all doing well.
Mile 4 is just long enough for anyone not used to thin air (like me) to hurt in places I didn’t know I could feel pain. Who knew rib bones could ache from running? Those capable of speaking were trying to utter words of encouragement to the collective struggled. I could only grunt. Someone mumble "Just hold on you got this!" I don't know if he was talking to me or himself. Mile 4 plays tricks with my head. It is cruel. It tells me I suck. It tells me I can't do this. That I have no business being out here. That I should have stayed home. It tells me to give up on my goals. But I know it's a liar. I know M4 wont last. I know that as soon as I pass the Mile 4 Marker and begin Mile 5, my world will get exponentially better with each descending step in every way. M4 is a test of Self Confidence and Perseverance. I was able to hold on tight and get through it at a faster pace than I thought I would. I am very proud of my work. M4 -8:02.
M5-M131, It took some time to get comfortable again. I did settle in and enjoy the ride. My pace window was 7:15-7:26 (3;10-3:15), If it felt easy to more faster I did as long as I left room to grow in the second half. I felt really comfortable coming through the half marathon in 1:34:10 (7:11 pace)
Those who know me know I mentally like to split marathons in to 14/12.2. I feel like I can handle a hard 12 mile run even after a long 14M "warm up". The trouble with running fast is the "warm up" is practically the same pace so this split is just a mental chunking trick. I never want to run so fast in the first 14 that I am not able to try to get faster in the last 12. There is no guarantees. Course matters but most road course can be negative split.
I know this one would have a slow last 10k so with 13.1 to go I got myself mentally prepared to start to do some work. I wanted a strong 6 miles from 14-20 and then I would deal with the end once I got there.
My 14-20M split was actually better than I thought it would be. If the last 6M wasn't awful I might really walk off this race with one of my best marathons. I wouldn't break 3, I know that but anything under 3:08 is going to be one of my top 4 fastest times (2:54, 2:55, 3:03, 3:08).
My research into the last 10k indicated there might be a decline through 23.25, a long gradual uphill through 24.75 and then the last less then 2M were back downhill. I just needed to get to 25 miles and it should get better.
This is NOT what happened. Once off the bike path, it got hot. The neighborhood loop was hilly in places I didn't expect it to be. The climbs felt steep and slow. I fought for every single step. My legs felt like jello and my strength was gone. We were close to 5000 feet and I could feel how this made running hard for me.
I watched my average pace slow and it was hard to watch the fade I couldn't prevent. My goal was to keep the pace from fading to slower the 7:11 and at the very least I would negative split the race.
I wasn't racing anyone at this point. I had no idea what place I was in. I know at the start of the race it felt like 100 women blew past me (I was actually in 76th position at Mile 1). I didn't come thinking I would place. I hear to have fun and I was having fun even in the these final mile. I just needed it to end.
As we approached the final uphill to the finish and then the hair pin turn into the shoot, I was so grateful to get to stop running. My legs were toast. My asthma kicked in. I have my inhaler so that was helpful.
It took some time for result to get clarified but by the time the dust cleared I learned that I had actually run the second fastest women's time on the course but place 3rd overall because of the gun-time rule for podium finishes (which I respect and have no problem with).
I miss the Beach. It’s a 45 minute drive. Without a reason to go down there early in the mornings, I just don’t go there to run anymore. I need to change that.
After my last marathon, I felt ready to add more speed work, hill work, and strength work to my training. I have been very carefully building my endurance to not aggravate my achilles. But I feel ready now to add more intently..
I raced two 5ks this year both about 6:49 pace. I was ready to race a short race again to see where my speed is now after racing two marathons (in July and August).
This race is a larger local race.. About 2300 runners showed up to run the flat and fast five mile course. There are clocks at every mile. Plenty of aid stations. Lots of people cheering on the streets or from their homes. It feels like a party at the beach with music, food, and really good energy.
I felt physically well. I was ready to test myself. I didn't taper for this. I did a lot of training on Friday (the day prior). I met Dave and Pablo for a 10M run in the morning.. I did a 40 minute spin, 1o min row, and some strength training mid-day (in between my coaching zooms and desk work).
Belmar 5 wasn't a goal race. I only wanted to see how it felt to push myself. I wanted to see people I haven't seen in years. I wanted to feel like part of my road racing community again.
I used to race roads always weekly. At one point, as I was completing cancer treatment, I raced every single week for 2 years. I was averaging 55 races per year. They were mostly 5k. As my race distances grew I stared to race every other weekend. Then it all came to a halt once my achilles blew up. I used to be a prolific participant and I loved every minute of it. Initially when cancer made me question my resilience, racing assured me I could persevere. And once I recovered from my cancer treatment, racing became part of my soul. I am so grateful to get to do this again.
Nutrition: I ate a lot less for this race than I have for my past marathons. Coffee with a teaspoon of sugar. 200 cals of Skratch Super-High Carb Drink with a scoop of BCAAs added. No waffles for breakfast, No Gu on the course. I grabbed water at the aid stations but poured most of that over me, I drank a little. I didn't feel like I needed it.
It was very cool morning. The coolest it has been in months. It was in the mid-50s at 5:45 am. I put the heat on in my car on the way down. I had on warm up pants and a long sleeve shirt for the ride. This made me feel hopeful.
I wore my 3 year old Hot Pink Nike racing flats (the first version of the Vapor Flys). I spent a lot of money on them before Covid and wanted to get my money's worth. I want to save my new White Nike Vapor Flys for more important races).
I wore some new Rabbit shorts (Fuel and Flys) to see if I like them for racing. They worked out well, I carried nothing except my inhaler in the back pocket. No issues.
I am most comfortable showing up to races on my own. I prefer to take care of myself on my own pace without trying to coordinate pre-race routines with others. But when the race isn't important I also enjoy meeting others at the start.
This wasn't a goal race for me, I met Sandy and Kelly (two runners I am coaching) about 90 minutes before gun time. We were hoping to run a 3-5 miles warm up before we raced. Race day mornings can be hectic. Everything takes extra time. After a 3 mile warm up, we were heading over to the start,
Pace Goals: My last two miles of the marathon I ran 9 days prior were sub-7, I would like to run sub=7 for this entire 5M. I told Dave the day before that I was aiming or 6:52 average pace. I like that number, It's sub-3 marathon pace. It would be fun to see how fast that feels.
I line up towards the front because I read that awards are by gun time not chip. I don't know if that applied to only top 3 overall or everyone but if I had a chance at an age group award I did not want to lose it because I started 1000 deep into a crowd. I find some ladies planning to run about my pace or a little faster and get behind them.
Gun goes off.
My start is a little fast. It feels good to accidentally run too fast but I know to settle in. I get in a rhythm and assess if I feel like I can hold it.
If I can hold this pace for 4 miles, possibly move a little bit faster each mile, and then kick, I will have achieved my goal of sub=7. I am comfortable with that plan.
The entire rest of the race I spend in contemplation of how I feel in the mile I am in. I make adjustments. The mental game I decided to play along the way is to not slow down. Ideally if I paced well, each mile will be equal to or faster than the mile before it.
I know I would fade if I got too far in over my head (over my lactate threshold). I has been a long time since I raced fast. But I have learned over the years to NOT wait to adjust. I would rather move slightly too much under threshold and have a powerful kick than run just slightly over threshold and have the wheels fall off.
When using races as training runs it is the last mile that I remember most. The mile that will set the tone for how I felt about the race experience is the Last Mile.. not the first, and not even the fastest mile if after that fast mile I fell apart. Of course, terrain matters but most road races are going to be flat and fast unless bill as hard and hilly.
Mile-by-Mile I do what I planned to do. I stayed in control. The execution of the race is more important to me right now than trying to run any specific actual time but I have goal times in mind. Doing something with intention is alway more emotionally risky than winging it and hoping it works out. I stopped winging races a log time ago. It is still hard to be brave enough to test myself. But I do it anyway.
I am happy to have enough left for a kick, most of the pick up happened during the second half of the mile. And as I approached the finish line, I hear the announcer call out... "You can all come run under 34!" I want that. I found one more gear.
I am happy at the finish... and then even more so when I learn I am 3rd Female Masters in a big race.
It started to rain as I drove up to Congers on Thursday morning (Yes, Thursday). I didn’t pack a hat. I wasn't prepared for rain.
Actually, I didn’t bother check the weather the week before, the night before, or in the morning. For some reason, I just wasn't concerned at all. I put on what I wanted to wear (new Rabbit running clothes, new VaporFly Next%) and tried to get on the road before 5 am. I don’t know why I was so trusting that it would all work out, but I just was. The drive took less time than predicted by Waze, a perk of driving when most others are sleeping. By the time I arrived the light rain stopped. The morning was off to a good start.
The Race Details.
Sri Chinmoy Marathon used to be called the Self-Transcendence Marathon. It is almost 9 complete laps (2.95M) around Rockland Lake in Conger’s NY. There are very minor grade changes but it hard to call this anything but flat (my Garmin's altimeter is not accurate).
It was about 65-70 degrees during the time I was running with the humidity at about 88-90%).
The race is small, about 300 runners. After the first lap everyone becomes co-mingled which makes it feel like a much larger race.
There are 3 aid stations per lap. They had Skratch Hydration Energy Drink which is what I have been using lately. The race organizers and all the volunteers are amazing. The aid station staff had signs pinned on their shirts that identified what they were holding ("Water" or "Energy"). This was the first time I saw this done at a race and it was helpful.
Every mile was marked with signs that stated which lap you were on if you were on that mile. There was no chip mat. It was gun time only and the laps were counted manually. I am used to this from past ultras that were hand-scored so I made an effort to call out my bib # as I approached the lap counters hoping this would make it easier for them.
There were at least 3 different photographers on the course, who all shared their photos freely after the race.
Many of the runners were not from the USA which made it feel international. The race is organized by the Sri Chinmoy Marathon team. The positive energy at this event always makes me feel hopeful and contemplative. At the start of the race, after general announcements, there was a moment of silence for quiet meditation and then we were off.
I have run this race several times. This was Dave's first time. We used this marathon as a final long run before our next marathon. This wasn’t a goal race. It was a place to practice pacing, to assess gear, to practice fueling, to practice pre-race routine, to get more exposure to race day stressors. etc...
But a timed event is still a timed event. Pace will reflect that. Racing frequently is the best way I know to prepare myself for racing well. Training speed, endurance, and strength can happen at home. Training for race day logistics, timing of meals, managing or deflecting the energy/anxiety of everyone around us takes practice. Developing a solid pre-race routine can only happen by practicing it at actual races. These are all skills that need to be developed. So I race a lot. Not many of my races are "Goal Races". Most are used as a training ground to practice a skill.
Two weeks ago, Dave and I made sure we did NOT miss our last long run again, like we did for Aspen. This helped my sense of preparedness. But last weekend my life got very busy with many distractions including a sick/stressed out Lapis (one of my dogs) who decided to refuse food for a few days (she is happily back to eating well again).
I wanted a 16M over the weekend and missed it. I decided to run 14M on Monday. Dave asked “Do you really need a 14M three days before a marathon?” Good question. He probably wanted a short answer (or probably no answer at all), but instead I texted him a thesis on why I do the things I do. Trust me when I say nothing happens without a cost/benefits analysis. I put a lot a thought into how I treat my body and what I ask from it.
In this case, this marathon was not a goal race, it was a long run. I am building volume right now for other longer races that are more important to me. I am fine with running on tired legs if that means I get to race better next month or later on in the year. I have felt great lately so I had no aches or pains I needed to rest. My pace for my 14M would be easy and enjoyable. I was confident I would be able to recover in time to feel good enough at the marathon for it's purpose.
Wednesday before the Thursday race, I mentioned to Sid that I had the morning free if he wanted his 14M LR. He is training for NYCM training schedule. (First let's be clear. Sid is a minimalist, not asking for coaching, and doesn't have a goal. He plans to have simply have fun. Accordingly, Sid’s NYCM marathon scheduled has 6 identified long runs on it. These runs are a guide to help him stay on track to complete 22M by peak weekend. The rest of his training will use an opportunistic approach. No workouts, just running. He will do what he can when he has time to run. So once I noticed there was rain coming over the weekend I thought maybe he might like to get his 14 done early. So Wednesday, one day before this marathon, I ran 14M easy miles with Sidney. If I am being honest, this decision took pressure off. If I had a tough race it would be very easy to tell myself that it was because I was depleted from the 14M.
Sid and I ran from the parking lot across the street from a farm where I have CSA gift cards. As soon as we finished we refueled immediately with awesome fresh food and whole fat chocolate milk (which I never drink). Usually I don’t care about restocking glycogen asap after a run. But this time I knew it was imperative to not miss any opportunity for my muscles to restore fuel. The chocolate milk was awesome after this run. We shared a low sugar (10g) Blueberry Lavender soda (wow!) and a mozzarella, tomato, basil pesto sandwich on thick focaccia. I got a pasta and kale salad plus a brownie to go. I ate back everything I burned and then some by the time I went to bed. I was ready to race.
Another reason I wanted a 14M before the marathon is I am racing 6 hour race soon. I would like to be prepared to run about 1.5 times the marathon distance in that event. Back-to-back long runs has helped me prepare well for ultras in the past. Running a marathon hard after an easy 14 gives me 40 miles in 2 days. This is good 6 hour training for me. And with this marathon being just a training run, this decision made sense to me.
Nutrition Pre-race and Race day:
I am continuing with what works for me. Travel-friendly high-carb fuel with an emphasis on including branched chain amino acids. I am training my gut to tolerate more calories than I ever have before while trying to running "fast."
Wall Avoidance starts the day before the race for me.
I weigh in often when training. I like data and I want to know how my body is responding to what I put in and what I burn off. I woke up 3 lbs heavier than my average morning weight despite running a 14 miles the day before. This means I ate and hydrated very well. I splurged on extra carbs and dessert I normally do not eat. I drank a lot of water and tea.
For every 1 gram of carbs stored the body also stores with it 3-4 gram of water. Dehydration is more likely to lead to bonking than running out of sugar/carbs so a carb-load for me is also a hydration load. I want my body to have enough fluid to use. There is no way I can drink enough on a course to match my sweat rate. I know on average the gut absorbs 400ml-800ml per hour. When I track my sweat rate on a long run, especially in warm weather I come home several pounds lighter… despite drinking 40-60 oz of fluid. Having some stored hydration and glycogen helps me.
I also believe that pacing "comfortably" in the beginning permits blood to flood to the gut to help maintain fluid and calorie digestion. I feel starting off too hard will actually make a bonk more likely, not because I get physically tired or because my body can’t handle a pace a few second faster than “comfortable hard” but rather because there is a tipping point where my body starts to shut down energy used to process fuel and fluid. This is why I don’t try to hold any specific pace for the first 14. I try to find a pace that I feel is “fast enough”… a feeling I learned by racing often and making mistakes with fueling and pacing.
I came home at my average weight for the month, having only consumed a protein shake post-race .This shows me I fueled well and never went into a hole.
Goals Setting and Pace Planning:
In July I ran The Aspen Valley Marathon in 3:27. The course came up a little short on my watch. I would have been under 3:30 even if I added more distance. Aspen wasn’t easy due to the high altitude, but the net descent helped make it less hard for some of it.
I predicted my Aspen and Sri Chinmoy time (if I was in the same shape) would be pretty similar. If I ran slower at Sri Chinmoy, then my Aspen time was probably more of a result of the gravity assist than I would like to believe.
Running at least a 3;30 was important to me. But more important was pacing this race into a negative split. I wasn’t confident I could do it. The course was flat. I was afraid this race might reveal my “true” fitness in a way that make me realize I wasn’t where I wanted to be. I was ready to accept that. I knew that I just needed the first mile to help me get a better sense of what I could do.
I planned to start around 8s (ideally 7:50-7:59) and hold that for 14M. Once past 14, then I would think about racing. I wanted to feel like I had another gear in me for the last 12.2 while I patiently clicked off the first 14.
1M was right at 8:04. I felt like it was very sustainable. I picked up al little to get under 8 and planned to sit there for the next 2 hours at that speed. I turn to Dave, “Negative splitting a marathon is hard because we have to be very patient for over 2 hours. That is such as long time to wait."
I was very patient. I held an pretty even effort until I hit 14M. I decided to hold 1 more mile at the same pace before testing to see if I had more sustainable speed. I did not want to fade.
I came through the half on my watch (which was beeping a little earlier than the markers) at 1:43:10 (7:52 pace). I held 7:48 for M13 and M14 to finish off the lap. At the start of 15, I decide it is time to be brave and see what I could do.
M15 - 7:42. I wanted to make small changes every 1-2 miles. I felt in control. I wasn’t concerned that I would push too hard. I just wasn’t sure how it would play out. If 7:42 was all I got I would be happy.
M16 - 7:41
M17 - 7:39
With 3 laps left I start doing math. As I hit Mile 15, I knew I could break 3:25. On this lap I started to wonder if breaking 3:20 was possible. I picked up a little. I would have to run remarkably fast. I wanted to see how close I could get.
M18 - 7:37
M19 - 7:33
M 20 - 7:32
With two laps to go, I was started to push myself harder. I rarely kick with 6 to go but today felt like it was a good day to try it. The more I push myself the louder I breathe. I have asthma, my airway gets tight. I can open it by whooping. I remind myself to open my chest like I did in Aspen. It helped. My whooping gets attention. Some people pick it up to run with me. But the thing about mastering a negative split is very few people around you in the last 5 miles are likely to be able to go with you. It is always great to have company for some of the work. But more than not, often at my current pace, I will be moving faster than most of those around me at the end of a marathon.
M21 - 7:23,
M22 - 7:17. I know that the last lap is 2.95 miles and then we run up the grass through the finish shoot. I connect with a guy from Staten Island, He asks me what lap. I say "Finishing 8." He says the same. He asked if we have a shot at breaking 3:20. I explain, "we have to FLY if we want it. We need to hit the start of the final lap before 3:00 and move faster than 7 minute pace to do it." He asks for our pace. I say 7:17. We aren't moving fast enough yet. say breaking 3:22 is more likely a more realistic goal.
M23 - 7:16. He lets me go. I start the last lap at 3:00:xx, too late to break 3:20 BUT now I want to see if I can go sub-7:00 for a mile before I hit the finish. Someone asked me in a post “Does it get boring to run laps.” Not if I have a strong enough “why” and if I have challenging but achievable immediate goals that keep me pushing. I could have been disappointed that I wouldn't go sub-3:20, but instead I immediately made up a new challenge to go after… sub-7 pace for the last mile... and that felt motivating.
M24- 7:16 There was some wind and nothing blocking it. There was no shade. I waited until the court turned and started to push my pace. I was breathing loud. Wheezing. Whooping. It was Intense. It was Surreal. Nothing hurt. Everything Hurt. I felt like I could fly. I felt like I was running through quick sand.
My watch was showing me hovering at 6:59-7:01. A guy glances back at me and starts running really fast. He keeps looking back and then he waves me to on to catch him. In time I do. He fades. I wave him on. He doesn’t come along. I am not sure what that was about but it was a helpful diversion. I wanted that 6:xx and I was getting close.
M25 - 7:00 … almost there. One more chance.
I dig with everything I have in me. I am talking out loud to myself "Push. Half mile to go. You got this. Push for it! Less than half to go. Dig. You got this…" The watch shows 6:58, 6:57… people are cheering. I feel like I am winning the race. I was winning my race, that’s for sure.
M26 - 6:56
I am thrilled! But I aim not done yet! I pushed with everything I have left in me. I really wish the finish was not inclined though bumpy grass but it was still glorious. I hear my name. The announcer adds “This is our 3rd female finisher”. I had no idea I was third. It was such a gift.
Last .43 - 6:53 pace.
I finish the race and it immediately (but only briefly) starts to rain. I should have pack a hat next time.
Training and Learning
After completing Jim Thorpe Marathon in April, I coordinated what I called my "Mountain Training Camp." This was really just a long weekend spent over 8000 ft altitude, breathing thin air, hiking steep hills to 10000+ ft, going for short runs, (downhill mountain biking for Sid and Dave), and ending with the Aspen Valley Marathon.
We weren’t going out to Colorado to sit around We were in a glorious mountain town (Snowmass) and we were going to enjoy it. Since Aspen wasn't a goal race, it was a "check-in" marathon and it was also our race to test race nutrition and hydration plans, make mistakes, learn, but also to just take it all in.
Just being present and existing at altitude is training. All we needed to do this weekend was breathe.
Missed Last Long Run. Not good for my confidence.
Dave and I missed our last long run due to thunderstorms interfering and schedules being too full to find another day. I didn't feel great about that. This put our last long run one month out from Aspen. I prefer 2 weeks for a taper, not 4. My confidence took a hit because it was such a long time since I ran for 3+ hours. But this marathon was going to happen regardless of what did or didn't happened two weeks ago.
Check in 5k's and goal setting.
At the end of June and early July. we raced two check-in 5ks in hot/humid/summer heat. Dave and I ran both ran about 6:49 pace for these two races, I had our potential for Aspen projected out to a 3:35-3:30. I felt that was fair.
Important: I am testing strategies for me, not claiming that what I am doing is the best way, the right way, the only way to fuel. If you want to personalize your nutrition strategies, please know I offer this service as a nutrition coach. My rates are affordable and I would love to help you find your best way. In this blog, I share what I am testing. What I do for me is not going to also be right for you.
After I felt wonky at the end of Jim Thorpe, I revised my fueling strategy. I have been on a mission to see what I can do if I follow the science more closely than I have before. By Aspen, I was ready to test out my practiced fueling plan in a marathon.
Despite the wide range of random "advice" offered on the interest, the nutrition research is pretty clear about the general recommendations for endurance athletes. Personalizing these recommendations it what takes works. As someone with a MS degree in exercise science, I like to start with literature reviews of the science and then make needs-based adjustment from there. I don't need to reinvent the wheel.
What does the science say? 60 grams of carbs per hour is the target for endurance training over 2.5 hours. 30 grams/hr is deemed adequate for less than 2.5 hour. Up to 90 grams/hour is the target for longer and/or high intensity runs. Elite marathoners are reported to do well in this volume of fuel after but it takes time to train their gut handle this concentration of fuel.
Usually I plan nutrition based on weight. But since the window is quite large here (30g-90g of carbs per hour) I am testing out 60g per hour to see how I feel. (I may do well with less than 60 gram/hour since I am a smaller person. Dave may need more since he is 50% larger than me. We have to test to find out.)
To calculate carbs per hour, I am counting everything I eat from pre-race through the finish line as "Race Fuel" and aiming to consume enough carbs from the moment I wake up until the time the race is over to cover 60g x 3.5 hours of running (210g of carbs). If this works well, I should not bonk from carb depletion.
Not only is finding a way to consume an average of 60g of carbs per hour challenging (and takes gut training to do it), making sure the fuel I plan to use can be transported via air travel adds another wrinkle. So for this trip, I also wanted to test products I could easily fly with.
Finally, I am also a huge fan of using BCAAs for endurance. I aim for 5-8g of BCAAs during long runs and races. I run my best with protein circulating in the moment. Roctane products (no financial interest) are my preferred race gels because they have amino acids in them but the ratio of BCAAs is not transparent.
Putting it all together: I started with coffee and two Gu Stroopwafels because they have the amino acids I love, some sodium, and plenty of carbs. For my pre-race sport drink I mixed Skratch Super-High Carb and Amino Vitals for BCAAs. I consumed that one hour before the race. During the race, I drank as much Gatorade as I could. I carried 4 Roctane Gus on me. I took one Gu at the starting line. I planned to take one Gu per hour but skipped hour 1 because I was too full to handle it (I should have put more time between sports drink and race start). I was only able to get down two additional Roctane Gu (not 3) while on the course. But it seem like i didn't need that 4th one.
I felt really well-fueled, unlike at Jim Thorpe where I felt like I could have used one more gel. The race went well. I am sure being underfueled was not one of my problems today.
Sometimes people see a net descent course and presume it will be easy. There were chunks of mileage (starting at 7M) where I did feel like the downhill was a gift. Yet anytime the course inclined at all or was level, the impact of 7000-8000 ft on my ability to run was clear. It wasn't easy the whole time.
Aspens starts at 7960 ft and drops to 6600 ft by mile 21.5 and then rolls up and down and up until 26.2. The grade is not outrageously steep. I calculated to to be about 1.2%. However once past 21.5, it was challenging. Mile 23 and 24 were "up" miles (inclined not hilly). It was hot, dry, and oxygen depleted. Despite it getting tough I held on while most people around me did not. This is where I feel my fueling saved me.
Aspen is small race. It is a challenge to get to. It is too expensive in many ways so it make sense that it is small. With a 6:00 am start we arrive at 5:15 am and no one is at the park I am worried that I messed up and we were in the wrong location. But a few minutes later a truck arrives and sets up the starting corral.
The RD starts the event in a somewhat anti-climatic manner. First she states "I would like to invite all my elite runners to the starting line..." and no one moves. I think we were all wondering who the elite runners were that she was inviting. I presumed after the fact that she really meant us... all of us who made it to the start. As she begins the "Ready... Set... Go." part at "Ready" still no one is at the line. No one is ready. So I get on the line and Dave gets next to me. Off we go and I am first female…. briefly… intentionally briefly.
When racing a point-to-point course, I wont get any information about my placement unless I collect it myself. By starting first as women pull ahead of me I can count them. I stay out loud to Dave and myself "1, 2…. 6,7… 10,11,...13… and then me." Women stop passing me. "Ok, I am 14th."
I know my plan. I don’t race until 12 to go. If I happen to pass people earlier than 12M, it isn’t because I am trying to race them.
When I review a course I pay attention to which miles are the fastest and which are the slowest. I knew 3, 7-10, and 18 were going to be the fastest. I also know 1,6, 23, 24 were the slowest. This helps me prepare mentally for the effort with no surprises.
The night before I stated my goal was to hopefully break 3:30, I wanted Sid to know when to be at the finish like. My 5k time predicted 3:25 +/- 5 minutes, but I was dehydrated from dry mountain air and hot sun, and I was sore from all the hiking and walking around on the hilly roads we traveled on foot most of the time, I did not feel well rested. 8:00 pace was 3:30. I really was not sure I could do this. We missed that last long run two weeks ago. That lingered with me as a little voice of self-doubt that I invited out of my head the night before. This race was happening. I hoped I could beat 3:30, but we were here to learn, to make mistakes, to test fuel, to get beat up by altitude and gravity so we could grow stronger as a result.
What would happen next? I will let the mountain decide.
Dave and I start together, struggling to breathe at 8:00 pace.
Altitude is tough. This was not a confidence boosting experience. Mile 1 is too soon to struggle.
We get on a dirt train that travels along the side of mountain. It is beautiful. This is why I choose this race.
The dirt is hard packed and smooth. We get through the first 6M on target. I had to work to hold pace. It felt too early to work that hard. I revised my goal. “8:15 is good.”
I feel excited that the faster miles are about to start. I look at Dave and he is taking a gel… Crap. This wasn’t ok. It was too early (as per our training and our race nutrition plan) and I knew it.
We were about 45 minutes into the race. We planned to test for 1 Gu per hour supplemented by sports drink along the way. We weren’t at the hour mark yet. And then he starts to walk, holding the back of his leg, “my hamstring… It's cramping….” Altitude, too much activity the days prior, dehydration, and Mile 6 was an "Up" mile. These all contributed to the cramp.
Oh crap… we are at 6M. There is a lot of race left to go with hamstring problems.
I slow down and ask him "What can I do? Do you need me to stay?" I don’t want to leave him there if he needs help. Slowing down the pace to run your own race is one thing. But getting hurt at Mile 6 with 20 left is daunting. He says “Go and I will try to catch you”…. I say “You will because I am going to hit a wall based upon how I feel.... Catch me!” and I take off.
Thankfully he was able to get back up and running. It wasn't the race he hope to have but there is something powerful about fighting back when things go sideways. He took the time he needed to work through the cramp and enjoy the race despite some disappointment that it went sideways early. But I reminded him, we were here to learn. It wasn't a goal race.
The first 6 miles were on pace but they felt much harder than I wanted them to feel. This didn’t make me feel confident about the later miles. BUT I learned along time ago to stay focused on the mile I’m in, the one I can control, while periodically assessing whether I had another gear.
Once off the dirt, on the pavement my pace naturally picks up. As we glide down the mountain I notice 7:50 start to feel like flow pace. I am at cruising altitude now and I am where I belong. Nothing hurts. Breathing is easier. I am moving well and not fighting for it.
I see two women up ahead.. “13 and 12…“ I think to myself. “It’s too soon” I add.
I know it is time for a Gu but I just can’t do it, so I wait. I decide 2 on the course may work instead of 3. I grab all the gatorade I can get. I feel good.
At 13M I am at 1:43:xx. I still feel good. “One more mile and I can start racing.”
I hit 14M. Nothing changes for me. I am steady, but I start passing people. I pass both women (12 and 13). “Ok now where’s 11?” This keep me focused on the moment I am in, not wondering about the finish that wont happens for more than another 90 minutes.
I get distracted. I need a bathroom.I tell myself I really don’t need one so that just gets me thinking that I do need one.
I made a big deal, adamantly telling Dave …”No stopping on the course! Not even to use the bathroom!” before this run… so of course now I need one.
But this happens. As I am racing through training to prepare for goal marathons I do have a few races where I do need to stop. Usually this a meal timing issue and I know that was partly the issue today. I ask at the next two aid stations about bathrooms but volunteers don’t know anything. I finally see one just past 16M. I take the opportunity, telling myself I will be 30 seconds… it took exactly 1 minute.
My average pace was 7:59 after that pit stop… That's great BUT I knew 23 and 24 were going to be slow miles. How slow? I will let the mountain decide.
I did want to finish with a 7 on my watch. This felt important enough to fight for.
Negative Split Training
One thing about trying to negative split marathons or at least trying to run even splits is that most others fade at the end.
By mile 18 people are hitting the wall. But if I pace myself within my means and if fuel well enough to hold on, I will start to catch some of the women I counted off hours ago. And this is exactly what happened.
From Mile 18 on I start to reel back in those who were flying earlier. I pass a group of three ("10, 9, 8…." I whisper to myself). I see "7" and pass her next.
This gives me something to focus on besides the course which became shadeless, flat and rolling, and not nearly as comfortable as before.
Then I find "6"….and I work to close the gap to try to pass her.
And when things get hard, I think about racing 6 hour races and how I am really good at holding on when I need to me. And as I passed #6 who was getting assessed by a volunteer on a bike as she walked along the road (she was ok but just tired…). I pass her and take her spot on the leaderboard. I am now "6." I felt strong.
I think to myself “I am home. This is where I belong.” And then I promptly start to get woozy. Whoa!
So much for that burst of confidence. I get worried. I felt like I had energy seconds ago. I felt like if I had another gear in me, but not a good enough reason to try to dig for it at that time.
The dizzy feeling was concerning. I know what happened. No more descent. It was the altitude getting to me. We were rolling along at 6600 ft in the hot sun. There was no relief. The elements were starting to hit me hard.
I relaxed and took some deep breaths which helped. I realized my breathing was getting too shallow and this wasn’t doing me any favors. I made sure to run tall and open my chest more. Deeper breaths helped.
A young guy had been leap frogging with me since the half. He is moving better than anyone else around but walk through aid stations so I keep getting ahead of him. This time as he passes me, I try to get control of my head and breathe and I try to stick with him.
We reach mile 23 and my pace degrades. Had I not known that there were only two miles like this I likely would have felt more demoralized… But I study my course maps. I come prepared with information. "Just get to 24. It will get better."
As we climb up the hill I see another woman running with a guy. "She is 5! Is she? Did I miss count?" "I am reeling her in. Her presence helps me stay focused on getting up the hill. 8:30 pace for the last two miles. I pass her. I take her spot on the leaderboard. "Now I am 5."
I am holding sub-8 for my average pace. I also know that my watch has been beeping out of synch with the markers (and when I look at my map data after the race, there are a lot of places where I can clearly see my pings were cutting off corners or turns shorting me distance that I actually I, so I am ok seeing the short reading on my watch).
The guy leap frogging me gets back next to me at the top of the hill and he decides to talk “Are you trying to beat 3:30 too?… Let’s do this together.” I appreciated his kindness, but I was so dizzy. I stumbled from not lifting my foot enough. I almost fall. It becomes insane how far the last mile can feel. "I'll try, but right now I am just holding on with everything I got." He pulled away. I had no ability to go with him.
I am digging so deep into my soul. And my pace gets back down under 8:00. I am lifting my feet again. I'm so proud that my pace for the last mile was the fastest of the whole race - 7:43.
The finish was awesome.
Sid was there.
I had told him I planned to finish by 9:30 am and I was on time for once in my life! The mountains in the background were beautiful. I knew I would finish before 26.2 on my watch so when I saw the arch and that I was definitely breaking 3:28. Even if I extra time to account for a possibly short course, I definitely came in under 3:30. I was so happy!
The mountains were good to me. I appreciate them.
They gave what I came for.
5th place female.
Most important: I did not bonk due to poor fueling.
It feels amazing to get to race marathons again.
Sometimes people will talk about the sacrifice it takes to be an endurance athlete. I just don’t see the trade off as a sacrifice. Sure I have to make choices to not do things that everyone else is doing. But the marathon is magic. And it give me a chance to excel at things that not everyone else can do. It is a gift to get to meet yourself out there when it gets hard, to learn what you are made of. And no matter how many times I run 26.2 non-stop I am still in shock that I my body can do actually it.
5 days after Presidents Cup, this was my second 5k attempt. This was a much smaller race. Dave and I arrived at 6:45 am for the 8:00 am start. We had a tentative plan to run 24 miles that morning with the 5k included. That didn't happen. It was very hot and humid. The sticky weather felt more oppressive than the conditions at President’s Cup. I have been running in the heat and adapting well, so it wasn’t a huge concern but it was still uncomfortable.
Unlike the last 5k, I no longer feared the pace of the race. President's Cup helped build my confidence. This race was much less hilly than Presidents Cup. There were mild inclined and declined sections of the course. I felt like I should be able to run faster here.
I wanted to correct my pre-race errors from last time. I protected my warm up. We were able to run the course and a little extra getting about 3.6 miles before the race started. It felt much more relaxed. I felt much better prepared to run fast. I expected to run better.
Even though it’s hot, a warm up is still important to me. I want to get my heart rate up. I want to get my blood pumping. I want to expand my capillaries before I suddenly start running as fast as I can. I want to get adrenaline and endorphins flowing. I want to get my mind ready.
My plan was to start at 6:45 pace and try to negative split down to under 6:40. The start was fast and I had trouble dialing in my pace. I think because I was very well warmed up it was actually much easier to start off too fast. I need to be mindful of this next time. At one point I glanced down and saw 6:12 and really worked to slow myself. But the decline made running fast feel too easy so I settled on 6:35 for mile 1. Although I knew this was too fast, part of me was happy I could actually move that fast still.
This first mile felt remarkable comfortable and mislead to believe that the rest of the race would feel this good.
But Nope. Not at all.
It was hot and humid and my too fast pace caused me to overheat as we started to the inclined side of the course. I found my ability to slow down…. except it no longer felt like a choice. I felt sloppy and not in control. Running just a little bit too fast can really make it all fall apart. M2- 6:59.
I knew I could get my wheels back under me by holding the slower pace for a bit. We would be heading back down that decline again soon and I know it would feel better there.
After the decline we would loop back around for one last incline to the finish. M3-6:54
Knowing that I was first woman without any competition nearby and completed over heating, I finished just a little faster but I gave myself a pass on trying to muster up a kick, Last .1- 0:38 (6:26 pace)
Running that sub-6:40 wasn't that important to me. I learned enough about my fitness as soon as my wheels fell off.
Although this race felt like a pacing mess, I managed to do some things that made me happy.
I wasn’t really concerned about the suffering. I can suffer physically. In hindsight I was worried that I would discover that I just can’t do this anymore, that my body isn’t as resilient as it used to be, as I hoped to be, as I want to be night now.
In my heart, I believe that if I train smart, eat well, and believe in myself that some of my best races may still be before more. Yet, I was afraid a 5k was going to show me that my years of achilles injury took away my chance to achieve new bests. I was afraid that a fast pace would blow up my achilles again.. I was afraid that the minor hills in this race would be too much for me. I was afraid that there would be nothing I could do because I am already doing everything I can do to get back to running.
Race Day Routine and Night Races.
Most races and most of my training happens first thing in the morning. But the President’s Cup 5k is an 8:00 pm night race in the summer (thunderstorm season). Bad storms were predicted all day. I ran 7 miles with Sid during clear window in the morning in case the race was canceled like it seemed like it would be.
I spent too much energy wondering if the race was on. I intermittently clicked on the race website throughout the day, hoping to see that the race was, in fact, cancelled so I could stop looking to see if it was cancelled. Had this not been my first 5k in years, I would have simply checked the status before leaving but this was different. I felt like I was planning to walk into a fire and I didn't know if I was hoping for a cancellation or to get it over with.
As soon as I arrived at the race at 6:30 pm, thunder clapped loudly and the sky dumped rain. I sat in my car wondering still if this thing was really happening. Then it cleared.
Running a warm up felt imperative. It felt protective. It felt like the only thing I could realistically do to help my body function safely. Sid was planning to run a warm up with me, but as we headed off to do that his back suddenly spasmed and we walked to get my bib. I thought I had time to run. About 20 minutes later, while we were back at the car Dave arrived and we walked back to get his bib. I thought I had enough time. Spontaneous socializing along the way took time some more time.
Suddenly I look at my watch we have 30 minutes until gun time. I had not run a step, I would still need time to use the bathroom. So much for protecting myself! I have not idea why I didn't prioritize my needs. This just highlighted for me how out of practice I am when it comes to racing.
Having a solid, reliable, automated pre-race routine is very important to my performance. I didn't have that dialed in this time, I know this is something I need to work on for more important races in the future.
Standing on that starting line while trying to visualize the finish felt like a version of Schrodinger’s Cat. I was both strong and weak in my mind. Failing and Succeeding. Dead and Alive. I wouldn't know until I observed the result. Both versions felt equally likely. I didn't like those odds. I didn’t want to set back again. But I needed to see where I stood.
And we’re Off… Without any real data to set a goal pace, I run by feel. Yet somehow decided I wouldn't be truly happy unless I saw a sub-7 average pace. Why? I have no idea. I get up to “cruising altitude” where my breathing starts to get heavy and unsustainable. I pump the breaks until I find a rhythm I believe I can hold for 3M and still have a kick.
I know the course. Two laps, We get to run the hills twice. The hills aren't major hills but they scared more than the speed. I look at my watch as we reach the first mile. M1- 6:47. "Ok, I am doing this.... just stay in control"
I was really pleased with mile 1! Once over one hill and still holding a sub-7, I could feel my confidence returning. I knew mile 2 was flat but that mile 3 would have the final hill. I was trying to count women during the out and back but since the turn around is really a large circular school driveway with trees obscuring the full view, I could not successfully count my place. This was for the best. I counted 4 women before I made the turn, and 4 women in my view in front of me. I was at least in 9th
Once we pop put of the circular driveway we hit mile 2. M2 - 6:49
I am grateful we have only 1 mile left. I feel ready for that hill. I am moving well. I am holding my pace. I am catching and passing the women I could see. We crest the hill and I can feel I have a kick waiting. I am trying to decide when to push. I see a woman ahead. If move now I have time to catch her. I tell myself “You only saw 4 women the out and back before the turnaround and you passed all those you saw in front you at that turn…. so if you pass her maybe you can take 5th place… there is a chance” and I push. If I had a chance for 5th I wanted it,
Just before the mile 3 mark, I open up my stride. I drive my arms. I drop my pace. M3: 6:51
Still holding on with another gear to tap into!
And in that moment, when I was finally racing again, I forget all about my fear. I was finally free. Free of 2+ years of pain. Free of 2+ years of set backs. I felt a live. I felt like myself again.
Last .1 = 6:14 pace.
I was NOT 5th, but it didn’t matter. Visualizing that I could have been inspired me to work hard to not let it slip away. I don’t think I would have kicked so hard at the end if I knew I was fighting to hold on to 12th. My placement doesn’t matter. What matters is I won my battle and I felt like a champion for just a few moments.
Place OA-Female - 12
Place AG -1
However, intentional depletion bonk runs will never help me train to run fast for a long time. Depletion training is not what I do when I want to Fast Finish a 22 mile Long Run.
When performance matters, I believe the running needs to be fueled efficiently and effectively. I carb-load the night before like it is a race. I show up ready to train with the fuel that I am testing. I want light weight, easy to carry, fast to digest fuel that meet sports nutrition science recommendations.
For months leading up to my first marathon in 3 years (this April) and my recent 6 hours race (this May), I trained long using Gu Roctane Energy Drink and Gu Roctane Gels. This worked really well for me. Roctane Gu is still in my rotation. In fact, I recommend Roctane products to my runners because I know they meet sport nutrition science recommendations for carbs, electrolyte and protein better than any other single product that I have come across. Roctane Gu and Energy Drink mix are easy to transport during travel (there are travel packs of the energy drink). The gels are easy to carry in races. But most importantly they provide carbs, electrolytes, and PROTEIN in one complete package. The protein part (amino acids) is unique and that is why we pay more for Roctane.
But I am always looking to test out new things.
As much as I love the Roctane Energy Drink, I want to play around with the ratio of protein to carbs to electrolytes to see if I could find something that works even better for me when racing fast for a long time.
What's my goal?
Sports nutritionist scientists recommend 30 grams to 60 grams of carbs per hour with as much as 90 grams of carbs per hour for ultra-endurance events or for elite paced marathons. We can build the fastest race car possible, but if the gas tank is empty it isn't going anywhere. To efficiently and effectively consume 30-90 grams of carbs per hour without feeling nauseated doesn't happen by accident. We can train our gut.
I performed very well using Roctane Gu Energy Drink mix and Roctane Gu during my last 6 hour race, I still want to train my gut to do better at digesting carbs. I also wanted more protein than I was getting in the drink. The Roctane provides amino acids but I want more control over what type of amino acids and in what amount I am getting.
What am I fueling with now?
For long runs, I am mixing 60g of Skratch Lab's Super High-Carb with 8g of BCAA (2:1:1 ratio of Leucine, Valine and Isoleucine) with 20 oz water and seeing how far I can go on that amount of fuel. I split it in to two 10 oz bottles and drink one bottle per hour. I carry additional water so I can stay hydrated.
Currently, I am getting through about 2-2.25 hours feeling good at moderate intensity paces. After I run out of Skratch, I take a Roctane Gu Gel to maintain my energy while adding a little more electrolytes and a little more protein in the last hour. My Gu is giving me 20 more grams of carb per packet (plus more protein and electrolytes). This means I am not quiet consuming the 30g per hour while one the run.
However, I eat before I start my fast finish long runs (usually one Kashi Protein Waffle and Coffee with sugar) so when I count the calories I am consuming before the run begins through the end of the run, I am fueling with at least 30g of carbs per hour. It feels like this is working well for me right now (but as weather get warmer I will see how things change).
My future Fueling Plans:
For my next marathon, I anticipate drinking the Super High-Carb Skratch + BCAAs sports drink mix before the start of a marathon and carrying a few Roctane Gu for the race while drinking ideally the race provided sports drink and water along the way.
For my next 6 hour, I am planning to keep bottles of Skratch + BCAAs at my aid station to drink along the way for the entire 6 hours with Roctane Gu Gel to supplement as needed.
Of course, this plan may change as I continue to train and test out ideas.
I have no financial interest in sharing any company's product. I do appreciate brands that make products that actually work.
Skratch Lab's Super High-Carb Sports Drink Mix has quickly become one of my favorite sources of energy when training long.
But I admit, the label confused me. 400 calories from 100g of Carbs, no fiber, but only 11g of sugar? That seemed to not add up. I expected 100 grams of sugar (4 calories per gram of sugar is 400 calories). Usually sports drinks are high in sugar.
If this isn't a sugar-based sports drink, then what is it?
The ingredients list explain that it is primarily made from a trademarked-named starch called "Cluster Dextrin." At least Skratch put in parentheses the actual name of the starch. Cluster Dextrin is a Highly Branched Cyclic Dextrin, which is a complex carbohydrate derived from corn starch. This must contribute about 14 g of carbs if the 11g of added sugar comes from the fructose and the cane sugar.
Why is Cluster Dextrin special?
It has been around since early 2000s. I only found a few small studies that explored the performance claims.
When compared to sugar and maltodextrin, Cluster Dextrin has been found to have a faster rate of Gastric Emptying which allows it gets into the blood stream faster. There is a faster and slightly higher rise in blood sugar than when compared to sugar and maltodextrin (I interpret this to mean that energy from the start fills the blood stream faster). Athletes report that the Cluster Dextrin didn't cause nausea or GI upset. And athletes performing longer at high intensity rated their perceived effort lower than other groups despite markers for stress being equally as high as the other groups.
The most interesting finding to me was:
"Following drink ingestion, participants swam 10 cycles in a swimming flume (counter-current pool). Each cycle consisted of 5 min swimming at 75% VO2max, followed by 3 min of rest. After the initial 10 cycles, participants swam at 90% VO2max until exhaustion, which was defined as being forced to move 1 m back from starting position. Interestingly, swimming time to exhaustion was almost 70% longer after receiving HBCD compared to glucose or water."
In these two small studies that are discussed in this Review article, athletes are performing better on Cluster Dextrin than other carb-based fuel sources and reporting that they feel less exhausted while doing it. That sounds awesome.
I have more to learn, but my experience has been very positive so far. I feel great when training (as great as you can when running for 3+ hours). I share my splits and my training on my social media and Strava. We (Dave and I) start in the 10:00s to warm up and we finish the run down in the low 8:00s .... 22 miles later. These runs are not all out efforts. They are controlled base-building long runs to practice negative split training. The fuel I am using seems to be helping me achieve this training goal.
If you want to read more about Cluster Dextrin (also known as Highly Branched Cyclin Dextrin), here is an open access research article for your review..
And this is my "Race Performance Journal" I write it for me. I share it for those who may be interested in this kind of thing. Maybe there is some nugget buried in here that might help you have a great race too! If I could tell you where to look... skim to the stuff about nutrition. That would probably be the most useful part of this novel.
The Event: Three Days at the Fair is a 6 day race on a certified 1 mile loop at the Sussex County Fairgrounds. Each day, shorter races may or may not take place (48 hour, 24 hour, 12 hour, 6 hour, 50k and marathon) based upon runner's request. All results for the week are combined and winners are those who run the furthest or fastest by the end of the event. I ran the Saturday morning 6 hour.
Weather: It was hot (70-80 degrees with a 63 degree average dew point). This was May and until this weekend it hasn't been very hot.
For dew point, anything under 55 is comfortable, 55-65 is sticky and uncomfortable, and anything over 65 degrees is down right oppressive.
So far, all my races in 2023 have been in cool and/or rainy conditions. I knew the warmth was going to be a shock. For once it didn't rain, but I wished it would have.
Shoes: I was ambivalent. I wanted to wear the lightest shoes I owed since I would be taking a lot of steps. In 2019 I spent too much money on some VaporFly and then stopped racing (COVID and achilles pain). The VaporFly are light, fast, efficient, and optimal for a long race for me. Yet, I opted for my Saucony Endorphin Pros, I have been training and racing for months now in them. A little heavier but my achilles like them.
Physical Health: I was feeling well, no issues, except lingering achilles soreness that I live with now. Beside the usually "scanning for weak links" which I think we all do as races near, I felt fit and strong since running a BQ at Jim Thorpe. I was ready to celebrate with a 6 hour attempt.
Nutrition (Part I - more tom come later on): I started my carb-load about 36 hours out from gun time... not really on purpose. It was Nurse's Week at the hospital where I work (as a therapist) and cupcakes were everywhere. So I ate them. Friday I continued carb-loading, I hit about 330 gram of carbs the day prior. This represents a ratio of almost 6g of carbs/kg of mass for me.
For long runs over 20M, I have found a ratio of 4.5g/kg of mass worked well as a carb-load. 6g/kg was more than I was used to. A lot of that came from simple sugar (152g) and fiber (70g -which a huge amount of fiber).
On race day morning, I was up 4 lbs over my average morning weight. (I weigh in each morning when I am training and again after my runs to assess how much hydration I am losing so I can learn how to best take care of myself on race day).
I think it is incredibly important to provide carbs and hydration to burn off during long runs. I know dehydration can drop us. By starting out 4 lbs over my average weight I had a lot of fuel to burn before depletion w0uld even being to touch me. This is important. If I started the race closer to my average weight I would have dropped from loosing too much hydration. I have learning in training that I feel awful once 3% under my average weight. This is actually right on target to what exercise science finds too. Once we drop 2% or more performance suffers. I can make it to 3%. But if I am going to running for hours, I don't want to experience that low too early.
By the end of this race I was 3.5 lbs under my average morning weight. 3% lost. That's a 7.5 lb loss in 6 hours despite me:
(1) eating about 1448 calories from the moment I woke up until the end of the race (I share my log)
(2) drinking an outrageous amount of fluid for me (I lost track along the way. I know started the day with about 40 oz of fluid. I tolerated 30 oz of sports drink and 20 oz of water before I needed to start filling a 10 oz bottle almost each lap for the last 2 hours (about 12 laps) drinking half and pouring half on me so that makes about another at least 40 oz consumed. That totals at least 130 oz of fluid.
(3) Plus a post race 12 oz protein shake.
Body Composition changes from the stress: To drop 7.5 lbs after pushing in 1448 calories and 142+ oz of fluid and have great experience tells me that the carb-load and pre-race weight was incredibly necessary since it provided fluid and calories to burn through. We can only digest calories and fluid a set slow rate during the run. I could have never kept up with the demand. My race day nutrition definitely kept me moving. But do to the carb-load, my actual loss felt more like 3.5 lbs not 7.5 lbs. Carb-loading has it's critics and those who resist it. I have been an enthusiastic carb-loader since 2016 when I started negative splitting 5ks though 50 milers and running lifetime bests in everything.
I was taught in grad school (Kinesiology program with Sport Performance and Sports Psych concentrations) that 1 gram of glycogen attracts 3-4g of water to it when stored. Weight goes up but that weight is all fuel and hydration. My tank is full on race day. What is the value of building a fast race car and showing up with no fuel? I come with fuel to burn even if that means I feel bloated and heavy on the line.
Goal Setting: Once I start racing, realistic goal setting becomes easier. I did some calculations based upon my Jim Thorpe Marathon time and had predicted that 37-38 miles was my projected A Goal. The Course Record for women is 41 miles. I have run 43.16 miles in 6 hours in 2016 so the sounds of of setting a new CR was whispering in my ear. However I ran 43 miles when I was is in sub-3 marathon shape. I am in 3:45 marathon shape right now. 41 seemed like a Reach Goal. I didn't know if my achilles would actually hold up. So at the very least I wanted to run 27 miles. If I signed up for an ultra, I wanted to run more than a marathon.
Pace Plan: My plan was to start at 8:50-9:15 pace and see where I was by 3 hours to go. My projected pace based upon Jim Thorpe 2 weeks prior was 9:24 pace but I felt I could move faster than that target because Jim Thorpe improved my fitness. I was hoping that if the weather was comfortable and I stayed in good control for the first 3 hours, then I would have some capacity to push myself during the last 3 hours - whatever that means (negative split or just try not to die).
All The People: The last time I was at 3 Days was about 10 years ago. It was remarkable how so many of the same people return to this event yearly. Of course I knew Dave and Alanna were racing (we put all our stuff together), I got to chat with Steve T., Paul H., Matt M., Newton B, John B., Shamus, and Trishul... and more.
In some way, I felt like I had come home.
On the starting line I saw Gerald. He was there for the 6 hour so he could earn his 1500 Mile brick, He needed a marathon to do it. We took off together and got a nice fast start to get out of the crowd before we settled down. I needed to burn off some pre-race jitters and this helped. I shared my pace plan with him. I did not want to run his race but he was welcomed to run mine with me if he wanted to, It was lovely to have company for many of the early miles.
I was really pleased with how " relatively easy" the first three hours felt. I was having delusions of negative splitting if I could hold myself together and attend to my needs as they arose.
As mentioned, I did really well with fueling on race day. I had two days of carb-loading in me as well. I felt hopeful.
I told Dave before the race "ultras are really just eating competitions with a side of sports psychology. And the eating is probably more important." When I would see him on the course, instead of saying to each other things like "You're looking great" we would say "You're are a good eater!" LOL.
More on Nutrition (Part II): For this race, I was definitely a good eater! Before the race I had my giant cup of coffee, a bottle of gatorade with some BCAAs mixed in. I had a Roctane Stroopwafel on the ride up. I ate a chocolate donut because I saw them. My sports drink for this race was Roctane Energy Drink. I mixed 500 calories for the race (but consumed only 375 calories of that before I had trouble tolerating it. I brought 6 Roctane Gu and consumed 300 calories of those. I ate two ice pops.
By mile 22, the heat started to impact me. I was covered in crusty salt and other electrolytes. I learned from my exercise science studies that when the body is not adapted to the heat, the first month or so we will just dump salt that we don't need due to excess sweating. Rapid sweat rate plus a high electrolyte diet means we are going to get crusty. This crusting over slows down as we adapt to the heat, sweating a little less. I am not heat adapted.
I was covered in salt. My Roctane Energy Drink and the Gu have plenty of electrolytes in them, more than I am used to. As a result, I was over- salted and my body was dumping it hard. My skin felt so uncomfortable.
Water: I couldn't tolerate my last bottle of Energy drink. I was craving plain water. I drank the water I brought with me. I had to use some to get the salt off my face and my arms. I was starting to get frustrated from the crustiness on me. I grabbed my last bottle of water just before Mile 28.
I didn't anticipate needing to drink as much as I actually did in this race. I didn't anticipate needing to have water to douse myself. I was hoping for rain. It didn't come.
Music: Maybe music would help. I never race with music but I have been training with it. I had my headphones and my phone. I needed 90 seconds of so to fumble with turning on my phone, finding my headphones, loosing an ear bud, freaking out, realizing I had my tiny bluetooth speaker that I use when I train with Dave, and then getting myself organized with music.which helped ... but I was overheating and about to finish my last bottle of water soon.
HELP: As I approached Mile 28, I could feel some worry starting to set in. People were cheering for me... "You're doing great!"... "Looking good"... "Keep it up"... and all I could think to myself is "I. NEED. HELP!"
Afraid To Stop: I could have used a crew but I didn't have one. I was sure that If I stopped to fill a water bottle from the cooler my whole body would just shut down and refuse to get back up to speed. It took all I had in me to not have the wheels fall off when I got my music. I knew stopping again would be too risky.
I see Dave at the picnic tables... he is too far away to hear me and I wasn't going to stop to explain myself. I have a bottle half empty in my pocket. I am trying to convince myself with self talk: "You will be fine. You will fill the bottle and get back to work. You will feel better for it. This isn't a choice. You need water."
I see Alanna. I call out to her desperately "Can you help me?" I knew she racing the 6 hour but said she was there for a long run and was planing to run/walk the second half her her race once she hit her long run goal. I knew this wasn't a goal race for her and hoped she might have the ability to help.
She asked what I needed. While still moving I call out "Can you grab my empty bottles, fill them with water and leave them on the table. I have some water for now, but I will run out and I don't think I can stop."
Alanna saved my race. Our stuff was together, She knew what I needed. She was able to get it done. I felt rejuvenated when I saw those two bottles filled. I felt hopeful. I was able to douse myself to cool me down, to get the salt off, to feel more comfortable and I kept on moving.
Feeling Better, music playing, water flowing: I knew I had time for 39 miles if I dug deep and pushed hard. But I made a decision at 34 miles to start filling my own bottles. I stopped each lap for a few seconds to refill, dumped some water on me and then ran the rest of the lap. This small carrot of a refill break was motivating, but I wan't going to get as many miles as possible with this short stop.
Achieving My Goal: With 30 minutes left to race, I made a decision that leaves me feeling a bit ambivalent... like now I have some unfinished business at this race. I had time to push hard to possibly get 39 miles if I wanted it bad enough... or I could add an extra walk on the back stretch and be happy with 38 miles.
This race was supposed to be my season-closer celebration. I have fall marathons on deck. So far my achilles was holding up. I had gotten more than I felt I deserved at this point. I was afraid picking up the pace would hurt me. I could feel my body getting depleted. I was at least 4-5 miles ahead of the second place female. I knew I was also ahead of Gerald, the 1st place male and he wasn't racing me today.. I knew the CR was 41 which was out of reach. I believed that 38 would get me on the leaderboard for top female performance for all time. So I decided that I had already achieved what I came for and played it safe for the last 3 miles of the race. But all this does is make me want to race it again, make it a goal race, and aim to not leave any miles on the table.
Many of the people who know best got to witness one of the best 6 hours races of my life. Not because it was the furthest I ran, but rather because it was a glorious comeback for me.
Shannon McGinn, JD, MS, MA, EDS, NBC-HWC, ATR-BC, LPAT.