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.
Shannon McGinn, JD, MS, MA, EDS, NBC-HWC, ATR-BC, LPAT.