After marathon number 2, my season has finally come to an end. This year included a 199 mile relay, of which I ran 16 miles in 34 hours with no sleep, Wildflower long course, where I learned my first race day f.l.a.t. change could ruin a race and Santa Barbara long course where I learned I do not like ocean swims, the San Jose 1/2 marathon and finally the California International Marathon.
It was a busy season. After returning from a long vacation in West Africa, my legs didn’t know what muscle was left, it was a long road ahead of me to get my old speed back, which I never really did. A lot of this year was just lessons learned: how to change a f.l.a.t in less than 15 minutes while everyone passes you at mile 10 on the bike course, how to mentally overcome the frustration of lost time in that race, how to better prepare myself with fluids and nutrition, how to get better at swimming without ever putting on my wetsuit (it doesn’t work my friends), how to run like I ran last year.
Last year was phenomenal. I did my first sprint, olympic and half ironman triathlons all in 6 months. I exceeded any of my wildest expectations and finished the year off with my first marathon, coming in under 4 hours. Lots of firsts, all PRs.
This year, not quite the case. Perhaps a lot of it is expectations. I built a great foundation last year, so I expected to improve on that this year. I put a challenging schedule of events on my calendar thinking I was up for the challenge. It should’ve come as no surprise to me when, post Santa Barbara, I was feeling so tired and lethargic all the time, I went to the doc for a full blood work up and nothing came back. End result, tired from over training, not seeing results improve from over training, frustrated from over training.
Moving into the fall, I took it easy and prepped myself for marathon number 2. I ramped up my running with the San Jose 1/2, which I added 3 more miles on to and did okay. A few weeks later though I was feeling rejuvenated and ran a great 18-miler at an 8:55 pace, strong and consistent. The very next day, I tore a muscle under my scapula. After toughing it through a painful 16 mile run the next weekend, it was pretty obvious how serious the injury was, it hurt to sit up, breath, turn.
I suffered on for another week before I made it to physical therapy, with a botched 20-mile attempt at which I made it only 6 miles, my training was quickly falling apart. The therapy began and I was feeling better very quickly, but it had been a solid 2 weeks of little to no cardio/running. I went from a 13 mile to a 22 mile in 2 weeks, determined to have my “peak” run. The last 7 miles of the 22 miler were slow, I walked, I shuffled, but I finished it. In the last few weeks of training, my injury recovered, but my running never did.
1 day to the race, at the expo, they are out of pace bracelets. Then we go grab lunch and order soup, after a few minutes they tell us they are out of the soup I want and only have a cream-based soup instead. I get a sandwich. 10 more minutes go by and they tell me they are out of the chicken sandwich and have salad, the last thing I want to eat before the race. It’s now 2pm and I’m starting to freak out as I’m hungry and dinner is in 3 hours. At dinner I make the mistake of ordering risotto instead of pasta, which arrives with more cheese than one cow can produce so I pick through it as if to avoid the cheese and accomplished only one thing – not getting a sufficient pre-race meal.
Race day I pee about 14 times before we start. It’s also very cold and foggy and I choose to wear shorts. I’m so nervous, I’m making my friends in the car nervous. Sorry guys. We get dropped off and jog to warm up to the start and hear 6 minutes to start! Crap. Then almost immediately, 4 minutes to start! I start to panic, have to check my sweatbag still and can’t find the truck. Next thing I hear Ready Runners! And the race starts as I’m still looking to check my bag, I’m mumbling NO NO NO! I find a spectator holding someone’s bag and ask if he can check mine, which he kindly says he will. Thank you random guy! The race starts and my pace group is so out of reach among the crowd. I try to calm down and remind myself I have plenty of time to catch up, which I do by mile 1. My heart rate is crazy high. I ignore it and try to cruise in my pace. After a couple miles I start to settle in and feel good, the legs feel good. The only problem is that my heart rate is at 168, nearing zone 4. As each mile goes by I’m consistent at an 8:52 pace, I hit the half way point at precisely 1 hr. 56 min. The cold started to get to me, it never got above 43 degrees and my gloves were damp from sweat so I took them off. Then my hands got cold. I put the wet gloves back on. Hands still cold. Heart rate slowly dropping, I took my pace down a notch. At some aid station, maybe mile 16, I must have stopped to grab fluid with people in my way. My legs seized up and I knew I never should’ve stopped running, it took a lot of effort to get the legs moving again. The next few miles I kept checking my pace, to make sure I was still in range. At mile 20, I was at 3 hrs exactly and reassured I knew I could run the last 6.2 miles in less than an hour even on a bad day. Then as I passed more spectators I could hear them cheering the 4 hour pace group, which I knew must have crept up right behind me. At mile 21 they passed me. I walked through aid stations, I gave myself 30 second walk breaks, I tried to run again had a good gate, but after a minute or 2 started to feel nauseous. At mile 22, it had taken me 23 minutes to go the last 2 miles. I ran walked until mile 24. Many encouraging people passed me telling me I was going to make it. I think I’d already given up though, I knew I didn’t make it, I didn’t make the goal I’d set for myself, not by a long shot. As I watched the time tick by on my watch I just wanted to give up, but I had to finish. At mile 24, a guy from Fleet Feet cheered me on and started to run with me, guiding me through it, reminding me I could do it, to relax and slowly pick up my stride. He ran with me for a few minutes and then watched me go on my way into Downtown. It hurt, at the time I think I was convinced I couldn’t do more, looking back now, I’m not sure why I ever stopped to walk. I finished and didn’t feel well, I knew my legs hurt and my stomach ached and I was shivering from the cold. But in retrospect I can’t help thinking that I should’ve tried harder.
I’m pretty sore today, a clear sign of a good effort. But so much of me still wants to know, what was left in the tank? Why didn’t I dig deeper? It’s hard to tell everyone who asks how it went, my first instict is to say “horrible”. Which is not what any one wants to hear, especially those who didn’t do it. I’m working on finding a better word to describe it and reflect on it. Even though a lot of me wants to go back in time and do it over, I have to move forward with what I’ve learned, from this race and this year.
Listen to your body, when you’re tired, chances are you’ve done too much and need rest. When you’re stressed, find a way to relax, don’t stress more about not perfoming well. Don’t get injured, or rather know when you are and take care of it right away. Don’t expect that things will go just like they did the time before, every race is different. Practice changing flat tires. Wear tights when it’s cold. Eat better food the day before the race. And finally, listen to your heart.
2009 I will really need to listen to myself. This wasn’t the end of a season really, but the beginning of a very very big undertaking. Next year I will do Oceanside 70.3 in April, Wildflower long course in May and Ironman Coeur D’Alene in June.
I have a month off to recover, relax and reflect. I’m really looking forward to enjoying some time with all the people I’ve missed in the last few months of training, the people I’m going to miss again in the next round.