Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Unharvested fruit or unfounded expectations?

Wineglass Marathon Sunday October 6, 2013

Wineglass was my goal race for the year. I had trained for 19 weeks specifically for this race. My goal was to finish under 3 hours 30 minutes - a two and half minute improvement on my PR from October 2011 at the Marine Corps Marathon. Training had gone well and I felt ready for a good day.  The race started out well, but changed dramatically later.

The weather forecast predicted temperatures some 20 degrees warmer than normal, starting about 60 going into the mid-70s with humidity ranging from 90 to 100%. It felt cool at the start with a light breeze at the start. I planned to aim for a 7:58 pace and lined up a little behind the 3:25 pace group. The national anthem was sung by a runner and like usual it gave me chills and choked me up with patriotic emotions.

Ready to start

There was a short countdown to the start and we were off. After some brief shuffling toward the start line, we were jogging when crossing the timing mat. In less than a quarter mile the pack around me was moving along on the noticeable downhill at about a 7:30 pace. A light and cool rain started falling.

I tried not to get drawn into the fast pace without getting in the way of other runners. In about a half mile we made a turn onto a flatter road. By the end of the first mile my pace had slowed to 7:46. Others had passed me and I just kept my planned pace in mind even though the effort level was surprisingly easy. It reminded me of comments about what the "magic of the taper" does before race day. It seemed this would be a good day.

There wasn't much chatting going on around me and I was content to just roll along. The water tables on the course were to be at about 2 mile intervals. My fueling plan was to take a gel with water at every second aid station which would be just over 30 minutes apart. I planned to grab water whenever I was thirsty. I was carrying fast food salt packets to use at about 1 hour intervals.

The comfortable, steady running led me to visualize how my race would end. I expected run at this effort level for 18 or so miles and to gradually work harder. It would take focus and determination to keep pace in the last 5 or six miles and to still be able to speed up a little before a final finish-line push through downtown Corning.

The time for my first gel came soon enough and I swallowed it before reaching the tables, walked to drink water, then resumed my pace. I was quickly back alongside the people who had been running about the same pace. A man nearby struck up a conversation with me. He was from Canada and came with a group of about 50 to run Wineglass. It turns out we had stayed at the same hotel. We ran together up the first of the three modest hills on the course. After a few miles he moved on ahead and I continued maintaining my pace.

I can't remember how long the light rain lasted. Probably it was less than an hour. As time passed, the humidity must have started to affect me. It seems that around mile 12 I was starting to notice that I could hear my breathing. That usually reminds me to check my pacing and effort. My pacing was good, so I knew that the effort to keep pace was increasing. It was not good for that to happen this early in the race. As I was coming up to the half marathon mark, keeping pace required more focus and more effort. I decided to "trust my training" and continue to stay on pace. I would count on my training to allow me to work harder and longer than before. It was too early to "negotiate" or surrender any ground on my plan.


Just past the halfway mark and on schedule
While considering all of this I was also looking forward to seeing my son Matt. He was planning to be on the course around mile 14. Shortly after the 13.1 mile mark is the only real hill in the second half and soon after that I came to where Matt waited. He ran with me briefly to ask how my pacing was going and if I needed anything that he could bring at another point. I didn't need anything but I thought whether to tell him about the increasing effort and that it could force me to slow. I decided to not voice my concern as if saying it out loud would make the problem more real. Matt said he planned to meet me again near mile 19. So I continued to maintain my effort.

But I soon realized that my pace plan was slipping away. More water tables, gels, salt. I was passing some people but others were starting to pass me. So now what? Check my pace, can I push harder to get back on pace? Could I hold that effort ten more miles?

The way I was feeling reminded me of running in the heat at Boston last year. In that race I had to keep slowing and even walk to not overheat so much. The one difference was that I didn't feel overheated this time. I did feel like something was wrong and I would need to slow down or risk needing medical help. My goal time was not that important. These "be reasonable" thoughts were challenged by some other ideas like "what are you really made of?", "are you quitting that easily?" The 3:35 pace group passed me - about 10 of them. So I was clearly behind not only my goal pace, but also behind my PR pace.

After making the first concession to ease up or to walk a little it seems the need to "give in" again comes even more quickly. I was allowing myself more walk breaks while trying to not lose pace entirely. More and more people passed. Some of them I recognized as people I had passed not long ago. Mile 19 was coming soon I would have to tell Matt how things had changed. I looked for him but didn't find him near 19 or the next place with spectators and water tables. I had hoped to hand off my light running vest which held my gels. Maybe I would be cooler without it and could revive a little for a more peppy finish. Well there wasn't much to salvage. It was a matter of continuing to move forward.

The volunteers were helpful and cheerful at the water tables and where the course required making a turn. I was feeling quite bad physically but was participating in a nice event. All along the running route, people held signs to encourage the runners. Some were for someone by name, many were for everyone - "Yay random stranger. You rock!" In a park a young girl was holding a sign that said "There is a cemetery ahead. Look alive!" That was funny to me and more relevant than I had hoped.

About mile 22 or 23 Matt was along the course. He asked if I was hurt. I think my answer was that I was just "burned out". There wasn't really anything for him to do or get for me. I was glad to see him. It turns out that something prevented him from driving to the mile 19 spot, so he went to the next place. I had wondered if waiting longer than expected for me would have made him think he missed me. Just before I got there he got a text update on my progress, so he did find out that my race had changed.

And the 3:45 pace group passed me.  There were only 4 or 5 of them.  With two or three miles to go I noticed that a young lady running was joined by a guy who was maybe checking on people in his group. When they spoke, she was crying and telling him how much it hurt to do this. He put his arm around her shoulder and assured her that it was normal to hurt when running so far. It was an odd thing for me to feel sympathy for her, even though she was able to move faster than me. She went on ahead and I continued my run a block, walk 100 steps approach.

Eventually I came to Bridge Street and the final half mile or so. I committed to running from the end of the bridge to the finish line. There would be about 3 blocks straight down Market Street which was lined with spectators. Often I pour out everything I have as I come to the finish line. It feels like celebrating when I have a strong finish. For this race, my finish line push was limited to not walking. I decided not to try chasing anyone down or racing anyone who would pass me. After so much walking and slow running it just didn't make sense to me.


   

So I jogged my way through the finish. And I was done. Finish Time 3:56:14. The finish was so different from what I had pictured earlier in the day and many times through my training.

It is not clear to me what explains the difference between my goal and my results. I think the weather was part of it. I wonder if my fitness is so far from what I thought. Did my lack of racing over the last two years leave me mentally soft? Can I blame anything on the taking blood samples for a health checkup a couple days earlier?

As in the title of this post I wonder if it is a matter of unharvested fruit or unreasonable expectations?  Did I have "one of those days" that prevented me from collecting on my training?  Or did I fool myself about my fitness for the race.  How does one find out?  Maybe by racing again.

One tired runner


Overall pace 9:01 per mile. First half in 1:44:24 (7:59 pace), second half in 2:11:50 (10:04 pace)
Mile splits from my GPS watch (total distance on watch of 26.36):
7:46, 7:53, 7:57, 7:55, 7:57, 7:58, 7:53, 8:06, 7:50, 7:54, 7:58, 7:56, 8:06,
8:05, 8:04, 8:51, 8:06, 9:40, 9:04, 10:08, 10:54, 11:04, 11:18, 11:25, 11:40, 11:30,
3:15 (for last 0.36 or 9:00 pace)

Photos by Matt Stone

2 comments:

  1. I have a hard time believing your training plan led you astray by 26 minutes, and am more inclined to think it was something else. I would have to think that 100% humidity in the upper 60's to 70 had to contribute to more effort.

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  2. Chuck

    You have captured very well a runner's dilemma staying safe vs risking to achieve the time goal. I recall a story my cousin shared with us about climbing one of the Himalayan peaks at about 22000 ft or so. They spent months and thousands of dollars training and got to the base camp at about 12000 ft. Bad weather hit them and they had to abandon their ascent. So I am sure you will get a chance to beat your PR before long. It is always a tough call whether to keep pushing or respect the conditions and stay safe..

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