Post Mortem: Newport Marathon

An appropriately titled post, since roughly two thirds of the way into this race I wanted to crawl into a hole and die.

It’s been exactly a month since my debacle in Oregon. In the intervening weeks I’ve had time to review my training log and diary, and discuss theories with Coach Kevin.

I’ve also had bloodwork to rule out anything there. And, although I suspect I could potentially feel better with higher iron-related numbers (and may start supplementing as an experiment), I don’t feel that the root cause is to be found there. No, I think it was simply a matter of too much for too long.

A couple of days after the race, I sat in my room in the Crater Lake Lodge (during a rare evening of relative sobriety) and penned (okay, typed) a document that I entitled “Training Theories.” Here it is verbatim, with some helpful links:

What went wrong?

Peaked too early?
I was running my best in mid-April. The workouts were going very well. I had that “magical run” on April 21 when I couldn’t hold back from running fast and had wished that were a race day. A few days later I flew around the track for those sub-6:20 mile repeats. I’m convinced that if I’d simply tapered for two weeks after around April 12 and run a marathon around April 26 I would have had a great run.

Couldn’t hold fitness?
I suspect that not only was it impossible to hold that peak for the following seven weeks, but I probably managed to degrade that fitness by foolishly pushing too hard through some exhausting runs. The ones that stand out are the two very hot runs in late April (20 miles in Central Park in 91 degree heat on April 26 and that awful track session two days later). Then I ran the NJ Half on May 3, which I thought would serve as a good training run (if a lousy race), but now I think it probably dug me in further in terms of creating a deficit in recovery.

“Up and down” schedule around tuneup half?
Then the next few weeks were so up and down due to the “interruption” of that race that I suspect the result may have been a staleness that settled in slowly. This was evident, although very subtle, in the remaining key workouts. I chalked up any issues with those to weather factors or just the regular ups and downs of not being quite recovered from day to day.

The run the day before the race should have been a red flag. I chose not to wear my HRM (although now I wish I had). But at one point I decided to run a fast quarter mile. I managed to get down to 7:00 pace but I was working very hard to do so. I decided it was just nerves and didn’t give it another thought.

Possible modifications
If left to my own devices, here’s what I would do differently next time around:

  • Shorten the total training+taper cycle by about seven weeks.
  • Shorten the taper, assuming the buildup has been invigorating rather than exhausting. Maybe two weeks rather than three?
  • Introduce Mpace miles much earlier in the cycle, with a gradual buildup. More on this below.
  • If I’m going to race during training, choose the races only so much as they support the specific marathon event (similar terrain, etc.), and allow adequate recovery from them. If that means fewer races (or none), so be it.
  • Include a little bit of fast running early in the taper. I do wonder if those solid two weeks of recovery running somehow contributed to the extreme slowdown on race day.
  • Do more Mpace running on the roads rather than the track.

As for Mpace running, I think I need to do more of it and a lot earlier. I never quite clicked with that pace in terms of matching pace to appropriate effort level. Although I can race a full at 88-89% MHR, I’d be a lot more comfortable getting to a point where I’m at more like 86-87%.

What we could try is having me do a few Mpace miles every week (or every other, if we started this during basebuilding), starting with just a few miles thrown into a longer run and working up to lengthy Mpace efforts toward the end. This method worked very well for me for my Spring 08 race, when I basically took one of Pete’s plans and modified it by adding in a few more of those faster miles every week. By the time I got to the 12 mile and 10 mile Mpace efforts during this cycle, I think I was already cooked. I’m not completely sure that I even needed those two workouts, and they may have further exhausted me.

So there you have — the best I can do with the data (and gut feelings) that I have.

I know I learned a lot from this experience, as has Kevin. When we were talking a few days after the race he said, “I have to remember that you’re a mortal.” By that he meant that between the 9 week basebuilding period (during which I got faster) and the following 22 weeks of training, it seemed like I had the capacity to absorb any amount of work and continue to flourish. That durability and work ethic, when coupled with a capacity for self-denial and dare I say irrational optimism, added up to  our both missing some subtle yet insistent signs.

Looking back, I think the cracks were beginning to show at the tail end of April in that I was really struggling to hit times in workouts (and the NJ half wasn’t even close). It was easy to attribute those problems to other forces, but I’ll be a lot more attentive going forward to, as well as more communicative about, the qualitative aspects of the work. Heart rate data is valuable. But seeing and acknowledging that you’re working way too hard, regardless of what the stupid watch says, is more important than any data.

Hot weather training presents its own challenges, of course, but the plan I’m getting will allow for it. The timing looks to work out to around a 14 week training schedule, including the taper (which we discussed shortening). I’m hopeful that between a shorter training cycle and having learned some important lessons, I can look forward to a happier experience in Sacramento come December. (knock wood)

NYC Marathon: How to get in if you didn’t get in

On behalf of a friend of a friend, I’m shamelessly plugging a charity that’s offering guaranteed entry for this year’s NYC marathon in exchange for a fundraising commitment: Team Continuum. They engage in fundraising through a bunch of different events, including NYC. I notice that their page about NYC mentions a per-runner goal of $3,750, but the note I received stated the minimum for entry as $2,950.

If Team Continuum doesn’t float your boat, it’s one of several official “charity partners” for NYC you might hook up with, as well as Team for Kids and Fred’s Team (which fellow blogger Marci runs/fundraises for). And there are lots of others too.

Three weeks of recovery

If by “recovery” you mean light running combined with heavy drinking.

I’m still working on my race debacle post-mortem (which may get thrown out the window after I get my blood tested next week). I still have one area (the nine week basebuilding period) to pore over before putting that together. For now, here’s what I did in the three weeks post-race.

This is more for me than for anyone else. Just so I’ve got a record somewhere that I can get to easily. Feel free to stop reading now if you have something more interesting to do such as, say, flossing.

June 1-7

Overall mileage for the week: 25 miles

Notes: I don’t know why I ran the first two after the Newport race so hard. I think I was testing myself to see if was still running weirdly slow as I was on race day. It was hard to tell given that I was running at elevation and up and down significant hills in Ashland.

The remaining runs were a little faster that I’d normally do for recovery runs. But I was running with Jonathan, who runs faster than I do, so we compromised on pace. They were also more or less flat, so I haven’t noted elevation change.

June 2: Ashland, OR. 5.5 miles at 9:09 pace. HR 75%.
This was a run from Iowa St. down to Lithia Park and back up again. Climb: +426/-452.  1,900 above sea level.

June 3: Ashland, OR. 5.2 miles at 8:15 pace. HR 77%.
Pretty much identical to previous day’s run, but done in the opposite direction so I could finish with the downhill portion (I’m no dummy).

June 4: Bend, OR. 3.4 miles at 9:33 pace. HR 71%.
Crap run in Bend, probably because I was at 3,600 feet above sea level. Bend’s maps could use some work too, as they reflect future plans more than today’s reality.

June 6: Eugene, OR. 4.2 miles at 9:20. HR 71%.
Ran a loop along Pre’s Trail, which is very pretty and chock full of other runners, many speedy and/or practically nekkid. Enjoyed this run a lot, even if it was a bit windy (and I a bit winded).

June 7: Corvallis, OR. 6.7 miles at 9:15. HR 70%.
Lovely run taking us out along cow and sheep pastures and then through the campus of OSU. I liked this town. Weather was perfect.

June 8-14

Overall mileage for the week: 15 miles

Notes: Just two runs this week, although I should note that I did a grueling seven hour hike on Wednesday which featured a climb up 5,000, then down 5,000 over a total distance of around eight miles. So my legs were destroyed for the following few days.

June 8: Troutdale, OR. 5.8 miles at 9:26. HR 71%.
One of the most unpleasant places to run I’ve ever encountered. I’m never going back to Troutdale.

June 14: Portland, OR. 9.2 miles at 9:19. HR unknown (forgot the strap).
This was a tough run in Forest Park, an enormous park that runs northwest along the NW and SW areas of town. Like the Ashland runs, this was a significant up and down course: Climb: +887/-928.

June 15-21

Overall mileage for the week: 35 miles

Notes: Back home again, so no locations are noted. Monday was a long travel day followed by a Tuesday of catching up on shopping, unpacking, laundry and work. I was tired and jetlagged anyway.

June 17: 4.7 miles at 10:09. HR 72%.
First run in the summer heat (unless you count the horrible freak heat wave in late April). Felt terrible and slow. Was also coming off of several days of intense travel and not enough sleep, so I didn’t expect to do well.I know this will pass as I get acclimated.

June 18: 5.0 miles at 9:55. HR 67%.
Pouring rain sent me inside to the treadmill. Felt better on this run, having caught up on sleep.

June 19: 4.7 miles at 9:15. HR 81%.
I’m experimenting with running hard on these “comeback” runs. Can I speed the process of acclimating to the heat and humidity by pushing myself in those conditions? We shall see.

June 20: 8.1 miles at 9:42. HR 76%.
Forecast for Sunday was steady rain so I decided to do a slightly longer run today in case I had to do Sunday’s on the treadmill. Probably ran too hard, but I couldn’t stand crawling along to keep my HR closer to 70%.

June 21: 12.2 miles at 9:25. HR 79%.
At this point 12 miles is a “long run” so I did it at long run effort. It was quite humid out in addition to being warm. I sweated out around 20 ounces of water. This is just a taste of what’s to come.

Pre-race potpourri

A paella of posts, if you will.

So, I spent the weekend tackling a to do list that rivalled Santa’s. But I got almost everything done. And I took a two hour nap yesterday too. All I remember was entering the bedroom with the sincere intent of cleaning it, but instead lying down and waking up two hours later.

Some random things:

I did my last fast run before Saturday just now. The assignment was seven miles with three at 7:00. I did the three on a windy track and managed 7:05 avg pace. The wind was about 10mph, but with faster gusts. I had a choice: Either slow down or just go ahead and run the planned pace and work a little harder. I choose the latter option, primarily because I wanted to remind myself that if come race morning it’s windy not to be a fool and try to run planned pace anyway.

Upon checking the data, my suspicions were correct: I was running at 92-93% MHR, so my little three miler was more like a tempo run than an MPace effort. Unfortunately, the forecast for Newport is showing wind. But it’s still four days away. At the very least, I’m mentally prepared to adjust plans if need be, with a recent physical “memory” of what it will feel like if I don’t as reinforcer. I’m determined to have a good race, not just a PR, but also a race where I don’t suffer unduly as I have done in varying degrees in three of my four marathons. I think that’s what they call running a “smart” race.

On another note, I started reading Lorraine Moller’s memoir On the Wings of Mercury. I’m about 30 pages in, but so far I am blown away by what an excellent piece of work it is. With a few exceptions, running memoirs typically range from the flat out terrible (Dick Beardsley’s) to the merely pedestrian (Joan Benoit’s, Grete Waitz’s). Moller’s book, though, is a revelation of outstanding writing and expert storytelling. She did not use a ghostwriter, as I’d suspected as soon as I started reading it. She’s just an extremely talented writer. She’s also very funny. I’m looking forward to digging into this one on the plane. The book is not yet released in the US, but I managed to order a copy from Newton Running.

Finally, I’m in day two of carbohydrate depletion. A few years ago, in one of my many failed attempts to lose fat, I went on a low carb diet for several months. I lost weight, but not fat (I was about 8 lbs lighter than I am now, but I wore larger clothes). I have no clue as to how I tolerated it. I felt okay on the run, but toward the end I felt lightheaded. I’m also sick of eating nuts, cheese, eggs and meat already, and it’s only been about 36 hours. Thank goodness I can hit the bagels and fruit again tomorrow.

Swedish Fish have been purchased. House/catsitter has been arranged. Airport taxi has been reserved. All systems are go.

Spring Race Training: Week 18 / Taper Week 2

09spr-training-18This should be short. Because I only ran about 39 miles this week.

I’m headed into full on taper madness, much as I’ve tried to avoid it. Where should I start?

I feel fat and slow (I’ve been reassured that this is a good sign).

Where making lists and plans typically calm me, they’ve had no effect.

Every stupid ache and twinge heralds pre-race injury. This is especially ridiculous considering that I spent most of this cycle training with a groin injury as my constant companion.

I have zero discipline in the evening when it comes to drinking (although I have managed to avoid overeating). I want to quiet the voices of taper madness, so I have that extra shot of vodka. This in turn raises my heart rate the next morning, so I have no clue what my RHR would be sans alcohol.

I’m convinced that I’m going to catch a cold from some idiot over the next few days. What was I thinking when I scheduled our flight three days before the race?

On the positive side, my legs are finally starting to feel as if they’re coming around. Although my upper legs are way ahead of my lower legs, making for an oddly schizophrenic recovery. I went out this morning and wanted to rock, running 8:26 pace for the first quarter mile before I came to my senses.

I’m sleeping well, something that has surprised me given the cutback in miles and effort. I typically have bad insomnia during recovery weeks.

As for pre-race preparation:

I’m not bothering with “mental training” this time around. Doing visualization exercises has never had any demonstrable effect on how I race. So screw it. I’m going to approach this one as a purely physical animal.

I feel strangely calm when I think about previewing the course, which we plan to do on Friday — the first two miles on foot (easy run through the streets of downtown Newport) and the rest by car. I usually freak out when I drive a marathon course (because it becomes all too clear just how far I have to run). I don’t think it’s going to be an issue this time around, for some reason. (Famous last words.)

The only hard running I’ve got between now and Saturday is a seven mile “rehearsal run” on Tuesday morning. Forecast looks nice: low 50s and very low humidity. Windy, of course, but I don’t care. I only need to run three of those miles at slightly below MPace.

In the meantime…

* twiddle twiddle twiddle *

Dear Crazy Costco Bitch: The Movie

Ran 10 this morning

Easy going at 9:42 pace. My legs felt a smidgen better than they did a few days ago. Like, maybe, 70-mile-a-week legs rather than 100-mile-a-week legs.

This should be getting very interesting very soon.

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