Race Report: The Five Stages of Race Day D.E.A.T.H.

With a tip of the hat to Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, I present to you the five stages of Race Day D.E.A.T.H. I experienced all of these stages, over a period of four hours, 17 minutes and 45 seconds on Sunday while running the 19th Annual Key Bank Vermont City Marathon.

D = Denial. “I’m just a little off my pace because of that last hill. That pain will go away.”

E = Exasperation. “Why can’t I make my legs go faster?! What on earth did I eat that’s making me feel this bad?”

A = Agony. “…potty. Ow. Ow. Ow. Where’s the porta potty? Ow. Ow. Ow. Where’s the…”

T = Tedium. “I’m jog-walking at mile 19. I wonder if there will be anyone at the finish line when I get there later this afternoon. Oh, look. It’s a downpour. Now I can walk seven miles in wet socks.”

H = Humiliation. “That fat woman up ahead is going to beat me.”

I suppose it could have been much worse. I was off my last marathon time by about 22 minutes, or about 50 seconds per mile. But it was just shocking how badly things started to go wrong starting at about mile 12. I’d kept to my 8:55 pace all the way, even though my stomach was bothering me.

But my legs started to really hurt at mile 12 (something that didn’t happen until mile 19 or so in the last marathon), and my pace began to drop off slightly over the next 6 miles, but I was struggling. Mile 19 was the the turning point, where I lost it physically and mentally. I also got the runner’s trots, which involved a stop of several minutes and feeling quite weak for the subsequent mile.

Like the last race, my thighs were in excruciating pain. But unlike the last race, I couldn’t keep running at a quick clip despite the pain. I just couldn’t make them go faster, and by mile 20 my pace dropped to 10:45. That was also when it began to pour rain, a downpour which lasted close to 20 minutes. By mile 22 I was walking/jogging at a pace of 12:52, looking and feeling like a drowned rat.

I rallied a bit (that’s being charitable) and managed to run miles 23-25 at well under 12 minute miles. But that was mostly because I just wanted to get the damned thing over with and get some food in me. The last 1.2 mile stretch was a cruel joke. My pace was around 13:30 and I began to suspect that they’d moved the finish line to Canada. I kept running by people screaming, “you’re almost there! Just around the corner!” but no finish line. When I finally crossed it, I was so disoriented (and relieved) that I forgot to turn off my watch, so didn’t get my time until last night.

Jonathan didn’t fare much better, having blown his goal time and suffered the same decay in performance as I did. The lessons I take from this experience are:

1. You can’t “coast” on the training for a marathon earlier in the season. I simply didn’t run enough miles, or do enough quality workouts, over the preceding two months (much of it due to recovering from a marathon and then a half marathon — and much of it just not having the time due to work commitments). I had enough conditioning to run a very strong half marathon in late April, and that was part of what was so dispiriting about Sunday’s race. My April half indicated a good marathon time (predicting 3 minutes faster than my March marathon time) — but you can’t “fake” a marathon. I’ll learn to trust my training history more than a time predictor next time.

2. A hard marathon in March, followed by a hard half in April, followed by another hard marathon in May is too much. If I do this again, I have to make one race the hard race and other two “fun” races, or “training runs with food at the finish.” 🙂

3. Don’t eat kung pao beef the night before a marathon. Too much fat, protein and fibre.

On the positive side, I was never really in serious trouble. I passed one runner being hauled away in an ambulance at mile 18 (he seemed lucid; I’ve a feeling it was a bad injury). And I saw another collapse at mile 25 — passed out cold. So I’m grateful that nothing like that happened to either of us.

And the people of South Burlington were kind, generous and full of good humor and encouragement. It boosted my spirits to run through neighborhoods where everyone came out — and stood in the pouring rain! — handing out bananas and orange slices and cheering us on. I even started high-fiving kids once I decided to accept my failure and try to enjoy other aspects of the experience.

Running along Lake Champlain was also quite an experience. Very beautiful, even in the pouring rain.

It’s a race I’d run again. Although since the More Marathon seems to be my big spring race goal for 2008, I might do the Vermont marathon as a fun run next time. They also give you a nice tee shirt, for the record. Simple design and technical fabric, so you can actually use it for running. And they have the heaviest race medal I’ve ever seen. It must be made of lead.

So that’s it for the spring marathons of 2007. I’ll focus on a full recovery from this one and then start building a base of 55-60 miles per week over the summer. I’ll probably run the inaugural East Hampton Marathon in September as a fun/training run, rather than race it.

The More 2008 race is 10 months away. Plenty of time prepare…

The Day After

Just a short post, since we’re still in Burlington, VT and getting ready to pack up and make the drive home.

I’ll do a full race report of the Key Bank Vermont City Marathon later on, but to summarize:

The race was a disaster for both of us
The people of Burlington are extremely nice
It’s beautiful here, even when it’s pouring rain

Track Track: Is It Any Wonder?

Imagine a world in the not-too-distant future. The members of U2 have all died, but have been cryogenically frozen. A nostalgic, mad Gen Xer scientist brings them back to life. And in the process, he leaves Bono in deep freeze (and who can blame him? He’s an insufferably pious blowhard). As a creative alternative, the scientist instead merges the DNA of Bono with Freddie Mercury to create a new, synthetic love child to serve as front man for the reanimated band, now called Keane.

They go into the studio and they record this song. But radio listeners everywhere ignore it, at their own musical peril, instead transfixed by another recording, “Somewhere Only We Know”. A song which, like aspartame, seems okay at first. But then it makes you go “blech.”

I adore this recording. It makes my hair stand on end. It’s a great “bad relationship” song. I feel like I can run 60 miles an hour when I’m playing it out on a run. The production is fabulous, with a distorted wah wah pedal setting the raw mood, and a bass bottom so big it could empty a pool.

Marathon next weekend. In total denial.

One reason I haven’t posted regulary is that I’ve been working so much. I’m nearing a major project milestone (launch of a Web site, and I’m managing all editorial content-related aspects). I clocked 68 hours last week. So I’ve been quite distracted, to say the least.

But I have gotten in some running. Last week was the second week of my pre-marathon taper. I ran 23 miles. This week I’ll probably only run about 10. They say that no conditioning you do in the two weeks before a marathon is going to help you; if anything, it will tire you out. So I plan to run today and tomorrow and then stay off my feet until Sunday.


I will be again racing 26.2 miles on Sunday. And I’ll be driving 7+ hours each way to do it.

I am in denial about this fact. And since this week promises to be as crazed as last week was workwise, I’ll continue to be in denial until I actually climb in the car on Saturday to make the trip north.

After this race, it will be a summer of base building. Lots of long, slow running to get myself up to a steady 50 miles a week. Then I’ll do the innaugural Hamptons Marathon, after which I’ll start training for next year’s More Marathon starting in early November. I haven’t mapped out my training plan yet. But what I am doing differently this time around is devoting several months (instead of several weeks) to base building, in hopes that this will help me avoid another shin-splint-filled training experience.

Track Track: Mr. Tambourine Man

You probably think I’m going to write about the famous William Shatner cover of this tune. But it is not to be. I’m talking about a live version of this song, found on the album “The Byrds Play Dylan” (it’s track 18 on the 2002 reissue).

I was in a nostalgic mood last week and decided to download some dusty relics. I went with this album along with “The Best of Buffalo Springfield” to keep me company on a 7 miler.

So. Back to this particular recording. I have always enjoyed the trippy sound of The Byrds, with their tortured high harmonies and chiming Rickenbacker guitars. This live version of the Dylan classic (and one of the Byrds’ biggest hits) starts out normally enough. You hear the first few twangy notes, the audience goes crazy with recognition, and the song swings into full form.

And then something odd happens. In your left ear, you begin to hear a raunchy, growly guitar come in, playing riffs in a counter tempo. It sounds as if someone has accidentally overlaid a single guitar track from some other song. The playing is so aggressive that it sounds almost punk. The effect is disconcerting, the sound anachronistic. It’s confusing.

Just as you’ve finally accepted that there was actually someone playing this on stage, the guitarist undergoes a rapid personality change. Suddenly, the playing sounds like…it sounds like…can it be true? It sounds like Chet Atkins! Bendy, sugary notes, fast fingering up and down the frets playing rockabilly, C&W bar fare. What the…?

That guitar is so distracting and so demented that it’s difficult to focus on any other aspect of the recording. It’s actually funny — like someone’s loony cousin slipped onstage to take over the show.

Now I find that I can’t listen to the standard version of this song. I have to listen to this one, because the studio version sounds so conventional by comparison.

Introducing Track Tracks

Boop! Boop! Boop!

I’m introducing a new, regular feature of this blog. Sort of like “today’s haiku” — but with music!

“Track tracks” will reveal a new or unearthed piece of music of interest. I run a lot, and I have an MP3 player (iRiver Clix) and an “all you can download” account with Rhapsody. So I listen to a lot of music. I sometimes come across a particulary good piece of music, or just an odd one. Since I’ve been so remiss in posting here, this may inspire me to post more often.

Yes, “Track Tracks” is a really awkward name. I don’t actually run on a track. I thought of calling the feature “Track Wax,” but that was even weirder. So I’ll stick with Track Tracks for now.

Race Report: Lehigh Valley Half Marathon

What is it about the word “Lehigh” that makes we want to get up on a horse, make it rear up, and scream, “Leee-Hiiiiiigh!”

Okay, now that that’s out of my system, here’s a race report, albeit a bit tardy.

Two Sundays ago we made our second annual pilgrimage to Allentown, PA (popularized many years ago in a catchy song by Billy Joel about working class hopelessness). Allentown is just so damned charming. It reminds me of the R. Crumb drawings of Cleveland in the “American Splendor” comics of the 1980s. Run down, but in a somehow comforting, timeless way.

Anyway, we drove the two hours from NY and got there on Saturday. Picked up our numbers, chips and goody bags (tiny bags of Carolina rice seems to be a major theme among race organizers this year), and milled around the expo. I stopped myself from buying lots of things. Which isn’t to say that I didn’t buy them online when I got home.

We stayed overnight, as we did last year, at the Wingate Inn, located within spitting distance of Dorney Park Wildwater Kingdom. (“Whee!” Pause. “Splash!”). Remind me not to accept a ground floor room again. We were near an exit door (“Slam!” Pause. “Slam!”), plus treated to lots of fascinating parking lot chatter.

Last year, we parked near the race start, which was a disaster due to too many other people with the same idea. Last year we had no warmup — just a dash from the parking lot to the race start. This year, determined to avoid that debacle, we opted for the shuttle bus.

Which was also a disaster. 40 minutes between buses?! We had about five minutes to warm up this time around. But a foolish stop at the portapotty (and watches set slow) meant another disaster start. I managed to make it up near my pace group. Jonathan was about 20 rows behind where he wanted to be (the front).

Blam. Off we go.

Like last year, the crowds were great. Very enthusiastic and supportive. And the route is an interesting one, with much of it in a local park. This was the first race since the marathon in March, and I’d recalibrated my watch to avoid a repeat clueless performance. I ran a steady 8:30 pace for the first half of the race, then managed to speed things up for the second half. I ran with the 1:50 pace group nearly the entire way. But around mile 11, I started to get really tired and they gradually got ahead of me by about a hundred yards. Rats!

I finished very strong at the end, which was a change from last year. For the last mile, I ran at a 7:30 or so pace. I was really pushing to come in under 1:50. But, alas, it was not to be. I made it in 1:50:19. I’m still very happy with this time since it’s nearly 10 minutes faster than last year.

The other interesting thing about that time is that if I plug it into the McMillan Calculator, it gives me a marathon equivalent time of 3:52:40. A bit less than four minutes faster than my More Marathon time. So I’m either in better shape a month later, or I’m better at running shorter distances, or the More race was a tough course. I have no idea which it is.

But I should find out soon enough. Marathon #2 is in two weeks in Vermont.

Jonathan pulled off another age group win — he came in first in the 50-59 group. Yay him! I saw him pass me during an out and back section of the race, with only about 25 or so people ahead of him. So I knew he’d bring home a bauble.

It’s hard to know if we’ll go back next year. It’s a long way to drive (and you have to stay overnight, since the race starts at 8AM) to run a half. On the other hand, it’s immensely satisfying to have a real point of comparison from year to year. Now I’m wondering if I can take another 10 minutes off my time next year. If I made it 12 minutes I’d have a shot at a trophy too. Hmm.

For the "Solution in search of a problem" file

It’s what every runner has been clamoring for: the Jogging Buddy.

Work is still insane. Plus there’s the nice weather beckoning me to get away from the computer. Will catch up with some more posts soon…