Out of Control
It was somewhat fortuitous that my column in the April version on the Snapple Triathlon Team Newsletter was about dealing with disappointing races. I certainly had one of those yesterday at the 119th running of the Boston Marathon.
Training had gone very well leading up to the event. I had ticked off all the boxes: long runs, consistent volume, speedwork, technique work, downhill running. I not only made sacrifices with my family, but also sacrificed some short term success in my triathlon season by cutting out a lot of swim and bike mileage in favor of adding more running. I had some breakthrough workouts, I trained smart and avoided injuries, and I was feeling great leading up to Marathon Monday.
But no matter how much you do to prepare, there are some things that are just out of your control.
Saturday morning I awoke, and Tori had prepared a massive pile of pancakes for breakfast before I drove to the airport. At the time I wasn’t hungry. I thought it was perhaps a lack of appetite associated with tapering, or some early butterflies in my stomach in anticipation of the big weekend. For the remainder of the day I ate, but struggled to take in small amounts. I didn’t feel super, and I was pretty confident that it was not nerves but a stomach virus.
My initial thought was: “Good! I have this now, perhaps it’s only one of these 24 hour things. So if I get plenty of sleep tonight I’ll wake up tomorrow, and I’ll have a day to fuel up and rest before the race.” Unfortunately that was not the case. I awoke Sunday with the stomach in the exact same state. I tested it out with a very easy run along the bay by the hotel, and the legs and lungs felt ok. So based on that and the assumption that the virus would continue to pass through my system on Sunday, I decided to still start the race, even if I had to adjust my goals.
Sunday rolled along, and I forced myself again to eat relatively small amounts of food throughout the day. I probably only consumed somewhere in the neighborhood of 1000 calories the entire day, most of that coming in the form of Gatorade and an Odwalla juice.
I woke Monday morning, again hoping my stomach would say “feed me!” Alas, no such call came from my hurting belly. I managed to eat a pack of cliff shots and a banana, but that was it.
It was cold, windy, and there were bouts of sporatic rain hitting the pre-race area. I welcomed the cold and the rain, but the wind was going to make for a slow and tactical day for everyone in the race. I decided to take the first miles as originially planned, and then see how I felt. I took the opening downhill miles very conservative, running 5:59, 5:48, and then 5:42 for the first three. I felt smooth and controlled, and my legs felt better than I thought they would (although still not super). The next 10 miles were run right around the high 5:30’s, which was a shade off of what I had trained for, but given the wind and my pre-race situation, I was very happy and content to keep clicking off those miles as long as I could. The half was reached in 1:14 and change. Knowing I would need to adjust my nutrition plan a bit, I stopped and got Gatorade a few more times than I planned early on. Once I reached miles 15-16, but body started telling me that it was running out of fuel. Although I still managed to average 6:10’s from miles 16-17, I was using the last dregs of energy stored in my fatigued muscles, and soon they would not be able to support that workload. I nabbed two gels at the aid station at mile 17 (I should have grabbed 3 or 4 had I known how bad it was going to get), and the goal from that point on was to keep running if at all possible. That goal worked for a couple miles, but it could not be sustained, and the last 10k of the race I was only able to muster a walk/jog. I began drinking several cups of Gatorade at every aid station to give my body something to use during the intermittent distances. The only thing running by mile 25 was my mind, hoping that I could get to the finish line without doing it “Julie Moss style.”
In the end, I did make it there under my own power. It was not pretty, it was not quick, and my finisher’s pictures are comical. I could have not started at all. I could have easily dropped out. I could have gotten myself into some really big trouble by not keeping my mind in the game. My body spiraled out of control and I simply tried to funnel it in one direction. I was happy to be part of the history of the Boston Marathon, and hopefully I’ll come back and get some redemption.
Until then, I think it’s important to bring back those points in the column I wrote and show how I am using them to deal with this disappointing weekend.
1. Identify what went wrong and take steps towards rectifying the problem
I started racing a marathon on empty. I caught a virus at a very inopportune time, and it unfortunately affected how I prepared my body for the physical demands of the race. To some extent catching cold is an unlucky break, but leading up to my next big race I can be more diligent about washing my hands several times throughout the day and taking in some extra immune support vitamins and herbs.
2. There are other races.
Heck yeah there are! And all I can think about now is doing another marathon. I am so bummed that I was not able to show my fitness and have a nice result to accompany it. I am already looking for possibilities in the fall for my Boston redemtption race.
3. Work on resiliency
The result of this race came down to something that ended up being out of my control – illness. I understand that and also understand that although I did not have the race I was looking for from a time and place perspective, it may have been an even better race from other perspectives. I know I ran tough as nails from mile 20-26.2, and literally tapped out everything my body had that day. That took a lot of mental strength, especially doing that knowing that I was putting out that effort and still going backwards in the faster moving field around me.
4. Find the positive
I was still able to finish the race! I have some experience on the course that I can use in the future. I helped break the wind a a few times for some of the guys I was running with in the first half who may have gone on to PR’s. Even when I was racing with no food and with a stomach turned upside down, I still ran a 2:46.
Thanks to my family for their constant support, the Snapple National Triathlon Team, SweatVac, Osmo, Rudy Project, 3Sports, and Trainingpeaks for getting me through this race. I may not have hit a homerun this time out, but even the best hitters strikeout from time to time!