Saturday, May 12, 2012

Avenue of the Giants Marathon -- 3:05:05

I had signed up for Avenue of the Giants Marathon long in advance, even though it was just three weeks after the Boston Marathon. I've heard such good things about it -- that's it's scenic, fast, and well-organized. And it's all true! All things considered, I'm very happy with how this race went. I finished in 3 hours 5 minutes 5 seconds and came in 10th place out of 448 finishers and 3rd in my 40-44 age group. It was a kind of "do over" race, considering how bad things went in Boston. In hindsight, I wish I had just had fun at Boston and not tried to run it fast, and I would have had a possibly much faster race here in Humboldt County, amongst the beautiful giant sequoias and redwood trees.

I ate heartily the night before, practically inhaling a huge plate of spaghetti (for only $10!) at the race-sponsored dinner, put on by a bunch of friendly locals.

And some funny guy from the UK told stories and give us tips about the race.

My friend and running buddy, Amanda, unfortunately had to do the 5+ hour drive separately, but we shared a campsite and hung out a bit with other runners at a neighboring campsite. Her two chihuahuas were well-behaved and enjoyed themselves.

Because of the cold, and not bringing enough warm clothes, and because my phone-as-alarm-clock had a nearly dead battery, I kept on waking up during the night. I didn't want to oversleep, so I kept on waking up and checking if my phone was still on, so that I knew the alarm would go off. So, next time, I should either stay at a hotel or get better at camping!

5am comes around finally and Amanda and I have lots of time before the 7:45am race start. We got coffee nearby at the pretty and quaint Myer's Inn (which the owner, Matt, was supremely gracious by allowing us to use his coffee and facilities). We got the dogs situated. But by the time we got to the parking area for the race, we had run out of time! We used nature's bathroom (aka, trees and bushes) one last time and the race started as we approached the back-of-the-pack runners. Doh!

Fortunately, there were only about 450 runners and it took us just 12-13 seconds to cross the start line. I had decided to run approximately the first mile with Amanda who was shooting for at least a 3:30 time in order to qualify for the Boston Marathon next year. For me, I wanted a "do over" race that went reasonably well. But I wanted to be cautious because I was still mildly sick with some flu-like symptoms plus I was not in peak condition because I had (stupidly) raced the Boston Marathon three weeks prior.

I kept on checking my heart rate, which began to annoy Amanda. "Just enjoy the scenery!" she scolded. My heart rate was low enough, at about 145 beats per minute and after about the first mile I decided to pick up the pace. I said goodbye to Amanda but then not more than a few minutes later, my shoe laces on one shoe came untied! Doh! So this being my 17th road marathon, for the first time, my shoe laces came untied. I double-knotted them this time and by the time I finished, there was Amanda again. She said something about the tortoise and the hare and I said goodbye again, laughing at myself.

I tried to take it easy and enjoy my surroundings. The forest was lush and gorgeous. The temperature was cool. I was running in the shade of these giant trees. These were truly ideal racing conditions with just the minor annoyance that the road wasn't closed to cars and there were a couple dozen cars inching their way through the oncoming runners. And then a race official was driving his pickup truck in the same direction as we were running and I heard him coming up behind me and I had to pull to one side. Annoying!

The course is laid out as a big V, with two out-and-backs. As I neared the first turn-around, I saw the leaders. They looked strong and fast and I wasn't concerned about them. After I turned-around, I got to see who was behind me. I had been counting the women and there was one woman in front of me and so when Amanda and I cheered each other on, I told her that she was 8th place female. I didn't even try to keep track of how many guys were in front of me -- 20? There were a lot.

The miles tick by and sometime in mile 8, I felt the flu-like symptoms that I've had. I felt a bit light-headed and maybe feverish and clammy-skinned. "Oh oh," I thought, "if this keeps on getting worse, I'll be in real trouble." Even though this was a slight downhill, the next mile showed that I had run it slowly, in 7:20, although I didn't feel like it was slower. In hindsight, the mile markers may have been a bit off, because my heart rate and pace were both recorded as being relatively steady. *shrug*

The bad feeling passed and I continued to enjoy the scenery and interacting with the other runners and walkers towards the back of the race. I was still passing runners occasionally and no one passed me.

As I neared the the half-way point, I heard a "bang" that indicated the start of another race. There was a half-marathon, 10K, and 5K all being held. I slowly caught up to a runner who was running basically at my pace and he was wearing hand-made sandals. Wow! That's a hard-core minimalist shoe, straight out of Born to Run.

Soon, the sandal-guy and I plowed into the back of the 10K runners and walkers who had started their race recently. I wasn't blocked, but I did do a lot of weaving back and forth. For the second half of the race, I passed a large number of 10K and half-marathon runners and walkers. It struck me as to how much of a difference there was in human ability. I admired everyone there for getting outside and challenging themselves. But I also had the private guilty pleasure of feeling especially fast and strong since I was running so much faster and farther than them.

At around mile 21, I started feeling bad again -- lightheaded and weak. I sensed that I was beginning to fall apart. The sick feeling passed, but then I started just feeling plain fatigued. I got the sense that this is what it feels like to have run a marathon three weeks before and to not be in peak condition! I just tried to hold it all together. I passed the first place woman and congratulated her. I caught up to two guys running together. My heart rate was in the low 170s and we were approaching mile 23. I tried to be patient and gather my strength and pass them with conviction. I felt like I could do it, and I so I picked up the pace and passed them. I was barely holding it all together and I had slowed down, from about 6:51 pace to just over 7 minutes per mile. My legs started feeling heavy. Suddenly my left hamstring froze up. I could only walk and hobble, trying to get the muscle to work again. I ate another energy gel. One of the guys I had passed earlier passed me. I was finally able to run again, but I felt slow and weak. Finally, finally I had less than a half mile to go. Then I saw the finish area. I tried to pick up the pace. I sort-of sprinted the last hundred meters. Whew! That was tough! I crossed the finish line feeling very relieved, but also very pleased with how the race had gone. I got my medal and slowly walked around.

I wasn't cramping too badly and I found a spot to watch the finishers and I kept an eye out for Amanda. I saw her! Somehow the clock showed 3:24 which would be a fantastic finish for her, but her actual time was 3:19 which was a 5 minute personal record! Awesome! 4th place female, out of 211! I yelled her name and hobbled through the finish area to congratulate her. She broke down sobbing with joy and relief and I was so happy for her, I started tearing up, too. Whew! What a day!

It was a long 6 hour drive back. Jennifer was very happy for me that I was healthy and had a good race. Thank you, my love!

Here are the results.
From my GPS watch and heart rate monitor, here is my Garmin data.

Wednesday, May 09, 2012

Boston Marathon -- Personal Worst

This was my 16th road marathon and my training had gone very well except for the two weeks prior to the race. My peak mileage was right around 90 miles for the week, I was getting in good long runs, and basically I thought I could do very well here. My goal was to break 3 hours. Instead, I ran my worst marathon by far and spent at least two hours in the medical tent after the race.

 But leading up to the race, I had a great time, seeing friends...

And watching the invitational mile...

And seeing accomplished runners talk about historic moments in this marathon. I heard Amby Burfoot, Dick Beardsley, Dave McGillivray (race director), Kathrine Switzer and others give advice and stern warnings about the heat, which was predicted to be in the low 80s the entire day. "If you don't think you're going too slow, you're going too fast." "Tomorrow is not a day to set a P.R." The race officials allowed the runners to have an automatic entry for next year if they didn't run the race (although the runners would still have to pay).

The friends I was with were smarter, and decided to have fun with the day, and to save their fitness for another race.

But not me! I had trained hard and wanted to run my fastest! Even though I had already signed up for Avenue of the Giants Marathon just 3 weeks after Boston. I could have taken it easy today.

So, I started off on the early downhills taking it easy at just under 7 minutes a mile. I kept on coming in at just under 7 minutes for the next few miles. I had this crazy thought, "What if I could run every mile in under 7 minutes?" I've never done that before, even though I've run many marathons at a sub-7 minute mile average pace. Well, soon enough I hit some hills and I took more than 7 minutes. But basically I was feeling pretty good in the first half. It was hot, though, and my heart rate kept on getting too high.

Of course, I should have slowed down and kept my heart rate low in the first half, like under 160 beats-per-minute or maybe the low 160s on the uphills. But I repeatedly hit the high 160s. I thought maybe I could hold on to this, since I had done so well at my last 50K at Lake Chabot.

I hit the halfway point at 1:33:09 and I knew I was in trouble and that having a negative split for the second half was very unlikely. I just didn't appreciate how bad things could get! I started getting cramps and feeling overheated. And each time I slowed down, I didn't appreciate how much worse it could get. Until it got worse. I started having to walk, to either keep my heart rate down or to work through cramps (calves, hamstring, side).

The race support and the crowd support were amazing the whole time. There was tons of water. Other runners were encouraging. The crowds were encouraging. I saw a fast runner dressed as Minney Mouse, and I've seen him in previous Boston Marathons, too. I saw a guy with painted toenails running completely barefoot. Another guy was wearing Vibram 5-Finger shoes.

For the last couple miles, I was a mess and could barely run. I walked three times within sight of the finish line because various leg muscles kept freezing up. I crossed the finish line in an unfathomable 3 hours 33 minutes. I have a hard time getting my mind around that. I'm in such better shape than when I ran my first marathon in December 2005, and I did that in 3 hours 19 minutes. Although I don't train in heat, I have raced in the heat many times. But perhaps I've never started a marathon with the temperature in the low 80s?

Anyway, I crossed the finish line and immediately started feeling light-headed and nauseous. I felt like if I didn't lie down right away, I was going to pass out. The finish line area is not a place where runners can just hang out. There are too many of us and we need to keep moving. A volunteer asked me if I needed help and I said "No, I just need to sit for a minute. I'm dizzy." A minute later she came back and asked how I was and I told her I need to lie down. She offered a wheelchair and since I wasn't going to be able to get out of there on my own at that moment, I accepted.

As I was being wheeled into the medical tent, my vision started fading and turning to white. It was a weird sensation to be totally conscious and aware of my surroundings yet seeing myself fall apart, teetering on the edge.

So, it took me about two hours of alternating between lying down and sitting before I could get out of there. I was pale and nauseous and drank a lot of water and sports drink during this time. I knew Jennifer would be worried, because of how badly I had run and the fact that I couldn't contact her for so long. (Yes, she was very worried and was one step away from calling all the hospitals in Boston.) I finally got out of there and made a mad dash for the airplane. So much for the planned leisurely afternoon of eating and socializing!

The day after the race, I was down 5.5 pounds from the previous Friday, so it's safe to assume I had become quite dehydrated during the race.

I'm still not quite sure why things went so badly. I've had some flu-like symptoms for a few weeks before this marathon and a few weeks after.

Anyway, the Boston Marathon is an amazing event and I want to do it again some year. The local paper wrote up a nice article about a few of us local runners who were there.

Update on 5/12/2012:
This article says that almost 2,000 runners (of the 22,500 who started) had some medical attention, and that the highest temperature along the course was 89F.