Wednesday, October 19, 2011

A Controlled Crash

Not everything went my way in Portland.  I ran a marathon, my third now.  I was 8.5 minutes faster than my first, and less than 5 minutes behind my best time.  Not too shabby.  Still, I didn’t run the race I wanted to run.  I took too much for granted, and my pace suffered for it. 

I am five pounds lighter than when I ran the marathon in May.  I prioritized maintaining the lighter weight, so I didn’t eat enough in the week leading up to the race.  I took for granted that a slightly lighter running weight would lead to speed (5 seconds faster per mile per pound lost, or so I’ve read).  I certainly consumed a considerable amount of simple carbs, mac ‘n cheese, more mac ‘n cheese, bread with honey, pasta, and on and on.  That was fun!  But I skipped breakfast too often.  Thanks to bad timing this month, my appetite was low and my iron was low, and I should have just eaten a bit more.  My awesome running friend and marathon weekend partner informs me that tapering and fueling correctly before a marathon results in approximately four pounds of weight gain.  See...being fatter sometimes makes you faster.

Also, I trained well here in Colorado.  Five thousand plus feet of altitude.  Plenty of elevation gain in my training runs.  Faster long runs than I’ve ever managed before; I ran my 24-miler a month ago at an average pace of 11:05.  Typically, a person can run 30-90 seconds faster per mile on race day, thanks to adrenaline and recovery from tapering.  I took for granted that running at sea level would give me a great edge.  But I didn’t add speed work or pace runs--scary stuff those.  So the 10:20 pace I maintained for the first 15 miles blew up in my face at mile 16.  

In addition to my own training complacency and fueling mishaps, I drew a hand of plain bad luck.  On the morning of my marathon, my Garmin went kaput.  Crap-o-la! It was charged, checked and double-checked, then when I went to put it on, the display was blank.  Nothing.  I tried pressing the light button, the start button, two buttons at once, holding down for 5 seconds, 10 seconds, etc, etc, etc.  Total blank.  We quizzed people in the elevator, but no suggestion helped.  I was grateful for the extra stopwatch my friend had along.  She surrendered it to me for the duration of the race, and coupled with a pace chart on my wrist, I managed to run way too fast for my own good.  I’d like to say I’d have run smarter with my Garmin.  I certainly wish I could have had the chance to try.  Thankfully, the stopwatch kept me informed along the way, but it couldn’t save me when the hill at mile 16 made me face the music.

So I went out too fast.  I planned to run a 10:30-10:40 pace for the first 13-20 miles, then amp it up if I had something left.  Instead, I blazed through the first 15 miles at a 10:18-ish pace.  I always go out too fast.  I feel fresh, fabulous, and fast.  I forget that I have 5 hours and 26.2 miles to go.  I ignore my brain and start wishing for miracles, but I didn’t get any this time around.  Instead of a miracle, I got a mountain.

There was a hill at mile 16, 1 mile long and 150 feet up.  I’ve done tougher in my training, but this time around I was depleted.  I felt light-headed, dizzy, and hollow.  The 16th mile is a scary place for a hill: too late in the race to feel strong and fresh, but way too early to attack it with my last reserves.  I chose to walk the hill.  My pace suffered for the rest of the race, and walk breaks every mile were 1-3 minutes instead of 30 seconds.  Thankfully, the gross goo I ingested at 18 helped.  Eventually.

The last and scariest challenge of my Portland marathon had everything to do with breathing.  My thin air, oxygen-deprived existence in the Mile High City couldn’t save me.  My blood sugar levels were so low by the end of the race that my emotions were leaking out of me, then flowing out of me, then pouring flood-like and torrential.  Every quarter- to half-mile, my tears would seep into my eyes and threaten to spill.  My chin would tighten and quiver.  And then my throat would close.  I truly understand now why it is called getting “choked up.”  My airway would collapse and I couldn’t get it open until I restrained my emotion.  I said to myself, “It’s okay.  Today’s not your day.  You have to let the goal go.  Let it go.  You’ll finish under 5 hours.  And you’ll keep running.”  I reminded myself that I was accomplishing a great thing, not experiencing a failure.  I would find my self-acceptance, then find a deep breath.  My best friend, who had already run herself to death in her race, came back to meet me, as she always does.  She ran me in for the last mile plus.  My first words to her were, “I’m gonna hold it together.”  And I did.

I crashed on Sunday.  Events conspired against me, my training fell a bit short, and my fueling was insufficient.  It wasn’t my fastest finish, but it was my proudest.  I call it my Sully Sullenberger moment.  He’s the pilot that landed a 747 on the Hudson, saving the lives of everyone on board.  He controlled the crash and brought ‘er in.  Me, too.  I definitely crashed, but I controlled it.  The last five miles were faster than the five before them.  I cried like a baby...after the finish line.  And now I have a really good reason to put my shoes back on.  I’m gonna tweak my training, reevaluate my fueling, and run another marathon.  And another.  And another.  Woohoo!  Shit.  :-)

Thursday, October 13, 2011

I Run for the People.

This is not a Che-MLK-Gandhi kind of statement.  This is an honest, selfish, greedy statement that lacks altruism entirely.  I run to feel good, to be healthy, to eat indulgently, and to brag boorishly.  But above all, I run for the people.  If you want to meet cool people, run.  Nice people?  Run.  Inspiring people?  Run.  If you want to have complete strangers cheer you, encourage you, hand you candy corn, gummy bears, and, yes, even Vaseline to smear in unmentionable  If you want to like people again, instead of just grumble or cuss at them on the highway or in the grocery store, run.  And Portland is a great place to do this.

Portland, Oregon is a great little city.  I love the manageable scale and the temperate weather.  We had great racing conditions.  Moreover, the spirit and ethos of Portland is lovely.  The transit system includes a sizable free zone, and functions well with an honor system for payment.  Riders jump out of their seats to offer a chair to older riders, moms, etc.  And the senior ticket is labeled “Honored Citizen.”  Lovely.  Not to mention that on race day the course was packed in downtown and in neighborhoods with loads of people, families, and volunteers (4,000 of them).  For every 3 marathoners, there was a volunteer making things run smoothly.  Thank you, people of Portland!

Then there are a few people who stand out.  At mile 18, a guy stood in the drizzle to hold a sign that said, “Go, Complete Stranger, Go!”  Sir, this complete stranger thanks you.  And at mile 24, when I was holding on for dear life, a guy on the sidewalk locked eyes with me and saw the state I was in.  He took a step forward, read my name on my bib, and said, “Amanda, you look like a train right now, passing these people.  Keep going!”  I nearly wept...seriously; this is not an overstatement. 

And it gets better!  Runners are amazing people, and I met some standouts this weekend.  On the plane to Portland, my friend and I found ourselves next to a fellow marathoner.  He was flying to Portland for his first marathon, and to propose to his girlfriend.  She had started him training for the marathon, and believing he had this feat in him, and believing he had a happily-ever-after in him, too.  But the ring wasn’t ready, and he was stewing in his own juices with disappointment and nervousness.  My friend and I jumped in, intervening with a quick trip to a department store where we found a cheap stand-in ring that we left at the expo for our new friend and his unsuspecting bride-to-be.  He proposed at the finish line, she said yes, and we got a text saying she was wearing that chintzy ring around like it was the most precious thing in the world.  Yippee! 

Then on the plane ride home, we sat next to another marathoner, all three of us a bit hobbly.  He’s a doctor, so you’d think he’s a smart guy.  Well...he ran the marathon because of an agreement made in a hot tub...real smart, Doc.  Look what you got yourself into.  So this Denver doctor, whose girlfriend is an avid marathoner and a doctor in Boston, flew out to be with other doctor friends who live in Portland.  Their reunion, and uninhibited hot tub time, led to marathon finishes all around.  Four friends marked their marathon milestone by planting a row of trees (gifts from the very eco-friendly Portland Marathon) in one of their front yards.  That row of trees will memorialize their friendships, their achievements, and their balls-out insanity, all of which I hope will grow sky-high with the trees.  Well done, Docs!

I’ll give the break down of my break down (yes, it was that kind of race for me) in the next few days, but the most important thing I can say about my marathon weekend is this.  I run for the people.  For the likes of Collin and Mike, and the guy with the sign saying, “Go, Complete Stranger, Go!”  I run to have someone look me in the eye, see that I am spent, past-spent, drained and double-drained, and tell me I can when I think I can’t.  Why should he care?  He shouldn’t, but he did.  We all care about each other, because the journey is shared.  We understand each other and support each other because we know together is better than alone.  That bears repeating.  Together is better than alone.