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.  :-)


  1. Way to hang in there, Amanda! My Ipod Shuffle died in a hot, torrential downpour during a half marathon in Penang (Malaysia) last year. Felt the same way about the outcome (2nd slowest half ever for me, but proudest finish). Looking forward to hearing about your races yet to come, & your journey in the midst of them.


  2. It's nice to still be able to have heroes in this world. You are so inspiring and I am glad to know you.

    And, also, congratulations! You did it!