Tuesday, April 30, 2013

When Your Best Simply isn't Enough

Finally, the Eugene Marathon is done, and the race I spent 4 months training for is now a (not-so) distant memory. As I sit here to type this, so much is coming to mind, but I can't think of the words to describe any of it. So I'll just have to describe the events.

Saturday (Race Eve)
Erin, Erin's friend Kelly, my friend Ellen, and I left Portland Saturday afternoon to head down to Eugene. But first, we made a pitstop in Corvallis for an untimed 5K/10K that Oregon State University hosted in honor of Sexual Awareness Month. Kelly's former boss (Ann Marie) told her about the event, she told the three of us, and Erin and I decided that it'd be a good shakeout run. The four of us decided to do the 5K, while Ann Marie did the 10K. Erin and I stuck together, and ran about 9:00 miles for the whole thing. Afterward, the five of us went out for lunch in Corvallis, and then parted ways with Ann Marie so that we could get to Eugene.

For this year, they moved the expo from the Hilton to the Lane Events Center, and this year's expo was kind of a letdown. It was much smaller, and didn't have any out-of-the-ordinary vendors. On the plus side, none of us felt guilty about leaving after 20-30 min.

Bibs acquired. Ready for Sun!

We drove to Pre's Rock, and then headed to Ellen's parents' house (her parents were gracious enough to host me). We relaxed in their home until dinner time. Dinner consisted of pasta with homemade sauce, salad, and bread, followed by a few cookies and tea. All of it was delicious.

Around 8, Erin and Kelly left to drive to their hotel so they could get some sleep. I chatted with Ellen and her mom for a bit longer, and then headed downstairs to get ready for bed. While I was digging out my toiletries, I realized that I forgot my night guard (confession: I wear a night guard nightly because I clench and grind my teeth while I sleep). Of course I'd forget it when my anxiety is through the roof. Argh. Eventually, I fell asleep (around 9:30 -- crazy early for me!)...and proceeded to wake up every two hours or so (after having some bizarre dreams).

Sunday (Race Day)
After that reasonably fitful rest, I woke up before any of the four alarms I set went off. I got dressed, and ate my breakfast of millet porridge (millet cooked in water, with dried cranberries, cinnamon and sugar, and honey) and orange juice. Ellen drove me to the start, and headed back home so she could meet up with her parents for their "cheer and bike" morning (cheer, bike to the next stop, and repeat).

Good morning, Eugene!

Once I got to the start, I checked my bag and met up with Erin. We chatted, and then ventured to the Porta-Potties (I don't know about her, but I had to pee, despite having peed before leaving Ellen's parents'), except we gave up on that because of hella long lines. So instead, we proceeded to our separate corrals.

I started my warmup routine when I got to the corral, but was a bit rushed because the start was less than 10 minutes away. I was able to do most of it (save the lunges). In the corral, I saw one of the PFR runners who was doing the half. Soon after that, the officials made the pre-race announcements, and the gun went off.

I planned on a 6:55/mi pace, and made a bracelet with the times when I needed to hit each mile marker. I hit mile 1 ahead of schedule, and saw Ellen and her family sometime between miles 1 and 2. Shortly thereafter, I came across a set of Porta-Potties and used one of them. (If I was going to be ingesting fluids, I needed to make some room or else I don't think it'd be very pleasant.) I made up that lost time by the 5K mark, and then went a bit faster than target pace for mile 4-7. I saw Kelly at mile 6, and Ellen's family at mile 7, which probably pushed me through those miles. They had the first banana table  around mile 8, and I grabbed one (for potassium).

Mile 8 brought the uphill that nobody was expecting. Seriously, it was a beast. But I saw one of the funniest signs on the course ("You've been training for this longer than Kim Kardashian's marriage"). By mile 11, I was kicking myself for going such a fast pace, and had no idea how I was going to finish. Because of that, I figured that mile 12 would be a good spot to consume my first gel. Shortly after that, they had the second banana table, and though I wasn't hungry for fuel, I decided to grab a piece for later. I started eating it around mile 14, except I felt nauseous and feared that I'd throw up if I ate any more of it, so I tossed it at mile 16. I also started ignoring my split bracelet then, because it had already started screwing with my mind. And just when I didn't want anyone seeing me looking like death, I saw Kelly. Around mile 17, I needed some more moral support, and saw Ellen's family again. At either mile 17 or 18 (I can't recall which one), my contacts started bothering me, and the left one felt like it was about to fall out. I had to tell myself that I can't control the elements, only how I respond to them (an old saying from CUA Crew). At mile 19, my stomach was ready to handle more Gu, so I took another gel.

I remember hitting mile 20 in 2:20 (~7:00 pace), and thinking that I still had a shot at BQing. During the last 10K, I just felt like shit and wanted the whole thing to end. (What kept me going was "Finish what you start.") - everything burned, and my knee ached a couple times going downhill. From miles 24-25.5, all I could think about was, "Get me off of this trail and onto the damn road!" After I got on the road, my thoughts switched to, "Get me to Hayward and get this shit over with!" I saw Ellen's family at mile 26, and didn't even smile (that's how badly I wanted that race to end). I missed the BQ and finished in 3:08:22, which is still a 3 min PR for me and a 16 min improvement over last year's race.

Immediately afterward, I was drained and pissed. When I trained that hard to BQ, gave that race everything I had, and still came up short, I couldn't help but be let down. It didn't matter that it was a PR, or that it was my 5th consecutive marathon PR. I just wasn't in the mood to celebrate my race. But what was I supposed to do when everyone around me was saying, "Congrats! I'm so proud of you."? Get all pouty because even though it's the fastest marathon I've ever run, I still fell short of my goal? No, because I know what they'd tell me -- "You're being ridiculous," "Get over it," "PRing is still a huge accomplishment." So instead, I spent Sunday celebrating Erin's massive PR, and trying to convince everyone (myself included) that I was equally stoked about my own PR and breaking 3:10 (though I probably failed at this one because I'm not a great actor). When I posted the results to DailyMile later, I stated, "I don't want to belittle any of my accomplishments today (because a PR is always worth celebrating), but when you give a race your all and still come up short, it's bittersweet. Does that make any sense?" After posting that, I decided that the best thing for my mood would be to get some sleep.

I woke up to some positive comments, which were along the lines of "Congrats on the PR!" and "A PR is always worth celebrating!" However, my friend Steven somehow knew exactly what I needed to hear:

"I can imagine you're probably sort of in a middle-ground between being proud of a new PR but also disappointed that you didn't get your BQ. This is natural, but I hope that the achievements of the new PR outweigh everything else. You've made such big jumps as a marathoner in the past two years, and I think when you take into perspective how many minutes you've chopped off in the past several marathons you should be even more proud of what you accomplished at Eugene. Keep it up. The BQ will come."

At that moment, I looked at the big picture. Suddenly, the race was no longer about what I didn't accomplish, but about all that I have accomplished. Over the last 2.5 years, I've shaved 25 minutes off of my marathon PR (nearly a minute per mile). Two and a half years ago, I never would've thought that I could break 3:10. Yesterday, I did it. And when looking at the progress I've made so far, I can't help but be amazed and proud.

Lessons Learned
While the end time was great, there's definitely room for improvement. In true coaching fashion, I'd like to reflect on what went wrong this time so I know what to improve for next time and (hopefully) get that BQ.

  1. Starting out way too quickly - This is a horrible tendency that I've had in all of my marathons. I get excited, start out really fast (and don't seem to slow down, despite my repeated pleas to myself to do so), and then positive-split the second half. After looking at the stats, I realized that this was my second-most evenly run marathon (the second half was less than 7 minutes slower than the first half). I'm getting better at pacing, but I still need to be a bit more conservative in the first half.
  2. Letting my nerves get the best of me - I had that bracelet on to tell me when I needed to hit each mile. But as soon as I couldn't hold that pace, I started beating myself up because my race plan fell apart and I felt like the BQ slipped away from me much earlier than it did. I think that me telling myself "Don't let your nerves get the best of you" helped, but I think I also need to remember "It ain't over until it's over."
  3. Poor fueling strategy - When I ran Chicago, I participated in the Gatorade Sports Science Institute's study on GI issues during exercise. I just re-read their results, and compared to the other participants, I took in less fluid and carbs during exercise and felt more discomfort. This time around, I think that my GI issues were worse (I don't recall how bad they were during Chicago, but I know that I didn't feel like I wanted to throw up). Maybe I didn't take in enough fluid or carbs during the race? Or maybe bananas during the race aren't good for my system? Or maybe I should've taken in carbs during the last 10K? Either way, I need a better strategy.

What do you think I could've done differently? What recommendations do you have for future races?

Monday, April 22, 2013

The Mental Game

With less than a week to go until Eugene the Sequel, I can’t help but think about Race Day. I’m currently feeling a whole slew of emotions, and turning another year older isn’t helping that fact. (Yes, my birthday and Race Day are within a week of each other.)

I’m nervous because I want to qualify for the Boston Marathon, and shooting for such a lofty goal scares the shit out of me. Running 26.2 miles in 3:05 just seems hella fast. Yes, I know it’s only six minutes faster than my Chicago time, but entering “Club BQ” puts one in this different class of runners. Boston may have recently become synonymous with “tragedy” (no, we’re not discussing that topic right now, because the news and watching coverage for two days after the event depressed me to the point where I can’t handle following the situation), but to me, it still symbolizes “prestige,” “speed,” and “elite.” And the pedestal I’ve placed it on has made this goal seem so formidable.

What makes me even more nervous is that I feel like I have a real shot at it this time around, and I’m afraid of blowing it. During this training cycle, I’ve had a 15K and a half-marathon PR, and have logged more miles (and faster miles) than ever before. I’ve felt more support and encouragement during this training cycle than ever before (thank you, Twitter and dailymile). And while all of that excites/motivates me, I’m also worried that I’ll get overexcited on Race Day, start out way too quickly, and then burn out in the second half. (This is one of my goats.)

I’ve also put more emphasis on diet during this training cycle. I’ve tried to clean up my diet by eating more whole (i.e., plant-based) foods and drinking less alcohol. And up until a few weeks ago, I’d like to think that I did a fairly good job of that. Then, I had one of my best friends from NYC visit me, which involved drunch, wine tasting, and enough sugary treats to make us call her visit “Diabetes Weekend”.

Drunch. Regular mimosa for her, grapefruit mimosa for me.

Wine and cheese party at home. (This may or may not have been a daily event for us.)

Moonstruck desserts. (Hey, Moonstruck's a Portland staple. Gotta check it out while visiting!)

Columbia Gorge Wine Tasting event. 
After that, I fled to SoCal to visit friends and family, which, so far, has involved drunches, wine tasting, and loads of dairy and sugar. (We seem to use alcohol and sugar to bond.) Long story short, I’m just worried that these last few weeks of poor food choices have screwed me over.

I’m freaked out, and when I get freaked out, I feel ready to jump out of my skin. Such urges make me want to run, which would be good and well if I weren’t in the midst of tapering. It’s times like these I wish I had another means to deal with my emotions. (Writing can be effective, except I’m barely making any sense to me, so I can’t imagine that I’m making sense to anyone else.)

I need to stop psyching myself out. I’m excited to race because I feel like this is the culmination of 16 weeks of hard work. I’m especially excited because I’ll have some incredible friends running and watching. And while it makes me incredibly nervous, the goal of qualifying for Boston fires me up. Plus, the weather forecast currently looks great (knock on wood).

What I’m realizing is that taper mode is when the training focus shifts (or should shift) from the physical aspects of racing to the mental aspects. At this point, I’ve done everything that I can do to get ready for this marathon. As we’ve established, I’m happy with how my training has gone. But now, I need to calm myself down so I don’t let my nerves get the best of me. For that, I have a few sayings:

-“Keep calm and rock the f*$& out.” (Thank you, Erin for that one.)
-“You got this.” (I’ve read that using “you” in a mantra is more effective than using “I” because it makes you feel like someone’s alongside you providing support.)
-“Let’s make the most of tonight, like we’re gonna die young.” (Thank you, Ke$ha. Your songs may be ridiculous, but they are catchy, and this one helped get me to a sub-1:30 half-marathon.)