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?


  1. Austin-

    I'm so glad that you can appreciate all that you have accomplished in the past 2.5 years as a marathoner. This wasn't your first marathon, and it won't be your last. I meant it when I said that the BQ would come. I remember seeing how happy you were in Chicago last year, and you should carry that enthusiasm for Eugene as well (now that you've had time to reflect).

    I'm happy that anything I said had a positive impact. I tend to forego simplistics congratulatory statements, which sometimes makes me come off as a little caustic and some people don't like that. But in your case you had so much going for you that I thought a little bit of perspective was in order. You've made such huge leaps as a marathoner that you can't focus on the small mis-steps. On a personal level, I'm very impressed at how far you've come.

    Good for you on also looking back to realize that you went out too fast. Be realistic about what happened so that your next marathon can build upon all the ones before. Going out fast is common among almost all marathoners. Two weeks ago when I was at the Boston start line, I voluntarily moved back two corrals because I knew the people in my corral (all sub-3 marathoners) would even still go out too fast. I bumped back 3 full corrals. It was no surprise to me later when it turned out that my first mile was my slowest. But would you care to guess my fastest mile? Yup -- my last. Learn to control your pace despite the adrenaline, despite the excitement, and despite the people around you who seem to be whizzing by.

    Think of marathon day as a job -- you have one single job to do : run 26.2 miles at your race pace. Not faster, not slower. It's not about being excited, or about being nervous. It's a job. It's YOUR job. Run your pace for 26.2 miles -- not a mile less, and not a mile more. And your job begins at mile 1, so if you find yourself going out too fast then you have to make yourself slow down. It's your job.

    As far as fueling, everyone is a little different. Just figure out what your body needs for a 20-miler during training and you'll be set. I believe that for most people they get through the first 20 miles of the marathon on energy, and the last 6.2 miles on adrenaline. Practice fueling those 20-milers like it's the race. If you can, and better yet, practice not taking any GUs or fuel during training so that your body learns how to go on without external support.

    This is an article that came out recently about training while in a glycogen-depleted state: http://www.runnersworld.com/nutrition-for-runners/a-peek-inside-elite-marathon-fueling // I think it could help a lot of amateur marathoners. For the past two years I have taken no GUs during training and I have been able to run all of my last marathons with zero GUs. Best of all, I negative split Boston 2013 and Chicago 2012 despite taking no GUs on the course.

    Anyhow, great job on another race. Your BQ will come.

    See you in Boston.


    1. Steven-

      Thank you so much. Your statements a lot to me, both because of your exceptional talent as a runner and because you’ve seen my progression firsthand. I really appreciate you putting everything into perspective. I definitely needed to be reminded of my post-Chicago runner’s high, and I’ll have to keep that in mind as I train for MCM.

      I think I’ve become better at containing my excitement and adrenaline on race day (of all of my marathons, I’ve only run one more evenly than this), but I know I have to work on that some more. That’s a great suggestion on starting in a slower corral. Perhaps I should try that for MCM.

      Thanks for the articles. Your take on fueling is really interesting -- I think you’re the first person I know who’s finished (and PR, if I’m not mistaken) marathons without any sort of fuel. I’d love to pick your brain sometime about that.

      Glad to have your support during my training. Looking forward to running Boston with you (when that BQ comes).


  2. That's some impressive improvement over your marathoning career; no doubt you'll BQ in a race just around the corner.

    Re: the fueling issues, I'm not sure what you've already tried in training, but let me repeat the marathon fuel mantra that you *do not* change anything up on race day. Solid foods, compared w/gels & liquids, are much more likely to cause GI distress while running; so if you weren't eating bananas, pretzels, etc., on your training LRs, your gut may not have been ready for them in Eugene.

    But if that was old hat, then you may want to re-examine your water intake. Another big contributor to gut woes is underhydration - your intestines will flip out if they receive a big dose of sugar without enough attending water. Look up osmotic diarrhea for more, or don't, because it's fairly gross.

    And while I agree w/SW on the benefits of glycogen-depleted training (great way to make your body more efficient at burning fat for in-run fuel), I respectfully disagree about the zero-fuel strategy during racing. Most well-designed studies of endurance-sports nutrition find the best performance comes w/minimum 30g CHO per hour and ideally closer to 60g.

    And following along those lines I'd suggest that fueling in the last 10k - at the beginning of it, for someone running at your speed - is a good idea. The sugar-hungry brain is a real jerk, creating false fatigue in your muscles well before they are actually spent, in an attempt to get you to stop all that damn running, already. If you keep the sugar coming, it can make a real difference to your perceived fatigue level in those toughest last miles.

    1. Kat-

      Given your extensive background in nutritional science, I highly value your input on this subject (and may pick your brain some more once I start training for MCM). After thinking about what I consumed, the bananas (at least mid-run) were new, and the OJ was semi-new (before my long runs, I would drink ~8 oz of OJ, but I drank ~16 oz of it before the marathon). I don’t think either of those is drastic enough to make a difference, but I could be wrong.

      Thanks for the info on osmotic diarrhea (yes, it’s gross, but I’m sure we’ve all experienced it at one point or another), and the sugar-hungry brain! It’s possible that my issues are related to both fuel and water (during training and races, I have to remember when to take water, because I don’t want to rely on my thirst mechanisms that fire when you’re already a bit dehydrated).


  3. I'm so happy for you and proud of your accomplishments, Austin. You ran an awesome race, and your progress in such a short timeframe has been nothing short of fabulous. At the same time, having been in your shoes before, I can totally identify and empathize with the let-down of not achieving your A goal at the race.

    I've been thinking about this stuff since Monday, and it looks like Kat beat me to this. I think SW has some points, but I would just say that--take this with a grain of salt--YMMV...and tremendously so. I can tell you from personal experience that I learned the hard and humiliating way that I need to consume a LOT during the course of a marathon in order to not bonk. (If you want heartbreaking details, read my RR for my first Boston in '09. The short version is that I bonked so hard with 5 FREAKING K left that I thought I was going to fall asleep standing up I was on pace to re-qualify at Boston and just lost it with less than 3.1 to go. I have never felt an "I'm-about-to-fall-asleep" feeling like that before in my running... and fortunately, haven't since). If you decide that fueling more during the run will help you, it's just a matter of finding something that works for you (if it's whole foods or gels), though this is, unfortunately, easier said than done.

    Think of the calories in/calories out equation; even if you ate breakfast (millet porridge + accoutrements), that's probably fewer than 500 calories, after going through an 8 (or so) hour fast; from the dates you consumed on the run, you gained maybe an additional ~30 calories/date... my numbers here are rough guesses, of course, but my point is that if the typical person burns 100 calories/mile, you can see easily see a huge deficit between what you were supplying to your body versus what it was expending. FWIW, I think Jason, a few months ago, had a post where people could write-in and play "coach" to diagnose what went wrong with one of his runners' marathons, and it was pretty similar to your experience. (If I could find the link, I'd send it... can't at the moment, boo!) Anyway, I'm rambling about fueling; we can chat more if you want :)

    The pacing/going out too quickly and nerves, I think, you'll find that you can remedy with time and practice. Did you do any of your long runs, or part of them, at your goal MP? Doing so in future training cycles might help you (read: make you) dial down your efforts in training, and therefore, in the race, so you'll quickly know what a 7 minute mile feels like to you and what you need to do to keep that going, regardless of how stoked you are to be racing. (Again, personal experience on crashing and burning here speaking). And as for the pace bracelet, if you find that it's messing with your head, then don't wear it. I think it can be as simple as that. (Again, FWIW, I Sunday was the first day I had worn a pace bracelet in eons... don't even remember the last time I did. Boston '10, maybe). In fact, I, too, was initially weary of wearing one on Sunday, if for no other reason than fearing I'd jinx myself...

    I'm rambling. You are an accomplished and strong runner, and you will continue to improve. I totally see it in you. Matt Frazier (NMA) had the same experience as you as he tried to BQ; I think it took him 3+ attempts because every time he'd race, he'd whittle down seconds or minutes each time, not one big block of time. You might also want to consider chatting with him about your (and his) experiences.

    The BQ will come; you're so close already. I can't wait to celebrate with you when that day arrives, but until then, I'll be happy to continuing celebrating your running and accomplishments along the way :)

    1. Erin-

      Thanks so much for the input! Sunday may not have been our chance to celebrate my BQ, but at least we got to celebrate new PRs together! And when that BQ comes, expect a very excited (and maybe incoherent) phone call from me. :)

      I think you’re probably right about the bonk. I went back and reread that post (http://strengthrunning.com/2013/02/be-the-coach-why-did-michael-bonk-the-houston-marathon/), and that definitely sounds similar to my experience. If I had to guess, I’d say breakfast was around 500-600 cals (because of the two glasses of OJ). The two gels I consumed during the race had 220 cals (each one was 110 cal), and I doubt the 1.5 banana pieces had more than 40 cals. Based on previous experience (and the Garmin data from this race), I typically burn ~3,000 cals during a marathon. Considering the fact that muscles can store ~2,000 cals, I was probably working off of a glycogen deficit and another gel probably would’ve helped. (Before I start rambling anymore, I’d love to chat with you some more about how you figured out what works for you!)

      Based on Jason’s article (see above paragraph), maybe I would’ve benefitted from another long run. (After thinking about it, I realized that I only did one 18 miler, two 20 milers, and one 21 miler.) I did some MP work at the end of my last two long runs (one of the 20 milers and the 21 miler), but probably could’ve benefitted from one more long run with MP work.

      As far as the mental game goes, I think there are so many layers to that (between starting out too quickly, the bracelet, and that twinge of doubt that never seems to disappear)! Figuring that one out will probably require some extra reflection.

      Congrats to you as well on an incredible race, and here's to many more PRs and BQs!