Sunday, June 8, 2014

The Science of Newport: A Race Analysis

When we last spoke, I had revealed my mile-by-mile recap of the Newport Marathon, and the emotional side of the race. "The Art of Newport," if you will. (If you need to catch up, go read that recap first.) This will be more about the technical side of the race.

It has been said that those who can't remember the past are condemned to repeat it. And before I begin training for Santa Rosa, I want to visit Newport one last time to determine what went right, what went wrong, and what I could do differently on August 24.

So what went right?

First, the speed work in the Pfitzinger plans. Maybe not all of the tempo runs went according to plan, but I remember all of the track workouts when I felt like I was going to die during the intervals, and ended up nailing my target splits.

On a related note, I did most of the runs as prescribed in the training plan, and one of the keys to improving as a runner is to run high mileage (or so Jason at Strength Running tells me).

All Willy Wonka memes aside, I logged 56 miles for my peak week (the only time I ran more miles in a week during Eugene '13 training when I ran 57 miles in a week. But I wasn't working full-time then, so I'm chalking this one up as a win). Furthermore, April 2014 was the first time I logged 200 miles in a month.

With the exception of the last week of training, I was more mindful of what I ate. Sure, I had my cheat moments, but I know that I paid more attention to keeping gluten and dairy out of my diet when I went out to eat. Also, my issues with iron absorption compelled me to reduce my coffee consumption (because coffee hinders iron absorption) during the second half of training. I cut back from about 3 cups a day to 1 cup, and none after noon (well, most of the time). Once the nasty, wicked headaches subsided, I felt like my energy levels were more consistent. Less caffeine, more energy...maybe it really WAS messing with my iron absorption.

My pre-race massage also ended up being a wise choice. I did this a week before MCM because my legs were extremely tight, and after the success I had there, I decided to work a pre-race massage into my recovery week calendar. Groupon was also offering a deal for a LMT near my office, and how could I pass that up? My legs definitely felt fresher after that.

But what went wrong?

While I got enough sleep for me, I don't think I got enough for a recovery week. In the days leading up to the race, I only got about 4-5 hours of sleep per night. If you know me, you'll know that my attitude on sleep is along the lines of "I'll sleep when I'm dead." I just try to cram as much as possible into my days (because I don't know how to sit idly), and it usually catches up with me. I know that sleep is important in recovery, and that these same benefits probably apply to the taper as well.

The GI issues I had during recovery week and the race itself. Before I received the results from the celiac blood test, I took "potential celiac disease diagnosis" to mean, "You should go enjoy a burrito in case the test comes back positive (since ignorance is bliss)." And while I enjoyed said burrito as I ate it, the hours of GI distress that ensued was less than optimal. If I had to guess, I'd say that my mid-race GI distress was either due to the extra coffee I drank on race morning (normally, I'll have one cup of coffee before the marathon, but I ended up having about 1.5 cups this time) or to the gluten- and sugar-rich race eve eats (because my system wasn't used to them).

Per usual, I started out way too quickly. Between race morning excitement and jumping into an unofficial sub-3 pace group in the first mile, my pace for the first mile was my fastest lap of the whole race. I knew as soon as I saw that lap that I went out too quickly, and also knew that it was too late to do anything to prevent the damage.

My gel and water stops didn't correspond perfectly. I took the gels as planned, but on a couple occasions, the next water stop wasn't for another mile after I consumed the gel. You need water to help metabolize the glucose that's in the gels, so I couldn't reap the full benefits of them. Or so is my guess. And I'm sticking with it.

How can I improve?

Coordinate my Gu and water stops.

Get more sleep in the days leading up to the race.

Make a more concerted effort to figure out what foods work and don't work for me. Though I may not have full-blown celiac disease, I can't rule out the possibility of a gluten sensitivity (especially after the issues with that burrito). Also, the adjustments I made based on my iron absorption problems seemed to help improve my energy levels. With that being said, I think continuing to pay closer attention to what I eat and my body's reaction to it could be greatly beneficial.

Do more core and strength work. I put in the miles for this race, but more often than not, I'd skip out on the ancillary work. I did more strength work in the weeks leading up to MCM, and I'd like to think it paid off there.

Do some predawn long runs. I'm putting this on my list only because Santa Rosa has a 6am start time, and I think it'd behoove me to get used to starting long runs at that hour.

Do you have any more suggestions?


  1. Well, you got a PR at Newport, so you must be doing something right! My marathon PR is 3:05. My first mile in that race was a 7:59.2. My last mile was a 6:49. I am a firm believer of taking it way, way easy in the first mile or two of any race, especially a marathon. It has served me very well, as once I am "warmed up" in a race I can almost effortlessly start ticking off faster miles. However, if I go out to fast, I crash and burn later. Anyway, high mileage is key for me as well. How much more speed do I need if I can run 13.1 miles of sub-7s? I think I just need to increase my endurance to run 26.2 of them in a row! :) The trick for me is to do high mileage and not get injured which always has me flirting with disaster. I am also still trying to figure out mid-race nutrition. I usually overdo the carbs during a race and have stomach issues late in the race. Good luck with the training!

    1. Thanks for the excellent feedback, Pete! Overall, this race was surely a win. I really need to remember to start out more conservatively in my races, so that I don't have a repeat of the 5+ minute positive split in the second half. Stay tuned for more training updates!

  2. I think this is a great analysis, Austin. Some of these changes are super easy to implement--like timing gels with water stops--but some just take a bit more effort to actually implement (ancillary work... totally guilty of that one, too). You totally rocked Newport though. What a good year you've had :)

    1. Thanks so much, Erin! :) You're right on the fact that some changes are easier to implement than others. I finalized my Santa Rosa training plan on Monday, and wrote in some ancillary work. I figure that if it's on the plan, I'll be more inclined to do it. Stay tuned to see how that works out!