Sunday, December 10, 2017

Marathon Day Fueling

I used the exact same fueling plan for my last two marathons, and very close to it for the two before that.  I've never had any stomach or GI issues with this nutrition, and I've always felt like I had enough fuel for the distance.  While I think that marathon nutrition is very individualized and should always be practiced in training, this is what works for me.
  • 3 hours pre-race:  a large baked sweet potato (no skin - the only time I don't eat it) and a nuun energy tab dissolved in about 12 oz water (40 mg caffeine).  I can also do a plain potato, but I like sweet potatoes more, plus they are more nutrient-dense.  Potatoes sit better with me than grains, but in a pinch I'm okay with breads, bagels, Cheerios, oatmeal, and other bland basic carbs.
  • Between 2.5-0.5 hour pre-race:  sip on 12 oz water with a second nuun energy tab.
  • 1.5 hours pre-race:  two scoops of Generation UCAN vanilla flavor mixed in about 8 oz of almond milk.
  • During race:  3 Accel gels (each with 40 mg caffeine), around the 10K, 20K, and 30K marks, but with some variation based on the course aid station placement, because I try to take them with water.  I always carry 4 gels just in case, but haven't taken the fourth recently.  I also take water at each aid station, and at CIM I took nuun on the course because that's what I train with.  I dislike other brands of sports drinks that are often provided in marathons, so I've typically used water only on the courses.
    Gels & nuun energy
That's nuun energy in water, Generation UCAN
powder, & my baked sweet potato

CIM Post-Race Tears & Post-Race Planning

The marathon will humble you even when you have a strong finish, but the ground of the finish chute is extra humbling.  I wasn't quite sure if I wanted to die, celebrate, or wallow.  Another runner helped me to my feet; God bless her for picking up a sweaty stranger from the ground.  She and a volunteer helped me walk, while my husband, who had seen me go down, ran to the side of the chute.  It's all a blur, but I told them I was okay and adamantly and repeatedly refused the med tent and a wheelchair.

Once I saw Jon, I burst into tears.  I was in so much pain, and I was so relieved to have finished and to PR, yet I was also upset that it all came crashing down at the end.  I'd envisioned a strong finish to this race many, many times, but I couldn't pull it off.  It was a mental trip to finally be confident that I could accomplish my big 2:45 dream, only to be punched in the gut (actually, in the neck) and come up 2:14 short.  I held onto the side of the chute and cried, while Jon again tried to get me to go with a medic.  I was able to gather myself and walk out of the chute holding onto the side.
I was coherent enough to know I'd want this
The neck pain subsided enough that I had a photo taken and picked up my gear bag to change into dry and warm clothing.  Walking from the gear check we ran into Courtney Frerichs, who I'd met in November in my neighboring town where she is from.  Fingers crossed that she can join our running group for some easy runs when she is visiting her parents for Christmas!
I was shocked she wasn't much taller as
a steeple-chaser (I'm 5'7")
I then managed to change and we began walking to the car.  A volunteer had given me a banana in the finishing chute, but I hadn't picked up any other food due to the state I was in.  I asked Jon for my banana to eat while we were walking to the car, since I'd handed it to him when I was exiting the finish chute, and he told me he ate it!  I'd recovered enough to laugh at the irony that he thought he needed it more than me.  Then neither he nor my parents could remember where they'd parked, so we were walking for what felt like hours, and I had to stop at a CVS and buy food.  I think the excessive amount of walking helped my recovery though.  My phone said I walked 8 miles between the lost car debacle and our afternoon/evening on Fisherman's Wharf in San Francisco, giving me a PR of covering 35 miles on foot in a day!

Although I'd be lying if I said I wasn't disappointed with missing the 2:45, I am still thrilled with this race.  I lowered my PR on a course that was "fast but not easy" (I completely understand that descriptor now!).  Strava does the nifty grade adjusted pace calculations that I often rave about, and it said that my 2:49:20 performance at Phoenix grade-adjusted to 6:39 pace (actual pace was 6:27.5), whereas my 2:47:14 performance at CIM grade-adjusted to 6:22 pace (actual pace was 6:22.7).  This is because Phoenix has greater net downhill and less climbing than CIM, and means that grade-adjusted I took off 17 seconds/mile, making the 5 more seconds/mile I need feel less intimidating.  I am really glad I didn't look at the Phoenix GAP before CIM or I probably wouldn't have had the confidence to try for the pace I did!  I am not sure what the difference in cadence means, but I think it's a positive thing.
CIM elevation profile & GAP

Phoenix elevation profile & GAP
I strongly believe that you will always run a faster marathon with a negative split, so I probably could have gotten a minute or so more out of this one if I had stayed at 6:20ish instead of dropping to 6:15ish.  My halves were 1:22:57/1:24:17, so not ideal but also not the worst.  The BPPV came into play, but there is no way to know if it would have hit me no matter what towards the end of the race, or if it hit me because of how much I was pushing, or if I even would have run any better without it.  You have to run within what you have each race day.  Regardless, I'm still glad I took the risk and went for the 2:45.  My body has now traveled about 22.5 miles at the pace I need it to go for 26.2, and I hope it will build back up stronger in order to give it a go. 

Annnnnd, I am going to give it a go again sooner rather than later!  I knew that after CIM I would have a strong feeling one way or another about whether or not I should run Houston on January 14, six weeks later.  I knew that the scenario that would direct me to run Houston would be not getting the 2:45 at CIM but feeling like it was possible off of this training cycle, and I now feel that it is within the realm of possibility.  It will take everything going perfectly, and I have to get completely over the BPPV (last night was the first night I slept flat instead of at 45* in weeks), but why not try?  I've historically run a little better in the second marathon when I've done two off of one training cycle before, I came away from CIM completely healthy and I'm recovering well, I trust my coach will find the magic formula to give me the best chance at it, and I'll pray for the strength and wisdom to try!  After all, taking no chances means wasting your dreams.
Houston here I come!
Additional links:

  • There is a great article about the race here.
  • Another article about the race and the record number of OTQs it produced is here (there were more women under 2:45 in this race than at the 2016 Olympic Trials!).
  • My results are here.
  • Results for all of my age group are here.
  • Results for all females are here.
  • Results in what is possibly a more user-friend format are here.

Well, I came close age-graded (which I feel like just makes me old!)
Bye, Sacramento!
Race swag
I loved that Sara Hall won!  My dad said she gave a finish line
speech about giving all of the glory to God.

CIM Miles 22.5-26.2: The beginning of the end

Around mile 22.5 is where my short-lived 2:45:00 dream for this race began unraveling.  My neck began spasming, which is something I've never experienced before.  My legs were still intact, so initially I didn't worry and kept pressing.  I needed 3.5 more miles around 6:15 to make my big dream come true.

The neck pain quickly worsened, and I felt like my neck was being pulled backwards, like a puppet on a string.  I tried to pull my head forward, to tilt it down or to the sides, but I couldn't.  It quickly progressed to where I couldn't see the road due to my neck angle, plus I became dizzy, and my peripheral vision was off.  I looked downwards towards my nose and focused on the head of a runner in front of me.  My mantra morphed into, "Just get to to finish, just get in, just follow her in" over and over.

In the final miles, the marathon will find your weaknesses and rub them in your face.  A tiny rub becomes a blister, a chafe from a seam becomes a bloody wound, a niggle becomes a limp.  My recent issue with benign paroxsymal positional vertigo (BPPV) was my weakness, and it was exposed.  I've crashed in the final miles of a marathon before, but this sensation was unlike anything I have experienced.  We all have to run with what we have in any given race, and this was simply what I had.  The weather, course, and field were conducive to performing at 100% (a rare combination that all runners sure seek!); the BPPV was not.
I received about 12 professional photos illustrating
the posture I ran with for the final 3.5 miles, hahaha!
One thing that was odd is that I was still passing people.  At mile 20 I was in 73rd female position, and I finished in 65th female position.  A handful of people passed me during those final 3.5 miles, and each time I would think, "Sara, that's supposed to be you; you are supposed to be having that strong finish", but I was doing all I could to just get in. 
Splits/position
In retrospect, I feel foolish for in no way considering my health and only thinking about getting to that finish line.  Since I'd had the definitive BPPV diagnosis, I knew what was wrong, and as the name says it is benign, so I like to think that this information was in my head informing my decisions.  I would never want to jeopardize my long-term health for a marathon time; if the choice is between a PR and running for the rest of my life, the choice is always running for the rest of my life.  I didn't think about the options, I just thought about getting in.  I knew my dream was fading away, but I didn't know by how much because I couldn't look down at my watch to see my final 3 splits, and I also knew I could still PR.
This was all I could muster for the finishing shot,
but, hey, I wasn't stopping my watch in it!
I fought with all I had, and I was so relieved to see the mile 26 sign as we turned towards the capital (it was tall so I could see it looking up!).  I was so relieved that I was going to make it in.  I could see the finishing clock up high, and I could tell I was still going to run a significant PR.  I made it over the finishing mat and immediately fell to the ground, something I've never done before.  I've always thought that people are being overly dramatic when they do this, because I always give a race all I have yet manage to stay upright, but this was just different.  I was overcome with so many sensations:  excruciating pain, joy to finish in a PR time, and disappointment that my 2:45 dream actually wasn't possible this day.

My dad's video of the finish is here.

I grabbed this from my finishing video (see the video here)

A PRs a PR
Just to be technical, my average pace was 6:22.7, haha!

CIM Miles 10-22.5: Finding confidence for the first time

It's fascinating to me how that switch flipped around mile 10 and I decided I was going to go for it.  It was awfully reminiscent of the White River half, during which I suddenly thought, "yes, I will run the rest of this race at 6:15 pace."  That was a break-through half for me, and also the race that inspired me to go for the 2:45 full.  After I made this call at CIM, mile 11 was my fastest mile of the race, but it also had the most downhill (thank you Strava GAP!), so I don't think it was too fast, but it was kind of symbolic:  it was Go Time.

As we neared mile 12, the group of men we'd been running with started to speed up even more than we already had been.  I didn't feel comfortable picking it up any more at that point, and I sensed Jamie felt the same way, so we stayed where we were while Kris pressed on with the men.  I continued praying, "God, make us strong and brave.  Help us all to PR.  Help us all get that 2:45:00."  You can read about what a phenomenal race Kris went on to have here -- I was beyond elated for her and think she ran so smart (she ran a half PR in the second half of this race!).  She also did a podcast on I'll Have Another with Lindsey Hein, episode 94 found here.  Kris and Lindsey discuss me briefly at around 1:04:00 in the podcast, which I was super excited about!

Jamie and I pulled up on a group of women just before the half and latched onto them for awhile.  Around this time we were also starting to pass elite women (we were in the sub-elite group), who were identifiable because they had numbers on their backs displaying their ranks going into the race.  I loved being in such a stacked female field because there were always ladies around, and passing the ones with numbers on their backs was particularly confidence-inspiring, because I knew they'd run a 2:46:00 or better marathon or 1:18:00 or better half to get that elite spot.

We passed the half mat in 1:22:57.  I fully believe that if I'm going to run a 2:45, it's going to be via halves of about 1:23/1:22, so this was an ideal first half.  I felt really fresh and I thought "I actually have a chance at this thing!"  6:15 seemed terrifying yet also achievable.  I kept with my mantra, "God, please make us strong and brave."  I don't choose race mantras in advance, because there are so many aspects of every race that you can't predict ahead of time, and I do best when I let mantras develop according to those, but some of my sayings end up better than others.  This one was far superior to my "It's just like an 8 mile tempo run, only 5 miles farther" at the Indy Women's Half!

My family was waiting just after the half, cheering with all they had!  My Dad's video from that point is here.  I took my second gel around this time.
Just after the half
The miles kept clipping off right where I wanted them to be, and they felt brisk but sustainable, each one solidifying that this was what I should be doing.  Each mile that passed I kept thinking that I could actually do this; at mile 18, "I can really do 8 more miles at 6:15 pace, I can!"  We were passing more and more elite numbers, including the woman who was ranked 9th going into the championship race.  As I kept rolling, I would sometimes question, "Will I have enough?" but would quickly reassure myself that I really was going to; I felt great.  I needed God to make me strong and brave, and I would be enough.
After mile 18, and a good representation of
how there were always people to run with
yet it was not crowded
Jamie and I got separated at an aid station, although I'm not exactly sure which mile it was at.  I was just behind her but I knew she wouldn't know I was there, and I didn't want to surge any (those 1:00 pick-ups to sub-6:00 pace during long training runs taught me that doing that could blow me up!).  I prayed for both of us to be strong and brave.

When I hit the mile 20 mat in 2:06:10, I knew if I could maintain 6:15 (for a 38:50 final 10K) through the end I was really going to do it!  I really thought I could.  At Phoenix I'd needed a 39:50 final 10K to get a 2:49 (I ended up running 39:10), and this situation felt so similar because in that moment I really thought I could make it happen.  It is always nice to have more wiggle room time-wise, but for me when running for a time goal like this, I just can't have it or I'll for sure bonk.

I continued to roll and to believe until around mile 22.5...
I couldn't figure out where to include this, but this is the
course elevation.  It is truly a "fast but not easy" course.
The net drop of over 300 feet is nice, but you climb a
significant amount too.

Saturday, December 9, 2017

CIM Miles 1-10: Anyone can run a good first 10K

The starting gun went off, and just like that I was running the race I'd been dreaming about since March.  It was almost surreal as I strided out among the elite field as the sun was just beginning to rise in Folsom.  The road was very crowded initially, but I focused on running the tangent as well as I could into the first turn, which was less than a mile in.  A quick check of my Garmin told me that although I felt like I was barely moving I was actually running my exact goal pace for the first mile:  6:25.  Kris and I were side by side as planned.  We hit both miles 1 and 2 in exactly 6:25, also just as we'd planned - the easiest 12:50 2 miles of my life!

When Kris and I talked before the race, we both said we wouldn't be chatty during the race, and it was nice to not feel "expected" to talk but to know I had support right beside me.  We spoke here and there, mainly comments about being right on pace.  There were slight variations in our splits due to the elevation variations, but we were clipping off miles right around 6:20 pace.  I was also pleasantly surprised that the course seemed less hilly running it than when driving it the day before.  The field was thick enough that there were always many other runners around, but spread out enough after the first couple of miles that it wasn't crowded; it was the perfect balance.  I made it a point to run the tangents when we turned, but the course had minimal turns, which was really nice and one of the reasons I selected this race.  I grabbed a bit of water or nuun at almost every aid station; I think I missed two through the whole race.  My legs were ready to roll, and I kept telling myself, "Anyone can run a good first 10K; it's that last 10K that matters."

My family was on the course around mile 6, and I flashed them a big smile as I ran by.  I passed the 10K clock in 39:27, a shade faster than planned but nearly perfect.  During the race I never even looked at that meticulous pace band I made, but I knew it pretty well.  I thought about how my friends and family tracking me would get their first notification for the 10K split.  I took my first gel, which I never feel like I need, around the 10K.  My dad took this video around mile 6, although in reference to the audio I can't explain why he and my mom were so concerned that I was okay, haha!
All smiles around mile 6
A photo of me also showing my dad taking a video
of me - classic.  Kris is just to my right.
A few miles in I'd spotted my friend Jamie up ahead, and after Kris and I fell in with a group of men we gradually pulled up with Jamie somewhere between 8-10.  I was so happy to see Jamie, and I knew she was going to nail the race because that's what she does!  We were likewise not chatty, but it was comforting to be running by someone I put in many long run training miles with in 2015.

Mile 10 was a turning point in the race for me; I guess the endorphins suppressed my doubts and I decided that I could run the rest of the way at 6:15 pace and go for that 2:45.  I reflected back on my husband's advice of "You should go for the 2:45; if you lose it at the end, you lose it at the end, but you will never get it if you don't try" and my coach's encouragement of "Don't be afraid to drop your pace as the race progresses."  It was still a very intimidating thought, so I started praying, "God, please make me brave and strong."  I quickly corrected to, "God, please make us brave and strong" as I ran along with two very brave and strong women.
This isn't a spoiler since I already wrote the summary post

CIM Pre-Race Calm & Camaraderie

I generally get my panicking over during week 2 of my taper, so marathon morning I awoke calm and collected, and ready to execute my plan.  I checked the weather to confirm that the perfect forecast came to fruition, and my weather app confirmed that it was 44* with 3 mph wind (it would warm up to 58* by the finish but it never felt the least bit warm).  Leading up to the race I was floored with the support and prayers I received from so many special people, and the well-wishes continued to come in on race morning.  Sometimes knowing that a lot of people are tracking me scares me (what if I screw it all up??!), but this time I just felt extremely blessed by it.

Right before I popped part of my pre-race meal into the microwave, our hotel room power went off on one side of the room.  My dad went to check with the front desk because it seemed that a fuse had blown, and I resigned myself to eating a cold sweet potato, which I have done before.  My dad returned stating that the problem was about to be fixed, and that there was a hotel room full of runners next to us freaking out.  I chuckled because it seemed like such a minor thing to worry about.  I'm also not sure why it never occurred to me that I could have just moved the microwave across the room to a different outlet, but the power quickly came back on and I had a heated sweet potato.
After the power was restored; before I lost my glove
My husband and parents drove me to the nearest bus pick-up location, and I had only a short moment to say my final goodbyes as I exited the car among many other runners being dropped off.  I told them all how much I appreciated them being there, and nearly burst into happy tears.  If you know me, you know I am a very unemotional person, but the same thing happened to me when Jon dropped me off at the bus at the Phoenix Marathon.  I guess it's something about knowing that the next time I hug him, I will have run 26.2 miles that I've been working towards for months, and I also appreciate the gravity of all he has done during those months to help me get there.  Being out there on race morning is but a small part of the sacrifice he makes so I can chase these crazy marathon dreams of mine.

I made my way to the bus pick-up line, scanning the area for two ladies I was trying to meet up with, Kristi and Kris.  I'd connected with both of them via social media -- one amazing part of this marathon PR-chasing journey has been meeting amazing women like these two from all over the country who I wouldn't have met otherwise.  Coordinating meeting in the dark at an unfamiliar location with hundreds of buses and thousands of runners when you don't have cell phones is not easy!  By some miracle I spotted Kristi, and went to the back of the bus line with her so we could sit together.

When we boarded the bus I realized I was missing something:  the glove on my right hand.  Before I exited the car, I put my phone on Do Not Disturb mode since my dad was going to hold it while I raced, and I hadn't put my glove back on after taking it off to use my phone!  I planned to start the race in gloves (until I got warm and threw them off), but I could only laugh about this, and be thankful that it was 44* and not 20*!

Kristi and I chatted the whole ride up, and I really enjoyed her, plus it took my mind off what I was about to try to do.  She is such a kind person and also so humble about her achievements.  I drank two scoops of vanilla Generation Ucan mixed with almond milk on the bus ride up (I also managed to lose my shaker cup somewhere), and she ate Ucan pudding.  Ucan, you can sponsor us anytime! 

When the buses arrived at the starting area, we went into a nearby gas station in lieu of sitting on the bus so we could stand and stay looser.  In the gas station I met some of Kristi's teammates and their coach Susan, who I had also connected with via social media (it's amazing how once you have this public 2:45 goal you end up connecting with so many women with similar goals, and for that reason I am glad I made mine public).  One of the men with the team was not going to start his race in his gloves, so I acquired black gloves to start in -- not as cute as my pink ones, but I was so thankful for him, because at 44* I will race in a crop but I sure like having light gloves.

We calculated when we wanted to go outside and begin warming up down to the minute (because no one wants to stand around in a race crop at 44*), and around 6:35 a.m. we headed outside.  The race organizers did a really good job with signs and making it very clear where you went for everything (gear check, bathrooms, the starting line, etc.); at Phoenix I would have been really lost from the buses if I hadn't been with a man who had run the race before -- so kudos, CIM!  I checked my bag but kept on a throw-away long sleeve shirt from a road race circa 1993.  Kristi and I had different warm-up routines so separated with plans to meet back in the elite corral.  Kris and I spotted each other for the first time in the elite corral.  She had reached out to me a couple of weeks before the race and asked me about my race plan and if I wanted to work together, and I was so thankful she did because not only is she a super talented runner but she is a super sweet person.

I was only about halfway through my warm-up routine when the starter announced that he needed all of the elites in the corral 10 minutes early -- in 3 minutes!  I had to quickly prioritize, and peeing one more time was the top priority, so I headed into the woods along with several like-minded ladies.  I ended up laughing so hard because here are 20+ women who have never before met, decked out in professional racing gear, dropping shorts/buns to pee beside each other like it's completely normal.  There were separate men's and women's starting corrals on opposite sides of the road, which was extra helpful for this situation!  I got back to the corral in time, and positioned myself near Kris and Kristi.  I looked around for Jamie but didn't see her.  I started worrying that she was missing the start, since I knew she was getting dropped off there, and road closures and traffic were crazy.  I saw several women I knew or knew of, including Carrie, Courtney, and of course Sara Hall, who was positioned on the front line.  I was in awe that I was in this group of fast women, but for maybe the first time in a real elite corral, I didn't feel like an impostor (in the elite corral at Rock 'n' Roll Arizona, I'd sure felt like I did not belong).

As the final countdown began, I took off my long sleeve shirt and tossed it to the man collecting discarded clothing, and he caught my perfect throw right on!  I felt so excited to put my training to the test, and ready to execute my pace plan:  starting with two miles at 6:25 and then dropping to 6:20-6:22.  Just 26.2 miles stood between me and the possibility of a new PR!
Flat Sara

Friday, December 8, 2017

CIM USATF National Championships Panel & Expo

After flights to California that went nearly seamlessly (a rarity in my pre-race travel!), we arrived in Sacramento on Friday early afternoon, with time for a shake-out run followed by a late lunch before checking into our hotel and getting groceries.  I ran while we were waiting on our food order to arrive (multi-tasking at its finest!), and I was itching for my running fix so badly that I felt like an addict when frantically changing into my running clothing in the restaurant bathroom.  That's how you know you're tapered!  I was very blessed to have my parents and husband accompany me on the trip, and to have my sweet mother-in-law stay in Missouri with my daughter.
So thankful for the support of these two, in this
race & throughout my entire 37 years
This was our row on our flight from Denver to Sacramento!
I started Saturday with another short shake out run with strides, and then we drove the marathon course.  I tried to elevate my legs while we were doing so, but my husband said I was going to kill us all with my feet in the windshield, so it was short-lived.  There were signs about the race all along the route, which were fun to see.  Driving the course intimidated me a bit because it was noticeably rolling terrain.  The course has a net downhill of around 340 feet, and I knew it rolled much of the way, but driving it make it a bit scarier (spoiler:  post-race I realized why this course is often called "fast, but not easy", which never made any sense to me before I ran it).
Trying to get my legs up while navigating
Route signs
After driving the course (which took forever - also not confidence inspiring!), we made our way to the race expo and to watch the USATF National Championship Top 10 Bib Reveal.  Sara Hall is one of my favorite professional runners, so seeing her ranked #1 and being within 10 feet of her when walking to our seats was amazing!  I follow many of the top 10 women athletes on social media and blogging platforms, and they are so inspiring (another spoiler:  I beat #9 in the race).  My dad took this video of the bib reveal.  I admittedly enjoyed seeing the women more than the men, but the men had very impressive resumes as well.  After the bib reveal the top 3 men and top 3 women participated in a panel discussion.

USATF National Marathon Championships Top 10 Seeded Women
USATF National Marathon Championships Top 10 Seeded Men
Top 3 men & women panel
Then it was onto the rest of the expo!  I got to pick up my seeded bib number from a "special running group" table, which was exciting.  We toured the entire expo, scored some free goods, and took a lot of pictures.  The expo always heightens pre-marathon excitement, and I was inspired and ready!  I also met up with a few friends at the expo, Roger and Jamie.  Everyone was geared up to run fast and our race day forecast was looking perfect!

Special Running Group pick-up
Great photo-op prop
With Jamie by another great photo-op prop
I was crossing my fingers it really was the
fastest course in the west!