Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Race report; Philadelphia Marathon, November 22, 2015

I ran the Philadelphia Marathon on Sunday, finishing in 3:22:xx.

And...that was my slowest marathon ever.  Despite a strong training cycle and a boatload of confidence going in.

And...I think I'm done with marathons for a while.   I love the training, but I don't train to train, I train to race.

So...with that intro, how was the race?

The taper the week before went much the way one would expect, with various bits of paranoia (does anyone not get that way).  My sinuses stayed scratchy and slightly achy, my sciatica acted up, and carbloading made me feel awful.  But that's all normal for taper - some judicious use of neti pots, stretching, and Pepto had me feeling good.  I hitched a ride up to Philly on Friday night - settling into my nice room at the Embassy Suites.

As an aside, I strongly recommend the Embassy Suites (very close to the race staging area) as the best place to stay for Philly.  It's definitely expensive,  but having your own private bathroom right outside the start line is priceless.  The Embassy Suites also offered free breakfast (great for the non-marathoning significant other) and complimentary late check-out on Sunday for marathoners.  Plus one of my favorite perks - a well-equipped gym with stretching mats and my choice of three foam rollers.

Saturday was intentionally very chill.  In the morning, after a big carb-heavy breakfast, I headed over to the expo to grab my bib.  That task accomplished (I happily noted that the race t-shirt was black - my preferred color), I headed next door to the Reading Terminal to meet up with a friend from the Runnersworld online forum.  Then back to the hotel to meet Brian.  Brian and I grabbed lunch together, and then hung out in the room, watching the second Avengers movie and ordering room service for dinner.  I stuck with the same eating plan I followed before my long runs - a solid carb-heavy lunch and a light dinner.  And lots of water with Osmo.  I was actually pretty nauseous at this point - mostly because I was just sick of carb-loading.  But the stomach issues cleared up over night.

Sunday morning, I was up at 5:15 to eat my breakfast (same as for my all my long runs), get dressed, and stretch.  While last year I had left the room at 6:30 in order to clear security, I assumed that this year security would take longer, due to the recent Paris attacks.  So I was out the door at 6:15, which resulted in me entering my corral at 6:40 - perfect timing for a 7 am start.  (It's important to note that I didn't need time to check a bag or use any portajohns; either would have required an early entrance.)

As it turned out, the race start ended up delayed by 15 minutes.  Not a big deal for me: as a marathoner I was planning on using the first few miles to warm-up.  I felt sorry for the half-marathoners, though - the benefits of their carefully timed warm-ups were waning with each minute.

Finally we were off.  There were pace groups at 3:05 and 3:15.  Since I thought somewhere between 3:05 and 3:10 was a reasonable goal, I had no intention of hanging with the 3:05 group.  I assumed the 3:15 group would be behind me, but if they pulled up, I'd hang with them.

As it turned out, the 3:15 pace group passed me fairly quickly - around the first mile.  This didn't worry me too much - the pace groups aren't always reliable.  I debated hanging with them, as we'd be heading into the wind soon, and they'd make a great wind block.  But I really wanted to be careful with my effort early on, as I knew some of the later miles would be into a strong headwind.  My intention was to run as slow as I needed in order to feel good at mile 20, so I could ride the strong tailwind home.

I felt sluggish and flat for the first few miles, but that's how I feel at the start of every run, so it didn't worry me too much.  Just relax, hang back, and stay on top of hydration and nutrition - 26 miles is a long way.

A few miles in, we turned into the wind.  I looked for others to work with as windblocks, but couldn't find anyone consistent - paces seemed to continuously fluctuate.  So I just ran on, trying to run as efficiently as possible.

Around miles 8-10 we hit the two large hills on course.  Both seemed pretty imposing, and the headwind didn't help much.  I tried to burn as little energy as possible on each, though both still felt harder than I'd like.  I was also disappointed that the headwind seemed worst on the downhill stretch between the two, meaning that I didn't take back much time on the downhill.

Around 10-11 we turned back towards the art museum.  At this point, a bit of a side stitch popped up.  It was concerning, but also mild, so I tried to ignore it and focus on my breathing - hopefully it would ease in a few miles (and it did).  At 12 miles, we approached the split for the half and full marathoners.  I grinned as I reflected on how much better I felt there this year, as compared to last year.  And then we were headed up Kelly Drive - away from the finish line and into the wind.

The wind was blasting pretty strongly - supposedly sustained at 15 with prolonged gusts to 25.  I looked for others to work with, but the population was much thinner now that the half-marathoners had left us.  And I also noted that those who were running my pace weren't running the tangents of winding Kelly drive, instead blindly following the shape of the road.  So I reluctantly opted to follow my own course, minimizing my distance covered.

As I noted above, I wanted to make sure that I'd feel good at mile 20.  So as the wind blasted us and I started to strain, I kept pulling back on the throttle - trying to keep even effort rather than even pace.  And to stay relaxed.  I wanted to come into mile 20 with energy in the tank for the trip home.

But even with all the restraint, by mile 17 I was fading. I kept drinking water and sucking on a gel, but neither seemed to help.  By the time I hit the turnaround in Manayunk, and finally had a tailwind, I was completely gassed, both mentally and physically.  It wasn't really a crash, but a feeling that I had no spark, no energy, and just didn't care anymore.  And so I plodded home.  I wanted to be done, as quickly as possible, but had no interest in fighting for a few extra seconds or minutes.

Splits are below

Mile 1: 7:53
Mile 2: 8:23 (long)
Mile 3: 6:37 (short)
Mile 4: 7:30
Mile 5: 7:25
Mile 6-8: 22:23
Mile 9: 7:18
Mile 10: 7:47
Mile 11: 7:25
Mile 12: 7:23
Mile 13: 7:23
Mile 14: 7:25
Mile 15: 7:31
Mile 16: 7:36
Mile 17: 7:53
Mile 18: 7:45
Mile 19: 8:01
Mile 20: 8:40
Mile 21: 7:42
Mile 22: 7:49
Mile 23: 8:17
Mile 24: 8:32
Mile 25: 8:06
Mile 26: 8:08
last bit: 1:32.

It's interesting to see these splits, as they show that I clearly didn't fall apart too horribly.  It just felt like I was running through water instead of air - a sharp contrast from how I felt during my long runs.

In retrospect, things I would have done differently?  There's quite a few.

The first is the training cycle - my coach believes that my training cycle was too long, and had too many long runs.  Though I only did two 20+ mile long runs, I had three runs of more than 18 miles, and five runs of 16 miles or longer.  It's worth noting that at this point, my coach knows me better than I know myself, and so I take his view here as the gospel.
At the time, I wondered if my struggles at Grandmas Marathon in June were the consequence of a very short training cycle.  But a longer training cycle only resulted in a similar struggle for a much worse time, without the weather excuse that I had at Grandmas.

Plus, I frankly prefer a shorter training cycle in the future, simply because it means that there's less invested in the damn race if it goes sour again.  I'd rather waste 6-8 weeks than the 14+ I did here.

I also think that I may have overdone the carb-loading.  Several of my teammates did a very heavy carb-load for the Chicago marathon, with great success.  So I tried to match them here, carb-loading much more than I have for any previous marathon, to the point where I felt sick to my stomach at times.  This was a massive change from my normal diet, which is generally more protein and healthy fat focused than the average runner.  In my daily life, I find that too many carbs make me feel bloated and sluggish - I run much better off of steak and eggs.  I'm thinking that the massive dietary shift in the days before the race may have hurt more than helped.

Finally, I think I backed off too much on my yoga and injury prevention work before the race.  It's a difficult balance, because those activities do add stress and fatigue to my legs, and so they need to be tapered.  But as I got into the last week of taper, I could also feel my gait falling back into old bad habits, with old injury spots and trigger points reawakening.  Next time I won't cut out that stuff until a few days before the race.

But "next time" for a marathon won't be for quite a while.  After previous marathons, good or bad, I was thinking about my next in the finishing corral.  Not here.  At mile 17 I decided I was done for a while, and I still feel that way several days later.  I'm going to spend the spring trying to parlay the fitness I built this fall into some shorter race PRs.

Other notes:
  • Carried a water bottle and refilled it with quick breaks at water stops.  I've figured out that if I uncap my handheld ahead of time, and talk to a water stop volunteer as I'm approaching, it only takes 2 seconds for he or she to dump a cup of water into my bottle - that's two seconds well spent.
  • Unlike last year, my quads held up great this year.  I have a theory that my coach's preferred long run route, which features a long stretch of downhill running, makes one's quads much more resistant to eccentric fatigue.  How I felt in this race certainly supports that theory.  
  • It was tough, but I didn't let myself sit down for an hour post-race, and dragged myself to the pool Sunday night for an short aqua-jog.  This helped a lot, as I felt much better on Monday morning than I expected to.
And....an epilogue (because it explains why I'm so late writing this report).  A weird thing happened during the marathon, right after the halfway mark.  My right eye got very "wonky" for lack of a better term - like it had been dilated at the optometrist.  I could still tell light from dark, but I couldn't focus it or see out of it.  Not itchy or painful, just not working.

I kept running, both because I was in continuous-forward-motion mode and because I thought it might be from some dust that was blown into my eye much earlier in the race.  I only really needed one eye to run anyway.  Several miles later, in Manayunk, it started working again, and I finished with two working eyes.

Later Sunday night, I was speaking to my father (a doctor) and mentioned the eye issue - was it worth calling an optometrist sometime next week for an appointment?   My father was much more concerned about the eye issue, noting that sudden vision issues, especially an inability to focus, can be an early warning sign of a possible stroke in women over 40 (and I'm 41).  So... he asked if I would mind getting it checked out that night at the ER.

It's apparently not hypochondria if you have a medical degree.

Somewhat reluctantly, I headed over (the ER is pretty close, so this wasn't a huge hardship).  It was now 9pm on Sunday, so there was no wait.  I was admitted right away, got my bracelet, and shuffled to a room where I waited for a doctor to shine a light in my eye, ask me what my name was, and send me home, so I could write up my race report.

Except it didn't quite play out that way.  After telling my story (including noting that some dust had been blown into my eye earlier), I found myself trapped by a blood pressure cuff, a heart rate monitor, and an IV drip.    Lovely.    At least the saline drip would be useful - I was recovering like a Salazar pro.

And then there was the blood draw and a trip off to radiology for a cat scan of my head (seriously?), before I was wheeled back to the little room where I waited for several more hours.  Finally, around 1:30 am, the results were in, confirming that I was fine.  I got home around 2 am and crawled into bed - an annoying appropriate ending to a lousy day.  And I can't wait to see the bill from this one.

But at least I got the saline drip. 


  1. Congratulations on toughing it out to the finish. The weather sounds miserable and I think you've done a great job identifying possible other issues. I know you've sworn off marathons but are you running Boston in the spring? Sorry this wasn't the race you had hoped for but you certainly demonstrated perseverance and getting through a training cycle without injuries is also a huge achievement.

    1. Nope. No Boston 2015. Just have no interest in doing it, and no interest in paying for a very pricey trip to Boston.

  2. I'm really sorry to hear you didn't have the race you trained for - this is especially frustrating with marathons because it is so much harder to give it another go in the short term. 10k/half marathon goes sour? Find another one in two weeks. But the build/taper/recover for a marathon just takes SO MUCH TIME that this is not as easy, and it can be difficult to have so much riding on one day. I do, though, think that you had a stellar training cycle and did everything right, so I hope you give yourself credit for that.

    I can relate to your thoughts on loving the training but not wanting to do another marathon anytime soon - I ADORE Ironman training, but HATE race day. So I don't do them anymore. I can still incorporate the aspects of Ironman training that I liked into training for shorter races, or just put in a block of long stuff after a big race for the season. It's a compromise that works out OK for me, I would imagine you might like it, too.

    1. Thanks - I do feel really good about the cycle. And I'm hoping I'll see benefits in the future.

      I used to do the "train for a marathon but don't do the race thing", and I loved it. But I really don't think my coach will go for it. He's certain I do way too many long runs. I don't feel I do, but he's also my coach, and he has better judgment on this stuff than I do.

  3. Great job in a tough day! It's so hard to get the marathon right. That's a large part of why I've switched to ultra/trail-running of light. Finishing time is not as important, it's easy to take in calories during the race (so carbo-loading not as crucial), and the atmosphere is just more relaxed, even if you're in the front of the pack (I tend to psych myself out and perform poorly if I'm anxious/feel like I have a lot riding on the race).