Monday, March 18, 2019

Race Report; Shamrock Half-Marathon, March 17, 2019

I ran the Shamrock Half-Marathon yesterday, finishing in a time of 1:24:45.  A surprisingly decent time for what may go down as one of my worst races ever.

('s that for an opener).

It all started out well.  I've done Shamrock many times before, and so I know the drill.  I left at 8 am Saturday morning for the drive down, stopping by Chipotle, then the expo, and then my hotel (5 blocks from both the race start and finish).  Ate my Chipotle, did my pre-race yoga, and read my Kindle after multiple failed attempts to get the hotel Wi-Fi to work.

The only hitch the day before was that the hotel walls were surprisingly thin, so that I could hear every word of my neighbors' conversations.  I debated knocking on their door to ask them to be a bit quieter, but I had a hunch that they wouldn't be receptive, and might even speak louder in response.

Just then Brian called.  As we chatted on the phone, I made a point to note, in an ever so slightly elevated voice, how amazing it was how thin the walls were and how I could hear every word my neighbors were saying.

And that fixed that issue.


I slept pretty well, and woke optimistic for race morning.

Since I've been very conservative in my workouts, and since my last race was in pretty bad weather, I really didn't know what my fitness was. I had hopes of breaking 84, but it was quite possible I wasn't there yet.  On the other hand, I had been feeling very good the last few days, and Shamrock is a very fast course, so it was possible I could run quite well.  We would see.  Since I run off of feel and never look at my watch while racing, it wasn't necessary to pick a goal time anyway.  I would run my best and see what that got me.

So on with my morning routine - asthma meds, stretching and mobilization, and breakfast.


I have a long history of gastrointestinal issues - over a decade's worth.  After multiple rounds of scoping and blood work and elimination diets, we've ruled out Crohn's, Ulcerative Colitis, and Celiac, which leaves me with just descriptions - "abnormal mucosa" and "indeterminate colitis." 

So....working with a GI doctor and a nutritionist, I settled on a very careful diet as the best way to control things.  No lactose or gluten, no nuts, peas, garbanzo beans, lentils, etc.   That's why I'm pretty religious about what I eat pre-race.  I stick with Chipotle because I can find it in every major city and I can depend on the food being lactose and gluten free if I avoid certain things.   And I bring my race breakfast with me - brown rice (in those little pre-cooked bags and cups), hemp protein powder, and GU gels/stroopwafels.

I stuck with the standards for this race, eating from the bags and cups of rice I had brought from home.  I always bring extra, just in case I open one and it smells funny, etc.   As it turned out, my first bites out of one thing of rice tasted a bit off- not necessarily moldy or rotten, but just a little strange.  Whatever, I tossed it and pulled out another bag - better safe than sorry.

After breakfast, I did more stretching, another bathroom break, chugged my pre-race Pepto-Bismol, and then headed out for my warm-up.  A mile in, I ducked back into my hotel room for another bathroom break.  My GI tract was acting up (to put it delicately), which was worrisome, but nothing I could really do about it.  And I've learned over time that there are a lot of things that can feel off pre-race, but end up being non-issues in the race.

I finished my warm-up with another mile of jogging, a 60 second hard run to get my heart rate up, and then drills and strides before we lined up.  The weather was great - low 40s with some wind but not terrible, and sunshine - I felt perfectly dressed in shorts, singlet, and arm-warmers.


My plan for this race was pretty much the same as for any other half-marathon.  The first 2-3 miles would be my warm-up, and then I'd ease into pace.  I've gotten a bit too aggressive between miles 3-8 in my last few half-marathons, and paid the price at the end, so this time I resolved to be patient until mile 8, and then start working.

When the gun went off, I flowed into an easy rhythm.  The headwind was nowhere near as bad as I anticipated, but it was still present, so I looked for groups to tuck behind for the first few miles until we would turn into the woods at mile 3.  My teammates Alex and Caroline joined me at this point, and we started running together.  Which was fine with me, as long as they promised to abide by my one rule, which was to NOT tell me what pace we were running.

Together we ran, through the woods from miles 3-5, where I hugged the left side of the road to minimize the distance covered as the course almost imperceptibly curved to the left.  Then after mile 5 I flowed back over to the right, and started to look for people to duck behind - I knew that we would hit a surprise (except to me) headwind when we turned into Fort Story just after mile 5, and so the time to find a pack was now.

Unfortunately, there were no good groups that I could catch without surging, which would cost me more than I would gain.  I did note a man and woman running a bit ahead, if erratically, and thought I might use them.  However, that couple suddenly and surprisingly eased up on the pace - I think they were using the race for a workout of some type.  Oh well.

We were lucky, though, and the wind in Fort Story was nowhere near as bad as it's been in the past, so far so good.  Not so lucky was the runner wearing a hydration backpack who was intercepted as we entered Fort Story.  I'd snark on him for not reading the rules....however, I just checked the race website, and I don't see anything in the rules or FAQ about hydration packs being banned, so....


Backpack runner's plight distracted me from my own.  I had felt fine for the first few miles, and forgotten about my pre-race gastrointestinal concerns.   But now things were roiling.  With each mile, our pace got a bit faster, our group a bit bigger, and my abdomen a bit worse.   By 6 I was starting to cramp, by 7 I was cramping, and then in 8, just before the marker for mile 9, I reluctantly came to the conclusion that stepping off the course and taking care of business was going to result in a faster net time than continuing to fight through.

So I reluctantly excused myself and did a Paula Radcliffe London 2005 (not a Shalane Boston 2018 - that would have taken too long), before hopping back into the race.  I felt much better, and my group was still barely visible in the distance.  Perhaps I could reel them back in.

I set off, my pace newly renewed.  But bliss only lasted a mile or so before the cramps returned, as bad as before.  Stopping again clearly wasn't going to fix anything, so I just gutted my way (literally) through the final miles.  I'll spare the details, but it was up there in terms of miserable running experiences - I'd rather relive Boston 2018 any day.


Manual splits were:

Mile 1: 6:44
Mile 2: 6:34
Mile 3: 6:32
Mile 4: 6:29
Mile 5: 6:25
Mile 6: 6:01 (mile marker short)
Mile 7: 6:56 (longer mile to balance out)
Mile 8: 6:16
Mile 9: 6:49 (bio break)
Mile 10: 6:09 (short)
Mile 11: 6:27 (long)
Mile 12: 6:25 (cramps)
Mile 13: 6:20 (cramps)
last bit: 38 seconds

My PR is 84:22, so I really wasn't far off of it, which makes me really frustrated for what might have been.  There's no way to be certain, but I can't help but think I might have broken 84 without the gastric issues.

[and I guess that's the good news - I am apparently in better shape than I realized, and hopefully that will show at Cherry Blossom.]

As for what caused this episode, I'm really not sure.  The most obvious culprit is the funny tasting rice, but I only took one or two bites, and I didn't experience any nausea, which I would expect if I had somehow gotten rapid onset food poisoning.  I could blame it on getting accidentally gluten-ed, except that everything I ate was marked gluten-free, and my symptoms would frankly be longer lasting and more severe. 

And that's what's even more frustrating than the time.  I've had GI issues for a long time, but they've been very well managed for the past few years - to the point where I'd pretty much forget about them except for the occasional realization that normal people eat Wheaties with milk.  The only time I'd have problems would be when I made a mistake, and then it'd only last a few days to a week and be done. 

I thought I had it fixed, as long as I stuck to the plan.  Akin to staying healthy as long as I did my injury prevention routine.  And now my confidence is shaken.

This has now been several weeks of problems popping up, not always with an obvious trigger.  While it's quite possible that I've just had a string of bad luck and errors, I'm also going to get stuff checked out again - I'd rather have a medical professional tell me that this was just a fluke than assume it myself.


  1. Ugh, that sounds awful. I, too, have mysterious GI issues and so I sympathize. But congrats on not doing too awfully!

  2. Sucks to be clearly in PR shape and have a fluke issue derail your plans! Hope it just quietly goes away on its own.

  3. That is a shame! I hope this is just a fluke and nothing you have to worry about in the future. Great report.