Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Finally a Runner

I ran the Santa Barbara International Marathon on Saturday but before I tell you about that, I want to briefly share my history with running races.

My first race was during college. Gina and I had just begun dating and I was still in that show-off, try-to-make-a-good-impression phase of the relationship. She asked me if I'd like to do a running race with her. "Sure," I said, thinking to myself, "A 10K ...how hard could that be?!?"

The course did a lap of the UCSB lagoon before heading down Del Playa to Ellwood and the turn-around. Eyeballing the runners before the start and I was quite confident that I'd make a good showing. I had been a fairly decent bike racer after all! Gina would be so impressed with my awesomeness.

The pace was quick from the gun and I held onto the leaders ...for about 400 meters. Surely these were Division 1 cross country superstars. What other explanation could there be for getting dropped so quickly?!? I settled down to a more comfortable speed but as soon as we began the trip down DP, I got passed by a girl. "Whoa, this won't do," I thought, so I sped up to match her pace. The lactic acid had already filled up in my legs, but now it began overflowing into my abdomen. By the 6600 block I felt my breakfast preparing for an unstoppable mutiny. I diverted immediately into a yard, fell to my hands and knees, and proceeded to fertilize a bush with my half-digested corn flakes and orange juice.

[Confession: I lived in four different places on Del Playa... this was not the first bush I fertilized.]

Needless to say, my race was over, and, fortunately, Gina did not see me as she passed. I slinked back to the start and waited for her to finish. Amazingly, she stuck with me even after hearing the story of my.....awesomeness.

Well twenty years passed by before I let her talk me into doing another running race. She was very active in the local running community and I wanted to play too. I had pretty good fitness from bike racing so I wasn't too worried about repeating the earlier incident. The only problem now was that I didn't have the first clue how to train properly. Turns out it's not as simple as just going out and running hard, as much as I wish it was. Thus began my regular cycle:

  • Run once or twice a week, full gas
  • Race a 5K or similar
  • Get injured
  • Take six months off completely
  • Repeat

Then two years ago I discovered trail running. And it was good. If you need convincing, read about it a couple posts down on this blog. Or better yet, just get out and run on the trails. That turned out to be the secret for breaking the injury cycle. I don't know why, but if it ain't broke... don't barf under a bush.

I set my sights on two goal races for 2012: Pier-to-Peak and the Santa Barbara International Marathon. I won't bore you with a P2P race report other than to say it was a blast, made particularly enjoyable because of training with friends and sharing the experience together.

I also joined up with the local Santa Barbara Running & Racing training group specifically for marathon preparation. In retrospect, that was the best decision I made. The coaches are really smart. Plus, training with a group keeps you motivated and accountable... and is really helpful if you are naturally lazy like me.

...this post is getting long already so I'll spare you the training details and get right to the race...

Being my first marathon, and dealing with two very annoying Achilles tendons, I was unsure what kind of goal time to target. My friends Brian and Chester planned to start with the 3:10 pace group and that seemed reasonable based on my training, even though I doubted I could sustain it to the end. I decided I would be happy with any time under 3:30 but my main goal was to enjoy the experience and learn.

Right from the gun we settled into a comfortable 7:05-7:10 pace under the tutelage of Gene the Machine. That's him below in green carrying the sign.
(Brian and I are about to nail an unsuspecting Gina with our sweaty clothing discards. Sorry.)

Our group was down to fewer than ten runners by Mile 3, which really surprised me. Many were in front and many more were behind, but I had expected most runners would make use of the pacers. They proved to be absolutely key for my race.

Our pace felt comfortable the entire 9-mile loop around Goleta, and I greatly enjoyed seeing friends, neighbors, and race volunteers out cheering us on. A really nice vibe. The only downer was the loss of Chester who dropped back to nurse a tender, possibly-fractured hip.

Gene brought us to the 13.1 mark about a minute under pace, by design, because the second half was hillier and expected to be somewhat slower. Hitting the halfway point was a big relief, although my legs were getting fatigued and a little wanky. Ethan took over for Gene and he quickly settled into a steady pace.

Sad to say that Brian dropped back around Mile 18 to deal with some bad quad cramping. I know from experience, that once a major muscle group rebels into a massive cramp, there is no way to completely recover. It may subside, but you will not be at full strength again that day. Kudos to Brian for pressing on under the circumstances.

So now Ethan became my personal pacer, and I decided I would stick with him or detonate spectacularly trying. I was also struck with the uplifting realization that I had now run a longer distance without stopping than ever before. Gina and her friend Sabrina were at Mile 20 and I stole a quick kiss. From Gina. I started getting a little delirious around this point: I thought I saw my friend Katie and went to give her a hug, but just before making contact, I realized it wasn't her. Ooops.

It became more difficult to keep up with Ethan as we turned from Modoc onto Las Postias. He yo-yo'ed about 10 to 30 meters in front of me, and I feared losing him. My legs were really hurting now but I conjured up a memory to put the pain in perspective. Twenty years ago I did the District Championships Road Race out by Bakersfield in 100-degree heat. The race was a hilly 90 miles and I finished in a three-way tie for the bronze. I lost 10 lbs of body weight and peed blood for two days. That was real pain. I also thought about this video my friend Kary forwarded me the day before the marathon:

The mind is a powerful force, and mine slapped me in the face and told me to HTFU! I caught up to Ethan by Mile 23 and turned up the Cliff Drive hill with renewed determination. The change of stride felt good. By the top I was delirious again and probably babbled like an idiot as Mark W. rode his bike beside me shouting encouragement. He's a dude who has run Western States 100 and countless other Ultras. I was also greeted here by my brother Steve, a sub-2:50 Boston Marathon finisher. Their presence motivated me and I picked up my pace to 6:45s along Shorline Drive. Kind-hearted 3:05 pacer Travis dropped back from his group to encourage me along. His calm words snapped me out of my delirium and focused me on the finishing stretch. All pain subsided upon entering the SBCC stadium for the final quarter mile. It was an amazing feeling and the energy was intense.

My finishing time was 3:08:34 which turned out to be 2nd in my age group. Even though I'm a relatively inexperienced runner, I realize this was about as perfect of a first-marathon experience anybody could ever hope for. (Well, except for Todd Booth, who had never run more than 16 miles before ripping a 2:55! But this is my blog, so we're talking about me here.)

One last thing I'd like to share with you about my marathon experience is my race-day fueling, because I suspect that's where many runners sabotage themselves by not consuming enough. According to my Strava data, it took around 3,200 calories for me to run the marathon. Now a typical carbo-loaded person can start with about 2,000 calories worth of glycogen packed away in his/her muscle cells, plus a little bit of liver glycogen too. During the event, if your engine is running up in the high aerobic zone as mine was, then almost all your energy is coming from the glycogen with just a little bit from fat stores. So obviously a marathon requires significant fueling. I had somewhere around a 1,000-calorie deficit I needed to account for. Here's what I consumed:

  • 12-oz. V-8 and one Cliff Shot 5 minutes before start
  • Five Cliff Shots during the run
  • Two 16-oz. bottles of salt-spiked sugary drink (one was iced tea and one was a Coke)
  • Six Endurolyte pills
  • ~20 little dixie cups of water or Fluid mix
So adding it up, that's over 1,000 calories of fuel and a lot of electrolyte replacement. Consequently, I never hit "The Wall" that marathoners talk about. So if I could be so bold as to make a suggestion to other marathoners, please eat and drink a lot during your race!