Sunday, June 5, 2011

Green River Marathon

So being as how I'm a cyclist, I once did not own a bike.  Back then, I owned a pair of shoes that didn't have a metal lug stuck to the bottom.  They also were somewhat flexible to absorb impact, and they even.... had laces!

So I used to be a runner.  In fact the 400 meter sprint was my event in High School. I was pretty good, but not excellent or anything.  I just really liked it.  It was the distance that made it too short for 'real' distance runner, or cross country guys.  It was also the distance that made it just long enough to cause the sprinters to puke from lack of oxygen, and total body rejection.  IE: perfect for me. (yes I used to sprint the 200m, so the puking bit actually happened a couple times)

That being said I also have always wanted to run a marathon, but considered it out of reach, until one day a buddy and I were out training on the trail for his upcoming 26.2 miler (marathon distance).  We were chit chatting and running 13 miles, which flew by!  In fact I broke the 8:00/mile barrier in that easy training run, and a new perspective was born.  I fell back in love with the sport.

Now there's no way that I just up and accidentally became a good reasonable runner after a 14 year break from High School track.  It was the direct fault of group cycling classes and the interest in triathlon that caused this phenomenon. Heart Rate Training and lots of intervals in Campy's cycling class primarily, as well as a general interest in all things fitness, and health related.

So to skip ahead.

I had heard about a marathon that was in the area, and was .... FREE!  Even better, the event was typically attended by smaller crowds, and also up until this year (the 13th year in existence) has been a Boston qualifier.  That's just a bit of amazing.  Free event, Boston qualifier, and "run among friends".  Registered.

Jump ahead a few months.  I've been training consitently with my running.  Following an online marathon training plan to the T.  However, I haven't given up group cycling, and continue to do the classes on Monday and Fridays.  Then do a short, short, middle, and long run during the week.  On the short run's I'd typically do some speed work, or hills, or even stair run at the beach. The long runs eventually got up to 11 miles.  Everything was going great, then it happened, I had an injury. 

Looking back, I can see what went wrong.  I had been training too hard and had an overuse injury. Achilles Tendonitis to be exact, in both heels, but right heel primarily.  Reason being, I feel like a strong pretty aggressive cyclist.  This has contributed to some really heavy interval training as much as I can during the week, and some really fun long rides on the weekends that can be pretty intense as well.  When I started running, I was keeping the same determination and intensity that has served me well in cycling. Also, I refused to stop the cycling, so was doing both usually resulting in 6-7 day training weeks. 

Only problem is that in running, you must contend with impact forces on lots of different soft tissue, cartilage, tendons, ligaments, and bone that aren't nearly as utilized during cycling.  Also, during cycling it's much easier to get your heart rate up into 'the zone' than it is during running.  Primarily because of the lack of impact or concern about what damage is being done to the joints and surfaces hitting the pavement.  You see where this is going?

Take aggressive cyclist, put him in running shoes, without any experience in long runs, and you end up with over inflated goals.  Such as my sub 8:00 marathon time, for the first run.  Which may be possible if I had scaled the mileage more carefully, and not done hill/speed work every week sometimes twice a week.

Loss of drive
After the injury, I got ... sad.  Not depressed really, as there's way too much to be thankful for and enjoy.  Every day I get up and thank God for what he's given me, my family, another day health, and coffee...  But having an injury was a bit of a wake up call, that I'm human, and not an invincible machine like in the teenage years.  Machines can be programmed.  Humans need coaxing.  My body needed to be coaxed along, and silly setbacks like tendonitis sometimes pop up.

During this time I had to decide what would happen in my life when I get injured. Like truly injured enough to set back training for a couple months.  Unlike a stupid mistake I made with a foam roller ending up in trochanteric bursitis that only took a couple weeks to heal.  This tendonitis kept coming back, and back, wouldn't heal, and had me truly freaked out.  So what to do?

Prayer, contemplation, and cross-training.  My perspective shifted, and I realized that you can let an injury derail everything, or you can adapt.  Perhaps I was meant to learn some lessons, and needed to focus on some swim training, and cycling instead.  Thank you, this was useful.

The Deciding Run
Not the marathon, but a week before that I had gone running with my sister in law in Entiat, WA. I'm very excited that she is interested in running, and wanted to be an encouragement to her fitness endeavors, but was very nervous about the ankle.  It had been about 8 weeks since my last run, so being nervous was still quite useful to protect re-injury, but I knew she would be keeping a slower pace. So we ran 3 miles along the highway one weekend, about 30 minutes.  It felt... great.  So the next day I ran another 50 minutes.  It felt... great! 

During those runs, I was very diligently checking to see if there was any pain, asking the Lord whether this was ok. Trying to listen to what my body was saying. Then I decided that even though I hadn't trained past 11 miles, and that was months ago, I would go ahead and attempt the Green River Marathon. Besides if anything cropped up with the ankles, I could always stop.

The Marathon
So 1 week later, it was time to do it.  I had gone out the night before and inadvertently run a bit too far, 5 miles.  Found some great trails near the house to train on, and wanted to just check out the park entrance, although I couldn't resist a quick jaunt on the trails too. Turns out I picked up a cold, and was battling a headache and sore throat from then on.

The next day my wife brought me down to the race start along with our 2 daughters, and my wave was due to go out at 8:30am.  The weather was forcast to be amazing.  Our first day breaking 70 degrees in 9 months, and I was going to be out running my first marathon.  Perfect, as long as the sunscreen is applied evenly (it wasn't and I've got funny sunburns now on my back and chest now).

The gathering crowd of 180 or so folks weren't really even nervous with excitement, it was more of a bunch of friends hanging out.  Some were warming up and stretching, most were just chit chatting.  We saw a rabbit hop out of the bushes.  So of course I call out "hey everyone look, it's your rabbit, get ready!".  Some even got the sense of humor, and reference to pace setters in track and field events commonly called "rabbits".  Or they were just being kind to the weird new guy, not really sure which. 

Then we were off, I kissed the kids and wife, and jogged past the start line.  Most everyone was keeping about a 9-10:00 /mile pace for the first 2 miles.  This was a fun way to check out folks jerseys, chat about the weather, and imagine who I would be seeing for the next 24.2 miles.  Turns out I did see a couple folks that would continually reappear all event long.  One fella I think named John, and another woman named Elaine.  They were very friendly, and gave me bits of encouragement or at least tried to, which alone was encouraging.

Mile 3-13
These miles went by pretty quickly.  I was focused on keeping my form relaxed, but proper.  Focused on a light footfall, and minimizing stress to the Achilles tendon.  Thinking about nutrition plans, and upset for forgetting my Nuun tabs in the car.

These miles were kept at a 9:45-10:00 pace.  Not great pace for me, but this was a last minute decision to run, and I wanted to prove the ankles, and the strength training that I'd been doing.

To be frank, this distance was actually quite comfortable, and I didn't walk at all or even really have that hard of a time. Nutrition plan was working, but I forgot the Nuun, so had some Gatorade... oops.

Nutrition Plan
This is a part of events that I'm surprised how few people give consideration. Although, it is quite understandable, as every sports suppliment and hydration company out there claims to have the the perfect answer. Also, many companies don't give any hint that the wrong combination of things can lead to literally EXPLOSIVE consequences.

So either you barf, or you bonk.  OR YOU PUT THOUGHT INTO IT.

My plan was to somehow get electrolytes by way of Nuun tabs dissolved in water... that I'd left in the car.  Along with Hammer Perpetuem solids, and Hammer Espresso gel that's got 50mg of caffeine per dose. 

The Plan:
  • 1 hour -Nuun, as much as I could drink comfortably while running (much trickier than while on the bike)
  • 2 hours -Perpetuem solid. 150 calories including protein, but takes some chewing and liquid to eat.
  • As Needed -Hammer Gels. These take fluids too, but the caffeine really works well for me.
 Note, there's no mention of Gatorade anywhere in the nutrition plan?  Simple explanation, is simple sugars.  I don't like to mix my uses when I don't have to.  Traditionally on the bike, I can opt to seperate my electrolytes from my complex carbohydrates/protein mix. Nuun having no carbs or calories was simply flavored electrolyte water, and that's great. Gatorade contains simple sugars that 'don't play well with others'... if you get my drift.

Mile 13-16
One funny memory along this stage was the need to pee.  I had been running along, and we passed many many metal utility poles.  In fact there were elevated high voltage lines all along the route at this stage.  If those things do produce radiation, I'm screwed.  But if they don't, they're simply another entertaining thing to look at along the route.  Also, they give the opportunity for cover, so that I can answer the call of nature.  The challenge was that there was just not enough cover so that I can disappear entirely into the woods to take care of business.

But finally we ran down into a small copse of trees taller than 6 feet, so that I can feel separated by a wall of vegetation from the rest of my buddies on the route.  I had just begun, when sure enough another guy had the same idea, and ran past me commenting on "good idea bro!".

Awhile later I got to an aid station, and the wife and kids were again cheering me on.  I love my family. But, I knew that I had just run a really casual pace from what my training had been prior to injury so I started into a 'bad head trip'.  This was from a combination of not pushing as hard as I had wanted to, being forced to consume Gatorade (ok not forced, but knew I needed carbs some how), and the legs were starting to complain louder.  Did I mention I had a cold.... you get the idea.

So there's my wonderful family cheering on daddy.  I ask "how many miles is this?" to which the wife tells me, I had just passed mile 13.  "Oh man, I thought I was at 18!", I think to myself as I run past, getting some more Gatorade.  On the way out I think that if I'd just passed mile 13 then I'm screwed.  The pace I had been keeping, I knew I wouldn't be able to hold, even though it was much slower than I'd hoped for.  Also, that means that I would get in with a 6 hour marathon, well beyond what I thought was the cut-off mark for the run. 

As the wife and kids are passing, I wave them down and call it quits.

They were all surprised to see me jump in the passenger seat.  I give a quick explanation why I couldn't continue, and grabbed the cell phone to look at the map and gps.  We were right next to an onramp for the the highway, so the wife headed out.  As I looked at the gps I realized that I was actually at mile 16, only 10 left!  Also, I could see all my new friends I'd made running away as we drove along the route as it paralleled the highway. 

That's when I decided, 13 miles (or 16 miles as the case was) was not enough.  I needed to finish the event.  Hey, it's only 10 more miles, I've done that before.  I can do that again!  So I made the wife and kids go back to where they picked me up, so I could start up again.

Looking back, I realized this was actually a really great lesson for the kiddos.  Hopefully, they see the struggle that daddy was going through with my willpower.  I had given up.  But ended up determined to finish.  I really hope that will be useful for their own battles someday.

So after a short reprieve of maybe 10 minutes, I was back out on the pavement.  Sweaty, salty, sunburnt, and sore.  Little did I realize that a huge new battle was ahead.

Mile 16-26.2
Miles 16-20 seemed to pass pretty quick, even though it was really hard physically to get going again after putting the feet up and calling it quits.  The adrenaline of being 'back in the game' was enough to keep my pushing through the next 4 miles.

Once I hit mile 20, I was much more careful (as was my wife) to give very accurate account of the mileage.  Not to mention I had made another friend who jogged with a loose fitting camelback, and gps reciever.  In fact he was carrying alot of gear for that 26 mile run. I just kept wanting to tell him to tighten his backpack, just watching him run with it made me chafe.

Also, there's a fun battle that begins at the 20 mile mark, so I'd heard.  That's when your mind really starts to trash talk, and throw fits. Sure enough, that's when I started run/walking.  It started out with a short walk, no more than 30 seconds at a time.  Gradually the ratio of run to walk would start to change during the rest of the run.

We made our way through some business parks, past the Starfire Seattle Sounders soccer training event, and over a myriad of bridges.  Many times the bridges would go over Green River, or one of the smaller streams.  I couldn't help but think of the Green River Murders from years gone past.  Of course seeing a flat bottom police boat doing drills in the river didn't help, and I wondered about what it would have been like for my uncle who was a diver that helped recover remains.  Hey, like I said bad head trip.

Beside for the somewhat morbid meanderings of my mind, I really did actually enjoy the view of the river, and even though it was murky brown from all the sedimentary runoff from the nearby streams (brown river, not green), it looked awefully inviting to jump in whether green or brown. It was hot out, I was running in the sun, and my legs were begging from some cooling off. 

No.  No relief from another few more miles.

Eventually the run took us up into the Alki area.  This part of the marathon was packed with people.  Folks on skateboards, couples walking, some middle eastern couple was arguing loudly and it felt like a total drain of energy.  So I picked up the pace a bit.  We passed a whole bunch of cut grass, and stinky flower hedges so I picked up the pace in there too not wanting to be stuck surrounded by my newly discovered allergens.  The sun continued to really beat down.  I found shade wherever I could, and was thankful on occasion to be passing under the freeway in the city. Even though there wasn't much wind, and it smelled profusely of trash, but I was glad for the shade. 

Finally, we emerged on a long straightaway next to the beach.  All I could think about is "60 seconds run, 60 seconds walk".  My buddies had passed, when the guy named John (?) came up from behind.  He gave me a couple words of encouragement, as I must have looked pretty exhausted by then.  Or perhaps, he's just a nice guy.  We ran together, and I revealed that this was my first marathon.  "Excellent man, you're doing great.  This is my 17th!"  That was really neat, and I'm thankful for his enthusiasm.  He was battling some kind of injury early on in the event as well.  So I didn't feel so bad if this was his 17th, and we would be finishing together, suddenly things were ok.

This energy, and encouragement took me all the way to the finish line.  Along the way I passed obnoxious teenagers, an annoying group of asian tourists standing right in the path, and a dude making a delivery to Chinese restaraunt that nearly ran me over in his delivery van.  "Can't they see I'm running here? Not to mention, I was just barely able to keep going?"  Again with the bad head trip. There were just folks out on a sunny Saturday doing their thing.

The finish line finally came along, and I passed at 5 hours 20 minutes.  That time in my opinion would be terrible for me.  Maybe not terrible for others, but for me I felt disappointed.  In fact when they asked my time at the finish line (remember casual event), I almost didn't want to give it to them.

It would have been a terrible time if it were not for:
  1. This was a last minute decision to run
  2. Nearly no training time running (at least the previous mileage was too long ago to count)
  3. Did I mention I was sick?
So 5:20, indeed was not bad at all, with all things considered.  Also, it's a PR, hooray! In fact a PR that is sure to be beat at the very least in next years Green River Marathon...or perhaps even this Fall.