Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Race Report: Mountains 2 Beach Marathon (my race)

Garmin: 26.14 miles / 3:36:28 / 8:16 pace
Official: 26.2 miles / 3:36:27 / 8:15 pace

Overall: 400/1250
Women: 111/606
A/G: 34/98

Sigh. I suppose I've put this off long enough. I've tried a couple of times to start writing, but every time I tried I felt so hopelessly overwhelmed & exhausted by the very thought that I just gave up. But I know if I don't get some thoughts down soon I'll forget a lot of the things I want to remember, we go, I guess.

When we left off, I'd been cleared by my physical therapist to run. To summarize what he told me:

  • I think you'll be able to finish.
  • There's no risk of permanent / severe damage.
  • You may not be able to run as hard as you want to.
  • You'll probably have some pain near the end.
  • You'll likely re-aggravate the strained muscles & spend a lot of time recuperating.

*This is called foreshadowing.

I'd planned to run 3 miles in Culver City on Thursday night, but my hotel didn't have a treadmill & was in kind of a sketchy part of town (at least it seemed like it to me, being alone & not knowing the area), so I waited until I was in Ventura the next day & used the opportunity to get out on some of the last parts of the course.

Ventura = gorgeous

Mainly I wanted to get a few miles in because I hadn't run since Sunday, when my hip had really been bothering me, and I needed to know a) if there was any point in even starting, and b) how it was going to feel. After one mile it was a dull, annoying ache; after 1.5 it was quite painful, but more of a general, dull, ache than a sharp, firey feeling. By two miles it had settled down a bit to an uncomfortable but tolerable level of pain. If it stayed like that, I thought, I could probably handle it. Yes, 3 miles is very very different than 26, but I felt like it was at least worth starting, & if the pain got really bad, I could always stop.

I spent Saturday knocking back Ibuprofen like it was candy, icing & rolling like it was my job, had a vegetable burrito & an awesome margarita for lunch, amazing house-made pasta for dinner (seriously -- if you're ever in Ventura, go to Spasso for Italian), made a bib man (which I stole from this lady), & knocked myself out with Ibuprofen PM at 9:00 sharp.

It is far too early for pre-race selfies, and yet here we are.
This is the first race where I've ever had to get up at some truly ungodly hour, so although I slept reasonably well (THANK THE GODS), that only made me very marginally less bitter when my alarm went off at 3:15 am.

My hip, on the other hand, felt GREAT, and for the first time in a month I actually felt something about this race other than complete & utter dread.

Adventures were had on the shuttle to the start in Ojai which I will not recount here (see the "nuts & bolts" report for that), but suffice it to say that our shuttle arrived dead last, at approximately 5:45 am for the 6:00 am gun. This meant that my comrades & I got to stand at the tail end of the 200 yard port-a-potty line, frantically checking our watches, eyeing the bag check truck & the start, & praying there was still toilet paper left when we got to the front. My warm up was sprinting from the bag check truck to the start & hurdling the barrier in the vicinity of the 3:45 pacer (no point in being pessimistic, I figured), & more or less at 6:10 we were on our way to Ventura.

The first part of the course was a 10K loop around Ojai, & during those miles I just tried to settle into a rhythm & see how fast easy / casual / comfortable was going to be today. As long as my hip held up I really did feel confident that I could run low eights at a nice, easy level of effort, but if it wasn't happening, I was going to go with the easy effort, not the numbers, & just try to finish. But the numbers were right where I'd expected they would be, and miracle of miracles, I had not a twinge of pain in my hip.

Starting line in Ojai

The only really remarkable thing that happened during that first six-mile loop was that around mile 3 my right foot started going numb. I kept trying to wiggle my toes around & get it to loosen up, but it didn't help & actually kept getting worse. I knew there was no way I could run 26 miles like that, so finally I stopped and took my shoe off, massaged my foot a little, & loosened my shoelaces. The feeling came back so I started running again, only to have the numbness return in just a few minutes. I stopped again, went through the same deal again, got back to running, & thankfully that was the end of that.

    Mile 1 - 8:08
    Mile 2 - 8:07
    Mile 3 - 8:04
    Mile 4 - 8:19 <--- slight incline
    Mile 5 - 9:03 <--- slight incline + stops for foot drama
    Mile 6 - 7:54

Plugging along...
I don't have much to say about the middle miles. Unbelievably, my hip didn't hurt at all, so I just tried to run at a comfortable, casual pace & was happy to see that that was resulting in exactly the numbers I'd been hoping to see. Because of the slight downhill several of those miles were actually several seconds faster than I thought I'd average even best case scenario, so I started taking opportunities whenever it made sense to ease back even more (drinking, gel-ing, the occasional tiny hill). This part really did feel amazing. I didn't feel like I was running all that fast & wasn't pushing at all, & was still seeing best-case splits & better, mile after mile.
    Mile 7 - 7:59
    Mile 8 - 8:00
    Mile 9 - 8:05
    Mile 10 - 8:02
    Mile 11 - 7:52
    Mile 12 - 7:55
    Mile 13 - 8:03
    Mile 14 - 7:56
    Mile 15 - 8:02




Around mile 15 was where I started to feel my quads some. They weren't on fire, but I could tell I'd been running very slightly down hill for a long time. To be honest I didn't think 700 ft over 15 miles was really enough to bother with in terms of doing a lot of specialized downhill training, but if I were to do this course again, I definitely would. It wasn't quad-destroying, but by the time I got to Ventura at mile 21, I could feel them & they hurt.

Mile 19 was where I got my first whiff of concern. I'd been carrying my own bottle because the aid stations were more or less 2 miles apart, and not long after the mile 19 aid station was where I finished it & tossed it. The same thing happened both years at CIM & I'd just used the aid stations from there to the end with no problem, so I hadn't worried too much about it this time. As it turns out, though, even though it was still only maybe 8:45 or so at that point, there was direct sun, little shade, & no wind, & it was starting to feel really warm. As soon as I chucked my bottle I was thirsty again, & didn't remember where the next aid station was.

Something else happened around this point, too though. 18 or 19 was where I started going, Wow, my hip feels great...And this pace feels really easy...And maybe, just maybe, I've been selling myself short with this 'Just try to finish business.' Maybe this could be my BQ race after all.

I knew I'd need to average 8:12ish to finish under 3:35, and that I was already well ahead of that with a pretty moderate level effort, so that was more or less where I went "Fuck it. I can do this." Knowing that I would soon no longer be cruising down a .5% grade & out on the shoreline where there might be a headwind, I started playing it a little more conservatively & forcing myself to slow down any time I saw my pace drop below 8:10. Even if it gets tough at the end, I thought, that should be more than fast enough.

Unfortunately, my body had other plans.

    Mile 16 - 8:03
    Mile 17 - 8:08
    Mile 18 - 8:04
    Mile 19 - 8:08
    Mile 20 - 8:08

Mile 21 is where the wheels started to come off. (Out of curiosity, how many marathon race reports do you think include those exact words?) I was still so, so thirsty. Desperately thirsty, and there was no aid station in sight. Then several things began to happen all at once.

First & foremost, I could feel a stinging pain in my TFL, right where the worst of the strain has always been. It started to get harder and harder to move my right leg forward, but it wasn't horrible yet, so I thought I could just power through. Five miles, I kept telling myself, that's it. You don't even have to do it fast. You just have to not stop.

To be honest, the details get fuzzy after this. My mouth felt dryer & dryer, & the leg kept getting harder & harder to move. I remember at one point thinking I *must* be almost to 22 & feeling like I wanted to cry when I looked at my watch & realized I was barely at 21.5. My leg hurt but it was holding on, and although my pace had slowed some, my average was still well below the 8:12 pace I needed for a BQ.

Around 22 (where blessedly there was an aid station) I remember starting to feel dizzy. I remember having to make a right turn somewhere in that mile, tripping on a curb, and stumbling for maybe eight or ten yards while I tried to keep my balance. My hip was getting worse & I was still desperately thirsty even after downing two cups of water. I remember looking at my watch & having trouble focusing on the numbers.

At this point I think my animal-slash-runner-slash-very-very-not-rational brain took over because the logical, human one was quickly becoming non-functional. A shrewd strategy at this point probably would have been to slow to an 8:30ish pace, be patient, deal with the pain, & just hold on. Instead, whatever part of my brain was in charge at that point went "QUICK!!1! FINISH AS FAST AS HUMANLY POSSIBLE BEFORE ANYTHING ELSE HAPPENS!!11!" & actually started running faster. Shock of shocks, this lasted for maybe a quarter of a mile before I was dizzy & tripping & blinded by the white-hot pain in my hip & had no choice but to walk (by which I mean limp). know what happens once you start walking.

I don't remember a lot of details after that. I remember forcing myself to run again, not at a reasonable pace but at some stupid ridiculous pace (seriously - I remember glancing at my watch at some point & seeing 7:20-7:30s). Then, shock of shocks, I'd have to stop & walk/limp for a while, still dizzy, still parched as the ninth circle of hell. Then I'd sprint until my hip felt like it was going to explode, then stop & limp for a while, wash/rinse/repeat.

At each of the last aid stations I stopped to drink multiple cups & pour several more over my head. I remember seeing "23.1" on my watch & trying to convince myself that "it's only a 5K left and 5Ks are easy," but it turns out there is an enormous, enormous difference between running a 5K & running a 5K on a non-functional joint after you've already run over 23 miles (& also you can't feel your quads anymore). Negotiating the u-turn at the end of the out-and-back was significantly more demanding than it should have been. I remember at some point having enough clarity to realize this might be what they call "bonking" & my last gel might help.

    Mile 21 - 8:14
    Mile 22 - 8:16
    Mile 23 - 8:23

Soooooo unbelievably happy to be done.
I remember trying to convince myself to run for a mile before I stopped to walk & finding I couldn't do it. Okay, half a mile. Okay, a quarter of a mile. Okay, a tenth of a mile. 40 seconds. 20 seconds. (I'm pretty sure I ran most of mile 24 in 20 second bursts of speed interspersed with 20 seconds of limping / stumbling.) I remember feeling terrible for all the people cheering for me in those last miles, begging me to run, I was so close, feeling so awful for disappointing them & desperately wanting to explain to them about my hip and how I just couldn't anymore, that I'd tried and it was just done.

I'm not sure how but I did manage to run the entire last third of a mile without stopping, probably because the idea of hobbling across the finish line was too humiliating to consider. That, my friends, was pain. Blinding, epic, white-hot, maybe-I'll-get-lucky-&-just-pass-out-from-it pain. At that point I was pretty sure I'd lost too much time to get in under 3:35, but when I saw 3:36 on the clock, how close I'd actually still been, I felt sick.

    Mile 24 - 10:03
    Mile 25 - 8:59
    Mile 26 - 9:32
    .2 - 0:57 <---- I think this is one of those funny little Garmin artifacts, because although I did sprint to the finish, I'm pretty sure it wasn't at a 4:45 pace. My Garmin clocked .14 here, which is a 6:42 pace & I think probably accurate pace-wise. More likely Garmin clocked Mile 26 a bit late & that one was actually a bit faster than 9:32.

Fortunately, there was no time for brooding. I think that after drinking All The Water, I let myself lay in the grass for 5 minutes or so before I forced myself to stand up.

This was when I realized I couldn't really walk. And the upside of having to think so hard about how you're going to get yourself from the ground in Ventura to a plane at LAX in a few hours when you can't bear weight on one leg is that you don't really have time to get all broody & emo about not epically crushing a race that by rights you shouldn't even have been able to run.

My car was parked maybe half a mile from the finish, which was an incredibly depressing thought. On the plus side, the twenty minute hobble did give me time to get my rational brain working again and remember that two weeks ago I couldn't really run at all, and my PT had warned me to be prepared not to be able to finish, and this was still an 11 minute PR, and my god, in spite of everything, I'd been within 90 seconds of a BQ!

I won't lie to you and say that I was over my disappointment by the time I got to the car. But I'd had enough time to think through all the amazing parts of what had happened and remember how incredible the first 20-21 miles of the race had felt that I was smiling a little instead of wallowing.

Oh, and btw, if you're going to completely disable yourself at the end of a race, a destination race is the place to do it. I spent the rest of the afternoon being wheeled around airports in a wheel chair Marathon Throne, jumping security lines like nobody's business, & getting upgraded to the fancy seats because, aw shucks, they just happened to be near the front of the plane. #winning

Post-Game Analysis....

Because I will never, ever be the type of person who can just say, "eh, whatever happened happened." After mulling things over, here are my very very unscientific conclusions about why I had the race I did.

1) Obviously the TFL / adductor strain was the biggest reason behind the melt down in mile 22. The pain was just amazing, and I doubt I would've been able to run the rest of the way under the best of circumstances.

2) One of the reasons I was nervous about being able to finish in the first place and being able to run the pace I wanted in the second place was because nothing you can really call "marathon training" happened after April 28. This was the indirect effect of the hip strain. In the last four weeks, I ran 8 times for a grand total of 18 miles, none of which included a single speed workout, tempo run, or long run. I have this vague memory of reading somewhere that a solid base gets you through the first 20 miles & speed/tempo work get you through the last 10K. I have no idea whether or not it's true, but that maybe one of the reasons why everything felt so easy & then suddenly didn't anymore.

I've tried to be honest with myself about whether I might have gone out just a little too fast, but I really don't think so. Those first 20-21 miles really did feel nice & easy, & I spent so much of it actively slowing down just in case. Plus there was the gentle downhill grade in places, which probably made a few of those splits 5-7 seconds faster than they would have been otherwise.

Honestly? Up until the hip strain, I trained like a beast for this race. I freaking earned the first 20 at an 8:06 average pace. Bought & paid for it.

3) I didn't think through the fluid situation fully. According to the website those last aid stations were at 20.5, 22, 23, 24 and 25, which seems reasonable, but on a warm day in direct sun with not a lot of shade, I clearly needed to drink more often than that. If I were to do this course again (or another with similar weather predicted), I think I would drink more from the aid stations early in the course & try to save my bottle for the last warmer miles. I've never been so miserably thirsty in a race as I was towards the end of this one.

4) I've been trying to think of why I might have suddenly bonked in mile 22 (which has never happened to me before) & I can't see any obvious reasons for it. I had a nice big pasta dinner around 7 & my usual marathon breakfast 2 hours before the start (bagel & a gel). I did find myself getting hungry on the shuttle & ate half the granola bar in my bag, but didn't want to risk putting too much else in my stomach so close to the race. So who knows, that maybe a clue. Other than that, I fueled the same way as I did in both of my previous marathons (gels at 7, 11, 15, 19, & 23 & a water bottle of 50/50 Gatorade/water).

On the plus side, (I think?) I now know what people are talking about when they talk about "bonking."

5) God, I was not mentally ready for that last 5.2 out-and-back stretch. I might have been fine if it hadn't been for everything else that was going on, but with my brain so scattered (and not really functioning), it was just utterly demoralizing. I get that an arbitrary out-and-back is sometimes necessary in order to get the distance to work out just right, especially when your finish line needs to be in a particular spot, but is it some immutable law of the universe that races have to always put that part at the end?? Believe me, I'm a lot more mentally equipped to handle it early in the race.

6) With the combination of thirst & hip pain & possible low blood sugar that happened in 21-22, my rational brain clearly just shut off, which I think resulted in the animal part that was left kind of flailing & making panicky emotional decisions rather than smart ones. I definitely would have been better off slowing to maybe an 8:30 pace in those last miles rather than the weird combination of sprint / walking, but you can only beat yourself up so much for what your body decides is a good plan when your brain isn't working anymore.

Well, there you go. It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. Right now I still can't put much weight on my leg so running is out of the picture for a while, and even once I'm running again I think I probably need some time away from marathon training. One a year seems to be about what I can mentally handle.

But don't think I haven't started scoping out candidates for next year. ;)

(For logistical / "nuts & bolts" information on this event, see this post.)


  1. An 11-minute PR on a bum leg is FANTASTIC! Despite the aggravated injury, I still think it was the right decision to run: You got a PR, annnnd you got another marathon for your arsenal of experience. I truly believe there's something to be said for experience, and now you know to think a bit more about hydration if it isn't December. You'll also be able to remind yourself that you ran a 3:36 with a bad hip -- and that might just be the mental fight you'll need at mile 23 next time.

    On the analytical side: It sounds like the bonking was mostly related to the hip, since your entire body suddenly had to work a lot harder when it stopped working properly. Your quads were probably also shot from the slight downhill, so they didn't have as much strength to absorb the impact of the hip pain. And the thirst probably made your body go into conservation mode (which I know all too well). So then your brain was inundated with pain and confusion, and the fact that you'd run more than 20 miles at BQ pace. All things considered, you didn't have nearly as big of a meltdown as most would expect, given that combination.

    Bottom line: You kicked ass. Between the black belt and the marathon PR, you've had a great first half of 2013!

    1. Totally agree! I'm definitely glad I ran, both for the PR and for the added experience (especially since both of my first two were the same race). It's going to be a while, but I'm still already excited about #4 (whatever it turns out to be). :)

    2. CIM! Third time's a charm! (I'm targeting it and figuring the weather can't be that bad again...)

  2. You ran an AMAZING race despite all of the obstacles and learned a ton along the way. Kudos!!

  3. Stillllll incredible!! You ran so strong, hip even considered! And you know what to so for next time so you can shave off those 90 seconds. bravo!

  4. You seriously kicked major as* out there pretty lady!!! A PR on a bum hip, having not run for at least a week prior is absolutely incredible. You are a serious running machine and TOUGH!!!!

  5. You are a badass for gutting through a marathon with all the ailments you've been dealing with. Gives me hope!

  6. Layla pretty much said my exact comment. Congrats on the huge PR! Running a 3:36 with a fairly serious injury is amazing. I don't think you ran the first 21 miles too fast at all. Yea maybe the combination of not being able to run much combined with hot conditions, and maybe being slightly hungry before the race made you bonk at mile 22. Hopefully your recuperation from your injury isn't too long, sounds like you aggravated it pretty good.

    And if you run CIM and are healthy I bet you'll get that BQ. Wouldn't surprise me if you get 330. Side note - but not sure that I would have had a margarita the day before a PR race attempt - but maybe you handle your alcohol better the next day. I doubt this affected you too much on being dehydrated, but I don't like taking any chances on things like that.

  7. I am so torn as to how to comment. I am so glad about your amazing PR and as I said on FB, I feel like you finally have a marathon time that reflects your ability. However, reading this, I'm so sad you missed out on BQ by such a small margin and in such pain as well. I am in awe of this run! Well done.

    1. Believe me, I'm still really happy about the time, even though the BQ didn't work out. Just enough of a fire to remind me I've got at least a slightly faster time in me. :)

  8. I'm happy for your PR and sad that it came with a side of pain and lack-of-water-crazies! Definitely sounds like a rough ending — but wow, I can't wait to see what you do when you're healthy (and running in a cool climate?).

  9. I came over from Nelly's blog to say congrats - you are really a superwoman! And well-written race report. I like reading the blow-by-blow reports, and you really toughed this one out.
    Next time, on a healthy hip, BQ will be easy. Congrats on the PR.

  10. I know this wasn't the race you were shooting for, but damn! It's one thing to finish a tough race, but to be injured and knock 11 MINUTES off your time is just insane. I hope you realize what a complete bad ass you are. I'm just a lowly, newbie runner, but consider me inspired. Congratulations on your huge PR. You'll BQ next time!

  11. I'm running the race this weekend. I too am looking to BQ and was looking for more information since there isn't much on the website. You gave a fantastic race report. I'm from Oregon and have never been to Ventura, so any extra information will help. I'll make sure to bring some extra water for the last 6 miles. BTW, great time especially with the hip problems. Hopefully you've got your BQ by now.

    1. Glad it was useful! It's taken me almost a full year to recover from that injury, so I haven't run any marathons since then, but I am running one in August & feeling optimistic about it. :)