Monthly Archives: October 2010

The conjunction of Running, Caring and Patriarchy

Today’s run called for 10 miles, moderately paced. Honestly, I don’t know exactly what “moderate” means, aside from “not easy”…whatever EASY means…so I decided to run just a little bit harder than I have this past week, not stressing myself, but not overdoing it either. Everything seemed “moderate” for the beginning of the run, but that was about to change in an instant.

My quads were sore from the surge in mileage last week, the strong run on Saturday and my first morning run today, but I was feeling smooth as I descended a small hill out of a neighborhood and into an intersection that linked a number of local businesses. At this point in my run, approximately 7 1/2 miles, I made the 90 degree turn towards a long gradual incline that took no more deviations from the straight line that led to my doorstep. Despite the focus and repetition I had lulled myself into I was suddenly struck by an abnormality, a tone of voice that registered problematic on the social etiquette barometer. I looked over to a gas station parking lot just in time to catch sight of a decently-sized, which is a nice way of saying plump-gutted buffoon, man forcefully close a car door into a white-haired woman that looked to be his superior, bouncing her into the vehicle’s door casing. I stopped instinctually and hit the pause button on my watch the same. Making a snap assumption of their relationship I could only deduce he was her son, angry and enraged.

I watched as she quickly ducked into the driver’s seat and slammed the door while the large man spread his hands out to his sides like a posturing bird of prey and yelled at her through the closed window. I stood watching in the street in case his anger escalated.

She began to drive away and, most likely due to losing dominance in that moment, he slammed his hands onto the back of her car with grizzly-like force. I yelled out, “Yo! Hey!”, trying to catch his attention, to snap him out of his seemingly isolated bubble of rage, but my yells were drowned out by the surrounding traffic. Oblivious to my presence, the car continued to drive out of the parking lot and in a moment of self-awareness, the large man quickly and cautiously looked around to see if anyone was about to catch him make another forceful attempt at the woman. He ran at the car as she was halfway out of the lot and before he could hit the car again I yelled out, “YO! YOOO!”, but he still managed to shove the car with such force that it rocked back and forth as the woman was finally able to accelerate out of harms way and just as she did, he heard my yells of recognition and caught sight of me – skinny, sweaty, mostly naked, my chest heaving with fatigue and adrenaline all the same. Then he exhibited a behavior I have seen played out many times, directed at me, and I knew what was about to come. First, after becoming aware that he had an audience, his self-awareness, guilty-conscience and shame took over for but a brief second and he submissively diverted his eyes and began walking back to his previous business, but the unleashed anger that still sat dormant in his oversized frame made desperate pleas to his equally oversized ego and his behavior suddenly changed. He just as quickly turned back in my direction, began posturing with the same dominance he displayed for the woman and threatened me repeatedly. We briefly exchanged words of varying tone.

“I’m watching you man.”
“Yeah?! Well keep watching motherfucker! I’ll kick your fuckin dick in you *mumble mumble mumble*” (I had difficulty making out his unrehearsed insults, garbled in anger)
“Whatever dude. Whatever.”
“You wanna get involved you fuck….I’ll beat your fuckin ass too!”

Then satisfied with his domination of verbal volley’s, he finally stopped moving in my direction and turned away. My intentions of keeping him from bringing physical harm on the woman satisfied, I saw no more need to continue on and merely started my watch and turned up the street to complete my run. All in a day’s work.

I continued on with my run, trying to regain the “moderate” pace I had achieved previously, and was surprised to find how well composed I felt considering I had just been moved on by a man who is by all definitions the end result of the Standard American Diet. My legs remained strong and the adrenaline rush that usually comes with a seemingly unavoidable physical fight never took over. I continued on calmly, but didn’t dismiss the idea that the man wasn’t exactly through with me, so to play it safe I popped up on the sidewalk and ran out of the path of any cars speeding up behind.

The further I got from the incident, the more calm and confidence I built and I decided to step off the ankle-twisting, lifting concrete sidewalk and back into the street, but ventured to the other side to run against traffic in case I had misjudged the situation. I figured he was less liable to run me down if cars were coming from the other direction. But I continued on without concern and began to get lost in my thoughts like I usually do on these runs. I guess I got too lost.

For all of a sudden I looked up to see a man standing directly in front of me, about 20 yards ahead, his arms spread slightly out to his side and a mischievous and smug smirk hanging from his chubby face. His car was parked on the other side of the street.

Caught in the repetition of my movement I continued right for him, but felt myself slowing up in anticipation of a fight. I was close enough to see the grey hairs peppering his head and more detail in his face than I cared to know. The verbal jousting began again. I spread my arms out to say “What did you expect would happen? Anyone around would just turn the other way?” He spread his further and repeated his case, “You wanna get involved? Huh? You wanna get involved, now I’m gonna beat YOUR ass!” I continued running right towards him, my brain firing off a number of limited fight or flight options in milliseconds and responded, “Hey, what did you….” and before I made anymore comment I had made the decision in my head to enact the flight response, knowing a fight was quite probably in his favor, but a flight was undeniably in mine.

I began veering to the right to run around him, picking up speed only enough that he wouldn’t guess my move, and slowly he started to make his move towards me, then before he could get out one more response I had turned it on and ran further to the right and made it past him in a split second. Out of the corner of my eye I saw him make an absurdly comical attempt to give chase and I really laid it on, something considerably beyond “moderately paced”, and before he could take another gasping breath I was up the road from him and getting further. Knowing that victory was mine, I turned and yelled at him, “You’ll NEVER fuckin catch me! Don’t even try it!”

Of course, I knew he’d try it. His car was still parked on the side of the road.

I heard his car door slam and the distinct sound of an engine over-revving under the impetus of a gas pedal slammed to the floor. I knew I was as good as dead running down the wide open street, unfortunately devoid of traffic at this point, but fortunately I saw a church yard that rose quickly off the sidewalk, too quickly for a car to drive up. I ran up onto the yard surveying my next move as the driver pulled alongside me and started verbally taunting me, “Where you gonna go now? Where you gonna go now bitch? Gonna run home to your mommy?”

The funny thing, as serious as his intentions were (I truly believe that if he couldn’t pound me with his fists his other preferred option was to run me down with his car), is I still felt calm and in control as I knew he could never catch me on foot and his car’s inability to turn 180s at speed was his achilles heel. He would never be able to get at me if I kept moving back and forth. With that strategy obviously in play I made an immediate 180 as he continued to verbally berate me, his only option of dominance left as his physical aggression sat unfulfilled.

I took off down the sidewalk hoping he would realize his futile predicament, but to my dismay he was as determined as he was enraged and as I ran down the sidewalk he gunned his engine in my direction yet again. I heard his yells getting more and more audible the closer he got, “Run home to your parents nigga! Run you little bitch!” (side note…this plump fellow was white), but then the insults got too close for comfort and the roar of the engine as well, leading me to believe that if he was truly crazy enough, he was in range to jump the curb and plow me down on the sidewalk. I looked around for more options for my next move.

Just ahead I saw a man walking back from his mailbox and into his yard. I called out “Hey!” trying to get his attention and alerting him that something uncommon was happening at this moment. But still hearing the roar of the engine getting closer and closer I had to make a move before reaching his yard. I saw a small line of trees that acted as a natural barrier in the yard next to me and I made an instant diversion through the trees just as the car came up behind me at an angle that suggested his intentions were to run me down. I jumped some decorative plants and made it to the homeowner who stood frozen at the sudden and possibly comical scene of a near naked, sweaty and skinny runner approaching him with a heart-rate reaching into dangerous territory. The driver stopped in front of the house and threw a couple more insults that I couldn’t make out before speeding off down the street, probably knowing I now had access to a phone.

The homeowner looked at me with unveiled shock, “WHAT the HELL was that?”

I finally remembered to stop my watch and responded, between breaths, “Oh, yeah,” *breathe* “I just saw him” *breathe* “assault a woman at the gas station” *breathe* “and made it known that I was watching” *breathe* “so he came after me and I think tried to run me down” *breathe* “sorry about that”

“Goodness. Well I’m glad you’re ok.”

“Yeah, I’m fine. Thanks for being out here. I appreciate it. Sorry about all that.” I spat out like broken english.

I walked to the sidewalk and saw the car far down the street, through with our little game of cat and mouse and I assume off to find release elsewhere. I thanked the homeowner again.

“Thanks again. He’s gone now. Sorry ’bout all that!”

He wished me well and before I knew it I had hit the resume button on my watch and was back to regaining my “moderate” pace. With nothing left to do but get back to work, I got back into my zone and knocked out the last 2 miles with a noticeably increased speed…you know…just in case. I had a couple twinges of adrenaline as cars sped past, but ultimately made it home unscathed and maybe exerted a little over my coach’s orders when I came to my yard at 1:01 for 10 miles, but 10 miles with however much further I ran going back and forth with Chubb Rock. I assume coach will understand.

Marathon training. Fighting patriarchy. All in a day’s work.

DNF – Did Not Fail

The more races I run and the faster I get I find myself getting closer and closer to those seemingly far off, superhuman-esque Kenyans, with their bird legs and caution to the wind running style. Earlier on in this whole running experiment I could say I ran in races with Kenyans, meaning I entered races that Kenyans entered and watched their backsides get smaller and smaller as they blasted off down the course and out of sight. Then at some point I started keeping them in sight more and more until suddenly I found myself either passing some who had started walking late into the race, fallen off pace considerably to a recovery jog or gaining and going stride for stride with those who were still making an effort to the finish. It was as encouraging as it was confusing as I had the perception that any Kenyan runner coming to the US was of marathon podium caliber and therefore it meant something if I was leaving them behind from time to time. Then I started to learn a little bit more about truly elite level racing perspective and what the challenge means to them, both Kenyans and Americans alike.

These runners have so much natural ability and such an extensive span of training within them that they climb to great successes, reaping the rewards of podium prize money, sponsorship and endorsements that afford them great luxuries and lifestyles that leave them with nothing but time to train. I have as much jealousy for them as I do adoration. I would kill for that talent and time. And I wouldn’t squander it.

So it came as quite a surprise when I started to learn about elite runners goofing around during races under the guise of “running free” or bailing on races completely due to poor performances (yes, these are both Ryan Hall references). But beyond that, I started to learn about elite runners outright quitting during races, which became incredibly apparent this last Chicago marathon when I watched runners literally step off the course in front of me. Some of them beaten down with fatigue, while others just done struggling unnecessarily.

I know, as runners, the last thing we want next to our names on the results board is the dreaded acronym DNF (did not finish). We’d rather have DNS (did not start) than the former. So, it seems odd that runners who spend so much time putting in so much effort for a particular race or two would seemingly squander it all away when the going gets rough. As it was put to me recently, “it kind of seems like a cry baby thing to do, doesn’t it?”. Well, yes and no…it depends.

What I learned about Kenyan runners specifically, is that they don’t always simply run for the love of running, the test of accomplishment, or any other altruistic reason, but instead because from a young age they have learned that their way out of poverty is to run fast, come to america and run faster, score a couple big money marathon prizes and go back to Kenya and live well. It happens pretty often and often these runners make their big payday and then..get this….never run again. Not a step. Running, for some of them, is a means to an end and nothing else. So in their case, they come to the US and run and run and run and race and race and race, always desperately reaching for any prize money they can get. Any race with over a grand for a podium finish will have East Africans…it’s almost guaranteed. This, in part, explains why at times I’ll blow by crazy fast Kenyan runners as they’ve either started walking, slowed excessively or just plain gave up to cruise in. For instance, in my last 15k, of which I PR’d, I ran alongside a Kenyan late in the race, who then took off with a crazy kick at the finish. Only afterwards did I realize I was matching strides with Peter Kemboi, the 2oo7 Mombassa Marathon winner, of which he completed the race in 2:09. And here I was fighting him for the finish. It wasn’t because he was slow…it was because he was probably in the middle of a streak of racing, going for prize money, and when the day was not his he just turned it into a training run. This situation is relatively uncommon though.

What is more common are runners closer to my caliber dropping out of a race when the going gets tough, predominately at the marathon distance. Initially, I took the whole “what a crybaby” perspective, but the more I run and train and reach for a goal relatively off in the distance I’ve begun to understand the importance of “saving oneself”.

For those who have never run a marathon to complete physical exhaustion, let me just tell you from experience, it takes it’s toll physically. Last year I was so physically destroyed from my race that it took me weeks to begin to walk normally and months to completely rid myself of nagging pains and strains. Getting back to solid training for my next race involved a significant break that compromised my fitness more than I would have hoped. Now, for me, just finishing the marathon with a decently fast time was my goal, so exhaustion or physical damage or not, I was going to finish the race. This is still the mentality I harbor when I step to any start line. The DNF is never an option.

So I was surprised to see so many elite runners stepping off the course this past Chicago and more shocked to see so many more who hadn’t finished, but after completing the race in the manner with which I ran it, I started to understand why this happens. See, I went out to qualify for the Trials (like you didn’t know that!), which necessitated running significantly fast (for me) for a distance I wasn’t sure I was going to be able to sustain, which meant a huge expenditure of effort and energy. I knew, if I crossed that line under 2:19 or even anywhere close, I was going to be physically destroyed. But something else happened…..what I can only deduce was the rapid increase in heat, my heartrate and anaerobic systems became taxed so quickly that maintaining that strenuous physical effort became impossible and although I was sore after the race, I was unable to push myself to the point that I really damaged my body. So fortunately, I was still able to come across the line in a respectable time, but with minimal damage. No harm, no foul.

For the other elites though, they had gone out HARD and had put a lot of strain on their systems trying to achieve very specific goals, whether it was a podium finish, a top american finish, or some massive PR. So when things obviously weren’t going as planned and any Plan A or Plan B goal they had in their playbook wasn’t going to happen, they did the only sensible thing and stepped off the course, in effect saving their bodies from the physical strain it would surely have sustained to keep running after that initial effort. For them, the race lost all its meaning. There was no money to be had, no newsworthy finish time, no top american placement. There was only a final time on the results board and a significant time off from training due to the deep physical damage they did to their bodies. So for them, stepping off the course is a deliberate strategy in saving themselves for another day when conditions are more favorable, they are feeling stronger, or whatever.

I, on the other hand, have no delusions of big marathon prize money, top american finishes or what have you….I’m just trying to qualify for the trials. My stakes are not as high. So why did I keep going then, risking muscular damage that would take extensive recovery time? Well, for one, because I don’t have a lot of common sense when I’m in the midst of the race effort, fatigued out of my mind and holding strongly to delusions of grandeur, hoping for second, third and fourth winds. But also, and more importantly, because I see value in pushing to the finish, answering the “what if’s” that come later in the race, whether that is gauging how I feel that deep into the distance, knowing what happens to my mental game, or just knowing that when things get so damn terrible….I can keep going and still finish strong, no matter what. I’ll take the risk of forced recovery for the benefits of a completed race, the encouragement of accomplishment and one more notch on my belt of experience. That is how I prepare for future marathons, where others prepare by stopping running before reaching the finish line. I absolutely do not fault them, now that I understand they have financial security at stake within their performances, while I simply have an unparalleled sense of accomplishment.

Honestly, it would be incredibly weird for me to drop out of a race and the blow to my confidence might be worse than the benefits gained from saving myself physically, but I’ll tell you, I might look at things a little different if I was getting hooked up by shoe sponsorships and other endorsements, knowing my performances gain me continued contracts and bonus monies. Yeah, then I might not feel so bad about that DNF, knowing further down the line it might get me some big USD’s.

There are no little things

The question that drives almost every runner to continue on with their personal quests, from 3 a day pampered elites to recreational back of the packers, differs little. Whether one comes across the final timing mat in 4:05 or 2:05, the question that instantly follows is the same, “How do I get faster?”

I am certainly no different. From the first race I ran up to this last marathon, I’ve always spoken to myself, “Ok, now what? What else do we do to get faster?”

The formulas are nothing secret. Every running magazine every month, no matter how many different ways they may say it, all say the same thing over and over again. More mileage, more speed workouts, recovery days, long runs. Eat well, sleep enough. Etc. Etc. And for most of us, that’s all we really need to know. Sure, some coaches and sports scientists have studied the hell out of human physiology and continuously search for those tiny, overlooked areas that may give us an edge, have written numerous books on the subjects, and have the evidence to back up all their theories. Considering some of this knowledge is an individual’s life work, I put my trust in them, but I don’t nitpick or pour over statistics, figures, charts, etc., like my running career depends on securing the degree they have. Like I said, I trust them. The funny thing is, all their hard work gets condensed and filtered into a relatively compact chart that consists of varied stressor runs 2 times a week, a few recovery runs and a long run. That’s it. All those late nights. All those tests. And this is what we have. And this works.

But obviously it’s not that simple. It’s not just a matter of following this pretty simplistic training schedule and letting our genes and dedication sort us out. No, there are advantages, of which vary from runner to runner. We experiment, try new methods and discard others, always trying to answer that question, “How do I get faster?”

The good thing is, for most of us, the plans are laid out and all we have to do is continuously build and build and build. Each effort, each milestone can be capitalized on by simply adding more mileage, another speed workout or a longer long run. As running is an accumulative effect and most runners have a wide open window of progression to play with, meaning they aren’t maxing out their biological limits by running 100 – 150 miles a week, following all the prescribed training stressors and so on, it’s then just a matter of adding what you can add or what your lifestyle allows. Short of the limitations of aging, this is what makes running so exciting. It seems like “getting faster” is always one race away with the proper training additions.

This has been the way I’ve looked at it for the past few years I’ve been running. Each milestone race always has me thinking, “Ok, what do I do now?” I started out just running, putting in an old high school speed workout once a week, because it was all I knew. Then I added more mileage. Then I added another speed workout (6 x 1 mile repeats). Then I added more mileage. Then I added hills. Then I added more mileage. Then I added fartleks. Then I added more mileage.

Soon though, I found I was following the prescribed training routines of so many years of study and refinement. 2 speed workouts a week, 4 recovery runs of various pacing, and a long run, and doing all this at around 70 – 75 miles a week….basically going on instinct and the accumulative knowledge of so many running magazines and websites. It seemed I was doing what I needed to get faster.

Then I stumbled on the marathon after a solid 1/2 marathon performance of 1:10:28  generated under my own direction. I started running with the club I’m in now and absorbed so much more knowledge, so many more small refinements that would really enhance my running. Some of it were the types of workouts I was doing, some of it had to do with mileage building routines (stepping up and backing off), some of it had to do with peaking, some of it had to do with fueling and so on. What I learned overall is that there is ALWAYS more to add to help answer the question, “How do I get faster?”

Where I thought I was following the routine properly and there was not much more I could do to get faster, I started to learn there was actually a lot more, but it was going to necessitate a little more expert knowledge…a coach. I, not reluctantly, gave over all training considerations to Coach Matt and let him dictate my running days for the following year and so on. I simply didn’t trust myself to understand the effort and training methods necessary for hitting the Trials Qualifying time and the more I work with him the more I know I’m right in making that decision to relinquish that control. This is serious business.

We had our first post-Chicago meeting Monday and discussed our upcoming plans for our next qualifying attempt. With his knowledge of so many viable races that combine a fast course, proper competition and GOOD WEATHER, we settled on the Houston Marathon on January 30th. With that out of the way, we started addressing the question, “How do I get faster?”

We touched on the default consideration…more mileage. Since I was consistently doing 90 – 100 miles a week this last go around, we both knew it was time to step up to 110 – 120 miles a week, but this isn’t so flippantly done. It’s not just a matter of adding miles to the run, but actually doing multiple runs a day. This allows one to get in the necessary mileage, but avoids the injuries that often come with doing long runs day after day all in one pop, not allowing the necessary recovery that comes with breaks between efforts. So that means my first change is to start running twice a day (not every day mind you), once before work and once after. This ought to be interesting as not only do I go into work at 7 am, but we’re also entering winter time in the midwest, which will mean getting up extra early, somehow putting on tights and all the winter accoutrements, and heading out into the pitch dark and bitingly cold air for 4 – 5 easy miles before work. I’m tempted to paint, “How do I get faster?” on the wall outside my room as my reminder to suck it up and get out the door on those mornings I can’t imagine lifting one foot in front of the other in those conditions.

Beyond mileage, we also touched on strength. My teammate Jesse, who is a shoe-in for qualifying, is adding strength training to his routine to give him that extra security late in the race in case he has a bad day on his next go. I’m adding strength training, legs and core, to make sure I have no excuses or weak points the next time I go. We want to leave no stone left unturned.

As Coach mentioned…we don’t want to go into the next attempt needing an “A” day to qualify, but rather we’d prefer the ability to qualify even if I only have a “B+” day. To that end I’ve also added a couple more small changes to my routine in order to gain that advantage.

I’ve switched up my normal route from my comfortable, but incredibly flat stretch of rail-trail to one that is a lot of asphalt, but more importantly comprised of hills. I am going to pay attention to how my legs feel so they can get the proper recovery they need, but since I’ll be racing on roads, I want to train my legs to take the abuse of roads. And since hills are good for you in so many ways, even if I’m not doing a specific hill workout, I’m going to make sure they are consistent part of my running in order to build confidence and strength.

Then finally, I’m working on form. Seeing the plethora of photos after this years Chicago race and looking at my form from the beginning of the race to the end was a real eye-opener. I saw how my feet fall when I get tired. I saw how my arms become useless. I saw how I just revert into this comfortable fetal position that may conserve energy, but does nothing for speed. Plus, it’s just ugly. These past runs I’ve concentrated on lifting my knees up and out, utilizing  my arms more, swinging them in straight lines instead of across the front of my body and hanging them lower instead of tucking them up near my torso. I can’t say the changes have increased my speed by X amount, but I certainly feel faster and have been running faster, but I know the more this becomes routine, the better it will help me in the marathon.

That question always hangs, “How do I get faster?” and this time I’m trying to answer it with changes both big and small. We’re going to add mileage, get in a solid block of training coming off chicago, steel my legs, reintroduce strength training, add hills and work on form. We will leave no stone left unturned, no advantage unconsidered.

Soon, we should start answering that question in practice and see where it takes us. To Houston for starters, and onwards.

The breakfast of not-quite marathon champions

It was requested I write about my pre-marathon fueling choices, so I am happily obliging. With that in mind, if you have any specific questions you would like answered or subjects you would like addressed, feel free to make a request in the comments section.
Specifically, I was asked what I choose to eat the morning of the marathon and I will get to that, but I think it’s pertinent to address food choices a few days out first as those tend to be more important regarding race day energy and energy sustainability.

There is no ground-breaking secret here. Your body runs, literally, on carbohydrates converted into glycogen, so it follows that you should make sure your glycogen stores are fully stocked leading into race day. For vegans, this comes easier than most. As pasta is incredibly high in carbohydrates and the rest of our foods (fruits, vegetables, grains) are significant sources as well, we are more often than not loaded with proper stores of energy to keep us going strong on a consistent basis. It’s those who skimp on the good stuff in favor of protein heavy meals that suffer in the “long run” (well done, self) and they are probably the ones who coined the term “carbo-loading” since it’s such a periodic way of eating for them. We, as vegans, however, are loaded with carbs consistently, so to gorge ourselves isn’t as necessary as one might think, but I’ll admit, 2 to 3 days leading to the marathon I usually subsist on pasta as the foundation to my meals, supplemented with veggies, of course.

The mistake a lot of carb-starved people make is thinking that one meal of carbs the night before the race is sufficient to load the tanks. It’s not. Depending on the types of carbs you eat (simple, processed vs. whole) your body breaks them down by different methods and stores and utilizes them differently as well. So if you eat ONE meal of highly-processed carbs, you not only cheat your storage tanks of ENOUGH carbs, but you also enable them to be processed so quickly that your fuel needle falls under maximum capacity by the time you hit the start line. This is NOT what you want.

This is why I choose to eat high-carb meals 2 – 3 days out, to make sure I’m not only stocked to the rim, but also to make sure I keep replenishing any depleting stores that are lost to my final preparations and daily activities. This way, I’m not compelled to completely overstuff myself with foods that my body may or may not agree with in such portions. I rely on pasta and breads leading up to the race, but only as a continuation of my diet as it already is. Eating this way makes me certain I’m ready for all the training I do leading up to the race, as well as the race itself.

Then there is the dreaded pre-race breakfast meal that has us all wringing our hands in concern and worry, afraid of over-eating, under-eating, upsetting our stomachs, sending us to the bathroom as soon as the gun goes off, etc. etc. It’s understandable, for when you put so much effort into one moment, you’d hate to think that something as ridiculous as one meal could ruin all your hard work.

Personally, I have stuck with a routine I’ve been following since I first started racing again. I wake up early, type A early (probably TOO early), and fix myself either a bagel with margarine or peanut butter (sometimes both) or the equivalent, coupled with a cup of coffee or two. I eat this meal about 2 hours before the race to make sure it will have digested as completely as possible and my body will be able to utilize the final bit of energy I have supplied it with. Lately, I’ve left behind the hard, sometimes chewy, outside of a bagel and replaced it with an english muffin, which seems to digest a little easier. However, after doing a little more label reading, I realized one bagel gives me 20 grams of carbs, while one piece of toast gives me the same 20 carbs, allowing me to eat approximately the same amount in two pieces, but get that many more final carbs. I’ll put peanut butter, margarine or jelly on it, wash it down with the coffee, and then I’m good to go. I still feel light, never bloated, and have supplied myself with the final energy I’ll need once the gun goes off. I’ve never had a problem with bonking, related to food anyways, and I’ve never had any pre-race bathroom problems or need to go to the bathroom on the course…..thankfully!

The simple theory on marathon morning eating is to supply your body with the carbs that will digest quickly to be utilized by the body as soon as possible and there are a handful of foods that do this. I’ve chosen breads, which most runners do. My coach gave me a little more insight this last race and suggested I eat at least 200 calories and avoid eating 400 or more. This year I consumed just under 300 with a few pieces of toast and had no problems.

To give a few different options though, I’ve paid attention to a number of runners and what they choose to eat. When I’m at races where we have to stay in a hotel, most choose the standard bagel, but I’ve also seen bowls of cereal consumed. I recently read a blog post of a top elite woman runner who chose to have a bowl of cereal without milk, which I understand, but felt the dry cereal might have been a little insufficient. Beyond that, I’ve heard of runners eating rice pudding, for the easily consumed/digested carbs in the cooked rice. I also just read the great race recap of Jeffrey Eggleston – see blogroll – who missed the US Marathon Championship title by 7 seconds (and is also vegan) who ate a “generous” bowl of granola with soymilk. I tend to avoid granola as it doesn’t sit well and digests…umm…unpleasantly let’s say, but it obviously worked for him! Then finally, I saw a video with marathon world record holder Haille Gebreselassie, eating his breakfast of 2 pieces of toast with jelly, maybe a muffin, a multivitamin and a cup of tea before making his latest attempt to run 2:02. Obviously, the common thread among all these meals is the easily digested carbs, in portions that don’t tax the system or sit heavily long after consuming. All the meals are always eaten at least an hour, usually more, out from the starting gun as well.

There really isn’t anything special about pre-race fueling. Stock up on carbs 2 – 3 days out, top off your tanks the morning off and do it early enough for proper digestion, then have at it! Oh, and it doesn’t hurt to take a gu (or whatever) 15 minutes before the race actually starts and then the proper ingestion from there on out.

I wish I could tell you about a super energy food or something like that….but despite the hype surrounding Born To Run and the Taramahura diet, I really don’t think there are dietary stones left uncovered, and a simple meal of carbs will do the trick for all distances and runners of all levels, from back of the packers to world record holders.

I hope this helps!

Racing to recovery

When I ran Chicago last year I was warned it was going to hurt. In my naivety I thought this merely meant I was going to get tired, exhausted and running through the suffering was going to “hurt” in the exaggerated, metaphorical sense. I was wrong. They really meant it was going to H-U-R-T, hurt. Towards the end of the race when I had run out of glycogen my body plumbed the depths of my muscles searching for precious energy and when it came up starving, it began eating my muscles, so with each consecutive mile I could feel the gnawing and chewing, deeper and deeper into my calves and quads. When your body eats itself alive, like a self-cannibalizing zombie, it’s obviously going to hurt.

Although I didn’t understand what to “hurt” during the race meant, it was no fault of mine that when I crossed the line and stopped, that I wasn’t prepared for the pain that was to come next, through the finish chute, walking down stairs, to the restaurant, on the car ride home, the next day and then even more shockingly, TWO DAYS LATER! No one ever warned me about this part of marathon racing. Somehow, with all the attention I pay to running culture, I never came across a description of this pain either. No one told me I’d have to hold onto the walls at work just to get around the building. No one told me I wouldn’t be able to lift my leg over my bike seat. No one told me stepping off a curb had me thinking I might collapse under my weight and not be able to get back up. It was THAT bad. I apparently tapped into muscle stores I didn’t know I even had, but which my body’s empty tank sure did.

I came to understand very directly why people take such a long time off after running a marathon, instead of feeling powerful and rejuvenated then picking up training where they left off before their taper. I childishly thought I could just keep going, which is why I prematurely started in on long runs, gearing up for one last trail race leading into a trail marathon less than 2 months later. I did this despite my destroyed quads, despite my destroyed calves and despite my injured groin. This was, if you can’t tell, a bad idea.

I really don’t know if I did any lasting damage by getting over anxious with resuming training, but I do feel I slowed down my ability to start focusing on a base phase and pointed marathon training. And maybe, just maybe, if I didn’t run with my injured groin, I might not have thrown off my biomechanics and could have avoided the leg imbalance that  had me not running for almost 3 months when just prior I was on the top of my game. I don’t know, but it’s a strong possibility.

So this year, after this latest marathon, I’m really hesitant to start running again, which is odd because I. Feel. Great. Actually, it’s not odd that I’m hesitant. It’s odd that I feel great. Granted, I ran 2 1/2 minutes slower than I did last year, but that isn’t THAT much in a marathon and I was completely dehydrated this year, so it wasn’t like I didn’t tax my system. I also felt that end of the race leg pain as my energy-hungry body scraped apart my muscles looking for morsels of glycogen. So when I crossed that finish line and started walking through the chute, one of the first things I noticed was the ease at which I did so. I wasn’t walking with concentration, observing each step as if I was avoiding crushing tiny caterpillars. I was having jovial conversations with other runners who seemed to be doing as such, but I was fine. Even walking down stairs, although I could then feel those over-exerted muscles, I didn’t even have to grab on to the handrails. I was a little confused and wondered if I just didn’t run hard at all.

I didn’t forget about those hours and days that followed last years race though, so I paid close attention to my legs on the drive home, but was relieved to see I didn’t have to physically lift my leg onto the gas pedal like I did last year. I felt tightness when we got out to fill up for gas, yes, but it was nothing like I remembered. I saw other runners at the gas stations doing the marathon shuffle, which is always quite humorous I must admit, but if I wasn’t wearing my new race shirt, I might have passed as a simple traveler I was walking so well.

Still, I paid attention to my legs the next day and then the dreaded second day when I had to head back to work….but I was fine! Everyone at work who saw me last year made comments the same, for I wasn’t holding onto the lockers to sweep the hallways. Heck, by the end of the day I was bounding up stairs! And when I got to the top I found myself a little taken back, having to remind myself what I just did a couple days before.

So what does this mean? Honestly, I don’t know. On one hand I hear people talk about the benefits of veganism and their ability to recover quicker than they ever have, but I was vegan last year and didn’t have such a good time with it. I’ve also heard seasoned marathoners talk about how their first was their worst and the races that followed got better and better, but I’m not sure what might influence that either. The most logical conclusion I can come up with is that I’m a stronger runner this time around. This past year, despite so many setbacks, was the first year I not only ran with a focused marathon goal, but also did so many little things to help me along to that goal, such as strength exercises, extra difficult runs and, maybe most importantly, proper recovery runs. I have to think this time around I’m actually a stronger person and was able to handle the marathon stresses better than I ever have. Or maybe that’s just wishful thinking and I actually didn’t run the race as hard as I might have if the weather was better. But really, would that minor 2 1/2 minutes really made that much of a difference?

Regardless, this is where we are. Four running-less days after the marathon and I feel frickin great. My legs have mild soreness, but more from a couple of incredibly strenuous days I’ve been having at work doing lots of heavy lifting and being on my feet all day. Even with all that, I certainly could have started running again without consequence…I think. I’m still hesitant. Not overly hesitant though, because on my coach’s suggestion, I’m going to do some light jogging….starting tomorrow. Initially, I thought I’d be looking at about 2 weeks off AT LEAST before I regained training, but it looks like we might be able to pick up right where we left off if I’m not suffering from any deep-seated muscle damage that needs more time to heal. We’ll know in the next couple of days that’s for sure.

For now, it feels great to be able to potentially pick right back up, instead of wasting more time rebuilding lost fitness during the recovery phase. This is what fast running always comes down to….recovering well and recovering quickly, allowing one to put in hard, hard efforts again and again. This is why athletes take EPO’s, not because they build muscle, but because they enable significantly sped up recovery, allowing them to exert themselves harder and harder without consequence. This is what we all do….but naturally.

We don’t have time to lose. I’m itching to prove my marathon fitness again for my next attempt at the Trials and although I haven’t done a lot of consideration on where the next attempt might be, my coach and his experience has. He gave me the options the other day, being a marathon on January in Houston, where the Trials will actually be run in 2012, or waiting a little bit more for something in the Spring, which usually means Boston or Grandma’s in June or something else entirely. It’s hard to say, but I believe we are looking strongly at Houston in January, dependent on where I’m at recovery-wise. If I’m able to pick up where I left off, then we have a huge base already behind us and a significant enough time to prepare for a race in almost guaranteed great weather conditions. That is probably ideal, but we’ll know more about a final decision in the next week or so.

Regardless, it feels great to feel great. It feels great to be able to recover so quickly and I have to think that is a testament to my preparation this last year, my refined diet based more on home-cooked, whole foods, and the strength I’ve built through more informed training.

So here we go again….onward!

2010 Chicago Marathon Race Photos

2010 Chicago Marathon Race Report – 13.1 – 26.2

Admittedly, that quick moment of positivity and hope quickly faded as I ran into the lonely stretch of road, the pack now out of reach, and the exertion of the previous effort beginning to weigh on me more and more. I knew, right then, today was not the day. What I didn’t know, was how bad the second half of the race might be. I ran down the long straightaway of concrete with a string of other fallen runners in front of me and another string coming up behind, getting periodically passed by those that ran more conservatively in the first half. I went through fluid station after fluid station finding myself increasingly disgusted at the thought of swallowing anymore preciously necessary, but repulsively sweet, gatorade. All I wanted was water, but needed sodium as the temperatures climbed in unison with the miles.

I tried to continue pushing down the road, holding somewhere in 5:30 miles, hoping I was still running faster at this point than I was last year, but it was hard to hold to this thought when runner after runner passed by me like I was standing still. Then getting continously frustrated I saw a shadow hanging too close off the back of mine….I was being drafted. The wind was mild, but we were running into it never the less, and with my slowing pace the runner suddenly clipped the back of my foot, throwing off my rhythm. It was a minor offense that did nothing to my race, but it was delivered without even an apology and didn’t help my frustrated state. Then, another indicator of the conditions of the day, I passed my first dropped runner. His face was glowing red and he dejectedly walked along the sidewalk towards the next pick up point. He was the first I saw for the day, but wasn’t going to be the last. With my pace slowing more and more I started to wonder when Poray might come up behind me and pass by, but at the time he was more conscious of the heat limitations than I was and made the calculated decision to drop out after halfway, saving his body for another attempt down the line.

Making the turn at the furthest point West of the course I started the continuously lonely trek back into town, continuing to wait for a physical resurgence that became increasingly difficult to imagine as my body weakened more and more. I didn’t try to make any legitimate attempts to run faster until I felt my body would handle it and it was a good decision as I suddenly passed Chad Ware, an elite Chicago runner, who had stopped in front of me and walked directly into the Med Tent. The heat was beginning to pick off the ambitious runners one by one. I wasn’t necessarily consoled by his dropping out, but I was becoming more and more aware that my struggle was not exactly of my own making, of arrogantly reaching past my abilities, but rather an unavoidable circumstance that had little to do with my fitness and more to do with acclimation.

Still, I had too many miles to go to focus on all this. I had to just keep knocking out the miles and hope something turned around, that my body would recover, that I would get that second wind. In the moment though, I was merely aware that my legs felt weak, my heart rate too high and I had a loooong ways to go in this condition. I honestly wasn’t convinced I was going to make it like this. Then soon thereafter I heard my coach’s voice from the sidewalk as I ran back towards the city. “What’s it going to be today Scott?” My ambitions still far above my physical state at this point, I took the tone in his voice more to say tauntingly, “Are you going to race today or just have yourself a little jog?”, when what I discovered later was that he was really asking me, “Do you want to keep going in this mess or drop out and save yourself for another time?” In all honesty, if I had understood him correctly in the moment, that would have been the final nail. I’m convinced I would have stopped running…and that might not have been the worst idea. He was looking out for my longevity, keeping me from destroying my body too much during an attempt that was getting worse and worse. Stubborn headed as I am, I decided to keep going. Specifically, my response to his questioning was, “I don’t know yet.” Meaning, I’m still waiting for things to turn around.

Oddly enough, although I felt like total hell, I still wasn’t in terrible shape in the race. Jesse was less than a minute ahead of me and I was still holding to 5:30 minute miles, though it felt like I was going 6:00 per mile. Unfortunately, as I went through a couple more miles I found myself continuously running alone. Every once in awhile I would pass another runner who had fallen off pace or get passed by a stronger competitor, but most of the time I was in this effort alone. No one whose pace I could hang on to. After awhile this got real old. I desperately tried to ignore the number of miles laying ahead of me and in hindsight it does seem like I’ve completely forgotten most of miles 16 – 20. I only remember a couple points along the way where I felt so uninspired with my speed and the distance left that I made concerted efforts to start pushing again. There were a couple times where stronger runners passed me and I decided to see if speeding up might help, might snap me out of my fatigued comfort zone. Surprisingly, when a runner passed, I found the strength to go with them and was able to summon energy in my legs that I didn’t think I had. I felt light and strong, but then the inevitable would happen and my heart rate would begin climbing, my breath labored and noisy and I would feel my body working hard, too hard to bring me back down to a more manageable pace. This was so frustrating, for normally it wasn’t my heart rate that was the problem, it was my legs. They would get heavy and tired from the beating, but this time it was the opposite, which really meant one thing. The heat. I know how my body reacts in differing conditions and when it gets hot, things get ugly. It doesn’t matter that my legs have more strength in them. It doesn’t matter that I have more will to run fast and long. As soon as I start to make the attempt it’s like I can’t get in enough oxygen or my body starts to work too hard to keep my core temperature down and everything cascades at once until I ease up. And this is what happened again and again as I tried desperately to kick start my systems.

And the race wasn’t over. I still had a good 10k to go, the point where most runners start REALLY competing when the conditions are favorable. I, however, found myself seriously worried. I passed more and more runners who walked along the course, one of them with his arms draped over the shoulders of two volunteers to carried him up the road. Things had gotten real serious and I wasn’t getting any better. I ran at what felt like recovery pace into a fluid station around mile 21 and was passed by Desiree Davila, the first american runner and my favorite female runner. There wasn’t much consolation in the act as there was nothing left in me at the moment to use her as a pacer to the finish line. And then to add insult to injury I suddenly felt my legs tightening up like it was the home stretch…not mile 21. I tried to fight it off, but I found myself looking for a spot ahead that wasn’t lined with spectators. A few more painful strides and I stepped to the side…and stopped. Not walked. Stopped. My right hamstring had tightened up and I couldn’t go any further on it. I felt the hot sun beating down on me at the side of the road and I started to stretch it, just for a few seconds. I couldn’t bear to drop out of the race, so I tenderly started up again to see if that helped and to my surprise I was able to keep going without restriction.

Maybe that quick relief sparked something in me or maybe it was the awareness that I really wasn’t that far from the finish line now, but I felt rejuvenated enough to start running without the fear that I wasn’t going to make it. I wasn’t breaking any personal records by any means, but I did find the drive to pick up the pace into mile 23 and make the turn down the final agonizingly long stretch to the finish line. Just to my left I heard a friend yelling at me as they rode their bike down the sidewalk. It was good to have them there and I tried to keep pace along the way. Then just a little farther I heard my coach push me on, “Make this a race! Pick as many off as you can, the distance will take care of itself!” I wanted to follow his advice, but not only was my breathing going erratic, but the expected pain that engulfs your legs in the end started to make itself known. Still, with such a short distance to go I looked ahead at the string of runners and used them to pull me forward. I ran without concern of failure now, my face advertising the pain inside. Slowly, but surely, I caught one runner, then another. A string ahead continued to move with as much force as me and I struggled to get any more, then suddenly I saw the turn that lead up the bridge to the finish. I rounded the corner hoping my legs had enough to stay upright and started up the hill, only to find that one of the lead women I ran with earlier had fallen off and I was gaining on the uphill. I used her as another anchor and made slow, painful ground on the uphill. We crested the top and started the refreshing decline towards the last turn and final straight away.

I took the turn with force and put in a final kick to pass her down the stretch, and at the same time finding the ability to catch one more runner as I ran towards the banner and final time clock. When I was close enough to catch a glance I looked up to see my time, 2:28 and change. I was a little taken aback as I thought I was well into the 2:30’s. I pushed through the final stretch of pavement and slowed myself to a stop past the last timing mats. The clock read 2:28:24 and my suffering was over.

I had an influx of emotions hit me as I walked away from the line. There was that sense of relief that it was all over, the pain of the effort was subsiding and the accomplishment was flooding in. Then there was the exhaustion and fatigue that consumed my body, compelling me to lay down until someone carried me away. I bent over and held to my knees, waving away medics that came to my side. I stood up and covered my face with my hands, unable to process whether I was emotionally crushed, physically broken or mentally exhausted. It might have been all of those at once, but after coming to my senses and becoming aware that I finished and survived, that sense of post-marathon euphoria took over. I walked down the long finish area with a couple other runners as we discussed our runs and how difficult it was that day, disappointed to a degree, but more excited and joyous to have it all said and done without complete failure.

Like I said, I was quite shocked that I came through at 2:28:24 considering how slow I felt through the second half of the race. Granted, I went through the half at 1:10 and change, but things got so bad after that I honestly thought I was running in the high 2:30’s. I must have been holding on a little tighter than I perceived and I’m glad I salvaged the run considering the conditions, and also came out of it significantly stronger than I was feeling last year. Two days later and although the post-marathon, car-crash-esque pain and tightness has settled in, it isn’t nearly as bad as last year. I’m able to walk with ease and should recover much quicker with less lasting injury than before.

And this race isn’t over. 2:28:24 is almost a full 2 1/2 minutes slower than my race last year, but I don’t find that reason for concern for a couple of obvious reasons. First off, considering the conditions, I don’t believe that time is indicative of my fitness. I am a stronger and faster runner at this distance, but just didn’t have the conditions to prove it. I proved it in some of my workouts leading up to this race, but as my coach assured me, “Today is not the day.” That time was not of my own making. Further, I do believe I could have run a PR that day despite the weather, but that would have involved running a much more tactical race. I however, was not running for a tactical PR. I was running for a Trials qualifier, which demanded a significant stretch of effort and a fast 1st half. I knew that if things didn’t go as I hoped, that the initial half effort was going to tax me hard, but I hoped that even if the effort was too much that I would come in around 2:21. What I didn’t count on was the difficulty of the first half coupled with the increasingly troublesome heat during the second. It was inevitable that I was going to blow up. But I went for it. I went with my heart, threw reservation to the wind and hoped the chips would fall in my favor. I don’t regret doing it, despite my less than stellar finishing time. With that effort I now have that much more experience, that much more knowledge of what the effort feels like, what happens in a pack that size and speed, and what I need to do get there and stay there next time around.

I’m not done by any means. The Trials qualifier doesn’t feel any further away from me than it did before this race and I actually feel more confident I can get there now. I know what extra I can add to my training and know what to look for in the race. This effort is far from over. I’ve got two more chances, one in the spring and one in the fall to do this. Right now, I’ll be relaxing and letting my body recover from the effort and then discussing our next move with the coach.

So no, on one hand I didn’t do anything amazing this past Sunday, but looked at in another light (preferably one behind the clouds and somewhere hovering in the 40’s) I still pulled off quite a feat that I can’t feel disappointed about. This is one more step toward my goals, one more step to another level and I feel fortunate and grateful to still be able to make the attempt. 26.2 miles down. 26.2 miles to go.