Monday, June 6, 2011

2011 Key Bank Vermont City Marathon: Race Report

EDIT: 5/8/2012  Nearly a year has passed since I ran my first (and last, for a while) marathon.  This past weekend, I completed my first Tough Mudder event and found that my marathon experience helped me immensely during the event. With the 2012 KBVCM coming up later this month (and a new blog post about the Tough Mudder forthcoming), I thought it was appropriate to blast down memory lane and revisit that experience again.


I am not a morning person.  I loathe getting up early and this morning was no different.  While I was excited to race, I was equally excited to just have it over and move on.  I had stuck with my training, nailed the majority of my runs, maintained my overall fitness level and weight, dialed my diet in to coincide with my activity level and the unusual demands of running ridiculous distances, and managed to avoid illness and any real injury dating back to January 2011.  Sure there were aches and pains, sniffles and 'stomach upset,' but nothing that dictated a break in training.

Memorial Day Weekend in Vermont is typically marked by one of two things.  Cold, rainy weather or hot, sunny weather. I ran all winter and spring in the cold (and, occasionally, the rain) and that worked great for me.  I do not typically fare well in even moderate heat and will run in shorts and a tank-top down into the low 40s and be comfortable.  It was with great disdain that I saw the race-day forecast with a projected low of 68 and a high of 83 and cut-it-with-a-knife humidity.  The last time I did a run longer than 8 miles with temps in the upper 60s or warmer was probably last August (and it sucked).

We drove down into Burlington shortly before 7AM through pouring rain that subsided before we hit the parking garage about a quarter mile from the starting area at Battery Park.  The air was a little cooler than had been predicted, but the steady rain overnight guaranteed a humid day.  I was glad to have gotten down to the starting area early enough to get to bag check & the portolets before any significant lines developed and got out and did my normal warm-up in plenty of time to take cover under a tree as the rain started up again.

Being a technology-loving runner, I had my Droid running iMapMyRun and RunKeeper (via GPS), a chest-strap heart-rate monitor (HRM) that also reported (poorly) my pace, and my Nike+/iTouch combination. I started my Droid gizmos running about 5 minutes before the race started (both those programs allow for time & route corrections after the workout is complete) and started the Nike+ when the horn sounded and my stopwatch/HRM when I crossed the timing stripe.

2011-MAY-29 RunKeeper Map & Stats
2011-MAY-29 Nike+ Graph (pacing off, crapped out around mile 20)

Mile 1: Anticipation.  
I was starting off running with the 3:30 pacing group.  I knew the pacer's plan was to go out at around 8:30 for the first mile and settle in from there.  This enabled me to not get caught up in the adrenaline of the moment and burst out with a 7:20 first mile.  Running down the streets of Burlington, chatting with fellow runners was an absolute rush... and the cotton-mouth I had for the first half mile was awful!

Mile 2: Belief.
The first mile ticked by in the blink of an eye.  I was having a great time and just settling in with the pack.  I had made the decision at the start to keep my headphones tucked away for a while and just enjoy the moment.  Looking forward, it looked like there were thousands of people in front of us, but considering where we started, the larger crowd was in pursuit.

Mile 3: Church Street
For those who don't know the area, Church Street is a bricked-over pedestrian-only section of Burlington that is really the heart of downtown.  The crowds here were packed along each side and the rush of adrenaline that provided was amazing.  Holding *down* to the 8:00 pace was challenging here!

Mile 4: Descent
The next section after downtown took us out on a barren section of highway known as The Beltline through a swampy wetland known as "The Intervale."  Before I ran this, I would have told you it's a flat out & back.  Having run it, I can tell you that there's a moderate downhill run before the road levels off, but for not as long as expected!

Mile 5: Easy
Still running on flat ground on the beltline and easily running with the group.  I've hooked up with a coworker who was hoping to beat his 3:42 PR.  During this mile, we start seeing the lead runners coming back down the road.  Unlike our group, they do not look like they're running Easy.

Mile 6: Foresight
My initial race plan was to run with the pacers until around mile 6 and then try to advance my pace slightly to hit the halfway mark at 1:44.  I knew the day was hotter than ideal and it felt like it would be a really dumb move to start pushing now and lose the support group I'd fallen in with.  My full-race plan moved from running two 1:44s to sticking with the 3:30 group until we hit the bikepath around mile 22 and try to either pick up a bit of time in that last stretch or burst in the last 0.2 mile to come in under my 3:30 goal

Mile 7: Greetings!
One of the (possibly the ONLY) nice things about the beltline is that, if you're paying attention, you get to see other people you know running on the out & back.  There were some good high 5s and shout-outs to & from the plethora of people I passed on this stretch.  It definitely helps the bleak, fan-deprived landscape drift by faster when you keep seeing friendly faces going the other way.

Mile 8: Hydration
I carried 24oz of Accelerade out on the course with me and my plan was to ignore it until mile 15 and use every third in-race aid stations.  As the warmth of day began increasing, I started being a little more diligent about hitting every other station.  My schedule was also to use 3 of my Clif Bloks every 4 miles (or there abouts) to coincide with my arrival at one of the stations, so while this did slightly mess up that plan, it meant that I was able to keep a relatively stead stream of fluid coming IN to replenish the fluid I was sweating out.

Mile 9: Incline
The departure from the beltline requires running back up the slope we descended nearly 5 miles ago.  Our pace leader indicated that this was likely to be our slowest mile as dictated by the pacing chart he was following.  The grade of this hill wasn't all that bad, but it was fairly long and relentless. Looking back, this is the first time in the run that I felt like I had to put forth any effort.  It wasn't a lot and there was a long downhill section coming.  My HRM was showing me running a little 'hotter' than I wanted to be, but not by much and my perceived effort was still fairly low, so it wasn't until several miles later that I even bothered to check it again.

Mile 10: Jeopardy
The course now began retracing part of its route back across the start line and down Church St., further descending Main St. before turning onto Pine St.  The charge of the crowd on Church St. was once again exhilarating and the steady descent that would continue through this mile and the next would prove to deliver false confidence in my physical condition and not only seal the fate of 3:30, but would seriously threaten the B-goal of sub 4:00.  Mile 10 was the first official check point and I crossed in at 1:19:48, 12 seconds under the "perfect" 8:00 pace for a 3:30 marathon.

Mile 11: Kryptonite
The first half of the 11th mile continued to be the easy effort run the previous 10 had been.  The first half of the 11th mile was also still slightly downhill.  As we set about moving to a very slight uphill, the sun started to come up and suddenly things started feeling difficult.  I still could keep up with the 3:30 group, but it would have involved effort and, not even being at the halfway point, I backed off and let them go.  My HRM showed I was pushing too hard and my plan was to back off to point where I was running back in my safe zone.  The problem was, the slow-down in pace wasn't achieving an appreciable drop in heart rate and I started to feel the first twinges of exertion coming from my quads.  Ironically, this was almost the same exact spot of road I had the same problem a few months in the past, but running the OTHER direction and at about mile 14 and 2h10m into the run, not mile 11 and 1h30m into the run.

Mile 12: Lactate
Here's a short physiology lesson.  During times of strenuous exercise, excess lactate is produced within muscles.  If it is produced faster than the body can process it, it accumulates in the form of lactic acid and causes muscle fatigue.  When racing, pushing beyond the lactate threshold between production and elimination is a bad thing and that's what I ran smack into at mile 12.  At this point, I haven't even reached the halfway point of the run and in the past 2 miles I've gone from feeling awesome to feeling like I was on mile 22, not mile 12.  This was not part of the race plan for the day!

Mile 13: Miserable
The race plan was to get through the first half as a nice, easy effort run, then take evaluate how to handle the next 10k, and finally how to tackle the final 10k.  The only problem with that plan is that it kinda falls apart when you enter the last mile before hitting the halfway point taking walking breaks.  The 3:30 group was a distant memory at this point and I was desperately trying to come up with a plan for salvaging a competitive time.  I couldn't find a pace to run at that felt comfortable or sustainable.  Walking felt fine, but I wasn't about to walk 14 miles to the finish.  My biggest fear was a "DNF" and I knew that pushing this early on in the race on a day where there were warnings posted about the heat/weather that I hadn't trained in brought that result into play.  My mind wanted to go.  My legs wanted to go nowhere.

Mile 14: Nutrition
In spite of the challenges I was having, I still knew I had a finish in me... somewhere, somehow, it was in there.  I spent a lot of time tweaking my diet throughout my training to ensure I was properly prepared to run. I brought a LOT of nutrition out on the course with me, probably close to 1500 Kcal between my Accelerade and the Clif Shot Bloks packed into my belt.  It's rare for a properly prepared runner to completely blow out their glycogen reserves during a race, but it's not uncommon to reach a point where the amount of glycogen being liberated from reserves fails to meet the body's demand for energy.  The resulting drop in blood sugar gives the brain a trigger to induce a fatigue response to bring the body's activity level down to a point where equilibrium is restored.  To an extent, taking energy gels temporarily 'fixes' this problem by giving the body a relatively quick shot of nutrition which in turn increases blood sugar (causing the brain to release the reins a bit and allow activity levels to increase) and providing fuel.  Between what was in my body and what was on my body, I knew I had the fuel to get to the end.  All I needed was the will.

Mile 15: Overtaken
Between mile 11 & 12, I let the 3:30 group run away from me.  Now, 4 miles later, I was overtaken, swallowed up, and promptly spit out by the 3:45 group.  In the span of about half a hour, I had lost 15 minutes of finish time.  The run back up the bikepath into the City is mostly barren, running behind old industrial plants and next to railroad tracks and chain link fence infested with claustrophobia-inducing greenery.  The heat and humidity and lack of airflow in some of these sections boarded on nauseating and I continued to find some sort of pacing strategy that would allow for reasonable progress.

Mile 16: Pride
Initially, I labeled Mile 16 as Pain.  It seemed fitting, but it could really show up anywhere after Mile 10 (and frequently did).  Mile 16 was the steepest hill of the run: Battery Street.  I was still trying to figure out a good strategy for finishing sub-4h and, before the race, I had been supremely confident that I would chug up Battery Street like I've chugged up Sand Hill and Skunk Hollow numerous times during my training.  One of my lessons learned last year during the Race to the Top of Vermont was that there comes a point where you're running so slowly that you would truly be better off walking.  Getting to that point on Battery Street was a very tough realization, but at the same time it was oddly liberating to make the intelligent decision and keep the big picture in mind vs. the much more meaningless ego boost of "running" the entirety of the Battery Street hill.

Mile 17: Quitting
On my way out North Ave., I ran across Master Blake, a Personal Trainer, Tae Kwon Do black belt, and friend who was volunteering for the event.  I slowed to a walk to chat with him for a bit.  I don't recall much of what we talked about, but just seeing a friendly face and getting some words of encouragement from Lloyd really boosted my spirits.  As I picked up my run again and set off down North Ave feeling better about myself, I realized that not once had the thought of "quitting" even entered my mind.  Sure, I had concerns about running myself into a DNF, but as awful as this race was going, I was in it for the distance.

Mile 18: Revuvenated
Fortunately, the last 10 miles of this race were mostly flat or downhill.  Between miles 17 & 18, I finally found a good running pace that could be sustained for a good portion of a mile before I'd slow to a walk for a few minutes.  The strategy was mostly keeping me under 10 minute miles and made me feel like I had a little pop back in my step to the point where I found myself having to dial back the run intensity a bit to keep from blowing the strategy out the door.  At the end of Mile 18, I knew I was 8 miles from the finish and for whatever reason, that was the magic number in my head that said, "You've got this.  All you have to do is wrap it up!"

Mile 19: Smile :)
One thing that eluded me for the past 8 miles or so was enjoyment.  Toward the end of Mile 18, the route started taking us through some of the neighborhoods of the New North End of Burlington.  The Race organizers had set up water stations about every 2 miles, but running through these neighborhoods, there were countless families set up with Fla-vor-ice, watermelon, oranges, water, Gatorade, hoses, sprinklers, drums, music, and signs, cheering and encouraging the runners.  Once thing I'd missed while struggling was any reasonable interaction with the crowd, by my natural self is the comedian and as I took opportunities to ham it up with the locals, it really did help make these few miles slip by.

Mile 20: Toenail
It was in this section of the run that I became aware of the fact that the big toenail (the captain!) on my left foot was sore in a way it had never been sore before.  Upon removing my sock hours later, the bluish discoloration forming under the toenail was an indication that the effects of this race would be with me for weeks after the muscle soreness had faded as I am almost surely going to lose the toenail.

Mile 21: United!
Coming out of the neighborhoods, I caught up with a few guys who had just started a rest-walk at the same time and slowed down to join them.  One was also a first time marathoner and both had, like me, started in the 3:30 pack when the race started.  So here we sat (or walked), united a good 20 minutes adrift of that group, making our own race and trying to get to 26.2 any way we could.

Mile 22: Verve
Despite being a pretty dull stretch of road this mile was the last one before hitting the Burlington Bike path that marked the turn-around point and the run to the finish.  The Bike Path was my mental "final stretch" and getting to that point was as good as getting the finish in my mind.  Get to the bike path and it's a short run to the finish.

Mile 23: Wisdom
The best part of the last 2 hours of this run came as I turned onto the bike path, not so much for the mental release of getting there, but from the blast of COLD air I got to run through for a few minutes that must have been a combined effect of coming into a shaded area that was getting ventilated with cool air off the lake.  As good as it felt, I needed to keep everything in check and maintain the good run/walk strategy that was allowing me to feel [somewhat] peppy.  It was truly remarkable how in the span of 10 seconds or less how you can go from feeling like, "I could run like this all day!" to "If I run another 5 steps like this, I'm going to crumple in a heap in the middle of this path and not move for about eight days."  Keeping it between those every-narrowing boundaries became the challenge for the final four mile stretch.

Mile 24: X
Okay, I'm waiving the white flag instead of forcing a good word for "X."  In a way, though, the letter itself says more than any of the x-words I pondered.  In the world of mathematics, X represents the unknown, that which the student pursues to find the elusive answer.  In traditional lore, an X marks the spot where something of value can be found.  Also, in those olde time cartoons, the cartoonists would replace eyes with X X to signify death and would emblazon XXXX on things that could kill you.  Passing my some of the human carnage (and like some of the soon-to-be carnage), I think a simple "X" is a rather suitable entry for Mile 24!

Mile 25: Yearning
Any reader who's stuck with this report for this long knows in a literary sense what it's like to be this close to the end of a marathon and to want nothing more than for it to just. simply. be. over! Every 2 miles, there's an official clock that has the current gun-time of the race.  I know that all I need to do to be under 4h is come in with two 10:00 miles which is about what I've been mustering for the past 6 miles or so.  In about 20 minutes, it'll all be over!

Mile 26: Zealous
Walking out of the last aid station, I caught the sign of the 4:00 pacer over my right shoulder.  Hell no.  This last stretch was all-run.  No more run/walk.  I can walk (hopefully) tomorrow.  And off I ran, down the last stretch of bike path toward the finish line.  The fans had peeled back and we ran through a no-man's-land between the neighborhoods along the bike path and the crowd gathered on the waterfront at the finish line.  I ran by at least one person who looked like they were going to make it 25.x miles into a marathon without crossing the line at 26.2.  I kept telling myself, "Just keep putting one foot in front of the other."

The Last 0.2 Mile (Now I know my ABCs, next time won't you run with me?)
I don't care that going all-out in the last few hundred meters isn't going to make a substantial difference in my time.  The finish line is that one place where you put everything into the furnace that's left and just go.  I was glad to still have enough for that last burst.  I got a good chuckle running past the Coast Guard station where 4 months ago I willingly ran into and submerged myself in 33F water as part the VT Special Olympic's Penguin Plunge fundraiser.  The weather was slightly different today!  The transition from bike path to turf that had been trampled by over a thousand runners make that last stretch challenging, but I was already running hard and just hammering toward the finish line.

Other than sucking down a pint of water in no time, the only truly remarkable experience post-finish was that I got asthmatic for about 20 seconds, something that never happens to me.  I had already planted myself near the medical tent "just in case" anything wonky happened and it was a really weird feeling and I was pretty glad when it passed on its own.

I felt pretty decent (all things considered) the rest of the day and was quad-sore on Monday.  As I expected, Tuesday was the worst day of the recovery with my quads being very sore and hamstrings tightening, likely in response to me walking funny due to the sore quads and trying to not put any weight on my left big toe.  Wednesday I did a light Kettlebell workout and pretty much took the rest of the week off, save for a little bit of walking with the family.  I'm looking forward to getting back into the swing of normal workouts and resuming my 'normal' diet as well.

Regarding the, "I'm not training for/running another marathon anytime soon!" perspective I had going in to this race, many people suggested that my position would change after I did one.  Now, having done one, I can categorically say, "I'm not training for/running another marathon anytime soon!"