Disclaimer: My dad and I decided to run a marathon as a training exercise, so this wasn’t an official race. We used the course of the local Lake Lowell marathon, hence the name of this “race”: the Fake Lowell marathon.
As the weekend of the marathon approached, I lost literally all confidence. My IT band had been giving me pain as I approached taper, and I was worried that I would be running (or trying to run) 23 miles of the marathon in pain. And I was worried that even if my knee felt wonderful during the run, I still wouldn’t be able to perform well. After all, my legs were aching pretty badly at the end of my 20 mile runs. How could I possibly run a full 10k farther? My marathon was probably going to be over 45 minutes longer than my longest training run. How was I going to keep running for 45 more minutes?! These seemed like fairly typical first marathon fears, so I tried (with limited success) to use the logical part of my brain to shut down those fears. Still, I was a pile of negatively all week. I wanted to go into this race feeling positive and excited—the way I had honestly felt through most of my training. Instead, I found myself struggling to keep from drowning in negative thoughts.
Rob and I drove up to Nampa early on Friday morning. I wanted to get there with some time to relax, so we were on the road by 6:30am. We did our traditional road trip breakfast at McDonald’s and then stopped for supplies and gas at Burley.
We made it to Nampa right around noon, and after sitting around a bit, my Dad and I drove over to Lake Lowell to check out the course. Earlier that week, he had gone out and painted (small!) mile markers on the side of the course so that we’d have a general idea where we were. We also planned to borrow my brother-in-law’s Garmin in case our mile markers were a little off. It turns out, he did a scary good job. The markers were almost completely spot on. I don’t think any of them were more than a few hundredths of a mile off. The weather was a bit spotty during this. It was rainy, overcast, and pretty chilly. However, it was supposed to clear up the next day.
After checking out the course, I headed to my sister’s house to babysit her kids so she and her husband could go for a run together. Her four little monsters were on their best behavior, and we were just watching a movie. However, even with that, I could not believe how much work four kids was. Even when they were behaving perfectly, I was always getting up to do something—refill the chocolate milk, free the one-year-old’s leg when it got stuck in the baby bouncer, jiggle the infant when she started to get antsy, etc. I’m pretty sure that by the time my sister got back, the three-year-old was in the baby’s rocking swing, I was holding the baby and snuggling my oldest niece, and my little monster nephew was climbing in and out of the baby bouncer over and over again. Still, though, it was great to see the kids again. They are all total sweethearts, and I don’t get to see them often enough.
Because my mom was sick this weekend with a nasty case of pneumonia and pleurisy (she was quick to inform us that Ben Franklin died of pleurisy!), Rob was in charge of dinner. He made some spaghetti and salad, and we carbo-loaded for the big day. My appetite had been weak right after my car was stolen, but fortunately, the week or so before the race, it picked up again, and I feel like I ate enough to fuel myself. I got to bed quite early—probably around 9:30pm—and actually slept pretty well, considering I was sleeping on the same bed I slept on from ages 3 to 18.
Really, by this time, I was getting over the negative thoughts I had struggled with the previous week. My knee had been feeling fairly strong, and I had bought a new pair of compression tights that were designed to support hips and knees. I was doing a good job taking to heart all the comments that taking a week off would not hurt my fitness. I was eating better and sleeping better, even if the stress of the past month was still wearing on me. So when I woke up the next morning, I was certainly nervous, but I wasn’t the ball of negativity I’d been recently.
I tried to hydrate with a full bottle of water early on so I would be hydrated but not need to stop at the bathroom partway through the race… considering this was not an official race, “stopping at the bathroom” was likely to mean “squatting on the side of the road.” And I ate quite a bit, too. I was careful to eat very similarly (both in what I ate and how much) to what I’d eaten before my long runs during training. After all, as my high school coach used to tell us, “no new is good new.” After sitting around a bit, we packed up the car with all our supplies and headed towards the course with Rob.
At the course, we met up with my little sister Laura. The plan was for Rob and Laura to drive the course along with us and stop every two miles or so to give us nutrition, hydration, medicine, or whatever else we needed. They were both wonderful volunteers, and I’m incredibly lucky that I have a weird, wonderful support system that is willing (and happy!) to do this kind of thing for me. We got to the lake, and the weather was perfect. Absolutely stunning. The sky was bluer than I’ve seen it in months, and the wind had calmed down considerably since the day before. There was a breeze, but that’s to be expected whenever you are around water. After posing for a million pictures that my sister insisted we take, we started around 9:45am.
Miles 1-4 (8:10, 8:21, 8:26, 8:18)
My dad and I actually planned to start out slower than usual (about an 8:30/mile pace) to avoid crashing and feeling terrible. It was, after all, not a real race and not worth killing ourselves over. SPOILER ALERT: This tactic failed miserably. The start of the race was a gradual downhill. My dad and I held back, but we still finished the mile a bit faster than planned. We pulled it back, though, and ended up hitting much more conservative paces throughout the first few miles. It was a beautiful day, and we were just a few miles in when I took off my extra t-shirt and headband and was running in just my capri compression tights and a long-sleeve dry fit. Looking back, it was sunny enough that I could have (and maybe should have) run the race in a t-shirt instead of a long sleeve shirt. I felt the presence of my IT band almost immediately—just barely, and I was very sensitive to noticing it because I was worried about it. However, after a few miles, it started to hurt a bit… actually, both of them started to hurt a bit. I knew that during training, I had started some runs with knee pain which had disappeared during the later miles of the run. This pain felt more like that than the very painful runs I had later on, so I still felt pretty positive about my body holding up.
Miles 5-8 (10:03, 7:58, 8:36, 8:29)
My dad was hit with a sudden urge to use the bathroom. Serendipitously, just as we crested a hill, we noticed a port-a-potty at a construction site. My dad asked if he could use it and popped in for a moment. That’s why mile 5 is slower than usual. In a combination between a slight downhill and an over-zealous attempt to make up some of the time, we ran the next mile more quickly than planned before pulling back and hitting a more reasonable pace for the next few. Throughout miles 5 and 6, I noticed that my hip flexor was feeling some pain. I had hip flexor pain during one of my long runs, but not through most of my training cycle. However, as we continued on, both the hip flexor pain and the IT band pain mostly disappeared. We both felt good during these miles. We fueled and hydrated relatively well through the aid stations, and my dad started carrying a water bottle with him that we would drink from. This section took us over the dam, and I remember being struck by how smooth the water was and how beautiful the view was. Lake Lowell is kind of a joke around Nampa. It’s routinely described in all sorts of unsavory ways that highlight its uncleanliness. I haven’t gone swimming in it since I was a kid, but when you are running around it, it’s absolutely beautiful.
Miles 9-12 (8:21, 8:29, 8:12, 8:23)
We entered the flattest portion of the race here. Not only that, but we had a slight tailwind as well. This section doesn’t stand out as much as the others, probably because it was going generically well. We were pretty much right on pace. I believe I forgot to take my gel blocks during one mile where I planned on it, but I was carrying them with me, so I took them once I remembered. My dad was fueling better than I was through this section. I was doing a fine job, but I probably should have stuffed a little more down my throat. Having a running partner was great during this stretch of lonely road. The Lake Lowell Marathon is a pretty small race, and I imagine this portion of the course is very lonely for a lot of marathoners during the real event.
Miles 13-16 (8:11, 8:25, 8:57, 8:50)
When we turned around, I still felt strong. However, miles 11.5-14.5 was also the longest period without a traveling aid station, and by the time we reached Rob and Laura again, I think we were both feeling it a bit. When we turned around, we were running into a slight headwind. While the cooling effect was nice, it did make running a bit more difficult. I was surprised how fast I went from feeling just fine to struggling. We were right around Mile 14 when I started to think I might be a little more tired that I should be. I didn’t say anything yet, though, and I tried to keep thinking positively and hoped for a second wind. By the time we hit mile 16, I voiced my pain. “Dad, I’m flagging.” As usual, he was very encouraging and suggested that I’d feel better after we got back over the dam and were on the way home.
Miles 17-20 (8:29, 8:43, 10:25, 11:53)
Unfortunately, that turned out to not be the case. I held on for a couple more hard miles before I had to start walking. This was incredibly frustrating because both of my 20 mile runs were done at a much faster pace than we had taken the first 16ish miles of the marathon, but I felt just as bad 16 miles in as I did after my 20 mile long runs. That wasn’t how this was supposed to work. I was supposed to be able to trust in my training and trust in my taper to produce a decent race. My dad kept giving me points that we would run to, and he helped keep our pace a run/walk instead of a walk/run. The last couple of miles were pretty dreary because I was going so slowly and was still so far from being done. I also felt a bit guilty—like I had roped my dad into this whole marathon thing only to end up holding him back.
Miles 21-24 (10:05, 10:34, 10:54, 9:55)
I did manage to keep a good attitude during the race, even while I was struggling so badly. I tried to look deep into myself and see if I was wimping out, if I could keep running but just didn’t want to. But I truly think I was running at capacity. I did not feel well. When we stopped to walk I would stumble. I felt a little dizzy. I could feel my lips beginning to numb. These aren’t completely abnormal occurrences for me. I was, perhaps, a little dehydrated, but I wasn’t about to die. But it was enough that I knew I was working hard and giving it all. I just couldn’t understand how I had so little to give. Again, my dad and our traveling aid stations were great encouragements during these miles. All three of them encouraged me to keep drinking and fueling. I still think Rob and Laura thought I was more dehydrated than I was, but encouragement to drink more water is never a bad thing.
Miles 25-26.2 (10:22, 12:15, 2:13)
Almost done now. At this point, I was discouraged. I knew that I wouldn’t even break four hours. The frustration didn’t hit me while I was still running, though. I just kept moving (incredibly slowly). Finally… finally.,. we climbed the final hill and finished. 4:02:12. Worse than any of my training runs would have predicted by far. And absolutely nothing to blame it on.
So… what happened?
I really don’t know. I’ve thought about it, whined about, and talked about it to anyone who would listen (and who already knew about it because there’s no way I was telling anyone else about my failure!). I’ve got a few ideas, but nothing seems to fully explain how I can go from a 20 mile run at an 8:11/mile pace to a marathon of over four hours. These are all just random ideas—things I never would have even considered had I not been trying to figure how I had run so, so poorly.
- Hydration—Rob and Laura were pretty convinced that I was dehydrated. And I probably didn’t drink quite as much as I should have. However, I was drinking and eating the same way I did during all my long runs. In fact, I made a conscious effort to eat and drink a little more than I had previously. Additionally (TMI alert), empirical evidence post-marathon suggested that I was not more dehydrated than I typically am after long runs.
- Not running for a week—Because of my IT band pain, I didn’t run the final week before the marathon. I also cut my 15 mile run short. All I heard from people before the race was that I wouldn’t lose fitness in a week. But maybe I did?
- Heat—There wasn’t heat to speak of. The weather was perfect—sunny and slightly cool. However, I wore a long sleeve dry fit shirt. I felt just a tad warm during certain points in the run. Maybe if I had been wearing a t-shirt I would have been a little cooler which would have helped me.
- Compression tights—Typically, I operate on the “no good is new good” mantra I mentioned above. But because of my knee, I broke that cardinal rule to wear compression tights that are supposed to be good for IT bands. Maybe these tights did their job and stimulated different muscles—muscles that weren’t quite in the shape that they should be because I’ve been relying too much on my IT bands.
- Training—Obviously, my training wasn’t perfect. One of the major criticisms of the Run Less, Run Faster program I was using is the claim that it doesn’t do enough to build aerobic endurance with long, slow runs. This could certainly be part of the problem, but it doesn’t seem to offer a complete explanation. Even if my training plan was a huge problem, I should have still been able to manage the same type of performance I had during training, even if I bonked hard at mile 21 or 22.
- Stress—I don’t deal with stress all that well. I’ve gotten much better as I’ve grown older, but it’s not my forte. Specifically, I’ve learned coping mechanisms that help keep me from catastrophe-mode, but I’m still pretty lost if I do happen to make it there. I have a hard time functioning and a hard time pulling myself out. My car and bike getting stolen this month threw me right into panic mode, and I was struggling to deal with that. I wonder if the stress wore me down enough that I just didn’t have it in me to run a good race.
I spent the next day or so extremely discouraged. (Don’t worry—I’ve now graduated to just regular discouraged.) My family was very encouraging, as was Rob, which helped. Coming from an athletic family means my family understands that athletic disappointment can cut pretty deep. I’m not sure if Rob was coming from the same point of view (he did play sports in high school) or if he was just being the steadfast support that he always is.
I did a lot of questioning in the 24 hours after the race. I think I even asked Rob and my dad out loud why I should train at all if it’s all just a toss of the dice anyway. It seemed like another example of doing everything right only to have it somehow go incredibly wrong. I realize this sounds a little silly and is likely making you question my priorities at best and sanity at worst. And I understand it is silly. It is dramatic. However, I’ve learned that if you are upset about something that seems silly, telling yourself it’s stupid to be upset doesn’t do any good. It’s better to figure out why something that seems so insignificant is bothering you so much.
In this case, I think it comes back to my complicated relationship with running. After failing so epically in college track, I kind of shut the door on running competitively. In fact, that’s literally why I got into triathlon. I wanted to do something active that I could train for, but I didn’t want to run. I was too slow. My times would be embarrassing. I wouldn’t be any good at it. As I worked through this marathon training cycle, that idea of myself as “slow” started to rework itself. I was running well. I was improving. I had some stellar (for me) long runs that were faster than I ever thought I could run. I started to think maybe I wasn’t slow after all. Maybe high school hadn’t been a fluke and I did have some talent at this whole running thing after all. It actually felt like I was getting a little part of myself back, like a little gift from the universe. Performing so far below my expectations in the marathon itself seemed to dash those rising hopes back to the ground and confirm my previous understanding of myself. I am slow. I don’t have talent for this running thing. It was stupid for me to sign up for an Ironman.
I wish I could end this post with some story about how a couple days later, I was hit with some beam of inspiration and, well, sanity and realized all these positive things about myself. But I can’t. I’m still disappointed. I’m still struggling not to let that disappointment affect my self-image too negatively. As I mentioned above, when I get into catastrophe-mode, I have a hard time pulling myself back out of it. I haven’t quite accomplished that yet this time around. I will—I always do eventually. And now that I’m 28 and not 20, it usually takes me a couple of stress-free weeks instead of a couple of years.
It’s onwards and upwards to Ironman Coeur d’Alene now. The unfortunate result of running a marathon so far off from my training paces is that I feel the need for redemption. I may run a fall/winter marathon, but that’s a possibility that I am not going to seriously consider until after my Ironman. That’s my goal race. That’s why I trained for a marathon in the first place. And that’s where my focus will be from this point on.
Fake Lowell Marathon
Anyone else ever have an inexplicably crappy race? Any tips for putting it behind me so I can start to look forward?