Last Sunday the 22nd, I
ran my eighth marathon! shuffled my way through my eighth and WORST marathon yet! Thus follows a race report.
tl;dr I did a marathon, it sucked for me. I don’t know why it sucked, but I can make some guesses and learn from them. And I have cool teammates and friends.
Okay, here’s the full version.
FIRST, and let me get this out of the way immediately: the crapitude of this race has nothing to do with the race itself. The Yuengling Shamrock Marathon, part of a weekend of races in Virginia Beach, is exceedingly well-run. I was impressed with the level of communication between race directors (J & A Racing) and participants. Hell, they even have a speaker session during the expo giving you tips for the course. And they have a huge post-race festival with free beer and music. I would absolutely come back and do the half marathon sometime.
But the full is cursed.
I went in to this race with three goals:
- Process goal #1: Build my endurance base as a start of Ironman training.
- Process goal #2: Tweak my training slightly and see how it goes. Winter training meant shorter long runs. Plus, it’s hard to run fast when it’s really cold or you’re running through slush and ice. On the plus side, I was more diligent than ever about core and strength training. And I replaced most tempo runs with Missy Foy’s “secret weapon” workout. I wanted to see what kind of race this all resulted in.
- Time goal: to run my second-fastest marathon, which would mean something between 4:23 and 4:44.
Luckily, goal #1 was accomplished, thanks to diligence and the fun of running with my teammates from Team in Training Brooklyn. So at least there’s that.
But despite a perfectly pleasant wakeup, watching the sun rise over the Atlantic with a BG of 106, and feeling calm and ready to go at the start line, this race went off the rails real fast.
At mile 2, I noticed that my glutes felt kinda funny– a bit sore and stiff. Que raro, I thought, because that basically never happens. But I am definitely one of those people who needs a long warmup, so I chalked it up to typical first-few-miles stiffness and just ran by feel. I was distracted by the cutest band of cheerers ever– a Star Wars themed family with little kids in Ewok suits! Damn, did I wish I had my phone for pics.
Around mile 5, I felt loose and in control. I was slightly aghast to see that it had taken me an hour to go that far– definitely off pace. I linked up with a TNT coach on the sidelines and we ran together for a bit.
The course ends an out-and back portion at this point and enters a military base. I high-fived some servicemen and women lined up to cheer us on, as well Boy Scouts running an aid station. I thought I was going faster. I thought I could make up the time, especially given that the race directors had called this “a negative split course” (meaning the 2nd half is faster than the 1st).
But the next timer went by and, nope, still going the same pace. I pulled out my CGM receiver to check my blood sugar, and was horrified to see a 66. My low threshold was set for 60. Dammit, why hadn’t I changed it to 75 or 80 before the face? (Because I haven’t raced with a CGM in years and hey sometimes I’m forgetful, that’s why.) I clicked up my low alert and noticed that my blood sugar had been low-ish for the past couple miles, at least.
I had just eaten a fig. I ate three more to bring it back up and walked a bit. The food was sloshing around in my stomach. Ugh.
[Sidenote: Everybody does fuel differently for marathons. I mix Generation Ucan powder into water as a sports drink before a race or long run. Then I use a natural fuel, usually dates and figs (but sometimes Larabar or Fig Newtons in a pinch) while on the run, usually taking one date or a few bites of something every two miles starting around mile 6-7. This has worked in multiple past races.]
Mile 9…it had been 15 minutes since I ate the extra food. My blood sugar was still in the 70s. Even though this is within normal limits, I still felt a tiny bit lightheaded and worried that it wasn’t coming up. At the next aid station, I took a cup of Gatorade. This didn’t mix well in my stomach. Slosh. Slosh. Blergh.
Fortunately, I passed by the merry Star Wars crew again and waved hello.
By mile 11, my BG was in the 90s, where it at least was at the start. But my muscles were starting to tighten up again. It was as if I had run 16 miles instead of 11….slowly.
By mile 12, the tightness had progressed to honest-to-God cramps in……the tops of my feet. WTF?! Again, this never happens. Self! Get with the program! I walked and rolled my ankles around. I worried about my time….I hadn’t made up any time since the first 5-6 miles.
My buddy Louis was patiently waiting at the side of the road. Our half marathoner friends had finished a long time ago, and the other two marathoners had surely passed by 20-30 minutes ago. Poor Louis was supposed to run the full with us, but two weeks ago he was running to catch a bus and he tripped and sprained his ankle. UGH! Now he was here, waiting outside his hotel with his cane and his camera. It was a real boost of joy to see him!
Until I passed the 13.1 mile mark at roughly 2:30……
Yeah, I can TOTALLY take off one minute per mile for the rest of the race, I thought. I just need to concentrate and stay focused. Marathons are about running through pain, right?
Ahahahaa. My calves felt like they were being hit with hammers. I leaned against traffic cones to stretch….only to have the pain return moments after starting to run again. I slowed down. A dark sense settled over me. An athlete knows her body, and my body was starting to say: Your race is fucked. Or scream it, more likely.
I spent most of miles 14-15 trying not to cry.
At mile 17 or so, some kind soul saw me stretching by the side of the road and offered to stretch me out. I laid right down on the ground and he pushed around my legs to stretch my calves and hamstrings. Ahhh! Of course, he must have taken me for a total noob because he was giving me all sorts of instructions on fuel. “I’ve been doing this a while. You need to get some electrolytes in you at the next aid station, okay?” Buddy, I’ve been doing this for a while too. No matter how slow I’m going.
(Any other lady athletes out there have problems with mansplaining? It’s rare, but certainly not the first time.)
Of course, the flat-on-my-back moment only kept me loose for a half mile or so. The 5:00 hour pace group passed me. Another TNT coach trotted up alongside me– I was the last marathoner by far now– and said “You know, if you’re feeling bad, you don’t have to be a hero about this.”
It’s not being a hero. It’s finishing what I started. Can you back out of life because it’s hard sometimes? No. I wasn’t dying. My blood sugar was fine at this point. I wasn’t seriously compromising my health and safety. It’s called endurance racing for a reason……this was just going to be something that I had to endure rather than race.
This is what helped me endure for the next hour and a half:
- Pain ends.
- Adorable children running a water stop shouting “Goooo Caroline!”
- More adorable children dancing to live country music
- Free beer at the finish!
- Running near a person who was wearing the tackiest tights ever– a photo montage of Virginia Beach, shamrocks, and race photos that were being sold at the expo. The butt was plastered with pictures of dolphins and runners at the start line. We had goggled at them at the expo and I got to see them in the flesh!
- God, I rely on you for strength.
- Random snippets of songs on loop in my head, usually U2 or whatever Top 40 jam the DJs sprinkled throughout the course were playing
- Running for a half mile or so with a TNT person from Pennsylvania, who was out cheering for friends after finishing the half.
- And….James Bond:
This scene in Casino Royale- I don’t know how it popped into my head, but it did and I’m so grateful. Because– I am slightly embarrassed to admit this, but here goes– nothing helped more than envisioning some imaginary mafioso stalking me and flipping him off with, “I’ve got a little itch on my foot. Can you scratch it for me?”
Finally, finally, I turned onto the boardwalk. Expecting my teammates to be in the tent, drunk after finishing so long ago, I was bowled over to see many of them on the sidelines waiting and cheering. Yay! Surge to the finish!
I crossed the finish line in 5:20. On the bright side, it’s not even my slowest marathon. But nearly an hour off my goal time? Ouch.
After hobbling through bag pickup, receiving a medal as large as my face, and eating some pretzels for salt, I was able to claim 1.5 of my free beers and finally relax with some of my friends.
Taking my sneakers and compression socks off and burying my feet in the sand was a GLORIOUS feeling.
Fortunately, Louis and I were the only unlucky ones of the bunch. Everyone besides me had a good race, if not a great one. Shamrock has a PR bell. In our group of nine, we had FOUR ringers!
As for my twenty-six miles of terrible– why did it go so wrong? Having a 12-hour trip home the next day, I got a lot of time to marinate on that question. Since cramping has never happened to me in a race, I won’t know until I get more data points.
HOWEVER….bad races can ultimately save a tiny bit of worth if you learn something from them. So here are my takeaways from the 2015 Shamrock “Worst Ever” Marathon:
- Take care when planning a pre-race bolus. I took all my insulin for the Generation Ucan up front. This has worked before, but perhaps it didn’t today because either 1. I started with an okay BG, or 2. it was more drink and took longer to finish it. Next time I’ll take two shots, and aim for a starting line BG of 150-170. (I was in the 90s at the start of this one.)
- Wear my race shoes on at least one long run. My shoe-changing schedule turned out all wrong for this one. I trained in one pair of shoes from November until March. They were starting to go flat…right before race day. I bought a new pair on Tuesday of race week and did a couple short runs in them. They were the same brand and model, but perhaps they had an update and my feet didn’t like them.
- Practice in my race day outfit. I generally do this (because who wants surprise chafing??), but in the wintertime I focused on wearing everything that would prevent frostbite. At some point around mile 20 I tightened my shoelaces– my compression socks are thinner than regular socks, especially wooly winter ones– and it helped a little.
- Salt! Salt packets would have been amazing. I really dislike pretzels and I forced myself to eat one at mile 21 because of the cramps. I’ll remember to steal a couple from McDonalds next time.
- Continue honing my mental techniques. This race taught me all over again that pain has a huge mental/emotional component. Case in point: all my friends who chirped, “You looked great!” when I ran by them. Moments before I was in agony and hating life! But the delight of seeing them put spring in my step. Likewise, my pain was worse when I grimaced or hunched over, and improved as soon as I started channeling my inner Jamette Bond.
If you got this far– thanks for reading all 2K words of this race report. Or skimming it. Maybe you should reward yourself with a beer? I know an excruciating way to get a free one….