Wednesday, January 16, 2008


Depending on your perspective, 22 minutes is moment in time or a lifetime. Last Sunday it was how far I fell short of my goal at the Houston marathon. But don't feel sorry for me, because I feel surprisingly good about the race despite having some problems and am in a very positive mood. I'm getting a little ahead of myself so let's step back to last Thursday.

My last hard run was a 3 mile tempo run at 8:47 pace with one mile warm up and one mile cool down. My legs felt pretty good except a shooting pain in my right quad and discomfort in my right hip every time my leg came forward. It didn't hinder my running and didn't hurt bad, but if it was uncomfortable on a short run I was worried about what it could turn into after 26 miles. Fortunately my doctor had a cancellation and I was able to get in that afternoon. The poor doctor is a little guy and all of his poking and moving my leg around didn't replicate the pain. So he pulled my physical therapist in and he was able to push hard and duplicate the pain. The diagnosis was that my ileopsoas (hip flexor) was getting pinched by the ball of the hip joint. The PT strapped me to the table yanked on my leg to relocate the ball of the hip back into the socket and cracked my back in a few places. That fixed the problem and I couldn't feel anything the next day running an easy three miles. However, all of the pushing on my leg also revealed a mildly strained quad which was the other part of the pain I was feeling.

Friday I had a massage on the way home from work and then packed for the race. Saturday morning I flew to Houston and drove to the marathon expo to pick up my packet. While there I listened to a pretty interesting presentation by the Rice University men's track coach about adapting elite training programs to slower runners. One interesting point he made was that a 4:10 marathoner doing 50 miles a week in training was doing an comparable workload to an elite runner putting in 100 miles a week. Why? Because it's duration and intensity that matters, not mileage. I've read that before, but somehow it hasn't sunk in as I've looked at training programs. I'd peaked at 45 miles a week so I felt pretty good about my volume of training. The other interesting thing he talked about was recovery. He recommended walking a mile or two the same day after the marathon and then getting out for a mile or two of walking every day the next week. Then he said that the test for whether you are ready to resume training is if you can comfortably complete a 90 minute run.

I stayed at Hotel Icon downtown which was walking distance from the starting line. It's in an historic bank building and looked it's age on the outside but it was awesomely nice inside. It had a jacuzzi tub in the bathroom with a window to the room so I could watch TV from the tub.

When I got to the starting line at 6:30 am I felt great. The weather was a perfect 45F and I didn't even need gloves even though I started out with a light cap. I had 2 quarts of Powerade in my camelbak and another 28 ounces in the flasks on my fuel belt. I also had 12 gels hanging on the belt and a few electrolyte capsules. The race started right on time at 7:00 am with the sun just starting to brighten the sky in the east.

The race was pretty uneventful and went according to plan for the first 15 miles or so. I slowed myself down some for the first six miles and then settled into a steady 9:08-9:10 pace with my heart rate at about 160. The pace felt pretty comfortable. The only minor issue was some tightness in my right hamstring that felt like it wanted to cramp. I took gels every 20 minutes until about mile 10 when I started getting some stomach upset indicating that maybe my body wasn't digesting it as fast as I was taking it in. After that I backed off on the gels to every 30 or 40 minutes but I never really felt like fuel was an issue. I also did a good job of drinking regularly. I was carrying my own liquids so I ran through the water stops.

I went through the half mark at 2:01 so I was a little slower than my goal, but I was trying to save something for the end so I was pretty happy. At this point things got tougher and my heart rate started going up to maintain pace. I slowed down to about 9:20 pace and tried to stay relaxed. Around mile 15 my heart rate started going up closer to 170 even at the slower pace and I had to slow down when I felt my legs starting to burn. I really wanted to get to mile 20 and push, but at mile 18 I'd already pushed too hard and had to walk a bit and let my legs and heart recover. The rest of the race isn't particularly memorable and was a struggle like I'd imagined except after the 20 mile mark my right hamstring started cramping up every time I'd try to pick up the pace. I was tired, but felt like I had the energy to run faster, but every time I did the muscle would cramp. It wasn't the whole hamstring locking up like last year, but I had to stop and stretch it for a second before moving on. This continued for the rest of the race. In the last mile I picked up the pace back to 9:20 only to cramp again. So I just trudged the rest of the way in.

As I crossed the line volunteer after volunteer came up to ask if I was okay. I must have looked shaky, but I was just thoroughly exhausted. One lady finally walked me into the building. I didn't even come close to my goal, but I did everything I could and I finished.

The marathon was doing a hydration study. My weight at the expo on Saturday was 233.6 (dressed) and it was 228.8 at the finish so I lost at least 5 pounds (almost 3 quarts) on the course despite drinking 3 quarts. So I lost about a gallon and a half of water, mostly sweat, in a little over 4 hours. I don't know if that's a lot, it seems like it, but it means that dehydration could have played a role in my cramping and that I'll have to consider drinking even more in the next race by picking up additional liquid at the water stops on the course.

I don't know if the electrolyte capsules helped or not. The Powerade and the Clif Shots both have electrolytes and I had salty burps for the rest of the day, so I think I had plenty of electrolytes.

I was pretty weak on Sunday, but didn't feel too bad. I was sore on Monday and got a massage over lunch. I was really sore on Tuesday, but today (Wednesday) most of the soreness is gone and I feel really good. I'm going to keep walking each day and try to go for a run on Saturday. If I can finish a 90 minute run then I'll resume training next week and look forward to the Austin marathon on February 17.

In retrospect it doesn't look like my conditioning was up to running a 4:00 marathon. This is one of the things, out of several, that I don't like about my training group. We did a time trial early in the season, but haven't done a race or time trial since a 10k in early October so I didn't really have a recent race performance to help me know what a reasonable pace would be. Based on the training runs I did my goal seemed reasonable, but I'll be recalibrating for Austin and I'll go out at a 4:15 pace. That would be a PR so I'll be content with it and if I'm feeling good at the end then maybe I'll be able to do better.


hydrateme said...

I would forget about the gels and try a new hydration tool called AquaJoe. You can see a video of it at

Bull said...

Are you a spammer for the product and just don't know what gels are? As far as I can tell this is just a tool for carrying powder along with you to mix your sport drink on the run. Yeah, that would be really, really handy in a race...

MattMan said...

Hey Bull, great recap. Sorry you didn't make your goal, but hey, you finished. :)

I know very little about race mechanics or what constitutes dehydration, but the amount of water you were "low" at the end does sound a bit much to me. So there's the problem of how do you double your liquid intake for a race without sloshing yourself out of business or adding too much weight.

I'm gonna just toss out an idea, admitting up front that I know very little about this, never having done a race long enough that I needed more than a bottle of water I could carry.

So I'll prefix the idea with a couple comments and a couple questions, then lead into the uneducated brainstorm, hoping it might trigger a more intelligent idea from you. :)

Assumptions: (1) you need to double your liquid intake from what you took with you this time; (2) you took in plenty of electrolytes this time, so you also need to halve the electrolyte:water ratio.

Questions: (1) In what form is water given at the water stations? Bottle? Cup? (2) How difficult would it be to open the camelbak while running to pour something into it?

Ok, now you see where I'm going with this. :) If the water stations give out bottles, and opening the camelbak while running to pour the contents of a water bottle into it would not be impossible (maybe slow down, but not stop or strain anything in the process)...

Then you could simply add more water to your camelbak at various water stops to space out the doubling of your water supply over the course of the race.

You would dilute the remaining powerade in there each time, of course, but it seems we've already established the assumption that your electrolyte intake was fine, so that shouldn't be a problem.

Or I may be way off on what's possible or not. Wouldn't surpise me. :)

erlybird said...

Bull, I was trying to figure out who you were from the results of the race but I guess I was wrong. But hey, a goal met is a goal placed too close, as far as I am concerned. I think that your thought process was right on and the little things that you might learn from this one will simply allow you to set the expectations you don't meet higher the next time! LOL.

Great race. Great race.