Monday, March 2, 2015

My Sh*t Show at the Phoenix Marathon

As the saying goes: The road to Hell is paved with good intentions.

I had all the best intentions when deciding to run the BMO Phoenix marathon this December: get back into a training routine after 6 months of just surviving through every run, emulate my very successful 2013 when I started the year by focusing on road speed, see what I could do at the marathon after a 3 year hiatus, and even spend some quality time with my brother who decided to run the half.  Ah, yes, they are all such good intentions, which is probably why I found myself in Hell at mile 16!

The intentions were good, but the downfall was the plan. I had done AC100, World 100s and two 50k’s in the previous few months so I had great confidence in my endurance and figured I just needed to hone my speed. Starting January 2 (I took the 1st off to recover from the Recover from the Holidays 50k. That’s right, I needed to recover from my recovery event), I began training, giving me six solid weeks plus two weeks to taper. No problem!

Well, there was a big problem. It took me a couple weeks to readjust to everyday training and to “buy in” to the whole concept of marathon training. I mean, I couldn’t do any speed work or a long run the week after a 50k race, right? And the following week, I got paged out of my long run after 7 miles. I mean, a liver transplant is more important than my training, right? I did a 10k the next weekend, which served as a good training run, but it was a weekend light on mileage. And the last weekend in January when we were down in California, I opted to run with Katie DeSplinter and Dom Grossman on the PCT from Wrightwood, rather than do a marathon pace long run by myself. I mean, beautiful trails with friends I don’t get to see that often trumps a boring scheduled long run, right?
Run cut short to evaluate a liver for transplant. At least I had enough time for a selfie!
A beautiful day on the PCT
Finally, by February I was ready to buckle down and do the scheduled work, but I had basically squandered half of my allotted training time. Still I was optimistic: I ran a half marathon at about the same pace as that January 10k, my tempo times were getting faster, I was doing the full Monday morning track workouts routinely. Well, I was in much better shape; unfortunately, I was really only in shape for 16 miles when I scheduled a 26.2 mile run! 
My bro and I ready to board the buses. Only we parked right next to the half marathon shuttles and I had to hike nearly a mile to get to my buses!
The BMO (pronounced Bee-Moe I learned) Phoenix marathon starts in the scenic, cactus dotted foothills outside of Mesa, though the predawn start made it hard to appreciate the views. It was a fast start due to 300’ of elevation loss in the first 4.5 miles, so I wasn’t concerned that my 6:25’s were faster than planned as I wasn’t even mouth breathing. Mile 4.5-6 was uphill but I backed way off almost to 7:00 pace knowing that I was still keeping to a sub 6:40 average. When the course turned back downhill, it once again felt so easy. We got into the flatter town roads on the way to the half marathon mark and I hit several miles right under 6:40, getting to the half at 1:26:34. The legs had those little twinges of fatigue, but I’ve been there many, many times and it didn’t seem too concerning. My breathing wasn’t out of control. Even if I ran the second half three minutes slower, I would still PR and I’d be happy with that.

And then we turned south into a solid wall of wind. The official weather stats were 12 mph winds with gusts to 23 mph. That sounds kind of wimpy especially after reading Geoff Roes tales of Alaskan blasts, but as a marathon runner with absolutely no education or relevant knowledge on wind, it felt really strong! ;) 6:41, 6:46- I was struggling to hit my pace. I tried to “draft”, I ate a gel, but in those two miles my legs went from feeling little twinges of fatigue to full cement seizure. Welcome to Hell! A very pathetic and very painful next ten miles resulted in a ten minute positive split and a disappointing 3:03:05 finish. The day of the race, I told people I thought I had blown quads, but based on my soreness (mild) and strength climbing stairs (fine) afterwards, I don’t think this was the case. Instead, I think the proverbial Wall claimed another victim.

The most prevalent theory on the Wall involves lactic acid production, with poor utilization and accumulation, which prevents muscle contraction and can lead to cramping.  Similar to how many ultra runners try to maximize fat utilization, marathoners can improve lactic acid utilization through training. Increased fitness can also raise the lactate threshold, or the pace at which a runner begins to produce lactic acid. In these ways, runners can train to avoid the Wall.

I spent much of the last 6 months running at low heart rate and following many of the guidelines in the Maffetone method. I will confidently tell you that Maffetone saved me. I was so broken at the end of the year and low HR/MAF training allowed me to not only keep running when I was so fatigued, but also to get through 100km Worlds fairly respectably and more importantly, it allowed me to fully recover. Plus, it is great "fat-burning" training.

But Maffetone has a fatal flaw: it only addresses one system of fitness. Maffetone claims that his method optimizes aerobic fitness and I will not dispute this claim. But fitness is a combination of aerobic abilities, anaerobic abilities, muscle strength and power, VO2max, lactic acid threshold, etc. And while MAF training may optimize aerobic fitness, all of those other systems go to shit. And that was my starting point for this round of training. The 4 weeks of truly dedicated marathon training was just not sufficient to develop all my systems or convert from being a “fat-burner” to being a “lactic acid burner.” I think the extra effort to maintain pace with the headwind (it was HUGE, I am telling you!), was enough to push me past my lactic acid threshold and my body wasn’t able to deal with it. CRASH! - I hit the Wall.

While it may have been a little arrogant to think I could get in shape for a marathon in 6-8 weeks when just about every respectable marathon training plan is 12-18 weeks, I still believe that a marathon at 6:30-6:40 pace is not an unreasonable goal for me. But in the future, I know I need to have a lot more consistency with marathon pace and tempo runs. I have spent the last three years turning myself into a 100 mile runner; I am going to need more than 6 weeks to transform myself into a marathon runner!

Still there are lots of positives from this whole event. I ran 16 miles at 6:38 average pace, which has got to be close to 16 mile PR (haha!). I enjoyed spending time with my brother, who PR’d in the half marathon and I got to see one of my cousins. I feel like this did jump start my fitness for the spring and I am excited to be back to the “heavy” training routine. And I am someone who gets super motivated by failure: When I dropped to a shorter distance in my first 50 miler, I signed up for a 100 miler. When I DNF’d Angeles Crest, I had it in my mind that I would go back for the course record (done!), and when I bombed at Western States, I came back so focused that I won the whole thing. So this is just one more thing to use for motivation and I am already thinking about when another marathon might fit in (late fall, using the base from 100km Worlds??). 

AND - I won the master’s prize! My brother told me at the finish that one “pretty old chick” finished ahead of me, but it turns out she was only 39, and so not officially old like me! While $300 is not much money and it certainly doesn’t change my finances, there is something very consoling about being handed a check! I treated my brother and cousin to lunch at Sweet Tomatoes, because the money was just burning a hole in my pocket and we needed to live it up! ;) Plus, all-you-can-eat salad and ice cream sounded like Heaven after my ten miles of Hell.
Going crazy at Sweet Tomatoes! Just after this my cousin lost his glasses in the lake due to his uncontrolled laughter as I entertained them both with hilarious stories of fecal transplant in the hospital (it's a real thing, seriously! You can Google it!). I always know the appropriate things to talk about at meal time!
Spending "quality time" with my brother. He napped for three and a half hours which is twice as long as it took him to run his race. That boy knows how to recover! 
 Next up: Lake Sonoma in six weeks! Hmmm, that really doesn’t sound like enough time!
Podium! This other woman wanted to break 3:00 and ran a 3:16. We were laughing that we both got paid for having missing our goals by so much. As they say,"Half the battle is just showing up!" I hope to do more than just show up next time I run a marathon!


Nicola Gildersleeve said...

Great read! I always love your posts.Good luck at Lake Sanoma, not that you need it!

Steve Speirs said...

Nice one, Pam. Congrats on the Masters win, even if the time wasn't what you were shooting for. Thanks also for the timely reminder that several months of Maffetone training will probably come back to haunt me in this month's marathon. Keep the posts coming - always a great read!

mike anthony said...

Really good observations on maffetone, its great for building that aerobic engine and over years it will turn you into a machine but IF you plan on racing at higher intensities during that time thee aerobic engine alone will not get you there, not unless you are already years deep into maffetone training. Anyways great run and report as usual Pam!

Peter said...

Nice RR Pam!

I think its great for people to know you are human too! Yes, MAF works but there are some flaws....(for fat-adapted athletes I have modified the numbers to 200-age and then adjust). The key to making it work is that after 2 weeks of MAF then you have to throw in 1 or 2 hard runs where you do get your HR way up. This effect actually shifts your Crossover to the right so you can burn more fat at higher intensities so when you go back down to your MAF HR you are running a faster pace. This is the part that for some reason is left out of MAF training, perhaps because it may be aimed at recreational athletes rather than competitive athletes???
This also gets the lactate load down to a manageable level where it is a great energy source.

crowther said...

Pam, sorry to hear you didn't meet your goal. Just a caution on Maffetone -- though he talks a good game, he does NOT take a scholarly approach to the scientific literature. My blog post from Jan. 6, 2009 has examples. Not sure if this link will work when left as a comment, but...

Quinn Carrasco said...

Such a great race recap! Nice work on your 16m PR too lol.

Anonymous said...

The wind is a pace killer, way to fight Pam.

@Peter - not really, maffetone suggests his methodology is the best way to a run sub2 hour marathon as well... I agree with the results for Pam here, it's a very one dimensional approach.

Unknown said...

Hi Pam - great summary of that crazy wind! I was the 2nd place masters woman on Sat. I was battling the gusts, too! Seeing your podium pic makes me extra sorry that I had to leave to drive back to Tucson before the awards. Congrats on surviving the 10 miles of hell - we've all been there at one time or another. Alison Meadow

Rob said...

Whichever method you choose, it's great read your report and always intriguing to know how you train. Congratulations on your win!