Uggh. Leg cramps.
3:18:23 was not what I had in mind when I signed up for Rocket City. But it’s another marathon and another opportunity to learn from my mistakes — as soon as I figure out what they are.
I used an 18-week Pfitz plan with 3 weeks over 80 miles (the 18/85 plan) for the Twin Cities Marathon on October 7. I followed that plan to the letter, setting weekly and monthly mileage records, and running a 23.5 mile long run in the process (longest training run for me). I nailed the workouts, too. Of course, I got really sick about a week before TCM, and couldn’t run it. Back-up plan was the Mankato Marathon 2 weeks later. I ran it, but still wasn’t 100% recovered and finished in 3:16:xx. (I got to chat with Dick Beardsley, though!)
So, Rocket City gave me 7 weeks to recover, train, taper, and try it one more time in 2018.
With the short time available, the plan was to do 2 workouts each week – a Tempo run on Tuesday or Wednesday, and a Long Run on Saturday or Sunday. I had enough time to build up my long runs to a 20 and 21 mile long run, the longest run being 3 weeks before the race. The two peak weeks maxed out around 62-65 miles. The Tempo workout was Alternations, running at two paces that alternate between about 6:30 pace and 7:15 pace (MP +/- ~5%), a half-mile at each pace, alternating for a total of 7-10 miles (7, 9, and 10 miles on the 3 workouts I did prior to the taper). Taper was 3 weeks long, with long runs of 15 and 11 miles, the 11 being 1 week before the race. Carb loading began 3 days prior to the race. Maybe I overdid it with the carbs; I felt bloated and a bit sick, with a low-grade headache. I cut back on caffeine for a day or two, but this made the carbo-headache even worse. In hindsight, I am wondering if I overdid the carb load. Could it possibly explain my problems with cramping?
The weather forecast showed a high chance of rain for race day as far out as 10 days before. It usually changes, so I didn’t panic right away. But the forecast never changed – 100% chance of rain predicted for race Saturday for the 5 days leading up to the race. Yes, it rained during the race, but not as hard as expected. The wind was not an issue until the last 4 or 5 miles – a headwind of about 10-15 mph.
Back to pre-race: I waited in line to check in to the hotel behind a nice couple from Atlanta. It was a long wait, so we chatted quite a bit. (At the starting line the next morning, there were about 1000 runners lined up, and I lined up right next to the same guy from the hotel line, Will. Good guy – we ran together for maybe a mile or so.)
I brought all the things I tried and read about during training: Maurten mix (the hydrogel stuff), Tailwind with caffeine, Hammer Perpetuem, and Gu Roctane gels (all with caffeine). I chose the Tailwind, and I mixed up a bottle on race morning. I carried it with me in my gear bag to the starting area … and absentmindedly checked in my gear bag with my drink bottle still in the bag! I didn’t realize it until too late. No problem, I had a bunch of Gu’s in a SpiBelt, and they were also handing them out (regular, not Roctane) along the course. They had Gatorade Endurance (2X Sodium and 3X Potassium as compared to regular Gatorade), so I wasn’t too concerned about losing my bottle of Tailwind. I also took salt capsules (2 S-Caps) before the race, and 2 Endurolytes during the race. These were specifically intended to ward off leg cramps. Between the S-caps, Endurolytes, and Gatorade Endurance, as well as the electrolytes in the 6 or 7 Gu’s I ate, I should’ve been able to prevent cramps (if cramps are truly affected by such things as electrolytes).
I started out conservatively, I thought. Right around 7:00 pace for first 3 miles or so, and I kept the effort really easy for the first 13 or 14 miles. I took off my throw-away shirt right before the half, and I crossed the half at 1:31:00 or so. I actually allowed myself to think that today might be the day I go under 3 hours. I really felt that good, and I was thinking that it wouldn’t take much to negative split and run the second half in 1:29 or so.
Things were good through about mile 14 or 15. But I started to feel the initial onset of cramping in the 16th mile, which is WAYYY too early, even by my chronic cramping standards (usually not until well after the 20-mile point, and as late as mile 25.8). I eased off the pace a bit and took the Gu’s they were handing out on the course. I was drinking plenty of water with the Gu’s, alternating with Gatorade, too. But the cramping kept getting worse as it always does. My quads felt like the most likely area to cramp up hard, and I did a lot of pre-emptive walking. At one point, a runner passed me and said, “Dude, you can RUN!” I replied, “Nope.” I think it looks odd when people see me walking quickly without any signs that anything is wrong. My walking gait is completely unaffected by my cramping issues (true when it’s my quads; if it were my hamstrings, there is a noticeable difference in my walking gait, but not the case this day). But each running step puts me closer to a complete lock-up that will put me flat on the ground if I don’t take the walking breaks. One volunteer looked at me and said something like, “this guy is just out for a stroll!” But as soon as I go from walking to jogging, I can almost count down how many steps it will take until my quads turn into knots.
One of the highlights of the course is going through the space center, around some huge rockets, and underneath the space shuttle. It was pretty cool. As I approached the space shuttle, I was looking up at it when a photographer started taking my picture. It startled me, because he was INSIDE a garbage can right next to the course, and I didn’t see him there until he stuck his camera out and started clicking photos. (He was obviously in there to keep dry from the rain.)
I saw Will’s wife just outside the Von Braun stadium as I was about to finish. She recognized me and cheered as I was going into the stadium. The stadium finish is a pretty cool thing – it’s dry, there is a good size crowd cheering, and an announcer reading off the names. “Robert Day of Hamel … Michigan?” He apparently was not familiar with the “MN” abbreviation for Minnesota. (I was the first finisher from Minnesota, so I’ll cut him some slack!)
I finished, then made a dash for my hotel room. Despite assuring me on the phone (when I reserved the room) that I would have no problem requesting a late check-out, they told me they had given out all 40 spots for late checkouts, and they would not make an exception for me. This was the hotel advertised as the “Host Hotel” for the race! Checkout was at 11:00 am, and the race started at 7:00 am, so if you were a 4-hour marathoner, you would have had no chance at checking out on time. That’s probably my only gripe. It was actually pretty convenient to go from the hotel room to the start line, and then from the finish line back to the hotel, without stepping outside! I’m glad the cramps weren’t any worse than they were; I’ve run 3:40+ marathons due to cramping, and that would’ve made it impossible to get to my room, shower, and check out on time after the race. As it was, I checked out at 11:02.
I sat next to Jenna K. from Michigan on the flight home. She finished 7th Female in about 3:13. It was great to debrief each other on our races. It’s funny – we figured out that she had to have passed me somewhere around mile 20. My first half split was maybe 6 or 7 minutes ahead of her, and she finished about 5 minutes ahead of me, so clearly she passed me, and there wouldn’t have been many other people around when it happened. Anyhow, we are now friends on Facebook, and she said she would send me some training plans that we discussed in detail during the flight.
I went to the awards ceremony and watched people finish as the 6:00-hour time limit expired. It is very emotional to watch, and I get teary-eyed watching the last finishers get hugs from their friends and volunteers, and huge cheers from the people in the stadium. I think there are more people cheering, and more loudly, for those last finishers than for the winners. I love that stuff.
So, why do I cramp? Still not sure after 15 marathons. Carb loading makes me feel miserable in those last 2-3 days, and it does NOT seem to produce the desired effect. If I can get enough carbs from various sources DURING the race, maybe my carb load can be a much smaller change from my normal diet, and maybe only 2 days of loading instead of 3. If I can run 23.5 miles in a single training run without cramping (in August!), then something is wrong when I start cramping up at mile 16 of the actual race (when overcast and 40 deg F). The Hansons plan uses a 16-mile Long Run that is run much closer to MP (maybe 20 or 30 seconds slower?). Mike E is a huge proponent, and it works extremely well for him. This is something that might help address the cramping issue – my thought being that I need to run long enough at a high enough INTENSITY in training to harden myself up enough to ward off cramping. My long runs have been at a mostly easy pace, with maybe 10 miles at MP for the most difficult ones. I ran well with Hansons the one time I tried it (3:10 at Twin Cities in 2014), despite not running the Long Runs as fast as I should have. Anyhow, I’m willing to try just about anything at this point.