Thursday, January 23, 2014

The Mile 25 Scare

Carlsbad Marathon

Surprise!  I didn’t tell many people that I was going to be running a marathon this early in the season.  To be honest, I wasn’t even planning on doing one.  Jacqui wanted to do one as a way to test out where she was fitness wise leading up to our first big ‘A’ race of the year at Ironman Cabo.  She decided on the Carlsbad Marathon and was accepted as an elite runner, which meant free entry, hotel, food during the stay, and airport transfers.  On top of that, there was a nice prize money structure for the marathon runners, so she was all in for it.  It wasn’t until one of our runner friends, David Wiskowski, mentioned to us that there was a Guiness World Record for the fastest combined time for a marathon by a husband and wife that I even considered running it as well.  The record needed to be set on the same day and  on the same course.  I thought about the possibility of us going after this record since it was more than attainable, but anyone that knows me would know that I really don’t enjoy running marathons.  I have done a total of 6 marathons, none of which I’ve done ‘proper’ marathon training for.  I don’t tend to be a high mileage runner and that typically doesn’t translate to great marathon times.  Those marathons all were run during triathlon training which has topped out at 45 miles per week.  

It wasn’t until late December that I decided, ‘why not, we can go for the world record and use the marathon as the long run leading into Cabo.’  I’m not sure if I wasn’t thinking very well at the time because it was when I came down with a really bad flu that I decided to sign up.  Training had been going phenomenal, and I could really feel the fitness coming along.  Times in the pool were dropping, my watts were higher than ever before on the bike, and my run fitness was right where I wanted it to be.  Then, out of no-where I came down with the bug.  The week before Christmas, I was driving home after work planning on doing a hard bike workout with Jacqui when I got home.  During the drive I started to get really lightheaded and got the chills.  I knew it wasn’t good and told Jacqui that I had to scrap the bike workout and just rest instead.  That night I didn’t get more than an hour of sleep as I had the worst body aches and chills of my life.  Jacqui said that I was literally shaking the whole house.  She urged me to hop in the shower to try and warm my body up, which I did..but they came right back after getting out.  I’m really grateful for her helping me that night and the next few days as she barely got any sleep and had to get up the following mornings to go teach.  I ended up going into the hospital after two days as I couldn’t take it anymore.  I was running a 104 fever and it wasn’t coming down.  The next few days were misery and I didn’t think I was going to ever see the light at the end of the ‘sickness’ tunnel.  It was during this stretch of hibernating and sleeping on the couch from sickness that I decided I would run the marathon.  I must’ve been delirious and just was itching to get back into training that I told Jacqui I would run.  She jumped right on it and contacted the elite coordinator to get me set up.  I was also accepted as an elite athlete, and after 8 days of living a sedentary lifestyle with no workouts and just laying on the couch, I was able to slowly get back into the groove.  I only did a few easy and light workouts and could definitely feel that my body had taken a hit.  It didn’t bother me too much though as I was just glad to be working out again.  

In the first week of January things started to improve.  I ran a 5 mile race that first week and was happy to just be out in action again.  I didn’t run fast, but the fitness was improving and I came away with an overall win.  I knew I had a 2 weeks to get some fitness in and still run a decent marathon.  

Jacqui and I knew this wasn’t going to be a key race for us, but still wanted to perform well.  So we only used a one week taper after going through the training with our coach Bill Bishop.  We kept pressing hard in our swim, bike, and run workouts.  The week before the race we had our last hard bike workout, and that may have done me in.  I had a great 3 hour ride full of hard intervals and the watts were steady/strong the whole way through.  The next day I could tell I was tired, but also noticed my chest was a bit congested.  I started to take Mucinex to try and clear some of it out.  My breathing was labored and it concerned me, but I thought it would just go away after a day or two.  Leading through the week things started to get better, but I never felt fully healthy.  I didn’t really want to talk about it much because I didn’t want it to be a mental barrier that I had to overcome.  I just kept telling myself that I was fine and I was going to run a good hard marathon.  I did a few easy workouts during the week and then it was time to go!

Antibiotics / Mucinex / Electrolyte Water were my friends for the week

Due to work schedules, Jacqui and I ended up catching a flight late Friday night after we both finished work.  After talking with Coach Bill, the flight is what really may have done me in.  I noticed late in the flight that my head was full of pressure.  I had no way of getting the pressure out and it developed into very painful sinuses.  My breathing was labored and something just wasn’t right.  We got into San Diego pretty late and ended up falling quickly asleep in the hotel shortly after checking in.  

Saturday morning, we went out for a shake out run to loosen up the legs and check out a bit of the course. 

Not a bad place to run a marathon!

During our morning run I could tell my chest was clogged and the pressure in my head went through the roof again.  I was coughing and blowing some nice sized snot rockets every 20 seconds.  It felt great getting it out, but it would come back shortly after.  I was concerned but just told myself that once I’m in competition mode, I would feel fine.  The rest of the day, we checked out the expo and had an elite athlete meeting.  Per out usual pre race meal, we found a restaurant that had Bison burgers.  

 Pre-Race Dinner

Over dinner, my mind started to play some games on me and I began to get worried that maybe it wouldn’t be the best of ideas to run the marathon.  Jacqui got a hold of some of her doctor and nurse friends asking them if it would be ok to run.  The general consensus was that it might make the sickness last a little longer and don’t expect to run as fast or as hard as I normally can.  I was fine with that as I just didn’t want to go out there and end up in the ambulance and/or hospital. I joked with Jacqui that if you see the ambulance out on the course, she would know who it was for!


Race morning started out fairly early.  The marathon started at 6:15am and our elite athlete shuttle would be picking us up from the hotel at 5:15.  I ate a normal morning breakfast of a banana, Berry Blast PowerBar, PowerBar energy blend, and lots of fluids.  I was actually feeling ok and was thinking I might be able to pull off a good marathon.  When the shuttle came, they opened the doors, I looked inside and it was full of about 10 Kenyans.  It was pretty comical as I sat down, looked around and Jacqui and I were the only Americans.  Definitely was a feeling of being out of place!  We were treated to a nice Elite tent to put our gear during the race with a set of porta potties...score!  Anyone that goes to a large race knows the worst part of race morning is standing in the throngs of people waiting to use the bathroom..especially when you have to go about 5 times before the gun goes off.  Jacqui and I did a short and quick warm up, loaded up our race nutrition, and set off for the start.

All of the best in running- Saucony and PowerBar!

The start!  Was still before the sun came up

I had a pre race plan of trying to be conservative through the first half in around 1:15, then start to pick it up slowly leading to the finish.  The goal was to be sub 2:30 (5:43 mile pace avg) as it would net me a $500 bonus.  The gun went off and within the first mile I knew that it wasn’t going to be my day.  The pack of Kenyans took off while I tucked in around 12th place.  I couldn’t see much as it was still dark out and the town didn’t seem to have many street lights.  My head felt foggy and I just tried to tell myself to relax and maybe things would open up.  There are many workouts that I start off feeling like death, but then the legs wake up and I can end up having a really solid workout.  To my surprise, there was a steep incline within the first mile.  My breathing was labored going up...which left me very nervous to what was to come.  Through the first mile I was 5:49, which is actually where I wanted to be.  Mile two had a nice downhill as we made our way out of town and towards the PCH Highway (which runs entirely adjacent to the ocean!).  I came through mile 2 in 5:35 so I felt a bit optimistic that maybe I could get into a good rhythm and pull it off.  The only problem is that I could tell I was working A LOT harder than I needed to be running that type of mile split.  

This is at mile 2…yikes…told ya I wasn't feeling good

Miles 3-5 were all still right where I needed in the 5:35-5:45 range.  It is at mile 5.5 that the marathon takes a left hand turn and goes away from the ocean.  From there on, it is about 4 miles of steady climbing with the worst section coming from mile 8 to 9.  

Even as we were climbing, my splits were consistent and right where I needed to be.   At mile 8 my ears clogged up to the point where I couldn’t really hear much of anything around me anymore.  I was struggling to hold onto the pack of three guys I was running with and it was then where I decided to shut it down and just run for the world record.  

Not so flat of a course with over 1400 ft of climbing!!

Speaking of the world record...I never mentioned what the times needed to be.  The current world record is set by a Japanese couple.  They ran a marathon out in Japan with the husband clocking a 2:36 and the wife at 3:04 -  Going in, Jacqui and I knew this would be easy to do..we just needed a marathon to do together.  My PR is a 2:29 while Jacqui’s is 2:53.  So even with off days, we would be under the total time that they ran.  

Back to the race---Mile 9 is where the steepest hill of the race was.  It was here that I was just running to finish and get a time that would give us the record that we were going for.  I knew that with my first stretch of miles, I had a very large time cushion and would be fine as long as I finished.  Up the hardest hill (over a mile straight up at 4% incline..ouch!), I made the turnaround to come screaming back down.  Mile 9 was a 6:15 and when I lost contact with 2 of the other runners that I was with, both went on to run 2:26!  On the downhill, I got to count the females and saw Jac trucking along up and in 3rd for the females!  I gave up a thumbs up and continued on my way.  With the downhill I was able to hit the next two miles in 5:22 and I was actually right back on pace for sub 2:30.  Once the downhill ended though, I settled in and brought my pace back to around 6flats.  I went through halfway just over 1:15, but knew that I wasn’t going to be running too quickly on the back half.  My head was still filled up with who knows what and I was blowing my nose to try and relieve the pressure much too often.  I told myself that if I just ran at a conservative pace, my breathing wouldn’t be as labored and I could finish in the 2:30’s.  When I tried to press, I felt a shortness of breathe as it seemed the mucous was blocking my airway.  Running 6:15 felt comfortable, so I stuck to that and threw the idea of sub 2:30 out of the door.  

At mile 15 we got back onto the highway along the ocean and took it straight down for another 3 miles leading up to another decent hill before turning around at 18.  The legs started to get the heavy feeling around here just form the pounding my legs were taking and the quads were getting their fair share of fun.  The downhills were now starting to turn into pain and I was ready to be done.  I was lucky enough to see Jacqui again when I hit mile 20 and she still looked strong and in 3rd, so I knew she was going to have a good day.  

After settling in and slowing the pace I actually don't look too miserable

At mile 21, I could see the 1/2 marathon runners starting to make their way towards me.  They started 1.5 hours after us, and were on the same course.  I figured if I ran a 2:30, I would finish before any of them as they would need to do a 1:00 1/2.  But since my pace had slowed and I was trying to just finish, the leader of the half marathon was making quick ground on me.  At mile 22.5 the leader went by me and was absolutely flying.  He ended up running a 1:02!  But the funny part was that he was so far ahead of all the other 1/2 marathoners that once he went by me, the spectators thought I was in 2nd place for the 1/2.  They started going crazy and cheering for me saying to catch the Kenyan and beat him.  

My pace was still ticking at 6:15-6:20, so I was confident that I would now be in the 2:30’s, most likely high 2:30’s..but would have done my part in securing the record......but then it got interesting at mile 25.  

At the last aid station, as I was going through, a young girl around 7 years old decided to step out in front of me right as I was going by.  I heard all of the , ‘Ohhhhs!, Ahhhhhs!!!, OH MY GOSHS!!’ It was one of those moments that seemed to have happened in slow motion.  My first instinct was to try and not let her hit the ground hard because I plowed right into her.  So I put my arms out, was able to hold her up as I spun and hit the ground with her on top of me.  The worst part was that as I tried to stand up, my left quad went into straight lock up mode.  I tried to start running, but stumbled a bit and limped forward.  For a second or two the thoughts of walking or not even being able to finish came rushing through my mind.  Luckily, the muscle spasm ceased..and I was back up and slogging my way towards the finish.  I ended up having a slow 7:20 mile due to the situation and still had 1 to go, but I was moving and had a good time cushion.  

The last mile had some downhill which HURT the quads!

The last mile was painful, but I was able to bring the pace back to 6:20 and crossed the line in 2:38.  The time also put me into 7th place overall as I was able to pass a few of the Kenyans in the middle miles because they went out too hard :)

 Coming into the finish slowest marathon to date.  But one that I’m glad I did.  I learned that not all races are going to go your way and that there are times when you need to focus on staying mentally tough and pushing through what race day gives you.  I know that I can listen to my body and back off when needed and still put together a day that is still very respectable.  I’ve learned that in Ironman racing, you will usually have a few times during the race that something does not go as planned. So to have the confidence and mental strength to push through those moments when they arise will be a great asset to have.  

Once finishing, I stood at the finish line stretching and watching the runners come in waiting to see where Jacqui would be.  I saw her round the final turn with the clock at 2:53 and the smile could not have been bigger.  She crossed the line in 3rd female overall and just off of her PR on a rolling tough course.  Not to mention a very short taper coming off of a big hard training block.  Her time secured the record for us, and now we just wait for it to be verified!  

Your new world record holders!!!

Post race we didn’t have much time, so quickly made our way back to the hotel, hopped into the pool to loosen up the legs, showered, and caught our shuttle to the airport.  A super short trip but was worth it as I was able to spend some quality time with my wife and share another unforgettable experience with her.  Now its back to work and a recovery week of training.  Hopefully I can get the whole chest/head congestion cleared out during this week and get back on track for Cabo in 10 weeks!

Thanks for all the support and well wishes pre/post race.  Jacqui and I definitely feel the love and couldn’t be surrounded by a better support crew of friends and family.  

My idea of recovery--sitting in a cramped plane 4 hours after finishing a marathon with perfect recovery fuel :)

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