Tuesday, October 13, 2009
San Jose Rock 'n Roll Marathon (of Death)
I can't believe I never got around to writing a race report for this event. It was a very important one in my new life as a triathlete, too.
I woke up Sunday morning and made my morning protein shake. I figured I wouldn't be able to drink 16 oz. in the car so I made a single serving version. This turned out to be less than optimal as I was hungry when I got to downtown San Jose. I also had to poop, but I couldn't. (I know -- TMI. But it turns out to be important and I couldn't think of any other way to say it.)
I had foolishly not drank enough water the day before, I think. So I knew that a potty break in the middle of the race was a 100% certainty.
This had actually been a big fear of mine after my disastrous 10 mile run where I almost didn't make it to a port-a-potty in time. But faced with it as an inevitability, I was calm. I hadn't been doing any long runs for a while, for one reason or another, so I figured that I'd run half the distance, take a short port-a-porty break and run the second half. It would be like doing two 10ks and I knew I could knock out a 10k without much drama. So it made the whole thing seem that much more doable.
I got to the race site about an hour before they would let us into the corrals and 1.5 hours before the race started, but I had this nagging feeling the whole time that I was running late. I think that's because I'm conditioned to show up two hours before the start as is the norm for a triathlon. It's not for a running race.
Once there, I ran into some friends from my tri club, had a banana, and hung out. One of them decided to warm up so I did too. I wasn't sure if I should, but I'm glad I did. First, as I set out on my "easy" jog to get the juices flowing, I realized I was running much faster than I expected to. I was going around 9:30 per mile and it felt good -- nice and easy, not like I was going out at 5k pace. Second, I think it really helped my performance. Studies say it does, but sometimes studies aren't directly applicable to an individual.
I solemnly swear, I will always warm up for at least 10 min. from now on.
My original plan was to start out at an 11:00 min per mile pace and see what happened. I figured I could dial it back, if that was too hard and unsustainable, or I could ramp it up, if it was too easy. I had trained up through July to run at that pace. After July, my training ran off-plan in various ways so I was going in somewhat blind as to what a good pace would be. The run pace calculators told me 11 minutes and a 2:25 finish. Well, with 9:30 feeling easy, the 11 minute place plan went right out the window.
I decided to just run and see what happened. I would try to maintain a pace under 10:00 and see if I could do it for the entire distance. I ran the risk of bonking at the end, but I really didn't think I would.
So that's what I did.
But first I had to go find my spot in the corral. I got right in front of the 8000 sign and was hanging out when I realized everyone around me had 9000 numbers. Apparently the signs were at the back of the section for each set of numbers. So I made my way into the 8000s but was not able to get to the front. Given that I probably should have been in the 7000s section, this was annoying. But, again, nothing I could do about it.
I bounced around to keep warm, had a Clif Shot Blok, and, at about five minutes after eight, the race started. I walked, then slow-jogged up to the start line, crossed over the timing mat and pushed the button on my Garmin to start my personal timer.
Then I spent the first half of the race making my way up past all the people I probably should have started in front of and then I just kept passing people and looking at my watch. I started out at about 9:25 pace, which was probably a bit too fast, but it felt good so I went with it. I passed the 2:15 pace runner and started looking for the 2:00 pace runner. I didn't really think I could do that pace, but I thought it might be a good idea to at least try for a while.
I also divided my first 10k into two 5ks. I took in a Shot Blok at each 5k and drank from my Fuel Belt of Infinit whenever I felt the need. I skipped the first aide station -- too crowded and I didn't want to slow down -- but supplemented with water at subsequent ones.
Now, normally I would not do Shot Bloks on the run. Chewing anything while running more than 5k gives me gastric issues. I don't even gel when I run normally. But this time I was deliberately trying to move things along, if you get my drift.
It worked too, because right around 10k I knew I could go if I could only find an open port-a-potty. It took three tries, but I did eventually find an open one. I took my break and set off refreshed. Or so I thought.
But very soon after, the thing that always happens to me after around 5.5 - 6.5 miles and an hour of running happened. I started to get sore. My hips and knees were killing me. Plus, all through the race, I was slowing down slightly. But I knew I could run like that, so I just kept going.
But then, at around 10 miles, the unthinkable happened. My calves started acting up. I had tweeked the left one at Track practice the Tues. before, but I thought it was minor and healed. It was not and my left calf started hurting like I'd pulled something. It also made me run funny which made my knees burn. Well, running that distance also was making them burn.
Then, both calves started tightening up. That had never happened to me before. I wasn't sure what to do, but I only had three miles to go and I was still under a 10 min. pace. So I just kept going. I did slow down a bit, hoping that wold help.
Somewhere between mile 10 and 12, I saw a lady face down on the ground, perfectly still with emergency medical volunteers attempting to turn her over. That freaked me out a bit, but I put it out of my mind. At mile 12, I was down to 9:54 pace and worried I'd slip over the 10 min. pace. I really wanted to finish strong so I figured I could do anything for one mile and I'd just pay the price the next day.
Oddly enough, pushing myself seemed to loosen my calf muscles a bit. Though I suppose it could have been an illusion. I know my official splits show that each split slower than the last so probably my "pushing" was also a bit of an illusion -- I wasn't going faster, just not going a slow as if I wasn't pushing.
At mile 13, I decided to go nuts and finish strong. A guy in front of me stumbled and had to be helped up by a volunteer. He waved them off, but he was really out of it and I worried about him. I didn't worry about me though because it was only my calves, knees and hips that hurt. My heart and lungs were fine.
I ran over the last timing mat and pushed the stop button on my watch. 2:11!! In spite of slowing down all through the race, I managed to go about 14 min. faster than I thought I could. I was stoked! Now, I had no idea how many seconds there were, but I didn't care, either. I was so excited, I ran around telling anyone who would listen: 2:11! and then showing them my watch. Oh and eating everything in sight. And going to the port-a-potty every 20 minutes.
It seems that I was a little over-zealous in my efforts to get my plumbing moving and I couldn't stop what I had started. So my strategy worked for a 13.1 mile race, but would have been a disaster for a full marathon. I'll remember that for next time.
I hooked back up with my friends and we wandered around. They had good races too, so we were all very happy. Eventually, we ran out of stuff to see and food to eat so we went home.
I immediately went to bed to take a nap. I was cold, so I put on my electric blanket. But I couldn't sleep, which was probably a good thing, because eventually my brain turned on and I realized I needed ice on my legs, not heat. So I got some ice packs and tied them all over the various hurting parts and watched some TV until the ice melted. Oh, and ate some more.
And then ate some more... I ate all day and night until bedtime. (And a bit the next day too.)
I also looked up my results -- I was in the top 20% in my age group! And top 35% for all women. Only top 45% for all racers, but I still consider this a FOP (Front of the pack) finish. My first one!
I also kept searching the internet to see what had happened to the two people I saw in trouble. I figured, if they were fine, there'd be no mention in the news and there wasn't -- just an article about who won. Whew.
Except it turned out my relief was premature. The next day there were articles about two deaths, a man and a woman, and everyone who raced was talking about it. They said the two people who died collapsed right around where I saw them too. So it might have been the ones I saw. Which makes it all more personal somehow, even though that's not logical.
Logical or not, I was a bit shocked. I don't really think of what I do as dangerous. Yes, triathletes die in the swim, but I'm a strong (if slow) swimmer. Yes, people die on the bike course, by it's generally by being hit by cars. You can be hit by a car just walking down the street. I think I'm probably just in denial, because I'm not going to stop racing just because it can be dangerous. It's too much fun.
The other thing I need to say is: I will never doubt my coach again! He said I didn't need to do a lot of long runs to be able to complete this race and he said, if I listened to him and did what he said, I would move up in my age group. And he was right on both counts.
Now, I'd only been doing Crossfit Endurance for two weeks when I ran this race, so probably I can't give it all the credit. But I know I got faster in the run when I started doing strength training with a trainer and I got dramatically faster once I started adding in the Crossfit workouts. The basic principle is, in my opinion, sound. (Or I wouldn't have started doing it.)
But I admit I had my doubts. Well, not any more!
I also now realize that I can do it. Not finish races. I always knew I could do that. But finish races with good performances? That's another matter. A part of me thought I'd never run any race under a 10 min per mile pace. At least not this season and maybe not ever.
Now I want to do a 5k under 9 minutes and I actually believe I can do it. I believe I can be a FOP racer some day, at least at the shorter distances. I'm even going to try to podium at my Super Sprint this weekend. It's unlikely, but it's within the realm of possibility, so I intend to try.