Abraham Maslow was quite the original thinker when he began studying healthy rather than ill people to understand human psychology. Why not look at things that are going right to learn?
Runners are no different...we tend to beat ourselves up when races go badly or injuries strike. I sure did here and here. While such analysis is necessary, it is not sufficient to fully understand running well.
I've been thinking a lot about last weekend's Illinois Marathon report. Those were the facts; but the bigger question to me is just why the race went well, easily the best of the 11 marathons I've finished so far. What did I learn?? What do I repeat?? Might that be helpful to others?? Hang on...here goes.
Several things are clear to me and one fact perplexes me.
Hydration is something I've been trying to get a handle on ever since bonking at Rocket City 18 months ago. Best practice seemed to be to try to take in 20 oz of water per hour but I'd never really pulled that off. This time, I came much closer.
I started the day hydrated. At my wife's birthday dinner out the night before the race, Gretchen looked oddly at me for a while, as I only drank ice water rather than my usual ice tea. "Oh yeah, you're running tomorrow...I should have known," she smiled. Driving to the race, I drank another 30 oz of water and felt properly hydrated at the start. I carried with me two 10 oz bottles of water and, having practiced this (really), I focused on taking 2-3 swigs during every walk break. While on the course, I simply refilled both bottles at water stops.
By so measuring, I drank 70 oz of water during the race. Not quite the target, which would have been around 90 oz, but much closer than I've ever come. This is in-flow...some of you are wondering about out-flow, I know. I made pit stops at miles 6, 12 and 20. Of more interest, though, was on the 2 hour drive home immediately following the race, I had 6 bananas, one apple, one chicken sandwich, 5 small chocolate chip cookies and 90 oz of water...and didn't need another pit stop until I got home.
My conclusion? Even on a cool, dry day, I was perspiring heavily, as I usually do. With tech fabrics and a cool breeze, all the sweat evaporated, so I wasn't soaking wet. But the crusty, salty residue was still noticeable on my face and legs. So, the fluids were crucial, even on a cool day in April.
Less objectively, I clearly noticed how much better I felt along the way when I was drinking what seemed to be a LOT of water. At one point around mile 17, I missed a shot to refill my bottles and had to wait a mile to the next water stop. I felt dryer, I could tell the difference. When I was regularly hydrating, though, I almost felt better "lubricated". Hard to describe...but it was very real.
Calories. Water is just part of the formula. I also had one pack of Gu at bottom of each hour on the course. This worked out to four Gu's during the race, as I skipped the one at 4:30. On at least two occasions, I truly noticed the impact of the sugars about 10 minutes after slurping down the gel.
Electrolytes. The third leg on the milk-stool of this plan is replacing the minerals I was sweating out. I took one Salt Stick at top of each hour, consuming four during the race. This is designed to avoid the severe cramping I felt at Air Force marathon last year. I had no hint of a cramp at all this time. Most significantly, I've never had a marathon in which my feet didn't cramp up when I pulled off my shoes and socks after the race. Never. This time, I braced myself a bit when I changed to clean socks 30 minutes after finishing. To my pleasure, it was just a changing of socks. Not a single foot cramp at all.
The other reason I like these three things together is that I can control them. I'm not dependant on the particular Gatorade on the course or the presence or absence of Gel on the course. I know I can count on clean water and that's all I need to make it work.
So much for food and water...how about training factors?? Three that seemed to work well.
Run 2 minutes/Walk 1 minute. This ratio of run/walk seemed extreme to me, even after using it for over two years now. I've never run a race at such a low ratio and hardly any training runs. Yeesh, what a wimp, I say to myself, that seems really balky. And no rhythm. Dude, what are you up to?
I tried it anyway. To my utter amazement, it was a huge help. I only skipped two walk breaks before the Mile 25 marker; the first break when the pack was still big and another one in mile 5 when I was in a fascinating conversation with another runner. I started just feeling like I was on a series of off and on ramps on the freeway. My watch sounded, I pulled off to the side to walk and swig some water. The pack would move by me, I fell behind. Then the timer would ring again and I was instantly folded back into the pack, gently passing folks who just passed me. Each break was a refreshment. Though mile 22 or so, I found that I had to work to slow my pace to my targeted 9:30..often I was at 9:00 or below.
I suspect one other reason this felt so comfortable was that I had shifted all my training runs to 6/1 and 7/1 ratios in the four weeks ahead of the race, holding the run segments at 9:20 or so.
Did it seem slow? In a way, yes. Was it worth missing the wall? Yep. And my overall time was only 5 minutes worse than the 3/1 ratio I ran in Memphis. I have new respect for all that Jeff Galloway has promoted for so long.
Making the world flat. Well, the course anyway. At Memphis, the severe camber of the course took a toll. In this race, I consciously sought camber-less portions of the streets all the way. It helped.
Dressing for Success. The temp was about 37F at the start. A lot of folks were overdressed, in tights, multiple layers and more. Having run outdoors all winter, 37 felt balmy to me. One throw-away sweatshirt jettisoned at mile 2 was all the extra I needed. I pulled my long sleeve tech shirt off at mile 20 and finished in short sleeves (with the temp at 48F). temps).
OK, all that stuff helped. Here's one that perplexes me.
Lack of a long run. As I mentioned in the race report, all this happened with a single 16 mile run, two weeks earlier as my longest run since Memphis Marathon in early December. This confounds all conventional wisdom. How did I enjoy a 26 mile run with no slow down with one long run 10 miles short of a marathon?? I don't recommend this, to myself or anyone else. But why did it work??
Wow, this has gone on long. And, as I've said before, this blog is often simply a vehicle for me to think out loud. I hope it is helpful to some others as well.
I welcome your reactions, questions, disagreements or other perplexings. And, whatever else you do, do persevere.