Sunday, May 02, 2010

Race Report: Illinois Marathon 2010

ORN:  26.2 miles, 5:23:07, 12:35/mile, R1/W1(to 19) then :30/1:30 to the end

Quick Summary:

Why do I run marathons?

I pondered this question deeply as I nauseously struggled through the last 4 miles of the Illinois Marathon on a warm, very humid race day.  During the drive home, I isolated the answer.

The Marathon is an excellent and exacting teacher.  

The Gory Details

It's really nice to have a marathon so close to home, not requiring an overnight stay and the associated expense.  Up at 4:00am, on the road at 4:30am, my wallet in hand. With the change from Eastern to Central Time Zones at the Indiana/Illinois border, I was at the race site before 6:00am local.  I did a very easy one mile jog an hour before the 7:30am gun and enjoyed the atmosphere always present on race morning. 

The weather had been a question mark in the days leading up to the race.  Thunderstorms had rolled through around 2am but drifted to the east by morning.  It was overcast, humid and 65 at the start.  And this single fact would prove huge. 

The Race

About 10,000 marathoners and half marathoners set off together on a pleasant, flat course through the University of Illinois campus and the twin towns of Champaign and Urbana.  I jogged the first mile slowly to let the pack thin a bit, then shifted to the run one minute/walk one minute experiment I had planned for the day.  Somewhere during the second mile, I noticed my singlet was already soaked with sweat...that should have been a clue.  

The early race went smoothly.  At mile 5, I was 2:07 ahead of my projected pace, about where I wanted to be.  The pattern continued and by mile 10, I was 3:20 ahead of plan.  

At mile 11.5, the half marathoners split off and the course opened up considerably.  The split is always a funny point, observing the puzzled looks of the spectators wondering just how crazy you have to be to willingly make the turn to run 15 more miles.  I hit the half-marathon mat in 2:27:15, still 2:45 ahead of plan.  

At mile 15, I was 2:06 ahead but noticed something odd.  The temperatures were rising and, so it seemed, was my stomach.  At the end of each run cycle I found myself feeling quite nauseous.  This was unfamiliar territory for me and I figured it would just "go away" as many other issues often do.  This was wishful thinking.  I was drinking plenty of fluids, having a Gu at the bottom of each hour and a SaltStick at the top of each hour.  Through mile 17, I tried to first understand this queasiness and then, to determine what to do with it.  It got to the point I truly wondered if I simply needed to find a gutter or trash soon.  But, with nothing in my stomach, I didn't want to try.  

So I experimented further, altering my run/walk ratio.  By mile 19, after several iterations, I settled on a run 30 seconds, walk 90 seconds pattern.  This seemed to work; by the end of each run segment I had a trace of the nausea but it was bearable.  Thus, I finished out the rest of the race.  

At mile 20, I was 1:49 behind my target pace.  By the end of the race, I was 23:07 off the pace.   I was encouraged, though that my worst single mile was the 24th; miles 25 and 26 were progressively faster.  

The end of the race was nice...a slow build through the U of I campus, into the stadium, under the north goal post and across the finish line at the 50.  Marathon #16, in the books.   

Post Race

I must have not looked too good at this point.  Within seconds of crossing the line, a medic walked directly to me to ask how he could help me.  I convinced him I was OK and he left, though not completely convinced, I suspect.  

Finding a seat in the first row of the stands, I sat down to collect myself.  The nausea was still real.  What to do?  I racked my brain and, after about 10 minutes, decided the best thing to do was to get up, get out of the weather and make my way back to the car.  The slow, steady movement seemed to help.  Swapping the soaked singlet for a dry cotton T shirt once I got to my car, I slid into the driver's seat, flipped on the air conditioning and dug out a jar of cold ice tea I had packed in a cooler.  The first sip tasted great.  The cool air helped a lot.  Two jars of the ice tea and five minutes of A/C made a world of difference.  I headed home, feeling much better. 

Reflecting on the Question

Why do I run marathons?

The question I posed in the race's final hour continued to bug me.  Over those last four miles, I seriously wondered "why" I would continue.  Yet, as I drove across the prairie, analyzing what went wrong, comparing this race to other marathons, it hit me just why I run.

A well-known principle in training and teaching theory is the hot stove rule.  If you touch a hot stove, you get burned.  Doesn't matter who you are, whether an experience cook, a young child or drunken guest; you get burned just the same.  It is gives you warning before it burns you.  It is proportional...the longer you put your finger on it, the worse you get burned.   It is get the message in a hurry.  

The marathon is such a teacher, though far more complex and nuanced.  And it teaches me so much.   That's why I run them.  The learning, alone, is worth the pain.  It extends far beyond running going to the core of life itself.  

Specifically, yesterday's lesson exposed, nakedly, my own stubbornness.  From last October, shortly after the Portland Marathon and my conversation with Jeff Galloway, I was determined to do a 1/1 marathon under 5 hours.   As I tracked the weather all week, I took no account of the fact that the rising temperatures would necessarily slow the pace I could hold.  I failed to take my own advice, which I emblazon on the sidebar of this blog:  Run the Best Race Conditions Allow.  I wrote about this goal way back on December 15, 2007.  But clearly forgot it yesterday.    

And the marathon, a skilled, complex, subtle and oh-so-clear teacher, reminded me of it again.  That helps.  There's a time to stubbornly cling to a certain concept.  And a time to see when forces larger than you rule.  

That's why I run marathons. 




Scott said...

Interesting, and a good reminder. I know that Jeff Galloway mentions slowing one's pace based on how high temps are above 60 degrees. His "2 minute rule" seemed a bit extreme to me, but maybe it makes sense after all.

In 2 weeks, I'll be making a 2nd attempt at my first marathon. Last year, I ended up bagging the full marathon and just doing the half -- mostly, because I was wiped out by the heat (I found out later that the temp out on the course was over 90 degrees(!) and almost half the people who had signed up to do the full ended up only doing the half. Ironically, my time for the half was faster than it was when I ran the same half the year before -- so, not only was it brutally hot, but my pace was no doubt too ambitious, too).

My plan this time is to finish in under 5 hours (last year, my goal was 4.5 hours). Your experience, though, is a good reminder to run to conditions (unfortunately, something we can't control) rather than to time.

Scott said...

Oh, and congratulations on completing your 16th marathon! Looks like you've got the "persevere" part down pat.

Sarah said...

I love your perpetually positive attitude! Congrats on your finish despite it not being so much fun at the end.

At the end of the Tacoma City marathon yesterday, We talked with a fellow maniac who ran 4:15 using a 7 min/8sec (!) run/walk. Over the years she has gradually lowered the walk time from 2 minutes. I really don't know how you can walk for such a short time. It's really just a few steps. But it works for her.

Wes said...

always staying excited about learning. That's the real deal there... :-)

IronWaddler said...

Great race report ,Joe. It is a learning experience!

Backofpack said...

I often wonder the same thing in the later miles of a marathon. (But not yesterday!) Usually because I'm tired and something hurts. I'm not exactly sure how, but that doubt is tied up with the reason I run them - something about overcoming the self-doubt, pushing beyond what I think I can do...

Yesterday at TCM, Jessica was struggling. She had been sick on Saturday but thought she was well enough to run. It caught up with her and she felt bad...but she persevered. I'll tell you what I told her - the marathons that you struggle through, the ones that are so stinkin' hard to finish, those are the ones that teach you the most, the ones that you draw on whenever life throws you a curve ball, whether it be during a run or just life in general. You pull those memories out and remind yourself just how tough you are, how determined you are, how strong you are. Savor yesterday's experience and hold on to the memory. It'll serve you well!

Meghan said...

The humidity was terrible! Almost 50% of the people in my office ran the half and all of us suffered from the weather. I didn't meet my time goal for the half, but made the wise decision to just back off and walk most of the race. I decided it was more important to save my legs for the mini. So far the weather report for Saturday looks much better than last week!

Darrell said...

It sounds like you felt a lot like you did after Rocket City, which was under unusually humid conditions as well. I love that you always try to figure our just what may have caused things to go the way they did; so very analyitical.

At 16, you are racking up quite the volume of learning experiences. Another amazing thing about the marathon is that no two are ever exactly the same, even on the same course.