Saturday, December 15, 2007

Analyzing the Rocket City Marathon

ORN: 8.6 miles, 1:37:11, 4R/1W then 1/1, 11:18/mile

I’ve done a lot of thinking and analyzing following last Saturday’s Rocket City Marathon. When I crossed the finish line and during the two hours immediately after the race, I truly wondered why on earth I was even attempting marathons. I felt I had done horribly, was deluding myself, wasting tremendous amounts of money, looking like a fool to my family, bringing shame on the sport of running and causing disgrace to America. Well, with the exception of the last item, I did feel all the rest. I was exhausted, nauseous, quivering, barely able to walk and pretty fed up with myself.

By the time I had showered, attended the awards ceremony and headed out to dinner with Darrell, Wes and Dee Dee, I was more myself. Chicken fingers and 6 Diet Cokes helped restore the physical balance. I slept well, felt little if any soreness the next morning and drove home feeling fine.

The nagging question remained, though. Why did I feel so rotten over the last four miles of the race and the immediate aftermath? And why was I so disappointed, mentally and emotionally, in my 4:56 time???

My analytical side went to work on the 9 hour drive home (which should have been 7+ hours, except for a large slowdown for a car accident and downpours south of Louisville, making me sing this old song; but I digress). This quest for a root cause problem led to two new strategies for 2008. I invite your opinions.

Fundamentally, I felt so rotten because I went out too quickly given the 65-70 degree temperatures and 90%+ humidity on race day. I felt fine through 15.5 miles when the early pace caught up with me. At 13.5 miles, I felt quite fine, even hamming it up for the race photographer.

But why did I go out so quickly?

I was intent on running a 4:15 marathon and had been for months. Once I worked though my ITB issues last spring, I set my sights specifically on hitting 4:15 in Rocket City. I had shaped all my training and mental preparation to hit that time on that day. So, when the day arrived, I did not even consider modifying the goal. You can see the yellow pace band David gave me on my left wrist. I was into it. It was what I HAD to do. Darrell even picked up the so called “game face” I had on that day and decided to run his own race. Darrell's one perceptive guy!

So why did I cling so tightly to that time?

Part of it is personality. It’s no surprise to anyone reading this blog for a while; I’m rather goal oriented. This can be a positive thing, but it has its dark side as well. I also realized I felt like I only had one shot at the 4:15. After all, this was the target race. Like a starving man seated before a big plate of food, I had little poise or discretion in the moment.

As a result, I stubbornly clung to the target time, ignoring the reality of the day’s weather. Dumb, in retrospect, but very real. There is nothing wrong with planning, nothing wrong with setting goals. Yet I need to hold these goals with a light grip and with a long term view.

So, I’ve landed on a couple of new strategies for 2008.

First, I changed my goal. It is “Run the best race conditions allow.”

With this as a goal, I avoid foolishly holding on to a particular target time while still seeking some level of achievement. “Conditions” speak to three parameters. First, the weather. Running in the Midwest means uncertainty about temperature, humidly and precipitation. I’m foolish to think I can rise above that. I learned that in spades in August 2006 in Parkersburg, June 2007 in South Bend and once more at Rocket City. Second is my training condition. If I’m using a race as a long training run, I can account for that. If I’m coming off an injury, I can account for that. Third, is my health. If I catch a bad cold four days before the race, there is no point in seeking to PR.

Putting this together gives me, it seems, a richer, fuller topography in which to decide how to run a certain race. It particularly gives me the framework to recognize those rare days when all conditions align and I should do nothing less than hammer hard for the full distance.

My second change is to make the marathon more common. Right now, I’ve penciled in four marathons in 2008, each of which fits my rough criteria of location, cost, interest and timing. I’ll describe them more in a future post. I’m pretty pumped to take four shots at 26.2 in the new year.

I think the basic training plan I used is sound. I say that because I’ve had no negative physical aftermaths of the marathon last week. Very, very little soreness, I went up and down stairs pain-free all week. I ran three miles on Tuesday and Thursday with no problem. I did 8.6 today (in the snow!) and felt fine for five, and just a few “comments” from my right knee over the rest of the run. So, I’m thinking if I stick with the training plan, adjust my thinking as above, it could work.

Thanks for listening to my ruminations. I do welcome your comments, positive or negative, on my approach. I learn a lot from all of you, for which I am thankful!



Backofpack said...

I think your new plan is solid. I'm excited that you are planning for four in '08!

You can also modify as needed to fit the weather - with heat and humidity, adding a hand-held to drink along the way can really help - so does somthing like s-caps. I do very poorly in the heat and humidity - even a cool day with high humidity will make my heart rate rise above accepted levels. I can moderate it a bit by staying hydrated, and adding the s-caps for all long runs (even today's 15 miler in 40 degree temps) make a huge difference. Something to think about...

IronWaddler said...

You sound alot like me in how I try to think and analyze. You train perfectly but unless all the planets align with you-performance is unpredictable.

I have always wondered during the last 4 mile of a marathon, why I do it. But not long after, I rethink and feel that it is something that I can master.

Your goals for 2008 sound exciting. I am anxious to watch your races.


David said...

I agree with your conclusions. My problem is I have trouble remembering them when I hear the starter's gun fire.

Looking forward to seeing what's on your 2008 race calendar.

Mary Gee said...

That negative self-talk can be brutal. I am glad you got it to stop! I will be anxious to see which races you decide to do in 2008.

Wes said...

I'm kinda of the mind, that if you aren't having fun doing this, then stop. That takes a lot of pressure off of yourself. Of course, I'm in a different "stage" than you are. All of this stuff is (painfully) new, so I'm not competing against any prior knowledge, so to speak.

What it really boils down to is that being a good marathoner isn't all about beating your best time. It's about racing smart, pushing and understanding the limits of your body.

With all the other difficult races our blogger friends had, their is a message in there for us too.

Here's to 2008 :-)

Unknown said...

Your first paragraph summed up how I felt during my 4th loop on Saturday. Sorry to hear that Rocket City did not go as planned. I know how it feels. It sounds like you have solid plans for 2008. I look forward to hearing more about them in a future post. Recover well, Joe!

Unknown said...

Your feelings on Rocket City described mine to a "T". I intended on running 4 hours, and I felt that anything less would be a failure. So I hammered a little harder when I started falling off pace. Then I drank too much to try and compensate for the fatigue. And then it all fell apart when puked everything thing up at mile 19! There's no PR gonna happen when all your fluid is on the sidewalk! The bad things is, this was not the first time I have been too stubborn to change my goal. I did the same thing a year ago when I ran into 30 mph headwinds at the Las Vegas Marathon. So learn a lesson from me, and don't make the same mistake twice!!!

Sarah said...

I think that's a great goal. You've been doing this long enough that I think you'll have much success running how you feel as the conditions warrant.

And that's awesome you're adding a few more marathons to your schedule. It worked out well for me this year to up the mileage and race more often. Looking forward to finding out which ones you've chosen!

David said...

After four marathons I have learned from each but have no big coaching truths to share. I did my best time running with someone else for 21 miles at a slower pace than I might have another day. I ran my second best time running alone on a hot day in hills. Go figure. I tend to lean towards the slower than your good feelings starting pace.

Darrell said...

Nice analysis there, Joe. Goals are good, pushing hard is good, but I guess sometimes it boils down to - if life gives you lemons....

We all come out the other end of the race learning a little more about ourselves and a little more about the distance. I'm sure there's a few more lessons out there to be learned.

And..Four marathons in 2008! That's certifiably Maniacal.

Elizabeth said...

Thanks for sharing this with me. We could be twins! Running should be something that we enjoy and that makes us feel good about ourselves, no matter what our times are. I love that you were introspective on this and came up with a new approach and mindset. That's tough to do when you are trapped in a certain way of thinking.