Sunday, September 21, 2008

Race Report: United States Air Force Marathon

ORN: 26.2 miles; 5:07:34, R3/W1, then R1/W1, then W; 11:45/mile

Quick Summary

The marathon is a relentless teacher. And I think it is this relentlessness which makes it so appealing to me. Yesterday was yet another prime example. Twenty-one nice miles. Five really hard miles. Dehydration, nausea. Bonk city. Lessons abound. And I need the group here to help me figure out just what happened.

The Gory Details

The race started on time, complete with three, count ‘em, three F-22 Raptor Stealth Fighter planes swooping in from behind and then going into a near-vertical climb over the start pack. When the third plane came over, off we went. One runner nearby quipped “Wow…what we need is to have them fly over at mile 22.” Little did I realize how right she was.

The first five miles wound around the southern part of Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, OH. After 5, I was one minute ahead of the splits I had projected in my 3/1 pace. We ducked briefly off base to do a mile or so through the little town of Fairborn. With no security restrictions, the fan base was marvelous, a continuous stream of folks there. I gave high fives to both Batman and Spiderman. A cardboard standup of Barack Obama smiled at me. Ohio is, after all, a swing state. I hit the 10 mile mark 90 seconds ahead of plan.

We wound back into the base, past the officers’ houses, golf course, admin buildings and worked down to the airfield. We looped the north end of the massive airstrip and headed back to the south end of the base where we started. At the 15 mile mark, I was in rhythm, still 90 seconds ahead of my plan. Along there, Jeff joined me, liking the 3/1 ratio I was holding. It was his first marathon and he asked if he could “ride along” with my timer. A couple miles later, we picked up another first time marathoner, Christina. We kept moving, now out of the shade and into the full (and upper 70s) sunshine and asphalt. The three of us came to the 20 mile mark, still a full minute ahead of the projected time. I knew I had padded the last seven miles of my plan by nearly a minute per mile and informed Jeff we were on a 4:45 pace.

Heading for mile 22, up and over a long freeway overpass, I felt the race slip away. A twingly feeling in my legs and feet was the first clue. Jeff was feeling better and worked ahead. Christina got a second wind and eased ahead a little later. The walk-breaks that usually help me through such moments didn’t work this day. I dialed back to a 1/1 ratio and held that for a while, but my mile splits fell to 14 minute range. Around mile 24.5, after a mere 60 seconds of running, I felt my head go woozy and the horizon started to totter from left to right. I recognized the signs of dehydration and realized I needed to simply walk it in. Which I did. With plenty of time to think, I walked, weakly managing to run the last 50 feet across the finish line. And that was about all I had left.

After the race, I got more and more woozy. I found a place to sit down after getting de-chipped and parked myself for, it turns out, over 45 minutes. It was all I could do to keep from throwing up, the nausea and discomfort was so severe. It was much worse than the rottenness I felt at the end of the Rocket City Marathon last December. My hands, arms and calves were all trembling. I eventually managed to walk the three-fourths mile to the shuttle bus to get back to my car. Rather than driving home, I ended up spending the night nearby with my niece and her husband. The nausea continued for another hour or so, with lots of hot sweats alternating with chills, characteristic of dehydration. Only after I could sleep for while could I get a taste for fluids. Once that happened, I recovered quickly. Strangly, the roof of my mouth felt really out of sorts for the better part of the evening.

So how did this happen? Please help me answer this question!

I thought I had worked out a good hydration plan. I carried my own fluids, starting out with 20 oz of half strength Gatorade. I consumed all of it and reloaded with the same at mile 9. I drained that 20oz and reloaded again at mile 16.5. I had made three porta-pot stops during the race, which seemed a good sign I was still hydrated. Yet, I noticed (but only in retrospect) that between the second fluid reload and mile 21, I only drank about 5 oz. It suddenly became repulsive to me. I simply couldn’t get the half-strength Gatorade down. At a water stop at mile 22, I picked up 10 oz of straight water, thinking it might be more palatable. But it wasn't. I had no desire to drink, even though I knew I needed to drink.

For fuel along the way, I used a tool I had used in training, a bite of a Clif Bar every 20 minutes. That got repulsive to me about the same time the fluids no longer sounded good to me.

So how do I get over this nausea, this revulsion from the very fluids I need? Did I simply lose focus? Do I need to go to another plan? Do S-Caps figure in or some other electrolyte replacement? Did the fact I only got about three hours sleep factor in? I’m sure I’m missing something here. Yet, if I don’t solve this, I really wonder if I should stick with running the marathon distance. I would appreciate your advice.

The Afterword

My oldest sister phoned today, and, after satisfying herself I was OK, asked “Why didn’t you just quit that last mile and a half?” I smiled and told her. I ran this race on a military base in honor of my two sons in the US Army. David found many times in his two deployments to Iraq that he felt pretty rotten, yet carried on to the end. Matt will find the same in his service, most of which is still to come. Countless others in service to our country have persevered, despite their own feelings. All this ran through my mind as I walked the last mile and a half. While I had hoped to finish the race strong and running hard. Yet, my daughter-in-law pointed out this evening my race may have been a better picture of the struggles of many in the military, to simply keep moving, one foot in front of the other, carrying on to the end of the appointed duty.

So I smiled as I walked, realizing this was really nothing compared to what so many have done; simply persevering to the end.


Backofpack said...

I'm not the best one to advise you, because I'm constantly being told I don't drink enough. I have given up on the electrolyte drinks - they make me feel sick and I can't get them down. I use s-caps and plain water, and I supplement with real food. I would say this though - think about the calorie output you've got going on during a marathon, and the calorie input you have. One bite of a clif bar every 20 minutes is not very many calories, plus they are not easily digestible calories. Think about switching to something that can digest easily - and think about variety, so when one things sounds horrid, something else will work.

Here's what I ate yesterday in the 50k:
water - 50 oz (Eric says not enough)
peanut butter filled pretzels (2 snack bags)
a powerbar harvest bar
a tlc granola bar
mashed garlic potatoes
1/2 banana
animal crackers
a handful of trail mix
a can of Starbucks double shot

That's a lot of food, but I was out there for a little over nine hours. Eric likes those breakfast cookies, beef jerky and trail mix too. And pb&j sandwiches.

I pack stuff like that along in a marathon too - when your tummy gets wonky, some of the plain stuff helps.

I'm sure you'll get loads of good advice here!

Journey to a Centum said...


Congratulations on your finish, no matter how ugly it was for you.

A few things on your rotten four miles to the finish.

1. I don't see any mention of electrolytes in your race report. E-caps, S-Caps, Saltstick Caps? Do you use them? I take one S-Cap every hour in a marathon or trail run.

2. How was your hydration before the race? I've always felt that hydration starts two days before the event. I like to have every cell in my body all plump with cell juice. I hope I'm not getting to technical here...

3. Do you use hammer gel or gu during your races to fuel the engine? I use unflavored hammer gel. For marathon I take two packets and hour.

If you feel like you had these bases covered them maybe you just had a bad day. But how can you say that when you crossed the finish line? That's much better than a DNF!


Darrell said...

Wow, this is not the race report I expected to read. It is obviously not the one you expected to write. As I was reading it reminded me of Rocket City, but it seems to have gone beyond that.

I wonder about the sleep the day before? But traditional wisdoms says that two nights pre race is the important sleep night.

Michelle's suggestion of more easily digestible food makes sense, but didn't those bars get you through the long runs. My only other thought, and Eric already hit on it, was the electrolyte tabs. I used them in DC and WV last year with good results.

I'm sorry that this race turned out this way for you. You've got a couple more chances this year to experiment with getting to the finish line feeling better. I hope you are able to figure it out. Are you really thinking of giving it up?

Jodi said...

You're no doubt going to have a lot of conflicting advice in this thread, but here is my .02

- You didn't take in enough electrolytes. Half strength regular gatorade has almost no salt. 4+ hour marathon runners are very susceptible to hyponatremia from drinking a lot of low electrolyte beverages for extended periods. Gatorade Endurance was made for a reason. That being said, everyone is different with their salt requirements so this is something you have to figure out in training and adjust based on weather.

- Cliff bars, while a great recovery food and ok on long bike rides, are not a good choice for marathon running. The fiber is going to pull additional water into your gut. Plus, it's not that easy to digest. You need sugar, and for a 5 hour effort you need more than you were taking in.

So my guess is hyponatremia or a bonk from not enough carbs, or a combination of both.

But good on ya for pushing through and getting to that line!



Anonymous said...

Try a new hydration tool called 'AquaJoe'. It's a sports drink powder holder/dispenser for athletes. You can bring along your choiced of poweder & its much lighter than carrying lots of liquid. It's ideal for any run/race where you have access to clean water. There is a video of it on their site, .

Wes said...

Aqua Joe strikes again :-)

Joe, my coach tells me to take in 20 oz of sports drink AND 20 oz of water an hour during Ironman. On top of that, I need 200 calories an hour plus 500 to 1000 mg of salt. A lot of that salt comes from the food I eat, but I supplement with s-tabs when I have to. I use this new electrolyte drink from Power Gel that works really well.

Jodi is right though. Everybody is different. You have to train your body to take in the fluids, food, and salt you need to run, even when you'd rather barf. Practice your nutrition plan every long run, over and over again.

Congrats on another great marathon finish. A lesson learned is a valuable lesson indeed :-)

Anonymous said...

My marathon was pretty intense too. I did a couple of halfs after that and then basically stopped running. Just looking for some motivation to get back out there.

John said...

Hey Joe.. I saw what might be a helpful article at this site:

There is a small section on hyponatremia in the middle of the article, which sounds like you may have experienced (as the above person noted)..

Just a thought, anyway, you may want to check it out.

Great to talk with you after the race, even in your woozy state!


IronWaddler said...

I am so sorry that the race was not as expected. I know the overpass and how hot the sun can be in that spot. Also the hills that come in the last few miles are tough.

I have no answer because my long run over the weekend was no the best.

Only thing that I have found is that the bars take too long for the body to digest. I use Clif shot blox. Also in my half Iron- for the first time I use e-tablets.

Tough day,tough course. You finished though and learned from the experience.

Take care and recover.

Unknown said...


I agree with a lot of the comments above. I try to drink about 20 ounces per hour and I think that is even on the low end. I also take s-caps, or electrolyte caps once an hour. During the last ultra I was eating a GU on the half hour and solid food on the hour. That worked well for 9-10 hours. You perservered nonetheless. Congratulations!

David said...

I am probably on the low end of good practice but ... I carry no liquids but drink at every stop, usually the electrolyte product. I eat Clif Shot Bloks every 5 miles the first half and every four miles the last 11. I prefer the Margarita flavor because they're triple sodium. Bloks over Gu to avoid the sticky mess. My secret weapon is sprinkling golden raisins in with the bag of Bloks to add texture and a favorite food of mine. They're easy to pack and carry. If the red cups are out, they're an automatic. Beer has lots of carbs.
Drinking plenty of water in the days ahead and being thoroughly plump is a very good practice too.
I am going to have to check out the e-caps and s-caps.