Last year, I managed to run Turkey Swamp 50k in 5:15 and the Sri Chinmoy Marathon in 3:34 in the same week, plus 40+ more miles between them to make it 100+ in 7 days. I was on track again for this same high mileage week. I am in the beginning of focused training, so racing well is not a priority. I wanted 100+ miles this week. However, this time things did not go as well.
Last year I ran the 50k about 30 minutes slower (a minute per mile slower) and I ran my mid-week mileage slower as well. But Sri Chinmoy was a much hotter day so I thought I would be ok to finish, even if I was a little more beat up by the time I reached the starting line. The night before the race I decided, like I often do when I don't want to cook, to have Thai food for dinner. I got it mild rather than medium like I normally do. I eat spicy foods without issues and didn't believe this would be a problem. Regardless, spicy food clearly doesnt make a great pre-marathon meal choice. I woke up with a bit of an upset stomach and on the ride up could not eat anything I usually consume pre-race.
I really wasn't running this race as a RACE, so I didn't need every pre-race detail to be just perfect. I would just slow down and get it done. I had a long work day Thursday, got to bed very late, got up early getting very little sleep. I grabbed some race gear in the morning, like I would for a long run and met Alanna at 5:00 am when she picked me up.
Sometimes it is nice to not think too hard about race day details, just show up, run and see how it goes. Sometimes it goes ok. Anything under 4 hours would be a good day for me. Other times, not so great. I learn a lot more by doing things wrong than I do when things seem to go right, so it is ok when I do things wrong sometimes.
I wasn't really worried about not being able to consume calories on the ride up. I figured I would just go with Aid Station sports drink and maybe some food along the way. I have needed less food than others at races, so I figured I would be ok since this was just a Long Run anyway.
I planned to go out just under 8:00 min pace and see how long I could sit there. At the start I felt very good. By mile 4, I was feeling great but I was getting concerned because the Aid Stations had a sports drink that I did not recognize the taste of. In fact, to me it tasted like it was very weakly mixed. I felt like I was basically just drinking water. That may have been how it was supposed to be mixed, but I was clearly not used to that drink and it was not giving me what I needed.
By the end of the second lap my stomach was back to being irritated, but I assumed that would pass. I made a quick pit stop and continued on my way. When I passed the next aid station I asked someone handing out drinks what brand of sports drink was. He just said "Energy?" like he did when he held out the "Energy drink." I could already tell there wasnt enough energy for me in that drink. I still wasn't sure if I was getting any calories at all and started looking for something else. By mile 6, I was already feeling hungry and remembered I threw a bottle of gatorade and a small 10 oz handheld in my bag. I stopped to get my bottle together, hoping that after a 15 minutes or so I would start to pep up. I tried to drink the gatorade, but it was warm and my stomach was still irritated, requiring yet another pit stop. I was just not feeling well. In comparison to what I was drinking early, my gatorade tasted way too sweet and this was now adding to my nausea.
By mile 8, I just didn't feel like I could consume anything without getting nauseated. This is how I feel when I am depleted and dehydrated. By 13 miles my legs were turning to lead and I knew this run was not going to end well. I slowed down and tried to refocus my energy on drinking the gatorade or getting calories in me. I tried a piece of watermelon, but one bite just made me feel worse. I slowed down, felt like crap, but tried to keep going. It was not going well and I still had almost half to go!
As I came around to 17 miles, I took a break to walk and could feel my quads aching badly. I felt like my legs were bruised from the inside out. I suspected my muscles were simply not ready for this effort. I recognized this sensation from late into ultra where I am just running on fumes and bonking hard. I really dislike that feeling.
Returning to a run, I was at a crossroads. I wasn't sure if I wanted to push on through. I could have managed a sub-4 hour if I just ran 10-11 minute miles for the balance of the race. That really doesnt seem too hard, but every step make me feel like I was tearing up my quads and calves. I wanted to train with my TNT team the next day. I could just stop at 20 and accept it as a training run. I moved on, seeing if I felt better, but slowing down as I progressed, no longer having fun, feeling worse as I went on.
I thought about how much value to me, during training, it would have for me to run the last 7 miles at a snails pace, run/walking just to get mileage done and likely not being able to train well the next day. During this phase in my training, I am not focused on race times and dont mind a slow race. However, it made little sense for me to continue on mostly walking. I knew at 20 miles I would have 96 miles for the week. I was happy with that weekly volume. 96 or 100 is not that significant.
I recalled that last year I was running higher volume more consistently before this double. This past July and early August, I had some issues that slowed my training. After a few weeks of feeling my immune system crashing, I backed down a lot. Then I felt great, starting to log more mileage only to be sidelined for about 10 days after straining my calf. Last year this double likely felt easier because I was able to handle it better. This year, I was just not as well-trained.
At 20.5 and about 3:05 into the run, I reached my stuff and just decided to stop. As much as it stings to not finish, I knew it was the right decision.
The next day, I was able to log an easy 20 mile run a team of runners I assist with training runs. And then today, I was able to run a hilly 15 mile route with some friends and back that up with another 5. 60.5 miles in 3 days is good training and right now I am in training mode.
I try to remind myself of my focus when I start to get caught up in other people's rules. For me it is "Good Training during Training and Good racing during Racing" I cant race well during training phases and I cant log huge training weeks without any bit of a taper and race my best.
Showing up on tired legs and body, depleted of calories and possibly dehydrated, unable to consume food, running only on water, while trying to run strong is a recipe for bonking around 18-20 and that is exactly what I did.
Today's 20 mile day felt 100 times better than Fridays run. My only regret is DNFing at a race that is arranged by a group of people who base their spirituality on enduring through adversity and using endurance events to exercise their drive.
Regardless of how tough this race felt, I know I needed it. After running well at Turkey Swamp last race, I did not walk away with a lot of lessons. After DNFing this marathon, I had a list of lessons the length of my arm and I think I needed learn them.