Monday, February 18, 2013

Winter Marathon, Albany, NY. 2/17/13. (Racing off high volume and no rest).

This was never a goal race, but I did go planning to finish it.  I know that it is always a windy,  it is winter, and it is Albany, so it is going to be cold.  None of that was a shocking surprise.

There were three reasons why I went to this race. (1) I thought it would be a good place to take a beating and toughen me up a bit, (2) I wanted to use this as my last long run before a race in March, and (3) I just wanted to see what it would feel like to run a race off of NO rest at all after running the highest mileage by far of my life and after running 20 miles the day before.

I have hit 100 miles in a week in training but usually the week before and the week after were less mileage.  It was always a major accomplishment for me to see triple digits.  However, in the last 4 weeks I have had by far the highest volume of training of my life with 70, 90, 100, and 100.8 miles in that time. The day before the marathon I ran a double, 15 miles in the morning and then 5 at night.  I had no intention of going in rested and I just wanted to see how hard it would feel to run tired.

In fact, my focus for the last 14 days has been to keep my "Last 7 Days" of mileage rolling along at 100 or more. That meant for the last 20 days I was averaging 14+ miles per day. My average pace for this effort was about 9:20.  Not blistering fast, but all a good effort.

In the back of my mind, I wondered if my body had acclimated so much in the last 4 weeks that I could run a fast marathon on no rest at all.  I also wondered when the suffering would start and how bad it was going to be.  I just wasn't sure what to expect.

John P. arrived at my house at 5:45 am.  I knew he would be there at 5:45 because I told him to be there at 6:00 am. I drove the 3 hours up to Albany while John reported the catastrophic weather report... "19 degrees, feels like 2 degrees with winds at 20 mph and gusting to 40+mph."  I refused to believe him.  This was likely going to be the coldest marathon I have ever run, but I have trained with Alanna in colder weather for hours so I wasn't too worried about not being able to tolerate it if I dressed properly.  But that was the hard part, to decide what to wear so I can race fast while also staying warm.

My long runs with Alanna involved lots of layers and my super warm mittens.  I knew there was no way I could open gels and handle water/gatorade with bulky mittens, so I opted for my convertible glove/mittens (gloves that have a slip over cover that make they wrap fingers like mittens).  My head was warm in a fleece hat and I had a neck wrap I could pull up over my face to block the wind. I wore bike shorts and compression sleeves under my tights, and that was a good choice.  My knees felt cold but everything else was warm enough.  I also wore a thin sleeveless tech shell, two thin long sleeve layers and a light jacket.  All layers were very thin, and wicking and I felt great in that amount of clothing.  Cold at first, but warm while running hard.

The race was small with a relay.  I started up front.  I got an early lead and then got passed by a girl in pink by the time we reached the clock that told us it was 19 degrees at best in the windless sun. She passed me and slowed to my pace, so I sat behind her. If I tried to pass, she would take a few quick strides and stay ahead.  I was content to sit. I was trying to hold my pace around 7:20 and that is where we were.

We finished lap 1 and on lap 2 I did manage to pull ahead when we she slowed a teeny bit.  I was hoping the temps were rising but it was still 19 on the clock.  With the winds it really felt much colder.

I felt good on this second lap, even after being handed the icy cup of water at the aid station.  At mile 6 I took a gel from my pocket it an was a frozen mess.  I opened it, held it in my cold hand and it never really warmed up.  I was able to get it out in small batches and wash it down with cups of slushy icy water.  I can't explain how demotivating ice water is at a race that is below freezing.

I tried to stay focused and my pace was still mid-7:00's on average, but the wind was kicking up harder. The struggling started when fighting the heavy gusting and this gave me enough information to know just how bad my body is beaten from the 380+ miles in the last 30 days, 20 the day before.

On Lap 3, I tried to focus on the nice parts of the course.  The shielded parts where 19 felt balmy or the down hills which felt nice to run fast, but I was loosing this battle fast.  The uphills into the wind were kicking my butt and burning my quads.  I was still lead women, but I already knew that it was just a matter of time until I get passed me.  My pace was fading to the 8:00 in the windy parts and my quads felt like DOMS was setting in as I ran.

As I came around to the end of Lap 3 (abt 15 miles), we hit an incline into the headwind and I knew I was done seeing 7's for the day.  I ran through the turn around and saw John who said he was done running.  I was so sad to hear this.  I managed to convince him to come back out with me for one more slow lap.

I didn't NEED to finish this race. I needed just 20 miles to maintain my streak of 100 miles in 7 days and that last lap would do it for me. I did think if I ran a slower lap with John, I would likely still go out and finish the last loop just to complete the distance even if the time was slow.

As John and I started off, I got another cup of ice water from the aid station volunteer, I asked him if he could set me on fire because I was freezing.  I was feeling depleted, like I could use a gel but all my gels were frozen in my pocket.  I didn't even bother to try to get one open.  The wind was worse on this lap than the one before. John told me about some pain he had in his foot that made him think that stopping was a good idea. We took it slow to see whether he thought his foot pain would stop him.  It didn't.

Because I had slowed down significantly and possibly because I drank a cup of ice water and ran off into a 40 mph head wind, I suddenly became overwhelmingly cold.  My hands went numb and I didn't notice at first.  As we ran along, suddenly my finger tips and nail beds became extremely painful. John told me to pull my fingers out of the finger holes and make fists inside my gloves.  I realized then that I couldn't move my fingers.  John grabbed my hand to try to help me pull my fingers out of the gloves and my nail beds and finger tips hurt so bad when he touched them that I had to stop moving.   I was considering just turning back.

John had ski gloves on. He pulled my gloves off my and gave me his.  We started running again while I warmed up. After back in motion for awhile my hands warmed within his gloves. It was a while before he would finally accept his gloves back and I took mine. I didn't want his hands to freeze but he is a good friend and helped me to not cry in public.

My gloves were soaked with probably a combination of sweat and water from the water stops. I wondered if it was likely that the wet gloves were freezing on my hands (at least the finger tips) and my finger were starting to get frostbite?  My nails have felt bruised since, but nothing turned black and blue.

We plodded through the lap, I reported that I had planned to go back out for the last lap because I could still be under 4 hours, but after one hard gust I simply decided that it was not worth it to me anymore.

We finished the lap, jogged until my Garmin rounded me out to 21 miles and went inside for hot chocolate and soup.  We took off shortly after and we were home before sun-set.

I learned a lot of lessons while out there.

First, I will not run a marathon in temperature that "feel like" single digits ever again.  This is not the first time I had severe pain from cold hand, but this is the worst pain I ever experienced.

Second, I proved to myself that running fast and far without any rest off of super high mileage is really hard to do. I am proud of those 21 miles in 2:57.  Even with a slow last 5 miles my pace was still 8:26. I was holding about 7:30's for the first 15.  I feel that was a good run for me under the circumstance.

Third, I learned that my suspicion that I would not need a taper was not actually based on my belief that I have become really strong and fit from high mileage, but more driven by my fear that if I drop my mileage down to under 100 in 7 days, I may never get back up to that mileage again without injury.

I have been very proud of running so much without any issues.  It was a lot of work to get up to 100 miles in 7 days.  Over time I was surprised to find that it felt easy to maintain 100 miles in 7 day.   It is harder for me to build up than to sit at high volume, so I know dropping down will mean I have to build up again.  I wanted to avoid the build, not avoid the taper.

I have a race I would like to do well at in two weeks.  I do not want to feel like I did at this marathon.  I would like to feel more like I did at my last 50k, when I started that one well-rested.  So I started my taper today.  Hopefully in 3 weeks I will be back up to 100 miles in 7 days again, where I have been very happy to sit for almost the entire month of February.


  1. Dang, girl! I am constantly impressed by you! I tried that little marathon test once, too. Only, I did a marathon on my own, not in a race setting. I just went out and ran 26.2 to see what it would feel like. Yeah... similar results. You are still a major rock star, and I know you will do even more awesome after a little taper. GREAT JOB!

    1. It means a lot that you tried the same "experiment" and had similar results! Crazy how hard it can feel without any rest at all. The cold surely made it worse!