Saturday, November 2, 2019

Atlantic City Marathon, Atlantic City, NJ 10/20/19

This is a two-part race report. The first is about some of my theories and how I practice when it comes to negative splitting a marathon. The second part is a recounting of my race. All of this includes Kim’s race as well because the entire point of racing AC was for both her and me to negative split.  Kim’s negative was a bigger deal than me doing it because it was the first time she decided to try and she was amazing! 

Part I: 

I love the marathon because it can feel like magic sometimes. When we run well, it almost feels like a surprise to even ourselves. How did I just run 26.2M at a pace I could not hold for shorter long runs?  

Today Kim and I ran the AC Marathon with the sole purpose of practicing Fast Finish, Negative-Split Marathon pacing. No matter how many times I negative split a marathon, it will never get old and it always feels like a tremendous accomplishment.

But today was special because it was Kim’s day to deliberately attempt a negative split. I tend to not formally coach my friends because dual-relationships often don’t work out well. However, Kim and I have found our way and we trust each other tremendously.  

Negative split training is hard because most people don’t have the ability to run a marathon as a training run due to physical, financial, and other valid reasons. Not everyone is willing or able to register for a marathon and then use it as a skill-building training run, but that is exactly what works and this is what we did. 

The assignment was to take our average pace from the last marathon we ran together at Clarence DeMar 3 weeks ago and average that pace for the first 14 Miles. And then at Mile 14, we needed to get to work, finding a faster but sustainable pace.  We wanted to feel like we were running a 12M race with a 14M warm up. I would run my race and she would run hers but at the end of the day, we both should cross the finish line with respectable time, faster than the last marathon and with the second half much faster than the first. 

This was a training run, not a goal race so the plan was to practice negative-splitting by running slow enough in the first half to ensure that we had more gears to use. And we wanted to still run a respectable time despite holding back early.   

On the ride over we spent some time revisiting some really important concepts.  Weight changes during races, the Cori Cycle, and having the courage and self-confidence to hold back, trusting that we will find the strength the persevere at faster speeds hours later.   

My thoughts and experience about weight changes on race pace.  Years ago, my husband was talking about flying an airplane. He explained how the plane is at its heaviest when the tank is full. It much harder for the plane to move its mass. It is a less efficient machine when the tank is full. But as fuel is burned off, the plane gets lighter and more efficient. It has much less trouble picking up speed.

I think about this when I race. Speed is not related to how much fuel is in my tank, it is related to how light my machine is compared to how strong my engine is. I regularly weigh in before and after my long runs. Even just an hour of running will result in weight loss.  For my long runs, I come home 3-4 lbs lighter even when I drink fluids along the way. 

But it seems many runners start a race thinking this way: “I want to start somewhat hard, while I have the most energy in me and my freshest legs. I want to bank a little time before I hit the wall.”  

These runners then start at a pace that is faster than their goal pace, which is just a little too fast to sustain especially when they are most heavily loaded with glycogen and hydration. To me, it makes little sense to work extra hard while my body is actually in the most inefficient, heaviest, and slowest form it will be in all morning. Instead, I want to start at a pace that is comfortable, that keeps my goal in reach but gives my body time to burn off some fuel/hydration and become a little lighter (and faster).  If my body isn’t beat up by working too hard too soon, I will get to the second half still surprisingly fresh, but now pounds lighter (even when eating and drinking along the way). This is when I want to shift gears and start “racing”. If this goes well, there should be no fade, no wall, and my fastest miles should be at the very end. 

I also explained to Kim how the Cori Cycle worksHow many of us understand that the human body is a glucose recycling center? This little-discussed system is truly magical.  Basically, when glucose is burned for energy, lactate is discharged into the bloodstream as a by-product of the chemical reaction in the cells. When this lactate makes it way back to the liver it is converted back into useable glucose that once again can reach the cells and be burned as energy. 

The accumulation of lactate is regulated by our pace. Faster paces make more lactate.  Lactate is not a problem until we have too much of it. If we work just a little too hard, more lactate accumulates in the blood than can be recycled by the liver and it builds up. This excess of lactate reduces the pH balance of the blood, impacting how well the blood can transport oxygen and negatively impacting muscle contraction.  When this happens, the body’s survival mechanism kicks in and we start to slow down. This slow down in pace allows the liver more time to recycle the overage of lactate. Often when we get back under our lactate threshold, pH balance is restored and we get a second wind. 

Our lactate threshold can be pushed higher with training methods. But racing our best requires us to understand that pushing through the burn is not the smartest thing to do early in a race. We want to do this at the end where overshooting our lactate threshold will be less problematic because once we hit the finish line the race is over and we can walk around while lactate clears. 

If we are very in tune without bodies we can feel the subtle signs that we are starting to accumulate too much lactate. For me, I can feel my legs start to feel heavy and my breathing gets a little bit labored.  One question I ask myself repeatedly as I run is “Can I get faster? Do I have another gear?” If the answer is NO before my “go faster” mark, then I need to slow down because I am at my redline for lactate accumulation. I stop letting my Ego rule me too early.  I need to save that for the end.

Finally, Kim and I talked about how much courage and confidence it takes to PLAN to negative split a race. It is risky, especially when you believe the WALL exists regardless of your pacing. Most simply don’t believe that it is possible for them to get faster in the second half marathon. They think the wall is coming no matter what and they can’t stop it.  Negative split a marathon at a pace you are proud of just once and you will learn that there isn’t a wall for everyone. The less discipline you have, the bigger your wall will be.

Of course, first, we need to be trained to handle the demands of 26.2M of running before we can think about the ways to manipulate pacing over that distance.  Kim was trained to run 26.2 and her recovery was fast. Same for me. 

The best way to build our sense of self-efficacy is to witness someone who we feel is similar to ourselves do something that we didn’t think was possible. When we see it is possible for someone similar to us, we start to believe it is possible for us too.  Once Kim was able to see me run a 14-minute negative split at Clarence DeMar, I knew she would be interest, ready, and willing to try it for herself. Kim and I have different strengths and weaknesses but we know each other and we know there are more similarities between our approach to training, nutrition, life than there are differences. 

Self-confidence is a tough element to control. When it comes to negative splitting a marathon I don’t think anyone is going to feel truly confident until they do it once.  Kim has been my training and racing partner for years.  She has witnessed my success with pacing and knows that I have been able to negative split every single PR race I have ever run in my life. 

The irony is people might imagine that a negative split would feel physically harder than banking time and then letting the body fade, but that can’t be further from the truth.  Instead, for me each time I negative split a marathon, the experience is not painful. It is exhilarating. To err and run myself into the ground for 14 miles first and then try to power on for 12M more doing more and more damage to my already beat up body that just wants to stop moving is so incredibly painful, physically and emotionally. Lactate accumulation can hurt when we have too much. It is a horrible feeling to want to lift your legs but to find you have no ability to do it. However, in contrast, running 14M just under the lactate threshold, taking advantage of the Cori Cycle, recycling glucose, not getting beaten up, just doesn’t hurt. And then when I hit the 12M to go mark, it is my “Go Time”.  The pace I pick when practicing negatives is a pace that is significantly faster than what I just ran, but one that still allows me to hold on to one more faster gear for the end.  Because I am running faster than all those around me, the crowds feed my Ego and inspire me to try harder and run strong.  And because I am moving faster than anyone around me, any competition I reel in will be completely unlikely to respond in kind (because few runners have the skill and ability to negative split).  By the time I finish, my last mile should be one of the fastest and the pain will be minimal.  And there was never a Wall at all.  

Before someone negative splits a marathon for the first time, it is hard to believe it is possible. But after one time, race pacing should never be the same again. To learn you can run for 2+ hours at a respectable pace and then decide to run the last hour+ much faster and then do it changes us. The best way to build this confidence is to set yourself up to succeed by picking a marathon, and running with discipline for the first chunk and then picking a mark in the second half where you will shift gears and turn on the power and just plan to learn about what you can do. Forget about the finish time. Forget about chasing a PR. Just pick a race and deliberately practice mastering this skill and then say goodbye to the wall forever.

Part II

Some of my Race Performance Journal Notes:
Condition/Terrain: The conditions weren’t terrible, but they could have been a little better at the end. It was about 60 degrees at the start and overcast. For my lasts 80 minutes, it rained and the winds kicked up to about 14 mph. When running into this wind along the ocean on the soft, energy-absorbing boardwalk, it was more of a struggle than I hoped it would be.  

One surprise to me was how slow the boards were. I am used to running the boards from Spring Lake to Asbury Park to Long Branch. After Hurricane Sandy, a lot of our boards there are replaced with a hard plastic boardwalk. It is solid and really doesn’t feel much different than running on the roads. But for AC, the boards are old and bouncy and they have way too much give. My pace dropped 10-15 seconds per mile immediately every time I hit the boardwalk segments compared to the road segments. I didn’t expect this much of a difference.  

Shoes/Gear: NB 1400s, Sports Bra (on inside out because I got dressed in the dark ;)  Maybe this is good luck.) Bike shorts by Brooks. Waist Belt by Nathan for gu because shorts did not have pockets.

Health/Wellness Factors: Feeling strong, fit, and ready to execute my negative split plan. Not able to weigh in before and after this run but guessing about 115-117 the morning of the race, which was close to 6 lbs less than I was at Clarence De Mar.  

At some point during the race, I had suffered some type of allergic reaction. I didn’t realize it until after I finished but my eyelids were incredibly swollen and I had an uncontrollable sneezing fit that lasted 25 minutes straight, non-stop sneezing?  It took three days for my eyes to look normal again. I don't know if this impacted me during the run. I didn't notice.

Nutrition:  I do what works for me and ate about 1000 calories MORE than my usual intake spread out over the day before the race (Risotto at Spanos for dinner with my parents). Instead of the 80-100 grams of carbs I usually eat, I ate about 300g of carbs the day before.  The morning of the race and during the race I got about 175g of carbs in me (pumpkin spice donut, gels, Gatorade, and BCAAs). For me, this nutrition plan works like rocket fuel. You don't need to copy me but rather find your own way. I was so well-fueled that energy level was never a problem. I was not ravenous after. I was able to return immediately to my high-protein, lower-carb style of eating. 

Sleep: I slept horribly the night before. Hardly any unbroken sleep. I totaled 5 hours and 43 minutes of broken sleep. This is terrible for me. We stayed at my parents' house and Lapis was not happy.  She was up pacing around at night not sure what to do with herself. It took a while for her to settle down.

Execution of the plan:  Here are my splits … I think it went well considering the last 80 minutes was in the worst weather of the race for me.  

For the first 14 miles, I was so patient. I let everyone go and I reminded myself what my task was for the day. The slower-paced start allows me to work on form. I thought about how my body moved and try to be efficient.  There were moments along the way when I worried about whether or not I would have another gear or two… but when those thoughts were recognized I shook them away and reminded myself to focus on my goal. 

As I got past 10 miles, I wanted to ensure I could shift.  My first 14M pace plan was to sit between 8:20-8:40 pace. When I started to wonder if my last 12 would go well, I made a decision to slow my pace a little to help ensure that it would. 

As soon as I hit 12 to go, I was ready and antsy to start racing. I took the first mile a little too fast but the course was more decline here and I felt amazing.  I was hoping to hold a pace under 8:00 and ideally around 7:40 for the last 12.2M but the weather turned and it just added a little more difficult than I expected. I was happy working to just stay under 8:00.

I wish I knew what place I was in when I hit 12 to go.  I wish I counted how many people I passed on the way in. There was one guy at the end that was moving better than me but I passed a massive number of runners as if they were standing still. Not one female could go with me and I knew it. 

As the rain came down and the wind picked up, I reached the boards again. There is no shelter there. Just a straight run along the ocean for miles. I passed a younger female runner who tucked in tight directly behind a guy (boyfriend maybe) who was clearly there to help her.  He was shielding her from the elements.  We had 2 miles to go.  He looked back and saw me coming. I could tell he wanted to try to hold me off. He said something to her to encourage her. They picked the pace up together, her so close to him that she couldn’t even see the ground in front of her own feet. As I blew past them, I wanted to say “It must be nice to have a helper but you don’t need him” but I decided that was not necessary and it didn’t matter, they couldn’t stop me or even go with me. This could have been her first marathon and maybe she just didn’t believe in herself yet. She was doing really well. Some day this girl is going to want to know what it feels like to run strong without anyone to aid her. 

I wanted to kick with 2-3 miles to go but the wind was making every step work. I was still moving well and decided to wait until the 25M mark to make my final push. 

I was able to get my pace down to 7:11 for the last .35 miles and that felt amazing.  

When I checked the result I was incredibly happy to see I managed a 3:35 and was 10th place female!  When I look at my last half, I managed a 7-minute negative split and felt such a huge sense of accomplishment. 

I waited a few minutes for Kim to come through, hoping she did well.  At 4:01, she came sprinting over the finish line, having managed to run a 10-minute negative split herself with her last mile her fastest!  

My Stats: 


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