I completed my second marathon last Sunday as part of the Bank of America Chicago Marathon.
I PR-ed by 17 minutes and came in under 4 hours with a final finish time of 3 hours and 56 minutes.
I should be really excited about the PR and the finish under 4 hours, but I haven’t had many positive thoughts about Sunday’s race since I crossed the start line at 7:42 am.
This race was miserable. I don’t remember feeling fluid and free even once.
After spending the entire summer waking up at 4:00 am to chase the protection and coolness of the shade, completing long runs by myself, and pushing myself to run at speeds I really never thought was possible; the fact that this race was so painful was incredibly disappointing.
So completely frustrating. Especially since I felt GREAT breathing wise, and my shins/calves that had been bothering me after that pesky snake bite incident felt really great and loose.
I called P immediately after crossing the finish line. I could not even speak normal. I was devastated.
Starting at mile ten, maybe even before then, I started having charlie horse level pain in my quadriceps. I have never, ever, experienced pain like this in my life for such a long duration. I never had a problem with my quads during training, not even once.
Prior to the race, I made a spreadsheet with pace times and elapsed time values for each mile. I included values for a 3:40 and 3:45 pace. I also included when to fuel and who to look for at specific mile markers. P was comparing the spreadsheet to the runner tracker app, and it perfectly matched up until 13.1 mile marker.
I am not a great runner, at all. The one thing that might give me the slightest edge is that I am really good at sticking things through when it gets tough. Since I had been more successful during the last halves of ALL my training runs, I figured I would be able to do the same during the marathon. The point is - I could not physically go any faster. I think if it had been any hotter, I would have dropped out.
I finally realized today, while talking to my sweet neighbor, how to put it into words. This was more than a ‘mind over matter’ issue. I knew something physiological was going on, and kept trying to analyze what the problem might be.
The interesting part I found was was that my heart rate decreased during the latter part of the race. This makes NO sense to me!! I felt like I was working so hard to just even keep my legs moving. Overall, my average heart rate was 155 bpm, but from mile 13 or 14 to the end, my heart rate decreased only to slightly peak at the very end.
Regrettably, I think I started the race hungry, and instead of waiting until an hour in (probably around mile 7 or 8), I fueled at mile 3. Looking back on things, even though I wasn't hungry, I should have finished all of my oatmeal before we left to join our starting corrals. I'm also thinking that a Picky Bar might have been a better choice right away.
In all, I had one Huma packet, 1 picky bar, and probably half a pack of Skratch Labs gummies. My handheld water bottle had Skratch Labs in it, and I wish I had put one more packet of Skratch powder in it towards the end of the race, but since I knew I was going way slower than planned I did not want to waste any more time.
I also think I should have eaten more the day before the race, even though I felt full, I should have eaten at least a protein bar or maybe an english muffin with peanut butter before bed.
I planned to have mental check-ins every so often, which I was successful in doing. I even did several of them out loud towards the end, and I was great, except for the crazy quadricep pain! I started this race knowing that things were going to get tough out there at some point. I experienced this two weeks before the race. Planned mental check-ins are most definitely something I will continue to carry with me to every race, and maybe even every training run. There were two things that really threw me off during the last six miles.
Somewhere around miles 18 - 20, I started smelling something terrible. At first I thought maybe it was poop from a police horse. Then I wondered if maybe someone stopped on the sidewalk to poop. (I’ve never seen so many runners jump off course to relieve themselves, by the way.) The smell got stronger. All of a sudden, this lady runs by me and I see that she has POOP alllll over her legs. There are smear marks on her calves and drips all the way down to her ankles.
If that had been me – I think I would have stopped at the medical aid tent to try and get something to wipe myself off with. At the very least, I think I would have stayed off to the side and away from groups of people as much as I could. NOPE. Not this lady. It was like she had no sense of what personal space was in the first place, and then on top of that, she did not care one bit about the poop smeared all over her. I tried not to look at her again and was finally able to maneuver around her. I ended up moving to the other side of the street for a little bit and THANKFULLY I did not see her again.
By dissecting the map, I was able to figure out exactly at what point in the race the second thing happened. It was at mile 23. I had been hovering around a group of runners from a different country for about five miles. All of a sudden, this man in front of me falls to the ground and starts screaming. Not to gender norm things, but it isn’t every day that you hear a grown man scream like he was screaming. It actually reminded me of how the thieves scream in Home Alone when they get a tarantula or a hot iron to the face.
He fell to the ground and his legs went up in the air, he grabbed them and just continued screaming. We all stopped around him and then started flagging down the medics. Once I saw he was attended to, I kept going and tried not to think about it. (Well, I did try.) My quads were so tight that I started worrying if this was about to happen to me too. Very unsettling.
Aside from finish times and paces, I had several other goals that were related to recovery.
I'm still working on hydrating proficiently after long runs, and actually I think the heat of the summer was helpful because if I ever made the mistake of not re-hydrating on Saturday, I felt horrendous all day Sunday. My goal for Sunday afternoon was to have clear/slightly yellow urine. I surprisingly accomplished this!
I also wanted to make sure I gave my body enough protein and calories to properly recover. As soon as we walked in the door to our Air BnB, I made a protein shake. After showering, I had eggs and an english muffin. Following my post long run tradition, I took an ice bath.
A big difference I noticed after the race was my heart rate, it recovered really nicely, maybe even to totally normal levels. After my first marathon, my heart rate was very high and I had a really hard time sleeping Saturday, Sunday and even Monday after the race. Even relaxing on Saturday and Sunday was difficult. I had no problems relaxing or sleeping Sunday night after the race, or at any other point. Maybe it was the cooler temperatures, or perhaps the ice bath helped.
My friend Kelly and I waited ALL TRAINING SEASON for Stan's Donuts. While I was showering, Kelly ordered a giant box of assorted flavors. I felt like a kid in a candy shop and I'm pretty sure by the time we drove out of Chicago, I had taken a bite out of each and every one. Donuts ARE SUPER HELPFUL FOR RECOVERY.... hehe
An other boost for recovery, was the dinner we ate on Sunday evening. I'm not kidding, thinking about wine and a delicious dinner that were following the race was a big part of what helped me finish!
I only smiled four times along the race, I remember this because they were ultra-bright moments along the way. The first time I smiled it was because of an awesome Japanese drumline, I wish they could have followed me along the entire course! The second time was when I saw an AIREDALE!!! Then I saw two of my friends from the Nashville running community, Sam and Jason. They were yelling and waving, and it lifted my spirits considerably! Towards the end of the race I finally saw my precious friends, Mary, Salah, and Joe. I just barely heard them before I passed! If you check out the photos below you can tell by my reaction that I was ELATED to see them!
As soon as I crossed the finish line, my phone started buzzing like crazy. I had many text messages from people who so kindly followed me along the way. Those buzzes meant SO SO much to me. You have no idea how much it means to be encouraged and supported at any time during the whole marathon process, whether its during the training or running part.
Special thank you to High Kickin' Kelly for signing up to run this race with me, to Marvelous Millet Lovin' Mary for taking care of us post-race, and to Mary, Salah, and Joe for cheering for us!!!
I am a processor. It wasn’t until Thursday, that I finally began to think of the marathon as an accomplishment. And to that - successfully running a sub 4 hour marathon. I didn't know if it would ever be possible to see a '3' in front of my time.
3:56 is about 11 minutes off where I thought I would finish. I proved that I was capable of maintaining the correct pace during many of my long runs. In fact, many of my mile splits were around 8:05 - 8:30 during the last parts of my long runs. Where I lack natural running skills, I make up for in being able to stick it out when things get tough towards the end, and this was apparent while I was training.
P had a hard time understanding why I wasn't happier, and was confused to hear that I was in tears after the race. Someone once told me that finishing a race is how an athlete expresses themselves. That a strong finish is an expression and reflection of the time and effort you put in to your training.
That makes total sense to me. I felt like I had thrown away an entire season of training during a race with a flat course in lovely cool temperatures. My finish did NOT reflect how hard I had trained.
The lower heart rate towards the end of the race leads to a possible explanation of not enough nutrition. When the body doesn't have enough glycogen, the brain slows things down. Perhaps I am iron deficient, vegetarians are a little bit more likely to be anemic, and to be honest, I never really gave my iron levels any thought. Just to be safe, I went in on Friday for a complete blood work up.
I spoke with my running Coach on Thursday, and she suggested that since we both know the fitness level is there, I should think about running another marathon in four to six weeks. I'm still chewing on that idea.
On Saturday morning, I saw some people out completing what looked like their long runs. It DID NOT look appealing. I am SO LOVING all this free brain space I'm experiencing, and I can only imagine it would be even better if I wasn't worrying about Lainee.
Despite the intense quad pain, I'm glad I did it and I think I gave it my all, so there are no regrets.
I'm wondering if anyone else out there has ever had this experience? If so, did you ever find out what happened? Vegetarian runners - do you have any tips for me?
Ultimately, I know this experience will make me a better athlete. I learned so much from being sidelined after an IT band injury last spring, and I can only hope that this experience will be similar. Until then, I will be practicing self-love and waiting to see what the blood test reveals.
Share your tough race experiences with me! Have you ever had to push through intense pain? A mental block? Crazy things happening around you (like people pooping their pants...)? I want to hear about it, leave me a comment below! Follow me on Instagram, @corrielanderson, and leave me a comment there!