First big race of the year complete and I am going to call it an overall success! Unlike last year’s marathon breakdown, I came much closer to my goal this year and had a great race. I still have some nutrition issues at this distance that I think I have narrowed down to insufficient electrolyte intake due to heavy salt loss but I will get into that in more detail later in the report.
I chose the Eugene Marathon for an early-season marathon for a couple of reasons. First of all, I wanted to redeem myself from my NODM performance last year where I broke down at mile 18 or so and ended walking the last 3 miles while puking my guts out (nutrition issues as well as being sick the week leading into it). Also, a friend and co-worker of mine had qualified for Boston there last year and recommended the course. It is mostly flat and has some great scenery along the Willamette River in Eugene in addition to ending on the track in Hayward Field where Prefontaine and countless other Oregon track stars have toed the line. Also, it was about the right timeframe before my half iron in July to allow me to focus on a good performance in Eugene and still have time to prepare for the half iron. My wife also has family in Eugene and we have been there several times to visit and it is only a 5 hour drive away.
The training for Eugene started out fairly well, got REALLY rocky for a while, and then ended with some of the best training I have done in a long time.
Probably the first thing that made my training so much better this year was the overhaul of my nutrition halfway through last year. I stopped using things like Clif Shot Bloks and went to using Generation UCAN and Bob Seebohar’s Metabolic Efficiency techniques. In a nutshell, the metabolic efficiency principles involve using fueling and everyday eating protocols that don’t spike your blood sugar and induce insulin responses as well as training protocols that keep your body in the fat burning zone during the first part of the year. Over time, your body learns to burn fat for fuel and doesn’t rely on sugar calories for fuel as much. The concept works very well and I completed this marathon on a total of 140 calories 45 minutes before race start and another 140 during the race. So basically, I completed the marathon on 280 calories for 3.5 hours of exercise or about 80 calories per hour. This is WAY less than a lot of people are using and less than I used last year when I was using Shot Bloks. I will go more into my metabolic efficiency results and some of my athlete’s results in another post but just know that this stuff works!
As far as training protocol, I spent almost all of my run time in lower heart rate zones and did little to no speed work from January through March. In mid March, I started adding a little bit of tempo work and speed interval work. Now, if this was my A race for the year and I was really trying to peak, I would have started speed work earlier than that but I specifically only did a little because I am really trying to build a base of fitness for Ironman Arizona in November and I don’t need to be starting speed work at this point in the season. So, I elected to do just a little bit of race pace and speed interval work starting about 6 weeks out from the race.
The run training started out great in January with my longer runs (which are pretty short really at the beginning) going nicely and hardly missing any workouts. Then, as the work hours started to ramp up, the training went awry. I was struggling to get any runs in at all but I did get some in. Several times I ran my long runs of the week late at night (one 16.5 mile run in particular I remember starting at 9pm). Not optimal…but it was a great way for me to relax after hard days at work. In March, the work ended (literally…I quit) and things got easier for training. Perfect timing because I was starting to get into my 20 mile runs on the weekends and those were going to be hard to get in with a tough work schedule. Throughout my training though, even when I could have, I never even hit 40 miles in a week. I think my highest volume run week was 36 miles. This is pretty typical with me as I am also swimming and biking as well as getting some fitness from P90X2. It is easier on the body this way and the results are actually better in my experience.
With my new nutrition protocol, my training runs were going amazingly well as far as pace and effort level but the one issue I was still having was feeling nauseous after the long runs. I worked with Dina Griffin at Elite Multisport Coaching to try to figure out what I was doing wrong and we decided that I needed to add more electrolytes and change my timing on fueling a little. We came up with a plan for Eugene (kind of too late to test out) and hoped it would work.
Anyway, with my new nutrition protocol (again) and the training I had under my belt, I was ready to crack 3:30 in Eugene! Then, I realized that they only had a pace group for 3:25 and one for 3:35…hmmm…which do I take. My friend had recommended going out hard at this marathon based on his experience so I decided to go with the 3:25 group and use the extra time if needed.
Race Nutrition Plan
5am – Chocolate Shakeology made with milk
6:15 am (45 min prior to race start) – 1 Cran Raz UCAN made with water, 2 scoops of BASE performance salt for electrolytes, and 1 scoop of First Endurance Prerace for Caffeine
Mile 8 of the run – ½ packet of UCAN, 2 scoops BASE salt, ¾ scoop of Prerace
Mile 18.5 of the run – ½ packet of UCAN, 2 scoops BASE salt, ¾ scoop of Prerace
1 cup of water at every aid station (or 2 if feeling thirsty) using my Geetah Straw (see below).
The Geetah Straw
Check this thing out! I made this straw from an aero bike bottle straw with a bite valve attached to the end. It is a version of a Geetah straw which is named after the screen name of the runner that is credited with inventing it and talking about it on Runner’s World Forums like this one. Just carry it along, stick it in the cup at the aid station, squish the cup around the straw (optional), and suck!
Strengths Going into the Race
1) I knew I had built a pretty big aerobic engine with my training and could go for a long time at a steady pace and I knew the HR that corresponded to quite well. In other words, my training had been consistent enough and I had quantified it enough that I felt pretty comfortable with what I was capable of physically (nutrition aside).
2) I know that I do much better with flatter race courses where I don’t have to carry this overweight body up a bunch of hills or keep it from going out of control down the hills (see the weaknesses section for more on my weight). ;o)
3) My race nutrition plan was a ton better than it was last year and I had learned a lot about my nutritional needs over the course of the training. So, I knew that it was going to be better than last year even if it wasn’t perfect.
4) I had my wife supporting me on the course and didn’t have to carry nutrition with me at all…which I love.
5) Although, being overweight is one of the weaknesses below, I had lost about 12 pounds in the 4 weeks prior to the race. While excessive weight loss prior to an event is usually not wise, this was simply done by eating whole, healthy foods. I was still eating upwards of 2500 calories per day depending on exercise…it was just all good stuff! Amazing what a clean diet will do for you. It was all part of the 90/10 Nutrition Challenge group that I started. Anyway, being 12 pounds lighter than I was when I did most of my really long training runs was a plus going into this race.
Weaknesses Going into the Race
1) As I said above, I was overweight. I weighed in around 189 the day before the race, which is at least 20 pounds over what I should probably be racing at for optimal performance. It is better than racing at 201 like I was at the end of February but it is still certainly a weakness to be overweight like that going into a big race. The January and February work schedules and donuts took their toll more than I ever thought possible and now I had to dig myself out of the hole I created. It just isn’t worth it people!
2) My nutrition plan was better than last year but the new changes to get rid of the post run nausea were mostly untested and since most of my runs were shorter than a full marathon (all of my training runs actually), there was no guarantee that the nausea wouldn’t come on before the finish.
The Trip to Eugene and the Day Before
I will try to keep this part short. My Dad and Mom flew in on Thursday of the week before the race and we all drove down to Eugene on Saturday morning early. We got to the race expo around 1pm on Saturday and went about the business of getting our race packets and buying some gear and checking out the expo. With twin girls in tow that just endured a 5 hour car ride, we didn’t hang around too long or make much of the expo.
After the expo, we went over to the hotel to check in and get things situated. Then we went for a ride in the car to check out the course. We only really drove the first half because there are a bunch of park trails on the second half that make it difficult to follow for portions, but it was a good scouting venture. I got a good view of the hill at mile 8 which was nothing compared to what I am used to in Kitsap county and we scouted out the locations where Paula would be meeting me with race fuel (miles 8 and 18.5).
Because of the 90/10 Nutrition Challenge that I had been doing for 4 weeks prior to the race, I was determined not to go too far outside of the rules of the challenge on the night before the race (or any night really). We ended up going to a Roadhouse Grill (Texas style steakhouse basically) and I did pretty darn well. I had chicken breast (good), some ribs (not so good), sweet potato (good), broccoli (good), and water. I snacked on a few of the peanuts they put out so you can throw the shells on the floor but I skipped the rolls with honey butter, the rice that was under my chicken (which was odd) and the beer. Not bad at all. Felt pretty good heading to bed that night with a good dinner with good protein, some of the better starchy carbs you can get (sweet potato), and some veggies.
That night, I made my concoctions of fuel and got everything I needed all laid out for the morning. That all went fine. I gave Paula the training on what fuel I needed at each stop and put it all in the fridge for the next morning.
The only issue we really had was that that the twins took short little naps in the car during the day while we were driving the race course. This, and the fact that they weren’t in their own beds, made for a difficult night getting them to sleep. So, while I went to bed pretty early (around 8 or 8:30), I didn’t actually get to sleep until 10pm or so. Not what I was going for but it was fine.
I got up at 4:45 to catch a race shuttle around 6am at the Hilton downtown. I started the morning with my standard Shakeology made with milk and then dressed myself and met my Dad in the hall around 5:30 or so and we jumped in his car and went down to the Hilton.
It was a bit chilly out and I didn’t want to wait around at the start line freezing so we stuck around the Hilton until the big rush for the shuttles. I had my First UCAN with me and took that in just as we were waiting in line for a shuttle at 6:15. We got down to the race start by 6:30am and starting looking around for our corrals. I stood and talked with my Dad for about 10 minutes and then went to find a porta-potty for one last stop before race start. Then I found the 3:25 pacer in the crowd and set the GPS. It’s go time!
The pacer informed us all that his plan was to run the first 10 miles or so, right about on pace and then gain about 4-5 seconds per mile from there to mile 22 so that we had something to play with at the end. That sounded just fine to me.
Meb Keflezighi was there to start the race and give a quick little pep talk before the race so that was pretty cool.
The gun went off and more runners than I had ever run with before were off. They had half and full marathon starting together so it was hard to stay with the pacer with such a big crowd. For the first 2 or 3 miles, I had to jut in and out of traffic as people would fall off pace or jump in front of me. I have never had to weave in and out of people that much so I can’t imagine how Boston or New York are…it must be nuts.
The first mile starts out slightly uphill as you go south from Hayward Field. Compared to most of the stuff I run in Kitsap it was hardly noticeable but it was indeed slightly uphill. My Dad trains in Miami most of the time so it may have made a bigger difference for him. It is all relative. We ended up running the first mile a little fast with the initial uphill and then overcompensating with the slight downhill after and ended up running a bit faster than we were intending.
Mile 1: 7:37 (all quoted splits are according to my GPS watch)
The first aid station, around 1.5 miles in, was a bit of a challenge. I knew it would be with the crowd, so I made my way up in front of the pace group and got over to the side early. I had my new Geetah straw in hand and ready to test out in race conditions. It worked flawlessly! I simply grabbed a cup, stuck the straw in and sucked all of the water out in one or two gulps. I never lost a stride. My intention was to keep the straw in a pocket in my shorts but it was kind of a pain to put it back in so I just held it for the race. It was not a big deal but I did find myself gripping it pretty hard when I was struggling so I had to remind myself to relax my arms.
The pace group fell back quite a bit at the aid station as the pack tried to thin out to grab water. It was not smooth for the pacer or the main pack. The pacer started trying to coach everyone on grabbing water and handing it across so that they didn’t have to thin out and change pace so much on the next one.
The second mile was a bit fast as well, but we settled out after that.
Mile 2: 7:35, Mile 3: 7:50
The third mile was about perfect and we crossed the 5K point at 23:47. After the 5K point, we hit another aid station and I used the same strategy…I got up in front of everyone in the pace group and go over early and made sure I didn’t lose them or go too fast. Again, the aid station was smooth for me but not so much for the pace group. In fact, I didn’t really speed up much but I totally lost them by 100 yds in the aid station mess. I think it was a combination of people not knowing how to run in large groups and aid stations that weren’t long enough for the number of runners in the first few miles.
Anyway, I went ahead and slowed down and relaxed for a while to let them catch up since I wasn’t sure if I was running too fast or if they had slowed at the aid station…turns out they had slowed AND I had sped up just a bit. With a little slowing down from me and some speeding up from them, we were back on track and still a bit ahead of pace overall coming into mile 4.
Mile 4: 8:01
With the exception of the little uphill at the beginning and the slight downhill right after that (all within the first mile or 2), it was extremely flat to this point and it continued to be very flat to mile 7.5 or 8. If you look at the profile it is actually uphill to mile 4 and then back downhill but in reality, it is so slight that it was essentially flat to a northwestern runner.
So, the next few miles up to mile 8 went perfectly. I was feeling fantastic and the pace was just right. I felt like I could go all day at that pace and our pacer (Chris) was awesome…he kept a light mood and started hitting the splits right on. He did a lot of coaching throughout the marathon and was just a great guy to run a marathon with.
At about mile 6, a guy in a pink tank top and a pink tutu ran by us. What? Yea, our pacer knew him and had a conversation with him for about ½ a mile before he went on ahead. Turns out it was Keith Straw, an ultra runner who was training for Badwater again. He often runs in full ball gowns, tutus, and other costumes. I guess you have to be pretty tough to get away with that. What do you say to a guy wearing a tutu if he is outrunning you in a marathon when he is 20 years your senior and it is barely a training run for him (he was talking about going trail running after it was over that day)? There isn’t a whole lot you can say other than, “Nice job, man”.
So, just before mile 8, the hill started and I would consider it the only hill in the whole race that can really be talked about as a hill. As I said, that could be argued and is relative to what you are used to but it was all pretty flat to me. Oh, there were a couple of foot bridges that had ramps that we had to go up but those were very short. The only one that felt hard was the one at mile 21 or so at the turnaround point on the river.
Mile 5: 7:54, Mile 6: 7:42, Mile 7: 7:42, Mile 8: 7:46
I had planned to meet Paula at mile 8 to get my first hit of UCAN and she was there on time and at the right spot. So, I grabbed my fuel from her, and then I waited until the top of the hill to catch my breath a bit before sucking it down. On the back side of the hill, there was a pretty significant downhill. It was shorter and steeper than the uphill but was still pretty easy to run. We made up some of the time we lost on the uphill but mile 8-9 was a bit slow because of the hill (not by much though).
At the bottom of the hill, you turn left to go back in front of Hayward Field where it started and it is once again pretty flat.
Mile 9: 7:52
At mile 10, you have the first of the footbridge ramps as you begin the first section of trail on the course and you leave the city streets. You cross the river and shortly after the river crossing, the half marathoners split off and head back to Hayward Field while the marathoners head out into Springfield and then along the river to finish. Unfortunately, as we had a pretty big group going, we did not get a lot of relief from half marathoners splitting off…I guess our group was mostly marathon runners so we pretty much stayed the same. The next mile or so was river path and then we hit the streets of Springfield as we neared the halfway point. We were nailing the splits at this point (with the exception of mile 11…don’t remember what happened there) within a second or two but still had about 40 seconds to play with due to the first few miles of faster splits.
Mile 10: 7:50, Mile 11: 8:02, Mile 12: 7:46, Mile 13: 7:41
We hit the halfway point at 1:41:40 which is actually a slight half marathon PR for me (by about 30 seconds)…which might seem like a bad thing but I have never run a half marathon that wasn’t either extremely hilly (Heartbreak Ridge Half, Toe Jam Hill half…the names say it all) or during the off-season when I was untrained…so, I didn’t consider it to be a big deal. I was still feeling like the pace was pretty easy and wasn’t having in pain or struggling at all.
From mile 13-17 we were still hitting the pace almost perfectly. However, at mile 17, I started to feel like it was taking more effort to keep pace. Throughout the race, my heart rate was in the 150-160 range (which is right where I expected it to be and wanted to keep it), but now it had hit 160s. This was a little worrisome but kept chugging.
Around mile 16 we were back off the streets and onto the river path again and the group was still quite large. I had fallen back about 30 feet behind the pacer before we got on the path (which wasn’t a problem out on the streets) and now I couldn’t find a good line to work my way back up to him…it was a solid 30 feet of runners behind him. So, I held tight to that 30 feet. I was not feeling good about running right next to this many people at this point in the race. I didn’t want to have to think about my path and my footing at this point so I didn’t trip over people…I just wanted to run. It was at this point that I noticed that there was a race walker in our midst….that’s right, someone was race walking at a 7:50ish pace. Crazy.
Mile 14: 7:46, Mile 15: 7:48, Mile 16: 7:48, Mile 17: 7:53
Anyway, the whole family was scheduled to meet me around mile 18.5 for my last UCAN before the finish. They were there as planned right off the parking lot of the mall on the river path. My Sister-in-law and her husband, my wife, my Mom, and my twin girls (with cowbells in hand) were all there to cheer me on.
At this point, I was still less than 100 yards behind my pacer (see the photo below…the pacer was holding balloons that you can see just to the left of a bush up ahead). I took what just seemed like a second to slow down and run backwards after grabbing the fuel to make sure that my girls saw me and could wave back. However, when I turned back around and started picking up the pace again, it seemed like he was so much further away (the mind plays some nasty tricks to try to get you to stop torturing the body I guess).
My goal now was to keep him in sight but it was tough to tell if he was pulling away or not for a while. I knew I didn’t have it in me to push the pace to catch him at this point so it was time to do some damage control and try not to give up anymore than the 5 minutes I had on my goal time of 3:30 (plus the little bit of extra that we had made on 3:25 as a group…I think it was about a minute at that point). I did some math in my head and with 7 miles to go or so, I could basically run about an 8:45 pace the rest of the way and still break 3:30…that seemed doable so I pushed on. This may have been my mistake…maybe if I had the mental toughness to keep pushing at that pace I could have made it instead of doing the math and relaxing a bit.
Mile 18: 8:00, Mile 19: 8:04, Mile 20: 8:10
When I hit the footbridge ramp to cross the river just before mile 21, I could still see my pacer pretty well but the ramp took another big chunk out of the willpower to keep up with him. You can see that the pace is slowly degrading at this point and it is getting hard.
Mile 21: 8:44 (ouch)
From here it just starts to degrade more and my pacer is gone out of sight. I did some walking and worked on my brain a bit and then got back to it. At about mile 24 a couple of people ran by me talking about keeping 7:45 pace until mile 25 and then pushing 7:30 so I decided to go with them for a while and see how that felt….lasted about 100 yds.
Mile 22: 9:06, Mile 23: 10:03, Mile 24: 9:36, Mile 25: 10:35, Mile 26: 11:36
Pretty much a slow degradation until the end and I did not hold on to my 3:30 goal despite pacing 5 minutes ahead of my goal all the way to mile 20.
I came across the finish feeling good overall and actually pretty hungry (which has not been the case given my stomach issues during training). Because of that, I felt like maybe I had really nailed the nutrition this time. I went ahead and took one of the chocolate milks that they were handing out at the finish line and took that in and then had some water and half of a cookie…still felt good.
I found my family outside of the athlete area and sat down for a minute or two. Then, when I got up, the puking started and it lasted until about 5pm that evening. So, I guess I didn’t nail the nutrition. More to learn.
1) Despite not making my goal and faltering in the end, I am EXTREMELY happy with the race results. Being only my second marathon, having some rocky training and tough work schedules, being overweight, and having to work out nutrition issues, I don’t think I really have too much room to complain about. 3:34 isn’t too bad for a fat, stay-at-home Dad/triathlon coach with too much to do. ;o)
2) My recovery was quick and moderately painless for a marathon, so I am happy about that. I wasn’t sore anymore by about Wednesday and was pretty much ready to run again (although I was still tired from travel and racing and all…but no pain).
3) I believe I need to increase my electrolyte intake in future races. That seems to be the nutritional missing link. My total intake was about 700mg per hour and I think I am going to increase that closer to 1000mg per hour and see how I do on that.
4) I wish I knew what I would have run if I was 20 pounds lighter. ;o)
On to Ocean Shores Half Iron and then Ironman Arizona.
What are the chances of having this same run split in Arizona after a 112 mile bike ride 6 months from now? Is it possible? Comments from you seasoned Ironmen and women?