There are many things I searched for and obsessed over in the weeks leading up to the Louisiana Marathon, and in many cases there was a lack of information, so I am going to share my experiences and findings on the following:
What to do after a canceled marathon
Sudden calf injury
Running while on vacation
Running a marathon after two weeks of rest
Running a marathon on no long runs in training
Nutrition — carb starve and carb load
The Louisiana Marathon
As I wrote in December, I was probably better prepared for a marathon than ever I had been when the Dallas Marathon was called off due to ice. In the ensuing desperation and disappointment, I registered for the Jan. 19 Louisiana Marathon. As soon as I made the decision, The Coach says I need to figure out a way do a tempo run. Immediately. Your last two weeks basically have been recovery, he says, and if you want to do a marathon in a month, we need to stop losing fitness now.
It was as if I was hemorrhaging fitness and the only way to stop the bleeding was to head out in the 20-degree icepocolypse and run for two hours.
OK. I was feeling antsy anyhoo.
The entire city was blanketed in ice that day. I could not drive to the gym (it wasn’t open anyway) so I strapped on my heart-rate monitor and bundled up and walked to the soccer fields at Richland College (running on the streets was not an option. Too slippery).
I ran through the snowy grass and did a 10-mile tempo run by heart rate. It was similar to running in sand. I trained through the next few days and then I got sick with a cold. I kept running daily but cut it short on a couple of occasions — felt superbad. The following Saturday I had another 12-13-mile tempo run. About six miles in, a sudden wrecking pain in my left calf stopped me in my tracks. It was so bad I had to call for a ride home. I went to the sports chiro that week, got it taped, started wearing a compression sock on the injured leg and switched to the elliptical.
I left for Las Vegas a week before Christmas. It was supposed to be a relaxing, post-marathon trip to visit my sister, bro-in-law and nephews. Instead I had no marathon under my belt and I had to figure out how, if and where to run — there was no elliptical access. Fortunately, I adore running while on vacation and Las Vegas is a beautiful place to run. My sister lives about 20 minutes outside of the city and the landscape and the weather was perfect, so I worked in a very easy hour-long run each morning before the rest of the family woke up. The calf was sore, but as long as I went easy (we’re talking a 9:15 pace) it did not worsen.
The day after Christmas, back in Dallas, I had a hard workout on the schedule. Three times 30 minutes at race pace. The first 30 minutes was OK — I easily managed about a 7:10-7:15 pace. Then the wheels fell off. My calf pain erupted and my pace slowed. Coming up the Katy trail on the last three miles I slowed to 7:30 and was hurting immensely. After that, coach mentioned the marathon probably wasn’t a good idea. I argued that I did not want the training of the last several months to go to waste; I wanted a marathon. He said I could run the half marathon, that it would be like the marathon without the extreme strain. “Thanks, I teased him. That’s what I need a coach for. To tell me that the half is the same as the marathon but not as extreme. Haha.” So we had a laugh, but resigned to see how the next few days went.
This sounds weird, but my calf problem was miraculously healed. I know. Crazy. But I did a ton of reading that weekend about healing and I concentrated and meditated on health and I told the pain it didn’t exist. And then the pain was gone. Again, I realize that this sounds insane and there certainly is some other explanation. I’m just saying: this is what happened.
I resumed running easy two times a day for one hour each.
I ran the DRC 10k in right-at 41 minutes — about a minute slower than my PR — but still good for second female. Also I added miles before and after the race to make it a semi-long run. Still, I did not feel great about my speed. However The Coach reminded me that we hadn’t done any speed work in months, so this was to be expected.
Now we are two weeks away from the Louisiana Marathon and we decide that this next tempo run will determine whether or not I am going to be able to run a marathon.
Ten days out, I schedule a four-times-20-minute at race pace run within the heart rate zone 160-165.
I was very nervous about this run and I woke at 3:45 a.m. to get it done before work. I warmed up by jogging the 1.5 miles to Richland College. I would do the run on the parking lot and track — wanted to give myself every opportunity to do this.
Halfway through, I knew things were looking relatively good. I managed a 7:05-7:15 pace with no fade for the whole workout.
I wasn’t in quite the shape I was in right before Dallas — running sub-7s — but I was in form to run a conservative marathon, we decided.
After that workout, I continued to run twice a day, easy, right up to race day. Three days out (Thursday) I knocked it down to two 30-minute runs and the day before the race (Saturday) I ran one 30-minute run.
As race day approached I really started freaking out about my lack of long runs. Now, other than the marathon last December, I hadn’t run any single session all year over 15-16 miles. Still, leading up to Dallas I felt pretty confident — I had multiple weeks of 90-plus miles and some days of 24-26+ miles, just never all at once. But leading up to Louisiana, my mileage had dropped to 70-ish pw or less over the last 45 days and I had only two runs of 14 miles or more. So I scoured the Internets seeking someone who had seen marathon success on such low mileage — there weren’t many, or any that I could find.
Still, I had to trust what my coach and other respected coaches have stressed — conventional wisdom regarding long runs of 17+ miles is flawed. (“A farce,” is what the Hanson brothers call it.)
Nearly every marathon training program out there has a Saturday or Sunday weekly 16,17,18,20,22 mile long run.
The 20-22 mile long run three weeks out from a marathon is a ritual so deeply ingrained in the running culture that it is very difficult to ignore. It is a staple that even some of the most famous coaches call “The Key”. (Even the most old-school coaches now agree, however, that a 3 or more hour run is counterproductive, so someone whose long runs are done at a 10 mm pace, say, should not be doing 20-milers)
There are better ways. Simply, and this is the logic behind the increasingly popular Hanson plan, miles are important but training is far more effective when those miles are distributed throughout the week.
Many runners do a long slow Saturday run. They go easy or take Fridays off to prepare for the run. They are so pooped from the run that they need another day off afterward. With my training, I might run 12-15 miles on Saturday while others are doing 20, but I run 12 on Friday and 12 on Sunday, which the majority of us are not doing. My training, similar to Hansons, is based on cumulative fatigue. You are always training on tired legs and constantly adapting to more mileage. As one of the coaches tells Running Times, your 16-mile longest long run simulates the last 16 miles of the marathon rather than the first.
Some of the really fast, hardcore runners I know do 12 Friday, 20 Saturday and 12 Sunday and so on … but, think about it, a fast runner can do 18-20 miles in two hours. In addition, they are clocking some 100-120 miles per week, so the 18-20 is a smaller percentage of their weekly mileage, which is a significant point.
Placing too much importance on one run is a training mistake.
Also, I am going to hurt the next person who implies that the Hanson-esque plans are a shortcut. One guy told me it was fine if you want to “just finish” the marathon, but to PR you need several 20 milers. Another person said, “it is amazing you run so well on your type of training,” as if I am slacking and do OK despite it.
Look at these cumulative fatigue-based programs and you will see, it is tougher and requires more commitment than what 90 percent of recreational or semi-competitive runners are doing. It is for those who wish to improve time. No one who wants to “just get by” or “just finish” is doing anything like this.
I have been injured here and there, but far less since I began splitting my runs into two-a-days. I can run 80-100 miles a week with only a little fatigue and no injuries. Before, when I was following a typical marathon-training program, I could not run more than 60 mpw without getting hurt.
So my coach looked at the stats on my last workout and decided I should go for a “conservative” 3:12. LOL. He is very optimistic and I think he sometimes forgets how old I am. I so appreciate his belief in me. For perspective, my PR in the marathon was a 3:26 (albeit at a very hot and humid Dallas 2012). I converted his goal to a slightly more conservative goal of 3:15, which would allow me to run with a pace group.
The idea of knocking 10 minutes off my best, even in decent weather, on this f-ed up last few weeks of training, still seemed like a reach.
I needed any extra help I could get, so we looked at nutrition.
A week before the race I did a low carb diet, in an effort to prepare myself for the carb load which would begin three days out.
Low carb is difficult for a vegetarian. Luckily I am not vegan. I lived, basically, on eggs with cheese and fake bac’n and, for dessert, Cool Whip. Warning: day two of no/low carb can leave one feeling pretty bad. When I got to a point the second afternoon that I could barely stand up from my desk, I chewed a sugary piece of gum and felt instantly better.
Then there was three days of carb loading, which meant rice, Powerbars and spaghetti. The goal is five grams of carbs for every pound of body weight. At one point my husband offered me a piece of cheese and I actually said, “no thanks I am on an all-carb diet.” As fun as it sounds, I actually hate the carb load. I went from 115 pounds during the carb fast to 121 during the load, so I felt fat and icky by the last day and my Lululemon shorts (thrift-store bought because their prices are a travesty) hardly fit. I let up a little on the eating the day before the race, but still grazed all day on Powerbars and pretzels and had spaghetti with marinara for dinner.
I woke up race day feeling good and excited. When I walked outside I panicked a bit. It was warmer than expected — 59 degrees. But by the time I arrived downtown it dropped to 53-ish. Race had an early start, thankfully: 7 a.m.
Scientifically, 41 degrees is the ideal temperature for the marathon, studies show, and performance decreases slightly with every 5 degrees above 50. However, considering that my last marathon was run in 70-degree, 80-percent humidity, I was thrilled with this weather.
I did a warm up of 1-mile jog and some light stretches, leg lifts, skips and a quick stride or three.
The Louisiana Marathon is low key — 4,000 (1,475 marathoners and 2,528 halfers, plus relay, etc.) runners, cheap hotel rooms, easy access to start, gear check etc. This all is to my benefit because crowds and waits and lines increase my panic. I easily found the 3:15 pacer, George, an ultrarunner from Florida who claimed it was way too cold for his taste. It was his third year running this marathon (which means he’s been here every year). He described the two hills on the course; it’s the same hill, actually, that you hit at mile two and again on the way back at mile 24.
The half and full marathons start together so it was a crowded first few miles through downtown.
There are water stops every 1.5 miles, which I find a little excessive, but it seems to be the norm now.
I decided I was going to consume this race in four parts — every seven miles would be like one loop around the track, using the mile as an allegory. The last loop would be shorter but much harder.
I felt great for the first “loop” — listened to George and the other guys talk about various races and running habits and letting the group block the wind around the lake.
The second “loop” also felt relatively good, but at about mile 14 I knew the full truth that I was running a marathon and felt the hints that pain was imminent.
By 16, I was feeling weary in some ways, but not enough to slow down. At mile 18, we turned around and began passing the runners behind us. I saw the 3:25 pace group and knew I was a good 10 minutes in front of them at mile 18-19. I told myself, as long as you keep going you will have a personal best—3:25 can’t catch you unless you start walking.
Around mile 20 two women passed me coming the other way and one said, someday I want to be that fast. She was talking about me?!
Somewhere around 21-22, George and the two guys still with him began to pull away. I struggled mightily, but kept thinking about how far five miles actually is and knew I had to hang on and not blow up by trying to push too hard with miles still to go. At mile 22 George turned around and said to me, Come on! And I said, I am trying! That was the last of our communications. Around mile 23 a guy in the crowd said to me, You are the seventh place female right now. Your name is definitely going to be in the paper. That guy got a big smile from me.
I saw a woman — must be sixth place — ahead of me and told myself, Catch her. I thought it would give me something to focus on, but within moments she stopped to stretch, so I passed her and never saw her again.
At mile 24-ish, things got weird. The half marathon met back up with the marathon. So there are many scattered walkers of the half marathon that I had to weave around, and, then, The Hill. It seemed so small at mile two. Now it appeared insurmountable. As I ran the hill I was grunting and dry heaving. The strolling half-marathoners gave me some terrified looks as I passed. A couple ladies actually laughed at me. But most were like: You go girl. As I crested the hill, I could see George, but barely. Telling the pain it did not exist did not work in this case.
At this point I did have a terrifying thought — if that hill felt so bad, what will Boston and it’s heartbreakers feel like in April?!! Shit. But, hey, one race at a time.
At mile 24 and 25 my pace had slowed to about a 7:40-7:48. But now the crowds were gathering and I was weaving through walkers into downtown. I was hurting but I knew I was in for a personal best by close to 10 minutes if I could just hold on.
I even picked up the pace slightly on that final mile, and I hauled ass once I could see the finish line.
My watch read 26 miles well before I passed the 26-mile sign, and the last .2 seemed like two. My husband started yelling at me as I rounded the last corner. He says he tried to run alongside me but got tired — ha! I saw the finish line. The clock clicked over to 3:16 as I hit the mat. My official time was 3:15:53. George and the guys finished right around 3:14, so they were traveling just a little fast.
There is no better feeling I know than crossing the finish line at the end of a marathon. No matter how good or bad the race went. (But especially when it goes well).
Imagine you find yourself at the bottom of a lake. You have to swim to the surface, but you are deeeep. You try not to panic and start making your way toward the sunlight above. At first, you are confident you will make it — you feel strong and can see the blue sky, after all. But then you realize it is more distant than you imagined and the farther you travel the more your lungs ache for oxygen and the more labored your movement and the less hopeful your thinking. As you struggle upward, you become more desperate to breathe. You become increasingly afraid you will not make it. Every stroke seems an eternity. The deprivation of air — the sheer sureness that you won’t make it — feels so engulfing, painful and horrific that you are tempted to succumb to death. Still, you want life; you resolve to give it one last push. And when that resolve is all but gone your hand — stretched out above your head — shatters the surface. Your fingers touch the wind and your face follows. Finally, you inhale the air. Beautiful life-restoring air.
That first breath? That is what crossing the finish line feels like.
Dramatic? Hell yeah — I live for drama. But that actually is the best way I can describe finishing — being able to breath after some borderline unimaginable deprivation.
As for post-race festivities, the Louisiana Marathon is the best I have ever seen. There were booths upon booths of food vendors feeding runners everything from vegan gumbo to beer and sausages and deep-friend doughnuts. The weather by the end of the race was in the high 60s low 70s and we just spread out on a big lawn, listened to the band and hung around for the award ceremony. I received a nice medal and poster for winning my age group.
This was an excellent race, overall, and though I hated that Dallas was canceled, I had a great time in LA. The remainder of Sunday was dreamy — we ate, lounged in our room, watched football and two excellent pay-per-view movies (12 Years a Slave and Gravity).
Now, of course, I am in post-marathon depression, which might be the next topic I cover.