Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Things Could Always Be Worse

But I doubt it.

2009 has been a pretty shitty year for me, I just feel like I can't catch a break. I haven't felt good about any of my races since Columbia of last year, and it seems like in the races over 2 hours I'm getting crushed, which I don't get. I'm no stranger to extended efforts, but obviously I'm missing something.

When a bunch of my posse here all decided to do Boston, I was psyched. I thought it would be an amazing experience to get to run this storied race with all my friends, and after my terrible NYC race I was highly motivated to have a better showing at the world's greatest marathon. I ran more miles, did more long runs, even did a few workouts. The timing of the spring marathon is weird to me, as I tend to do very little in the winter and wait til spring to ramp up for tri season. I also tend to do more 10k-10mi races this time of year. While I would say that in general my preparation was better than it was leading up to last November, it was by no means tremendously structured.

Trying to not be all Debbie Downer, allow me to present things that were positives:

1) The success of others. According to Melissa, Ryan Hall was in 9th place when she saw him, and he rallied to finish 3rd. It was no London, but that's an amazing finish and promising for the future. Same goes for Kara Goucher, who is a beast and raced the shit out of Boston, only to fall back just at the end to finish 3rd. I love her.

Not to be outdone, some of my friends did great. PRs abound for Ben (2:32:35, 71st overall!), Zero (2:55, 7min PR), Collin, Spence, technically Arjun, Mary Bertram and my boy Eric (2:39:53). It softens the blow of a bad day for one or a couple when others can find success. The conditions were not terrible, but certainly not great. A strong headwind prevailed for the entire length of the course - one of the nuisances of a point-to-point, directional race.

2) Dick Hoyt and his son, Rick. If you don't know who these two are, you should be ashamed of yourself and Google them right now. Rick, now 46 years old, was born with severe cerebral palsey. Dick, his father, decided to start doing races with Rick, who is confined to a wheelchair. 30 years and a few heart attacks later, the pair are approaching their 1000th event. Along the way they have done every race from the 5k to the marathon, to the Ironman World Championships at Kona. Besides notching some 2:4x marathons, while pushing his son in a wheelchair, Dick pretty much does the unthinkable in the triathlon. Rick sits in a raft while Dick straps on a harness and pulls him through the swim. They then mount their bike, which fully outfitted weights 365 pounds. I get upset that my bike weighs nearly 16, plus my 165, and I've been known to empty water bottles to lighten the load going up baby hills. Then they go for a marathon run while Dick's arms do not move - they are stuck in an awkward position pushing the wheelchair.

And he never complains, because the joy on his son's face is immeasurable. He didn't set out to be an inspiration, but over the years he has become one, and to me he represents that old school Boston guy that never thought the Red Sox would win and played hockey with Bobby Orr without helmets. He's an ordinary guy who accomplishes something extraordinarily selfless for his son, and is probably the greatest unnatural athlete in the world. Needless to say, I can hardly watch the NBC Ironman coverage when they show him without tearing up, and when I passed him a few miles into the race on Monday (he starts early, his speed isn't what it once was), it was pretty emotional for me. Whenever I'm having a bad day I try to keep it in perspective.

3) I will continue to fail until I succeed. Seriously, my days aren't bad - they are colossel hatchet wounds. Things go so far beyond bad, it's inexplicable. Most people wouldn't come back for more, but I do. Nobody can empathize with this unless you've been there, so don't try. I don't need to hear about some 10k that you went out too hard in. This is not the same.

Some things I don't appreciate hearing:

1) Every race is a learning experience. Yeah, maybe after the first time a race goes bad. After 4 times, it's no longer a learning experience.

2) Great job! No, it wasn't a great job. I did terrible. You ain't got to lie, Craaaiig, just tell me how I did. If I did shitty and you don't know what to say, there's no need for words. Or you can just say sorry, bro.

3) At least you finished. What? Was there every any other option? I'm a winner, quitting is never an option in any race for me. If I'm not finishing, it's because I'm being taken out on a stretcher. This is probably a dangerous ideology, but whatever. Yeah, it really sucks to be that guy walking along the race course. It is physically painful and pretty embarrassing. But nothing is more painful or embarrassing than having a DNF next to your name.

The Actual Race

I've only raced one other marathon, so I only have that miserable experience to draw from, but it didn't stop me from making comparisons.

1) I like the NYC course better than Boston, and believe 100% that it is more difficult. To be fair, I like New York as a place better, but I'm not letting that bias interfere. The experience of running up and over the Verezzano Bridge is amazing, and how they can shut down New York for the better part of a day is really amazing. You get to run through more cool neighborhoods and see more "culture". I recall a section of Brooklyn being pretty loud, and of course 1st Ave and then Harlem. Then in Central Park it's great - if you aren't dead.

Boston was kind of a boring course, definitely the first half was kind of quiet, except for mile 7 and then, of course, Wellesley. There is no better reception than that of hordes of screaming chicks. The sound was deafening, and at this point I was probably in the top 400 people so there weren't many around - and it was mostly dudes. I've never been more excited to be anywhere in my life. It was everything I expected and more. The Boston College kids were really drunk, and the experience of the Newton hills and then 4-5 miles to go is great. The cheers are earsplittingly loud and it's great.

2) The race organization is top notch at both, but NYC gets the nod due to the accommodations they make for all runners. The expo is huge. The pre-race staging area is huge, and they have a million different languages being spoken for the international competitors. I suppose in fairness, NYC is a bigger international draw than Boston. There are a lot of people outside the US who don't really give a crap about the allure of Boston, but Boston also hates outsiders of any kind so I guess that's about right. On the course New York had more stops with gels. Boston only had one. The one thing I liked better about Boston was that following the race you only had to walk 1 mile as opposed to 2 at NY. Boston's pre-race staging area was weird. Very small, and pretty ho-hum. I suppose you shouldn't have a lot going on, but it was still surprising. And the start is very narrow. Granted my corral placed me pretty far back, but I was amazed at the number of people scattered across the road for the first 4ish miles of the race.

3) Logistically both are somewhat frustrating, but that's to be expected in a big city race. The hometown help was in my favor for NY, since I didn't have to stay in a hotel or ride a bus anywhere. Ben's NY experience was exactly that. All of our Boston experiences were that way, but I was pleased with the timing of it all, and they did have some happy volunteers (albeit they were Red Sox fans).

How Did My Race Go?

At first glance, the shitty time of 3:21 looks abysmal, and it is. But it was actually a better race than New York, if you can believe it. I was so psyched for this race; I felt my preparation was great and felt good on race morning. I had been feeling dead for the past few weeks but was feeling lively on race morning. Zero and I jogged to the start, outfitted in our sweet throwaway pants (wish I had pics) and my homemade armwarmers/gloves. I was able to go to the bathroom before the start, which was a huge plus. I didn't feel hungry like I did at the start of NY, and it felt "warm", at least while we were standing there. I gave a special shoutout to my boys Kris and Barf, who were not able to be there and I know they wanted to be and would have if they could have. Their absence made things a lot less fun.

The race started and it took me 2:30 to cross the start line. I wasn't concerned about it, and looked forward to the opportunity to go out a bit slower. There were so many people crowded onto the road and each of them was going frustratingly slow. I expected to see 7:00 or worse for the first mile, but was surprised when it read 6:40. That's about how fast I went out at NY, but obviously that was up the VNB while this was downhill. I began to weave in and out of traffic and popped miles of 5:59, 6:05, and 5:58 before finally telling myself to slow down. They are pretty easily miles and I was feeling better than I did at Cherry Blossom just two weeks ago so I thought I was doing fine.

The next couple of miles were 6:10, 6:09, 6:11, 6:13, 6:15, 6:14, 6:15 and then a 6:12 Wellesley mile, followed by a 6:15 to come through the half in 1:21:22. I felt okay at this point, but the pain was starting to seep in. I was right on what I had been hoping to come through at to run my goal of 2:45, but I knew the second half was going to prove tough. I felt if I could continue at 6:15 until mile 17, then limit my losses from 17-22 to 6:45s, and then drop back down to 6:30 or better, I would run in the 2:45 range.

Unfortunately my body had something else in store. Mile 14 was 6:17, but mile 15 was tougher - 6:30. I remember going up a little bridge at this point and the wind was really strong. I had been running for a while with this one guy, and we were briding the gaps to other groups. I wish I had just stayed with a group for a while instead of running through them, but such is racing. What I did appreciate was there were more people at this stage in the race than at most of the points for me at NY (before I blew up). Mile 16 was then 6:34, and then mile 17 was a bit of a bigger slowdown - 7:01.

The downhills were really tough on me. The difference between this meltdown and NY: at NY I was in trouble early because of the pace's effect on my aerobic system. Boston I was in trouble because my legs seized up. I suppose the positive to take away from this is that I'm aerobically sound. When I slowed down at NY I was in all sorts of trouble - breathing hard, complete body failure. At no point in the Boston race did I even feel tired.

Here's where the fun splits come: 8:15 (I stopped to take a dump just past the mile marker, so I'm actually pretty psyched that this mile was even that fast), 8:11, 8:00 to come through 20 in 2:11:31. If you think of running a 45min 10k, I would have pulled out a respectable time. But the misery continued...9:05, 8:43, 10:23, 11:43. There was a lot of walking. It got worse as it went, because I realized that a decent time was out of the question. I gave up the ghost and would walk as needed just to try and minimize the cramping. I couldn't take the crowd at this point, I was not in the mood for them. I stopped for a few minutes at 24 to talk to Matt Adami.

My last 2.2 miles were 14:59 and 14:49. The takeaways are that I made it a few more miles before the wheels fell off, but my finish was way worse. I don't know if I'll ever get this race right but I'll keep trying til I do. It's frustrating because I see everyone else having good races and can't figure out why I'm stuck in scrubville, but I take the D-Wade approach: knock me down 7 times I'll get up 8.

After the race I felt way worse than I did after NY, leg-wise. Aerobically, like I said, I was never at a point where I was breathing hard or couldn't speak. Thanks to Ben and Zero for helping me get my warm clothes on. We then had to drive the long trip back to Baltimore, in the middle of a torrential storm. It seemed hauntingly fitting for me and Arjun, considering our predicaments. I also got sunburned, which sucks.

Arjun and I are brothers of the same mission for misery. He and I had nearly identical races through 15 miles, with the exception of his first mile being 30sec faster than mine. He was at 1:20:57 at the half, so right on 25 seconds ahead of me. He managed to hold on a little better than I did, finishing in 2:57. It was 10 minutes faster than his miserable race at Baltimore 2007, but he was obviously not pleased. It's funny, we both said we could have run under 2:50 and, given what we did run, would have been great - but neither of us would have been pleased with it anyway.

We are racers, and we race the race. This can lead to greatness, or it can lead to supreme failure. As I say, I'll take failure 25 times if it means I am great just once. We both went in and had goals and did what we had to do to get them. I'm tired of hearing that I go out too fast. Shit, if anything I don't go out fast enough. My problem isn't that - everyone else I know went out faster than they came back, my problem is what's happening internally that's shutting my shit down HARD. Don't have much time to figure out what to do to fix it, but I have to do something.

What makes things tough, too, is the number of people calling, texting and emailing you congratulations when clearly they know you did shitty. I appreciate all the support but I shouldn't have to keep hearing "at least you finished". It's getting old. I had a conversation with my dad today and he obviously knows nothing about the sport, training or most of what I do, but the principles are the same. Basically saying go back to your core, the things that make you successful.

Now the negative me says that means stick to what you're good at, and clearly I'm not good at longer races. I'm also not very good at shorter ones, so that would leave me out of racing. But really it just means to rediscover how you got to where you are. I know I'm better at racing when my training has better balanced. I actually don't think I rode or swam enough this spring. In anticipation of this race I focused more on running. I think this left me tired and depleted, and I need to get back to my old style of training.

I also need something to lift the spirits. We all go through rough patches, but things rarely look up. The prospect of not having a job, a car and now a home are a little much, and all I was looking for was a race I could be proud of at Boston. This didn't happen, and now I'm in a tizzy because I have three weeks til the first tri of the season and am horribly unfit on my bike and in the water. Can I turn it around? Can I get my life back on course? Or is it time to move on?

Apologies for the long post, I am hoping nobody read down this far because that would have taken as long as it did for me to run my last two miles.

8 comments:

alyssa said...

I realize what you're saying in this post but since I am me I am going to get defensive about a couple things:
1. "Every race is a learning experience. Yeah, maybe after the first time a race goes bad. After 4 times, it's no longer a learning experience."

Okay so obvi I was one of the people who said this. AND IT IS. First, you have only been not successful twice at the marathon, and twice at the 70.3. That doesn't equal four total since those races are completely different. The first time I ran 50 miles I was in the fetal position in the corner of a school gym for 5 hours afterwards and couldn't walk or eat anything for days. The second time I almost died. Literally. I spent a day in cardiac unit of a hospital getting galloons of liquids pumped into me while they thought I was having a heart attack. If anything, you're doing pretty damn good for your first 2 tries at a distance event. Suck it up and keep trying, and soon you'll be a baller like me.

2. "What makes things tough, too, is the number of people calling, texting and emailing you congratulations when clearly they know you did shitty."

You should be happy you even have friends that appreciate what you do, and that you're out there trying. We are all lucky to have a group of friends that keeps track of when you're racing, will actually go to your races, and will blow off work for a morning to sit and refresh the athlete tracker page. Don't bitch about having people that care about you.

fbg said...

I agree with Alyssa on point 2, but I also already knew your opinion, and that's why instead of telling you something nice, I made fun of you on the TTWSS blog.

Secondly, my one and only marathon is at least comparable to your experiences as I understand them. I know it's not nearly as severe, so hear me out. I probably have already told you that somewhere around mile 14 or 15, something changed in my legs, and they wouldn't cooperate. I went from leading the race, trying to drop the other dude, to him actually slowing down for me and telling me just to stay with him less than a mile later. That sucked, even if I managed to hold an easy run pace the rest of the way and finish respectably. I learned two things, which I think can be applied directly to you.

The first thing that I learned is that I need to pay more attention to nutrition. I missed my "dress rehearsal" run, my last long run before the race, because I was sick. That means I had never eaten anything during a run in my life, except at the 2005 Baltimore Marathon relay, when I took gummi bears from that dude north of Penn Station. During my marathon, I thought it was a god idea to eat something, and within five minutes my legs shut down. That was dumb. I shouldn't have eaten anything.

The second thing I learned is that you can be in shape and still not be able to race a marathon. Lydiard and Daniels both subscribe to the philosophy that you need to train to run (1) far, (2) fast, and (3) far fast. You have (1) because you did long runs. I think you pretty much had (2), because you did intervals faster than race pace. But, did you have (3)? I suspect not. In my marathon, I ran my first half marathon about three minutes slower than the two crappy half marathons I had just run, so even if it was a little fast, it wasn't extreme. But, everything after the half marathon mark was my best time at that distance in three years. At some point my body wasn't ready for it. With the half marathons and intervals, I had trained my body to run 5:20 pace for about 15 miles, but not much more, and with my long runs, I'd trained my body to run 6:00+ pace for 22+ miles (my best long run was 22 miles at 6:15 pace). But, 26.2 miles at 5:30 pace was something my body wasn't prepared for, at least on that particular day. Far and fast just wasn't happening.

My point here is, if you're looking for a way to improve your next marathon performance, maybe you should get out there and do your long runs with the last few miles somewhere around race pace. I once read that Khannouchi's staple marathon workout was a 20-22 mile run, dropping the pace throughout, from 7:00 at the beginning, to 4:40 at the end. A lot of weird things can happen to your body after it's been on the course for an hour and a half. Maybe you need to try it out in practice, and see what happens.

Anyway, that's what I'm thinking for my next marathon, whenever that will be. I'll focus on the second half.

Take 'er easy.

RM said...

You were also probably 12 when you did your first 50 miler, and you love blowing off work!

I'm not annoyed that I have friends that care, it's just obviously tough when people that don't realize how displeased you are with the race, shout you out like it was a good job.

THE KRIS said...

so fbg beat me to the comment i was going to make about training to run quick after 15 miles being the key to a fast marathon. you can't go out at 6:10 pace if you've never trained to run that pace past 1.5 hours; your body, will not take it.

i agree that you shouldn't change your goals, shouldn't go out slower. but do the marathon specific work. finish the long runs fast. do the stupidly long tempos.

this post is as much for me as for you. while my blowups may not have been as craptastic as yours, i've had them and they piss me off. i feel like i work too hard to run over 3 hours, and i'm going to do what i can to make sure it doesn't happen again. it's not that i don't work hard enough, it's that i haven't been doing the correct work. either that or i'm not as fast as i think... for my mental health i'm ruling that one out for now.

i'll be finishing my long runs quicker than i'd like. i'll be running tempo workouts that will be longer than i'd like. i'm going to keep my mileage more consistent than i'd like. then i'm going to a marathon, and believe me when i say i'm going to f@#k it's s%*t up real good.

i know that you have swimming and the bike to worry about too, but i suggest you do the same.

bonus question:

q) what do you get when you hang out with old people?


a) lectures

Senior_Slug said...

Ryan,

I know that you won Terrapin Trot last year so I know it isn't true that you only had one good race.

Don't underestimate the effects of being laid off. I was laid off in a stronger economy and was out of work for two months. It took five years before I could stop looking over my shoulder.

I would say this -- things are a lot harder than you thought but don't discount your successes either.

PR said...

I literally wept and cried out for my mom after blwoing up in the last five miles of my second marathon. Sophomore slump?

Hang tough, man. You've put a lot of work in, and it takes some people a little longer for the benefits to kick in.

Hopefully you'll be recovered in time for the May 7th alumni mile in College Park.

KLIM said...

RM - I suggest you change your racing strategy. I think your doing the work, but it's not showing on race day. You seem to run well in long runs but going out too fast in marathons (and every race) kills you...as it does most people. I would advise you to go out slow in your next race and see what you can do in the second half. It's hard, but if you treat it as a workout, you're mind will be more at ease.

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