What To Eat (and What Not To) During An Ultramarathon

I’ve been quiet here for a few months while transitioning from Boston to an ultra mindset. Quiet no more – the Arkansas Traveler 100 is just over a month away!

My ultra training hasn’t been as consistent as I would like. I haven’t put in the volume I’d planned on over the summer, but I am confident that the work I’ve done is more than adequate to get me to the finish line. I’m approaching 1500 miles on the year, and barring injury I’ll easily make one of my goals – 2017 miles in 2017, which would be a PR. I have done a lot of trail running, some back to back long runs, and at least one 4 hour trail effort.

These final few weeks will be devoted to sorting out some final details, especially nutrition. I’ve pretty much got the gear part sorted out. I know which shorts and shirts have the least amount of chafing. I’ve settled on the shoes I’ll wear – Carson Footwear at the start:

… and for as long as they remain comfortable. If (did I say “if”?) I start to blister or my feet swell, I will switch off to Topo Athletic’s Terraventure:

Both shoes have treated me well in training. I’ll have a few ICE (In Case of Emergency) shoes in the crew car if all else fails – Skora’s TEMPO:

…and a really beat up pair of the Mizuno Wave Evo Cursoris (a discontinued shoe, although a favorite of mine and the RHSW). Here they are in their younger days:

Well, they’re lighter now anyway. The Carsons fit most snugly so I’m going with them first. I figure if my feet swell I may need to move on. The Mizunos are the roomiest, so I’m not sure where to go from there if I can’t get them on!

I’ve been running with an Orange Mud HydraQuiver (single-barrel) for hydration:

It’s been great – posing no chafing issues on long runs – except for the one time I stupidly headed out with a singlet instead of a short-sleeved shirt. D’oh!

So, on to nutrition. If you’ve ever read one of my posts, you know I love to experiment on myself. I am frequently an N of 1 – a single participant trial. I’ve been reading and listening to what’s out there to inform my choices about what I am going to take in during the race, and I’ve pretty much made up my mind about what I intend to primarily rely on.

The primary source of information for my ultra training has been the excellent podcast of Shawn Bearden, PhD, Science of Ultra. Dr. Bearden has more bona fides than I’ll ever have!

One of Dr. Bearden’s podcasts featured the topic of gastrointestinal distress. Who wants to avoid GI distress?

Hermione does, and so do I. Dr. Bearden’s guest was Patrick Wilson, PhD – who in addition to that PhD in Kinesiology, is also a registered dietitian. So what did I glean from this chat? A disclaimer first – not all the information here is attributable to them, so they’re off the hook. For more disclaimers, read mine.

First, what not to eat during an ultra:

  • fat
  • fiber
  • NSAIDs

At least for the first two, that is an oversimplification, admittedly, but both of them make your tummy unhappy because they’re harder to digest than other food sources. Gas is a by-product of the digestive system breaking down fiber. You might not want a bowl of raisin bran with whole milk. Unless you’re trying to deter someone from following you too closely…

I’m not saying I won’t be tempted when I see some favorites at the aid stations.

NSAIDs are a real no-no, though. I’M NOT JUST SHOUTING, NSAID IS AN ACRONYM for  non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug. Ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin); naproxen sodium (Aleve); aspirin, and a host of other OTC and Rx meds. Not only are they strongly predictive of GI pain in persons engaging in endurance events, they can have even more serious side effects such as kidney and muscle damage. Are endurance events uncomfortable at times? Sure. But I question the wisdom of taking a painkiller to participate with an injury or simply to avoid discomfort. You might argue it’s a performance-enhancing drug – an unfair advantage over your competitors.

Ok, enough about what NOT to eat. What CAN I eat? What SHOULD I eat?

Let’s keep it simple. Or do I mean complex? Carbs. Carbs are the most easily digestible macro-nutrient, which means it’s the fastest way to get energy to your muscles. Carbs aren’t actually the most calorie-dense macro-nutrient. That honor goes to fat. I don’t really plan on ingesting much if any fat (unless I see bacon or donuts, or bacon-flavored donuts) but if my body is calling for more energy than I am putting in, it will start eating itself. Mostly fat, but muscle too if I’m not eating enough. I met a REALLY famous ultra-runner in person one time, and I was a bit surprised that he had a bit of a pooch. At the time I still had my race-weight marathoner blinders on, but now I think it might be a bit of an advantage to have just a few pounds of extra body fat at the start line of an ultra, especially if you have GI issues when trying to force down too many calories during a race.

Ah yes, back to carbs. I could just rely on simple sugars, e.g. sucrose (table sugar, which quickly breaks down into glucose and fructose, of which it is composed, approximately 50/50); or glucose (aka dextrose); or fructose. But each of these have their limitations. To keep it simple, I’m going to ignore sucrose; and refer to glucose as dextrose (since that is the commercially available powdered form of glucose, it is usually derived from corn).

The transporters that take dextrose and fructose across our digestive membranes into our bloodstream are different. However, they both have a maximum capacity. For dextrose, it’s typically 60g per hour. Anything more and you start to get that nauseous feeling. If you think you’ve never felt that, do you remember eating too much candy when you got home on Halloween? Yep, that’s why. However, completely independent of that pathway is the fructose transporter, which can handle 30g per hour.

So, one way to solve the nutrition problem would be to try to intake 60g of dextrose and 30g of fructose per hour. Dextrose has about 3.5 calories per gram, so that would be 210 calories. Fructose comes out at about 3.75 calories per gram, so add another 113 calories. Total calories per hour for this mix would be 323.

You burn about 100 calories per mile. A “good” ultra pace – a sub 24 hour finish – requires just over 4 mph. 400 calories an hour is probably not realistic for most of us, gut-wise.

So, before I do the maths for that, one more issue to consider. Is dextrose, a simple sugar, best? Not really, for the concentration that would be necessary to push 60g per hour. It’s an osmolality issue, duh. Or is it osmolarity? It’s been a while since HS Chemistry (sorry Dad). Both are essentially a measure of  how much stuff is dissolved in a solution. If you go much higher than your typical sport-drink concentration (which only gives you about 140 calories of dextrose per 20 oz) digestion causes your body to pull resources from other places, defeating the purpose.

Enter maltodextrin:

It’s a complex carbohydrate, a polysaccharide. The n in the diagram means the chains vary in length. The original gel manufacturer uses primarily maltodextrin, with some fructose. Another manufacturer makes claims about their pentasaccharide being special. Personally, I don’t like to pay for carbs + marketing. I will give these folks credit for following the science. I just didn’t want to pay $10/pound for it.

If you’re trying to do Whole 30 while running an ultra, sorry, maltodextrin is not for you. It’s a processed food. But that doesn’t make it evil. It’s a little like making oatmeal (but with corn starch). Add water, apply heat. Ok, you do have to add some enzymes or acids to break it down a bit more.

Maltodextrin’s advantage is that the body seems to tolerate it at higher concentrations in solution. To put it another way, your tummy feels a lot better if you throw 60g of maltodextrin in a solution with 16 oz of water than the same amount of dextrose. Maltodextrin uses the same transporter as dextrose though, so we’re still talking about a 60g max.

Maltodextrin has about 3.8 calories per gram, so 288 calories is the max. I found a deal on this, 8 pounds for $21. $2.62 per pound!

This being my first attempt at a 100 mile race, I’m more inclined to be a bit conservative and err on the side of fewer calories and less chance of GI distress. I don’t want to push my transporters too hard and find out my max was 55g for dextrose/maltodextrin and 25g for fructose.

So, I am going to experiment this month with the following solutes in solution with 16 oz of water (I may go up to 20 oz per hour if daytime temps get above 60F, a possibility):

  • 50g maltodextrin (1/2 cup) , good for 190 calories
  • 20g of fructose (1 TBL + 2 tsp*), good for another 75 calories

Total calories, 265.

* Fructose is heavier, err, more dense, than maltodextrin. 207.11g/cup. So 20g is a little less than a tenth of a cup. There are 48 tsp per cup. So, 4.8 tsp = 1/10 of a cup. Even the precise measurement rounds up to 5 tsp. 1 TBL = 3 tsp, so if I am doing this assembly line style for my drop bags, I’ll probably use both measures.

One more additive: an electrolyte with flavor. I generally run fasted (for fat adaptation benefits). I’ve been using nuun electrolytes this summer ,and I quite enjoy the flavor they add, without the calories. The sample pack I bought included a flavor I liked that was discontinued (rats) but #2 would be:

The electrolytes include: sodium (bicarbonate + carbonate), potassium (bicarbonate), magnesium (sulfate), and calcium (carbonate). Some flavors have caffeine. I might try some of those. There are performance benefits (or detriments to not having it for a long time, for addicts like me).

So, I’m going to take that on a long run this weekend and see how it goes down.

The rest of my race day plan includes an hourly BCAA (Branched-Chain Amino Acids) capsule. I can’t produce these myself. But GU Roctane does.

Dr. Wilson had a few more tips I picked up from the podcast. Ginger can relieve stomach upset. I’ll look into that further. I mix ginger root powder and turmeric in milk as a drink on occasion, so I’m sure I’d tolerate it. But it’s a suspension, not a solution.

Dr. Wilson also suggests a probiotic may have some benefit leading up to your race. I eat yogurt and sauerkraut on occasion and I’m working on a jar of kimchi right now. I’ll emphasize those over the coming weeks.

I hope you managed to make it through this info-dense post! I like to organize my thoughts and plans into one place – so at least one person has benefitted 🙂

Coming soon: drop bag contents.

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Sharing Your Goals and Learning from Your Mistakes – The 121st Boston Marathon

In my previous post on goals, I previewed a subject of “failing to plan, planning to fail.” Well, I’m still planning on writing about that, but in the mean time, this year’s Boston Marathon has me thinking about sharing goals and learning from setbacks.

Sharing your goals is a great way to achieve accountability. My goal for Boston was a PR, and I shared that goal with anyone who would listen (and many who wouldn’t). OK, while I admit that my goal going into [nearly] every marathon is a PR, sometimes last minute adjustments are necessary. That ties into my other subject for this post, learning from your mistakes.

The very statement “my goal going into every marathon is a PR” isn’t exactly correct. It used to be true statement. A more accurate and wiser statement is that a marathon PR is my goal going into nearly every 18 week mesocycle (so long as I am fit and healthy at the beginning). A key to the refinement of this statement was the complete yard sale that was my fall marathon, KCM, in 2016; for details see “Celebrating Failure!

A few weeks out from Boston, the weather looked good. The always-reliable (alert: sarcasm!) long range forecast had below-average high temperatures at the beginning of the week – e.g. lower 50s. However, as the day grew nearer, those 50s turned into 60s, and then began marching up through the 60s. By the time Sunday rolled around, temps soared into the 80s, making me wish I’d brought an extra pair of shorts to walk around at the expo.

I did run into a friend and fellow Skora Ambassador, Jeremy:

Psst… Skora’s back!  My go-to road shoe! I ran this Boston in my last pair of Tempos. My walk-around shoe and my new trail shoes were these incredibly comfortable “Stars and Stripes” made by Carson Footwear in the U.S.A., almost entirely out of US materials:

There be unicorns here!

Scott Jurek!

The day before the marathon meant a break from my “no refined sugar” commitment since I was fueling with dextrose anyway. Apparently there was a run on Peeps at the Boylston street CVS – this was the only thing I could find that didn’t have some gross flavor added:

It cooled a bit for Monday as a cold front approached, but race start was right at 70F, and it was in the 75-80 range by the time I was done. Here’s a shot of the drop-bag area in the morning, featuring lots of nervous-looking folks:

KCM 2016 was a disaster because I refused to scale back my PR goal in the face of similar temperatures. I was in PR shape, but I should have known a PR wasn’t going to happen with temperatures well above the tipping point of 60F. 60F is commonly thought to be the temperature above which endurance performance suffers because you’re routing energy to cooling yourself. This time, I learned my lesson. A week or so out, I had set up my Garmin with mile splits keyed to a range of -1 to -10 seconds below my course PR from 2015. As of Sunday night with the prospect of 70+ temps, I knew I wouldn’t be able to maintain that. So, I stayed at the high end of that range for the first half of the race, planning to push as hard as conditions would allow in the second half. The answer was that conditions wouldn’t allow me to hit my pace range any more after mile 16. I kept my breathing to 3:2, and ran strong, but not over the edge. I passed a lot of people walking in the last few miles who had pushed past the edge, much like I had in the fall.

I was pleased with my finish, at 3:16:33. No PR, but a healthy BQ (sub 3:25) and a lesson learned and implemented. I recently heard John Marcus say he doesn’t talk about goals with his athletes any more, rather he has them establish “minimum performance standards.” That sounds like a secondary (or tertiary?) goal to me. My primary goal at Boston was a PR. My secondary goal was to run the best race I could, given the conditions, running the whole way. So, I met that minimum performance standard, and made it here: (a day after this was taken!)

 

Running Goals: What’s most important to you?

In my previous post, I laid out why you should set goals, some different types, and “good” vs. “bad” goals. This time I’ll move on to prioritizing your goals.

Of course to be able to rank or prioritize your goals, you have to establish what they are. My personal motivation for running is a combination of personal fitness for overall health and a competitive desire to continue to improve. My goals are affected by my recent history, factors such as an injury in the fall of 2015; a return to fitness in late 2016; and an “A” race in October where I didn’t perform as well as I wanted to. My goals are also colored by the ever-broadening running community I’m a part of. As a result, my 2017 running-related goals are both general and specific:

  • Stay healthy – run without injury.
  • Run 2017 miles for the year.
  • Purge refined sugar from my everyday diet.
  • PR at the Boston Marathon.
  • Share my love of running with others.
  • Run an ultramarathon in the fall (Arkansas Traveler 100).
  • Balance running with life.

But you can’t just set goals without some specific planning to achieve them. If you only have one or two goals, this is easier. With multiple goals, they may be at odds with one another. In this case, prioritizing your goals is the solution.

The simplest way to prioritize your goals is to ask the question for each one, “if I fail to achieve this goal, what is the impact on my other goals?” So, you might find that your big picture, less specific goals are actually more important than anything else. Here’s my earlier list, reordered with that in mind:

  1. Balance running with life.
  2. Stay healthy – run without injury.
  3. PR at the Boston Marathon.
  4. Share my love of running with others.
  5. Run an ultramarathon in the fall (Arkansas Traveler 100).
  6. Run 2017 miles for the year.
  7. Purge refined sugar from my everyday diet.

To illustrate, I’ve never run 2000 miles in a year before. But I surely won’t be able to do that if I’m not mentally and physically healthy (see #1 and #2!). And, if we’re just talking artificial numbers, I’ll take the PR over the 2017, thank you very much!

I approached the 1750 mile mark in 2014, 2015 and 2016. That number was inconceivable just a few years before that. When I started tracking mileage in 2011 I was putting in 900 or so but never breaking 1000. It’s not that I set out to track mileage at that point. I am pretty anal retentive, but I never logged miles in a training log – probably because I wasn’t ever training for anything before. Garmin streamlined that for me – my first Forerunner allowed me to indulge my numbers geek inclinations in an efficient way. So why do I think running 2017 miles is a good goal? Increasing your mileage volume from year to year should eventually pay off in faster times. 2017 miles is only marginally more miles than I have been running, and it’s a number I think would have been achievable in either 2015 or 2016 had my acute impact injury not truncated those two years. Typically, I haven’t suffered from overuse/chronic injuries, which I attribute to the shift in running form I made 6 years ago. Nevertheless, I do have a specific plan for achieving the opposed goals of staying injury free while increasing mileage. I’ve resolved, so far successfully, to consistently incorporate strength training into my plans. To a certain extent, I am always doing this – I warm up with a 5-10 minute routine of lunges, squats, and leg swings before every run. On the other hand, I go through phases where I emphasize or slack off on core and balance work. I’m trying to make sure I keep that up this year!

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2017 miles is a journey of millions of steps. I can’t run them all in six months. The higher mileage training plan I’ve put myself on had me at new monthly mileage PRs in December and again in February. I ran 246 miles in February despite only 28 days. I’ll be checking in on it, but 2017 miles is pretty far down on my goal priority list. If anything, it will be a byproduct of my plan to achieve my more important goals – but that’s the subject of my next post!

Effective Goal Setting for 2017 and Beyond

A new year is a great time to set new goals or reinvigorate old ones. The “New Year’s resolution” wouldn’t be such a cliché if there wasn’t something useful in it, right? Well, as it turns out, the majority of people aren’t always right.

In this first of a series of posts, I’ll discuss my thoughts on why we make New Year’s resolutions, types of goals, and good vs. bad goals.

Why?

The calendar is a cultural construct of sorts. There is no astronomical significance to the end/beginning of the year; no line crossed, no cosmic “ding” when the earth completes another turn around the sun. On the other hand, at least in the northern hemisphere, we are crossing into the winter months just days before the old year expires. There’s probably a numerology aspect in play here here too – humans love big round numbers. Nobody says “hey, 0.8743 of the year has passed – it’s time to make some changes!”

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The combination of the turn of the page, the approaching months of cold and relative isolation indoors, and the recent memory of the various excesses of the holiday season makes the New Year a perfect time to re-prioritize and rededicate. Better to do it right away than after the period of hibernation ends!

Types of Goals

Your goals may be centered on work, family, personal relationships, spiritual development, or fitness.There are many types of goals, even if you narrow the field to running. Psychologically, your goals derive from various directions – what motivates you to run, your prior experience both good and bad, and peer interaction. Categories that seem touchy-feely at first blush may still have both objective and subjective measures. In any event, specific goals are more likely to produce the desired result (e.g. lose 10 pounds vs. lose weight). Goals with both short and long time horizons can be valuable – and while long range planning is important, it’s more effective when a long range goal is broken up into shorter goals that can be reached sooner.

“Good” vs. “Bad” Goals

This is value neutral – I’m not judging the goal itself. I’m talking about setting goals that have a better chance to succeed, not goals that have less or no chance of success. For example, don’t set unrealistic goals. For instance, if I set the goal of winning the Boston Marathon, that would be an unrealistic goal. My PR is a 3:09. These days you have to run around 2:10 or faster to win it. However, a realistic short term goal for me would be to PR at Boston. A realistic long range goal would be to run a sub 3:00 marathon. My motto, “Reach for what you cannot,” seems to run counter to this advice, but not really. I am always reaching just beyond what I’ve already achieved – that’s my take on that credo. Your goals should be difficult, but not impossibly difficult. Goals should be positive, e.g. “run under 3:10”  – not negative – “don’t run over 3:30.”

Next time I’ll cover planning to achieve your goals and prioritizing.

My 2016 in numb3r5.

I thought about doing this in “good” and “bad” numbers, but it’s all a matter of perspective. For instance, I could call this first one a bad number, but even after starting the long process of getting back into marathon shape, I was still running. That’s something to be thankful for.

18: Days of no running in January after finishing my no run streak beginning 10/17/15 to quiet the inflamed bursa sac under my heel.

2: Half marathons raced.

1: Marathons raced.

1: 5Ks raced.

2: Races run with one of my kids!

1:31:21: The half marathon time I would have run if I hadn’t gone off course in a small town race.

1:34:16: A pretty good 13.1 split at KCM.

3:31:27: The final result after a really bad second half at KCM.

82.4: The temperature at the finish line at KCM.

20:23: A respectable 5K turkey trot time on a hilly course.

1583.42: Running mileage for the year. Not bad for having to ramp back up with low mileage treadmill running and a half marathon training plan through June.

226.39: Running mileage for December. The most volume I’ve ever run in a month.

capture: The pace I’ve averaged for 4mi. during my last 2 tempo/LT runs.

2017: The running mileage I’m going to do in 2017.

4: Races I have already placed on my calendar for 2017.

Which holiday is it again?

Here’s a picture of a Christmas Runner!

xmas-runner

I’m groaning too – but I didn’t race a Christmas-themed race. Instead, I’m catching up with a race report I never wrote from Thanksgiving.

The Ward Parkway Thanksgiving Day Run was Hewitt’s first 5K (he’s my 9-year old, soon to be 10). Maybe I’m not an indulgent enough parent, but when my kids ask me if they can run a race with me, my answer is always “sure!” But… “just train for it first!” Races aren’t cheap, so I like them to understand that a race is a reward for putting in some hard work first.

Hewitt answered the challenge and he came out with me for quite a few runs in October and November. When the temperatures are reasonable (unlike the last couple of weeks) I usually ask the kids or Ellie (the dog) if they want to come on one of my recovery runs with me. Usually these are about 5 miles max, and you can’t run them too slow. Sometimes this backfires on me, but I am flexible. Hewitt is a trooper, and most of the time he’s up for 5, after he worked his way up to it. In fact, he outpaces me and Ellie frequently. Ellie is our 4-year-old Great Dane, and 5 miles is about my self-appointed max for her. She’ll do it on occasion, but more often than not she is happy with 2-3 and wants to turn around.

Race day was cold – I knew it would be hard to convince Hewitt to wear less clothing than he would feel warm in standing around. As a result, he wore pants and a zippered hoodie – too much, but I’m not an expert on how a 65 pound body responds to the cold vs. a 165 pound body. He wound up with the hoodie unzipped and flopping around on his arms only by the end.

You can see his finish video here. He’s on the right side of the frame – white t-shirt, dark pants. His chip time was 27:57 – placing him 9th out of the M9 & under crowd – a very competitive division as it turns out. The winner ran a 23:38. Great race, Hewitt!

His result was even more impressive if you consider this course – pretty serious hills for a 5K. It’s a loop, where you go past the start line on the other side of Ward Parkway and then come back to it. The first mile is downhill, the second mile uphill, the third a little of both.

I’m looking forward to the day where all of my boys can best me in a 5K, but the old man’s still got a few minutes on them.

I wanted to go under 20 minutes, but the combination of a chaotic start and the hilly course meant it was not to be. They started the 10K a couple hundred yards in front of the 5K, but not nearly enough. Enough said about that.

Here’s my finish. I didn’t really kick hard, because by the time I saw the clock, I knew I was going to be over 20:00. I felt great though – I think I would have had it on a flatter course. 20:23 is one of my better 5K times, and that was good enough for 2nd in my M45-59 age group.

Since then, I finished off my marathon recovery plan and I’ve started Boston training. I’m only two weeks in, but I had my most challenging workout so far yesterday – I’m happy with that 16 mile long run, with the last 8 miles at a 7:08 pace. The target marathon pace for this training cycle is 7:00. I was a bit tentative yesterday – I woke up to freezing fog. The driveway and even the street were glazed, and it was so slippery I almost turned around and went in for the treadmill. However, I hate the treadmill, so I explored a bit further and found decent and ever-improving traction on the edges of the cement sidewalk. I did see one crazy dude riding his bike – I don’t know how he stayed up!

Happy Holidays, and Happy Running!

Celebrating Failure! #runKCM #beatyesterday

Many successful people will tell you that the key to succeeding is being willing to fail. Celebrating those failures can become a springboard to success. My family has had some fun around the dinner table with this recently. The kids have attempted to persuade us to take them out for ice cream to celebrate various “failures.” The RHSW gets the credit for introducing this topic, telling us the background story of the founder of Spanx, who credits this practice as formative in her success. Mock those Spanx if you must, but she’s a 45 year old billionaire. Her advice is similar to my credo: “Reach for what you cannot.”

I was reaching going into my fall marathon, Kansas City. I hadn’t raced a marathon in a year, after recovering from an injury in August 2015. My training had gone well, and tune-up races and workouts pointed to a good performance. I was targeting 3:10 – a minute faster than I ran last year.

However, I failed spectacularly. A 3:31 – my slowest timed marathon ever. What happened? The analysis is simple. I was unwilling to be mediocre, and weather conditions didn’t permit me to be excellent. The result: a crash and burn beginning in mile 18.

Ideally, I’d like it to be about 45F at the start of a race. However, it was 65F at 7am, with high humidity and 30 mph winds from the south. Not good. There’s a physiological penalty for anything over 60F, as your body expends extra energy trying to cool itself. And of course a headwind never helped anyone run faster. Did I know these things at the start line? Of course I did! I probably could have eased off the gas and run a 3:15-3:20 without incident, but I didn’t know what the day had in store at that point.

A side stitch struck in mile 18. We’ve all experienced them before when running, and we have a vague idea that they happen when you’re pushing too hard. They’re caused by a spasm of your diaphragm, which is a sheet of muscle at the bottom of your rib cage that’s part of what allows you to breathe in the first place. Push the pace too hard, and hello side stitch!

There’s no question I was pushing too hard with an ambitious pace. However, in the past I’ve always been able to ease off enough to keep going. When the pain set in around mile 18, I slowed my pace and started massaging it by digging my hand into it. I have no idea whether this is actually therapeutic or not, but it did make me feel as though I was doing something. Unfortunately, the pain got worse and worse – so bad I was hobbling, and practically doubled over. It was disappointing, but I soon came to realize I was going to have to walk until it went away. I walked the better part of two miles – some of them with a new friend – Matt, who’d hit the wall in his first marathon.

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Surprisingly happy to be walking…

We got each other shuffling again and resolved to finish. I had to drop back to a walk again after getting nauseous and sent him on. The nausea passed quickly, and I started running again and ran to the finish. I did not want to walk 6 miles, or DNF, so I’m glad I got underway.

I wish I’d had this knowledge during the race, but my post-race research revealed a breathing technique that could have helped resolve the side stitch. Budd Coates, Runner’s World running coach, suggests: slow your pace; and exhale as the foot on the opposite side of the stitch strikes the ground. Not every step (you would probably hyperventilate). This releases the tension on the  side of the diaphragm in spasm. I hope I never have to try this, but now I know what to do!

So, how did I get to mile 18? Pretty fast. Too fast. I programmed a workout into my Garmin fenix 3 using the Smart Pacing 3:10 band they passed out at the expo. The bands are customized with mile splits that take into account the elevation changes of the course and the need to warm up intelligently and not go out too fast. You run a negative split. I programmed the mile splits into my Garmin with pace warnings set with the target pace as the upper boundary (too slow) and 30s faster as the lower boundary (too fast). Ideally, I think you’d like to be within about 10 seconds, not 30. However, I hadn’t tried this before and I didn’t want the watch alarming at me constantly. My first mile was just a touch over 30s too fast, the second was around 25s too fast. After that I settled into a pretty good range, mostly single digits faster than target pace. However, the cumulative effect of that was that I was over 2 minutes faster than target pace at the 12 mile mark. Everything before mile 10 was faster than the target split, mile 10 was dead on, and everything after was slower. Prior to mile 18 though, not much slower. At mile 17, I was still over a minute ahead of target pace, and at mile 18, just under a minute ahead. Of course from there, it just fell apart. You can’t walk two miles and get anywhere near your goal. In retrospect though, I doubt that a more faithful observance of the target paces would have saved me – I was simply running too fast for conditions – mine and the weather.

Around the 24 mile mark, the 3:30 pace group caught me. I’d already long since been passed by the 3:15 group and one other pace group while walking. At this point, I was running, and I decided I felt good enough to run to the finish with them – I managed about 2.5 miles at just over 8:00 pace. The pacer was a bit off (not his fault – I think the course was a bit long due to some signage/traffic control problems on the Paseo in the new section) and I might have run harder to the finish to get it under 3:30, but when the clock came into view, that wasn’t an option.

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Surprisingly sanguine…

I felt pretty barfy afterwards. No elation at a goal achieved or age group victory (although as it turns out I wasn’t that far off). After about 2 hours of feeling sorry for myself, I decided to celebrate my failure. I also decided I was eager to run again! I toed the line thinking go big or go home, so when that’s your mentality you have to accept that failure is a risk!