In Part 1 (link), I gave my thumbs up to Christchurch Airport Marathon. A well organised and fun event, I’m looking forward to running it next year. In this second part, I dissect my performance at the marathon. This will show areas of performance learning and all as part of my journey to a Boston Marathon Qualifying time.
I started the race an excited and bouncy 34 year old man; 5hrs, 28mins and 17 (ish) seconds later, I finished it feeling 10 years older and mentally and physically knackered. My legs were blazing with pain, my nipples chafed bloody raw and I was angry as hell with myself.
Six days later, my legs and nipples are healing and I’ve had time to reflect on my race’s Good, the Bad and the Ugly points.
The Good Parts
The last hour of my race was hard: mentally and physically. I had hit the wall and disappointment and frustration made me very angry with myself. Having had time to reflect and recover, I see my race, while disappointing, had its good points. The stuff that worked well for me came from lessons I learned from past races.
Pre-race nutrition Strategy
Monday to Thursday before the race, I ate sightly less than normal. This was because a) I had no plans to run and didn’t need the calories and b) because I was getting ready for Friday and Saturday’s carb loading.
I ate normally till Friday evening. On the way home from work, I bought a pizza and some garlic bread. I know, traditionally, carb loading is with pasta or rice. I was saving the pasta till Saturday. I figured pizza and garlic bread would be good compromise.
On Saturday, I had a big, big breakfast, normal sized sandwich for lunch – breaking my usual no bread rule because it’s got cheap carbs – and had some pasta and sweet potato with dinner.
I finished my eating by 7pm Saturday night, giving myself 12 hours for digestion. When I woke up, I had a banana and some water around 6:30am. This was all I had pre-race. I didn’t want to risk either an upset stomach or being caught out with a desperate need for the loo pre-race.( There’s always a huge queue). This meant I didn’t have any stomach or digestive issues race morning.
In-race refuelling and hydration
In my last few races, I ran with a Camelback hydration back pack. I reckoned that dehydration was causing my bad cramping around the 25-30km mark. After doing a course of Pilates, my hamstring problems are more-or-less solved.I find the Camelback invaluable on my longer training runs when there’s no one supplying water stops. After my Seattle marathon last year, I began to wonder if I could do without. Apart from the weight and chafing, I was over-hydrating and needed to take multiple toilet breaks.
As discussed in a previous post (here and here), in my long runs, I started only re-watering at 5km points. This was to replicate the marathon’s water stations. I did keep a 750ml water bottle on my hip pack – along with my carb gels.
This bottle was water and electrolyte tablets. While I sweat a lot during exercise, I’ve discovered that it’s the loss of essential electrolytes I need to worry about. Topping up with the marathon race energy drink and having my own supply meant I didn’t feel any extra stress from worrying about sweating out all my electrolytes.
So, during the race, I took on water/powerade every 5km and gels every 8km. The benefit of this revised strategy was I didn’t over-hydrate, didn’t pee as much as last race and kept my body healthy and hydrated. Importantly, I reckon I saved at least 5 minutes from not having stop and pee as much. Not to mention being more comfortable. A small thing, but by such margins do we improve.
This is where I relied on my experience from other races. The night before, I prepped two bottles of recovery mixture: a protein shake for my muscles and a recovery shake of electrolytes and carbohydrates. I know I seem obsessed with my electrolytes but I sweat a lot of salts out. Electrolytes are essential to avoiding heat stroke and I’d rather go heavy with them as part of my hydration strategy.
The protein shake is vitally important at this stage. To be frank, I did a lot of muscle damage in this marathon and I was very glad of the shake. Getting a ready-source of protein into my system ASAP after the race is a key part of my recovery plan. I know it is successful as, by Tuesday, the only aching muscles left were my shin splints. The rest of my legs, while still a bit stiff, were 75% back to normal. I feel this is because I started feeding them muscle-rebuilding protein almost as soon as I got my medal.
The other benefit of having the shakes pre-made was they were easy on my stomach and didn’t need any complicated cooking or food ordering in restaurants. While I did buy a celebratory hotdog – more protein and carbs – I really didn’t feel like anything too solid.
Happy Hamstrings from Pilates
I’ve been learning Pilates these last few months. What that means is my hamstrings – which are usually my biggest worry – didn’t give me any real problems. I didn’t get my usual bad cramping. Sure, I had a few cramps at 28km – which is where my marathon fell apart – but they were in my groin. So, I’ve solved my hamstring problem and pushed it into another muscle group. Progress!
The Bad Parts
Chafed nipples. (Tee-hee, I said nipples!). Skimping the Body Glide and petroleum jelly was a baaaadddddd idea. I didn’t mean to. I slapped a bit of jelly on them but obviously not enough. By 29km mark, the jelly was gone and my nipples (tee-hee! I said nipples) had been rubbed bleeding and raw. The only relief from the pain was by pulling my shirt clear of them – for 14-fecking-kilometres!
Next time, I won’t let that happen…
The Ugly Parts
I hit the wall around the 28km mark. Sadly, this was entirely my own fault. Life has been extremely difficult the last few months. This meant it was easier for me to rationalise not doing the training. And I didn’t. Which meant I wasn’t in a good enough condition to meet my marathon goals of 4:30 finish time and to have run the entire way.
I started slowing down after the 20k mark. By 28km, my legs had nothing left. It got so it was painful to even try to jog any. All I could do to finish was walk. For 14kms – which I reckon added at least an hour to my finishing time. I was still 16mins (ish) faster then Seattle, but 45mins slower then my PB – 4:45 (ish) Dublin Marathon in 2012.
Conclusion: What lessons did I learn?
My Christchurch Airport Marathon performance was a mixed bag. Applying learning from previous marathons, my nutrition and hydration strategies worked really well. I’m also very pleased about the impact Pilates has had on my legs. While it took till Friday for the shin splints to go, the rest of my legs were 70% normal by Tuesday. My usual muscle soreness was substantially reduced and I avoided my normal, huge cramping.
The key takeaway is I need to keep up with the training. Life is less difficult now, so I have no excuse. The only way I will hit my goal is by training, training, training and more training.
Finally, this marathon has given me confidence in my philosophy; that if I Keep On Going then inch-by-inch I will get better. There’s no magic shortcuts; no silver bullets; no tricks to be learned.
Reaching my goal is going to be all grind. And that’s OK – because it means the only base skills I need are patience and the capacity for hard work. Which is something we’re all born with.
Keep on Going,