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Marathon post-mortem

By Linda

Well, after all the weeks of training and fretting, the marathon is finally done. Hallelujah! And . . . what’s this, a little of that familiar post-race ennui? The vague feeling of unrest that comes with not having a giant horrible goal looming over my head? Yep, right on schedule.

I already wrote a recap of sorts over on my personal blog, but for this website I thought I’d try and jot down my thoughts on what worked and what didn’t. You know, in case there’s a next time. Which, oh dear god, I think there might be.

What worked: all my gear. I got lucky in the weather and it was neither too cold nor too hot. My sleeveless tech shirt and long compression tights worked just fine. I wore a hat and that was good, too: it kept my hair contained and provided shade when the sun was out, without overheating my head.

I wore the same fuel belt I always wear during long runs, so no problems there, although for next time I will try and find a bigger pocket to add to the front so my phone is more accessible (more on that in a minute). My shoes felt good (I switched from my Nike Frees to Brooks Adrenalines a while back) and I only had one blister afterwards, which I didn’t even notice during the run. I carried water and that was handy for the times between hydration stations when I needed to, say, chase a gel or something.

I carried two iPods, Just in Case Something Went Wrong, but I used my little Shuffle the whole time. I clipped it to the front of my sports bra so I could easily reach through my shirt and pause it or skip a song, and that was nice. I did end up with a sore spot rubbed into my skin from the edge of the device, but I only noticed that afterwards.

I also wore my Garmin on my belt, because I know from experience it hurts my wrist on long runs. It’s a good place to carry it (I just fasten it around the belt fabric) because I can easily check my pace/progress, but it’s not so easy to see that I overfocus on it.

What was decent (I think): my fuel. I brought a bunch of gels, which were easy to gulp on the run. I had a bagel with peanut butter for breakfast beforehand, and I ate some Shot Blox right before the race started. I also brought a couple of mini Snickers bars but when I tried to eat one around mile 20 I discovered it just sort of stuck everywhere in my mouth and required way too much water to wash it down.

What helped: changing my stride. Someone gave me some great advice when I was having trouble with my hip a few months ago: when things start aching, turn sideways and shuffle for a while. The lateral movement is a good break from the super-repetitive motion of running and I did it several times starting about 2 hours in. It looks a bit like this, although mine wasn’t quite so energetic and my stance wasn’t so low. I also switched to a butt-kick stride briefly when my knees ached to work out the stiffness there.

I fully expected to encounter major knee/hip/foot issues during the race since I’d been plagued with them during training, but the 3+ weeks of tapering must been just what I needed. I was hurting by the end for sure, but nothing stood out or felt really problematic.

What was awkward: getting to my phone. I worked out a plan ahead of time with my family that I’d use my phone every half hour or so to check in with Google Latitude so they could plot my progress and meet me on the route. This was a great solution, but getting my phone in and out of the tight pocket on the back of my belt was a pain. Next time, I’d like it to be up front so it’s easier to pull it out and hit the update button.

What was bad: miles 18-22. So, not to gross anyone out or anything, but you’ve probably heard of runner’s trots, right? I have never experienced that particular issue in all my training, and wouldn’t you know it, it hit me at mile 17 or so. The situation got truly desperate a short time later, and all I can say is that it was awful. Really, really, incredibly awful and painful and, you know, kind of terrifying. Because there was no porta-potty until mile 22. I don’t know how I made it that long, only that my fear of personal embarrassment is so strong that it may have actually saved my ass. Literally.

Ahem. ANYWAY. I have a suspicion as to the cause of this unpleasant condition, and it was a stupid, rookie mistake: I drank Gatorade at most of the water stops during the first half. And I never drink Gatorade. I KNOW, it was so dumb, never do anything new on race day, I know! It’s just that it was always the first thing being handed out and I accepted it on accident the first couple times and then foolishly decided it was treating me well, so kept drinking it.

So it may well have been the Gatorade, or possibly it was simply the extra unfamiliar exertion—normally on my long runs I take walk breaks, and the only walking I did during the marathon was occasionally during that 5-mile stretch when my gut was cramping so badly I couldn’t run. Or maybe it was just bad luck, who knows. Runner’s trots are very, very common during long races, and there are all kinds of contributing factors.

Next time I will heed all the preventative measures, and I mostly definitely will not eat or drink anything new on race day.

What was ugly: the home stretch. The last 3-4 miles were . . . yeah. Wow. Special. Let’s just call those the special miles. I could easily see how a person could just up and stop at that point, say fuck it, this is close enough, let’s call it good.

My husband ran the last 5 miles with me and that may have been the difference between keeping my feet going and lying down on the trail to DIE. He reminded me how close I was to finishing in under 5 hours and encouraged me to keep going. I would absolutely enlist the help of a pacer again for the final push.

What it felt like afterwards: painful, but not for too long. Sunday night I could barely move—everything hurt, even things like the skin on the outside of my upper arms (from all the flapping up and down, I guess). Monday was a little better, but my knees and hips were still aching quite a bit. By Tuesday it all felt like normal residual soreness, and now I feel totally fine.

What I would do to improve my time. Well, the main thing is more training, I think. I’ve only been running for less than a year, so I knew I’d have a slow finish time. If I train for another marathon this year—I’m thinking of the Portland race in October—I’d include speed drills in my workouts to try and get my overall pace up. The only other thing aside from being a stronger runner overall is minimizing the bathroom issues. I had to stop and pee at around mile 9, and that was probably at least a ten-minute stop thanks to the lines. And of course the Other Delicate Problem slowed me down, not only because it negatively impacted my running during those miles, but because I had to stop again once I did find a bathroom (and flail around looking for a toilet paper substitute since they were all out, good god).

Overall, it was a hell of an experience. Some of it was downright awful, some of it was fantastic. The long training runs were much, much harder than the race itself, as I suspected. The crowd support often lifted and carried me, and seeing my kids on the route was amazing. The feeling of crossing the finish line was absolutely indescribable.

I want to do it again.

6 Responses to “Marathon post-mortem”

  1. Kaitlyn Says:

    I love this kind of musing stuff, so hold on, this might be a long comment. I’d say the only two things that can make you faster is speed work and strength training. I think you do a lot of strength training (?) but you could throw in a run of hills, like up and down the same big hill a bunch of times each week. But speed training mostly will really help you. And also time, because it is absolutely incredible that you went from 5k to 42k in less than a year, I mean really! Amazing!
    I’m inclined to caution about another marathon so soon, general rule of thumb to avoid injury is one a year, but you transitioned well from the half directly into the full (I mean I know you had a couple rough weeks, but overall you did well and completed in your goal time, so I consider that really good), so maybe it wouldn’t bother you.
    When I read your other blog that it was both the worst and best experience of your life, I totally agreed. What an amazing way to push yourself physically beyond what you thought possible and also what an exercise in torture is every person who runs a marathon absolutely INSANE? (Yes)
    Anyway, congrats again! Are you doing another tri this summer?

  2. lindsay Says:

    It’s amazing how a stranger shouting out to you can spur you on for some more distance. The highlight of my ten mile race a couple weeks ago was a guy in a Boston zip up cheering for me. Would you ever joing a running group? I’m trying to collect the guts for that right now as it’s what I think i need to get to the next level but it’s scary scary too…

    Congrats on your amazing success!

  3. Brenda Says:

    I am so impressed that you went from doing a half to a full in such a short space of time. You are amazing.

    The gastrointestinal issue is what is worrying me the most about my upcoming half (2 weeks, aieee!). I think I will be taking immodium just to be on the safe side. Do you think your switch to a paleo diet may have contributed, given that you haven’t experienced those issues before?

  4. Linda Says:

    Kaitlyn: yes, I’m doing the Danskin on August 15th. Time to get back in the pool!

    Brenda: no way to know for sure, I guess, but I doubt it. I went off that diet for a full week beforehand.

  5. Sara Says:

    Linda, I’d bet serious money it was the Gatorade. I forgot my water bottles for my first marathon, and had to drink Gatorade, and had the exact same bathroom issues, also at Mile 17 (I was fortunate enough that there was a portapotty at Mile 18).

    I think that Gatorade is likely the debbil unless you have some sort of cast-iron gut.

  6. Liz Says:

    Ugh, I canNOT run w/Gatorade in my body. It does not pretty things to my stomach.

    Anyway! More pleasant things! YES, so exciting to do another one. It gets…easier. Your capacity for handling the suck in those last six miles increases, while it still sucks horrifically, [I found] that the more I run marathons, the easier it is to handle that feeling. Maybe it’s because I know I won’t actually die, and that in a few hours that feeling won’t seem as bad. (I would imagine this is how people around to having more than 1 kid, frankly).

    When you do this again, I would just suggest (for what it’s worth) linking up with a running group. Running iwth other people scares me, frankly, because I used to be so slow, but most groups have all skill levels, and having people around for those weekend long runs changes the experience dramatically.

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