Tuesday, 8 February 2011

My Marathon Experience

As I blogged about yesterday, I didn’t have a good first-time marathon.  It has taken me the better part of a week to come to terms with my experience and move into a good space about what I initially viewed as a failure.

I didn’t achieve my goal of a sub-5-hour marathon and this was hugely disappointing to me!  Then I got to grips with the “reality” that I can tell any story about the marathon and it will be just that, so my “story” is that I finished my first marathon.  It didn’t go as well as planned but I have learnt (and am continuing to learn) and I will do better next time.

I had a pacing chart that would get me to the finish in just under 5 hours and I was doing well at each marker point up until the 20km mark. I was at 20km in 2:17:48 and my pacing chart said 2:17 and the half marathon point at 2:24:30.  On target.

My dad had finished running his half-marathon and was on his bicycle waiting to follow and support me. It was just as I picked him up and passed the crane at the starting line to do my second loop, that I needed to be sick.  I walked behind a bush and vomited.  I thought that would be the end of it as I have vomited before and once I had “got it all out” I felt better and have continued running.  However, this wasn’t going be the same.  I continued to feel nauseous and vomited on numerous occasions but sometimes it was just dry retching.  At this point, my running partner continued to run as I was now obviously holding her back every time I ran to the pavement or behind a tree.

I was feeling awful – light headed, unable to breath freely and still very nauseous.  At one point a lady stopped to see if I was okay and suggested that I wasn’t breathing deeply enough and to lift my arms above my head and take deep breathes.  This seemed to help a little but I also realised that I couldn’t take very deep breathes. 

The long and the short of it was that I ran/walked alone or with my husband (he had finished his half-marathon in a PB time of 2:13:01, and got a lift with a friend to encourage me at the 34km mark.  When he saw that I wasn’t doing so well he stayed with me to the finish – Thanks Ian, much appreciated).  By 37km I was feeling way better and could actually run.  I realised that I had missed the cut-off time of 5:30 for the marathon but it didn’t matter to me. I was going to finish the distance and when I crossed the line I was feeling like I could go on (slowly, but I could carry on running.)

There are so many things that could be the cause of my bad-run and there are a few things that made it a bad-run rather than an awfully-shocking run:

  • I didn’t take in enough sugar/carbohydrates.  I had run through the first two watering points because I had my own water with me.  I had a sip of coke at the third (9km) and fifth (15km) watering points.  I had chia-fresca (water, lemon juice, sugar and chia seeds) in my water bottle and had had a few sips, but not too much because I didn’t want to have to go to the toilet.  My dad insisted I take lots of coke when I started vomiting and once I could keep it down, I’m sure that’s what helped me toward the end.
  • I had worked myself up into an mild anxiety/panic attack and that was the reason that I couldn’t breath properly.  The more I thought “I can’t take a deep breath” the more my breath got shorted and shallower.  After I stopped at second last watering point, stood under the shade cloth, ate ice and gave myself a good talking too, I could breath better.
  • I also don’t eat before I run, but I now realise that 42km is not like 21km and my strategy has to change for the longer distance.
  • Other than my chia, I didn’t plan on having any other supplements.  I am now re-looking at that.
  • I must put spray sunblock on my feet and behind my knees.

The good that came out of it was that I found the words in my head to keep me going to the finish and this has got the “distance monkey” off my back.

So, even tho’ I didn’t achieve my goal, I have had a good learning experience.

I have decided to do another marathon on March 6 (The Cape Gate Vaal Marathon), to put any “ghosts to rest” – I don’t want to hold onto a bad experience for long.

I will be practicing eating before and during my long runs, might try some GU, will definitely drink coke at every watering point and am looking at a schedule of run/walk for the longer distances.  I will be running a 21km race this weekend but plan on using it as a longer (28km) training run in order to try out my race-nutrition.

Please let me know what you have learnt from running longer distances and what has worked for you. I realise we are all different but until I had run my first marathon I didn’t know what I didn’t know and therefore didn’t know what questions to ask.

(Too avoid a too long post, and hence losing your interest, I will post my training plan in another post this week.  I will also be commenting more on ‘the words in my head’)

Have a great running week


Johann said...

I'm glad you can see all the positives in this. You finished a marathon and that is fantastic. SA is one of few places where you'll find these strict cutoff times for marathons so don't even worry about the time, you did it! My worst marathon (road) is 5:37 and my best 3:48. So anything goes with a marathon.

To put it short and simple, you definitely didn't fuel enough. You also need to drink more (lots) water. We all drink too little water during a long run. You need to drink and fuel enough that it feels as if it is too much, then it will be just about enough.

I use Gu and also eat peanut butter sandwiches on long runs. I also carry jelly babies and some other gels with me in case i feel I can't take more Gu. I have a Gu every 8km. You need to eat something before the run as well. I eat two slices of toats with honey and a cup of coffee two hours before the start. Hope this will help a bit.

I'm running Pick n Pay 42 this weekend and will do Vaal 42 as well. See you on the road!

JK said...

You finished your first marathon! That alone is fantastic. Congratulations.

I do, however, totally understand your feelings of not having performed at the level you were hoping for. This happened to me with my first sprint tri. I was so disappointed in myself that I avoided doing another all season. I finally realized I need to try again or I'll never really know if I can achieve my goal. I now have three sprint tri's already scheduled, starting in April. Like you, I am going to use the next one as a time to try out what I learned from my first and from talking to experienced competitors and reading.

Thanks for the very thoughtful race report. A great post.

Anonymous said...

You know to me the first marathon is like learning how to walk. It is a process and we learn a lot from it. I for one bombed my first marathon bad! I didn't give up though I'm currently training for my 4th. Each on has taught me different things and just like life, we learn from each race and experience.

Kate said...

Congratulations on your finish! It's so disappointing when the result is so different from the expectations, but it sounds like you've got a good handle on what went wrong...and since it's a matter of "outside" things rather than fitness or mental toughness, that's got to be somewhat comforting. Those are much easier to fix.

In my half marathon, the longest distance I've run to date, I was determined that if possible I was going to avoid losing the time it would take to use the bathroom on the course. Not really the best decision, as it turned out.

Char said...

The vomiting bit sounds awful BUT it does sound like you've learnt a huge amount from the experience. You're right - you have to fuel before, during and after a marathon. We simply don't have enough glycogen in our muscles to carry us that long. And you have to practice this to find out what works for you. But I'm in awe - you finished despite felling so bad.

Staci said...

Thanks for all your encouraging comments. I will be drinking more water, eating toast and honey before the race, and reminding myself that I have the fitness and mental toughness to get thru' this. I will be using a 21km race as a 30km training run to practice all I've learnt so far.

Thanks again, it's great to have this virtual community support. (See you on the road Johan)

Adam said...

I've found that in failure I often learn the most. It looks like you have LOADS of thing that you learned to make the next one great!!

Glad things are looking better!

Paul said...

Hey. You did finish so enjoy that!
You are also smarter now.8)

You might want to buy the book "the lore of running" by Tim Noakes, MD. He's from down your way in fact and has a lot of real information about eating and marathons (as well as everything else).

I don't eat breakfast, but I do eat a bunch of carbs in the few days before a race. I also take gus and cliff shot blocks (which are brown rice sugar, not corn starch sugar)

I do all of this on any runs over 21 km to practice.

I also don't drink a ton of water the evening before the race as I don't want to have to pee. What I do is take a disposable water bottle to the start and swig down a glass worth a few minutes before the start. Then if there are water stops every 2 km or so I'll take a swig at each (not too much or I get bloated).

If it's over 70F, then I drink more (and wish I was at a cooler race ;).

I dump water on my head if the temps get over 70F.