Friday, October 19, 2012

Finally Willing To Say, "Just Wasn't My Day!"

As with a lot of races I run - the following is simply a statistical breakdown for me to reference in the future.  Just wanted full disclosure up front ... you probably won't find this too interesting unless you're a stat geek like me - have a great day!

Disappointing finish ... trying not to puke again
Prairie Fire Marathon
Sunday, October 14, 2012
Wichita, Kansas
22nd Marathon Completed
Official Time: 3:48:55
Avg Pace: 8:44
First Half - 1:34:57, 7:18/mile
First 20 Miles - 2:25:38 - 7:17/mile
Second Half - 2:13:58, 10:18/mile

*Walked from mile 22 to the finish
Finish: Overall ... 137th/721
40-44 Age Group ... 20th/63

Avg HR Overall: 161
Avg HR First 20 Miles:171
Weight: 176
Calories Burned: 3,638

Elevation Gain: 483 ft
Total Distance Ran: 26.40
Temperature: Starting Line, 53 degrees
Finish Line, 67 degrees
Wind: 15-20 mph NW
Humidity: 51% humidity 
Comments: Heart rate elevated way too fast and just fought the pace all day, threw up at mile 22

After failing to run as they had planned in a big race, I had always heard runners say, "It just wasn't my day!"  Honestly, until this past weekend at the Prairie Fire Marathon in Wichita, Kansas ... I always thought that was just an excuse for poor planning and even worse execution.  And while I'm not quite ready to simply chalk up every race to chance & luck ... I AM willing to say that some days, no matter how prepared you are, things just don't work out the way you'd planned.

Date With A HIGH Heart Rate
The single biggest reason for the poor race on Sunday was an elevated heart rate.  It wasn't like it surprised me at mile 22 when I threw up for the first time ever in a race or practice - no, I was keenly aware of it from mile one.  I felt my heart beats per minute (bpm) hammering a rhythm in my chest right out of the gate, and just could never slow it down.  Looking back, it was most likely nerves, and maybe a long enough warm up period.  But here is a chart that I put together to illustrate just how much higher my heart rate actually was during the Prairie Fire Marathon.

During the 16 week training period for this race, 10 of my long runs were 20 miles or more.  Three of these faster runs with the pace and heart rate (HR) per mile are detailed above, as well as the pace and HR per mile from my first 20 miles of the Prairie Fire Marathon.  The red column on the right shows just how much higher my beats per minute were compared to the average of these three training runs.  My overall pace was a little faster on Sunday at the race, but basically my heart was beating at a much higher rate at every mile than what it was used to in training.

Looking strong at the outset, but signs
of a heel strike starting to creep in
Why Heart Rate Matters
In a long race like a marathon, it's important to run with your heart rate at a level that delivers sufficient oxygen to your muscles, or an aerobic level, for as long as possible.  For me this has typically been anything in the 150 bpm range.  Of course, if you're trying to run a little faster than normal, the heart rate will elevate a little and oxygen will be delivered a little less efficiently, or an anaerobic level.  This is why we train at higher speeds with Speed and Tempo workouts - basically forcing the heart to beat quickly and create an "oxygen debt" situation in our body.  The longer we can run at oxygen debt typically results in a faster distance race.  In a nutshell it simply means improving your endurance.

However, if we force our heart rate too high, too quickly without a slow methodical warm up period (typically the first 5 or 6 miles for me), we run the high risk of building a great deal of lactic acid in our muscles - or lack of oxygen - that our body simply cannot process.  Lactic acid makes your spit thick, white, and cottony.  Lactic acid makes your legs feel like lead anchors.  Lactic acid is basically our enemy.

As marathoners, we train and train our bodies to deal with the build up of lactic acid from an oxygen debt environment during a race.  We know it's going to happen ... the question is - how long can we continue to run a high speed after it does.  Typically in a marathon, I really feel the heaviness of my legs and the labored breathing around mile 22-23.  It's usually a fight from that point on to focus and push myself to the finish.

Form still decent, but beginning to show
signs of more and more heel striking
On Sunday, I really began to fight it at mile 13-14. By far the earliest I had ever experienced this in a marathon.  My legs were heavy.  My breathing was deep and heavy.  And I really began to stress and worry about being able to maintain pace for the second half.  My heart was just beating way too fast.

Usually in a marathon, I relax myself by looking around a little at other runners and the scenery of a new city.  It makes the time pass a little faster, and helps me enjoy race day a lot more.  On Sunday, I was so worried about my heart rate, I really didn't do anything besides look straight ahead and try to focus on putting one foot in front of the other.  I really don't remember passing many of the Wichita landmarks that I had enjoyed during my training runs there.  Mostly all I can recall is trying - unsuccessfully - to keep up with the faster runners in front of me.  And the only thing that really sticks out in my mind is thinking, "Man, running this pace didn't feel this hard in training - what's my problem?  Why won't my legs work?" From there, it's really all just a blur.

Losing Focus & Heel Striking
As I looked through my race photos (and illegally posted here on my site mind you), one thing really jumped out at me ... HEEL STRIKING AGAIN!!!  Now in fairness, a lot of these photos were taken while I was running downhill, and to be honest, I still heel strike a little on a decline.  I just really believe that heel striking a little going downhill is more efficient than striking with your forefoot.  Not that I really needed the photos as proof - my throbbing left ankle after the race told me all I needed to know about how my soles landed during the race on Sunday.

Labored breathing beginning to intensify and
heel striking really exaggerated at mile 20
I've found over the summer that even though I successfully changed my foot strike this year from a painful heel strike, to a more cushioned forefoot strike - when I run at faster speeds or really begin to fatigue, the old heel strike really creeps in.  Sunday was a recipe for disaster by combining both for over three hours.  In most of my photos it's very apparent that it became worse the more fatigue set in.

Not heel striking for me is still just a matter of focus. I know by this point I should just able to run free without thinking about my foot strike - but I can't.  Literally almost every step of every training run, I still have to think about a proper foot strike.  And when I'm spending more time worrying and focusing on not having a heart attack, the foot strike unfortunately is one of the first things to go.

Why Did I Puke?
I've ran about 10,000 miles over the past few years -  2,500 two years ago, 3,000 last year, and about 3,500 this year.  I have done endless speed drills, tempo drills, short runs, long runs, fast 5K's, fast marathons, and even a 30 mile training run at an 8:30 pace a few weeks ago.  I've been exhausted.  I've been fatigued to the point of passing out.  I've had to find a bush and use leaves as toilet paper - no kidding.  But until Sunday at mile 22 ... I HAD NEVER EVER PUKED FROM RUNNING!!!

So when I suddenly couldn't hold down my stomach fluids any longer, imagine how surprised and disappointed I was when my life-long streak came to an end ... and I had to make a mad dash to the shoulder to avoid creating a tripping hazard for other runners, but more to prevent flat out embarrassment.

"Oh ... my legs, my legs!"
But the question remains ... why, in what was supposed be one of my biggest races ever, did my body decide to betray me and upchuck what little substance I had left in my stomach?  I'm sure the elevated heart rate had something to do with it.  I was averaging about 180 bpm at that point, and at times I looked at my Garmin and was around 185.  Historically, 180 seems to be the point where my body typically wants to react, usually in stool form.   But on Sunday, the adverse effect of a racing heart seemed to be displayed on the top half of digestive system.

Maybe I didn't consume enough calories the two days before.  I usually try to make my big eating day two days before the race.  In this case it was Friday.  I packed in as many carbs and protein as I could.  Probably about 3000 calories.  Then typically the day before the race I try to eat like any other day.  On Saturday, I had about 2200 calories.  Looking back now, that might not have been enough.  I took two energy gels and sipped Gatorade and water throughout the race - which is common for me - but I just felt pretty empty toward the end of the race.

My best guess is that it was a combination of both.  My heart rate certainly contributed, but next race I will certainly consume a little more food before the race.  More than anything I was just trying to avoid a bloated heavy stomach that  might have made me stop for a potty break.  But looking back, I think that plan might have back-fired.

A Few Things I Can Be Proud Of ...
#1 ... I Finished!  After finishing 21 previous marathons, I'll be honest with you - that's not that big of a consolation prize.  But it WAS still a marathon.  And they do STILL make you run 26.2 miles.  And I know that in the huge population pool of the world, only like .00000000001% of us run that far!  So props to me for actually making them hand me a medal on the other side of the finish line.  I didn't really feel like I earned it at the time, but each day passes, I'm more and more proud of it.

"Oh ... my pride, my pride!"
By far my most embarrassing photo ever!
Holy crap - looks like I'm gonna die!
#2 ... I didn't quit!  Yes, I came closer in this race than ever before.  But I DIDN'T DNF!!!  My body had nothing left and I literally didn't know if I could even walk the last two miles.  Plus, emotionally I was about as down as I've been in a while.  But I really proved to myself on Sunday that I still have a "never say die" attitude, even though for last 30 minutes or so of the race, I really didn't how it would end.

#3 ... I'm not that far away from where I want to be.  Okay, I realize at this point I'm still simply "The Practice Champion!"  I'm probably more faithful to my running schedule than most people.  And I think my running schedule is probably much more demanding than most.  But that's not what I'm trying to do here.  I'm trying to get closer and closer to a 3 hour marathon.  I want to be a GREAT runner.  And a 3 hour marathon for me defines greatness in this sport.

But mind you ... that's just the standard I have set for myself - no one else.  Even if you run a 7 hour marathon - you're still GREAT!  I just have a different - not better - just different standard for me.

And even though I had to walk the last two miles, looking back at the race, if I could have just eliminated a few mistakes at the outset, I would have been close to my goals. At the mile 21.5 mark I was averaging about a 7:16 pace.  Managing my heart rate a little better would have given me then energy to stretch those last few miles into a 7:10-7:12 pace, which is right where I wanted to be for this race.

I know, I know, "Woulda, shoulda, coulda!"  And I hear ya - until I actually do in a race, and not just in practice, there's not much point in talking about it.  But I know I have it in me and even more I KNOW it's gonna happen eventually.  I just have to figure out how to not freak myself out on race day.  And I have to find a way to take everything I've learned and everything I've practiced during training, and lay it all out there when the gun goes off.  I don't want to be the guy that everyone on the team thinks is a great player, but always seems to choke in a game.  I want everyone in the crowd to think I'm a great player by what I do at game time.

So there it is, some of the raw data about my biggest disaster race ever.  I was pretty emotionally down about it for about two days.   Silly I know.  But when you invest yourself wholeheartedly into something and then you miss the mark by a lot, it just really has a devastating effect.  I really appreciate all the kind words that helped me get through this mess.

I'm still not 100% willing to say that every race is just "a shot in the dark", or "you just never know what's gonna happen on race day" - but I know there's not much else I could have done in preparation.  I just got caught up in the nerves and anticipation of running really fast.  Hopefully I'll learn some valuable lessons from this experience.  But I think for whatever reason ... it just wasn't my day!
... be great today!


  1. Thanks for sharing your insights, Jim. They're instructive for those of us with limited marathon experience. I think you're overlooking the obvious on your elevated heart rate. You started way, way too fast.

    In your previous 20-milers, you didn't even come close to an 8:00 pace for the first mile, yet in the marathon, you busted out a 7:51 (I did the same thing in my first marathon). This elevated your hr tremendously and set you up for failure. Of course, your heart rate monitor could have been going crazy like mine does for the first few minutes.

    Second, I think it's awesome that you puked ala Bob Kempainen in the 1996 Olympic Marathon trials in Atlanta and still finished. Of course, Kempainen won.

  2. Down for two days. That's not bad. Let yourself wallow a little more. You worked hard and were very disappointed. And yeah, that isn't a great photo. Good luck getting back into it. But with you it won't be luck, it will be your hard work.

  3. I'm sure nerves played a significant role in Sunday's race. As an anxious person, I've had some incredibly crap runs when I've been feeling worried and my heart rate is always higher on those runs. But you should definitely pat yourself on the back for not quitting - it's easy to run when you're feeling good but to keep pushing yourself (and sometimes even walking is pushing) gives real meaning to the word endurance.

  4. Aw, I'm very sorry that the race didn't go as planned. I agree that the elevated heart rate was going to make it difficult to push yourself like you wanted to.

  5. You finished a crappy race. THAT is an accomplishment. I've had the same feeling before. Not sure why I'm doing so lousy, but I do. One thing you might consider is being a little dehydrated. It's probably just the nurse in me, but anyone with a high heart rate I assume they are intervascularly dry. Although a healthy man like yourself should be able to adapt pretty quickly, I have found that making sure I drink MORE then I usually do the night before with electrolytes (I use NUUN)is life saving! OK, I exaggerate, but it does help me feel and run better. Guess we can't mull over it too much... Good job!

  6. Glad you did a post on your race good or bad. Sometimes putting it down on paper can help you figure out what went wrong and puts and an to a bad race. Don't be so hard on yourself JIm.

  7. I'm glad you do your stats posts. I always learn from them.

    I hope your recovery is going well and that you're being nice to yourself.

  8. Loved this post. I'm sorry for your struggles. But it's posts like this that helps someone like me (a marathon newbie)learn more and become a better runner. I'm sure for you it will be a race to reflect on and build on.

    Thanks for posting Jim.

  9. First of all, congrats! Marathons should always be celebrated. Second, I wonder if you are overtrained, or overtired. The workouts you did clearly showed that you were trained to do better. I had a similar experience at Boston 2010, where I trained hard for a while and raced a lot, but felt heavy legs and had high HR early in the marathon, and ended up with a crappy time. Just a thought:)

  10. Hey Jim...
    Loved reading this and will re-read tonight when I have more time to absorb (thank you for the email, just been so crazy with state xc meet this coming weekend)...but one thing that came to mind when you emailed me about the puking is: what calories and fluids did you consume during the race and when? I think another possibility about the demise is lack of proper nutrition for running in those headwinds you had, which zap the energy out of you so much quicker. Just a thought. I am so very proud of your efforts here and I think the things you learned here are going to be invaluable for your upcoming race in a couple weeks. Glad to are feeling better!

  11. I'm book marking this! Great post - lots of awesome tips in here. I never monitor my heart rate, nor do I even monitor my pace but those are two things I'd like to add to my training to increase my consistency; an area I lack in.

    Thanks so much.

    I'm so proud of you for hanging in there! You finished your race and your 22nd marathon after 40 at that!!! I agree with what Char said, it's easy to run when you're feeling great, 10,000X's harder when you're not.

    You are always an inspiration to me!

  12. This was such an informative race analysis! Thanks so much! When I read the first 'box' with your stats and saw the splits and then your heart rate, I thought "ut-oh...yeah..." I've been using my heart rate monitor regularly for about 9 months now. Sheesh...I wish I had really embraced this technology ages ago! Guess I'm somewhat of a stats geek :P Glad to have stumbled upon your blog :)

  13. We've all been there, where we feel like we're gonna die when we're just close to the finish, but we push on. I guess that's what running does. It injects this sense of determination in you that you never you had and just you think you can't go on, you keep pushing and pushing until you finish. Guys like you definitely inspire the rest of us to push ourselves. Well done on finishing the race.

  14. Jim, I always like reading your stuff and this past weekend went into the 2014 Disney Marathon with some great training, expectations for myself, and confidence coming out of my ears. I went into the race expecting @3:15 and finished @3:33. Looking back one thing that jumps out at me is that by mile 2 my HR was about 170 (i never even looked at it during the race...I only looked at the current lap pace), and never really came down until the 2nd half of the race. Overall avg. HR was 168. For me, perhaps I should have rested more in the week leading up to the race. Looking back I see tons of time that I should have rested more, but it just did not work out.

    Thanks for posting your post race review, I remember reading this last year and came back to re-read it today to help give me more ideas on what to do for next time, and to remember that sometimes things just happen.

    Best of luck, & thanks again.

  15. Jim, I always like reading your stuff and this past weekend went into the 2014 Disney Marathon with some great training, expectations for myself, and confidence coming out of my ears. I went into the race expecting @3:15 and finished @3:33. Looking back one thing that jumps out at me is that by mile 2 my HR was about 170 (i never even looked at it during the race...I only looked at the current lap pace), and never really came down until the 2nd half of the race. Overall avg. HR was 168. For me, perhaps I should have rested more in the week leading up to the race. Looking back I see tons of time that I should have rested more, but it just did not work out.

    Thanks for posting your post race review, I remember reading this last year and came back to re-read it today to help give me more ideas on what to do for next time, and to remember that sometimes things just happen.

    Best of luck, & thanks again.


Thanks for stopping by ... your comment's always welcome!