Monday, April 19, 2010

The Kansas Half Marathon - Bittersweet

Last week I wrote that I'd have an update covering the Kansas Marathon and Half Marathon. Most of my friends and I were doing the half, so 'training' focused on that race. I put the word training in quotes, because I no longer really train for a specific race. I just like to put in middle distances 4-8 mi each day during the week, and then a 10+ mile run on Sundays (taking Saturdays and sometimes Mondays off). A half marathon distance never left me feeling any trepidation, because I typically can go knock one out whenever the spirit moves me. This attitude may have led to a slight lack of respect for the distance. That is always a mistake. Any distance to be run for a PR is not something that one should take lightly. But I'll get more into this shortly. What ultimately happened to me directly leading up to, and during the half marathon, seemed to be a perfect storm for how not to run a race.

This past week, I had done a long run on Sunday (10.5 mi). I then began to taper off, doing 4 mi runs on Mon - Wed, a 2 mi run on Thurs, and plans to do another 2 mi run on Friday before taking Sat off before the race. Thursday afternoon changed all that. I was standing barefoot on my back deck at 5 pm. I was supposed to play some tennis at 5:30. I turned to go back inside, and felt a sharp pain just in front of my left heel. The sharp pain was followed by a popping sound and an intense pain as I drove the first half to full inch of a 4 inch locust tree thorn straight into my foot. I felt a kind of shock as I looked down. My first thought was to get the thorn out of my foot (that required very careful, yet very forceful tugging so that it wouldn't break off beneath the skin). My immediate second thought was I'm f'ed for the race on Sunday. I bled out the puncture as well as I could (punctures don't seem to bleed much. I put some hydrogen peroxide on it, and wait for it.... went off to play two hours of tennis - the single stupidest thing I could've done.

That night when I got home, my foot was a mess. I could barely walk. That followed into the next day when I called my doctor and explained the situation. After an office visit followed by a visit to the pharmacy, my new routine for the next couple of days was to soak the foot in epsom salts and then ice it. I also was prescribed an antibiotic and told to take Aleve. But here's the kicker; I told my doctor that I planned to run the half marathon on Sunday regardless of time or pain. I inquired if there were any pain killers that could be taken once or twice that would completely kill the pain without causing drowsiness. That didn't seem likely, but the nurse-practitioner who was seeing me had an amazing suggestion. It was a lidocaine patch. Normally used for people who crack ribs, or have back issues, the lido patches cover an area and deaden it without causing any drowsiness. I thought it was a brilliant idea.

When I was picking the patch and the antibiotics at the pharmacy, my pharmacist, who was also doing the half marathon gave me some suggestions. He recommended that I not take the antibiotic the morning of the race because it has a tendency to make you lose more fluids through excessive perspiration than would normally be lost during a race (it seems also to be a bit of a diuretic). So pain pills, antibiotics, and patches in hand, I felt a bit better about my shot at the race. Saturday I tried out the patch, and it seemed to work OK in lessening the pain. I couldn't run very well, but I could shuffle quickly.

I'll take a moment for an aside here. Initially my plans for the race were based on four scenarios. I never know how I'm going to feel on a race day, so I set 3 or four goals. For this race, I had set three. All things being good, I wanted to run around 7:45 min/mi. I thought that wouldn't be too taxing, and my training runs were all in the 7:30-8 min/mi range. If there was bad weather, wind, or I just felt like crap (which happens to all runners every now and then), I wanted to beat 1hr 50min. That's still a speed where you're still moving, and would translate into a 3hr 40min marathon. In other words, respectable (see note at the end of this paragraph).* My third goal, was that if all systems were go, to try to break 1hr 40min by whatever margin I could muster. Every now and then on a run, I get so elated (see last week's posting), that running becomes effortless, speed meaningless, and I PR (usually not in a race). So those were my pre-injury goals. *If you are reading this and run a a slower pace, that is great. Keep it up. I only used the word, 'respectable (above),' in reference to my own running times. Many would consider my times to be slow. All that is important is that you keep loving the run...

Post injury, I revised them. My major goal was to finish in under 2 hours. 1hr 50 min would be fine. And 1hr 44min would rock. And so it began...

Pic above: Me, Phil, & Chris

The race morning was actually pretty chilly. It took a while to warm up. For the beginning of the run, I wore shorts, gloves, and a long sleeve shirt over a short sleeve. I planned to run into Marisa (who's husband is my running chum, Chris) around mile three and dump the gloves and long sleeve. My foot felt pretty good, thanks to the patch, so I lined up in the 1hr 40 min section with Chris and Phil (who's a cross country coach at Free State High). What was a bit odd about this lineup, is that there weren't a lot of people ahead of us, even though there were somewhere between 800 and 1,000 people in the race. No worries. After the national anthem, we were off. For those of you that know Lawrence, KS, we headed east on 21st street to Naismith. We turned and cranked it up the hill to the KU campus. The we headed west, over the bridge by the dorms at Iowa Street and through a back route into West Campus. I found Marisa, and flipped her my shirt and gloves at the 3.5 mi mark. I was only about 10 seconds behind Chris, so I knew the time was good (as I've said before, Chris Ford is a pretty awesome runner).

Next, we had a stretch that skirted along Clinton Parkway (23rd St). After a few turns and miles, we hit the SLT running trail that leads to the dam at Clinton Lake (a route I normally run in training, so I had been looking forward to this). By my watch, I crossed the 6 mi mark at 46 min. That was wholly unexpected. I felt great. No foot pain, muscles relaxed, a smile on my face, and loads of energy to burn. I knew the rest of the course like first-grade math, so at that moment, I made what would be a fateful decision. I actually thought; It's time to put the hammer down. So I took off. The path out to Clinton is slightly uphill for about 2 miles. I run it almost every Sunday, so I knew what to expect. I cruised through to mile 10 with almost no effort at about a 7 min/mi pace. I just had one major hill to go down, one to go up, and then there would be a slight downhill three miles to the finish.

As I was almost at the bottom of the hill, something that I've never had happen on a run occurred suddenly. My right calf cramped and stopped me cold. I was in total shock. I took about 5 seconds and stretched it and set off again. About a hundred yards later, heading up the last hill, my left calf cramped. And I must say, while I have never experienced cramping, I knew that my fat was fried. What ensued was the realization that I simply needed to throw out any and all race plans, and just finish. I did everything I could think of to keep going: I drank every sports drink that was offered, I consumed my last Powerbar energy packet (vanilla flavor), I ran on my heels, trying to keep my achilles tendons stretched and prevent more spasms, I ran on grass whenever possible... But about every quarter mile, I was forced to stop for 5-10 seconds and stretch. It really sucked.

In the last three miles, I was passed by about 50-60 runners. I didn't feel too much of the desperation that comes with that type of occurrence, because I was intently concentrating on keeping the calf pain to a minimum level. But I was aware of being passed (when I normally would've been the passer), and that sucked as well. So, to shorten the story, the last three miles which should've taken me 22 minutes took 30. Shockingly, I crossed the finish line in 1hr 49min (below my initial secondary goal).

My initial feeling was one of utter defeat, however. I had so much left in the tank, that Chris commented that I didn't look tired when crossing the line. And I wasn't. I may have been the only runner to cross the line breathing through his nose! My energy levels had been great. Breathing and muscles were all great (with the calf exception). And it just killed me that I was brought low by something I had never experienced as a runner. Even on previous runs of that distance and at that speed... When I crossed, I was actually embarrassed about my time.

But now, 24 hours later, I'm actually quite pleased. Here's why (pardon the subject verb agreement issues to follow): 1) Only 2 days before, it looked as though I wouldn't even be able to run. 2) Though it was below initial goals, the time I ran was better than what I thought I would be able to accomplish with an injury. 3) I learned something - always a good thing.

Post race, I scurried home and did a lot of research about cramps. What I found out is that the Cramps are a really good band, but having the cramps is not a good thing. My antibiotics may have exacerbated the situation with a slight diuretic effect. I also found out that it is possibly a good idea to add potassium and some sodium to your diet prior to longer races. In fact, it isn't a bad idea to take a couple of salt packets with you on longer runs. Those can help prevent or chill out cramping during a race. I'll put a mention here that I am not a doctor. I read about this, and plan to try it before my next long race (maybe not in training - the jury's still out). If you want links to articles and discussions on the matter, I'll gladly provide them. There was also mention of not running faster than you train. I'm not certain about that being one of my proximate causes, because my running varies so much in terms of speed, that yesterday didn't seem to be too taxing at all when I increased my speed.

In final notes on the run: I thought the race organizers did a great job (at least for the half marathon distance). The chips worked great, the course was clearly marked, the aid stations well-manned and stocked, traffic kept at bay, and a nice finish chute (something I never cared about, but it was kind of cool). The race also had the single best t-shirt I've ever gotten at an event, and nifty medals. If I had a suggestion or two, I'd put the finish onto an adjacent field rather than on the hard surface lot. I'd also put the copious free food, drink, medical, and massage tents just slightly farther away from the finish, so that there isn't the cluster of people clogging the area.

Chris Ford, I should mention, finished second in his age division and 28th overall. I finished 18th in my age group and 185th overall.

The pic below is Chris Ford with his 2nd place victory jug. I'm sure it is not full of grain alcohol.

I love to run. I don't run for races, but for myself. In my reckoning, races add stress and take the purity out of the sport. Races are, however, good on occasion, because they remove me from my routine, and cause me to reflect on things like time, training, physiology, fitness level... Basically, things that I don't think about too much when I just run for myself. Races become the mileposts along my running highway: there to be noted, but not to be taken too seriously. They also bring runners into contact with each other, and add to a sense of community (as I write this, I'm including the hundreds of supportive volunteers who also make racing feel like a community sport).

And, since I always like to write about running happy, here's a pic of my friend, Joe (and his friend, Steve), who knocked out a half marathon in the LA region a week ago. Good job.

Finally, since those who know me know that my other main sport is tennis: Over the weekend Rafa did what no other person in tennis has ever done. He won a masters tournament (Monte Carlo) for the 6th consecutive time. Only a handful have won a tournament 5 times in a row. Rafa is now all alone in this category. He crushed an excellent Fernando Verdasco (who is ranked 9th in the world) to take the match. If you get a chance to catch a re run on the Tennis Channel, you won't regret it. Some of the points were jaw-dropping.

See you next week.

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