Monday, April 2, 2012

A2A Marathon Recap

Wow...what an interesting experience !  I honestly can't say that it was all that pleasant, but it was certainly a learning experience if nothing else. But I don't want to get ahead of myself.

I drove up from Dallas to Ardmore on Saturday and arrived at the very small "expo" they had in the Ardmore Convention Center about 2:30. There were no lines, and only a couple of booths selling various running related items. The vast majority of the runners entered in the race were either for the 5K or the Half-Marathon, so the Marathon table only required one volunteer. When I picked up my packet, I asked how many were signed up for the Marathon, and was told it was close to 150. This really WILL be a LOT smaller than Cowtown. (As it turned out, there were 139 Marathon finishers this year, along with 515 Half-Marathon finishers, and 682 5K finishers).

I checked into my hotel (which was about a half a mile away), and then grabbed the course map and drove the course. It starts on the top of hill just about a tenth of a mile from a little curio shop that overlooks Turner Falls in the Arbuckle Mountains. You might think that it then would naturally be downhill from there, at least for a while, but such is not the case. It starts at 1109 feet and rises to 1229 in the first 1.6 miles. From there it goes down to 1186 feet at 2.4 miles, then up again to 1275 feet at 3.7 miles. So you will have climbed 209 feet inside the first four miles.

After that, there is a large downhill section going from 1275 feet to 934 feet at 6.1 miles, before it begins to do a slight rise to the turn off to the Bar Nothin' Horse Ranch. From here to the end of the course, it is mostly just rolling hills, although each up and down section is long...most sections being 1/2 mile either up or down.

I got a good night's sleep, and arrived at Noble Stadium early and got a great parking space. I had my normal pre-race breakfast about 4:00, and was well hydrated. It seemed that I was actually "over" hydrated to me, because I was hitting the port-a-potties pretty regular. After waiting a bit for things to get going, I walked over and got on one of the school buses that were there to take us from Nobel Stadium to the starting line. The bus left about 6:45, and took about 20 minutes to get to our destination. I had some good conversation with others who had run the course before, and the mood was light and fun.

When we arrived, I got off the bus like everyone else did to wait for the start. It was cloudy and 66 degrees, with a SW wind blowing at 15-25 mph, so it actually got pretty cool, pretty fast. Most were standing around looking cold and/or shivering. About 15 of us got back on the bus that was just idling there to sit, stay warm, and talk until about 10 minutes before the race. I used the restroom one more time, and got in line.

They started the run with a shotgun blast, and we were off. Even though the first part was uphill, I fell into a nice pace early on. Nothing particularly fast, just moving, with the first mile at 9:21, followed by a 9:17 and a 9:01. The wind was in my face and really blowing in these early miles. It didn't really feel like it was hindering me a lot, but I definitely felt it and was running "against" it. I had my fuel belt on as I normally do, with four 10 ounce bottles of Gatorade, GUs, electrolyte tablets, etc. My normal hydration plan has me drinking 3 - 5 ounces every couple of miles, with a GU at every 4 and an electrolyte tablet at every 6.

The first water stop was just past the 2 mile mark, and I took a cup of water and poured it on my head as I was starting to feel warm already, but not thirsty. Since I had been drinking (and peeing) nearly non-stop for hours, and didn't want to stop to pee throughout the course, I only took in about 2 - 3 ounces of Gatorade at the 2 mile point. At 2.4 I started to climb that next hill, and with the wind blowing in my face, it was tough. There was another water stop at 3.4, but I just poured some water on my head and kept going.  It was a welcome release to crest the hill at 3.7 miles and start on the long downhill. The wind was still in my face, but the downhill made up for that, and my next three miles were 9:11, 8:31, and 8:47. I had a GU at the 4 mile mark along with about 4 ounces of Gatorade, and poured water on my head at the water stop located at the 5 mile mark.

I felt really good at this point, although I already had to pee again which was annoying. Of course I had no idea that I had already run the race so wrong that I was going to be crashing very soon. The sun came out at about this point, and it felt noticeably warmer. I got to the bottom of the hill and started the short climb to the Bar Nothin' Horse Ranch at about the the 6.1 mile mark. There was a port-a-potty at 6.9 right outside the ranch, and I stopped there, peeing clear still. My left calf was starting to ache from the up and down hill pounding, so I took an Advil and made the turn into the ranch.

Within a quarter of a mile, it happened. Not only did I not see it coming, I never even realized what was occurring at the time. Upon reflection, it was almost certainly too late at that point to do something about it anyway, but it probably would have helped if I had known. All of the sudden, the race just got "hard". The wind was blowing across me at this point (not in my face, so no longer cooling me the way it was), and the smell of cow and horse manure was pretty strong at times. I noticeably slowed, confused as to why this was getting hard since I had been running comfortably and this wasn't even up a hill. I passed the water station at 7 and poured one on my head and drank about an ounce of water or less. I made the turn south again with the head wind at almost the 8 mile mark, where I took another GU, and about 7 ounces of Gatorade. I expected the GU and drink to give me a lift in a few minutes, which it normally does, but such was not the case this time. Just getting to the turn-around at the 9 mile mark felt like it was taking forever, and it was a real struggle to even hold my reduced pace. The temperature had now risen to about 72 degrees outside.

With the wind at my back, I headed back towards the exit to the ranch. Miles 7 - 9 were at 9:49, 9:39, and 9:44. At about 9.5, my upper back started to have light, rolling cramps, and I felt like every bit of energy just slowly drained out of me.

And then it hit me.

I was walking at 9.8.

I REALLY don't like to walk in a race, but there was simply no choice. I drank about 3 ounces of water at the aid station just shy of the 10 mile mark, and poured some on my head. I walked to 10.3 and started to run again, but had to start walking once again at 10.5. I just couldn't generate enough energy to keep going. My back was starting to cramp when I ran, the legs and hips felt like lead, and there was just nothing there. I poured some more water on my head at the water stop at 11 (if you're keeping up at home, you will note that I've drank less than 20 ounces of liquid at this point), and kept trying to run. I would make it about 30 to 50 yards at a time, then have to walk. The half mile hill out of the ranch was all walking.

I didn't feel particularly hot, and was never thirsty. I could NOT figure out what was wrong, and was just confused by the whole thing. Not mad or annoyed...just confused....with rolling back cramps and the beginning of a headache.  I would only come to the realization later, that I was experiencing Heat Exhaustion and dehydration. Just before the 12 mile mark, I noticed that I was starting to experience a bit of tunnel vision, and black spots were occasionally forming at the edge of my vision, so when I got to the water station I told them I was done and needed a ride. They offered me water, but I refused...I wasn't thirsty or hot.

My first DNF.    I was stunned and perplexed all at the same time.

The van came within a few minutes, and took me back to my car. I stopped by a Sonic and got a large drink for the road (a Route 44), and drove back to Dallas. It was only after I stopped half way home to get another large drink and got back on the road that the fogginess started to lift a bit. I wondered why I didn't need to go to the bathroom. By the time I got home and that drink too was gone, it started to hit me. A quick Google of the symptoms confirmed it, and I continued to rehydrate.

As the day went on, I continued drinking and the headache started to abate. I flushed my system out, and started to feel a bit more normal by the early evening.

Here is what it looked like "on paper"...

I had planned to run this race by feel, but the fact that I wasn't acclimated to doing long runs in this temperature range, meant that I didn't have the experience I needed to hydrate properly by feel. I was definitely out of my element and experience (at least recent experience). If I had it all to do over again, I would have literally stopped at every water station and drank a cup of water before continuing. I know I'm not a fan of walking these races, but I wouldn't have had to do that...just stopped and actually drank. Waiting until I was thirsty just didn't work, since that never happened.

I now have a MUCH better appreciation for running in heat that I'm not fully acclimated to, and how VERY different it is to run a marathon when the temperature is 68 to 72, as opposed to running one in the 48 to 55 degree range. Trust me, it makes a GREAT deal of difference (not to mention 3.7 initial miles of uphill...who mapped this out, Satan..?)

Even though there is definitely a part of me that is "less than proud" of the DNF, and I really wanted to do well (and didn't), I have to admit that I'm also finding that I'm pretty accepting of the result. Yes, my hydration plan completely sucked, and I did this to myself...FAIL on that front. But I also realize that once the damage was done (probably by mile 4 or 5), there was no way I could have just "gutted it out" and completed the race....this was not a test of will. It could and probably would have progressed to something much more serious had I continued even for a few more miles, so I'm glad I stopped when I did.

Other than my left calf being a bit tight this morning, I appear to not be any the worse for wear from my 12 mile run. Now I just need to ensure that this was not a wasted effort, and that I apply it as a learning experience going forward.

Even though I didn't finish the entire distance, I'll still be conservative coming back to training since I don't know what the effort and the dehydration / heat exhaustion, etc. might have strained that I'm not aware of. I want to not only learn from this, but come back healthy to what I love....

...just getting out on the road,....

...and RUNNING for the pure joy of it !

Happy Running Everyone !!!


  1. Ugh - so sorry you had to go through this! Heat and dehydration are no joke, so you were smart to stop when you did. This time of year is always hard for me - it takes me forever to acclimate to running in the heat, and I never do get very good at it (although I learn to tolerate it a little). But it sounds like you've figured out what went wrong and mapped out a good plan for next time. Lessons learned, right?

    1. I do have a tendency to have to learn things the hard way, but I'm hopefully getting better about learning those lessons the first time (and not repeating them over and over). Time will tell, but this definitely got my attention. :-)

  2. Ugh sorry to hear about your experience but it's good to see that you're taking this in a positive light. The heat thing is tricky as I fell victim to it in a soccer game once too. I am happy to hear that you are recovered.

    All this means is that you'll be better prepared for the next race :) Happy running!

  3. Mike,

    Sorry that you had a less-than-stellar experience, but I'm happy that you made it through without injury and learned something too. It's strange how any temperature swing, be it up or down, tends to effect the body in some way.

    I wish every race was about 55 with no wind and sunshine until race time. It can cloud up a bit after a couple miles with a very light breeze. :)

    I'll keep the hydration thing in mind the next time I have a long race and make myself drink a bit more water at the stations, instead of swishing out my mouth and dumping the rest on my head. I don't like wearing the hydration belt at races, but I did wear it at the half marathon with two bottles with Gatorade. I originally dubbed it the "belt of slow" - though now, I don't think that is accurate or fair. I don't want to sprint with the thing, but run equally well with or without it on long runs.

    Thanks for sharing!

  4. I have been there Michael... thanks for sharing your experience

    you. Will. Be. Back!

  5. Thanks for the post. I'm training for my first marathon and will learn from your experience.

    1. Thanks for stopping by Trent, and best of luck to your moving forward with your training for your first marathon !!

  6. I've had heat exhaustion before in training and it is awful! I'm sorry that had to happen to you in a race environment.

    Here's to a better race next time. :)

    1. Thanks for the words of encouragement Kara...I really appreciate it !

  7. I still think you did great, and it was just a lesson learned. I know I don't hydrate enough here in Alabama with our warm days, but then again I don't run as far as you do. :)

    I am still laughing about your comment on who mapped out the course!! Too funny!!

    And since you are the one that I always seem to ask the most questions of:

    When you go on a long run and carry water, gel, etc., do you put the trash back in your pack that you carry? Just wondering. All of these things are new to me! :)

    By the way-I ran my longest run so far today-4.5 miles!! :)


    1. Yep, I put the used gel packs back in my pack to clean out when I get home. It can be a bit on the sticky side, but it comes off easy enough.

      Congratulations on your new Personal Distance Record....very well done. You'll be up to six miles at once in no time at all. I love how you keep saying you ARE NOT doing this so you can run a 10K....of course you know that is probably just foreshadowing that you will. :-)

  8. I know. Sigh. I'm just scared of failing at a 10k so I just keep saying that I'm not going to run one. :)

    My husband tells me I need to work on speed not distance. However, I'm not at the point where I care about winning a race-I'm just doing them for the fun of it.

    So-you caught me-I know I'll be doing a 10k at some point. :)


    1. Speed will come on its own...I think you're going down the correct path, especially considering your larger, overall goals. Once you can get comfortable at six miles occasionally, not only will you have a better base to work from to get faster (if that is one of your goals), but the extra time on the runs will keeping burning off the calories as well.

      Also, you are less likely to get injured going slow (whatever that is for you at this point), than you are trying to push yourself into speed sessions.

  9. Thanks Michael!

    I hope you don't send me a big bill after all of the training advice I ask of you! :)


  10. Hi Michael,

    Sorry for the late comment, I was traveling: I got goosebumps when I started reading your blog entry.. I had a hunch from your writings what was coming.

    I *hate* running in the heat. I have had some long training runs that were similarly educational.

    The tables for pace vs temp are grim..optimal temps are in the 50's and over 60 you slow down a lot for every 5F. And it will hurt if not acclimated. And it is dangerous too!

    Glad you bagged it...I know that must have been a tough decision. But IT WAS A SMART MOVE as you know!!!!!

    In my book you get a medal for letting your brain make you doing the RIGHT THING. You live to run another day (and not suffer).