Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Two Marathons in Eight Days: An Experiment of One

While I have joined the 50 states marathon club, I doubt that I'll ever get around to all the states.  I am just too much of a cheapskate to be spending $$ traveling all over the country.  Maybe a lifetime goal would be to do the Eastern half of the country plus a select few other states.  However, as a semi-maniac marathoner I can still have encompassing goals.  One I picked out several years ago was to do as many marathons in Pennsylvania as possible.  Maryland and New Jersey offer similar possibilities, but don't have as many.

Up to this year, in Pennsylvania I have done: Philadelphia (9 times), Harrisburg, Johnstown, God's Country (Coudersport), Drake Well (Titusville), Lehigh River Valley(Allentown)(2), Delaware & Lehigh Heritage Trail(Slatington) and Bucks County(Yardley).  I have yet to do Pittsburgh or Erie.  But another one, which was impossible before this year, was the Bob Potts Marathon in York, PA.  The reason was that for the first two years it was the same day as the Delaware Marathon, which I had done eight straight times since it was reconstituted at the Wilmington Riverfront.  I WOULDN'T let that streak end.

Several months ago I realized that the two marathons were not on the same day this year, but a week apart, caused by bike races being scheduled by the city of Wilmington on the traditional week for Delaware.  So the marathon was pushed up a week to Mother's Day.  I realized I had the opportunity to do both IF I was willing to chance doing one only a week after another one.  Before now, I have always had a minimum of three weeks between marathons, feeling I needed the time to recover.

But I decided to give it a go.  The way I would do it would be to take Delaware in a fairly easy manner.  I'd walk the downhills to try to avoid beating up my quads.  Then maybe I'd have something left for the Bob Potts course, which was described as flat.

I followed the Delaware part almost to a tee.  I did somewhat jog down the last hill toward the finish.  But I walked as soon as the first downhill on Walnut Street about 3.7 to 4 miles and I kept at it all the way through, logging a mile or two with lots of downhill where the time approached 15 minute for the mile.  However, the day was sunny and warm and the warmth affected me enough that my second half was 12 minutes slower than my first half.  I finished in 5:04, a disappointment since I thought by being conservative I wouldn't slow down later on in the event.

The rest of that day I was pretty wiped out.  Over the next couple days my quads got sorer than I had imagined.  I only ran on Wednesday and Thursday, just a few miles, but by Thursday I was feeling better.  I rested Friday and Saturday and thought I might be able to run under 4:30.  After all, I had run under 4:29 in March at Columbia, S.C. on a course which is hillier than Boston.  So what might I do on a flat course?

Well, I went up to York with club president Ray Christensen.  Aside from the fact that the motel where I had reserved a room didn't have a record of the reservation (but gave us a room anyway at the quoted price), everything went smoothly - well almost: the drive, the packet pick up, the good cheap meal at TGIF, the comfortable beds, the Phillies game (lost - not so smoothly), waking up about the right time, scarfing down a banana and breakfast bar, dressing and driving over to York College.

There WAS that few minutes of panic:  Ray had left the car and locked the door on the way to the portajohns, while I was still prepping in the car.  When I went to exit, the door wouldn't open.  Then somehow, as if fiddled with the buttons, first on the passenger door and then the driver's door, the car alarm, which Ray had never heard, went off.  For over a minute, the alarm honked and I was freaked, not knowing how to open the door or turn off the alarm.  I kept pressing buttons.  When they didn't work, I went back and started pressing them longer.  Finally, the doors unlocked and the alarm stopped.   Don't ask me how that happened.  I have no idea.  But visions of missing the start dissipated. I got out, found Ray, we took each other's picture and we went to line up for the start.


Hey, fella!  Did you forget your comb?

Bob Potts is a small race.  A bit over 500 signed up and ultimately 425 finished.  As such there was no chip.  Just line up and go.  It only cost me 11 seconds to cross the line.  But that first miles told the tale: my legs just did not have their usual stores of energy. I could tell they were sluggish.  I saw Ray and the other faster runners rapidly disappear from my view.  Dozens of runners behind me plowed by, including Dana Casanave, the young woman who had run 54 marathons in 52 weeks in 2010.  She is big for a female runner but is back to the marathon a week routine.  Her example was one of the inspirations for my even attempting this experiment.  But as she went by, I already knew that the verdict  was in: this will be my last time doing them only a week apart, although I won't say "Never".

After the first mile, I slowed right away.  After a first mile in 9:24, I started running miles in the high nines, then I crept over ten minutes.  We went through a dark tunnel through a hill.  On the elevation map of the course, there appeared to be a sharp hill at this point.  Now I knew why.

By nine miles, I was averaging ten minutes a mile, but even slower miles were ahead.  As if to reinforce the idea that it wasn't going to be a good day, other issues presented themselves.  We were running on a gravel surface.  It's forgiving, but personally I prefer macadam.  I always feel like I'm losing some of my speed with the shuffling through the grit that occurs because I don't lift my legs much.  Perhaps sensing I wasn't fond of it, the gravel got some revenge when I apparently kicked some up with my left foot and a small piece went into my right shoe.  It ended up lodging under my heel and I had to stop and empty it out.

That was only a minor delay.  A more major one came at the 11 mile point when I just had to use a portajohn.  That took four minutes.  When I passed the half marathon point, I was only about seven minutes ahead of the previous week when I was intentionally walking.  For bonus punishment, the sky was crystal clear.  Although it wasn't humid, in instances when the sun was on me directly, I was starting to feel warm.  This pattern got worse as the sunlight shifted in the second half of the race for more exposure.

I abandoned all the goals I had made.  I told Ray as he was headed back and I was still headed out that I would be over 4:30 hours.  Yeah!  By quite a bit!

After the turnaround at about 13.5, I had one more insult.  The laces of my left shoe were irritating the tendons to my toes.  This same thing happened during the Boston Marathon and I had to readjust the laces.  Ironically, I had started this run with the laces tied the way I had adjusted them.  But through the miles and warm temperatures, I believe my feet swelled and I probably started off with the laces tight.  So, one more stop.

As the return miles wore on, I eventually reached "terminal slowdown velocity".  Since I just made this term up, here's the definition:  TSV is that speed that a runner slows down to but can maintain without slowing down even more.  Variables affecting TSV can be age (obvious in my case), terrain (such as hills), heat, wind, fatigue and available glycogen.  So in this instance, neither terrain nor wind were a factor.  Warmth was somewhat of a factor.  But the big limiting factor was fatigue - from the marathon the previous week.  I've been in other marathons were I would hit my TSV, which on a flat, windless, cool day is about a 12 minute pace - but I don't usually get there until the last few miles of the marathon.  During Bob Potts I hit TSV by mile 16.  A small part of that was because I was walking through the water stops to make sure I was drinking the fluids, instead of sloshing half of it out of the cups while I ran.  But the rest was just slow running.

I could tell I was at TSV because I was breathing hard, as if I was in a 5K, not a marathon.  My glycogen stores was depleted from the previous marathon and had not totally replenished. The harder breathing was caused by my body having to rely to some extent on more fat burning than usual.  Fortunately, I was taking in calories - first my bottles of brown rice syrup.  When I ran out of that, I started consuming a gel packet, every two miles, starting at mile 20.  After my slowest mile 19 to 20(not counting the times I had to stop) in 12:28, my mile times started to come back down.  My last mile was 11:24. Those last several miles of sub-12-minute pace at least allowed me to salvage the small victory of finishing more than ten minutes faster than Delaware the previous week.  I'm pretty sure without the syrup and the gels, I might have continued to crash.

 Five yards to go!  It wasn't much of a sprint!

I'm recovering much faster than Delaware.  Well, it WAS a flat course.  The quads aren't nearly as beat up.  Perhaps I am somewhat becoming acclimated to the long distances.  I'll be able to tell after resting a few weeks and then attempting the Canton, Ohio Marathon.  I'm definitely planning a better time than my 4:54:13 at Bob Potts.

Read Ray's account at:  www.RunMarathonMan.com/bobpottstrailmarathon12.php

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