If I had to sum up this race in one word, it would be "hot." To expand a little, hot, humid, and no wind. Last year I battled the wind and rain and managed a 7:25. This year, in spite of near perfect conditions for the first couple hours, the best I could manage was 7:37. But, seeing all the carnage I passed on my way back from the turn-around in Hawaii-Kai, I will take that as a good result for me.
I knew heat would be an issue from the weather reports going into the weekend. My good friend and physical therapist Sonya Weiser-Souza ran the Xterra half marathon last weekend and had to drop out with heat stroke. We are talking about someone with way more experience than me. Her experience inspired me to make two changes to my original plan. I increased the number of salt tabs I would carry and consume, and planned on taking in more water from my flask. It is a six ounce flask, so a full one every aid station (about two miles, roughly thirty minutes at my pace), seemed like a good target. Gut unhappiness would have the last word. I do a 5/1 run/walk and drink every time I walk, so one ounce at every walk would do it. This was probably close to what I had been doing in training, it is just that I needed to be more attentive this time. I also made sure to take one salt tab about thirty minutes before the start.
My concern for heat was confirmed waiting for the start. By 5:45AM it was 82F on course at 86% humidity. I was sweating just standing still.
All year I have been experimenting with blood pressure medication and finally came up with a mix that does a good job without flushing out salts and "excess" water. I started my new mix about a month ago, watching for signs of the most likely side effect, feeling dizzy during rigorous activity. This did happen to me several years ago. During yoga I would stand up and almost fall over. Had to change meds back then. This time, with something different, no problems so far.
I saw dozens of runners on the side of the road, shoes off, rubbing their feet. Sure signs they bought their shoes at the bargain store, cheaply made or the wrong size. You cannot run a marathon with junk shoes. I got myself a new pair of Newton Gravity IVs, wore them just enough in training to scuff the soles a bit, then saved them for the race. They were perfect. Not foot issues whatsoever.
I know there is no evidence that supports the benefits of wearing compression socks or sleeves during a race, and only tangential evidence that supports recovery. Still, I feel better doing long runs in CEP compression sleeves. This time I wore my blue pair, not because they matched my kit but because they are not as tight as my white pair. I wore the white ones for the Val Nolasco Half Marathon in November. They felt too tight, and I suffered from calf cramps at an effort level that should not have been a problem. No calf cramps at all this time, not so much as a tingle. But then this time I tapered.
I have come to prefer spandex running shorts for long runs. My Newton tri-suit is my favorite. I have a black Pearl-Izumi tri-short (basically bike shorts with thinner padding) but they are too thick and hot -- would have died in those. Pattie pointed out that since my over-all look is blue I could wear my Zoot tri-suit shorts with my Newton running singlet. A perfect combination.
Why not the matching Zoot top? Like many other people I have had problems with my Garmin heart rate monitor strap interacting with the fabric. Some people report HR spikes. My typical failure is low or zero HR. I have had it happen on several long runs and know how to correct it, but it takes times and becomes a source of stress. For a triathlon the advantages of a proper tri-suit outweigh the risk of equipment failure -- we can run by feel. But in a marathon, why bother? Eliminate the problem at the source. Besides, on a day like this I believe the loose fitting singlet is cooler.
I was torn between my trusty old Head Sweats running hat (IT&B logo) or my new Head Sweats headband (Newton branded). Due to the lack of wind and anticipated sun I went with the white hat, and I think I made the right choice.
My one last minute change to my fuel plan was to carray two packs of Scratch Labs chews instead of one. On a couple recent long runs I consumed a whole bag, but mostly during a break around the halfway point. I knew there would be no such break this time, but with the increased heat I wanted more options. As it turned out I only ate six chews.
I started the race with one six ounce flask filled with a mixture of five scoops of Perpetuem in about four ounces of water. Five scoops is enough for two an a half standard water bottles. Taking this in undiluted would result in certain gastrointestinal mutiny. The trick is to take a sip, then wash it down with water from the other flask. That water flask gets refilled at every aid station. I have practiced this for months and it works really well. I do like to dilute the mix a little when roughly a third is gone. Doing so reduces the risk of taking in too much.
My plan was to extend the life of the Perpetuem with the chews. If I did run out of Perpetuem I could finish the run on the Gatorade provided on course. Why not just drink the provided sports drink? Experience has taught me that taking on several ounces of fluids at once -- water or sports drink -- makes my gut unhappy. Taking in less at that interval means certain dehydration on long runs. My solution is to drink smaller amounts more often. For this race I drank water at the start of every walk period, and water plus a sip of Perpetuem -- or a chew -- at every other. That means taking in fuel every twelve minutes.
About halfway through the race my stomach began to complain a little. I am reasonably certain this was due to my pushing water intake. To compensate I took in extra salt. I have not done this in practice and was not sure how my gut would react to getting salt and fuel in the same period, so I held bak on the fuel. This seemed to work, as I never felt bonked. I ended up taking eight Endurolyte tabs during the race, about double my training consumption. I started taking Gatorade from the Aloha gas station in Kahala just to be sure my Perpetuem held out. As it turned out I had maybe a half hour's worth left at the end of the race. So that went as planned.
That Aloha gas station around mile 21 is my nemesis. This year my plan was to know that the long stretch leading to it is uphill, and not to freak out when my pace dropped off. From there the course is gently downhill to just before Triangle Park, and I intended to make the most of it. I walked the last bit of the hill, and as I started running on Kealaolu my right adductor said no. Then my quads joined in, the right more so than the left. This is significant, because it has always been my left leg that gave me grief. I finally decided that this was not so much the onset of cramping as good old fashioned fatigue, but I did not want to test my theory to the limit so every time my legs start shouting I cut my walk period short. A few time I walked clear through a run period -- a whole five minutes -- just to quiet them down.
The funny thing is, from the back of Hawaii-Kai all the way to the finish I was surrounded by and running past walkers. Actually they looked more like zombies. My guess is that the Japanese tours deliver their changes really early and they all line up at the front, regardless of how fast they run. This year I violated my runners creed by lining up at the fifteen minute mark, knowing full well I was closer to sixteen, in hopes of avoiding some of that. It seemed to be working well for the first few miles, then the passing started and never ended. Let me assure you, when you are surrounded by walkers and your Garmin buzzes you to start running, it takes enormous willpower to obey.
I am well aware of the advice not to bank time at the start of a marathon. Go out easy, save yourself for the end. This time, though, I had to consider the fact that heat would become a major factor in the second half, so a little banking in the first half would pay off. Who can say for sure? I say it did, because I was still running at the finish and the only reason I slowed down was the heat.
Usually I pace myself my heart rate zone, but I have noticed that in a race my HR numbers are often higher than my RPE, including respiration. This time I decided to go primarily by pace, with a nod to gradient, based upon my recent runs. For the first couple miles I would not worry about any of that, just take it easy as I worked through the mass of runners as efficiently as possible while my legs warmed up, knowing that they would feel lousy. After that I wanted to stay as close to 15 min/mile as possible, closer to 14 if I was running well, walk the hills, and go as fast as my tired legs would carry me after the Aloha gas station. The goal being a run/walk average of 16 or better. I knew that if I ran at 15:30 my overall would be much slower. Those hill take a huge toll on your average pace, but to run them is to burn off way too much precious glycogen.
It turned out I was running really well. For the first two hours my overall average was spot-on 16 min/mile. I was getting up into zone three at times, more like a tempo or half marathon pace, but I felt great and the one minute break provided just the recovery I needed. After Kahala, out on the highway, the full force of the heat started to take its toll and my overall average fell to 17. I was hoping for a little respite; some clouds, a little rain, a bit of a tailwind, anything to gain back that lost time. No such luck. My Garmin logged a steadily rising temperature (blue line on the chart below), up to 93F for the last two hours, which happens to coincide with the Aloha gas station. No wonder the run from there to end looked and felt like a death march! I did feel good enough to run halfway up Diamond Head on the return, which surprised even me.
Thank goodness for the many water showers out on course. Mostly improvised, several supplied by folks who live along the course. This was the first marathon I ran with sponges still available at aid stations and I never skipped an opportunity to use one. At many in-between aid stations I took a cup of water and poured it over my head. To have passed by those opportunities would have meant certain disaster.
Post-race I have little to show. No drama. No lost toenails, no blisters, no sunburn (thanks, Planet Sun!). My quads are sore (yes, walking down stairs hurts), but that is it. Pattie greeted me with a bountiful supply of recovery fluids and I did not even try to eat solid food until late in the afternoon. For dinner she made pesto pasta, tossed salad, and a lean steak, thin sliced and marinated in balsamic vinegar dressing. Delicious, and none of the stomach upset I experienced last year.
Here is my data, click through to get the entire Training Peaks reports.
I cannot finish without saying mahalo to my dear friend Ric Trimillos who graciously allowed us to stay in his Waikiki condo. An easy walk to the start line and from the finish. And a million dollar view. Ric used to be quite the runner. Maybe next year he could join me.