Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Marathon race report 2016

To sum up this year's Honolulu Marathon result: The first half went as planned, the second half, not so much.  This was one of those days when Plan A fell apart and left me searching for a way to salvage the day. In that regard I feel I did rather well.

Back in August I wrote about muscle fatigue, how this was the one thing more than any other factor that limits my success. This race confirms what I said then. To be positive I will say that I see some improvement.

Let's put up some hard numbers. Later I will dive into the fuzzy stuff.

PlanActual1st half2nd half
Avg Pace17:2818:2517:2919:18
Avg HR130128140117
Avg HR Zone2.
Intensity Factor0.750.740.780.71

The number everyone looks at first is overall duration, and here I totally missed my goal. However, if we look closer at these numbers some interesting things are revealed.

To help in understanding the raw numbers I have included some data charts from Training Peaks, beginning with all Garmin data over time (click chart to enlarge). The horizontal scale is time but I added a vertical line at 13.1 miles, and a horizontal line at heart rate 130BPM. I also marked three places; more below.

Red - Heart Rate
Yellow - Cadence
Green - Pace
Blue - Temperature
Gray - Elevation

My planned average pace was 17:28 min/mi. but I hoped to do a little better than that. To hit that pace I would have to do the flat portions a bit faster to compensate for the hills. I arrived at this pace by studying my runs from the last couple of months, working around the times I was injured. My typical long run pace was down around 18:00 with a goal of keeping my heart rate below 130. Typically my heart rate would slowly climb to around 135 as I warmed up, then after about twenty minutes my technique would smooth out and I could bring my heart rate down to 125-128. My goal for these runs was to spend several hours running without being a basket case for the rest of the week, and I achieved that. My race plan was to run faster than those long runs, to be that basket case at the finish line, so I targeted an average heart rate of 130 but would allow it to go a little higher in order to make my pace.

One of the many good things about this race was that my legs felt great right from the start. Chalk that up to a good taper and the mile walk to the start. Five minutes from the start I was at the pace and heart rate I targeted, and felt fantastic. People all around me were flying past, as if this was a 10K, but I held to my plan. I did have to dodge a lot of people who started in front of me but were already going slow. It takes a few miles to begin to sort out.

After five minutes I saw something all too familiar. I was running at a pace and effort that should produce a heart rate of 130, but I was at 140. I knew I had to hold back a little, but I expected that number to ease back down by mile 2. You can see several drops in pace (green) and cadence (yellow) where I walked the aide stations. I purposely walked up Nuuanu to save energy and get a picture of Santa in front of Murphy's Bar and Grill. I happened see run into some old friends there, too.  But there are a couple of spikes in the data -- one has me running at 6:40 min/mi pace! -- which I attribute to GPS errors caused by the highrise buildings downtown.

What I want to do now is step back and point out the general flow of the first half. I followed my plan, walking the steep hills, running comfortably hard, all the while feeling great. My average pace was spot-on, just 1/100th second per mile slower than plan, and that included the long walk up Diamond Head and again on the north side up to 18th Ave.

This is where I had my first big disappointment. No Batman. Every year there has been a guy on Kilauea Ave. in a fantastic Batman costume in a cheerleader/photo-op role. I even stopped to ask some neighbors. They missed him, too. Hope he is OK. Another thing I missed was the lady playing Christmas songs on accordion, around mile 18. She was there, with a sign that said her accordion was broken.

I was not watching cadence, letting that go to whatever felt comfortable. I did work on increasing my cadence a lot this year, and it paid off. I used to be comfortable around 68, and 75 felt impossible to sustain. Here I am cruising at a very steady 75, nice and smooth and relaxed. Those Chi Running drills worked!

The one thing that was not going as planned was heart rate. It remained stubbornly above 130, a fairly steady 140 with peaks to 147 on the two climbs front and back of Diamond Head. Yes, I planned to burn a match on those, so no surprise there. It was the sustained 140 that stands out. At the time I thought it was just what needed to be done to hit my goal.

I was beginning to feel some real fatigue as I looked for the 13.1 mile flag. I never saw one but I stopped just after my Garmin Fenix 2 registered 13.1, in order to text my split to Pattie. It was here that my legs decided they had had enough. At the points numbered one, two, and three you can see me struggling to keep running, giving myself first a short walk then at two a longer recovery walk. It did not help. Even running at an 18:30 pace drove my heart rate too high and my legs just would not keep going.

At the time I did not feel like heat was a factor, but looking at the blue temperature line on the chart I see where that might of been a factor. There are points in the second half where the on-course temperature hit 97F!

I know there are people who cut the course. It seems easy, the returning runners are right there. But that never occurred to me. My options were to abandon the race and walk back, or walk instead of run. I decided to keep going, and am glad I did.

I never practice speed walking but I did learn from Chi Running that the form is almost the same. Arms up same as running, some hip swing, easy relaxed recovery and foot plant. After a mile or two I was averaging a 19:30 pace. I whipped out my race calculator app and calculated a finish time three hours from then. I wanted to let Pattie know to hang out and not expect me anywhere near my planned finish time.

As the mikes passed I noticed several things. I was getting faster, often making 18:00 min/mi, the same speed had I slowed down my run. I was passing a lot of people. By that point in the day everyone around me was walking. But I was feeling good, going hard, and passing runners who looked like the walking dead, not to mention hundreds lining the side of the road, shoes off. Finally, by mile twenty, my legs had that exhausted feeling they always do around then. There were times when I thought I might never make it to the finish, but I kept going and my body, complaining as it was, kept working.

So much about my preparation went well. I ran out of Perpetuem as planned just past the Aloha station (mile 23) and finished on just water and one serving of Gatorade. I took a Hammer Endurolyte tablet at every aid station. Not even a hint of cramping, in spite of the extreme fatigue in my legs. No blisters, no sore toenails. Only a slightly sore lower back -- I used to run with my head hanging down which resulted in severe back ache after long runs. I have much better posture now.

There will always be races where things do not go according to plan. I think I did a good job of salvaging this race, making the best out of it I could. In the coming year I will focus even harder on increasing muscular endurance, to bring my pace up and maintain it to the finish line.

After race Pattie and I treated ourselves to a caffeine break at Starbucks -- I had a Mocha Frappuccino -- and later an early dinner at Eggs n'Things. Banana macadamia pancakes with a mountain of whipped cream. No upset stomach this year.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Marathon race plan 2016

The 2016 Honolulu Marathon is upon us, time to make a race plan. This year my training plan was very straight-forward. I did a 16 week plan starting in August just after Tinman. I had to double up to get in some bike miles in preparation for the Honolulu Century Ride in September, but after that it was all about running.

During the year I got a bit deeper into Chi Running. I even bought and read the book. Happily I had already adopted most of the form elements through the Newton style running. What I got from Chi Running was more attention to balance, less effort, and more relaxation. The result was, at least in how I felt, a faster cadence and pace at a lower effort.

Another thing I did that helped was to join Jason Fitzgerald's Strength Running team. At this level there is still no one-on-one coaching, but there is a great on-line discussion group and monthly webinar coach's meetings where we can ask questions. I got a lot out of it; glad I joined.

I have been very fortunate in avoiding training injuries. Or being sick, for that matter. I can't recall the last time I crashed on my bike. I recall a few mishaps running barefoot on the sand, but nothing that held be back. This fall my luck ran out. I did something that upset my right ankle, enough to severely curtail my run mileage mid-way through the training plan. It has improved, but there are days when I still feel a lingering pain. Like a noisy neighbor, you learn to live with it.

Just as the ankle came back I had another setback. Not really a training injury. A dead tooth. But, I offer the argument that a heavy training load compromises the immune system, and what kills a tooth is a bacterial infection. It turned out that the tooth was cracked, which provided a pathway for bacteria and nutrients to get down into the roots, and I cannot blame the crack on training. Whatever the cause, I was at first incapable of running, but even after the infection went down I decided hard training was a bad idea because my body needed to fight the infection. The result was that I had to drop back on my long run distance and ramp up again, so I never made it to 20 miles. The good news is that the long distances I could do finally felt good.

Last year I did a 5/1 run/walk. It worked, but this year I decided to go straight run. Which really means walk the steeper hills, walk the aid stations, and try to keep running as much as possible. Given my bumpy training all I can say is, we'll see.

I have the nutrition thing down pretty well. I carry a two flask Fuelbelt, with both flasks carrying concentrated Hammer Perpetuem. Given my planned duration I should have four scoops per flask, but I find that concentration hard to take in, and since I am comfortable with a three scoop flask I will go with that. Since I am not carrying water I can only take on fuel at the aid stations. I did all my short runs without any fuel, just a bit of water at the parks, and did fine.

Just to be clear, a normal concentration would be 1 scoop per 16 oz. bottle. I will be putting 3 scoops in 6 oz. of water, times two flasks. This is approaching the concentration of a gel. I take in about  1 oz. every 30 minutes, along with four to eight oz. of water from the aid station. Perpetuem is not high in electrolytes, so I usually take 1 or 2 Endurolyte tabs per hour.

On all of my recent long runs I was comfortable at a 17:30 pace. Still slow, but different from previous years in that I am holding that pace at a much lower effort, at the lower end of heart rate zone 2. I know I can run faster. 16:30 is doable. Even 15:30, which gets me just into zone 3, good for half marathon but too high for a marathon, for me anyway. The big unknown is how well I can sustain that 16:30. So, my plan is to hold back until we come down off the Diamond Head hills, past the Aloha gas station and the gradual uphill after that. Where the course starts a long gradual downhill around Aina Koa is where I will test my form by let my legs rev up a bit. I have to remind myself that on the way back that same long climb up to the Aloha gas station is a leg breaker. Go too fast early and end up walking all the way from Waialae Iki park past Kalani High School.

If I can maintain a 17:30 overall I should finish in 7:40. Last year I did 7:37, so of course I will try to beat that! My PR is 17:25:41 back in 2014. To beat that I need to get under 17:00. I did last year, until that climb up to the Aloha station where I fell apart.

One thing I keep telling myself is that those 17:30 pace long runs were done slow on purpose, so that I could continue training during the week. Sunday is race day. Nothing to do in the afternoon, nothing to do for many days. Don't hold back. A little pain and suffering is to be expected. At the same time, do not run so hard that my calves cramp up solid. Start easy, then go hard in the second half with whatever is left in the tank. Back off a little around Wailpe to rest the legs for the climb up to the Aloha station, expect to suffer there, then go as fast as possible down Kealaolu and Kahala Ave. Hang on going up Diamond Head, then run it out to the finish.