Warning: Long Post Ahead
Race #4 for 2011 is done and done: the Eisenhower Marathon in Abilene, Kansas. This one was one month after the Little Rock Marathon in March and I must admit I was a bit complacent about my training. Too many times I let the weather and general “I don’t feel like it” get in the way of putting in the miles. To be honest, I didn’t run enough to keep a hamster wheel squeaking. So… race conditions on Saturday in Abilene were: 90% humidity, 18 mph South wind (thus a head wind for 1/2 of the entire race) increasing to nearly 30 mph and temps starting at 70 degrees and ending around 90. Into this I leaped, poorly conditioned and dealing with recent snow/rain/wind/sleet… not heat. Not steamy humidity. As I made this trip solo and didn’t have a deadline to meet at the finish line, I decided these conditions were ideal for trying out a more ultra marathon style of running. For an ultra, a person trains in a run/walk pattern and incorporates snacks into the run. All my marathons have been run in a “get the f#$*&r done” mentality. I’ve thought about the changes I’ll need to make to run 50 miles in October but haven’t actually tried anything different. This was the time to try it out and this is what I experienced:
- Pre race morning: short drive from motel to start, parking within .5 mile of line up. Race started at 7 AM precisely.
- Weather: 69 degrees, 86% humidity and 13 mph wind out of the south at 6:15. It got warmer and windier as the hours went by. For the last 2 miles, stinging sand was peppering the backs of my legs – glad the wind was a tail wind at that point. By noon, it was 90 degrees, the wind was above 20 mph and the humidity lingered above 50%. I saw some very debilitated looking runners out there.
- The course: an out-and-back straight south down the Chisolm Trail/Eisenhower Memorial Highway with one 2 mile loop through a park going and coming back, and miles 11 – 15 were an east/west leg. Thus, 9 miles straight into the wind and gradually uphill. 4 miles were a solid crosswind and 4 miles were through a treed park with 9 miles of tail wind. The road surface was good – not the pot-holed mess of the highway we ran in Arizona.
- The sights: well. Not much to see – no variation to the topography even though we did end up about 100 feet above the town. It was so gradual you didn’t see any real difference as you ran. We went right down the highway past greyhound ‘farms’ and some small cattle holdings. The park was treed with two bridges to cross. The entire course was closed to vehicles and that meant there were virtually no spectators, either.
- Volunteers: many and enthusiastic and obviously experienced. It takes a little practice to hand off a cup of water to someone who is running without spilling and even the youngest Boy Scouts had it down. There was a clown at one aid station. The course was advertised to be patrolled by horseback riders but I only saw 6 horses and only 3 were under saddle. One in particular didn’t seem to care for the view of a herd of humanity running by, bib numbers flapping in the wind, brightly colored shirts whipping.
- Strategy: I ran the first half in my usual way and right on my usual time, even with the headwind, heat, humidity and uphill drain. But, as we passed the turn-around points for the 5k (about 1.6 miles into our run), 10k (about 3.1 miles into our run) and half marathon (about 6.5 miles into our run), I had never wished so strongly to call it quits and head back. A half marathon was really all I had in me and I made the decision to run the return half as training for the ultra. Knowing it was gradually downhill; the increasing wind would mostly be a tail wind; I didn’t need to meet anyone on a deadline; and the aid stations were about every mile and well stocked with power gel, granola bars, bananas and orange slices; I decided it was time to try the approach I’ll need to take on my 50 mile run.
- What the Difference Was: OK, the second half of the marathon included much more walking than I normally care to do. I tried to maintain a walking pace of 14:45 per mile, ran slower than my usual pace and tried out some of the aid station goodies I normally pass up. Bananas – sliced in half, had a piece at two different stations. Fine in moderation. Orange slices – loved these but had a feeling they were actually too acidic to really get into while running. Had an interesting thought about the orange slices around mile 19… Granola bars – broken into pieces, could not bring myself to even try a piece. Power gels – have done these in past races but they didn’t have my flavor and the ones they had seemed too sweet to try. Hard candy/mints – didn’t try these. Interestingly, aside from the orange slices, I wasn’t after sugar. Didn’t want it at all. What I think I could have used was pretzels. I have been in races with small pretzels and I do want those and can eat and run with them. During the Lost Dutchman, someone had a box of glazed donuts cut up in small pieces and I had one of those. That worked OK. Cut up bagels with a dab of peanut butter might have been very appealing, too.
- Dealing With the Heat: In the races I’ve run with frequent aid stations I usually skip some stations and alternate water and electrolyte drinks at the others. During the second half, I grabbed water at every station. Sometimes I just poured it down the back of my shirt (about 4 times), over my hands (every time) or rinsed my mouth out (usually). Otherwise, a swallow was sufficient. As this was the highest warm humidity I’ve run in, I didn’t know or expect what was happening to my back. Chaffing. I’ve found shorts and leggings I can run in that prevent chaffing from being an issue on my legs and I have Body Glide – the runner’s life-giving and run-prolonging miracle substance – for under my arms, which is my usual problem area. This time, I have chafe lines all over my back and over my ribcage as well. Hmmm… Well, live and learn. And, OK, yes – ouch.
- The Moments: Mile 2 when I realized I would be able to run a distance (Because of my previously mentioned ability to get easily over hydrated and the debilitating and run-ending pain that results, I actually NEVER know, in ANY run until mile 2 if I got the timing right for having something to drink before starting out. I guess the upside is, when this does happen, 2 miles is not a long distance to walk back home or to the start.) – I was particularly concerned on this day because of the humidity. I did see someone dart off the course at .75 miles and do some dry heaving. Hey, it can happen to any of us. OK… also at mile 2 when we ran into the park and got out of the headwind for a couple of miles. Mile 13.1 – the turnaround. I could have kissed all the volunteers, the road killed squirrel, the steaming asphalt, etc. Mile 14 when I poured the first cup of water down my back. 🙂 Absolutely… unprintable. The aid station at mile 19 – the clown was sitting in a chair and gave me a thumbs up as I approached. I smiled and said, “Hey, it’s not as easy as it looks!” Yeah – I cracked up a clown. Also at this aid station, I was selecting an orange slice from the offered container and had a brief, overwhelmingly realistic vision of actually rolling around in a tub of orange slices at the finish. This may be the closest I have come to a running induced hallucination yet. (Given the raw lines on my back, I’m glad I didn’t get a chance to actually do this when I did cross the line.) Mile 22, in the park for the last time: I took a cup of water from a very young Boy Scout and walked away from the aid station as briskly as I could. I didn’t hear what the Scout actually said to his troop leader, but I heard the man reply, “I’m sure she was much sweatier earlier.” Mile 23: as I collected a cup of water from a heavy volunteer, she told me I was doing really well and I sighed and said this wasn’t anywhere near as well as my other marathons had been. She said, “Hey, I don’t even have one. And never will.” Mile 24, exiting the park for the last 2 miles. An older couple were seated by a truck, directing runners into the park from one direction and back out the other way. As I started to the right, towards the finish, the woman called out, “You’re doing fine, hon, almost there!” I wheeled to the left, pointing back up the course and said, “I want to go again.” The man burst out, “You’re crazy!” After a moment, the woman said carefully, “You can do that if you want to…” I turned back the proper way and, as I marched off, I heard her say, “She’s got more energy than most of them.” The finish. I have never been so glad to be done. My change in running strategy added an hour to my run. My ego took a beating over that but the purpose was to learn, and I did. I have a lot to think over, to be sure.
In all, this was a good experience and a well-organized, very small marathon. In acknowledgement of an extremely long post, I will end here and simply say thank you, Abilene, you put on a 5 Star marathon!