Sunday, October 05, 2008

Race Report: Twin Cities Marathon

I don't know if I've ever approached a major race - maybe any race - with the kind of week I had last week as prelude. Besides the now-routine constant attention to the Achilles and intentional rest from running - which didn't suit my OCD very well - I had a magnificently stressful week at work, in a week when one wants for low stress, and - of course - Thursday woke up with the cold that Amy and Dakota had been fighting. It was a Murphy's Law kind of week, and it wasn't until I jumped in the car Thursday afternoon for 5 solo hours from Madison to Minneapolis that I was able to start getting my head straight and my attitude keyed in the right direction.

My cold ratcheted up all day Friday, and that afternoon I called my buddy Steve to send my regrets to him and Pharmie that I wouldn't be able to make dinner at their place. It made me sad to do it - I hate breaking plans of any kind, and I looked forward to spending the evening with them and our other friends. But with a head full of styrofoam I needed to rest and figure out a way to deal with this cold and get some sleep for the night.

So, I went into race morning with an unusual lack of clarity or sense of focus, feeling strangely at the whims of more factors out of my control than I'm used to, or accustomed to, or comfortable with.

The excitement of race day tends to wash away the superfluous sometimes, though, and by the time I lined up between the 3:50 and 4-hour pace groups for the start of the race, doped up on Dayquil, I was energetic but relaxed, with my head on straight, and ready to see what the day would bring.

Some important information to get out of the way right now: My Achilles was not an issue, and nor was the head cold. My leg hurts like hell now, of course, and my brains are back to being full of foam, but I didn't have any issues with either during the race. The Achilles especially is remarkable. I don't know if it was the magic socks or what, but it was stiff all week, even this morning, but for whatever reason it was, for the first time in months, a non-issue. Maybe Jesus listens to distance runners, I don't know. Since I'm dealing with a head-cold and not something in my chest, I didn't expect too much drama in that way, but even that I didn't feel constant sinus pressure all day was a good thing. So anyway - that's pretty great. Especially the Achilles - after all the drama, and talk, and contingencies, I was glad to have it be a non-factor.

So, I settled in to a comfortable but intentional pace, anywhere between 8:30 and 9:00. Faster or slower than that, and I'd adjust. Lining up with similar paced athletes obviously made for the mad-scrabble of wheeling around trying to jockey for position much less of an event, so it was fun to just gear up right away and find my zone. My plan was to stay consistent under 9:00/miles for 20 miles, and then throw down whatever I had left to the finish.

The first half of the marathon was spooky for its familiarity - constant drizzle, with occasional hard downpour. Windy, cool, dark. Conditions were almost exactly like Ironman 2006 - some of the Team that came to support me were even wearing the same raincoats. Totally surreal. With the exceptions of having to be really intentional about puddle jumping and flood-dodging, I actually really enjoyed the rain. It felt a little epic out there, especially when it got to raining hard. I was never too cold or uncomfortable, and appreciated very much those spectators that braved the day to come out and cheer us all on.

I didn't obsess about pace, tapping the lap button on my watch every 3rd mile to see if I was under 27:00 for that interval. I felt great. Everything felt easy, I was having fun, I was having no issues. I had that bounce in my step that tells me things are under control. In the first 3 miles I was able to high-five my mother ("There's my Ironman!" She yelled.) who stepped away from her church (she's a Lutheran pastor) for just a few minutes, clerical collar and all, to see if she could see me pass by. A few miles after that I shared a high-five and a fist-in-the-air with some of the Team that came to cheer me and my buddy Sam on (more on him later), and my man T.Zilla ran through the crowd parallel to me cheering me on, screaming me down the road. It was happy and fun and I really, really enjoyed it.

I passed the halfway mark at around 1:55, right on schedule for my goal of going sub 4-hours. Nutrition was on point, hydration was uneventful. My crazy-ass socks were comfortable - in fact, my feet were maybe as comfortable as they've ever been on a long run, staying blister free even through the wet and water (though my shoes did get heavy for awhile). After the halfway mark the rain mostly came to a stop, and it was dry the rest of the way.

I'd walked for 1 minute at the 6 mile mark for a gel, and then again at 13 miles, and planned to again at 19 miles. I clocked through to 15 miles, still comfortably under my 9:00/mile pace, and had one last glance at my watch at 17 miles before it happily crapped out. I could see water bubbles forming inside the face since the Tsunami I'd ran through earlier in the day, and cursed audibly as my proverbial dashboard went kaput for the day (or forever - it remains to be seen). I don't ever run blind, and it was a weird thing to suddenly start doing now. I didn't find it entirely unenjoyable (I did have another watch, just a chronometer, on my other arm, so kept a basic eye on mile splits when I'd pass the mile markers), but the lack of constant feedback was a little foreign to me. So, with a focus on just staying with what felt like a comfortable and consistent pace and stride, I passed through 18 miles. I was surprised how strong I felt. My legs were getting a little tight, but that was to be expected. I was happy to have overcome the distractions of the week, excited for my ankle to feel strong after all, really encouraged about how the day was going after all the training I'd put in - if the worst I faced all day was a dead Garmin, it'd be a successful day. I wasn't thinking about that 4-hour goal at all, just confident that if I could stay under 9:00/miles, things would work out.


The day changed at mile 19.

I downed a gel and grabbed a PowerAde to wash it down, slowing to a power-walk for my usual 1 minute interval. I took large, exaggerated strides to stretch my legs, which were feeling a little tight, but not in a way that concerned me at all. When my minute was up I tossed my cup aside and started back into my run, when out of nowhere I had such an extraordinary pain on the outside of my left knee, and I couldn't bear weight on it. What the hell is this? I slowed to a walk right away - it felt better - so I started up again, only to have it nearly buckle underneath me. This made no sense. I hadn't tweaked anything, I hadn't felt anything, and I've never in my life had any issues with the outside of my left knee. It was totally out of nowhere. I walked over to a tree for leverage and tried to stretch it out, but to do that I needed to first assess just what needed stretching. I did some half-ass general leg stretches and just kind of scratched my head. Tried running again. Same results - it wasn't just the pain, which was intense, but the weird sensation of my leg just kind of collapsing underneath me that made me suddenly wonder, Is this it? Did my day seriously just end out of left field like this? Back to the side of the road, back to some curious stretching. An EMT approached me, pointing - "Do you need the medical tent?" "No I do not," I replied before thinking any further about it. Finally I just walked, then tried moving into a power walk - to be greeted with great pain - and then into a slow jog. When the pain came I ignored it, and when the buckling came I just forced my leg to bear my weight, even straightening it like a plank for a few strides to just get it going underneath me. Eventually it cooperated, and I found my rhythm again, even built back up to a pace that felt like it might be my goal pace. Still, that left knee was suddenly present. I'd sense it disagreeing when I'd try to pick up pace, or having an opinion when climbing or descending.

At mile 20, I threw down with whatever was left - but if I had a watch, I think it would have shown that I was slowing down. My legs were feeling increasingly heavy through 20 and 22 miles, and the objections from my newest antagonist (seriously with the lower extremities lately) were becoming more pronounced. Glances at the mile splits told me I was clocking in the mid-9:00's now, and it was officially time to dig deep. I kept my head down and my mind focused, and just tried to keep my form and stride consistent. I don't want to credit the weird left leg for much here - it was mostly just the natural stress that comes from running a long damn ways that was wearing on me, and I was pushing hard to stay on point.

At mile 24 I finally checked the potential of things - I was at right around 3:40, and it looked like sub-4:00 was definitely attainable. I knew I'd been slowing, maybe to mid to upper 9:00's, I'm not sure, but I felt pretty confident I could stay under 10:00/miles for 2.2 miles. At the same time - like a racecar driver who knows he needs new tires before that last push, I needed a drink. Just before mile 25 I stopped to briefly walk for one last quick drink.

I'd been afraid to stop since mile 19, worried that the same weird thing would happen - and unfortunately it did. As soon as I tried to start running again my leg buckled, and the pain was extraordinary. A mile away! One mile! I thought of my dogs, and how walking them one mile is a total non-event, but how right now a mile seemed so long. I had to again go through a kind of warm-up routine with a bit of stretching, then power-walking, then jogging and bearing through the pain until finally my legs took off from underneath me again. But a glance at my watch - 3:53 - and I knew I probably wouldn't be suddenly ticking of a 7 minute 1.2 miles, even if it was mostly downhill. I ran as hard as I could, as fast as I could, with my legs protesting every step of the way, feeling thick and stiff as tree trunks now after 25 miles.

I crossed the finish line in 4:02:51.

Well first to the obvious - I missed my goal by 2:52. In the list of disappointments in my life, that'll fall pretty far down the list. The 4 hour goal was kind of arbitrary - Is that even possible? And the answer, I think, is yes - it is. It just wasn't today. And that's okay. The whole what-if stuff - What if I hadn't had to stop twice for a few minutes and deal with my weird knee - has no end; what if it hadn't rained so my legs hadn't been heavy? What if there'd been no headwind? What if I hadn't bummed up my Achilles two months ago? What I was born Kenyan? No point to that - every race day presents its own playing field for that day's game, and today's game was played under the conditions it was. Thats the beauty of it. Part of that meant I had some unexpected detours to deal with an unexpected physical event, and that's part of it too. I'm extremely pleased with my day. I executed my race day plan to perfection, and handled the unforeseen as well as I could. I overcame some personal obstacles of stress and injury and illness to pull out a solid day. I had a blast. Mostly - I busted my ass. I left every ounce of myself out there today; I was shredded when I came into the finish chute. I couldn't have asked for a more fun, challenging, worthwhile experience today, and I have no unfinished business with those 2 minutes and 52 seconds. This was the best I had, and I'm proud of it. It's also a PR of about 54 minutes.

Tonight I have the usual soreness throughout my legs, but that left knee is stiff and painful. No idea what this is from whence it came, and I haven't spent much time thinking about it. For now, it doesn't really matter - I get to rest. The Achilles, the left arch pain, the left knee - just let them all rest now. I'll hit my bike and/or trainer in the coming months, but no running. Really, really looking forward to that.

All in all, a fantastic finish to a fantastic season, and I'll have more thoughts to share about that later. I couldn't have asked for a better 2008.

Bits & Pieces:

Saw Steve in a Speedo in his chicken outfit a few times, along with his posse of farm animals. Pretty awesome. I was also able to catch up with Pharmie quickly after the race -she was looking good, and I think enjoyed her day. I'll look forward to her race report.

Robby B, I hope you had a great day, too -

My buddy Sam ran his first marathon today, training using the Nike+ system with his ipod, planning for something around a 3:50 finish. Dude rocked somewhere in the neighborhood of 3:35. AWESOME. Sam is in the same group of friends as a lot of the Team, so it was fun that they could all be out there supporting Sam first. I'm stupid proud of him, and thrilled for what a great day he had.

I'm a believer in the magic socks. I was worried that they'd soak up a bunch of water when it started pouring, but they were great. My calves were never an issue all day, and neither were my feet, and I'm willing to attribute at least some of how well the Achilles held up today to the magic socks, they being the only new ingredient from all the other runs I've had lately where the ankle has still been an issue.

I had a business meeting on Friday with a guy from a popular national gym. He mentioned that last year he ran the Twin Cities marathon - his first - with his iPod, which is against the rules (but it is as most races, and I can't think of when I've ever seen it much enforced). 2 weeks after finishing, collecting his medal, etc. etc., he got a letter in the mail that he had been disqualified for wearing headphones. Wow. He was banned from this year, and if he does it again, he's banned for life. A bunch of people around him got DQ'd too. Wow.

I saw a few dudes wearing headphones today. I hope their ruse wasn't discovered...

I got chicked by a woman wearing Crocs. Right. Purple ones. Running in them. Crocs. It's not that I got chicked - that happens quite a lot. Chicks are fast, after all. But the Crocs, that's a new one.

Too many people wearing your basic 8-for-$8 tube socks. Man, my feet would be hamburger. Also, cargo shorts? Really? Like, do people not consider these things in the meantime between signing up for a marathon and running it? Do they train in this stuff? Why on earth.

I passed a dude in the first mile or two that had an age-group number tacked to the back of his shirt of 80. And he wore a sign on his shirt that said "300th marathon". Even if you're 80, think about that. Think about how many marathons you have to run every year, for umpteen years, to hit 300 marathons. That's nuts. I hope he finished strong.

No food at the aid stations. What's up with that? Thank you to the people with bananas and oranges out there, I appreciated that. Also, thanks to the lady at mile 3 with a boombox taped to her bike blaring Billie Jean. You rule.

I'm not generally interested in making sweeping statements of permanence, because I like to go a bit where life takes me, but there's been a pretty consistent theme, reinforced of late and especially today, that it's possible this vehicle just wasn't meant for this kind of mileage. Ironman 2009 is the focus, and I won't be giving much thought at all beyond that and all things required to accomplish it next year, but after Ironman...well, we'll see. I might be a 13.1 and under kind of guy for awhile.

Thanks to everybody who came out today - Mother, Mike, Susan, Todd, Patrick, and Sara (cheering on her brother Sam) and her family, along with Sam's wife Laura and her family, who greeted me (albeit a bit accidentally) in the finish line but then came together with us all on the Capitol grounds. Thanks for trapsing around (again) with sodden jeans and soaked shoes and raincoats and umbrellas. I deeply, deeply appreciate it, and it gets me down the road to know you're out there with me. I don't know what to tell you about the weather. I'll do my best next September for something different!

Thus concludes the 2008 race season. More to come as I organize my thoughts on that, and start to slowly chart my course, in earnest towards Becoming Ironman Again.


galeano said...


Well done on a great time in your marathon. My half IM on the 5 October was not a celebration of speed - 7:00 and I can't believe how slow I am getting, I suppose I should train. Anyway a beautiful day with a sheltered swim in a canal, a flat to undulating course and very windy gusting up to 25 knots. It was 32C before I got off the bike. The run was totally flat and very hot with no shade at all. Even though I carried some extra fluid, drank at every station and sipped between them I ended up with blood in my urine post race, feeling ill, slight headache and then there is the hamstrings. Had a busy day at work today and still feeling the effects somewhat. Having said that, a beautiful day, many great supporters (who did have a beer or two)and I'll be there again next year, having worked on my speed and having a great time. Talk soon and enjoy a great winter.

My next adventure is a 120km ride from my home to the Gold Coast next Sunday with 8000 other cyclists.

Richard G from Oz & 2006 IM Wisconsin

Team Brazo said...

Great job -- amazing all the parts and pieces that you needed to overcome to get this done. Having a young child always brings those "colds" -- been there done that -- the only difference is that I wasn't trying to run a marathon during that period of time.

What you did to finish and to finish at your goal is what I love about endurance sports. I know/understand that 2 minutes over is 2 minutes over -- but that being said 4:02 is a FOUR hour marathon!! No real difference between 3:59 and 4:02.

Awesome job and ya I think you had a great season -- now onto IMWI 2009...

richvans said...

Sorry I missed you yesterday. Had to wait for the Doc to get back from rounding as I couldn't see hauling both kids out in the rain. Made it to mile 22 or so just in time to see the 4 hr. pace balloon go by. I'd been tracking you online and based on your 20 mile time I figured you were long gone. Way to battle through all of the challenges you faced along the way! Great race.

Scott said...

Congratulations on your PR.

Word of caution - Stabbing pain on outside of knee right at the bend? Sort of a hallow feeling inside that makes you feel as the knee might collapse? Going downhill/ stairs makes it more present?

Be careful, sounds like ITBS. Look it up on the internet ( message boards are good) for stretches, self-diagnosis etc. It can become chronic - had it once during training for a marathon - kept running on it until pain became unbearable, ran the marathon anyway after a cortisone shot to try and reduce the swelling and pain, then basically was unable to run without pain for 7 months. Could seriously hamper your IMMOO traning if you don't address.

Erin said...

Way to rock that course! Man, you tend to have some epic race days, huh? But I agree with Brazo, there's no real difference whatsoever between 4:02 and 3:59. I'd say you achieved your goal. But I also agree with what Scott said below. Chief of Stuff did much the same thing as Scott described (running through the pain) and has been hampered by ITBS ever since, despite trying various and heroic treatments. Get thee back to UW Sports, pronto!

(and huge internet high five! Way to go!!!)

JK said...

Atta boy, Chris!

It's so great to read how you're able to take the weather conditions in stride...No worries, just play the game.

I'll keep your strong words in mind as I start up training for my first marathon in AZ in January.

I'll see you at the start line for IMWI '09!!!

Steve Stenzel said...

Nice job X!! Way to go! And it was great to run into you those few times!

I've been thinking about getting myself a pair of those magic socks. Whenever I do my next "long" race, I need to train in a pair of those.

And CROCS? That's just weird.

Again, congrats!!

Borsch said...

GREAT JOB! It was great to meet you!

And crocs? I didn't see that but I did see the 300 marathon guy. He was right behind me the whole way up to 19. We went through the water stop together there...after that I don't know how he did.

Pharmie said...

We missed you at dinner! Sounds like the sleep worked, though. Thanks for coming up to say hi after the race, and congrats on a strong finish despite the legs trying to do otherwise. Come back to the Twin Cities soon!

I said...

Nice job - especially will all the obstacles! Could your knee pain be a result of compensating in any way for the achilles pain?

Kristine said...


Congrats on the finish! It was an epic day for a race for sure. As the rained poured down, I looked up and though how did you all do it in 2006. I couldn't figure it out.

As for me, I'm still replaying my race in my head, but I can't place a finger on what went wrong. I finished in 3:50:53, twenty minutes behind schedule. I have to consider all that happened before I can figure out what was wrong. It was a tough, mentally challenging day for me that I have lots to learn from.

Congrats on a great 2008 and I look forward to your 2009.

Anonymous said...

It was great to see you this weekend, and to experience my first marathon with you. I hope the knee gets better quick. Thanks for the shout out!

Nice work with the marathon, and good luck with Ironman training!


Alili said...

Nice race Chris! You fought the good fight and had an excellent race despite major pain. Heal well for '09.

Triteacher said...

"What (if) I was born Kenyan?" - Why, then we'd truly be sibs!! I love, as always, how you retain your sense of humor even on tough, rainy days.

Nice race, X. Onward to IM 09 (but do detour for some TLC to that left knee)!

Laura Carol said...

seeing you was the best. xxoo

Anonymous said...

Congrats!! You are amazing!!