Thursday, 15 April 2010

things that worked

Fortis Marathon Rotterdam 2010 from Like2Run on Vimeo.

In no particular order and without stopping to do a major re-write, here are some thoughts about what worked on Sunday.
  1. Taper, dammit. I felt like a caged animal. but prep for an endurance event comes over time. no cramming. I figure it's like building a stone foundation. Every day the quarry is open, you get to go pick up one stone if you follow your plan (Work + Rest = Success).  If you skip, you don't get one of the stones you need to build that foundation. Come race day, you got as many stones as you earned.  No more. It's too late to catch up, and if there's leftover stones in the quarry or holes in your foundation, too bad so sad, the race is gonna suck.
  2. Be strategic in your race plan. a conservative strategy can overcome some deficits in training, but it will still suck a little bit.  I was really sceptical of the idea of running intervals of no more than 15 seconds and then walking for 30 seconds for the first 15 k.  My timer dropped off my belt, and I probably ran slightly longer intervals (counting four paces to the count of 15).  But it worked. I was fast and it felt effortless for the first half.  I knew I was running too fast, but I felt greedy to put time in the bank. I had difficulty really imagining that I could do the whole thing. Jeff had commented that I might hit the wall at 30k since that was my longest run, when I had been assigned 42. And I hadn't done the previous assigned long runs (no 30 k, no 35 k and no 33k). I had my excuses (including the shaggy knee), but frankly speaking, the long runs intimidated me. They don't anymore.  Even 42.2 - piece of cake!
My coach commented:
You had an exceptional run.  You dug down and found the resources that you have always had.  Only when challenged are you likely to learn how to find them. 
If you had done the 42K run, you would not have had so much of a struggle.
Your early pace was too fast--for the first 15K.  This cost you at the end.
We'll see if I do another one, and if doing more of the long runs (I missed basically most of them this winter) means less of a struggle.  At work today, the chief asked me when I planned to do the next one.  I joked that most women wanted only one child - and to ask me when the baby was a little bigger.

3. Surround yourself with stories of triumph. Endurance events require managing your mindset.  I listened to and loved Born to Run and 50/50, Dean K's insane tale of running 50 marathons in 50 days.  I also listened to an interview with a guy who ran nearly 400 miles in something like 8 days. These stories taught me that belief in what is possible makes it possible. Or perhaps the opposite is true - if you don't believe it, you'll never see it.  Believing is Seeing.

4. Do the mental training. I thought repeatedly of the quote from General Patton that tiredness lives in the mind.  And the body will do what the mind tells it.  During the race, I knew my heart rate was fine. I told my body we were doing it. And we did.  I drew on my experiences doing another difficult task: childbirth - the only thing I can compare to that was when I crushed two fingers in between panels of a garage door. The sustained pain reminded me of giving birth.  (My husband was particularly impressed when I relieved the pain by burning holes in the tops of my nails with the end of a paper clip that I had heated with a match.)    Your body will go only as far as your mind thinks it can.

5. Know the deeper why:  doing something this big on a whim might leave you struggling when it gets tough.  I spent some time trying to answer this question.  During the middle of the training, many of my friends will recall that I wanted to quit.  I am pumped about my goals for the summer and fall and thought training for the marathon was turning into a distraction. The long slow distance runs are very time consuming, particularly for someone like me who runs slowly - and my coach's advice for LSD is you can't run them too slowly.  One of the motivations was a sceptical remark my husband made last year. (I'm vaguely recalling a similar kind of remark kicked me into wanting to do an ironman.....)  When I was wobbling, my friends and my husband all said to me, Only you can decide what this means to you.  I decided the point was to explore my human capacity - to see who I am - to learn about myself.

6. Stop thinking so much about yourself.  After I figured out the deeper why, it just seemed a bit shallow. I remember the morning of my argument before the US Supreme Court. The moment had arrived, culminating nearly a year of intense preparation. I felt like a guitar string - I could hardly relax my body.  Anyway, I watched the sun rise and remembered that I was there to advocate for another human being -that I was merely a channel, that it was not about me, my argument, my performance - Ultimately, it was about freeing 2000 people being detained because they were stateless, not because they were criminals. And I began to sing and ask for grace.  I aced the argument.

Well, for the run, I remembered how much strength I drew in Amsterdam because I was running for Rachel.  In March, the CPC was about running for a time goal and I felt like the race was a disaster since I missed the cut-off for an official finish. So I decided to take the focus off myself and to dedicate the merit to Elham Mahdi's memory.   I ran with her all the way. The little plastic rabbit beads on the shoe lace bounced in time to my steps the whole race. It was like a platoon marching. And I conversed with Elham throughout the race, particularly just after finishing the first half - which was the most difficult and painful part of the race for me.  (left foot and right hip).   Being able to draw on something more important than myself helped me. Without it, I probably would have just gone home.

7.  Leverage your integrity.  In truth, there's no way I could have gone home - I told too many people I was doing this race.  This is something that worked really well for me on the hard parts of the course - and for the CPC in March too. No way you can quit when you've told everyone you're doing it.  I admit to thinking about how I could withdraw due to the hip pain, and everyone would understand. But no way. I remembered that there would be a time during the race when I would have to decide to gut it out, and I did.
“Success is how you bounce on the bottom.”
8.  Mentally rehearse.  I planned how I would react to bad stuff.  I thought through having my stupid watch freeze up. It turns out that it did, and required a hard reset. (But my planned 44k workout was still there.)  I also "flew" over the course on Google Earth several times the night before the race. At the time, I was questioning whether going to bed would help me more. But I remembered that watching the course video of the Paris-Versailles race helped me to visualize climbing the incredible hill on that race.  So I "flew" over the course, thinking through my strategies at every segment.  I had run most of the course in practice. (That also helped).  I told myself when I got to the North loop (30k to 36k), I would draw strength from the water and the trees in the park.  I also had some mental tricks up my sleeve. Doing the walk-run intervals brought me up close to the runners ahead of me, only to put some distance in between us as I shifted to a walk. I used this to my advantage by imagining a fishing reel that I cast & hooked onto the runner in front of me. I reeled myself in with each run. It felt easier.

9.  Use the crowd.  There were thousands of spectators cheering along the course. Lots of kids wanting to give me high fives.  I decided I would intentionally receive or take the energy being offered to me by these people. And when I gave high gives to the kids, I drew in their energy.

10. Plan your nutrition for the days leading up to the race. By the time I finished the race, the tent where we stored our bags and changed clothing was pretty empty.  I arrived even later since I went to the wrong tent first.  A fellow sat on the bench near me and we started to chat.  Turns out he had a fast run but then spent a couple hours in the Red Cross tent getting fluids by IV.  He hadn't prepared for the race by drinking water before the race.  He had terrible leg cramps as a result  I purposefully drank water all day Friday and Saturday, and ate really well all week long.  I educated myself on what to eat and not to eat in the days and hours leading up to the race. And I practiced on my long runs. And I drank enough water  - there's only so much you can do on race day. 

Well, that's enough. Ten points. And I need to go to sleep. Rest and recovery this week. Not blogging.    

PS. Below is the picture of the winner Patrick Makau and Natasja Pompen, the last to finish. She's also a winner.  She ran deliberately to be the last to finish. I ran faster than she did. On purpose.  I felt a little jealous afterwards when I saw all the publicity. But it wasn't my turn. I ran for my goal - a 5:30 finish. And I achieved it.


  1. Great post. How hard it is not to start too fast. Excited, crowds, many runners and difficult to stay at a purposeful pace.

    You did great! You didn't need that publicity - you accomplished as great a feat as climbing Mt. Everest. I applaud you!!!

  2. Great story Chris. So much more than going out for a long run isn't it! So much more!

  3. Wonderful post Chris - thanks. I really enjoyed the video - looked like an amazing atmosphere. I presume the winner was a Kenyan?? 2 hours 4 minutes is a mind boggling time to run 42km.

  4. Patrick Makau is from Kenya. He was just short of a world record. I don't think I could run @ a speed of 21 km per hour for even a minute.

  5. I still get tears in my eyes everytime i read about your powerful motivator for your last race. I really liked the section on "stop thinking of yourself" great words to ponder.

  6. i could never express how much you've inspired me! your 10 points are so helpful, so insightful ... thank you. i loved watching that video, i bet that start line was buzzing with insane amounts of energy. how cool!?

    i have a feeling i'll be referring back to this post often during the next 8 weeks until it's my turn!

    thanks so much for being so flippin' awesome :)

  7. Awesome post, Chris! I am toying with the idea of a marathon now. You have inspired me! We'll see. I definitely know who I'll be coming to for advice if it ever happens!

  8. Fantastic points to remember, especially about not doing it for yourself. Sometimes it is others that keep us going when we there is no fuel in the tank.


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