Every race I do, I tend to write up the lessons I learned from it. I’m not feeling very learned after my last race, though. That’s not a bad thing, and that’s not to say it didn’t enrich me – it did. It’s just that I’m getting so much more comfortable with myself and my abilities so there’s less opportunity to have major learnings. That said, I do have some reflections that I think are worth sharing.
First, by way of background, this race – my second half marathon – was fantastic. I broke the cardinal rule of racing by signing up for an inaugural race. The idea is that races need at least a year to iron out the logistical bugs that are bound to happen the first time they’re put on. The race, the South Shore Half Marathon in Norwell, Massachusetts, was set for November 2nd at 7:30 AM. That’s the first morning after we set the clocks back, so the early start was to be offset by an extra hour of sleep. I say, “was to be,” because the race got postponed 2 weeks due to some really bad New England weather (rain, snow and 50 mph wind gusts) that lead the local police and fire departments to make the race directors reschedule. While some people were angry about it, I appreciated the move in the name of safety and non-gale-force-wind-in-your-face-running.
Aside from that hiccup, they literally could not have put on a better race. They had ample shuttle busses running like clockwork between the off-venue parking and the start and finish area; an indoor waiting area before the race (which was huge considering the temp was about 30˚F); free bag check that was run REALLY well (I’ve had a few where my tag gets swapped for another, my bag gets lost or they have no bag check at all); plenty of porta-potties (at the start, finish and along the route); about 10 water stations and 2 sports drink/GU stations (well, one, but you pass it twice on the course); great swag; a really nice finisher’s medal; lots of water; ripe bananas (I can’t stand finishing to find green bananas!), coffee, muffins, granola bars, fruit juice and other stuff at the finish; and a fantastic after-party. Wow, that was a long sentence that sort of wasn’t a sentence. The point is, they put on a great race that was really well run, whether it was their first or 21st time. Kudos to the race directors, volunteers and RaceWire (who ran the race timing and photography). Also a huge thank you to the residents of Norwell for not only letting us into their town, allowing key roads to be closed for the race (SO thankful for that), but also coming out in great numbers to cheer us on and give high fives.
So, that’s the background. The weather for the day was cold but great. Basically no wind – not even a light breeze on the course. Partially sunny skies. Dry pavement. Cold. It was also cold. Like, 20 when I left my house at 5:20 to pick up my friend who was running with me, and about 28 when we pulled into the parking lot. It was something like 30 or 32 when the race started. This was my first point of reflection. I haven’t had much opportunity to run in the cold as I’ve been injured at this time of year quite often. I do like running in warm weather sometimes, but the cold is really a treat you have to experience if you haven’t. Yes, you need to dress for it, but you sweat less, you don’t get sapped by humidity, you don’t need as much water, and it’s sort of like your joints are getting iced the whole way, so they hurt less. What I learned is that you need to be comfortable being cold for the first 10-15 minutes until your body is really putting out heat. Otherwise, you end up with extra layers you have to peel off and hold/tie around you/throw away/toss and hope to find again or live with losing. I had a pair of pants on over my running tights and shorts for the pre-race time to keep my leg muscles warm that I purposely intended to throw out (they were way too big on me, ratty, old and maybe $9 from TJMaxx when I bought them 10 years ago, so no loss there). I wasn’t going to have any extra layers on top, but was too cold before the race, and grabbed my after-race shirt from my bag before checking it. It’s a 2XU long sleeve I got on sale, but was still more money than I want to waste, and I’ve barely worn it so I didn’t feel good about tossing it. I ended up tying it around my waist before the race started and kept it there for the whole race. So, basically, it was pointless and kind of annoying. It also made all my action photos from the race look like I was wearing a running skirt. I was wearing tights with shorts over them, which is bad enough, but not a skirt. I should have dealt with a few minutes of being chilly.
What I did do smart clothing-wise was have a long sleeve compression shirt plus some arm warmers (I got them for $4.95 from Running Warehouse, so I figured if I had to ditch them, no big deal). They were knitted, and warm, and was very thankful for them. I then had a singlet on, which helped my core stay a touch warmer. I also had a Nike running hat, which I was thankful for until mile 5, and then tucked into my shorts. I almost wore a Dry-Fit baseball hat instead, and probably would have been better off in that. Lastly, I had a nice pair of Mizuno Breath Thermo gloves that i was very thankful for. I do wish they were a touch warmer for the first 5 miles, but they were fine after that, and I appreciated the lack of bulk. I am getting a similar pair of gloves that have mitten covers you can peel back, which would have been ideal (I saw others with them, and was jealous).
I’ve written about hydration in prior race learning posts, and ran with a hydration belt in the half I did last year. I don’t like drinking ice cold water when running as it tends to shock my stomach. For those who don’t know, the stomach tends to do weird things during longer runs (or other endurance events), so you really need to be mindful of what you put in it, and train with different options to learn what your body does best with. Given the cold (which reduces your water demands) and my desire to have as little bulk as possible, I opted to skip bringing my own water. I did grab water at aid stands three time, and the cup was partially frozen and obviously extremely cold. I held a little bit in my mouth to wait for it to warm up, but couldn’t drink much and my lips got painfully cold trying to. I drank two 20 ounce bottles of water at the finish, plus drank some other stuff when I got to my car (I had a protein shake ready to go, plus water). I wasn’t too thirsty during the race and wasn’t sweeting too badly (though I was sweating more than in my half last year despite it being 20 degrees colder), but I do feel like I was under-hydrated, which impacts performance. After the race, I had some signs that my kidneys were over-taxed that I needn’t go into here and I was fine after a day, but again I realized I needed more water than I took in. I’m not sure bringing a hydration belt would have been the right way to go (especially because my hips ended up seizing up starting around mile 10, so the belt would have taxed them more), but I have a few different handheld bottles I could have chosen from, and wish I had brought with me. I would recommend switching hands occasionally to keep things balanced.
My next learning was around training. Last year, a broken bone and damaged tendon in my left foot curtailed my training dramatically. I never ran more than 8.99 miles in training (or in my life) before that half. This year, things went much better with my training, though my IT band pain resurfaced about three weeks before the race, so my taper was longer and more pronounced than I would have liked. Also, I taped for a November 2nd race, and then had to deal with the two week delay. That’s not enough time to ramp back up and taper back down, plus my knee was a problem, so I took it easy with the running to get my knee in a better place, but tried to keep my muscle tone stable. I used biking as much as possible and continued with the physical therapy-based workouts I had been doing since last May when my IT band issues started. My muscles definitely atrophied a bit, and my running ability was impacted, but not too bad. The reason my IT band issue flared up was that I changed two things at the same time (stopped using an IT band strap I had been running with, and tested a new pair of Mizunos for FitFluential) – I shouldn’t have done that. If I hadn’t, I would probably have hit my goal time given how well my training was going. But I did, and I was in pain and had to cut back my training more than I would have done otherwise, yet I still PRed, so I can’t complain.
My last lesson was another ‘cardinal rule of racing’ thang. I don’t typically manage my pacing when I run. Sure, I run some runs faster than others, and some are longer than others, but I don’t try to hit specific paces or try to do negative splits (where you get faster with each mile/lap/section). I read a great piece in Runner’s World from Coach Jenny Hadfield (who I’m a big fan of) about splitting a race into zones. I would have gladly trained with the approach she outlined for a negative split that warms you up well, protects you from going too hard, and lets you hit your goal time. Since I got injured and had the elongated taper, I never got to test the approach. There’s the cardinal rule part – never race an untested approach. Well, see, I didn’t actually get to do it. I programed the approach into my Garmin watch to alert me to my pace being within the right zone at the right time. I was all set to do it. I just forgot to start the program when I started the race, and you can’t start a program after you’ve started a race. So I had intended to at least try to stay within the zones, but I was going much faster than the program would have advised. I decided to keep pressing along because a) it felt good and natural, and b) I knew there were hills coming and I might need some time below the average pace I needed to hit my goal time to offset the hill action. Well, Coach Jenny is smarter than I am. I should have held back a bit because I was struggling by mile 10. Well, maybe she isn’t since you never know what would have happened if I did things differently. Maybe I’d be struggling anyway, so it’s good that I covered as much ground as quickly as I did early on. Who knows? And do you know why no one knows? Because I evener tested it out in training. Cardinal.
OK, this has gone on a LONG time, but I want to share what I found from my events to help you with yours. Experience, advice, failures and success. These are the tools you need to enlighten.your.body.