Monday, July 7, 2014

Same old gory details: Gold Coast Airport Marathon 2014

I'm going to warn you upfront: you will have heard this story from me before. It's like a horror movie where you know exactly who jumps out of the bushes and who dies at the end. Same old story. It's going to be a little repetitive. But you can read it anyway.

If you recall I had a nice little race strategy all planned out:
- Absolutely no faster than 6:22/km for the first half
- Shot blocks every 5km; electrolyte tab and a minute's walk break every 10km
- I am allowed to run-walk if I cramp - I will probably cramp... (OBVIOUS FORESHADOWING, I COULD BE A SCRIPTWRITER NOW)

On Friday morning Holly got into Gold Coast and we ran about 2.5km to the Broadbeach convention centre for bib pickup, stood in line for five minutes, picked up bib, wound our way through the usual assortment of watches/gear/ads for other athletic activities

This watch is telling me it's 'exercise day'. What, you mean like every day except Wednesday? 
and popped out the other side...

...just in time for a Friday afternoon coffee with Char, who was in town for her 10th Gold Coast 10K in a row. We'd never met in person before but when you share your lives on the Internet it can feel like you've known someone for a very long time.

Photo credit: Holly and her long arms

I was suitably impressed, by the way. I haven't lived in one place long enough to do 10 of any race in a row.

And it was incredibly sweet of her to bring us (cup)cakes despite having had a rough week - thank you!
Here are the ruins of one of the cupcakes. Didn't pause long enough to take photos. Rest assured they were very pretty. And delicious.

On Saturday morning we went to watch the 10K and get the lay of the land at the race precinct, and then went on a whale-watching cruise. Humpback whales come up the Australian coast from Antarctica in winter to calve and mate, and we saw several pairs.

I was not fast enough to catch a photo of a whale.
Fortunately, clouds don't move as fast as humpback whales, so I got a nice picture of one shaped like a boxfish
That afternoon, three more friends got into town. Holly, Mel and Sarah were doing the half; Boya and I would do the full, and it was Boya's first full marathon. (You never forget your first...though sometimes you'd like to, especially around the 30k mark!)

Sunday morning was race day, involving a 4am wakeup for the half marathoners and a 4.45am wakeup call for the two of us full marathoners. Race organisers had provided shuttle buses to the start and the early ones were apparently very crowded with long queues (said Holly). But by 5.30am they were fine and we hopped on the first bus that arrived, for a 15-minute bus ride to the start.

That sunrise. I was pretty chilly, but I really can't complain.

but first, let me take a selfie...
We shuffled our way into the last corral. I had picked up a 4:30 pace band at the expo but was so far back, and so relaxed about the whole affair, that I never even really saw the 4:30 pace group. I had no time goals for this race except 'maybe finish under 5 hours again?'

The sun was shining, the birds were singing, and there was really no excuse not to high-five all the little kids, including a small girl in unicorn footy pyjamas.

And this view. I could have high-fived this view. 
Along the beach there was a guy in what I can only presume were very small and possibly hideous swimming trunks, holding a large and alarming sign in front of them: 'Run faster or I drop this sign'. And around a corner, there was a nine-year-old boy holding a sign that could really only have been composed by a nine-year-old boy: 'Run faster, I just farted'.

The course wound its way south for 15km, then turned around and continued north for another 15km along roughly the same stretch we'd come down. I obediently chugged on at 4:30 pace, stuck to the fuelling plan, and went on feeling pretty good. Ominously good. I knew I'd maybe be a little sore by the end, but experience tells me there is a big difference between sore and damaged, and I was not going to be damaged.

And then, going uphill around 31km, disaster struck. (DUN DUN DUN.)
It was a totally predictable, very familiar sort of disaster. With a terrible sense of deja vu, I felt my right vastus medialis muscle, the lower part of my inner quad near the knee, go TWANGGGGG and seize up in a spasm so powerful I nearly screeched. And then my left one. For probably three or four minutes, I stood there, clutching the centre rail, trying to stretch. I'd stretch one leg and the other side would clench; I'd stretch the other and the first one would fire off - TWANGGG. And again (twanggg). And again (TWANGGG). And again (ARGGGH COME ON STUPID LEGS WHY WON'T YOU COOPERATE).

And that's why my splits look like this:
'30 to 35km: 42 minutes 16 seconds'. Not stated: 'Five of those minutes were spent stretching and screaming invective at the sky in front of hundreds of spectators'. Yes, my quads had chosen the start/finish point to seize up. 
When I finally started hobbling on again, my crazy sport-psychologist bike-crash-survivor long-distance-triathlete friend popped into my head. 'What would Kirsten do?' The answer turned out to be 'relax and focus on the process'. The process turned out to be:
- Drink more water.
- Take another salt tab.
- Run six minutes. Cramps? Walk one minute. No cramps? Run another six minutes and check in with your body and make sure you're running tall, loose, and tilted slightly forward. Rinse and repeat. You know perfectly well you can do this because you've done this a dozen times before.

The remaining 10km became a sort of death-march shuffle, a delicate exercise in warding off cramps, at exactly the tipping-point speed between bobbling along and debilitating spasms. God, but I loathe my treacherous quads. (When other women say they hate their thighs they usually mean something different.)  I have cramped in exactly the same muscles for five marathons now. Also one sprint triathlon. And very probably one hot-weather OD triathlon in September. Do they do muscle replacements?

So at this point I had plenty of time to pay attention to the signs and road signs along the rest of the course.

Along a narrow bend there was DO NOT OVERTAKE. (I followed instructions.)

A spectator held one that said WORST PARADE EVER. (I kind of agreed.)

I counted down shot blocks to the finish. (30, 35, 40... just three more! 35, 40...just two more! 40k...last shot block! As I finished chewing the last one I realised I had only one mile left but I was proto-spasming too hard to run for it.)

Hence the hunched-over, paroxysms-of-agony marathon shuffle in this photo at 41k:
Photo credit: Char
In the end, I PRed by one crucial but deeply unsatisfying second: 4:54:17, down from 4:54:18 in Perth. I know I said I was going to chip away at my PR but seriously this is ridiculous! Is there even an upside to this? Yeah, well, I guess I now know a sub-5 marathon isn't a fluke.

Temperature-wise, while the temperature hovered between 12 (at the start) and perhaps 20C (at high noon), much of the course was in full sun and I ended up feeling like a salt-baked chicken by the end. I was wearing shorts, compression socks, a tank top and arm sleeves and thus have some interesting tan lines...

Ten minutes after I finished I had already snacked, cleaned up, stretched, and was lying on a bench with my legs up in the air texting the husband when Holly and Mel found me. Normally after a marathon or even a long run I'm passed out by mid-afternoon, but on Sunday afternoon I was still bouncy. We waited for Boya to finish, scraped her off the ground, and then headed back to the apartment for a shower and some hot-tub time, already plotting where to have dinner. (Priorities.) (Indian food followed by churros, bitches. I finally passed out into microsleep mid-churro.)

But really? Do all my marathons have to go the same way? It's like a bad movie script. In the last 10k and in the few minutes after I finished, I probably went through all five stages of grief that I was taken out by something so utterly stupid. Yes, all five at the same time.

Denial - This isn't happening. This isn't happening. Maybe if I ignore it it'll go away.
Anger - UGH WHY did I decide to do this STUPID thing to myself? !$(*(&# marathons.
Bargaining - C'mon legs. You can do this. Just six more minutes of running and then you can walk.
Depression - I'm never going to not cramp in a marathon. I should just give up now.
Acceptance - FINE. THERE. I'm DONE.

Right now I'm just kind of meh about the whole thing. In general I really did enjoy it. The race was well-organised and well-supplied with bananas and oranges and water, and man, did those volunteers and spectators know what they were about. The breeze! The sun! The views! The signs!

If I had no real time goals, why am I so mad? Well, I'm disappointed because the whole thing was so predictable. Frustrated because I know I'm aerobically, at least, capable of much, much more. In the final 10 km or so post-spasms I felt like I was shuffling along solely to ward off cramps. If not for the cramps I would've literally been bounding happily along, I had that much energy left over. I'm deeply annoyed that I never even got the CHANCE to hit the wall. Look, I HAVE a 4:30 in me. (Well-hidden.) Just that my legs seem to disagree...

Should I try something new? A different challenge? I refuse to even dream of doing an ultra until I've got this marathon-cramp thing sorted out. An OD tri, maybe. But let's face it, I tri purely for amusement and running is where my heart is.

So in future, what are my options, really?

a) Maybe it was hot and the perfect fuelling strategy was short of perfect, and maybe I could have taken in more Endurolytes and water. Endurolytes do have more magnesium than other brands but perhaps a dedicated magnesium supplement might help.

b) Maybe I'm just destined to cramp, so instead of cramp prevention my race strategy should be cramp anticipation. The cramps seem to show up no matter what I wear or how I fuel or how slowly I go at the beginning or however cool/ flat the marathon is, so perhaps I should just run very fast for 32km and hobble 10km? This will make me a very good half marathoner...and make for a pretty unhappy marathon experience.

c) What about doing faster/ longer training runs? What if I ran a marathon as my long training run for a marathon? (The most likely outcome would be 'here you go, two sets of cramps'.)

d) Is it something about my gait? Should I bother investing in a gait analysis that costs more than a marathon entry, just in case that's the problem? I'm not exactly going to win any medals anyway and I'm not fast enough to be worth it. I'm just a back-of-the-pack hobby jogger who runs because I happen to really really like running.

e) Or maybe I should stop trying to run marathons and just retire from this full-marathon shtick altogether, because I am flipping tired of writing the same race report over and over. 'Felt good for 30+km, then cramps, then long cramp-prevention shuffle'. I'm fed up and bored of it. Help me out - I know you are too.


  1. It would have been such a different story had they started the race earlier. It's beyond any sane reasoning to start the marathon almost an hour and a half later than the half knowing that the majority of the runners will still be running into the middle of the day.
    Have you ever considered seeing a dietitian to discuss electrolyte replacement? I know that one of our best tennis players had major issues with cramping in long matches and consulted someone who was able to help with a hydration/electrolyte replacement plan and had a lot of success with that.
    It was so nice to meet you. Next time you come down under I'd suggest doing the Melbourne marathon (October). The weather has always been good for me when I've done it.

    1. Ha, I wish they'd started the half at 5.30 and the full at 6.30 and then EVERYONE would have been happy. The half marathoners would have got their pretty sunrise. The full marathoners would have stayed out of the worst heat. I am now tempted to recklessly sign up for Melbourne but this would be a very bad idea!

  2. I tried to comment three times this morning from my phone. All fails. ANyway, I know how you feel and I am sorry. It is a sucky situation. BUT think about how you did still PR (a PR is a PR, no doubt) and I am sure that in a year you will be ready to head back out there and do it again! Maybe focus your energy on a 10K or half race in the meantime? I am SURE you can do 4:30.

    1. Aw, thanks. This is really just another data point in the great marathon experiment, and my long-term plan is to just fiddle with one variable at a time. And you're right, a PR - even one that's not very satisfying - is a PR.

  3. The warm weather probably didn't help, but I've heard that fatigue is the biggest factor in muscle cramping. So, either more longer runs or more back-to-back runs (i.e., running on tired legs) might do you good... IF you want to try this marathon thing again. I haven't cramped as badly as you have, but I can totally relate to the "I *know* I can run a marathon so much faster than this" mentality. Way to stick it out and finish with a 1 second PR. You sound like you felt pretty good after, which is a good sign too. Anyway, you ended your day with a churro. That's a WIN in my book!

    1. Felt pretty good? I was bouncing off the walls! Well, as much as one can bounce off walls post-marathon. Which is to say I had a lot left in the tank and I would love to be able to use it in a full marathon someday. :)

      ...and churros are ALWAYS a win. ;)

  4. Let me throw this out there - the repeated cramping of the SAME muscle gives me pause. I totally think there are people who lose more electrolytes in sweat, and cramp more easily than others, but I think that particular muscle is the culprit. For whatever reason, it's fatiguing first. I'd see a PT and get evaluated for an imbalance that could lead to injure down the road. Besides all that -congrats on a PR! Because a PR is a PR!

    1. Thanks! You know, I think you're absolutely right. I do think it's something to do with this particular set of muscles, so for this cycle I threw in more strength training (squats, core work, Body Pump classes) than before. It doesn't seem to have worked so off to the physio I go.

  5. Oh Grace...I don't know what to say. A PR is a PR and you flipping PRd so we should celebrate that and say YAY! But I can imagine how frustrated you must be at the same time. I think Gracie makes a good point about getting that muscle checked out! Hugs and high fives at the same time!

    1. You know, I just re-read my marathon report from last year. I don't think I've had two more dissimilar sets of feelings (ALL THE FEELINGS) about two nearly-identical marathon times! I've booked a physio appointment for next week, so let's see how that goes.