Friday, April 11, 2008

Where did it all go wrong?

I have started running again, but two easy recovery runs don’t yield a lot of tales to tell, so you’ll have to forgive me if I’m still harking on about Sunday’s race. The thing is, apart from my quads I was ok, it’s just that my quads had fallen to the wayside, and unfortunately a pair of quads is rather essential when running. But I never felt low on energy, and the way I flew past everyone on the hills has me wondering what could have been. The climb out of Leenaun was the most striking example, the miles before I felt like crap, then I was storming up that hill, and as soon as the road levelled out it was back to feeling like crap again. Maybe I’d be good at the Jungfrau marathon? That one is on my to-do list anyway.

Where DID it all go wrong? I have gone over this again and again. I might have worn too much – 2 layers on top, long tights. That wasn’t the initial plan; when I picked up my race number I pinned it to a t-shirt. I changed my mind on Saturday evening when we walked home from the restaurant and I was freezing in the biting wind, despite wearing a warm coat. During the race I was warm when the sun was shining and cold when it wasn’t – I guess there is no one correct outfit for conditions like that.

I think the taper was sub-optimal. As by7 commented, I might have done too many experiments. Doing faster runs during the taper may have been a bad idea. Who knows. I now also think that I should have run more during the last week. I only ran 14 miles in the week before the race, in 3 workouts, and maybe 3 days of 0 didn’t do me any favours. Again, who knows!

The west-Australian carboloading workout the day before the race could have been a bad idea as well. 2.5 minutes of fast running followed by a 30 seconds all-out sprint was a fairly easy workout to be honest, because it was over so quickly. But it might have had a negative effect on my legs. Who knows! By the way, I have decided not to do any special carboloading in future. The way I never ran out of energy over 39 miles had me thinking that I don’t need to carboload, really. I can still try and eat a high carbohydrate diet the days before a major race, and forget about any fancier strategies.

Sprinting to-and-from the bus in the morning was definitely one of the more stupid things I have done in my life. What can I say. I completely panicked and my brain hadn’t kicked in. Hopefully that was a once off, never to be repeated.

The one thing I mostly suspect of ruining my race is the hilly 27.5 miles training run I had done three weeks before the race. Yes, I felt good when doing it, and yes, I felt incredibly energetic for the next few days following it, but I now think that my legs had not recovered from it. If you slowly build up to that mileage you’re probably able to handle it. But due to the pneumonia I did not have the time to do so. If I could go back in time and change just one thing, I would replace that workout with two back-to-back 20 milers, because I know they have worked for me in the past. Since time travelling isn’t on the agenda, I can only try and not repeat that mistake in future.

There are a few more things. I might have worn the wrong shoes. Maybe. I might have over fuelled during the race, but I don’t think that had a major effect. My stomach had been dodgy for the last few weeks, but there was not much I could do about that. I might still have been weakened from the pneumonia, like Olga suspects. Who knows, who knows, who knows.

The photos from the race are finally online, and there are loads of me (the one race where I looked at my worst, typically). The ones from the finish are almost funny. I look well and truly shattered – but actually I felt good and was doing 6-minute pace at the time! I can only imagine what I had looked like an hour earlier, when I was ready to curl up and die. Anyway, I find the photos almost comical, because I did that to myself, willingly.

By the way, why the photographer stood 10 meters before the finish line rather than 10 meters behind, so that he would be able to get the clock into the frame, is a mystery to me. They did the same last year; back then it really pissed me off, this time I couldn’t care less.

My two runs yesterday and today have been similar. The quads were very stiff and sore initially, but settled down after 2 or 3 miles. I was toying with running 5 miles yesterday, but the left hamstring started hurting after 2 miles, so I turned back. Today I did 5 miles, because when the same hamstring started giving out at mile 3 I was already on the way home. I did manage a short strip at about 7:00 pace, and felt surprisingly good when doing so, better than during the 9:00 pace I did for the majority of the run. I slowed down after 100 yards or so, I didn’t want to risk injury. All in all, I feel surprisingly good, but it may be a bit longer until my legs forgive me for the unreasonable punishment I had put them through on Sunday.

10 Apr
4 miles, 35:27, 8:52 pace, HR 140
11 Apr
5 miles, 42:05, 8:25 pace, HR 148


  1. So may questions Thomas and not enough answers. I certainly don't have the answers.

    However.......I can't imagine the 27+ mile training run 3 weeks out doing you much damage. Perhaps it is the pneumonia induced lack of sufficient pre-race high mileage weeks/runs that you are used to.

    Maybe a comparison with your training before last years race may yield some clues.

    All I know is that the only part of my racing that I can't seem to train properly for is my ability to maintain pace and endure beyond 20 miles in a marathon.

    Recover well, you have a different type of race to train for. Not much of a taper required here but a few well placed tempo runs wouldn't go astray.

  2. I think...I think that what you have experienced is the challenge of the longer distances. You can do everything right, and struggle on race day. I think Olga said it in her blog - you can't control weather or terrain, or sometimes even how you body is holding up (cold, flu, allergies, pneumonia). All you can do is make sure your aerobic system is ready and your legs are strong. And, most importantly, that you have the mental fortitude to do the deed. I think it's a case of sometimes it all comes together and sometimes it doesn't. That's what I think I think!

  3. I'd like to agree with backofpack in that you never know what is in store for you come race day, even if you did everything right! Even after a pb you'd be second guessing things wouldn't you? Take it easy for a bit now will ya!

  4. Yes, who knows. In such a long race it only takes one small thing to make it all go pear shaped.

    Just look forward to the next challenge. All the best!

  5. Thomas,
    I'm sorry the race didn't go as well as you had hoped.

    I agree with backofpack, you can't control a lot of factors and sometimes things come together/sometimes they don't.

    Still, I think you're wise to analyze your program and habits pre-race. There may be something there that can be improved upon.

    Have a healthy, restful recovery.

  6. Hey Thomas, you would love Jungfrau!!! Best scenery ever! And I think you might be onto something about the trainers you wore, they look light for an ultra. Just thinking....well done again!