I’ve been training for this race for the last 5 months very diligently, and was devastated to be pulled off the course at mile 38.8, not having made it under the cutoff time. Basic course info: 6,500 vertical, 53.4 miles, 13 hour cutoff. I had never run a marathon before, but I’m still incredibly disappointed. I didn’t train to run 38.5, I trained to finish 53.4. I signed up for the North Face 50 in a month to get er’ done. Some reflections:
I was well prepared, well trained, I did the best I could, and I still didn’t make it. This course was really hard! There was a lot of hiking involved, and it slowed me down dramatically. So even though I kept a pretty good hiking pace up the hills, it meant that I needed to have kept up a faster pace on the other sections to make up for it.
Pace: I kept reading to ‘go slower than you think you need to’. I think there is certainly some truth to this, but there is also the other side of the coin, in that this is a race against time, and if you go too slow, it means you are no longer on pace to finish. I believe I started out too slow on easy terrain that I could have gone faster on, which made it so that I was trying to make up time on harder terrain. It’s all a balance. So slow, yes, but not too slow. I also stopped looking at the watch so much around mile 8 or 9, and ran just by feel, which ended up increasing my pace. I remember thinking my mentality at the time.. as long as I’m not pushing it too hard, I should just run what feels good and sustainable. When the ground was relatively flat my pace was around 11min /miles. My average pace including the hills and stops at checkpoints was about 14:17 at 26.2 miles. I lost some time at the turn around packing my backpack and then even more time hiking back up 3 miles of hill. At the 38.5 mile checkpoint I was 8 minutes behind checkpoint. I certainly was not going to get a second wind after that many miles to make up those minutes, although I very much believe I could have finished the course, just slower than I needed to be.
Nutrition: I had eaten a lot of whole foods on my long runs, and anticipated that I would continue to do the same on this, and I had chews and caffeinated jelly beans to supplement that. I ended up fueling primarily on gels and beans, mostly because it was easier. Even the thought of digging through my backpack to get my wheat thins, which I wasn’t craving to begin with, seemed like a bit too much effort to manage. But the chews I just kept popping in and was really good about keeping this up and making sure to drink a lot of water as well. I would eat a chew every 15 minutes or so, and sometimes less, sometimes more. The chews have a lot less carbohydrates than gels so I knew I had to supplement that with not only the jelly beans but whole foods at the checkpoints. For my next race I will try to eat more, even though I think I did fairly well I think I may have been a bit under fueled and it would have caught up to me the last 14 miles.
Time: Time went by very fast. I remember thinking about this even while I was running. I had prepared myself with downloaded podcasts and lots of music lists to prepare me for 13 hours. So even though I didn’t run 13 hours, I ran 9.5 hours and was focused for about 70% of the time with no sound. I ran the first 10 miles silent, focusing on my form and the race. The music did help me at strategic points, but I definitely was not spacing out like I do occasionally for my long runs. I was focused on my race, on my body, and the nutrition, everything around me. It was mentally exhausting as well.
Managing Low Points: I kept waiting for my low point, or rather the ‘pain cave’ as I had heard it called. I felt angry going up the hill when I was hiking. I would have flashes of not finishing and feel bitter about my friends waiting at the checkpoint for me and what I would say to them. But these were not super low points. My friend told me to get a mantra, and repeat it to yourself. I would say in my head – “failure is not an option!” or “Relentless forward motion!” And would focus on one foot in front of the other. The downhills always rejuvenated me, and the flats were places where I could get a pace and cruise. After mile 26 at the turnaround, I went back up the hill and this time had a pacer with me. I knew this was going to be hard because I was even more tired this time, and had to go back up the ridge line. At one point I felt myself wanting to cry, which in combination with high altitude and hiking uphill, possibly being low on iron, I started struggling to get my breath and hyperventilated and felt like I was having an asthma attack. My friend had to hold my hand, tell me to calm down. I wiped my tears, and we continued on up the trail. It was gone as suddenly as it came. We made it up the hill finally, and I put on my music again and we ran the 3 miles flat along the ridge, and 3 miles down without incident. That 1 minute was an extremely low point, and a bit scary, and I’m glad it didn’t last very long. All in all the race was an enjoyable experience. Difficult yes, but manageable. The most difficult time of the whole race was after I got pulled from the course. I had worked so hard, I was exhausted and in pain and just started sobbing in the car.
What hurt: During the Race – I was pleasantly surprised how long it took for my joints to hurt in this race. The endless hiking helped I think since I wasn’t pounding the ground the entire time. Starting out my calves hurt, like they always do. For at least 3 miles. Then I was fine. I would feel random twinges of knee pain and get scared but it would go away. My hips and knees did finally start to ache and were also just fatigued by the halfway point. I remember telling my friend – I feel as good as I possibly could after 26 miles. I wasn’t hurting too bad. I put bandaids on my side feet blisters that were developing. I had already put preventive bandaids on my toes that rub during long runs, and so far they were holding up. I had started in my trail shoes, unsure about how hard the terrain would be, then switched to my running shoes halfway because they are much more comfortable. I changed socks, and headed back up. It wasn’t until mile 35 and to run the next three miles on pavement / packed gravel that my right knee and hip started to hurt beyond just aching. If I had been able to continue the race, I was preparing to ask my friends for a few advil at that point to manage the pain. I expected it to get worse. My left arm rubbed on my backpack and it was getting raw. Luckily my friends told me about gel, and even though I had never had problems with chafing on my long runs, I had used some proactively on my thighs and was able to put some more on my arm so that my backpack didn’t rub. I felt my thighs starting to chafe a bit as well.
What Hurt: After the Race – Everything. This got progressively worse a day later when I woke up so stiff and could barely move. My legs were very very stiff. Especially my quads, I assume from the downhill. My hip muscles are very very sore, and in pain. My shoulders were sore. (why?) my back was sore. My lungs hurt very badly, and even three days later it was hard for me to take a deep breath. I would cough a lot for a few days after the race, although this is subsiding. I had a big blood blister on the side of my left foot, the opposite one that I had put the bandaid on. I should have known that if it is rubbing a little bit, it is probably worse than I think. My race was on Saturday, and I had a short training run on Wednesday for half an hour, and a 9 mile run the following Saturday.
I signed up for the North Face 50 to try again. I might have felt more demoralized from a DNF if things had ended differently. But I felt pretty good at 38.5. Everything was going well. I don’t have time to develop better fitness, but I have a few weeks to get some more long runs in then taper again. Everything went as well as it possibly good for Bel monte and I still didn’t finish, and I’m a bit worried that things can’t possibly go that well again. Maybe it will be bad weather. Maybe I won’t sleep good the night before. Maybe I won’t be able to eat the food the same way again. But at least the race is 3 miles shorter with less elevation, and I’m determined to finish a 50.