I’ve been thinking a lot about taper recently. In part because all I’ve been doing in my free time is lying on the couch trying to not move. But also because a friend said they didn’t like tapering. And I kind of get that, it puts a whole lot of emphasis on one event and training becomes less spontaneous and slightly derailed. Which is a bit of a downer if what your version of fun is is to go and run in the mountains for hours at a time just because you feel like it.
So I was trying to think about it from a non-physiological perspective (for some reason) and the conclusion I came to is that tapering just makes you luckier. When your normal state of being is to be constantly broken down and tired, and all of a sudden you start to not be; little annoyances start to go away, waking up isn’t an ordeal, maybe the weather even starts to feel a bit sunnier.
And of course, when you do workout you start to expect to feel good instead of it being a just a pleasant surprise, niggling sore spots start to heal and go away, daily recovery takes less time. And when it comes down to race day, what’s really happened is that all your work and everything you’ve prepared for have bubbled up to the surface and made themselves more accessible to you. You can stand at the starting line fully armed with the abilities you have been preparing to use.
“No amount of careful planning can beat pure luck.”
Of course, preparing for the distance and the pace are comparatively easy tasks. But when the temperature has barely been above 12 C/54 F, you don’t really think to prepare for race day being any hotter. And there’s not really much you can do about it when five days out from race day the forecast is calling for sun and 23 C / 74 F.
I love weather. I love that you can’t fight it, and that 100% of the time you try to it wins. It’s humbling and powerful and adds a great spice to daily life.
I don’t run well in the heat. It’s one of the top things I need to address for TransRockies. With today’s forecast I knew that sub-3:00 was pretty much off the table. But then what are the options? Start off slower and try and maintain that slower pace? Or put it all out there and see how long you can hang on for?
“Nothing splendid has ever been achieved except by those who dared believe that something inside them was superior to circumstance.” -Bruce Barton
So after some natural shiftyness in the first few kilometers I settled nicely in to 4:10/km pace — pretty much a sweet spot for sub-3:00. It felt easy and quite relaxed, and at one point I caught myself thinking “Holding this pace won’t be hard”. Quickly followed up with “Hey. Dipshit — there’s over 30km to go, a lot might change.”
The first quarter of the course was the part I was most concerned about. It was fairly rolling with one pretty long climb at about 9km. Appropriately a local radio station was blasting Highway to Hell on that hill. Big fan of music on the race course.
Right from the get-go the aid stations started worrying me. They were too small (just a couple of tables), and with so many runners going through them the volunteers couldn’t reload themselves fast enough. So if you could only grab one cup of water you weren’t getting very much water. Like, a shot or a double-shot. That ain’t gonna cut it. I should have started stopping at the aid stations sooner than I did (probably at about 15km).
The second quarter went by quite smoothly and wrapped up with a monster downhill. I tried to go as easy as possible on this downhill and try and use it as an opportunity to let my heart rate recover as much as possible. One thing I did to address the heat before hand was decide not to wear my heart rate strap. I thought the feeling of a constrictive band on my chest wouldn’t help. So this heart rate thing was on feel only.
Things started to really fall apart in the third quarter. There was a hill that I just never recovered from and by now I was just hot. I was in a dark, dark place inside myself from about 24-27km. Some times you know these moments will pass, but when you have enough rationality left to know they’re because you’re hot and dehydrated you can also deduce that the only way to get out of there is to fix those issues.
So it was some where around that point that I pulled the plug on any attempt to go sub-3:00.
My tactic now was to just hydrate and cool off. I started taking my sweet time at the aid stations, pouring water on my head, on my chest and of course in my mouth. I decided to just do this and run to the next aid station when I was ready to. In essence I turned the race into a series of aid-station intervals.
I was really, really concerned about not feeling any better by the 31km mark. I live 2 blocks from that point on the race and didn’t want to be tempted to bail out and skulk off home. Fortunately it only took a few of the aid-station intervals to start to feel a big difference. So heading into the fourth quarter I was feeling like I could at least finish.
And that’s how the fourth quarter went: run to an aid station, soak myself both inside and out, run to the next aid station. The aid stations were roughly one mile apart and I noticed that as I was approaching one my shirt was completely dry on my chest. That’s how hot and exposed it was (or I was delirious, but I’m pretty sure it was that hot).
And that’s all there was to it. The last 10km were hot and I was hurting bad but I just kept hopping from aid station to aid station. The finishing straight-away was lined with hundreds, maybe thousands of people and was quite a scene. And then it was over, a shade under 3:10 and it was over. Water water water.
I’m pleased with my effort given the conditions. Going as fast as I’d hoped just wasn’t a possibility on this day. Maybe if I’d hydrated better at the first few aid stations I’d have gotten a bit farther along with it.
I’m most pleased with the job I did of un-fucking myself and still salvaging a respectable time — I never expected the last quarter of the race to not be the worst quarter. I’m also very pleased I’m not injured like I was after last time.
Maybe I’ll post more thoughts later on. Here’s some more random points I have in my head about today’s race:
- The aid stations sucked. Apparently some aid stations on the half-marathon course actually ran out of water. Some of the ones I hit near the end had had the water sitting out for so long it was quite warm. And as I said earlier the stations were too small, too tight and the cups were almost empty. I don’t think I would want to do that course again without friends passing me bottles along the way.
- Interesting to note which muscles hurt the most and when. Quite an easy way to figure out where I need to spend some time with strength work. However my left trapezius (back of my shoulder) hurting is a bit of a mystery. That’s a problem I used to have when I was swimming and I don’t understand how that came up today unless my brain was just trying to give me any signal possible that it was hurting.
- Running the race with a target heart rate might be a much better way to go. Or at least start out.
- It’s not that I forgot or anything, I certainly wasn’t that cocky. But the constant reminders I received make it worth mentioning: 42.2km is a long way to run.
- The guy at the north end of the bridge handing out ice cubes to runners was probably an angel.
..I think that’s all I got for now. It was hot, I think I made the most of the situation, it was a hell of a ride.
Now it’s time to chill out for a little bit while starting to really focus on getting ready for TransRockies. I will of course be addressing the heat issue as early as possible 🙂
“My body will do almost anything I ask of it as long as I give it time to adjust to new demands.” -John Bingham