Monday, October 22, 2012

We All "Bonk" Sometimes

I love racing.  I love the training, the taper, the pre-race prep, the race day jitters, the crowds, the atmosphere, and most of all the starting line excitement and nervousness.  Racing is a way for us to gauge where we are as runners.  It's also an opportunity to meet new people, run with friends, see a city you have never seen, travel, and the list goes on and on.  I know I could quote any number of reasons to race and there all good. However, when we really get down to it, most runners, you know who you are, have that little voice deep inside, that competitive gremlin that talks us into things we may not want to do, but it pushes us.  It's what pushes us when we are training to catch that person up ahead and pass them.  It's what pushes us during a race and helps us kick at the end because there's no way that guy that's been shadowing us all day is going to beat us!

Because I enjoy racing so much and have not had much opportunity in the last couple of years, I embarked on an adventure last weekend.  I headed South to Jacksonville  Florida to partake in the 9th Annual Marine Corp 1/2 Marathon.  This is a race I have run several times so I am very familiar with the course, the crowd, etc.  It's a great 1/2 if you are looking for one that is basically flat with a few hills.  It definitely has PR possibilities if that's on your mind.  Usually the weather is pretty good this time of year with highs in the 70's or low 80's. The only concern might be the occasional pop-up rain shower.  The temp can fluctuate so make sure you check a week ahead so you know how to prepare. This years race was no different, the weather was set to be good, 7am start in the upper 60's which should mean by race end, the temp might be in the low 70's.

My plan was to head down Friday morning and get into town around 3pm so I could just hang out and rest the remainder of the day. Unfortunately,  Thursday night I worked till 11pm which put a wrench in my plan to get out of bed as quickly as possible Friday morning, load the car and head out.  It's a 7 hour drive to Jacksonville from Birmingham so getting an early start makes all the difference.  Due to my late evening, I actually got on the road around 8:30am Central which should have put me in Jacksonville about 4:30 Eastern.  An hour and a half late would not be a problem because I would still miss the rush hour traffic.  The trip was pretty smooth down US Hwy 231 and on to I-10 East with light traffic for the majority of the trip. Everything was great until I was about 18 miles West of Jacksonville where a multi-vehicle accident had occurred and caused the closing of all East bound lanes on I-10.  Frustrated is one word you could use to describe my feelings at that point, but what choice was there but to go with the flow, follow the diverting traffic to surface roads and keep moving.  The traffic and diversion caused about a 2 hour delay in my arrival so in total in stead of 7 hrs in the car I was there for about 9.

So let's recap a bit on my race prep: On my feet for 12hrs in the ER until 11pm Thursday, slept about 5-1/2 hrs, stuck in car 9 hours traveling. What about fueling during this time you ask?  I ate Rice Crispy's with fat free milk and some crackers and peanut butter Thursday at work, Special K protein plus cereal Friday morning before the trip and a 6" Subway Turkey sandwich with diet coke in route.  Not quite enough calories or fluid to give the body the stores it needs for a 1/2 Marathon I'm thinking.  Once I arrived at my best friend Brian Fullford's house, I did get a protein smoothie and some low fat chili, prepared by his wonderful wife Kerry, for dinner which was great. Unfortunately, I still failed to take in enough fluid.  I got to bed about 10:30pm but of course who sleeps their best in a strange bed.  I'm guessing I got about 4-5 hours sleep before getting up at 5:30am to get ready.

Up and ready to go, I felt I needed to take in some calories and fluids before leaving for the race. My race day breakfast choice is a couple pieces of toast with peanut butter.  Thought this should give me good sustained energy when paired with a couple of gels during the run. I drank about 16 oz of Powerade® Zero to wash the toast down and then headed out.  We got to the staging area and did a quick race prep before moving to the start line.  I truly had in mind a good race.  I honestly felt I was ready, set to possibly finish in about 1:45.  I told myself anything under 2hrs would be good,  but I really thought I could do much better maybe even PR. What the hell was I thinking?  I could not have been more wrong.

When the gun went off, I could barely contain my excitement.  I was ready to go.  I had been sitting in the car for 9 hours,  a little sleep deprived with adrenalin pumping through my veins. I needed to let loose.  As you can imagine this was a bad combination and as expected, I started out to fast.  Not terrible, but I got caught up in the crowd and started out pushing to much.  Thankfully, I checked the new toy on my wrist, the Nike+® Sportwatch, and realized I was off pace and needed to slow down.  Props to Nike® for this watch. This was my first venture into the GPS watch world and my first real run with the watch. I am happy to say it performed fantastic.  I love being able to see all the standard data: pace, cadence, dist, calories burned, etc. at anytime.  I did take it out for a quick 3 mile run a few days earlier, but this was the first real test and it did not disappoint.  Ok, back to the race.  I settled into a comfortable pace of 8:30/mile and just watched the miles click off.  I felt strong and in control over the bridges, down Riverside, past Metropolitan Park and around Boone Park.  I maintained my pace, I refueled at about 50 min and took on fluids as needed.  Everything seemed to be going as planned.  I rounded Boone Park and began my way back up Riverside.  I crossed mile 8 and thought ok, 5 to go so just put your head down and get it done.  About half way between miles 8 & 9 I began feeling a little off.  Doing what we do, I pushed through my uneasiness and hit mile 9.  Now I was feeling pretty bad, legs achy and getting stiff, breathing labored, generally not comfortable at all.  I struggle to mile 10 and then the wheels came completely off.  I told myself nothing but a 5K left, you have done this a thousand times, you can do it again.  Unfortunately, my legs did not agree and subsequently turned into 2 X4 planks.  I could not get them to bend, I could not hold any pace, it was all I could do to move.  I finally gave up and stopped to walk.  I could not believe it, I was doing so good.  I had fueled properly during the race.  I was taking in fluids, what was wrong.  Why was I bonking now?  I walked for a couple hundred yards and started to run again.  Pushing as hard as I could I got to mile 11 and stopped again.  Alternating running and walking mile 12 finally came into view. My legs just would not move and I felt terrible. I just wanted to finish.  I was not about to quit, but I knew at this point 1:45 was long gone and I probably had no chance of getting in under 2 either.

Not 30 yards after crossing mile marker 12, I saw something I could not believe.  I saw a friendly face coming towards me, a savior and life line to the finish line.  Much to my surprise, my friend Brian Fullford had come looking for me and was ready to drag me to the finish if necessary.  Brian became my cheerleader and coach and without his help I would not have made it that last 1.1 miles.  I told him I was done and it was all I could do to just walk.  He push me and got me running again even though I could not hold it.  We ran a few hundred yards and then walked a bit.  We got to about 3/4 of a mile from the finish and he said "ok, lets get to the finish".  It took everything I had but I started running again and pushed on to the finish line. Amazingly with Brian's help I crossed the line in under 2 hours.  How I was able to hold on to that part of the goal, I will never know but I am thankful none the less.  I can never say thank you enough to Brian for his help and it is a testament to the power of friendship.

Being the type person I am, I waited 3 whole days after the race to go for a run.  I thought I'd had plenty of time to recover so a little time outside would be good for me.  Once again I was wrong and after I had abused my body the way I had with so little time in between, I had one of the toughest 6 mile runs I have ever had.  I was glad I got out, but realized I need more rest time in the future after bonking hard.  I waited another 3 days before running again and this time I had a great run. I was able to push my pace and just felt great.  While I don't recommend it, more than likely we will all "bonk" at some point in our running career.  Yes, in most cases it is preventable but we all have times when we just don't do what we should preparing. If it happens to you, I offer one piece of advice from someone who has been there: Make sure you always take a friend to the race, they may save you too.

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