Saturday, May 07, 2011

learning my lessons - or will I ever?

MIA again - I'm sorry.  Shortly after posting my Boston race report I went to the doctor's office with an increasingly annoying cough and was diagnosed with a chest infection, given a course of antibiotics and told to take a week off exercising and to take it easy.  Not my natural mode of being and not what I wanted, but I was feeling so lousy that I listened and did it.  The downtime did give me plenty of opportunity, however, to go over and analyse my marathon and my training and to work out what did, and what didn't work.  Let's start with the one thing that didn't work:
  • my pacing.  In all brutal honesty, I never quite believed I was capable of a 3:40 marathon.  I struggled with the 8:20 min/mile all winter.  Not that I couldn't do it, but it was harder than it should have been for a marathon pace.  I couldn't pull it out during my 20 mile race, and I never "slotted into" the pace during training, the way you should.  It's chicken and egg, I know, but I never had the true belief that I could run this pace for a marathon, and if you can't believe it, you won't do it.  Quite that simple. My coach did what she could to instill confidence in me, but I just wasn't quite there.  As it was, I did actually run on pace for the first 14M.  But my legs were starting to cramp there already, a sign I would have to slow things down to finish at all..  So I don't think that, on the day, I had that pace in me.  If I had been really honest with myself, I would have acknowledged that on the day (because I did know that) and would have set out for an 8:25 - 8:30 min/mile pace.  Small difference, but I think I could have held on to that pace for longer.  There is no question for me that I need to focus more on the mental aspects of running and racing.  Ginny recommended Running Within, which I've started reading, to help with that.  I'll keep you posted.  Ironically - having said everything I've said above - after running Boston I think that I could actually run a 3:40 marathon in the future. 
Now the things that did work:
  • Nutrition.  A big fat success mark here.  I have struggled in previous marathons with nausea which prevented me from taking any nutrition on after the halfway mark.  In addition, I often found I needed to use portapotties, or bushes, during the race.  Not this time!  As far as the nausea goes, coach advised me never mix sports drink and GU - which I have, unwittingly, done during races.  I ran with a handheld waterbottle during this race so that I could always wash a GU down with water when I needed to take one.  As far as not needing to make a pitstop is concerned, coach warned me against overhydration (which I tend to do, I drink a LOT of water during the day generally) and so, on race day, I had a cup of coffee and sipped some sportsdrink on the bus while I had my bagel.  No more.  I made three (nervous) pitstops in the athlete's village but that was it.  Nothing during the race.  
  • Having a coach.  This REALLY worked for me.  I loved knowing only the schedule for the week ahead. It meant I did not freak out about what was to come and tackled each workout as they were sent to me.   I loved her confidence in me and the specificity of her training advice - when she told me I had to train at a certain pace, I just had to do it.  And I did it.  While I did not make the race pace that she felt I could do I ran the race stronger than I have ever done and I think it is due to how well trained I was for this race.  Finally, having her to consult whenever I had a freak-out or a setback made an enormous difference -  her calm and confidence stopped me spiralling into self-doubt and worry. 
  • My strategy.  I am SO pleased with the judgement calls I made during the race.  I am very happy that I went out at my intended pace.  I wanted to give it my all, and during the first 14 miles I did give it my all as far as pacing was concerned.  But I am even more happy that when it became clear to me that I would not be able to hang onto this pace for much longer, I just flicked a switch in my mind.  I just thought "this is my shot.  This is my Boston.  I am going to enjoy this, I want to enjoy this race and get that medal." And I did it.  I did slow down, especially on the hills, but I sped it up again when they were behind me.  I high-fived lots of kids, I YMCA'ed when the music started up, I looked around me, I tried to smile, and I just soaked up the atmosphere.  I didn't walk, I just pushed as hard as I could with my pace.  I ended up with my second fastest marathon time ever - only 1:20 slower than my PB - on a bear of a course and with a smile on my face.  
And hey, thanks to moving up an age group this year, I've actually requalified for Boston.  With less than three minutes to spare, I don't think I would get in this year, however, but it's a good feeling.  And, more importantly - I have qualified for a good for age place in the London marathon next year!  As it's the Olympic year the London marathon is going to be an even bigger event than normal, so I'm really excited that I've got a guaranteed entry for the race. 

My summer plans are busy, busy, busy though I'm not putting as much pressure on myself.  But they deserve, and will get, a blog post of their own.  For now, I feel I have wrapped up Boston and I am ready for the next thing!


Lindsay and James Cotter said...

i love hearing your plan! It is such a trial and error and it looks like this time around, you made less errors which lead to success! Nutrition is probably the hardest thing for me too. Plain GU only. Congrats again Petra and hope you free from sickness now.

Amanda@runninghood said...

HI Petra. So glad you have things to celebrate here and reflect on. And congrats on your race and qualifying again. Excited to hear what your summer holds. Hope that chest infection has cleared up and you are feeling great again. Thank you again for your wonderful words this morning in e-mail. Gosh, I needed them. And I'm going to reread them again here in just a minute.

Jill said...

I love your reflections and the fact you can be so honest with yourself. I always think gives us another nuggest of awareness of ourselves and when we can learn more about how we tick, then there's no failing baby! You did a fantastic job and I couldn't be happier for you! Your requalification to Boston, your qualification to London...oh girl, you are just shining so bright!

Can't wait to hear your summer plans - I hope they are action packed full of great adventures!!

Much love!!

Fran said...

Very interesting post, some new learning things for me too.

Hope you infection is gone by now.

I've seen the London marathon on tv a couple of weeks ago and I definitely want to run a half in London someday. I love that city.

Happy Feet 26.2 said...

What a fantastic post Petra. I loved it, I soaked this one up, start to finish. I love that you had a magical experience at BOSTON and re qualified. Wow!

I think I could benefit from a Coach and I'm so happy it worked well for you.

I loved that you were able to speed up after the hills. Yes, the training paid off.

3:40, yes you can. I believe we can do what we believe we can do, (within realistic limits, of course) I've been thinking about this a lot myself. I often wonder if the Boston qualifications put limits on what we can do.

lizzie lee said...

Good analysis... Thanks for sharing the lessons learned. Really valuable. When you started to cramp at mile 14, how bad it was? Did you have any doubts on being able to finish?

besos MIL...

lizzie lee said...

Oh yes, and GU only. I learned that 4 years ago from the GU website when I started taking them. I told that recently to a guy, and he said: Nah... they just said that because they don't want you to use sports drinks.... I told him: I have puked when have had both!! so in my case, and obviously yours is true!!!!

Petraruns said...

@Lizzie Lee - oh yes I had doubts about finishing. Actually, it became crystal clear to me that if I didn't slow down I would not finish and I suddenly thought of everything I had put into this race - not just the training but the expectation and the people who were thinking of me and I thought "I am going to GET this medal and I am going to wring every damn drop of amazingness from this race..". Which I did!

Ashley Nicole said...

Hey, I stumbled across your blog and love it! I have always seen runners on the side of the road or on tv, and have always wanted to be a runner, but never did commit to it. Well this year I joined "Team In Training" and am doing a half marathon this June in California. Having mentors and coaches is great! With nutrition though, it's a problem for me. This past Saturday I did my first half marathon in training, and I felt drained, I don't think I quite had enough. During a half marathon, when do you think is the best time to have the gels?

Anonymous said...

After reading about so many people and their success with coaches, I am thinking about getting one for the 2012 season.

chris mcpeake said...

I learn things at every long distance race. Unfortunately sometimes I need a refresher to relearn the same things again. .... only sometimes tho

Drusy said...

Great to hear what goes on in that brilliant Flash at the front of the pack. Wow qualified for London next year without really meaning to? I guess that's the pay-back for preparing for two Bostons!

Sorry we won't see you guys at the Swift Half this weekend, but I hope your cold is better soon.