I’ve had over a week to reflect on my first (or would it be second?!) BQ failure at the OC Marathon. I am still at peace with what happened and I’m proud of myself for that PR, but I’m always looking to improve and I wanted to write an honest analysis of what I think went wrong.
After further discussions with Mike, Asia, and my coach (all of whom know me and my training best), we’re still not really sure why I performed below expectations at OC Marathon. Don’t get me wrong, I’m still thrilled about my PR, proud to have finished my third marathon, and relieved that training is now over and I can focus on wedding planning. However, I still wonder why I wasn’t able to achieve my goal when my training told me I could (not to mention my training partner Asia did).
After reading my race report, my coach still emailed me telling me he was “baffled.” All the data said I could run 3:30 (he said even 3:24) yet I ran 10 minutes slower. These are the things that I think contributed to me missing my goal to qualify for Boston at the OC Marathon:
1) The DNF at Eugene. Clearly having a panic attack and quitting a race that you built up for so long isn’t exactly a stress free event. Every marathon taper article I read advises that you avoid stress in the week prior to a race since it affects your performance more than you realize. Although I felt “fine” after the race, I still should have probably taken into consideration the stress it put on my body and realized that it would likely have an impact.
2) Extended/Awkward Taper. My planned taper was extended by the DNF at Eugene which likely threw things off a bit. My coach had me do some tempo intervals on Wednesday and while they did boost my confidence, they could have fatigued me a bit for the race. Key word could – we really can’t be sure!
3) Race Course and Conditions. I really do believe that my training was there for me to get my BQ at Eugene. Had I had not had what I think was a panic attack, I’m pretty confident I would have gotten that BQ. The race conditions were perfect and the course is know to be a fast one. Asia and I have ran and raced side by side and I know that we would have finished within minutes of one another (she finished 45 seconds behind me at the Hot Chocolate 15k just five weeks prior). The OC Marathon course was long and/or I ran the tangents incorrectly (I ran 26.51 miles), it was very windy (beginning miles and last 6 miles strong headwind), the temperature was higher than at Eugene (60s instead of 50s) and there were more hills than expected. I definitely don’t think these factors were the only reason I didn’t BQ, but they came into play and probably cost me a few precious minutes.
4) Electrolytes/Fueling. I didn’t “carbo-load” for this race, although I did increase carb intake, but not significantly. I tried to eat fairly normal to prevent the heaviness I’ve felt on race day in past races that I’ve over-zealously carbo-loaded for. On race morning, I made the mistake of not bringing enough cereal and I didn’t have a large breakfast. I had half a cup of a decaf/non-decaf mix of coffee because I heard caffeine can trigger panic attacks. I usually get some calories from the coffee creamer and sugar I put in so that was reduced. However, during the race, I think my fueling was fine. I took a Gu every 35 minutes and never had any GI distress or hunger. I only really used about a half a Nuun for electrolyte replacement, instead relying on my Gus to get me there. I ended up cramping and drinking Gatorade in hopes that it would help, but I think it was too late. Going forward I’ll be training and racing with electrolyte/salt tabs and eating a bigger breakfast.
5) The Marathon is a Beast. And of course, there’s the fact that no matter how “ready” you are for a race, no matter how many months of preparation you put in or how bad you want it, it won’t always go as planned. Marathons are long. Racing them requires a lot of focus. There were a couple miles in the beginning where I lost focus and my pace got a bit off track. The marathon is also a race that is so long that normal glycogen stores are depleted, requiring correct nutrition in order to perform well. A lot can happen and at the end of the day, anyone should just be proud to cross the finish line.
What about my training? I don’t think I’d change anything. I got significantly faster over the last 7 months. My improved my half marathon PR by 9 minutes over the last 7 months – the same as my marathon PR at OC. I ran a 15k on a very hilly course at a 7:30 pace. My long runs went well. I felt strong on long runs and my tempo interval pace dropped significantly. I had been doing long runs of 18+ miles consistently since late October. The endurance was there, the speed was there. At one point I was 100% confident that I had Eugene in the bag. If anything, I need to work on my mental game. Toward the end of my training I started getting doubts and fears about the race. I got nervous, I put a lot of pressure on myself and then I ended up self-sabotaging at Eugene.
The most important lesson I can teach myself from this experience is that your mind can play serious tricks on you. Not only is it important to have “mental toughness” during a race and during hard training sessions in order to conquer pain and push through, it’s equally important to come into the race with a calm, confident attitude. There is no room for self-doubt or anxiety in racing. I need to be confident in myself and in the work I put in and focus on what I can control and know that I can handle the things in stride that I can’t control (i.e. weather, a crazy crowded start, a long course, anything else that comes my way).
So when will my next attempt for a BQ be? I’m not sure yet, but I can tell you it won’t be in 2013. For now, I want to focus on strength training and running speed at shorter distances. In 2014 I’ll put in a solid 4 month training period for a full marathon, but until then, there will be no 16+ mile long runs. I’m going to enjoy being engaged, marrying my best friend and having a wonderful Italian honeymoon. I’m ok knowing I won’t be at the 2014 Boston Marathon but I will be there in 2015!
What is the most valuable lesson you’ve learned during a race?