Tuesday, October 28, 2008

2008 Silver Comet Half Marathon Race Report

Don't be fooled by the title.

One of those words in there is a misnomer.

This is my 3rd year running the Silver Comet Half Marathon. I really like this race simply because in the past I have done very well at it. In fact, my 2 fastest half marathon times are from this race: 1:41xx and 1:36xx. I even placed both years top 3 in my age group. This race is also the perfect marathon tune up. The past 2 years I have trained through this race; meaning, no taper-- just raced it as my last hard run before my marathon taper.

Well this year going into this race was a little different. First off my fall marathon is 2 weeks later this year than the previous 2 years. Second, if you have been reading my blog for a while, you know that I have complained off and on since last January about various calf problems. And if you have been reading then you also probably know that I have not had what I would call a successful race since November of 2007. Though, in retrospect, I will admit that Ga ING marathon was a pretty good effort considering I was coming off an injury--or rather still had an injury.

My training hasn't been great. Sure, I've put in a lot of miles and effort-- but duration doesn't always mean "hard effort". To perform well in a race you definitely need to put in a hard effort in training. So while I have put in a lot of time and miles hardly any of it was under a 8 min pace for the past month.

The reason I have purposely avoided a hard effort in training is that when I push the pace my legs give me issue and I can't recover fast enough to continue to train. However, if I go slow I can put in the miles--lots of miles. But as soon as I dip below that comfortable forever pace of 8:30 Bam! I start having problems. Distance is not an issue for me but speed**, apparently is. And well, to race you kinda need the speed part. It is the key component of running fast.

**I feel compelled to add that this is relative. I am by no means an elite runner by any standards. I am just talking about being faster than I was.**

Despite all this I had been cautiously optimistic that since I was "taking it easy" in training that I could put up a good race. A PR of sub 1:36 wasn't likely but it wasn't out of the question either--at least that is what I told myself. In September I had done 2 12 mile training runs that came in under a 7:30 avg pace. I figured my speed** was still there. The question was more could my legs handle it? That was the unknown for me and recent experiences told me: Not likely. Still though, ever the optimist, I didn't dwell too much on the odds. . .

My training had been going okay. I was, if nothing, being consistent and cautious. I was working through my injury: icing, massaging, stretching-- babying it. However, I was, I admit, definitely pushing the envelope with the mileage this month.

I've run a long run ( 2 21 milers, a 23.5 miles and 25.3 miler)and a medium length run of 13-17 miles every week. The first week of October I jumped up to 58 miles with only 4 days of running. The next week I ran 65 miles. The following week I ran 72 miles and was on my way to 53 miles for last week as a cut back week. I ran 10 miles at marathon pace on Monday. I ran a 21 miler on Tuesday (50 seconds slower than goal marathon pace). On Wednesday I ran close to tempo pace for 6 miles. Thursday and Friday were to be easy days.

On Thursday my house of cards came crumbling down on me. On my 3 mile "easy" run my calf completely locked up on me. I hobbled my way through it for a 9:21 avg pace after having gone out at least 2 minutes faster. After wards my calf was swollen, tight and tender to the touch. I babied the heck out of it and stayed off it Friday. I hoped and prayed over it.

Fast forward to this past Saturday: race day.

I woke up and everything felt good. I could still feel some residual knots in my calf but it was softer, better--still melon firm but not rock hard. So yeah, better. I went in with the optimistic attitude of "you never know" --really thinking it was all going to workout for me.

I drove to the start and parked at the middle school as I have done the past 2 years. This gives me the opportunity for a .8 mile warm up. I started out slow, easy pace. About 4 minutes in my calf started to tighten up.
Uh-oh, not good.
I slowed the pace and even walked a bit. The tightness turned to that familiar ache and reached down and was griping my arch. Nope, definitely not good. But! (I thought,optimistically still consoling myself.) This happens frequently when I start out. Most times the muscle relaxes if I keep the pace easy enough and I can later push the pace. This is how I have done all of my long runs. By the 3rd or 4th mile almost always the tightness/pain is gone and I can run a faster clip. For 20 more miles I should add. Certainly, other issues arise: hip pain, IT band tightness etc. But I consider those an aspect of the distance and they are not debilitating like the calf issue. Meaning, I can run through those at whatever pace. With the calf issue I cannot maintain my pace. Often times I am even forced to walk because the tightness doesn't allow my muscle to flex. It is immobilizing. Again, though. If I go slow enough I can usually work through it. . .

I got to the start area and still had about 15 minutes to warm up. I went behind the building to this open grassy area and did strides and then stretched. Basically running back and forth; really giving my legs a good warm up.

I lined up for the race in my usual spot--about 10 feet back and off to the left side. After a bit of a wait the horn went and we were off. I purposely held back. I didn't have a watch since I have yet again broke the strap of my Garmin but I was keeping the tightness at bay. I knew I wasn't going too fast. Other than my leg I felt very comfy and strong. At the mile split a 7:20 pace was called. That was pretty much perfect since last year I ran an average 7:23 pace. Definitely not out too fast.

Even still I could feel the muscle getting tight and the cramp coming on. So I slowed down. This was hard because while I was definitely capable of holding, even pushing the pace I knew I couldn't. So I got passed a good bit. I just looked down at the ground. Because of this I missed the 2 mile split call.

The tightness was getting worse and was now really hurting. So I pulled back a bit more. I heard the 3 mile split but can't remember exactly. It was 22 something. Either :36 or 46. I really can't remember. However slowing down had helped and while my leg wasn't exactly comfortable and loose it was starting to feel better. I took that to mean I was past the worst of it and could open up my pace. I started to push without issue. I felt really happy and felt like I was running how I should be running. I focused on not thinking about the pain and started picking people off. Anyone who runs a race knows that is the best feeling in the world. Being cautious and mindful of my calf though I would run up on a group and feel out their pace before passing--certain that I could maintain before pulling past them.

I missed the 4 mile split but sometime around then the pain and tightness came back full on. I still tried to maintain the pace I was running --since I just passed all those people-- but I could feel myself compensating my stride. It is hard to explain and it may not have even looked like how it felt. But it felt like I was pulling around a stiff leg and leaning to the right. My left foot was even hitting my right calf at times. I tried to focus on running from the hip, imagining my legs were like the hands on a clock--like how Ryan Hall's look--even and smooth-- and fast. I looked down and bitterly observed the runners' in front of me. Their calves. They looked loose, soft, not permanently flexed and stiff like mine felt. I hated them and their perfect calves.

And then my left foot went numb. My heart sank. It was South Carolina all over again. And then I wasn't running. I walked for a second and then stepped off and stretched. Someone in front of me was doing the same. I felt a teeny tiny bit better that someone else was struggling.

I got back on the course and tried to run. I couldn't. So I walked.

I walked past a kid calling splits. I asked him what mile this was, thinking--knowing--it was 5 but really wasn't sure. He said "I don't know, but you're at 36:50."

For a split second I felt optimistic realizing I wasn't really off pace for a PR or even, at the least, finishing close to last year's pace. All this, of course, assuming I could pull it together. I mean, energy wise I felt great. Warmed up and ready to race. I started running again and was instantly reminded of the vice that was holding me back: my left calf muscle. I asked a guy who passed me if this was mile 5 and he confirmed that it was.

And, just like that, I was done.

And just like that I quit. I stepped off the course and watched as people passed me. A few optimistically called out to "hang in there" and "that I could do it". and yes, I knew I could do it but I wasn't about to hang in there for 8 miles of pain and discomfort and possible permanent injury.

So when there was a break in the crowd I crossed and headed back the way I had come. Again a few people called out to me "Not to do it!" and I just ignored them, not making eye contact. I walked down to the trail opening as runner after runner passed me and asked the police officer blocking traffic how I could get back to the start. I explained, that I was quitting: I was injured.

He told me to wait right there. I did as told and when he had a moment he called a ride for me. He told me it was going to be a bit and offered to let me sit in his patrol car since it was cold. I told him I was fine and that it was humiliating enough to have quit the race that I didn't need people thinking I was also getting arrested. He laughed and said that I would get cold and change my mind and the offer was still open. Of course, right then I vowed to not change my mind no matter how cold I got. I am so stubborn and dumb.

And he was right.

About 2 minutes later I was cold! But it wasn't bad. I was too busy feeling sorry for myself as I watched the throngs of runners with perfect calf muscles pass me. I thought about Steph and her attitude. Her always positive attitude and how she cheered everyone on during the South Carolina Half despite her tummy woes and decided that being sad and negative really wasn't doing me any good. So, I got over it. Quitting-- it just didn't matter in the large scheme.

I cheered for people as they went by and tried my best to be encouraging. Admittedly I am not a natural like Steph. And I guess I wasn't doing all that great of a job being positive because Lauren passed me and asked if I "was okay?" And another lady stopped and gave me her jacket (I had on a skirt and short sleeves--way under dressed compared to most but dressed fine for one who planned on racing. Le sigh.). She told me to leave it on the post for her. I am glad people were still nice to me even though I felt a bit of a pariah for being a quitter.

A few minutes later I got to see the leader coming on the return.
I was glad I got to see that. He looked amazing! Wish I could run like that!
And, he had a almost a 5 minute lead on the these guys:
I was hoping to see the lead girls come by but my ride showed up. And oh boy, does the universe has a sense of humor when it comes to me.
I had to ride in a police car anyway.

I know some of you might be surprised (others, relieved--Mom, Dad) but this was my first time riding in the back of police car--having never been arrested. It was kinda exciting! And I was surprised by how little space there was! And that it was really clean. The officer giving me the ride laughed at me taking pictures of myself and offered to take one of me.
I told him I got one but I would love it if he would hand cuff me and pretend to arrest me and take that picture. I guess the answer was no since all he did was laugh and the handcuffs never came out.

He was really nice and drove me back to my car. I hurried and drove over to the finish hoping to see the leaders finish but I missed the overall winner. I got there just in time to see the girl leader finish. Unfortunately though not in time to get her picture.

I commiserated briefly with others who were there but were injured and couldn't race. Birds of a feather, you know. . .

I left because I was really cold and couldn't stay to watch for others to finish since I was driving to Bainbridge after the race. Details of that trip will be in another post --so don't ask (Lala).

As a recap, of course, I am sad that I didn't finish the race. This is my first ever DNF. Quitting really is hard! In theory it sounds like the easy way out but when you are committed and passionate about something stepping away from it is just about the hardest thing in the world to do. I've often wondered what would make me quit a race; since I see myself as a person that pushes herself through just about anything. Generally, I view "just finishing" as an accomplishment and is always one of my race goals. In the past I have always been happy that I fought my way through pain, sickness, and misery to just finish when a race wasn't going my way. Quitting, really wasn't ever an option for me.

However, I can also say with absolute confidence that Saturday I would have still been sad if I had finished. Finishing the race would have gained me nothing but making my injury worse and probably force me to drop out of the Atlanta Marathon. And to me that was a more devastating choice. So yes. I quit. I quit one race in hopes that I can still run another--maybe even, dare I think it, race the marathon on Thanksgiving.

So. . . I am taking a full week off from running and hoping that gives my calf enough time to heal and recover and I can resume training for the marathon. I know that doesn't sound like a lot of time but the way I see it I haven't taken more than 3 days off from running since I had the flu 4 years ago and even then that was only 5 days. I've run through every single injury I've ever had--even sprained ankles. Some I've even raced through. So for me I think 7 days of not running is a huge step in the recovery direction.

That said, I do plan on cross training-- weights, swimming, cycling, yoga etc. I just can't imagine not exercising everyday. That would make me depressed. And, I should add, in the past 7 years--since Carmella was born--I don't think I've ever gone more than one day of not doing some form of exercise. So I just can't even fathom. Call me addicted, I don't care. Exercise is just what I do. Like shower or brush my teeth.

However, I am a bit lost on how to resume my training next week and if you have suggestions or experience I would like to hear it. I've toyed with a few different ideas:
Jump back into a high mileage week (60-80 miles)--as was my plan for this week and next--and just continue to a 2 week taper and pretend this week just didn't happen.
Or . .
Resume my base running mileage of 40-50 miles per week and then do a one week taper.
Or. . .
Do a reverse taper and build mileage back up so that race week is a peak mileage week.

Thoughts? Opinions?

As always thanks for listening and of course, congrats to all those that ran, raced and/or Pr'd the Silver Comet last weekend!


  1. It's not that you weren't being positive. It was that you weren't running and you were supposed to be, well, RUNNING!

    I have no idea what to tell you about picking up your mileage, et. al. I don't have near enough endurance experience to even attempt to do that. All I can offer is to listen to your body and react accordingly.

  2. Awwww Nat! I'm so sorry your calf acted up. Stupid muscles... I hope you heal up quickly and everything turns out OK.

  3. First of all, great job on listening to your body. I bet it was hard, but you're absolutely right that it's better to stop now then to have to stop for the Marathon. I'm actually training for the Atlanta Half so good luck on the full marathon.

    Is the Silver Comet pretty flat? Maybe I'll do it next year. I'm afraid that November will just be too cold. It's already too cold for me now!

  4. So sorry to hear about your DNF, but you made the correct decision.

    From a Negative Split lurker and ultra-runner, I've been under the belief that you possibly overtrain sometimes. It's easy from an outsider's perspective to see. Try to give yourself more rest from running, take some time off even if it's just a day (more frequently than just after getting injured), try running for time (i.e., go out for a 2-hour run without concern for mileage), and get off of the pavement for a run or two weekly (trails or crushed gravel).

    Do you do ice baths after fast/long runs? Keep cross-training, like you said you can exercise without running to help keep you sane. Most of all stay positive!

    Just my dos centavos. :-)

  5. Nat, I am sorry you are injured.
    I know you will be better soon!!! I am glad you listened to yourself and quit - you could be worse off which would be horrible.


  6. Ouch! Sorry to hear that. If it is tight calves, I would recommend one or more of the following:Ice baths, foam roller, and/or the stick.

    That may not help if you have an actual sprain/strain/tear, but if it is tight or you have knots, you need to work them out and then try to prevent them in the future.

    Also, how old are your shoes? Could you be due for a new pair?

  7. Listen to Lurker Sean and Cheerleader Steph!

    I think I'm right about taking this week off and doing a 3 week taper. You have to give your muscle time to heal. You don't want to join me in the gym. It's a crabby place.

  8. did he at least let you turn on the siren?

  9. So sorry to hear about your calf problems! You have seen the doctor about this before right? Does wearing the compression socks while running help at all? Your foot going numb has got to be alarming.....hope that this heals up quickly and you are back out there!

  10. nat, sounds like you did the right thing, pulling up. I also have wondered about your mileage - I know you love to do the lotsa miles thing, but I wonder if Sean isn't right. Not to mention, maybe you might be surprised at how much you improve if you changed up your training? Just a thought.
    Anyway, rest up, because if you're out for long, I will be bummed out. I like to read about your running.

  11. Steph,

    I've been battling calf cramps for the past 2 years (getting rather old...:). I suggest the following. Instead of just stretching "out" your calf muscles, try alternatively standing on your tip-toes, then stretching out your calves just before you run. Do this for at least 2-3 minutes. This has completely stopped my cramping! It's definitely not scientfically based, but has worked consistently all year. Again, the trick seems to be stretching the calf muscel in *both* directions instead of just the stretch.

    BTW, I think I remember passing you on the trail.....sorry you had to quit after all of that training. Never give up!