April 2013 Archives

Overheated in Österreich (Austria)

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Vienna Marathon Start.jpg

In the Starting Pen Before the 2013 Vienna Marathon

The funny thing about marathons is that you can do your best to control everything within your power, but there are always some things to which you have to adapt. The weather is the most obvious example of this. You might, for example, spend months training in near-freezing temperatures, get snowed on during one of your final training runs, and then get hit with a 22 degree race day. Which is exactly what happened to me on Sunday during the Vienna Marathon. The good thing about races where you are thrown that sort of challenge, is that they can be quite educational. So, what did I learn?

I learned that when the weather is warmer than you are used to, you need to be sure to keep taking in fluids. I made the mistake of skipping some water stations, and of not getting enough water at some stations. I also wasn't really picking up on some cues that my body was giving me that I needed to be more attentive to hydration. While I was fortunate enough to just need to drink a bunch of water after the race, this sort of neglect is what can land you in the medical tent receiving IV fluids (and, to be honest, I did end up in the medical tent, but just because I wanted to have supervision in case I really did end up not just being nauseous but actually getting ill). Or ending up even worse off than that. Also, neglecting hydration clearly impacted my performance. I ran fairly close to my target pace (trying for 3:30) for about the first ten miles. Then tailed off. Then started improving my hydration strategy and started moving back to my pace. But as I continued to fall behind on hydration my pace just kept dropping. My last five km were just slow and painful. In retrospect, I should have just eaten a few minutes of time, and stood at a water station taking in a liter or more of fluids. That correction would have probably been repaid, and more, in that final stretch.

I also learned that, especially on a day where hydration is an issue, you really don't want to mess around with nutrition that is going to exacerbate your thirst. The first item on my fueling plan was a Clif Bar at 10K. The plan was to eat it really slowly, letting small pieces dissolve in my cheeks, and gradually working through the bar. But with a dryish mouth this wasn't happening, and the eating just became a distraction. And made me really need some water just to make my mouth stop feeling so parched. By the time all of this was obvious I had to just suck it up and run thirsty for 2-3 kilometres. Not fun. And definitely not conducive to smooth, focused, even pacing. But I reacted to this situation very well. I changed up my fueling quite a bit, abandoning the Clif Bar (sticking what was left in my pocket for later), and had a gel with some water at the 15K water station. Other than the distraction of wrestling with the bar I felt that nutrition went quite well for the rest of the race.

The rest of what I learned is more about running marathons in general, rather than dealing with adversity. This was definitely a race where I learned a lot about why I run. Although I had really been focused on time going into this race, by ten miles in it was clear that I would be lucky to match my Amsterdam time. And by twenty miles in it was clear that I would be doing well to finish under 4:00. But unlike other runs (ahem, Paris) where I failed to hit my target time, this time I finished up feeling good about it. Why? Because I feel like I ran the best race I could under those circumstances. Sure I could have really tried to push myself a lot harder, but seriously that could have led to not finishing. I kept turning over in my mind the guidance from Barbara (my coach) that the goal for the race was to run comfortably. I did periodically try to push myself to go faster, knowing that sometimes when you push harder the running gets easier. But when it didn't get easier I accepted that comfortable was good enough. And I also kept thinking, whenever that urge to push harder came on, of Charlie Dark advising me to 'be sensible.' On this day, that meant focusing on not pushing so hard that I couldn't finish.

Which is not to say that the race was easy and comfortable the whole way through. I started to understand during this race the role that pain plays in running marathons. I've read interviews with experienced elite marathoners, and they talk about welcoming the pain, because ultimately what a marathon is really about is that mental duel between your will to finish, and the pain trying to make you stop. And of course your brain tends to side with the pain (traitor!). There were lots of times, especially in that slow, painful last 5K where I seriously considered walking. Not walking just through the water stations (which is actually a pretty good strategy for a number of reasons), but actually becoming one of those people walking part of the course. But I didn't. As tempting as it was, I was determined to not give in to the pain. This clearly wasn't injury pain, it was just sore muscles and battered feet trying to trick me into thinking I didn't have what it took to finish the race. But they were lying, And I proved it to them. Maybe some of this is also pride. I really didn't want to be one of those people looking miserable, walking, and getting sympathy from other runners. Nope. Not me. Not today. Be gone you lying pain. Not only am I not going to stop running, I'm not going to stop smiling either! Nor am I going to stop encouraging those around me who have lost their own battles, at least for the moment. And I want to be really clear that I am not disparaging people who walk for part of the marathon. Every person, and every race, leads to different choices being made, and whatever choice a fellow marathoner makes is something that I won't  judge. And I really hope that when I have days when I lose this battle and I need to walk a bit, that someone else will take the time to encourage me as I have tried to encourage others.

Which brings me around to the biggest lesson of this race. Nope, it wasn't the time I wanted. And no it wasn't the perfect execution of fueling and hydration plans. But at the end of the day I had run another marathon, and had finished with a smile on my face. And I know that on this day, on that course, with that weather, I ran as strong a race as I could. And ultimately learning to be happy knowing that is, I believe, a big step towards really understanding what running marathons is about for me. So instead of hanging my head and feeling bad about a PB time as I did in Paris, I can proudly say that I ran the 2013 Vienna Marathon with a time of 3:53:50.
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Post Vienna Refueling.jpg

Post-Race Nutrition: Cheese Spätzle and Beer!

Running With (Strong) Women

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This week marked the kickoff of a series of urban runs for women sponsored by Nike under the rubric 'We Own The Night.' The London version of this race is to take place in Victoria Park on a Saturday night in late May.  A number of my friends from Run Dem Crew got invited to the launch party, and there is lots of excitement on Twitter too. I'm bringing this all up because I am planning on running this race myself, and have gotten some interesting reactions to that which have gotten me thinking.

Interestingly very few women have voiced anything resembling an objection to the idea of my running this race. Women have been more curious about my reasons for running than opposed to the idea. Nor have women looked askance at my plans to try to get a place in the Nike Women's Marathon. In fact, a number of women have been positively encouraging. The guys have been a different story. While most of the men have been fully supportive, there have been some negative responses. And, upon reflection, the way some guys have reacted actually helps to illustrate why it is that I want to run this sort of race.

The reaction one gets from these guys is either, aimed directly at me, something along the lines of "but it's a women's race" as if that somehow makes it below me, or that there is something wrong with the race. Or, aimed at other guys, expressions of discomfort; attempts to distance themselves from the idea of participating; or suggestions that maybe someone or other should run the race in women's clothes. Which, to me, raises the basic question: Whiskey Tango Foxtrot? Over.

The way these guys react gives me the clear impression that they think that the fact that this is a "women's race" makes it somehow emasculating for a guy to run it. As if women's sport is somehow unclean. Or, at least, second-rate. Hell, you can almost hear them say, why bother running when it's just going to be a bunch of girls. And, to be honest, I am disappointed. And a bit angry too. I'm getting this from people who I like, and I really expect better of them. But I guess I shouldn't be surprised. I just bring this up to point out that even a lot of the more progressive, better intentioned guys find women's sport outside of their comfort zone.

Far worse than these comments on Twitter is the behaviour one sees or hears about on the race course. Or on the street. I've heard two different stories this year from women who had their races completely messed up by some egotistic idiot pushing them to the ground in pursuit of their personal goal. That's class for you. Then there are the catcalls, comments, etc. when women go out running the streets of London. Sure I get comments every now and then, but they aren't threatening. Or sexual. I understand guys drinking beer at a pub feeling embarrassed when they see much fitter guys running past. And that embarrassment turns into stupid comments. But when women go running it is apparently seen by a certain breed of troglodyte as sexual provocation. How dare that woman be fit. How dare she dress in tight-fitting clothes (duh, she's RUNNING!). How dare she be out in public without a chaperone. No, bruv, you got it wrong. How dare you think anyone wants a glimpse into that swamp you call a personality.

In the face of this shameful status quo in the world, it isn't enough for women to have events with other women where they all encourage each other. There also need to be men showing up to be encouraging and supportive. This is about showing the women that we are on their side; and showing those other men that whatever problem there might be is their problem not ours. And I hope that on the day when enough men are willing to stand up and participate in a women's race, the world will have changed to the point where women no longer feel that they need women's events to feel supported, encouraged, and safe.   

So why am I running? I fully support the idea that women should be strong and independent. I don't think this is a women's issue. I think this is a human issue. To take the attitude that women can only be strong with other women is sad. And in much of the world, and in many niches within our society, women have to battle against men to assert their independence and strength. I want to be visible as a man who not only isn't fighting against women, but is willing to stand up shoulder to shoulder with them in proclaiming how fantastic it is for women to be taking control of themselves. And I don't think that my standing on the sidelines and cheering is as powerful as my actually lacing up my trainers (well, metaphorically speaking, my VFFs are all velcro) and running with them.

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