"We run when we're scared, we run when we're ecstatic, we run away from our problems and run around for a good time." Christopher McDougall (Born to Run)

Sunday, September 4, 2011

The Big One

This past Sunday was the longest of the long runs in my marathon training plan: a 22 mile run. Here is a recap of how it went.

Preparation, or Lack Thereof

The week leading up to the run was perhaps the busiest five-day period I experienced at work, ever. I squeezed in a short work out Thursday morning, but otherwise did not exercise during the week. Thursday night I never went home and instead had to work through the entire night. I did, luckily, go home early on Friday and took a nap. Needless to say, I did not have a chance to prepare for my long run in the manner I had hoped (i.e. a few good but short runs, ample stretching, and sufficient sleep). I also did not plan out my running route or check my supply of running fuel (obvious foreshadowing here) -mistake number one.

Morning of the Run

Sunday morning came along and instead of waking up early and hitting the pavement, I slept in. And here we have mistake number two. As I lied in bed Sunday morning, looking for any excuse to hit snooze on my alarm clock, I seized upon the following excuse: it was more important to recoup the sleep I lost Thursday night than it was to get up early and run during the cooler hours of the day. Well, all I can say is that this excuse sounded entirely rational at the time.

After waking up late, I made a third mistake, I decided to run on the Iron Horse Trail (IHT). I was toying with either running on the Bay Trail or the IHT, but chose the IHT because it was a much simpler and more straightforward route. Because I've never gone more than 10 miles on the Bay Trail, I wasn't entirely sure how I would piece together a 22 mile run without doing loops. Also, the Bay Trail has no water fountains while the IHT has several on the northern end of the trail. I ran out of water for my 19 mile run a few weeks ago while on the IHT and ended up using the water fountains a lot during the last several miles. I checked the weather forecast for Walnut Creek and Danville, and it said that it will only be around 77 degrees at 1pm. I could handle 77 degrees. The decision was made, I would run on the IHT.

Thankfully, no mistakes were made with regard to the pre-run meal. Breakfast that morning consisted of a peanut butter, jelly, and banana sandwich, a small amount of coffee with soy milk, and a glass of water.

As I gathered my things to head out the door, I realized I only had two GU gels, which was definitely not enough for a four hour run. I drove to the local running store only to find out they would not open for several more hours. I then scrambled home to search for any GU gels that I might have missed earlier in the morning (and get my Garmin watch, which I forgot to grab). I found no additional GU gels or Chomps. I did have a single granola bar, but I knew that if I ate that during the run my stomach would revolt. Finally, I called my brother-in-law and was able to borrow two gels from him.

The Run
I finally got on the road at 10:15 a.m., almost two hours later than the time I left the house for my 19 mile run a few weeks ago. As soon as I drove through the Caldecott tunnel into Orinda, the cool and refreshing mist hovering over Oakland and Berkeley was nowhere to be seen. Instead, an almost cloudless sky lay overhead. My stress level increased ever so slightly. But I could not turn around. We had a big dinner planned that night and there was no way in hell I would be in a better position to run tomorrow morning. There was no turning back.

I finally arrive at the IHT. It is 10:45 a.m. and it is already warm, not hot, but warm, probably somewhere around 70 degrees. The majority of the IHT was drenched in sun. I took every opportunity I could to run in the shade, when shade was available. But only a few miles of the trail had consistent shade. After only 5 miles I tore off my tank top and just ran in my sports bra. By the time I reached the half-way point of 11 miles I was really tired and pretty damn hot but still had energy left.

When I got to 18 miles I began feeling nauseous and slightly light-headed. At one point I really thought I was going to vomit, but I did not--thank god! To this day I have not vomited during a run. I stopped for a few minutes under a tree to rest and do a self-assessment. The last thing I wanted was to faint from heat exhaustion. I started back up again, but for the last three miles I ended up doing a combination run/walk. I would run for maybe a half mile, then walk for a few minutes, then run another half mile, then walk for a few minutes. I ran the last half mile and finished the full 22 miles. One great thing about the run is that I had no pain in my left hip and no pain in my feet or my ankle, and for that I was very thankful. I did not finish the run until around 3pm--meaning I ran during the hottest hours of the day--what an idiot I am. I checked the temperature when I finished the run and it was about 84 degrees. I know, that does not sound very hot, but after 22 miles I felt really uncomfortable.


For several hours after the run I did not feel right. I know, who the hell feels "right" after running their first 22 mile run? But, I am not referring to fatigue or muscle soreness, but something else. I drank a few glasses of water and had a protein shake. But then I started feeling nauseous again. I started thinking that my electrolyte balance was off. We had plans to get drinks and then dinner, with a departure time of around 6pm. I quickly drank a small glass of salt water but then had to leave the house.

When we got to the bar I ordered some olives (for the salt content) and had a small 12 oz beer. After eating two small dishes of deliciously salty green olives I finally started to feel better. At dinner I also felt fine. I had only a little bit of wine with dinner (well two small glasses), and otherwise only had green tea and a lot of water. The only thing that persisted through the evening was that my face felt like it was on fire all night--like I had a sunburn, but I didn't.

Then came the late hours of the night. I initially fell asleep, but then found I could not sleep sometime after 1 a.m. I was really hot and my face still felt like it was sunburned. I finally got up and turned on the fan, but found that I still couldn't sleep and then realized I was really thirsty. Eventually, at around a quarter to 3 a.m. I got up and went to the kitchen and read about the signs and symptoms of heat exhaustion and heat stroke. I drank a full glass of water, then realized that I had some free samples of electrolyte drink mix. I poured another glass of water and added the electrolyte mix, ate half a banana, and cooled my face with an ice cube. I got back in bed around 3:15 and was able to fall asleep after a half-an-hour or so. Today I felt fine.

And there you have it, the full story. The Half Moon Bay International Marathon is now less than three weeks away. After this past weekend, I am relieved that I chose a marathon with a coastal route, as there is no chance it will be hot in the morning. If anything, I will likely be cold for the first several miles. My remaining long runs are not very long at all, one 13 mile run, and one 8-10 mile run the weekend prior to the race.

Lessons Learned From Sunday's Run:
(1) Always plan out the route for a really long run (especially a new distance) at least one day in advance;
(2) Check on your GU gel supply prior to the morning of the run;
(3) By all means get your ass out of bed and run early when running for more than two hours; and
(4) Do not underestimate the heat.

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