Friday, August 12, 2011

First 18 miler...

Let me tell you – 18 miles is a long way to run.  Even longer when it’s run as slow as I run.   I can only imagine what 26.2 miles is going to feel like.  But I also know that it will be different, given the excitement of the event itself and the crowds, but still…   For this run I averaged a 9:34 min/mile pace and got it done in 2:52:15.  Ok by me…  I was wanting to do better than a 10:00 m/m average and I succeeded there, so there is a little bit of hope for me.

Given my previous experiences with the 16 mile runs, I tried to plan and prep appropriately.  I made sure that I did the right things before the run (i.e. carbo loading, stretching, etc.), and that I had what I needed nutrition-wise for the run itself.

I wanted to make this run more-or-less a dress rehearsal for the Milford 30K (18.5M) event that is in 3 weeks.  The Milford 30K event is targeted towards being a training run for various fall marathons, so my 18 miler was like doing a dress-rehearsal for a full-dress-rehearsal for the actual marathon (does that kind of make sense?).  In light of that, instead of carrying my fluids with me, I positioned my truck at the end of my driveway, provisioned with fluids to act as my “water station” as I would expect on the actual event course.  In reality, the water stations during events are more like 2M apart, but I couldn’t get a clean 2M route set up, so I just made do with running an extra half-mile to get to my fluids.  I then ran a series of seven  2.5M laps around my neighborhood (I had to add a quarter-mile to two of the laps to make it an even 18M).

Based on what I had learned during my 16M runs, I setup my in-run nutrition to include ShockBloks, two different kinds of goo, and Gatorade.  My goal was to consume approximately 50g of carbs (or 220 calories) per hour.   This was to make sure that I had enough energy to finish the run.  In the mix, I also had to manage appropriate levels of sodium.  This pretty much depended on how hot and humid things were during the run.  The more that I sweat, the more sodium I need to ingest.  So the trick was to make a judgment call on the “sweat and humidity” factor.

To manage my sodium intake, I found both goo and ShockBlok products that had varying levels of Sodium.  So depending on what I thought the “sweat and humidity” factor was, I would take either a “Sodium+” or “regular” nutrient.  But to complicate this a bit, I learned that it’s not a good idea to ingest any of this without a fluid chaser (e.g. water or Gatorade).  That meant that I had to time my nutrients to just before I got to my water station.

To back up a bit, it may help if I explain what I’ve learned about nutrition and the affect of sodium and potassium.  I may not have totally understood it, but in general:
The act of running  is possible by the contraction of muscles and depends upon an electrical charge that is caused by potassium inside your cells switching places with sodium outside your cells. As you run potassium builds up outside of your cells, which diminishes the ability of your cells to create that electrical charge.  When this happens, experts say that you begin to get “tired”.   But this is also thought to be a cause of cramping, thus the need to constantly replenish the supply of sodium and potassium.  Since I found that I tend to cramp up, this is key for me.  In addition, sodium helps encourage fluid movement in your body, essentially helping to keep everything well “greased” and lubricated.

As you run, your muscles build up lactic acid which breaks down into hydrogen ions and lactate.   Lactate is used by the muscle cells to produce additional energy in the form of ATP.   But as the hydrogen ions build up, so does the acidity of your blood.  All of this tends to make your legs feel stiff. Protein and amino acids help break down the lactic acid and neutralize the hydrogen ion build up, but these are hard to ingest and absorb during a run and are typically post-run recovery supplements (I drink a protein/amino acid/banana/milk shake after every long run).

With regards to raw energy to run, your leg muscles want to burn glycogen.  But the problem is that the body can only store a limited amount, like about 2 hours worth.  Guys like me that don’t run very fast need a lot more than that and/or may not have built up a full 2 hours store of the stuff.  To that end, it is necessary to consume carbs during the event.  Carbs break down into usable glycogen.  Fat is also an energy source, but stored fat doesn’t convert to usable energy fast enough to sustain running. But it is important to know that it is unlikely that you can consume and store carbohydrates (which in turn becomes usable glycogen) as fast you are burning them. The trick is to slow the rate of glycogen depletion so that you can complete the event before you bonk (“hit the wall”).  That is why it is critical to stay ahead of the curve and start consuming nutrients before you even need them.

Back to the run itself:  I gave myself a 40 to 60 second walking break at the truck on every lap, allowing me to consume at least 6 oz of Gatorade.  For the Marathon itself, I’m already planning on walking through every water station to make sure that I get at least 6 oz of fluid in me every 2 miles or so.   I also set up a schedule of sucking on a ShockBlok every lap just before I got to the truck.  The only exceptions were on mile 8 and 13 where I sucked on goo instead.   From a nutrition and cramp-prevention perspective, it all worked.  I had enough energy to run all 18 miles, and I did not cramp up.  That alone was a huge win for me.

I did have a little problem with my right hamstring getting tight on me and I found myself literally pounding my fist on the back of my thigh every now and again to loosen it up.  I’d also try stomping my foot on the ground to shake up the muscle.  I really don’t know what is going on there.  But it made it through.

The last 2.5 mile lap was hard – very hard.  No doubt about it:  I was tired.  And I had to force myself to drag my sorry, tired ass all the way around. I slowed my pace down a lot for that last couple of miles, down to around a 10:30 m/m pace, but I did it.  I actually ran a total of 18.2 miles, and I could have technically stopped running when my GPS told me that I had gotten to mile 18, but rather than walking the last .2 miles, I forced myself to go all the way.  And I feel better about having done so.

Next week is a 20-miler…. That will be fun, I am sure  (it's just 2 more miles….)
3 weeks to the Milford 30K, 8 weeks to Chicago.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

16 Miles, Second Time

Two weeks ago I ran a 16 mile route and “bonked”, or “hit the wall”, at around 15 ¼ miles.  I simply ran out of juice.   So after “bonking” on that run I read up on how many calories and nutrients I needed to consume before and during the run so that I wouldn’t run out of gas.  So today I had a good 16 mile run and I made it all the way through without “hitting the wall”.  I did however, wind up with horrible cramps in my left thigh at mile 15.5, but after working the cramp out I still managed to run the rest of the way.

But it was a tough run.  It’s a long way (16 miles) and I was trying to maintain a 9:30 pace.  In the hopes of achieving a marathon time of somewhere close to 4 hours, I wanted to see if I could maintain at least a 9:30 pace for this distance.  I did really well up until mile 15, maintaining an average 9:33 min/mile pace, but when my leg cramped up at 15 ½ miles, I came to a full stop for several minutes while I worked it out.  I wound up finishing the last mile in 14:24 minutes.   That made my average pace something like 9:50 overall.  My overall time for the 16 miles was 2:37:38.  I wish it were better…

During the run I consumed something like 730 calories (but I burned over 2,000!) through an assortment of Gatorade, goo, a Balance Bar (a candy bar with carbs, proteins, and various minerals), and something called ShockBloks, which are like gum drops loaded with carbs and electrolytes (sodium and potassium mostly).  In my research I found that I needed to be consuming on the order of 225 calories, or 50grams of carbs, per hour from all nutrient sources.  This includes liquids, goo’s, bars, etc…

So I made a table of the nutrient value of each (Gatorade, goo, power bars, ShockBloks) and how often to take each.  Carrying all this crap is reasonably ok….  I am able to store the ShockBloks in my waist pouch, along with a package of goo.  (the waist pouch is like a thin fanny pack and a good place to put my phone and other goodies…).  My camelback, with my very necessary Gatorade, has a small pocket in which I can store more goo and power bars.

I came up with a plan to suck on a ShockBlok every 2 miles, eat half of my Balance Bar at mile 8 and 12, and do the goo as I felt necessary.  For fluids, I just make it a habit to take a few hits from my tube every ½ mile (which I figure gives me approximately 2-3 oz’s  per mile).   For the run, I wound up doing the ShockBloks every 2 hours, only consumed ½ of the Balance Bar, and did the goo at mile 12.  I went through all 48 oz’s of the Gatorade that I carried with me.

I felt the biggest lift of all from the goo at mile 12.  After it kicked in (it takes about 6-8 minutes) I felt strong and like I could run on for a long time – nice!  It was nicely timed.   I didn’t do the rest of the Balance Bar because it was a bit more difficult to get down, although it also gave me a nice lift at mile 9.  It’s difficult to tell if the ShockBloks did anything, because I was popping them with regularity, but I think that they helped maintain my carb and sodium levels.

A big problem though, is the fact that I cramped up at 15 ½ miles.  An acquaintance that does some serious cycling told me that he solved cramping by chewing on a version of ShockBloks that had a substantially higher amount of sodium (219mg vs the 70mg chews that I was using).  Cramping remains a medical mystery, so all “cures” are the result of hearsay and empirical testing.  Besides, every runners’ body is chemically different, so there is no one-solution-fits-all… 

Next week I have an 18-miler on my training plan, and so I’m going to try alternating between the “Na+” ShockBloks and the regulars.  I’m also going to try to get the full Balance Bar down,  maybe do it in thirds.  In addition, I’ll do more goo towards the end, like with 2 miles to go, just to make sure I have enough juice.  And of course, make sure that I have enough Gatorade.  Carrying the Gatorade is the biggest problem – 48oz is something like 3lbs, which doesn’t sound like much, but it is when you are lugging it around for a bunch of miles.  Of course, it does get lighter and lighter as the miles go by, so perhaps I’m just complaining for nothing…  But I’d love to not have to carry it.

Funny things happen near the end of a long run:  I can just sense that the end is near; it’s almost like a hazy image that is beginning to form.   At this point I’m basically on auto-pilot, with my brain ignoring the fact that my feet hurt and the straps from the camelback are bugging me, and so on.  Little signals from my legs are constantly bombarding me as the lactic acid build up stiffens my legs, and I just keep repeating to myself that “it’s just a little bit further”.  In a running magazine that I get I’ve read a couple of articles about mantras and I never understood them until now.  I’ve never gotten this tired before, I guess.  But I’m here to tell you – they work.  The one that seems to work best for me is simply “I am going to do this…”.  I’m sure that I’ll be saying that a lot to myself on October 9.