The marathon that wasn't

(aka "It will be good for you, mentally and physically)

I'm not new to marathon running, but I am new to including one in the middle of Ironman training with no taper or my usual preparation. Many of the Ironman athletes I nutrition coach include a marathon as a 'C' race, so I figured why not try it. When I asked Coach Julie about this possibility, she responded "I was wondering how long it would be before you mentioned the M word." She knows very well running is my prime passion, at least for now.  So, we put it on the calendar. I picked a local race: the inaugural Horsetooth Marathon in Fort Collins, Colorado. This decision was made prior to the bombings at the Boston marathon and interestingly, this would be the first marathon to be held in Colorado post-Boston.

About a week prior to the race, Fort Collins got 2 feet of snow. I received an e-mail from the race organizers that the course was going to be altered as a result of the snow and it likely would not be a full marathon distance. In fact, it would feel like a 50K run (due to snow pack, I presumed).  Ahhhh well. Coach said "it will still be good for you mentally and physically", especially with no taper. I suppose I was slightly bummed the course was going to be altered, but no biggie. I figured this was also a good chance for me to test how training nutrition is going since I hadn't needed to fuel with any calories during my long runs yet.

The details for the marathon course that I paid attention to were:

  • 200 person limit (probably good for an inaugural event.. nice and cozy)
  • the course would be on trails for the first 16-17 miles and then join up with the half marathon course on the road (okay, a mix of trail and road sounded great for injury prevention and I do love trail running!)

The piece I did not process very well was the course description. Details, schmetails... right?

There was no elevation profile on the race website (I'm a visual person), although the short description mentioned some elevation gain and loss just like most Colorado races do. I admit I haven't spent much time trail running since my 50-miler last year. This means I haven't thought about elevation changes all that much in my current IM training. In hindsight, it wouldn't have changed a whole lot about my approach that day, but it might have mentally prepared me better. Going in to this event, I told myself "This is JUST a training run." Not a race. No need to fret or risk injury.

Dinner the night before was at a microbrewery with my husband and his BFFs (after they had been successful at some microbrewery hopping). I ate chicken breast, guacamole, side salad and some sweet potato wedges with water to drink. Note:  I do watch my carb intake daily so that I continue following a carb-controlled, higher fat plan as part of my nutrition experiment.

I stayed at a friend's house in Fort Collins that night.  Sleep was erratic since my husband and his BFFs didn't return until the house until the wee hours. Plus, I woke up several times in my unfamiliar room on the blowup mattress to look at the clock. After the alarm finally chirped at 4:30am, I quietly gathered my things and scurried out of the house to catch the shuttle bus to the start by 5:15am.

Breakfast was a vanilla-flavored GenerationUCAN mixed with 10 ounces water 40 minutes prior to the race start time. That's it.  Simple and I trust it completely as I have practiced with it prior to long training sessions and other marathons.

At the start area, my eye caught local elite ultra runner Nick Clark who looked calm and relaxed. I tried not to stare, of course, but it's always fun for me to see what the elites are carrying for fuel and gear. Ummm....He didn't appear to be carrying any nutrition and looked light as a feather just standing there. (He would go on to place 1st in this race). Anyway, back to the race... the organizer led a 26.2 second period of silence to honor the victims of the Boston bombings during which you could instantly hear sniffles and very sad sighs. In those few moments, we were all pulled together by the array and intensity of emotions. Deep breaths ensued after the silence. I appreciated even more how fortunate we were to be alive and have this opportunity.

It was 34 degrees but luckily no wind and only a clear blue sky above us.  A few minutes later at 6am, we heard "GO" and we were off... and heading up.

My run fueling supplies:  20-oz handheld bottle filled with a mix of water and 1 packet of lemonade GenerationUCAN. I had 4 SaltStick capsules with me and two pieces of gum.

It may not look like much, but for a marathon starting on trails this was a tough beginning for its elevation gain and loss in conjunction with the trail conditions. The first 3 miles was over an 8% grade.

This was just  6 miles  of the course...

This was just 6 miles of the course...

The service road would turn into a deep and very tight single track trail, both of which had long sections of snow (yep, spikes on the shoes would've worked nicely), ice, slush, mud...and it kept going for well beyond the 6 miles shown above. It took me an hour to go 4 miles. It was going to be a long marathon... I mean, training run. There was a huge water pit at mile 7.5 which was unavoidable. Wet, cold feet - oh yaay!  I didn't let these things bother my mood because I remembered Coach telling me this would be "good for you mentally and physically."

The single track trail turned back into a service road, which was much drier, and eventually we dumped out onto pavement to join up with the half marathoners.  I had sipped from my GenUCAN bottle without taking any additional water from aid stations until after mile 18 and then I grabbed a few cups of plain water. I felt great energy despite my quads feeling the up and down of the first quarter of the course. It was good to have such a trusted fuel source - my body's own fat stores and a little extra GenUCAN on board.

I noticed the mile markers were indeed going to make our marathon route short by about 1 mile. All along I had paid attention to my average pace and knew this would be my slowest not-marathon ever.  Even though it was JUST a training run, there is still the bit of competitor in me that kicked it into a higher gear for the last mile.

I didn't get to see the results until they were posted online a few days later. You know it's a slow not-marathon when the top female finishes in 3:38.  Yikes.  I was surprised to see I had placed 1st in my age group with a time of 4:18 (53 minutes slower than my best "real" marathon time). No matter, it was for sure good training for me. Obviously, the physical challenge was good for my IM training as I had just done a 20 mile run the week before and a 55 mile bike ride a few days prior. Mentally, being able to persevere when the conditions are tough teaches you to be stronger. Additionally, I thought of those people at Boston and realized any pain that I might have had was really insignificant in the grand scheme.

...and nutrition-wise, I consumed 2/3 of my GenUCAN mix which works out to a total of about 75 calories or ~18 calories per hour.  A sign of metabolic efficiency!