Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Flower City Half-Marathon- The Bonk

There's nothing like selling a race report when the punchline is handed to you in the title. In case you didn't know, it didn't go well for the Banter. For the most part, this is a tale of agony of which I don't want to relive. Given my shame of the race, it would seem to make sense to preserve the effort in blog form. Here is the tale of my dismay...

Morning Ritual
I have a tendency to not want to eat before these events. Some call in a nervous stomach. I call it, "Nothing sounds good." I know this, so therefore I got up early to force some food down my gullet. A latte or two, batch of leftover pasta and a peanut butter sandwich meant that I was running on about 800-900 calories. This is much greater than my norm. Feeling satisfied beyond my means, and with more calories than I've eaten in the past pre-race, I was ready to take on the Flower City Challenge- Half Marathon.

Upon leaving for the race, I noticed that my legs were a bit sore. I had done some speed work with my track kids on Thursday. Saturday's Duathlon was harder than expected. My legs were pre-tired. This should have been an early sign that the day was not going to get better. I have, in the past, had several experiences where I've felt crappy before a run only to feel great during the run. I was banking that this would be one of those days.

In the early stages of the race
The race started at 7:30 am. I parked about a quarter mile from the race site and showed up with a good 7 minutes to spare. This gave enough time to use the facilities, look for the Soccer Mom. She was also running the race with her husband, whom I guess I'll call 'Soccer Dad' although I'm not so sure he's ever touched a soccer ball before. Anyway, I failed miserably at finding the happy couple. I joined the +1100 people at the starting line. I had noticed than even with the swarming masses of human flesh, the ~30ยบ start temperature was still quite chilly.

I arbitrarily picked a spot and jumped into the bunch. Almost immediately, a guy looks at me, remembers my name and shakes my hand. I admit that I had never actually seen this guy before. He snarfs at me. Apparently, he's a once-and-future triathlete going out for a run. His name was Peter (which I remember now and not on race morning). He claims that we have battled in triathlon in the past. We tend to be close in the water, then I smack him in the bike, only to have him run me down at the end. This scheme has worked on occasion for him but, more times than not, I am the victor. Maybe this guy does know me. That seems like my style of triathloning.

Since I gave myself a matter of 2 minutes to chit chat in line before the gun, Peter and I didn't have much of a chance for a reunion. He told me that he just got emburdened by triathlon. He's lost his desire to train. He has become my living nightmare in the world of sport. I loathe the day in which the SBR loses its appeal and I become a runner. I cannot imagine the hell he is going through. Luckily for me, this has not happened. Good luck to you, Pete. I hope to see you again and maybe I'll remember you.

My pre-race plan stated that I wanted to run 7:20s. This pace would give me a PR and validate my training program. My strategy was to run the first mile at whatever happened. I have done enough races to know that mile 1 is a lost cause. I cannot control this mile and thus I have given up. I wanted to control miles 2-12. The idea is to hold at 7:20s. If I had anything left, I'd give it up at the end.

Mile 1 went exactly as planned. The Ego Gene was in full throttle and the running came very easy. My pace was actually slower than expected with a comfortable 7:07. Mile 2 was when I was supposed to start controlling the pace. Of course, I came in at 7:01. After the Garmin chimed in for the second mile, I dedicated myself to pacing. Mile 3 was a 7:17. Mile 4 was a 7:15. Mile 5 was a 7:24.

At no point did yesterday's soreness subside. I carried my aching quadriceps with me every step of that race. I was a bit uplifted that I was able to hold the pace that well. Having done this course a couple of times in the past, I knew the bliss would be challenged. Towards the end of the 6th mile, we entered the cemetery. My legs were already dead (pun intended).

The problem with the cemetery is that it sucks on multiple levels. It is hilly. It is on an uneven surface. It winding. There was this awesome guy, dressed in a kilt, playing the bagpipes. For some reason, he was belting out "Amazing Grace". I'm pretty sure this is the greatest tune every done on the bagpipes..."how sweet the sound...". I wouldn't put it on my list of greatest pump up songs. I regretted not bringing some sort of music player now. I ran the next 6 miles with "...that saved a wretch like me..."

Maybe it was the dead people. Maybe it was the pain in my legs. Maybe I'm a pansy. Maybe I'm under trained. The rest of the race got progressively slower. My PR was blatantly obvious past it's prime at the 10 mile mark, when my pace had slowed to a 8:05. Mile 11 stung at an 8:18. This is when I started to bonk.

The Bonk
Mile 12 was 8:48. My pace is slowing almost exponentially at this point. The pace does not tell you the emotion involved. If you have never experienced a bonk before, it is something otherworldly. In all my years of racing and training, I have only bonked once before. That was during the Ironman Lake Placid 2010. I did not finish that race.

Bonking is more than getting tired during a race. Bonking is more than having your legs hurt. Bonking is more than a failure to be able to work hard. Or the inability to speed up. Or progressively getting slower. Some people think that bonking happens when your body runs out of usable carbs. Or when you hit the wall. Or run out of your second wind. Bonking is all of these things and much, much more deep.

Imagine being in the middle of a run and your overall focus is on finding a nice spot to stop. Now, you don't want to stop and walk. You don't want to stop and sit. You want to stop and sleep. You have no pain anymore. You are not breathing hard. Most of your body is completely numb. You yawn. Look, there's some grass in the sun. You can sleep there. Ooh, check out the concrete. You could nap there. If a car were to hit you right now, you would not be upset because that would mean you'd finally get to sleep. Your very existence is focused on becoming unconscious as soon as possible. This is bonking.

I did not give in to this phenomenon. Nor did I once stop running. I held on to exactly one thought that kept my legs moving. In the very recent past, I have done an awful lot of yelling at my athletes for walking during a workout. Chances are that most of my athletes were still in bed at this time. Chances are that they didn't even know that there was a race going on. Chances are that there would never be any evidence of my pansiness. But, on the outside chance that someone would take a picture or video of me not running and that maybe one of my kids would see it-I kept running until the finish line..."I once was lost, but now am found..."

The Results
Despite that fact that my first 7 miles were the fastest of my 1/2 marathons, I did not PR. I actually ran my slowest Flower City Half Marathon to date. My Garmin clocked in at a 1:43.35, making it slower than my previous slowest by a 2 minutes. I have not had the courage to look at the official race results.

I grabbed some water and a gel. The main race venue is indoors with flush toilets (one of the greatest aspects of this race!). I went and plopped myself down in a stall, partly to use the facility, partly to get off my feet, and partly to warm up. Despite my urge to sleep, Soccer Mom and Dad were still out on the course. I had told her that I would come back and find her. I hate disappointing her so it was back to running for me. Okay, it was more like a fast walk. And by fast walk, I mean slow walk. But, I was heading in her direction which is all that counts.

I found the Soccer Parents about 0.75 miles away from the finish line. The Ego Gene jumped back to life and I started running again. We ran. We chatted. About 200 yards before the finish, I veered off the course and let them finish on their own. My work here was done.

Later reports show that Soccer Mom beat Soccer Dad. She is quite competitive by nature and busted out into a sprint at the end. I missed it. Not Soccer Dad. He was shocked by the move and couldn't keep up. Soccer Mom set a new PR by a couple of minutes, even without the sprint.

When I analyze my Garmin files, I see the pace drop off. I did have the courage to look inside of myself to try and learn what went right and wrong. My speed is up. However, I think my overall endurance is down. I now know where my next couple of training blocks will be focused .

"...Was blind but now I see.."

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