Wednesday, April 9, 2008

The Waiting Begins....

The training is pretty much over, it’s now all a mental waiting game. Over the years I’ve learned that it is at this point in the training where the Four Realities of Marathoning kick in.

The First Reality: In the two weeks before a marathon there is little you can do improve your chances of success but there is an infinite number of ways to screw it up.

Years ago when I was young, invincible, and ran the marathon to run the marathon I tested this theory. I had run 50+ miles a week at a sub 7:00 minute pace, I could run a sub 6:00 minute mile in work outs and I was mentally ready to run another Boston Marathon in the 2:40’s. But I wanted an edge in the race and there was a fairly new theory on marathoning called “carbo loading”. The theory went something like this…in the days leading up to the race you starve your system of carbohydrates and just feed it protein. Your body becomes carbohydrate starved. Then 48 hours before the race you stuff yourself with carbs and like water on a dry sponge your body sucks up and stores an extra big load of carbs. On race day when everyone else runs out of fuel at 18 miles, you just cruise by them on your reserves. Or so the theory goes.

Have you ever tried to eat a protein only diet? Ok..all you Zone diet guys put your hands down (this was pre Zone). You can have a tuna fish sandwich…without the sandwich. You can have all kinds of meat and fish and some veggies but no condiments, potatoes, rice, or pasta to go with them. Cereal? Nope. Ice Cream? Forget it. Beer or alcohol? Not on your life. When you are running 40-50 miles a week your body becomes this giant calorie furnace and trying to stoke that fire with just proteins is like trying to fuel a blast furnace with twigs. When your body can’t get enough fuel it goes cannibal and starts eating itself. It begins with your fat stores (oh yeah…we marathoners have a lot of those), and then moves on the muscles. While it is busy chowing down on your tissue it is also tearing down your immune system (for a good description of this read “You: Staying Young” by Oprah’s doctor. You can bill it as the Warranty Manual for your body). So here I am thinking I’m building myself up for the big day when in reality I’m reenacting a scene from the night of the living dead.

I would have been happy with a bad day out on the course. Truth is, my body was so run down that I picked up the flu the day before the race and couldn’t even raise my head off the pillow. I can remember telling Pam the morning of the race that I was OK and I could make it, as I tried to crawl out of bed and make it to the bathroom yet again. “Yes honey” was all she said. So after months of 50 mile weeks of running in freezing rain, ankle deep snow, weather so cold a piece of my mustache actually froze and broke off….I watched the race on TV.

The Second Reality: You will be haunted by Phantom Aches and Pains.
Once you’ve proved to yourself that you can run 20 miles in training, the only thing that stands between you and the excitement of race day is the worry that you might get hurt. Every ache, every cramp, every muscle twinge, every stubbed toe is magnified 1000 times until it dominates your thoughts and dreams with a concern that this might prevent you from being able to finish the race. I once knew a guy that got so worked up over a knot in his calf that he ended up in the hospital with an ulcer. In truth almost every runner has to have something wrong with them on the day of the race. Ask any runner how they are the day of the race and they will lapse into a litany of problems. “I have a blister on my left foot, I think I broke my right ankle last night, and I have an acute appendicitis, but otherwise I’m OK.” Establishing the fact that you are not 100% is how we as runners take a bit of the pressure off. That’s not to say some of this is not real. I knew a guy once that finished the marathon with a broken leg. But that’s a whole other story.

The Third Reality: The WALL is real.
The Wall is the point in a marathon when the laws of physics and biology conspire to terminate your ability to continue moving. It’s right about the 18 mile mark when your shoes actually give up the ghost. Despite all our years of technological advances, today’s best shoes have fully compressed the cushioning by this point and effectively you are running in the equivalent of your dress street wingtips (side note…the marathon was actually won once by a man running barefoot). Right about the time your shoes quit, your body runs out of fuel. It has consumed all the energy you have stored for the race and now you are running on shear will power. They call it “running into the wall” because one minute you are feeling OK (a relative statement considering where you are) and the next somebody has put 50 pound weights on each ankle, sucked all the air out of your lungs, and with each step is pounding nails into your thighs. The next 7-8 miles are a mental battle to keep moving at any pace. This is the point where you start to make deals with yourself or with God. “If you just get me to the next mile marker, the next street corner, the next telephone pole…I’ll go to church every Sunday for the rest of my life.”. I’ve convinced myself that God gives a free pass to marathoner promises made in the last 8 miles. He figures they have already done their time in hell.
The truth is, while it is tough for everyone in the last 7+ miles, not everyone hits the wall. You can avoid it by remembering the Fourth Reality…

The Fourth Reality: There’s no such thing as “putting time in the bank” in the first half of the race.
I cringe when I hear someone say “I plan to run the first half faster than my overall pace because I know I’m going to slow down in the second half and this way I can still have a good time.” My advice…just pay 3 big guys to beat the crap out of you now…it will be less painful. It will be a self fulfilling prophecy that if you run the first half of the race at a faster pace than what you expect your average pace to be you will not only hit the wall and slow down substantially, but your last 8-10 miles will make the Bataan Death March look like a Sunday afternoon stroll. When a runner reaches this point I’ve seen spectators in their 80’s with walkers moving faster than they are.

So, if you happen to bump into a Boston Marathoner over the next couple of weeks, be kind. Ask them how they are doing, listen patiently to their list of ailments, and offer them a few words of encouragement and confidence. Whatever you do, don’t ask them what they expect to do for time.

And a quick update on the Hunger Striker Team (the name of our Lazarus House group). We have now raised over $90K on our way to our $100K goal. Thanks to everyone who has contributed, your generosity has been overwhelming. Those of you that would still like to contribute please consider donating in my daughter Heather's name. Her Lazarus House link is

Stay tuned...I'll have one more blog report just before the race to give you my number and let you know how you can check my progress online on the day of the race.

God Bless....


Tob said...

Hey Dave,
As I sit here in the wee hours of the still morn I came across your email and hence your blog. I just want to say what an incredible person you are. You have traveled a road none of us would ever chose, with such grace, openess, spirit, compassion and strength.I feel so blessed to be a part of your family. Nick is so proud of you and all you are to everyone! Run on--Nick and all the rest of your cheering squad will be there!

Tiffany said...

When's the running book coming out, Dad? I figure you've spent enough time coaching, Nick, Matt, Heather, and me (and now Heather's Marshall and my Matt look to you as the running guru too). Since you've proved you're a racing AND literary stud, I think it's time to share your running wisdom with a winder market. Get going on that book (in all your spare time!).