Saturday, January 26, 2013

From Devastation to Delight

Those of you who know me well know that I was fairly disappointed in my finish time at the Marine Corps Marathon last October.  You can read the race report here.  It's not that I wasn't thankful for a PR and a Boston-Qualifying time on my second marathon.  It's just that I had trained to run a 3:30, not a 3:53!  I had followed the 18-week, 55-70 mile/week, training plan from Pfitzinger's Advanced Marathoning.  It's a good, solid plan, and it led to great improvements in both my endurance and speed.  I had gone in fairly confident of hitting my goal within 5-10 minutes.  The disappointment of missing my goal by 23 minutes was a bitter pill to swallow.

I don't stay down for long though!  We had not even driven halfway home from Washington, D.C., before I was plotting my "come-back/revenge" race.  I briefly considered running the Jacksonville Marathon in December, but it only allowed one month of recovery time.  In retrospect, I'm glad I held off.

Instead, I set my sights on the Tallahassee Marathon on February 3, 2013.  The race had several things going for it. The first and biggest was that Tallahassee is my home town.  Instead of hauling the family on a 10-hour car trip, staying in three different hotels, walking through museums for three days, and navigating DC traffic, I would be staying with my parents or sister, having a short and easy drive, and avoiding the general stress of a family vacation.

Another advantage to the Tallahassee Marathon is that the course is pancake flat.  I like that.  Don't get me wrong - hills are good for you (really, they are!).  However, I train on a flat trail near home, so this was the best course I could hope for.  The weather is typically fairly dry in February, and the 5-year temperatures for race day appeared to be in a very good range as well.  Therefore, all I had to do was to get ready to run another 26.2 - this time without starting to fall apart half-way through the race and then totally falling apart in the last four miles.

Although I took a slightly different approach this cycle, training went fairly well until last Saturday, two weeks before race day.  The plan that day was to run a dress rehearsal.  I aimed to run little over 19 miles at somewhere very close to marathon goal pace (8:00/mile).  Although the stats for that day showed I ran an average pace of about 8:17, the experience was (as the title of this post indicates)...devastating.

The first half of the run went fine until just before the turn-around.  I could tell I was breathing kind of hard.  However, I reasoned that the trail had a slight incline there, and that with a10-minute break at a slower pace, I would rally.  When the ten minutes were up, I was not at all eager to run 60 more minutes at pace.  I had fueled that morning with a slice of toast with peanut butter, a half a banana, and 8-oz water.  I carried 23-oz of G2 (actually, it was the Kirkland brand - from Costco - of a sports drink, containing 40 calories) and 3 Accel gels.  The temperature was just above freezing, so I wasn't worried too much about becoming dehydrated.

In the second half of the run, I experienced several symptoms that gradually worsened: blurred vision, graying out around the edges of my vision, headache, disorientation, inability to focus, nausea, heavy breathing, and extreme fatigue.  Keep in mind, I'm sort of used to hard runs.  I know what it is to be tired.  This was far worse.  I felt like I could drop onto the grass and instantly fall into a deep sleep.  However, I am not one to quit.  Even when my running buddies noticed that I was not looking or sounding good, I kept going.  I think I would have run until I actually passed out.  Fortunately, that did not happen.  In looking at my stats, I saw that I had almost hit my goal pace for the run (I ran about an 8:17 average pace).  However, I had felt completely spent with still four miles to go.  It was truly grueling.

I stopped running about a third of a mile short of the end, turned off my watch, and walked the remaining distance.  Even that was very, very hard.  I got in my car and drove 5 minutes home, noting that my vision was extremely blurry.  As soon as I opened the door, I requested that my husband get me some Advil, very quickly!  Something made me decide to take my blood pressure.  To my utter amazement, it was almost a coma-inducing low of 76/55!  No wonder I felt like passing out!  My head throbbed for about an hour after that, but after a couple of hours, I was glad to see my blood pressure rise to about 100/61.  By that night, it was back in the normal range at 124/77.

For the next few days, as I stroked my wounded ego and dealt with an incredibly low confidence level, I undertook the task of thoroughly research blood pressure and running.  Because I take 10mg Lisinopril nightly (a low dose) to combat a mild, but persistent case of hypertension, I also checked into how that drug might impact my running.  Friends and family urged me to see a doctor, but something told me that the only things a doctor would do are 1) tell me not to run so hard, which is completely unacceptable, 2) adjust my dose of medicine, or 3) try a new medicine.

I decided I would get to know my BP range very well.  For the next few days, I took a reading first thing in the morning, another at 9:00 at night, and one I track separately after every run.  My morning BP is much lower than my evening BP (this is typical).  I also decided to do a test (totally NOT doctor recommended or approved) of going off the medicine for two days.  After two days, my BP rose to just in the "mildly elevated" range.  When I went back on the med,  my BP returned to normal by the next day.  Therefore, taking this approach seemed like a good strategy to ensure my BP stayed high enough on very long runs, and especially for the marathon.

Since I planned to run another 19-miler the next Saturday (this morning), I stopped taking the medicine two days ahead of time.  My BP this morning was 147/83.  That's a bit high, but I know that it's not scary high.  Again, I fueled about the same.  The only difference was that I drank 16-oz of water with a Nuun tablet about an hour before the run.  I wanted to make sure hydration wasn't an issue.

I gave myself full permission to adjust pace to how I felt.  I was not going to push it.  However, because last week's run was pretty devastating, I seriously hoped this run would provide some sort of psychological boost.  I'll cut to the chase; it went incredibly well!!  Although I was not aiming to run as fast as I did last week, my pace was actually a tiny bit faster (an 8:15 average).  What's even better is that I felt comfortable the whole time.  By mile 15, I was feeling downright frisky!  Therefore I loosened the reins a little.  Miles 16 and 17 were at just over a 7:30 pace.  I then decided to slow down a little at the end (because the marathon is in a week, and I really shouldn't have run this far or fast).  However, I still coasted in very comfortably with times just under an 8:00 pace.  Best of all, when I got back, my BP was a fairly decent 106/69.

The med strategy appears to have worked well to keep my BP from plummeting drastically at the end of a long run (again, I'm sure any doctors reading this would heartily frown upon this approach).  I doubt I'll ever get off the Lisinopril totally because my weight, nutrition, and fitness level are already very good and my average BP runs a little high.  However, I got the desired boost of confidence I need for next Sunday.  I plan to go out slow and listen to my body.  I would so much rather have a negative split than a heavily positive one, and I really, really don't want to feel like crying or passing out during the last 10K of the race.  If I can avoid these two things, I don't mind if I miss my goal by a little.  As a good friend says, a marathon finish time is just one more data point in life.  I am proud and happy about what my body can do when I run.  A good run delivers some of the best endorphins imaginable and does wonders for my self-esteem, even if/when I suffer a disappointment.

So, be on the lookout for a race report in the next couple of weeks!


  1. Hi Gail, so glad you figured this out and a gutsy move I may add. Sounds as if you are in awesome shape and with the meds thing under control I bet you have a big PR waiting for you next weekend! Can't wait for the race report.

    1. Wow, thanks for your support, Dan! It's all a gamble on race day, but today at least put me in a better frame of mind in terms of confidence. I promise a full race report!

  2. Good luck Gail next weekend. I am also glad to see you got things figured out.

    1. Thanks, James! Sounds like you are on track to run well in your upcoming races too.