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Also Ran Part VI

By Rohit Grover

As you near race day, remember to visualize the end!

The finish line was visible on the trail just past a road bridge. The gravel course had given way to bark chips and I could see some guy with the number “19” on his shirt just ahead of me, but he showed no signs of slowing, and I had very little left in me. I watched him cross the finish, and a few seconds later I did too. I knew I’d outdone my goals at the start of the race by a lot.

As soon as I stopped my watch and stopped running I realized I was wobbly and ready to fall. An eagle-eyed volunteer saw me wobbling, and directed me to a chair, then other volunteers brought me some Coke and a banana. I distracted myself from my exhaustion by trying to sing along to the Beatles songs playing at the finish line, and a few minutes later I was back in the land of the living.

This didn’t happen in my visualization exercise. The only part I was able to visualize was crossing the finish line under an arch that said “FINISH”. There was no landscape around it. I kept forcing the clock to read just under my “A” time when visualizing, but it would keep switching to 3:05:01, past my “B” time.

It takes a village.

As I have noted before (Also Ran part 3), I missed getting into Boston 2018 by six seconds. I signed up for two marathons for my next BQ attempts: Tucson Marathon, in Dec 2017, and the Light at the End of the Tunnel, in June 2018. LETM usually sells out, so I had signed up well before I ran Tucson. Then, having scraped in under BQ time by slightly over 5 min at Tucson (Also Ran part 5), I resolved to use LETM as my experiment in using a high-mileage training plan (upto 75 miles/week, based on plans in Pfitzinger’s Advanced Marathoning; hat-tip: Chad Muszynski via Raquel). My goal was to try to get under 3:05, maybe under 3:00. I knew that under-3:00 was likely not possible, but a fella can dream, right?

I modified the plan to suit my schedule and what I thought I could realistically do, and  had Dean Anderson vet it early in the training cycle. The training cycle went well, with Rick’s prescription of intervals, and long runs with friends. Then, at the start of the taper, I emailed my taper plan to Tim Swietlik to get feedback on whether I was tapering too much/too little and got his seal of approval. I also solicited Tim’s opinion on my plan for pacing: “Pace predictors say I should plan for 3:07 on a flat course, and about 5-6 min faster for the Tunnel course, so I plan to start at a 2:58 pace and allow for positive splits.”

Tim’s reply was a good prod in the gluteal muscles, “… why would you PLAN for positive splits? Why not plan for even, or better yet, negative splits? Are you confident you can run sub-3:00? If so, go out at 6:50/mile pace and either maintain throughout, or pick it up over the last 3-4 miles if you’re feeling strong.”

Clearly, Tim was a lot more ambitious for me than I was for myself. Suitably chastened, my response was “… I think I can maintain 6:50-6:55, will go for even splits.”

Is it beets?

About a year ago, I started supplementing my pre-race nutrition with beet juice or beet juice concentrate. A recent article I read claimed that in addition to an instantaneous effect, beet juice has a loading effect; the loading protocol was 0.5 liter of beet juice every day for 15 days prior to the activity. Yes, I followed the protocol. I don’t relish drinking it again anytime soon.

Matt Fitzgerald’s book recommends about 3000 calories the day before the race, a calorie excess of about 1500, with 70% from carbs. On Saturday morning, my younger daughter presented me with a big pyrex container filled with spaghetti marinara.  Perfect for carb loading. I drove up to Washington, picked up the race packet, then sat in the van and ate spaghetti. Then I checked into the motel, and ate some more spaghetti. I topped off the spaghetti with pancakes from the local IHOP, and a bagel when I returned to the motel.

Having tossed and turned in a non-smoking motel room that intermittently reeked of cigarette smoke, I was ready to be awake when the alarm sounded. I wolfed down a couple of bagels and a bottle of beet juice, put on some layers, and drove off to the shuttle stop.

Take your caffeine pill and put your singlet on.

It was a cold and rainy morning …

I started my warmup in 3 layers of clothing, but the rain was intermittently heavy and after a few half-hearted attempts at jogging in the parking lot, I resigned myself to sitting in the warm bus. The rain stopped a few minutes before the start. As race time approached, I discarded the extra layers and headed outside to see some familiar faces from the Portland area in the sea of runners — Kelly Chang (eventually 2nd place female), Jerry Mark, Dave Harkin, and Shawn Fitzgerald.

My phone buzzed “Good luck” from my wife just as I was getting ready to drop off the bag. While exchanging texts with my wife, I remembered I’d forgotten to pack chili peppers, my secret weapon against cramps. D’oh!

The “Oh F*ck” Moment.

The race very quickly puts runners into a 2+ mile-long tunnel, requiring you to run with a headlamp. The first mile ticked by in 6:39 on my watch, but the mile marker arrived a little after my watch beeped. I figured I’d started too fast, so I slowed down a little, and the second mile ticked by in 7:01. The second mile marker was even further from when my watch beeped. As the light at the end of the tunnel made its presence felt, I did a heroic job of tearing off my headlamp, switching it off (4 clicks – dim, dimmer, flashing, off), and placing it in a plastic bag with a double knot to toss into a truck at the tunnel exit with random precision.

As we exited the tunnel, I turned to the guy running next to me.

“Hey, were the mile markers off?”

“No, the course was wheeled, the markers are spot-on. GPS doesn’t work in the tunnel.”

In a flash, I remembered what a colleague had mentioned. Chen-guan had run the tunnel marathon in 2017, and told me he lost a lot of time in the tunnel because his watch didn’t work, he didn’t know his pace, ended up going slow in the dark, and couldn’t make up for it later. I thought my watch would still be reasonably accurate because it has a built-in accelerometer, but this assumption was not based on any actual data.

“Oh, f*ck,” I said, pronouncing the asterisk beautifully. And sped up. I hit the lap button at the third mile marker to get the laps to sync with the mile markers. Within a few more miles it became clear that my watch was giving me garbage for pace. Running at what seemed like the same effort gave me pace readings that fluctuated between 5:55 and 7:40. We were running between tall trees and lots of low clouds and fog. I had to run by feel, maybe using my watch in areas clear of trees, something I had done only once before in a race, three years prior.

I frantically started doing calculations based on the mile markers and the total time elapsed and figured I could still get my “B” goal of 3:05. I sucked down a Gu and found a guy who seemed to know what he was doing and started drafting off him through mile 8 until he told me not to. “Start running in front of me, next to me, or put some daylight between us.” I slowed down a bit. (I passed him later in the race, and he was super nice at the finish, so it’s all good.)

The course was an unpaved gravel track, lined with tall trees, fog-covered mountains, and occasional waterfalls. There were some runners, bikers, and hikers, most of whom were cheering the runners. Every once in a while, the sun broke through the clouds and created unwelcome anxiety — I did not want it to get warm. After my second Gu, around mile 8, Radiohead’s Lucky started playing on a loop in my head.

At mile 11, there were the beginnings of cramp in my left calf, which was pretty scary. I figured if I slowed down too much, I’d be in full-blown cramp, so I had to keep going.

At halfway point, a spectator was cheering the runners, and said, “Sub-3:00 pace!”

“Great! I must’ve made up for the time lost earlier!”

Around mile 16, and the third Gu, Radiohead gave way to Monty Python. The Cheese Shop sketch was playing on a loop. I kept remembering John Cleese asking for cheesy comestibles.

At mile 18, I just knew that I couldn’t slow down or I’d cramp.

At mile 20, I started counting down the remaining miles, and my watch was telling me I was probably around 6:40-6:50 pace but I had no idea if it meant anything useful. Fortunately, Chen-guan had warned me about the hairpin bend around 20.5 miles — a definite wipeout risk — and it went by without any trouble.

Mile 23 went without the cramps that spoiled Tucson.

If I knew how fast I was going, I’d have slowed down.

At mile 24, I looked at how much time had elapsed and realized that even if I strung together two 7-min miles I’d be well under 2:55. The spectator at halfway point said sub-3:00 pace and he was right.

Because sub-2:55 is also sub-3:00.

I passed a couple of runners in the next two miles. As I passed the 26 mile mark, the finish line was visible on the trail as it went under a road bridge. The gravel course had given way to bark chips and I could see some guy with the number “19” on his shirt just ahead of me, but he showed no signs of slowing, and I had very little left in me. I crossed the finish line some time after him, I’m pretty sure the announcer announced my name, and I know I stopped my watch. I didn’t look at the time, I just knew I’d come in under 2:55 and done a lot better than I intended.

Everyone at the race had the same last name.

After I collected my bag, I went to the results booth, checked my time, and got a printout … 2:53:24. For some reason it was assigned to John Grover on the computer attached to the printer, and they took some time to fix it, but they got it sorted. I later found that John Grover, bib #326, was the guy with “19” on his back and had finished 12 seconds ahead of me. My bib, #327, was John Grover’s bib last year and the results computer was probably referencing the last year’s database.

Then it was off to the motel for a shower, and lunch with friends. For some reason, I couldn’t taste salt in food, but I’m assured by my friends that the food had salt – that inability to taste salt lasted for a few hours. I got home late in the evening, and had cake and champagne with my family.

A few days after the race, the race director noted on Facebook that some of the initial mile markers may have been placed incorrectly. The GPS track on my watch matched the trail quite well, and the total distance shown was near-correct, so I suspect the instantaneous pace and data inside the tunnel may have been most of the problem.

***

The week before LETM, Raghav Wusirika asked me what I was planning for the race, noting that I was usually conservative in races. In a fit of bravado, not quite believing myself, I said that I planned to go out fast and allow myself to “blow-up”.

At Holiday Half 2016, I’d asked Raghav what pace he was planning to go out at. His reply stuck with me: “As fast as I can run.”

I think I ran as fast as I could have run.

Discussion

3 Responses to “Also Ran Part VI”

  1. Superb Race Rohit! and thanks for your pre race advice…worked wonders!… all thee best for Boston!

    Posted by Amit Srivastava | July 13, 2018, 3:50 am
  2. Wow! Amazed at how far you’ve come Rohit! very inspiring. I run at 10 min/ mile for 5-7 miles. Inspired now to push myself and get to where you are!

    Posted by Milind Kopikare | July 15, 2018, 6:21 pm
  3. Great effort Rohit. Probably helped running by feel instead of an accurate watch! Impressive.

    Posted by terry sullivan | October 12, 2018, 12:32 pm

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