First of all, a marathon is never "just" a marathon, no matter how many ultras one has run. So many things have to NOT go wrong over the course of 42 km in order to run the race you hope to run.
The history behind the "Large Belt" Nature Marathon: Denmark had previously been broken up into amts (the approximate equiavalent of a US county). But in 2007, amts were done away with and united into larger "regions". To celebrate the new large "Region Sjælland" (where we live), a race was developed along the coast of "Large Belt" (a body of oceanic water between Sjælland and Odense) to display the beauty of the region. It is a point to point race, from Slagelse to Skælskør (seen below), with the first half mostly on roads and the second half on sand and wooded trails along the coast of Storbælt.
At the start were a decent amount of people we knew, including Hernriette, Ultra Ole and Maj-Britt M from our Tri club. And as SR pointed out after the race, he had never seen a start line in Denmark with so many in-shape women, most of whom I'd never seen before. Where had they been hiding? Though placing obviously says nothing in particular about one's race, I had hoped to be in the top three to get a big money prize (top 3 get between 100 and 200 dollars). But with about 200 runners, it wasn't a tiny trail marathon.
SR and I both felt good. But SR's foot had been bothering him and he just hasn't had much training in the last half year. I felt well-rested, well-fed and hydrated, and I don't think I have EVER been in the shape I am in now. Not that you can tell from a shadowy picture of me, but I have lost 4 pounds in the last month and a half and have become a significantly faster swimmer and cyclist over the last few months. I didn't suffer from lack of confidence, let's put it that way. But I hadn't tapered and was mentally treating this run as a training run for Voyageur 50 miler.
The first half marathon was run on rolling country roads, with distant views of the oceanic waterway. I ran in a pack of men and a woman, Nanna Berg, who I had never met before, but who had won the race last year. It was a beautiful day, I felt great and I figured I would run the whole way with them. At about mile 9, I got really hungry. I had taken sports drink at the first two aid stations, but the fruit at the aid stations didn't didn't sound good to me. So I pulled out my one yucky Danish gel and downed the whole packet. Bleh! Terrible. And then I got a side stitch. But, I know enough to know that side stitches go away. At least at some point. I ran the next two miles with the group, clutching my side. I kept up, but I could see they were on pace to run about a 1:38 half marathon. So I slowed a bit, wanting to avoid the same mistake I made in the Copenhagen marathon. I ran my own race and was enjoying it. I thought I was 3rd female, but when I came through the half marathon in just over 1:40, they announced I was 4th female. Oh, well.
The half-marathon participants were lined up and would start in 20 minutes and run on the same trail as us. As I ran through the streets of Korsør, a young girl scootered almost right into me. Her father thought this was quite cute, despite the course being marked off. I yelled at her and then her father yelled back at me in return. I almost had an asthma attack due to the anxiety. But I told myself to just smile at everyone I saw from then on and the anxiety would subside. And it did, somewhat.
We turned to running along the beach. Sand running is not easy. And then there was quite a steep hill into the woods section, which I walked up. Wow. This was feeling like an ultra trail race. And then in the woods, something happened AGAIN. Bewteen 16 and 17 miles, just like in the Copenhagen Marathon. Everything was spinning and I couldn't put one foot in front of the other. I felt extremely dehydrated and hungry. I just walked, confused, desperate and frustrated.
Maybe I really had a medical condition. You know, that feared condition of "can't run more than 17 miles". Great time to get down on myself, but I really DO train for half marathons and not marathons, I thought. Due to time restraints, my runs come in short bursts, not the every other day 3 hour epics I used to enjoy. Well, there would be no dropping out this time, no matter what. I needed to train for Voyageur, after all.
I didn't think I could survive to the next aid station, but I did. And I drank 4 cups of energy drink and ate a granola bar. I started walking, but once I ran again, the vomiting started. I think I vomited about 5 times there. Not sure. But then at least I could run again. There were aid stations every 4 km. With 2km to the next station, I became desperate again for fluid. I had to walk again. It was beautiful scenery in salty-air woods with perfect dirt trails. I had listened to the same song about 40 times now, Into the Ocean by Blue October, so I decided I had best just turn off the music as every bit of sensory input nauseated me. I ran in spurts and the next aid station arrived. I drank a few cups (3?) and ate a little granola bar again. (God, I wanted peanuts or chocolate or cookies or something rich/salty!) And then I puked again and again and again. But chin up, I was going to do this. It began to hurt too much to walk, due to a strange pes anserine intertwined with left hip problem, so I basically had to run if I was going to finish this. I reached desperately into my pocket for my ibuprofen, which had turned to dust and wafted their way out of the shorts fabric into the salty storbælt air. Hmmm. I ate a little of the remaining Ibu-dust, which was of minor help.
I actually ended up running with the same group of men all the way to the end. So they got to enjoy seeing me puke my guts out after every remaining aid station. The stations came every 2km towards the end. There was lots of challenging and beautiful beach-side sand running and hilly, grassy trails. But my experience could not be called "fun" in the traditional sense.
The race really had the feeling of an ultra, with people all suffering together and chearing each other on. And the shared "another patch of sand?!" misery. With 5km to go, I had a nurse come up to me when she saw I couldn't walk and I was puking. I reassured her I'd make it to the end alive (and of course, if I didn't, it would be all her fault).
The support of the fans along the route the entire race was so wonderful. Despite it being such a long route, there was not a moment where one could not see a supporter or more on the sidelines. I'm not just saying that to seem grateful. The morale was high the entire race because of the enthusiastic supporters.
As I hobble-ran through downtown Skælskør to the finish, I got tears in my eyes, but also couldn't help feeling embarrassed by my slowest ever marathon finish time of 3:45. Here I am rallying, but losing in a sprint to the guy next to me. I remained 4th place woman the entire race, so I guess I wasn't the only one who slowed down.
I am really not sure what happened there at 16 miles, but I would love to hear your opinions. I honestly think it was a combination of many things:
- training for shorter distances
- unwittingly starting the race with a fluid and calorie deficit
- no tapering
- somehow getting low on salt
The only thing I can think of doing differently is taking salt tabs and being sure I eat more.
Certainly my left hip problem also contributed to my slow time.
There was SR at the finish and he looked strangely refreshed. Well, he had dropped at 20 miles due to nausea and dehydration and hitched a ride to the finish. Gosh and it really wasn't that warm, maybe 70 degrees and sunny. He had also been in 4th place when he dropped. I felt bad. I had expected him to do well, maybe even win. Apparently Henriette also dropped, a little earlier at the half marathon. But I haven't yet heard exactly what happened.
Well, it was a perfectly-arranged, beautiful race with an overwhelming number of volunteers and supporters. Here are some pictures of Danes I don't know running the race yesterday, to give you the idea of the scenery:
The ONLY thing I would change would be (speaking as the spoiled American I am) adding some food to the aid stations that isn't fruit or granola bars. Suggestions: peanuts, cookies, chocolate. Or perhaps I could eat more beforehand and just stop complaining.
There was live music and partying afterwards in the beautiful seaside downtown of Skælskør and SR and I had time to discuss the race as we waited for the bus back to the start. Well, we've done a lot of races lately and perhaps it's time for more normal training and full recovery. I for one really need this entire month to get my hip back to normal before Voyageur. SR has announced he is not running Voyageur, but will run the 5k at Carlton Days the night before (and go for the win).
Picture from a park in Rønnebæk the day before the race:
Running Song of the day, as mentioned above: Into the Ocean by Blue October