Photo from Mount Royal, Frisco, Colorado.

"That is happiness; to be disolved into something complete and great. When it comes to one, it comes as naturally as sleep." - Willa Cather

Tuesday, 19 June 2012

Grandma's Marathon & The Doping Effects of Pregnancy

Courtesy of Grandma's Marathon- The Aerial Lift Bridge on the horizon marks the finish
About a month ago, I convinced SR to let me run Grandma's Marathon in Duluth. Since January, I had suspected I could run a PR marathon. But then my ITB injury left me unable to train for 16 weeks. Common wisdom would say this much time off would ruin my chances of a PR, but I wasn't so sure.

Mid June is also a bad time to try to run a fast marathon in the US. But, Alaska aside, Duluth may be the coolest option.

 This marathon is a huge deal for the city of Duluth. In fact, two years ago when we were staying at a bed and breakfast there (when I had my miscarriage), the owner said Grandma's Marathon was the biggest event of the year in the city.

And just to give you an idea of how big and competitive it is, the women's marathon was won by Everlyne Lagat of Kenya in 2:33:14 and the half marathon by Kara Goucher in 1:09:46 (It should be noted that Duluth is Kara's hometown). In order for me to have placed in the top 10 in my age group, I would have had to run in under 2:52.

Truth be told, the running conditions were nearly perfect. Slight tail wind, predicted high of 69 F. The humidity was nearly 100%, but the runners wouldn't realize until the end how important this was, when many were vomiting due to dehydration (it was quite lovely, actually).

I was not exactly feeling perfect to begin with. I fell asleep at about 2am and had to wake up at 4am to take the train with Divesh, Alicia Hudelson's husband, to the start. The train took 1 hour and 15 minutes to go the approximately 24 miles. Granted, it is a beautiful 24 miles along Lake Superior. There was no driving to the start allowed. The other thing that was not allowed at the start was urination. The lines were eternal for the port-a-pottys, which is expected, but there were also men on ATV's patrolling the bushes! So I started the race having to pee (good thing my shorts were black, as usual).

I lined up with Divesh, Alicia Hudelson's husband, and another friend Tom, just behind the 3:15 pacing group. The last time I started out at a sub 3:20 pace was The Copenhagen Marathon 2 years ago. At that time, I had trained exactly according to the book (intervals, tempos and long runs with rest days in between for over 6 months). But I "hit the wall" at mile 16 of that race. Now in 2012, all of my training had been "wrong". I was taking a big chance starting out this fast. Yet I suspected it wasn't too fast. And I knew something this time that I didn't know then: EAT AND DRINK CONSTANTLY WHILE RUNNING A FAST MARATHON. And this is what I did. I never felt great, but I felt okay. The whole thing felt a little too much like a productive day at the office (with gorgeous views).

 I ran the first half marathon in 1:38:46.

Nearing the finish. Both feet off the ground and no belly!
When I saw SR at 22 miles with Christian and Mattias, running along side me in the baby jogger, I got a bit of a boost, but I was so nauseated that when Christian started yelling he was hungry, I had to ask to run alone (which I felt awful about later - it's amazing how terrible you can feel while doing what you love!).

 My pace slowed slightly and I finished in 3:18:38, just under a 6 minute PR.

So, why, desipte just being injured for 16 weeks, was I able to run a sub 3:20 marathon yesterday when I couldn't two years ago when I had trained exactly "right"?? (I should also note, I only had a two day taper this time, but didn't run for 8 days prior to the Copenhagen Marathon)  

I have three theories: 

 1. Fuel: again, I ate constantly during the race yesterday, well, 2 gels and 6 large pieces of chocolate. Every time I ate, my energy returned almost fully. I also stopped at every single aid station to drink and they were every two miles. Finally, I ate a ton the two days leading up to the race, and healthy food. 

 2. Knowledge of The Marathon: I simply am more familiar with what it is like to run a marathon (this can't be the only explanation considering lots of people slow down despite running many). 

 3. The Doping Effect of Pregnancy: 

 Most of you are probably already thinking it's too late for this, but let me explain. In the small amount of literature written about the doping effect of pregnancy, young women athletes in Eastern Germany during the 1970's are mentioned ("abortion doping"). Supposedly these women got pregnant simply to induce red blood cell production and then would abort the baby and get a boost in their training similar to what one would get with epo (imagine training in an environment like this!). This effect should not last more than 3 months, given the life of a red blood cell. 

But time and again, I have witnessed and heard of women who have gone on to set personal records in running of all sorts of distances after (an entire) pregnancy, though not within the first three months post-partum. So there must be a more long-lasting form of "doping" and I think the answer must lie in muscle memory. The body simply adjusts to all of that extra weight and when that weight is suddenly gone, the mother's body is much more efficient at running. I do not know how long this lasts, but suspect it is between 1 and 2 years and is likely more pronounced the more you run while pregnant. And of course, if you continue to train, you can extend the benefits out for many years. 

 Or, 4. as Danni mentioned to me earlier today, maybe I ran a PR because I gave up diet soda :).

I am glad I got the PR out of the way so I can enjoy the fun trail races, bike races and triathlons of the summer. 

Four days later and the city of Duluth is under water: the worst flood it has exerienced in 40 years.

This is the corner SR, Christian and Mattias cheered me on from during the race. Now you need a Sundolphin to access it.
I don't mean to make light of this: but does this guy think he's going shopping?


Jacqueline said...

Nice PR! And good job giving up diet pop. I totally see the bloat when I drink it ... but I love Diet Coke anyway!

amy said...

Woohoo! Way to go--nice new PR!

Now I just need to figure out how to get pregnant. OK, I understand the "how" part...not exactly what I meant.

mmmonyka said...

Who is Alicia Hudelson? You mentioned her twice, so it must be someone important:)

You failed to notice that there has been 2 years of training (pretty much consistent training or as much as consisent as one can be when pregnant, and a loooooot of miles) between Copenhagen and now. I think that has played a huge role as well. You just become a better runner. It is that simple.

mmmonyka said...

And yeah, I forgot. Congrats on your PR!!!!!!!

Kirsten said...

Congrats! You are SO good and I'm always trying to learn from your experiences. How do you manage to eat when you feel nauseated? I feel so sick and everything closes up when I get into the 20 plus kilometers and I cannot eat at all. And end up running a marathon on one fruitpuree and a few cups of energy drink. That makes lousy times......

Olga King said...

1. fueling/hydrating
2. getting more experienced
3. not over-training due to injury?

Congrats! :)

sea legs girl said...

Mmmonyka, Alicia Hudelson is the redhead who I was competing with at the Chippewa 50k (had a picture of her) and the woman who won the Arrowhead 135 mile race in mid winter. We got to stay at her parents' house in Duluth!!

sea legs girl said...

Kirsten, the key is to start the fueling early. I started eating at mile three and stopped before mile 20, when I couldn't stomach it anymore. And the last time I drank anything was mile 22.

Marathon Mom said...

Great job! I remember those awful port-a-potty lines at the start, so bad the year we ran that I ended up starting a couple minutes late!

I wonder how much the decrease training helped too, either way great job and congrats!

SteveQ said...

Alicia was in Scotland on her honeymoon and is racing in Scotland next week - and she came back for Grandma's?

I've noticed that a lot of women I know have PR's after having children. I think it's because they are in the mindset of tolerating more pain (no epidurals and PR's!) and also getting better at scheduling their time. There's some talk about hormone-based elasticity of tendons and ligaments being involved, but I don't buy it.

Ana-Maria RunTriLive said...

Congrats! And I agree with Mmmonyka! It takes time to become better at marathons. I also agree with eating a lot before and during the marathon. I take about 5-6 gels during a marathon, starting as early as mile 4.

Anonymous said...

Congratulations on such a great race! I wish I consistently drank diet soda so that I could give it up and run a marathon that fast. ;-P Looks like all of your hard work paid off!

Danni said...

So very awesome! I think experience does help a lot -- it took me 12 marathons to finally experience first-hand that banking large sums of time doesn't work... I am trying to wean myself off diet soda after your experiment and am thinking Kombucha or Lacroix are the best subs for me.

Gemma said...

Congrats on the PR - that's a fantastic time! I agree with you 100% on the pregnancy thing, as I'm currently experiencing what can very aptly be described as a doping effect. I've been a runner for over 20 years, since the age of 12, and have set significant PRs (minutes, not seconds) in every distance from 5k to marathon in the 6 months since having my first baby. I comfortably ran a 3:51 marathon (I know, I'm not that fast, but it's fast for me) at 4 months post partum, when right before becoming pregnant I trained my behind off for weeks to just scrape a sub 2 hour half. My base pace has improved by about 90 seconds per mile, and I'm loving it. Hoping you're right about it lasting several years (at least) with maintenance. And yes, I ran regularly until the day I went to the hospital to be induced. Just thought I'd share.

By the way, that 'nugget' of information about East German athletes is one of the most sickening (although scientifically interesting) things I've heard in a while.

Alicia said...

I didn't realize before that this was a PR--congratulations! Climbers train with weight belts, so I don't see why pregnancy wouldn't do the same job, as long as the extra weight doesn't injure you...

Steve, I missed out on the party at my parents' house, I'm still in the UK. I love Grandma's marathon, but not that much:)

sea legs girl said...

Steve, As always I respect your opinion and have been considering it today. I disagree with women running better after pregnancy due to an increased pain threshold for a few reasons:

1. Women who receive an epidural do not seem to experience less of a boost.

2. I had an epidural with Christian and not with Mattias and had similar improvements in my training each time.

3. Women are very good (thanks to evolution, I bet) at forgetting that pain - and wanting to have another one.

4. It just doesn't seem right to me. It feels way more physiologic than it does a mental strength. I don't think I am more tolerant to pain in general now.

sea legs girl said...

Gemma! Welcome to the blog and thank you so much for sharing your experience. And congrats on all of these PR's. I think that is just awesome! All of us who run know that it is not your exact PR time that matters as much as how much your improvement is- so I am super happy for you!

I 100% agree it is sickening about the East German women. I feel especially bad for the young girls who must have felt forced to do it. There is no proof this happened, however, but lots of speculation.

sea legs girl said...

Alicia- I hope your parents' house is ok! I can't believe what is happening in Duluth right now!

PiccolaPineCone said...

Ok. My world makes so, so much more sense now that you are officially a sub-3:20 marathoner. I know you have many more minutes that are ready to fall off of the time (you ran a 3:14 on the treadmill right??). Now you need to find a flat, fast 1/2 marathon course :)