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

Monday 21 June 2010

Race report: Storbælt Naturmaraton 2010

Sometimes a race is such a incredible experience that the desire to share it with other runners is overwhelming. And you are reminded why it is that so many runners have web logs.

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


PiccolaPineCone said...

sounds like exactly the right distance for it to be fueling issues. while you were running your marathon yesterday, i was doing my long run. i skipped dinner the night before due to logistics and wound up getting on a city bus at 24 km (15 miles) b/c i just crashed.
sorry you had problems again! i think you have to pay even more attention to fueling in the days before the race so there is time to store energy as glycogen in your muscles. fueling during the race, while important, can't make up fir coming in with a deficit.

季玉 said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
SteveQ said...

Any time you lose weight in the weeks before a marathon, you're going to get that result. It's just "hitting the wall" - something most people don't seem to do any more. If you're hungry at 9 miles, you really made some nutrition mistakes and underestimated what it takes to do a good marathon (I've been there).

sea legs girl said...

PPC, I didn't imagine someone like you EVER had fueling issues! So you ARE human :). I'm glad you and Steve Q agree. Guess you guys are probably right.

Steve Q, I had to laugh at "'hitting the wall', something most people don't do anymore" :). Do people just never lose weight these days?

Anonymous said...

for a race car to perform well, it has to have fuel... (all it's parts have to be functioning well, lubed, aligned properly, etc also). our bodies are even more complex and finely tuned than that. so take the emotion out of it. the body must have fuel. it must have stored glycogen (what you're eating the weekish before the race, etc), it must have pre-race fuel of some sort (read info on this for some ideas), and it must have quick energy during the race. if the body doesn't have all these things in order, then the risk of difficulty performing is much higher. no emotion about it. add emotion to it and it gets even more complicated. so ignore all the weight loss things and think in terms of fuel, fluid, electrolytes. carry your own so you don't have to worry about the aid stations... cliff shot blocks, gel, honey, whatever works for you. you can process </= 200cal/hr likely. any more = stomach upset, any less = energy upset. if you eat a breakfast 1-2h before, you can partially include that in your first hour. if you eat pb/toast, that takes 2h+ to digest = eat it early so you don't have stomach issues at 1h30 into the race. fluid... hot weather (70 is "hot" in a marathon if you're not specifically trained for it) = more fluid/salt... maybe 14-20oz/hr (ultra)... 90 deg = maybe more like 26+oz/hr... salt... maybe 1tab/hr unless 90 deg, etc.

get this dialed and your training can pay off. get this dialed for races (which means dialed during the week with the frequency you're racing) and your "racing weight" will take care of itself.

no fuel = difficulty performing. no emotion about it.

kristin z

Anonymous said...

Yesterday, Henriette felt like an old, exhausted, extremely thirsty hippopotamus (Oh God, I love this word - a lot more sophisticated than Flodhest).

Hippo, simply didn't have the strengh to make it to the finishing line and gave up its battle already at 23.2 km :o(

I was a beautyful day and a beautyful area and despite what happened yesterday, I will, without doubt, be back next year ... hopefully a little less hippo.

Håber vi ses til et løb snart igen, Tracy.

Vi så knaldgodt ud i de røde bluser :o)


mmmonyka said...

I do not have enough marathon experience to give advice but according to my marathon preparation reading it seems that SteveQ is right about hitting a wall.

Anonymous said...

Exactly the same happened to me once in a marathon race. I started puking after something like 30 km. It went on and on, but I was part of a team for a championchip, so I HAD to carry on, and I scrambled in in 3.36. To me I think it was a combination of cold water at the water stations and a poor nutritinal preparation. To my experience not only the breakfast of the day is important, but the meals of the day before and the day before that.
In my time, I had a problem keeping up my weight. I never weighed my self before a race, but i would eat A LOT :-)

Another thing, Tracy. You have been running a lot of competetion lately. Maybe your body need a break?

Hugs from Helle

sea legs girl said...

Hey Kristin Z,
I appreciate your recommendations. I did have the one gel along and two Petit Ecolier cookies and I ate them, but the weird thing was everything just tasted terribly. I gotta admit that doing something different prerace makes the most sense. But you are right about 70 degrees being hot and is making me also think in terms of salt.

Dear Henriette,
Thanks for that very entertaining description. Yes, no doubt hippo is better in English, but even better in French. Rather than spelling it, just have to write it out phonetically: ee-po-po-TAHM (hippopotame). But you sure didn't look like one. In fact, you look like someone who should beat me and you probably will at some point :). And, yeah, we both looked like babes in the red shirt :). Anyway, op på hesten igen.

Thanks, Mmmonyka.

And Helle, it's great to hear it from someone who has been through the same thing. And it intuitively sounds weird to me to drink just water (cold or not) instead of sports drink at a hot marathon. So perhaps that was also part of your problem. I otherwise agree with your thoughts!

A weird thing is I was puking all day yesterday, too, and still feel nauseated today (I'm not one of those people who can puke at will either). It is hard to get the body back to normal once you've crossed a certain point.

SteveQ said...

Best running song for the summer: "Sound of Sunshine" by Michael Franti and Spearhead.

Anonymous said...

Hi Tracy
Actually I did take sports drink, and it wasn't a hot marathon at all. It was in october. But also the sports drink was cold.
I had a similar, but worse experience in Hamburg once. Then I was running really fast, but I started puking right after ½ marathon. I tried to keep drinking, but I puked over and over again. At 35 km I had to "crawl" to the first aid post. I couldn't have walked the rest of the distance. I was really cold and really dehydrated, and it took me like two weeks to recover fully. In Hamburg i didn't have a clue about, what went wrong.

Katie said...

Oh man, sorry to hear the race was so hard. Great job sticking it out though, and your worst time is better than a lot of people's best times! Also congrats on such a high finish! Very cool.

sea legs girl said...

Helle, thanks for the further explanation. And wow, what a catastrophe there in Hamburg. Why does it make me feel better that I am not the only one this has happened to? And well, the fact, that you are such a fast, intelligent runner also makes me feel better. I talked to our tri-team's physical thereapist last night and she basically said it was a question of starting too hard again. She said "SLG, you need to ALWAYS go for negative splits". She may be onto something.

Thanks, Katie. I really appreciate the kind words.

Anonymous said...

Very Interesting!
Thank You!