Tag Archives: cramp

Chicago Marathon — 2011 Edition

So another season has come and gone and so did my opportunity to beat 4 hours in a marathon.

Let’s start with the numbers:

Split Time of day Time Diff Min/mile Miles/h
05K 08:00:10AM 00:26:04 26:04 08:24 7.15
10K 08:26:40AM 00:52:34 26:30 08:32 7.04
15K 08:52:55AM 01:18:49 26:15 08:27 7.10
20K 09:19:54AM 01:45:49 27:00 08:42 6.91
HALF 09:25:42AM 01:51:37 05:48 08:31 7.06
25K 09:49:15AM 02:15:10 23:33 09:43 6.18
30K 10:19:52AM 02:45:47 30:37 09:52 6.09
35K 10:58:06AM 03:24:00 38:13 12:18 4.88
40K 11:36:09AM 04:02:04 38:04 12:15 4.90
Finish 11:52:58AM 04:18:53 16:49 12:20 4.87

My goal with this race was to run with the 3:45 pace group.  This roughly comes down to 8:35 per mile.  Given that I ran the Rock N Roll Half Marathon in 1:41:30 (7:45 per mile), it is no surprise that my half marathon split is about as on pace as expected.  Then things started to go badly.

Around mile 12, I realized that I was running far ahead of my pace team.  This meant that when I turned my head side ways or full around 180 that I couldn’t see anybody holding the pace placard.  Now before you go thinking that this is my fault, they suggested that people who want to walk or go more slowly through the aid stations go ahead a little bit.  I had been doing that and basically just got a bit too far ahead of myself.  So then I made my first mistake on race day; I started to slow down and eventually even walked through the next aid station until the pace group caught up to me.  Now I could lie and say that this was all for getting back to pace, but if I’m honest with myself, I was tired and thought that I could use this accrued time to recuperate so that I could start feeling not so tired.  Why was this a mistake?  Basically, that was my mental moment where my foot came off the ‘race’ pedal(accelerator).  When you give in to things like that, it’s very hard to stay pumped and in attack-mode ready to pass any runner.  Suffice it to say that when the group caught up to me, they were going a bit faster than I would have liked and it was a mental downer to have to speed up to get back onto the right pace.

As I approached the half way point, I experienced a problem that was unfortunately familiar: my knees and hips started to hurt.  I say familiar because this was why I didn’t stay on pace for the 20 miler preparation run 3 weeks before this race.  It’s hard to describe the pain.  It wasn’t as bad as “Oh crap, what am I going to do” but it was definitely not as good as “I love this and I want to do this forever”.  Perhaps the best way to think about it is, if I keep going this will only get worse and eventually I won’t be able to move along at the pace I want.  Not to mention that it really makes it hard to keep a spring in your step when all of your springs are complaining.  Fear not, dear reader, as I planned for this eventuality.  I had two packets of Advil (Ibuprofen) in my men’s fanny pack.  I was worried about any side-effects during the long run, but I was willing to risk those to avoid the crazy hip/knee pain.  But.  And there’s always a But.  I bought these the day before at a gas station.  These are foil packets that contains 2 200mg pills per packet.  I couldn’t open the packet.  Since I didn’t train with this drug (or form factor), I was not prepared.  So I tried tearing with my sweaty fingers.  I tried biting.  I tried swearing.  Alas, none of these techniques worked.  And so I tried begging.  I ran over to the side where there were people handing out water and screamed “Open This!” to some very frightened young dude.  He was about as successful as me in the beginning but thankfully was able to get it open.

So now I’m running west on Adams passing the 14 mile mark.  And one of the day’s fears is realized.  The sun is out and there isn’t a cloud in the sky.  This part of the run (i.e. the second half) is very unprotected from the sun.  And the temperature is probably around the low 70s.  The Advil has not kicked in yet and I was tired already.  This was the moment that I let go of the pace group.  I wasn’t worried about knowing the pace.  I knew that I was about 3.5 minutes off of the clock time and I had an arm band telling me where and when I should be pace-wise.  But I now was losing any sort of camaraderie that would have kept me going.  So why didn’t I just keep going?  After all, I’m mentally tough, my pain killers would kick-in at some point soon, and I’m not *that* old.  Hard to explain.  I guess the evidence would point to the fact that I must not be as mentally tough as I thought (ignore the irony).  And so began my stretch of walking and running.  I would walk for a bit (aggressively, dammit) and then start a slow to moderate jog.  Unfortunately, the jog wouldn’t last and I had to walk again.  But at least I was fighting.

I wasn’t doing too badly at this point.  My music was playing and I was running a little slower (current pace-wise) but I was still going to meet my goal of sub 4 hours.  I kept thinking that I just had to maintain this walk/run thing for a bit and then everything would be ok.  By a bit I mean that I would meet Su at the 20 mile mark (which was a little past the 30k mark).  So that gave me some motivation.  And as luck would have it, I started feeling better at the 30k mark.  So I picked up the pace (not sure what exactly, but faster than I was going before) and started to pass people.  At last, I thought, I’m getting my second wind and I’m going to accomplish my goal.

Then I started to get a cramp in my left calf.  I thought, no big deal, I’ve gotten cramps before.  I just need to run through it and all will be well.  This cramp was persistent.  I had to do something.  So I pulled to the side and started stretching it out.  Helped a bit.  So I was going to stretch the right one for good measure.  When I stopped stretching the left, I experienced pain.  Physical pain like I have never felt before.  I screamed.  There was a spectator who asked “Should I call an ambulance?”.  I said no.  I tried to stretch it again but the pain was ridiculous.  Eventually, for no reason, it subsided and I started walking again.  This may sound crazy, but then I felt really good.  I started running.  Then sprinting.  I was feeling like a million bucks.  I thought Su will miss seeing me because I’ll be a blur as I pass her.  Well, *that* didn’t happen.  The euphoria lasted only a few minutes.  No biggie, I will just keep on the non-sprinting pace and all will be well.

I met Su and gave her a sweaty hug.  She said “You’re doing great!”.  I said “I’ve had some cramping issues”.   She said “You can do it!”.  And so I thought I could.  I thought this cramping thing is behind me and I can finish with a respectable pace.  There was only one problem with that strategy: the cramping thing was not behind me.  In fact, it just kept getting worse.  It started with the left calf.  Then it moved to the right calf.  Then it was both calves.  Each time, I would start walking and wait until the pain subsided.  Then I would start jogging for a bit.  I couldn’t call it running anymore.  I had gel.  I had bananas.  I had water.  Nothing made the cramping pain go away.

And the heat was starting to get oppressive.  The long stretch heading North on Michigan was a real bear.  Very unprotected.  My body heat level was getting very hot.  I tried using the sponges (which were awesome) and wet towels (also awesome), but nothing seemed to get me back to normal.  As I approached the Roosevelt bridge without about 200 yards to go, I kept hearing people shout “Come on, you can do it!”, but I really couldn’t.  I was exhausted and in a lot of pain.  I managed a few smiles for the camera as I crossed the finish line, but that’s about all I could do.

Right at the finish line, I saw that they had more Gatorade G2 (which is what everybody considers to be the normal stuff) and I’m like no, don’t need need that.  I need my G3 recovery drink.  So I had water, a banana and sipped my recovery drink.  I made my way to the Gear Check tent.  I put on my sandals and changed shirts.  I texted Su that I was now heading to the agreed upon meet up in the party area.  I didn’t even have a 312 beer yet because I wanted to avoid going to the med tent due to dehydration.  I’m at the North side of Buckingham Fountain.  I started walking North to get to the party area.  And the cramping starts up and I feel woozy.

Yeah, that’s right.  I get put into a wheel chair and get carted off to the med tent.  (Welcome Back Dave!)  The doctor thought all of the cramping was because I didn’t have enough electrolytes.  He asked did I have any Gatorade during the run?  I said not really because the nutrition people said not to mix gel with gatorade, but I had 5 gels, bananas and water.  And so he had me drinking G2 gatorade to try and replenish the electrolytes.  In the meantime, the cramping got real bad.  There were about 6 different masseur and masseuses working on both legs at different points in time.  When I thought everything was ok, one leg would just start up again.  This was the crazy kind of physical pain.  I was screaming.  I probably had 2 bottles of gatorade at that point and I didn’t really feel better.  The doctor was like “An IV is what you need as that will get electrolytes fastest to the muscles”.  I’m thinking why the **** didn’t you give me that in the first place.  I had already been there for 1-2 hours at this point.  That’s when the real fun began.  It took 6 tries (that’s right 6) for 3 different nurses to try and find my vein in order to put in the IV.  I didn’t mind the sticking that much, but I really wanted the cramping to stop.

In the end, I got the fluid.  I never made it to the post race party.  I never had a single beer at the event but still managed to get dehydrated and visit the med tent.  The doctor said “See you next year”.  Can’t wait.

So what did this experience teach me?  I think that perhaps some people are not meant to run a marathon.  I think that I’m part of that group.  At a minimum, I will not be running any more warm weather marathons.  And definitely no marathons for several years (if ever again).  Hear I am, 10 years after running a marathon with no training at 4:12 (or so).  I trained and ran it 6 minutes slower.

Anyway, I have a bunch of excuses:

  • The weather was hot.  Now, to be fair, it wasn’t as hot as 2010; however, as anyone who has done any type of distance running will tell you, the cooler the better.  And this means that snow would have been preferable to sun.
  • I didn’t fuel correctly during the race.  This is the one of the most frustrating aspects of this event.  I borrowed a book about nutrition for endurance sports, I went to a “breaking the wall” seminar that included the nutrition book author, and I followed (as best I could) all of the advice and instructions.  The seminar panel said “You shouldn’t mix gel and gatorade” and I listened.  I bought a gel belt and fueled up often during the race; unfortunately, the lack of gatorade most likely caused the unbearable cramping.
  • I still didn’t manage the last 2 weeks correctly.  At the seminar which took place 2 weeks before the race, they said that you can’t do anything to improve your race; you can only mess it up.  I’m pretty sure that I ate too much during the week.  I tried to do the right thing, but I really didn’t know what I was doing.  The result was that I didn’t feel great on race day.  I felt heavy and annoyed that I didn’t run as much as I was supposed to in the last 2 weeks.


How did I improve from last year?

  • Got a new set of head phones that didn’t activate the voice control functionality of the iPhone.  They worked like a charm.
  • I created a play list.  This worked pretty well for the entire 2011 season.  Ironically, I ran into non running songs at the end when I wasn’t running.  I really didn’t expect my time to be that bad.
  • My shoes were much better.  I ended up running with Nike Lunar Glide 3 shoes.  Combined with my orthotics, they are a very good combination.  Slight mistake here that I should have replaced the orthotics after the 20 mile run.  Not doing that caused a bunch of nasty blisters, but I don’t think they had a negative material effect.
  • I used Vaseline instead of Body Glide.  Not really noticeable during the run but made all the difference in the world in the post run recovery.
  • I improved on my nutrition.  Though I still had issues, I think I had net improvement.


So what’s next?  I think that a half marathon may be the max distance in pure running for me.  I know that I don’t need to train that much for it and that it doesn’t require much in the way of in-race fueling.  And perhaps most importantly, I don’t run into all of these *other* issues like hip pain and cramping.  I’ve got my eye on the ING Miami half marathon but before that there is the good ole Turkey Trot.  I’ll see how it goes.