Distance Totals

Monday, December 30, 2013

3 Bridges Marathon Race Report

Training, Injury and Decision
Back in December 2012 I had to sit out CIM, having been hit by a still undiagnosed left thigh ailment just 3 weeks before the race. Decided to get my revenge this year, I  signed up early for CIM. Following the Kona Marathon in June, I took a couple of weeks break from structured training, and restarted mid July to build a base, focusing on hills. By mid september I was hitting good mileage and saw my fitness improving. Unfortunately this period of great training came to a grinding halt early October. A week prior to a 10k I started to feel some stiffness on the top and side of my left thigh. I ran the 10k, which went OK considering the circumstances, but a couple of days later when I stepped out of the door for my morning run, I felt excruciating pain on the left thigh at the first running step. The same issue that sidelined me before CIM 2012 was back with a vengeance.

Although this was still far out from the race, I knew right away that I would be out at CIM, and started to feel that I was cursed on this race, vowing to never sign up for it again. Last year, it took me over 2 months after the onset of injury to get back to running pedestrian paces without pain, so I didn't think I would recover quickly enough. I spent the first week spinning and testing the legs every other day without success. I then remembered that a gym nearby had an AlterG antigravity treadmill available and I decided to give it a shot, thinking that this would do a better job at maintaining my fitness than spinning or deep water running. After a 30 minutes tryout I decided to buy 10 hours on the machine, and once I burned through these in less than 10 days, I bought unlimited access for a month.

Even if my left thigh was aching just walking, I was able to 'run' on the AlterG and do some hard quality workouts with minimal discomfort, and these workouts were equivalent in time of what I would have done on the road. 

AlterG workout from 11/11/2013: 13M at 92% body weight with 5x2k tempo intervals (6:11)/2min30s recoveries (8:14)
I kept trying to run on the road a couple of times a week on Wednesdays and Fridays, but these were usually slow and painful. Interestingly, the leg was hurting more at slower paces (>8:30 min/mi) than at more moderate ones. For the Saturday long runs, after a couple of sessions doing 1h45 straight on the AlterG, I decided to mix it up and run 6 to 10 miles on road, followed immediately by 1hr to 1h30 on the machine. The first half of these runs were very tedious, barely hitting 8:30 pace but the finish on the AlterG brough some relief and thi allowed me to regularly run between 2h15 and 3h on Saturday mornings.  I ramped up the body weight percentage every week, starting from 75% mid October and working my way up to 95% mid November. Overall I logged 39 hours on the AlterG between mid October and early December.

During that time, I finally figured out that I was suffering from quadriceps trigger points. Rather than being an IT band issue as originally suggested, trigger points in the Vastus lateralis and Vastus intermedius. These trigger points were generating painful diffuse spots on the top and side of my left thigh, and limited the range of motion of my left leg, which messed up my running mechanics. I treated these with the help of acupuncture sessions and by rolling on a hard ball, which generated some excruciating pain when I hit the trigger points. I also started structural integration (Rolfing) to try and fix some structural issues that might have been responsible of these issues.

Things were evolving slowly and I looked for a backup race. I wanted to run something before the end of the year, but only 2 races  were far enough in time from CIM, Jacksonville and the 3 Bridges Marathon in Little Rock, Arkansas. I chose 3B, only to learn that the race was sold out. I still put myself on the waiting list, thinking that I could always sign up for Jacksonville if needed. After a couple of weeks of email exchanges with the very friendly RD Jacob, he took pity of me and upgraded me from the waiting list, so I was officially in.

By late November I started to see good signs of improvement. I was no longer in pain while walking, and some runs felt almost normal towards, even if the mechanics were still a bit off. I managed to run 19M on road on Nov 30th, with the last 8 at marathon pace - although slower than I wanted, and did 22.6M outside on Dec 7, the day before CIM took place. I did another fast finish long run of 19M with the last 9 at 6:49 avg pace a week later. I was encouraged by these signs of progress and finally booked my plane ticket to Little Rock. I had 3 weeks of training mostly on road before a 2-week taper and the race, with some solid workouts (a 4M tempo run at 6:14 avg;  3x3M MP intervals at 6:49 avg; and 4x1M intervals at 6:08 avg) and was glad I could step the start line healthy, even if the training had been non-traditional. My pace for MP heart rate (164) was between 6:48 and 6:52 which made me think that I was ready for a sub-3 attempt.

I flew to Little Rock on Thursday, and woke up early Friday morning to do my 20 minutes shakeout run on the paved trail where the race took place. I drove to the site of the start of the race and ran all the way to the Big Dam Bridge, the first bridge that we had to cross during the race. I stopped there to do some drills, take pictures and then ran back to the parking lot near the start/finish. It was bitterly cold for someone living in SoCal (~31F), with tears dropping from my eyes and my fingers getting numb. Despite the cold conditions the run felt good, the legs were zippy and I felt ready to race.

Selfie in front of the Big dam bridge, in the middle of my shakeout run the day before the race. 

After showering and resting a bit in my room I picked up my bib and shirt at Rock City Running, a local running store owned by Bill Torrey, a famous Arkansas runner, who also certified the 3B marathon course. I chatted with him for a while about the course, the organizer and RD, and about his trips to California with his wife. I wanted to get a running souvenir from the store, and when I told him I would rather get a short sleeve/singlet which were not in display, he disappeared in the back of the store and came back with a couple of singlets. When I asked him about the price of one of those, he told me that it was free for me. I was blown away by his generosity, and bought a pair of socks to support the store.

With Bill Torrey at the packet pick-up where they inflated the finish line gate in front of the store. 

After lunch I chilled  in my room and didn't do much for the remainder of the day to rest my legs. I didn't sleep well, with frequent interrupted sleep and recurrent dreams of not being able to hit my pace, but woke up before the alarm went off at 4:45. After a quick breakfast, coffee and shower, I foam rolled, did some active isolated stretching and drove my car to the parking lot about a mile from the start. From there I was picked up by a shuttle which dropped me to the start. It was cold down there (35F), but it did not feel as cold as the day before. The sound system was blasting some old classic rock songs, which made me feel good and pumped up for the race. 20 minutes before the start I removed my warm-up pants and jacket, but kept my $1 Goodwill fleece to do my warm-up drills. I finished the drills about 3 minutes before the start, removed the fleece and lined up at the front.

The race
We started at 7:00 sharp. A group of 6-8 runners was leading, with one guy - the eventual winner - way ahead. I tried to focus on hitting close to 6:50 pace, which felt easy during the first mile. Once that mile was in the book, things started to get harder. We did the first crossing of the Big Dam Bridge during the second mile. I tried to hit a pace close to 6:50 without overexerting myself, but the uphill got me and I slowed down, despite a relatively high heart rate. That's where the lead pack dropped me and I started to run alone. After going down the bridge the legs did not feel good and I was feeling my shins, which never happened to me in training. 

Around Mile1, after crossing the small wooden bridge that leads to the Big Dam bridge. The lead pack has already passed, I am on the right with the red shirt/white singlet.

After crossing that first bridge we entered the bike/pedestrian trail, where I tried to focus on hitting the tangents. This turned out to be an exercise in concentration because the path was very curvy. During M3 and M4 I started to feel lousy and saw my pace slowing above 7:00 pace. In addition, there were now a few seconds difference between the markers and my GPS, which made me feel worse. So I pushed the lap button a second time after hitting each official marker to get an idea of the difference between GPS pace and official pace. I knew right then that sub-3 was out of the picture, but was thinking that I might be able to finish strong, as this happened to me at previous races. An older runner with a yellow singlet (visible on the picture above) passed me around M3. At that point I threw away my fleece beanie from the 99c store, which made me feel slightly better as my head felt cooler. 

After a few miles in the park area, the trail hit North Little Rock with a bit more of an urban/industrial feel. I kept plugging but the legs did not feel good and the breathing was labored. Around M8, a runner with mexican music blasting off his earphones passed me. I kept contact with him, and at M10 we reached the Clinton Pedestrian bridge. This was a tough mile, as we had to cross the bridge, turn around at the bottom - but not before doing a weird turn around in front of the Clinton Presidential Library, and cross the bridge back. That's where I caught up with Mexican music guy and dropped him for good. M12 after the bridge felt easier and was the second and last one below 7:00 pace.
 Clinton Bridge

Going around the roundabout before getting back to the Clinton bridge

After the turnaround, it became harder to negotiate the tangents because slower runners were now coming from the opposite direction. However a few miles after, the path got less crowded so getting the right trajectories got easier. I was making peace with the fact that this wasn't my day and that I should be accepting running anything between 7:00-7:15 pace. I crossed the half point in 1:33:35, and was hopeful that with a strong finish and a negative split I might be able to run under 3:05. Unfortunately this did not happen. Miles were clicking, and keeping pace was just not getting easier, with heavy legs and the breathing labored, despite a heart rate that was dropping a good 10 beats below normal marathon pace heart rate. I was running mostly alone, except sometimes passing early starters or other users of the trail.

I crossed the Big Dam Bridge again and was in position to pass older guy with yellow singlet who had passed me at M3 and who was now slowing down. I had seen him in front of me for a few miles from far away, but I closed on him and picked him up between the two bridges. We briefly exchanged words of encouragement.

Section between the Big Dam Bridge and the Start/Finish, going towards the finish. The 8 mile marker does not correspond to any mile of the course. 

Right before crossing the 3rd bridge, we had to pass the start/finish area. This was psychologically hard, knowing that there were still 7+ miles to go. The thought of dropping out of the race there briefly came to my mind, since I was nowhere near being able to PR, and I was quite convinced at this point that the end of the race would not get easier. However I remembered the story of Meb finishing the NYC Marathon this year despite having a lousy race, and I decided to finish regardless of how painful this would get. 
The last bridge (two rivers bridge) which we had to cross twice, at Mile 20 and Mile 26

I crossed the two rivers bridge and entered a forested park area. I was passing some runners, but most of them were early starters.  The run became a grind, and the pace was getting slightly slower with each mile. We came out of the forested area towards open fields, and between miles 22 and 24 I picked up two other runners who were in the lead pack at M1 and had clearly overestimated their pace. One of them finished 5 minutes behind me, clearly blowing out after I passed him. At that point I was just telling myself to go for just one more mile.  After M24 the idea of a strong finish went out the window, and I thought for a brief moment what the heck, I should just drop below 8:00 pace since there was not much left to be gained at this point. I passed an early starter who told me that I was the 6th runner to pass him, so although no one was in sight to pick me up, I just tried to maintain something near 7:20-7:30. Some runners coming in the other direction were encouraging me "looking good" but at that point I just wanted to be done. A woman at an aid station yelled at me at M25, probably trying to be encouraging, but this was mostly a nuisance

I crossed back the two rivers bridge at M26 without much of a finishing kick, just looking at my Garmin to try and finish under 3:10. I leaped over the finish line, since I had no ambition of trying to squeeze any extra second, and was just glad to be done. I saw Jeff Necessary who was helping at the finish, got some drink and food, and hung around the finish until I got my 1st Masters plaque award.
With Jacob, the race director who was kind enough to take me from the wait list and answer all my emails 

Interval Distance Time Avg HR Max HR Note
1 1 mi 06:53.0 164 173
2 1 mi 07:03.9 174 184 Bridge
3 1 mi 07:05.0 165 169
4 1 mi 07:11.2 163 165
5 1 mi 07:19.1 162 165
6 1 mi 07:13.3 161 165
7 1 mi 07:09.3 161 164
8 1 mi 07:09.5 163 167
9 1 mi 07:05.5 160 163
10 1 mi 07:17.7 163 166 2xBridge
11 1 mi 06:56.0 161 163
12 1 mi 07:18.2 159 163
13 1 mi 07:06.8 157 159
14 1 mi 07:11.1 156 160
15 1 mi 07:13.9 156 160
16 1 mi 07:19.9 155 159
17 1 mi 07:16.1 155 158
18 1 mi 07:20.4 159 164 Bridge
19 1 mi 07:08.6 157 159
20 1 mi 07:11.4 156 159 Bridge
21 1 mi 07:21.2 154 158
22 1 mi 07:23.4 154 157
23 1 mi 07:18.9 155 158
24 1 mi 07:29.0 154 156
25 1 mi 07:25.9 153 155
26 1 mi 07:34.0 155 159
27 0.24 mi 01:33.0 158 161 Bridge

I finished 6th overall, 4th male and 1st masters out of 366 runners in 3:09:36 with a 3 minutes positive split. I am glad I did not pick Jacksonville as they had temperatures in the 70's with high humidity and pouring rain, which would have made my race even more miserable. Objectively I should be happy with this race given that I was unable to run on the road without pain from early October until late November. However this was one of the most disappointing and laborious marathons I have ever run. The time wasn't what I wanted, probably because I overestimated my marathon-specific fitness due to the lack of road running. Although I maintained excellent cardio training on the AlterG, the leg conditioning just wasn't there. I may have overexerted myself on the second mile, but I am not sure the HR data is accurate and I don't think it explains the overall performance. The most frustrating part was how bad I felt during almost the entire race, and why running at a HR 10 beats lower than MP HR felt so difficult in the second half. I just could not find a rhythm and never felt in a groove. The slow fade towards the end was certainly due to my subpar training, but that doesn't explain why I felt lousy almost from the start. I am glad I ran this race because it brings a closure to 2013 and to my Fall season hampered by injury, and also because I now have a Boston qualifier-10 minutes for 2015. But I will be looking for answers as of why this race went so wrong from the get go.


  1. I think your answer is obvious (and you said it yourself) - you just didn't have enough training to maintain that pace. In my opinion, the three weeks between CIM and this race weren't enough to come back from your hip issue, and that if you'd targeted a late January race you'd have been in better shape. But I think you did a great job of hanging on when you felt awful, and that award's pretty impressive!

  2. Ilana - thanks; I would agree with your assessment only if I had completely blown up in the latter parts of the race. In training I was able to do 9M at 6:50 in the late stages of a LR and did 3x3M at similar pace without feeling that I was forcing the pace and at a HR consistent with MP HR; if this were just a question of training I would not have been able to handle these workouts in training...So I don't know why this felt so hard starting around M3.

  3. I think you did an excellent job for your lack of running Oct-Nov. Cross training and training on the AlterG can definitely help maintain fitness but it's not the same (at least for me- and a lot of that may be mental. When I miss training due to an injury I am not as confident even if I have been cross training religiously. From your training and goal times it sounds like we have very similar paces. I hope you are able to get a good recovery and your next training cycle goes as planned. It sounds like you are right on the verge of a sub 3 if you can stay healthy and the course and weather are in your favor. :-)

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