"Money Meal" Lunch (and Phoenix race report)


As of this past weekend, I have a happy new pre-race nutrition routine, at least where marathons and other athletic endeavors that actually  benefit from carbo-loading are concerned: the classic pre-race pasta dinner at lunchtime. I don't know why I haven't thought of this before. Then, the best part, a stack of pancakes plus something lip-smacking salty a few hours later (that's just my personal addition to the sensible first part of the concept). It's an individual preference, and definitely not at all a scientific conclusion, but neither was wearing the same underwear the day before a big event, and I did that for years unwaveringly. At least this new tradition resulted in actually feeling good, and boosted the sense of being prepared. I've always been a  fan of breakfast at dinner, but not necessarily preceded by dinner at lunchtime, and definitely not accompanied by, in this case, sodium-laden Denny's chicken soup. However, before the Phoenix marathon on Sunday, the timing and combination were perfect, leaving me feeling energized but not leaden. Here's the full race report, for anyone interested in the bit-too-detailed details:

Phoenix Marathon 2010

When we decided to bite the bullet and commit to another marathon, I felt more than a little apprehensive. We were barely recovered from our first iron-distance triathlon, and had just 12 weeks to truly train. Dave and I had both agreed we wanted do Phoenix shortly after finishing Vineman in August, and at the time, the marathon seemed like refreshingly "shorter stuff". There wasn't a lot of time, but Phoenix was reputedly fast and flat, the weather was likely to be nice and temperate, and the real goal was to qualify for Boston, which seemed like it would be comfortably achievable (3:45 for me, a tougher 3:10 for Dave), even without a lot of time. We'd qualified before, but were living overseas at the time, and just couldn't make it across the pond before the times expired.

Once we were signed up and set to go, we started to gratefully acquire a terrific training group. Friends Denise and Artie were also training for the same marathon, and they were perfect training partners. Derek and Jay were running the half, plus lots of other fellow Boulder triathlon club folks were training compatibly and such a huge support. No matter how each individual was feeling on a particular workout, there was someone to run with and provide just the right amount of urging to keep plugging away. Dave created a lean, mean training plan that topped out at 50 miles for a few weeks. Incorporating about 6 long runs of 18 miles or more, plus focused tempo work, it was hard work but a reasonable load to fit in work week to work week. As the training progressed, however, times were so surprisingly reassuring, and we were feeling so good, Boston qualifying no longer seemed to be enough. Dave had gone sub-3 hours before, and wanted to do so again. I, however, had cracked in most of my previous marathons, and had not yet met my goals for that distance. It was becoming a mental block.  I had good reasons every time, but until I could back up strong training with a strong race performance, they were nothing but excuses.

Throughout taper week, fighting stereotypical grumpiness, feelings of lumpiness, and characteristic aches, pains, and worries, I preoccupied myself with concerns and confusion about how much to carbo-load. I dug everywhere for tips on taper and nutrition during the final lead-up days, only to find a slush pile of mixed opinions oozing out in all directions from a general platform of the usual advice. The consensus still seemed to be, boost your glycogen stores with a higher  carbohydrate intake  prior to your event, particularly the final 3 days. I ended up eating pretty much the same as I normally would any given week, but with a little more pasta and rice. On Saturday before the race, we took the short 1 1/2 hour flight to Phoenix, and went straight to the Expo. After getting through registration, we were worn out and hungry. Logistically it made sense to eat our big meal of the day at lunchtime, both because we didn't want to be too full the night before, and because we were relying on the kindness of our friend Tressa, Artie's girlfriend, to essentially chauffeur us around, and we didn't want to have to think about coordinating dinner pick-up. It made so much sense from all points of view, however. When we got back to the hotel and read the race info, we honed in on this quote from 50K American record holder Josh Cox: "Everyone thinks that dinner the night before the event is the most important meal, but really it's lunch the day before--it's what I like to call the "money meal". The pasta lunch was deliciously soporific, and before night-before-race jitters could set in, I got to experience a beautiful middle of day sleep. When Dave decided I really needed to wake up, we went to the Denny's attached to the Best Western we were staying at, where I devoured aforementioned blueberry pancakes and soup. It may have had little to do with my performance given that conditions and course were absolutely wonderful, but nutrition is always one undeniable factor in anything, and I ended up having what felt like the race of my life.

Race morning felt cool but overall comfortable. Aside from having to use the bathroom about 5 times, I felt fairly calm. My gut seemed a little squishy, but I felt rested and ready to go. Dave, Artie and I all went to corral 1 for the start, but spread out within it according to pace. I looked around for the 3:20 (my goal) pacer, but he was no where to be seen, and I found myself sandwiched between the 3:10 pacer just ahead, and the 3:40 pacer just behind! John McCain was there to fire the start gun, which was kind of cool political perspectives aside, and we were off. If adrenaline hadn't already kicked in, it would have a second later, as my Garmin screen was totally blank. I turned it off and on again, and the next screen showed a 6 min mile pace. Crap. I turned it off and on yet again, mentally coping with the possibility that there would be no splits to monitor today. It felt like ages before my Garmin was set up and working fine, but after the race, I looked back and realized it was less than 40 seconds. At mile 3 I got swallowed up by the 3:15 pace group and decided I may as well run with them. It was a huge relief, actually. It had been years since my last straight-up marathon, and I'd been questioning my pace. Was I supposed to be feeling more or less comfortable? When I decided to join the 3:15 group, at first it felt like a slight pick-up in pace, but really it just jolted my focus, and I was able to relax and really trust my rhythm. We were about 30+ strong, this group, and it felt soooo great to hear the crowd cheer "3:15" as we ran by. At about mile 5, I recognized a familiar hip swing and fluid stride just ahead of us. Denise! I was so happy to see her. And, it turned out, she was a real race saver too, as she gave me a Gu for mile 13. I hadn't brought my own, and it really helped. The Phoenix course was fast and mostly flat as reported; there were relatively few turns, and the scenery and support was fantastic. The one thing I would have changed was the aid station fuel. Gus were available at mile 19 only.

I'd never done a Rock& Roll event before, and seriously, it rocked! Mile after mile, the bands kept offering pick-up after pick-up; oddly, it was the middle-aged off key bands that bolstered me the most. The heat slowly but steadily built throughout the morning, but I hardly felt it. For once in my life, I was full of positive self-talk. I thought about the miles in reasonable increments, reminding myself of training workout successes. By 20 miles, the proverbial "halfway" point, I was ready for the last 10K. Starting to hurt, but up for it. Euphoric, even. My heel, which had been painfully troubling me throughout taper week and a bit before, started to flare up mile 16 onwards, but I didn't let it hinder me. For the first time in a marathon, there was no wall to hit, and my paces stayed even, averaging 7:26 per mile. By the finish, our pace group was "decimated" as I heard a man who turned out to be Denise's father say when we ran past. I was proud to be the only girl left (and also proud that one of the girls had actually powered ahead and finished a good couple of minutes earlier, and that she happened to be an ironman). The pacer was awesome, waving everyone through and nailing it dead on 3:15. My time was 3:15:10, qualifying for Boston and also earning a slot for New York (uh-oh, decisions!), and, unbelievably getting me an unforgettable PR of 22 minutes! I had finally run the marathon I knew I had in me, but for one reason or another hadn't followed through with, until now.  Dave was there at the finish, tearing up a little because he was (his words) so thrilled for me (he was also in controlled but excruciating pain, having ripped both his calves in his sub-3 success!). Artie was there, too, having finished in 3:11, and Denise finished just a few minutes later. We met with Derek on the field, where bands were playing, and he'd burst through his half marathon in 1:26. It was so amazing, to have not just achieved but exceeded a major goal, and to have shared that with friends who all had amazing performances. Next step, Boston bound, 2011, with hopefully the same great crew and more. I can't wait.

Photo credit: Flikr user Antonio Ilardo