Two weekends ago I raced my first long distance event of the season, the Around the Bay 30k (click HERE for this years results) in Hamilton, Ontario, except that I’ve been pretty quiet on the whole subject…until now. In short, it was a complete debacle of epic proportions which has ultimately left me very disappointed and discouraged given all the hard work I’ve put into my run training over the past two months.
Seeing as how I finished over 20 minutes off my best time from two years ago (2:31:20), well, let’s just agree that it was a total shit show ending with me walk-slash-trotting at an abysmal pace for the final few kilometers. In fact, as far as I’m concerned, this event should now be officially renamed the “Painful Shuffle Around the Bay 30k’.
But as the new coach keeps telling me, every failure comes with a new opportunity to learn and improve, meaning, now I’m stuck with the burning question that I’ve been dwelling on for the past two weeks:
What the fuck went so wrong?
The plan was not necessarily to go out and set a new personal best. No, it was ideally just an ideal “training day” to get a sense how my over all run training has been faring, especially in regards to the whole quicker cadence thing (click HERE). We agreed then that I should go out sparingly at a comfortable pace of 5:30min/km for the first 5k, then begin to up my pace gradually over the next 15k or so, before unleashing the big dogs altogether and go for broke over the last 10k to the finish.
Easy enough, right?
Well, the first part of the plan went great and despite the adrenaline and rush of competition, I held myself back just as planned arriving at the 5k mark at almost the exactly anticipated time of 27:30, meaning that I was pretty much bang on my 5:30min/km pace perfectly. At this point, I was experiencing no issues and was rather enjoying myself. Well, aside from the fact that I way over dressed for the occasion and sweating like a complete bastard that is*.
But I digress…
After the first 5k I increased my pace by focusing on my “quick feet” just I have been practicing and my pace accelerated to fluctuating anywhere between 5:10-5:20min/km, or thereabouts, depending on the terrain, wind, hot babe runner in tight-tights, etc.. It was still a slower pace than that of my PB pace two years ago, but if I could keep that pace going and then some for the remainder of the race that would put me on a pretty even keel to finishing around the same finishing time having covered more distance in the end…quicker.
“So far, so good”, I thought.
“Yay me!”, even.
Then around the 18k mark the fatigue began setting in, even a little more than you might expect. Now don’t get me wrong, I understand that running 18k in and of itself is no small feat (well, for me anyway), but this was a different feeling. My energy began to sap from my body rapidly and all at the exact moment when those stupid long-ass hills started up in earnest along the dreaded North Shore Blvd. portion of the race. In fact, these hills are what the race is known for.
I knew I was in trouble.
From there is was vicious downward spiral where my quads began to feel like they were being torn apart, and I developed a hot spot in right foot making my keeping any decent pace comfortable. I knew that my shoes were a bit long in the tooth going in but I figured that they had at least one more long run in them.
Apparently, I was wrong.
By the half marathon mark, I was in big trouble. From there, well, let’s just say it was a complete and total dumpster fire. Mentally I had checked out, physically I was broken. It started by my walking through the aid stations in order to give the burning sensation in my right foot some temporary relief and then graduated to alternating sporadically between a walk and a painful limp for the final few kilometers to the finish.
Here’s the whole shit show broken down pace-wise:
Not pretty is it?
I didn’t even want to collect my race medal when it was all said and done and instead of allowing the volunteer to place it valiantly around my neck as is customary, I snatched it out of her hand and quickly stuffed it in my race bag along with the token post-race banana and package of flatbread. You’d think that she had just handed me porn, or something.
Anyway, back to the question (blown shoes aside) – what went wrong?
Piecing together the day, it all started off pretty much like it does on any other given race morning. One bowl of whole oats with brown sugar upon wake up, a toasted bagel and cream cheese about an hour later with the usual cup of coffee, and then starting about an hour before the start of the event I started nursing my premixed bottle of E-Load performance drink.
What I didn’t do however, was much fueling after that. Once the race started I just got into my rhythm and blew through the aid stations as I hate jockeying around with 2000 other runners for a glass of whatever, so I tend to just move over to the right (or left) and carry on my way unencumbered. And this was great for the first 15-18k, no issues. I think the only thing I had to eat was a single dried honey date around the 7k and, maybe, the 13k mark. By the time I had reached the hills, I was running on empty.
This was later explained to me by the coach:
“When you run out of glucose and glycogen in the muscles, your body switches from using fatty acids as fuel…to catabolizing muscle tissue for fuel.”
What this means is that when your body runs out of other sources of fuel, it will start to use its own muscle tissue for energy. Isn’t that sexy? This likely explains the “tearing” feeling I felt in my quads right around the two hour mark. Obviously, this is not a normal condition, and your body will only start to use muscle tissue for energy under extreme conditions, such as if you are very sick (I was getting over the plaque I had contracted while in San Antonio two weeks before), severely malnourished or not consuming enough calories over an extended period of time to support normal body functions.
You see, every cell in your body needs energy to perform normal body functions such as moving, breathing, maintaining your heartbeat and healing damaged tissue. And over the course of runner 30 kilometers, there’s lots of damaged tissue going on. Normally, carbohydrates from your diet supply the types of sugar your body uses as its main source of energy. To get enough sugar from your diet to supply your body with the energy it needs, approximately half of your daily calories need to come from proteins, fats and carbohydrates. I likely had enough of these stored carbs from my early morning feedings and the previous evening’s meal.
During digestion, your body will break down those carbohydrates into simple sugars that are then converted to glucose, or blood sugar. That resulting glucose travels in your blood to every cell in your body, where it is used to manufacture energy. If you consume more sugar than your body needs for immediate energy (and Lord knows I enjoy my treats), some of the excess is converted into glycogen, a type of sugar that is stored in your muscle tissue. If your body needs glucose, and no sugar is coming in from your diet, glycogen is released from your muscles and broken down to supply enough glucose for energy to last about half a day.
So when I failed to “stoke the fire”, per se, by replenishing those stores of glucose I had in my body before the race started by providing it with more regular quick burning stores of simple carbohydrates, my body more or less reverted to eating its own muscle tissue in an effort to get the necessary glycogen to keep me going.
So, yeah, great!
My body was basically cannibalizing itself for the last 10k.
So, what’s the learning opportunity?
EAT YOU STUPID BASTARD!
So going forward this is my new mission to figure out a proper fueling strategy for both before and during my long workouts, especially now that I’m heading into my long bike training period as well. During these training runs (and bikes, for that matter) I will need to begin experimenting more with what I am taking into my body, as well as how often, in order to be able to sustain the required energy level.
My issue with that though, is that I don’t necessarily want to spend the equivalent of the Gross National Product of a small underdeveloped country on gels and sporting supplements to do so.
But the dried honey dates just aren’t cutting it anymore.
Now, given that I “go long” at least twice a week (long, being over two hours), that’s a lot of expensive sporting gels. Of course, I would definitely prefer real (cheaper) food. But not only does that “real food” have to be the right type of quick burning fuel, but it also has to be easily portable to boot. After all, to my knowledge, there is no catering service for long distance athletes that will agree to set up an elaborate fueling buffet station ever 5k or so along my predetermined workout route…is there?
So let the learning commence…
*This is a long standing tradition I have with this event in my never being able – for whatever reason – to figure out how to dress appropriately for the occasion.