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Country Music Marathon, Part 2: Raceday, Raining, Posing and Fueling

People say that you shouldn’t try anything new during a race but I must have broken that rule more than half a dozen times in this marathon. My running form has completely changed from six months ago and my cadence is much higher, closer to the optimal 180 steps per minute (or 90 strides) that is needed for proper Pose Running technique to be effective. I also ran with my iPod and music for the first time and tried to listen to songs that were generally in the 90 BPM range to help me maintain the cadence I needed. This helped tremendously and I want to dial this in even more. I also used the RunKeeper app for iPhone and so every five minutes a pleasant female voice alerted me to my total time, total distance and average pace, which was excellent because I didn’t have to wear or look at a watch at all.

In terms of nutrition and race fueling, I completely changed that as well. For the first 17 miles of the race, the only nutrition I took in was a mixture of organic whole coconut milk, honey and Chia seeds plus 6-8 ounces of water at every aid station. Starting at mile 18, I began using Hüma Gel, a brand new all natural/real food energy gel that is very easy on the stomach and tastes amazing. I had never used Hüma before but met the founder/creator at the race expo and was intrigued by the natural energy and claims that athletes using the gels had never experienced any stomach or GI issues. He is also a fellow Pepperdine alum so that was a plus. Being in the experimentation mode that I was, I was excited to give the gels a try, even testing them during the race. I had three gels between miles 18-22 and that worked incredibly well. Look for a future post detailing more about my first experience with Hüma and why I am excited to be working with them. In the meantime, check out their website (www.humagel.com) and Facebook Page (https://www.facebook.com/humagel). I will definitely be using their products in future races. For the last 5K, I fueled with two CLIF Shot gels (Citrus flavor and Double Shot Espresso) for that extra kick of caffeine to help me finish strong. 

I ran in my Inov8 F-lite 230 shoes which have been a great starting point in my transition to minimalist running. They have a 6mm heel-to-toe differential and 3mm footbed to allow your feet to start to strengthen and perform their natural function. I’ve been transitioning to minimalist shoes since February and these Inov8’s are the only shoes that I’ve run or trained in since that time. I’m definitely taking the transition slowly and I’ll be writing more about minimalist running in the future here. Read an interview I did with Dirtbag Darling, my good friend Johnie’s community dedicated to girls who like to explore and adventure in the great outdoors: http://www.dirtbagdarling.com/2013/04/dirtbagging-101-intro-to-minimalist.html.

During the actual race, I felt very strong for the first 12 miles, averaging about an 7:45-8:10/mile pace with my cadence at 180+ steps per minute. Things were still going well through about mile 16 but it was around that point in the race that my new running technique started to break down and I had to revert to some heel striking with a slower cadence. I still knew that I could finish but my pace and form were deteriorating. It was now just a question of how long it would take me. I will be tweaking quite a few things in my training for the next marathon, including racing a few half marathons and incorporating some training days of 3-4x 5K intervals with adequate rest. The last 10K of my race was extremely difficult, especially around miles 22-24, and I had to stop a couple times to stretch. My legs were in a lot of pain and it became a mental challenge to get one foot in front of the other.

I didn’t mind the rain very much and I think it actually helped keep me nice and cool during the race; the puddles and flooding were the main issue because that meant my feet and shoes were completely water-logged during the whole race. This race was just about as painful as the other marathons I’ve run but definitely in a different way. First of all, the balls of my feet, calves and knees and hips were very sore. This definitely makes sense and is typical for athletes transitioning into Pose Running. I had absolutely no stomach issues, however. This was encouraging and I’m now excited to perfect my Coconut Milk/Honey/Chia mixture and also supplement with more Hüma Gels! Overall, the race was an absolutely fantastic tour of Nashville and the fans were amazing. I saw so many signs that kept me going and took my mind off the pain. The rain even seemed to bring out more enthusiasm from all the fans!

I finished in a time of 3:49:56, which is nothing to brag about by any means, but I was pleased with that performance given how many things I changed up and based on a long run of only 8-miles. 

I know I’ve just scratched the surface. This is only the beginning of my journey into CrossFit Endurance and re-wiring my nutrition so stay tuned for much, much more!

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Country Music Marathon, Part 1: Testing the Grand Experiment

It was a marathon of many firsts, not the least of which was the fact that my longest training run was 8 miles. The past six months have held a lot of changes for me including moving home to Tennessee from LA, changing my career and switching my training style. After overtraining and peaking too soon for Hawai’i Ironman last year, I knew I needed to change something, especially my running. As soon as I moved home in December I looked into running Nashville’s Country Music Marathon in late April. I also began to dabble in CrossFit training at the encouragement of my dad and sister who are very competitively involved in the sport. When I ran a 1:33 half marathon at LA 13.1 in January with only a couple weeks of CrossFit training under my belt, I knew I was onto something. And so it began. 

I was rebuilding my body from the volume-based, long-slow-distance-training accustomed body that I’d been inhabiting since leaving the gym years ago to focus on endurance sports. The American model of endurance sports is that an athlete starts with volume (be that running, biking, swimming or rowing, etc.), then adds intensity (via track intervals or sprints) and only looks at technique at the end (if at all). Most endurance sports are not looked at as technique-based activities so learning “how to run” before adding volume, for example, is largely overlooked. There is also virtually no focus is on weight training or full range of motion flexibility. With nothing to lose, I was determined to experiment.

I began doing CrossFit workouts 4-5x per week and running just 3x per week. The CF workouts were constantly varied and some days they included building up to heavy back squat, deadlift or clean & jerk. The run workouts were solo time trials, hard tempo runs, intervals and Tabata runs (20s hard/10s easy for 4min). Despite the low volume, my 10K times stayed about the same (42-43 minutes for a solo TT) and I PR’d my 5K in 19:46. I also felt as strong as I ever have with my mile times.

I got my CrossFit Level 1 Trainer Certificate in early March and then took the CrossFit Endurance course a week later (taught by BMack himself, Brian Mackenzie, the founder of CrossFit Endurance!), which increased my confidence that I could actually CrossFit my way to running a marathon in a respectable time.  I also began to implement Pose Running, which is a more efficient way to run, used by elite runners from Usain Bolt to Haile Gebrselassie (Olympic marathon and distance runner). [I’ll discuss Pose Running in a future post.]

I was not able to build up to as long of a run as I wanted to before the race, but I was confident that I would at least be able to finish. I kept thinking of a good friend of mine who had run a 4-hour marathon just off of CrossFit training. But, I did my best to go into the race with no expectations and simply be my own guinea pig in this experiment. 

I can’t say that I was very nervous in the weeks before the race, just excited to see what would happen. I was feeling a little pressure because I was very keen to see this strategy show signs that it was working so I could feel a bit more confident and continue building upon it for future races.

I generally try to get in my last hard workout about 9-10 days out from a race so I worked up to a heavy back squat on Thursday, April 18 and then did a pretty intense 20-minute WOD consisting of 6 movements at a 21-15-9 rep scheme (HSPU, Power Clean @ 135#, Sit-up, Front Squat @ 135#, C2B Pull-up). After that day until the race I began my taper and did not do anything more than about a 10-minute workout and I included two or three rest days as well.

I was feeling kind of tired and rundown for two or three days before the marathon and that’s when I did start to get a little anxious about whether I’d be able to do this. I got pretty fired up again when I went to the expo on Thursday afternoon and was also partially relieved because the weather looked like it would be nice and cool, albeit raining, on the Saturday of the race. I definitely much prefer cold and rainy over hot sun and 80°+ with humidity, though, as this race has been known to be in years past.

I got over nine hours of sleep on Thursday night and then Friday afternoon was spent relaxing and taking a short nap. I really could not sleep very well on Friday night and don’t think I got more than 4 to 5 hours of sleep before my alarm went off at 4:15 AM. After a breakfast of five eggs on a bed of spinach, an avocado and a banana, I hit the road in the midst of a torrential downpour by 5:15!! pre-race jitters were in full force at this point but I was excited to see what my body and mind could do today. Stay tuned for Part 2 with the race recap.