Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Chuncheon Marathon and a New Marathon Maniac

       WOW, where do I begin! We spent the night in the city of Chuncheon so I wouldn’t have any problems getting to the race start in the morning and my parents and daughter could sleep in. This meant a chance to drive the marathon route before race day. I’m so glad we did because I got a much better look at the scenery when I wasn’t focused on running.
When we ran through the tunnel, all the runners yelled.
When we got to the other side, we could hear all the yelling from the tunnel!
       This view would be solid runners for miles less than 24 hours later! With the race being run around a long lake, created by damning the river, we had many points where we could see runners for many miles. There was no point in which the crowd thinned out! It was solid runners as far as I could see ahead and behind!

       I got up early and puttered around while breakfast settled and my coffee sunk in. I had planned to have a bigger breakfast, but I was still somewhat full from my big bowl of Bibimbap the night before, a lovely Korean dish with rice, veggies, an egg, and hot sauce all baked in an earthenware bowl and then stirred up, YUM!

       When I asked the desk clerk to call me a cab, he indicated that I should just walk. Umm, no thanks, I’d rather not take a 30 minute walk before a 5 hour run, let alone get lost on the way! The cab driver got me within a block of the start area and refused to enter the fray of marathon traffic so I still had about a 10 minute walk to find the my club tent (guess I should have walked afterall). Turned out, the club never found the tent and settled near the changing rooms. The only poor soul at the tent site was a guy that had traveled up on his own like me. Unlike me, he had registered for the race through the club and they had his bib and chip! (I believe he did finally track down his bib.)

     With a field of 20,000 runners, Chuncheon is huge! There were 9 corals that started in 3 minute increments, beginning about 10 minutes after the elites started. The race has a 6 hour cut off, which is generous by Korean standards, but pretty much eliminates the mostly-walking crowd that usually brings up the rear in US marathons. There were also pace groups in each corral that overlapped the pace groups of other corrals. In other words, when I was running with the 4:00 pace group I was really excited until I realized they were from 3 corrals behind me, which meant I started at least 9 minutes before them and we were only a few miles into the race.

       The course was hilly, but the hills were not steep. Unfortunately, steep or not, it seemed like every mile of the course was either uphill or downhill. I was doing great for the first half, my splits were:

5K 33:04,

10K (29:41) 1:02:45,

15K (29:06) 1:31:51,

20K (32:02) 2:03:53

Half 2:13:31

       Despite taking a bathroom stop and eating a traditional Korean race treat, the ubiquitous Moon Pie, I was still doing well by 25K, (34:01) 2:37:54, this is about when my calves decided they had had enough of the hills. Following a stop at the aid station for something like Ben-Gay to be rubbed all over my legs, one look at my calves told me I was toast. They were swollen up and hard as rocks. From 25K-30K I managed just under 39 minutes (30K 3:16:58), and 30K-35K was about a minute longer, but by then walking wasn’t reliving my cramping calves and my 35K-40K split was a painful 44:29 (40K 4:40:34). By this time I was mentally shot. I thought there was no way I was going to PR, but I could crawl and still finish the marathon so I resisted the urge to sit on the curb and cry. I tipped the bill of my cap down and stared and the asphalt in front of me while I ground out the last 2 kilometers in just a touch over 17 minutes.

joined by my daughter after crossing the finish line

       Even though I was hurting and discouraged, I did manage to perk up and run across the finish line, stopping to hug my mom and daughter before running over the timing mats.

      I missed a PR again, by 3 minutes and 31 seconds, but I met my goals for my double header. Even though the wheels fell off I managed my nutrition and didn’t run out of glycogen, I finished a full marathon in bare feet (the first of the two marathons), and qualified for Marathon Maniacs (#4381). So I’m happy with my results.

        After the race, we walked over to where the Seoul Flyers were supposed to be (again, never found them) and after hunting around for a while I finally gave up and decided to put my feet up for a few minutes against a statue. A nearby running club handed me a bottle of Makoli (Korean rice beer, very yummy) and I put my feet on the small pedestal. I was afraid to actually put my feet on the statue since I didn’t know who it was and didn’t want to offend anyone. Then something very Korean happened. They are wonderfully helpful people, but can be a bit abrupt and personal. A total stranger walked up and told me I needed my feet higher. I guess I didn’t react fast enough because he picked my feet up and moved them up so my legs were straight. Then he told me to take my shoes and socks off. I guess I didn’t react fast enough to that either because he then proceeded to remove my shoes and socks! Frankly, I was too worn out to care so I just let him do it. My parents assumed he was someone I knew, “Nope, never seen him before in my life!” With my feet properly airing, he moved on and I rested for about 10 minutes before putting my shoes and socks back on (a complicated and painful process I would rather have avoided by keeping them on in the first place,) and we headed back to the hotel to pack up the last of our things and for me to get a shower so my family could stand to be in the car with me.

AFTERMATH: Following a shower, I donned my knee high Injinji compression socks and draped my legs across my daughter’s lap for the drive home. Once I got home, I switched to thigh high compression socks to sleep (yea I know, really sexy, LOL). I don’t know if it was training or the compression stockings that get the credit, but I was not in pain the following morning. My legs were no more sore than the day after an aggressive workout with weights. I could walk down stairs fine, get up from chairs, and put my socks on all by myself! I can’t tell you how shocked I was not to have sore calves. After my first marathon I could hardly walk down stairs for days. My secondary goals were to PR, and to not be in pain for days. I may have missed the PR, but being able to go about my business the day after without hanging on the rails to go down stairs or taking 10 minutes to get up from a chair is a pretty big success in my book, and important for someone with RA.

COMPARISON: In both races I felt like I managed my nutrition and hydration well and I had a couple of gels still in reserve at the end. I believe it was running slow that just about ruined me in Seoul. It changed my gait and stressed my hip flexors. For Chuncheon I walked more, but when I ran I ran faster, but at a more comfortable pace. Unfortunately, I was flat out unprepared for the hills and paid dearly for my lack of hill training. Bowing to the piriformis problems I have been having, hill work seemed risky and my higher priority was to run barefoot. I stuck to a flat training route and didn’t develop the muscles I needed to deal with hills. (Note to self, if the race elevation map looks like a sine wave, TRAIN ON HILLS!!)

RA Update: The RA is fine, no flare from the stress of the race or the 5 hour drive. No stiff hands or hurting joints or any residual problems. Although I hurt plenty during and the rest of the day after the race, it was all very short lived.

       For the next couple of weeks I’ll take it easy and enjoy my family visiting, then hit the gym with a vengeance! I plan to do a lot of stair and weight work over the next couple of months in preparation for my next round of marathon training. I still have the Great Wall of China on the docket and am crossing my fingers that nothing gets in the way. My piriformis is responding very well to bi-monthly deep tissue massages so I hold hope that it will be healed in time to use steep trails to prepare for China. I have to admit, by mile 20 of Chuncheon, the half marathon in China was sounding pretty good, but now that the post marathon amnesia is setting in, I’m ready to register for my next adventure in 26.2 miles.

Korean Royal Palanquin

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Hi-Seoul Marathon 2011

       The weather was looking wonderful for my second ever marathon, first ever fully barefoot marathon, YAY! Low’s in the 50’s at the start and a predicted high in the low 70’s. I was up at 4am and out the door to catch the subway into Seoul by 5am. It was a long trip, first drive to base, then catch a cab to the train, then an hour and a half on the train to Seoul City Hall, thankfully there were no train changes!

       Arriving at the start, I decided it was warm enough that I didn’t need pants or socks/flip-flops to keep me warm until the gun went off so I stuffed them in my bag and headed to the bag check. I’ve read many times that Koreans can be very aggressive, but my interactions with them have always been delightfully pleasant with people standing in orderly lines to wait their turn, etc. I can’t say the same for bag check, it was like a piranha feeding frenzy! We are given plastic draw string bags and sent to stand in line for stickers so your bag has a number and you have a matching number to stick on your bib. All was fine until we got close to the start and they had run out of stickers. People were getting antsy and when some poor guy was sent out with a handful of stickers he was mobbed like something from an Argentinian Soccer game! In my attempt to get my hands on a sticker I was stepped all over (not the best time to be barefoot), shoved into a planter hard enough to leave bruises on my shins and almost had the stickers ripped out of my hands by other runners. I finally managed to get the stickers in the right places and realized I was never going to get near the truck to place my bag because of the angry mob trying to get stickers. About that time a bag went sailing over my head and into the truck so I thought, what the heck, and hurled mine over about 20 people with my fingers crossed that I would see it again at the end of the race.

       It was actually a very small marathon by Korean standards. There couldn’t have been more than a few hundred people for the full and probably less than 1,000 for the full, half, 10K and 5K combined. While waiting for the start I chatted with a few runners, including an Ironman wearing a shirt from the Gobi Desert Marathon, WOW!!! The news station covering the races came up to take shots of my feet. They panned from my face, to my bib, to my bare feet, asked me to move them up and down like I was running, and then wanted to see the bottoms, LOL.

       Finally they fired off the fireworks to signal the start and we all shuffled under the arch. Since it was a small marathon, staying at the back and not passing people didn’t give me as slow of a start as I had planned so I still ended up taking off too fast. There were no spectators or trash cans along the course so when I was finally ready to ditch my jacket, I handed it off to a very confused police man.

       My plan for gels was one every 30 minutes or so including one just before the start, for a total of 10 over the course of the marathon, but I only managed to gag down 8. It worked though, I never hit the wall as far as exhaustion or lack of glycogen. Mentally though I was feeling pretty over the whole thing by mile 20 and my hip flexors were bothering me from 15 on. I don’t know what I did wrong, but by the time I hit 20 I was in way worse shape than I was when I ran 19 or 20 for long runs and I was running slower. I suspect running slow and walking actually added to the impact and hurt me more than it helped.

       Over the 5 hours I was on the course, I talked to many people, American and Korean, and other than the debacle at the bag check I had a great time. Once the miles were into the teens I put in an ear bud and lost myself in my audio book and eventually switched over to music. At 20 miles I was feeling discouraged because I felt more tired and sore than I should have at that point. At 23 miles I was beginning to perk back up despite being about .4 over the markers for distance. That meant a 26.6 mile marathon and I was barely hanging onto my pace. By 25 I was digging deep and we were running down a freeway that was in total gridlock. Seriously, they ran us up an onramp and onto a freeway for the last mile!!! It was even packed with rush hour traffic so we were choking on exhaust fumes.

My Cheering crew, the Osan Bulgogi Hash House Harriers!

      As we exited the freeway and approached the entrance to the park where the race was to finish I began to hear cheers and whistles that meant one thing, the Hash House Harriers were waiting for me with beer!!! I’m not really a big beer drinker, but it is the best thing in the world at the end of a very long run when the thought of something sweet makes you gag and your mouth is stuck shut from breathing hard for 5 hours. They were about 100 yards before the finish line and it was close to the 5 hour cut off so I hugged a few people, downed my Dixie cup of beer and did my best to sprint for the finish line.

       My official chip time was 4:58:09, which wasn’t what I was hoping for, BUT I successfully finished before the course closed, ran the entire thing in bare feet, and as of today (Tuesday here in Korea) I am only the tiniest bit sore. So other than not setting a PR, I met the rest of my goals and will be ready to do it all again on Oct. 23rd!

Not sure why they were rearranging the mats at that moment

Epilogue: Following a marathon, the brain of a runner is not particularly sharp and decision making skills are not at their peak. Since my HHH friends were so wonderful to meet me at the finish, I decided to tag along with them to watch the start of the Hash event for the afternoon. Before I knew exactly what was going on, I was entered in a running event called The Beer Mile. Still wearing my race bib and medal, I proceeded to run one last mile on a ¼ mile track that included chugging a beer at the start of each lap. I finished the mile in 4th place (thanks to a friend that let me pass her,) and then threw up all the beer (THANK GOODNESS!) Taking tired to a whole new level, I finally managed to convince a few people that it was time to go so I could follow them back to Osan (I had no idea where I was in Seoul for the hash event.)