Friday, October 5, 2012

Gapyeong Marathon

Dancing Gangnam Style to warm up

       I believe that once in a while we should set high goals, something that is beyond what we really believe we can do. We need pipe dreams, goals that stretch our wings and cause us to take a leap of faith. This summer I set one of these goals when I registered for 4 marathons in a month’s time. Part of me didn’t truly believe it was possible, but the stubborn kid in me was determined to prove naysayers wrong. There are so many reasons to take on a challenge like this. I learned a tremendous amount about myself, my mind, my body, and my abilities. I experienced so much more than I would have otherwise and at the end of life that is the only thing that can’t be taken away from you.

       Gapyeong was shaping up to be a tough race. The course is known for steep hills and, as if having run 3 marathon in the previous 4 weekends wasn’t enough, the night before was the Air Force Ball. I had a grand time at the ball, but didn’t stay for dancing since I needed fresh legs in the morning. Other than not partaking of alcohol, my other concession to the race was to wear flats with my gown. At least being floor length hid my feet. Despite my caution, I ended up only getting about 5 fitful hours of sleep and had over eaten so I wasn’t in the best shape for a race on Sunday morning!

Ugly elevation profile, it felt as bad as it looks!
       The area the race was being held in is a resort town up in the mountains Northeast of Seoul. It is stunningly beautiful and the course followed a lake with water-skiers zipping by, making me jealous of the cool water they were enjoying. Although not as hot as the race in August, it was still upwards of 80 degrees and skin-crispingly sunny, (as attested to by the spots that I didn’t quite reach with sunscreen.) The first part of the course, which was quite steep, was at least shady. A large part of the second half, which consisted of a cement bike path on the river bank, was unprotected and the aid stations were about 4k apart. It was flatter, but much hotter and lonelier.

I was holding up well on the course, pushing on the uphills and taking it easy on the down hills, to protect my knees. I intended to take the whole 6 hours by adding in lots of walk breaks, feeling no need to push my pace, preferring to finish feeling good despite the late night and long month. It was another one of those races with out-and-backs in opposite directions (with a little short one at the start) and after the first big turnaround I felt pretty good about the number of people behind me and my pace.

Mr. Kim far left
       Ever Faithful Mr. Kim had found me with my club and even snuck into our group photo! He paced with me for the first half of the race, but somewhere in the second half I announced that I was taking advantage of the 6 hour cut off and he left me in his dust. I must have sorely disappointed him because I didn’t see him at the finish.

Once I hit the 20 mile turn around I was happy. I could walk the rest of the way and still finish before the course closed so I relaxed a bit and took some long walk breaks to let my body cool down. We at least had a nice breeze, but the sauna at the gym has been broken for weeks and I haven’t been doing my heat training. I could really feel the difference! The temperature should not have bothered me as badly as it did, but I wasn’t alone. The Sweeper van (in this case, an ambulance) was very busy picking up overheated runners and shuttling them back. I wondered if the 6 hour cut off had lured an extra dose of beginners into a tough race. I realized after the turnaround that this time, there weren’t many people behind me and the ones left on the course were in really rough shape. One woman stopped and sat on a low wall a mile or so before the turn and she was still there when I came back around. I tried to encourage another runner to step it back up when I passed him and he waved me off saying, “I cannot!” With about 4 miles to go I passed a runner for the last time as he climbed into the ambulance. At the time I was enjoying a nice walk break in a rare shady spot and the ambulance driver yelled at me to get in. I waved him off with a stern “NO!” and picked back up to a run. It was a gentle downhill at this point so if I needed to keep running to not be caught by the sweeper, so be it. I wondered more than once if I had misread the website and the course actually closed in 5 hours. I didn’t care though, I know they always list finish times for almost an hour after course close and I had my Garmin so I could trace my route back to the finish if the volunteers at the turns had gone home. Fortunately, they were all in place, as were the traffic cones that separated me from the cars on the last stretch through town.

About this time I realized the police car that had been patrolling up and down the course was now just following me. Oops? Was I really in last place? I sure was! The police car was great because it kept motorists from coming too close to me, but it was more than a little nerve wracking to know that everyone was now waiting on ME to finish the race! The aid stations were still open, but obviously almost done cleaning up and anxious to be finished. The ubiquitous teenage girls were mobbing me with cups and cheers, glad to see their good deed for the day was nearly over. At the turns, the officers directing traffic and runners had lost a bit of their enthusiasm in the pounding sun, but they stopped the cars and waved me through with smiles.

         As I climbed the last hill up to the track where the start/finish gate was placed, the police car zipped around me and turned on the lights and sirens to announce the final runner. I ran through the arch, grinning from ear to ear because I had done it! The strangers around me had no idea how much this finish meant to me or what had been accomplished at that moment, so much more than a mere marathon finish. They cheered excitedly anyway, the photographer were snapping pictures, and the volunteers ran up to me with a double dose of snacks and my medal. Even my checked bag had been moved up to the finish! Someone very official looking stopped me for a photo. I have no idea if he was the race director or the Mayor of the town, but he congratulated me and we smiled for the camera before he went on his way.

       While I was resting and stretching to prepare for the long drive home, they were dropping the awnings and packing up. The runners that were still hanging around were giving me fist pumps and congratulations, friendly and supportive as always even for the last bedraggled runner. Later, on Facebook, one of my club members posted very excitedly that I had finished second in my age group. I laughed that it was second out of 2 and she didn’t believe me because there were so many runners. There were lots of men on the course, but as usual, very few women. As a woman, you can finish last and still be in the top 3 for 40-something!

       How did my body hold up through 4 marathons? I must say that it surprised me. There were definitely times when I hurt, either generally or acutely in one joint or another. I did not want to talk about the issues I had going into my last race because I knew people would give me a bad time for continuing on my journey and I didn’t want to hear the negative talk. After the Ansan race the week before, my left foot was very tender and I was afraid for the first day or two that I had another stress fracture. The rest of the week I wore my old Brooks trainers so that my arch would be propped up and could totally rest. I also taped it to get through the classes I taught during the week. I was worried equally about my knee. It never totally recovered from tweaking it in the first race and I was very afraid of the hills for this last course. I treated both my foot and my knee with KT Tape and prayed. The first half of the race was really rough. Every joint felt tight and my knees forced me to a walk on several downhills, but walking was fine and my foot seemed to be okay. By the second half, the pain had evaporated. I don’t know if it works this way for everyone, or if it is a symptom of Rheumatoid Arthritis. Perhaps the pain I feel in my joints would indicate injury on someone else, but is just my body overreacting. Another person running through the pain I feel might end up in surgery, where I end up finally lubricating my joints with the motion and getting them past an attack by RA. If I had truly injured my knee or my foot, and done actual mechanical damage, there is no way I could have finished all four races. Either way, no one would have faulted me for quitting at any point, no one would have cared if I didn’t meet my goal, and no one would have given it another thought but me. For myself and everyone else with this stupid disease, I had to do it to beat RA, I had to prove to myself that it cannot rob me of my life unless I let it. I expected the day after the race to be very painful with foot and knee pain, but I actually didn’t hurt at all! It was really weird that I would actually hurt less the day after a marathon than the day before! Sort of like deafening silence when a loud noise you have become accustomed to suddenly stops. I was healed by the last marathon, not torn down more.

       Nutrition: From the Marathon Maniacs page, I learned that one of the keys to multiple marathons is nutrition. Not only do you need to replace the carbs, but you need to recover fast and that means protein, fluids, and nutrient filled foods so your body can rebuild. Immediately after a race I can usually only get down a drink, banana, and maybe some fruit or a roll, but once I have cooled down and my stomach is settled, I need quality protein and I have found having a couple of boiled eggs stashed in my gear hits the spot exceptionally well. They are easy to digest and are lovely dipped in salt! Getting enough to eat right after a race to bring your blood sugar back up to normal is also very important if you need to have your wits about you to drive home. This requires enough glucose for your brain to function so handy carbs are important. They need to be quality carbs though, not chips or junk, something that will get into your system quickly and not put you on a blood sugar rollercoaster. Healthy fats help too. I’m still experimenting with what does this best and travels well.

       Between races: When you only have a week to recover before another full marathon, you have to be very careful with your mind and body. It made a big difference to have my life in order for the first couple of days so I didn’t have to think. Food was shopped for and set up, work was planned out, and lists were made so that I didn’t have to think much. By the end of the week I was ready to set up for the following week, creating a sustainable pattern for race-rest-race-rest-race. I made sure I got plenty of muscle rebuilding protein through the week, plenty of rest, and didn’t set myself up with much in the way of outside obligations. All the races were on Sunday so Monday was a pajama day with lots of stretching and foam rolling. My workouts between the last three races included very little running, but lots of core work and large range of motion exercises like squats. I taught my regular exercise classes, rode my bike home from work, and went through the warm up and skills for CrossFit on Monday and Friday, but only did a full WOD on Wednesday. It felt great to move and this pattern allowed me to push a little without overdoing it.

      Despite attaining my goal, and enjoying a beautiful day on the course, the best was yet to come. One of my favorite things about running is the people I meet and my travel companion for the 4 hour drive home was a lovely young woman who is a South African Zulu. Her English is fantastic and we talked the whole way home about world travel, life, and she even spoke a little Zulu for me, what a beautiful language! When I think of what I would have missed if I hadn’t taken up running, it makes me realize what an incredible blessing it is and how much richer it has made my life!

Lessons learned:

1. Heat training is never wasted time, I wish I could have done more of it.

2. There is nothing wrong with slowing down and enjoying the beauty of the course.

3. Finishing last is still a finish!

4. Once again, I am far stronger than I think I am!

5. After 3 marathons in quick succession, it starts getting easier.

6. Our bodies can adapt amazingly to extreme situations!

7. Protein is the most important thing to take in for recovery from very long runs.

8. Stretching is the second most important part of recovery.

9. You don’t always have to run to stay in running condition. When you are building up to a distance, it is important, but once you are there and consistently able to cover it, you can back off your mileage as long as you are working equally intensely at your cross training.


Unshod Ashish said...

They actually do dance Gangnam Style in Korea? Cool. (And ... nice job, second-place lady!)

Traveller said...


I'm only looking to do 3 in 90 days. I am currently between 1, USAF Marathon, and 2, Marine Corps Marathon.

My best half marathon started with me at the end of the pack. The engines of the sweep vehicles could be heard for quite a while after the start. I did a negative split in that race and eventually got far enough away that I couldn't hear them any more.

Francie Van Wirkus said...

Hi Wendy. Congrats on your latest accomplishment!! wow! Thanks for sharing your ideas for your multiple marathon strategy. Not sure about the hard boiled eggs after the race, but after my stomach settles, perhaps a hot chocolate w/milk works pretty well for me.

I was trying to find your email to contact you but I cannot find it. I would like to talk further.

Rock on, Girl!