The Week Before Christmas and How Not To Be Like Icarus

With a crazy busy week leading up to Christmas, I’m afraid I don’t have time to write my usual Pulitzer-prize-esque quality blog.  Instead, I’m going to cheat and print the same article that I’m submitting to the Charlotte Running Club newsletter.  Caitlin might get upset with me but since she’s not paying me, I’m going to steal the premiere/debut of the article and publish it here.  If you like it, please feel free to send me money.  if you don’t, send money anyway.

But first, some quick updates on the prior week.  With torrential downpours rolling into town on Thursday, only the two most dedicated, fastest runners in town showed up for the Triple C Brewing Company beer run.  Here’s the evidence:

It didn't rain one drop in the brewery after the run.

It didn’t rain one drop in the brewery after the run.

I’m always telling everybody about running in the rain, “It’s never as bad as you think it’s going to be.”  This time I was wrong – this time it was worse.  It POURED on us on the way back, and the wind gusted so hard I thought I was going to get blown over.  We sped up so much that the negative splits on the back half very nearly turned our easy run into a tempo – I just wanted to get out of the rain as soon as possible.  But the beer afterward was as cold and tasty as ever and not one drop of rain fell inside the brewery.

It was a down, recovery week which meant we only ran one workout and a long run.  We knocked out the long run on Friday and it was my best one of the training cycle so far so maybe I will have an okay marathon after all.  The rest of the week was spent scrambling to get ready for Christmas since the end of the world did not happen as planned on Friday.  Stupid Mayans.

And that’s pretty much it for the week.   Here’s my newsletter article.  Enjoy, or don’t – your choice.

DON’T BE AN ICARUS IN 2013

How to avoid the marathon crash and burn by someone who knows a thing or two about the crash and burn

Before I get started, first let me say that this article is of the do-as-I-say-not-as-I-do variety. In the past, I have been guilty of doing exactly what I am about to tell you not to do. As a matter of fact, I have done this numerous times – apparently, I’m not a very quick learner. I’m here to help you avoid some of the agony I’ve experienced. And I’m talking about some agony of the highest order, like the Spanish-Inquisition-wishes-they-had-known-about-this highest order. The pilot of the Hindenburg saw me in the Boston marathon and said, “Damn! Now that is a crash and burn!” So listen up and don’t be like me, like Icarus, in your 2013 marathon(s).

I’m sure many of you are familiar with the story of Icarus in Greek mythology, but for those of you that aren’t, here’s my quick little synopsis. Icarus and his father Daedalus were imprisoned on an island. Daedalus hatched an escape plan by crafting wings out of wax and feathers. But before they began their flight to freedom, Daedalus warned Icarus, “Whatever you do, don’t fly too close to the sun.”

But as they flew away, Icarus, ecstatic about this flying business, (and let’s be honest here, who wouldn’t be?) either forgot or ignored his pop’s advice and soared ever higher and higher, until he got so close to the sun that the heat melted the wax from his wings, which promptly disintegrated, tragically plummeting him to his death. But what the hell does this have to do with running a marathon? Hang on, I’m getting there.

Fast forward a few thousand years to the 2012 Boston marathon. With a high temperature of around 90 degrees, and even hotter on the heat-radiating, no-shade-anywhere, black asphalt roads along the course, this day made for the hottest Boston marathon on record – I’m guessing Icarus’ wings wouldn’t have lasted to mile 2. The comparison doesn’t stop there. I, like Icarus, had a little too much hubris. I convinced myself that despite the heat and despite a less than ideal training cycle, I could still fly right next to the sun without repercussion, that I could accomplish my goal of running a sub-3:25 marathon even though my wise, not unlike Daedalus, friend Nathan cautioned me to back off from my original race goal. With the hordes of fit folks blazing past me, with the ecstasy of finally running in the Boston marathon, I ran the first mile faster than goal pace, and just like Icarus, I soon crashed and burned. Instead of a 3:20-something marathon, I ran a 5:03 marathon, well over an hour slower than even the slowest of my previous marathons. And there was a lot of staggering, puking, and agonizing along the way. I’m guessing Icarus’ plunge was much less painful.

Avoiding becoming an Icarus may sound easy and oh so very obvious. Don’t go out too fast, duh. Well when you’re standing on that line and all amped up, surrounded by crowds cheering you on, being smart is not as easy as it sounds. So I’m here to hammer home some advice in advance. Pound these ideas into your head and think about them while you’re standing on that starting line and waiting for the gun to fire.

Number one, BE HONEST WITH YOURSELF. Go into race day with a good idea of what you are capable of running and learn to be honest, even brutally honest, with yourself about it. I have dubbed a phrase for people, including myself, that can’t seem to do this, “Their eyes were faster than their legs”. Know your fitness level and what you should realistically be able to run. If you ran your most recent 5K in 24:00, don’t try to convince yourself that you can break a 3-hour marathon. Setting an early pace that is faster than what you are capable of maintaining is a surefire recipe for the Icarus crash and burn.

If you don’t know what time you’re capable of running, utilize tools like the McMillan Race Calculator to get some idea of a time you might expect to run. Tools like this will allow you to input your recent race time at another distance and then provide you with a projected marathon time that you should be able to realistically shoot for. Granted, there are a lot of other variables to take into consideration, but this is better than a random guess. And talk to some more experienced marathoners and/or coaches who can help you set a good, realistically achievable goal time.

Number two, ADJUST YOUR GOAL BASED ON CONDITIONS. Freak snowstorms, unexpected heat waves, torrential downpours, gale-force winds – all have happened on race day before, and will happen again. Don’t count on a PR when these kind of things hit. Plan on a slower race than you originally anticipated. The weather forecast will usually warn you in advance of such possibilities. Do some research and find out how best to run in the forecasted conditions and adjust your goals accordingly. If you take Mother Nature head on, know that she will win. Back off and live to PR another day.

Finally, RESPECT THE DISTANCE, regardless of the course. You’ve undoubtedly heard this before, but I’m going to reiterate anyway. If you do not respect the marathon, it will chew you up and spit you out. I’ve seen experienced and even elite marathoners try to cut corners on training and subsequently get destroyed on race day. If you think you can have a longest training run of 10 miles and yet still negative split that last 10K on race day, think again. Be prepared. Talk to knowledgeable marathoners and coaches and follow a proven training plan. And if you don’t, don’t expect a huge PR. Don’t count on that downhill or flat course to be ‘easy’ and therefore think it’s okay to be a little lax in your training – 26.2 miles is a long way to run, regardless of the course, elevation, or terrain, and a flat/downhill/’easier’ course will crush you just as quickly and just as hard as a rolling/uphill/’tougher’ course. Count on every marathon to be tough and get in a full training cycle beforehand, no matter how ‘easy’ the course allegedly is.

If only Daedalus had written a little article like this for Icarus, maybe he would have survived his escape flight. Now you know a few pitfalls and hopefully you’ll avoid them. And just in case you need a little extra motivation, check out this Icarus-like fellow as he staggers across the finish line in Boston after having ignored all this advice:

In case you were wondering about the clock, it was set to the corral behind me so my time was 20 minutes slower.  Yeah, I know. Don't be an Icarus like yours truly, #9024. Be like these girls instead.

In case you were wondering about the clock, it was set to the corral behind me so my time was 20 minutes slower. Yeah, I know. Don’t be an Icarus like yours truly, #9024. Be like these girls instead.

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