The Quest for Boston: 2015 Brentwood Breakdown

Qualifying for the Boston Marathon is one of my personal goals for 2015. For a thirty-something male, this means running 26.2 miles in under 3 hours and 10 minutes, or roughly 7:15 per mile. This is nowhere near the current world record, but trust me, crossing the finish line an hour after Dennis Kimetto is still really fucking hard.1

I know it’s hard because two weeks ago, after months of training, my qualifying attempt was torpedoed a mere 3 miles from the finish. It was a full hull breach followed by a succession of mutinies. First my calves, then my hamstrings, who also convinced my quads to jump ship.

I found myself lurching forward on stilts, acutely aware of my hot blistering feet and the spine-jarring impact of each stride. My heart and lungs, so methodical until now, began to hesitate and struggle. The 3:05 pace group, whom I’d been rock steady with for 2.5 hours, slowly began to pull away and leave me in their wake. When my brain joined my body’s building chorus of fuck this shit I knew my campaign was over. Faint, dizzy and exhausted, I veered to the median and crumbled onto the grass.2

Break on Through to the Other Side

Most marathon runners encounter some type of “wall” during the last six miles of the race. It’s well documented and something I’ve experienced in previous marathons.3For me it seems that mile 23, roughly two and a half hours in, is where the wheels start to come off. In both the 2014 and 2015 LA Marathons I bonked roughly in the same part of the course. I’ve dubbed it the Brentwood Breakdown because in back-to-back races I’ve failed to make it through that section without stopping.

In 2014 I made two classic mistakes, both of which I corrected in 2015. First, I got excited and went out too fast. That’s a no-no that comes back to haunt you later in the race. Second, I skipped on early fluids, passing through the initial aid stations without drinking anything. Ultimately these two mistakes resulted in severe cramping and dehydration that forced my demise.

In 2015 I was much more calculated. I trained harder, putting in a full 12 weeks of running based around Hal Higdon’s Intermediate 2 program. I kept an eye on my nutrition, particularly during race week, when I began to eat more carbs to get my glycogen stores up. To ensure a steady pace and some in-race motivation, I snuck into the B corral and went out with the Clif Bar 3:05 pace group.4I took fluids early and at nearly every aid station, alternating between water and sports drink. I ate three gels in total during the race, beginning at mile 13, hoping the caffeine and calorie boost would keep my engine motoring through the finish. Yet despite these changes, Brentwood still denied me.

If at first you don’t succeed…

So what’s next? The first issue is finding another qualifying race. This weekend I took some time to review my options. There are a number of official Boston qualifiers on the calendar, but my travel schedule conflicts with most of them. Given my current conditioning, the ideal race for me would have been the Mountains2Beach marathon. It’s 7 weeks away, the course is lightning fast, and there are pace teams in my target range. Unfortunately it’s sold out.

The San Francisco marathon fits my schedule, but the course isn’t exactly PR-friendly. The next opportunity that works isn’t until early November, which is after the 2016 Boston registration officially opens. So at this point it’s looking like Boston wouldn’t happen until 2017 at the earliest.

The second issue is resolving this nutrition problem. I need to re-evaluate my carbohydrate requirements and be a bit more scientific about what fuel my body needs and how to deliver it. This includes race week, race day, and in-race aspects.

Assuming a VO2 max of 50 mL oxygen per kg body mass per minute, the table above represents my calorie requirements as calculated from B.I. Rapoport’s endurance calculator.5

Looking back on this past race, I think I should have eaten a larger pre-race breakfast. I flinched at the amount of overnight oats I planned on eating, opting for only a third of it the morning of the race, which in hindsight was a mistake. I also need to tune my in-race nutrition, including practicing during longer training runs, which is something I’ve never done.

I’m confident that once I solve this glycogen riddle I’ll be en route to Boston. It might just take a little longer to get there.


Originally published at ckalima.com.

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