Race(s) Recap Precap: Illinois Marathon Weekend

I’m attempting (again) to throw myself back into blogging. We’ll see how long this lasts.

This was my fifth year running races during the Christie Clinic Illinois Marathon weekend. The race weekend includes everything from a 1K youth fun run up to marathon challenge (5K + full marathon). I did the half I-Challenge for the fourth time – 5K at 7:30am Friday night followed by the half marathon at 7am Saturday morning.

These races are my favorites, hands down. The races are just great – great course, great communication, great gear, great people – and it’s always wonderful to have an excuse to go back to C-U for a weekend. I get such a rush running through all of these places that are so familiar and so special to me. It’s no wonder that I’ve broken my own records in nearly every race nearly every year.

Despite running a ton of halfs, I’ve never really had a “race plan” or a race strategy. I generally plan to do what I’ve done before, and roll with what comes my way during the race. This was easier when I was racing more often – now I have to try to remember what it was that I did 6-12 months ago? and did that thing work? etc. These blog posts are part of my strategy for remembering.

The last two weeks of training

I faithfully followed a training program for the last few months – for the first time ever. I did the technical runs. I used pace alerts and my heart rate strap. I trained in all kinds of disgusting weather. I went in hoping to break 2 hours in the half – not a PR, but pretty dang good considering that I’m still not getting much sleep, still breastfeeding, and only really training during my lunch breaks plus a long run on the weekends.

I didn’t run much for the two weeks leading up to the races. This wasn’t on purpose – I had an unexpected trip come up about 10 days out, and running just didn’t fit in the agenda while I was there. I got in a 12 mile run the weekend before the races, but very little the week of. My last training run was a lousy 2.5 miles on the indoor track due to bad weather.

I’ve had persistent groin issues since my toddler was born (via c-section) in 2014. Perhaps that shouldn’t be a surprise considering that they cut through all the layers of my abdominal muscles – those enormous sheets of tissue that connect to many other major muscle groups. Anyway, that started acting up around the time I went out of town, and had me hobbling after every run for the two weeks leading up to the races. So that was a source of anxiety going into the weekend.

Nutrition

I feel like the clean-eating part leading up to races is actually harder than the tapering part. I’m terrible at following a specific diet. It bores me to death. My general plan is to cut dairy, fat, fried things, and fiber in the 2-3 days before a big race. Anything that might be hard to digest is out. In a vegetarian-mostly household, that tends to result in a lot of garbage carbs. This is something I need to change for future races!

My go-to pre-race meal place in Champaign has become Za’s. In fact, I’ve eaten there twice over the race weekend the last two years – dinner/dinner last year, and lunch/dinner this year. Their combo meal is an easy way to get exactly the veggies, protein, and carbs that I want, and nothing more. My pre-5K lunch was a salad with chicken, pasta with chicken, veggies, and marinara sauce, and garlic bread. My post-5K, pre-half dinner was pizza with veggies and no cheese, pasta with chicken, veggies, and marinara sauce, and garlic bread. Next time I’ll skip the pizza – it was too heavy on my stomach, and I regretted it all night.

Oh, and water. About 3-4 days out, I start hydrating like it’s my job. I don’t know exactly how much water I tend to drink, but I fill up two water bottles at a time, multiple times throughout the day. It’s a good idea, even if it means lots of pit stops in the days leading up to the race.

Travel

Our strategy the last two years has been to drive down to Champaign Thursday afternoon, giving us all of Friday to hit the race expo and do things around town. We made this decision last year due to rain in the forecast, but in general, I think it’s a much better idea than rushing down Friday and then trying to do things Saturday on race-trashed legs.

We stayed at a different hotel this year, which I hope we’ll be able to do in the future as well. For the price of a regular room at our normal spot, we got a suite at Country Inn and Suites – totally worth it with a toddler who goes to bed at 7. Other bonuses: better and more extensive breakfast options, and coffee and snacks (including fresh cookies) available around the clock. Don’t underestimate the importance of around the clock snacks when you’re running two races in 12ish hours.

In my next post, I’ll actually talk about the races. I promise.

Where Have We Been?

I suppose a better question would be: what have we been doing?

The short answer is: making some changes.

In July, we both read The 4-Hour Body: An Uncommon Guide to Rapid Fat-Loss, Incredible Sex, and Becoming Superhuman, Timothy Ferriss’s guide to hacking the human condition.  In the book, he presents a series of self-experiments whose results have been successfully replicated by a team of testers.  None of these testers are professional scientists, though Ferriss consulted with a whole slew of professionals in a variety of related fields in order to form theories and verify subsequent results.  Having spent the first half of the summer trying to hack our own bodies through lower carb eating (Shane) and P90X (both of us), we decided to give some of the experiments a try.

Let me tell you, it’s difficult to know how to approach a food blog when you’re actively trying to change your diet and restrict the sorts of foods you used to write about in lavish detail.  The diet recommended by 4HB is as follows:

  1. Avoid white or starchy carbohydrates – so no bread, pasta, rice, potatoes, pastries, baked goods, crackers, cereals, corn, chips, tortillas, fried things with breading, etc.
  2. Don’t drink your calories (with the exception of protein shakes).
  3. No fruit and minimal dairy.
  4. Eat the same few meals repeatedly.  These meals should include lots of protein, non-starchy vegetables, and a hearty helping of legumes.
  5. Once a week, eat whatever the hell you want.

So we tried that for a few weeks, and it was mostly really good.  We both felt great and were satiated by our meals.  On the weekends, we Ate All The Food: toast, ice cream, sushi, baked goods, etc.  The only problem for me? My running was very negatively affected – as in: I couldn’t do more than a mile or two without bonking.  And Shane was starting to feel crazy about all the counting, tracking, etc.

So we switched it up again.  I’m now ignoring rule #3 and trying to focus on post-workout nutrition, eating more carbohydrates after a run or the night before a long run.  Shane has been trying the LeanGains approach to eating, and has been adjusting his meals based on whether/not he’ll be lifting that night.

Since our vacation, I’ve lost 3% body fat and he’s lost at least 10 pounds.  We’re both pulling down or putting up more weight, and last night I did my very first push-up ever.  My runs have gotten faster, and my endurance better.  We’re drinking less during the week, and trying to curb cravings with healthy alternatives.  And on the weekends, we eat whatever the hell we want.

A couple of years ago, we made a fairly dramatic shift in our eating to favor local and sustainably grown food.  This is nearly as dramatic a shift, especially as we try to strike a balance between our nutritional requirements, our values, and our checking account.  In the coming weeks, I hope to share with you some of the ways we’re managing these things – while also talking about the delicious foods we’re eating on (and off) this new plan.  Stay tuned for more!