Wendy, a 2019 ambassador for the Asheville Marathon and Half, walks us through her experiences with challenge/back to back races. She writes:
First and foremost, I’m not an athlete or a coach or an expert in anything. I’m not really a runner. I hate running. I’m certainly not one of those people who does a thing once or twice and then tells everyone else how to do it. This isn’t going to be a step by step guide to run a challenge event, how to stretch, what to eat, when to taper, etc. You’ll have to go somewhere else for that.
I’ll spare the grueling details on my story, because it’s pretty much the same as a lot of other marathoners. Except I was also transitioning from the exciting, unpredictable and adrenaline charged part of my career into management and there was a growing emptiness in my heart as I found myself spending more and more time sitting in meetings at work. I needed more physical challenge. I was approaching 40 and did the bucket list marathon, because I was pretty sure I would be too old to do anything after that. I embraced the proverbial suck and survived. Like everyone else, I learned a lot about myself in the process, but the most important thing I learned was that it was all in my head. “They” say that 90% of endurance running is above the shoulders. And the other 10% is too. Either “they” said that or I saw it on a “motivational” sign in the desert at a half Marathon in Phoenix. Or I was hallucinating and thought I saw it. Doesn’t matter.
After you run a marathon, you realize that things that seem physically impossible aren’t. Most normal people appreciate the journey and are able to resume their normal lives. Some of us become afflicted – and the quest begins for more. I started seeking out back to back endurance challenges, looking for bigger and harrier challenges. After taking on a 3 day, 230 mile bicycle endurance ride, I knew I could do the same thing with running.
In order to do any challenge, you have to believe that you CAN, decide that you WILL and then fill in the blanks with training – especially training above the shoulders. Endurance challenges are mental games. What happens in your head and how you talk about it WILL affect your performance on the big day. During training, stay away from negative people or tune them out. Some of them are friends and family – they will tell you that you are crazy, and they are correct. But when they tell you that you CAN’T, WON’T or SHOULDN’T, you’ll need to smile and nod and ignore them. It helps to surround yourself with other crazy people or find a good coach who can potentially offer both physical training and the mental part to train your brain.
I have to confess that I didn’t intentionally plan to do the Asheville Marathon and Half Challenge AND the Bataan Death March in one week. That was a strategic planning error made by committing to do the 75th Bataan Anniversary Memorial Death March after forgetting that I had applied to be an Ambassador for the Asheville Marathon and not actually looking at a calendar while doing any of it. I was applying for free race registrations all over the place and had not been accepted to any yet, so I wasn’t expecting to get in. Once I realized what I had done to myself, I embraced the suck and decided it was somehow meant to be. For whatever reason, this was what I was supposed to do next.
To spell this out: the Asheville B2V is the Half Marathon on Saturday and then the Full Marathon on Sunday. The Bataan Death March is a Full Marathon distance (26.2) grueling desert course at White Sands Missile Range, NM, just north of the US southern border. The course itself is mostly on dirt/sand with no shade and there’s a 4 mile hill. Most don’t even think of it as a Marathon because they don’t run it. Participants have the option to do it ‘light’ or ‘heavy’ and ‘heavy’ means carrying a 35 pound rucksack. In 2017, it fell on the Sunday after the Asheville Marathon. Ironically, the combined distance of the B2V and Bataan was the same distance traveled by the POW’s who survived the actual Bataan Death March in the Philippines during WWII. So, it seemed like I should do it.
I made a vacation of this adventure with some friends. We drove to Asheville on the Thursday before the race and spent a day hitting up the expo, exploring and shopping for warm pre-race attire. The temperature that weekend was lower than we had hoped for. Saturday was cold and rainy and I plugged along at a slow pace thanks to the mild strain in my left hamstring tendon. I also had a goal for Sunday – sub 6 – and wanted to save some gas for that effort. My full marathon PR is closer to 5 hours. One solid training tip for any race is that you should never expect the weather to be what it should be on race day. And for multi-day challenges, you might as well expect the weather to change dramatically each day. That’s not expert running advice though. The weather will confound you even if you aren’t running.
Altitude – you flatlanders know what I’m talking about. Asheville sits at about 2,000 feet above sea level. Which isn’t like running K2, but if you come from a coastal area or Ohio farmlands, it’s noticeable. My city sits at 800 feet and much of my destination running has been at sea level. I’m not telling you to train with one of those altitude masks unless you are into that kind of thing or are trying to make your neighbors think you are some kind of Navy SEAL. I’m just saying you might be dealing with an altitude difference. Go a little early and acclimate, do a prep race or three at a slightly higher altitude, read a book about running and altitude, ask your doctor, drink water —— whatever.
After the Saturday half, I picked up my obligatory post race complimentary craft brew for the carb replenishment and noted the complimentary massage/physical therapy tent had no line. So I popped in to see what they could do with that pesky hamstring. My dear friend Fred held my beer while I learned the very nice therapist could do the dry needling. I had some dry needling prior and she was willing to do it and I was worried about Sunday. Except we were in public and I was wearing tights and the real issue was the hamstring tendon, which sits under the gluts. Fortunately for us, the Fire/rescue folks had a supply trailer parked right there and let us use it for a few minutes to play human pincushion. While Fred held my beer. I’ll just go ahead and credit him for my success on Sunday.
I’ll point out here that most of my friends in this part of the country are police officers and runners. I know the police officers because we do the 3 day cycling challenge in May together. All of the Asheville police officers I know are kind, compassionate and dedicated people. They come out to support this race and other events and some of them are runners. When you see them about, take a moment to express appreciation for their service. They don’t hear it enough and deserve to be met with a kind word occasionally. We get to run around the nation and enjoy safety from traffic and other dangers because the marathon courses are lined with police officers. Usually they have to get up super early on their days off and stand for hours in all kinds of weather to support us. It’s super easy to pay that forward.
The overnight temps dropped a bit on Saturday and it snowed. The Sunday route was roughly a repeat of Saturday, but for a special treat, we got to run on the part of the estate that tourists don’t normally see during the second half of the full marathon.
Training for a back to back challenge is simple – you have to run on consecutive days to become accustomed to it. Day 2 becomes easier and you are less sore with training or prep races. I prefer back to back half marathons and my current PR is from a day 2 race. Which followed a hilly Cincinnati day 1 race. Don’t expect a PR on your first back to back half marathon. It takes a few to train your muscles and your mind to rebound on day 2. You have to be cautious with the details. Invest in good socks and don’t ever take chances with running attire. The smallest blister or friction injury caused by untested clothes may not be too terrible on a recovery day after a race, but will be a nightmare on day 2 of a back to back. I become lactose intolerant on race days, so no dairy can enter my system 24-48 hours before running any distance over 10 miles. Not even coffee creamer. Fortunately, there’s plenty of non-dairy beer in Asheville to fuel with.
… Continued on Part 2: Challenge Races & Back to Back Races