Monday, October 22, 2007

Me and My Stitch

Well, that didn't go quite as expected. The time is fine with me: 3:10:15. That is just 16 seconds shy of my original goal, so that's great with me. But, what isn't so great is how it came to be. I watched a certain sub 3:05 vanish before my very eyes, not at the hands of bad pacing strategy, tired legs or an overestimation of my cardiovascular fitness, but at the hands of a side stitch. Yes, a side stitch, the bane of beginning runners' existences. The one thing, the only thing, that has ever made me stop dead in my tracks in a race or even a hard workout.

Marathons involve so many variables: weather; fitness; mood; biorhythms; courses; etc. And those are the big categories. Within each of those are infinite little things that can go right or go wrong. For example, weather alone can involve too much heat, too much cold, precipitation, wind (which I HATE) among other things. It's so rare that everything falls into place.

In Boston last Spring, a few things were off for me. My legs beat up too early, I had problems pacing with the crowds, my body just felt off, and of course the Nor'easter. In that race, things started falling apart for me long before I got a stitch. Yesterday, everything was good and I was executing the race perfectly to come in 3:03-3:05 until we made a turn shortly after mile 19 into a blustery wind and I got a wicked stitch.

My plan all along had been to start the race easy and then pick it up to a point where I naturally found a groove. I started with the 3:10 pace group and ran my first mile at 7:16. Then I picked it up a tiny bit and was just under 7:10 for two and then close to 7:00 for three. After that I hovered between 6:55 and 7:05 for a while. Around mile 8 we met back up with half-marathoners who were running about 8:30 pace. I knew this could throw me off and it did a little. That mile was my fastest at 6:44. I felt fine, really. At the half I was right where I wanted to be averaging just a tiny bit over 7:00 at 1:32:07. After the half point, it's pretty lonely, out in the open sun, and slightly up hil for about 4 miles. I found some guys that kept me company and we pushed along up up and up to the turn off around mile 17. The pace naturally was a little slower here--I think the last mile up high street was 7:12 or something, but just about what I expected. Right before 19 is one more hill and that mile was a little slow too--about 7:20. But I was feeling very strong. I felt fully capable of picking it up at 20. Right after that last hill we turn into a little neighborhood area that is pretty twisty and turny. I was fine until we made the first turn into the southerly wind. Wham. That was it.

I stopped to stretch it out. From experience, I know that that is my best strategy for getting rid of it. Stretch it out. Get the diaphragm spasm to stop to get the breathing under control and try to relax and move on. I started running a few seconds after the stop and I held my side until we were out of the wind. I managed to run a pretty good 7:15 despite the stop. I was good for another mile and somewhere after 21 it got bad again. This is the beginning of the stopping and starting. I felt my 3:03-3:05 slip away. I was worried mrp would be up here to cheer me on and that if I saw him I would cry and fall apart. I was ok. If another woman passed me I would have been upset and if the 3:10 pace group passed me I'd be pretty mad too. No women passed me at all, which surprised me. But by mile 24, the 3:10 pace group went by. SHIT! I tried to stay with them but my breathing was all messed up and the pain in my side was horrendous. I tried so hard but I had to stop. I stretched it out and it wasn't going anywhere and I was so close so I tried to just run with it. I was running with my hand jammed up under my ribs and I finally came to the spot where mrp was waiting with my mom and my sister. I just looked at him and tears welled up and I just yelled, "Stupid stitch. I am so pissed!" But, somehow letting out my anger and frustration just gave me the gumption to push to the finish and make something of this race.

With my hand still firmly entrenched in my side I winced and made myself breathe deeply and I managed to get it somewhat under control to the point where I could let go and just go. When I got to the 26 mile marker I looked at my watch and knew 3:10 was close--maybe just maybe I could eek in under 3:10. I sprinted down the brick road to the finish. I think I did the most damage to my legs right there! Heh. But I didn't care. I didn't care what hurt. I was going to at least push for a tiny portion of this race. I ultimately didn't quite break 3:10, but the 3:10:15 I made is fine. Hey, if I ever decide to get a sex change, I can still run Boston! And it's an 8 minute pr and I was 11th out of something like 1300 women and I was first in my woefully slow age group (just had to throw in a little eyeore there, sorry). Really, I would be so happy with the time if I ran my guts out to get it. My disappointment comes from not being able to run my guts out over the last 10k like I have tirelessly trained to do for months now. Ugh.

Oh, and this is funny. I swear I saw white spandex guy from last year's Columbus Marathon around mile 2, but this year he was wearing silver and I wizzed by and never saw him again.

So what's with me and stitches anyway? I'm finally comprehending that this is problem pretty isolated to me--at least to the extent I get them. When I started running I'd get them periodically, but that's nothing unusual. What is unusal is that in the spring of my first training cycle, I started getting them almost every time I'd run. Out of nowhere, too. Just one day it started and didn't let up for months. Actually, it didn't really stop until I got pleurisy, which mysteriously was painful in the exact spot of my stitches. From about March to August I constantly was in fear of a stitch making my run miserable. I tried everything. The opposite foot down as I exhale, the hand under the ribs, posture, belly breathing, etc etc etc. And since then I know the difference between my abs cramping from dehydration and this weird windy/breathing thing stitch. I can get a stitch sometimes when I'm dehydrated, but it is fundamentally different than the stitch I got yesterday or the stitches I got last year. As I sit here typing my diaphragm is very sore.

But there is hope. I talked to Tinman yesterday after the race and besides being wonderfully supportive and generally encouraging, he suggested it might be something related to the alignment of my spine. It could be something so simple that a trip to the chiropracter is all I'd need to nip it in the bud. And this makes sense. My back was out of whack all that spring and summer and was only made to rights when I came down with pleurisy and change in my posture associated with that solved my problem. Two weeks before Boston and now two weeks before Columbus I had the first real stitch of those training cycles. As I'm tapering and tense (and at least during this cycle) I had a couple of days where I woke up with a spasm in a muscle in my back or my neck early within two to three weeks of the marathon. So my fingers are crossed that someday I can remove stitch from the list of things that stop me dead in my tracks and one of these days I'll run a marathon with no asterisk.


E-Speed said...

11th overall!!! That is awesome. I am sorry the stitch got you. I got a stitch last Wednesday night really bad, it just sucks when that happens, and even more so in your race.

I am so glad you were able to PR by so much despite the stitch. You have come so far!

Adeel Ahmad said...

Congratulations from one 3:10 marathoner to another.

My bad race was to be expected, and yours was much better anyway. I ran about 30 miles a week for the last six weeks because of Ramadan and then a week of tapering. I thought I could do about 1:21-22, but I lost too much fitness.

Jennifer said...

Don't be so hard on yourself. You ran a great race, and I think you can really look at what was postitive about it. Marathons are tough, and they are hardly ever perfect, but you fought through what the day brought you. Be proud. Congratulations.

joe positive said...

Getting as far as you did, feeling as good as you did, was more than half the battle. That's a sign of really smart racing, and something you will take with you into every future marathon. Congratulations!

Joseph P. Wood said...

Ah, Salty, your report finely illustrates what makes the marathon such a frustrating and beautiful event. Our bodies surprise us, betray us, embolden us--etc. And I think, reading your blog these past few months, you really learned just the amazing things the human body--and soul--are capable of.

Rest for the next few weeks and see what's next. I'm really impressed and thrilled with what you accomplished!!!

DaisyDuc said...

Sorry your stupid side stitch gave you trouble....but seriously 11th overall women....friggin AWESOME!!

E is so right that it only goes to show you how great your training was to have such a big PR with a stitch like that!

Quinto Sol said...

Your race will come sooner rather than later... CIM??? I bet you stay in 'thon shape just with easy running and can make it happen in Sacramento; besides you guys can make a trip out of it, Napa, SF...

Uptown Girl said...

It's been a rough fall marathon season, eh? Congrats on the race. Given the side stitch...3:10??? Awesome! Keep runnin'!

Lloyd said...

Argh...your stitch. That is really saying something about your training when 3:10 is a sub-par day. You hit it on the head with your report when you talked about marathon variables. So many of them.

Congrats on the hefty PR. You have a great outlook, considering your day.

Am I reading you that you're interested in trying again? That's a great sign that the desire is there. If you do take the plunge towards another race, I look forward to following along. I admire your work ethic.

Congratulations on your upcoming wedding!

Chelle said...

When I saw your time, my first thought was Gosh, I know she's capable of faster, but reading your account, it does make sense. I don't think I realized what a big PR this was though.

I still think you've got a lot of improvement in you and it's just a matter of patience and unfortunately, luck. You're doing everything right and being very logical about troubleshooting the issues that are specific to you.

One step at a time, and you make BIG steps each time! Great job and I'm going to start popping in more often. I've been a little absent from the blogging world lately. I'm going to be starting to post again here:

Cheers and congrats!