Besides being reassigned to kitchen responsibilities, another benefit that (alpha?) male gets from his faster female partner are free entries to races. Having such luck, my girlfriend Žana’s marathon personal best enabled her to get an invitation to 2014 Rotterdam marathon. And on preposition, that I would be pacing her, I managed to piggyback on her achievements and get a “pace-maker invitation”. Rotterdam marathon was chosen for its wonderfully fast course, on which I set the household marathon record exactly 3 years ago. Those were the days of 3-day carbo-loading, low-fat milk and plasma cookies. Good times!
Much have changed for me since then though, as “specializing” for Ironman triathlons meant exchanging quite a bit of speed for muscular endurance. Substantial change was on the nutrition side as well, living Low Carb High Fat for the last 16 months. Žana made even greater progress in her endurance foray, running 3:10 in 2011, participating in marathon in 2012 London Olympics and setting her marathon PB last year with 2:38:59. Her skeptical attitude coupled with my “pleasant” side effects of ketogenic miss-adventure (i.e. depression, lack of motivation and generally not-nice-to-be-around behavior) delayed her entry into Low Carb world. Though I didn’t push her, she made a choice to go gluten-free in the second part of 2013, while still adding carbs to the meals we were eating together. And after the end of the season, she started going Low(er) Carb, which meant eating the same main meals as me while still retaining some carbs in her diet in the form of fruit before and/or after harder runs. Eating a lot more healthy fats, she leaned out quite substantially, though she never had any weight problems. Her performance improved in trainings and B-level races as well.
Training went well for her over the winter and in early spring, so the spirit was high leading to Rotterdam. The only question that bothered me was, how long I was going to last.
The arrival to Rotterdam was hassle free, with organized transfer to race hotel. After some unpleasant experience with hotel meals at one of last year’s marathons, we brought all our food and portable stove to Rotterdam. Therefore the meals were a bit improvised, but high quality nonetheless.
On Friday evening I started my usual carbo-loading protocol, being in quite heavy training through the week on only around 120 g of carbs per day. So a 170 g carb dinner in the form of banana & peach & cottage cheese & cream & maltodextrin was a full blown desert for me. On day before marathon I continued to carbo-load with fruit, maltodextrin and full-fat dairy products, consuming a total of 400 g of carbs. On Saturday we also had a short run with few strides and in the afternoon was time for race briefing. Needless to say, I felt a bit strange surrounded with African runners with PBs in the range of 2:0x. Kind of like a black swan 😉
Organization was top notch. Even pace makers received their own drinking bottles, all transfers to start and back to hotel were organized, each participant had his own bed in a center right near the start, and there were no waiting lines for toilets. I could certainly get used to doing marathons in such manner!
Though, when we walked to the starting lines on the next morning with all those top African runners I felt a bit strange. But I got a fair share of “discrimination” in pro-warm-up area, where I was asked for my bib-number twice! In such situations it would be better if my skin wasn’t white 😉
We both started just after the first line super-fast athletes and the first kilometers flew by in set tempo. Žana’s plan was to run under 2:37, which meant a 3:43 per km. My plan was to pace her for as long as I could, hopefully to at least 27th km, as the difficult part was from 23 – 27th km into full headwind over a big bridge. Opening kilometers flew by and the half marathon mark came in 1:18 flat, which meant we were (or better, she was) around 30s under the plan, so all was OK. From then on, I started to suffer progressively, showing lack of appropriate marathon training and also knowing, that the hard part was still ahead. I really worked hard to stay in front of Žana from 23 km on, going well into my red zone into headwind and over the bridge. After 26th km I was in survival mode, and just before 28th km, when seeing how strongly she ran, I called an end to my pace making duties. I barely managed a few encouraging words before she was out of my sight.
The last 14 km seemed like eternity for me and running through less populated districts of Rotterdam certainly didn’t help. The atmosphere before the finish lifted my spirit a couple of notches and made me forget about my tired legs so the relief at the finish line was quite substantial.
Back at the race center I found Žana in all smiles, running a PB of 2:35:55! She managed a negative split for a second half (1:18:01 + 1:17:54), so she finished very strong, still feeling good after I dropped off. And that time meant that my 3 year old household marathon record was trashed! Finally! Needless to say, we were both happy!
We were not so pleased about drug testing, the second time for her in Rotterdam. Being tested on a day before the race, she got “lucky” again as a random pick after the race. It’s not easy to provide a urine sample after a marathon, believe me!
After the test it was time to get to hotel for a dinner with, unfortunately, not many non-gluten choices. Though lasagna and sandwiches were very appealing, I ate hard boiled eggs, cheese and roasted ham. Not an optimal meal, but who would complain after such a perfect day!
To round up the voyage, I must emphasize two important points learned along the way. First of all, I am more and more impressed on the way she ran the whole marathon. If I ever saw a perfect realization of hard training, this would be it, as indicated by her splits bellow. Her consistent pace from 25 km on, when the marathon really starts is very promising for future races. She consumed only one and a half sport gels and never faded, which is quite contrary to what happened to me back in 2011. This only confirmed my prior belief, that the importance of even pacing throughout the marathon is vital for optimal result.
The other lesson we learned is that preparing your own food is worth of extra hassle. Although the food at the hotel was probably top quality, it is still better to fuel yourself with food your body is used to. Gastric issues are really the last thing you want to encounter on 30 km with no toilets around!
So all in all, I am very happy and proud to hand over the household marathon record! And looking forward to spending (even) more time in the kitchen 🙂
Good times ahead!