Treadmill Marathon

At the beginning of April I got an email from Zwift announcing this season's Watopia Run Festival by Maurten.  They did this earlier in the year with races ranging from 1 mile to 13.1 miles.  For this iteration, they would be running those races throughout the week, but the festival culminated in a Marathon on Sunday.

The timing was perfect in terms of tricking me into doing something really stupid.  You see, just a few days prior I had completed the last running route in Zwift, and I had therefore unlocked every running-related badge in Zwift (including the half marathon), with the exception of a marathon.  Prior to the event being announced, I just resigned to the fact that I would never get the marathon badge (technically, it's the "Going the Distance" badge), but that email came in and the seed of possibility was planted.

I wasn't committed to doing the event.  I wanted to get the kit you get as a reward for participating so signed up for a one mile race, which I ran not as a race, but as a social event.  I'm glad that I made that decision.

As the marathon day approached, I started asking random people on the internet if they had any tips for running a long distance on a treadmill.  There were some good tips - nothing earth shattering, but good reminders nonetheless, e.g., keep water and nutrition within hand, get some towels, don't stop because restarting is hard, etc.

A bad habit that I have is to float the idea of something to my wife to gauge her reaction as a way of asking if she's ok with me doing it.  That way, I'm not actually asking her if she's clearly not ok with it.  But in reality, she knows exactly what I'm doing and feels pressured to be agreeable to whatever idea I'm floating.  Such was the case for this indoor marathon.  She was clearly not enthused about it, but could see my excitement and was agreeable to it.  The lack of enthusiasm, I think, was related to the idea of why anybody would want to run a marathon, especially by themselves.

But now with my wife's "support", I could start planning for the event.  I would do the 6am event.  I set my alarm for 4:45am.  I made overnight oats that I'd be able to quickly eat the morning of and give some time for my stomach to digest.  I prepped the coffee machine to have some java ready when I awoke.  I set out four water bottles.  I bought some Gatorade Endurance for one of those bottles, and I set out five GUs.  I put two towels on the treadmill.  I even had an extra pair of shoes and socks ready to go.  My computer was set up and ready launch Zwift.  My watch, HRM, footpod, and SmO2 sensors were all fully charged and ready, as were my new headphones (BackBeat Fit 3150).

The morning of, things went flawlessly.  I awoke, heated my oatmeal, drank some coffee, and was even able to do a bit of picking up the house as I waited for "race" time.  I got on the treadmill about 15 minutes before the event started and walked just to loosen my legs some.  My goal in running this marathon was to set an inverse-PR, i.e., the slowest marathon I've ever run.  My goal was to do slower than 8-minute mile pace for the duration.  I have never run a marathon without bonking and I always attributed the bonk to either being undertrained or going out to fast (which is basically one in the same, I suppose), so I wanted to see what it was like running a marathon at an "all-day" pace.  Depending on cardiac drift, an 8-minute mile puts my heart rate in Zone 2.

When the event started, I had the treadmill set to 7.3 mph which is about 8:15 pace.  My intention was to increase the speed to 7.5 mph (8:00 pace) at the halfway mark so I could get that coveted negative split.

In my basement gym, I have a TV with a Roku built in set up right in front of the treadmill.  I have a remote for the TV that allows me to do "private listening" with headphones plugged directly into the remote.  This is super convenient when I'm on the bike trainer and not bobbing my head up and down like I do on the run.  I recently discovered that you can achieve the same thing with the Roku app on your phone, and therefore you can use bluetooth headphones to listen to whatever is on your TV.  So I watched Castle Rock listening via my new wireless headphones through my phone, and it was awesome.  Just one of those things where technology worked like it was supposed to and everything was easy.

Back to the run.

With the pace set, I was on my way.  It was a very comfortable, conversational pace.  I kept my heart rate firmly in Zone 2.  For the first 13 miles, my heart rate averaged 125 BPM.  Like I said, this really was an all-day pace.  I had no issues for the first half of the run.  The nice thing about running on the treadmill is that you have nothing but time to think about things, that's also the worst part about running on the treadmill.  I split up the run in 45-minute segments - just 45 minutes until the next GU!  I also tried to make sure that I was drinking enough water early on.  I wanted to finish all four bottles by the end, and I knew that the water I drank at the beginning would be the most valuable water I would drink.  I finished one and a half water bottles during the first half of the race and had started in on the Gatorade by that point as well.  Everything was going according to plan.

What was not going according to plan was the internet connection on my laptop.  For some reason, it kept dropping out.  It was connected to the wifi, but the runners in Zwift would disappear, and my place within the event would change from an actual number to being unknown.  I wasn't sure what was going on and I was terrified that I would complete this race and not get credit for it.  But every once in a while, the connection would re-establish itself for a few seconds, the list of other runners would re-populate, and I felt like that was enough of a check-in for me to get credit.

I mentioned earlier that I had an extra pair of shoes and that I wanted to negative split the race.  To that end, at the 13 mile mark, I hopped off the treadmill, tore off my shoes and socks, ran to the bathroom, ran back, put my Stryd footpod on my new pair of shoes, and then struggled mightily to get the new dry socks on my sweaty feet.  All told, the pitstop cost me about three minutes - I feel like my triathlon transition training really helped me there.  My 13.1 split was 1:50:25, give or take.

When I got back on the treadmill, I increased the speed to 7.5 mph.  C'mon negative split!  I was still feeling good at this point.  I was enjoying Castle Rock.  My wife came down to say high to me and had breakfast while I was running.  After the kids had their breakfast, she brought them down to play in the basement.  They were not entirely interested in watching me run, which is probably for the best since there are some disturbing scenes in Castle Rock.

Around mile 16, things started feeling not so good.  From a cardio perspective, I was feeling fine, the issue was with soreness in my legs/hips.  Luckily, it passed after a few minutes and I just went back to focusing on my next GU "break" and kept pushing the water, and kept wiping my brow with the towels

By mile 20 I was a little upset that I didn't have a third set of shoes/socks to change into.  I could hear the squishing of water in my shoes.  I started to lean on hand on the treadmill support to take some weight off my legs, my right hip specifically.  That worked well and got me past the bouts of discomfort until the last two miles.

I announced to my wife that I had two miles to go and she brought the kids over to start cheering for me.  It was a lot of fun, except that I was in a ton of discomfort at this point.  I would slowly move to the back of the treadmill deck and my wife would get visibly uncomfortable until I sped up to move to the front of the deck.  I literally had thoughts of quitting the race at this point due to the discomfort.  I mean, this wasn't a real race, I was just on a treadmill, I could stop at any point.  But I persevered and ran through the discomfort.

I crossed the finish line to great fanfare from my family.  I walked some to cool down, and also to wait for the runner list to populate in Zwift indicating that there was a connection and that the Zwift servers knew about my Herculean effort.  Once that did populate, I quit the app and hit save and crossed my fingers.  The save screen hung.  For minutes.  Just sat there, trying to save, but not succeeding.  I disconnected the laptop from wifi and then reconnected it, and as soon as the connection was re-established, Zwift saved the workout and all was right in the world (though, for whatever reason, I was not placed in the runners that ran the race, even in Zwiftpower).

I took off my shoes and socks and just sort of reveled in my accomplishment.  My final time was 3:36:22, inclusive of my 3-minute pit stop.  I got my negative split.  I also didn't feel dead, which is the first time after running a marathon that has been the case.  For two of my three previous marathons, I think my body was literally in shock after I completed them.  But for this one, I felt tired, but functional.  I went up and showered and was able to be as productive as one can be during self-quarantine.

All in all, it was pretty cool.  I'm happy with my effort and I feel like I proved something to myself.  I don't think I'll ever do a marathon on a treadmill again, though.

This race really made me realize how inadequate my hydration is during road races. I drank all 96 ounces of my water during this effort. I would estimate that I get about 20 ounces of water from the water stops on any given marathon course (~2 oz per water stop actually making it into my mouth, and about 10 water stops?), so maybe that's an easy way for me to stop bonking and actually achieve the results that my Garmin Race Predictor thinks I can do.


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