What Went Wrong

I promise this will (probably) be the last follow up post to my Toronto Marathon experience. Bonking so early in the race has led me to scrutinize every last detail in order to come up with a possible explanation. I don’t believe any one item on this list is significant enough to have affected my race so much; potentially two or more factors played a role, or perhaps all of this is irrelevant. Either way, I needed to work through this in order to move on.

“Experience is a hard teacher because she gives the test first, the lesson afterward.”  -Vernon Law

Start Time

As I emphasized in my race report, I was not a fan of the 9AM start. I think this is a terrible idea for any marathon, since it means the majority of participants are still running well into the afternoon. I think it could have been an issue for me since I never start running at this time; weekend long runs start nice and early (never after 8AM) and weekday runs are either very early or in the evening.  RoadBunner addressed this in her Humboldt Redwoods Marathon race report which also had a 9AM start, stating that her body starts “expecting all sorts of creature comforts like a real breakfast, bathrooms that flush, and lunch before my finish time.” Exactly!

Menstrual Cycle (sorry gentlemen, you may want to skip this part!)

Thanks to BCP I have a completely regular cycle. I realized that I was going to end up having my monthly visitor on race day, so I decided to ‘cheat the system’ and continue taking hormone pills for the week when I was supposed to stop (thereby preventing me from having said monthly visitor). I’ve done this many times before without an issue, but never for a marathon. Maybe it wreaked havoc on my system?


Hubs thinks I didn’t eat enough leading up to the race. I am more inclined to think that I wasn’t eating enough of the right things leading up to the race. For some reason, I had a lot of trouble getting a grip on my diet over the last couple of months and I wasn’t nearly as conscious of what was going into my mouth. As a result, my weight was also higher than I’m comfortable with. (This is something I will be working on in the coming months, starting with Matt Fitzgerald’s book Racing Weight, which hubs and I are both reading at the moment – review to follow.)

Heart Rate (Nerves)

My nerves definitely got the best of me. I had a terrible time falling asleep the night before and noticed as I lay in bed (and then on the couch) that my heart was pounding. I could not get myself to relax. This continued on race morning as I tried to force my breakfast down, but that didn’t go very well either. My nerves were literally making me sick to my stomach – no fun at all. Miraculously, I calmed down by the time we lined up and felt the pressure lift once we got started. Is it possible that I had worked myself up so much that it was detrimental to my race?

Too Much Taper?

I’m starting to think that less taper might work better for me. Some of my best races have been completed without tapering whatsoever (Chilly Half, Around the Bay 30K, Waterfront Half). It may be worth experimenting with less taper for my next marathon. This is something that hubs has been researching and is experimenting with himself. All I know is that I start to feel sluggish after a three week taper, as though I’m losing momentum. Correctly executed peak and recovery weeks with a less significant taper might be beneficial.


So.. those are my thoughts. As I mentioned above, I don’t necessarily believe that any or all of the above factors had a significant impact on my race. I feel better for having worked through and come up with some potential ideas, though of course I will never know for sure. Thanks for sticking with me and for the continued support. Now we can move on to other topics. :)

52 thoughts on “What Went Wrong

  1. i think it's good to go through the possibilities. and like you said, it could be all or none of what you listed. but at least you have a starting point on things you can work on prior to the next race to try to eliminate them.

    vent all you want!!

  2. I love that quote about experience being the hardest teacher – so true!!
    I have a feeling it was all of the factors you listed. I am also not a fan of late starts, so-so eating or a long taper and think they can make a huge difference in your race.
    It may feel like you're just "venting," but you're also helping other people work through issues they might be having, so vent away!!!

  3. I agree with you! My half started at 8am and I was used to running mostly in the early mornings! Plus I don't think I ate well leading up to the race either! I guess it really is the little things and they can add up! I think you should work on figuring out what kind of taper works best! I know that i have always run well when I take limited time to taper. It really just depends on the person! I am excited to see how it goes for you!

  4. we are such analyzers!!! your post reminded me of that. i think it could be any of those those things, a combination of all or some of them, or none of them. sometimes there is no reason for a feel-bad run. really, they happen a lot. it is just magnified when it happens in a race… especially one that is a marathon!! (nightmare!!!). do what you can and keep moving forward. happy tuesday!

  5. i absolutely hated the 9 am start. i hated that i was still running at 1:30. ugh. that really bothered me.

    and i know what u mean about the monthly visitor. i hate racing when im on my period. I always feel heavier or something.

    let us know about the book and about the less tapering!

  6. Looks like you’ve analyzed that day thoroughly and now have a bag of very helpful info (and fuel) to take tot eh next one. Congrats again for a solid race and good luck on the training to come.

  7. Always good to have lessons learned. I do think the late start probably throws people off for sure. And the period?? I am always way more tired during mine (even tho you took the pills, maybe your body was still in that mode??). Who knows. Could've just been a bad day overall…redemption will come.

  8. I have been analyzing the same things about my race. I know the stomach issues were huge, but I was 8 lbs over my comfy race weight. I don't think I was fueled properly and my heart rate was crazy. Seriously, standing at the start (literally not moving) it was averaging 105-115. Talk about being anxious. Who really knows though. We will both get our redemption.

    PS. if you want to send me Racing Weight when you are done, I would be happy to take it (and then of course mail it back to you).

  9. my husband things i over-analyze things. so this post made perfect sense to me…hehehehe

    i think the start time was CRAZY late. Honestly, i hardly know ANY races that start that late (except I can think of one on new years day) and for a marathon, it doesn't make any sense to have runners out there into the afternoon.

    i would think maybe messing with your cycle might play a part also.
    But i'm really not sure…

  10. Each marathon teaches us a new lesson – doesn't?!? Glad you've been able to work through it and identify what may have been the culprit.

  11. i am definitely on board with the shorter taper, it has really made a big difference for me

    glad you are thinking through what happened and we all know it will propel you to do even better

  12. I always like to analyze things too and it sounds like you identified some possible causes. I know when I mess with my BCP, it completely messes me up and I've sworn I won't do it again although you've said you've done it before without issue.

  13. Love the quote and I LOVED Racing Weight as well…now if I would only follow it!
    Here's to learning tough lessons. Now you'd better prep for a later start because Boston starts at 10/10:30. Because you WILL be there–sooner than later! ; )

  14. A lot of potential factors–regarding the taper, when I did it in 2008 my trainer took the view that the philosophy ahd changed and that a taper might be a bad thing. I don't think that means you run 20 miles the weekend before race day, but maybe something close.

    Maybe with a 9am start you need to do your long runs at that time as well.

  15. Great analysis. I was actually just talking to our coach about how stressed I have been of late and she said that stress/nerves is one of the worst things that can happen to your overall system – it takes more of a toll than you think.
    You did awesome and have some solid areas to focus on.

  16. Sounds like you've taken apart each detail and found something that can be experimented with for success next time around.
    Live and learn and as long as we re learning we are growing and that is the important thing to remember! You will do great next time!

  17. I think any one of these or the combo of all could have definitely played a factor and the best way to get over a bad experience is to learn everything you can from it before moving on. Regarding the shorter taper, I have only ever done a 2 week taper and it's always worked great for me. I know that the standard is 3 but if you ever want to discuss 2 let me know. xoxo

  18. I think that's a really good analysis. Regardless of whether those reasons directly contributed to your race, they are all things to stay aware of for future ones.

  19. I think you are on the right track with all your points here. Less taper certainly works for me. Next time you'll pay attention to all of these things and have a great run.

  20. Gotta tell ya, I have no idea. LOL. I do the same thing, go over everything and try to decide what it could have been. I never come up with a good conclusion. All of these sound like valid things to work on, so I think it's great that you're looking into them.

  21. Sometimes it's nice to just put those thoughts out there, even if you don't really come up with a definite answer as to why your performance went the way it did… These all sound like good points that probably could have affected your race.

  22. I think it's really good to list the possible factors. And honestly, I think some of those as a combo may have worked against you. I wondered when you said your race started at 9 am if that would affect anything since you are an early morning rnner. My body is very sensative to time changes I've noticed. Anyways, I'm very interested to hear your book review too. Sounds like a good one!

  23. I think it's really good to list the possible factors. And honestly, I think some of those as a combo may have worked against you. I wondered when you said your race started at 9 am if that would affect anything since you are an early morning rnner. My body is very sensative to time changes I've noticed. Anyways, I'm very interested to hear your book review too. Sounds like a good one!

  24. We are such creatures of habit, especially when it comes to endurance sports. Any little change in routine can throw you off! Thanks for posting so honestly.

  25. My husband has been analyzing and researching…look for answers and it could be one or many things. I do relate with your feelings and need to look for reasons, it's so hard to just let it go!
    I agree with the nerves and the longer taper. Both of those have affected me, too.

  26. i agree with you on the taper thing. I never feel like i hurt my body, i never feel tired or run doiwn during training and then i have to take a break? it definitely messes me up. all my best runs come off of high milage weeks etc. after each marathon i run i say "wow, i need to taper less." yet i always do 2 weeks. i need to experiement with this…

  27. I have analyzed my races over and over as well.. I have noticed that when I don't get enough sleep prior to a race, I bonk earlier..stress is a big factor for me as well.

  28. I identify with a lot of these! I think 9am is a terrible start time. No one runs at 9am ever. For me, late starts really mess with my nutrition since I would normally be eating lunch while I'm still out on the course. I read racing weight, I'll be curious to know what you think. And, I feel I'm much better with less taper too. I performed well during season and I think more than a two week taper makes me too rested. I like that you're reflecting- my last marathon was also not the performace I was hoping for and need to assess everything and make a similar list!

  29. i'm super obsessive about figuring out exactly what went right and what went wrong after every race too! so keep it coming girl!

    i'm sure that the hormones were a factor and the nutrition makes such a huge difference!

    hope you get it figured out and find peace…

  30. If the temperature is right, I prefer a bit of a later start- but if it was 19C in the later part of the race, that's definitely not ideal.
    I think a lot of people do better with a shorter taper and that might be the simplest thing to change!

  31. Looking back/analyzing a race can be just as important as all the training runs leading up to it! It was probably more of a combination of all of the above, than one single factor. I know that this race went So much better on every level for me because I could look back and realize I needed to be smarter about carb-loading/eating for the level of exercise, tapering less (definitely agree with the 2 week taper), and paying more attention to fueling While running. All things I had to look back to see :)

    You'll be stronger & smarter next time!

  32. Certainly those are all factors that very well may have influenced your race. But while some of them were in your control, most of them weren't, and that's kind of the scary reality of race day: you control what you can, but the rest is often up to chance.

  33. I think this is a great post. And likely each of these points has some validity to them. Definitely worth exploring.

    For the BCP, maybe next time it would be beneficial to adjust your pills earlier in your training cycle so that your period comes on a different week.

    Nerves is a tough one to deal with. You had pretty high expectations for this race – correct? That's a hard one to handle. But maybe if you can rein in the other factors and only have to deal with the one issue it will be easier to handle.

    I look forward to reading about some of the things you will be exploring

  34. You're being smart – keeping working it out, no bother to us!
    I only do about a 10 day taper, any longer and I go nuts and I know I don't need any longer than that. Probably worth messing with.
    Have a good Tuesday!

  35. How long was your taper? Personally I like a little over a week. 2 weekends before the big race ill do my last long run of 15-20, then fairly normal mid-week mileage, then 1 weekend out a short-long run about 12-16 and then a light week of short runs and then race weekend! But definitely a personal thing.

    As for your Aunt, my GYN actually told me some womb run better at "that time". He's a dude, but he runs marathons too. Yes, we discuss running while he is doing his thing haha. Anyway, he told me to play around with it if I wanted. Course when I was on BC I never got a visitor… which I believe has lead to a few of the issues I have today (and is why I went off it – NOT bc I want babies. Gross). :)

  36. I think the nerves thing has an enormous impact. I really suffered with them on race day and the day before. They impact how you eat leading up to the race and they waste an enormous amount of energy that should be conserved for the run. Not sure how you deal with them though.

  37. I think it's definitely valuable to assess what may have caused a bad race – lots of ideas to try to work with during your next training cycle.

  38. Good to have thoughts about what perhaps went wrong… you're an amazingly strong runner, you've come so far. Was tracking you that day, cheering you on from here. You've got the disappointing one out of the way, next one is yours, girl!

  39. ugg that start time would have thrown me way off too! all things to take into consideration for the next one and to learn from. as long as you learned something (which i know you learned a lot of things) from this one it was a success :)

  40. this is a great reflection on some of the pieces that might have gone wrong. I think you are probably right on. I know I identify with a lot of them. I know I'm going to do a lot differently next time.

  41. It sounds like this race just wasn't meant to be….I loved the quote! You have taken away so much…perhaps it was a success in different ways?

  42. some things are always going to be out of the marathoner's control… like BCP and weather. (last year I started ON the marathon course. Trust me, if I had to chose, I would do what YOU did).

    But I think you're right to look closely at the sleep and nutrition aspects of your "bonk". I bonked today on a training run… completely felt like I "couldn't run another step". I know I had not eaten enough yesterday, and the whopping 8 hours of sleep spread over the past 3 nights has probably not been enough.

  43. Damn those people not telling you what time the race started! Item #2 – no comment! You have too much fun running to be nervous! Chips and beer, that's all you need. I forget the last item………. ha

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