« Back to home

Death Valley Trail - Post Mortem

Posted on

Some people call these race reports. I call them post-mortems. Why? Cause usually I end up writing one when I didn't achieve a goal and I want to diagnose "why".

This year's goal for DVT was aggressive: run a 2:45:00 and set the course record (currently the course record is ~ a 2:56, the faster times on ultra-signup are from the DV road marathon).

DVT is a course that I believe takes a solid 20min off of whatever shape you are in, so right off the bat this goal meant that I was targeting 2:25:00 marathon conditioning. My final time was a 3:05:00. Not a course record and a solid 20min slower than my target: so you get a post-mortem.

Overall, course conditions this year were the best of any year I've run the race, so where did I lose all this time?

To understand the mistakes I made first you have to understand the choices I faced when I made them. DVT is a special course with only a few aide stations scattered roughly every 5 miles: just far enough that it's difficult not to need to stop at them. DVT is also an extremely dry course, being in the desert, and past experience had taught me that I needed a great deal more water and electrolytes for this course than in most marathons.

Lastly, I've found that to race a marathon without risk of bonking, I need ~400 calories, but with DVT I've found I usually need closer to ~600. I can do with fewer if I eat right the night before (hard to do in Death Valley) and time a morning snack correctly (I failed).

Roughly 15 minutes were lost due to decisions I made regarding nutrition. Because of the amount of fluid I wanted and the distance between aide stations, I settled on wearing my hydration vest with 2.5L of Skratch. Typically for a marathon, especially a marathon I'm looking to race I won't carry liquid, relying on cups along the way instead. Had I been a bit smarter, I would have found a 1L pack instead of 2.5L, or filled my 2.5L only partway. The extra water weight added roughly 2:09 to my total time, not ditching the pack when I should have added about another 3min.

My biggest mistake was in the mix. I mentioned the calorie intake I needed; in order to eliminate aide station stoppage I doubled up the Skratch ratio to hit the calorie requirement. This was fatal. I lost 1:30 stopping to stretch out random cramps and likely about 5min late in the race from the affects of dehydration because the mix was too strong. For my next marathon and future long runs, I intend on experimenting with Maurten in order to get more calories without raising the electrolyte level too far.

The final 3min nutrition mistake was a silly one. I forgot to eat breakfast. I brought honey and bread with me to Death Valley to prepare my usual race morning meal, and just forgot. This both made the calories from my pack more vital, and meant I began the day pushing my body into fat-burning mode.

The rest of the time? Mostly in small mental and tactical errors and not warming up, but also, as I mentioned previously, I needed to be in 2:25:00 shape to run a 2:45:00. If I'm being honest, I was in 2:35:00 shape, I didn't have quite enough time to spend on speed work converting from ultra distances to the marathon.

Outside of race-day, there was likely one more nutritional adversary: although it wasn't apparent until several weeks later and took a while to diagnose. Beginning in early November, I had more trouble than usual falling asleep at night. Each night I'd go to bed, and regardless of how tired I was I would suddenly become restless and full of energy. At first I thought it was overtraining (despite my load tapering), but when tapering further didn't help any I began experimenting with anything that might affect sleep. The result? Glycogen depletion. Adding in a large serving of brown rice at dinner every night made the issue go away quickly. Unfortunately, I didn't realize this until the middle of December, several weeks after DVT.

At DVT I felt heavy, clumsy, lethargic. It was as if I hadn't tapered at all and instead come in at peak mileage after the hardest workout of the year. All of the other nutritional mistakes likely contributed to this as well, but ultimately the uphill first-half slog was much slower than I was trained for and yet still my HR was more elevated than typical. I was working, hard, at a point that should have been smooth. Nowhere does this reflect more than in my average cadence: 154. For a race like this, especially on the uphill, my cadence is typically 160-165, low but I'm also quite tall and leggy. For the downhill it will be >170. I was muscling that uphill, and if I'd realized it and moved to a higher turnover the race and my avgHR might have looked quite different.

So what's next?

I definitely want to continue to run DVT annually, although I may need to skip it either or both the next two years in order to stay focused on my primary 2yr goals (those goals are for another post).

However, whenever I do return to DVT, whether this year or later, there are new targets.

  1. Don't mess up the nutrition
  2. Continue work to increase my cadence as this seems to consistently be the easiest way to avoid pace lapses on uphill courses.
  3. Improve my Lactate Threshold by upwards of 1min/mile (This bit might take over a year, but I hadn't done any specialized speed work or pace work in years until the month before DVT).
  4. While long eccentric training runs have worked well, adding a specialized lifting regimen for downhill strength would help me finish strong the last 4 miles.

Together, this makes my new CR goal for DVT a 2:30:00-2:35:00.