Race report: Potomac River Run Marathon

Potomac River Run Marathon
Potomac River Run Marathon

This is probably the only picture of me in which I am not grimacing or cussing after the race. Ouch!

It has been less than 24 hours since I completed the Potomac River Run Marathon in Carderock, Maryland.  So while the pain is still fresh in my quads – and my ego- I figured I would sort out the thoughts in my head by hammering it all out on the keyboard.

Some of you may remember my announcement last week that I was hoping for a PR at this race.  As you may have guessed, I did not accomplish that goal.  In fact, I didn’t even come close.  And I’m actually OK with that.

I always hate to over-analyze a race, but it’s probably useful for me to understand that although I put in the hours and time toward training for this PR, my subsequent training for the Eagleman Half-Ironman in June meant that I rode 42-miles on my bike in what should have been my taper week. Sure, I was tapering on my runs but that was the farthest and fastest I have ever ridden my bike, and I felt it in my quads all week.  I tried to take it very easy the rest of the week, but before I even hit the half-way point of this marathon I knew my quads were toast.

And here’s the thing…like a lot of marathoners, I have experienced the ‘wall’ in the later miles – I call them the ‘dark miles’ of the race. For me it’s usually 18-23.  When I’m tired and hurting and I still have so many more miles to go and I start making deals with my brain to end the pain.

But this definitely was not the wall.  This hit at mile 11 and up until this point I had been nailing my race pace – the race pace I had trained for.  Even reeling it in during those first miles when I was amped up and eager to let it rip.  But somewhere around mile 11, I could feel that my quads were done.  That long bike ride did them in more than I had realized and even 6 days of rest wasn’t enough of a taper to get them back up to speed.

I kept running, but around mile 18 I realized that a PR of any sort would be impossible.  Around mile 21, I was barely shuffling.  I was definitely in the wall zone at this point too and I made the decision to walk the better part of the last 5 miles to minimize the damage to my legs.

As I was walking, I beat myself up for not only missing my goal to PR, but completely blowing my chance to even finish strong.  And I was wondering how I could ever think that I might be able to complete a Half-Ironman in a few weeks and an Ironman in a few months if I couldn’t even find the mental strength to complete a marathon.

But then it dawned on me that me decision to walk had nothing to do with mental strength and everything to do with my desire to remain injury-free so that I could continue to train towards my future race goals.  And I also realized that in spite of the pain, I never stopped moving.  Even though my legs were shredded on that last 6 and I wanted nothing more than to stop and catch a ride home, I continued to put one foot in front of the other until I crossed the finish line.

So while I’m disappointed that I didn’t PR, I am proud of myself for assessing the situation and minimizing the damage before it got out of hand.  And the big lesson I learned is that training for an Ironman and PRing in a marathon do not go hand-in-hand.

So for the next few months, I will continue to train for my half and then full Ironman races, and I will continue to do speedwork, but PRs are off the table until next year.  Whew, that feels better!

As for the race itself, the Potomac River Run Marathon is a small, gorgeously scenic, and well-organized race along the famed C&O Canal trail.  It’s flat as a pancake and crushed shells and rock the whole way.  Yes, that’s easier on the knees.  But trust me, you will feel every shell and rock on your feet before that marathon is over.  It’s also an out-and-back race repeated twice.  So you essentially cover the same ground four times.  Boring?  Maybe.  But I think the scenery and the shade make up for that.

The race support is good in that they are very clear about what they have for racers and where the water stops are ahead of time.  But even though I don’t generally drink that much water on my practice long runs, I would have to say that I was absolutely parched in the 2 or so miles between water stops at this race.  Particularly in that last 10K.  If you’re a camel, you will be fine.  If not, bring your own water!

Solar water heating – what’s in it for you?

Solar energy panels

Solar heated water has been around for a long time – remember the sun-warmed swimming pool in your back yard; waiting for the sea to warm up in spring before taking that first dip; or the good old camp shower – a plastic bag full of water hung in the sun to heat up for your daily wash?

The earliest record of an Australian solar water heating system was at Meringa Station (near Cairns) in 1941. It was relatively crude, but was still able to provide hot water for the household for about ten months of each year.

Today, solar water heating has advanced into streamlined systems which can save you money at the same time as helping the environment. The Australian government has invested heavily into sustainable energy forms that reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and with Australia’s high rate of sunshine, solar energy is an excellent alternative to fossil fuels and unsustainable resources. Solar hot water is here to stay.

So what does this mean for you? The news is good – as solar hot water systems continue to be improved, the savings for you, the consumer, are increasing. Not only can you reduce your power bill by using the sun’s energy to heat your household water, you will also help the environment. Over a quarter of household greenhouse gas emissions are caused by traditional methods of water heating - there are no greenhouse emissions from solar water heating!

Solar water heating is pretty simple – in a nutshell, it exposes water to heat from the sun by pumping it through a system of photo-voltaic (PV) panels (or collectors) which capture the suns energy and using it to heat the water, then the hot water is stored in your hot water cylinder ready for use.

As solar heating is reliant on having regular sunlight, the efficiency of your system will depend on where it is placed (generally this will be on a north-facing part of your roof, away from the shade of trees and the like), and of course, how much the sun shines! To ensure a constant hot water supply, a back-up system such as gas or a heat pump is used, which will kick in when your solar system is not getting enough sun, for example during heavy cloud and at night.

In most cases, a solar system will provide between 50% and 90% of your household hot water requirements, depending on the system you choose and the amount of direct sun hitting it each day. Given that water heating accounts for more than a quarter of the power costs in an average home, this means big savings and a positive impact on the environment.

The parts that make it all happen

The components of a solar hot water system work in a circular loop, constantly feeding cold water in and pumping hot water out through interconnecting pipes. There are three main parts of the system that help with this process:
Solar thermal collectors (the panels) – Used to capture the solar thermal energy from the sun and heat the water.

Gas or electric water storage tank – Used to house your property’s water, pumping any cold water past the solar thermal collectors for heating, and sending this heated water around your home.

Electric or gas booster – Used to maintain a constant level of heat in your storage tank so you always have a ready supply of hot water, even if there’s no sun.

 

solar water heating

Electric water heaters are being phased out in some parts of Australia and it is a requirement for new homes to have sustainable energy systems for water heating. Solar systems will not only meet legal requirements, but will make your home more desirable when it comes to resale. Depending on where you live, there are also government incentives and sometimes financial bonuses for making the change.

So when you are thinking about water heating, think solar. After all, nature has been using it for millions of years!

References:

http://www.csiropedia.csiro.au/display/CSIROpedia/Solar+hot+water+systems
http://www.industry.gov.au/Energy/EnergyEfficiency/WaterHeaters/Pages/default.aspx
http://science.howstuffworks.com/environmental/green-tech/sustainable/solar-water-heater.htm
http://www.aglsolarenergy.com.au/solar-power/about-solar-power/
http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/how-does-solar-power-work/

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