Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Rehoboth Beach RR--A 26.2 mile runner's high

It always seems impossible until it's done. -Nelson Mandela

A quote I took with me on my first trip to Rehoboth Beach, posted in the newspaper I was reading the day after Mandela died. I was headed to complete what was once seemingly impossible--qualify for the Boston Marathon.

2 years later, I was headed back to Rehoboth with 728 days more experience. I really and truly didn't need anything better than a marathon finish. This year has been beyond incomprehensible running-wise and to ask for anything more would be extreme. But my training had been so good and I felt strong coming off my 50 miler. It seemed a bit wasteful if I didn't push myself to new limits.

Runners like to talk about race goals when they get together. I must have been asked a dozen times on Friday what my plan was for Saturday. A PR would be great, but I'll always be happy with a finish. And I meant it. I didn't need anything more than to grab a medal and hang out with a bunch of rad people for the rest of the weekend.

I took a half day on Thursday and ran my last 3 miles on a gorgeous fall afternoon with the best Atlanta RB. It was the perfect way to wrap up the last of my training as the next miles would also be in the company of Loopsters.

After piddling around for the rest of the afternoon, I finally returned home to pack and try to get a bit of sleep. The alarm at 5:30 a.m. was painfully early, but I was so excited I almost didn't care. I got to the airport with plenty of time and walked from security to terminal C while chatting with Adam.

Steve was my original ride to Rehoboth, but a last-minute opportunity for his kid meant that I had to find a new person to bother. Jill graciously agreed to shuttle me to and from the airport which was a bazillion times better than making that boring drive by myself. It is really fun to get to know someone one-on-one like that and I really lucked out with Jill. I seriously couldn't believe how fast time went both going and coming.

At the mansion-by-the-sea, we ran from room to room in childlike excitement before heading out to packet pickup. It was a bit of a zoo, but we grabbed our gear and ran into Jillian and Brian (yay Loopsters!) before head to Dogfish Head.

I had resigned myself to one to two beers pre-race and so I took the advice of Dan and grabbed a Hoo Lawd without really knowing what I was getting myself into. For $6, I received an 11 oz. pour of the hoppiest beer ever made and a half-pint of beer chaser. At 658 IBUs (most IPAs are 50-70), this was beyond hoppy. I think I was the only one who liked it. It definitely was potent in the ABV category too and one order was plenty to get me through the rest of the evening.

The group headed back to the house for dinner cooked by John who brought his delicious homemade pasta sauce for the crowd and Brian played sous chef. I sought out Abby's company over dinner as 2 of my 3 BQ times have come from dinner with Abby the previous night. (Spoiler alert: the record is now 3 of 4.)

I ate about 400 pounds of caramel corn and a 200 pumpkin spice yogurt covered pretzel washed down with gallons of water. Carbs and hydration, check.

I laid out my flat girl after saying good nights and attempted to get some sleep. JJ and I were sharing a bed and we talked for awhile with the lights out like we were at overnight camp. After a bit of nervous excitement to actually fall asleep, I managed to stay pretty dead to the world until just after 5. I could hear the murmur of soft talking and I headed downstairs in my pajamas for a bagel and coffee. Brian fortunately had made a pot already and I sucked down the liquid caffeine quickly.

Back upstairs, I slathered Vaseline all over and put on my race outfit. I realized I had yet to step outside and so I headed back down to figure out if I needed my throwaway sweatshirt. It was PERFECT outside. Chilly, calm, and I knew that I'd be happy in a tank and shorts once the sun came up. I swelled with excitement.

I traveled with a small pack to the start and jogged with Brad and Erin to stay warm. The group eventually huddled by the Candy Kitchen before parting ways. It seemed more packed by the start than in previous years and I didn't want to be too far behind losing time to weaving. If I was going to go for it, every second counted!

I pushed through the crowd like I owned the joint and when I came to a stop, I realized that Angie and Caitlin were right behind me. Sweet! I could huddle for a few minutes with them and listen to the national anthem. If I were a cartoon character, you would have seen a light bulb next to my head right before the start as I remembered to swallow an espresso GU. I could barely hear when the start gun when off, but soon the crowd of runners started moving forward and I followed.

With Drake's 0 to 100 blasting loudly in my ear, I punched my Garmin's start button and took off when I hit the start mat. The first mile at Boston was pretty slow for me because of the crowds and I decided that I would be okay if I just eased into the first mile of this race. I took the opportunity to relax and feel how the taper worked magic on my body. My feet and legs felt so fresh!

Having run this course before, I felt lucky that I knew where to situate myself in the crowd to make the sharpest turn. I hugged the right side of the course as we meandered through the first mile.

Mile 1: 8:06

At some point in the second mile, I realized that while I had made a goal of running in the 7:4X range, I hadn't really looked at a pace chart for a few weeks. Oops. Classic Carissa... So I decided to just hover in the 7:4X range as long as I could in the first half and then evaluate the situation.

Mile 2 turned into mile 3 and soon I started to see the fastest half runners as they made their way around the out-and-back. Erin was in the zone when I yelled out to her, but I did get to wave to Bangle. When I got to the half marathon/marathon split, I got focused again.

Miles 2, 3: 7:42, 7:33

I did notice a small drop in the speed as we entered the first trail section, but I started to pick people off one by one. Which would be a pattern I held all day--it was very strange to pass and pass and pass without hardly anyone passing me.

The sun had come up and I started to feel warm. I slid my gloves around my fingers and waited until I got to the next water stop to shed them. Then I bunched my arm warmers around my wrists--holding onto them mostly because they are Oiselle, but partially because it has been very windy along the highway in years past.

I swallowed a vanilla orange Roctane GU just past the 4th mile marker and was pretty impressed that I actually remembered.

The trail section is really pretty and I enjoyed pounding away the first miles. Everything still felt really, really good and though I was working, I felt no sense of mental shaking.

Miles 4, 5, 6: 7:40, 7:47, 7:46

Mile 7 is the last full mile in the trail/park area of this section and includes and out-and-back where runners can see those in front and those behind. I counted a few ponytails in front of me and used it to my advantage to dig a little deeper. Once I was onto the pavement again on mile 8, I could really get racing again. I remembered to eat a salted watermelon GU.

Skrillex Yo Skrill Drop It Hard came on about the time that I hit the pavement and picked up a tailwind. It was the perfect storm and I just flew along having the time of my life. Marathons are really, really hard, but here I was having a runner's high right smack in the middle of one!

Miles 7, 8: 7:42, 7:32

The next two miles were in the tailwind (which I didn't realize at the time), so I was happily moving down the highway keeping a nice pace. I saw the leaders of the marathon as they came back in the other direction and noted that the top woman was waaaaay ahead. No chance of me catching her. So now it was time to just catch my former self!

Bacon and I waved as he went by and then I started to look for the turn. Finally, I got to the end point, tapped the timing mat and circled back around towards the park.

Miles 9, 10: 7:38, 7:25

The headwind smacked me in the face as soon as I turned around. Oh geez, this is why I felt so good! But instead of letting it defeat me, I tucked in behind runners and started taking them down again one at a time. It was still early in the race, but I could tell that some runners were beginning to fall off pace.

My spirits soared each time I saw another Loopster as they yelled across the highway. JJ, Angie, Caitlin, John, Jill, and T.O. all waved and cheered and I flailed back. I slurped down an espresso GU at just past the mile 12 mark.

Miles 11, 12: 7:31, 7:37

As we headed back into the park, I knew I needed to just relax with pace for the trail sections. I still needed to run another half marathon+ and anything can happen in those last miles. So I stuck with a group of runners for a bit and paced off of them until I finally decided that I was ready to tackle the next section.

I crossed the 13.1 mile mark at 1:40:03. I couldn't really do runner math before that point to calculate a finish time (studying a pace chart beforehand would have been smart...), but now I knew I was set up to KILL my PR if I could just hold onto the pace.

As we wandered through the park in the next few miles, I started envisioning my finish. Positive vibes were going to get me through the day. The weather was spectacular, my stomach felt good, my legs felt strong, and best of all, I felt really, really happy to be running a marathon on a Saturday morning.

Miles 13, 14, 15, 16: 7:41, 7:46, 7:25, 7:24

The course goes back through town and a small crowd of spectators always helps. I ate the last vanilla orange Roctane GU I had tucked in my sports bra after I hit the pavement. In my brain, I had started running through some mad runner math. If I do 10 more miles at an 8 minute pace, I still PR. If I run to 18.2 miles and then 8 miles at a....dang, where is my calculator? It occupied my head a bit as I ran through the residential streets of Rehoboth.

Allison and Rob were manning the mile 18 cheer stop and I reached out to them for high fives and good vibes. Gosh, this is just going to be so good if I can hold on for another 8 miles. I grabbed another GU from the volunteers at the water stop and tucked it away for mile 20.

Miles 17, 18: 7:36, 7:26

Okay, okay, okay, one more out-and-back and I'm done. The section of the course from Rehoboth Avenue to the second trail is always bad. You watch the misery of runners on the other side who's faces look mostly exhausted and over it. There were a few smiling faces in the crowd, but many look dejected. Fortunately, one of the smiling faces was Sara who looked way happier than the people around her.

I tucked in behind a guy who I will forever be grateful to in this race. His pacing allowed me to keep on track until the final turnaround on the trail. Those miles between 19-22 were hard, but as long as I kept up with this guy and we were passing people, I was okay with maintaining.

The rocks on the trail were particularly bad this year. My feet were feeling the effects of running 20 miles and every sharp point seemed to find my shoes. I was really glad I had made the switch to Hokas this past year.

Somewhere between the road and the last water stop on the trail, I saw Bacon heading back to the finish. I reached out and we high fived. Later, he would exclaim that he didn't see me on the second trail. Maybe he just gets so many random high fives from weirdos he just forgets?

Anyway, I managed to tell the guy I was pacing behind that I was going to buy him a beer when we were done because of his pacing skills. He asked me what my goal was and I told him that I really wanted to PR. Better than 3:26. He said we were on pace for a 3:23 by his calculations. Cool.

Miles 19, 20, 21, 22: 7:39, 7:40, 7:51, 7:34

I felt reinvigorated by the turnaround point and my pacing guy told me to go for it as I slowly inched ahead of him. Suddenly, 4 miles seemed really, really doable. I was going to feel great and PR the heck out of this thing.

The warmth had started to creep up on me and I was very ready for liquid at the last trail water stop. All day I hadn't really cared what I was grabbing. Water, Gatorade, whatever. I had my GU and the temperatures were cool enough that the sugary Gatorade wasn't effecting my stomach.

I immediately felt better after getting in some liquid and just concentrated on getting to the next mile marker.

Mile 23: 7:30

As I got to the final 5K, I started to see a few more Loopsters and I would get newly excited with each passing. I was a bit zoned out because I just was trying to hold on. It was beginning to get tough.

Mile 24: 7:27

The 25th mile was the hardest mentally. I was ready to lay it all out on the line, but now I was tired. My legs were feeling heavy and I was struggling with the thought that I still had a mile to go after this one. I grabbed water one last time and sipped a bit from the cup before dumping the rest over my head.

Mile 25: 7:37

Heading into the final mile, I decided to keep steady until I hit Rehoboth Avenue. I saw Jill and her bright smile snapped me out of the zombie zone. As I rounded the corner to Rehoboth Avenue, I started to pick up the pace. There were 2 women and a man running together in front of me and I easily passed them. Just 2 more turns until I could sprint!

I made a left on Columbia Avenue and got closer and closer to another woman in front of me. Halfway to 4th Street, I saw her take a selfie with her phone. No way I was going to get beat by selfie girl! I sneaked right up behind her and then I revved the engine as we turned onto 4th Street. My conservation for the final kick paid off.

As I surged past her, I gave it everything I had down the final stretch. Everything was on fire. My lungs, my heart, my legs. I pumped my fist in the air as I knew I had just had the race of my life and bombarded the finish line.

Mile 26 and the last .3: 7:29, 2:12 (a 6:58 pace)

3:20:12!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! A 6:15 PR and a 12:42 course PR. Heck yeah!

A volunteered caught me with a heat blanket and someone threw a medal around my head. I walked a few steps with a medal dangling around my ponytail. I wanted to savor this sweet moment as long as I could.

My dad and aunt met me at the finish line and I spent the next hour or so in a haze. I went back to the house for a shower and then to the beer tent for 4 bags of chips, a Coke, and finally, a beer. My dad took my aunt and I to lunch in Dewey Beach and then I rejoined the Loopsters back at the big house.

The rest of the day and night were the perfect end to the perfect race. I drank and sang and danced until I was so sleepy that JJ sent me to bed. It was the best fun with the best internet strangers.

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