Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Savannah Runparty BQ Extravaganza

The wind was whipping around the tent and waves crashed off in the distance. But I was snuggled warmly inside my flannel sleeping bag, comfortably out of the elements. The white noise lulled me to sleep and in what seemed like minutes, I awoke to another race morning.

My mouth was bit dry from the third IPA, but I wasn't concerned. I was relaxed, calm, and just happy to toe the line of another marathon. The time didn't matter. I'd just run 26.2 the week prior in a donut costume and it had only been 6 weeks since I'd run 109 miles. I had nothing to prove and everything to enjoy.

We packed up our campsite as quietly as possible at 4:30 a.m. and left Tybee Island for Savannah. The drive took less than 30 minutes and I sipped on prebottled Pumpkin Spice Latte while mindlessly chewing a bagel. We were obscenely early for the race, but the parking garages closed at 6:00 a.m. I decided to take a short nap and completely zonked out for another 30 minutes in the car.

When I awoke, I got my gear together and then we walked to the race start. There were porta-potty lines and drop bag lines and mobs and mobs of runners nervously milling about. It is my favorite part of race morning. I munched on a Snickers bar as we paraded back and forth trying to find the shortest lines to stand in.

I signed up for the race on the Sunday prior--the time when most people decide to run a marathon, right? I guessed I'd run a 3:50 or so and was placed in corral 4. Hal was in corral 2 and so when parted ways about 10 minutes before the race started, wishing each other good luck. The national anthem was played and then the guns were off. They hold corrals for a minute(?) to give enough space and so I started about 4 minutes back from gun time.

We headed west in the first mile and used the wide expanse of the street to jockey for position, despite the long crawl ahead. I settled into a comfortable pace and just soaked in the sights of the morning. There were spectators lining the residential streets in the second mile and I started to feel warmed up by the third mile. 8:38, 8:15, 8:13

The weather was absolutely perfect. I was very comfortable running in a tank and shorts. Sunny and chilly and just a slight tinge of humidity. I balked a bit at leaving my sunglasses behind as we headed east, but I tugged my visor down and just stared at the mass of shoes striking pavement ahead of me. In town, crowds sipped coffee and held funny signs. I was just cruising at an easy pace. I grabbed a gel out of my sports bra and mushed on. 8:12, 8:09

Mile 6 was one of my favorites of the day. As we headed down Harris looped back around Charlton, we could see the mass of runners in the field. Spectators lined both sides of the streets and I was happy, happy, happy.
Suddenly, I found myself a quarter of the way done with the race and got caught up having a fantastic time. I hit a groove and let my legs do the work. 7:53, 8:00, 7:45

By the time I got to mile 10, I knew my pace for the 3:50 marathon was way off if I kept up the pace. I didn't want to bonk, but I was feeling really, really good. I took at gel at 10 and tried to figure out to rein it in for a bit. 7:41

Mile 11 was the last full mile that the full marathoners ran with the half marathoner and I made a point to enjoy the crowds before it became lonelier. As I was finishing up the mile, I latched onto the 3:40 pace group. 7:54

We broke apart from the half marathoners and began to climb onto a highway overpass. It's taken quite a few races to appreciate the tenacity of a lonely highway climb, but I actually liked gritting it out. I tucked in behind the group and then slowly worked my way around as we jostled positions. 8:10, 8:19

I was feel anxious to go faster and when the 13th mile clicked off at 8:19, I decided to just run my own race. I picked up the pace and climbed out of the highway section on my own. Soon, I was playing rabbit and hare with a guy for about a half mile before we ended up running shoulder to shoulder. His encouragement helped me drop the pace back down and it felt GOOD. 7:56, 7:36, 7:47

We started seeing the race leaders fly by in the opposite direction and I was yelling and cheering for them. The energy near Savannah State University was contagious and I pumped my arms up and down as students lined the streets. Every kid that had his or her hand out, I gave it an energetic high five. I found a runner's high at mile 17 and the only thing that hurt was my face from smiling. 7:19

Whoa. Even I knew that there were still 9 miles left and that the marathon will tear runners up in those single digits. So I purposely backed off the pace, but not without realizing I had lost my shoulder running buddy in my excitement. Oops. 7:37

Miles 19-21 looped back with crowds of runners on the right fighting their own fights. Their expressions ranged from dazed and defeated to happy and chatty. I yelled at Marathon Maniacs and continued to share my unconscious dopey smile. 7:42, 7:41, 7:44

Mile 22 looped into a park area and I saw the 3:30 pacer about a minute or so ahead of me. This gave me great encouragement as I knew I had started about 3-4 minutes behind them. With 4 miles left, I could still run 9 minute miles and BQ! 7:43

The course turned out of the confined streets and onto the highway section again on mile 23. The wind whipped wildly around and though it kept the temperature comfortable on the exposed section, it made me fight for the those final miles. But I was so happy to push harder than I had since April that I was ready for the fight. 7:31

Mile 24 was completely on the highway. The zombies I had passed before paled in comparison to the ones I encountered along this stretch. Runners in both directions were spread out and the smiles were few and far between. 7:46

As I crossed over the 25 mile marker, I couldn't contain my elation. Sure, I had run faster before. My PR was nowhere near being touched. But the fact that I had run a marathon a week prior, had been dealing with a wonky Achilles, and was just 6 weeks out from my first hundo, I was pretty ecstatic to lay down a BQ.  7:36

When I came into the finishing chute with the biggest of grins on my faces, I somehow heard Hal yell my name from the sidelines and give me a huge high 5 as I came past. 7:38

I leaped over the timing mat and caught the most air I could muster after 26.2. The last .4 was at a 7:14 pace. BQ 2018, check!

It was such a surprise that it was almost as good as the first time I qualified. The fact that I felt so good and so comfortable the entire race was truly what made it an amazing experience. I had fun and there is nothing I'd rather be doing on a Saturday morning than bopping around with a bib pinned on.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Donut Costume PR-Spinx Runfest Marathon RR

Since December 2015, I've run a marathon or ultra each month. It started out as preparation for the 24 hour race and then turned into a streak thing. I have zero intention of keeping it up after this year, but it has done so much for me this year.

It has allowed me to say yes to random adventures. It has allowed me to push my body to new limits. It has offered me the joy of rekindling old friendships. It has given me the ability to create new friendships. It has provided me with the joy of travel--solo road trips, buddy road trips, plane rides, tents, hotels, and family/friends' homes. I am coming up on 12 of 12 months with races this weekend and all I can think is how lucky I feel. For my health, for the happiness running gives me, and for how full I feel when I think back of just 1 year's worth of racing adventures.

This past weekend was certainly no exception. Matt (who I befriended at Yeti Snakebite 50K in August) had graciously suggested that I sign up to pace one of the marathon groups at the Greenville Marathon back in September. Not knowing how I'd feel after my 24 hour race, I decided to just play it by ear and commit when I had a chance to recover a bit.

After the dazed and confused feeling finally wore off (a wholly different blog--I really need to talk about that!), I decided that I was physically and mentally sound to pace a marathon at the end of October. Except all the spots had been filled. Womp, womp.

Shortly thereafter, my Achilles was giving me fits and I was panicking about the possibility of being benched. I ran every other day, and then every 2 days, and then finally took nearly a week of running off. It seemed to feel more normal each time I gave it a bit more rest. The genius that I am decided that I'd be okay to run 26.2 after a week or so of rest, so Matt worked some sort of magic and got me signed up.

Knowing that there was a very real possibility of DNF if my Achilles was screaming did scare the shit out of me. But on the flip side, I had nothing to lose other than a Saturday morning in Greenville. So in the essence of keeping it super chill, I decided to run the race in costume. I had bought a donut costume the week prior not really knowing if it would the next weekend that I'd be wearing it. Not only would it help me to keep my pacing in check, but it would help me find the fun.

I got up at the most ungodly hour of 3:45a.m. to drive up to Greenville. The drive was quick and I actually felt pretty awake and alive when I got there. Maybe it was all the coffee?

I met up with Matt in the parking lot and we went to packet pick-up/the race start area together. Everything was pretty low-key and I was able to use the restroom inside the baseball stadium with no one else in there. The crowds started to come, but I was so relaxed with no agenda that I had zero pre-race nerves. It was fun just to soak it all in without being stressed about the outcome.

Matt was pacing the 3:30 group so before the race started, he headed up front and I walked towards the back. I didn't want to be the jerk in the donut costume that the fast kids had to stumble around because I was too far up front.

When the gun went off, I decided to just go out as easy as possible to test my Achilles. I started behind the 4:15 pace group and hung back for about a mile before I decided that 4:00 was actually a little easier to keep a comfy stride with. There were about 25 people in the 4:00 group that bunched up together. When the course started to narrow, it became difficult for everyone to stay close to the sign. Knowing that other people might be racing with a more serious agenda, I hung back towards the edge of the group just keeping the little pace sign in sight.

Around the 5 mile mark people started to get a little chatty and I joined in conversation with a first-timer from Nashville and a six-timer who had just recently moved to Greenville. There was the usual runner talk of weather, hills, and training. The weather was absolutely gorgeous when we first started and remained pretty pleasant until about the last hour.

We moved along through the Greenway path (I'm sure it has a name, but I call all running/biking paths Greenways) and through Furman's campus. I was not really paying too much attention to the splits or even the mile markers except to try to remember to take a gel every 5 miles. There were spectators randomly all over the course with their camping chairs, cow bells, and silly signs. It was just enough that you never felt alone.

As we ran along, we started losing people here and there. I estimate about 20% of our group dropped off every 5 miles. As we headed towards the second half, we started to see the race leaders followed by the fast age groupers come flying by. Our group cheered and clapped as they grimaced going in the opposite direction. I started looking for the pace group signs and kept an eye to spot Matt. He came by with a small group and we managed a stellar high 5.

Our pace leader changed at the halfway mark, but both were very consistent in getting us to just under the 4:00 hour mark. I started talking with a kid who was running his first marathon and he said he was feeling really good. When we got to 18, he said he really just wanted to take off because it was almost just 10K left (um...ish?). I cautioned that it was probably wise to hold off until about 5K left/mile 23 because those 20+ miles can be really hard. He stuck with the group for the next few miles and the fell into the zombie march. His excitement and positive outlook were a nice distraction for a few miles and soon I realized we were almost done.

There is a bit of extra mental strength I do feel I picked up doing these longer races this year. I was going to be done before lunch time. I still had time to do other stuff that day and the energy to accomplish it. The marathon is still a marathon. It still can chew even the most prepared runner up on a bad day. But I do know how much more my body is capable of and it gives me a sense of relief that another 5-10 miles is completely doable.

It started to get warm in the last hour and the sun was getting annoyingly hot in the sections without shade. The polyster donut costume was definitely not helping the cause. However, I was feeling really good and the Achilles was doing great. And hey, I was about to finish another marathon!

I talked with the second pacer for a bit and found out she was tapering for Pinhoti next weekend. I wished we had a bit more time to chat, but this was right when I decided I was ready to make a break for the finish line and get it done. I dropped my pace and tried not to feel like the world's biggest jerk passing a bunch of people in a donut costume in the last 2 miles of the marathon. If people were giving me the bird as I went by, it was well-deserved.

But my shit-eating grin could not be contained. I had a really fun time racing and chatting and being a goofball in my donut costume. The weather was great, the fellow runners were nice, the spectators were great, and most importantly, I felt really, really happy. It was just another wonderful day to be racing and funning!

The finish line was at home plate of Fluor Field and runners entered the stadium on the 3rd base side to "run the bases" to the finish. It was cool to come into the stadium with people in the stands cheering and milling about. I leaped over the timing mat as I came under the arch and happily took a medal from one of the volunteer kids.

3:55:30 ain't too shabby for a donut costume PR.