Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Mercedes Marathon RR: Follow Your Own Dreams

Frank asked, "what's the hardest part of running a marathon? "

"Not wanting to quit when everything in your body and mind are telling you to stop."

It will happen. Sometimes, if you're lucky, it will be a fleeting moment. It will pass over briefly in the 25th mile when the finish line is so close that you might as well just run. And sometimes, it will linger for miles and miles, taunting you to just give up. Or walk. Or at the very least, slow down.

As we lined up between the 7:00 minute per mile and 8:00 per mile signs in the starting corral, I said to John that I never trust how I feel at mile 5. Good or bad, it is never an indicator of the 21+ miles to follow.

Mile 5 is a liar.

I honestly wasn't sure how this race would play out. My running has been consistently strong lately, but I haven't had "proper" rest, recovery, or taper. I ran a 36 mile race on December 31st, a 50K on January 7th, and a 3:20 marathon on January 29th. I am hoping that this early base building will transition into some decent ultras over the summer and fall.

But everyone likes a PR, correct?

Except Birmingham is hilly and this early February day was oppressively humid. The only saving grace was that it wasn't sunny.

After touching the start mat, John shot out ahead of me while I slowly came to life. I was tempted to follow suit briefly before I remembered to stick to the adage of follow your own dreams. He was chasing his own goal of BQing.

I don't remember too much about the first few miles other than my pace was a bit faster than I preferred. Everything else was typical of a mid-sized race with half-marathoners and full- marathoners flooding the streets of downtown Birmingham. I tried to fight the urge to weave and knew that with every step, the field would thin out.

Wanting to stay atop hydration, I grabbed a cup of Powerade from the first volunteer I saw. By the second stop, I was ready to douse my head and shirt with water. Noticing immediate relief, I continued this trend throughout the rest of the race.

I had actually looked at the course map before the race, but totally didn't realize it was a double loop course until race morning. Oops. Luckily John mentioned the double loops before the start. It is a double-edged sword to run a course you've run before. You know what to expect. You know what to expect.

After a relatively flat 5 miles, the course headed to the hills. Rollers and steady inclines filled the course for the next 5+ miles. This was baby stuff compared to trails and ultras, but for a fast marathon, every foot of elevation gain made a difference. I held my pace fairly steady through the hills and picked off runners as we ascended.

A relay runner cut me off in front of a hydration stop to grab a cup of Powerade. I had to slow my pace to keep from crashing into her. She took a few strides and then tossed the cup right in front of me, covering my shirt and face in Powerade. I was so shocked that I said fuck! She quickly apologized after realizing her tossed cup covered me in sugary electrolytes.

I changed my tune quickly within the next mile. A push-rim wheelchair athlete was gutting it out up a particularly steep section. I felt silly for letting the cup thing get to me. Shortly thereafter, I came upon John around maybe mile 7 or 8? and hung behind him for about a mile before I came up next to him briefly. It was only after the race that I realized he followed me for quite some time.

Finally, the hills starting operating in my favor and a couple of nice descents in miles 10 and 11 had me feeling pretty good again. As we came back into town, I realized the long stretch on 2nd Avenue was going to be long and lonely the second time around. It was oddly windy in that stretch and the only time that the temperature felt decent. Runners had already thinned out pretty far and around 1.5 miles or so from the finish, the halfers were separated from the full-marathoners.

I was still feeling pretty good and knew that my miles splits were mostly in the 7:2X range. If I could maintain this speed, I would definitely be able to PR! But as I crossed over the 13.1 mark, I knew there was still half the race to run. The first few miles of the second half were miserably lonely. There were long stretches of the course that there were no other runners nearby and no spectators. The only people I saw were police directing traffic at various intersections.

As I neared the hilly section, I started to feel the symptoms of bonk. My mind and heart were in it, but my legs started feeling heavy and the effort to maintain the pace got increasingly difficult. This was the opposite of the race I had in Miami.

I gave myself a mental pep talk, took a GU, threw water over me at the hydration stop, and held on. It had been quite some time that I wanted to stop and walk a hill in a road marathon. But knowing that I just had to maintain an 8:00 minute mile pace to PR gave me enough reason to keep going. I tugged my visor down and turned up my music. It was just me against the clock now.

As I neared the top of the hilly section, the course became slightly more crowded as half-marathon walkers and relay teams crossed my path. I welcomed their camaraderie and started to give and get cheers. Heading into the windy homestretch, I veered off the right once again with the split. I could barely see any other full runners in front of me, despite the healthy number of halfers on the left.

I think I last looked at my watch around mile 24. The last 2 were just kind of a let's get this done kind of attitude. I projected I was going to have another 3:20:XX and was super satisfied with that considering all that led up to the race and the fact that it was hilly and humid.

I held tight to what I felt I could muster and watched for the mile markers. Mile 25. Mile 26.

As I came around the curve to the finish line, I saw 3:19:XX. My PR was 3:19:22. I ran down the chute, saw Megan and Frank on the sides.

I was full of smiles as I crossed the finish line. When I clicked the stop button on my Garmin, I saw my brand new PR time.

3:19:15!!!!!!!!! 35th Overall, 9th Female, 4th AG.

I'm likely not going to stop racing so much, have a real training plan, or do anything else that might make me super duper fast. I like racing a lot. I like my chillaxed approach to training. Even when I have bad runs or races, it's actually pretty good. I just like running. It makes me happy.

Special thanks to Megan and Frank for our short n' sweet B-ham weekend. #rally And thanks to John and his awesome family for support on race day!

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Miami Marathon Rally & Puke

Monday, January 23rd
It was barely less than a week from race day and I was so sick that even watching TV was too hard. I slept for an obscene amount of time and muddled through an 11 hour day of work on Tuesday. Not ideal.

Wednesday, January 25th

The symptoms were reduced to a hacking cough and I was itchy to run. I took to the Greenway after work for 4-6 miles. The first mile was great. The second mile had me doubled over coughing so hard that I could barely catch my breath. I promptly turned around and decided more rest was in order.

Friday, January 27th

I'm not one to be fearful of cooties, but getting on an airplane with a respiratory thing 2 days before a marathon had me a bit nervous. We had an early flight and decided to head to packet pick up right as it opened on noon. I took a long nap that afternoon and went to bed early.

Saturday, January 28th

With just 1 day of running since the prior Friday, I felt anxious about running 26.2 the following day. Deciding to test the lungs was a good idea and the 3.1 miles jaunt made me feel slightly better about the impending situation.

I spent most of the day just hanging out with Adam's family and took a short walk in the park in the late afternoon because it was ridiculously beautiful outside. We went to Adam's dad's temple for a food festival for dinner. The old adage of "nothing new on race night" didn't phase me--I ate a bunch of challah bread, a small portion of brisket, tabbouleh salad, cheese blintzes, and cruised past the dessert table twice.

Sunday, January 29th

At 4:00 a.m., my alarm went off. Uggggggggggggh.

I ate two pieces of white toast with peanut butter, a couple gulps of cold coffee, and put on my race outfit. Adam and his dad are awesome and agreed to get up at this ungodly hour to stand out in the cold rain to watch me run around Miami with some sort of bronchial funk. I truly had no idea what time to expect because I was so unsure of how my body was going to behave.

As we walked out of the parking garage, I ate two Snickers minis--my newest pre-marathon obsession.

When I signed up, I had put in my Rehoboth time of 3:19 and so I was seeded in corral C. I noticed the signs for 3:20, 3:25, 3:30, etc. At 5:50 a.m., I made the game day decision to tuck in behind the 3:25 pacer and see how far I could hold on.

The wave start meant that our group started at about 6:05 a.m. and despite a few people clearly in the wrong corral, there was not too much jostling. A big group followed right behind the 3:25 sign and I stayed on the outskirts about 20-30 strides behind. We climbed the MacArthur Causeway and I looked out to the cruise ships fully light up in the darkness. There was a police boat that had all of its sirens going and music blaring nearby that broke up the otherwise silent pounding of runners in the early morning hours.

As we approached South Beach, revelers called out from hotel windows and a few straggling party-goers dotted the streets. The sky started to lighten around the same time the rain started. I actually breathed a sigh of relief knowing that the rain would keep temperatures ideal.

Somewhere around mile 5, I realized that the early mile funk had dissipated and I no longer felt sluggish. I actually felt quite comfortable stomping through the mud puddles and watching the runners around me try to stay with the 3:25 pacer. I was tempted to surge on ahead, but decided to play it safe and let the pacer do the work.

 There were 3 other girls in our pack of about 20. It didn't occur to me until later that they could be running the half-marathon as the race doesn't split off until about mile 12. I tucked in behind one of them for quite awhile and just followed her footsteps, zoning out.

The course winds through Miami Beach and travels back over the Venetian Causeway offering views of oceanfront mansions along the way. I tried to remember to look up every one in awhile to take in the sights. As we hit the bridges over the water, we were smacked with incredible wind and spitting rain. It was briefly uncomfortable, but easy going compared to the winds of Rehoboth.
Our group slowly started to get smaller as we neared the split. 2 of the girls took off--one definitively towards the half marathon split. The other I later saw on the full course. The crowds swelled near the finish line area and the spectators amped me up. I was actually surprised to find the race was nearly half over (thanks ultra running!) and felt ready to run even faster.

Right after the split, I was running side by side with the pacer and noticed that our pace had dropped to a 6:55. Oops. I reeled myself in a bit. Too early to go that fast. But as he slowed down a bit, I stayed ahead. The crowds had diminished with the half marathoners gone and I set myself to the task of slowly picking runners off.

I still had a half marathon to run, but I was feeling pretty good and comfortable running in the 7:20s. As I ticked off each mile marker, I was surprised that my energy wasn't really waning. I started holding my hand out to high-five spectators and policemen as I went by. The smile on my face was 100% genuine. I was so happy to feel so good and so strong.

A couple of times I would pull past a guy and he would try to hang on once he realized he was being passed. One dude practically tried to elbow me as I went by even though we had an entire lane of road and runners were pretty spread out at this point. I just smiled to myself, gave him some space, and went to the far side of the road to go by.

Once we got to Coconut Grove, I was getting excited to hit the turn around to head back towards the finish line. I came up behind the girl that had been running with the 3:25 pack and ran behind her for about a half mile. She was running strong and her form looked great, but I was ready to start pushing the pace towards the end. I inched up close behind her and made my move to pass.

Feeling pretty good through mile 22, I continued to pick off runners down the long stretch of Bayshore Drive. Though I had intended to take one more gel on the finish stretch, my stomach was feeling sloshy from the Gatorade. I bypassed a couple of water stations at the end, knowing that I only had about 30 minutes left to run.

The course swung out on the Rickenbacker Causeway and though the wind had died down a bit, it was still noticeably harder heading west. But I was in good spirits and thrilled that my fears of muddling through 26.2 with cranky lungs were just fears.

I wasn't really looking at my splits in the last mile--I just tried to leave enough in the tank for the finish chute and cranked down my pace. My last true mile was 6:32. The last 0.2ish cannot be trusted with my Garmin data because the buildings screwed up my GPS.

As I turned onto Biscayne Boulevard, I glanced down to see it wasn't a PR, but it was a 3:20:XX. What once was incredibly hard, was achievable and repeatable.
And best of all, I had FUN.

Well, until I stopped. I walked slowly down the chute, collected a bottle of water, and had a volunteer place a medal around my neck. Took a photo.

I started coughing. Coughing harder. Then I went promptly to a trash can and puked. Gatorade and gels came rumbling back out in all their electrolyte glory.  A photographer passed by and realizing I was going to be okay and said, "just let it out!" Guess I wasn't 100% yet.

The good news is that I can run a 3:20:34 on diminished lung capacity. A super amazing taper and lackadaisical attitude are strong contributors to this success. Plus, the power of the negative split and picking off runners for the second half cannot be forgotten.

What next? Who knows! I am enjoying running to run and racing with freedom to fail. I consider every day I get to lace up and sweat a little another day to be grateful to do what I love.