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!


  1. You're amazing! My favorite line here was, "Mile 5 is a liar." So true! I find that is accurate for halves also. I'm going to use that one sometime.