Sunday, March 5, 2017

Snickers Albany Marathon RR (aka 28 Marathons Later: From 4:01:09 to 3:13:58)

Sunday A.M., 3/5/2017

Less than 24 hours after the race is complete and I am stewing on the facts.

I've created a monster. 

I am addicted to the hesitancy of mile 8 to go the distance, the self-doubt of mile 17 to maintain the speed, and the sheer physical pain that makes every mile 25 a negotiation to just get to the finish.

It is the penultimate in addiction. The more I train and race, the more I need to go faster and further. I am still in denial about how it truly makes me feel. How can I have had a huge PR yesterday and all I can think of today is what could I have done to go faster?

Who is this person? 

A look at the slippery slope after the race report....


I made the 3 hour drive to Albany by myself. A rather large contingent of local runners were going as well and offered me a ride, but I was camping (thanks to the kindness of Gary, Travis, and Curtis!) and wanted to have access to all the junk in my car. It was an easy drive filled with plenty of car karaoke and sunshine. I had my usual footlong Italian sub at Subway and drank obscene amounts of water.

I got to the hotel with packet pickup just after 3:00 p.m. The 3:15 pacer happened to be one of two pacers manning the table and I spoke briefly with him. Luckily, I remembered to buy a few gels to pad my supply and then I went to my car to strip down for a brief shakeout run. As luck would have it, there was a nice little Greenway section along the river near where I parked and I took it nice and easy for 10 minutes out, 10 minutes back.

As I was coming back along the sidewalk area towards my car, the finish line was being constructed. I apologized as I came through, but I was secretly elated to have the vision of the finish line in my head. The run itself was pretty terrible. I was struggling through 8:00 minute miles and every little twinge was reminding me of their existence. Hello IT band! Hello Achilles! Oh hello shin, it's been awhile!

But I shoved the negative thoughts aside as I posted to Strava. I have to just trust the process.

It was stupid beautiful outside and so I set up my nail salon next to the Ray Charles statue in front of the hotel. Megan was traveling herself this past week, but she gave me all the polish and instruction. I was quickly reminded why she is so much better at it than I!

Runner friends started pouring in to pick up their bibs and I walked over to the hotel to chat with them and meet new friends. A group of us decided to have the pasta dinner offered by the race in the hotel's conference center. It was exactly the kind of pre-race dinner I like--a little roughage, blandish pasta, and a huge piece of chocolate cake.

After dinner, we met up with the guys I was camping with at Mellow Mushroom for a couple of beers. Being around other runners (and most of these people are also triathletes) is delightfully the same. There is never any shortage of sandbagging and poop-talk.

I followed the guys to the campsite (which also happened to be located in a park with a zoo!) and got my tent set up. We sat around the fire for an hour or two before finally calling it a night. I had plenty of sleep the night before so I wasn't really too worried about how well I was going to sleep on race night. I slept like a brick. I pulled the sleeping bag over my face and seriously woke up to my Garmin alarm clock at 5:25a.m. Not once did I wake up in the night panicked that I had overslept.

When I got up, I decided to eat first (2 pieces of bread with Nutella plus a few swigs of Starbucks Iced Coffee) and then disassemble my tent. By the time I got my camp broken down, I was ready to head to the bathroom and then change. I threw my pajamas back on over my race clothes for the drive because it chilly to be in shorts and a tank.

I followed the guys to the start line and parked in nearly the same spot I had the day before--right near the finish and on the same block as the hotel. It was about 6:20 a.m. Small town races really do have seriously pluses sometimes! We immediately saw some of our other friends and all walked into the lobby of the hotel together to stay warm. I ate my Snickers bar (prerace tradition!) and then decided to make one last bathroom break. Somehow I managed to find the darkened conference room restroom completely open.

Walking to the starting line was no different than any other goal race. I was quiet, withdrawn, and swirling in my own self-doubt. The bigger the stakes, the less likely I am to converse. I said hello to the 3:15 pacer after meeting him the day prior at packet pickup, but kept my conversation to a minimum. We were really close to the starting line as the half marathon and full separated within the first mile. I've only ever been that close in small ultras.

An actual cannon was shot and a couple seconds later, we were on our journey. I pressed start on my Garmin and play on my Shuffle. Lindsey Stirling's Take Flight seemed appropriate for the first half mile. A pack of about a dozen of us jockeyed back and forth behind the 3:15 pacer as the field spread out. There were 2 other females in the pack. A number of the runners were chatty and jovial in the first few miles. I probably came across as rude when one guy started to talk to me about Marathon Maniacs, but I kept my answers short and clipped. Every breath mattered.

The course ran east and south for the first 4 miles before returning to the start/finish area and intersecting with the half marathon course. It was delightfully perfect weather those first few miles and I was comfortable in my tank, shorts, and a pair of gloves. I didn't feel particularly good or bad right away. Honestly, much of the first part of the race is a blur. 7:36, 7:20, 7:31, 7:21

After we intersected with the half marathon course, I remembered to take my first gel at just mile 4--a Cherry Lime Roctane GU. I have had better success with gels and water as sometimes the Gatorade doesn't sit well with my stomach. I accidentally grabbed Gatorade twice on the course and drank one with pretty immediate regret.

Runners began to spread out a little bit more over the next few miles and I was pleased that I could just tuck in behind the pacer and a few of the guys running alongside him. It helped kept the wind to a minimum during those early miles and likely saved my race. 7:32, 7:19, 7:23, 7:23

The pacer peeled off to use the porta-potty around the Albany State University West Campus after we crossed the mile 8 sign. I was confident he would catch back up with our little pack, but I was feeling confident to just go ahead. The knowledge that if he caught up to me meant that I was still in the 3:15 range was a good thing. I would hopefully hang on if he did catch up, but there was a certain feeling of safeness if I stayed out ahead. I had a Honey Stinger Mandarin Orange gel at just past the mile 8 mark.

When our pack loosened up from the pacer pit stopping, I heard a spectator (I'm assuming a coach) shout to a girl in our pack to "tuck in behind someone". We were headed out on a long straight stretch along Gillionville Road and while the wind wasn't bad, it certainly was noticeable. Many of the runners were keeping a pretty even pace so it was easy to just focus on the foot strike of the person in front of me. 7:21, 7:16

Mile 11 brought us through a residential area with a few rolling hills. I had a couple of low moments during that stretch where I watched a few runners pass me though I was keeping a pretty even pace. However, I knew that I couldn't trust my mind so early and that there would still (hopefully) be better patches. 7:22, 7:22

I had another Cherry Lime Roctane GU just past the mile 12 marker and popped 2 Excedrin. I am not sure if the Excedrin is more placebo than painkiller, but I've taken some during ultras and it seems to work. As the course crossed over the 13.1 mile marker, I noticed that I was slightly slower than a 3:15 pace if I wanted even splits. Running that fast wasn't new territory for me, but I had run 2 marathons with positive splits when I had tried to stay in the 7:20s. The hard part was to now trust that I could run a bit faster during the second half. 7:30, 7:26

Mile 15 was spent reeling in a pack of 3 runners who had started with the 3:15 pace group. They had been within my sight the entire race, but I started to slowly pull closer to them. By mile 16, I was running right behind them and happy to be within a pack of people again. My music was blaring, but I could hear snippets of their conversation. I knew I was being annoying being right on their heels, but I justified in my mind at the moment that every edge I could get would help me reach my goal. I had a Huma Chia Apple Cinnamon gel at just past the mile 16 marker. 7:20, 7:25

During mile 17, one of the runners dropped off and then it was just me, a guy, and a girl. They ran side by side for quite some time and then they switched back and forth with one person leading the other. I was always in the back of the peloton and eventually felt strong enough to go towards the front. As I went past, they followed suit for a bit. However, by the time we got to the mile 18 marker, they had fallen back a bit. 7:22, 7:22

I had looked at the course map briefly to know that the lake was near mile 18 and that typically it is a low point in a marathon for me. Running 18 miles and facing 8.2 more always seems daunting. But I was having a great race so far and feeling very little signs of faltering in the last hour. I tried to do a bit of quick runner math to calculate how fast I would need to go to hit the A++ goal of smashing 3:15, the A goal of 3:14:59 (because who wants a :00 when you can have a :59), B goal of sub 3:19:15 (the PR to beat), C goal of a BQ (when did my C goal become BQ??), and D goal of just finish the damn thing. 7:13

I had an Espresso GU at the mile 19 marker and suddenly felt really, really good. Like runner's high good. Something in me knew that I was going to make this happen and I felt so strong. When I crossed the mile 20 mat, a runner next to me exclaimed, "only 10K to go!" 7:23

The next few miles, I was careful to stay calculated in my assault on the last 10K. Those last 27 marathons were useful for something: the last 10K will always make or break a race. There is a reason they call it the wall. But I was strategic in my nutrition and pace and was hoping that I would just let it all out in the last 3-5K. 7:20, 7:17, 7:31

At some point, I saw Nikki and later, Sean out on the final miles of the course. It is always great to see people I know racing and both of them had laid down some killer fast miles early on in the race. Both of them are incredible runners and I was humbled to be shoulder to shoulder with them!

I had grabbed two Hammer Apple Cinnamon gels from one of the hydration stations (swag!) and actually was able to suck down another one at mile 23. Forcing the nutrition early and often seemed to work so I decided to just stay on top of the calories if my stomach could handle it. There were a bunch of turns in mile 23 and I was so ready to start looking for signs that we were headed back to the downtown area. 7:20

With 2 miles left, I was ready to empty the tank. I thought about mile marker 2 on the Greenway and knew that all those progressive runs were for a reason. That 3:15 was going to happen! At this point, I was passing a bunch of runners and each person I picked off fueled my competitive fire. 7:07

Somewhere along the last mile I spotted a group of guys in warm-ups along a straightaway. I knew it was the half-marathoners in the local group that had come back to cheer on the full marathoners. I was in high gear coming in towards them and seeing familiar faces gave me that one last boost I needed to charge towards the finish. 7:08

When I spotted the mile 26 sign, I started keeping an eye out for the mile 13 sign so I could just charge down the finish. Luckily, it was an easy downhill and short straightaway. I leaped over the timing mat with 3:14:XX on the clock. Last 0.4 miles: 7:11 pace

Oh. Em. Gee.

As I clicked off my Garmin and collected myself, I realized that I might actually be 3:13:XX! But I was too elated to care about seconds. I had reached my A++ goal and I felt GREAT throughout most of the race. I believed that I could do it and I did!

I went and sat on the hill next to the finish chute and watched my friends come in. John smashed his PR and earned his ticket to Boston. Casey punched her BQ card by giving it everything she had through the finish line. As we waited for everyone to cross the line, we regaled race stories, drank beer, and enjoyed a gorgeous March day. No matter their time, everyone gave it all they had and being a part of a community like that will leave you pretty darn misty-eyed.

At some point, I went to get my phone out of my car, grab my warm-ups, and check the official time. I was 7th overall and 1st in my age group! 3:13:58


Many (most?) people reading this will know I've been marathoning since 2009 and running a good chunk of my life. I ran 5 marathons before I got the idea to try to qualify for Boston. I stuck to my training schedule like a perfect type A and had the race of my life on December 7th, 2013. It still gives me chills to think about it. No race has topped it. Not finishing Boston, not winning my first ultra, not finishing my first 100 miler. Nothing.

So maybe I'm in search of that feeling again? I've come close. Yesterday was really, really close. I think when you work for something really hard and still have doubts that it will happen, it feels better when you achieve it. Perhaps that's why I didn't feel that way about Boston or the ultras. I knew I could do it. This felt close because I still had a lot of self-doubt. But it's funny how accomplishing one thing makes you feel like you can tackle the next big thing. Breaking barriers doesn't happen overnight. This has been quite a long journey and yet, I feel like I am just getting started.