Friday, March 24, 2023

Bang Bang! Pistol Marathon RR

It took a tiny race and 49 marathons, but I finally won one!

After I finished the Jekyll Marathon in January, Boston was slated to be marathon #49. In my head, I was thinking that it would be pretty neat if I could make Boston #50. But I had to tackle Rocky Raccoon 100 first AND feel good in recovery to throw another marathon into the mix. 

I took nearly 2 complete weeks off of running after RR100. I did a fair amount of walking and hiking, but really tried to embrace recovery. I slept and ate a lot, did some puzzles, read a bunch of books, and enjoyed the down time. When I finally got the green light to run again from my coach, I was happily in the mindset of I get to rather than I have to

I eyed a few races in mid-March, but was cognizant of the fact that I needed to feel physically and mentally ready to tackle 26.2 miles before signing up. So I waited a few weeks and did some easy running. Both my body and mind felt good so after texting with my coach, I decided to sign up for the Pistol Marathon. 

The Pistol is known more for the ultras it puts on over that weekend, including 100 mile and 100k distances. The ultras started on Saturday and the marathon/half-marathon distances started Sunday. All distances share the race course so it was pretty motivating to see people grinding out the last portion of 100 miles/kilometers while in the midst of my own race!

I drove up Saturday and Google took me on a super scenic route through the northern section of Georgia and southeastern section of Tennessee. In my bubble of suburbia, it’s always a good reminder that life is not the same for everyone. And not necessarily for the worse, but just different. I passed by huge farms with sprawling estate homes and dilapidated shacks with roofs and porches sagging. I shared the road with a horse-drawn carriage and slowed to 25 mph through one stoplight towns. As I neared Alcoa, I actually got a little sad that I was not heading up the snow covered Smoky Mountains to the east. 

I checked into my hotel, dropped my gear off, and did a quick search for a pizza restaurant as that seemed to have worked for my last couple of races. The place I found opened at 5:00 pm and though I’m normally a 7:30-8:00 pm dinner eater, I was hungry for dinner and walked in the door at 5:01 pm. It was one of the best pizzas I’ve ever had (prosciutto, arugula, fresh gooey blobs of mozzarella, crispy AND chewy crust) and I washed it all down with a Blackberry Farms IPA. 

The remainder of the evening was spent watching March Madness games and finishing
Finding Me: A Memoir by Viola Davis. I nodded off easily, starfished in the king-sized bed to myself. The race didn’t start until 8:00 am and was a 4 minute drive away so I felt like I got plenty of sleep and relaxed a bit in the morning. I ate my now-traditional pre-race muffin, drank some coffee, and was out the door shortly after 7:00 am.

At bib pickup, they had a ton of useful giveaway items which I was excited to see for such a small race. They had a shirt, hat, gloves, buff, Injinji socks, and individual use chafe packets (a highly useful drop bag item!). I brought a good pair of gloves, but decided to wear the giveaway race ones in case I warmed up and needed to toss them. 

Narrator voice: she did not need to toss them. The only other time I’ve finished a marathon wearing gloves was Boston 2018. Luckily, though the Pistol was cold, it was blissfully dry.

With such a small race, I was able to park close and drop off my goodies at the car and wait until the last minute to step back out into the cold. I left my Snickers bar in the car overnight and I thought I was going to break my tooth trying to get a bite of it. Luckily, I persevered, teeth intact. 

I second-guessed myself for a moment when I stepped out of the car and thought that maybe my long sleeve shirt was overkill, but ultimately decided to wear it and be annoyed if I had to wrap it around my waist. Narrator voice: she did not remove the long sleeve shirt. A few minutes outside of the car and I was shivering, ready to get running because I was so cold!

The race director gave a few instructions regarding the course for both the marathoners and half-marathoners, including mentioning that it was an equal gender start so half of the start line was for men, half for women. I was a little nervous about being on the start line, but decided to put myself up there. 

When the gun went off, runners went whizzing by me in the beginning as I tried to get my very cold legs moving. The full and half started together so it was hard to know who was in which race until we got to the loops/out and backs. I started out feeling a 5 out of 10 and felt that way most of the day. Not particularly bad or good, just in the middle. Nothing inherently hurt, but I only had a few miles of feeling really in the zone. 

The course is shaped like a barbell with two very small loops on either side and one long section in the middle. Once the first barbell was complete, marathon and half marathon runners also had to do a 1.5 mile out and back to complete the total distance. The field quickly spread out within a mile or so, but I was never alone for long stretches because there were still plenty of 100 mile/100k runners on the course at any given time. They were shuffling along bundled up in their warm clothes and I tried to smile and yell good job to as many of them as possible.  

I did run behind a few marathon/half marathon runners for a while, letting them set the pace for stretches at a time. Occasionally, I’d pull back a bit so as not to be on their heels and be THAT runner. But eventually, the field spread out enough that I was pretty much on my own to do the work. 

Because the race is mostly set up for the ultra distances, the hydration stops were definitely a stop. A couple of times a volunteer handed me a cup of water, but that was the exception rather than the norm. I probably spent a minute or two of race time trying to separate a cup from the pile, pouring myself a cup, drinking it, and then discarding it in the trash. This got harder and harder as the race wore on because my hands were so cold even with gloves. Regular road marathons will spoil you! 

It was easy enough to follow the markings on the first out section and I was feeling good about having the lay of the land as I came back to the start/finish at mile 10. However, like a lemming, I followed another runner clockwise around the loop when we should have gone counter-clockwise. The woman that would go on to win the half marathon was coming back out and told us we were going the wrong way (huge thanks to her!). It was only maybe a minute total error, but ugh!

As the field went to complete the 1.5 mile out and back, I now got a better view of who was in front of me. The half marathoners wore a reddish color bib (the full wore yellow) and the only woman ahead of me was indeed wearing a red bib. I saw a few other men ahead of me at this point, but wasn’t paying too much attention to which ones were wearing red or yellow.

Going back out on the second loop, I was ticking off the boxes as I tend to do in the late miles. Get to the turnaround point (14.6 miles), aid station (15.6 miles), less than double digits (16.3 miles), next aid station (18 miles), etc. I found myself going to the well a bit nearing the 20 mile mark. I told myself it was okay to back off a bit, get some water in me, save the pushing for the end, but don’t get too comfortable. 

I was doing runner math to find out how much I could slow down and still hit 3:30 or 3:40. But then I told myself to not think about just jogging it in. I needed to give it an honest effort. Somehow, I got myself back to the happy place and I headed back to the finish line in good spirits.

The race director gave me a pat on the shoulder as I was heading back out for the final spur, telling me “great job.” 5k seemed like such a short and long way to go after 23+ miles. But I broke it up in the half mile sections and worked to chew them up as best I could. 

There was one runner ahead of me in this section and the gap between us stayed about the same until we got within about 1 mile to go. I stayed behind him until the last gnarly hill with about a half mile to go and then overtook him at that point. I would later learn that he was leading the race and that by me making that final move, I ended up the winner. Honestly, it probably would have intimidated me if I had known so I’m kind of glad that I was just running my race, clueless to my overall placement. 

As I came across the finish line, I was stoked.

Stoked that I didn’t feel any worse for the wear after racing so soon after RR100.

Stoked that when it felt hard, I didn’t let it defeat me.

Stoked that I got to run in my favorite weather (re: cold and dry!).

Stoked that I was surrounded by a bunch of other runners doing some amazing feats.

Stoked that I got to do this thing I love for the 49th time and at age 40, finally won one!

Saturday, February 11, 2023

Rocky Raccoon 100 Mile: Racing with Gratitude

Photo cred: Let's Wander Photography

Inspiration & training

Many, many years ago, I learned of Rocky Raccoon through the internet blogging community of “The Loop.” At the time, I thought people that ran ultras were nuts. I was running one marathon a year and was pretty proud that not only had I finished one, but that I wanted to run MORE than one. 

But these people that were running 50 miles, 100 miles, that just seemed crazy. Many of my original real life running sheroes and heroes ran this race and as I dabbled into the ultra world, I was curious about this event. The more I leaned into the crazy myself, the more I realized that this particular course would be in my wheelhouse. Runnable (re: not a ton a vert), loops, and if I was lucky, not incredibly hot. 

I had been thinking about it for awhile and started watching registration this fall. The number of spots dropped pretty dramatically right after I ran The Stinger 24 Hour and I was on the fence about going back to the pain cave so soon. But grief is weird and on the same day I went to put down Tory (our Boston Terrier), I decided to just sign up. No one else I knew was doing it and it was a pretty tight turnaround considering I would only have about 12 weeks between 100 milers. But YOLO, or something. 

Training went really, really well. I took about 10 days off running after The Stinger to recover. Then I did the tiniest build ever to race the Rehoboth Marathon 3 weeks after running 108 miles. I knew I wasn’t in any place to chase down a marathon PR, but I was feeling healthy and good and ran a very respectable 3:32. 

I ramped up my training in December and early January, adding in longer workouts and building my mileage slowly. My coach helps to put on the Jekyll Marathon in mid-January and I decided to sign up to use that as a last long run of sorts. I had been feeling so good with my running though so I used the opportunity to race hard and came up with a 3:19. 


On Thursday, I flew out to Houston in the afternoon, landing around 6:30pm CST. Somehow, even with a supposed full flight, I ended up in a row with an open middle seat. The flight was on time, my car rental pickup went smoothly, and it was an easy drive to Huntsville. The universe was sending me good vibes.

I did a quick Google search to find a spot for dinner and opted for Tex-Mex. The service was quick, the food delicious, and I had a good conversation with the bartender and a barfly.

After the travel and giant margarita, I fell asleep easily, allowing myself to sleep as long as possible the following morning. I lounged leisurely at breakfast in the hotel and enjoyed a slow start to the day.

Hoka was sponsoring a shakeout run on the course at 11am so I headed over to the park. I chatted with a few fellow runners before and during the run, making me feel a little better about my solo adventure. Alex said he was running a 100 miler for the first time after completing the 100k the previous year. He actually somehow picked me out in the dark to say hi the following morning!

Packet pickup wasn’t until 1pm so I decided to just hang out at the park, enjoying the sunshine and reading a book on my phone. It was shaping up to be a gorgeous day so I was actually kind of glad I was able to kill time outside rather than holed up in my hotel room.

After I grabbed my bib, I went outside to shop for some of the gear and a fellow runner, Jenniffer, asked if I would take her picture in front of the backdrop. We ended up talking for a long time and exchanged phone numbers. We saw each other twice on the course the following day and it truly was a pick me up both times to see a newly familiar face. 

It was well after lunch time so I went to Kroger next to the hotel to grab a bunch of things to snack on during the afternoon. Then I proceeded to lie in bed, eating snacks, resting, and reading.

Eventually, it got to be dinner time and I ordered myself a pizza from a Pizza Hut within walking distance. The sunset was gorgeous and I was excited that the next sunset I'd see would be from the trail.

I set 3 alarms, laid out my race outfit, and checked and re-checked all my gear. Then it was time to sleep!

I slept okay, but not great. I knew I had slept well all week so I didn’t worry too much about it. I ate my pre race muffin, drank some coffee, and was out the door by about 4:40am. I pulled into a very close parking spot at 5:00am at race headquarters and immediately went to find where I could pick up my timing chip. It was in the low 30s so I went back to my car to stay warm and off my feet, getting out at 5:40am or so to find a place to leave my drop bag and line up.

There was no designated place at headquarters to drop a bag so I just found a picnic bench near the start/finish line and hoped for the best. No one was standing in the start line area and it was 5:50 with a race start time at 6:00. Very different from a road race! And there were a few hundred starters! 

They announced that we were to go line up and we ended up having to go through the back of the corral. This put me back a little further than I wanted, but I think it worked out for the best.

The Race

Lap 1 (miles 0-20)

I clicked on my watch at gun time and shuffled my way to the start timing mat. Being further back in the field to start, I did a lot of walking in the first mile. People were chatting away and I tried to enjoy the conversations around me, knowing that I would be welcoming that kind of thing later in the race when it got much, much harder. I tried to not panic when I saw my first mile clicking off at 13:XX, knowing that there was still 99 miles to go.

Luckily, the field opened up after the first mile and I found myself finally hitting a faster, but comfortable pace. The first 20 mile lap would be all about getting the lay of the land and figuring out just what kind of race I thought I was capable of. 

Having never run the course before, I wasn’t sure just how fast I could be. The course records made it seem super fast, but the elevation profile showed constant up and down so I wasn’t sure until I was actually running it myself. Plus, I had heard all about the roots that jokingly get bigger with each lap. It is a 5 loop course of 20 miles each with a mix of single track and forest service roads. I found it to be 100% runnable and in fact, did very little walking until about 50 miles in. The forest service roads in particular were where I was able to gain a little bit of time on each lap.

We needed a headlamp for just a short while in the first lap, but I did end up keeping my long sleeve on the entire first 20 miles. There were only a few short sections that weren’t shaded and it was still quite chilly throughout the morning. I was comfortable though and was hoping that it would not warm up too much in the afternoon.

Photo cred: Let's Wander Photography

I didn’t take aid at the 4.1 mile aid station, but did top off my water bottles at the 9 mile and 14 mile ones. Throughout the rest of the race, I would stop at each aid station and fill up, but not linger. I was eating snacks from my pack in the beginning - gels, fruit snacks, fig bars, etc. I knew I would tire of this stuff soon enough so I tried to eat what I could, when I could. 

I rarely found the aid stations to be crowded and the volunteers were all excellent in helping fill up quickly. It could have been my attitude too though. I wanted to race patiently and my race mantra was “don’t be greedy.” I wanted to feel good for as long as possible and not let self-doubt ruin my outlook. It didn’t mean that it didn’t get rough at times, but I truly felt the best I ever had in a 100 mile race. I took my time to thank volunteers, pet dogs, do a little aid station dancing, and said good job to as many of my fellow runners as I could. 

Photo cred: Let's Wander Photography

As I was nearing the end of the first lap, I thought about what I needed to do to minimize my time at my drop bag. I dropped my headlamp, grabbed more nutrition, and refilled my electrolyte bottle with Skratch. I actually used 4 of my 5 Skratch packets throughout the race which was pretty surprising. Normally, I get tired of electrolytes quickly, but I decided to not take any Tailwind on the course and I think that made all the difference for me with not getting too tired of sugary stuff. 

Lap 2 (miles 20 - 40.1)

I grabbed my Aftershokz, deciding I wanted music early and stuffed my long sleeve in my pack in case it was cooler than I thought. I didn’t use a drop bag at any of the other aid stations so I was relying on carrying everything I needed for 20 miles at a pop. 

I fired up my EDM playlist and was happy that I was finally going to have plenty of space to actually run the first few miles of this lap. However, about a mile into the second lap, I tripped and ripped open my knee and elbow. After yelling at myself, I jumped back up and brushed off the dirt as best I could. Within a few minutes, the pain of the scrapes and my stubbed toe subsided and I fell back into a rhythm. 

My second lap, miles 20-40, was actually a tad faster than my first lap. I was moving well and feeling good. I kept thinking about my “don’t be greedy” mantra, but I also wanted to push when it felt good. If I was feeling good after running 20 miles, I thought it was an opportune time to try to put a little time in the bank. 

Lap 3 (miles 40.1 -60.2)

Coming around to mile 40, I knew it was highly unlikely I would need my headlamp in the 3rd lap, but put it in my pack anyway because I didn’t want to assume anything. It would be midday so I definitely was getting warmer, but left my long sleeve in again. I was starting to tire of the sweet stuff after 7 hours so I pawed through some of my preplanned nutrition bags to pull out what I thought I might actually eat. 

I was still feeling pretty good on the third lap, miles 40-60. I started to walk a little bit more, but I was definitely still moving really well.

Photo cred: Let's Wander Photography

It was in this lap that I started to try some ramen and soda at the aid stations. I would drink the soda in the aid station and then walk out with my ramen cup, eating it for a few minutes, letting it digest fully before I started moving again. I was determined to keep food down and not let myself fade with a calorie deficit. 

There were times in this lap that I hit a few high patches and I was starting to talk to people around me when I had the opportunity. There was a guy with a clown figurine on his pack that I chatted with and ended up taking a picture of his setup for him. I leapfrogged with a guy who was wearing the men’s version of the shorts I was wearing. He probably thought I was super weird when I came up next to him and said “nice shorts”, but to be fair, it’s hard to not be weird running 100 miles. 

I saw Jenniffer on this lap twice, once on the out and back section, and then again near the last aid station. It definitely lifted me up both times I saw her and we were both determined to get it done. She was racing without crew or pacers too so there was some solidarity in our experiences. 

Photo cred: Let's Wander Photography

I remember at some high point on this lap that I was bombing down a cruisy section with Beyonce’s “Break My Soul” blasting in my ears, forgetting that I was in the middle of racing. Rarely do I have that kind of moment in an ultra and when I snapped back to real life, I just knew I was going to get this one done. 

Lap 4 (miles 60.2 -80.3)

However, there were still 40 more miles to go and I had 60 miles on my legs already. My mile 60 treat was reading text messages that had been piling up on my phone all day. After I grabbed batteries, a fresh long sleeve shirt, and repacked my snacks, I scrolled through my phone as I walked out onto lap 4 feeling the love from all the people who took time out of their busy lives to send me messages.

Things got rougher for me running-wise in lap 4. I knew I was going to have to do it all over again one more time and I was not looking forward to the single track sections in the dark. Whereas I’d spent the majority of the race actually running up until this point, I did start to take longer walk breaks at this point. But I did talk a little bit more to people at this point, forcing myself to stay positive even if I had to fake it. There were a lot of people with pacers at this point so it was nice to have some people with life in their voices out there.

At mile 73, a group of supporters called the “Mile 13 Hilltop Party” had set up for the evening in between aid stations and apparently this year’s theme was Working the Run-way. They had laid down a platform of sorts next to the trail and had music blasting so that you could run/walk/sashay down the runway. For anyone that knows me well, this was CLEARLY something I had to participate in and jumped right up to flaunt all my best moves. Their energy was a much needed boost and it was a reminder to keep it fun for as long as possible. 

Even though it was still relatively early in the evening, the darkness was making me feel very sleepy. I decided to try a little Mountain Dew on this lap and realized it sat in my stomach a bit better than the Coke. At this point, I was trying to eat something from the aid station and a cup of soda. I was still kind of working on some of my own snacks, even if it was just a handful of gummy bears or a few jelly beans every few miles. I thought about how Megan cajoled me into one chew at a time during my final 20 miles at Javelina and knew something > nothing. 

Lap 5 (miles 80.3 - 100.4)

I was convinced that if I just made it to mile 80 that everything would feel doable. I had planned to call Adam at that point for my now-traditional pep talk. I didn’t really need much of anything from my drop bag for the final lap so I took my time to chat with him (and the occasional side bar from Jeff who was keeping him company) as I walked out onto the final lap. He said that I sounded better than usual (re: not a crying mess) and I told him I had been having a pretty good day. 

I had kind of been paying attention to the time as I wanted to go under 20 hours if possible, but in my “don’t be greedy” mantra, I was trying to remember to just be grateful for whatever the day gave me. My watch kept falling off the charger, beeping at me when it was under 20% so I just had left it stuffed in my pack. I told myself I would put it back on with a few miles to go and to just not think about it until then. 

In the final lap, I was leap-frogging with another racer (we will call him blue shorts guy as I don’t remember his name) and Arild and his dog Lulu, who was out just running a lap after DNSing. As we came up to the Nature Center aid station, I ran with them for a short while, enjoying a bit of company at mile 89 and talking about how it would be really great to go sub-20 hours. I bypassed food at this aid station as nothing sounded good and got out pretty quickly. Somehow I was still doing some running at this point, but did slow down a bit closer to the final aid station. Blue shorts guy came past me and said how the eff did you get here? And I laughed, taking this as a compliment.

Arild came past shortly thereafter and encouraged me to stick with the blue shorts guy, to go get my sub-20 hour finish time. I just shrugged it off, saying that whatever time I get is whatever I get. I still had 6ish miles to go and by my watch beeps thought that I was already at 19 hours. 10 minute miles didn’t seem feasible at that point, but there was no way I was going to let myself be sad about finishing a 100 miles in 20 hours so I was content to just keep moseying along at whatever pace I could sustain. 

Well, when I finally pulled my watch out of my pack with 2ish miles to go, I realized that I actually was off by a half hour. The beep was actually 18 hours, 30 minutes. Oops. But in this case, it worked in my favor because I had more time than I thought! I did get super excited after that because that sub-20 and a trail 100 PR suddenly felt within reach. It was only like going from 1st to 2nd gear, but I did find myself digging a little deeper in those final 20ish minutes to squeeze out what I could. 

Once I crested the final baby hill, I told myself there were no more walk breaks. The pain would be over soon enough. Like out of a movie, my shoe got swallowed briefly by the mud pit about 200 meters from the finish line. I just laughed to myself, shoved my heel back in, and grinned as I came into the finish chute. 


4th female, 18th OA, trail 100 PR

Post race

A volunteer let me choose my buckle color (purple!), another grabbed me some pancakes, and one of the race photographers took my picture with my phone. I tried to keep it brief at the finish line, knowing I would be likely to get cold quickly. Because I was so over-the-moon about how it went, I was all of a sudden riding on adrenaline. Thankfully, I was wide awake to drive the short distance back to the hotel.

All day my stomach had been pretty good and I was relieved that I didn’t throw up during the race. However, once I got going in the car and was about to get onto the highway, I immediately felt sick. This was odd as I NEVER get motion sickness. To make matters worse, I couldn’t figure out how to open the stupid rental car door (there was a child safety lock on the driver’s side door??) and so I was panicking about trying to open the door, flailing and pressing every button in the car. Eventually, I figured it out and then realized how bad it looked that I was puking on a highway on-ramp (in the emergency lane!) at 2am on a Saturday night. 

Fortunately, I felt much better after that and continued on without further incident to the hotel. Though I desperately wanted to crawl into bed immediately, I was filthy and a shower was absolutely necessary.

Once I rinsed off the dirt, blood, mud, ramen-splatter, and Coke-splatter, I was ready to finally lie down.

In my experience, sleeping after these things is brutal though. I got about 2.5 hours of sleep before I was wide awake with aching legs. The adrenaline of finishing now long worn off, I started to feel all the physical pain. My ribs sore from my phone bouncing against them all day, blisters tight and angry, chafe upon chafe, and every muscle in my body feeling tight. 

I waited until I was confident the breakfast buffet was open in the hotel, not wanting to waste precious steps on multiple trips. I did venture out a few times that day to Kroger for more provisions (re: beer & pineapple), Target (for feet sheet masks), and to get one more serving of Tex-Mex. But it was a day full of gluttony and sloth for the most part as my brain and body were too tired to do much of anything. 

Somehow I got up the following morning at 3:15am, drove an hour to the airport, flew home, drove an hour home, and did a bunch of laundry before passing out cold on the sofa for hours in the afternoon. 

I feel better than I ever have after a 100, but I think it’s due to a number of things. A PR always helps. I knew what to expect post-race. I actually fully rested for nearly a day after the race. The trails were runnable, but not super verty (re: didn’t destroy my quads completely). 

My next attempt at 100 miles will be at UTMB, something very, very outside my wheelhouse. It will take me twice as long and then some to finish, assuming that I can make cutoffs. That being said, I’m excited to go try something crazy and amazing and see just what I can do. 

Wednesday, January 18, 2023

A Marathon Podium - Jekyll Island Marathon RR

Running the Jekyll Island Marathon was a very last minute decision. The race was on January 15th and I registered on January 3rd. My coach, Rogelio, is one of the race directors and I’ve had the race on my short list to run for years now. The timing worked out that this would be a good last long run before Rocky Raccoon 100 on February 4th. Road marathons are not necessarily ideal for 100 milers, but it would be a supported long run and I could give my fitness a little test run. Pun intended. 

I had never been to Jekyll Island before and wow, what a beautiful place. They’ve done a lot to ensure that the land is preserved and it feels worlds away from the hubbub of I-95 just a few miles west. I drove down Saturday morning, jamming out loudly (and very off-key) to my playlist, stopping at Taco Bell for a very fancy lunch. Normally I loathe getting out of the car while road-tripping solo but I was hydrating so I ended up needing to stop multiple times over the course of my 5.5 hour drive.

Once I got on the island, I headed straight to packet pickup at a hotel and then went to the campground to check into my campsite. Because it was just me, I opted to camp. I love camping and saving a little extra cash always helps. 

After securing my campsite, I drove over to Driftwood Beach on recommendation of my coach. From the interwebs: The mighty oaks you see toppled today stood at the time of the Jekyll Island Club Era. Through natural occurrences, like tropical storms and hurricanes, the sand supporting the trees eroded away and exposed the roots systems. Eventually, the trees fell and were petrified by the salt air and sun. 

It is unlike anything I’d ever seen on East Coast beaches. I decided to just walk up and down the beach for a few miles, soaking in the salt air and sipping on a beer I’d stowed away. It was super windy, but the sun was shining and I was content to just be with myself and my thoughts. 

As it got later in the afternoon, I decided to find a spot for dinner and ended up at a pizza place that was connected to a mini golf course. It was tiny, but packed and there was a spot open at the bar so I took it as a sign that I was in the right place. The woman I sat next to (Kathy) sized me up as a fellow runner and we spent the next hour chatting about all things running and life. I showed her the pictures from Driftwood Beach and told her she should go before the sun fully set. She plunked down cash as soon as she was done eating and was excited to go check it out. 

It was just after 6pm by the time I got back to the campsite. I decided to just car camp and laid out my blanket/sleeping bag combo. Once I got all my gear laid out for the morning (race outfit, coffee, breakfast), I snuggled up in my sleeping bag and finished the (very bad) book I was reading. I was very sleepy, but made myself stay up until at least 9pm. Luckily, the campgrounds were super quiet and I only woke up a couple of times because of my jacked up shoulder/neck.

Side note: I woke up about 2 weeks ago with a very sore trapezius muscle. It went away and then came back this past week. Ironically enough, the only time it isn’t bothering me is when I’m running. Seriously. Maybe it’s just that it’s finally loose or something? I dunno, but it hurts bad enough that it’s been waking me up at night. I thought it might go away (re: runners are terrible at seeking medical attention), but it’s still here. I have my annual physical Friday so even though I don’t want to wait any longer, I will. 

I got up with my first alarm and set out to make coffee first with the Jetboil. It was in the thirties outside so I figured that by the time I got back from the bathhouse that it would be cool enough to drink. The wind had considerably died down from the day before (phew!), but it was still really chilly. I put a throwaway fleece over my race kit and then bundled back up in my puffy jacket. 

Back at the car, I ate my breakfast (cinnamon muffin, half a Snickers) and then poured the rest of my coffee into my mug for the drive over to the start. Small race = easy logistics. There was no issue finding a parking spot and I faced the water, watching the sunrise with my coffee on the dash. It was a lovely way to start a race morning.

The walk to the start was mere steps from my car so I waited awhile before I succumbed to standing around in the cold. Once we were all huddled behind the start line, I wavered on whether to keep my throwaway fleece or not. I saw a guy toss his by a nearby fence and I followed suit, happy to not have to think about carrying it or when/if to get rid of it. 

The Race

My race plan was no plan. I truly was just going to be running by feel. There were no pacers and the only goal for the race was to finish and hopefully, stay in a good headspace. When the gun went off, I just went for it. Because there was no walk to the start really and I am not really one to “warm up”, my legs were a little shocked by what I was asking them to do. My feet were numb from the cold and it actually took a few miles before I could feel my toes. 

The first few miles were on pavement and I was surrounded by other runners, running side-by-side with them or in tiny packs as we made our way north. I was relieved that after a few minutes, I finally felt settled into race mode. I could tell that I was playing with fire with my effort, but it seemed like a good day to just see what happened. 

I took my first gel at mile 4 (and later, at miles 8, 12, 16, & 20) and was happily surprised that the first few miles had gone by so quickly. The full marathoners made a turnaround at mile 5 and then we looped out on the north end of the island. It is a gorgeous area of pristine marshland that was pretty spectacular in the morning sun.

Racing is often hard and I put blinders on to the scenery if I’m not feeling great. But aside from a few small rough patches, I can say that this was a course that I was feeling lucky to experience from a scenery perspective. The Spanish moss draped over huge oaks, soaring palm trees, and the wide expanse of the Atlantic were a treat for the eyes. 

That being said, there were a few tricky portions for this road marathon. There were a lot of winding sections along the bike path and a few sections that we were running on sand. Just for about 20 seconds or so, but it was tough to be forced to slow down. I didn’t really feel as though the wind was much of an issue for me. I could tell when there was a bit of a headwind and tailwind, but since the course was mostly a loop, it all kind of evened out in my opinion. 

Near mile 8, we popped back out on Beachview Drive, but stayed along the bike path instead of the street. I tossed my gloves in this section, finally warmed up enough to not need them any longer. The course started to overlap with some of the 10k runners, but most were very cognizant of the marathoners and gave plenty of space and encouragement. The marathoners had spread out quite a bit by this point and while I could see people ahead of me, I was no longer really running with anyone. 

As we came back into “town” and the start/finish line area at mile 12ish, I knew I needed to find a portapotty or a restroom. I dipped into a real restroom by the beach and was in and out as quickly as I could go. I tried to not go crazy to try to make up the time, just ease back into the pace. But because I could hear the finish line in this section, I got a little amped and came past my coach feeling great!

In many full marathons, the split from the shorter race distances can feel very defeating. And while this one was no different in terms of atmosphere, my attitude about it was really, really good. As I made the turn onto the road, I was ready to put in the work of the “teens”. My jams were great, my stomach was finally settled, and there is something about just ripping miles by myself on a flat road in the cold that makes me happy. 

In the distance, I could spot two runners ahead of me, one slowly gapping the one in the middle of us. I started to reel in the middle runner and then once I felt ready to make the move, overtook him. The frontrunner would end up about a minute ahead of me the entire rest of the race - we’ll call him 19th place for this story. 

As I got into the meat of the race (aka the upper teens), I began to have my usual marathon thoughts. 

At mile 16, I get a gel and only 10 miles to go. 

Down to single digits left at mile 17. 

Hit mile 18 and just over an hour of running to go. 

As usual for me, I really hadn’t been looking at my splits, just overall time and distance. I knew that a PR wasn’t on the table, but if I kept on the gas, I would have a really great time.

Past mile 17, the course was on the bike path for much of the remainder of the race. On the west side, it was pretty lonely as there were lots of twists and turns that I couldn’t see 19th place ahead of me. We’d get back into a straighter section and I’d see him again, relieved I was both on course and on pace. I passed another runner in this section, but otherwise, the field was really spread out.

As I got to mile 20, I was happy that I was still feeling pretty good. Yes, it was getting a little tougher, but my legs were responding and I was motivated to keep pushing. Once we came back around to the section we’d covered before, there were half marathon walkers on the sidewalk as well. I used them as targets, picking them off, keeping 19th place  in my sights. 

Eventually, I saw 19th place pass someone who was clearly another marathon runner ahead of us. In the distance, it kind of looked like a woman, but I was too far away to tell for sure. I told myself to just run my race and not get caught up in someone else’s race. But as I neared the person, I realized it definitely was a woman. I didn’t want to play leapfrog so I hung back for probably a quarter mile before I determined I was definitely able to move faster and passed her.  

With 2 miles to go, I was equal parts exhausted and stoked that I was doing the damn thing. I glanced at my watch and saw that I might go under 3:20 if I didn’t fizzle. It was such an arbitrary goal at that point, but it gave me something to work for in those final minutes. Once I saw the mile 25 marker, I thought to myself less than 10 minutes! 

I had this odd feeling of not wanting it to be over because I was having THAT DAY, but also couldn’t wait to throw myself on the grass at the finish line. Anything I had been saving was unfurled in that last 1.2 miles. It wasn’t a PR, it wasn’t some goal race, it was just a really happy day of feeling strong, confident, and happy doing the thing I love. 

Finish time: 3:19:39

After I finished, I ended up hanging out in the finish line area talking to one of my coach’s fellow athletes, Jeff. A little bit later, my coach’s brother, Aldo, came over to say hi and we all got to talk running for quite some time. I eventually went on to sit in the grass for a bit and a sweet volunteer came over with a heat sheet. I wasn’t sure what my placement was, but I was hopeful for at least an age group award since it went 3 deep for overall and 3 deep for masters. The online results were all messed up so I decided to just go get changed and come back once I had on warm and dry clothes.

I got held up in the parking lot talking to a Marathon Maniac who had done something like 100+ half marathons and had just turned 70. He said he was a little sad that he has to walk them now, but I was like, dude, you’re 70 and doing half marathons. I love how crazy our people are and how wildly out of perspective they can be when compared to the rest of the world.

Back at the finish, I cheered on marathoners as they finished and then waited for the awards. Because of the timing snafu, there was not really a presentation and people were just being handed their award once they confirmed the placement. Unfortunately, the printed list was incorrect from the actual placements and I saw that the 3rd overall female on the list ran a 3:21. Oops. She had already taken the award so they said they would mail me one. 

Yeah, I was excited to be on the podium, but this was only because it was such a small race. To put it in perspective, when I ran a 3:16 in Boston this past year, I was 1023rd female. Sure, I’m competitive and it’s fun to say that I podiumed. But honestly, I’m just happy to be ripping miles in beautiful places with a bunch of other like-minded weirdos.