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.

1 comment:

  1. You continue to amaze with every run! So proud of you.