Race: Buffalo Marathon
Place: Buffalo, New York
Date: May 25, 2014
“When you cross the finish line, no matter how slow or fast, it will change your life forever.” – Spirit of the Marathon
I want to point out the asterisks above, as this race was not one that I was running at my normal marathon pace. Nope. I agreed back in March to pace two of my friends, Kat and Janelle, to their hopes of a sub-4 finish in the Buffalo Marathon. This race was not about me or my goals…this was all about them. And I took this responsibility very seriously, mind you! I trained as I would if I were going to be the one racing…meaning all of my training runs I did as though I were running this race at my pace. I didn’t want to over-train or get cocky and think that I could run more because this race wasn’t going to be done at my “normal” pace. Nope. Like I said…I take my job as a pacer very, very seriously.
I know what you’re doing. You’re looking at that finish time and wondering what went wrong.
Well…I will get to that. And then I will reflect on what this race has taught me, in general, about the human spirit and the spirit of the marathon. But…let me start at the very beginning.
Fridays are usually hectic as it is, but this Friday just put me out-of-my-mind. I had tried to do most of my packing on Thursday, but I still had plenty to do that morning…plus a date with my spinning class at 5:30 a.m. Go figure. As I was racing on Sunday, I went to class, but kept the heavy down and just did what I was comfortable with. I didn’t want to wear out these legs. I had two people counting on me and I wasn’t about to let them down. I thought about skipping my class, but I figured I’d be in a car most of Saturday, so as long as I didn’t put too much resistance on the bike…I’d be fine.
I did manage to get everything packed up and loaded into the car. But I wasn’t Buffalo bound yet. New York was going to have to wait. I had to go to work for the entire day first. Then…then I could start my journey toward my sixth marathon this year. Whew. I headed into the office and made little to no use of my standing desk, once again, trying to keep as much pressure off these legs as possible. I wanted to get to that start line feeling ready and relaxed. It worked. I got through the entire work day without any issues, then packed up and headed out at 4:30 p.m. to head up to Columbus, Ohio. Jenn was going to make this journey with us for the marathon, and I couldn’t be more thrilled. YAY! But…this meant enduring the ride up to Columbus. But first…I stopped off at my local gluten-free bakery to pick up a pizza crust. I promised Kat, back when she was in town for the Kentucky Derby Festival Mini Marathon that I’d bring her one of Annie May’s Sweet Café’s amazing gluten-free pizza crusts. And…while we were there, Cathy and I each ordered a sandwich to go to eat in the car on the way up to Jenn’s. We might have also picked up one of her vegan and gluten-free chocolate chip cookies too. Maybe. Anyway, this plan to grab dinner worked out perfectly. An Annie May’s sandwich might be a new travel after work tradition.
Soon, we were on the road and making good time up to Columbus, Ohio. As we came through Cincinnati, Ohio, I asked Cathy if we were going to stop soon because the unsweetened iced tea and the water I had with dinner had gone right through me and I “really needed to pee.” TMI? Nah. Anyway, she said we’d stop at somewhere up the road…which turned into about an hour wait. Seriously. The information center she had wanted to stop at was closed…and already way further than I had hoped to go before I got my break. So…I was not happy. We finally pulled over at a gas station on the exit you would take if you were going to the Ohio Renaissance Festival. I went inside the BP and took care of business, only to be interrupted by a woman pounding on the door, declaring she had an emergency. Um…yeah…kinda busy…gotta wait. I peed as fast as I could…but she kept pounding and pissing me off. Do NOT piss off a runner who has been tapering. I washed my hands and hurried out of the bathroom, having her blow past me like I was doing it on purpose. UGH!! People suck.
Back on the road…and no more stops until we hit Jenn’s house somewhere around 9 p.m. Cathy and I changed out into more comfortable clothes and then we settled in to talk a bit and eat Jenn’s infamous (but to me it’s famous) Pink Salad. Mmmmm…just what I needed. Hit the freakin’ spot. I knew I needed to get up around 4 a.m. to do a shakeout run, stretch, shower, eat breakfast, and get out of the door in a timely manner to continue the journey up to Buffalo, New York on Saturday morning…so we were turning in earlier than normal.
My alarm went off at 4 a.m. and I immediately dropped my iPhone before I could turn it off. Whoops. I got up and got changed into my running clothes and headed out Jenn’s garage to do 3 very easy miles as a shakeout before my drive up for the marathon. I forgot that Jenn’s roads have storm drains in the center of the road, so those were some fun obstacles at first. HAHA! I finally just got off to the side, and ran a loop around her inner circle until I hit my miles for the day. I actually did it faster than I intended or felt like I was running…so my legs were definitely feeling good. I ducked back inside, shed the reflective gear and went to do my stretching. Jenn came down as I was finishing that up. And soon I was headed up to shower, wake up Cathy, and we were settling in for some gluten-free bagels for breakfast. Topped off with a Garlic and Herb cream cheese of deliciousness. It was like eating garlic bread. The car was loaded back up and we piled in…heading out for the long road to Buffalo, New York.
I was already tired from not sleeping much, so Jenn passed my pillow up and I dozed up until we made our first stop to put in some gas. There was a nice Starbucks attached to the gas station, so we all got one of their refreshers…mine…the Cool Lime (YUMMY!) before piling back into the car and making our way up to Erie, Pennsylvania. That was going to be our stop for lunch. Back when I ran the Hershey Half Marathon, we found a place called Picasso’s to eat dinner at on our way back to Jenn’s. They specialize in very unique sandwiches…and we fell in love with them. This was our lunch destination…and we got there just after they opened. We each got a sandwich and drink and settled in at a table. My Gluten-Free Venus de Milo Sandwich was fantastic. It was a combination of hummus, onions, baby spinach, tomato, muffaletta spread, carrots, avocado, and a roasted red pepper mayo, toasted on gluten-free bread (in the oven to keep it from being cross-contaminated). Seriously…delicious. Then, we ducked over to Wegmans (an awesome grocery store for those not familiar) to grab a few necessities for Sunday…like bananas and water and watermelon. Then…back on the road. Next stop…the Hyatt Regency Buffalo (the host hotel) where we were staying.
I had hoped to meet up with both Kat and Janelle at the the expo, but Kat was there earlier in the day and Janelle, honestly, was leaving as I was pulling in. Dang it. I was seeing Kat later that evening for dinner, but Janelle was not going to be able to make it. So, we all planned to meet up on Sunday morning with the 4 hour pace group. Deal. We pulled into the hotel and valet parked the car, hauling our stuff inside. I went to check in, and as I was running the marathon was gifted with a bottle of Gatorade. I signed a sneaker with how many marathons I had run and my best finishing time, was given two keys to the room (I gave them to Jenn and Cathy to handle…I am a zen runner on race weekends and want no responsibilities). We took our stuff up to the hotel room to drop it off and then headed out to walk through the walkways from the hotel to the expo center. Weirdly enough, there were no signs really directing anyone to where to find the expo…so we randomly followed some people and ended up making our way there. Let’s hear it for the blind leading the visually challenged!
The expo was small. We stepped inside and I got in line to get a plastic bag that contained some race information and my safety pins. From there, I had to wind my way through the vendors and other races there to find the tables in the back where packet pickup was happening. I went over to the side for the marathon (there is also a 5K and a half marathon), and gave my name. The teenager behind the table looked me up, grabbed my race bib and race shirt and passed it over to me. I thanked him, tucked it into the plastic bag and went to meet Jenn and Cathy over at the BondiBand table. HA! They knew I’d want to make a stop there. We didn’t spend too long digging through the BondiBands as I own most of them (it’s a sickness…I know!)…but I found two that fit my personality and I ended up getting those. It’s tradition! You never break tradition. We wound our way back through, stopping off at a few interesting sounding races…all of which are on weekends that don’t work for me…this year…and ended up at Bart Yasso’s talk.
I LOVE Bart Yasso and really want to incorporate the Yasso 800’s into my training…eventually. We listened to him talk, and when he finished up, I went to see if he would sign my book (I brought it with me!) and maybe get a picture with him. There wasn’t a long line…and before long I was up there and talking with him. He remembered me from Facebook (HA!) and just asked if I spelled Karen with a “K.” That was awesome. He was very kind and wrote me a nice message before taking a picture with me and wishing me luck on Sunday. With that…we made our way out of the expo and back to our hotel room, where we crashed until about 4:15 p.m., watching Food Network (Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives was on, followed by Guy’s Grocery Games). I took the time to do my evening stretches and some foam rolling so I wouldn’t have to worry about it after dinner and could focus more on getting race morning stuff together and getting to bed at a decent time.
All that did get accomplished before we headed back out to the streets of Buffalo and walked to our dinner destination, Merge, located on Delaware Avenue. We were early. The restaurant hadn’t even opened yet. But, we knew that would probably be the case. We left early to give us time to get lost and all. But at the first sense of us not knowing which way to go, Cathy asked the valet guys and we were immediately on track without the whole wander around town mess. Love nipping something in the bud. At 5 p.m., Kat and Adam (Kat’s boyfriend) arrived and we went inside for our dinner reservation. We were immediately seated and asked if we wanted something other than water to drink. I don’t do anything but water these days as it is…so I stuck with that. Then…it was menu time. I had looked at this menu DOZENS of times before…and I knew there was a gluten-free and vegan pizza option. That’s my traditional food before a race…but there were so many enticing dishes on this menu that I couldn’t get anywhere else…and I get good gluten-free pizza in Louisville. SO…now I was waffling on what I wanted for dinner and everyone else was ready. With the assistance of the waiter, I bucked tradition again and went with the Gluten-Free and Vegan Arugula Pesto Pasta, which was a basic brown rice fusilli pasta with local tomato, red onion, spinach and tossed with toasted walnuts. It was as amazing as it looked. Got a Gluten-Free and Vegan Chocolate Mousse with Spiced Berry Compote for dessert, which I split with Cathy. All of us talked for awhile, not much about running but about other stuff, until we were told they needed the table. So, with that, we parted ways. Cathy, Jenn and I walked back to the hotel room. and I changed into my pajamas, brushed my teeth, put out my race clothes for the morning, plugged in my Garmin to charge, set the two wake-up alarms, and then…went to bed.
My first alarm got me up and I went through my routine before hitting the sack again for another hour. The second alarm rang and I was up and into the bathroom to change into my race gear. I had opted for a tank top, despite the 47 degree weather that morning. I had my homemade arm warmers for the start, figuring I’d shed them sometime in the race. My running skirt, my CEP calf sleeves, my Newton’s. I was ready to run. I put on my sunscreen and got my “epic race hair” done up before stretching. Jenn woke up just before I was to wake up both her and Cathy to get ready…so I just needed to worry about getting Cathy moving. I woke her up and then settled in to eat my cereal (a pre-race tradition for EVERY race). I took my time, relaxed, and occupied my mind with things other than the race. Both Cathy and Jenn grabbed the free granola from the expo and got something in their stomachs and soon, I was grabbing my banana and we were heading down to the lobby and outside to the starting area.
The start area hadn’t been opened to the runners in the full or half marathon yet…so everyone was sort of behind a barrier on the other side of the street. I saw pacers walk by and really wanted to go find my girls, but Cathy was like…”Um…good luck with that!” Which, sort of annoyed me so I was in a huff when the starting area was finally opened. But, she called me back and I settled down. I got hugs and was told to have a good race. Jenn told me that “The Power of Dean [Karnazes] Compelled Me” and not to “pants my poop.” This is tradition. It has to happen. With that, I left them to go find a spot near the start line and I went to hopefully find Janelle (who I hadn’t met yet in person) and Kat.
Janelle found me, actually…which was awesome. We were about 15 minutes away from race time. I was so happy to see her. She looked rested and ready to run. Perfect. I asked if she had seen Kat…and she hadn’t. But a few minutes later, miss Bright Green Arm Warmers was at our sides. We attempted to do some stretching in the start area but it was really crowded and moving around was not much of an option. Kat was talking to pretty much everyone…because I really think she knows everyone in Buffalo…and we did our best to keep our legs loose and limber in the chilly morning air. I pointed out that the girl in front of me had her shirt on inside out and we agreed that if it wasn’t three minutes to start time, we might have informed her…but it was too late now. The National Anthem was sung…and we were right in line with the 4-hour pace group. Right where I wanted to start. One moment later…runners were off. And we were making the march toward the start line. Kat doesn’t like to start running until she crosses that mat, so we kept a fast walk until we hit that start gate…and we were off. I spotted Cathy and Jenn immediately, flashed a peace sign…and fell into pace.
We stayed behind the pace group for the first mile, wanting to make sure we didn’t have the “fly and die” technique…wanting to go into this easy and work our way up. Kat and Janelle both liked this plan and that was what we worked at doing. But somewhere before we hit Mile 2, we got ahead of the pace group. I asked my girls how they felt about pace, and both agreed it was good. I told them that whenever they wanted to back off, just to say the word and we would. So, Kat did that every now and again, terrified of going out too fast and wanting to have that 4 hour pace group not too much behind or ahead of us at any time. As both seemed comfortable…we continued on. We hit that 5K mark feeling strong, and I once again checked on the pace. We backed it off a little per Kat’s request and continued on. I ditched my arm warmers somewhere around here as well. HA! Looking at my Garmin…we actually were keeping a very level, even pace for a good stretch of this race. It was awesome. It felt good. We all felt good. Kat gave me a bit of a tour as we were running, as this is where she grew up. I’m a history buff, so I found every bit of this fascinating. And…it made the miles fly by without us really paying attention to them at all. Before we knew it, we were at the 10K mark…feeling good. We rounded a corner, and Kat spotted Adam and went over to see him, but he told her to keep going as she was right on pace. And just a few feet up…was Cathy and Jenn. I spotted the donkey sign! I gave a big wave and a smile. It’s always nice to see familiar faces during a race…and we were only 1/4 of the way done. But…we were feeling amazing. So, on we went.
We kept this great pace (just under sub-9) up through the LaSalle Park area. We hit the waterfront, where the road narrowed quite a bit. The slow-up was welcome though…so we took the break and eased our way through the crowds. The waterfront was gorgeous! Honestly. I loved running this part of the race. Great breeze. Great views. The lake was stunning. We knew as we were going to be leaving the waterfront that photographers were stationed. And we spotted them up ahead. The three of us raised our arms for the shot…and that was when some jackass pushed Kat. Like…literally pushed her. RUDE! So, not sure how that shot is going to turn out. Asshat. We had now hit the 15K mark…and all of us were still feeling good and strong. My girls were rockstars! I asked about pace every now and again, wanting them to feel comfortable with it…and so far, they were.
Kat continued her guided tour as we ran around the Erie Basin Marina and back into town. She was elated when she noticed the course was going to take us past the First Niagara Center, where the Buffalo Sabers play hockey. She has season tickets…so she was glad the new course still ran past there. The sun was up now and there were no clouds in the sky. None. So it was warming up fast. We came through town, loving the shade that the buildings provided, but the heat was there. We hit the halfway point…and were pleasantly surprised to see both Jenn and Cathy standing right at the 13.1 marker to cheer us on. We were powering through that first half, maintaining a relatively even pace…backing off where necessary…and feeling awesome. We were just where we needed to be…right in between the 3:50:00 pacers and the 4-hour pace group. We were right on target.
But as we headed a few miles further in, the heat started to really affect Kat. She came to a walk on a hill around Mile 15, taking out her inhaler. We were ahead of schedule and the walk break was a welcome one on the hill, and once she fueled and took in some liquid, we were back on our way. We knocked out another mile back on our pace, but the 4-hour pace group had caught up to us. We decided to run just behind them for a little while. Good strategy. But as we came into Mile 16, going into 17…Kat slowed again and the pace group moved ahead. She was getting angry and frustrated with herself, but we were still ahead of the pace group so that was of some help to get her focused again. The fuel belt she was wearing wasn’t sitting right on her body, so Janelle asked if she wanted to try holding her bottle with Nuun in it and ditching the belt with her husband at Mile 17. Kat agreed so Janelle ran up ahead to find her husband, dump water out of one of her bottles, and get one ready for Kat. Kat was really struggling here and as we walked a bit through Mile 16.55, with her in tears and angry at having to walk, one of the volunteers checked to make sure she was okay, letting us know where we were in the race and asking if she needed any sort of attention. She waved him off and we both thanked him, and when we hit some road signs, we started to pick up the pace again, maintaining that until we met up with Janelle and her husband near Mile 17. We changed out the fuel pack for the handheld water and we were back on our way.
We were now in Delaware Park, which would last for a mile, where we then would enter back onto the streets and re-enter the park around Mile 20.5. As we were heading up the hill, Kat went to fuel with her Craisins. But they didn’t stay down. The heat was really getting to her…as she hadn’t had warm weather this year to train in. Buffalo was 40 degrees all day on Friday…and Saturday was slightly warmer, but with a cool breeze that made it feel cooler. We had a slight breeze, but the air was hot and the sun was relentless. Kat handed me the handheld bottle and tried to fuel again, this time to keep it down. I gave her one of my bottles on my fuel belt that had water inside. She took it…and this time…it all stayed down. She asked if I was okay holding onto the handheld bottle for her…and I said that was fine. Mind you, I hate running with things in my hands, but this was definitely more important. And…it would help me keep a steadier pace for Kat. But then the 4:10 pace group past and I saw that fight go out of her. She felt defeated, but I did what I could to get her to press on. We could at least try for her next goal of a PR. We came out of the park and it was a run walk method, with Janelle and I just wanting to keep Kat going. Finally, Janelle said she was starting to hurt, so she was going to put on her headphones and head for the finish line. We had tried to get her to do that earlier…but she stuck it out with us for some of it, even giving up her sub-4 finish to make sure Kat was okay. But we wished her luck and sent her on, telling her to let Cathy and Jenn know that we would be behind her.
I did my best to keep Kat going. The heat was really doing a number on her. She was getting dizzy and suffering from a headache. In addition, she said at some points she felt like she was going to pass out. I didn’t want that to happen, so I told her to walk when she needed. We were coming up around Mile 20 when one lone woman was standing on the road, shouting support to everyone. She saw Kat, who was crying, and honed in on her. It made me smile when I heard her say to Kat…”I see you, 890! You look so strong. Come on 890…you can do this. Push through, 890! I know you can do this. I know you want to run.” Kat started crying more, but this time tears of happiness, and her pace…picked up. It was the push she needed…from a random stranger. And as she ran up the hill…the woman said, “That’s it 890! Keep going!!” and other inspiring and motivating words. She was a rockstar. And, honestly, was able to do what I couldn’t. As we came back into Delaware Park, Kat said she had to use the bathroom and maybe that would help. The problem was…there were no port-a-potties on the course winding through the park. So, it was run, walk, run…until we were heading out of the park where there were some port-a-potties. Luckily one was not in use. I waited on the corner while she ducked into one. A minute later, we were back on the road and back to running. She felt better. And we now had just over 4 more miles to go. We were getting there. When the 4:20 pace group passed, she started crying again. And…she handed over her Garmin, saying she didn’t want it on anymore. Is trapped it onto my wrist and we moved on. It was better this way. She had been so focused on that pace and now…her disappointment was setting in. I kept assuring her that her primary goal was to finish…and I was going to get her to that line.
With only a few miles left, we were determined to go without stopping. Kat was determined now, despite the heat. She was sweating out salt, so I was trying to get her to take in as much water and electrolytes as possible. Her compression socks were starting to bother her, so she stopped to roll them down. Only, that felt worse as we started up again, so she pulled them back up. We ran and walked for the next few miles, doing what she needed. I pushed her here and there, telling her what landmarks we would hit and start jogging and picking up the pace…easing back into it. She listened to me…and did as I said…and she’d slow and walk when she needed to. Around Mile 24, she was done with the compression socks. So she pulled over to the side of the road and sat down, taking off her shoes and removing the socks. I ended up tying them to my fuel belt and she put her shoes back on and decided to finish the race without socks on. I told her she’d blister…and she said blisters already happened. Might as well be comfortable. A woman who was cheering on runners across the street asked if she was okay…and we said she was…and within moments, she was back on her feet and we were heading down into the next mile…slapping hands with college boys at the water stop. We walked a bit coming into Mile 25 and I could hear that crowd ahead. The finish line was getting closer. We picked it up…we backed it off…we walked when she needed it. She finished off her Nuun…she took in one last water stop…and we pressed on…walking to the edge of a building I pointed out…and then picking up that pace. We were in the home stretch and she was going to run it in.
We had made a deal to cross that finish line together. I was wrapped up in the excitement and my finisher’s kick was already there. She called me back, saying she wasn’t ready yet. She wanted to see that finish line. So…I fell back and we rounded through Niagara Square. And then…there it was…the finisher’s chute! We picked up our pace and sprinted…as fast as our legs could go. As we neared that finish line, we took each other’s hands…and crossed together. It was…by far…one of the most rewarding and memorable finishes I have had in my life. We hugged tightly and I told her how proud I was of her. And we moved out of the way so that she could try to catch her breath, regain her strength…get her medal…and get some ice from the medical tent.
After snagging an ice pack to put on the back of her neck, we headed back out, retrieving Mylar blankets and started down the chute. She spotted Adam and her mom and went to talk to them for a moment. And then…we went to get our picture taken for finishing. We moved further down the chute, retrieving water bottles and any snacks needed. She snagged an orange…good choice. And then we met up with Janelle, Cathy, Jenn, Janelle’s husband, Janelle’s dog (Domino), and Adam and Kat’s mom at the very end. We stood around talking for a little while and snapped a picture of the three of us with our medals. But then I needed to get up to the hotel room to shower off and change (as they were not allowing any late check-outs. Nope. Not at the host hotel!). Kat came with us because I forgot to give her the pizza the night before…and she changed while I went to shower. Cathy and Jenn packed everything up and when I stepped out of the shower…we were ready to head out.
Hugs all around and we were off.
So…my official results for the Buffalo Marathon are that I finished in a time of 4:32:44 (gun time) and 4:31: 36 (chip time) (for 26.49 miles). I was 832/1287 finishers overall. I was the 311/548 women to cross the finish line. And I was 64/108 in my age division. I can honestly say that this was the first time I ever crossed the finish line carrying more gear than I left with. HA! First time for everything!
Yes…there was a twinge of disappointment that came with this finish. But it wasn’t with the finishing time. It was watching a goal slip away from a good friend of mine, who worked her ass off to achieve it. Her body wasn’t ready for the heat, as she hadn’t trained in it yet. There were a few other factors as well. And the relentless sun did her in that day. But…she was not defeated. No matter how she felt, no matter how much she wanted to collapse and give up…she didn’t. Kat is a fighter. She’s strong and determined and stubborn as hell. And every time she fell back…I saw that flame in her eyes spark up…and she’d start to move again. There were plenty of tears shed at goals that weren’t reached, but ultimately, she proved not only her strength and her determination, but her worth out there on that course. I was so proud of her at that finish line. There was nowhere else I wanted to be than at her side that entire race, seeing her push through her own doubts. She is a fighter and she fought for this finish. She gave everything she had to reach that finish line. She finished strong. And every ounce of me has been inspired by her sheer determination and will to push through and see herself to that finish line. Her original goals fell to the wayside…but she finished. And ultimately...it’s not about finish times…it’s about finish lines. So often, as runners, we put so much emphasis on a new PR, a better time, faster, better, perfection. Those are all nice to accomplish and to have as goals, but we get so focused on that and sometimes we lose the actual joy of the run. We forget to have some fun. To enjoy it. To just take it in. When Kat crossed her finish line that morning…and when I gave her a tight hug, I told her just how proud I was of her. I still am. Best finish for me…ever.
Thank you, Kat…for inspiring me to push on when my self-doubts want me to stop. You are stronger than you give yourself credit for. This is one race I will always point to and say…”She wanted to give up…but she never did.” For that…you are more than an inspiration. You’re my hero!
Race: Publix Georgia Marathon
Place: Atlanta, Georgia
Date: March 23, 2014
I must be out of my mind, right? I was just cleared to run this past Monday and went for a sprint in a 3K race in Frankfort, Kentucky. No pain. No problems. And I did some outside running throughout the week to what my training schedule would have been had I been able to properly train for a marathon distance.
Which…I haven’t. And…I didn’t. In fact, my longest run since the ankle sprain was done in Columbus, Ohio…around my friend’s neighborhood. And that was only 8 miles. Yep…not exactly going into this having logged double digit runs. AT ALL. Not since February…and I think the longest one I managed then was 10 miles.
This…is not the way I wanted to come into this run. But, when you badly sprain your ankle…there are few choices left to you. Unable to run outside…and then limited to a treadmill (NOT a tready girl…I get so bored and long runs are not an option at a gym that limits you to only an hour on the machine). But…with the ankle rehabbed and my running slower…but okay…I packed up my bags, packed up my car, and made the long drive down to Atlanta.
A full and hilly 26.2 miles.
Because…I was cleared to do it as long as I don’t blitz it. I had no intentions of blitzing this one in the first place, so I was okay with that. But, that’s not to say the nerves haven’t set in. Because, trust me…they have.
The drive down was pretty uneventful. Listened to some tunes…then a few Doc Savage radio shows…until I got downtown. Pulled into the Omni Hotel and had my car valet parked. The luggage was left with the doorman and I went to check in. I stayed at the Omni when I was in Atlanta for The Police concert so many years ago! So, I knew it was a very nice place to stay. And as I checked in, since I was here for the marathon, the hotel provided me with an awesome bag of goodies: a banana, a bottle of water, and a KIND Bar. This…is my happy face!
Went to the room and waited for the luggage to arrive. When it did, it was time to head to the expo. Now, I had every intention of walking away from this expo with nothing more than maybe a new BondiBand…and my race packet. But then…EXPO AWE OF PURCHASING DOOM hit and my wallet…took the brunt of it. Now…for the most part, nothing was really something I didn’t need. I bought a couple of Wonder Woman tech shirts. YAY! Been looking for those everywhere. I bought a new pair of Newton’s…which was my splurge buy, but my old pair is up in the miles and, damn, I love those shoes. And…I bought the adhesive spray for my KT Taping. Oh…and while I was there, as an extra precaution, I had the people at the KT Tape booth tape up my ankle. Figured it wouldn’t hurt.
After that…I had to get out of there before I talked myself into other items that caught my eye…because the shirts in the Official Merchandise store were tempting. But I really don’t need more shirts, LOL!
So…Cathy and I left the expo and took items back up to the room at the hotel. We had some time to kill, so we decided to take a stroll over to Centennial Park. So…we did that and actually found the finish shoots and the start of the finish line being put up. We wandered over so I could take pictures in front of the finish line. Then, we strolled up to the Hard Rock Cafe so I could pick up a pin and Cathy could get a shot glass. Been ages since we’ve been to the Atlanta Hard Rock. We went to check out where we were dining that night before taking things back to the hotel, relaxing for a moment, and then making the short stroll up the street to dinner.
Dinner was at Max’s Coal Oven Pizzaria. We saw them listed on Find Me Gluten Free with some good reviews…so we figured we’d give it a try. We were seated immediately and we made a decision on a gluten-free pizza to split. We chose the Gluten-Free Fontina & Funghi Pizza…which was a white pizza that had fontina cheese, wild mushrooms, caramelized onions, and fresh oregano. It looked amazing when it was delivered to my table…but it really…was kind of MEH. The mushrooms were awesome. The crust was…uninspired and rather boring. SO not the way I wanted my mandatory pre-race gluten-free pizza to go. So disappointed. After that, we walked over to the CNN Building to take a look around. We got some frozen yogurt for dessert and came back to the room to relax. I had my stretches and foam rolling to do and really just want some time to relax and make sure I was hydrated and ready for the morning.
My first alarm went off at 3:30 a.m. I got up and did a couple of things before climbing back into my comfy bed and getting about 45 more minutes of rest. When my second alarm went off at 4:30 a.m., I checked the weather, then got up and got my clothes I laid out the night before and went to get changed. At first, I was afraid that the t-shirt under my Marathon Maniac’s singlet (OH…forget to mention I totally qualified for Marathon Maniacs back in January with the Disney Marathon) would be too warm. The temperature that morning was 58° F with little breeze. Wearing it turned out to be the best decision I have made. More on that later. I ate my cereal and then did my stretches (my physical therapists would be so proud!) and resistance band work (again…they would be proud). I brushed my teeth…then put on my fuel belt and bib and headed out the door.
Then…I get to the elevators and realized that I left my cellphone in the room. So, I hurried back to the room to get it. Exit…take 2…I get in the elevator and head down to the lobby. I get to the door and realized that I left my pre-race banana in the room. So…now I’m stressing myself out and went back to the room and grabbed the banana…and my hoodie…just in case it was windy and chillier than the Weather Channel app on my phone told me. Exit…take 3.
And this time…we made it out the door and onto the sidewalk. The start of the race was in Centennial Olympic Park right across from my hotel. No stress. So, I was starting to feel a little calmer and better about everything. I was supposed to meet up with the other Marathon Maniacs for a picture near a statue, so that was where we headed first. It was my first official photo as a Maniac…and that was awesome! The photo was a quick thing and then I went to find somewhere to do some more stretching and eat my banana. Cathy gave me a good luck hug and said she was off to find a place past the starting line to see me off. I decided to get into my corral (Corral E). Time was ticking down. Fifteen minutes to go to start time. The nerves were starting to settle in…again.
The National Anthem was sang beautifully! I was listening to all the chatter in the corral about time expectations. I had none coming into this one. I just had a goal…to finish…and not get re-injured. Having just been cleared to run last week…well…this was a huge risk running this race. I had so many people tell me to defer. But…I figured if I was cleared to run…this was running. I would listen to my body.
I got to chatting with a guy next to me. He noticed me getting my Garmin ready and he said his all-out died on him so he showed me his standard watch (with the actual watch hands and everything) and said he was taking it old school. Awesome! We got a good laugh about it and I mentioned I had to replace my Garmin because mine did the same thing. I love my new Garmin, BTW! Little treat to myself!
The corrals began to get collapsed and the flag barriers removed. We all moved up and then the official countdown in a robotic voice began. And then…we were off. I walked for a moment, then we all started to job. And…we were off. I gave a wave to Cathy as I ran past her. She cheered and then…I was hitting the road.
And this road was H-I-L-L-Y!!!
Seriously…it became immediately apparent that I haven’t been able to train much this winter. First…I was barred from running for over a month. Then I was banned from running hills along with it…for longer than not running. That also meant no incline on the treadmill either. So…I was so not ready for the Hills From Hell™ in Atlanta. But…I signed on for this, right? Right.
Between Mile 1 and 2, I had the chance to run with a really nice guy, also a Marathon Maniac. We discussed our sprained ankles, as he had badly sprained his ankle too and this was his first run back as well. His name was Anthony and he was really nice. I lost him at a water stop though. From there on out…it was all about what my body was telling me. With the number of hills and the various climbs and steepness of each…I said that if my ankle twinged, I would back it off. So…that was the plan. I wasn’t running for time…just the fact that I could run again!
I absolutely took on this challenging marathon with my whole heart. I was having a really good run for the most part. They volunteers at the water/Powerade and food stops were awesome. I actually expected there to be more crowd support through the entire race…but…nope. It was pretty sparse. The Decatur area had some groups out and the police officers helping with traffic control were awesome. I got a lot of shout-outs for being a Maniac…which was awesome. It definitely helped me get through some of the more challenging portions of this race.
Around Mile 16 it began to spit rain. I knew we had a big chance of rain…but it had held off. So…I was sort of expecting it (hence the reason I was wearing a hat). But…it only spit rain for about 30 minutes and then…it just stopped. Sadly though, when the rain came in…so did the wind. And some of these gusts of wind reached 20 mph. And we were running right into it. It kept catching the brim of my hat and trying to pull it off my head. It almost reminded me of the Marshall Marathon where the wind battered runners the entire way. Of course, with the wind…it got cold. Fast. And this is why I mentioned above why I was glad I decided to keep the t-shirt on. The beginning of the race was humid and warm and I sort of was kicking myself for putting the t-shirt on beneath the singlet…but after that wind hit…I was happy to have it.
The end of this race was a gradual uphill, which made it very difficult at times. My calf muscles were screaming and barking and mooing at me all at once. Like I said…you could tell that I hadn’t been running the hills recently. Or…running at all. I felt way under-prepared…and a bit out of shape. But…you know…I walked part of the inclines…I kept my pace easy so as not to do any damage. And I ended up having a better race than I anticipated I would. Finishing a marathon in sub-4 after not being able to run for over a month, and having to tackle some intense hills…yeah…I’m happy with this!
I spotted Cathy at the finish line and she rushed over to congratulate me. Then she said to go get my medal and stuff and to meet her in the reunion area. I walked through to get the beautiful medal from this race. Then…water. Ah, sweet water. And then it was the Mylar blanket followed by chocolate milk. I made my way through the chute until I made the turn to head toward Centennial Park and the Publix Food Tent. Cathy was waiting on a grassy knoll just inside the gate. I walked over the area where the bomb went off during the 1996 Olympic Games and made my way to where she was. She gave me a huge hug and congratulated me once again. We made our way over to the Publix Food Tent and I had my ticket torn off my bib to get my bag of goodies for the finish. They even gave Cathy one. That was very nice of them…as Cathy works just as hard as I do at these races, trust me. I went to a clearing in the grass and put my feet up, attempting to call my parents. They were still in church though, so they didn’t answer their phones. After that, I got myself back on my feet and went to do my calf stretches against what we later realized was the base of the Olympic Torch holder. For real.
It was really cold out with the wind, so we made the short hike back to the hotel room so that I could take my shower, have the fruit cup Cathy picked up for me and then get ready to head out to the CNN Center for the CNN Studio Tour she picked up tickets for while I was on the run. That, by the way, was so much fun. I have a degree in journalism, so I was eating up every moment of the tour. We did a little bit of shopping and TONS of walking around Atlanta. It was a good afternoon. And I never really stopped moving, which is always a good thing.
And now, I’ve retired back to the hotel room where I am about to do my stretches and resistance band work. Law & Order SVU is on…and I’m feeling content. I was so nervous about this race going into it…and I’m content with what happened and how I did. Sure…slightly disappointed…but you know…this one had to be about running smart. It just had to be that way.
So…my official results of the Publix Georgia Marathon are that I finished in a time of 3:51:32 (for 26.47 miles). I wasn’t expecting to go sub-4 on this one, so this was a very nice surprise. I was 296/1628 finishers overall. I was the 64/647 female to cross the finish line. And I was 10/98 in my division. Was this the marathon I wanted? Absolutely not. But…it was the best marathon I could have given the circumstances I was under. I ran smart…I listened to my body…and I crossed that finish line.
Race: Marshall University Marathon
Place: Huntington, WV
Date: November 10, 2013
Yep…just like the movie. And as a self-proclaimed lover of Matthew McConaughey, who starred as head coach Jack Lengyel in the film about the 1970 plane crash that killed 37 football players on the Marshall University Thundering Herd football team, as well as 5 of the coaches, 2 athletic trainers, the athletic director, 25 boosters, and a crew of five. I loved this movie and watching how the university, the football program, and the community begins to rebuild and heal from the tragedy.
So, here I am…just a month from my first marathon (Chicago), and I find myself in the city of Huntington, West Virginia. Aside from Marshall University being located there, some of you may recall that Huntington got a lot of notoriety back in 2010 when Jamie Oliver rolled into town for the television program, Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution, in which he set out to reform the school lunch programs, help American society fight obesity, and change their eating habits in order to live healthier and longer lives. Why Huntington? Because in 2010, Huntington, West Virginia was recognized statistically as one of the unhealthiest cities in the country.
So, ultimately, I knew about Huntington, West Virginia. Because…well…I watch anything with Matthew McConaughey and I am a foodie and totally drank in everything that happened when Jamie Oliver rolled into Huntington, West Virginia to attempt to change the way people there lived.
I also was unaware that Marshall University hosted a marathon, half marathon, and 5K…until my roomie, Cathy, stumbled upon it.
So, I signed up.
And that’s why, after a very fast 3 mile shake-out run on Saturday morning, a shower, and some gluten-free pumpkin chocolate chip pancakes (homemade because…I’m chef-y like that), Cathy and I finished packing, loaded up the car, and made the almost 3 hour drive to Huntington, West Virginia.
We rolled into town around 1:15 p.m. and immediately set out to find the expo. We weren’t staying in Huntington, rather just across the bridge in Ohio. And check-in time at the hotel wasn’t until 3 p.m. We had some time to kill. The directions to the expo were quite vague. All we had was that it was located on the corner of 5th Avenue and 29th Street. Should be easy to find, right? I saw it…but Cathy said it wasn’t there and kept on driving. So we made a couple of loops before I told her to head back to the corner of 5th and 29th. She spotted it this time. So, we pulled in…parked…and headed to the very small expo. Oddly enough, the Website for this marathon said the venue for packet pickup was moved to a more spacious area…we were in a hallway…so I wonder how small it has been in the past few years…
Anyway…the longest line in there was for the half marathon, which seems to be the most popular of the races that they offer this weekend. I stepped in and was asked which race I was running. I said the marathon and they directed me to the table immediately to my left, that had virtually no line at all. None. Just a few people getting their bags with their swag inside. Oh…and their bib number. I gave my name and they grabbed my t-shirt and jacket…yes…jacket and passed that over to me with the little backpack. My number (#529) was given to me and I snagged a few safety pins. That was done. Having learned my lesson at previous races, I pulled out the t-shirt and noticed that the medium was definitely going to be too big for me. So…I went to find where to exchange it for a small. Unfortunately…there were no more women’s smalls. There was an extra small…so I tried it…and it’s a perfect fit. They did say the shirts were running big this year. No kidding. My jacket is a little big…but I like it that way. Room for layers. It’s an official Asics branded jacket with the marathon logo on the back. Oh…but the fun doesn’t stop there, friends…
Because Marshall University is known for its football team…the Thundering Herd…you also get the opportunity to purchase a Marshall University football. It was $30…but I had to have one. I mean…who else does this?!! I love something unique with a race. Even better…you could have your football tossed to you as you run into the finish line. That’s actually one of the draws of this race. About 100 yards from the finish, you have the choice to carry a football with you. Some you can keep…some you have to give back. I wanted mine. So…I was given a green ribbon to hook onto my bib that said “FOOTBALL” on it. GAME ON. I was way too excited for my own good. Over a football.
Oh…and it just so happened that Bart Yasso was at the expo as well. He was near the table with the footballs, and as no one was in his line I stepped over to talk to him. I told him that I had missed the chance to see him in Chicago, my first marathon, so I was excited to get to meet him now. He was very nice and we spoke a lot about races and upcoming events. He was so easy to talk to. I asked to get a picture and he graciously complied. SO much love for this guy. Makes me want to give those Yasso 800s a real try.
That was pretty much all there was to the expo…so Cathy and I left and headed downtown. I really wanted to see Huntington’s Kitchen (formerly Jamie’s Kitchen from the aforementioned Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution television series. It was closed, but we did find it and I got my foodie nerd on by taking a picture out front. Then, we headed across the street to the small little shopping center and went into a bookstore and just walked around. The wind was gusting hard at this point, so stepping into a shop was nice. I ended up purchasing Bart Yasso’s book, ironically. Go figure. It was still too soon to check into the hotel or get dinner, so we decided we’d hit up the local frozen yogurt place for some dessert. I mean…break the rules at times and get dessert first. It was really delicious…and they had so many gluten-free options. I was in heaven. After getting dessert, we headed to the hotel in Ohio and checked in…watched some Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives on Food Network…then…around 4:30, left to go get my prerequisite gluten-free pizza from a place called Husson’s. It was recommended to me by my friend Keith…and I trust Keith (he is also a gluten-free runner). Cathy and I split the 10 inch gluten-free pizza, which we topped off with tomato and pineapple…and it was…okay. I’ve had really, really good gluten-free pizza…so this was just mediocre. The sauce, however, was killer. With that taken care of…it was time to get back to the hotel so I could foam roll and relax before getting to bed. I even laid out my race outfit and had everything ready to go for the early morning alarm. Then, I settled in to watch more Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives…because that’s how I do race weekend!
At 9 p.m., however, it was lights out. And I actually fell asleep in good time. However, around 2 a.m., I woke up from a dream where I was 20 minutes late for the race. No joke. Restlessness set in the rest of the night, because while I knew I had an alarm set for 4 a.m., I was now worried I’d not hear it or just not make it to that start line in time. Stress!
That alarm went off at 4 a.m., and I had a bit of trouble turning it off, but I managed without waking Cathy up. I think she’s immune to my alarm on my phone now. Anyway…I got out of bed, went into the bathroom and began to go through my race morning routine. I got dressed, did my hair, and then got out some water and the cereal I brought with me. This race it was Van’s Gluten-Free Cinnamon Heaven cereal. I ate it dry, as I always do on race morning. Cathy got up around 4:45 and she fixed herself up some food to eat and then went and got dressed. I got my water bottles loaded with regular water and one with electrolytes, then loaded up my GU packets to take at similar intervals as I did Chicago. I grabbed some wet wipes from our bathroom and tissues…just in case. Then, I laced up my Newtons for the first time I’ve worn them over 13 miles. I was ready. So was Cathy. So, she got her hotel key and I grabbed the bananas for pre-race fuel. We were out the door and down to the car to make the short drive over to Huntington.
We made fantastic time, pulled into the stadium and parked without a problem. It was chilly out that morning, so we sat in the car with the heat going until around 6:15 a.m. After that, I finally knew it was time to get out and get acclimated and ready to race. We headed toward the stadium and stopped to admire the really cool statue built into the facade. I had to get a picture with it. Then we stepped inside out of the cold. I made use of the flushing toilets and then came out to get some stretching done. It was still chilly inside…because stadiums aren’t full enclosed, but it was better than being completely out in the air. Around 6:30 a.m., I ate my banana, did a little more stretching…then stepped out to honestly get acclimated.
Runners for all the races were beginning to line the sidewalk on 3rd Avenue. I kept getting asked if this was where the start of the race was. I kept saying I had no clue…but this was where the pacers were, so we were in the right spot. Soon, they completely closed the road and runners took over the entire width of 3rd Avenue. I wasn’t lining up with pacers at all, so instead I met some new friends who were so much fun to talk with at the beginning. It really just kept nerves down. The announcer came on and gave a few short announcements. Bart Yasso came on the speaker to wish everyone luck. The national anthem was sung…although I couldn’t find a flag. And then…we were given a blessing for a safe race for all. Then…we were given a count down and a horn.
All the runners around me were asking where the start line was. Apparently the timers were off to the side near a flag, but everyone was looking for the strip on the ground…and there wasn’t one. I just started my Garmin and hoped for the best. Off I went…Marshall Marathon!
The first two miles of this race were really, really bottle-necked. I mean, runners were running tight, so there was really no getting around them. You just had to wait for a break and hope you could make it through. I did a little bobbing and weaving, but this did help me keep my speed in check coming out of the gate. So there is the positive. The course for the marathon was a loop that is run twice. So, even though this course was advertised as fast and flat (which…it is not flat! Remember…if a race says it has a flat course, you better believe there will be some hills!), there were some more challenging aspects. The roads were not completely closed throughout the course, for one thing, so we were running in one lane. The streets in Huntington are really, really, banked, and with the road partially open, I couldn’t switch sides like I did in Chicago. UGH! But, you just make it work as best you can. As I rounded into Mile 2, Cathy was standing on the corner, waving my sign, and screaming at me. It was awesome. Of course, then a little further in, the road changed from pavement to brick. Not just that…we tackled the first hill.
There wasn’t a lot of crowd support in this race, which definitely makes it more of a mental challenge. In Chicago, I forgot I was running at times. There was just so much going on and so much to drink in. At the Marshall University Marathon, while there were some clumps of people here and there, much of the race was pretty solitary. Just you…the other runners…and the road. It was a huge challenge.
As I rounded out of Mile 6, we entered onto the park area, which meant we went from pavement to this sort of worn dirt trail. There was loose gravel and it just really meant changing up the stride. It was around here that I had one of the worst side stitches ever. It was painful. So, I eased up on my pace, pressed on my side, drank down some water, and breathed deep. It last through around Mile 9, and I was just focusing on the path I was running. The side stitch did subside, just as I neared Mile 9. Which was perfect timing because who was standing at that mile marker? Bart Yasso!! He spotted me, pointed at me and said, “You’re looking good, girl!” Pardon the minor fangirl runner squee. We were finally dumped back onto the actual road soon after that, thank goodness!! I was already dreading that portion in the second loop. But, it was best to focus on the task at hand. The next few miles were enough to get my warmed up enough to ditch the gloves after we ran by the Ohio River. This was around Mile 12. I figured I wouldn’t need them anymore. Lesson…learned! But, I reached the split where the half marathoners were sent into the stadium to finish and the marathoners were sent through campus. I went the way fewer people were going. I was told at the entrance to follow the green arrows, so…I did. And eventually I came out of the campus grounds and onto the road. Mile 13…and who is standing there? Cathy. And she is screaming. And she has people standing with her who are screaming my name and cheering me on. She recruited people…that’s awesome! I hit the halfway point with a great time, I felt, at 1:43:43. Not too bad.
Fierce, strong, and crazy winds that stuck with those on the marathon from Mile 13 to Mile 19. A strong headwind that was 14 mph with gusts up to 21 mph. It was stupid insane. At points, I felt like I wasn’t even moving. I saw some runners come to a walk because they didn’t want to expend too much energy just battling the wind. I eased up. I drank some water. I just was determined to finish strong. The wind, however, was definitely adding a new level of difficulty to the course. And I was not happy about it. It was a cold, strong wind…that apparently, according to Cathy, was ripping down the banners inside the stadium. I saw some runners lose their bibs. It was stupid strong. I did have one more Cathy sighting at Mile 15 where she shouted and screamed and waved the sign…but after that…the crowd support was pretty much limited to the volunteers and maybe the people in the park. When you’re running 26.2 miles, that crowd becomes your lifeline. And I definitely missed having that noise and distraction this time around.
The second loop felt so much harder than the first one did. The wind was part of it, and I did have to push harder than I would have liked to get through. But, you just do what you can. Race day can be so unpredictable. I actually welcomed the trail this time because at least the wind was no longer at my head. It was coming at me from the side. It was a little reprieve. I ticked off those miles as well as I could, but I was really starting to feel the lack of oomph in my stride. What I needed was a crowd. Some cheering. Something. But…there was none to be found.
Instead, I put my head back into the game and focused on the task of finishing. Miles 22 through the finish were back on the streets and off the path…which made it a little easier to run. I did what I could…but knew the magic I felt in Chicago was not coming back for this race. I pressed on, feeling determined to reach that finish line. I’d go mile by mile…taking it one step at a time. I had no time goal for this one, being that it was so close to my last marathon…so that was not an issue for me. I just felt a little let down with myself. Like…I could have done so much better.
Finally, the stadium came into view and I knew I was nearing the end of the race. We were sent back through campus and then turned to the left this time to head toward the stadium. Almost there. I pushed as much as I could at this point. At least there was a crowd here. The steep hill down into the stadium made me pull up. I didn’t want to tear up my quads…and it was really steep. Once I hit the AstroTurf, however, I was ready to cross that finish. I rounded the corner and headed toward the guy passing out footballs. He tossed it to me. Somehow my hands functioned enough to hold onto it and I ran it all the way to the finish line. I wanted to spike it, but I had people in the way, so, I simply held onto it and “Bolted” as I said I would. Then I handed it to the guy collecting footballs and moved on.
Cathy met me at the end of the chute. I looked over at her and said the first thing that came to mind:
“That one hurt.”
And it did. My knee was twinging at me, but I made my way over to the big vat of ice that held water bottles. I grabbed two of them and went to move out of the way. I wanted to get my feet up. First things first…I put my name on the list for a massage. Then, it was over to the dirt path to settle in and put my feet up. I called my mom at this point, but she was busy doing inventory at her job so I kept it short and she promised she would call back later. After about 5 minutes, I sat up and drank down some water. Cathy had my phone and was checking the results.
Despite having one of the hardest races of my life…struggling with the wind and my own mind…I placed third in my age division. IN. A. MARATHON. I was elated. I was shocked. I was ready to get up and move around some more, because I knew that after the race and a quick trip back to the hotel, the car was my destiny, which meant I wouldn’t have the opportunity to stretch it out and keep moving like I did in Chicago. I moved around the field for a bit until it was time for my massage. I, thankfully, got the guy with the giant heating pad, which he put over my back. The massage felt awesome and I was so glad I got one. While that was going on, Cathy set out to find out about age division awards. She wasn’t successful, and returned just as my massage was finishing.
After that, we set out on a mission to find out about awards. It took awhile, but we finally spotted a guy carrying an award and talking to one of his buddies about it. Cathy asked where he got it and he directed us to the other side of the red tent on the field. I went over there and spoke to the gentleman behind the table. He only had the half marathon results so we had to wait. They were having printer problems trying to do the full marathon. About 20-30 minutes later, it was resolved and I received my age division award…a gorgeous blown glass vase done by a local company. It is really beautiful. I had to stick around to get the award because they weren’t mailing them this year. The staff of this race is all volunteers and it makes that task nearly impossible.
After I picked up the award, it was time to head back to the hotel. I made it up an incline, past the statue in the side of the building and to the car. I got inside and it was a quick zip over the river to Ohio and the waiting hotel. We asked for a late checkout time, but it was going to need to be later now since we had to wait on the age division award. I went up to the room to shower…Cathy made arrangements for us to check out at 1 p.m. Except the hotel key wasn’t working. So when she got up there, she had to go back down to the desk and get the key working again. Finally…I was in the room, heading for a nice, hot, relaxing shower.
I was dreading the car ride…but it had to happen. I was also craving grapes. So we stopped off at a travel center and I managed to find this huge cup of grapes. I had to have it…and some more water. Then, the car ride to Lexington. I was starving and while I had wanted to stop frequently to stretch out my legs…I wanted to get to my gluten-free pasta for lunch more. So…we drove through to Lexington, stopping at Bella Notte, my favorite place to eat in Lexington, where I can safely get gluten-free pasta. After that, we walked over to the nearby Half Price Books, where my mom called me back. I talked to her and shopped…and ended up buying a couple of things. Then, it was a hike back to the car, and our last leg into Louisville. We got into town, went to Whole Foods to finish up grocery shopping for the week, hit up the Comfy Cow for some ice cream as a reward for a great race, and then…HOME!
Despite the conditions with the wind (you can’t predict mother nature!), I did enjoy this race. The lack of crowd support does mean you are quite aware of every moment you are actually running in this race. So, if you love to have that crowd as a distraction…this is not the race to run. It was very well organized, however, and it was a lot of fun. The course, while not flat as advertised, wasn’t bad. Loops are a bit daunting though…because you know what’s coming the second time around. But that’s both good and bad. I fought hard for this one and am quite proud of what I accomplished in Huntington.
Official results of the Marshall University Marathon are that I finished in a time of 3:35:55…which I’ll take with a smile on my face. Considering I was down and out for that second loop, the fact that I finished in sub 3:40:00 is still a mystery to me on how I manged it. I do wonder, though, had conditions been different, had that wind not been so defeating, would I have bettered my Chicago time? I can’t dwell on that, however. Because this race wasn’t meant to be run for time. And as disappointed as I am with some of my mile splits, I fought for this one. I dug deep and I really found my strong. I was 84/614 runners overall. I was 10/235 women to cross the finish line. And I was 3/35 in my age division. Despite it all…I’m still smiling.
I’m also enjoying my rest days. I’ve earned them.
Running two marathons within a month of each other will tear you down, and now I am in the rebuilding phase. This marathon really got into my head. It was a mental challenge and a physical challenge. And when I am back out on the roads, I am going to keep in mind how much I fought on this one…and come back ready to get stronger and better. Part of me feels defeated by this one…like it bested me…but the other part of me reminds me that I finished and I finished strong. And while this wasn’t a “good” race as far as how I felt during the event, it was a good reminder that good days and bad days happen…you just roll with it. And if the results you get aren’t want you hoped for…adapt and overcome. It’s hard…but it sure beats the “WHAT IF…” questions your mind will throw at you. I hold my head high and stand proud. This took a lot out of me and showed me just what I was made of.
Huntington, West Virginia…thank you for giving me this opportunity. I will forever treasure the lessons I learned on the roads through your city.
Race: Big Hit Half Marathon
Place: Louisville, Kentucky
Date: October 26, 2013
Ah…the Big Hit Half Marathon (and Quarter Marathon). It’s come around again. This is the third year these two races have run and this is my third year running it. The only difference this year…I chose to do the Big Hit Half Marathon as opposed to the Big Hit Quarter Marathon that I ran the two years prior.
Because last year when I ran the Quarter Marathon, I placed first in my division. So, when you conquer one thing…you move to the next, yes? So…instead of 6.55 miles this year, I opted for the full 13.1 miles in the half. I was very excited to be changing it up this year and going for the full. While I absolutely love the Quarter Marathon…I was ready to see the course for the Half. So, with a Groupon that gave me half off registration, I signed up…treating this as a training run as I’m still in recovery from the Chicago Marathon.
And then…the weather reports came in.
Every day, the Facebook page for the Big Hit Half Marathon posted the temperature at race time…and it would get colder and colder each time. I was unamused. Because…I hate running in pants. But it does get to the point where it’s just stupid to wear shorts. And when it hits 30 degrees…feels like 29 degrees with the wind…it’s stupid to wear shorts. Although I had a big debate with myself about this…and on the morning of the race, opted to be smart and put on capris at least.
But I’m getting ahead of myself…as usual. This tale begins on Friday…at lunch time. That was when I headed over the river to get to Slugger Field to pick up my packet. There wasn’t much of an expo for this one. It was much smaller than the two years previous. In fact, while there was never a huge expo for the Big Hit…it actually had some vendors the two years prior. This year…there was a table with the awards…and there was also a table from our local Fleet Feet store. Other than that…the small space that the packet pick-up was held this year had the tables with the race numbers for bib and t-shirt pick up. The race bags also contained a few snacks. So, that was nice. But, I wasn’t used to the much downplayed for this race. The Louisville Sports Commission…yes…but not the Big Hit.
But…you can’t judge a race by its expo…or lack thereof.
Anyway…after work that night, I was committed to attending a fun little Halloween party at Louisville’s very own allergy-free bakery, Annie May’s Sweet Café. Friday happens to be gluten-free pizza night there…and the pizza at Annie May’s is the best when it comes to gluten-free. We all know, the night before the race is gluten-free pizza night for me. Keeping the flavors simple, Cathy and I split a gluten-free pizza with Daiya vegan cheese and tomatoes. Nothing spicy or heavy. And we each also got one of the gluten-free soft pretzels. If you are in Louisville in January when Annie May’s brings these back to the weekly rotation…GO AND GET ONE!! Carbed up…the next plan was to go to the pumpkin walk at Iroquois Park…but we were in costumes…and having fun with that, so instead we went to the mall and walked around. So much fun.
But…alas…there was a race the next morning…so we needed to get home so I could turn in and get some much needed rest before the race. I had laid out shorts…being optimistic about the weather. However, when I woke up the following morning and went to do a temperature check…I knew shorts were not happening. Nope. So…out came the capris.
Did I mention that I hate wearing pants? I was totally not feeling like running that morning. But…when you pay good money for a race, unless there are extenuating circumstances…you get your ass to that race. Even if this was being treated as an easy run…since recovery is important…no all-out racing until I recover from Chicago completely…I really, really wasn’t feeling it…at all. Dressed, I ate my cereal and got my change of clothing and whatever else I might need together. Cathy eventually got out of bed and downed some breakfast as well.
After some manic morning stuff, as usual, I got pinned up and let it be known to Cathy that I just wasn’t having a good morning. You know how I mention how amazing I felt at Chicago for the marathon. Yeah…this was the complete opposite. Cold weather and I are arch nemesis’…and today…the cold weather was winning. Especially since the wind was going to pick up and get stronger as the day went on. That being said, we grabbed the race bag, the sign, some snacks, and I filled my fuel belt (one bottle with water, one with Gatorade), snatched up the pre-race banana…and we were out the door, making the drive to Slugger Field. That ride was one of the easiest we had going to a race in Louisville. Honestly. At least there was that. We parked in the lot at Slugger Field and went to go inside, only to have signs directing us to the very small area where packet pickup occurred the day before. This mean…we had to walk around the building, still in the cold, and duck inside. It wasn’t too crowded…but we got away from those doors and ducked into this middle section. I immediately went to use one of the flushing toilets in the stadium…and to my surprise…there was no line. Business taken care of, it was back to shivering and playing the waiting game. It was cold…so when I finally decided I needed to be stretching…it was my half-assed “I’m too cold to stretch” kind of stretching. Good times.
Yep. I’m a wimp.
One of my BlueMile peeps, Kathryn, spotted Cathy and I and we stood around talking. She was in search of Harry, one of the best people in the world to run with, as she was hoping to run with him during the half marathon. We hadn’t seen him, but he wandered through shortly thereafter. Then Terry, another one of my running peeps, stopped by to talk. He had just been diagnosed with a torn meniscus in his knee, but it was his birthday…and he had a cortisone shot, so he was prepped to give the half marathon a go. He was also in search of Harry, so when he wandered back through…and went to follow him. Cathy and Tarry managed to follow him through the crowd of gathering runners. Somehow, Kathryn and I lost them. How we lose a girl wearing a blanket is beyond me. But it happened. And it took us a bit of time to find them again. Soon after we did though, the running group peeps joined up. Tammy, Laura, Mike…it was awesome.
Although we were all quite warm standing inside the stadium…the start was about 10 minutes away. We knew it was time to head outside and down to the start line. So, together we all braved the cold morning air, left the comfort of the inner sanctum of Slugger Field, and stepped out into the wintery air of downtown Louisville. It wasn’t a long walk to the start line…but it sure was cold. Cathy and I sort of led the way for the group, but we paused at the start line to take a group shot of those who managed to stick with us. I finally unzipped my hoodie…so the race bib was visible. I think that was out of habit, LOL! Damn you MarathonPhoto!!
And then…we were off to spread out and get to about where we needed to be for the start. Little purple balloons hovered over the sea of runners doing both the half marathon and the quarter marathon. I lined up just slightly back from the 1:45 pace balloon. When I ran Disneyland as a training run, I came in just after 1:42…so I knew this would be a good spot for me to keep me at my training pace.
Some announcements were being made…and I heard Laura and Mike behind me. Laura spotted Natalie, who we were missing at the start. She hadn’t been feeling well, but she was here. So, I went over to give her a good luck hug. Also found Michael and Patrick with her too. Okay…everyone was present and accounted for. That was good. I sneaked back to where I was for the start, finding Dennis from my Saturday running group…and when the announcements none of us could actually hear were done…we were off.
The wave of runners at the beginning of most races in Louisville is chaos. While pace groups dotted the start of this race…not everyone really adheres to where they need to be. I was just doing this for training…so I didn’t care. I just bobbed and weaved through the sea of people as best I could as we traveled down River Road. We were sent that way for about half a mile then we were turned around at a traffic cone and sent back the way we came, going by the start line, and clocking in for the first mile. This year’s course was changed slightly due to the construction going on for the new bridge. Hence…the wonkiness of the start. I was feeling good, but I knew I went out fast and was just trying to get ahead of some of the people I was dodging. So, I eased up…wanting to really abide by my training. I tucked into a nice spot, about 20 feet behind Tammy and two of her friends. I remained there up until about Mile 3…when I pushed past. Tammy was running the Quarter Marathon, so she was halfway there. I still had 10 miles to go. As I passed, she said, “Go Karen! Get it!” I love her!
The thing about the Big Hit Half Marathon and Quarter Marathon is that there isn’t a lot of crowd support happening. Nope. It was very desolate throughout much of the race. Those who volunteered at the aid stations were fantastic…there were even little children who came up with cheers for the runners as they ran by. That was so good. But for much of the time on the road…no crowds. Maybe a pedestrian who was happening by would stop and clap and cheer…but that was it. It made this half marathon more of a mental game than anything. I’m used to at least having some crowd support throughout most races…so this was a bit more like a Disney race…just…with even less support than you find during Disney runs. Because at least when you are in the parks you have a crowd. We were on the roads…and there wasn’t much going on. At Mile 5, the courses split. The Quarter Marathoners went to the left, heading into their last bit of their race, ending at home plate in Slugger Field. Half Marathon runners went to the right, taking Third Street all the way down to Central Avenue. We turned around again, with a quick switchback on Central Avenue before hitting Mile 8.
As I was heading back up Third Street, Harry spotted me as he was running the other way. So did Kathryn soon after that. And after her…Terry. All of them shouted my name and we waved and cheered for each other. I love my running peeps. I was feeling good as I headed into Mile 9 and 10, so I picked it up a little…hitting a brilliant Mile 11. I was two miles out. Still feeling good. The sun was out…and despite the very strong headwind now, I was having a good run and a good time. I was actually starting to feel like I was too warm for my liking. This is what happened at Chicago too. I really need to figure out my running comfort zone when it comes to temperatures. Regardless…the last mile was in reach, and as I turned onto Witherspoon, I could see Slugger Field and even hear the announcer in the distance. LOVED that.
This has always been my favorite part of the Big Hit race. As you come onto Witherspoon, you turn and run into the back entrance of Slugger Field. This puts you on the very back out of the outfield, near the wall. You can see the Finish Line at home plate and you just pick it up, and you run like you just hit a grand slam home run. You round the corner onto the third base line, and you hit the white cover that is laid out. You’re almost to the finish. And for me, I was looking at that clock over the finish line and pushing and pushing and pushing. I touched home plate…and was done.
I paused my Garmin and received a temporary finisher’s medal. Yes…temporary. As I slipped it over my head, I heard, “Karen…let me get a picture!” I looked at it was the MarathonPhoto photographer I got to know really well during the Louisville Triple Crown of Running this past winter. So that was awesome! I posed and then moved on to get the timing chip cut off my shoes. Cathy was waving my sign at me and I pointed at her and screamed, “PR!!” It wasn’t planned, but man…I felt so good. After getting the timing chip removed, I grabbed some of the offered snacks. I got a granola bar for Cathy, and grabbed a half banana and an slice of orange for myself. Along with some water. Then, I made my way up the steps, feeling my knee once again aching, but ignoring that. I stopped off at the results tent and they printed up my real-time results…and without even looking at them, I went to find where Cathy was camped.
She and Natalie (who ran the Quarter Marathon) were standing there and ready to give me hugs. I handed the results off to Cathy while I chatted up Natalie about how her race went. She did amazing. Even came in first in her age division. In fact, a lot of my group placed in their divisions for each race. I didn’t…but I wasn’t aiming to. All I knew was somehow I managed to clock a new fastest half marathon time. I didn’t know what it was officially, but it beet Lake Minnetonka…but at least a full minute. So, after I managed to eat my banana and orange, I asked Cathy for the results and we finally took a look at them.
My official results for the Big Hit Half Marathon are that I finished this 13.1 miles in 1:39:00. Holy cow!! And yes…that is my exact time. LOL!! A new PR!! I was so very proud because I wasn’t even aiming for a new PR. I was just running a comfortable pace and enjoying my run. Love when magic happens. I was 57/799 finishers overall. I was 10/440 females to cross the finish line and touch that home plate. And…I was 4/92 in my age division. I couldn’t have been happier with those results.
As much as I wanted to hang out and see my peeps get their awards for their division placements…I was cold and hungry. We walked Natalie to her car, as we had wrapped her up in the warm Sherpa blanket. And then…after congratulating her again, we headed to our car to get over to Annie May’s Sweet Café for some post-race food.
I always have a good time running in the Big Hit races. I was so happy to step up and move to the Half Marathon this year. I knew I could have rocked that Quarter…but since I needed 12 miles anyway…paced…this was the perfect opportunity to test it out. I stayed at my race pace the entire time. And even had negative splits. Can’t argue with those results.
Oh, and as for the finisher’s medals…it seems that they didn’t ship in time, so they hadn’t received them yet. As a consolation, the race provided temporary ones that we get to keep and will mail the official ones to us this week. I thought it was great of them to have medals to supplment for the runners. They didn’t have to do that, but they did. And that’s part of what makes this race so amazing.
Big Hit Half Marathon…I do intend to run you again next year. Thanks for always being awesome.
Race: Bank of America Chicago Marathon
Place: Chicago, Illinois
Date: October 13, 2013
I just ran my first marathon! My first 26.2 miles. I ran it through 29 neighborhoods in Chicago. I ran it strong. I never hit a wall. I had a plan. I stuck with it. And I had some of the best support on the ground I could have ever asked for at a race. The weather was perfect. And I, honestly, had the time of my life.
How many people can say that when they’re running 26.2 miles, eh?
But this post doesn’t start at the race. This post started 18 weeks ago when I not only began a challenging training program, but also took it upon myself to find a sports nutritionist because I wanted to be sure that I got to this race and was able to run this race in the best shape possible…and ready. There are so many times before where I did so many things wrong…especially when it came to fueling and hydrating during races. I didn’t want that to happen here. You only get your first marathon once. I wanted it to be a good and happy memory. So, Donna, if you are reading this, all your advice and help really, really paid off. I listened to you about how to fuel properly for a marathon, how to hydrate properly for a marathon, what to eat, what to avoid, and how to figure out what worked best for me. Some weeks were better than others…but that’s why we have those 18 weeks of training. You figure it all out.
So, as the taper kicked in and my mood shifted from runner’s high to evil step-runner mode (I do NOT handle taper well. Let this be my PSA to all of you), I had to really trust my body and try not to let the mental game of…running less = poor performance get to me. Mind games. They happen. I was very respectful of my taper, doing exactly as my plan called for. That meant the week leading into my marathon, I didn’t run much. For three days, I ran 4 miles each morning. Two of them were at marathon pace. One was more speed work and pacing related. Then…two full days off. No running. No morning walks. Zero. Zilch. Nada. Rest the legs. Get them ready. I wanted to run so bad during those days…but I didn’t. I made myself rest. It was two of the hardest days of my life.
Friday night, my friend Jenn from Ohio rolled into town. She has been to quite a few of my races and is such a huge support. She wasn’t going to miss the opportunity to come to Chicago to see me run. Nope. So, she headed this way and got in as I was still trying to make myself pack for the race. I was distracting myself. With everything. Including organizing my BondiBand’s by color. Packing…yeah…focus. She and Cathy got me on task, and once my running bag and my regular duffel bag were packed with what I could pack that night…the three of us headed out to grab some dinner.
Since it had been way too long since Jenn had come into the area, I had her pick a place where we could eat dinner. I sent her places that had options for everyone, including me. And she surprised me when she chose Dakshin, a local and amazing Indian restaurant. I threw it on the list because I knew it had good food. Never did I expect Jenn to pick it. But she did. And I was proud of her for branching out. So, we made the drive over to Dakshin and settled in for some crazy-good Indian food. If you live in Louisville and haven’t tried this place…DO IT! Since it was only two days to my marathon, I was being extra cautious about my food. Being a Celiac means being so careful when it comes to eating out. I wanted carbs and protein…so I ordered the Dal Tadke Wali…which is home style yellow lentils which are tempered with Indian spices. YUMMY! It was served with this delicious basmati rice that has coriander seeds and various Indian spices cooked in with it. Keep that in mind as you scoop it onto your plate…FYI! Needless to say…the food was delicious and Indian food is one of my favorite cuisines anyway. I don’t get the authentic stuff often…so this really made me happy. Cathy, in case you were wondering, chose the Goat Korma…which was apparently spicy. Jenn went with the safe, but still off the beaten path for her, Tandoori Chicken. It was spicy for her too. So, with me being the one who loves spice…I got the mildest meal of all three of us. Go figure. Anyway…after our amazing food, we went to celebrate the upcoming race with some ice cream from The Comfy Cow. I was a Pumpkin Spice and Everything Nice scooper. Hey…marathon training means ice cream. This was Jenn’s first taste of Comfy Cow ice cream, so she went with the Bonjour Toast offering. Cathy went with Vermont Maple Walnut. With full bellies…we headed back to the apartment to settle in for the evening and watch Spirit of the Marathon to get keyed up for Sunday…and followed it up with Marathon Thoughts…which if you haven’t pulled that up on YouTube…shame on you. Do so now!
We crashed out that evening at a decent time. The people downstairs were having a party, so sleep wasn’t easy and I didn’t get much of it. My alarm went off early…because my training plan called for me to do 3 miles or 30 minutes of running that day. Since we had a drive to Chicago ahead of us, I got out of bed, put on my running clothes, my reflective gear, and headed out to run. The rest days were good for me…and my legs felt good as I pushed through three very early miles. I came back and snuck inside so as not to wake anyone yet. Went to shower and finish packing. Then, Jenn was up. And soon Cathy was as well. We ate a quick breakfast (cereal and some gluten-free French toast sticks…which…eh…) before packing up the car with all of our stuff, a cooler of drinks and snacks, and hit the road to Chicago. We had to detour around Indianapolis due to Highway 65 being shut down going through downtown, so this tacked on some time. My friend Heather, like one of my best friends who I have known since third grade!, was in Chicago to see me run. She flew in from Minnesota for the occasion and texted to let me know she was there and grabbing some breakfast. We had hoped to get in around 10 a.m. We got there around 11 a.m. We met up with Heather at the Hilton Chicago, the host hotel, and the hotel we were staying in for the weekend. We valeted the car, put our luggage on a cart to be delivered, and I got us checked into the hotel. We were up on the 8th Floor…which just happened to be the floor where many of the elites were staying. The luggage would be up shortly, but the four of us headed up to the room. The first set of keys I was given, didn’t work…so I headed back down to the lobby to get that fixed. There was a much longer line now and more of a wait. But, I just let it roll off my back. These things happen. No sense getting worked up over it, right? The key situation was fixed and we got some commemorative keys to boot. LOVE them. Back up to the room and my friends were already inside. I closed myself out just to make sure the keys worked this time. They did. And soon after…luggage was delivered.
This is how I know my friends are totally amazing. The guy bringing in our luggage carried in the famous Donkey sign first, saying the most important thing had to come in first. He immediately put it up in the window facing the lake. It made me smile…a lot. As he was bringing in our bags and cooler, he was asking questions about the race…and I mentioned it was my first marathon. He said to my friends that they had a long day ahead of them tomorrow…at least a 4 hour or 4-1/2 hour wait for me to come in. To which, Heather chimes…”Nope. She’ll run it in 3:30.” Cathy and Jenn totally ran with that as well and I just nervously laughed. He asked what my number was because he’d have his eye on me. So, we told him, tipped him, and he was gone. With that bit of business taken care of…and bathroom breaks made, we hurried downstairs to 8th Street entrance of the Hilton and got in line for the shuttle buses to take us over to McCormick Place, where the expo was awaiting us. The first bus that arrived filled up fast…but we got on the next one and soon were on our way to the expo.
Lately, my race expos have been tiny and rather…disappointing. Utica…was probably the best one I had been to all year…and I’m not counting Disney races in this. Disney is a monster all its own. But this expo…was HUGE!! We walked into McCormick Place and just followed the sea of runners…which guided us to the monstrous exhibit hall where all things running related were happening. First things first, however…and that was getting my packet. I headed over to where this BIG sign declared PACKET PICK-UP, and stepped up to this little table where they scanned my participant guide and sent me over to Booth 5 to retrieve my bib number and packet. I headed that way, and my information was already pulled up and waiting on me. I was handed my bib, an envelope of information, and told where to go in order to get my race t-shirt. I grabbed some Chicago Runs For Boston bracelets for me and my friends and went to head to get my t-shirt. But…got waylaid by this awesome wall where people were able to remove a magnet and sign their name. We all did it…writing messages and the like…and keeping our magnets as mementos. Then, we got to battle the crowds. I was ready…and as we made our way up the first row of exhibitors…I just casually glanced at the booths. I was hoping to make it out of the expo without spending too much money, so the less time I looked at things, the more likely that was going to happen. I managed to get up to the tables in the back that had the t-shirts and bags for the participants. I retrieved mine…and, as I learned my lesson from Disneyland, immediately pulled out the t-shirt to make sure it was a proper fit. It was. So now…we were loose to check out the exhibitors and try to make it out with as much of my wallet in tact as possible.
It was a valiant effort…but an ultimate fail in the end. I found CEP’s booth and picked up some compression sleeves for my friend Natalie. She wanted the blue ones I wore once to the fun run…and I promised if I spotted them at the expo in Chicago in her size, I would buy them. Well…it happened. And they were now hers. Not far from there was the BondiBand booth. And my friends and I set out on a mission to find a 26.2 BondiBand. We found SO many good ones, just not 26.2. Then…we started finding them…in hideous colors. With some luck…I found two that were okay. One in blue with pink numbers, and a red and black one. I asked my friends which I should get, and since my uniform for the race was red and black…that was what we went with. I purchased two other BondiBands as well…
Oh…I also got to meet Hal Higdon. Like…THE Hal Higdon. How amazing is that? I bought his new book, 4:09:43 – The Boston Marathon Bombings, and was able to have it autographed. This happened because I get a call from Cathy saying…”I’m standing next to Hal Higdon. You better get over here!” And with some direction…yep…it happened. And I was this little fangirling runner trying not to squee and make a fool of myself. Because…DUDE…it’s Hal Higdon. AND while Hal was signing my book, right behind me on the main programming stage…Deena Kastor. DEENA KASTOR!! One of my running idles. I was…in runner heaven, I think.
But…there was much to do that day so lingering too long was not going to be an option. We were just scraping the surface of the expo. So…we made our way past booths…in which I ignored the Newton booth…because I couldn’t afford more shoes at the moment as much as I wanted another pair. We sampled different NUUN flavors. We tried some protein bars (gluten-free, of course), we walked past Scott Jurek, the vegan ultramarathoner…and I once again had to attempt not to squee!! I was doing good…not spending any more money…and we were making lots of progress through the expo.
Then, lo and behold, I hear someone calling my name. It’s Matthew and Dawn, who I run with on Saturday mornings with my group. They were up in Chicago as spectators, not runners, in this marathon and saw me walk by. In that mass of people…they spotted me. We hugged…we talked…they asked how I was feeling. I said the nerves were gone, now I was just excited. So…I was already feeling better. Lots of people I knew were here…they were going to be cheering…it was going to be a good time. They told me to have my bib scanned at the Nike booth…so I took that advice and headed that way. Bib scanned and the screen read, “Karen Owns Chicago.” SWEET! I was about to leave, after getting a free poster, when I spotted the official merchandise. No shirts though…but we were directed over to the Nike booth. UH OH!! Yeah…might as well have just drained my wallet when I walked in there. Needless to say…a jacket and a shirt later…I was now leaving the expo…because I was running out of money.
We returned to the Hilton and took things up to the room. We had a small amount of downtime to sit and chat. Heather did some foam rolling and I started to get my race outfit out and laid on the table so it was ready for the morning. We called down to valet after that to have the car brought around because now…it was time to feed our faces. I had discovered what sounded like an amazing place to get a gluten-free pizza. The place: Da Luciano Pizza, Pasta and Catering. It was located in River Grove, so it was about a 20 minute drive. We got there…went inside…and was asked if anyone needed a gluten-free menu. I was feeling good about this already. We were seated and left to look at the menus. While all the pastas sounded awesome, my pre-race tradition is gluten-free pizza. I wasn’t changing that up. Nope. So, we all placed our orders…and I got my gluten-free pizza with mushrooms, onion, and roasted red peppers. YUMMY! Food came out and I devoured my entire pizza and even ordered a gluten-free cannoli for dessert. That, BTW…was super-duper delish. The pizza was really good too. It hit the spot. And I was now properly fed (carbs!). We dropped Heather off at a train stop so she could head back to her hotel…and then we were headed back to the Hilton. We all changed, brushed our teeth, and…climbed into bed around 8:30 p.m.
This was early for me. This never happens. I always try to get to bed early on race night, but it never seems to work out. So, I immediately figured that I’d have trouble falling asleep. WRONG. I was out. And I only woke up, briefly, twice during the night with the, “What if I didn’t set my alarm?” panic I always have. I rested…and rested well.
My alarm went off at 4 a.m. and I snuck out of bed, hoping not to disturb Cathy and Jenn as I fumbled around in the dark, grabbing my outfit for the race and heading into the bathroom. I dressed. I did my hair. I came out as Jenn was heading into the other bathroom. Cathy finally dragged herself out of bed too. We all had a quick bite to eat and I was texted by Heather to say she was on her way. I wasn’t sure cereal would be enough on a marathon race morning, but was told to stick with what I knew. So that morning, I ate a serving of Chocolate Chex cereal…no milk…slowly and leisurely, as I checked my e-mail and Facebook on my phone. I had so many people wishing me luck. Text messages were coming. And just as I finished eating and went to brush my teeth, Heather texted to say she was at the hotel and heading up.
I got my fuel belt ready with my hydration needs, tucked my GU packets into my skirt pockets…and when Heather arrived…we were all set to head down to the lobby. And…with perfect timing my friend Cheryl texted to ask if I was at the Hilton. I said I was and she said her gear check was right there and she wanted to come over and see me. We made plans to meet in the lobby…which was bustling with runners. But…she found me. And we hugged and talked about the race…and took pictures…because that’s what we do. Time was nearing for me to head to the gate that would take me to my corral. So…with us each wishing each other luck and telling each other to have a good run…we parted ways. She was in the 2nd wave of runners to go out…and I was in the 1st. In fact, my corral, Corral C, was only accessible through Gate #1. Heather lead the way there…and we just talked a lot about anything but racing. We even took selfies on her phone while walking. HA! We paused at the corner and took photos with each other…rotating through and then crossed the street to Gate #1. This was as far as they were allowed to go. The security checkpoint was right there…so…they wished me luck…Jenn sent me off with her usual sayings, which are magic, I swear…and I went to get in line for the no-bag security check. One more wave…and they were off to find a spot near the start…and I was off to get to my corral.
It was still dark out, but I just sort of followed the signs to get me to Corral C. It was a bit of a hike, but not bad. Not really. I was clinging to my banana for all it was worth and trying to get the butterflies in my stomach to settle. Not nervous butterflies. The excitement was starting to build. And I was just…wanting to settle in and zen. So, I found the entrance to my corral, but didn’t go right in. I stood on the side and did some stretching…some walking…some pacing. I wanted to be loose. I wanted to clear my mind. And the moment I stepped into that corral…I wanted to be focused. So…I just paced the sidewalk for about 30 minutes, stopping to stretch out my legs every now and again. At 6:55 a.m., I peeled my banana and sent to get into Corral C. Security checked my bib number, I entered and moved up to a spot where I remained for the rest of the time. I ate my banana quicker than I intended to…but I think that was just me needing something to do. I just hoped it would stick with me long enough to get me to the point I chose to be my first fuel point. I packed an extra GU pack though, just in case I needed it. I was taking no chances. But…I was fine. The corral filled up quickly. I had to help the guy behind me start his iPod. His daughter loaded up a playlist for him, but he had no idea how to work the player. I helped him out and he thanked me. I talked to some people around me, making friends, and hearing from others about their experiences with the Chicago Marathon. Exciting! The announcer had everyone remove their hats and the National Anthem played. Runners shed clothes they wore to keep warm, and we all shivered in crisp 45 degree air. At 7:20 a.m., the wheelchair start headed out. Then, at 7:21 a.m., the handcycle racers got underway. It was 7:30 a.m. when the start officially happened…with the elites up front…and the corrals behind them. We were slowly moved up as each corral was sent off. It was so comical when those holding the rope to the corral tried to clear out as those of us in Corral C were turned loose to head to the Start. I stuck to the left of the course, because Cathy said she’d be aiming for the left side of the road…I trotted to the start…crossed the line…and was off.
This marathon runs through 29 neighborhoods of Chicago. It kicks off in Grant Park, which is beautiful, by the way. I took off from that start line, heading for the underpass we go through. The crowd was already prominent and loud. It was awesome. I started off smiling and I don’t think that grin ever left my face for one moment. Soon, I found myself in the Streeterville neighborhood, home of the Magnificent Mile, lots of luxury hotels, great shopping district, and Navy Pier. People were lined up 5 deep on the side of the road, making as much noise as possible…and just being loud. I wasn’t sure where I was going to see my friends…but I was through the first mile and didn’t see them at all. Onward.
The Loop was up next…with all the gorgeous architecture it brings to Chicago. I was heading up LaSalle Street…and just before Mile 3…I see the Donkey sign. There are Heather, Cathy, and Jenn and they are making some noise!! I think my smile grew even more. I waved as I ran by. Jenn yelled, “RUN DONKEY! RUN LIKE A PRETTY PONY!” Um…this is becoming a new mantra I think. I LOVE that. It was awesome seeing my friends as I neared the 5K mark. Pressing on, I entered Near North Side, where the streets were lined with trees, offering some shade from the sun, and residential areas as well. Then it was into Lincoln Park…then Wrigleyville (yes…Wrigley Field!)…then Lakeview East. And in Lakeview East…Boystown! Boystown is the first officially recognized gay village in the United States, and is also the cultural center of one of the largest lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender communities in the nation. This is immediately evident in the race because, aside from the rainbow flags, runners are greeted by a stage full of drag queens. It was really awesome and definitely a change in the usual mix. It made me smile! It was a party right on the course. This was one of my favorite neighborhoods to run through. The vibe was awesome.
The different neighborhoods continued…Park West, Old Town…and then…around Mile 12…River North. What made Mile 12 so damn special was that this was where Cathy and Jenn found me again on the course. Somehow I missed them. I didn’t know they were going to be there…but my eyes were always searching that crowd for my friends and my sign. How I missed it…I don’t know…but they were there and have pictures to prove it. Regardless…I must have felt them in spirit because I was still going strong! My friends are awesome. From there it was through some more of the city’s amazing neighborhoods…West Loop Gate, Greektown, and the West Loop.
I bet you’re wondering where Heather went then. Well, she already had a place in mind for where she could see me again on the course. After Mile 3…she hopped a train and found me again right around Mile 14…in front of Soul City Church. And…WOW…was she loud and cheering as I came through. I heard her above the roar of everyone else in the crowd. She wanted to be at Mile 14 because it marked the furthest I had ever gone in an official race. With 10 half marathons under my belt…13.1 miles has been the standard. She wanted to see me into that next step. And she did it with perfect Heather style!! And even got the pastor of the church to scream right along with her. What a way to take on the second half!
Near West Side was next…then Little Italy (aka: University Village). The smell of Italian food was prominent. And it smelled really good. From there it was into the Illinois Medical District. And then, as we come around toward Mile 20…the Pilsen neighborhood. Mile 20…is usually where The Wall hits. But I never even hit it. The Wall was not even a force to be reckoned with. It was dead to me. And I powered through this difficult part of the race without even slowing down. I was feeling good. My race plan for fuel and hydration was working…and fatigue wasn’t even hitting me. There was no stopping me…not here.
East Pilsen was next…followed by Chinatown. I loved Chinatown. I rounded the corner into this neighborhood and was greeted by a big, silver Chinese Dragon. The atmosphere was uplifting and awesome. And the area smelled ethnic and awesome. And it really made me want Chinese food. I haven’t had Chinese food in forever due to my food allergies. I miss it. A lot. Chinatown was SO awesome. The crowd here was massive and loud. Uplifting for sure!
Which was good because heading into Mile 23 was the hardest to contend with…because the crowds faded as we hit the industrial area. There was very little crowd support. It was only for a little over a mile though…the crowds did come back.
Bridgeport was next…then came the turn to “head home” and through the Park Boulevard neighborhood. It was straight up Michigan Avenue from that point on. The final 3 miles were upon me. And this was where I started to slow down. I felt strong, but the sun was up and the temperature was nearing 70 degrees. I was hot. But with only a 5K remaining, I was ready to give it all I had. Bronzeville…The Gap…South Commons…Prairie District…
At around Mile 26…South Loop and Central Station…where the crowd gave runners a much needed lift as all of us tackled the one hill on the course. And it was NOT nice having us run up a hill at the very end. Let me tell you though…they did their job. I slowed down just slightly as my legs really didn’t want to run up that hill, but the crowd got me there. And so did my friends, who I heard screaming for me. This was the last point they could see me at before the finish line. I was going to reunite with them in the runner reunion area afterwards. So, they were loud and awesome and I was on my way to the finish.
The Finish Line came into view and I kept smiling. I think I was smiling the entire time I was running, but that Finish line just went to show how tough I was…how far I’d come. It was beautiful. I gave my final push to cross the line and threw my arms up in victory. I finished strong. I finished feeling good. I got past the photographers and paused my Garmin. Then…immediately started crying. I didn’t hurt. I wasn’t tired. It was just I had so many doubts coming into this marathon, and then I went and did something extraordinary. I finished it far faster than I anticipated or even dreamed. Everything felt like a blur. I took a few deep breaths and kept moving…getting some water…and then receiving my finisher’s medal. Bananas…snack boxes…more water…and finisher’s photos…that all followed. I downed some Gatorade as I moved…then had some water. I made my way through the finish area toward the runner’s reunion, where I was to meet Cathy, Jenn and Heather under the letter V…because it would be less crowded than the beginning of the alphabet. I saw the sign…and my friends…and went running toward them. Cathy came up and gave me a tight hug, immediately telling me my official time. I cried some more. I cried more as Heather gave me a hug and then some more when Jenn gave me a hug. We were just…so happy! I was so FREAKIN’ happy. I made sure I drank some more water and I laid down to put my feet up while I called my parents in Birmingham, Alabama to tell them about my race and my finish. They were so thrilled and proud of me. I only wish they could have been there to share the moment as well.
After I hung up the phone, I stood up and went to get in line for a stretch and massage. The line was long, but I knew this would help in the end. While I was waiting, Cathy went off to see if she could find any official finisher’s gear. She returned about 10 minutes later (the line hadn’t moved) and handed me a gorgeous red rose and a bear wearing a Chicago 2013 26.2 t-shirt. Ironically, the bear’s name was Dean, which was a sign…had to be…since the captain of the charity (Action for Healthy Kids) that I was running for is none other than Dean Karnazes. Eventually, it was my turn for a stretch and massage. That was the best thing ever. It helped get those muscles loose. The therapist working on me mentioned how flexible I was…and I told her it was from years of yoga. After a good stretching…we decided to make our way back to The Hilton so I could get showered and changed. My intention, even though I wasn’t sore, was to take a cold shower. I turned the water on, stuck my hand in…and totally nixed that plan. I’ve never taken an ice bath or ice shower after a run, why start now? Especially when I didn’t feel I needed one. I bounce back really well from long distances on my own. Never change up the routine. Anyway…I was clean. I foam rolled. It was time to go see some sites around Chicago.
Our plan for the day was to hit up Garrett’s Popcorn for amazing popcorn of awesomesauce. Cathy promised me a gallon tin of the Cashew Caramel Crisp. We also got a small bag of the Chicago Mix…because we needed something to snack on. All of us bought our share of popcorn to enjoy…and we went walking the Miracle Mile. With Nike being one of the sponsors, they had all the official Finisher’s merchandise. So after a stop by The Bean…and The Chicago Tribune building…Nike was next. As we neared the building, employees were out cheering on everyone who was wearing one of the finisher’s medals. It really made it SO special. We ducked inside…and Cathy purchased two shirts for me…and Heather put money toward a nice pull-over (in Heather gray). After that…a walk back to the hotel. Heather needed to meet up with our friend Janet to go to church and Jenn, Cathy and I were going to grab some dinner. Instead of the Mexican place we had reservations for that night, we ended up sticking to the hotel and eating at the pub that was connected. I had a salad. They had fish and chips. From there…back up to the room to relax a little while and wait for Heather and Janet. Because gelato was on the menu for dessert. Well earned…and dessert is best when done with friends. I didn’t want the evening to end…but, much like my little cup of gelato…it did.
Sadly, it was time to say goodbye. Janet was going to get Heather to the airport, as she had to fly back to Minnesota that night. So, lots of hugs and promises to get together again soon…we parted ways. I walked Janet and Heather to the elevators and gave hugs and said goodbye…for the time being. I returned to the room and got changed into pajamas. Foam rolling was next. And then…we were all ready to settle in, watch some television, and then get some sleep.
The problem was…I couldn’t fall asleep. I was tired, but sleep just wasn’t going to come. So, all night I tossed and turned and watched the clock. I finally got out of bed…and went to change. Soon, Jenn woke up and then Cathy. Cathy and I went to walk a bit around the track at the fitness center before we finished packing everything up and getting ready to check out. Chicago was a blast…but we had a long drive ahead of us. So…after a quick jaunt to Caribou Coffee…we had our luggage loaded up, my car brought around…and we hit the road.
I am very, very proud of my accomplishment…and I know a lot of this was made possible by the people who have helped me along the way. First of all…major huge props, hugs, love, and appreciation go out to my sports nutritionist. Donna…without your advice, guidance, and all-over support and enthusiasm…I don’t think I would have made it through that distance without hitting The Wall. As The Wall and I are still perfect strangers…I hope to continue this trend. You are awesome and I’m so glad we are working together. Your advice and your help have, definitely, made me a better, stronger, and faster runner. You helped me develop a plan to go the distance and feel good at the end of said mileage. Guess what? It worked! Tons of praise, love, hugs, and cowbell jingles go out to my family (who couldn’t be in Chicago), my friends, my co-workers, my runners, and the strangers who got me to that finish line. This has been a long journey…and you’ve seen me through all of the insanity.
To Cathy…who saw me try and fail, try and succeed, rode 18 miles on a bike one Sunday with me to keep me company on a miserably hot day, who has seen me through injuries, seen me struggle, seen me overcome, and just continued to be the best damn crew a runner could ever have. To Jenn…who coined my new favorite phrase when it comes to running, who always tells me not to pants my poop…and who compels me with the power of Dean…who shares my love of all things chocolate, ice cream, and delicious…and who never judges me when I get up early when I visit and go for crazy long runs. Even if it’s in the kitchen during a snowstorm. Next time, I promise not to slam into the island. And to Heather…who I have known since 3rd grade…and despite your move to Minnesota as we were heading to middle school, kept in touch and still, to this day, is the best damn friend this girl could have asked for. Your amazing belief in me and my abilities is unstoppable. You teach me to reach for the stars and go beyond even what I think I am capable of achieving. Your drive is contagious. It always has been.
So…my official results of the Bank of America Chicago Marathon are that I finished in a time of 3:28:28. I am still shocked with my time and blown away by what that time means. I was 3,897/39,122 finishers overall. I was the 592/17,527 female to cross the finish line. And I was 154/3,274 in my division. You cannot believe how thrilled I am with these results. I felt so good about this run. I conserved energy…even though I took that first mile fast. I knew to ease up and let my body find it’s rhythm and its pace. I ran strong. And with that…achieved more than I ever thought possible. This past week has been dedicated to recovery…although my body hasn’t really felt like it needed it. Like I said…I bounce back. This was such an amazing experience. I never stopped smiling during the race…and it’s been hard to get me to stop smiling since then as well.
Oy! What a week this has been. I’ve certainly been keeping myself busy, not just with a new position at work (and getting settled into that…which hasn’t been too difficult, but I had to move my desk and get comfortable in a new area with different people around and new stresses), turning 33, and maintaining my training schedule through a very tiring, very trying week.
When I say tiring…I do mean that I am physically tired. Perhaps it is a good thing that after my run on Saturday morning the official taper begins. I said perhaps…because while a lot of runners I know love and truly enjoy their tapers…I get taper madness. I do not taper well. At all. Cutting back on mileage will be a relief to some, but I love being out on those roads. I know that the taper is an important step to arriving to my race recharged and ready…so I will abide by it. But I might not be the most pleasant person to be around.
That being said…with the taper on the horizon this week ushered in my last 20 mile run in my program (which I technically did last week…but I have a pace one in my schedule that I didn’t abide by…meaning I ran the mileage but not at the paces suggested…) so I figured I would at least attempt it. I might fail. I might fail hard. But I’m going to at least make the effort. If I fail, I dust myself off and try again another time. Pacing is not my strong point. I tend to run hard most of the time and have to remind myself to take an easier effort. This is why running with groups is good for me. But with the pace requirements on Saturday…I chose to go solo.
But…before I get into that…let’s take a look at this past week’s training…
Sunday morning meant another very early morning for me. I was meeting with the running group my friend Kelsie runs with on weekends for their long run. They were doing 18 today. And after doing 20 on Saturday, I wasn’t sure I’d be able to keep up. I also had gotten to bed a lot later than planned because I was watching Star Trek: Into Darkness, which was important, you see. So, the original plan had been to watch the movie and get to bed on time…but…yeah…not so much. I got up at 3:30 a.m. to lather on the sunscreen (for another dark run!) and eat before hopping in my car and meeting up with the Indiana contingent of the running group at the designated meeting spot. We all car pooled over to the Kroger near Papa John’s Stadium in Louisville where we met up with the rest of the group. One runner was only doing half the mileage, so we started out in Iroquois Park. We ran from the Kroger through the darkness, giving fair warning to the other runners in the group when poles in the running/bike lane cropped up. No need to have someone collide with that. YIKES! We entered the park and started on our way. Let me tell you…Iroquois Park isn’t really in the best part of Louisville…and it is really creepy in the darkness. We heard strange noises in the woods, which urged quite a few of us to pick up our pace in the end. Not being able to see the looming hills of Iroquois, for me, definitely made navigating them easier. I ran for most of these 18 miles with Lori, who is really great and pushing the pace in the difficult parts. We left the park and the hills behind and went on to the flatter roads of the city. Here, we simply ran 4.5 miles straight down a road, then turned around and headed back. The problem was, we had to change up the route due to one of the roads being one way, so when we got back to Kroger, we still had just under a mile to go. So, Lori and I decided we would run up the street until we hit 17.5 and then turn around and run back, and when we hit 18…we’d cool down with a walk back to the cars in the parking lot at Kroger. Alicia, one of the other ladies in the group, is nursing a foot injury of some sort. She was not looking good at the end of the race, but it seems like taking time off to heal isn’t part of her plan. YIKES! I hope she can at least let it heal up so that it won’t be as painful or that she puts herself out of commission. We runners do some really stupid and silly things in the name of our training…but with me being so close to my race…I err on the side of caution. Anyway…it was a cool and crisp morning that led into a really great run. I had a great time.
Monday…always comes too soon. Another later than usual bed time for me. This time because I was watching Dr. Who (the Ninth Doctor…in case you were wondering) when my phone rang. It was my mom…and sometimes we just get to talking and talking and talking…and before I knew it, an entire hour had passed. And it was beyond my bed time. SO…my roomie and I shut off the television and I went and crashed out. Because Monday morning had a 6 mile easy run on the schedule. I woke up feeling less than refreshed. On top of that…the 70° weather in the morning returned. I really had to push myself on this run. Not only was I tired…but my legs were tired too. Somehow…and I still don’t know how…I managed some negative splits. Not bad for running through exhaustion. And…as we all know by now…Monday is also my Daily Double. My fun run group meets on Monday…so after having a really easy dinner of grilled cheese…I was out the door and heading to Louisville. My roomie was driving, thank goodness, because I was falling asleep on the way over. This is so out of character for me, but I just couldn’t keep my eyes open. We got to the running store and my friend, Natalie, was talking about how tired she was too. I told her we could run easy and be the tail end of the group today…which sounded like a plan. But then, as we ran into Cherokee Park, our Ironman, Patrick, called out…”Hey…let’s do hill repeats!” Mind you, I have been pushing for hill repeat sessions with the fun run group for awhile and kept getting vetoed. He said we’d run each hill three times…which meant the hill going up to Hogan’s Fountain and Dog Hill were going to be our hill repeaters. At first I thought he was kidding, but he said we should do it. So…about 6 of us started off doing it…while the rest of the group ran on to just do the Scenic Loop. These are not easy hills to run, and I was wearing my Newtons, wanting to break them in on an easy run. HA! Well, no time like the present. The six of us regrouped at the top, just past Hogan’s Fountain when our first three hill repeats were done. From there, we took an easy pace through the park on the Scenic Loop, making jokes about running every incline, even the small ones, three times. We didn’t…but I imagine that would make one really amusing YouTube video. We grabbed some water at the water fountain and we were already 3 miles in. I’d be finishing up if I was just doing the loop, but I was only halfway there. And Dog Hill was, literally, right around the corner. There were times I felt like bailing, but I never quit on a challenge. So three times up and down Dog Hill…and I was suddenly feeling very bad ass. Honestly, these were hard…but I pushed myself through them. With tired legs and a tired body…I gave it all I had and in the end…I felt like I conquered the world. It was a light run back to the store, except we only needed .25 more of a mile to hit 6 miles, and I like round numbers. So…the four of us that remained (the other two bailed on Dog Hill) rounded the corner and ran down an alley until we could turn around and head back to the store. Another 6 miles on Monday for me. 12 in one day. Whew.
Tuesday is the Cross Training Day. And with my marathon coming up, I have been taking it a little easier on the machines. After all, I refuse to do something stupid that will cost me valuable training time or knock me out of commission for my race. It is not happening. So, my early morning at the gym meant that I hit up the Arc Trainer. Because it’s Arc Trainer Tuesday. For me, anyway. This time I set it for Program 8, which is the Cardio program, and kept it at Level 5, which gave me a bunch of different inclines and resistances to work with. I ended up managing 2.18 miles with the various hills and resistances in 45 minutes. Not bad. From there…my least favorite machine…the stationary bike…was next. I don’t know what it is about the stationary bike, but I hate it. It bores me. I think it’s that I’m putting in so much effort and not actually getting anywhere. The same reason I hate the treadmill (dreadmill). But I powered through 10 minutes on that bike, which is really all I could stand to be honest, and got in 3.84 miles. Not bad considering how dead-to-the-world my legs felt. Went downstairs to do some strength training and then went into work.
Wednesday is my pacing/speed work day. This one called for an 8 mile tempo run. I am awful at pacing. And doing it in the dark when I really can’t make sure I am on pace makes it even more difficult. I had this inner voice in my head for much of the way telling me that I can’t do it. I can’t maintain the pace I was holding. But…I shut them up and pushed through those doubts and proved that I could. In fact, I ended up doing more negative splits than tempo pace. Whoops. But that last mile…I pushed out a sub-7 minute mile and that felt amazing. It was something I really needed. So, pacing needs some work…but damn…that felt good. Later that night, after work, I started a new circuit training routine. Holy crap…this one had me sweating from the start. Not easy. Nice to change it up, but damn. I knew I’d be feeling that one in the morning.
Thursday was more than just my second easy run of the week. September 19 also marked my birthday. This year…I was turning 33. Ironically, my training plan had a second cross training day in…which I would be doing. No run was actually scheduled, probably in preparation for the upcoming long run (20 miler) on Saturday. But…I had to run on my birthday. Ever since I started running, I’ve run on my birthday. Since I turned 33, and there was no way I would be running 33 miles and running 33 kilometers would be 20 miles…I didn’t have time for that either. So…I figured another 6 miles would be perfect…since 3+3=6. It seemed perfect. It was 70° that morning, but I didn’t let that get to me. I refused. I pushed through and turned out the most beautiful and perfect negative splits. A great birthday gift to myself, for sure. After that, I headed to the gym for the cross training. I ended up on the broken elliptical that day…which doesn’t configure the stride right. So, while I was probably using more effort trying to match my normal mileage, it wasn’t happening. In 49 minutes, I managed 8.57 miles. Ugh. After that, I moved on to 10 minutes on the Cardio Wave machine…and rocked out 4.14 miles. I alternated between two of the higher levels. Then it was downstairs to hit the weights for a bit of strength training before heading to the office for a long day at work. Trust me though…my Wonder Woman cake that my local allergen-free bakery made for me was consumed greedily that evening after a dinner of gluten-free and vegan grilled cheese (stuffed with kale and tomato, YUM!).
Friday is the rest day. Ah…the rest day. The rest day that I said I would respect and keep holy. I normally go for a walk…but I have these great Newtons I’m working on breaking in and getting used to how they feel…I decided I would, for the second week in a row, take them out for an easy jog. Nothing hard. No pushing. Easy does it. Just as what happened last year when I wore the Newtons…I actually turned out fantastic mileage. In fact, I ran a rather quick 2 miles in them, without feeling like I was running. I decided to cool down then with really easy running…and that actually turned out a faster 2 miles (total of 4 that morning), and it felt like a walk in the park. In fact, my last mile was, for the second time this week…a sub-7. I was shocked. It just didn’t even feel like I was working hard. But…I ended that session there, despite feeling like I could go on. I’m easing into the mileage in these because it is working my legs differently and my muscles feel it. Besides…my last (and third) 20 mile run of my training program.
Saturday morning. This was it. The last 20 mile run of my training plan. After this…the taper would start. I had skipped the 20 mile intervals in my previous 20 mile run, opting instead to run it with people. But I know how important pacing and intervals are and I really, really didn’t want to ignore that run. So…as I was going on my own for my run today…I figured this last 20 miler would be the perfect opportunity to work through it. I also decided that I needed to simulate race day as much as possible…and that meant running a relatively flat course. Chicago, after all, is flat. As much as I didn’t want to do it…I chose to do my run in the flattest area I could think of in Louisville. Seneca Park. I also knew that this was going to test me mentally as well as physically. Why? First of all, the morning greeted me with rain. I figured what better way to wrap up my last long run than in the rain. This meant that I wore my old, heavy, to-big-for-me shoes instead of the ones I am wearing for the marathon. That sucked…but I figured I wouldn’t let it get me down. I’d attempt to do the training intervals, but the important thing, mainly, was to get the mileage done. But…there was more. You see, the “track” at Seneca Park is basically a 1.2 mile loop. Yes…I looped the park until I hit my mileage. My intervals as laid out by my training plan was specific. I was to run miles 1-8 at my long slow distance pace. So, I got to the park, walked a little while my Garmin found its satellites, and then was high-fived by Cathy and wished luck. My long slow distance pace when I am on my own is much quicker than my long slow distance pace when I run with a group. It’s faster. And I kept needing to remind myself to ease up and slow down. The most challenging part was to come. Before I hit mile 3, Cathy was off to run some errands and head home to get the house prepped for our friend Greg, who was visiting this weekend. I was on my own in the light rain, in the still-dark morning. There were large puddles that would cross the track, so I’d have to duck off the pavement and into the muddy grass. But, hey…I needed to do this. For the sake of my training. At mile 8, I turned around and ran the other way on the track. Miles 9-17 were to be run at marathon pace. So I picked up my pace for these 9 miles, pushing it more and keeping it as steady as I dared. My legs were tired from the first 8 miles, which should have been done slower than I ran them. But I pressed on, and I pushed. The rain stopped, but I now had some wind to deal with. And at some points it was me running right into it. I did my best not to let it phase me, but I was so happy when mile 17 hit. I once again turned around to run the other way, now in a mind to start the cool down. Miles 18-20 were to be done again at my long slow distance pace. What I ended up running was miles 8-24 at my long slow distance pace. I got so much encouragement from the runners at the park. They kept saying I was strong. That I looked good. I love the running community around here. You might not even know someone, but you still just give them a thumbs up, a smile, a compliment. It’s awesome. I polished up my run, having completed a full 24 miles. And my time…was fantastic. I couldn’t believe it when I paused my Garmin at the end of the run. And I still felt great. Which was good, because Greg was on his way. I went home to shower after grabbing some coffee and a snack (I was run-gry) and prepare for his arrival. And then…after he arrived, we were off for a day in Louisville, starting with gluten-free vegan pizza at Annie May’s Sweet Café, and then shopping. I ended up buying some DVDs at Half Price Books, but passed on the dress I was going to purchase for my birthday get-together tomorrow. Priorities…right? Right. Anyway…it was a good day. Here I am over 12 hours later…no ice bath necessary…still feeling amazing. And badass.
So…there it is. Now…three weeks until my first marathon…the taper begins. And I do intend to abide closely to my schedule for the taper because I want my legs to feel strong and rested when I get to Chicago. I don’t want any doubts in my head on marathon morning. I want all my hard work and effort to pay off in the end, which is why, while I’m sure I will become a raving maniac due to the cut-back on the mileage, I will follow my program as it is laid out. Because…I feel ready for this. I am ready for this. I can’t believe I am saying that.
So…here’s to not giving in too much to taper madness. This is recovery time. And I can’t wait to see what I can do in three weeks. Until then…hang with me…because I’m sure I’ll have some fun taper stories.
My training program has me running at least two 20 mile training runs. Due to upcoming vacations and time spent at a higher altitude…my training schedule got a little bit flip-flopped in the upcoming weeks. It had to happen. While I don’t doubt I could rock out 20 miles in Boulder, CO or even Denver, CO…I don’t know of any places to rock such a run out in, nor do I know if my body can adjust to that high altitude in order to hit the required paces. Therefore…I took some liberties with my training schedule and bounced things around. Never hurts…keeps it interesting.
That being said…this meant that yesterday was my first ever 20 mile run. Believe me, it can seem a bit daunting. But I was feeling good that morning. My legs felt strong. There was a light breeze…and 20 miles felt like nothing. Now…how many people can honestly say that. It was run with Harry and Linda…part of my running group…and I kept it at my Long Slow Distance pace. I was so surprised with how good I felt at the end of the run itself. I probably could have kept going for a few more miles. That is the best feeling in the world. It means I’m training right. Just the boost of confidence I needed.
This week ushered in some gorgeous morning weather that made my runs really, really enjoyable. Nothing like waking up in August to 57°F and low humidity. Loving it. Seriously loving it. And what that meant was that I was really feeling good on my running this week. The difficulty and mileage went up…but I just rolled with it. I even did good on the extras I’m doing to better myself. And, I can actually see results. And that is the most fantastic part.
Let’s take a look at this week…
Sunday ushers in what I like to call my “Whatever My Legs Feel Like” training run day. I just go until I don’t want to go anymore. I always keep it under the previous day’s mileage…just normally run it a little harder. My Long Slow Distance training runs on Saturday help with endurance. These Sunday runs…they’re a chance for me to see what my legs can do while still recovering from the previous run. If they aren’t feeling the run, I stop. It’s that simple. I did a grueling 17 miles on Saturday in high humidity and rain, testing out new shoes and socks. There were many breaks on this run, as two of my fellow runners were keeping a more deliberate pace in the distance we were covering. So, on Sunday, when I headed out, I had no intention of running 14.3 miles…but I did. I can’t tell you what possessed me to go that long after a hot 17 the day before, but the morning felt good and I got out early in order to beat any of the sun for most of the run. I stayed off the hills as well, but really enjoyed being out and about. I clocked my 14.3 miles in 1:51:41…which felt good. It really did. I think I was smiling at the end of it.
Monday morning put me back on my revamped training schedule. I start almost every run these days in the dark, so that doesn’t even factor in now. Amazing how that happens. I am missing my earlier light in the morning, but I just strap on my headlamp and reflective gear and get it done. On the weekdays…that’s the norm for me. I was out the door at 4 a.m. to log 7 easy miles. The temperature was in the high 50s, which felt amazing. But as I was running, my left shin started to bother me. I was concerned it might be shinsplints, but it turns out I have a bruise on my shin and my compression sleeve was just hugging that area. Figures. I managed to get through that 7 miles with negative splits. And, as always Monday is also the day of the Daily Double…so after work and a quick bite to eat, I was heading down to my running store for the Monday fun run. There were six of us there, two (Laura & Amy) were heading out to do their run/walk routine on the scenic loop. So the remaining four of us (Mike, Joe, Ellen and myself) all headed out to run the Scenic Loop at Cherokee Park. Because my calf muscle on my right leg was being finicky (I blame breaking in new shoes on a 17 mile run) and my shin was bruised and bound again in compression sleeves, I wanted to take this run easy and stick with the group. And I did. Up until Ellen stopped for water and said she would catch up. Mike and I went on ahead…and we ran back to the store. Ellen never did catch up, but I think Joe stuck with her. As we were waiting on the light to change to cross over Bardstown Road, Mike said to me, “You’re so fast. And that’s not a bad thing for a runner.” It made me feel good! Honestly. And as I made some gluten-free chocolate chip cookies as a reward to my fun run group, Ellen said she could have a cookie if she didn’t start walking on Dog Hill. And she didn’t. So she got her cookie as a reward. Another 3.3 miles logged on Monday.
Tuesday, as always, is my cross-training day. And this Tuesday really was no different from the previous ones. I resist the urge to go for a run…despite really wanting to do so. And I hit the gym before work. This time…I was on the Arc Trainer for 45 minutes, set it for Program 4 – Pike’s Peak. And I did this at Level 5. I managed 2.36 miles, which isn’t bad given the changes in incline, resistance, and the intervals that it puts you through. Afterwards, it was the rowing machine. I bought gloves to wear when I do this one, which definitely made rowing so much easier. I have a love/hate relationship with the rowing machine. It works everything, but it can be just as boring as the stationary bike or treadmill. I usually end up glancing around at the others on machines…or focusing intently on my form. Anyway, I managed 1.19 miles in 10 minutes on the rowing machine. I hit up a few strength machines to help build up some muscle. After work, it was time to circuit train and that was a challenge after the gym…but it had to happen. The circuit training felt good to hit up after a long day at the office, even if I really didn’t want to tackle it. The fact is…I did.
Wednesday was speed work day. With classes back in session, my track workouts had to move to the treadmill. BAH! I hate that blasted machine. But…when speed work and pacing day comes along, the interval speed work has to be monitored properly. And this was no easy session either. I got up early and got to the gym right as it opened. This morning called for a 1 mile warm up, then 3 x 1600 meters at Marathon Pace with 2 x 800 meters at an easy pace for recovery. Then I finish it all up with a 1 mile cool down. I did just as I was instructed and rocked out these 6 miles in 47:21. Not too shabby. I kept my warm up and cool down slower than usual to allow my muscles to get warm, and then finally relax. I ran the marathon pace part slightly faster…and then the easy recovery at an easier than normal easy pace for me. So, I think in the end it all balanced out. I felt like a rockstar though when I finished it up. After work, it was the second day of circuit training. I’m trying to keep it so my roommate and I blast through the circuits at least 2 times a week. More if we feel the need. But twice a week seems to work. We were both feeling the previous day’s workout so I think this circuit was done a bit easier than the prior day.
Thursday is my crazy-busy workout day. That morning I got up to log my 7 easy miles, which were, in fact, faster than Monday’s 7 miles. How I managed that on legs that were tired and sore from speed work and circuit training, I’ll never know. But…I did in fact manage it. Maybe it was the amazing 57°F weather that morning. Maybe I was just feeling good. I felt like my legs were really having to push on this one, but somehow…negative splits happened again. That was the confidence I needed going into the gym afterwards. I pushed through 45 minutes on the elliptical, dialing in 9.13 miles. Then, the dreaded stationary bike was next…and in 10 minutes I hit it up with 3.89 miles. So bored. I was trying to actually take it easy on my run and gym routine, because on this particular Thursday, the BlueMile Brew Mile series was wrapping up with its final race. Yep. I was able to make all 5 of them. Love running races for charity and getting my roomie a free beer at the end of it. So, this BlueMile Brew Mile was at Against The Grain over by Slugger Field. It was the sight of the first one that we ran this year too. Came full circle for sure. Anyway, I donned my Wonder Woman outfit for this one and we headed out for the mile run. I even convinced a co-worker of min, Justin, to come out and do it too. He used to run cross country, so he agreed. I knew this wouldn’t be my best mile…so I just kept it comfortably hard. I knocked it out in 6:55, which isn’t too bad. I’ve had slower and I’ve definitely had faster during this series…but it was fun. And I lost Justin on the hill coming back up to round to the finish line. He did manage a sub-8 minute mile though. Proud of him. Trying to get him to come out for the Monday runs.
Friday is the dreaded, but necessary, rest day. As usual, I took myself out for a brisk stroll in the morning. Why? Because I need to do something in the morning or I might go insane. This Friday, I logged a 3 mile walk in 34:42. Not bad. I was wearing (or attempting to wear) a fuel belt that Harry brought for me to try, since it had four bottles. But…it didn’t quite fit me. BUMMER!! So, I have a purchase I need to make at the race expo in two weeks at Disneyland. It was another gorgeous morning in the high 50s. The walk was just what I needed.
Saturday was the long slow distance pace…for 20 miles. Not just the furthest distance I have run yet…but also…the first time 20 miles even came into the picture. Was I nervous? Not really. I was pretty stoked to be gearing up my marathon training to hit that 20 mile mark. It was going to be myself, Harry, and Linda leaving at 6 a.m. on Saturday to hit 20 miles. But Harry had a route picked out…and, man, was it ever gorgeous. Linda was running a little more deliberately than I was…so Harry tended to rotate between running with me, then falling back to run with her. I took to the streets in Louisville, running to the Second Street Bridge…then across it. Man…that has to be one of my favorite runs ever. That bridge, when you catch a breeze like I did that morning, just gets you to that happy place. I wasn’t quite 4 miles in and I felt like I had reached that runner’s high. It was an amazing run across the bridge. And when I got to the other side, I waited on Harry and Linda. When they caught up, we headed to the Falls of the Ohio, then ran the flood wall. I pulled ahead here, too, running at an easier than normal pace, but taking the lead and running until the yellow line on the trail ended. I waited for Harry and Linda there. Harry took Linda and I off the beaten path briefly to show us a log cabin. Very cool! We refilled water bottles, then took the path through the parking lots…instead of back out to the road and down a mega-steep hill. We ran this road all the way out to Hwy 62 in New Albany. I gave a wave in the direction of my home as we came up to the road and stopped to turn around. Harry said he was off by a mile so we’d have to make that up somewhere. I was good with that. We started back, and instead of turning to immediately head back over the bridge, we hit up Jeffersonville’s river front where lots of restaurants are. We ran through a neighborhood, just over to the border of Jeff Boat. And…then…we came back to the normal route. We refilled water bottles again, then it was time to hit the Second Street Bridge and head back. Once again, I hit that bridge and every part of me just wanted to GO! Runner’s high for the second time. It felt awesome. I just took off and when I reached the other side, I paused and waited. Linda was heading back to the store, but Harry and I had about a mile to add on. So…he took me over to the Statue of David, which stands outside Louisville’s famous 21c Museum Hotel. This gold statue is 30 feet tall. Amazing. We used this as a photo op, then continued to make our way through the streets of Louisville. When we got back toward Baxter Avenue, Harry told me that if I wanted to take off to do so, as he was running another 20 miles on Sunday, so he needed to conserve some energy. I took him up on the offer and for the last 2 miles…I ran my pace…my speed…even passed up Linda at one point. And when all was said and done…I hit 20 miles in 3:01:59. Not too shabby. Not bad at all. And the reward to everyone who ran that Saturday was Paleo Cinnamon Glazed Pumpkin Donuts that I stayed up late and baked. Everyone complimented me on how delicious they were. Total and epic win!! And, despite not really wanting to do so…I did down my Arbonne Chocolate Protein Shake after the run. My stomach wasn’t wanting it, but I knew my body needed it. Later that day, I scored a pair of Vibrams for $20 on sale at a local running store. They were even the ones I wanted. TOTAL WIN!! Don’t you worry…I have no intention of ever, EVER, EVER running in these. I got these to walk around in and build up some strength in my feet. My podiatrist might have a stroke if he knew I was wearing them…but he’d definitely have a stroke if I ever ran in them. Not risking tearing my plantar fascia again. That totally sucked last year. I stick to the shoes that my feet need when it comes to running. These…are to hopefully build strength in my tender feet. We’ll see. At least if they don’t work out…I’m only out $20 and not the usual price of $100.
Things that I’m learning…I’m craving fruit more and more each day. I get cases of the RUNchies on runs and definitely on those higher mileage days, get RUNgry. A lot. It amazes me how fast my body burns through the fuel I give it while out that long. I also can tell that these longer, slower runs are helping me with my speed and endurance. When I focus on speed, I can feel the renewed strength in my legs, and the power. And I know a lot of that comes from the endurance I’ve built, running easier, running farther, and just…minding my form and everything else.
Already looking forward to seeing what I manage this coming week in my training schedule. Another flip-flop ahead…but for good reason. More on that…next week.