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: Geist Half Marathon
Place: Fishers, Indiana
Date: May 17, 2014
NEW. HALF. MARATHON. PR.
Okay…so it was a PR by 8 seconds, but that’s still a PR. And given the fact that I wasn’t pushing or truly giving my all on this race and course since I’m racing again next weekend…well…this was a surprise. A very happy, welcome, great surprise. Especially since this course was quite hilly. Hilly enough that my calf muscles protested every single one of them.
Note to self…hill work is a must!!
But, once again, I’m getting ahead of myself. Let me start at the beginning of this journey…
Friday. I did a short shake-out run that morning…1 mile…in the pouring rain…because…it rained on me after I headed out on the run and at that point…I was out and wet. I then…stupidly…went to my spin class. I did not put on my heavy heavy when we were told to take it to heavy…so, that counted for something, yes? After that…a long day at the office…and finally got let loose a little early…just past 3:30 to start on the journey up to Fishers, IN…north of Indianapolis.
The car ride took forever! Seriously. First…storms. Dark clouds…rain…apparently Indianapolis had hail. The area the race was happening on Saturday morning was getting marble size hail. Because when I race…I bring the storms. Every…freakin’…time! Anyway…the weather put us a little behind…but so did the traffic! GOD…the traffic! Apparently people panic when it rains up there because we saw so many accidents. Some were roll-overs. Some were just one-car things. Some two-car things. All of them…pissing me off because it was keeping me from picking up my packet and getting to food and my friend Julia…who was meeting up with us for dinner.
UGH! But, we made it to St. Vincent Fishers Hospital. The packet pickup was being held in the visitor’s waiting area near the food court. I posed for a picture by the banner outside and then headed in. This race never has much of an expo…so this was going to be a quick stop. I think we were there for a grand total of 5 minutes. Just long enough for me to walk up to a table, get my bib and long sleeve tech shirt, check my timing chip, pick up a poster (that has my name on it!), and leave. The rain cleared up for a moment, but it was definitely chilly out. I already knew from checking the weather that race morning was getting an unseasonably cold 39°F temperature. Usually this race has killer heat…so this was different.
So…it was off to dinner. Julia was already at the restaurant with a table…and we were 10 minutes away. Except 10 minutes took 30 minutes because of traffic issues and accidents on I-69. We learned…never take I-69. HAHA!! Thanks for the tip, Julia! But…we arrived at Rockstone Pizzeria and Pub in Fishers and found Julia at the table in the bar. As we settled in, a table in the back stood up and I spotted Laura, Tammy, and Mike from my running group!! YAY!! We talked for a moment…and they headed out. It was now 7 p.m…a full hour after I would normally have wanted to eat…but that’s life for you. We placed our orders, all getting the Vava Veggie Pizza (mine was gluten-free…hers was not). The pizza was good. Cathy and I split mine because I really wanted some gelato for dessert…but in the end, as it was now past 8 p.m…decided against it. I was bummed. But…race was important. We talked some more with Julia, but around 8:30 p.m…we headed out. I needed to pick up a banana for race morning and get to the hotel to get stuff ready. And I was hoping to be in bed by 9 p.m. that night, but with all the delays…I hit the bed around 10:30 p.m. And then slept like hell.
My first alarm went off and I got up to shut it off and do my first morning ritual on race day. Then, back to bed for an hour. The second alarm went off and I was up to get changed, put on some sunscreen, and get my stretching in. At 5:30 a.m., I woke up Cathy and finished up with doing my traditional race hair and eating some gluten-free cereal for breakfast. I took in some water, took my vitamins, and then got pinned up and ready to run. We left the hotel room…and went back for the bananas…then left again and headed out to the high school where we chose to park the car.
On the way, I was messaging back and forth with my friend Chris from a running group I belong to. He and his girlfriend, Becca, were running Geist on a last-minute decision. Awesome. We were planning on meeting up. He said he’d look for my “race hair” (HAHA!) and I told him that I was dressed as Wonder Woman…so he said he’d look for a superhero. Chris is truly this awesome.
Cathy and I parked and started the mile walk from the parking lot to the starting line. I kept looking in the groups of runners walking that way for Chris…but never spotted him. At 7 a.m., I broke out my second breakfast…my pre-race banana…and that was when he found me. HUGS ALL AROUND! And photos. We talked for a few minutes and then he and Becca headed back further in the corral line-up. The announcement was made that the start of the race was delayed due to unforeseen circumstances, which turned out to be a woman who was running the half marathon and on her way to the start, running in a crosswalk…when she was struck by one of the buses that was acting as a shuttle that morning. It happened at 6 a.m….and the race course hadn’t been cleared yet.
But, once the go-ahead was given, opening ceremonies began. The national anthem was sung beautifully and really set the tone of the race. I shed my hoodie and passed it off to Cathy, who went to find a spot on the other side of the start line…and I shivered for a little while and made new friends, as I always do. Everyone was so nice!
And…a moment later…we were off to the races!! Instead of a staggered start time for the half marathon and the 5K, this year, the Geist races began at the same time…on different sides of the road. I headed out, crossing the start mat and getting into a groove. I saw Cathy, waiving my sign and cheering me on, so I flashed a peace sign…and carried on. The first mile had a lot of people…but not too bad since I was up near the front. This was the first trip across the bridge…and I had two children running the half (boys!) who were trash talking their 5K friends. Acting all tough. And then I hear, “I have a cramp.” Followed by “Let’s not talk as much…” And then I moved past that disaster waiting to happen. Mile 1…and I feel a tap…and turn to find Tammy!! TAMMY!! Tammy is awesome…fresh off a fast (and Boston Qualifying) marathon in Fargo the weekend before. She ran with me for a mile before she said she was dropping off the pace because she said she wasn’t going to race this one. Crazy girl still came in 3rd in her division…and not long after I finished either. Drop off the pace, my booty! I want to be Tammy when I grow up!
So, I was out on the course now on my own, runners beside me, runners in front of me, and runners behind me. I was taking it all in. We were now in a small neighborhood and people, despite the cold air, came out to cheer at the end of their driveways. As I rounded the corner, I got my first WONDER WOMAN shout out…and then the woman started doing the Batman music. That made me giggle. I knew this part of the course. It was the 5K course all the other times I ran this race (I did the 5K twice before…but not the half marathon. Nice change!). So, as we headed across the reservoir, I got a shout out from the photographer. Also was told I had the best running outfit ever. HA!
So…the race turned out to be a challenging one. This was a brand new course for the Geist Half Marathon, making the 5K and the half marathon an out and back instead of a point-to-point as it had been in the past. NICE! But, with this new course came some new challenges. Those are called hills. And those hills are what I need to really work on this coming summer. And not just talk about it…do it.
The first part of the race had some minor climbs…but after I hit the halfway point, that’s where the challenging hills really came into play. I took in some fuel, even though I didn’t think I needed it (trying to get back into good habits!), at the halfway mark and continued on. My legs were really fighting the hills. They slowed me down because my calf muscles wanted to protest every climb. But…I had a goal…and that was to try to keep as even a pace as possible on this run…even with all the hills.
TONS more shout outs for my Wonder Woman outfit happened along the way, and I soaked up the atmosphere, the beautiful surroundings, and just the feel of the race. My hands were so cold that it was hard for me to hang onto the water bottles from my fuel belt, but…again…trying to get back into good habits…I made sure to hydrate throughout. Even if it took some effort to get the bottles back into my fuel belt. My hands don’t work well when they are cold. In fact…they don’t work at all. And I didn’t think to pack gloves…because…it’s May…
Mile 10 came into view and I was still feeling good. The legs were still feeling strong. And I knew I was a 5K away from my finish. I was happy with the way I was feeling…challenged for one thing…but not tired. I came into a turn at Mile 11 and was sent up a hill in through another neighborhood. That hill slowed me down a little, but I powered up it, feeling it in my calf muscles. But as I crested it and hit a flat road, the legs adjusted and I kept on. Mile 12….another trek over the reservoir. I had been hearing tales of the “hill at the end” and wasn’t sure what to expect.
It was…KILLER! I thought Chicago was evil for putting a hill at Mile 26 of the marathon. This was the half marathon equivelent. Not only do you climb this hill…you then round a corner and the finish line is right ahead. So, with legs screaming at me…I got up the incline and took the turn…and there it was…the finish.
With no clock. I had no idea what my time was. Not at all. Yes…I know I was wearing a watch…but I never glance at it. If I pay attention to my pace, I struggle. When I am a zen runner…I do better. That’s just how it works for me. I saw Cathy screaming at me and I put on my barely-there kick to get across that finish line. I passed the photographers (who were all shouting WONDER WOMAN!) and paused my Garmin. Since there was no race clock, I glanced down…and saw 1:38:and change!
Cathy came over to the rail and I said, “Um…I PR’d.” She didn’t seem surprised at all. This was the second time in as many weeks to PR in a race. And both times, I wasn’t trying. I wasn’t setting out to PR. I was just running. I do better when I “just run” for enjoyment and all. Seriously. It’s when I start to put pressure on myself that things go to hell. I should really focus on the joy of the run more often than the competitive part.
So…I headed into the recovery area. There was a power outage at the results tent, so it wasn’t going to be set up. We meandered about for a moment, and as we turned around, I saw Laura, who had just finished up. We talked about the run…and the evil hills…and took a picture together. Then, she and Mike went to walk around and Cathy and I went to do the same. We were waiting on result times so I could get an official time. But it was taking awhile. So…I got a post-race massage! And it was awesome. My massage therapist was a really nice guy who thought I had a fantastic time for the half marathon. He asked about my upcoming races…and I told him about them and he said that if I wanted a traveling personal massage therapist…he’d love for me to hire him. HA! After my massage, I hopped down and went to find Cathy again before we wandered off for a little more. I did notice that the jeweler in the recovery area was doing medal engraving for $9,95…so we thought we’d do that when they opened. Why not?
Results finally posted after many times of scanning my bib. It showed my official time and I was THRILLED! A new PR!! The jewelry store opened early and we went in to see about getting my medal done. They asked for my results, and I said the results tent was down and no slips were printed. This was aggravating…so he went to pull the results up online. It took some time to find the page, but he did…and found me. The race was still running, so my overall status would stand, but the number of finishers was still unknown at this time. He said that he could at least engrave my name and finishing time…and he’d do it for free. AWESOME! He said to give him 15 minutes, so we went to walk around a little bit more and stretch out the legs. We picked up my medal and took the hike back to the car…then…drove back to the hotel so I could take a nice hot shower. We left the hotel and went to my required stop for lunch…Cheeseburger in Paradise…because I can get a gluten-free veggie burger on a gluten-free bun…with gluten-free fries. I devoured the entire plate. HA!
So, the official results of the Geist Half Marathon was that I finished in 1:38:52, setting a new half marathon PR for myself. Thrilled! I was 87/1506 finishers overall. That’s amazing! I was 14/703 women to cross the finish line. And I was 4/??? (the race results don’t have the divisions for female up…just division female) in my age division. If they ever get that posted, I’ll put in the number. FOURTH! That’s fantastic, I think. I was beyond proud of these results. I mean…it was hilly and cold (two of my least favorite things!), and I was focused more on keeping an even pace (THAT…was a success) than my finish time. And BAM…magic! Even better…my distance was actually 13.24…which means I PR’d running past the half marathon mileage. I need to take corners tighter! So happy!
I am starting to feel so much more confident and better about my running after these last two weekends of running. I’m coming back…and coming back strong.
I definitely would love to run this race again! I love running Geist. Third year back…first time doing the half. BOOM!
Race: Kentucky Derby Festival Marathon
Place: Louisville, Kentucky
Date: April 19, 2014
Ahhh…where to start? Where do I even begin to start?! There was so much excitement coming into this race because there were people I knew who were flying or driving in to run either the full or the half marathon. And if that wasn’t enough excitement…I was asked by one of them to pace her to a sub-4 marathon finish. I didn’t have to think about this at all. I was more than happy to assist my friend, Colleen, in attempting to meet her goal. And that…my friends…is the reason for the asterisk on this post. I wasn’t running this race to race it for me. I was running it to help a friend…and come what may, I was staying by her side the entire time. I take my “job” as a pacer very seriously…and I trained to run at an easier pace than I normally would for a marathon.
But…I might be getting ahead of myself a little.
First of all, there was the expo. As I am local to the area, I figured it would be much better for me to hit up the expo on Thursday, before the mad crush on Friday set in. So, after work, I headed over the river to the Kentucky International Convention Center in downtown, Louisville, Kentucky. There weren’t a lot of signs that directed people to where the expo was, so Cathy and I simply followed the crowds, figuring someone had to have an idea of where they were going. This did pay off, and soon we were on an escalator heading up to where the expo was being held.
Most expos in Louisville are small matters. And while this one was not huge…it wasn’t just a couple of tables and Fleet Feet either. In fact, walking in, I ended up going to the table for the mini marathon (actually a half marathon…as there are different definitions of what a mini marathon is)…and then had to slide over to the full marathon where I picked up my race packet (which included a woman’s tech shirt, a hat, and other goodies). I was complimented on already having my wallet out and ready…the volunteer going, “Well, you’ve done this before, I see.” Oh yeah…a few times. *WINK*
After receiving my packet, Cathy and I turned to see about walking through the actual expo part. But first, we both stopped to sign the “I run because…” wall. Cathy put up something about not being a runner, but being great at ringing a cowbell (AWESOME!), and I wrote a tribute to my grandpa. It was fitting. We hit up the official merchandise first, where my phone rang. I answered it, and unfortunately, it was a friend of mine giving me some horrible news about her sister. Her sister was diagnosed with an aggressive form of breast cancer and she asked that I do something for her sister during my race. I wasn’t going to say no to that. At all. I was more than happy to help. After I hung up, I ran into Harry and Tammy, two people I often run with, and we stood around and talked for a little while. Cathy spotted the official Kentucky Derby Festival Marathon BondiBand…and I knew I was making that purchase. But then I spotted these bright lime green arm warmers. Upon trying on the smallest size, I found that they actually fit my little noodle-y arms. That doesn’t happen often. So…I ended up with those as well. I immediately said I was not allowed to buy anything else. So, I spent the rest of the time winding my way through the expo and trying not to get too caught up in it where I end up buying more stuff. I managed.
I knew my friend Kat and her boyfriend, Adam, were at the expo as well, so I gave a quick text to find out where she was. She was in from Buffalo, New York and I was really looking forward to seeing her. She had already made her way through the expo and they were sitting outside the entrance. I exited…and my bib was activated as I did so…and spotted her immediately. We ran up and gave each other a hug. Kat was going to run the half marathon with our friend Andrea. Andrea’s husband and our friend Silvia was doing the full with Colleen and I. And our entire group was getting together Friday night at Martini’s in Louisville for pre-race food. But, I got some time to chat with Kat and discuss where she was eating Thursday night (she wanted local breweries…and found one!). We said good-bye for the time being as it was getting late and I still needed my customary night before the night before a marathon meal – Indian food. It was off to Shalimar where I got a the vegan Yellow Dahl…spicy of course…and everything seemed right with the world. Got home around 8:30 p.m. where I got things ready for work in the morning and went to bed.
Friday morning came and I got up to do my shakeout run per my training program. Three miles. Race pace. Or 25 minutes of running. Whichever came first. I did an easy run for three miles and then went inside to get ready for work. Normally I would go to spin class on Friday…but not this time. I needed fresh legs for Saturday’s race. That threw me off, by the way…having a marathon on a Saturday. I’m so used to Sunday races. All I needed to do was get through the workday and then it was fun times at Martini’s with my racing friends.
The workday did go by relatively fast. There was some discussion about the upcoming race as the receptionist wanted to know where Cathy was going to be as one of her son’s and her husband were running. Her son was doing the full; her husband was taking on the half marathon. In fact, her husband came in to take her to lunch and we talked a little bit about the course and how the events were going to unfold that following morning. But when 4:30 p.m. hit, I was out the door with Cathy and we were winging our way to Martini’s in Louisville.
We arrived just as Kat and Adam were arriving. Imagine that. The rest of the crew, Andrea, Aaron, and Silvia were there. We were simply waiting on Colleen…who flew in from Chicago and was taking a taxi to the restaurant. If I had thought about it beforehand, I would have offered to pick her up on the way from her hotel. Anyway…it was taking awhile to get there…traffic was insane. So, we all just made small chat and browsed the menu on occasion. We had plenty to talk about and most of it had to do with racing. Well…that and acquaintances and life and everything else. In fact…there wasn’t too much discussion about the race going on at all. Rather, we discussed previous races we had done…and how we were feeling…and what we might like to eat that night. Some ordered wine. I stuck with water. Bread was brought to the table. I’m gluten-free and didn’t touch it. Kat, who has a dairy allergy, was brought a dairy-free ciabatta bread to enjoy. That was very nice of the chef and the restaurant to do.
And…then Colleen appeared. And we all greeted her happily and let her get settled in. I wanted to sit next to her so we could discuss her race strategy if needed. The waitress who was tending to us was kind enough to take a picture of our group. And with that, we were ready to get to the business of pre-race fueling the night before. And I actually had to do something different this time. Every race prior to this, gluten-free pizza is a must for me. I always have gluten-free pizza. It works. Martini’s has gluten-free pasta…but not pizza. So…I changed it up. I altered my usual plan. I had…the Gluten-Free Pomodoro, which was gluten-free fusilli pasta (brown rice) that was topped light garlic tomato sauce, a basil chiffonade, and I asked them to leave the mozzarella off…due to my lactose intolerance. I don’t play around before a marathon. Nope. Everyone else put in their orders and we were left to return to our various conversations. I was jumping back and forth on topics with a variety of people…which is how I roll. And after a little bit of a wait, our food began arriving. My order was perfect…no cheese…gluten-free…and it looked amazing. It smelled good too. Everyone else received their plates…but the kitchen forgot to do Kat’s dairy-free pasta with the brown rice pasta as requested. Hers was sent back but she told us to go ahead and start while she waited on her replacement dish. After a small wait…her food was served and we all were digging in.
Another thing I did differently…I didn’t have dessert. I have always treated myself to a dessert the night before a marathon. And while Martini’s did have some gluten-free options…they weren’t dairy free. So, alas…I went without. It was strange…not having that little sweet treat at the end of the celebratory meal. A few of my peeps enjoyed either a drink or dessert…but then…we all agreed it was time to head back to our respective hotels or homes…because it was going to be an early morning. Cathy and I volunteered to take Colleen back down to her hotel near the convention center…and we ended up doing a scenic tour because I-71 was backed up. Taking the long way around gave us some more time to chat with her though…and we soon got her to her hotel and we headed home ourselves.
I made some tea…did my physical therapy stretches…and foam rolled. I had every intention of getting to bed early, but by the time we got home and by the time I was done doing my necessary stretching…it was a normal bedtime. Ah well. I never get to bed early on race nights, even when I make every attempt to do just that. Nothing new here. The only part that concerned me was that the downstairs neighbors were having a rowdy party. Seriously. I turned on the fan in my room and turned up the sound machine. Thankfully…this drowned out all the noise. I was not, however, afraid to be that neighbor who called the cops.
My first alarm of two (my usual race morning routine) went off at 3 a.m. I got out of bed and did the first part of my race morning routine…then went back to bed for about an hour. The second alarm went off and I was so tempted to stay curled up in bed. But I knew Cathy would be getting up in another hour and I had to get on my race gear, get some coffee, get some breakfast, and do my physical therapy stretches as well. So…I reluctantly got out of my cozy bed and went to pour myself some coffee (which I set to automatically brew, giving me time to drink it and pee before I left the apartment…no such thing as TMI, folks!). I had my outfit laid out the night before, so I put on a coat of Body Glide, eased into my race day clothes, put on my Newton’s (the first time I was running a marathon in this particular pair…the new pair…which I bought in Atlanta). I did my stretches for my ankle and legs and then heard Cathy come out of her room. So…I got up to pour her coffee and get our cereal bowls down and filled. We tried to have a relaxing morning, but I was just…everywhere. I put my water and Nuun into their bottles then attached them to my fuel belt. I stashed my GU packets in my pockets where I could easily get to them…and stocked a few extra in my fuel belt…just in case. I slipped into my hoodie. I brushed my teeth and put my hair in pigtails with my colors of choice…rainbow…and pink. I don’t know why…it just seemed right. And then…Cathy grabbed her bag, stashed with more Nuun, more water, and my protein shake, a towel, med kit…and other items…grabbed how cow bell…and grabbed my sign. And we were out the door.
Our first stop was the Sheraton in Jeffersonville to pick up Andrea, Aaron and Silvia. They were providing me with a (big) race day banana so I wouldn’t have to swing by the grocery store the night before. We made plenty of big banana jokes because we are totally awesome like that. It was just a short drive over the bridge and into parking at the KFC YUM! Center. No problems at all. We stashed what we didn’t need in the car and began to hike down the sidewalk toward the start line.
We were quite a few blocks away, but it did allow us to see the start line and walk past the corral system. Originally I was placed in Corral B…but everyone else was in Corral C…so I decided to hop back to where all the cool kids were. But…first…I had a 7 a.m. photo to be present for. The Marathon Maniacs were meeting near bag check…in front of Slugger Field…to have our group photo taken. That wasn’t happening yet…so I figured I’d not be a princess for a moment and go use one of the port-o-potties. I was the first person in mine…and had to figure out how to get the paper wrapper of the toilet paper. Thankfully this one had the antibacterial lotion to put on your hands afterwards. Afterwards, Silvia (also a Marathon Maniac) and I went over to Slugger Field and got with the gathered Maniacs and Half Fanatics. This was where I found Harry. YAY! I gave him a hug and we chatted for a little bit before the photo op. And then…photo madness. I was asked if I could squat down some because “you’re really tall.” I thanked the girl for saying that…as I’ve never been called “very tall” before in my life. I’ll take it! Cathy ended up on photo duty for a lot of people and she did it with style. And then…we all dispersed. Silvia and I went back to where we left Aaron and Andrea…who were waiting on Kat and Colleen. Kat showed up across the street and we went to go meet up with her. Except as Andrea forged ahead, I met up with my running buddy, Patrick. He was also in Corral C…so we hugged and I told him I’d see him in the corral. I never saw him again…
I made it through the stream of people and got up to where Kat and Andrea were waiting. Adam came to take a picture of the three of us. And Aaron made his way over as well. Kat and Andrea were doing the mini…so they were in Corral A. WOOHOO!! The rest of us fell into Corral C…where I was in search of my race buddy for the next 26.2 miles. And, thankfully…we did find Colleen…whew. I wasn’t sure what I would do if I didn’t find the person I promised to pace. We moved up a little…I searched for Patrick…but with no luck. And we eagerly awaited the start.
It was actually a cool morning with a wind. I was shivering a little in my short sleeves and skirt, but I know I warm up fast…so this was actually not a bad idea. As the race progressed, I was kind of wishing I had on a tank. If my number had been attached to my fuel belt (which I normally do, but changed that up too, pinning it to my shirt) and not my Wonder Woman tech shirt…than I probably would have shed the shirt and just gone in the sports bra…about the time we got through Churchill Downs. Just saying. When it warmed up…it warmed up quickly.
Again…I’m getting ahead of myself…
The wheelchair racers were sent off and the elites and first corral eagerly anticipated their start. We heard the countdown…and the start. And we stood as our corral wasn’t going anywhere yet. In fact…even as the different corrals were brought up to the start, this was the first time I was pretty much on top of the start line before I even started to jog. Everyone was just meandering. I’m used to a warm-up jog over the start mat at least 20 feet away. Not here. I even commented to Aaron and Colleen that it felt weird to still be walking.
But we were soon over the start mat and we were off…hitting the streets of Louisville, Kentucky for 26.2 miles. I was super excited and feeling really good.
So was Colleen. The brisk morning was perfect for running. She had an old running jacket on, which she did shed around Mile 2…but we decided to start conservatively. In fact, we lined up just behind the 4 hour pace group. And we stayed there…for about the first three miles. It was as they went through a turn that Colleen and I passed them and stayed ahead of them. That was a good feeling. In fact, we put some distance between us and the pacers…and all the while I would talk to my runner…and ask how the pace felt…how she felt…and told her that we would do what she needed…just to let me know.
It was nice to run with someone. The miles just ticked by. We talked about our jobs, our families, what we liked, what we disliked, how she and I are in the minority…as in we love to eat after running and always get the “runchies” and “runger.” Ah…it’s nice to not be the only one ready to eat after a run. Our miles were coming along great. We both were feeling good. We were actually surprised there was no 5K mat down as we ran past that point. No matter. On with the run. And the morning was absolutely stunning too. We kept on going, loving the people who came out to cheer, taking advantage of their motivation and their funny signs. We passed a runner wearing a birthday balloon. Moments later, the group behind her started to sing happy birthday to her. It was awesome! Before we knew it, we were hitting the 10K mark. As I was acting as a pacer, I actually looked at my watch during this race…and we were making perfect time. In fact, as we came into Mile 8…just before heading into Churchill Downs, we had time to spare. Just in case. As we made the turn to head into Churchill Downs, I turned to Colleen and said, “Now we get to run like pretty ponies.”
For those of you wondering…no…we don’t run on the track. They did have horses out though, so that was cool. We entered the infield and made our way around the paved portion of it. As we came into a turn, I spotted Andrea (I couldn’t miss her in her pink socks). I told Colleen we should try to catch up to her…and we did. I didn’t see Kat…but it turns out Andrea’s IT Band was acting up…and she told Kat to go on without her. Instead, Colleen and I fell into step with her and we ran with her the rest of the way through Churchill Downs…and only parted ways when the split for the mini and the full came up. Colleen and I were to stay to the right…Andrea had to go left. We said goodbye and wished her well…telling her to be careful. And we were now on our way to the challenging part of the run – Iroquois Park.
But there were still a few miles to chase down before we entered the park. I was talking to her, letting her know that while this was a hilly park and there would be some climbs…it wasn’t going to be too bad. And, with the removal of the hill at Mile 23…these would be our only hills this race. YAY! She did make a mention that she was getting a side stitch, so we eased the pace back just slightly to allow her to breathe deeper and see about ridding herself of the cramp. She said she ate way too much for breakfast before the race. But, soon she said it was easing and we kept on and kept easy conversation. We were so busy talking that somehow I missed seeing Mile 10. We were reaching Mile 11…and the park was just head. We came into it…and immediately were sent up our first hill. Colleen wanted to attack the hills and ease up on the downhills…so that was the strategy we were going with. And she really did so well on those hills. Honestly. But the day was heating up…and it was about to take it’s toll on my runner.
She made it through the park in good shape. I pulled ahead of her for a few moments, but would find myself glancing back and seeing her behind me. I’d pull off to the side and wait for her. And we’d continue on. I leapfrogged like this all the way up our final hill in the park and through the downhill that carried us then past the amphitheater and then…back out. A glance over my shoulder and Colleen wasn’t with me again. I got past the crowd and pulled over to the side, keeping my legs moving to prevent cramping. And a moment later, I saw her making her way toward me. I rejoined her again, and we pressed on. I asked how she was feeling…and she said she was definitely feeling it. To make matters worse, she said she had this hard lump (probably her breakfast) in her stomach…and it was just sitting there. It was definitely not making her feel better. And now that we were out of the park, we were out of the shade as well. The sun was high in the sky and the heat was getting to my friend from Chicago…who was not prepared nor acclimated to this sort of weather yet. She was sweating out salt, so I encouraged her to take in some of her electrolyte drink. While her stomach wasn’t feeling well…she did this and…then we had our first walk break.
She was definitely not doing well at all. My job, however, as her pacer, was to get her to that finish line. And I was going to make sure I did just that. She glanced over at me. “I hate that I’m walking right now.” I told her not to worry about it. We would just readjust our goals. She said she still wanted her sub-4…and I said I would do my best to see her there. She started to jog…and then we were off again. Between the heat from the sun and her stomach, she really wasn’t doing well and every mile from here on out was a struggle. But…I was doing my best to keep her mind off of her pain…and into the race. Anything and everything I could think of to keep her moving forward. Even if that forward movement was a walk. And…it was that for some of it. That’s okay. Walk breaks are necessary. At one point, I pulled ahead of her again…and as I glanced back, I slowed down and let her catch up. She was definitely not feeling good at all. I asked how she was doing, and she said she got dizzy back there. So…I told her we’d ease off the pace and at the next water station, she was to take in the Powerade (for the sodium!) and some water. She agreed…and we walked and jogged our way to that next water stop. And she did just as I asked her to!
Colleen was pushing through it…taking breaks where she needed. I told her I wasn’t going to leave her behind, so we stuck together and I helped her tough it out. And when it really got rough, I did everything I could to get her head back into the race. I think the biggest mental break for her, however, was when the 4 hour pace team passed us up. She pushed to stay ahead of them, but when she needed another walk break, they went on ahead. This wasn’t easy for her…as she really, really wanted that sub-4…and was well on her way to that until the race turned ugly for her. I could almost see the defeat in her eyes. So…I told her to set a secondary goal. About six miles out, she said…4:10. I told her it was doable…but we’d take it mile-for-mile.
I talked to a bunch of other runners along the way as we made our way through the streets of Louisville. Things were starting to look familiar again, and I kept pointing ahead and saying, “See that? That’s the skyline…that’s downtown…we’re almost there.” Anything just to get her through this wall and on her way to that finish line. The morning sun was getting warmer and she was really fighting for each stride. We walked more when she needed it, and then I’d get her moving again, telling her to at least jog to the next water stop. Which was a great idea…until there wasn’t a water stop anywhere near us. We did eventually find one…and we walked through it, giving her some time to recover and assess how she felt.
I gotta hand it to Colleen…she is a fighter. And when we came into those last three miles, I said, “It’s just a 5K race now. That’s all. You got this.” And with each mile…I would tell her it was just like being out on an easy training run. She still had a few more walk breaks, but at Mile 25…right at Mile 25…her watched showed 4 hours exactly. It was now my job to see her into her final 1.2 (or in our case 1.42) miles. Every chance I would get I would say something encouraging and really try to drive her home. She felt a little better…and I said we were going to sprint to that finish. We had to go down a stretch of road first before making that turn to the finishing chute. But…I talked her through it, telling her that the finish was right ahead…all that noise…that was her goal.
And we made the turn and we turned on those afterburners. I had a lot of extra energy left, as I wasn’t running this race at pace. In fact…I felt awesome. I found myself flying past people at the finish line. I know the runners I passed were probably wondering what the hell got into me that I could have such a strong finishing kick. But, honestly, my legs felt strong and I was just unstoppable at that point. I crossed the line and moved out of the way. Colleen was just behind me…and when she crossed that finish line, she burst into tears. Not tears of sadness for not hitting that sub-4 goal. You see…she accomplished something far better. She finished her second marathon. She finished strong. She fought through moments of wanting to stop and quit. She proved she was stronger than the course. And…she now had a 17 minute PR for the marathon distance. I pulled her into a hug and we both celebrated our finish.
Afterwards, we made our way through the path, getting handed the Mylar blanket to wrap around us. Kat spotted us from the fence and said that Aaron and Andrea and Silvia were waiting in the recovery area. Colleen and I walked that way, getting our finisher’s medals, some chocolate milk, and desperately seeking out some kind of food. Near where our group had assembled was a table full of bananas. We grabbed one and went to join everyone.
Natalie was there. My sole sister…Natalie. We hugged and just talked and talked and talked. I put my feet up and just joined into the race talk with my friends. I drank down the rest of my Nuun and then started in on my Smart Water. We knew that people had planes to catch and cars to climb back into to head back home…so we didn’t linger for too long. We gave Kat, Adam, and Colleen hugs and wished them safe journeys. They had hotels to return to downtown. The rest of us hiked back to where Cathy parked the car and all climbed in. The drive didn’t take long and soon Andrea, Aaron and Silvia were being dropped off at the hotel. We gave each other hugs and wished safe travels.
And then…that was it. I returned to my apartment to shower. I went out for good gluten-free pizza at Annie May’s Sweet Café. I did some grocery shopping. I kept moving and felt really good all day. But I really missed having everyone around.
I loved acting as Colleen’s pacer. And while she didn’t meet her initial goal, she fought through every bit of pain, self-doubt, and sickness to get herself across that finish line. I am so damn proud of her. And I hope I get the chance to pace her again another time. She’s one tough lady for sure.
Very proud of everyone and how they did in their races. PRs were set. Deeper friendships were forged. And this…was an event I’ll never forget.
So…my official results for the Kentucky Derby Festival Marathon are that I finished in a time of 4:13:01 (for 26.42 miles). While Colleen didn’t get her sub-4…she did cut 17 minutes off her last marathon, setting a new PR. I am so happy for her. I was 859/2029 finishers overall. I was the 226/807 women to cross the finish line. And I was 49/160 in my age division. I felt so good after this and I enjoyed helping my friend through this distance and getting her to the finish line. This wasn’t the race she hoped for, but she battled it out and conquered it in the end. I learned a lot from her…and I know she’ll meet her sub-4 goal very soon.