Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Humbled by hills

I did it! I finished my 13th marathon in St. Louis on Sunday. It wasn't easy, but I persevered through lots of prayer and got through it. I'm not great at remembering too many specifics about my races, but there are definitely some things that stand out. I'll do my best to share as many details as I can recall.

After meeting up with several Runner's Edge folks before the start, a small group of us lined up near the four hour pace team leader. Just in case I caught up to him, I asked him about his pacing strategy. He said he was going to run even pace throughout, even up the hills and through aid stations. I figured that would be his response, but was hoping he might employ some of our "Smart Pace" strategies. I just wanted to start with him so my starting chip time would be the same if I should happen to catch him.

After the National Anthem, we slowly started moving towards the starting line. With the large crowds (around 12,000 for the half marathon and 2,000 for the full), it took us a little over three minutes. Once we crossed, the road opened up and we were able to start running. Eladio began pacing Ann, Lauren, MeLissa and I to a 10:20 first mile. With all the surrounding buildings, Eladio lost the signal on his Garmin so he had to start going by feel alone. I was worried at first, but once we passed mile one just right, I figured he proved himself capable. He brought me into the second mile close to 9:45. In those first first few miles, we passed Busch Stadium and the Anheuser-Busch brewery. I remember the brewery because that was when I started noticing I was getting hot. I peeled off my long-sleeve warm up shirt and passed it off to Eladio to carry for me. By mile four, we were running close to 9:15-9:20. I was hoping to keep it here for a while, until close to the half-marathon mark and then if I felt good, I would take it into the high 8's.

From miles four to seven, I remember running through the downtown area and just talking with Eladio, Ann and MeLissa. We lost Lauren going through the first aid station around mile two. It was pure chaos to get my fluids. There weren't enough volunteers and they were having a hard time just keeping the cups filled. I had to stop to take my own water off the table and I completely missed the Gatorade. The next few water stops weren't that much better, but I started anticipating the lack of volunteers and would take Gatorade and water from one of the first tables (or volunteer, if there was one).

Around mile eight, Ann pulled away to finish her half marathon. MeLissa and I continued running together and taking in the sights of downtown before heading into Forest Park. Once we lost the half-marathoners around mile ten, it got really quiet. This was not a good time for it to get quiet with so many miles left and getting into the more challenging part of the course. MeLissa and I chatted a bit, but I think we were both starting to go more inward to deal with the heat and the hills. I kept drinking at least a cup of water and a few sips of Gatorade through every aid station. I already had to make a quick pit stop once and I didn't want to have to stop again, but I also didn't want to risk dehydration. I was taking my gels about every other aid station starting at mile five and it seemed to be helping. I was also splashing water over my head and neck to stay cool.

Somewhere betweeen mile eleven and twelve, I started pulling away from MeLissa. It wasn't intentional, I just started taking advantage of every downhill and I seemed to be picking it up a little. Plus, I wasn't needing to take that long through the aid stations. We did a short loop in the park and on my way back around I saw MeLissa about a quarter mile behind me. I waved and smiled thinking she may catch back up to me soon. Right after that, we began climbing...and climbing and climbing. We had driven this part of the course the day before so I knew to expect these hills. I didn't push too hard going up. I simply leaned in, put my head down, and went with the terrain. I checked my watch at mile thirteen and I thought I was at 2:02 (my actual split was 2:04:42). I knew I had passed the 2:05 half marathon pacer before we split off so I figured I was pretty close to where I wanted to be. (Remember, I wasn't wearing a Garmin). Occasionally, when I remembered, I would hit the 'lap' button on my watch to get an idea. Even with the rolling hills through the park, I stayed around 9:15-9:25 pace.

Between fourteen and fifteen, we finally got out of the park. I was ready for the course to flatten out some although I couldn't exactly remember what I saw from our drive the day before so I wasn't really sure what was ahead. While there were some decent downhills I could cruise down, they were, of course, also accompanied by constant rolling uphills. I don't remember any hill being so steep or long that it took my breath away or killed my legs, it was just the fact that they seemed relentless. I tried to keep my focus on staying cool, running in the shade when possible (following "Miss Blue Shirt" - a woman who ran on concrete medians with broken glass, but held a good pace and was one of the only other runners near me who also kept passing people) and awaiting Eladio's and Ann's arrival on the course.

On one of the nice downhills, I looked up and saw a man running in front of me with a Runner's Edge shirt on. Once I caught up to him, I looked up and said hi. We chatted for a few minutes and then he asked if I knew who he was. I didn't know his name, but I knew I had seen him before. His name was Ken Tomlen and he told me he knew my dad from working the Kansas City aid stations together. As we started back up another hill, I pulled away and wished him luck. He said he was falling off pace and was getting warm, but I still thought he would probably catch back up to me soon. For some reason, the heat wasn't getting to me the way it seemed to be getting to a lot of other runners. I didn't process it much right at that moment, I just kept chugging along up and down, up and down mile after mile.

Finally, by mile 19, Eladio and Ann showed up. (It was right after an aid station where I had splashed water all over my head, face, and torso. That became par for course in the second half. I would grab a cup of Gatorade, take a couple sips, then drink a whole cup of water and take a second cup to give myself a shower. I can only imagine how funny I must have looked to anyone watching. I wasn't delicate about it at all. After I dribbled some water on my hat and neck then took the rest and splashed it on my face so I could maximize the drippage. Sometimes I splashed so hard I got a little water up my nose! I didn't care at that point. I wasn't after proper dousing etiquette. I just wanted to stay as cool as possible). Back to my support team. So here I was, dripping with water and feeling sufficiently hydrated and Eladio was yet offering me more water. I appreciate that it was cool water, but I couldn't drink anymore and I didn't want to get more wet. He also had a cup of ice that he put in my cap. I protested at first, but then figured it couldn't hurt. It did help my head stay cool. The only down side was when it started melting a few miles later and water was dripping into my eyes.

It was great to see Ann and Eladio at that point. It gave me a great boost to head into the final six miles. Eladio said he would meet me up ahead in a couple of miles. I happily ran on past mile twenty thinking I would be seeing him soon. No such luck. Miles twenty-one through twenty-four passed by in a blur. Not that I was going extremely fast, just that I can't remember much but looking up at each mile marker and seeing another hill in front of me. I was SICK of hills at this point. I just wanted it to be flat!

Eladio and Ann showed up again around mile twenty-four. More water and ice were offered. I passed and kept moving forward. I was beyond whooping and hollering and down to politely smiling and waving as they cheered me on.

During mile twenty-four, I felt my legs starting to die. I just couldn't get them to move any faster than a ten minute mile. I wasn't cramping and wasn't really that sore, my legs just felt tired. Like they had lost all their glycogen so I had no more firing power. My right foot starting speaking to me more. It had already been noticable starting around mile 16. At first, it wasn't anything terrible, but by the end my toes were tingling and they were having a hard time gripping the ground. It's like I had to start thinking about how my toes worked when my foot landed. It was a strange sensation. I just kept praying that God would get me through it and would help it stop hurting so I could finish strong and without injuring myself long-term. Without firing power, I just couldn't move that fast. All I could do was focus on my form and my breathing.

Mile twenty-five wasn't much faster, but with one mile to go, I knew I could dig deep and find the energy to finish strong. I waited to push it until the first downhill. I looked up and saw the finish was going to be another uphill. Arghhhh!!! We were heading back towards the arch and it was a glorious sight. The American flag was strung across to appear right inside the arch. I appreciated it's beauty for a few seconds, then put my head back down to get up the final hill. Somewhere near the top, I saw Eladio. I had a few choice words about the hills on the course, but I had trouble getting them to come out right. Eladio just cheered me on and told me "it's okay, you're almost done." We made a turn and finally, I could see the finish line. The crowds were cheering loudly and I decided it was time to make my move. I went to straight hands (think "sprinters" hands) and pumped my arms hard. I heard the crowd cheering for someone named "Stacey" close by me. I imagined she was right behind me and I pushed even harder. I had no idea who Stacey was. I had nothing personal against her, she was just my motivation to move to the finish as fast as I could. As I crossed the line, I heard the announcer congratulate Stacey. I was about to feel slighted, but then I heard him call my name too. I looked around and saw a smiling Stacey right behind me. I shook her hand and thanked her for helping me finish strong.

I checked my watch and saw it was 4:08 something (my official chip time was 4:08:07). I was a little disappointed that it wasn't a sub four, but given all the conditions of the day, I was also very thankful that I made it in at that time and was able to finish strong. I got my medal, went through the finish line chute and made my way to the family reunion area. Within minutes, I found Eladio and he gave me a big hug. I was still angry about the hills and my feet were hurting badly, but after changing clothes and shoes and scarfing down some pancakes, I felt much better.

It wasn't until I got home that night that I was able to check my official results. When I told Eladio my first half and official finish time, he noted that I had run a negative split. It's by a mere thirty-five seconds, but it's still a negative split. That was one of my goals (along with finishing strong and running injury-free), so I'll take it! I forgot to mention that three days before the race, I had to change my shoes. I had been training in Nike Lunar Glides, but in the couple weeks prior to the race, my feet and left calf and shin were having problems from the shoes. After my last easy run last Thursday, I decided I should not run the marathon in them. I went back to my old shoes, the Asics Nimbus, for the race. My last training run in them was in January. I had no idea how they would hold up and how my body would respond in them for the marathon, but I felt like I had no other choice. I attribute my weird toe pain to the shoes, but I'm still very thankful they got me through.

So, there it race recap. A few more things I want to add before wrapping it up. Here are some key things I did differently that I think positively affected my race:
1. I got adequate sleep the days leading up to the race.
2. I hydrated well the day before.
3. I took my chia seeds right before the race in hopes of helping with hydration and recovery afterwards. I think it worked! (more on chia later)

I'm now enjoying a break from training and am looking forward to cross training. My friend, Theresa, and I will soon be working towards our goal of doing one pull up! First, she's got a little race called Boston to run on Monday.

A few days post-marathon, I feel really good. My legs aren't sore or stiff anymore and I think I'm ready to head back out for another run tomorrow morning. See ya on the road!

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Marathon preparation

Race day is almost here. In four days I will cross the starting line and attempt to finish my 13th marathon. You might think this should be routine for me by now. I've been here before and know the drill, so why do I feel so nervous? More nervous, in fact, than I remember feeling the days leading up to the race. Have I just forgotten in the year and a half I haven't done a marathon? Or, maybe it's because of the different training and race plan this time around.

As I mentioned in my last post, this has been a very challenging training session with the extreme cold temps and all the snow. Now it's finally spring and it's been beautiful outside the past couple of weeks. As much as I don't want the snow to come back, I'm not sure I'm quite ready for this warmer weather. I've barely trained in it! Added to that is the crazy wind and violent thunderstoms we've had this past week. The forecast looks good as far as rain is concerned this weekend in St. Louis. But, it could possibly get up into the upper 60's/low 70's and is supposed to be a beautiful, sunny, slightly windy day. Great for spectating, not so great for runners, especially in the last half of the marathon.

Since I have no control over the weather, I'm just trying my best to prepare myself mentally (and a little physically too). The past few runs, I've purposely overdressed to try to help my body acclimate to warmer temps. It may be too little,too late, but I figure it can't hurt. I've gotten the tight spots worked out in my legs by Brian and Barb, so no excuses there. The hardest part of this for me is to fully let go of any time goal. That's different for me this time. Normally I have a very specific goal and have worked diligently to reach it. By now, I usually have my goal pace down and it feels relatively easy. I've been saying "no time goal," but in the back of my mind, I keep wanting to shoot for four hours. There's really nothing magic about that, other than to prove to myself that I can do it. It would be a great confidence boost.

I should tell you that my last marathon, New York in 2008, did not end well. I had started the race with Ann and was trying to help her run 3:50. After eight miles, I knew I couldn't hang with her, so I let her go. Each mile got progessively slower and harder and by mile 23, I had forgotten all about my time goal and even thought about quitting. With Eladio's urging, I pulled myself together and ran in the last few miles as hard as I could. With two miles to go, I thought I might still have a chance to break four hours. Sadly, I crossed the finish line and my watch read 4:01:08.

I would just hate to get that close again if there's any chance I could run that fast. I just really don't know. Other than my time trials, I don't know if I have built up enough strength and endurance to get there this time. I know it shouldn't really matter, at least not by the goals I had originally set for myself. It's just hard to stop my innate competitive drive. I will pray a lot between now and Sunday that God will help me stay strong and true to my plan. More than anything, I want to walk away from this race feeling like I ran smart and staying healthy for my summer training. Regardless of my time, I would love to finish feeling strong and be the one passing in the end. Those are the things I will have to constantly remind myself of this week and during the race.

Even though this week has been kinda nerve-wracking for me, I am comforted by the support of my family and friends. When I step back and look at the bigger picture, I know that I am exteremly blessed. I am so thankful that I've been able to experience this training with my wonderful running buddies. Thanks Adina, Theresa, Ann, Mallika, and Jackie! You're the best!! I have so many great memories of our runs together this winter. You helped get me out of bed on so many dark, frigid mornings. I know I wouldn't have even run those days if it weren't for meeting you guys. I have thoroughly enjoyed the journey during this training and look forward to running with you again once I'm recovered. I'll be thinking of you all during the race and imagining you're right there beside me. :-)