Sunday, August 31, 2014

Emerald City Half Marathon race recap

It was an epic day, an epic race, worthy only of an epic blog recap :)  I apologize in advance, as I included a ton of minute details in this one. I've also been working on it bit by bit for a week now!  Going back to work severely limits my blogging time :(  But I digress...

Things started out early, of course.  I woke up two minutes before my alarm went off, at 3:48 AM.  Since I'd gone to bed just after 8:30 AM, I had actually had more sleep than I am used to getting, and felt great upon waking.  Well, as great as one can possibly feel at 3:48 AM!  After my breakfast (half a bagel and a banana) and getting dressed...

Flat Marcie!

...I was ready to roll when Christine picked me up at 4:25 AM.  We headed to our friend Erin's house and were on the road by 4:50 AM.   Crazy early, yes, but we wanted to avoid the traffic issues from last year.

Andrea, my newest running friend, is a true sage of running knowledge. She recommended I drink a Slushie before the race in order to cool down my inner core (due to the prediction of extreme humidity, which was pretty accurate--66 degrees at race start with 94% humidity!).  I figured it couldn't hurt, so at 5 AM, Christine, Erin and I made a pit-stop at Speedway for my cherry-and-blue raspberry Slushie. Picture three very hyper, race-ready women storming into Speedway, laughing the entire time... I think the cashier, Frances, was honestly afraid of us LOL! 

Speedway Selfie!

From Speedway, we headed on to Dublin for the race.  Just as we'd planned, we were early enough that we could bypass the shuttle, and found a parking spot a mere 3 minute walk from the race start.  Score! From that point, the real fun started.  Christine pulled out her tailgating chairs, popped open the back of her van, and our friends from Moms Run This Town started to arrive.  

                                         Our friend Kim was the first MRTT peep to spot our tailgate!

I sipped on my Slushie, we made more than a few bathroom runs to Kroger as well as Tim Horton's, and Erin and I did a short mile or so warm-up jog around the parking lot.  Oh, and of course--pictures and selfies galore!  

Most of the moms who met up pre-race

Bathroom selfie with Erin and Heather!

The hour or so that we were there flew by, and in no time at all Erin and I decided we should head over to the race.  We did make a quick stop at the Fleet Feet tent so that I could get my pre-race hugs in from my awesome MIT friends who were all pacing the race. I was super excited to find out that my marathon-buddy Steph and I were shoe twins for the race!  It's the little things that get me pumped LOL...

Shoe-fie with Steph!

Then, the craziest thing happened on the way to the corrals... I got hit (nudged, really) by a golf cart!  It was backing up, and totally took me by surprise.  I put out my right hand (the one holding my water bottle) to stop it, which was silly, and thank God the driver stopped when he heard my scream.  My water squirted all over my leg, but other than that I was just fine.  It was more scary than anything, thinking what could've happened!  The race director was right there, and he was very concerned, but I was fine.  My angels were watching out for me, for sure, and we were able to make our way to the corrals.  Erin was in corral B, and I was in corral A, but she agreed to move up and start with me.  At most races this isn't really allowed, but this is the first year that they even had corrals at Emerald City, and no one was policing anything.  

 Erin and I in the corral!  We are soooo nervous at this point!

Our friend Amy N. found us in the corral when we got there, and after that our friend Felicia came over.  Then Jon, who I've ran several times with on Tuesday mornings with Tamara, found us as well.  A few other friends arrived--Amy H., Catherine, Tamara C.,Tiffany... I loved all of the pre-race hugs and chatter!  It made the time pass by quickly.  Last year, the race start was significantly delayed... this year, it was right on time, which was fine by me. 

So... my original race plan had me starting at 8:15-8:20 for miles 1-3.  With the weather the way it was, most of this plan had flown out the window.  I was thinking more like 8:20-8:30 for the first few miles, but I figured I would play it by ear.  Amy N. and Tiffany agreed that this sounded like a good strategy as well. Erin was unsure of going out that strong with us, but she felt really good and eventually decided to stick with the rest of us. 

It always takes me a couple of miles to really get into a run, but this race was by far the worst yet.  I felt okay during mile 1... but by mile 2, I was wondering what I was even doing.  The pace was right around what we'd said we'd stick to, and I knew it wasn't too hard for me, but for whatever reason, I felt awful.  My legs didn't feel strong.  My breathing was off.  I was so mentally just NOT into racing, into the moment, it wasn't even funny.  I listened to my music (I had one earbud in during the entire race), and I responded to my friends when they would say something funny, but mostly I just sulked inside my head.  I honestly was very scared.  How was I ever going to make it 13.1 miles if I was feeling this bad during the first few miles?  Oh, one funny thing did happen during mile 1 or 2... the course had cones along the center of the road we were running on (every 10-20 feet or so, I think).  I knew they were there, but again, I was the #1 guest at my own personal pity party, and all of a sudden, I was almost on top of a cone!  I did the most amazing hurdle to get over it.  I mean, I felt like an Olympic hurdler at that second!  I gasped in shock, and quickly looked around to see if any of my friends had seen my big moment.  Tiffany was right behind me, and she was my witness, laughing at my glee and agreeing it was really cool!  I was totally proud and had a big adrenaline rush... which lasted all of 20 seconds before I was back to feeling miserable again.  My friends chatted to me every now and then, and I tried to put on my best "race-happy" face, but all I wanted to do is run over to the side of the road and walk. The worst part was when we passed the signs where the quarter marathoners split off from the half marathoners.  How very easy would it be for me to simply turn left here, and finish my race in just a few miles?  I somehow found it in me to turn right, though, and continued on. 

I decided that I would slow down to a very easy jog during each water stop, taking two cups of water and throwing one over my head and drinking the other.  I quickly began to live for those water stops, where I knew I would a) cool off, and b) get a short reprieve from keeping the pace that seemed so grueling to me.  By around mile 4, my friends were all a good 15-20 yards ahead of me.  I kept them in my sights, but realized that I just didn't care if they finished ahead of me that point.  My only thought at that point was, I just hope that I can finish.  I saw Erin take her first GU gel at 4.6 miles, and decided it would be as good of a time for me as any to take my first GU.  Eating that gel ended up being the best thing that had happened during the race thus far.  Within a half-mile or so, I felt the surge of energy that the gels tend to give me.  I still felt hot and sweaty, but my discomfort with the pace started to fade a bit.  I realized we were getting close to the halfway point (6.55 miles), and I started to actually believe I might be able to continue on at my current pace for the rest of the race. 

 Maybe starting to feel a LITTLE better?!!  I do love cameras LOL!

I passed Amy at around the halfway point, and Erin at around mile 7 or so.  Erin and I ran together for a short period, but I definitely had started to hit my groove (at last!) and decided to go with it and push the pace a bit.  I was still counting down the minutes to each water stop, but I no longer felt that finishing strong was out of my capabilities.  I actually started to look at my splits, and make finishing time projections for myself.  I realized that a sub-1:50 was actually still do-able.  My half split was a 55:23.  I figured I could at least maintain that pace and get a 1:50, but as the miles ticked by, I knew that I had more in me.  I took my second GU at mile 9.3, and by mile marker 10 I was feeling the rejuvenating effects.  Andrea and Erin had both told me prior to the race that in a half marathon, the last 5K is all about racing, and I told myself that it was indeed time to let myself actually race.  I didn't want to take off too quickly, though, and die in the last mile.  

I caught up with the 1:50 pacers at mile 11.  The conversation went something like this...

Me: "Good to see you guys!" (there were 2 male pacers and a crowd of men running with them, plus one lone female).  "I've been looking for you!"  

The lead pacer: "We've been here all along."

Me: "No, you've been far off in the distance!" (Then, after about a minute of running with them...) "I'll see you guys at the finish line!" (running ahead)

The lead pacer: "You do know we have a rule?  Once you pass us, we can't pass you again!"

Me: (nervous smile) "Umm... okay!"

At some point in the next mile or so I passed my friend Carolyn's husband Steve.  This gave me great confidence, as Steve is a super runner and a great guy.  I said hi as I went by, noticing that just up ahead was my friend Tiffany, one of the women I'd started the race with.  She'd taken off at around mile 5 or so, and I hadn't seen her in ages.  I felt a surge of energy.  The twelth mile was my best mile by far, both time-wise as well as how I felt physically and mentally.  I felt strong as I gained ground, reaching Tiffany right at the 12 mile marker.  She gasped at my hello. "Come on!"  I said.  "I know you have a sub-8 mile in you!"  She agreed that she did.  "We'll finish together," I said to her as she picked up her pace to run along side me.  I started feeling not as strong during this final mile, but having Tiffany by my side was motivation, and I wanted to finish with her.  Every tenth of a mile or so, my right calf would twinge like it was going to cramp up on me.  I would do a short stutter-step, which would relax it enough to keep going.  I kept thinking to myself, "PLEASE don't do this.  Not with less than a mile to go."  I do remember glancing at my watch when it read 13.1 miles and seeing 1:48:02, and I mentally made a note of that time, as I knew my final time wouldn't reflect the actual distance (typical in a race where there are a lot of turns and tangents to run).

We caught up with the quarter marathon walkers during our final mile, and it was a bit tough to get around all of them, especially the ones running 4-5 abreast.  We turned the final corner after what seemed like an eternity, and I was never so happy as to see that final stretch to the finish!  That last mile was sooooo long!  As we ran by the cheering crowd, I heard one of Tiffany's friends cheering for her, "You can get her, Tiffany!"  I realized they were talking about her getting ME, which of course spurred me on even more. I know I had friends cheering for me as well at the finish, but I tuned everything out at that point.  My friend Kim took two amazing pictures of our race to the finish...

Tiffany and I hit the timing pad under the finish arch at the exact same time. Tiffany's friend Vanessa captured this cool shot of me reaching back to her just after we finished. 

I was so exhausted at this point, and I just wanted to tell her how awesome our finish was. My watch read 1:49:23.  Sub-1:50... an HUGE PR... what a phenomenal feeling!

Tiffany and I got some water and food and walked around the finishers' area for a bit.  We ran into my friend Kim, who I was so very excited to see, as well as my friend Jon from corral A.  I called Jen to let her know how my race had gone, and then I searched for Erin.  We finally found each other; she had finished just a minute after me, with a 4-minute PR for herself!!!  I was thrilled for her.

We decided to do a cool down jog, but after a few minutes it was clear that it wasn't going to happen. I was already so very sore, and had to keep stopping to walk during our job, so we just stopped.  Erin left with her husband and kids at that point, and I decided to try to find my MIT friends.  I was so happy to see Steph and Linda!  

We cheered for the racers a bit together, and we watched the firefighter relay finish, which was totally awe-inspiring.  

We ran into a few more friends, exchanging sweaty hugs, before I headed back to Christine's van, where she was waiting.  After donning my 110% compression sleeves and ice pack inserts, we were on our way back to Westerville.  Such a fun, amazing morning! 

So, how did this crazy race split out?  Here is what my Garmin said (I had to include the crazy humidity graphic as well):

I know for a fact that my watch went wonky at around the 8th mile.  I looked at it during the race and it read 9:30-something, which was totally inaccurate. We were in the woods at that point and it clearly wasn't picking up the satellites.  I think mile 5 might have been off too.  Overall, though, I think it was a pretty well-split race.  If I were to do it again, I might have slowed down at the start a bit.  I think the humidity affected me more than I expected it to. I figured with hydrating so much prior to the race that I'd be just fine, but I definitely wasn't feeling well at first.  I'm so glad I got into gear eventually and was able to pull off a 5-minute PR. My final results...

So... what's next, you might ask?  Of course, I'm deep into the throes of marathon training.  Taper the week before the race plus a recovery week this past week equals lower overall mileage for the past two weeks, but I will resume my higher mileage again this coming week.  This half marathon gives me some confidence for my upcoming full marathon, but not as much as I'd like.  I would have to maintain the same average pace that I ran at this half marathon for another 13.1 miles in order to qualify for Boston with 3:40.  The race conditions will be much different, of course, with the biggest thing being the temperature/humidity differences in October.  Columbus's course is a little less hilly than the Emerald City course, also.  That being said, I'm just not sure that that I'm ready to put it all out there in less than 2 months.  I will get in some good solid training over the next 7 weeks, and decide before the race what my plan is going to be.  Meanwhile, I have a "fun race" tomorrow (a 4 miler) that I don't plan on racing at all... just going to run with friends and enjoy myself!  I also am running in half marathon in Akron with Jen in a month that will be a training run, similar to what I did in Xenia three weeks prior to my first full.  Lots of miles coming up with my super-awesome friends, and I plan on fully enjoying the training leading up to my next full!

Saturday, August 23, 2014

God, grant me the serenity...

We all know how the prayer goes. God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.  I can be a bit of a control-freak... okay more than a bit LOL, so I struggle with this at times.

Tomorrow is my half marathon.  The one I've been pointing to all summer as my "checkpoint" in my road to my 2nd full marathon in October.  I've made no secret that I have huge goals for both of these races.  This half marathon was going to be my benchmark, letting me know if I was on the right track.  With the training that I've been doing, I truly felt like I was going to blow this race out of the water.  As I mentioned in my last post, I ran a PR by 2 minutes during the first 13 miles of a 16 mile training run.  My goals that I set in that last post totally seemed within my reach.

I forgot to take into effect the one thing that is truly out of my control: the weather.  For over a week now I've been stalking it.  It's changed frequently, as Ohio weather tends to do, going from rain to thunderstorms to clear.  What has not changed, though, is the prediction for heat and humidity.  We've been so very lucky to have a relatively cool summer this year.  Sadly, it came to an end about a week ago, and the typical hot and humid temperatures made their presence.

Tomorrow's forecast currently calls for 67 degrees at race start (7 AM), with humidity at 93%. Yep, you read that right, 93%.  Humid weather does not bode well for fast running, especially when, here in central Ohio, we've really only had to deal with it for a couple of weeks.  Our bodies are just not acclimated to breathing in all that moist air, and also sweating just doesn't happen when the air is overly humid, so the body can't cool itself.  The race organizers sent out an e-mail the other day, warning all participants to hydrate often in the days leading up to the race and of course while racing.  They'll have extra water at the water stops, and icy cold towels at the finish. 

How does this affect my plans?  Well, I've got the wisdom right now--I can't change the weather, and I've accepted this.  I've also accepted that I likely won't be able to pull off that "A" goal of a 1:45.  Who knows how I will feel during the race... I honestly can't even predict a time. Therefore, I've set a non-time goal to keep my goal-oriented self satisfied.  I want to figure out how to run without a fuel belt.  I ran my first marathon using my FuelBelt, which holds two 10-oz. water bottles, as well as my GU energy gels.  I've decided that I won't be wearing my belt for my 2nd full marathon, and I figured this would be a good race to try out drinking on the run.  During my first full, I did get water from a few of the water stops, but I relied mostly on my belt.  So during this race, I'm going to run with my handheld bottle (mostly because it's going to be so darn hot, otherwise I would carry nothing but my FlipBelt holding my GU gels), but I will rely mainly on the aid stations. There are 9 of them, so I should be okay if I get drinks at each one.

The main thing is that I don't want a recap of this.  Thus, I'll be monitoring myself closely to make sure that I'm not having symptoms of heat exhaustion.  I've promised my friends that I will walk if I feel at all bad.  That all being said... I'm psyched to race!!!  And I haven't forgotten my newly adopted mantras... stay in the moment, be content. Run like the wind, run with joy!

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Being content with where you are... and some goals

Last night my friend Jennifer (yes, that Jennifer, the one who was essentially my running coach for my first full marathon this past spring, the one who trained for a marathon without actually racing one just because she's that awesome of a friend, the one who was my cheerleader during my race) had what she called a "motivational meeting" for about 30 of the moms in our Moms Run This Town chapter.  Jen had seen a need for such a meeting as she read the posts on our message board... "I'm too slow to run with you"... "I'm too heavy to wear that brand"... and as a therapist by trade and of course a runner herself, she decided to do something about it.  Thus was born the motivational meeting.  A congregation of women, all of whom had come to learn something, to figure out the answers to their negative self-talk, to learn to embrace the run.  

Obligatory "selfie" at the meeting

Jen did not disappoint... the meeting was, of course, phenomenal.  From talking about racing mantras to body image issues, it was two hours of pure love for ourselves and our sport.  Everyone seemed to leave with a genuine feeling of renewal.  At least, I did.  I knew I wanted to be at the meeting, if only to support the person who has supported me for so many months.  I wasn't sure about how much I would take away, though.  After all, Jen and I have ran together for hundreds of miles, accumulating hours upon hours of conversations.  I call it my "free therapy," and I'm eternally grateful for it.  I am a work in progress, however.  My years as a competitive swimmer have ingrained in me a huge sense of perfectionism, of needing to beat my previous times and improve.  Because of this, I do have a good deal of negative self-talk that goes on in my head.  Not the body image variety, although I can always find flaws there.  No, it's the running... the comparing... the not wanting to disappoint the inner me, my own worst critic.

Jen said the following to me in a message on Facebook a few days ago when we were having a conversation, and it was a huge talking point last night as well.  "You need to be content with where you are right now."  Hearing the words said out loud last night resonated even greater with me.  The idea of not always needing to stretch for a goal, to reach for something more.  To finish a race and realize that hey, it's okay, regardless of the outcome.  To be happy with the moment, and not be thinking abouit the next step.  This is a huge thing for me to even think about.  I am a big believer in working hard and reaping the results.  If I train hard for a race, I expect to do well.  The idea that I won't upsets me greatly.  That's where I am right now, with training for both the Emerald City half marathon (in 10 days) and the Columbus full marathon (in just over 2 months).  I have huge goals, goals that scare me more than I can say.  But what is the worst that will happen if I don't reach those goals?  Truly... nothing.  It just means that I wasn't meant to do it on that day.  Not that it won't ever  happen... but what I need to do is be grateful that I can run, be content with what I did on that day. 

So this is my personal goal, to start reshaping my whole view of running and racing.  I've been running with Jen's friend Andrea for a few long runs, and recently a tempo run as well.  Andrea is amazing... super fit, Boston Qualifier multiple times, and one of the most knowledgeable runners who I know.  Jen hooked us up because of my need for a faster training partner, and I have loved our miles together thus far.  

Andrea and me after a 16-miler this past week

Andrea has the most amazing mantra, one that I have begun to adopt for myself.  Jen actually put it on the cake last night!

Andrea's mantra

So that is what I want to do for these upcoming races. Stay in the moment, be content, run like the wind, run with joy.  That all being said... it wouldn't be me if I didn't enter a race with a plan, with goals.  So, here goes nothing... my Emerald City goals.

C goal (the one that I really should accomplish unless it's 90 degrees out and I'm sick): A PR.  Now a personal record/best time is no joke.  However, I haven't truly raced a half marathon since last November.  I paced a friend to her own PR in April, but that wasn't me going for a time, it was me helping a friend achieve her own goal.  Last weekend Andrea and I ran 16 miles, chatting the entire way and not really pushing it till the final mile or so. The first 13.1 miles were finished in 1:52 and change (and our paced actually got faster after that).  My PR is a 1:54.  So a PR is definitely in the cards :)

B goal (the one that I will be happy with, that I am fairly sure I can do): Running under 1:50.  A 1:50 half marathon is averaging 8:23/mile.  That's speedy quick.  But I have been feeling really comfortable running in the 8:30-8:40 range, so I am thinking that I will be able to race in the 8:20's and beat this goal.  I will be very happy with a sub-1:50.

A goal (the one that is my pie-in-the-sky, ultimate dreaming goal): Running a 1:45.  A 1:45:00 is averaging 8:00/mile.  That pace scares the crap out of me!  Up until recently, I had never even averaged sub-8's on a shorter run.  I did a 6 mile tempo run with my friend Tamara a couple of weeks ago though, and did just that.  It was not easy.  Not for a second.  But it did give me a huge amount of confidence.  Maybe, just maybe, with rest, these legs can push it out. 

I won't lie, I'm afraid.  I will have to push the doubts and the pain more than I ever have before.  But I am up for the challenge.  I will run with joy.  And regardless of the outcome, even if I don't PR, I will do my best to be content with where I am.