Sunday, May 1, 2011

Eugene Marathon 2011: The Race Report

I'm actually writing a race report for a marathon.  Let me enjoy that for a second........okay, here we go.  Yesterday (Saturday) morning, we got the chance to meet the Bowders (Mark, Alita, and Alec) prior to the V-team dinner, which was set for 5:30.  Other than my screwing up the meeting place (I was tapering, in my defense), it was great.  We met at the expo, which was closed, and so Mark walked us to a really snazzy Eugene-type coffee house/breakfast cafe.  I got a cappuccino and scared the barista with my splenda order.  But, being Eugene, where pretty much everything seems to go, he obliged.

We had a great breakfast and a great conversation.  We've been communicating for so long online that it feels as if we all know one another, but nothing beats face-to-faceness.  After breakfast, Tim and I went back to the expo so I could get some throw away gloves for the race.  As we were leaving, I started to feel really weak and nauseated.  I didn't know if it was nerves or taper or what.  Anyway, we took off to do our 2-mile shake out run on Pre's trail.

That was a surreal experience for me...running on Pre's trail.  We stopped and took lots of pictures, and for the first time since taper, my legs had a pop to them.  The only problem was, I was having some nausea and vomiting.  But I felt okay other than that.  We grabbed some lunch (Panda Express), and I began to feel even worse.  Like I was about to pass out from fatigue.  I was worried I was becoming sick or losing my mind in taper.  We came back to the room where I tried to nap, but failed.  But when I got up, I felt immensely better.

It was then time to head to Eliza's for dinner.  Eliza is another v-team member, who actually lives in Eugene.  She was nice enough to open her home to us and to fix us a wonderful meal.  Attending were also Mark, Alita, Tom, Tom's wife, Eliza's husband Ted, and a couple of their neighbors.  I was so nervous (about the race), but Tom told me I was doing a good job of hiding it.

After dinner, we followed Mark over to Hayward Field so he could show us potential parking spots in case we elected to drive over instead of taking the shuttle from our hotel.  And we saw the Hayward Field gate...WOW...surreal again.  We headed straight back to the hotel, and the next half hour was spent making sure every. little. thing. was ready.  Singlet, shorts, socks, arm warmers, gloves, TENS (of course), gels, salt tabs, blah, blah, blah.  We had put our Garmins on the chargers earlier.  I elected to leave mine on the charger all night, while Tim took his off and slept in it so he wouldn't forget it.  I just wrote a big note that said "GARMIN" and taped it to the hotel room door.

I slept surprisingly well.  Thanks, I think, to the fact that we weren't totally adjusted to the time change.  I woke twice for the bathroom, and when the alarm went off at 5:00 I felt pretty rested.  At this point, I wasn't too nervous.  I was....focused.  I have been so worried about getting everything together and correctly situated...the TENS unit is a pain in the rear.  The electrodes have to be positioned in a way so that they won't rub the wrong way, so they don't overlap, and then they have to be taped in place.  So I spent a long time getting all that together.  I grabbed my Garmin (thanks to the sign), and we were off.  We decided to ride the shuttle.

It was a short ride over, and I began to feel butterflies in my stomach.  But, mostly, I was just trying to soak it all in.  The people around me were talking about previous marathons they had run.  This was my first.  This was the only time I'd be riding in a (school) bus to the start of my first marathon.  We pulled up at Hayward Field and headed to where we were to meet Mark and Tom.  Soon, they were there.  I think we were all a bit nervous, but Mark and I were the worst.  It was cold, but I was shaking from nerves as well.  We dropped our gear, used the porta potties a few times, and it was time to head to the corrals.

We said bye to Tom and Mark, who had different goals than us, and headed up to the 3:20 pace group.  I really had no solid goal for this race.  If you've followed this blog, you know that this training cycle has been punctuated by pain, frustration, and survival mode.  I wasn't sure what I could do, and what the pain would allow me to do, so I just picked 3:20 as a start time.  That was my original goal for Chicago 09 (when I DNS'd).

The only difference was, I was a lot more fit for that race.  I was running speed work...tempos and track work, and big miles, up around 80 for a week or two.  I got hurt before taper, but I was really confident that 3:20 was a lock.  This training cycle was, to say the least, conservative for me.  I peaked at 61 miles.  I did absolutely NO cross training/core/anything, which I usually do to boost my overall fitness.  No speed (other than one three mile tempo just to see what I could do).  I didn't even do pace miles.  I had two things going for me.  One was that I had done most of my runs on very tough courses.  Another was that I had 7 20s (including a 21 and 22) under my belt.  I lined up knowing that I was nowhere near as fast as I could be, and I hadn't run that many miles, but I had many runs during which I was on my feet a long time.

We lined up next to the pacer, and I didn't really like him.  He kept telling the others that it was totally a flat course, which I had learned the night before was not true.  There was climbing from mile 3 to 4, and quite a sizable hill at mile 9.  And lots of rollers after that.  It was clear he'd never run it.  He also told them they only needed to stop at half the water stops.  I tuned him out after that.

We waited and waited and WAITED, and finally they had this little 9-year-old girl sing the national anthem.  It was awful--totally off-key.  I felt bad for her, but I was mostly focused on trying to pee in the cup I had brought with me.  See, men, at starting lines, pee in Gatorade bottles.  Well, women can't hit a Gatorade bottle.  So I found a wide-mouthed cup.  Now, don't freak out, I had a huge trash bag over me that went well below my knees.  Only Tim knew what I was doing.  I am happy to say it worked.  I disposed of it, turned on the TENS unit (to full power), and it was time to go.

When we first took off, it hit me:  this is a loooooooong race.  I just wanted to stay comfortable.  Of course, when I looked down at my Garmin, we were a little fast, so we pulled back.  Then we were forced to slow down, as there were tons of much slower runners in front of us.  It was either take our time or bob and weave.  We just took our time.

Mile 1:  7:41

That was just fine.  We were just a few steps in front of the pace group, and it had finally thinned out.  I felt like I was CRAWLING.  I said to Tim, "Okay.  I believe in the taper."  It felt slower than a jog.  I kept looking down at my Garmin, and we were in the 7:34 range.  A little quick, but I couldn't imagine we should have been going any slower than that.  My abdominal pain was definitely there, as it always is, but it was quite manageable at this time with the TENS.  I tried to ignore it.  And, as Tim promised, the miles ticked by.

Mile 2: 7:36
Mile 3:  7:35

And then came the first climb.  Everyone around was talking SO MUCH.  I was too focused to talk.  I just kept telling myself:  "Warm up for 20, race for 6."  I've heard Kara Goucher say that before, that she tries to zone out the first 20, just get into a rhythm.  I was in a very comfortable rhythm.  I was holding way, way back.  I tried to take in some of the sights, but I honestly was just too focused on the task at hand.  We were passing tons of people at this point, too.

Mile 4:  7:39

A second slow, but it didn't matter because we were slightly ahead anyway and it was all uphill.  Right before mile 5, I began to notice a pain in my left upper hip flexor.  I've felt it before, but usually it's fleeting.  It was sticking around this time, though.  It wasn't horrible, just annoying.  And it took my mind off the abdominal pain.

Mile 5:  7:35

We were pulling ahead of the pace group.  Trust me, you would have too.  This guy was horrendously obnoxious.  Story after story of his glory days as a 2:30 marathoner, and how this was just a long run for him.  Dude...shut up.  Those people behind you have trained for MONTHS and they are WORKING.  I still felt as though I was jogging.

Mile 6:  7:26

Oops.  That was probably a little too fast.  The goal was to keep an even effort, and we were, but we had some downhills.  I told Tim, "It's fine, I feel great.  It feels slow."  And it did, but I saw that it bothered him that he let me speed up that much.  He knows a LOT more about marathoning than I do.  But I also know that I am tough, even tougher after this training cycle, and that I could hang on if things got rough.

Mile 7:  7:31

Mile 8:  7:31

Miss Consistency.  As it turns out, a 7:30 pace was my rhythm pace.  This pace felt so easy and so right, that I just went with it.  Oh, I almost forgot--all you Garmin haters will love this.  At mile 7.63, my Garmine froze.  It stopped tracking time or distance.  I reset it, it turned on momentarily, and then died.  It was FULLY charged.  So, at only 8 miles into the race, I had no time piece.  I had to rely on Tim.  Which was fine, but difficult for a control freak like me.

Mile 9:  7:32

And that was the mile with the very large hill.  Let me tell you--I can run hills now.  That thing had nothing on the twin towers or Slaughter House.

Mile 10:  7:34
Mile 11: 7:34

When we hit around 11, I said to Tim "Okay, I can feel my quads a bit.  I'm still jogging, but I can just feel them."  He remarked that he could feel his too (which I didn't believe).  At this point, I started to loosen up a little.  I wasn't so zoned in.  We talked and laughed a bit, and rolled our eyes when an "Elliptigo" went by (Google it, you'll see what I mean).  We went past Pre's trail and reminisced about our run there.  I said to him, "At halfway, let's just hold 7:30s.  Then reevaluate in 5K."

Mile 12: 7:32
Mile 13:  7:30

Ah, the halfway mark.  But it's not really half way, of course.  We went through the half in something like 1:38:45.  Well under 3:20 pace.  My abdominal pain was giving me some grief, I was having to do some of the different breathing to get it under control, but I was okay.  I could feel my quads, but I was in no way working.  And I was having a BALL.  What a wonderful experience to have with your husband/best friend.  He knew it was killing me not to have my watch, so he was very good about giving me splits.

Mile 14: 7:28

Without knowing it, we sped up.  I kept saying to him, "I'm just doing even effort."  And I was.  I've never run a marathon before.  It was feeling really easy at this point, and I didn't want to cross the line with way too much left.  Then, the inevitable happened.  Tim had to pee.  Well, I wasn't going to stop.  So he headed off to a porta potty and I kept going. Without a watch.  I had no idea how fast I was going.  Not even my total time.  I asked  a guy next to me, wearing a Garmin, and he said "I don't have the pace showing."  Um, WHY?  Anyway, he said "7:30ish I'm guessing."  Okay.  So I held that.

Mile 15:  7:23

And I only learned in retrospect about that mile, because Tim still wasn't back.  It was at this point that I thought, "Okay, my legs are feeling it a little."  Not tired...but sore.  The quads.  But I was still really running smoothly and holding back.  I began to pick out women to pass, and slowly picked them off.

Mile 16:  7:23

Again, he still wasn't back, and apparently Mr. "7:30ish I think" was Mr. 7:23.  Tim came back somewhere close to this point, having had to run a 6:33 to catch up.  We didn't know, at that point, that I had sped up, because we didn't bother to do all the math.

Mile 17:  7:29

Okay, my legs are feeling it.  My quads are talking to me, the downhills are really making them talk, and my legs are getting tired.  But I was having no trouble holding a 7:30ish pace at this time.  I probably started conversing a little less here, but was still pointing things out to Tim on the course.

Mile 18:  7:28

I was still feeling the legs, but they just wanted to fly.  I STILL felt like I was holding back.  I was excited that we were almost to 20, as I was sort of ready for this thing to be over, but I was having a blast and felt strong.  I tried to embrace the quad pain, as it distracted me from the abdominal pain.

Mile 19:  7:33

This is the first mile marker at which I remember being surprised our time was not faster.  I wasn't dying, but I was working here.  I no longer wanted to talk, and I was highly irritated with my TENS unit and the fact that I didn't have a watch.  I was cursing Garmin.

Mile 20:  7:29

Okay, I was working here.  But I expected that.  I had to increase the effort level, but I was staying on pace.  At this point, I asked Tim where we were, and he said if I held something like sub-7:37s, I could break 3:18.  That became my goal...break 3:18.  Then, out of nowhere, my right-sided abdominal pain got ugly.  Stabbing and into my shoulder.  I didn't say a thing to Tim, because I didn't want him to worry.  I felt myself slow down a bit until that got more under control.

Mile 21:  7:33

Really working now, but still holding it together.  When I say "really working," I in no way mean cardiovascularly.  My breathing was fine.  I mean it wasn't like I was jogging, but I could have talked, etc.  I had expected to be very winded by this point, like I get in shorter races, but I wasn't.  However, my legs were now SCREAMING at me.  I had to push so much harder to stay at 7:30.  I thought "I don't know if I can keep this up for 5 more miles."  Then I scolded myself for doing that.  I decided I was going to make it to mile 22.  That's all I had to do.

Mile 22:  7:34

This mile felt soooo long.  Where is the mile marker?  WHERE IS IT?  That's how you know the race is nearing its end.  Did we miss it?  Surely we did.  Oh, no, that's it over a quarter of a mile up the road!  Crap!  I was fighting the leg pain and the upper abdominal pain very badly here.  I began to pray (out loud) for strength.  I just wanted to do my best and not to give up.

Mile 23:  7:50

And, it happened.  No, I didn't give up.  I was at an all-out effort.  But this particular part of the course was on a bike path with a lot of (albeit small) ups and downs, and they (both the ups and downs) just killed me.  Tim told me we had slowed down, and I said (rudely):  "Doesn't matter, I'm doing all I can."  And I've heard people say they feel that way at mile 20 of a race.  For me, I got through mile 20 okay and so I thought I wasn't going to get to that place.  I did, just 3 miles later.  I was, as Bill put it on Facebook, deep into a marathon, and no one can prepare you for it.  The fatigue in the legs is ungodly.  The desire to stop is overwhelming, and 3 miles never seemed so far.

Mile 24:  8:05

Sigh.  After mile 23, I told Tim I just wanted to keep it under 8:00 miles.  I was digging so deep, and my legs just would. not. go.  I was pumping my arms like an idiot, and nothing was happening.  I said to myself, "Come on, Wendy, come on!"  I have put my body through so much during this training cycle.  It all came down to surviving the last 20 or so minutes.  All the sudden, the TENS started really bothering me.  It felt like it was burning my skin.  I ripped it off, took off the fanny pack, and handed it to Tim. "Deal with it," I said.  And he did.  He put on the pack, I think, and never complained.  I couldn't take the burning feeling from the electrodes AND the abdominal pain AND the legs screaming to high Heaven.  I began to picture 2 miles from my house on Washington Avenue, a place I run all the time.  I tried to picture myself running there.

Mile 25:  7:56

I managed to speed it up a little.  During this mile, I said to Tim "Tell me about the day Rowan was born, from the time we got up til the time he was born."  And he did.  It distracted me, and I remembered all the pain of that day.  But, honestly, this was not about pushing through pain.  I was doing that.  I physically could not move my legs any faster.  I've never felt that way before.  In a 5K, it hurts a LOT, but you can push through it.  This was another level.  An inhumane one.  Work all you want and you're STILL gonna slow down!

Mile 26:  7:51

Okay, you've got this.  You are ALMOST DONE.  I was talking to myself, to God, to the air.  I don't remember what I was saying other than I do remember saying "Strength" over and over.  Tim kept telling me we were almost there, and to think of my children.  I told him to shut up and one point, and I don't even know why.  I just couldn't take anymore stimuli.  I was surrounded by people who were dying--pulling off, cramping, hobbling, shuffling.  I can tell you this:  I was running my heart out.  It wasn't fast at this point, but I wasn't bleeding too much time.

My mom had left a note in my suit case for me to read this morning.  At the end, she told me that, when it got tough, to think of Wes telling me to push it.  To think of Amelia cheering for me, and of Rowan waving and laughing.  She told me to think of my dad looking at his watch, and of her jumping up and down.  I did during this mile.  Over and over.  My family.  My kids.  My wonderful husband next to (at this point in front of because he was still trying to motivate me despite the futility of the situation) me.  I was hurting so much, and yet I felt so good.  I'm doing it.  I love my kids, I love my family, and I'm finishing this mofo as strong as I can.  When we hit 26, I started running harder.  People were lined all along the street cheering my name (it was on my bib).

They would say, "Yes, Wendy!" and I would say "That's right!"  Yes, running a marathon.  Not just running it, but leaving it all out there.  I know that all of you who have run marathons understand the pain that was shooting through my quads.  Though I was in misery, I embraced it--I've wanted to experience it for a very long time.

I said to Tim "Where is it?!"  meaning the track.  I wanted it to be over.  And then it happened.  We entered Hayward Field, rounded the corner, and headed onto Pre's straight away.  I kicked with all I had (which wasn't much), passing a girl I'd been chasing for miles.  I heard Alita scream for me and I tried to pick it up even more.  We hit the finish and Tim exclaimed:  "3:18:56!"  I didn't break 3:18...I lost that in the last three miles...but I did the next best thing and broke 3:19.  I silently thanked God for giving me the strength to keep going.  Not just today, but through the entire training cycle.  It was so worth it in that moment.

I was spent.  I hugged Tim, kissed him, and told him I'd left it all on the course.  I tried to walk and began to fall.  I wasn't passing out, my legs just gave out.  Well, that prompted medics to surround me.  I told them I was fine and that Tim was my husband.  Tried to walk again, same thing happened.  They put me in a wheel chair (at least it wasn't an Elliptigo).  I wanted up.  I was on Hayward Field, dammit.  I wanted to walk on it.  And, with Tim's assistance, I did.  I got my medal, and was told by so many wonderful volunteers how great I looked (ha!).  We got our pancakes (yes, pancakes), and sat down to wait for Tom and Mark.

It was then I discovered some nasty blood blisters on my toes.  They didn't bother me during the race, but wow...they are my main complaint now.  I also found out that the TENS unit DID burn me.  I had it on for longer than ever, at full strength, and coupled with my body heat I think it was just too much.  I have some burn marks all over my abdomen...but I know I won't be needing it anymore anyway.  Tom approached us, beaming, as he had had a big PR.  Mark, though, had a bad day.  It was quite warm in the second half, and sunny the whole time (especially for someone who does his runs at 4 am!).  But there we were, the victorious V-team!  We met up with Mark's family for a while, and then it was time to go back to the hotel.

I was wobbling, but on cloud 9.  What a day.  And I said to Tim, on the bus, "So what about my goal for Chicago?  What do you think I can do?"  I'm always hungry for more.

Some really good things about today:

-Duh, I actually made a starting line.

-My nutrition and fueling went VERY well.  I did gels every 4 miles, 2 salt tabs every hour, and I took water at every station.  I carried a short straw with me, which allowed me to get all the water at every stop.  Very good strategy if you have trouble drinking on the run like I do.

-No cramps or potty stop issues, which I know plague a lot of first timers.  I was able to run the entire time.

-The abdominal pain didn't paralyze me.  It has, at times, and I was worried a race effort would bring it out.  Now, it was a factor, and I think it probably cost me some time overall, what with the TENS affecting my breathing, the extra weight of it, and just slowing down a bit due to the pain...but I am so, so thankful it didn't get worse.

-I beat two very important times:  Tim's marathon debut time (3:19:52), and my dad's marathon PR (3:19:40).  I kept using those as motivation in the last couple of miles.  If they could do those times, I could do those or faster.

-I had a ton of congratulatory Facebook messages/posts, emails, texts, and phone calls awaiting me when I got back.  These truly made my day--I so much appreciate all of you sharing with me in this sometimes rocky experience.  I thought of you out there.  I thought of my blog, and how I wouldn't give up because I would never want to blog about that (and I'd have to if that's what happened).

I am resting now, but I am really sore.  My left hip flexor is VERY tender, and I'm afraid I'm injured (Tim says I'm not, that it's normal to have a hot spot after a race).  We leave very early tomorrow, home to Rowan and Amelia.  I can't wait to see them.

If you know me, I'm pretty hard on myself.  Nothing is ever good enough, and as soon as I finished today I started thinking how I could have run it faster.  But I caught myself doing that and stopped immediately.  I am truly proud of what I did not only today, but for the past 5 months.  I ran my heart out.  Thank you for following along!

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