Monday, November 5, 2012

Monumental Marathon Race Report

I have not posted in a long time. But I feel I must post a race report for my goal marathon. Moreso for myself than anyone else. I find it helpful to re-read my race reports for motivation and, in some cases, levity.

My (and Tim's) goal fall race was the Indianapolis Monumental Marathon. I have a short and somewhat sordid history of marathoning. I became a runner in late 2008, and trained for my first marathon in 2009. I became seriously injured at the end of that cycle, and missed my first marathon (if any of you knew me at that point, you'll remember). Then I got pregnant, had my son, and ran my first marathon in May of 2011. I had a good debut at the Eugene Marathon in Oregon, running 3:18:56. That race, however, was not drama free. I won't go into the details, but I'll just say that I ran that race wearing two (yes, two) TENS units attached to my abdomen...going at full power for the entire 26.2 miles. It was the only way I could run.

After that, I set a goal of 3:10 for the Chicago marathon in 2011. I couldn't wait to race sans TENS. It was a warm day, and I had a spectacular blow up. I ran bending over sideways for about nine miles. I have no recollection of the last three miles, and I was out cold at the finish. I ran 3:23. Then I ran Boston in April of 2012. It was extremely hot, with temperatures reaching 90 on the course. I did not race it, and ran something around 4:05. It was terrible, and I suffered a heat-related injury and an IT band injury to go along with it.

So, after three marathons, my first marathon (the one that involved wearing machines that shocked me the whole time) was still my PR. SURELY I could do better than that? All my shorter race times told me that I could. I had to be doing something wrong (probably a lot of things), so I enlisted the help of my runner extraordinaire friend, Scott Breeden. Scott began coaching me last November. Inbetween the Chicago blow up and the Boston suffer fest, he coached me to a huge half marathon PR, and an outstanding third place finish in my first 60 K. He also coached me for the marathon I ran two days ago.

I won't bore you with training details, but I'll give you the quick and dirty: When I do speedwork, I get hurt. I am currently working on a lot of muscle imbalances that I have that cause this, but during this training cycle, I hadn't yet met the athletic trainer with whom I am now working. So I knew I couldn't do true speed work. So we did miles. Lots and lots of miles. And progression runs. But mostly...I ran a LOT of slow miles.

Going into this race, I had the 3:10 goal as an optimal, everything-comes-together-perfectly goal. But I really just wanted a good, healthy PR. I must admit that I had no confidence in my ability to do this, though. The day before the race, I was nearly despondent with how I just knew I would go out there and fail terribly. This is what taper does to me. Every. Single. Time. The truth, however, is that I was more fit than I'd ever been. All I had to do was look at the multiple 75 mile weeks, and the one 80 mile week that I ran. And read through all my progression runs. My training was not perfect (lost almost a week when my back went out and had some knee pain), but I was more ready than ever.

The Monumental Marathon is in Indy. I decided, after Boston, that I'm never again running huge marathons. Well, I may run them, but I won't race them. I need something smaller...and this was it. We went up to Indy the night before and stayed at the Hilton. We expo'd (met the Boston marathon champion!) and went out to dinner with Ed and Jo. Jo was running the half and in for a HUGE PR. After dinner, we went to bed early. I slept about as terribly as you can imagine.

Race Morning
Nerves. Dread. This is how I felt walking to the starting line. But that is not different from any other race. It's just how I feel. It was cold. A little too cold for ideal conditions, but at least it wasn't hot. I wore shorts, singlet, throw away arm warmers, and gloves. I had decided that I would start with the 3:15 pace group and see how I felt at 20. This would probably prevent me from getting my ultimate goal of 3:10, but would ensure that I started slowly and comfortably. I bid farewell to Tim and headed to my corral, where I found my 3:15 group pacer, Matt.

I've run with pacers before, and some of them are not to be trusted. That's why I always interview them. So I set about doing this. I asked him what kind of splits he was planning on--even, banking time, negative split? What kind of timing device did he have--I hoped it was a Garmin? Anyway--he passed the test and I decided to run with him and the others signed up for that group. It was about five minutes to start time, so I decided to get my Garmin locked in. I had actually already gotten it locked in, but needed to reset it. So I did. I held the button down, just like I have 5,478 other times during this training cycle. I waited for the beep to tell me that it had reset.

Beep never came. I looked down, only to find that the screen had frozen. This had happened to me before, with my old watch. But this watch (a 610) was BRAND NEW. I urgently asked all the other Garmin-toting runners around me if they knew how to reset it. Many said they did. They pushed the buttons. Nothing happened. I pushed the buttons over and over in a fit of anxiety. Two minutes til the start. It was still locked.

There was nothing I could do. I was completely out of control of this situation. I prayed that I'd have peace about it, and everyone in the group told me they'd be sure to yell out splits to me. I thanked them, halfway in a daze. My watch locked up in my first marathon, at mile 10. But Tim was running with me, so we had his. However, when he stopped for a bathroom break, I dropped the pace by over 10 seconds per mile in his absence. I couldn't let that happen again. I vowed to stay right on the pacer.

I said my prayers for strength, peace, endurance, and joy...and we were off.

Miles 1-5
I don't have much to say about these because they were so easy. The miles clicked by so effortlessly, and I couldn't believe it every time I saw another mile marker. Note to all potential marathoners: THIS IS HOW IT IS SUPPOSED TO FEEL. When I ran Chicago and Boston, it didn't feel this way. Those were bad races, so I took the swiftness with which I was perceiving the mile markers were arriving as a very good sign. A few things to note about these miles...first, I saw some dear friends from church who had come to spectate. They came in the COLD to watch us. I saw them at mile three, and gave them high fives. I knew I wouldn't see them again until late in the race, so I just kept focusing on making it to them again.

Second, as I was running, around mile 3, I kept thinking "that guy right in front of me, I know that stride." Well that's because I did--it was Lester Burris! He's a Bedford runner and I've done lots of runs with him. I was so pleasantly surprised to  be running with someone that I actually KNOW. Thank you to Lester for running with me. We didn't talk to much, but we did ask how the other was doing multiple times.

I felt it necessary to run right next to the pacer (control freak). It felt completely easy, and I wondered if I'd started too slowly (AGAIN--THIS IS HOW IT IS SUPPOSED TO FEEL!). At each water stop, I would fall off a little bit getting water, and have to speed up to catch back up. But everything was lovely and easy and I felt like I could run forever. I took my first gel at 5, as well as my first salt tab.

I forgot that I didn't have a watch, and couldn't wait to hear our splits at each mile. We ran most of them right on, but there were a couple of fast ones--a 7:12 and a 7:18. I didn't feel them at the time, but I'm sure it affected me later.

Miles 6-10
Again, I was still on easy street for these miles. I became engaged in conversation with people in the group, and especially the pacer. Lester was still there, and we were still checking on one another. My legs felt fantastic. How could this be so EASY? I knew that this was a sign that I needed to just keep doing what I was doing. Just hang on and relax. Our pacer kept reminding us to relax, and I did so. I also prayed a lot. Sometimes silently, sometimes quietly out loud. I prayed thanks and for strength.

I warmed up around mile ten, and threw my arm warmers. It was cold, but not much breeze. This would change later. Our splits during this section were right around 7:25 (I think, anyway..of course I have no Garmin data).

Miles 10-13.1
We went through the half at 1:36:58. A touch fast. So our pacer quickly corrected and made us slow down. I felt fine, but vaguely remember thinking that I was glad to slow down a bit. I was still talking, chatting, and running RIGHT NEXT TO the pacer (as if that makes any difference). Our group became smaller at the half way point. People started falling off a bit. But Lester and I were still right there. There was also a guy in blue race ready shorts. I talked to him a lot, but don't know his name.

Miles 13.1-18
Okay, so now the race has started. Blue shorts even said it aloud to himself, and I concurred. I stayed relaxed, and focused on making it to the next mile. Honestly, I did not feel like I was working during these miles. I just felt like I had to stay focused mentally. There were several uphills in this section, and I just had to ensure I didn't push too hard up them.

Miles 15-18 are the worst of this course. Now, they are not BAD. They are just the worst in the course--slightly hilly and pretty much no crowd. Plus, it's just the point in the race when you are kind of beginning to be over it. I made it through the hills, and around 16 I noticed my left hamstring, down by the knee, being tight. I reached in to take another salt tab, and I DROPPED THEM! Nothing to be done about it...I started taking Gatorade at the water stops from then on. I also really had to pee.

I checked in with Lester around 18 (I think), and he said he was okay but could feel his legs now. I felt the same. Matt, our pacer, encouraged everyone to relax until 20. I was able to do that, and I just hung on his shoulder. Some point around 18, it got windy. A head wind I didn't expect. I drafted off of blue shorts as best I could.

Miles 19-22
Ah, now we were in the true depths of marathoning. If you're racing a marathon, odds are that you are going to hit a rough patch. Odds are that it's going to happen somewhere in here. I went through 19 and 20 with no problem. I felt good, and considered, around 20, leaving the group. Then, at 21, my hamstring cramped. Where it had been tight before, it was now in a ball of muscle. It hurt badly, but I knew I had to keep running or it could bring me down. It also started raining/sleeting at this point, and it became very windy.

After the hamstring balled up, I consciously let off the gas a bit to try to get it to relax. It worked, but the group was now about 5 seconds ahead of me. I tried to catch up with them, and that effort caused the hamstring to sing again. I said something to Lester like "I'm feeling it now and it's too much effort to be right with them." He said something similar. Shortly after that, he fell back and I didn't see him again. But we made it almost to 22 together.

22 is where I entered the suffer zone. I was now apart from my pace group, there were NO CLOCKS, I had no watch, and I was intermittently cramping in my left hamstring. I wanted to cry. Whereas earlier I had been praying quite verbose prayers of praise and thanks, all I could utter now was, "Father, strength." And I did. I said it over and over and over. I had no idea what pace I was going, and no idea if I was on PR pace. I could still see the pace group in front of me, so I figured I at least was on PR pace...but that PR could certainly be lost if I didn't hold it together for four miles.

It was freezing, sleeting, and windy. People around me were dying. They were walking. And my hamstring continued to cramp.

Miles 23-26.2
Whereas before I felt like I could have sped up if not for the hamstring, the switch had now been flipped--the marathon switch. I don't know how to explain it other than to say you feel one way one second, and another the next. I went from feeling like I could pour it on to wondering if I was going to have to stop and walk. It has happened to me each and every time I've ever run a marathon. It's always so sudden and surprising. I had three miles to go, and I wondered if I could do it. "Father, strength."

All I wanted to do was to stop running. I never wanted to run again. This is all normal behavior/thinking during the last few miles of a marathon. The only difference here was that I had no watch. Usually, when I'm feeling that way, I can look at my pace and bargain with myself. "Just don't slow down this mile." I couldn't do that. I had NO IDEA what pace I was running. My effort was high, but had I been reduced to a 9 minute mile? Possibly worse? I wanted to push as hard as I could simply because I wanted it to be over, but the hamstring got worse every time I did. So I began to do a fartlek--I would count to 30 running hard, then count to 10 backing off a bit, allowing the hamstring to relax. I did this for a long time.

Another symptom of being late in a marathon is assuming you've passed a mile marker and just didn't see it, when in reality it's still a half mile away. I asked some guy (who was dying) if we had hit 24 yet. "NO! No, no, no, not yet." CRAP. And then I saw it, up in the distance, just barely. The little flourescent orange "24." Still so far away. And then two more after that? I didn't know if I could do it.

I used all my normal mind games. Run hard to that stoplight, then you can slow down. I found myself running hard to the stoplight and then continuing to run hard, but the stupid hamstring would not let me. So I continued to fartlek. I was in misery--hands freezing, no energy, hamstring on fire, etc., etc. I'm not saying that to make you feel sorry for me...that is how the end of a marathon feels if you are racing (minus the cramp--wish that hadn't happened). The weather was just making things worse.

When I got to 24, I remembered that at some point soon I'd be seeing my friends from church. Ok Wendy. Make it to them. Just make it to them, then you can stop (hahaha...the lies we runners tell ourselves!). Next thing I knew, someone darted into the road and said, "Wendy?" It was Brent Voigtschild from Bedford. I could hardly utter anything but he told me to finish strong. I think I asked about Kathy (his wife, whom he was on his way to find), but I couldn't really speak. Thank you, though, Brent for jumping in and running with me a few seconds!

 Mile 24 to 25 was the absolute worst for me. I tried to remind myself of all the 5:30 am runs I'd done in preparation for this. The two-a-days. Surely I could hold on for another 15ish minutes. I prayed constantly. I prayed for humilty, for strength. I prayed for something that would please help me to finish this race, regardless of time. I surrendered that I couldn't do this on my own. I was just past 25, wondering if I could continue on, and I heard it.

"WWWWEEEENNNNDDDDY!" My crew! My peeps! It was Rachel, Kristen, and Jenna (Kristen's daughter). Oh, I wanted to cry. I would have but my eyes were frozen. They all jumped in and ran. Then Rachel kept running with me. I could hear Kristen whooping and yelling for me from behind, and suddenly I had new energy.

Rachel ran right next to me, and I told her I didn't know if I could do this (again, normal 25th-mile-of-a-marathon speak). I told her I had been praying for strength. And then she started singing a song--a worship song about running to God's arms. I wanted to sing but I couldn't. I don't know if I told her to keep singing, but I wanted her to. All I could do was grunt. She kept saying words of encouragement over and over. I told her I had no idea how fast I was going, and I truly didn't. But she said I was moving. I decided to believe her.

I heard a woman saying "Two more left turns and you're finished!" THANK YOU. That is runner-speak. Just tell me how many turns til I'm done. I focused on the first left turn. I closed my eyes and I heard Rachel say it was time to turn. I turned and could see the 26 mile marker and the 13 mile marker (for the half marathoners). I knew that the 13 mile marker was only .1 from my finish line. .1 miles until this suffering would end.

I closed my eyes and pushed hard, hamstring cramping all the way. Once I got to 13, I had to convince myself I could go another .1 (yes, it gets that bad). I made the final left turn, having NO idea what the clock would say. I had not been praying for a PR, just for strength, but was elated when I saw the clock say 3:15:xx as I made the turn. I honestly thought I had slowed down much more than that.

I heard three people call my name, one of whom was Tim. I wanted to be done. I passed three people in the final stretch, and crossed the line at 3:16:09. An almost 3 minute PR, and I ran the second half just under two minutes slower than the first--that is as close to even splits as I've ever been.

As soon as I finished, I leaned down, and surprised myself with lots of tears. They were not tears of pain, nor tears of joy, really. I was not crying because I got a PR. They were tears of peace, humility, and repentance. You see, running is very wrapped up in my relationship with God. I have had so much anxiety and worry over injuries, and even my ablity to continue running. But He takes care of me. He did on Saturday. By his grace and mercy alone did I get through that race with NO knee pain (which has plauged me this entire cycle). As I crossed the line, I felt an overwhelming sense of knowing that He takes care of me--not just because I got a PR. No, I don't think that's all that important, actually. But because all of my fears and my worries--He always comes through. And yet I still struggle to trust. God's grace abounds.

That prior paragraph may not make a whole lot of sense, but I don't know how else to describe how I felt when I finished--peaceful, humble, repentant.

I don't know when I'll race another marathon. It's not on my radar. I am doing a 50 miler in May, and probably another one next fall...God willing.

Thank you to my coach, husband, family, and friends for their tremendous support during my training cycle!