Sunday, November 8, 2015

Race Report: Soldier Marathon 2015

This was such an amazing weekend and I'm not sure how I will ever describe it in words! I'm going to give it my best shot, though!

I had been very nervous and anxious about this 2nd attempt at Marathon Maniacs since last Saturday's 6 mile run. Around mile 4 I started feeling knee/ITB pain, and it continued off and on for the rest of the day and into Sunday. My next run was scheduled for Tuesday (4 miles) and I did that one and there was some pain from the beginning. I tried wearing my IT Band strap and it didn't change anything so I took it off in the last mile. I was supposed to run 2 miles the next day but I skipped it. I figured 3 days of rest before the race was better for me physically and emotionally. But the anxiety was something that I struggled with over the next few days. I think if I hadn't been riding and staying with Jill, I may have skipped it altogether - that's how nervous I was!

Friday morning arrived at last and I took my daughter to chemistry class, came back to pick up my bags, and ran a couple of errands before heading down to Jill's house. I was feeling much, much better. Still nervous but the anxiety part of it was gone. Jill and I started off our adventure with donuts from a great little shop that she loves! It was fantastic! I think every adventure is better when you start it with donuts! :)

We arrived at the hotel in the middle of the afternoon. It's the Hampton Inn and Suites and it shares a parking lot with the National Infantry Museum, the location of the expo and the Start/Finish line. The hotel was very nice and the staff were friendly and helpful! We checked in, put our bags up, and headed to the expo. As I do at every race now, I laid out all of my stuff before I went to the expo to make sure I had everything I needed. And I did! Please remember this statement as it will become important later on! :D

We picked up our packets - race bibs, very nice clear plastic sling bags, and a tech shirt. The shirt was very small but I was able to exchange it for a bigger size! The museum was open and I have heard it was nice. I took a couple of pictures and decided that it was a destination for my husband, son, and hopefully myself one day - they will LOVE it!

The Avenue of the Flags - my finish line will be there tomorrow! (and start line)

National Infantry Museum - beautiful!

The entrance!

One look and I knew my hubby needed to see this place!

Got my bib! 
The expo was small but a local running store had a nice sized shop set up and I was able to find a pair of the shoes Riley likes and a pair of shoes I like for almost 50% off! We stopped off at the hotel room again and that's when I realized that I had brought the holders for my hydration belt - but no water bottles. Much to my surprise, I did not panic. I just set about trying to figure out what to do. Jill had a small water bottle with her that I could use and it fit into my holder just fine, so that was my initial plan.

We took a drive around to check out as much of the race route as we could. The first part of the course is on Fort Benning (which we obviously couldn't access) and most of the rest of the course runs on the Riverwalk  - a paved trail that follows the riverfront. But we drove into the downtown area and saw as much of that we could! It was nice to get a feel for where we would be running and I really appreciated that the next day!

Pre-race dinner always means pizza and Jill suggested Mellow Mushroom! It had been so long since I've been there and it was yummy!
Yep, we ate it all - plus Cinnamon/Honey pretzels for dessert! They don't call it carb-loading for nothing! 
On the way back to the hotel, we stopped at Publix so I could pick up some more of the little water bottles. I really needed to have two - one for UCAN and one for Nuun. Back at the hotel, I saw posts from two of the ladies from my MRTT group offering up the very bottles that I needed for my belt. They had brought them with them but weren't going to use them! But I didn't get a response back from either of them either that night or the next morning before we left the room. So I went ahead and prepared the small water bottles that I had purchased at the store and refilled with my fuel. Remember that, it will be important later! :)

Jill and I were both ready for the race and in bed by around 8:15! We are real party animals, huh? I just hadn't gotten ANY sleep all week and I was so nervous. I fell right to sleep and woke up at 12:15 thinking I was up for the day, but I actually went back to sleep until 4:15. My alarm was set for 5, so I consider that a great night of sleep for a race night!

We got ready by 6 to go down to the hotel-provided breakfast which was fantastic! They had my oatmeal but I had already brought/eaten half a bagel since I hadn't realized they would have such an extensive breakfast open in time for the race! Went back up to eat and make use of the real bathroom we had access to! Nothing better than a real toilet before the race! As we left to go to the start, we ran into some friends, including one of the MRTT friends who had volunteered her bottles! She got my attention and asked if I wanted them! YES!! She went back into the room to get them and I filled them up and dumped the other bottles. I was SO happy - the other bottles were really not stable when you put the in and out of holders. It would have been a pain. My day was already getting better!

And then I stepped outside. And into weather that felt more like a Georgia August than November. I was so glad I had thrown my one remaining Sparkle Skirt into my bag at the last minute. I hadn't worn it for a long run since the Hotlanta Half Marathon and I had no idea if I was going to chafe miserably in the longer weather, but I was afraid that wearing the capris I had planned on wearing would be dangerous. My friend Tracy had some issues a few years ago with heat and racing and she told me that the legs being covered is actually more important than the arms, torso, etc. I decided that the risk of chafing was better than the risk of passing out. That was a smart move because the weather proved to be unbelievable!

Speaking of the race, I should get on to the actual race in this Race Report! LOL There was a 15 minute delay in the start due to parking issues. That made me really mad. We were trying to beat storms that were forecast to start around noon. 15 minutes could make the difference in finishing and in the race being cancelled. Why punish the rest of us when we got there early as you should always plan to do for a race?! It was chip timed so they could just start when they got there and the directors could leave the finish line open an additional 15 minutes to accommodate them! Anyway, I was aggravated - but probably that was a result of my building nerves!

The view of the start from my friend, Susan! We came towards the camera for the start and finished going the opposite direction! It was fantastic!
A cannon sounded the start of the race and we took off. I had decided to do 3/1 intervals rather than 4/1 that we had done for most of MCM. But my only goal was to finish - and my secondary goal was to finish feeling positive and having an enjoyable experience - so I knew that the 3/1 interval was merely a starting point!

This course is mostly flat, with the exception of one massive hill in the 2nd-3rd mile, and it was infinitely less crowded than MCM. So our pace was excellent! We had decided to run that massive hill because there would be drill instructors on the hill "encouraging" us up it as if we were soldiers! They were fantastic! I loved it! We had a great pace going and my legs were feeling pretty good! I had twinges come up in either knee, but it wasn't ever anything that made me feel really badly. The only problem was the humidity and heat. I was fading fast. I simply hadn't trained or raced in those conditions this year. I mean, I did some training runs that were in the low to mid 70s for temps but that was back in July and August. My two "hot" races ended up being cool wash-outs. My body was just not ready for these conditions!

The biggest indicator that things weren't "right" was my heart rate. Thanks to my heart rate training in the summer, I had gotten used to judging my heart rate zone. I wasn't wearing the monitor for the race, but I could tell that my HR was not coming down during the 1 minute walk break. That was concerning, especially because we were not even half way done and the temps were still going up! We decided to switch the intervals for a bit around mile 10. We did a few sets of running 1 minute and walking 3 and that worked great! My HR came back down nicely! We decided to do this switch-up again at mile 15 and mile 20. We started running again and my knees protested more than they had before. But it wasn't ever a 'giving out' feeling so I didn't worry about it too much. What I did worry about was my HR. After a few more of the 3/1 intervals, it started not coming back down again, so we decided to do some more flip-flopped intervals after the halfway point. I texted my mom just to let her know that we would be slowing down - at the halfway mat, we were right around 2:26 (a few seconds faster than our MCM pace, which was with more running! Incredible!). But I knew I could not keep this pace up safely. I didn't want her to be worried.

After trying a few 2/3 intervals, we decided to settle in with the 1/3 and no worry about it. Our walk pace was nice and brisk and our run pace was very strong, even until the end (our last 3 runs were 8:30, 8:31, and 8:27!) but the weather just made it harder and harder to run. I was soaking wet as if it had actually been raining! I even developed 2 blisters on my left foot, but not on the bottom of my foot so they didn't bother me when I was running or walking. At one point I stopped to put some glide on them to avoid a bigger problem and I took a couple of pictures of the beautiful downtown Columbus Riverwalk!

Such a lovely area! 

The view across the river into Alabama! We crossed the river and ran into AL briefly!
Once we crossed the bridge back into Alabama, we started heading back towards the finish line! I joked that I would like to jump into the river and just float/swim my way back! LOL There are triathlons in Columbus, so now that I'm familiar with the area, I'll have to see where they get into the water!

It was nice to know that we were heading back! There weren't very many full marathoners so there were times where it appeared that we were the only ones out on the course! I was so glad to have Jill there with me! It would have been very, very lonely without her!

One thing I need to note here is the friendliness of all of the volunteers! The soldiers and civilians both - and really every single person who was out on the course - cheered us on personally! They were encouraging and helpful and made the conditions much better (if that's possible LOL).

Once we hit mile 24, I was confident that we were going to make it. And I felt myself starting to get choked up. I didn't want to be crying as I crossed the finish line so I kept pushing it back! I am not pretty when I cry! We had decided that coming in under 5:30 was probably doable, which is amazing to me considering how much walking we had been doing! So that pushed us to keep up with the run interval even when we didn't want to, and to keep our walk pace brisk when we really didn't want to! But let me tell you, that one minute of running started turning into the LONGEST. MINUTE. EVER. Literally. Ever. In the history of time.

We made the turn onto the Avenue of the Flags and started to run! My friend, Anna, who had rocked the Half Marathon was waiting at the finish and took this fantastic picture of me and Jill heading to that finish line!

I'm sort of in love with my form! 
BTW, Jill and I did not plan to be wearing coordinating skirts/shorts! It just sort of happened!

We crossed that fantastic finish line with a time of 5:27:07! Less than 30 minutes slower than MCM - and my 2nd fastest marathon ever!

Soldier Marathon Finisher! Love the medal!
Once I realized that I had done it, I burst into tears! I hugged Jill and sobbed on her shoulder - I was so grateful to her for all of her encouragement not just the last few weeks but in these last 4 years. When I was saying that I couldn't do another marathon, or I couldn't achieve Marathon Maniac status, she would encourage me that I could! And she stayed with me for all 52.4 miles of this journey! She also had a sign for me and my first piece of Maniac Gear!

I finally did it!!! 
It's been a long 4 years since my first attempt, but I can finally say that I am Marathon Maniac #11915, and Double Agent #1880!

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Race Report: 2015 Marine Corps Marathon, Part 2

To read up on the expo and my activities leading up to race day, please read Part 1 of this post here.

I didn't sleep very well the night before the race, but I was expecting that. I woke up at 2:30 AM (meaning I got about 4 hours of sleep). I guess my brain thought I was supposed to get up "Disney early". Since I was meeting my ROTE friends at their hotel, I didn't actually have to get going as early as I would have if I had to go through the Pentagon entrance. So I lay in bed for about another hour or so, then I heard my aunt up and decided to go ahead and get up. I did my rolling and some gentle yoga and then made my oatmeal and ate it while talking with my aunt. It was raining (as it had been most of the night) and that was disappointing. But it wasn't cold. I can handle rain or cold, but prefer not to have both.

I finished breakfast, got dressed, finished packing up my stuff, and posed for a pre-race picture!

Not too bad for 4:15 AM!
The plan was for my aunt to drop me off at the train station, where I would ride down to the Rosslyn station and walk to the hotel. I arrived just as the earlier train was leaving and didn't feel the need to rush to it so I picked a spot on the bench and waited for the next train. Of course, I had to take a selfie!

Not too bad for 4:35 AM!
I tried to start up conversations with those around me but I didn't get very far. I wonder if everyone was too tired because there were lots of grumpy reactions around! The rain had pretty much stopped, though, and that was good. And I wasn't freezing, and that was good! The train came on time, though they were announcing that other lines were having trouble due to a deer that was hit on the tracks. :( I was able to get a seat and sat the entire ride to Rosslyn. I got off and headed to Jill's hotel, thankful that my aunt had insisted we take the time to walk the route during the day because it was different in the dark and I would have had more trouble!

I arrived at the hotel room and thankfully I checked the room number on my text because I had the wrong room number in my head - wouldn't have been nice to wake up the wrong people! I hit the bathroom and dropped off my bag in the room. We checked weather one last time and saw nothing on the radar so I left my poncho. I would regret that decision later.

Met up with the crew in the lobby and walked towards the start line. We got to the entrance for the military base (and I knew this from my aunt's tour the day before) and we stopped. Huge crowds and nobody was moving.  This was different according to my friends who run MCM year in and year out. But we weren't moving. And the rain was starting to really come down. And it was dark. My nerves were a bit on edge and I'm glad I had friends around me!

The line was caused by security checking bags and having to walk through the metal detectors - and there were only 4 or 5. But apparently we had it good compared to folks coming through the Pentagon side who were in line for an hour or more. Lots of racers missed the start completely. We made it through, hit the potties, and then went to the start line. And before I knew what was happening, it was time to start.

The start as seen by my aunt and uncle on the hill!
Jill and I were planning to run together and I had us doing a 4/1 interval. I had all these plans of enjoying the race and making all these memories and remembering every single detail, but my mind had other plans. Almost immediately, my brain started playing horrible games with me. And it did not let up until the very, very end. I'm not sure what happened because I hadn't had any of those problems during training, not even when I ran 20 miles in the pouring rain! But it got ugly. I did a very good job talking back to myself, in my mind... but it was exhausting me emotionally. Looking back, I should have prayed more and I think that would have brought peace to my mind, but in the moment and the surprise at having such an issue, I didn't do it. I was probably really quiet in places and I think I even said something to Jill about it at one point but I was so busy talking to myself that I didn't have time to talk out loud! LOL

As a result of all of the mind games, the details of the race are a bit fuzzy. It's a shame, but it is what it is. The course was fantastic and Jill is wonderful to run with! I had told her - and everyone that would listen - that I wanted to come in under 5 hours for my finish time. I'm not exactly why I chose 5 hours, but I did. I knew that it wouldn't be the end of the world if I didn't come in under 5 hours but I was hopeful! Jill stuck with me all through the race and really pushed me towards the end. She wasn't ugly about it at all, but she said that we were close to making my time goal! So for many of the end miles, I just settled in behind her and focused on her feet and her turnover. It really helped!

I felt pretty good through the majority of the race! My right ITB started to make noise around the 16th mile but it wasn't horrible. However, after the bridge while we were running through Crystal City, my left knee started to feel like it was giving out. I tried to keep up with Jill but lost her when the course turned around. I had to walk because it hurt so badly. But once I started to walk, it felt fine! So we switched from our regular intervals and I would run until it started to twinge and then we would walk! I was thinking of the next race I had coming up in two weeks and the reminder from Jeff Galloway that I needed to keep under the threshold of irritation. During the run intervals I would focus on keeping good form, and the walking felt very good. Once we hit that mile 24 marker, I knew that we would make it and that I would finish running! I can't even begin to describe that feeling! There is no way on earth I would have been able to do that without Jill's support and encouragement!

I will always remember as we started to run up the hill to the finish, she called out, "Remember, this hill isn't any worse that what we run at home!" and she was right! I pushed out the last bit of energy I had and watched my Garmin tick away the seconds to the finish to make sure that I came in under 5 hours! And I did - with 35 seconds to spare!! Incredible!!

Happy Runner Girl!

Finisher!! I did it!!

Official time was 4:59:25! So excited! 

Jill is a Titanium Marathon Maniac and my personal marathon angel! :)
There was another line to get the food boxes and these neat jackets that took the place of the warming blankets! We didn't need the jackets but I took it to use at a future race! Then we waited to get out of the finish line area. Lots of standing and barely walking. Not good for the legs, I'm sure!

Hugs from my aunt!
We were able to connect with my aunt and uncle, who had been along the course spectating in various areas - despite the rain! I was so happy to get a hug from her! I can't believe I was able to see them in all the crowd. My uncle is nice and tall and was wearing a bright yellow jacket! It was perfect!

The Metro ride home was crazy - saw someone being carried out of the crowds at the Roslyn station by medics! We ended up getting on the first train that was going in the right direction and getting off at a station closer to home to switch to the correct line, just to get out of the scary crowds! It was worth it for sure! We actually ended up making it home in good time. And I was physically feeling good but was completely emotionally drained. My original plan had been to stay in the finish line area and cheer my other friends across the finish line, and have my aunt pick me up at the metro station later, but I was so emotionally spent that I just needed to get back to their house and decompress.

As the night went on and we went out for dinner, my knees were definitely hurting a lot worse. But then I came home and took an epsom salts and felt much better, and the next morning I felt surprisingly very good! My aunt had to work on Monday so we went in late and she took me around to see the 9-11 memorial at the Pentagon and then I got on the metro and went sight seeing! I ended up doing a lot more walking than I had intended to do but I felt fine throughout. I was a bit nervous about sitting in the plane for 2 hours, but I stood up after my flight and felt really good!

It's now a week since the race and it has been a very busy week for me and my family. I have 6 more days until my Marathon Maniac Qualifier! I have had 2 runs in this last week, a 3 miler and a 6 miler. The 3 miler was first and was horrific! It was as if I had never run before! Yesterday the 6 miler felt MUCH better, but then my left knee hurt afterwards. I think despite doing a 2/1 intervals, I was doing the actual running too fast because it felt better. I have to remember that I am still in recovery mode and any runs that I am doing need to be very easy! It's not like I'm trying to maintain fitness!  I stretched and rolled frequently yesterday, and this morning I woke up feeling just fine. I will do epsom salts bath again tonight (didn't have time to yesterday with the whole Halloween thing) and I'm sure that will help.

My only goals for Saturday's race are to get to the finish line. I have NO time goal and I do not mind going slowly and walking a lot! I guess if I had ANY goal, it will be to see if I can actually run a marathon and finish feeling good. I was able to do that the Disney marathon but that was mostly walking. I would like to discover if I have a "sweet spot" pace that will allow me to run the marathon and not feel pain at any point!

Sorry it took so long to get this posted - and I apologize for the lack of details! Oh! I remember something: I was quite disappointed in Rock Creek Park! I had been wanting to run there because it's on NCIS and it was not very exciting. LOL But now when Gibbs says, "Dead Marine found in Rock Creek Park" I can say, "I ran there!" :)

Anyway, sorry for the delays! Hopefully I'll have more details next week after the Soldier Marathon where I qualify - FINALLY - for the Marathon Maniacs! :D