Race: Tobacco Road Marathon (full)
City: Cary, NC Date: 03/15/2015
Distance: Marathon (26.2 miles)
Weather: upper-40s at start; low 60s at finish; Sunny for the first half, mercifully overcast for the second.
Course: American Tobacco Trail for the vast majority which is a wide, groomed trail. Some hills, but long and lower rise; half paved, 1/4 packed sand, 1/4 gravel and mud
Summary: Another awesome, well organized and well done race!!
I’m on a quest: I want to qualify for the Boston Marathon. I have been offered opportunities to run the marathon to benefit charity – which I may do one day – but the first time, I want to earn the right to be there because it is for me. That may be selfish, but I’m very selfless in many, many other aspects of my life, so want this one thing just for me. It is a daunting task – which I understand – and I have my work cut out for me, but I also think that I’m close enough to get there with the appropriate training.
I can feel it.
The “with appropriate training” part, however, is the difficulty that I have with this process. I am a divorced mom that co-parents with the kids’ dad. I have a full-time job that I love and it is flexible, but I don’t always get 2-1/2 hour chunks of time to knock out a 15-miler in the middle of the week without a lot of planning, finagling, and juggling, sometimes so tightly, a tiny 5-minute variance has a much bigger impact than it should. I have other things going on, too – life in general with housekeeping and friends and family in addition to my kids. It is a lot to manage outside of running an average of 7-10 hours a week. I rearrange and move things around to make it all work, but sometimes, things outside of running and training take priority and I’m not sorry for that.
But… I still think I can do it. I’m a sub-1:50 half marathoner, so I should be able to, at the very least, get a sub-4:00 marathon. I have a treadmill and a gym membership. I have a supportive network that check in on me, encourage me (even though they rightfully call me crazy), and can help me with the kiddos when I really need it, so I’m pretty lucky and very, very grateful.
However… stuff just comes up and you have to manage priority. As much as I would love to have focused on training a lot more this round, I had other things that were a bigger priority and training had to take a bit of a back seat. I did not get the kind of cross-training I know I needed. I didn’t make as many runs as I did last cycle. I had an injury that, well, slowed me down considerably.
So as I approached race day, I became honest about my ability. Some people looked at it as insecurity – it is not. It is an amalgam of intellectual honesty comprised of a dash of clear head, and a pinch of feet firmly planted and a big ole helping of clear understanding of my strengths and where I need help. Because of the mental, emotional and scheduling challenges during this training cycle, my toes on the start line was more of an accomplishment than I care to admit.
…but I not only got there, I finished. I’m proud of that.
Next Marathon, hopefully, I can work on things I couldn’t this time. Even if I can’t, I am contributing to my much, much larger goal of staying active and continuing to run as long as my body lets me which is a way bigger goal than any specific finishing time or qualifications or lottery entries to any other races, and though I may talk about these race times and qualifying for races, my pride is not inextricably linked to it and I am happy and grateful I woke up another day and had the opportunity to run at all.
Yes. I have goals to do well and be faster and better than I am now. Yes. I’d like to finish higher in not only my age group, but overall. Yes. I’d really like to qualify for and experience the Boston Marathon. But, at the end of the day, I really want to run to clear my mind of the cobwebs and expel all the stress and anxiety from my body to reset and make myself ready for the next day.
As the kids say: that’s how I roll.
As I admitted in the prologue, my training cycle did not go as planned. There were several days where I woke up and thought to myself “why the hell did I sign up for *another* marathon? Was I really ready?” The answer would always be no until I got about half way through the training run and realized it was “ehh.. yeah… it’s ok…. I’ll be ok”. Of course, there were the “damn! that was awesome!” days mixed in with the “Gah… that sucked” days, as there always are in training cycles, but this is the first time of the four training cycles and three marathons I actually questioned whether or not I should have even registered for a marathon.
So, needless to say, when I had to take a realistic look at how I felt and what I was doing with this training cycle, I understood fully that I was not going to qualify. I did not have it in me. A sub-4 hour marathon was now a stretch goal and, beating my PR would have been nice, but ultimately, I thought I should land somewhere between the 4:12 of Portland and the 4:05 of Raleigh. Unlike the City of Oaks half where I was convinced I was doing the full at the expo, I walked into this expo somehow thinking I was doing the half and having to remind myself “no… no… you’re doing the full”. However, unlike Portland, after the race started, I didn’t wish I had registered for the half… I was grateful I had registered for (and completed) the full.
I picked up my race bib the Friday before and, I admit, I got a little more excited about it by picking it up early, so I think that was the right decision for me. I brought my kids because I always want to show them what this experience is like, and then we went home and had gluten-free pasta (my youngest loves pasta) and relaxed. The next day was much of the same until I dropped them off with their dad. Thankfully, I was able to sleep really well the two nights before and I spent most of the days leading up to the marathon focused on hydration and making sure I DO NOT make my previous hydration and fueling mistakes.
I was in bed by 7:30 and likely asleep by 7:58. I did not take long to pass out, probably because I knew I was getting up early and I was kind of tired from the weeks before.
I woke up at 3:45 – about 10 minutes before my alarm went off – because I had to pee. That was, as far as I was concerned, a very good sign. Ironically, I felt really well rested and I wasn’t as nervous as I usually am before a race. I deliberated about what I needed more: a couple of more minutes of rest, or to just get up and get started with things. Getting up and getting started eventually won that battle and I started on my usual race day routine: quick shower, coffee, cereal, mixing UCAN, and checking to make sure I had everything, but not the ‘billion times’ OCD-like check that I usually put into it – I was eerily relaxed.
I decided to be a bit of a cheapskate and not pay for a parking pass, so I left my house at 4:45 to park at Netapp and take the shuttle to the start line. I got there just as the buses were filling up, so I was able to take the 2nd bus almost immediately.
Because the weather was cool in the morning and there didn’t seem to be a line at the bag drop, I decided to walk around with my fleece on for a little while – since I had about 90 minutes to kill before start. I made my way over to the port-a-potties and then just walked around for a while. It was a beautiful morning, though, it was foggy. I wondered into the baseball park and noticed this weird cloud just hanging over the baseball field – it was very cool. I took a few photos and then I noticed that there were bathrooms… and they were unlocked. Holy yay! So, of course, I decided to get in line, although I had already used the port-a-potties just about 30 minutes before. It felt nice to wash my hands in real water! I left the complex and wondered around for a bit and decided to go to the bathroom *one* more time before start so I got back in line, which was much longer this time.
By the time I finished the last bathroom trip, I was ready to drop off my bag. I then shuffled over to the start line to see if I could place myself in a section that made sense. As I wondered down the chute, the pace group leaders – which had congregated together for a while – had started to fan out and take shape. I placed myself squarely between the 4:00 and the 3:55 pace groups. I thought to myself: if I can just keep up with these folks, I’ll be doing alright.
The music got louder and the emcee got more excited as we approached the 7 AM start time. His excitement was infectious because I was even getting excited at this point. He was calling out to people – “who is from Canada?”, “Who is from NY? – nawww… this is an NC race!” a comment that garnered a lot of cheering. Finally, though, it was time for the national anthem, so we all bunched in closer together – shoulder to shoulder – to listen to the anthem together. The anthem was over and we got a “you’re starting!” type of announcement from our bubbly emcee, so we all shuffled toward the starting mat, focused on our measurement devices. I turned on my bluetooth headphones, started my “Stuff You Missed in History Class” podcast, and was on my way.
The marathon route is very simple – you run out of the park, make a couple of turns, and then, after 2.5 miles, you are at the American Tobacco Trail (for a little history on the trail – which is part of the rails to trails project, see my post on the half marathon from last year…). Marathoners turn right, half marathoners turn left. My plan was, for the part before getting to the American Tobacco Trail, I would just go slow.
Thankfully, that was my mentality because I didn’t have much choice in the matter. I was going to go slow whether I wanted to or not. It was a bit crowded at the beginning – as all races are at the start. I found a few folks who appeared to be going a pace I wanted to go and I focused on staying close to them. My first two miles were over a 9 minute/mile average – for me, pretty slow.
Then we turned onto the American Tobacco Trail going north toward Durham. On this part of the trail, it is either half paved or fully paved, depending on where you are on it. I found it easier to run on the paved portions, so I stayed on that side. Looking back, I think that choice might have been a better option for me, as I typically do street running.
Along this part of the route, though, I did not expect to see many supporters. To my delight and surprise, however, there were many! Many along parts of the route where there wasn’t easy access, too. It was so heart warming to see these folks lining the sides of the trail and cheering for us! Along this part of the route, too, I began to take notice of one of the bike route monitors. His job was to ride back and forth along the route to make sure we were all OK. I saw him several times throughout the morning, but this is my first notice of him and I made sure to say hello and to thank him for volunteering. This might be why I saw him several more times later.
The turn around point on the north side was just after 11 miles – I got incrementally faster along this side until I noticed that my average pace for this portion of the race was all the way down to 8:35. Exactly where I wanted to be at the end of the race, but I thought a tad fast (and too quickly) for this point in the race. I made a mental note and tried to slow things down a bit as I went back toward what I referred to as “the middle”.
My fueling strategy for this race was simple, since the complex strategies of the past apparently did not work: I would eat a normal breakfast (cereal, coffee and orange juice) and then a banana before the race starts. During the race, I would use a concentrated version of UCAN – just a couple of squirts – every 45 minutes (instead of 50-60). I would also walk through all of the water stops, taking at least 2 cups each time. By the time I got to the middle, I had refueled once and gone through a few water stops where it had not really affected my time. I was feeling very confident and good about my time, my pace, my strength – everything. Crossing over “the middle” was around mile 14 and I was on target for a sub-9 marathon with some wiggle room.
However, the terrain changed for the south side. First of all, my pavement was gone. It stopped abruptly after I crossed the road and I did not get it back for another 8-9 miles. Secondly, it had rained the day before – a lot. The sandy part was softer now and the gravely part was now muddy. Thirdly, the half marathoners had gone through there and, well, there were way more of them than there were of us. So… the second part was met with some challenges. This is when I really started to listen to my podcast to make sure I was not thinking about how awful I felt. I listened to the history of the Hope Diamond (in two parts) and the suspicious story of the lighthouse keepers in Scotland who disappeared (and one theory at the time is that aliens or a giant bird took them – this is the kind of humor I needed at that moment).
It was all I could do to stay running until I got 3:15, when I could take my next walk break. After 3:15, though, that was all she wrote. I had a tough time up to that point – I managed to make it to 20 without totally losing it, but my GPS was off and I was starting to get a little loopy and I was getting irritated that the mile markers were so damn far apart. I was convinced they’d made a mistake.
Then, around mile 22, I was approached by a couple of men who recommended that I stop at the next aid station and use some of the Vasoline because “that’s going to hurt”, pointing at my lower leg. I looked down, and to my shock, I had some chaffed spots that were bleeding! I never felt it and that has NEVER happened to me in any race. My form must have been reeeeaaaaallllly bad. I thanked them and agreed that I should fix that, and luckily, the next aid station was able to help me out with that. I applied the Vasoline, took THREE cups of water, and continued.
Remember the bike monitor from the first half? I saw him a few times on the way toward the south-side turn around, but he stuck with me for a while on the second half, and I was so happy to see him. We chatted for a while – he asked me if this was my first marathon, and in as much energy as I had, I tried to be eloquent in my descriptions of my endurance races resume, but it likely sounded more like “yeah (pause to breathe) no, (pause to breathe), uh, (pause to breathe), this is my third (pause), my, my, my third full. I’ve done more half marathons (pause to breathe)…” He was very sweet about it, though and was patient with me and tried his best to distract me. Luckily, I got a chance to thank him later.
Throughout the race, all of the water stations were fully staffed with happy and enthusiastic people who were excited to be there. At every stop, I thanked them all for all the entertainment, cheering and, most of all, for just being there. It meant a lot more to me as the race progressed. I spent the last 2 miles of the trail portion splitting my time between walking and running.
I finally got finished with the trail and had to make my way back up to the park – going back those couple of turns in 2.5 miles back UP to the park. I turned off the trail and looked up and I swear that hill looked long and steep. It probably wasn’t, but in my condition, it felt like it. It felt like I had twisted my ankle. My chaffed calves were now covered in sweaty, bloody vasoline that was running into my socks. My lower quads on my right leg were simply on fire. I even said “I’m so effing done with this race right now” out loud. I still had my ear buds in and, at this point, had forgotten which episode of history I was learning about because I was singularly focused on finishing this race and drinking some coffee (which I never did).
I turned the last corner and was now finally *inside* the park. They were starting to open roads back up and the crowd of satisfied half marathoners had really thinned out by now. I did not care. I wanted to be back home and in my shower more than words would allow me, but I could not articulate it to save my life. I huffed and puffed and I pushed and I finally rounded the corner to see the finish line. I my eyes filled with tears – I couldn’t believe I was almost there! I had done it.
Just don’t trip like you did in Portland.
I didn’t trip. I trotted across the finish line and, to my surprise, was greeted by the race director, Kazem Yahyapour, smiling ear to ear, arms extended and with familiarity as though we had been close friends our whole lives and he was welcoming me home. He held out his hand to me, pat me on the back, congratulated and thanked me at the same time. Even though I didn’t get to ring that PR or BQ bell, that gesture went a long way to make my 4:13 still feel pretty special. After I collected my medal, I saw the bike monitor again who also shook my hand and congratulated me. I thanked him for all his help keeping me motivated and we chatted a little. Another gesture that went a long way with making me feel special!
I collected myself, got my bag from bag check, and changed my clothes. I walked around a little, but, ironically did not feel like having a coffee, so I went back to the shuttle and to my car. I picked up my kids, took a shower, and then, for the first time in about a year, took a nap.
So, ok – I did not get my goal, but I mostly enjoyed the race – as much as anyone can truly enjoy pain for almost an hour. On the plus side, I think I lasted longer this time than in previous races, so I’m taking that as progress. As I said in the prologue, I will likely try again and likely try to get back on track with my training. Until then, I’m going to work on strength and trying to keep what I have going.