2015 Race Reports – Tobacco Road Marathon Full Report

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!!

Prologue

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.

Pre-Race

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.

Race Day 

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.

Learnings

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.

2015 Race Reports – Tobacco Road Preview

Hi Friends!

I wanted to get a short preview of this race out there so I didn’t forget or get sidetracked, so this isn’t going to be the full report quite yet. There are a few things I wanted to note while they were still fresh!

First and most importantly: I absolutely loved this race! You may recall my affinity for the half marathon distance I did last year, but now having done it twice, I have a new affection for it. It is such a well organized and well executed event and ranks very high as a recommended event when my runner friends ask ‘what is a good marathon to do in Raleigh?’. I’ve not heard or seen anyone who has said anything to the contrary so far, 5 days later. They put the same heart and effort into it both years and it shows how much they love doing it. More on that in a moment.

Second: on a personal note, this was my slowest yet. No hot weather or any other factor to point to other than my training, which I expressed concern about in the weeks leading up to the event. Admittedly, I had a lot of distractions that pulled me away from my plan, as usually happens in life. I’m not upset about my performance – rather, I’m proud of myself for finishing a third full marathon, a sentence that a year ago, I never thought I’d write. I plan to try again, hopefully in November. I’ll make that decision in a couple of weeks. I am still planning on trying to BQ. I look at this race as a step in that direction as I am getting incrementally stronger… Just in much smaller increments than I expected and hoped.

Third: there is a sister race to this one that I love equally – The City of Oaks. I’ve done the 10k several times and the half once (currently my half marathon PR). Both races are directed by the same man: Kazem Yahyapour. I had seen him at many events – packet pick ups and running clubs – and he is a warm, affable person that seems to always have a smile on his face and appears to derive immense joy from working packet pick up and greeting runners to wish them luck. For the first time in almost 50 races, I was greeted at the finish line by the race director who congratulated me for finishing and thanked me – and seemed to be as happy and excited as I was that I finished. That was a very happy feeling I won’t ever forget.

I will write more this weekend, I hope, to talk about more of the details of the race – like my bleeding chafing, my bicycle course monitor cheerleader, way more specators than I expected, really awesome volunteers, and my very rapid unraveling at the cusp of mile 20 after a very strong showing for the first three hours. Oh. And Sean Astin was there! I wish I had seen him to get a photo because my younger son is a huge fan of both “Lord of the Rings” and “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles”!

For now, I’m focusing on recovery 🙂

Portland Marathon: Quick Update

Good morning, Friends!

As you may have noticed, I went dark after week 4 of training. My computer is broken (still) and I found it challenging to post from my phone… But I wanted to at least post an update about how the rest of the training went and the end result of the marathon.

Training: I actually thought the training went well. I could feel myself getting stronger and faster. I was tired, though, a testament to the fact that the plan I followed was a bit aggressive for me. I think I have another couple of cycles of it to be up to the fitness required for it. But, I plan to follow it again with the goal of making more runs (I skipped more than I would have liked) more so than worrying about the target times (I can try for those the next cycle!) and being a lot more consistent about core work (I trailed off at the end).

The Marathon: in a nutshell, was fugly. The event itself was wonderful – it lived up to all the good things I’d heard and more… But it just wasn’t my day.

I can’t point to any one thing – it is probably a combination of many things:

…it could be cumulative fatigue from the aggressive training and weird (poorly timed) sleeplessness cycle I was in during the training cycle…

…It could be the dry air of the Pacific Northwest – a welcome change from the tropical climate I am usually in, but my body isn’t used to it…

…it could be heat – the locals said “this is so weird! It is *never* like this” and then they’d joke that I brought it with me from NC – and you’re welcome – it was lovely weather while I was there…

…it could be the time change, though I tried staying on East Coast time while I was there…

…it could be my diet…. Though, I didn’t indulge as much this time as I did previously – maybe I should – haha…

On race day, though, I did feel ready and I felt prepared, more so than any other race I’ve done. I had good training. I ate well. I hydrated well. I slept… Eh… Ok. I was in a weird sleep pattern during this training cycle, but I slept great in Portland.

The race started out warmer than we thought it would be (mid 60s) and just got warmer from there. I planned to keep my pace moderate until mile 3 or so (which I did a good job of!), but I started feeling tired around mile 8, and it messed with my mind so I never recovered from it.

I ended up with a 4:16:51, which I know a lot of people would love, but I’m profoundly disappointed about it because I trained for 3:45, and realistically expected just under 4:00. I started walking before the half way point and the only motivation I had to start back to running was that if my legs “recovered” from the swelling during the marathon, it would hurt more after, so I had to continue running to keep that at bay.

I’m not as sore physically as I was after my first… And I’m not mad, either. I’ve been thinking (logically) about what mistakes I made and what I could do better and I’m looking at March for another race to make sure I recover fully before entering another training cycle.

And… One day… I’d like to try a marathon that is not hot 🙂

A full report on this otherwise awesome race once I get my computer back.

Maybe by then I’ll have selected my next race!

Until then…

Post Recovery: A Plan and a Stubbed Toe

Hi Friends –

I admit that I have been away from this blog for too long. No excuses, really, just focusing on recovering from the marathon and getting (somewhat expensive and overdue) things done that I put off while I was marathon training.

But, I’m back now, and ready to get started on the next phase of running for me which includes (bum da bum…) another marathon (sigh).

Yeah… that happened.

Before I go into what happened there and what I plan to do about it, let me address the Stubbed Toe part of the title today because I’m pretty annoyed about it. I freely admit that I don’t handle injury or illness well. I assume I can keep on doing what I do, just a bit slower, but I even get frustrated with slower. I strongly dislike having to sit out when I hurt myself, especially when I do something dumb. All that being said: what dumb thing did I do?

My kids have a wooden step stool that, for the most part, stays in the bathroom so they can wash their hands (I don’t think they need it any more, but they still use it and really like it, so I’ve kept it out for them to use). However, now that they are bigger and really want to do some things for themselves (which I wholly encourage), they occasionally move it from the bathroom to the kitchen to reach things in the cabinets. It has now become part of the scenery for me – I usually move it, but sometimes I forget until I need to get something and it is in my way. Last week, I was putting the groceries away – even placing some of the bags on it – and clipped my right pinky toe on the edge of the stool. Daaaaaayyyyymmm. That hurt. The thing of it is: the pain went away and I felt ok until the next morning when I jump out of bed like normal and yelped from the pain. I look down and the toe is swollen and it is black and blue around it… dang. I had rehearsals for a program I’m working on at work and had to dress up for it – only, I couldn’t even fit my foot into my “cute” shoes. After seeking advice from my friends (none of whom are doctors), I decided to tape that bad boy to its neighbor and wear my semi-cute (close toed) shoes all week. That seems to be working and it does feel better.

I tested my toe on Saturday by going for a swim. I didn’t want to try a run and ruin messing up the pledged mileage for Wear Blue Run to Remember Memorial Day Run, so I thought “swimming is less impact – I’ll try that”. Friends, the swim does have a smaller impact on some joints – that is true – but on fingers and toes there is a drag associated with the movements. I was able to overcome that by just swapping strokes every 50 meters. I planned for only 1/2 a mile, but when I got to 1/2 a mile, I felt so good that I just kept going. I ended up with a full mile and appropriately wiped out (…and hongry…). There wasn’t a safe piece of food in my house and I was asleep by around 9… and slept until about 9 the next morning. I even forgot to set the app that records my sleep because I was so tired that night. It was a good sleep, though, and I haven’t slept 12 hours straight since before kids.

Now… back to the marathon… If you read my post about the Rock and Roll Raleigh Marathon, you’ll know that I was happy with my time. I really was… conditionally. By “conditionally”, I mean, I use modifiers like “considering the heat” and “the course was really hilly…” and similar comments. While, yes, these things are factors, when you say them enough, they start to feel like excuses. If you are a runner, you understand what I mean. The thought process associated with this habit is not always a rational one, even for otherwise relatively rational people. I am a mostly rational person: I understand the terrain of the route was exceptionally hilly (I mean, how many times have I griped about that here?), and I get that it was hot… and humid, and sunny – which is draining. Let’s not even mention that it was my *first* marathon, so, despite all my preparation (and I believe I was very well prepared), there is something about the experience of it that makes a difference: actually going past that 22 miler is a huge deal.

All that being said: I also know I can do better. I’m not a perfectionist and I understand my limits, but I don’t think I’ve reached my limit yet. I’ve promised my friends and family that I’d only do 2 more in the short term to chase the Boston Qualifying time – if I don’t get it by the third one (at the moment, the third one I am targeting is the Tobacco Road Full next March if I don’t make BQ time with my next one this fall), I’ll scale back to one a year (because I like the additional mileage of the training) and just do them the best I can… maybe my BQ time will catch up to me in a few years – haha.

I do have a plan, folks. Throughout the last, I dunno, 4 miles or so of the marathon, I kept thinking “I wish I had done more mileage”. Yes, I know I just said I felt well prepared – and I was – but I think with more base miles, I might be able to handle the ‘end-of-race’ break down a little better. I was well prepared for a first marathon, but not as prepared for a marathon at the pace I wanted… not yet. I know those are the toughest miles, but at the pace I kept for the first 17 miles of the race, I didn’t have the stamina to keep it up past that. Again, I have no regrets about my training plan for the first time, but now with a bit of experience in my back pocket, I think I do need to be a little more aggressive with my training – and a *LOT* more disciplined about strength. I know I had it on my training plan each week here, but execution was easy to forget until I got around to updating the blog and realized I only did it once that week when I planned for three times. I’ll put it on my calendar this time so I get reminded to do it and do it while catching up on Doctor Who or maybe Sherlock – I do have the iPad for that purpose, after all.

As for the running part: I’m going to use the mileage and schedule from the 3:30 plan on RunKeeper – by the same author of the 3:45 plan I followed last time, but use the pace targets (or hopefully a tad faster) from the 3:45 plan. The 3:30 plan has 5 run days. The weeks I have my boys, my plan is to run all 5 days. The weeks the boys are with their dad, my plan is to swim the extra run day (which is actually between two speed days).  My thinking is that the swim day will provide me with the exertion (possibly a bit more) of the additional run, but be less impact and provide overall body conditioning I can’t get from a pure run. The run schedule should follow a Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday schedule giving me only Thursday and Sunday off with the exception of the first week, and about 3 step back weeks (including the taper week). I’ll start the schedule the Monday after my half marathon at Hatfield McCoy (first half) in June (the 16th to be exact) and my target race is the Portland Marathon (yeah, in Oregon… on the other side of the country from me) on October 5. I have 3 opportunities to do a half marathon and knock out a state, provided I have the money for a trip – they are July 19, August 2, and Sept 20. Most likely candidate for a race will be September 20, though, as I’m not exactly excited about the prospect of running a half marathon in the middle of the summer… more to come on the race schedule, though.

Like last time, though, I will log my training here and share it with you because I tend to be better about following through with all my workouts, acknowledging my achievements, and identifying areas for improvement when I write it down.

Between now and June 16, though, I’ll post on my training and my climb back up to 30 mile weeks. Hopefully, starting today with 5 miles. (fingers crossed)

Happy Memorial Day and many, many thank yous to those who have served our country and those who support them.

 

2014 Race Reports: Rock and Roll Raleigh Marathon

Race: Rock and Roll Marathon Raleigh

City: Raleigh, NC   Date: 04/13/2014

Distance: Marathon (26.2 miles)

Weather: Upper 50s/Lower 60s at start, sunny, upper 70s at the end

Course:  Very effing hilly. Period.

Summary:  My first full marathon, a tragic ending for two families…

Prologue

Let me first answer the question: why. Why did I finally decide to do a full marathon? The simple answer: it was time.

I belong to a great running family. I met them all as we embarked on running our first (or second) half marathons. We were all noobs. We were learning together. That was five years ago, and the family has grown quite a bit since then with all levels represented. Most of the originals have long ago graduated to the full distance and even ultras, while I comfortably stayed in my half marathon space, knocking out states in my 50 stater goal (as of today, I have completed 16 half marathons in 13 states and I’m very proud of that). My runner family all encouraged me to join them with the longer distance, to which I would reply “only if I ever get fast enough to approach a BQ time. Then, I’ll do one”. Well, I did get faster – and older – so my BQ time after I hit the masters group became a much more attainable goal. I was within seconds of the average time I needed for a BQ at the Half Marathon distance and, with a year to train, I was confident I could shave those seconds off, even with adding distance, if I was disciplined about it. I knew I could be disciplined, especially if I held myself accountable publicly, so I accepted the challenge, finally, and added a dimension to this blog to document my training for it.

I was wary of the Rock and Roll events. I had done only 3 when I registered for this race – two were great experiences (Virginia Beach and New Orleans) and one was absolutely horrible (Las Vegas). I had sworn off Competitor events after Las Vegas because of the experience – and the cost of the entry (and travel). Everything was so crowded and expensive and, to me, the smaller races were so much more enjoyable. But… I was delighted my home town was selected as one of the race venues and I was happy to show it off, so when I heard the news, I considered registering for the half. My only hesitation was the date: mid-April. It is a coin toss for the weather here that time of year. We usually have some milder days (upper 60s) with one random mid-80s day thrown in, just for fun. Sometimes there are violent storms, which are usually a welcome relief from all the pollen that stains our cars, houses, clothes and, well, everything. After talking to a friend of mine who offered to fly out to do the Full with me (from CA no less), I reconsidered my position and registered for the full. I registered for this race a full year in advance – a little over that, actually. They had a one day registration opportunity – you could register for the full for about $60 (normally about twice that) on this one day. So… I did it. I immediately had a pang of “oooh… what the hell did I do???” and was overwhelmed by buyers remorse. What if I was being cocky about my ability?? What if I was overshooting a bit?? Either way, I was praying for one of the cooler days – a little bit of stormless rain the night before to wash away the pollen would be pretty cool.

Now, I had to put my money where my mouth is. I thought the bridge to success was built on a training plan, and, since my BQ time is 3:45, that was the magic number for me and I was laser focused on it. I had not followed a training plan in 4 years – since my first half marathon. I had always thought I didn’t need one – I knew what to do. I was a little over confident about things, but I was improving and my mileage was increasing, so I must have been doing something right. But… at this point, I was at least experienced enough to know where my deficits are and I wasn’t entirely sure how to overcome them to get what I needed for 26 miles. The farthest I had run prior to signing up for this full was 14 miles, and I had only done that about 3 times. I knew that I tended to have cycles of over training followed by cycles of under training, and that would be a recipe for a disappointment, and possibly injury, so I knew I had to follow a training plan written by someone who has done a full or two and knows what they are talking about. I chose one from RunKeeper written by Jeff Gaudette. The 3:45 plan seemed reasonable: 4 runs a week, maximum mileage at just under 50 miles 4 weeks out. The speed targets were a tad faster than I could run at the time, but, I decided that, since I had the time, I would follow the plan a little early to ramp up my mileage and get comfortable with longer runs and higher mileage weeks, and get as close to the pace targets as I could, but not worry too much about them. Then, take a few weeks off, and follow it again 16 weeks out from the Marathon date focusing more on actually hitting the target times. Although I didn’t always hit my target paces, I only missed a couple of runs and I followed both training plans through the end. In my mind, it was a nine months well spent, and I’ve learned a lot, not just about running, but about myself and my body. All positive things. Overall, a great experience for me.

I worked really hard. I was disciplined – more so than I’ve ever been in running – and I thought I was before. I changed my eating habits. I started tracking my sleep. I added more strength (though, in retrospect, probably not enough). I ran on only the days I was told to run on my plan. I took rest days I was told to take on my plan. There was no cross-training. No swimming. No spin. No Zumba classes (though, I’ve never taken zumba… just throwing that in there). I didn’t push my mileage – I mostly kept it close to the plan, so, over all, my actual mileage should be very close to plan. I was lucky enough to have been able to train like this with little injury and illness (one toe incident when adding a new shoe coupled with a nasty chest cold). The habit was much easier to establish than I thought it was going to be – maybe because I expected it to be so. I documented all my training so I could learn from it and, because I have a habit of forgetting, pat myself on the back occasionally when I have actually done something well, which is not easy for most people to do. I met new people and trained with them. I learned a lot about people I’ve known for a long, long time and made even deeper connections with them. I have to say this marathon training has changed my life in a lot of ways and made me more humble and grateful for my friends and family. An odd way of looking at it, considering that I’m the one doing the marathon and the training, but without their support and their encouragement, I don’t think I would have been as successful in the training and the outcome of this race.

To all of them: thank you. From the bottom of my heart – and beyond. I couldn’t have done this without all of you – new friends, old friends, and family alike. I have more thoughts about this on Week 16‘s training post.

All the training led up to the weeks before the race. I was hitting my targets. I was having great training runs. I was able to get my head in the right place (most days) even when my body was not really into it. I managed to feel very good and confident about my training and my ability to come close to 3:45. Until 10 days out, that is. The first time I saw the 10 day forecast for the day of the race, it was cloudy with a high of 57. WWWWOOOOO HOOOOO! Somebody’s smiling down on me! The next day – 9 days out from the race? 65 and partly cloudy. What? What happened? Ok, that’s ok. Still cool, so we’ll be OK. 8 days out? 68 and partly sunny. It’s ok. A lot can change in a week… 5 days out? 72 and mostly sunny. (sigh). 3 days out? 75 and fully sunny. 1 day out: 78 and fully sunny. Ok. So I had some adjustments to make. I knew that I don’t do well over 65. Just an experience thing. I also knew that hydration is a big time problem for me, and I did NOT want to mess that up over 26 miles. Messing it up at 13 was bad enough, and I didn’t want to be swept, or worse, so I had to make sure I got that part right. Most of all – I had to reset my own expectations. Was I disappointed? of course. I really wanted to attempt a BQ. I worked hard for that. But, what can I do? I have zero control over the weather and, well, there *are* other races. Races in the fall when the weather is more consistently cool. I can always try again then. So, I swallowed that giant piece of humble pie and broadcast to the world: I ain’t gonna BQ this time. Sorry folks. I’ll just do the best I can, and try another time for the brass ring.

Pre-Race

When I announced I was doing the Rock and Roll Raleigh, I put out a “who’s in?” beacon in the running family group, and three signed up! One planned to do the half, the other two planned to do the full with me to support me. Over the course of the year, we talked about our training and made plans for the race weekend. When it finally arrived, I was giddy. I was so excited to have friends in to town for the race (much like I was just a month before when another one of my run family members joined us for the Tobacco Road marathon). I knew a lot of local folks doing the race, too, so it was exciting to see how their training was going. It all led up to the weekend of the race. This was my first experience with a high mileage taper and, well, I didn’t care for it. I liked the higher mileage of the marathon training plans, so less than 10 miles in a week did not sit well with me. But… it did give me time to actually do some cleaning and preparation around the house finally. The first two of the three friends coming to town for the race arrived on Friday. I took them around Raleigh – introduced them to some of the folks I added to the running family group, had lunch, and then drove the course with them. One of them was staying with her brother, so we dropped her off at the rental car, picked my kids up from school and had some family time at my sister’s house. The next day, we met the other runners and went to the expo. I was worried about the sun, so one of my friends suggested buying a visor. I never, ever wear hats of any kind, but she had a good point, so I bought one, something I rarely do. We got our bibs, had lunch, and then 3 of us went for a short spin on the ATT for 2 miles. At that point, one of my friends said “Bad Ass Mother Runner” – I giggled and thought of Samuel L. Jackson – until she pointed out “that’s what it says on your visor!” haha. That’s awesome…. I didn’t even notice that. All I noticed was that it was 20 bucks and *kind* of went with my outfit.

Then, we met the other for an early pasta dinner, and went back to my house to prepare for the race.

Race Day 

Like the Tobacco Road race, the parking was supposed to be… interesting. They were selling pre-paid parking passes at the expo, and didn’t say they were going to do that until the day we *went* to the expo. So… we bought a few so we could make sure all who were driving had one. The parking passes specifically state in bold lettering, about 48 point font: “get yo ass in the parking deck by 6 am”. Might as well have said that… maybe that’s how my brain interpreted it because I still had Samuel L. Jackson on the brain – haha. Because of the 6 AM directive, though, we decided it would be best to leave as early as possible to get there in time. We agreed to 4:45 am. We were all up and ready to go by 4:30!! We were down in my kitchen nibbling on stuff, sipping coffee and water, and being OCD about packing our stuff. It was good to know I was in good company here – made me feel better to know I wasn’t alone in all this double, triple and quadruple checking. After being satisfied that we checked enough, we piled into the car and headed to the parking deck.

We arrived just before 5:30 am, and managed to secure a spot next to the elevator…. just in case. We met up with our other running friend and set off to find the port-a-potties and empty some bladders. I ran into a couple of friends in the port-a-potty line (one of them a long, dear friend from college running his first half marathon!!) We walked around a bit after the potty break, only to have another potty break shortly after – and having to stand in a loooooonnnnnnggggggg line. Like a block long. I would have expected there to be more port-a-potties there – in fact, I probably would have suggested they line both sides of the block with them to alleviate this kind of waiting. We waited in line for over 20 minutes! After we were done with the last potty visit, it was time to line up. We said good luck to our friend in the corral behind us, and three of us lined up in my corral… so we thought. Unlike Savannah, Virginia Beach and New Orleans, I didn’t see an entry point into the corral (we had to climb through and over the fence), nor was there a divider for them (in the other cities, they actually had volunteers holding strings or something similar at the dividing point of each corral) so I think we actually ended up starting in Corral 7, which is fine. It is chip timed so, it really doesn’t matter. As soon as we lined up, though, I got a news alert: because of a traffic jam on South Saunders, the race start is delayed 10 minutes. Really? Did these folks not see the “get yo ass in the parking deck by 6 am” sign? (sigh). So, we waited an extra 10 minutes… and don’t think it didn’t run through my mind (see what I did there?) where exactly I would have been on the route had we started on time (I would have been making my way down North street, almost to Blount, I think). My sister later told me that a lot of the people who bought parking passes were being turned away and that they oversold them. ooohhh… not cool… not cool at all.

At 7:10, they started the race with the first wave. Like in Vegas, though, it seemed like the waves were much closer than 2 minutes apart. Since I was in wave 7, technically (though I should have been in 6), we should have started around 7:24 – I think we started closer to around 7:15 or so. I guess they shortened the waves due to the later start? I didn’t care, but it was a little crowded at the beginning. We said good luck to my friend running the half and the other full and I were on our way. She said it was her duty – and goal – to keep me slower at the beginning so I didn’t burn it out too quickly. I really appreciated that because that is a particular problem for me. She was good about telling me when we were over or under pace and I gave her advance notice about hills so she could prepare for them. Because I was running with someone, I decided not to listen to music at all – I wanted to enjoy the rock and roll part of the race. I turned it on in case I thought I needed it in the latter half of the race, but ended up not using it at all. The first band we encountered was the Shaw University Marching Band on Blount street – and they were awesome! There are a couple of pedestrian bridges crossing Blount street to either side of the campus, and they were staged on the first of the two. Ironically, I had just told my friends the day before – as we were driving the route – I loved running under these bridges. I had no reason for liking it – just did. They were doing a very brass-heavy version of an Eminem song, which I LOVED. I wish I could find that recorded somewhere. Now I have that association with those bridges and will love running under them even more now.

After this point, we turn up MLK and go through Chavis area and I some how lost my coach. She was being pretty quiet and I’d look back every now and then to see where she was and she was a little farther behind me each time. I turned around to ask her how she was doing and if she was OK on pace and I didn’t see her. I had lost her. I felt horrible because I was supposed to keep her fast and she was supposed to keep me slow. She later told me she just let me go, so I was OK with it later, but I did think about it most of the race. Around mile 3 or so, I finally saw the first water stop and, because I knew how it was for me with hydration, I decided to stop and take a cup of Gatorade and a cup of water, to wet the whistle so to speak. I was starting to feel a little bit of thirst, but I still hadn’t become too sweaty yet, so I was doing ok. The main thing that concerned me, though, was that this was only the first water stop. I was surprised there wasn’t one before this point. I decided that I was going to stop at ALL water stops and take at least one of each so I could conserve the water I had on me between stops. Then, I started thinking “I don’t want to make a rookie mistake…” which reminded me of a cartoon I had seen of the scene in Episode IV of Star Wars when the Storm Troopers stop Luke and Obi and Obi – using The Force – reminds them “these are *not* the droids you are looking for.” In the cartoon, Chewy is in the glider and says “here they are – right here” and the caption says “Wookie mistake”. I pretty much entertained myself the entire race saying “don’t make a wookie mistake! tee hee hee”. Lordy.

After the Chavis area was Oakwood – one of the prettier spots on the route. I was chugging along on Oakwood – actually taking in the sights with very little on my mind other than “just run by feel and right now, things feel good”. We rounded the corner to go up Glascock and, because of the training runs I’ve done up to this point, I knew it was time to get out my gel so I could get ready to take it at the top of Mount Glascock. I waited until I saw the sign for 6 miles, and then I took it, sipped the water I brought with me, and powered up Mount Peace through to Cameron Village. I could tell this hill – which was looooonnnnngggg was getting to people. Not that we didn’t have some hearty hills before – we did – MLK, Chavis, Bloodworth, Glascock, and now Peace. But, the others before Peace were all pretty short in comparison to Peace/Clark (the road changes names). This one lasted over a mile and it was wearing people out. I did try to slow my pace a bit and be a little more conservative, but the gel was starting to kick in and I felt better so I was able to power up the hill. I admit, though, that Pogue Street and the Rose Garden were a welcome sight – not only because I knew we were getting some flatter ground to recover a bit, but also because we were splitting off soon from the half marathon folks.

We rounded the Rose Garden and I looked back there to see the amphitheater – it brought back so many memories of my childhood running around in that park and jumping from “seat” to “seat” in the amphitheater. It was shaded and cool and probably my favorite part of the race route looking back on it now. Once we made it to the Gardner Street side, I started seeing signs of the split ahead – everything was clearly marked and there was a woman at the split with a bull horn directing the Fulls to follow to the right, the Halfs to follow to the left. I got to the right side of traffic and I made my right turn.

The reduction of people in my lane was pretty dramatic, though. I was surprised. I knew that half marathon events in any race that has both a full and a half are much larger participation, but I don’t think I expected the difference to be this big. It had thinned to about 1/4 of the folks. It was nice and comfortable, in terms of personal space, but the sun was out and I could feel it getting hotter.  I wouldn’t say it was necessarily hot, but I was feeling the warmth of the sun at this point. The Hillsborough to Blue Ridge portion was mostly passing my alma mater: NCSU. I’d think about all the classes I had in Nelson hall; all the margaritas I drank at the establishment next to Nelson, which was a Mexican place, but now is something else; the giant hole in the ground making way for new construction where the establishment I had my first legal beer in once stood. The place I used to go to shop for used vinyl – that has had several names over the years, but in the same place with the same kind of vibe. The coffee shop I used to go to that was the Hipster place to go – I just thought their coffee was good. The East Village bar and grill where I used to go out every night the summer after I turned 21. The end of the Reedy Creek greenway which is a turn around spot for me – and a block from my favorite running store Fleet Feet. So many memories and a great way to see the town I grew up in… went to school in… work in… raise my own kids in… it was a good nostalgic portion of the race for me. Although I was deep in thought, I wasn’t totally swept away in it – this section had good crowd support and was mostly flat (which is a good thing, considering the hills behind me and what I knew lay ahead of me).

This was also the point where the second memorable band was – the band covering “Psycho Killer” by The Talking Heads. This guy behind me just starts belting out the words before we could even hear them and I guess that got him in a great mood because he started weaving in and out of people… that was somewhat infectious because I started singing it, too, and after passing it, thought “I really need to go back and get some Talking Heads back catalog…” adding that to my to do list. Because of the buildings, there was a weird reverb/echo going on so it just made it sound weird. I spent a lot of time thinking about that and how to separate the sound of the band from the sound of the DJ and announcer ahead of them. Somewhere between the band and Blue Ridge, there was an announcer calling out race bib numbers and providing cheer leading. She was pretty good and picking people out and providing inspirational commentary, so it was a decent distraction from the sun and how hot I was starting to get. I was not called out, but after I passed, I heard “and… here comes the 4:00 pace group – I can see the sign from here!” and she started cheering for them. what? I’m ahead of the 4:00 pace group??! WTF?? It was the first time all race I had any sense of how I was doing and I was pretty excited – and a little scared of it… was I going too fast? Was I going to break down? I decided now wasn’t the time to worry about it – just keep on keepin’ on.

Just before we got to Blue Ridge, we pass the NCSU Vet school and you can look out over the pasture – and actually see the rolling hills. It is pretty, but a reminder to me of what is ahead. We turned the corner to go up Blue Ridge for the first time in the race, got a little nervous. Probably because I knew what was back there, or maybe because I knew the first half, or the “leisurely” , part of the run was over and the real work was still ahead of me. We turn down Trinity and my first thought was “oh, good, a down hill” followed promptly with “oh, shit. I have to come back up this thing at mile 19…” I decided that I shouldn’t worry about it too much, and just deal with it when I need to deal with it… and enjoy the down. We got to the Carter Finley Stadium entrance, and, like I said I would, I howled and threw the Wolf (like any good Wolfpack fan would) as I passed Carter-Finley. We went around the PNC Arena (home to the Carolina Hurricanes) and as we were leaving that was my half way point. I was pleasantly surprised at how good I felt at this point – and a little scared of the second half because I knew – from experience – how quickly this can unravel.

We left the arena complex and headed up Edward’s Mill Road. There was a pretty hearty breeze coming up the road, and I was very grateful for it, especially because I admitted the day before that I had a problem with this part of the route. the breeze made this part of the route a little more tolerable. This hill got to me in past training runs. Not so much that it was steep or long – but it just flat out sucked. I hated it with every fiber of my being, especially the climb up it in the direction I was now going. There was a DJ about 1/2 way through, though, and him being there helped a lot. He was playing Michael Jackson on the way up, and though I’m not a big (or at all) a Michael Jackson fan, I appreciated the music. I was grateful to see the Reedy Creek Road light – I was almost to my “way backin’ it” point (I had told the story of the guy in Vegas who kept shouting that after we made the turn back toward Las Vegas Blvd. in the Rock and Roll Las Vegas… almost to the point of being annoying about it). I turned the corner and just enjoyed the view of the horse farm beside me. I love this little area back here. I thought about the run I did with the guys from my gym run group and looked up – hey! There is one of them! He was way backing it and I was heading up – I turned toward him and said “Good morning!” (kind of an inside joke from the group). I saw him do a double take to me, but he said nothing and kept going. I refocused on what I was doing and started to notice the runners on the other side – they were starting to look rough. There were some walking…. some pushing it, but looking like they were struggling… one even sitting and getting assistance from another runner. My heart ached for her and I tried not to let that shake me too much.

I got to the turn around point and started to remember that guy shouting “we are way backin’ it!” over and over in my head, and it started to annoy me a little. About half way back up the hill (this was a long, steep one), I noticed the 4:00 pace group, led by a blonde woman with a loud, booming voice, that sounded like she was giving her fitness CV: “I’ve been in training a long time… I’ve taught aerobics classes for 31 years, I coached this for 25 years… I did that for 20 years…” I could hear her from quite a distance, so I focused on what she was saying and eavesdropped to see if I could glean any advice from her. I didn’t hear any at this time, but it wouldn’t be the only time I saw her. As I passed Scheneck Forest, I thought of the runner who told me he got lost in there and it made me smile. Note to self: don’t run in there. While on this part of the trip, I started looking for my coach and running buddy for the first four miles and I never saw her.

I finally got to the top of the hill at Reedy Creek and was trying not to flip out. See… my last long run, I had the mental break down at mile 18.5 and I was approaching mile 18 now. Mile 18 was a milestone for me because I knew I also had to take another gel (I decided I was going to do it every 6 miles, before I felt like I needed it, so 18 was my 3rd), but also my mental barrier. I tried to make it so I was OK with some walking after this point. I hit the 18 mile marker at the bottom of Edward’s Mill (since I was going down it this time) and turned the corner to Trinity and… Lordy… looking up that hill made me want to puke at this point. Physically, I felt good, but I just all of the sudden felt burned out. I started up it and my left foot started hurting. I wanted to stop but I said to myself “you can walk at the next water stop – don’t make a wookie mistake – tee hee hee… I’m such a nerd…” by the time all this nonsense got through my brain, I was at a water stop, so I stopped and took 2 waters, 2 Gatorades, and 2 more waters. As I had done in previous water stops (and all the ones after), I drank 2 of the waters and splashed myself with the other two, and then had 2 of the gatorades, then I started back on my run. I got to the top of Trinity – and was delighted about it, until I realized the breeze I had enjoyed most of the trip down Trinity and Edward’s Mill were now gone (ah… the benefit of some hills… right?).

I returned to Hillsborough to the weird echo from the DJ, the band and the announcer and that was literally all I could think about. My brain was scrambling to parse out the sounds and make sense of them but was failing and it was starting to drive me a little crazy… and my left hip was starting to hurt… as was my foot… so I stopped and walked several times during Mile 20. I don’t remember each time, I just remember being annoyed about it and saying the F word about a dozen times as I slowed, while I was walking and again when I started back up – which was mighty painful. Shortly before I hit the 19 mile marker, I was really starting to get down about the walking thing. I had traded leads with the 4:00 pace group a number of times and I was starting to feel the miles under my feet. As I was huffing an puffing down Hillsborough, the crowd started calling me out and cheering for me a lot more – “you’ve got this! You go girl!” I smiled, gave a thumbs up, and thanked all of them individually – it meant a lot to me that they took the time to be there and cheer me on. Then… I saw it. Like a freakin’ oasis or something: the 19 mile marker. I’m not exactly sure why, but I was pretty damn happy to see it. I kept chugging along, trying desperately to keep the 4:00 pace group behind me. I could hear the pacer talking, so I knew they weren’t that far away.

As nice as it was to see the 19 mile marker, I was actually annoyed to see 20. I’m not sure why – maybe because I had a mental block about the whole “10k” thing – as soon as I thought that, though, a guy called out “You only have 10k left”. gah. I said that once and now it annoyed me because I was thinking “yeah… but that’s still like an hour of running… so… not really helping…but thanks”. I know he meant well by the comment, but I was annoyed by it anyway. I thought about my friend and how she was doing and hoping she was closer to me than farther away – hoping my friends that did the half did ok, and thinking about how very hot I was getting… and thinking to myself that I now – officially – had less than a 10k left. So there.

I lost track of the mileage signs, but somewhere along the way, I managed to get to the point where I was in sight of the NCSU Bell Tower, which meant I was almost at Pullen Road: the end. I was beside myself happy when I saw Pullen Road. I have never been so damn happy to see Pullen road, and I used to live on it when I was at NCSU (Welch dorm). Maybe because I was officially now at a mileage PR – I think. It was somewhere around here where the 4:00 pace group passed me for the last time. I turned down Pullen and I could tell I was starting to speed up – I was excited. I was now officially in “farthest distance ever” territory and I just wanted to be finished. I was having a really, really hard time keeping that pace, though, and once I got to Western, I stopped and walked. I forced myself to run, then I stopped and walked. I forced myself to run, then I stopped and walked. The remarkable thing to me about this part of the Marathon was how many people were walking – and we all looked defeated, spent. We looked like zombies. I got a second wind as I approached Hunt street to climb Dix hill – and saw the guy I did the 20 miler with again – he did another double take as I passed him – I waved again, but he didn’t respond, so I kept going. I got to the top of the hill and walked a little more – I was in really, really good company here. I got another burst of energy as I passed the folks in the blue with the remembrance mile (forgive me – I cannot remember the name of the organization) that had signs of soldiers lost in combat. I loved those folks – they were all very cheerful and did a great job of cheering ALL of us on – very friendly and exactly what I needed at that point in the race… a highlight for me – and judging from the comments I saw about the race, that was a pretty universal feeling. I really hope they come next year – they were exactly what I needed at that point in the race. I gave them all a thumbs up, thanked them for coming out and for their mission and made it – running – to Lake Wheeler.

At Lake Wheeler, I had to control going down the hill, went around the corner on Saunders and back up to Boylan. I knew this part was going to really, really suck, but I also knew I was almost done. I took my walks in stride and ran when I could, knowing I was almost at the end. When I got to Hargett Street, I heard someone shout out “only one turn left!!” and I got motivated. I got to the point where I could see the sign for Fayetteville Street and on the corner I saw one of my friends waiting for me! He jumped out and ran me in for about .25 a mile, cheering me on the whole way “you got this – finish strong!” The highlight of my entire 26.2. I finished at around 4:05. The first thing I noticed at the finish line was the 4:00 pacer – she cheered for me and congratulated me – which made me emotional all of the sudden. I don’t think I had enough water in my system to actually cry, but if I did, tears would have been streaming. The next thing I noticed was someone trying to hand me a medal – which I didn’t expect. I thought I should have had a water – I guess I looked emotional still, so the volunteer trying to give me a medal asked me if I needed a water and I nodded. She handed me a medal and a water bottle I think she took for herself. I took my medal and hung it over my shoulder (like a purse) and tried opening the water. The friend that ran me in met me at the end and hugged me and cheered for me. I got my gatorade and found my sister and about 30 seconds later got more text messages than I have ever had since I’ve had a smart phone.

Best. Finish. Ever.

Learnings

This is not the epilogue I wanted to write. I spent 4 hours making mental notes about what I wanted to say here, but after I finished, I learned something that changed my mind. There are inherent risks in doing this. I know it. Every race I’ve done – and there have been many – have waivers you have to sign. Hell, even run groups have them: you do this at your own risk. Unfortunately, after I finished, my friend informed me about a man who collapsed around mile 12 of the Half route and he worried the man did not make it. He did not. Another collapsed a bit closer to the finish line and did not make it, either. It is rare, but unfortunate none the less and unsettling when it happens in a race you are in. This is the first time that has happened in a race I was in, and there 2 in the same race. My heart breaks for their family and friends and they are all in my prayers. Run safe out there, friends.