Back in the Saddle… I think

Hi Friends –

Until just now, I had not realized that I haven’t written here in over 7 months. I’m shocked and a little disappointed about that. I AM still running – nothing will stop me from that – and I AM still chasing that brass ring of a BQ and I AM still knocking out states on my 50 states quest… (I now have 19) – however, I had to make some changes in my training.

I was tired. So, so, so very tired.

I was having a hard time keeping with training and although I got faster for a while, I was starting to slow down in races (though not in training) and it was something I complained about right after the Tobacco Road marathon last year. I’ve not done a full marathon since – only half marathons (which, by the way, are no small feat, so I’m not at all diminishing them – I just thought that at this point in the year, I’d have a nice shiny BQ, or at least a PR at the 26.2 distance…).

While attempting to train for a spring marathon, I finally broke down and got a FitBit (all my runner friends were getting really fancy runner watches, but none of them had *all* the things I wanted, so I got a FitBit Charge HR to hold me over until the Garmin 235 has been out for a while) and I noticed a trend: my resting heart rate was higher than I expected… Also, my heart rate jumped really fast when I started a run and took foreeeeeeeevvvvvvvvvveeeeeeerrrr to recover. I had lost fitness ūüė¶ How could I have let that happen? I was a Runnah! Running is supposed to make you fitter, thinner, healthier! I ate well (what all the running blogs told me to eat), I followed training plans (which I blabbed about on this very blog for a couple of years), I did speed intervals, hill workouts, and I ran 30, 40, 50 miles a week… and, yet… I was getting unfit… and fat… and slow… and frustrated!!

Apparently, that was too much. I’m over trained (admitting it is half the battle, friends) and probably have been for at least a year, and (like any other injury), I need to take the time to recover. An active recovery (of course), but a recovery all the same.

While attempting the training for that same spring marathon, and complaining about my lack of energy to a friend, she recommended that I read The Big Book of Endurance Training¬†to help me learn a little more about heart rate training. I’ve found, though, it is teaching me a lot more in the process about just being honest with myself about how I feel and how to be healthy and still reach my goals (they can be complimentary).

Although was¬†not completely finished with the book, I immediately started to implement some of the tactics he discussed. My first shock: my resting heart rate was still really high and getting higher. Okay, I thought, maybe it is the FitBit – it can’t be all that accurate¬†–¬†so I bought a chest strap. To my surprise, the FitBit was really all that accurate – they are usually within a couple beats of each other, for what it is worth. It became clear that I needed to change my strategy and try things a different way to see if I can make my goals a reality.

I’ve been following heart rate training¬†for about 3 weeks now and I am starting to feel a little better. I’m starting to have some energy again and I no longer dread run days. For the most part, I’m sleeping better and I have craved sugar a lot less lately. I follow a schedule when I run¬†2 days, take day off, and then run 2 days. I keep my runs to under 45 minutes for now (except for the long that is once a week) and keep my pace so that it is within a range as outlined in the book. My heart rate is still keeping me pretty slow and I can’t say I’m not frustrated about it (especially when I see friends cruising along at 8:00 paces), but I’ve got my eyes on the prize and I really want to get there the right way. I’ve been walking more and actually warming up and cooling down as appropriate, steps I skipped in the past and shouldn’t have. I am getting faster, but I have a long way to go and I need to be patient (to me, friends, that is the toughest part of training…).

I ran my first half marathon last weekend (the Myrtle Beach Half Marathon) with this strategy and came in at 2:00 on the nose – one of my slower half marathons, but the faster end of my target completion time. My heart rate was¬†just a tad over the target rate set by my heart rate monitor (I train at a lower rate) and I didn’t have to refuel or stop once throughout the entire race. I actually felt good throughout and just after – not even sore muscles. I hope to get that post up soon – and of course there are port-a-potty stories involved – haha.

I am running my second Half Marathon since I started heart rate training¬†in NYC next week. My goal is to finish a tad faster than Myrtle Beach (with fewer Potty moments…) Wish me luck ūüôā

Until next time…

2012 Race Reports: TCS Annapolis Half Marathon (Annapolis, MD – State #9)

Race: TCS Annapolis Half Marathon

City: Annapolis, MD   Date: 12/01/2012

Distance: 13.1 mi

Weather: Lower 40s, overcast – perfect half marathon weather!

Course:  Surprisingly hilly for a coastal town, but a (mostly) scenic route and somewhat of a challenge in parts

Summary: Great race, quirky – yet lovable – town, PR busted (finally), and¬†I still can’t believe I finished FOUR half marathons this year… and that I’ve finished NINE total.

Prologue

Before I get started, I need to thank the host cities for the races I attended this year.

I have to admit: I have loved all four of the half marathons I’ve done this year. Not a single complaint from me about any of them. All for different reasons, but all have been great races. Two (this one and Hilton Head) have been small, two (Indianapolis and San Francisco) have been huge. All have been great experiences – and have had great support from the communities – from the bottom of my heart: thank you to all four cities for welcoming and supporting us… for putting up with closed roads, sudden influx of crazy people uttering words like “splits” and “compression” and “PR” and “Garmin”, and jamming up the wait times for your favorite pasta¬†restaurants the night before the race. Yet, not only do you put up with all that, you all come out there to cheer for us in the cold, in the hot, early in the morning, and you stay for hours. You play music for us. You give us more Cowbell. You encourage us. You high-five us. You make signs like “way to go complete stranger” that encourage and entertain us. You congratulate us when we finish, whatever our time happens to be or how we feel about it, even though we’ve never met.

Thank you, Annapolis, San Francisco, Indianapolis, and Hilton Head Island, for the wonderful experiences this year.

****

I’m Irish. I’ll go ahead and admit that. Those who know me personally think I *may* mention that a little too often, but I was raised to be proud of it, so I am (I promise this is going to make sense later, so stick with me here).¬†I mention that now because Annapolis is *famously* Irish. I think that, in the US, the only other town “more Irish” is Boston. Or, at least, the Irish part of my family tends to bring that up in their “when we lived in Maryland” conversations. Another reason this town is significant to me is that my Grandfather served in the Navy and, well, the start and finish was at the Naval Academy.

Go Navy.

None of that had anything to do with my registering for this race, however. I registered for it because it was cheap,¬†convenient enough to be a “Ninja Trip” and fit into my schedule. Not only that, but it is a newer race (this is the 2nd year) so I figured it was going to be kind of small and they gave runners a jacket the year before and promised something similar this year. Winner winner, chicken dinner!

I had no major plans for this race. It was to be the kind of race I would attend, make a few humorous remarks about, post some photos, and sigh at the end when I didn’t break my PR. I’d talk – again – about how I needed to refocus. I needed more cross-training, and, now that I had the treadmill, I needed to buckle down with the mileage. That was my expectation for this race. Secretly, I did want to do better than I did in Hilton Head (1:56:00), but I wasn’t sure I would even come close to my PR, so I honestly didn’t have that expectation of it.

However… I while I was busy living my life and following my plan for things, something kind of amazing happened when I wasn’t even paying attention.

I got better at running.

I had been working on speed in the latter half of the year. I had sustained speeds I couldn’t imagine as a 400m interval a year ago, and I had done it for a mile or more in a row. I broke my 10k PR in my favorite race for that distance (City of Oaks/Old Reliable 10k) just a month before this race. I was slow to take credit for any of the improvement – I attributed my “good fortune” from the running gods as just a fluke or energy from race rabbits or running buddies. I had a hard time believing that I could do that because – for the last two years – my training was stagnant.

Leading up to this race, though, I finally got the treadmill I’ve needed (and the attitude adjustment that went along with it). I finally got the long runs I’d been craving. I finally got the speed workouts I’d missed (albeit dreaded). It isn’t as though I took it all for granted: I just had a healthy dose of disbelief in my own ability for no other reason than this was new territory for me… and I do not like to fail. So, I set a goal far enough out that I felt like I could achieve it (February) and I decided that I would continue on the trajectory I was on: for the month of November, I ran 100 miles for the month, the average pace of which was 8:49. I still have some element of disbelief about that pace, even though, I know I was specifically working on that.

Still… I was planning to break my PR at my next half marathon in Alabama in February.

Pre-Race

I was excited, as I usually am, for this race. Probably more so this time around because the night before I left, I finally did something I never thought I’d do: log 100 miles in a month. I am super proud of that, and it really put me in a great mood.

Since this was a Ninja Trip, I didn’t have to pack much. I got all my gear out and put it in my gym bag – packing a few options, just in case. I couldn’t find my sleeves, so I thought I’d do something I had never done in 8 other half marathons: I’d go shopping at the expo. Surely, they had sleeves there. If not, I had enough time to find a running store after I got there, so I wasn’t worried about it. Just in case, though, I brought my running jacket. I packed a few snacks so I didn’t have to stop to eat, and I decided to bring the rest of the hard boiled eggs so I could be sure I would have what I needed to eat the next morning. I packed them, along with some frozen mini-hot dogs (just in case I couldn’t find any beef I wanted) and my chargers. I got the kids ready, dropped off the dog, took the kids through carpool, gassed up, and was on my way.

The drive itself was relatively uneventful: the I-95 drive is boring. I hit a little traffic around DC (when isn’t there traffic in DC??) and had to make a gas/bathroom stop shortly after DC in what I consider to be the nastiest ¬†bathroom I’ve seen on the East Coast (there was a nastier one in CA, but I choose not think about that…)

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I got to the expo to get my packet around 3:00. The “expo” was actually in a set of heated tents set up just outside the stadium (through this event, we never actually went into the stadium). At first, I wasn’t even sure I was in the right place – it looked like the RD (or someone that appeared to be a RD) was giving directions to people at the last minute and there weren’t any signs. Just a big tent.

There were still a lot of vendors setting stuff up, too. packet pick up started at noon (it was past 3 at this point), so I thought it would be a little more crowded and organized, so I walked around a little to make sure I was in the right place – including taking this shot of the Blue Angels jet parked outside the stadium (I love aviation, but that’s for a different blog).

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Once I got past the tents, I realized that the tents were the expo (oooh…) and I went inside to get my packet and my “premium”. I think I might just stop referring to this activity as “getting a packet” because most races don’t really give “packets” any more. In most cases, they hand you a bib and you get a shirt… and not even a bag to put it all in. This was the case here. I got my bib – I tested the chip to make sure it worked, and I collected my “premium”.

I found it interesting that they referred to it as a “premium” – it is nice – for sure. I was kind of hoping for a jacket, like the one they had last year, but this one seemed very nice and I was happy to have it. But, I did notice something odd in that all race personnel referred to it exclusively as “the premium”. In fact, when I heard a few of the other runners refer to it as “the shirt” the volunteers quickly responded “oh, you mean the premium”.

Ok, then… I’d like my premium shirt, please.

I then went shopping at the “expo” – the one running shop (even Fleet Feet didn’t make it down there – it was a local shop) that was there and open – premium and bib in hand (no bag). I found some pretty awesome sleeves in yellow and red (!) that were fleece lined and I thought would be good to alternate with my black cotton ones… if I could ever find them again (I did). And, they were about the same price as the black cotton ones! I also found a couple of short sleeved shirts that were a pretty good deal, so I grabbed those… and, gloves. I left my usual $1 “throw-away” gloves (that I’ve had for a couple of years…) at home, so I needed another pair… and I got a power bar – something I’m not used to eating mid-run, but I had run out of my usual and thought I could find it here. No such luck, so power bar it was. For all this stuff, I did get a bag.

2012-12-01_AnnapolisHM_HotelCoffeeMug2012-12-01_AnnapolisHM_NoisePolicy

I gathered my stuff and headed to the hotel – O’Callaghan (see? I said it would come up again…) Annapolis Hotel. I didn’t do a whole lot of research on this place before I booked it: it was just cheaper than the other place (Westin) so I booked it. Just before I left, though, I came across some reviews of the place that were… let’s say, less than favorable. I wasn’t sure what to expect.

I pulled up to find valet parking only. Fancy. I hate valet parking – just makes me feel snooty – but I didn’t have the choice: it was valet only. I got all my stuff (thank goodness it was only one night and not a lot of stuff) and I headed inside to check in. I got my key and immediately, I was surprised that the key holder had a “noise policy” on it. haha. I have stayed in a fair number of hotels, but I must say this is the first time I’ve seen one that had a noise policy in the key holder.

2012-12-01_AnnapolisHM_HallwayBathroomsAs interesting, however, as the noise policy was, the thing I saw when the doors first opened on the 4th floor where my room was kind of scared me a little…

I saw hallway bathrooms. Right there. In front of the elevator. As soon as you get off. What?!?!

Immediately my thought was “uh oh… tomorrow is gonna suck…. if nothing else, I’ll have a very interesting story for my blog”.

I meander down the hall and find my room, and to my delight, there is a private bathroom in it (yes!) I drop all my stuff, get out my run gear to check, double check and triple check that I brought everything. Found my black sleeves (didn’t I check there before?) and plugged in my Garmin. I was a little indecisive about going out to eat at this point (it was only 3:45, and how old am I?), but I decided that I was pretty hungry and I wanted to walk around a bit, so I did.

2012-12-01_AnnapolisHM_StreetViewDowntown Annapolis is an interesting place. I found it to be quite eclectic – a strange mix of ultra wealthy next to ultra poor and the artsy in between. The buildings seem to be clustered by decade and it appears they only get one new one every 30 years or so: there was a mix of pre-20th century landmarks next to early 20th-century government owned row houses next to late 1970s stone facade architecture next to brand new stuff built about 10 years ago. There were a lot of art shops, book stores, and Irish pubs (see? I said it would come up again…) The sidewalks were all brick, and some of the bigger intersections were also brick. Being so close to the ocean, though, I could still smell the salty air and feel the humidity. I loved it!

The other strange thing I noticed about this town is the sheer number of smokers here. I’m from North Carolina – they don’t call us “tobacco road” for no reason. Smoking used to be something that was no big deal here until about 10 years ago when we started to ban it in public places. You still see people smoking in NC, but not nearly as many as there used to be. I swear, almost every person I saw in Annapolis, though, had a cigarette in their hand or hanging out of their mouth. It was kind of surreal to me.

It was such a beautiful day, I found myself walking around for about an hour – snapping photos and stopping at windows of art galleries and book stores – before I finally decided to eat. I was getting light headed and my stomach was growling. I passed a few places that sounded good – a steak house, a Mexican place… a few Irish pubs. But, one place, Fado, had a sign that said “on a day like today, you should have the Shepard’s Pie”.

2012-12-01_AnnapolisHM_ShepherdsPieSo, again, the Irish thing comes up. I am Irish, but I *hate* Irish food.¬†I’m also southern and *hate* southern food, so at least I’m consistently annoyed by food I’m supposed to love. The one exception I may ever make to the Irish food thing is Shepherd’s pie.

Sometimes.

You never know what you’re going to get with Shepherd’s pie: it might be just meat and potatoes. There might be all kinds of veggies you love. You might have all kinds of stuff that you cannot recognize. It is a toss up. However, usually, the potato topping will mask some of the crazy stuff in it and you don’t even taste it. This, friends, is why I (generally speaking) will eat Shepherd’s Pie.¬†I left the placard at Fado thinking about the Shepherd’s pie. I visited a few other places, but kept thinking about the Shepherd’s pie. Think of the Homer Simpson voice saying “mmmm…. Shepherd’s Pie” here – because that was completely what was going on in my mind at the time.

Finally, I stopped debating it and went back to Fado.¬†Boy… am I glad I did. The Shepherd’s pie was, indeed, tasty. It was just meat and potatoes – and it was salty – just the way I like it. The orange stuff was…. well… more of an acquired taste. There were carrots. There were other unidentifiable veggies. I think beets were involved. I wasn’t a fan of it at first, but I ate all of it because I was super hungry.

2012-12-01_AnnapolisHM_GodKnowsThe most remarkable thing about Fado to me, though, wasn’t even the food. It was the atmosphere. I swear the main barkeep was yanked right out of Ireland, only he had a southern US accent. He totally looked the part. There were middle-aged business men who were getting an early start on their happy hour yelling stories about how they keep their daughters out of “hockey parties” because they themselves played hockey and, well, they know what goes on there… there were five (not joking) different soccer games on. There were Shepherd’s pie specific condiments that I have never seen nor used (nor did I need them). And, the cherry on the pie of this experience: the music was a record (yes, vinyl for all you hipsters out there) of mid-1980s Christmas music. How do I know it was a record? Southern US Irish Barkeep actually scratched it when he was changing the song. haha. I got a great giggle from that.

I paid my bill, and decided to walk around a little more. I went to a coffee shop to get some coffee and a dessert (I never eat desserts, but I really wanted one this evening) and I saw the BEST little sign there – no strong arming into tips??

With a full belly and tired legs, I was ready to go back to my room. It was getting dark and cold, anyway, so I didn’t need too much convincing. I went back to my room, set all the alarms, talked to my boys and was out like a light by 9 PM.

Race Day

2012-12-01_AnnapolisHM_BreakfastI set my first alarm – on my Garmin, which chirps – for 4 AM. I’m not sure why, but I did. I guess I just didn’t want to be late. When it first went off, I didn’t even know where I was. I was confused. I had slept so deeply that I didn’t realize I wasn’t at home for a few seconds and that I was running a race in a couple of hours. It took me a good minute to get reoriented…. and then I was grateful for the incredible sleep because I never usually sleep well in hotels (I seem to be breaking that trend lately, though).

I took a few minutes to wake up, and then I got out of bed and got dressed and then started my stretching routine. I spent a good 45 minutes on it – I took my time. I pinned my bib, and then I ate my breakfast. I had been offered a breakfast by the hotel – and taken them up on it, but it didn’t start until 6 am and I didn’t want to wait that long. I pulled out the last of the hard cooked eggs I brought with me (I usually eat them scrambled but I didn’t have a way to do that, so I went with Hard Cooked). I ate three – which is all I thought I could stomach at the time – and downed some water.

Now, I was getting nervous. I made my final pit stop, and then I gathered my things and headed out to the race.

Part of the reason I chose the O’Callagahan hotel was the proximity to the start line: .8 mile. A warm up. And, even though it was a bit chilly, it wasn’t a bad walk. I ended up walking in with another runner and we chatted for a bit – we wished each other luck, I went to the bathroom again, and I found my way to bag check.
Bag check was interesting – they gave us plastic bags and asked us to write our numbers on the bags in huge markers and then put the tags inside the bags – I thought it was a bit of a strange system, but I did it anyway. It was just a run jacket and, while I would miss it if it got lost, I didn’t bring my favorite so I was OK with it. Some people, though, put pretty much everything but the kitchen sink in their bags. A lot of people wanted to drop some things off now, and then come back later to do it again. There was only one volunteer working at that time (it was a little after 6 AM) and he pleaded with people to do it all at once. I couldn’t believe some folks actually argued with him about it.

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After I checked my bag, I went into the tent (same as the day before) to thaw out a little, and then started playing my music to warm up. I got a few recommendations from one of my friends, and decided that Organ Donor by Zomboy was probably the best bet for getting me ready, so I played it on repeat and ventured out of the tent to take some photos before we got started.

As I was shooting, though, I felt the urge to go again, so I went back to the port-a-johns to get in line. For such a small race, though, the lines were sooooo long. I waited for about 10 minutes until I heard the national anthem – and then I decided “I’ll just go later” and left the line – if you have read this blog for any amount of time, you know it is impossible for me to have a Half Marathon story that does not involve a bathroom visit at some point. I’m happy to report: this story does not disappoint.

Because this was a pretty small race, there were no formal corrals – it was the honor system. Well… since I was in line at the bathroom, I was toward the back of the start line. Oh well. I wasn’t expecting this to be a big deal, so I was OK with it. I started my Garmin and got¬†satellites. I started my app. I started my music. I was ready.

I didn’t hear a gun… all of the sudden people started walking, so, I went with the flow… then we were jogging, so I went with the flow. Then we passed the first set of sensors. Then the second. then the third. And we were on our way… and then I realized: my phone app didn’t start.

Damnit.

I fiddled with my phone app for what seemed like an eternity (it was probably only about a minute or so, but I lost about .2o of a mile). I finally got it running and settled in to the run, slightly annoyed. I was annoyed about my app. I was annoyed about the fact that there were so many people in front of me going slow. I was annoyed about the fact that the roads were narrow. I just wanted to get around people. As with any race, I spent the first 1.5 mile or so just passing people that shouldn’t have lined up in front of me in the first place. As I went through that mile, though, I heard my app tell me I was at a sub 8:30 pace. That couldn’t be right. I needed to slow down.

I swear I felt like I was running at a snails pace. I was still in a pretty thick crowd, though, we were starting to thin out a little and I could actually start to enjoy the run. I have my phone app set to give me my pace every 5 minutes, and although it was about .25 mile short, I kept it on so I could hear the pace throughout and keep a sense of how I was doing. About 20 minutes after I started the app, I was still averaging about an 8:30 pace. I thought: “either this can’t be right, or I need to sloooooowwwww down.” I thought I slowed, so I just tried to enjoy the town a little more.

Around mile 3 or so, we were going through the downtown portion of town which was just adorable. I was a little freaked out about the brick road, though – scared to death I was going to trip on a loose brick or something because I was too busy looking at the buildings (I did get distracted there for a bit). Once we got through the downtown area, we went through a marina-like area and, by this time, I really had to go. I tried to hold it, but I was about to explode, so when I saw a sign for the bathroom, I went for it… wait… what do I see?? REAL Bathrooms!! With toilets that flush! And water to wash your hands. Yes please! I literally ran into the bathroom, then into the stall – did what I needed to do, washed my hands, and ran out. I was in there a sum total of maybe 90 seconds. That is probably the fastest bathroom visit I have ever had. I didn’t even stop the Garmin or the app.

And, yes, I still had a pace slightly over 8:30 after this visit.

Once I was done with the bathroom, I really started to enjoy the run more. It was less crowded where I was at this point and I was comfortable so I could just enjoy the views of the town… until we started crossing the bridges – it was overcast in town, but downright foggy over the water. Unfortunately, we couldn’t see anything. And we crossed about 4 bridges throughout the run. Ah, well. At one point, a guy ran with me and we chatted for a while – really nice guy, and it didn’t hurt he was attractive – asked for advice on running and we chatted about the scenery (or the fog really) and he called me crazy for the 50-states thing – haha. He had to stop to stretch out his joints and we wished each other luck.

I was still around an 8:30 pace. In fact… I had 7 miles in under an hour according to my Garmin. That was officially the second time I had done that and, truth be told, I didn’t feel like it was a tough effort. It wasn’t an easy run, but I didn’t feel like I was going to throw up.

Around mile 8, I stopped for my power bar. I usually make it my goal to only stop about 1 minute or so to eat. I was stopped more than 2 I think because this powerbar was just impossible to eat. In fact, the guy I chatted with earlier passed me and said “now, don’t stop too long!” I ate what I could (about 1/2 of it) and started back to the run again. The hills were starting to get to me at this point, but my phone app still had me averaging around an 8:30 or just over pace. What?!?! I thought to myself: ok – you’ve banked enough that, at this point, you should easily be able to get to 1:56:00, maybe even ¬†better.

I was still around an 8:30 pace – just over it. Woo hoo!

I kept going. One interesting thing, though – at least, interesting enough that it kept me from thinking about the rolling hills is that the route had a couple of points where runners were on the wrong side. That happened a few times. It is an out and back course, so there were a few places where we were on our way back from a turn around point and had to cross paths with runners coming in. Being that this is a new race, I know there are some kinks to work out, but this is a USATF course, so I was surprised about that. Most of the time, there were no volunteers directing us – thankfully, most of the runners were pretty experienced and patient with each other and we all looked out for each other.

I was still at around an 8:30 pace – just under it. woo hoo! And… wow, really?!?!

About mile 11, I was starting to burn out. I could feel that the power from the bar was diminishing (damn… should have eaten the whole thing) and my toe on my right foot was really starting to hurt (I had a tendon that has been getting inflamed lately). I was also very tired of holding the half-eaten powerbar, but I knew I’d probably want it later, so I didn’t want to chuck it. I had also removed my gloves by this time and was proud of myself for hanging on to them for so long – as sweaty and nasty as my hands had become by this point. But… as soon as I thought it, I dropped one of my gloves. Not interested in messing up my splits, I let it go. For some odd reason, I held on to the other one for half a mile and thought “why am I keeping this – what the hell am I going to do with one glove?” so I chucked it, too. This, I reminded myself, is why they call them “throw away gloves”. It was hard to do, but I did it.

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I was just over 8:30. Wow.

Mile 12 – I was ready to be done. I was tired. I was wiped out. I saw my friend that chatted with me pass me – and I wanted to catch him. I knew he was much younger than me, but I wanted to finish close to him since we traded leads a few times, so I sped up. He was my rabbit! We finally made it back into the parking lot of the stadium and wound through the path until we turned the corner and I could see the finish line – and the clock. 1:53-something. Whoah! My previous PR was almost 2 minutes more than that – I was going effing PR this race. I pushed it in a little harder and finished, emotional, but elated. I stopped my watch: 1:51:19. WTF? I was also missing .15 mile from the distance, but my watch had been fussy for a while so I figured that since it was a USATF certified course, I was going to count it.

2012-12-01_AnnapolisHM_AfterRaceOystersI got my water and chugged it. I got my mylar blanket and did my best to wrap it around me. I ate the rest of that powerbar, and was grateful I kept it once I saw the oysters they had available (shudder). I reported my time to friends and family, and honestly, it took me a few minutes to fully realize what I had just done. I not only broke my previous PR, I broke it by almost 4 minutes. I still have a hard time believing that. I then was getting cold, so I wrapped my mylar blanket around me, retrieved my jacket from bag check and put it on over the mylar blanket (and I was given kudos for my creativity for that…)

I had no interest in the party – there was a band playing, and they were good, but I was freezing and alone and I was ready for a long hot shower. I waited long enough for my preliminary results to be reported on the kisok, and then I went back to the hotel to take a hot shower, pack up my stuff, and head back home. Happy, and still in disbelief.

Learnings

Even today, I am still in disbelief about that time. I know I trained for this. I know I worked hard for it… but I still can’t believe I did that. I am sore today for the first time in the last few half marathons. I am sore in places I’ve never been sore before after a half – my shoulders and back and my upper abs. I was hungry after the race for the first time in ages, and, yes, I passed out like a champ last night, sleeping for about 10 hours straight and disoriented again when I woke up. This race, however, has given me incentive to keep training. It is starting to pay off and giving me the things I’ve wanted for a long, long time. I have to be careful and thoughtful about it so I don’t hurt myself and I stay healthy – something I do not take for granted – but I am starting to understand what I’ve done wrong in the past and how I need to do it going forward.

I think.

And… now that I set the bar even higher, I have a lot of work left to do.

2012 Race Reports: Wipro San Fransisco Marathon – First Half (San Francisco, CA – State #8)

Race: Wipro San Fransisco Marathon, First Half

City: San Fransisco, CA   Date: 07/29/2012

Distance: 13.1 mi

Weather: Upper 50s, foggy, yet, oddly dry

Course:  flat at first, then a whole bunch of hills at the end

Summary: Loved it. Loved it. Loved it!

8 down, 42 to go.

So far, my favorite race yet…

Prologue

I know… I know. I said smaller races this year. And, what do I do? I sign up for probably two of the larger races in the country (sigh). However, I will say, that, in spite of the sour taste that the¬†Las Vegas Rock and Roll left in my race palette last year, I am happy to announce that these two giant races (this one and the Indy Mini, as I’ve started to call it) have been my favorites of all the eight I have now completed. Organization of events like this make a really, really big impact on the experience. I know (hope) that last year’s Las Vegas event was a fluke and I promise I *will* get over it.

One day.

For now, though, I’d like to tell you the story of how I decided to do THIS race and what my experience was with it. A friend of mine from high school ended up living in northern California and, thanks to Facebook, I was able to reconnect with him after many years of having lost touch. He decided to run the Chicago marathon to raise money for the American Cancer Society and, having only done one 5k before this, he thought it was a good idea to run a half marathon before the full to test his muster in the race scenario. I not only thought that was a terrific idea, I decided to join him so I could support him in person… and, since I hadn’t done California yet, it counted as another state on my list.

I actually had been looking at doing this particular race before he mentioned it because I liked the way it seemed to be structured: at it’s heart, it is a really a full marathon, BUT: if you aren’t up to the full marathon distance, you can run the first half – which goes along the bay, across the Golden Gate Bridge and back and then finish in Golden Gate park OR you could do the second half which goes through town and end back on the Embarcadero. If you are an Ultra runner, though, and 26.2 isn’t enough, you have an option too: run that sucker twice. I have always made the argument that the best way to see any town is to run it and I had always wanted to see more of San Fransisco. The most attractive thing to me about this race, at first, was the weather though. I’ve been out there in the summer and it is downright cold there early in the morning – a very nice opposite when you live in a place that pretty much feels like it is next door to Hell in the middle of July. Now, not only could I do that, but I also had a really, really good reason to pull the trigger and just do this race already: support my friend running his first big race.

It is a long trip to be “all ninja-like”, but because of work, I didn’t have the ability to stay out there as long as I would have liked, so I booked a ninja-like trip for a city 3,000 miles away: leave late Friday afternoon, get back mid-afternoon on Monday. Easy, peasy. However… as my luck would have it, the Eastern half of the US has had severe thunderstorms each day for the last two weeks of July, and this particular day was no different. I was supposed to fly from Raleigh to Detroit, but the storms in Detroit were worse than in Raleigh, so they booked me on a flight to Atlanta that had me taking another connection getting to San Fransisco that night about 10 minutes earlier. Win!

Not so fast…

Weather in Atlanta got worse and we were delayed… again. …and again. Until I was cutting it very close to making my connection. We finally got to Atlanta, I got off the plane as fast as I could, I ran down the hall and got to the gate and…. damn. doors shut. (sigh). And, as bad luck has it in these situations, no more flights out. I was offered a hotel room at a “discount” and a 6 am flight. I opted out of the hotel room to save money and (ironically) sanity, and decided to sleep in the terminal from which I was flying the next day so I had no opportunities to miss my flight – and I had dibs on the freshly brewed coffee first thing in the morning. Lemonade, people.

Although it was an uncomfortable sleep, I did manage to get a little bit of sleep here and there. And, I got a pretty cute Zebra blanket and pillow – consolation prize for a missed flight, so I thought. I got up, brushed my teeth and washed my face, got that first brew of the day (yessss!) and found my gate so I could get my boarding pass… what is this? First class? Why, yes, please! ha! totally made up for sleeping in the terminal! Then, I get on the plane and get settled in – yes, it is a window seat, but it is a window seat in first class, so I’m not going to be picky here. I got to board first, I’m going to get off first so I can’t miss my connection (in Minneapolis – ok, so there was *one* slight drawback to getting a flight the next day) and I was more comfortable than I would have been on the flight the night before. I was in acceptance. We took off and I looked out the window – something I rarely do since I always take aisle seats when they are available – and got to see a pretty cool sunrise out of my window. And, because a layered cloud deck, I got to see it on both sides – that was very peaceful and it made my morning. We landed without incident in Minneapolis, I caught my connection without incident, and I was on my way to San Fransisco.

Pre-Race

I landed shortly before lunch time and my friend came to pick me up so we could go to the expo to get our packets. We got our packets, walked around a bit, caught up and chatted about the race. We were both kind of hungry, and he knows all the great places to eat, so we got some lunch (rice noodles!) and then were on the hunt for my standby nutrition since I couldn’t bring it with me: Gatorade fit series. We went to three different places looking for it, but couldn’t find it. I finally settled on Gatorade pro – that’ll be fine, right? (it was) We went to a local running store to get during-run fuel and I decided to try something I hadn’t tried before – a Clif Bonk Buster – I had never even seen it before – but my friend had used them and swore by it, so I tried it… that’ll be fine, right? (it was) We went back to the hotel, put our things down and then went to get dinner (believe it or not, it was already dinner time by then). As a test for the next morning, we decided to walk down to the race start line from the hotel to make sure we were going to leave in enough time. We walked around the start line for a bit to get oriented and then had an awesome steak and potatoes dinner at Epic. We went back to the hotel to get settled for the evening, and because I’m still on East Coast time at this point, I’m out like a light at 8 PM.

Our race started at 5:30, which for me, was 8:30 body time and it worked out great for me. My alarm went off at 3:30 or so, and I did snooze it a couple of times, but honestly, I was wired and excited. I have looked forward to almost all of my half marathons, but this one, for some reason, I was more excited about. I had done part of this route the year before when I came to San Fransisco for work, so I knew part of the route already and (sort of) what I was in store for – and it was actually one of my all-time favorite runs. Another reason I was excited was that I actually had an opportunity to come close to my PR because of the weather – no heat and humidity!! I always get a little overly excited about weather in the 50s and 60 because, yes, I am that much of a runner-stat-geek. It really does make a difference in your time. I got up, dressed, and met up with my friend who was understandably anxious. We didn’t have a place to make our own breakfast, so we decided to get eggs at a diner on the way.

Now that I don’t drink or party at all, I tend to forget that people still do that on a Saturday night, so I was a little surprised to see people out still from the night before. I should have taken a photo, but the diner was half runners, half after-partiers and it was quite a divergent sight. We ordered a simple breakfast of one cup of coffee and a plate of scrambled eggs – nothing else. We ate it quickly and were on our way to start. To simplify things, I asked if I could just put my stuff in his check bag, so we organized the bag, found the check in and walked around for a bit until we both decided we had to go to the restroom and the lines were long. We wished each other luck and went to our corrals. I got a bit freaked out that I was going to miss my start because the lines were soooooo long for the porta-johns, so I decided that I would wait until I found one along the way and headed to my coral.

And, yes, it seems as though I’m incapable of having a half marathon story that does not include a bathroom portion… ¬† but more on that later…

I actually wasn’t too far from the corrals, so I went in.¬† This is one race where the corrals *were* policed and you could not go into a corral if you weren’t assigned to it (yay!) so I showed my bib and filed into my corral. Another notable thing about the corrals is the wave times: a full ten minutes between starters. Hm… so, the elites start at 5:32 (granted, that is a weird start time, but it made sense when I was there), and since I was fourth back, I wasn’t scheduled to start until 5:52 – I got in right as they were making last calls for the first corral, so in hindsight, I probably had plenty of time to use the restroom, but I didn’t want to cut it too close. One thing I love about big cities is the sheer number of attractive men – and there were a ton of them here, so I had plenty to look at while I was waiting – and the view of the bay was nice, too. My corral was right at the ferry building, so I had a really nice view of the Bay Bridge, all lit up. This photo does not do it justice – the view was much prettier than that! I was getting anxious as wave 2 started and excited as wave 3 started, so I put on my music and just waited for my turn. But… up this point, I had not given much thought to how cold it was… now I just had time to think about it… over and over again.

Race

So, I said that it made sense that my start time was 5:52 – it is because they officially started the event at 5:30. sharp. They did the national anthem and some introductions and, at 5:32 on the nose, the first and second waves were released. At 5:42 on the nose, Wave 3 was released. I almost couldn’t stand the wait! Finally, finally, it was my turn! Ours was called up, and I went out like a rabbit. I actually didn’t think it felt that fast at all – it felt great – but I happened to notice on my watch that I was sub-8 at one point and knew I had to pull that back. My first mile was 8:15, so I tried to pull it back even more – and ended up with 8:14. ha! at least I’m consistent.

However, by this time, my bladder was getting the better of me and I really couldn’t wait any longer, so I decided to stop at the first set of port-a-johns I saw… unfortunately, there was a line… and that line was disorganized like I’ve never seen at a running event – people were cutting in front of each other – I was cut three times before I barked something about not being invisible and cut back in front of someone else. I was pretty mad at this point, so I did what I had to do quickly, pulled up and literally ran out the door. The thing is: when you don’t take the time to pull up right when you are sweating, eh… things don’t go back to the right place. So… I was, ahem, all bunched up for a couple of miles. And, yes, that did make me irritable, so know I have actual perspective on the ever so eloquent southern colloquialism “don’t get your panties in a bunch”. Needless to say, mile three was my worst at 10:15 – almost completely erasing the speed of the first two miles. I had to get back to work without burning myself out.

It was at this point on the run that I actually started to relax and just enjoy it. For a while, at least. As I write this, I’m looking at my favorite pair of running shoes – which I have not worn since this race – that are covered in mud… and now I remember why. The 4 hour pacer. So, around the time I got to the Marina, just before Crissy field, I was working on de-bunching and starting to relax with my music (so, yeah, I decided to run with music this day – I was in the mood for it at the time) and take in the scenery, just recalling the last time I ran this route and how good I felt, and got lost in my thoughts until I see a wide barrier of people in front of me, the middle of which has on a bright yellow jacket and is carrying a sign that said “4:00”. Cool, I thought, I’m with the 4 hour pacer, which should have left in Wave 3, and that means I’m on goal for my sub-2. Sweet… except, I gotta get around this crowd… no where to pass on the left, so I passed on the right through some grass (and obviously some mud). There… that takes care of that… back to getting lost in my thoughts… where was I…

What? How can he be in front of me again? Did I really space out that much? (my splits say ‘uh huh’ at a 9:30 for this segment). This lead-trading went on for a little over a mile. I finally got to the point where I passed them for good just at the base of the Golden Gate Bridge – around mile 5.5. I have to assume he was doing a much better job of pacing than I was, which means that I should be paying much closer attention to it.

The first part of this run – save a couple of small hills – was pretty flat. However… as you make your way out of the marina, into what I call the first half of the Presidio, there are hills a plenty and they are plenty steep, especially as you make your way up to the Golden Gate Bridge. I have been to San Fransisco before, but this run was the first time I had ever actually been ON the Golden Gate Bridge and I gasped a little when I first got on it. It was foggy, but it was still a pretty amazing view. The event planners had marked off two lanes for us: one coming on and one going off. You basically run waterside on the way up, run around a circle and snake back running toward the middle on the way back out. There are some slick spots due to the fog and I was petrified of slipping. The event planners actually had a few of those spots covered with rubber-like carpeting or something, but not all places could be covered, so there were still a few spots that worried me.

I was so wrapped up in the view, trying not to slip, and seeing the people coming back, that I didn’t even pay attention to when my usual nutrition break came up (normally 50 minutes) and had just passed 7 miles when I realized I probably should take something. At this point, I was almost all the way across the bridge out of San Fransisco. I stopped to eat my bonk buster (which turned out to be an appropriate name), even though I didn’t really feel like it and washed it down with the Gatorade Pro I had been sipping the entire race up to that point. I continued on through the turn around and started “way backin’ it” toward the Golden Gate Park. I must admit, at this point, I was kind of disappointed I was half way finished. I am pretty sure that has never happened to me in a race before – at this point, I’m usually wishing I was at mile 10.

On the way back across the bridge, I ran on the inside and slowed down so I could see my friend behind me – who was in corral 8. He had logged pretty good times for his training runs, so I fully expected to see him at some point (I didn’t – I guess just too many people). Once I got off the bridge, we climbed the other side of the Presidio and, boy, was that a spectacular sight. From there, it was clearer than on the bridge and, in spite of all the people around me at that particular moment, I felt very alone and peaceful. I got sucked into the scenery. I didn’t even mind the 275 foot climb in under a mile…

What brought me back to reality, though, was the descent from that climb. One thing a runner always has to remember is that whatever goes up, must come down, and while the hammys pay the price on the way up, the knees and quads will on the way down. I have only recently begun to actually use the down hill to my advantage. That’s not to say that I go down them all out, increase my stride or do anything crazy, but I do use the opportunity gravity affords me to keep going at the same speed as I was going on flat and then use the crests and valleys as “rest” for these intervals. My friends… I put this theory to test big time at this point in the race.

All you have ever heard about San Fransisco hills is true: they are steep. They are long. They are relentless. I am constantly complaining about hills in Raleigh. After running these hills last year, I don’t complain any more. These are nothing. If you have ever seen photos of California Street from the bay side of town, that photo does not do the hill justice. Having said that: the hills don’t just go from East to West. Oh no. They go North to South, too. Oh yes. So, after coming out of the giant climb of the Presidio, we were subjected to (ahem) 3 full miles of a crazy joy ride of hills through the western side of town to Golden Gate park. I was fine with the first couple, but I promise you, my friends, I was mighty salty at the end. I wasn’t saying it out loud, but I was absolutely thinking it. I tried not to think about the hills and focus on the houses in this area and what it might be like to live… ah screw it. I hate these hills.

I was thrilled and disappointed at the same time to see the finish line. Thrilled that I made it 13.1 for an eighth time, thrilled that I made my goal time – even with the stops, the slowing and the hills, I ended up with a 1:59:19, on both my Garmin AND official time… disappointed that my part of the race was over. Two hours didn’t seem like long enough.

I got my food and foil blanket and tried walking around and rehydrating while waiting for my friend… but, I was freezing. At one point, I was shivering so hard, I actually got a cramp and had to walk it out. I wish I was kidding about that. I tried to position myself to see my friend finish, but I missed him. He finished in 2:11 and I’m so proud of him!!

Learnings

I have cut gluten out of my diet again and, since, have been working on speed. I have noticed a real difference when running longer distances at faster paces when I eliminate gluten, so it is a diet choice I intend to maintain. Although there weren’t the crowds in this city that we had in Indianapolis, the city of San Fransisco was very welcoming to us and provided me with another very memorable run. I am planning to do the second half next year because this was such a good race for me. The biggest lesson I think I have learned from this, other than gluten free is the right decision, is that I’m on the right path with training. I’ve focused on stamina most of the year and now I’m finally comfortable after finishing 13 miles. I want to be able to finish it faster and still be comfortable, so that is what I plan to work on next.

Now… time to find #9…. where to next? TN? MD?

2012 Race Reports: OneAmerica 500 Festival Mini Marathon (Indianapolis, IN – State #7)

Race: OneAmerica 500 Festival Mini-Marathon

City: Indianapolis, IN   Date: 05/05/2012

Distance: 13.1 mi

Weather: Upper 60s, virtually no breeze and over 90% humidity even at 7 AM

Course:  mostly flat, other than a bridge and entry into the (very hot) speedway

Summary: Loved it. Loved it. Loved it!

7 down, 43 to go.

Didn’t meet my goal, but I thought I did well considering the heat and loved the course and atmosphere of this race!

Prologue

I usually incorporate this kind of prattle in my “pre-race” section, but as I go along with these, I am more likely to start to compare or make some kind of (what I think is) a significant observation, so you may see this section more often in upcoming half marathon posts. This time, it is the giant races. By “giant”, I mean more thank 30k entrants – tens of thousands of people running the same race. The biggest two I’ve ever participated in are Las Vegas and this one – both producing my slowest times, albeit for much different reasons.

I know I bring up the Las Vegas Rock and Roll race a lot. To me, up to this point, it is the epitome of what a bad race experience is for anybody serious about running in events like that. I’d like to, in this post, contrast (for the benefit of the organizers for the 2012 Las Vegas Rock and Roll – because I know they read my blog – haha) with the Indy Mini because both races had similar features, yet I had the completely opposite impressions of them. For example:

  • There was a feature of the city involved in the marketing of the race (come run The Strip at night! come run around the Indy Motor Speedway!) Without these “city features”, few would travel to either city to run a race.
  • Both towns, aside from the one city feature, conventions, and a tiny downtown area are fundamentally economically depressed and depend on tourism to keep their economies a float.
  • As a result of the city feature, there was a lot of interest in the race – over 40k registered for both races.
  • Both races, as a result of the city feature, become destination races for people in the US as well as abroad.
  • Heavy, heavy marketing to the running community for both races – “come here – do this race!” “time of your life” “we have training plans!” “you can do it” all being shouted at you from every angle.

This was my 2nd slowest race – only Las Vegas was slower. Why was I so much happier with this race than with Las Vegas? My Friends… organization means a lot. Also, the vast majority of the runners seemed serious about the race – very few costumes, very little partying, and a lot of people exercising runners etiquette. I only wish half the runners in last year’s Las Vegas race would have had that measure of discipline – it would have been a blip of disappointment for me and not much more.

Pre-Race

My uncle moved to the Indianapolis area for work from NC about 7 years ago. Because we are a pretty close family, I hated to see him move. Despite the 7 years of invitations to visit, I had not been able to make it work out to come up there for a visit. One of the motivations for me doing the 50-States goal was to remedy the “I couldn’t make it work out” excuse for visiting family and friends. There are certain states, Indiana being one of them, where I will select a race in a certain city just so I can visit family and friends, regardless of any city features. It just so happens, Indianapolis links this event (as well as many others) to the Indianapolis 500. Naturally, I wanted to do what I thought would be a fun race and I had heard a lot of good things about this race from others who had done it, so it seemed like the perfect one to do for me.

I’m also blessed with a pretty patient father who loves to travel and “go mess around” so I enlisted him as my travel buddy for this trip to see his brother and my cousins. I was looking forward to the race, but most of all, I was looking forward to seeing my family and spending time with my uncle and cousins that I don’t see often.

Coming off the highs I had for the Hilton Head Half and the Tarheel 10-Miler, I was actually pretty excited about this race because I felt like my physical condition after each of those races had improved dramatically following those races. My overall recovery time shortened significantly and I was back at running sooner than any of the three half marathons I did last year. Otherwise, I was also excited about the trip itself. I registered for it when registration first opened to the public in November and started planning my trip then. I decided to drive because my Uncle said it wasn’t too bad of a drive (he was right about that) and I could have more mobility if I had my car. I also thought I could stop along the way to be a tourist (which I totally did) and just enjoy the trip as a whole (which I totally did). Make it a ‘mini-vacation’ (which I totally did).

I had a pretty stressful couple of weeks leading up to this race – large, looming deadlines, competing projects and a lot of distractions from finishing what I *needed* to have complete. To make matters more stressful, all of these things were due while I was on vacation… which meant I had to turn it in before I left. (sigh). Who has two thumbs and is the master of bad timing? This girl.

Stressful situations, however, tend to be (unfortunately) my best working conditions, so I somehow managed to get all my projects done and somehow managed to keep my sanity (what is left of it at this point in my life, that is) and somehow managed to be a (relatively) good mom by supporting and attending events important to both boys and still some how managed to get my car packed and get them to school on time every day that week. It wears me out just reading that long, unwieldy run-on sentence. I don’t know what happened because on most days, I can’t manage to keep myself together for a fraction of all of that.¬† But, somehow, I managed it. The only thing I couldn’t manage was more than one run or any other cross-training. I made my 90-mile goal for April and I got one taper run in. While it wasn’t what I wanted or planned, it was all I could manage with everything else so I had to be happy with it.

Friday morning, I had the car packed, including the kids and my dad, and was on time for the bus. We were ready to go. I dropped off the littles, kissed them and told them I’d talk to them that night and got them on the bus. Dad and I set the GPS for my uncle’s house and went on our way to Indy. The trip up was relatively uneventful. Dad and I talked about our planned and previous trips (his Harley trips, my HM trips), we talked about the boys, we talked about movies – 10 hours in the car and we didn’t really run out of much to say. My dad is an awesome travel buddy for me ūüôā

We arrive in Indy shortly after 5, and decided to stop off to get my packet and bib. I think it took us longer to park and get to the building than it did to get my packet. Usually, I don’t do a lot at the pick up – I get my packet and I leave. I rarely ever shop or get anything. This time, though, I had incentive to hurry: my cousin was going to her spring dance and I wanted to see her dressed up before I went. We got back to the car, paid the ridiculous parking fee (really? $6 for 45 minutes! Really, Indy?) and got to my uncle’s just in time to see my cousin off to her big spring dance (she was so beautiful!) and grab some dinner – yes, still GF (more on that later) with my meat and potatoes – with my uncle and other cousin. My dad is a pharmacist and my uncle is a biologist, so the conversation eventually turned to experiments they did in college with lab rats and lab mice – not really appetizing dinner conversation. I will say, though, it was entertaining and educational. I’m constantly impressed with how much my family is alike in so many ways – how much I’m like my uncle, how much my cousins are like me. It was a very comforting feeling.

We went back to the house and I got ready for bed. I was excited, but I wasn’t as anxious as I usually am before a race… I guess having my family around helped with that. I finally got a chance to go through my race goodies in my packet pick up bag. A hat – good… I could probably use that. Ads for races in the area I most likely won’t do – eh, ok. In the toss out pile. Next – long sleeved tech shirt – thanks anyway, maybe in about 8 months when it is finally cool again. And… vegetable oil. Vegetable Oil. um… what? vegetable oil? My first instinct is “this is, so far, the strangest thing I’ve received in a runner’s packet for a race”. Immediately, I took a poll of my runner friends, asking if I missed some secret use for premium vegetable oil that runners use that might make this make sense… thankfully, they were all as confused as me – and I heard some creative uses for it for Triathletes, so I don’t feel so bad. Satisfied that I’m not clueless, I turned out the light and went to sleep.

Race Day

I set my alarm for 5:00 because I wanted to make sure I had enough time to get dressed, do final stretches, get a little breakfast, and drive to the site of the start. I choked down some eggs and coffee and guzzled the remainder of my water while my dad and uncle studied the maps and decided on a good place to park.

My uncle agreed to drive us in to town and had a good place to park so we left around 6:15 to get parked. While it took a little longer to park and walk than we thought, we were still there in plenty of time to start. My dad and uncle told me to go ahead to my corral and find a restroom, so I split off from them on a quest to find a restroom, then my corral. I was sure there were going to be port a johns near by, so I rounded the corner to head toward my corral (J).

To my surprise, was greeted with a traffic jam like I saw in Vegas. Instantly, my anxiety took over and I worried more about getting into my corral on time than going to the bathroom. I made it into the corral (barely) only to find out they were not letting anybody else in to the corral. what?!?!? That had to be wrong… I looked at my watch – 7:25. I was worried they weren’t going to let us in at all, but thankfully, I wasn’t the only runner waiting for a spot so I felt a little less anxious about it. All of the sudden – and I still don’t know what happened here – the entire crowd in front of the J corral moves up and they let us in. Maybe that was the start of the wheel chairs? The 5k runners should have been long gone by this time, I thought, so I don’t know what it was. I filed in with the other runners beside me and found a spot. Not my right side spot that I usually get, but I was OK with the spot I took. I settled in, tapped my watch a few times to keep the signal, and then checked my phone.

A few minutes after I got into the corral, I had a tap on the shoulder from the runner beside me – my dad was along the side of the corral taking photos of me and wanted me to smile for a picture. It was the first time I can remember that I had a photo taken of me at the start line of any of my half marathons and it made me very happy… almost a little emotional. It was a great way to start off the race for me. Even cooler than that, my uncle took a photo of my dad taking a photo of me (we do that a lot in my family – haha). So, I have a photo to share with you, my friends.

The gun went off and the corrals moved up – no wave starts, which was fine with me. We all started walking until we got a few feet from the big arch with a giant American Flag hanging from it and we all started a little jog (some people even said “oh… we’re jogging now…” peer pressure! haha). We crossed the line and everybody took off! It was awesome because they had music blaring and the energy was high – people were cheering and shouting and I had goosebumps! The first thing I noticed, though, is that everybody was moving at around the same pace. Yes, there were some who were Gallowaying it and some who were taking it slower than me, but honestly, they were mostly to the right, or at least moved over that way. I was impressed with how in snyc most of the people in my corral were. Marked difference from the Las Vegas race, indeed. I think the corral placement was good for me – I did end up passing quite a few folks, but, not as many as I had in some of the competitor races, surprisingly.

I settled into a decent pace, but I really, really had to go. It was all I could think about and the first mile and a half were pretty painful for me. Thankfully, they had port-a-johns at about 1.5 mile and, although there was a wait, I had to stop. There is my 2 minutes over my goal time, right there. Once I finished, I ran back to join the crowd and settled into my pace.

I decided early on that I wasn’t going to take music on this race. I have been, recently, not taking music on most of my half marathons. There have been a few exceptions, of course, but those mostly had to do with moods. Hilton Head, for example, I was in a mood and there was no other entertainment, so I brought music (which ended up inspiring me at the end). However, I heard that the entertainment along this route was closer and more frequently placed than even the Rock and Roll events, so I left off my music. Boy, I’m glad I did. I saw all kinds of stuff I never in my life would have even thought of, let alone expected to see along a race route, including

  • septuagenarian belly dancers
  • pre-pubecent bands singing “we’re not going to take it”¬† (yes, the Twisted Sister song) and “Seven Nation Army” (yes, the White Stripes song… and yes, I threw horns and gave them a “right on” as I passed them)
  • a band singing a polka-square dance version of “Itsy Bitsy Teeny Weeny Yellow Polka Dot Bikini” – and a troupe (is that called a troupe?) of square dancers dancing to the song… truthfully, I’m painfully curious about the other songs they had in their repatiore
  • a band named 3 Chord Monty – which I thought was kind of a cool name
  • every possible genre of music represented except maybe zydaco.
  • a cadre of bands ranging in talent doing everything from lip syncs to covers (including a creepy version of ‘Elenore Rigby’ that was a bit out of tune) to original songs
  • a nice mix of people playing CDs and Emceeing – and even that genre mix was well placed and well spaced along the course

The first four and a half miles, I was just taking in the bands. As far as scenery, there wasn’t really much to see. Once you get out of the immediate downtown area, there is not a lot to Indianapolis. At about 4 1/2, though, you turn a corner and you can see the speed way – the whole reason we all signed up for this race. People started to cheer when we turned the corner (we were at least 1.75 miles from just getting into it at this point, but the folks were excited). I ended up behind some speed walkers who, honestly, were going pretty fast – at least a 10mm pace. Then… we entered the speedway. To enter the speedway, you go down a pretty steep hill and back up it to the front of the speedway museum. Then, you run to the right of the parking lot for the museum and onto the track itself.

For two and a half miles. Doesn’t seem quite that big on TV – haha.

The first thing I noticed about the track is that it was freaking hot on it. One thing I haven’t mentioned so far is how hot it was supposed to be that day. Everything I remembered… except for my Gatorade (sigh). All I had was plain water. It was at the moment we got onto the track that I really wished I had that Gatorade. We ran on the flatter portion of the surface – pardon my lack of correct terminology here, but I’m not really a race fan – it would be the “pit area”. Nobody was really keeping us from running on the slope, but I don’t think many people were up for that challenge with the heat – I know I wasn’t. Occasionally, you’d see someone pulling up onto the slope to step out to tie his shoe or (unfortunately closer to the end) because it was hotter than they expected and had to stop for a rest.

The other notable thing about this portion of the race is that I actually heard two Beastie Boys songs. This is remarkable to me because I’m a huge Beastie Boys fan and, unfortunately, Adam Yauch (MCA) passed away the day before from throat Cancer at the far too young age of 47. I never really got a chance to think about it or grieve – it was out of the blue and he was my favorite personality of the trio. Although I never met him, I have been listening to his music most of my life and will miss his art deeply. Ironically, for me at least, I heard “Fight for Your Right” at the moment I stepped onto the speedway and heard “Intergalactic” around the time I was crossing the brickyard (no, I didn’t kiss it… didn’t think to do that and my splits were already shot). It made me think a lot about his career and my time listening from the beginning until now and I heard the lyric “Beastie Boys don’t let the beat, um, drop” which has a little more significance to me now. I even drove through a tropical storm to see them in Atlanta when “Hello Nasty” (the album with Intergalactic on it) came out. The timing of those two songs was just very ironic and notable for me.

Upon leaving the speedway, I had a lighter feeling. I was happy about the fact I was past the half way point (at about 8.5 once we were out of the building) and had, in a way, dealt with the death of celebrity I liked very much and had been important in my life. It was getting hot, though, and I could feel my body starting to run out of steam. I had made the decision that at every single table that served Gatorade, I was going to take it. I honestly think that decision is what made the difference in the second half of the race. I had already passed my “nutrition” reminder, but decided not to take nutrition because I did not feel like I needed it. I was not hungry nor did I feel like I was wiped out.

But… I was getting thirsty and I was running out of water. I began stopping at water tables and, because the heat was beginning to feel even hotter (it wasn’t actually, but it was starting to feel that way) I ran under all of the water sprayers I could find. I tried to enjoy the music, but all I kept thinking about was finishing. Then, I turned onto the bridge just before mile 12. Ah… almost there! I think my speed began to increase a little because I was starting to feel myself become drained again – then I’d stop at a Gatorade table – feel better, stronger, faster for a few minutes and drained again. This cycle went on the entire last two miles. Not a wall (I’ve hit that before… this wasn’t it) just like a battery drain on my phone – I get the warning at 20% that I’m about to run out so I plug it in to get it back to 30% and it goes back to 20%, so I plug it back in to get it to 30%… the entire last two miles.

As I got closer, though, I could hear the announcements and I could see the giant yellow finish… I was almost there. The only other significant hill of any kind on this course was the bridge taking me toward the finish line and that one wasn’t really even that big. I was delighted that the course was so flat and that I could see the finish that I sped up. No sprint, but a nice hearty speed up to the end of the line. I could hear all the people cheering all of us on and it was a great feeling to finish to such a reception. I crossed finish at 2:02:09. Not my goal of under 2 hours, but all things considered (bathroom and the heat) I’m actually kind of happy with this number. I took my medal, my water and my bag and I located my dad and uncle and walked around for a bit to loosen my legs. Overall, I felt much better after this race than I even did after Hilton Head, and I felt great after that one.

Learnings

I have to say the most remarkable thing about this race in particular is the support it got from all of Indianapolis. You all made this a great experience for me. The crowds of people there just to cheer on the runners was amazing – the people gathered to help the runners, the additional aid stations they put out on such short notice, the thousands (yes, thousands) of volunteers they had operating the event from the second I got there until the second I left. Everyone was so helpful and supportive and it meant a lot to me.

From the bottom of my heart, thank you Indianapolis.

On a training note, I still think the 90-mile months agree with me and are definitely assisting in my recovery, even after this challenging weather condition. And, the 14 mile run I did before my Tarheel 10-miler was a key difference for me completing the race as well as a did. While I am a little disappointed about not making my 2 hour goal, I felt better than I thought I should after 13 miles in 94% humidity and I wasn’t as dehydrated as I typically get so I’m encouraged and it makes me want to stay on this course.

Finally… the gluten free eating. I promised my dad I would get tested for Celiac, though, since my oldest son is Celiac and it is genetic. I’m pretty much the key to my family and I need to know… so… I’m eating gluten until the end of June. I can already tell the effect it is having on my attitude and my sleep. iDontCareForIt. End of June. End of June. Hopefully, I can get it out of my system and focus on making my #8 Half – San Fransisco Half #1, a better finish time.

2012 Race Reports: Hilton Head Island Half Marathon (Hilton Head Island, SC – State #6)

Race: Hilton Head Island Half Marathon (Bear Foot Sports)

City: Jarvis Creek Park, Hilton Head Island, SC   Date: 02/11/2012

Distance: 13.1 mi

Weather: Upper 40s/Lower 50s, sunny and a bit breezy

Course:  mostly flat, other than a bridge

Summary: Loved it. Loved it. Loved it.

loved it.

6 down, 44 to go.

This was a great race for me in a lot of ways, particularly because I beat my goal!!

Pre-Race

I think I mentioned in one of my training posts that I planned to be “all ninja-like” for this race – drive down, do the race, drive back. Surgical strike. Hilton Head Island is about a 5 hour drive from where I live, so it is easy to do something like that for a race like this. I’ve only been to Hilton Head Island once before – and, despite a few negative associations with that visit, generally speaking, I really like the place. It is an island with tons of beach-front areas, so what’s not to like there?

However, it is… a bit pricey. It is an island – there are miles of beaches, lots of golf courses and tons of history. Yet pretty much out of my price range to stay there for any length of time during season, so I don’t even consider it for a vacation when Myrtle Beach is much closer and a little more affordable. But… I was intrigued when it turned out that this race was the only one fitting into my schedule… and, not only that, but it seemed to fit all of my new criteria for a race after the Las Vegas Rock and Roll hysteria: it was inexpensive (only $45) and they claimed it was small (according to the website they had 400 half marathon finishers last year – contrasted with the 40,000 from Las Vegas). Other things it had going for it was that it was close (driving distance on a single tank of gas) and they claimed it was “fast and flat” (which was welcome to me after running all these hills here).¬† I figured that if it was expensive to stay one night, that’s all I would do and that I would make it work. However, I was thrilled to discover that Westin Resort and Spa on the island was offering a special rate to those running the half marathon. Off season is almost always a good time to go to the beach, but the rate they gave us for the half was even better than that and they waived the exorbitant resort fees – I had no plans to play golf or do other restort-ey things so that fee would have been a waste by someone like me anyway. That was all I needed to pull the trigger and register for this race. I could I *not* do this one now?!?!

I registered for this race about 5 weeks from the race date, which didn’t leave a lot of time for intense training so I set my goal to do better than the last 4 half marathons I did: 1:59:00 or less. With that in mind, I set out to train for feeling better after 10.5 miles than I did in each of the last 4. As a result, however, I ended up with my best training week/month ever so far, setting personal records for mileage in a month, mileage in a week, speed and distance – all in one week.

I was ready.

I left for Hilton Head a little after lunch time on Friday – I figured I would get there in enough time to get my packet (which was in the Westin I was staying in), get some dinner and get to bed. The drive down was uneventful – I had my music, my snacks and my water – all I needed for the trip. I got down there just after 6, checked in, parked my car, and got my stuff. I planned to put my bag in my room and then get the packet. The elevators to the rooms were on one side of the “room tower” (only 5 floors, so hardly a tower, really) and the rooms wrapped around the resort to make a v shape. So… all that to say, I ended up walking down the longest hallway to get to my room…. it reminded me of the scene in the original “Poltergiest” when the mother was running down the hall to her kids and it kept getting longer and longer. That table you see in the middle of the shot there is only 1/2 way down this hall – and I had just turned the corner of an equally long hall. My room was another probably 100 yards beyond that table. ha!

Once I *finally* got to my room, I put my stuff down and located the “soft puppy” aptly named Pizza Pizza Pizza Pizza Pizza by the boys. My youngest son gave it to me as a birthday gift the week before, so I brought him as a good luck charm for my race. I then unpacked my clothes for the race to double check that I hadn’t left anything I needed (I brought everything – but OCD kicked in so I had to be sure). I searched for all my other gear – my phone case and my Garmin. To my dismay, I couldn’t find my Garmin. I was OK with running without it, but I was mostly worried about “where did I leave it…” because I had started a new habit of putting it on my phone case… I thought I had done that but didn’t see it anywhere. I fretted about it for a few minutes, but eventually accepted that there was nothing I could do about it anyway and moved on to getting out the food I planned to eat the next morning to see if I needed to make a run to the store (I didn’t). To take my mind off my OCD, I went down to get the race packet and a few more things out of my car.

I think I’m going to stop calling this event “packet pick up” from now on because really it is “t-shirt and bib” pick up since a lot of races now don’t put much into your “packet” if you get one at all. Having said that… this was a relatively nice “packet”. First, I had to find my number, then I had to go to the table for the Half (there were 2 other races at the same time, but I’ll get into that on the Race Day section), and then I had to walk by the sensor to activate the chip in my bib. That took all of 3 minutes. As we were doing that, they gave us our bags. The main sponsor of the race was Publix super markets so we got a giant green (canvas!) bag with Publix written on it – means nothing here because we don’t have any Publix stores here, but a nice bag nonetheless. Inside the bag was a long-sleeved technical shirt, some coupons and a newspaper advertising local events and things to do for the weekend if you were planning to stay. There were also advertisements for other races and events held by Bear Foot Sports, the directors of this race. I put my packet back in my room, and then went out into the resort to find some meat and potatoes. The best I could find was a bun-free burger and some french fries – not what I wanted, but close enough. After that, I went back to my room, hunted for a cell phone signal that popped in and out all night, making the nightly phone call with my boys and text messages with friends wishing me luck extremely frustrating (grrr… I hate when hotels block signals!). I finally figured out that the hotel’s wifi was free, so I logged on, sent a few emails and called it a day. I fell asleep watching “Old School” – haha.

Race Day

I set my alarm for 5:30 because I wanted to make sure I had enough time to get dressed, do final stretches and drive to the site of the start. I woke up at 5:15. I was excited and nervous at the same time. This was my first race since Las Vegas and I could tell I was having race withdrawals. I wanted to do well, but mostly I just wanted to run. I got dressed and made some coffee and did some stretches while I was drinking my coffee and water. Then, I look at my phone. It was plugged in all night and I only have 89% battery?!?! ugh… stupid signal hunts…¬† sniffing signals is the worst battery killer for an iPhone… more than any app I’ve ever used… and it sniffed signals all night so it couldn’t charge fully. ugh.

This… and I couldn’t find my Garm…. wait a minute! I found my Garmin! I don’t know why I didn’t see it the night before – maybe I was tired – but I was delighted as hell that I found it now. I tried to relax, but I couldn’t really… I tried to eat, but I was too nervous and my stomach was in knots. I still managed to choke down one slice of gluten free bread with a little peanut butter on it, intending to eat another piece that I never ate. I tried to drink my water, but I was too nervous and I felt like I was going to throw up. I did manage to choke down most of a bottle of coconut water and some sips of plain water to wash down the peanut butter bread. I don’t understand why I get *this* nervous before races, but I think, mentally, I had set a lot on this one being a “good” race. All of 2011 I had been frustrated by falling short on almost every race and having to claw my way back to where I am now with my training. I guess, to some degree, I was worried I hadn’t done enough or that I would somehow fail my own expectations. My running buddies and my training partner in particular were helpful in setting perspective, but I was still pretty nervous. I actually told a friend something along the lines of ‘I’m so freakin’ nervous now… but I’ll be better at around 8:05′ (I was right about that). I finally finished the last of my OCD checks at around 7 and went out to my car to start charging my phone and drive to the location of the start of the race – about 4 – 5 miles from the hotel.

The race started and finished in a¬† park called Jarvis Creek Park. For those unfamiliar with the Island, there is one major high way – 278 – crossing from the mainland onto the island. This highway pretty much cuts through the middle of the island and turns south to the tip at a point called South Beach. There is a toll road that cuts across the middle of this highway, but, for the most part, this highway is central to getting anywhere on the Island. The entrance to Jarvis park was located on one side of the highway, and directly across the highway from the park is a cluster of schools – an elementary, middle and high school. We were to park in the school parking lots – which was great because there was plenty of parking when I got there and I got a nice strong signal so my phone was able to recharge. I parked and chugged the last of my coconut water and filled up my water bottle as my phone finished charging. I decided to only bring one “snack” with me (the prime bar) and instead of coconut water in my bottle, just bring 24 oz of water with one propel zero packet. I don’t know why I made this last minute change, other than what I had done for the last 4 half marathons didn’t work, so maybe that wasn’t the right recipe?? Dunno. OCD kicked in one more time, so I rechecked my case, put my phone in it (again), pinned my bib – and then repinned it – and double-checked my key. I got out of my car and walked to the park. By this time, it was about 7:30.

I followed the crowd of folks across 278 (with the help of the local police) and made my way to the park. The park entrance was only about .10 of a mile, and once you got into the park, there was a split. To my left was the start (which was hard to tell at first) and to my right was a big grassy area with some tents, intended to be the site of the beginning and ending race “entertainment” they promised. Between me and the grassy area were the port-a-johns and, although I went several times before I left my room, I wanted to be sure I didn’t have a repeat of Las Vegas, just in case there were no potties along the way (there were) so I followed my routine of going to the bathroom one last time and just people watched. It seemed to be a race with a lot more serious runners than the last few races I did. Almost everyone there looked like they had done at least one half before and there were no big groups of giggling 20-year olds bragging about how hung over they were. There were families here and there were kids running with their parents. There were people my age and older running their x-th half marathon and comparing the weather today to the last one they did. There were lime green shoes and deer hunter orange shirts (a ton of those) so I fit in well with my slap-me-in-the-face yellow shirts. It was like I was running with friends who took it as seriously as I do. It was refreshing.

After finishing my business at the port-a-potty, I made my way over to the start line. The start line was, compared to a lot of other races I’ve done – including 5ks – pretty underwhelming. It was a banner that simply said “Hilton Head Island Half Marathon” on it. No balloons, no banners, no blasting music, no characters, no gimmicks, no marketing, no selling. Just a plain ole start line. To the left of the start line was a small parking lot where a lot of runners started to congregate to do various stretching and warm ups. I saw a lot of strides and high knees, kicking and lunges, stretches of all kinds and by people with all colored bibs on (more about that in a minute). I did some last minute stretches on my right calf (it has been tight the last couple of runs) and walked around a bit to keep my muscles warm, but that was about it. I didn’t even have my music on yet because I was scared of burning out the battery. I just walked back and forth from the start line banner to the end of the sidewalk, about 200 feet away. It was this warmup, however, that I noticed there was no starting mat… that meant this is a gun time race…. ah… ok… helped me pick out a starting point, if nothing else.

This event actually hosted 3 races: a 5K, a 10K and the Half Marathon. All races were to start and end at the same place, and all three were out and back. The route started and wound through the Jarvis Creek Park, and then out onto the toll road, across the sound via a bridge that was the only sizable hill in the whole route, through a greenway on the other side of the bridge (which looked similar to Jarvis Creek Park’s greenway) and back. Runners in the shorter races had turn-offs along the toll road: the 5k runners had a turn around a little more than half a mile down the toll road, the 10k runners had their turn around about 2 miles later, just before getting to the toll plaza. Each race had a different color bib – the half marathoners had a white bib, the 10k runners had a blue bib and the 5k runners had a yellow bib so we could see who was in each race. As the time for the race to start got closer, we were instructed to line up. There were no corrals. No pacers with special singlets. Nobody carrying signs reading “3:30”. It was just a crowd of a few hundred friends running – and self-regulating. The announcer suggested we start lining up by time – the sub-6 runners in the front, and everyone else behind as you saw fit. Again, self-regulating. I tried for my usual “front-third-right” spot, but didn’t want to cut in front of a lot of people, so I stayed in front-third-middle. It turned out to be a pretty decent spot for me.

I set my Garmin, got iSmoothRun ready, and chatted with the guy next to me. We discussed the missing starting mat, the beautiful weather and all the “luggage” I was carrying in my hand. The announcer came on to get us started – I wished my friend luck (never saw him again – he was much faster than me), and then we were off. I typically struggle with whether or not to listen to music and today, I guess, I couldn’t really make up my mind. I put one ear bud in and decided that I would either add the other or take it out as I went along. At the very least, I would know how my pace was going every 5 minutes or so as iSmoothRun talked to me for as long as I decided to keep it in. I ran with only one ear bud for about 4 miles, amazingly, and finally decided to put the other in because I had a song running through my mind that I couldn’t get out and it helped to have other songs distracting me.

I really started out way too fast. Partly because I was with the faster runners in the front which also meant I didn’t have to pass a lot of people – very refreshing – but didn’t get passed a lot either, which I’m pretty proud of. There is an exception, though: I was getting smoked by a little girl running in the 5k. When I say little girl, I mean she looked like she was the same age as my older son – about 7 or 8. I looked it up later – she’s 8. And she kicked my ass at the start (she ended up with a 31:00 5k, but she passed me effortlessly at the start). There is something a little bit demoralizing about getting your butt kicked by a 8 year old that will motivate you to run a little faster. soooo… my first mile was 8:17. It scared me a little that I was going that fast, so I tried to slow down for the next mile: 8:28 (I lost track of that girl by this time, though so I could relax a little – haha).¬† The run through the park was wonderful – it is a really pretty park and the trails are paved – it actually reminded me of the Raleigh Greenway trails we have in this area. After the park, we headed out onto the toll road, also known as the Cross-Island Parkway. Shortly after getting onto the Parkway, the 5k runners had their turn around. As we approached the turnaround, we saw the 5k runners coming back for their finish and we all cheered them on – I saw the little girl that passed me and I cheered for her – I see a future Olympian in that one!

After passing the 5k turn around, the crowd thinned quite a bit. I was able to get to a more comfortable pace of about 8:42 during this part of the race because I was starting to settle in to the run and those running near me. I was still surrounded by a lot of 10k runners, though, so as we approached the 10k turnaround, I could feel myself getting faster, if only to give in to race instinct – maybe because in a way I was pushing them through or to help kick in their race instincts. As more began to turn around, we again started cheering for the folks we passed. My 4th mile shows it with an average pace of 8:38. Shortly after the 10k turn around, I decided to go ahead and put my other earbud in so I could just listen to the music and get swept away with the run itself. The only really interesting sight at this point in the run was running through a toll booth. Otherwise, it was pretty, but nothing spectacular. It was this point – as in most of my other half marathons – that I become engrossed in thought and I thought about a whole bunch of stuff ranging from how hot I was at the moment (and how badly I wanted to take my long sleeve shirt off) to the encouragement I got from friends about this race, especially the ones that knew how much emphasis I placed on this race myself. But mostly, I kept thinking about how hot I was becoming and how I had to get the damn shirt off soon. I decided I would take it off when I stopped to eat because I had to re-pin my bib and that was a good time to do it.

Then… I round the corner and step out to the foot of the bridge. oy. This is a bridge over a canal and ships have to pass under it so… it’s a hill. I expected it – the website even called it “the bridge run” so I knew it was coming. Still, standing at the foot of it, initially, I was a little shocked at the height of it. I shook it off, though, and reminded myself that hills are my thing. I mean, that’s all I run around here, so I dug in and started my climb. I was proud of the fact that I was passing people right and left, only to have them re-pass me at the bottom, but still made me feel good to pass them on the way up. Honestly, though, having gone up it, the bridge really wasn’t that bad. At the top, looking over the water and down at a few boats, it was very peaceful… and quite windy. It was at that moment that I was kind of glad I left my long sleeve shirt on – and wished I had stopped to take a photo. It was a memorable and pleasant moment for me. Then we went back down the other side of the bridge. If I have learned only one thing about running (and truthfully, let’s hope I’ve learned more than one), I am finally feeling good about running down hills. I used to conserve my energy for the down, but I’m finally starting to take advantage of gravity (in a good way) and take the hill on the down side and save “recovery” for the crests and valleys. I thought about that the entire way down – I worked hard on concentrating on my stride (as my running partner suggests) and keeping my pace pretty even with my climb. Hard to do, but oh so worth it at the bottom because my quads weren’t killing me.

Shortly after the bridge, we went through another greenway – it was around this point (7 miles) that I got to the 1:00 mark. I have reminders set on iSmoothRun to remind me for nutrition at each 50-minute interval. I skipped the 50 minute nutrition because I was trying to stretch it to 60 minutes since I only brought one. I could tell I was starting to need it, though, and I stopped to eat. I don’t think I could have stretched it further, especially since I didn’t eat that morning. I slowed to a fast walk, ate my bar and drank some water and started back up to running. Once I got going, though, I started to realize I was still hot – why was I… oh, dang it. I forgot to take my shirt off. Now… every one of my half marathon race reports has some funny story of some extraordinarily goofy thing I have done or said. I’m happy to announce, my friends, this one is no different. I mean, other than being beaten by an 8 year old girl…

Once I realized my shirt was still on, I decided to slow to a jog – like 11mm pace jog – to take it off. Remember the “luggage” the runner at the start line teased me about? I had all this in my hands still, plus I still have my ear buds in because, well, I’m listening to music, duh. I promise I’m not an airhead, but I swear something happens to my brain after 7 miles where my common sense IQ drops profoundly and I don’t think things through. This is one of those episodes. I must have been quite the sight struggling to get that shirt off, getting it caught on my ear buds, and THEN getting my Garmin stuck in it and – because I’m suffering from endorphin labotomy at this point – all I care about is not screwing up my time on the Garmin (which I forgot to turn off at the end of the race). At the end of this, I ended up having to stop after all to untangle myself and repin. I probably would have been far more efficient if I had just stopped in the first place. So… this mile, with the two stops, averaged 10:13.

After getting situated, I was (slightly more) comfortable and ready to finish this race. I knew I was more than half way through now and that we must be turning around soon. I passed a sign for rest rooms and considered it, but thought I can wait. I passed it. I knew I’d pass it again if I really needed it (I didn’t). Then we passed the “way backin’ it” point – the turn around when we were officially “way backin it” as the guy in Las Vegas called it (I do like that phrase). I started to get excited now – I knew where I had been, I knew how long it took me to get there, more importantly, I knew I was on my way back and that I still had some gas in the tank. Mile 8: Let’s do this. At this point, I really started to focus on how I was running. I don’t really remember much about any thoughts I had other than “I’m holding a chip…¬† I’m holding a chip… arms straight – not crossing my torso… I’m holding a chip” haha. It helped, though – I didn’t get lazy with my form when I thought about it – mile 9. My legs weren’t tired. My stomach was starting to knot up, but I felt well hydrated. We recrossed the bridge and it felt faster than before. I was starting to feel tired, but I still had some in me. Mile 10.

Then I hit 10.5 miles. I had some understandable anxiety about 10.5 – that was my failure point in each of the 4 previous half marathons… was it going to be a trend? I’m happy to announce, my friends, it was not.

I was tired, that is for sure, but when I heard the announcement that I had passed 10.5 on my iPod and I still felt ok, I almost cried. It was the motivation I really needed to keep going. I’m holding a chip. Mile 11. I passed a guy walking and looking tired and said to him “you’ve got this man! less than 2 miles!!” Mile 12. I knew I had only a mile left and I was really ready to be finished, but not in the same way as the last 4. I wasn’t angry about it – I was thrilled – but very, very thirsty and I needed something to drink. I ended up approaching one guy who was running just a little faster than I was at the time, and was shortly after passed by another guy who was running faster than both of us, but slowed down to talk to the guy in front of me. It felt like I was like running with my running buddies and I sped up to get as close to them as I could. It was just the push I needed to get me to the half way point of that mile – they ended up pulling ahead of me, but it was helpful to have them there. Then… “A Quick One While He’s Away” by The Who came on my iPod – this song is about 7 minutes long and has a lot of mixed tempos in it, especially in the middle. It was just the push I needed for the end of that last mile. I turned off the toll road, made a few right hand turns just as the “You are Forgiven” part of the song was being repeated quickly in my ear and loads of folks were cheering for us. I passed the clock where beside my name displayed 1:56:00. I actually said “Hot damn!” out loud.

I was unceremoniously handed a plastic bag with my medal in it. There were no bags of stuff after the event. Nobody handed me food or¬† bottles of water, but I honestly didn’t care. I emailed and texted friends to let them know how I did, picked up a banana at the Publix tent and tried a new drink (that I now can’t remember the name of) to be rehydrated. It was good. I’ll have to see if I still have the flier in my car. I walked around for a minute to loosen my legs and then I went back to my hotel room to take one of the best showers I’ve had in a while and pack up to come home.

Learnings

I have to say the biggest thing I’ve learned is that I wasn’t running enough for the last few half marathons – at least, not enough for me. I still need to work on my cross-training but, directionally speaking, I’m on the right path. I can also honestly say this is the first half marathon where I am positive I did not have anything with gluten in it before the race and I was able to perform better than the last 4 where gluten was a factor. Finally, and I’m planning a separate post on this as well, I believe that red meat and potatoes is my ideal pre-race meal. I still need to test this theory further, but so far, the last few long runs I’ve had where that was my meal the night before have felt better. I have a plan for making the One America Mini Marathon feel better than this, and I have some time to work on it. Fingers crossed, I’ll be able to do it.

2011 Race Reports: Mardi Gras Rock and Roll Half Marathon (New Orleans, LA – State #3)

Three down, 47 to go… February 13, 2011

(smiling and waving at The Fates) Thanks for throwing all you had at me to try to get me off kilter, including the chest cold, the leg cramps, long span bridges over water followed by a tunnel (thanks Alabama) and the pre-trip fender bender. But, I still went. I still did it. I stunk it up, but I did it.

Pre-Race

I registered for this race in early December and had been looking forward to it since then. This was going to be my first official year as a 50-stater – at least, the first year when I actually said it out loud. Now I was accountable. Now, I actually had to do it. Now, I have to lower my voice an octave when I respond “yeah” to the inevitable question people ask me now: “really? All 50 states?”

So, I was not only excited for the journey that surely was ahead of me, but I was also excited about the trip itself: I was going alone and I decided to drive. Very interesting for a number of reasons, but specifically because I tend to be a social person – I love being surrounded by people, even if I’m not very adept at actually socializing with them. I am not really all that great by myself, which is why I felt like I needed to go by myself so badly – to prove I could do it.

So I did.

This trip was rife with challenges from the start… mounting pressures at work; endless questions from my soon-to-be-ex; a fender-bender 2 weeks before I left, topped off with a very sick son the day before I left (this comes up again, so remember this one)… let’s not mention the snow the day of, too… one thing after another that tried to break my spirit, but I was singularly focused on that 13.1. Oh, and on the flat, fast route, of course ūüôā

I decided to split my trip – which turned out to be a good thing due to my cramping and aging legs – and as a result, I got to New Orleans around 4:30 on Saturday. This was just enough time to find a parking deck (pricey one at that) and get my packet.

First of all, this was probably the biggest convention center I’ve ever seen in my life. I walked for what¬†seemed like miles to get there – and there were sooooo many people coming into and out of the place. It seemed to be never ending!¬† I got in and got my packet, got my shirt and saw I was still corral 5 (which I’m still not sure I deserved…) I was tired, but I decided to walk around a bit, look at some merchandise, see if there were any freebies (none that I could find, and I was kind of disappointed about that) and maybe see if there are any other races that piqued my interest. I was a little surprised that the vendors seemed to be a little light – seemed like there were more in Virginia Beach. Also, and unfortunately, it wasn’t nearly as much fun as I had hoped it would be, considering I was in New Orleans and I didn’t have two kids complaining about how bored they were like I did in Virginia Beach. I actually kind of missed their griping (shhh… don’t tell THEM that!) Nonetheless, the Prefontaine fortune teller and the Brooks dressing rooms gave me a good chuckle, as did the running themed carnival games. I was just exhausted from my trip and worried about my car and dragging all my stuff 2 blocks down to my hotel. I left the expo and walked back from the enormous convention center back to my car for load #1 and checked into my hotel. By the time I finished dragging load #2 back to my room, I was feeling half dead – uh oh… oh no! NO! NO NO NO! I was coming down with the same fever/cold my son had 2 days before. Damn! I had no appetite! I was hot/cold/hot/cold/hot/cold. Damn! I was exhausted. No wonder the expo was no fun – I was sick. I decided to nip it in the bud as much as humanly possible, so I ordered a chicken Caesar salad, which I picked at, and called it a night. It was 7:30 local time at this point.

Race Day

To my utter surprise, I actually slept well that night (not so well the nights after) and I was shocked at how easy it was for me to wake up. I guess I was still pretty excited. I made my free ‘room coffee’ and tried desperately to choke down some of my usual pre-race food: peanut butter toast with a banana. ugh… my stomach wholly rejected the peanut butter toast and I wasn’t going to tempt the fates further with the banana (especially since I was bringing coconut water with me instead of plain water – more on why later) so I took a break from eating for a while, sat down and tried to relax a little before I decided to head out.

Getting worried and nervous that I hadn’t had enough to eat (that was a problem during some of my training runs) I decided to try choking down a Kashi nutrition bar… I got about 3/4 of it down before I started gagging. At least the fever seemed to be gone… I think… the cough was pretty bad, though. Had this been a training run and I hadn’t just spent a small saved fortune for this trip, I would have bagged it. But… I paid for it. I wanted to be here. Damn it, I was running. So, I headed out.

It was such a beautiful morning! It was a little crisp – about 40 degrees – but still a lot warmer than it was at home, so I was grateful. I walked down the block to the start line and saw a sight I will never, ever forget as long as I live. I wish I had just taken a photo of it, but I was worried the photo wouldn’t do the sight justice: it was literally a river of people. Now, I know there were 17,000 people in this race, but my lord, I have never seen anything like that before. The Convention Center blvd was literally packed with hundreds of people all going in the same direction and it looked fluid… it was pretty amazing. Once I got to my corral, I finished my extra water and jumped in, ready to go. I decided that, for this race, I was going to wear my earphones because I wanted to make use of the audio cues from my Runkeeper app. I got everything started and waiting, and then I turned around to see all the corrals behind me and the sun coming up over the convention center – I had to snap a shot of that one. Around the time I got my phone put away again, we were singing the national anthem and it was time to go! Yay!

The first couple of miles actually went very well – as a matter of fact, I started actually feeling much better after the first two. These miles were in the warehouse district and I was enjoying looking at all the buildings. There weren’t many spectators yet, other than friends and family who were supporting the insanity that brought them there, but they were cheering for all of us, which was really nice. Now… I ran a race where I missed a turn off and ended up running a lot longer than I should have (Tarheel 10-miler) last year, and that was my biggest fear in this race. Running 10 miles instead of 4 is one thing; running 26.2 instead of 13.1, quite another. I had it committed to memory that I was supposed to turn off after mile 5, so I became acutely aware of mile 5. I don’t remember too much before it and not a whole lot after it, but mile 5 is indelibly etched in my memory because of the fear of the turn off. Thankfully, it was very well marked! All the 13.1 folks had purple bibs and everything for us was color coded accordingly; the full folks had green bibs and all of their signs were color coded accordingly. Even in my spacey state, I managed to make the turn off and I was feeling very, very good about my race at this point. My average time was actually 8:39! A very, very good PR – by almost 10 minutes!

And then I hit mile 7. Oh… mile 7. Yes, I’ve hit walls before. And, yes, I’ve hit them in races. But mile 7 kind of scared me because I’m not sure I remember ever hitting a wall like that before. I still cringe when I think of mile 7. Actually, it was more like mile 7.63, to be fair. Seems like a random number, but that was the audio cue I had and that’s when my body just said “yeah.. that’s enough for today”. I couldn’t hold a pace under 9mm for longer than .5 mile, then .3, then .25, then .1. I was sad and very, very frustrated, but I continued because I thought to myself “I banked all that time at the front of the race” – my average was still under a 9mm, so I was still ok, right? Right?

(sigh) no.

By the time I hit the 15k marker, I was barely keeping it under a 10mm – Damn! I still had 4 miles to go – if I could just get to 12, then I would be OK, right? right?

(sigh) no.

I got as far as 11. 3 and I had to stop. (sigh). I walked for .3 mile because I was just too tired to keep going – I was coughing up a storm by this time and I started to feel feverish. The only thing that kept me going was the coconut water, which I gladly took (even if it still tasted like behind) and I started running again. 20k sign – almost there. I saw the entrance to City Park and I knew I was almost there – I swear to God, this was probably the longest .5 mile I have ever run – including the last .5 mile of the Virginia Beach pikermi. I finished with a time of 2:01:27.

Post Race

I finished up the race, got my incredibly terrible photo taken (my eyes are only half open and I didn’t get a chance to take my ear buds out before they snapped it). I walked around like a zombie for a while and answered a few text messages from friends and family and then I found my bag and got changed. I found a nice sunny spot in the middle of the park where I sat and spaced out for a bit while I waited for my friend to finish her first full (sooo proud of her!!) I watched Bowling for Soup (they were pretty funny!) and tried to choke down some food. After my friend finished, I went back to my room, took a shower and ordered in again (burger this time) and watched School of Rock. I was asleep by 8 in anticipation of my long journey home the next day.

Reflections and Learnings

I hate being bummed about that time, especially when there are a lot of folks who are healthy and can train more often than I do and still never make that time. But… I’m a competitor and I compete with myself and, to me, “winning” only really happens when you improve over your last race. That did not happen. As a matter of fact, I’ve been getting slower since my first, which is disappointing. The biggest learning to be sure is the coconut water. I drank it non-stop for 2 days before and all during the race and I did not feel the normal dehydration issues I have felt on other training and/longer races, so I think I’m going to stick to that formula for now. It is very, very expensive, but if I don’t feel like I’m going to loose my intestines after 13 miles, it might just be worth it.

Another take away: I need to be a lot more disciplined about my training. No excuses and work just cannot get in the way any more. I have to get all my training done in a week if I’m ever going to make this work. That includes yoga. I did some yoga a couple of days before this race and I believe it did make a big difference with my run. I need to make that a regular thing.

Now… to look for #4… and to kick this cold once and for all!