Break the Rules of Training. My Best Marathon!
Marathons are funny things. Sometimes you break the rules; and sometimes the marathon breaks the rules too. My inner rebel dictated this (somewhat brief) training cycle as well as race day.
I went into Run Rock ‘n’ Roll race weekend in New Orleans with no expectations other than to finish, have fun and make some new friends. My preparation did not quite follow the prescribed formula, but I also knew I was strong enough to finish. And all I had to do was finish in time to get back to my hotel before checkout.
Things went better than expected!
Sometimes you have to break the rules to break the cycle. That means taking a big risk and throwing the guide book out the window. It’s a gamble and I had no idea how it would go, but mentally, I needed to get out of a training funk. The memories of some past race experiences were also starting to pile up and diminish my desire to sign up for races at all.
There were two issues going on here. Firstly, too much of the same old training routine was getting stale. I can’t say my body had a problem with it. I love running so getting up to run every day is rarely a challenge. Mentally though, my mind started feeling more and more burned from structured training over the past six months.
The second item on my list of distractions is my history of GI distress that has caused me to throw up during my previous marathons. I did everything to the letter. Training became a science and fueling for a long run, even more complex. Results were hit or miss and the only time I didn’t have issues was when I didn’t fuel at all. Not ideal running 20 miles on empty, but it beat the heck out of getting sick!
Back to Basics
I have fond memories of uncomplicated running. Those days where I was completely ignorant of all the do’s and don’ts of training. There are some things that are just a no-brainer, but the more I learn, the more thinking is involved. The enjoyment I get out of running comes primarily from a feeling of freedom and blissful abandon. I don’t want to think about every move I make in training. It has its place, but when it starts to dominate the majority of my training, mental burnout approaches really quickly.
Constantly checking paces and times, waiting for beeps, logging distances and all the rest of those important things start to weight down on me after a while. And then, as runners, we talk about them all the time. This in turn leads to a self-perceived pressure to do certain things in a certain way.
Take a risk
So, what if I break some rules and get back to basics? There are times when I wonder if training, if you’re not a professional, should be so complex … or if we just get information overload and make things more involved than necessary.
The worst that could happen is that I end up walking some and get some nice photos on the way. That’s not a bad thing at all. I dutifully did (most) of my long runs and my weekly mileage was probably above average so I knew I could finish. Anything more than that was a bonus.
Make a Training Cocktail. Shake Things Up!
I’m a better runner when it’s not the only thing I do.Click To Tweet
This is something I’ve said for years. Not just about running, but anything that is a regular part of my daily life. Variety keeps things fresh. There is a fine line between putting enough into what you do and overdoing it. There’s also no magic formula to determine where that line is. I'm certain it actually moves!
A lot of the time my cue comes from trying something different just once, enjoying it and realizing that other aspects of what you do don’t feel so monotonous and demanding anymore.
There is a lot of buzz about the importance of strength training in a running routine, and with good reason. The days of runners shying away from hitting the weights are over.
I invested some serious effort into working on getting stronger and also added some cross training into my routine. Kickboxing was introduced to my training in December last year and the results started to show really quickly. The first time I noticed it was when I was oblivious to a hill I always climb early in my run. Usually I was always very aware of it! That was about three weeks into my new training regime and it was the only thing I had changed – adding strength work in greater intensity and frequency.
Have Some Fun!
Whatever you do or don't add to your training, try get an element of fun in there. When I signed up for kickboxing the motivation was completely unrelated to running itself. With all my training runs early in the morning, it means running solo. All the time. While I enjoy the peace and calm of my ‘me time' I realized I missed engagement with people. I have so much fun at these classes and there are strength sessions before each class as well (and during some of the workouts).
Again, most of the stale feeling I exerienced in training was a mental thing. Maybe I was bored. Just as likely, a bit of fun and variety was missing. It turned out to be a great way to work on my fitness in a different way, meet new people and make some friends. I look forward to my classes and hate when I miss one. I don't look at it so much as training as I do … having fun!
Make no mistake, I work in those classes. I thrive on the energy of the group and love having trainers who will push me to improve.
Training Like a Rebel
For anyone who read my Las Vegas marathon experience, you'll remember that it was a tough race. And then some! I totally crashed and burned. The experience was priceless and it was worth every mile just for that. The physical experience, however, is one I'd prefer not to repeat if I can avoid it. One thing I knew for sure that I did wrong going into that one involved serious lack of sleep.
I showed up for the race weekend in Las Vegas, mentally and physically exhausted. I was better trained for that one than I was for yesterday's marathon, but extremely stressed. Whether that was the reason for my total crash and burn, I won't know. It doesn't matter. I finished and brought home some lessons and great memories of the kindness and compassion of total strangers. It was a memorable experience.
But for the most part in marathon training, I follow the main rules. To break out of the rut, I had nothing to lose by throwing the so-called Rule Book out the window, even if only for one race.
A Sneaky Getaway
I didn't talk about this race weekend. My family and a few close friends knew about it, but I didn't want any science or strategies thrown into it. I want to say into my plan … but I really didn't have one. At least, I didn't have a plan that remained constant. It changed on a whim depending on what was happening and how I felt on any given week.
It wasn't really a case of keeping it a secret; rather that I didn't want to overthink anything. That is often easier when you're not talking about it constantly. Let's be honest, most of us talk constantly about a race in the months leading up to it. You focus on it for so long in training that it can start to dominate everything you do.
My husband is really tuned in to what I need and thought it would be great to gift me with a weekend trip to New Orleans for the race. Or in this case, the races, since I would do the 5K on Saturday as my marathon shake out run. (There's extra bling – it would be silly not to)!
Honestly, this is the most relaxed I have felt in the lead-up to a race. There was a certain thrill in just breaking away with no pressure or expectations. It was an opportunity to go run, have some fun and just enjoy the experience for whatever it was on the day(s).
The Training Was Different
I am not advocating that anyone abandons the training plan. This is my experience and a lot of it is related to how I was feeling in the weeks after the Las Vegas marathon. This is something I needed to do for myself.
Don't get me wrong, I knew I was training. This was just going to be training my way. I mean, people finish marathons on less training that I was putting in so even if I ended up walking part of the race, everything would be alright. This was definitely more of a mental and emotional need to break free and shake things up a bit for a fresh start.
No Speed Workouts
I hate speed workouts. It's a mental thing but I also hate feeling extremely uncomfortable from pushing the pace. I can deal with discomfort on pushing the distance; just not the speed. It's not fun for me. So I didn't do any. No intervals, no repeats, no specific hill workouts. I just went out and ran what I wanted to run on any given day.
No Race Fuel Strategy
I am so tired of worrying and getting desperate about figuring this out. Every time I find something that works in training, it blows up on race day. This round I did my long runs on empty, drank water and felt great. Sure, it's not enough for a marathon, but the Vegas experience also proved to me that although unpleasant, I still finished without any fuel or hydration in me. Not ideal, but not a deal breaker. So I removed the issue from my thoughts and focused on daily all round nutrition and recovery instead.
A Totally Chilled Out Taper
Tapers are weird. There's a part of me that relishes the respite from all the training. Then the other part that leaves me hanging and ‘misplaced' without the routine that was part of my life for several months. This time I didn't try calculate how many miles to reduce and what to run in the last ten days. I did some extra kickboxing and strength classes, took an extra day off running and did my runs without a watch. Total freedom.
Relaxing on The Bottom Line
I have never come out of a taper week feeling so fresh and relaxed. Without any stats to work with, I couldn't panic about what I did or didn't do. I didn't know and didn't care. It felt so liberating! This led perfectly into a pretty relaxed travel day. Traveling for a race comes with its challenges. Usually I obsess about where to find food that is safe to eat before a race. I did exactly zero research on this in advance. Not deliberately, mind you. I just forgot!
The Great Escape
My alarm went off at 2:50 am on Friday. It's the beauty of a red-eye flight with a 45 minute drive to the airport. It didn't take as long to get there without the usual traffic. When my husband dropped me off I had plenty of time to spare. Thank goodness for that. It took almost an hour to get through security. The place was crazy. Airline travel used to save so much time. By the time I got my shoes back on and made my way to the gate, grabbing coffee and a Rice Crispie Treat on the way, my flight was already boarding.
I felt deliciously wicked slinking out in the dark, knowing that very few people knew what I was getting up to for the weekend. It was a glorious cocktail of excitement and contentment. I settled into my seat and sipped on my coffee, suddenly feeling the lack of sleep from last night catching up with me. I could sleep for the next two hours. But then I'd miss the sunrise. I love sunrises!
Good Morning, New Orleans!
The airport is a bit of a trek to the city center, but my hotel was in the most perfect location possible for both races. It was literally a minute from the entrance to the start line for the 5K and perhaps another 30 seconds on top of that to where the full and half marathons started.
I was delighted (and amazed) when I checked in around 8:30 am that there was a room ready for me. I set all my belongings down, and headed down to get some breakfast and lots of coffee. The Expo opened at noon and I planned to leave just before then to get there before it got crazy. After a leisurely breakfast, I grabbed a third coffee (it was an early start to the day, even for me!) and went back up to take a short nap to recharge.
I thought I'd sleep for an hour, but apparently I was more tired than I thought. Oh, and the bed was so comfortable! Two hours later I woke up and stared at the clock, still figuring out where I was and what I was supposed to be doing. Numbers on a clock don't make any sense when you're still half asleep!
The Expo was a 12 minute walk from the hotel. Actually, the convention center where the expo was held was twelve minutes away. The hall we had to get to was at least another 10 minute walk from the entrance. It must have been right at the back of the center.
When You Have Your Bib, It's Real
Do you feel that way? When I have my bibs in my hand everything becomes real. There is a wave of excitement and apprehension; a blend of “I am so excited!” and “What in the world was I thinking?”
I milled around the expo for a while, purchased a few things and chatted to some vendors. I also located my name on the 26.2 banner of participants. This was such a lovely touch! There were some issues with Run Rock n Roll in the lead up to this event. I can't say I'm overly impressed by the organization of getting race information out in advance of the race. Actually, it was dreadful. Not really singing the praises of the Ironman Group who took over last year. But they promise a better race experience so after a few hissy fits with them, I went in with an open mind.
Everything at the Expo went smoothly. Packet pickup was quick, I got my ID checked for a beer wristband to save me getting carded after the event and after about an hour I was set to go.
I did walk away with a few coffee mugs. I'm a sucker for coffee mugs and I have to buy one or ten, anywhere I go.
Relaxing Before the 5K
By the time I headed back to my hotel after strolling around for a while and stopping to pick up a 12 pack of bottled water for the room, I was feeling relaxed but not terribly energetic. It was late afternoon and I wanted a soak in the tub and an early night. I'm generally a go go go type of person so it was hard to resist the urge to head out to the French Quarter, but I did a lot more walking than I planned and getting my feet up seemed like a smarter plan.
The hotel had coffee and popcorn in the lounge area so I grabbed some of that and took it up to my room and set out my things for the next morning.
At around 5:30 pm I went down to get some dinner and settled for a baked potato with lots of salad. My plate was filled with a large heap of lettuce, and I set my potato and some salsa on a separate plate. I overheard a lady at an adjacent table telling her friends in a loud, raspy whisper, “Dear Lord, look how much lettuce that lady has on her plate!”
I pretended not to hear and tried hard not to let my smile give me away. Plenty of greens make up the bulk of my diet and this was just round one. I still had some potato left and the lettuce was gone so I went back to top it up and heard the same lady saying again, “She took more! How can anyone eat that much lettuce?” I finished up my second glass of wine, considered a cocktail, and decided against it. I felt relaxed and sleepy and that tub was calling me.
After taking my sweet time soaking and relaxing, I turned out the lights and went to bed at 8:30. That is unheard of for me!
It's 5K Race Day!
After my early night, I woke up before my alarm, which was set for 5 am. The race started at 8 am and I figured, based on the Rock N Roll Las Vegas races, arriving an hour and a half early would be about right.
There were two surprises waiting for me. When I showed up at 6 am, nobody was around aside from a few of the set-up crew and some volunteers unpacking things. The other surprise was the cold wind. I was trembling from the cold and didn't plan on a cool morning. New Orleans has a similar climate to central Florida and the forecast was pretty consistent.
Fun and Friends
With my hotel only a minute away, I went back to my room to try warm up and hunt for the disposable foil blanket I threw into my bag. I could not find the darn thing anywhere and decided to head back out. I spotted a lady jogging across the street in a bright colored tutu. She smiled at me and said hi. We ended up spending the whole morning together until the race started.
We met another runner there and spent the better part of a half hour chatting and giggling like kids on the leather couches.
Given that it was so cold and her hotel was further away I suggested we walk back to mine and hang out in the lobby. It also made sense to use the restroom there instead of the porta potties at the start line.
I was delighted to make a new friend, especially right at the beginning of the day and we got to hang out together, take some photos for each other and spent most of the morning laughing. We exchanged phone numbers and when I settled into my corral a few minutes before the race (yes, nothing like the craziness in Las Vegas) I was cold, but happy.
I chatted to some more runners standing in the corral with me and it was time to start.
A 5K Is Over So Quickly!
This is not a distance I sign up to run, neither is it one I typically run in training. And I certainly don't train to excel at this distance. As many runners will say about a certain race, “It's not my distance.”
In spite of that, I do break the rules of this the day before a marathon because it's a perfect way to make sure that my shake out run is kept short, without the need for me to log the distance myself. With the Rock N Roll Remix Challenge, it's also an extra two medals and it's hard to say no to more bling. Especially since I don't do many races.
This was the most interesting and charming route possible. It was like a trip into an era gone by as we ran through the old streets that reminded me of something I vaguely recalled from young childhood days, walking around with my grandmother. I was completely distracted by the sights and sounds. So much so that I didn't know which way to look to try take it all in.
Next thing I knew I could see the finish line and my immediate reaction was, “Wait, I'm still looking!”
Funny Finish Lines
This was an interesting finish line experience. Having done the Remix Challenge in Las Vegas, I expected something similar. In Vegas we walked through a chute laden with fruit, cereal bars, chips and snacks, Gatorade, water … more than any runner could need. Volunteers were telling everyone to take as much as we needed.
This one was the complete opposite. I was given a bottle of water, which is all I needed. Someone stashed a Chewy Bar into my hand. I started to say no thank you, but he had moved on. There were Goldfish Crackers on the next table. Mmm, salt. That looks better. I asked if I could get a bag and was told, “No.”
Excuse me? “No, the volunteer repeated. Runners get one thing. Crackers or a bar.” This struck me as hilarious as I tried to utter a coherent sentence through my laughter and said, “No problem. I'll trade.”
I spotted another runner standing alone and asked her to get a finisher photo for me. It's never worth paying the Marathon Photo prices for 5K photos and I wanted something to send to my husband.
Thank You For Running. Goodbye.
There was nothing happening at the finish aside from a stall selling race specific apparel, although I spotted a 5K banner simiilar to the one I saw at the Expo the previous day. A quick stop satisfied me that my name was there and I called it a morning, heading back to my hotel. It was a fantastic morning and spending it with a new friend was more than I could have asked for.
I was happy and ready for some breakfast.
My watch beeped and I realized that, as usual, I have still never remembered to hit stop at a finish line. Curious anyway, I looked at the first three mile splits. Lap 4 (the last 0.1 mile was 30 something minutes, thanks to my forgetfulness).
Running in New Orleans is so much easier than running in Las Vegas. Some moisture in the air makes breathing so much easier.
Break the Rules: [Don't] Walk Too Much the Day Before a Marathon
With the morning race and my breakfast done and dusted, I had plans to stroll around and go visit the French Quarter. There was no intention to deliberately break the rules of pre-race day, but I had one day to take a look around and it wasn't going to waste!
This portion is irrelevant to the races, other than to say I was totally fascinated, thrilled and lured in by the charm of the old part of New Orleans. It's a strange, yet intoxicating blend of modern, trendy and a little eclectic all mixed up with wealth and poverty in the same place. It's difficult to describe. I don't want to use the cliche “You had to be there,” But …. you really do have to experience it to understand what I mean. Those of you who have made the trip know what I mean.
I bought some souvenirs (more coffee mugs and some fridge magnets) and got lost in the most interesting little stores.
After spending most of the day on my feet, I reluctantly returned to my hotel, wishing for just one more day to explore some more.
Marathon Day Preparation
Dinner at the hotel was interesting. My guess is that many of the guests were running the next day, and oh wow, everyone was behaving. Unlike the previous evening, the line for the bar was almost non existent. I kept hearing people walking around the buffet area talking about laying off the alcohol for the night. These were the well behaved runners. Unlike me.
I cashed in on the short line and the barman chuckled when I asked for two glasses of Cabernet poured into one glass, to save me the trip back. My dinner was the same as the previous evening. I watched people loading up their plates with pasta. Pasta is not something I care for and my baked potato and salad was perfect.
I took another glass of wine up to my room, filled the tub with hot water and sipped on it, wondering when the race day nerves were going to show up. Nothing. Peaceful and content, I set my alarm and snuggled up in bed, drifting off to sleep fairly quickly.
It's Marathon Day!
My eyes popped open the moment the alarm went off. My mind told me I should be anxious. It felt wrong not to oblige and get with the race day panic. Yet nothing happened. As I was pinning about twenty clips into my hair it dawned on me that perhaps, not talking about the marathon made it seem less real. It just didn't feel like marathon day. Heck, I've been more anxious about a 20 mile training run.
Stashing my ID and credit card into my RooSport I grabbed a cookie, sealed it in a snack bag (I never travel without ziploc bags) and shoved it down my sports bra. It's easier to get things out when you don't have to fumble around a waist band. I didn't take gels or chews, but I had located the foil blanket and the moment I stepped outside the hotel I was so glad I did. It rustled and flew around as I pulled it around me, trying to keep the cold wind off my bare arms.
It's All Laid Back in NOLA
Similar to the previous day, the start line was quiet a couple of hours ahead of time. There were no lines for anything and the start line was not far from deserted, aside from some crew members setting up and working there.
I guess I expected a repeat of Las Vegas, where I arrived almost three hours ahead of time and was met with thick crowds and total chaos. This could not be more different! Shivering in the cold wind and pulling my foil blanket tightly around me, I located the direction of the wind and found a sheltered spot on a staircase. Another lady was sitting there with her sweatdshirt pulled all the way over her knees.
I scooted up to chat to her. She's from New York and was as surprised as I was by the laid back atmosphere.
I got up to move around a bit. There was water and banana pieces at a table. I looked at them and grabbed a cup of water. Drinking something helped pass the time and divert my attention from the discomfort of the cold.
No Rush. Stroll Into Your Pens. Corrals Are Open.
An announcement was made that the corrals were open. Unlike Las Vegas, we casually stepped into our designated areas. The whole atmosphere was very relaxed. I tried to squeeze into a group of runners, partly to block the wind and partly to shield me from the glare of the early morning sun that was just starting to hit me at eye level.
A few runners standing around me looked like they were there alone. We chatted a bit and took photos for one another with our phones. I also wanted a photo of my new Crazy Compression Ambassador socks that arrived the day before I flew out and the lovely lady next to me happily snapped some photos for me. One of the race photographers stopped in front of me to take a photo. I dutifully posed, blissfully unaware that I was about to make a new friend. Possibly the est photobomber yet! I had to post this photo in various places and actually found him when someone from the race recognized him. Thank you, Filiip for making a mediocre snapshot an awesome reflection that so accurately depicts the tone of the whole weekend!
Facing the Flag for the National Anthem I suddenly realized that this is my cue to freak out. Nothing. No panic. Nothing at all except a curiousity about what I would see on my run. There was so much I didn't have time to see with my limited time in New Orleans and I hoped the course would be as interesting as the 5K yesterday.
Countdown to Run
My mind tried to draw me into panic. I hadn’t done any speed workouts for this race. My focus was primarily on long easy miles and strength training. It’s almost like there was a duty to feel apprehensive, yet I didn’t. I started feeling waves of excitement and anticipation surge. What’s the worst that can happen? I walk a lot and take some photos on the course. A part of me was looking for an excuse to just chill out and stop when I wanted.
I glanced around me, wondering if there was time to scoot back a corral or three. Everyone started to bundle in closely and move forward. Too late. What if I start too fast? I didn’t bring race fuel. Well, I have a lemon cookie. My head was still trying to make me nervous. No response.
…. 3, 2, 1 … The airhorn sounded and we started to move.
The Mind is Weird
Still upset with me for not responding, my head started to throw things at me.
“If you take too long to finish you won’t make your hotel checkout in time.” Don’t worry, I locked my suitcase.
“You didn’t use the porta potties before you started. You’ll need to stop and pee.” Yup. I know that. I have a strategy. There is never a line for the first one on the course and you always get to unwrap a fresh toilet roll. That’s why I didn’t go at the start.
My surrounding started taking my focus and my head gave up trying to well up the respectful anxiety. I got lost in eavesdropping on small talk between runners around me. Glancing at my watch in the glare of the morning sun, I noticed I was running a 6:40 mile pace. Too fast! Way too fast.
That’s OK. I’ll just hang back a little. So I did.
St Charles Street is Beautiful!
This is not a place that was on my list to take a walk on my visit, but I was captivated by the quaint buildings and amazed at the number of people who came out to support us. I didn’t expect this, but it was wonderful.
Strangers standing on the grassy median started calling my name as I went by. How do they know? Oh, duh! It’s on my bib! There were bands. Jazz bands, rock bands ,music … every mile marker was a speaker blasting out music.
I forgot about my duty to stress out and got swept away in the atmosphere and my surroundings.
We were still on St Charles on the return loop when I spotted a guy ahead standing in the middle of the street holding out beer.
Cheers, Marathon! Have a Pint!
“Free beer?” he called. I watched the guy ahead of me grab one. My mind screamed, “He’s insane!” My response was “Hell, yeah! This is a party not a race!” I thanked him as I snatched one from him on my way by.
I’ve thrown up on every marathon and plenty of long runs. What did I have to lose? It was icy cold and delicious. I don’t recall what it was, only that it wasn’t just beer but a reminder that my marathon was something I chose to enjoy. My thoughts would not win over me by telling me what I should do. I would break the rules and have a story to tell. One way or another. It would be my story. My marathon.
The beer slopped and fizzed over my hand. I licked it off my wrist, feeling like a total rebel. It tasted delicious! Both the rebellion to break the traditional rules and defy the advice for race day and the beer. Delicious!
There was a part of me that wanted a reason to walk so that I could take some photos. For some reason I kept going, figuring I'd run until I felt like crap. Then I would walk and get my photos at whichever point I was at the time.
Those Aren't Spectators
Somewhere around the ten mile mark I noticed a crowd of people standing on the side of Decatur Street. I enjoyed running this area. It was a part of town I did not have time to visit the day before so this was an added bonus getting to run through it.
Specatators turned out in numbers that surprised and impressed me, throughout the course. I didn't give much thought to the crowd I saw until I was almost alongside them. Then I looked at where we were and realized it was the line for Cafe Du Monde! It could not have been later than 8:30 am. I don't like beignets and may be the only person to visit New Orleans without an urge to get one with my coffee, but there must be something special to wait in a line like that. I don't think I love any kind of food or drink enough to wait so long to get it.
Nearly Half Way and Feeling Alive
We were somewhere around the 12 mile mark when I looked around and noticed all the bibs I could see were for the half marathon. Uh, please don't tell me I missed the split. Turning to look over my shoulder I spotted two guys with marathon bibs behind me and fell back to check with them. They said we split near to the finish area. The half marathoners would go through to the finish and we would split off on our own course.
That was all I needed to hear to reassure me. There's this thing that happens to me between miles 12 and 13. It's like a light headed, dizzy feeling. Basically, the part of a long run that feels like crap, but goes away if I push through it. I didn't think about it at the time, but sitting here writing this, I realized that it neve happened. If it did, the whole thing went by unnoticed.
The guys were right. Somewhere around that point the line of signs warning runners about the upcomimg split in the course were everywhere. I worried for nothing. You couldn't miss it if you tried!
Yay! I've Still Got Half My Race Left!
Seriously, I was having a good time and didn't want it to be over too quickly. For the most part I wasn't thinking about the fact that I was running. I was just there, soaking everything in and hoping I'd remember most of it.
Rewind back to November, when I saw the course split and had to fight the urge to stick with the half marathoners and avoid the torture. This was so different. I felt proud to have more of my race left. We would get to see a different part of the course and run along the waterfront. Half marathoners didn't get that. It felt like a privlege; some kind of perk. And I only paid $10 more than they did!
The course swept to the right, while the half marathoners continued ahead for their final stretch.
A Big Surprise
We were probably about half a mile in from the split point when we cleared a corner and there it was! A nice big bridge. Pancake flat course, huh? There was no bridge on the map. Actually, I noticed on the map the night before that some segments and mile markers on the map appeared missing. Whether that had anything to do with the climb ahead, I do not know.
My next surprise was hearing someone behind me, who had clearly just spotted the bridge, utter a four letter word … with five syllables! I didn't know that was even possible, but there were a few of us within earshot and we all started laughing as I thought out loud, “Who put that there?” The guy behind me instructed us wisely. “Don't look!”
“But it will still be there?” I protested.
No matter. We survived and the downhill on the other side was nice. There were three more bridges. The fun part was this segment of the course – which was pretty much twelve miles and change, did an out and back. So we had the pleasure of hitting each of them again on the return.
How Long To Go?
Time was just a number at this stage. In fact it was an elusive and mysterious number. Unable to run and figure out how to get my watch back to the screen that showed my pace, time and distance (turns out I deleted that somehow during the run) I was trying to figure out how long I still had to run by looking at the time on the clocks at the mile markers.
Doing math by mile 19 because impossible. It was too much for my brain to run and think at the same time. I figured when I got to Mile 25 I'd add 10 minutes to get a rough idea of my finish time, but otherwise I'd let it go until then.
We ran part of this section into a headwind. I don't like the wind, but live bands, music and fantastic specators distracted me from paying it too much attention. It's usually windy when you are near open water anyway so I'm not sure why I was surprised.
Somewhere in this area I puffed my way to the top of the second last bridge and paused to pull out my phone. I really wanted to get at least one photo on the course. The sun was shining and although the weather was perfect for a Florida runner, my hands were sweaty and sliding the screen to get to the camera proved impossible. I gave up and enjoyed the downhill on the return side.
The Final Climb
The bridge we all cussed at came into sight. Remembering it was shortly after Mile 13, I knew this was the home stretch. I saw the 25 mile marker. I tried to read the time on there but the numbers didn't make sense. My legs felt heavy and tired all of a sudden. I don't know if they felt like that earlier on and I just didn't notice, but that steep gradient presented a great opportunity to walk to the top.
No sooner had I slowed to a walk and I heard a chorus of voices literally screaming at me. Someone called my name, obviously reading it off my bib.
I lifted my head and looked to my left and there was a bunch of guys in jester hats yelling at me. “Don't walk! Don't walk! Are you crazy? You're in the top ten!” [females, not overall]
It's hard to take jesters seriousl, but I humored them by slow jogging to the top. I guess my reflexes were slow. As I started the welcome descent, I realized I had a mile to do something with this race. And what's a mile? It's not even a warm up in marathon training.
Gunning For the Finish
It suddenly dawned on me that with only a mile left, I hadn't got sick and I still felt really good (considering there were 25 miles under the belt). I can do this. I can give it some effort. Just one mile. Just one mile and then I can get my medal and a beer.
I picked up the pace. Knees up. Shoulders up. If I look strong, I'll feel strong. Less than a mile now and I feel good. I can do this. Wait, what? I just ran a marathon. It didn't feel like a marathon. Somehow it never fully registred until now. Tired legs still work. They can still run fast.
I could hear the crowds and saw a finish line. I'm there! No, wait … that's for the half marathon. Are you serious? There is something that happens when I know I'm nearly done. It's like my head thinks it's over before I'm actually there. I followed the guy ahead of me as we took a curve in the course. I could see the finish line ahead but knew not to look until I was closer.
Looking up I spotted the red carpet Run Rock N Roll has proudly talked about. And I ran! My head felt fuzzy and dizzy, but I still felt good. Then I saw the clock: 3:24. Is that my best marathon time? Oh my goodness, that's my best marathon time!
I cannot begin to describe the feeling as I crossed that finish line.
My best marathon yet. This one will be hard to beat, but I'm up for the chalenge; when I decide.
Congratulations! Get a Medal, a Beer and some Jambalaya
If you have run a marathon, I'm sure you can relate. Now I was ecstatic, but at the same time, trying to get my head to absorb it all. It's almost as if the finish line is a cue for my brain to take a back seat and stop working. Nothing really sinks in. Perhaps 26 miles needs more than five minutes to register. I don't know.
But I was happy and when the race photographer called me over for a photo there were two guys just in front of me, both of whom just qualified for Boston. It was so cool to get to congratulate them. I remember their eyes. Both of them. They had that look that just screamed, “I did it!” Months, or perhaps even years of hard work invested. Men's BQ times are insanely tough and seeing others rewarded for hard work is priceless. These moments are just a few of the treasures you pick up on marathon journeys. I like to record them because I never want to forget.
It's easy to remember one experience or even three, in great detail. But I know that the more marathons I run, the more information I need to retain. So I write it down. Right here. It's a reminder that not only did I get to enjoy my own incredible race, but I got to be part of noteworthy accomplisments of others, even if only for a brief moment.
A Quick Celebration and Time To Go
It was hard to leave so quickly, but I had a late hotel checkout and didn't want to miss my time. Also, taking a shower before my flight seemed like a polite thing to do.
There was time for some Jambalaya in the finisher zone, a beer, a photo courtesy of a group of strangers and a quick stop to collect my remix medal. I made my way to the shuttle area where a very efficient system had a constant stream of school buses loading runners and moving on. This was a great source of amusement to my daughter, who sent me a text while on the bus asking if I was still at the race. I told her I was on a school bus and this was absolutely hilarious to her.
The finish line was about four miles from the start and they dropped nearby. Conveniently it was right across the street from my hotel. Perfect, yet again. I was torn between an overwhelming wish to stay and spend more time there, but also missing my family. This is the first time my husband could not be at my races and he is a critical part of my training and running. No matter what I do or how things go, he is there for me and thinks I'm a superstar. I missed him. It was the only down side to this weekend.
Amazing Race. Why So Wonderful?
Please don't take my experience as a recommendation to abandon your training plan and hit up the bar the night before your race. Or to wear new clothes or break in new shoes on race day. These gems of wisdom are set out as part of training based on years of experience and research by talented and qualified professionals.
So why did it work for me? Honestly, I don't have the answers. What I do know is that there are days when a run goes great and others when everything totally sucks. Sometimes there's an obvious reason, but a lot of the time, the explanation is a mystery never solved. It just happend that my good day turned out to be race day.
I may have abandoned a training plan, but I did still run six days a week and even in ‘off season' (which is almost never) my base mileaege is fairly substantial. I simply skipped the workouts I don't like, replaced them with easy paced runs and put a lot of effort into my strength and cross training.
There are a few things I do know for sure though:
- I just had to chill. Overthinking things makes simple activities complicated. Keeping away from deep discussion about my upcoming race stopped me entertaining too many thoughts about it.
- The variety in my training gave me a fresh perspective on running and enjoy it.
- Despite the absence of intervals, hill repeats, 800's and all those good [hard] workouts, I piled on, rather than replaced my runs with several hours a week of cardio workouts and strength training. There was some hard slog invested in my strength sessions.
- I went into the race weekend well rested. I can truly say this is the most relaxed I have ever felt at a start line.
A small miracle also took place. I remembered to stop my watch at the finish line. My Garmin read 26.26 miles. Yes, I worked those tangents like a 5 year old playing a board game!
I'll Do It Again!
In case you want to ask, I'll save you the trouble. I have already signed up for next year. My next marathon is in the summer and this is going to be a tough one for me. There are hills. Lots of hills. And I don't really have anything remotely similar here in Florida to help me prepare for the San Francisco course. So that one is going to be a fun and scenic race and my intention is to take at least four hours to enjoy the course and take in my surroundings.
Life is so rushed. It's great to have a good finish time, but not every race has to be a personal best. One thing is certain: I do better when I am having fun.
As for my strength and cross training, that is here to stay. Remember, I am a better runner when it's not the only thing I do. And I'm a happy runner when I am having fun.
Never Forget How You Got Where You Are
There is a lot of hard work that goes into progress. We are quick to focus om what we see right in front of us and forget to account for the journey as a whole. Sometimes I have to remind myself. There are times I just forget.
But one thing I always want to keep at the front of my mind is, despite what we might think, I did not do any of this alone. From my supportive husband and family who never give up on me to friends who constantly encourage me, I rely heavily on support and input from others. A few words in a comment on one of my blog posts on my website or social media matter. It all adds up and creates an intricate and strong support system. I am grateful to each and every one of you. Thank you for being a part of my journey.