Monday, November 15, 2010

Richmond Marathon

I guess a PR is a PR even if just by 37 seconds (that's a whopping 0.28% improvement if you are calculating!).  Most importantly, I emerged healthy and happy and truly enjoyed the experience and all the challenges.

My goals, as stated the day before, were to be more in the moment in this race, and run from confidence, not fear. I also wanted to maintain even pacing throughout the race, with 8:10 as the target per-mile pace. I met the first two goals, but perhaps a larger dose of fear (perhaps more properly referred to as self-restraint and discipline) could have helped me with the third, which went askew after mile 17.

I had a great week leading into the race and stayed very relaxed, very chill right up through the start. I slept well the night before and all systems were good - legs, stomach, energy. The weather was ideal, sunny and cool. I was decked out in short tights, arm sleeves, gloves, and a cool new top that I love that has a big pocket in the back for gels and such. (Apparently it's all about the wardrobe...or at least it was for the guy I saw in black tights and a pink running skirt!!

I got a picture with running great Bart Yasso at the expo. I read and enjoyed his book, My Life on the Run, not long ago. He just finished the grueling Comrades race in South Africa this past summer, and he's a running icon. More on Bart later…

Me and Bart Yasso

Jake and I had planned to run this race together. We’d done a 23 miler together and his troublesome IT bands had held up but we still knew this race was a roll of the dice. Still, we remained optimistic.

We saw Shannon Price in the first corral, ready to pace his 3:10 group. He’s an ultrarunner from Blacksburg who does much to encourage and inspire others. I love to see him before a race!

Off we went, and I was so glad to finally have the chance to get to work rather than just think about it.

Miles 0-5
The crowds were great from the start and it was hard to hold back. Compared to the previous year, these initial miles felt much easier and I seemed not to have to waste energy dodging people quite as much. I think they were dodging us as we went out conservatively.

The iPod was off, I was in the moment, high-fiving the occasional child, and smiling through the miles. I felt amazing.

feeling easy

Miles 6-10
Jake had some flareups of the IT band and it was not settling down. I was torn between encouraging him to continue and suggesting he pull out. We hit a few downhills that exacerbated things and I watched his expression grow more pained. At about mile 10, that moment came where we both knew the decision had been made. He couldn’t risk a more significant injury nor could the ITB hold up for another 16 miles. We had discussed this possibility. He wished me well, and I kept going, never looking back.

It suddenly felt very lonely, but I had to do this for both of us now. The iPod came on. I just worked to keep my miles around goal pace. I would stop at the aid stations, then run a little faster to keep my pace on track, and run a little faster still for the reward of bringing a mile in under time.

I shed my arm sleeves, handing them off to a spectator.

Miles 11-16
I ran for a while behind a threesome of young guys who were whooping it up, jumping through leaf piles, running backward, really engaging the crowd. They were running at my same pace so I enjoyed trailing behind them. They began to slow, and I pulled up along them thanking them for the entertainment and for unknowingly pacing me. I teased them that they were slowing down and could they pick it up? They did for a bit and eventually really tailed off so I went on without them. I bet they paid for their early race antics.

The three jokers ahead of me

At this point I was still smiling, happy, and finding a lot of flow.

Around mile 16 we cross a bridge over the river, and who should be there cheering on all the runners, but Bart Yasso! It gave me a nice little boost when I needed it.

Things still felt pretty easy and I was actually proud of how well I had been holding back, or so I thought. I rationalized a bit and told myself that I had obviously picked a goal pace that was too conservative. I was thinking how great it would feel to really pick up the pace for the final few miles when others were fading and I still had gas in the tank.

I got a little greedy.

Just before Richmond, Jim had shared a race report from one of his athletes who did a 50 miler. In an email, he had cautioned her: “please, no thoughts about “banking” any early time, that would come back to haunt you.” I should have heeded that warning as I'd heard it from Jake too.

Miles 17-20
Here’s where the wheels started coming off. I’d had 3 gels to this point, one every 5 miles, and alternated PowerAde and water at each of the aid stations. Oh, and that nice big pocket in the back of my shirt?  Stuffed with the $2 kid's gloves I'd worn and all the empty gel wrappers. Yeah, good I carried all that with me, the garbage collector!

At mile 17 I guess I hit a “wall” where I felt pretty mentally spaced out as if the blood was shunted from my brain to my legs. I took another gel, stayed calm, and altered my race plan. Now my goals were to find as much flow as I could and keep moving. Walking was absolutely not an option, but I did stop shortly at the aid stations. Nothing in particular hurt, so I reminded myself I didn’t need my brain fully functional to run, I just had to keep running.

There was no more high-fiving of the kids along the route, no more thumbs-up, and not so much smiling. I can't tell you what was on the iPod.
Feeling stiff and slow at this point

I will admit though, having been burned by embarrassing race pictures in the past, I did try to mug for the professional photographers when I was alert enough to spot them. So maybe that’s a little vain, but I’m counting on those. I have zero pictures of my own from the race since I didn’t travel with any non-runners.

This graph shows my per-mile pace throughout the race and just where I started breaking up.

Miles 21-26.2
I continued struggling along, concentrating on maintaining form, and trying tricks like upping my cadence, or lengthening my stride a hair, anything to try to squeeze a little speed out of myself. I managed to kick it up pretty good again around mile 23. There were more and more people slowing to a walk, or coming to a standstill to work out cramps, so I simply focused on picking off the next runner. That helped, but only for a while. After that, I was the one who was passed. When I saw the 3:40 pacer go by I was a little bummed. But I never slowed to a walk, I just kept on running. I think I managed my bonk pretty well as things could have unraveled much much more than they did. Mentally I didn't get too down or negative which is a big win for me.

I made it through the finish chute in 3:38:01, 37 seconds under last year’s time. That put me 15/231 for my age group, 127/1575  women, and 647/3755 overall.

The finish

I saw Bart Yasso again at the finish line, so it was kind of cool that he was a presence at the start, middle, and finish of the event.

I made my way through the crowd and found Jake. He had put his own frustration aside and was there to support me.  I was happy to be done, but this wasn't how this race was supposed to end.

I began assessing the damage. I kept moving (more like staggering) which was key. That first hour was still rough. Everything hurts and you can’t escape your own body. A hot shower helped. As did a good lunch, a beer, some ibuprofen, and the satisfaction of knowing that although it was far from a textbook race, I stuck it out and kept it together.

Lessons learned
The obvious lesson is that I should have held back more in the front half. That is THE biggest challenge for me, to stick to a race plan and not decide in the heat of the moment that I suddenly have a better plan.

The tough thing with marathons is that there are so few opportunities to hone one’s strategy, and it’s always a bit of a gamble. Sometimes the gamble pays off, often it doesn't.

On the plus side, I am happy that I was able to stay relaxed leading into the race and to know that it doesn’t affect my race intensity. I was more in the moment and it was fun to run along familiar routes from last year. I stayed positive even when the going got tough, and that's not easy for me, or anyone really.

Jake’s meal plans and pre-race electrolytes kept my stomach out of the equation, with no GI issues to speak of! And overall I still feel like I was stronger this year than last. I do believe I still have a better marathon in me.

After the race I sent an email to Jim telling him, half-jokingly, that I am clearly a solid HALF marathoner. But in a twisted way I love the mental challenge of the back half of the marathon and you don’t get that in the same way with races of shorter distance.

My goal for Boston in April is to run smarter, to have a conservative plan and execute it.  NO last-minute changes! I’ve said that running Boston is not about getting a PR, but about the experience, so I need to capitalize on it and show that I can deliver on a plan. I’m already looking forward to it….but after some downtime!

These things are never accomplished without the love, support, and sacrifice of others.  Many thanks go to Jake, Jim, my family, and the underground brotherhood/sisterhood of runners and triathletes - Shannon, Michaela, Tanya, Ginger...too many to name.

Off to rest and recover...