We apologize for the brief interruption (I was out of town at the RRCA coaching seminar which was far more time consuming than I expected, especially the way I attended it, but that’s a post for another time). Now we continue with our regularly scheduled programming…
While I might have started the race on my own, it didn’t take me long to unintentionally pick up a running partner.
Ok maybe not exactly, Amby Burfoot or Bill Rodgers. I don’t actually know if they even ran anything that weekend. But I did see Bill Rodgers for a fleeting second as I chased down my runaway purse at the expo. So it’s kind of like I ran with him in an entirely not running with him sort of way. But I digress…
Now, had this have been any other race, on any other day, I might have liked the company of a completely unknown to me in every way kind of runner. But this race, this race I had a goal to hit and 26.2 miles of chit chat with a complete stranger was not on the agenda.
Really, it was my own fault. You can probably guess that much the way I write, I’m really rarely ever short on words and that goes for in person too. I was just so thoroughly excited to FINALLY be running that I was compelled to share that excitement with somebody, anybody and the nearest person to me at the time happened to be a short blond lady in a virtual fist fight with her iPod and I’m pretty sure her iPod was winning.
“YAY!” I shouted in her general direction, “We’ve finally started!” (or something about like that I can’t really remember). To which she not only replied something about the horrid parking situation, but also did what I did not expect. She picked up her pace substantially to run with me while still trying to untangle herself from her ear buds.
“Oh no. Oh no. Oh no!” I thought to myself. “This can not be happening.” This was supposed to be my race and adopting some new running partner was going to forcibly turn my race into a shared experience which, I’m no expert, but I think makes it a little less mine. So I did the only thing I could think of. I gradually picked up the pace until she was forced to drop back behind me.
And before all you holier than thou runners out there cast judgment on my lack of marathon social skills, keep in mind that my other option, running with her, would most likely have ended badly for the both of us. Either she would have been forced to run a pace she was not entirely comfortable with possibly resulting in a massive crash and burn (and I probably would have been guilted into sticking with her and getting her to the finish line since I was the cause of said burn). Or I was going to have to forget about the 4:30 goal I had set and settle instead on just making a new friend. And you tell me, how deep exactly can that friendship go when it’s built on a foundation of crushed running dreams? Hmmm? I think you see my point.
Nope. It was better for the both of us if I went on my merry way. So I did. And shortly thereafter, we crested the first of two sets of hills. “Not too bad.” I remember thinking. “Not too bad.” I pretty much thought we were out of the hill section then, when some dude behind me yelled. “Here comes the overpass!” “Huh?” I thought. But it didn’t take long to figure out what he was talking about as a mere minute or so later we began the incline of “the overpass.”
I really have no explanation as to why the good people of Ohio deemed it necessary to build an overpass that inclines for an eternity. Nor do I know what exactly it was below that required a mountain in order to pass over it. And ok, perhaps I am exaggerating just a touch here, but what is not an exaggeration is that the overpass at the Air Force marathon is a larger incline than that of the Ambassador Bridge in the Detroit Marathon which has to, you know, connect two countries and be tall enough for giant freight ships to pass through on the Detroit River. (Yes, I went back and compared the elevation maps). And the good news, is that unlike Detroit, joy of joys, I was going to get to run that puppy again on the second set of hills. At around mile 22. Almost the exact perfect time for a hill. YAY! (please detect sarcasm).
But the first time up it, was really not too bad. I might even actually call it fun (**GASP** I know, I know, I hear ya. I think it was all that massive amount of coaching info I sat through this weekend. I quite possibly may not be thinking clearly at this moment in time, thus my love of hill talk). The uphill I just took as a challenge. And after all, there was a downhill to run too and who does like flying down a hill every once in awhile?
Not too long after the monster hill, I befriended my second random running partner. This time it was a 69 year old 50 marathons in 50 states man. And hold your tongue there my friend, because you might think due to the 30+ years he has on me that he’d be, let’s see how can I put this, not quite matching me stride for stride. But oh no no. Learn this now if you haven’t already. You can never judge a runner by appearance (or age, or sex, or weight, etc. for that matter) Some of the most “runnerish looking” (whatever that means) people you’ll find at the back of the pack and vice versa. I was running about a 1/2 step behind this guy once we started running together and even had to pick up the pace a little to do so (wait…I just realized I was IPod lady in this situation. DOH!).
I didn’t really want to pick up the pace, but I kind of had to because he was talking to me. I had seen him run/walking earlier so I figured I could run a little faster pace until he walked and then we’d go our separate ways. And why was he talking to me you might be wondering? Because I did it again. Much like my kids, I don’t learn not to dive off the couches until I crack my head on something, usually pointed. I asked this guy a question. So it’s purely my own fault. But in my own defense, I thought it’d be a quick answer.
“Which was your favorite marathon?” I asked (Indianapolis Monumental Marathon, btw. It was his 50th). I thought he’d just shout out the answer as I went by (he was walking then). But nope, he cut his walk short and I got a full story. And hey, that’s cool. But I was right back in the same position I was at the start except now he was pushing me faster than I wanted to go (while at the same time ignoring his heart rate monitor and I’m pretty sure skipping at least one of his walk breaks which I’m thinking was probably not a good thing for him either). This was again gonna be a no win situation.
But I couldn’t break free. He kept moving on to other topics, which by the way, I could only half hear since I am virtually deaf on one side when I run and he was on that side (really, I am. It’s weird). I felt obligated to stay. UNTIL that is, he started talking about the Philippines and how it’s his favorite place to travel because “young girls” will date an old guy like him and they won’t do that in the states. I’m sorry, WHAT?!
At that point, I became a little less concerned about the rudeness of my actions and more with how to successfully escape. He needed a walk break and so I couldn’t just slow down. He’d match pace. And I couldn’t really speed up, because I was already running 9:10-9:15 minute per mile pace and my goal pace was 9:30.
Fortunately, God sent me an angel in the form of an 83 year old 50 stater who caught up from behind to talk to cradle robber about their shared accomplishment (I mean the 50 states thing, not the dating “young girls”). Doing so, somehow managed to slow the pace of our little group down to a point where I could break free. “I’m sure you’ll be catching me in the near future. Good luck!” I said and took off. I never saw him again.
Then everything was peachy keen. I was running fairly even splits around 9:30 every mile. I had run those first couple hilly miles a little bit slower right around 10:15 minutes each, but that was intentional so I wouldn’t start off too fast. All I really needed to run to break 4:30 was 10 minute miles. That’d get me in at 4:22. A 9:30 pace at the marathon was within my capabilities, would break 4:30 and leave me a little time for bathroom breaks or the inevitable marathon unexpected. Really everything was going according to plan.
SIDENOTE: I’d love to be able to give you mile by mile splits here, actually I’d love to even just know what they were myself, but apparently I forgot to clear out some of the memory on my super hi tech fancy (read $20 watch from Target) and there was only enough room to save 1/2 of my splits so I’m just going to do the best I can from memory.
Most of the course was fairly sparse by way of spectators. A good majority of the marathon is run on the Air Force Base and closed to the general public. Ironically, I actually have no idea at which point I was on the base and when I wasn’t. I thought it was this whole big section after we passed a guard house of sorts in the middle of the road with a bunch of Airmen standing around it until we ran by it again in the later part of the race in the opposite direction, but Muffin Man (my brother-in-law) reminded me that in the middle of that chunk of the race we ran through downtown Fairborn which was very obviously not part of the base, since everyone’s families were there. So basically, I have no clue.
We got to downtown Fairborn around mile 9. And I’ve got to say the people of that city rock! It was PACKED. Probably also because that was one of the few spots you could see your family (twice actually if you picked the right spot, since you ran in and out of the city). But still major props to the good citizens of Fairborn because they were rockin’. The city was loud, decorated for the occasion and absolutely a blast. I also loved being able to see some of the other runners running in the opposite direction. I tried to spot SOARM reader Rachel and Muffin Man but he, I’d later learn, was waaaaay out ahead. Not only because he started nearly 20 minutes before I did, but also because he seriously kicked my you know what (whatever you first time marathoner you ;-) ). No Rachel either, but I knew she’d be tough to pick out from her teeny little FB picture anyway.
And that would be me spotting them for the first time. Now, see the cones in the picture. On the other side of those cones would be where you run out of Fairborn at. Realizing this and that I was then probably going to see me family again, I had a very serious decision to make in Fairborn. Keep the shirt or lose it? As you can see in the picture, I opted for my Iron Goddess Tri shirt because if you’re going to run a marathon and you have a technical shirt with a super hero runner woman on it, what else would you possibly run in? (Plus it’s white and white is always good when the projected high temp for race day raises from 72 to 86 in the week preceding the marathon. I kid not.)
And the reason why this was such a dilemma is pure and simple. It wasn’t hot yet. I mean don’t get me wrong. I wasn’t cool as a cucumber or anything. I was certainly sweating, but I wasn’t quite at the level of I’m ripping this sweat drenched shirt off because I can’t stand it anymore kind of hot. I was let’s say, as comfortable as you can be having just run 9 miles. But the problem was, while I’d see my family on the way out in what I figured was another mile or two, I wouldn’t be able to see them again until MILE 22 and I certainly didn’t want to just toss super runner woman away like some random comic book character, this was after all, super runner woman and my very first tri shirt. So…
And good thing I did, because it got freaking hot. Well, maybe not freaking hot because it wasn’t really humid at all which generally speaking makes hot feel soooooo much hotter. But it was definitely hot. We left Fairborn around mile 10 and a mere two miles later, right about the time I hit the half way point, things had heated up good. I remember thinking that tossing that shirt had been a really terrific idea.
Now about this time I was starting to need a pit stop, but I had this goal to not stop ‘til after the halfway point. I don’t know why except because I thought maybe that’d be the only stop I’d have to make and then the whole time my legs weren’t moving and thus I wasn’t making any forward progress I’d at least be able to tell myself, “hey, you’re halfway there.” But once I got to the halfway mark, I started thinking it’d be kind of cool to hold off ‘til 15. I needed to take a gel then anyway and it’d be easier to do so stopped or walking just after I hit the port-a-potty. So on I went.
The aid station was actually about 15 1/2 and it there was definitively no denying the heat then. The worse part of that being that at that point we were running through a wooded area with shade and you knew there were some serious shadeless stretches to come.
I made my pit stop, walked back to the road, took my gel and got going again with no idea that I was just a few minutes from what, to my surprise at the time, was the absolute worse part of the course.
Imagine this. You’ve run 15 miles and now you’re baking. You’re not even in the sun and you’re baking. You’re almost to 16, a point where, at least for me, things start to get a little tough and you come out of the protective shade of the trees to see that you are just about to make a sharp right turn onto a plane runway that you can’t even see the end of. It just seems to go on for forever like people are just running this straight, shadeless, flat, path of pavement off the edge of the world or something (what do you mean it’s round?!). I believe the exact words of the woman in front of me were, “YOU HAVE GOT TO BE KIDDING ME!!”
Sure, on paper it sounds interesting. Run on an air force base runway. Cool. In real life, uh, not so much. It’s almost demoralizing. Possibly even worse than the overpass. Possibly. (Depends on which point in the marathon you ask me).
It just stunk royally. And as we passed the mile 16 marker, I remembered a promise I made to myself before the race started earlier in the week as I watched the predicted temperature climb daily. If it got hot, I was going to run/walk. Pure and simple. I don’t do well in the heat (unlike everyone else in the world I’m sure). It’s why I get up at 4:30AM to do my long runs in the summer. It’s why I carry a fuel belt with Gu Brew with 2X the electrolyte content of their regular stuff and it’s why if the weather is really really not going to cooperate, I run on a treadmill. I just don’t handle heat well and I’ve had way too many scary encounters with hyponatremia to mess with it. The promise I made to myself was basically that I wasn’t going to let the competitor in me take over and run stupid, but that I’d recognize AND listen to what my body was telling me AND slow down if conditions called for it. And they did.
Besides, my miles had already slowed down gradually all by themselves. When I hit 16, I was just barely hanging below 10 minutes, but that was ok. I could still run 10 minutesish miles and break 4:30. In fact, I did some highly complicated math calculations (for me anyway) and figured out I could even slow down to 11+ minute miles and make it in under goal time. So I had a little bit of time to work with and I could squeak in a walk break without blowing what I had set out to do. But I wanted to get off that God forsaken runway first.
Sometime between miles 18 and 19, I put the run/walk backup plan into play. Run 5 minutes/walk 1. But I had another problem simmering just below the surface, one that would eventually lead to my downfall. I needed to drink more. I generally drink a few ounces every two miles. This being the case, I had plenty of Gu Brew on me. 40 ounces to be exact. Technically, I had extra. But I was sweating more, and knew I needed to get more fluids in. So back on the runway when I settled on the run/walk plan, I also settled on drinking every mile instead of every two. Now, I knew this would probably cause me to run out of fluids and so I’d have to rely on the regular Gatorade the course was offering. It wouldn’t have a high enough sodium content for me, but it’d have to do. Really I’d have no other choice.
Unconsciously though, I tried to conserve some of my fluids so they’d last me longer. So yes, I was drinking every mile, but I was only taking in little swigs and not nearly enough to sustain me for the rest of the race. THAT would come back to bite me.
Mile 19- Run/Walk 5:1
Mile 20- Run/Walk 5:1
Mile 21- Nice to see you big stupid overpass. NOW you are not fun and to think you’re not even one d#$n inch on my elevation map. Slightly misleading don’t you think? I’m a firm believer that elevation maps should be to scale no matter how entirely unrealistic that sounds. So yeah, I started that mile Run/Walking 5:1 but I’d say a 1/4 of the way up I decided to screw that and walk the whole sucker and run the downhill instead.
Sometime on the downhill I spotted my husband. He ran over to me once I got to the bottom just barely past mile 22 and I told him 4:30 was gonna be just fine for a goal (I had this idea that maybe, if everything was going swimmingly I might run 4:15. Unfortunately, no pool that day). He told me not to mess around and to go on and get it, but I assured him not to worry. I was still hitting 11 minute miles even with the walk break (give or take a second) and I had 48 minutes left to get in 4 miles. Just 4 stinking miles. Even if I slowed down a little bit more each mile, I should still be ok. As long as I kept it under 12. (Famous last words).
But anyone remember this guy?
Turkey duck. He threatened me back home on my trails on my early spring runs. Then was absent for a little while until I spotted him again just recently on one of my very last long runs pre-marathon. He just stood off idly by watching as Big Daddy Goose tried to intimidate me with his massive long neck and whole lot of hissing to get off his trail. Well, Turkey Duck knew something then that I didn’t know. That’s surely why he just stood nonchalantly off to the side. He put a curse on me.
I should have taken his sudden, although subtle, re-appearance as an omen and the Donald Duck egg pre-race nightmare as another. Because sometime shortly after mile 24, I turned into a duck.
You see, one sign of hyponatremia is calf cramps. I was on an incline (and I don’t even see that one on the map really, it must have just been one of those little do jiggers that don’t look like anything but so so ARE something after 24 miles. Here’s the link you can see for yourself). The right side of my lower leg started getting really really tight and the tighter it got the more my right foot started to turn outwards as I ran. Next thing I know, it’s like a knife to the back of my calf. BUT I was not yet to the 5 of my 5:1 run/walk gosh darn it and I intended on running it out.
So instead of walking or stopping, I kept going and started to compensate with my left leg, sort of hobble running the whole time with my right foot pointing out. And what do you think happened? Let’s just say, my left leg was not thrilled and decided to try the same tactic as the right to get out of the extra work I was throwing at it. The side of my leg started tightening up, left foot pulled out. “What the duck! (although duck was not actually the word running through my mind) This really can not be good.” I thought. So I relented and walked until my feet returned to their normal running position thinking maybe, just maybe, it was an incline thing. FOR CRYING OUT LOUD I had less than 2 miles to go.
It was about this time, that I ran out of my fluids and thought, “you know, that probably should have happened a lot earlier. No wonder my legs are spazzing out.”
I tried sucking down extra cups of Gatorade at that last aid station, but it was far too late for me. I had to walk/duck run those last 2.2 miles and watch my 4:30 slip away. Those last two were 15+ minute miles (Stupid stupid thug duck. We’re gonna have words.)
And to make the whole duck running experience even MORE enjoyable than it already was, I picked up yet another running partner. Some young guy who just kept talking to me and all I could think was, if you have so much energy to be just gabbing away here at the end of this marathon maybe you ought to go run a little. Although, now that I think about it he probably thought I was physically handicapped or something the way I was running, could see on my face I was struggling and wanted to help me make it to the finish. So perhaps I should be thankful, but at the time I just wanted him to zip it.
I never ever saw the 26 mile marker. I have no idea where it was, but sometime around about where it should have been my husband, like a knight in shining armor riding in on his white horse to save me, came running across this field just before I made the turn to the J that led to the finish line with an 8 oz bottle of Gatorade Endurance. I really wasn’t talking much at this point, but I think I muttered something like, “calf cramp.” I was thinking “Oh God bless you!”
Still even as I got to that last straight away, about 150 meters or so, I was dogged by those calf cramps. There are all these really cool military planes that line the finish, I totally did not look at a single one. I kept my eye on that finish line. People were yelling at me by name to finish strong because my name was on my bib (stupid bib) and really I don’t know exactly what the best thing to yell at a runner who’s tanking at the finish is, but finish strong isn’t it I don’t think. If I had had enough energy in me to finish strong I would be. I mean come on now, if seeing the finish line with your very own eyes after 26 miles is not enough to get you to run faster, than some guy yelling at you to do so is probably not going to make it happen either.
But I will tell you what did make me run faster. That finish line clock. I saw it hit 4:38 and thought no friggin’ way is that sucker getting to 4:40. And I really have no idea why that mattered so much to me at that point in time. 4:40 was not my goal and it’s not like 4:40 is a bad marathon time. Quite frankly any marathon finishing time is a serious accomplishment in my book. But it just did matter. And somehow I figured out a way to dig down and get in at 4:39:11.
That’s me in the chute waiting my turn for a medal sucking down the last of that Gatorade Endurance. I’d link you to my official marathon photos of me getting ready to cross the finish line but RunSis told me I look like I’m going to cry. She saw them first and I really had to rack my brain a bit because I didn’t remember being super emotional at the end. Then I saw the pictures. Nah, I’m not about to cry. I’m wincing in pain. So no, I don’t think I’ll be purchasing any of those pictures or sharing them either thank-you very much.
All I wanted to do after the finish is find my husband. He snagged two water bottles and mixed me 32 ounces of Gatorade Endurance and I needed it bad. I chugged that stuff like a frat boy with a 40 and we started the loooooooooooong walk back to the car.
I didn’t make it very far. I just wasn’t up for another 2 miles at that point even if I didn’t have to duck run it. So I looked at my husband and said pointing, “See that tree right there. I’m just going to lay down underneath it and wait for you to figure out a way to get our car into that parking lot.” It was closed for volunteers or something but it was just a few steps away from the tree and I know my husband. He’s one for a challenge and I knew if anybody could make it happen he could. “I don’t really care how long it takes. I’ll just be waiting right here.” And that’s just exactly what I did while he and my dad figured it out. For the last 6 miles of that course there had been not a single smidgen of shade, except for maybe under the wing of a plane or two near the finish. I can not even begin to tell you how nice it was lying under that tree, at least a little bit cooler and breezy. And I felt accomplished.
Nope, I didn’t hit my time goal. In fact, I missed it pretty substantially. But ultimately, through all 4 marathons I’ve gone out there to run, I’ve just wanted to give it my best. And until now, I don’t think I’ve really done that, something weird has happened. Marathon 1 (Detroit)- I was overly excited and forgot to drink pretty much entirely. Marathon 2 (Chicago)- I was sick. Marathon 3 (Monumental) – my running partner got injured. But this time, I knew what I was doing. I trained well. I gave it all I had and that day in the heat was all I had was 4:39:11. I’ll take it.
And yes, if you are wondering, I’m still going to hunt down that 4:30. I think I’ve got it in me. I’m just probably going to attempt to do it at a marathon that’s not mid September and a little bit cooler because I don't give up. I just run another one :-)
P.S. You are almost released from my USAF Marathon grasp. I just have one more little thing to tell you. So yep, looks like there’s going to be a USAF Marathon Part Five: And the very best part. That’ll be short though. Swear. My fingers are not secretly crossed.
P.P.S. MUFFIN MAN!! Let’s not forget him shall we? (He’d like his identity to remain a secret so this is all you get. He’s the one in the white shirt)Muffin Man came in at a blazing 4:16:something. Well, maybe blazing is not entirely the right word to describe the way he came in. He too ran positive splits and further found that putting time in the bank might not be the best strategy for a marathon. In other words, his first miles we’re pretty ambitious, especially for the hilly terrain and impending heat as opposed to those last miles. But still, it was his first marathon and who doesn’t learn something at their first. In fact, I’d say you learn something every time. Nice work Muffin Man! I smell a sub 4:00 hour marathon in the not too distant future.