Friday, May 29, 2009

Marathon Report

So what happened to this blog?! I was in training for the NJ Marathon on May 3rd and POOF: The blog came to an abrupt halt. I really can’t explain why. I had a wonderful marathon experience (yes, I did run it and finish). In fact, I was on a high from the marathon for about a week. And then the post-marathon exhaustion hit. It wasn’t really physical exhaustion; I just felt so unmotivated and mentally fatigued. I have said many times before that 90% of marathons (and running in general, for that matter) are mental for me. So it makes sense that the mental exhaustion is what ended up prevailing.

I’ll address in a later blog what happened after the marathon, but for now I want to share the marathon experience. The marathon was on Sunday, May 3rd. I drove down to my sister’s house in northern NJ on Thursday night. On Friday I drove down to the Jersey shore where the marathon was being held to pick up my number, browse the expo, and drive the course. I was excited to find Crocs for 10 bucks at the expo. I also bought a plastic poncho for 3 bucks, knowing that rain was predicted for marathon day (it’s great to use these ponchos as you are standing around waiting for the marathon to start, and then you can ditch them and not feel so bad that you lost only 3 bucks). I was very glad to drive the course, as it gave me a great sense of what to expect, and also more information to share with my spectators.

On Saturday I drove to the B&B where I was staying, about 7 miles south of the marathon start. I purposely avoided the marathon start/registration area on Saturday because I knew it would be a flurry of activity and chaos, and I just didn’t want to deal with that. I prefer to stay as far away from the marathon stress as I can. This is why I made a special trip on Friday to get my number, as I knew it would be quiet on that day (and it was). After checking in, I drove to find a pizza place that someone had recommended so that I could carbo-load. The pizza was delicious! I miss NJ pizza so much. I set out everything I’d need on marathon day, and made sure to pin my number to my shirt. I knew I had to be up very early the next day and I didn’t want to lose sight of any details.

I woke up around 5:00 on marathon day, knowing I needed to get on the road by 5:45 in order to park near the start (the lot was about .7 miles from the start, so it was a decent walk). The other option was to drive to Monmouth Racetrack where they were offering a shuttle. Thank God I didn’t go with that option! From all I have read on the internet, that was a complete disaster. There were many complaints on about the shuttle system and how disorganized it was. Apparently some shuttles even got lost on the way to the marathon (and it was only a few miles away).

Anyway, I arrived in the parking lot just after 6:00 but the marathon did not start until 7:30. I basically just sat in the car because it was raining and I didn’t want to get my clothes wet. I chatted with some runners next to me and took care of some last minute details (like trying to find my Garmin watch, which I found after about 20 minutes of looking. I had stuffed it in an extra running shoe but forgot it was there and you can imagine how long it took for me to find it there!). I walked to the starting area a bit before 7:00 because I knew I needed to check my bag (dry clothes to have at the finish line). The hotel where the bag check was located was totally mobbed. I guess because of the rain everyone tried to huddle in there. With 10,000 runners and only a 5-story hotel, it was literally like a sardine can. Trying to figure out where the baggage check was and then trying to get to it was quite a challenge. However, I tried not to let it bother me because I needed all the energy I had for the actual run.

After finally checking my bag, I hung around outside just south of the starting line, where there was a huge conglomeration of port-a-potties. And there weren’t that many people in this area, so it made for a calmer place to be. To keep dry I was wearing pants I had bought at a thrift store and a vest I had won at a race, as well as the plastic poncho. As 7:15 or so approached, we were informed that the race start would be delayed!!!! Are you kidding me??!! All that preparation for a 7:30 start (mentally and otherwise) and they were going to delay the start?! They said an accident occurred and that the police would not allow the race to start. That may have been true, but after all I heard about the shuttle bus disasters afterwards, I can’t help but think that they held up the race start at least in part because some of the shuttles were late. They kept delaying the start by 5 minutes until we started at 8am. However, I am proud of myself that I did not let this start bother me at all. I kept telling myself there was nothing I could do about it so I shouldn’t worry about what was out of my control.

The start area was PACKED, as many of the runners had already been standing and waiting there for a 7:30 start. They had finish times posted and you were supposed to stand near the time you wanted to finish in. I always hope for less than 5 hours, so I wanted to stand near that sign. However, given how crowded it was, the closest I could get was the 5:30 sign. Oh well!

Just before the race started, I dumped my pants, vest, and poncho. And I tied my long sleeved shirt around my waist (which later got dumped at mile 13.2). I am hoping someone donated these items to a local charity, but I’ll never know. The first half of the race, but especially the first few miles, were PACKED. That’s because the majority of the 10,000 runners (about 7,000+) were running the half marathon. It’s a double-loop course, which means that the half marathoners run the loop once and the marathons have to go around again. It was a bit too crowded during that first loop but again, there was nothing I could do about it. What was nice, though, is that there were a lot more spectators during the first loop since most of the runners were running the half marathon. That may have been the only benefit to that aspect of the race.

As I approached mile 11, I heard a lot of people saying “you’re almost there!” and “only 2 miles to go!” I told them not to say that because I was running the full marathon. J (I’m not one to keep my mouth shut when I’m running a marathon and get irritated by something.) I had mentally prepared for about a week that I would have to cross over the finish line (literally) and do the loop again, so actually that part didn’t bother me a whole lot. It almost made me feel powerful….most of the people were going to the left to finish, and I was going to the right for another loop. I am woman, hear me roar! J

I had needed to go to the bathroom starting about mile 5, but the port-a-potty lines on the course were long and there were no trees or bushes I could hide behind (and there was no way I was going to lose precious time from my marathon finish time to wait in line to go to the bathroom). But another benefit of being one of the few who was doing the marathon is that on the 2nd loop there were not lines, so I was able to slip in and out quickly around mile 13.3 without losing too much time. Luckily that was the only time I had to go to the bathroom the whole race.

I should back up a bit and tell you that I had two support people on the course: my sister Jennifer and my friend Peter. I had requested that Jennifer be in a section that would allow her to see me at miles 5, 13, 18, and the finish; Peter would be at miles 8, 11, 21, and 24. I had to look hard to find Jennifer at mile 5 as there were a lot of runners and spectators, and I wasn’t sure what she was wearing. I also wanted to stop to tell her that the race had started 30 minutes late, since I had given both her and Peter time estimates of when I would be passing by each mile. It was great motivation to have someone to look forward to at so many points in the race. But I felt badly for them. That’s because the drizzle turned to pouring rain about an hour into the race. And it was cold. I was able to manage wearing a tank top and shorts because I was moving so I didn’t get cold. But to just stand there in the cold pouring rain is miserable. But I couldn’t worry about them; I just had to focus on the race.

As I hit the halfway mark and saw that I had been running for about 2 hours and 25 minutes, I knew it probably wouldn’t be a PR (personal record) day for me (usually you run slower in the second half of the race, and my marathon PR is 4:53). That allowed me to relax a bit, and not worry so much about my pace. I started to have thoughts of walking somewhere around mile 16 or so. But I didn’t walk. For sure I did not want Peter or Jennifer to see me walking! Having them there was great incentive to keep running (even if it was a slow jog at times). The only times I remember walking are when I stopped for water or to take some GU energy gel. I have trouble swallowing when I’m running, so it was a nice excuse to slow down for a minute. I may have walked for a minute or two at other times, but I don’t actually recall doing so. My stride may have slowed down, but I was still “running.” Of course I was drenched from the time it started to pour rain, and I just got wetter and wetter. I hadn’t realized it was possible to get that wet. After trying to avoid puddles for a while, I decided it was a waste of time to do so; therefore, I ended up running right through deep puddles. I had my Smartwool socks on which had carried me through a rainy Boston Marathon, so I felt confident. Oh, and I had my Boston Red Sox hat on and, despite being in “Yankee Country,” I only got slightly razzed once, and that was right before the finish line when I had no energy or time to say anything back. In fact, I saw a number of Red Sox hats among the spectators and got a few shout-outs from them.

Around mile 24.5, I realized that it was possible for me to finish in less than 5 hours, which is always a wonderful achievement for me. So believe it or not, at this late stage of the race, I kicked it in. I’m not sure how I did it. There was a guy in a royal blue shirt who seemed to want to do the same thing as me, so I thought if I could just keep up with him I’d be okay. But I couldn’t. No worries, though. I just really focused myself and forced myself to run as fast as I possibly could. I kept my eyes straight ahead, grimaced, and ran. Lots of people were shouting my name, as I had my name on my shirt. Earlier in the race I would acknowledge them with a smile, wave, nod, or something like that but this time I meant business. All I could do at that point was look straight ahead and run as fast as I could so that I could get there in less than 5 hours. And I did. In fact, my official finish time was 4:59:31. Couldn’t get much closer! Unfortunately the official clock over my head said 5:02 or 5:03 something, but that’s because the clock goes by when the gun went off. Luckily they use chip timing there, so my actually time was recorded (meaning it took me a few minutes to get to the starting line once the gun went off). (When I plugged my Garmin watch into my computer later that week, I saw a huge spike in my pace for that last mile, proving that I really was able to step it up and speed things up at the end when I needed to.)

All I wanted when I finished was to get some water. But there wasn’t any. And I couldn’t figure out where the food tent was. Jennifer came running up to me yelling “you did it!” and all I could do was wander in a stupor asking other runners where the water and food was. No one responded. Perhaps that is because they knew that the race had run out of food and water! The only thing they had was a box of bananas and some sort of energy booster drink I had never had before. No soup. No Italian food from Tuzzio’s Restaurant which we had been promised. I told the volunteer how mad I was, but also nicely told her I knew it was not her fault. And I ranted at my poor sister for several minutes. She was there to congratulate me but all I could do was yell and swear about the lack of food and water. Luckily she had water in her bag that I had given her for the race, so I was able to drink that. After running 26.2 miles it is not only a desire but a NECESSITY to have food and water at the finish. I was incredibly irritated. We walked to the hotel to meet up with Peter and so that I could get my bag and change. It took me a really long time to change clothes because the bathroom was PACKED and I had a hard time moving my body anyway. I really wanted to take a shower but they were charging 20 bucks for a shower and I’m so darn cheap. Jennifer, Peter, and I chatted for a bit and then I wanted to go out and get a picture taken in front of the ocean. My original plan had been to jump in the ocean after I finished, but given the rain and the cold I figured that everyone was just ready to get the heck out of there. We took a few pictures and then headed home. I drove Jennifer to her car at the racetrack, and Peter headed further down the shore to visit his father in Lavallette (which is where I spent my summers growing up and where I first met Peter). After I dropped Jennifer off I looked for the first fast food restaurant I could find, as I still hadn’t eaten anything besides a banana. McDonald’s was my first sighting, and a Big Mac meal served as my post-marathon nourishment. I needed to vent about the lack of food/water at the finish to someone who would truly understand (a fellow marathon runner) so I called my friend Jen and luckily she answered the phone. I vented at her for quite some time, and she agreed with me that it was appalling. Thanks, Jen!

I got a little lost heading back up north, but eventually made it to Jennifer’s house where I took a shower and then rested and relaxed on the couch for the rest of the night. I had to drive back to Massachusetts the next day, so all I wanted to do was veg on the couch. And that is what I did!

(Post-script: After many emails back and forth with the race director about the lack of food and water at the finish, I discovered that the volunteers who were handing out water and Gatorade at the finish line had abandoned their post without notifying anyone. That certainly didn’t make me feel better, but at least there was a reason. And the Race Director claims that they had enough food left over to donate to a charity. Where that food was, I will never know. Even the food volunteer told me they had run out. And no, I wasn’t so delirious after the marathon that I couldn’t understand her; you can ask my sister and she’ll tell you the same thing!)