Thursday, November 18, 2010

Runner's World Challenge in Richmond

I had not planned on running 4 marathons in 2010; however, when I discovered earlier this year that Runner’s World magazine was holding a Runner’s World Challenge marathon in Richmond in November, and that it involved Bart Yasso, I just had to jump on board. I first met Bart at the NYC Marathon in 2009, and I have seen him several times since then. Bart is one of the most inspirational and encouraging people in the running world; he is known as the “Mayor of Running” in the USA. He also works for Runner’s World and has written a book called “Life on the Run.” The chance to participate in a marathon weekend with Bart was far too good to pass up. And I am sure glad I did it!

The Runner’s World Challenge in Richmond turned into something above and beyond anything I could have anticipated. I met teammates from around the country online via Facebook and Twitter. And then when my October marathon was over, I started getting involved with the Challenge team message boards. Many of the team members had been developing their friendships online for over a year, so I “joined the party” extremely late. However, everyone welcomed me with open arms and I felt totally included. By the time I made it to Richmond, I felt like a solid member of the team.

Meeting everyone at the shakeout run the day before the race was amazing. It was cool to recognize people from their online photos! There were so many hugs and smiles. It was really heartwarming how everyone came together. Friday was busy from 7:30am until 9:00pm: shakeout run, course tour, lunch, team meeting, and dinner. Then all of a sudden it was time to run a marathon. Being on the Challenge team provided us with a lot of perks. One of the greatest perks was having a warm and dry indoor space to wait in before the marathon. We had our own bathrooms, food, and drinks. We were able to walk right out to the start 5 minutes before the race started. Awesome!

I had been experiencing some really bad stomach problems for the two days prior to the marathon, and they did not go away on marathon morning. And besides that, Richmond was my fourth marathon of the year. And I had just run a PR marathon 5 weeks before. Given all of this, I was just hoping to finish before they closed the course at 7 hours. I ended up running with my teammate Amy for most of the first 6 miles or so. At the very beginning we were with teammate Colleen and then when she left us we caught up with teammate Chris. It was really cool to run with teammates. Amy was dealing with back pain and had hoped to break a total time of 5:30, so I thought it would be good to stick with her. But eventually she and Chris became too fast for me so I dropped back. I was sorry to see them go but I didn’t want to run too fast in the early miles. For most of the rest of the marathon, I didn’t run with anyone in particular, but I was surrounded by plenty of people.

My motivation, stomach issues, and fatigue all seemed the worst in the first 9 or so miles. But as the race progressed, I felt a little better. The course was lined with tons of spectators, bands, DJs, cheerleaders, etc. I thought I preferred smaller quiet marathons but Richmond showed me that it can be really fun to see so many people on the sidelines. I stopped to dance at some of the music stops, and I high-fived so many spectators (mostly children). Interacting with the crowd kept me going. It was much warmer and sunnier than I would have preferred, but I actually felt okay. There were a few stretches with no shade that were tough, but overall I was okay.

At the halfway mark I noticed that my time was around 2:24 or so. I figured that even if I walked a bit in the second half I might still get under 5 hours. But to be honest, I really didn’t care what my time was. I was just so grateful to be out there and to be a part of the Challenge team. It felt so good not to worry about pace! I just relaxed and enjoyed the experience. This strategy paid off, as I was feeling pretty good all the way to the finish line. I didn’t end up walking very much in the last 5 miles. The finish line is at the bottom of a hill, so I was able to fly down that finish. For the first time, I raised my hands in the air at the finish of a marathon, and jubilantly crossed that finish line with a big smile. The best part was seeing Bart straight ahead and getting a hug from him. Then I turned around and noticed teammates Cintia and David Bock finishing just behind me. That made it even better! I also got to see Bart cheering for us at mile 4.5 and mile 16. That was awesome!

The Challenge Team had its own special area in the hotel at the finish, and we got our own masseuse, food, drinks, etc. And when each one of us walked in after finishing, we received a huge applause from those already in the room. That was awesome! Lots of hugs were exchanged, and lots of pictures were taken. It was a huge celebration of an amazing accomplishment and a wonderful team experience. I made friends for life, and I know that we will see each other again soon. And in fact we are talking about finding a race to do together again next year, maybe even a relay race. All I know is that I will definitely keep in touch with my teammates and I have made some new friends. My finish time (4:50:41) ended up being my second fastest ever but to be honest the experience of the marathon with the team was so much more memorable.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

A New Personal Record in New York!

On 10/10/10 I ran my 12th marathon (10th state): the Mohawk-Hudson River Marathon in the Albany area of New York. I usually travel to marathons alone, but this time my friend Jen was running the marathon as well and was accompanied by her husband Chris. They were kind enough to allow me to travel with them, and it was a great experience.

It was significant that it was my 10th state, as that earned me membership in the 50 States Marathon Club. A couple of months before the marathon I emailed the race director to ask if my race number could have the number “10” somewhere in it. She said she would do her best. When we arrived at the Expo the day before the race, I was flabbergasted to discover that not only did they give me a race bib # with “10” in it, but they gave me number 1010!!! To run in my 10th state on 10/10/10 with bib # 1010 was so exciting. To top it all off, they wrote a nice note on my race packet thanking me for including their small marathon in my journey to pursue the 50 states. It was so touching.

Jen was kind enough to find us a great restaurant for our carbo loading dinner, so we headed to the restaurant soon after the Expo. Luckily we both preferred an early dinner so our reservation was at 4:30. It’s nice when marathoners’ schedules/routines match up when traveling!

I was in bed by around 8:30 the night before the marathon. I couldn’t fall asleep right away, but as Hal Higdon says, as long as you are horizontal you are getting the rest you need! I had to be up by 6:30 the next morning to meet Jen and Chris at 7:00 to depart for the starting line.

We arrived at the starting area with plenty of time to spare. It was COLD! I had bought throw-away clothes and was wearing fleece pants, a long sleeved shirt, a fleece sweatshirt, a hat, and gloves. Our one mistake was waiting to go to the bathroom until after the buses arrived with the majority of runners. We stood in line to use the port-a-potty for 35 minutes, and barely made it to the start on time. I also needed to drop of my bag at the baggage bus, and had to run to the start.

It was a beautiful day, and I shed all of my extra clothes (except for the gloves) within the first half a mile. The sun was shining and it got up to the mid 50s. I would have preferred some clouds, but was just grateful that it wasn’t too hot out. It was a small marathon, with about 800 runners. I was never running alone, but it was never crowded. There weren’t that many spectators along the route, but the ones who were there were very enthusiastic. The majority of the route is on a paved path that runs along the river, and that made for a very scenic route. The only not-so-scenic part was in downtown Albany around the 18 to 21 mile mark.

I talked to several runners along the way. I met a woman from Texas who said that 31 Texans traveled together for the race! Fun! I asked her what was the best marathon to run in Texas and she said “hands down” it was Houston. I met a man who told me he was from Amsterdam. I thought that was so cool! Then about 10 minutes later I discovered that he meant Amsterdam, New York which was only about 20 minutes away! LOL. I also met some women who were running their first marathon. They asked me about my tattoos. I usually wear several temporary tattoos on marathon day, most of them saying “26.2.” I get them from I also have a permanent tattoo that says “26.2” on my upper back but you usually can’t see it even with a tank top.

I was feeling good the whole race but wasn’t so worried or concerned about my pace. I was just trying to enjoy the scenery and the whole race experience. I always hope to finish in less than 5 hours, but otherwise I was unconcerned with my time. I kept telling myself to just run as fast as I could but still be comfortable. I noticed at the half way mark that my time was 2:21-something. Since I normally run pretty even splits (same time for each half of the marathon) I realized that I might be able to run a PR (personal record; fastest marathon time). At the time my PR was 4:53:41, which I had run in Tampa at the Gasparilla Marathon in February of 2010.

Knowing I had a PR in my sights, I decided to keep running as fast as I could without pushing myself too hard. I knew that if I kept my pace under 11 minutes per mile that I would definitely get a PR. I wear a Garmin watch that tells me my pace at every moment, and in the second half of the race I looked at it quite often. This is not a practice I normally engage in, and it’s not something I would recommend to most marathoners. But for some reason this strategy worked well for me at the time. I think perhaps knowing that I was trying to reach a certain goal, and having the data to help me get to that goal, really pushed me forward. It was not until mile 23-ish that I stopped to walk for a short while. I normally take short walk breaks throughout my marathons, but not this time. Knowing I had a PR on the horizon kept me running. But at mile 23-ish I knew that even if I walked for a bit I would still have a PR. In retrospect, I wish I hadn’t taken that walk break. I don’t think I really needed it; however, since I knew a walk break wouldn’t affect my PR I guess I just decided to take it.

In the last couple of miles, I knew I was going to run a PR. At that point it was just a matter of by how many minutes. I told myself I was going to take one more electrolyte capsule at the final water stop as one last boost to the finish. Unfortunately that stop was only about .6 mile from the finish. But I stopped anyway as I was mentally counting on it. I probably didn’t need it, and it took about 30 seconds off my time, but I didn’t really care. As I approached the finish line I gave it all I had and ran as fast as I could. I heard my friend Jen cheering for me and I also heard the announcer call my name. I was absolutely jubilant as I looked at my watch and saw that I ran a 4:44:37 (a 9:04 PR). I was also thrilled that I had completed my 10th state and that I was now a member of the 50 States Marathon Club. I was smiling excitedly for such a long time.

After a few pictures and consuming some food and beverages, we headed to the hotel so I could take a shower. Then we were on the road for our journey home. We stopped at Applebee’s for a post-race meal and I had my favorite post-marathon meal: a burger and fries! YUM! There was not much time to rest when I got home, though. I had 5 weeks until my next marathon and training began again on Monday!