We looked around for the others in our group (we didn't all stay in the same hotel)...we were especially looking for the woman who had agreed to pace Speedy to a sub-2 hour finish (a goal that was abandoned once they were out on the roller-coaster of a course). Not finding her, MV8r and I left Speedy at her coral (the third), and walked back to the fourth coral (where I had been assigned-according to expected finish times). MV8r has done many halfs and, if I'm not mistaken, her worst finish time up to that date was like 2:17:XX; she was supposed to be in the second coral but she graciously moved back in order to run with me! ((She also hadn't done any running in a couple of weeks, and was coming off not only a week-long Mexican vacation, but moving to a new apartment (read: up and down stairs a countless number of times)!!))
As we found our place, in true Dana fashion, I started making new friends! Conveniently our names were printed on our bibs, making the process of meeting new people so much easier!! I believe the gal I met at the start was named Angela. We chatted about how it was the first half ever for both of us and how we thought we should place ourselves between the 2:30 and 2:45 pace groups. About that time the announcer started saying things we couldn't understand....until he said Jo Dee Messina was going to sing the National Anthem! Even with all those people, an eerie silence fell across the crowd-and that's when the electricity of the moment hit me!! Just a few short minutes later, the race was started. ((I never heard any kind of sound other than cheers from the front corals.)) After about five minutes of inching forward like cattle, we finally crossed over the start line (maybe not five, but that's what it felt like!).
MV8r and I had decided beforehand we were going to stick to a 5/1 run/walk interval and shoot for a 12:00 pace overall. My main concern was starting out too fast, as is my M.O. for all the races I've done so far...but with all the people there wasn't much danger of that anyway. What shocked me was how many people (who started IN FRONT OF ME) were walking! I have heard on numerous occasions some of marathoners' biggest pet peeves are:
- walkers who start too close to the front
- runners who suddenly start walking right in front of you without looking behind them
- walkers who don't move over to the sides of the course, and
- people who walk several abreast (making a WALL for you to navigate around)
Shockingly, the first hill was at about the half-mile mark!! (Seriously, look at the elevation map on my Garmin data.)
If you look at the elevation information and change it to "time" instead of "distance", you'll see that we ran the ever-so-slight downhill the first 5 minutes, walked our one minute...and then got to run the up hill section! This pattern of starting run intervals either at the base of an uphill stretch, or in the process of moving uphill continued the WHOLE time I was running intervals!! But, I think (for me) it worked out just fine because if we would have decided to walk the ups and only run the downs/flats, we'd have been walking pretty much half of the WHOLE race, if not more!
I really wasn't paying attention to any other runners around me...other than the walls of walkers who were continually stopping, in the middle of the road, right in front of me, without bothering to look behind them first!! (Okay, I promise not to mention that, in this post, again...I'll have to devote a whole post to this very thing...it was THAT annoying!) I tried to take in the sights of the course. I wanted to be able to remember everything I saw.
However, the main things that caught my eye were other runners' forms! Not as in body shapes, but running form and gait! Since I just started coaching, I have learned to pay very close attention to it. There were MANY runners (run/walkers) out there with HORRIBLE (read: injury causing) form. MV8r and I talked about how hard it was not to run up alongside some of them and give some instruction. Yes, everyone has their own running style; there are things that matter and things that don't. But, if you are favoring one side and pounding one foot over and over...you're going to develop an injury. If you are running bent over at the waist or shuffling your feet in mile one of a half marathon, chances are really high you're going to develop an injury. If I can see you over-pronating, without the use of a slow-motion replay, chances are really high you're going to develop an injury.
I finally had to tell myself to stop watching anyone else, and just focus on myself. I could NOT get over how strong I felt. I hadn't really trained per se for the race. I had run a couple of six-milers and an eight-miler with no walk intervals...and ran/walked a 10-miler, but I can't say I was even close to being prepared to run 13.1 miles. I had certainly NOT prepared for hills other than the slight inclines on the trail I usually run (which has a total elevation gain of about 137', whereas the race route had a total elevation gain of about 635'!!). Not to mention I had two very bad running weeks leading up to that day, plagued with weird pains and low energy.
I had to wonder if it was race-endorphins or something that would crash halfway through, leaving me crawling at the end. It was that fear that kept me running what felt almost painfully slow. I'm not even close to being fast, but I felt like I could have easily picked up the pace. Even going up all those torturous hills felt relatively easy. MV8r told me fairly early on she knew she was in trouble because her quads were fried. When she said that, the "crash and burn" fear washed over me like acid rain!! I wondered if I was fooling myself with a delusion of strength. Funny...I NEVER have that feeling (that I'm delusional) when I think I'm hurting!
Anyway...we were at about mile five, going up yet another nasty hill when I lost MV8r. I looked around and she had disappeared. When I got the top, I ran in place until I saw her (only a few seconds really). I realized I had run through the last walk interval because I had pulled away from her as we were moving up the hill but, again, I felt so strong I didn't feel like I needed a break even after going up the hill so we kept moving. She told me that I was going to have to pull away from her because she knew she wasn't going to be able to continue on the pace we were setting with her knees feeling the way they were. I protested and reminded her I didn't have a time goal and said I would happily stay with her because I did NOT want to be in danger of speeding up and then keeling over at the end, or worse, before the end and not even being able to finish the race.
She assured me that as strong as I was feeling at mile five/six, if I kept up a run/walk interval and stayed at about a 12:00 pace, I would certainly do just fine. She said if I started to feel bad, I just needed to increase the walk, or decrease the run interval, or slow down. She kept telling me I really needed to run my own race because I would regret it if I didn't...so at the next uphill section when I pulled away, with a little tear in my eye, I just kept on going.
No, I'm not exaggerating here, I had a little tear of excitement, and a tear of sadness. I was happy to be feeling as strong as I was, but at the same time I loved every minute running/walking with her and was completely enjoying the experience of being with her in the race. (I think secretly she just needed some silence because I'm such a talker!!)
Well....did I mention that MV8r was also the timer of our duo?? Although I was wearing my Garmin, and I do know how to program intervals, I hadn't done that because I didn't see the need for both of our wrists to tell us when to change pace. When I pulled away from her I tried to do some math in my head in order to determine when I should walk next, but I quickly abandoned the idea and instead decided I would just run until I didn't feel like it. But, again, the crash and burn fear welled up inside of me like gas bubbles from bad chili. Not only did I start to worry about going to fast, I worried about what not walking would do, and just for good measure, I threw in worry over the fact I hadn't been able to poop all morning long!!
Yes, I'm a real runner...I can talk about poop! Usually I'm able to get that taken care of first thing in the morning...it's like clockwork!! The only variation is before breakfast or after, but it's an EVERY morning kind of thing....until that morning. I tried and tried, to no avail. (By this point in the race I had taken in 2 packets of Gu, and all I could think was "Gu Doo" would strike any minute.) There seemed to be plenty of port-o-lets (when did they stop being called port-o-potties??), but I began to be consumed with the notion the urge would strike when I was no where near one....
I immediately "bean-o'ed" all those fear bubbles because I have learned, (begun to learn) all those negative thoughts and fears take a significant amount of energy. They are a total energy zap. Also, it was about this time I had entered the only out-and-back section of the race. Naturally all the front runners had already gone by when I reached this section, but I figured Speedy, her pacer, and all the others from our group (aside from MV8r) would be coming toward me any second so I shifted my focus to the faces on the other side of the street. It was more than just a little entertaining!!
On the "out" section of this stretch...it's down hill. So as I was easily cruising a decline, the faces coming toward me had been fighting a steady up hill section pretty much the whole way "back" (which was not yet known to me). I should have known there was something wrong when most of the faces looked like they had been washed with red coolaide...and there were some "cheer-leaders" at my mile 6.something with signs congratulating runners for making it "all the way up".
OH.....speaking of signs....I almost forgot, but I'm going to throw it in here...early on, there were a pair of guys sitting on the side of the race route with a big sign that said "SINGLE DOCTOR". I told them they needed to have cards to pass out with their information because no one was going to stop in a race to chat with them! There was another guy who had a sign that said "Women are my favorite people." There were several others that I may (or most likely will not) remember...but I loved them all. The "cheerleaders" (meaning anyone who cheered) on the sidelines were probably my favorite thing about the whole race. I loved it. If I ran by a section of people not cheering, I would tell them, "feel free to cheer for me!!"--and they ALWAYS did!! (And, since my name was no my bib, they cheered for me by name!!)
Anyway, at some point I spotted Speedy's pacer...and just a couple of steps behind her--SPEEDY!!!! She was just behind the 2:00 pace group!! I was so proud, you'd have thought it was me on the other side of the road instead of her!! Not too terribly far behind them were several of the girls from our group--easily spotted since we were all wearing the same cute shirt! About the time I went by the girls...I spotted another port-o-let...and remembered my failure to evacuate my bowels that morning. For crying out loud, it was already about 8:30, I was at least two or three hours over due, and ...OH MY GOSH....OVER HALF WAY THROUGH MY FIRST HALF MARATHON!!!!!!
I've never really been one to practice visualization. I've pretty much been of the mindset that it's a complete waste of time. I'd rather be putting together a plan of HOW I'm going to do what ever it is I want to accomplish rather than sitting around day-dreaming about it. But, at this point in the race, the proverbial hay was already in the barn...well, really, the hay was getting spread out to the livestock. It was well past the point of planning, so I replaced all the fears of keeling over before the finish and poo-trepidations with visualizations of crossing the finish line at the end....running at a full on sprint with all the energy I was saving up by keeping my pace slow. ((Since I was no longer doing intervals, I was keeping a pretty steady 12:00 pace.))
I should mention, this race course was COVERED with well-appointed aide stations. They had gatorade and water, there were tables with bananas and other fruit (I think these were restaurants doing this, not the race itself), and they handed out Gu at the 1/2 way point. I had a hand-held water bottle, and I was packing my own supply of Gu (taken before the start, 4 miles, 8 miles and then about mile 10.5 or 11), and Nuun tablets that I added to every other bottle of water (which I refilled by grabbing cups from volunteers at aide stations). By the time I was just past the turn around point, I had already downed 3 packets of Gu, and at least 4 bottles of water. I could feel a sloshing in my innards, not to mention I knew I would be going up hill for quite a while, so I made the decision to make a pit stop, unnecessary as it turned out to be, it at least allowed me to mark off my list the fear I would be running with pee (or worse) trickling down my leg!!
I worried that spending all those precious minutes dribbling droplets of pee would put me well behind MV8r...but after I got back on the course, I spotted her coming down the hill---with TWO other members of our group!! I could NOT believe I wasn't last in our group!! This, combined with the facts I had made it to the uphill cheerleaders and with how unbelievably strong I still felt, put a decided pep in my step. It was short-lived as I came to YET ANOTHER up hill section. I gave myself a one minute walk break, and then started running again. I decided I was strong enough to push my pace a little faster, and dropped it down to between 10:30-11:30 until the next incline, which I decided to go ahead and walk.
By that point (mile tenish), the hills started to get the best of me. The cheerleaders had started to thin just a little bit, it was getting hot, the idea that I was really running strong started to wear off (probably because I was pushing the pace and not running quite as strong as I had been when I was going a minute or so slower!)....and the fact that I felt so alone out there almost got the best of me. I decided to find someone (or several someones) to talk to. I chatted with several people, but no one really seemed to be in the mood, so I started cheering the cheerleaders! I begged for cheers, I thanked them for being there, I found people to high five, I read signs and pretended they were for me...if a sign had a name on it, I would tell the person holding it, "I'll just pretend that says 'Dana' on it!"--and they would oblige with cheers for me.
It was GREAT. I went from feeling just a little drained to feeling completely energized. More than that I realized that I could have a modicum of control over how I was feeling. I was walking up what I believed to be the last hill (because there was a woman behind me who kept saying it over and over--this is the last hill ladies)...and mustered up all my energy to make a surge to the top, when I rounded a corner to see....ANOTHER FREAKING HILL!!!!! Not just a hill, but a long bridge--where you could see the whole freaking thing. The elevation map doesn't do it justice (I'm pretty sure it is measuring the elevation of the ground -which was a river- rather than the actual road!). I just started laughing at that point and decided the route was certainly made by a man trying to "show those women runners who's boss!!"
I found another person to talk to, Tammy from Nashville. We walked up the incline together; she pulled ahead when we started running again. I decided then and there I would keep her within sight, and at the 13 mile mark, I would close in on her and make her my person to beat!! I know that might not sound nice, but truthfully, I had figured out that she stared out behind me, so she was already ahead of me time-wise, so there was no reason not to push ahead of her with my killer sprint!! I wasn't actually sure I would be able to pull out the sprint bullet, until I got close to the cheering crowds! By that time, Tammy had a considerable lead on me.
But, in the last tenth of a mile, I pushed ahead as if she were standing still, with a finish time of 2:38:59!!!! I could hear the announcer calling out my name as I ran over the finish mat (something like, "WAY TO FINISH STRONG DANA!! GREAT FINISH LINE SPRINT") I imagined my husband and kids there in the crowd cheering for me and I cried out in joy!!!! The only two things that could have made it better would have been if my family would have actually been there to see it...and if I had a finish line photo of myself!! I don't know why MarthonFoto didn't get a picture of me, but I'm going to say it was because I ended the race at a 6:00 pace in the middle of walkers, and runners moving at double that pace. I was going so lightning fast they couldn't catch it on film!! (can you hear the laughter in my voice??).
This post is already long enough, and the only one still reading is...well, probably just me--I don't think even my mother will still be reading!! ...so I'll give the after-the-finish-line recap in the next post!!!
Thanks for allowing me to be more than just a bit indulgent by giving the minute-by-minute recap. There were so many thoughts, sights and sounds there's no way to capture it all in a blog post, but hopefully this will allow me to re-live the moment later on down the line. ((At some point I'll add pictures.))
Thanks for stopping in, come again soon!