Saturday, December 10, 2011

Rocket City Marathon-The Long Version

I posted the "nutshell" version already... This will be the "Dana" version...much wordier and probably slightly incoherent at times!  (For those who "scan", I've made it easy by highlighting the key points!)

I had a plan, but after a long discussion with  Daisy (my dear friend and running partner), I decided to scrap the plan, line up with with 4:10 pacing group and hang on.  Daisy knows me very well; she said she felt like I might fall into any number of pitfalls if I tried to start with the 4:25 group and speed up.  ((I might get to talking to someone and not want to leave them.  I might speed up too fast and then burn out.  I might end up running completely ALONE, especially on the worst stretch of the race (5 miles of straight open road).  It was supposed to be windy which would make running alone even harder.  My rationale for wanting to start off slower was to get warmed up and not start out too fast, but she felt like I'd be holding myself back to even run at a 9:30ish pace considering race day adrenaline.))  So Friday I went to what amounted to plan C (run with the 4:10 group the whole time, and speed up the last mile or so if I felt like I had it in me).

PRE-PRE Race (hey...told you it was the Dana version...)

From the paper!
I was blessed to have had an article in the paper the day before the race about me and one of my training buddies being first time marathoners.  The reporter interviewed us and we had a super-fun "photo shoot". 

Instead of letting the "celebrity status" go to my head (ha), I worked packet pickup all afternoon...and (as usual) loved it.  It was great to see so many people I knew (volunteers and runners), and talk to so many people who were running their first marathon (one who was from Hawaii!!).  While I was there, a friend of mine decided if I was going to run with the 4:10 group then she would too.  I'm going to have to devote a whole post just about her, but for now I'm going to call her Iron Angel.  She is a two-time IronMan and multi-time marathon finisher...and is truly amazing in more ways than I can count.  She is one of these "I-haven't-really-trained" people who can go out and run 26.2 miles just because it's fun.  She's beautiful, inside and out.  It was such a blessing to have the opportunity to run with her.

I had already laid all my clothes out and had my water bottle and Gus ready so there wasn't anything for me to "do" the night before, so my sweet husband took me to a get-your-mind-off-the-race movie, "Hugo".  It was fantastic, despite the fact there was a gang of 10 year old girls playing/talking VERY LOUDLY in the top row (who were told by another lady and by me to STOP twice before the night was over).  When I got home all I had to do was put my number on my race belt, double check my gear and alarm and post some comments on FaceBook.  Thankfully I fell right to sleep, and although I woke up several times, it seemed like I slept well enough.

PRE Race

As soon as I got to the race, I remembered I had forgotten to get my husband to take my goofy pre-race picture.  I've only ever not done this one time.  Thankfully as soon as I parked I saw a friend who could snap the picture for me.  (Yes, it's truly goofy, and I'll probably do it forever!)
Final hugs before the start of the race!!

The 26.2 Training Group
I love the energy of a race day!  My training group met up early for some pictures and last minute encouragement.  After a lot of hugging and smiling, and trips to the bathroom, everyone started heading out into the cold to get lined up.  I quickly found the 4:10 group and Iron Angel.

And...They're Off...

I never heard any announcements or even the National Anthem but I sure did hear the signal to start the race (even if I can't remember what it was at the moment!).  I knew it was going to be congested and that it would take a little while to get to the start line (about 30ish seconds)...the thing I didn't account for was all the body heat!!

The temperature was about 32 at 8am, and was supposed to get up to about 40 by noon...but the winds were supposed to be between 10-13 miles per hour.  The sun had not yet come out, but was calling for a clear day.  At the start I was wearing CWX tights, a short sleeved top, arm warmers, a running vest, a throw away long sleeved running top, 2 pairs of running gloves, and a head sweats beanie.  I actually thought I would start out a little chilly.  WRONG.  I was hot.  With all the bodies packed around me for the first mile or so there was virtually no wind hitting me.  Not to mention I think adrenaline creates more body heat.  Put 1200 people together, you're going to be warm.  I shed a layer pretty quickly.

It felt surreal, like I was in a dream.  Iron Angel and I were chatting it up, along with another couple of gals who were also running with the 4:10 group.  The course wraps around downtown and, at mile two, comes back pretty much to the start.  I'm embarrassed to admit it, but I can't tell you the number of times in that first two miles I actually considered quitting.  My mind was swimming in discouragement and we hadn't even gone TWO MILES.  Thankfully I realized how upset I would be if I DNF'd (DNF is a term used in results for a race:  Did Not Finish), especially for something as silly as race jitters.

Even though we were running with the pace group, I was still keeping an eye on splits.  I had my watch set to show me the current pace (I don't pay close attention to that because it can be wildly wrong sometimes), current average lap pace, current lap (set to "auto lap" each mile, something else I might change "next time"), and overall average pace.  I'll go more into data in a later post for anyone who cares.  I pretty much only looked at my watch when it would beep at me to signal the end of a mile.  For the first maybe 13 miles or so Iron Angel and I were within about 20 feet of the 4:10 pacer...but our splits were faster than the 9:30 pace so I wasn't worried about being right on top of him.

The pace group slowed/walked through aid stations, but I didn't do that until much later. (I thought I'd be able to tell by looking at my Garmin data when I walked; it looks like I didn't at all until about mile 19, but I don't know if that's right or not?); I was worried if I started walking I might not want to start running again!!; Since I was carrying my small water bottle, I just unscrewed the cap as we got close to an aid station, grabbed a cup as I ran by a volunteer and refilled as I continued forward.

I had planned out my hydration and fuel.  I decided to begin with water in the bottle so I could take a Gu before the start (since I don't eat ahead of time).  I wanted to make sure I was getting electrolytes so I carried Nuun tablets which I planned to use with every other water bottle fill up.  However, it's important to take Gu with water (not Nuun).  Consequently, I had to time my fluid consumption around Gu so I didn't end up with a bottle full of the wrong thing when it was time to suck down a gel.

I wasn't hot and didn't feel like I was sweating (although my clothes proved otherwise) so I really didn't feel thirsty...and I did NOT want to take a Gu when I planned to (every 45-60 minutes).  However, experience told me if I waited until I wanted it, it would be too late.  ((You can not chase hydration and/or fuel, you have to stay ahead of it which can be difficult.))  I'm not 100% sure I took Gus when I was supposed to, but as best as I can remember, I did force them down pretty much on schedule.  I had a harder time drinking that I expected to.  I only used 2 Nuun tablets (I probably should have used at least one more).  I am VERY glad I had planned that all out ahead of time because I know I could NOT have thought about it at the time--there were way too many things going on around me--even if I didn't execute EXACTLY as planned, it was fairly close.  ((This is certainly an area I want to devote some research to and experiment with in the future.))

I've only ever run two 10Ks, both on the same (somewhat difficult) course (in 2010 and 2011).  I was overjoyed to reach the 10K point in PR time!  I was feeling on top of the world; running felt effortless.  Iron Angel and I chatted and laughed the miles away.  At the half-way point, we were right on target for a 4:10 finish, if we maintained the pace.  On the long straight (read: BORING) stretch of Bailey Cove, we were talking about the fact the wind was supposedly at our backs but we didn't feel it at all.  I was slightly worried because my husband (who is always right) has told me you won't feel the wind at your back, your running will just feel very easy.  (Back up to where I just said how effortless it was feeling....)

When we made the turn onto Chaney hit us.  The wind was every bit of 10-15 miles per hour as predicted.  Without changing any measure of perceived effort, we (I) started falling behind the pace group.  At some point Iron Angel and I discussed how we needed to catch up to the group just to have a wind block.  But I didn't really want to push to catch up when I didn't know how expending that effort might effect me in the end.  I decided to stop worrying about my time and just simply run by feel.  I wanted to enjoy the experience and at that moment I believed I would be happiest if I finished feeling good even if my time wasn't as fast as it could be if I pushed. 

Iron Angel told me not to let her hold me back.  HA!!  As if.  It was actually the other way around, but I was too selfish to tell her not to let me hold her back!!  (I did eventually, but it wasn't until like mile 21!)  I didn't notice other runners around me as much as I usually do in races (who I'm passing, who's passing me), but IA told me we were passing tons of people (a lot of people were walking).  I know it shouldn't matter, but it did make me feel better.  ((I do know a lot of people passed us toward the end because every time I noticed I made sure to tell them "GOOD JOB" or "WAY TO GO"!!  I was so happy for them to have that kind of energy left at the end.))

As we passed mile 20, I realized I would quickly be in all new territory distance-wise as 20 POINT TWO TWO was my longest run up to that time.  (Yes, the .22 matters, that's almost a quarter of a mile!!)  I started nervously anticipating the "wall" everyone talks about.  What was it going to feel like?  Would I cramp up?  Would I just start walking like I had in the past, feeling like I just couldn't MAKE myself run?  People had told me how everything hurt, as if you literally hit a wall...but would it happen all of the sudden?  I did feel tired, and I was completely unmotivated to attempt speeding up (why hit that wall sooner rather than later?).

All of the sudden I felt a SNAP on the outside of my left knee.  It almost caused me to fall down and did cause me to stop immediately!  IA looked at me in horror and asked what happened.  It felt like my IT band broke.  I've never had anything like that happen before and was momentarily paralyzed with fear to try to move.  She encouraged me to walk, and miraculously it didn't hurt.  After a few steps we started running again....and it didn't hurt.  ((I still have no idea what that was, but I hope that never happens again!  It was a little tender at times after the race, but it really is completely fine.))

Thankfully it was about this time my sweet husband and daughter made another cheering appearance!!  Seeing them is like a shot of pure energy!!  I felt so bad for them because they were standing in the cold least I was running to keep warm!

As we neared the tunnel, IA said how funny it was to think we were JUST THERE a short time ago.  The time had flown by, and here I was feeling like a completely changed person.  When I went through earlier I was still wondering if I was going to be able to pull this thing off...and just a short time later, I was really getting it done!

But... what about that wall??  Many people had said it would happen at mile 23.  As we entered the paring lot of Holy Spirit Church I took hamstrings were tight and I was actually thirsty, eagerly anticipating the aid station so I could walk and stretch just a tad (there was no water there and it would be almost a mile before we'd get any--I was glad I had been hydrating all along because I was able to convince myself this was a feeling of thirst not a reality of a need).   But, overall, I felt FANTASTIC...way better than I usually did during long runs!

As I crossed Airport Road, I felt like I had somehow circumnavigated "the wall".  I looked over at IA and and said, "HOLY STINK!!!  I'M REALLY DOING THIS!!"  Right or wrong, I had this overwhelming sense I would NOT hit the bricks.  I had no doubts at all I would finish feeling great.  We finally made it to the FCA aid station (mile 23.8ish).  I not only had my physical thirst quenched, I got a HUGE spiritual fill up as well (complete with hugs and fist bumps from my FCA teammates).  I took a second, or five, to stretch out my hammies...and then plowed ahead.  Knowing my friend's house was right around the corner, and hoping to see my family again, I looked at IA and said, "I'm going to do everything I can to speed up from here on out."  She told me to charge on.

When we got to my friend's house (about mile 24.5) I was OVERJOYED to see my sweet family!!  They were cheering like crazy people!!  Just after that, one of the marathon coaches ran up beside me and asked if I wanted her to run with me to the finish.  I told her yes, and we sped up even more.  I could feel the change in effort and worried for half a second it might kill me...but I knew I didn't want to finish running this marathon feeling like I could run another couple of miles so I tried as hard as I could to stay focused on leg turn over and making my arms pump.  I even considered tossing my water bottle.  "Coach" did a GREAT job of helping me focus on short milestones and giving me clear goals ("mile 25 is right there, the right around the corner you'll see the 'one mile to go' sign").  She told me I was going to beat her first marathon time (SHOCKER since she is a phenomenal runner for whom I have a ridiculous amount of respect).  She told me there would be slight incline and then it would be all downhill until just before the finish.

This is the last .2...finish line is just ahead!
As we got closer she told me to focus on pushing it in, and keep my eyes on the finish line.  I told her I was going to cry...and she laughed.  There was a girl who was running with us who had jumped up ahead of me.  I decided I wanted to "beat" her so I pushed as hard as my body would allow me to push all the way to the finish (one second behind her).

I knew they were announcing names at the finish line.  It's always comical to me to hear what race MCs do with my name.  I heard him say, "Dana............" and I yelled out, "DEBARDELABEN"!!!  Just as I crossed the mat!!  (I'm sure that's a horrible finish line photo, but it sure was funny.)  Just on the other side was my good friend waiting with the space blanket and my medal.  The poor man didn't know what he was getting himself into...I plowed into him with a sweaty/smelly hug.  I think I was in a state of shock.  All I could do was smile!!  Another friend, who was managing the line, came up and hugged me as he gently led me out of the way.  I got my medal and hat and another volunteer came up with water (which tasted like nectar from the Gods!!).  I started getting slightly worried because I didn't see IA coming in.  I didn't think I had put that much time on her...and then there she was (only about a minute behind---she told me later she had become VERY parched and stopped to drink a couple of full cups of water at the last aid station).


We walked into the hotel and were directed to food and free massage.  She went for the former (since she had not taken in even one calorie the WHOLE ENTIRE RACE!!!---okay, how is that possible???)...I went for the massage since my hamstrings felt like they were shriveling up in my legs!  I can say I will "ALWAYS" avail myself of that service from now on...I believe with all my heart that is a big reason I didn't feel as sore as I expected I would.

I debated whether or not to stick around for the awards...and decided to go ahead and do it.  I was completely amazed by the finish times!  Later I went out for a big hamburger (my first one in about 2 years!) tasted pretty good, but was not really worth the stomach upset that followed.
Of course I took a picture!

I completely expected to be stiff and sore the next day, but I actually felt really good.  (I did wear my calf compression sleeves all night, all day Sunday and all Sunday night.  I think I took them off Monday after noon!)  I went out Monday for a little 2 mile trail run, and had to FORCE myself to stop, it felt GREAT.

I still can't believe it's over.  Thanks for stopping in...sorry for the novella, but I want to remember it all!!  :D

Come again's almost time for the year end recap and 2012 goal setting!!


  1. Great race report! I'm so happy for you!

  2. Way to go Dana! Very proud of you!

  3. as usual nice recap... I did GUs last year.. Powerbar energy gels this year. They are a lot easier to get down then GUs. Good job and now your 1st marathon is done.


Don't hold back, tell it like it is....