Sunday, June 21, 2009

Grandma's Marathon 2009

The good news is that I’m writing this tonight and not last night so the story will be much more positive! The bad news is that is doesn't change the outcome. Oh wait, I'm being positive. OK here goes...

The Facts

- This was my 11th road marathon. I ran my first 5 years ago. 5 years prior to that running was something other people did.
- My finish time of 3:17:35 was good enough for 33rd female. And my name in the paper. Yes, as sad as it is, these things are important to me.
- It was my second best time. Just under 1 minute slower than my best on the same course in similar conditions in 2007.
- It was over 5 minutes slower than my goal.
- It was the first race in about three years in which I didn’t achieve or exceed my goal. It takes a bit of getting used to.
- I ran the first half in exactly the time I planned to.

The Negatives

- I ran the second half almost 6 minutes slower than I planned to.
- I wasn’t conditioned enough for the heat and humidity.
- I didn’t really have a back-up plan.
- I didn’t smile nearly enough (sorry Susan... I tried, sort of...)
- For the first time in a long time I started thinking negative long before halfway and never really snapped out of it.

The Positives (This list was much shorter yesterday)

- I can run marathons. Reasonably fast.
- I’m conditioned enough so that I can get up the next morning and run a few easy miles and feel good. The post-race soak in Lake Superior definitely helped with this.
Newskin: it does exactly what it says on the bottle. I gave myself 2 big blisters on my arches last week after stupidly running a few miles without socks. The skin came off completely on Friday morning. That night I put a layer of this stuff on – it was agony for about 10 seconds but once it dried in it was literally like a layer of new skin. A second layer in the morning and then a strip of sports tape around each foot. Zero pain for the race.
- The friends I’ve made doing this. Chatting to so many people I know before the race started and again last night is evidence of how much a part of my life the running community has become. It is about so much more than running and racing.
- Grandma’s remains my favorite marathon. The course is awesome and the supporters and volunteers are AMAZING. Sure the weather can suck but it's June in Minnesota so you can't be too surprised. Though June 19 and 21 were perfect running days...
- Oh and this is kind of mean but... I beat
Nic :)

The Race

The sun on my back felt hot, too hot, as I stretched and ran a few yards up and down the road across the start line at 7am yesterday morning. The records will show it was equally hot two years ago but possibly less humid. I wasn’t too worried though. I’ve run well in those conditions before. And I happened to have erased completely the memory of the horrid 18 miler I’d struggled through several weeks ago in the first truly humid conditions of the season. Instead I thought only of the half-marathon PR I’d run at the end of May (on a cool morning) and focused on my goal. 3:12. I could do it. I knew I could.

I chatted with Adam, Nic, Kurt and others at the start of the race. Looked for John but didn't spot him. The guys were all lining up with the 3 hour pace group. I, on the other hand, was a little stranded. I’d planned to start out with the 3:15 pace group. Except it didn’t exist. A detail I failed to note when picking up a pace band at the Expo. So I started out just behind the 3:10 group knowing I wouldn’t try to keep with them.

The national anthem and the F-16 flyover. I am not a citizen yet and it will never be my national anthem but I have to say it’s a great one to start a race with. And the low flying jets never fail to make my heart skip a beat.

And we were off.

I was wearing my Suunto, having gone back to it after losing my Garmin, and soon realized that despite calibrating it on the track last week it was way off. So the pace I was seeing was about 20 seconds faster than I was actually running… it didn’t matter that much once I knew and I can’t blame it for putting me off my pace. No, that was all me. Still, I was thrilled to find that Paula was willing to sell me her new 405 that she got a great deal on but decided she didn’t need… so I’ll be back to that next week.

The first few miles felt good. The 3:10 pace group was moving a little farther away each mile as I kept a steady enough pace 7:25, 7:25, 7:24, 7:32, 7:27 for the first 5. I was feeling strong, well hydrated and happy to be a part of this great tradition. I didn’t talk to anyone and unlike previous years I didn’t really listen to other’s conversations. In fact I can’t really remember what I thought about in the early miles. Except that it felt like the time was flying by. I was really surprised by how quickly the yellow balloons in the sky kept appearing. I took this to be an extremely positive sign.

I’d taken a power gel about 20 minutes before race start and another at 5 miles. I had 4 remaining, planned for every 5 miles until 20 and then another one around mile 23. Along with the gel I was taking 3 S-caps. I recall mile 7 being an absolute joy – I have no idea why but I was full of beans – I think there was possibly a light breeze from the lake along here and I suppose I was still feeling strong and energetic at that stage. And the 7:22 felt easy. How quickly it can all change. Mile 8 was a little slow at 7:39 but still I wasn’t too worried. Though I was starting to feel hot. Somewhere along here a girl, with the body of an elite, was passed out on the grass with several people tending to her. The medics hadn’t yet arrived but she was in the recovery position and not looking so good. I never did hear who she was but I guess she ended up being okay or we would have heard about it.

I was running mostly on the left side of the road, grabbing shade where I could, though there wasn’t much of it so I cut corners where it made sense. The crowd was pretty spread out by mile 10 and I was pretty much in my own world. I was still feeling good enough and completely confident that I could turn it on in the final 6 miles. I just needed to get there in decent condition. But somewhere in my mind I knew I wasn’t going about it the right way. In 2007 my fastest mile was 23 in 6:36; yesterday my fastest miles were 10 in 7:09 and 13 in 6:50 - a dash to the 10 mile and halfway mats? Classy move for a 'veteran'. Especially when mile 14 took me 7:51.

I guess it around this point that I started to question how prepared I really was for a 3:12 race. Or a 3:15 race for that matter. Lots of recalculating kept my mind occupied as the miles seemed to pass slower and the water stops were not coming quickly enough. I was drinking 2 cups of water at each station and taking a cup of ice with me. Miles 15-16-17 were OK. Not great but OK. I saw Wayne along here. That was cool. It’s always uplifting to hear someone call your name!

And there was still a chance of the goal and a good chance of 3:15. And then mile 18. In 2007 this was like the best mile of the race. It was where I started to drop my pace, knowing I was going to have an awesome day. Yesterday, it was the first time in a long time that my watch registered over 8 minutes in a road race. I had to stop a few times with stomach cramp. It came on all of a sudden. Looking back it was pretty much exactly what happened that humid day in May on my crappy 18 miler. I guess more conditioning is the answer. I don’t think it was fluid or nutrition related. It seemed to go away again and mile 19 was OK. Back to 7:25 pace. Mile 20 wasn’t so hot. I saw the port-a-potty and went for it – I did need it but really it was as much for the rest as anything. 8:27. Ouch. Across the 20 mile mat in 2:30:01. I had given up looking at the 3:15 pace band by this point. The 3:10 pace band (yes, I actually had the nerve to wear one of them) was hidden beneath it at around mile 10 and didn’t make a reappearance.

Finally we were heading towards town. And somewhere in my mind I still thought I could pick it up. I actually felt like I was running much faster than I was. Well, I probably was doing 7:10’s or thereabouts but I had to stop at least once a mile with the pain in my side so that my splits were 7:44, 7:39, 7:43. No sub-45 minute final 10k today. But possibly I could still PR. Lemon Drop came and went without much fuss. John was about half way up though I was almost gone by before I saw him as my eyes were firmly fixed on the ground at this stage. And somewhere along here I came across Nic and Kurt. The conditions scuppering their plans also.

I was looking forward to the next mile and nice downhill. This was my fastest mile in 2007. I remember it well as Susan had joined me for a few hundred yards and I was completely ecstatic. How different yesterday’s experience was! Mile 24 was a little better in 7:34 – no doubt helped by the cheers of Shelley (who'd ran well in the half earlier), Paula and the guys along Superior Street. But I quickly leaned that speeding up brought back the side cramps. I had to stop and walk a bit so that mile 25 was a miserable 7:59. Around the corner, over the concrete bridge and I tried to do what I could. The crowds along here are wonderful and it definitely helped me to keep going. I knew that Tanya was likely spectating somewhere along here. It is a winding mile though and I longed to just be able to see the finish. 7:34. And finally, the home straight.

I apologize if the race report thus far has been less than inspirational but if I can give one piece of racing advice it is this: no matter how awful you’re feeling, no matter how lousy the day has been, there is always juice left in your legs and more importantly in your heart, for a sprint to the line. Sure, it might not actually fit the definition of a sprint, but giving it everything you have for the final few hundred yards, with people cheering you to the finish, has the wonderful effect of making you feel like an Olympic champion. And that feeling, even for a few short seconds, is hard to beat.

Did I reach my goal? No, not the 3:12 one. But the “feeling completely spent at the finish line” one? You betcha.

Congrats to all who participated in this event. It was a rough one but I guess we have to take the bad with the good. Though it wasn't bad for everyone...
John's sub-3 was phenomenal - he was ready for it but still to be able to pull it off on the day that is was deserves huge credit.

Photos courtesy of Tanya...

No match for Newskin.

The Olympic Finish.

The first smile in several hours.


A well deserved post race beer. In the shade.


nwgdc said...

Great report (well, except for the "I beat Nic" part)!
You ran STRONG. Almost, dare I say, angry as you passed me. That's an amazing time for that day--you continue to impress.

I see there isn't anything on the schedule for October...Glacial Trail?

SteveQ said...

I did the congrats bit last post, so I have to comment on something else. The US national anthem is definitely an odd one, from the bombs and rockets to the fact that it requires about a 3-octave range to sing well (and I'm in the Leonard Cohen/Lou Reed/Tom Waits range). The Marseillaise (sp?) makes me cry, though - and it's lyrics aren't much better.

JojaJogger said...

Thanks for the great race report and congrats on the awesome race, it was a tough day out there. As way of introduction, I'm fast John's sister and have been lurking your blog for awhile now.

Pam said...

Ok - here's the deal. You're MORE than a REASONABLY fast marathoner. You're a DAMN FAST lady. And like you, have had the race where the PR just won't come. You ran with your heart at the end, and that's awesome. You'll probably never know if it was nurition, hydration, conditions - but what I do know is that we are going to kick serious ass together in VEGAS!! I'm still proud of, fast lady.

Get Primal said...

Nice work Saturday, sweet revenge on your WI nemesis! I've always said that a MN woman is tougher than a WI man, guess I was right!

Mark H. said...

Great race report, Helen. Excellent job handling the heat.

Re: S-Caps... did you take 3 each time you took a Gel?

Helen said...

Yep - 3 S-Caps with each of the first 4 gels - miles 5/10/15/20 - I am pretty sure I didn't take any with the last gel. I think they helped me - no cramping other than the stomach and I would put that down mostly to just not being conditioned enough for the heat and humidity. If only we'd have a few days like today back in April and May :)

Londell said...

The report was not to long... I am amazed how people recall so many details as often the entire race is just a blur to me... Losing the Garmin is a great reason to buy the new 310? I still have all three of mine. I need to lose a couple before taking the plunge.

Great job of writing so I felt the pains with you. I say the heat was the cause for many and you did great under the conditions. Looking forward to Afton which usually makes Grandma's heat seam cool?

nwgdc said...

That's it. If MN is going to claim their Irish import as their own, I'm finding my own Kenyan.

RichardC said...

Great job!

the post race dip in superior and beer were well earned!

Wayne said...

Nice job out there, Helen. Gotta like that you had enough in you (physically and mentally) for the Olympic finish!

Chad said...

Helen, nice job on a tough day. Recover well.

Beth said...

Great race report. You ran a smart race in tough conditions. You are an amazing athlete who runs with her head and her heart. I love the picture of you in the lake. Can't wait to hear about your next adventure!

johnmaas said...

Great race report, Helen!
So sorry we didn't get to meet before or after the race. I think I was lined up too far up front, because I never did find the 3:10 pace group.
After the race, I went back out on the course to find Schmoopie (Mary) and then later my sister Joja Jogger. We went to Fitger's for burgers and beer afterward as the entertainment tent area was just too loud.
Sorry to hear the race didn't go as well as planned, but you really did run well considering the conditions.
See you at Afton!

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