Tuesday, August 19, 2014

That time I raced as unicorn and had a really terrible race

Well, I just raced my worst marathon. Was it my slowest? Nope. Did it feel like the worst? You betcha!

To back up, I raced the Dirty German 50 miler  and had a blast. I then got tendonitis in my left foot from racing the longest ever for me in fairly minimalist trail shoes during said 50 miler. I took some time off from running, focused on recumbent biking and rowing (my new love, but that's another post), and listened to my body. I eased back into running and built up my endurance to get in a few weeks at 50 miles per week. I pretty much avoided speed work since I wanted to make sure I didn't push my foot too hard.

When it came to picking a race goal, I initially signed up for the Chasing the Unicorn Marathon to PR and increase my chances of getting into the Boston Marathon (I BQed at the Richmond Marathon last year). When I got injured, I immediately told myself that a PR was out of the question and I should just train to 1) not be injured and 2) have fun! As I got closer to the race, though, my competitive streak and hopes kicked in. I kept having other running friends around me tell me that I could totally do it (and I do appreciate their confidence in me). I did a loop at in24 (8.4 miles) at just under goal marathon pace and while it wasn't easy, it felt doable. So I decided to go for the PR and if I fell apart, so be it.

This was my first stand-alone marathon that I was going to by myself. I got up early, drove myself to the race (of course with a panicked need to find a bathroom on the way because that ALWAYS happens before a race for some reason), got ready at the start (which meant securing my unicorn tail, ears, and horn), and got nervous! I said hello to local (and world) running legend, Keith Straw, who was finishing his 300th marathon that day (he went on to race a 3:14 and go back out to tack on more miles. If he wasn't so darn nice, I'd want to smack him).

How I felt pre-race
Soon enough, the race started and in the third wave, I started about 1 minute after the first starters. The course was a double out and back course, all along the Delaware River in Washington Crossing Historic Park. We started out on some pavement, but quickly got onto the towpath, which was made up of crushed gravel, dirt, and some grass (depending on where you were running). It was nearly all flat, with a few small dips under some bridges.

To PR, I wanted to run an 8:08 min/mile average pace. I started out going a bit fast, but couldn't get my pacing totally right. I was either running too fast or too slow, so I opted for the too fast (dumb mistake...as if this was my first marathon!). By the turnaround 1/4 into the race, I was averaging about 8 minutes flat per mile. I wasn't feeling 100%, but I felt strong. I did notice that when I would take a sip of water at the aid stations, my stomach felt a bit...pukey for a minute or two. Not ideal, but not the worst I've had.

The race for mid-August was cool and cloudy. It rained for the first 7-8 miles and it felt really nice. Once the rain stopped, though, the humidity really reared and while it was still cool for August, it felt warm. Around that time is when all hell broke loose.
Only photo of me in my full running attire and it's blurry. 

All of a sudden, around the 8 mile mark, I kept looking down at my GPS watch and noticing that for the same effort, I was running a lot slower than I had been. When someone would pass me, I'd try to tack on to their pace and I just couldn't hold it. I felt like someone had just zapped all of my energy. I started to freak out because hello, it's mile 8 in a 26.2 mile race. I told myself that I must have gone out too fast, to just try to keep a good pace, and don't freak out.

By the time I got to the start/halfway point/finish line area, I was wiped. I couldn't believe that I was only halfway done and wondered what in the heck was wrong with me. I was beyond tempted to just call it a day there, but I knew I signed up for a marathon and by golly, I didn't want to tell people that I quit since my day wasn't great. A much slower time than anticipated would be easier to tell people and deal with than quitting.

At the halfway point, I was only a minute or two slower than my goal half marathon time and I told myself if I was able to maintain a decent pace, I should be able to at least go sub-3:45 without much trouble. Oh, simple and small racing brain....that's not how things go!

The miles kept slowly ticking away, but they were getting slower and slower. At this point, my hamstrings started to get tight, but other than that, I felt physically fine; I just didn't have the energy to push the pace at all! The double out and back got demoralizing on the second half since I saw how many people were heading to the finish while I was still adding on a lot of miles.

Fake (a smile) until you make it. 

At the last turnaround, I really felt like it was going to take every ounce of strength to keep running. I took my last Huma Chia Gel (not sponsored, but love them so much, it wouldn't hurt it if they did! :D) and just told myself the only way to get the finish line was running. I pushed and pushed, even when that meant a 10:30 minute mile felt like pushing. All of these people kept passing me and I felt embarrassed. Sure, they could have cared less, but I was embarrassed that everything had gone so poorly and I didn't even have any idea why.

I kept doing the math and realized that a sub-4 hour marathon was in the realm of possibility, but it would be haaaaard. When I felt fast, I was running a sub-10 minute mile, which is what I'd consider a jogging pace; I seriously felt like I was in the tail-end of a longer ultra.

In the end, my GPS watch clocked me crossing the 26.2 mile mark at 3:59:57, but I ended up having another .25 mile distance until the finish line. I couldn't even try to have a semblance of a sprint at the end, but I was so damn happy that this tortuous race was finally over. My final chip time was 4:02:39, which would be my 9th fastest stand-alone marathon of my 11.
How I actually felt post-race. 
I immediately hobbled to get my bag, sat under a tree, called my fiancé and mom to tell them about the race, changed into my compression socks, grabbed a bit of mac and cheese from the post-race goodies, then slowly walked back to my car. The 45 minute drive back felt long since all that I could do was think about the race and how it felt like a nightmare that I had just woken up from. In the grand scheme of the world, it is one of the biggest first world problems to have, but it still stung since it was fresh.

I came home, showered, ate some Chinese food with John, then ended up meeting the November Project (a group that I've been working out with the last few months) for a running event they were doing. I ended up running 4.25 miles with them and while sore and chafed in spots, I felt pretty good. I was actually angry since I felt better during those miles than the whole second half of my marathon a few hours earlier. Ah, life.

The one shining thing from the race was my unicorn costume! This was my 8th consecutive race in a new costume and with the name, Chasing the Unicorn (named that as it's designed for qualifying for Boston, which has a unicorn logo), I had to be a unicorn. My costume got so many shouts and smiles on the course that at least the race wasn't a total loss.
This is also blurry, but I had a blast with my November Project
friends as we ran in costume! 2 costumes in a day! :D 
Overall, I am ready to put this race behind me and move onto focusing on my JFK 50 Miler/Philly Marathon double weekend. I do want to say that the race was well-run, the swag was super awesome, and the volunteers were really great. Wish my day had been a better one, but it's definitely a race I'd recommend if you don't mind flat, double out and backs, and are looking for a smaller race!


  1. Even if it wasn't your best in your mind, you still killed it! Proud of you for toughing it out.

  2. Geez, kid! I could almost run a marathon that fast!
    Signed, Ol' fart in Syracuse (hoping your next one is better).

    1. Haha, thanks, Pat! Hope that you've been well after your crazy awesome race in TN! :D

  3. Well, you can't really get a PR without taking some risks. At least it was a killer costume!

    I miss seeing Keith and his pink tutu at races, now that I'm in Colorado. It doesn't sound like age is catching up to him at all.