Sunday, September 27, 2015

I Beat the Blerch...Barely

Well, yesterday's marathon didn't go as planned, but I got my way to the finish line, albeit, beaten up and demoralized.

My running friend Kelly reached out to me when the Beat the Blerch Marathon was announced a bunch of months ago. It was 20 minutes from her house and she asked if I'd like to join. A race organized by a cartoonist that I love? And I got to run it with a friend? Oh yeah, I was in. It also fell on the weekend the Pope was coming to Philly, so I got to scoot out of the city before he came (and later, figure my way back into the city with Pope Francis here).

My work was closed Friday before the Pope came, so I was able to get up, pack my bags, relax, and hit the road mid-day. I made my way to Kelly's area, grabbed lunch, then waited to meet her at her place after she got out of work. We met up, drove to pick up our bibs, then got dinner. It was great to catch up with Kelly, then we went back to her place and hit the hay.
90s kid nostalgia. My costume was a player from "Legends of
the Hidden Temple."
The race was only about a 20 minute drive from her place, so we were able to "sleep in" until about 5:30 AM before the 8 AM race start. We didn't have any parking issues (others weren't so lucky), so we got there pretty early. We were able to get to the bathroom with zero line, snap pictures on the couches before the race, and relax in her car before heading to the start. I got to see a bunch of other running friends before we started and at 8:10 AM, we were off!
Kelly and me on one of the many couches before we started the race
The trails were really beautiful. The first few miles had a decent amount of easy trail and hillier roads, then we got into the tougher, more technical trails. I have been lucky enough to run a decent amount of trails (for a road runner) the last few months, so I felt okay the first 6ish miles in. I knew that lots of people signed up for this race without even reading that it was a trail race and I worried for those runners/walkers.

After the 6ish mile mark (by the first mile, we all saw that our watches were short and the race continued to be short, clocking in at 24.4 miles total for me), I started to struggle on the uphills. I noticed that I couldn't catch my breath going up and it was like my lungs couldn't open up fully. I've never had breathing issues, so this was odd. We also went nearly 4 miles without water, which would normally be fine, but I was clearly also dehydrated and the first half of the 2 loop course had so many water stops along it.

Kelly was super understanding and I felt okay when we got through the first lap. I felt happy that the first loop went by quickly and felt like I could do well through the second lap. Alas, my breathing was not cooperating with me and I had to walk up nearly all of the uphills and boy, there were a lot.

With about 8 (of the 24.4 miles) to go, I told Kelly to leave me. Neither of us was racing this and she raced the Air Force Marathon the weekend before, but I felt horrible to be keeping her back. It was just truly not my day, but she wouldn't let me go. She happily walked with me whenever I needed it, let me keep the pace when we ran, and was super understanding. She even offered to hold my bike helmet (part of my costume) and said if dropping was better for me, she'd be fine with that, too. I feel bad that I'm so stubborn because I sure as hell was getting to that finish line and she had to stick with me! Glad that I wasn't alone and that Kelly was so supportive!
We enjoyed some couch time with a Blerch!
In the second half of the last lap, we passed lots of half marathoners who were walking. A lot of them did not look like they were regular exercisers and a lot of them commented about how hard the course was. A lot of them said, "There was barely any road in this race!" I've gotten so used to being around distance runners and many who run trails regularly. I was bummed to hear their frustration because the race was clearly labeled as a trail race and one that was technical at that. We saw runners with twisted ankles and knees, cuts and bruises, etc., which made me worried about the racers. Seeing the Facebook page after the race, lots of racers complained about things that are so common in trail races, but they lacked the experience to know what they were getting themselves into.

I did fall with about a mile to go (I was surprised that it took that long), but thankfully I didn't cut myself and while my one calf seized, it loosened up nearly immediately. I hobbled to the finish, with Kelly being so supportive and nice. A lady we kept leapfrogging during the course, Kat, finished a bit a head of us, but found us with about .25 miles left and ran us into the finish line. Meeting people like her make racing like this so worth it. We were able to support each other throughout the race and could finish it smiling and cheering each other on.
It was brutal, but I finished and got my dang medal!
We finished in 5:18 and change, which was nearly an hour positive split for the second half. I needed a good marathon race under my belt, even if I wasn't actually racing it, but that will come another time. I got to explore some beautiful trails, spend hours running with a friend I don't get to see in person a lot, and I was was able to push through to get marathon #16 in the books. I even felt well enough to run 10 road miles with John and some friends less than 24 hours later (couldn't pass up running on the empty roads here in Philly). On to the next one!

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Fighting the Fear

Fear is a funny thing, isn't it? Ever since I DNFed the C&O Canal 100 miler 2 years ago, I've been plagued with this little voice. The voice tells me that while I have completed a 100 miler before, the DNF makes that finish feel less valid. The little voice is pretty jerky, right?!

I've been looking for 100 milers that make sense in my running schedule and get me excited. Nothing has fit yet, but I might have found my race. My dad, who currently lives in Honolulu, will be moving much closer this fall when he moves to Tampa, FL. It'll be great to have him closer and of course, after he told me that, I immediately searched for races. I quickly found the Long Haul 100 miler, which is about an hour away from my dad's new place. He's got an extra bedroom and a car, meaning I'd have free accommodation and a ride to and from the race.

I talked with John and while he wishes I had a different desire (even just sticking to marathons would make him happier), he supports me signing up. Once that happened, I started to panic. I was just waiting for John's ask for me not to sign up to be the stop from me doing it and giving me an out. Without that, so many questions popped up. Who would pace me (I don't know anyone down there)? What would I do without my mom at this race (she'd likely stay home)? What if I really can't do it and the first one was a fluke?

Well, it's hard to answer those all. In terms of pacers, I could probably find someone local (via social media channels and ultra email list servs) to pace me. I wouldn't mind running with someone I don't know since we could spend hours getting to know each other. As for my mom? Well, as much as I wish she could be at every race I ever do, that's not plausible. She knows me so well and knows how to crew me like none other, but she won't be able to do that always. I'll just have to ask John to fill her shoes in terms of crewing.

Then comes the biggest question: can I really do it? When I attempted my first, I said I would have crawled to the finish if it was required. I had, maybe, a younger innocence and determination. After my DNF, and a recent string of races not going according to plan, my confidence as a runner isn't what it used to be. After setting running goals and achieving them for years and years, then having the opposite happen recently, it's still hard to set a lofty goal and not be scared. Not that being scared is bad. Being scared shows that it matters and is a challenge.

Maybe Tina Fey has confidence in me?!
So now, I stand on this ledge. If I jump and sign up, maybe my parachute will open and I'll succeed in completing another 100. If things don't go so well, I'll be face planting into the ground. But if I don't even try, I won't go on any sort of adventure and what kind of life is that? Here's to hoping I have the courage (or the alcohol-fueld confidence) to actually sign up!

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Poconos Run for the Red Marathon Race Report

I was afraid this race report would happen. Was it a self-fulfilling prophecy? Was I just doomed from the start with 100% humidity? Who knows. In the end, I finished my 15th stand-alone marathon, albeit not in the way I would have liked.

After I fell apart during the RnR DC (for which the race report is still half written after Blogger ate the second half of it and I am too bleh to finish writing it), I immediately went on the hunt for another race to attempt at BQ. I eventually found the Poconos Run for the Red Marathon and signed up after hearing good things. I then had about 2 months to maintain my training and work hard.

The training went well, but I cannot say I did every workout. I ran most of them, but I didn't do as many speed work workouts as my coach prescribed and I didn't hit the gym as much. I started going at least once a week with some West Philly Runner friends and I have been steady in my November Project workouts (which incorporate hill running, stair running, and a variety of body weight workouts like burpees, squats, push-ups, and the like). I just had this nagging little voice in my head that felt like I hadn't put in the proper work to reach my goal.

A few days leading up to the race, people started talking about how humid it would be. I was religiously tracking the weather, per usual for a race, but all anyone could talk about was hot how it would be. I kept brushing it off like it wasn't a big deal, but I was starting to worry. I especially do not do well in heat and humidity as it just zaps me of energy. This happens to everyone, but I think my patience with it is just far lower.

Luckily, my costume (a deviled egg. Get it? It was a too hard for people to get, but I was happy to run my 13th consecutive marathon in a costume!) was good for the heat (white tank!) and I knew I couldn't do anything but deal with the heat. My mom snagged me in Philly later on Saturday, then we drove to Stroudsburg, PA. We ate a late and quick dinner, then we hit the hay.

The only positive to the 8 AM race start was that I could get in 7+ hours of sleep before the race. The downside? Walking around the starting line area was already sticky and hot! I was reminded, though, how much I appreciate smaller races. I was able to pick up my bib the morning of (for a fee, but still), I was able to hang out inside a high school before the start and use their restrooms. Two minutes before the gun went off, I had to pee yet again and I was able to scurry to the port-a-potties (with zero line!), use it, then be back before the gun went off. As much as I love bigger races like Philly and the Marine Corps Marathon, I love little perks of smaller races like that.

I said hello to some friends like Keith Straw, who was pacing the 3:50 runners. I told him that I better not see him along the course (*spoiler* I did). I got in my space between the 3:25 pacer and 3:35 pacer and got ready. After the national anthem was sung, the gun went off and so did we!

This course is a significant net downhill course, but I quickly learned that there are lots of small inclines and declines along the course. I found myself starting out too fast, so I had to calm down and not let the excitement get to me. I was staying around my goal pace, but was hovering a few seconds per mile below that. I knew that a slight buffer for the first half might be good since the hillier sections were later on, but I did my best to reign my excitement in.

The miles ticked away and I was waiting for the significant downhills because I wanted them. The roads became more scenic and boom, we hit the downhills. I really wish I had taken any photos along this part because man, it was beautiful. Running through the Poconos area allowed me to see some beautiful things!

I was a bit fast after hitting the major downhills, but I ended up pretty much right even at the halfway point. I passed it and while I normally feel great at the halfway point, I started to worry. The course was become less shaded by trees and this is where my mental demons started to really come out.

Just around mile 14 is when things fell apart. I kept feeling how much effort it took to keep the pace and I knew I couldn't hold on to it for the rest of the race, especially with the bigger uphills between miles 20ish-23ish. And so I pretty much gave up. I let my mental demons and the humidity take ahold of me and dictate my race, sadly.

Around mile 16, I took my first walk break. I was embarrassed because I never walk in marathons, but I was so done. I started to panic about how much was left in the race and how drained I felt. Thankfully, the race was remote, so I couldn't easily drop. I just keep chugging along. Nearly any uphill, I walked. I tried to push myself, but I really just couldn't. I was beyond demoralized and upset that I let a little hardship make me give up.

I can't remember the mileage, but a local friend, Mel, and the 3:35 pacer he was running with, caught up with me. I tried my darnedest to stick with them, but it felt too hard. Could I have kept up? Or was I just afraid of pain and hardship? I started to wonder why it was so hard for me to keep pushing when any little difficulty hit. When I PRed at the Richmond Marathon, I remember the last 10k being so hard and that I was holding on by a thread. How come I couldn't push through this time like I did then?

Eventually, we got to the 20 mile mark and I knew I had a long 10k left, but I had to keep going. I then got passed by a friend, Paul, pacing the 3:45 group. He said if he saw me on the course, he'd kick my ass and when he saw me, he gave it to me. It was a good push, but still demoralizing because I felt embarrassed by how much I had fallen apart.

While it was a small race, the support was really great, especially with the temperature and humidity. They had a water station about every 2 miles and in the later stops, they had ice. I'd stick it down my bra and allow it to cool me off slightly. I also, for the first time in forever, dumped water on my head at many aid stations. I hate being wet when I don't want to be (aka all of the time), but I knew the wetness was worth cooling my head down. The saving grace, too, was the aid station worker who had dunked towels in ice water and was wringing out the water over people's necks; I would have kissed him if I could have thought straight.

The miles slowly ticked away and I pretty much started the mourning process. I thought about all of the amazing supportive people in my life who believed in me and while obviously my race is a blip on their lives, I felt bad for even potentially letting them down. I mourned the fact that I most likely (unless something changes and I find a pre-September race) won't be racing in Boston in 2016 with so many friends. I thought about how instead of training for this race, I could have spent the time doing other workouts and focusing on trying to be in the best shape for my wedding. Then I let it all go. I realized I couldn't change a thing at the moment and I had to put it all behind me.

The last few miles, I just tried to smile as much as I could, I thanked everyone who was out there on the course, and tried to enjoy myself in any way possible. Soon enough, I was running on Stroudsburg's Main Street and nearing the high school for the track finish. I ran through the high school's parking lot and onto the track. Runners had to do 3/4 of a lap and finish on the track. I got to see lots of spectators cheering in the stands and I was finally finishing. I saw my mom with about 100 meters to go and was happy to see her face.

I ended up finishing in 3:55:25. Was it my slowest effort? Nope. Was it my biggest blow-up? Nope, I can give that to the Chasing the Unicorn Marathon. Was it the hardest marathon for me to finish? I think so. It took so much out of me mentally and physically, I was wiped far too early. I do always say that on any day, I could go out and complete a marathon distance, so it felt good that I was able to finish my 15th stand-alone marathon and make that statement true.
15th stand-alone marathon complete!
I think I'm done racing marathons for a bit. I've found the pressure to be a bit too much for me mentally and I just want to run some for fun and get back to ultras. I have realized that the margin for error in marathons is so much smaller, so it adds this major pressure to me that has put me in a mental funk when racing. If I slow down by 30 seconds per mile, that can make or break my marathon goal. In an ultra, you have a little more leeway and being a few minutes slower or faster isn't usually a big deal. I have faith that I'll secure another BQ and actually run Boston one time, but I have to learn to be patient. I'm lucky to have finished upright and to have finished at all in that heat and humidity, so I'll take it as a win!

Monday, February 9, 2015

Philadelphia Marathon 2014 - What it's like to run a marathon the day after a 50 miler

Okay, so the Philadelphia Marathon happened about 2.5 months ago and I'm just getting around to finishing this. Whoops. Better late than never?

When I woke up the morning of the race, after just 5 hours of sleep, I was in such denial about running the marathon. I quickly got into my 50s poodle skirt costume, though, and my mom and I headed to meet my friends at the Marriott nearby. I scarfed down a donut as my pre-race breakfast (a recent favorite choice of mine) and once we all met up (I was at the wrong hotel at first!), we walked to the start.

Walking hurt. It hurt a lot. I was kind of freaking out about what running a marathon would be like, especially since I knew it'd be slow given my soreness and tightness. I was able to quickly say hi to my Back on My Feet friends and one of our alumni members (he used to live in a homeless shelter, but now has a job and his own place) pulled my mom aside to tell her how proud of me she should be because of dedication to the organization. Talk about incredible to hear. It was such a boost to hear that and remember that I had fundraised for men and women like him, so I had even more motivation to finish.

I hobbled to the start with my friends and we found our friend, Brooklyn Bobby, in our corral. Bobby, Lisa, Alice, Jen (who did the JFK 50 the day before as well), and I planned to run the whole thing together. I didn't know how long it would take, but we all agreed we'd enjoy a leisurely tour of Philly together. The gun went off, but since we were in a slower coral, it took literally 30 minutes for us to cross the start line. I had never started so far back and that long time made me so anxious. We said goodbye to my mom and Mara (another friend cheering us all on) and started the race.
Jen, Stephanie (who ran without us), me, Lisa, Alice, and Bobby
The first mile hurt. A lot. I pretty much just could hobble. I did, though, love showing my friends my city that I love so much. After a mile or so, I loosened up a bit and my stride got closer to my normal one, but I still hurt with every step. I had to take a quick pit stop to pee in a bush at around mile 2, then we were making our way up Washington Ave. and through Society Hill. Around mile 4, we even were able to snag some beer (which tasted amazing!).

The gang really loved seeing South Street and commented on how cute it was. It's funny because seeing it from their eyes, with the holiday wreaths and lights up, it really was cute. When I think about how gross it is and the bars that are down there, it's funny for me to call it cute.
We kept going and eventually got to our apartment where John, Mara, and my mom were waiting. We hugged them, I gave John my gloves (it was getting warmer), posed for a quick picture, then went on our way. I love where we ran next through Center City, because the crowds are amazing. I was able to see tons of spectators, including a bunch of my Back on My Feet friends.

Running through Drexel, my alma mater, was painful because we went up a big hill, but I got to see a bunch of Students Run Philly Style participants at the water stop at the top, which was awesome! We then slowly made our way up the bitch of a hill that is just before mile 10. I then had to pee again, which Jen then gave me hell for because I always had to pee during flats or downhills (not an uphill when she could walk) and I peed more in the first 10 miles of the marathon than in all of the JFK 50 the day before. What can I say?! I had to go!
Our group just past mile 6
We made it to West River Drive, saw the AWESOME crazy cheering group at the turnaround who always come dressed in insane outfits, and I shortly after hit a real mental low. I was hurting a lot and there was still so much left to run. I saw everyone on the other side of the river, miles ahead of me, and got so demoralized. I really considered just doing the half, but I knew I'd feel like a quitter. I had told so many people about my endeavor and while I knew it wouldn't have mattered if I had only done the half, I set the goal to do the full and I was determined to do that.

We got to the halfway point, saw Mara on the course, and I had a Gu. The second half of the course is out and back, so I was able to see so many friends running on the course when I was heading out. This really was the mental pick-me-up that I needed. Instead of focusing on my pain, I just looked for my friends and cheered them all on. Soon enough, we were in East Falls, where I saw a bunch of November Project Philadelphia friends and found my Fathead that they created. Shortly after, we were at mile 17 and that meant just single digits left! While I was in a lot of physical pain and just so tired, I was surprisingly cheery as the miles were slowly ticking away.
Two scary faces on the course
We got into Manayunk and I was so happy to see the giant crowds. I saw some Philly Runner friends near the turnaround and it was the jolt that I needed to push up the hill. Our group had separated a bit (Bobby and Alice ran down a hill when I had to walk to get water down at some point), but we reconnected at around mile 21ish. I had beer at mile 19 on the way out, but the beer did not sound good on my stomach at mile 21. I still had two small cups throughout the course, so I'm not mad!

Once we passed the NP Philly folks and East Falls again, I started to struggle again. The other side of Kelly Drive (people still heading out) was nearly empty, which surprised me. You have 6 or 7 hours (can't find the exact rule) to finish the course, so I thought that I'd see at least a handful more people still heading to Manayunk. When we did see someone, though, we cheered like crazy! I got to the point where walking through aid stations wasn't feasible as stopping and starting hurt too much. I'd slowly jog through the water stop, drink while jogging, then keep going. Everyone easily caught up with me each time, but it was getting more and more painful with each step.
Near the 20 mile mark!
As we were inching closer to the finish, I realized that once I finished, I could lay down and elevate my feet. It then dawned on me that, duh, just because I stop, it doesn't mean the pain goes away. I felt this weird sense of being trapped since I wasn't escaping the pain, but I knew when I finished, I could lay down and at least feel some sense of relief.

We made our way to the 26 mile mark and saw Mara, my mom, and John there. I was disappointed with how empty the finish line area was. I had finished all of my Philadelphia Marathons much faster and it never took me so long to cross the start line, but I was sad to see how few spectators were out there. I felt embarrassed as this is MY home course now and my friends seemed to be disappointed as well. But alas, we were finishing and that's all that mattered!
Hugging Kaitleen, a NP Philly friend, along the course
We all crossed together and my finisher time was 5:10:00. It wasn't my slowest marathon (ran MCM with my giant group of friends at about 20 minutes slower than that), but it for sure was my most painful. Everyone was so cheery at the finish, but I just wanted to lay down STAT. I found John and my mom, said goodbye to my friends, and just collapsed onto some grass to elevate my feet. I had done it. This crazy goal of mine, to run the JFK 50 Miler and the Philadelphia Marathon in the same weekend, had been accomplished. I also was sore beyond belief, but the running was over. The Eagles game had started and I felt bad that John was missing it, so I got up and slowly hobbled over until we found a cab.
Final stretch!
I came home, relaxed a lot, showered far later than I should have, ate my face off with John and my mom, and then said goodbye to her as she headed back to DC. Some November Project friends were at a bar near me, so later that night, I met up with them, had 3 whole drinks, and got very intoxicated. We danced a lot and all celebrated everyone's racing. It was so fun, but waking up the next day sore and hungover was not a fun combination!
Woohoo finishers!
All in all, I'm really happy with how the race went. I'd never do that double ever again as it hurt far too much, but being able to run my favorite race with a bunch of really special people and accomplishing my crazy goal made it all worth it.