Tuesday, February 22, 2011

A look at the past

When I say that this was a bit of a rough training year for me, I have to believe that part of that is due to life circumstances from the last 18 months. I'm going to post my write up of the 2010 Austin Marathon to give you an idea of where my head has been. My emotions from that time period have most certainly overflowed into this year's training...and that's okay.  It's all part of my growth and learning.

On February 15, 2009, I completed my very first marathon in Austin, Texas. Although for the last 6 or 7 miles I figured I'd never want to put my body through that kind of agony again, it took only 5 minutes after I crossed the finish line for me to realize I would sign up for another one sooner rather than later. There really is something about the joy and triumph that you feel after completing that kind of journey. I truly think there's nothing quite as difficult to make your body do as a marathon (unless you're an Ironman....then you're a special kind of crazy).

I signed up for the Rock n' Roll San Antonio Marathon (November 15) not too long after this.

An overwhelming tragedy occurred during my training. My older sister, Trisha, passed away suddenly on August 5. My whole world was shattered. She was my best friend and I had just spent time with her two weeks earlier. After burying her in Seattle, I returned home and tried to resume my training. But my heart wasn't in it and I knew it would take awhile to heal. I decided to downgrade my registration for the marathon to the half marathon. I knew I could run that...I had just completed one in July and was still in pretty good shape.

Little did I know that grief would hit during mile 6 and that the weather would be anything but cooperative during that race. I frequently cried and walked to complete that half marathon and ended up posting my slowest time for that distance...I don't even think any of my training runs were ever that slow. 2:20....21 minutes slower than the previous year, which had been my personal best. I knew it was going to take some healing and praying to get my mind back on track for the Austin Marathon coming up in 3 months. I had my buddy Jeff there with me during part of that race and he ended up finishing right around the same time as me. What a joy to unexpectedly see him at the end. Waterworks unleashed yet again!

Six days later was our 20K (12.4 miles) run in our marathon training group. Jeff and I both wanted to use this to make up for our mediocre performance in San Antonio. We did great....1:58 and well under 10 minute pace. We were back in business. The rest of the training season was great for me. I felt strong, no injuries, and I was looking forward to trying to break 10 minute pace in the marathon, or at least taking a good shot at it.

My family was sick, one member after another, for the two weeks prior to the marathon. I was worried!! But I woke up marathon morning feeling pretty good. I had some nagging irritation in my throat and a little stuffiness the couple days before but figured it was allergies and ignored it. The race started off great....the weather was BEAUTIFUL! 40 degrees out, only expected to get into the upper 50s by Noon. Perfect weather ordered and delivered!

The start was slow....excruciatingly slow. My first 5K was only around 33 minutes....slow for me. But it was crowded and I think I made the mistake of starting off too far back and getting stuck behind slower runners. I picked it up for the next 9 miles or so and cut a lot of time off my overall pace. Was at about 10:10 overall pace when I hit the potty at mile 12. That slowed me down by about 10 seconds per mile overall...something I knew I could get back in the next few miles. UNTIL the throat and lung issues hit HARD at mile 14. I got the chills....my throat suddenly felt tight....and my lungs were having a few issues. It seemed my heart rate was getting up a little higher and for the first time for the entire race I felt like I needed to walk. Up until this point I really didn't have any desire to walk. I had briefly stopped to say hi to the family at mile 11 and to make my potty break but that was it. At about 15.5 miles I decided I was probably sick and walked for about a half mile. Once I got my breathing under control I got back to running, taking a walk break every 1.5-2 miles for the remainder of the race.

During these breaks I decided it was okay that I wasn't going to break my 10 minute pace. This race was for my sister. It didn't matter if the clock said 4:20 or 5:20. I was going to finish the race, earn my medal, and dedicate it to Trisha. I smiled, listened to my music, enjoyed myself while running, and chatted with folks while walking. My legs were strong...when I ran I was running well. There was no wall for me this year. There was no crying at mile 18 because of the pain. There was JOY that this was my second marathon, that my training had prepared me to complete 26.2 miles without injury, and that sometimes life throws you curveballs in the form of illness that you have no control over. You make the best of it.

At exactly 3 hours into the race my Garmin GPS watch shut off....so for the next 8+ miles I ran blind not knowing my pace or how much time had elapsed. I really had no clue how I was doing! The 4:45 pacers hadn't passed me yet so I did know that I had to be close to last year's time (4:40). I did my best but didn't overdo it. My final mile was difficult as I was definitely feeling the fatigue of the dreaded wall but I didn't let me get me too down. I made my final push around the Capitol and ran well for that last half mile.

When I saw the Mile 26 marker and all the fantastic spectators lining the Capitol grounds the tears finally came. I pumped my fist and enjoyed the last two minutes of my journey. When I finished I still had no idea how I had done but I did know that it had to have been close to last year's time. What a surprise to see when the results were posted that it was only 36 seconds slower. My final 10K was stronger, however, by several minutes, so I had improved in my eyes. I was more prepared, stronger, and happier. I felt so good when I was done....certainly not like I had just run a marathon!

So now marathon #2 is in the books. I raised $3200 for the Lupus Foundation in honor of my sister, far surpassing my goal. I wish I could call her and tell her all about it, but I know she was the one who was pushing me on during the race. She was on my shoulder, she was my strength, and she will continue to look over me from heaven as I continue my journey.

Next marathon? I'm taking a break from Austin next year and will be doing the Houston Marathon on January 30. I can't wait for my 4:20!!

I haven't gotten that 4:20...but I will.  Of course I will.

Monday, February 21, 2011

The Year of the 5 Hour Marathons...

I have to admit....I didn't think I'd go over 5 hours in Houston.  And I REALLY didn't think I'd be slower in Austin. But it is what it is and I'm really okay with it all.

Unfortunately, the weather in Austin did not cooperate at all, just as in Houston.  It's such a tough mental block for me to get through warm and humid conditions.  I'm so much more prepared for freezing temps and numb fingers. But it is what is it....did I already say that?

One thing that didn't even occur to me was windy conditions.  But the wind starting picking up on Saturday so I looked at the forecast and sure enough...15 mph winds were forecast for Sunday.  It doesn't sound like much - until you're running uphill right into it.  The good thing is that when blowing in the right direction it certainly can cool you off. 

I really wasn't sure what to expect for Austin.  I've never run two marathons back to back like that.  Heck, I've never run two marathons in one YEAR, much less one month.  Would my body be happy?  Would I get sick? Would I get an injury?  The plan was to run with my girlfriends Karen and Crystal and help pull each other through, or just have a really great time finishing the distance, or both....whatever happened was just fine.  However, Crystal had felt a lot of knee pain on the 21 miler three weeks prior and was very unsure how her knee would hold up during the marathon.  I wasn't sure how we were going to tackle that when it happened, but it was most definitely a possibility that she could struggle.  I figured Karen was a beast and she'd probably be the first one to feel the need to leave us behind.  Karen has had a phenomenal training year, certainly her best so far.  She pulled me through our 21 miler in January and ran faster than she anticipated, plus she kicked my booty by 12 minutes in Houston.  There was always the possibility that the weather was going to make us say "screw it!" and just have fun in Austin together without a care in the world regarding our finishing time.  It remained to be seen how it all would pan out.

I picked up my bib at the Expo on Friday afternoon.  Actually, THEY LOST my bib (WTH??) even though I was there when they opened and they couldn't possibly have had time to accidentally give it to someone else. But whatever...they gave me a new one, I got nervous they wouldn't update the computer system correctly and I'd be left out cold in the official results.  But I digress....I fancied up my bib since it didn't have my name on it.  I think it came out cute.

It really never fails that I get so nervous before a marathon.  Even with this being #4 and I guess allowing me marathon "veteran" status, I still get anxiety just thinking about it.  I know it's going to hurt and I know for part of it I will be miserable, but then again, I also know what crossing the finish line feels like. Makes it all worth it....but tell that to my nerves!

So onto the marathon we go at 5am on Sunday morning.  Had to take a couple pics before I left, however. Thanks, Greg!

It was already in the 60s but it wasn't as humid as I anticipated, which was good, although it was probably still about 70%.  The wind was kinda rough, but perhaps it would serve to cool us off.  Plus we knew we'd be making a lot of turns and it wouldn't be in our faces the entire time.  

Nice finish line, isn't it?

My ladies!!

It was a very fun start.  I think I actually liked the changes they made to the beginning of the course.  We lined up on Capitol grounds and would run on the perimeter streets before heading south through downtown to the South Congress area.  It allowed for us to get a nice downhill before the 2.5 mile steady incline of SoCo. By the time we got back up to downtown, we'd already be a third of the way done with the course.  Mentally, I think that could be good.  It seemed to work out okay for me and Karen.  I was fatiguing by Mile 9 but in no pain and hanging in there. 

I do have to make note of the fact that Karen needed to pee at 6 miles.  Did we use a porta-potty?  Oh heck no...a tree is good enough for that, right?  So now I know what Karen's butt looks like.

Livestrong is the sponsor of the Austin Marathon and they set up their spot on the course at 9 miles.  To say it was awesome is an understatement.  They had all their yellow flags lined up along the course with inspirational words like "defy" written on them.  I figured they were lined up for a good half mile.  Couple that with the yellow chalk messages on the road and it was enough to make the most hardened runner take pause and think about all the people we were running for and those who benefit from the Livestrong Foundation.  Karen turned to us and said "We are so blessed."  It brought tears to my eyes.  YES WE ARE BLESSED!

Crystal mentioned to us that her left leg and right knee were definitely causing her discomfort.  She tried to push through it as best as she could, but by 9.5 miles it was very obvious that doing all 26.2 was potentially going to be a very bad idea for her.  It's one thing to have fatigue and push through it, then take the time to rest afterwards, but when you're dealing with injury it's really best to play it safe.  I told her that if she decided to keep going I wouldn't leave her side.  If it took us 6 hours, so be it. I did a marathon this year already, so it didn't bother me to slow down and help a friend finish if I needed to. She made the choice at about 10 miles that she would have to make the Half Marathon split at 10.8 and walk her way back to finish 13.1 rather than the full marathon distance.  At this point she was limping as she walked. I felt terrible for her.  She has been an amazing athlete the past two seasons with Round Rock Fit and it's been so awesome to see her do things she never thought she could do.  To see injury derail it is heartbreaking.  But she made the right decision to turn off and leave the full marathon course.

I was definitely starting to struggle after this point.  Karen, on the other hand, was a rockstar and was feeling awesome.  I kept chugging along and hoped that my second wind would come.  It seemed to appear at about 12 miles after the biggest hill on the course, but sadly was soon replaced by a horrible feeling of nausea.  I've never wanted to barf so much in my life during a race, but I did manage to hold it in.  Karen and I got to the halfway point and the nasty feelings just weren't going away for me.  She felt great and really thought she could get her PR during this race, on the other hand.  The last thing I wanted to do was keep her from achieving her goal, but I knew that unless I started feeling a lot better there was no way I was going to be able to run a 4:52 (which is what she needed for a PR, although she really wanted a 4:45).  At this point in the race, we were already over 11 minute/mile pace.  I told her to keep going and I would be fine.  Thankfully she did (more on that later)!!

I chugged along for the second half of the race, knowing I would finish, having no idea how bad my time would be, but doing what I always do and trying to find the good things about a marathon to pass my time while dealing with the yucky feelings that could otherwise overwhelm a person. I got to see my friends Shelley and Tricia at mile 15 and made them hug my sweaty self and endure watching me put vaseline on places it's really not intended to go. There were a bunch of cute little kids on the course high-fiving folks as we ran along. I had so many people yelling my name and pushing me to keep going.

I will admit that there's one part of the race I wish I had done different. I don't like to have regrets, but I'll allow myself this one particular regret.  There is a stretch on Great Northern Drive that is probably about a mile and half or so in length and it's ridiculously boring.  It borders a freeway on one side and is residential on the other and there really are never very many spectators.  It's mentally challenging to keep up a good rhythm on this part and it's been a big thorn in my side for all three Austin Marathons that I've run.  I really wanted to run the entire distance of it and not give in to the desire to walk, but unfortunately my mental toughness did not win out this year as it has failed all three years.  I'm kinda ticked off about that.

Most of the last 7 miles of the course are heading south back to downtown Austin and the finish.  And running south meant running into the wind. With the sun out in full force now it really didn't cool me off to have the wind in my face. No...I'm pretty sure it just served to slow me down...you know, because I was just so speedy up to this point. But on the positive side, running south meant running towards downtown and the finish line I kept picturing in my head. I took each mile one at a time, alternating my walking and running. And about the walking....I will say one thing about the walking.  I don't slack off when I walk.  I pull 13-14 minute miles when I walk, even 24 miles into a marathon.  I was walking faster than some folks were running (little pat on the back there).  The problem was that I was walking TOO FREAKING MUCH.

While getting through these last few miles I did try to estimate what my finishing time would be.  I obviously knew breaking 5 hours was out of the question, but it was possible to get around the same time as Houston, and at the very least I could hit 5:10.  My new goal became 5:09.

And now we're into the University of Austin campus.  I vaguely remembering speeding by walking/running by the stadium, which is just ridiculously huge, and feeling like an itty bitty person.  I knew there would be a photographer close by to capture the runners with the stadium behind them, so what did I do?  I made sure I was running of course, and throwing my Hook 'em Horns sign. It's probably going to get old pretty soon, but I just had to do it one more time. Of course my fingers were so swollen that I had to focus on moving them to make the sign correctly. I guess you could say I was definitely pathetic.

With only about a mile to go I really focused on that last part of the course, picturing the climb on San Jacinto and the turn to 11th Street and then Congress Avenue and then the finish. I got a huge boost when I saw the 800 meters to go sign at the bottom of the last hill. No way was I going to stop now. I was on the cusp of a 5:09 and was determined to do it.  Once I got to the top of the hill on San Jacinto and turned on 11th Street, I left it all behind and just pushed myself as hard as I could.  200 meters, then 100 meters and now on Congress Avenue with the finish line a stone's throw away.  I don't think I've ever sprinted that hard for a finish line in a race longer than a 10K. I checked my Garmin data afterwards - my sprint was at 6 minute per mile pace. Yay me!! (I'm trying not to think about the fact that if I could move that fast then I certainly could've run the whole damn race a heck of a lot better....shush to that stupid little voice)

I squeaked in at 5:09:32. Two of my training group girls finished right behind me and I got to get a picture with the two of them in the finish area.  I was so freaking happy to be done.  Surprisingly there were no tears this time. I obviously had made peace with a less-than-stellar marathon year, but I still managed to finish two in less than a month and for that I should reserve a little pride for myself, I suppose.

I've always tried to remember that regardless of a performance in a specific marathon, if you can't find the good in the experience and have fun then what's the point of doing them year after year. There are going to be good races, okay races, and downright nasty races.  I haven't had a great marathon yet. This was a rough year and there are mental challenges I need to figure out in order to truly shine in a marathon. But I will always find the positives and I will always be smiling. There were a few moments that stood out to me that I have to mention:
  • At about 14 miles I was talking to a couple of ladies who were walking, asking them how they were feeling. (I do this a lot). They were in good spirits, but decided to run/walk the remainder of it and have fun. I told them it didn't matter how long it took, that they were definitely going to finish. I mentioned that I always like to picture the medal in my head and how I couldn't wait to get it around my neck.  One of the ladies said she wanted to stick with me, that what I said made her feel really good about what she was doing. It seriously gave me the warm and fuzzies to hear someone say that. I happened to run into her after the race. She told me that what I said helped her through the rest of the race. Aw!
  • I have an old high school friend who just lost her baby girl, Sophie, this week due to heart problems she'd had since birth.  Sophie and her family have been on my mind all this week. There was a lady on the marathon course that I kept running into and her name just happened to be Sophie as well.  I must have seen her at least a dozen times during the race. In the last two miles it really helped to push me to the finish as I thought about that sweet baby girl.
  • I thought about what Karen said at Mile 9 about how blessed we were to be there. We ARE so blessed. Throughout the course we saw people with the "In Memory of", "In Honor of", and "I am a SURVIVOR" cards on their backs. It gives you so much perspective to realize that you have good enough health to get through a huge physical challenge while others have not been so lucky.
Back to Karen.....I saw her at our training group tent after the race. She rocked a 4:45 marathon, a personal record by 7 minutes!  She didn't walk at all for the last 9 miles or so, which was when her friend Rachel joined her to help pace her to the finish.  She ended up outlasting Rachel and cruised to a very strong finish. I think I must have told her about 10 times how proud of her I was.  It seriously makes the whole day worth it to see how successful she was in her fifth marathon. Thank God she didn't stick with me!

So when will #5 be?  I really don't know right now.  Like I said, these were tough marathons. I haven't yet met my ultimate goal. I know I will, but I'm not sure when the next attempt will be. I do plan on continuing to coach with Round Rock Fit.  To have people tell me I helped them believe that they could accomplish a marathon makes me feel great and I'm not giving that up.  I assume Austin '12 will be my next marathon, but I'm keeping my options open right now.

#4 is in the books!

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

What really matters

Why is it so hard for us to find our blessings and grab onto them and celebrate them?  We tend to focus on such small things to get upset about.  I'm someone who tends to do this frequently and I've tried to catch myself when it happens...not always so successful.

When the big things in life happen that knock you down it does tend to change that perspective. If you're complaining about an extra 5 pounds at the same time your neighbor's spouse dies, you better shut up and get a grip on what really matters....right?

For the last week I admit I've once again worried about the stupid weather for the Austin Marathon.  Since the Houston Marathon, we've had snow, freezes, and some pretty freaking cold weather, with a couple 70+ degree days thrown in sporadically.  In other words, the opposite of the hot humid conditions in Houston.  But what's happened the last few days and is projected for the marathon?  Hot humid conditions....of course.  Because I have the worst race weather luck lately.  Who would have thought that within three weeks in the winter I would get socked with those conditions at the worst time?  Especially after weeks and weeks of cold weather training runs.  It's bugging me.  I laugh about it, but it's bugging me.

At the same time, I have friends going through REAL crises.  My neighbors have a 9 year old who is on day 19 of a hospital stay, with few answers to what is causing her to be so very sick.  She's not coming home yet, she's extremely weak, and her road to recovery will be long and rough.  We weren't even sure she was going to make it. This is the ultimate in stress for any parent. I never knew that the thought of losing a child could be so incredibly ridiculously painful until I had my own kids....I could imagine that it was be horrendous, but really....you just don't know until you look at your own children and imagine life without them.  My parents have dealt with that happening.  I can't even begin to describe that pain.

In addition to this sweet girl being so ill, I have another friend, one from high school, who just lost her 1 year old baby on Sunday.  SHE LOST HER BABY. This sweet little girl spent most of her life in the hospital with a terrible heart defect, enduring surgery after surgery, setback after setback, all the while maintaining her childhood innocence and wonder.  She was playing on Saturday, then went into cardiac arrest on Sunday.  Folks, THIS IS HEARTACHE.

And in the meantime, I worry about the weather.  I'm giving myself a big dose of reality and saying "SCREW IT."  I'm running a marathon....big freaking deal.  My friends are dealing with REAL LIFE.  They deserve my attention and prayers and thoughts.

So yeah, I need to look at what really matters in life.  The weather might piss me off, but so what.  I am healthy, my family is healthy, and life is good.   I am counting my blessings and not sweating the small stuff. Someone slap me if I complain again.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

My running background

Now that I've started a blog, and it's about running...mostly, it's a good idea to fill y'all in on how I got to this point in my life. 

I'm a 37 year old mother of two, wife to one (ha!), and I live in the Austin, TX, area.  I moved to Texas in 2007 after living my whole life in Liberal Freakville California. My husband, Greg, and I didn't feel comfortable raising our kids in the expensive, God-hating rat race that had become the Bay Area.  We wanted to be comfortable and secure, give our kiddos an education that didn't shun Christianity without having to send them to private school, and to live in a close, family-oriented neighborhood that we could make our home for decades to come.  Austin fit the bill....so here we are 4 years later.  Have never regretted the decision once.  It's truly the best place for us.

Moving brought with it something that I'd never experienced before.  I gained weight.  Not a lot...only about 8 pounds.  But I've never been one to fluctuate even 10 pounds in my entire life (if you don't count pregnancy and a couple medical issues that caused massive weight loss), so those 8 pounds really bothered me.  Many in my family are overweight and have numerous health problems associated with it and this was something I've always worked hard to avoid. I went to the doctor to rule out any medical issues for the weight gain (think Thyroid problems), but nope...I was just getting FAT.  My neighbor, Diana, was an avid runner and managed to convince me to give it a try.  Me - who had never run more than 2 miles in her life, 15 years prior - was going to take up running.

My first run was less than a mile...yes, less than a mile.  Pretty pathetic, but at least it was a start.  I built up slowly, up to 3 miles at a time that first month.  Up to 4.5 the second month.  After 2 months of running I decided I needed a goal to keep me motivated.  After a google search I found the Austin Marathon and Half Marathon were being held in 4 months.  A half marathon?  13.1 miles?  At one time?  Could I do it?  Sure I could....so I signed up before I could talk myself out of it.  For the next 4 months, I trained my butt off.  And guess what?  I did it!  No walk breaks....13.1 miles and it was fantastic!

Pretty much right away I decided I could do a marathon. I stayed in good shape over the course of the next few months by participating in 5Ks and 10Ks in the Austin area and even placed in my age group in one race. I signed up for another half marathon, in San Antonio the upcoming November, which would fall right in the middle of the marathon training season. I joined a marathon training group to help me with my winter race goals and it ended up being a fantastic choice.  I met some wonderful runner friends and was challenged during every long run to go further and faster.  My goal in San Antonio was to break 2 hours.  Although it was a tough goal to achieve, I managed to run that race in 1:59:26.  Unfortunately, I also ended up injured. The dreaded Iliotibial Band Syndrome....10 weeks before the Austin Marathon. 

Intensive physical therapy put me back together, but it also severely compromised my training.  I simply did not get in enough quality long runs, although my 21 miler was probably my best training run ever.  I also didn't count on getting a nasty virus 10 days prior to the race.  It all combined to make for a pretty miserable marathon, but ironic enough, my 4:40:56 time is still my best marathon time to date.

That first marathon was 2 years ago.  I have since run 2 more...one while suffering viral bronchitis (which I didn't realize at the start of that race)...and one in way less than desirable weather conditions. I have run 2 other half marathons but again, have yet to break my personal best from San Antonio.  I don't like the idea that I've gotten slower over the past two years but it is my current reality.  This past year was a tough one (for reasons that will go into a separate post in the near future) but it made me take a few steps back from hardcore training.  I maintained a comfortable training schedule this year, without focus on speed. It has served me well as I've remained injury free and have really looked forward to all my Saturday long runs with my training group.  I even am one of the volunteer coaches in my group and I do love having that role. 

But I want my speed back (well, it's not FAST, but it's challenging for me and I miss it).  This year I plan to come up with a few tweaks to my training that will enable me to push myself without letting the hot Austin summer weigh me down. I think another half marathon will serve me well.  It's been nearly two years since my last one and it's probably my favorite distance to race.  I need to choose my next marathon (after Austin on Feb 20).  In all likelihood it will be Austin again in 2012 since it's the least expensive and stressful option and because I'm so familiar with the course and strategy involved to do well.  I need to continue to focus on my core strength and plan to make yoga a very big part of my life over the spring and summer months.  Running is never about just getting the miles in.  If you don't take care of the rest of your body, you will never become a successful distance runner.

Why do I keep doing this even through the pain and frustration? 

Because it's ME. I am determined to be a healthy, fit example for my children. I refuse to fall into the trap of gaining weight and being sedentary just because I'm getting older.  As I get older I want to get BETTER. I want to blow the fitness level of my teenage self out of the water. I will be that 40 year old wearing the size 4 jeans with the bling on the pockets. Running makes me happy, it makes my heart happy, and it feels fantastic when you're done and you know you've done something amazing for yourself.  I do it because it's my therapy from the everyday stress of life.

So that's my story.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Kudos to the Chevron Houston Marathon

Marathon #3 was certainly my worst marathon in terms of time, but I have to be honest....I think it was still my favorite.

The Chevron Houston Marathon committee knew what they were doing.  A lot of folks were pretty peeved at the idea of a lottery and I have to admit that at first I was upset, but only because I am a brat REALLY wanted to run this marathon.  I understood their reasoning - it has become a very popular and elite marathon over the course of the last few years, and last year it sold out in only 2 days, overloading the registration system.  In order to make it fair they had to enact a lottery system.  Luckily they allowed "group" registration so you didn't end up becoming the only person amongst your friends to get a spot or be the only one left out.  There were five of us that registered together and were lucky we got selected.

The George R Brown Convention Center was secured for the expo, start and finish.  We booked the hotel that actually attaches to the convention center, so I never actually had to walk outside until the start.  To be able to congregate inside the convention center was really comfortable.  But what really impressed me was the little details prior to the race that don't seem a big deal unless you're a runner and have been in some badly organized races:
1. They had church services inside, complete with worship music.  NICE touch. Especially on a Sunday.
2. Pre-race water table
3. More port-a-potties than we knew what to do with - never had to wait more than 5 minutes to use one.
4. Volunteers that moved with lightning speed at the baggage check...that place was packed!
5. Two separate lines to the start line - I held back because I was looking for my running partner (never found her) so I don't know how congested the front was, but the two lines seemed to be a smart move to keep things going.  And shocker - the race actually started on time....both waves!

During the race....even in my misery...I was moved at how wonderful the spectators were.  Here we are, in humid rainy conditions and there were so many people out there cheering us on, making a point to read our names on our race bibs, and talk to each of us individually.  And 99% of them said the right thing.  Only once did I even notice someone say "you're almost done!" even when there were 10 miles to go.  When I would encounter people while on my walking breaks they made sure to tell me I looked great and was doing fine. They encouraged me to keep going, high fived me, and just made me feel so much better.  It was hard not to smile during the whole race.  Okay, to be honest, around mile 23 I think I stopped smiling for awhile.

During some spots in the race course there were prayer stations.  I have to tell you, this is part of the reason why I love Texas. People aren't offended by God.  It's part of life here.  I can't even begin to tell you how many prayer stations I encountered - there were just so many of them. To see the signs that said "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me" (Phil 4:13) reminded me that I was capable no matter how badly I felt and there were other ways to find strength to finish. I gave a thumbs up to every one of those signs along the course.

And then there was the finish line.  I said before that I had a big mental and physical boost during the last mile. When we turned to go down Lamar Street and I saw all the flags lining the street, the spectators yelling at each of us, and the convention center in the distance it was thrilling.  Even though it was a pretty long stretch of road, they chose a perfect spot to finish the marathon.  There's just something about having those huge buildings all around, the wide street, and the noise. And to have my friends just happen to see me and able to yell to me was an even bigger boost. I couldn't wait to be done and it was only a few minutes away.

The one thing I could've done without?  The jerks spectators who lined an overpass right after the 10k point with signs advertising a February Houston 10k race.  The signs said "If this was a 10k, you'd already be done." Yes, I almost flipped them off.

So thanks, Chevron Houston Marathon, for putting on a great race.  I will be back.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Third time was not the charm....

January 30, 2011, was going to be the day that I ran my very best marathon.  If you know me, you know that the 2011 Chevron Houston Marathon would be my third marathon.  My first two were in Austin and were "okay."  My first was coming off injuries that altered my training and then a very nasty illness that had me feverish, coughing, wheezing until just a couple days before the marathon.  My finish was about 20 minutes off my goal. My second marathon came amidst my family being very, very sick. I did my best to avoid it, but unfortunately was sick the day of the marathon.  I did it, anyway, and finished only a few seconds behind the previous year's time.  I had a lot to prove in 2011.  Third time's a charm?

Last year was a bit of a rough running year for me.  I went through a bout of exhaustion, did some cross training, and struggled through the summer months.  Training was okay, but slower than I normally run.  I didn't fight my body and just let it do what it needed to do.  If that meant I was going for a 4:30 marathon instead of a 4:20 I was okay with that.  I wanted to stay happy and injury free.  I think I did pretty well in training...not my best, but not bad.  I definitely felt that I could get my 4:30 marathon without a lot of heartache and pain. 

One thing every runner knows is that the weather can make or break your race.  And if you know me, you know that the one kind of weather that I struggle with is warm and humid.  I can run in 15 degrees and be just fine, but once that temp creeps above 65 and the humidity peaks, I fall apart.  Part physical, part mental I know. It's something that has frustrated me to no end. 

So what kind of weather was Houston going to give us?  With temps hovering in the 30s and 40s in the mornings, it was looking promising.  But OF COURSE race morning was a whole different ball game.  The low temp forecast kept creeping up closer to 60, with rain a foregone conclusion...in other words - a soupy mess.  To say I was freaking out was putting it mildly.  Our training runs had been cold every single weekend with the exception of one or two. I tried to channel my experience running 14 miles in 70+ degrees, but that had been back in October....and that seemed light years ago.  I was hoping for a lot of rain just to keep me cooled off, but there was nothing I could do about what the humidity was going to wreak on my lungs.

When I got to the expo at the convention center on Saturday, I was greeted by this sign:

Someone was clearly smoking crack.

While getting ready in the bathroom of my hotel on race morning, I had to awaken Greg just so he could sit in there with me and help calm me down.  I was intensely nervous.  I KNEW I was going to complete the marathon, but I was scared of disappointing myself and my teammates. After running 2 marathons under sub-par physical conditions, I was finally feeling good and knew I was fueled and ready to conquer the distance. But the weather was bound to hurt me and I was beyond worried about it. The plan was for me to run with my girlfriend Karen and help push her to a new PR (her best is 4:53 and some change), with our stretch goal being 4:30.  She and I ran the entire 21 mile training run together and averaged about a 10:13 pace, which brings us within a good shot of hitting 4:30.  Of course, we're used to 40 degrees....the temp in Houston at 6am? 63 degrees.  Humidity? 100%....

By race morning, they had raised the alert level to yellow, which means moderate conditions and a possibility of heat illness.  Gee, ya think???

Unfortunately, because I checked my phone at baggage check prior to the race, I didn't catch the last text from Karen on a meeting spot.  We never found each other before the race started.  I sucked it up like a big girl.  I wanted my Karen, but it wasn't meant to be.  I think I may have been more worried about her than myself.  I really wanted to help her make her goal....and I REALLY needed her to keep me going. I took a deep breath, gave up on finding her, and went to the start line.  I didn't make my start wave, but managed to be up front for the second wave and we started right on time.  Of I went to see how this journey was going to shape up.

I cruised through the first 10k with little problem or icky feelings.  I could definitely tell the difference in temps very early on, however.  Within a mile I was already sweating.  Within 5K, I could feel my legs.  Within 10K, I was definitely wishing this was only a half marathon.  I tried to maintain as close to a 10 minute pace as possible, figuring if I got a few minutes in the bank it might help me later when I would be slowing down.  I was at about a 10:06 pace through the first 10k.  I saw the family for the first time at around 7.5 miles and was so happy to see them.  I had already pounded 16 ounces of liquid, so I switched out my bottle with a new one and continued on my way.  I remember telling Greg "this is going to suck...."

A lot of people have asked how much it rained during this race.  It's clear from the pictures that it's very wet on the roads.  I do remember a lot of sprinkling and a few good dumps of rain, but in all honesty, I wish it had rained more.  Everytime it rained a bit harder, I took off my hat and turned my face up to the sky to feel the cool rain in the hopes of keeping my body temp down.  It just wasn't enough.  And even harder to deal with than feeling so warm was just keeping my breathing steady in the soupy air.  Taking a deep breath to calm down was tough...there was just no room in my lungs!

At this point I thought I would get a third of the way done (8.7 miles) and then walk a 1/4 mile, and then alternate running a 5k with walking a 1/4 mile.  That didn't quite pan out.  I walked twice between 8.7 and 12 miles, but did start feeling a bit better by the time I saw the family at the halfway point.  The fabulous "second wind" is always my favorite part of a race.  It's so hard to mentally get to that point but I do know that sometimes toughing it out when all you want to do is quit can be well worth it.  I actually felt pretty good at this point. 

I think this is my favorite picture from the race....you can see the 13 mile marker, my feet are off the ground, and I'm throwing the Longhorn sign...it's like the trifecta of a fabulous race picture.

It was a slow first half...2:19...but I was figured this still put me within reach of going under 5 hours.  As I was passing Greg I told him to expect 5 hours.  He gave me the thumbs up and off I went.

Unfortunately my second wind didn't last me long.  By 14 miles I was starting to fatigue quickly.  My quads were feeling sore already, I was slowing, and it was getting painful again to calm down, breathe right, and just get through the yucky feelings.  I knew I had time in the bank and could take breaks and still break 5 hours so I didn't worry too much.  The next several miles were a mixture of running, taking advantage of any uphills and downhills so I could use different muscles, and finding the water stops to refill my bottle and catch my breath.  Mile 17 was probably one of my hardest and certainly my slowest...14 minutes.  Needless to say I walked the whole mile.  It was clear this was going to be a test of wills to get me through the last 9 miles.  My plan to run 5k and walk a 1/4 mile?  Yeah, I forgot about that.

When I heard my name at 19 miles and saw my friend Lauren on her bike it made my day.  I ran to her, crying, and gave her a hug.  She told me I was already through 19 miles and I was going to make it.  It was what I needed to hear.  I had done a calculation back at 18 miles on how fast I needed to average each of the last 8 miles to make 5 hours.  I needed 12 minute miles.  It was going to be close.  I just wasn't moving fast. 

I saw the family at 20 miles for the last time during the race.  Greg was telling me he had just seen the 4:45 pacer a few minutes earlier and I could still catch him...I just needed to run!  Yeah, look at me....I wasn't in the mood - ha!



(by the way, who's bright idea was it to make us pass Picnic Lane at 20 miles?)

The last 10K was a combination of me shuffling, walking, chatting with other struggling runners (and let me tell you, there were SO MANY struggling runners), high-fiving the awesome spectators braving the rain, and calculating what I needed to pull out of my butt to break 5 hours.  I ran mile 22 to see how fast I could actually run - 11:43.  I now needed a sub-12 minute average to break 5 hours and I could barely RUN that.  By mile 23 I knew a sub-5 hour marathon was going to be a stretch I probably couldn't make. So I made the choice that no matter what, I was going to enjoy my last few miles, knowing I was going to get my medal and knowing I could do it again in 3 weeks. 

At the 24.7 mile mark there is an overpass and on that overpass was a sign that read "1.5 miles to go".  It was what I needed to see.  Once I had a mile to go, I ran.  I got faster.  I felt pretty darn great.  We were now on Lamar St. in downtown Houston, with high rises around us, the marathon flags lining the roads.  The specators were deafening in their cheers, and I could see the convention center ahead.  I saw my buddies Lauren, Dan, and Jeff with a half mile to go.  They yelled to me to keep going. I pushed on.  My last mile?  Sub-10 minute pace.

Making the final turn and seeing the finish line brought the waterworks.  I heard someone yell "just 1/10th more - you look great!"  I cried that last 10th of a mile, cried as they put the medal around my neck, cried as I walked back into the convention center.  I looked at my watch - 5:05.  I knew I couldn't break 5 hours today, but I honestly didn't think I was 5 minutes off...in my head it was so much closer.  That last half was incredibly slow.  Through my euphoria of finally finishing the physical and mental battle, I was dejected.

I caught up with most of the rest of my crew....Dan, Jeff, Tony....and found out that Karen had quite possibly gotten her PR.  But she was angry and tired, too, and left the convention center right away to go back to her hotel.  Dan had gotten his PR, Tony had crashed at 21 miles and missed his goal by 17 minutes and was frustrated and angry like me, and Jeff had a great half marathon race.  It was a mixed bag of results, but we all did agree that the weather conditions were awful, it was tough out there, but we had all finished what we came to do.  It didn't matter if our times had 3's, 4's, or 5's in the front.

As with every marathon I take away a few lessons.  This is what I learned from Houston:

1. I need to make a better plan with Karen so I get to actually run WITH her
2. The second wind will come if I believe and push through the strong desire to stop.
3. Running faster sometimes feels better
4. Slow down but don't walk except to refill your bottle.  It's always harder to get restarted from a walk.
5. The miles will fly by if I let them.
6. Talk to people during the race
7. Picture the medal in my head.
9. Visualize a glass of wine and a plate of bacon.
10. Hydrate early and often, refuel on schedule and don't alter this! (for the record, I got this part right!)
11. I can do it. Again and again and again.

19 more days....marathon #4....and a personal best.