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 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!


  1. GREAT job, Steph! Really. Amazing. Pathetic is not quite the term I would use to describe you. I saw Heather's post on fb when you crossed the halfway point and remembered you were running that very minute and stopped and prayed for you. Probably around the time you were nauseus. :) Glad nothin' came up. hehe

  2. You. Are. SO. Freakin'. Awesome.

    Makes me want to try... almost! But you're so hard on yourself! I can't imagine running even a half marathon (or a mile for that matter!)

    Since you've been posting on Facebook about your marathons, I've been curious. I'm so glad you posted this! It gave me a whole different perspective :)

    Kudos to you!

  3. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  4. You know I love you and I'm very proud of you, but I figured saying it again wouldn't get old ;)

  5. I'm still SUPER amazed that you finished!!! I haven't done 2 marathons that close together before and EVERY time that I try to do them within 5 weeks of each other one of them is always shitty. Bar - none.

    that said, at least you were able to maintain your spirit and you didn't get hurt. Everything else is just a big bonus!

  6. Well, thanks to being sick that day, I was praying a lot for you! I'm thinking that the trick is going to be to not be so stressed about a PR. Maybe it's like wanting to get pregnant... once you stop stressing, then you get pregnant! lol... I don't know...just a thought :)
    I would probably take 10 hours... so you will always be faster than me!