Friday, January 24, 2014

An *almost* Perfect Marathon

I love Houston. Even with the traffic, the questionable air quality, and the humidity, I love this town. It's been very very good to me.

I ran my 9th marathon there on January 19, my first marathon in my new age group. My first race over 40.

What a damn fine marathon it was!

Back in 2012 I did train to run a sub-4 hour marathon and was in peak shape going into the BCS Marathon in December of that year. However, asthma combined with hot temps and humidity that wouldn't quit derailed that goal. I made up for it by running a fantastic PR half marathon 6 weeks later, but my body was ready for rest at that point. So the sub-4 eluded me. My heart and soul wasn't quite in it to push for that kind of marathon pace in my 2013 training, so my goal for Houston became around a 4:10 or 4:15. I absolutely knew I was in that kind of shape going into the January 19 race. My PR of 4:26:27 is from the 2012 Houston Marathon. My plan was to for sure blow that away.

I *almost* achieved exactly that, but I have zero complaints about not quite reaching my goal range.

4:17:53. 9:50 overall pace. A PR by 8 minutes, 34 seconds

I monitored the weather leading up to the race and it was looking pretty great. A start temp of the upper 40s, and hopefully not above 60 by the finish time. Mostly clear skies and best of all....NO HUMIDITY. As a matter of fact, when I checked the humidity two days before the race it was at 17%. Unheard of for humid Houston! I'll take 60 degrees of dry weather any day over 50 degrees and 80% humidity. My lungs were going to be happy.

Houston, baby!! What a beautiful day

I tried my best to rest as much as I could leading up to the weekend, but I still had to teach some classes at work. I probably participated a little more than I should have but it's very hard to effectively teach circuit and plyometrics training without demonstration. I stretched and foam rolled and ran very very easy miles during the week. I put most of my concentration into my nutrition and hydration and I think I prepared very well in those areas. Hydration is the most important part of running a marathon. Water and electrolytes leading up to and during the entire race are key to keeping your body moving without cramping up. The "wall" can be avoided if you're a stickler for consistent and effective hydration.

I spent time at the Expo on Saturday but also stayed off my feet for most of the day. I was nervous and excited and freaking out all at the same time.

Going for obnoxious bright and girly
Game Time

My running husband Tony was staying at the same hotel as me, and despite my insistence that he run his own race since I knew he could break 4 hours, he really wanted to start the race with me (he won running buddy points right there). So we headed to the start together and hoped to run into some friends before the race. We finally did see friendly faces in our corral right before the start. Dan and John were running the full while Erica, the smartest one of us all, was running the half. John's goal was 4:15...PERFECT! I hoped I'd see him a lot during the race. Tony still wasn't committing to a sub-4 (sandbagger). Dan and Erica are stupid fast, so they started ahead of us. But I was happy to see other friends to calm my nerves before the start.

Everyone needs a pic while standing in a porta-potty line, right?

I had a 4:10 plan in my head and hoped my body would respond well to what I wanted to do. I wouldn't look at my Garmin to check my current pace after the first mile, however. Over the last 2 years I've gotten used to running by feel and wasn't going to change that. The marathon has timing mats every 5K and at the halfway point and I had 5K goals I hoped to hit. If I did hit them all, I'd be at 4:10. It was my overall goal, but considering my PR was 4:26, I had a lot of room for a happy outcome at the finish. It was relaxing to not put a huge amount of pressure on myself.

I executed my goals just about perfectly through 15K and hit my targets well. Tony stayed with me for about 8 miles and I slowly let him move ahead of me. John had taken off right at the start, and I had yet to see him on the course. My plan was to speed up for the middle third and then level off and allow for a little slowdown at the end. However, I ended up maintaining pace for those middle miles without speeding up. I started to feel fatigue in my quads at about mile 10 that surprised me a bit, but I knew I just needed to keep moving. My miles were coming in around 9:30-9:35, which wasn't bad at all, just not quite what I hoped my body would be comfortable running. At the halfway point I was at 2:07:31, my fastest first half in any marathon I had run. I felt decent despite the fatigue, and planned to just hold onto my current pace as long as I could. One mile at a time, one foot in front of the other, focusing on hydrating and fueling, feeding off the awesome crowds.

Several miles into the race, feeling pretty good!

I love the fact that there are timing mats every 5K and anyone who is tracking a runner gets notification every time they cross a mat. I knew Greg was eagerly following my race, so I concentrated on making it 5K at a time. If I could keep doing this, I wouldn't give in to any desire to walk and my splits would come in even and consistent. It was good motivation to run the entire distance. I wanted my 5K splits to look good!

Once I crept up on the 20 mile mark I knew I was slowing down and the fatigue was getting worse. Mentally, however, I really was totally fine. I didn't have an urge to walk, I knew I had another hour of running in me, and I was a very happy runner. In pain, but happy. It was my fastest 20 miles in a marathon. The sun was out, it was warming up, and I had to dump a lot of water over my head to keep from overheating in those last miles. I'm sure the warmth had an effect on my pace. I kept thinking of all those 20 mile training runs I did and how I kept my focus in those last miles. I knew if I could complete all those runs at a good pace, I had it in me to finish this marathon strong. I still had a shot to run about a 4:15 and just had to hold on as best as I could.

At mile 22 I started singing out loud. Hey, whatever works...if singing Blurred Lines was keeping me moving, then that's what I was going to do.

The spectators were just amazing. They made me smile so many times when they called out my name. Every single step of that race had cheering spectators...sometimes it makes all the difference in the world.

I counted the kilometer mile markers down Memorial Drive. was strangely relaxing. I did see my first 10+ minute miles (since my 10:14 Mile 1) during this last stretch, but I was so far ahead of my personal best that it didn't get me down. Sure, I wish I could've been running 9:15 pace instead of 10:30, but if my worst mile of a marathon was going to be a 10:30 then I had nothing to complain about. And I wasn't stopping. I had run every single step so far and I wasn't going to start walking now. I hadn't hit The Wall and the pain wasn't getting any worse. Looking back on it, I think the most painful parts were actually the downhill portions. The uphills weren't bothering me at all, but the downhills just burned my quads.

Mile 24

As soon as I saw the 40K mile marker (in 4:04), I put every effort into just running faster. Only 1.4 miles left...surely I could get my pace down in the 9 minute range for such a short distance. My mental calculations told me I couldn't quite reach a 4:15 after running 10:27 pace from 35K to 40K, but I had my PR in the bag and it was going to be a big one. Besides, the Magical Mile down Lamar Street was coming up. It's a spectacular marathon finish with screaming spectators, skyscrapers, and a ridiculous energy.

Then I saw Lauren (Dan's wife) and Erica with about 3/4 of a mile to go. They screamed my name and I screamed "PR, baby!" right back to them. Lauren captured the moment perfectly with her camera. What a huge boost for those last few minutes.

I started counting down the minutes as I ran down Lamar....and realized I could hit 4:17. The thought of that 4:17 made me cry for that last 1/10th of a mile.

Crossing that finish line felt like nothing else.


As soon as I got my medal I saw Tony waiting for me. He had run a 4:08, 9 minutes faster than his best marathon time. He said that John had run a 4:14. It was a great day for all of us!

Those first steps after the race were so excruciating. When you're in a rhythm for over 4 hours and you suddenly stop, your body becomes quite unhappy. My lungs were hurting and I couldn't walk any faster than a shuffle. Everyone around me pretty much looked the same, so at least I was in good company.

Yeah, we're happy we're done. Now, where's the chocolate milk??

I think the funniest moment came when we left the convention center to head across the street to the hotel. We had to step off the curb. I stared at that curb for a moment, then decided to turn around and step off backwards. Yes, just one step down and it scared me. Then we had to go up three steps inside the hotel. I really didn't want to and I may have whined a lot about it before sucking it up and going up the steps.

Marathoners can be so pathetic.

So what are my thoughts after this marathon? What have I learned that I can take into the next one?

1. I always wonder during every single marathon at around Mile 22 why I keep signing up for these.

2. I always sign up for another one no matter how many times I say I'm not going to.

3. It's easier to keep running, even if it's slow, than to walk and try to start running again. This was the first time I ran the entire distance non-stop (although in Austin in 2012 I stopped for a minute or two at Mile 17 to wait for a friend in the potty, but ran every mile of the race otherwise).

4. Hydrating early and often, with electrolytes, makes a huge difference in the later miles.

5. Not hitting the Wall is an kickass feeling. It means I did things right.

6. Even after 8 previous marathons, I really feel like I ran this one like a real marathoner. Finally.

7. Breaking 10 minute overall pace? IT'S ABOUT FREAKING TIME. <-----my favorite

8. Half marathon distance is so superior. But I still won't stop running full marathons.

9. Houston is a spectacular city who hosts an first rate race. Organization, execution, support, swag, spectators, the course....I just love it all.

10. I did this race pretty much on my own. Without anyone pushing me or pacing me or yelling at me. Starting the race with a buddy was great, and if I had run it with a friend the entire way that would have been great, too. But it also feels good that I didn't "need" anyone in order to run well. Although knowing they were probably waiting at the finish was a motivator to keep moving.

11. Mental strength is more important than physical strength after 20 miles.

12. My elation over my own race was made even greater after hearing about all my friends' great races. Seriously, I have awesome friends who ran such strong races and hearing about them thrilled me!

13. The only proper thing to have post marathon is a cheeseburger and a rum and coke. And cookies. And a hot shower. And flip flops.

14. I'll probably keep most of my thoughts from Miles 20-26 to myself.

15. Pacing a 5 hour group for a marathon sounds pretty good right now. Or 6 hours. Yeah, I could pull off 6 hours.

Marathon #10? I've got 3 more months....