It's been a long two years and I missed the marathon distance. As tough and demanding it is, there's just something incredibly intoxicating about toeing the line at a marathon. My body has had other ideas over the past two years and after downgrading two previous marathon registrations to the half marathon distance, I was ready to do whatever I could to return to the full distance.
The Louisiana Marathon fell on my birthday for 2017, and I felt like I needed something different to commit to, so before I talked myself out of it, I registered for the Deja Vu. I'd be running the 5k on Saturday, and the marathon on Sunday.
I wrote and rewrote, and rewrote again, a 6 month training plan. From July to October my focus was on building my base miles up, with interval training to try to regain some of the speed I've lost. I ran two half marathons in October, one that I actually raced and one that was pretty awful because of weather. The first one, in California, was spectacular and showed me that whatever I was doing was working and I was regaining strength, both physically and mentally. From October until January's race day, I increased my volume and the length of my interval and speed training sessions until I was consistently running 35-40+ mile weeks, 4-5 days per week, with very few runs under 6 miles. I spent a little time getting my IT band worked on, did countless rehab exercises, and plugged away week after week. The training plan was exactly what I needed.
My marathon PR is 4:17:53, not spectacular by any means, especially compared to my fastest half marathon of 1:51:36. I have run several good marathon races, but always felt like I kept holding myself back for fear of dying towards the end of the race. I love the accomplishment of completing the marathon, but I'm admittedly not a great marathon runner. For Louisiana I really wanted to run a 4:15. If I was honest with myself, I know I can actually run faster than that, but after two years and battling injuries and stress, I thought a 4:15 was totally reasonable and would quite honestly still not be very easy.
Of course race day weather was not bound to cooperate with my plans. My medical woes (asthma) make it tough for me to push too hard for too long in warm, humid weather. I run the risk of ending up in the medical tent, and I have to respect this. It's frustrating, but it is what it is. While temperatures in the 60s wouldn't be awful (40s to 50s are ideal), the fact that the humidity would be at 100% would seriously compromise my lungs. When I ran my first October race, the air was dry and the effect it had on my breathing was dramatic. I had absolutely zero issues racing in 20-30% humidity and it was glorious. It's the opposite when the humidity creeps over 70% (that's what happened in my second October half and it was ugly). The forecast wasn't budging as we approached the race. It was going to be warm and humid, and the humidity was not going to burn off.
But first things first...Baton Rouge is awesome. As soon as we arrived in town, I knew it would be a fun weekend. The downtown area was so pretty, and clean, and vibrant, with lots of great restaurants and services. Once parked at the hotel, everything was in walking distance. My room had a view of the Mississippi, so can't really beat that.
The expo was full of energy. Lots of good vendors and friendly people, with race merchandise that could appeal to everyone. Wandering through the expo was fun and it got my excitement going for the upcoming races. I bought myself a logo tank, mug, visor, and car sticker.
The FOOD. Oh my gosh, the food in Louisiana was wonderful. I was going to be eating well the entire time. Saturday night's meal was so enjoyable, with a glass of wine thrown in to mellow me out for the next morning.
I couldn't control the weather, but there were countless other things I could control. I shook off the disappointment (mostly) and took stock of how I could make the race day great regardless of the weather gods being assholes.
- I adjusted my race goal to 4:30 (although after running the 5K on Saturday and trying to breathe in that crap, I pushed that to 4:35). Out of 12 marathons, that time would be my 7th fastest...okay by me!
- I rested as much as I could
- I hydrated like I've never hydrated before. At least a gallon of water daily for the week before the race, including electrolytes every day.
- I cut out alcohol.
- I fueled with good food that would make my body happy.
- I purchased a tank made of the lightest possible fabric I could find, in white in case the sun came out (it did).
- I made a new race day game plan (more details below) that took into account this crappy development.
- I reminded myself that I had done the hard work, and had been successful at it, and the race was merely the final bow, and one that I needed to enjoy.
But first on the weekend agenda besides eating all the fabulous food and buying all the fabulous merchandise...I ran a 5K on Saturday. When you run both days on marathon weekend, you earn a crawfish platter. I can't pass up on extra bling, and I've done the 5K the day before a big race a couple other times, so why not? The air Saturday morning was of course thick with fog, but a couple degrees cooler than what Sunday morning would be. I had no plans to go all out in the first mile of the race, but would just try to run a nice negative split without overtaxing myself too much. It would be a fun way to shake out the legs and fire them up a bit before the marathon.
|Can you see the Capitol? Neither could anyone else.|
The race was a blast! I ran a conservative 9:00 first mile, then kicked it up slowly before building up more speed after the halfway turnaround. I ran the first half in about 13:40 so right on target to where I expected to be. I felt so great during the second mile (which came in at 8:21) that I continued to speed up a bit for the final 1.1 miles. I was right at 26 minutes when I crossed the finish line. Great for a shake out run, without pushing myself too hard and compromising my race the next day.
Surprisingly enough, that time unofficially got me 6/125 in my age group, 50/958 for females (say what??), and 178/1614 overall. So maybe I'm a decent 5k runner. Definitely better than I am at marathons!
|Just a bit humid|
But the air was no doubt pretty awful. Not bad to push through for 3 miles, but a 4+ hour slog in it would be a different story if I wasn't smart. After spending lots of time at the Finish Festival eating all the yummy samples from the vendors and enjoying some great live music, we finally headed out to eat a real brunch. By that time the sun had come out. The air felt pretty crappy and it would probably be the same the next day.
|The sun came out!|
So here's how it all went down on Sunday....
|Pre race jitters with a smile|
When we were walking to the start line, the air was so thick it felt like it was drizzling on us. You couldn't see the Louisiana Capitol Building at all. It didn't feel too warm, about 60 degrees. Waiting in the starting chute, however, felt really warm and I was eager to just get going and spread out a bit. I kept telling myself that I'd be done before lunchtime and it would all be worth it.
My plan was to run as even half splits as possible. The last thing I wanted was to go out too fast and then crash at the end. If I could just maintain what I was doing, stay mentally tough at the end, and stay as cool and hydrated as possible, I'd consider it a success. So I started really really slow. First mile was 10:45 and I just wanted to get used to the air. I wasn't breathing too hard those first few miles and felt absolutely fine. I guess that's not too hard to do when the average pace is well over ability..ha!
Running alongside my friend Kalynn helped tremendously. She was running the half marathon but since the split wasn't until Mile 11 I got to spend a lot of time talking to her and it made those first miles go by very quickly. She's a Boston Qualified marathoner, so for her to slow down as much as she did for me was a huge sacrifice on her part and I'm so grateful for that!
The course is just great. I got to run through LSU's campus (did you know they have an actual live tiger living in the middle of campus? Although, sadly, the latest mascot recently died), which meant lots of college boys at aid stations. I wasn't complaining. After leaving campus, the course meandered along Lakeshore Drive for several miles. What a beautiful and peaceful area of the city. Each house was unique and most were really spectacular. The race was actually going to by quickly and before I knew it we were already 10 miles in.
After this point, I was running alone. Kalynn was off to finish the half and start enjoying the festival. My other friend, Tony, who was running the full was probably far ahead of me at this point. But the spectators made it feel anything but lonely. The spectators!! Seriously, the only place that has spectators as awesome as Baton Rouge is maybe Houston, but even so I think Baton Rouge may have them beat. They're aren't as many of them, but they make up for their numbers with their enthusiasm and willingness to help out all the runners as much as possible. It seemed like for every official aid station there were one or two spectator pseudo-aid stations set up outside of residences. They were handing out anything from champagne and beer to Swedish Fish and pretzels.
I also think I made a great choice by putting "Birthday Girl" as my bib name. It made me pretty popular with the spectators and they made sure everyone around knew I was running on my birthday. I had so many smiles while running that it almost made me forget how atrocious the air was.
Almost. I never sped up too much during this race. I hated running slowly, but my strategy was working. I felt okay through at least the first 18 or so miles. There were aid stations every single mile, which was a life saver. I could refill my water bottle or dump water on my head, or grab the ice cups they had after Mile 11. It saved my butt, that's for sure. When the sun came out about 3 hours into the race, the aid stations became even more important. If I couldn't control the weather, at least I could be smart about my hydration. I was being really great about drinking water often and using my Base salts every few miles. I stuck to my nutrition fueling strategy of every 5 miles, and grabbed a couple extra things along the course, like Swedish fish and orange slices. I was a soaking mess towards the end of the race with how much water I had dumped over my head, but it kept me from overheating.
|Clearly I've been dumping a lot of water on myself|
|This is late in the race but I'm still smiling!|
I'm honestly surprised I never felt really hot during the race, even with the sun. I expect it not only had to do with staying cool with the water, but also with all the shade on the course. Many of the Baton Rouge neighborhoods have tree canopies across their roads, providing an incredible amount of shade for the runners. This is one of the reasons (out of many!) I chose this race. Shade is imperative if the sun is out. And I know I also felt okay because instead of running my 9:45 goal pace I was running 10:15-10:30.
My splits came through as I had planned them, 1:05 at the 10k, 2:15 at the half, 3:16 at 19 miles. I was slowly improving my pace over the miles and it looked like I was likely to cross the line in about 4:31 or 4:32 if I kept up the current pace.
At about 21 miles I got tired. It was taking it's toll on me. I also realized that this was the first time in a very, very long time I had run a non-stop 21+ miles. Every step I had taken on this course so far had been running. I could still see the 4:30 pacer in front of me, and he was my motivation for several of the previous miles. I battled with my head for about the next mile or so about whether I would let myself take a little walk break. I HATE walking during a race, even if it's just for a minute or two. I would prefer slowing down to walking. I guess this wasn't necessarily an ordinary race. If the air was drier I'd be at least another mile ahead at this point and probably wouldn't feel the need to walk, but after over 3 1/2 hours I was definitely getting tired.
I decided to be really regimented about walk breaks for the remainder of the race. I ran until I got to 22.2 miles, so with four miles to go until the finish I walked 1/10th of a mile, then ran another 9/10. It was pushing my pace over 11:00 but I was still in range for a 4:35 if I finished the race like this. I was okay with that. I stuck to that plan for the last four miles.
At Mile 25 Kalynn found me and she ran the rest of the way with me. That last mile was a bit of a blur, because at this point I was definitely ready to be done. It had been a long morning! I usually can pick up the pace that last mile, but last time I did that in humidity like this I ended up in medical. I would never hear the end of it if I had to visit the medical tent again after a race, so speed up I did NOT. As a matter of fact, that last mile (all of which was "running"!) was just as slow as Mile 1. So I guess I really was tired.
|Not smiling yet...but close...|
|Finish line smile!|
I heard the announcer call my name a couple of times as I was closing in on the finish line and that was really cool. I love races that announce all the finishers as they come in. As soon as I was done (4:35:42!) and could stop running, everything started hurting.
Daaaaamn, walking through the finish chute was hard. My body was seriously yelling at me and all I could think about was that it was time to retire from marathons. I never really hit the wall in this race but those last miles were pretty rough...at least that's what my foggy and tired mind was telling me.
I made it to Kalynn's husband, Cary, and the chairs they had set up and they sweetly took care of me and made sure I was okay. My friend Tony (who trained with MY training plan) PR'd by over 5 minutes. A freaking PR!! On my coaching! A part of me was so proud and so happy and felt so vindicated that the plan I poured over really was awesome, but then I also kind of wanted to hit him a little for running it 32 minutes faster than me. He's a lucky guy to not get affected by the humidity like I do.
|Thank you Kalynn and Cary for the chair to sit in!|
|That is a gumbo pot and the fantastic Cajun chefs|
The Finish Festival was just as great the second day and I got my fill of Louisiana food and music for the next hour or so. Then spent about another hour walking the half mile to the hotel (not really, it just felt like it). Luckily I didn't have too much trouble stepping off of curbs this time around (not the case a couple years ago post-Houston Marathon when I stared at a curb for a good minute before attempting to step off it backwards).
A 20 minute shower, a rum and coke while IN the shower, birthday cookies made by my friend Shelley of Sharp Cookie, and the promise of all the fried seafood I could get my hands on got me through the afternoon.
I always learn something from every marathon I complete. I trained very well for this race. It was an ambitious training plan, particularly with needing a little rehab on my IT band, but I powered through it successfully. I was TRAINED. It was a great feeling knowing I toed the line ready to complete that 26.2 miles. I couldn't help that the weather was exactly what I DIDN'T need, but I readjusted my goals and my race day plan and was determined to still be successful. At first glance, a 4:35 (which falls at 7th place for fastest marathon out of the 12 I've done) doesn't seem too great when my original goal was 4:15. However, I ran smart, I pushed through, I stuck to the new race plan, I didn't overheat, my lungs held up, and my half splits were pretty good for a bad weather marathon at 2:15:50 and 2:19:52. It could easily have been really ugly those last few miles had I hit the wall. On a side note, when I checked the results I noticed that even with my slowdown at the end of the race, I moved from 40th in my age group at the 10k split up to 24th at the finish...that might be my favorite statistic.
|Two medals and a crawfish platter|
My recovery, despite being horribly sick right now 4 days post-race (the FLU!!), has been better than normal. I actually am not having too much trouble with sore muscles or weird pains. Absolutely no IT band pain, which is a bit of a miracle. After my last marathon two years ago, I struggled that next week and never really recovered like I should have, causing me to downgrade another marathon three months later. That's not the case this time around. My legs feel good, if not still a bit sore and tired, but good overall and ready to get back to regular exercise soon.
I'm definitely wondering if I want to sign up for another marathon this winter or early spring. Should I give it another shot?