the nitty gritty details

So, now for the details (at least as many as I can remember).  This is probably going to be long, so I’ll apologize in advance.  If you want the quick synopsis, look at this post.

On Sunday, I ran a marathon.  It all seems so surreal.  Almost like I dreamed it.  Today, two days later, I feel…normal.  There is a tiny bit of tightness in my muscles, but really, I feel fine.  Tonight I ran up the stairs and into the hall before I realized just what I was doing.  “Shouldn’t that have hurt?” I thought.

But I’m jumping way ahead of myself, aren’t I?

We drove up to Minneapolis on Saturday, taking our time getting there.  My husband was dying to visit the Toppling Goliath brewery in Decorah, Iowa.  I am so glad we stopped.  The people there were so incredibly nice, and we enjoyed spending a few hours just sitting there talking beer.  I think my husband is already trying to figure out when he can get back.  Luckily for us, we were there right when they tapped Pseudo Sue, so we got to taste it fresh – minutes from being kegged…it was, in a word, amazing.  Definitely worth the visit.  However, it made us a bit later getting into Minneapolis than we originally planned, so we had to go to packet pickup first before checking into the hotel.  No worries, packet pickup was a breeze, and I got to say a quick hi to fellow RMM Leia who was working at the shirt handout tables.

One thing that I have always wanted to do is to own a marathon finisher’s jacket.  I always told myself I would get one for my first marathon.  So I keyed in on those in the “expo” (more on that later) and went to check them out.  I thought they were a bargain at $30, and my husband nodded, so I quickly purchased one.  I figured this was more incentive to finish the race, because there was no way I would wear the jacket without actually finishing.  That would be like lying!

Overall, I was disappointed in the expo.  Packet pickup was great and super convenient, but the expo consisted of a few marathon shirts and the aforementioned jackets, and one display of running gear.  Hardly anything for the “last minute” shopper – my husband was thinking of getting some new headphones, and I always like to see the latest running gear, but what little they had there I could get at the local sporting goods store.  So we were in and out of there in about 15 minutes.

We went to the hotel, checked in, and headed out to get some dinner.  My husband figured I should eat pasta, so he took me to an Italian place.  We ordered, and when our food arrived, I ate two bites and, suddenly, couldn’t eat any more.  My stomach was in a huge knot, and I had no appetite.  I struggled to swallow a few more bites, then decided force-feeding myself wasn’t a good idea either.  Luckily we had shared a salad and I had eaten a few slices of bread before the entrees arrived, so it wasn’t like I was starving myself.

We headed back to the hotel, and I laid out my race gear, got my fuel belt and bib number set up, my timing chip on my shoelaces, and I was in bed by 9.  Crazy people, we are.

Sunday morning the alarm went off at 5:15.  (The race started at 6:30.)  I had slept pretty soundly, only waking once at 3:15, and I had been able to go back to sleep.  I was calm, not very nervous, which is weird for me.  I’m usually a nervous wreck before a race.  I got dressed and ate a banana, while my husband got his running gear on (he ran the half).  We headed out to walk to the race, and halfway there I realized I hadn’t eaten the cereal I packed.  We looked for a coffee shop to buy a bagel, but none were open, so my husband offered me the gel he was going to take on his race.  So I had a gel about 6:15.

A nice guy offered to take our picture if we’d buy him running shoes…

I lined up with the 10 minute/mile group, and soon it was time to go.  I never heard a starting gun, or the national anthem, actually I never heard anything.  There were about 800-900 runners in the full marathon (the half started an hour later, at 7:30), so it wasn’t like it was a huge crowd, but I couldn’t hear the PA system at all.  So when everyone started to crowd up to the front, I followed along (we are really just lemmings, aren’t we) and started running when I hit the pace mats.

And we’re off!  Can you find me?

I wonder what I was looking at?

The first six miles of the race pretty much flew by.  There were plenty of people around, I really enjoyed talking with one fellow runner for a few miles until we hit a water stop and I lost her.  The highlight of the first few miles had to be talking for a while with a guy wearing a full hockey uniform (pads and all).  The only thing he wasn’t wearing were the skates – luckily he had running shoes on instead.  He was running with a relay team and they were raising money for charity.  Each of them had on the full uniform.  With the heat, the added weight (he said it was something like 30 pounds of gear), and the helmet, I am so impressed by these guys.

At mile 6 I stopped at a porta potty (actually this was at the finish line – what torture to have us run by the finish line at mile 6?), then kept going.  I was going along at a comfortable pace, but in hindsight it might have been faster than I should have been going.  But it felt good and the air was cool, so I went with it.  It wasn’t that far off my normal pace, but knowing now what was coming, I probably could have slowed down.

I followed my original race plan to run with a bottle of nuun, sipping throughout the run, and take a gel every 5-6 miles.  With the breakfast snafu and the lack of a full dinner the night before, I opted to fuel more often, knowing that the guidance is usually “fuel before you think you need it” – so I aimed to take a gel every 5 miles or less.  It worked for me in training, I wasn’t going to change now.  And I sipped on the nuun the whole time I ran, refilling the water bottle when it was getting low and dropping in a new tablet.  I drank almost four whole bottles of water during the race – three were nuun, and the last was water.  For someone who typically drinks one during a long run, this was a lot more – but I needed it.

Everything went great until mile 14, when it started to get hard.  Miles 12-14 had been on a nice wooded trail, shady and cool.  Then we hit mile 14, and bam! back into the sun.  I decided I could use some music, so I turned on some Radiohead.  Then at mile 15, we hit a gravel road for a mile out-and-back.  The course had been rerouted due to flooding, so I know this wasn’t the original plan, but the gravel, honestly, was not a good running surface.  Some of the rocks were over an inch in diameter, and often I found myself with one poking up into my shoe, or my ankle twisting as I landed roughly on one.  I tried to find the path of least rocks, but this was a hard job.  Kudos to the guy who ran this barefoot.  He should get two medals.

Side note – at this point we were also running in the runway approach for the Minneapolis St. Paul Airport.  An airplane flew about 200 yards over my head.  It was kind of cool.

Just before mile 18, the 4:30 pacer passed me.  4:30 had been my “stretch goal” – the “if everything is going perfect, then I might have a shot at it” goal.  Just after that, this happened (see red circle).

I am not kidding. This was climbing a mountain.

Everyone walked that hill.  I don’t think it was physically possible to run up it.

By the time I hit mile 19, we were running right next to the interstate.  Cars were honking, the sun was beating down, and I was getting tired.  I told myself, “You knew this was going to be hard.  Now you have to finish.”

I looked up, and saw the most amazing sight.  I saw an eagle fly overhead, just above the treetops.  (maybe 50 feet over my head).  Nobody else was close to me on the path.  I think I was the only one who saw it.  I watched to see the eagle come out of the other side of the tree, and it never did.  I couldn’t find it again.  It was like it had vanished.  If you’ve followed this blog you know about me and eagles.  To me, this was a sign – right when things got hard, I see an eagle?  It couldn’t have been a coincidence.  And I’m pretty sure I wasn’t hallucinating.  I dug down and started running again.

I kept a steady pace, just walked more at the end.

The next 6 miles were tough, yes, but I never, ever thought I wouldn’t make it.  I looked at my watch and saw that I had finished 20 miles in about 3:30.  The question wasn’t whether I would finish, the question was how long it would take.  So I allowed myself to walk when it was hard, when I was tired, and each time I would start running again.

Eventually around mile 22-23, I realized that it hurt more to walk than to run, so I started to try and run more often, and make the walk breaks shorter.  By this time it was pretty warm, so I tried to stay in what little shade was left.  Everyone around me was walking too.  I guess all the “runners” were up ahead…that or it was the heat.  There was a small group of us that were all together, we’d pass one another, then one would walk and the others would pass, and so on.  It was like a giant slow-motion game of leapfrog.  But way less fun.

In the end, I did finish, and I was even able to pick up the pace a bit at the end.  I heard the announcer struggle to pronounce my name, as always.  At least this race I was not “Annie” – that was a definite plus!

Right after the race I found my husband, and we headed off to the beer tent.  The beer wasn’t very good, so we stayed to talk with Leia for a little while then headed back to the hotel.  I was disappointed in the post-race party, but this post is already too long, and there’s no need to complain here.  I will just fill out my post-race survey as requested and give them my feedback directly.  Let’s just say I didn’t get any water except for a small cup right at the finish line, and nobody told me where I could get my finisher’s photo taken, so I didn’t get one.

I’m pretty sure I told my husband several times I didn’t need to ever do this again.  But at the same time in my head I was already analyzing what went wrong and trying to figure out if any of it could be fixed.  I’m an engineer, that’s what I do.  After getting back to the hotel, we both wanted to collapse – so we took quick showers and laid down.  I’ll admit I felt pretty awful – tired and exhausted, sore, achy, and nauseous.

But a few hours later, we got up, went for a walk to get something to eat, and besides having a hard time getting up and out of chairs, I wasn’t feeling too bad.  At dinner, we sat down at the restaurant, and “Learning to Fly” came on.  If you don’t know why this is important, reference the eagle post above.  This isn’t a song I usually hear on the radio, and less often at restaurants.  It also was totally in contrast with the rest of the music at this restaurant.  It was definitely strange that it came on, but appropriate given the day.  To me, it was just another confirmation that sometimes, our instincts are spot on.   Of course I believe in coincidences, but this time, no.  This was a sign.

So that was my race story.  And now, two days later, with no leg pain and feeling pretty much recovered, I have to ask myself, do I want to do this again?

Honestly?  I think I do.  I can’t believe I just said that.  But maybe not this year, because if I do this again I want to be able to put 100% into the training, so that I go into the race knowing that I have done the best I can do.  So although I have some thinking to do, I’ve already got three half marathons this fall, so I think I’ll probably focus on those.  It will be easier to do the training through our busy summer, and I can still get in some pretty long runs with the LU crew.

For those who are into numbers…

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5 responses to “the nitty gritty details

  • Jill

    Congrats! And great recap.

  • Dan

    Congratulations on becoming a marathoner – wear those laurels proudly for life.

    Great recap too. I did the same thing at the expo of my first marathon – bought a fleece sweater and kept it in my gearcheck bag until I was done. Loved wearing it as a prize to myself 🙂

    Any part of a race that ends up next to the interstate sucks. The Chicago marathon is awesome except for the mile that runs next to the expressway, because is is just intrinsically awful. Not only are highways grey slabs of boring, but there’s no shade, too much heat from car exhausts, and you get to see how slow you are because cars just do the job so much faster.

    • illinoishawkeye

      Thanks Dan! The jacket was definitely motivation to keep going – although I never thought about quitting, I would have hated to waste the $30.

      Part of the Rock and Roll Seattle race is actually on the freeway. The QC marathon is similar, in that you go on the I-74 interstate bridge – but it’s in the first few miles so it’s still cool. But it is so weird, to be running alongside cars. It feels inherently unsafe. At least in Minneapolis we were on a bike path that just happened to run next to the interstate, so the cars were separated from us by a fence and concrete wall.

      Thanks for the feedback!

  • haleymg12

    My first marathon is in 13 days. I’m excited, nervous, scared, happy…Thanks for sharing your experience!

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