Race Report!

Short version:
I PR'd by 3 minutes, 12 seconds! I finished in 2:15:49. But it wasn't all rosy. They were out of Gatorade at the last 3 water stops (and I hadn't taken any in the first two because it sometimes upsets my stomach) so I wound up with gluteus maximus cramps after my finish line sprint--- horrible, I-can't-walk, charlie-horse-style cramps on both sides of my butt from salt depletion. Not fun.

Long version:
I had run 13.1 miles twice in the 5 weeks before the race. I felt ready. I drank plenty of fluids on Thursday and Friday before the Saturday morning race. I even watched the movie Spirit of the Marathon for extra inspiration! I slept ok on Thursday night, but I woke up in the wee hours on Saturday---around 3:30 a.m. and couldn't go back to sleep. I had to get up at 5:15 anyway, so it wasn't so bad.

The usual breakfast (coffee and Special K) at 5:30 a.m. was followed by 1/2 a bagel on the way to the race for extra carbs. My friend and I picked up our chips, did a short warm up, maybe .25 mile, visited the port-o-potty twice and it was race time! I was feeling ok at this point, but a little nervous about making my goal.

About 115 of us lined up at the start and the strangest thing happened---I was near the back and never even heard the start. I didn't hear a count down, a gun, or even a "go." The people near the front just started moving. I was in no hurry because it was a chip-timed race, but then I noticed there was no start mat to cross. I guess to save money on mats and the timing system, we all got the same starting time. I know I lost precious seconds in my journey to actually cross the starting line. (If I had realized there was no mat there, I would have lined up further ahead!)

The race started and I wound up running with with two first-time half-marathoners for the first six miles. We had the same finish goal-- 2:15-- so we were a mini "pace-group." We set a fairly challenging pace, but tried to make sure we didn't start out too fast. I was able to talk, but it was a little bit of a struggle, so I was probably at the right "race pace."

All three of us stopped at the two port o potties at mile 6 (I had to wait because they got there first). At that point, I was glad for a little break from running! I was finding I wasn't having a great running day (actually I knew by mile four that it wasn't a great day. Not an awful day, either, but everything wasn't quite coming together.)

Maybe I set my goal too high, but I was having to push harder than expected to maintain the needed pace. (Training Mistake #1: Not doing the tempo runs called for in my plan at a fast enough pace to get me used to pushing. Too many of my training runs were at a comfortable pace due to the heat we've had here in Tennessee, even the "tempo" runs.)

The men stationed at the half-way point told me I was at 1 hour, 7 minutes and I didn't hear the seconds. I was on pace for a 2:15 finish, but just barely. Since my energy was flagging a bit at around 6 and a half miles, I put on my music for the first time of the day. I knew it would give me a burst of energy. It really did! Mile 7 was my fastest of the day at 9:33 pace. I passed my pace group and one or two more runners. I felt pretty strong around 8 and 9, too.

Then I ran into the most difficult part of the course. Mile 10 was hill after hill. I had trained on hills a little (perhaps not enough?). I remember thinking in mile 10 "I need to find a new sport. I hate running." I was running alone, really low on energy, and the hills were not my friend. People I had passed earlier were now passing me, including both of my pace group friends! I did have the pleasure of passing a couple of new folks there, but then I was walking, too. I felt like I needed to save some energy for the finish, so I thought it best to conserve by walking the steepest part of the hills. Plus, I was running so slowly up the steep hills, that walking wasn't that much of a change! (Training Mistake #2: If at all possible, run the EXACT course prior to race day. I would have known more of what to expect, how much energy to conserve if I'd done that.)

Finally, I was off the hills and somewhat on the home stretch. I had "fallen apart" on the hills, fallen way behind my little pace group, and was just ready to be done. (They finished in 2:08 and 2:13---dang first timers!) During all of this, so many negative thoughts pulsed through my brain. I decided to never run a marathon, never run another half-marathon, and that maybe running more than 5 miles was just plain awful. I was actually mad at running. My left leg hurt from the hip to the knee and my right ankle hurt. My gluteus maximus on the left side was so tight, but I never stopped to stretch. I didn't have anyone to talk to, nothing interesting to look at, and I was just pretty miserable.

In the last two miles, no one passed me. I overtook one man and one woman. I could see the finish line. Yet I was still struggling physically and mentally. I tried mind over matter. I was willing my legs to move faster and would think I was running maybe 9:30/pace, then look at my Garmin and was at a 10:35 pace. Slow felt fast at that point. I needed to average a sub 10-minute pace in that last mile, and I just didn't have it in me. With 1/2 mile to go, I took a final walk break! (I was just done at that point and realized my goal was out of reach.) I bucked up a little after a few seconds, decided I would come in under 2:17, and I started running again.

Then I saw a little kid in a red jacket running toward me. It was my son Nathaniel. His friend joined him and my friend Rebecca ran out, too, to run me in. I ran with them until I was close enough to see the finish clock. It was on something like 2:15:30 and knew I could make it under 2:16 if I really pushed. I ran faster than I have ever run in my life. My Garmin clocked me at a 6:01/pace at some point in that last little bit. I crossed at 2:15:49 with my seven-year-old son by my side.

I got my medal, they took my chip, and then I stopped moving for a second as they handed me a bottle of water and a Gatorade. Suddenly, both muscles in my booty CLENCHED UP. I have never had that happen before. I couldn't believe the pain. I tried to walk out the cramps, but the muscles were so tightly clenched, that I could only hobble. I looked like those people at the end of a marathon who have hit a major wall. I quickly drained the Gatorade because I figured the cramps were related to salt-loss from everything I've read (add in the hills, too). I had eaten two gels, but had not had any fluids other than water throughout the race. I kept walking and after a very long 6 or 7 minutes, the muscle cramps subsided.

I never got around to stretching after the cramp episode, so I paid the price the rest of the day and on Sunday. All of my leg muscles, my knees, and my ankles hurt.

In summary, the race just wasn't fun. I didn't really enjoy any of it, it was hard, and I wasn't as prepared as I thought I was. I'm just being honest. We all know some days on the road everything comes together and some days things don't. I guess you take the good with the bad.

I'm less mad at running today and might do the Country Music Half again in the spring. Now THAT was a fun race with thousands of runners, a palpable energy, the huge crowd support--- ringing cow bells, people calling out my name (from my shirt), live music playing. I hadn't realized how much all those distractions kept me from focusing on the running. The crowd almost carries you forward in a big race. You don't even see the hills, you just see long stretches of people, you hardly feel your own pain.

I don't think I ever have a marathon in me. For a while, I'm sticking to short runs and maybe a short, fun race or two. Or not. I've got to recover from this race in more ways than one!


MCM Mama said…
Great job on the PR! Ouch, ouch, ouch. Those cramps just sound way painful.
Runnergirl said…
Way to go~ Congratulations on your PR!
Jules said…
You did it Lady!!! WOOO I was thinking about you today! Can't wait to hear the details.

Congrats on the PR
Jules said…
OK, the MINUTE I realized you were about to start talking about coming into the finish with your son running with you i started crying...see, emotional freak!! That was so sweet!!!

I am proud of you. How great...I can't imagine how hard that was.

Hope your butt gets better! ;)
Amy said…
Awesome job!!!! Way to PR! Sorry that it wasn't a good run... but, the fact that you PRed and had a crappy running day, says a lot!
Way to grit it out, Donna and congratulations on your FASTEST RUN YET!!! Sorry it was so difficult but you are all kinds of tough for sticking it out and even sprinting at the end. Think what an inspiration you were to your kids as they ran you in and what a life-lesson you taught them.

Take care and rest up!
Janice said…
Great job on your PR.. Sorry you felt terrible after.. I am excited for the Country music in April....