Mercedes Marathon Race Report

(Pre-race pic. I did wear shoes.)

This will probably be long. I'll just warn you now. My husband and I got up early on Saturday, drove an hour to my parents' house in Kentucky, and dropped off my 3 and 7 year old girls. Then we drove with my 9-year-old son 3 hours and 45 minutes to Birmingham, Alabama. We checked in to a wonderful downtown hotel--the Hampton Inn Tutewiler. The best part is it was a block from the start!

We visited the expo, had a nice dinner at the hotel restaurant, and I put my feet up for the rest of the night. I slept terribly. I watched the clock all night long--11:30, 2:00, 3:15, was the longest night EVER! At 4:55, I noticed my son was awake, too. He informed me he was hungry. We threw on clothes and went to hit the complimentary breakfast bar at 5:00 a.m. (Left my husband sleeping.) There were already 3 or 4 runners in there.

Then it was time to get dressed, and my husband and son walked me to the starting line. I got there about 25 minutes before the start. The start was my only complaint with the whole race. Runners were in line for port-a-johns in the street--which was still open to traffic. It was funny--the runners were not budging from their spots in line. Cars were just trying to drive through the middle of the lines. Finally a cop redirected traffic. The other problem at the start is the pace groups didn't have any bright-colored shirts, signs, or anything to help us line up by pace. We just lined up blindly. All 9,000 of us. (8,000 in half, 900 or so in full)

The start was a chilly 30 degrees at 7:03 a.m. and I crossed exactly 4 minutes later. The first mile was wall-to-wall people. There were 2 hills in the first mile, and I thought that might not bode well! My first mile was right on pace at about 10:25. I was careful not to go out too fast in mile 2, as well. After those miles, I ran with my heart! I adopted a pretty agressive pace for my slow self. My last marathon was all about being conservative. Not this one. I wanted to see what I could do. I planned to walk 10 to 20 seconds at each water stop, and that's what I did. Since this is a double loop course, I really just focused on finishing the first 13.1 mile loop between 2:16 and 2:18. I didn't really focus on having to run 26.2, just 13.1 at at time.

On the course, I noticed we'd have what felt like a little uphill, then a great, long downhill. I have recently learned to run downhills from reading and talking to a former cross country runner. I relax, lean forward a little, and just let gravity do the rest. My stride elongates and my heels come up a little higher. I imagine (really!) I'm a child running down a hill. (I had a downhill front yard as a child. I ran down it a lot!) It's FUN!

Feeling great, I stayed on pace, but at mile 8, I stopped for a port-o-john (my only stop of the day!) with a short line. I lost about a minute to a minute and a half in mile 8.

I was still feeling strong and enjoyed a wonderful long downhill (half a mile at least) in mile 9. that was my only mile under a 10-minute pace, around 9:50. At mile 12, we were separated from the half-marathoners. I noticed I was running next to a guy who was also music-free (I was saving my music for the last 13.1 miles!), and I asked him "What's your goal for today?" We started talking and wound up staying together for the rest of the race! It made such a HUGE difference---suffering that is SHARED is much easier to deal with.

We passed 13.1 and my husband and son were cheering me on. I was a little ahead of schedule. My friend Reid and I passed the time by talking about our kids and jobs and spouses and his 8 other marathons. I realized my legs were starting to get tired from all the hills and the aggressive pace around mile 14 and dialed it back a little. According to the chip results, at 24.2K (around 15 miles) my average pace overall was 10:37. I was still feeling pretty good. At 30K (18 miles), my pace was averaging 10:38/mile. This was a best-case scenario for me!

In all my training runs, I'm usually doing ok up until mile 18, then it gets hard. Yesterday was no exception. At mile 18, my buddy and I were both feeling a little rough, so Reid suggested we walk for 1 minute at the mile marker for each mile. I agreed, and that strategy helped from miles 18-26. We were careful to time it and try to start back running at a decent pace when the minute was up. We skipped the walk break in mile 21, however, because the mile marker was in the middle of a nice downhill. We were flying down that hill (it seemed to us anyway), and we had no intention of stopping. I always say downhills are a gift from God, so walking them is just wrong!

When the going gets tough, my music usually helps me. Yesterday at mile 20, I tried to turn it on for the first time. It wouldn't work. Yes, I was music-free for 26.2 miles. In the car on the way home, I figured out what was wrong--very minor, but after 4 hours of running, troubleshooting my MP-3 wasn't possible! Kind of like doing math on a long run.

Finally, we made it to mile 26. 20-26 were tough, but 24-26 were really, really tough. I just wanted to find a spot in the grass to sit a minute or better yet--lay down! But I was on a MISSION---to finish marathon #2 with the best possible time.

The .2 seemed SO LONG. My husband and son were there cheering for me at about 26.1. I tried to sprint (that .2 was at a 9:21 pace on the Garmin), and finally the longest finishing chute EVER ended, and I crossed the mat. I heard my name announced, which was nice.
Chip time: 4:45:51---better than I had a right to expect. I expected 4:49-4:59 honestly! I'm proud of the overall 10:55 average pace, but I wish I hadn't slowed quite so much in miles 18-26.

Overall--a great experience! I highly recommend this marathon if you need an Alabama marathon for your 50 states. The course really is great--maybe I trained more on hills this time, but the uphills seemed little and the downhills big and plentiful. I was so blessed to find a running buddy. Reid was really loud and gregarious and positive. He kept saying, "My legs are tired, but my spirit isn't!" We ran at what felt like a strong pace for the WHOLE marathon---in contrast to the easy running I did last time (when I wasn't walking!) in the Country Music Marathon.

Two marathons, 10 months apart, but a world of difference in them. Having 30 to 40 degree temps is SO much better than 70's and 80's. I am satisfied with my marathon time now. I don't feel like I need another shot at redemption.

My legs hurt so much today!! My left knee is really sore---definitely plan to ice it. My quads are trashed more than anything from my "fun" downhills yesterday, but my hamstrings and knees are not very happy with me, either. I only have one blister and all toenails are so far intact though, so that's good news.

The NEATEST THING (if anyone is still reading at this point....) was my February 14th daily devotional. I've been reading this devotional sporadically and the Feb. 14th was written for ME.

The first line was "Give yourself fully to the adventure of today." Then it went on to talk about not worrying about the road ahead and taking comfort that God would be with me all of my days, holding my right hand. That devotion eased my pre-race anxiety. I carried it in my pocket and thought about it often on the run. It was a really blessed day.


Stacey said…
Glad it was such a great experience for you! You know I am living vicariously through you right now...I would have loved to be running with you yesterday! Congrats again! So excited you got the PR you wanted. You are awesome!
Anonymous said…
Wow! More than 30 minites faster than your last marathon! Way to go!!!
Amy said…
Yay!!!! Congrats on an awesome finish!
Lisa said…
I am so glad you enjoyed your experience! All those months and months of training finally paid off.

Congratulations on a great PR!!
EricaH said…
Great job beating your goal time, glad you had a good time. Hope you get a lot of rest today so your legs can start liking you again. :)
runningtwig said…
Congrats on your finish!

I'm another running mom and it's nice to hear great stories like yours!
Anonymous said…
The stars had definitely aligned for you on this race on so many levels.
Kelly said…
Great job! Glad that you exceeded your goal! Doesn't that feel great! Rest up, and thanks for a great race report.
Wendy said…
Sounds like such a great race! Good job!
Jen said…
AWESOME race recap!!!!!

Yay for getting a PR!!
Congratulations on a great race. And holding on to the best inspiration!

I am glad you got to enjoy the sounds around you during the race. I am sure there was a reason your MP3 player didn't work. There always is. Enjoy the rush of another marathon completed.

So glad you wore shoes! heehee ;-)
You ran a great race! How great to run with a positive runner until the end - I'm sure that helped!
Lana said…
I'm so happy for you, Donna. Your perpetual marathon training is over -- until you start working toward your third marathon!
Great Race! Enjoyed the report very much. Congratulations on #2. You have a lot to be proud of and thankful for. Can't wait to hear what is next.
Chris said…
Hooray! Congratulations! Great time and great story!

God bless,
NY Wolve said…
What a super experience. As i explained to my wife, success in a race is the culmination of many factors over months of effort -- training, support, sacrifice and dedication. All for that achievement. So, good for you!
Way to go! Congrats on your PR!!!
Kate said…
hi! i just found your blog. what a wonderful marathon story! i could feel your emotions and what it must have really been like. i thought about that race since i'm not too far from AL (in GA) but i just wasn't ready yet (trained for a marthon in nov. but found out what an ITB injury is!). CONGRATULATIONS on your great time and finish!
Anonymous said…
Reading your blog really encouraged me... I'm 19 and running my 1st half a week from today... Mercedes 1/2 to be exact :)
Anyway, I've been feeling rather anxious lately but your last paragraph concerning the devotional really hit home with me. Congrats on completing your run & God bless!!!
Anonymous said…
Running the race this weekend for the first time and found your blog very helpful. This is also my second marathon with the first being run about 5 months ago in 80-90 degree weather. Your course description has mentally relaxed my worrisome brain. Congrats on your triumph
RunnerMom said…
Good luck to you both! I LOVED the course and the race. Birmingham is a must-do!
Pam said…
I just came across this post when I googled "Mercedes Marathon race report." It was the deciding factor--I just registered for 2013!