Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Running Is Stupid. Falling is Stupider. Flying Monkey 2012 Race Report

Caution:  World's longest race report.

On Sunday, I ran one of the hardest road marathons in the country--the Harpeth Hills Flying Monkey Marathon.  (See any flying monkeys in the picture?)  It is kind of the Rocky Horror of marathons--- a quirky group of runners and ultramarathoners, some in costume, some in very little of anything, assembles each year.  Many wear shirts bearing the number of their "monkey kills" of the past.  The monkey virgins, such as myself, have little idea what we are truly in for. 

"We've got BIG hills."  "You can't train for the monkey, so don't bother."  "You're an idiot."    These are a few of the notes we received from masochist Race Director Trent.  (He's a masochist rather than a sadist because he not only plans the race and designed the original course, but he runs it every year with the other runners!)  The course is notorious for UNRELENTING hills.   Huge hills.  Steep hills.  More and more and then some more hills.   Here is the ridiculous elevation profile.  Yes, those are some BIG hills, a total of 3500 feet of elevation gain overall.

Hearing all these things about the Monkey, I sort of wanted to do it.  I saw it as kind of the ultimate challenge in road marathons.  If I could finish the Monkey in decent shape, I will have somehow "arrived" as a marathoner.  (Whatever.)

This race is so popular and so small and intimate (only 300 runners), that there is a lottery to get in.  I registered for the lottery on a whim, SURE I wouldn't possibly get in.  I still wasn't 100% sure I wanted to run another marathon this year after Kentucky Derby and then the 50K in june.  And, of course, I got in.    A $90 credit card charge later, and I had to start training.  

Four months and many miles later, it was packet pick up day.  The last weeks prior to the race, I had tapered extra carefully.  I'd been having problems with my right ankle/achilles tendon since my 20 miler and my left knee had been bothering me for about 6 weeks on hilly runs.  I had purchased a new Zensah ankle support sleeve to wear on race day on that right ankle and was hoping for the best with the knee.

The husband, kids and I headed down to Nashville, only an hour away, on Saturday afternoon.   We drove a portion of the course and I was amazed at how beautiful it was.  I also told myself that it wasn't as bad as I'd pictured.  (Yes, it doesn't look that bad when you are DRIVING IT IN A CAR!)   We had lunch and went to packet pick up.  This race has great swag.  We received a tech shirt (personalized with our monkey name---I was Monkey Mama), a t-shirt, a car magnet, and a car sticker (for when some jerk steals your magnet).   I also purchased a race poster.  I had a feeling this was going to be a memorable one.  Boy, was I right! 

Race morning, my friend Marlene and I drove together to Nashville.  She and 4 other friends were volunteering.   I got to the race start and immediately ran into Run It Fast Club buddies Chris "The Beast" Estes and Daniel "Dollywood" Escue.  I introduced myself to a couple of other RIF members including Lisa Gonzales and Mikki Trujillo, whom I recognized from Facebook.    We were all standing around FREEZING (it was about 32 degrees) and chatting until the start. .  Here is a pre-race pic of the Run It Fast Club I joined a few months back (www.runitfast.com): 

At 8:00 a.m., Monkey Trent said, "Ready.... set.... monkey!!" and we were off.  The first .30 of the course was up a grassy knoll.  Then we turned onto the paved path of Percy Warner Park.   I held back in the first 4 or 5 miles, running slowly and relaxed, but not walking any of the hills.  Most of the time I ran about a 10:40 comfortable pace, unless the hill got really steep, then I ran a bit slower.  I tried to let go on the downhills, but for me, that was only about a 9:30 pace.  I'm not a great down hill runner.   With the slow ups and faster downs, I averaged 11-minute miles through the first 6 miles or so.   I chatted briefly with people for a minute or two, but didn't really have a long-term buddy.  One lady and I kept passing one another as she would walk the uphills (while I ran past her), then she'd blow past me flying downhill (while I was a little more cautious).   I did learn that she started running at the age of 46 and became an Ironman at the age of 50.  WOW!  She is 51 now.  I never caught her name....   The scenery was beautiful, but I found myself oddly getting a little bored by mile 8.  Oh, a pretty tree.  Oh, another one.  Oh, a hill.   Oh, another hill.   The miles were passing slowly and I was a bit lonely.   I thought, "This is going to be a LONG day.  I've got another 4 hours of this!"

Around mile 9, I caught up to RIF member Lisa and talked her ear off for a while.  Here we are--don't I look like I'm having fun?   (I'm in the red hat.)   Yay for having a buddy!  
 
 
Not long after this picture was taken, we were going down a hill at a relatively quick pace at the 10.7 mile point when I failed to see a pothole in the pavement that was shaded by some tree limbs.  "Oooof."   In a second, I was down.  One second I'm telling Lisa something, the next second I was looking at sky.   When I stepped on the edge of the uneven pavement, I rolled my left ankle (my GOOD ankle!) and then fell hard on the right.  I partially caught myself with my right hand but wound up rolling onto my side and back.    Lisa and another runner stopped for a second to see if I was alright.  An older gentleman whose son was running that day also came to my aid.  After a second or two, the shock wore off and I got up.  The runners ran on and the older man stayed with me.  I looked at my wrist and it was already swelling and turning blue.  I thought it was broken.  My hand was bleeding and I had road rash on the side of my right knee (my GOOD knee!) where I had landed hard on it.   I started tentatively walking (relentless forward progress!) and the man followed. 
 
He was such a sweetheart.  He gave me some tissues out of his pocket for my bleeding hand and knee and started preparing me for the worst.... "You know, there will be other races."   "It's ok if you can't go on."   My ankle and wrist were both hurting SO MUCH.    I really wondered if I could or should go on.   It was a definite low point, but I held myself together.   I just wanted to cry, but runners were passing us on both sides.    He walked me to an aid station.  They gave me a tiny, useless bandaid with Big Bird or something on it.  It wasn't even big enough to cover anything, so I just held my bloody tissue on the cut on my hand.    I was able to slowly, tentatively start running again.  I found myself jogging slowly alone, and after checking behind me to make sure no one would hear me, I pulled out my cell phone and called my husband. 
 
Then the tears started.  "I fell."  Panic in his voice, "Are you alright?"  "I don't know" said through tears and the jostling of running.  "What?  I can't understand you.  Are you hurt?"   "I'm not sure.  I rolled my ankle and I think I might have broken my wrist."   "Are you stopping?"  
 
"No."
 
I told him I'd check in with him later and hung up.  It was a terrible thing to do, really.  It upset him and he told the kids I'd fallen, and it upset them.  But he's my person.   Then I called my friend Marlene, who was at the mile 16 aid station with four of my good friends from the Clarksville Running Club and told her what had happened so she'd understand when I arrived there way behind schedule.   And I needed someone on the course to know I was hurt.... just in case.  
 
But, here's the thing.... I was still making pretty good time.   Yes, every step on that ankle hurt and I had to hold my wrist kind of to my chest and keep my thumb tucked (having it wiggle around hurt), but I was STILL running.   I still had the ankle support on my right ankle, and I kept thinking I should switch it to the other ankle, which was killing me, but I couldn't bear the thought of sitting down, taking off my shoe, taking off the support, etc.  
 
Around mile 12 or 13, I saw a man running toward me in a light purple singlet that says Team in Training COACH.   I stopped him and said, "I could use a coach about right now.  Will you look at my wrist?"   He ran alongside me, looked at my wrist, pressed on it and had me move it around, then said he didn't think it was broken and he didn't see any reason why I shouldn't continue.  He did tell me to try to hold it above my heart to prevent more swelling.  He also radioed ahead to have the Team in Training aid station (which happened to be the next one) get an ice pack ready for me.   I am thankful for that kind-hearted coach!  
 
This was when things started being funny.   When I got to the aid station, they gave me a huge gallon Ziplock bag full of ice.   It was the size of a small pillow.   I was expecting maybe a sandwich bag.   It was ridiculous to try to run with a gallon Ziplock bag on my wrist.  Slosh, slosh, slosh.   I made it 5 minutes and then decided to toss it. (I don't know why I didn't just empty some of it out and make a small ice pack.... problem solving 13 miles in isn't my strong suit....)   Also, when they gave me the bag,  I failed to actually get any WATER at the stop and I was thirsty.   So, I bit (BIT!) a hole in the corner of the bag and sucked some of the water out.  I tried not to think of how many hands had touched it.   I am sure I looked like a CRAZY PERSON holding a gallon Ziplock over my head and sucking water out of it like a calf nursing on an udder.   I laughed every time I took a sip.   Finally, I tossed it.    I did notice that I hit 13.1 at 2:30:06.   I had hoped for a 5 hour marathon, and I wasn't sure that'd be possible since it allowed no slowing down in the second half.  But if I could just avoid another disaster.....
 
While I was alternating between feeling sorry for myself and entertaining myself with my ridiculousness, I found that miles 10.7 through 16 actually flew by!   And if you can make it to mile 17 in a marathon and are down to single digit miles left, you are golden. 
 
At the mile 16 aid station, I saw my friends and showed them my injuries.  Then I turned on my music for the first time of the day.  The ankle and wrist had stopped hurting as much and I felt pretty good.   At mile 20, I remember feeling surprised I felt as good as I did considering the hills were RELENTLESS.  They just kept coming and coming.  But I knew I had only 10K to go.   I was run/walking the uphills.   I did notice that when I was trying to "let go" on the downhills, my letting go was only about an 11:20 pace sometimes.....  
 
Around mile 22, however, I just ran out of energy and it suddenly got really hard.  The wall, I suppose.   Funny how that happens.  I didn't go out too fast, I fueled properly, but I think the adrenaline surge from the fall and the period afterwards must have caught up to me.  A man running beside me told me that if I ran about 11 minute miles or under for the rest of the way, I could come in under 5 hours.  I told him, "But if I run these last ones easy, I can come in at 5:05 and I'm OK with that."  I had no push left in me.  At mile 23 I climbed what I thought I was the last hill.  It wasn't.   I thought that at least 8 times.  "This has GOT to be the last hill."  Then another hill.   "Surely this is the last hill."   They may not look like much on the elevation chart, but those last 3 miles are still pretty tough. 
 
 
In those last three miles, there was a lady in a pink shirt who ran with me some, but mostly ahead of me.  When we got to the part where we were back on the grass heading to the finish, I finally found my finishing legs.  I sprinted ahead of her and three other ladies as we headed down that last .30.   There was no one in front of me, just white paint on the grass through the field.  I wasn't at all sure I was going the right way.  At one point I checked behind me and there were four people following me, so I guessed I was still on course.   I could see the finish line flag in the distance and I just ran toward it.   I'm surprised I wasn't worried about falling on the grass in front of the 200 or so spectators hanging out at the finish, but I didn't really let it concern me.  Marlene caught a picture of my sprint.  you can even see the pink shirt lady behind me.  I felt STRONG here.
 
I finished in 5:03:15.  That means the 2nd half was 2:33:09--- only three minutes and 3 seconds slower than the first half.   How I did that, I DO NOT KNOW.  But I'm proud of it.   No, I didn't break 5 hours, but considering the circumstances, I'm pretty happy.   My last marathon was 4:36 and the Monkey is notoriously about 20-30 minutes slower than most courses. 
 
Someone handed me a cup with a medal in it. No recollection of their face.  I think it was a female. My friend Troy from  my Clarksville Running Club appeared and gave me a hug and asked if I wanted him to put my medal on me.   I was kind of in a daze.  "I guess so."  Then I said, "I am NEVER doing that again" (expletive omitted...).  He got me some chocolate milk.   Marlene was there, too.  She helped me through the food line.  She could tell my brain was really foggy. 
 
I ate, stayed for awards, won a small door prize, and Marlene drove us home.  I was more sore than I have ever been (of course), especially in my quads.   My left ankle ballooned up by the next morning.  (Running 15.5 miles on an ankle after rolling it does not do an ankle good!)   A big bruise appeared on the side of my knee along with my road rash.  I also found road rash on my hip and a bruise on my upper arm.  My wrist and hand are quite colorful and swollen as well.  Here's a pic of the MONKEY AFTERMATH taken two days later: 
 
I feel like God was watching over me on Sunday.  The fall could have been much worse.  He gave me the strength I needed when I needed it and the confidence to go on.   I know I came out of this race a little stronger than I went in and maybe that was its purpose all along. 
 
Now, I can't help but think--- Could I have broken 5 hours if not for the fall and the resulting walking and first aid stops?  Would the Monkey have hurt less?   There is really only one way to know for sure.....