"I walk a lonely road.... Don't know where it goes But it's home to me and I walk alone...
My shadow's the only one that walks beside me. My shallow heart's the only thing that's beating. Sometimes I wish someone out there will find me. Until then, I walk alone....
Check my vital signs to know I'm still alive And I walk alone. I walk alone."
Very appropriate lyrics for my 18th marathon/ultramarathon today in Winchester, TN! My goal going in was to just have a solid, smart training run for my upcoming 50-miler. I *hoped* to come in under 4:50, but I was fine with under 5 hours. Three of my last four road marathons have been 4:56-4:58.
Three weeks ago, I had a GREAT trail 50K race. I ran my heart out on that course. I was so pleased with the results. Since then, the legs have understandably been sore and tired. I ran several shorter runs in the first two weeks after that race as part of my recovery, took some Pilates/yoga classes, and biked a little. I tapered from running on Thursday and Friday of this week.
My family and I traveled to Winchester on Friday night and made it to packet pickup only five minutes before it closed. Then we went to my in-laws house in a nearby town for the night. I managed to get about four hours sleep.
My stomach had been uneasy on Thursday evening and Friday, but I figured it was all the carbs I was loading with. I'm normally a low-to-moderate carb eater. However, this morning after my normal oatmeal and coffee, I realized it was still not quite right. Ugg.
I got to the race, and it was a chilly 37 degrees! I hung out in my car as long as I could. I saw lots of folks I knew at the start, which is always nice. I kept this jacket on until about mile 14!
The race started and the first four miles went by great. Those were really scenic miles. I was running relaxed, chatting with a friend for a couple of them, and for most of those early miles, my Garmin was on 10:35 pace every time I looked down. (In hindsight, I wish it had been 10:45 or 11). I realized quickly that I needed a pit stop at mile four, and had to wait in line for just a minute or two at the port o john. I got back on course and ran another 10:35 mile. Around mile 6, we ventured onto this busy five-lane boulevard. Many of the businesses had "Boulevard" in their name, which made me think of the above song. At that time, though, the "dream" of a solid race wasn't broken. Yet.
Mile 6 contained a long, gradual uphill. So did mile 7. And mile 8. They don't look like much on the elevation profile, but they were definitely hills. I still maintained that 10:35 pace my body was defaulting to. I was taking a gel every 40 minutes and drinking regularly. At mile 8, I realized I needed another pit stop.
Things started to unravel a bit in miles 9 and 10. I started defaulting to a 10:40-10:49 pace. There were many hills. Around mile 11, I started feeling really sick. I slowed down and walked more. My legs were suddenly very tired. I struggled through miles 12 and 13 and got to the half-way mark at about 2:22 or 2:23. I had been expecting 2:18-2:20, so I wasn't that far off at that point.
Miles 14-17 went from bad to worse. I felt like someone was hitting me in the stomach with a baseball bat with every step. I was nauseated. My left ankle (my bum one) had started to hurt. My hamstrings and glutes were cramping and my fingers were swelling. My body was just not cooperating. I had zero energy. Looking back, I don't think my stomach was digesting the gels and electrolytes. I think they were just sitting there, not doing anyone any good. It was a fight to run at all, and I walked a bunch. I walked alone. I wondered how I would ever finish 26.2 feeling the way I was.
Around mile 18, "Boulevard of Broken Dreams" actually came on my iphone. I laughed. I was out on some random country road in Estill Springs, TN walking alone, feeling terrible, probably needing my vital signs checked. :-)
I finally told myself, "Let's just end this running charade and walk it in during the last 8 miles." Just after I made peace with that, an EMT rode up on a bike.
"How many are behind you?" he asked.
"A few, I guess. I'm sure I'm not last." He rides away and I think, "Oh, Dear Lord, could I possibly be last???" It was a very small race, and quite a few had passed me in my struggle. I thought I knew of at least two who were behind me, but then I wondered if they had a bad day, too, and maybe DNF'd, and I was truly Dead Last Finisher.
There was a man up ahead, and I made it my mission to catch and pass him. That meant running again. He was walking as much as I was. I finally passed him, and he said lied, "You're looking good." I rebounded a bit for mile 19, but by 20, I felt bad again and had to make another pit stop. I thought, "How am I going to stand this stomach/ankle/muscle pain another hour??" The stomach pain was by far the worst. I asked the mile 20 aid workers for Tylenol to take the edge off, but they didn't have any. I actually used my Bradley Natural Childbirth breathing for a little while. It was MISERABLE--the most miserable I have ever been in any race.
Losing time at that pit stop allowed the man to catch back up to me. As he passed me (we'd gone back and forth a few times throughout the second half), I said, "We should just run this together," and it turned out to be the BEST THING I did all day.
He stopped running when I said that, and we starting walking side-by-side. His name was Jer. He was an incredibly nice 58-ish year old from Winchester and a great talker. Since he lived in the area, he pointed out his running routes, the road to his house that we passed right by, and told me all about Tims Ford Lake and all the local landmarks. He told me about his four kids and his job at the Air Force Base. We talked about our favorite races and our PR's. We ran the downhills and some of the flats and walked all the uphills. I've said it before in this blog: Suffering shared is greatly reduced. We were both struggling, but we kept our minds off of it. I didn't even notice my stomach pain (much) in those miles.
At around mile 26, my buddy George appeared on the course to run me in. He had finished over 30 minutes earlier and always comes back for me in races. Jer and I had picked up another runner who was struggling around 25.5. George and I ran a little ahead of them to the finish, but the three of us finished within seconds of one another. I'm not sure I've ever been that relieved to be DONE with a race. It was 10 minutes slower than my previous slowest (my first) marathon. A personal worst.
Jer was absolutely a blessing to me today and saved the latter part of my race. He told me later that no, it was I who had saved him. George was a blessing, too. Seeing so many friends before, during, and after the race was nice, as well. It wasn't ALL misery, but I can't say it is what I'd call fun!
I couldn't really stomach any food at the finish line and even chocolate milk (my favorite) was iffy. I limped rather pathetically to my car and headed back to my in laws. I spent about 20 minutes defiling their bathroom, then took a shower and felt semi-human again. Semi. Let's say it was a long two-hour drive home.
The really, really, really bad ones make us stronger, right??
Race hydration/nutrition today: Tailwind Raspberry Buzz, water, a bit of Gatorade at aid stations, Huma Chia gels, one Gu Vanilla with caffeine, 1/2 banana. (almost exactly the same as in Stanky Creek 50K)
Post-race: Chocolate milk at the finish. Then I choked down a Hammer Recoverite Vanilla shake (from Stride Box!) mixed with tepid water from my car on the drive back to my in-laws.