Thursday, October 15, 2015

Steamtown Marathon Race Report (marathon #5)

Let me just preface this race report by saying that my training going into this marathon was stellar. I nailed all of my long runs & nailed all of my tempo runs. My knee had been bothering me a bit off and on throughout the summer, but the few weeks before the race, it was behaving itself. I had PRed 2 race distances in the prior 2 months and was running the best I've ever run in my life. The weather was looking amazing. I had a pacing plan. I felt confident.

Two weeks before the race, I started feeling under the weather. I don't know if it was pre-race jitters or a real illness, but try as I might, I could not get it to go away. No "real" symptoms were manifesting but I had a non-stop headache, plugged ears, and I felt foggy - even lightheaded at times. And very, very tired. Especially in the few days before the race, this was causing me a lot of concern. Concern that I wouldn't be able to hold the pace I needed during the race, concern that I was going to "waste" all of my hard work on a failed BQ attempt when I didn't feel well. And no one could help me. No one could tell me what to do. No one could make me feel better. I was a MESS on Saturday.

Excellent seats!
Friday night, John and I had tickets to go see Newsies at the RBTL. We had to switch our tickets from Sunday to Friday because we were going to be in Scranton still on Sunday. Friday night was not ideal (I turn into a pumpkin at 10:30 pm regardless of what night of the week it is) but I hadn't wanted to get mid-week tickets due to having to juggle workouts, class, and my job.. this leads to a lot of early mornings and I didn't want to add a late night at the theatre into that mess. John dropped me off at my house after the show a little before 11, and I was promptly in bed by 11:01. He went home, as he was told that "under no circumstances will any alarm be waking me up before 8 am" and he wanted to run in the morning before we left. I actually ended up waking up at around 7 and getting my shakeout run done on Saturday morning!

John and I left Rochester at about 10 am and made it to Scranton by about 2 pm in time to pick up my race packet and attend the pre-race meeting. After being sufficiently scared by the entire race committee telling everyone to NOT GO OUT TOO FAST on the first 7 downhill miles of the course (or we'd regret it at mile 21), we drove the last few miles to check out the hills (miles 23-26) again. We then checked into our hotel, I cried for about an hour, and then we went to dinner.

I know, I am ridiculous. It's just a marathon. It seems so trivial in life but it's so much more than that (for me).

After dinner, because I had convinced myself that I was having some sort of allergies (even though I have never had allergies in my life), we went to CVS so I could buy an anti-histamine and hydrogen peroxide to try to unplug my ears. We went back to the hotel room, checked out the Kona stream, and I took a Benadryl and passed out.

Wake up call was at 5 am. I got up, went downstairs to get coffee and breakfast, then showered, got dressed, popped my anti-histamine, and John drove me the few miles to the finish and dropped me off so I could ride the shuttle to the start. He was going to head out to one of the early spectator points, run, and then wait for me there. I felt ok in the morning.

The ride to the start was uneventful, I chatted a bit with the girl sitting next to me and then listened to my music. We were welcomed into the Dickson City High School by a hoard of high school students, cheerleaders, and other volunteers. It was great to be able to stay warm in the gym (because it was below 40 degrees out at the start). I had on pants, a long sleeved shirt, and a hat for the bus ride, but I left the long sleeved shirt and pants in my drop bag and started the race wearing shorts, a tank top and gloves (I tossed the hat to the side of the road right before the race started - and I actually hit a guy in the face with it - oops!). I had my nutrition in my pockets and my Garmin on my wrist. Porta-potties were plentiful and lines were short. I can't say enough good things about the organization of the start of this race!

As I was heading to the starting line at about 10 of 8, I realized I had forgotten my sunglasses. Cursing, I ran back into the gym to see if I could grab them from my drop bag, but it had already been taken to the truck. Crap. Oh well, I'm pretty good at rolling with the punches. The race course went southwest, and the sun rises in the east, so I should be ok, right?

After a few words, the national anthem, and the blast of a very loud cannon, we were off and running. I crossed the mat after about 30 seconds and had a pretty clear path from the start (always a nice thing). I had planned with Jennie to run my first mile (aggressive downhill) at 7:40, my second two miles (which were flatter) at 7:50-8:00 pace, then miles 3-6 (more aggressive downhill) at 7:40 pace, and then after that to settle into my 8 minute pace for the remainder of the race (as the elevation profile leveled off more or less after the first 7 miles). After the race committee scaring the bejeezus out of me the day before coupled with the fact that I STILL did not feel great when I started running, I decided to split the difference and not try for those 7:40s.

this was at the very beginning
you can actually see me on the right in my hot pink!
I was not feeling great for the first 6 miles and was wondering how long I was going to be able to focus on my pace while feeling so "foggy." The downhill miles made it feel easier to hit pace but I knew that once it flattened out, it was going to be more challenging than I had anticipated. I saw John at mile 6 where I threw my gloves at him and asked him if he could hand me his sunglasses at the next spectator stop (because the sun ended up being REALLY bright and I was squinting a lot).

This was at mile 6 - the first time I saw John
I tossed him my gloves and demanded his sunglasses at the next stop!
Miles 1 - 7: 7:49, 7:49, 7:49, 7:48, 8:06, 7:50, 7:57

There were a few hills along the way as we ran from small town to small town, and eventually we made it on to the freshly paved rail trail path. I hit mile 10 still on pace (actually ahead of pace by about 40 seconds to a minute). This surprised me considering I still wasn't feeling great. At this point, I started breaking the race up into chunks. "Make it to mile 13, that's halfway." I went through the half in 1:44 something. Right on target.

Miles 8 - 13: 7:51, 7:55, 7:55, 7:59, 7:57, 7:56

"OK, make it to mile 16, then there's only 10 left." This worked rather well and gave me small, manageable sections on which to focus. I was pacing mile marker to mile marker, always making sure I was there before the appropriate multiple of 8. I just kept repeating the time I needed to be at the next mile in my head over and over again. I kept an eye on my Garmin for HR (I wanted to keep my HR at around 165 max) and average pace per mile (keep it between 7:50 - 7:55). At mile 16, my quads started to twinge and my HR started to rise. Uh oh.

Miles 14 - 19: 8:04, 7:53, 7:55, 7:49, 7:57, 8:09

 "Next, get to mile 20." I made it to mile 20, then 21, then 22, then.. oh crap. My quads were done. I saw John at around mile 22 as I was dying and yelled at him for trying to play 20 questions with me - "Please stop talking to me." (I swear I said please, John says I did not). Probably everyone around me thought I was a raging bee-yatch for yelling at my obviously-trying-to-help boyfriend. I lost the entire amount of time I had "in the bank" in this one mile. Mile 24 was torture as there was a large hill. A very large, demoralizing hill. With a large downhill after it that was painful to my poor abused legs. I got pretty negative here, knowing I was going to miss my sub-3:30 time goal/BQ guarantee, but at some point I must have realized that a) I could still PR as long as I held it reasonably together and b) I COULD STILL ACTUALLY RUN A BQ TIME. Even though at this point, you can't just run a BQ and get into Boston, it doesn't mean that I couldn't still try to beat the standard. Perspective, Alexa.

Miles 20 - 26.2: 7:55, 8:04, 8:06, 8:54, 9:20. 9:25, 9:08, 2:54 (7:59 pace for that last 0.2)

Finish: 3:34:16, 8:08 pace. PR by over 5 minutes, BQ by 44 seconds.

this path was a delight for running
I was wrecked when I crossed the finish line. John was jogging alongside me down the homestretch so he was right there when I finished. I got my medal and my foil sheet and staggered over to hug him over the fence. I was upset and on the verge of crying but I got it together. I walked through the food tent (they had amazing post-race food but I usually cannot eat right after a race) and went and sat on the grass in the sun for a while.

new blaaaaaang!
John saw me 7 times during the race. He was amazing. It felt like every time I ran past a group of people, he was among them. I can't remember a lot of details about the race, I can't remember when I saw him or where I was, but he was always there cheering and giving me words of encouragement. Even when I yelled at him he was fine with it (I did apologize afterwards). He's the best.

We were able to check into our new hotel in downtown Scranton (we switched from the crappy pre-race hotel that I booked to John's Hilton with his points) right after the race (several hours before check-in, even) and we lounged for a bit, walked to a place to get hoagies (because when in PA, one must eat PA food.. right?), and then hit the hotel hot tub! We went to a Hibachi place for dinner because I was craving.. vegetables(?).. both John and I surprisingly liked downtown Scranton. There were lots of places that were within walking distance from the hotel, the weather was amazing, and it was fun to just hang out for once without a schedule.

In the morning, we slept in, got some coffee, hit the record store that we had seen the last time we were in Scranton (that was closed on Sunday), met up with my dad for a late lunch, and got back to Rochester Monday evening!

Thoughts on the race itself:

I loved it! The organization of the race was impeccable which made the weekend very relaxed (well, as relaxed as it could be for the most important race of the year). There were great directions to the shuttle drop off, the start, to view points for the spectators, etc. The shuttle ride was easy, the porta potties were plentiful, you could roll out of the warm high school to the starting line 1 minute before the start if you so wished. The crowds along the course were AMAZING for a small town marathon (~2000 runners). I think 2000 runners is the perfect size - it's not crowded but you're never alone. There was no half marathon which can be nice when you don't have to worry about dodging the slower half marathoners (or being crammed in the start with them). The weather was PEFRECT (obviously this is not controlled by the marathon but mid-Oct. is a pretty good time for a marathon) and it is a very scenic course. To be noted: I tried very hard to run the tangents, and I actually only ended up being *slightly* over 26.2 miles for my total distance, which is refreshing, and I also couldn't believe it given the amount of turns on the course. The race shirt was awesome - long sleeved women's fit tech shirt with THUMB HOLES (!!!!) and it was green! (I am easy to please..). The medal was nice. Post race food looked great. The emails sent by the assistant race director in the months leading up to the race are hilarious.. like..  rivaling Jeff Henderson level of hilarious!

I can't say enough good things or recommend this race enough! I am not into repeating races.. but this one could be a repeat possibility for me.

Thoughts on MY race:

I was initially disappointed, but after having some time to come around, and talking to Jennie, I am feeling pretty good about my race. I did not feel 100% healthy while racing, yet I managed a 5+ minute PR. I fell apart at the end, but looking at my Garmin data, I never backed off my effort. I did not qualify for Boston with my 5 minute buffer, but I STILL QUALIFIED FOR THE BOSTON MARATHON. That is something that I have seriously doubted I would ever be able to do - ever since my very first marathon in 2009 where I ran a 3:59. In 5 marathons, I have taken 25 minutes off of my marathon time. That's not nothing and it's DEFINITELY something of which to be proud. My running has come a long way and I personally believe it can still go a long way from here on out!

Thoughts on my.. shoes(??):

This was my first marathon using my Saucony Zealots. I switched to Saucony sneakers at some point last year after running for years in aggressive motion control New Balances (with custom orthodics) and it was overkill. I went to Fleet Feet to find a neutral trainer, and they put me in Saucony Triumphs, which I like and ran in for a while before experimenting with the Zealot to get a lighter shoe. Now, I tend to alternate between the two shoes, using the Zealots for speedwork and long runs and the Triumphs for day to day runs. It took some time to get used to the minimal heel-to-toe drop of the Zealots, but I worked my way up to longer miles with them and now I LOVE them. They were perfect in the race - no rubbing, no hotspots - it was great!

And finally...

Now, I need to figure out what is next. This story isn't over yet. My goal going into this race was to run sub 3:30 because that would give me the 5 minute cushion to be able to register for Boston 2017 during the first week of registration. With my current BQ time, I highly doubt I will even get into Boston at all. Which means.. I need to try again. I know I can do it. It's just a matter of a) utilizing the fitness I currently have and b) trying to take care of this before my 2 really hard classes start (Spring 2016 - Fundamentals of Experimental Design - and Fall 2016 - Capstone - are both going to be immensely challenging and will require a workload that will not permit the time to incorporate serious marathon training).

Stay tuned..