The alarm went off at 5:20 and I woke up fairly rested. I never expect the night before a race to be 'restful' exactly but it seems like the more races I do the more relaxed I become and thus the better sleep I get. Doesn't hurt that I brought ear plugs and an eye pillow - dark and muted equals a good night.
I wasn't nervous, I was simply ready. I had laid out my clothes the night before (selecting 'the' outfit that I was going to wear for the race) and had prepped my gel flask with chocolate GU (5 packets... 1 too many I was to find out) so any 'thinking' this early in the morning was at a minimum. All I needed to do was roll out of bed, dress, eat peanut butter toast and hit the road.
The outfit (because this may be important to someone):
- Nike Dry Fit sports bra
- Orca Tri Singlet Tank Top
- Sugoi Running Shorts (they don't make these anymore)
- CEP compression sleeves
- Pearl Izumi Cycling Socks
- Saucony ProGrid Kinvara 2
- Garmin 305
- Pace band
- Road ID
- Endorphin Warrior 140.6 bracelet for inspiration
- 5 oz gel flask with homemade elastic holder
We left the hotel around 5:45 with wind blasting from the Northwest. It wasn't just a light wind - it was flag flapping wind. My comment on the matter - it is what it is. I've run most of my hard/good runs in downpour and wind so I was as prepared as I was going to be. Luckily, as we drove further North and further West the wind seemed to subside and amazingly right on the outskirts of town where the race was being held there was practically no wind. Micro climates - gotta love em.
The race start was literally on the edge of town - essentially at the entrance to the last subdivision of houses. We parked the car and I headed over to the registration area to pick up my race bib, timing chip and t-shirt. Since the race is tine-tine it took me all of two minutes to pick up all the essentials but then, because it was quite chilly (as it was still dark out) it took me several minutes to fasten the timing chip to my shoe and clip my bib into my race belt.
I ditched my awesome old school sweatpants and the $3 dollar warmup jacket I got at Goodwill and meandered into the crowd as they made their way into the chute and toward the start line. There were no corrals and the half marathoners were mixed in with the marathoners. Again, tine-tine race. The guy next to me commented on my excessive 'preparedness' - checking out the pace band I had printed out, Gabe had taped nicely, and the hotel manager and I had successfully taped to my wrist, positioned nicely next to my Garmin. I responded, 'I have a plan! There is a definite goal for this race.' He just chuckled and looked at me like I was crazy.
After a few more minutes of chit chat I heard the countdown and then we were off. It took me a few seconds to get up to the mat and once across I was headed out into the pre-dawn desert. The race starts on a steady uphill for the first 3 miles before it levels off to a more moderate uphill. It's an out-and-back course that basically climbs 300 ft (so for all intents and purposes it's flat... but it's not) until mile 9 1/2 - 10, then it's downhill to the turnaround, uphill for the next 3 1/2 and then a slight downhill to the finish more or less. I had run the first 2 miles the day before and had driven the whole course so I knew what to expect and I was sort of banking on the perceived downhill for the second half of the race. One last thing to note about the course... you're in the middle of nowhere. As far as scenery goes - if you like open desert it's gorgeous but if you like twists and turns and buildings then this race is a fail.
I had programed my watch with the 'Advanced' workout option using two different 'steps'. the first step was set to an open distance and a pace range from 7:55 - 8:05. The second was also set to an open distance but with a pace range from 7:30 - 8:00 (hoping for a negative split). I used 'open distance' because I wanted to base the mileage off of the course mile markers instead of the satellite and essentially I'd press the lap button to switch over at the turn around point (mile 13). I had the tighter range in the beginning to keep me in check so I didn't go out too hard, then with the second half being mostly downhill I figured I could kick it into gear and I really didn't care what the 'gear' was as long as it was under an 8 minute pace.
So, off I ran. My watch beeped (it's really more like a high trill that can be really annoying) at me initially - letting me know I was going too fast - but I dialed it in within that first mile. The temperatures were perfect. The sun was starting to rise, lighting the road ahead of me, and I was cruising along comfortably. For a good mile or two I ran next to a lady stride for stride. She finally turned to me and asked 'half or full?' I replied the full and then we both realized we wanted to run the same pace. Perfect! I had someone to run with. But soon after that little conversation she picked it up and ran away from me. I glanced down at my watch and saw a 7:46 pace... too fast... what was she thinking? I settled back in and fell in behind an elderly gentleman in a ripped up t-shirt and a younger gal doing a steady 7:55ish pace.
The miles simply vanished. I had a smile on my face, my pace was right on, my legs felt strong and it was a gorgeous day! After about 5 miles I took my first nip at the gel flask. It was soooo thick! Apparently I usually put 4 chocolate GUs in the flask and then dilute it. 5 was just too many. I extracted a glob of it, swallowed hard and then grabbed a cup of water at the aid station that immediately followed. I just hoped it wouldn't get stuck somewhere and cause issues - side ache, stomach cramps, potty stops - all of it would be bad news. Luckily it wouldn't come back to bite me BUT the thickness of the gel did put me off a bit and I only took maybe 2 or 3 more 'nips' at it during the whole race (consuming only about 1 oz of the entire flask... oops!).
At the half way to the half way point (aka 6.5 miles) my two buddies (ripped up t-shirt man and younger gal) turned and headed back in the direction from whence we came. Damn! They were only doing the half. The 'crowd' took a nose dive after this point. I was left with maybe one other runner near me and a handful (if that) ahead that I could see. I felt an initial hint at abandonment and loneliness but it quickly faded as I distracted myself with my breathing, my form, how my legs felt and all the other 'sh*t runners say' streaming through my head. I even busted out 'You're an Ironman, damn it! HTFU' but then I quickly realized that I wasn't struggling, I wasn't slowing, and those harsh words (even in my own head) weren't needed... yet. I had to save those. Yes, I AM that crazy.
Around mile 9 I heard a familiar vehicle noise and out of the corner of my eye I saw the nose of the Prius creep into view. I smiled and waved at Gabe and gave him the thumbs up that I was feeling great and then watched as the car sped down the highway. Beforehand my only instruction for Gabe was to be somewhere around the mile 18 mark with a small water bottle of flat Pepsi (Diet... crap! Why hadn't I bought regular?). Other than that he could have slept in the car, gone back to the hotel, played Angry Birds... it didn't really matter. I didn't want him to feel obligated to chase me all over the highway. But I was thankful at mile 9 to have a distraction and it made me keep an eye out for his car heading in the other direction or for his next stop to check in with me. Besides, he was the only cheering squad any of us had out there so maybe other runners appreciated it. Again, if you're looking for a spectator heavy marathon, this race is NOT for you.
Miles 10 through 13 were fine. I was anxious to get to the turnaround point and call this race 'half over'. I remember overhearing a guy at the start line say that the turnaround was just over a mile past the random house farm in the middle of nowhere and as I approached that, passed it, and continued downhill I knew I was getting close. The faster runners - there weren't that many - were starting to stream past and I cheered for them as much as I could without expending too much energy. At the same time I was counting the women. At this point I had only seen one who looked strong. As I passed the aid station around mile 11 the volunteer there said 'I think you're in third, the gal in a tutu is in second'. Now I had seen one gal already at this point (first place) and hadn't seen the tutu girl (second) but I also knew there was the lady from the start that was in front of me (third) so that must mean I'm in forth! AWESOME!!
I rode that high until the turnaround and then to keep my energy level up Gabe was there cheering and asking if I was on track. I nodded after glancing down at my watch and noticing I was a minute ahead of pace and more on track for a 7:55 pace and a 3:28 finish. WOOT! And then... there was the 3 mile hill out of the turnaround with the sun in my eyes and the pavement warming up. Instant zappage. The next three miles were hard. That's the best way to describe it. At mile 14, as I was still climbing, I remembered to switch my watch over to the next step of my workout - oops, forgot to do it at the turnaround because of aforementioned high.
Let the trilling beep commence. I glanced down and read the message 'speed up'. I'd like to say that I cranked it into the next gear and did what my Garmin was telling me but instead I ignored it and cranked out about an 8:15 pace. I had 'banked' time (yeah... that's not an actual strategy of mine until I'm halfway through a race) and I was going uphill. Couldn't the Garmin figure that out and give me some slack? Once I was over this hump it was downhill to the finish, couldn't my Garmin figure THAT out? Shut up already!
I was running about 5 strides behind a guy (had been with the same middle aged gentleman for about 4 miles now) and the trilling just continued every 30 seconds or so. I knew it was annoying. More importantly it had to be annoying him. I tried to go faster. I tried to ignore it but the longer I let it go the more distracted I got by it. So I said 'f-you' to my second step and hit the lap button. Unfortunately hitting the lap button at the end of a designed workout stops the workout completely. It thinks you're done. I watched in horror as the overall time on my watch came to a dead stop. Oh crap, oh crap, oh crap!! I finally just hit the start button again and voila - the overall timer began ticking away. Crisis averted, now I just had to remember that I was about 30 seconds off from my 'actual' time and every time the mile lap beeped it was somewhere in the middle of an 'actual' mile - whatevs.
Around mile 16 the hill out of the turnaround flattened out and I began to pick up the pace. I was still running with the same guy and we just kept leap frogging each other as it appeared he was taking walk breaks every mile but holding a faster running pace than I was. Now, supposedly I was going downhill at this point but with the heat and the tired legs it didn't really feel like it. I felt a bit worn out but my pace was saying I was right on track so I just kept plugging away.
As I neared mile 18 I spotted Gabe up ahead. Pepsi! It was such a welcome sight. He happened to be right before an aid station so I took a sip of the Pepsi and then grabbed a cup of water to wash it down. At this point I think I was fairly dehydrated - I only say this because I was feeling chills periodically which I've 'heard' is a sign, I don't know if that's true. He asked again if I was on track and I nodded - the extent of my energy. It's funny hearing his side of the story - seeing my decline in energy and finding the only words of encouragement to be 'Good job' and 'Are you on pace?'.
Another mile down and I was starting to real people in although I was wavering between on and off pace (again, I had banked a bit of time so I was still okay). Then Gabe was back, more Pepsi down the hatch, another question if I was still on target, another nod and moving on. Finally, the guy I had been running with asked what my goal was to which I responded 3:30. He glanced down at his watch and then said, 'Ok, let's do this', and proceeded to pull ahead. 'Um, excuse me kind running stranger but my watch says I'm already doing a 7:56 pace, I don't think I need to go any faster.' But I did appreciate the bunny that he provided and kept him nicely 10 or 15 strides ahead of me.
More people reeled in, another mile or two ticked off and maybe a few more Gabe/Pepsi sightings later and I was closing in mile 22. 'Friendly running stranger' had been dropped - apparently he had surged too soon - and I had found another lone runner to go stride for stride with. At this point my feet hurt and I was tired (I don't think I broke in the Kinvaras as much as I should have). I was focusing a bit too much on the rough pavement and feeling every little rock. It didn't slow me down as much as it was just a nuisance. But every time I looked down at the Garmin I was hitting the pace, and every time I passed a mile marker I checked my pace band and I was still ahead of the game so I was feeling good albeit tired. Oh yeah, and my form was quickly fading as you'll notice in the pictures. Earlier I had felt the beginnings of chaffing in my right armpit and moving the tank top around didn't make it subside so instead I apparently just squeezed my arm in and tried not to move it at all (wise decision I think... doesn't throw the rest of your gait off at all. I'm being facetious if you can't tell.).
Gabe's last stop was somewhere in the range of mile 22 or 23. I had drained the bottle of Pepsi and welcomed the Wired drink he held out as an option. One long swig of the chemically and caffeinated syrup and the longest walk break yet and I was back on the road, saying 'see ya at the finish' to Gabe as I left. It was go time, although that didn't really amount to much other than simply focusing and saying in my head 'only a 5k left, only a 5k left'. It's quite the motivator to be down in those low numbers where you know you can pour it all out there and get through it. I ditched new lone running friend - turned cramping guy and was gaining on others up ahead.
Then, it was somewhere in these next few miles that my foot threatened to cramp. Actually, it did more than threaten - my toes went in opposite directions. Luckily it didn't shoot up my leg and into my calf, bringing me to a walk. Instead I was able to make the cramping subside simply by changing up my stride a bit and pray that it would stay away for the remaining miles.
And then there she was - lady in third place (these names are creative aren't they?)! I saw her about a half mile up ahead slow and come to a walk. Then, about a half mile later she pulled over, grabbed a sign post and stretched. She was caught! I felt for her because I knew she was in pain but this was my moment now. I passed her, gave her words of encouragement and then kept chugging along. I was in the final stretch, the last mile. All I had to do was head up a short hill and down the other side. I held back a bit because I wasn't sure how much was actually left in the tank but once I crested that rise I poured it all out there. I saw the clock ticking off the seconds and watched as it flipped over to 3:30 (a slight dissapointment at not coming UNDER 3:30) but I knew I was going to meet my goal. I basically fell down the last part of the hill and into the shoot. DONE! What a race! And of course, there was Gabe to greet me.
- 18th out of 120 overall
- 3rd out of 44 women
- 2nd out of 6 in my age group
- Gun Time - 3:30:11
- Chip Time - 3:30:02
Post race we didn't stick around for the awards (if there were any). Instead, we got in the car, went back to the hotel to shower (rinse off all the salt that had accumulated)/pack/check out, grabbed a bite to eat from Jack in the Box (chocolate milkshake FTW!) and then hopped in the car to head home. The 9 hour car ride is another story yet to be written.
Salt lick... anyone? Anyone? No wonder I chaffed!
All smiles after the run but in definite need of compression gear (yes, that's under a dress... driving in style).