July 27, 2009

Race Report: Carrollton Festival of Races Marathon

I woke up bright and early at 4:30 AM, with the marathon set to start at 6:00 AM. Luckily, I felt pretty well-rested and ready to go… at least in my head. When I got up from bed, I realized that my legs were still pretty trashed. Darn it! It was still fine to walk, though I could feel the soreness in my muscles, but there didn’t seem to be a drastic improvement from the protein and carb-loading or the good night’s rest (finally in a real bed instead of on a plane). After my usual mini Larabar breakfast, I hopped into the car and headed to the start.

We got there with not a lot of time to spare. There wasn’t an official bag drop, but the race started and ended at the high school, so a volunteer told us it would probably be fine to just leave our drop bags in the hallway as long as there wasn’t anything valuable in them – no problem. After grabbing what we needed and leaving the rest, we realized we only had 5 minutes till the start, so we headed out the doors and followed the (small) crowd. It felt like the beginning of Hatfield McCoy, but there were actually much fewer runners: only about 50 people at the start, with about 20 walkers having taken an early start at 5:00 AM. I didn’t get to talk much with other runners at the start, but I saw a few familiar faces from other races, and mentioned how torn up my legs were and how worried I was about this one. All were encouraging and reassuring, telling me I should just take it easy and I’d be fine.

The gun went off, and as the crowd surged forward, I tried out a jog. It was the oddest feeling I have ever felt in my whole life: my muscles simultaneously felt tight, and yet very jelly-like. The jelly-like feeling I had never experienced before, and to combine that with tightness was just so bizarre. I wish I could explain it better. Within a few steps, I realized I couldn’t keep running with my legs feeling like that, so I slowed to a walk. As the runners all passed me by, I found myself in dead last place. I know you can’t judge a runner by age or looks, but it was really disheartening to find myself behind people several decades older than me who were kind of trotting along somewhere between a walk and a jog. I can normally do better than that! The spectators were giving me somewhat odd looks, and I can only imagine that they were wondering what a seemingly young and healthy girl was doing in dead last place, when on earth I’d finally finish, and why I hadn’t taken the early start if I was going to go that slowly. I was embarrassed 🙁

As I kept walking, my legs went back to their normal slightly-tight-but-not-jelly-like feel, and even the tightness was starting to fade as I kept walking. Looking at my Garmin, I saw that I had gone about 1/4 mile. I decided that when I had gone 1/2 mile, I’d try jogging again, to see if my legs had loosened up. I figured I could maybe get on a walk 10 minutes, run 2 minutes schedule, and that would at least improve my time somewhat so maybe I wouldn’t finish in dead last. However, when I started running at the half mile mark, it didn’t feel too bad – nothing like at the start. My legs were sore, but running no longer seemed to be any worse for them than walking, so I figured I’d keep going at for 1/2 mile instead of just two minutes. If I could do a program of run 1/2 mile then walk 1/2 mile, that wouldn’t give me too terrible of a finishing time! But when that half mile was up (and I had also gotten over the initial laziness I always get when I start running), I realized I felt great. My legs were feeling better than when I was walking, so I decided to keep running… and I just kept going. By the end of the race, I only ended up walking through the water stations – pure running the rest of the time! But I’m getting ahead of myself here…

Before the race, I had some concerns about doing a loop course. Now, in years past, the course had been EIGHT out-and-backs, and this year it was changed to be three loops, so it was definitely a significant improvement… but I was still worried I’d get bored, especially since I knew the course wouldn’t be that scenic. It was definitely a far cry from what I had run in Salt Lake City two days prior, but I actually found it to be a very pleasant course. The area was a mix of rural and suburban. We started in front of the high school on kind of a back road, then turned onto another smaller road that took us by a lot of railroad tracks on one side and some houses on the other. Turning at about mile 3.5, we went by a big highway and then into a small grassy park that reminded me of Lincoln, Nebraska and South Bend, Indiana. From there, it was a short out-and-back by some hayfields (I think?) and factories, and then back through a neighborhood to the high school. I found the loop course really fun, and in retrospect, think three loops is absolutely perfect for a marathon. With two loops, each loop is so long that by the time I got to mile 13 I’d probably be thinking “ugh, I have to do that AGAIN?!” Meanwhile, with more than three loops, there would seem to be no end in sight to the repetitions I’d have to do. But with three, I spent the first loop seeing everything with fresh eyes, the second one kind of remembering and seeing things in more detail, and the third one thinking “almost there!” and knowing exactly what was left to cover. Funnily enough, it took me till the third time around to notice that I got to cross “Cornell Street,” which made me really happy I had stuck around for three tries to catch that! 8.6 miles is just not that far (at least if you’re trained to run marathons), so the loop seemed very short and manageable. I’ll definitely start considering more looped courses in the future.

In the first loop, once I started running, I started counting how many people I could pass. I was afraid at first that my legs would give out and I’d have to start walking again, so I wanted to know how far I was from dead last place (where I did not want to finish). I got up to about 10 people before I realized that my legs were actually good to go, and I was so psyched! It was especially encouraging that most of the back-of-the-packers were Maniacs who knew me and knew that it was my first attempt at a double (two marathons in one weekend), so they were all kinds of supportive when I would pass them. I got to chatting with various runners at different points in the race, most of whom were Maniacs/50 Staters, so it was neat as always to get more tips about races to run in various places.

When I reached the end of the first loop, it made me really happy to be able to run past the spectators at the finish and show them that I was NOT walking and I was actually going pretty fast. I’m not self-centered enough to think that they remembered me as the slow girl from the start, but it did give me a certain satisfaction to now be doing a pretty awesome job. And what an awesome job I was doing! By the time I reached the second loop, I had really hit my stride and was doing about a 9:20 pace – pretty fast for me.

It was in the second loop that I really noticed how awesome the volunteers were. Each station was staffed with high school students, whom I later discovered were the beneficiaries of the scholarship fund that the race was supporting. They were just SO supportive! Because of the small field, I was usually all alone coming up to an aid station, and they would shout all kinds of encouragement, like, “keep going! You’re going to win!” Every single station was like that every single time I passed by, and I loved it.

As for my body and muscles in the second loop, I felt totally awesome. I was continuing to get faster and faster, and now in the third loop I was actually doing sub-9 minute miles! Unheard of for me so late in a race – that’s usually a pace I only hit in the first four miles (if that). I had wanted to try negative splits at the Missoula Marathon a few weeks earlier, but had been thwarted because of how the pacing ended up being organized, so it was really cool for me that not only was I getting a chance to do it, but it was happening naturally without me trying to achieve it. They say that the best runners go for negative splits in a marathon, so does that mean I’m becoming a better runner? I hope so. I started aiming for a 4:20 finish, calculating how fast each mile needed to be in order to hit that, and my target was about 9:40/mile – I could totally do it! In fact, on most of my loops I was exceeding that, sometimes even coming in under with sub-9 minute miles.

By the time I hit the third loop, I was totally elated. I had already run 17 miles, after running a full marathon just two days before, and I was keeping a pretty amazing pace in this one without even really pushing myself! I suppose I owe some of that to how completely pancake flat the course was. There was about five feet of elevation change, just once when you ran up and over a sidewalk into the park – SO EASY, though I will admit that on the first loop I was sore while going over it. However, it took less than 5 seconds to go over it, so even though it sucked on my legs it was done very quickly. Anyway, regardless of the easy course, I preferred to think my speed and endurance was just due to my overall awesomeness 😉

In the third loop, I hit a little snag. I needed to stop to use a portapotty, but my time was so great and I was actually on track to come in under 4:20! I didn’t want to jeopardize that with something as silly as a bathroom break, particularly when I had already stopped once (in the second loop) and there were only a few miles left to the race. The looped course was great for that: in most marathons, you hit mile 17 and you’re kind of like meh, it’s still a long way; here, you realized you only had one loop to go and a loop wasn’t that long. I tried to hold out and not stop, but then at some point my gait started getting funny as I struggled to stay in control of my bladder, so I finally ceded and used the portapotty at mile 23. Ugh, what a downer! It didn’t matter though. I was on pace and I realized that despite going into it with legs that were completely trashed, I was actually going to be coming in FASTER than Friday’s marathon! Amazing.

Around the time I had this realization, we were blessed with a bit of rain. The forecast all weekend had been for showers on Sunday, and the skies had indeed looked dark, but we were fortunate that it held off until about 4 hours in. Even more fortunately, the rain turned out to not be real rain but rather just a mist that actually felt amazing as it cooled me down but didn’t really get me wet. I did find myself slowing down in the last few miles, but it was really comforting to know the course so well and know exactly how far I had to go (not just whatever errant reading my Garmin might be showing). In the very last mile, I found myself running just behind two guys (seemed like a father and a son), and I was proud to be able to slowly pass them over the course of that mile. Woo!

As I came into the finishing area, I was happy to see that there was another guy ahead of me – helped me see exactly where to go in order to come through the finishing chute. The other runners and spectators applauded loudly as I finished, and I was pleased to see such a nice show of support. The chute was very small and not elaborate, but it was kind of nice to have a narrow finish line instead of a big showy thing 20 feet wide – it made it feel really home-y and nice. And I had finished faster than on Friday! I was so proud of myself and I think the volunteers were a little overwhelmed when I came close to bursting into tears of joy after crossing the line. Fortunately, I managed to contain myself, even though I did have a big silly grin on my face for quite some time.

You can see me at 6:20 in this great video I found on the race website.


After finishing, I was given my medal and popsicle by a volunteer, and then happened upon a table of treats including… Tim Horton’s donuts!!! I was so psyched. I’ve been obsessed with Tim Horton’s ever since junior year of college, when one of my best friends was dating a Canadian and she recommended that I stop when I was headed up to Montreal. It’s so delicious, and while I know New York just got a bunch of Tim Horton’s (replacing some Dunkin’ Donuts, which is actually the same friend’s other love), it still felt exotic and awesome as a little splurge. I tried to just have a donut hole instead of an entire donut, but ended up munching on so many donut holes while hanging out at the finish that I probably would have been better off just eating an entire donut 🙂

I was waiting for Marina for a while, but I actually quite enjoyed the wait. My legs felt surprisingly great – better than before I had started running that morning, even. I stretched for a while just in case, got to call my mom and Boyfriend and express my excitement at finishing, and I sampled some Myoplex recovery drink – they had set up a stand to advertise and offer the drinks for free. I was pretty impressed by that, because it was such a small race that I was surprised they were able to get anything other than a local sponsor. I sampled the strawberry flavor, and while I thought it was decent, I didn’t like that there was a long list of chemicals in the product including (ew) fake sugar. Overall, I thought the Myoplex was a good recovery drink in a pinch (meaning when the other options are popsicles and donuts), but I’d prefer to have something more natural and wholesome in general.

While I waited for Marina, I decided to take advantage of the proffered locker room showers. The race director told me to head for the back of the building, go through the gymnasium, and then the women’s was on the right and the men’s was on the left. Great in theory, but I guess not everyone had asked for these specific directions, because when I walked into the unlit pitch black gym, I realized that you couldn’t see the signs on the doors, and apparently someone else had guessed wrong. I opened the door to the women’s locker room, started walking in, and was greeted with the sight of the naked male form in all its glory. Surprise! I apologized profusely and retreated to the hallway, explaining to the gentleman that he was in the wrong locker room. He said he’d be done shortly, so I hung out for a few minutes, but when he was still in there, I decided I’d check the other locker room just in case. Nope, there were plenty of guys in there as well! Giving up, I figured I’d just shower at home before heading for the airport.

Marina finished near the end of the time limit with a big smile on her face, and I congratulated her on her own awesome double marathon achievement. Two young twentysomethings battling it out to be the youngest finisher of 50 states… who will win? We’re tied right now with our number of states completed (20), so we shall see over the course of the next year!

Race stats:
Distance: 26.2 miles
Time: 4:17:09
Pace: 9:48
Overall place: 44/71
Gender place: 9/19
Age group place: 3/5


6 thoughts on “Race Report: Carrollton Festival of Races Marathon”

  1. Wow, that is really awesome. Although, sorta sucky that you have some competition for the over 50 deal! I guess that will be good motivation for races to come.

  2. Everytime I tune in lately it’s a race report…well I guess that’s the idea right!

    Congrats but it looks like it’s time to get your butt in gear so to speak

  3. I must have missed something because I didn’t know about this Marina girl doing the 50 states 50 marathons thing. Great job on finishing 2 marathons in one weekend! After reading yours and other Marathon maniacs posts about running alot of marathons I have found that many run their second 26.2 faster! its very interesting!

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