I woke up with that odd sensation that I had a slightly unpleasant dream, but couldn’t remember anything about it or what it was. Regardless, I felt fairly well-rested, and I didn’t have much trouble getting up and turning off my alarm. Kay and I woke up with plenty of time to spare, so I leisurely got ready and then ventured downstairs to check out the continental breakfast. They had a really great assortment, but I was sad to see that all the breads/bagels/muffins/waffles were white instead of wheat, so I skipped that in favor of the peanut butter sandwich I had packed on wheat bread. However, I did snag an apple and a container of yogurt for after the race… healthy but tasty treats.
While I was downstairs getting food, I stepped outside the door to check the temperature. It was certainly brisk, but not bad at all, and I decided to forego my sweatshirt before the race and just use a heat sheet instead, which would allow me to avoid checking a bag at the start. Very soon we were ready to go, and Kay and I headed out to the start, only a few blocks from our hotel.
Even though it was still about 40 minutes till the start, it was already getting crowded. The one place that wasn’t crowded? The massage tent, which advertised post-race AND pre-race rubdowns… sweet! Since there was no line (in fact, there were empty tables) and my legs were still ridiculously sore from the barre assets class on Thursday, I hopped on a table and asked the masseuse to really hit my calves hard. She did a great job, and I left the table feeling a lot better (though there was still a bit of residual tightness).
Next up on my pre-race agenda was the task of finding a porta potty. I don’t always hit one up before a race, but I had drank a lot of water (more than usual) that morning, and I figured I had time to kill anyway. However, the porta potty lines were ridiculously long. Fearing another incident like New Mexico where we were still in line while the race was starting, I abandoned ship and went to prowl the vicinity for any other bathrooms. After noting that the host hotel was jammed with people doing the same thing, I saw that there was a little area roped off for the elite runners, and there was a porta potty in there. It was now only 10 minutes to the start, so there were only two elite runners left in the VIP corral, and I figured they’d be leaving soon. I staked out a spot near the corral and stretched my calves, and sure enough, the two remaining elites headed out a moment later. There were still two handlers making sure riff-raff like me didn’t enter, but I asked nicely and promised to be quick, and the guy let me go through.
Now, when I usually go into a porta potty at the start of a race, it smells like… well, you all know what it smells like. Pretty bad. However, when I went into the elite porta potty, despite the fact that the toilet was definitely pretty full of the usual stuff (sorry!), it somehow smelled like menthol. Do steroids get excreted as mint? I don’t know, but I know I will now be making an effort to sneak into the elite bathrooms more often!
I headed over to the start and discovered that with the way the road was gated off, the only way in was right at the very front of the field. I really hate when race directors do this – it basically forces congestion at the start because in the crush of people, the slower runners can’t move back to their proper pace, and end up starting in front of faster runners. I found myself entering the crush right behind the elites, and as I tried to push through, the announcer introduced a minister who was going to lead everyone in a prayer. Everyone starting bowing their heads to pray, and I didn’t know whether it would be irreverent of me to ignore him and keep going. I tried to pick my way further back, but found myself stuck near the front, and that was how the race began.
As in Alaska, I hadn’t gotten my Garmin going yet, so I stayed off to the side while I waited for the stupid satellites to pick up. This time, there was another woman waiting with me, wrist to the sky and tapping her foot impatiently. Because clearly with the satellites way up in space, Garmin will pick up the signal much better if you hold it three feet closer. Come on, you know you do it too! Finally the signal picked up, and I happily headed across the start line amongst the back of the pack walkers who were now making their way across. The first mile involved a lot of bobbing and weaving, but I didn’t mind, particularly when there was a totally awesome high school band playing an upbeat march for us. We turned up the ramp that would take us over the Mississippi River to Iowa, and I was pleased to find that the hill didn’t faze me much – I knew that the ramp hills were pretty much the worst of the course.
As we crested the bridge, I ran into another Maniac and I introduced myself. It turned out to be Jim from Sarasota – whom I had never met in person, but who had picked up my packet from Running With the Devil and left it for me at the hotel desk. At last, we meet in person! I thanked him for that (though with how much I sucked at that race, perhaps I would have been better off if he hadn’t picked up my packet!) and we talked about the other races we’ve done/will be doing. Jim does mostly ultras (he ran the 50 mile version of the Devil), and recently he did his first 100 miler – WOW. Compared to that, me kicking off my 11-marathons-in-9-weeks sounds weak and wimpy 🙂
Coming down the hill, we picked up some nice speed, and I actually managed to enjoy the bagpiper at the foot of the hill (I normally hate bagpipes). Perhaps it had something to do with the fact that I was able to run quickly past, instead of being a captive audience at the start of a race. We passed the first water stop (I skipped it), and then saw the first two of the hot air balloons we had been promised a glimpse of in the race. It was rather exciting for me – I had seen hot air balloons in flight and then landing when I ran the New Mexico Marathon, but here they were both on the ground and just starting to lift off. I can now say I’ve seen all stages of a hot air balloon flight – just gotta catch a ride in one!
We headed up a short hill and were then in an area filled with strip malls and spectators. One clever group of spectators had set up a “Bloody Marython” stand, and were jokingly offering drinks to the passing runners. As was the case with joking spectators in New Orleans, I was sorely tempted to call their bluff and have one, but I really hate Bloody Marys and tomato juice in general, so I passed. Probably a good thing I did, or I would have had a very different race!
As we came into some residential neighborhoods, I caught up to the 4:15 group (they started sooner, but I had run faster to catch up to them). I chatted with the pace leader for a bit, and then to some of the pace group members, several of whom were really impressed by my marathon accomplishments thus far. We settled into an easy rhythm and some recommendations for different marathons, and the time passed quickly. We passed a group of really young cheerleaders (I’m talking 6 and 7 year olds… they were adorable!) cheering for us on the side of the road. It took me two times through to figure out what the words to their cheer was, but when I heard it, I liked it: “F… I… R… E – fire up, fire up, fire up!” (Clap clap). The rhythm was contagious, and almost perfectly in line with the cadence of my feet, and I found myself repeating it like a mantra for the entire rest of the race.
We soon approached an aid station where volunteers were handing out Gu, which I happily accepted instead of depleting my own store in my fuel belt. As is often the case with aid stations, they put the trash bins just a few feet beyond where the volunteers were handing out the gels. Really? You think we can take a Gu, rip it open, and suck all the gel out in five seconds or less? I’d be happy to use the trash cans if only I wouldn’t have to double back a tenth of a mile from where I finished my gel and was ready to throw away the wrapper. Instead, I tossed the packet at the feet of a group of spectators, hoping that would at least make it a little easier to clean up.
The race organizers did locate the water station a proper distance after the gels, though – it was about two tenths of a mile down the road, which is perfect for even the slowest of the gel eaters. I accepted the cup of water gratefully, but was disturbed as I continued on and heard this little exchange from the young pre-teen boys who were volunteering
“Uh oh, we’re out of cups!”
“Yeah, we’ll just have to reuse them. Start stacking the ones on the ground!”
And sure enough, the boys started picking up the empty cups we were throwing on the ground. I know necessity can be better than going thirsty (point in case: when they ran out of water at the Seafair Marathon last June, I drank straight from the jug), but I was definitely glad not to be at the back of the pack at this water station!
We continued on along a pretty bike trail along the Mississippi River. It was a beautiful day, with blue skies, white puffy clouds, and some nice sun, but fortunately not enough to get hot. We passed a yacht club that reminded me of how much I missed sailing, and seamlessly transitioned through a relay exchange point – I barely noticed the hand off, as the relayers were directed slightly off to the side so they wouldn’t get in the way of the full distance runners. There was a lot of great music on the course, which was lucky for me since I wasn’t running with my iPod. Despite not being a big fan of Christian music, I enjoyed the band playing near the split between the full and half marathon course – the song had been carefully chosen to be uplifting without being too religious.
As we approached the turn off for the half marathon, I began to close in on a pace sign that had been bobbing ahead of me for a while. I had lost the 4:15 group a few miles back, but this couldn’t really be the 4:00 group… could it? I kept getting closer until I could see that it was a half marathon group, with an expected finish time of 2:10. Yikes – with the 4:15 group right on pace and yet nowhere to be seen behind me, this group was clearly early. I know pacing can be tricky, but especially after working as a pacer, I get really upset when I see pace leaders who don’t manage to stay on track. There are people counting on you, and it’s just as bad to be early instead of late, as you may be wearing someone out who isn’t trained for that pace! While I was initially surprised at how stringent the requirements for some pace teams are (e.g. Pacer Jim is unhappy if you’re more than 5 seconds off), upon reflection I think those requirements are absolutely necessary, and I think marathons should be much more careful in allowing people to be pacers.
We hit the split between the full and half marathon courses, and I yelled out a good luck to the half marathoners who were turning off. Only a brave few of us soldiered on with the full course, and it was nice for things to clear up a bit. We kept running along the river path, now passing a little jazz combo playing an uplifting tune. A fellow runner asked me what I had done to earn my shirt (I was wearing my Maniacs singlet), and I was a bit confused as to how to respond. I had first earned my shirt by doing the very basic two-marathons-in-two-weeks, but now I was up to almost thirty marathons in 18 months, and I didn’t even know what level I had hit in terms of the highest number of stars – was it 20 states in a year? Maybe. He told me that he had done enough races to be a Maniac, but hadn’t joined and wasn’t intending to do so, as he “wasn’t a joiner.” I encouraged him as best as I could, telling him about what a great group it was, but I’m not sure I succeeded in the recruitment effort.
We did a very short out-and-back of a few hundred feet that caused me to realize the 4:15 group was not that far behind me, and then we headed up a ramp to a bridge that would take us back over the Mississippi to Illinois. We hit the ten mile mark midway across the bridge, and I called Boyfriend to check in. He was really sweet and supportive, and while I couldn’t wait to see him the next day, it was just such a gorgeous day for a race that I really couldn’t begrudge him the relaxation time – I was thrilled to be out there running. Some days I get sick of having to travel every weekend in order to meet my goal, but then there are just those moments that it’s all worth it!
Coming off the bridge, we ran through a little town with old-fashioned storefronts and several fun musical acts. A group of cheerleaders was passing out Gatorade, and I accepted gratefully. One thing about the Gatorade in this race: while most race organizations water it down a ton, this was full strength, and I was glad. So much tastier, especially since it was lemon lime (my favorite flavor)! We did a loop to circle back, and I chatted with some older women who were doing the relay and only about a mile from being done with their leg, encouraging them with one of my favorite marathon mantras: you can do anything for ten more minutes!
We crossed the halfway point at the top of an overpass (clock showed about 2:06, which I was happy with), and I stopped for a few seconds to get a piece of gravel out of my shoe. From there, we ran along the river again for several miles, but this time on the Illinois side. I zoned out for a long stretch, thinking about wine tours I had gone on back in my college days, and how I really wanted to organize one of those again. Nothing like thinking about alcohol to get you to relax and let the miles fly by! Before I knew it, was were approaching mile 17, and I could count the miles left backward in single digits. Woo hoo!
At this point in the race, people started slowing down and hitting the wall. I tried to keep up my own pace, having decided that I wanted to finish under 4:15, and I was doing a fairly reasonable job of that. I tried to figure out if it would be possible to come in under 4:10, but decided that was unlikely with the miles I had remaining. Instead, I focused on staying ahead of the 4:15 pace group, who now seemed to be just a minute or two ahead of pace.
As we approached mile 20, we went up and over one more ramp, which I knew would take me tantalizingly close to the finish line before heartlessly sending me out on one last out-and-back. Even knowing this, I still found it difficult to come down the ramp and into a cheering crowd of spectators, only to have to turn away from them and run the other way into an industrial district without much scenery. While I thought the course was good in general, I didn’t understand why they couldn’t have put this boring out-and-back segment at the beginning of the race – it would have been so nice to just run down the ramp into the crowds and a nice finish.
But no matter – I had to get through it, so I pushed on. Knowing that your attitude is what you make of it, I made an effort to put on my biggest smile and congratulate every runner on the opposite side of the road, now in the home stretch. While at first I usually feel stupid when I do this, pretty quickly my fake good mood becomes real, and that was definitely the case here. I spent some time doing some mental arithmetic to figure out exactly what pace I needed to keep in order to finish in 4:15, eventually figuring out that I was right on pace for it and therefore would just need to pull 9:43s for the rest of the race. Having run a bit faster than that in the last few miles, I figured it would be no problem, but I neglected to take into account the strong winds that were now affecting me on the open road. While it’s pretty to run along river shorelines, I’ve discovered in other races as well that doing so often slows down my pace due to the likelihood of winds cruising up and down the water.
Finally, we neared the turnaround, and I found another group of cheerleaders stationed at the end of the little loop that would take us back to the main road for the final stretch. This group was not nearly as exuberant as the 6 and 7 year olds back in the early miles, perhaps due to their advancing age (I’d guess at mid- to late-teens). They seemed as likely to be lying on the ground working on their tans as clapping, which was a little annoying. I realize spectating a marathon can be boring at times, but hey, if we can run 23 miles, the least you can do is be clapping and smiling when we get there! I did enjoy the arch that had been erected just past the cheerleaders, with big letters on it proclaiming just 3 miles to go.
The last three miles were flat, but a little tough due to the wind. I was determined to make my 4:15 time goal, but the wind was slowing me down enough that I realized I might not make it. I tried to just keep pushing forward, and I did a fairly good job, but it wsan’t until I came into the final mile that I was pretty sure I could do it.
Despite the roar of the crowd when i first went from the bridge to the out-and-back, it seemed like a pretty low-key scene when I was finally finishing. There were definitely crowds, but most of them seemed much more interested in talking to each other and watching for only “their” runner than cheering the rest of us on – how rude! I was also sad when, coming into the final finish chute, there were volunteers in the middle of the road (right in my path for a straight shot to the finish line) urging us to stay to the right, for some reason I couldn’t fathom. Regardless, I picked it up to a sprint and managed to just barely pass about 6 people as they finished together (I think they were running separately but all just happened to be finishing at the same time). Yay me! Even better, according to my watch, I finished in 4:13 and change.
The finish area was pretty packed, but it was well-designed and I had an easy time finding everything I needed. Namely: cookies, a hot dog, beer, and a finish photo (in that order, which is why I’m holding the beer in my finish photos). A successful race and another state completion!