September 27, 2010

Race Report: Adirondack Marathon

So unless you’re a super crazy stalker fan who actually checks my “upcoming races” tab even when I don’t mention that it’s updated, you probably don’t know that I decided to run a marathon this weekend. I didn’t even decide to run until Wednesday. The logic went like this: according to my crazy training plan of adding 5 miles to my long run each week, I was due for a 25 mile run this weekend. But why go to all that trouble and not have anything to show for my trouble? I decided to head up north to Schroon Lake, run the Adirondack Marathon (tacking on a measly 1.2 miles to what I was going to do anyway), and get a medal. Yay!

I headed up to Albany on Saturday late morning, arriving in the early afternoon. Having accidentally stayed out until 2am the night before (my friend Kristen and I are terrible influences on each other – we planned for dinner and one glass of wine, but that turned into several hours at our favorite dive bars as we passed them on our way home), I was exhausted – I actually fell asleep on the bus for a short nap! Oh well, I reasoned, hopefully that would just make me go to bed all the earlier on Saturday night and therefore be well-rested for the race. Too bad I forgot that whatever sleep you get the night before the race doesn’t matter; I’ve learned from experience that it’s two nights before that counts.

My mom was thrilled to have me home, and on a stop at the natural foods co-op to which she belongs (I love that place!), we picked up some pasta sauce on sale that turned out to be absolutely delicious – Muir Glen Sausage and Peppers. Unfortunately, in just going to look it up to provide the link, I discovered that it’s been discontinued! I think I need to send Mom back to clear out the store – that stuff was delicious, and fairly healthy too 🙂 Anyway, we paired the pasta/sauce with some Asiago cheese bread from Panera for a carbariffic dinner that was super delicious too. After laying out my race clothes and making sure everything was set, I tried to watch some TV, but started falling asleep within 15 minutes. Bedtime it was!

I woke up a few minutes before my 6am alarm was schedule to go off, and quickly threw my clothes on to hop in the car. For breakfast, a bit more of that cheese bread (yum!), and then we were off to Schroon Lake. My mom was driving, which turned out to be a great thing, as I could not seem to keep my eyes open! This was not an auspicious beginning to the race, and I noted that I felt like I had already run a marathon instead of being on my way to one. Uh oh! Since the race started just in front of a Stewart’s (a New York state chain of gas stations with some of the best ice cream ever), I’d get a cup of coffee to hopefully get me revved up. I couldn’t imagine how I was going to do a marathon if I was already this tired!

We found parking very easily only a block from the start and the Town Hall where there was day-of packet pickup – one of the big perks to doing a small marathon. It only took a few minutes to get through the line for pickup, but I was disappointed to find that all they had left were large jackets. With a t-shirt, it doesn’t matter so much, but for a windbreaker like we were being given, the large was not going to do me any good at all! I wish races would get more smalls/mediums than larges/extra-larges, especially given that the demographic of a marathon is usually a smaller-sized bunch than the general American population. And hey, would it kill the larger contestants to once in a while be told, “sorry, only mediums left?” 🙂

We headed for Stewarts, where I gratefully mixed a half-caf cup that combined hazelnut and vanilla flavors, and then dumped in some Caramel Macchiato-flavored non-dairy creamer. Having not done a marathon in a while, and not taking any Immodium before the race (as I used to do in my early days of marathoning), I hoped my stomach would deal with that drink okay. I debated getting an ice cream cone as well, but ultimately decided to wait until after the race – didn’t want to push my limits too much.

My mom’s next door neighbors train every year to walk the half marathon, and this was no exception. As it turned out, the group was a lot bigger than just the two women my mom knows – there were about a dozen of them! Additionally, two of them turned out to be girls I went to high school with – they were nieces of my mom’s next door neighbor. What was really fun for me was that they all knew about my marathon record and made a big deal about it. It was especially cool for me because one of the girls I knew from high school had been on the cross country team, and she was doing this as her first half marathon! Things sure have changed since I was a drama club nerd 🙂

Pretty soon, it was time for the start. I took off my warm up jacket to reveal my “50 states marathon club – FINISHER!” shirt, proud to wear it for my first race since breaking the record. I hoped it would be a conversation-starter in the race – I knew from reviews that there wouldn’t be a lot of crowd support, so making some friends to chat with during the race would be great.

A 19th century musket was fired to start the race, and we were off! The race headed quickly out of the small village of Schroon Lake as we began making our way around the lake (full marathoners would complete a full loop around it). After about a mile heading north, we turned the corner to our first water station, and I saw my friend Peter waiting and cheering me on just beyond it! Peter had run the 10K the day before and won the entire thing (like, not just his age group; won the race) – he’s a speedy one. He’s training for the Hartford Marathon in a few weeks, so he told me he’d join me around mile 19 and run the rest of the race with me – I looked forward to the company.

We turned off the main road and onto a gravel trail that ran by some horse fields – beautiful. This reminded me a lot of the Charlottesville Marathon, but the funny thing was, I saw more horses here than I had seen in Charlottesville (even though that area was known for their horse racing). Bizarre 🙂

From the farmland, we started up a series of very steep hills. I knew from speaking with other runners that the first half was much hillier than the second, and after going up just the very first one, I certainly hoped so! I employed a walk-run strategy for most of the big hills (no point in wasting energy running when the hill is steep enough that it’s just going to wear you out without getting you to the top that much faster), and it seemed to work well – I would reach the top without being too exhausted, and could usually then pass others on the flat part/downhill because they were so tired from running up. That said, I kept wondering – when were the hills going to end? By mile 5, I was ready to be done with the whole race; again, I felt as though I had already run a full marathon.

Unfortunately, the worst was yet to come. Mile 7-11 had some of the toughest hills I’ve ever seen in a marathon. There were great volunteers cheering us on, but it was still a lot of hard work. However, one cool thing I’ll note about the volunteers: because it was such a small race (about 350 finishers), the race organizers had printed out sheets that listed each of the runners by number. When you’d come to an aid station, there would be half a dozen volunteers who each had a few sheets of names. One would call out the number, they’d all scan their sheets, and then whoever found the runner’s name would start shouting it out, at which point they’d all follow suit. So you’d have one person start the rallying cry of “Go, Laura!” and then they’d all shout, “Lau-ra! Lau-ra!” So much fun, especially for those of us who hadn’t taken the time to print our first name on our shirts. Race directors, take note – this is pretty easy/cheap to do but is really a great morale boost!

The morale boost that I didn’t appreciate, however, were the volunteers who told us that we were “almost at the top” and that when we reached the drummers, that was the end of hill. Sure enough, I could soon hear some Taiko drummers (like Vermont!) in the distance. But when I got to them, I realized they were only part of the way up what looked to be a very long hill! No fair – I thought they were supposed to be the end of the long climb 🙁 I dug in and kept going…

Finally, we came to a long, steep downhill, and I just flew down it. That is my favorite thing about hilly courses – the feeling of flying when you come to a glorious downhill. I always try to just let myself “fall” down the hill, but when you get a really long one, it can be kind of scary – sometimes I wondered if I actually might fall! I did feel a bit weird when I was passing other people on the downhills, because I thought they might think I was a totally inexperienced runner who was burning herself out. After 55 marathons, I’d say I’m far from inexperienced 🙂 The downhills probably would do a number on my quads, but it really wouldn’t be any worse than if I slowed myself down, and I wanted to fly! So fly I did 🙂

The downhill ended just before we got to a small town, and with the crowds of people lining the streets and runners already wearing medals, I knew we were nearing the halfway point of the course. The day was starting to get sunny (though not too warm), and it made for glorious views of Schroon Lake as we rounded the turn to the half marathon finish line. I put a huge smile on my face to go by the crowds, and was rewarded for my efforts with some cheers in return. Yay! I love that 🙂

As I crossed the halfway point with a water volunteer telling me how awesome I looked, I decided it was time to take inventory. How was I doing so far? I was exhausted, yes, but that had been a continuous feeling throughout the race, one that hadn’t lessened since I started. However, even after my long break from marathoning, my stamina at going long distance seemed to stick with me; that is, I wasn’t much more tired at mile 14 than I was at mile 4. Besides, it was now time to start counting down the miles instead of counting up: I had several milestones between here and the end of the race.

Just after mile 15, I started looking for a big green house on my left – this was where my mom’s neighbors said their mother lived, and that she would be out cheering. As it turned out, I couldn’t have missed it – there was a whole crowd of their friends and family out there, and when I nodded in response to the question, “hey, are you Laura?”, they all started cheering me on like crazy. Yay for fan support!

The next milestone I started readying myself for was meeting up with my friend Peter at mile 16, since he said he was going to run the last 10 miles with me. Unfortunately, mile 16 came and went with no Peter in sight. I figured he must have changed his mind or gotten tied up, but hoped he’d still be around at the finish to hang out and catch up.

Speaking of the finish, just after crossing mile 16, I started hearing all kinds of hoots and hollers coming from across the lake. Was that the finish line I was hearing? I knew I still had a good ten miles to go, but I thought maybe the lake happened to be really, really narrow across from the finish. However, mile 17 found us turning right onto a bridge that clearly was turning us around to go back north up the west side of the lake – so the finish line was still pretty far. What could all that racket be?

With another right hand turn and a big sign announcing the “Word of Life” campus, I soon found out. It was a Bible camp, all turned out in full force to cheer on the runners! Neat. There were a few groups of teens who had the printed lists of runners, as before, and were calling out our names; at other points, the roads of the camp were just lined with teens standing outside their cabins to cheer. How fun! I thought back to when I had gone to band camp (yes, I was THAT nerdy) and remembered how much fun I had back then. To make the memories even more vivid, some of the church camp kids were apparently in a marching band (complete with uniforms), and they played for us as we ran through (they stayed in place though).

Before I could reminisce too much, though, I went through a cheering zone of kids – and Peter popped out from the crowd! As he joined me, the kids around me exclaimed, “oh, THERE she is… go Laura!” Turns out that Peter had changed where he was going to meet me because he thought this area was a lot more fun – and I agreed wholeheartedly with that assessment. I never expected so many spectators! What a neat contrast to the peaceful woods I had run through in the first half of the race.

As Peter and I started to run, several of the spectators started yelling “you’re going the right way now!” Confused, I looked to Peter, and he explained that when he had been running from the finish to the start in order to meet me, they had seen him go by and kept pointing out that he was “going the wrong way!” Too funny 🙂

We continued running through the camp, and I was thrilled to finally get to see what “church camp” was like. When I was in high school, one of my friends from my part-time job used to go to “church camp” every summer with her family, and another friend tagged along on one occasion and said it was a lot of fun. I was always curious what exactly church camp was like, and from what I saw it looked pretty neat! That said, not being very religious, I did have a little chuckle at the climbing wall that was shaped like a cross and had a Jesus statuette at the top!

From Word of Life, we turned onto the main road that would take us back up to the start. This was the same road my mom and I had driven on that morning, so I had some idea what I was in for, but nonethless, asked Peter how many big hills there were between there and the finish line (I hadn’t really paid attention in the car). He thought about it for a bit, then told me there were three between now and the finish. I then asked how bad those three were… were they long and low grade, short and steep, etc? He said he couldn’t remember, but that there wasn’t anything really memorable. Good news! However, he probably regretted even estimating that there were three hills, because for the rest of the race, whenever we had even a minor grade, I would ask him if this was one of the ones he had counted in the three. He kept saying he didn’t remember, but it sure seemed to me like there were a lot more than three hills!

In fairness, the reason that the hills were so tough was that I was absolutely exhausted. At mile 21, I gulped down another Gu (despite the fact that I normally don’t take Gu that late in a race) and also grabbed a handful of M&Ms for good measure. Thank you, volunteers! I really needed a pick me up and hoped a bit of chocolate during a marathon wouldn’t totally derail my diet 🙂

Around mile 22, I started wondering when I might run into my mom’s neighbors. They were walking the half marathon, which started 45 minutes after I started the full marathon… but they were walking. I kept trying to figure out the math in my head for if/when I would pass them, but I’ve never been good at those “train A is going toward train B at 55 MPH and 60 MPH, respectively… where will they meet?” type problems. Though they do provide a good distraction when you’re out on the course trying to puzzle them out! It was especially tough because I didn’t know if they would be walking at something like a 15 minute pace or a 25 minute pace, which would obviously make a big difference. However, I came upon the group around mile 23, and they were happy to cheer me on, while I returned the favor.

In those last few miles of the race, depsite being tired, I was making it a point to say “good job” or “keep it up” or at least give a thumbs up to everyone I passed. That’s my norm for races, but this was one of the few times I’ve run with someone else for long, so it threw me off a bit when Peter commented how friendly I was out on the course. To me, acknowledging the people you pass in the later miles is just good race etiquette.

Peter stopped to use a porta potty just after the mile 24 aid station, and assured me that he’d catch right back up. I had no doubts about that – he was still super fresh, having only done about 8 miles so far, and anyway, he can outrun me when we’re both doing a full marathon. I kept going on ahead, and soon enough, he was back at my side. Just a few seconds later, a car passed us, with a girl hanging out the window screaming, “Laura! Laura!” It was my little sister! My dad had brought her up to watch me finish. I had invited them a few days ago, but didn’t know if they would come, and it was quite a surprise to see them. Of course, that’s just like my dad to be frantically driving up to the race with only a few minutes to spare before I crossed the finish line 🙂

Buoyed by the idea that I’d have a big cheering section at the finish, I started to pick up the pace a bit – and Peter commented that I was looking strong. You bet I was – it had been 3.5 months since my last marathon, and I had done a very quick ramp up to get back into fighting shape. I couldn’t believe how well I was doing! I figured I was on pace to do about a 4:10, a time I’d be happy with under any circumstances, but particularly on that hilly course.

Where I had turned my music off once I met up with Peter, I now turned it back on, setting the playlist to my Marathon Power Songs. As each new song started, I told Peter what I was listening to and why it made the list – he didn’t know most of them, but agreed that the particular lyrics I was honing in on (“I’m stronger than yesterday,” “what have you done today to make you feel proud,” “every time you get up and get back in the race one more small piece of you starts to fall into place,” etc) were very appropriate. Soon we passed the 25 mile mark – only one mile still to go!

I asked Peter where he planned to turn off the course, and he said it would be in the last 1/4 mile or so, where he’d then walk along the sidelines to meet me after the finish line. I was psyched to have someone to whom I could hand off my fuel belt – whenever I get a chance to get rid of that near the end of a race (I think it’s only happened once or twice?), I love it – that thing is such a weight around my waist, and it always makes me feel so fast and light to get to finish not wearing it.

I started really cranking up the pace as I came within view of the Stewart’s, which I knew was only two blocks from the finish. Here we go! I handed my fuel belt to Peter, apologizing for it being sweaty, and thanked him for running with me. “See you in a few!” I cried, as I proceeded to take off.

One of the best parts of a race is picking off the last few people between you and the finish (those I don’t usually say anything to… no energy left over to do so when I’m sprinting!). I started doing that when I could see the finish line ahead, managing to knock off one or two (though who knows if they were half marathon walkers who had started to pick up the pace, or relay runners, or marathoners not in my division). I saw my family cheering for me, including my little sister’s new dog, Polly (okay, so Polly wasn’t cheering but she was there in spirit), and I was so psyched and proud of myself for doing so well in my first race back – and one where I wasn’t well-rested, too.

As I came through the finish chute proudly (and noting that the clock time was only around 4:05!), I heard the announcer saying my name… and then telling the crowd to take a good look, because I had recently broken the world record as the youngest woman to run a marathon in all 50 states! Wow, how cool to get recognized crossing the finish line. I was definitely glad I had finished in such a respectable time.

But respectable? Who was I kidding – I was over the moon with my time! I had hoped to finish around 4:30, given my long hiatus from marathoning, so the 4:06 finish time I got thrilled me to no end. I still couldn’t believe how tired I had been going into it, and how many really tough hills there were – this was definitely in the top 5 most difficult races I’ve done, which made pulling out that fantastic time extra sweet. I proudly accepted my medal and headed off into the crowd to find my family.

After we caught up, I discovered that the food tables didn’t interest me that much, despite the fact that they did have ice cream (I snuck a dish for my little sister, since I wasn’t having any). You all know how I love ice cream, so that may be a bit surprising… but that’s because I was holding out. Stewart’s Ice Cream, here I come! My mom and Peter and I headed over there to introduce Peter to the greatest ice cream there is (I am so jealous that he lives in upstate New York now and can get it anytime he wants). The perfect end to a really phenomenal race!

Postscript: a writeup in the Post Star Newspaper actually mentioned me as one of the notable personalities in the race. Cool! “Between the West Point cadets who finished with push-ups, dozens of Fort Drum Army participants, perhaps more purple-wearing Team in Training racers and the youngest woman to run a marathon in every state at 24, the race announcer wasn’t short of material.”

Race stats:
Distance: 26.2 miles
Time: 4:06:32
Pace/mile: 9:24
Overall place: 128/361
Gender place: 23/132


8 thoughts on “Race Report: Adirondack Marathon”

  1. Oh, how I have missed your marathon race reports — what a great race back for you! Congrats on such a great race!

    Don’t you love it when cars pass you on the course (nevermind that your dad & little sister are in that car!). Gotta love small-town races. 🙂


  2. My family used to own a camp on East Shore Road so I know the area VERY well. I have always thought about running that marathon but haven’t had the time to train. You made it sound like such a great race to run even though there weren’t a lot of runners! Congrats on running such a great pace for the race! You did awesome!

  3. I live in upstate New York, I’ve been to the Adirondack marathon to watch,ran the 5k in Chestertown last year and training to do half marathon. Did you live in upstate new york before? Did you run before doing marathons or went right into marathons before any other small races? Love the blog Crystal 🙂 p.s. I’m turning 25 soon 🙂

  4. Hi Crystal – thanks for the kind words! I grew up in Albany, NY, and my family has a vacation home in the Adirondacks, so while I didn’t know Schroon Lake specifically I was pretty familiar with that are in general. I started running about 2 years before I did my first marathon, but didn’t start doing long distance (over 5K) until about 8 months before. If you look through my archives from about December 2007 on, you should find lots of posts on exactly how I prepped for my first marathon 🙂

  5. I am also a 518 native and am running this marathon next week! Thanks so much for the detail on the course… I heard that it was a tough first half! Unlike you, I am relatively new to the marathon circuit so I appreciate all the advice I can get!

    To Stewart’s Ice Cream!

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