After an insane week at work, I’m finally back – and with a race report from last week’s awesome Hudson Mohawk Road Runners Club Winter Marathon. Happy Thursday, everyone!
I woke up on Sunday morning feeling not-at-all ready to run a marathon. Despite going to bed super early the night before (9pm! On a Saturday! And I spent 7pm-9pm lying in bed catching up on episodes of Smash, so clearly I am a party girl), I have long noted that it’s not the sleep you get the night before a marathon that matters, but the sleep you get two nights before the race. And two nights before the race was not a good one for me…
Friday night, I had a first date with someone that I had met through online dating. I was pretty excited about it – we had planned the date the week before, but he messaged me on Tuesday to wish me a happy Valentine’s Day, which I thought was sweet, and on Thursday, he messaged me once more to reconfirm our plans for Friday night. Despite my confirmation, I arrived on Friday night at the chosen spot only to find that it was empty – I was literally the only one there. Not a big problem – I ordered a cocktail and waited. Then waited some more. Then Tweeted.
Based on all of your responses, I gave it 20 minutes before giving up. However, I was not yet done with my ginger martini after 20 minutes, so I stayed another 10 minutes after that too. And… never heard from the guy ever again. Seriously, WTF?!
I left the bar thoroughly pissed off – and in the process, left my credit card there, which only further pissed me off. I arrived at Erica and Baker“s joint birthday party in a pretty terrible mood, and only stayed an hour before deciding to excuse myself – I was just not doing a good job of overcoming the earlier problems, and I didn’t want to be a bitch when it was a birthday party. Instead, I found a good friend to meet me at my favorite beer bar, Rattle N Hum, where I could complain to my heart’s content while drowning my sorrows in a few pints. I did make it home by midnight, in an attempt to get a good night’s sleep before the race, but was woken up at 2am by my best friend calling about a similarly crappy night. Overall, 8 hours of sleep. Exactly what I normally need, but not enough to make up for the massive sleep debt I’ve built up in the last few weeks of crazy work stress.
So fast forward to Sunday morning – when I woke up grouchy and still kind of sleepy. Oh oh – not the best way to start a marathon morning! I was only partially successful in not being a grumpypants – not being super nice to my awesome mom (she made cranberry scones for me that I got to eat straight out of the oven for breakfast!), but not snapping at her either. While eating my scone (which I held my tongue about, but mom later agreed had something funky going on with the baking soda, which you could clearly taste over the other flavors), I made a very important decision about today’s race. This was not going to be a good race.
You might think it’s incredibly pessimistic of me to say that before going into it… but let me explain why this kind of assessment is one of the best you can make going into a race. For people who race less frequently than I do (which, let’s be honest, is pretty much everyone sane), so much pressure is put on individual races that it can get a little dangerous. They wake up with a sore ankle or with crappy weather, and still try to push the pace to reach their goal – because this is their only shot. Not good!
People often ask me if I think I could have a faster PR if I did fewer races – and my answer to that is I don’t think so. When you race frequently, you place less emphasis on any one race – and you allow yourself to relax when it’s not your day. So many factors out of your control go into setting a PR – the course, the weather, and generally how you’re feeling that day. You could get 10 hours of sleep every night for a week leading up to the race, and still wake up on race morning not feeling energized. It happens! But while you should always push yourself in a race, you also need to know when to back off – or you’re going to get injured.
With all that in mind, I headed to the race knowing right up front that it was not going to be my day for an intense race – I was just too darn tired, and it was better for me to take it easy. In fact, I spent the first few miles of the race wondering if I was going to fall asleep while running! (You think I’m kidding, but I actually did that a few years ago). I attribute part of this problem to the fact that I completely forgot to have coffee in the morning, until I was pulling up to the race about 20 minutes before the start. My mom, being totally awesome, offered to go get coffee for me from my favorite local place, Stewart’s, and I instructed her how to make my perfect coffee from there (French Vanilla or Hazelnut coffee, with a good dose of the totally-horrible-for-you International Delight creamer in caramel macchiato or French Vanilla). Upon arrival at the race, though, I discovered there was a whole table full of free coffee and breakfast. I love small races! In addition to being cheaper (this one was only $20!), they have so much better amenities than their larger and more expensive counterparts… go figure.
Having already stuffed myself on mom’s scones at home, I skipped the bananas and breakfast bars. However, the coffee retrieval took much longer than expected, so my mom passed off the cup to me about 30 seconds before the race started – a few gulps was all I got. Oops! Totally should have just grabbed the race-provided coffee at the start instead of holding out for the good stuff. I would come to regret this choice.
The race started inauspiciously – a simple ‘go!’ and we were all off, with no chip timing (though with only about 150 people total, it wasn’t like we needed it!). There were no corrals, and within the first 1/2 mile, the pack spread out pretty naturally on its own. We took off up and around the daycare center/soccer fields, then circled the tennis courts (where I used to play tennis as a kid with my parents), and came back to the start – where I saw my parents and little sister cheering for me loudly with a big sign that my little sister had made! So awesome. My mom offered me more coffee, but I decided to pass on the offer and just keep running. Surely I’d be fine without it, right?
Answer: no. (And don’t call me Shirley). Within 10 minutes of starting the race, I was yawning like crazy. Back to bed for me! Nope, 25.2 miles still to run – ugh! all I wanted to do was lie on the side of the road and take a nap… or better yet, run the 1/2 mile back to my mom’s house and 20 feet up the stairs to go curl up in bed. I was pleased that it wasn’t too cold out, because cold makes me want to hibernate (apparently I am a bear), but the exhaustion from not sleeping most of the week had thoroughly caught up with me. Yawn, yawn, yawn… such was the beginning of my race.
We headed past the start and past the pretty part of campus, cut through some parking lots, and turned onto the State Office Campus road that would comprise 99% of the course. Imagine running on a highway in the middle of an industrial park. Now imagine that there are no cars to entertain you and provide excitement in a will-they-won’t-they-hit-me scenario. And that, my friends, is why I started live Tweeting the marathon and begging for entertainment.
But before I could get too bored, my Dad appeared… in the form of a circus clown. That is, it really was my Dad, but he arrived on a bike and with his (wild, crazy, energetic, hard-to-control) dog on a leash as he tried to simultaneously ride and balance (because obviously that’s really safe). It did make for an entertaining spectacle though – I stopped wondering how many more office buildings I would pass before the turnaround, and started wondering how long until the dog spotted a squirrel and he went flying. I hoped the course volunteers would help clean his wounds from the crash even though he wasn’t technically affiliated with the race.
Fortunately, Dad didn’t crash – just kept appearing, circling around me for a while, and then disappearing again. It was kind of fun to see where he would pop up… but honestly? I kind of started getting more into the race at this point, and just wanted to zone out to my music. (I felt guilty about that though, so I just kept telling Dad I loved him and how much I appreciated his being there). While the course was boring, the sun was shining in a perfectly blue sky, it wasn’t too cold/windy, and my music was blissing me out. With no one around to see, I mouthed the words of my favorite songs as they played, and I felt like I could run for days. 8:30 pace? No problem! It all felt relaxed and easy, and I was thrilled to run so fast (at least, fast for a marathon) without even feeling like I was pushing myself at all.
When I finished the second loop, I still had three more loops to go… but I was getting into the race and I knew I was going to finish it. Suddenly, the five loop course didn’t seem such a daunting prospect – it was really easy with very few hills, and the low-key nature of the race made it totally no pressure. Instead of feeling like a race, it felt like I had just set out for a training run that happened to be supported by aid stations every 3 miles. As with my long training runs in New York, I didn’t find a group to stick with during the race, but I did say hello and chat with a few people at various points in the course. (The one group I didn’t chat with was a relay team of three who came up to me after the race and said they had each used me as their “pace rabbit” ahead to stay steady, which was really flattering). But mostly, I just enjoyed my music, the day, and how pleasant it was to be running so long and yet feeling so great.
As I approached each aid station or turn (which were manned by volunteers to make sure you didn’t go the wrong way), I made it a point to thank the volunteers, and even chat with them a little bit as I went through. There was one intersection that I passed twice for each loop, which meant I saw the volunteers there 10 times. I felt a little silly continuing to say the same “thank you so much for volunteering!” every time I went through… so I did something even more silly. I picked a phrase to use for each lap, so that I wouldn’t repeat. “Thanks for volunteering!” “Really appreciate you being out here!” etc. Though my favorite lap by far was the last one, where I got to say, “thanks again; enjoy the rest of your Sunday!” There were a few volunteers that really paid attention and tried to figure out how many laps each person had left, and it was especially awesome when I got to the last quarter mile and had a volunteer encouraging me to “just push it one last little bit – you are awesome and almost there!”
Meanwhile, I was also getting extra encouragement from my whole family. I’ve always wanted to do a marathon where my family would show up at different points to cheer me on, and the hometown race was the perfect venue for that. While I love the “Youngest Female 50 State Marathoner!” sign that my mom made for me a few years ago and continues to bring to any races she attends, I was touched and surprised to find that this time, my 7 year old little sister had made her own sign, proclaiming me #1. When my playlist changed to what I knew would be my last song of the race as I passed the 26 mile mark, I thought it was fitting that I was now listening to Miley Cyrus’ “The Climb”, as my little sister used to be obsessed with Hannah Montana. (I say “used to” because the last time I saw Julia, she informed me that Miley Cyrus was no longer cool, with disdain that I could be so out of the loop as to not know that. But she loved Hannah Montana for something like 3 years, so I’m sticking with that as reminding me of my sister).
Throughout the race, I didn’t really look at my watch almost at all – I just enjoyed feeling strong and comfy. But on the occasions when I did check the time – wow! I was running fast! I realized that instead of just finishing around 4:30, as I had initially hoped, I was actually on pace to finish around 4:05… or maybe even faster. I picked up the pace just a teeny bit in the last few miles, but only to a point where it felt comfortable. Seeing that I was running some of the last miles of the race in 8:30 or so was awesome, and only further improved my good mood. When I hit the 25 mile mark, I was feeling excited enough to tweet out the very appropriate Britney Spears song I was enjoying:
It was a happy final mile, and I loved getting a nice easy downhill for the entire last 0.2 – yippee! It felt so great to finish strong, and I was so happy when I looked down at my watch to see my finishing time – 4:02!! It was so great to have my family at the finish line, too, and I posed for a quick pic with my Dad and little sister.
Every time I looked at the finish time on my watch, I couldn’t believe I had done so well, even without training and without really pushing myself during the race. I think it’s clear that my everyday runner habits have really helped me with speed, to where an 8:30 pace in the last few miles of a marathon doesn’t feel fast at all. I have to admit, when I created my Athleta goals for the year, I purposely said that I wanted to PR in “a race” and not a marathon, because I didn’t know if it would be possible to beat my current marathon PR (3:49). But now, I feel like I’m unstoppable. 3:49, here I come!
Distance: 26.2 miles
Overall place: 91/129
Gender place: 20/32
Age group place: 7/7