May 14, 2012

Race Report: Country Music Marathon

(Note: I ran this race on April 28; have just been delayed in getting the race report up!)

Going into my first weekend of spring marathon season, for once, I actually did everything right. The race was on Saturday morning, so Thursday night, I got home from work at 9pm and skipped my workout in favor of a healthy dinner (salad) and an early bedtime. On Friday, I set my alarm later than usual and skipped my morning workout so I could get even more sleep.

When I got to the conference center, I treated myself to a cranberry-orange muffin instead of my usual nonfat Greek yogurt and berries – of course it was sugary, but when better to eat a carby breakfast than the day before a marathon? I’d been eyeing these muffins every since we started this month-long session of off-sites, and this was as good a time as any to have one. When I headed for the airport for my midday flight to Nashville, I opted for a lunch of foccacia bread with tomatoes and spinach – again, hardly healthy, but a good chance for me to enjoy my carbs and not have to feel too guilty! I’m not going to lie, though – I did all this more because I wanted an excuse to eat the kinds of foods I usually avoid than because I truly needed to do so to race.

But while I was sitting on the plane, listening to Sugarland’s “We Run” and writing my More Half Marathon race report… I swore I got a runner’s high thinking about running. In the More, I paced my mom and had the race of my life – I wouldn’t trade that for anything. But now, buoyed by the upbeat music and lyrics (“You may never know how fast that you can go till someone lifts your feet up off the ground”), I couldn’t wait to stretch my legs and fly. It occurred to me suddenly that perhaps I was primed for this race. I had gotten plenty of sleep, I was carbing up, and I had even lightened up on the workouts. Maybe I could do well the next day?

This may sound like everyday race stuff to you all, but to me it was a revelation. In all the races where I’ve run fast enough to set a new PR, I’ve gone into them with low or no expectations. In fact, I usually don’t even decide if I’m going to try for a PR until I get to the halfway point. If I’m feeling good, I look at my watch; if the time is sub-2, I push it. If not, I enjoy a fun run and getting to meet people all along the course. People are always shocked by my lack of injuries (knock on wood), but I attribute it to this uncommonly laidback style of racing – don’t go for it unless it truly is my day. So many injuries are caused by people setting their sights on one race per season – they wake up that morning feeling ill, or with a weird feeling in their knee, or to find that the weather is hotter than they want, but they push it anyway, because it’s their one shot. I know that the elites don’t have the luxury of choosing whether the stars are going to align on Boston Marathon day / Olympic Marathon day / pick your favorite Major here, but for regular people, deciding when to push it and when to just relax is something that I think can truly help you to achieve your best time.

I didn’t sleep well on Friday night – perhaps it was that I’m not used to sleeping with other people in the room? God, I have been single far too long! – but I knew that how I slept the night before the race didn’t matter, and it was all about my sleep two nights before. Regardless of whether having roommates contributed to my tossing and turning, I was also super excited to be in Nashville with friends. The last time I ran Nashville, my then-boyfriend was supposed to be with me, but missed his flight and couldn’t get there in time, so I went by myself, cut the trip shorter than I had planned, and didn’t get out to the bar and music scene or even the post-race concert. This time, I met up with Jocelyn and Emilia almost as soon as I arrived, and after perusing the expo for goodies, we hit the town for some live music and a few beers before heading to bed. It made me realize just how much I had missed by doing my 50 state marathons so quickly and often solo – this was so much more fun with friends!

We got ready and headed on the shuttle buses to the start (which were NOT free, despite being advertised that way on the RnR website), arriving super early. We headed over to the portapotty line… and waited. And waited. And waited. None of us knew exactly how many runners there were (we later found out it was about 4,000 for the full and 23,000 for the half), but it seemed that there were not nearly enough portapotties, because despite being on the first round of shuttle buses (which arrived at the start about 90 minutes before the race) and immediately getting in line, we only emerged from the bathrooms with about 5 minutes before the race start, and lines still stretching back as far as we could see. Meanwhile, I especially didn’t like that RnR was selling VIP tickets to a limited number of portapotties that (obviously) had much shorter lines. Call me cynical, but I couldn’t help but think they had intentionally shorted runners on portapotties to get them to trade up to VIP next time. Is this the future of marathons – having to pay in order to be able to use the bathroom at the start? I hope not.

(By the way, this pic cues the start of how all my race pics turned out with way more interesting people than me in the background. Check out the guy just over Jocelyn’s right shoulder!)

I spent pretty much the entire time in the portapotty line complaining about how nervous I was, and probably annoying Jocelyn and Emilia have to death. I recognized this even at the time, but I just couldn’t stop talking about it – I’m so not used to feeling nervous before a race! When we finally headed over to the start, I ended up splitting off from them in the corral, hoping that some alone time would help me calm down. No dice – when I heard the corral that was two ahead of mine get released to start, I literally started shaking. Seriously, wtf?! I knew that I wasn’t trained enough (not trained at all is actually a much more accurate description) to set a PR, but I still wanted very badly to “do well” – whatever that meant. Ideally, I wanted to finish around 4:00, which I knew would be an accomplishment on this hilly course, particularly with the temperatures being a bit higher than usual. I didn’t dare tell anyone this goal, but with all the rest and proper pre-race fuel, I felt I had it in me. Now the question was, could I do it?

You would think that once I had set a goal like that, I would do something like pace myself in an attempt to hit it. But if you thought that, you obviously haven’t been reading this blog long enough to know that I don’t race smart unless I’m pacing. Instead, I made my way to the front of the corral, knowing that if I started there, I could enjoy a few glorious seconds of “leading the race” (hey, I’m never fast enough to actually do that, so a girl’s gotta take what she can get). Sure enough, when my corral was given the go, I took off – at a 6:13 pace, according to my Garmin. Oh, you mean 6:13 isn’t the per mile split needed for a 4:00 marathon? My bad 🙂

I say this with a smile because I have absolutely no regrets about my decision to do that. The day before, I knew I wanted to stretch my legs and fly, and this sprint was exactly what I was craving. I knew the pace wasn’t going to be sustainable for more than a minute or two (and maybe not even that long, depending when I caught up to the last runners in the corral ahead of mine and it got crowded), but I just wanted to feel the wind whipping through my hair, and feel strong and proud. For just a few amazing seconds, I felt like an elite, winning runner. As silly and childish as that is, I’d put it up there in some of my top moments of running, and I wouldn’t have traded it for anything.

But then reality hit and I came back down to earth – I had caught up to the runners from the corral in front of me, and it was now time to actually run the marathon instead of just pretending. But despite my sprint start and the uphill we now faced, I felt pretty good. As is my preference, I ran by feel – slowing down slightly on the uphills, and taking off when we hit the downhills. I was so thrilled to be out there running – instead of dreading the next 25 miles, I was excited. You mean I get to run for four whole more hours? Crazy as that sounds, I was genuinely happy about the prospects.

Until a particularly long uphill in mile 3 made me really break a sweat – and I realized that today was going to be a lot tougher than I first anticipated. The sky was cloudless and blue – a gorgeously sunny day – and I’m sure a layperson would have said it was the perfect day for a race. But any runner can tell you that running with the sun beating down on you is tough, particularly when it’s already warmer than what you’re used to. I slowed my pace considerably as we went through an unshaded section. However, in doing so, I was passed by the 4:00 pace group, whom I realized had actually started about a minute ahead in the corral in front of me. I had gone out so fast for those first two miles that the slower pace in miles 3 and 4 was still putting me just in line with them!

While I didn’t join the group or engage at all with the 4:00 pacer, I found it interesting to keep tabs on their progress compared to my own. I assumed the pacer was keeping a steady and even pace throughout, and if that was indeed the case, then I go a lot faster on the downhills than I do the uphills – more than most people. I don’t know if that’s good or bad, but since it’s what feels comfortable for me, I’m fine with it. It is what it is!

The next few miles flew by – lots of uphills, but almost always followed by nice downhills. It was great to have so many spectators out there, and I was also really impressed by how many bands there were on the course. I know this is called the Country Music Marathon, but I wasn’t very impressed with Rock N Roll USA on that front (they had fewer bands than when it was just National Marathon!), so I was pleasantly surprised. My only disappointment was that some of the bands were playing non-country music (I suppose for variety?) – but in a “Country Music Marathon”, I think we all wanted to hear the same thing! (And if you don’t like country, which I understand, maybe don’t sign up for a country music race in Nashville?). That said, it didn’t stop me from singing along to “Don’t Stop Believin’!” at mile 8!

By the time we hit the straightaway at mile 10, it was legitimately hot out – and we were now in an industrial part of town with next to no shade. I eagerly guzzled Gatorade and water at the aid station, deciding it was more important to stay hydrated and with plenty of electrolytes than to worry about too many calories from the Gatorade (it is surprisingly easy to drink way more Gatorade than you need). Just after mile 11, we started seeing signs for the half marathon / full marathon split – while a little part of me wished I could be done right then and there, I was also proud that I was still going. That is, until the half marathoners turned off right at the base of a hill that the full marathoners were now going to have to scale. Argh… that is way too easy to lose motivation!

We found ourselves on a long stretch of highway as we came into mile 12 – not flat, but not major hills either. The tough part was just that the sun was baking us at this point, and there was really no relief except to keep going. When we turned off into a neighborhood around mile 12.5, I was thrilled for the shade – and the sprinkler that had been strategically positioned to help us cool down. I usually avoid the sprinklers in races for the prissy reason that I don’t like to get wet (I also never dump cups of water on my head for the same reason), but today, I spread my arms out and soaked it in, Singing-In-The-Rain-style.

After going through the sprinkler, we hit a nice little downhill that cruised us into mile 13.1. Halfway done! I was psyched – though felt way more tired than I should have been at that point. It was just hot and sticky, and historically, I do not do well with hot and sticky. (Least favorite marathon ever, hands down, was the one I did in the Mojave Desert, Running With the Devil, which was 118 degrees (yes, Fahrenheit) and made me miserable. This was nowhere near as bad as that, but it was still not a fun temperature in which to do a marathon.

Fortunately, there was a band right around 13.7 to perk us up, and then we turned out of the neighborhood and back onto the main road. We had a short little out and back to the turnaround, but it seemed to be in the middle of nowhere! I realized we were all thinking the same thing when the guy behind me joked to his buddy, “We ran all the way out here for… what exactly?” I turned around and sarcastically was like, “What, you mean you’ve never heard of the historic battle that was fought here on this very spot?” Sometimes it’s those little wisecracks that help me feel camaraderie and keep me going!

I needed all the energy I could get, because we now had a big long uphill that I found to be one of the toughest parts of the race. It seemed that no matter how far ahead I looked, the unshade road just kept looming upward – and I was getting tired. While I had been keeping a pretty steady pace thus far, I started taking walk breaks to get me up the hill. Of course, the problem is that once you start allowing yourself some walk breaks because it’s tough (and not just because you’re going through a water stop or something), it’s too hard to resist doing it again and again. Mentally, I think the easiest strategy for a marathon is planning your walk breaks in advance and then not deviating from that plan; otherwise, it’s too easy to get lax with yourself and end up walking far more than you really need.

The top of the hill finally came, I and i stopped by an aid tent to gratefully grab a handful of ice from a kiddie pool full of it. It felt amazing to just cup it in my hands, though I also alternated holding it to my face, back of my neck, and arms. Despite not usually liking to get wet during a race, I didn’t even mind when a few cubes fell down my tank top – it was just so hot.

Finally, we were back at the point where the half marathoners had split off, and we took the turn to follow in their footsteps. Soon after, the course diverged again, we headed through a pretty park that had some sprinklers set up to go across the road. Hooray! And with that, we came ot mile 16 – just 10 more miles to go.

Note that some relative of Ridiculously Photogenic Guy was apparently checking me out as we turned the corner… how did I not notice him during the race??

Mile 17 took us alongside the half marathon course for a bit, and then they turned off to finish while we kept going. I was really grateful to the organizers for setting the finish line back from the main road – it can be so disheartening to see the finish line when you still have a long time to go in the race. We faced a mild incline as we headed back out of town again; luckily, it wasn’t too terrible, and it was also comforting to know that we would get to run downhill on this to the finish. Downhill finishes are the best!

We hit some minor bumps and rolls as we headed through the neighborhoods around mile 19, and I thoroughly appreciated the many citizens who came out of their homes to sit on their lawns and cheer us on. I logged a pretty fast pace in this area, thanks in part to all the cheers, smiles, and waves from the spectators, and before I knew it, we were hitting mile 20. Just 10K to go!

Checking my watch, I was pretty pleased with my time. It wasn’t one of my fastest marathons, but I was still keeping a very respectable pace given the heat and the hills – both of which really started killing me around mile 20. In addition, we were now heading out to an industrial section of town, which just doesn’t provide great scenery. However, I was impressed that Rock N Roll managed to get a lot of bands out to this section, as well as some groups of local cheerleaders, who did a fabulous job raising our spirits. with less than an hour of running to go, I tried to just focus on counting down the miles instead of thinking about the heat or how tired I was.

These final miles were extremely tough, though. By looking at the mile markers on the opposite side of the street that applied to the runners making the return trip, I knew that the turnaround point was somewhere near 22.5; I used that as my “baby step” goal. If I could just get to 22.5, the last 3.5 should be a piece of cake, right? I’ve always found that breaking up a long race into smaller parts helps immensely with getting through it, and today was no exception. One mile at a time!

Around mile 21.5, we turned into another park (this one much bigger than the last). As I gratefully slurped water at the mile 22 aid station, I looked across the pond and saw that there were runners on the other side – but at a higher elevation than where I currently was. You mean I had to run uphill again? Nuts. I took advantage of the walking water break to text my friends with my location and approximate finish time, and also switch to my “Marathon Power Songs” playlist. Both of these things were a huge help – my friends texted that they’d be around mile 25.5 to cheer me on, and my power songs helped me to zone out, ignore my exhaustion, and stay motivated. I made it through the gentle uphills of 22, passed the turnaround, and then sailed downhill at 23, encouraging a few runners around me to pick up their pace as well. And then I was rewarded for my efforts with the aid station set up by the hashers of Nashville – ice cold bubbly beer has never tasted so good!

Buoyed by the beer and my playlist, I headed back out through the industrial park to knock out mile 24. Normally with only 2 miles to go, I’d be having a ball – however, today the finish line just seemed so far away. I knew rationally that it was less than 20 minutes of running to go, but the contrast in scenery between the industrial park and the stadium was so great that they just felt like different worlds. Are we there yet?? I tried to push those thoughts out of my head though, and tried to focus instead on the fact that in just one mile, at mile 25, I’d get to see my friends. Must. Make. It.
At mile 25, I started to get psyched about seeing my friends, and kept my eyes peeled to the sidelines – until I saw the big bitch of a hill coming up. Really, Nashville? Torture. I ended up walking parts of it, trying to catch my breath before getting to the top and taking off once again. So totally lame for me to walk in the last mile, but I was beat, so I really couldn’t beat myself up over it. No sign of my friends yet, but at this point, I had less than 5 minutes of running left in the race – time to kill it.

We made the turn onto the main road and I loved the slight downhill as I picked up the pace – the finish line was approaching! Just after the 26 mile mark, I saw Jocelyn and Emilia lined up with the crowds on the side of the road, and I got super excited to see them. How awesome are they that they’d run an entire half marathon and then stand around to cheer me on and snap a pic instead of just going to rest and celebrate??

Seeing my friends out there made me so happy, and definitely helped me to finish with a smile on my face. In fact, when I saw the finish line and clock looming in front of me, I was grinning ear to ear. Despite the heat and the hills, I had managed to finish under 4:10 – a totally solid effort on my part and one I was very happy with. I had done it!

That night, we celebrated big – a beer flight for me, cocktails/wine for the girls, and fabulous front row spots at the country music concert that night with Gloriana and Rodney Atkins. More than anything, this race made me realize how much I love traveling / racing with friends – that something I often missed out on in my haste to get the 50 states done. But hey, there are always more marathons and chances to do it again, right? I had an amazing time in Music City, and now I’m looking forward to going back next year! Who’s joining me??

Race stats:
Distance: 26.2 miles
Time: 4:09:19
Pace: 9:30
Overall place: 800/3942
Gender place: 255/1803
Age group place: 81/443


7 thoughts on “Race Report: Country Music Marathon”

  1. What a great recap! Sounds like a ton of fun.

    I’m new to your blog. I must say, a marathon in ALL 50 states is AMAZING! I’m completely jealous. I just ran my first marathon in March, it was the Rock and Roll Marathon in Washington, DC.

    I just started my own blog a couple weeks ago! Feel free to come and check me out! I’ll be adding yours to my reader!

  2. Jamoosh – I loved the country music, but HATED the nasty MGD64 at the finish. Didn’t even bother trying to choke it down – just went to a bar to get some actual beer!

  3. Glad you had a mostly fun time in my city! But yeah, the RNR series is pretty much just out to make money and it SHOWS by the kind of stuff you experienced with the porta-potties. That’s my opinion anyways. But you’re right about all the bands – it’s Music City, so they BEG to get a spot to play!

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