Normally when it takes me more than a day or so to post a race report, I really regret it. When I finish a marathon, I’m usually on this magical high of achievement – and it starts to dissipate pretty quickly. This time, though, I was so ridiculously miserable when I finished the marathon that I went to my car and bawled my eyes out so much that I couldn’t even talk on the phone to my concerned friends because I was incoherent. However, when I drove home through the beautiful Rockies and got some perspective, I started feeling better. Now, several days later, I’m actually pretty happy with my performance. Funny how things change!
So the secret goal that I didn’t share on the blog was that I decided a few weeks ago that I really wanted to try to PR in this race. I rested up for several days beforehand, skipping my regular workouts; carb loaded like a pro; and made sure to get a good night’s sleep two nights before the race. Unfortunately, what I had neglected to realize while planning to “double dip” the Ogden Marathon with the BLEND Retreat was that while both Ogden and Park City are suburbs of Salt Lake, they are on complete opposite sides of the city… and about 1.5 hours apart. Furthermore, while the race started at 7am (not too bad), all participants were required to park at the finish and take buses to the start… the last of which would be leaving at 5am sharp. All of this meant that I needed to leave the Hyatt Escala by 3:15am at the latest. Not fun!
When I woke up at that ungodly hour (after a highly successful BLEND cocktail party, no less), I actually felt pretty good. Sure, it was pitch black out, but I generally keep my body on East Coast time, and it was 5:15am there – which isn’t too crazy. I hopped into my oh-so-sexy rental minivan and headed for the highway, blasting Sugarland’s “We Run” and getting pumped up. At least until I actually hit the highway, that is – when I realized that my only company on the mountain roads were scary truck drivers going far too fast for my taste, and deer that kept crossing the road in front of me. I didn’t want to get into an accident on the way to the start! I slowed my driving considerably, and turned the windshield wipers up to their highest setting. It was raining pretty hard, but I took solace in the fact that the weather report indicated it would stop by race time.
When I arrived in Ogden, it was still pouring, so I took shelter in the hotel/convention center two blocks away from where we needed to catch buses to the start. After seeing the other runners’ apparel, it seemed I had made a big tactical error: everyone seemed to be wearing heavy sweatpants, sweatshirts, and all kinds of cold weather gear, while I was wearing a tank top and skirt. To remedy this, I hightailed it back out to the car, where I had stashed a very thin long-sleeved jacket, and hoped that would help.
After sticking around the hotel as long as I could (and buying a hot coffee from the Starbucks to further keep me warm), I followed the pace team leaders heading out to the buses. There were long lines going to the buses, but they were queued up pretty efficiently. I had gone out to the buses around 4:50am (and the organizers said the last buses were at 5am sharp), so there was a bit of delay after boarding as the volunteer coordinators tried to make sure that every last seat was filled. In the meantime, since I was sitting on the aisle in the very front seat, a volunteer handed me a script to read out loud to the entire busload of people – along the lines of “you are on the full marathon bus, not the half; if you want the relay, you’ll be the second stop.” I thought it was cute/efficient that this speech was typed up, printed, copied, and simply given to the front-most person, but also glad that I wasn’t afraid of speaking to a large group of people. I could see that being particularly stressful for someone already stressing out about the race! Luckily, I enjoyed it, and joking around about it after helped me to meet some people in my vicinity, with whom I chatted all the way to the start.
In between chatting, I napped just a tiny bit (to the hum of the very loud bus motor) – but when we finally arrived, I was pretty wide awake. We piled off the bus into a giant field, and I was happy to see that despite the still-constant light drizzle, it wasn’t very muddy. I headed first for the long rows of portapotties on one side of the field, and then for a spot around one of the several dozen fire pits set up around the field. What a great way to build community before the race! Although I wasn’t happy that we needed to get to the start more than two hours beforehand (especially in the rain), the friends/convos around the bonfires made it actually a lot of fun and a big selling point for the race. With the fire keeping me toasty warm and my trash bag couture (TM) keeping me mostly dry, the time passed quickly and it was soon time to line up for the race.
Opting to hit the porta potties one more time before lining up, I ended up missing the gun and simply filing in where I could – so no pace team leader for me. That was okay, but I didn’t like how much weaving around runners I had to do for several miles – the road was just not wide enough for us to really spread out, and I was now pretty far back in the crowd. I tried to push that out of my mind quickly, though, and just focus on running as fast as I could without slipping and falling onto the wet pavement. The tragedy of San Juan was still fresh in my mind!
The first mile went by pretty quickly, and I was quite surprised when I looked at my pace and saw that it was sub-8 minutes. It hadn’t felt that hard at all! I think the intervals that I run at Tread Fitness have definitely paid off and helped me increase my speed. However, I also reminded myself that it wasn’t all going to be that easy. If I wanted to PR, I knew I was going to feel a lot of pain (“pain is temporary, pride is forever”). I know that visualization can really help athletes to achieve top performance, but instead of visualizing an easy breezy marathon, I visualized having “the going get tough” and then pushing through it like it was an interval. I reminded myself that in a Tread class, I push myself really hard – and then it’s over and I’m proud of what I’ve done. I knew that if I enjoyed the whole race, I wouldn’t get a good finish time – and while sometimes I’d rather just have fun, this time I was “in it to win it.” (Ugh, that is so many hackneyed motivational quotes in one paragraph, but that is honestly what was going through my mind.)
The first five or so miles, though, felt pretty easy. The entire race was net downhill, but there were definitely some little ups and downs that gave me practice at pushing it when it got uncomfortable. (“Get comfortable with being uncomfortable!” Okay, I’ll stop now.) I was about 60 seconds total ahead of where I needed to be in order to hit 3:45 as my final time, and I now started dreaming of finishing even faster than that. Maybe I could finish in 3:43, or even 3:41? Within an hour, though, this thinking started to reveal itself to be completely delusional.
Around mile 8, it started getting actually tough. Oh, so this was what it felt like to really push it in a race and start getting tired! I grabbed a gel from the many friendly volunteers at the aid stations, and continued on. The course so far reminded me a lot of Wineglass Marathon in Corning, and since I had PRed in Wineglass, I thought that was a good omen. I also reminded myself that in Wineglass, I had finished the race and then jogged backward to meet BF at mile 25 and then run back to the finish again with him – so obviously I had not given it my all that time. I didn’t want to make that mistake this time around, and since I know my tendency is to push myself too little and then regret it later, I tried to remind myself early on that I should really give it my all.
As I came to miles 9 and 10, I started calculating my half marathon split. I thought I might be able to hit it in 1:50 or 1:51, which would be faster than my half marathon PR of 1:52! But does it count as a half PR if I achieved as part of a full marathon? I mulled that over for a mile or two… but apparently not focusing on my running and getting overconfident slowed me down, and I soon realized I was now more likely to finish in 1:52 or 1:53. No PR on the half, which meant that I was going to have to keep pushing for the entire 26.2 miles if I wanted to head back to Park City with a shiny new PR. Time to crank it!
But around mile 11, I started to notice a twinge in my right knee. Odd, I thought, as I just kept going. But the pain continued to worsen little by little, and I tried to remember when I had experienced something similar before. It was actually in Utah at the Deseret Morning News Marathon – which had a similar start at the top of a mountain and then steep downhill ascent all the way to the finish. Back then, I had been diagnosed with runner’s knee – which requires rest and foam rolling to heal, but otherwise hadn’t bothered me since. I knew it wasn’t bad enough to stop running, but I also knew it wasn’t likely to get any better until I did. This race was not going to switch to either flat or uphills anytime soon (well, except in short spurts), so every step meant knee pain. And since I still had 15 miles to go, that meant there was no way I was going to get any kind of PR – half marathon or full.
It was here that I sunk into a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad mood. I crossed the halfway point in 1:53:52, just 90 seconds over my current half PR of 1:52:30. But instead of looking at that as a glass half full scenario (I had reached the halfway point almost as fast as I finished an entire race two years ago!), I chose to instead be pessimistic and pissed off. It didn’t help that I knew that mile 14 contained the only real hill of the course – a climb that wasn’t too bad, but stretched on for a brutal half mile.
I wanted to run the whole hill (and had planned to when I heard about it before the race), but by the time I reached it, I had totally lost my mojo – so I walked for a bit. Of course, that only made me feel worse. Come on, Laura, get it together! This section had lots of signs with internet memes on them, but even seeing a cat picture with “Suck it up, Buttercup!” didn’t break me of my bad mood and get me to go faster.
After getting to the top of that hill, we then hit what the race organizers promised was the biggest descent of the race – and I did pick up the pace and it felt good. (Dear race organizers: thank you for putting the camera people on the descent so that I could look at least somewhat speedy/happy for the pictures.)
But shortly after the photographer, I discovered another problem. The jacket I had put on at the last minute wasn’t waterproof, and instead was the same material as your standard long-sleeved tech tee. As a result, it soaked up the cold rain and then kept it close to my skin – so while my bare legs were perfectly fine, my arms were so cold that they actually went numb. I had never experienced this while running before, though another runner next to me started complaining of the same thing. My arms felt like dead weights at my sides, and I realized just how much I normally take them for granted. All those running guides tell you to pump your arms to go faster, but I had never before realized how much unconscious pumping my arms do! (That’s what she said?)
The nice thing about running a marathon in the middle of nowhere? There’s no choice but to keep going! We crossed a dam to the other side of the river, and then continued the descent toward the town of Ogden. By now, my knee was hurting really badly, so I was taking lots of walk breaks. I had said goodbye to the chance of a PR long before, but now I miserably realized that my finish time wasn’t even going to be “good.” I was so unhappy, and took out my frustration in the form of “who cares anymore?!” walk breaks. (Ugh, in retrospect I am so pissed about that and how poor my motivation was to try harder!)
Usually when I run I have a big smile plastered on my face – to the point where people think I’m not working that hard. (But you guys, “I just like to smile; smiling’s my favorite.”) Not so today. I apparently approached each aid station with such a grimace on my face that I was asked multiple times by volunteers whether I needed medical attention or to quit the race entirely. I did stop at a medical tent briefly, asking for Biofreeze (the one time I didn’t carry it myself, I needed it!), but when they didn’t have it (they just had aspirin), I carried on. There’d be Ben Gay at the finish line, right?
The relentless downhill was killing me (who would have thought?), and I was actually relieved when I got into a conversation with two locals about the terrain we still had to traverse. They told me that it soon flattened out and even had some rolling uphills around mile 23 – just two miles down (way down) the road. With all the walk breaks that I had been taking, it ended up coming as a complete surprise to me when I arrived at mile 23 and saw that my watch was showing 3:30. Surely I could complete a 5k in 30 minutes and finish sub-4, right??
For those last few miles, despite the pouring rain (which had picked up considerably), my numb arms (yup, the rain had chilled them again), and my aching knee, I tried to push it as much as I could. I had gone into the race desperately wanting to PR, but a sub-4 finish was still appealing and made me feel like I’d have some sort of minor victory. But as the splits for miles 24 and 25 ticked by, I knew it was going to be close.
We took a right and then a left in a somewhat-industrial area, and I found that it reminded me quite a bit of the similar right and then left I had done in Charleston – where I had also been gunning for sub-4 and then missed it by just a few seconds. Unfortunately, when I saw my watch tick over to 3:59:00 and saw the finish line looming still far ahead of me, I knew it wasn’t just deja vu – I was going to have the same just-missed-it result.
As I came down the finish chute, I tried to pick up my pace to the best sprint I had, but it was honestly pretty pathetic and I knew it – I was barely passing any of the runners around me. Meanwhile, I kept checking my watch in despair, seeing that it was moving too fast while my legs were moving too slow. When it clicked from 3:59:59 to 4:00:00, I still wasn’t quite at the finish line – and in a very un-Laura-like move, I burst into tears. I always finish my marathons so happy to have completed them (and honestly still in awe that I can run a marathon), but this time, I was just so upset that I hadn’t reached any of the goals I had set for myself. Furthermore, missing my sub-4:00 goal by just 23 seconds was especially cruel – if I had known earlier on how close it was going to be, surely I could have cut some of those walk breaks or even sprinted faster when I still had the energy.
If I thought I was experiencing deja vu with the Charleston finish and just missing sub-4, I felt it again when I walked through the chute and found that there were no heat sheets left for finishing runners. (There was also no more food, but I was more focused on getting warm at this point.) I had shaken my head no when a medical volunteer asked me right after crossing the finish if I needed help, but now I doubled back to the medical tent, shaking violently. I needed to get warm, and I hoped they could help me. Fortunately, they had heat lamps and heat sheets, so I was able to get at least a little warmth back before trekking to my car.
While in the medical tent, I chatted amiably with the other runners who were there. But when I finally set off on my own for my car, something in me started to break down – and by the time I reached it, I was full-on sobbing. I had really thought I could achieve a PR that day, and it hurt so much to think I hadn’t done it. I knew I hadn’t trained like crazy or anything like that, but I had been getting in speedwork (in the form of Tread classes), doing my long slow distance runs (in the form of other marathons), and carb loading / resting up. I felt stronger than I’ve felt going into any other marathon, and I wanted it to be my day – but it just wasn’t.
Thank goodness for my amazing friends, who cheered me up immensely (mostly in the form of distraction). And when the sky cleared up considerably for my drive back to Park City (why oh why couldn’t the weather have turned 5 hours sooner?), I ended up admiring the mountain views and just thinking how lucky I was to get to visit the beautiful state of Utah – no matter how I had run. Over the next week, I definitely saw the important of attitude in marathon performance – and when I was hit with rain this weekend at the Vermont City Marathon, I handled it a lot better (race report coming). You win some and you lose some, and since you don’t know what kind of a day (or a mindset) you’re going to get, this is why I advocate multiple marathons to help you achieve your best time.
When I arrived back in Park City and checked my email, I also noticed something very interesting in my Timehop Abe report of what I did one year ago. On this weekend in 2012, I ran the Colfax Marathon – and was insanely proud of my 4:14 finish.
Obviously I had come a long way in the last year, but for whatever reason, I wasn’t able to put that in context right after the finish line. But I had done 14 minutes better than the year before, and when I did some further number crunching, I found out I had actually run my 16th fastest marathon of all time! That really wasn’t bad at all.
So, PRs in the half marathon and full marathons? Ogden may not have been my day, but I am coming for you soon. Get ready.
Distance: 26.2 miles
Overall place: 899/2517
Gender place: 318/1203
Age group place: 37/137