RACE MORNING, PRE-RACE
I woke up around 5 on race morning (race start 8:30) and started puttering around the hotel room. I went through my normal routine of taking supplements, making and drinking my Beet-Elite (beet root concentrate) and munching FRS chews. I also prepared multiple flasks with my gel and water combination (EFS First Endurance Liquid Shot in vanilla). Then I put on sunblock and got dressed in my race kit, which was laid out in the living room.
I’d pinned my bib on as part of race prep Saturday afternoon (thanks to Sage Rountree’s Racing Wisely book for suggesting me I do this ahead of time). However, I had to re-do it Saturday night after I realized I hadn’t written emergency info on the back. At least I wasn’t doing it now!
I spent some time looking out from the hotel room’s balcony at the ocean, at the race tents and setup, and watched the sun rise.It seemed warmer and less windy in the darkness than after the sun showed its face. (this turns out to be true later)
Around 7:00, I put sweats on over my race kit and went out with my dear husband (DH) to walk down and find the marathon start line and do a quick warmup. This was the first time I’d done a pre-race warmup, but I knew I couldn’t afford to start any slower than goal pace. We walked quickly in the cold – I was so cold after a few blocks I started running. I ran down to the start and back past my husband, warming up quickly and feeling pretty good in my sweats. Nothing hurt that doesn’t usually complain (tight hamstring, cranky tendon, etc.) so I thought that was good.
We went back to the hotel so I could have a few minutes to myself, use a real bathroom one last time, and get my fuel belt on. Put the sweats back on, and around 8:00 we headed off to the start. At the expo, we’d been told the pacer would be in the corral 10-15 minutes early to talk to the runners, discuss water stop strategy, etc. I was starting one corral back from my assigned corral to stick with a pacer instead of go with what I’d projected as my dream time. There was only one pacer for my group. We got to the corral and kept looking for the pacer, who didn’t show up until 8:20ish, making a few of us nervous. He showed up in the orange pacer tank, with his sign (the handle had already been broken in half by the wind) and a small water bottle filled with some kind of sports drink.
I handed off my sweats to DH, who melted into the crowd, and started talking to other runners. I met Natalie, who had the same goals as me (BQ but faster) and was from the area. She said she “owned” the hill we’d run around miles 2 & 10 and was very confident. (I lost her well before the hill.) I met Susan and Ella, who I also lost contact with early on, and a woman in a long-sleeved red shirt with a Camelbak (I’d originally planned to use one) who ran right on the pacer’s heels most of the early miles.
Just before the start, I knocked the velcro strap on my Garmin 620 apart and was lucky to catch it as it fell. (the original strap broke in the classic way earlier in the year, but I won’t be joining the lawsuit) I had a brief moment of panic getting my gloves off, the Garmin secured, and my gloves back on, but had enough time before the start. We listened to the National Anthem – nice job by the vocalist – and then the first corral was off and we all moved forward. I remembered to start my Garmin as we crossed the mat, but it was a minute or so more until I remembered to un-pause my iPod.
THE EARLY MILES
For the first few miles, I was running very close to the pacer. I spent some time chatting with a guy from the DC area in a Marathon Maniac shirt (wish I remembered his name, just know he’s a member of the VHTRC (Virginia Happy Trails Running Club), a member of the Pacers Old Town team and was running the HAT 50k the next weekend) and a guy named Sandy from DC who was new to VHTRC. We talked about running around DC, Marathon Maniac-ing and other chatty runner things. The hill – Rudee Bridge – wasn’t bad at all. My head said, “oh, the hill…yep, still the hill…how much long – it’s over” as we crested. So my incline treadmill training simulating the hills during long runs must have helped. I remember a woman saying to me “you look like you’ve done this a few times before” and I said, “a couple”.
I spent some time in the first miles after the bridge (maybe miles 3-4) trying to slow down as I could tell pacer was a few seconds fast. There were more elbows bumping and people stepping on my heels – we all REALLY wanted to stay with the pacer – than in much more crowded races I’ve run. It was definitely race pace or better, but I was holding it and reminded myself I’d trained for this, running 18 miles of a 21 miler at goal pace (which was 3 seconds faster than the official time the pacer was to be running).
From very early in the race, it seemed like every step was painful in my legs. Not in an injury way, just sort of an all over hurt. It was very strange, but since it was consistent, and not getting worse, so I just tried to make it into background noise and ignore it. I later figured out it was my muscles hurting because of the cold and wind. When I’d done my pre-race warmup in sweats, I didn’t have any of that kind of pain. DH later said it must have been like running in an ice bath.
I took water at an aid station around mile 7. The water was very cold & it took extra energy to get back to the pacer even though I ran through the aid station, so I decided I couldn’t do that again unless I really felt super thirsty. Thankfully the cold took care of that and I wasn’t thirsty at all, getting by on the water I’d mixed in with my gel in my gel flasks. I got really lucky – I probably only took in 4-6 ounces of water the whole race and while I was dehydrated at the finish, I don’t think it affected my race performance.
Most of what I remember in the first 6-9 miles, aside from chatting and trying not to run into/onto people, is being annoyed with my fuel belt, which kept trying to slide down my butt. I kept having to pull it up and readjust it. Because of all the chatting, I don’t remember hearing much of my music early. Oddly, later when I was by myself, I don’t recall hearing much of it either, until toward the end of the race.
Running through Camp Pendleton between miles 8 and 9, I appreciated the uniformed service members who came out to cheer us on, though I didn’t spare the energy to do more than smile or raise my thumbs. They were loud enough on both sides of the small road that I thought “oh, that’s what people mean when they talk about the wall of sound from the Wellesley girls at Boston.” It was a brief lift as we headed back toward the hill.
I think there was headwind from around mile 9 for a while. Someone asked the pacer how long the wind lasted and I remember him saying, “9 miles” and people groaning. “That can’t be right”, I thought. At some point after the hill, running back toward the hotels, the woman who’d spoken to me before saw me again and asked “how are you doing?” I just looked at her and said, “it’s HARD”.
I saw DH on the sidewalk around mile 13. We’d pre-arranged where he’d be, and he was carrying an extra gel flask in case I needed it. I had put songs on my playlist for around that time into the race (estimated by goal pace) that reminded me of him to signal me to look for him. Thank goodness I actually heard them and remembered what they meant! He saw me, we made eye contact as he clapped and shouted support, but I didn’t need anything so I just nodded and kept going.
At some point after that, it seemed to get harder for me to stay with the pacer. I assumed I was slowing down, because that was what I was afraid of. (later DH would tell me, and I would figure out that pacer speeded up, maybe banking time against the wind) I felt like I couldn’t go any faster and didn’t want to risk trying and blowing up, so I tried to keep the pacer in sight as long as I could but eventually lost him. (Later I saw that at the mile 18.1 split, I was 50 seconds behind him when up till then I’d been within 2 seconds.) If I’d checked my Garmin, I would have felt better as my pace would have looked fine. But I didn’t think to do that, I was working hard and all my thoughts, if there were any, were about continuing to push.
At some point I realized we were past mile 16, so single digits to go. I’d thought about that point in the race miles earlier, thinking how good it would feel to have only single digits left, but now it just seemed like there was still a long way to go.
Running through the Shore Drive section (no wind! trees!) I appreciated the tip from Christine, who I’d met on Saturday at the Bart Yasso shakeout run, to watch out for the camber of the road. I’d said, “I’ll run in the middle” and she said no, the shoulder was the best place, and she was right. I stayed on the shoulder except when I had to move off for a music vehicle or something else parked on the shoulder. The runners got a lot more strung out in this section and I saw other people who’d been in my pace group though the pacer was long gone from sight.
FORT STORY – aka THE WIND TUNNEL
Miles 19 to almost 23 were through Fort Story, and were the worst – very cold, hellacious wind right off the ocean, not enough people around to block or hang on to. Someone later said they thought the sustained wind was 15mph, with gusts to 25mph. So I was running into or across a 15mph wind or more the whole time. This was the very hardest part of the race, and I’m so proud that I didn’t give up here.
This section was brutal. I was so cold. My legs ached as they had the whole race. I kept telling myself “you’re not injured, that’s not what it feels like”. I watched the average pace on my Garmin tick up one second, then later another. I normally can’t do math at all during a race and completely forgot I was wearing a pace band as a backup. Somehow my math brain worked and I frantically calculated and re-calculated – can I make my goal time, can I make the BQ time, can I finish under 4?
I felt like I was watching my goals slip away. I felt like I was running as hard as I could but like I was no faster than walking, it was so much effort. My worst mile time per my Garmin was in this section, at 10:09 – I would have said it was 12:00 easily. I saw people walk, then try to start to run again. I was fighting with myself – a total head game – for a moment I wanted to cry but I told myself “NO!” I thought of what it would feel like to DNF, to disappoint myself and so many other people, everyone who believed in me, my family, friends and my running twitter friends. I’d taken the risk, unusual for me, of sharing my goals with people and being enthusiastic and vocal about them and soaking up their support, encouragement and belief in me. I told myself I couldn’t walk, I’d go hypothermic. I convinced myself it would be faster to keep running. There was no visible on-course support from the race organizers (or I didn’t see it). There were a few spectators near some military housing and momentarily my brain said, “I wonder if they would drive me back to the hotel, or would let me call my husband to come get me” then I thought, “no, no one could get through with the road closures, it’s faster to run”. I saw one or maybe two soldiers standing by vehicles blocking intersections and thought that it would be warm in the cars and they’d probably have to help me if I went over. But I kept moving.
I kept looking at the lighthouse so far away, knowing that the curve of the road to reduce the wind was around or after the curve (and that there were photographers there). It didn’t seem to get any closer for a long time. I saw the ocean off to the left. I kept thinking “the wind can’t keep up, it has to stop”. In a photo taken near the lighthouse, I can see the wind trying to tear my bib off, and I look like I’m slow-motion running.
I don’t remember any of the music that was playing through these miles. I thought about how I had only put a certain amount of music on my iPod, enough to get through my dream goal time, the pacer time, and the BQ time. I knew after that it would go silent or start over and wondered if I’d get to that depressing point. I couldn’t remember the mantras that I’d come up with during my long (treadmill) runs and repeated over and over on those runs. I only used the mantras once in the race, somewhere in the first quarter, way before I really needed them. I kept looking at my miles elapsed and what was left to run, trying to figure out “you’ve got this long to run this many miles so if you can just hold this pace, you can do it, just keep going” and doing that over and over every time I recalculated. I kept doing that periodically through the rest of the race, but in Fort Story it seemed like that was all I was doing, in some sort of continuous loop.
THE END OF THE WIND, FINALLY! LAST MILES & THE FINISH
We finally got out of Fort Story and on to Atlantic Avenue – it seemed like forever, but that turn happens shortly after mile 22. At some point just after the turn, I remembered how long the stretch was on Atlantic, since we ran it outward and saw people heading the other direction toward the finish. It was strange to now be the person heading back, seeing people still heading out!
I kept calculating how long left to get what finish time, trying to make my legs go faster. I didn’t really feel them anymore except for the pain I’d felt for much of the race. I felt so clumsy and slow I wasn’t really sure if I *was* going any faster. I’d stopped looking at average pace, just elapsed time and miles mattered now. At some point, the 80s song Wild Wild West came on my headphones and it seemed to give me a good pace beat. I kept hitting the “back” and I think I played it at least 5 times in a row, and it’s long. I remember it all the way down Atlantic. As I saw the corner up ahead with cones where we’d turn left to finish on the boardwalk, I paused the iPod. I didn’t even want to hear the song I loved so much & had carefully chosen to be timed with my dream goal finish time. I knew I’d finish, and I just wanted to get to the line as fast as I could.
After the turn onto the boardwalk, I could see the Finish arch, but it looked so far away! I looked at my Garmin and calculated again and thought, “it’s gotta be half, maybe 3/4 of a mile, you’ve got x minutes, you could walk and still do it – but keep running”. I ran and picked up more speed. There were now spectators cheering the runners on, reading our names off our bibs and shouting encouragement. I started to smile and feel some emotion as the finish approached, but tried to just keep pushing faster. I looked for the mat and reminded myself not to hit my watch right then because of the photographers usually at the line so I hit it a second or two after crossing.
I started stumbling a bit then. No one was handing out mylar blankets and I sure could have used one. (I’ve never been to a half/full where they didn’t but perhaps they meant us to use the towels.) I looked at the people handing out medals, walked toward them stumbling a bit and said, “help” but they didn’t seem to hear me, as a young kid handed me a medal. There were two photographers in yellow vests (thanks to the organizers I was still able to process that yellow vest = photo) and I raised my arms and smiled, dangling the medal in one hand. I think I said, “I did it! I did it! I did it!” For the second photo, I even remembered to take my sunglasses off. Someone also gave me a hat.
I was so cold. I recognized the female runner, roughly my age, who’d spoken to me twice earlier in the race. She had her back to me but I patted her shoulder and she turned around. I suddenly got emotional and with numb lips thanked her for her encouragement and support. She asked in a lovely accent how I did and I told her I BQ’d – she gave me a big hug and then asked if I was ok. I said something like “I’m so cold”. She offered me Gatorade (no) then got me water and a banana, helped me get the race towel and asked if someone was meeting me at the finish. (DH later told me I looked pretty bad, and with the cold and exhaustion probably seemed in need of help.) I told her my husband was coming and happened to see him off to the side and pointed him out to her. She shepherded me to where he could get to me (and apparently told him I needed taking care of) and then melted away.
At the point where spectators could meet their runners (thank goodness I didn’t have to find some reunion area or remember a colored flag after all) while I was looking left at my DH, a petite person in a hood approached me on the right. I looked down to see Christine, a new friend from the Bart Yasso shakeout run the day before. She’d finished the half, heard from her mom who BQ’d at a different race, and then stood in the cold waiting for me to finish to find out how I did. Amazingly sweet, generous, thoughtful! When I told her I BQ’d, she got the hugest grin on her face and was so happy for me, gave me a hug and told me her mom (age 60) had BQ’d too. I asked about her race, which I think went well, then she left so DH could take charge of me.
He got my sweats out of the bag and found a bench and helped me get the sweats on as my hands weren’t working that well. He put together my bottle of Ultragen recovery drink which I got down in record time. I was excited trying to tell him things, but I know I wasn’t fully functional and my lips were still cold. I was insistent on going to the finisher tent so he had to find it (on the beach) as I was hoping for a shirt that said “I BQ’d at Shamrock” or “ I SHAMROCKed my way to a BQ” but no luck. I bought a mug and a tech shirt and we left as quickly as possible for the slow, cold walk back to the hotel, passing people still out on the course on the way.
As soon as we got in the hotel room, I started brewing hot tea and getting into my compression gear. I noticed in the bathroom mirror that my lips were blue! I had prepped some food (sweet potato w/ nut butter) the night before knowing we’d be short on time, and stuck it in the microwave. I did a little stretching and used my Roll Recovery device while I was eating. DH was looking out the window giving me reports on the people still out there. As soon as I could manage getting the rest of our gear together, we checked out and were on the road by 2:30. Only a couple of hours after finishing the marathon, I was in a car for 5+ hours. I wouldn’t recommend it, but sometimes it has to be done. We were trying beat the storm home, and we did. Getting out of the car on breaks and once we got home wasn’t fun, but also wasn’t the worst I’ve ever felt.
LAST (FOR NOW) THOUGHTS
Without the wind, the weather would have been darned near perfect. (yes, I’m thinking I could have hung with the pacer and done even better) I had originally worried about heat, then rain and truly, I think either of those would have been worse than the wind. The race organization and runner support was terrific. The size of the field was about right given the constraints of the course (sharing one side of the road); they could probably even cut back to 3500. The course is terrific, flat and fast (the hill is no biggie), not too many turns. Spectator and on-course support is minimal to non-existent in some parts of the course, so that has to be something you’re okay with, and I am. Would I do this race again? I’d certainly consider it, though the wind would be a concern. Would I suggest it to another runner? Definitely. But I’d try to convey the wind more concretely based on my experience. I had folks tell me it was windy, but I had no idea what they meant…now I do! But I also know that I prevailed. I didn’t give up, I didn’t give in, I fought back hard and gave all I had on the day – and I beat my BQ. I’m still grinning about it, days later.
I plan to write additional posts on the gear I wore, nutrition before, during and after the race, on my training, and other related topics. If there’s something specific you want to know, feel free to leave a comment, use the contact form or tweet me about it. Given the demands of the rest of my life, I may not get back to you immediately, but I do plan to try to be as responsive as possible. Thank you for reading!
One more thing….though I ran the race alone, I wouldn’t have gotten to the start line without the amazing, unfailing support of my DH for the last months and years. Words are inadequate to express how lucky I am, or how grateful I am every day for him.