Baystate Marathon Race Report (BQ #2, PR!)

The very short version:

BQ #2! Beat my BQ time for 2016 by 12:13!!

Being over 10 minutes faster gets me one wave earlier in registration if they do it the same way. I’m also told that I can submit my time to Boston and possibly get an earlier wave/corral for 2015!

 

And beat my Shamrock PR by 6:38!

Below is my long Baystate race report, crafted from a fatigued brain and notes I put into my iPhone on the flight home – so don’t be expecting the most polished and eloquent post ever written. I figured sooner was better than later, especially given MCM and those race recaps to come. Posts on Fri/Sat/Sun pre/post/non-race activities and a race assessment may come later in the week or next week, and possibly some recovery and lessons learned type posts. If there’s a question you want answered about my race, race gear, fueling, whatever, please ask in the comments and I’ll try to include it in another post!

Get yourself a cup of your favorite beverage and a snack, and settle in…..

Ready? Here we go!

SUNDAY MORNING

The forecast has been for cloudy, low 40s (real feel low 30s) with variable gusty winds 15+ mph. Last night I spent time freaking out over the possible cold, asking for advice on twitter, then trying on my short sleeve shirt and deciding it would chafe, so singlet is the way to go. Fortunately, it was a little warmer than they’d forecast – I think mid to upper 40s at the start – which helped, though it was COLD going over and waiting to start.

What I wore (same as Shamrock):
race kit

race kit

Champion yellow bra, The North Face Better Than Naked yellow singlet, gray/green The North Face Better Than Naked shorts, Feetures yellow light cushion socks (3rd wearing), The North Face visor. Nathan arm warmers, black toss gloves. Sunglasses.

 

Pre-race supplements and fuel I carried in UltrAspire Spry vest :
pre-race supplements, gels, vest for race

pre-race supplements, gels, vest for race

Two 5 serving flasks of EFS Liquid Shot vanilla (filled each Hammer flask with 4 servings plus water, combined the remainder in one flask with water that I took at start) plus a number of GU in case I needed more fuel. The winds at Shamrock had me burning a lot of effort and fuel, and I wanted to be prepared. Pre-race, my usual supplements, FRS chews and Beet-Elite. I took the pre-race stuff at 5:45 for an 8am race and that was the last fluid I took in until the bit of gel/water I took at the start.

 

At 6:30, I went down and walked 15 min on the hotel treadmill and did my drills. (glad I did as I didn’t get my mile warmup run as I’d wanted!) Felt fine. By 7 am I was hungry and thirsty, but that’s way too late to take in anything pre-race. Just after 7, I gathered my pre-packed gear bag (extra gloves, hat, Ultragen powder, bottle of water and empty Hammer bottle to create my recovery drink immediately post-race, a tyvec lab coat I’d planned to wear pre-race, my teal Yellowman shirt and a blue SportHill hoody DH loaned me). I wore nylon wind pants and an illuminate jacket over my race kit – it was a chilly walk of about a half mile to the finish/start area. I tried to jog a little on the way but tough with a gear bag.

 

(Aside: this race was incredibly well organized….there are no paid staff, ALL volunteers and most are runners who know what’s important to runners. There’s a reason the slogan for the race is “for runners, by runners”. May say more on that in another post.)

 

I went into the Tsongas Center hoping to meet up with Nicole and maybe see Colleen or Liza (warmth and indoor bathrooms, supposedly) No luck on finding anyone and only one bathroom was open. Waiting in a long line at 7:30 was out of the question. Plus I still had to check my gear. So, outside to the portajohns – plenty but somehow never enough. Met a young woman doing her first marathon and hoping to BQ – saw her after and she missed BQ’ing by about 3 minutes, but I’m sure she’ll get it next time. After that brief stop, needed to get to gear check and get in the corral. No time or place for a warmup mile at this point (something to work on in the future as I think it helped me at Shamrock).

 

Gear check was super-easy and located at the back of the marathon corrals. It was staffed by local high school XC runners who were efficient, cheery, and friendly. I made my way through people to try to get to my targeted spot ahead of one of the pace groups. My goal pace put me between two pace groups so I decided I’d start at my goal pace, hold it for as long as I could knowing I could tag on to the pace group behind me if needed. Talked to that pacer – bright orange shirt, carrying a big sign on a stick – asking him some Q like “how do you go through water stops, run or walk?”, “are you running even splits?” He appreciated that reminder as he’d forgotten to tell the group he was going to run through the water stops! He said he was going to try to run even splits a couple seconds faster than target (target splits were on the back of his shirt – brilliant!) and that a second pacer would join around halfway and he’d drop at 16, leaving the second pacer to get the group to the end. Again, brilliant on the part of the organizers – I’ve never seen a race rotate pacers through, everyone should do it.

 

We all huddled together for warmth (I was about midway between the sides of the corrals) and listened to the nicest Star-Spangled Banner performance I’ve ever heard at a race. There were multiple voices and harmony. It was lovely. Not sure if it was live or pre-recorded. Chugged my gel/water and got the nice guy next to me to pitch the empty flask out of the corrals as I was afraid I’d not get it far enough and hit someone.

 

Here’s a fun video of the start! (I love the guy yelling “GO GO GO” at the beginning) The right side of the road (as you watch this) is the full marathon, the left is the half. We’re on the same course for a while, but it does split – there’s plenty of signage. Here’s a video tour of the course.

 

Spoiler: this may have been the toughest race mentally for me of any I’ve ever run, including the Shamrock Fort Story wind tunnel and my 2004 injured marathon finish (walking last 6.2 in pain, in rain). It was so hard. I don’t know why, it may have been a reflection of my odd mood and mental state during this training cycle, all the stress I’ve been under and my weird feeling of detachment as the race approached. I don’t know if it had to do with changing my goal time during training – don’t think so, but I know that had affected my mood. My chiro (post-race) said that in the last couple of weeks pre-race, he thought I was really overthinking it and stressing. At my last appointment pre-race, he told me to “just have fun and do what you love to do, run!” That really made me think about when and how I love running. I will say that this race had its good moments, but it was not “fun”.

 

THE RACE
After the announcer’s yell to start us off, we crossed the timing mat and I started my music. Or so I thought. My iPod started with a song I knew in the middle of my specifically-ordered playlist – those of you who know me know how well I’d react to something like that – so I got briefly consumed trying to fix it. I thought of Sarah’s problems the night before her recent BQ, but I knew I’d checked the order of the playlist, so some sequence my gloved hand pressed screwed it up. I kept trying to fiddle with it and thought it might be on the shuffle setting, which requires fingernails to adjust and looking at the darned thing, partially hidden by my vest and singlet. I pulled off my R glove trying to fix it (and sent the expo-purchased pace band flying) and then gave up as I could see the leader of the pace group I intended to stay ahead of was now ahead of me! We were also running on half the road (middle divider) with cones between the lanes that kept getting knocked down. (the shouts of “cone” would ripple back through the pack) I decided I’d live with shuffle and try not to be too irritated, just go with it being a different race experience as my sister had said. But I was thrown, frustrated and worried about time loss already as I pushed around and through people to get ahead of the pacer. (FYI, the iPod DID play in order, just played the 2nd half of the list first, causing me to mess w forwards/back later to keep peppier songs going.)

 

I decided right away that I would take gel every 3mi starting at 3, which is more frequently than I usually take it. I often go more for 4-5 miles between, and tend not to take it until I feel a need. However, I realized that sometimes that might be too late to enable me to stay on a tough pace, and that the hills and gusts of wind were going to make me burn more energy as well. Also, from reading Sage’s Racing Wisely and my own experience, I recalled that negative thoughts can sometimes be an indicator of needing more fuel, and I needed to bat away negative thoughts any way I could. I got through mi 24 taking the gel every 3 miles on my 2 flasks of 8 servings of EFS mixed with water. Love that stuff. Only a couple of times did my stomach momentarily have an opinion, and it passed. I took water at aid stations maybe 4-5x on course, running through the stations yelling “water” to get matched up with a  volunteer. I took only mouthfuls, sometimes after my gel but sometimes separate from it, if it was just a desire to wet a dry mouth or some sense of “hey you might need some water”. I even purposely spilled some out of a cup that was too full to drink and ignored the splashes on my face. So I may be getting better at this aid station thing! It helped that the stations were well organized and fully supplied, with runners (high school mostly) staffing them, and that the race field wasn’t that big – no crowding. Also, this race doesn’t really attract lots of people running in pairs or groups or people who don’t know water stop protocol – no one cut across in front of me, came to a dead stop or any of those other issues you might encounter at other races.

 

So why did I say this race was mentally tough? Because from very early on in the race, the first miles, it just felt hard and I kept thinking that I didn’t want to do it. I thought “what if I just stop, walk off the course, DNF”. I wanted to walk. I can’t remember feeling like that in a race before at the beginning, and certainly not as often as I did during this race. It was hard and the effort hurt physically of course (I checked in on myself periodically physically but nothing was “wrong” – no odd pain, no tummy upset, nothing like that) and I knew I’d already done 18 miles at my goal pace as part of a 22 miler, so I probably could do at least that – but I just wanted to stop. I don’t know if it was the hills or the gusty wind or being on my own, which I was for the whole race. Yes, there were people in front of me and behind me, but because of the field size, the roads (we ran on the shoulder a lot, single file in something no wider than a bike lane), it was basically a solo effort. I fought myself for the whole race.

 

I paced myself with my Garmin and sometimes used the clocks (every 2 miles). I’d check my Garmin at every mile split buzz, looking at instant/average pace and how many miles covered. I’d think “x miles till the next gel”. I also checked the Garmin every couple of songs. I don’t think I’ve ever kept that close of an eye on my pace before, and I know I wasn’t accounting properly for hills/wind, though I did try not to get freaked about instant pace, coming up with explanations when it was weird, like “there are trees” or “you just took a gel” but always coming back to “speed up, keep going”. (DH tells me average pace is a lagging indicator….great.) That said, though my splits aren’t even pace, I think they were as even an effort as I could manage. I “took” what I could get on the downhills and tried to stay steady on the uphills. Every single mile was marked on the road, which was helpful. I was within 0.1 of the course markings for most of the race, but by the end I was off by 0.24 – all of a sudden in the later miles it jumped. I tried to stay close to the road edge and run the corners as efficiently as possible. There were few enough people that I didn’t really have to go around anyone or spend lots of time weaving in the early miles (yay – people self-seeded well too), though when we were mostly single file, you did have to go around to pass.

 

The course is mostly double loop, which has the advantage of letting you “learn” the course for the second loop, if you’re alert enough to manage it and be able to make any adjustments (I wasn’t, forward was the only thing I cared about). The first time though it was hard as you’d see the “marathon mile 14” mark just before the “marathon mile 4” mark, and that went on for many miles, making me think every time “oh, I have to do this part again”. There was one fun thing I noticed the first time – where mile 20 was marked on the road, someone had painted or chalked a small red brick wall (helpfully labeled “the wall”) and a few stray bricks marked on the road past that point, as if you’d broken “the wall”. Strangely though, I looked for it the second time when it actually would be mile 20, and didn’t manage to see it.

 

I don’t remember enough details to give you a mile by mile recap, so here’s more of “how I ran the race”.

 

I watched people ahead of me a lot. I tried to keep people in sight who seemed to be doing the right pace. I watched lots of shoes as I spent a lot of time looking down at the road – especially while we were on the shoulder – for grates or pavement problems in road. I watched people’s gait and looked at their clothes and how they carried fuel or water.

 

I looked at the trees and water as much as I could tried to express gratitude for the beauty – the fall colors were quite nice. I tried to take snapshots with my mind. I tried in the beginning and at end to be grateful and express it out loud (quietly) for getting to the start trained and healthy, for all the people who helped and supported me. I had my music up loud, breathed and sang along some if I felt so moved. I tried some tricks I read about in Kristin Armstrong’s book, like Kristin’s coach Cassie saying  “up and over” before some hills. I’m not sure it helped, but it gave me something to do momentarily. I used Kristin’s tough race mantra of “just run to the end of your hat” and also told myself to just follow the shoes of a runner I picked in front of me.

 

In the late miles, I followed a small muscular young woman with a ponytail wearing a race shirt with Montrail and some Hagerstown trail race info on the back. No headphones (maybe half the people wore them), no hat or sunglasses, not carrying fuel or water. She came up in the 20s and I hung with her for a while then she sped up at maybe 23 or 24. She looked really strong and steady, just clipping away but she obviously was going fast. I kept thinking “stay with the Montrail chick” and marveling at her ability. And how easy it looked, wondering if someday I could do as well. I decided she was probably more of a trail runner, maybe ultras, so this race may have been easy for her (or just may have looked that way).

 

At some point, I thought of Richmond in 4 weeks and laughed at myself for thinking it could be anything other than a training run, and how am I going to do even that in 4 weeks, how crazy must I be?

 

I refused to let myself slow down or stop or walk. I just kept moving my legs, pushing hard no matter what I felt. I don’t know how I did it.

 

Thoughts along the way (italics are thoughts as if you were inside my head, scary!):
  • Get to 6, 6.2 then only 20 miles to go, a long run
  • I get stronger as I go longer
  • Just get to 10
  • Get to 12, toss one flask, you’ll be lighter
  • Just get to 13.1, then halfway done
  • Run to the next gel, just run to the next gel
  • Get to 16.2 then single digits left
  • Get to 20, then it’s just another hour even if you slow down, don’t slow down, what’s my pace, how slow can I go and still hit my goal, can’t slow down
  • Do NOT let the pace group catch you! (I repeated this to myself MANY times)

 

Somewhere in the late miles after 20, on the first loop you turned but the second time through you go straight. Not only was that clearly marked with a sign, there were spectators several people deep cheering and blocking the turn so you couldn’t mess it up. Appreciated that!
  • mile 23 – could maybe still hit goal with 10s, no, have to stay below 9, no, don’t slow down, less than half an hour
  • mile 24 – take last gel, toss flask…… OMG are you kidding me with this hill?! Come ON! This is just MEAN! (I said this out loud several times….too tired to muster up anger but got irritation/crabbiness and used it to push myself on)

 

I knew there was one more water stop at 25.2 (I had the water stop list on my treadmill during training). I decided to take a GU and settled on vanilla bean GU – least caffeine and I’m still new-ish to that in hard running – just in case it would in any way – even mentally – help me push to the line. I ripped open the pack, got a little more than half in my mouth, swallowed it and grabbed a cup for a mouthful or two of water. I’m glad I took it. We turned a corner – and I lost 2 GUs, they bounced out – to be met with a nasty uphill bridge, slanted sharply down toward the outside of the road, and open to traffic in both directions. We had to run to the right of the cones again, and on the slant, every time my left foot struck the ground, I felt the pain of that slant all the way up that leg.

 

 

Come ON where is the turn?

 

Had realized I’d have to run to almost 26.5 on Garmin. Realized we were running opposite way than I’d run shakeout (but glad I watched video as I had recognized things and glad I ran it so I knew road pavement conditions were not good). Turn L onto main st, L again, see another L to go, hear announcer, try to speed up (trying to finish fast and alone…see guy on my L but think I dropped him). I hear them say my first name, mangle last name but get closer on the second try. I’m try again get closer, sprinting as much as I can…I can see the clock and arch, raise arms where is mat?

 

There! 
I cross, stop my Garmin and make sure to save, then see the time on my Garmin. I put my gloved R hand to my mouth and break into OMG “I did it” tears and sobs.
THE AFTER
Suddenly my legs stop working, lock up and I’m off balance. One volunteer cracks open a bottle of water and hands it to me. I’m still crying, can feel the tears running down my face. Someone tucks a mylar blanket around me. A female volunteer puts my medal on me and asks me if I’m ok. I tell her I beat my BQ, she excitedly hugs me. (these people understand what that means and how hard you worked to do it!) I’m still crying, ask her for Garmin help, she sends me toward the bag check & finish area.

 

The first tent I see is from the Marx Running store, they were at the expo. I recognize the founder/owner, Mark, and stop to ask for help with my Garmin, but he doesn’t know. I ask him again about the jacket I’d looked at the night of the expo. (I hadn’t wanted the colors they had and hadn’t wanted to jinx myself by buying it. The logo has “Bridge to Boston” on it, just like the medal, and I didn’t want to presume, kind of like not wearing the race shirt IN the race – he said I wasn’t the only one.) He says to call him, they’ll do whatever I want. I tell him I beat BQ by over 10 minutes and he grins, says “that’s FANTASTIC!” and gives me a huge hug. He then says they can even stitch “Boston Qualifier” and my time down the arm if I want.

 

I go stumbling along and see the girl from the portajohn line at the start who was running her first and trying to BQ (3:35). She had hard time with either hills or wind, got 3:38. I congratulate her on first and tell her she’s going to get BQ. See she’s got Garmin. Ask her for help and she is able to help me make sure I can see my results.

 

Everybody looks kind of dazed. I head to bag check. Nearby there’s a guy on ground with a girl rubbing his legs – he’s saying glad she’s there as he couldn’t possibly do it himself. I see two women bent over from cold & leg pain, speaking to each other in a foreign language. The nice XC kids quickly get me my bag, though I had to have one untie the strings. Everybody’s legs seem to fail in the same clumsy way, we’re all walking differently than other races I’ve been at. Maybe camber & turns in last miles? I take off the vest and visor (hey, conscious thought!) put on yellowman shirt (so glad I brought it), DH’s blue hoody, hat, illuminite jacket. Lean against pole to pull on wind pants, nearly fall over. Hard to make Ultragen – which requires opening a packet, putting it into an empty Hammer water bottle, adding water, putting the top on and shaking – but manage. I start drinking it.

 

Looking for trash bin, see a computer setup. You can check your results already! Absolutely fabulous setup, so cool. Shows you splits on a screen, you can compare yourself to women/men/everyone (shows bar chart by time). And if you’ve got someone with a camera (I don’t) you can get your finish time on a digital clock next to the setup and get your picture taken.

 

I walked past the medical tent through the finish food area – there was nothing for me due to dietary restrictions (and I wasn’t expecting there to be), but they had:
  • bottled water
  • bananas too green to eat for me (why is that always the case)
  • a selection of PowerBar Crunch items
  • homemade PB&J sandwiches in big boxes – this choked me up thinking of the volunteers making them for us all, wish I could have had one
  • homemade minestrone soup
  • homemade chicken noodle soup
My stomach handled the Ultragen fine, lurched a bit while drinking but finished it. I walked back to hotel very slowly, thinking about the race and tearing up along the way. As hard as it had been to believe it was coming, then here (that detached feeling), it was now hard to believe it was over, and that I’d achieved my goal of a faster BQ and a new PR. My brain kept making me repeat “that was SO.HARD.” out loud even to myself. I got back to the hotel and went into the bathroom to start cleaning up, saw myself in the mirror and burst into tears, saying “I did it” while smiling (grimacing?) and sobbing at the same time.

 

Even now, 2.5 days after, it’s hard to process and I’m not as coherent as I’d like putting this together. I think some of that is the fatigue hitting me now that I’m home and not having to care for myself on travel or be around other people much. The mental stress of training and getting myself through travel and then clamping down to get through the race is something I probably underestimated post-Shamrock (and even after the Heartbreak Hill Half), so while it’s unpleasant, it’s less of a surprise. The lack of sleep over the last few weeks and the physical effort of the day are also catching up with me, I’m sure. I’d say I’m surprisingly not too sore – parts of me might disagree depending on what I’m doing – but I had no problem negotiating stairs immediately post-race and I can feel things improving. The underlying fatigue is really the thing, and not doing a run before I’ve recovered more. (planning a short run Saturday, some folks in town I can’t miss seeing)

 

More thoughts about the race:
  • So many beautiful trees and leaves along the course. Fall is so beautiful in New England. I’m so glad I got to see it.
  • There were many great views of the water – you run with the Merrimack River on your right for a lot of the course. I have some postcard-level pictures in my head, I tried to burn in the views but am not sure how much stuck.
  • There was a waterfall/dam thing on the river near the end. It was loud and I tried to pretend the rushing water was pushing me on.
  • The dreaded wind gusts did happen. They were not insignificant, but mostly short, under a minute. They blew leaves across the road and once in a while tugged at my visor. It wasn’t every mile or all wind like Fort Story at Shamrock. The sun came out after 10am and then the wind sometimes felt good. I thought about taking off my arm warmers and gloves but decided not to because of the wind and some shaded portions. I will say when the wind and the hills combined, that was a bigger challenge.

I reminded myself at the start and multiple times during the race how lucky I was be able to do this, and to have gotten to the start line trained and healthy. It was a lot of work on my part, yes, but I also have a great team in my super chiro and great massage therapists.

Though I ran the race alone, I knew there were so many people thinking of me and rooting for me. Thank you all so much! My brain didn’t work well enough during the race to go through the list I’d made the night before (more names than miles!) but I know your energy helped, and I tried to send some to those of you I knew were running your own race on Sunday.

I also wouldn’t have gotten to the start line without the amazing, unfailing support of my DH for the last months and years. It can’t be easy being tethered – by choice yet! he’s a little nuts, yes? – to someone who’s as obsessed with running and my goals (as well as nutrition, schedules, routine,  and all my other quirks, neuroses, etc.) as I am. Words are inadequate to express how lucky and grateful I am.