Category Archives: Race Recaps

I Came, I Saw — Marathon, Part One

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It’s almost 1:00 a.m. and I should’ve been in bed hours ago.  I also have work to finish and a camping trip to pack for.  But I tonight I saw the premiere of “Spirit of the Marathon II” and after seeing those great stories I’m determined to finally sit down to write my own!

Rest assured that I’m not going to write a full recap, complete with 26 miles of splits and a breakdown of exactly what I ate and when.  (I couldn’t even if I wanted to because the GPS for my RunKeeper app went nutso during the race … Pretty sure I did NOT run 29 miles!)  But even writing just the highlights will take some time and probably two posts.  So if you want the short version — spoiler alert — here it is:  I finished a marathon.  It was awesome.

If you want the longer version, read on!

"Before" Photo - Looking happy and a little scared!

“Before” Photo – Looking happy and a little scared!

As I think back on my Flying Pig marathon experience, it’s not the black-and-white numerical data that I remember.  I can’t recall what happened at each individual mile.  There are even some pretty large chunks of time that are a total blur.  But sprinkled throughout the race are several key moments, so clear in my memory, kind of like my own personal highlight real.

THE START – I had been so preoccupied with race preparations and the frenzy of getting to my starting corral that my brain was too busy to comprehend what was happening.  Suddenly I found myself standing there, surrounded by a sea of runners, facing a beautiful sunrise over the start line and it hit me like a ton of bricks:  This is IT.  After all of the work and sacrifice, joy and grief, I am finally HERE … And I started to cry.

Seriously?  Already?  Sheesh.  But as we moved forward, I snapped out of it.  I wiped the tears from my face and held my head high.  I had a monumental task to accomplish and I needed to focus.  So it began!

Gorgeous Sunrise

Gorgeous Sunrise

MEL 118

Ready to go … Plus my two memory bracelets

THE SIGN – I loved reading all of the signs along the course.  Some were funny, some were encouraging, some were even a little suggestive.  But the one that stuck with me the most was held by a woman I saw around mile 2.  She was sitting on the curb with a poster propped up in front of her that said something like, ‘I fractured my hip training for this race.  Finish for me.’  For a few seconds I actually thought about trying to turn around to go back and give her a hug, but it was so crowded I would’ve gotten trampled.  Sign-lady, if you’re out there, please know that I thought about you repeatedly whenever things started to get tough.  Thanks for the extra motivation.

THE VIEW – I had studied the course enough to know that I should anticipate an uphill first half, but since I’m not from Cincinnati, I didn’t know exactly what to expect.  I tried to focus only on the road that I could see immediately in front of me, not worrying about what still might be ahead.  As I rounded a bend around mile 7, I was practically smacked in the face by an amazing view down over the park and back onto the city we had just left.  It was astounding to see just how far I already climbed, especially compared to how good I felt, and I knew that after only another mile or so the toughest hills would be done.  I was flying high, literally and mentally!

THE EXCHANGE – At some point, I decided to calculate whether I had brought along enough fuel for the duration of the race.  I am normally pretty good at math, but something about running turns my brain into scrambled eggs and I started to worry that I hadn’t put enough energy food in my belt after all.  And the jacket I had tied around my waist was annoying the snot out of me.  Mentally, I was just at the point of starting to slip a little.

In the meantime, my poor husband was doing his best to navigate the bus system to try to find me at some point along the course.  I was relieved when he texted to say he was waiting at mile 12, and I sent him a desperate reply, requesting that he be ready to hand over all of the extra Honey Stinger waffles and Sport Beans in his backpack.  I must’ve looked like a woman possessed as I made a beeline to the sidewalk, while flinging my jacket at him and greedily stuffing a bag of jellybeans in the waistband of my shorts.  For some odd reason, just having these extra provisions brought back the mental confidence that I was now prepared to endure the second half of the race.  (Side note:  I did not end up using ANY of the extra food he handed off to me.  Too funny.)

Heading Straight to my “Pit Crew”

THE HIGHWAY – After winding through some scenic, fun, lively neighborhoods, it was time for a reality check at mile 18.  The course takes you back toward downtown along the shoulder of a highway, so you are combining mind-numbing scenery, little crowd support, and mileage that is starting to add up quickly.

Thankfully the Flying Pig organizers very strategically plan a water stop at this point, manned by none other than the local chapter of Parrotheads.  It’s hard to be down when people in coconut bras and flowered shirts are cheering for you and dancing to Jimmy Buffett music.  Seriously, these people were having a blast while hanging out in the rain on the side of a highway.  Awesome.  I enjoyed my brief trip through Margaritaville, and soldiered on …

(To Be Continued)

Winning

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Today I ran my slowest 5K ever.  In fact, I hesitate to use the word “ran” because it was more like a slow trot.  I came in last place in my age group.  But none of that matters … because I won.

My boys, ages 4 and 7, have come to quite a few races to cheer on the grown-ups.  They love the races that have kids’ activities, snacks, and prizes.  (Especially prizes!)  Somewhere along the line, they decided that wasn’t enough, and that they should actually RUN in the race — And not just the “fun run” or the kiddie distance, the actual 5K.

Besides running with them, my husband and I also talked a lot about how going to a race is not about beating other people, or winning a medal, but is about doing the best that YOU can do.  (I knew we were getting through to them when I went into their room one night and heard one of them mumbling “personal best” in his sleep.)  Above all, I wanted their first race to be a positive experience.  Something they would always remember, and hopefully would want to do again.

Unfortunately, as we picked up our “Jog Into Spring” race bibs, a snow squall sprang up.  Seriously?!?  We were being pelted with tiny balls of ice and I thought for sure the kids would complain.  But we bundled up and headed to the start line.  Thankfully, it stopped snowing and stuck to being “only” cold and a little windy.

All bundled up and ready to run!

All bundled up and ready to run!

Looking out the car window about 15 minutes before the start ... yikes.

Looking out the car window before we started … yikes.

My husband ran with Boy #1 so that they could go a little faster.  I stuck with Boy #2, who started off at a nice, steady, but sloooooow pace.  Once the 1-mile walkers peeled off at their turn, I realized we were at the very end of the runners — what a strange feeling!  Then we came up to our first mile marker, and we were already getting passed by the race leaders heading in the opposite direction.  I did what I could to keep my boy focused and steady, but by the second mile marker, the wheels were starting to come off.

Bringing up the rear, just in front of the walkers.

Bringing up the rear, just in front of the walkers.

My mom and a friend did their best to make it fun for him, running ahead and letting him catch up to “beat” them.  I bribed him rewarded his efforts with jellybeans.  I even resorted to singing to him.  (I’m sure the complete stranger that had fallen to the back of the pack with us was very amused by my a capella rendition of “Eye of the Tiger.”)  We managed to avoid a full-blown meltdown, but that third mile was tough.  All along the way the race volunteers and police officers cheered for him.  I know they were probably freezing, and since they were basically only waiting for us at that point, I tried extra hard to thank each of them as we passed.

Finally, the finish line came into view.  Pretty much the only people left were our friends, and the family of a woman who I think  accidentally found herself on the course for the 5K instead of the 1-mile walk.  (Poor thing!)  But their cheers were enough to spur Boy #2 on to a strong finish, with a smile on his face.

Crossing the finish line!

Crossing the finish line! (So glad my friend April snagged this shot.)

We met up with my husband and Boy #1, who had also struggled a bit through the last mile, but stuck with it.  He even snagged an age group award for his efforts!  But he was not the only winner today.

Plenty of other people showed up, ignored the weather, and finished the race they started.  Winners.

More people showed up, ignored the weather, and cheered for the participants.  Winners.

Race staff, volunteers, and police officers helped support us and keep us safe.  Winners.

As for me, my moment came during the drive home.  Knowing how much Boy #2 had struggled, I asked him if he would ever want to do another 5K.  “No,” he said, “I want to run a marathon.”

And that, my friends, is WINNING.

So proud of my family!

So proud of my family!

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The author is running the 2013 Rock ‘N’ Roll Cleveland half marathon while raising money for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.  Please consider making a donation: http://pages.teamintraining.org/noh/rnrclevh13/MileageMama

Team In Training

Follow her journey on Twitter @MileageMama: https://twitter.com/MileageMama

Redemption, With a Side of Feathers

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There are a lot of different reasons runners flock to their local Turkey Trot.  (Pun completely intended!)  For some, it’s a family tradition.  For others, it’s a chance to burn off some extra holiday calories.  This year for me, it was all about redemption.

Calling all Turkey Trotters

Looking back over the 2012 racing season, I should’ve been happy.  Using a more balanced and consistant training approach kept me injury-free.  I’d checked several goals off my list …  PR a 5K?  Check.  Win an age group award?  Check.  Complete a triathlon?  Check.  (Don’t let the lack of blog entries fool you, it was a great summer!)And yet there was still something bothering me.  One race had gotten under my skin, left a sour taste in my mouth, more than any event ever had:  The Towpath 10K.

I’d run one previous 10K, in July 2011.  It was a tough race back then, when I was just starting to run longer distances, and 6 miles was still a pretty daunting challenge.  Although I was very happy to finish in 59:21, the combination of heat and hills made it tough.  Since that time I’d completed a half marathon, lowered my 5K time by more than a minute, and lost several pounds as I added biking and swimming to my training routine.  Plus the Towpath was a flat route on a cool October day.  All of that should easily translate into a sub-59:00 finish, right?

Wrong.

I’ve never been one to have exact splits pre-calculated, but I usually go into a race with at least a general strategy in mind. Maybe I had gotten complacent after my recent string of successes, but I showed up at the Towpath starting line without a plan. And this time it cost me. I ran the first half a little too conservatively, and by the time I realized it, even a sub-9:00 final mile wasn’t enough to make up the difference. Instead of being the exclamation point at the end of my best-ever summer as a runner, I was left with a feeling of disappointment.

Added to that, I knew last fall’s Turkey Trot had been the nail in the coffin of my IT band struggles, leading to a winter of frustration and physical therapy.  So I showed up to THIS year’s race with a bone to pick.  (Get it?  Turkey … bone … Ok, ok, I’ll stop.)

My Racing Buddies

The Cleveland Turkey Trot typically draws several thousand runners.  It’s a fun and festive atmosphere, and I absolutely love the energy that comes from people of all shapes, sizes, and abilities gathering at the starting line, ready to conquer the 5-mile course.  My primary goal was to break 50 minutes.  Maybe if it was a REALLY good race, 48 minutes … but I didn’t have the guts to admit that anywhere other than in the deep recesses of my own head.  And certainly not out loud.

Determined not to repeat my Towpath mistake, I pushed myself a little more than normal during the first mile.  I let the crowd sweep me along and was pleasantly surprised that my first mile was at a 9:08 pace.  Other than a little tightness in my calves, I was feeling pretty good, so I kicked it up just a tad.  The second mile actually ended up being my fastest, at 8:56, but it really didn’t feel like I was struggling at all.

At this point we were heading downhill, toward the Lake Erie shoreline and Browns stadium.  I prepared myself for the turn back toward downtown and the climb back uphill that would follow.  I focused on shortening my stride slightly and using my arms a little more, and before I knew it, I was at the top.  That hill work this summer paid off!

The next couple of miles felt exactly like I want them to: strong, steady, and under control.  But I was still surprised each time the voice in my headphones broke in to give me an update.  Even though I had slowed down slightly, I was still averaging 9:25/mile or less.  I actually started to think that maybe something was out of whack with my GPS, because there’s no way I felt THIS good while running THAT pace.  It didn’t help that I had somehow missed seeing every mile marker along the course …

Until I finally saw the sign with the giant number 4, and looked down at my watch to see a time of just under 38 minutes.  Despite my race-induced brain fog, which typically prohibits me from doing any type of mathematical calculations in my head, I knew I had a good chance to beat even my best-case-scenario time.  I found another gear, concentrated on keeping my feet as light as possible, and focused my gaze several blocks away on the finish line …

Or what I thought was the finish line.  Turns out I was looking at the trucks that were parked about half a block PAST the finish.  It was a little congested with runners as I neared the end of the race, and I didn’t see the ACTUAL finish line until it was only around 100 feet away.  Too bad, because I probably could’ve started my finishing kick a bit sooner.  Nevertheless, I was still absolutley ecstatic to look down at my watch and realized I’d finished in under 47 minutes.  (46:52, to be exact.)

Love the shirts this year!

It sounds silly, but I actually felt a few tears well up in my eyes.  Instead of limping away from last year’s Turkey Trot, or immediately wanting a “do-over” after the Towpath 10K, I was left with the feeling of pride and accomplishment I’d been searching for.

Sure, I wasn’t even close to being the fastest runner on the course.  But that’s not really what running is about for most of us.  It’s about slaying the internal demons of doubt and pushing past your personal boundaries.  It’s about knowing you finished what you set out to do.  And it’s about waking up the next morning and wanting to do it all over again.

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The author is a wife, mother, and solidly average “middle of the pack” runner from Northeast Ohio.  Check out her new Twitter handle @MileageMama:  https://twitter.com/MileageMama

One Half = A Whole Lot of Fun!

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The alarm clock went off well before dawn.  Actually, several alarms went off, because I am a little neurotic and paranoid about oversleeping.  I woke up a bundle of energy, some nerves, but mostly excitment.  Race day was finally here … Towpath Half Marathon here we come!

Ready to go!

We (my husband and I) had to leave early because in addition to the 45 minute drive, the roads leading to the race parking lot would be closing one hour before the start.  It was kind of fun to stop at the Turnpike rest area and be able to immediately spot fellow runners.  They were the crazy ones wearing shorts when it was barely 50 degrees, and making a beeline for the restroom in hopes of avoiding the port-o-potty lines!

We sat in a long line of cars winding through the pre-dawn fog, and finally turned in to the ski area that served as the race’s starting point.  Something about empty ski lifts blowing in the mist was a little creepy!

No need to do an extensive warmup since I was planning on starting out pretty slow, but I did walk and do a few dynamic stretches to loosen up.   We lined up right in the middle of the crowd, which was both 10K and half marathon runners, and soon we were off!  The first couple of miles I kept a slow pace … so slow my husband felt the need to mention it a couple of times.  But I knew that I needed to save my legs and not go out too quickly, so I told him to trust me.  I had decided not to rely on my watch or calculate pace, but instead go by “feel” … but I’d estimate we were around an 11-minute mile pace.

It seemed like almost no time had gone by, and we were already at the 3-mile mark.  We sped up just slightly, but still made sure to take occasional quick 30-45 second walk breaks.  This race gets an A++ for aid stations, which were plentiful.  I alternated between water and the Gatorade that was provided, although I didn’t feel the need to consume a lot because the weather was still pretty cool.

In fact, I don’t think you could have chosen a better day for a half marathon!  Here in northern Ohio, October weather is a real crapshoot, and somehow we hit it just right.  A little cool, no rain, almost no wind, and a lot of sunshine.    And running along the Ohio & Erie Canal Towpath Trail as the leaves were changing made it just about perfect.  I kept my head phones off and just listened to the sounds of hundreds of runners crunching along the gravel trail, and chatted with my husband off and on.

Around the halfway point, I started to feel really tight in my left hip flexor.  I have no idea why, since I don’t normally have trouble with that area at all.  So I slowed down just a tad and waited for it to work itself out.  Miles 7 and 8 were probably the toughest because of this, and I started to allow little trickles of doubt to creep in to my mind.  That’s when I decided to finally turn on my iPod and listen to music.  That small amount of mental distraction was just what I needed to keep going, and eventually the cramp just worked itself out.

As mile 10 approached, I was feeling pretty good.  My husband, however, was not.  His training had not quite gone as planned, including a severe shortage of long runs.  And now he was really hurting and wanting to walk more and more.  (So much for his comments about my slow pace!)

I tried my best to encourage him, reminding him that all of those early-morning alarms and hot summer evening runs were all preparing him for this race.  He did not seem to appreciate my Pollyanna attitude, perhaps because it was relayed a tad bit loudly since I was still wearing my headphones.  After a brief exchange, I left him with, “See you at the finish line,” and took off.

Now to many of you, that may seem heartless.  But I knew at that moment what I had to do to finish, and which was focus and RUN.  So I switched to my playlist that I’d made for my spring 5K and set off on those final three miles.  Over and over I focused on passing the runner in front of me.  Sometimes it was easy, sometimes it took a few minutes.  Each pass was like a tiny victory, boosting my confidence that I had saved enough in the tank to finish strong.

Finisher’s Medal

My final time was 2:20, or an average of 10:43/mile.  But my goal at this race wasn’t necessarily tied to a finishing time, it was more about the sense of accomplishment.  Three things I am the most proud of about that morning:

#1 – I finished the last three miles before reaching the end of my spring 5K playlist.  That means I ran miles 11 through 13 of a half marathon FASTER than I raced only 3 miles just five months ago, at around a 9:00/mile pace or less.

#2 – Not a single person passed me for the entire last three miles of the race.  Not one.  My own personal victory!

#3 – I crossed the finish line with a huge smile on my face, and I felt great.  A little stiffness here and there, but I was back running again just a few days later.

One of the biggest surprises, however, was how I felt as I crossed the finish line.  I had anticipated an epic struggle, and a feeling of supreme satisfaction of having achieved a monumental task.  Instead, I felt a small shadow of disappointment that it was over already.  It had almost felt … dare I say it … too easy?!?

Ok, maybe not easy.  But instead of providing closure and feeling like the end of something, it felt more like a beginning.  Perhaps that is a good thing, because too much closure may have sent me right back to the couch stuffing my face with potato chips.  “Yep, I ran a half marathon, it was great.  Please pass the dip.”

Instead, I found myself wondering about a new challenge.  Would a full marathon push me to that limit?  What about working on my speed for a 5K or 10K?  Or maybe a triathlon?

That very afternoon I sat down to look at the 2012 running calendar.  And that’s the great thing about running.  There’s always another race!