After last week’s running boredom, I looked forward to taking three full days off before running the Cowtown Half Marathon on Sunday. Taking three days off before a race has always worked well for me, and I arrive feeling rested and excited to race at the start line. I was also looking forward to a short weekend away from home and running on a new course. Part of my running boredom is nothing more than always running the same routes, over and over, or the same few trails, and I was really looking forward to running in a different location. I was hoping that running a half marathon would also reset all my buttons and break up some of the tedium of training — and that’s exactly what happened. There’s nothing better than running a good race.
MON: Yoga – 40:00 – I was feeling pretty sore from our short trail run yesterday, especially in the calf muscles and left groin area (which has been flaring up off and on recently, probably because of the hill work). Concentrated on forward bends and opening the hips, and felt great afterwards.
TUE: Hill Run – 6 mi – Since we’re officially tapering before Saturday’s half marathon, Liz and I ran the hilly path rather than the more challenging hill route we run on Wednesdays. It was another gorgeous, early spring morning, with blue skies and temps in the mid 40’s. Though I am sad to see our Texas winter slowly fade away, I can’t complain about these perfect mornings for running. I loved that the hilly path seemed easy, and I especially loved feeling so strong on the hills.
WED: Easy Run – 4.2 mi – It was thundering and hailing when I got up to run with Liz, so we pushed the run back to this afternoon. It was a true winter day, with cloudy skies and a blustery wind from the north. I think we would have run 6 miles if the wind hadn’t been so bitterly cold, so we cut it short and kept a relatively easy pace. I’m really looking forward to three days off from running, some longer yoga sets, and then the Cowtown Half Marathon on Sunday.
THU: Yoga – 40:00 – Enjoyed my first day of taper before the half marathon on Sunday. Did twists and back bends, then took the dogs for a long walk in the evening. After a brief rain storm this morning, it turned out to be a gorgeous, warm day. I’m really looking forward to getting away for the weekend and running a half. My last half was in Eugene almost a year ago and I loved the course. For me, half marathons are truly a fun distance to run. I can push the pace, enjoy the course, and not feel as beat up afterwards as I always do after a marathon. Liz and I are going to try and run a sub 2:00 hour. We’ve both been running really well lately, so I think it’s possible. It’s predicted to be “breezy,” and wind is not my friend during a race, so I’m keeping my fingers crossed that it doesn’t materialize. If it does, though, we’ll still have a fun race.
FRI: REST DAY – A total rest day (except for packing for the race)!
SAT: Rest Day – Liz and I took the train over to Ft Worth and met up with Heather at the hotel, which was a very short walk from the train station. I was glad I decided to stay with them overnight in Ft Worth rather than drive over from Dallas before the race. We took the free trolley to Uno’s pizzeria for dinner and met Hari, his family, Amy, and Aaron. The restaurant was packed, but it was worth the wait because the pizza was amazing. Liz, Heather, and I went back to the room and got everything ready for the race, then it was lights out at 9pm. As always, I tossed and turned all night, nervous about the race. Some things never change, no matter the distance.
SUN: COWTOWN HALF MARATHON, Ft Worth – Sometimes everything comes together on race day and you have an amazing run. Today was one of those days for me. The weather was perfect (cold and wind-free), the course was hilly enough to add some variety, and overall I just felt very, very good. I decided not to wear my Garmin — a first for me — and tried to run according to how I felt. When I got to the top of the long hill around mile 9 (where I silently thanked all those hills I’ve been running lately) I felt great, and pushed the pace with a smile on my face. I went from a 9:10 average at mile 3 to an 8:50 finish in my second fastest half marathon ever (1:55:48), and the fastest finish I’ve had since 2010. It feels good to pull that off but, like I said, sometimes it all just comes together. The most important thing is that I truly enjoyed every minute!
Stats for WEEK 7: Run – 23.4 miles, Yoga – 1:20:00
It sounded like a good idea back in November.
With the adrenaline still on overdrive from the Tulsa Marathon, and a $30 Groupon to the inaugural Patriot Half Marathon on Memorial Day in a nearby suburb, several of us were talked into signing up.
Somehow we forgot that it’s almost always hot on Memorial Day.
It was warm, but not as bad as it could have been. With a starting temp of 74 degrees and humidity hovering around 90%, and a finishing temp of 82,we got lucky. Clouds rolled in at the start and a cool breeze kept us company for most of the race. There was sun–a lot of it–and humidity, but it could have been a lot worse.
I ran with my friend, Heather, who has been injured for the past several months, and another friend, Stacy, who just started training for her first Ironman. This was the longest distance Heather had run in five months, and our only objective was to finish. We took a lot of walk breaks on the hills and stopped often for water and wet hand towels.
The race was small and it was a nice change to run in the countryside. I’m nowhere near the front of the pack when I usually race, but I have to admit it was a lot of fun being more towards the back. People talk more and look out for each other. The volunteers seem to be even more encouraging.
And in the end, everyone gets the same medal.
The course was fairly hilly, especially the second half, which seemed to be mostly uphill. The hills were long and gradual. Hari said it was worse than Tulsa, which is the hilliest course I’ve seen.
If I had been gunning for a PR, I can imagine the hills would have made me pretty grumpy.
Despite the heat and the hills, I had a blast running with Heather and Stacy. It was nice to run a race more like a long run, with the only expectation being to finish. Heather and Stacy both did a great job. I’m so lucky to have such great friends to run with.
Here are some random photos Michael took during the race. The complete collection can be found here.
I seem to have a love/hate affair with marathons. I love most of the training, especially the long runs with my running group, but usually hate the actual race. I’ve only had one really good marathon where everything fell into place (weather, pace, health, BQ finish time), but I can’t really say that there’s ever been one single marathon I’ve ever truly enjoyed. I used to think this was some type of major character flaw in my running psyche. Now I know that it just means I don’t always love running marathons.
(I’m still holding out hope that this will one day change.)
Last Sunday I ran the Route 66 Half Marathon in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Since July I had trained for the full marathon, but nagging ankle tendonitis and piriformis syndrome made me decide a few weeks out to switch to the half marathon distance rather than cause a more serious injury. Making the decision to switch to a shorter distance caused a lot of anguish and made me feel like I was letting both myself and all the friends I trained with down. Also, training through the hottest summer on record in Texas was miserable, and the marathon was supposed to be the payoff for all those miles of torture.
Once the decision was made, however, everything in me relaxed. I was more than trained for a half, and my only goals were to run the 13.1 miles with my marathon friends, and to make it to the finish line uninjured. My unspoken, true goal, however, was to enjoy a race again, even if it wasn’t the marathon.
All goals were accomplished.
The Friday afternoon before the race, Michael and I loaded up the car with luggage, video camera equipment, ourselves, and the dogs. Yes, the dogs. We don’t travel lightly. The four and a half hour drive north was uneventful, and I even got to see a beautiful starry sky just outside of Tulsa. Our room at the Holiday Inn was surprisingly modern and comfy and, best of all, pet friendly. I could have done without the room being right next to the elevator, but we spent so little time in the room it was never a huge issue.
Our first morning there we reloaded up the car with all the camera equipment so we could film the marathon course, and Bill arrived just as we were leaving for the expo. The expo was tiny and we didn’t spend much time there, but Heather arrived just as we were leaving, so we waited around to see if she wanted to drive the course with us. Poor Heather was having a slew of bad luck getting to the start line. She had contracted strep throat the week before the race, and on the drive up to Tulsa her husband caught some type of stomach bug and, after having throwing up violently on the side of freeway, had to get a room in Norman because he was too sick to continue. At the expo, Heather’s bib couldn’t be located, so she had to be given a new bib and chip.
Bill decided he wanted to drive the course with us, but Heather wanted to see some family and get some rest. Armed with course map, GPS, video cameras, dogs, and Bill we set out to see exactly what the course was like. The official marathon description had said the course was “relatively flat,” but I’ve noticed almost all marathon course descriptions say something similar.
We knew there were going to be hills, but we had no idea there were going to be that many hills. Except for a six mile stretch along the river, the course is pretty much long, rolling hills–and they don’t let up, all the way to the finish line. We always try to incorporate hills into our long runs, and do a pretty intense hill repeat run called “Crazy 8’s,” but the Tulsa hills were long, nothing like what we have here in Dallas. Also, the sheer number of hills were unlike anything I had ever encountered in a race, which isn’t saying much since I’ve only run six marathons.
Bill wasn’t happy at the sight of all those hills, but kept a positive outlook nevertheless. I was secretly happy that I wouldn’t have to run all those hills the next day, but a part of me also felt disappointed that I wouldn’t be facing the challenge. Even though I complain about them, I generally like hilly courses. Mostly, though, I thought about Heather and how tough this course would be for her since she had been sick all week, and also knowing that we hadn’t really done enough hill work to do our best on this tough course. I also thought about Liz, who was attempting to finish her first marathon after being carried off the course halfway through three years ago in her first attempt, and coming back stronger than ever after surgery and a long recovery. This is not the course I would want to run on for my first full marathon. I also wondered if Don would be able to run the sub four hour marathon he felt was within reach.
At dinner that night, everyone wanted to know about the course, and they quickly caught on when I hesitated. Hari covered his ears and made it clear he didn’t want to know anything about the course. I told Heather and Liz to run the first half conservatively, because the second half had more hills than the first.
Of course we had all been checking the weather forecast obsessively the week before the race, and the forecast didn’t change all week. It called for a very warm, windy Saturday, with temps in the 70’s, with a cold front blowing in Saturday night and the winds diminishing before the race start, and temperatures in the mid 50’s. We were all keeping our fingers crossed that the winds would die down and the temperatures would drop before the race, because Saturday was incredibly windy and warm.
We all came back to the hotel and Michael set up the video equipment to interview everyone about tomorrow’s race. Everyone relaxed and stretched in the hallway as they waited, and then it was time for bed. (When we got home, and Michael tried to download the video, he discovered the memory card had somehow been corrupted. He’s working on saving the data. When he does, I’ll post the video. Fingers crossed.)
I went to bed that night not nervous, merely excited about running in the morning.
RACE DAY: Woke up to 47 degrees and a slight wind. Got dressed and met Hari, Bill, Heather, and Liz in the hotel hallway. Hari and Bill were almost identically dressed in matching WRRC sleeveless tanks and arm warmers. I was glad I had packed for all four seasons and remembered to bring gloves and a headband. Since the hotel was half a block from the start line, the hotel lobby was packed with runners cupping warm cups of coffee trying to escape the cold temperatures.
Going outside, it felt colder than 47, and the breeze was a little stiff as we made our way into corral B. Everyone was excited and ready to start, only we realized the start was actually only for corral A, and there was a five minute staggered start between corrals. With only 4500 runners, the staggered start seemed a little strange. Also, I heard some runners around me complaining about the fact that the 4:00 pace group was up in corral A, so if that was your goal and you were in corral B, and you wanted to run with that specific pace group, you were pretty much out of luck.
I’m usually very observant during marathons, but for some reason I don’t remember many details from this race. Maybe it was the course, maybe it was the cold, or maybe it was because I was much more relaxed than usual, but if I hadn’t driven the course twice the day before I wouldn’t be able to tell you very much about what it was like. Also, since I was going to stay with the marathoners and not push the pace, I had left my Garmin home. I must have missed the mile markers because I was never really sure of where we were on the course until we got down to the river, which meant closer to my finish line.
Hari, Bill, Heather, Liz, and I all started together and ran the first few miles as a unit. The start was nice, with confetti and loud music and the obligatory hyped up announcer, but the first hill appeared just after the first turn, and it was an almost mile long uphill. It looked imposing, but it was also early enough in the race to not really register in the brain. One of the first things I noticed as we ran the first few miles was how little crowd support there was. Undoubtedly the cold temperature had something to do with that, but even when we did encounter people there was very little clapping or yells of encouragement. Not once did I hear anyone yell out a runner’s name, which is very different from other marathons I’ve participated in.
Hari pulled away from our little group fairly early, as we knew he would, but we could usually see him just ahead of us. The first six miles took us through rolling hills of charming neighborhoods, a Catholic school with students stationed at six speed bumps with signs and warnings, and beautiful trees resplendent in fall colors of red, orange, and yellow. I told Heather to look at the trees, trying to counteract the tunnel vision we all seem to get when running long distances, and to keep us from grumbling about the hills.
We were all very quiet as we ran. I remember wondering about that, and looking back I think it was because of the hills. They weren’t terribly steep, and we were all trained enough to handle them, but there was always another one just around the next corner. The good thing for me was I knew that once we got down to the river after mile 6 it would be flat, and I reminded Heather of this as we got closer. Bill and Liz had fallen a little behind us, but we knew they were close by.
I asked Heather how she felt and she replied “terrible.” I knew she was just being grumpy. Once she asked why we were doing this, and I came up with some BS answer of “because we can, because we’re strong, because of the trees, because we’re alive . . .”
At mile 7 Heather commented on how she wished she were halfway done with her race, like me. I was surprised we were already at 7, but was also glad that the course was finally flat. We did get down to the river, but I had forgotten about the 1.5 mile detour off the river down a road that went past every fast food joint and pawn shop known to man. Every city has a road like that, and it felt like running down Garland Rd back home.
Finally we were back at the river, which in my mind meant I was close to the finish line. The faster runners passed us going the other direction on the other side of the road, and we saw Don blaze past us. He looked strong and determined to run his sub 4:00. At this point the miles seemed to stretch out like a rubber band, and it felt like we were never going to reach the turn around. My legs felt good, but I didn’t push the pace, remaining cognizant of the fact that Heather still had 13+ miles of hills ahead of her.
We saw Hari pass on the other side of the road, and finally came to the turn around. We saw Bill just behind us, and became concerned that Liz was a little farther behind. I had a feeling she was running her race plan and saving energy for the second half.
At this point, coming into the last 3.25 miles of the half, each mile felt like twice its normal length. It was flat along the river, and it was monotonous. The Arkansas River is not terribly scenic as it flows on the outskirts of Tulsa, and across the river there were a lot of plants and refineries. It was also cold, with a slight headwind, and I told Heather my legs were numb from the cold and I couldn’t feel them anymore. It felt much colder than it had at the start. Even with gloves, my fingers were freezing.
Step after step, we trudged on. The ankle tendonitis that had plagued me almost the entire training season was completely absent during the race, but the past few week’s struggle with piriformis soreness had made its appearance just after all the hills at mile 6. I felt it every single time I lifted my right leg, and there was nothing to keep me from thinking about it on this last flat stretch of the course.
I was glad for the water stop at mile 12, and suddenly Bill was right behind us, talking, and I was glad Heather would have someone else to run with when I split off. Before I knew it, it was time to cross over to the other side of the road and up the hill to the finish line. I felt so sad to leave Heather and Bill, but also glad to be finished. Just before the split, I called out to Bill and Heather to wish them luck, but they didn’t hear me, and I felt sad again. Even though I knew I had made the right decision to run “only” the half, it was still tough to see them continue on without me.
Suddenly, I heard my name called out from some spectators on the median and was surprised to see an old friend from Dallas. She was just as surprised to see me. Then I saw Michael and the dogs, which gave me an incredible burst of energy, and I gave it everything I had through the finish chute, passing everyone in my path–which felt awesomely badass!
After I grabbed a space blanket, my medal (which is the coolest medal in my collection), some Gatorade, and a bagel, with teeth chattering, I made the long walk back to Michael. IT WAS FREEZING! Thankfully I had loaded up Michael’s backpack with a bunch of throw away race clothes, including two items I couldn’t seem to get rid of: the world’s ugliest Turkey Trot t-shirt and a pair of pink Hello Kitty sweatpants I had bought in the children’s department at Target for $2.45 to wear before Boston. Despite how ridiculous the outfit looked, I couldn’t wait to put everything on and warm up. Even though I had packed for four seasons, I hadn’t brought enough for winter.
Our original plan was to wait at the finish line for the others to cross, but it was way too cold to stand around for two hours, especially when Michael had forgotten gloves and a cap.
We decided to walk to the car to warm up. As soon as we started the car we heard a radio announcer saying the temperature was 37 degrees, with a wind chill factor of 26, which meant the temperature had dropped ten degrees since the start. I’ve run in colder temps before, and was freezing at the finish, but it truly was almost perfect weather for a race.
We decided to drive over to mile 24 to cheer on the runners and possibly run someone in. Almost immediately we saw the husband of the old friend who had yelled out my name just before the finish line, and he was keeping pace with the 3:40 group. Not too far behind him, however, was Don, definitely on pace to run a sub 4:00. He looked strong and very focused, and surprised to see us. I hooted and hollered for all the runners, especially those who looked like they were struggling. I was amazed that some people could look so fresh and alert, and others looked like they would give anything to curl up in the grass. A few people looked at me like they wanted to kill me. I’ve definitely been there!
I was ecstatic to see the next runner from the group: Liz!!!!! She looked very tired, but I was impressed that she had passed Bill, Heather, and Hari to take the lead. I wondered how it had felt when she made it past mile 12, and if she shed any tears thinking of what happened three years ago. Seeing her so close to finishing her first marathon was incredibly inspiring.
A few minutes behind Liz was Hari. I’d recognize those compression socks and arm warmers anywhere! He was running with a small entourage of people I didn’t know, which made me laugh that Hari would make friends in the midst of all the agony. He looked great!
Finally, I could see Heather running towards me, and I teared up! I was so proud of her for making it through all those hills. She was as feisty as ever, telling me she was so over all the hills and hoping there weren’t any more (I couldn’t tell her there were indeed more ahead), and telling me how much she hated the course. I ran with her a little way down the hill and we talked about how anyone could train for so many hills. We hugged and said goodbye, and I knew the medal she was looking forward to would make her feel a lot better.
While we were running she told me Bill had dropped out of the race around mile 20, that he was having some IT band issues and couldn’t finish. I knew how devastated Bill must be feeling, and felt bad for him. I wished I had been there when he made that decision (though he says the curse words were flying at that point and that I definitely wouldn’t have wanted to be there).
Everyone met up at the hotel afterwards, exhausted and happy to be done. I was tired, but felt nothing like I usually do after a marathon. In fact, I felt exhilarated. Running the half was fun, and I loved being able to run in a race with everyone I had trained with without dreading all the miles ahead of me and worrying constantly about my pace and hitting a PR. The only battle wound I had was a small blood blister on a random toe, which was also a huge change from the blisters and black toenails I’ve had after past marathons.
Running “only” the half was a blast. I really loved running that day, and it was exactly what I needed. I came home looking forward to running again, and started thinking about running more halfs and less full marathons. I got out my running books and started thinking about a training plan to bring my speed back up to par. I couldn’t wait for the muscle soreness to go away so I could run again.
Running a race just for fun, with my friends, was a good reminder to me that it isn’t always about the PR, or proving how tough we are, or testing our limits. Sometimes you can go out and just run–and that’s enough.
Usually, five days before a marathon, I’m a mess. I’m checking the weather forecast every hour, obsessing over every slight twinge in my legs and feet, worrying about what to pack, wondering if I could’ve done anything differently in my training, not feeling like I’ve done enough, and having marathon nightmare dreams in my sleep. This time, since I’ve had to switch to the half marathon due to injuries, I keep having to remind myself that I’m actually running a race on Sunday.
What a difference minus 13.1 miles makes.
Running a half marathon when you’ve trained for a full is strange. I feel relaxed and not worried, knowing I won’t be alone. My plan is to help pace the friends I’ve trained with through the first 13 miles of their marathon, then I’ll peel off to the finish line and be done with my “race.” I’m not going to push the pace and race with the bum ankle and sore piriformis, and will try to stay with everyone around a 9:30 pace–which is about what we usually keep on our long runs.
Still, thirteen miles is nothing to sneeze at. Once you’ve run a few marathons you start to think in terms of “only” a half marathon. Ultra-marathoners probably say the same about marathons. It’s not snobbishness, it’s just that when you consistently do really long runs, half the mileage you’re training for really does seem like an “only.”
I can’t even say that I actually enjoy running marathons. They’re hard, really hard. And long. I think I prefer the training, especially the group long runs, to the race. At least that’s been my experience so far. I do feel an incredible sense of accomplishment when I’m done, and I love the total experience, no matter how miserable I am the last six miles, but I wouldn’t use the words “enjoy” and “marathon” in the same sentence.
Maybe this is because of the way I tend to race. Usually when I run a race of any distance, I start out too fast and try to hold on. Sometimes it works, usually it doesn’t. This time, I’m looking forward to keeping a somewhat comfortable pace for half the distance I’ve trained for.
Who knows, maybe I’ll actually enjoy the race this time because of it–even if it is “only” the half marathon.
The Weather Gods sometimes like to torture us runners, and nowhere is this more evident than in Oklahoma City. I’ve been reading about the experiences of several friends at this past weekend’s Oklahoma City Memorial Marathon and the cold, windy, stormy weather conditions, and it brings back memories of my own challenge there in 2009. In fact, OKC 2009 holds top ranking as the Worst Marathon Ever for me–in particular because of the wind.
Oklahoma is where I was born. My parents are from a little town in the southeastern corner called Broken Bow, but I was born in the next town over because it wasn’t big enough to have its own hospital. I was brought home on a cold, icy night in early March, so maybe bad weather just naturally goes along with Big Moments in my life. It certainly seemed to follow me on my first two marathons.
The fact that I live in north Texas means accepting that the weather can be dramatic at times, if not downright dangerous. There’s nothing to break the wind out here on the prairie, and summers mean blazing hot temps and high humidity. Sometimes the wind can seem unrelenting, and can blow for days and days on end. I tend to do most of my running along the perimeter of White Rock Lake in the center of Dallas, which means there is usually a headwind side and a tailwind side. People who run with me know that running into a strong headwind is my least favorite thing to do–especially in the winter–and may cause me to grow quite grumpy (which, as those who run with me know, is a huge understatement).
Rewind to December 2008, my first marathon. Training for the White Rock Marathon went well, and even though it was my first, I went into the marathon thinking I might be able to pull off a finish time just under four hours. On race morning, however, the Weather Gods decided to give us a very warm, humid day, with winds gusting to 30 mph. This, coupled with the usual rookie mistake of going out too fast, spelled disaster for me. A large part of the course is along White Rock Lake (hence the name of the race), and at mile 13 we headed straight into the wind. It was like pushing against a brick wall. At mile 16 I was so beaten down I could not have told you my name, and by mile 19, at the start of the hills, I was toast. I finished in 4:16:22, humbled by the wind and happy to be finished. My more experienced marathoner friends felt bad that the weather had been so tough for my first marathon, but I shrugged my shoulders and started thinking about the next one. I wanted more, and I knew I could do better.
I decided to try a spring marathon. The 2009 spring training season was extremely cold and windy. It seemed as if every week the weather would be nice and mild until Saturday morning, when we would wake up at an insanely early hour only to be met with cold, extremely windy weather. At least it was good training, we told ourselves, and we knew we would be ready for anything in Oklahoma City.
The weather that April in OKC was almost identical to White Rock’s, with even stronger winds gusting to 45 mph and the temps in the low 70’s at the start. The entire spring training had been cold and we weren’t acclimated to the heat and humidity yet. Those of us who had run White Rock in December felt jinxed. Looking out the hotel window that morning at the flag waving wildly in the wind, I felt disheartened and strongly annoyed. I couldn’t believe it was going to be a repeat performance of marathon #1.
I decided to make the best of it and soldier through. The first half of the race wasn’t too bad with the wind at our backs, but the high humidity seemed to sap the energy out of my legs. When I reached the lake just after the halfway point and made a sharp left, it was like coming to a standstill. My legs were moving but I wasn’t going anywhere! I must have had quite a scowl on my face because a volunteer ran over to me at one point and asked if I was okay, and if I was “going to make it.” I looked at him as if he were crazy and yelled out, “Of course I’m going to make it!” and took off. It was just what I needed to get me around the lake.
There is a long stretch of gradual incline before the finish line at OKC that was like a death march that day. The wind was full-on in our faces, pushing us back, and it never stopped. I remember gusts so strong that I would lose my footing, and the wind blowing dirt from a construction site against my legs felt like needles against my skin. The worst part was that almost everyone was walking at this point, which is my own personal achilles heel. It’s always tough for me to put the blinders on and ignore those walking around me, especially the last few miles of a marathon. My brain starts screaming why are you running, they’re not! and I start debating the merits of walking vs. running. On this day my mind won, and I finally broke down and cried. I didn’t want to walk, but I did.
One of the best things about OKC is the long finish chute, and I felt like I had earned the screams of onlookers as I crossed the finish line. I had not enjoyed my second marathon, and wondered if I would ever try another one. My friends assured me there would be good marathons in my future (they were right), but my first two seemed a steep price to pay for the privilege of a good race.
There’s no getting around it: marathons are tough. But that’s why we run them. Good weather or bad, calm skies or strong winds, we take a deep breath and get the job done. So congratulations to all those who battled the elements and won in Oklahoma City this past weekend, and here’s to the good stories that will come out of the struggle.