This post has been published in the March/April 2014 issue of the running magazine Marathon and Beyond. If you haven’t subscribed already, you’re missing out!
Here is the footage of the elite runners we took from the Olympic Marathon Trials last weekend in Houston.
If I mentioned the names Ryan, Kara, Meb, Shalane, Dathan, Desiree, or Deena to any of my nonrunning friends, I would get a blank stare. To those who run, they’re like the names of family. Everyone knows who they are. This past weekend I got to see them all race for a chance to win a spot on the U.S. Olympic marathon team at the Olympic Marathon Trials in Houston. It was a weekend that didn’t disappoint.
I had been looking forward to the Olympic Marathon Trials ever since it was announced that both the men and women’s events would be held in Houston. I knew I would find a way to get there, even though I wasn’t interested in running the marathon the next day. Houston is synonymous with humidity in my mind, and heat and humidity are my running enemies. Even in January, I know how Texas weather can be.
I had this idea that the Olympic Trials were going to be a really big thing in the city of Houston, because for me they were. I had visions of millions of people, all vying for a chance to see the most talented runners our country has to offer the world of the Olympics. With that in mind, I went to bed at 7pm on Friday night with the intention of leaving Dallas at midnight. Michael caught a few hours on the couch beforehand. I didn’t really sleep much, but I rested, and we loaded up the car with video and camera equipment and hit the dark freeway south.
Driving when you should be sleeping is tough. Michael drove first, then I took over for the second half. We arrived in Houston around 4:30 and went straight to the area where the Trials would be held to scope out parking and a good spot to set up the video camera. The course was unique in that it started in the heart of downtown on a two mile loop, then continued on an eight mile loop along Allen Parkway, which would be run three times and finish back at the start. This meant we would be able to see the runners three times: at just past miles 8, 16, and 24.
Since the races started at 8am, with the men leading, and it was only 4:30am, we had plenty of time. The race organizers were just starting to block off roads. We jumped back on the freeway and took the first exit to a really bad part of town. The MacDonalds had three police cars and a tow truck, so we went across the street to Whataburger and ate in the parking lot. We watched someone drive up in a BMW to the Bail Bonds place across the street, open the building’s door, and drop off what looked like groceries.
See what you miss by sleeping in?
We drove back to the race location we had previously decided on and saw a man putting up $10 event parking signs at the Historical Society right across the street from where we wanted to stand. He was a very methodical man who wasn’t ready for someone so early. He directed us to pull up to the curb and wait ten minutes until the “gate” opened. We enjoyed watching him walk back and forth, setting up his cones, flags, money pouch, and plastic chair, each time checking to make sure everything was just perfect. A security guard came and asked us what we were doing, didn’t seem to know that the parking lot was being offered up for event parking, and set off to speak to Methodical Man. Eventually, after 20 minutes or so, someone pulled up and unlocked the gate, we paid our ten spot, and parked.
It was 6:30am.
We found a great corner to film and take photos, and set up all the equipment. It was freezing cold, even with down jackets, gloves, and various cold weather accoutrements. Police cars drove past continually, and we wondered why it was necessary to drive full throttle. It was probably like teachers running down the halls of school when the students aren’t there, or cussing in the teacher’s lounge on break. It was still dark, and we saw one huddled up person asleep in the middle of the park. As the sun came up, homeless people appeared from the shadows, one by one, with all their baggage, and moved on. We were never sure if the police made them leave, or if this was their daily routine.
We saw many people running past us in the dark to warm up, and many of them were buff and toned with zero body fat, but I wasn’t sure if any of them were running in the Olympic Marathon Trials or the marathon the next day. We had a lot of time to get to know the volunteer security men around us, who mentioned the Occupy Houston people had threatened to disrupt the Trials. Everyone associated with the races was extremely friendly, and most were runners themselves. I wanted to come back to Houston and run with these people.
Someone walked past and asked if we knew where the water stop was, and we discovered it was about a quarter mile from our location. I walked down and took a look and it was the longest water stop I had ever seen, one long row of numbered tables, and I realized each athlete had their own personal water stop. Each water bottle was decorated and labeled, and the bottles were all different sizes and shapes. A lot of the bottles were tossed at our feet as the runners ran past us in the race, and I helped one of the volunteers, Keelan, pick some of them up. One caught my eye because it was bigger than the others and had a low number, 5, on the label, so I knew it was one of the elite women (since they had just run past). I considered taking it, thought that might be kind of goofy and gross, and left it. After the race I noticed it was gone from the pile. Later that night, looking at the photos, I discovered it was Kara Goucher’s, and wanted to kick myself for not keeping it.
At 7:30 there were still relatively few people on the course. More people did show up later, but it was nothing like I expected. Just before 8:00, helicopters appeared downtown and we knew the race was about to begin. We could always tell where the runners were on the course because of the location of the helicopters above us. By this time I was frozen, and started jumping up and down to both stay warm and because I was so excited to see the runners. Finally, around 8:40, the lead cars appeared and the men could be seen coming around the corner.
I’ve never seen any of the men racing in person, but I’ve seen many of them on TV. I knew Ryan Hall had a very distinctive running gait, but to see him fly by in person was exhilarating and awe inspiring. Seeing Meb Keflizighi run past, winner of the New York City marathon two years ago, was amazing. They make it look so easy. Meb especially always looked like he was having fun, even on the last loop, less than two miles from the finish. Even more inspiring was to see the other runners following the elites, many of them people who hold down regular jobs and lives, but who ran marathons fast enough to qualify for a chance to go to the Olympics.
About fifteen minutes or so after the men, the women rounded the corner behind the lead cars. Again, it was all I could do to stop jumping up and down from excitement and take photos. I recognized Shalane Flanagan and Kara Goucher from the pages of Runner’s World magazine, and Deena Kastor from past televised races. Just as I had been with the men, I was amazed at their bodies. Zero fat, every muscle and tendon visible, and extremely toned arms. More than anything, I was amazed at their focus and level of concentration.
As the rest of the female runners ran past, I was amazed at how young most of them were. Some looked like they were still teenagers, and I realized I knew very little about them and how they got there. Michael and I had earlier wondered if Dallas’s own Melisa Christian was running in the Olymipic Marathon Trials again this year, as she had done four years ago, and we were both happy to see her as she ran past on her first loop. She had kinesio tape on her back and I wondered if she was injured.
We got to see the runners two more times on their second and third loops, just past miles 16 and 24, and their high level of focus and concentration never wavered. For some reason, Abdi Abdirahman looked right over in my direction when I took photos, and I wondered what had caught his attention. I always find it interesting when the elites mention how the spectators help them during the races, and I believe them, but their focus at the Trials was always so intense they seemed oblivious to anything around them.
On the men’s last loop, the crowd went crazy when Meb came around the corner in first place. He looked like he was having the time of his life, even though it would turn out to be a personal best for him. Ryan Hall was not far behind, and had a slight nosebleed. Abdi was next, and the crowd went crazy again to see Dathan Ritzenhein, America’s highest ranking American in the last Olympics, in 4th place. I would have liked to have seen how he came within 8 seconds of catching up to Abdi.
On the women’s last loop, it was Shalane Flanagan and Desiree Davila in the lead, both still looking strong, with Kara Goucher just behind, secure in her 3rd place finish and looking like she was ready to be done with the race. I was sad to see Deena Kastor too far behind to catch up, but she smiled when I yelled out, “Deena, you’re my hero!” and I caught that smile on camera. That was pretty special, knowing she had heard me and acknowledged the compliment with a smile!
Going to the Olympic Marathon Trials was truly a dream come true. I’ve loved the Olympics since I was a little kid, and I remember watching an Olympic marathon (there was only a men’s event, no women’s back in those days) when I was very small, and being mesmerized by the runners and how anyone could run that far without stopping. I don’t know if I’ll ever get to see an Olympic marathon in person in my life, but this was pretty close. It’s a memory I’ll always treasure.
USA Track & Field – for more info about the race
Today was a dream come true. It was a day when I stood next to greatness, humbled by the reigning gods and goddesses of marathon running. Having the chance to see in person the best this country has to offer to the world of Olympic running, the same people who are my running heroes and superstars, was a day I’ll never forget.
It’s hard not to gush when you’ve seen the best.
Here are a few preliminary photos I took of the runners at today’s Olympic Marathon Trials. A longer post, with more photos, will follow in the next few days.
The White Rock Running Co-op invaded Grapevine, TX this past Saturday to run the Bold in the Cold 5K, 15K, and half marathon races. The weather couldn’t have been better and everyone had a great time. Watch the video to see how the WRRC represented itself at the race. Be sure to watch all the way to the end. You don’t want to miss Heather’s last words!
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.
The following is a guest post by the founder and leader of our running group, The White Rock Running Co-op, Chris Stratton:
Running in the Footsteps of Legends – by Chris Stratton
Eugene is the birthplace of Nike, the glory years of Steve Prefontaine, Alberto Salazar, Mary Decker Slaney, home of Hayward Field, NCAA Track and Field Championships, Olympic Trials, etc. If there is a city in America that has its roots and culture in running, Eugene is it. It’s why it is named Track Town USA. Eugene in May has reliably cool weathe,r and the race got excellent reviews even though this is only the fourth year of the marathon. This was the first year the race was actually going to finish on the track at Hayward field. Combine this with the fact that Eugene is a running mecca and you have all of the workings for a great race. Last year I decided I could keep making excuses as to why I am not running this race or go ahead and sack up and register. I took the plunge late last fall and registered. Somewhere along the way, Stephanie, Meredith, Kristi, Heather, Hari, Naga, Rich, and Mercedes decided to do this race as well so we had a nice little DRC group going up to represent in Eugene.
There were five of us who were traveling together (Kristi, Heather, Steph, and Mer) so we flew into Portland and rented a car. They gave us the ginormous secret service suburban. We put Heather in the far back, cranked up Steph’s marathon mix, and hit I5 south to Eugene. We had been checking the weather incessantly and everything was shaping up to be perfect weekend weather. It was a short and easy trip and we checked into our hotel and headed to the expo. Keep in mind, Eugene is a small town and this race is much smaller than OKC, White Rock, NYC, etc. There were roughly 2800 registered for the full and 4100 registered for the half. Steph and I were doing the full and Mer, Kristi and Heather were doing the half. The expo was pretty small but their finisher shirts were great. They had their cool logo on a grey tech shirt. Nike was born in Eugene so they do all of their race merch. They didn’t have a huge selection, but I got a nice pullover. We were in and out of the expo pretty quickly and headed over to dinner at the Eugene Brewing Company. After a few beers, a lot of food, and failed trivia we were all tired from traveling and called it a night.
On Saturday we had the whole day available so we made a trial walk over to the starting line at Hayward Field to see how long the walk would be. It was less than fifteen minutes and there was a huge national track meet going on. Seeing it in person made me appreciate Hayward Field on a new level. It was a gorgeous track and unusual to see a place that wasn’t shared between a football and soccer field as well. It was solely dedicated to track and field events.
We then walked over to Pre’s rock. Pre’s rock is a place up on the hill where he died in a car wreck. They made a small but nice memorial there, and people visit it and leave race bibs and medals. I suppose it’s a sacrifice to the track gods. It was a really scenic walk up there and neat to see it in person.
After a great lunch at Studio One cafe we headed over to the Saturday Market to peruse the goods. Eugene is one of the crunchiest cities in America and I think Kristi and Steph were not really feeling the hippie vibe. It was definitely hippie overload so we didn’t spend too much time there since they were nervous about the patchouli, dreadlocks, drum circles and public breast feeding. Heather and Mer were going to jump in the drum circle but we talked them out of it (kidding). We planned to meet Rich and Mercedes at an Italian restaurant for our pre-race last supper. I’m usually not a fan of the official race pasta dinner because you don’t get much selection and quantities can be limited. We decided on a restaurant and got there 20 minutes after they opened and the line was insane. Further, they had nobody inside controlling anything so the wait was hours long. This was unacceptable and we were getting cranky because Eugene just doesn’t have a lot of Italian options. We called around to another place and they didn’t have any pasta with red sauce. We walked over to a pub across the street with Rich and Mercedes and there was only one pasta option. We were picky and cranky about out pre-race meal, so we just decided to hightail it to the pasta dinner since that was open for another hour. That actually worked out well and was reasonably tast,y so we all departed there with happy bellies except for Steph, who has an eternally unhappy belly. We checked the weather another 48 times, made our last arrangements, and hit the sack. Race day was slated to be absolutely gorgeous weather, so we were nervously excited.
Ok, enough sideshow shenanigans…on to the running part! I had very simple goals in this race. First, I wanted to have fun. This race had so many cool things surrounding it and was set up to be a flat, fast course with excellent weather, so I absolutely couldn’t go home surly about my run. From a time standpoint, I really just wanted a PR (sub 3:30). In this case, that wasn’t something I was genuinely worried about since I didn’t train as well last fall and I finished that race with too much left in the tank. I had trained much better this spring and was feeling good. Anything sub 3:30 would have been great, but I felt I could do a 3:25. Perfect world scenario would have been a 3:20, but I just don’t like to go out beyond what I think I’m capable of. Most of my training and tempo work was based around running a 3:25. What I mostly wanted was to just run as hard as I could, have even mile splits, and an overall negative split by less than a minute. Whatever the resulting time would be fine, as long as I just went out and executed the race I wanted.
Beyond that, what I wanted more than anything was for everyone else to run well, specifically Steph and Heather. Mer and Kristi had been churning out one PR after another this past year, but Heather had been dealing with some injury setbacks and Steph just hadn’t gone out there and had a killer race. She was carrying around the 4:00 monkey on her back and really wanted a sub 4. Heather wanted a sub 1:50 for her half, but would have been happy with a PR under 1:54. I was really invested in their races because I know they would not have dealt well with not running a good race in these perfect conditions. I wouldn’t have, either. Kristi was shooting for a 1:40-1:42 and Mer just wanted to run well. She had been dealing with some injuries and had missed a lot of speedwork and tempo runs towards the end of the season. Every one of us had realistic and achievable goals, we just needed to go out there and execute.
Kristi and I decided we would pace together since her pace worked out to 7:45 per mile. That would put me on pace for a 3:23 marathon so I decided that would be just right. It hopefully wouldn’t be too aggressive, but would be fast enough to allow me to push for a 3:20 if I felt good. I liked pacing with Kristi because we had paced together several times before and this gave me a sense of obligation and would help me focus. Plus, she doesn’t talk too much or make any weird noises.
We all five got to the starting line and there was a nervous excitement. We didn’t say a whole lot. We had all done a lot of hard work over the last several months and seen all of our friends do well in Boston, OKC, and other races the last few weeks, and know that it’s time for us to go out there and take care of business. The weather was perfect, the course was mostly flat, and we were standing at the gates of Hayward Field with a giant picture of Prefontaine looking over us. The work and planning had been done and this was our victory lap (thanks, Sam!).
The gun went off and Kristi and I were side by side. This was a record field for them but was a perfect sized race for us. There wasn’t much weaving or congestion early on. We hit our first mile split run on pace for a 3:25 and 1:42:30 half. Although the weather was in the upper 40’s with no wind, I ditched my long sleeve and tried to settle in. The first 5 miles were flat and I was just trying to get into a rhythm. We nailed our splits and tangents, and by mile 5 we were on a 7:44 pace and hit our first incline. It was short and steep but we kept on cruising. By mile 6 I ditched my gloves, took my first GU, discarded my mini water bottle, and splashed the first cup of water on my head. I was finally awake and ready and starting to settle in.
Miles 6-8 we cruised along dead on pace. Crowd support was really great through this area and we prepared for the hill on mile 8. Eugene really is a flat race, but there are some hills for good measure. The one from 8-9 is the steepest. We used our arms well and finished off mile 9 still right on pace. I was feeling great except for my left foot. They used the flat long chip timers and I must have put it on too tight because I could feel it press into the top of my foot with every foot strike.
We were still 7:44 overall pace as we cruised back by Hayward Field. At this point the fastest half marathoners were entering the finish line. We hit mile 11 and this was the point where the half and full marathoners split. Kristi was running well and right on pace for a 1:42 half. I yelled at her to kick some ass and make us proud. I was a little sad to see her go since I was staring at a long incline ahead of me with not many people around, but was excited to know that she was going to finish with a good time since she was running so well with only a few miles left.
The next two or three miles were quiet except for running into a few guys from Austin who had run White Rock. We chatted a bit, and he was trying to pace his friend for a 3:30 BQ. His friend had apparently come up short a few times before and this was supposedly his last hurrah. I kept looking at my watch and thinking that although I am perfectly on my pace, they had banked a whole lot of time for a 3:30. Sir Chats-a-Lot was quite the talker, and I wanted to conserve and focus, so I mentioned two or three times that it seemed like they had plenty in the bank. Finally, they backed off and ran their pace and I forged ahead. I was feeling really good still knowing that once I got to the halfway point I had an easy 3 miles down to the river.
The half split mark was too earl,y so I knew that my official half split was going to be incorrect and too fast. I was hitting all of the mile markers perfectly with my watch, so I was able to figure out that I had run the first half in 1:41:25 and a 7:44 pace. I was on pace for a 3:22:50 finish. I had picked up exactly 10 seconds in my first half so I was quite pleased with my effort. I was feeling good and in total control.
The next several miles down to the lake were easy and I had to primarily focus on not using up too much energy and running too fast. I stayed relaxed, remembered to shake out my arms a lot, and just put it on autopilot. These miles were mostly a blur. The only things that crossed my mind were realizing that Kristi, Mer, and Heather should have all crossed the finish line by then, and I really hoped they had run well. I wondered how Mer’s legs felt. I wondered if Heather got the monkey off her back. I wondered how Steph was faring during the hardest parts of the course.
I hit the park and river by mile 16 or 17 and just kept the pace right on target. I was alternating through GU, water, and Gatorade at each water stop and splashing water on my head to try and stay as cold as possible. This was the first section of the race I really started to pass people who were starting to tire. I still felt good, and miles 19 and 20 were very much in control. The course from 16-25 was entirely along the river and just gorgeous.
I knew mile 21 was on the other side of the river, and once I got to that point I could pick it up a hair if I was feeling ok. However, by the time I hit mile 21 I had definitely started to fatigue. I was still holding my pace but I was starting to feel twinges in my hamstrings from mild muscle cramps. The bone near the pace tag on my foot was throbbing. I was having to bear down and focus to stay on pace. I started thinking about all of my DRC friends at home and knowing I needed to represent them well. I came too far to let them down. I started thinking about Heather M and Stacy M telling me to “PR that bitch”. I starting thinking about Angela running Boston and Genevieve getting her full PR. I thought about David Magnus and his run/walk full. Fortunately, I was passing more people, and each one helped me to realize I was still running strong even though I was running out of gas quickly. I worried about Steph and hoped she was feeling better than I was. I wondered how Hari, Naga, Rich, and Mercedes were doing since I never saw any of them.
Mile 23 came and I was dog tired. Somehow, I was still right on a 7:44 pace but I was truly fighting it at this point. Mentally, I reached for anything I could get. I thought about the fact that I was running the Eugene Marathon. I thought about Pre having guts, and that if I was going to get to the finish at this pace I was going to have to reach down for all of the guts that I had left. I knew I had a 5k left and just kept telling myself only 3 to go, only 2.8 to go, only 2.5 to go, etc. I took the last of my 6 GU’s at this point and was just trying to hold on. Barring severe cramps I knew I was going to finish and most likely PR, but I wanted to finish strong and hold my pace. That was the challenge.
By mile 25, I was spent. I started to feel a little lightheaded. Not dangerously so, but I just knew I was completely exhausted and had used up all of my fuel. However, I could hear in the distance the announcer at Hayward Field and knew I only had 8 minutes left. I looked at my watch and I was still on a 7:44 pace overall. I gave all I had left after seeing Agate Street and knowing I was almost in the final stretch.
The crowds had become bigger and louder as I saw the gates of Hayward Field in the distance and the 26 mile flag. I let loose everything I had. When I went through the gates and onto the track at Hayward Field, I knew I had done what I came to Eugene to do. I was ecstatic, humbled, and completely exhausted. I crossed the finish line at 3:22:31 and nearly collapsed. My legs were shot and the medics helped me into a wheelchair, but I knew I had run my butt off and ran my best race.
After a few minutes of resting I left the tent, got my medal, and met up with Kristi, Mer, and Heather. I wanted to know what each had done. Mer got another PR and a 1:43, Kristi smiled with a 1:40 PR, and Heather just glowed and told me she got a 1:49 PR. They all beamed. I hugged them all and was so happy for them and thrilled that I was done. It was a little emotional. I tried to get some clothes on since I was now shivering and had no energy. The girls helped me get recovery food and drink and I just tried to feel better. I was having a hard time feeling ok just from sheer exhaustion.
Soon after, we started wondering how Steph was doing. All eyes were on her since we knew she was carrying the biggest monkey of them all, especially since the our of us had our PR’s. Suddenly, I look up and see someone in pink shorts on the far side of the field entering the gates and moving very well. I look at my watch and ask the others, Is that really Steph? Is she already finishing!? Sure enough, it was! She came in smoking at a 3:51. Not only did she thrash her PR by 17 minutes, but she blew apart her 4 hour barrier by 9 minutes. Unbelievable! We were all so excited for her.
As she made her way into the finishers corral she just lost it. She moved from marathon smile to full blown marathon tears. It was emotional and she just had this huge relief that she accomplished her goal after training so hard and enduring so many frustrating attempts at not being able to break 4. I was just so proud of her and happy for her accomplishment. At this point we were all on cloud nine and just couldn’t believe everything that had happened. The marathon gods truly looked down upon us and gave us all a gift we won’t soon forget.
We looked around for Hari, Rich, Mercedes, and Naga, but I never saw any of them and we were starving. We made our way back to the hotel to try and get some food. On the way we stopped off to buy ourselves some gifts. Kristi bought chocolate milk. I bought $3 flip flops. Steph bought pickle mints. Now you know which one of us is not like the other. Someone came up with the idea to order some pizza from Track Town Pizza and that was the best idea I had ever heard of in my life. It tasted like a small slice of heaven.
Since it was Meredith’s birthday, the girls made her Happy Birthday shirts and got cupcakes delivered to the front desk. Hari came over to the hotel. Although he had a difficult time with severe cramps, he still ran a 4:29 and actually PR’d his half marathon time in the full! Quite strange. It was quite the celebration of PR’s and birthdays, and beer, cupcakes, and pizza was the reward. The rest of the story for the weekend consisted of more of the same: beer, cupcakes, food, chocolate, beer, chips, food, beer, Milanos, coffee, liquor, etc.
All in all, it was an incredible experience and one that I will never forget. I may never run faster than a 3:22 for the rest of my life but I can safely say that this race was completely worth it. I have no doubt that someday I will run the Eugene Marathon again, and anyone who loves the sport of running should do this race some day.
More than anything, I was thrilled with how I ran the race. To me, the perfect race is consistent splits with a negative half split and not leaving anything on the course. I can safely say I accomplished that and ran the best race I could have run. 23 of the 26 miles I ran were within 9 seconds of each other. My first half was a 1:41:25, my last half was a 1:41:06, and my last mile was the fastest of the day. The total was a 3:22 and 7:44 pace.
Mile 1 – 7:48
Mile 2 – 7:42
Mile 3 – 7:44
Mile 4 – 7:45
Mile 5 – 7:52
Mile 6 – 7:44
Mile 7 – 7:40
Mile 8 – 7:44
Mile 9 – 7:44
Mile 10 – 7:37
Mile 11 – 7:47
Mile 12 – 7:45
Mile 13 – 7:43
Mile 14 – 7:46
Mile 15 – 7:40
Mile 16 – 7:40
Mile 17 – 7:39
Mile 18 – 7:44
Mile 19 – 7:40
Mile 20 – 7:42
Mile 21 – 7:39
Mile 22 – 7:47
Mile 23 – 7:46
Mile 24 – 7:47
Mile 25 – 7:46
Mile 26 – 7:35
Mile 26.2 – 6:33
The following is a guest post by one of my running buddies in our running group, Lauren Cureton:
The Vancouver Marathon was my third marathon and quite possibly my favorite. I’m not sure if we could have asked for better weather or a more beautiful course. Add in a really fun vacation with my husband, good friends, our five year anniversary celebration, three marathon PR’s, Meredith’s birthday celebration, and tons of amazing food, and it was pretty much a perfect trip.
The night before all the girls got into town we decided to celebrate our anniversary a day early. We went for drinks at a bar/ restaurant called Lift, which is right on the water. We got to watch lots of rowers practicing under the setting sun. After that we made our way over to Rain City Grill where we had dinner reservations. Before dinner came, Nick pulled out a tiny black box and said he had a present for me. I was definitely caught off guard as we had said dinner and the vacation were going to be each other’s presents. Anyway, I opened the box and there was the prettiest, most perfect circle diamond necklace. I got him a card. Oops. But, no, seriously, it was so sweet of him and a memory of our five year anniversary that I will never forget.
Friday morning we met up with Kristi and Stephanie at Medina, a cute Belgian cafe. It was so good to see them as we had all been looking forward to this trip for quite a while. After lunch, we headed to the Expo to pick up our race packets and check out the gear. Sadly, there was not a lot of cool marathon stuff, which was slightly disappointing. They did have a Create Your own Button station which was a slight consolation. I racked my brain for something funny, but had nothing. Instead, I flipped back through a motivational email Chris had sent me and wrote, Believe. Push. Don’t Give Up … a helpful mantra for the race for sure.
Now it is Saturday morning, the day before the race. I’m starting to get a little nervous that it is actually almost here. Nick and I met up with the girls and headed to O’Douls for breakfast. We all ordered blueberry pancakes with two different bread basket appetizers. Carbs, carbs and more carbs. Yesss. We went for an early pasta dinner at Ciao Bella. After lots of pasta, lots of bread, and lots of red sauce we were officially on carb overload. Walked a bit after dinner and swung by the grocery store (which was playing Hockey … coolest grocery store ever?!) for some mini water bottles (they only had Evian, which was fine because that’s all I’ll carry during a race … I’m very fancy;)) and Canadian Twizzlers … a necessity for post race. We walked the girls back to their hotel and then parted ways.
Sunday morning was finally here and I couldn’t believe it. It’s so funny to me when you train, think, and anticipate something for so long and then that day finally comes. I slept okay and woke right up as soon as the alarm went off at 4:30am. The girls came over to our place around 5:30am and we ate our English muffins with PB and made sure we had everything ready to go for the race. Nick and Kristi headed out early as the half marathon strangely started earlier than the full. Steph, Mer and I left not so long after that and had a small hiccup with the transportation, but eventually got to the race start. We checked our bags and hit up the port-o-potties, which had extremely long lines. Start time was getting close and I was getting anxious. Then we had an incident with this incredibly rude girl who insisted we were in the wrong line. I kinda thought Meredith might punch her in the face. Fortunately, some nice people let us back in and all was fine. We rushed to the starting line with not much time left at all before the race began.
I was nervous. This had been a really fun, hard, interesting training season for me where, for the first time, I actually started to push myself … to see how fast I could go. I had a couple of great half marathons, finishing the Austin 3M Half and the Rock n Roll Half both in 1:43:14. I had definitely gotten faster, but didn’t know how that was going to translate in a marathon. Marathons are scary. A lot can happen over 26.2 miles. My first one, in Portland, I ran in 4:53. My second one, in New York, I ran in 4:12. This one I desperately wanted to run under 4 hours. I didn’t convey that to barely anyone, but I wanted it badly. Meredith and I had pretty much done every training run together this spring … over 500 miles … and our goal going into the race was to run consistent 9 minute miles and stay together as long as we could. We exchanged good lucks at the start line and took off.
As we eased into the run, miles 1 – 7 took us through downtown. They were pretty and uneventful. The weather was nice … maybe even a little warm at 43 degrees. We chatted and laughed quite a bit … mainly about Saved by the Bell and other early 90’s TV shows. We were checking our watches constantly to make sure we were on pace. At mile 7, we came across this really cool band with a DJ and a violin player. We contemplated stopping the race and just hanging out to listen to them–they were that good–but decided since we had put in over 4 months of training we should probably keep running. Around mile 9, one of my favorite memories of the race, a guy in the crowd points to us and yells, “Good pacing girls. Stick together.” I don’t know why, but this made me choke up a little bit. This guy must have been a runner and I felt like he knew what we were experiencing/ trying to do.
We ran through Chinatown, Rogers Arena, False Creek’s inner harbor, and eventually into Stanley Park. The sun was shining and we could look to our right and see mountains and water and look to our left and see huge trees and tons of flowers. Seriously, the scenery along the course was breathtaking. I tried to take it all in and keep reminding myself how lucky I was to be able do something like this.
We were in Stanley Park for a while and, unfortunately, they had run out of cups and GU’s since the half marathoners had run through earlier and must have taken them all. Luckily, we were prepared with our mini waters and GU’s. I have always had a hard time taking GU’s during races and was a little worried how this was all going to play out. In New York I only took two and ran out of steam around mile 16. This was my fear for today, so I was bound and determined to force those GU’s at miles 10, 14, 18 and 22. I even wrote it on my arm so I wouldn’t forget. When it came time to take them, we would take turns holding each other’s water so we could get the GU out and opened. This was incredibly helpful and I didn’t miss a GU. I have no doubt this helped me power through until the end.
After finally making it out of Stanley Park, we headed to the dreaded Burrard Bridge. Going up it at mile 17 wasn’t so bad, but I knew we would have to return over it up a steeper incline at mile 24, which I was not excited about. We were now in the Kitslano neighborhood. It was mile 18 and we were still together, side by side, and still peeling off 9 minute miles. I was still feeling strong and very happy we had made it this far together. I had crashed and burned by this point in NY, so to still be feeling good was quite a relief. This stretch was tough, though … lots of rolling hills and out and backs that made it challenging. We headed back for the return over the Burrard Bridge, which absolutely felt like it was never coming–so much so that the next day we were all convinced they had changed the route mid-race, even though we saw people crossing it on our way over.
Miles 20-23/24: Mer and I are still together. Talking had pretty much ceased and, at this point, we were just trying to make it to the end. I was trying to keep up, but was falling slightly behind. Crap. Keep moving, I tell myself, but it was getting hard. Really hard. I grabbed a cup of water and tried to force it down. Then, like a miracle, Nick appeared. He and Kristi were waiting for us around mile 24. I was totally not expecting him, but it was a much needed and pleasant surprise/ boost. I saw Kristi join in with Mer as we parted ways. Going into the race, I didn’t really know how long we’d be able to stay together, but getting to run 23/24 miles together was pretty freaking cool and it was very comforting to have her there next to me.
Alright, home stretch, up the Burrard Bridge. Kill me. I want so desperately to stop. Nick is running a few feet ahead of me, trying to pull me through. I know I’m close to 4 hours. All I can say to him is, “Help me. Help me.” He’s like, “I’m not sure what you want me to do.” I tell him I’m not sure either. I’m whiny and want to know if the finish line is ever coming. Nick assures me it’s right around the corner. He runs ahead through a tunnel of people and pumps his arms up, getting them to cheer for me. I want to laugh because this is funny, but I just keep moving my feet. He’s bound and determined to help get me in under 4. We turn the corner and I see the finish line. FINALLY. The clock still says 3 something. GOOOO! I’m trying. Nick wants to split off, but I won’t let him. He stays behind me until the end. Finally, I cross with an official time of 3:58:16 … a 14 minute PR. I collapse crying into Nick’s arms with such a mix of emotions of relief, exhaustion, and complete happiness/satisfaction. I did it … under 4 hours!
I looked over and saw Steph, who rushed over and gave me a big hug, and then saw Meredith sitting in a wheel chair. (Don’t worry, she was ok). I made my way over to her to exchange hugs and congratulations. I couldn’t stop smiling. We met up with Kristi and Nick, who both had great races in the half and try to collect ourselves. It truly was a beautiful course with near perfect weather and I just felt so lucky to be able to share this experience with my husband and great friends. Steph (3:50), Mer (3:56), and I were fortunate enough to all hit PR’s, which was cause for celebration.
Here are my splits: 9:09, 8:59, 8:57, 8:58, 9:02, 9:02, 9:02, 9:02, 9:00, 8:54, 7:48, 8:57, 9:02, 9:03, 9:15, 8:47, 8:58, 8:56, 8:51, 8:58, 9:05, 8:47, 8:46, 8:45, 9:19, 9:17, 8:50 (last .65)
I woke up the next day not feeling too terrible. A little sore, a little dehydrated, but not bad. It was rainy and cold again … seriously lucked out with the weather for race day. All in all this was a great trip and fantastic race with wonderful friends. I’m so happy I got to share it with you guys. Vancouver has now earned a special place in my heart.
Can’t wait for the next one 🙂
Wow. After training since July, the day had finally arrived. And what a day it was. The day before the marathon the temperature was in the low 60’s, and the day after the marathon the temperature never got above 31 degrees. Marathon day itself, however, was an entirely different story.
The morning of the 2008 White Rock Marathon began with strong southern winds gusting up to 30 mph and a temperature at the start of 64 degrees, with 80% humidity. Everyone dressed in shorts and tank tops, though I saw some crazy fools dressed in tights and long sleeve shirts! I decided to wear my new pink running skirt so my friends would be able to spot me as I ran past. It’s all about looking good (or so I thought before the race).
About 20 Dallas Running Club runners met at 6:30AM at the Mockingbird DART station. Even though I stopped drinking water at 6:00, and went to the bathroom before I left the house, I already had to go again by the time we took the escalator down to meet the train. When the train pulled up at 6:46, we were all dismayed to see that there were only two cars—and both were full. Some of us managed to cram on, but over half of the group didn’t make it on the train, including Novle, Sunil, Trey, and Hari, who had all planned on running with us. Two young women scooted over and made room for me to sit down, and told me about their first marathon last year. One of the women told me how she felt great at mile 13, but that it didn’t last long. I thought about that woman’s words later in the race.
Dominick, Greg, and I got off the train at the West End stop and decided to walk over to American Airlines Center rather than wait for a special train to take us there. By this time I really had to go to the bathroom. I considered running behind a dumpster or hiding in an alley, but knew there were plenty of port-a-potties at AA Center. When we arrived, there were TWO port-a-potties at the front and the line was loooooooong. There were two more closer to the front and the line was even looooooooooooonger. We went into the arena and it was so crowded you couldn’t even move around. Greg decided to go in search of something better and Dominick and I decided to stand in the long line outside. After bitterly commiserating about the situation with the runner in line ahead of us, we then heard there were lots more port-a-potties on the side and no one in line. Knowing this was too good to be true, we decided to take a chance. At this point I was seriously considering squatting down in the nearby monkey grass and to hell with it! We did find about 15 more port-a-potties, but the lines were too long, and I made a desperate decision to run over to the parking lot across the street. Dominick was a good sport and followed, and we “parked it” between two big, black SUV’s and did the deed. Heaven!
By this time it was less than 15 minutes before the start. We were desperate to find Novle and Trey and began our search at the start line, which basically meant standing up on the curb and looking out over a sea of white hats and white shirts. Miraculously, Trey walked right in front of us and told us to follow him, he knew exactly where Novle was. We never found him, but had a feeling we would see him somewhere on the course. I quickly tightened my shoes, took off my long sleeved Turkey Trot t-shirt, and discovered the pouch I wore on my forearm that held all my Gu’s was dripping sticky Gu all down my arm. Yuck. The Star Spangled Banner was sung, the F16’s flew over, and we were off!
The start was crowded but not dangerously so, and I had to laugh at the fast boys darting in and out of the slower runners. I wondered if they would be able to keep that pace all the way to the end. I heard someone say that Lucy was right behind me, and there she was, already cheering me on and telling me I was her hero. The first few miles seemed to melt away, and I was surprised that there seemed to be so few spectators at the start. Before I knew it, we were flying down the hill at Hall St and then heading up Armstrong into Highland Park. Several times one of us would realize we were going a little fast and needed to slow down, but it was hard to hold back. I felt strong and relaxed, and enjoyed the crowds, though I was amazed at how warm and humid it was. I saw Bob around mile 5 and it was a bittersweet feeling since we had wanted to run our first marathon together. Seeing him was my first “energy boost,” and I got to see him again when we crossed the Katy Trail and headed toward Greenville Ave. Dominick needed to make a stop at a port-a-potty and told us he would catch up with us. Trey and I knew if anyone could catch up with us, it was Dominick.
I still felt good as we ran up the Longview hill, and then I saw one of my best friends, Barbara, on the sidelines and yelled out her name. She went crazy when she saw me, and I started to realize how much it meant to me to have my friends cheering me on. Novle caught up with us just after the Half/Full split, all smiles and telling us he had never felt so good. He was going to try to keep his 8:44 pace as long as he could. Madeline surprised me just after Novle caught up with us and even managed to take a few pictures as we ran past (all of them of my backside—but the pink skirt looked good!). We also saw our fallen comrade, Pat, and her boot, and Aaron and his son (who I amazingly saw in three different places on the course). We also saw Cassie, who looked happy and energetic. It felt good to run downhill to the lake, and the miles were still passing by fairly easily.
At mile 10 I realized I was starting to feel a little tired, and I found myself thinking about how much further I still had to run. I remembered the woman from the train’s comments and realized I couldn’t say I felt “great,” and it wasn’t even the half marathon point yet. The feeling passed and I started looking for Carol and Lori at mile 12. I was also aware that the wind was at my back, and tried to enjoy the extra push it was giving us. I mentioned to Trey how I was already feeling a little tired, and he said he felt the same. Carol and Lori came and went, and I could tell they were having a good time. I hated not being able to stop and visit, and felt a little guilty that they came all the way over to the lake just to see me for a few seconds, but it was so good to see them there. As we rounded the corner along Northwest Hwy, and then back around to the east side of the lake, Trey told me he didn’t think he could keep up, and to go on without him. I told him he could do it, that we just needed to slow down a little, but eventually I looked around and he wasn’t there. Barbara made another appearance, this time with Karen, and they went crazy, yelling and screaming at the top of their lungs and running along beside me. It was great! I had tears in my eyes remembering running with Karen, my very first running partner from three years ago, and our first loop around the lake.
Right about this time I realized two things: one, I had reached the halfway mark, and two, the wind was worse than I ever could’ve imagined. I hate running into a strong headwind more than anything else, and I knew this stretch of the race was going to be a battle. By the time I reached the Bath House, at mile 15, I realized I could barely feel my legs. I knew right then that running a marathon was going to be much more difficult than I had expected, but I was determined to power through and not give up. There was a cool drumming group near the Bath House, and that helped a lot, too. I also became aware that my brain was feeling fuzzy, and that if someone asked me my name I probably wouldn’t be able to tell them. I felt foggy and unfocused, and knew my body and brain were on automatic pilot.
The stretch just after the Bath House was the windiest spot on the lake, and I felt like I was crawling, even though it’s slightly downhill. I remember enjoying the short break from the wind as we ran past the Stone Tables and Sunset Bay, but I don’t remember much else. I remember seeing Hari’s wife, Nirisha, at the DRC water stop, and hearing a great band there. In fact, all of the bands along the race course were fantastic, and they all took my mind off the ordeal just long enough to regroup.
As we neared Winfrey Point, the wind was unrelenting. It really, really beat me down. At mile 17 I started to think about seeing Michael at mile 19, and I thought I could hear music playing from the other side of the lake. I decided to walk through every single water stop from then on, and knew I was going to have to give up my dream of running a four hour marathon. I found myself thinking how easy it would be to drop out at mile 19 and hang out with Michael and everyone else, but I pushed that thought quickly away. I was not going to give up. At mile 18 we had to run through the grass past the Boy Scout water stop and on to Garland Rd. I started to get worried about the hills at mile 19, but the thought of seeing Michael kept me going.
It felt great to run downhill past the spillway, and before I knew it I could hear the loud music playing from the train trestle and some very friendly Hooters girls were offering me water (I had chastised Michael about the Hooters girls before the race). I had been worried I wouldn’t be able to see Michael, but there he was, waiting for me as if he were the only person on the street, and I felt like crying when I saw him. I could finally put into words how hard the race was and how I was struggling, and he was nothing but supportive and upbeat. He ran with me to the Dolly Parton’s (I barely noticed the guys dressed up on the side), and I had to walk up the hill. I had absolutely no energy left. I hated walking, but at this point my only objective was to finish the race, to hell with my time. I wanted to be strong in front of Michael, and keep running, but I was beaten down.
Michael stayed with me all the way through Lakewood, even though his knee had kept him from running for the past six weeks. Somewhere in Lakewood I realized Dominick was right in front of me, and I was so happy to see him, but sympathetic that he also seemed to be struggling. The time finally came for Michael to run back to mile 19 and I felt sad and alone when he left, even though Dominick was close by. I stopped in a port-a-potty around mile 21 and Dominick took off. His red shirt was always in sight until the last two miles. Occasionally I would get close and call out that I was right behind him, but I didn’t want to slow him down. Just knowing he was there, and that it was hard for him as well, and remembering all of our training runs together and what a strong runner he was, made it all much more bearable. He really kept me going in the end.
I knew Swiss Ave. was mostly downhill, and I tried to run the entire way. The crowds were great, though I was hardly aware of anyone. Sometimes I would hear someone yell out my name and some encouraging words, and it would bring me back from wherever my mind was, but I felt completely out of it. I was in pure survival mode, and my only objective was to get to the finish line. I started wondering why I was putting myself through all this pain, but I also felt a sense of pride because I knew I would finish, even if it killed me, and that most of the people cheering me on would never do what I was doing that day.
As I neared the Baylor Hospital area and the park with the Victorian houses, I realized I had a blister on my left big toe, and it felt like glass every time I stepped down. I’ve never had a blister from running, and worried how bad it would get. Eventually I didn’t even think about it anymore. At mile 23 the inside of my right thigh started cramping up and stopped me in my tracks. I was really worried that it was something serious, but it slowly felt better and I was able to run again. Sometime after that I heard the unmistakable British accent of Clive run past me, and he made a joke about my little running skirt flying up in the back and keeping them running just a little bit faster. I wished I could’ve finished with him, but knew I wouldn’t be able to keep up.
People, especially women, must’ve seen how much I was struggling because so many strangers were calling out my name, telling me how close I was to the finish, and how I needed to stay strong and not give up. They will never know how much that meant to me, and how I would not have been able to finish without their support. The last few miles are a blur. I remember turning a corner and running under Central Expwy into downtown and knowing the end was so close.
By this time I had long lost Dominick, but salvation was just ahead in the form of an incredible water stop around mile 25. I don’t know if I can even describe it. It was like running into a sea of arms, all of them holding out water and Gatorade, and all of them calling my name and encouraging me. They must’ve been angels. I was overcome with gratitude to feel such kindness coming from people who didn’t know me at all, but were willing to give up hours of their day to help us through this ordeal. I had tears in my eyes by the time I got to the end, and I know that I will never, ever forget that last water stop. It sounds hokey and silly, but I felt completely bathed in love for that brief moment in time.
I remembered this last stretch of the race from last year’s half marathon, and how incredulous I was when I heard the announcer yell out “Only one more mile!” Last year I couldn’t believe that it was so close; this year it still seemed like an eternity’s worth of running. I found myself walking in the last mile of the race, something I’ve never understood other people doing in races I’ve run, and hating myself for doing it now. There was a woman slightly older than myself running just behind me, and right at the moment I started walking I heard her say aloud to herself, “You can do this. You can finish.” I knew we would both be okay. Another angel appeared, Pat with her blue boot, cheering me on and telling me how great I was doing, and I knew I would make it.
Finally, I came to the very last turn before the straight-away to the finish line. Nikki was there, and I knew she knew how hard this was, and she was telling me “Only about four more minutes and you’re done.” I held onto those words all the way to the finish line, even though those were the longest four minutes of my life. It was the best thing anyone could’ve said to me at that point. I kept saying those words over and over in my head, and they kept me focused enough to keep running until I finally saw the 26 mile marker. Finally, I could see the balloons at the finish line, and I was running through the chute to the end and everyone was yelling and screaming for me. I didn’t sprint and I didn’t surge at the end, but I did remember to smile for the cameras.
I wanted to cry as they put the space blanket around me (even though it was way too warm for one), and put the medal around my neck, but I was too numb and tired. I thanked the woman who had spoken out loud and encouraged me that last mile, and there was Clive, hugging me and congratulating me and telling me not to worry that I didn’t make my time goal, that no one cared but me. I went and had a few sips of beer, tried to keep walking, talked to a few runners, smiled at everyone, then headed over to the food tent. I looked down at my left shoe and was confused because there was blood on the top above my big toe.
Afterwards, I sat on a curb and ate a banana and took my shoes off. I knew I would have a hard time getting back up, but I just wanted to get off my feet. My sock was bloody, and I was glad I didn’t know I had been bleeding during the run. Every single toenail was hurting, and I suspected I would lose quite a few of them. I saw Trey walk past the beer corral, but knew I would never be able to walk over to him fast enough. I finally got up and walked around a little more, then slowly made my way over to the West End train stop. I followed a family the entire way, and I doubt I would’ve made it on my own because I was so out of it.
On the train ride home, I cried a little. I thought about what I had just done and how much harder it had been than I’d expected. I thought about all the people who had cheered me on and helped me make it to the end, and the phrase “the kindness of strangers” came to life. I thought of all the friends who had taken time out from their day to stand on the side of the road waiting to see me run by, and I thought of all the hours and hours of training that had brought me to this point in time. I wondered how my other running friends had fared in the race, and I hoped the day had been kinder to them. I thought of that unrelenting wind, and how it never seemed to go away the entire second half of the race, no matter which I direction I ran. I remembered watching the New York City Marathon on TV when I was a kid, and being amazed that anyone could ever do something like that. I remembered standing at the finish line in Austin two years earlier watching the fastest runners come in, some of them collapsing and vomiting after crossing the finish line and wondering why anyone would want to put themselves through that. I remember thinking I would never be able to run a marathon.
The one word that comes to mind when I think about my first marathon is “humbling.” It was truly a humbling experience for me. Riding the train home, I knew I was a different person from the one who stood at the start line. I felt changed—humbled—by the marathon, and I’ll never be the same again. I felt humbled by the challenge of running—and satisfaction that I had been able to cross the finish line. More than anything, I felt humbled by the generosity of those who had helped me along the way.
As I stepped out of the train, I ran into Karen’s husband, Doug. He said the race had been tough on him, and it was a sentiment I heard repeated over and over from other experienced marathoners that evening at a party. All were sorry that I had had to run my first marathon in such conditions, and all made me feel proud that I had finished, regardless of how long it took me and of how much I had had to walk at the end.
After the race I drove over to mile 19 to see Michael and to talk about the race, then came home and showered and went to the party. I had a small bowl of chili with rice and beef, and talked to Karen and Barbara about the race. We got home around 6:30 and spent the rest of the night watching a movie on the couch. I was very sore, but too wired to sleep. It was uncomfortable to sleep, and the next day I was more sore than I’ve ever been in my entire life. Today I can barely sit down or stand up, and stairs are an ordeal. My shoulders and stomach muscles are sore, and I even discovered some chafing I hadn’t known about yesterday. I really don’t know why this was so difficult for me, I only know that it’s hands down the hardest thing I’ve ever done.
Will I run another marathon? Absolutely, if only to prove to myself that I can do better the next time. Hopefully, it will also be a little easier, and I’ll know what to expect. Most importantly, I hope to have a little more fun, especially in the second half of the race.
I feel such a kinship with the people I trained with for my first marathon, and I know we will always have an unbreakable bond. In retrospect, it really is more about the journey than the final destination. Even though I can barely stand up, and walking down stairs feels like sharp knives in my quads, I can hardly wait to strap on my running shoes and hit the road with all my friends once again!
A non-running friend at work today said, “I guess you’ll have to climb Mt. Everest next, right?” Hardly. I feel like I’ve already been there—and back!
Pure Awesomeness! New York 2010: A Marathon Like No Other – by Hari Garimella
Along with several of my friends in the Sixx AM group, I was fortunate to run the 2010 ING New York City Marathon on Sunday 11/07/2010. It will be an experience that I will cherish forever. This was my 8th Full marathon (my first was in Dec 2007). If you ever had to run one marathon in your entire life, I say —–bite the bullet, spend the money, do what it takes, and run New York!
The NYC marathon’s 45,000 runners start in Staten Island. There was a large contingent of international runners from Italy, France, Sweden, and Holland, in addition to other countries and the USA. There were also many famous people running NYC (Jared “Subway” Fogle, Al Roker, Bobby Flay, Ed Norton, etc). Truly a diverse cast! Runners cross the Verrazano Narrows Bridge into Brooklyn. The first 13 miles of the course are through Brooklyn, at which point you enter into Queens, and then cross the Queensboro bridge into Manhattan. After a few miles through Manhattan, you then enter the Bronx (which accounted for only 2 miles of the course) and enter into Harlem. After crossing through Harlem, you finally arrive at Central Park (finish line). This marathon is so full of energy and life, and there was not a moment I was bored (I was smiling all 26.2 miles).
My goals for this marathon were as follows:
1) I was going to have fun! What other way could one see all 5 boroughs of New York and run on the bridges of NY City?
2) I was not going to get the irritating and debilitating calf cramps in this marathon. I had them in all 7 previous marathons. Based on my training records, I decided to focus on a goal of finishing the marathon in 4 hours and 20 mins. I had attempted to finish my previous marathon in 4 hours in Eugene, Oregon, but had the dreaded cramping at mile 17. I was determined to not let this happen again.
3) I wanted my name to be in the NY Times the following morning. You had to get a time of 4 hrs and 30 mins or better to get your name printed.
To begin with, I had an awesome group of friends that I trained with in the Sixx AM group. Thank heaven for the Crazy 8’s hill workouts, ladders, tempo, and long runs on hilly roads. That laid the foundation for our race and helped me through the difficult portions on race day.
Friday afternoon, Nirisha and I arrived in NYC. After checking into our hotel, we headed to the Expo. NYC is truly an international marathon. We saw so many runners from Italy, France, and Sweden (the Swedish contingency had 70 rooms booked in our hotel). This was probably one of the best expos I have ever been to. We spent about 2 hours at the Expo and headed back to our room.
Saturday morning, Nirisha and I went to Central Park to take a look at the finish line of the course. Nirisha had reserved a seat in the finish line bleachers so that she could get to see the elite athletes (and later on me) finish. Saturday evening, we met Heather and Marc for dinner at Serafina’s (Italian restaurant close to Times Square) to carbo-load on pasta and pizza. We said goodnight and went back to the room to get some rest.
I laid out my running gear, which included my full length lime green CEP compression socks which I trained with prior to the marathon. I also decided that I was not going to carry any water bottles in this race. I also planned to only consume water and gel throughout the entire race. I had grown to detest Gatorade. As a new strategy, I also made the choice to drink water only when I was thirsty on the course (instead of pounding water like in my previous races). As I had mentioned before, I was targeting a 4:20 finish. All of these were my “tools” to avoid the dreaded calf cramping.
I woke up at 4AM on race morning and started getting ready. I did 20 mins of dynamic stretching and ate 6 mini-Fig Newtons for breakfast. I said goodbye to Nirisha and headed to the subway to catch a ride to the Staten Island Ferry. I arrived at the Ferry at 6:30AM and climbed aboard for the exciting ride to Staten Island. We passed by the Statue of Liberty and several other landmarks before arriving at Staten Island. At that point, we then boarded buses which took us 3 miles to the start line.
It was a very cold morning, and the wind was blowing quite a bit. I wished I had worn a pair of pants. I only had my shorts, CEP socks, full length technical shirt (with my name stitched on it, thanks to Nirisha), and a throwaway cotton shirt. A lot of people came prepared with sleeping bags, tents, jackets, and blankets. Luckily, the organizers of the marathon put up tents for runners to wait in. I immediately headed to one of these tents and patiently waited in there. I had two hours to wait since I was designated to start in the last wave at 10:40 (there was a 9:40, 10:10 and 10:40 wave starts).
I struck up a conversation with a lady from Costa Rica. I was fascinated to hear about how she trained for NYC (this was her first marathon). She mentioned how tough it was to train in Costa Rica, given that they do not have special areas designated for exercise. They would run very early in the morning. For her long run, she ran an 18 mile race (which was part of a 13.1/18/26.2 mile race in Costa Rica). She did not have any other opportunities to do any other long runs. It is at times like these I realize how fortunate we are in the US, with so much space to be able to run in. During the conversation, she also told me that she paid $400 for the entry fee for the NYC marathon (I was shocked, since I paid $185). The conversation helped speed up the waiting process. At 10:00AM, we said goodbye to each other and headed to the start line.
At this point, I really started getting excited that I was finally going to run the marathon and not think about the cold weather. We started to line up at the start line in front of the Verrazano Narrows Bridge. To begin the opening ceremonies, someone from the New York Philharmonic sang a great rendition of “God Bless America.” This was followed by Frank Sinatra singing “New York New York.” What an amazing way to start the race! The race had begun!
We all started running on the one mile long Verrazano Narrows Bridge from Staten Island to Brooklyn. This is the only time people can run on the bridge. The bridge and huge vastness of the bay were a sight to behold. Also, this was one hilly bridge (I later found out that all the bridges were hilly on this course). Many runners were taking pictures as we ran across the bridge. I wished I had brought a camera with me. This was a slow first mile. I ran close to an 11 min pace for my first mile.
We then got into Brooklyn, and this is where the excitement started. I have never run in a marathon where there are miles and miles of spectators cheering the runners on either side of the road. This was just great. It was at this time that I was glad that Nirisha had stitched my name on my shirt. I lost count of how many high fives I got, and also how many people cheered me. I always used to think that New Yorkers were a surly bunch. Now I know that I was completely wrong. New Yorkers are the most amazing and welcoming people in this country! There were so many kids cheering. I even got a bunch of comments commending me (and also making fun of) on my lime green CEP compression socks (these were a godsend). I took everything in good spirits, smiled, and continued to run.
At around mile 3 we had the first water stop. Sticking with my pre-race strategy, I just sipped about two ounces of water (in prior marathons I would pound two full cups of Gatorade at each stop). I did this at each stop until mile 26. At around mile 5 I took my first sip of gel (EFS) and again sipped some water. Everything was going perfectly according to plan. I continued running and felt like the crowd was only cheering for me (I am sure other runners felt the same, too). Around mile 10 I took another sip of EFS gel.
With all this cheering the first 11 miles seemed effortless!! It was at this time that we entered into the township of Williamsburg, where the majority of the population were orthodox. There was a sudden silence (it felt more like I hit a brick wall) after all of the initial cheering in Brooklyn. I guess the people of Williamsburg were not too excited about us running through their neighborhood. The men were so silent. The women seemed to be looking at us with strange looks. I remember reading a previous blog by our buddy Danny where he mentioned that he was afraid to even spit in this neighborhood. I felt the same way. I think this was my fastest two miles. I had to get out fast and get some crowd support again. It was at this point that we entered into Queens, where the crowd support started again.
I continued to keep an even pace through Queens, with no aches or pains. I took the next sip of gel at 15 miles right before the Queensboro Bridge (entrance into Manhattan). It was at this time that the course was starting to get hilly. I felt strong and confident (partly due to running crazy 8s during training). I was also glad that I did not start out fast in the race, because I was starting to overtake a lot of people at this point. Many of the runners were walking on the Queensboro Bridge. It was a hilly bridge indeed. We then entered into the first phase of Manhattan (1st Ave).
This was such a morale booster. The crowds were going strong again. I felt so energetic, and again giving and getting high fives. I could have sworn that, at times, a group of at least 30 people cheered for me. I am sure every runner got the same great New York welcome from the crowd. This crowd simply knew how to make every runner feel special.
At mile 17, I did a pain threshold check (this was where I cramped at the Eugene, Oregon marathon). I was doing great and feeling great with no pain or discomfort. At mile 18, I had some more water and gel, and kept on running, overtaking all the runners who started out too fast.
At mile 19 I hit the next hilly bridge called the Wills Ave Bridge (okay, now I am starting to think every bridge in New York is hilly). I was still feeling strong. This was where the borough of Bronx began. The crowd support was okay here for the 2 miles that I was in the Bronx. Next I entered into Harlem.
I have never been to Harlem before, and I would have to say that I was pleasantly surprised. The crowds here were enthusiastic and I felt rejuvenated. All of Harlem was cheering the runners. I knew that the finish line was now less than an hour away. I realized at this time that I had not looked at my Garmin during the first 21 miles of the race. I ran based on how comfortable I felt. I was still on track for a 4:20 finish. This was also my undoing, because now I started looking at my Garmin every two minutes until I finished the race. I was also beginning to feel tired at this point.
The 21st mile was over. Now came the “fun” part of the course (miles 22 through 24). According to the map, this was a hilly portion of the course. And my friends, yes, it was hilly. I took my last sip of gel and water, and struggled all the way up. The crowds continued to cheer the runners, and this got me through this part of the course. I was so thankful when I made it to the top, and we came around to the entrance of Central Park at mile 25. At this time I started feeling my quads and calves getting sore. I started praying that I wouldn’t start cramping, and was thankful for the little downhill that followed.
The downhill was followed by some uphills, at which point I started to silently curse. My quads and calves began to throb. I started to say a prayer begging the running gods to not let my cramps begin. Every time I have had my cramps, I have collapsed on the pavement screaming in pain. Thankfully, the muscles were just throbbing. The climax of the muscle throbbing peaked at 25.5 miles, at which point I chose to walk for 2 mins, so that I could allow for the muscle throbbing to subside. I checked my watch, and saw that I had 7 mins left to make it to the 4 hours and 30 min mark (to get my name printed in the New York Times). At this point I decided that I was going to run and push the pace, cramps or no cramps, and if I was going to collapse, I would do it at the finish line in style.
I entered into the final phase of the race in Central Park and saw a downhill (thank heavens) towards the Mile 26 marker. I was so happy, and then as I crossed the 26 mile mark, I saw that the last 0.2 miles was uphill. I was mad at this point, and my calf and quad muscles were starting to seize up. I did not stop. I kept going with determination to finish and finally crossed the finish line at 4 hours 27 mins and 34 secs. I was done!! And then, all of a sudden, my muscles stopped throbbing! My prayers must have been answered! I was so happy!
The first person I recognized at the finish line was the Costa Rican lady I talked to before the race at Staten Island. We were so happy and surprised to see each other and we hugged. I was so happy for her that she did fantastic on her first marathon. We said goodbye, and I proceeded to get (ahem…demand would be a better word) my finisher’s medal. All runners then received an apple (fruit, not the computer) and a goody bag with Gatorade. I also got a Mylar blanket (which I still have no idea what purpose it serves, other than being a cosmetic item that really does not warm you up).
I started to look for Nirisha at the finish line, but could not find her. We had decided earlier to meet outside Central Park at 77th and Columbus, since it was impossible to hook up at Central Park. There were so many people that it took 45 mins to get out of the park. It was starting to get cold when I got to the corner of 77th and Columbus. I waited another 45 mins for Nirisha to show up (luckily Mike hooked up with me while I was waiting, and I had company). Nirisha and I then went back to the hotel, freshened up, and met Heather and Marc for dinner. I later heard that everyone from the Sixx AM group did great in the marathon. I was happy to hear that. We had all trained very hard and it paid off!
Coming back to my goals for this marathon, and whether I achieved them:
1) I was going to have fun! What other way could one see all 5 boroughs of New York and run on the bridges on NY City? Yes, I had a lot of fun. In fact, this was the most fun marathon of all 8 that I have run.
2) I was not going to get the irritating and debilitating calf cramps in this marathon. I had them in all 7 previous marathons. I succeeded in keeping the cramps at bay for the entire marathon, except for a time period of 2 mins towards the end of the race. I credit it to proper training and running based on how well conditioned I was. I was 7 mins off my goal (4:27 vs 4:20), but no big deal.
3) I wanted my name to be in the NY Times the following morning. You had to get a time of 4hrs and 30mins or better to get your name printed. Yes, my name was in the NY Times. They actually printed the names of all the finishers up to 4 hrs, 45 mins.
I had a successful and happy time in New York. I was happy that my wife came with me and help me prepare for this exciting weekend. I was happy that our friend Heather got engaged to Marc on this weekend. I was also happy that all my friends did well in the NYC marathon! I hope you all will get to run it someday!