June 25, 2012

2012 Grandma's Marathon Race Recap: From DNF to Redemption

If there was ever a doubt in my mind that I was just making up a bunch of excuses for why I had to drop out of the 2011 Grandma's Marathon in Mile 22, that doubt was washed away after a completely different experience this year - and not just because I made it to the finish line. From the minute I woke up on race day morning, to the train ride we took to the Start again, to my journey along the course - this experience was further confirmation for me that running is, without a doubt, a mirror of your life.

Tapering for this race was like nails on a chalkboard for the first week. I usually try to get up to at least 22-24 miles before a marathon but because of my hectic schedule, I was only able to get up to 20 miles 2 weeks before race day. I was nervous about being undertrained (even though my weekly mileage stayed relatively stable at about 35 miles/week), but as a coach, I understand the concept of "Undertrain consistently and consistently undertrain". By the end of the first week of tapering, I was so antsy I could hardly stand it. My anxiety and excitement were equally difficult to contain. I just wanted to get to the Start and GO already!!

Little did I know that much like last year, I would not run at all in the week leading up to the race (except this year it wasn't because I was so overtrained that I physically was not able to get myself to run at all). A terrible 2-day migraine + stomach flu not only kept me from running for 3 days, it kept me from eating and drinking. While I wanted to try and sneak in a couple of short runs the Wed and Thurs before the race, I knew my body would be more prepared for the race if I concentrated on re-fueling, replenishing my glycogen stores and hydrating. Attempting to shove in short runs while I was under-fueled and dehydrated could have been far more damaging than not running at all - and that was not a risk I was willing to take. Not this year. Not this time. I didn't beat myself up about it. My only goal was to finish and erase neutralize the DNF from 2011. To think I could erase it would be naive, ignorant and well, stupid. The lessons resulting from the DNF are too important to erase the experience. My guess is that I will, at some point in the future, battle demons during a race where the DNF lessons will help me push on. With my first Ultra (ET 51K) coming up quickly in August, I'm prepping myself for some serious mental work in those final 6 miles. Luckily, I'm running it with a former club member and friend, Robb. I ran with him through his first marathon earlier this year at the 2012 LA Marathon. It seems fitting we run our first Ultra together. We have good energy between us and I know we'll be crossing that Finish line because of our supportive nature and belief in each other (and in ourselves).

Race Day
So let's get to it already! Again this year, we spent the weekend at a BFF's parents' farm, about a 45 minute drive from the DECC (Duluth Entertainment Convention Center) - which was the location for both the Expo and runner drop off. Half marathoners were bused to their Start. Marathoners could either take the train (Yes we did!) or be bused to their Start. Unlike last year, I felt excited about the race from the minute I woke up. I actually ate food before heading to the DECC and I didn't fall asleep on the train ride to the Start. Despite 2 or 3 emails in the days leading up to the race that warned all runners about Red and possibly Black flag conditions due to the heat and humidity, race day morning conditions were good. We could see the Green flags posted along the course from the train. What a relief! We could see some of the elites warming up as we moved along the train track. All I can remember thinking is "look at those legs"! :-)

The Start was just like I remember. A gazillion porta potties, masses of people sort of in line but with so many bodies trying to make it into a stall with just 20-25 minutes before the gun, it seemed to be more like a free-for-all.  I managed to find a short line and was in and out of there by 7:20. As Grandma's Marathon was host to the US Half Marathon Championships this year, both the Half Marathon and Marathon times were delayed 15 minutes so the Elites could get a head start. Kara Goucher, a Duluth native, not only won the Women's title, she came in 70 seconds faster than the 2nd place finisher with an official time of 1:09:46 AND set a course record. To break things up a little, here are a couple of pictures our BFFs snapped of Kara coming down the Finisher's chute. She is AMAZING!

As exciting as all this was, the marathoners, in my opinion, paid a little bit of a price when it came to the delayed start: 7:45am. If it had been a really hot and humid day, the last 6-8 miles could have been absolutely brutal.

I felt so different standing in the Start chute this year. I was excited. I wanted to be there. I didn't feel any performance pressure. I knew I would finish - and that was my only goal. Not only did I have the mental hurdle to jump in Mile 22, it was critical that I not push myself too hard since my Ultra training will continue through mid-July. My plan was to use 2:30run/1:00walk intervals and maintain an 11:15-11:30 min/mile pace the whole way through. For the most part, the first 16 miles felt great. I used Hammer Endurolytes to ward off any potential electrolyte issues from the humidity. I had Gu, Roctane, Honey Stinger Waffles and Sports Beans with me in my Nathan hydrapack. I had one fuel serving every hour with 1 Endurolyte capsule - regardless of whether I felt like I needed it or not. I wasn't willing to take any chances.

The first 10 miles flew by. Last year, I didn't even feel like I was "in it" until Mile 7 (and I hadn't eaten anything all morning). I remembered the exact place on the course where I ingested my first fuel source at mile 7 last year. I can't believe I went that long without having anything by this point in 2011 - and I was running about 30-45 sec/mile faster last year too!! I planned on stopping at the Half Marathon Start to use the porta potties there instead of waiting to see if I would need to go later in the race. You can see in Mile 14 where my overall pace drops just a little. I was in and out in a flash.

For the most part, I held my pace well through mile 18 where I suddenly picked it up for no reason what-so-ever that I can think of. Maybe it was nervous anticipation of the approaching "2011 DNF spot", maybe it had to do with the weather. By mile 10, I was so hot, I considered taking off my shirt. It was already soaked with sweat, ice and cold water from sponges that were being offered by volunteers at the water stops. That all changed by about mile 16 or 17 (I think) when storm clouds started rolling in and the breeze off Lake Superior got stronger. Brrrrr.

All was good going into mile 20. There wasn't nearly the party going on here that there was last year. The residents who were out to cheer us on were fabulous. I press on. Mile 21 passes. My calves are cramping now. A thought flashes through me "oh no, not again". No way Vera. Think about something else. It wasn't easy. I thought of all my friends and family who had been so supportive and encouraging in the months and weeks leading up to this day. Believe in yourself. You can do it. My pace is starting to slip, but I'm not fighting it (too much). I know Mile 22 is coming up quick. A very wise friend from Dailymile gave me great advice beforehand. "You're running 2 races. The first is to get the DNF spot and the second is to get to the finish". I relied on her voice in my head several times. Thank you Charlene!!

I make a turn and see the big LED sign with the same message ("You've only got 4 miles to go!!") I couldn't get to last year, but nothing around me looks familiar. Nothing. It occurred to me later that I must have really been out of it in 2011. How could I not remember this?? As I approached the LED sign, I felt a huge sigh of relief. Now onto the 2nd part of this race - getting my ass to the Finish line. I decide to have one last Hammer Gel to get me through those last 3.7 miles. My pace continued to slip and my calves once again are complaining. I bailed on my run/walk intervals and just ran and walked for however long I wanted. Since running wasn't stretching my calves out as much as walking was, I ran more and walked less (albeit a much much slower running pace). Just as I pass Mile 24, I have to use the porta potty - NOW. I look to my left as we start to run into Downtown. Out of nowhere, 3 porta-potties suddenly appear. I make a break for it. Sitting down felt gooooooooooooooood. I decide to give myself a little extra time to collect my thoughts and relax. I feel like I've already run 35 miles mentally and I know it's affecting me physically in these last miles. After about a minute, I find I'm convincing myself it's time to get up and out of here so I can FINISH!

Miles 24 and 25 were TOUGH. I'm mentally and physically exhausted, trying to stay positive. I know I'm so close but my calves are freaking killing me and now the terrain has changed to brick. Ugh. I ran most of the last mile and half with very few walk breaks, but my running speed felt more like a fast walk. Just keep moving. Spectators are cheering and emphatically yelling out that the Finish is just up ahead. (Not that I hadn't been hearing that since Mile 18!)

After a couple of turns in the road (which is back to asphalt now), I can finally see the Finish. I know my BFFs are somewhere in that crowd. It doesn't take long before I can hear them yelling for me over everyone else cheering for the Finishers, and I spot them immediately. Fighting tears, I use their energy to pick up my pace just a little. Finish strong, I tell myself! They were able to grab this shot as I passed by:

That's me in the green sleeveless shirt with a pack on.
I did grab a couple shots of me on the course and at the Finish. And of course I added that watermark because I needed "Proof" I finished, didn't I? I tried to smile at every photographer, no matter how tired or sore I was. It gave me a lift when I needed it, and these photos are even further proof that a positive and happy attitude are critical to getting you through tough times, whether it's during a marathon, or the last mile of a 5K when you're pushing yourself harder than you ever have. The more you relax, the better you'll feel - and with that, your possibilities are endless!

Hubby ran again this year too. His 2nd finish at Grandma's! Unfortunately, it started raining pretty hard when he came in, but as you can see, his spirits weren't dampened in the slightest. Way to go baby!

Now that I've conquered this demon, time to turn my focus to the 51K Ultra. 40 days and counting.....


Rebecca said...

congrats Vera!

bobbi said...

oh Vera! I'm so happy you had a great race!! Way to conquer your demons from last year - CONGRATS!

Running With Charlene said...

I so so SO proud of you! You conquered that demon. Thank you for the shout-out on your race report, but it was YOU who got it done.

See you in a few weeks at ET!


Erica Elia said...

Awesome job!

Johann said...

Awesome Vera! Great report as well. You did so good this time and really showed this race. Please tell me more about that ultra, yay! :)

Anonymous said...

Great Job! I was at Grandma's this year cheering on my Aunt. After watching I decided that I will be running Grandmas in 2013. :) Thanks for the great blog! Sounds like it is going to be a pretty great adventure! Once again Congrats!

Louis said...

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Tmcelmoyle said...

Congratulations on redeeming yourself and finishing the race. That must have been and incredible feeling! When I was younger I had a goal of completing a half marathon but I never really thought I could do it. I was always into sports but never much of a distance runner. When I was 24, my brother and I signed up for our first Half’s. The only goal I had was to finish the entire race without walking (which I did.) Crossing that finish line was one of the best feelings of my life! My time was not good, but I finished! I have since completed two more Half Marathons and am planning to run another one in the fall. I have thought about running a full marathon, but my body felt so beat up after running the half’s…I’m not sure I could do it. Maybe if I feel good after the half in the fall I will think more seriously about running a full. Training is such a serious commitment and a lifestyle change. I hope I have the will power to get through a full one day like you did. Keep up the good work! Way to go! :-)