Tuesday, February 18, 2014

My First Full Marathon

                    Well, it finally came! I ran my very first full marathon this weekend, after 18 weeks of training that started pretty much as soon as I finished the Ironman Austin 70.3 last October. After a day of rest and tending to my blistered tootsies, it's time for a recap!

                     The Austin Marathon is one of the toughest full marathon courses in Texas, simply by virtue of location. They don't call it the "Hill Country" for nothing! You can always pick out Austin-area runners from those who are from flatter areas such as Houston or Dallas, due to the complete lack of surprise on our faces when, at every bend in the course, you are met with another incline that makes the runners out ahead of you look like they're standing still. Thankfully, being from here means training here, and we definitely trained on hills. However, there's just not much you can do about the killer inclines close to the river- our neighborhoods are literally built on the walls of canyons. Always remember- when it comes to hills, it's about maintaining consistent effort, NOT consistent speed- you can make up your pace after the hill!

Don't let the lack of elevation fool you in to thinking there's a lack of incline!

          But enough whining about terrain, and on to lamenting the weather. The training for this event took place November-February. In Texas, that doesn't mean freezing temps, but this winter was actually pretty cold. We had maybe two long runs out of 18 that were warm and humid, the rest required at least a long sleeve shirt. Naturally, that means that when Sunday morning rolled around, the race forecast was 85% humidity or higher and temperatures in the mid 60s to low 70s. I had an existential crisis just trying to decide what to wear, because my go-to long sleeve tech t and leggings weren't going to cut it!


You can practically drink the air already, and it's 6:30 am. Not too shabby of a race backdrop though!

             I decided to fall back on my tri shorts that I ran the 1/2IM in, since I knew they were reliable and wouldn't chafe my legs. I did put some Nike running shorts on over them, since a cycling chamois would look super-nerdy at a run-only race, and I am a bit compulsive about coordinating my outfit colors. I then settled on a Nike sports bra that had never given me issues on the 22 mile long run, and a white tech T instead of a tank top, in order to avoid chafing the underside of my bicep, since that had been an issue back in October. I picked my best pair of socks that had kept my feet dry and comfy, and stepped out to the start line confidently.

Our "before" faces, when we were still lookin' good and feelin' good.
          After a last-minute bathroom rush, we got to the starting line as the national anthem finished up. (I have never in my life talked more to friends about pooping. Marathons are weird.) The race started exactly on time, and after a ten-minute shuffle to the front, we were off! The pacing corrals were very helpful, but there were still people who were walking right away, making the first couple of miles feel more like Parkour than running. My two running friends and I juked and dodged around people, which made the first three miles go quickly, but also made it impossible to get a good rhythm going because of the constant speed changes. We still had a great time, as I pointed out landmarks to them. The Austin course is hard, but it's really cool, and goes through the most popular sections in town. I have lived here for almost 10 years, while they are relatively new, so it was fun getting to play tour-guide instead of concentrating on my rapidly saturating socks.
          We lost one of our friends in the crowd at the 10k mark, but I knew she was faster than me anyhow, so I didn't mind her going on ahead and getting the best time possible for herself. My friend that remained was running her first half-marathon, so I only got to enjoy her company until mile 10, but it was the best miles of the race having someone to talk to and pace with.
           Although conditions weren't ideal weather-wise, I am really grateful that we fueled up pre-race smartly with healthy, light carbs and protein. My stomach felt OK pre-race, and took gels and snacks just fine. I knew that there would be no electrolytes except for yucky lemon-lime Gatorade, so I packed Nuun in the water bottle in my belt and took a cup of water at aid stations to stay hydrated. I like to think I am smart about what I pack, and efficient. I took with me one bottle of water mixed with Nuun, one Nathan Add-on flask packed with 3 gels diluted with water to make them easier to squirt (it's marked with oz measurements so I can tell how much I've taken, and save me from messy fingers and carrying sticky wrappers!), one Powerbar in fruit and nut, and some Honey Stinger fruit smoothie chews. These, added with the orange slices handed out by awesome spectators and volunteers, were the perfect mix. I never felt too hungry, and never got too sick.
         Everyone talks about the "wall" when running a marathon, and that wall is supposed to be somewhere between mile 18 and mile 20. Unfortunately for me, it came at mile 12. This portion of the course is the worst- huge hills going through West Austin neighborhoods, not as many spectators, and the sudden spaced-out quiet as the half-marathoners fell away. The wind had stopped blowing, so it felt like to breath was to drown on the humidity. My always-trusty Thorlo socks had soaked through with sweat and mugginess, causing my feet to blister, which hadn't happened ever before. It was grim, and my mind was not having it. Even though my legs weren't that tired and my stomach wasn't that unsettled, I walked a few of the uphills, something I had never done during training. It was frustrating and disheartening, because I knew I could do better, but I also knew I had 14 miles left to go and needed to get my mind right.
         I continued at a slow pace, berating myself, until mile 15 when I glanced down at my tattoo and told myself "You will never be an Ironman if you can't do this." Trust me, having only half of a tattoo done for the rest of my life would drive me crazy- I need things to be symmetrical!- so I shook it off. Mile 15- 21 were actually amazing. I ran the whole time, jammed to my music, laughed at the often hilarious signs on the side of the road, and high-fived spectators. (Spectators- you ROCK!) I had been passed by the 4:25 pace group during my slump, so I changed my goal to just finishing under 5, rather than under 4:30, and kept chugging along. I practically cried when I hit mile 20, because I knew that meant only a 10k left, and once I crossed Lamar, the terrain was familiar and I knew it was all South from there. A lady handing out oranges read my shirt and said "You did an Ironman? You're nuts!" It's a 1/2 IM shirt, but still, she made me laugh and feel better. I really couldn't decide at the time which one was, in fact, crazier- 70.3 or 26.2.
          Even though I never got completely worn out as far as my legs go, the last 6 miles were still really tough. My feet were killing me. I could feel every step making the blisters on them bigger and bigger. It got to the point that, even though I'd conquered my mental wall, my physical one was just too much. I absolutely had to walk small bits at a time to let the sharp stinging pain subside a bit. It was really heart-breaking when the 4:55 pace group caught up to me at mile 23, because I knew I was so close and could pull it off, but just couldn't get it together to keep it up with them. I had been taking two waters at stops since mile 14- one for drinking and one for pouring on neck, and just had to stay the course and get it done.
          Cruelly, the course finishes on an up-hill that is no joke. They're not mountains, but when you're reading signs that say you have only 800 meters to go after going 25 miles, but can't see the finish because it's over the crest of a hill, it's like a punch in the gut. It's a punch you're willing to take, though, because you've come this far, you're almost done, and food is so, so close you can almost taste it. (You can smell it, as Scholtz's is right there and their BBQ is sooooooo goooood.)


Rounding the corner to the finish line. My grimace says it all!

            The finish is in front of the Capitol building in the heart of down-town, and although the largest crowds had dissipated before I got there, there were still lots of people cheering. I booked it at a sprint because I was just over it and hungry and crossed the finish line. From there, you're shuffled through the chute to grab your medal, some snacks, beer (none of which I took because I was too hot) and handed a nice big bottle of water. I grabbed my finisher shirt and started texting my friends to find them. My friend who ran the marathon was sitting on a curb by the porta-potties- exactly where she guessed she'd end up- and told me she had also hated herself at mile 12, which made me feel better. Misery loves company, especially when that company trained hard with you as well.
Smiles all around, despite our frustrations.
         Neither of us got close to what we wanted as far as times, but we had both faced the same issues, so it was comforting to know that it wasn't some insurmountable failure on my part, but rather a rash of mitigating physical and mental factors I would just have to prepare better for next time.

We were NOT standing up from that curb for a while!
         In the end, it was still a great experience. The race itself is well-run, with an awesome expo, wonderful volunteers, and good direction from organizers. I never felt lost, confused, or alone, and loved the support that turned out from the community. It was hard getting over my disappointment in my time, just because we had trained so much better than that, but it's just what it is. I took a shower, shook it off, and just concluded that I can only get better from here, and am ready to hit the pavement harder in December for the BCS marathon (A MUCH flatter course in hopefully chillier conditions!).           
          Thanks to my friends for their support and for meeting me there every Sunday to put in the miles. You ladies rock, and I had so much fun going through this with y'all! And to Bryce, as always, I love you so so much. Thank you for getting up early, dropping us off, and being there for me. Also, I am really sorry again that my car ran out of gas and you had to push it. I suck, I know, I love you.

You won't see a much cooler medal than this one, ever! Willie is on it!

          Lessons are learned and now I know that I can do it. On to the next race! Gotta keep filling up my display- it's getting pretty populated!

This blog is following my training as I get ready for the Athleta esprit de She event season. Three events happen in Texas, the Duathlon in Dallas, the Katy 5k & 10k, and the Cycle Tour in Austin. I'll be doing Austin and Dallas, come join the fun! Enter Comp Code EDS57 for the chance to win some cool prizes!

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