Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Two Cities Marathon

The Mario Recap, Marathon #30:
PR! Sub-4! Negative split!

Sunday night, I was about to give Mario his meds/Critical Care and yes, still had my medal on.  Photo-op! 

The Full Recap, Marathon #30:
My goal for the race was to keep my average pace right around a 9:05 minute mile.  A 9:09 pace is a sub-4 hour marathon, but since I run based off my Garmin I knew that with the "extra" distance you cover the pace my Garmin showed would end up being slower than my official pace.  I figured out that a 9:05 was the buffer I needed to be safe.

From layering in marathon-pace miles in long runs, I knew that I had a tendency to sometimes slip into the high-8:00's.  I made 8:55 my fastest tolerable pace for the beginning of the race. I was afraid anything faster than that was going out too strong and I would end up suffering for it later on.  There were a few times in the first half of the race I found myself running in the 8:40's or 8:30's and I forced myself to slow a bit to conserve.

The weather was absolutely perfect for a race.  They had forecast a 50% chance of rain, low of 41, high of 58.  I figured the entire race would be overcast if not drizzly.  I'd take it!  The rain ended up burning off before the race but the temps were awesome.  There was a slight breeze in some locations which was just under my threshold where I would have called it a significant head wind.

The race had an ultra marathon, marathon, half marathon, and two person relay.  The marathon and ultra marathon started half an hour ahead of the half marathon.  I loved this.  I have a huge pet peeve running with people doing shorter distances than me (apologies to those ultra marathon people who had to run with me).  The longer distances also went out in a totally opposite direction than the half so you would never see a single person doing a shorter distance faster than you were going.  The course was a two out-and-back type configuration with a couple little loops and tails here and there.  Nothing special, but I wasn't out there to see the scenery.

Mile 1:   9:00
Mile 2:   8:56

I didn't realize until the night before, but this race had tunnels.  Three of them you run through six times. I blame the 16 tunnel passages of Texas for throwing my Garmin off and was counting on accurate Garmin data this race.  Luckily I had also thrown on a 4:00 pace band.  The race didn't have clocks on the course, but they had volunteers at every mile marker calling out the time.  Early on I passed by a mile marker and figured out I was a little more than 10 seconds behind the gun time.  I had my reference point for my pace band for the rest of the race.

Mile 3:    9:04
Mile 4:   8:52

I'm not going to lie, around mile 4 I started thinking that this whole idea was slightly ludicrous.  The pace didn't feel hard, but it wasn't easy peasy, either.  I was talking to Naomi about my race strategy a couple of weeks ago. I told her that if someone told me to go out and run 6 miles at a 9:00 pace, it wasn't something I could just easily pull off.  I'd have to psych myself up for it a little bit.  And here I was attempting to run 26.2 miles at that pace.  What was I thinking?!  I then reminded myself that there is a point in a run where things start to suck a little, but then they tend to not suck any more for the majority of the rest of the run. Perhaps I had just hit that point already.  It had come a bit early, but I could and would work with it.  Fight for it!

Mile 5:  9:01 (gel)
Mile 6:   9:02

Boyfriend made his first spectator appearance around mile 6.  It was a big pick-me up which is reflected in my pace the next few miles.  Looking at the photos he took, I am smiling and waving at him (which never happened again in subsequent photo encounters).  I thought briefly after mile 6 that I had just set a 10K PR in a marathon (I fully admit that all of my PR's under the marathon distance are a bit outdated at this point).

Mile 7:   8:53
Mile 8:   8:59

Boyfriend popped up again around here.  Oh, wait, I flashed him a smile at mile 8.5, too :)  I think Boyfriend yelled, "You're right on pace!" at me, and I recall thinking that I still had a long way to go.

Mile 9:   8:57
Mile 10:  8:59
Mile 11:  9:17 (filled water bottle, gel)

I stopped to fill my water bottle during mile 11 which really irritated me. I generally race with my 20 oz handheld and will refill it once or twice during a race.  I sometimes grab a cup to supplement here and there but generally ignore and keep running through all the water stops.  I don't plan for any walk breaks (even through aid stations) when I race and it was murder for me to lose even 15 seconds filling up my bottle.  To make matters sadder, this race did not have someone manning a pitcher who I could go to in order to fill my bottle quickly.  I had to go to the table and literally empty cup after cup into my 20 oz.  One thing that makes sense but really irked me was that they only filled the cup up about an inch on the bottom so I had to go through tons of them. I felt like a bit of an ass emptying cup after cup and throwing the empty cups around.  Sorry, volunteers.

Mile 12:   9:08
Mile 13:   8:57

Boyfriend popped up again around the half mark.  I was so annoyed at the thought of stopping again to fill my bottle that I yelled at him, "Bring my bottle to mile 21!"  I had pre-filled a smaller 12 oz handheld in the hopes that towards the end of the race I could switch out to a smaller bottle thus lightening my load and saving me a water bottle refill.

I set a half marathon PR during this race, too.  Blows my mind.  I thought about how I felt when I ran my 1:59:11 a couple of years ago.  It was hard and I was spent at the end.  I thought about how I had to go twice as far today, but also marveled that I wasn't at death's door like I was during that half, either.

Mile 14:   8:53
Mile 15:   8:55
Mile 16:   8:59

During miles 14-16 I thought about how I had never run this far, this fast in my whole entire life.  I was hitting unexplored territory.  Pre-race I decided I had a very realistic shot of holding this pace to mile 16.  I figured I knew I had a half marathon in me at that pace, and even if things got really tough I could probably gut it out another 3 miles.  I found myself at mile 16 still chugging away and told myself that from this point on I'd be proud of however many miles I could keep it up.

Remember those dark miles I was psyching myself up for?  They always come during race effort races and I didn't know when that would be during this marathon.  Well, it happened around mile 17.5.  My Garmin gives me splits every half a mile which I averaged out for most of the miles on this report.  But I left the mile 17 splits as two half miles because you can tell where I started to slow a bit.

Mile 17: 8:59, 9:12 (gel)
Mile 18:  9:18  (filled water bottle -- The second out and back road seemed pretty isolated, and Boyfriend had even remarked the night before he wasn't sure he could access it to see me out there.  I knew if it was possible he would be out there with my bottle, but I was running low on water and couldn't take the chance.  So I stopped and refilled again.  Was really annoyed at this stop because I even took the cap off the bottle and pointed to it as I ran up, but the volunteers just stood there handing out their cups and I had to go and do my 10 cup refill again)

I was getting really down miles 17.5-20.5. Here is the official elevation chart:

In my memory I had told myself that 16-21 were slightly downhill, and 21-24 were slightly uphill.  Now was the time I was supposed to be clicking away easy to perhaps bank a few seconds to be able to slow on the uphill portion.  But here I was slowing down.  I'd look down at my Garmin and my current pace was 9:20something, 9:15something.  I remembered how I was going to be proud for getting this far.  My overall pace was still right on target and I knew I could keep up this slower pace for a few miles more and still technically be on track. If I could get to mile 20 today on pace, I could definitely one day, get to 26.2.  But then I thought about how hard I had worked to get this far.  To do this again another day I'd have to re-run all these miles.  Hell no, was I about to let this go.  Fight for it!

I willed myself to pick up the pace a bit and I slowly started passing people.  I was going to lose this race if I let myself slow on the "easier" part of the out and back.  I told myself this pace was hard, but I wasn't at the point that it was impossible.  And I wasn't going to slow down unless it became impossible.  I wasn't going to be upset if the sub-4 didn't pan out, but I was never ever going to use that reasoning as an excuse to not give it my all this day.

Mile 19:   9:09

The whole race whenever I passed a mile marker I'd look down at my pace band to make sure I was doing okay.  Towards the middle of the race I was already almost 0.2 miles ahead of the mile markers which worried me about my official vs. Garmin pace.  By the latter part of the race I knew I had over a minute buffer.  God bless the volunteers who were calling out the times. I've worn pace bands before but never actually looked at them.  So I always felt calling times at mile markers was sort of a useless, thankless job especially in this Garmin Age.  I've run plenty of races with time-callers who must pick up on this fact and will call out times for a while and then stop for a while, and then start for a while, and so forth.  But every single mile marker I passed with a person present saw me coming and called the time for me.  It was such a nice security blanket to know where I stood.  I didn't have much energy to thank everyone, but I made sure to thank every volunteer who called a time for me.  I even spent oxygen adding a "so much" to the end of my "thank you's."

Mile 20: 9:17, 8:40

I heard Boyfriend from far, far away before I ever saw him.  He had made it to give me my bottle.  We were right before the turnaround, and I told him I'd grab the bottle from him when I came around the other side. I started drinking lots of water out of my bottle since I had already sacrificed some time to refill it.  Plus I wasn't sure if my little 12 oz would be enough to get me to the finish.

Coming around the turnaround nursing my bottle before swapping it out.

I made it around the turnaround and started the trip home.  I told myself that coming up were the hardest miles of this marathon.  We were late in the race, the sun was out, and I had a few uphill miles to get through.  Hard but not impossible.

Mile 21:  8:55
Mile 22: 8:58, 9:24 (I'm assuming this second split was the hill, gel)

I saw "The Hill" and it looked pretty intimidating as you came up to it.  But actually running it wasn't as bad as I thought it would be.  My pace did fall a bit and my breathing got harder, but I never felt the need to stop.  Golden Gate Park with your never-ending rollers, I heart you.

My Garmin's elevation data which I think more accurately describes the course than the official map.  One big down and one big up and not as much gradual as I had expected and dreaded.

Okay, that hill was behind me, I just had to get to mile 24 and it was downhill to flat to the finish.  Around this time I started passing hoards of half marathon walkers.  The race does an awesome job of always keeping the half marathoners and the full marathoners separated on the road for the full distance the two races overlap (even at the turnaround!). I never had to sidestep anyone.  Great job, Two Cities!

Mile 23:   9:08

I was expecting to be really suffering and really having to dig deep to my mantras (I alternated between "Fight for it!" and "Hard but not impossible" -- having thought of this second one while out on the course earlier).  And while I kept repeating the mantras to myself, I wasn't in a deep despair like I had been around mile 18.  The cloud cover came back.  I felt stronger the last few miles than the latter teen miles.  My pace was really good and I kept slowly ratcheting up the pace the last few miles; Playing the gambling game wanting to finish as fast as I could without combusting before the finish.

Mile 24:   8:50
Holy snickers,
Mile 25:   8:42
I'm really
Mile 26:  8:30
doing this.

Like a beacon calling in the distance.
I dug deep and pushed really hard the last almost half a mile to the finish.  I told myself just a few more minutes and I'd be a sub-4 hour marathoner.  A man running close to me had a friend who was running him in. His friend kept yelling, "You're almost there!  Come on!  Push it!  Keep up with me!" and I took it as a personal challenge to go with them.  His friend was running slightly ahead of us to motivate the guy to go with him.  They were faster than me and I couldn't exactly keep up, but it kept me kicking to the finish.

Mile 26.46 (Garmin distance) 7:41

I crossed and looked at my Garmin.  The time started with a "3."  I turned around and looked at the official clock.  Still a "3" there, too.  I felt a little wobbly for a few steps but overall didn't feel so bad.  I collected my medal and sweatshirt and headed out to meet Boyfriend.  The race offers a hot breakfast and ice cream sundaes in the finish area, but I don't really have an appetite for any of that immediately after a race.  I grabbed half a banana to force myself to eat.

It took a few minutes to find Boyfriend because he had missed me finishing.  He ran into a traffic snafu coming back from mile 21 and missed me by 2 minutes.  He felt really bad, but I remember thinking while I was out running that the road out there was so isolated it was a possibility he wouldn't make it back.  And at the time having that bottle hand off was more important to me.

A special shout-out to Boyfriend who has always been amazingly supportive of me and my running.  He puts up with my pre-race moodiness and craziness.  He cooks me awesome pre-race pasta.  He humors me when I ask him in total seriousness if I should wear the white hat or white with pink accents hat to a race.  He is my chauffeur to races.  He gets up early with me and hauls butt around towns to see me for fleeting, often thankless seconds. *blows a kiss*  My pace picked up every time I saw him and I don't think that is a coincidence.

This is pretty long so I'll get a post-race wrap-up together and posted in the next couple of days.

Catch-phrase on the back of the Oiselle shirt I wore after the race.


Alisyn said...

Wow! Truly amazing! Congrats on the sub 4! Great recap to boot!

Hef's Mom said...

I don't think Mario approves this photo!

cliff said...

that's my fave mario pic so far!!!! oh, and congrats on the race.

A said...

Ok! Call me super nerdy but I totally teared up reading this. I am so so so proud of you & hope I can be as mentally strong & dedicated as you someday. Look at your last few mile splits -- you are a much stronger runner than you give yourself credit for.

Congrats, congrats, and congrats again. You earned this.


Rabbits' Guy said...

Yup! Great! After all that 26+ miles of hard work it must have been something to see that "3" in the hour slot on the clock!

Sounded like fresh legs, a great attitude, the perfect plan, wonderful execution, top-o-the line support system, and plenty of guts!

audgepodge said...


So proud of you. But it must have been the socks. *snort*


Alisa said...

Congrats chica, you are really inspiring! You went from 5 hour marathon to under 4 that's awesome!

I love all the interjections of "fight for it" I think if I order another one of those shirts that's totally the one I'm getting. You fought for it, you trained hard and most importantly you believed in yourself enough to NOT GIVE UP!

Awwwww, so proud!

P.S. Next time I'm in SF maybe I won't be so gimpy and we can run together again and get ramen....mmmmmmmm!

Layla said...

I have more than 500 unread blog posts in my reader, but I had to read yours as soon as I got a real computer. I loved it! I liked being right there with you, knowing how you were feeling. And then you had an insanely fast finish! You are amazing!

Congratulations on an extremely well-executed race.

DailyRunner said...

You killed it! Congrats, great job, and all other superlatives :-) Can't get any more stylish than those last 3 miles to burst through that 4 hr barrier. Very happy for you :-) Also best wishes to Mario.

Running in Lulu said...

What a fantastic effort! Congratulations on the sub 4! Loved reading about it!

XLMIC said...

Well-executed race plan and wonderful write-up. Your man is a GEM :) Congrats on a fab sub-4!!!

Paula @ Eat: Watch: Run said...

Congrats on the PR! Sounds like a great race. And I hate running with people that are doing shorter distances too. I can't even take the relay people.
Love that little Mario!

Becka said...

Amazing!!! Nice job! Congrats on the time! Awesome!!!

Marlene said...

I knew that sub-4 would be yours! A great big congrats, especially with a negative split! That's the way to do it. WOOT!

naomi said...

Like A, I totally got teary-eyed reading this! I was thinking of you during your entire race and anxiously wondered how you were doing. I kicked myself for not getting E's number so I could bug him for updates.

I am so thrilled for and proud of you! You are the smartest runner I know and am totally keeping this race report starred in my Google Reader for inspiration!

Congratulations my friend! What an epic way to run #30!

Keely said...

Nice report! Glad all your hardwork & yoga have paid off. Once you break 4 hours, you know you can do it again. Your BF is awesome. Tell him, hello from me.

Just read about Mario. Hope he continues to improve.

Again, congrats!

Angela @ SF Road Warrior said...

Sounds like a great race (I have to admit, I kind of like the longsleeves)!

I'm always in awe of the sheer number of marathons you do, but I think you're right that you've got more speed in there than maybe you thought!

Rachel said...

I don't know how I missed commenting on this! Rereading it gave me goosebumps all over again. You've come so far, worked so hard, and totally deserved this. Definitely made me want to race another marathon asap to get my sub-4 ; ) A big (belated) congrats!