You can do anything you set your mind to, but you have to really be willing to take the chance. That is the lesson I learned yesterday.
Yesterday, on a gorgeous fall day, I ran my fourth marathon of 2013, fifth actually if you want to count the one that came with the 50K I did in May. After a series of marathons that - time-wise - go something like this: DNF, 5:38, 5:50, 8:05, I really needed something better - anything better - for my own peace of mind. I know that a couple of the races I have chosen over the past year have been harder than the norm....Jungfrau Marathon in Switzerland, Moose Mountain on the Superior Hiking Trail in Minnesota. And, I also know that the others were done while recovering from injury or while injured....Disney Marathon, the Green Bay Running Club Ultra. And I accept that. But the truth is that I have had a pretty decent year of running lots of miles, and I felt that I should have something better in me, even if it is only moderately better than my 4:55 PR to date.
So, with that in mind, I set out to run yesterday's backwards Green Bay Marathon - the MBG - a fun run for goodness sake with the intention of PRing. To that end, I decided that I would shoot for a 10:15 to 10:30 pace and I would carry my own water so as to minimize water station stops. I wasn't going to do the usual thing of making excuses, or allowing caveats. I wasn't really planning on stopping at 15.5 (the "ultra half" alternative to the full route), even though I told people I might. I just thought I would lay it all out there, follow my plan and take a chance. After all, the whole point was to see if I could do it. If I couldn't do it, what did it matter? It would just be information to work from.
And the result? Well, since my watch's lap memory was full, all I could do was read my current pace at any given time. No distance or time was recorded. I did make a note of my start time and finish time on the watch, and I am depending on reports from my friends whose watches recorded the distance as being a bit long. For the distance I ran, I finished in 4:44, so adjusting for the longer course, I believe I finished the marathon in about 4:39. Woot! Either way you cut it, it is the new PR that I craved, and I am thrilled with it.
So, how was "race" day? It was good. Getting up at 4:45 a.m. was a bit tough, and I felt tired. After breakfast and getting myself organized, I made a quick stop through the Starbucks drive-thru and then headed towards Green Bay. I was happy to get there with about 25 minutes to spare before the scheduled start, so I chatted with my friends and used the restroom, grabbed the route reel with the turn-by-turn directions and got ready to go. In the pre-dawn light a couple of pictures of the group were taken, the national anthem was sung, and then we were off.
From the get-go, I tried to keep my pace on an even keel. I really was determined to stay between the 10:15-10:30 pace. And that was hard to do. With everyone starting off together, I was so tempted to keep up with my faster friends, to talk longer, or to drop back with my slower friends, to talk longer. But, in the end, I decided that MY goal was important enough to me that I would run alone if need be. So, I did.
During the first half, I was mostly on my own. I ran with one friend for a short time before she pulled ahead, so as not to influence my pace too much. A couple others I kept catching up to at aid stations and then they would pass me as they took off. Other than that, though, I was pretty much on my own. In a way, I had my pace goal to keep me company. If I hadn't been so slavishly devoted to that 15 second chunk of time on my watch, I probably would not have handled the solitude so well. But keeping an eye on the watch really kept me occupied and it was that that got me through that first half. In a way, I am glad that my time was not recording on the watch. I couldn't spend my hours doing mental math and worrying about whether or not I would reach my goal. All I could do was focus on my current pace and soldier on. I might have to do that for my next race too.
The first half of the race went by pretty quickly. Carrying my own hydration pack, I didn't stop at the first aid station and I kept my water stop at the second to the barest minimum. I was determined not to lose a lot of time at these. Between miles 10 and 13, it really got rough. I was starting to feel tired and mentally knowing that the "half" was almost done - a distance I have run many times made it hard somehow. I resisted the temptation to look at the time at the halfway point. I didn't want to get discouraged if my half split was too slow or too fast.
Between mile 13 and mile 15.5, where the true turnoff for the half event was, was even worse, and it might have been too tempting to turn off at that point if a running friend hadn't decided to keep me company. RdL had run a 50-miler the weekend before and had another marathon planned for the following day. He had planned on running with someone else until he found out she was only doing 15 miles, so that's how he ended up by my side.
Having someone run with you like that when you are trying to maintain a certain pace can be a little strange, and at first I kind of wondered if I would like it. By the end of the event, though, his presence became invaluable and I question if I would have been able to finish as strongly as I did without him there. I tend to think I would have allowed myself more walk breaks.
Moving past the turnoff for the 15.5 mile ultra half, I feel like mentally a load had been lifted. I couldn't quit now and I was happy to not have that option anymore. (Okay, I could have turned around but that wasn't about to happen.)
From the 15 mile point on, the course morphed from flat-as-a-pancake terrain to a gently rolling landscape. Read: hills. I didn't expect that. Who knew they had more than one hill in Green Bay? Running with my ultra friend, however, was a good fit, as he seemed perfectly happy to suggest walking up the hills (something I would have done anyway). It's nice not to be made to feel guilty about such things. And, in this way, running amicably, taking in the beautiful fall colors, walking hills, and chatting about this and that, the miles ticked away. Catching up to another marathoning friend, one who had done a faster marathon two weeks earlier, we added a third to our little group. I couldn't think of a better way to spend a day.
With the last aid station behind us at mile 21, things got a bit easier before they became much harder. I wouldn't say that I had fueled or hydrated THAT great during this race. But, too, I wasn't really that hungry or thirsty for some reason. I was still maintaining that 10:15-10:30 pace, but to be sure the average was slowing down a bit with the walk breaks and the now much-appreciated stops at the water stations.
Leaving that last water station, I felt almost a bit euphoric, and my pace wanted to pick up a bit. I would glance down and see 9:30 on the watch and knew that I needed to slow it down because the last few miles would be the hardest, and they were. One tough thing about running the marathon course backwards is that, while I would have been perfectly content to live on in blissful ignorance as to my place on the course, in fact we were passing spray-painted mile markers. So, at a time when the miles couldn't go by fast enough I was reminded at each one exactly where we were ... mile 5, mile 4, mile 3, etc.
With three miles to go, I decided to take the one and only Gu I had brought with me - the salted caramel Gu. Normally, I am not a fan of Gu. I had been eating my Cliff Blocks throughout the morning, but with three miles to go I decided to pull out the Gu. For one reason, I needed the walk break. For the other, I thought the sugar might help pull me through the last 5K. Since Gu does not settle well on my stomach, eating one at this late juncture was not a bad bet as I could be assured any upset wouldn't occur until the finish.
The last three miles went by in a blur. It was literally one foot in front of the other. RdL and I had been tracking two ladies for the longest time. In fact, I was behind them approaching the halfway point. With about three miles to go, RdL suggested we catch up to them, follow them for a mile and then sprint past them at the finish. Although I laughed at the time, we did in fact manage to reel them in and run past - although no sprinting was involved - just as another pair of runners reeled us in and passed us to finish before we did.
I can't remember a race where I have felt I needed to dig so deep. I thought I would get emotional just from the sustained effort, but I managed to quell that. Instead I thought of all the things I was grateful for and all that I was running for....ticking them off in my head one by one: running for those who didn't have the health to run such a distance; running to set an example to my kids of not quitting; even running for a running friend of mine who couldn't make the fun run and would have loved to be there. There is a lot to be grateful for when running a marathon.
Getting near the finish line, I jokingly asked RdL have we gone 26.2 miles yet. My attempt at "are we there yet?" humor. To my surprise, the answer was, yes, a little bit ago. I'll tell you at the end. What?!?! All I could do was shake my head and add to my list of gratitude the fact that we did not go around Lambeau Field this year (like we had the year before) because, according to the event director, "it adds too much mileage."
Finishing and receiving hugs from my friends who realized I had reached a PR was wonderful. Finally taking off my hydration pack, which I finally realized does not combine well with the St. Christopher medal I typically wear (rubbing along the collarbone), felt amazing! My collarbone wasn't the only thing aching, though. I couldn't believe how sore my legs were, and the first thing I did was take up the massage therapists there on the free massage offered.
So, that is my race report. Today I am still feeling happy and pleased with the results from yesterday's run, although I am also dealing with the residual soreness. I have a feeling I will be dealing with that for a few days. But no matter. With this event done, I finally feel I can sit back and relax a bit before thinking about my next goal.