Monday, October 3, 2011

Marathon mayhem

So, mistakes were made at this year's Lakefront Marathon, but I finished anyway. I won't shout it out too loudly this time - merely a whisper - but ... "pr."

To start things off, the fates race day morning seemed to be conspiring against me, starting the day's challenges a bit early. Marathon day dawned bright and early. After a decent night's sleep - surprisingly - I woke up a few minutes ahead of my 5:30 a.m. alarm. I had brought my own cereal and unopened container of soymilk with me, because I didn't really want to try anything new on race day. However, when I went to pour out the soymilk I got a nice pile of white sludge on my cereal. Yuck. That was enough to make me want to go back to bed, but, instead, I headed downstairs to eat the "something new" after all.

The other pre-race tragedy was the discovery that I had failed to pack a vital piece of women-specific running attire. Ahem. Luckily for me, I had a second-rate alternative ready to go in my drop bag. Not as wicking and less supportive, but serviceable.

After rolling with the morning punches and mobilizing the little troops and convincing them they had to get out of bed to see me to the start line, we were off. A mere mile away, I got to the starting area with plenty of time to do the bathroom thing and find my spot in the crowd. The gun went off at 7:30 a.m. sharp and we were off and running a marathon.

So, what were the mistakes made? The biggest one was ignoring my race plan. Really, all I had thought to do was start out slowly, do a one mile jog and then switch to the run/walk strategy. So, imagine my surprise when I found myself extending my "warm-up jog" from one mile to six. I don't know what made me run those first six miles straight through. I guess it's just that the first mile came and went so fast that it just didn't seem right to go to the run/walk at that point. So I told myself I would just run to three miles. After all, that is what I did for the half marathon two weeks prior. Well, the three mile marker came and went and I still just felt like running. So, then I rationalized that if I ran three miles to start out the half marathon then running six miles to start out the marathon made perfect sense. Well, I have heard it said many times that seconds gained at the start mean minutes lost at the finish, and I think I proved that point nicely, thank you very much. To compound the mistake of running the first 10K straight through, I ran it at a sub-10:00 pace, having hooked up with the 4:20 pace group at the start line. Oops.

After six miles, I finally did start my run/walk, and that went well to a point. I don't know what it was about this race, (I kind of think maybe I have just overdone things in general this year.) but I started feeling the pain of the run pretty early on. It's not like I pulled a muscle or anything, I just felt it in all my common trigger points. My left ankle started bothering me early on and it hurt quite a bit. Finally it faded for a few miles only to come back again around mile 19. My knees, of course, I expected to bother me, and they didn't let me down. As it was, though, I never experienced a lasting pain. I got stabs of discomfort now and again, but nothing that made me think bad things would happen if I didn't stop running. Towards the end I started noticing soreness in my hip flexor area (which I knew was tight) and my feet. To add insult to injury, I have a point on my belly where I was rubbed raw from a GU I safety pinned to my capris poorly, and the big toe on my right foot feels bruised where it rubbed against my shoe. I'm a wreck.

The other mistake I made is simply that I dressed too warmly. Doing a last minute weather check the night before the race, I opted to wear the capris, which I was almost sure I would go with anyway, but also a long-sleeved technical shirt. Now, to show you how unprepared I was for that option, I hadn't even packed a long-sleeved running shirt. I actually ended up wearing the one I had worn to the expo - ewww. I know, gross. I figured any stink, though, would soon be unnoticable in the great, unwashed running masses, so I went for it. The long sleeves were nice at the start, and there is a lot of shade along the course, so at times - even after the weather warmed up - the long sleeves weren't that unwelcome. For the most part, however, it was sunny and pleasant, so short sleeves would have been preferable. Actually, what would have probably been best was a singlet and arm warmers. I don't even own a pair of arm warmers, but on a day like yesterday they seemed to make perfect sense. Something else to invest in.

So, the race itself? Great! I like the course quite well. It's a point-to-point course, starting in Grafton, Wisconsin, and ending up in downtown Milwaukee. Starting out, you head through fields and past small farms before pushing your way into the suburbs of Milwaukee, through the campus of Concordia University, along the lakeshore into downtown. The end is at a park right on the water. The whole way there is great support from community residents. Having a water station full of teenagers do an impromptu cheer based on your name (printed on your bib) is but one of the highlights. In fact, having your name printed on your bib offers ample opportunities for folks to yell out personalized encouragement to you. I haven't heard my name called out so much in one day ever. I even benefitted from another Shannon's fans on the course as they yelled for me about as loud as I would have expected them to yell for their own gal - holding up a sign reading "Go, Shannon!" - laughing and cheering the whole time! Of course, the best part was seeing my husband and kids between miles 19 and 20. What a lift!

I won't bore you with the details of the last six miles. I was somehow determined that I wouldn't hit "the wall," but of course I did, with a vengeance. By that time, most of the folks in the mid-to-back of the pack with me were walking or doing some combo or running and walking, so it was a nice little ego boost to be able to pass quite a few during my runs. I'll give myself this, once I went to the run/walk, I stuck with it to the bitter end. No shirking my running duty; I didn't extend the walk breaks - well, not by much anyway.

Approaching the finish line, I was once again pumped up to see my family waiting for me. I crossed in 4:54:03 (chip time). It's not quite what I was hoping for, but I met my "realistic goal" of under five hours.

Afterwards, I was so sore as to be ridiculous. It's amazing how you can run up until the 26.2-mile point, but the thought of running another step beyond that is out of the question. I gathered my food bag - a bunch of junk food that didn't appeal - and a water and Gatorade, grabbed some Paper Shower packets, and found the family. I spread my mylar blanket on the ground, took off my shoes, fed the kids the junk, mixed my recovery drink and laid back and watched the seagulls circle overhead. It was glorious.

After a few minutes of just enjoying being still, Andy and I moved our little camp to the side of the finish line approach and cheered other runners on. The kids had found another kid to play with, and my dear husband thought to get me an iced mocha to drink, which I wouldn't have thought of myself, but it tasted so good I might have to make it a tradition.

After watching an emotional finish with the Jennipede - 62 runners running the marathon roped together to get in the Guinness Book of World Records and to raise money for Jenny Crain, a local runner hit by a car - we headed out. On the walk through the finishers' park, I grabbed a small cup of beer offered to the runners. It seems silly, but in a way it seemed to make the experience complete. It was Milwaukee after all.

The main thing I wanted out of this race was simply to enjoy it, and I think I achieved that in a roundabout way. With all the aches and pains I felt along the route, it's impossible to say I really enjoyed the run while doing it. And, as much as I wanted to drink in the atmosphere and all the positive vibes, there came a point when I just put my head down and focused on me. It felt like it took all my mental mind games to keep going. The enjoying it part, though, did come after the race. When I ran my first marathon in 2006, I finished and immediately thought that there was no way I wanted to do another one. This time I finished and despite everything I am left with a feeling of wanting to improve on what I did yesterday. There has got to be a way to - if not run faster - at least run better so it doesn't hurt so much.

And, the fact that I would even entertain the idea of doing another marathon, I consider a victory. :)

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