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30 Thoughts for 30 Miles

March 8, 2012

Friday, March 2: Pre-Race

  1. I’m a little surprised I got out of the house. The Girl had to be picked up from school early the day before, Thursday, because she had a fever, and then broke out in violent hives. When we took her to the pediatrician’s, we got orders for an epipen and a referral to the allergist. This was roughly sixteen hours before I was to leave town for the race.
  2. Obviously, the Girl couldn’t go to school, since she (a) had had a fever within twenty-four hours and (b) would likely have a recurrence of the hives within forty-eight hours. (She did, in fact, wake up with hives on Friday, the day after the initial outbreak.) I had no one to leave her with until the Boss’s dad agreed to drive up to stay with her until the Boss could get home from work around 3.
  3. Little G and I left my house around 11, stopped for lunch, and finally got on the highway a few minutes before noon. From there, the trip turned into a comedy of errors, and a trip that should have taken three-and-a-half hours took over five. Granted, we took several potty breaks, since we’d both been hydrating extremely well all week, but literally every obstacle you can imagine came on us on that drive. We hit insane traffic, stalled trains, and closed expressways that forced us to take thirty minute detours. Little G and I are directionally challenged anyway, so we didn’t need any more craziness thrown our way. We finally made it to the hotel around dinner time, when the original plan was to leave as soon as my kids went to school and make it closer to lunch.
  4. Since runners aren’t just flexible physically but also flexible about life in general, we were happy to get to the expo well before closing time at 8. We got our bibs and picked up some new shoes, then returned to the hotel to eat the ziti Little G had brought along for us. We had asked for a room with a microwave and fridge, and a DVD player, so we watched a little of Pride and Prejudice before settling in. Knowing that the next day was going to be hot and muggy, we were still hydrating, and were asleep by 9.
  5. We talked a little about our goals for the weekend. We both wanted to improve on our times from last year. I’d logged an overall 4:53, or a 9:37 pace for all 30 miles, and I thought I could do better just by reserving enough energy to do better than 10:30 pace at the last event. This was my primary goal: not to bonk. If you study my paces from last year, you see a steady decline in speed, from an 8:58 pace in the 15k to a 9:35 in the 5k to a 9:37 in the half and then a dreadful 10:20 in the 8k. I was dearly hoping not to see that happen again, though I knew there was a good chance I’d see a drastic drop in pace in the last race, and I was okay with that.

Saturday, March 3: Day One

  1. The first race was the 15k at 7am. We were thrilled to finally get started. At the same time, we knew this race could be the key to everything. If we went out too fast in this one, we could get derailed in our efforts to do well, so this one was key. We had purposely packed our coolest outfits for Saturday since the weather was forecast to cool off for Sunday. We packed a change of shirts, then headed down to race headquarters.
  2. We got in the chute pretty close to the front. Though race organizers had instituted corral separation this year, they had no one policing the corrals, so Little G and I knew it was up to us to not get trapped by slower runners or sucked into a fast pace. The conflicting goals, of course, were to do better than last year (1:23:31) and yet leave enough reserves in the tank for the rest of the weekend.
  3. We got separated right away, and this is the only race where I have no memories of ever seeing Little G on course. I kept looking at my watch during the race and I knew I was going fast, but I wasn’t sure whether I needed to slow down.
  4. I was very conscious of the fact that I needed to hydrate well if I was going to have any chance of meeting my goal of not crashing, not only on the rest of this day, but for the rest of the Challenge. I hit almost every aid station to take in water, and also took Endurolytes, my mineral-replacement product of choice, during the entire 9.3-mile course. I think this made all the difference. I had no headache or cramping issues at all this year.
  5. The 15k, by the numbers: 1:21:37, or 8:47 pace. Splits: 8:44, 8:45, 8:38, 8:52, 8:36, 8:52, 8:27, 9:06, 8:30, 8:08. I placed in the top 20% overall, top 14% in my age group, and was in the top 10% among women.
  6. The second event was the 5k, which didn’t start until 9:30. We were concerned about this one because of the heat, but there wasn’t much we could do about that. We made sure we had our sunglasses and plenty of Endurolytes, and prayed we’d taken in enough water during the 15k.
  7. After the 15k, we ducked out of the crowd and got into the convention center/race headquarters through the back doors to claim our gear bags. We changed our shirts and got some water down, though we discovered we couldn’t eat anything. We were glad to lose our medals, and, in my case, the fuel belt I had worn during the 15k, before returning to the start area. Unfortunately, we got on the wrong side of the corrals, with those who were still finishing the first race, so we had to jump a couple fences, praying not to pull a muscle or twist an ankle so early in the weekend’s events. We finally made it into the corrals and started weaving to the front again, taking a gel before the start.
  8. Because we lined up close to the front, we had the 7:30 pacer on our heels, out the gate. Needless to say, we let him go. After a while, we also let the 8-minute guy go. Little by little, we let ourselves get sifted out. Little G said she’d feel okay sitting with the 10-minute milers. I wasn’t feeling like being quite that slow, though I knew this needed to be an easier recovery run or I’d have nothing left for day 2. We kept telling ourselves, “This is our recovery run; this is our recovery run.” I was still pushing the water and mineral-replacement tablets, and increasingly having a second issue: my stomach was talking to me. I knew I was going to have to take a pit stop. Little G and I were running about 9-minute pace, but in the second mile I told her to go ahead and ducked into a potty. I had to wait for about half a minute, time wasted, and it was a long minute to relief, but I was glad I had stopped, because I felt much better running afterward, and my pace following the stop was much faster: my third mile was 8:40, and I found energy for an 8-minute push at the end. (splits: 8:56, 8:57 (+1:20 potty stop), 8:41, 8:00)
  9. The 5k, by the numbers: chip time, 28:53, or 9:18 pace (darn that potty time!). This would end up being my slowest race of the weekend, which shocks me to no end. I still managed to place in the top 15% of the field, and the top 7% of both my age group and gender.
  10. Post-5k, we were not in a huge rush. We found out a local restaurant was passing out black bean soup, so we grabbed a bowl and sat down to eat and drink some water, then got our gear bags, changed our shirts, and got the massages we’d paid for when we registered. After showering back at our hotel, we got dressed, wearing the shoes we’d bought at the expo to break them in. We took the trolley to the restaurant we’d picked out for lunch. The rest of the day was spent napping and resting; we very specifically wanted to stay off our feet. We laid out clothes for Sunday and got ready . . .

Sunday, March 4: Day Two

  1. We were very concerned about the weather for Sunday. The forecast was calling for a cold front to move through pretty much at gun time, so there was a possibility of thunder and rain. We knew the race director wouldn’t call the race for rain, but also that she wouldn’t risk putting thousands of runners on the road in a lightning storm. We walked to the convention center against the wind, getting caught in one brief downpour before checking our bags and heading for the chute. A few people in the start area were wearing garbage bags; Little G and I had on long sleeve shirts over our tanks. To prepare for the possibility of rain, we’d not only packed extra shirts in our gear bags, but we also had an extra pair of shoes for back up in case we got soaked on the first race. In the end, though, the rain had moved through very quickly before the start, leaving behind a very gusty, much cooler day.
  2. The half was organized around a wave start, and again, Little G and I were near the start. I heard the second wave go off five minutes behind us as I was climbing the bridge toward Davis Island. For the first few miles of this race, I was getting passed very steadily and decidedly by most of the runners around me. It was somewhat humbling, but I also had to remember that I had another race to run. I tried to remember to moderate my effort not just with an eye toward the immediate finish line, but with an eye toward the final finish line—which was still quite a few miles away. For the first time since starting this “six half marathons in six months” project, my math was totally different. At the 2-mile mark of the half marathon, I didn’t have eleven miles to go—I had sixteen miles to go. I had to remember that, and pace myself that way.
  3. Little G caught up with me around mile 3, and couldn’t believe I still had my long sleeves on; she’d lost hers early in the race. I had promised myself I’d lose the top shirt at mile 4, when I took my first gel. Having found each other, we kept running together as we made it back to the mainland and struggled through the rest of the middle miles. We knew this was going to be a slow race because of the wind, and it was confirmed for us when we passed the three-miles-to-go spot (going outbound) and the leaders still hadn’t passed us, even though we were one hour into the race. When we finally saw them, and the rest of the speedsters, we couldn’t believe the amount of wind they were fighting off. We knew heading back north towards the finish line was going to be a very windy proposition. Sure enough, after the turnaround, the first gust threw me so off pace that I took a couple steps backward. Little G finally suggested we lose our hats, and that was a huge help.
  4. My legs were tired by the middle miles of this race, but I knew I just had to keep moving. When I look at my splits ( 8:49, 8:47; 8:46, 9:05, 9:50, 9:01, 9:03, 8:52, 9:01, 9:05, 9:02, 9:05, 8:40, 7:49), I’m shocked that my slowdown wasn’t more dramatic after mile 9, because I felt like I was moving in slow motion. At the mile 11 aid station, Little G left me, having much more energy in her tank than I did, but I was glad to find a sub-nine mile still left in my legs as I approached the finish line, after all.
  5. The half marathon, by the numbers: 1:58:34, or 9:04 pace. I made it into the top third of the field, and the top 20% in both my age group and gender.
  6. One more medal . . . we went back into the convention center, the back way, again, to drop off our hardware and my fuel belt and change our shirts. We needed to lose the hats, too. We’d never gotten wet after all, so we didn’t need to change our shoes. On the way back to the chute (again!), we grabbed a bowl of black bean soup, taking only a couple of bites before lining up again.
  7. Standing in the chute, we felt immensely tired, and we weren’t the only ones. We were also pretty cold. We had decided not to bring our long sleeve shirts along, and that was probably the right choice; it was in the 60s, and we don’t don long sleeves until temps dip into the 50s. We knew we’d warm up as soon as we started moving. We kept our space blankets around us and found a curb to sit on so we could stay off our feet. Standing there, we could easily spot the rest of the Challengers, also wearing the space blankets to keep from getting too cold.
  8. I was feeling so much better than I had the year before, it was frightening. Is that strange? I mean that I didn’t want to get arrogant about definitely finishing well, because I knew I didn’t know how I was gonna feel until I stared running. I knew how I had felt at the end of that half marathon. Starting to run again was going to be painful. There was no way around that, and I knew it.
  9. As we were released, another Challenger turned to Little G and I and said, “Is it just me, or does #4 really hurt?” She was right. It hurt to run. A lot. But it also was true that I just had to keep moving—my legs were being obedient. Unlike last year, when my legs were rebelling and refusing to move, this year my legs were responding, and doing so well (splits: 9:01, 9:17, 8:59, 8:56, 8:33). After that miserably slow second mile, Little G sent me on my way, and I started moving increasingly faster. I have a vivid memory of the last aid station at this race (it’s the last aid station at every race, of course, since the races are all run on the same stretch of road)–it’s located about one mile from the finish, and last year, as we approached it, my quads were visibly cramping, so Little G and I took our water and threw it on my legs, trying to get my muscles to cooperate and keep moving. As I passed that spot in the race this time, marking the 29-mile marker on the weekend, I let fly. I couldn’t believe how incredibly strong I felt, how fast I was moving, and how well I was running—in spite of how ridiculously tired and completely spent I felt.
  10. The 8k, by the numbers: 45:10 (9:06 pace). I was fast enough to place in the top 25% overall, and the top 15% in my age group and gender.

Post-race: some final thoughts

  1. I will always be thankful to my family for allowing me the time and space to do this, in every sense. First, for the grace to put in the training: as you can imagine, this season has been almost as consuming as a marathon training. We’ve put in fewer miles, and no 20-milers, but we’ve been traveling for races more than we ever have before, requiring our families to be flexible and gracious with our schedules, and I’m grateful for them. In addition to that, there’s my family’s special grace on the weekend of Gasparilla, when the Girl had another outbreak of hives and, it turns out, the Boy threw up on Saturday, as I was running the 15k. I write this with tears freely flowing: all three of them made a pact to say nothing of his illness until I had returned home, so that “Mommy could focus on running her best.” I will never, never be able to thank them enough for giving me that race.
  2. Crossing the finish line was intensely emotional for me. I have been, each of the last two years, extremely disappointed not to tackle the 26.2 distance. Being able to take on a challenge as formidable as racing one half marathon every month for six consecutive months, with the last one being part of this fantastic, 30-mile, 4-races-in-2-days event, was finally the kind of exhausting, overwhelming, passionate goal that I’d been missing in the last couple of seasons. As I crossed the line, I was humbled and thankful, exhausted and spent.
  3. Honestly, I’m still a little bit surprised I pulled it off. When I first considered my goals for this race, I knew I wanted to improve at my times from last year (1:23:31; 29:44; 2:08:31; 51:21). I sat down and considered what pace I thought I could reasonably hold for the race. My cumulative time for the event in 2011 was 4:53:07, or a 9:37 pace, and my dream was to score a 4:30. But when I realized that would mean running sub-9, I threw that goal out the window, and settled on a goal of holding 9:30 pace through the weekend, or accomplishing a 4:49 overall. I knew I’d be happy with that.
  4. The Challenge, by the numbers: 30.5 miles in 4:34:12, or 9-minute pace. In the top third of the field, overall; 7th of 12 in my age group, and 30th of just 120 women who completed all four events.
  5. Yes, I will do this again.
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