Monday, October 10, 2016

My first marathon!

It's been a while since I've done a fitness-related post, but I have to record this one in painstaking detail.  I just ran a marathon!  An entire full 26.2 mile marathon.  And I had such a great time!

I started preparing for my October 9 marathon at the start of May.  I picked an 18-week training plan, and then spent a month getting ready for it to make sure that the plan wouldn't be too much for me.  I built in an extra 2 weeks into the plan to account for likely delays due to work or colds or such.  So overall, I pretty much prepared for 24 weeks - a little over 5 months. 

For me, being the nerd that I am, preparing included reading, listening to running books and podcasts while running, and frequenting a message board of like-minded but more-experienced runners.  The running itself was typically 4-5 days a week, including one "hard" run which was either hill repeats (there's only one hill around here, so I went up and down and up and down and ...) or a faster "marathon pace" run.  The rest of my runs, including one "long run" per week, were all very very slow. 

The plan also had "step back weeks" so after building up to a new longer distance, the next week would have fewer miles to allow the body to rest and recover. 

Overall it was a really nice conservative plan.  And I have an excel spreadsheet with all the details.  :)

I kept up with my weight training, pilates, etc., at first, but it slowly dropped off as my running increased.  By the time I hit 50 miles of running a week, I was lucky if I got in one 1/2 hour pilates session during the week, and that was it.  It just became too hard to get it all in.  So I am looking forward to working on those other aspects of my fitness regime now that the race is over (while keeping up my running at a more moderate level).

By the time of the race, I had run 3 20-mile runs and a 22.5 mile run in training, and had practiced all of the race-specific things like carrying my flask, using "fuel" (race-specific food to keep you going), etc. And I had "tapered" the last 3 weeks - allowing my legs to rest more, and carbo-loading to stock up the glycogen stores in my muscles.

The race itself:
When I was preparing, I looked for "my first marathon" articles/stories online, and they were all horrible!  So many dumb mistakes, so many stories of horrible painful finishes.  I think my nerdiness helped a lot here, because even skimming a single short quick-read marathon book would allow most people to avoid a lot of those mistakes.  I was lucky to also have the great advice of that online group along the way - that helped a lot. 

I packed my "gear check" bag the day before, laid out all of my race gear the night before, and went to bed early while hubby took the kids to a Halloween party.

I woke up at 3am on race morning.  The race started at 6.  I wanted to get there at least an hour early.  It's a 40 minute drive without road closures.  I wanted to have breakfast before.  etc.  I got ready, had breakfast, took my first ever Uber ride.  But forgot my coffee!  Oops.  Oh well.  We ran into road-closure barricades even though roads weren't officially supposed to be closed yet, but a friendly bicyclist told us we could just drive through at one point, and a police officer one block on confirmed.  So we got across, then got close enough that I could get out and walk.  I found gear check and checked my bag.  Then I settled in on the curb near-ish to porta-potties and had some more to eat.  It was pretty deserted at that point, but slowly all the runners trickled in. 
 I hung out on my spot on the curb until 5:25 and used the potties.  Then I ended up chatting with someone who's done over 300 marathons - walking all of them.  He had recently had eye surgery and was going to walk this one with a patch over one eye.  Finally I got up to warm up, stretch a little, and find my "pace group."

The race has pacers who hold up signs for certain goal finish times and then run at a steady speed to get to the finish at that time.  My plan was to start with the 4:25 pacers and then slowly fall behind, or at least not pass them.  A lot of the horrible finishes to marathons are due to runners starting out too fast.  I wanted to avoid that mistake.  But at first, all I could see were 4:10 (WAY too fast), and 4:55 (too slow).  Finally, just a few minutes before the start, the 4:25 signs popped up and I made my way through the crowd to them.  A little idle chit-chat, I tossed my "throw-away sweater" aside, and we were off.

At 6am it was already warm enough that I was comfortable standing around in shorts and a tank top.  Running felt great.  Cool enough to be comfortable, but warm enough that I was comfortable and loose from the start.  I fell into a rythm, and enjoyed the run.  It was a little crowded for the first few miles, but not bad, and I avoided another energy-sapping mistake: weaving.  I fell behind the pace group on every uphill, and caught up on every downhill.  Note to self: May need to do more hill training to build up that uphill strength.  The roads were also very strongly "cambered" for the first 6 miles - sloping one way or another.  That was tiring for the feet and ankles, and I hadn't trained on roads like that so I wasn't prepared.  But I don't think it hurt me overall.  At mile 2 my foot started to go into a pothole and I lifted it back out before rolling my ankle.  Man that made my heartrate jump!  I could have rolled my ankle at mile 2!!  Luckily I did not, and it made me watch the road more carefully going forward.  

The course was stunning for the first 6 miles.  We went over a bridge at mile 2-3 and to our left was the sun rising over the ocean, with the Queen Mary ship to our right and the aquarium and harbor to our left.  It was stunning.  We went by the port with it's big cranes.  We ran on the freeway!  At mile 6 after doing some looping around, we were running right by the water and Pelicans were gliding just above, and several types of birds were swooping into the water nabbing fish.  The sun was still just rising and the sky was streaked with colorful light wispy clouds (which burned off all too soon). 
Here are a couple of the official Marathon pics to give you an idea:

We looped back past the start area where the half marathoners were now getting ready for their start, and then we got onto a beach path.  This was not as nice as it could have been because we were running straight into the sun, and the sun was just over the horizon!  I ended up pulling my visor *way* down and looking a little bit down at the path.  But I took a few moments to appreciate the view - the beach path is quite lovely in Long Beach, with cliffs to the left and islands out in the water to the right. 

We looped back onto the street and a slight uphill.  Then turned around to head inland through a few different neighborhoods.  This was a fun part of the course, but also the section where I got really frustrated with water.  On most races, there's a water station every 1.5-2 miles where tables are set up with cups of water and/or some electrolyte drink like Gatorade (here it was Nuun).  Volunteers hold the cups up so that runners can easily grab them as they pass.  Here was the problem: The first inland station was only electrolyte drink.  It would upset my stomach.  The second one was only coconut water.  Same thing.  So I ended up going over 5 miles without a water station!  Luckily I had carried a flask with me just in case, but I drained it before mile 4 of that stretch, and then I was left wondering when I'd find water again.  When I finally got to the water station, they weren't very good at refilling my bottle, so I had to basically put it down on a table and fill it with cups of water. 

Very soon after that I passed the half way mark, but the sun was starting to get hot, and the water debacle had taken a little energy out of me, so I officially gave up on my under-4:30 goal.  I had known I'd have to with the forecasted heat, but that's when it really sank in. 

The amazing thing - the moment I really truly gave up on my time goal, I started enjoying the race MORE!  I started shouting back to the spectators and people cheering, making silly comments about their signs or thanking them for being there.  I started watching the other runners more from a people-watching perspective than a running/racing perspective.  We hit a stretch where we could see runners coming the other way - and these were FAST runners - ones who were running a full marathon in 3 hours or less - it was amazing to see them. 

And at mile 15 I saw my mom and youngest brother!  They had come out super early to see me at that point in the race - they had to drive out from several towns away, and then walk out from my brother's place.  But they were there.  The stretch where I saw them for some reason had gotten pretty deserted.  No one was coming the other way, and in my direction the runners had gotten fairly spread out.  So my mom got some good pictures.  I was SO happy to see them there.  I waved like crazy and blew them a couple kisses.  :) 

The next mile was somewhat shaded, and a slight downhill, and I was energized and happy.  There was a live band playing 80s music on a sunny corner.  And then, we turned right into the sun.  It was no longer near the horizon.  It was higher, shining brightly, and hot.  The street was wide and there was no shade - just asphalt reflecting the light and heat back up at us.  And I knew that we'd be on this road for 2 miles.  It was mile 15.84 - I kid you not, I remember that moment so clearly - and oh I was not happy about the next 2 miles.  And then, at about mile 16.5, my very favorite spectator besides my family showed up - a woman holding a tray full of tiny cups of ice.  I took a cup of ice, and for the next half mile felt oh so good.  It gave me just what I needed to keep me going strong right onto the Cal State Long Beach campus.

Cal State Long Beach is a local University. The campus is pretty.  The band was playing as we entered.  At various points there were groups of students cheering.  There was a DJ playing in one spot.  But it also has the biggest hill of the whole course.  A hill so big that one running coach at a local running shoe store had told me to expect to lose 2 minutes on it.  I didn't quite lose that much, but wow it was steep.  And even coming back down - it was so steep that it was hard on the legs.  Then we came out onto the longest pure-sunny stretch of the race - over 3 miles with not a single spot of shade.  I once again wished there were more-frequent water stations, but I managed okay with my flask.  I definitely slowed.  But I didn't feel bad about it all.  My #1 goal, as the forecasted temps had crept up the prior week, had become "Finish without heat exhaustion" and slowing down was required for that.  And the amazing thing is I started to pass people.  A lot of people.  I was slowing down, for sure, but a lot of the other runners were slowing much more.

When we turned the corner near that band again, we were at mile 20.  Only 6.2 to go - but everyone describes a marathon as 2 races - a 20 mile race, and a 6.2 mile race.  It's that 6.2 mile race that gets people.  And I was about to start that second race - HOT.  On the way down that street the first time, we'd been in the shade.  Back up we were in full sun.  And now, for 1 mile, the main thought in my head was "Oh no, my family is going to see me at this point.  I have to muster up some strength.  I want to look good for them!"  But when I turned the corner onto the street they would be on, I didn't have to fake it.  Knowing they were going to be there renewed my energy.  And when I actually saw them - Oh man it was amazing.  They had stationed themselves on a corner so I was running straight towards them and then turned away from them.  I could hear my little 5 year old boy from over 100 yards away shouting "Go Mommy, Go!"  (I love his big huge voice.)  And I could hear my little 3 year old girl when I got a little closer.  And I could see them both running and shouting and cheering.  Hubby, both my brothers, and my mom were there too.  It was amazing.  I just waved and shouted out "My Loves!" as I ran past them, and I was on a high for another 1/2 mile. 

At mile 22, I got a text from one of our friends. I didn't read the text of course, but my running watch let me know that a text had come in from her, and I knew she must have been texting to send me good wishes for the race.  That gave me another boost.  At this point I was starting to see runners stopped on the side of the road to stretch.  A couple were sitting on the curb, their elbows on their knees and their backs hunched over.  This was "the wall" people talked about.  But I still felt solid.  Tired of course, but solid. 

And finally, around mile 23, my "fast music" kicked in.  I had planned my playlist so that the highest-energy music was saved for the end.  Around mile 23.5 we merged in with the half marathoners, and since it was the tail end of the half marathon they were mostly walkers.  The organizers had set up coned lanes, but there were no signs or people to direct us for where runners and walkers should go, so it was just a big mess.  With whatever energy I had left, and my fast music pumping me on, I just went for it.  I ran with whatever I had left, weaved through the walkers and around the cones, and ran to the finish.  As I was approaching the finish line, I saw the big race clock reading 4:34:4x.  I pushed with everything I had left to get in under 4:35.  I didn't know what time I passed the starting line, but I knew that if I hit the finish under 4:35, I'd be under 4:35 overall.  Given the heat, and since I'd just let myself run by feel after mile 14, I had assumed I'd be coming in over 4:45 and possibly closer to 5:00.  Seeing that time on the clock was crazy. 

They gave us an ice-cold wet towel after crossing the finish line and oh man that was amazing.  I got my medal, collected up my baggie of snacks, a couple water bottles and a coconut-water can (not good for me while running, but perfect after), and just kept walking to prevent my blood pressure from dropping too suddenly after the race (with one pause for a selfie - that's the finish line in the background). 

Hubby and I exchanged some texts, I picked up my gear check bag, walked out to where hubby was.  And originally he was parked on this street with an ever-so-slight hill I'd have to walk up to get to him.  I was staring at that hill ahead of me and it looked almost overwhelming.  He drove down to the bottom.  :)  I got in, we went home, with a quick stop at a gas station to use the restroom - oops forgot to use the porta-potties after the race, and it had been ...  oh, 6 hours. 

When we got home I checked the weather and it was 86 at that point.  I don't know how hot it had been during the race, but almost certainly at least 80 by the finish. 

My official time was 4:33:32.  And my experience was just amazing.  I loved running this marathon.  I hope I get a chance to run more.  No more than one a year, for sure - it was a huge undertaking, and definitely hard on the body.  I'm pretty sore and stiff today, and I know from my reading that it will take at least a month before my body fully recovers.  But wow, it was amazing.  I may look for one a little later in the fall next year, given that these So-Cal October heat waves are not ideal running weather, but I may do this same race again - especially if my family would come out again.

1 comment:

  1. The marathon posted some cool stats to go with our finish time data. This was my favorite:
    Number of people I passed in the 1st half of the race: 226
    Number of people who passed me in the 1st half of the race: 281
    Number of people I passed in the 2nd half of the race: 309
    Number of people who passed me in the 2nd half of the race: 12

    So I think I did a good job at not fading too badly in the second half. :)