Thursday, November 13, 2014

If you gave me a chance, I would take it: Madison Marathon 2014

If you gave me a chance I would take it
It's a shot in the dark but I'll make it
Know with all of your heart, you can't shake me
When I am with you there's no place I'd rather be
[My race in Madison, summarized by Clean Bandit song lyrics]

You guys.
I finally fucking did it.
4 years and 4 marathons later, on potentially the toughest course I've ever run, I damn near ran a PR. For all intents and purposes, this WAS a PR - it was the best marathon I've ever run. And quite honestly, whether the number of seconds after the 3:22 was 10 or 47, that's not really what matters. What matters is this: finally, FINALLY, I proved once and for all that my PR was not just a fluke. And after this race, there is absolutely no doubt in my mind that I am capable of, and that I will run, a sub 3:20.

So - race report time! For once there are actually a lot of pictures, will hopefully make this giant wall of text more entertaining for whoever happens to read this.
This was my first time ever flying for a race which added another interesting level of stress/distraction to the proceedings. I spent my day at work on Friday being essentially useless because I couldn't stop thinking about the race. My right hyperextending knee had been seriously acting up from Wed-Fri, so I had aggressively kinesiotaped it in the morning. It felt better with the tape but I was totally hyperaware of it and couldn't stop imagining twinges in my hamstring and calf. Add that to the fact that I had found out 2 days previously that I may or may not be out of a job come December 5, and needless to say work was not a high priority. Finally, I got my last patient out the door and booked it to the airport, where check in, etc. went smoothly. I ended up hanging out at the Cisco bar and chatting with 2 random business travelers (because apparently that's what you do when you sit at an airport bar alone?) We got on the topic of the fact that I was running a marathon, which of course led to one of them asking me what time I was hoping to run. I waffled around for a bit before 3:25 came blurting out of my mouth. Well, shit, if I'm telling random strangers at the airport bar that that's what I'm trying to run, I had sure better actually try to do it. I attempted to read on the plane but was just entirely distracted. The flight to St. Louis seemed to take FOREVER, but thankfully I was at that airport for just enough time to buy and eat a bagel (carbs!) and promptly fell asleep for the 45 min flight to Milwaukee. After a glass of wine and some more carbs while catching up with my mom it was bedtime. 2 more sleeps!

Saturday morning began with an immediate assessment of how my right knee was feeling, and thankfully all systems seemed go. I then headed to brunch with my fantastic 92 year old grandma, where I stuffed my face with an absurdly large and fatty breakfast sandwich along with the largest serving of breakfast potatoes I've ever had. CARBS. As a side note, I think I accidentally did a really excellent job of carb loading for this race. I accidentally think I depleted my carbs earlier in the week (eating things like Caesar salad without croutons and chicken stew for dinners aren't exactly carb heavy). No one will ever know how much of a difference that made, but I may have to try it again in the future since it seemed to be effective. After brunch, we headed off to my beloved MADISON! First stop was the expo, which was pretty low key but that was just fine. I grabbed my number and shirt, bought a pair of underwear that says "Get Used To The View" on the back (just like hurdle crew!) and then headed out to take some pics at one of my favorite places in the city.
Notice how windy it is.

It was around this time when I quite simply started to get really, really excited about the race. Honestly, once I was in Madison I never really felt nervous at all...just excitement and happiness. Being back in this place and knowing that I got to do this super cool thing the next day was just so damn fun that I didn't even think about times, or even about the fact that running a marathon is and always will be really freaking hard. I didn't think about my training or lack thereof. I was just...pumped. After the expo we headed to another one of my favorite places, State Street Brats, to watch the end of the Badger game and meet up with my sister and her BF. I had my customary single pre-race beer...and let me tell you, having it be an Ale Asylum Ambergeddon, on draft, in Madison, while watching the Badgers beat Purdue? MAGICAL. I also ate some fries, which seemed like maybe not the smartest thing but it was the only vaguely carb-like item on the menu. I made up for it a little while later by just eating a straight up

We finally made it to the hotel, got checked in, and I headed out for my typical 10 minute shakeout run. DEFINITELY the fastest paced shakeout I have ever done. I was jamming around the Capitol and went out to Monona Terrace just in time for the sunset to start. Once again - zero nerves - just total excitement about being in this city and what was to come. Spoiler alert: this is an EXCELLENT mindset to be in when approaching a marathon.
Hello, gorgeous.

Next on the agenda was meeting up with my dad + company for dinner and "drinks". Which for me consisted of approximately 1 gallon of seltzer with lime. We went to the Blue Marlin for dinner, where I was a little bit devastated that I couldn't just order fish. However, the vegetarian pasta primavera was DELICIOUS, and I did have some crab risotto along with some bites of my family's stuffed trout, so life was OK. Dinner was absolutely delightful, and once again I was so caught up in catching up with my sister and chatting with her boyfriend that I completely forgot about the fact that I was running a marathon the next day. This was just another lovely family dinner, right? Maybe it's because I don't see my family that frequently these days and it was just so nice to catch up, but my brain completely wouldn't wrap itself around the fact that I was going to run 26.2 miles the next day.  I got back to the hotel around 8:30, painted my nails my new 'badass' race color of so-purple-it's-almost-black, got my bib person set, and watched the Ohio State-Michigan State game for a bit (college football that I am vaguely, but not really invested in: the best relaxation there is). I turned off the light around 10 and was asleep shortly after that. Marathon day, here I come!
Bib person, assemble. This is slightly inaccurate because I switched to spandex shorts at the last minute, but whatever. Looks appropriate for a 35 degree start temp, yes?

Do you know what is the greatest thing ever? Staying in a hotel that's a 5 minute walk from the start line of a race. My alarm went off at 5 and I got to spend the next 90 minutes of life warm, happy, and relaxed in my hotel room. I forced a bagel down my throat (I think eating on marathon morning is one of the hardest things ever.) My mom had kindly bought me an iced coffee the night before to drink in the morning, but one sip revealed that the person making it had added sugar/sweetener...uggggggh. So I made shitty hotel room coffee and drank like 5 sips of it instead. Whatever. I gradually got dressed while having a dance party to various quality songs off of my marathon playlist ("Shake It Off", "Gravity", "How Far We've Come", and of course "Crazy Bitch" immediately before leaving for the start line), stretching a little bit, figuring out various places on my body to store my Gu, etc. Also. Having my own personal bathroom and spending zero seconds waiting in line for a porta potty was the most magical thing ever. My mother also got to learn just how many times bathroom trips happen prior to a marathon (I think that may have been an unfortunate revelation haha). That hour and a half did seem to go by VERY quickly because before I knew it, it was time to head down to the starting line.
At this point, yes, I may have started to get just a touch nervous, but mainly was still just excited. I had absolutely no idea what the day was going to bring, what I was capable of, etc. I just kept reminding myself that my number 1 goal for this race was to enjoy every single second of it. By the time I got to the line it was about 10 minutes to the start and we were loading into the corrals. I got naked. The start temp was like 35 degrees but EVERYONE seemed to be wearing pants, capris, jackets, etc. Nope. Arm warmers and shorts for this woman. I have zero regrets. In the corral as I was trying to decide on a spot, a guy next to me spotted my GBTC singlet and started talking to me in surprise - apparently he had run for the club several years ago but "that's the last singlet I was expecting to see here!" They were playing Fall Out Boy, a guy next to me was jumping up and down singing along. So light 'em up up up, light 'em up up up, light 'em up up up, I'M ON FIRE!  2 minutes to go time. The national anthem plays and, as always, I'm almost in tears. Now we're pumping up with "Firework". I GET to do this. Yes. 1 minute. 30 seconds. 10 seconds...HORN.

Here we goooooo!
The race 
The first mile of the race was totally downhill, and my goal was to put exactly zero effort into running it. I tried out a lot of things for the first time during this race, one of which was listening to music. I've always been such a purist when it comes to racing with music and always sort of frowned upon it, but in keeping with the "I want this to be the most fun marathon EVER" theme, I allowed myself to have it this time. So, with Kesha yelling "Timber", I frolicked down West Wash. I was vividly aware of trying NOT to get sucked into the vortex of  people sprinting, and just let myself ride the wave down the downhill. A guy briefly tried to start talking to me about Boston, which I a) could only partially hear over the previously mentioned Kesha, and b) I literally hate when people try to talk to me during races. I somehow managed to explain that I went to school/am from Wisconsin, he said something I couldn't decipher, and then we wished each other a good race and continued on. Mile 1 approached quickly and I gave myself a little pat on the back for not being an idiot. 7:28. Beautiful. 1 down, 25 to go, and so far things felt delightful. I had no forboding sense of "am I going to regret this later", just "if it feels good, do it".

We turned briefly onto Vilas, where a few [hungover] college kids were out in their PJs with coffee cheering on the runners. This was also the point where I almost stepped on roadkill for the first time in the race (it happened 3 times. Yup). We turned onto Mills and I felt like a kid before Christmas. THE ARB THE ARB WE'RE HEADING TO THE ARB! Nice sweet downhill that I know well into one of my favorite places on earth to run. The first water stop was right before the entrance to the loop, and unfortunately they were using those awful plastic cups that you can't pinch to drink from. I ended up with a good about of water on my arms and almost none in my mouth. Hoping that this wasn't going to be the case for the entire race, I headed into my beautiful Wisconsin Arboretum. Mile 2, right after the entrance, clocked in right under 15:00. [Sadly, I went through all the effort to take splits on my weird watch annnnd then I deleted them while trying to look at them after the race. So I only have general paces. Womp womp.] So apparently this was the deal - my legs had decided that 7:30 was a pace that felt good. It was way too early to think about whether or not this was an appropriate choice, and so in the mean time I just let myself relax and enjoy.

The only issue that started to emerge during miles 2-4 through the arb was the fact that I had needed to pee since the start of the race. I was really, really hoping that it had just been nervous pee that would resolve as soon as I started running, but alas, that did not seem to be the case. It was somewhat distracting trying to figure out what to do next. Do I....just pee? Do I stop? Already this early I had this gut feeling that things were going to go well, and I started mulling over, well, if I could PR today, do I lose that by stopping at a porta potty? Probably not. So I started trying to stake out places where peeing might be a good idea. Couldn't bring myself to do it at that point in time, but this story ain't over yet. The hills of the Arboretum were mostly just delightful; minor rollers that are just enough to make the downhill that follows feel wonderful. It was so early in the race that my legs were responding very well to the ups and downs and I was pleased to see myself still holding the 7:30 pace with minimal additional effort. Around this time, I passed a couple of the Team Triumph teams (this involves a team of runners pushing a runner with disabilities, a la the Hoyts) and a couple of wheelchair racers who were having a bit of difficulty with the uphills. I was feeling good enough that I gave some encouragement as I went by. The pack was already starting to thin out a bit. The Arb section of the race seemed to pass in an instant, and before I knew it we were heading out of the forest to one of my favorite massive downhills of all time....MANITOU WAAAAAY!

I literally could not wipe the smile off my face for the next 5 miles of the race. As soon as we turned onto the downhill, Born To Run started playing, I almost started crying, and then I started grinning from ear to ear. This. was. the. best. I knew it was early, and I knew that 100 things could go wrong from here on out. But right here, right now? I was completely fulfilling my mission of running with joy and having the most fun. I took my first Gu at mile 5.5 - one of the other "new things" I decided to try for this race was taking 4 gels instead of 3. It turned out to be a great decision, and also broke the race up really nicely. There was a surprising amount of spectator support as we made yet another turn onto Monroe, and living in Boston for 5 years has made me forget how absolutely wonderful it is to see an entire damn town of people decked out in Badgers and Packers gear. My personal favorite was the new Wisconsin football shirts that say "Bucky Don't Care". This would become an important motto for me later on in the race. Of course, there was also a guy dressed in a hardcore Chewbacca suit, which I was obsessed with.

We approached Edgewood, which I would call the first "major" hill of the race. I had pretty much locked onto a couple of older guys and we were leapfrogging back and forth a bit, just cruising. Someone was holding a sign that said "Toenails Are For Sissies" and one of my newfound friends yelled back "I only have 3!" That one got a laugh out of me, which wasn't that difficulty because I was still having the time of my life. Just before heading up, I saw my sister and her boyfriend and they went absolutely INSANE. Screaming their faces off, waving a cowbell, even after I had passed. Clearly now everyone knew my name because the next random spectator I saw laughed and was like, "Go Audrey!". The Edgewood hill was...a hill...but once again, I was mostly thinking about what lay beyond the hill, which was yet another glorious downhill, followed by Camp Randall. The mile down Monroe Street was one of the most magical miles I've ever run in my life. I wasn't thinking about the miles to go, or even the fact that I was racing. I was just HERE - in this beautiful place, people are cheering and I'm smiling right back at them, I'm cruising at 7:30 pace, and life is just straight up GOOD. People were kind of laughing when they saw me run by with this goofy grin on my, who is this weirdo, and why is she enjoying herself so damn much? It was also at this point when "Don't Stop Believin'" started playing. Everything was beautiful and nothing hurt. I passed by a sign that said "Inches make champions, miles make heroes". And I thought, yes.  We passed by the stadium [Breese Terrrace, where I'm sure EVERYONE was hungover at 8 am on a Sunday, was a little light on spectators. Hah.] and made the turn onto Old University. And now, here, is where the real work begins.

After making the turn I realized I was going to need to reevaluate this whole bladder situation, because lo and behold after an hour of running the need to pee was not disappearing. I knew there was a water stop coming up where I could theoretically stop. But again, here I was, still running 7:30s like it was the easiest thing in the world. And then I made a choice. There was no stopping this train. I did a quick check to make sure there was no one directly behind me, and then, in front of the Octopus gas station on Old University, just before mile 8, I peed. While running. It was SO FREEING. I felt significantly better and I also was laughing because now I felt like I had this secret. Muahahaha. Mile 8 came up very quickly and I came in just under an hour - still hanging right around those 7:30s. Perfect. The next stretch was pretty flat, but with Observatory hill looming in the distance it was a good time to do a systems check. I think this stretch was the first time in the race where I even remotely felt like I was trying, at all. I could tell I was still holding pace but it was taking juuuust slightly more effort to do so. The flat felt like it was kind of dragging on a bit (it's not the prettiest area of campus either) so it was almost a relief to hit Observatory and know that shortly it would be done.

Observatory, as advertised, was a BITCH. I'm not sure I actually ever walked up/down it that often when I was in school, but that hill is a  STEEP mofo and it's one of those lovely hills that goes around a curve so it's even longer than you expect it to be. However! I was prepared for this to suck, and I shortened my stride, got up on my toes, and just tried to expend as little energy as possible getting up the thing. It definitely did not feel great. In fact, I got to the top and was a little bit like woof, that took more out of me than I would have liked. But then I remembered that, hey, it's OVER! You made it up the biggest hill in the race! [Uh. That may have been false.] And rolling into the big downhill that came afterwards was just a fantastic feeling.
At the top of Observatory. I look WAY too happy for having just crested a massive hill. I love this pic. 
There's a HUGE downhill leading down to University and I just loved every second of it. It's also possible I peed some more. Just around the corner was my mom, waving a sign and screaming. I passed the 10 mile in just under 1:15. At the time I didn't think too much about it, but I think I was a little bit shocked. I had sent no messages to my legs other than "if it feels good do it". And 7:30s...well...they were feeling good.

We crossed State Street,, and once again, just a little shimmer of fatigue made itself known in my legs. I feel like those feelings in the earlier miles are the most nervewracking. You basically have 2 choices: do I think I made the right pacing decision, and therefore try to maintain this pace? Or do I think I made the wrong pacing decision, and try to salvage the situation by slowing down now? I refused to allow myself consider the second option. However crazy it seemed, however unlikely the possibility that today was PR day, the phrase that suddenly crossed my mind was: "Why NOT today?" I knew the worst case scenario was that I straggle home with a devastating positive split and a poor race performance. But on the other hand, I could finally fucking PR. And whether it was expected or not, if there was even the slightest chance of that happening I had to go for it. And here, at mile 11, things were looking like they were on the right track.

Just past State Street I saw my dad and his wife, who I almost missed because I was trying to take/calculate my 11 mile split. I took my second Gu shortly thereafter and buckled in for the middle miles. Somewhere in this timeframe "Take A Chance" started playing and it lined right up with the thoughts I'd been having before. When TAKE A CHAAAAAANCE NOW is screaming over and over on top of 90s Euro techno, it seems like a good time to take a chance. This section of the course had some decent rollers but they tended to be just short enough that by the time I started to get tired of heading uphill, we were heading downhill again. Once again, the crowd support was better than I expected it to be in this area, with some crowds of people on porches drinking mimosas and plenty of runners' individual cheering sections choosing this section of the route to set up.  Around mile 12 we exited what I was thinking of as the "neighborhood" section of the course and entered into the "ugly" section of the course. What marathon doesn't have some chunk of time spent on some awkward industrial road somewhere? As I was running on it I actually thought it reminded me of Framingham, which was hilarious for all sorts of other reasons. But ugly or not, this stretch was mostly delightfully flat, and we also had a nice tailwind situation going. I passed by the half at 1:38:01 - knowing that my "old" half marathon PR was 1:38 something and 7:32 pace, I knew I was still right around that sweet spot where I'd been the whole time so far - YES. During mile 14 there were a couple of great things that happened. One was that "Shake It Off" came on and I spent the next 3 minutes of life having my own personal mile 14 dance party. I also had begun approaching and passing several men in front of me. As I crossed an intersection, a cop directing traffic literally asked me "why do you look so happy?". And I yelled, for once in my life completely with no sarcasm attached, "I LOVE RUNNING!".

We finally approached the end of the "industrial section", with one final water stop at mile 15 before hitting Warner Park. As I passed, a guy at the water station yells at me "SIXTH WOMAN". I literally almost stopped dead in my tracks and I screeched "WHAT??!!". I then spent approximately the next 2 miles trying to determine if he was right [answer: absolutely not]. Even if he was wrong, I thought to myself, am I seriously, sorta kinda up near the front?? For real? And so, as we turned into Warner Park, and I saw a woman struggling in front of me, I of course took it upon myself to pass her. After that, things started to take a little bit of a darker turn. For one thing, there was what I like to call a wind situation starting to happen. That nice tailwind from the last 2 miles? Was now an absolutely evil, 10-15 mph headwind. Which also happened to coincide with the fact that shit was about to get hilly up in here. I had a realization: the next 10 miles were not going to be pleasant. That realization took an even firmer hold at mile 16, when we headed up the first of many LARGE uphills, into the wind, Thankfully, I had given my sister a tip to come and spectate at miles 16/20 because I figured the crowd support wouldn't be great, and I could see their neon green signs halfway up the hill from far away. Their cheers absolutely gave me the boost that I needed to get up and over the hill strongly. I took my 3rd Gu at the water stop at the top of that hill, which I think I was starting to desperately need. And then, the real fun began.

I'm not sure if I can fully convey how little I enjoyed miles 16-19 of this race. Of course, true to my plan, I was actually making every effort to enjoy myself and have fun. But now, I was kind of having to tell myself that I was having fun vs. actually having it. We headed into this little lollipop loop around a neighborhood, which would then take us back into the park via a different way. On the out, we saw the leaders coming back and I started counting women. I only saw 3 before I went out into the loop, and since I could also see another woman directly ahead of me it was at this point that I assumed water stop guy's counting was inaccurate and promptly dropped the thought. Besides, I had plenty of other things to think about now. Namely, how long and tall this god damn hill was, and how there's another freaking hill just around the corner. Things only got worse once we were actually out in the neighborhood - every turn seemed to lead to another uphill, and I had no sense of when we would be back in a place that I recognized. I'm pretty sure I actually mumbled a few choice words when we made yet ANOTHER turn only to find yet ANOTHER hill. This portion of the race was not a high point for me mentally. Really, mile 17 or 18 is where I always start to become aware of the fact that dude, 8 miles to go is still a long freaking way. The addition of hills and wind to that usual problem was starting to drain my confidence. I remember looking at my watch at 17 and 18 and attempting to make sense of the math. I knew/assumed that I had slowed down somewhat, but my mental math skills weren't good enough to figure out how much. My time at 18 miles was something like 2:17, and at this point in my head I was thinking that if I could somehow run 8 miles in an hour, I would go under 3:20. Looking back, my math had some errors in it (and I also wasn't considering the fact that I was no longer running 7:30 pace). But in the moment, it was probably better not to think about that.

We finally busted out of the stupid neighborhood back to the brief overlap with the out and back portion of the course. I was actually startled by how many people were now coming towards me, struggling up the hill, and headed out for their first loop. Things were pretty sparse where I was, which was also an interesting thing for my brain to chew on. Yet again, I started wondering - am I kind of like...near the front of this thing?  We veered off to the right and  now we were running on some sort of bike path through the park, which was a delightful change of pace from the Neighborhood From Hell.  I was basically running by myself at this point, and with mile 20 just ahead I literally had no clue what was going to happen over the next 6 miles. I had a distinct awareness that I could totally blow up. Or...I could not blow up. And this could be the day that I had been dreaming of for 4 years. I tried to turn back on "why not me, why not today". Truth be told, I have felt much, MUCH worse at mile 20 of marathons. In fact, I think this was one of the only times I've actually felt somewhat like there was something left in the tank. But at the time, I wasn't thinking about all those other marathons, I was just thinking about now. And now was kind of starting to hurt.
Something I've notices from these race photos: the more tired I get, the less I hold my hands in fists. They just turn into awkward jazz hands. Cute. I love this picture anyway.
Just after the 20 mile mark, after a pocket completely empty of spectators, my sister and her BF reappeared at a whole new level of loudness. They started running along side me, screaming their faces off. My sister couldn't keep up with me [trying to run through grass in boots is difficult, even for short distances] but her BF hung with me for maybe 200 ft before breaking off and saying "yup, annnd I'm done" which made me laugh. 6 miles to go. Here we go.
My sis captioned this on facebook: Mile 20 and she's still smiling! Only for you, sis. Only for you.

We started weaving back through the park, in an area that I vaguely remember running a turkey trot through many years ago. There was some seriously excellent spectator support going on here, and I got some solid "Go Greater Boston!"'s which will make me smile no matter what state I'm in. All of that gave me a boost...that is, until we headed away from the spectators and onto yet another hill. One that I DEFINITELY recognized from the XC turkey trot, and one that I hated with all of my heart at this moment. It wasn't a particularly steep hill, but it was a long grind, and my legs were finally starting to make their unhappiness with the hill/wind situation known. Once again, I tried to go back to my favorite mantra of RELAX, loosen up my arms, and just get up it. And I actually did pass another guy during this stretch. But I was wondering just how many more hills my legs were going to tolerate, because unfortunately I knew that this was not the last one.

I took my last Gu just after mile 21 and we continued on through Maple Bluff. My new mantra to myself was "this is where it happens". The rest of the race - yeah, that was a thing - but here and now is when you have to decide if you give up or fight. And I was definitely, definitely in it for the fight. Every time I would start to tighten up, we would hit a little downhill, or a flat, or there would be some random person out on their lawn cheering, and I would get myself to relax back into it. I also started getting some delightful calf cramps, similar to the ones I had at Boston, where I would push off the ground and my calf/toes would start to seize. I decided to nix my ban on the weird Tyr drink that replaced Gatorade at this race and start getting some electrolytes in for the last few miles - not sure if it helped, but it seemed to! This part of the course, although many things about it made me want to stab myself, was absolutely beautiful. The sun had come out, Lake Mendota was full of chop through the trees, and the fall leaves were just glowing. I knew I had slowed down a bit once again, but I kept looking at my watch and trying to calculate miles left/time left. I vividly remember thinking "it's gonna be close" in terms of a PR and/or sub-3:20. But the great part about it was, I wasn't really even worried about that. By this point in time, despite things starting to fall apart a little bit, I knew I was going to run in the 3:20s. Which is literally the only thing I even remotely wanted to accomplish with this race. And so once again, despite the pain, I was happy.

The happiness went away at mile 22, when we had to climb THE WORST HILL IN HISTORY. For some reason my deranged brain was really frustrated with these hills, because I kept thinking "Damn it, if this were Boston, we'd be DONE with the hills by now!". Maple Bluff, holy shit. It was not the longest hill I've ever climbed but I do believe it may have been the steepest. There were few people around me, but some of them were walking. I did not. Because this is where it happens. This hill is taking you to victory, to redemption, to proof that you are what you say you are, and that the past isn't a fluke. At the top of the hill, you could see the Capitol poking through the trees. It was beautiful. And that's where I was running to.
Yeah, I'm running downhill now. But do you not understand that I just ran up THE WORST HILL EVER?  And why did you put a camera here? 

After that hill, all that was left to do was try to hold on. The downhill that followed hardly made up for the devastating climb we had just made, but it was almost over. Hold on. Hold on. Hold on. That was my new refrain. Just hold on. Keep the legs moving, don't stop. Forward motion. Around this time I caught up to a pack of 3 guys who seemed to know each other/be running together. While my attempts to use them to block the wind were ineffective, they did make a nice little carrot on a string to try to reel in, slowly but surely. I caught up to them around mile 24, which also happened to be the point where my legs were on the verge of collapse. We ran under the Tenney Park bridge and past the most EXCELLENT water station which was blasting some rock version of "You spin me right round baby right round". The pulsing rhythm suddenly woke me out of my stupor and I realized - 2 freaking miles to go. Look at the watch. It's gonna be close. It's probably not gonna be a PR. But it's gonna be close. So fight for it. Some part of my mind was still completely in awe that I had made it this far at this pace. This was completely unexpected. But here, now,  is literally where your last 3 cycles of marathon training ALL pay off. In this one race, here and now.

Me and my man pack at the 24 mile. Look at our faces. MARATHONS ARE SO FUN GUYS!
We finally made the turn to head back towards the Capitol; of course, that also meant we turned directly into a headwind. Ouch. Conveniently, "Man Up" from The Book of Mormon chose this time to make an appearance on my ipod and it was so appropriate I almost laughed. Nothing I needed more right now than a song repetitively telling me to man up...perfect. The last 2 miles of this race exist in a haze in my  mind. I literally felt like my legs were going to collapse. I felt like I was running in a crouch because I physically didn't have the strength to fully extend my knees against gravity. It definitely hurt, but the feeling wasn't so much pain like I've experienced in other marathons as just extreme, unstoppable fatigue. Total muscular meltdown. The hills, the wind? Yeah, they took their toll. Despite that, I was really, really happy. While writing this it seems like I'm focusing on the negative feelings that happened during this race, I really want to emphasize the fact that I really did love the entire thing. Not only that, but I feel like mentally I was able to shut myself up when I felt the negativity creeping in and for once just embrace the pain and try to fight through it. I'm not sure I've ever been able to say that for myself during a marathon before, and that's something I am really proud of about this race.

As we approached the final turn, IT came into view. What is IT, you ask? Well, remember how I said the Maple Bluff hill was the worst hill ever? LIES. Because this hill, at mile frigging 25.8, is absolutely, without a doubt, THE WORST HILL EVER. I am 100% not joking when I say that the existence of this hill is the reason I did not PR this race. I gave it everything I had, but in the condition my legs were in, even the fact that I continued to "run" up the hill didn't prevent a massive slowdown. And it just seemed to go on. and on. and on. and on. I'm pretty sure time actually got slowed down or I was sucked into the matrix or something while I was running up that hill, because it felt like eternity. But things suddenly snapped back into focus at the top. ALMOST THERE. I come around the corner and my mom and sister are going crazy. There's a bit of a downhill to mile 26. I look at my watch and it's already at 3:20 - so close, damn it, so close. But what does that even matter? With every ounce of strength I have, I claw my way up State Street, and one final god-forsaken hill to the finish line. A woman passes me. I am not pleased, but my legs physically will not respond. I know I've given everything that I have and today, for the first time in 4 years, it was enough. I cross the finish line in 3:22:47, in front of the beautiful Madison capitol, and I feel nothing besides complete and utter joy.
The best. 

I am absolutely crying happy tears in this picture. 
Total success [Pretty sure I was too fatigued to smile normally in any of these photos]

I made my way through the chute and collected water, chips, and a sandwich, none of which I ate, before reuniting with my whole family, all of whom not only got to see me run a marathon, but got to see my run (I think) my best one yet! I was totally giddy with excitement and happiness and just the utter joy with having something turn out about 600% better than you expected. Then I got a calf cramp that was literally so bad that I fell on the ground. So that was fun! I also discovered that a thing that happens when you pee yourself while wearing spandex and then proceed to run for 2 more hours, it causes some pretty severe chafeage. To the point of bleeding. Also incredibly fun! I'm sure my family was impressed hahaha.  I eventually wandered over to the results area and discovered that while the water station guy from mile 15 was off by a little bit, he wasn't off by THAT much...I was 13th overall woman. Holy shit. I have never placed that highly in a race of 500 people, let alone 1200. I obtained my free Michelob Light and essentially chugged it, because now that I was no longer running, my racing outfit was no longer appropriate, and I was straight up freezing. 

As always, things happened after the race. I didn't feel like eating (except for cheese curds.) but I did feel like drinking a LOT of Wisconsin beer. All of which was exactly as delicious as I dreamed it would be.  At some point, I think I'm going to have to think a little bit (and most likely, write about) about HOW I actually managed to bust out this race. The weather definitely played a role to the positive (aside from the wind)...I think if I ever want to run a fast marathon, the temperature has got to be below 55, otherwise I might as well just do it for fun. I also genuinely believe this was the hardest course I've ever run, and I have zero doubt that if you superimposed my race onto the Baystate course, this would have been a 3:18 day... which almost makes the whole thing more hard for me to wrap my brain around haha, Sub-3:20 now, finally, seems like a totally realistic thing to shoot for if the day is right. I absolutely did not believe I could do it. With the lowest mileage and least structure to marathon training I maybe have ever done, I went into this race with zero expectations. And I think that just might have been the key. If it feels good, do it, is a good rule to live by...and sometimes, if the day is right, your legs just might decide that today's a day to fly. Being in a city you love, with the magic of the streets that made you a distance runner? Well, I guess that doesn't hurt either. And how good it feels to FINALLY prove to myself that I'm not just a one shot wonder, that I'm capable of being a good marathon, and that my PR is legit...honestly, for what that means to me, this race might as well be a PR. 

Madison Marathon 2014
121/1236 OA, 13/504 women, 7/118 F25-29

Sunday, November 02, 2014

Some taper thoughts and Madison training recap

I can't even begin to convey how weird it is to be "tapering" right now. I feel like I'm just starting to ramp things up! Which is, of course, a testament to what a weird training cycle this has been. What's equally weird is that despite the numbers saying I shouldn't, I'm not feeling too terrible about my fitness at this point. Let's talk training first, then we'll talk race.

Long runs
I think I'd give myself a B in this area of training. My progression of long runs was as follows: 11, 14, 13, 17, 20, 2 weeks without a true long run because of Heartbeat, 15 (race), 21, 22, 17, 14. Aside from that obvious 2-week hiatus, this looks like a pretty typical progression for me. In a perfect world those 2 weeks off would have been replaced by an 18 and another 20, but life isn't perfect and considering I've had a LOT on my plate over the last few months, I think I got it done pretty solidly here. I also feel like the quality of my long runs was above average for me, with only 1 really "LSD" run when the weather also happened to be 90 degrees and humid, so I think that's fair. 2/3 of the 20 milers included a decent chunk of miles at sub-8 pace. The half marathon I raced was horrible, but that was my own damn fault for racing like an idiot.

This was a little bit of an odd area this training cycle. I feel like I did fewer formal track workouts that I would normally (think I did maybe 6 or 7 workouts on the actual track), but the number of impromptu tempo/pickup runs I did was higher. I also think in general (and this could be interpreted as a good or a bad thing) the pace of my runs was faster than usual, even if the overall mileage was less.

Midweek medium-long
Big fat F here. I think I did one 10 miler, which was really only done because I wasn't doing a long run that week. Sacrifices had to be made somewhere this cycle and this is where it happened.

Overall mileage
When I looked at my weekly training mileage going back to when  I started officially training in August, I was APPALLED. The numbers looked so, so low. Really, I would say I've put together about 7 weeks of really genuinely solid training in the 45-55 mpw range. There are unfortunately also about 5 weeks of awkward 30-35 mile weeks scattered in there...and 2 weeks of 20 miles total while Heartbeat was going on. Ouch. I think I've made up a lot of ground over the last month but I definitely wouldn't say that my overall mileage base is ideal going into this marathon. What can you do?

Since moving to Cambridge I have encountered a lot fewer hills on my daily 5-7 mile runs. I've made solid efforts to seek them out particularly for long runs, but let's face it, at the end of the day, I probably could have used to run more hills. Couldn't we all.

Cross training
This is the real mystery ingredient to this training cycle. For the first time, I own a bicycle and have been putting in at least 20, but some weeks >35 miles on the bike commuting to and from work as well as other errands, rehearsals, etc. I also danced a LOT over the first 2 months of training, and while that slowed down a bit during October that was also when my actual running mileage ramped up. I'm VERY intrigued to see whether all of this has been able to replace some of the lost running mileage as far as fitness goes. I assume that my legs are stronger with all of the biking and dancing, but will that make a difference at mile 22? Hoping that this will be my ace in the hole.

Soo with all of that being said...let's talk about the race! Honestly, even as I sit here and think about all of the training details I just went over, I can't even begin to guess how this race is going to play out. Some things I think I have working in my favor are:
-The weather: hot weather is the devil for me, and current forecasted high is 36 degrees.
-Familiarity with the course: while I don't know miles 16-22 very well, I have experience running on at least 70% of the course and am prepared for most of the little rollers/"bigger" hills (Observatory, Edgewood, etc).
-Miles run at something vaguely resembling marathon pace: When I've done runs over the last few weeks at "relaxed" pace, it always seems to come up somewhere between 7:36-7:47. It doesn't escape me that that's just the pace I was hanging around at when I PR'd at Baystate.
-Emotional connection to Madison: The excitement of getting to run through that city for the first time in 5 years is definitely going to be worth something
-Mileage base over the last year + (this will be marathon #3 since September '13)
-Cross training benefit, maybe?

Things that I think are working against me:
-The above-mentioned lower overall mileage
-Lack of hill training. I know that Madison is a somewhat hilly place (although, having run there for 4 years I still don't know if I'd describe the course that we're running as a "really hilly course", which people seem to be. That's psyching me out and it needs to stop.)
-Decreased awareness of my fitness level. Honestly, I have NO CLUE what I'm capable of running right now. Not the slightest idea. I keep coming back to the fact that I don't think my marathons the last few years have accurately represented me as a runner because all of them were run in temps over 70 degrees, which I know I don't handle well. But, is cold weather enough to overcome (what I feel) is less that awesome training? Or is my training actually fine with all of the cross training that went on? I have no idea. And that's a big unknown to think about going into a race because you've got to pick a pace to go out at. What pace is too slow, what pace is suicidal, what pace is OK? I don't have a guess.

Thinking about all this. here are the vague goals I've decided on:
GOAL ABOVE ALL ELSE: Have the most fun and love the fact that I GET to run a marathon through the city where I became a runner. Love it 100% of the time, even when it hurts.
A+ goal: 3:25 +/-
A goal: Better time than Boston 2014, getting me a better corral for 2015
B goal: BQ (sub 3:35)
C goal: sub 3:45 (this just can't be worse than Lehigh)

Even putting that 3:25 out there seems bold; it's been 4 years since my PR and that was on a much flatter course, with significantly more miles under my belt. But damn it, I just KNOW that I should be able to run in the 3:20s more consistently. And I want to embrace the cold, embrace my beautiful Madison, and just do the damn thing, hills, doubts, and demons be damned. You can see I'm not even gunning for a PR (I mean, obviously if the moment strikes) because that's not even what I care about right now. I just want to prove once and for all that my PR is NOT a fluke. And that even on not the best training ever, I CAN put together a solid marathon. And no matter what, I want to love every moment I get to spend running through those Madison streets, because those streets made me a runner. And hopefully, with some mental fortitude and a little bit of luck, they'll make me the marathoner I know I can be, too.

One week.