Monday, October 26, 2015

A spectating report and a race report

The past 2 weekends have been freaking awesome, running related, and involved frolicking around New England with some of my favorite people. Both involved races, one of which I ran, one of which I spectated, and both I think deserve a recap. Ready? OK!

MDI Marathon weekend
Back in the day when I was still deciding on a fall marathon, a couple of my teammates signed up for the Mount Desert Island Marathon. As it turned out, I chose the much flatter (and family friendly) Lakefront, but we had already kind of started planning for a fun marathon getaway weekend to Maine, so another teammate (Brenda) and I decided to go along for the ride. I had originally planned on racing the half, but then it sold out and I wasn't really that sad about it...spectating is WAY more fun, and Brenda and I have demonstrated our amazing spectating abilities together in a couple of past marathons, so we were excited to get to do it again.

I've never traveled to spectate a race before, but let me tell you: it's AMAZING! I didn't have to worry about what I was eating, what to wear, etc, but I felt great to be able to support my friends as they went through the typical insane emotions that come on the night before a marathon. We stayed at the world's most adorable Air BnB, which included a selection of games (Candyland was a thing that happened) and DVDs such as 127 Hours. This turned out to be the most hilariously semi-inspirational movie we could have watched ("Hey, when you're running tomorrow, just least you're not sawing off your own arm!") I don't think I'm ever staying in a hotel again.
Sorry, hotels. I'm over you.
Just the lake behind the cottage, whatever.

We were up before sunrise on race day and it was fun sharing the nervous energy of the two girls who were racing - I swear, I may have been more excited to watch them run than I had been for my own marathon! Brenda and I dropped them off at the start and then went off to figure out our spectating plan. The marathon runs from Bar Harbor to Southwest Harbor, and kind of squiggles around in a way that really only gives you one option for where to drive. Still, we managed to pick out 3 solid spots at the 15K, 16.5 mile, and 25 mile and hit all of them perfectly! I'm not sure I can really explain how much fun I had cheering for this race. Not only for my friends, although going absolutely INSANE when we saw them in the distance was an absolute blast. But I think having just run a marathon recently, and remembering how much it meant to have spectators telling me I looked strong or making me laugh, it felt pretty amazing to be able to pay it back and do that for this group of runners. The race was relatively small and everyone had names on their bibs, so I was calling everyone out by name and giving them something that I thought they might want at that point in the race. At the 15K, we were near the bottom of a pretty nasty hill. At that point in the race though, everyone is still looking pretty strong and happy, so there was a lot of "this hill is nothing!" and "keep smiling" and "looking awesome!" going around. Mile 16.5 was a little more quiet, so basically excessive screaming and cowbelling and hopping around and just being like "YEAAAAAH STEEEEVE!" felt useful. And then, mile 25, was at the top of this gradual 3 mile incline. That was my favorite spot, because we were all alone at the top of this hill and you knew everyone was almost there - I kept saying to people "THIS IS IT! NOW IS THE TIME!" By this point we were so giddy with adrenaline that at one point we were just running around in circles with airplane arms. It was absolutely awesome.
The scenery also did not suck.

What was also awesome was having our teammates look amazing and strong every time they passed us! Despite the hilly course, one teammate placed 2nd overall and broke 3 hours for the first time, and the other ran her second best marathon out of 15. All in all, it was a really amazing day! Much as I love racing for myself, I also think it's really special to get to support my friends and teammates (plus a whole bunch of other runners!) and help them to have a great race day too. The camaradrie and support that runners give each other is just one of the coolest things about the sport, and I'm so grateful to be a part of such a supportive team and to have such cool friends who happen to be pretty great runners as well.
I also partook in the post race celebrations. Because, I mean, when in Maine.

Pell Bridge Run
So THEN, this past weekend, I decided to hit up the other end of New England and actually run a race vs. spectate. Joy, one of the MDI marathoners and my marathon/ridiculous racing buddy, had at some point in the last few months talked me into signing up for something called the Pell Bridge Run. This is a race that involves, as the name suggests, running over the Pell Bridge! Which is a very large bridge (~2 miles long and 400 ft high) in Rhode Island connecting Jamestown and Newport. As I am pretty much incapable of turning down a racing opportunity in the off season, especially when it's a novelty race of sorts, I signed up. After a 4:45 am wake up call (the earliest I've been up in recent memory), we drove to Newport and got on the shuttles to Jamestown. Compared to my only other pre-race shuttle bus experience (Boston) this one was hilariously short, although still slightly disturbing hearing the bus vroom vrooming up the hill that I knew I would need to be running up shortly. We were dropped off in a dark grassy area around 6:10 and waited for the start. Now, this is the same race company that put on the 10 miler that I had so many complaints about back in June - surprisingly I have only one major complaint about this race. And that was the fact that although we had to wait over an hour at this grassy field and there was coffee and hot chocolate to drink (which ran out by 6:30) and the website had said there would be water...there was NO WATER. I asked a volunteer and she was like "no...there's supposed to be some...but I haven't seen any...." As a result I went into the race with a dry mouth and a bagel sitting like cement in my stomach...oh well. Thankfully it was a pretty warm morning for late October, in the mid 50s already by 6 am, so we weren't freezing in the field, but with nothing else to do Joy and I decided to go warm up a little bit on the other side of the road. That's when by far the coolest part of the day happened. We turned down into a random hotel parking lot, and in front of us was this:
Worth the 4:45 wake up!

Day completely made, we headed back to the start line, kind of laughing at the fact that maybe 20 out of the 3000 runners had seen this view because no one seemed to be bothering to warm up. To be fair, this is not a race that's designed to be crazy competitive - the "elite" (lol) wave was 9 minute miles and faster and there are a lot of walkers, kids, etc. I mean, hell, if I was a recreational runner, this is DEFINITELY a race I'd do multiple times - it's a pretty cool concept! Still, we lined up maybe 1 row back from the front, surrounded by a variety of people, none of whom were wearing hardcore club singlets. Two things came to my mind: the first was how glad I was that I wasn't racing Mayor's Cup (big XC meet held the same day), the second was how glad I was that I had chosen to race in a ridiculous neon ensemble instead of my GBTC singlet, because I think if I'd showed up in that singlet people would have expected me to try to win the thing. 
Not pictured: neon orange shorts. Pictured: vest that is FAR too warm for current ambient temperature

The race started at 7:15 and off we went! It's billed as a 4 mile race, and I was pretty aware given the layout of the bridge what the elevation profile would be: 2 miles basically uphill, 2 miles basically downhill. Whee! Coming off the line, I actually felt shockingly good. I immediately found myself in maybe 8th or 9th position for women with not all that many runners ahead of me overall. Neat! I had no concept of how fast I was running but felt reasonably relaxed. There was actually bit of a downhill right away, followed by the beginning of the slow, gradually increasing grade towards the bridge. For a few minutes, this grade was OK. Then it started to get unpleasant. By the time we actually got ON the bridge and the grade increased again, I was seriously questioning my life choices. Running 2 miles uphill? Have I ever done that? WHY am I doing that? I felt like I was going to vomit up my bagel and like I was moving approximately at the speed of a sloth. I cursed my stupid vest that felt like it weighed 16 pounds. I got passed by at least 4 women on this stretch and I felt kind of annoyed at myself about it. Never mind the fact that my running (hill running especially) has been minimal over the last month, or that I didn't get to drink any damn water before the start - WHY CAN'T YOU GO FASTER, SELF? The higher we got the worse the wind became, which also didn't help the situation. Oh well. I focused on just making it up to the top of the bridge and made an attempt to look around. It was pretty neat being up there and also sort of'm basically running on a freeway right now?
Almooooost at the top. Photo by Joy, who apparently is skilled at not throwing her phone off the bridge while running up it. I was scared that that's what would happen to me (and also focused on not puking), so no photos were taken by me. 

FINALLY we hit the crest of the hill - there were no mile markers but this happened somewhere around mile 2 - and got to start running downhill. Whee! My original plan had been to try to really pick it up on the downhill but when it actually got to that point in the race, just trying to recover from the beating I had just taken and letting gravity do all the work for me seemed like a better option. I passed back a couple of people on the down slope of the bridge, just to be overtaken by 2 more women. GAAAAH. I stuck with both of them as we continued to run down. As we came off the bridge, things flattened out for a second, only for us to have to run up another hill and onto a freeway off ramp. Uggggh. My legs actually felt OK, but my stomach was having strong feelings about my current life status and I was just ready for this to be over with. I kind of laughed because they stuck a water stop at the bottom of the on ramp and I was like oh...great...NOW you give me water, when I have like 4 minutes left to run. Thanks. There was another slight downhill into a flat after that, and I started trying to accelerate a little bit which got me a pass on one of the two women in front of me. I actually put some effort into trying to chase down the other one - my legs definitely had something left - but in the end I couldn't get her. As the clock came into focus I realized we were still in the 27 minute category, and considering I though a reasonable goal given the elevation profile of this race and my current training status would be to break 30 minutes, I was shocked! I gave it a little push then and managed to squeak in just under 28 minutes at 27:57. FINALLY got some damn water and waited for Joy, who came in about 30 seconds behind me.
Well that was difficult.

Results-wise, it was a pretty solid performance. I was 12th woman overall out of 1855 and 58th overall out of almost 3000, not too shabby. Unfortunately 6 of those 11 women above me were in my age group - bah! So 7th in the F25-29 age group I was. When there are 5 year age groups I feel like top 15 women will usually net you something, but I guess it serves me right for getting cocky! The official results have me at 6:59 pace, but my Garmin clocked the distance at 3.92 which given how I felt probably makes more sense.  Though my Garmin also seems to think that I ran uphill for a little bit, then possibly jumped off the bridge and then ran a flat course on top of the water for the rest of the it's uncertain that it can be trusted either. However, this is technically a 4 mile PR! So that's neat. Either way my splits definitely tell the story: 6:53, 7:55 (HAHA, this is what happens when I run an entire mile uphill apparently!), 6:47, 6:57 for the last bit. All in all, I had a pretty good time at this race. It's definitely a fun, unique experience, and while it may be a one time thing for me I'm glad that I did it once. Also, if someone could remind me how unpleasant I found running for 2 miles up a 4.5% grade the next time I put my name in the lottery for Mount Washington (7+ miles up a grade that goes up to 11%....) that would be GREAT.

Pell Bridge Run - Official Distance 4M
27:57 (6:59 pace), PR?
58/2828 OA, 12/1855 F, 7/175 F25-29

Thursday, October 08, 2015

Lakefront Marathon 2015 Race Report

For those hanging in suspense: I ran a 3:17:57, 27 seconds off a PR. So maybe, not quite exactly the race I was dreaming of, but a DAMN good race all the same.  Deep down, I really, really wasn't sure I could pull this off again, and damn it, I did. But there couldn't have been a different race than Boston. Where Boston was battling the external elements (and somehow, despite that, feeling like it was easy), Lakefront was battling the internal elements, my own body and particularly my own mind. And that, for me, was a much harder battle to come out of victorious. After this race, I have no doubt in my mind that I'm capable of running sub-3:15 - which is a HUGE thing to come out of this race, because going into it I wasn't even confident in my ability to run 3:17 a second time. Most of all, I'm extremely proud of the mental fight I was able to show during this race, something that always seems to elude me. And so...where do I begin?

I flew out of Logan on Friday afternoon and I was, as usual on the Friday before a marathon, full of anxiety. I tempered said anxiety at the airport by hiding in the children's play area and doing a quick YouTube yoga thing (when I told my sister this, she was like - do you even LIKE yoga? And I was like, no. Except when I'm anxious before a marathon haha), then having a beer and a hot pretzel at the conveniently located Harpoon Tap Room. Thankfully the flight was on time as well as uneventful, even though I couldn't focus on anything to save my life. I wrote out a vague race plan during the flight, which basically amounted to: go out relaxed. STAY relaxed. And then - the key to the strategy - turn on the afterburners at mile 23. This was the first time in my life I'd gone into a marathon with a race strategy and quite frankly as I wrote it out I felt like I was faking it. Negative splits? Picking it up at the end? Are you kidding me? Those are things that happened that ONE day, that ONE magical day. What on earth makes you think that they are things that can happen again? Seriously, this is where my head was at before this race. NOT a great place to be in before a marathon, I tell you, but I couldn't seem to get myself to snap out of it.

The next 12 hours were taken up by the various family functions that occur when you decide to go to your hometown to run a marathon - drinks and cheese at my sister's, dinner and drinks at my dad's, brunch with my mom, etc. I ran into a couple of guys from my college track club at brunch which made me happy (though not totally surprising, since I knew one of them was racing the marathon). We then headed to the expo, where my sister got to experience the glory that is a marathon expo for the first time ("I feel so lazy..." was her response, hah). I picked up my bib and shirt, which I initially wasn't thrilled by (a mock turtleneck? Eek.) However, the color (forest green) is nice, the logo is attractive, and it occurred to me that a mock turtleneck tech shirt will come in EXTREMELY handy while running through the New England winter, so it's a functional shirt if not one that I'm going to wear out casually. My mom, sister and I then headed off to a bar where we watched the (terrible) Badgers game...watching your team fumble on the 1 yard line doesn't exactly boost your confidence for a stellar race performance. However, I enjoyed my obligatory pre-marathon beer (Ale Asylum Hopalicious, same as at Madison) and spending time with the family. After a brief stop at my mom's, aka my childhood home, for a quickie shakeout and to buy a baguette to chomp on in the car, we headed up to Port Washington, driving along the course. Driving the course actually calmed me down a little bit - I really had no idea where we were going or what the course was like, so it was nice to at least have some sense of the terrain, etc. There also was a store called the Past Basket right around the halfway point of the course and for some reason, that cracked me up. I resolved to look at the Past Basket and laugh as I passed (hah!) it the following day. We checked in to our hotel and watched some miscellaneous college football before heading to dinner at the Pasta Shoppe in Port Washington.

There was a pretty amazing sunset over Lake Michigan

After probably the best pre-race meal I've ever had of antipasti salad, pasta primavera with marinara, a Spotted Cow, and THE BEST garlic bread ever, we headed back to the hotel. I lay out my raceday apparel and watched some more random college football (Arkansas vs. Tennessee and UCLA vs. Arizona State...because if I didn't watch college football the night before a fall marathon, it probably didn't happen). I finally turned off the lights around 9:45 and was asleep shortly after that.
Prerace dinner of CHAMPIONS

Obligatory bib person...I changed out the armwarmers at the last second, a decision which was a good fashion choice but maybe not a good life one

I was up bright and early before my alarm - seriously, I think I probably woke up at 4:55, I got a good luck text from someone at 5:00, and then my alarm went off at 5:10. So the prerace ritual a banana...make several stops in the bathroom...drink a little a bagel with butter at 90 minutes before race time...get the kit on...take some mirror around to techno...etc. I had a really tough time getting the bagel down on this particular morning and couldn't decide if I should be drinking more water or not. After all, I didn't really feel like having to pee during the race like I did at Madison (this is what we call foreshadowing...).  At this point in the morning, I feel like I was putting on a really good act of being confident and ready, but deep down, I was really fucking nervous. Also, kind of in disbelief that this moment had already arrived, the moment where I had to prove to myself and the world that I could run two good marathons in a row. 
Coping strategy: take awkward mirror selfies before sunrise

We headed off to Grafton High School around 6:20, and it was both fabulous and difficult having my mom along for the ride. Fabulous because we were joking around and jamming out to Linkin Park, and difficult because I turn into an EXTREMELY difficult person to be around when I'm nervous. So I found myself getting snippy at her for extremely minor reasons, such as attempting to take candid photos of me and pointing out the wrong building as the high school....whoops, sorry mom. :) Once we did reach the high school, I immediately jumped in the porta potty line where I witnessed this hilarious exchange: Girl 1 comes running over to Girl 2, who she apparently knows. "Oh my God!! Are you so excited?!" Girl 2: "No. I'M SO SCARED!!!" It actually wasn't super cold out, and not windy at all, but all the same I headed into the gym to do a few stretches and get my Gu's set up in their proper placement all over my body. After about 3 minutes in the gym, I was too antsy to stay there, so I decided I had to go back outside. It was of those mornings. I couldn't get settled. I attempted the porta potty line again but pretty much instantly realized that it was too long, so ended up in the woods by the high school before heading to the start. I handed off my sweats to my mom (including my grandmother's 1992 Milwaukee Symphony Japan Tour sweatshirt...if that isn't perfect drop gear I don't know what is). I worked my way up to a spot in the vicinity of the 3:15 and 3:25 pace groups, although I knew I didn't want anything to do with the pace groups themselves. I thought there would be a little more time before the start but it seemed like everything was happening quickly today. A few announcements, a moment of silence in gratitude of our ability to do this (I liked that), the announcement of the national anthem which brings me to chills and tears before every damn marathon. I have to pee, AGAIN. Body. What in the actual fuck. Then, we move up to the line, I hear my mom screaming something that I think is "GIVE EM HELL!", the race director has the runners count down from 10...and when we get to 3, maybe 2? The gun. 

Focus at the start

Start-10K (7:19, 7:25, 7:35, 7:32, 7:24, 7:30)
We're off, and I'm right out ahead of the 3:15 pace group, exactly where I DON'T want to be. This, I know, would be suicidal. Relaxrelaxrelaxrelaxrelax is playing through my mind like a mantra and my legs can't figure out how to do it. The early miles of a marathon are always so jovial - people are chatting and laughing and pointing out things and talking about goals - and I tried to just settle down and listen to it all. But mile 1 of a marathon isn't a great place to already be feeling concerned, and I was. Just a little bit. Something felt off somehow - it wasn't my legs, which actually felt great - but everything else, my stomach, my mental game, everything felt weird. Here's where I have to mention how much of a TERRIBLE mental game I had during the first half of this race - I was literally, at mile 1, telling myself that maybe today just wasn't a good day. Like...what?! C'MON MAN, GET IT TOGETHER! Once I saw the 1 mile split I felt slightly better, since it's not like I was running like a slug or anything. Still, I decided that now wasn't the time to be an idiot. Run Your Own Race. I let the massive pack of the 3:15 group pass me, figuring I'd see them again if I saw them again, but I had made a plan and damnit, I was going to stick with the plan. A few minutes after they passed I was running with a couple of guys who were joking about how they'd gone out pretty hot ("Hell, it's a PR day, why not go sub-3:00?") I decided to try to hang out with these guys for awhile, which turned out to be a good plan since one of them sang a song about Miller 64 after pretending his water was beer at the 2 mile water stop, followed by the comment "I hear they have Spotted Cow at mile 15!". Oh, Wisconsin. The course was really quiet in the beginning, as we were basically running through farmland with the occasional house with someone out on the front lawn waving a sign or something. Over the next few miles, I kept trying to find a groove and I just couldn't get anything to stick. Speeding up, slowing down, changing my stride length - it didn't matter, I just couldn't get anything to feel comfortable no matter how hard I tried. Since every good marathon I've run thus far (and hell, some that ended badly, too!) has most definitely felt comfortable through the half, this was concerning. Doubts, demons, roaring in like a freight train. You don't even feel good NOW, man, just THINK of how you're going to feel in 10 miles! Or better yet, 20! Everything felt discombobulated. Literally the only thing that was keeping me from a mental breakdown was that, for the moment, my pace was looking OK. And I found a phrase to hang onto: discomfort is NOT the same thing as pain. Sure, I wasn't comfortable. Fine. OK. You're running a marathon, do you need to BE comfortable? Just shut up and run, see what happens later.

Another problem going on was that I still felt like I had to pee, along with my stomach just feeling heavy and awkward (considering I was gifted with certain girl issues the next day, all of this now makes perfect sense). Again, wayyy too early to be feeling off. Whatever. What was I going to do, stop? So I kept going. Mile 5 brought a nice pocket of crowd support, as we made a turn near a horse farm and there was a scream tunnel of spectators. In a way it was almost cooler that way, these random pockets of screaming on an otherwise silent country road. People seemed amused to see my Greater Boston singlet and I got a few "Go Boston!" cheers along the way. There was a little incline right after that turn, though, and it just felt AWFUL. Like, awful in a way I couldn't believe something at mile 5 of a marathon could feel. No bueno. Thankfully the course then sloped downhill ("downhill as far as the eye can see!" remarked a shirtless man running near me, happily) Yet another problem: the last water stop had been at mile 4, and we were now approaching mile 6 with no water in sight. After taking a salted caramel Gu around 5.5, all I could think about was water...and scanning the horizon brought no relief. WHAT IS EVEN GOING ON RIGHT NOW?!

10K-Half (7:33, 7:29, 7:39, 7:35, 7:44, 7:31, 7:35, half 1:39:10)
This 7 mile stretch...I don't even know. This may have been the hardest 7 miles I've ever run in my life, mentally. I had been hoping that all of my strange feelings of the first 10K would eventually evaporate once I found a groove, but miles 7-11 begged to differ. The discomfort, in fact, only continued to get worse. The mile markers seemed to be coming up pretty quickly, and my splits were still looking OK, but the time between them was mighty unpleasant. I was still looking for some water as we turned into Concordia, and there, just past mile FREAKING 7, was where I felt like I was just going to start crying. There was this dead zone of running through basically a parking lot, then a turn up the only thing I would consider a real "hill" of the entire race...and mentally, I just lost my shit. Running up this stupid hill I went off into a dark, dark mental place. I pretty much told myself I suck. I felt terrible, winded, struggling - it was really unbelievable. And most of all, I NEEDED some water. NOW. 

We then ran past the Concordia marching band, which wasn't playing as I ran past but shortly after burst into the "YMCA" which brought me out of my dark mood somewhat - what an..inspirational song choice? There was also a guy dressed as Beaker just standing alone on the Concordia cross country course (which looked lovely...they must have just had a meet or something because the grass was freshly mowed and the lines freshly painted. I sure did have a moment of wishing I was running a 6K instead of a marathon for a second there.) FINALLY a water stop appeared, and getting some fluids combined with the pretty incredible scream tunnel that followed also gave me a boost. I have to say, the spectators at Concordia were GREAT. I was basically running by myself at this point, somehow, so for the next 5-10 minutes (or it could have been several hours, who knows how time passes in the middle of a race) I was continuously having my name screamed at me, along with numerous motivations. I slapped a "slap here to level up" sign. I high fived college students. For a second, I was having a blast! In the back of my mind, things were still trying to go very bad, but on the surface...whee! I made a concerted effort to look and smile or wave at as many people as I could. I felt like I was running through the tunnel onto the field at a football game, except for here, I was already on the field. The wheels were already in motion. 

Fakest. smile. ever. 

Slowly the number of spectators died down, the cheers dwindled, and I was alone again. Alone with my thoughts, which were not currently useful or productive ones. And while the water had settled my stomach somewhat, I was still sitting with the utterly uncomfortable sensation of having to pee. And so it was, that somewhere just past the 10 mile mark, I once again decided to forgo the use of a porta potty and just go ahead and take advantage of the fact that I was wearing black shorts. And holy shit, while gross, I FELT SO. MUCH. BETTER. Literally like a weight had been lifted off of my abdomen. For just a second my stupid negative brain shut up and just let me bask in the feeling of no longer having to pee. A few minutes later, I saw a guy on a bike who looked vaguely I came closer, sure enough, it was another of my former track club teammates! For some reason, this was THE most exciting thing that ever could have happened to me, and I screeched out "ZACH BRUNS! HIIIIIIIIIII!" in a way that only someone who is so far gone that they need to get very very excited about very very small things can. 
Am I smiling because I see a familiar face? Or because I just peed myself? The choice is yours...

That moment of levity over, things once again took a bit of a turn for the worse. I was starting to get a bit warm and was regretting my armwarmer choice. I considered ditching them, but they were currently being used to store both of my gels, so I kind of had to hang on to them for now. I figured if they were still a problem by 16, I'd throw them out (they weren't). Probably more importantly, everything STILL felt hard. Mile 11 was an unpleasant time of my life. We turned a corner which lead into an incline, once again nearly causing me to throw myself on the ground and throw a temper tantrum. Again, my legs felt like leaden weights. Why was I doing this again? My mind kept spewing venom: Well this is stupid. You're not even going to run a good race today! A 7:44 at mile 11? What's even the point? There's no way you're going to negative split this. 3:20 would be OK, I guess... I just really did not want to be out there doing this at all. I can't recall ever being quite that mean to myself internally before, and I knew that if I was going to get through this, I HAD to stop it. I had to get myself together. And so, every time I would start to break down with a negative thought, I would tell myself one of two things: If it related to the course (a hill, etc) I would tell myself to "put it in the Past Basket". If it was related to my own stupid crisis of confidence that I was apparently choosing to have mid-marathon, I would tell myself "STOP BEING STAVE", after the Wisconsin QB who famously cannot deal with the slightest bit of adversity or struggle without totally caving in mentally and throwing ridiculously terrible passes. Mile 11 was where I realized that I was doing EXACTLY that. I was still running OK, but I was so in my head about it, and that shit needed to stop. Right now. I was almost halfway, and despite never for a second feeling remotely good, I was DOING OK. So I tried to calm down, relax, and see what the second half of this race was going to bring. 

I took another Gu right after the dark time of mile 11, which perked me up a little bit. At the same time I had gotten a fragment of my pump up song du jour stuck in my head. Stop thinking, let's have some fun. Stamp on the ground...jump jump jump jump, move it all around, jumping all around. Over and over. I was telling someone after the race that I wish I could have a tape recording of the shit that goes through my brain during marathons. Well, whether it was the Gu, the song, or the downhill, I started feeling just a little bit better. I figured if I could just haul my body to the halfway point, I could maybe make it to the finish as well. 

Half-20 (7:23, 7:36, 7:36, 7:30, 7:28, 7:28, 7:31)
When I saw/heard my half split called (as an aside - one of the really small but random things I LOVED about this race was that there were not only clocks, but actual human beings calling splits at every. single. mile. Such a small detail, but it made it feel more legit somehow to have a grizzled man calling your time off a stopwatch) I once again became a huge negative Nancy. All I could do was compare it to my previous 2 halfway splits, which I knew were in the low-mid 1:38s. 1:39? But that's SLOWER! Well crap! This is not what I want! Somehow, weirdly enough, that snapped me out of my vortex of negativity - the opposite reaction from what you'd expect. OK, self, you're not running the race you want? Well GO and run the race you want! The next section of the race was classic "ugly industrial section of the marathon", as we were running on a desolate access road next to the freeway - lovely! No spectators in sight except for a girl wearing a bib walking the wrong way. She had clearly dropped, but was nice enough to give me some encouragement as I ran by which I thought was really nice sportsmanship. Mile 14 came up in what felt like no time after the half, and I was pleasantly surprised to see that 7:23 on my watch. I felt like I was working, sure, but there was still something there. From here, I made a decision that looking back I regret a little bit: I let myself relax. I told myself that it was OK to relax the pace a little bit, because there was still a long way to go. In that moment, I just REALLY wanted to have something left to turn on the gas in the last 3-4 miles, and I felt like I needed to chill out at this point to make it happen. But now, I look back and wonder - could I have held on to 7:25 pace for those next 3 miles? Because, ya know, that would have gotten me a PR. But that's neither here nor there, because what happened was this: I found myself feeling just a teeny tiny bit better, and I held on to that feeling like my life depended on it. If that meant relaxing the pace a little bit for now, so be it - it was worth it for the potential of being able to hold on.

We finally got away from the freeway and made a quick little jaunt through a residential area. Here, there were more spectators, several of which who told me how strong I was looking. One was also holding a sign which read "Remember, you paid for this", which I felt was a good reminder at that point, haha. Then we were back on this straightaway and all of a sudden, I can't even explain what happened, but I was rolling. FINALLY, 15 miles into the freaking race, I HAD FOUND THE GROOVE! YES! The transition from "feeling shitty" to "actually feeling kind of strong" was so smooth that I barely even noticed that I had locked into a rhythm and was covering ground faster than before. I thought of a phrase that had popped into my mind during a tempo run on the track that felt much the same as this - let the lizard brain take over. For the next couple of miles, pretty much all higher processing stopped and I just ran. At some point I picked up a fragment of "How Deep Is Your Love" that someone was playing out of a speaker on their lawn that began rolling around in my head, on repeat. How deep is your love? Aaahooo. Aaahoo. Aaahoo. How deep is your love? How deep was my love? Was it deep enough to gut it out through the next 10 miles of this race? 

My memories of miles 16-20 are somewhat fuzzy, so locked into the groove was I. I remember some random moments: some kids on their lawn ringing a gigantic boat (?) bell, who I high fived, another pair of kids dressed as Yoda and Darth Vader yelling "may the course be with you!!", someone yelling my name so loudly and enthusiastically that I thought it had to be someone I knew (it wasn't). Through all of this, I kept counting down to mile 23 when I would hopefully (please, please) be able to turn on the afterburners, or as I was thinking of it at the time, "make the jump to hyperspace". NERD ALERT. As these miles continued to unfold, I noticed something else: I was starting to pass people. My personal favorite passing moment occurred when I found myself running in flying V formation behind my two shirtless men who had left me behind back at mile 5. We were running along, and I could tell that one of the guys was kind of giving me a look and waiting for me to make a pass. I think he actually may have said something to that effect - like "go ahead if you want" or something - but my brain wasn't turned on enough to hear it. And whatever, I was perfectly happy in this flying V formation. All of a sudden, we run past this lawn where a lone guy, maybe in his 60s or 70s is standing there. In a thick Jamaican (I think) accent he yelled something to this effect: "OOOOK GIRL! Yeah! You run with those guys! You stick with 'em, and then when you see the finish line...YOU BLOW EM ALL AWAY!" I pretty much burst out laughing while one of the guys was like "wow, viscious!" Then, not to be one to wait until the finish line, I made my move and passed my shirtless friends. Heh. 

The countdown keeps on. 7 miles until afterburners. 6 miles. 5 miles. At mile 18, there's another random tunnel of spectators who are as loud as any I've seen all day. I run with another woman for a bit past the crowds. We exchange encouragement, and then I pass her. Because that's what I'm doing, these miles, either I'm running alone or I'm passing, passing, passing. I'm seeing people up ahead who I remember from way back when, miles 3 and 4, and I'm reeling them in and I'm passing them. By this point I had exactly zero concept of overall race time or what my overall time was going to be. With that 1:39 half split, I had basically given up all hope of running a PR. So instead of worrying about that, I was just racing the people around me instead of the clock. And that was a damn fun thing to be doing! With each person I passed who was slowing down, stopping to stretch, walking, I thought to myself, those people who keep telling you how strong you look are right. You look strong because you ARE strong! Just wait until you get to turn it on at 23. 

4 miles til afterburners. My legs are still in OK shape, my stomach has finally calmed down, my brain has decided it felt like jumping on board the racing train, and things are starting to look up. Seeing sub-7:30 miles on my watch isn't hurting, and I distract myself for awhile by thinking about where I am on the Boston course right now. Somewhere in the Newton hills. I am utterly joyous to NOT be running in the Newton hills right now, to instead be running through the gently rolling hills of Shorewood. It may not have felt easy in these mid to late miles, but it finally felt strong.

20-26.2 (7:40, 7:47, 7:30, 7:15, 7:19, 7:23, 6:56 pace last bit)
AAAAAGH let's please just take a moment to talk about how miles 21 and 22 cost me a PR. There's those 27 seconds, right there. Oh well. At the time, that was just about the last thing on my mind. I passed the 20 mile mark still feeling quite strong, and then about 3 minutes later we made a turn on the course and my legs were just like...WAIT WHAT IS HAPPENING NOPE I DO NOT LIKE THIS ANYMORE. I went from being all "hell yes, I found my strong!" to "whoooops, this is what mile 20 feels like" very rapidly. Funny enough, this was also where my dad and his wife had come out to spectate several times in rapid succession. The first time they saw me? I was all fired up! The second time? Ehhhhh not so much. My dad told me later that he could tell I wasn't feeling solid when he saw me, and his inclination was right. Shit was getting real (that was my new mental phrase: shit's getting real. Real inspirational, self). However, despite the fact that things were starting to break down a little bit, I still hadn't seen a single person come up behind me, and I was continuing to pass people all the while. Reeling people in and passing them was what got me through these miles. Just after 21, I saw this girl in a purple shirt running ahead of me. I had this weird, brief moment of "she looks pretty strong, she's probably faster than you" which was immediately followed by "YOU MUST PASS HER. NOOOOOOOW." And of course, I did. 
How I managed to be smiling in all of these photos is beyond me. This is the random neighborhood where I thought I just might die. 

Oh lord. Scissoring like a boss. Bring on that epic fatigue head tilt.

I knew that the entirety of mile 22 was a slight uphill grade, which, surprise surprise, while not a huge hill, pretty much made me feel like I had been punched in the face repeatedly. The saving grace was that while this was my slowest mile of the entire race, guess what? I was still passing people. 5 miles just seems like an absolute eternity to go, and right now I just absolutely want it to be over. 2 more miles to the afterburners...please, please let there be something left. During this mile, it doesn't feel like there will be. Just get to 23, and the downhill, and then just go. My power up song has popped back into my mind, a different lyric this time: ...come feel the heat, the sweet vibration, cause we are about to ignite, and we wanna go out tonight! I try to run to the beat. I imagine myself from the outside, looking strong, and try to keep myself that way. Keep the head up, keep picking up those feet, don't let that hunched over death shuffle that you're seeing on so many people around you happen. Be the one who, when you run by the spectators, gets told how strong you look and have them MEAN it. 

I was about to write that "at this point, I knew I had a second-best marathon in the bag", but that is a TOTAL lie, because at the time I still had no idea what time it was or what was happening. All I knew was that we were about to hit mile 23, and after 23 miles of waiting, struggling, fighting through discomfort and pain, it was FINALLY time to see if I had something left. As soon as I hit the mile 23 mark, I turned it on. I have never in my entire life been so happy to discover that there was something else left deep down under the layers of fatigue. This mile is flat into a long downhill, and I embraced that downhill with every fiber of my being. This was it - whether or not this was a PR, a good time, whatever, THIS was where I got to prove that I could take a strategy and execute it, that I was strong enough to do this again. Everything hurts so, so badly - a pain that I never got around to feeling in Boston, and a pain that I forgot how bad it could be. But to my utter surprise, I found that I was still able to push and keep running...running faster than I had all race, at that. 

The last 2 miles were on what felt like the longest bike path in the history of humanity. My legs were shutting down now, my calves cramping with every push off and every step creating a new vortex of pain blasting through my body. I mentally take myself back to the bike path this summer - 18 miles into a long run, pushing the pace with my teammates. Just imagine Dana and Taylor and Joy in front of you, and go get them. It's almost over, and then you get to STOP. Mile 25 - God, is it not over yet? Like I said, at Boston I never really processed the pain (maybe because I couldn't really feel my legs by the last 5 miles of the race), and every race before I've slowed down because I couldn't handle the pain. So to be running through and in spite of the most ridiculous pain I could imagine in that moment seemed utterly insane, and something I wanted to stop doing immediately. There was for some reason a sign for mile 25 1/2, to which I thought 0.7 miles THAT IS FOREVERRRRR. We had to make a 90 degree turn that included a curb cut which nearly made my legs cave out from under me, and then, FINALLY, it was the final straight and I could hear the finish line announcements. I passed the 26 mile mark at 3:16:10 or something and it vaguely occurred to me ummm hi you are about to run very close to a PR! I mean you probably can't run a 1:20 400 right now, but that's OK, just go as fast as you can...and hey...YOU NEGATIVE SPLIT! I can see the finish line now, and a line from Once A Runner pops into my head: "he moved into lane 2, the Lane of High Hopes, and ran out the rest of the life in him". I ran out the rest of my life in me. I could hear the shouts of various family members, saw my sister and her boyfriend running on the outside of the chute, but it was like being inside of an aquarium. I was inside of myself; everything on the outside was just background noise. You can see from the splits that I actually did kick for possibly the first time in my life in a distance over 10 miles. And I am DAMN proud of that kick because that freaking kick was the difference between a 3:17:xx and a 3:18:xx. Which, in my mind, is a HUGE difference. I couldn't believe it! After all that, the questioning, the doubting, the demons, I had gone out and run another damn 3:17. Hell. freaking. yeah.

Home stretch...that head tile means I'm literally giving it everything

Aside from excitement at my time, my overwhelming feeling was one of SO MUCH RELIEF to no longer be running. I wandered through the finish chute, got my medal, space blanket, and water, and then posed for a finisher photo in which I look like I'm striking some sort of dance pose. I couldn't quite figure out what to do next; I considered going to the massage tent since my calves were still cramping something awful, but in the end decided that what I really wanted in life was to be sitting down. I hobbled my way to a random folding chair where I just sat and waited for my body to feel like doing something else would be a good idea. A random guy gave me his mac & cheese when I got excited about it, unfortunately when I tried to eat it it turned out that mac & cheese actually doesn't taste as good 5 minutes after a marathon as you would think. Finally I got up, grabbed the most GLORIOUS Dr. Pepper I've ever drank in my life, and found the family. 
I watched my dad finish the Lakefront Marathon when I was like 8 years old. Now he got to do the same for me! Also, my smile in this one says "I'm really happy, but I also really need to sit down"

My legs were no longer really in any condition for me to be upright, so I went and sat on the ground, drinking my amazing Dr. Pepper. Soon sitting wasn't enough and I ended up in this position for the better part of half an hour:

As I was laying there trying to figure out what to do next, someone held out their phone so I could see my official time. To my absolute shock and awe, I discovered I had actually PLACED in my age group! Keep in mind, when my mom had asked me if we might need to stay for awards during this race I gave her a hearty "pffff, lol, absolutely not". So to have actually won something?! I almost burst into tears. It sunk in then - the time, the execution, the negative split, the kick - I had done it. I had done it all. I had managed to take a first half that had filled me with fear and I had managed to suck it up and say "not today, demons". So I stuck around for awards (buying several pieces of apparel and drinking a Louie's Demise in the has never tasted so good). It was pretty awesome to hear a couple of my former teammates being announced as the 3rd place overall man and 1st in the 20-24 AG, respectively. But the best part was actually getting to go up to the awards stand too! 
My award medal, which I will treasure always

This is getting long, so I will leave it with this, my favorite statistic from the results. During the second half of this race, I passed 77 people. I was passed by one. ONE (damn you, Johnathan, who came through the half 2 seconds behind me and finished 22 seconds faster, haha). But really, I think that says all that needs to be said about this race. I ran a SMART race. I used a strategy that I knew has worked for me and I executed it perfectly. I'm thrilled with the result and I'm thrilled with the fact that I was able to fight through some really difficult times, mentally and physically, and still emerge victorious. Importantly also, I learned that marathons, even when executed well and run relatively fast, are effing HARD. And not every PR is going to be a magical pony day, a la Boston 2015. But I also learned today that that's OK, because even when things aren't ponies, I am strong enough to do it anyway. Now I want to do it again...only this time, a couple minutes, make that 2 minutes and 58 seconds, faster. :)

Milwaukee Lakefront Marathon
169/2281 OA, 24/1083 F, 3/167 F25-29