Tuesday, April 28, 2009

OKC Marathon recap

Yes, it's been a while since I wrote anything. But I will make it up with a nice long post! And if I can ever find the cord for my camera, I'll put up my pictures from the race....

Windy and humid. Two words that you do not want describing the day of your marathon. But the two words that most accurately described Sunday.

This was my first Runners Edge bus trip, and I really loved it. We left Saturday morning around 8, and rolled into OKC sometime after 1. We headed straight to the expo to pick up our packets and do some shopping. Marcela, Pritha and I were starving though, so we skipped the shopping and walked over to Bricktown to grab a sandwich as soon as we got our packets.

Once everyone got loaded back on the bus, we drove part of the course to see what we would be in for on Sunday. The parts we saw all looked relatively flat, with just a couple of short hills. Nothing to worry about. We got checked into the hotel and everyone had a chance to relax before dinner. I was so glad I had gotten my own room, a king size bed all to myself! Quite the luxury when I’m used to sharing a queen with Dan and the two bostons. I read some more of my book, took a quick power nap, and woke up ready to eat again.

Now, at this point, I should mention that since Friday I had felt like I was starting to get sick. Not really bad, but just that feeling that I WOULD be feeling bad soon. My eyes were hot, I was a little achy, and felt like I had a slight fever. I had been downing Gatorade all day, partly to make sure I was plenty hydrated for the next day, and partly to try to flush out whatever was in my system. I hoped that all the fluids and a good night’s sleep would have me feeling better in the morning.

About half of the people in our group had decided to go elsewhere for dinner, but the rest of us headed down to the pasta dinner. The OKC marathon is a memorial marathon, run in honor of the 1995 Federal Building bombing victims, and the pasta dinner was actually held on the memorial grounds. I had been to the memorial before, and it’s of course very touching. But being there to run a marathon, which is an emotional experience in itself, just made it even more so.

The dinner was really good, as far as pre-race pasta dinners go, and they had live music and several speakers. The first speaker was Amy Palmiero-Winters, a runner who had lost her leg to being hit by a car while out on a training run. Despite that, she’s an elite athlete and holds several world records. She would be running the marathon on Sunday while pushing a 9 year old girl in a wheel chair. Those are the people that really inspire me, and the ones I think about when I’m out there hurting. I remind myself of all the people who do races with a prosthetic leg, (or TWO prosthetic legs, as is sometimes the case) and that if they can do it, then I sure as hell don’t have anything to be complaining about with two functioning legs.

We also got to hear running legends Dick Beardsley, Joan Benoit Samuelson and Bill Rodgers speak. Joan won the first Olympic women’s marathon event in 1984, and is still a world class runner today. Up until that point, women’s distance events were not allowed in the Olympics because of a (very wrong) notion that women were not capable, or would severely injure themselves. Now it’s widely accepted that women are actually physiologically built BETTER for endurance events than men. So, there!

Once we got back to the hotel I headed up to my room to relax, read some more of my book, and catch the news. We had known that thunderstorms were likely that weekend, and were all a little worried they’d be hitting OKC in the morning. We lucked out and they didn’t hit OKC at all, but stayed to the north and west.

I woke up on Sunday morning just praying that I would feel better, and I didn’t. I still felt like I was getting sick. But at least I didn’t feel any worse! So before I even got out of bed I knew that the day would be a struggle. We all met down in the lobby for some quick words from Eladio and a prayer, then headed off to downtown. It was very crowded, this was by far the largest race I’ve done. I believe there were around 20,000 participants between the marathon, half marathon, relay, 5k, and kid’s marathon. It was so nice riding the bus, since we were able to get dropped off fairly close to the start, and not have to worry about parking or anything. I dropped off my gear check bag, after a bit of trouble finding where I was supposed to do that, and got in the start corral behind the 12 min pace group. Surprisingly, I was having no nervous tummy issues, which is a first for me. No last minute trips to the port-a-john!

The start was right next to the memorial, and before we started they reminded us that we were running a memorial marathon with 168 seconds of silence. One second for each person killed in the bombing. I don’t think there was a dry eye down there after that. Once the gun went off, it took me about 10 minutes to get to the actual start mats since I was so far back, and then I was off!

I was wearing a pace band for a 5:15 finish time, so I knew how fast each mile needed to be. Runners Edge uses a “smart pacing “ strategy that has you warm up the first couple of miles at a much slower pace, pick it up in the middle to build a cushion, and then accounts for fatigue at the end. So my pace band employed this method instead of an even pace for each mile.

Before I even got half a mile in, the humidity hit me hard. I hadn’t noticed it much before I started running, but as soon as I did, the air felt as thick as pea soup and I was sweating like a pig. Great! Perfect way to start the race! We haven’t had much, well, ANY, humidity up here yet this year, so I definitely was not acclimated to it. At least it wasn’t too hot, and there was a nice breeze at our backs. There were lots of spectators at this point, and I was running with Marcela, so the mile and a half before the first aid station passed relatively quickly. Somewhere around that point Marcela stopped to use a port-a-john, so then I put my headphones on and tried to focus.

The humidity was really bothering me those first few miles, and just making me feel so sluggish. I felt like if I’d had any fever when I started, I was sweating it out now. My whole body just felt like it was burning up, and it was only in the low 70’s. That really worried me, and I was afraid I would have trouble in the later miles. But I just kept going, and tried to focus on where I was at.

Every mile I checked my pace band, and I was right on where I needed to be. So helpful, and very reassuring. I highly recommend using a pace band for anybody doing a half or full marathon (you can order one here). The miles seemed to be ticking by pretty fast, and I was in good spirits. Pretty soon it was time for the half marathoners to split off from those of us doing the full. I was actually really worried at this point, because when the half marathoners split off at Lincoln, I was totally alone. There was NOBODY around by the time I got to that point, and I HATED doing the last half of that race all by my lonesome. So you can imagine my relief to see that there were tons of people heading on to the full marathon course. Yeah! That meant I wasn’t totally at the back of the pack!

My feet were feeling good, my legs were feeling good, I was a bit stuffy, but other than that I was OK. Around the aid station at mile 8, I ran into Steve from RE. He was doing his first marathon, and starting to struggle a little bit. I talked to him for a minute, and then went on. It’s nice to have people to run with and talk to, but in a race, everyone needs to do their own thing and listen to their own body.

We were winding through some nice residential neighborhoods now, but by about mile 10 I was starting to feel pretty tired. 10 miles is a long way to run anyway, and then getting to that point and thinking about having to run another 16, well, it can be a little depressing. Just before the half way point my ipod died. Which was OK, because my sinuses were so congested that they were making my ears hurt, which made it kind of annoying to have earphones on. So it was nice to take those off. I stopped for a quick potty break at mile 13, and was back on my way.

Now, by this point, I was having an issue I’ve never had before. My damn thighs were getting chafed! Hello, thunder thighs! Gah! I think the main problem really was that my shorts were wet both from me sweating so much and from pouring water down myself at every aid station, and everyone knows that wet material chafes you way worse than dry. So they were wet and the seams were just rubbing my poor legs raw. At least, that’s what I’m telling myself the problem was. Although it probably wouldn’t hurt to lose a couple of pounds. But, whatever. It was the damn wet shorts, I tell you! Regardless of the cause, it was still painful. Luckily, right about then I saw the pink ladies sitting on the curb with a stick of sport slick getting their feet all re-greased, so I stopped and asked to use some. The pink ladies were these 3 gals in matching pink shorts and shirts that I saw a lot throughout the race, and they happily let me borrow their sport slick. Much better!

I knew we were getting close to the lake, and now I could see it. About that time I really felt the wind pick up, mainly because we were out of the protection of the neighborhoods. I saw DaShaun from RE in front of me a little ways, and made it my goal to catch up with him before the 14 mile mark. Just before you hit 14 miles, we turned south onto the trail that ran by the lake. And straight into the worst headwind I have ever dealt with. It was a sustained wind of about 25-30 mph, and I don’t even want to wager a guess as to what it was gusting up to. Up until then I had been pretty much right on my goal pace, and I just knew this was going to kill me.

The wind. I felt like I had run into a brick wall. All I could do was put my head down and try to make as much forward progress as possible. About then I caught DaShaun and we walked for a couple of minutes commiserating about this blasted wind. We decided we’d run to mile 15 and set out. Before we got quite to the mile, he decided to take a walk break and I trudged on. I felt like I was getting nowhere, and that if I stopped moving I would get blown backwards. It was that bad. I walked a lot more than I wanted to, because running really wasn’t getting me anywhere any faster than walking, but it was using twice as much energy. And to top it off, right about then the sun came out and heated things up. Fantastic! I had finally gotten over the humidity factor, and now I was dealing with wind AND the beating down sun. Thankfully, the sun went back behind the clouds after just a few minutes.

Finally, the road led us away from the lake. And straight up a bridge, which was one of the biggest hills of the course. I kept thinking that the wind would stop or that we’d turn out of it, but no such luck. We were pretty much straight into that dam headwind the entire rest of the race.

By this point, I had reached the point where I felt totally spent. I was tired, hot, sore, sweaty, I could feel the blisters on my feet, and I just wanted to be done. I wouldn’t really say I hit the wall, but my mood was pretty sour. Around mile 18 there was an aid station that had some “showers” set up for us to run under. Boy, did that ever feel good! We were still straight into the wind, but I had found MY second wind, and picked the pace back up a bit.

All along the course, they had banners up remembering the bombing victims. Each banner had one of their names on it, and reading the banners on this stretch of the course was getting me all choked up. I don’t know why NOW it was affecting me. I guess you just get to the point in any marathon where your body and your mind are so beaten, and all of your emotions are just right there on the surface. So it’s all just part of the experience, but I had to make myself stop reading them because getting choked up was making it hard to breathe.

The miles seemed to be going so slow by this point. Or maybe it was just that *I* was going so slow. Either way, I kept watching myself fall farther and farther away from my goal time and it was really bumming me out. I knew I would still PR though, but it was disappointing to not reach the goal I had set. I can’t remember where I was on the course when it happened, probably somewhere between mile 23 and 24, but when I looked down at my Garmin and it read the time that I had wanted to finish in, I just about started crying. But again, that made it hard to breathe, so I pulled myself together.

I was still having to do a lot of walking due to the frickin’ wind, but when I hit mile 25 I knew I could run the rest of the way in. There was an aid station about a half mile later, and I did walk through that so I could get a good drink. We turned a corner about a quarter of a mile before the finish, and it was a straight shot in so you could see the finish line. It was nice to be able to see it, and nice that I wasn’t still so far out that it would take me forever to get there.

A little before the finish, Eladio was standing on the side of the road watching for all of the RE people and gave me a high-five as I went by. I was so happy to cross that finish line, but it really wasn’t overly emotional or anything. I ended up finishing in 5:44, about 30 minutes slower than my goal time. So, that was disappointing, but I finished, and I PR’d (by about 25 minutes!), and I felt good. Really, that’s all I could ask for on a day that had less than ideal weather conditions and when I wasn’t feeling 100%.

The finish area was pretty large, and I had to look around for the place to get my chip cut off. I finally found it, and all the people sitting there were chatting amongst themselves and didn’t even see me. I had to ask about 5 times “are you taking chips?” before they finally saw me. Then, they tell me that they ran out of medals and shirts! Fuck! It’s pretty shitty to finish any race, let alone a marathon, and be told that you don’t get a shirt or a medal basically because you were too slow. I did manage to find a table that had finishers shirts left, but of course, they were out of smalls. I have NEVER gotten a size small finishers shirt. And the mediums are way too big, so I never get to wear any of my finishers shirts in public. Lame. I wish races would order more smalls, since they ALWAYS run out. Not all of use slow pokes are a size large!

At the OKC marathon, one of the cool things they offer are cheeseburgers at the finish. But, if you’ve ever finished a marathon, the last thing you want is a cheeseburger 60 seconds after you finish. A lady was walking around with a tray of them and pretty much shoved one in my face. I had to just walk away. And I still hadn’t found anything to drink! I REALLY wish they’d have some water available right at the finish, but you had to walk quite a ways to find any. So, didn’t meet my goal time, no medal, a too-big finishers shirt, cheeseburger in my face, and no water. But I was done.

I walked through the memorial on the way to where our bus was picking people up, and noticed that a lot of people put their bib numbers and medals on the chairs (each victim is represented by an empty chair). Very neat.

I got over to where our bus was, but our bus driver was missing, and the door was locked. Ugh! At least there were some benches right there, so I took a seat and waited for the driver and other RE people. Turns out, our bus was broken down, so a few of us had to catch a shuttle back to the hotel. No biggie. I got all showered up and packed and went down to the lobby. Our bus had been fixed by then, and everyone from the group was back to the hotel. I still had an hour to kill, so I walked over to Chipotle to grab a burrito. I must say though, I was very disappointed in my burrito. It was seriously about half the size that they make them here in KC. I don’t know if that is normal down there or if they were just being stingy because they were getting hit with all of us marathon people at 2 in the afternoon, or what. But I was not pleased! Think I’ll get a free burrito if I send in a letter of complaint? It still tasted good though.

We loaded up the bus and set out for home. One of the nice parts of the bus trip was having so many people to talk to and relive the experience with. Eladio let anyone who wanted to share get on the microphone and tell a little about their day. Most people did, and it was really neat to hear everyone’s stories. Only a couple of people hit their goal time, and many were quite a ways off, like me. So that definitely made me feel better. We stopped in Wichita for McDonalds (hey, Chipotle and McD’s within 4 hours of each other is perfectly normal) and then watched “Run Fat Boy Run” on the way home.

So all in all, it was a good trip. I feel pretty confident that if it hadn’t been for the wind and me not feeling 100% that I would have been able to hit 5:15. I know that no race is ever going to have ideal conditions, but hopefully I can hit one this year that has better than we did on Sunday. Next marathon is the ET Full Moon Midnight marathon in Nevada in August, and I’ll try for 5:15 again there.