Monday, November 18, 2013
It all started with a coupon code last December. First, the marathon date changed from mid-November to December 8, which would mitigate the risk of miserably hot temperatures that have happened nearly every race day since the race's inception in 2008. "Come join us for cooler temps!" they said, "And here's a coupon to sweeten the deal!" Even after suffering through the marathon with Shelly in 2011 and shrieking "I'm never doing a stand-alone marathon again!" to everyone who would listen, I admit that I'm the one who rallied my friends and talked them all into signing up (sorry, girls). Then, a few weeks later, it was determined that the new date conflicted with the Dallas White Rock Marathon, and Competitor Group moved the date back to November 17. In their defense, they offered a refund for folks who had already registered. We opted not to take it.
I had two conversations with Dawn about this race. One was back in early fall. With the hamstring issues I'd been having and my A race 3 weeks prior to the marathon, I questioned training for and racing the marathon. Should I switch to the half? At that time we determined that I'd train for Longhorn and do a quick little ramp up for the marathon afterwards with the understanding that I would be training for a "fun run" and should not expect to get a new marathon PR. With Longhorn on my mind, this was fine with me.
The second conversation was the night before the race. "What's your goal?" Dawn asked. Well, it's a fun run with the girls. "OK, but what's your actual goal?" Honestly Coachie, I am terrified of The Marathon. I have run 4 of them. The first one was a disaster. The next 3 all resulted in the same time (4:46). I am stuck with this terrible marathon PR and I really don't want to get that time again. Not to mention the forecast for the day was for brutal heat. She listened and we put together a plan: Run by feel, take off the heart rate strap. Go easy at first, pick it up after a few miles, find a pace group to chase, don't fade, crush the last 6 miles. And stay positive the whole time. No negative thoughts allowed. Got it?
Race day came and as promised, the morning was 70 degrees and dripping with humidity. Aixa picked me up at 5:45 and we drove to the very well organized shuttle at the AT&T center. Rode the bus to the Alamodome and headed straight for the porta potties. These occupied our time for the next hour or so. Pee, get back in line. Pee again. Met up with Linda, Brian, and Orissa in our corral (13) and we were ready to begin. As we inched towards the start line with the thousands of other people around us, I was filled with pride over how cute we looked in our Smash kits and did not feel nervous about the day.
I ducked into a porta potty right before we got to the start line. This proved a smart move because this was the first marathon where I didn't have to stop in the middle of the race! The girls and Brian waited for me and we crossed the start line. Immediately, Aixa and Orissa were off to the races. I knew that if I followed them, I'd suffer later, so I stuck to the plan of going easy the first few miles. Linda and Brian stayed behind with me.
With 26,000 entrants in this race, if you start in a later corral like we did, the first 12 miles of the race is really hard to navigate and get into a rhythm. The water stops are chaos and there are people everywhere, walking, run-walking, running, stopping dead in their tracks in front of you. Every corner is like a turn buoy on the swim in a triathlon - everyone gets bunched up and you have to avoid smacking into people, getting squashed into a curb, or having someone step on you. Trying to negotiate all of this is tiring. If I did this race again, I would be very tempted to lie about my pace so that I could get a spot in one of the first corrals. I had brought a small bottle of water with me so that I wouldn't have to try to maneuver into the first few water stops, and I think this really helped.
They changed the course this year. The race started at the Alamodome and wound up St. Mary's street to the zoo. Then, to my delight, we ran up and over Stadium Drive past the main entrance of Trinity University and down the other side along the access road of 281. I spent all my time through this section enjoying the huge crowds of students who had shown up to wave signs and cheer, and yelling to Linda "I used to live in that building!" and laughing. We ran past the lacrosse field and the tennis courts and the gym and I recalled so many snippets of happy memories from college. Up Ledge Lane and past Prassel Hall where the kids were hanging off their balconies watching and cheering. What a rush. And, all of it was nicely shaded. With all this distraction, I almost didn't notice that we were running up some pretty tough little hills.
We ran back into downtown on Main, and at mile 7 I got to see Robert, Andre, Gina, and Rebecca, who were spectating (Gina snapped this photo). At this point, Brian had run up to catch Aixa and Orissa, and Linda and I were running together. We were chatting a little bit, and I was listening with the other ear to a fabulous new mix on my iPod that Shelly and Valerie had helped me create last week.
The course divided between half and full marathon at mile 12. After running off to the right towards the missions, finally we had some breathing room. Mile 13.1 came and went. I looked at my watch and observed that if I ran even splits (hahahahaha) I would be able to get a 4:30. I picked up the pace a little. By this point, Linda and I had stopped talking and had our game faces on. It was then that I started to notice that we were passing people. We were passing everyone. I began counting. Between miles 13.1 and 15, we passed 150 people.
Both of us were sticking to our nutrition plan of a gu every half hour and a saltstick every hour. Gatorade every time we passed an aid station that had it (note: there are 20 aid stations advertised on this course. Every other one has Gatorade. As someone who is used to a buffet of sports drink, gu, ice, and other treats at every mile in WTC triathlon races, I do not like this, especially on a hot and humid day).
Up until mile 16, we had followed Coachie's rules. We never stopped running, even through the aid stations. I kept the happiest, most positive attitude I've ever had, singing along to my iPod, chattering to Linda when she seemed to need it. She did the same for me. And then at mile 16, we stopped to walk through a water stop and eat a gu, and kept walking for a little longer than we needed to. Looked at each other and smiled, ashamed. And then started to run again.
At mile 17, the course veered off into a somewhat hilly 2 mile out-and-back. I looked at my watch and noted an 11:07 pace. I said to Linda, "Ok, every mile after this at 11:07 or better is a victory." She said ok and told me that her heart rate was getting high. I was thankful to have left my heartrate strap at home. One less thing to worry about. Now was the time to see if I could stay positive.
I was tested almost right away. I felt a twinge in my right quad, then a twinge in the calf of the same leg. Cramps. Nooooooooo! It's only mile 17! Ok, what to do. Take another saltstick, even though it isn't time. Stay positive. So I did. The cramp subsided.
We saw Aixa and Brian heading back on the out-and-back while we were still on our way out. We never saw Orissa, although apparently at some point, we passed her. At an aid station around mile 18, I lost track of Linda and continued the rest of the race on my own. Saw my co-worker Vincent on his way out while I was approaching mile 19, and waved at him. Ok, he's a rookie, I can't let him catch me.
As the wheels fell off at mile 19, I stuck to the plan. Although I couldn't help falling off the pace, and I had to walk to shake out cramps that were taking over both calves, shins, and hammys at the same time, I kept moving forward in the most positive fashion. The mantra "pain is inevitable, suffering is optional" was rolling around in my head as I sang Three Day's Grace's "Pain" (thank you Shelly for the song suggestion - it is a GREAT one!). I ran out of my own saltsticks and took salt packets from the medical tents to try to make the cramps subside, but it didn't really help.
I'd have the same opinion of miles 19-24 if I was having a great day - that part of the course sucked big time. It was all within the Mission Trail park, along a concrete sidewalk that is just like the greenbelt that Coachie is always telling me not to run on. Hot, exposed concrete. No breeze, no shade, and sparse aid stations. Everyone was walking. But I thought to myself that this run course looked like the run course of Ironman Arizona, the race that I DNF'd without making it to the run exactly one year ago today. Today was the day I was getting to run a marathon instead of sitting in an urgent care in Phoenix with road rash. So I tried to imagine that I was running at Ironman Arizona, and with that, I maintained focus and positive energy.
Around mile 25, I realized that I wouldn't be getting a new PR, and that in fact, I wasn't even going to match my dreaded 4:46 3x marathon time. Turns out there is something worse than 4:46 - it's running slower than 4:46. As I ran back onto city streets and made that final turn onto Cherry Street towards the Alamodome, I saw the time slipping away, but I kept moving forward toward the finish line.
The finishers chute was surrounded by cheering spectators telling the runners what a great job we were doing. I took it in and smiled. My final time: 4:51:10. My second worst marathon time ever. But you know what? I am prouder of this race than all the rest, because I was able to stay relentlessly positive. I also feel like my running is the strongest it's ever been, and that on a nice day, I would have had a wonderful race.
Brian and Aixa had crossed the finish line 25+ minutes earlier, new PRs for both of them on a brutal day - amazing! I wandered through the finisher's area sort of floating and grabbing every beverage that was handed to me - chocolate milk, frozen amazing Jamba Juice smoothies, Gatorade, water. Was able to find Robert and Andre and stand around for a minute talking. Found Orissa, whose hip flexor was seizing up. Orissa told us that she'd caught up with Linda and forced her to get medical attention, and that Linda had had to DNF due to heat exhaustion.
We went into the medical tent and talked with my friend Tim who was working there. He told us that the course had been closed just 30 minutes before due to the heat - the out-and-back at mile 17 had been closed and people were being sent straight past it to the finish - anyone who hadn't reached mile 17 yet would only be permitted to run 22 miles that day. The temperature had matched the record for that day - 87 degrees.
Found Linda at another medical tent and then we went and caught the shuttle back to the park and ride. We were able to laugh as we recounted tales of the day. On the way to the race, we had talked of doing the San Antonio/Las Vegas double-double, which is actually a thing because both races are on the same day - you run here and then fly to Vegas and run again. On the way home we made a pact to never let each other sign up for another full marathon again, unless it has a swim and bike before it.
I've made this promise before at the end of every marathon that I run, and this time is no different. And every time I said it, I've had to retract it the next day when I say, "I know I can do better. I want to try again."
I know I can do better. I want to try again. Austin Marathon, February 2014? Maybe we can find a coupon code.
Saturday, November 9, 2013
I've been reflecting quite a bit in the last couple of weeks about triathlon and motivation and I thought I'd throw some of my thoughts down here. First though, I want to say thank you to the folks who contacted me after Longhorn - I appreciate the advice and kind, kind words - thank you! I also received the question: why put yourself out there like that, you big whiner? I fully admit that I might have sounded like a bratty child throwing a temper tantrum about a day that didn't go the way I wanted it to. But I feel like it's important in the documentation of my journey to not only publish the awesome stuff, but to describe the bad days too, because it's honest.
So in the aftermath of the "bad day," (which after some reflection, really didn't turn out to be so bad) I'm here thinking about triathlon and what it means to me and why do I do it anyway. Dawn had Shelly and me answer this question when we began training for our first Ironman. We both struggled with it for weeks (What does it meaaaaan!?), and we were surprised to find out that simply "to find out if I can" is a sufficient answer if it means something to you.
The problem is that after you find out that you can, the question becomes "Now what?" or I guess, "Now why?" So now I'm sitting here questioning: why do I do triathlon? Why am I trying to go faster? What is going to keep me motivated to continue to push myself, to get up early to train, to (try really hard to) eat right all the time, to go to bed early every night, to make it hurt in training, to NOT QUIT when a workout isn't going the way I want it to, to repeatedly choose exercise or sleep over social events, to stay positive, to keep running, swimming, biking? I need this answer because I need to know and understand what motivates me. I need to reach and hold on to it when it gets tough, whether during training or racing.
In a conversation with Robert last week, I came to the answer: I want to be great at something. Not just good. I'm "okay" at lots of things, but I want to be really great at something. I don't think "something" necessarily has to be triathlon, but that's what I've picked, which is lucky because I truly can say that I love to train! That's a good thing because clearly "to be great" also requires "to do a whole lot of hard work."
Then the question is: how do you define great? A while back, "great" was to FINISH a 10K, marathon, short course triathlon, Ironman. Now, it would be absolutely absurd for me to say "I want to qualify for Kona/70.3 Worlds" or "I want to win my age group." I'm all about striving for attainable goals, and those are completely out of reach for me. But maybe, just maybe, one day they won't be. The great thing about triathlon is that it truly is a lifetime sport. So "being great" will mean being better than yesterday, every day. This is something I can work with. Onward!