Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Marine Corps Marathon and an 8K Kicker

What a great year I have had.  I owe much of my success to all of you, who encouraged me and supported me while I got stronger and faster.  Thank you for helping me reach my goals.  As you will remember, I set a fundraising goal of $5000, and I promised to dye my hair purple for the Marine Corps Marathon if I met this goal.  I did it, dyed my hair purple, and got a personal record (PR) in the 5k, 10k, half marathon and marathon, all in one race.  And, then, for the kicker, I ran an 8K and got a PR at that distance too.

What you didn't know was that AFTER I threw out the purple passion promise, Allyson Wyld, my friend and hairdresser, told me that it would actually be very difficult to dye my auburn hair purple without going through a couple rounds of bleach!  Bleach it, then go purple, then bleach, then go back to my usual auburn.  And, maybe, have it all fall out!  But I had faith, and Allyson did more research, and on the Friday before Marine Corps, she had a big smile on her face.  I spent several hours going from auburn to an audacious aubergine.  The plan was to "undo" the look before going back to work.  However, as I sat in the salon, I heard Allyson talk about sailing on Monday, and I recalled that salons are generally closed on Mondays.  I wore the aubergine all weekend in DC and received many compliments from young women who wanted to know what color it was so they could emulate the look.  The color made me feel more like a VCU art professor than a partner in a law firm.  But come Monday morning, I pranced into my law practice with my purple passion hair.  Word got around, and by lunch there was a steady stream of spectators strolling past my door.

But I have skipped the main event, haven't I?  I had a race to run, a marathon.  This was my third marathon, and my first one outside Richmond.  My previous personal record was 5 hours and 13 minutes.  My goal was to run this marathon in less than five hours, and my stretch goal was to run it in 4:45.  I consulted with my coach, who said I could do it.  He told me to start out at a 10:45 pace, and go faster after the half if I felt good.  The week before the race, I studied the course and considered this pace guidance and felt ready.  I learned that the first 9 miles contained some hills, and that the rest of the race was flat, until the last dash to the finish, which was up a hill to the Iwo Jima Memorial.  A friend of mine, a very fast runner, told me I would HATE the final hill.  I couldn't understand that--a final hill to victory?  If I knew nothing else, it was that I'd LOVE that final hill.

So, race morning we got to the start very early, went through security and waited for the start.  I waited with my friends Holly, who has done dozens of marathons, Jenn, who was running Marine Corps in preparation for an Ironman, and Tiffani, who was running her first marathon.  They planned to run slower than I, so when we lined up to start I said goodbye and was on my own.  On my own in a sea of 35,000 other runners. 

We sang the national anthem, and the crowd surged forward.  There was magic in the crisp air.  I guess I knew I was going out too fast, but I felt so great. I was like a little kid presented an enormous ice cream sundae. I knew I'd pay for it, but it was THERE, it was so good, and nobody was going to take it away. I was supposed to start out at a 10:45 pace, but I kept seeing 10:25 or even 10:22 on my garmin GPS watch. I kept telling myself either I was having a great day or being very stupid. Mile after mile, even though there were hills, I kept going fast.  I knew in my heart of hearts that I was being a dummy, but I held a little glimmer of hope that I could keep up the pace, or maybe just slow to a 10:45 in the last 10K.  I knew it couldn't keep up as I passed the 5K mark, the 10K mark, and the half marathon mark, and realized at each place that I had run those distances faster than I had ever run actual races that stopped at those distances.  (According to the MCM website, my 5K, 10K and half marathon splits were 32:25, 1:05:01, and 2:20:47. These are PRs for all three distances.)

That sounds fabulous, doesn't it?  Well, not really, considering that I had to run ANOTHER HALF MARATHON after that.  Actually, I did fine until about mile 18, and then I really started to suffer.  My legs were like lead.  At mile 20, we crossed the 14th Street Bridge.  The night before, John "the Penguin" Bingham, a slow runner who nevertheless makes a living off writing about running, had warned us that this bridge was 13 miles long--"you start at mile 20," he quipped, "and when you get to the other side you're at mile 33."  I thought he was being silly when he said it, but it was so true.  The bridge was made of hard concrete, and my thighs were killing me.  Furthermore, I was surrounded by zombies.  It was Halloween, so some of those who strolled by were wearing zombie costumes.  Others had given up the ghost on the race and had donned facial expressions resembling zombie masks.

Oh, woe is me, I cried aloud, startling a zombie who was under the impression that we could not speak aloud on the silent bridge over the River Styx.  Were we going to die?  I looked down at a bat that had attached itself to my purple jersey.  It was a glittery bat given to me the night before by a very adorable child named Hannah, a survivor of childhood cancer.  Hannah's bat said around it "You are MY HERO!" 

I remembered why I was doing this race.  I remembered my friend Robin, who has had pains in her leg lately, which is pretty weird because her pain comes from a leg that is no longer--a leg that was amputated along with her cancer.  But Robin won't quit.  Despite her pain, she is learning to walk again, and has plans to complete a triathlon as soon as she can.  And I remembered my friend Ed, also suffering from a secondary cancer in his foot--he lost two toes this year from cancer, yet he has gotten back on his bike and back into swimming, even doing a relay leg of a triathlon this summer.  And I thought of all the many people who have weathered lymphoma (such as my Dad) and fallen to leukemia (such as my Grandmother), and I knew I had to keep going.  Hannah, and all the others, were counting on me. 

So I looked over at Zombie Lady and said, "let's go!  Smile!  If we just run, instead of walk, to the end of this bridge, we can take a walk break!"  She and I began running.  I am not sure that Zombie Lady actually smiled, though, but it was a start.  At the end of the bridge, Zombie Lady kept going, and I paused for a walk break. 

I struggled onward.  I knew I was tired when I passed the "hashers" who were offering beer, but didn't stop to sip.  I declined because I realized I'd have to cross the street to get a beer.  So, I kept going, and eventually I knew I was close to the "final hill," the hill my friend Greg said would kill me.  But it was at that point that I got a second wind.  The hill was steep, and to climb it I had to use different muscles.  That alone was a relief, and coupled with it were the shouts of the elated crowd.  Incredible!

I finished in 4:52:57.  I achieved my goal and got a PR of 20 minutes faster than my previous one.  So, although I started out too quickly to make the stretch goal, I was very pleased with the race.  And the purple hair and what it represented.

5---10:24 (this included a longish uphill, which I took by keeping my heart rate/effort about the same; I just felt great)
6---9:58 (yowser)
10--9:59 (you big dummy, why run so fast?)
12--11:15 (slowed so I could eat something)

14--11:13 (nature calling)
18--11:16 (starting to realize my quads were dead)
19--13:28 (stopped at a porta potty line, which probably took 3 minutes, so this was really pretty fast)
20--11:16 (horrible concrete bridge. really started to kill my thighs)
21--10:24 (bargained with myself that if I ran the whole bridge I could walk some on the other side)
22--12:05 (walked some; turned down hasher beer! noticed my overall pace was too slow! sadness)
23--11:45 misery; kept trying to run, but couldn't keep up the pace; slow incline at this point didn't heelp

24--10:59 picked up the pace here as best I could with less than a 5K left
25--12:05 done. Legs are totally trashed.
26--11:34 almost done
So, all in all, it was a great race, but I started TOO FAST.
Two weeks later, I ran the Richmond 8K, which is about 5 miles.  I decided that my main focus for this race would be to find out if I could start out a race at the proper pace, not too quickly.  I almost always start out too quickly--earlier this year I started out quickly before the gun went off and got a speeding ticket on the Downtown Expressway.  The police officer asked where I was going to fast, and I said, "I'm going to a race."  He said, with a sour expression, "slow down; here's a ticket."  So, for the 8K, my coach said to run a 9:44 pace, and I was determined not to get a ticket, except maybe at the finish line!
As the race began, I realized that it would be impossible to go too fast at first. Dozens of 11 minute mile runners and slower walkers blocked my way. I figured this would blow my goal but resolved not to sweat it. It didn't clear out for 1/3 mile, but then it did and there was a bit of a downhill, so mile one ended at about 9:54 per my Garmin. I considered trying to make these seconds up during mile 2 but resolved not to cry over spilled milk. If I fished 10 seconds slower than planned, oh well.

So for mile 2, I checked my garmin often and if it showed faster than 9:44 I slowed. I finished mile 2 and 9:44 popped up as the mile average on the dot. I got some water, felt great, and there was a downhill, so I sped up some. I remembered that an uphill would follow. Sure enough, after the turn around the uphill cancelled some of the speed I got on the downhill, but when 3 popped up the mile pace was 9:33 and the overall pace for the race was a pile up at the next water station I blew past it.

Now I had less than 2 miles to go so I let myself speed up. When mile 4 popped up it said 9:22. I sped up some more, though I encountered some inclines. Then I realized I had 3/4 miles to go and I knew the last was a downhill, so I began to run so hard it hurt. I turned the corner onto Cary and remembered my coach's admonition not to brake, but to run freely down the hill. It felt great coming into the finish. I saw the clock said 48 something and of course it had taken me a while after the gun to cross the mat. I therefore knew I had exceeded my goal.

My official finish time was 47:20, which is about two minutes faster than the 9:44 pace would have netted me.
All in all, a great end to a great season.