Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Here is Wendy's race report from the Myrtle Beach Marathon.  She did it way more justice than I ever could.  I was just along for the ride on this one.

Myrtle Beach Marathon 2013
by: Wendy Ray

Goal:  It started as sub-4:00 marathon.  Then I got ideas.  If I'd done 26.2 in 4:11 in an Ironman race, surely I could shave a significant amount of time from that in a stand alone marathon, I thought to myself.  What was Boston qualifying time again?  3:45. Sure, why not go for that?  Nevermind that my previous marathon PR was 4:09.  Nevermind that at all . . .
Race plan:  The plan was laid out quite clearly by my coach, taking the guess work out of it.  That should relieve my nerves, no?  Actually, no, because the plan was to negative split the marathon – something I'd never done before.  Mile 20 is where the wheels generally come off.  Stuff hurts.  Nothing specific, just everything.  But according to plan, this was where I was expected to kick it up a notch.  No wonder my hands were sweaty just thinking about it.  The vast majority of my training had been according to heart rate, and that is what would guide my race.  Jog the first 5 miles, run the next 15, and race the last 10K - heart rate zone 2, then 3, then 4, respectively.   Fuel 3 hours before race start, 5 minute jog to warm up, energy gel and water 30 minutes before race start, follow heart rate guidelines, energy gels at mile 5, 10, 15, 20, and 24.  Follow these simple steps and pull off a sub 3:45 marathon.  Ready, set, go.
Pre-race:  I'll be honest. I had high hopes - high hopes and tremendous amounts of anxiety leading up to this race.  I don't know why I was so nerved up.  Qualify, don't qualify – it wasn't going to make or break me.  Other things besides training and racing mean more to me in life.  Still, this meant something.  Working hard and achieving a goal is satisfying.  And in some way, it would symbolize how far I've come . . . in a lot of ways.  I put in the training.  I did every workout exactly as prescribed by my coach.  I was injury-free.  I even managed to get reasonable amounts of sleep the week before the race.  Ashby and I loaded up the kids and headed to Myrtle Beach on Friday afternoon.  We stayed with Ashby's mom and her boyfriend at his house, which happened to be about 2 miles from the race start.  They wanted to spend some time with the kids and graciously invited us all down for the whole weekend.  I had been checking the weather all week.  The forecast was ever-changing – 40s, 20s, 30s, 23 mph winds, 9 mph winds, 13 mph winds, sun, rain, partly cloudy, snow flurries (which, incidentally, did hit later that night – thank you, race organizers, for doing this on Saturday!!)  It was in the 60s and sunny and beautiful on Friday, and we hoped it would hold up for the morning.  We went out for a nice dinner, picked up our race packets, organized our things, and got to bed at a decent hour.  The alarm went off at 3:30 a.m. so I could "fuel" – i.e. eat 2 waffles w/peanut butter and a half cup of greek yogurt with blueberry preserves.  Then I actually went back to sleep for an hour or so, which seemed weird, but the man said fuel 3 hours before race start, so I wasn't about to start bucking the system.  5:00 a.m. we got up and dressed and headed to the race start.  The drive over to Broadway at the Beach took about 2 minutes.  This is possibly the most well-organized race I've ever done.  There was no traffic getting into the parking lot, parking spaces were plentiful, and it was about a minute walk across a field lined with a generous number of porta-potties to get to the start.  We arrived around 5:30 a.m. and had time to sit and enjoy the heat in the car.  5:55 a.m. – warm up jog.  6:00 a.m. – energy gel and water.  6:15 a.m. – porta-potty visit.  6:20 a.m. – lined up at the start.  I was wearing shorts, 2 long sleeve shirts, gloves, ear warmers, and a sweatshirt jacket to throw away at the start.  Overall, I have no complaints about the weather.  It was cold but not miserable with very little breeze.  Inside the start line crowd, I don't think I even needed the throwaway jacket.  This is the moment I noted that nerves really do mess with your heart rate.  Normal standing around heart rate for me is somewhere in the 60s.  Standing there before the gun went off, my garmin was reading 100 bpm.  WTF??  But nerves are good, right?  As my coach said, it shows you respect the distance.  As many times as you've done it, a marathon is no joke.  This was exciting!  And there was a live elephant up ahead – you don't see that every day!  *The race provides funding for some animal charities, so the elephant was representing, not just spectating.

The race:  We started somewhere around the 3:35 pace group.  It seemed somewhat loosely organized, and the 4:00 pace group wasn't that far behind, so I'm not sure it mattered.  We were not too far back from the start line, and when the gun went off, there were only a few seconds of shuffling before people broke into full-fledged running.  I tried to keep my head down and stay at a comfortable jog.  After all, that was the race plan.  It was to be a negative split, and in order for that to happen, my coach had very clearly warned me that I would have to be okay with being passed in the first miles.  A lot.  And so I was, but it is hard not to get caught up in that.  The pounding of shoes all around and the excitement of the crowd – it all gets inside your head and rattles around and makes you go out too fast.  I knew I couldn't let that happen, so I missed the sights in those first few miles.  I tuned everything out and found my rhythm.  Of course I had figured out the pace I would need to maintain to make a qualifying time, even though I was supposed to go by heart rate, and I knew if I stayed around 9:00 the first 5, 8:30 the next 15, and 8:00 the last 10K, I would be golden.  Of course I also had doubts about being able to do 8:00s in the last 6 miles, so I was more comfortable being a little sub-9:00, and that is where I landed – about 8:50-ish.  It felt good.  I could chit chat and breathe easy, but my heart rate was troublesome.  It was supposed to be 148 or less for the first 5 miles, but I was pushing 148 in the first mile.  I decided that race day excitement was to blame, so I let myself push the heart rate a little in the first 5, at times up to the low-150s.  If I felt this good, I figured it was probably okay.  Approaching the 5 mile mark, I assessed how I was feeling.  Absolutely no aches and pains, legs felt fresh, breathing easy, and I didn't have to go to the bathroom.  My extremities were a little numb from the cold, but overall the temperature was comfortable.  The sun was out, so it felt a little warmer, at least in my head.  I took an energy gel and kicked it up a notch at the 5 mile mark. 
This is where we started doing the passing, and it felt nice and easy.  I was really in my groove, ticking off the miles.  My friend and always awesome supporter, Paige, was out to cheer at mile 6, and I dropped my ear warmers with her.  It was turning into a beautiful morning.  Miles 8-17 were along the ocean.  First, I took a stroll down memory lane – the strip in Myrtle Beach where I spent many hours cruising back and forth as a teenager.  I hadn't been back to this beach in nearly 20 years, so the nostalgia kept my mind busy.  Then we came to a stretch with a wide open view of the ocean, and that was where some wind kicked in.  It didn't feel too bad, and I tried to draft off of other runners as much as possible.  Ashby and I chatted here and there, but we were mostly all business.  I entertained myself by eavesdropping on bits of conversations other runners were having as we passed – "no one expected that from Bon Jovi . . . ", "I need to get angry to get through this . . . ", "my legs feel weird . . . "  No shit, dude.  Around mile 13, when the half marathoners split off, I started to feel some tightness in my quads.  It wasn't bad, but I was aware that they were working overtime.  Again, my heart rate was a bit above where it should be.  Max should have been 158, but I was inching up into the 160s. Again, I felt good, so I figured it was probably okay?  Yes, my legs were starting to feel it, but my breathing was still very easy and relaxed.  Each mile, my pace was comfortably under 8:30, and I was almost sure I could kick it up if I HAD to.   
Mile 18 – Okay, this is when shit started getting real.  To be honest, this is where the doubts started creeping in.  We turned a corner and realized we had, in fact, been running into a headwind.  The flip side of that was nice and made us pick up our pace a bit, but I could tell that I was starting to fade.  I had two miles before I was supposed to kick it up again, and I wasn't sure I had it in me.  This is where I started doing too much math in my head.  Let me make this clear – I am not a math guy, so this is nothing but trouble.  The next two miles I felt generally uneasy, trying to assess how I was feeling and what I had left in the tank.  Having reached no conclusions, I hit mile 20 and kicked it up another notch.  My heart rate was immediately at or exceeding the max I was supposed to reach in the last 10K.  My breathing was still easy, but my legs were starting to feel heavy.  I had run a solid race for 20 miles, and I was starting to panic at the thought of it all falling apart at the end.  I overheard two guys talking as we passed.  "We're still at a 3:40 right now," one of them said.  "No way," the other said, huffing and puffing.  "3:50, maybe. I'm not going to get any faster than this."  But we were passing them pretty easily, so assuming THEY were good at math, this could be okay.  At mile 22, I realized there was no way I could keep up the new pace, so I eased off a little.  I just have to get to mile 24.  Then I'll have my last energy gel.  It will give me something to do, maybe give me a little boost of energy (this has literally never happened immediately after eating a gel - while I'm sure it works in the overall scheme, the immediate reaction is a boost of nausea.)  Around mile 24, I saw a clock that said 3:22.  On the one hand, I felt like my legs were going to stop working.  On the other hand, my woefully inept mathematical skills told me that I could fall to 10 minute miles at this point and still come in under 3:45.  Totally doable!  Ashby said what I was already thinking, "You can do anything for 20 minutes."  At mile 25, I let myself think about what it was going to feel like to get back and tell the kids that we're going to Boston.  The next mile would hurt like a mofo, but nothing was going to stop me now.  I felt like every step was getting slower and slower, but it turns out that was all in my head.  Up ahead, I could see the course turn to the right.  Just beyond the turn was the 26 mile marker.  A quick glance at my garmin told me I was still at 3:30-something.  One more right turn, and I could see the finish line, but the view was disturbingly like that classic hallway scene in Poltergeist.   I was sure I was moving toward it, so why did it keep moving farther away?  I dug deep, I picked up my pace, and I crossed the finish line.  Best of all, I crossed it leaving everything out on the course – everything I had in me - and it was worth it.
Post-race:  This was a truly awesome experience for me.  Qualifying for Boston was something I never thought I could do.  A year ago, I would have said it wasn't possible.  This was my tenth stand alone marathon.  It was the first time I negative split a marathon.  It was the first time I ran every step without stopping and/or walking.  It was the first time I actually went in with a well-thought out plan.  I feel like I did a pretty good job of controlling the few things I could control.  Everything else happily fell into place.  I should mention here that Ashby did not intend to stay with me the whole time, but we did end up running the entire race together.  As in life, I think we are stellar partners in running.  We push each other to keep going without saying too much or too little, without being gratingly cheerful or harsh and unforgiving, without pressuring but not letting the other off the hook either.  I don't know if I would have done as well without him, but I'm glad I didn't have to find out.  In the end, we all win – family vacation to Boston, April 2014!!
The numbers:
Gun time – 3:40:52
Chip time – 3:40:18 
F40-44 age group – 5/93

mile 1 – 8:55
mile 2 – 8:54
mile 3 – 8:49
mile 4 – 8:51
mile 5 – 8:49
mile 6 – 8:24
mile 7 – 8:19
mile 8 – 8:17
mile 9 – 8:17
mile 10 – 8:24
mile 11 – 8:25
mile 12 – 8:27
mile 13 – 8:15
mile 14 – 8:19
mile 15 – 8:23
mile 16 – 8:15
mile 17 – 8:16
mile 18 – 8:12
mile 19 – 8:12
mile 20 – 8:18
mile 21 – 8:03
mile 22 – 8:05
mile 23 – 8:24
mile 24 – 8:13
mile 25 – 8:11
mile 26 – 8:15
last .2 – 7:47

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