The week leading up to the race was super lazy. Seriously... why is it SO much harder to get out the door during a taper than normal training? My enthusiasm for running this marathon had seemingly faded, but nonetheless, I let it be and took one day at a time. I knew things would be fine and that I just had to GET myself to the race. We were a little late on that too, we literally didn't arrive in VB until 2pm Saturday, 3 short hours before the closing of packet pickup. A little late is a better than never, and once I received my number and gear my mind finally had that "ah ha!" moment and I was excited to run this marathon.
Race morning I had two priorities: A) To see Ms. Speedy Edie before the start of her half marathon and B) To have more than enough onsite time for my pre-race prep. I am SLOW and don't like to feel rushed! Sadly, I failed find Edie before her start... And 1.5 hrs later I still only made it to the marathon start with less than 2 minutes to spare... But I made it!
Twenty-six point two...
Is a long ways no matter how you put it. The distance and challenge of it all never changes, but my attitude and my approach certainly has. My main race plan was to "run happy" and smart in the first half, then push for a strong second half and negative split. Ideally, first half being at approximately 3:30 pace, then upwards from there depending on how things played out.
The first few miles were low key and relaxed. While I aimed to run with the 3:35 pace group, I actually decided they were moving too fast. Plus, I tend to get claustrophobic in crowds ;) so I hung back and waited, monitored my pace... and waited... but by mile 6 I had caught the 3:35 pace group and was struggling to stay back with its leaders. I gave myself the okay to run ahead. Not significantly faster, but more so the the pace my body was wanting to naturally run while still relaxed and maintaining low effort. Miles 7-9 passed through the army base, which was fun with the extra cheers, high-fives and general crowd support.
Around mile 10 we turned onto the boardwalk, which was the start of the wind, but I was not worried! My plan was simple (and relatively effective): I tucked in behind some of the taller guys (groups preferred) and stayed relaxed (being short has it's advantages!) This was VERY key for the stretch we ran on the boardwalk between miles 10 to 12.5 where the headwind was quite strong. In fact, a few of us were jockeying for position behind a group of tall guys, which was both fun and humorous (they knew what was going on and were very friendly).
Around mile 12 we turned back onto Atlantic Ave and began to look out for my family and hubby. Shortly after, I was taken by surprise by a voice screaming my name and freaking out. It was none other than Edie (whom I assumed had already left for her long trek back to Pittsburgh), running towards me at high speed and shrieking ... Gotta love that girl! With a quick hug I blew her a kiss and ran off (to the sound if more shrieking haha). The guys I had been running with just laughed, but it was certainly effective in putting a HUGE smile on my face. A few blocks later, I exchanged a high five with dad and shortly thereafter, greeted the hubby with a kiss and grabbed my fuel for the second half. He ran with me for almost a half mile then I bid him adieu to tackle the second half! First half: 1:45:55 and happy !
The highlight of the second half was seeing another athlete friend, Crystal, on multiple occasions, and running alongside a nice older gentleman who offered plentiful encouragement throughout the last few miles of the course. Thank you Crystal for following me throughout the course and for the cheers and pics!! At this point, I focused on holding my pace steady and remaining relaxed. I was averaging just below 8 min/mi and didn't want to push much harder before getting out if the headwind. Around mile 17, we turned onto Shore Drive, which was much more calmer wind-wise and prime for picking up the pace. It was fun passing many runners that had already started to fade (always a perk of starting off conservatively), and miles 17-20 were the best of my race. Unfortunately during this time, I began feeling the early signs of cramping in my calves and the burning of the soles of my feet from my shoes being laced too tight was only worsening. I fueled up, looked for electrolytes, hoped for the best and prepared myself for the final 10k.
Mile 20 came and went and I was feeling confident and ready to push for a great finish! Oh how I wished all marathons could have perfect fairytale endings... shortly after entering Ft. Story we were greeted by a heavy wall of wind. People were starting to drop off and the crowd was thinning, thus my opportunities to draft were few, but that really did not bother me. In that mile my calves began cramping again and I finally opted over to re-lace my shoe. The 20 seconds lost was worth the alleviated pressure, but stopping definitely aggravated the cramping issue and I logged my slowest mile of the race (8:54). Here I am thankful for the sports nutrition lessons I learned with last years' ultras! I grabbed pretzels and Gatorade for sodium, though I managed to proceeded to choke on a pretzel, spit it out and then accidentally dropped the cup. Womp. Plan B: I took a gel, drank the gatorade and pressed on. It helped, but the calves still seized when I pushed to hard. I took one mile at a time, focused on staying relaxed to try and dissolve the cramp and repeated my mantra to stay positive/focused. Around mile 23, I passed a stand handing out snacks and instinctively grabbed a bag of chips. Okay, it felt super awkward running past the growing crowd of spectators with a bag of chips in hand (but they helped!) Half a mile later, I kindly handed it off to another random spectator, with a smile of course ;) Gotta love that crowd support!!
The next few miles were tough and seemingly dragged on. I counted down the blocks in sets of 10 before turning onto the boardwalk, which represented another 10 blocks to go. While I thought I had time to make it in under 3:30 and it didn't look THAT far, it was a good half mile plus. I eventually realized I wasn't going to make it under 3:30, so I eased up a bit and enjoyed the crowd and finish, just happy to be finished and to have marathon number 5 in the books!! Second half: 1:45:35. Final time: 3:31:35. New PR by about 2 minutes and a BQ!!
Post-race, contrary to the pictures above, was not that fun. I was grounded shortly after exiting the finisher's shoot for a good 5 minutes while my calves seized up on me (charlie-horse style = majorly painful!). I tried to eat the stew but was majorly nauseated and it was a good few hours before I was able to eat anything significant. Alas, better after the race than during!
The race, unlike my past marathons, seemingly flew by. It was fun... even when I was hurting I was happy to be running and maintained a positive attitude. My time was just shy of a 2 minute PR over my last marathon, the 2012 Richmond Marathon and once again a Boston qualifying effort. Though I fell short of my other goal (sub 3:30), I am elated with many non-quantitative markers of improvement: I fueled better & felt stronger, paced more effectively and ran smarter overall than my previous marathons (with major credit to coach Jim for helping with that!) I managed a negative split despite challenges on the back half and maintained a positive attitude while negotiating the wind, cramping and the issues with my shoes. Most importantly, I trained for and ran the road marathon I've been wanting to run for the past 1.5 years, and BQ's, both which make me SUPER HAPPY... I can't really ask for more than that!!!
Kristen Chang is Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN), Certified Specialist in Sports Dietetics (CSSD) and triathlete residing in southwest Virginia with her husband and dogs. Follow along as she shares favorite fueling recipes, general wellness and sport nutrition tips and stories from her athletic endeavors.
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