Monday, April 19, 2010

Marathon Monday Memory - 2008

Brain surgeon. Veterinarian. Artificial intelligence engineer. All things I wanted to be when I grew up.

Never did I imagine being an athlete. I played the occasional sport, did well, but never excelled or even dreamt of excellence.

So now I find myself two years into a far-fetched plan to qualify for the Olympic Trials.

It started in Boston, 2008: My second marathon would be the fabled trek from Hopkington to downtown Boston. I had watched the race as an ignorant spectator in 2004, so I remembered the energy of the event.

But this year was even more electric. The women's olympic marathon trials would be on a criterion course (essentially a loop course), making it great for racers and watchers.

I was so pumped to watch this race. Even though my race would be the next day, I spent several hours going from spot to spot on the trials loop. I watched Magdalena Lewy-Boulet take an early lead and hold it for much of the race. I stopwatched the gap from her to Deena Kastor, and was one of many who told Deena the deficit as the race went on. I saw Deena take the lead with just a few miles to go, watched her victory lap with the American flag, shook her hand.

I also saw women who didn't look that much different than me, but who ran at least 45 minutes faster. Even though they weren't in contention for one of the three Olympic slots, they were almost definitely having one of the most memorable races of their lives.

And I wanted that feeling, that experience. I wanted to know I was one of the 180-odd women in the country fast enough at this retarded distance to say, I made the B-standard and ran in the Olympic Trials.

Oh, I want it. I want it like most people want a million dollars — they won't die without it, but life would be awfully great with it.

And, quite frankly, my lifetime chances of running a 2:47 marathon are probably considerably better than me having a million dollars.

So here we go. Another sixth marathon season behind me, a seventh coming up in the fall.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Race report - Shamrock Marathon

This was my first attempt at waking up uber-early before a marathon to try and eat more. So at 3:45 a.m. I was eating Kashi cereal with soymilk, followed Clifbar that I ate with the lights turned back out because I really didn't want to be awake.

At 5:15, I rolled out of bed and took a quick shower. Easy way to wake up and loosen up the muscles. And prevent my bedhead from frightening small children.

I started sipping Gatorade at that point, and ate another Clifbar at 6:30. Quite frankly, I don't want to eat another one for a while. Okay, maybe like another week.

We got to the race area fairly easily, found a place to park, and walked over in time to see the 7 a.m. half marathon start. Yep, that's right. The half marathoners start an hour earlier, and run just the north loop of the figure-8 course. So the marathoners got to see some of them coming back toward the finish as we went out, but it meant most of them were off the course by the time we got to about mile 20.

We did the first of several bathroom stops, wandered around a little bit since the marathon started a few blocks away, and started warming up around 7:20. Gear bags checked and two gels wedged into shorts pockets and two into my sports bra, some striders, etc. The volunteers kept telling us we needed to clear the course in front of the start line ... which makes sense if you're not running the race. If you are, I think that block in front of the start is warm-up land, and cheerfully ignored the directions to move.

A little known fact: hearing the national anthem playing makes me want to barf. Not in an I-hate-America way, but in the "oh crap, I actually have to go through with this" way.

Marathon starts are bizarre. You all line up knowing there are 26 miles in front of you, and still a bunch of people will floor it across the line (who we all know do not need to be going that fast). Then at mile three you catch up to them and have to listen to their labored breathing. Gross.

So the first part of the figure-8 course, which incidentally is sort of how we run most of our long runs anyway, was the south loop. This includes the lone hill of the course, a freeway overpass maybe 100 meters long and with about 20 feet of climb. Yes, they consider that a "hill." It's marked on the elevation map ... which is roughly 20 feet above sea level for most of the race. The overpass is 40 feet above. Ha!

Miles 1-6: 7:02, 7:04, 7:02, 7:05, 7:05, 7:00

Mentally I was preparing to split this race into segments at 5k, 10k, half and 18 ... and just kind of wing the last part. You don't really know what will happen from about 20 on, so I had several plans loosely tied to that part of the race.

For the first 5k I wanted to average about 7:10. Whoops. Then 7:05 for the next three miles through the 10k.

Not a whole lot to look at on the south loop, some trees, the outside of the aquarium, Camp Pendleton, a giant gorilla.

Between miles 5 and 6 there's a turnaround, so Pete and I were able to get a girl head-count. I was in 11th, with that pack of women running together and then the rest spread out. Perfect. It didn't look like a group where I could crack top five, but top 10 seemed likely.

Miles 7-13: 6:58, 6:59, 6:59, 6:59, 7:00, 6:58, 6:57

South loop cuts through some other side streets, I don't even really remember much in there. Got us away from the marathoners still coming out, who were using their lane and ours, which resulted in me telling them to scoot over. And we got to cheer for pace groups, which I like doing. Early on, the 3:10 group was huge ... and one of my objectives was to not get passed by the 3:10 group. And the 3:20 group seemed to be going out too fast.

We cut through Camp Pendleton for mile 8, where we catch one girl and get passed by another. There are a lot of troops out cheering and manning a water station, which gives you a really interesting opportunity to say both thank you for serving and thank you for keeping me hydrated.

Back over the hill at mile 10, then up the boardwalk for a mile. The boardwalk is not my friend. It was very sunny and very windy and very lacking in a water stop. I was already starting to notice the heat.

The wind on this stretch started rustling — loudly — another guy's bib. I looked over and said, "You know, if you crumple that up, it won't make that noise."

"Well," he said, "I hang them all up in my cubicle at work so I want to keep it nice. I'm a dork like that."

Yes, yes you are. And now I have to listen to it for another 13 miles? It looks more authentic crumpled anyway.

Half split was 1:33, wanted to go through in about 1:32, so we will take that as good.

Miles 14-19: 7:01, 7:03, 7:04, 7:11, 7:37, 7:17

The first part of the north loop was straight sun again, and slightly uphill for five miles. Just significant enough to realize you are running straight into the sun, uphill, and on a seemingly never-ending road. Until mile 19 it is all the same road, no turns. And, water at 13, 14.5, 16, 17.5 ... Now, listen. Give them to me in consistent intervals. I can't figure out that they are every mile-and-a-half in the middle of a race. I could have looked before, but I didn't, so sue me. Just put them every mile or every other mile. Whatever.

Around mile 16 the long road bends left a little, ducking onto what seems to be a highway but at least has shade. My stomach decides to revolt. Same thing happened at Boston last year ... am furtively trying to figure out the cause. Didn't happen at Marshall, and used the same gels there that I used at the other two.

I send Pete on his way, walking through the water stop at 17.5, I think. Sometimes the walking and the water intake makes my stomach behave.

I see a girl dropping out of the race, sitting in the back of a truck.

I trudge along. I am bored. This is always my least favorite part — the black hole that is miles 16-20. Someone please shoot me.

Oh, did I mention it is something close to 70 degrees at this point?

Finally, at mile 19, we turn off Shore Drive. Thank God.

And into Fort Story. A seemingly empty military base. Holy crap. Really? Well, at least you can see the ocean over to your left. If you can be bothered to turn your head that much.

Miles 20-26: 7:43, 7:16, 7:38, 7:47, 7:33, 7:50, 7:13

After walking through the water stop at 19, I start talking to three guys who are running together. All are fairly young, two of them are friends, the third just a hanger-on like me. That fellow tells us he hasn't run more than eight miles ... Oh crap. We didn't see him for long.

They all introduced themselves, which I found funny. One, I've been running for almost three hours. I really don't care what your name is. Two, if I did care, it's on your bib number.

The two friends are one first-time marathoner being encouraged (also known at mile 20 as "dragged along") by his friend. There's another water stop at 21 just waiting for me to walk through it, then I catch up with the faster and more experienced of the two friends and keep trudging along.

Nearing mile 22 I see Pete. Which I had not expected to do. I had set him up perfectly, all he needed to do was maintain pace and coast on in, and he had looked great at 16. He did not look great now.

I yell at him.

"Crawford, loosen up those arms!"

Ahead of me, he shrugged, clearly replying with, "Whatever, Tracy."

"Fuck marathons," he said when I caught up to him a few seconds later.

I nod in agreement. Then do some loose math to remind him 8 minute pace for the next four miles will get him his BQ. Pete doesn't even run that slow on recovery days. Piece of cake.

Unfortunately the last four miles of a hot marathon are like a really big, really rich piece of cake. Sometimes you just can't eat it, no matter how much you really, really want to do it.

We trudge along together for not even a quarter mile before Pete tells me to go on, he'll catch up. I take that as my cue to leave him alone.

When we exit Fort Story, we are back on Atlantic Avenue, and the cross streets are numbered blocks. For the record, realizing you have at least 30 more blocks to go is really depressing. Somewhere in here the faster of the 3:10 pacers catches up to me, and I try to hold him off to no avail. He had no runners with him though ... but he did cross the line just ahead of me, so probably in about 3:10 even. Strange because he had a huge group with him early on -- maybe it really was as hot as I keep saying it was, and maybe I should feel pretty good about how I did.

Anyway, the second pacer starts to catch me farther down, and he is cajoling another guy the whole time. The guy was running about 15 feet behind the pacer and clearly fading, but being buoyed by remarks like, "Do you want to go to Boston? If you want to go, THIS is where you prove it. This is the mile."

Which buoyed me along, too, and I left them when we made the first of two turns to get back on the boardwalk. The second turn puts you directly in sight of the finish, and it is loud and crazy and I am so damn elated that it is almost over.

Because I was only the 69th person to finish, there weren't many other runners on the boardwalk. In fact, other than the pacer in front of me, there wasn't anybody right near me that I recall. So in a surreal moment, I not only pose for the camera with my hands in the air, but the photographer puts down the camera and calls out, "Great job." Weird.

My watch figured .4 miles for the last segment, and by god I averaged 6:30 pace for all of that piece, thank you very effing much.

They may have called my name over a loudspeaker, but I may be making that up. I talk to the faster pacer for a minute, then congratulate the other pacer and the runner that he helped drag along -- who made the BQ time.

End result: 3:10:11, an almost two-minute PR, for eighth female.

I stand around watching for Pete for a few minutes, then slowly start meandering through the finish area.

I get some goodies, including a hat, long sleeve shirt and snacks. Talk to a girl on the sidelines about my KT tape. Wander to bag check. Still no Pete. Get both bags. Regret not putting sandals in bag.

Sit on bench. OHHHHHH sitting is good. Eventually, see Pete, who ran 3:26 after a very ugly last four miles.

Okay. Tired of writing. Maybe post-race stories later.