Thursday, March 21, 2013

Plan C

R and me, pre race

Paul and I stayed the night after the marathon with friends A and C in Virginia.  The day before A asked me if there were going to be tears if I didn't hit my goal.  I told him that I thought there would be tears regardless, but that if I didn't hit Plan A then so be it.

I didn't hit Plan A.  I didn't hit Plan B.  I mostly hit Plan C, with a little bit of D in there too.  You know what the best moment of the race was:  deciding to give up on Plan B, and not just because I allowed myself to hide behind a car for a quick pee.

Corral 6 at the start

I ran Plan A solidly through mile 6.  Then we hit The Hill.

Let's just pause a moment to discuss the courses elevation.  I studied it of course.  But most of these profiles tend to make mountains out of molehills.  All of the profiles below are from  The first one makes it look like you'll need poles to summit that hill, so I consulted the second which shows a max grade of 2% on that hill, not so bad.  Except that the second graph is basically not using a high enough sample rate.  If I zoom in on just the hill, it reveals the 3rd graph AND 7-9% grades!  That hill was a little beast.  My coach had mentioned this hill, but I had brushed it off as only 2%, imagine my surprise when I saw this thing towering ahead of me.  My face was roughly 8% grade purple.


Back to the plan.  Alan had warned me to not get worried if I fell behind pace on the hill, that I'd make it back up on the downhill.  I ran an 8:45 up the hill, so slower than desired, but I'm not worrying.  I just keep cruising, trying to remain loose.  I clocked my half marathon at 1:45:51, about a minute behind Plan A, and right on Plan B.

The half marathoners pealed off, and it was clear how few marathoners there actually were.  The race was advertised as a 30K person race, but it was actually 20K half marathoners and 3.5K marathoners.  It felt lonely and quiet from there on.  It felt more like a half ironman run.  You've just finished this long athletic endeavor, and now you've got to run 13.1 miles.  It felt like this is where the race really began

My heart rate hadn't recovered from the hill.  I would try to concentrate on running smooth and taking advantage of any slight decline, but it didn't seem to matter.  My heart rate was 180 bpm, and it was going to take drastic action to get it back down to 170 bpm.

I pondered this for a few more miles.  What makes 170 the magic number.  Maybe I could hold onto my pace and my 180 heart rate for 13 more miles.  At mile 15, I tried to focus on seeing Paul at the 20 mile mark.  At mile 17, it was clear:  I was not going to make it at that pace.  I was going to need to return to Plan C:  drop the pace til the HR is back under 170, then maintain that pace.  I thought a bit about whether switching to Plan C was just fulfilling the doubts I had going into the race.  But the numbers didn't lie- I wasn't running Plan A any way you looked at it.  Switching plans didn't feel like giving up.  It was a relief to stop having to decide to not slow down.

At mile 20, I saw Paul.  He had ventured out to give me a light jacket in case it rained (it only just sprinkled, and by the time I saw him, it was sunny and low 50s).  It was so good to see him.  I gave him the "thumbs sidways" sign, panted "Plan C" and kept on trucking.  Heart rate down to 170, pace well into the 9:00s.

Heading to the finish

The last six miles were grueling and boring.  Without a good sense of the area it was hard to know what to anticipate.  Having the race broken into miles (I usually train by time, long runs broken mentally in ~30 minute chunks) only reinforced how plodding it felt.  The course itself had five different out and backs.  The worst one is below.  You run down from the top, over a bridge, and you see runners making the turn off to your left (at the bottom), only to realize there are more runners on the bridge parallel to yours, so you have to go over that bridge, turn around, cross the highway a 3rd time before finally going the way you anticipated.

When I finally approached the finish line, I mostly I just felt tired.  I didn't really feel this overwhelming sense of accomplishment.  It wasn't like the posters.  I was the same person who started the race.  I don't know what I expected exactly, but I guess I expected more than strong desires to 1) find Paul, 2) sit down 3) drink more water, and 4) inspect my toes to figure out why they felt so wiggly (answer below).  Other than feeling overwhelmed at the prospect of navigating the finishing chute maze of food, burrito wrappers, volunteers, water, medals, and runners to find my husband, there was no risk of tears.  In fact I was much more emotional at the start of the race, waiting for my corral to be called, shedding a few nervous, excited tears.  In the end I was just happy to be done.  I felt satisfied, but not changed.

Odds and ends:
  • Having dinner with my coach the night before the race was such a treat.  It was fabulous to meet his wife and share a meal with them before my first marathon.
  • I've definitely been spoiled by Boston.  This race was sorely under-resourced.  Sure having bands on the course is a unique experience, but you don't really hear much of them.  And the water stops were just chaos.  Some stops had no volunteers, just cups of water set out in advance.  For the mid-to-back-of-the-packers, there weren't even any of those left.  Not cool, Rock 'n' Roll.  Not cool.
  • I wore my BTT top and got 3 or 4 "Boston!" cheers.  Those were awesome.
  • I relied on my virtual partner for pacing, which didn't work quite the way I had planned.  I ran a slightly longer course (26.5), as you do with other runners and many, many turns.  But even the smallest variation say 1.01 miles instead of 1.00 resulted in a time that was off by a few seconds.  I'd think I was running an 7:55, only to clock in at 8:02 on the mile markers.  Furthermore, I thought that on laps the virtual partner would reset my distance, but it did not.  So I continued to get further ahead of my virtual partner, while in reality getting further behind.  After a few miles, I switched to using average lap pace, which at least reset at each mile.
All done

Well, if you're still with me, I'm assuming this means you want to hear about the wiggly toenails.  If not, then read no further.  When I finished, I had at least one toe on each foot that just felt weird.  Once I found Paul, I removed my shoes to find that I had one toenail on the left foot and two on the right where blisters had formed up under the nail.  I've heard about people losing toenails to long runs, but I've run long and I've never had an issue.  Plus, I always thought that your toenails would turn black or something first, and that the nail was separating from the nail bed.  Well, not in this case at least.  It seems the blister is not between the nail bed and the nail, but between the nail bed and the tissue below.  This means that the nail looks almost totally normal, just a tad bit paler than the other nails, but that it's basically floating on a detached nail bed.  It feels like a loose tooth.  It is bizarre.  It has made putting on socks the most dramatic part of my day.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Plan A

Four days to go.

I swear my heart skipped a beat when I saw the "Final Instructions and Important Race Information" email in my inbox this morning.

Here's what I know as far as spectator information goes:

  • My race number is 6028 (out of ~30K) runners
  • I'll be in Corral 6.  The race starts at 7:30, with corrals departing at 1-2 minutes apart, meaning my start time should be somewhere between 7:36 and 7:42
  • You can get text alerts for my progress, here.  That link says 7 updates, but the race packet says they're only taking splits at 5 locations (start, 10K, halfway, 20-mile, finish), so your guess is as good as mine where the other two splits come from.
  • If you happen to be in DC and want to see the race, the course with nearest metro stops overlayed is here.
The starting chute: That's two blocks of corrals!

 I got my race plan from my coach a few days ago, and it's pretty straight forward:  Start at 8:00 miles, hold that pace for 26 miles, kick it for 0.2 miles.  But that's just Plan A.

There's a Plan B, a Plan C, a Plan D and a Plan E.  Plan E is to alternate walking 100 steps and running 100 steps.  So, there's quite a big divide between A and E.  I hope I never see E.  But it's also comforting to know that there is a plan should everything go to shit, and it's a good reminder to respect this distance.

With those details taken care of, I'm getting a little wrapped up in all the non-essentials.  How will I get 10oz of gel to DC on a plane? [I'll check a bag, but Paul, rightly points out I should bring my running shoes in a carry on.]  Where to get dinner the night before?  [I was seriously considering bringing my own dinner, until my friend, marathoner, and former DC-er, R came through with a solid recommendation.]

Then there's what to wear.  Until last week, I really hadn't thought about it, just figured I would dress to the temperatures, and I hoped it would be warm enough for shorts.  Last week, R (different R from above), asked me if I'd have my name on my gear, so people could cheer for me by name.  In watching the Boston Marathon, I've always enjoyed calling people out by their names.  But damnit, this sounded crafty.  R even suggested outlining iron-on letters in glitter paint.  The craftiest thing I've done recently is to make curtains, out of curtains.  And then you've got a shirt with your name on the front of it, can one train in that shirt after the race?

Here's my Plan A: if the weather cooperates (i.e., temps ~45), I'll wear a black long sleeved shirt with my tri team jersey on top (yay, BTT).  But if it's cooler (most sources tend to agree on upper-30s degree starting temperature) or wetter (also, 40% chance of rain), then I'll add my pink windbreaker.  It doesn't have my team or my name on it, but it's seen many, many miles with me, so I know it will perform well.  Here's to Plan A, and being ready for anything else that gets thrown at me.

Thursday, March 07, 2013

Skydiving at 15ft

Yesterday, in recognition of meeting a major milestone at work, my team went indoor skydiving.  This was awesome.  Basically it's a giant tube of wind.  You enter it from the second floor onto a net surface, and then the tube soars up another 2-ish stories.  The ride is only 2 minutes or so, but it is amazing.  There's very little sense of falling, you're just floating.  Floating and having an obscene amount of air blown up your nose.

It didn't feel very physically challenging.  It's such a short period of time, and they have you really focus on just relaxing.  Very little movements can have a big impact on the position of your body.  Just angling your hands in one direction or the other makes you spin.  This morning, however, I'm feeling it: sore abs and pecs and neck.  Totally worth it.

If I were to do it again, I'd take a few lessons from this time:
  • Bring lip balm.  The tunnel is very dry.
  • Braid my hair.  Maybe it had to do with the fact that my hair was still wet from my morning shower, but even pulled back in a ponytail, it was a matted, knotted mess.  It took almost 20 minutes to comb it out when I got home.
  • Bring a comb.
  • Keep my mouth closed.  Spit crawling up your cheeks is just not a desirable sensation.

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