Marathon Number 2 is in the Books
Recently I ran my second marathon in Charleston, SC. I ran this same race last year, and I enjoyed it so much that I went back again. It is a fairly flat course, and it has a great race director and lots of volunteers. Because it is a fundraiser for the Arts in the Schools, the area schools set up along the course and sing or play music to entertain and encourage the runners. My first marathon last year was tough. I finished, but I knew I could do better. I also just really enjoyed the elements of this race. The race committee includes cool stuff in the race swag bag. An artist does a beautiful piece of art for the marathon. This year that artwork was on both the long-sleeve tech shirt and the Finisher’s Medal. The swag bag this year was a nice drawstring backpack bag with backpack-style straps. There were also coupons and other assorted papers that were in the bag. The race bib pick up was quick and easy the day before the race. All bibs are calibrated with the chip timing system when you pick it up, so it is ready to go the next day when you cross the start and finish lines. Timing is provided through text messaging or email for a small fee for anyone who wants to follow your progress in the race with timing mats placed on the course.
The expo at packet pick up is always fun. Vendors have items for purchase, and some of the vendors are there with giveaways. I enjoyed the free fruit and cheese snacks as I visited the booths. A live band was also playing for our enjoyment, and there was a display of artwork done by some of the local students. A motivational speaker was also there during the expo, but I did not go over into that part of the expo this year. A pre-race dinner is provided for a small fee for anyone wanting to carb-load, but I prefer going out to eat in the city. The past two years have coincided with restaurant week in Charleston, so with a little research, I planned two great evening meals for our stay in the city.
Leading into the race, I spent six months training. That is a little longer than some training plans. You can find plans to help you train for a marathon from 12 weeks to 18 weeks, depending on your fitness level and goals. Six months is a little longer than the standard, but I really wanted to have the training miles put in for a great race. I also knew that my December training miles would be happening at a very busy time of the year, so I wanted to have a little flexibility in my training for that month. I have used Hal Higdon’s training plans for most of my longer races, and this year was no exception. I used his Novice 2 training plan for a marathon this time. His beginner plan is great for a first-time marathoner.
The alarm clock went off early the morning of the race, I got up and did my dynamic warm-up. I did 30 burpees, 85 squats, and 3 minutes of skipping rope (pretend rope). I have been doing this warm-up for the month of January, and it really has helped my muscles warm up for running. I ate every little for breakfast. I had a black cup of coffee and a protein bar. Then I started drinking water. I mixed 32 ounces of Tailwind liquid nutrition for my hydration vest. I had learned in training that I got sick to my stomach with heavy foods. I also could not tolerate certain gels and electrolyte drinks. Tailwind is a complete source of nutrition and hydration for endurance events. (I am not an ambassador or spokesperson for Tailwind. I just like it. My stomach likes it.)
The starting line was a little way away from our hotel, so my husband drove me across the bridge to the start line. The traffic was terrible around that area, so I had him drop me off 3 blocks away. I decided a little warm up walk would be a good thing. I was not the only one who decided to do that. We were walking faster than the cars around us were driving. I met up with some friends at the high school near the start line. They were pacing runners in the half marathon. I met several of the pacers, and I talked to the pacer for the 5 hour marathon group. While I did not expect to run with them for the whole race, I knew who to look for if I needed help with my pace. My goal for this marathon was to finish as close to 5 hours as possible. Because I had been drinking my water faithfully, I found a ladies’ room for one last trip before the race.
The starting line is always an interesting place to do some people watching. You have so many different personalities, and this race is one of the larger races that I run. There were more than 3600 runners there for the full and half marathons. A band plays music. The national anthem is sung. There are a few announcements. There is a place to drop off a labeled bag that will meet you at the finish line. (In this marathon, you start in one place and finish in another place.) The air is charged with excitement. As I looked around, I was struck at the number of stories I was surrounded by. Lots of training hours for myself and thousands of runners around me. Sacrifices were made. Some were overcoming obstacles just to be at the start line with me. It is a sacred moment to soak in. I started to think about my race and my goal time. I thought about my pace. I visualized myself crossing the finish line and saw the time in my head. I was getting my mind focused on the task before me. Running long distances is as much mental as it is physical. You will be stretched to your limits physically and mentally. You will likely hit a wall during the race and just have to keep going forward. You learn a lot of this during the long training runs, but it is a little different in a race. Your adrenaline will want to take you out fast at the start. You have to focus and calm yourself. You have to start off slow and build up. It’s much harder to do than you might think. When the crowd around you is going a certain pace, you have to work harder at finding your natural pace. I can tell by my breathing and heart rate if I am running above my comfort zone. I have to relax and breathe deep and start counting in my head to slow myself down. I wear a Garmin to show me my mileage and pace, so I can keep an eye on how fast (or slow) I am going at any time during the race.
The starting gun went off, and with it, I was carried away with the crowd. It was a shuffle to start with, and then a light jog, and then the pace starting coming together. I will say that I ran Mile 1 a little fast. It was by no means my fastest mile ever. I was not pushing, but it was faster than I planned on running Mile 1. I was not winded, and I did not feel pushed. I worked along with the crowd to let faster runners pass me. I tried to not run into slower runners in front of me. I had to keep an eye on the ground, too. There were uneven places, and I wanted to avoid them. As we wound around the city and toward the Battery and waterfront for Mile 2, I found myself soaking in the moment of running in this race. I made it through months of training. I made it through some injuries. I learned a lot about my strengths and weaknesses. I just relished the moment as I was in it. I found the pace I was looking for in Mile 2. I relaxed into the run. I talked to some of the runners around me. I love meeting other runners and hearing their stories. In a race, there is not a lot of time for that. But I do talk here and there as the opportunity arises. I read the backs of the t-shirts in front of me. I saw the word, “endurance” on a couple of t-shirts. That was my word for the year last year. As I run closer to Mile 3, I saw a t-shirt with the word “joy” on it. That is my word for this year. Everywhere I look I see t-shirts from races across the country. Some are well-known, and some are only known to people local to the race. It is fascinating. It also helps pass the time in a long race to read t-shirts and watch the scenery.
Close to Mile 3, we have a band set up at the Battery. They are playing just for the thousands of us who have come to run this race. Running along the Battery is beautiful. I love running near water. I enjoyed the sights and sounds as I ran through here. My pace was still comfortable, and it was where I wanted it to be for the race for my overall finish time. I have run thousands of miles, and I have gotten to be adept at figuring out running averages in my head as I go along. I realize that I am at a decent pace for a 5K (3.1 miles), and I better start hydrating with the Tailwind in my hydration vest. I sip from the extra-long straw in my vest and keep on moving forward.
The next 3 or so miles will take me down historic King Street and out into the city. I love King Street. There are so many things to look at while going down the road. I also have to watch the pedestrian cross walks here. These crosswalks are bricks that are inset in between the strips of asphalt. It’s tricky footing at times. There are lots of people and music along King Street. My pace for these miles is a little slower than the first three miles. I settle into a good rhythm. I keep sipping my Tailwind every mile or so. Close to Mile 6, I see some friends. We exchange a couple of words of encouragement, and we keep going. They are running a faster pace than I am running, so I watch them fade into the crowd. Suddenly, I notice that I am at Mile 7. I can hardly believe it. I feel like I just started, and there is Mile 7 in front of me. I did a quick mental check of everything. I was feeling great. My breathing was doing great. I didn’t have any aches or pains or pulls in my legs. I just kept going. At this point, I don’t think I have even really walked to hydrate. I just kept my pace going forward. I was staying consistent. I was working my plan for the finish.
After Mile 7, we cross some railroad tracks. Not exactly one of my specialties, but I made it without incident. I slowed my pace a little bit because of some of the unevenness of the road and to conserve energy for the end of the race. Miles 8 through 10 passed, and we crossed a bridge that took us up a small hill, and then back down the hill to the split point between the full marathon and the half marathon. It was at this point in the race last year that I knew I was going to be dealing with stomach issues for the rest of the race. This year was different. I was feeling strong. My stomach was feeling great. I drank a little water from the aid stations since it was warming up. (It started out at 50 degrees and ended at 68 degrees.) I also kept sipping my Tailwind. I also took an energy gel to get a shot of caffeine and sugar to see me through the middle part of the race. I knew I was heading out to Federal property, and there were going to be fewer runners and fewer spectators. During Miles 11 through 12, I am glad I have my iPod with me. The music helps me keep my pace. In one of the turn arounds, I go past some runners who were behind me who had not made the turn around point yet, and I saw a friend from my town. It’s always fun to see people you know out there in a long race.
After I saw my friend, I was coming up to mile 13.1, the halfway point. Once I passed it, I knew that I was going to be able to count down to the finish. I was still feeling great. I kept drinking the Tailwind in between aid stations. I would drink water at the aid stations. I did not want to dehydrate in the heat. It was also windy, so it was hard to tell how much I was sweating. It was drying pretty quickly in the wind. I was still pleased with my pace, and I actually hit a personal best for a half marathon at this point. I knew I still had a lot of miles to cover, so I stayed conservative with my pace. Miles 14 and 15 took me off Federal land and took me back toward the city. My pace slowed a little at this point. I was feeling great, but I knew I needed to have gas in the tank for the end of the race. I had another energy gel and kept sipping the Tailwind. I did not eat any food at the aid stations, but they provided pretzels and bananas on the back side of the course. It was nice for those runners who needed a boost. They also offered energy gels at several of the aid stations.
As I ran into the city around Mile 16, I ran my slowest mile so far in the race. I was concentrating on slowing down and drinking. I could tell I was going to need to ramp up my hydration. My stomach had been doing so much better than last year. I felt like I had finally figured out the hydration/nutrition I needed for a long run. Runners were more sparse here. There were more walkers along here, and I also traded places a lot with a couple who were doing intervals (walking/running). I kept on moving forward into some neighborhoods in Miles 17 through 19. I enjoyed any spectators or schools that were set up along here. It was encouraging to see bike riders stopped to cheer us on. The police officers along the course were friendly and encouraging, too. This is a tough part of the race where many people hit the wall of tiredness. You know you just have to keep going forward, and you appreciate anyone around you who is cheering you on at this point of the race. I also realized that these people had probably been there for a while, and that made me more thankful.
As Mile 20 approached, I reflected back on last year at this point of the race. Last year, I was struggling at Mile 20, but I realized that I was going to make it and finish the race when I hit Mile 20. I remembered there was a timing mat and an aid station and band along the back side to get to Mile 20. So I kept on going. I hit Mile 20 strong this year. I was still feeling great. I knew I had a 10K left to run. I also knew I was going into a part of the course with lots of turns, and I would see more runners from the various turn around points. I ran strong through Mile 21 and even stronger through Miles 22 and 23. Somewhere along here, I saw another local runner. It was a nice surprise. Just after I passed Mile 24, I suddenly felt like I was going to be sick to my stomach. I slowed to a walk/run pace and hydrated as well as I could with my Tailwind. I also hit the water and gels. I was probably a little dehydrated at this point, and I knew I was going to finish very close to my goal time. I just had to work through this nausea. By Mile 25, I was feeling better, and I knew I was going to finish the race strong. I pushed my pace a little more, and I enjoyed the views along the water at this point in the race. I knew that finish was in my reach.
As I rounded a corner, I knew the Mile 26 marker was not far away. There were lots of spectators along this part of the course. As I allowed myself to speed up to top speed for the finish, I just enjoyed the sights and sounds around me. I heard some people in the crowd call my name as I passed Mile 26. I made the final turn and saw the Finish line, I pushed a little harder. I knew I was just over my goal time, and I was going to give it everything I had when I crossed that finish line. I kept my eye on the clock and pushed hard. As I crossed the finish line, I knew I had given it my all. A finisher’s medal was put around my neck. My husband was there waiting for me just out of the finish shoot. He was a welcome sight after a tough race. My official finish time was 5:05:45. My goal was a 5-hour marathon, and I was thrilled with this time. I knew that I slowed down at a couple of points in the race, but I would not have finished as strong if I had pushed too hard during those times. This was an improvement over my time from last year by more than an hour. So it was a huge success. My training had paid off. My nutrition was on target. I accomplished a really big goal.
As I walked away from the finish line area, my stomach and my legs had had enough. I told my husband to keep me walking, If I stopped, I knew I would not be able to move again easily. I drank water and ate half of a banana. Shrimp and grits are served to all of the race participants, but my stomach had other ideas. So I did not get my cup of shrimp and grits. I decided to stay with the water and build from there. I asked my husband how far we had to walk to the car. He said, “Oh, about a mile or so.” I told him to head me in the right direction and keep me walking. I really did not feel like walking a mile at this point, but there were no other options with roads closed all around the finish line. We walked slowly. We did stop one time for me to rest and drink more water. We finally made it to the van, and I was so happy to sit down. But I knew pain was coming when it was time to get out of the van. Thankfully, we had a short ride to our hotel. I ran a tub of water with Epsom salts. My husband filled up buckets with ice, and I added ice after I started soaking. This is also the point when you realize where you have chafing from a long run. OUCH!
After a long soak, I had more water and more Tailwind for recovery. I ate a protein bar and took a nap. Maybe it’s not the most exciting recovery ever, but I was happy with it all. My goal for the next 8 or so hours was to push my fluid intake to make up for the dehydration. My stomach hurt off and on throughout the afternoon. But I mustered the energy up to go out to eat dinner. We went into downtown, and that meant more walking and some steps. At this point, I had soreness, and I was waddling more than walking. But I was making forward progress. I tracked my walking, and all total I put in 29 miles in one day. Dinner was difficult on my stomach, and I ended up eating bland foods to keep my stomach happy. All in all, it was worth it all.
We came home the next day, and I have spent the past 4 days resting and recovering. I did not run until day 4 after the marathon, and I did that without pain. That is a huge improvement over last year. I had pain for upwards of two weeks after last year’s marathon. It was an amazing experience, and I plan on running at least one more marathon this year. But first I am going to enjoy the memories of this race.
There are so many people who helped me in this journey over the past three years since I started running. My husband and children have encouraged me to go for my goals. There were times when they thought I was a little nuts, but I think that is part of the journey. I have made so many friends in the running community around the world. I have local running friends who check on me, and who will run long training runs with me. I have many online running friends who encourage me and teach me. If I started listing them by name, I would sure forget someone. So I will publically thank all you runners that I have interacted with these past three years. I have had a running coach the past couple of months, and he has pushed me and told me to dream big. Thank you, Coach Mike!