Sunday, March 10, 2013

Greetings and salutations!!!  As you may have seen from the title, yesterday was marathon day, and I did it!!!  And to be honest, it wasn't awful.

To be truthful, my training over the past month has been a little sketchy.  I was getting pretty burned out on training, so some of my short mid-week runs simply didn't happen.  I did, however, complete every long Saturday run and all of my longer mid-week runs.  I was a little worried that my slacking in the final month would hurt my ability to finish this race, but when race day arrived, I realized that I was much more prepared than I though.  I can't say enough about the Hal Higdon plan I used.  I only ran 4 days per week, but as the miles ticked off on marathon day, I felt surprisingly good.  Better than I felt in any of the 4 half-marathons I've run previously and MUCH better than every single long training run I completed.  I did tweak the Hal Higdon plan a bit...I added one extra mile early in training on a long run so that I could have two 20 mile training runs under my belt before marathon day, and I used Wednesday as a rest day (my day to volunteer at the animal shelter).

One resource that I feel was a true benefit to me was a book I read about 3 months ago when I started this journey.  It's written by Matt Fitzgerald and can be found here.  I really learned a lot about pre-workout, during workout and post-workout nutrition and hydration, and it helped a ton during the full marathon.  I never felt that 'crash' that many marathoners feel somewhere in the later miles.  I had energy, my muscles didn't cramp, and I felt pretty solid on my legs in that last hour.  Granted, my training paid off, but I think my pre and during race nutrition and hydration efforts were key as well.

So, let me tell you about the Columbia marathon.  It's HILLY!  Not just meandering, rolling hills, either.  The race begins near the capitol building, and is gentle enough, but right after mile one, it gets serious in a hurry.  There's a climb that rises about 100 feet in 8/10 of a mile.  It doesn't seem like much at the time, but the course is a double loop.  The 2nd time up that hill, you wonder if it's ever going to end!  Between miles 2 and 8, the course is gorgeous.  It meanders through some beautiful neighborhoods over rolling hills, past a lake, and then you make a turn back towards downtown.  This is where the going gets tough.  Miles 8 through 11 1/2 are pretty much uphill and then you meander through downtown until you're at the finish...for the half marathon!

There was a great crowd for the half marathon finish, and as the half runners were veering to the right towards the finish line, I had to head left.  It's nice to have your name on your number so that people can cheer you on.  As I headed away from the finish area, it got lonely REALLY quickly.  I never realized how sparse the runners are on course when 3/4 of the field goes away.  When I got to the first aid station at that point, it was like I was in a ghost town.

I caught back up to the 4:45 pacers on that big hill at mile 1 (now mile 14) and ran with them for 4 or 5 miles.  One of the men has run 157 marathons, and did 54 of them LAST YEAR!!!  That means he did a marathon a week and sometimes, did two on the same weekend.  That's CRAZY!  The other pace runner was from Charleston and does triathlons, my next big adventure.  We chatted for awhile, and I was amazed that I could carry on a conversation uphill at mile 17 in a marathon. 

The 2nd loop seemed to go by much faster than the first 13.1 miles.   People were still out cheering, and I even managed to see these two girls three times while out on course.  They were incredible, and I wish I'd known their names (If you know who the girl in the green shirt and the girl in the red UGA shirt are, tell them I said thanks!).  The energy they brought was contagious and helped tremendously, particularly in the final miles. I even saw them 2/10 of a mile from the finish where I had the chance to thank them and give them high fives. 

Speaking of spectators, I have to give a huge shout out to my sister, Lynn.  She woke up in the early hours Saturday morning to drive me and was my on course support staff.  She was AMAZING!   I saw her 4 times...right around mile 10, again at 15, again at 23 and at the finish.  She'd made 4 different signs that had me in hysterics each time I passed.  She even convinced a police officer to hold one of them and shout it to my as I ran past (He literally yelled, "My sister, Nancy, can kick your sister's bootie!").  The one to the right is my favorite because it was so perfectly placed...right at the bottom of a huge hill going back into downtown.  No stopping...didn't want the buzzards to get me!

The spectators that were on the course over the final 5 miles were FANTASTIC as well as the volunteers who were at the aid stations.  NEVER have I been to a race that had better on course support.  There were 11 aid stations throughout the 13 mile course, ALL had water and medical personnel, most had Gatorade, and three had GU gels and bananas.  In addition to that, many people within the community were passing out cut up fruit and bottles of water, and I even received a nice cup of Gummy Bears from a sweet child right around mile 17.  Some of the aid stations were blaring music, and EVERY SINGLE ONE OF THEM was cheering and calling out your name.  About 4 miles from town was a huge group of people blaring music, shouting out encouragement, and passing out adult beverages!  A few of the half marathoners good as beer sounded, I figured I'd pass out in a stupor if I did!

Once I got up the final climb (right at mile 24), I was able to turn the corner and know that the final 2.2 miles were flat or downhill.  Well, there was a bit of a 'false flat' involved, but it was much flatter than the rest of the course.  I managed just over a 10:15 pace the final two miles which really made me happy.  My overall pace was just over 11 minutes per mile, and I lost a lot of my time on those four climbs and waiting at a Port-a-Potty at mile 6.  My official finish time was 4:54:19.  I didn't achieve any land speed records, but I did manage to come in under 5 hours.  I didn't set a time goal when I first signed up...I merely wanted to finish, but finishing in under 5  hours made me pretty happy.  The medal is pretty sweet, too!

Here's the question I've been asked by about 15 people:  "Would you do another one?"  My response so far has been, "Well, it wasn't awful."  I honestly think I would because as challenging as the training was week after week, the run itself was actually quite enjoyable.  That said, I don't plan on doing another one soon, though I am signed up to run the Palmetto Half Marathon the 2nd week of April.

My next big goal, though, is triathlon.  I've got a sweet tri-bike and a half Ironman literally in my backyard.  Need I say more?

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