Sunday, June 2, 2013

Race Report: Possum Trot 10K

Before I begin this report, I need to fill in some background details in order to provide some perspective.

Instead of a possum, I was the roadkill!
On March 17th I was delighted when I set a surprising new PR on the Publix Georgia Half Marathon, which I ran in 1:38:58 (average pace of 7:33). That started me thinking hard about one of the six goals I set for 2013: Earn a mug at the Peachtree Road Race 10K. In order to meet this goal, I would need to run 6.2 miles on July 4 in heat and up hills at an average pace of 6:55. It seemed nearly impossible, but I decided to go for it anyway. I planned to devote three months to speed training.

Smiling after taking home 3rd place female at
Run the River, just a month earlier!

After a month of training, I tackled the Historic Roswell 10-Miler at a pace of 7:27, and a week later I set another new 10K PR of 44:21 (7:10 average pace) at Run the River (but I never got the race report done).  One might think these races demonstrated my potential for success on reaching my Peachtree goal. However, as most experienced runners know, many complex factors come into play in racing. Some are physical (type and amount of training, nutrition, experience, etc.). Others are psychological (size of race, pacing with friends or groups, general outlook for race success, etc.). Still others are outside of our direct control (weather, difficulty of the course, etc.). Success depends on these all coming together nicely on race day. Even sometimes when they don't, one of the factors will outweigh the others and still cause the experience to be especially good or bad.

Yesterday, June 1 (two months into training and a month away from the Peachtree), I ran another 10K, the Possum Trot. To say things did not go well is an understatement. I spent much of yesterday afternoon wallowing in self-pity and trying to understand where I went wrong. The good news is that even in my darkest tunnels, there is always light. I am one of those people who is blessed to experience tremendous emotional ups and downs. Although that may sound scary, I would not trade this aspect of my personality for the world. I went to bed last night still feeling down, but I decided to quickly glance at my Daily Mile account where all my runner friends hang out. Upon glancing at the page, a big fat tear trickled down my cheek, not because I was sad, but because I had been so incredibly uplifted by a slough of tremendously supportive comments from people who really understood how I felt! It was such a powerfully positive experience that I went to bed a few minutes later happier than ever.

This morning when I woke up, I could tell that I was out of the tunnel and felt emotionally stronger than ever. I firmly believe that the failures in life (and especially in running races) teach us more about ourselves and about the world than any successes do. I'm certainly thankful for all the success I have enjoyed, but failures keep me humble and guide me to dig deeper and analyze more. They also keep me hungry to try harder (and smarter) the next time, and they especially remind me to put things into perspective. This is a small thing in the scheme of life. However, those who run also know how painful of an experience races can be, and they know it's about more than just the number at the end. It represents an investment of time, energy, determination, and pure hard work too.

So, on to the nitty-gritty of the race...

Now wouldn't you feel confident running with this guy?
My coach, Mike Buteau of, told me he was going to run this one with me, and I was excited at the chance to have a personal pacer. Our plan was to go out "conservatively" at a 7:10 for the first two miles, hit 7:00 for the second two, speed it up to 6:50 for last two, and then sprint to the finish for a PR of just under 44 minutes. Although my overall average pace for the last 10K had been 7:10, I was skeptical as to whether I could hold this pace. All of my important training runs have included some pace miles, but they were not just hard, they always felt "nearly impossible." Also, it was 25 degrees warmer this morning than it was for Run the River.

We ran about a mile together before the race to get warmed up, and then we headed to the start line. I tried not to think about what was ahead, but I just tried to crack jokes and fake-act looking relaxed. I had not eaten that morning except for slurping down an Accel gel and 16 ounces of water with Nuun an hour before the race. I'm not sure why I had made that decision, but I run most mornings without breakfast and did not think about how this might affect the race.

Hanging out with my friend, Elise, looking like Easter bunnies!

A worried look already

As the gun went off, we sprang into action. Mike tried to getting a pace reading for us, but it was hard with everyone around. After a half mile or so, we settled into what he said was our goal pace. It felt scarily fast. Our 1 mile split per Garmin was 6:52 (18 seconds ahead of schedule). I was already mentally banishing the thoughts of tiredness from the back of my mind. I thought, "At least we have a tiny bit of cushion, which I'm definitely going to need."

Some time during mile 2, Mike told me to pull it back a little. I thanked him profusely (at least in my mind) and tried to back off. I guess I wasn't totally successful because a short time later I felt a tug on the back of my tank top as he was reining me in. We hit the 2 mile mark at 7:07, thankfully much closer to the goal for that mile, but still leaving us a net cushion of 21 seconds. I passed up Mike's suggestion to get water when we passed the station. After that, we started up a slight incline toward a turn-around point. I had to chug really hard to get to the top, and I remember gasping for breath as soon as I rounded the corner. At least I knew we would enjoy a slight decline. The 3 mile marker showed us at something like 22 minutes, which I knew was wrong. Our watches both showed 7:08 for the third mile. It was a bit slower than our planned 7:00 pace for that mile, but still left us 13 seconds ahead.

The fourth mile got particularly tough as we started a roughly 70-foot incline over half a mile. I could feel my pace slip a bit and was helpless to remedy that. Mile 4 was 7:13.  Now, there was no wiggle room in the plan. I was going to need to hold a 6:50 pace for what I felt would be an eternally long 2.2 miles.  In the back of my mind, I already knew that was not going to happen. I was giving it everything I had.  My breathing turned into verbal huffing and puffing as it has done in past races during the last half mile of a race. I was trying so hard to keep myself moving! My lungs just couldn't process the oxygen. Mike calmly directed me to slow my breathing and to focus on form. I was successful for a few seconds and then I faltered. This happened again and again. If someone can tell me how get get control without slowing down, I'd love to know the secret. I'm sure some of it is mental, and if I had only had half a mile to go, I could have made it. However, I was a long, long way from the finish and had two short, steep hills to tackle. All my mental tricks were dulled. It was not as if I could just tell the pain to go away. It was just beyond what I had the capability to do.

 In all three photos, I have the look of despair. My form is poor. Even my hair is not happy.  

In retrospect, I should have just slowed down to get my breathing under control and then maybe I could have rallied a little. I did not do that, however. I just kept pushing and pushing. Finally I started to babble. About half way into mile 5, I broke into a walk. I think it was at a water station. Mike quickly downed his sip of water, but I dawdled a little, partly because I can't drink water fast and partly to give myself a second or two of rest. I wanted to tell him to just leave me in a puddle and come back for me later. When I did start back up a couple seconds later, I slowed the pace a little, hoping to get control again.

Mile 5 was a dreadful 8:13. By that time, there was no need to calculate how far off I was. I knew I was toast and still had 1.2 hilly miles to go. To say I didn't recover at all would be an understatement. I got really dizzy, sobby, and just could not keep going. Mike steadied me and tried to get me to calm down, but I kept insisting that I had to keep running. I walked three times during that mile.

By mile 6, I was feeling like 0.2 miles was infinitely long. That last full mile was 10:06!  During that time, Mike was really worried about me.  He asked what I ate that morning. When I told him I had not eaten before the race, he said that was probably a big reason for my symptoms. He tried hard to get me to just stop and leave the course, but I stubbornly kept on running/walking more. I am not one to quit, even when it's probably not medically and sensibly the right thing. Right at mile 6, I must have stopped completely, though, because my watch is missing about 38 seconds of "moving time."  It was then that a sweet girl named Andrea stopped and offered her water to me. I remember screaming at her, "Go! GO, don't you know this is a race?!" I think she reluctantly went on, but a couple of minutes later when I hobbled across the finish line and immediately turned to the side of the road, she was right there with Mike, and both were trying to help me!

They found a place for me to sit and grabbed a cold Propel to help me hydrate. Then, they started packing M&Ms in my cheeks like I was a hamster! I tried to slowly let them melt, but my stomach said no, so I spit them out. There were no medics to be found, but I knew I needed to get up and walk around. We took a short walk and headed to a bench.  By then I was feeling better. My friends, Elise and Rachelle and Adam came to check on me too. However, the paramedics insisted that I go into their van to check me out. My blood pressure was 127/80, and my pulse was 86 (still a bit high). Strangely, my blood sugar was a very high 212. That seemed a bit odd. They tried to take me to the hospital for observation, but I quickly and strongly declined. Finally, they let me go, and I was able to join my friends at the awards area.

I had crossed the finish line in 49:11, my worst 10K time in a year and a half. I had run the same course last year in 45:23. In spite of all of the drama, I somehow came in 3rd in my age group (really 4th, but the 1st place must have won the masters award). Mike jokingly said the headline of my report should read, "From Ambulance to Podium!" It seemed like an extremely hollow victory, but then Elise reminded me that many would love to run a race in the time I ran it in.

The race was definitely a huge disappointment, and I feel that I let my coach down in a way. He has believed in me all along and has helped me to run faster than I ever thought possible. However, like I said, there are many factors that feed into a race. No outcome is guaranteed. The process will always be more important than one individual result. It is a process of self-discovery and of learning to push the limits. I am growing wiser daily, and yet have only just begun!

Monday, April 22, 2013

Race Report: Historic Roswell 10-Miler

What a fun race! Held in the town of Roswell in their charming Historic District, this event offered two different race distances.  Previously the race included a 5K only. This year, however, they decided to shake things up and add in a 10-Miler race as well.  It's a bit of an unusual distance, and, being my first race of that length, I automatically scored a PR - woo hoo!

Official time: 1:14:32 (7:28 pace)
Women 45-49:  3 out of 43 (7.0%)
All Women:  4 out of 294 (1.4%)
Overall:  20 out of 466 (4.3%)

The event was very well organized, with plenty of nearby parking, convenient race number pick-up both the day before and the day of the race, and a nice stretchy tee shirt that came in both men's and women's sizes.  They even donned beautiful finisher medals on all who completed the 10-Miler!  After the race, area instructors held complimentary yoga sessions.

I first learned of this race from a friend, Bill, who as a race sponsor, had some race passes to offer a few friends.  He was so kind to bestow two of these upon my friend, Rachelle, and me.  We thank you, Bill!  Although we had not previously heard of the event, as race day approached, we saw that it had become very popular.  It even sold out in its inaugural year.

I woke at 4:45 Saturday morning, leaving just enough time to do the bare essentials before I headed over.  One of these tasks was to drop a Nuun tab into my squeeze water bottle.  I even remembered to prop the lid on top gently so that the fizzing of the dissolving tab would not cause the lid to get too tight.  I headed out, feeling calm and confident.  A couple minutes later, though, I grabbed my water bottle to drink some of the Nuun drink.   Oops.  The lid came tumbling into my lap, along with half the contents of the bottle!  I quickly screeched to a halt, made a U-turn, and headed back home to get a towel.  I was literally marinating in a puddle of Nuun.  Luckily, my tank top was black and my skirt was dark.  I decided to just blot myself off the best I could and to make do without changing.  With my mood (and my clothes) a bit dampened, I headed back out again.

Shortly after I arrived, I saw Bill and then Rachelle.  Rachelle and I hung out in my van so we could stay warm until right before the race.  When we got to the start line, we soon realized that we were in the 5K line-up and that the start to the 10-Miler was a fairly long way up the road.  With just seconds to spare, I reached the starting line and headed out.  Rachelle was still doing some final stretching when the gun went off.

My plan was to take this race at about a 7:42 pace.  One reason I wanted to play it conservatively is that I had another race coming up the next Saturday.  It's a 10K on a mostly flat course where the goal is to break 45 minutes.  That is one of my intermediate steps toward a bigger goal of running the hot, hilly Peachtree Road Race 10K in under 43 minutes.  Taking two minutes off a 10K time sounds like a huge undertaking, but the faster I can run next weekend, the less of a difference I'll need to shave off in the next two months.

Sometimes I stop and wonder why in the world I get caught up in all these numbers and goals, and not just run for fun.  However, I am a numbers person, so figuring out paces and other running statistics is actually fun to me.  Also, I love to set and work toward goals.  When they are hard to reach, I find that I rise to the challenge with even more determination.  Each time I run a PR, I reflect on it with disbelief and wonder how I managed to pull off a certain pace.  Then I realize it's because I love running and because I love to work hard!  The results accompany the work that goes into them.  I certainly don't reach every goal, but I do learn a valuable lesson with each failure.  Then I just reassess, smile, and move on!

Since the first part of this particular race was downhill, I went ahead and allowed myself to have a fast start.  There were plenty of hills to navigate, so I wanted to enjoy the parts that were easy.  I noticed my watch read 1.1 miles as I passed their 1-mile marker.  Either the marker was placed incorrectly or my watch was off.  Because of this, I did not get to see my split.

At about halfway through the second mile, I heard very rapid footsteps coming up behind me.  Without even looking, I just knew it had to be Rachelle.  It was!  As she caught up to me, we gave each other a little cheer and then she sauntered on ahead.  I didn't even try to keep up with her because I knew I was supposed to be running conservatively.  No other females passed me the rest of the race and I did not pass any of them.  I had guys on my right and guys on my left, the whole way!

The race had thinned out significantly by mile 3, so I looked around for people to run with.  I saw a young guy in a red shirt and told him I liked his pace.  We chatted for a couple of minutes because we were going downhill.  Eventually, I passed him as the downhill got steeper.  I can really fly on the way down!  I just get very relaxed and lean just a little forward and let gravity pull me - just like my friend, Francis taught me.  I noticed a couple of my mile splits were a bit faster than I had planned, but I told myself that meant I could be very conservative in the second half.  Right.

It was a bit daunting going down because I knew this course was an oval and that we would be going up the exact same terrain on the mirror side of that oval.  However, I figured I might as well enjoy it while it lasted.  About the time it flattened out again, heading into the second half.  I was running between two other guys and we were all discussing what was in store for us around the bend.  It seems they had not studied the course map.  Gotta do your homework, guys!  I told them we were in for the reverse of that lovely hill we just came down.  They groaned, I chuckled, and we all chugged on.

As I hit the first big hill at mile 6, I spotted a guy in a blue shirt and just decided to stay with him as best as I could and follow him up the hill.  As my lungs began to scream a bit, I thought of my friends who would be running the awful hills of the Boston Marathon Monday, and it gave me heart to keep on working my way up.  When I got to the top of one of the last hills, I thanked the blue shirt guy for leading the way.  He grinned and replied, "Too old to run, too young to die!"

Just before the last mile, the young red shirt guy, who I could hear on my heels the whole time, caught up and said, "My goal this whole race was to keep up with you."  Aw!  That just made me feel so good.  I sort of backed off as we hit the very final hill and let him go.  I guess I was feeling guilty for having gone too fast.  I even walked a few steps, and then picked it back up so I could at least look strong going across the finish line.

As soon as I crossed, I saw Rachelle, who had run the course a little over a minute faster.  We shared a celebratory hug, got our medals and shirts, and then dropped them off in our cars so we could go do some yoga.

Since I had never done yoga before, I was itching to check it out.  The lady who led us had set out rubber mats for us.  Unfortunately, I happened to be on my bad knee (the one that got skinned a while back) when I made a sharp twist.  I caught it exactly at the worst place!  Ouch!  Other than that, though, everything felt really good.

When we finished, we caught up with Bill and thanked him again for his generosity.  He told us about some of his running experience doing speed drills on the track.  We clicked off a few photos and enjoyed the sunshine.  Then we walked to where they were having awards.  Rachelle and I had already kind of sized it up that she had come in 2nd place for the females.  She had passed one other female during the race, so I knew that I was probably 4th, but I wasn't sure.

What was odd is that they called out the top three females.  Sure enough, it was the three we expected.  I was excited because I figured I must have won my age group.  What I didn't realize is that the first and third place winners were *both* in my age group!  Unlike other races I've run, this race gave multiple awards to the same person.  Therefore, the first place female also won the master's female title and 1st place in her age group.  I was a bit disappointed to come in 3rd in my age group, but those ladies really ran a great race.  We 45-49 year-olds are competitive!

I was still excited to be the 4th female and was glad that Bill and Rachelle and I each came home with a beautiful Roswell drinking glass as an award!

The morning was fun and the best part is that my legs don't feel tired or sore at all like they did after my last hilly half marathon.  That's a good thing because I have speed work on Tuesday and a 10K on Saturday!

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Race Report: Publix Georgia Half Marathon

Yes, I had a "luck o' the Irish" kind of day Sunday!  I came home smiling big after sharing a amazing morning with many happy runner friends.  I also surprised myself with a bright shiny new half marathon PR on the maiden voyage run of the Publix Georgia Half Marathon course.

Official time: 1:38:58 (7:33 pace)
10K Split: 46:06 (7:25 pace)
8 Mile Split: 1:00:10 (7:31 pace)

Field Placement:
Women 45-49:  4 out of 510 (0.8%)
All Women:  86 out of 4,954 (1.7%)
Overall:  400 out of 8,743 (4.6%)

Early Saturday, the day before the race, I met up with my most screamin' fast runner girlfriend, Rachelle (AKA Mighty Mouse), to have a delicious breakfast at West Egg.  It was so refreshing to be able to talk face-to-face with her without having to agonize over where my next breath would be coming from!  We caught up on the various stuff of our personal lives and then discussed race strategy.  Since Rachelle had run this course several times, she helped me visualize the tough spots and told me where I was likely to have the best chance for a few "zen" moments.

After breakfast, we drove down to the Georgia World Congress Center together to enjoy the expo and pick up our race bibs.  We were glad to both be in the A corral for this event so we could at least start together.  While we were there, I got a little crazy and bought a pair of limited edition Newton Gravity shoes (my latest go-to shoes since the PureFlow 2s just didn't work).  As you can see, they are!  The guy at the Newton tent revealed (when we asked him) that his marathon PR was 2:18.  That's some serious stuff!

When I first signed up for this race, I knew it would be only a week before I had another half marathon (the Berry Half) on an easier course.  Berry was to be my goal race.  Therefore, I decided this race would sort of serve as a dress rehearsal.  Somewhere along the way, I got this crazy idea to try to run a sub-1:38 at Berry.  I reasoned that this first race would help me know whether I stood a chance at that lofty goal or not.  My most recent half marathon PR was a 1:40:13 back in October, but this was supposed to be a harder course, so I really had no idea what I might do.  While at the expo, Rachelle and I both signed up to run with the 1:40 pace group, though I secretly knew she would be way ahead of that (and she was!), and reasoned that I would feel satisfied to come in at 1:42ish.

The day before the race, I drank 4 Nuun All Day caplets to ensure I was properly hydrated.  It had seemed to help before the last marathon.  I also laid out my new splurge outfit from lululemon.  I figured the green would be great for both St. Patrick's Day AND for the Alien Half in August.  Bonus!

On race morning, I first found my friend, Shawna, after playing a game of warmer/colder on the phone to locate each other.  She introduced me to another friend who is training for Boston.  When I suggested I might try for a 1:42 time, she suggested we start out running together.

Next, I met up with Rachelle in the A corral.  We looked around for two other friends, Mike and Tad, but without success.  Later I learned they were incredibly busy hamming it up for the camera!  Rachelle was being smart and stretching, bouncing, and doing the things I saw all the other A corral runners doing, but I was way too itchy to do anything strategic at that time.  Sometimes I feel like I'm only impersonating a "real runner!"

As the gun went off, I could tell the crowds were going to make the first mile tedious and slow-going.  To make matters worse, the pavement was cracked and wrinkled and filled with median dividers that seemingly came up out of nowhere.  For a moment, my mind wondered back to a little accident I had a couple weeks ago where my cheek and knees had an unfortunate meeting with the sidewalk.  I let out a little audible gasp, and Shawna's friend asked if I was okay.  I told her about my flashback to the accident and then kept my eyes glued to the ground.

One strategy that seems to work well for me is to sail down hills at a very rapid speed with my arms and shoulders relaxed and my legs just letting gravity take over.  It seemed to pay off nicely as I zoomed down several hills in the beginning while still resting my lungs.  Going up was tough, but the hills were fairly short, so I was able to keep a good pace.  At Mile 4, I was pleased to see the 1:40 pace group just up ahead.  Though I had not stayed with them at the start, I decided to try to stick with them for the rest of the race or as long as I could hold on.

At Mile 6, I was sort of joking (to no one in particular) about how it would be really nice if the earth could be tilted just a fraction of a degree for about the last 20 minutes of the race.  A guy heard me and laughed.  Then, he smiled over at me and looked at the name on my bib.  "Gail!" he exclaimed.  "Randy!" I exclaimed back.  Of all things, I ran into a high school classmate I hadn't seen in [...mumble, mumble] years!  He said he was running the full and aiming for a 3:20 (I later learned he hit 3:22 and qualified for Boston on that hilly, awful course!).  We plowed up the next hill together and he made it seem effortless.  Soon after that, he had to turn right and I had to turn left.  I can't tell you how glad I was NOT to be running the full marathon that morning.

Next, I saw a girl who was wearing the exact same black lulu skirt I had on and who looked very pretty and fit.  I was inspired to catch up with her, so I sped up a little.  Just as I complimented her on her awesome skirt, she looked up and said, "Gail!" and I looked back and said, "Renee!"  Though we had never met, she and I are both in this Running Divas group on Facebook, and we had talked about running together as recently as the night before.  It was wonderful to meet a new friend in person and run together a while.  We both stayed right behind those same two 1:40 pace girls and felt like our pace was very comfortable.  I reasoned that if I could keep up with them for 9 miles, maybe I could still hit 1:42.

I knew the worst hills were in miles 9 through 12, so I was bracing myself.  As we started up Juniper street, Renee kept a great pace and I decided to take it a little slower to ensure I didn't walk.  It was a long, tough hill.  I remember praying about it in my mind.  I asked God to keep me humble.  I knew I had a constant friend beside me all the way who understood.  It helped a whole lot.  However, more hills were still before me.  Luckily, there was always a downhill patch just in time where I caught my breath and made up a little time.

Those next hills are sort of a blur in my mind, but I remember that the wind picked up and added to the challenge.  Once again, I looked over at a guy beside me and cracked a joke about how much fun we were having.  It always helps when you realize that others around you know, in a very deep and personal way, how you are suffering!

At mile 12, I was floored to find that if I merely maintained an easy an 8:00 pace, I could break 1:40!  Really?!!  Then I spotted the 1:40 pace group again.  I had lost them somewhere in those hills.  They said they were running almost a minute fast - a 1:39!  After thanking them for being my rock, I dug in deep and managed to pull slightly ahead of them, plowing up the last incline.  With 0.4 miles to go, I looked at my watch and desperately wished to be done.  The crowds had picked up; they urged me on.  With a huge sigh of relief, I rounded the corner and saw that the very end was downhill.  I cannot express how nice a feeling that was!  I guess I sprinted up to and across the finish line because I managed to assume a fierce floater pose at the end.  My expression sort of says it all!  I saw the clock and knew I had hit a new PR by over a minute.  Even better, it was on this hilly course!  As my friend, Francis, reminds me, "To God be the glory!"

I excitedly texted Rachelle to exchange happy news.  She had run a 1:35!!!  We met up at one of the tents and shared a huge sweaty happy hug!  Then we headed over to pick up our little "tickets" with our official finish time like you see me holding below.  I would be tempted to frame mine except I hope to beat it again in a week. Ha ha.  It's so wonderful when two friends both have great races and can be happy for each other at the same time.

Having trained almost exclusively on a flat trail, I didn't think this course would be kind to my time.  However, the good thing about uphills is that there are also downhills.  I guess it all evened out.  However, writing this a couple days later, I find that my legs are more sore than they have ever been after any race.  I will certainly need a lot of rest this week to ensure I can run fast and happy again Saturday!

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Race report: Tallahassee Marathon

Marathon #3 is in now in the record books!  I'm excited to report that the 2013 Tallahassee Marathon was much more enjoyable than either of my previous two had been.  Experience is a great teacher.  I have so many wonderful memories to share that I hardly know where to begin.  However, for those of you who only have time to read the Readers' Digest version, I'll report the basic stats before diving into the details.

Official time:  3:40:42!

2 out of 21 for women 45-49 (9.5%)
15 out of 117 for all women (12.8%)
80 out of 308 overall (26.0%)

My finish time was a 13-minute marathon PR, and, as icing on a most delicious marathon cake, I took home the 1st place award for my age group.  Major bling!  This race felt like a huge victory in so many ways.  Even more important than the numbers, though, was the race experience.

Just a note about the finisher medal...the little furry creature standing beside the capitol building is actually a groundhog, in honor of Groundhog's Day the Saturday before the race.  They probably should have included a football instead, because the race was held right on Superbowl Sunday!

To provide some perspective on this race, my first marathon involved thunder, lightning, high winds, tornado sirens, and massive puddles.  My second marathon didn't offer much better conditions.  Infamous Hurricane Sandy was just getting geared up to slam the Northeast, and the winds that morning made for some brutal last few miles.  Tallahassee, by contrast, graciously served up sunny skies, low humidity, and a cool starting temperature of 47 degrees.  Yep, I deserved to have good weather at least once!  It helped destroy my growing reputation as a magnet for bad marathon weather conditions.

In addition to the cooperation of the weather, the Tallahassee Marathon offers one of the top ten Boston-Qualifying courses.  Take a look at the elevation chart below and you'll see why.  To say that the course is flat, straight, and shaded is no exaggeration.  Notice the scale of +/- 100 feet on the elevation chart?  Truly flat as a fritter!  Not only was it flat, but most of it was shaded with the most beautiful foliage imaginable.  One could truly get lost in the wonder of the majestic live oaks, bowing to each other across the St. Marks Trail and providing a welcoming canopy of shade.

Topping all of these factors, though, was the true joy of being surrounded on race day by five of the most wonderful, supportive friends, each of whom claimed their own victories!  My good friend, Rachelle (AKA Mighty Mouse), runs as an ambassador for Oiselle and blogs too.  She blazed through her very first marathon in a whopping 3:31 and took second place in her age group!  Very few can claim such a stupendous first marathon time.  My wonderful regular running buddy, Rodney, pulled a 26-minute marathon PR and felt great the whole time.  My awesome ultra friend, Gary, from Tallahassee, who just conquered a brutal, mountainous 50K the week before, ran a 3:37 and took first place in his age group yet again.  My high school friend, Steve, who ran the Marine Corps Marathon with me, and my funny and uplifting Daily Mile friend, Keith, both pulled PRs and blasted through the 4:00 barrier.  With all these triumphs, plus a finish-line reception involving wonderfully supportive parents, family members, and friends, there was some serious celebrating going on!

Special thanks:

Before I describe the weekend, I'd like to say a few words of thanks to all those who have supported me.  This includes some very special people.  First, I'd like to thank Mike B. for all his coaching support!  Out of shear kindness, or maybe pity for my crazy training regimen, Mike set out a plan for me to follow and spent loads of time following my training and listening to my zillion notes of worry and self-doubt.  He taught me that I don't have to do every run at the fastest pace possible, and that I should "listen to my heart" - literally to my heart rate - as a guide to running effort.  Because of him, I went in with fresh legs and confidence I would have a good experience.  The guy is an incredible athlete himself and is starting to coach others.  He's really good at telling it like it is.  If you want his contact information, send me a note.

Second, I'd like to thank Rachelle's uber-supportive parents for popping up all over the race course and capturing some fabulous photos and video.  How often does one get awesome photo coverage of such a big event for free?!  You guys rock!  I'd also like to thank my parents for coming out to support me and to celebrate with me after the race.  Though Mom's standard answer when I tell her I'm going to run 26.2 miles is, "Just kill me now!" I know that she's very happy for me.  Rodney, my faithful running buddy for months, has been a steadfast friend.  He listens to all my non-sense, picks me up when I'm down, and gives me wonderful advice when I need it.  Rachelle, you are the running rock star in my life.  It was such an incredible experience spending this weekend with you!  I see an elite running status in your future!  Kristin, though we have never met in person, I feel like I have known you for a long time.  Your kindness and generosity overflows, and I know we will one day get to run together.  Gary, you epitomize "the ultimate runner."  There's really nothing you can't do!  Finally, my dear sweet Francis, you have been such a blessing in my life!  I can't thank you enough for all your encouraging words, cheers. and prayers.  Not only are you one of the most awesome runners I know, but your faith is a shining example to me constantly!


Rachelle & I shared a chilly hug before shouting "Tally-Ho!!"
Saturday morning before the race, Rachelle came by to pick me up at 8:00am so we could ride down together.  My son snapped a quick "before" photo as we loaded the car.  As runners will do, we spent a great deal of time talking about all things running.  Our conversation was very uplifting and made the 4 1/2 hour trip fly by.

When we got into town, we first dropped our bags off at my sister's house, where we would be staying, and had a quick bite to eat.  Then we headed straight to the expo.  I was not quite prepared for the heavy traffic in little ol' Tallahassee on a Saturday afternoon.  However, with nearly 1,200 runners registered between the half and the full marathon, I can see why it was a bit congested.

Race number - check!
We took a few photos as we picked up our race numbers.  Everyone there had a running story to tell, and although the expo was small, I really enjoyed strolling around and chatting with others.  After a few minutes, I spied our esteemed guest speaker, Mike Wardian.  I immediately recognized him from his photo and video on his web site.  His record is extremely impressive, to say the least.  As if the fact that he came in 3rd place at Badwater isn't amazing enough, he ran a 3:17 at Grandma's Marathon in 2011!  The guy has run with the likes of elites such as Meb and Ryan and Abdi.  He gave a hilarious presentation and was very friendly and helpful in person as well.

1s and 6s MUST be lucky!
I got to chat with Mike Wardian & Nick Nichols, a retired US Army Col. who has logged 77,000 total miles!

After the expo, we visited Rachelle's parents at the hotel and then all went over to visit my parents.  Dinner that night for me was spaghetti and meatballs at Anthony's with Rachelle and her parents.  I must have been hungry because I finished off my plate and scarfed down four slices of bread.  Carb loading - check!

Back at my sister's house, Rachelle and I laid out our race gear and had some final water and Nuun to hydrate.  A trip to the restroom revealed another example of my niece's wry humor...very funny, Casey!

By 10:00, I was ready to hit the sack.  For me, that meant crashing on my sister's totally comfortable couch where I have spent many a night during holiday visits.  Unfortunately, I had a little trouble getting to sleep.  Finally, by 11:00, I managed to doze off.  After a few hours of peaceful slumber, though, I woke up with a start, realizing that my niece's GI-normous Doberman "puppy" had managed to open the door and had leaped on top of me!  She lay there, panting, drooling, and pawing me all over.  Sheesh!  It was 3:30am.  Needless to say, I never did quite make it back to sleep after that.  At least I had rested well the night before.

Race Day:

After my "breakfast of the champions," consisting of toast with peanut butter, 1/2 banana, and 16 ounces of water with a Nuun tablet, Rachelle and I were fueled and ready.  We did a quick gear check (yay for my race bib being right where I placed it!) and headed out for Florida State University's campus at 6:00am.  The race started right next to Doke Campbell Stadium and ended nearby at FSU's Mile Long Track.  It was quite chilly out, but luckily Tully Gym was open.  We met up with Rodney, Gary, and Steve.  Each of us then took our last-minute potty stops and posed for a few pre-race photos.

I'm sure I was telling Rodney how excited I was (while looking nervous)!
Gary had invited us to join an FCA prayer circle just before the start of the race.  We huddled up to keep warm and then joined in prayer and fellowship.  It was really nice.  Finally, we lined up fairly close to the start and listened while the national anthem was sung so beautifully.  It was hard not to shiver, but I knew that within sixty seconds of starting, I would warm up.

Rachelle, Rodney and I started out together, encouraging each other to GO SLOW for our first mile.  I kept Gary, who was just ahead of us, in view, thinking he would be starting out slowly too.  He stayed just out of range for the whole race, though.

There was so much spring in our step as Rachelle, Rodney, and I crossed that starting line!

My original goal for this race had been to finish in 3:30.  However, after a scare with my blood pressure plummeting during a recent 19-mile training run, I sort of grew a little fonder of the idea that an 8:15 pace would feel a lot more comfortable, and that I could still speed up at the end and run a very respectable 3:36 or less.  Therefore, I set out run the first half at slightly under 8:15, and then check to see how I was feeling.  I really intended, though, to keep the 8:15 pace for the whole first 20 and then decide if I could speed up.  What a mind game pacing can be...

Overarching all of these thoughts was the very strong desire to have a more comfortable experience than I had in my previous two marathons.  At the Albany Marathon in Albany, GA, I ran a 4:00.  I had aimed for 3:45.  However, after running at an 8:35 pace for half the race, I realized I was miserable and still had a looooong way to go.  My slowest mile in that race was 11:03, with five miles over a 10:00 pace.  It was not pleasant for any of the second half.  It's a wonder that I ran another marathon at all.

At the Marine Corps Marathon in Washington, DC, I aimed even more ambitiously for 3:30...and trained for it too.  Again, I ran the first half very close to the required 8:00 pace, but again fell apart at about the half-way point.  If you think the last 10K of a marathon is hard, try feeling "done" when you still have 13.1 miles to go!  My slowest mile there was 11:00, but at least this time only one other mile was a dismal 10:55.  Unfortunately, I gave up six whole minutes in those two incredibly grueling miles and finished in a somewhat disappointing 3:53.

This time, my A+ goal was 3:30, but my more realistic A goal was really between 3:30 and 3:36.  My B goal was 3:40.  I was truly glad I at least hit that.  Although my pace suffered once again at the end, my slowest mile this time was a much improved (though still disappointing) 9:37.  In addition, only three of the miles were over 9:00.

More important than all these numbers, though, is the way I felt at the halfway point.  I was ON TOP OF THE WORLD!!!  As I saw Rachelle and Gary who had just turned around and were heading back, I slapped hands with them and told them how great I felt.  In fact, I smiled so much through most of this race that almost everyone volunteering or cheering commented on how happy I looked.  During the race, I thought often about so many of my running friends who I knew were cheering for me.  You all know who you are!  I prayed and counted my blessings, often out loud, and I just kept locked in to that relaxed and thankful feeling.  My time at the half-marathon split was 1:48:09, exactly an 8:15 pace!

Rachelle, Rodney, & I (and even the sun) are all beaming!

By this time, we had hit the beautiful St. Marks Trail

The only minor issue I had during the first half was that my bladder wasn't quite empty.  I wasn't too uncomfortable, though, and I certainly didn't want to take time to stop.  As the miles accumulated, it fortunately became less of a problem.  Meanwhile, I followed my plan of stopping at the aid stations every two miles and taking a few sips of water or Gatorade to keep me hydrated.

Even my hair is smiling here at about Mile 8!
photo courtesy of Herb Wills and his awesome blog

That 8:15 pace actually felt very comfortable for a good 18 miles.  At some points, it was just automatic and I could get lost in my thoughts.  In fact, I felt so good that I decided I could ramp it up just a little during the next mile.  In retrospect, this was not such a good decision.  It's hard to know if this slight acceleration spelled out my doom in miles 24 and 25, or if that would have happened anyway.

This photo, also by Herb Wills, was in Mile 19 when I was
picking up speed and passing a few folks
Mile 19 was a 7:53, and I felt strong.  I clocked an 8:04 for the next mile and still felt good.  Hallelujah!  I even let out a little squeal with how awesome I felt AT MILE 20!!!  I slurped down my last Accel gel, and that's just about the moment when I decided that I don't like those gels any more.  It was really hard to get down, not because my stomach had problems, but because it just sat in my mouth, feeling yucky.  The Gu gels are thicker, but I like their sweetness better.  I washed the remains of the gel down with some water, knowing that the calories would maybe give me a small boost for the last few miles.

Mile 21 was a tiny bit slower at 8:10.  Just after Mile 22 the paved trail part of the race ended and I started heading back toward campus.  Fatigue started to set in gradually during that mile, and I was slightly resentful that my euphoria had somehow evaporated, leaving me with 4.2 miles left to run.  My legs were not the problem.  I had no issues with aching quads like I've had before.  My calves and left Achilles tendon were a little tight, but I knew they would make it.  Mainly, I just began to feel weary and unfocused.  I stopped looking at my watch because I could tell my pace was slipping.

The earlier pace blips were mostly for water stops, things got, um, rough in Miles 22-26!
Miles 22 and 23 were 8:59 and 8:53, and I could tell I was losing pace.  Those two faster miles were coming back to bite me.  At one point I passed a guy walking and then I stopped just ahead of him to walk for a tiny bit.  I looked back, pumping my arms and, continuing to walk, said jokingly, "Race ya!"  He claimed that he couldn't catch me because I had a 10-step lead on him!  I had to chuckle, and then I invited him to do a slow jog with me, but I guess he was spent.  I did actually pass 6-8 runners there at the end, even with my diminished pace.  I kept telling myself how close I was to the end, but it did not help.

This is my favorite happy picture of all time!  Though I was fading, I was able to smile & lift arms AT MILE 23!!

I had to cross a busy intersection at Mile 24, and the folks directing traffic were not paying any attention to me.  As I started to run into the street, they shouted, "No, run this way!"  I couldn't quite understand them and almost got creamed by a car.  My brain wasn't working too well then.  That was my worst mile at 9:37.  No one was around, so it was hard to lock on to someone to follow.  I did keep passing folks here and there, but every quarter mile seemed to take forever.  Mile 25 was a slow 9:27.

Finally, when I reached the campus, some guys started screaming loudly at me and jumping up and down.  That helped motivate me pick up the pace just a little.  It was fortunate because all my strategic good thoughts had left my brain.  I so wish I had had someone beside me to offer verbal support.  I think it could have made a difference.  I once saw a quote about how success in a marathon is in who can stay focused the longest.  Mental focus becomes incredibly hard!

The race ended with a 3/4 trip around the track.  I had visualized this with excitement for weeks and weeks.  I heard them call out my name at the beginning of the track, and I made one final attempt to lay on the gas.  Then, out of nowhere a guy whizzed past me at break-neck speed.  Although I couldn't quite catch him, it made me push hard for a few steps so I at least "looked good" crossing the finish line.

I could feel the grimace on my face as I charged across the finish line

Gary smiles as I hug Mom & Rachelle gets a pat on the back from Dad
The first people I saw after I crossed the line were my parents!  Although I had no salt left in me for tears, I cried a dry sob, and collapsed gently into their arms.  That was a really special moment.

A hug with Rachelle
Then I smiled as the volunteers placed the finisher medal around my neck.  In fact, hugs and smiles were to be found everywhere.  It really surprised me that I recovered my breath within 2 minutes.  The second thing I noticed, to my amazement, was that my legs and back hardly ached at all.  That never happens after a long run!

A hug with Rodney
With Steve from high school
Dad, me, and Mom sharing a happy moment
As an added bonus, I won a beautiful hand-made mug for my 1st place age group award.  Everyone else walked up in a dignified manner to receive their award, but I had to saunter out squealing as if I had won the jackpot on The Price Is Right!  No WAY I was going to remain calm after winning an award at a marathon!  Success was even sweeter because every single friend there had had a good race and had achieved at least one of their race goals.  Celebrations are especially magical when everyone there feels like a winner!


Rachelle and I posed with another AG winner with our lovely mugs

Gary and I took another opportunity to smile, clink mugs, and share hugs 

After the race, I took a quick shower at my sister's house.  Then, some of us met up for a juicy double cheeseburger at Five Guys.  Pre-burning over 2,000 calories sure has a way of making things taste good.  Yes, I believe I'll have fries with that!

Those celebrating included Rodney's family, Rachelle's family, my family, and my friend, Keith

Finally, for those of you interested in the details, here are my splits with a few comments where appropriate.

Mile 1:  8:24 Perfect start!
Mile 2:  7:57 Oops.
Mile 3:  8:09 Back to a better pace...
Mile 4:  8:12
Mile 5:  8:19
Mile 6:  8:19
Mile 7:  8:13
Mile 8:  8:14
Mile 9:  8:07
Mile 10:  8:08
Mile 11:  8:22
Mile 12:  8:09
Mile 13:  8:19
Half way split: 1:48:09 - 8:15 pace - perfect!
Mile 14:  8:28
Mile 15:  8:20
Mile 16:  8:14
Mile 17:  8:13
Mile 18:  8:13 I was feeling SO good here!
Mile 19:  7:53 so I did this,
Mile 20:  8:04 and this,
Mile 21:  8:10 and this.
Mile 22:  8:59 That's when it dawned on me that I might have been a little hasty...
Mile 23:  8:53 Drat!
Mile 24:  9:37 It got really lonely and all my good thoughts melted away.
Mile 25:  9:27 For three miles I kind of drooped and suffered.
Mile 26:  9:23 Just as I hit the campus near the end of this mile, I picked it up again,
last 0.26:  8:02 and at least I finished strong!