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!


  1. Fabulous job! You constantly amaze me with your running ability. I'm sorry to have missed so much of your training reports, but thrilled that you did so well!! Love the winner's award as well- something that's actually useful!!

    Also, I think you should crop out the Seminole on the horse in that one picture. Put in a statue of Albert. It'll look much nicer =)

  2. Thanks, Danielle! No worries about missing posts. Friends can catch back up instantly. :-) I agree, the mug is truly the best piece of bling I have received. Albert would definitely look better. I kind of miss him! The finish line balloons were garnet and good and even the ribbon on the medals. It was everywhere. No escape!

  3. You did awesome Gail! It sounds like you really enjoyed yourself! You always run happy! :) And on the bladder thing...I think something odd happens after having kids, sigh. :) Congratulations!

    1. Thanks, Isabel! I'm just looking over all the photos now, and I was smiling in every single one of them. It really was the ultimate race experience!

  4. Way to go Gail! I love reading your blog! Inspirational! My next marathon is in December…it won’t be as fast as yours but I’m planning to knock 30 minutes off my last one.

    1. Thanks! A 30-minute PR is out of this world!! If it's the Jacksonville Marathon, I've heard great things about the course. Whatever the speed, every marathon finisher can hold his/her head up high. It is a huge undertaking. Thanks for taking the time to post a comment!

  5. just came across your blog...great work! cool shot with Michael Wardian...did you get his autograph!

    1. Thanks, Will! I didn't get Mike's autograph, although he would have been glad to give me one. He seemed like such a regular guy. I did at least get to chat with him for several minutes. He was very approachable and very humble. This other guy also came up who had placed 3rd in one of the two big Atlanta Marathons. Mike paid him lots of compliments and I stayed to hear what both had to say. I hope that he is completely healed from his injuries very soon so he might continue to break records. He's definitely one to watch, and I'm really glad to have met him!

  6. We are looking at this Marathon in 2014. I was scheduled to do Jax Bank but had a set back. Your report makes me think it will be a well organized enjoyable race! I'll not be winning the AG award (congrats!!!!) but I think I might do OK there, thanks!

    1. Thanks so much for posting a comment! I really do think the Tallahassee Marathon has a lot to offer. I would certainly consider doing it again, and I still may do it this upcoming February. However, with one week until I run the Savannah Marathon, I can only think so far ahead! Best of luck to you with which ever marathon you choose. Any marathon you run will be a job very well done!!