Sunday, October 16, 2011

Now It's A Party

This fall has just been a crazy amount of awesome when it comes to races and goals. I think it's been about 9 months in the making and is the result of new perspectives on training as well as new willpower to follow them through but that doesn't make it any less stunning for me. But perhaps I'm getting ahead of myself. As you may or may not have read already, I ran yesterday's Baltimore Marathon with Team reGen.

I left on the 3pm bus to Baltimore on Friday and took Greyhound. Their service was pretty good. Wi-fi, lots of legroom, and outlets. I couldn't have asked for much more, so the trip was pleasant. I arrived in Baltimore around 7:30pm, later than I originally expected, and took a cab from the bus terminal to the Baltimore Convention Center where I needed to pick up my race number and visit the reGen table to say hi. This marathon seemed to be a much smaller production than the New York City Marathon. I won't comment on whether or not that's a good thing, only that there were definitely differences.

After finding the expo itself, I entered and got my numbers and t-shirt and then wandered around a little bit. I found the reGen table without much trouble but was a little bit at a loss for what to do. I wanted to be helpful but only ended up being sort of awkward in my attempt. I ended up meeting up with them again after the race, so it was okay.

At the expo I purchased Clif Shot Bloks, which I intended to consume during the race. I've tried them before and find them way more pleasant to eat during a race than Gu or Power Bar Gels. Each brand has its own version of the Bloks, the best comparison to which I can think of is fruit snacks. I find the consistency to be much more tolerable than the gooey semi-drinkable gel versions. I also got some socks, as I forgot to pack them. Once I finished at the expo, I headed to my hotel. It was in a nice location and the room itself was big and comfortable. I ordered some spaghetti for dinner, got my clothes ready, and headed to bed, having set five or six alarms between my phone, the alarm clock, and a wake-up call.

I woke up around 6:30, which was a little later than I wanted to wake up but still left me plenty of time to dress, pack up, check out, and head down to check my bag in and enjoy the continental breakfast that the hotel provided. I was thinking I would eat a bagel because that has always been reliable pre-race food for me but I only saw cereal and yogurt once I got downstairs. It wasn't until AFTER I'd finished my Frosted Flakes that I realized I missed most of the breakfast options, which were on the other side of the wall. No matter, though. The Frosted Flakes and coffee I had were just fine.

I strolled to the start and almost immediately found the 4:30 pace group that I had joined at the expo. What I hadn't found, though, was bag check! Plus, I was beginning to run out of time before the race started. I began running around, asking people where bag check was to mostly no avail. Finally, after asking five or six people, I found someone who knew and followed his directions, scrambling over and checking my bag with about 10 minutes before race time. I ran back to the start and found my pace group again but had to sort of wait about 10 feet in front of them because it was too crowded to move very much.

At the gun start, I hung back a little in order to join up with the pace group and we were off! I barely remember the first few miles, but the fourth one sticks in my mind because it went right by the Baltimore Zoo and employees had taken out some of the animals and were holding them next to the course! It was pretty cool. I can't say I had ever been cheered on by a baby alligator, penguin, gigantic rabbit or rooster before yesterday!

After that, I actually lost the pace group. I was running through water stops but the rest of the group was not, which began to create space between myself and them, although the folks I did keep up with for a large portion of the race had also initially started with that pace group. Perhaps this sounds creepy, but I began to think of those people as my marathon family. My awareness of them and their relation to me kept me on track. I remember hitting mile 7 and feeling like I was finally into the race. Throughout, I was trying to make milestones for myself so that I had something to look forward to. After mile 7, I looked for mile 10 (I even tweeted at mile 10. I'm not ashamed). After mile 10, I looked for 13.1 as the halfway point. After the halfway point, I looked for 16 because that's the point at which I could start counting the miles down from 10.

Also at mile 16 was the merge of half marathon and full marathon participants. I actually did not like this at all because the course became flooded with runners. And I lost my marathon family! I had to find new people to keep track of. I also found myself having to weave in and out of the half marathoners in order to keep running my race. Additionally, the course was hilly and I had a near panic attack every time I would look forward and see the top of a hill apparently swarming with people. It wasn't ideal, but I was able to work with it. Oh! Along with a half and full marathon, this race was also a relay so there were three places at which the relay teams would switch runners. This created a chaotic scene at these points (miles 7, 13, and 19, approximately) but it wasn't too bad overall.

Before the race started, I was intent on working on 1 thing, which I had hoped to write about but didn't get a chance to. That thing was pushing through the wall. I feel like I always hit a wall around mile 18 and it throws my whole race off. This time I was determined to push through it. After mile 16, I was trying to adjust to the new dynamic of the race. I should note, though, that there was no mile 16 marker. Or there was and I missed it. The next one I saw was mile 17. I think. This part is a little funky because I honestly remember hitting the merge, getting myself used to it, worrying about hitting the wall, and then suddenly being at mile 19! That mile marker hit me hard. I realized that I was already a mile into what is normally a 2 mile wall. I GOT HALFWAY THROUGH MY WALL WITHOUT EVER REALLY HITTING IT. Yes, it was that shocking for me and I was re-energized.

Miles 19-21 were around a small body of water. I was hoping it was longer than it was, but it was still a good distraction. 22-26.2 were all mental. It was all about keeping to the race and not thinking about the fact that I was so close to the end after already having come so far. Interestingly enough, I was barely timing myself throughout the course of this race. I think I checked the clock on my phone three times and they were all after mile 16. I checked a couple of times between 11 and 12 and then once more at 12:16, which is when I realized I was making really good time and could shatter the 4:30 goal I set for myself for the NYC Marathon. But I still didn't get excited. My main catchphrase from mile 16 to the end was "no chicken counting." I sometimes make catchphrases for myself that I can keep repeating to motivate me throughout the race. So no chickens were counted until I crossed the finish line and knew I was well under 4:30.  I also kicked harder than I EVER have at a marathon before. I was in the last tenth of a mile, nearly tripped on the feet of the girl in front of me and remember thinking "screw it" and sprinted hard to the finish.

After the race I wandered around like a tired, sore idiot trying to find bag check again. I was getting really grumpy toward the end because I was holding so much stuff and wasn't able to eat any of my food. Not that I was very hungry right after the race, but I was a little bit. Immediately off the finish line, the reGen team was waiting with a delicious, ice cold reGen. Judging from the fact that my legs aren't sore at all today, I'd say it worked pretty well.

Oh, water stops. I always forget those. I didn't really start taking water until a few miles in and once I did, I got really good at running through them. It wasn't until the very end of the race that I walked through two or three. It was a little bit windy, and at one water stop an entire top layer of Gatorade cups was blown up into the volunteers and runners! I got a Gatorade shower all over the backs of my legs.

Well this has been an epic post and it's about time I conclude it. My final time was 4:21:35 and here is a picture of my medal:

Thanks for a great race, Team reGen!

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