Monday, April 25, 2016

Winning a "Secret Marathon"

Holy Shit, I won! 

3 weeks ago I ran the Charlottesville marathon (see previous blog post) and even though I had a strong finish (3rd overall female), I knew that I had a better time in me. I had trained for a sub 3:30 and I was going to get it!

So, what did I do?? I secretly signed up for the Pro Football Hall of Fame Marathon in Canton, Ohio. The year before I had been one of the pacers for it, so I was familiar with the course and knew that it was an easier course with rolling inclines and great organization. My two partners in crime, Joe and Brit, signed up as well and we didn't tell a soul. The only people who knew outside our little trio was my coach and Joe's wife.

Saturday we took the 2 hour drive to Canton, checked into our hotel (which we got a cheap one... and it was AWFUL! ... our neighbors kept us up until  3 am screaming, yelling, and partying, and the hotel was really nasty about us being even 10 minutes past check-out time so we could shower post-race).  We went to the expo to pick up our packets, did a little shopping and then headed to dinner. We found some AMAZING pizza at this little pizza joint with a total of 5 tables run by a guy named Tony (Barbaro's Pizza).

Morning of: Wake up, get coffee, make oatmeal, race outfit on, gels doubled checked, S-caps packed, paces and motivational message written onto my arms and we are ready to go. We drove the mile to the shuttles. There was ample parking and the shuttle service was quick and easy. Get there, drop bags, grab a porta-potty (Which there was a ton there's a WIN already!), get to the start. While waiting for the start a couple got married right at the start line, so they had hundreds of runners as witness to their vows... it was a beautiful moment and I am pretty sure just good Karma for the race! Congrats to them!

Out nice and easy for the first 3. It is soooo easy to get carried away the first couple miles. It is exciting! So many runners and you feel all happy and fresh, but I checked my messages to myself and kept myself in check. Kept my first 3 miles just a little under 8 min per mile.

Once I hit that third mile, I picked it up a bit, but not too much. Anytime I caught myself creeping into the "too fast too early zone" I would check myself, back it back down and just enjoy the run. First half of the course we went through a pretty park, past a monument, and through some local neighborhoods. There were well run water stops every two miles at this point, and there were groups of people cheering the whole way!

Once we dropped off the runners doing the half marathon, it became a smaller field. There were 362 marathon runners that day, a smaller race but enough that you were never really alone. At this point Joe and I were still running together. A quiet companionship as we went. Interacting with the spectators and encouraging other runners as we came up on them. Now there are water stops every mile, this is great! As we ran through residential areas there were spectators along the course the whole way. People on their porches, a group of young girls with an impromptu water stop, two or three groups traveling the course so we see them at least 3 times, a guy in his driveway banging a spoon on a medal bucket, and a few dogs. Oh and we saw a WOLF! Not playing, a pet wolf. He was gorgeous!

Mile 15: One of the wonderful spectators tells me: You are the 2nd female. WAIT, WHAT?!? I hadn't even considered that. I am here to get a PR, to get a time I know I am capable of, no thoughts to placing. I turn to Joe: "Um, you know what that means right". Joe gives me that look, he knows me well. I just switched from I am just here to PR to I am here to PR and place mentality. This has given me extra motivation to run a smart but fast race.

Mile 16: We see her. It was hard to spot at first because there is also a relay, so the faster relay teams had ladies out on the course. But it's her. She is being led by the pacing bike. hmmmmm..... Now the competitiveness kicks up a bit more. Joe tells me if I want to race her to go ahead. "No, I am going to just sit behind her for awhile, let it happen naturally".

Mile 17: I have caught up, and I am past her! The lead is mine. I have left Joe, so now I am on my own. I am feeling great from my slow start so I pick it up. Lets get it. I tell myself "Don't be stupid. You don't want to pick it up too much and then have a lady pass you in the last 3 miles. Keep yourself in check!"

Mile 18: Look back, I have put some distance between us. Let's go!!! I see my buddy Elijah who is pacing after he has brought his group around the turn-around. He sees me and gives me some encouragement. There are people lined up to the turnaround point. The cheering and support gives a little pep to the step.

Mile 19: Turnaround point. This is great, now I can see where my competition is. I get around the cone and head back. I get down about 2 tenths of a mile before I see #2. I have a couple minute lead! YES! Lets keep it kicked into gear.

Mile 20: Just a 10k to go. I still feel good. I am getting warm but since there are water stops every mile I am able to drink a Gatorade, a water, and take a water to douse.

Mile 21-22,: Still rocking a good pace. I come upon that AMAZING spectator crew. They are screaming and yelling and it makes me feel awesome, so I pick it up a little more. As I am going people are congratulating me and letting me know I am still in first. This brings me such a massive feeling of joy. I can't stop smiling and every time I hear a congrats or "you go girl", it helps me! Every once in awhile I look back to look for another girl, I can't see one. I have a decent lead. The encouragement from the other runners, especially the women on the course, is keeping me motivated to keep it up!

Mile 23- ONLY a 5K to go! I am starting to hurt. I have taken my gels and my salt, and I am dousing with water every water stop to cool down. I had been semi-listening to my music. Through one earbud most of the race, through both for a few miles, and now I pull them out so that I can concentrate on the race. I start playing the pick off game. I pick a guy in front of me, work to catch up and pass. I also have my woman on the bike, who even though she is 20 feet ahead of me and we are not interacting, is a huge help. When I start to get tired and look at her, I say to myself "I don't want her to look back and wonder why I am slowing down".

Mile 24: I am behind a guy holding my pace. I am using him to keep me going. He has unknowingly become my pacer. I tell myself "2 miles to f'n go... don't give up, get it done!". Then he stops and walks... ahhhhhhhh. As I pass him I tell him I am sad he is stopping. He gives me a shout of encouragement and I keep on. My LEGS are tired and I am HOT! But there are only 2 miles left damnit!

Mile 25: ONE MILE LEFT! And of course, its a friggin Hill! As I come to the bottom to head up, I give myself a stern talking to and put one foot in front of the other. It will be a cold day in hell before I walk up that. (Side note, in the grand scheme of hills... it really isn't that big, but when your tired it basically looks like Mt. Everest). This is my slowest mile, but I get up the stupid hill. I am still on my own other than my wonderful bike lead.

Mile 26: I am almost done. I want that tape! The race finishes in a stadium, so you run around the track. As I come into the finish line there are half marathoners finishing. My lovely bike lead tells them I am coming and they scooch over. The crowd is way too quiet so I yell for them to give me some love and they do. As I come up to the finish they are hurrying to put up the winners tape.  It was the BEST feeling ever going through that. Pure joy is the only way I can even begin to describe it. Never in my wildest dream had I ever thought I would win a marathon.

Finish line: I get my photo taken, I talk to a reporter (which that was fun!), and am just overwhelmed by the outpouring of congratulations. I feel like a friggin rock star! I had started the day with a plan to just PR, a redemption race. And I ended up winning. Within a few minutes my running partners cross and we all get to celebrate together. The finish is great with food, chocolate milk, massages, chiropractors, and a ton of support people. I can't stop smiling. Finishing a marathon always brings a sense of accomplishment and happiness, but this is a whole other level!

Post-Race, Grab a quick shower and head for some food. We celebrate with a drink! Brit and I had been talking about margaritas for weeks, so we each got a margarita and Brit also grabs us a shot of patron. Best shot ever! We finish our food and the head back to the Burgh. Quick drive and then home.

Will that ever happen again? I don't know. I am okay if it doesn't. This amazing feeling will stick with me for along time. And I can say for certain, running a secret marathon is the way to go! There was no pressure, I wasn't worried what my friends and running community was thinking, I just had me and my partners and was able to just run my race. It turned out pretty well!

Now: onto recovery as I prepare for the Pittsburgh marathon relay and spectating! I can't wait to see thousands of runners hit the road in my town in 6 days so I can support them the way the wonderful people in Canton did for me!

Happy Running!

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