Wednesday, April 02, 2008

It Sucks Because I Am Running Up a Hill (or alternately, The Georgia ING 2008 Marathon)

Race Day:
It is 4 am and I feel like I have not slept at all. I have a glass of water and then a cup of coffee and a bowl of Uncle Sam's. I finish breakfast and then hop in the shower and try to wake up. I get dressed.

Around 5 am Pookie gets up. She is, unsurprisingly, not so chipper. I decide that I should have another breakfast--half a whole wheat bagel with peanut butter. More coffee, more water.

The day before Pookie had made fun of me for bringing my own cereal but now admits that she has trouble getting things--you know what mean-- moving before a race. I advise her on the Uncle Sam's. It does, after all, tout itself as a "natural laxative" on the box. If that doesn't get your palate whet I don't know what will.

Doubtful she pours a bowl for herself and then eats it while making fun of my outfit. She keeps making comments about the "special marathon" I am doing. I even pose for pictures for her.

I didn't have my camera so I have no pre-race pictures and she has not sent me the ones she took. But here is my picture in the special outfit after the race. Please note how my hair--despite being braided-- still tried to turn into dreadlocks.I am so pretty.

I know that this is not the cutest outfit ever and that my socks look way dorky but hey, they work! All week I had worried about my calves. They had felt heavy and tight in every single run I did. I massaged and iced and stretched. And I have to say that my calves felt fresh the entire race--no cramps, no heaviness whatsoever. In fact, they still feel good and I have run twice, swam once and cycled 30 miles in the 3 days since the marathon. I wish could say the same for my quads. . . I am still sore in the quads. Damn Atlanta courses. Every time with the sore quads.

Anyway, Wes--our driver,Pookie's husband, lush-- is sorely hungover from getting home at 2 am but nevertheless he has us at the race by 6:15 am. In the car Pookie, coins a new term and happily informs us that she had indeed Uncle Sammed. She suspects though that she might be Uncle Samming all through the race.

Wes drops us off and I make Pookie jog down to the park. She does her usual complaining that she always does before a race. For the record Pookie acts like getting up at 9 am is the crack of dawn so it is understandable why she complains so much on race day. I always take this opportunity to be even more chipper and annoying than I naturally am in the morning.

We hit the Johnny on the Spots and as Pookie exits her Johnny on the Spot she triumphantly exclaims that she Uncle Sammed again. We stretch a bit and then I walk her to her corral. Apparently in her corral, which was corral 3, she got bored and texted Fishstick who was in corral 5. They spent prerace texting animal sounds to each other: hew haw, nay nay, moo etc. Silly girls.

On my way to corral 2 I run into Steph. She informs me of some secret Johnny on the Spots on Baker street. So we hightail it over there for one last potty break. Clearly I am over hydrated.

Steph moves to the back of the corral and I seed myself with the 3:30 pacers: Floren and Jerry. I chat with Greg who I met had Chickamuaga and also Caroline and Erin from Big Peach while we wait for the start. We sing the anthem and then at 7:03 am someone says "Go" and without much fanfare we are off and running.

Oh man, I think, I still feel tired.

I chat with Caroline for part of the first mile. She is running the half and is looking for Erin who we lost at the start and who is also running the half. Erin runs up on us and they go off together. I stick close on Floren's heels. Everything feels very off. It is still dark and I am so tired. Not leg or body tired but just sleepy. I feel like sleep is sitting on my head. Then I start to feel that nag in my bladder again. Ugh. Damn faulty bladder.

I am annoyed at my discomfort. My body awareness. I like to not think about my body and right this second that is not possible.

It is still very crowded in those first few miles but at least everyone is running and the dodging and weaving is minimal. In the second mile I am directly behind a tall male runner. Suddenly he veers left and all the sudden I am right in front of a cone. Surprised, I leap over it. This earns me an "Impressive!" from the guy on my right. I mumble "Thank God it is mile 2 and not mile 22 or there would have been a completely different result."

I have no idea what our pace is but it feels wrong to me, slightly uncomfortable and I am questioning how the heck I am going to hold it for 24 more miles. Then I realize that my left foot is completely numb. I puzzle over it but still stick on Floren and Jerry's heels. No one is really talking. There is just breathing and that running marching sound and all I can think about is why is my foot numb. What does this mean. I start getting bored and my obsessing over my foot gets worse. I start entertaining thoughts of a DNF and realize that today? Today I am really not so much in the mood to run a marathon. Ugh, this sucks I think.

I had planned to not listen to my ipod but brought it just in case I lost the pace group. Since no one is talking anyway and things are not going well I turn it on and try to focus on something other than my foot. This song is on.

Instantly I start to chill out and relax and focus on following Floren and Jerry's feet and finding my groove. I forget about my foot. Forget about everything and suddenly I find myself in mile 5 and that somehow I have passed the pace group. I glance over my shoulder and I see their little sign. I slow down and by the sixth mile I am back with them. During this time I have my GU. I am also carrying 20 ounces of Gatorade but I am not to drink it until after the 20 mile mark. Already I am annoyed by carrying it. Later though I know I will be happy that I do not have to navigate over to the aid stations so I hang on to it.

At mile 8 we start up a terrible hill. I think this is our longest incline and I am prepared for it. I tucked my head down and just run on the pacer's heels. During this time I begin repeating to myself what will become my mantra for the race: "It only sucks because I am running up a hill." I say it over and over. I look up periodically to see if the hill is over and it isn't. I feel like we never go down hill. It seems like we are running up a hill for over 20 minutes. The wind is starting to get bad and I am getting cold. I keep reminding myself that it is only sucking because we are running up a hill but then all the sudden I find myself standing still.

I am shocked to be not moving. This has never happened before. There is intense pain in my hips and the right side all the around to my groin muscle is cramped. I take a breath and say- out loud: "Okay, I guess I am going to walk for a minute."

I have no idea what happened. I still don't. The pain was only for a second but it stopped me in my tracks and came out of nowhere. It felt like I just stood there and watched the pace group slip a way. While I walked for a minute I had this dialogue--not sure if it was interior or exterior:

Maybe I should quit and call someone.
I look around and realize I have no idea where I am. I know I am about to run into Decatur because I remember this part from last year (which I don't remember it being this terrible) but I have no idea where I am in Decatur.

I ask myself: Do I feel okay?

No, I'm cold.

I decide to put on my long sleeve shirt that I luckily decided last minute at the start to not toss and to hang onto just in case. The wind is really bad.
Maybe I should eat something, I think. I open up my Clif Blocks and munch a few.

Then I ask, Do I want to quit?

Emphatically the answer is yes.
But then I ask; Will I regret quitting?

Yes, is the immediate answer.

So then I ask,Will I regret finishing-- no matter what the time?

No, is the immediate answer.

And with that I start running again and decide that I will reassess at the half point.

And so I run on; trying to find my groove.

I don't really remember anything about miles 11-15 except I do remember crossing the mat at the halfway point and decide to run on.

At mile 15 it was still sucking but the Beastie Boys "Get It Together" come on my Ipod. I will not include a youtube of this one since the song is full of all sorts of inappropriate cuss words but it use to be the only thing I could put on while driving in the car when Carmella was an infant and having a melt down. She would instantly be calmed and would in fact "get it together."

I look at my watch and try to do some math. I know that 3:30 is impossible but sub 3:40 isn't. A PR is still a possibility but it will be close and I will really have to hold, even push the pace to get it. I knpw that that will be tough to do considering I still have Druid Hills coming up and that 3 mile climb to finish. Not to mention, I still have to pee and it is not going away like it did in Chickamauga. I debate whether or not I should stop. I know that stopping will risk any chance at a PR but I also know that stopping and getting back on pace is easier to do at 16 miles rather than at 20 or later miles. I rationalize that the sensation could still go away. While having this inner argument I suddenly see the mile 16 marker and a Johnny on the Spot next to it that is empty.

I run right to it. I cannot believe how full my bladder is. You know, I've had 2 kids--one of whom I ran until my 34 week of pregnancy with. So I really don't expect much from my bladder but damn I am impressed. Even more so because I haven't peed on myself at all.

Exiting the Johnny I feel like a new woman.

"Open the Door" by Magnapop comes on and suddenly I have renewed energy.

I am in Druid Hills--arguably one of the toughest portions of the course. But this part of the course is like all my long training runs with the rolling hills. Plus it is so pretty. I start passing lots of people and even began seeing some 3:30 pace groupers that had also fallen behind. Since I have no idea what my time or splits are I see this as a good sign. I also note that I have not seen the 3:40 pace group yet so I am still running a PR from last years time. That really motivates me.

Miles 16-24 feel my strongest. I smile at people, encourage people, wave at the crowd and thank the volunteers. Finally after 2 hours I am starting to enjoy the race. The race has really turned around for me.

Everything is going really well but I am starting to really have to work in the 24th mile. I have been playing leap frog with a guy who-- I might be wrong on this-- I think has a 3:20 pace group sign. He is faster than me but keeps stopping to walk. Right before 25th mile he passes me again and calls back over his shoulder "Come on 3:30 girl!" Ugh, I think. I have wanted to rip that damn 3:30 pace sign off my back the entire race because I basically feel like I am wearing a sign that says "Hello! Look at me! I'm a failure!" It is completely demoralizing to be advertising a pace that you clearly can't maintain. Always better to be the sandbagger I think.

I grumble to him that 3:30 was a stretch, explaining that I had only wanted to beat my 3:37 Pr. He says, "Well if you pick it up you've got it!" And with that I pass him and do not see him again. That was exactly what I needed to hear.

And then, even better, this song comes on:

Gotta give a shout out to all the GA bands;)!

And then all hell breaks loose and I hit the 25th mile. I am still feeling pretty good. I certainly have the energy to run the pace and fight my way up the hill but I do not have the energy to do it and weave around the walls of half marathoners and the kids in orange shirts. It is insane! I have never experienced anything like this. There are even people walking in jeans and ladies with pocketbooks--clearly spectators who are not part of the race. And all the kids with "13.1" on their backs. I can't figure it out as they look way too fresh to have just run a half marathon-- not to mention they too are in street clothes.

So while I am trying to dodge and weave I am actually no longer even sure I am still on the course. I keep looking for other marathoners. I see 2 this entire time but they are all the way on the other side of the street. Every other second I have to yell out "Runner coming through!" Or "Marathoner! Passing!" And some of the kids will turn when I say this and rather than move to the side take this as a call for a challenge and start sprinting me! But after about 50 feet they come to a stop and I have to try and navigate around them again. I keep looking around for an official and finally I see one. He looks at me and says "Marathoners go right."

Then all the sudden we are being directed onto the sidewalk and I say "Really? The sidewalk?" I am so confused! I have no idea where the finish is. I know it must be soon but all I can see is yards and yards of plastic orange fencing and hundreds (or so it seems) of half marathoners. Oh to be tall!

The course keeps narrowing and it feels more and more congested and it is getting harder and harder to get around people. I feel like I am Alice and I have mistakenly fallen down the rabbit hole. The whole scene is so surreal and crazy. The course winds around and finally I can see the finish around a curve. The crowd is intense and cheering and I start trying to do my final dead out sprint. I can't, there are just too many people. And right then, at that second, a half marathoner stops dead in front of me. I completely lose it and shove her out of my way. As I do this and run past I scream at her that is a race and you do not stop until you cross the finish!

As I round the curve I see my Dad and Ryan and call out to them. They seem surprised to see me. As I approach the finish I look up and see the race clock and it reads 3:38 xx. I am simultaneously disappointed and completely pissed off as I know I have missed a PR and I know I was so freaking close. Oh boy am I mad! Later I come to find out I missed a PR over Chickamauga by 52 seconds. That sucks.

I cross the finish and someone hands me my medal and a space blanket. I am hot (probably just from being mad) but take it because I know I will be cold in few minutes. I wander around and try to figure out how to get over to where I saw Ryan and my Dad. I sit down and my phone rings. It is Ryan. The first thing he asks is if I am in the medical tent. That makes me laugh-- remembering last year and how much more it sucked. And that even though I didn't run a PR I did run 6 minutes faster this year and at the very least, if nothing else, I do not have to go to the medical tent. Oh, and best of all? I am done. See? All good.

Okay some pictures.
Me right before the finish and after I knocked that girl out of my way so you can't see how mad I am.
A picture of the orange shirted kids and what I had to run through at the finish.

Me right after I finish and Beau congratulates me by punching me in the quad with that stuffed bird. Kids are great! So very cute.

Me and Lala. She is sporting Pookie's medal.

Me and Fishstick:

Pookie and Fishstick. They both ran the half. Pookie got a Pr of 1:50. If you'd like to follow her training method it is called not really running much at all. Fishstick ran 2:20 with a sinus infection. Her training method is more regimented and actually involves running.

We did make good use of my space blanket. Allow me to introduce super Marlow.

My nemesis for the past few days:

Video of finish line 10:30 to 11:00am. I cross at 3:39 on the clock.

Final stats:
Clock time 3:39
Chip time 3:38:18
38th female finisher
278th overall finisher

Final words: This year's race was much better put on though the finish still needs a lot of work. I would do this again and I would recommend this race. I hope it swells to the sucess of the Peachtree and the other big marathons. But it should be said that this was by far the most challenging of all 5 marathons I have run. It is a tough course.

Ugh, Ps! Sorry about all the tense switches. I know that must been annoying. I have a tendencey to write in past perfect--which is a no no so I tried to switch it to present. I have been writing/editing this for 2 days while my DSL goes in and out and I just had to publish before it went out again. Damn Bellsouth.


  1. Nat!
    Sounds like you had a tough race, but you still finished in amazing time!

    It mustve been frustrating to run around runners at the beginning AND the end!
    You're one tough chick:)


  2. I can't believe how narrow that finishing chute is. Why in the world do they release hundreds of kids onto the course when the best of the marathoners are still coming through?

    Ms Natalie...Great job on a very tough marathon!

  3. I heard some down things about the bottleneck at the end. They should really have a separate finishing for the half and the full... at least separate chutes.

    And way to go on a tough marathon-- getting that close to a PR... ING course is way more difficult than Chickamauga's, and the weather was not the best. Can't wait to see what you pull later this year at Chickamauga!

  4. I watched the video finish. You might as well have been running the marathon at Lenox Mall on a Saturday! That would have driven me crazy, except that I would have been dead from trying to run 26.2 miles... Good job! I am proud, regardless of your thoughts on the issue. You think I can train for the full in 7 months? My legs haven't revolted in weeks...

  5. I remember weaving in and out of peeps at the start of last years race. I'm glad they got that fixed, only to screw it up again at the end! I'm glad you turned it around! Hopefully, I'll be back to try out the new course next year.

    Great race, Nat!!!

  6. Thank you so much for that race report. I always love reading about how runners are able to work through tough runs. I think I'll be using some of your tactics for a half marathon that I have this Sunday. I have unfortunately followed the Pookie method of training, and, unlike, Pookie, seriously doubt I'll be able to break 2 hours in this one!

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  8. Ahh...we'll try again.

    I suppose that girl you passed right by the finish line did the 5K that day, right?

    ...cuz that would explain the backpack sized fanny pack she had, did the wheels on her pull behind luggage break that morning, so she opted for plan B?

  9. Nat - hilarious! I loved your RR, even the bits that weren't supposed to be funny...

    You soooooo have a 3:30 in you by the way (even if you don't taper!). Just running a flat course without a slalom obstacle course finish would give you that...

    By the way, can you send me that Interpol alarm tone: could come in handy. LMAO!

    And, I have to say that I thought you were exaggerating about the finish until I saw the photos. OMG.


  10. Nat!!!

    Awsome description and you were dead on about the pace group numbers on your back. I even referenced your blog entry, because I had one of those stupid things plastered on my back and was struggling with an injury and 50 minutes behind my pace time.
    Congrats on finishing..I still cant get over the hills...

  11. You should run a flat course like the Las Vegas Marathon, or a downhill course like the St. George Marathon, not only would you break 3:30, I KNOW you would do <3:25.

    Saw the movie "Run Fatboy Run" and your description of coming to a dead stop reminded me of him hitting the "Wall" to a complete stop as well...must see the movie to appreciate.

    Those Orange T-shirts kinda looks like the shirts that Hooter Girls wear.

    Don't you hate having a photo crossing the finish line with someone who did the half and is 60 pounds heavier?

  12. Hey Nat-
    Congrats on a great race and getting through the mentally though early miles and finishing strong.
    I especially love the Corona hat- nice touch! :)

  13. You rock. I would have been mad at those folks at the end, too. Sorry you missed the PR, but damn! 6 mins off last year's time is pretty impressive.

    On another note, you are very long-winded and I haven't been able to read in a month, and I will never catch up.

    Oh, and about the finish, was it narrowed substantially due to tornado damage or something? That just seems idiotic to have it that narrow.

  14. OMG. I am laughing my butt off. I'm sorry. Only because I know EXACTLY what you are talking about. Ha. I thought it had to be the stupidest thing ever to release those kids when they did. WTF? Right when marathoners are finishing? Yah, that's smart. And the finish line chute was bad. I was pissed for you when I read the last part of your report. Arghh!!!!