Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Breaking the Nat Line just South of the Gnat Line

Museum of Aviation 2009 Marathon Race Report:

From the The Urban Dictionary for those not from Georgia: The gnat line is:

An imaginary line dividing coastal areas from more inland areas in certain southern states in the U.S., especially the Carolinas and Georgia. The term comes from the abundance of gnats in coastal marshlands and swamps in these states and the relative lack of the insects in the inland regions.

In Georgia the gnat line falls just below Macon and as the bugs increase the hills decrease until you can see for miles and miles.

Well sort of.

There are still the all those tall ugly knotty pines pretty much blocking the view to Florida.

And the Nat line? Well, I think we all know that for me-- in regards to the marathon-- the Nat line has been the 3:30 marathon.

I've what?

Only been trying since my 3rd marathon-- almost 3 years ago-- to break or even just get close to 3:30. And after 8 marathons total the closest I have come is 3:37 (twice) and 3:38 (once).

Sigh. To be honest I had pretty much accepted it was never going to happen. I figured I was on the downward spiral.

But apparently all it took was getting the heck out of the Appalachian foothills into the vast flatness of the coastal plain.

But . . .
I did it!
I'll spare you the suspense: 3:28:24 is my official chiptime. Guntime is 3:28:27.

Here is the video of that proud and surreal moment:

Disappointing that it is so blurry but our camera sucks.

Beau chased after me and the lady giving the medals at the finish kept asking me if I had run the marathon and I didn't know she was talking to me since I thought it was obvious.

Oh, and there is icing to this fine cake:

I was 3rd overall woman!

Wanna see my trophy?

Here is me at the finish with first and second overall girls. They both came in a few seconds of each other at 3:23. I'm in the middle with the hat and on my left is Arden who was second and on my right is Christine.
Here we are cleaned up at the awards ceremony:

Okay, on to the boring details.

On Friday Ryan, the kids and I drove from Atlanta to Warner Robins. In the car I entertained myself making sock puppets per Stevie Ray's suggestion to use toss away tube socks to keep my hands warm and have a sock puppet theater to entertain myself and all my marathoning compatriots.

I had a hard time coming up with characters and thought I would let my artistic design drive my creativity. As it turned out my artistic creativity was having an off day and my puppets are totally lame. Kids liked them though.

Allow me to introduce: Frostbite the Artic Seal

Ice Kitten (which you know I totally mean that other word for kitten but can't bring myself to write it since my mom reads here). I wrote "Toughen up Kitten" on it too as a reminder to HTFU.

As it was though all my obsessing and freaking out about the weather proved a waste since it ended up being 20 degrees at the start and I didn't end up using the puppets. Maybe at another race I'll break them out.

I slept fitfully the night before because the person in the room next to mine snored so loudly I thought that it was Ryan. After like the 5th time I smacked him and told him to stop snoring he said it wasn't him.

We had a suite so I walked out into the other room to see which of the kids was playing with a chainsaw. I noticed as I got further from our bed though the sound softened. I couldn't believe it. It was the person in the next room! I tried stuffing tissue in my ears and that did not work at all. I ended up turning on the bathroom fan and sleeping at the foot of the pull out couch the kids were on.

In retrospect I probably should have moved them into bed with Ryan and I might have slept a tad better not getting kicked in the face. But then again it probably wouldn't have mattered because snoring person and friend left at 4 am and made much racket arguing while packing up their car. It was so ridiculous it was just comical.

I got at 5:30am and did the usual bagel, coffee, water and Uncle Sam's. Of course, since it was a small room the kids got up with me. Oh but not Ryan. Totally unfair how soundly he sleeps.

So much for pre-race peace and quiet.

This race only had packet pick up race day. This was the first time I've ever done the race day pick up with a marathon. I think it would have been great any other time but since I had the kids with me it was a total pain in the ass. I didn't want to take them to the race any earlier than necessary and we only had one car so I had to go and then get back so they could drive me to the start. A little more stress than I like dealing with before a race-- especially since Beau had to argue with me about the multiple layers I made him wear since it was 20 degrees.

At 6:50 I left the hotel and drove down the street to the museum to get my packet. I used this time to give my outfit a test drive and jogged around a bit.

I had decided on hat, Mizuno therma tights, compression socks, short sleeve run like a girl shirt, long sleeve technical shirt from Chickamuaga (favorite marathon), Sugoi half mock jersey and two pairs of cotton mittens. It was 20 degrees and I was a little cold. However I was worried I would warm up a lot and couldn't decide if I should keep the Sugoi top or not. I did consult a few other runners who advised me to hold on to it. So I did.

I got my packet and went back to the hotel. My Garmin strap broke 3 times in beweeen going, leaving packet pickup and coming back to the hotel. I decided I would have to do without it. I still had my watch but I had planned on wearing both so I would know what my immediate pace was rather than trying to figure it out at every split and going on perceived effort.

Two days before I had run according to feel and ended up running just below marathon pace for the entire run. I was very surprised by this because I had thought I was running--based on perceived exertion--an 8:20ish pace. And since this course was almost entirely flat-- save for a few insignificant elevation climbs-- I was worried I would run myself silly without a hill to keep me in check. I have never run a flat course--even in training-- for more than 13 miles so I was terrified that I would have worn myself out by mile 15.

But there was nothing I could do and I just couldn't fiddle with it any longer. I made sure I had my Gu's and had Ryan drop me at the start. Then I ran like mad all over the Flight of Aviation museum trying to find a bathroom. I only found one and the line was ridiculous. Luckily some lady spoke up and convinced the gals who were doing the 5k to let us marathoners and half marathoners cut since we started at 8 am and they didn't start until 8:15. I could tell they weren't thrilled but Southern politeness won out and I got pressed up to the head of the line.

Which was quite lucky. I made it out of the bathroom and over to the start with time enough to get up close to the front of the start line. And ready or not we were running.

Ryan took this video. I pass right at 8 seconds.

I did happen to see them right as I passed them. I am all bundled up in gray with my hat. Not sure what the talk of getting shot is about but I guess there was a gunshot at the start (I was so disoriented that I didn't hear it).

I don't remember being cold or anything and I was just trying to get my bearing. A few minutes in I felt my calf get tight. It had been a little sore for a couple of days but I tried not to worry since sometimes I get these aches and they have no effect on my runs. So I took it as a sign that I was probably running too fast and slow down. Which in that first mile--especially when you start up front is really hard to do. You just have to try and stay out of the way and pretend you don't notice all the people passing you. At any rate the mile went by fast and my split was 7:39.
Little too fast. I had thought, if I was feeling good I would shoot for a 7:50 pace after mile 4 but try to stay around 8-8:10 for the first few miles. Best laid plans . . .

Mile two I slowed down even more and that was 7:51. Okay. And then I started chatting with these two men. One was doing the full, the other the half. I asked full guy's goal as I was hoping to have someone to shadow. He said 3:45ish would be good for him. And just then we were at the 3 mile split and I told him he was running way too fast since we just cruised past 3 miles in 23 minutes flat and with that they faded back and I surged ahead.

But I didn't pick up the pace. Instead I started following this guy I had just run up on. I don't know if had been there all long or not but it was right after the 3 mile split that I first noticed him. Every quarter mile it seemed he was checking his Garmin and his form seemed easy and smooth. Jackpot I thought as I contemplated his pace over the next mile.

Mile 4 came in at 30:54. I decided I liked this pace. It was comfortable, easy even. It felt like that walk in the park with your grandma and I decided I would try it. I wasn't sure what the exact pace was or what it yielded since I've been trying for 3:30 for so long and can do the 8 minute mile splits like tens.

So I just followed this guy with a good pace. I would not let myself run with him or pass him. I tried to stay far enough back so maybe he wouldn't notice me and be bothered. I didn't want to make him speed up since I was sponging off his pace.

Mile 5 was 38:55. Just a little over a minute in the bank for 3:30. I contemplated this as I took my Gu slowly over the mile in anticipation of the 6 mile water stop. I know that banking time is a rookie mistake and usually has disastrous results. But then again, I've tried even pacing and hit the half split at 1:45 for 3 marathons (my fastest) and still ran positive splits. So I thought if I was doomed for a positive split I might be better off banking some time. The question for me was how much time could I bank and not blow myself up? I decided I would try find out. But I was not allowed to pass guy with awesome, perfect pace.

Mile 6 I messed up hitting my watch and then I was off for the rest of the race and was very confused. I think it came in right around 46:10 minutes. I probably should have been a little concerned since I had gained almost another minute in the bank in the space of a mile. But I felt awesome so I just kept following perfect pace guy.

And if he wasn't aware of me he was now since I would occasionally yell out "car!" when one would pass or "damn!" when I dropped my chapstick. I was feeling great and I don't even remember miles 7-11 except that man they were going by fast and how awesome that was. I was trying to figure out my pace and potential finish time. I realized I was probably running around 3:25 and got all excited and then reminded myself not to get greedy and stick to the 3:30 plan or PR (3:36).

Around mile 11 it occurred to me that my pace maker might be doing the half. I realized that this would make me really sad. After a few more minutes I couldn't stand it any longer so I sped up and caught up to him and asked.

He was doing the half!

I was so bummed!

I complimented him on the pace and told him I was not allowed to pass him and wished him luck. And then I fell back in my place behind him. One time I did pass him on one of the uphills and threw him a big smile and thumbs up. He didn't seem so happy so I went back to my place behind him.

At the half way mark I lost sight of my pace setter as he bolted to the finish. Inwardly I worried about my 1:41:05 split. I was excited about how good it felt but worried since my second fastest half time is 1:41. My fastest though is 1:36:56 and I tried to console myself that it would be okay. But really I had no idea since I haven't race a half marathon in nearly a year and half.
At the turn around volunteers were calling out: "Marathoners do a second loop!" So I cheered back to them: "Woo hoo second loop!" I really was excited to be half way done and I was having fun.

Ryan took this video of the half way point. This me coming back after the turn around and starting my second loop. I am tossing the Gatorade back to him that he had given to me and I decided I didn't need it or want to carry it. The aid stations were working out great for me.

The "she" he is referring to on the video that he says is two minutes in front of me is Christine and she did end up winning. I asked her at the finish what her half split was and she said around 1:35 so she was A LOT further ahead of me than 2 minutes. At any rate I knew when he said it that the only way I would catch her was if she broke her leg. My goal for the second half was to run a 1:49 positive split so I could run 3:30. And really, I wasn't even sure that was possible so trying to catch her never even occurred to me. Here she is coming into the finish.

So even though I knew I had gone out too fast I was still feeling good --albeit very alone since my pace setter deserted me. So I spent the next 2 miles wondering when the inevitable blow up was going to happen and what I was going to do about. I was trying to form a plan. I still felt really good. Absolutely no complaints. Still running about the same pace but knew the fade was coming and worse, possibly the dreaded wall; and I was a little scared.

In the 15th mile a guy caught up to me. I had noticed his shadow chasing mine and I didn't want it to catch mine. It was a little freaky. The base is pretty desolate and you are completely alone and here is this shadow encroaching on yours. It makes you run faster. But he caught me and asked if it was bothering me that he was running so close to me.

I told him no because he wasn't bothering me, just his creepy shadow--but I didn't mention that part. I asked him what the pace was, he said 7:45ish and we discussed our goals. His was 3:28 and I told him ideally 3:30 but I would be happy with 3:36 since I just ran Atlanta in 3:37. And then conversation died out and I pulled ahead. Not sure if he was still there or if he ever passed me but he did come up to me at the finish and ask my time and congratulate me. I forgot to ask him his. So rude of me, sorry.

Miles 15-18 I passed quite a few men. I could see people starting to struggle but I was still feeling pretty good. However I could tell it was coming to an end. And in the 19th mile I started to feel heavy in my legs and real concern began to creep in. Was this the beginning of "the wall," I wondered, deciding to eat another Gu.

Just as I was contemplating this a girl passed me. Here she is sprinting to the finish. See how great she looks?I was very surprised to see her. She was the first girl I had seen since about mile 4 or so. It also told me that I was now in third if Ryan was right about there only being one in front of me.

I fell in line behind her and kept pace with her as I finished my Gu. She looked good, easy, like she was still on that walk with her grandma. And me? Well I am sure I looked like I was back packing with a toddler on my shoulders compared to her smooth gait. Still I hung on her heels and didn't let her go and then after a minute decided it wasn't going to happen.

We came up on the aid station and I slowed to make sure I got enough water and she didn't and the distance between us began to grow.

And grow.

I still had her in my sights until almost mile 22. Which at that point I stopped looking at the horizon for her. I just looked down or at my watch and tried to do math. And good gracious I was doing awesome! 22 miles was 2:53. With 4 miles and left to go I knew I would at least Pr.

And this is where I am going to agree with everyone that told me this is an pretty uninspiring course. And the miles 21-25 are by far the most vast and loneliest. The space between you and other runners is huge and there are no spectators. To be honest, as a female, I was little scared.

And then wind started to kick up. It certainly wasn't terrible but it was annoying and particularly acute as I ran over the landing strip. I remember thinking if a plane were to come straight at me I couldn't run any faster and would be run over for sure.

During these later miles I thought a lot about just walking. You know, just for a minute. And then I would do math. I reasoned: I could walk and still run a good PR. But then, if I wanted to break 3:30 I was going to have to keep running sub 9 minute miles. I didn't have to run sub 8's anymore and I was pretty certain I could run the sub 9's that would get me under 3:30--or at least according to my math. Your brain isn't so sharp at the end of a marathon so it is kinda hard to trust your accounting.

The argument would continue: Who cares about 3:30? What's so great about that? And I was so dang tired and geez, my legs felt so very heavy.

But then I looked around at the boring course and thought about how miserable it would be to walk-- despite my fatigue. How it would feel like forever. There was, after all, no one to chat with, nothing pretty to look at--and believe me, I even tried a few times: Aw, look at that crow on the chain link fence; or Hmm, that airplane hanger has a nice curve to it-- I just love the sheen of corrugated metal . . . and wow, the color of this concrete is such an opulent shade of ash. . .

So I kept running. The boring-ness of the course is ultimately what motivated me the most in the end. In fact, I skipped the last aid station because I wanted even more motivation to hurry up and finish.

Since this was a two loop course I knew where the finish would be but I wasn't sure how far until I was there. I kept asking the few people I would pass and all they would do was cheer me on or say "You're under 3:30! Great Job!"

And then finally I saw the finish line and saw the clock and was beyond elated!

Wow! What a fantastic race! FINALLY!!!!

And now I have the dreaded chest cold. I have had this post nearly written for 2 days but haven't had the energy to edit it. I am sure, since I do tend to be on the long winded side, there is much more I could say. For example:

I could go on and on that I am frustrated--despite my emails and the responses that it will be fixed--that the official results still reflect that I am a male and do not list me in the awards. I suppose it really doesn't matter since I have a Boston Qualifier from the Atlanta marathon that I can use but it is a little annoying that my best marathon effort thus far does not have me accurately recorded.

Or I could on and on about how I feel like having broken 3:30 it means I finally earned my ticket to Boston. I know I only needed 3:45 but ever since I very first thought of running a marathon 3:30 has been my goal. And while it is so unbelievably awesome to finally meet my goal I can't help but think what else might be possible. What can I do now? And I will be thinking seriously about that in the Fall but for now I'm not even entertaining the idea of trying to run any faster.

Or I could even talk at length-- assuming I don't die from pneumonia--about how I plan on running GA ING at the end of March. And depending how my training goes I will probably just shoot for a course PR which would be sub 3:38. Seems a little greedy to expect that I can run a PR again so soon especially considering the wonkiness that tends to come with the GA ING marathon.

But really, I think you get the gist of it that this was a fantastic race that I am over the moon about.

Thank you so much for reading!


  1. I think if you're going to pose in a jet AND break your marathon goal, you have to incorporate the words "NEED for SPEED" somewhere in this post.

    Also, congratulations!

  2. Nat, you crack me up. What an awesome report and awesomer race!! :) Sorry you are sick now, but at least it waited until after that PR!! I hope you feel better soon.

  3. YAY!!! That's super Nat! I've been checking in frequently to see what the results are - I'm so proud for you!

    Sure hope your cold gets better soon!

  4. Great race, great recap. And, I see they fixed your official finish time. Too bad though, cause if you were a boy... I kid...

  5. Oh yeah, I also love that you got your hair did before the trophy part. Those other women didn't stand a chance at picture time...

  6. Ahhh, Nat, I don't know how you do it, but you fuel my dreams :-)

    Big congrats again!!

  7. I guess I should qualify, athletic dreams... ROFLMAO!!

  8. The most amazing thing is how GOOD you look AFTER a marathon. Yea!!!! The trophy is cool!


  9. Nice post.

    When I saw the pic of the trophy I thought it was the F15 beside you. I told Vic I might be willing to run marathon if I could get that!!! :)

  10. Great RR as usual. Sky is the limit as far as how fast you can run. You just broke through one wall now it's time to set your sights on another one.

    Are you sure you really aren't a dude? :)

  11. Congrats on breaking the Nat Line!!! I've been on pins and needles waiting for your report and was shocked and amazed with your new P.R., you are an inspiration. Maybe someday I can break the Nat Line too?!?

    Get better soon! You can't keep a great runner down.

  12. You are AWESOME!! I will definitely be repeating your words to myself in my upcoming race. Congratulations on achieving your goal (and then some)!

  13. What an awesome race performance. You really kicked some butt. We knew you had a sub 3:30 in you.

  14. great recap - you are my hero! Congrats on breaking 3:30!

  15. You ran SO fast Nat!!! Very impressive!! The video doesn't so you justice, in person people always look a lot faster!

    Now that you have the 3:30 monkey off your back, you should do more tri's!

  16. Nat,
    I was thinking about you and Ekiden for this year. The Big Peach in Brookhaven signs up a bunch of teams - you should ask The Big Peach in Marietta if they run it. I am sure they could put a good team together with/for you!