Friday, April 15, 2011

Viva the Streak! The 2011 Ga Marathon Race Report

Cliff notes for the skimmers:
Natalie Fischer #146
Age: 39 Gender: F
Distance MAR
Clock Time 3:59:26
Chip Time 3:55:27
Overall Place 493 / 2235
Gender Place 113 / 799
Division Place 15 / 140
Age Grade 59.9%
10K 56:31
Half 1:56:45
22 1Mi 3:16:32
Pace 9:00

This marked Ga Marathon number 5 for me and it was marathon unlucky number "13" for me. I signed up last year for the race for $35 way before I knew for sure I would be doing Boston. And certainly before I had a new litany of injuries. But regardless, Ga marathon was never going to be a goal race for me. I honestly don't think I will ever again toe the Ga marathon line with the intention of trying to run a personal best. I am not saying it couldn't happen but it is, I think, what most people would consider a tough course. So I just think if I ever happened to run a personal best on this course it would surely be bettered on a more forgiving course.  But who am I kidding? Future personal bests. Snicker. I do think it is cute how optimism  always creeps in. Blah blah, Hope is the thing with feathers blah blah nestles in the deep dark crevices of the soul blah blah.

Once I signed up for Boston in the fall I knew Ga marathon would have to be a training run. But then in January I was side lined and barely running so I was worried that I might be lucky if I could just do the half. As it turned out February was a solid training month for me and the Ga marathon would work perfectly--tongue firmly in cheek--as a long training run. The trick would be for me to not run the marathon too hard.

I no longer wear a watch in training (or racing for that matter) but for the past 4 or so years my long run pace falls in the 8:30 to 9: 00 min range. Weather, injury, and hormones being the deciding factor of whether my pace is closer to 8:30 or closer to 9:00 min miles. Based on that I knew my finish time for this year's race could be no faster than 3:45  and ideally no slower than 4 hours. However slower than 4 hours would be okay provided it was due to lingering at aid stations and socializing with spectators.

My BFF workout partner Steph was very nice and said I could run with her. She was shooting for 4 hours so it would work out perfectly. Steph is good at maintaining her pace and everything is just better with a friend. I was a little worried that she was sandbagging and was going to end up running sub 3:45. I had to have a serious talk with myself that if that happened I was just gonna have to let her go because Ga marathon was my practice marathon. Not my real marathon.
Practice makes perfect practice makes perfect practice makes perfect . . .

Race day:
I decided to spend the night at my sister's. I've done this some years. Other years I've driven down to her house. Either way her husband drives and drops us at the start. It was a rather uneventful evening so I'll spare you the details.

However,  at 3 am I was awaken by a raging headache, cramps and back ache. If you're a dude you are probably thinking stomach flu; if you are girl, you know the issue at hand. Let's just say the white skirt I had wanted to wear for the marathon got replaced by the black skirt.  Let's also say that I have never had to make that choice on race morning ever.

Rather than be angry at the things I cannot control I took it as a sign that universe was keeping me in check. So with the universe's help and some Motrin--something else I have never taken race day or before a run-- I got dressed and ready for the race.

Wes dropped (left to right) Christina, Pookie (my sister), me and Shannon at Luckie St and we wandered down the race. The other girls were doing the half so we parted ways so I could go find Steph.

Steph had been texting me since 5 am so I knew to meet her at the bag drop though I had no bag.  The thing I hate about GA marathon is that it starts at 7 am and is therefore dark until 7:30. It annoys me not being able to see everything. It is like those dark TV show--x files, CSI--where I want them to turn on the lights already cause I can't freaking see anything.

So I find Steph. Run into my friend Brett. And Brent. And Jamie. And Doug.  Whew. Not bad for not being able to see shit.

I made some guy take (right to left) me, Steph, Jamie and Doug's picture while we waited in line for the porto potties. After this Steph and I parted ways with Jamie, doing the half, and Doug, is goal to beat me and Steph. He easily did.

Steph and I lined up in her corral. I was suppose to be in B because of "Streaker" status and possibly last year's time.  We seeded ourselves a little ahead of the 4 hour pace group and I asked another person to take our picture. Steph in her Team Gu and Team Brooks gear on left and me in my bloated shoot me now I am a fat cow self on the right. Fat, for the uninformed, is also a feeling.  It comes once a month for me. Smiling, but on the inside I felt like death. Tequila hangover? A more comfortable state.

So we wait around for the start and even though I just pee'd I am certain I must pee again but really I don't know. My body today feels like I have swapped bodies with somebody else and I am worried that that person's body may not be able to run 26.2 miles. I am glad I don't have that body all the time because whose ever it is, sucks.

Okay, so yeah. I felt like walking death. Moving on.

Apparently the race has started because we are moving. Steph and I see our friend Lisa (who is running the half). We ride bikes with Lisa so we are happy to see our bike friend. I take a picture of them as we are running towards the start line.

Right. Running and darkness does not make for good camera phone pictures. Whatever.

We are running and the wave of humanity begins to roll through downtown Atlanta in the predawn darkness. Rock and roll. 

I note as Steph and I cross under the start clock that we are at 4 minutes. I am not wearing a watch but I know that there are clocks on the course and I am relieved that 4 minutes is not too hard for me subtract. Sure 2 minutes would be easier but  8 or 9 minutes would be way harder on my brain.  

While I hate the darkness before the race I do like starting the race in the darkness. It is pretty cool. It is like I am in disguise and can hide a little while I ease into the race; try to negotiate the pace. It is crowded but Steph and I stay together fairly easily. I keep telling her to slow down. We are going too fast! But really we aren't. We are on pace for four hours according to her splits. That stinks because it felt like I was running a 7:30 mile. That's how crappy I felt.

I tell Steph whenever she needs to stop I am cool to pee but let me know so we can push it to stay on pace. We run into the daylight around 3 miles. We make friends with a guy named Kevin. He is a Ranger (Army?) and had just run Snicker's marathon a few weeks before. He was going for 4 hours too and decided to hang with us. The three of us have all sorts of inappropriate conversation regarding beer, drinking songs and padded sports bras. I try not to talk too much because I still feel like I might die at any second. Steph, God love her, must hear my inner self talk because I hear her tell Kevin as we run up a hill that I am the Queen of Suckitup. Really, more like court jester but it definitely inspires me to hear that even when that seems an impossible role for me today.

 Here is Kevin and Steph in the 5-6 mile range. Steph told him to flex because she was sucking in.

Finally around 7 miles we spy open portolets and Steph and I rush in. I don't win at much but I do win fastest pisser ever. Yes. My parents are proud. I have few talents but the ability to pee quickly (and sadly frequently) I got down pat.

I take pictures while I wait for Steph to exit.
Steph and I start running and easily catch up to the 4 hour pace group, pass them and fall in step with Kevin again. Shortly after this the half marathoners and full marathoners split. I always yell out a few good luck, great race to the halfer's. But really I am thinking "wusses."

I think we are on North Avenue. I really don't know the names of any the streets. Yes. I have lived in the Atlanta area my entire life. Even born at Northside Hospital but the specific names of streets and such, yeah, I don't know. I do know how to navigate and get where I need to go but what streets to take and shortcuts? Not so much. I just know that at this point in the race my sister's house is only a few miles away.  I also know that we are soon coming up on the Telltale Heart point of the course for me. The tenish mile hill. It is the longest elevation change in the race. And in past years how I feel at this point tells me how the rest of the race it going to go. It is also where you will ruin yourself if you go too hard. Of course you go too hard. It is mile 10. The year I ran 3:29 it felt easy but I paid for the easy at mile 24. Last year it didn't and that was when I knew I had to dial it back.

But Steph and I make it up and over fine and still ahead of the four hour pace group. According to Steph right on pace for four hours. Cool. We however lose Kevin in this point and don't see him again the rest of the race.  Steph and I  though soldier on;chatty with our banter.

The race has thinned out and most everyone around is quiet. And I would like to take this moment to say to every person that chides me for wearing headphones that I missing out on the race experience can suck it. I have run 3:30 paces and 4 hour paces and the only person doing all the chatting is me. There is no conversation. If you want to chat with me, let me know. I'll pull my headphones out but I don't want to hear your coughing, gagging, snot rockets, heavy breathing misery.

So now we are in that awful portion next to the railroad track heading towards Decatur. I HATE this part. There are just signs. No people cheering and it ugly and lonely. And since there is no good conversation going on I put my headphones on. And as luck would have it And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda is on! And so I sing along to it so everyone around me can enjoy that too. Steph chimes in too.
I am almost excited when we get close to Agnes Scott College because usually there are lots of friendly ladies cheering us on. But alas there are no ladies, just an unpopulated aid station since the ladies are on spring break. Bummer.

We soon hit the half mark. And I tell Steph I think I have to pee. I still feel crappy but definitely better than when we started. So I stop and Steph runs on. I don't know this so I exit the porto potty and wait a minute yelling at the door of the porto potty next the one I used. There is no answer. I look down the road and I think I see ahead on the course that Steph is right with the four hour group. So I start sprinting to catch her. I feel like I might throw up but I don't and I am at her side in no time and relieved that I don't have to keep sprinting.

I think that little sprinting actually made me feel a little better because I feel slightly energized and suddenly things are starting to feel easier. So I start running ahead a bit and take pictures cause I know Steph is going to run a huge pr and I know she will be glad for pictures even if I am annoying her and the four hour pace group that I keep running ahead of and falling back in pace with.
While I am taking this picture I get yelled at by a police officer over his loudspeaker. "Tighten up Ponytail! Get back inside the cones."

I smile and wave at him and step back in the cones and run on with group. I am excited about my new nickname. Ponytail. It's like a stripper's name.

I am definitely feeling better and starting to have a good time. Sure it only took like 14- 15 miles but some people just need that kind of warm up.

 Look how awesome Steph looks here:
Shortly after this point I realize we are about to enter Druid Hills. 16 ish miles. I am sort of chomping at the bit to run faster and this is the rolling hill portion of the race. I LOVE this portion. Up and down and up and down. It is pretty relentless. But every year I have done pretty well here and I decide this might good Boston practice to run a bit harder. I tell Steph we should try to run a bit faster here. I tell her we need to be AHEAD of the four hour pace group not with them or right behind them. But she tells me we are fine. They have banked time. I want her to run with me but she doesn't want to pick up the pace. So I tell her I am going to run hard up the hills and down and will wait at the aid stations for her. If nothing else, I figure, I'll at least be a carrot for her to chase.

So I charge ahead. As I am running up one hill  and I see who else but Santa at the top of it! I am SO excited to see Santa and I yell out, SANTA! I know him. And no one around me gets it.

Am I the only one who watched the movie Elf? Come on.

So I run even faster and run up to Santa and insist we have our picture taken together. I hand my phone to a lady spectating and she kindly takes my picture with Santa! No idea why he was there but it pretty much made my day.
After this I wait at the top of the hill and Steph catches up to me. And I am so excited and am telling her about my Santa encounter and then I notice she is crying.

Oh no! "Are you crying?!" I ask.

"Yes," she says, wiping tears and throwing a GU packet in the trash. (Steph does not litter and will yell at you if you do. She is rule girl. It is her super power. And she is a lawyer. I think it is all connected, somehow. . .)

"Why! What happened?" I demand, thinking if she had just seen Santa it would have made it better.

She tells me "because of the aid station, the cancer and it is mile 18."

"What??? You have cancer!" I ask.

"No the girl. "

Still not understanding why this means tears for Steph, look around me and ask "Who? Where?"

"No, at the aid station," she says, wiping at her tears and her mouth turning up in a smile trying to explain to me. "The aid station was for her. She died."

"Oh," I say, thinking I now completely understand," you knew her?  I'm sorry."

"No", Steph says.

Confused again. "So you are crying because you are worried you have cancer? I always think I have cancer. In fact right now my uterus is trying to separate itself from my body because I have cancer."

Laughing now she says, "never mind Natalie" and we run on. See! See how my self absorption can help people?

So we run a bit together and then I see Jerry! I ran the last eight miles of the Soldier Marathon with Jerry in the fall. So I pick up the pace and run up to Jerry and smack him on the ass. He looks at me wild eyed with a What the F?! look. I tell him he looked like he needed and ass smacking. He says I wondered when you were gonna catch me. We run together a bit and catch up. I keep looking over my shoulder and Steph is still there. Hanging around the four hour pace group.

After a bit I see up ahead Anthony! I ran with him for a bit as well at Soldier's marathon too. Wow. This is like a reunion! So I catch up to him and chat with him for awhile. Apparently he hurt his back and he was cleared to run 3 miles at a time. He just decided he was gonna 3 miles 9 times in one day. At the next aid station I let him go and wait again for Steph and the four hour pace group. I would pass him later in the last mile or 2 and he would ask me for an epidural. Man, have I been there.

I tell Steph my cramps are starting to come back and I am not feeling as good. I tell her I am going to run ahead and will wait for her in the park where I know my newly minted friend Kim is waiting with water and most importantly Advil.

So I leave Steph and run  a bit harder down to Piedmont Park and that stupid lollipop out and  back. I pass Steph on the out/back portion, swap high fives and tell her she is looking good. She has faded a bit and is now a few seconds behind the four hour pace group. She looks strong though so I assume she is fine. Figure she is having a valley of darkness moment. We all have it. She'll get out of it. She always does.

I am pretty excited to see John, Desiree and Kim. Kim gives me an Advil and a bottle of water which I down. I chat with them while I wait for Steph. While standing there a guy runs past me and calls out,  "Come on Ponytail! I need my pacer!"

New nickname  is sticking!!!

After taking the picture I see I have a text from Ryan. Our plan was for him to pick me up at the finish. But if the race is going slowly he was going to drop the kids at my sister's. His text says he is on 75. Hmm, that is pretty close.

I see the four hour pace group coming down the small hill and I can see Steph behind them. I thank Kim, Des and John and start running. I decide maybe I should have GU since I don't know how my stomach is going to feel taking an Advil.  All new for me and it has the potential to go bad but my thinking is food might be a good idea.

As I down the GU and run out of the park I roll my eyes so far in the back of my head at the umpteenth homemade sign that says "Winning... duh!" Charlie Sheen, please go away and heal yourself.

I check over my shoulder and Steph is still with the four hour pace group. I turn to go up that short, terrible steep hill. I pass a guy getting an I.V. from the bicycle medics on my right and I spy the 23 mile marker sign on my left. I whip out my phone and text Ryan back. Only it is really hard to text and run uphill and it comes out "ayytm23".  He figures it out and texts me back "Push it!!!"

And so I do. At least that it is how it feels. My mind though isn't sharp which I realize at mile 24 when  I see a friend and I call out "Hey Heather!!!" only to realize that it is Leslie!. I try to correct but it is too late. I am past her.

I am now on the Ga Tech campus. The scene of the worst calf cramp ever. Two years ago when I ran 3:29 I was on pace to PR until my calf muscle turned into a snake and I had to hobble and walk it in. But this year I am fine and so I just keep running. I pass everyone! It is fantastic even though I think this is the most torturous tour of finish line stretch of any race I have done (Twisted Ankle not counting). It is a stealth hill that turns and turns and you know you are close but God damn it you are still not done.

But this year?

Not so torturous for me.

I try not to be obnoxious about it but inwardly I want to be cheering everyone on and telling them!

But I know by the looks on their faces that I have been them and would not have appreciated a hyperactive cheerleader runner girl coaxing me on. So I say nothing and run on. I do pat one girl who is a half mile from the finish and starts to walk on her back and tell her, you have this. And I only say it to her because she looked so strong physically. Mentally though, I knew, she was getting the shit beat out of her.

As I near the finish line I start to run harder. I want to put distance between myself and the other runners. I am not trying to be a brat and beat everyone in the last 100 yards to the finish but rather I want some space so I can do a cartwheel across the finish line and not kick anyone in the face. Cause that would really suck for them.

I see on the clock 3:5x and think sweet! Sub 4. Perfect! I cast a glance over my shoulder and dash over the finish and throw my body into a round off and land fist punching the air. A lady at the finish line comes up and hugs me and says I have more energy than any person she has seen cross the finish line. I ask if I can stand there and wait for my friend and she lets me.

So I stand in the finish line chute and wait for Steph.

 I take few pictures.

And I catch Anthony coming in. I don't think he saw me though.

And then my girl Steph comes through. Missing sub 4 by 56 seconds but who is gonna complain about a 40 minute pr? She rocks!

We hug, get our medals and go find her husband and mine.

What a great race despite not feeling good. If I hadn't had Steph to run with I definitely would have quit. Her being there motivated me. And as a result I got my last solid long run for Boston in.

I met up with Ryan. Steph and I parted ways. I went to my sister's,  showered and then headed over to the Marlay House for lunch.

 Here is Pookie, Me and Shannon post race and happy with beer and to be done.

Now. On to Beantown. Fingers crossed for a good day.


  1. Great RR! Love the Elf reference! Only one question...What were you using to listen to music when heading to Decatur? If it is an ipod why in the heck do you have that Waltzing Matilda Song?? I don't think I could listen to that while running without wanting to jump off a bridge. :)

  2. Ipod. I LOVE the Pogues! I use to feel the samw way about Waltzing Matilda song. But I don't know. It has grown on me or maybe I just like the commiserating suffering aspect. Misery loves company thing.

  3. Great report! It really helped me through a tough moment when I saw John, Desiree, and Kim at Piedmont Park. Just waving at them when I ran by was big time motivation.
    Hills. So many hills.

  4. HOW do you remember all this stuff? (Smut)

  5. Nice job, ponytail ;) I have to agree, the run by the railroad tracks in Decatur is not my favorite either.. have a great race in Boston!

  6. Good luck out there today! I live in Boston, and I've been reading/lurking your blog for some time. It's exciting to hear that you are running Boston!! I'll keep an eye out for you.