Tuesday, September 21, 2010

My First Full Marathon

I signed up for my first full marathon one and a half days before the race.  It wasn’t planned, and I hadn’t trained for it.  But I had my reasons, and I registered for the Salmon Marathon in Salmon, ID.  I packed my bags and told almost no one of my plan for fear that they might discourage me from participating.

I got in the car after work on Friday, drove to Salmon alone, and slept in my car. 

Saw this cow moose on Lolo Pass.  She ran away when I was taking her picture.

At 4:30 on Saturday I awoke, got dressed, and went to pick up my race packet at a neighboring hotel.  I waited at the table for my packet, but no one ever showed up.  Stressed that I would not have a race number or timing chip, I got on the bus for the start anyway. 

Once at the start, I got my race supplies and took a little breather.  Though the morning had started out a little rocky, I got there on time, met a couple of runners before the race, and felt warm with adrenaline even in a tank top and 45-degree temperatures. 

At 6:45, the race began.  Woo Hoo!

Miles 1-5: The air was cool, and my body felt good.  I made myself walk even though I didn’t need to.  I looked around and said to myself, “I am really running a marathon!”
(I love this picture.)
Miles 6-10: No complaints yet.  I jogged most of these miles and walked when I thought I should.

Miles 11-12: I started feeling tired but knew I had a long ways to go.  I emptied the rocks from my shoe at mile 12 and watched the half-marathoners (who had just begun their race) pass me.

Mile 13.2: This was the farthest that I had ever run.  I felt proud and determined.

Miles 14-17: This uphill section was long and tiring.  I knew I was way behind the pack, and I just couldn’t get my legs to run no matter how hard I tried.  I walked as fast as my legs would carry me as I sipped on a fuel packet.

Mile 18: I must have been looking pretty rough since the doctor/aide station volunteer wouldn’t let me leave the station until I had stopped to drink some water (and take the rest of the bottle of water with me).  It was obvious that he didn’t know me at all when he asked, “Do you think you’re going to finish?”  I smiled back at him and told him that there was nothing that could keep me from finishing.

Mile 19: My slowest mile all day.  Every part of my body was tired and sore, especially my feet, my knees, and my left hamstring.   Even though I was slow, I kept putting one foot in front of the other.

Mile 20-22: I walked a lot and jogged when I could; in fact, jogging used different muscles than walking, so I got some relief when I jogged/shuffled along.  I knew I found my spirit again when I passed a 35 mph sign and joked with myself that I had better slow down. 

Miles 23-25: I’m not gonna lie – I was really tired and hurting all over.  The race couldn’t be over soon enough.  The photographer asked if someone could jog it in with me since "they" had taken the course down already.  (More on this later.)  I didn’t answer him because I was holding back an emotional breakdown.  I held it in and kept moving.

Mile 26: The course was gone, and neither my bike sweeper (Julie) nor I knew where we were supposed to go.  There were no cones, no road paint, no signs.  The tears started to well up again, and I stressfully informed Julie that we needed to find the finish line…soon.  At exactly 26.2 miles, a blister popped and sent a tingling, shocking kind of pain throughout my left foot.  With some quick thinking, Julie took a quick left and took me over a bridge where I saw the finish chute just up the way.  (I also saw another cameraman that was set up facing the other direction, indicating that we should have come over a different bridge.  I was disappointed that I didn’t run the exact course, but it wasn’t my fault and I kept going.)

Mile 26.35: I crossed the finish line, slapping people’s hands, listening to them all clap and cheer.  I was the last one to cross the finish line at 6:24:26 (14:35 min/mile).

As soon as the race was over, I walked over to the grass, took my shoes off, and examined my sore feet.  I had seven blisters on my toes and one on the pad of my foot.  One of my toenails was purple.  Julie came to my rescue and got me a bag full of ice for my feet, as well as a water bottle and a piece of watermelon. 

When I got up the gumption, I walked over to the food tables (which had all been cleaned up), the massage therapists (who were getting ready to leave), and then finally to the river where I could sit in the cold river before driving over seven hours back to Pullman.

These mountain sheep were more fond of the camera than the moose.

Overall, my experience with my first marathon was great.  The course was absolutely beautiful, and I repeatedly wished that had had a camera to take pictures of the mountains, the rattlesnake I saw on the road, and the funky old farmhouses.  The volunteers were supportive and prepared, and the bike sweeper was absolutely wonderful! 

While I have no plans for running another marathon in the near future, I have to say that my first marathon is one race that I will always remember.  Before I left for Salmon, I told people that I would just do my best, and anything over 13.1 miles would be a success.  After I crossed that starting line, however, something changed in me.  I found strength and confidence in the mere fact that I was standing there at the starting line of a marathon, and I knew that I was going to finish.  And I can honestly say that there was never a moment that I believed that I wouldn't finish, even when my miles were slow, no other runners were around, and I knew I was going to finish last.  In fact, in the times when I was alone with nature and the race and my aching body, those could have been the most amazing/important of the race; those were the times that I saw what I was made of.  And it was a pleasant surprise.

Even though my decision to race was made on a whim, it may be one of the most important decisions that I have ever made. 

Other notes:
  • The website’s race description gave a cut-off time of seven hours, so I believe that any racer who finished by that time should be able to enjoy all parts of the race – a marked course with aide stations (minimum), a picture at the finish line, and also a plate of food and a massage (if desired).  I don’t think that a racer should ever feel like they are putting people out by having to stay out there within the designated time.
  • I want to say thank you to everyone that has supported me and texted/called me with their congratulations.  And to the sweet gal who wrote, “you are one of the bravest people I know.  Fast, slow, whatever.  You’re putting yourself out there and you are discovering what it means to truly be alive,” I love you.  I’ve never considered myself brave, but it is true that I feel braver and stronger now than I have in a long time…even as I hobble over to the cupboard to get myself more Ibuprofen. 


Monday, September 13, 2010

Moscow Mountain Mad/Sickness 2010

I haven't been training for any races, but when I saw that Moscow Mountain Madness was coming up, I decided that I wanted to give it a go.  After all, it was local, cheap, familiar, and a guaranteed PR (since it was a distance that I had never before run).

Admittedly, I was nervous before the start.  I hadn't slept well, and I participated in a beer-drinking/rating activity the night before, so my body wasn't feeling energized and fresh.  (In fact, my stomach could only handle half of a Clif bar, as it was still dealing with the chocolate, vanilla bourbon, and extra stouts.)  I hoped that my max-strength energy shot would give me the energy that my body was lacking.    

Shortly after 9:00, the gun went off and I started up the 3-4 mile ascent.  After only about a mile, however, I started to feel bad.  Really bad.  In no time flat, my half a Clif bar and five-hour energy came up.

That would have been enough for most stomachs out there, but not mine.  (It's a champ!)  Every few steps, my body would start feeling that hot and then shivery feeling, and then I'd immediately have to lean over to wretch a little into the bushes.  With each dry heave I came closer and closer to giving up hope for the race. 

At 2.25 miles, I was ready to quit.  My stomach was tired of flexing up in dry heaves, and my Garmin kept giving me hell about being behind my desired pace.  And to make matters worse, the race sweepers (who walked the whole time) caught up with me.  Morale low, I told them that I wanted to quit.

One of the sweepers gave me her water bottle, and I sucked a little bit of liquid into my empty but vocal stomach.  The other sweeper started to make the call to the bottom of the mountain.

At that point, though, I reassessed the situation and decided that I couldn't quit.  I felt awful, but I wasn't going to let the race beat me.  I decided to keep going.

The next four miles to the top of Moscow Mountain was brutal.  I ended up throwing up the sweeper's water, and it was made apparent to me how far I was lagging behind when packs and packs of other runners were making their ways down the mountain as I was still going up.  I tried not to be embarrassed at my position and smiled as folks ran by saying, "You're doing great" and "The downhill is way better than the up."  I also tried staving off my anger at the aid station volunteer who told me that I would be on the mountain all day at the pace I was running.  (Grrr!)

At mile 6.2, I reached the peak and knew it was time to start heading downhill.  Even though I was a little worried about my knee (since downhills seem to aggravate it more than anything else), I welcomed the change and the opportunity to pick up the pace.  I looked down at my Garmin at mile 7 to see how I was doing pace-wise.  Big mistake.

Another important decision had to be made, and I made it fast.  I wasn't going to let the Garmin ruin the race for me or dictate how I felt about myself.  Yes, I was behind pace, but with nothing left in my stomach and some beautiful trails ahead of me, I decided that the best thing for me to do was to put the Garmin in my back pocket and run at my own pace. 

And I jogged/shuffled mile after mile.  I thought about walking but realized I didn't need to.  Despite the fact that most of my runs these days are only 2-4 miles, my lungs and my legs were in shape enough to finish the race in a jog.

And then I heard something that put a smile on my face.  "All right, Annie!  You're doing great!"  It was my running partner, Scott.  He had long since finished the race, and he had made his way back up the mountain to meet me.  He took a couple of pictures and followed me down to the finish.  I could have (and would have) finished without his support, but I was glad I didn't have to.

I crossed the finish line at 2:52:31, and I finished absolutely last.  And you know what?  I could feel bad about that.  But I don't.

I completed a 12-mile trail race, which is still one of my longest runs to date.  And it wasn't flat and fast, either; the race's website states, "You need to be in good shape to participate.  This is the toughest of the Palouse Road Runner events." Just finishing the race is an accomplishment.  And finally, I met my B goal - to finish in under three hours.  (My A goal was to not come in last. *smile*)

This was a good experience for me, even though I was sick and tired for most of yesterday.  And I learned some really important things:
  1. Drinking the night before a race is stupid. 
  2. Letting someone get under my skin during a race doesn't help anything.  I'll try to make this first time be the last time.
  3. Garmins are great sometimes, but it is good to know when to ditch them and just run. 
  4. Running partners are blessings.
  5. DFL is better than DNF in my book.
  6. Taking ibuprofen on an empty/queasy stomach is a bad idea.
Not too shabby for a Sunday morning.   


P.S. I have nearly 800 miles logged since I first started to run.  Can you believe it?