My training this cycle was perfect until week 13 of my 18 week plan. I never missed a run, or a mile, and then BAM! My job went absolutely crazy. I was working 55+ hours every week and flip-flopping between night and day shifts and going out of town on short notice at least a couple days every week. My mileage went from the 170's per month to something like 43 for the month of September. To add to the insult I spent a few days working in a really nasty environment which led to a sinus infection/cold, just like in 2009. I told myself it didn't matter and I was going to PR this race or die trying.
Elevation profile... call it foreshadowing
I took the day off work on Friday and Shane and I spent the morning frantically packing. I had managed to get the girls luggage ready for them to go to my mother's house but I had no idea what I was going to wear or want this time around. I checked the predicted weather and saw a low of 42 and high of 53 so I decided to go with my Ink N Burn Run or Die Roses camisole, denim print shorts, and a long sleeve throwaway. I threw some clothes and PJ's on top of my running gear and called it good. Shane went to run some errands and drop the girls off while I loaded the car and we were on the road by 11am or so. The 4+ hour trip went by without any issues and we made it to our hotel in plenty of time.
An artist drew out this chalk mural at the finish line
In 2009 we stayed at the Holiday Inn in the Inner Harbor. It was nice but really expensive so this year we decided on the Radisson Lord Baltimore. What I didn't know is this hotel doesn't have it's own parking so we were forced to use a valet which was $31 per night (plus a tip!). Then it turned out they didn't have late checkout for the runners so we were forced to pay a late checkout fee too. The only good thing was the fact that the hotel put out a marathon buffet on Friday night for $13.95 per person. Shane and I stuffed ourselves with steamed veggies, pasta in a white sauce, spaghetti, and bow tie pasta as well as garlic bread, salad, and a range of yummy desserts from cheesecake to cookies.
At the expo rockin' my afro
The expo was a total cluster. Runners started on the first floor and got a goody bag. From there you had to walk through a row of tents/booths of vendors who were heckling you to try their crap or sign up for something. Most of it wasn't even running related. There was a guy trying to sell people windows for Pete's sake! Sorry but I don't buy windows without, you know, measuring mine first. By the time we made it to the second floor our patience was already wearing thin. We were told to go left to get our bibs and once again we were forced to walk through all of the vendors (this time the running related ones) until we reached the far end of the building where we picked up our bibs. Then we were told we had to go to the complete opposite end of the building to get our shirts! Corrigan Sports and Under Armour must not realize I did NOT want to walk 10 miles to get my stuff before the race! We finally got our shirts and decided there were a few things we wanted from the expo. We each got a Baltimore Running Festival Sticker for our cars and I got us cheap throwaway gloves for $1.50 a pair (these come back into the story later). I also picked up 2 packs of my favorite Shot Bloks.
Back at the hotel we laid out our gear and got right to sleep. I think I was out by 8:30pm. I woke up to my alarm at 6:15 and felt ready to go except for being extremely congested and having a big knot in my stomach. I was more nervous for this race than I was for any of the others (except maybe my first marathon) including my last 50 miler. I think I knew how much pain I was going to have to endure if I wanted a PR. I felt pretty sure that a PR was very possible but I also really wanted to finish in under 4:30. A 10:18 average pace just sounded terrifying to me but all of my recent races predicted I could do even better than that. I dressed, put my hair in pigtails (it's too short for anything else), ate a Larabar, drank 2 cups of coffee and headed out the door.
In the elevator I started talking to a woman named Gerry (if I misspelled that, I apologize!) and we decided to walk to the start line together. It turns out it was her first marathon and she just wanted to finish in under 5 hours. I felt a lot better walking over with someone who wasn't a Boston Qualifier or just a heck of a lot faster than me. We found the bathrooms together and lined up with the 4:45 pace group together. Shortly after my friend, Mike, found us and lined up next to me. His girlfriend, Holly, wished us well and promised to see us around the course.
Before I was ready for it the National Anthem was sung and the announcer started the race. I didn't realize that having the marathon start an hour and 45 minutes before the half would mean I wouldn't be hanging out for a half hour after the official start. I crossed the line roughly 3 1/2 minutes after the gun! I choked back the lump in my throat, gave Gerry my best wishes, and told Mike, "Let's do this." We started out slowly to get warmed up. The first mile ticked off in 10:49. My breathing was a little ragged and my nose was running like a faucet (those throwaway gloves were a GREAT idea!). I was already starting to doubt my ability to reach my goals but I didn't want to disappoint Mike either so I kept that to myself.
Mile 1: 10:49
Mile 2: 10:40
Mile 3: 10:16
Step for step with Mike
Mile 3 is where I started to find my groove. We were running up a tree lined incline and the sun finally came out. As I warmed up my breathing settled and my nose cleared a little. I threw my long sleeve shirt and one glove. I kept the other one tucked in my top as a handkerchief. I'm sure I have a uniboob in all of my pictures but keeping that glove was a life saver! Mile 3 is also where we entered the zoo. This was absolutely one of my favorite parts of the race! I saw a raven, a screech owl, a duck and a penguin all just hanging out with their trainers/keepers right next to us. It took my mind off what was in front of me and the knot in my stomach finally disappeared and I relaxed and began to enjoy myself.
Mile 4: 9:41
Mile 5: 9:30
Mile 6: 9:58
Somewhere in the sixth mile we came out of the zoo and Druid Hill park and back onto city streets. I appreciated that miles 7, 8, and 9 were pretty much a straightaway. Every other marathon I've run it seemed like I was constantly switching directions. Being able to just run helped me keep the pace pretty well. Holly jumped out onto the course to give Mike a hug and a kiss around this point. Seeing someone I 'knew' gave me a mental boost too!
Mile 7: 9:45
Mile 8: 9:54
Mile 9: 10:01
My overall effort level felt even for most of the first 17 or 18 miles. I think the difference in splits has more to do with elevation changes than poor pacing. I tend to really let loose on downhills and totally fall apart on uphills. Mike is exactly the opposite so we balanced eachother out really well. I pulled him downhill and he pulled me uphill. We were both carrying water so we avoided the pile ups at each water station and stuck to our plan to take a GU or Shot Blok every 5 miles. I took GU at 5 and 10 miles and Shot Bloks (margarita flavor) every 5 miles after that.
Mile 10: 9:59
Mile 11: 10:14
Mile 12: 10:12
Mile 13: 10:17
chatting away the miles
We hit the half in 2:13 which was probably a little fast but we were still feeling good. My right knee was a little tender and Mike has been dealing with IT band issues but neither of us had any worries yet. I was confident I would blow 4:30 out of the water. Holly also popped up again right around here. Seeing an excited face helped to keep me in the game and Mike picked up his pace too.
Mile 14: 9:49
Mile 15: 10:16
Mile 16: 10:16
By this point we were slowing a little as we started back into the second major uphill portion (mile 15 - 20). We still had a large cushion of time to make our 4:30 goal. I believe at this point our average pace was 9:59 or 10:01 per mile. I don't remember too much about these miles except for just chugging along and chatting with Mike about next races, our friends, etc.
Mile 17: 10:23
Mile 18: 10:44
Mile 19: 11:04
This is the point where we started going, "Oh shit!" Our average pace had crept up to something like 10:08. We lost a LOT of time on the 5 miles of uphill and we had also gotten ourselves worn out. It was going to come down to pure mental toughness (and some luck) on whether or not we could get to the finish in 4:30. Miles 20 - 21.5 the course runs around Lake Montebelo. It's perfectly flat and very beautiful. I really appreciated the chance to run on the flat for a little bit and try to make up some time. Yes, I said try. My splits don't show it. However, from the lake to mile 24 or so the course is uphill again.
Mile 20: 11:21
Mile 21: 11:16
Mile 22: 12:03
I could still fake a smile though
By this point I was spent. Mike was pausing to rub out his IT band every half mile or so and my hip flexors were shot. Trying to run uphill was impossible. I kept dragging my toes by accident because I couldn't fully lift up my legs and it would send pain coursing through my hips. I never cramped up though which I am really happy about. I had one cramp start somewhere around this point in my right quad. I squatted down and stretched it and massaged it and it disappeared for good. Thankfully the course turns downhill around mile 23.5 with a short uphill in mile 25. That last uphill section was the one and only time we walked for longer than a step or two which was a victory all in itself. This is the first time I can truly say I RAN a marathon!
Last dash through Camden Yards
Mile 23: 10:59
Mile 24: 10:44
Mile 25: 12:23
Mile 26: 10:47
Last .2: 9:42 pace
My official time was 4:36:51, a 13 minute PR! The race actually showed as 26.38 on my Garmin so we didn't do a great job of running the tangents but it wasn't awful either. Mike managed to out-kick me and finish a few seconds ahead. I crossed the line right on his heels. We shuffled through the medal line, the water line, the banana line and finally got to get our finish pictures taken. Then it was time for a quick hug and heading our seperate ways. I wasn't even sure it was possible to run step for step with someone for an entire marathon but it turned out to be one of the best race experiences I've ever had. I definitely hope he'll be up for it again in the future!
Apparently he couldn't believe we still PR'ed either!
Overall, I'm pretty happy. I completely underestimated what those hills would feel like in the last 10k. If I had completed the rest of my training plan and not been subjected to a hectic work schedule I feel like 4:2x would have been completely possible, a 4:1x wouldn't have been outside my reach either. I made the mistake of racing through my taper and taking second place in a 5k just a week before this race. I definitely felt some residual fatigue and aches towards the end. On the good side, I had no cramping and no stomach issues so my training, fueling and hydration is spot on.
The medal. It says, "What hills don't kill you make you stronger"
Five of 51 states (including D.C.) down!
Now I just recover as best I can and get ready for marathon number 5 at Marshall University Marathon on 11/11! Sub-4:30 is definitely in my reach there if I run smart!