Friday, March 25, 2016

Redemption is Mine: Wrightsville Marathon Race Report

It was not pretty. I can't say I had very much fun. But I did it.

Add caption

In a torrential downpour, I crossed the finish line at the Wrightsville Beach Marathon with a time of 3:30:05. 18th woman overall. 4th in my age group.

It doesn't seem real and just 5 days later, I'm sitting here thinking to myself, "Is it really over? Did it really happen?"

It did. Here's a quick synopsis on how it went down.

My mindset in the week leading up to Wrightsville was the complete opposite of what I felt before Erie. To put it simply, starting 10 days out from the Erie Marathon, I was a HOT MESS. I had no appetite and when I forced myself to eat I felt terrible, my right foot was killing me, running during taper was exhausting and felt slow, and I was just a ball of nerves.

Inexplicably, this time I felt confident and excited. I just wanted to get to Wrightsville and run. My appetite was huge. For once, neither of my feet hurt. Neither did my knees or my back. I slept like a baby and did not have marathon related nightmares. Instead, I had a very vivid dream that I ran a 3:22:38 (yes, it was so vivid I remember the time down to the second). I'm sure this was partially due to the fact that during peak training week, which I never reported on because I am terribly lazy, I hit all of my targets for the two marathon predictor runs (Yasso Test and 22 mile long run at race pace). Nailing those two, along with a 10 mile long tempo run, did wonders to boost my confidence.

Per usual, the main cause of anxiety was the weather forecast. Every marathon, I tell myself I won't obsess over the forecast as obviously there is absolutely nothing I can do to change it. But every time, I do. Kit and I were pretty bad this time around; we both checked up to 5 different weather services multiple times a day, starting about 10 days out. Initially, the weather for race day was looking far too warm. Then it shifted to a wash out/thunderstorms - preferable to being too hot but still not ideal.

At one point, Kit suggested that our obsession with the checking the forecast might be pathological. I would have to agree it absolutely was... right up until when we were standing in line for the porties at the start area and realized we couldn't check the weather anymore because we didn't have our phones.

We left for Wrightsville on Saturday morning. Kit arrived at my house a full 45 minutes ahead of our agreed upon departure time; Teresa wasn't far behind. We may have been a little bit over eager to get on the road. And we may have overpacked...

Three runners, 1 non-runner... 2 night trip.

The 4 hour car ride was uneventful (and full of weather updates). We arrived at the hotel, dumped our stuff, then walked to the expo to stretch our legs. The outdoor expo was right next to the finish (all located in the same large multi-use shopping/business/residential area as our hotel) and it took not time at all to grab our packets and get out. As we walked back to the hotel, my anxiety was rising. It was humid. It was really, really warm. I was sweating profusely in my pants and t-shirt.

We may have checked the weather multiple times during the 10 minute walk. A cold front was expected overnight, bringing rain and much colder temperatures (high 40s in the morning, low 50s as the daytime high), but I just didn't quite believe it based on how very warm and sticky it was about 12 hours out from start time.

Dinner was my usual pre-race routine of a steak, baked potato, and bread. Post-dinner was the usual routine of laying out my outfit and double checking that I had everything ready to go. For a hot second, I could not find my Injinji socks and nearly had a heart attack. My genius self had shoved them into my shoes. Kind of silly, but I also had a hard time deciding which top to wear: I have worn the same style for all of my marathons and brought along the orange version and the blue version. I'm not really terribly superstitious, but was really overthinking this decision as I considered the kind of juju the respective colors had. I wore the orange at my worst marathon ever - Raleigh - but also in Shamrock for my first BQ last year. The blue was worn at my first marathon - fantastic experience - and in Erie, where I didn't hit my goal.

Not that it matters, but in the end I chose the blue. Boston blue, right?

Race Day
I woke up at 5:00 AM and the first thing I did was - you guessed it - check the weather. It had not rained overnight like it was supposed to, but it was colder and windy (whew). The hourly also showed a much lower chance of rain over the race time frame than it had the previous night - just a 40% chance during the 10AM hour. If everything went the way it should, I would be finished by 10. Thus, I felt pretty good about the forecast but was slightly concerned about the real feel temperature of 39*, especially considering I was wearing shorts, a tank, and arm warmers. My throwaway was far too big to consider wearing outside of the corral. "C'est la vie," I told myself. "You wanted cold weather and you got it. Suck it up."

I also tortured myself over whether or not to wear a visor I had brought, just in case of rain. I never wear visors when I run (I've worn a hat a few times in rain but never a visor) and I was concerned that the wind might catch it and try to whip it off my head and consequently, I would be forever adjusting a visor for 26.2 miles. I have a stupidly small head and this happens to me when I try to wear a hat and run, as very recently experienced during a raining training run earlier this month.

In the end I opted no visor. This decision turned out to be not so great.

Husband and I met T and Kit in the lobby at 5:35 AM. There was a race shuttle but since Husband was there and it was cold and windy, we decided it would be better to have him drive us to the start so we could minimize time standing outside as much as possible. Kit helped me put on my pace bands and as we went to walk out, I realized I had put on the wrong ones. Husband ran back upstairs to grab the other pair while I thanked my lucky stars I had looked down and noticed before it was too late.

At Erie, I had eaten my usual 1/2 a PB&J on wheat before the race and then had felt half sick the entire time, burping the taste of peanut butter. At one point I wished that I would just puke to feel better - and I dread puking like nothing else, so that tells you how bad I felt. So this time I decided to do something crazy and not eat any real food before the race. During training I tried a cinnamon raisin bagel and it had not gone well. Instead, I ate a packet of Gatorade Prime chews and drank a bottle of water in the car during the 10 minute drive to the start area.

Once we were there, we were very reluctant to leave the warmth of the car. We watched the shuttles come in and other runners getting dropped off, but elected to wait it out until 6:10. It was extremely windy and spitting rain. Runners were huddling in the shelter of the UHaul truck being used for bag drop off, as it offered some protection from the wind.

I myself was extremely grateful that T and Kit were there; the three of us huddled in and hugged it out while standing in line for the Porties. Having running buddies is a very handy thing when you're standing in the freezing cold and need some shared body heat. When it was my turn in the Portie, I actually thought about just hiding out in there - it wasn't smelly or dirty and it was exponentially warmer in there than it was outside!

Next up was bag drop off and before we knew it, it was time to get into corrals. A big hug for T as she headed off to find the 3:45 pacer, then Kit and I headed toward the front to find the 3:30 and 3:20 pacers. Before we split up, we hugged each other hard. It's really tough to train hundreds of miles together and then not run the race together.

I found the 3:30 pacer quickly and made some small talk with a guy in an orange shirt (his name was Mark - which I didn't learn until after the marathon). It was his first marathon and he was hoping for a 3:30. I love a marathon virgin, so I was happy to have him along for the ride. When the announcer called 1 minute to go, I ditched my throw away and made it back just in time for the start.

During Mile 1, my two main thoughts were, "Wow, it's dark," and "Crap, it's windy." I listened to the banter between our pacer and some of the others in the group - he was obviously a local runner who was well known and had some friends along for the ride. I caught his name, "Stuart" and when there was a break in the conversation, I sidled up next to him and introduced myself.

"Hi Stuart, I'm Kathryn. I have a really bad habit of running faster than my pace group and then flaming out, so don't let me get ahead of you!"

My strategy for the race was to glue myself to the 3:30 pacer. Kit told me multiple times during training he thought I was capable of a sub-3:30. But I didn't need a sub-3:30. Just a 3:30. I wasn't going to take any risks. I had learned from my experiences in Shamrock (where I ran ahead of the pace group then flamed out) and Erie (where I let myself be too far behind them) that I'd just have to trust the pacer and stick to him/her no matter what. It is really, really, really hard to put your fate into the hands of a complete stranger on race day. Had he successfully paced a 3:30 group before? Did he run negative split? Even split? Modified warm up? Was he coming off of a cold or injury that might impact his performance? So many unknowns.

The pace bands I'd elected to wear planned a slight negative split - something else I learned from Shamrock and Erie was that banking time is not a good strategy. As we ticked off the first few miles, I checked in with the pace bands and we were running slightly "hot," as Stuart put it, but nothing substantial. I made friends with a guy named Bill who seemed to know Stuart really well and made small talk with him. I checked in on Mark every once in a while, talked with Stuart about my race history and why I was shooting for the 3:30, my training strategy, etc.

As is usually the case, the first few miles flew by and before I knew it we had run across the dreaded drawbridge, which we'd been warned about in emails as somewhat treacherous due to the open grating. The light rain had stopped and as we hit the mainland, the wind was also reduced. Around mile 4, I spotted Husband in his red Cardinals hat and "I Don't Do Marathons, I Do a Marathoner" shirt. (Seriously, that shirt never gets old.) I gave him two thumbs up as we turned to go into Landfall, a very fancy gated neighborhood where we would cover our next few miles.

Stuart must have something against Landfall because when we got in there, he started truckin. I stuck with Bill and my pace chart while Stuart and a small group ran about 30 yards in front of us. I had our pace somewhere between 7:40 and 7:50 for most of this section. The wind had pretty much stopped and I actually got kind of warm while we were running through the neighborhood which was filled with mansions, McMansions, and spectators with their designer dogs. It felt like we were in there forever. While we were in Landfall, I noticed that the mile markers were about .2 of a mile off. My Garmin, and the ones around me, all chirped mile splits far before we passed the markers for 6 and 7. This trend continued for the rest of the race. Knowing that what your Garmin says doesn't mean shit in a race, I tried to check my elapsed time against my pace bands when I actually passed mile markers from there on out.

After a water stop, I turned on the jets and caught up with Stuart again as we approached mile 8 and a left turn back toward the beach for another loop around the peninsula where we'd started. I knew I'd see Husband again, so I tried to pull of my arm warmers to give to him as I passed. I only managed to get the right one off in time and gave it to him.  "Hey babe! Love you!" I shouted, which he returned. The guys in the pace group ribbed for me for it immediately, parroting, "Love you baby!" and laughing.

Unlike Erie, as things settled in and what seemed like the core group of 3:30s emerged, I found myself surrounded by men. During our second loop around the peninsula, there was only one other woman still hanging with us. She dropped back at the half marathon mark and then it was just me and the dudes. I didn't mind, but the vibe was also different than I've experienced before. There was no idle chit chat going on; no swapping of race stories or talk of food or anything else for that matter. Of course there is always much less talk when you're running hard, but even in Erie, Katie, Carmel, and I had some good conversations as we covered 20 miles together. Now that I think about it, it's kind of funny that I predominantly train with men, but when I make new friends at a race, they are almost always women. In Shamrock, it was Chelsey for 17 miles.


When we hit the half marathon, I quietly sang Bon Jovi in my head - I doubted any of the guys who remained in the 3:30 pace group were going to join in. Stuart checked ranks and told us we were perfectly on pace and looking great - that we were going to make him look good. By this time, Bill had dropped back (I was worried about him) but Mark and I had fallen in together. We crossed the drawbridge again around 15, leaving the beach behind us as we started on a long west bound stretch along a 6 lane highway back toward UNC Wilmington's campus. Stuart told us this was a slight uphill and in my head, I cursed him for saying it because it immediately brought to mind the Main Street portion of the Richmond Marathon, which is very slight incline for miles 16 and 17, heading directly west. This past year, that part of the race was the most miserable section for Kit and I, as we fought a strong headwind on that long straight incline... placed in exactly the same part of the race that I was now tackling.

And I have to say, I wasn't feeling great. We were below pace now - by at least 1:30. I was maintaining mile by mile targets, but I was not feeling it. My right hamstring had been bothering me since the beginning of the race and it was slowly finding its way down to my calf. When mile 16 hit, I thought to myself, "HOW am I going to do this for ten more miles? I feel so done with this."

I saw Husband again at 17 and that boosted my resolve, especially when I realized that the next time I saw him would be the finish. I also reminded myself that I had little more than an hour left to go, which wasn't much in the grand scheme of things. By now, the pace group had strung out substantially leaving Mark, Stuart, and I seemingly trudging west. Mark was struggling with some cramping, and we were doing our best to get his mind off of it, telling him that he was really doing great and that we were in single digits - not much left to go.

As we finally came to the next section of the course - a paved multi-use trail - it was suddenly just Stuart and I. We fell in together and he must have sensed that I was feeling a bit tired because he started complimenting me. "You're killing this Kathryn. The way your form looks at this point in the race, I'm telling you that you are capable of a 3:20 marathon. You don't even look tired at all. I can tell you are strong and you are going to take off these last few miles. If you feel it, just go!"

I brushed off the compliments, "All I need is a 3:30... that's all I need... no fireworks today, let's just keep trucking." At this point, the mile markers being off really started to screw with my brain. Every time my Garmin ticked off another mile, I said to myself, "No... you aren't really at mile 20 yet. NOT YET."

Despite some of these negative thoughts, I also still felt like I could do it. I WAS doing it. I was ahead of pace and I wasn't feeling great but I also wasn't feeling terrible. I told myself to remember what Erie was like, and how I just let things fall apart after 20. How I promised myself I wouldn't do it again. I'd come this far, certainly I could hang on for another hour or so.

It was also around this time that it started to rain - a cold, steady rain. This made the wooden bridges that dotted the paved trail seem very treacherous. It also made me very cold. I started to lose the feeling in my fingers and cursed myself for not wearing the visor and for giving Jason my arm warmer. I distracted myself by watching the runners who were ahead of me come back toward me on the trail. I watched for Kit, knowing I'd have to see him eventually. That is pretty much what got me through the next few miles and onto the UNC Wilmington Campus. Stuart had dropped back from me at that point - I guess to check on some others who had been in the pace group. I looked ahead down the long straight promenade on campus, searching for Kit. My mind couldn't remember what color he had been wearing - when we parted in the corral he still had his throwaway on.

It was taking way too long for me to see him, and I started to get really worried. When I finally did spot him in his red singlet, I yelled and gave a thumbs up but he shook his head an gave me a thumbs down. He wasn't having a good day. "It's not happening," he said as I passed.

For a few seconds, I let that sink into my brain. But as much as I love Kit and felt a deep sadness at that moment, I couldn't let the way his race was going affect mine. I was on track, maintaining target pace, and it needed to stay that way. I set it aside and kept on keeping on. After the turnaround, I started looking for T in the on coming runners, again distracting myself. When I spotted her she seemed be doing ok and she said, "You're doing great!" as we passed.

Mile 23 now, and I was fading. From behind me, I could hear Stuart yelling at me, "Make your move now, Kathryn. Move it! Pick it up!" I was really tired. I felt like I was giving it my all. When 23 clicked off on the Garmin and I saw my pace had slowed substantially, I panicked slightly.

Stuart came up alongside me. He stayed with me for these last 2 miles, egging me on the whole way. I felt so done. I kept telling him, "I'm so tired. I'm giving it everything." He wouldn't take that for an answer. We emerged from the trail section, crossed the highway, and I knew we were in the home stretch because we were running on the road alongside my hotel. 24 ticked off and I looked at my watch. "It doesn't matter what the watch says, Kathryn. Stop looking and RUN!" Stuart yelled at me from behind.

I did not stop at the last water stop at mile 24. Water wasn't going to help me now - only running as fast as I could was going to get this finished. I thought we were going to have a straight away to the finish, but instead we took some hard turns through a residential area. The hard turns were killing me. I'm not good at regaining speed after a turn and especially not at the end of a marathon.

Somewhere during 24 or 25, it started to downpour. No more gentle rain. This was torrential. I had been soggy but now I was completely soaked in a matter of seconds. My top stuck to me uncomfortably. My feet felt incredibly heavy, I couldn't feel my arms, and I could barely see as I squinted against the rain.Again, I cursed myself for not wearing the damn visor.

This sounds really dramatic, doesn't it?

I kept telling myself the only thing to do was to keep running. Stuart was ahead of me now, still yelling over his shoulder. Another man was just in front of me - maybe 10 feet ahead of me. We passed a tiny group of spectators (God bless them) and the guys in the group yelled at me, "Chick him. CHICK HIM!"

I willed my legs to pump faster, but wouldn't you know it that guy was NOT going to get chicked. He sped up too and slipped away. I was thinking, "WHERE is the finish, for the love of God??" and then I saw the photographers that signal the end of the race. I threw up my peace signs and started smiling. One more right hand turn and there it was. The clock read 3:29 as it came into view and I pumped my legs as hard as I could. Tunnel vision kicked in and I heard nothing, saw nothing but those timing mats.

Courtesy of Chessie Photo; I've purchased this digital print but it isn't ready yet.

I crossed the line and stumbled to Stuart, who had finished just ahead of me, and hugged him. Poor guy. I didn't know what else to do - I was so relieved, so thankful that he had pushed me, and just overcome with everything. I had forgotten to hit stop on my watch immediately on crossing, so I wasn't sure what my chip time was but I was sure of one thing: the first part of it read 3:30.

Husband appeared along with Kit. Someone handed me the medal and then I clumsily draped myself in a wet mylar. I don't even know what I was saying or thinking at the moment, other than "I'm really wet, it's pouring, and I'm really cold."

After hugs and congratulations, Kit and I shuffled to the runner's tent while poor Husband went to wait in the pouring rain for T, who was still out there in that awful stuff. Unlike after Erie, I was famished and made a bee line for the pizza station and then grabbed a can of coke. We sat down at a table and I immediately put my arm around Kit. It was really hard to feel celebratory when I knew he hadn't BQd. He said he just didn't have it, that the mileage markers being so far off really threw him for a loop mentally and by the time we hit that long stretch of west bound road between 16 and 18, he was so far behind he knew he couldn't make it up.

For the record, he still beat me - he ran a freaking 3:27:48. But I know how it feels to run what others think is a fast race but what wasn't your own goal for yourself. It's hard. I struggled with it after Erie. Immensely.

We didn't talk more about the race; we were both getting more and more cold and started shivering pretty much uncontrollably. I'd brought along long sleeves to wear post race, but they were with Jason, who was outside in the rain. I ate another piece of pizza and then we elected to go gather Kit's bag from bag check. The bag check tent was nearly abandoned, so we again sat at a table and huddled together, waiting for T and Jason to arrive. I felt immensely guilty for not going to stand at the finish line to cheer T on, but I also was freezing and drenched. My hands were so cold that I my phone wasn't even registering my fingertips as I tried to text Marcey and my mother to tell them how I did. It took me 5 minutes to write, "I did it" to Marcey. Husband texted me that he had T and I called him to tell him where we were.

T did well, PRing despite being out in the downpour for longer than either Kit or myself. Talk about a trooper.

So there you have it. Eventually, the marathon's text service sent me my official results: a 3:30:05, 4th in my age group, 18th woman. This placed me well within the top 10% of female finishers and just inside the top 20% overall. I was thrilled but also slightly miffed at those 5 seconds. Still... a 4 minute, 55 second cushion should be more than enough to get me to Boston in 2017. I am pleased.

This race was not fun. During all of my other marathons- even miserable Raleigh - there were moments when I had fun and enjoyed myself. This was all business, all the time. As far as my performance goes, I'm pleased overall but know I still have things to work on. Per usual, I ran too fast in the middle of the race and then flamed out at the end. In Erie, the flame out started at mile 21. Thankfully I held it off for two more miles here. I had banked a little over a minute and 30 seconds, which is exactly how much I needed to cash in during 24, 25, and 26.2 to get the 3:30. 

My body held up pretty well. I was hurting but in less pain than at Shamrock or Erie, for sure. I didn't have to curse at body parts this time around. My right calf and hamstring were aching throughout the race - not the usual suspects - but they never seized on me. I've recovered quickly, too. I went to yoga Tuesday night, did a short run with Kit and Lauren on Wednesday, and today, I feel pretty much 100% with only a tiny bit of residual soreness in my quads. This means that either I am in the best shape I've been in or I didn't push myself hard enough.

I'm choosing to not think about that right now because I did what I needed to do and that's all that matters. I have qualified for Boston three times in less than 12 months. This time, I've secured a cushion that means I'm going to Boston in 2017. Redemption is mine. I'm thrilled, I'm happy, I'm proud.

But it is still a bittersweet victory. When your training partner, who has pushed you and suffered with you through all manner of torturous workouts, doesn't achieve their goal too, it's hard to feel completely happy. I know I wouldn't be where I am today without Kit, and because of that I am going to do everything I can to support him as he goes for it again at Erie this fall. It's the least I can do. We are a team, after all.

1 comment:

  1. You are so amazing and I am extremely proud of your courage!