Sunday, October 14, 2012

Jitters, Rookie Mistakes and Triumph... The Golden Hills Marathon

The Short Version

Jitters: Homemade Mac+Cheese, Spinach Pie, Brownies, Hummus and Pasta... What do these things have in common?  I made them all the day before my first marathon!  I spent the day in the kitchen.  It gave me something to focus on.

Rookie Mistakes: Forgot to start my Runkeeper app (that keeps track of splits and elevation, etc), went out too fast in the first half... Classic.

Triumph:  I finished!  I finished 50 minutes ahead of expected!  And, the best part, I was NOT last!!

The Long Version

I don't know what possessed me to want to do a full... trail... marathon.  It was just two years ago that I was nearly offended by my friend's invitation to run a half marathon.  But I did it.  And then I did five more (three this year).  Early this year I came upon the Golden Hills Marathon and it called me.  I had to.  Running friends actually tried to talk me out of it because it was 'too hard' and they didn't want to see me injure myself.  When I found out there was no official cutoff time (due to the fact that the 50 milers take even longer) I decided to go for it.

The training went well.  The tapering played with my mind.  Nerves the day before had me cooking up a storm.  But come race morning I felt good.  The previous days had clouds and some rain but waking up in the dark early morning, I saw stars.  It would be a gorgeous day.  I could have been dropped off at the start of the race but decided to take the shuttle bus from the finish so that I could spend more time with the other runners.  Since I'm not actually competitive in the races it really is more about the experience.  I ended up sitting next to a woman that was volunteering, her job would be to 'sweep' the course.  She was very nice but I hoped not to see her again once the race started as it would mean time was up.  The best pre-race quote "I'm looking forward to another medal to put on my Wall of Self Loathing".

Off we went... the first four miles are up... up... and up... In training I had hiked the first four but knew that the first mile was actually runnable, so that's what I did.  As the wave of runners took off I was left by myself.  Feeling I must be last, until a curve in the course revealed plenty of people still way behind me.  That's a relief.   I only took two photos the whole day (in order to conserve battery).  It was the first one that I realized that I had forgotten to turn on the running app.

The view of SF from near the top of the first 4 mile climb.

I have never been in a race with aid stations and was blown away by how attentive the volunteers were.  Obviously runners themselves.  On each approach I'd hear "What do you need?"... "water?", "electrolytes?"... Almost before having time to answer they would take the bottles out of my hand, refill and hand back, all ready to go!...  the table had a smorgasborg of sugar and salty treats... "Do you need sugar or salt?"... At one aid station words were simply not forming... but the woman understood: one bottle filled with water, one with electrolytes.  I thanked them all, but I sure wish there was a way to express full gratitude.  It has inspired me to want to volunteer.

At some point around mile five I found myself in a little pack of runners.  They were holding a very comfortable pace and I found it pushed me exactly where I needed to be pushed.  There were about seven of us, compact.  So much so that the 50 milers coming the opposite direction each made comments about the choo-choo train we seemed to form.  Eventually the pack separated up a big long hill.  But we continued to ping pong by each other on various parts of the course, some of us were faster going down, some faster going up.  I ended up hooking onto two of the women for quite a few miles from Sibley through Huckleberry into the Skyline aid station.  Again, they held a comfortable pace but pushed me in all the places I need to be pushed, the spots that I hiked in training but knew I needed to tackle in the race.  Not a word between us the whole time.  Until we got to the aid station and I told them how great it was to run with them.  After downing an orange wedge, a banana slice, boiled potatoes rolled in salt I grabbed a handful of potato chips and exited the aid station.

At mile ten my calf muscle started threatening to cramp.  Each time I flexed it (uh,  yah, every step) it flirted with cramping.  I couldn't believe it!!  My guess is that this was due to pushing my pace and running more of the ups than I had in training.  I was being very conscious of drinking my fluids and consuming gels on a regular basis.  So leaving the aid station I hiked the fairly flat West Ridge trail in order to give my calf a break.  My plan had been to start pushing once I reached the French Trail but this was looking iffy at this point.  At some point I heard "there you are!" and it was the ladies!  They caught up with me and I assumed we'd have our little pack again... but French came and I bombed down the hill.  I lost them.  Figured they'd catch me on the ups (they were stronger on the ups)... but they didn't.  I never saw them again in the race.  I ended up catching the leader of the original choo-choo pack and stuck with her for awhile.  But the calf was NOT happy... and now I was having a stitch, full diaphram... from the meal I ate at the aid station!  It was hard to run and it was hard to breathe!!  The french trail is one of my favorites on the course and I was completely miserable.  If I was struggling this hard at the mid-section how the hell was I going to finish?!  My mind was already composing the text to family of my defeat.  But I kept going.  And somehow took the lead over the the engine lady of the choo-choo.  Everything I'd read about ultra running taught me that so many runners go through incredible lows... if you keep going eventually you feel better.  We'll see about that.  I carry salt tabs on long runs but have never used them.  This would be the time.  A brief exchange with another female runner sealed the deal, she was taking them.  I popped one.  Another 20 minutes later.  I don't know if I felt any better.  It was the next aid station that I mumbled through.

The hill after mile 18 is... well how shall I say this... a long, hard mother******.  I hated this hill when I trained on it with fresh morning legs.  I hated this hill every time climbed it in the long training runs.  I hate this hill.  But one must keep moving forward.  The goal was to not stop, no breaks.  So up I went at the pace of a banana slug, one foot in front of the other... being passed by the 50 milers also hiking...  "Good Job"... I heard and said this thousands of times throughout the day.  Apparently it's the 'hello' of the ultra trail world.  Pretty awesome, it is such a supportive community.  Didn't matter if you were crawling, if you were still out on the trail, you were doing a "good job".  One 50 miler that passed me added "just think, we do this for fun!".  Eventually, I got to the top.  I had done it.  And guess what, by the time I got to the top of that gruesome hill my stitch was gone... and my leg cramp was now just tight, it was no longer spasming and threatening to take me to the ground.  So off we went...

The view from the top of the long hard M*F*.  Off in the distance, that's the finish.

By the BORT meadow aid station at mile 20 I was downright giddy.  I felt great!  How could this be?... Only a 10k left... and now we were entering the most runnable stretch of the entire course.  "Do what you can" became my mantra of the day.  I ran (something just above a walking pace) what I could, just keep it moving.  At this point I was realizing that my average pace was 15 minute miles.  This would put me at a finish well above my projected time.  But could I maintain it?  "Do what you can".  So I did.  One foot in front of the other.

The lake was in sight.  Still being passed by 50 milers.  And the choo-choo woman!  She (and her husband) were so steady, it was impressive.  As they passed me he said "you can't let us take over now" my response "I... can't ... help ... it..."... and off they went, but I kept them in my sights.  The last mile and a half must have been the longest mile and a half of the course.  My clock said I had 25 minutes to beat a 7 hour finish... I wasn't sure I could make it.  With about a mile to go I see my friend Holly running towards me!!  Wow!  That was a lift... my friend, my trail buddy, my running inspiration came to run it in with me!  She said I looked great and strong... I saw a crowd... got a tingly shot of adrenaline, picked up the pace...  I heard my name... the finish line had come!! 

It was an emotional moment for me.  I did it.  And I far exceeded my expectations and goal.  My family and friends were there to witness it.

It was an awesome adventure!!

Official time:  6:51:49 for my first marathon.
(I was 128 out of 151 finishers and the last finisher was at 10h25m!)

P.S.  The engine lady and her husband finished 40 seconds ahead of me.  And I found the two ladies that I dropped at the French Trail... They both hugged me immediately and it struck me how fast this bond forms on the trail.  We only had a few words between one another, we don't know each others names... but we had huge smiles and hugged after the finish.

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