On Friday, my dad and I headed out of Nashville toward Fort Oglethorpe, GA (this is just barely outside of Chattanooga, TN). We enjoyed going over Mount Eagle Mountain and took in the gorgeous fall scenery as we headed into East Tennessee.
We found the packet pick-up locaton, and I collected my shirt, hat, and race number and chip. There was a sign that said the expo was in the next building, but this turned out to be a guy selling Gu and Shot Blocks. We had considered going to the pasta dinner, but the room was pretty crowded. Instead, we headed on to check into our hotel and then drove into Chattanooga to eat a good meal at Olive Garden. Yum.
Once back at the hotel, I found a movie on tv and watched it in bed. Unfortunately, we were now in the Eastern time zone. I had a hard time going to sleep at a reasonable time since my body was an hour behind the time. I think I finally fell asleep around midnight. Needless to say, my 5:45 am alarm came quickly.
I'm not going to lie. I think I felt more nervous about this marathon than I've felt about the 3 I've done before. It's crazy, really, but I think it's because I felt SO odd running a marathon without tapering. I kept reminding myself that it was just a long, slow training run (a little LSD, if you will), but I still also knew it was a timed event. It was hard to shake that feeling of contradiction that my body and brain were sharing. I have never run this distance without fresh legs. I had never shown up to the start line feeling tired. I just kept trying to tell myself to forget that and to enjoy the training, but it's definitely hard when everyone else is using it as their race they trained for... they all had tapered. They all felt rested and refreshed.
I got ready for the race and ate my Kashi granola bar. I still felt really full from Friday night's dinner, and I knew I had a fuel belt full of GU and Sports Beans.
We headed to the start, and I had plenty of time to use the porta-potty. It was absolutely freezing before the start, and I stood with my dad and kept my coat on for as long as possible. I knew it'd be warming up, so I had on shorts and a short-sleeved shirt. And gloves. If my hands are warm, I'm ok.
I posed for a picture with this old military vehicle, and then I waited for the national anthem to be sung and for the rifle to be shot. As soon as I heard the gun go off, I passed off my coat to my dad and merged in with the crowd to cross the starting line.
For the first two miles, I felt like I was running on bricks. My feet had gone completely numb with the cold before the start. My legs had huge goosebumps. Within the first 20 minutes, I managed to thaw out and settle into a decent 10:30 pace. I tried to tune out some of the other runners, many of them running only the half-marathon. I didn't need to keep up with them. I felt steady and consistent.
Around mile 4, my new friend Matt caught up to me. I was so glad to see a familiar face. I've gone to the other 3 marathons I've run with people I've trained for months with and I'd been feeling weird about doing this one alone. It was nice to have Matt's company.
We ran along and chatted for a good while. I knew by mile 8 or so that I definitely had tired legs from my training and that this run would definitely be my toughest training run. Not only that, but I'd also had to pee since about mile 5. We saw a porta-potty around mile 8 or 9, but there were 7 people in line. I wasn't about to stand and wait that long. Even though I wasn't running for time, I knew if I stood still that long it'd hurt me.
Sidenote: There were only 2 porta-potties on the course. Granted, you ran the course twice so you actually had 4 opportunities. But there should have been more than one porta-potty at both stops.
I continued on, and just before we got to the halfway point I saw my dad. I had told him not to worry too much about trying to see me because the course wasn't very spectator-friendly, but I was glad to see he'd walked to this point. He snapped a quick photo of me and Matt (dad never uses a camera, and the sun was so bright my eyes are closed in the photo), and then we headed on our way.
I hit the half-marathon mark in 2:25. I knew that this was a bit slower than I intended, but I tried to not let it get me down. Here's the thing... I'm a bit of an overachiever. Anyone who knows me well would probably use that to describe me if they had to pick only one word. It's never been that I want to be THE best. I'm the least competitive person I know. Stephanie never could understand how I'd want to play cards without keeping the score back in our high school days. It's just not me. However, I always want to do MY best. I knew that a 2:25 split was not my best.
Again, I was really having a hard time separating myself from the fact that I was running a race. I think that even though I knew all along that this was just supposed to be training, I still had this thought in the back of my head that I wanted to finish it in a certain time. I wanted to hit somewhere between 4:30 and 4:45. This is insane! My PR is 4:31. I should know better than to think I could finish somewhat close to that time when I was physically tired from the peak training I've been doing lately. So I tried to keep telling myself to forget about the clock and forget about the race and to get my miles in. I kept reminding myself that when I crossed the finish line I'd finally be in official taper mode for 4 weeks.
Matt went on, and I was so excited that he was doing so well. This was his first marathon! He'd done a great job with his training and tapering, so I looked forward to catching back up with him at the finish to see how well he'd end up running. Meanwhile, I was struggling between mile 13-15. I of course went to the starting line physically tired, but I was also mentally tired. Marathon training takes it out of you. I didn't feel the mental kind of strength I usually feel when I'm running the marathon distance. Again, I tried to keep my focus on the fact that I was doing my last long training run.
I finally got to use the bathroom at mile 15. I think I set a record for how long I was peeing! I came out feeling a million times better, and I pulled out my ipod. It might sound cheesy, but when I turned it on it played "It's a Beautiful Life" by Ace of Base. I like having some peppy old school stuff mixed in. I felt a new energy, and I ran miles 15-17 at more of a 9:30 pace. However, around mile 17 I started to feel some aches in both of my ankles.
The course was a little rough in places. I had to be careful and watch my footing. In other places, the road was very slanted. I think that's what really caused my ankles to ache. (That and the 100 miles I ran in October!) I decided that the smart thing to do would be to scale back and take it easy. I started running anywhere from 11 to 12 minute miles. I kept telling myself that if I could make it to 20, then I could allow myself to start taking some walk breaks (other than the short ones I'd take at water stations in order to drink my PowerAde). I kept pushing on, and I stopped once to walk up a hill and attempt to collect my thoughts.
Guys and gals, I was feeling pretty emotionally beat up. I've been doing some intense training this time around and trying something new with this whole "marathon-length training run." I started to worry that maybe it was a bad idea. I felt awful. I won't lie... I even wondered once if maybe I should switch and run the half in Memphis. I felt like this had been a horrible idea and that there was no way I'd be able to run faster than this in 4 weeks.
Just as soon as I thought all of that, I also thought I was crazy. I know better! I know that my body and my brain is tired from my peak training. I know I have 4 weeks to taper and rest and eat good food and get myself to the Memphis starting line feeling rested and fresh like I usually do on race day.
I saw mile 20 and that the clock read 3:50. I knew at this point that I would be seeing a 5 on the finish clock. I did not like this. Again, I tried to remind myself that this was just a training run.
At this point, I was taking it one mile at a time. I allowed myself to walk for 30 seconds each time I got to the next mile marker, and then I'd pick back up and run to the next one. Allowing myself these little breaks was what kept me moving in the last 6 miles. I had also been going back and forth with this one girl for miles, so I decided that even if I couldn't run this training run as quickly as I'd like, I'd at least try to beat someone. At mile 23 she stopped to walk. I didn't because I knew a big hill was coming that I'd want to walk up. I got to the hill and walked up, and then I took off again. She never caught back up.
After my mile 24 walk break, I knew that I'd take one more little break at mile 25 and that then I could run the rest of that last mile to the finish. I kept running. And running. And I'd turn a corner and strain to look for the mile 25 sign down the way. I passed a guy and asked if he'd seen mile 25. He never saw it either, but he told me that according to his Garmin we'd gone 1.5 miles since the mile 24 marker.
Dang. Who doesn't mark mile 25?!! We NEED to see that sign in a marathon. We NEED to know we only have a mile to go. At this point, I knew I was so close to the finish that I'd be silly to walk. I kept pushing. Finally, I made the turn to run toward the finish line. I picked it up. If I was going to have to see a 5 on the clock, I was at least going to have some semblance of a finishing sprint. I crossed the line in 5:07:56. It wasn't my slowest marathon ever, but since I've only run 4 I can call it my third fastest, ha! How's that for a bright side?
The medals were pretty cool... and heavy. I like a nice heavy medal. I found Matt and his wife. it turns out he ran a 4:45, which is awesome! I was excited for how well his first marathon went, and I was excited that I was finally in taper mode.
All in all, I accomplished my only goal for the day: I ran 26.2 miles for training. The time didn't matter. It wasn't supposed to matter. I wanted my body to run for longer than I want it to run in Memphis. I definitely achieved that.
But still, I couldn't help but let it bother me a little. I want to run a 4:20 and it just took me 5:07?! Dang! But I spent some time thinking it over on the drive home. I reminded myself that I ran 22 miles 2 weeks ago in 3:38. That was a perfect pace to get toward a 4:20 on race day. And now that I've run SO much longer, my body won't be surprised at how far we're running that day (I hope.. that is the point of doing this anyways!). I also reminded myself that I was already tired physically and mentally before I ever ran this thing. I won't be on December 6th.
So I did what I set out to do. I don't know how it's going to play out in Memphis. Maybe it really will go the way I hope and I'll run a new PR. Or maybe it will have been too much and I won't. Then I'll know to never do it again. I'll try something different next time. Either way, when it's all said and done, I'm still running marathons.
It was good to get this training run behind me. I'm glad that I used a race to get it done, even if it did cause me some mental grief. :) I liked having course support. I liked having more than 1-2 people to run with (although only 550 or so ran this race, so I was running alone at times). I also really liked getting another medal and another marathon under my belt. If you're going to run 26. 2 miles in training, you might as well earn a medal, right?
I think in the end I'll be glad I did this, even if I don't PR in Memphis. I hadn't run a marathon since last December, so I think that if nothing else I'll be glad to have reminded myself what the distance feels like before I go run the one I'm actually training for.
I got home and cleaned up to head to my boss's daughter's wedding. The reception had some awesome food, and you better believe I put a dent in it! I opted to avoid the dance floor, but I still enjoyed myself. My sister was the Maid of Honor, and you better believe I'm going to steal her cute bridesmaid dress and wear it sometimes. Holly's sister Danielle is one of my good friends from high school. She was home from Korea for the wedding, and we got a rare photo of both of us in dresses! I also made sure to snap a photo of me and Holly with my medal. I didn't wear it all night, but I did have it in my coat pocket to show to anyone who was interested. :)
Saturday night? I totally went to bed at 9:30. Because of the time difference, I'd technically been up since 4:45am! I barely remember getting under the covers before falling asleep. I slept hard, and I didn't wake up until 11:30am on Sunday. 14 hours of sleep. Awesome.
I spent Sunday hanging out with Danielle and her family so that we could spend more time together before she heads back to Korea.
I'm definitely a little sore, but I had previously booked a sports massage for this evening. I've heard that getting one can really help in the recovery. I've got some pretty tight muscles in my legs... mostly my quads, hamstrings, and hips. I'm hopeful the massage will get all the lactic acid pushed out and loosen my muscles back up.
My only concern right now is my ankles. They definitely bothered me a lot during the marathon, and I still feel some tenderness in them today. The left one is a little worse than the right, and on both of them the soreness is in the back at the achilles. I'm sure they're just worn out from the long runs I've done over the past month (18, 20, 22, 26.2!), but I definitely want them to have time to recover before I go run Memphis.
My plan is to get the massage today, and then I'm going to take it easy for a few more days. I want to do some light cycling to work out my legs a bit, but I probably won't run til Wednesday or Thursday. Even then, it's just going to be a test run to see how I feel.
I love to taper. It feels good to scale back. I definitely want to make sure I get some good runs in over the next few weeks, but I also definitely don't want to overdue it. I wanted to start my next marathon feeling great!
A good sign? Runner's World had an article this month about doing back-to-back marathons. It has some great tips that I'm definitely going to use over the next few weeks. I'm not really superstitious or anything, but reading that article this month when it's about something that I'm doign right now definitely gave me a positive vibe.
This training run was tough - physically and mentally - but I'm already feeling better for doing it. I'm a little nervous still about what I'm doing here, but I'm also really excited to see how it plays out in Memphis. I'm feeling pretty good about it. I don't know if I'll run a 4:20 that day, but I'm sure going to try.
And if not, I'm already eyeing Little Rock in March. :)