Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Race Report: Harpeth Hills Flying Monkey Marathon

On Sunday, I ran in the fifth annual Harpeth Hills Flying Monkey Marathon.

A race that is "Not flat. Not fast. Not certified."

A race that even the director himself will tell you you're crazy for running... that you shouldn't bother training... that nothing can prepare you for what's to come.

So of course I wanted to try it.

Plus, it's right here in my own back yard in Nashville. How could I not run the local race at least once in my life?

On August 1, I was up at 8am to sign up when registration opened. It closed in 32 minutes.

It wasn't long before the big day was finally here.

A kind of crazy thing happened on Saturday night. I was in bed by 10pm. I was asleep by 10:30pm. And I didn't wake up until my alarm went off at 6:45am. I'm kind of thinking I don't really get the pre-race jitters like I used to.

I got dressed after much debate between a tank top and a short-sleeved shirt. I knew it was going to be warming up to around 70 degrees, but this time of year it could be a warm 70 or a chilly 70. I'd come to regret my decision that I couldn't possibly need a tank top in late November.

I'll admit that I started feeling a little nervous at this point. However, I don't think it was really about this race in particular. It's more that I'm starting to wonder about my training and whether or not I'm really going to be able to do this Goofy Challenge thing... and knowing that this race was going to indicate a lot to me about my preparation for it up to this point.

I may or may not have looked in the mirror and said out loud to no one in particular, "Let's run this b*tch."

I headed to Percy Warner Park, and I realized that there really is something nice about running a marathon that's less than 15 minutes from your house.

I found Matt and his wife, and the photo taking and race preparations began.

Here I am showing off my flying monkey tattoo!

We found Liz and grabbed a quick pre-race shot.

We made our way to the start line, where I may have questioned if I really am insane. Insane for running this race. Insane for planning to do 3 marathons in 3 months. Insane for planning to do the Goofy Challenge. So on and so forth.

Oh, there may have been some monkey tailgating of sorts.

Somewhere in there Bill from Love to Run and his friend Mike found me. Bill and I have read each other's blogs for about two years, so it was pretty cool to meet him. By the way, he has a Wisconsin accent! This should not have been a surprise since he's from Wisconsin, but it always catches me a little off guard when you hear someone's voice for the first time after reading them for ages.

We found Amy, and our little group convened with the rest of the runners at the start line. There were 232 runners that completed the race, and for the way the course is laid out it was a pretty perfect number. I hesitate on smaller races sometimes because I don't want to be out there alone, but that was never a problem with this one.

Someone said go, and we were off. The race photographer got this photo of me and Chris very early on in the race (and then Melissa is there in the back). Somewhere in recent weeks Chris said he was going to need us to help him get up the hills... he left us after a few miles, and we never saw him again. :)

There was also a clever sign letting us know we'd climbed about 300 feet and only had about 3500 more feet to go.

We were all laughing and talking, and as the first few miles passed we realized we were keeping about a 10:00 pace... a little bit faster than intended. It wasn't long before I felt WARM, and I kicked myself for not wearing the tank top the entire race. I know it probably seems like it's not a huge difference, but it really is a big difference to me. Lesson learned.

We were soon on the other side of the park where Matt's wife was hanging out. You can kind of tell that's us coming down the hill into the water stop.

We really all just kind of stopped at the water stations and got drinks and started walking on. It was a pretty casual affair since none of us were really all that concerned with our finish times. I think we all agreed that we just didn't want to hit 5 hours, and we knew we could totally come in under that. I think I only skipped one water stop, and that was early in the race. Since it was warm, I didn't want to risk not getting enough fluids.

I also took 2 GU Chomps every 45 minutes until about mile 20 when I stopped taking anything other than fluids. This seemed to work well for me.

Somewhere around mile 8 we picked up Tom. He decided that we were the cool kids and that he'd stick with us. The fun thing about picking up new people is that they have stories. We listened to Tom's stories about the couple of marathons he's done and shared a few of our own about our favorite races. This really helped the time to go by.

I also spent a little time chatting with Morgan from Houston. She and her boyfriend run marathons like every weekend! She had a similar injury to her hip as the one I had a couple of years ago, so we quickly bonded over that. She told me she did a couple of marathons on crutches! Mad respect for this gal.

It wasn't long before we made a group decision to start walking up some of the bigger hills. Somewhere after the first half (our split being 2:15), Bill decided to head on his way. I'm glad he ran with us for a bit!

Somewhere around mile 16ish, we were back around to where Matt's wife was again, and she had Twizzlers! I think I might start running with these. Eating two of those at this point was awesome! I also like this photo she got of us... we had just gotten Twizzlers from her and some fluids at the water stop, and we were getting ready to head up a decent hill. I like how we're all doing something different.

Then we stopped for a group shot. I think we're all looking pretty good here.

Somewhere around this point Amy decided to head on ahead of us. The remaining four of us continued chatting and walking when we needed to do so. It kind of became a game to see who would suggest it was time to walk as well as to name a point off in the distance where we would all do so.

One of the awesome things about this race is that there are FREQUENT water stops. And Gu if you need it. It was as if every single time I started thinking, "Man, I could use some Gatorade," we'd crest a hill and find a station. Love it.

Around mile 20, we started talking about how this is where the real race begins.

And I realized I was feeling pretty awesome.

Ok, sure... I kept complaining about how my butt hurt, specifically the left side. But in general, I felt way better than I usually do at mile 20.

Around mile 22 or so, there was a downhill that seemed to go on forever. I had noticed a girl in a blue shirt that appeared to possibly be in my age group, and I decided to pass her. Next thing I know, I realized I had left the rest of my group way back. I don't know how I do it, but I can really fly down hills like it's no big deal. Fortunately, we have a standing rule that if at any time you want to take off, you do it.

I started picking up the pace. I also started feeling a little incredulous that I was picking up the pace. When have I ever picked up the pace in the last 4 miles of a marathon?

Here's a little sample of my thoughts: "Holy cow, what are you doing Melanie? Can you really pick it up and actually keep it up for the rest of the race? Hmm... it looks like I can break 4:40 if I can keep this up. But oh dang, there are still a few hills. Well heck, I used to pass people all the time on hills. I love hills. But yeah, some of these hills are NOT A HILL. They are small mountains. Why do I live in TN? Oh look, a flying monkey."

I passed a lot of people. Like, at least 15-20. I didn't really count. (I was a bit too focused on blowing my own mind that I was running 9:00 and 9:30 minute miles at the end of a marathon.) One was the race director, and he commented that I looked strong. Then I passed a few other people that were like, "wow, you look strong." And I realized that I FELT strong.

I did get to one hill that I had to walk up. I started questioning again if I could break 4:40 because that hill definitely slowed me down. I knew that if I wanted to make it happen, I needed to be a little flying monkey myself over the last 1.5 miles or so.

So I picked it up. I felt warm. And a little nauseous. And my butt still hurt. And my ankle felt a little tender.

But I passed more people. I caught up to Amy and we exchanged some encouragement which was totally helpful because I was starting to have that "do I really have it in me" kind of moment.

I came around the corner and knew the finish line was close. I passed mile 26. I focused in on the finish line. I remember seeing Bill to the side, and I know he said something that was probably encouraging... and held out his hand to give me five and I couldn't will myself to get close enough to make it happen (it was probably quite comical) so he had to stick his arm out more toward me to hit MY hand...

I crossed into the finish chute and stopped my watch. 4:38:55. (Yes, I know the clock says something else, but I started my watch at the start line and stopped it at the finish, so I'm going with mine. It's not like the official time is official anyways.)

Marathon #8 on the books.

Amy finished shortly behind me, and it wasn't long before we saw Matt and Tom and Liz. I was feeling a little dizzy (I think just from being warm and pushing it a bit), so I sat down for a few minutes.

Then, I got a massage. Let me tell you... this was the smartest thing I did after the race. The gal rubbed on my butt and really worked out a lot of the aches I was feeling in it from the hills.

I headed to the car to get out of the wet clothes and found a few texts and voicemails from friends. It probably sounds backwards, but since this race was local I didn't ask my family to come out. They go and drive around courses and wait for hours when I run out of town. I don't want to be too needy. Nonetheless, hearing from a few important people and being able to let them know how I did really made the day even more awesome.

It turns out I placed 2nd in my age group out of 10. Never in my life would I expect to place in a marathon.

We started snapping some finish photos. Here we are with Tom (no idea where Amy went for this one).

Here we are with Bill (and no idea where Liz went for this one).

And here's our little core group... I've logged many miles with these three, and goodness knows we have all shared a lot of stories over the miles. These are some of my best friends here in Nashville, and I'm so glad that we got to run this race together.

I headed home to shower and return a few phone calls before heading over to Mafiaoza's for the post-race party. I definitely had two beers. And two slices of pizza. And then ordered the fried ravioli sticks because I was still hungry. And was tempted by Amy's invite to go grab some yogurt, but by that point I just wanted to be in my bed.

We got to mix and mingle with some of the other runners, including Jeff and Melissa. I ran with these two about a month ago when I orchestrated a 16-mile training run in the park. I told them at dinner that if I ever find a good man, I want to be like them. They are such a fun couple.

Here I am with race director Trent. He's to either thank or curse for putting on this event.

Finally, a group shot from dinner.

Some other key thoughts to wrap up this review...

This is a top notch event. I really hate a lot of the mega races put on by big companies where you pay an absurd amount of money and then realize they care more about the dollar than the runner. This race is the antidote. For $70, I got two awesome shirts, a sticker, a magnet, a temporary tattoo and an incredible marathon experience.

There's just a fun atmosphere to this race. Everyone is kind of in it together, and everyone is super friendly out on the course. There are some loops and plenty of times where you pass people going in the opposite direction. It's always neat to get to see the front runners go by, and I love being able to see familiar faces who may be running ahead or behind me.

After the race, there was a TON of food. All the runners and volunteers bring something, and we enjoy a big potluck after the race. There were also 3 kegs of Yazoo beer. Free. Need I say more?

I think this felt like a typical Sunday morning training run, only I got a medal when I finished. The course support was great. The volunteers were great. The spectators were great. This is one of the few races I've run where I don't have a single complaint. Ok, so maybe I was a little bummed to not get a prize for an age group placement... but really, the bragging rights matter more. :)

And in the end... it IS a hilly course. But it wasn't so bad. I'm pretty pleased with how I did, and I couldn't have asked for a better experience.

And as for my nerves? I'm feeling a lot more confident that I'm going to be able to pull of these crazy running plans I have for the next couple of months.

If you'd like to read Amy's review, you can find it here.


Amy said...

Yay!!!! Congrats on your first monkey! You did awesome and I know you're going to do awesome this week and in a couple of weeks... you're on a roll.

I need some of that mojo you've got!

Chris said...

Melanie - that is one of the BEST race reports EVA'. You knocked it out of the park. The 16 miler that you helped start a few weeks back really got me to thinking I could actually do this. Thanks for running with me those first few miles.

Nicole said...

Way to go melanie!!! I am so proud of you & jealous of all your running accomplishments lately! I still think you need to come back here in may & run kzoo with me!!! Keep thinking & ill keep bugging you! ;) Again, great great job!

EP said...

Way to go, girl! That's so exciting that you finished up so strongly, and that the race was a good experience!

Jamie said...

AWESOME! Congrats!

d.a.r. said...

I just love love love reading your race reports. You are always so upbeat and positive--no wonder you are running like a bat out of hell lately :)