With a course that ran through 6 famous bourbon distilleries- Jim Beam, Heaven Hill, Makers Mark, Wild Turkey, Four Roses, and Woodford Reserve- it was bound to be a unique experience. Add to that the fact that none of us really knew each other and we were about to spend 24 hours traveling and sleeping in a van while rotating running segments totaling just under 20 miles each...
John, leg 7: I was actually thankful for the rain. Once I hit that first hill it didn’t matter! I was hurting from there to the check point.
JC, leg 8: Cooperage hill kicked my butt (a little bit). Small detour in town. A bird crapped on my head on the last segment; they said it was good luck- I’m not so sure.
Logan, leg 9: Great time. Love it. Felt wonderful finishing knowing everyone was there waiting.
Suzy, leg 10: Okay, so I didn’t feel “great” the whole time (blame the hills!), but my teammates did make me feel like a rock star at the handoff. It was peaceful to run in the dark.
JC, leg 20: 5 miles of headwind, but no rain and good road. A green eyed Weimaraner 3 feet from the road. Needed the pants- the time sucked.
Logan, leg 21: Good run, fast for me. 8 miles instead of 5- went the wrong way!
JC, leg 32: Saw 3 horses being worked out in the Kentucky Bluegrass. Felt great to get a beer and a Blantons! Make reservations for 2010!
John, leg 33: Waffle House was the death of me!!! While I met the goal time, I paid for it on every hill! Still loved it!
Jen, leg 36: The last leg was extended from 6.2 miles to 7.6 miles. I paced myself and finished strong. My knees hurt, but the adrenaline rush was awesome! It felt great to cross the finish line with the whole team!
Although it doesn't count as my Kentucky race (already have that one from Kentucky Derby Marathon 2007), I wanted to share the experience and recommend that everyone put at least one overnight relay on their "running to do list".
|No, seriously- this was the shirt.|
I drove the 7 hours to Wynne by myself- Trey and I established long ago that he does not need to be at every race. The marathon isn’t exactly a spectator sport and Wynne isn’t exactly a tourist hotspot. I signed up to pace the 5:15 group- when I ran my first marathon in 2003, I finished in just over 5:15 and this experience was about paying it forward.
It was nice to have the added security of my Garmin, “Amanda” (named for the only training partner I’ve ever had who can keep me consistently on pace), as my running has improved and this was now quite a bit slower than my normal pace. I drove the out and back course to get a feel for turns, terrain, etc. That evening, I not only got a good night of sleep, but it was the first time that I didn't obsess over race strategy!
The entire field consisted of around 300 marathoners and 300 half marathoners gathered at Wynne High School for the start. The race itself was pretty old school with a spray painted line on the road serving as the start and pieces of felt with times printed in iron on letters. About 15 minutes before the start, we did introductions and instructions about running with the group. Our crew had a handful of full marathoners and a good deal of half marathoners, most planning to use the “Galloway method” (run/walk).
Upon the start- not a gun, a megaphoned “GO!”- I lost at least half of the full marathoners. Ironically enough, these were also the runners who (predictably) we would pass in the later miles of the race. It doesn’t matter if you are shooting for 8 minute or 12 minute miles, the same holds true: go out too fast and you'll hit the wall, go out too slow and you won't be able to make up the time later.
Around the 6 mile mark, the temperature was already in the high 70s and (I am guessing) the humidity was over 80%. The weather conditions brought out every ambulance in Cross County…all three of them. The course ran through rural farm country and offered little shade for us, but water stops at every other mile helped us stay cool.
Along with tracking the walk breaks and affirming that it was okay to be human in a marathon on an 80-degree day, our group stayed motivated with good conversation and also discussed advice for recovery and training for the future. We shared stories of training runs, previous races, and told knock knock jokes. One member was running the race in memory of his spouse, who he spent miles describing in both happy and trying times- I was grateful that he shared the memories so willingly.
At the 12 mile marker, we wished our half marathon bunch farewell- they were on target to finish within their desired time range. With only a handful of remaining, we were able to enjoy the intimate camaraderie of running with a small group. The other runners were extremely positive. Since I opted not to bring music on the course (typical dissociation in the late miles), it was refreshing to have conversation and the optimism of the group to pull through.
Around 23, my stomach reacted to all of the Gatorade I had been drinking to stay cool...Gatorade is not usually my drink of choice but I drank it anyway. Rookie mistake- some pacer I am, huh? We were all in various forms of pain by that point and had made a pact that if a negative thought entered your head, you had to say something positive. “I have the yummiest strawberry lip gloss on!”, “We get a medal!”, “My ear lobe feels great!” I’m not sure I’ll ever deal with a negative thought the same way again.
State number 24 was crossed off my list with a pacer time of 5:13:46 for the 5:15 group- not bad for a rookie! On the flip side, I realized how much I savor racing alone- soaking in my surroundings, drifting in and out of conversations with other runners, and strategizing as the race goes on based on how I feel and controlling my own moves versus consulting a group. In 2010, I need to beat my PR in Akron...perhaps I'll use a 3:30 pacer to do it!
Having just done well but not gone all out in the Tupelo Marathon a week prior, I was ready for the Lewis and Clark Marathon. Ideas of requalifying for Boston Marathon or PRing even entered my head. The timing of the race was perfect and the location in St. Charles, Missouri was significant because it is the hometown of a very dear friend, Jen. Also a frequent racer, this would be the 4th race Jen and I have done (we have an unwritten rule that each runs her own pace throughout, but the travel/pre/post is always together) and a great way to celebrate our 5th friendship anniversary.
After a great pre-race dinner and 8+ hours of sleep, we enjoyed the convenient 5 minute walk to the starting line from our hotel. 65 degrees was a bit hot for our 7:15 start, but I was certainly not complaining, as last year’s race was cancelled 10 miles in due to heavy rainfall and flooding from Hurricane Ike. The starting area was well organized and I was glad to hear the National Anthem, as 2 of my last 3 races have been without. Judging by the laughs and fist pumps from those around me, I was not the only one who really enjoyed going through the starting chute and running the first quarter mile with the Chariots of Fire theme blaring from the speakers.
We began on the eastern side of the river in the part of town known as Riverport. Sounded cute in the marketing materials, but in reality it is actually a business park. Whatever. From there, we ran on closed roads through Earth City and onto a highway. I love running on the highway during a race- perhaps since it is the one place I can’t run during training, I feel like a rebel doing it.
Making our way into downtown St. Charles via bridge, we got the best view yet of the city's riverfront along the water. These first few miles were exactly what I envisioned for this race: steady 8 minute miles, perfect weather, friendly people to talk to. Unfortunately, my legs were definitely feeling the week prior- they were heavy and noodle-y all at once. It was definitely too early in the race to feel SO tired; my time reflected this too, as I had gone straight to 10 minute miles with no “in between”.
When another runner pointed out the 81 degrees on one of those digital signs, my suspicion that the temperature had shot up quickly was solidified. This wouldn’t have been so bad if we would have had shade every once in awhile. The sun was just beating down and by mile 12, I saw 1:52 and realized this was not going to be a PR. Or a Boston qualifier. Or sub-4. Ugh, should I just stop at the half??
Upon entering the city of St. Charles, we ran through a combination of open greenspaces and areas of the river floodplain. We went into city parks and through Frenchtown, which is positioned nicely to overlook the Missouri River. As luck would have it, this scenery wasn’t quite distracting enough to avoid the celebration at the half marathon finish line at Frontier Park. Although directed to a separate chute, full marathoners actually SEE halfers cross the finish, receive their medal, hug family and friends, and celebrate their accomplishment. The course at my very first marathon was set up similarly; I have never been so grateful for experience of resetting mentally and soldiering through for another 13.1 miles.
The next 6.5 miles took us along Katy Trail, a railroad turned greenway with mostly dirt and gravel, for an out-and-back stretch. I like passing out thumbs ups, greeting other runners I had chatted with in the early miles, and seeking out other Marathon Maniacs. This time, I was especially inspired during this race by seeing Kristyn Birrell of Bozeman, MT pushing her 12-year-old cousin, Chessa, in a specially-constructed jogger. I found out later that Chessa, who has no use of her legs and extremely limited use of her arms, has spinal muscular atrophy- just like my niece Katelyn.
This is SO DUMB (especially after the inspiration provided by the gals above) but I got annoyed at seeing two older, slower-looking people in front of me around mile 19. I had just run a marathon 7 days prior, so I don't know why I expected to be faster in the first place, but I just felt like hands down- these two should never have been in front of me. Around this same time, another girl who had a “my first marathon” sign on her shirt passed me. She shouldn't have been in front of me either. My rational self said, “Suz, you have 6 more miles to go. The race begins here, so run your OWN pace. Don’t worry about anyone else.” I ignored her and sped up to get ahead of all 3 of these people.
Around mile 23, I paid dearly for that move. My legs, still heavy noodles, were the least of my worries- my back was throbbing, my breathing was off, and I had a collection of Katy Trail gravel in my shoes. My thoughts at this point were poisonous: Why can’t I feel my legs? Is my Garmin lying? Am I some slow machine that can't move? Shouldn’t the Tylenol have kicked in by now? I seriously wanted to just quit. I didn't care that I only had 3 more miles. With hopes of a PR or BQ way behind me, the only reason I didn’t stop was because I wanted to earn my Missouri. Plus I never want to see “DNF” beside my name in race results.
By the finish, I was all sorts of foul stankness, almost unable to walk. Trifling. I clocked a 4:09:08- putting me at 216 of 688 overall, 41st of 262 females, and 11th of 47 in my age group.
Despite it being a bad running day, my spirits were quickly lifted when Jen and I were reunited and began trading tales. We were in different places along the course having the exact same thoughts and being amused, annoyed, energized, inspired, and surprised by the same things! Although it would have been nice to have during the race, I’ll take a second wind where I can get it….Jen provided exactly that. We spent the rest of the weekend celebrating our 5th friendship anniversary, appreciating another gorgeous medal, and a great overall experience!
Trey decided to go with me at the last minute, despite not being exactly thrilled with my travel plan- drive 6 hours to Tupelo, spend the night, run the marathon, beg the hotel for late checkout in an effort to shower, and drive 6 hours back to Kentucky.
We were pleasantly surprised by the hospitality of the people in Tupelo and enjoyed our afternoon exploring downtown and learning about its most famous former resident, Elvis Presley. No, I didn’t make Trey go to his birthplace…I figured he deserved an “out” after 6 hours of the alphabet game on the trip down.
After being forced to do my first paper registration ever, I knew information about the race beforehand would be limited. I did my own research. Reviews on Marathonguide.com were insistent on two points: “have a light source for the early miles” and “bring your own water”. Check, check.
The race began at 5 am on Sunday morning to avoid the heat, but there wasn’t really a way to control the humidity. Even at the start, I was sweating…or as a Mississippi gal would say, “glistening”! There was a full moon out, which was actually quite beautiful in the pitch black of the first 7 or so miles. I was grateful to be one of few who actually had a headlamp; many were attempting unsuccessfully to light their path with handheld flashlights. As predicted, water stops were scarce and I was glad that I had opted for my camelback. Other than at the North Face 50 miler and Dances with Dirt 50K ultras, I have never used it during a road race. Nonetheless, I was glad I had it- your girl has to hydrate.
This course was somewhat of an out and back, which I always enjoy because you get to see the runners ahead of you and behind you. For me, this meant seeing many of my fellow Marathon Maniacs and getting bursts of energy as we exchanged waves, fist pumps, and “MANIAC!” yells. At the half-marathon point, I was at 1:55:42...within range for my desired sub 4 hour marathon.
Something I hadn't realized was that there were going to be so many hills. The course description said "a rolling course..." but I didn't pay much attention to it and during the first half I could not SEE any of the terrain. Out of sight, out of mind. On the way back in the daylight, I saw what I had covered during the first half and it squashed my mentality. Suddenly I had a bajillion excuses as to why I wasn’t feeling well- for every ache and pain, I was all “well, it must be because of the hills earlier!”
Around mile 20, my mp3 player went dead. Only a few years ago, this would have been enough to really put me over the edge- there was a point where I needed music as a distraction and could not run without it. This time, perhaps as a testament to “growing” within the sport, I didn’t care. I decided to just focus on moving, picking up the pace along the way. I even began passing several people around mile 22!
With 20 marathons under my belt and the understanding that runners are just plain silly, I have seen it all- a fully costumed Elvis….a male ballerina in full tutu and pink leotard….a body painted red devil with horns and a tail….a bunch of balloon grapes. The possibilities for my costume were endless, but it wasn’t hard for me to decide on “Super Suz”. I don’t read comic books, but let’s face it- doesn’t everyone want to be a superhero at least a little bit?
The Hatfield McCoy course began in Kentucky and finished in West Virginia, crossing back and forth between the states several times. Each runner was put on a "team" to represent one of the families, with the collectively lower time declared winner of the feud: I was a Hatfield. This label could have easily been the Clark Kent to my Superman- after all, many heroes choose anonymity as their first defense, right?!
Not me. Not only did I dress to my full superhero potential, I was able to get another Super Suz to do it too! My friend Suz, who would be halfing it as a Hatfield, helped prove the no superhero can be two places at the same time thing WRONG. Donned in a red cape, “S” shirts, and the ability to harness the positive energy of our superhero powers (!), we were greeted at the race start with smiles, camera flash, high fives, and the occasional eye roll.
Just after mile 6, we arrived at the infamous Blackberry Mountain...it was an extremely steep, quick change in elevation (as in, I could feel my ears popping) and looooong (just over 1 mile climb). Although my clothing was the last thing I wanted to worry about, it was at this point when the cape started to get really heavy. Not only did it seem to be catching all of my sweat, the weather was extremely muggy- there had been a lot of flooding in the area over the last few weeks and the air was saturated. I had a water bottle waist pack resting on my lower back, too- this did not help. Faced with the decision that something HAD to go to alleviate the uncomfortable weight on my back, I did what any reasonable superhero would do…got rid of my water.
The ride DOWN the mountain was pretty wild. I bid a fond farewell to my toenails and tried not to fall on my face as I zoomed down. The half ended in Matewan, West Virginia- population 498 and looked like it was the set of an old Western movie. We literally passed the half finish and saw runners cross the line, receive their medals, and celebrate their accomplishment. This could have been a sticky point mentally, but the crowds in Matewan really pulled me through with their cheers- “Go Superwoman!”, “Look, it’s Supergirl!”, and “It’s a bird, it’s a plane..!”. I kind of felt bad for the other marathoners around me, as the support was about as participant specific as you could get.
Every hero has their kryptonite, and mine was the lonely country road around mile 16. Although the race does a great job of rounding up volunteer support with water stops at each mile and hand-written signs for every runner along the course, the field had thinned out and I was really feeling my trashed quads from Blackberry Mountain and questioning my unconventional (read: lack of) preparation for this race. The hills would NOT stop. I started to do the negative self talk thing- you know, pity party of one. By the time we ran over the swinging bridge at mile 18, I had convinced myself it wouldn’t be SO bad to just walk all the way to the end. I could walk 8 more miles by the 7 hour cutoff, right?!
Just when I need something to spark my earlier feeling of being superhero invincible, I got it. The road turned into a washed-out trail with roots, fallen branches, and rocks- exactly the terrain I have come to love. It had rained the night before and the trail was covered in slippery mud. Runners around me cursed about having to slow down and losing their foot placement; for me, it was a second wind. I tapped into my mental “reserves” and pretended like I was at the end of Dances with Dirt and charged forward, 10 lb. cape still flapping behind me!
When I arrived in Williamson, my body was totally spent- but the “Look, it’s the girl in the cape again” and "You made it, Supergirl!" cheers pulled me through the finish line faster than a speeding bullet. Okay, maybe not a speeding bullet- but faster than 67 others in the full marathon, enough to contribute to a Hatfield win, earn me 13th female overall and 2nd in my age group with a time of 4:19:21. My alter ego Super Suz helped me accomplish something new: having a lot of fun and enjoying myself during a race.
Having only completed 2 trail events, I had few expectations for the Dances with Dirt Gnaw Bone 50K- I simply wanted to gain the experience and cross the finish line in one piece. The area had been hit hard by rain all week, making the dirt trails solid mud by Saturday morning. After my “graceful” plunge to the ground and no signs of dry terrain for the next 30 miles, I wondered if I would in fact mark Indiana as my 20th state.
In an effort to counter my negative “self”, I focused on the fact that we had daylight (I had a horrible headlamp experience in Wisconsin) and the small group of runners I was surrounded by, as there was absolutely no sign of a trail anywhere. We knew we were on track because of all the white ribbons; however we ran into a group of leaders who were lost already at the 5 mile mark.
This race is described as a trail run, but the psychos from Michigan who put on the event use the term “trail” loosely. At different points in this race you are not even on trails, you’re just going through the woods hopping over logs and moving through thorn bushes. Oh yeah, 400 feet of ascent and decent on “trail” that is about a half shoe wide, several creeks and stream crossings, and lots of poison ivy. One mile of these trails easily felt like three or four.
There weren't too many females at the start line so I was very grateful to run into a pair of experienced gals who helped guide me through the physical and mental ups and downs of the next few miles. They also provided much needed conversation as a distraction from the pain I was starting to feel around mile 14- we discussed running apparel, hometowns, husbands, and races we had done and wanted to do in the future. I have always enjoyed the shared camaraderie among runners, especially other women.
By this point, we were deep into the forest and just as I was staring to think “wow- this is really peaceful”, one of my running partners lost her footing at a turn and twisted her ankle. Several failed attempts at limp-running later, she decided to wave the white flag…luckily we were very close to the mile 19 aid station, where the volunteers had already called transportation for two other injured runners. As I scraped the mud off my shoes and refueled with PB&J and salted potatoes, I thought “Ohmigosh, this race is like freakin’ Survivor- the last to DNF wins!”
Just after the final aid station at mile 23, I lost my other running partner to stomach issues and was totally by myself for quite a while. With nothing to focus on but putting one foot in front of the other (even my Garmin had called it a day!), I went from being absolutely terrified to…well, actually enjoying myself! Navigating the roots, rocks, and branches challenged my entire body and actually provided a welcome distraction for my tired legs. Several points required hand and knee climbs- literally grabbing onto tree branches or the steep ground ahead for support and pulling up. If it weren’t for the briar patches and being totally unfamiliar with what poison ivy looks like, I would have considered rolling down some of the hills grade-school-style!
Reaching the finish line in 7:37:22, I was the fourth female overall in the 50K…which is very cool but still doesn’t promote me to being “good” at trail running- after all, this was “Survivor” race, remember?! It simply means I was the fourth fastest woman who was too stubborn (stupid?) to stop running.
I went home scratched, sunburned, sore, bruised, extremely muddy, and totally exhilarated. Comfort zones are for wimps.
Truth be told, I have enjoyed telling my running “story” up until this point. Unfortunately, it also made me wonder if I had already experienced the most gratifying part of Boston- overcoming self doubt and learning what I was capable of in qualifying alone. No offense to Chinese Proverb, but whoever said “the journey is the reward” never ran Boston…
Trey and I arrived in Boston on Sunday morning. “Marathon Monday” is held on Patriots' Day, a public holiday celebrated in Massachusetts. Since the trip was short, it was important for me to spend time with friends and visiting family. Heather, Jack, and Amanda helped make this possible by fighting the expo crowds to pick up my bib/chip/shirt/goodies the day prior. Trey and I made our first stop at their “marathon brunch”, where the three of them made me feel like an absolute celebrity.
After a great walk around Boston Common and Public Garden, Mom joined Trey and I for a pre-race dinner. I wasn’t thinking too much about the race, but must have been overly excited at some level because I could not fall asleep! Two hours after lying down and assisted by 4 Tylenol PM, I finally got some shut eye!
On race day, Trey and Mom woke up early to walk me to my 6 am bus. Some marathons, like Chicago or Marine Corps, start and end at the same place. Boston, by contrast, is a point-to-point marathon- race; organizers must get all 26,000 runners to the starting line in Hopkinton for the run into downtown Boston.
Although I snagged a position in the first wave, I was in the 12th corral and waited 9 full minutes to even cross the starting line. I knew that the first four miles dropped downhill very quickly and tried to settle into a steady pace but still ending up a bit too fast with 51:05 at the 10K mark.
I have often said I don’t need spectators during a race but part of what makes Boston so special is the tremendous crowd support that exists all along the course. Even though it runs mostly through smaller, less populated areas before ending downtown, spectators turn out in ridiculous numbers on race day. Bands played from porches, parking lots, and chalked sidewalks. Oranges, vaseline, and water were available in every other outstretched hand. Balloons and motivational signs were everywhere. Residents of Hopkinton, Ashland, and Framingham greeted us with food, drink, high fives, and even invited us to autograph shirts! Kids lined the course with their hands out, begging for high fives. Despite the good advice of a fellow Maniac to reserve energy, I left no hand untouched.
My favorite part? Spectators not only recognized the “Suz” on my arms and shirt, they used it the entire race. I’m still not sure if it was the ease of a single syllable or my thumbs up reaction, but they shouted “SOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOZZZE” and “SU-SU-SU-SU-SUZ!” so often that other runners around me commented on it! I even got a few “Go Suzz” (rhymes with “fuzz”), which I acknowledged and enjoyed.
It's always encouraging to see people you know, and knowing where to look for them gives you a goal that helps break the race into more manageable segments. Seeing Amanda, Heather, and Jack at mile 10 gave me an amazing boost- they even had signs for me that “honored” our college days! High on the feeling of seeing my friends, the next couple of miles flew by.
Prior to arriving, I had read about “scream tunnel” at Wellesley College, whose students offered what was supposed to be the best support along the course with an almost deafening, high energy “wall of sound”. The skeptic in me had to wonder whether the students actually provide this kind of volume for the entire race…hearing them just before the 12 mile mark (knowing they were physically at mile 13) left no doubt that they do. By the time I reached the campus itself at the half (1:48:39), the sound was overwhelming. Other marathons have inspirational moments, but no other marathon experience comes close to this one: the noise is unreal.
The hills of Newton make Boston an especially challenging course. After pounding your quads by running downhill during the earlier miles (don't be fooled- it is hard work) you now give your hamstrings and calves a beating as you climb the long, steep hills. The hills themselves aren't Pike’s Peak or anything, but placement on the course, at about 20 miles, poses an extraordinary challenge for even the best trained runners.
The energy of the crowds gave me a much-needed boost and, despite the increased gusts of wind, I felt strong and passed quite a few runners on the first and second hill. Even better, my 30K time was 2:46:39- proof that I had run a consistent race up until this point. Unfortunately, I thought there were only 3 hills in Newton. I know, what kind of marathon runner am I? Who puts the hammer down and charges up the third Newton hill thinking, “Oh, Heartbreak isn’t so bad! “? Pick me.
Since you have to qualify in order to run Boston, the field is not a random sample. These are all determined, experienced runners who ran very competitive qualifying times within the previous months. In short, these people are in excellent physical shape. Nevertheless, Heartbreak Hill exacts its punishment, and I was not the only runner to find myself panting and groaning up the half mile to the Boston College campus. However, I must admit that even during the race I was glad to be in pain at this specific point. I never imagined feeling good at this point in the race; if I had it would have meant one of two things: I had not worked hard enough up until that point or Heartbreak Hill was a bunch of hype. It was exactly how I wanted it to be- the worst part of the race.
Because it marks the beginning of the final mile of the marathon, the Citgo Sign is one of the most welcome landmarks on the Boston course. What I did not know at this point is the final mile is when you pass the sign- not when you see it. After a mile or so of thinking my Garmin was wrong, another runner told me to stop looking at the sign and instead just wait for the Sox fans, who would just be coming out of the game. High off of a win, they were as rowdy as I had hoped for (“Go SOOOOOOOOOOZZE!”) and before I knew it I really was at the final mile.
After the final turn onto Bolyston Street, I had no problem picking out the yellow and blue finish line spanning the street. Spectators lined up several people deep to watch and encourage the finishers and I squeezed every remaining bit of energy I had to cross the finish at 3:42:13. This was my 19th marathon and state- hands down the best “reward” I have earned in my running journey.