With a Little Help From My Friends

All week I've had trouble answering the, "how did your marathon go?" question. The Amica Marathon in Newport, Rhode Island was routed along a gorgeous course. Add to that perfect weather, great volunteers at well stocked aid stations, and enthusiastic spectators. Total recipe for a PR. My performance sucked. 

Why is this recap is tardy? I've been wallowing in my own pity party. Silly. When I actually began writing, a positive takeaway was blatantly obvious: this race was about friendship and shared camaraderie between runners. Here's what I mean...
Expo day- the wind had already started!

I chose this marathon because a friend from college, Jack, was running his first half there. Jack’s wife Heather and I were in the same sorority and lived together post college/pre-husband(s). I was even a bridesmaid in their wedding back in 2008! Nothing against the good folks of Rhode Island, but this was one where I really didn’t care. Enjoying the company of friends made it a great reason to knock out a needed state. As an added bonus, my friend “Super Suz” (of superhero fame in West Virginia) was running the half as her second in a double weekend and volunteered to be my roommate!

Whether they’ve been at it for many years or only a few months, runners always have a lot of shared thoughts and experiences. Jack, Suz, and I were no different and enjoyed fantastic conversation during our pre-race dinner. A 50 stater herself, Suz has some of the best running stories and her animated delivery had me laughing all night. You should have seen the look on her face when Jack called our room before bed and asked (in frantic ohmigosh-I-can’t-believe-I’m-running-13.1-miles mode), “When do you grease your nipples?!” 

After my favorite race morning breakfast of peanut butter and banana sandwiches (the only time it's advatageous to eat quick buring white bread and I love every bite of it!), Heather saved us a good 45 minutes by dropping us off, allowing us to bypass the shuttle to the starting line. This was one of many helpful things she did over the weekend that made the experience much better. Any runner can attest to the importance of having a good support person; it goes far beyond standing at a specific mile marker and throwing a fist pump or two.

Post freak out on Jack when he called my favorite Lululemon spray dye shorts "dirty looking" (come ON!), we ran into Dane Rauschenberg. With a running resume that includes 52 marathons in 52 weeks and competing in a 200 mile relay as an individual, Dane has every reason to go all elitist on us, yet remains extremely humble and approachable. Even though Dane had an achilles injury and was debating whether he'd even run himself, he shared confidence boosters and words of motivation when Jack admit to being "nervous as shit". That's a runner for ya- totally unselfish, helpful, and positive. 

Since the half and full runners began together, I was able to line up and start with Jack. The course ran along the rocky coast and by the famous Newport mansions; it was a beautiful setting. Cue "Take My Breath Away" (but not the Jessica Simpson version).
...watching in slow motion as you turn around and say...
Somewhere during mile 4, I (literally!) ran into Shannon Hays, who was running marathon #2 in a double weekend. Shannon and I ran New Hampshire together a couple of weeks prior and she quickly became my new girl crush. We fell back into 8:20 minute miles alongside catch up and constant conversation. Some people think talking during a race wastes too much energy but I disagree. I'm the type who will use a ton of mental reserves worring about my target pace and what-iffing each split to death; conversation is a pleasant dissociation and keeps my active mind occupied. Our 10K time was just under 47 minutes.

Just before the half marathon point, our duo became a trio. I liked Laura when I saw she had a glittery pink bow in her hair. I loved Laura when she shared that she was running her very first marathon. While most people would just want to cross the finish line, she was aiming for a sub 4 hour because a coworker had achieved that time and she "just had to beat it". Feminine and competitive? A girl after my own heart.

This was a figure 8 sort of course, setting us up to run alongside the finishing half marathoners. Mentally, it can be tough to hear "you're almost done!" from spectators and then watch others run through the finish, receive their medals, hug friends and family, etc...all with the understanding you still have 13.1 miles to go. I experienced this during my first marathon; Laura "took" it much better than I did. Her focus was contagious even when we made a turn into a nasty headwind just after the half marathon mark at 1:49. If you're open to it, you can always learn from other runners, no matter the experience level.
Calling us "chatty" is an understatement.

It's okay to have more than one girl crush, right?!

Here's where it got tough. The wind WOULD NOT STOP and we slowed to 8:30-8:40 minute miles. Gatorade hadn't appeared until mile 8 and gels weren't distributed until 15. Not that either of those was my main fueling concern; the 2 weeks leading up to this race were over Trey's leave from Afghanistan and our eating habits left a lot to be desired. There was that one night with the bottle of merlot + cupcakes and brownies for dinner...yeah. As my trainer Phil in DC used to say, "you can't out-train a crap diet".

Shannon was incredibly encouraging, reminding me that the second 10 miles were the "focus miles" and even identified visual cues during hills- "See that mailbox? That's your target. Don't worry about anything else except getting to the mailbox. Great, you made the mailbox. Now see that road sign? Don't worry about anything else.." type talk. It was really helpful and, 30+ sub 4 hour marathons aside, I can tell why she made a fantastic cross country coach a few years ago.
Looking happier than I felt in the late miles.
Unfortunately, I was reduced to a walk at mile 19 as my teammates soldiered on. It's odd because I've been in a position where I feel like there's nothing in the tank a bajillion times and am usually able to break through with a combination of positive self talk and mental games...not the case on this day. Even seeing the most enthusiastic Marathon Maniac, Dave Mari, on the course didn't help my legs snap out of it. If you peek at my Garmin splits, it looks like a completely different person was wearing the watch during the last 7 miles. I went from a consistent 8:10-8:40 range to 10+ minute miles. I had to reset it at miles 20, 22, and 24 because my mind simply couldn't take having more than 2 miles to go at a time. Nothing like seeing your 5K time on a 2 mile segment.

I finished in 3:49:53- still a sub 4 hour and far from a PW (personal worst), but nowhere near the performance I was hoping for. Frustrated as I was, those feelings quickly quickly vanished when reconnected with fellow runners: Jack was still smiling after his successful first ever half, Suz collected more funny race day stories to tell, Dane had finished all 26.2 miles despite injury, Shannon secured a time faster than her previous day's marathon, and Laura had a full 11 minutes to hold over her 4 hour finisher/coworker's head. These are the things I'm going to remember when you ask me about this race in a few years, not my time.
The shorts are patterned, not dirty!
Running is my partner in good health. Running is my coping technique for Trey's deployment. Running provides an outlet to test my limits and improve my self confidence. Running is my platform for daily prayer and time with God. Running introduces me to new cities and towns as I have traveled for work or moved to new Army posts. Running allows me to connect with nature.  Running has introduced me to and kept me involved with some of the best people I have ever met. Thanks for the reminder, state #32!

Hampton Rockfest 26.2 (Mother Nature: 1, Suz: 0)

This race was dedicated to Erin- even if you can't SEE it through wind and rain, your finish line is there.

You can control a number of things going into a race: your training inputs, willingness to manage time and work hard, as well as your attitude. Out of your control? The weather. Now, I have experience running in less than ideal conditions: snow in Delawarewind in Nevada and heat in Pennsylvania; however, in 30+ marathons and ultras, I've never encountered pouring rain on race day. There's a first time for everything...

Trey is on mid-tour leave and agreed to accompany me to earn my New Hampshire at the Hampton Rockfest Marathon. During the drive east, the rain was nonstop. Rose colored glasses gal at heart, I was convinced it would stop before 9 am and didn't really stress. This was, after all, a training run for JFK50; however, nobody in their right mind wants to run for a few hours in a downpour. 

Prior to the race, I had asked the folks at Loco Racing if they could recognize Trey for his military service at some point during the starting festivities. They exceeded my expectations by insisting that he serve as the "Official Race Marshall", giving runners the cue to begin at the starting line.  With experience in a number of ceremonies with the Air Force Honor Guard, including introducing the President, Trey brought his narrator voice A-game and gave us a deep, hearty "Runners on your mark, GO!"  No "get set"- always keeping us on our toes, that's Trey.

The rain let up a little during the first couple of miles and turned into more of a mist, which felt nice. A Garmin error turned right just before mile 2 assisted in finding fellow Marathon Maniac Shannon, who has positioned herself to become the youngest female to finish all 50 states in sub 4 hours. Both of us uber chatty, we talked about the given- training, races, running goals, career, family, friends, and boys. We also dove into more serious topics, shared life's highs and lows, and discussed living in the moment since things can change so quickly. Alongside great conversation, we shared a steady 8:30/mile pace for the next 14 miles.

I have always enjoyed the camaraderie shared among other female runners in the marathon community, but something that struck me additionally about my new found running partner was her positivity. There we were in slippery conditions, miserable cold wind, and occasional bouts of heavy rain- Shannon was a ray of sunshine who had me smiling and laughing. Oprah Winfrey was right on when she said, "Surround yourself with only with people who are going to lift you higher"!

The thing about a marathon is, you'll always question your ability to finish at some point. It will never be smooth sailing. I guess that's what I enjoy about the distance- you can count on it for a challenge. Mile 18 was my gut check.

Shannon, who would finish a couple of minutes before me for her 15th sub 4 of the year, and I had separated after the only major hill of the race just before mile 17. "Hill" is giving it a lot of credit, too...more like "incline". This race was relatively flat, which you'd think would be fantastic; however, using the same muscles over and over again is much more painful in the late miles as compared to a course with more variety. My hips and lower back were throbbing. Adding insult to injury, it started pouring rain. The painful, b-word slap you in the face sort of rain. Shoes and socks were soaked and felt like they were 5 pounds each. No music because my Mp3 player had shorted out. I had to hold my arm over my eyes to block the wind and rain to see where I was going. This went on for about 6 miles so I mentally tapped sources of inspiration (looking at you, Erin) to continue.

Splish splashing into the final 2 miles, I was still maintaining an 8:30/mile pace and was comforted by the fact that I would achieve sub 4 hours for my 31st marathon state.  Crossing the line in 3:41:47, I earned 9th out of 93 women in my age group, top 5% female, and top 10% overall finishers. Mentally, I have now been down the "it's raining during the race" road and will be more confident when (not if- I have a lot of marathons left to go!) this happens again. The best part? Trey was waiting for me at the finish line!