Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Ave of the Giants

I went into the Avenue of the Giants expecting to use it as a Boston qualifying race. I knew that the course would be beautiful, and the course profile made it look like a good race for an attempt. Two different out-and-backs with some rollers on a Redwood-lined street – sounded good to me!

I trained hard, and I made a pretty good comeback after last year’s bike accident debacle and Ironman Arizona. I had felt pretty sluggish for a while, but after a great race at Kaiser (1:41 out of nowhere!), I was feeling confident. I cut back a little bit on my running during the week, relying mostly on my Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday runs to get me through. This was definitely different from what I’ve done for past marathons. This time around, I usually substituted a spin class for my Wednesday runs, I rarely made it out of bed for my Monday runs, and I hardly did any tempo runs, but it left me feeling just about right physically, so I was confident that I was listening to my body and doing the right thing. My two 24-mile runs felt great, and the Yasso workout was good too, which made me feel even better. I had a tweaky hamstring in the peak week, but it soon subsided, and I had a good taper. I didn’t even get that annoying bloated feeling during taper, which made me feel like I was in dang good shape come race day.

Denise and I headed up to Humboldt County on Saturday morning. We made a few stops along the way – first to pick up some bagels for race day, then at the Petaluma Outlets (I can’t have a road trip with Denise without stopping by at least one outlet mall!), and in Ukiah for lunch at Subway. We got to the packet pickup at around 4:00pm, and we were done at about 4:02.

At the expo

There was really nothing at the expo except for bibs and shirts, so we grabbed our stuff and decided that instead of sitting in our motel in Garberville all afternoon/evening, that we would go up to Eureka and have dinner. Surely there must be an Olive Garden there, right? Ha. Right. We made a quick trip to the saddest mall either of us has ever seen (to look for a long-sleeved running shirt) and then we managed to find an Italian restaurant. It was surprisingly good for as sketchy as the town looks, so we were pleasantly surprised, but we really couldn’t get out of Eureka fast enough. We made a quick trip to the natural food store (the highlight of our trip to Eureka), and then we headed back down to Garberville to rest for the evening.

The motel was…interesting. It was clean (and it had a flatscreen TV, though I think they could have found a better way to upgrade the room!), but it was old and kind of sad looking. The lock on the door wasn’t all that secure either, but we were practically in the forest, so at least it was better than a tent. Okay, so it wasn’t that bad, and it was cheap! We settled in, set up our stuff for the morning, and got ready for bed. We watched Meet the Fockers, and then promptly turned out the light at 10:00pm.

The alarm went off at 6:00am, and we hit the snooze a couple of times. We were both surprised at how well we had slept – 8 solid hours of sleep the night before a race was a record for both of us! We quickly got ready and packed everything into the car, I made some coffee, and we headed off to the race start, about 30 minutes away. As we were driving to the start, just less than an hour before the race, we were a little weirded out at how little traffic there was. Once we got onto the Avenue of the Giants, we found some more cars, but still nothing like we’re used to seeing at other races. We parked in the big gravel area down by the river, and headed up to the registration area to get another safety pin for Denise, and, like good marathoners do, we got right in the Port-A-Potty line. I think we maybe stood in line for two minutes. Definitely a record. We walked around for a minute, got back in line, and again, we made it through in just a couple of minutes. This was just too easy. Everything seemed to be going our way. So we walked over toward the start. We still had about 10 minutes left, and we decided to go to the bathroom one more time (pre-race jitters). Even the Port-A-Potties right next to the start had NO line! Any other race, and there would have been 50 people standing there! So we got to the start line with about 5 minutes to spare. Star Spangled Banner, lined up, chatted with a few other people, 15 seconds to go, and we were off!

It was the weirdest marathon start I’ve experienced. No anticipation, no hum of the crowd, no excitement. Just totally laid back. For the first few miles, we chatted with Cindy (from Montana) and Danielle (from Colorado), who were both trying to stick with us. We met another woman who needed a 3:50 to qualify, so she decided to run with us for a while too. That was about it. A few people passed us, and we passed a few others, but that was our little group. We kept a pretty even pace for the first few miles. We were just a few seconds ahead on each mile, and I kept a close watch on the pace. Denise and I also made sure to run the tangents to avoid wasting any energy on unnecessary mileage. We chatted with the other ladies, and just chugged along, feeling pretty good. Until mile 5. Denise’s stomach started to bother her - maybe from the ERG/Vitalyte on-course drink? We’re not sure what it was. She decided, at about mile 6, that she would drop back, hoping that the cramp would subside and that she could catch back up. Unfortunately, it never did, and she dealt with stomach cramps for the rest of the race. Ugh.

She waved me on, and I stuck with the three other women that we had been running with. We cheered on Danielle’s boyfriend Mason and Cindy’s sister Cami at the turnaround, and at about mile 7 Danielle complained that her knees were really bothering her. Within the next mile or two, she started to fall back as well, leaving me and the other two women. We stuck together until about mile 11. We passed all of the half marathoners coming the other direction, which was a nice boost. They all kept cheering for our little group of ladies because I think it was obvious we were on a mission. I was already a little bit ahead of pace going downhill (I was surprised at how much downhill we had on the return of the first out-and-back because the first half of that leg didn’t seem uphill at all!), and they were just a little bit ahead of my pace, so I let them go ahead of me, thinking I would just try to keep them close. I had built up a 20-30 second cushion, so I felt pretty good. However, I think I made a mistake in waiting too long to eat my second Gu at this point. I finally gave in and took it without any water somewhere just before the half.

I was booking it when I hit the halfway mark, but I was starting to be a little bit concerned. It was feeling a little bit harder than I wanted it to at that point, and Cindy and the other woman were pulling farther away. I figure I ran the last 15 miles of the race by myself. Not exactly what I had planned. I rounded the corner to the cheers of the crowd, and headed over the bridge. Come to think of it, I don’t even remember it feeling like a hill, thanks to the little burst of crowd support. I really should have savored that moment a little longer because that was the last crowd I was going to see for a long time.

As I headed into the really gorgeous part of the Redwood forest, it got quiet. There were very few runners for the next mile or so, and then I came upon the 10k runners. Thank God for them. They at least kept me on pace for a while. I was struggling hard, watching Cindy off in the distance, and trying desperately to stay calm and to keep an eye on my pace. It didn’t help that my current pace kept jumping all over the place – not very good satellite reception in the middle of all those big trees!

Redwoods are pretty, but are not a Garmin's best friend!

Long story short, I didn’t let myself give up until I was well over one minute off of Boston qualifying time. I factored in that extra 59 seconds, and even added a few more, but I knew that at mile 17 with absolutely no cushion, running all by myself, there was no way I was going to be able to hold my pace for another 9 miles. I had already been losing speed, and would continue to do so for the rest of the race. There was a surprising amount of downhill in the race, and Denise and I both agreed that we would have preferred more flat or uphill – our quads were pretty trashed!

On my own just after mile 20

So somewhere around the 20 mile mark, when I saw Denise at the turnaround, she told me that she had decided to just enjoy it once she knew she wasn’t going to qualify. I did my best to do the same – it was a gorgeous, sunny day, and the trees were pretty amazing. I just wish that I had gone into this race to enjoy the scenery instead of trying to race it. I think I would have enjoyed it a lot more! I stopped to stretch a few times, took some watermelon from one of the aid stations (it was mile 23.6, and it looked so freaking good – I didn’t even care what it did to my stomach at that point!), and tried my best to pick people off (or at least hold them off). I kept leapfrogging this one guy for the longest time – he drove me nuts because the sole was coming off of his shoe, and with every step, it would slap against the ground. I kinda wanted to punch him (so I could grab his foot and pull the sole the rest of the way off of his shoe, of course)! Ah, the things we think about at mile 24 of a marathon. :)

So anyway, the biggest hill in the course is at mile 25, and I owned that thing. I probably wasn’t going all that fast, but all that matters is that I was going way faster than the people around me. I did my best to kick it into gear on the downhill that followed, and to keep it up through to the finish. One last little stretch through the Redwoods, over the bridge, and around the corner to the finish. Thank God it’s over. 3:55:36. Not bad, but not anywhere near the 3:40 I was looking for. I wanted to cry, but mostly because I hurt, and because I was relieved to be done, not because I missed my BQ.

This race in particular required some serious willpower. After I lost the ladies, I was alone. Like really alone. A-L-O-N-E. There were only 436 marathoners, and I’m used to at least ten times that many (plus 15,000 half marathoners and a ton of spectators!). In most other circumstances, I probably would have gone down a deep dark I-failed-to-qualify-yet-again spiral, but amazingly enough, that didn’t happen. I was hurting, but I stayed positive for the whole race. No self-trash-talking, no feelings of despair. I just kept plugging along, one foot in front of the other. I knew that if I let myself go there, I wouldn’t come back out, and so I just focused on getting my tired legs to the finish line. I shoved that thought so far into the back of my brain that I still don’t think it’s hit me.

After I finished, I got some water and hung out on the sidelines to wait for Denise. I cheered for Danielle, the first-time marathoner that we had been running with at the beginning, and I did my best not to whimper and whine about how badly my legs were hurting. I wanted to sit, but once I did, I knew I had to get back up ASAP if I wanted to be able to walk again. I paced up and down the finisher’s chute until I finally saw Denise coming across the bridge, and I cheered her on through the finish line.

It was a weird day for both of us. We’re not really sure what happened. Everything was perfect, but for some reason we just couldn’t pull it off. Maybe it’s because we’re used to big marathons. Maybe it’s because we were both running alone for so much of the race. Maybe it’s because of the drink they had on the course. Maybe it’s because we didn’t do enough cross training, or tempo, or whatever. Maybe it’s because we spent so much time in the car the day before the race. There are a million maybes, and we can’t figure it out.

We stopped back at our hotel to shower, and then we got back on the road as soon as we could. We stopped a couple of times for food and for coffee, though neither of us was really that hungry. We were both really disappointed, but we were just kind of in a haze, indifferent to pretty much everything. The ride home was really quiet. Even now, the next day, I feel like yesterday’s race was a dream. The only thing that makes it real is the soreness in my legs and a few vague flashes of running through the Redwoods.

So I’m going to take a few days off, get it together, and see if I can figure out what went wrong. Then I’ll pick myself up, dust myself off, and try it again.