Monday, September 22, 2014

Race Report: Top of Utah Marathon

I left you a week ago with all the stats heading into race day: miles trained, race goals, mantra, everything. Over the course of the week I continued my preparations like clockwork. On Wednesday I transitioned into a carb-focused diet. On Thursday and Friday I took special care to hydrate and rest. On Friday, I left for Logan right after work. The 90 minute drive took 2 hours due to construction and traffic, getting me there just in time for dinner with a dear colleague and friend (frolleague? collend?) and her son, then they went with me to the expo to see what it was like (and, ok, yes, to keep me from getting lost). We stayed up until about 10 talking, after which I laid out everything for morning, emailed Mr. Joanna a picture of the spectator's guide I'd gotten in my packet, and went to bed.

I slept in fits, waking up at least 4 times before my alarm went off at 4:45am. I got up and went through the motions. I made my pre-race breakfast but couldn't eat it because my stomach was upset (this is normal for me when I get up super early), so I took it with me to eat on the bus, which my friend was so very nice to shuttle me to.

5:15am bagel & jelly
Arrival at the bus to take me to the start line, 5:30am
Once aboard the bus, I sat next to a woman who was doing the race as a training run in advance of her A Game marathon in a few weeks. After we talked for a few minutes, and I unsuccessfully tried to munch on my bagel some more, I closed my eyes. It's unusual for me, but I was having some motion sickness with the bus going up the canyon in the dark. Closing my eyes helped, and 14 miles later we pulled into Hardware Ranch.  Even in the pitch black, it was gorgeous. The stars were bright, a sliver of moon was out. And slowly, slowly, the sun started to lighten the horizon to the east.

I got through the port-a-potty-ing, stood in the warm tent for about 10 minutes, and saw my very fast neighbor, gave up on my bagel and gear checked my stuff, then lined up. I introduced myself to the pacers (who I knew I probably wouldn't run with), set my Garmin, and we were off.

The first 14 miles of the race headed down Blacksmith Fork Canyon were gorgeous. The leaves were changing colors, the sunrise cast these big dramatic shadows over the jagged rocks, and there was a breeze to our backs. Incidentally, we passed a road sign declaring the possible presence of cows for the next 10 miles. But despite it all, I just could not get myself to relax and just enjoy the morning. A few factors were working against me:

  • It took me about 9 miles to get into the groove of pacing on the downhill course. The downhill isn't constant, but is down, then levels out, then down, then levels out, and I'm not accustomed to that. I got there, but it took some time. Partly as a result of this,
  • I went out too fast. About 20 seconds faster than planned in the first mile, and 10 in the second, which was good because
  • Garmin error (where my Garmin reads the course longer than do the mile markers) was exaggerated in the canyon, I imagine because the road curved so much. And all of that is completely unrelated to the fact that,
  • My right eye duct was clogged, as sometimes happens when I run in cool weather, and I could not get my right eye to stop producing tears. Like, lots of tears. Finally, I pressed on the duct hard enough that it felt like my sinus passage (what? yeah, I don't know, I was bad a biology. That's what it felt like) opened, and the tears stopped. This took 8 miles. 
HOWEVER, my trusty pace bands kept me on track mile-to-mile, and I felt fine. I'd successfully Gu'ed at miles 6 and 12 and put a new Gu tablet in my water around mile 11. I'd ran with the pace group for a bit around mile 7, then passed them. When we exited the canyon at mile 14, I was only 40 seconds off of my 3:55 goal time pace band. 

Out of the canyon, I expected the rolling downhill to proceed until mile 18, but it felt like it leveled out a bit. The hills in miles 18 and 19 were pretty much exactly what I'd expected (I'd gone so far as to Google Map stalk them earlier in the week). It took the entire mile from 18 to 19 to ingest my third Gu, and I knew then that there would be no fourth Gu at mile 24. My friend came to cheer for me between mile markers 19 and 20 and snapped this action shot. At this point, I knew that my energy supply was not infinite, but I was feeling ok and was keeping pace with my per-mile target times just fine. 

I ran mile 21 in 8:55, and 22 in 9:07, right on pace. But by the time I'd hit mile marker 22, the miles seemed to be lingering forever on my Garmin. I was ready for a boost from my race crew, but I had at least a mile until I'd see them. That mile took me 9:26, and as such was the first mile where I really missed my goal time, by 13 seconds.

Mr. Joanna had told me to look out for him and our boys at mile 23, but when I got to mile marker 23 I knew there was no way they'd be there. It was in this very residential area with lots of streets closed to traffic, and it wasn't close enough to the downtown finish area for them to have walked. I knew mile 24 was more convenient, and figured that's what he'd meant.

But oh, was I tired. So, so tired. My quads were trashed. My feet hurt. My fuel was running low. I was over it all. And right there, right there, is where the mental element of training kicks in. I started reminding myself of how I'd sworn I'd dig deep when it got hard. And finally, and shockingly on pace, I got to the mile 24 marker, and there were my amazing boys, cheering their hearts out for me. I told Mr. Joanna that I was on track but without much of a cushion. He knew this already because I was a minute behind the 3:55 pacer, but I didn't know that until much later.

As much as my body, and even my brain, were putting on the brakes, I was at the ready to overcome them, begrudgingly. The distance was passing more and more slowly, and I knew that soon I would not be able to make myself go faster. This was my arsenal of mental tricks to power through:

  • I'd trained over 1000 miles for this. There was no chance in hell I'm letting go of my goal with [fill in the number] miles left. 
  • So what if my feet hurt? 
  • Remember how bitter that day in Cleveland was, and how long I've waited to vindicate myself at this distance. 
  • This, this right here, this running while exhausted, this is what I've trained for. This is why I've trained on tired legs. This is why I've trained 5 days a week. For this moment. For powering through when I'm spent. For this. Now. 
  • Turn off the brain, turn on auto pilot. My body can handle this. I've trained it to handle this. 
  • I have a small cushion. I can slow down if I absolutely have to. A little. A very little.  
I ran mile 25 about 20 seconds slower than my goal pace. At about 25.6 I saw my boys again. Please let me be done--keep pushing--I want to be done, I'm so tired--one foot in front of the other--less than a mile. All I could manage to say was, "I'm so close!" I finished out mile 26 about 15 seconds slower than my target pace. 

A few more turns and I found myself looking down the straightaway at the finish line, one turn sooner than I'd expected. I heard my boys before I saw them, twice actually, and I finally spotted them on the left, near the leading edge of the crowd of spectators. I high-fived Mr. Joanna and our older son--there was no way I wasn't going to share this with them--and barreled down, such as I could, to the finish. 

I crossed the line, stopped my Garmin, and yelled. I'd done it. I'd finished in under 4 hours. 

Garmin time: 3:56:16
Chip time: 3:56:13
Gender place: 65/309
Overall: 199/657

The uncontrollable rush of emotions and adrenaline came pouring over me. I recapped to my boys, tried not to cry, drank chocolate milk, and started to cool down and stretch. I was incredulous, but I'd really done it. 

Finally, we headed back to my friend's to have lunch, hang out, and pick up my things, then head home. I'm writing this on Sunday night and I'm sore as anything, but wouldn't trade it for the world. What an experience. Thank you all for following my journey!


Anonymous said...

Way to go Joanna! From the Frolleague! :-)

Jodi H said...

I loved reading this! So proud of you! Way to push through to reach that goal!!