Sunday, October 3, 2010

Freedom's Run Marathon - Oct 2, 2010

At 3:40 am, the alarm went off. I fumbled around trying to turn it off and just when I had success, the alarm on my cell phone went off. Okay, okay! I'm awake, but brrrr, it's cold outside. I don't know if I can remember how to dress for this type of weather. So I decide to wear knee length shorts, my knee high compression socks, and a short sleeve shirt with my arm sleeves. I slip a garbage bag into my drop bag and at about 4:30am head out the door. Since this is a point to point race, I have two choices - I can either park at the finish and take the shuttle to the start, or park at the start and take the shuttle back after the race. I opt to park at the start because I still need to pick up my race packet. The website says that late packet pickup is from 5:30-6:30am. I want to get there right at 5:30, just to make sure there are no issues. The problem is, the starting line is about 1/2 mile from the parking lot and the shuttles are not supposed to start until 6:00am. So I pack my headlamp as well, anticipating a dark, cold walk. However, when I pull into the parking area, the shuttles are already running. Yay.  When we get to the starting area, the bus driver doesn't know where he is going and we drive around the parking lot for a little while until he figures it out. Now to find the packet pickup. I see the table where it should be, but there is no one manning them! I realize I am a lot earlier than I need to be, as there are also only about 10 other runners there. The race director is running around, and says they are waiting for the t-shirts to arrive. So, while waiting, I decide to take advantage of the flush toilets and use the bathroom. It's even warm in there. I take my time:)

The t-shirts arrive and I get my bib and my race packet. I pin my bib onto my shirt - the timing chip is stuck to the back of the bib! First time I had seen that, but I was worried that sweat would cause it to fall off. Then, I put everything else, including the jacket I was wearing, into my drop bag and check it in. I could hear the race director telling the volunteers that they needed several vehicles to take the drop bags to the finish line. For some reason, I had an irrational fear of my bag getting left in the dark corner of someone's trunk. Putting my trash bag on, I wandered around, trying to stay warm. The photographer was on hand taking pictures of everyone's unique ways to keep warm, including me and my trash bag, and the guy with the disposable surgical gown.

I met Jill, who is from Berryville, and is an ultra-runner. We talked for a while, then I went to use the bathroom one last time. A guitar, fiddle, and wash-tub bass are playing live music. Finally, the sun was rising, and it was getting close to 7:00. At the start line, I talked with an older gentleman who said he had 9 more states to run before he had done a marathon in all 50 states. He had run 71 marathons in all. Somebody sang a rendition of The Battle Hymn of the Republic, and then we were off. I was in the back. I thought the chip timing would pick up when we crossed the start line, but there was no mat to cross, so the 30 seconds it took me to cross the start line were "lost" seconds. No big deal. The course looped through the parking lot (following the way the bus driver took) and then went out and down towards a small battlefield. My garmin was freaking out on me, and when I looked down, it had somehow turned itself off. I figured I had lost over 1/10th of a mile before I realized it. So I was guessing 1-2 minutes lost time that I would have to account for. This was the most congested part of the course. We were on a dirt trail, which was wide, but it was out and back so that there was really no room for passing unless you wanted to venture into the wet grass. In the field was set up a series on canons. It was very surreal, because the sun was beginning to burn off the fog and it gave the canons a dreamlike quality. At the turn around, there was a view of the river snaking between the mountains, the fog, and the sun glimmering off the fall foliage. But I didn't take time to gaze on its beauty. Anyway, back to the race. After we got off the trail we headed back to the start area, ran through the parking lot again and then headed down this huge hill! My first 2 miles were 9:35, 9:40, then when we hit the "hill", my split for mile 3 was 8:22. I love down hills, and I was passing people right and left. Of course, by the end of the day, most of them had passed me back. My goal for this race was to run the first half up tempo, try to hit the half close to the 2 hour mark, and then be more relaxed when I got to the hills in the battlefield. Realistically, when I came into the race, I knew my pace would be off. My runs hadn't been going that well, and my eating has been atrocious. So, I felt heavy and slow from the beginning. Miles 3 and 4 were the only miles that I really felt more on pace with where I should be (mile 4 9:05). We ran right through Historic Harper's Ferry. There was an aid station there which had not only water and gatorade, but also gels. Since I hadn't packed any at all (I know, poor planning) I grabbed one and stuck it in my pocket. There was also flush toilets here, if you needed them (I didn't). We ran up to the railroad bridge and crossed the Potomac River. The bridge was wet, so I took it easy. Here the first photographer of the race was set up. It should be an interesting shot. Then, we had to climb down the winding steps to the C&O. These I took slow.
(Mile 5 with the bridge and steps 10:08)

Now we were on the C&O canal and would be there for about 10 miles. The towpath is a packed dirt trail. It's pretty smooth and wide, especially in the first few miles where it gets a lot of traffic. It's also beautiful as you are following the Potomac River the whole way. The river was up because of the recent rain, and you could look out and see many people on the river in rafts, kayaks and canoes. Of course, I'm mostly looking down at the trail to avoid and unsuspecting roots and rocks. There were a few people who had battle wounds because of this. There were aid station every 3 miles or so and they were well stocked. They had gels, oranges, potato chips, peanuts, m&ms besides the water and gatorade. Since this was fairly flat, I should have been making better time, but I just wasn't feeling it and my pace from mile 6-10 varied from 9:52 to 10:35. I would walk through the aid stations and made sure I at least got something to drink.

At mile 10, my hamstrings started to tighten some. The trail was a little rockier in this section, but compared to the mountains it was great. I crossed the halfway point at around 2:11. Now I was trying to figure out what time I could finish the race in. At the start, I just wanted to finish. With the hills yet to come, I knew I would be slowing down considerably. So I set in my head to try and beat 5 hours. Just before mile 15, I noticed runners running down a little hill and they looked like they were running to the porta-potties. Boy, that's a lot of runners who have to go to the bathroom! As I got closer, I realized this was the turning point! The hills started immediately. Up, up and up we went. A group of girls were yelling and cheering for us. One of them was handing out pamphlets, but maybe they should have realized that in the middle of a race we don't really have time to stop and read it, or a place to put the pamphlet for reading later. But hey, we'll give them credit for trying. Up, and up and up. That's all I can say. There's another sign for a photographer ahead! Right at the top of the hill. Oh man! That means I need to start running again! We're running down a country road and it really is beautiful. Eventually, we turn into the Antietnam Battlefield. After a brief but steep down hill we head back up another long up hill. I'm trying to read the monuments and markers on the side of the road. "PA 9th Infantry." It really is a scenic run. Everybody is now taking walk breaks up the steeper hills. You try not to look too far ahead because you might get discouraged. At the top of another hill, there's a photographer again. This time I jokingly complain to them as I pass by. I mean, give us a break! They said I wasn't the first person to mention their "poor" choice of location. What I really "love" is the person who says, "Last hill ahead," and then there are 3 more miles of hills! At the mile 21 aid station there is a guy playing the bagpipes. I'm really tired and my legs really ache, but I see that I can still make 5 hrs if I just keep moving. It's still rolling hills but at least they aren't quite as steep and there is more down hill now. At mile 23, I decide I really need a potty break. This was my slowest mile at 15:19. There were also 3 llamas at this aid station. The only part I didn't like about this section was that we were running on the shoulder of the highway and traffic was not stopped. It was okay for most of the way, but sometimes the shoulder got really narrow. Also there were a lot of walkers walking two abreast on this section. I think they were half-marathoners, but there was no way to get around them except to go out into the road. With one mile to go, I knew I could make it if I could just keep my pace going. You ran down the hill to the river, crossed the bridge and then up to the football stadium. But there were too many people just milling around and I felt a little confused. Finally, at the top of the hill, I saw where I was supposed to turn into the stadium. Around the corner and onto the football field to the finish line. I looked up and saw that the 4 was still there, 4:56:36 to be exact. I had made it under 5 hrs. When I stopped, my legs just started aching something fierce. I grabbed a bottle of water and pretty much hobbled around until I found a chair and sat down. I think I didn't drink enough during the race. I lay on my back and put my legs on the chair, massaging and stretching them. I drank the water and took a couple of electrolyte tablets. Eventually, I could feel them relax. Now to find my bag, and the bus back to the start. Of course I had to walk back up the hill to get my bag, but as I approached the tent, they already had my bag in hand ready to give to me. "That's service!" I said, "Now, where is the bus?" Of course, he pointed up to the top of another hill. "You're killing me!" I whined. There, at the Bavarian Inn, I was able to get a nice commemorative pint glass, which I opted to leave empty instead of filling it with the complementary brew. The bus ride back to my car was enjoyable, because I was talking to several other runners about the different races I had run. Some of them were training for their first 50 miles, a new race, the Stone Mill 50 Mile Run in November. I told them I was considering it. The man sitting next to me was also going for 50 states, he had done 37 so far and was running the Rehobeth Beach marathon in December. That was another race I had just looked at. So I went from saying I was never running a marathon again, to seriously considering all these races I had just looked up for the remainder of the year. With the New Balance Movement Challenge, I have a chance to win some serious money for Teens Opposing Poverty. But I don't know if I can beat the leaders, even if I race every weekend between now and the New Year. It's something I need to pray about. But mostly I need to refocus my training and my nutrition. Philippians 3:13 says, "One thing I do: forgetting what is behind (especially past mistakes and failures), and straining toward what is ahead (focus!), I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. So that's what I'm going to do - Press on, move forward, Focus!