Running this full marathon, as opposed to the half, felt very risky. Honestly, all fall, I was telling people that I may or may not do the full, depending upon whether I actually got my long runs in. Well, I didn’t do any long runs, and still went with the full, and it went VERY well for my utter lack of training and mileage, and general insanity involved in this fall. (We will get to that in just a bit.)
Below: 1) the sky on the drive to SC, 2) pre-race yoga, 3) packet pickup, 4) race day gear ready to go.
I only actually decided on Wednesday Dec. 7 to commit to the full, instead of the half. This was the last day I could have changed my race online. Though you can still change your race at packet pickup, I very much didn’t want to do that. On Monday of last week, I was feeling a little anxious about actually figuring out what race I would even be doing: I wanted to figure this out to mentally gear myself up for whatever race it was. Phillip had already told me he thought I should do the half. If I went with the half, I wanted to PR and break 1:20. If I went with the full, I still wanted to PR, but also faced the very real possibility that I might implode at some point past mile 16, as I hadn’t run further than that for all of 2016. (This was, as I deemed it earlier, “The Year of the Half Marathon”…I’ve raced 10 of them this calendar year.) I didn’t want to unhappily drive home from Kiawah having missed my sub-1:20 or having run an above 3:00 marathon. I looked back at the training log from fall of 2015, and saw I had only actually run three 15 mile long runs between the Steamtown Marathon in October, and CIM eight weeks later in December. Of course, I had a bigger LR base from Steamtown that I figured probably helped me come my final December 2015 ‘thon.
Anyways, at some point, I decided, what the heck, let’s do this thing. My mom was helpful in pointing out that at least this would give me more marathon experience, which might help for my long-term goals over that distance. On one hand, this all made me a little more relaxed, because, hey, I didn’t even train for this! On the other hand, this all made me a little more nervous, because, sweet Jesus, what did I think I was doing trying to run a full? A few other points that led me to choose 26.2 over 13.1: 1.) my training hasn’t been horrible—just lacking in long runs, 2.) I’d get a bigger break, perfectly timed for colder weather, 3.) the weather for race day itself looked great.
This fall has been more busy than normal—you don’t know how much work, planning, communication, and coordination is involved in designing and producing your own clothing line until you actually do it. This has just been a “side project” along with my full-time job teaching writing and literature at UVa, working a freelance gig on the side of that, teaching yoga and spin classes, planning a wedding (did most of that in the summer-phew! Good planning, self!), running a growing RLY, and trying to run decently fast and train. So, at the risk of sounding like I am bragging, I’m going to give myself a BIG PAT ON THE BACK because I am very proud of / can’t believe I just pulled off a PR in the marathon.
The Saturday before Kiawah, I had raced a 5k and felt kind of horrible. This certainly wasn't a good confidence booster heading into marathon week, but I talked myself into thinking this was a result of grading 36 long papers and getting not that much sleep that week. For marathon week itself, I tried to give myself as big of a mental break as I could and get more sleep.
MY TRAINING THIS FALL:
From August 1 to the week of Nov. 28 (the week before the week of the race), I averaged 32.1 miles. I raced 4 half marathons, all of which I also ran a short warmup and cooldown to get around 16 miles total. For my last half (the Richmond half), I also raced a 10k the next day in an effort to make this count as a longer long run. (Maybe it worked?) Besides this, I think I ran one 10 mile LR—this was on Sunday Nov. 20 with my new running buddy Courtney, who I normally run with every Wednesday now.
Training for and racing a marathon requires a great support system. On the drive down to SC, I told Phillip how thankful I was for him coming with me and for having a new friend to run with in Courtney. He replied with something along the lines of "you're the one running 26 miles, not me"--I still think that even knowing you have people out there supporting you, whether this is someone waiting for a gel for you out on the course, or a friend to laugh with on runs, is so key to success.
THE RACE ITSELF:
Before this, I would readily admit that I don’t even really like marathons. I thought they were too long, you feel like your whole body just might break at some point over those last 6 miles, recovery takes forever, and it takes too long to get back to racing.
This race may have changed my mind. I actually never really hit a wall, and felt relatively good the entire time. According to my Garmin, I actually ran the last half mile as my fastest one in the entire race. (See pace chart below.) Phillip also commented that I looked actually good the whole time, instead of like I was going to collapse sometime in the last 5-6 miles.
I took this race out in a 6:44.1, and my average pace was a 6:44.6. I have, over my lifetime of running, always more naturally been a distance than a speed girl. I also tend to get “locked into” a pace. (Looking back at CIM, I had wanted to drop my pace down over the first three miles, but similarly got “stuck” at whatever pace I started at.) For my next marathon, I think I will—as always—be very very careful to not begin too fast, but I also may just click right into whatever my overall goal pace is. For me at least, this seems to work. My fastest mile was a 6:27.6 at mile 10, and my slowest was a 7:07.2 at mile 25.
During the race, I just tried to stay very relaxed. When you get to mile 10, you have 16 miles to go…. That’s quite a ways to run still. It was immensely helpful to know Phillip would be out there and that I’d get to see somebody. I also greatly enjoyed the change of the marathon course from previous years. Early on (I believe until 2011), the marathon course was simply the half course run twice. I thankfully never had to do this, which sounds unpleasant. From 2012 to 2015, the full course covered different territory than the half for the back end of the race, but unfortunately, this meant:
1.) You had to make approximately 5 U-turns in the last third of the race. These were painful and somehow demoralizing.
2.) You were in utter no man’s land, running alone, for a good portion of the second half.
3.) The last 3 miles followed a golf cart path which included curbs to step up/down. (No further comment needed on that.)
This year, the course changed to eliminate the U-turns! This was also one point in favor of choosing the full over the half! One point of annoyance was that the course does merge with the half course, so the fast 26.2 runners literally run into the 13.1 walkers, many of whom were being quite leisurely about the whole experience and were wearing headphones or walking three abreast. (I was almost taken out by a woman stretching out her arms to their greatest length to take a photo of her mile 11 sign.) So, that was frustrating, but it also gave me something to be annoyed at to distract myself from the possible pain of running 10 miles further than I had all year. I just wanted to be past these people! The ending 5-7 miles were much more visually interesting than those previously part of the course, as the new route wraps around the Sanctuary Hotel, loops around a neighborhood of pretty houses, and is generally more entertaining than running a straight golf cart path with curbs! I actually enjoyed this section!
While running, I first just tried to zone out and stay calm for the first few miles. I later divided the course into segments—get to Phillip at mile 6 so I could toss my half zip upper layer and grab a GU, get to mile 12, get to 17, get to 20, etc.
TIMING: GOING FOR PRs
I knew my PR of 2:57:17 from CIM was 6:45 pace so I kept eyeing my Garmin to stay on track to PR. I knew I was in the range of a 2:56 of some kind heading into the last 6 miles, as long as I didn’t crack and start running 7:30s or something. I also knew the first place girl was not too far ahead, so if she cracked I could get her. I ran 7:04, 7:01, and 7:07 for miles 23, 24, and 25. I knew I was still okay as I had enough miles racked up in the 6:30-something range to still PR. My last mile was a 6:50.3, and my Garmin had me as sprinting into the finish at a 5:47 pace (see chart to the right with the steep peak upward at the end).
Officially, by the clock, I was a 2:57:25 (:08 off my PR)—as I headed into the finish, my first thought on seeing the clock was that it had to be wrong, since it was already a 2:57, and I was going faster than ever rather than dying. My Garmin also had the whole course as 26.3; I assume the course didn’t quite take into account the windy golf cart paths we covered that parallel the road, and which are definitely a little longer than the road, so I’d be willing to bet the whole course is just a teeny bit too long. (This may sound like I’m going to great lengths to give myself a PR, but I KNEW I was on track for it during the whole race!)
I was a 2:55:40 at exactly 26.0. Covering the last 0.2 in 5:47 pace (which my Garmin says I did) adds another 1:09 to give a 2:56:49 total.
Alternative calculation: if I maintained my average pace of 6:45.411 from the first 26.0 for the last 0.2, that still gives a 2:57:09, which is still a :08 PR--though I know I was very much faster than my average pace at the very end.
As I was at a full-fledged sprint for the last quarter mile, this race equates to a PR, even if the official time doesn’t show it. Regardless, I am so happy, relieved, and grateful to have had this marathon experience go so well! This definitely won’t be the last marathon I run—this race showed me that this distance can actually be a lot of fun!
Below: slideshow of just a few of the post-race adventures around Charleston.