Race #2 of 4 in the Grand Slam: COMPLETED! Two down, two to go!
The theme for the marathon this year was, “WHY IS IT SO HOT GUYS?” Huntsville was experiencing record highs for this time of year during the race, and boy, did everyone feel it. When I arrived down town at 5:30am it was already in the high 60s and the sun wasn’t even up yet! I didn’t let myself think about it though, because this race day was all about the Fleet Feet Marathon Training Group and making sure all my people in it had the BEST race possible. I spent all of the pre-race time hanging out in the hotel room that the training group had, which was really nice because it meant I didn’t have to be on my feet all morning, instead I got to chill out on a comfy couch! When it was finally time to make our way down to the race start, it struck me just how weird it was to be wearing a tank top and be surrounded by all the Christmas décor that was spread around down town near the race start. Thanks, GLOBAL WARMING!
(Photos by We Run Huntsville)
I walked with Kathy, Colisa, Melissa, and Rena (the four ladies I have spent the most time with as a part of the training group), and we placed ourselves just behind the 5:25 pacer in the start corral. We were EXCITED, and I remember them saying “It’s finally here! We are doing this! Exactly how I felt at the start line of my first marathon 🙂 After listening to all the usual pre-race announcements and the National Anthem, we were OFF! YIPPEE! It’s marathon time! I gave a gentle reminder to my ladies to not go out too fast, “Don’t get caught up in the crowd, we will most likely see most of these people again later!”
The course for this marathon is essentially two loops, giving you all the best of Huntsville. First you leave down town and head East towards Five Points and the historic district, where you see tons of beautiful , giant, old, rich people houses and also lots of cool, funky, more hipster-y areas of town. Our race strategy was to use intervals, run 4 minutes, walk 1. The ladies stuck to the plan beautifully, and we enjoyed the early miles as they flew by. The best thing about this race are the spirit teams. There are several spots on the course where you can sign up to have a spirit team, and all of them compete to be the best one. Needless to say, we saw some awesome cheering in these sections. My favorite was the drum line/cheer leader team near the first school we ran by, they were SO energetic and happy! Since we were running through residential streets, there were also tons of people out in their yards watching us go by and cheering us on. My favorite part was all the people who were standing on their porch, not cheering or anything, just staring as us with a confused look as we passed. I like to imagine that they were just out there to watch the freak show of people who run 26.2 miles for fun.
I was trying out a new nutrition plan for this race as I’m trying to nail down the perfect strategy for the last and hardest race in the Grand Slam series, which will be in January. I’ve been struggling with nausea a little past the 4+ hour mark at my races and so I’ve been testing a few new things. I used EFS in my pack for hydration and ate half a pack of Skratch chews every ~50 minutes or so. It seemed to work decently but I think I need to go for less sugar next time and eat something salty rather than a chew or fruit like I’ve been doing. We passed the 10k mark at 1:18:04 (12:33 min/mi avg), which was good time and exactly on target for staying well ahead of the cut off time (6 hours). I first got to see my wonderful mom and little sister, Roo, at mile 9. As per usual, I heard them before I saw them with a loud, “CHEL-SEEEEEEA!!!!” They are seriously the best crew and cheering section I could ever ask for– I love seeing their beautiful, bright faces along the way.
Around that point our little group started to slow just a little, but I knew we could still stay ahead of the cut off. The race still continues to give medals to people past the cut off time (at least to a certain point), however you name isn’t on the official results. Since I am doing the Grand Slam I knew I HAD to be on the results, otherwise my race wouldn’t count for the Slam. So I kept a good eye on the time and was always careful to do the best mental math I was capable of (aka not very good mental math) at each mile marker. Soon it was time to run past the half marathon point, yay! Half way done!! It was VERY warm but thankfully the sun was hidden behind the clouds, so it wasn’t as bad as it could have been. I was definitely sweating a lot though, and I was drinking so much I knew I would need a potty break eventually. If you make it to the half marathon point past 3 hours, they remove you from the course, so I pushed our little group on to make sure we were there in time, and we passed over the 13.1 mark in 2:54:41 (13:19 min/mi avg) and I knew we were cutting it very close. Around this time I saw Rena pull ahead and Colisa stepped to the side to give a friend cheering for her a quick hug. I kept on, thinking that she would be just behind me.
Now it was time for the second loop of the course– the half marathon point takes you back near the race start, and then you head west towards the Space and Rocket Center (aka the best part of the race!!). I got to see mom and Roo again at mile 14, and I had just caught back up with Rena and realized that Colisa was no longer in my sight. CRAP! I didn’t want that to happen but I also knew I needed to stay at a 13:43 min/mi minimum to make the cut offs. I contemplated waiting but decided to continue on, know that she is strong as heck and could definitely make it through the miles without me. We wound around the Lowe Mill area and started to see the elites come through, and man, did they look like they were SUFFERING. It was getting warmer and warmer and my skin had started to feel like I had rolled around in dirt or sand– so gritty! I tried to keep it positive and followed Rena’s lead with run/walking. We were keeping a good pace and had even sped up a little, so I was feeling comfortable again. Miles 15-17 were insanely boring. The crowd support had dropped off drastically and I started to feel a bit lonely. Everyone running around us was quiet and focused, and while I consider the course flat over all, this is where you meet a few small rolling hills, which feel a lot harder on tired legs!
Around the 30k mark we finally made it to the Space and Rocket Center and I perked up– time to run through cool space stuff y’all! We were greeted by a very energetic aid station and lots of Rocket Center employees pointing us in the right direction, there was even a guy in a space suit giving high fives! We passed the 30k mark at 4:03:02 (13:02 min/mi avg). We ran around the Saturn V, through all the planes and rockets, and then underneath the Pathfinder Space Shuttle (a test simulator constructed by NASA in the 70s). IT WAS SO COOL! I squealed with nerdy excitement and had a big smile on my face. After that, we headed towards the Botanical Gardens on a soft, dirt and gravel path. Running on that felt like HEAVEN to my tired body, and it made me long for running on the trails. One thing is certain: a road marathon hurts significantly more than a trail 50k. Through the gardens I started to feel pretty tired, but still happy. I finally passed a lady dressed in a Mrs. Clause costume (I *really* didn’t want to get beat by Mrs. Clause) and I knew I’d get to see my family again at some point. I tried my best to make small talk with the runners around me, but everyone seemed quiet and not interested in talking, so I decided to stop bothering them. At mile 20 I cheered loudly and I knew it would all be over soon. Just after that we passed another awesome aid station (the aid stations at this race ROCK! So many happy, helpful people!) and I asked a nice volunteer to retrieve my last pack of chews out from the back of my pack. I also got to see mom and Roo again, and told them I was tired but still doing okay.
Time for the final 6 miles! Just 6 little miles! No big deal, right?? At this point everything on my body seemed to start protesting loudly. My back was aching, I desperately wanted to take off my hydration pack and was kicking myself for not giving it to mom and Roo when I saw them at mile 20. I felt shooting pain in my ankles with every step, and my left hamstring felt just on the verge of cramping up. I started to feel a little sad, you know, the usual questioning why I am doing this and my own existence… But it hurt more to walk than it did to run, so I shuffled along slowly and just tried to tune out all the aching. I saw several weird things and wondered if I was hallucinating: at mile 22 I saw a man with a hawk on his arm standing in his yard cheering for runners, at mile 23 I saw a man in a grim reaper outfit with a sign saying “THE END IS NEAR,” and at mile 24 the sun came out and I felt like a fried egg on the sidewalk. BAHH! Why did the sun have to come out! We made it through the whole race without the sun, and now, as I was trudging along the final miles, I was miserably hot. Suddenly, as if an angel appeared, my friend Mike was on the side of the road his official race vehicle, he was volunteering as on course support. He called my name and said something about Coke, and I wanted to give him a giant hug, it was EXACTLY what I needed. I drank half of a small bottle in one swig and headed back out. I knew that if I lingered any longer I would get in his car and ask him to take me to the finish line. The instant sugar boost was exactly what I needed to finish happy.
I felt worlds better in the final miles and even started to get excited. Past mile 25.2 and only ONE MILE TO GOOOO!!! It was the shortest and also longest mile ever. Finally I rounded the corner at mile 26 and felt very happy. There were tons of people still cheering, even though I was cutting it very close timing wise, and I rounded the corner into the stadium to finish and heard a burst of loud cheering– most notably my mom’s voice cutting through the crowd. YIPPEE! DONE! My legs were in non stop shuffle mode and I ran straight into the volunteer that was trying to medal me… oops! It’s hard to stop running sometimes, ha. I stayed in the finishing area for all of my marathon peeps, first came Rena, then Melissa, and then Colisa! I was so proud and happy to be able to put medals around all of their necks. They DID IT!!!!!!!
My final finishing time was 5:55:58, aka, CUTTING IT VERY CLOSE! but I wouldn’t change a single thing. It wasn’t a perfect race but it was a HAPPY one and sometimes that’s the most important thing.