Sunday, April 12, 2009

2009 Illinois Marathon Race Report

So I said it would take a few days, but you know me...... :)

Happy Easter. Thanks to you all for your support!

2009 Illinois Marathon Race Report

Marathon number 8 is now in the books! Woo Hoo!!! It seems so silly, but honestly every one of them has a special place in my heart. For this one, I could write a novel about the entire experience – from the date I decided to do it until I finally got home yesterday from Champaign. Fortunately for you I haven’t, but in the interest of full disclosure, I have written several pages, so proceed at your own caution. :D

As many of you know, 2008 was a tough year running-wise for me. I had a relatively hard time fitting the training in and getting acclimated to working long, stressful hours, sustaining decent mileage, and being a good mom/wife. However, at the end of the year, I think my body started getting into the grove. My paces finally started dropping some and my heart rate was relatively respectful. Yay! Maybe I will not be slow forever! :D

My friend Jessica asked me to run Boston with her and a fun group of girls. It sounded like a lot of fun and she was there to support me when I ran my first Boston. BUT….. then my sister told me she was going to train for her very first marathon – the Illinois Marathon on April 11, 2009. AND she wanted me to go with her. HECK YEAH!! I was so excited and knew it would be such a wonderful accomplishment to share with her. So I drew up a Pfitz 18 week / up to 55 miles per week schedule and commenced training on December 8.

Overall, this was a very difficult training season as the weather was simply brutal. To get my miles in, I had to get up early during the week and run before work. Because the roads were a constant mess and it was pitch black (not to mention regular sub-0 temps), I was all too often relegated to the treadmill. Yeah, I despise the treadmill. The upside was that because I was always so bored on it, I would play with the paces and often finished much faster than I started. Lo and behold, this started translating to the streets as well (when I finally got out there). Four weeks into my training, I decided to bump up the mileage a bit and run 6 days a week instead of 5. This got me to 60 miles per week at least 2x and had me in the 50s more consistently. Training clicked off well and I had no injuries.

Unfortunately, the same was not true for my sister. At a training seminar about 6 weeks before the race, she jumped up and sustained a major calf pull / strain which completely put her out of training and out of the marathon. What a serious disappointment for her. She offered to come with me anyway for support – but I encouraged her not to. While I would have loved for her to come with me, I thought it would just be so bitter sweet (to be generous) for her. And alas, this weekend was tough for her. But I have no doubt we will get another chance soon!

Leading up to the race, it was CrAzY windy around here, and the forecast showed it was only worse in Illinois. Yikes. But as race day drew closer, the weather report became more and more ideal. Yay! So on Good Friday, I hung out with the kids as long as possible and then hit the road for Champaign. I checked into my hotel and headed to the expo. Wouldn’t you know, I promptly got lost! But I eventually got there and it was a complete zoo. Yikes! I couldn’t get out of there fast enough! I grabbed a sandwich from Panera and hit the hotel to relax. I brought my computer and promptly figured out directions to the race in the morning and of course checked the weather about 30 times. It was brutal there on Friday (30 mph winds) and I kept hoping it would clear before the race. I also played on Facebook and was so energized by all of the support and comments. It was so cool because there I was, all alone in Champaign for the race, but I felt like I had my own pit crew right there. I can’t tell you how much that meant to me.

I hit the sack around 8:45 and went right to sleep. I woke at 4:30, ate breakfast and got ready to go. All in all, it was a very smooth race-day morning. Because I had to find parking, I left just before 7 to get to the race. It was very cold (28ish), but the sun was shining and it felt like a beautiful day. The pre-race activity was exciting and inspiring as always. I teared up as I saw the ladder fire trucks with the huge American flag and was so thankful to be there. Boy, I sure am turning into an unapologetic sap as I get older! :D

The start corral was a bit crazy. Instead of making people go around the front to get into the corral, people were coming right through up until just a few minutes before the start. It was crazy. Hopefully the race directors will change that next year. 8 University of Illinois men sang the National Anthem (barbershop quartet style) and it was really cool. Again, I teared up. I am so thankful / excited / emotional.

And we’re off! It was an easy start and we were running to the north, which was into a direct headwind. But it was relatively light and didn’t bother me much at all. I was hoping to average 7:45 – 7:55 paces, but more importantly, I wanted to run by feel and stay within myself. I clicked the lap button every mile, but made a conscious effort not to be a slave to the Garmin. The first several miles clicked off very nicely and I felt strong.

There were a couple of spots the wind felt tough and my breath felt a little too labored, but it was all temporary and I felt like I was in a good grove. Around mile 11, the half marathoners split off and I was thankful to have less traffic, if you will. A girl running very strong passed me and a spectator (I am assuming was her mother) saw her and was just ecstatic. She was yelling “Go Rachel, I am so proud of you!” It was really, really cool. And I decided I would try to keep Rachel in my sights and not fall too far behind her.

I hit the half at 1:42:59 (or something close to that) and realized I needed to negative split if I wanted to hit my goal of 3:25. I felt that was definitely within reach.

Just past the half, we turned a corner and saw the leaders pass by. They all looked pained, but it was great to see them and I cheered for them all. I still felt strong and was clicking off good paces. Around mile 14, there were lots of spectators – mostly girls and they cheered like crazy when I ran through. It was really great. Next thing I know, I can sense people running next to me – I look to my right and there are 3 little girls (probably 8-10 years old) carrying this big sign saying “Girl Power” with the biggest smiles on their faces. I thanked them and told them they were awesome. It was honestly the highlight of my whole race.

In the meantime, I kept Rachel in my sight and felt strong. I can do this. But around mile 18, it started getting ridiculously windy. I checked accuweather after the fact and apparently there were 15 mph sustained winds and gusts in the 20s. D@mmit. I was working really hard to keep pace and really had to focus. Around mile 19 I passed Rachel and hated every second of it. She had looked so strong and was now faltering.

Around the same time I hit the turn where I had previously seen the leaders. I saw the 4:25 and 4:30 pace groups go through and they looked so good. Yeah, you have the tailwind. No wonder those leaders looked pained!

I turned the corner where the half was and people were announcing the runners as they were coming through. We were close to mile 20 and the announcer hemmed and hawed about Madison, so I cheesed it up (as I am known for) and got some nice cheers. It was a good boost at a good time.

The next several miles were tough. Most of it was in headwinds with some big gusts – at a couple times I thought my hat was going to fly off. But I kept on as best I could. Now I was following a man in a white and orange shirt. This was the point in the race you start seeing lots of people fall to the side and start walking. I was glad I could keep going on. My quads, hammies and calves were starting to feel it though. (I think it was because I did not have as much nutrition/hydration as usual. They did not have aid stations every mile (in fact several were 3 miles apart it seemed) so I had one less gel than usual. In addition, at many stations they gave out full water bottles rather than cups. WTF? I would take 2 ungraceful swigs and throw the rest off. Big waste.).

Needless to say, it was getting painful and I so wanted to stop. But I thought of my sister. And I thought of people that have real struggles (i.e. my mother in law with cancer), and of course (truth be told) I thought of how hard I have worked and there was NO WAY I was going to wimp out now. So I kept trying to give it more and more.

Around mile 24, I turned a corner after a crazy headwind and saw I was right near the spot I threw off my fleece at mile 2. I had been very tempted to wear my Grandma’s during the race and I knew she wouldn’t mind if I threw it off. But after wearing it all morning pre-race, I decided I would mind and threw on an old one. At mile 24, I thought about picking it up and knew if it was Grandma’s I would have. But now, I was struggling just to keep going and did NOT need anything else to carry. So I passed it with a nod to Grandma and headed closer to the U of I stadium.

The beautiful thing about mile 25 is that you know you only have a few minutes to go. I hunkered down and gave it everything I had. Mile 26 was just before the stadium entrance. I gave it everything I had to finish strong (6:41 pace). The clock was turning just to 3:28 as I went through, so I knew I was 3:27:xx. Whew. Not the goal, but it was a victory, indeed.

I grabbed a water and wandered around a bit looking for food. Nothing. Apparently they did not want that on the U of I football field (makes sense). However, to get to gear check and food, we had to climb the stadium stairs. Come on, that is just cruel!! :D I got my bag and met a few fun people before I decided to head out so I could get showered and checked out of my hotel by 1:00 pm.

When I got my blackberry, I opened it and it was full of encouraging messages. Wow. I was seriously overwhelmed. I have such unbelievable friends.

I got cleaned up, headed home and was welcomed by my most crucial pit crew of all. What a blessing. I am a fortunate person.


O/A: 205/1606
A/G (35-39): 2/89 (YAY!)
Women: 20/606

Update: Apparently the numbers yesterday were wrong. Here are the stats:

Overall: 189 / 1619

Age Group: 2 / 79

Women: 16 / 509.


End notes: Illinois is NOT flat. It is fast, but not flat. Never ending inclines and declines, which frankly I like, but NOT Chicago flat.

Yeah, Bridget won the half. I wish I knew she was going to be there!

Greg, thanks so much for the update on the AG award. It made my drive home completely energized. ROCK!!


Greg said...

Great report and you did awesome (but you've already had a hundred people tell you that!). Wunderground has 13-15 mph winds. That is absolutely nothing to sneeze at, especially in pretty exposed terrain.

What's next?

joe positive said...

damn, 6:41 last mile! you rock!!!

Mindi said...

No, I wish I had a 6:41 mile 25... that was the last .2!

Quinto Sol said...

Congrats on the AG placing! Way to go! Have a beer on me :D

Runnin-From-The-Law said...

Fabulous! You worked so hard and it paid off. Without the crazy winds, I bet you would have been at your 3:25.

So does your sister have her eyes on a fall marathon? You going to do it with her?