Saturday, September 30, 2006

Fox Cities Half Marathon Report

On Sunday, September 24, 2006 I ran the Fox Cities Marathon's US Cellular Half Marathon. And it took me almost as long to type out that race name just now.

The day before the race
Nerves, nerves, and more nerves. I was scared.
I was determined to avoid having any "Salad Shooter!!" episodes (see Green Bay Marathon race report for explanation) during this race, so stuck to foods I determined to be safe. Carbs and protein, but not too much fat. As was the case before my last race, the Green Bay Marathon, my stomach was not feeling well all day long. Immodium was to me as slop is to a pig.
I went to the expo to pick up my race packet and was feeling both excited and scared. Libby was excited, too, and wanted to run the race with me. She got extremely upset when we didn't pick up race "numbers" (a race bib) for her, and I had to spend a lot of time talking to her and bribing her with popcorn to help her get it over it.
I created a special playlist for my iPod for the race, with all sorts of fun, upbeat songs to get me through the race. I was pretty happy about it and thought it would really help me out.

Pre Race
When I headed out the door for the race it was still dark outside and it reminded me of the morning of my first marathon...this same race, back in 2004. I ran that full marathon without ever having run more than five miles at one time. And I'd only been running for about six weeks. Thinking it would take me longer than the six hour limit (it didn't, I finished in about 5:30), I had chosen to take advantage of the early start--6am. I think I was on the road that time at 4:30 am and crossed the starting line in the dark. I can picture the start of that marathon like it was yesterday. We started in Riverside Park in Neenah and within a half mile were running around the point on the lake. The image of hundreds and hundreds of marathon runners in silhouette against a gorgeous sunrise over the water was stunning.
As I neared the park and looked for a parking spot on this race morning I suddenly had a vision of me crossing the finish line strong and happy, setting a new personal record. For whatever reason, that instantly took all of my nerves away and left me feeling strong, confident, and excited. It was a wonderful way to walk up to the crowd of racers.
I checked my bag in the "bag n' tag" area and began stretching. Feeling relaxed and comfortable I enjoyed people-watching in the growing crowd. It always amazes me at how diverse the runners are in a marathon....tall and skinny, short and squat, stocky, round, athletic, old, young, and everyone in the middle. At one point I went over to use the porta-john before the race started. If you've not been to a race like this, I'll explain that they always have a long line of porta-potties near the starting line and a mob of people waiting to get in. When I finally made it to the front of the mob and saw the door open, a nice gentleman came out and informed me that there was reading material inside for me. Sure enough. I found a nice running magazine for my reading pleasure. Now, since the smell wasn't exactly like roses, I decided to pass on the opportunity and get out as quickly as possible.
When race-time neared and the runners all crowded the starting line, you could nearly smell the excitement, nerves, and adrenaline. Hmmm, looking back, maybe that was actually B.O. and flatulence..... Regardless, I said a little prayer, spoke with my father as I tend to do when I run, and asked them both to help me in whatever way they could. The starting gun sounded and we were off.

The First Half of the Half
This time the image of the runners along the lake wasn't quite as extraordinary, as the sun was up and shining bright. Still, it took my breath away as I ran in a thick crowd of people with one shared passion...the sun shining on our faces and brisk air nipping at our skin....elbows flying and running shoes stepping on other people's heels...coughing, pushing, and people cursing at others who cut them off.....
I had an enormous smile plastered on my face as I weaved and bobbed in and out trying to get to a comfortable pace. This went on for the first two miles or so, before the crowd thinned out enough to find my own little pocket where I could stretch out a bit.
Three miles in I realized that I was overdressed and needed to lose a layer. I jumped off of the course in downtown Neenah and stripped down to my bra and tossed one layer back on. Put my earphones back in my ears and pushed play to restart my iPod. Nothing happened. It had plenty of battery but when it displayed that it was playing, no sound came out. After fumbling with it for a few blocks, I gave up and carried both my long sleeved shirt and dead iPod. I was hoping that I'd find Chris and his parents, who had all come to chase me around the course and cheer me on, and drop my stuff with them. Which I did a couple of miles later when I saw them on the side of the road.. I ran over and startled them, as they hadn't seen me coming because the crowd was so thick. Passed off my stuff and ran the remainder of the race without music.

Aid Stations
The aid stations are wonderful in this race. Nearly all of them are themed. Some of my favorites were the boys in toga (nice distraction), Wizard of Oz themed station with all of the characters, the barnyard theme with a good ol' fashioned ho-down and people dressed as farm animals, all of the high school cheerleading squads (they were at several stations) and the little five year old cheerleaders from the local cheering club, and the M.A.S.H. unit with everyone dressed as army medics (fitting for how I felt at that point).

The Spectators
It was awesome having Chris and my girls and Chris' parents at the race to cheer me on. They made a big difference for me, always looking for them in the crowd and wondering where I'd see them next. It gave me something fun to look forward to. They chased me along the course and caught me several times. In the first few miles I was still moving too fast for them and they nearly missed me twice. The first time (maybe around mile four or five?) the crowd was still very thick as I mentioned above and they didn't see me until I darted out to drop off my things. Next was a couple miles down the road when I am crossing an intersection and hear, "GO REBECCA!!!!". I look over and see them just starting to get out of the van, yelling to me, and then jumping back in right away. I laughed for quite a while at that one. I had left some Sport Beans (like energy gel) with Chris and asked him to pass them over when he saw me along the course so I didn't have to carry them. Somewhere around mid-race I spotted them on the side of the road and Libby tried to give me the beans, but wasn't quite ready for me. She gets a little freaked out by all of the runners during events. Chris and his parents were telling her to give them to me and I stopped, backtracked, and grabbed them. A couple of runners around me witnessed this and thought it was super cute. That was another thing that kept a smile on my face for a while, however Libby apparently was upset by the ordeal. For two reasons: 1. She thought she screwed up her bean-pass job 2. She wanted to eat the beans.

Last half of the race
I couldn't believe how strong and good I felt for the first five miles of this half-marathon. I was bouncing along without soreness, fatigue, or anything but pure enjoyment and energy. Then I passed mile five. For the rest of the race my glutes felt as though they were made of lead and my energy vanished.I started to panic a little and doubt my ability to PR (get a personal record) this race. The glute issue remained a struggle until the finish. When the glutes got lonely and felt like they didn't belong, however, my very caring hamstrings decided that they'd better join in to make the glutes feel better. Awwwww, how sweet, I know. That's just the way they are.
This was the quietest I've ever been in a race. Usually I'm with a running partner and gabbing the whole way, making jokes and smart remarks to spectators and other runners. This time I was very focused (aka in pain, nervous, trying not to puke)and kept to myself.In fact, I only spoke to one other person (aside from thanking all of the police officers as I passed them at intersections). A couple ran by, and I overheard the woman saying in a very sarcastic tone, "And I even got my eyebrows waxed for this!" I put on my best spa voice and told her that they look fabulous, darling...
As I eluded to above, there were a few miles spent scoping out the sidelines for good vomit spots. I was having some difficulty getting my Gatorade and beans and GU down, then keeping them where they belonged. With my seizures I have to be very careful about keeping my electrolytes in check during long runs or I start flopping around and seeing stars. I have found that if I grab one cup each of Gatorade and water at every aid station and mix them together, then stay on top of eating some beans or gel, I'm usually okay. During this event, however, Mr Epilepsy and Ms Electrolytes must have been having a spat and didn't want to work together at all. Thankfully I convinced them to try counselling and everything stayed down and there was no major flopping.

It's always a great mix of people, but usually I see more wackiness than I did for this event. There was one barefoot runner, but it wasn't Barefoot Bob from the Green Bay Marathon (see that race report for details on Bob). Also spotted one man wearing a flannel shirt, very fancy and colorful racing tights, and sporting a LONG braided 'rat tail' circa 1983. Otherwise, just a lot of fancy pants people and one person running the entire marathon carrying a large american flag.

The Big Finish
Somewhere in the last couple of miles I started to think that walking might be a really nice change of pace. My glutes and hamstrings were now asking for the support of my calves and lower back, and were getting it. Everyone was joining in the cramping party. I thought that my PR was lost, but then realized that if I could somehow get my pace back up a little I might make it after all. So I ran and ran and when I felt as though I was nearly at a sprint I checked my Garmin and saw that my pace was about 30 seconds slower than it had been all race. Someone noted that we could hear the music from the finish line and I decided that there was no way I would walk or give up when I was that close. So I ran my heart out for the last half mile and managed to keep a smile on my face for most of it. I kept picturing myself laying down on the cement as soon as I crossed the line. I saw Chris' parents at the start of the finishing chute but never saw Chris and the girls. When I crossed the line I had absolutely nothing left. I thought I was going to be sick, pass out, or just fall over. I was herded to the volunteers who removed my timing chip, gave me my space blanket and medal, then I staggered out to find my family. I didn't even stop to pose for a finish line photo...I knew I'd fall down. After some searching and confused dizziness (standing in one place wondering how to get my feet to move and how to find my way through the crowd) I found everyone, posed for some photos, and set off on the great Popsicle hunt. Libby believes that it is her right to eat one Popsicle at the finish line of all of my races. And I agree.

I did it. 2:11 finish for an average pace of 10 minute miles. A new PR, while running all alone. I'm a runner. I proved it to myself. That was what this race was all about.

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