The run of my life

One of my things is that I like to document as much as possible in a race report. Not only is this reading material for the ones (maybe tens) of people who read this blog, but it's also a log of experiences and lessons learned. So it usually takes a week to crank one of these bad boys out. It doesn't help that this week I've been working 12-hour days left and right.

There are pictures and even a video that I'll get to posting in the next couple of days, so keep an eye out!

After getting all my pre-race jitters in a post I woke up wifey at 7am. By 7:20 we were out the door and in the cloudy, windy, chilly New England morning--it was torn straight out of a Stephen King novel. The starting line was just far enough away that we wouldn't want to walk there (and I definitely wouldn't want to walk back after the race), so we drove over.

The parking lot was dotted with a few other runners. I love that instant camaraderie you have with other runners on race day. You don't need to exchange a single word, but you bond over the fact that you both know what you're about to endure. Even though you've never seen that person before, you know the struggles they've had and sacrifices they've made to get to the starting line. And you both know that in your own ways you are going to do one of the most physically difficult things a human can do. You are already best friends because of the long parallel journeys you have taken and the long race you are about to embark upon.

As we walked over to the starting line I looked at the skies. It was New England gray: perfect for runners, horrible for tourists. There wasn't a chance of direct sunlight for the next couple of hours, but the clouds weren't heavy enough to produce rain. The temperature was crawling toward 55. There was a constant breeze that made my hands icy. I busted out my gray long-sleeve top for this race and God did I need it.

The steady throng of runners walking up and down America's Cup Boulevard made for a bit of a confusing start until we asked someone that told us the starting line had been moved north about four blocks away from the registration tents and baggage check to exactly where we were standing. The only way to know that it was the starting line was the crew laying down the timing mats on the streets--no signs or banners to announce where the starting line was.

I started stretching, did a quick jog up and down the block (about 400 meters). I've ever done a pre-race warm up jog, but it was so cold this time that I had to, I didn't want to have to warm up on the course. It actually helped a lot because it settled my stomach and got all the initial kinks out of my stride.

When I came back to the starting area they called us to the starting line. I wanted to be close to the back of the pack, even though it would mean more bob-and-weaving in the early miles, it would mean I'd be able to keep a slower pace. As I handed my jacket off to wifey I gave her a big kiss and thanked her for being my #1 cheerleader--as she has been for every one of my nine races.

I wove my way into the crowd, replaying my race strategies over and over in my head. I tried to stay warm, but the thin crowd toward the back wasn't holding in any heat. As I checked the volume on Liam and made sure I was in shape to start wifey suddenly came up behind me and handed me my water bottle. I almost left it at the start with her! That thing is my magic feather, I can't run with out it! So I gave wifey another big kiss and a hug--and then bang! The start gun went off with out any warning.

The Race
Everyone was just as surprised by the unannounced start gun. The crowd swelled forward and then paused, as usual when everyone gets too excited to run off at once. As I crossed the mats I hit start on my watch and then play on Liam. "Proud Mary" started to play.

The first mile went through the historic wharf area of Newport. Think bars, restaurants, shops, and very narrow streets. You could only fit about five abreast without spilling onto the cobblestone sidewalks, so there were a lot of frustrated runners that first mile.

Mile 1: 9:36

Looking at the split my first thought was "that was really slow, I have to pick it up." But then I instantly kicked into thinking how the first mile is always the slowest and that my mantra for the first ten miles was to go between 8:50 and 9:00 per mile. 30 seconds was a small sacrifice in the great scheme.

The next stretch of course rounded a peninsula with a historic fort on it. As soon as you entered the fort grounds there were amazing views of Newport harbor, the Pell Bridge, and a handful of the houses Newport is famous for (the mansions would come later). The course skirted the coast of the peninsula before exiting the way we came in.

Then the course snaked it's way through yet more big houses on the way to the of the highlights of the race: Ocean Ave. When you turn the corner onto Ocean Ave it takes your breathe away (as if the running hadn't already). At this point the rolling grassy hills of Aquidneck Island give way the rough stone underneath. The Atlantic Ocean rushes toward the jagged shoreline, with wave upon wave meeting it's spectacular death on the rocky coast. The view goes on for miles and the intricate dance of rock and water is mesmerizing.

Even the Christmas themed water station--replete with Santa, Christmas tree, and elves--wasn't enough to distract from the view.

By the time I finally saw the next mile marker, we had been weaving along the coast, ducking between stunning mansions, for a few miles.

Mile 7: 53:26

Amazingly, I was right on pace and only about a minute faster than a 9:00 pace. And the best thing was that I was feeling fine. I had been concentrating on my breathing the whole time and, true to plan, pausing the music when I thought I was losing control over my breathing or felt the beginnings of a stitch.

Mile 8: 8:56

Finally, a real split. And itwas right on target!

There were some easy short uphill throughout the first 17 miles of race. I was trying out a hill strategy of changing my gait and stride, focusing more on the pick-up instead of the push-off. It was working really well because I was able to power over the little hills--which built up my confidence for the bigger hills later in the race.

Mile 9: 8:45

A little faster than my goal, so I tried to slow it down for the last 8:50 mile. But now I could pick up the pace a bit and finally drop the "slow the hell down" mantra.

At this point I started thinking about MY FIRST MARATHON EVER and how at Mile 10 I had gotten a stitch that screwed me over for the rest of the race. But here I was at Mile 10 and feeling great, probably the best I've ever felt on a run. I got an inkling about finishing fast, but quickly pushed it out my head out of superstition (i.e., if you think you're going to finish fast you don't).

Mile 10: 8:50

Ok, so I was a tiny bit speedy on these last two miles.

For the second 10 miles of the race I wanted to pace myself between 8:40 and 8:50 miles. But when I looked at my watch I was constantly surprised that not only was I able to get down to this pace after 10 miles at a slower pace, I was dropping them below my Half-Marathon PR pace of 8:41. It only made me feel better out there.

Mile 11: 8:47

Here we passed by the famous Newport mansions: palatial summer homes built by the Vanderbilts and their set. These houses were just jaw dropping, huge estates with amazing views of the Atlantic Ocean. And they were providing scenery for runners--I loved it.

Mile 12: 8:44

After the mansions there was a long downhill stretch to the halfway mark by the beach. I was feeling great, unbelievably great. I picked up the pace as I got to the timing mats at the halfway point (which was also the finish line). I looked at my time, realizing that I was only two minutes off my Half-Marathon PR. If this was a HM, I would have shattered my record. I was quickly accepting the fact that this would not be a repeat of MY FIRST MARATHON EVER.

Mile 13: 8:32

After the halfway mark we entered a residential section and I really started to pick off other runners (one of the benefits of starting way in the back of the pack). I wasn't even conscientiously doing it. I was just cruising along and the runners in front of me were getting closer.

Mile 14: 8:36

I missed the Mile 15 marker, but that was probably because I got a glimpse of the Mile 25 marker on the other side of the road and I had a minor panic attack. As described on the website, there were challenging hills at the end of race, with a sharp one right before the finish line. I was now coming down the hill and saw was "sharp climb" meant. Yikes! That was not going to be fun.

Mile 16: 17:07

Right about here was when I was really tested. After running on crested streets (is that what it's called when the roads are raised in the middle?) for 16 miles my right knee started to hurt. Not an achy, I'm tired from running kind of hurt. It was a faint pain that reminded me of when my IT band was tight and I couldn't run for more than three miles.

Immediately I thought of what I could do to ease/prevent/fix this while I was running. I moved to the middle of the street where it was most flat (also most dangerous because these streets weren't closed to cars). I also straighted out my back and picked up my heels, trying to fix any slack parts of my form. I turned off the music and just breathed for the next mile.

Mile 17: 8:34

By the Mile 18 marker my knee was feeling better, which was great because this is where the hills started.

Like I had done with the smaller hills earlier in the race, instead of slowing down, hunching over, and huffing through the hills, I was standing tall, picking up my knees, and staring at the crest of the hills. It worked beautifully--even if I was a bit tired after each climb, I would get a major confidence boost from powering through.

Mile 18: 8:45

My splits weren't getting better, but I was still managing to pass people. So I focused on that as an indicator of performance rather than the splits.

Mile 19: 8:45

I'm not sure how this course got so hilly, but I was really starting to feel every little bump and incline. Not to mention that this part of the course was completely rural, complete with vinyards, cows, sheep, and llamas. Sure it was nice and quaint, but it made for some boring miles. If the vinyard was handing out samples it would have gotten a lot more interesting.

Mile 20: 8:55

At the Mile 20 marker I stopped counting up the miles and starting counting down to the finish line. So now at Mile 21 I had only five miles to go. I reminded myself over and over that five miles was just a Wednesday morning recovery run and that I could do the rest of this race in my sleep. I was feeling good, but I just needed the hills to stop.

Mile 21: 8:57

I missed the Mile 22 marker, but I was trying to distract myself as much as possible. I was singing, I was dancing, I was trying to not thinking about the fact that I was 23 miles into a race and that everything in my body was starting to say: "hey, sRod, are we done yet? 'Cause we're kinda tired of doing this."

Also in this stretch of the race, some very nice people brought out their Halloween candy early and were giving out Snickers and Twix and Tootsie Rolls. I was so hungry at this point, but none of these candies did it for me. I was going to pass until the girl at the end of row shot out her hand with a bag of M&Ms. In a gut reflect (I don't think my brain was involved at all with the motion) I snatched the bag from her and shouted a "Thank You!"

Oh Jesus--chocolate coated in sugar? How did I ever run without this? Food of the running Gods.

Sadly, though, about a minute and three M&Ms later the bag just fell out of my hands. DAMN! I didn't stop to get what was left because I'm sure all the chocolately goodness had spilled all over the place. Sigh. But now I know to look for the M&Ms at race candy tables.

Mile 23: 17:51

I saw the Mile 23 marker, but was late in hitting the button for the split, which is why Mile 24 looks so fast. I didn't suddenly start hauling butt, even though the sign I passed that said "Just 5K Left To Go!" sent me off like a (low-power) rocket.

Most of Mile 24 I was coasting on the long downhill...until I dropped my Clif Bloks. I think this was a clear sign that the wheels were falling off the cart. First I dropped the M&Ms, now the Bloks. My hunger was just getting stronger and the GU packets I had won't cut it, I needed solid food to fool my stomach into believing I was having the Western Omellete and homefries I was fantasizing about. So I stopped, went back for the bag, and kept on running.

Mile 24: 8:15

Mile 25 was a bitch. No, Mile 25 was the crazy ex-girlfriend that took six-months to breakup with and who has now, five years later, suddenly shown up at your wedding and has an all-too-knowing smirk on her face. Yeah...that's what Mile 25 was like.

Here I am, finally recovered from the hills, dead set on the finish line. Everything is tired, but nothing is hurting. Then, BAM! A 125 foot hill that I swear is at a 75 degree angle. I don't know how I got over the hill, but I used my momentum, and I pushed, and I grimaced, and I got my butt over the hill.

The problem was I used all my energy to get over the hill and I still had 1.5 miles left to go. I was telling myself to move and my body would not respond, it would just keep trudging along.

Mile 25: 8:34

Still recovering from that last hill I took a bit of a hit in the final mile, which absolutely sucked. I relish the last miles of the race because I usually pick up the speed really nicely and make a mad dash for the end.

Not so this race. I knew I would be finishing waaaaay under my PR, so I didn't have an incentive to go faster than I was already going. Also, I had to recover from that last hill, so while I was trying to increase my turnover I had no gas in tank to do so. It was so frustrating to have such a great race, a fantastic performance, and then have it halted right before the finish.

Mile 26: 8:47

At the buildings cleared and I saw the final view of the race: the ocean, the blue sky (wait, when did the clouds go away?), the rolling hills in back, and the finish line. I locked onto the finish line and didn't move my eyes. I grimaced, I opened up my stride, I fast forwarded to the last song on my playlist--anything to get a sprint to the finish and end this race. For only a 630 person race the crowds were impressive and loud and full of cow bells.

In the final 100 feet I could see the clock: 3:50. Holy cow. I didn't know what that meant in terms of minutes off my PR at the time, but I knew it was way below four hours and that gave me the final surge over the finish. As I crossed under the banner I leapt and landed with both feet on the timing mat. Done.

.2: 1:31

Gun time: 3:51:01
Watch time: 3:50:25
Net time: 3:50:19
Net pace: 8:48


Since I didn't have any brakes left in me, I hopped after the landing and came to a finish in front of the guy with the medals. He put one over my head and I hobbled my way over to chip removal--discovering that my knees weren't too happy. Wifey immediately found me and was glowing and smiling and all forms of happy. I gave her a big, sweaty hug (fortunately she was wearing a wind breaker) and just stood there in her arms for what felt like an hour--half crying from the accomplishment, half afraid to sit down and experience the pain in my knees.

I grabbed a mylar blanket and some nice guy took the chip off my shoe and then retied my laces. I sat on the curb of the sidewalk. My knees were hurting. They felt inflamed, as if someone had injected them each with half a gallon of liquid. Everything else felt fine, but my knees, they were demanding some down time.

Five minutes later I was able to get up and get some water and Gatorade. Wifey busted out a jacket, a dry t-shirt, and a pair of crocs to change into--talk about an amazing wife!!! We got on the shuttle bus and headed back to the starting line, everyone on the bus exchanging stories along the way.

I was just beaming. I couldn't be happier knowing that I had just completed my most perfect run ever, and it wasn't an easy course, and I was able to premp stitches and IT band issues, and I did this all--ALL--in 20 less minutes than the previous time. I knew it was possible, but didn't think it was probable. But, it wasn't until later in the day, while I was eating the most delicious Mahi Mahi tacos known to man, I realized perhaps the greatest thing that happened (or didn't happen) during this race. I turned to wifey and said: "Oh my God! I didn't have to poop during the race!"


joyRuN said...

Congrats on a smart & well-run PR!

Great race report - sounds like a beautiful & challenging course.

Marcy said...

WHOOOOOO HOOOOOOOO!! YAY baby!! CONGRATS on a fine job my friend. Way to rock it ;-)

Amanda said...

wow... a course with heinous hills and you still had a perfect race... now that is when training and mental prep and a good attitude all come together and make us remember why we do this crazy stuff

KimsRunning said...

Awesome!!! Way to go!!!
Felt like forever waiting for this report....lol

Jess said...

Great report! Sounds like it was an amazing race!

CyclingDivas said...

Your mile 25 definitely sounds like Sam's mile 88 (wtf? a bridge)...way to go boy! and no poop?? awesome...WOO HOO

*aron* said...

CONGRATS on a great race and great report!!!! you did amazing!

Laura said...

CONGRATULATIONS! You did an amazing job... and made me crave guiltless marathon candy in the process :)

Run For Life said...

Great race report for an excellent run, congrats!!!

Viv said...

Amazing marathon!! Congratulations on pulling off such a fantastic marathon!