Wednesday, January 31, 2007

The Miami Marathon

It's 9:15 a.m. as the plane takes off for Miami, FL where I am excited to run my third marathon. I am anxiously chewing on a sesame seed bagel that I had purchased from my local bagel bakery. It's my second one of the day. The woman next to me glances down at my shoes and asks me if I am running. When I tell her that I was, she tells me that she is running the half marathon as her first. She has been training for months with the AIDS Marathon training group and has raised over $1,000 for AIDS research, in exchange for them helping her train and paying her race expenses. She is in her mid 40's, with five children (all boys) at home. She is more excited about the vacation alone with her husband than the race, itself. Her goal is simply to finish, and afterwards I checked and confirmed that she did finish!

I give her a few tips when she told me about her chafing (get Body Glide at the Expo!) and how her training team wanted her to take "walk breaks". She is against walking, but I tell her how it is a wise strategy, at least for the first half of the race. She wishes me luck as we step off the plane, and I am thrilled to be in sunny 75-degree weather.

I arrive at the hotel where I meet up with Jenny, who flew in from Philadelphia earlier that morning. As the "official race hotel", all of the Doubletree Surfcomber employees don bright orange shirts with the ING Miami Marathon/Half Marathon logo. The hotel is as close to the beach as you can get, right next door to the famous Delano hotel, which I recall from my previous trip to Miami in 1998. We check in to the hotel room, chat for awhile and then walk a few block to the race expo.

At the expo, we receive our bib numbers (and they have our names on them) as well as some other goods like a "tech-tee" race shirt and running cap. I was thankful for the running cap because I thought I might need it to keep the early morning sun from my eyes. As I retreive the shirt, the expo volunteer asks me my size. "Small" I say. He gives me a weird look and says "A small? Are you sure?" I am flabergasted! Of course I gained some weight for this race, but not enough to change my shirt size! "You probably need an Extra Small". Ah. I am relieved. I gladly accept the extra-small and continue with Jenny throughout the expo. I purchase a pair of running sunglasses and a pair of normal sunglasses, for a grand total of $37!
After the Expo, Jenny and I walk to an area full of restaurants and shops. We settle on a pizza/Italian place that I had seen on the Internet prior to traveling there. Instead of pizza, I order this really interesting grilled veggie sandwich on freshly made bread. Yum! Afterwards, we go to CVS and stock up on cereal, fruit, crackers, cookies, candy. It is overwhelming to actually feel like I can buy whatever food I want without feeling guilty.

Back a the hotel room, I begin the lengthy process of affixing my timing chip to my shoelace. I am very obsessive about this because I don't want the chip to fall off or interfere with the lacing. I am paranoid that if I don't put the chip on correctly, I won't be scored properly. As it turns out, I did an excellent job of attaching the chip to my shoe, but the initial results were way off for most runners. Jenny told the folks at the expo that it often takes me several tries to get my chip "just right" so they gave me extra plastic fasteners:

I debate over wearing my new hat, or my new sunglasses. Both would be overkill. I settle on the hat because I didn't want to wear the sunglasses on my head for the first hour of the race in the dark. Since I had never run with a hat before, I get acquainted with it by wearing it the evening before the race:

Go Zippity Zebra!

I lay out all of my race "gear" the night before so that I don't forget anything when rushing around on Sunday morning. I got the idea to take this photo from Jenna, who took a similar one before her Marathon a few weeks ago:

Jenny and I set two alarms and ask for a wakeup call. Because the race starts so early and we are taking the race shuttle, we need to be awake by 3:30 a.m. We are both wide awake well before that time, anyway. We excitedly dress in our race attire, and I obsess over my bib number being straight.

We head out for the race. I triple check to make sure I have everything I need. On our way, we see two young women, dressed for going "out". They are on their way home after a long night of partying. All of the bars are closing, and I think some of them are even still open. They ask us if we are running the race and we say yes. They say that they trained for the half marathon, but decided not to run it.

When we arrive at the start line, it starts pouring. Torrential downpour. Jenny and I find refuge and toilets in the Arena, along with most other runners. Half marathoners were easily distinguised from full marathoners by their bibs. Many more people are running the half marathon. I feel excited to be running the full and I am so happy I chose it instead of the half. Meanwhile, the wind picks up and it rains harder and harder. We have no choice but to get in the corrals for the start of the race. I feel like I am taking a shower with thousands of other people. I think to myself, "Oh well, there goes my PR. My feet will probably blister from being so soaked. But I am still happy to be here."

We sing the National Anthem in the pouring rain and finally we begin to move. It's pitch dark and pouring rain, but Jenny and I are still very excited. We hug eachother as we approach the start line and then separate, as we run at different paces. Here is a map of the course:

My goal: start with 10:45-minute miles, and then speed up so that I get to the halfway point at 2:10. No faster, no slower. We run over a bridge in the dark and I see all the cruise ships lit up. I was once on a Royal Carribean cruise and I flashback to that moment.

The first few miles are crowded and uneventful. I am happy when the sun rises because I like to see where I am going. The song "Million Miles of Water" plays on my iPod as I try to avoid all the huge puddles on the course. How fitting. I remind myself that a marathon in 90% mental. I tell myself to run the race with my mind, not my body. I don't consider myself particularly athletic, but I do consider myself strategic and smart. So if I do well in this race, it's because of my thinking and attitude. I am near the 4:45 pace group at around mile 3.

I have to go to the bathroom really bad starting at mile 5. Everytime I see a porta potty, there is a line, and I don't want to sacrifice time by waiting in line. I am on the lookout for bushes or places I can pee discretely, but there are none.

As I approach mile 13, the half marathoners are directed one way, and the marathoners the other. I am so excited to continue running. I check my watch as I approach the halfway matt, and I am at 2:10. Perfect! Shortly after, I come upon a porta potty with no line, because most of the runners stopped at the halfway point. I quickly duck in and go to the bathroom and start running again feeling renewed. I see the 4:30 pace group at mile 14, run close to them for about 3-4 minutes and then pass them.

I continue on and begin to notice quad pain at mile 15. I tell myself that it doesn't hurt. It actually feels really good. I tell myself that I am getting a quad massage that feels amazing. It works! I later distract myself by pretening I am playing the piano to the songs on my iPod. I really think about the notes and where they would go on a piano, and I keep my running pace all the while. This distracts me for a few miles.
There are few runners around me. Maybe 3-4 at any given time. I am reminded of the Marine Corps marathon, miles 16-20 where we run around Hanes point and there is no crowd support and everyone is spread out. I remind myself how I got through that part really easily and tell myself I can do the same thing here. I start to feel nauseous and I really don't want to eat my Sports Beans, even though it's time. I force-feed myself the beans and they taste nasty, even though I typically enjoy them. I think the humidity is contributing to my nauseousness. Otherwise, the weather is perfect. It is in the 70's and cloudy, but I feel cool. I don't feel like I need to drink any water, but I have sips at the water stations, because I know I probably should.

I humor myself when I see signs throughout Coconut Grove that say "The Grove says NO to the Home Depot!" Hehehe. They say no to the Home Depot coming to their area. My neighborhood says NO to the homeless center. I guess we aren't the only NIMBYs.

I see people hitting "the wall". I have 6 more miles to go and my legs are hurting. I tell myself that the wall does not exist for me. I tell myself that stopping is not an option. I tell myself that walking will only prolong the race and make my time worse. I tell myself what I did in Delaware: just get to the next mile marker! Each mile is an acheivement.

I start calculating how much money I spent to run each mile based on the race entry fee. I tell myself that there is nothing else I would rather be doing at this moment than running a marathon. I tell myself that this marathon has been the most positive thing in my life for the past few months.

People cheer me on "Go Elizabeth!" It is so cool that our Bib numbers have our names on them. I pass the 4:15 pace group. I think to myself that I could never run with a pace group. I don't like running the same pace for the whole race. I need to speed up to make things exciting!

Just before approaching the mile 26 marker, there is a steep hill-- or bridge rather. I have no prior knowledge of this bridge and I am unpleasantly surprised. "You have got to be kidding me!" I think. It takes all the positive self-talk I have, but I run up the entire thing, and then back down the other side. I sprint 0.2 to the finish line.

I keep looking at my watch, amazed that I could finish in 4:13. I really did not expect that. I was honestly anticipating a 4:19-- 4:18 at the very fastest. In fact, when I registered for this race I had been considering only running the half marathon because I didn't think I could possibly beat my Marine Corps time of 4:24.
I cross the finish line, got a really cool spinning medal and went to retrieve my bag.

I still feel extremely nauseous, so I don't eat anything for about half an hour, at which point I have the mini Oreos that I stashed in my gear check bag. I talk to other runners while I wait for Jenny to cross the finish line. I text my friends and talk to my mother and I am very excited.

Jenny crosses the finish line and pretty much passes out just after the medal is placed around her neck. I take her to the medical tent where they help get her electrolytes back in balance. I am very scared for her, but the medical tent is equipped with the fluids needed to handle this type of thing. After awhile, Jenny is released and we walk back to the race shuttle. We have the entire bus to ourselves!

Back at the hotel, Jenny falls asleep and I check the results on the Internet, I freak out because they are wrong, but I try and calm myself because I am pretty certain that I can submit a correction.
What did I learn in this race? A marathon truly is a mental challenge. In other areas of my life, I have been trying to apply Cognitive therapy to change my thought patterns from negative to positive. Using messages that I believe are true, but that will not depress me or make me anxious. If I can use this strategy to keep positive during a 26.2-mile run, despite the pain in my legs, then I can do it in other areas of my life. I just need to remember as I go through my daily life the mental strength that I exhibited during this marathon and how it really got me through. 

I exceeded my goal and had a great time doing it. I didn't let the rain stop me. Or the nausea. Or having to go to the bathroom really bad. I just told myself to run with my mind, and it worked.

Monday, January 22, 2007

The Luck of the Race

Only four more days until I leave for Miami to run marathon number three. I can't believe I will have run three marathons in less than a year, and last year at this time, the furthest distance I had run was a half marathon.

As many runners can attest, the week preceding a marathon is a time of both nervousness and excitement. I am paranoid that I will slip and fall on the ice. Every little ache and pain that I experience, I automatically worry if it will still be bugging me during the race. I worry if I am over-doing the training during this week. Or if I am not running enough.

Many people have wished me "good luck" on this race and in others in the past. My initial thought is that running isn't a matter of luck. It's a matter of physical fitness and mental power. While running is not a matter of luck, racing actually is—to some extent. There are many aspects of a race that have to do with luck, or that are beyond the runner's control.

Here are my thoughts on what can and cannot be controlled in a race (particularly a marathon) and what the "unknown" factors are.

Within the runner's control:
  • Adherence to a training program, just "training" in general
  • How the runner paces him/herself during the race
  • What the runner eats and drinks before, during and after the race
  • The clothing/layers/running gear the runner wears
  • The runner's mindset and attitude during the race
Outside the runner's control:
  • The weather - An injury, soreness or illness(unless the runner brought it on him/herself by over-training)
  • Potential accidents during the race
  • The availability of Porta-potties at the start of the race and on the course
  • The water and fuel stations—this can be known, but not controlled
  • Travel delays or lost luggage if flying
  • The number of people running the race, potentially causing bottlenecks
  • Technology failures, such as the chip not working, the iPod malfunctioning or the watch stopping 
Provided that the weather isn't too rainy or hot, I don't get sick or injured, I can access a port-potty when I need to, I arrive to the race on time with my gear, and that my iPod or watch doesn't fail me, I anticipate a time of 4:20. However, I would be content with anything under a 4:22, and "beating my bib" which is 4220. Heck, just finishing the damn thing is an achievement, so I guess I would be happy with just crossing the finish line in one piece. I have a nagging soreness in my right inner thigh, but I wonder how much of that is "all in my head."

I have decided to take a vacation from my lap top, so the post-race blog will have to wait until Wednesday. Monday and Tuesday will be spent relaxing on South Beach. I will, however, use the lobby computer to post a brief bulletin upon finishing. So. . . wish me "luck" on Sunday!