Sunday, December 4, 2011

St. Jude Memphis Half Marathon: Race Report

Yesterday morning, I ran the St. Jude Memphis half marathon. This is my third consecutive year participating in this race. In 2009 I ran the half marathon and in 2010 I ran the full marathon. The full marathon went very badly for me last year due to stomach distress, but the half marathon in 2009 was a very good race for me.

The company that I work for is a gold sponsor of the St. Jude Memphis Marathon weekend. Several years ago, we chose St. Jude as our official charity partner and we made a commitment to donate $1 million to the research hospital over a period of time. St. Jude Children's Research hospital was created to find cures for childhood diseases and provide first-class treatment to sick children.

As an avid runner, I knew that St. Jude organized a marathon and half marathon, so I looked into how my company could be a part of that. It turns out that all sponsorship money goes directly to St. Jude Children's Research Hospital and that if we sponsored the race, it would help us fulfill our $1 million commitment. As such, I was easily able to convince my CFO to sponsor the event in 2009, and we have been doing so ever since.

Expo Experience
St. Jude Marathon Expo
The company I work for provides software to manufacturing companies. It has nothing to do with running, however, our sponsorship came with an expo booth. My husband and I traveled to Memphis on Thursday to staff the booth. Special thanks goes out to Greg for taking vacation time to come to Memphis with me and keep me company at the expo.

As you may imagine, we got very little traffic, except for the fact that we were giving away pens and people were happy to take those. There was one runner who was a user of our software and I had a great conversation with him.Otherwise, we were there primarily for the brand recognition. It was really cool to see our logo on the race shirt and have our signage on the course. After all, I run the marketing department (and therefore manage the brand) so it was exciting to see people wearing a shirt with my company's logo.

The only other employee from my company who participated was my CFO, but the CEO sent his wife and two of his kids, along with his sister and her husband. I had also invited my friend from Atlanta and her husband to join our team.

Race Goals and Strategy
This was not a target race for me. I was actually much more interested in doing well at my recent 10K and 5K then I was for this half marathon. My mileage had been relatively low and I hadn't done many long runs since my marathon two months ago, so I didn't have any specific training dedicated toward this race. I was mainly looking forward to having a fun time and running a decent race.

Time-wise, I would have liked to go sub-1:40, which would have meant a PR by a bit less than two minutes. On the one hand, I know I am in much better shape now then when I ran my 1:41:40 last October. On the other hand, 1:41 is a very solid half marathon time, so I'd have to push myself to beat it.

My strategy was to take it easy during the first 5K and then just run the race by feel, without looking at my Garmin too much. I've run enough of these that I know what half marathon pace should feel like.

Race Morning
Greg and I met up with two of our friends and headed to the start line. Our hotel was just three blocks from the start line, and the self-corralling system was very clearly marked. I didn't see any obvious walkers in the faster corrals. Corrals are released one minute apart, leaving plenty of room on the course for the runners. At the same time back home, many of my friends were running the Hot Chocolate 15K and 5K, which was a logistical nightmare. Knowing what they were going through, I was very happy to have a short walk to the start and a course that was not overcrowded.

Greg and I started near the 3:25 marathon pacer, which would yield a half marathon time of 1:42:30. I thought that starting out near him would be perfect, and then I would gradually start to speed up and pass him-- hopefully catching the 3:20 guy toward the end of the race. Greg didn't have high expectations for this race because he hasn't been training much since our marathon two months ago. But we still started out together.

Miles 1-3
The race started and I was running about 20 feet behind the 3:25 pacer. It wasn't long before Greg sped up and got ahead of me, and I stayed steady. I glance down at my Garmin a few times and saw that I was running at about an 8:00 pace, which I was fine with.

Mile 2 came and I knew it would be faster because it had a long downhill. I decided to just keep the effort level steady. After the downhill, there was a bit of an uphill and that's when I realized that I didn't feel very well. I saw Greg wave to some people cheering on top of a hill, and I didn't want to expend the energy to do that. But this was mile 2! I didn't want to write the race off yet, but I could tell that my energy level was very low.

I just focused on staying relaxed and maintaining the pace (based on feel, not on the Garmin) and I didn't care that the 3:25 guy was no longer in my sight by mile 3.

Mile 1: 8:02
Mile 2: 7:43
Mile 3: 8:03

Miles 4-7
I took my first honey at mile marker 4, thinking that some calories might make me feel more peppy. But it didn't seem to make any difference at all. I started thinking about why I could be feeling so tired. I had gotten a decent amount of sleep that week-- but I had waken up quite a few times during the middle of the night on Thursday and Friday night due to the hotel bed being small.

I knew it was time to pick up the pace and start running at what felt like half marathon pace, but I didn't feel like I had the energy to do so. My pace of 8:00 didn't feel like half marathon effort, but I felt really tired doing that, and I didn't think I had the energy for faster. I glanced at my Garmin off and on, and was maintaining a pace of around 8:00, but I kept running by feel instead of letting the Garmin dictate my pace.

If this had happened a year ago, I think I would have been too focused on time to pay attention to my body. I would have sped up to my target 7:40 pace and probably crashed really hard.

I remembered when I ran this race in 2009 after coming off of a foot injury and being shocked that I held a pace of 8:00. I was very happy with that pace back then, so I was going to be content with it now. This wasn't a target race for me, so as long as I could just hang in there and not have a repeat of the full Memphis marathon in 2010, I'd be fine.

Mile 4: 7:38 (partially under a bridge, Garmin was off a bit)
Mile 5: 7:48
Mile 6: 7:58
Mile 7: 7:55

Miles 8-10
I was feeling so bad by mile marker 8, that I had to remind myself that I only had five miles left. During the recent Milwaukee Lakefront marathon, I started feeling bad at mile 13, and I still had 13 miles to go. But it was like being at mile 21 of a marathon, so that thought was encouraging.

At this point, I knew I was going to have to slow down, it would just be a matter of how soon and by how much. Mile 10 is probably the toughest mile of the race which has a lot of uphills, and that's when most of the people in my "group" started passing me-- including Greg. I felt like a snail going up the hills and I just wanted to collapse. I was so tired. Even though I ran an 8:22 pace for mile 10, my effort level was the same because of all the hills, but then I felt completely "done" after mile 10.

Mile 8: 7:56
Mile 9: 8:02
Mile 10: 8:22

Miles 11-13.1
Approaching the Finish
After mile 10, I wanted to walk. I was afraid I was going to have to run-walk to the finish and not even get a sub 1:50. Thankfully, mile 11 was mainly downhill. But there were a few uphills, and I did walk for a few seconds on those.

Mile 12 came and I walked a few times, about 5-10 seconds each time. But I told myself "you are only prolonging this experience by walking. It's not helping you at all. Just run and you'll be done with it faster." All I wanted to do was to lay down and just pass out. But I tried my hardest to tolerate it for two more miles.

The last mile was pretty much all downhill. It starts with an uphill, but then the last 3/4 of that mile is a nice downhill. I walked for a little bit on the uphill and then decided to really push hard on the downhill because the end would be there soon. I passed mile marker 13 and just cruised to the finish on the downhill and into the stadium at a surprising 7:03 pace. I guess I had some energy left in me.

Mile 11: 8:32
Mile 12: 8:43
Mile 13: 8:37
Last 0.2 (per garmin): 7:03 pace

The Finish
I crossed the finish line and saw Greg. I was so happy to be done! I starting coughing out air off and on, but that stopped after about 5-10 minutes. And then I felt okay. I probably could have pushed myself more during this race, but it really wasn't "my day" and it wasn't a target race so I just went with what I thought my body could tolerate without making myself feel completely sick and miserable.

Official time: 1:46:49

My time was far off from my goal, but it wasn't horrible given how tired I felt throughout the race, and I'm not beating myself up for my fitness level or making some big mistake. I seriously thought that I might not even get under 1:50. I know I'm in great shape, as evidenced by my recent 10K and 5K races-- yesterday was just an off day for me. I ran this race in 1:44:30 back in 2009, and I am in far better shape today.

What really does bother me, however, is that this type of thing just "happens". This same exact thing happened to me at the Milwaukee Lakefront marathon-- a lack of energy that left me run-walking starting at mile 14, despite going out at a pace that was "easy". It also happened to me at the 2009 Cherry Blossom 10-miler. I started feeling crappy at mile two, and then by mile five I pulled off the course and DNFed. No real explanation for why-- I just didn't have any energy in me.

My coach suggested that flying to races could be putting an extra strain on my body, or maybe I was coming down with a cold/flu. My allergies had really been acting up the day before the race, but overall I felt decent, so I thought they were just allergies-- like I was allergic to my "pet-friendly" hotel room.

Maybe I've been running too many races. I ran a 10K on Oct. 29, followed by another 10K on Nov. 13, and then a 5K on Nov. 24. I've also been doing speed work in between these races. Maybe I was burned out on racing. Who knows!?

I really don't have an explanation, and that's what bugs me. There isn't anything I can focus on to prevent this type of thing. There was no way for me to predict this was going to happen, and I can't pinpoint the cause. I wasn't anxious or stressed about this race, although I guess my restless sleep could have played a role.
I guess one good thing is that my legs feel 100% normal today. Absolutely no soreness. Because I ran the race at a relatively easy pace, there wasn't much strain on my legs. However, I do plan to take two days from running just to be on the safe side. And I plan to take the next two weeks very easy-- in case I was burned out from too many races and too much speedwork.

In any case, it was a fun weekend with my husband, my friends, and the rest of the runners on my company's team. St. Jude Children's Research Hospital is an amazing organization, and it was wonderful to participate in an even that supported such a noble mission.
My corporate team (minus the 13-year old who was looking for his results)


  1. Congrats on the race!
    Given your energy levels, I think you did fantastic. Your coach could be right about the flying thing, traveling takes a lot of energy. Think of all the energy you use to pack, and the energy it takes to try and remember everything that you need to bring. Traveling can be stressful!

  2. Ugh - I'm so sorry.

    Maybe start keeping a more detailed log of stuff like work and personal stress, sleep, changes in diet, travel? See if there's any correlation?

  3. First off, congrats to you and your company for being so generous with time and money. It says a lot for a non-running company to participate as a gold sponsor. YAY to you for motivating the people you work with for the love of running and helping this precious charity.

    Here's food for thought. You can take it or leave it. I've had valleys in my training that were due to energy, and I too worked hard to figure out the cause. Sometimes there were no reasons. Other times, I found that I needed more sleep in general terms. Like, if you've been busy and cutting an hour (or even less) EVERY night for a few weeks, that can do it. Another thing is nutrition. Have you been taking your regular vitamins? Eating your regular meals? I know you are stickler for hydration; so I won't go there.

    The last thing I've done is ditch the Garmin for all easy runs. I only use it now occasionally to make sure my easy pace is within check. I do wear a regular watch to make sure my runs are all "within reason", not too fast or too slow. I found that when I wore the Garmin on easy runs, I would subconsciously 'race' the Garmin. Silly, I know. My easy pace would get faster and faster...

    And... sometimes we are just tired. Unlike elites, we have regular jobs with sometimes long hours. We also have other activities and responsibilities. These things wear down "normal" people. You're doing great, Elizabeth. Keep up the good work!

  4. I'm sorry to hear about the lack of energy, but it sounds like you ran a smart race considering the circumstances. Maybe all of the recent races and hard training have taken more out of you than you thought?

  5. flying is actually a really good idea - i've had some awful races/runs in the days after i get off a plane. it's rough on your body!

  6. I think it's so great that your company does this, and that you spearhead the effort. As for the race, I think the comments above have good suggestions - have you been to a doctor or nutritionist to talk about whether you're getting enough this or that? Could it be iron?

  7. Yay for running by feel, and holding it together at the end when you wanted to walk!

    I don't know what you can do about your energy difficulties. It's odd that you didn't feel bad before the race, just during. I like the idea of keeping a diary to compare with your energy level/ability, and maybe the nutritionist, too.

  8. i always love your race reports - you tell the story and are just so thoughtful about it all. i admire that because oftentimes after i a race i feel dumbstruck trying to summarize the whole experience. like you, i want to learn from my races - what i did right, what i could have done better, any mistakes i made etc. i understand how frustrated you must feel in this situation, not understanding what could be causing you to feel a lack of energy. maybe the flying is the issue, at least that is something in common with your fall marathon. i think it's smart to keep a journal and take note of different factors so you can find correlations and determine what could be causing it.

  9. There just never seems to be a rhyme or reason sometimes as to why some races go well and others not, but I think you are on to something with the airplane travel AND allergies (pet friendly hotel; I'm sure that had an effect). I think you did great, when I crash, I typically crash big! ;)