Yeah, yeah – this is much later than promised. I’ve been busy doing this:
But before all this excitement, I was in the middle of a marathon (in more than one way!) race report here. So if you missed the first part, check out Chevron City to Surf Perth Marathon: Race Report (Part 1). The short summary: I was at the halfway mark in 1:54:xx, and just about to enter the hilly section. Things were about to get serious.
I’m going to break up this next section by elevation, rather than into 5K chunks, because reporting the splits makes much more sense that way.
21-23 km (13.1 – 14.3 mi): Up
The climbing began. I often think that a hill looks quite steep and intimidating from a distance, but once I’m at the base, or somewhere on it, the whole thing seems much more manageable. Many years ago, I shared this observation with my Mom, and her wise response was, “But which perspective do you think is more accurate?” Still, I blithely ignore her brilliance when faced with an incline on a run. I prefer to think, “Hey, I’m running! I’m running up! This isn’t so bad! Hey look, this part directly in front of me isn’t so steep! Keep going! My eyes must have been deceiving me, this isn’t so bad!” Even as my respiration rate increases and my legs feel the burn, I continue to focus on what’s just ahead. I tell myself the same thing I tell my runners:
“Eat up the hill!”
“Keep your feet moving!”
“Just keep climbing!”
Actually, without too much fuss, I was up the first climb. The course turned sharply at the top, and I was thankful that my pre-race profile study told me that I’d be climbing for about 2 kilometers. So when I rounded the corner and saw another moderately steep but loooong incline, I was prepared.
The “hill training” in my marathon prep included regular runs at McRitchie Reservoir, which doesn’t have anything terribly high/steep, but does have some small rolling hills. I also ran a few shorter runs as easy hill repeats, and when I did a treadmill run, I’d choose a “rolling” profile. Furthermore, I really just enjoy running hills, and don’t let them intimidate me. This attitude won’t make up for a lack of training, but it’s a great complement to solid training – so know your course, do your training, and laugh as you cruise up the hills during a race.
OK, I’ll admit – I’m not sure that I actually laughed. But I started passing people. Like, a lot of people. Turns out that my legs loved the change in terrain. Using the same muscles in the same way over and over again on the flats was starting to tire them – so the addition of some hills was great for distributing the workload to different muscles.
The reward at the top was a literally breath-taking view (like, I gasped out loud) over the Swan River. I was so tempted to stop for a photo. Fortunately (for my race), I didn’t have my camera. So, I kept running.
Mile 13: 8:45 min/mi
Mile 14: 8:57
23-26 km (14.3-16.2 mi): Down
After another almost-hairpin turn (a small traffic circle, at least, rather than a traffic cone) and final short incline, I hit the downhills. This was just before the 24 kilometer mark, and after a brief debate with myself, I decided to let ‘er rip. I love running downhills!
This isn’t the place for a long lecture on downhill running, but Coach Holly’s short version is this: If you do it cautiously, slowly, tentatively, and with lots of holding back – then your quads will do a lot of work. If you open your stride, roll your legs over, and barely let your feet touch the ground – then your legs actually do less work. A trail running friend in Rochester taught me how to do this (I’m not sure she ever gave me a lesson – I may have learned just by watching her – thanks, Laura!), and it’s a technique I’ve used for years. It’s especially fun on the roads, which are generally devoid of rocks, roots, loose gravel, and other potentially trip-on-able detritus.
Running downhills too hard, too early can be bad for the legs. But I was past the halfway mark, feeling good, and ready to be a little daring. This section was a blast!
Mile 15: 8:27 min/mi
Mile 16: 8:09
26-28 km (16.3-17.4 mi): Flat
At this point, the course leveled – briefly. I think I had a bit of adrenaline still flowing from the awesome up/down section, because my splits continued to come up a bit fast. But my legs were holding up well – my calves and Achilles tendons were starting to feel a bit tight, but nothing felt close to cramping. So I decided to let myself go, and run by feel.
I also ate some Sports Beans, and donated some Sports Beans to the course. My SBs were really sticky and smushed together, and while trying to wrestle them out of the package, I dropped a large, mushy clump of them on the ground. Apologies to anyone who might have stepped on them, and was forced to carry a few extra ounces of sugar and electrolytes on their sneaker for a bit. I refilled my bottle again along this section, eager to continue feeling hydrated and cool.
The rain had pretty much stopped by this time, but the skies remained overcast, and the temperatures relatively cool. This was running-weather-perfection!
Less perfection? The two out-and-backs (both with turn-arounds at traffic cones) in rapid succession, along this part of the course. At the second hairpin turn, I definitely mumbled, “Again?!??!” Those turns really steal momentum. But I couldn’t feel too cranky – I was still passing people, and was pleasantly surprised by how good I was feeling. I told myself there was one long climb between me, and the “just 10K to the finish” mark.
Mile 17: 8:30 min/mi
28-31 km (17.4-19.3 mi): Up
And just as this second long climb began, I ran past a few women who had cycled out to cheer. They had some cute signs, including one that made me laugh out loud (but I forget what it said), and one that I do remember: “Bike Rental: $5.” They were some good looking bikes…
Somehow, I blocked out the next few kilometers of climbing. I know I kept running, I know I was passing more people (although everyone was getting pretty spread out by this time), and I know I gave the timer dude at the 30km mark a big smile. I replayed the same climbing pep-talk that I used on the first climb.
I found my mind starting to wander, and I had to remind myself to think about running, concentrate on climbing, and keep my legs moving. This was a strange feeling I never experienced before on a run – it was almost like being just a tad light-headed, but not quite. I didn’t feel poorly at all – just the very slightest bit loopy. “Fuzzy” is the best word I can think of to describe it – like I was trying to think through a very light fog.
I worried briefly that my body was rebelling (nutrition/hydration/electrolyte issue?), so I forced myself to concentrate. I asked myself some basic questions: Name, birthday, wedding anniversary, US President’s name, etc. I answered correctly (at least, I think I did), so I figured I was OK. I decided that, if the feeling worsened, I’d slow down or take a break.
I crested the last bit of the hill and got a final glimpse of the Swan River overlook before heading “over the hill” (literally) to enjoy some of the downhill that I’d climbed on the way into the park.
Mile 18: 8:26 min/mi
Mile 19: 9:04
31-34 km (18.6-21.1 mi): Gradual Down
Again: downhills. Again: Cruising. My legs started to fatigue, so I started using my brain. I wasn’t pushing hard, I was just encouraging my legs to keep turning over, keep running, smooth and steady, etc. etc.
I reached up to scratch my face, and felt…grit. I was confused for a minute, then remembered that, when you run someplace where there is evaporative cooling, you can get a salt crust (in Singapore, it’s more like a salt slick, or a salt wave). I spent about half a mile carefully extracting, and VERY carefully swallowing, my first and only salt tab of the day.
I passed the 32K flag, and had a little internal celebration: 10K left! [OK, a smidge more than 10K – at this point, my Garmin was 0.15 miles ahead of the course markings.] I knew I was running well, and was well ahead of my goal time. I spent about half a mile struggling to do some pace/finish time math. That thought process looked something like this:
“I was already approximately 9-10 minutes “ahead” of 9 min/mi pace.
Even if I ran 9 min/mi to the end, that would be a finish time of 3:50-3:51.
That’s pretty snazzy!
But…if I run a little faster…
Could I hit 3:45?
What pace would that be?
An extra thirty seconds per mile…no…make that minute per mile…
Wait, was that 9 minutes ahead or 10 minutes ahead?
How far ahead is my Garmin? How many extra tenths will I have to run?
Did I pass the 32 K flag one minute ago, or two?
Wait a second…or a minute. HA! I made a joke! Funny girl…
60 times 5…divided by…
What is wrong with me? Why can’t I do this stupid math??
[Note: I warn my clients about this “race stupid” feeling. I’ve witnessed it many times, but haven’t usually fallen victim myself, until this marathon.]
I am both surprised and slightly embarrassed over how stupid I got. I do this stuff every day – heck, it’s my JOB! And suddenly, six miles from the end, I couldn’t handle some simple pace math. I realized I was getting frustrated, and decided that the exact time didn’t matter. I had a good margin of safety, and some really bad stuff would have to go down for me to miss my sub-4 goal. So I forgave my inability to reason out the math, and instead focused on my running.
My legs were tired, but there were no “bad niggles” (injury niggles). I was pushing, but nowhere near the brink of collapse (except for my math skills). I didn’t think I was pushing too hard for my safety, or doing any damage that would require extended recovery (thereby disrupting my plans for a 50K in October). I did feel that fatigue was starting to slow my legs, however, so I was pleasantly surprised each time I checked my Garmin along this stretch:
Mile 20: 8:18 min/mi
Mile 21: 8:14
34-39 km (21.2-24.2 mi): Flat
Finally, somewhere around Mile 22, it happened. I was expecting this moment. I was prepared for this moment. I was pleasantly surprised that it took so long for me to arrive at this moment. But…I was ready to be done.
My legs were tired. My brain was tired. I knew I could finish – it just wasn’t really fun anymore. But I’d been blessed with 22 fabulous, glorious, ridiculously easy miles – I could pull out 4 tough, tired miles. This is why I put in so many hours of training – not for the first 10 miles, but for the last 4 miles.
So out came the mental tricks. At this point, they weren’t that complex:
1. Chunking: Focus on the half miles. Take a drink every half mile. Just run half a mile at a time. Focus on the half miles.
2. Play Catch: Focus on the shirt in front of you. Catch up to the person. Pass the person. Repeat.
The course wound through a residential area, next to a park, and through an industrial/commercial area (actually, I think this is what happened, but don’t take me word for it – I was distracted, and my brain was fuzzy). There were several spots where small crowds congregated to cheer. I hadn’t minded that the rest of the course was pretty quiet – this was a little smattering of support, exactly where I needed it!
There was also musical support along the course in this section: First a bagpipe group/band, then a car dealership blaring pump-it-up music through their loudspeakers, and finally a drum corp. Although I seldom run with music (unless it’s playing at the gym while I’m on the treadmill), I am a musical person. I have some training in music, and I listen to music often during the day. I sing, I dance (when no one is watching), and I serenade KMN relentlessly with the music from the current RPM Cycling release. But I was caught completely off guard when, as I came upon the first group (bagpipers), my eyes welled up.
Now: I don’t especially like the sound a bagpipe makes. I have no emotional connection to bagpipes. I wasn’t crying from exertion. But here I was, in the midst of a totally selfish endeavor (I don’t think running is selfish – but I do think that racing is, for me, pretty selfish), and there they were – this group of older gentleman, gathered at 9 AM on a gray Sunday morning, giving up their time and energy just provide a happy little boost for me and my fellow runners. I felt…overwhelmed. And a few tears may have squeezed out, before I shook myself and returned my focus to the race. Crying congestion wasn’t going to do me any good at this point. But lo and behold, the whole feeling repeated itself as I passed the car dealership music, and then the drum corp. I idly wondered if I had lost all control of my emotions and was going to turn into a blubbering mess at the Finish Line.
I still felt that my brain was slightly fuzzy, and I reminded myself to concentrate on the race and keep my leg speed high. I fumbled with my third pack of super-sticky Sports Beans (which also felt unnecessarily complicated), got sugar and sticky all over my hands, wiped it all over my shirt, considered stopping to rinse my hands (I hate having sticky fingers), then reminded myself how stupid that would be so close to the finish.
There was one climb in this section – I still can’t find it on the course profile, but I assure you that it was there. And it was not insignificant. At first, I was excited that I was coming into the Final Climb, although it felt a bit early. Thankfully, a lone cheerleader was shouting, “Just one more climb!” along this section. After brief consideration, I realized he meant one more after this one, confirming for me that this was not the final climb (go check the course profile, you’ll see what I mean).
I kept running. I kept passing people. 22 miles, 22.5 miles, 23 miles, 23.5 miles, 24 miles – TWO MILES LEFT (sometimes, I lie to myself at the end of a race)!!!!
Mile 22: 8:21 min/mi
Mile 23: 8:38
Mile 24: 8:12
39-42 km (24.2-26.5 mi): Up, Down, Finish
The course ran through a park just before the 38 km mark, and all crowds disappeared. The only support was a sign advertising, “(Name), Massage Therapist / Call XXXX-XXXX!” I laughed aloud. The sign was optimally placed, but she would have done much better handing out business cards. I’m not sure that anyone is wasting precious mental resources memorizing a phone number at kilometer 39 of a marathon. No way, Jose. Thanks for the laugh, though, Miss Massage Therapist!
I struggled through a bit more fuzzy math, and calculated that a sub-3:45 was still a possibility, depending on *exactly* how much over 26.2 miles I’d have to run (with 10K left, my Garmin was 0.15 miles over, and the last 10K was less curvy than the first 30K). So when the final climb came into view, I ran. I thought about walking, but didn’t really have a good reason to, so I kept running. And running. And running. I focused on a small plateau, and then the next, and then….hopefully the last one. It was.
Now, less than a mile to go. And I heard myself again, in my head: “You can do anything for a mile!” So, I ran. I ran fast (everything is relative). I passed a guy. I set my sights on a woman a bit ahead of me. I heard the announcer. I ran a bit faster. I saw what I believed was the final turn. I ran a bit faster. I passed the first woman, set my sights on a second. I saw all the Finishing Chute flags. I ran a bit faster. Finally, I saw the Finish Line arch. I was still at least 30 seconds away. The numbers on the digital clock at the Finish Line came into focus, and I watched it click over from 3:44 to 3:45. Dang. Oh, well. I ran faster. “Drive your knees, relax your arms, breath.” GO.
I crossed the line.
YES. Oh-so-much YES.
Mile 25: 8:38 min/mi
Mile 26: 8:06
Final 0.38 mi: 6:56
Any other hill-lovers out there? Let me hear you!!!
Does the “fuzzy” feeling happen to anyone else?
Think about a race that you ran well: What was your first thought when you crossed the Finish Line?