Monday, October 18, 2010

Grand Rapids Race Recap

To tell this story, a short recap about my training is necessary. I began this training session rather out of shape; but having taken well needed rest. The break allowed some lingering injuries to heal, but it meant my first real training run was a 10K disaster--an 8:56/M average. Compare that to the 6:36/M average I had for the same course the previous year. The July 4th 10K is significant also because it was occurred on a hot, sunny, and mostly unshaded course. Why do those three things matter? See this or this to remind you.

Alas, as the many hot and muggy summer days moved along, I kept diligent to my training schedule and maintained a healthier diet. Soon my times were improving, and the +25 pounds began to drop. I was returning to my racing form. Yet, it wasn't until some quality runs in August that I began to think I would be able to take a shot at another BQ attempt. When my last training run resulted in a 23Mer at a 7:01/M average, I felt a PR could be in the making.

But, I've had enough runs--several marathons included--where things didn't go well. Calf cramps have been an issues in the past, but I hadn't dealt with one this training cycle. Which is why I got extremely nervous when I woke up early Saturday morning with a terrible calf cramp. No &$!@ way! Now? Really! Needless to say, my confidence was a little shaken.

Later that day, the Redhead, my sister Emma, and my cuz LeBrian and I all went to the expo to get our bibs and do a little spending. Sadly, we failed to meet up with Sun Runner. Bibs and new gear in hand, we settled in for an early night.

Race morning found the temps cool, but the weather predicted the temps to rise quickly. Furthermore, not a cloud in the sky. Exactly the kind of weather report that calls for trouble for me and my calfs.*

My goal was to hit 7 minute miles +/- 5 seconds. After scrambling to the starting line, like always, the gun sounded and we were off. The first four miles were right on target. But mile 5 was a 6:30. Not a great idea. Regardless, I nailed the half at a 1:30. Miles 10 through the half are mostly through a park. In the part I remember feeling that the sun was beginning to take a slight toll.

After the half, the sun was full in the sky and blazing down on me. I tried to keep myself emotionally focused on miles 15-20, but by mile 18 things were falling apart. I began posting miles above the 7:15 pace. My last 8 miles went 7:17, 7:13, 7:31, 7:35, 8:13, 8:04, 8:52, 8:18, 7:54.

The times do not tell the story. Before mile 22 my left calf, which had been acting up after mile 20, snapped. I had to stop and stretch it. I began to run again but it was acting up with every step. I felt the race slipping away. After I passed mile 23 I saw a sign that read "Your next 5K will be your best 5K." I said some very sarcastic and slightly rude things to that sign. I had already began that negative thinking, the kind that infiltrates quickly and can become so consuming and overbearing. At mile 23 I had given up on a PR, another BQ, or even finishing the race strong.

Just after mile 23, I hit an aid station. And I gave up. I just stopped running and began to walk. Not a 'walk' to walk through the aid station, but a 'walk' to walk the remainder of the race. My calfs were awful, and I looked like a 6'1" salt-lick. I was in the darkest place any runner can go, I was in the center of doubt and dispair--located in my mind and pressing hard on my soul.

One volunteer was offering gummy bears. As I approached, and as he offered me the sweet and friendly gummy delights, I gave him a look of death. Couldn't he see, I was walking. Wasn't it obvious, I had given up.

Then I began to hear the volunteers. They kept telling me: I had it; I was doing great! As I slowly passed the stranger offering candy, he said: "Just start running again. It will be alright." I finished my water and continued to walk as I grabbed a Gatorade. But the encouragement of the volunteers and the supporters penetrated. One ray of hope pierced the dark center of my running existence, and I started to run again. I didn't look at my watch. It didn't feel like I was going fast; in fact it felt like I was dragging two blocks of concrete and not my feet. But I was running. One ray of hope, and I was running again. All previous goals became meaningless. The victory lay in the resumption of my running. I won my race three miles ahead of schedule.

It wasn't until I saw I had about 9 minutes and 1.2M to go that I thought I could still make a BQ. In the back of my mind I could recall previous disasters. Previous marathons where I lost hope and allowed the cramps to end a run. Previous marathons where the sun roasting my skull became too much. All of those fails allowed me to dig deep and to find a place I had never found before in a marathon. Soon I saw the Redhead and my family wildly cheering me on. I knew that I didn't have a crazy strong finish, but I also knew I could just stay steady and requalify.

Now, don't get me wrong, BQing again is a big deal to me. For reasons I haven't fully investigated I passionately wanted to run another BQ time. And I'm very excited I did. But, for me, the lasting lesson from the Grand Rapids Marathon was the victory over myself. The volunteers and supporters gave me hope when I had none. I could have fought it. I didn't. I embraced it, and I allowed it to carry one foot in front of the other.

* I know, the temps were nothing compared to what you Chicago runners had to deal with last week; but I ran Chicago 08, so I've been through that. I know your pain.


K said...

That is such an inspiring story! Thanks for sharing your experience. Yay for volunteers!

K said...

And congrats on another BQ!

Nitmos said...

Great job! I don't know how anyone can eat gummy bears with a dry mouth on race day - something I've never understood as an 'aid' item - but they must work right? Congrats.

Katie A. said...

Awesome job pulling through - that is well earned BQ! You fought through it!
Congrats again, Boston better watch out!

Steel Springs said...

Awesome. This is very inspiring. Congratulations on getting through everything to a strong finish! Congratulations on the BQ, too!

Sun Runner said...

You are so awesome...I mean, really, there are no words.

I'm also very glad you actually managed to register during Monday's giant clusterfuck.

A true test of fortitude will be if you dare to do the Run Through Hell on Halloween.

I'm going to wave a package of bacon around as bait.

Morgan said...

This is exactly why you are such an inspiration to me. So proud of you my love!!! Can not WAIT to cheer you on again in Boston!

Ironman By Thirty said...

Congrats! Way to push through at the end and BQ!

Running and living said...

OMG, my heart was in my throat. I know exactly what you were going through. It is incredibly hard to put yourself together once you have something like a blister (for me Boston 2010) or a cramp shatter your PR dreams. Great job pushing through. And you BQed! The question is, were you fast enough to register for Boston?

Running and living said...

One more thing. Have you heard of the Recovery e21 pills? They are algae based electrolytes specifically designed to prevent cramps. People swear by them. I used them, but I don't have cramp issues, so can't attest!

Adam said...

Wow, I didn't realize that your calf cramps were THAT bad. way to hang in there and still get the BQ.

I totally had that moment in Denver too. The "walk" to walk the remainder of the race. Not like "oh, I'm going to take a 10 sec breather and sip some wateR". Bleh.

Redhead said that you got in on Monday too - that is a feat in itself!!

Anonymous said...

Wow, very inspiring. Congrats on finishing strong. I ran GR too and it was my 1st marathon. It was quite the experience.

Amy said...

Awwww... what an inspiring race report! And congrats on the BQ!

the dawn said...

it was great to meet you after the race (albeit briefly)! i had NO idea that the race was such an internal struggle for you...i figured that you'd BQ'd before and doing it again was a snap. but, it's so much more inspiring to know that you were lost in that dark place but found a way to break out!!! good work!

i had such a mental battle from 20-25. i too felt hopeless and like giving up...but i'm starting to learn/accept that the mental challenges in marathons don't get easier, no matter how many you've run. maybe that's why i keep coming back...

thanks for the story!!

Harold said...

Grats on the BQ!