Monday, February 18, 2008

Race Report: Pensacola 1/2 Marathon

First: thanks to everyone for all of your wonderful comments – I read them all and truly enjoy. BIG thanks!

Second: I wanted to give a big shout-out to everyone who raced, participated in the Tri-Bloggers Swim Challenge, and did mega-amounts of work last weekend. You guys are MY inspiration, and you all ROCK! Don’t think that you know this (how could you, because I’m only writing about it now), but on the back of my race number, I like to write inspirational thoughts, quotes, names, times, etc. Just something for me to draw strength from during the race: If I can carry a little of Bree Wee’s speed with me for 13.1 miles, I’m bound to succeed, right?

Yesterday one of the many things I wrote on the back of my number was “blogger friends” – so thanks to all for your strength and support. You were (literally) with me every step of the way.

Without all the pain and discomfort, of course.

Third: Most of you have already perused through the Race Quips (good, bad, ugly!) part, so you basically know what happened. This being said – I’m still writing a race report – just because I want to. Ha! AND, it’s good for me to recap in my own voice. This time, I’m going for first person present. Read on! (Like a lot of the stuff I write, its long… beware. But it’s true, it’s me, and it’s an honest reflection of the things that went through my mind during the race.)

Please enjoy (did I just quote Morimoto from “Iron Chef”)?

(Man, I could really go for some sushi…) AGAIN!

Pensacola Half Marathon Race Report:

My alarm goes off, loudly at 3:30. Bloody Hell – it’s effing early. I jump out of bed, make my oatmeal, eat as fast as I can and try to go back to bed, but have a hard time falling asleep. I finally drift off and again awake around 5:05. Nate wakes up 15 minutes later and give me a great big hug. I hand him his coffee and we’re out of the house by 5:35 or so.

I am nervous and excited, and I fiddle with my race number and chip in the car – finally getting everything in order as we arrive at the race site. We park and I jump out to do my 15-minute warm up. About 2 minutes into my run, I run into fellow blogger Ryan and his family. After a few minutes I press on, finding my rhythm and stride through the dark streets of the old quarter of Pensacola. I pass a house and see a middle aged man sitting at his dining room table, reading the paper and enjoying an early breakfast. The scene is so surreal: while I am nervous and running, other people and getting up and doing every day thing.

I try to make a quick trip to the Port-o-Potties, but am amazed at the LONG line for the bathrooms. Immediately, I turn to Plan B and look for a bush. Or large house. Or anything to block the world’s view from my rear end (they’ve already seen it once, I didn’t want to do it again!) My bladder was quite full, as I had been sipping on water al morning. I saw a lot of guys heading up and alley – but no bushes in sight. Plan C: just go. So I did. Sorry – it’s totally gross, and I felt really weird doing it, but figured it was clear anyway. I had been drinking so much water that it was bound to be clear. If Bear Grylls (Man vs Wild) can drink his own pee, than I can certainly pee on myself before a race start once. Or twice. Dude – if you gotta go, then you gotta go. And it made all the difference.

I return to the car, grab my gels, extra water (rinse my legs), and Nate and I make our way to the start. In the grass next to the start line, again I see Ryan and his family. His daughter is so cute, ready to complete her marathon, while his wife is so supportive of the both of them. After exchanging a few pleasantries and commenting about all the pelicans flying inland away from the storm, I set out to do my pre-race strides.

I’ve never done strides before, and feel self conscious, like I shouldn’t bother doing them. Only really fast people do strides: it was just yesterday that I learned about tempo trainers (mid-weight shoes that you wear during tempo runs and longer races… lighter than regular running shoes, but offer more support than racing flats) – and I feel odd running off the line with the “fast” people. I notice a few really fast local guys and see Jennifer McGranahan – the local female running guru. Jennifer and I exchange pleasantries and I wish her a great race.

After kissing Nathaniel good-bye, I line up at the start. The wind whips up along the bay front, and the clouds race overhead. The temperature is muggy and warm: 71 degrees with humidity ranging from 90-95%. The only reason there wasn’t fog was due to the 20 mph SE winds. But I was determined to not let it bother me, and in fact had planned on throwing in a surge during the 2.5-mile long stretch along I-110 that faced directly into the wind.

The crowd pressed in around me, and I tried to jockey for a better position. I didn’t want to seed myself at the very front – fearful that I was setting myself up for failure by not meeting my own expectations. I simply wanted to go out, run my own race, and break 1:30. I could feel the body heat from other people, and soon enough we had our :30 countdown.

The gun goes off, and I start off. Immediately I kick myself in the rear for not placing myself further up towards the start. I am forced to dodge people left and right for a minute or two. But after 1/3 of a mile, the crowd really thins out and I find my stride. I notice Jennifer shooting off way in front of me, and figure that I’ll chat to her after the race. I notice another girl next to me and she matches me stride-for-stride. I take a peek at her number and see that she’s running the full marathon – so no worries. After another ½ mile, she’s not next to me, and I can only see about two or three-dozen people in front of me.

I pass the first mile and see that I’ve just run a 6:23. Too fast – so I immediately back off my pace. I am afraid of blowing up at the mid-way mark, even though my Coach says this is impossible. I have the endurance. I feel fine, but I decide to run conservatively for the first 5k, assess how I feel, do the same for the next 5k, and then light it up in the second half.

I pass mile 2 around 13:00 and feel better about my pace. I figure that it’ll vary – but as long as I can run sub 1:30 OR run to the best of my ability, I’ll be okay. As I’m running, I try to chat with some people. Some are receptive, others not-so much. Some sound miserable, while others are just cruising along. I note the variety, but am still doing my own race.

I crest a small hill before turning onto Scenic Highway and I think about last year – when I ran the full Marathon. Everything seems so much faster now – not just the pace of my run today, but my life in general. Much more excitement with triathlon and racing, and I am so happy to be here, at this exact moment in time. I am happy and I can’t think of anything else that I would rather be doing on a beautiful (albeit windy) Sunday morning.

The wind is on my back along Scenic Highway, and the crowds have really thinned out. Cars are passing, honking their horns and blasting their stereos, and I wave a few time and give a few thumbs up. It’s awesome that people are out here, cheering us on. I see a wheelchair athlete, accompanied by a mountain biker, and I draw strength from him as he’s rolling along. I pass him, exchange a few pleasantries and run along. I feel as though I’m flying and just hope that I can hang on to this feeling as long as possible. I feel free, I feel fast, I feel like this is my time to run.

Ahead in the road, I spot an orange cone, knocked over and lying on its side. Two runners pass it without stopping, and I think about the PC athlete a few seconds behind me. I speed up, bend over and try to throw the heavy cone into the grass out of the way. I hear someone yelling that they’ll do it, but I didn’t listen. I didn’t want the PC athlete to veer into traffic – and it seemed the right thing to do. It took all of a few seconds, and he would do the same for me if the rolls were reversed.

I quickly regain my stride and look ahead. I see Jennifer and a group of about 4 or 5 runners about :30 - :40 up, and I think that after 4 miles, I’m not that far behind. That’s only :10 per mile difference. I figure that she’ll light it up in the second half. I see Nathaniel shortly after the half marathon turn off – where the full marathon and half separate. After making the left-handed turn and grabbing two cups of water, I am truly on my own. I can here a few people pounding the pavement behind me, but not too close. I can see the pack of 4 or 5 up ahead, and I vow that I will keep attached to them as long as I can. I see an invisible string – pulling me along, keeping me connected. As long as I don’t break contact.

I know there’s another water station around mile 6 or 7, and I figure that’s when I’ll take my first gel. My stomach is a little upset now – just from not taking a crap before the race (ggggrrrrr), and I figure if I just relax everything will be okay. And if I have to pull over and use a bathroom, that’ll be okay too – just part of the experience. I can still see my group of 5, and shortly pass Nathaniel who yells encouraging words at me, and says that the gap is staying the same. I respond that there’s NO WAY I can catch Jennifer, and I truly don’t think I’ll be able to. So I just keep running.

I pass another aid station, thank as many volunteers as I can, try to throw my water cups into the trash bin and miss horribly, and am on my way. I see a few of my Master’s Swim buddies volunteering and one guy yells that he’s looking forward to seeing me at Master’s the next morning. I yell something back and keep going.

My pace is feeling great, and I am surprised by my perceived exertion. I am averaging between 6:35 and 6:45 per mile, and feel great. I keep waiting for it to get really really hard, but remind myself to be patient – that I will be really happy that I played it safe around mile 9. As I’m not wearing a heart rate monitor, I have no way of judging my body’s effort.

But I do….

I listen to my breath, I listen to my feet, I focus on my posture, and don’t check my watch every minute to get my hr data. Every mile I’ll check my split, but I often forget where I was at during the previous mile, and try rounding up to the nearest :30 or :60. I know that I’m going fast, and my body feels calm. My legs feel refreshed and I can’t believe that I rode 100+ miles the previous weekend, and had a solid week of training. I kept my posture in check and felt myself fly along the road.

On 12th Street, I hit a big downhill and then a sharp, but quick uphill. I lean into the hill, take baby steps, and practically laugh out loud as I think about Dumbledore. There are people at the top of the hill, cheering, and one yells that Jennifer is just a little bit ahead – less than a minute. It seems that everyone knows Jen, is cheering for her. And I am quick to jump on the wagon. I know, I reply – but she’s so fast. I’ll be lucky if I can finish in the same ballpark as her! The woman smiles and nods, and I feel a little peeved. Everyone just assumed that Jen would win – myself included. But why?

12th avenue is beautiful, and I am amazed at how the Spanish Moss and Live Oaks cover the road in a twisting and green canopy. It provides the perfect wind tunnel for the 20 mph wind, and I lean forward and feel as though I’m still going up a hill. There’s a runner right ahead of me – the first from Jennifer’s group to drop back. There were 5, and as I pass him, I think to myself – “1 down, 4 to go!”

We take a right and are briefly out of the wind. I see Nathaniel again, and he yells that the group is still :40 up ahead and that I need to close the gap – that I CAN do it. I fly past the 9 mile mark, and figure that I’ve got 4 miles left. I am right around 1 hour and 10 seconds, or 1 hour 1 minute – I’m in my zone and can’t remember. My splits are all running together, so I stop worrying about time. I think that if I can just hold 7 minute miles, I’ll go under 1:28. And then I remind myself of the .1 mile extra, and think suddenly that going 1:27 or 1:26 would be possible. Every time I think about slowing down, about not fighting my way up to Jen and her group, I think about my poem that I wrote and I think about Elizabeth’s wizard. My wizard. I know that the doubt, the questions – are all Dumbledore trying to jump on my back. I won’t let him get the best of me, and decided I will power my way through the 2.5 miles into the SE headwind.

The temperatures are still warm, but my stomach is okay. The gel that I took in around mile 7 is sitting well, and I don’t think I’ll need another. I hit the bridge just before the turn at the 10-mile mark, and Nathaniel drives by me – cheering and yelling that they’re RIGHT THERE! He honks the horn and I know I’ll see him at the finish or at the turn at Palafox.

I see Jennifer and her group of 4 hit the turn, and guesstimate myself to be :40 back or so – and my time to reach the turn confirms this. The wind hits me – and I decide that the wind is my new best friend. The wind will not hold me back, and I know all the power sets in zone 3 that Coach Jen has me do are making my legs stronger, more powerful. I am strong and I am meant to run into the wind like this. I will not get blown away. Up ahead, I see the first casualty from Jen’s group self-implode.

I pass him quickly, and note his ipod and headphones. That makes me angry – and I can’t explain it. Perhaps because running (to me) is about listening to myself, finding myself – and using music seems to keep me out of touch with my body. There is a time and place for an ipod – and a race simply isn’t one of them. Plus, the race organizers work really hard to make sure that people are safe, and wearing an ipod when there’s traffic, other competitors, and volunteers all around doesn’t seem like a very good thing to do. He tries to stay on my shoulder for a bit, but I am not interesting in towing someone else along. I throw in a bit of a surge, and his footsteps quickly fall away.

I have no idea where I’m at course wise. I think that I’ve passed the 11-mile mark, but am unsure. I’m no longer looking at my watch: instead, my eyes are boring a hole into the backs of Jennifer and her 3 remaining companions. They are getting closer with each step – agonizingly close. I know that I will catch them – I just know it. But it’s only a matter of time. The wind is my new best friend, and I feel myself laughing in her face, challenging her to blow stronger. Jen and her 2 remaining companions are working together, taking turns pulling into the wind: but I am alone, exposed. And that’s exactly where I draw my strength form. I think of Peter Reid and Chrissie Wellington wearing all black in Kona – drawing inspiration and energy from the Sun, laughing in the face of reason. And I understand what they did, because I’m doing the same with my 20 mph wind.

I see the steeples and monuments of downtown Pensacola, and I crest the hill at the top of the city. All downhill from here. There’s probably 15 seconds or less separating me from Jen’s group, and I can hear the crowd cheering for her and for her 3 companions. Just before I hit the right turn onto Cervantes Street I see a guy who works for Running Wild looking at me and making a note of my number. I don’t think that he sees it though, but I don’t care. I have exactly 1.1 miles left of the race and I want to see how fast I can run and how much time between Jen and myself I can put. The course loops out and back, so everyone who is cheering for us now, will see us one final time before we take our final right turn onto Palafox and run the three and a half blocks to the finish line.

I can hear people cheering for Jen, see the aid station explode with yells for her. I am on her heels now, and I hope that the race is just a tad longer so I can make sure to separate myself from her as much as possible.

I fly past one of her companions, and now it is only she and Mark Sortino – a local triathlete that I recognize. Three down, two to go. I make it my mission to up my pace and pass them both by the end. We hit the U-Turn and head for the final homestretch. I come up to Jen’s shoulder – I know that she’s having a tough race, as her breathing is quick and labored. I try to offer a few words of encouragement, but I have no idea how they come out. Because she is a pure runner, I am terrified that she’ll put on a kick and stay on my shoulder, and the run will turn into a sprint for the finish. I wanted to avoid this at all costs, so I tried to throw in as much of a surge as I could when I passed her.

I didn’t hear her breathing, but was too afraid to look back and see if she was trailing. I tried to catch a glimpse of our reflections in store windows, but to no avail. Mark was just ahead and I caught him just after the turn onto Palafox. If I wasn’t working my hardest in the first 9 miles, taking it easy, I was sure feeling it now. I had just blown by 4 of the 5 people I had set my sights on, and wondered what could I have done if I had run harder in the beginning. I flew past shops and the cheering crowds, and quickly rationalized that I would not have been able to negative split and have the incredible power on the 2.5 mile hellish headwind stretch had I gone out all guns blazing. 2 blocks to go. Mark turned around and looked at me, and made some kind of motivational comment. I don’t remember if I responded, I just shifted into an extra gear, fearful that Jen was right behind me, hot on my heels. She has out sprinted many a faster runner in the past, and it was all I could do to keep her off me.

I saw the Subway sign that indicated the final 50 meters and made the left-handed turn. Upon turning, I was greeted by a cheering crowd, and was dimly aware of the announcer saying my name. I could see a lot of cameras at the finish, but didn’t want to slow down and enjoy the moment. I tried to give a half smile at the finish and raise my arms up, but I was as surprised as nearly everyone in the crowd. I powered across and then nearly doubled over. Mark finished 7 or 8 seconds after me, and we hugged each other. I was pretty emotional, as I had spent nearly the entire race trying to either justify myself being: 40 behind his group or trying to catch his group. I had only picked off the final person with less than 300 meters to go.

I waited and 30 seconds later, Jen came across. I think I yelled for her just before she crossed, but can’t really remember. I gave her a hug and could tell she was tired. I felt so awful for her – knew how hard she had worked, and felt guilty. I had wanted her to go out and run her 1:22 or 1:21. I knew she was capable of it, and felt badly about passing her at the end. This is something that I know I need to work on – I can still be supportive of my friends and fellow athletes, but I also need to respect myself enough to not feel bad about this. I am still working on this… If I was having a bad race and someone passed me, I wouldn’t want THEM to feel bad, to slow down. This is part of the sport.

Jen was okay and after hugging again, I soon found Nathaniel. I tried to thank as many volunteers as possible, but wanted to keep walking around. My legs felt surprisingly okay – not trashed like they did after Timberlake ½ marathon. I wondered if I had really worked hard enough in the beginning, and chalked it up to inexperience. I’m still learning a lot – and this is only my 5th half marathon ever (without a bike and a swim before it), so the learning curve is still pretty steep.

Overall, I was happy with my race – happy with my mental strength during the windy backstretch, happy with my time. I really enjoyed watching Donna and fellow Pensacola residents/friends finish. The heat and humidity didn’t seem to affect me too much, and I feel that I’m adapting to Florida’s heat (sort of). I took in my recovery drink (YUCK! – and thought about Beth’s Thumbprint cookies) and then had a block of Margarita Cliff blocks. Very tasty – and I enjoyed the salt.

It was a great training run, and the first time I feel that I’ve been in control of myself during a race. And it was done without my heart rate monitor. I was pretty nervous about not having it at the start, but found that I really preferred listening to my body, rather than worrying about the numbers on a screen. I guess my heart rate monitor is to me, what an ipod is to a lot of others. Got it. I’ll be less judgmental in the future! We all have what works, what doesn’t, and what we simply need to get through. That’s life, I guess.

And next time, I’ll use tempo trainers and see how much faster I can go…

To everyone who ran the race: GREAT JOB! Thank you to the organizers, Running Wild, ALL the FANTASTIC volunteers, the Marines who manned the intersection (BIG Ooh-Rah!), and the friends and families of all the runners.

Doing a race like this takes a lot of effort – and not just on the part of the runner. It’s easy to forget that while we’re racing. But I am so grateful to everyone who cheered, who handed out water, who cleaned up afterwards… these events would not be possible without you.

Here are my stats:
Overall time – 1:27:20.
1st place female, 7th place overall.

Post race – shower, food, nap, food, tv, read, SUSHI. Enjoyed sashimi (just the fish, no rice), some nigiri (fish + rice), a cucumber salad, edemame (boiled soybeans), and my FAVORITE ROLL IN THE ENTIRE WORLD: The Cambodian Roll. Have no idea what’s in it, but its delicious. Danielle – if you ever make it to Pensacola, we’re going out. My treat. Every day is a good day to eat sushi!

Thanks for reading – sorry if this was so long. I just get “into” it.


BreeWee said...

GREAT GREAT job! You ran a really smart race- good pacing & it sounds like you had fun! I bet you are going to have some PR's this season in tri with that run speeding up...! Hey, thanks for the speedy compliment too- I love all you guys too and gain such a chunk of inspiration from you all!
As for your competition... JUST RUN RIGHT ON BY THEM! You work/train so hard that you deserve to win too! GREAT day- YOUR day!

Ness said...

Hey Marit, don't forget that you EARNED that win. It's amazing how you can be such a competitive athlete and still have compassion for the competition. Too bad there aren't more athletes like you. Thanks for the detailed race report - kind of fun to get inside your 'racing mind'!

Train-This said...


:-) mary

Beth said...

I agree with Bree - VERY smartly run race which is hard to do the longer the distance! Great job and great win!

Anonymous said...

Well, you have already heard all my comments, but again, GREAT were smart and worked hard and, most importantly, believed you could do it! CONGRATS again!! Jen H.

Mel said...

I think you need to give yourself some more credit than what you do....Start believing you ARE ONE OF THOSE FAST GIRLS :) You truly are!!! YOUR A AWESOME athlete and person....SO start BELIEVING :)

Ryan said...

You are too funny!

If I ever become one of the "fast girls," the whole world is going to know it.

I'm usually the one getting passed so most of my compassion lies with me.

If I ever get the chance to pass someone, is it bad etiquette to look them in the eye and say," smoke one fool," then surge ahead?

My next race I will chant the mantra:


What Would Marit Do?

Good Training!

My Life & Running said...

Wow... great race recap! Congrats on an awesome 13.1! And I'm doubly impressed you coped with the humidity so well! I was never able to get over it when we were stationed there! ;) && I loved the bit "threw in a bit of surge" ... you definitely have a competitive heart don't you?!

Anonymous said...

Great Job Marit. I agree with everyone else, smartly raced. All those things are very important in Ironman!! Congrats on your win!!

I think you are the new "fast girl" around your area!!!

Pedergraham said...

I finally got enough minutes of quiet time to sit down and read your whole race report...and I really enjoyed it. You made the absoulte best of a hometown race. I hope that you are recovering equally well!

Count me in for a Cambodian roll and a shark-free open water swim the next time I hit Pensacola!

Kellye Mills said...

Great Report Marit!! It really sounds like things are coming together and starting to click for you. Just think what you'll be able to accomplish this year!!

Congratulations and thanks for the report. I LOVE to read all of your "long" entries!! :)

And BTW: I've never tried Margaritta Shok Bloks and you've inspired me to give them a try :)

Steve Stenzel said...

NICE RUN!!! Great job!!

Courtenay said...

the ipod would totally piss me off too. and i like that you fixed the cone. and i am totally impressed that you remember so many things about the race! at first i was like 'holy crap how could she remember and then write so much?!?!' but i started reading and got totally into it and made greg put the tv on mute so i could focus on your race!

Mira Lelovic said...

Congratulations, again, on a FANTASTIC race! Your report was great!
Margarita Clif Blocks? I have to find those!
I love your idea of writing stuff on the back of your bib. Hope you don't mind I copy and do it for the Little Rock 1/2. Your name will be on it!

Anonymous said...

AWESOME JOB MY FRIEND!!!! SOSOSOSO Proud of you!! U have no idea!! What a great I think you certainly have earned by now racing on the bathing suit that we were debating wheter to race or not ; ) luv ya

Anonymous said...

You write so well! I was literally sitting at the edge
of my chair and couldn't read fast enough,
especially as you started "closing in" on the leading pack! I also love your incredibly generous,
compassionate and understanding soul in regards to the other athletes -- and how you turn things
that could be negative into positives ("the wind
is my friend"). A good lesson for us all to
remember, and inspiring as well. Onward!!

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