Waiting for our flight to Sacramento, I was tickled to see so many runners; the race watches gave them away, or the racing shoes discreetly worn under sweats with wicking jackets on top.
After checking in at the hotel we went across the street to the Expo at the Convention Center where I got my bib, timing chip and t-shirt. My bib was number 6044!
I mentioned to Bill that the only piece of official CIM gear that I really wanted was a new wicking hat. This past summer I accidently burned a hole in the side of my white hat during a camping accident involving a Pocket Rocket, and this seemed like a good time to replace it. As we looked around we found a guy selling Scott shoes. Scott’s are a minimalist shoe, a step down from my regular Adidas and a step up from Newton’s. I’ve been fighting some plantar fasciitis this past month, so I tried on a pair and went for a test run. They hurt my foot with every step, so I tried on a second pair with more stability. The test run was nirvana… no pain at all! I plunked down my credit card and bought a $110 pair of shoes for $75.
Bill looked at me and said, “You’re not thinking of racing in those tomorrow, are you?”
“Yeah, I’m thinking about it,” I told him. And I was. Seriously. Even though I know better.
After that we walked around a bit, but I was antsy to get out of the crowd, so we left to meet up with Coach Gwen, who was driving down from Ashland.
I showed Gwen the new shoes. She held a Scott in one hand and an Adidas in the other, then had me do the same to feel the sheer difference in weight. The Adidas was like a brick, the Scott like a feather; not much support in the new shoe. Bill outed me and told her I was considering racing in them. She looked me straight in the eye and said, “No you’re not.”
“My foot’s been hurting every time I run though, and it kills for days afterwards,” I explained.
“All you have to do is race tomorrow. You don’t have to walk anywhere after that. The ‘after’ isn’t important. That’s what recovery is for. Go with the known beast.”
She left it alone, knowing that only I could make that decision.
I changed the settings on my Garmin while Gwen watched; instead of tracking Lap Pace like I normally do, I wanted to know the Average Pace for the duration of the run. I left the other two fields as-is, tracking distance and time. Bill handed her a new yellow shirt with the words “GO LARA” in huge, bold letters. They would wear matching yellow shirts so I would be able to pick them out of the crowd on race day.
I carb-loaded at P.F. Chang’s in gluten-free style, eating a simple dinner of rice with steamed veggies. We chatted for a bit before heading back to the hotel for the night. The wake-up call was set for 4 AM, the busses left at 5:15, and the race started at 7.
The next morning I decided to be smart and wear my Adidas shoes. I quickly dressed, then layered a jacket and sweats over the whole ensemble. Gwen was adamant that I would be warm at the start line after getting off the busses. Last year she ran CIM and froze her booty in 33-degree weather. That was not going to happen to me if she had anything to say about it. The lobby of the hotel had hot tea, coffee and bagels, and Naked Juice. I grabbed a cup of tea, Bill had a coffee and I stowed a Naked Juice into my pocket for the bus ride. We paid a whopping $10.5 for the pleasure of those three beverages. Highway robbery, plain and simple.
The temperature was relatively warm when we lined up for the busses; about 45 degrees already. The air was moist but it looked like the rain would hold off.
The bus ride to the start line was long and humid. I chatted with my seat mate, and after we exited the bus I trudged up the hill to the half-mile line of porto-potties. A bright yellow shirt with the words “GO LARA” was standing in my way. Bill had found me.
Still no nerves. We meandered our way to the start line where I took off the layers. Gwen noted my shoes and a shadow of a smile flitted over her face. They parked me right in front of the 3:45 pacer, Bill took another picture, and then they disappeared to the sidelines. I was calm, loose and easy, and made another friend before the national anthem played.
The gun went off, a cheer went up, and I slowly started forward. A few seconds later the pace picked up to a shuffle, then a jog, then finally a run and we were over the mat. I punched the start button on my Garmin and began the first marathon of my life.
My game plan was to run the first three miles at an 8:45 pace, then drop down to an 8:20 pace for the next twenty miles, then see what I had left in the tank for the last three. See if I could “turn the screw” to bring it home. Immediately I realized that my Garmin was set for Average Pace, and I wouldn’t know if I was hitting the mid-paces until too late. Oops. Chalk one up to inexperience.
The sky was brightening now, and it looked like the clouds were thinning and lifting. The streets were wet and I was a little worried they would be slick, but that didn’t seem to be the case. The trees were so pretty; it’s Autumn in northern California, and the trees still have colorful leaves attached to them for my viewing pleasure.
There was some initial chatter around me as I ran an easy first mile, though that tapered off pretty quickly. So many people had iPods that I felt alone in a mass of humanity. It was easy to remember my game plan and not get pulled into the excitement, as there didn’t seem to be any “race excitement”. Everyone was so tuned into themselves that I wasn’t picking up energy from anyone else. Mile 1 finished with an 8:55 pace. Slower than I meant, but fine all the same. This was warm-up.
As I cruised along in mile 2 I saw that my pace had dropped a bit; my average pace was dipping into the 8:40 range, which meant that I was below that time. I was still holding back though, and tons of people were passing me. Gwen and I had talked about this at length. She warned me that I would be passed by streams of people in the beginning, and told me to let them go. I would reel them in when I reached the 20’s and they were bonking or walking with leg cramps from going out too fast.
An aid station appeared out of nowhere, surprising me. Really? People needed water and Gatorade already?
The next three miles flew by, and I remembered to check my watch for the time. At 45-minutes I fueled with a Honey Stinger gel and a water chaser from my hydration pack. I was prepared to carry my own water and fuel the entire way so that I wouldn’t have to wait for aid stations, thus giving myself what I needed as soon as I needed it.
The first split mat loomed at 5.9 miles, and it occurred to me that I should hit the lap button on my Garmin, so that I would have my lap splits. Is this confusing because of the redundancy of the point of having a split mat? This was one of the (soon to be) many moments of “DUH” that happened throughout the race.
I did a quick body check and noticed just a twinge in my left heel. Everything else felt great, and I forgot all about it immediately.
My watch showed a good average pace, right at 8:33/mile. To qualify for Boston I needed an average of 8:36/mile, so this was right on target.
A little while later I happened to look down and saw that the first hour had flown by. I was at mile 7, and feeling fine.
Mile 1-7 splits: 8:55, 8:37, 8:27, 8:26, 8:30, 8:32, 8:27.
The sun was struggling to make an appearance through the wall of water. I’m a Colorado girl, used to dry air and bright blue skies. It wasn’t raining, but my vision was still foggy because of the moisture sitting stock still in the air. Everything had an ethereal quality. I tried to put on my sunglasses to give more contrast to the world, but had to take them off a second later because the inside of the lens were wet with condensation. Polishing them on my wicking shirt just moved the droplets around, so I gave up and put them back on the brim of my cap. I didn’t really need them yet.
I carried my iPod with the earpieces tucked into my sports bra so they wouldn’t bounce around. I decided to give music a try and see if it worked for me. After a few songs I turned it off, as it was just noise that took me away from the moment. I made another attempt at cleaning the moisture off my sunglasses, and this time was successful. I popped them onto my face and kept running.
At this point I started noticing the porto-potties. I didn’t feel like I really had to go yet, but wanted to take preventative measures. During every single long training run I’ve stopped for Number Two, and I didn’t want to mess with what worked. There was no hurry though, things were still fine. Here and there course personnel were standing on the right side of the course, calling out average paces based on gun time. I knew that I wasn’t running “gun time”, but not knowing how far back I had started threw me for a curve. Hearing “8:40 pace” was not what I wanted to hear, especially since my watch kept telling me I was right about 8:33.
The course is definitely not flat, but it’s not too hilly, either. The hills are “rollers”, just enough to give it a little variation and keep the hamstrings from locking up. I started watching the legs around me. When I saw a huge calf with a red Ironman tattoo I anchored onto him and stuck with him for the next mile. Ironman people are totally cool in my book, and I have so much respect and admiration for the distance.
The 3:45 pacer was somewhere behind me, and I decided to bank time before my planned pit stop. A descent was coming, so I opened up the legs and let myself fly for a bit. Right before the timing mat at mile 13.1 I saw a trio of bathrooms with only one person in line. This was about as good as it was going to get. I wanted to take off my arm-warmers too; the heat and humidity were getting stronger, and it was time to get ready for the back half.
The Garmin auto-paused at this point, and I realized too late that now, I wouldn’t know how much time I would have to make up to catch the 3:45 group. I didn’t know what my average pace had dropped to (based on the stop), and I didn’t know how fast I had to run to recover my pace.
After the stop I ran over the timing mat and was overwhelmed by the sudden mass of spectators. This was also a relay change-point, so relay runners lined the right side of the street and spectators were on the left, leaving racers a narrow corridor to maneuver through. Then I spotted Gwen in her yellow Ironman biking jacket and helmet, sitting on her Cervelo bike. Bill was standing on the grassy island in his yellow “GO LARA” shirt, holding a camera. I tossed my arm warmers at his feet, smiled big, hit the lap button on the Garmin again (to get my splits, you know), and took a deep breath. Time to run the back 13.1.
A surreal feeling was slowly seeping into me. I was running, and holding a good pace, but this wasn’t the race I was prepped for. I was still holding back, still conserving energy for the last 10k. Once I hit the 20-mile mark, that’s when MY marathon would really begin. This was just warm-up.
Mile 6-13.1 splits: 8:27, 8:27, 8:35, 8:27, 8:12, 8:19, 8:34, 8:28.
Gwen rode ahead, and I saw her again after a mile. She was stopped and talking to a runner who was slightly bent over; was he vomiting? I called out to her, “How far ahead is the 3:45 pacer?”
“I’ll find out!” and a minute later she was off, riding ahead to see where they were. I needed to know how much time I had lost, now that my poor Garmin planning was coming back to bite me in the butt.
Another mile or so later I saw her. “They’re just up there a bit, maybe two minutes. Catch them in the trees.”
I nodded. I remembered she had told me about the trees, but I was having a hard time placing that information in terms of miles. Oh well, I would figure it out when I got there. If I just pulled ahead by a few seconds per mile, maybe I would catch them by mile 24 or so.
Gwen leap-frogged now, riding ahead and showing up out of nowhere. She had her iPhone out and was apparently taking pictures, giving me big thumbs up and smiles. It was comforting to see her.
I pulled up alongside a woman who was running fluidly. She made it look so effortless and easy. Since she didn’t have any earphones, I ran with her for a few minutes and told her she looked strong and that her form was still really good. She was getting tired, and mentioned that she’s pregnant, though wasn’t showing at all yet. She asked if I had a mantra. “Keep running,” I said. “Whenever life gets too hard and you can’t get outside your head, keep running until it starts to feel okay again. Always keep running.”
The course personnel kept calling out average paces, and I was consistently 10-15 seconds behind where I wanted to be. I wasn’t making up time and felt like I was slowing down. A moment of confusion hit; were we on gun-time or chip time? I knew I was wearing a chip, but why would they be calling out gun-time?
And then came The Wall as we headed into mile 20. Gwen had warned me about The Wall. Someone had the brilliant idea to set up scaffolding on either side of the street, cover it with muslin, and paint the entire thing to look like a giant brick Wall. Gwen was parked just in front of it and snapped my picture as I ran underneath.
Mile 13.1-20 splits: 8:40, 8:42, 8:38, 8:41, 9:00, 8:27, 8:36.
My right hamstring was starting to vibrate a little, causing a little hitch in my get-along. It wasn’t cramping, but my foot wasn’t tracking right. I decided to be pro-active and take a 30-second walk break to try to give it enough rest to stop its nonsense. I slowed to a walk and started counting. At 30, I started running again, and completely forgot that it had been giving me problems. It no longer vibrated and my cadence was back on track.
I picked up the pace. This was the race I had been training for, all those weeks. The last 10k of the marathon was where all the training and Gwen’s patient coaching would really show. Bring it on.
I started talking to myself at this point. “How do you want to finish? Do you want to finish knowing you didn’t give it everything you’ve got? Leave it all out there on the course. Go strong. Keep running. Don’t stop.”
A spectator on the left saw me coming and called out “Go, sixty forty-four!” As I ran past him he said, “Holy cow, what do you have in that CamelBak? You’re awesome!”
At the end of Mile 20 Gwen magically appeared again, yelling at me, “Just get over the bridge! That’s all you have to do, get over the bridge, it’s just up ahead!”
I gave her a thumbs-up and headed for the bridge, just at the top of the last hill. At the top I remembered to look around me and appreciate the beauty of the morning. The water and trees lining the banks were peaceful and colorful, and the dappled sunshine brought out the orange and reds of the maple leaves.
Then she was there again. “Just get to the traffic light!”
And again. “Just get to the next turn!”
Gwen’s advice to me on Friday was to let people pass me in the beginning, then reel them in during the last 10k. She said to get outside of myself at mile 20 and start noticing all the people who were slowing down to walk, bonking, sitting on the curb with leg cramps, and seeing their pace disappear. After the bridge I became completely aware that this was now happening. Runners that I remembered seeing at the beginning, who had passed me early on, were walking now. A guy with an Ironman tattoo was holding his leg. A woman was walking, shaking her head as her spectator cheering squad tried to encourage her to keep running. As I ran up behind her I touched her arm and said, “Anchor on, come on, let’s run.”
I felt great. There was a little fatigue in my glutes and the bronchials could definitely tell they had been working hard for a good long while, but everything was still a “GO”. This was fun.
Gwen showed up again on the left. She pointed to the street sign and cheered. I was confused, then looked at what she was pointing at. 57th Street. “You’re in the numbers! You’re in the numbers!”
Right! I was in the numbers now, the place where the streets are numbered! I remembered her talking about that eons ago, and she was excited about it, so it must be a good thing. I wondered how much further it was now? She said that once I was in the numbers, I could just count down and I’d be at the finish. I wondered what street the finish line was on? I couldn’t remember. So I tried to do some quick math. Let’s see, what mile am I at? I couldn’t remember. How many blocks in a mile? Ten. So that would be… hmmmm…. I don’t know. I couldn’t do it. Too many numbers. I gave up. Gwen was excited, I was getting closer, but I still hadn’t caught the pace group.
Another aid station, this one at 24.5 miles. I wove in and called out for Gatorade. Luckily it was a clear flavor and I swallowed it down. No more gels for me.
It was time to go. Whatever else I had in me, it was time to pull out the stops. I sped up, dropped pace and started passing more people.
And then she was there again. Mile 25. I hadn’t caught the 3:45 pace group. I was tired. Almost there. I was fading.
“Get MAD at it!!” she screamed across the road.
A fire was lit under me. I took off and wove between people who were wobbling along the road. I pretended I was back in Louisville, coming off Davidson Mesa after a beautiful morning run and sprinting down Via Appia the last 1.2 miles home. This was it, the home stretch, and all the emotion of all the training and running and starts and stops came welling up to the surface. Suddenly I had a completely fresh fuel source that was pure and untapped.
I turned left and there was a crowd of people lining the street, deadly quiet, all craning their necks to see their racer. “Cheer for us!!!” I yelled, “We did it!! Cheer for us!”
The cheers and clapping started, and I poured the rest of myself into the final surge. I ran my heart out, sprinting down the finish shoot, passing a woman in orange who faded away behind me.
Bill was screaming my name. It was done. I never caught the pace group. I stopped my watch. It read 3:45:29. If I hadn’t stopped for my bathroom break, I would have qualified for Boston on my first marathon.
A lady handed me a mylar blanket, a water bottle found my hand, and I was walking. My legs shook, and I didn’t know what to do. Then they were there at the fence, and I walked straight into Gwen’s waiting arms where I started crying. It was over. I did it.
Mile 20-26.2 splits: 8:36, 8:21, 9:01, 8:22, 8:36, 8:12, 7:50, 8:24.
They sat me down in the grass and Gwen told me my time: 3:47:47.
Twenty minutes later we were walking back to the hotel. I told Gwen about seeing her pointing to the street sign and trying to do the math, and totally failing. “That’s called “Running your brains out”, she told me. “You stopped using glycogen and switched over to burning cholesterol. It’s a technical term, really. Running your brains out.”
At the hotel Bill put together a display of my gak.
Later that night my brains still hadn’t returned. I know this because I tried to calculate my splits for each section of the race, and had to have Bill help me with the figuring. This is what we learned:
Mile marker Time Pace
5.9 miles 50:23 8:32/mile
13.1 miles 1:54:51 8:57/mile
20 miles 2:55:13 8:47/mile
26.2 miles 3:47:47 8:32/mile
Amazing. My average pace for the first section and the last section were the exact same.
I’m still digesting all that happened. It was a fabulous race and I had fun the entire way. I never bonked, hit the wall or fell apart. It felt like the race went so much faster than any of the training runs I’ve done. I can’t wait to do it again!