Monday, September 27, 2010

Rock N' Rolling

After a great Annapolis Ten Miler, I got to focus entirely on marathon training, well, mostly. Back in the beginning of the year I agreed to do three half marathons in the fall, all with the plan of taking them nice and easy and treating them more as training runs and a fun way to get mileage in. The plan was to do them on my "fallback" weekends and do my long runs around them.

Marathon training resumed with a decent 16 mile run over Labor Day weekend up on the NCR Trail. Couldn't even begin to give you an idea of my pace, and such, because I was a bit dense and forgot to charge my Garmin the night before. Doh! Fortunately the trail is very well marked, so I know I got the 16, if not actually a little more than, in.that.

The following weekend I took on a whole different challenge - a 25 mile bike tour through Amish country in Dover, Delaware. I had never biked more than 16 or so miles, and had only purchased my bike back in March. It sounded like a great time though, and definitely a chance to see what my body was up for as far as biking goes. I only had an 8 mile run planned for the weekend, so figured that the bike ride and a 5K the next day would surely cover that.

The bike ride was a blast! We had amazing weather for it, and the course is pancake flat. I used higher gears that I even use when riding on the B&A Trail, and Laura tried to teach me some basics of gears and drafting out on the wide open country roads. Several miles from the finish was a food stop at the one room schoolhouse, complete with fresh pies. After relaxing on the playground and listening to some Irish musicians while enjoying our pie, we got back in the saddle and heading towards the finish back at Legislative Mall. Once there we packed our gear up and enjoyed a bbq lunch on the Mall. The pie stop and lunch were all included in our registration fees. I can definitely see this becoming an annual event for me!

I planned on running the Howard County Police Pace 5K the next day. Proceeds from the race benefit the department's police foundation, a charity near and dear to me. Unfortunately, the weather was a complete 180 from the day before. I awoke to chilly temps and rain. I also woke up with a slight headcold. I decided sleep was a better option for me than possibly agrevating a developing cold and skipped the race. In retrospect it was probably a good decision, as the cold ran it's course in just a couple of days.

Finally came the Rock N' Roll Philadelphia half marathon. This race is a rebranding of the Philly Distance Run, which I did the year before. The course was similar, but slightly reversed from the previous year. The usual suspects heading up to the city early Saturday morning. We were joined by our friend, Lauren, who flew down from Boston. After wandering the expo, we grabbed a big pasta lunch, and then tried to walk some of it around the city, exploring Independence Mall and all of the historic buildings and neighborhoods nearby.

After a pretty comfy night in our hotel, we headed towards the start line and met up with several of our friends from the Philly area who came out to cheer and be support crew. We were in one of the last corrals, and seemed to wander forever trying to find the entrance to it. We finally found it and basically had to break through some fences to get into it. Then the long wait began. While the race itself started at 8am, they were releasing each corral in about 90 second or so windows to help spread out the crowds on the course. We were in corral 21, so it took us about a half hour to even cross the state line. I felt the temps already rising.

So, we crossed the start line and alot of people around us were walking. Sigh. This was my fear of being in the next to last corral. We weaved alot trying to get into a good pace, and probably a bit too fast at times while trying to get some distance ahead. We weaved several miles through the heart of center city, through alot of the same streets we had walked the day before. Eventually, around mile 5, we headed down towards the River. We knew our friends would be cheering around the 5.5-6 mile mark and were so happy to see them. We exchanged hugs and chatted for a couple of minutes while refilling water bottles and getting some goodies. Hooray for Twizzlers. They took such great care of us!

The run along the river was pretty anti-climatic. I did after awhile look to my left across the river and saw runners ahead of us making their way back towards the finish at the Art Museum. I turned to Katie and mentioned that I didn't like the way this looked. It seemed we might be in the sun for the last handful of miles. Ugh. I knew I didn't like the looks of this reversed course when I first saw it on paper a couple of weeks earlier.

Since this was a "training run" for me rather than an all out race, Katie was helping me keep my pace down. She was recovering from a half a couple of weeks earlier, and by about mile 10.5, we both came to the realization that we were going to have to go our separate ways. She was hurting and needed to walk, and I was hurting from going slow and needed to run a bit harder. We got some water, gave each other a hug, and I was on my way. By all intense purposes, I was really just ready for this race to be over. My fears of being in the sun proved true. It was hot and I was miserable.

I plowed ahead and at mile 12 passed a friend from work. I kept pushing knowing this was almost over. I probably passed 20 people in that last quarter mile and was happy with what I still had left in the tank. I got some interesting looks from spectators and volunteers as I cruised in with a strong finish. Overall, I just really didn't enjoy this race as much as the Distance Run the year before. I think the altered course was not fun at all. Other than the fact we were in the direct sun for those last miles, the previous year we ran past the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall. Why wouldn't you include these in a race in Philly???? I do not feel the need to repeat this race again next year.

So, one of the three halfs was in the books. Now time to focus on the pivotal 18 mile MCM training run. I decided that rather than do this on the nice crushed stone surface of NCR, that I wanted to head back to the BWI Trail so I could do it on hilly terrain, a necessity for both MCM and the upcoming Baltimore 1/2. As the week went on, I started watching the forecast. We were having 90+ degree temps, but I held out hope that the temps would break by the weekend. Saturday's forecast ended up being a high in the low to mid 80s. Hopefully if I started out around 6:30 I could avoid most of this.

Kim and I did 8 miles together. The first 3 or 4 miles were rough as the muscles warmed up and tried to remember the hills they had been on so many times before. By the time she and I made it back to the parking lot after our out and back we were in a really great groove and I was ready to tackle the full 10 or so miles loop around the airport. I made it through the first handful of miles and took a Gu at mile 12 as normal. I started to hit a wall around mile 12.5 and just kept pushing on, upset that the energy gel clearly had not done anything for me. I took another one before mile 16, hoping maybe I could get things back on track, but by that point I was mentally and physically exhausted and nothing I was doing (energy gels, energy chews, and even a couple of bites of a protein bar) was helping. I was also in the sun, which had really become my nemisis these last couple of weeks.

Finally, once I hit mile 16 I decided if I was going to safely make it back to the parking lot where my friends were so kindly waiting for me, I was going to have to walk it. I was heartbroken. Please let this not be a sign of how MCM is going to be! My head filled with doubt. I tried to get myself to even run the downhills and it didn't happen. The trail was eerily quiet, too. Except for a couple of cyclists here and there, I was all alone, and completely miserable. Then, I heard some cheering. Katie and Margaret had decided to hop in the car and check on me. I put on a brave face and waved and kept moving. They came back a couple of minutes later to make sure I didn't need anything. I probably could have used some more water, but knew I was only about a half mile from finishing, so told them I was ok and would see them soon. They drove off. I cried.

My head was filled with doubt and disappointment in myself, but I was also proud I didn't run towards the car when I first saw them and demand they take me with them. I made it back on my own and 18 miserable miles were done. When I finally downloaded the data from my watch, I was pleasantly surprised to find that even though I walked those last two miles, my average pace was still under a 14 minute mile. Clearly I had been booking it on those hills and had a good run up til that point. This has been some solace for me. Hopefully the weather will be more cooperative for my 20 miler (my last long training run) as well as the marathon itself.

Next up: Disney Wine & Dine Half Marathon. The race itself doesn't even begin until 10pm, so this will be an entirely next experience!