Monday, June 6, 2011

Last Minute Decision

So, home from Country Music Marathon and I was feeling pretty good and with nothing planned for the weekend, my mind started wandering. Good things rarely come from this. Thanks to the wonders of facebook updates, I was reminded that the Frederick 1/2 Marathon was that weekend, and was still open for sign ups. I loved this race last year, setting a personal best in pretty miserable weather even. And, the weather forecast looked amazing for race morning. Oh, what to do, what to do.

I was trying to be smart about my race plans this year and knew deep down that I shouldn't sign up for it. I mentioned it to Katie, in hopes she would help talk me out of it. She did, in a way.... She reminded me about the relay and the fact she had been interested in doing it but it just never came to fruition. Doing the relay never even occurred to me, mostly due to the fact that the relay has traditionally been a 4 person team covering the distance of a full marathon. This year organizers did away with the full marathon, and therefore the relay was now a 2 person team covering the half marathon distance - the first runner doing 8 miles and the second the remaining 5.1.

It was Wednesday afternoon and online race registration was already closed, but teams could sign up at local packet pick up locations, and the one that night happened to be at Katie's local running shop. It was a sign! She headed over there after work and Team Last Minute Decision was ready to roll! We were laughing at ourselves for jumping into something so spontaneously (we both normally plan things like this soooo far in advance) and also for not having thought of this sooner.

I spent the night before the race at my parents' house to help cut down on some of the driving race morning. Katie met me there very very early on Saturday morning, and we headed west to Frederick. We both like getting to places early rather than get there stressed, and we certainly over estimated how long it would take us to get there and park. The plus side though was an amazing parking spot and ample time to make more than one visit to the bathroom.

As race time approached, Katie and I bid our farewells. She had to take a bus to the transition area while I headed to the starting line. She had been feeling a bit under the weather, so I agreed to run the longer of the 2 legs. I was looking forward to running through the historic downtown and by the beautiful city parks again. The race started at 7:30, and I told her that I had hoped to keep a good 12 minute average pace, so she should see me about 1:36 into the race.

Standing around in the corrals I ran into a childhood friend who was doing the half, her second ever. I also ran into a couple of fellow Half Fanatics. The announcer said that there were some elites running the race who were Olympic qualifiers as well. There was a great energy in the air and the weather was pretty good as well, definitely nowhere near the high temps and humidity of the year before.

The race start itself was pretty uneventful. It quickly became apparent though that there were hills in those early miles that I had no recollection of. I pushed ahead without trying to overdue it, reminding myself I had just done a half the weekend before, regardless of how much I may have walked of it. The course went through the historic downtown and I had memories of places we had visited while in town for race weekend the year before. We went along the big city park and into the neighborhoods. Some of the houses got into it, sitting outside and cheering, sprinklers set up, and offering snacks.

A couple of miles before the transition at mile 8, my stomach started to let me know it was unhappy. Despite the stomach cramps, I kept pushing along, determined to get to the transition area. I knew from the course map that there was a water stop at the transition, which meant a bathroom, too. I took a couple of extra walk breaks here and there in an effort to get a couple of deep breaths in hopes of calming my tummy down, counting down the miles and portions thereof until I'd get to mile 8. I did get a good laugh at mile 7.5 when I passed a group of guys handing out bacon. That was definitely something new to see on a course! And, with only a half mile to go, I probably would have taken a piece had my stomach been much more agreeable.

I reached the transition area and expected to have someone yelling out bib #'s or something, but no luck. The advantage of being the back of the pack though is that there really wasn't much of a crowd left waiting for their runners, so Katie and I easily spotted one another. She put her foot up on the curb and I reached down and took the timing tag off my ankle and put it on hers. We exchanged hugs, too, and she was on her way. My time, despite the hills and stomach cramps, 1:35 and change. Right on time.

After taking advantage of bathrooms right next to the transition (and fortunately the first I had seen on the whole course without a line), I was on a bus on my way back to the start/finish area. The bus dropped us off at the bottom of the parking lot at the "relay tent". Volunteers there gave us our medal (runner #2 would get theirs upon crossing the finish line) and we walked up to the finish festival area. I went in search of food and water. It quickly became apparent that this would be a problem - the water was directly after the finish line and was fenced off. Um, yeah. I did manage to hop a fence to get into the food line. Luckily, my car was only a few feet away, and had a small cooler in it. Rather than try and figure out how to break into the finish line, I decided to pick my battles and get a cold bottle out of my car.

Snacks in hand, I headed to the race track infield where I could watch for Katie to come in, and enjoy a beer in the process. ;) It was weird to watch people finish who I recognized from being near on the course and knowing I had been done for about an hour already. I cheered Katie as she crossed the line, finished my beer, and headed off in search of her. We hopped in line to pick up our race shirts (a disaster from an otherwise well organized day), and then headed on our way back down the road, stopping at Cracker Barrel for celebratory pancakes on the way.

The relay was definitely a neat experience - all of the race amenities (and even a medal!) without having to do the full distance. The Loopers now have 4 teams (16 runners!!!) for the Baltimore Marathon relay in October. I'll be doing the first leg, as I really want to see what the first part of the course is like. The second half of the course is essentially the 1/2 marathon course I ran last year. This way I will be familiar with a majority of the marathon course, an advantage since Baltimore might be my fall 2012 marathon. ;)

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Running Music City

Alright, so my updating here sucks big time. I was off for over a week and half and had big plans to catch up, and, well, guess what happens when you only have a couple of days at home inbetween long weekend trips planned around races - laundry and sleep. LOL.

So, April was a crazy race month (wait til you hear about May!), and it ended with a big trip to Nashville for the Country Music 1/2 on the 30th. This trip had been in the works for maybe a year with folks coming into town from near and far for it. I was looking forward to good times with good friends and definitely wasn't disappointed.

Katie, Steve, Laura, and I flew into town on Friday morning and headed right to the expo after checking in at our hotel. We had all heard stories of the hills in this race and decided to watch the course preview video that was playing. Maybe not the best idea, as Katie and I sat there watching the uphills and repeatedly going "owie". I had decided early on that this race was just going to be about fun with friends rather than time, and the video cemented that decision.

After the expo and some time getting settled into our hotel rooms, it was time to meet up with some ROTE friends for some quality carb loading. After good dinner and many laughs, we parted ways til morning.

A few weeks before the race, the 4 of us had decided to take advantage of a special "platinum" package being sold in conjunction with the race. For $60 (which worked out to $15 per person) you got VIP parking and 4 wrist bands that gave you admission into a VIP runners area with a huge spread of food and most importantly, your own area of Porta Johns. Having done Competitor races before, and encountered ENORMOUS bathroom lines, it was a no brainer to do this. While none of us really took advantage of the food, having a much shorter bathroom line was great. The only drawback was that we were in corral 26, which meant it took us nearly a half hour to even cross the start line, and then suddenly we all had to stop again only a mile into the race. Oy.

The start of the race was pretty unremarkable. It was probably one of the biggest races I've ever done, even perhaps exceeding MCM. While I hate the wave start and how long it involves standing around and waiting, it does help with course congestion.

The race itself was also pretty unremarkable. Katie, Steve, and I chugged along and around mile 3 we encountered the first of our major hills. Everyone around us was walking as one solid pack. There was nowhere to move or even really attempt to run, so we joined in. It was also HOT. The sun was merciless, and it wasn't helped by the fact that we didn't even cross the start line til about 8:30.

We continued on, walking more than running. The hills and heat were just sucking the life out of us. Then, about mile 7, we found nirvana. Over dinner the night before, our Canadian friends, Steven and Cara, told us about a gourmet popsicle place that visited earlier that day. Cathy, one of our Nashville hosts, mentioned that she thought it was near the race course. Suddenly, I saw the sign for the shop and a woman standing out front behind a freezer. I stopped in my tracks. Steve thankfully had some cash on him and was willing to stop and treat us. I chose a honeydew one. OMG, it was amazing. Plus, I felt my internal temp drop by easily 5 degrees.

We were the envy of many around us, and garnered a few laughs from as well from those who were entertained that we had actually stopped and done this. I think they were just jealous. ;) The shops on this stretch of the course definitely did well that morning - while enjoying our icy treats, we passed a group of women who had stopped and bought iced coffee.

Around this time our Crazy British friend, Alison, caught up to us on the course. We were about to hit a good downhill portion of the course and my legs were beginning to stop walking and get some good speed in. I bid a farewell to Steve and Katie, and joined up with her for the remainder of the race. It's always fun to spend time getting to know someone while out on the course and help the miles go by faster as well. I learned that she really is Crazy as she tried her darnedest to push me towards a sub 3 hour finish.

We were racing towards beer though. Cathy's dear husband had agreed to man our official ROTE stop on the course just before mile 12. This spot had been chosen so our friends Greg and Steph, who were doing the full marathon, would be able take advantage of his services as well. It was around this same point that we had to climb more hills, too. I stood there drinking a cup of beer and seriously contemplated just hanging out there rather trying to finish, lol. But, we did bid our farewells and continue the final mile home. I am thankful to Alison for dragging me along in those last couple of miles. We didn't finish under 3 hours, but we certainly had fun along the way!