Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Inaugural Celebration Marathon!!

26.2 miles of Celebration
2014 Inaugural Celebration Marathon & Half

Many runners know the anxiety and/or excitement that flows through our bodies during the week before our races. The last week of "training" (a.k.a. running happy) I took it easy and limited my running to short, easy runs - for me. My Aunt Karen flew down from frigid New York to warm, sunny Florida to be here for my marathon, bringing positive vibes for my journey. I even had the chance to run with her on Saturday for an easy 4 miles to make sure my legs were not stiff at the start. The remainder of the day we spent at my sister's house. She is an awesome athlete and understands the necessity for healthy foods before race day and provided a wonderful vegetarian pot pie soup with loads of veggies sided with homemade yeast rolls. I was not shy and devoured at least 10 of those delicious rolls and a huge bowl of soup. Having ingested as much as I could, I sat down to chat with family about life and running over a glass of red wine. 

The night before a race is always a fidgety one and I thought I'd never slip into la la land, but the wine at Rachel's certainly helped my mind and body relax to sleep. However, before turning in for the night I checked my facebook and found numerous posts of encouragement and motivation from Strider friends and family. I laid out my Suncoast Strider long sleeve shirt, shorts, gloves, beanie, sports bra, socks, and my oldest Pure Flow I own and packed a change of clothes for our visit to Nana's. I packed my gu, salt tablets, immodium for the tummy, gum, and Mr. Garmin. As with any race, you can be assured that I will represent my Suncoast Striders - THE best running group ever! 

Pinning on the bib
I must have slept well because my 4:40 a.m. alarm startled me. I was ready in a flash and hyper-excited! Brewed my favorite coffee, ate my cheese grits and a slice of french toast before grabbing a banana and rushing out the door. Arriving in Celebration, FL in only an hour, I felt the urge to..well, you know and rushed to the port-o-potty while my Aunt Karen procured the race packet/bib. Feeling flushed out, I pinned on bib #134 just moments before handing everything over to my aunt, giving her a dry hug, and hearing the national anthem being sung. I was blessed to find and hug my cheery friend Jodi, all lit up for her half marathon, but was a little bummed I could not find anyone else from our running group.

Ready to celebrate running
Mr. Garmin was ready and we (500+ runners) set out on a fantastical journey through the streets of Celebration. However, before continuing on I must mention a conversation I had with my husband a week before about my pace during my next marathon, discussing what worked in previous marathons or long runs and ending in a promise to keep an average of 9:20 minute/mile while running and walking through the water stations - long enough to swish, drink, and burp. I also could not stop to walk unless I was at a water stop, but if I felt like it then I had to slow my pace down by about 15 seconds. I watched my splits every mile so I could keep the promise I made and truly find out if running slower and walking through the water stops would work for me. I was eager to see how I felt at mile 20, which is the dreaded "wall" for most runners.

The sun was slowly beginning to awaken as I made my way out of the heart of Celebration, heading onto the double loop course. Beautiful houses lined the streets in the residential areas, the grand Celebration Heath facility lay on the north edge of the loop, and after the Celebration Blvd. straight-away a boardwalk led through the "Alligator petting zone" woods. Signs such as the one about the alligators lined the 2-3 mile north part of the loop, for what other reason but to entertain us. I must say that I smiled and even chuckled a bit at many of them. I know I forgot some, but here are a few (paraphrased): Chuck Norris almost ran this marathon. We know this is not Disney, but we did not wake you up at 2 a.m. either. What does the fox say?!

A few more things about the course :
Mile 13 - ready for some gloves and a GU
I felt that the water stops were perfectly placed, not too close nor too far apart. I never felt any sloshing or a terrible thirst along the course. However, I was not able to drink the gatorade since it was red, which makes my tummy yucky. There were people cheering, in residential areas and the town center, along the course, with only a few empty spots. It seemed I was being followed by a few spectators, as a lady on a bike was traveling throughout the course cheering on her husband. It just so happens that I was ahead of him by a couple minutes each time she stopped and she always cheered for me. I thanked her every time I saw her and asked if she was following me. It made me think of riding my bike along the Clearwater Marathon course cheering on my friends and from that I continued to be motivated and encouraged. 

If you own a Garmin you have heard the bleep as you accomplish each mile. I made sure to note my pace and adjust it according to my promise. I knew the pace would fluctuate depending on where the water stops were located. Many of my miles were within the 9:15-9:25 pace until I passed mile 20, when I slowed to around a 10 min/mile pace until my last .26 miles. The course (according to Mr Garmin) was 26.26 and ended into the heart of Celebration with hundreds and hundreds of people cheering. 

Mile 15 - still happy
I have some friends and family to whom I dedicated miles because I believe when we give our thoughts to others it produces positive vibes within ourselves and others. In my opinion, giving of ourselves, our time and energy, is what was intended when we were created. I did not decide who would get which set of miles prior to the race, but I knew for whom I would run them. My first 4 miles were given to my sister, who cannot run right now due to injury, but who displayed a warrior's spirit at Disney for her first marathon. Thinking of her pushing herself also carried me through miles 16-19 because that is where our bodies think "this is enough". As a blonde haired runner ran up next to me I smiled because this girl ran and looked like my friend JB, but she was seriously muscular. Mile 5 and 6 I ran with JB on my mind, sending her healing vibes for her foot. I thought of my Aunt Karen as I ran through the "alligator petting zone" at miles 7 and 20, as she loves alligators so much. Also, I sent her warming thoughts during miles 10-13, happily seeing her and getting my gloves because my hands were so darn cold. The dreaded wall appeared about mile 22, at which time I began to think about my friends Audrey and Amber and their marathon experiences last week in Clearwater, over bridges and on a "lonely" course. While miles 22-24 were tough, I knew that if these two ladies could persevere on a tougher course then I could surely not stop on a flat course filled with spectators. The last mile of the course I ran thinking of my husband, Tony. He is the one who made me promise to run a specific pace and HE believed it would allow me to RUN the entire race. Throughout the course I carried thoughts of my Dad, who passed away too soon, never able to see me or my siblings run a race - but he was always proud of how we continued forward progress regardless of the challenges. A marathon is like that, isn't it? If we move forward then we WILL make it to our goals!

Home stretch
My original goal for this race was to run a sub-4:30 and I shattered that by sticking to my fueling and pace plan. Race day fuel consisted of GU brand salted caramel packets at mile 5 and 16, a GU peanut butter at mile 10, and a vanilla Clif shot that tasted like marshmallows. I had water at every water stop - swishing, spitting, and drinking the remainder. My average pace for the 26.26 miles was 9:42 min/mile. As I came around the final corner to see the clock at 4:15 and my Garmin at 4:14, I bolted for the finish, coming across with my arms raised in celebration. I was elated, to say the least, in having accomplished my goal while enjoying the whole journey!

Happiest run EVER!
My gratitude radiates to so many people. My Dad always encouraged me to set higher goals and take off after them - thank you Dad! My husband always shares great advice with me, sometimes I listen and sometimes I don't, but now realize I should always consider the advice given in love - thank you Tony! The Striders never cease to amaze me with their perseverance and motivation - thank you Strider Nation! As I passed mile 26, I heard my name being screamed so loud and looked up to see Rachel, Eli, Christina, and Andrew cheering. Happy tears spilled out of my eyes as I smiled and WOO-ed - Thank you Rachel, that even though you are in pain you were still there and for always being a great example in ALL parts of life! Thank you Christina and Andrew for showing your love for this sport and for me! Thank you Eli for coming to see your aunt accomplish her goal, even though you did not want to hug me! My Aunt Karen flew down to spend the whole weekend with me and to be a part of this marathon celebration. Thank you Aunt Karen for catching memories in great photos, being along the course when I needed to see you, and for your encouragement and smiles! Also, I want to thank my step-mom, Phyllis, for the delicious post-race food. We all know how important that is for recovery.

Final result and awesome bling
My final chip time was 4:14:41 - an average pace of 9:43.
I finished #199 out of 500+ runners and #21 out of 52 runners in my age group.
PR by 21:04

The ONLY complaint I have is that the post-race food ran out before I finished. We had to acquire a "food card" to be punched by each station, but out of the twelve places I was only able to get Michelob Ultra, a Mimosa, a couple garlic breads, and a water. There were no bananas and minimal bottled water, along with a serious lack of volunteers around to assist runners after the finish. Other than these issues I have NO complaint and seriously enjoyed my mimosa and two Mic ultras before making my way to the car.

If I mentioned things about the race to you that may not be on this blog, please feel free to add in the comments. I feel as if I just traveled the same 26.26 miles and think I will eat lunch and have more coffee!!