Hello and happy Tuesday kids! I hope you all had an awesome Memorial Day Weekend…I know I sure did! The JD and I spent the last few days up in Buffalo, visiting a good friend, taking in the sights at Niagara Falls, attempting boating (and failing due to some rain), eating wings at the very establishment that created the Buffalo Chicken Wing, touring a winery and…oh yeah, completely unexpectedly PR-ing at the Buffalo Marathon. So let’s go ahead and jump to that very important portion of the weekend :)
I randomly made the decision to sign up for a spring marathon on a chilly day in late March, after I powered through my first 20-mile run in months. Armed with the confidence of finishing that distance, I convinced myself that I had more than enough of a base, and more than enough time to continue, to train for the Buffalo Marathon. It was between Buffalo and Vermont (which also took place this weekend), and Buffalo won out because it came with the benefit of being able to hang with and stay with a good friend of mine :)
While that 20-mile run gave me the confidence I needed to sign up, I still knew the chances of Buffalo being my A race were slim-to-none; the JD and I had four weekends of traveling around to various weddings, tied in with lots of visitors to our new apartment and other little weekend trips. Training would take second to social commitments this training cycle, and I was okay with that. In fact, I sort of preferred it that way. You see, I ran an amazing first marathon in Richmond in November 2011 and have a very intimidating 26.2 miles through NYC coming up on the calendar for November 2012. Buffalo was made to be a buffer between these two races. My thought was, if I ran a nice, easy race in Buffalo (thus finishing in a slower time than Richmond) than I wouldn’t be so crushed when my NY time was slower (which in my head, it inevitably WILL be).
But then I screwed up all that irrational thinking and planning and ran a freaking awesome race in Buffalo this weekend.
And PR’d by 5 minutes and 17 seconds.
So you’re probably wondering how I turned a B race that was supported by a lackluster training plan and a taper period filled with little rest and mucho vino into what is now one of the greatest races of my life (one of, because Richmond, as my first marathon will always hold a special place in my heart). So I’m going to tell you. In extreme detail. Better sit down, cause this is going to be a long one.
Saturday night, after a pretty exhausting day (in which I exerted myself WAY more than an intelligent person would/should on Race Day Eve…details on that later), the JD, my friend and hostess for the weekend and a few others headed to an Italian restaurant just outside of Buffalo, because shockingly enough, all of the Italian places IN the city were booked. But the lovely little place we ended up at turned out to be a real winner. I had the best bread and olive oil/herb/parm dipping sauce of my life, and followed with a safe yet delicious chicken parmesan entrée.
Full to the point of near-pain, I managed to get to bed around 10:30 or so on Saturday night, and to my surprise, slept pretty decently. This was a noticeable change from the Richmond marathon, where I’m pretty sure my nerves kept me up ALL NIGHT LONG.
I woke up on Sunday at around 5:45 and started getting into my race gear that I had laid out the night before. We’ll call this moment Unmistake #1.
On Friday afternoon I had ventured out in the city determined to pick up something fun and colorful to wear around Buffalo after the marathon. But because I’m a runnerd, I came home with a bag full of discounted workout gear from Old Navy, and not a single piece of real-person street clothing. And since I was still undecided as to what to wear on race day while packing Friday night, my bright and shiny new “Run to Live/Live to Run” tank and matching sports bra and shorts somehow ended up in my bag. I’ve been reading Runner’s World for long enough to know that wearing new anything on race day is a rookie mistake, but I figured I’ve run in enough Old Navy clothes over the years to know that I’d have no problem [spoiler: yes, I'd run in ON gear plenty of times...for about 3 miles at a time. Not 26.2. This would, in fact, become a problem].
Anywho, I got in my super matchy new outfit, covered a Honey Stinger waffle in PB, and eventually made my way toward downtown Buffalo. My friend is literally a 5 minute drive from the start line, and she was nice enough to drop me off with plenty of time to warm-up (read: do some half-assed stretching while standing in line for a last-minute portapotty stop) and get to my corral on time.
At this point, I was still telling myself (over and over to the point of annoying) that I could and WOULD run a nice easy race, but part of me still really wanted to attempt a sub-4. So I lined up in between the 3:40 and 3:50 pace group; my logic at the time was that I ALWAYS start out fast, so might as well start out with other fast people, and when I inevitably dropped back, I could still have a shot at running with the 4:00 pace group…
The first 6 miles of the course were awesome. I felt strong and we skirted the city and did a lot of running right along Lake Eerie. The temperature was perfect: cloudy but cool, and the lake provided a great breeze. I was proud of myself for taking in the sights, but even more proud of myself for staying ahead of the 3:50 pace group for so long.
As we veered off the scenic route to do a considerably ugly out and back for miles 6-12, the first elite runner was on his return. He was hitting mile 12 just as I passed mile 6–something that I always find a bittersweet combo of encouraging and depressing, haha. In this case though, I guess I found it slightly more encouraging, because I kept up my pace even as we ran past deserted old steel buildings, grated bridges (seriously, there was an ENTIRE bridge that was covered only in the annoying grates that you see above subway lines, and that I HATE stepping on, much less marathoning over) and a pretty desolate landscape overall. The motivation may have been aided by the fact that I also took fuel at this time–which was Unmistake #2. The veterans will ALWAYS warn not to try any new fuel or fueling methods come race day, but for some reason, during this training cycle I wasn’t wanting or using any fuel mid-run, other than a few sips at a water fountain when it popped up. And in the past, I’d never popped a GU or otherwise prior to mile 9 (at the VERY earliest, but 14 was a much stronger go-to). So chomping on some Honey Stinger chews (a super sweet pre-marathon gift from Leticia) as early as mile 6 was brand new for me, but I knew if I wanted to keep splits under the 9-minute mark I was going to have to have stores of energy to pull from.
I knew the halfway point was coming closer, and I knew I was way ahead of myself with the pace I had been laying out–a thought that was quickly solidified as the 3:50 pace flag that had been light years behind me (slight exaggeration?) for the first 12 miles was suddenly RIGHT on my heels. A game of tag ensued in which I would surge for a little while to try to lose the lovely man, his stick and posse of speedy runner only to be caught by them moments later. Finally, just as we hit the split between the half marathon and full marathon routes, and the point at which a new pace leader jumped in to take over (umm hey Laura, is this the norm? because I thought all leaders were badass and led the whole run), I gave up and decided there was no way I could stay ahead of that particular crowd for another 13.1 miles.
I thought about completely dropping back, and doing the “nice, easy” race I had promised myself so many times. But then I thought, I busted out a half marathon with the 1:55 group and I’m still feeling strong…why stop now? So as they say…if you can’t beat em, join em! I jumped in alongside the small pack of people aiming for a 3:50 marathon.
*It should be noted that around this time, while overall I was feeling pretty strong, I was starting to curse my decision to wear a new tank (cotton nonetheless) on a day that was heavy with humidity, and my UA shoes (they carried me through a 22 mile training run, yes. But by mile 8 my feet were BEGGING for my Asics)
The next 7 miles actually went by pretty quickly. I split the time chatting with the pace leader and the few others that were left in the pack (though more and more were dropping out each mile that went by), silently cursing Buffalo for not having more/better water and aid stations (seriously, who gives out GU and waits 2 miles to dispense some water?) and attempting that trick that so many marathoners swear by–dedicating each mile to a different person in their life. I would pick a person, and try really hard to strum up some of my favorite memories with them, but could never focus for an entire mile–the stabbing pain in my sneaks and the nasty chafe marks under my arms were stealing the spotlight.
Just before the 20-mile mark (or what I assumed was the 20-mile mark–Buffalo was a bit lacking both in H20 and roadside signage) I started to slip away from the 3:50 pace group. It was a pretty sad and dramatic sight, at least in my head, watching the gap between me and that flag on a stick get larger and larger. I reminded myself that just before the 20-mile mark in Richmond I found myself going uphill and wanting to stop running altogether, but I didn’t. In Richmond, my friend was waiting for me at the top of that hill and I wanted her to see coming up it looking strong and happy. I didn’t have a hill or awaiting friend in Buffalo, but I still wanted to be strong and happy, so I dug deep and forced another surge. I caught up to the pack of paced runners and found out that we had hit the 20 mile mark in 2:56 (maybe even less give the lag at guntime). The 4-hour trick that my Central Park friend Paul had taught me was that if you can power through the first 20 in less than 3 hours, you can calm down and run a relaxed 10k to finish things out.
Around mile 21, I again started to drift away from the 3:50 pace group, but I didn’t mind. I thought back to Richmond and how, even while running with my best friend by my side, I was a hot mess. My stomach hurt and my legs were tired and I just wanted to walk and cry. I had hit the wall that I had heard so much about, but I had my friend to carry me through.
In Buffalo, I didn’t hit the wall. Sure I was tired, and my feet had been in agony for 13 miles, but because of Richmond, I knew I could and would get through all of it. And I could and would finish this second marathon strong, if not stronger.
Every time I found myself tempted to slow down to a snail’s pace or walk altogether, I told myself my feet were going to hurt whether I was walking or running, but if I ran I could lose the shoes faster and finish far more proud of myself, and I’d get a little pep in my step. This happened on and off from miles 21-24–I’d start to slowdown, give myself a little pep talk, and out of nowhere I’d be sprinting (well, chances are I wasn’t sprinting, but that’s what it felt like) again.
Buffalo is a much smaller race, and once the half marathoners (aka, most of the raceday crowd) split off, the road was pretty quiet, so I tried to channel my inner-Larry, and every time we came upon a group of sideline screamers or other random cheerers I made sure to say thank you to them. At mile 24, one of those “thank-you’s” sparked a conversation with a fellow runner. It took about 17 more miles, but I had found my Larry/Tracey of Buffalo. Fellow runner was on his 13th marathon–8th on the streets of Buffalo–and we decided to play rabbit for each other to finish things out.
Just before we saw the sign that read “25″, I told my new friend not to really feel obligated to stick things out with me, as I was pretty beat, and he told me I was crazy–I had it and he was sticking by me. We both agreed all we needed was a little crowd support and we’d be good to go. Just a few minutes later we rounded a corner and could hear the craze of the finish line. Our pace definitely picked up a good clip and we started making our way towards the roundabout that launch us to the end. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is where I saw my hostess friend and the JD, who screamed my name and cheered me on (the JD wasn’t able to make it to Richmond, so this was an especially exciting moment for me). And while I was annoyed that you had to do a silly little circle to run that last .2 miles, it worked out well because the JD was able to snag a photo of me on the course (not posted because its pretty vomit worthy) and still jump over to get me as I crossed the finish line.
Me and my nameless new best friend, seconds after crossing the finish line. He thanked me for keeping him company. I thanked him for my new PR.
A shiny new medal and a beautiful new PR of 3:52:37.
Much more to come on the rest of the weekend, further thoughts on the course and the marathon itself, what worked and didn’t work (or, the Unmistakes), the new day-after tradition, lamenting about how this PR totally killed all hopes of creating a “buffer” for NYC and plans to now PR that race, riding my marathon high for the next couple of days and much, much more marathon talk…don’t say I didn’t warn you :)