I wasn't going to do a race recap---I haven't done one in so long, it seems kind of silly to start again. But the more I thought about it, the more I wanted to try and capture what happened this weekend in hopes that I can learn something about myself and racing the marathon.
The short version:
On Sunday I ran my 7th marathon, Mohawk Hudson, and ran a 7 min 49 second PR, and couldn't be any happier.
The long version:
Pre-race - AKA Downtown Albany Is Weird
I got to the Albany train station around 1:30, by the time I got to the hotel and settled it was closer to 2. I figured I'd have a small lunch and then I could have a normal dinner. I did lots of research on restaurants in the area, the problem is I didn't check their hours. Apparently "downtown" Albany doesn't mean what I thought it did. Most places that I walked by were closed at 2:30, opening at 5pm for dinner. Hm. After a quick walk around I unfortunately decided to just get room service. I stopped by the Rite Aid across the street from my hotel (which closed at 5pm Sat and Sun!) to pick up an armband for my iPhone because that was the *one* thing I forgot, and the race expo was so small they didn't have any.
I did a little bit of sightseeing before a super low key dinner at a nearby Italian restaurant, and enjoyed a glass of wine in hopes that it would make it easier for me to get a few hours of sleep. (That sort of worked)
Before I spoke to my coach that night, I had a simple race plan in mind: Just get to mile 20. I wasn't going to worry about running 26.2 miles, I was going to focus on running to mile 20, which I've done 3 times in training, and then I'd assess/refocus on the rest of the race when I got there. To some of you this might seem absolutely ridiculous, but for me, this put my mind at ease and I was able to get to the starting line confident. My last 20 miler was great, at around a 9:45 average pace, so I thought "Let's focus on doing that again, and worry about the last 10k when I get there." I knew I was going to try and take advantage of the downhills on the course and my coach assured me that the pace I was thinking of running on the flats was totally doable, and I shouldn't fear seeing low 9's if they were coming easily.
Race Day - Unexpected Friends
I had mixed feelings about traveling to this race alone. Mostly, I didn't mind it since I thought there would be less pressure and it would be less stressful, but after seeing all the buzz around Chicago it definitely made me wish I had a few people on the course cheering for me. Luckily, I made friends with the guy sitting next to me on the bus to the start and we chatted while trying to keep warm. I was definitely a bit shocked to see it was 43 degrees when I left the hotel at 6:30am, and even though I had a warm Old Navy sweater as a throwaway, my teeth were chattering and my feet were getting really cold the longer we stood around. The race started at 8:30, and at 8 I decided to jump on the port-a-john line since they were starting to get long. Somehow I started to chat with the woman behind me, and at one point I asked her what her goal was.
She replied 4:15. Me? 4:10? 4:15? Somewhere around there. The woman's name is Francine and she had run the race 5 time previously. We ended up running the first 14 miles together. I am so grateful for her company and chatter. She really helped the first half go by so quickly.
I came through the half point at 2:04:54, and here are my lovely splits
Mile 12/13 were weird. We had just spent the past 7 miles or so running on a straight flat bike path, and then we had to briefly get off the path, run on a few streets and up two small hills before we reconnected with the path. For some reason the two hills really confused my legs, and I really struggled. I felt like my right hamstring was going to start cramping up and a quick flash of fear went through me. Oh my god, am I freaking hitting the wall at mile 13?? Is the rest of this race going to go downhill?? (No pun intended!) I knew I was running a 4:09ish marathon and got excited, but tried to keep all my feelings and emotions in check. I finished my gel, took two enduralytes and tried to keep the pace up, but it started to feel hard. At one point there was a bit of a downhill, and I started to pull away from Francine. We had been playing cat-and-mouse for the past mile or so--I would stop to walk at the water stop but then catch up to her, etc, but this was the last time I saw her during the race. She knew I was trying to go a bit faster and didn't want to hold me back, so I slowly drifted ahead. It was around this part that I put my headphones in and tried to zone out. I briefly saw Josh had texted me some encouraging words after seeing my half split and that made me smile. I was looking forward to the downhill section that I thought was between miles 14-18. I was really hoping the downhills would give me legs a boost and I'd be able to get back into the 9:20's again.
The problem is, I never really felt the downhill. There was one STEEP downhill just before mile 18, but other then that, it was so subtle, it was hard to tell that you were actually going downhill. I tried to not let my disappointment affect me. I was definitely starting to slow down but I felt like I was getting into a more manageable pace.
Mile 18 - 21 or so were pretty brutal. This was the one part of the course I did not like at all. This is the only time you're running on the side of the road, which I didn't mind, however I wasn't thrilled that the condition of the roads and sidewalks was so shitty. The roads were open to traffic and runners had to stay on the inside of the cones. Again, that didn't bother me because at every intersection there were at least two police officers directing traffic and stopping cars, so I felt 100% safe, but with fatigue starting to kick in, I was getting frustrated. My mile 18 split doesn't show it, but I was starting to lose my mental toughness here. I walked once in frustration. (And then when a few people passed me I realized I needed to move my ass) Somewhere in these miles the 4:15 pace group passed me. I tried to keep up with them, but honestly, I didn't try that hard. The pacer only had 2-3 runners with her, and being in a bad space mentally I didn't even try to keep up with her. That's probably the only thing I regret in Sunday's race--I wish I would have put in the effort to quicken my stride just enough to keep her in sight.
The last 10k of the race is a bit of a blur. I remember running into a woman towards the end and somehow we started sharing a few words with each other--we must have been shortly before mile 25 because I remember us both saying "I cannot wait to see mile 25!!"
Thinking about it later, I realized I had never raced a marathon before--I had just simply been running and relying on my fitness to run faster. There was never a strategy or plan involved. Yet this didn't feel like a "plan", it just felt like what I was supposed to be doing. Mile 20 wasn't easy but I couldn't stop smiling. My hips, glutes and low back were so tight, yet I kept moving. Even knowing that my pace has slowed down quite a bit, I was still looking at a 7 minute PR. I was determined to NOT WALK. No matter how much I slowed down I knew it wouldn't hurt me as bad as it would have if I just started to walk. It felt good to know that deep in my bones, my muscles, my heart, I am a marathon runner. Crazy, control freakish, determined, unstoppable. Those late miles weren't nasty like they had been in the past, they were golden.
They were a celebration of everything I've worked so hard for. My last two marathons were in 2013 and they were brutal. I suffered through both of them, and one of them was 5+ hours (on an extremely hilly course) In 2014 I wanted nothing to do with the marathon. I just wanted to focus on running faster, and though I did accomplish that, I only managed a tiny PR in the half marathon distance, while everyone else I knew seemingly dropped huge PRs on the marathon. I started to doubt myself. Maybe marathon running really wasn't for me. In a lot of ways, this race was the one that was going to determine if I ever ran another marathon. If I had yet another bad race I don't think I would have ever attempted the distance again.
The last 6 miles of Mohawk Hudson were my redemption, my strength and soul out there for everyone to see. I couldn't stop smiling. The joy of the PR I knew I'd have, the joy of finally realizing my strength, and yes the joy of almost being done!! The joy of completing a solid race that I could finally be proud of.
Also something I learned, I ran the last .3 @ 8:30 pace. Goddammit.