Monday, April 23, 2007

Sweet, Sweet Salt Lake City

My race experience in Salt Lake City started at precisely 3:09 a.m. when I jolted upright in my bed from a deep slumber, panicking that I'd overslept. My alarm clock was set for 4:00, but my body clock was already way ahead of it. With plenty of time before I had to actually set my feet on the floor, I just lied in the darkness for another half hour, gathering my thoughts, mentally finalizing my preparations and just psyching myself up.

Let's get this done, girl.

The day before, I'd traveled to Salt Lake City, picked up my packet with my bib and timing chip and spent an hour or so looking around the Expo. It was the first time I'd gone to something like that and I felt like a kid in a candy store with all the running-related exhibits and vendors in one place as far as the eye could see. I bought three small temporary tattoos to wear on race day: two Chinese symbols meaning "courage" and "strength" for each arm and a "RUN 13.1" for my ankle.



Bruce and Allen, two running buddies from the About.com running forum I frequent, caught up with me at the Expo and we spent several minutes in excited conversation about the next morning's race.


I wished my friends good luck and left to meet my family for some serious carbo-loading (along with a little cheesy-grinning).

Finally, there was nothing left to do but get a good night's sleep and by 10:00 p.m., I was dreaming of running carelessly through pastures of green grass and red poppies. Nothing could stop me now.

Rain showers fell overnight, but by race morning the clouds were breaking and it looked to be a beautiful day. Still, it was pretty chilly, so I debated back and forth whether to go with or without leggings under my shorts. I finally decided to go without and although I spent some uncomfortable minutes literally shivering in the cold during the pre-race activities, I warmed up quickly once I got started and was perfectly comfortable the rest of the way.

The crowds that gave me such ulcers thinking about were not nearly the concern I'd made them out to be. There was certainly more people than I'd ever run with before, but they were spread out enough to be able to maneuver around without much trouble. Even lines to the port-a-potties were relatively short and I took advantage of them twice before the race. When the starting gun sounded, I was actually still in line to use the bathroom, figuring I'd rather be a few minutes late starting than have to need a bathroom only a couple of miles into the course. It turned out to be a very wise decision as I would definintely have had to make a stop and would've hated doing it once the clock had started ticking. Finally, about five minutes after the starting gun sounded, I was off, and as I had fully expected, as soon as my feet started moving, my nerves melted away. My body knew what to do and now it was just time to do it.

From the start, I had pacing help from another runner who held about the same pace as mine, but just a little faster than what I was accustomed to running. He'd said he was shooting for a two-hour finish, so I figured if I could work to keep up with him a good part of the way (or at least keep him in sight), I could get pretty close to that goal myself. As much as I told myself I was only gunning for a PR finish under 2:11, I really wanted to see how close I could get to that coveted two-hour mark.

The first ten miles of the race were really rather easy. The majority of the course was a gentle downhill slope and aided by a healthy dose of adrenaline, I was able to find my running groove very quickly. I'd determined before the race to walk only through the water stations and was able to stick to my plan without any trouble (although I found myself eagerly anticipating the arrival of each station)! The volunteer help was terrific and I took advantage of the water packs and Gatorade that were enthusiastically offered at each station. I fueled systematically with shot blocks and a carb gel as well, each time feeling that kick of energy I needed. My running tunes were playing in my ears and other than chatting a bit here and there with my running partner, I was focused on keeping a steady pace and making the necessary maneuvers to pass other runners. My family found three different spots along the course to cheer me along and it was great to hear my name shouted out and feel of their encouragement.

Mile ten was the turning point. I hadn't been able to train futher than ten miles and I think that played a bit of a psychological trick on me. Suddenly, fatigue swarmed over me like a thick cloud. The quicker pace I'd been able to sustain for the first ten miles was taking its toll on me and my concentration became fully focused on continuing to put one foot in front of the other. In retrospect, I wish I had taken another energy gel at that point. It wouldn't have made the last 5K effortless by any means, but it probably would have given me just that little bit of a boost I was needing. Nonetheless, I was determined to finish strong and with every step, I dug just a little deeper within myself to keep going.

With two miles to go, I checked the time and discovered I was 18 minutes away from two hours. That realization both elated and sickened me because I knew I'd be finished in only two short miles, but if I could just somehow find the strength in me to push my pace, I could actually finish under two hours. My sub 2:11 finish was guaranteed; now I had an impromptu goal stuck in my head! I pushed as hard as I felt I could through mile eleven, bypassing the last water station because I knew I didn't have enough energy to drink while running. I wasn't breathing particularly heavily, nor was any part of my body in pain. I was just plain weary. My body wanted to be done with running.


Finally, I turned the corner to the homestretch. Normally, the homestretch of every race I've run has been almost as easy as the first mile. Not this time! For one, it was rather deceiving. A full half-mile before the finish line, runners were being funneled through a corridor with spectators clapping and yelling from both sides. Instinctively, it felt like it was time for that finish line sprint, but I wasn't about to do it until I saw the actual clock. I kept moving forward, waiting to see it any second, but it never appeared! To make matters worse, the last stretch was over cobblestone and though my legs felt strong, my steps were tentative across the uneven surface. That last half mile-- what I expected to feel effortless and exhuberant-- felt like the longest half-mile I've ever run in my life. When I finally saw the clock, I started my sprint, weak as it was. I heard my family screaming my name and while it registered in my mind that they were there, I didn't have the energy to look over to acknowledge them. All I had left was what was needed to cross that mat.

And when I did, my chip time read 2:01:43.





I missed two hours by a mere 103 seconds. But I got a PR by a full ten minutes. I was exhausted and disoriented, but I was elated. I haven't run such a strong 13 miles before in my life, not even during my marathon training. And although I've analyzed what I could have done to have not run out of steam the last three miles, I look at my effort as being such a personal victory.

There is lots of room for improvement for my next half-marathon. But this time-- this race-- I came and I conquered.

How sweet it is!




14 comments:

AddictedToEndorphins said...

Angie! Congratulations! The careful training has paid off! Now enjoy the recovery.

Have some icecream or chocolate or whatever floats your boat!

You ROCK!

Tiger

Ovens2Betsy said...

Angie,

That's FANTASTIC! Although I too hope to one day break the 2 hour mark, my fastest half has been 2 hours, 3 minutes, 31 seconds (and I felt like I was going to die afterwards!). But then again, I can't say I've really trained for a sub 2-hour.

Funny you mentioned you thought you had overslept. I ran a relay yesterday, and one of my team members was picking me up at 6 a.m. to carpool. I dreamt I was still on the couch in my jammies -- with nothing packed -- when she arrived. The next night I dreamt it snowed more than a foot!

Funny how those pre-race jitters mess with you, huh?

Betsy

robison52 said...

What an impressive post...the pictures and actually having YouTube too!!! You had better coverage than Lance Armstrong!!!

Angie said...

Bruce,

That's the advantage of having family members willing to wake up early in the morning and stand around for hours to watch me pass by for a few seconds.

I'm very spoiled. :-)

See Zanne Run said...

well now you've gone & gotten me all teary-eyed ... great report, great race!!! congratulations!!!!

Charlie said...

Angie...Congratulations on a great PR!

Charlie

Jim said...

Woo Hoo! You SHATTERED your PR! Way to go Blogfriend! Take a well deserved bow.

Anonymous said...

Wonderful account of your run and race! I felt like I was there with you!

You done good, kid! Congrats! GG

Anonymous said...

Victory! :)

Joe said...

> I was dreaming of running
> carelessly through pastures
> of green grass and red poppies.
> Nothing could stop me now.

I like that!

> My body knew what to do and
> now it was just time to do it.

Yeah, Girlfriend, yeah!

> My running tunes were playing
> in my ears... it was great to hear
> my name shouted out and feel
> of their encouragement.

So I guess you had the volume on just loud enough to hear the music in the background but still hear all the sounds around you? Okay, I'll make a note of that for my race.

> I wish I had taken another energy
> gel at that point.

Okay, let me jot down that tip too.

> All I had left was what was
> needed to cross that mat.

You gave it everything then! You did your best!

> my chip time read 2:01:43.

AWESOME!

What a remarkable run! What a fantastic story! That is one for the ages, for sure! Be proud!

Joe said...

Is that a pattella strap I see in one of those photos? Does it seem to work? Does it ever chafe you during long runs?

Nat said...

Awesome job Angie! And gosh you are tall! Supermodel runner. I am so jealous. Great race and report! I love that had a video.

runliarun said...

Angie, this is so great, a good race, and a PR, you must be elated. Those temporary tattoos worked :), this was indeed courage and strength for 13.1 miles.

The Brown Family said...

Wow Angie!
Congratulations! You inspire me so much! One day I just might join you! Way to go!
Love Karen