Marathon #15

One week away from another Racecation.  My trip to Chicago!  A big marathon called the Bank of America Chicago Marathon, a World Marathon Major, and fittingly a major achievement for me, as well.  Chicago will be my 15th marathon.

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Yes, in just a week’s time I will be headed here….. Chicago’s Midway Airport.

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….and then a ride here…McCormick’s Place.  The site of the BOA Chicago Marathon Expo.

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…..and then here…  The Langham Chicago.  The #1 rated hotel in Chicago on TripAdvisor.

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As I enjoy my coffee on a beautiful 60 degree morning, I can’t help but to reflect on what a positive impact running has had on my life.  It helps me stay in shape in my mid 40’s, it keeps me calm, and gives me time to myself.  It grounds me.  It gives me goals, and things to aspire to.  It gives me reason to be out in nature and enjoy our amazing world.  It gives me reason to travel, and experience places I never would have seen otherwise.  It makes me happy!

On the cusp of running my 15th marathon, I look back on the first 14.  My first in Myrtle Beach, SC.  Wow, I didn’t know what I was getting myself into.  I ran an amazing race, mostly because I was a virgin and just gave it everything I had.  That 3:33:24 proved to be a hard PR to beat.  I had no idea then just how good that finish was.  My next marathon was a disaster, and had the most negative impact on me.  A 4:11:27 at Tobacco Road, scarred by injuries and extremely painful for the final 19 miles on the most boring marathon course ever.  I think it was here that I learned the most marathon lessons.

After a car accident, a broken metatarsal and much agony, my next marathon in the Outer Banks of NC proved to be, and still is, my worst marathon finish in 4:13:58.  I struggled with PF for almost 8 months.  I ran thought it, smart or not.  It sucked.  It was after that race that I figured out how to take care of my body.  How to listen to my body.  I took a month off.  No running at all from Thanksgiving through Christmas.  I began anew the start of the next year.

I ventured off to Asheville, NC and ran the exclusive inaugural marathon at the Biltmore Estate.  It snowed, windchill in the single digits.  It was beautiful, but I found it difficult to run that far while my toes were frozen, and I had icicles in my hair.  Another 4 hour marathon.  I won a contest, and got to travel to Virginia for what is touted to be “America’s Toughest Road Marathon”, the Blue Ridge Marathon.  With over 7,000 ft. of elevation change over the course of three mountains, I almost loved every moment still. A true test of grit and determination, my marathon focus turned positive again that day.  Although I finished in 4:04:59, I felt like the King of the world after conquering that course.  I was reborn.

That marathon, my fifth, was my last 4 hour plus finish.  I’ve run nine more since all sub-4.  That day was a turning point.  I adopted a catchphrase from the race, “You run Hills, I run Mountains”.  After that race I turned in times of 3:45 in Asheville, and then my current PR of 3:32:24 at Raleigh’s City of Oaks Marathon.  Too tough courses about six weeks apart, my mojo was certainly back!

Since then, I have traveled to Las Vegas, Charleston, Hilton Head and Wrightsville Beach, four flat courses (well mostly) in search of a new PR.  Hasn’t happened yet, but all solid races for the most part.  My Birthday marathon, the Rock ‘n’ Roll Raleigh, now that one was unique.  I just wanted to finish sub 4, and did.  My family at the finish.  Priceless birthday present.  Then the All American, a run with the military.  Amazing!  Meeting Meb!  Wow, I have had some great runs.  My last was Big Cottonwood, in Utah.  Talk about breathtaking beauty.

They have all led me and my marathon journey to Chicago for #15.  Grateful for my health, and happiness.  Anxious for another epic run.

I love marathoning!

Quintiles Wrightsville Beach Marathon – Race Recap

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Yep, through all my trials and tribulations, I earned this medal yesterday at the Wrightsville Beach Marathon.  I have to stress, I earned this one, the hard way.

I’ve run eleven marathons now, all different and all unique.  Some easier than others, well, no marathon is easy, but you know what I mean.  Sometimes things just all seem to come together on race day, and other times they just don’t.  Wrightsville Beach proved a challenge in many ways.  I really think my biggest challenge yesterday was physical.  It began several weeks ago, with pain and tightness in both of my hamstrings.  I’ve been fighting between rest, and stretching to try to comfort and heal my legs.  So, as this race got closer and closer, I mixed in a fair number of short runs, and rest.  Because of my vacation this past week, I ended up only running one two mile training run in the days leading up to this race.  Good for healing, not so good for feeling physically ready.

Next hindrance to the race were my trips to the doctor.  It all began with just a regular and routine yearly physical.  I expected nothing more than a normal appointment.  Blood work, and other yearly tests.  Well, without getting into all of the specifics, my EKG came back with abnormal findings, prompting my doctor to order an echocardiogram.  The following week I had that test done, after fielding questions about if I have had or felt any chest pains, etc.  Talk about stress.  My blood pressure was also abnormally high, my blood work showed a vitamin D deficiency, and high in sugars.  Wow!  Falling apart.  I was not expecting any of this.  So, mentally, when it came to this race, I wasn’t sure that I would even be able to run it until I got the results from the echo test just five days before the race.  I got the all clear.   The fear of all the unknowns proved to be mentally challenging and I was filled with fear for my heart health.  Hopefully everything is under control now.  I am watching my sugar intake, taking a vitamin D supplement, and considering a gluten free diet.  More on that later.

So, with five days until the race, I now had to start to focus on the mental part of my race.  Getting to run it.  The physical part of the race would really be an unknown until the start.  I had plenty of rest, let’s see how it would go.

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Since this was a new race to me, I drove parts of the course the day prior after attending the great expo.  This event is so well organized. The race director, I hear, is an awesome runner himself, so I would expect nothing less than a first class event.  It truly was.  The volunteers, sponsors and spectators were all beyond wonderful.  Aid stations were aplenty, the scenery beautiful and course itself was well marked.  The weather was a bit threatening all morning, but it only sprinkled once for a few minutes.

My race –

I made it to the shuttle to the start about an hour and a half early.  Shuttle ride uneventful and quick.  I was at the start an hour prior to race starting time of 6:45am.  With an early start, and daylight savings time last weekend, the start was pretty dark.  Lots of runners everywhere, but never felt too crowded.  I lined up with the 3:30 pace group, with a hope of maintaining that pace if the body cooperated.  As the gun went off, we took off in Wrightsville Beach.  The course was very crowded, and fairly dark, so I found it difficult staying with the 3:30 group without feeling like I would be tripped up.  I decided to go a little faster to get out of the crowd.  The first few miles were run down on a loop around the beach area before crossing the bridge back over to Wilmington.  From there I made my way toward where the race would eventually finish, and on into a beautiful community called Landmark.  My splits say it all, when it comes to how my legs held up right from the very start.

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Shameless selfie at the beach while mapping out the course and getting my feet wet.

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I was at a pace of 7:49 after 3.5 miles…. and slowly but surely got slower and slower and slower.  I felt pretty good the first few miles, and slowly my running became more labored as I struggled with my hamstrings.  Making my way through the landmark community, I was cheered on by a great community, who woke up early to help encourage runners.  They were out in force. It really was great to see the community involvement.  They made us feel that it was ok that we were intruding in their neighborhood.  We would be back for a second loop through their neighborhood, but first we headed back toward the beach.  As I crossed the timing mat at mile 11.3, and with the 3:30 pacer passing me when I stopped at the last aid station for water, I came in at a pace of 8:04.  My lack of long training runs were catching up to me.  The plentiful rest, was now hurting me.  Another beautiful pass around the loop at the beach, I knew that my legs were not going to hold up.  I was hurting.  It was around the half way point in the race that I began to feel some burning sensations on the bottom of my right foot.  Oh no, a blister was forming, I could tell.

During the rain at the Hilton Head marathon last month, I developed a blister.  That blister was thick, and this past week I had to finally cut off the skin because it became extremely dry and was catching on my sock.  There was not enough time before this race for the skin underneath to get tough.  I was feeling the effects now.  Ok, I can handle it, told myself not to think about it. I tried to enjoy all of the college themed aid stations, and keep hydrating.  The temperature was about 50 degrees, but it was humid.  I was sweating, but it wasn’t too warm.  I pressed on.  At mile 16 my pace had dropped to 8:23.  I knew that I was fighting a losing battle, and had given up on my mile high hopes of qualifying for Boston.  At this point, I really just started thinking about how lucky I was to be there.  Just a week earlier I was stressed out about heart troubles, not even knowing if I would get the clearance from my doctor to run.  I was now focused on finishing the best way I could, to enjoy every moment, and be thankful for my ability to run a marathon.

This really did help to lift my spirits.  I let go of the my pace concerns, and took in every moment.  I verbally or through a hand movement or wave, thanked the volunteers I passed, out there giving of their time to enhance my race experience.  As I passed others, or others passed me, I gave encouragement.  I was enjoying myself, and taking in the views.  We headed back into the Landmark community for a final loop before heading to the finish.  My spirits were high, but that darn blister was hurting more and more.  I passed the timing mat at mile 24.1 in 8:41.  I knew I could go sub 4, and I wanted to finish as strong as I could.  As I passed folks that were walking, I vowed to myself not to walk at all.  To push myself. To test my mental game through the finish.  I never walked.  I dealt with the pain in my legs and foot, and pushed it to the finish.

I came to the line in 3:51:08.  Unofficial finish of 162 out of 477 overall.  Pace of 8:50.  I finished, the physical challenges I had were beaten.

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Finisher Village

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Once I stopped running, I really began to feel just how much I was hurting.  My foot was burning.  My hamstrings aching terribly.  I labored over to the tent for some refreshment and food.  Pizza, a diet coke, perfect.  I stopped to talk with a fellow blogger Kelly, from RunningBostonandBeyond.  She had a great relay, and from what I see, finished third.  Awesome!  Best of luck to you Kelly on your Boston journey.  Maybe our paths will cross again one day. Maybe Boston next year?  I talked with a guy who looked ruined physically, but was smiling ear to ear because he had just run his first sub 4 marathon.  He was hurting, but glowing.

I had a great time.  Wrapped in my foil blanket, gnawing on pizza, I looked around me.  I feel so much at home, surrounded by people that love and appreciate the sport of running.  We are all out there, crazy or not, testing ourselves on the race course.  I love it, and love the community I belong to.

Smiling, and limping due to the blister, I made my way to my car.  I was getting cold, and needed to change into dry clothes for the drive home.  The two hour drive home was pretty uneventful, except that I began to doze off at one point.  I recognized the need to stop.  I pulled off, and grabbed a Shamrock Shake from McDonald’s.  I needed the sugar boost.

After getting home, and stiffening up because I was sitting in one place for two hours, I barely unpacked the car.  Stairs are always a killer after a marathon, so I spent the evening downstairs on the couch in front of the TV.  What a great experience I had in Wrightsville Beach.  I hope to return to this race one day, and perform at my best.

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Three marathons complete for 2014.  All three happened to be at beach towns.  Two in South Carolina, and now this one in my home state.  As I continue to chase a time worthy of qualifying for Boston, I say my thanks for my health, and for crossing the finish line.  Six marathons in less than six months.  I love it, and appreciate my ability to be dedicated to the sport I love.  Here is a look at my “Beach Marathon Series” medals.  Next up, my Birthday marathon on April 13th.

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Charleston, Hilton Head, Wrightsville Beach

February running recap

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The miles weren’t easy, but they sure were fun.  I’ve found it very difficult to brave the cold winter we’ve had this year to get my training in.  Mix that together with recovery from the Hilton Head Marathon, and I just didn’t get a ton of miles in this past month.

Total miles just under 70 including said marathon, was all I could scrape together.  Ok, ok, I need to give myself a break, after all, February is the shortest month of the year.  The good news is, that I have been able to string together 6 runs in seven days, without much pain at all.  Things are looking up.  We’ve even had a few warmer days, and with Daylight Savings Time this weekend, it means more daylight for getting in my runs.  Less excuses.

As I look ahead at March, there are many things I would like to accomplish.  First and foremost is an increase in mileage.  Secondly, how about a nice BQ at the Quintiles Wrightsville Beach Marathon in 13 days.  Wouldn’t that be something?  Ok, if I hit that goal, I may just take a week off to celebrate.  After some recovery no matter how that race goes, I have to ramp back up for my next 26.2 in April.  My birthday race, mid month.

Oh, and I really need to start some race planning for Fall.  At this point I have one marathon and two half marathons planned.  I need to find a September Full, so if you have any ideas for a great marathon in September, let me know.

Onward and upward.  February ended well, so let’s push for an even better month of March!

Wrightsville Beach Marathon Countdown

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In just 20 short days I will be running marathon #11 on the coast of North Carolina.  Will I be ready?  I hope to be.

I planned on using a marathon at this time of year to really push toward a Boston Qualifying time.  This may be my chance, and then again it may not.  Coming off my marathon in Hilton Head a few weeks ago, where the focus was not on Boston, I have been getting in a few really good training runs.  The biggest problem I’m having, and it really started at the beginning of the year, is really tight hamstrings.  Honestly, I think I’ve probably injured them a bit.  They tend to loosen up a good bit during a run, but they just feel stretched and strained.  I just am not sure that I will be able to pull off the speed it will take me to get that BQ, not feeling 110%.

Regardless of pace, I plan on giving it my best shot.  I have not run this race before, so this is a first time event for me.  Plenty of great comments abound about previous years, so it should be a great time.  Originally, I planned on participating in the Asheville Marathon, but due to family obligations I had to bow out of that race.  Wrightsville Beach worked out as a perfect replacement.

So, the training plan leading up to the race.  Nurse my hamstrings for sure.  Stretch and roll, and often.  This past week was the first week I gotten in five runs in a weeks time since December.  For that, I am hopeful.  The weather seems to be cooperating, as temperatures have been on the milder side for a week, so that really helped my attitude, in getting me out on the road more often.  I plan on getting in about 20-25 miles both this week and next.  Starting on March 8th, I am taking the week off completely, so that my legs, feet and hamstrings will be as fresh as possible for race day.  That also coincides with a planned vacation, and wow, am I really looking forward to that!  Upon my return, I will have one overnight at home and then head to the beach.

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Ah, the beach…..what a glorious sight that will be.  I know, it’s only been two weeks since I was at another beach, but I am already looking forward to it again.  You can bet that I will be dipping my post marathon feet in the surf immediately following the post race festivities.

Wrightsville Beach will be my third marathon of the year.  All at the coast.  The last two in South Carolina, this one in North Carolina.  It’s actually kind of odd that on race day, there are three Marathons in North Carolina alone.  A busy marathon day around the country, but equally as busy just in my home state.  The Asheville Marathon in the mountains, which I ran last year.  The Tobacco Road Marathon here in central NC, which I ran two years ago, and Wrightsville Beach Marathon at the coast.  I guess locals can pick and choose.  I think it would actually benefit these three races in NC if they weren’t held on the same exact day.  Marathon Maniacs, and wanna be maniacs would flock to NC for easy chances to qualify.  In my opinion, at least one of these races should change to a Saturday from a Sunday, allowing for that elusive double marathon.  Two marathons in one weekend.  Maybe start in the mountains on Saturday, and end at the beach on Sunday.  That would be great!

Well, with less that three weeks to go, I am hopeful.  My plan is in place, and I will execute it the best way I know how.  Enough rambling, time to lace up and hit the road.

Looking forward to Wrightsville Beach

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This winter is on my last nerve!  Anybody feel the same way?  Everyday I find myself dreaming of sunny, warm days.  I’ve been thinking about escaping, but all I’ve been able to do is to escape in my mind.  Luckily, I have my third marathon of the year just four weeks from tomorrow.

The Quintiles Wrightsville Beach Marathon is like 28 days and 15 hours away.  Yep, counting down the days and hours.  This race has great reviews, from starting line festivities and music, right down to the shirts and family friendly environment.  This will be my first time running there, and I am really looking forward to it.  A flat, fast course down at the beach here in North Carolina.

My sister is getting married nearby that weekend, so that is why I had to choose this particular event.

I haven’t run once since my marathon a week ago.  Resting my legs before hitting the road again.  I hope to be back out on the pavement tomorrow, and will gradually build over the next month for this race.

Have any of you run this race, and have any comments?