Monday, December 14, 2015

Rocket City Marathon 2015 Race Report

It's always such a full-circle experience to return to the Rocket City Marathon, as it was my first one 14 years ago!  On Saturday, December 12, 2015, it was also my 33rd marathon!  I was co-leader of the 4:00 pace group with friend and fellow Fleet Feet Racing teammate, Christy Scott.

Our expo is held at the VBC in the South Hall.  I headed over there around noon on Friday, December 11 to get my race packet and pace sign.  Everyone was talking about the record breaking warm temperatures.  The temperature was expected to start in the 50's and get up to the 70's during the race.  

Saturday morning began for me at 2:30 a.m., when I woke up and could not go back to sleep!  Rick had to get up at 3:00 to get ready for his course sentry responsibilities, so I lay in the bed listening for him to wake up and then listening to him as he got ready and left.  At 4:00 a.m., after tossing and turning forever, I decided to just get up.  I showered, ate a FigBar and drank some Gatorade.  My stomach was in knots and upset.  I took Tums and Pepto chewables and hoped for the best.

I got my baby up and nursed her (at 18 months, she still nurses in the mornings).  I left at 5:40 to bring her to my sister's house (the older 2 kids were already there sleeping).  I handed her off, picked up friends Alison and Susan (both first time marathoners!), and headed to the race.  We arrived around 6:30 a.m., not leaving too much time for bathroom visits with a 7:00 a.m. start!  The race begins at the VBC, so there are tons of bathrooms inside to use.  I much prefer them to port-a-potties!

The Race
I found my friend, Christy Scott, and we held up our pace signs and chatted with runners.  A common question was whether or not the signs are heavy.  After pacing for 5 years, I can honestly say that carrying the sign is not a problem; however, this year the dowels were larger.  Simply carrying the sign lower for most of the race solved that problem, though I made sure to raise it up for spectators and photographers!  FF teammate Marty Clark joined our pace group with his friend.  Marty was planning to pace his friend for a 4:00 time.  

Off We Go!  First Half--Easy Going: 9:16, 8:57, 9:03, 9:11, 8:58, 9:08, 8:56, 9:04, 9:12, 9:00, 18:19 (Miles 11 and 12), 9:15

We were aiming to finish around 3:59 (a 9:06 mile).  We didn't focus too much on getting exactly 9:06 for each mile.  In fact, we were pretty relaxed about the whole thing.  Seasoned.  Before the start, one girl asked us how we keep the pace, and we both had trouble verbalizing it right away.  You just know.  You can feel it (and of course, you rely on watches and Garmins!).  Our half split was right on at 1:59:26.

During the first half, I chatted with 3 of my neighbors who were also running today--and they all started with our group!  We also made conversation with the other runners.  Runners like to know if we are on pace, so we made sure we announced that at every mile marker.  The first half of the course is mostly run in neighborhoods, some of them in our historic downtown.  Then at the halfway point, the course takes you back to the VBC, so we enjoyed a large cheering section and the satisfaction that we were halfway to our goal.  

Photos courtesy of We Run Huntsville

Second Half--Quick Changes: 9:04, 9:09, 9:00, 8:52, 9:06, 9:05, 9:01, 9:11, 8:48, 8:51, 9:02, 11:52 (Mile 26 and .2)

Mile 15 takes you on a long straight section on 9th Avenue, parallel to Interstate I-565 and close enough to see the cars whizzing by.  This section is pretty boring, but I like it because I know my favorite spot--the Space and Rocket Center--is coming up.  As I was running this section next to Christy she suddenly said, "Katie, I'm going to have to walk for a bit."  Before I knew what was happening, she had fallen back and I was the only pacer.  This is the hard part of pacing--you have to stay on pace.  I couldn't wait on her or stop and ask her if she was okay.  I had to go on.  I'm realizing all of this in my head and holding up my pacer sign high, hoping she could see it from where she was, when I felt someone hit my sign.  It was Marty, holding Christy's sign!  I was relieved that he had taken her sign but disappointed because I knew that meant she wasn't coming back with us.

As we headed into the Space and Rocket Center (you go around their parking lot and then through the Rocket Park behind the museum), I distracted myself with some songs in my head (I liked "Eye of the Tiger" by Katy Perry and "I Know I Can" by Nas today!).  I was more concerned about pace than I was before because Christy wasn't with me and she had a Garmin (I only had my stop watch).  It's easy to feel a pace when you are fresh, but as you tire it gets harder to judge pace based on feel alone!  I made sure to look for photographers near the rockets--they make great backdrops for the Rocket City Marathon!

I loved the section where we run behind the Space and Rocket Center on a gravel trail, and I love the Botanical Gardens (we were welcomed into this section by a lady in a huge butterfly costume who was dancing--awesome!).  As I left the Gardens, I was given a baggie filled with ice water which felt so good and cool.  I held it in my hand, put it on my head and face, and then poured it into my water bottle to drink.  I'm holding the baggie in the picture below.

I had been eating Gu (they offered it at several aid stations along the course--not just the 3 places listed at packet pickup), some chews, orange slices, and a pretzel offered to me along the course.  I'd also had lots of water and Gatorade.  Taking my second dose of Advil around Mile 15 was a crucial move for me since I'd had lots of leg pain/cramping in Columbus.  

The last 5K of the race went well, and it was hard to hold back from running faster.  Marty and I still wanted to be on pace.  He and his friend plus a few people here and there were the only ones still at our pace.  We passed many people walking by this point and left many people too.  I don't normally drink while I run, but I took a beer offered around Mile 23 and enjoyed the excited cheers from the Hashers.

I knew we were well under pace as we approached the finish line, so I slowed for the last mile + .2 though Marty went ahead.  I wanted to be close to 3:59.  This picture shows how wet my hair was--from sweat and the water I'd been throwing on my head at every aid station!  I am in the finisher's tunnel here, only feet away from the finish inside the VBC.

I love our finish line!  I could hear and see the people cheering.  If you enlarge this picture, I like how there is a man in the background just smiling at me as I finish.  People were saying, "Good job, right on pace."  My official time was 3:58:29 (chip).


I grabbed my mylar blanket and medal from the volunteers and headed to get food.  Three people came up to thank me for pacing them at the end!  Chicken noodle soup sounded delicious and salty so I took some.  I sat down to watch the finishers and eat a little.  I knew I didn't have long because I needed to get back to my kids.  

Only 5 weeks after my last marathon which was a real low for me, I ran right on pace today and felt good for the entire race.  Since the weather conditions were similar, I think the experience I had at Columbus helped prepare me for today.  I dealt with the warm temperatures better than I might have without my Columbus race.

My fellow pacer, Christy, finished in 4:10 and did amazing dealing with nausea but still pressing on.  Seeing Marty take her sign left me with a feeling of appreciation for our team and for what we do for each other.  Our Huntsville community of runners is like no other!

I learned about pacing and came to a new appreciation for this task.  Feeling responsible for the pace group helped me to stay on pace through some of my lower points towards the end of the marathon.  I felt an obligation to the runners who were counting on us.

I also learned not to be so hard on myself about the past years' pacing experiences.  We all are doing the best we can, learning and running and pacing.  Today things came together for me, but I know that it would have been okay if they hadn't. 

Friday, December 11, 2015

In the News

A friend shared this link with me and said she recognized me!  It's an article about The 50 Best Races in America.  Rocket City is listed and has a picture of Rick and me at Rocket City in 2012, the year we paced together.   Here's the picture:

Monday, December 7, 2015

Pacer Recaps: I've Learned LOTS

Rocket City Marathon Pacer Years and Paces

2010 4:15 pacer

2011 3:55 pacer

2012 3:45 pacer

2014 4:10 pacer

2015 4:00 pacer--this Saturday!

This Saturday, I'll be attempting the task of pacer for my 5th time.  Pacing is all about when you finish.  It is best to be right under pace (15-30 seconds under) and never over even by 1 second!  In 2010 I finished too slow, and in 2011 I was too fast.  Pacing was new and challenging to me.  Plus I was running alone (now we have 2 pacers per group which helps me a lot).  I wasn't using my key tool that I recommend to anyone wanting to run a certain pace: a pace bracelet.  The bracelet (I tape mine to my pacer sign) will tell you the pace you should have for each mile.  This is crucial!  If only I had known this.  I mistakenly thought that the Garmin (with overall and lap pace) would be all I needed. Wrong.  You will probably run OVER the marathon distance, so over relying on the Garmin will only mess you up.

With Rick's help in 2012, we ran an awesome race and finished perfectly.  In 2014, I also repeated a well-paced run (I never did the race recap for that marathon, oh well).

I liked rereading these because I can see how far I've come.  This task should feel easy to me on Saturday.  I'm trained, I know how to pace, and I've got a fellow teammate to help me with the group.
More later!