Thursday, July 6, 2017

The Light at the End of the Tunnel Marathon

The genesis of running the Light at the End of the Tunnel started with a comment from a friend after I posted on Facebook about being disappointed in my performance at the Leavenworth Oktoberfest marathon. She simply said, "Congratulations. You can do it. Now pick a better race."

So I googled "Best Races to Qualify for the Boston Marathon". There were several options, including a few with large descents. Well, the Leavenworth marathon had a large descent for the first half and my quads were shot by time I reached the bottom so I didn't want to run another steep downhill race. I also wanted something that I could easily drive to the night before. And with those restrictions in place, The Light at the End of the Tunnel Marathon bubbled up as the top contender.

What made the race so appealing was that it was a gentle downhill grade for most of the race (more on this later), it was only 4 hours from home so definitely driving distance, and it was early enough in June that there was a good chance that the weather would be cool. The only downsides I could see were that it was on a hard-packed gravel trail, not super spectator friendly, and my running buddies couldn't make. But I was determined to make this my race and willing to accept the downsides.

My faithful cheerleader, aka David, drove over with me on Saturday night. It is amazing what a calming presence he is for me. Usually the night before the race, I'm super jittery and have a difficult time falling asleep. But not this time. It was almost like it was a typical night at home--a couple of TV shows, watch the 10 o'clock news and then lights out. And I was asleep pretty much as soon as my head hit the pillow.

The race started at 7 am so I was up at 5 to make sure that I could eat something and other attend to other morning necessities (sometimes it takes my intestines a little bit to wake up, if you know what I mean). Dave checked the weather and it looked perfect for running: 44 degrees at the start and maybe upper 60's by finish time. There were some scattered clouds which allowed for filtered sunshine. I was excited to get out the door and have him drop me off at the start line.

Check-in went smoothly, although there was some complaining about not having gear check bags as promised. No worries for me as I often just tie extra layers around my waist while running. Dave found a parking spot and then came to cheer me on at the start.

The gun went off promptly at 7 am and I was off on my biggest race.

The first 1/2 mile is an out and back around the parking lot and then we hit the 2.5 mile long tunnel. Running through the tunnel was interesting--it was narrow, a bit crowded because it occurs so early in the race that runners don't really have the chance to separate, well lit due to everyone's headlamps, and I felt like the tunnel was never going to end. I could be wrong, but it felt like it was a slight up the whole 2.5 miles.

After the tunnel, is when the down slope starts, but it is so gentle it is not noticeable. Although my feet and knees would tell a different story.

At mile 9 I felt the hot spot starting. I tried to wiggle my foot around in my sock to see if that made things better. Nope. There wasn't any vaseline available until mile 13. You can bet that I stopped and greased the heck out of my foot. But, it wasn't enough to prevent the blister. I think the constant down, even though it was slight, was too much. I have never had a blister like that before!

Aside from the developing blister, things went pretty good until mile 18. Mile 18 is my nemesis. It is the mile marker where my brain starts telling me it is tired of running. Then begins this lengthy mind game and war of positive versus negative talk. 

About this time I plugged in some music to see if that would help distract me. A track from Eminen came on and one of the lines was something about "What if this is your one shot?" I don't really remember the rest of the song, but that line stuck with me. This was my one shot. I wasn't going to let the negative win, not this time. That is why I had pushed myself to do such uncomfortable things as the Polar Plunge in a lake that had to have the 2 feet of ice cut so we could plunge. And the Spartan Race that required me to flip 200 pound tires all by myself.

So I pressed on. 

Mile 21 I saw Dave again (hadn't seen him since mile 13). He was super encouraging and said that I was on pace. I wish he could have run with me the rest of the way in as I really had to battle with myself. I did take some walk breaks, but tried hard to keep the pace at under 10 minute miles.

Had I known just how close I was to missing my goal, I may have allowed myself to venture farther in to the pain cave. I didn't know that the time that my Garmin was showing was about 4 minutes faster than what the clock was reading. My Garmin was showing that I was on pace to finish at 3:50. I can only guess that running through the tunnel had somehow messed up the time.

I was thrilled and crushed at the same time as I crossed the finish line and saw that the clock read 3:54:27 and my Garmin showed 3:51. Thrilled because I had achieved my goal of getting a Boston Marathon qualifying time, but crushed because I thought I had run faster. The 3:54:13 (official time) probably isn't fast enough to get me in to Boston.

Never one to give up, I am training for another marathon. This one is in September and will be a pancake-flat course. I'm excited! 

PS This turned into a really long post so I'll have to do a part 3 of my 6 month accountability

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