Sunday, October 11, 2015

Marathon Adventure

Sometimes marathons are much more than just running events.  They teach life lessons.   They bring people together.  They add to interesting life experiences.  Yesterday's Freedom's Run marathon did all of that.

So, I'd like to tell the whole story.  I've met a lot of interesting and fun people through my involvement with Back on My Feet.  One of those people's name is Lauren.  I know I met her some time in mid-2011 or earlier.  Probably as early as April, although about all I had at first was that there was another people--who was relatively fast--named Lauren on another team.  Late in 2011 a group of us started running at the Dunbar track in East Baltimore.  At some point she joined that group.  Over time, I ran with Back on My Feet less, while she has stayed more heavily involved in the organization.  But things come up in life.  Still, we found our schedules and running interests compatible and eventually became two of the "for sures" when we are in town for what is still a usual Tuesday morning run (even if not on the now inaccessible Dunbar track) and an occasional long run on the weekend.  

Running plays a different role in Lauren's life than in mine.  She didn't have the long gap of not running after high school.  Her mother is also a runner.  And she has gotten to know a lot more people well through Back on My Feet.  

I've followed her marathon running (through training with her) since at least the Houston Marathon that she ran in 2013.  To date, that stands as her personal best.  After her run in Kentucky in the spring of 2015, one morning at the end of a run she commented that she should bring me along to some marathon to help her get a new PR as she always seemed to be comfortable running a slightly quicker pace with me.  She also has a goal of running one marathon in every state.  So, we looked for a state that she had not run in yet for which we could run a race that wouldn't be too much of a trip to get to.  We found West Virginia.  Great to get her another state--after yesterday's marathon she is up to 11--and great for my first time of having a marathon experience with a friend with whom I traveled and spent the majority of the race.  Not such a good choice for a personal best.

If you want to know why it might not have been such a good choice for a personal best, you can just look at the elevation chart

The chart pretty much says it all.  And the chart doesn't even capture the final hill about a half mile from the finish.  But, I'm getting ahead of myself.

We had run the same race multiple times before.  Several Father's Day races.  Other local 5K's.  And the NCR Marathon relay has year.  

The race began with nerves the day before.  I had no doubt of running a 3:30 if Lauren was ready for it.  But I have a hard enough time making sure that I have everything I am supposed to bring when I go to a race.  In this case, I needed to make sure I had my own stuff plus meet a friend around 4 AM to travel to the race.  That's a lot to think about.

On Friday evening I baked--chocolate chip/pecan scones.  Most for my family.  Four to take on race day.

Race morning, I was up before 3:10.  It took just a little longer than expected to get all my stuff together.  But I ended up forgetting nothing (other than sun screen which wasn't really necessary) and got to Lauren's to meet up between 4:10 and 4:15.  

We got ready to go and were off for the drive.  The trip out got us to Shepherd University in Shepherdstown, WV, right around 6.  Got got our stuff out of the car and were on the second group of buses headed to Harper's Ferry.  So far, so good.

Arriving in Harper's Ferry, we found packet pickup and got our numbers (96 for me) and respective shirts.  The color for my medium was called (by the race director) eggplant pink.  I think it is kind of cool.  Probably not for everyone.  They didn't give out any sort of bag (trying to minimize environmental impact), but I had extra space in my bag so Lauren threw her shirt and her windbreaker in my bag.  

Last minute trip to rest room or porta-potty.  Runners (fairly small group) called to the start about 5-10 minutes early.  Lots of announcements from the race director.  Young woman sang one verse and one chorus from the Battle Hymn of the Republic--pretty moving.  And at 7:30 we were off.

First mile was very easy (as most first miles are) at 8:04.  Right on target.  That was despite the effort of trying to sort out getting around people at the start.  

Second mile: 8:00.  Still felt very easy.  I think that was the mile that took us out to a farm area where we did a turn around.

Third mile: 7:43.  A little down hill.

Fourth mile: 7:56.  Just hanging around.  Some of our fellow runners took to the trail on the far side of the guard rail.  It was softer.  But if that is not what one is used to running one it is not necessarily the better choice.

During mile 5 we crossed a bridge that was directly next to train tracks.  There were also train tracks some distance over.  Not a minute after we got off the bridge a train went by--on the far tracks.  I could not have imagined a train going by while we were on the bridge.  And the end of the bridge was a spiral staircase down--with wet steps.  A bit crazy.  Glad to be past that (which we had been told about at the start) within the first five miles.  Mile 5 time: 8:33.

Next, we had many miles along the rivers.  8:05, 8:24 (a chatty mile with a gentleman from San Antonio), 8:12, 8:16, 8:21.  It was clear at that point it was not going to be a 3:30 day.  But I had a secondary goal.  I wanted to run better than a 3:40 to make sure that I would be no further back than starting group 3 for the Comrades "Marathon" (actually 56 miles) in May next year.

We did run an 8:11 the next mile as we picked off another runner.  During the many miles of trail without much to see other than the river to our left and the beautiful trees surrounding us, it is easy to get "lost" in thinking about things.  Having people to try to pass is nice.

Mile 12 was 8:22 (still right on for the 3:40), mile 13 was 8:14 (came through the half solidly under 1:38), then an 8;18, and for mile 15 an 8:26.  That reflected the sharp turn and steep hill down as we finally turned away from the rivers.  But that was also the point at which things got a little crazy.   That is where the course becomes hilly and we were out of the shade.  Mile 16 was the first of several miles with steep uphills: 9:08.

The next couple of miles involved a LOT of hills.  Not really rolling hills either.  8:35, 8:57, and 9:23.  At that point we had to make a decision.  Lauren did not want me to miss the 3:40 goal I had.  I really did not want to leave behind someone I'd planned to run the whole race with.  But for her it was clear she was not going to get the 3:40.  So, I went ahead.

Mile 20 was 7:57.  I was passing people left and right.  We had met up with the slowest of the half marathon participants.  And I ended up passing a number of marathon runners we had seen quite often early in the race.  I said, "Good job" or "Great job" or "Looking good" to almost every runner I passed.  Many returned the greeting.  Many made comments indicating their surprise at the speed I had.  They had not idea of why I was where I was.  

The remaining miles were run at 7:39, 7:39, 8:05, 8:03, 8:31, and a 7:21 (not a full mile).  I don't know how my watch was so short, but it is what it is.  The course is certified and a Boston Qualifier.  

I got my goal time with a 3:34:11.  Not to shabby.

I drank all the water in my water belt that I had not drunk so far.  And then tried to make my way back onto the course.  I was able to get as far as the last main road heading to the Bavarian Inn before I really couldn't get any back without getting in athletes' ways or being in traffic.  So, I waited.

I saw many of the runners Lauren and I had passed.  And finally I saw Lauren.  Ran with her most of the way to the finish although bailed before I would have had to cross the finish line again.

She finished about 15 minuted behind me.  The hills had just taken it out of her.  I'm not sure what we together or she specifically really could have done to be fully prepared for what we encountered.

After the race, there was not the usual handout of bottled water (again a sign of being environmentally conscious) but that made the line to get a water bottle and water or Gatorade quite long.  We didn't want to wait.  I grabbed one piece of pizza.  She grabbed an apple.  We began what seemed like a long walk back to the car.  We noted that while there were great signs to get us to the parking on the way in, the signs from the finish line back to parking were not nearly as clear.

The race had an agreement with the college campus on which we finished and the locker rooms were available.  I just changed.  Lauren showered.  And we were ready to head back.

She commented on how few times she'd seen me in anything other than running gear.  On the drive back when we found a convenience store, we stopped to get something to drink.  She ate two of the scones I'd brought while we drove.  I drove because I dropper her off at the DC metro stop so that she could go to meet up with her mother and another friend for another running event today.

After dropping her off, I took her car back to Baltimore, parked it in her neighborhood, and went home.  

I achieved the goal of getting a good qualifying time for Comrades.

I had a great experience of a day trip with someone with whom I've begun good friends over time and it was all about just a relaxing conversation--especially on the way back.  

I learned to be careful about setting expectations.  

And I shared some words of wisdom with Lauren in the form of two haiku linked together after the race:

Dream big.  Play for keeps.
Work hard and lean on others,
So you can soar high.
Learn from your mistakes.
Savor wins with dignity.
In turn, help others.

We made some mistakes.  I had a win.  Each of us helped others with words of encouragement.  I'm sure each of us will continue to help others.  Yesterday was not a day for soaring when it comes to running.  Yesterday was a day to work hard and lean on others.  I expect we will both keep dreaming big.

So, that is the story of a tough marathon in West Virginia.  I suppose that any marathon in the Appalachians would not be for the faint of heart.

I should add--I couldn't do any of this without a supportive family.  And yesterday was a crazy day on which Sherry had to nurse Daniel's swollen eye (from a bee sting).  My family has had one heck of a week when it comes to health issues.  I am blessed to be and remain healthy.  I'm hoping it stays that way and the rest of my family is soon all back to normal.

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