Spartan Shape-Up, Day 312:
I rolled out of bed at 5:30 this morning, BlogLand... (mostly) willingly. The things we won't do for hobbies/passions... but it was RACE DAY!
While I'm right in the midst of a stretch of race weekends, this one had me particularly nerved up. Road races, at this point, do not make me nervous; I know what I need to do, I know how they work, the experience is really just a battle against myself, my body, and the clock. However, today's race (The Key Bank Vermont City Marathon & Relay) was a little different than the usual fare. I was running as part of a relay TEAM... meaning there were other people counting on me to perform. While my team was super awesome and very low key, as a competitive personality you can't help but put a little pressure on yourself - nobody wants to be the weakest link that brings the whole team's time down (Particularly recovering Fat Chicks who already have a complex about this anyway...). Added to which, the whole "relay" concept in such a ginormous race was a little daunting - how would I find my person to hand off to? What if I missed the relay? What if I couldn't find them?! (and so on, and so forth...)
Nonetheless, I said I was going to do it, so I Spartan'd Up, donned my traffic cone orange shirt (My Team Captain's brilliant idea - making our team easier to spot in the relays/crowds), and got myself to the race at the crack of dawn this morning, fueled, hydrated and ready to run. My team met up, and I pondered the morning, as we made our way from our great parking (it pays to be there early!); as the morning sun burned off the clouds, it looked like it was going to be a beautiful day - not blazing hot, but maybe 70 and mostly sunny. Perfect weather for a race!
Then we began the process every racer is familiar with - Hurry Up and Wait. We had to get there early to group up, set the game plan, and get our first runner to the start line for 8:03am. However, running the 15ish - 20ish mile leg of the race meant I had a solid couple of hours before I was on deck to run. The plan: take in the experience, forget my nerves and focus on the moments unfolding around me.
It is an awesome thing to take in the start of a marathon like this, BlogLand. The first wave of people that run down past you look like effortless, efficient machines. Their "warm up" pace is something I can't even begin to dream about. My team and I watched the whole start of the race and it was inspiring and motivational to say the least. There was a marine carrying a full ruck (doing the full 26.2), a man carrying a full sized american flag, cancer survivors celebrating their life, hand bike guys showing the world that not having limbs to run didn't mean they couldn't race, and the throngs of determined faces - be it 3 mile segment relay-ers or full distance marathoners - pounding their own special stories and reasons to run into the pavement.
Thanks to the ingenious design of this course through and around Burlington, if you (as a spectator) station yourself at Command Central (Battery Park), you get to see the race pass by you three times. I'm not going to lie, BlogLand, each and every time I saw the leading marathoners breeze by me - still looking efficient and powerful - I was impressed. I kept hoping that at my mile 5, I would look as put together as those leaders looked, still, at mile 17.
I also enjoyed just watching the different running styles. I've come to a determination. You run funny. But so do I. As you watch thousands of runners, you figure out that everyone has a bit of a running twitch; some people have t-rex arms, some do a weird upright shuffle thing, some are crazy bouncy. The real question is, what IS mine? Hmm. (I pondered this later, while I was running...)
Then, based on our teammate's time projections, it was time for me to hit up my relay spot. I have to give major props to the volunteers and coordinators of this race, here. While this could have been EXTREME chaos, it was organized in the best way possible, with stern human-traffic directors keeping the process running efficiently. As I milled in my relay corral, I did find this a little more reassuring. While I stood around, shifting foot to foot with antsy nervousness (I needed to just settle down and RUN already!), I took some comfort in watching the course volunteers direct the relays like they'd done it 100 times before - it seemed simple enough that even a newbie like me wouldn't get lost, miss it or otherwise screw it up. Ahhhh.... I took a deep breath.
Before I knew it, I saw my teammate (easily, in Traffic Cone Orange shirts!) coming down the stretch. I stepped out of the on-deck crown and readied myself for the bracelet exchange. Game Face: On. I always find it funny that once I can get that game face on and get my head into the task at hand, the nerves go away. It's all about getting the job done. An easy meet up and a few encouraging words and I was off.
I took off strong out of the gate, but remembering my tendency to over pace myself in the beginning of these races, I notched it back ever so slightly and let myself fall into a more natural rhythm, while just trying to focus on getting my breathing in order. I was surprised at how little time this took. Honestly, I think it was the distraction of all the crowds and spectators to either side that helped a lot. I was so focused on what was going on around me, that my body regulated itself, better than me over thinking it. While laughing at some of the roadside populous (My Favorite: the sign that said, "Don't worry. We're drinking for you!" next to the 5 dudes with coolers and lawn chairs...), I found my stride easily and my breathing slow and steady. I took this as an early WIN!
The next 5.4 miles were a blur of AWESOME. I felt really strong in this race and was more than powered by the crowd's collective energy. My leg of the race got to pass through a lot of the little neighborhoods of the city, and it was like running through a block party. I tell ya, these people knew how to make the most of Marathon Sunday. I honestly, have never had such a pleasant race experience. People had their hoses and sprinklers turned on, had set up unofficial water stations, passed out orange and watermelon slices, ice pops, and had countless words of motivation and positivity. I confess, my favorite thing was turning each corner and seeing what the next musical wave would be. I ran by everything from 8 year olds banging on pots and pans to a garage rock band set up at the end of their driveway, to Top 40 hits blaring out of the back of someone's jeep, to the bagpipe guys keeping it celtic and lively (just for the record, I passed the guy running in the purple kilt).
It was a little like being a rockstar, I have to say. Many, MANY thanks go out to the denizens of the North End Neighborhoods that welcomed us with such open arms. I can not TELL you how much that orange slice was welcomed as you passed it to me at my mile 4.
As for the actually running portion of this, I settled into my stride and focused on just maintaining that. Right, Left, Right, Left. I saw the sign that encapsulated my plan, "Don't Stop. People are Watching!" I was passing people, and I wasn't tired. Just Keep Running, Embrace the Suck, Don't Quit.
At one point, toward the end of my leg, we hit the sun. We had a long stretch on the side of a roadway, and the 11am sun was beating down. I was sweating. I was no longer comfortable. I also had developed a bit of a side stitch. "Walk" whispered through my subconscious.... With an emphatic EFF THAT, as I reminded myself of my time goals (and the goal not to walk at all), I put my arm over my head (that must've been entertaining for the spectators), and remembered a piece of advice my GT had given me for a recent race, that seemed to apply here: "When it hurts, suck it up." This seemed to be the moment. I took some deep breaths and reminded myself of things that hurt more than this moment - like not fitting into the seat on an airplane, or not being able to try and activity because you were over the weight limit, or being told that you have 'such a pretty face.' This side stitch, the stinging sweat that I was wiping from my eyelashes, the dry cotton mouth - these were merely inconveniences to be tolerated. Just. Keep. Running.
The miles passed faster than I anticipated (Thank you KBVCM for very clearly labeling them!) and before I realized it, I heard my relay point was less than half a mile away. Now was the time to leave it all out on the road. I did a quick internal prayer of thanks to my regular Sprint WODs and pulled the power from my legs. It felt wonderful to run hard at the end, knowing I'd already done 5 miles and was still feeling good enough to run like that. If you had told me that a year ago, I would've laughed and thought you must be talking about someone else.
I veered into the relay corridor "coming in hot!" at a solid fast clip - easily spotting my traffic cone buddy, smiling and poised for the hand off. Without missing a step, he fell in beside me, retrieved the team bracelet and was off to continue our crusade to the finish line.
Downshifting slowly into a walk, I grabbed a cup of gatorade and one of water and meandered over to the shade (I have good sense sometimes!) to take stock of my body. Oddly... I felt good. I could've kept running, no problem. Nothing hurt, I pretty much had my breath back already, and although it was hot out, it seemed that my body was not horribly overheated.
WOW. It was like I was prepared for this or something.
To be honest, BlogLand, every time that that happens - I have a moment where I realize I AM prepared - I have a moment of disbelief. *I* was prepared for a 5.5 mile run at a sub 10 min/mi pace (YEP!! SUB 10 min!!)? Wow. Tell that to the person I used to be, who couldn't even manage a long flight of stairs. BOOM. Owned.
In short, I have to say this was one of my favorite races thus far. I'm not just saying that because they gave me a free beer, pizza and a tiny container of Ben and Jerry's, but because it was extremely well run. Even with the masses of people and runners, all went smoothly, irregardless of the fact that many people like me, had no idea what to do or expect. On top of that, the city of Burlington really embraces this race. Seeing the community pour our of their houses to give of their own resources - be it time and motivating words, or water or ice pops - was really amazing. I'm not sure those people even realize how helpful the smallest kindnesses can be. To the guy that set up his hose as a shower around mile 19, after we'd just come off a long hot stretch, I thank you; without you, the heat would've faded my Oomph.
As I sit here tonight, the Tiger Balm fumes drifting up from my knees and my tired brain reminding me we need sleep BADLY, I ponder how to answer when my mother asks me tomorrow, what I was up to today.
Well, I spent a beautiful day in Burlington, surrounded by the sparkling lake and the mountains, reaping the rewards of reclaiming my life. I beat the crap out of a 5.4 mile relay leg, achieved a new pace PR and beamed with my accomplishment ALL DAY.
What'd YOU do?