Monday, May 3, 2010

NJ Marathon Race Report

Congratulations to all of you who raced over the weekend, and a special shout out to Tall Mom for her spectacular BQ race at Eugene!

This post is going to be long, melodramatic and sappy, so feel free to skip it, if you ain't in the mood.

I look like a slice of burned toast, I am chafed in areas I can't even mention (sorry folks, I know pics of chafed privates would enhance the visual appeal, but only PG-13 content is posted on this blog), my calves are so wasted I cannot stand upright and manuevering stairs takes stupendous effort. But I am proud and relieved that Marathon #2 is in the bag. Done! Accomplished!
Let me start at the beginning. You may be aware that my marathon training plans came to a screeching halt after I injured my tendon...again...after my 18-mile training run 7 weeks ago. What followed was 3 weeks of no running and a desperate attempt to continue some semblance of a training routine through pool running, swimming and strength training. I was not sure if I could run a marathon, let alone entertain any hopes of a respectable time in said marathon.
When I did return to running a few weeks later, I completely changed my running style, incorporating some aspects of minimalist running, consciously focusing on a forefoot landing, tweaking it over several short runs to iron out the inevitable aches and pains that arise out of an abrupt and drastic change in running style. I still had no illusions of running a marathon with this newly-acquired style of running, but after a relatively pain-free 20-miler (except for extremely tight calves and hip issues resulting from inadequate mileage), I decided to go ahead with the marathon! I knew it was foolhardy, but no pain, no gain, right? I must admit, the tight calf situation made me very nervous. With a forefoot strike, all the pounding is absorbed by the calves and several months of practice and strength training are required before the calves could be trained to absorb the shock adequately. A few miles tightened my calves. The stress of 26.2 miles could be brutal on weak, untrained and already tight calves!

Anyway, after vacillating quite a bit, and thoroughly confusing the race organizers by deferring my marathon registration to 2011, then reversing the deferral, I took a deep breath and decided to go for it.
I won't dwell on pre-race detail. Suffice to say, the expo, race packet and "goodie bag" were not worth writing home about. I am a veteran of the Long Branch Half Marathon (the half marathon at the NJ Marathon), having run it 3 times already. The organization was perfect the first time, but it has all gone downhill from there. I cribbed to whoever would listen about the T-shirts (all these years, NJ Marathon organizers had been handing out long-sleeved tees to full marathon runners and half-sleeved tees to half-marathon runners. I finally graduate to a full marathon and guess what? No long-sleeved tees this year @#$%&*), blistering mid-80s temperature and the 9 AM race start. How were we expected to run a marathon in these temps when we had had practically no hot weather training? And couldn't the race organizers start the race a little earlier? Hey, every year, I have carted myself out of bed at 3:30 AM to make it to a 7 AM half marathon start. Now that I have decided to do the full, you postpone the start a full 2 hours??? Though some items were very well organized and executed (the buses shuttling us to the start were right on time, the race started exactly at 9 AM, pre-race massages were the best, plenty of porta-potties) some aspects just sucked.
Glenn was running the marathon as well, and DH had a multipurpose role...driver, photographer, one-man cheering team. We did the usual pottering about pre-race, hitting several restrooms and porta-potties along the way, getting massages, and finally lined up at the start on the boardwalk. I ambitiously lined myself up with the 3:40 pace group (led by the pacer Gavasker), because I had no clue what to expect of myself. I did not tell anyone that I intended to line up at 3:40...I guess I was sort of embarrassed. It seemed like a lofty goal and I was pretty sure I could not hold the pace and would drop off after a couple of miles.
A number of women had lined up at this pace group...all going for a BQ, no doubt!
Can you spot me in this crowd?
There was a wave of cool breeze from the ocean as we lined up, which we savored, knowing it wouldn't last. Sure enough, almost immediately, a blast of warm air hit us from the land.
There were 10,000 runners, so we took off in 2 waves, the first wave including runners upto the 3:30 pace group. The second wave started 4 minutes after the first, but we were jogging/walking for a good half mile. To make up for the slow first mile, Gavasker stepped up the pace, and I struggled to keep up with the 8:00 minute/mile pace in the heat. After we left the boardwalk, the heat hit us full-force. The next 4 miles were a blur. I tried to keep up, fueling myself with gatorade and water at fuel stations every mile and a half, but my energy was already waning.
Mile 5 - 1 chocolate GU, washed down with gatorade and water
The energy kicked in after a few minutes and kept me going for 3 miles. Laps 9-12 were a struggle. My calves started protesting at Mile 11, cramping a couple of times every minute. But I tried to ignore it, slowing down when a cramp set in, and trying to shake it off. It worked for a few miles, especially when we hit the boardwalk again and the air briefly became cooler.
Mile 12: Another chocolate GU, washed down with gatorade and water

As we ran through the half marathon point and headed out on the second loop, I felt quite strong, inspite of the nagging cramp. I completed the half marathon in less than 1:50:00, right on target at 3:40 pace. The pace went down a few seconds per mile after that, but I was still running alongside the 3:40 pacer, even holding the pace flag a couple of times while he took a brief energy bar break. At this point, there were very few runners at this pace...people had either pulled ahead or dropped back.
At Mile 16, Gavasker, who said he had been feeling under the weather, developed stomach cramps and slowed down drastically. It was not his fault, but I could see that he felt really bad that he was letting the group down. I began to appreciate the tremendous pressure a pacer is under, especially when you are leading an ambitious pace group, full of BQ-hopefuls! I pulled ahead, though I was slowing down too. Both my calves were cramping more frequently and were becoming more painful. At Mile 17, I had to walk and stretch several times. The 3:45 pacer passed me, and tried to drag me along. When I mentioned the cramps, he advised that I may not be getting enough electrolytes...I should drink gatorade or chomp on GU. I downed another chocolate GU, hoping this would sustain me; but I still could not keep the pace. The 3:45 pacer pulled away, and demoralized, I watched his flag disappear in the distance; the tiniest flicker of hope of a BQ vanished with him. Mile 18 I recall was the toughest one...I could not imagine running 9 miles in this terrible pain.
By this point, GU and gatorade were only minimally helpful. I was splashing water on my head and calves every mile, gasping in shock when the cold water penetrated through my overheated body. I was cramping up badly and had to walk after every few steps of running. I would walk until Frank Forerunner beeped a 12-minute pace, then would attempt to run/shuffle. But even the slowest jog was extremely painful.
After shuffle-walking for about a mile, I tried to step up the pace, especially when I came across a group of cheering spectators. My calves just would not cooperate, seizing up pretty badly. The pain was so intense, I came to a stop and gave a loud scream. Everyone went silent. A cop came running up to me to help. I managed to whimper that I would be OK and that I would try to walk instead of run. I did walk for a few more steps, then started jogging again. Everyone clapped, cheered and hooted. That felt amazing...for a few more steps, until the pain hit again and I was forced to stop.

At Mile 20, I tried to remind myself that I only had a 10 K left, but that was no help. It just meant 6.2 more miles of agony. I could see my calf muscles moving now...twitching, bulging, rolling up and down through my skin, writhing in agony. It was terrifying. I considered walking into one of the medical tents on the course, but somehow that seemed like the end to me. I kept going, slowly, painfully. I was given some ice, which I rubbed up and down my calves. I forced a banana down my throat. I was getting sick from the quantity of gatorade I had consumed, but I needed every bit of energy I could get...and more electrolytes, apparently.

I have no clue how I got through the next few miles...I am sure the 2 additional packs of GU, a slice of orange, some salt that I licked off a pretzel and the thoughtful spectators with sprinklers and treats along the way helped. I must have spaced out for a good bit, but I did think of my father at one point...and smiled through all the pain. I knew that at least some of his tenacity and toughness had rubbed off on me. I recalled one of my DM friends advising me to "run with your heart and head". I just had to put one foot in front of the other, run, walk or crawl. I had been reading Dean Karnazes' Ultramarathon man recently. The image of the Badwater Ultramarathon floated through my brain...this was nothing compared to that!

When I hit the boardwalk at Mile 24, I was running...at least it seemed that way to me. You might call it crawling, but I was using every ounce of strength I had. When the cramps overpowered me again, I slowed down. At the same time, another runner pulled up to me and patted me on the back. He gave me a huge grin and yelled, "Here she is!" I turned to look at him, wondering if I knew him. He said he had seen the whole drama of my race play out from the beginning. He had been trailing the 3:40 pace group for a while and had seen me running strong. He had seen the 3:40 pacer fall off, had seen my calves seize up badly. He had thought my race was finished and marveled at how I had come back and was still 'running' (Hear that? I guess I was running, after all!) after all that.
He encouraged me, telling me I was an extremely strong runner. Even though I felt like curling up in a ball and going to sleep at that very moment, his words spurred me on. We ran side by side for the last mile and a half and his conversation kept me going. I had to slow down at a couple of spots, but Charlie slowed down with me. He said he had run 20+ marathons, including an extremely hilly one just 2 weeks ago, but this was by far the toughest one, only because of the brutal weather. We verbally bashed the organizers for the late start and this helped improve my mood.
When we saw the finish, Charlie nudged me on ahead of him. What a sport!
We finished together, still upright. Thanks to Charlie, my last half mile was completed in 8:44 pace! We hugged, ecstatically.
We got our finishers' hat and a huge, impressive medal and walked out...and then, guess what? NO FOOD! We walked around desperately, looking for something to eat. Apart from a banana, we got nothing!

Official results are not out yet, but Frank Forerunner says I completed 26.46 miles in 3:55:26, an 8:53 pace, a huge PR by close to 30 minutes (but then, I haven't run a marathon in 2 1/2 years!). The final results will probably be closer to a 9:00 pace but this was definitely the most difficult race I have run. It has taught me a lot about myself, including how mentally tough I am (or can be). As my race buddy Charlie said, Running marathons is supposed to build character. I believe it brings out the character in you.

This race has strengthened my desire to run for a cause. I have been supported and encouraged by so many people on the course, on blog land, on DailyMile, at RVRR, my family and friends...I feel it is time to give back. The crowd support at this race was phenomenal. Though I did not have the strength to acknowledge all the volunteers and spectators on the course, I am tremendously grateful for everyone who showed up to support us in the searing heat.
Some goofy pics at the race. Seriously, I wanted to take off my top in that weather. How did these guys manage to complete a full marathon
...in this???
What's next? I don't know. I would love to BQ someday, sometime in the future. I felt it within my grasp this time, before it slipped away. I was a little disappointed, but this race was an experience of a lifetime and under the circumstances, there is no way I could have done any better. It was just not meant to be. Someday, it will be my day. Stay tuned!
UPDATED:
New Jersey Marathon, Long Branch, NJ - Sunday, May 2, 2010
3:55:13; Pace: 8:58/mile
Overall Stats: 193 / 1376
Gender Stats: 44 / 569
Age group Stats (35 - 39): 8 / 106
Bib 1244

39 comments:

Emily said...

Sounds like a brutal race! I am HORRIBLE at running in the heat, but for me that means temps >60 degrees. Congrats on finishing and running under 9 min miles...I think that's amazing! You will definitely get your BQ...this race just sounds like it was unbearable in the heat.

lauren said...

amazing. your post gave me chills. that is an outstanding time. and the heat? and your cramps? take it easy and i hope you recover quickly. a BIG Congrats to you!

SeeksBoston26mi said...

Funny...saw the same Minnie Mouse run Boston. How can they run in costumes? Did you see the guy that ran w/ an Eiffel Tower? Crazy...

Congrats on the race.

Marlene said...

Wow, congratulations! This is a fantastic performance after the issues you struggled with and missing some training. Sorry to hear that the second half was a struggle, but you pushed through!!

Recover well!!

Scheri said...

Wow! You really hung in there and did great! Congratulations!!

jb24 said...

I found your blog D10's blog. I just happened to take a look at it because I ran the NJ Marathon yesterday as well and realized that we were both in the 3:40 pace group. Small world. Congrats on being able to gut it out. The weather was brutal out there and it was a tough, tough race. You'll get your BQ in another race that has much cooler temps :)

Abby said...

Oh man... I was thinking about you on Sunday morning, wondering whether you had decided to line up at the start. What a brutal day for a marathon, especially on a course like that with so little coverage.

Serious, serious props for sticking with it. Your mental toughness is second to none, and it clearly got you through some really rough physical conditions. I have no doubt that you'll get to Boston some day.

(By the way, I just looked back, and your time is almost exactly the same as mine from NJ last year, also a rough race day experience!)

I Run for Fun said...

Thanks a lot, guys! SeeksBoston26mi, that is so funny. They should ban costumes just in brutal weather like this...it made me hot just to look at these runners in costumes!

Abby, I was thinking of you and the terrible experience you had at last year's race! I realized my time was close to yours, didn't realize it was exactly the same!

Chandra said...

I am on the plane heading back home and your well-written blog gave me exciting reading material. I am sure all your future marathons, no matter how hard the course, will be like running downhill in 50 F for you. You completing this one at such a good time is far better than BQing :)

Jose said...

The heat sounds absolutely disgusting and I know EXACTLY how you feel seeing a pacer disappear into the distance- BUT you kept going in spite of this which proves to me that you have the spirit of a runner and the heart of a champion.
Great story!

J said...

Congrats on the PR! That is awesome!!

I Run for Fun said...

Thanks a lot, Chandra...your advise really helped me through the tough times. And thank you for the encouragement. I agree...when you look back, it is experiences like this that you will cherish!

physikerin said...

I'm Jessica B. (http://www.dailymile.com/people/physikerin) from Daily Mile, and teared up reading this. Great job, Kavitha!

I Run for Fun said...

Thank you, Jose and J!

chris mcpeake said...

Congrats on your PR. Way to go

I Run for Fun said...

Aww...thank you, Jessica. That is very sweet.

Erica said...

WOWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWW! Way to push through that. Such an inspiration! I love hearing about how you fueled and how your garmins beeping pushed you on. Way to do it girl. so amazing!

ajh said...

Marathon #2! Woo Hoo! 9:00 is a late marathon start!
A lot of this marathon sounds terrible. You are one tough woman and to complete it under 4 hours with the weather and all the stuff going on! Wow!

I"m with you with the costumes. It is hard enough to run a marathon without additional clothes. But I do enjoy seeing these people!

Congrats on a good but painful job!

Heather said...

Wow, you really toughed it out! Congratulations on an amazing job, and on your huge PR!

Kerrie T. said...

You are amazing. Inspirational!

lindsay said...

2+ years or not, a 30 min pr on less-than 'target' training is awesome!! congrats girl! way to tough it out :)

Tricia said...

whooohoooo congrats!

Jill said...

Congratulations to you, simply amazing!! I am inspired by your determination to gut it out when you felt horrible. That's what marathoning is all about - pushing through the pain. Way to go!!

Mica said...

Yuck, how on earth did you push through all that pain? Like Emily said, it sounded like a brutal race. Congratulations on finding the mental and physical strength to get through it (and live to tell the tale)!

Scott Keeps Running said...

Congrats on fighting through #2!

sandylsu said...

Wow, Kavitha, what a vivid story!

Your experience of running under those conditions reminded me of when I ran River 2 Sea Relay last year in the dead heat of August. So I completely feel like I was there right with you in your agony. But your willpower is amazing, and you should be ecstatic to post such a great time under the most horrid of conditions! I thought I was going to pass out after only doing a 3 mile recovery run on Sunday.

Remember this story, its an inspiration!

Roisin said...

You. GO!!!! Awesome!!! I'm so proud of you triumphing over injuries and obnoxious weather! What an inspiration...now you've got me pumped to go for a run tomorrow.

karen said...

Hi - I ran the NJ marathon too and came in just before you with a 3:53. Wow - what you described was exactly how i experienced it too. What a day and not only was the heat unbelievable, but I felt the course was extremely mentally challenging doing 2 loops of the same thing and losing most of the crowds after the first loop! I was also trying to BQ with a 3:45 but ended up at 3:53. Although, I was disappointed, when I look back, I think it was amazing that we finished at all! Next one will hopefully be in MUCH COOLER weather! Congratulations on your marathon - you did great!!

I Run for Fun said...

Congratulations, Karen...awesome job! I am sure you will BQ the next time.

Roisin, hope you get a great run in tomorrow.

Thanks, Sandy...I have had enough of summer races!

Beth said...

You are amazing! You really are an inspiration- in your talent and attitude. Now that you've made it through that, you can do anything! I'm sure you can BQ if that is what you decide to do. Congratulations!!!

Running Diva Mom said...

Just found you -- looking forward to following your journey :-)

The Happy Runner said...

Way to tough it out -- great job! And, HUGE PR!! Congrats!

Hope you're feeling less chafed :-)

X-Country2 said...

Sorry it didn't work out like you hoped, but that's a great PR!

Bee At Work.. said...

Fantastic...you are amazing Kavi!!well written article..I loved reading it through, you are so determined & tough..Im so proud of u.Congrats!!

Mel-2nd Chances said...

Timely that I'm reading your race report today, exactly a year after my failed marathon attempt because of calf cramps. Way to push through, you did AMAZING!! Congrats on #2 :D

Ali said...

Awesome report! Well done and huge congrats on a fabulous time and big PR. You Rock!!!!

Beccarigg said...

Just found your blog and loved reading your race report! My first marathon was in the heat and it was HORRIBLE! The black top temp was 93! I finished 30 minutes after my goal pace but I finished. You did awesome and I have to say, If I ever break 4 hours like you just did I will feel pretty darn proud of myself! WTG!

I Run for Fun said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Joshi Thomas said...

Congratulations on a fantastic effort. I ran my first half marathon that day. 'Kilinchidichu' (Tamil) is the only word to describe the experience :-).