Sunday, March 4, 2012

RACE REPORT: Albany Snickers Marathon 2012

Tornado sirens and thunderstorms... my trek to a 3:37:49.

Taper period:
See for the detailed plan.

Tapering went pretty much according to plan.  I took the day before the race off from work to travel down to Albany and the expo.  I focused on a 1-day carbo-load, aiming for 7-10g/kg of carbs.  I probably hit that lower end, through a combo of oatmeal, a WW-banana-chocolate chip pancake, a couple of whole wheat rolls, beet juice, and an orange. 

I ended up sleeping only 5 hrs/night all 3 nights before the race.  It seemed to be all my body wanted, which was odd.  Maybe my body normally needs more only because of all of the training?  Or maybe it was excitement.

For my last 2 runs on race week, I just did 3 mi as easy as I could stand on the treadmill.  My body took a few days to recover from the first easy 3, which concerned me, but it might've just been needed recovery accumulated from the training cycle.  The 2nd 3mi didn't take as long to bounce back from.

I was checking the weather every day (multiple times per day) since 10 days out from the race at  I kept hoping that Friday's weather would stay on Friday, since it would have a high of 80!  It stayed that way, although Saturday's weather wasn't ideal, either.  Temps were forecasted at 71 degrees, which was still way too warm for my tastes, but at least it looked like it was going to rain, which would help keep the sun hidden, and which would provide extra cooling.

In Albany:

We checked into a motel just 0.5 mi from the expo and the start, which was really convenient.  We walked to the small expo held at the Hilton Garden Inn.  While I really, really enjoy big expos with lots of swag, this small expo was nice in that it had enough to give it an expo feel while eliminating any temptation for me to walk around for an hour or two.

I got my number, a shirt, some Mars Co samples (Snickers Marathon bars and the like), and tested out Newton shoes, which I've been curious about for a while.  Maybe I'll get a pair of Newtons at some point. 

I had created a chart of possible pacing strategies and the mile splits for each.  On the conservative side, I'd do even 8:11s for a 3:35 finish, and I had different variations of speeding up from the 16 and 18 mile marks.  I taped this to the back of my number, so that I could reference it if I needed to.

Race Morning:

I went to bed at about 9pm and woke up at 12:30am.  My plan wasn't to wake up until 3:30am so that I could drink up and have some breakfast, but I was up and didn't feel tired enough to go back to sleep.  I just laid there and drank and ate a granola bar went to the bathroom a number of times and essentially laid around until 3:30.  At that point, I took a hot shower and started final preparations of getting my stuff together.

- Anti-chafing gel
- Filling pockets with salt packets, instant coffee packs, a gel (ended up taking that out later), and my iPod shuffle.
- Putting on my calf sleeves and Feetures socks.
- Eating a Mini-clif bar.
- Drinking more instant decaf
- Drinking concentrated instant coffee
- Assembling my gear drop kit.

My family walked to the race start, where I dropped off my kit, did a wee bit of dynamic stretching, and chatted, taking in the excitement of the morning.

I found my pacer and introduced myself.  Pacer George would be taking me to Boston, I hoped!

As it got closer to race time, more people in the pace group assembled together, and it was time to line up!

A few minutes before the start, the rain started coming down.  At the last check of the weather, from 7am-10am, there was supposed to be a 10%, 10%, 35%, and 25% chance of rain or something.  Maybe not.

Then, a loud cannon blast went off, and my race for a BQ had begun.

The Race:

Mile 1:
The marathoners and half marathoners started together for the first block, but we split off after that.  I was all about just going out easy and sticking with the pacer for the first mile.  Just settling in.  We went by Albany State University, and I almost forgot to look up and take in the scenery a bit, since I was focused on staying behind the group and planting my feet out of puddles.  Just getting into the groove.  There were maybe 15-20 in the pace group.  There was another distinct pace group (3:25 finshers) up ahead. 

Mile 2:
There were water stops every 2 miles, which was nice.  During this mile, we went by some sand dunes, which were supposedly where the Gulf of Mexico once met land.

Mile 3:
Heading back to the main section of Albany after completing the small loop that you see on the lower right corner of the map.  There was some wind on that open, broad road, so it was nice to be able to draft behind others in the group.  On this stretch, there was a woman hanging out of the window of her gas station cashier station, cheering us on.  It was really nice!

Mile 4:
Back in the main section of town, passing the starting area again.  I saw my dad first, then my mom and sister.  The course happened to run past our motel! 

Mile 5-7:
Tornado warning sirens (sounded like air raid sirens) started going off.  "Seek immediate shelter".  I wondered what my family was thinking.  I hoped, hoped, hoped that they wouldn't make us stop running.  We just kept chugging, and none of the marshalls stopped us.  Thank goodness!  I found out later that the tornado was going in the opposite direction, so we were fine.  I took some Hammer Endurolytes with my Gatorade to boost my electrolyte intake.  With 71 degree race temps for the entire duration of the race, I would be needing it.

Mile 8:
Went by Darton College.  Got my first of 4 Hammer Gels.  Not caffeinated, unfortunately, but I had a pack of instant coffee to ingest later in the race.  The race was great about giving us enough on-course fuel.  Never had so much food before!  Publix sponsored fruit at every station past mile 8, and there was plenty of water and Gatorade.  I didn't take any fruit during this race, but it was nice to have the option.

Miles 9-11:
Some uphill.  It was pretty slight, but it was going up.  I had seen the elevation chart and expected net uphill for the first part of the race, followed by net downhill for the second half, but not much change overall.  If I had to pick any configuration, this would be it... you wouldn't want uphill in the second half.

Mile 12:
We entered a residential area, which was a nice change from the highway.  Lots of green grass and some curves in the road.  It gave you a nice mental shift in the race.  At mile 12, my pacer had to stop at a portalette and would catch up, but we charged on.  I felt kind of special "holding the fort" until he caught back up a couple of minutes later. 

I had some trouble opening the packet of instant coffee at the 12 mile mark water stop, so once I eventually got it open at about 12.5, I just dumped the contents into my mouth.  It was strong, but tolerable.  I've never heard of people taking instant coffee during a race before - only caffeine pills.  I don't know how I feel about caffeine pills, so I don't know if I'll ever try it.  However, I have had chocolate-covered expresso beans before.  Only 2, during the Houston Marathon, I think.  I had prepped a bottle of the beans for this race, but it waskind of heavy, and the coffee packets were so light, so I went with one of those instead.

Mile 13:
At about this point, I think we lost many from our group.  That's my guess, at least.  I didn't look back during the race.  There were two other guys plus the pacer there.  The pacer did a great job of keeping us within a couple seconds of the target pace the whole time.  Impressive.  I had another gel at the 13.5 mark and got to wash down the coffee a bit.

Mile 14-18:
After the 13 mile mark, I thought "ok, I'm on my way home now".  The true "halfway point" of the race isn't until mile 18 or 20, but the theoretical halfway point was here, and it was the farthest point from the start.  Just kept it up.  The pacer was really helpful and gave me some good advice while I was running.  On the downhills, take advantage of it and let your arms hang down more and relax your shoulders.  My mantra of the race was going to be "relax", to keep my muscles from being tense the whole time so that I could conserve the energy, but I forget, so it was good to have the reminders.  On the uphill, lean into the hill. 

At this point, I felt pretty good, like I could keep up the pace for the rest of the race.  At one point, I considered asking the other guy who was hanging with the pacer if he was planning on splitting at some point, so that we could go together and pace each other, but I felt it would be wiser just to wait and see how things went. 

As the race went on, I got thirstier.  A couple of people from town were handing out whole bottles of water on their own, which was really nice of them.  I really needed it.  The course went around Lake Loretta, which would've been pretty, but I was just trying to keep the pacer and the guy not too far ahead of me.  Had another gel at 18.5.

Mile 19-20:
The race got tough.  I started breathing heavier and getting tired.  I'd close my eyes every now and then to try to rest a bit.  It was down to one guy plus the pacer and me, with me hanging on some yards behind.  They were sooooo nice and kept encouraging me to hang in there, looking back every minute or so.  They had to keep up their pace, of course, but they did everything they could to help me.  One surge, and I could've caught back up, making up the 10 yard gap, but the gap widened gradually.

Mile 21:
It was all about keeping it up as best as I could.  The pacer's target was 3:34:30, so if I was still close at the end, I could conceiveably put in a surge to close right under the BQ mark.  But I'd have to at least hang on to do that.

Mile 22:
Got harder.  Went around some pretty neighborhoods, but I was just tying to survive.

Mile 23:
Forced myself to take another gel to get whatever energy I could.  My quads were having more and more difficulty lifting up my legs, and my calves couldn't push off as much as they used to.  Alone to fight the wind, under the falling rain. 

Mile 24:
Carnage.  I heard a podcaster's wife (Dirt Dawg's Rambling Diatribes) use that word to describe watching the back of the pack of a marathon.  It was appropriate.  In miles 13-20, the pace group had paced a good number of people who had slowed down, but I was starting to get passed.  "Every day I'm shufflin" is what I felt like.  Just keep moving.  I thought about stopping, how nice it would be to walk for a while, but I couldn't.  Not when I still had a chance at a BQ.  And not if it wasn't absolutely necessary.  It was going to be hard, but I had to keep rolling.  Had to earn that turtle medal.

I got really thirsty at this point.  Not an unfamiliar level of thirst, but I wished for a water station.  One came farther on, and I had some.  Someone took the last in-hand water right in front of me, so I ended up with Gatorade, but one of the volunteers had heard me asking for water and actually ran after me to hand me a cup of water!  That's dedication.

Let me take an extra moment to say how great the volunteers were.  It's one thing to run through tornado sirens and thunderstorms and pouring rain while chasing a goal, but it's another thing to be volunteering and spectating through it all.  There were locals and supporters all along the way who were cheering enthusiastically and doing everything they could help, despite the hardships.  Couldn't have asked for a more dedicated group - those guys were so hard-core and selfless, and we couldn't have done it without them.  They were incredible.

Mile 25:
Last stretch on a straight road.  You could see all the people up ahead trudging along.  Not much farther now.  I saw one girl close to my age up ahead, and I was able to close the gap and pass her with about 1/3 mile left.  The course turned into a train depot, which we actually ran through, and after that, it was just 0.2 miles left.  The first part of the 0.2 was on a secluded sidewalk path right outside of the park, but then a clearing appeared, and there was the crowd and the finish.  I didn't try to surge too much at the end, given last year when I cramped up with like 10 feet to go.  Finished hard but still with ok form. 

(My pacer finishing in 3:34:13)

(Me finising in 3:37:49)

After crossing the finish line, I was so tired.  A medical volunteer caught me and helped me to the med tent.  They said that my face was white and that I was dehydrated.  I laid down for a while, drinking Gatorade, then I worked my way to sitting up in the bed, then to sitting in a chair.  The med volunteers were really nice, professional and helpful.  It was pouring down rain at the time, and it looked like a field hospital with all of the mud and bodies everywhere.  The color came back,a nd my vitals were normal.

I had my turtle medal, and I was curious about whether I made it on the age group podium.  I had checked the times for the past few years before the race, and the past 2 years, the 3rd place for 25-29 was 3:35-3:37, so I had a shot.  It was warmer this year, with more difficult conditions, so maybe I'd make it?

Thankfully, they offered shelter from the rain and our energy-depleted bodies at the Albany Welcome center, where they also had a computer where you could look up times.  I figured out how to look up my time and helpled others do so (putting my academic background to good use, for once, and in a cool setting!).  The first time I checked, I saw maybe 1 time in my division that was faster than mine, so I was hopeful and was going to wait around for the noon awards.  Then, I discovered a field in the program for Divsion Place and saw that I was 4th... "nooooooooo!"  I said.  They don't give duplicate awards, so if someone in my division got top 3 overall, everyone would get bumped up, but the fastest girl I could see in our division got 7th.  I had been hoping to win the sports bag, since I had actually been wanting to get a sports bag for a while.  I was soooo disappointed.  As my poor family was waiting around in the Welcome Center, wet and probably tired from the night of little sleep and travl as well, I kept wondering whether I should wait around, joking with my sister that maybe I could hope that they would make a mistake and that I would end up winning something afterall.  I couldn't believe it.  I also joked that maybe I had made a mistake when I was looking up the times, even though I had checked 3x already.  Before giving up and leaving, I decided to check one more time, and then I saw it... one girl got 3rd!!!!  It was like 12:02 at that time, so I ran outside, so excited and hopeful.  Was the 4th after she was removed?  Or before?

They announced the overall winners, and then the age group winners.  When they read the time of the 2nd place winner, who made it in 3:35 and change, my sister and I knew that I was 3rd after the place re-set after all, and a flood of relief and sheer joy came over me.  Thank you, Erika Huerta, for finishing 3rd overall (in an awesome 02:58:43, too!).  I got the sports bag, got my picture taken with the Snickers plant manager "the M&M man"), and celebrated.

No BQ this time, but I can always try again. 

It's good to set multiple levels of goals.
My goals had been:
A: 3:30 & safe BQ
B: 3:35 & BQ
C: Age Group Award
D: PR (from 3:41:40)
E: Finishing

To get 3/5 goals, I'll take any day!

I'm also excited to be able to post a time at for the first time and share in that experience.   It's a great podcast with two hilarious British runners... it's my favorite thing to listen to while I run. 

Many thanks to the fantastic supporters and volunteers, the race director and organizers who made this a great race and let us run!!!! (thank you for not cancelling!!!), to my encouraging pacer and the nice guy who ran with him til the end, and to Albany and all of the sponsors. 

BQ, I will get you next time.

After the race, when I was waiting in the Visitor's Center for my mom and sis to get the car, I met the mens' winner, who was waiting for the rain to subside before going to the same motel where we had stayed.  We offered him a ride, which was really cool, since we got to chat with him a bit in the car.  He was from Nairobi, Kenya, and told us about where he runs and races.  Cool guy, and I wish him the best of luck.

I drank a lot the rest of the day.  Fluids in my system went from being a shocking red to pale by the third time around.  Yeah, maybe I was dehydrated, although I did heed nature's calling 3x during the last 3 miles.  I was soaking wet anyways, and I was intent on surviving and making it across that finish line.  Normal hunger levels, maybe because they forced me to drink a couple cups of Gatorade in the med tent - so much that I was tired of it. 

I wasn't sleepy, even.  Maybe it was the 2-cup equivalent of coffee.  I normally don't drink any caffeinated coffee, although I do drink tea and eat chocolate.  Recovery is fine so far.  I have a couple of blisters and a toenail that got driven into the toe, making it bleed underneath the skin all around it.  There's also a knot on my left hip and my left butt is tight, but it's pretty minimal.  Not bad at all.

Good race.  The BQ is within reach.  With better weather, and maybe more training to make me more fatigue-resistant, I can get it next time.

Splits> 8:07, 16:15 (8:08 for 2), 16:21 (8:10 for 2), 8:11, 8:08, 33:34 for 4.1 (8:11 for 4), 1:47:06 at the half (8:10.5 ave), 7:16 for 0.9 (8:06), 8:02, 8:11, 8:05, 8:12, 8:10, 8:10, 8:05, 8:21, 8:43, 8:59, 18:42 (9:21 for 2), 1:40 for 0.2.


lindsay said...

congrats on the PR and AG award!!! i've never gotten an AG in a marathon - that is awesome :) you are definitely very capable of running that sub 3:35. let your body rest and heal from the race and get back to it!

Nat said...

Nicely done! Congrats on your "hardware"!

I ran the marathon too and had a much worse race.

I have no doubt you will get your BQ and surpass that at your nice race.