Category Archives: Race Reports

Atlanta Beltline 8K: A (Half-Baked) Race Report

On Saturday, I ran my first race since Boston. It wasn’t something I had trained for, exactly, but what the hey. It was a beautiful morning and some friends were running and there were rumors of free Chipotle, so I showed up for race-day reg.

beltline8kbib

(The tear-off at the bottom was the free Chipotle coupon, and it was taken at the finish line. The nerve!)

I’ll just go ahead and stick the scroll-down details here:

  • Finish Time: 49:something. That’s like 9:50 pace. And for me, a personal worst by about 15 minutes!

Some relevant contributing factors:

  • There were three water stops and I walked though all of them.
  • I also added some distance by traipsing across a park in search of a bathroom. I had to pee. Badly. (Fortunately it was unlocked.)

But while those things certainly affected my finish time, I’m going to place most of the blame on the extra weight I’m carrying around these days.

19weeks_zpsd0e27f34

Not a beer gut – it’s a nearly-half-baked baby gut. Arriving February 2014!

Gross and creepy

I came downstairs this morning – braless and barefoot and beelining toward the coffee cabinet – and promptly stepped in a watery puddle of cat puke, conveniently deposited right at the base of the stairs.

Gross.

Then, coffee and smoothie in hand, I sat down at the breakfast bar to finish the post I started yesterday about Saturday’s 5K. I looked up and saw this a few inches from my nose.

Creepy.

When I try to explain why spiders are so much worse than other bugs: THIS IS WHY. Other bugs hide in corners and skitter away when approached. Other bugs buzz obnoxiously and crash repeatedly into the window and land on your cheeseburger. Other bugs bite you and make you itch. But at least they don’t stalk you from the ceiling above your favorite chair and then silently lower themselves on to your face like this crafty asshole.

Where was I? So much for finishing that other post about the 5K. I’ll summarize instead: mediocre.  Right off the bat, there was an enormous hill. We are talking 100+ feet of elevation gain in a quarter mile. It’s the sort of hill that I’ll run extra miles to avoid during a training run. I thought they were joking when I saw the course map.

My first mile was 7:17. I don’t remember the last time I had a mile split that slow in a 5K.

The rest of the course was rolling and downhill, which you would think would make it fast, but apparently I suck at running the downgrades too. Going in to mile two, I was the fourth female and gaining on third, but every time we’d go down a hill she’d open the gap back up. Somewhere around the second mile marker, we were both passed by another girl, who was moving pretty quick. Fifth place.

Then, on the final (downhill) stretch, this other girl came up and blew by me. Oh hell no, I thought, and chased after her. She beat me by a second. Sixth place in 21:33.

I was mad, but comforted myself by deciding that she looked pretty young and maybe was a couple of years out of college running or something like that. Then I checked the results: she was 38. FML.

Given the hilly course, my time is okay, but I’m disappointed in how I raced this one. Third place would’ve been better than sixth.

Anyway. I didn’t have a ton of time to dwell on it because I had a (make-up for a rained out) boot camp session to attend. (Not ideal, but I’d already paid for the session so off I went.)

It’s been a while since I tracked weekly workouts on here, but now that I’ve got a goal race, I’m bringing ’em back:

Later this afternoon, I’m headed up to Boston to meet up with Meg (of Candy Cat Story fame). She’s moving to Chicago and I’m joining her for a little moving road trip! We have camping gear and no real plan; I have a flight out of Midway on Friday night. I can’t wait.

We’ll try to stay out of any feline-themed strip clubs we might encounter along the way. Because that, too, would be gross and creepy. But I can’t make any promises.

I’ll check in from the road when I can. Have a great week!

P.S. Happy Birthday to another college girlfriend, who happens to write a beautiful and hilarious blog herself. Miss you! (And I hope you get home okay!)

RIP, my endurance

All of this strength training and boot camp-ing has been great for my strength and foot speed. Sub-90-second quarters ain’t no thing, and on Monday I did 30 (!) consecutive push-ups.

However, it has brutally murdered my endurance.

Okay, I know. I’m sure it’s the lack of mileage that’s the real culprit. But that’s not what I was thinking at mile four of yesterday’s Peachtree Road Race 10K when I was whining dramatically to myself about how this race was soooooo looooooong and if I’m in such good shape why am I toooooootally dying right now?

Damn that SAID principle.

I mean, I kind of expected to run a shitty time yesterday. But I didn’t expect it to hurt so much.

The morning started off uneventfully. Balance Bar, Gatorade, comically packed MARTA train car. Had a solid 45 minutes to kill before the 7:30 AM start, so I did a 15-minute warm-up and hit the plastic potties (for which there were shockingly no lines!) about six times.

In my start corral, I ended up chatting with a couple of guys and totally neglected to start my Garmin before we took off. Whoops. So I guess I’m running this one by feel, I thought.

The crowds weren’t too bad and there was plenty of excellent people watching, so I cruised along at what I imagined to be mid-7 pace.

Somewhere in the first couple of miles, a familiar face strode up! I don’t know how Ms. Blondie managed to find me, being that we have never actually met, but we’ve known each other online for a few years so it was great to finally connect. We chatted for a bit and she informed me that we were running around 7:10 pace.

At which point I regretfully stated that if that were indeed the case, I needed to slow the hell down. I wished her good luck and pulled back a bit.

A few minutes later, on the long stretch of downhill approaching the infamous Cardiac Hill, I pulled a potentially-creepy-internet-stalker move and said hello to a girl in a blue skirt, betting that it was Mackenzie from the comments on Tuesday’s post. Thankfully, it was, and we ran together until we hit the uphill, at which point she smoked me.

But I kind of knew that was going to happen, because I was three-something miles in to this race and I was totally out of gas.

I chugged and huffed and puffed and pushed, but I was just done. I could blame it on the hills or the humidity, but I know it was just lack of training that lead to the grotesque show of pain and misery that I put on for the latter half of that race.

The clock said 49-something when I crossed the finish line. (Official time: 48:52.) I collected my ugly finisher’s shirt and bemoaned the apparent lack of taste on the part of Atlanta’s running community. (The t-shirt design was selected by popular vote.)

Then, after making a circuit of the finish area to find my husband and congratulate various friends (including my former co-worker from Raleigh, Bobby Mack, who finished first American), I made a beeline for the designated beer-drinking location.

Where I proceeded to stand around for two hours in wet clothes. And then walk a mile and a half home in wet clothes.

My inner thighs look like they’ve been attacked by a meat grinder. You’re welcome for the sexy image. But there’s no other way to describe it. Wet Tempo shorts are not good party clothes.

The dumbest thing about this is that I had a change of clothes in my backpack. I was simply too lazy (or perhaps too preoccupied by the beer) to walk a hundred feet to the bathroom to change. Dumb, dumb, dumb.

So, the important takeaways from my first Peachtree:

1) I have no endurance right now. I’m good for 2-3 miles of hard running and then…splat.

2) Drinking while sweaty is a dangerous activity.

Chafing aside, I’m pretty okay with how things went. Going in to this race, I knew I wasn’t going to set any records. I’d hoped to finish closer to 45 minutes, but sub-50 is fine given my lack of training.

And it’s kind of nice to know where I stand. Building my endurance back up is going to be a major project this fall. But for now, I’m happy to work on quarter-mile repeats and push-ups.

Final Gansett reflections

Three rest days later, I’m going to discuss what I think went wrong at Gansett last Saturday. And then I’ll shut up about it and move on.

First, though, I have to say that I’m not crying a river of tears about this race. For all of my disappointment, it was my second-fastest marathon. And if it had been a half, I certainly could have gone under 1:40 and would have had a good shot at beating my best grown-up time, which was a 1:38 at Shamrock last year.

But of course, it wasn’t a half. And the fact remains that I failed to achieve what should have been an attainable time goal of 3:35. Why not?

Not enough training miles. Plain and simple. Frustrating…this should be such an easy fix (why didn’t I just run more?) but of course that’s easier said than done. But I’m a firm believer now in relatively high mileage training (for me, 60-70 MPW). That’s the only thing I did differently from every other marathon I’ve run when I was training for CIM last fall, and I got a much better result out of it.

It’s funny: I’ve been racing and running marathons for so many years and I still have a lot to learn about what works and doesn’t work for me. I seem to have decent leg speed regardless of my training, which allows me to knock out pretty good speed workouts and 5Ks, but endurance is something I really have to work for. And those fast workouts and shorter races give me a false sense of confidence about my own fitness; being able to crank out 400s on the track isn’t going to help me much at mile 20 of a marathon. More mileage, please.

Weight gain. God damn you, beer.

Seriously, though, while I know I’m not overweight, I have gained a couple of pounds this spring and I do think it makes a difference in my racing. Even though I just ran a (fairly respectable, by most people’s standards) marathon, I feel soft and round. Like a big, fluffy pancake. With butter and syrup. Mmmm…

FOCUS, SHELBY. Before my next marathon (which won’t be until 2013), I should definitely pay a little more attention to what’s going on with my diet.

Weather. I’m not going to complain too much about this because I heard some other people did this other marathon recently where it was, to put it mildly, MUCH hotter. But it was warm and sunny (I heard mid-70s at the finish) in Narragansett on Saturday morning, and most of the course ran along exposed roads with no shade. Obviously it wasn’t the inferno that Boston was, but nonetheless, it wasn’t ideal.

Poor race strategy/going out too fast/crashing and burning/etc. You know what? I’m not getting too upset with myself about this one. So I went out at 3:25 pace and couldn’t bring it home. You never know unless you try.

And on that note, let’s talk about the things that went right.

Small races are great. Gansett is an extremely well-organized, friendly, and fun race. There were no hassles whatsoever; I could see the start line from our hotel window when I got out of bed an hour before the (metaphorical, as it turns out, as there wasn’t one) gun went off. No dealing with parking issues or corrals or port-o-potty lines. Smooth as butter. (On pancakes…?)

No agony of da feet. I don’t think I even thought about my feet during this race, which is probably a first. My Brooks PureFlows were light and comfy and gave me zero issues.

I’m not sore. At all. Kind of weird. Maybe it was all of those walk breaks in the later miles…

I’m still taking this week completely off of running (I need the break mentally, more than anything) and then thinking about mixing up my workout routine a little for the summer. More on that later!

Final taper week details:

And OMG! I almost forgot about the OMG contest. I counted 20 correct entries. Random.org says lucky #13 is the winner, and that is Lori! Hooray for random giveaways that I write up while day-drinking. I’ll email you, Lori!

Name That Tune: A Gansett Marathon Recap (and contest!)

It was mile 18, and I could have sworn I saw buzzards circling.

Uh…do they have buzzards in Rhode Island? Maybe they were seagulls. In my mind, though, they were prescient scavenger-birds, just waiting for my poor body to collapse on the shoulder of the barren road so they could start picking me apart.

But that was mile 18.

This is a race recap, so let’s start form the beginning, because it wasn’t always so gruesome. [And to make this a little more fun, I’m going to throw in some fitting lyrics from songs that were on my iPod. Guess them correctly and you could win an OMG Prize*!]

Gathered around the whitewashed sandwich board with a big “S” painted on it, everyone was chatting. The starting line of yesterday’s Gansett Marathon felt like a bunch of runner-friends getting ready for a relaxed long run on a beautiful summer morning. Then suddenly someone shouted “GO” and we were off.

Name That Tune #1: I can go forever like an old-fashioned country mouse.

Miles 1-6: 7:47, 7:40, 7:39, 7:29, 7:44, 7:50

The first few miles of a marathon always feel easy, but damn…this felt EASY. Yes, I knew I was going out too fast. I kept telling myself to slow down, but I was tucked in to a nice little pack of women (which, incidentally, included at least three other bloggers – Karen, Celia, and Sarah). Behind the pack was…well, it looked like nothing. Pace be damned. I wasn’t quite ready to be running all alone, and hey – maybe I did have a 3:25 in me? You never know unless you try.

Name That Tune #2: Got a whole six pack on ice but I’m ridin’ on the hottest wheels.

Miles 7-12: 7:48, 7:40, 7:52, 7:59, 7:56, 7:57

I was running on borrowed time…both figuratively and literally.

The pack began to thin and eventually spread into a loose string of runners. Gansett is a two-loop course: the first 16-mile loop cuts wide around the far end with a couple of little lollipop turns, while the second 10-mile loop cuts across those, but otherwise follows the first loop step for step. This is relevant because when you’re at mile 9, you’re also seeing the mile marker for, say, mile 21.

And let me tell you: when you’re going up a long, gradual, exposed incline at mile 10-12 and you’re constantly being reminded that this is also going to be miles 22-24, well…that kind of sucks.

Anyway. I was still feeling good, but starting to wonder if the wheels were going to come off at some point. I hadn’t trained hard enough to be running this well. It seemed too good to be true.

Name That Tune #3: He summoned all of his strength in the climb. It suffered all of his strength in the fall.

Miles 13-18: 7:49, 7:58, 8:10, 8:15, 8:45, 8:56

I came through the half around 1:42. That’s a full six minutes faster than I ran the Tobacco Road Half a couple of weeks ago – and two minutes faster than I came through the half mark at CIM last December. On pace for a 3:24. I still sort of believed I might be able to make that happen.

And then I hit THE WALL. I know, it’s cliche. But I did. At mile 16. Which is way too early to find yourself slamming into an invisible net of pain and suffering. Hello, lack of mileage. I quickly went from feeling strong and upbeat to being totally pissed off.

Name That Tune #4: Your misery and hate will kill us all. So paint it black and take it back…

Miles 18-26: Pace unknown

I was running along the water, starting the second loop. Well…running, and some walking. My legs were toast; I’d burned them out on the first half, having taken a gamble on being in better shape than I thought I was. It was a bet that I’d lost. It was over.

So I decided to shut down my Garmin and just enjoy running along this picturesque  New England beach. I tried to bring it full circle. That calm feeling I’d had at the start, of just being out for a nice long run on a beautiful day…couldn’t I recapture that now?

I won’t pretend I didn’t spend much of the hour that followed wishing the whole thing were over, but at least I wasn’t berating myself with every step. I don’t know what kind of pace I was running (and, ahem, walking through the water stations) but it was definitely slow. I was just going for the finish at that point.

Official finish time: 3:42:47

Which isn’t so bad in the grand scheme of things, but is certainly slow enough to make me think twice about my training this spring (and plans for the rest of the summer/fall…)

I’ll reflect more on that in a few days. Right now, I’m focused on cheering for Megan and AR and Pat and Lisa and John and Sarah and Tim and everyone else who has decided to brave tomorrow’s heat….

GOOD LUCK, Boston runners!

*OMG CONTEST: One entry per current answer, don’t google it unless you’re a cheater but the OMG PRIZE is awesome, trust me. You can even make up answers and I’ll accept them as long as they’re entertaining.

Empty

A confidence booster. That’s what I’d hoped this morning’s Tobacco Road Half Marathon would be.

I tried to stay chill about it, but I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t had a goal time in mind. Last year at this time, I ran a 1:38, and judging by workouts and performances at shorter distances, I’m in better shape now. I’d hoped to crank out a 1:35 if the stars aligned.

Unfortunately, the stars were all over the place. I finished at 1:48 and change.

Making excuses for bad race performances is pretty lame, but here are my reasons for sucking it up big time today:

Reason #1: It went soft. In the weeks leading up to this race, I said it a million times: if there was one thing that would sink this race, it would be a soggy trail.

The Tobacco Road half is mostly run on a section of the American Tobacco Trail that’s made of loosely-packed crushed gravel. For a long run, it’s fantastically forgiving. For a speed workout, it’s slightly challenging when dry. And when it’s wet, it’s miserable all around.

Well, guess what it did ALL NIGHT Saturday night. I almost stayed in bed when my alarm finally went off, after being awake all night listening to the pouring rain. 13.1 miles of racing on soft, soggy terrain? Ugh.

But obviously I heeded the alarm. I probably should have adjusted my expectations for this race before I even got out of bed, because….

Reason #2: The effing humidity. I know it could have been worse: it could have been warmer. But I hate being soaking wet before I even start running, no matter what the temperature is. Enough said.

Reason #3: My cranky womb. Sorry if this is TMI, but…standing in the start corral this morning, I felt a familiar throbbing in my lower belly and aching in my hips that I knew had nothing to do with running or digestion. Rather, it was my reproductive system letting me know that it was about to begin its monthly thing, and wouldn’t I rather be at home, under a blanket, with a warm cat sprawled across my lap? Why yes, I would.

In nearly two decades of racing, this was the first time I had ever encountered such unfortunate timing. It sucked.

Reason #4: My head wasn’t in it. Instead, my head was worrying about whether the movers would be on time on Monday and fretting about boxes that still needed to be packed.

Yeah….planning a half marathon the day before an interstate move is not a great plan.

Also, honestly? My heart wasn’t really in it today, either. My heart was in Atlanta, with my husband, who I miss dearly and cannot wait to see tomorrow night.

Reason #5: I’m exhausted. For the last week, I’ve spent nearly every waking moment moving shit around, putting shit in boxes, hauling shit to the trash chute, and shlepping shit to the car to bring to the Goodwill Donation Center. Even though we have movers coming to help with the actual moving, just preparing to move is exhausting.

So, those are my excuses. I started out today’s race with a downhill 7:20 mile that felt far too difficult; I knew it wasn’t going to be my day to run hard. I dropped back to marathon pace (7:45-7:50) for a couple of miles, but once I hit the soggy path, even that felt like too much. So I dropped back again and hung out at 8:15-8:30 (pretty close to my normal long run pace) for the rest of the race. And even that felt harder than it should have.

Sometimes, it just isn’t your day.

(Thanks to teammate Jenna for the photo)

Anyway. So this race didn’t exactly make me feel like a million bucks going into the last couple of weeks of Gansett Marathon training. In fact, it made me feel pretty discouraged and doubtful. My training volume hasn’t been what I’d hoped it would be this spring, and while I’m still running pretty well (for me) at shorter distances, it seems like I’m falling short in the stamina department.

Not sure if there’s much I can do about that at this point. Oh well.

After a lovely post-race nap, I cleaned myself up and headed in to work to drop off my key (sad!) and cajole a couple of my co-workers into enjoying one last post-shift beer with me. And it was a good one…

The famed 120 Minute IPA from Dogfish HeadIt was as amazing as I’d imagined it would be.

Around these parts, Dogfish 60 Minute IPA and 90 Minute IPA are pretty easy to find, but the 120 Minute is an elusive beast – probably because it’s actually illegal here in North Carolina. Amazingly smooth and sweet, it’s hard to believe that this beer packs an 18%-ABV punch. You get a quick hit of full-flavored hops at the beginning of each sip, but as it goes down it mellows in to a lovely honeysuckle finish with no pucker whatsoever. Utterly delicious.

Bottom line: This one definitely lives up to the hype. If you have a chance to get your hands on it, definitely buy it – and buy me one too, please!

Well…tomorrow is moving day. Every closet, cupboard, and drawer in the apartment is empty; the only thing left to be packed is the TV/cable/modem setup. By this time tomorrow night, if everything goes smoothly, I’ll be rolling in to Atlanta with two confused felines in tow.

Wish me luck!

A thousand random last times

Folks, I am at the point in the moving process where I find myself pausing constantly to reflect on the fact that it’s the VERY LAST TIME I’ll do some random meaningless thing here in Raleigh. Ever.

The thing is, I don’t consider myself a particularly sentimental person. And, really…I’ve only lived here for a couple of years, it’s not like my roots are that deep. But I still find myself pulling out the VERY LAST TIME card with disturbing frequency.

Saturday morning was the VERY LAST TIME I would ever run a 5K in Raleigh. If you recall, I wasn’t planning to race it. I stuck to my word, and cruised at 7:15 pace to a 22:25 finish, which is exactly the speed I’m hoping to run for 13.1 next weekend. And in the process, I paced a teammate to a PR, while reminding him that this was the VERY LAST TIME we’d ever run a race together, so therefore he’d better sack up and run faster. (I should be a coach…really.)

This morning, I headed out to Umstead for my VERY LAST TIME running in the park. It was a gorgeous morning and I was delighted to be out there in the crisp sunshine, even with the abrupt and crude removal of daylight savings time. I met Joe and we covered 13 easy miles. Oh yeah, it was probably my VERY LAST TIME running with him, too. So many goodbyes.

I also said goodbye to Bottle Revolution this weekend. I had damn well better be able to find a place to buy interesting beers in Atlanta.

Anyway. Here are a couple of weeks of pretty boring training data. First, two weeks back, which was Foot Injury Week:

And second, this past week, which was Flu Week:

On the bright side, hey: it’s the VERY LAST TIME I’ll ever have a strange foot injury that may or may not have been from something as silly as tying my shoes too tight! And the VERY LAST TIME I’ll ever have the Flu in North Carolina!

Knock on wood.

Maybe being sentimental isn’t such a bad thing after all…

I’m spent

…and I’m walking a little bowlegged right now. It’s been a long weekend.

Um. I’m talking about running. Specifically, about the nasty splotches of raw skin splashed across each of my inner thighs. Chafing in January: apparently it’s possible. Thank you, global warming.

Saturday morning, I ran a local 5K race – the Run For Young 5K. The start was literally half a mile from my apartment. How could I not? Even after a month of zero speedwork and a couple of strongish beers the night before?

I’ll spare you a detailed recap on this one because it was pretty uneventful. First mile was in the 6:30s, second and third were in the 6:50s. Overall time: 21 minutes and change. (Gun time 21:14; 21:09 on the watch.) Sixth woman overall and first in my age group. (It was a small race.)

If I had a dollar for every 21-something 5K I’ve run in the last couple of years, I could definitely afford a stick of Body Glide for these ever-rubbing thighs!

Anyway, it was a gorgeous morning, and time-wise I finished about where I expected to finish, so I left happy enough. A little strangely, I felt like I could have kept going at that just-sub-7 pace, but I couldn’t manage to go any faster. Usually I can whip out a pretty decent kick at the end of a short race, but not this time. Weird.

Post race and cool down, I hurried to work for a long day of retail fun. By closing time, my legs were toast. (One nice thing about working in a running store? Wearing compression sleeves to work isn’t taboo. It’s marketing.)

Sunday: rinse and repeat, except replace the race with a 14-mile long run. (That would be the one that chewed up my thighs like they were pieces of Bubble Yum. Delicious!)

Putting a long run and a race (or vice versa) on back-to-back days can be a little rough, but I’m going to do it intentionally every now and then during this marathon training cycle. (Assuming I stay injury-free, of course.) Running long and/or hard on tired legs is…well, hard. And that’s good practice for race day.

Week one of training is in the books…

…and after another long day on my feet today, I’m not budging from the couch tonight. Budging hurts. Pajama pants + thigh chafing = ouch.

Thanks so much for all of your comments about our upcoming move to Atlanta! Hope everyone had a good weekend.

Finally

I’m not even sure where to start with this one.

I guess I could start with the fact that for the last ten minutes, I’ve been staring at the little blank box about two inches north of here, unable to come up with an appropriate title for this post.

A few of the rejects: “California Love,” “Why you should definitely run a fast course in perfect weather if you want to PR,” “The speediest pre-race poop ever,” “The race that was a decade in the making.”

In the end, I decided to go simple and use the word that bounced around in my adrenaline-riddled skull like a stray coin in an empty dryer throughout the last ten miles of today’s California International Marathon.

Finally.

Finally. Because until today, I had not run a legitimate PR in over a decade. And by that I mean: a PR that didn’t need some sort of ridiculous explanatory hyphenated adjective, usually framed by quotation marks, in front of it. You know, “post-college” PR. “Adult-era” PR. “I’ve-never-raced-this-distance-before-so-of-course-its-a-PR” PR.

I hadn’t run one at any distance, actually, but for some reason the marathon was the most vexing. Year after year, I signed up and showed up and ran, cranking out finish times that, while very respectable in the grand scheme of things, were oddly out of line with my performances at shorter distances.

“Maybe I’m just not cut out to race well at 26.2,” I’d say.

“Well, you know, most people get better at the longer stuff as they get older,” everyone answered.

And so I waited for it to happen, becoming more and more discouraged as my age crept up but my marathon times stayed the same.

But you know what I didn’t ever do, all of those years? Actually TRAIN. And by that I mean training hard. Sure, I did my 20-milers and the occasional Yasso 800 session, but I never really pushed myself to run more. To log 60 and 70 mile weeks. To race on tired legs. To do more than the minimum, whether it be mileage or track repeats.

Well, I did all of that stuff this time. And I had publicly declared my intent to PR or die trying. Maybe that’s why I was just a little tightly wound as I bounced nervously among the 8,000 other runners on the start line this morning.

Around me, everyone was gushing about the weather. And rightly so: the evening before, I’d tried to block out the sight of the branches of the tangerine trees in our friends’ yard, jerking around wildly as the wind whipped through them. High winds had grounded flights all over California just a few of days before, and even on the tail end of the storm, my own descent into the Sacramento airport had been a little harrowing.

But this morning was perfect. We were treated to a calm dawn in Folsom, with clear skies, temperatures in the 40s and the sweet smell of chapparal and fresh manure lingering in the air.

I, however, was kind of oblivious to that at first. I’d arrived at the race at 6:50 for the 7 AM start, thanks to a major traffic hassle getting to the drop-off area and a minor panic attack in the car. With barely enough time to make my port-o-potty offering, I arrived in the start corral just as the anthem was beginning. Stress.

You have to let this go, I told myself as the pack surged forward. You’re here, you made it, you have a perfect day and a fast course. Don’t eff this up.

For the first few miles, I hung with the 3:35 pace group. It was a friendly bunch with a talkative pacer and we cruised up and down the gentle hills at a pace that felt very mellow. I glanced periodically at my Garmin’s pace reading and determined that I was probably going out too fast, but decided I didn’t care.

At some point I drifted ahead of the 3:35-ers and again heard a little voice telling me to cool it. That little voice and I went back and forth for a few minutes. I eventually won.

You know was really addicting? Seeing those 7-something splits…and feeling really, really good.

Around mile 7, I came up on the 3:30 pace group, which was quite a mass of sweaty bodies. I hung on the periphery and let snippets of their conversations entertain me. At mile 7, I took an AccelGel. At mile 8, I started to pull away a little, the voices of the 3:30-ers becoming a little more faint. I never saw them again.

I’m actually struggling with what to write about these miles, far more than I struggled with running them. The innards of the marathon. I just felt…really good. It was actually fun. Half split: 1:44 and change, on pace for a sub-3:30 finish.

I remained sort of suspicious at this point, though. There was still time to implode. I took another gel at mile 14 and stayed with my strategy of swinging through every other water station, crossing my fingers that the fresh-feeling legs stayed around for a while.

Miles 16 and 17 were my favorite of this entire race. I can’t remember ever feeling so springy and fresh at that point. It was unreal. Somewhere during these miles, it occurred to me that I actually might do this. As in: even if I slowed down, I was still going to pull off a major PR and probably a BQ.

Finally.

I started to wonder whether the wall would show up, and if so, when. Typically it appears around mile 18 for me. But I cruised on through to the 20 feeling pretty darn fantastic.

Well. Things indeed got unpleasant. The wall arrived just after mile 21, when all of a sudden it wasn’t quite so fun anymore. My feet hurt and my stomach cramped and the Second Surge gel, packed with sugar and caffeine, that I took at mile 21 didn’t really give me the boost I expected.

But I hung on. 8:30 pace was manageable and would still get me the a finish time that was within the realm of awesome finish outcomes. I walked through a water stop for the first time at mile 23, failing at one of the mini-goals I’d had for this race (which was: don’t walk).  But unlike marathons past where that first walk break was the start of a bad walking habit, I hung on and kept running at my slightly slower pace.

You guys. I can’t even describe how awesome it was to run down the final stretch toward that finish chute with 3:29:XX on the clock.

Okay, I can try.

It’s the first time I have ever smiled in a marathon finish photo.

It’s the first time I have ever been in danger of crying at the finish of a race…which I didn’t, but I thought I might.

It’s the first time in many years I’ve finished a race and been truly proud of what I accomplished.

Yeah. I know a 3:29 isn’t going to get me in to the Olympic trials or anything, but you know what? It’s kind of a big freaking deal to me. This PR has been over a decade in the making, and I’m damn proud of it.

In other words: Finally.

How to piss people off at mile 17

Okay, not intentionally. But I have to admit I felt like kind of a jackass today.

Because, well…I picked up the relay baton at mile 16.5. And then proceeded to bounce along the race course on my relatively fresh legs, passing tons of poor people who had been running for two-plus hours at that point. Most of whom looked like they’d rather be chewing glass than climbing the notorious hills that plague this most difficult stretch of the City of Oaks Marathon course.

“GREAT JOB YOU’RE THE SIXTH WOMAN!” people yelled. And I cringed. “WOW YOU’RE LOOKING SO STRONG!” they screamed. That’s because I’ve only been running for four miles, I yearned to disclaim. Even though I had a giant “RELAY” bib pinned to my singlet, I felt like a big fat fraud.

However: it was so fun.

Until this morning, I had never participated in a marathon relay. And honestly, I was sort of skeptical of the whole idea. Because I’ve been the marathoner in that situation: a merge with another race/course, usually late on in the game…and right when you’re at your absolute stabbiest, you must contend with hoardes of 5K walkers or whatever who have been doing their thing for like 30 minutes and they’re pumping their arms and chatting and having a grand old time and you kind of just want to kill them.

(I sincerely hope that no one wanted to kill me today. I tried to just do my thing and not be obnoxious.)

But after that slightly disastrous ATT 10 Miler a couple of weeks ago, I needed a confidence boost, and even though I may have pissed some people off – I got that today.

9.4 miles. Elevation change: 2,100 feet. Time: 1:12.

(A little off, as I was already swaddled in a space blanket and halfway through my bottle of water when I remembered that my Garmin was still running. I think my split was probably right around 1:12.)

Yeah…not the 8-minute marathon pace I’d planned. But I’d also planned that my legs would feel like crap after Saturday’s 18-miler. And they didn’t.

Around mile 7, I emerged from the course’s most intimidating climb – a nearly 3-mile stretch that slowed me to a walk more than once when I ran it on training runs this summer. I decided that I felt good. And I could see this other relay chick up ahead and decided to catch her and pass her.

And that’s how I ended up cruising (surprisingly comfortably?) at a sub-7 minute pace for the last two miles of this thing. That felt good. Maybe all of this training and higher mileage is actually doing something for me.

Of course, I wasn’t the only one who had a standout performance today. The entire team absolutely rocked it. I’d estimated we would finish in 3:30. We busted out a collective 3:17.

(Three of four – we’re missing Pat, our lead-off leg, who had to skedaddle but ran his 6+ miles at 6:20 pace and put the rest of us in a great position! On the left is Lindsey, leg 2, who claims that her 5K pace is 8 minutes but cruised through her 4-mile leg in 31 minutes – and just a week after running a marathon. In the middle is me, always and forever the midget in group pictures. And on the right is leg 3, Jack, who predicted he’d run 8:35 pace and kicked that square in the ass by averaging 8-minute pace on a horribly hilly stretch of the course. Which also resulted in a near awkward situation because I was, ahem, out in the woods watering a tree when he came up road approaching the hand-off point..thankfully, someone yelled at me to get my shorts on and get over to the exchange zone.)

Anyway. I’m still not sure how I feel about marathon relays in general, but I think in this situation, it was okay. City of Oaks is a small race (capped at 1,000 marathoners and 100 relay teams, with an additional 2,000 half-marathoners for the first 13) and I think at some point, from the marathoner’s perspective, on balance it’s helpful just to have some more people out there in the later miles, even if they’re obnoxiously fresh-legged relay people – like me.

And at the risk of being all sunshine and rainbows here…I feel pretty awesome about my CIM training this week.

That, right there, is most definitely a weekly mileage record for me. Holy hell! With two high-quality workouts in there, too. And I’m knocking on the fake wood of my Ikea computer desk when I say that my legs actually feel pretty great right now.

And to all of the marathon runners that I cruised by at mile 17-26 today, let me say this: you’re braver than me.

I can’t imagine taking on a course like this, with hellish hills from mile 10 until 23, for a full marathon. Nope…I’m a huge wuss who is totally fleeing the hills and getting on a plane to California to run flat when I take on 26.2 in December.

Yep, City of Oaks is a really tough course. And I’m sorry if I was obnoxiously bouncy and happy at mile 23. But…don’t hate the player, hate the game.

Because, damn…it was fun to run fast and feel good. :)

Miles until 2,011 in 2011: 290. Weeks until CIM taper time: one. NaNoWriMo Word Count: 4,390 / 50,000.