Cross Trail Classic Marathon 8/8/15 (3rd Annual)
(the blog you’ve all been waiting for. Spoiler alert: I did finish and I didn’t die)
I finally got to bed and got 4.5 hours of sleep–I was shocked how much I found to do before turning in for the night. I mean, how long does it take the get shorts and gels out?? Especially after (see last post) I had gotten out my clothes out a week ago.
As a pre-race warm up, we walked a bit more than a mile from the car to the start. On the way we chatted with a guy that wanted a sub 5 hour finish; he had run the San Francisco marathon earlier in the summer and was stymied by the lines at the port-a-potties along the way–that cost him valuable minutes. Apparently many minutes. He was the one who told me there were 10 marathoners in the Cross Trail Classic. I was a little disappointed to find out there was such a small turn out for the full, but it was more than last year, so that’s something (it’s still a very new race).
From the start I concentrated on not going out too fast–running comfortably and finding my pace. Knowing that of the 65 runners starting, only 10 of us were running the full marathon made it easier to let people go out ahead of me. I did find my pace and actually found that I was neither running at the end of the half marathon pack or the end of the marathon pack.
Everything I read about your first marathon said you shouldn’t have a time goal, just a goal to finish. I knew what I wanted to run it in, had no idea if it was possible, but also didn’t want to slack off…but also had no idea if it was possible (did I mention that?!). In the end I compromised by having a pace bracelet for a 4:45 finish, but kept it in my pocket and didn’t look at it much. I was pretty much right on target for the first 14 miles. Then it got real.
Everyone runs together for the first 10 miles of the course, then there is an out and back portion along a dirt road that the half marathoners go .5 miles and the full marathoners go to the end and turn around after a mile. It is on this section that you can see who (how many) runners are in the 2 miles ahead of you. The first loop my running partner, Crystal, was about a mile ahead of me as were about 5 of the other marathoners. Up until this point I was very close to my pace to finish around 4:45. The course comes out of the woods, down a glorious hill (I love running downhill!) and onto the main road for 3 miles along the water for a flat homestretch in town. Nearing the half marathon finish the volunteers cheering noted that I was ‘almost done’, and ‘nearly there’, etc etc blah blah. They didn’t notice that the green bib meant I wasn’t almost done. The white bib wearers were almost done. I was not. I had anticipated that crossing the finish line and continuing running would be the hardest part–something disheartening about running past the celebration…
I also had thought that the live timing clock on the finish line would be my half way mark, but figured out somewhere around mile 9 or 10 that at the half marathon finish line I would be at 14.1 miles. My time there was 2:33 with my usual extremely consistent splits. After that point I was really alone on the course. The volunteers who had been there the first time directing us on the trails through the park and stopping traffic had been replaced by signs. I had heard the first year they ran this race (2013) that the volunteers working the aid stations had been confused about the two loops and had gone home after the half marathon runners passed. My friend that ran it said there was no water on the course the second time around.
I have run this course countless times. The race itself is in it’s third year, I have run the half marathon the first two years. We joke that racing in Sitka is just paying money to run on the same routes with the same people, but getting a cool shirt and maybe a medal. I anticipated the hardest part mentally would be finishing the first loop of the double loop course and continuing on. I figured coming up to the balloon arch with the live clock with all the volunteers, spectators and runners would feel like a really good place to stop and it would be hard to run through. It was better than I expected, my friends and running club members were there (having finished their halves) cheering me on and it was exciting to run through and gave me an energetic boost. Immediately after that though, I was essentially by myself. I ran through the park and saw no one. I ran by the river and saw no one. My family met me on a road section between two trails and resupplied me with gel, nuum, more cow bell and good spirits.
(A note about my family: I have two sons, 8 & 13 and a husband none of whom are runners, but are very supportive of my running and my biggest fans at races. I could not train or race like this without them. Today their mission was to drive to the places that the road came close to the trail, gather supplies and run out to meet me. My oldest son ran back to meet me to find out what I needed, then sprinted to my other son and husband and gathered it together. He would run with me while I drank, offering encouragement, “you got this, mom! You’ve worked so hard and you’re doing great!” then take my water bottle back to the family and off they’d go to the next access point on the trail.) It was really nice not to have to carry gels for the whole race and not to have to carry the extra water bottles with sport drink. There was plenty of water offered on the course both times around–even if some of the tables were just covered with cups and not manned with volunteers. Around mile 15 I started to feel really alone. I was running in the woods–alone. I thought of taking selfies at each mile marker, just to prove I was there…but I was worried if I stopped running at that point, I might not start again.
The biggest hills (and there are a number of big hills) are at miles 8, 9 and 19 & 20. We had discussed strategy on these hills during many of our runs up them over the summer. We debated the advantages of running up them both times and potentially using up any reserve energy and really dragging on the last few miles. We talked about running up them the first time around and walking up them the second time…in the end I ran up them the first time (surprisingly well) and only stopped to walk up the last of half of the biggest hill the second time. I have realized that while you may not run up hills much faster than you can walk up them and it uses more energy, the psychological boost you get from having running legs hit the top of a hill and take off like a wound up toy car is invaluable (I bargained with myself all the way up all the hills, both times).
About mile 22 was where it got hard. My legs felt really heavy and tired. On the final out and back portion I didn’t see anyone else for a long time, it wasn’t until almost the end that I saw 4 other runners who had reached the turn around and were headed back toward me. One of them was the guy with the sub 5 hour goal–I high fived him and let him know he was there for sure (ironically, since 7 of the marathoners were women he earned the 3rd place male finish!) It was about here that the only runner who was behind me passed me. Now I knew I was last. I kept telling myself that I would run to that tree, or bend, or house, or whatever and then I would walk, but I never did. I kept running…I actually figured out at what mile I could stop running and walk the rest of the way and still make it before the cut off. Coming down the last hill to the main road my legs really weren’t into this anymore. Even running down hill took effort and wasn’t much fun. I knew I was behind on my goal time, and vacillated between not wanting to know by how much, and having to know. If I was too far behind I was worried I just give up. Around mile 23 I checked it and found I wasn’t so far off my pace that it was disheartening. Shit. Now I had to keep running, no excuse to stop.
Right before I got to the bottom of the hill and was about to turn the corner I saw one of my sons sitting beside the road. As soon as he saw me he popped up and ran down the hill. When I rounded the corner I saw my family had been joined by another family and there were 15 people who love me cheering me on, they were blowing horns and throwing confetti. Well, I thought, can’t stop now…there are people watching! So I pushed on. I was just over 3 miles from the finish line and it is pretty flat to the end. It’s my least favorite part of the course since it’s along the road, but today it was great to have people honking and waving and yelling out their windows at me. I kept myself going by knowing that my family was going to pass me in our car at any minute and I had better be running when the saw me. They leap frogged me and in another mile and half there they all were again; horns, cheering, confetti. Otherwise, at this point it was just like any other day for me, running alone through Sitka. I started to worry that everyone would have gone home by the time I finished. I knew I was going to be last, didn’t know by how much, maybe everyone would have packed up by then. I convinced myself it would be just my family, a few members of my running club and maybe one or two others. I had this thought pretty firmly in mind when I got to the last corner at mile 26. I was pretty sure I would finish my first marathon alone. Just me, the timer and my family. Sigh.
Then I saw the race director (who is now my personal hero). She was holding a megaphone. The first year I ran the half marathon when you turned this corner we stayed in the road and a kid ran ahead of us calling our number to the timers, it was pretty fun. The next year the finish line had moved off the road and onto the newly finished seawalk which was really nice. This year we were on the seawalk again. So, here I come, pretty hang dog–thinking I’m going to finish my first marathon to a weak and humble end. I’m focused on Julie (the race director) who tells me as I approach her that she’s going to run in front of me to clear the crowd and I’m supposed to follow her and we’ll just do the best we can. What the?? Then I turn to look toward the finshish line and see the parade. The parade! I had forgotten about the parade! The Sitka Cross Trail Classic 1/2 & full marathon take place as an event during the Sitka Seafood Festival. The race starts early to be done by the time the parade starts (originally I think they thought the runners would finish the race and then hang around and be in the parade-ha!). So I follow Julie through the gathering crowds, “Runner coming through” she’s yelling. “This woman just ran 26 miles!”, that gets people’s attention and they’re standing by the seawalk applauding. For me! “Susea Albee is just about to finish her first marathon!”–so now everyone who knows me that is ready to watch the parade turns around and comes to the seawalk to cheer me on. At this point I start to cry. It was indescribably amazing. Sometimes living in a small town where everyone knows your name (okay pop. 8500 and not everyone) has huge benefits. There was a cruise ship in town that day and tourists were cheering for me too! I had a parade, my own private announcer and crowds of people–it was not a bad thing.
I have sprinted at the end of every race I have ever run. At about mile 25 I had reasoned that I could finish the marathon, I could run the whole way, but I could not sprint at the end. Then Julie looks at the clock and turns around to me and says, ‘if you run hard from here you can finish in under 4:53″. So I said, get out of the way, I’m sprinting!
Running down the seawalk to the finish (way behind me in the while shirt is Julie, the race director). They kid with the frisbee is my oldest son and biggest supporter
I decided right then that I was going to run another marathon. I wanted to do it soon. I wanted to run with a LOT of runners and have spectators the whole way and finish right in the middle of the pack. My marathon time was one minute faster than the average for women my age. In Sitka that puts me absolutely last. And I don’t care (but it would be nice to be in the middle for once).
I am registered for the Amica Seattle Marathon on 11/29. I have started training and I will have a time goal this time (4:40 which I read is close to the average for woman marathon times), it’s ambitious, but I think possible, especially under different conditions from Sitka (running alone on hilly trails).
Fueling notes: I did a Honey Stinger gel (either plain or ginseng) every 6 miles, and tried a Stinger chew every mile after 4 miles. I drank water at every station (every few miles) and sipped nuum every few miles. When I did my 20 mile training run I got very hungry at about mile 18. For the marathon I had a packet of almond butter with honey at about 18 miles to prevent that. Overall the fueling was great–I never hit the wall, and I didn’t have upset stomach.
I ran 493.2 miles in this training schedule leading up to this marathon (why did I skip that 7 mile run?!) and not enough cross or weight training (I know).
Afterwards I had a toe that was sore at the base of the nail, but had nail polish on. I thought I might loose my first toenail (there was a sign on the race course that read ‘toenails are for sissies’), but even a few weeks later it hadn’t come off and wasn’t as sore. It wasn’t until 3 weeks later when getting a pedicure that I realized I was going to lose that nail. I was kind of proud of the fact I hadn’t ever lost one before, and now I am kind of proud that I have. I ran so far that parts of my body actually came off!
I will be training and blogging about training for marathon #2–stay tuned!