Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Respect for the Marathon Beast - Denver Marathon 2009 Race Report

Sunday, Oct 18th I experienced my very first marathon. I've run one half-marathon and a couple others as part of half-iron distance races, but this would be my first attempt at the full 26.2. I was part of The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society's Team In Training (TNT) team, so there was tons of support. Our Colorado Springs team was extra motivated, because one of our teammate's daughter was at the very end of her struggle with leukemia on race day. I was also running for my aunt, Amy, who has recently been diagnosed with a form of lymphoma.

Here's my recap of race weekend...
Saturday, after a really good night's sleep, I got all my things around for the weekend. I'd be staying the night in Denver so I had to make sure I had everything I needed for the race. My husband wanted my help to move some furniture around, but I let him do most of the heavy work. We were getting some new furniture delivered that afternoon so we had to make room. I was ready to go but he wanted to get rid of some boxes. He was apparently cutting them extra fast - hurrying for me - and accidentally sliced his leg through his jeans. OW!! I quickly became medic. Thank goodness it wasn't very deep or very bloody. It only took some peroxide and a few bandaids and he was good to go. That was it for the box cutting so I loaded up the car, said goodbye to him and Juno, and headed north.

I-25 is actually pretty scenic between the Springs and Denver, especially when the day provides sun, blue skies, and snow-capped peaks. The traffic flowed nicely and I was at the race expo in under an hour. First I must explain two things about me and city parking.... 1) I can't parallel park 2) I didn't have any quarters for the meters. But I found a meter I could pull straight into and it even had 17 minutes on it! I tossed in a nickel and the time increased by a few minutes so I put in a few more - enough to get about a half-hour of time. That should be plenty for me to get my packet and find a more long-term place to park. I quickly found the expo, got my race packet and the TNT tent. Anisa was there, a Denver resident, and she directed me to the underground parking garage at the Pavillion, just a couple blocks away that was close to our luncheon site as well. Found the garage, found a spot to park, and found the exit. Then I had to find my way back to the convention center. Walked in circles a few times around the construction until I ran into TNT mentor Kelly. She pointed me to the next block where I could head over. Phew. Walked back to the convention center and walked around a little bit. I even got some free salami! I will save that for after the race! Then Jaci and her husband showed up - Jaci's daughter is the one fighting leukemia. We didn't expect her to be there, but Kalila told them to come so they did. She was obviously very distraught so I walked her through packet pick-up and back to the team meeting location. They were certainly surrounded by a wonderful support team.

The team headed over as a group, all 60+ of us the three blocks to Maggiano's for our Inspiration Lunchoen. It was very inspiring, to say the least. First we get the red carpet treatment as we enter the restaurant, with TNT coaches, staff, and volunteers cheering extremely loudly as we walk in. Then we watch a slideshow of the reason we are running - pictures of all the people the team knows who have fought or are still fighting blood cancers. I was sitting at a table with Jaci and Brian, and you could see them wait in anticipation every time Kalila's picture would be about to come up. I can't imagine what they were feeling.

Then we celebrate the Team's fundraising accomplishments (over $119,000 for the LLS!) and eat our pasta lunch. I had the spaghetti with meatballs, and one did roll off the table and onto the floor (but not out the door). We heard from "Mascot Dave," a Team Hero who is dealing with leukemia. He's currently in remission after several different experimental treatments. He highlighted how important there is money going to research and he's still alive over 7 years after being diagnosed, when 5 years was more typical for his type of leukemia. A great character and we certainly appreciate the appreciation he showed us. While dessert was being served, we had a presentation from a guest speaker, Dave McGillivray, the marathon Race Director. Wow. I didn't know much about him prior to today, but he recapped his story and all he has done to raise money for causes or just give something positive to people in need. It seems that he truly enjoys giving back to others and pushing his own personal limits. "There are no mistakes, only lessons." This luncheon put us all in the right mindset for tomorrow's big race! After a few last-minute tips from the coaches, we took some group photos and headed on our way.

So my next challenge was to find how to get back into the garage to park my car. More circles around the construction and wandering into random stairwells and I finally found the entrance and then my car. Now I had to put my ticket in the machine so I would tell me how much I owed. Surprisingly, it was the voice of Stephen Hawking (how cool is that?!) telling me I owed $7 for parking. Next challenge - exit the parking garage and find the hotel, which is about 2 blocks away. I'll keep this part short, but it took me about 20 minutes to find the entrance to the hotel.

Valet parking only due to construction so I gave up my keys and went to check in. Got to the room and roomie Lauren was already there chilling out. Dumped out all my stuff and started to get things around for the morning. Around 6pm I was starting to get a little hungry and decided it was time for my pre-race dinner. I wasn't super hungry and didn't want to eat too much so I set off in search of a sandwich. A block or so away from the hotel I ran into Sam, a TNT triathlete who got injured but begged her doctor to let her walk the half (her original intention earlier this year was to run the full). Great that she was able to be out there! I then found the Hard Rock Cafe. I thought this was where I should eat, surely they will have a chicken sandwich. And surely they did! I sat at the bar since I was going solo. The bartender dude appreciated that I only was drinking water (though a beer sounded really good!) as I was racing. He had recently done the Georgetown to Idaho Springs half marathon. A grilled chicken sandwich, a couple glasses of water and a few french fries later (carbs and salt!) I was off to the gift shop. It is "Rocktober" at the HRC. to honor Melissa Etheridge's breast cancer awareness campaign they were selling these cool pink guitar pins. As I know several people who have dealt with breast cancer, I had to get one. 100% of net proceeds go to the Breast Cancer Research Foundation.

I walk the couple blocks back to the hotel and it is time to make all the plans - pack non-race stuff, organize race stuff, breakfast, etc. And what kind of fancy hotel (the Sheraton) does not have microwaves or refridgerators in the rooms??? At least there was a coffee maker for some hot water for my oatmeal. Roomie wasn't showering before the race (I like the warm water to help wake up the muscles) so we were good there. Watched the end of the South Carolina v. Alabama game and turned out the light. Not much later I was asleep - didn't even need the ipod to help relax me. Slept beautifully until about 3am - then I had to go to the bathroom but didn't want to get up so I just dozed until the alarm went off at 4:40am.

The morning went smoothly. Got ready. Decided not to wear the new pin as it was going to jingle so I put it on my bag. Went down to the lobby to check out, gave the concierge my bags and met up with the TNT crew. Jaci and Brian showed up but they didn't stay long. They got a call that Kalila was not doing well at all and might not make it until noon. So after a lot of hugs from the team, they headed out. A friend of Kalila's ran the half for Jaci in Kalila's honor. The troops were gathered and before heading to the race start we had a "Mission Moment" from a young leukemia survior, probably not much older than Kalila and was diagnosed a year or so ago. I think Jaci and Brian were still around for that so I can't begin to imagine how they were feeling with a young survior speaking and thanking us for saving her life while their daughter was in her final hours. An extremely emotional start to the race morning, but it certainly put a lot of things into perspective.

At the start, we all sign into the TNT tent. I drop my stuff at the tent instead of using the gear check. I take off my jacket and long pants, and put on the thin clear plastic poncho that Coach Mitch gave us. It works - and you're not wearing a garbage bag! Race number and cool attire completely visible. I work my way to the porta-potties and a lady with a camera says "strike a pose" so I give her a big smile. Takes about 15 mintues to get through the line and then I head over to the start. Crowded! It's about 6:45 now and I'm trying to loosen up and stay warm. Body heat from the corral was nice and the temp was about 50. It was going to hit the low 80's which was fine for me! Better than the 18 degrees I ran in last weekend! I found my way between the 3:50 and 4:00 pace groups. My original plan was to try and BQ with a 3:40, but with the strain in my hammy/calf the last few weeks, I opted that maybe a 4:00 would be more realistic. If could run a 2 hr half off a 56 mile bike I could do a 4 hr 26.2 without a swim or bike. But really, what do I know - this is my 1st marathon! Some chit-chat with the people around me and then it was time. It took about a minute to get to the start (chip-timed race) so I pressed start on my Garmin as I crossed the mat and I had officially started my first marathon.

Start slow. Take it easy. Get your legs warmed up nice and slow. I was taking in the vibe of running with so many people on the streets of Denver at sunrise. Beautiful feeling. I was taking it easy the first mile - my Garmin had me at 10:30 or so pace. first 3 miles were good - legs got warmed up and I was plenty comfy in my singlet and arm warmers. By mile 3 the 4:00 pace group was near me and the leader said "3 miles, right on pace." My Garmin had me at 2.7miles. OK - so don't believe the garmin today. Around this time Jon came running - he was shooting for a 2 hr or less half so for him hanging with the 4:00 group would be good. It seemed like Mr. 4hr balloons was running a tad fast so I let them get a little ahead. Then I started feeling good and picked up my pace. Craig caught up to me - he was hoping to do the half in about 1:50. I ran with him for a little bit - he was still wearing his plastic poncho after at least 4 miles! We wound around the streets of downtown Denver. Around 5.5 miles was the TNT cheer/aid station. Crazy people in purple and cowboy hats cheering and screaming. I remember pumping my arms - woohoo and yeehaw! Now we were at City Park. The sun was high enough it was blinding heading east. Sunglasses came off my hat and onto my eyes. At mile 6 there was the first relay exchange. Tons of people were in line waiting for their team members to show up. Mile 7 was a gu station where you could grab one if you wanted and they told us water was just around the corner. Well, more like a mile around the corner. I had my own gel in a flask, endurolytes and electrolyte drink (HEED). Nutrition and hydration plan actually worked pretty well - I took gel from my flask about every 30 minutes, and every other 30 I took two endurolytes. No stomach issues! Anyway, around mile 9 or so I heard my name and Becky (another former TNTer) was there and took my picture. She was cheering on Jon, who was probably just a few minutes ahead of me. At this point I had already pulled ahead of the 4 hr balloon man. Soon there was a TNT coach who was monitoring us on the course. He said I looked really relaxed. I felt good, even though my legs were feeling it some. I just kept going - through Cheesman park. I didn't realize I was in a park, but I did remember seeing the sign for it. Oh well. After the park we were close to the half-way point. I remember looking at my time at mile 12 and seeing 1:48. Still on track for a sub-4 race so I felt good. Just keep up this pace and I'll be golden.

After the half marathoners turn off to go to the finish, us full folks hit a long (relatively speaking) out-and-back stretch on 7th Ave. Jordan from Girls Heart Rockets found me and hoped in to run a little. At this point I was glad to have some company though I wasn't super chatty. East bound was slightly uphill and I could really tell. Another TNT coach ran with us for a couple blocks and then headed back down to find the next person in purple. I couldn't wait to get to the turn around on this part for the recovery on the slight downhill. Oh so wrong. At this point my legs were pretty sore so there was no recovery on a downhill, only pain. I remember looking at the miles and couldn't wait for the miles left to be in the single digits. Got some water at the aid station and got nailed by a cup thrown by a shirtless guy with a long ponytail down his back. I think he had 6 or 7 rubber bands in his hair. At least the cup was empty and he did apologize (I think). Jordan pulled off around mile 15 and the 4hr balloon man found me again. Just stick with him - let him do the work and just keep the legs going. That worked for a little while. Then the pain registered even more. Everything hurt - well everything except the knee pain that put me into PT all last week! Hang on and keep the legs moving. I knew why I was out there - didn't question that. I knew I would finish. I just didn't know how long it would take me to get to the finish line....

Mile 17 the TNT coach who saw me at mile 9 or 10 was back. He said I looked a little sore. I agreed. He got me to shake out my arms, relax and breathe. Really breathing wasn't an issue. At this time I was going slow enough that my cardiovascular system wasn't taxed at all. I had no trouble breathing. I had trouble moving my legs. But I was tensing up in the shoulders too, so it was good to remember to shake the arms out a bit. Mile 18. I think I just saw Mr. 4 hr balloons go by me but without his balloons...huh? Guess he had to make a pit stop. Just 8 more miles. My IT band tightness was manifesting itself in my knees. Joy. Been there, done that, don't want that again. Just keep moving. Mile 20...OK, only a 10k to go. really - just a 10k! That's still an hour...

Shuffle, shuffle, walk at an aid station. Shuffle again. Didn't even bother checking my pace on the Garmin. I hear there is a wall at mile 20. Nope, no wall, just an extremely viscous medium to sludge my way through. I didn't want to walk (other than aid stations) but I did. I admit it. I started to see more people going by me. Even though I was going pretty slow by now and was hurting (see the race photo grimace) I was moving. The cops were managing the traffic at the intersections and the runners were very polite and thanking the cops. I usually do that too, but today it was all I could do to just smile or give a thumbs up. 5 more miles. Mr. water cup throwing guy passes me. 4 more miles. 4:15 pace group goes by at some point - just hang with them...or not. 3 more miles. 2 more miles. Another TNT coach on the course - better get to running again! He asked how I was but didn't buy the "OK" I managed to squeak out. But I convinced him I was fine other than the pain (with which I am sure he was familiar). He gave me a brief run down on the last 1.5 miles of the course, said I looked good and let me go on my way. Mile 25 marker. I was almost there. walk, shuffle, shuffle, shuffle. OK maybe a little more walking. Jordan was near the finish yelling for me. Woohoo! There was no final kick for me, but I will finish with my head up high! The TNT group was there - in their purple and big yellow foam cowboy hats. Awesome. Then the finish line. And there was Tim with the camera. He made it!!! Now, don't trip on the timing mats! Didn't - good. Got my medal my water, got a big hug from Tim and it was done! I had finished my first marathon in 4:26.

We walked to the TNT tent and Tim helped me down the steps in the park to get there. Now I understand. Tim headed out and I stayed at the TNT tent to eat, drink and congratulate all the other TNT finishers. Really, besides the pain in my legs, I felt great! Made it back to the hotel to get my bags, change into some not so sweaty clothes and got home. (hooray for cruise control!)

This was by far the most pain I have ever intentionally inflicted upon myself. But was it worth it? Yeah. Would I do it again? Yeah. (got to figure the pacing stuff out for sure!) Pressure is gone, right now who cares about a BQ - finishing was fine, just fine. I knew it was going to be painful and hard, but I really did underestimate the power of the beast. I definitely have a new found respect for the marathon beast.

And unfortunately later that night, Jaci and Brian lost Kalila to leukemia....

Here's a link to some of my photos from the weekend:
denver marathon 2009

Click here to see the professional race photos and the grimace.