Over the past few years, I have moved my marathon running life from the "train to finish the race upright" to "set a goal time and hit it." You see, I never really intended to ever run a single marathon, much less the two-dozen plus I've finished. I will always and forever blame my running life, with a smile and fondness, on my departed father-in-law.
But this post? This post is about my last race: the Cellcom Green Bay Marathon . It all started with the registration form, and a chat with my friend, Fast Jessica.
FJ: So, which training plan are you using this time? The same one as for Chicago?
Me: Um, no. I liked that last plan, but I'm thinking about the Hanson's plan that was just in Runner's World.
FJ: Wait, doesn't that one have like, NO rest days or something crazy like that?
Me: Yep. Something like that.
So, the Hanson's plan I followed (almost) religiously, can be found as a part of this article . The biggest selling point for me was that my longest run was only 16 miles.
I know, right?!
FJ: So, with this plan, your longest long runs are only 16 miles?
FJ: I don't know, Rach. I think I'd just feel better if you came out and ran an 18- or 20-miler with me.
Me: Nah, I'll be fine.
So, like I said, I didn't follow the plan exactly, but I was sure to hit the key strength/speed workouts, and those mid-week long runs, many at MP or faster. I should say now that I'm no speed demon, I've never qualified for/run Boston, and my PR to date for the marathon has been my 4:25:xx finish in Green Bay last year, after gaining a new PR in Tucson the December before (side note: NOT a fan of Pam Reed, and anytime there is too much wind or a bad finish area, its her fault. Just go with it.). So for me, chipping away at time at a steady pace is key, and for this race, I'd be happy with a new PR by even one minute. Remember, I've only recently started caring about my finish times. Aaaannnnnd onward.
Fast forward to about three weeks pre-race. Fast Jessica and I are out for a run that was supposed to be easy for both of us. It was windy (Pam Reed's fault again), and we had to hit 7 miles before we'd have the wind at our backs rather than our faces. Now, as I've mentioned before, when FJ and I run together, we talk. And when we talk, we (okay, maybe just me) go faster than prescribed. We hit 7, and ease up on the pace, finishing up our 10 miles feeling great. Our average pace was about 8:40/mile. Remember: this is me, in a headwind for 7 miles, on a scheduled "easy" day.
FJ: Bro, you're totally gonna hit that PR in Green Bay.
Me: You think?
FJ: Um, yeah. We just ran that 10 waaayyy faster than last time. You're gonna nail it.
Its at this point in time that I realize I don't have a hotel booked yet. Oops. This is also the point in time where I begin to doubt myself, my training (Maybe I should have taken FJ up on that 18-miler offer...), and generally feel like crap. This time, my car also broke down, adding another layer of crappiness. So, I'm out to lunch with a friend of mine- Mrs. Hansen- on Good Friday,and we're talking about the upcoming race. She and her hubby are both running the half, and I ask where they're staying. Half laughing, I ask if we can have a slumber party that weekend. She blinks, blinks again, and says "Well, I don't see why not. I'll ask Mr. Hansen and let you know." Frrr rllll? Text a few hours later: "Mr. Hansen says the slumber party is a go." Sweet!
Spirits boosted, I finish the training, and drive to Green Bay Saturday morning, tailgating the Hansens, and praying that the other Hansons have got my back with this training, even if I only make it through 16 miles.
Pre-race dinner is a ton of sushi at Nakashima Japan. The Hansens and I order about nine of everything, and have so much fun. I've never felt so relaxed the eve before a race, never before forgot about what it was I was going to wake up and do the next morning, never before toasted tomorrow with such gusto and joy. Anyways, check it out:
I don't think I need to say that we had leftovers for post-race celebrating. Early to bed, and early to rise. Race day will be here before you know it...
Morning. One cup of coffee with about 7 or 8 of those creamer cups, a banana, and a packet of instant oatmeal mixed with yogurt. Big ol' Gatorade brought along for the ride to Lambeau Field . A few pre-race photos on the iPhone, gear check, iPod set to go, in the crowded starting corrals, speeches by people I don't know, the Star Spangled Banner, pump up music blaring, a little House of Pain , and the gun goes off.
I situate myself with the 4:15 pace group, and decide to stick with one of the three pacers no matter what. I feel great, I'm not checking my watch, and the pace feels incredibly easy. This is good. The Hansons know what they're doing. So far, so good.
It stays this way for awhile. I start chatting up the male pacer (can't remember his name), and only around mile 12 do I notice that the rest of the pace group is nowhere to be found. Pacer Dude says: "Well, we'll just have some extra time to bank for when we hit the river. The wind is gonna be nasty." Now, I knew that the day was going to be windy. I watch The Weather Channel, I know these things that you should do before a race. 25-30 mph wind with gusts of 50 mph+, is what the forecast said. And up until this point, the wind was gusty, for sure, but nothing worse than I'd had on training runs along Little Bay de Noc. And then I realized what he was talking about. From mile 14-22-ish, we'd be running along the Fox River. With a head wind the entire way. Again, I blame Pam Reed, and just put my chin down and run. What can I do at this point, anyway?
My splits at this time are pretty steady: 9:18 through mile 5, 9:25 at mile 10, 9:20 at the half, 9:26 at mile 15. And then it gets windy. Relentlessly windy. And please, let me remind you that wind is indeed, Mother Nature's most annoying element.
I tried really really really hard to not be negative. Mantras played over and over in my head to a soundtrack of carefully chosen songs: You can do this. One foot in front of the other. Be strong. Catch (fill in with description of random runner ahead of me).
I'll admit to some swearing. I'll be the first to admit to dropping a few (dozen) f-bombs, plus a few exasperated "Really?!"-s thrown in for good measure. Pace at mile 20 is 9:39, and I am tired.
By the time I hit mile 23, I am mentally broken. My legs feel fine, and so I try to focus on that aspect during the remaining miles rather than how exhausted I am from talking myself though almost 8 miles of strong winds. (side note: the Tucson Marathon was exactly the same: a head wind from miles 14-24, with no let up. Stupid Pam Reed.)
I see Fast Jessica wrapped in mylar right around the Jimmy Buffet water stop, right before you get back to Lambeau Field. She is smiling and cheering me on, and I wave and give the "thumbs up" sign. I get to Lambeau, enter the tunnel and am just about to hit the inside track when I pause for just a minute. A guy behind me says: "You can't stop now. I've been chasing you for the last four miles. You're almost done." Now, for a newly single gal to hear that a guy has been chasing her? For four miles? Nice. Just the boost I needed to pick up the pace, run the track, exit the tunnel, and see the Hansens hoisting beers up high, screaming my name. I cross the finish line in 4:20:xx.
FJ meets me at the exit, and we high five and hug.
FJ: How do you feel? You looked great coming in, really strong.
Me: My legs feel great. I'm mentally beat, though. That wind was nasty.
FJ: It's all Pam Reed's fault.
Me: Of course.
FJ: So you're happy with your time?
Me: Yeah, I'll take it.
FJ: Good. Because there's talk that the course was long.
I meet up with my slumber party Hansens, we toast the other Hansons for a good race plan, and head back to the hotel. We amble to the pool area, and settle in to the hot tub fully clothed. I know!!! Its gross, but really, I never shower after training runs, either, and only one lady was in the hot tub, and she too, was fully clothed. So there.
The next day, its announced that the course was indeed long, and that finish times would be adjusted. My new PR? 4:19:24. I'll take it.
As I've thought back to that weekend, I've decided that a few things are for sure. 1) The Hansons training plan feels good for me. There's a good balance of structure and leeway. And only 16 mile long runs. 2) Good friends like the Hansens can help you relax and remember why you run in the first place- because its fun. 3) A good training partner is worth their weight in gold. No matter that Fast Jessica is faster than I am, the concern and interest she took in my race was appreciated. 4) I can totally beat that time. If I can only get Pam Reed the heck away from me...
Happy running, friends. Let's hope your next finish line photo is as joyful as mine.