SHORT VERSION: Ran the AF Marathon yesterday in 5:24:38. It wasn’t a PR, but I met my goals of having fun and finishing. The whole trip was awesome!
BACKGROUND: I was originally training for the San Antonio marathon in November, but when I found out I’d be deployed for that, I modified my training plan 6 weeks to do a marathon 2 months sooner than planned. I’ve done 2 marathons previously; my PR was 5:12 and my other time was 5:45 with kidney issues. Since I wasn’t as trained for this one, my goals were to have fun and to finish; I guessed my time would be somewhere between my two previous times.
FUNDRAISING: In conjunction with the marathon, I decided to raise some money for the Fisher House, which helps military families by providing a place for families of seriously ill/injured service members to stay while their loved ones are being treated. I raised $385 for this wonderful organization!
THURSDAY: I left San Antonio Thursday afternoon and arrived in Dayton late that night. I slept on the flight, so I was surprised when I stood up to get off the plane and realized that one of my really good friends I went to the AF Academy with was in the row RIGHT behind me. She was running the full with her husband. We chatted before I got my rental car and drove to a friend’s house; he was doing the 10k this year (because he missed signing up for the half). He had a room set up for me and I had my own bathroom.
FRIDAY: I got to sleep in Friday morning, which was really nice. After I woke up, I went to Panera Bread and ate breakfast while taking advantage of their free wifi. As I sat there, it struck me how things come full circle. A few years ago, I sat in a Panera Bread filling out my Master’s degree application, and I did all my coursework at Panera Bread because I didn’t have internet at my apartment. I submitted my final paper for my Master’s class right before I left for Dayton, and Friday marked the official last day or my last Master’s course of the program. I then drove to the expo and found a parking spot very close to the entrance. I stood in line over half an hour to get my bib, but the line ran by all the expo booths, so it gave me plenty of time to scout them out. To get our shirts and goodie bags, we had to go down a large set of stairs and then back up to exit the building. I was glad these stairs were before the race and not afterward.
I bought a 26.2 sticker since my magnet fell off sometime last year. I also picked up a running hat that said “I know, I know, I said I’d never do this again.” I also decided to try out race toggles for my spibelt so I wouldn’t have to worry about safety pins. The lady at the booth couldn’t seem to figure out how to take a 15% military discount and add tax to the $2 toggles, so she told me to just give her $1. Speaking of spibelts, a couple days before my trip, I realized I’d have a hard time carrying all of my gels in the spibelt pocket, so I bought some elastic band at Walmart, cut it into 2-inch segments, and sewed them to my spibelt so I could hold my gels outside of the pocket. It wasn’t until I got to the expo that I realized that there are spibelts that exist with these gelholders, but they cost at least $5 more, which was more than the $1.27 band I’d bought at Walmart.
Friday evening, my friend Tommy (who I stayed with) and I went out to Olive Garden for dinner, along with several hundred other runners, haha. The wait was only about half an hour, and while we waited, we chatted with some of the other runners. We also saw this retired chief master sergeant leave the restaurant who we both used to work with, so we talked with him a few minutes. As we were going into the restaurant, someone tapped me on the shoulder, and it took me a moment to recognize him, but it was one of my upperclassmen from the Air Force Academy who I hadn’t seen in over 3 years.
After dinner, I asked Tommy if he wanted to use one of the Garmins I had brought. One is mine, and another is one I’d borrowed from a friend; at the last second, I’d opted to bring both in case one spontaneously de-charged, even though that had never happened to me before. Tommy said he might wear it. I then laid out all my race stuff and said I was going to bed at 8:30. Ha! I rolled around in bed for over an hour, jumping out of bed every once in a while to confirm I had put a particular item in my “race day” pile. I woke up about once an hour during the night and then 4 or 5 times between 4 and 5am. I was sure I’d oversleep, even though I had 3 alarms set.
RACE DAY: I got up at 5, got dressed, ate a Quaker oatmeal square, and drank some water. Tommy and I drove separately, since he’d be done with his 10k several hours before I was done with the full, but I followed him to the base. We left his house at 5:25 and got to the line at the base at 5:29. We then sat in a long line of cars for over half an hour.
I’m glad we left early. As we were driving along as a snail’s pace, something told me to check my Garmin. It turned on, and then promptly turned off. I tried it again with the same result. What?! I hoped Tommy had brought the one I’d loaned him and wouldn’t mind that I asked for it back. Once we finally parked, I saw he was wearing his own watch but had brought the Garmin and didn’t mind that I asked for it back.
As we left our cars, I commented that I wasn’t sure how I was going to remember where I parked as all the cars were in this huge open area with no landmarks in the vicinity. I figured I’d worry about that issue later, as it was still many hours away. I remember we walked for a long time before we got to the start line area. I guessed we’d walked over a mile, but Tommy didn’t think it was that long. We parted ways and I milled around the area trying to stay warm. It was in the low or mid 50s, which was really cold coming from TX. I stood in a port-a-potty line because I knew I’d have to use one before I ran. Everyone started lining up shortly after that.
At the start was a B-52 flyover, which was very cool. However, the neatest thing to me was that during the national anthem, people didn’t keep talking (like I’ve heard at other races) and also, as the song went on, more and more of the crowd started singing along. By the end, it seemed as if almost everyone had joined in.
My ultimate goal for this race was to have fun and finish. Before it began, I decided I’d be happy to get under 5:45, since that was my time when I had kidney problems. Sub-5:30 would be really nice. I figured sub-5:12, which would have been a PR, was out of the question. Sub-5 is my long-term goal.
I started behind a lot of people, including the 5-hour pace team, but I got to the start line within just a couple minutes. The first couple miles, I was under what I would need to get a sub-5 time, but I knew I was going too fast. I’d somehow managed to pass the 5-hour pace team and could hear them behind me. I slowed down during the next mile and decided to run with them for a while. That pace leader was awesome. He was very motivating and kept telling jokes. He was doing relatively even splits and we were just walking through water stations. At each mile marker, he had some rhyme that we’d repeat after him. We ran through a section of downtown, and that was exciting because there were quite a few spectators. There was also a portion where we were running opposite runners who were a few miles ahead of us. I remember that when the pace leader saw the 4:10 pace group coming toward us, he started cheering and we cheered and the other group cheered. It was really enjoyable. These miles just flew by. Pretty soon, we’d done 10 miles and I felt good. At this point, I felt like I could have kept up with that pace forever (haha). I’m not sure what happened, but right after 13 miles, but before 13.1, the pace team started to pull away from me. I thought this was strange, though, as they seemed “way ahead” of me at the half point, even though I hit the half point it just over 2:29 (which is my 4th fastest half time). As a sidenote, my two fastest half marathon times were 2:25 and low 2:28, both set on the same half course that has a net elevation loss. My third fastest half time was set on the first half of my first marathon (mid-2:28), followed by this one. I was thinking, “hmm, it’s normally not good to be going this fast when I’m only half done.” I began to slow down for several reasons. I felt like I was going too fast to maintain, but the lack of the fun pace group meant I didn’t have much to take my mind off the task at hand. Also, this is one of a couple points along the route where we ran several miles in the middle of nowhere with no spectators. The flatness of the course at these points was nice, but it pointed out the fact that we still had a long way to go in the open and it didn’t seem like we were making any progress.
Since I’d slowed down, I knew there was no way I’d break 5 hours, but I still thought a PR was possible (albeit not probable). However, the 19th mile was my last sub-13 minute mile, and I went from being slow but able to control my pace to just slow. Somewhere in the 20th mile, I knew 5:12 was out of the question and wondered if 5:45 was even doable. Mentally, I felt fine, but physically, my legs didn’t want to move. I was walking a lot. It seemed like I was constantly taking walk breaks and running for shorter periods of time. Normally when I run, it’s my breathing that becomes problematic first, but I could breathe fine. My legs just felt like they were full of lead. The day had warmed up to the low 80s, but there were some areas with shade.
Between miles 21 and 22 or so (I sort of lost track of what happened when), I remember looking around and thinking that the people around me looked like the walking dead. Then I figured I must not look much different, haha. It was pretty pitiful looking. There were some notable inclines around this area too, one that seemed to go on for quite a while.
Looking up ahead:
And back behind:
Miles 23-25 seemed to drag on forever. It was a bit weird to me because I still felt mentally like I had a lot of energy, but my body was moving so slow. I decided somewhere in here that since I wasn’t running much that I would be productive and use the disposable camera I’d brought more often.
Somewhere in these miles, we passed a group of guys who looked like they were in their mid-20s on the side of the road. They had bullhorns and were making all sorts of noise and trying to call people by name as much as they could (since we had our first names on our bibs). I’d picked up my pace to a shuffle as I approached them so I didn’t look as “walking dead-like.” As I passed the last guy, he said my first and last name. Huh?! I thought I was hallucinating, so I looked back at him and he repeated it again and shouted some encouragement. I thought he may look familiar, but I couldn’t place him and still have no idea who he was. Since it was the AF marathon and I’m in the AF, it’s possible I knew the guy from somewhere; after all, I just happened to run into 3 other AF people in the previous days who I hadn’t been looking for.
Around mile 25, we got back onto the main part of the base and I could hear the festivities at the finish line. At this point, I knew I would be able to break 5:30. It was all flat from there to the finish line, which was nice. Around this time, I realized I was definitely having a better day than some people as I passed a guy with a “4:10 pace group” sign on his back (who was still running over an hour after he’d planned on finishing, yikes!) It was easy to see the final half mile or so as I could see runners in the distance arcing to the right, and the finish line was evident by the balloons above it. The last segment was a straight shot to the finish line. There were people lining both sides who were cheering. There were also aircraft on both sides, which added a neat effect.
These were taken AFTER I’d finished, as I was busy running when I was in the long finish chute:
As is the norm for me, the last fraction of a mile was the fastest pace of the entire race (10:07mm for .35 miles), with a sprint that hit 5:00mm at some point. My final official finish time was 5:24:38. All things considered, I was happy with that. I got my medal from an AF colonel, picked up my space blanket, got a weird sized AF marathon towel, and then sat on my space blanket for a while and stretched.
One of the weird things I noticed throughout the entire race was that I was getting to mile markers before my Garmin registered each mile. In the really early ones, it was only a couple steps off, but by the last few mile markers, there was almost a tenth of a mile difference. Since it was a certified course, I wasn’t sure how I was hitting every marker ahead of my Garmin distance. I’m not sure when I hit the 26th mile marker according to my Garmin because I was focusing on finishing. However, I will say that by the time I crossed the finish line, my Garmin registered 26.35 miles (which is not a huge difference, but it appears that the extra .15 miles was crammed in at the very end).
On the way back to my car after the race, I decided to measure the distance with my Garmin. I’d already begun walking when I remembered to do this, but from the point I started measuring to my car, it was 1.14 miles! Luckily I found my car without much hassle as most of the cars around mine had already left, haha.
Once I got back to my friend’s house, I discovered something shocking: No blisters and no chafing anywhere!
Last night, I ended up going to dinner with a retired technical sergeant who I worked with at my very first job in the AF. After dinner, she took me to a lake where we went out on her boyfriend’s boat as the sun was setting.
REFLECTIONS: I got back to my friend’s house, packed up, and slept well last night! This morning I woke up at 5:45 to fly home. I ended up back in San Antonio about half an hour earlier than scheduled. This was honestly one of the best trips I’ve ever had. It wasn’t super expensive, and it was a nice little getaway before my deployment. I got to catch up with some people I hadn’t seen in years and I also got to run a marathon. I enjoyed every single minute of it (even the ones during miles 21 and 25 of the marathon), and I couldn’t have asked for a better time (except if maybe my husband had been able to be there, although he’s deployed now). Oh! And when I got home this afternoon, I found out I got an A in my Master’s capstone class, which means my final Master’s program GPA will be a 4.0. These last few days have been amazing!