Monday, October 28, 2013

The Greensboro Marathon Journey. I paced a great group of runners

After a fitful night sleep, I woke up early to a dark, 28 degree day.  I was so excited about pacing for the 3:50:00 group of the Greensboro Marathon, nothing could dampen my spirit or enthusiasm.  This was the inaugural Greensboro Marathon that was a point-to-point race from Elon University to downtown Greensboro.  We boarded buses from the finish line area which took us to the starting line.  I proudly wore my pacing shirt with several layers underneath to stay warm.  I was doubly excited because I had 2 of my Sole Sisters, Dena and Sarah, with me at the start.  Here is a picture of Sarah who was about to embark on her first marathon journey and myself  near the start of the race huddling to keep warm.

Luckily, I knew several people which definitely made the time go by quickly until the start of the race.  Although, it doesn't take much for me to engage in conversation with just about anybody; especially runners!  Sarah's race plan was going to be to hang with me as long as possible and then hold on until the finish.  She had extra motivation and I will divulge that at the end.

The race went off and it was hard to convince everybody to stay slow and keep our 8:46 average mile pace.  You get wrapped up in the feeling of running and warming up.  Many tend to go out too fast which leads to 'hitting the wall' in the later stages of the marathon.

I told everyone they were either going to love me or hate me during this 3:50:00 adventure.  I was going to try and keep them focused on their goals and getting them to experience the magnificent journey in a confident, positive way.  It was great because 3 or 4 miles into the race, a runner passed our group who was in my Myrtle Beach half marathon pacing group and he told everyone how I had helped him achieve a PR that day and that they were in good hands.  My heart swelled and I think I got a little teary eyed, unless it was the cold air (wink, wink).

I wore 2 Garmins to ensure success of my group.  I had my newer Garmin set with our 8:46 pace and my older Garmin to give me in the moment pace, distance and time elapsed.  I was constantly monitoring our progress because this was a hilly course.  Here is a photo of me during the after party with my Garmins

The Greensboro Marathon was a beautifully rolling course with the exception of 3 major climbs.  My job was to instill confidence in my runners and I used the three plus hours to impart all of my racing knowledge.  The main focus was that my PR's in the marathon (3:10 Charlottesville) and half marathon (1:27 Cannonball) were on notably hilly courses.  I explained that hills were good because it gave your muscles something different to do.  My runners did great.  I had great help from another veteran marathoner, Jeff, who validated or imparted knowledge of his own to our group of new marathoners.  It was great to have someone else who has experienced the highs and lows that IS the marathon.

The course was very well marked and on the pavement below us were all the marathon mile markers.  I would yell "Bam" every time we stepped on a mile marker and exclaim, "Another mile down, now forget it and live and revel in THIS mile".  It was amazing how quickly the mile markers came up on us.  The sights of the horse farms, cows, cute little downtown Gibsonville and the journey into Greensboro definitely added to the charm of this race.

Here is a photo of us about to finish a big climb at mile 13.  Out of nowhere came the first wind of the day.  My hair is sideways in this photo!  But look at the determination on all of our faces!

They were all working hard:  Rusty, Jeff, Brandon, Mr. Brandon, Kelsey, Sarah and Zach.  It was quite a hill (of course the photo doesn't portray that) but they looked great!  I encouraged my runners to glance behind them when they reached the peak of each hill to see what they accomplished.  I also told them to give themselves a pat on the back to relax their neck and shoulders from climbing. 

At around mile 19, I started talking about the wall and what it feels like and how to overcome it.  It was at this point that my group starting passing people who had started out too fast and didn't have anything left in the tank.  I was careful to make sure everyone we passed was okay and offered fuel (my sleeves and shorts were filled with gels and chomps).  Only 1 runner took me up on my offer, but at least I did my job and offered.  I think it gave my new marathoners a boost in confidence that they were feeling so good.  Of course I encouraged everyone, not just those in my group.  When we hit the 20 mile marker, I think I said, "What a beautiful morning to race a 10k, isn't it"?  I got a few laughs, but a few were starting to feel the effects of running for so long.  With each water stop I was insistent about my runners getting water/Gatorade or fuel.  It was nice to have my boss from the Bryan Family YMCA, David Heggie, hand me a cup of Coke (my magic elixir).  I took one sip and gave the rest to some of my runners who did not know it can be a secret weapon.  I learned its magical powers at my first Crooked Road 24 hour Ultra 3 years ago.

With only a 5k to go, I told my flock that this is the time for them to fly if they were feeling good.  They didn't have to fly right then, but they were to think about it.  I was very proud to see some take off at that moment and we never caught up with them so it was definitely the right move for them!  With 1.2 miles to go, I encouraged the runners that were left that this is their time to take off.  We had a few runners drop back some, but their goal was to break 4 hours and they were clearly going to do that.  With less than a mile to go, I found myself all alone!  I began to pick up the pace more to run in with people than anything else.  I made the last turn before the finish line, stopped briefly to kiss my hubby and crossed the line doing a happy dance in 3:49:20.  I then ran back and helped my new marathoners finish their journey.  I would yell their name to the crowd and tell them that this was his/her first marathon and to give them a huge welcome!  It was great to see so many happy faces of runners finishing their journey.

The finish that moved me to visible tears was my little Sarah.  Here is a photo of her and I about to cross the finish line of her first marathon.  Sarah's journey started 2 years ago when she went through her whole marathon training program and got injured the week before the race.  Then last year, Sarah lost her mother to illness.  The Sole Sisters bought her a pendant she had pinned to the inside of her pocket.  On one side was her mother in her youth and on the other side was a photo of Sarah and her mom.  All of us were moved to tears at the finish line and it was great her Dad and hubby were there to hug and comfort her.  You can see we are both wearing our fellowflowers.com in our hair.  The black one I am wearing is described as:  Rock Star. Sexy, strong, sassy.  Rule breaker and resilient spirit.  Dances like she crosses the finish line- with her hands up.  Why yes, I am a force to be reckoned with.  Bloom, baby. Bloom.  Sarah wore red and it represents, Love, passion, commitment and spirit.  It takes strength to do what you love. 

That is the thing about marathons.  They are a journey.  Most training programs are 16-18 weeks long of diligent running, stretching and proper eating.  Usually there are sacrifices involved, but most importantly it is about the strengthening of the mind, body and spirit.  Marathons are hard.  I don't care what pace you average, how many you've run, etc.  It is more about what can you do with the cards you are dealt.  A marathon is about THAT day.  On any given day, anybody can beat anybody.  You never know what will happen when you step up to the starting line.  The key to marathon success is to trust your training and to adjust your expectations when necessary.  I love the journey because I learn something EVERY TIME I'm racing or pacing. I learned quite a bit on Saturday.  I mainly learned that I love pacing!

Although I LOVED pacing this marathon;  it is now over.  Now it is time to focus on my 100 miles at the Crooked Road 24 Hour race on November 23rd.  It is a little over 3 1/2 weeks away.  Did I mention I'm excited?!

Happy running and racing to all those doing Fall marathons/half-marathons!