So when I said my goal for the Southern Tennessee Plunge Marathon was 4:00-4:30, what I meant was I'd like a sub 4:10 first and a 4:15 second and to finish under 4:30 third. I managed to make that last goal, and I finished the thing in 4:21:12 (chip time). Here's why:
1. Lack of long runs. This would not have saved the day but it would have helped a little. I ran this marathon on only one 18 miler and while I do not rely solely on long runs as the key to marathon training, I know they have a big place. Maybe it would have only helped my mind to have another 18 or 20 in there, but I still think I should have made that happen.
2. HEAT! I turn into a first class wimp in the heat and this race was no exception ALTHOUGH, I held my wimpiness back as long as I could. Knowing the inner battle I had out there and how I usually react in hot races, I am actually proud of myself. There was a strength there that is not always present.
3. Fueling. I made the mistake of not reading about the race beforehand and I assumed they'd have Gu or something like it along the course. I pinned 2 packets to my shorts and those were gone by mile 13. The aid stations had water, Gatorade and orange slices only, all of which taste delicious during a hot run, but it was not enough to fuel a 4+ hour marathon.
I think all of those factors slowed me down more than I would have liked but on the bright side, I can remedy them fairly easily. And despite getting tired and worn down toward the end, I had a great time out there. It was my first marathon in two years, my first since pregnancy and having Eloise. I was so excited the night before I could hardly calm down to sleep. When race day dawned, I already knew what kind of race it would be but I intended to get out there and do my best, and that goal was accomplished.
This is really a great event. The course is hilly - nothing steep, but very rolling. The first 13 miles are along a highway but it is very well marked off so traffic doesn't get too close. Once runners turn off the highway it is gorgeous country roads until the end when they enter the highway again and then run through neighborhood streets back to downtown Winchester where the race began. The neighborhood streets can get a little busy with traffic but there was plenty of police/fireman workers along the course to keep it safe for runners.
At mile 14 I was full of the joy of the run. There were shady spots and moments of cloud cover, and for a while I believed I could hold on to that feeling. Not having a Gu soon took its toll though, and it wasn't until mile 20 that a friendly runner offered me his when he heard me ask about it at an aid station. I fought the bonk until mile 24 and then I had very little fight left. At that point I coached myself to keeping moving forward and to keep my head up (no slouching or folding in as I am prone to do when tired). I took walk breaks often in those two miles even though I did not want to. I was hot and my legs ached. My Garmin had died at mile 21.93 so it was just me and the mile markers. No clock, not mileage, no other souls around to commiserate with.
According to my Garmin, I ran a consistent 9:20-9:30 pace until mile 19. I slowed to a 10 minute pace for two miles and then an 11 minute pace for two miles and that is all the information I have. I'm sure I kept slowing and I do not like to finish a marathon that way. I like to finish strong, picking up my pace as I go, but this day was not going to be like that.
Some other runners from Huntsville who had finished before me cheered me through the finish line and that was nice. I was so very glad to be done. Jason and Eloise had also come and it was so good to see them. I downed two bottles of water and then an iced mocha from a coffee company on the square. I felt better except for a dull ache in my legs. We waited for my mom who was also having a rough day out there and once she finished we all headed back to my parents' house for hamburgers, showers and ice cream.
So there it is. My first marathon in two years in the books. It isn't really how I wanted my return to the race to be, but it wasn't all bad either. It was great, in fact and I was filled with gratefulness to be out there, to be able to finish, and to have such a great family supporting me through my training. Lord willing there will be more marathons to come and more... cooler opportunities to improve upon this performance.