Sunday, May 15, 2011

Rockford Marathon Race Report

Wow. Just wow. Many things aligned perfectly for me today allowing me to get a totally unexpected monster PR. As you can see in my Goals post, I had pretty low expectations for this race. I didn't fully train and I didn't taper- in fact, I ran more mileage this week (pre-race) than I have in months. You better believe I carbo loaded the night before, however, cuz that's the fun part:)

Nonetheless, I knocked this one out of park, bettering my previous PR (4:20:58) by almost 15 minutes. I don't have the chip time yet but with a Garmin time of 4:05:22 and a clock time of 4:05:33, I PR'd by 14 minutes at least. And since my now defunct PR was 15 minutes than my previous PR, I've now improved my marathon time by 1/2 hour in 5 months. I'm happy:)

On to the details. I really did not want to do this race this morning. The forecast called for a high of 50 (fine), w/ rain (not fine) and 20 mph winds (so not fine). I woke up at 5am grumbling "why do I do this to myself?", "do I really have to do this?" and seriously considered not running. But then I told myself if I don't do this I'll feed bad about myself all day (probably all month, really) and if I do do this I'll feel hardcore regardless of the outcome. So I choose the hardcore route, telling myself I can swear off running forever if I hate it.

The first 3 miles I hated. HATED. Into the wind (and yes, 20 mph winds), endlessly uphill, ug. Since Adam had his massive 1/2 marathon PR just two weeks ago, he was willing to "slum it" at a slower pace with me. Which I'm grateful for. Because while I kept asking him to slow down (or run ahead, which would have been fine too), I definitely pushed harder because he was with me. Near mile 4, my surroundings started to look familiar and I realized we were running right by my old childhood home and elementary school! That got me excited and I started thinking if little 4th grade me would be proud/admire 33 year old adult me and I thought "yes, yes she would". (Non-marathon runners can't judge the silly things we say to ourselves while we run. I'm quite sure everybody does it, just not everybody admits it!)

Mile 1: 9:02
Mile 2: 9:13
Mile 3: 8:48

By mile 4 I was starting to feel a bit better. More ridiculous, into-the-wind uphills and a couple of fun downhills, and I was starting to come into my own a bit and my legs were feeling a bit less leaden. Thank god. 4 hours of lead legs=bad. 4 miles=tolerable. By mile 6, I felt tons better and even said to Adam that "no matter how this ends up, I'm glad we came out to run it". Even then, though, in the back of my mind, I was thinking this could be the day. This could be my sub-4:15. But I kept it waaayy in the back of my mind because mile 6 is waaayy to early to have such high hopes!

Mile 4: 9:19
Mile 5: 8:46
Mile 6: 9:09

At this point, I really focused on running a smart race. What's a smart race for me? Here are some of my personal strategies:

1: Start comfortable to comfortably hard. Don't push it too much but don't get too comfortable. It's okay to push it briefly and intermittently, but not consistently. (To help with this I have some slow songs on my playlist to remind me to bring it back a notch and RELAX.) I'm not one for negative splits so I know I have to have good splits in the first 1/2 because I usually crash during the 2nd NO MATTER WHAT.

2: Use the downhills. I like hills. I live in Chicago and I rarely train on hills but I really like them. It breaks up the monotony and the type of concentration you must have. Uphill- think nice and easy. Downhill- give it all you got but don't blow a knee. I FLY down downhills.

3: Eat early and often. First gu chomp at mile 6 even if I feel fine. I read on a blog recently that one should eat while you are still feeling good- don't even let the sugar levels drop. So I ate at 6 and then every 2-3 miles thereafter.

4. Stay in rhythm. I use a Nathan hydration pack so that I don't lose my concentration by stopping at water stops. This time, I ditched the pack (thanks, Dad!) at mile 17 which was a nice mental boost- my posture improved a bit too!

5. Say nice things to people as much as possible. I thanked volunteers, spectators, tried to encourage runners, anything to give a positive spin to the pain that is running 26.2 miles!

6. Mantras. In addition to the usual "keep your head in the game" and "you've got guts", I added "there's no walking in running" to the list. (FYI: I have NO problem with walking as a race strategy. It just is no good for me personally- I use it as a crutch.)

Mile 7: 9:27
Mile 8: 9:09
Mile 9: 8:44

Adam and I parted ways around mile 8, but that was okay because my spectators kicked into high gear starting at 8.5. Miles 9-12 were a fun blur of "finding my fans". After seeing my Mom, Dad and Grandpa Monson (so glad he was able to come out), w/ signs and cowbells I had no idea they were bringing (see right) at mile 8.5, a planned location, my parents started popping up all over the course at unplanned locations. It was awesome! I got a mental boost every time I saw them, plus I sure as heck couldn't walk because I didn't want them to see that!

Mile 10: 9:04
Mile 11: 9:00
Mile 12: 8:49
Mile 13: 9:20

There was a timing mat at the 1/2- I'm looking forward to seeing my split. It doesn't "count" but it might have been sub 2 hours!

Things got a bit hairy after the 1/2 marathoners broke off. I gave them a final cheer, then headed off for the lonely mind game that is the 2nd 1/2 of a marathon. At at first it was ROUGH. We enjoyed a tail wind (mostly) from 6-13, but for 14-19 we turned right back into the wind. And the hills. OMG. I felt like I was barely moving. I pulled out every mind trick I had, I reminded myself that it would "only" be into the wind until 19. I mentally broke the race into chunks- 2 miles until my next gu chomp at 15, then only 5 miles until I see my family at 20, then just a quick 6 mile jog to the finish. I reminded myself that I didn't want to let all the hard work of the first 1/2 to go to waste by botching the 2nd 1/2. I told myself that "this is the day you go sub-4:15. PUSH it, dammit, PUSH it". I took a 15 second walk break during mile 15. That was my make-it-or-break-it pep talk moment. I decided to either commit to the PR or give up. Not DNF, just one of the those walk, run, walk, run jobs that always means a bad race for me. I decided to make it.

Mile 14: 9:21
Mile 15: 10:16 (eek!)
Mile 16: 9:27
Mile 17: 9:36
Mile 18: 9:06

Here I really need to thank my parents and my husband. My folks saw me at I think 10 different places along the course and most of them in the 2nd 1/2 of the race when I needed them most. And Adam, after finishing his 1/2, joined them in the spectating. He ran a 1/2 and then immediately spectated for 2 more hours! That's impressive. (See Adam near mile 8 to the right.) We planned on them being at 4 places along the course, which already was great, but having them pop up all over the place really broke up the race and was a huge factor in my finish time. Thank you, thank you, thank you to my folks and Adam and all the other spectators out there. There were lots of entertaining moments during spectating. At one point my mom was running along the course with my sign and I told her she was getting in her run for the day and asked her if she wanted my number. I love the picture to the right because, while blurry, it shows my mom's reaction to my proposal- should I take that raucous laughter to mean, "yes, I'd love to finish your race for you"?

Here's a video I didn't know Adam was taking in which you can hear the absurd wind, hear my mom's cowbells and see my dad run over with my sign. They did this all day long, running in front of me, next to me, and behind me, with signs. Hilarious!

Mile 19: 9:29
Mile 20: 9:58
Mile 21: 8:50
Mile 22: 9:37

At this point I knew I had it. I even told Adam that I was set to PR if I could just stay calm and NOT WALK. The slowest I tend to run these days, even while relaxed, is ~10 min/mile and even if went slower I knew I had time in the bank and would be able to average faster than 9:57 min/miles. If I kept my head in the game. So I vacillated b/t concentrating, and zoning out. When "Livin' on a Prayer" came on and Bon Jovi said "whoa-oo, we're half-way there", I thought "heck, no, I'm way more than halfway, jon bon". When I wanted to stop more than anything, I'd look around, make sure I was alone and say "ok, val, you can do this". I smiled for the cameras. I listened to my really excellent playlist. I'll post it later. It really was perfect for the marathon distance.

Mile 23: 9:38
Mile 24: 9:30
Mile 25: 9:19

The last mile- I'm not exaggerating- was uphill on a bridge, directly into the wind. EVERYONE was walking. I cruised on the preceding downhill, looked at the uphill, (checked to make sure I was alone), and hollered "hill, you're my bitch" and clamored up that thing as if I hadn't already ran 25 miles, as if there was no hill and no wind. I'm proud of my:

Mile 26: 9:22

Adam got the final stretch on video. The lady who says "Go, Val" is a total stranger- she must have just heard Adam yelling my name and jumped on the bandwagon. Love spectators!

Mile 0.48 (clearly I'm terrible at tangents or the course was long): 4:07 (9:38 pace)

Rockford is a good- but hard- course. The last 1/3 is in forest preserve on a bike path. (Besides my parents) spectators are few and far b/t but they are enthusiastic! While 20 mph winds aren't optimal, mid-May in Rockford is almost always below 70 degrees- perfect running weather. Definitely a good choice for a Spring marathon in the Midwest!

Now to relax and relish in my success. Good day:)


  1. Great job getting a semi- unexpected PR!!! Next time, hopefully the wind will be at your back.

  2. WOW!!!! Your marathon time is my dream marathon time. Great job :)

  3. Great job on the PR! I was born in Rockford, so I would like to run that one someday . . .

  4. Great job in such sucky weather! Congrats!

  5. congrats on an AWESOME day! I'm behind so i just read your goals post and this one back to back. :) What a PR!!

  6. Way to go Val! It's a monster PR considering the training woes and miserable weather. Next stop...sub-4

  7. Fantastic race report!! I am so happy and thrilled for you on your time!!!
    Amazing!! And with hardly any training, I am in awe!!! Great job Val!

  8. 15 mins is pretty crazy. Nice run. But I would still, as always, recommend stopping. Not walking, but stopping. At mile 2. Looks like breaking 4 is the next goal, no?
    Do I hear a bid for a Boston Qualifier?