Sunday, October 3, 2010

Twin Cities Marathon: A Race to Remember

Goal: Qualify for Olympic Trials B Standard...2:45:30 and don't die
Actual: 2:41:53 with a negative split (1:21:37, 1:20:16)
After what seemed like an eternity of waiting, Sunday morning finally arrived. I had a fitful night of sleep from 3am and on, and finally got out of bed at 445am, 15 minutes before I had set for my alarm to go off. I immediately ate a white chocolate macadamia nut Clif Bar and then got all my race gear on. I ate a bowl of oatmeal mixed with Silk around 515am too. By 530am, I was ready to roll. I asked my dad to go down to the garage to grab the car and wait in front of the hotel so that we could easily jump into the car once Ruth, Mike and I met in the lobby.

I knocked on Ruth's door at 535am to tell her I'd be heading down soon, and I swear she must have thought I was crazy because the Elite buses did not leave until 6am, and we were only a two minute drive from the buses. However, she was a good sport and was ready to go right on time. We waited for a couple of minutes in the lobby for Mike and we all jumped into the car that my dad had already warmed up. He's the best. :o)

We pulled up in front of the race headquarters - the Crowne Plaza - and made our separate ways to our respective buses. Mike and I hugged each other good luck before he boarded the citizen buses and Ruth and I boarded the Elite bus. I sat in a seat with Bill and Ruth settled across from us. Bill and I enjoyed a great conversation with a woman from Buffalo and we shared stories about the differences in weather in our states. It was a great way to keep our mind off of the race.

Soon enough we could see the Metrodome in the distance, and I knew we were close to the start. The bus pulled to stop in front of the Church that had kindly offered its basement to the Elite Athletes to lounge in before the 8am start. Since we arrived at the church around 630am, I thought the 75 minutes we had to wait would feel like an eternity. The minutes actually flew by. The elite coordinators had put out gatorade, water, coffee, bars, and vaseline for the athletes to use. There was also a nice bathroom facility that never seemed to have a long line. Bill and I chatted a bit and had a good conversation with another masters runner. By looking around the room, I noticed that were several more elite masters runners than Open Elite runners. This made sense since it was the USA Masters Championship. I checked some emails on my phone and listened to a couple of songs with my legs elevated on the wall.

Before I knew it, I had bundled all of my stuff into the bag they had provided and threw it into the gear truck. I did a couple minutes of jogging in the parking lot and heard someone calling my name. I looked around, clueless, and finally I noticed that it was Mike calling my name. I was thrilled to see him! We gave each other a high five and scoped out the finish line. I did a couple of strides and then I found Adam Mayes...Such a great way to start a marathon by seeing your own folk. After the wheeler start at 755am, Ruth and I found our way to the front of the start line. Of course, once the elite men came out, they pushed us back a couple of feet, but we were still within one second of the gun time with our chip time, so we did a pretty good job.

The gun went off and I used my elbows to ensure I wasn't tripped. I situated myself with Ruth in my site. After about 400m, I heard Mike come up and he attached himself to Bill who was in front of me. I had an urge to go with Bill and sped up a bit, but Ruth, the true marathon veteran, called to me that we were too fast and to fall back with her. Bless her soul, because she saved my marathon only 400m into it.

Over the course of the next 20 miles, I shared in an unforgettable, unique experience. Ruth and I became captain and co-captain of a pack of four to five women as we maneuvered through the sea of marathoners. Five goals of making an Olympic Trials Qualifier became one goal; our camaraderie propelled us forward, to eventually pass over eight women together as a group and to all gain the Olympic Trials Qualifying B Standard. By encouraging each other, we had so much fun and made the marathon feel almost effortless for the first 18 miles. My advice to everyone is to make friends and to run as tightly together as possible to work together. If you do that, your chances of success in the final 10k should be much greater.

Now to get into a bit more detail...Ruth and I ran together for the first 2 miles and we eventually came upon two other women - Carol and Krista - who ran for LaSalle and were looking to run a qualifying time. Ruth's proposal for them to group up with us must have seemed pretty good, because they accepted and we all tucked in together. Ruth coached us in those first minutes - she told us that we needed to glue to each other and that we needed to all cut as close to the turns as possible so that we run the shortest possible distance. She also realized that it would be best for us to alternate leads. Carol and Krista took it starting from mile 3 and we alternated from that point forward. Eventually, we realized it was best to lead in pairs, so Carol and Krista became a pair, while Ruth and I became the other pair.

Ruth and I ended up sharing my special fluids water bottles, and it worked out perfectly. I would grab the bottle, take a swig of water, and then hand it over to Ruth. Once she was done, I would have another opportunity to take another sip, and then hand it back. After we were both through with it, we would toss the bottle to the wayside. I took my first Honey Stinger Gel at mile 5. I also held the bottle for Ruth while she took a Gel Block.

The first half of the course looped through three different lakes in Minneapolis. The crowds here were felt like they had taken a class in Marathon Cheering 101 because they were saying all the right things. The synergy in our group was visible to outsiders as they shouted to us "Looking great ladies - great way to work together" or other things similar to that. It made us smile and feel confident that our teamwork was going to serve as the catalyst to achieving our goals.

Before mile 9, I advised the girls that my dad, high school coach Holda, and Ruth's husband would be at miles 9, 17, and 20.5 to cheer us on. The three men had mapped out the four spots where they would see us and utilized my dad's car to hit those spots on a point-to-point course. I'm impressed with their ability to navigate the streets of Minneapolis while the roads were closed off. We heard them cheering at mile 9 and, as you can see in the picture, I was quite happy to see them.

If a fly had situated itself on my shoulder from miles 9-13, it would have heard so many positive statements coming out of our mouths...Ruth always instructed us when to cut the tangents, I reminded us to relax on the downhills and use them to our advantage, and Krista and Carol affirmed that we were doing great. When we passed one woman, we invited her to tuck in with our group. When someone was falling off, we offered those words to encourage them to stick to us.

Mile 11 came up and I took another Honey Stinger. At this point, there was very sharp, but quick pain that came up in my lower hamstring. I had a slight moment of panic, but the feeling of pain went away in less than 1 second. It happened one more time, but eventually it wore out, so I pushed any doubts out of my mind. I told myself that my legs would hold up. I also did not tell any of the other girls this because I wanted everyone to maintain a positive attitude.

At the half marathon mark, we came through in 1:21:36 and we all stated how we were right on pace, with some cushion room for the last 10k, where the hills were. Our pack had been cruising along at an average of 613 pace. I kept waiting for my legs to start to ache or for my breathing to get out of control, but it never came. The miles from 13-18 flew by. The crowd support never ceased. People were hanging out and cheering us in, so happy to see women together in a pack. We kept on trucking. At mile 17.5, the Caitlin/Ruth fan club cheered us from over a bridge and Holda screamed to me that we looked great and relaxed.

In the next couple of miles, I started to feel really good. I took my last Honey Stinger at mile 19, and here I decided that I wanted to keep going at good clip before the hills hit around mile 21. I pulled away a little after mile 20, after Ruth and I shared our last water bottle together. I urged her to come with me, and then I went for it.

The hills approached and I kept looking straight ahead, focusing on the next guy that I could pass. I used the cheers from the spectators as my fuel - they told me that I (#54) looked really strong and were amazed. At least ten spectators told me this. They could have been lying to me, but in my mind, they were there to cheer just for me. Miles 21-23 are where the biggest hills were, and I barely noticed. My miles splits here were 606, 611, 613. What helped most is that the hill would have a decent incline for 200m, and then level off for 50m, which allowed me time to recuperate. Then it would incline again, but I was catching people, so it flew by and I barely even noticed that I had already covered the worst of the hills. Suddenly I had turned onto Summit Street, where there were only about 4 more miles to go. I remembered what Ruth had said earlier in the race: "Ladies, when we get to Summit, it's in the bag!" I was feeling great. I had already passed 10 people, and two women. Up ahead, I saw Mike Beigay and my heart sank. I knew how well his training went this summer and he had high hopes for a big PR. I cried his name out and tried to encourage him to come with me. He told me to go on.

On Summit Street, the crowds were ridiculous crazy! It's a long straightaway for a mile and a half and I decided it was best to latch onto a young man to get my mind off the huge stretch of road that I could see in the distance. He turned around, said "DAMN!" and kept at it. I didn't want to waste a breath so I didn't say anything. In my head, I thanked him. I was worried about hitting the wall but figured if I just kept barreling forward, I might hit the wall or I might not, so I made a decision: I should just go for it and run with all my heart. Turns out that decision was a good one; it worked out great.
I felt fabulous on Summit Street. I felt like I was running free and that all of my training had prepared me for this final 10k and that these thousands of people out there were cheering just for me. I kept my head up and pushed forward to pass more and more people. In the last 10k, I was so focused that I didn't even notice the mile markers. I didn't catch the mile splits but was able to catch the two-mile splits. I looked down and saw 12:10. I was rolling. At mile 23, I took my last water bottle and was sad that I didn't have Ruth there to share it with me. I tried to throw it in the street so that if she could see me, she could maybe pick it up (I found out later that she did see me throw it and contemplated grabbing it!).

At mile 24, I could feel the bottom of my feet, and I remembered what Jordan told me once that he'd rather wear flats and have feet that hurt for a couple of miles than wear trainers that could potentially slow you down due to the added weight. I decided that my feet really didn't hurt after all. Sure enough, I forgot about how my feet felt. I checked the elapsed time on my watch and calculated that I could potentially run a 2:43 (obviously my math was wrong). I felt my legs in Mile 25 and worried for a moment about their ability to pound on the approaching downhill to the finish. I was afraid they'd turn to rubber and wobble, forcing me to tumble down the hill instead of cruising down it. Fortunately, my legs cooperated and I sprinted toward the finish, with a tingling feeling the entire time. If there were any water stops at miles 24 and 25, I didn't see them and I worried that I would bonk because of the lack of fluids in the final miles. Fortunately, I must have done a good job in the earlier portions of the marathon of hydrating because it did not effect me in the final two miles.

I knew the finish was coming after I rounded a left turn and I felt so great, so fast, and so grateful. Grateful for the women who worked together, grateful for the man who let me latch onto him, grateful for my parents cruising around the course, grateful for the opportunity to run as an elite, grateful for the Minnesotans who cheered for me, grateful for Mark Hadley's coaching, and grateful for the Charlotte Running Community. I thought about all of that in the final .2 of the marathon; how all of those things had culminated into making this debut a success. Those thoughts helped me reach the finish line, and I crossed it with pride.

I didn't even look at the official finish clock, so I didn't realize what my time had been until I looked at my own stopwatch. 2:41:53. A negative split with a second half marathon time of 1:20:17 on the hillier part of the course. My last six miles of the course were: 606, 611, 613, 603, 602, 600. I closed stronger than I started. I was waiting for my legs to give way, but they didn't. I felt fabulous. I was elated. I looked around expectantly for my parents and Holda. They showed up and ran right into the finish chute and gave me hugs. Holda was so happy. I know that my mom wished she could have driven/run with them around the course, but her injured shouldered kept her sidelined at the finish. Next marathon, she'll be with them!

I looked back at the finish line, looking for Ruth, but didn't see her so I congratulated a couple of guys who had helped me out, and then an escort came and ushered me to the elite tent. Inside, I found the room where I could change and spotted Bill and found how that he ran OOO - out of control! He ran a 2:40:02. I'm so proud of him. He bruised his ribs just a little over two months ago and here he was sitting in his chair, having run faster than he did at OBX last year.

Soon, all the ladies who had been part of my pack, came in. Ruth, Carol and Krista all run under the 2:46:00 mark to make it the Trials. Ruth and I hugged and already began talking about how we would do this again at the Trials in January 2012, work together as a group and make the most of our camaraderie.

It was in the tent where I discovered a flood of texts from supportive friends, family, and running partners. I cannot express what a wonderful feeling of elation this provoked from me. I am so happy to be a part of the Charlotte running scene and I am so thankful for all the love that was showcased throughout this weekend. A special shout out goes to Rebecca Thomason for sending me a bottle of wine and two Guinness Chocolate Mousse cups from room service. I want to list off all the people who texted, called, or facebooked me, but you know who you are, and please know that it did not go unnoticed.

Reflecting upon my first marathon, I got spoiled. Everything was perfect. My fueling strategy, my race tactics, and the weather. I know that not every marathon from this point forward will be as perfect as this one; it will always hold a special place in a my heart.

I was lucky: four girls to talk to for over two hours. 40 Degrees. Parents cheering. Water Bottles. No injuries. Everything about this spoiled me, but I'll always be able to use this race as a motivation in those others where I might not get so lucky. Until then, I'm going to relish in its grandeur.


Anonymous said...

i got puddles in my eyes and chilly bumps reading this - you are truly an inspiration and THANK YOU for sharing all the details - i hung on every word. way to go you, all your fans and supporters and especially the girls you worked with - knowing they all qualified is a huge WAHOO - because there is such power in positive thinking and working together. awesome read caitlin. so talented in so many ways. much love to you!!! (p.s. i wanted to send choc. covered strawberries but they didn't have them. i told them to go to the teeter and get some berries and some chocolate... it's not hard... HA!!!) LOVE LOVE LOVE!

Megan said...

I felt like I was there with you! Great recap. What an amazing way to experience your first marathon...those girls seem great! As much as they helped you, just think what you did for them as well. Awesome awesome job. Cicero must be very proud of her mama! :)

Anonymous said...

i cried when i read this...and still have tears streaming down my face. i may be a sap but you really are an inspiration of a person. ~brittany cook

Kyleeeliz said...

You are an inspiration to all, Caitlin. Although I only got to train with you for a year, it still stands out more than some the years I ran in college. You could say you are spoiled, but I say that you earned it. You planned it out and executed it perfectly. Your enthusiasm and dedication to the sport has gotten you where you are today, not your luck. Keep relishing in the moment and training hard for 2012! I look forward to continuing to follow you. Thanks for all of your advice, Ill surely be thinking of you at Chicago on Sunday! Miss you!

Michelle said...

That's so great Caitlin! I didn't even know you were going to run a marathon! Your mom send out a text message. I'm so proud of you cuz~ :D

Anonymous said...

I must say again, that was very impressive. That is so awesome that you just ripped right through that race and qualified with plenty of time left. You can enjoy and relax now(at least for a short time).

A. Mayes

Allen said...

I want you to know that you had the best debut marathoner of anyone I've ever known and I've known more than a few marathoners. Seriously, that was incredible. We are all extremely proud of you!

Anonymous said...

Congrats on the race of a lifetime! I am so incredibly happy for you. What a beautiful well written story. ALL of Carbondale Illinois is proud of you.


Aaron Linz said...

Thx for sharing the experience. Super cool to read how it all went down. dang your last miles were strong. 6 flat for your last mile of a marathon is just amazing!!!

Betsy Bishop said...

Caitlin- WOW, what a perfect race! Congratulations to you and to all the women you ran with. Thank you for the blog! May all your marathons continue to be as amazing.

Marc said...

I'm about 3 weeks late, but that was an awesome post (and of course an awesome race you ran). Best of luck with all your future training and racing!


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