Monday, January 16, 2012

2012 Olympic Trials Marathon: The Race

Give it All I've Got
Placer greater than 72nd
2:41:53 or faster

Gave it All I Had
66th Place in 2:44:04 (guessing the half split around 1:20:33, 2nd half 1:23:27)
Results here

Thirty-six hours after the race of a lifetime, I can confidently tell you that I gave my best effort.  Even if my best effort on Saturday was not my personal record or the highest place, it was the best I could bring out of myself, my body, my mind that day.  I am proud of my journey to the Olympic Trials.   I am proud to have toed the line without any injuries.  I am proud for finishing a race where almost a fifth of the field dropped out - a testament to the grueling nature of the marathon.

Race morning dawned perfectly calm and clear, with temperatures in the high 40s, and predicted to reach the mid-to-upper 50s by the end of the race.  My sister Vanessa and I woke up around 5:15am to get ready for the morning's events; while she got all dolled up for the cheering party, I performed my pre-race feeding rituals of Trader Joe's oatmeal and a PB Bonk Breaker.  I recognized that temperatures in the upper 50s would feel way too hot to me, so I alternated drinking between water, Gatorade and Nuun to ensure I would be hydrated enough to survive 26.2 miles with the sun beating down on my pale skin.

By 630AM, Jordan, Meagan, and Garrett had arrived in the room to begin our trek over to the GRB Convention Center, where the athletes would have access to bathrooms and indoor warm up facilities.  Before heading out, I put Meagan's number on her chest and back and, to be honest, I was quite honored that she chose me to pin the bib on her instead of Jordan.   Perhaps it's a girl thing, or maybe it further cemented our commitment to work together during the race. After we had used the hotel bathroom one last time, I said my farewell to Vanessa, grabbed my sunscreen, and headed out the door with the crew.

Unlike the Army Ten Miler, where Meagan and I barely had enough time to gulp down some water, there was plenty of time to situate ourselves in a hall and to take multiple bathroom breaks in the Convention Center.  Meagan and I just sat together with a calm confidence, while I randomly voiced our game plan out loud. Ben and Megan Hovis stopped by before Megan went off for a warm up.  Mark Hadley spotted us as well and came by every now and then to provide support.

In the meantime, Garrett and Jordan came to us intermittently to check in and to see if we needed anything from them.  I can only imagine what they were doing when they weren't with us.  I'm assuming that Jordan was talking to people he knew or just tweeting on his iPhone while Garrett was scoping out the food options in case he needed a second breakfast to tide him over through 140 minutes of cheering.  The guys disappeared to give us the space they knew we needed to perform our typical mental preparations in the final hour before the race.  After seeing so many friends, it was clear to me that this Charlotte crew had so many people here that believed in us and our goals.

The hour seemed to go by slowly, and I utilized the hour to envision the race plan and to repeat to myself words of affirmation about the training I've put in and the workouts I've completed to prepare me for this race.  Emotionally and mentally, I knew that I was ready to run this race.

By 7:40, the women were gathered near the exit of our warm up room.  It was time to head down to the holding area on the street and to say goodbye to our Athlete Support people / significant others.  Meagan, Megan, and Allison Macsas (Meagan's roommate from the 2011 Houston Marathon who had the same goal as us) grouped together to ensure that we didn't lose each other on the way.

The bubble of excitement burst into a nervous frenzy just as doors to the Convention Center opened, exposing the men in the midst of their final preparations for their race.  It felt as though at that very moment, time began moving very, very fast and all the women reacted with the same panicked motions to prepare - dropping our bags haphazardly on the sidewalk, frantically looking for water, rushing to the port-a-cans (that's what they call them in Texas).  Within a minute, however, the excitement died down as everyone realized we had another fifteen minutes to jog around and get that calm back again.  During this time, our crew split apart as each performed our own unique drills and strides.   I jogged a couple of laps, re-tied my shoelaces four times, and performed my final drills and strides before stripping down.

I'm the girl in the middle of the picture in the blue jacket 
The next five minutes were a blur as we were herded to the start corral.  All I know is that when they let us loose, I did a stride but seemed to be the only other person that decided to take a fast stride with the Olympic hopefuls.  Meagan and I situated ourselves near the right side of the course and waited for the command.  The gun sounded at an unknown time, signaling the beginning of what I hoped would be a memorable journey through the streets of downtown Houston with 200 women who were just as good  as me or better.  In case you don't know - the course started with a 2.2 mile loop downtown, then featured three identical 8-mile loops that incorporated the 2.2 downtown loop.

If you look closely on the left, you'll find Meagan and I
I settled into a comfortable pace with Meagan and Allison right beside me.  There were probably 150 women surrounding us and the pace felt like it was crawling.  Fortunately for us, the lead pack had gone out at a snail's pace, which forced the 2:35-2:40 runners to go out right on pace.  Somehow Meagan, Allison and I managed to stick together as we navigated our way through the sea of runners in the first downtown loop.  Not only was this loop of the race packed with runners, but the streets were cluttered with friends, family, and super running fans who were cheering their hearts out for all of us.  It would be an understatement to say it was crazy; it was a blur!  The crowd was electric, but somehow I managed to hear my own cheering squad - Mom, Dad, Vanessa, Ben, Rebecca, Holda, Jamie Dodge.  What an incredible way to start a marathon.

My Garmin was completely inaccurate during the downtown segments, and it claimed that our current pace was 5:45 for the first mile, which was entirely false.  Unfortunately, there was a clock positioned before the mile marker, so there was a brief panic as everyone thought we had shot out in 5:15 pace. We came through the mile in 6:19, and my Garmin was horribly off so I decided to ignore it since it was presenting an inaccurate measure of my performance after only 6 minutes into the race.

The first 10 miles of the race went by surprisingly quickly as Meagan, Allison and I found a small pack to run with once we exited the downtown fan frenzy.  At first, Meagan locked in with a girl from the BAA - Brett Ely - and took us through the 5th mile in 601.  In the middle of that mile, I hung back a little because I was worried about hitting too quick of a pace too early on.  After we passed the split, Meagan said almost sheepishly, "that was a little too quick" and fell back into step with me.  After that, we locked in at a comfortable clip of 6:07.
leading the pack
During this segment, Meagan and I probably shouldn't have lead as much as we did.  Meagan and I did a lot of the work for the group during that first loop as we ran stride for stride alongside each other.  Every now and then we exchanged words of encouragement for the group.  Fans during the outer loop told us that our pack was strong.  Looking at the pictures, we were strong.  All of us look so relaxed and comfortable at the pace.  Those first 10 miles passed almost effortlessly as I had little thinking to do and just ran based on what my body (and the pack) was telling me to do. During the outer section, Jordan, Holda, Shane, Jill, Garrett and Matt had scattered throughout the park to cheer us on, which helped tremendously.

Effortless Running While Chewing Gum
As expected, the race thinned out quite a bit once we began the second loop (miles 10-18).  We caught some people during this segment, and they either attached themselves to us or faded slowly back to a different pack.  At this point, our group included about 6-8 people, with either Allison, Meagan or myself leading.  Finally, a girl told Meagan and I to step back and let her do the work.  While I appreciated her teamwork, we went through in one of slowest splits of the day - 6:21 - and as soon as we saw that split, the trio burst ahead, with Allison taking the lead to get the pace back on track.

Side View
At mile 14 during the race, my body began to feel the first signs of fatigue and pain.  Blisters on my feet were throbbing and parts of my foot felt numb from the concrete.  Every single physical weakness I've ever had awakened out of hibernation and clawed at my body.  My achilles, IT Band, hip flexors all were on fire.  Suddenly I felt like a mechanical engine that was beginning to rust.  I needed oil to keep my gears going, but that wasn't an option.  Simply put, the presence of Meagan and Allison was invaluable during miles 15-18.  While my body was faltering, my mind contemplated the possibilities.  I had two options:  (1) Drop off the pace at mile 15 and struggle for 11+ miles alone or (2) fight my way to mile 18 with Meagan and company and see what I can do for the final 8 miles.  Rather than give in to my deteriorating body too quickly, I chose option (2).    The discomfort was made easier knowing that I had a pack of women surrounding me.  During these miles, I would drop off the pack slightly, but then find the resolve to pick it back up to tuck back in right behind Meagan.  Meagan checked back twice to see where I was going, and those checks gave me the strength to push forward again.  In the picture below, I'm struggling to stay tucked in with this pack, but I made it to 18 and then began to fade slowly.

My final strides with the pack of Meagan and Allison
After 18.2, the pack slowly began to pull away from me, and I struggled to ignore my blisters and aching body.  I was alone for the next 4 miles, and the strength of the pack was evident in my slipping times; all alone, I didn't have nearly as much motivation to keep my pace strong.  As I doubted my own physical ability to finish the race, my legs slowed.  18 - 6:09, 19 - 6:16, 20 - 6:24, 21 - 6:29, 22 - 6:43. I was completely and totally alone, and it was all I could do within my own willpower to keep going.  My body was shutting down and my mind was fighting so hard to keep it going.

During these miles, I realized the true meaning of hitting the wall.  Ironically enough, I never once thought of why I was feeling that way.  I didn't question my training leading up to the race, or the fact that I had been sick, or that I had missed two weeks of higher mileage due to low iron.  I just accepted it as my reality right then and there.  I just thought about what I needed to do to finish, not about what was causing this terrible physical weakness.  During mile 23, I decided walking through a water stop was what I needed to do in order to finish.

I'll tell you right now - the Gallowalk method is extremely successful.  Jeff Galloway should receive a Nobel Prize for this ingenious invention because it gave me just the rest I needed to get back on track.  When I walked for 20 meters, the pressure from my blisters disappeared, and I began to run again and the pain stayed away for the next mile, which I was able to bring back down to 6:28. For the final water stop - at mile 24.6 - I walked through again, but apparently I had already mastered the Walk/Run method, because my split for this mile (6:42) was considerably faster than the other mile I had walked (6:55).  I should also note that I planned my walks at the perfect moments, which were when the crowds were thin and, therefore, less intimidating.  I didn't want to walk when I was in downtown Houston for fear of seeing someone I knew.  Fortunately, the water stop volunteers clapped and told me that I could do it.  And I did!

Somehow only one girl had managed to pass me during my walk, but I passed her right back once I started running again.  By the completion of mile 25, I only had 1.2 more miles, so I pressed on, in hopes of looking somewhat fast for the finish.  As we rounded a turn, my blisters probably burst puss and blood into my sock, but I ignored it because someone just shouted to another girl that she was in 72nd place.  I need to place higher than 70th, so I got my rear in gear.  There were 5 girls ahead of me, and they were fading fast.  I forced my blisters to cooperate, and passed all 5 of them, and then some more with a split of 6:16 for my final mile.  The crowd in the final 400 meters was deafening, and I made my last turn toward the finish line with a grimace on my face.  I decided I might as well make it look like I'm just fine and so happy to be finishing my very first Olympic Trials Marathon, so I smiled in the final straightaway.

I crossed through the line, and Meagan was waiting for me.  She waited three whole minutes to see me finish (she finished in an amazing 49th place in 2:41:04), and I couldn't cry sentimental tears of gratitude because I didn't have enough energy to muster them.  I walked just enough to not break 2:44, but I ran just enough to finish well under the Trials qualifying time.
Meagan giving me a high five after the race
Meagan and I walked through the crowd of supporters, where I guzzled a bottle of water thoughtlessly and mumbled sweet nothings to Meagan that she probably missed.  I went from feeling relieved and alive to immediately feeling weak and numb.  I was conscious enough to register that Garrett's parents should be in the crowd, waiting for me, to give me a hug. I was seeking them out, searching the crowd.  Nothing.  Instead, Meagan's parents hopped out of the crowd and escorted her and I to the second floor.  In the two escalator rides, my energy levels faded fast.

After Meagan's parents were asked to leave because they didn't have a credential, I started sputtering and Meagan started leading.  She held onto me and asked volunteers to get medical.  Medical was all the way back down stairs, so she got me gatorade instead, which seemed to do the trick.  Megan and Ben came up and informed me that she unfortunately had to drop out due to stomach cramps.  I was proud of her for gutting it out and putting herself out there.

Soon, Garrett came up to the elite area and I didn't realize how empty my tank was until he informed me that apparently his mom spoke to me right after the race.  She even put her hands on my shoulders and looked me in the eyes and talked to me, face to face.  That interaction never registered in my brain because I still don't have a recollection of ever seeing her.  After that interaction, she called Garrett immediately and told him to get to me as soon as reasonably possible.  I blacked out?  Not sure.  I was out of it.

Afterwards was a blur as I waited in line for the massage and Garrett held me up.  I was very appreciative of his large, muscular frame after the race because I felt really safe and secure.  I knew that if I passed out, he would make sure that my skull didn't hit the floor by catching me in his arms.  In my dazed state, he already wanted to analyze my race and hear my perspective on why I wasn't able maintain a pace with Meagan or why I had to resort to walking.  Even right now, I am not entirely certain if there is a reason.

On Saturday, I learned how to hurt.  I learned how to persevere through pain and weakness.  I learned how to finish with heart.  Most importantly, I learned how to love even more - my parents, my soon-to-be future in-laws, my coaches (past and present), my running partners in Charlotte, my fellow Demon Deacons, and all those people who have believed in me over the past 12 months and whose support has helped me realize this dream.  I did it - but with the help of so many countless others along the way and for that I am eternally grateful and humbled.

Of course, the perfectionist in me wishes that I had stayed with Meagan so that I could have at least had to option to hold hands with her through the finish line.  I've got a lot more marathons in my future, which are just opportunities for me to continue to perfect my marathon running skills to better prepare me for 2016.  Two days later, it seems surreal that it's over now, but I'm already looking ahead for 2016 and thinking about what I need to do to place in the top 30.  I'm excited to plan a marathon - perhaps with Meagan - with the goal of breaking 2:40 in the months or years to come.  Regardless, I'm proud to have had this opportunity to race with some of the best marathoners in the country and to be part of a historic event.  Now, it's time to take some time off from doing anything remotely active.

Many thanks to my Official Fan Club for making the trip!!
And that is my tale of pain, glory, and sweat.  There is a lot to be happy about and I forever cherish this memory.  I am an Olympic Trials Finisher!

Mile Split Total Time Average
1 0:06:19 0:06:19 0:06:19
2 0:06:00 0:12:19 0:06:09
3 0:06:05 0:18:24 0:06:08
4 0:06:04 0:24:28 0:06:07
5 0:06:01 0:30:29 0:06:06
6 0:06:12 0:36:41 0:06:07
7 0:06:11 0:42:52 0:06:07
8 0:06:01 0:48:53 0:06:07
9 0:06:08 0:55:01 0:06:07
10 0:06:07 1:01:08 0:06:07
11 0:06:07 1:07:15 0:06:07
12 0:06:08 1:13:23 0:06:07
13 0:06:08 1:19:31 0:06:07
14 0:06:21 1:25:52 0:06:08
15 0:06:14 1:32:06 0:06:08
16 0:06:05 1:38:11 0:06:08
17 0:06:12 1:44:23 0:06:08
18 0:06:09 1:50:32 0:06:08
19 0:06:16 1:56:48 0:06:09
20 0:06:24 2:03:12 0:06:10
21 0:06:29 2:09:41 0:06:11
22 0:06:43 2:16:24 0:06:12
23 0:06:55 2:23:19 0:06:14
24 0:06:28 2:29:47 0:06:14
25 0:06:42 2:36:29 0:06:16
26 0:06:16 2:42:45 0:06:16
26.2 0:01:15 2:44:00 0:06:16
2:44:00 0:06:16


Scott said...

Well done Caitlin, and CONGRATS!! Great recap as well.
Galloway saved my butt recently as well (

Mike Kahn said...

Awesome. Way to roll up your sleeves and get to work. Nicely done ... way to pass a group in the final mile.

Dave Munger said...

Very well done, an amazing finish to a punishing race. Awesome, awesome, awesome!

WendyCity Productions said...

Caitlin! I loved watching you race in Houston! An added bonus was the spontaneous interview I did with some of your family on the course as we were waiting for you to run by. Congratulations!!

E-Speed said...

Wonderful race and wonderful report! It was such a blast cheering for you guys out there! Can't wait to join the sub 2 40 pursuit myself! Congrats!

Miche said...

Those times are spectacular! Congrats!

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