Sunday, December 8, 2013

Cal International Marathon Recap

Goal #1: Run the B Standard for 2016 Trials (Sub-2:43)
Goal #2: Run a PR (Sub-2:41:52)
Goal #3: Run sub-2:40

Actual: 2:40:28, 9th female, $1000, splits at bottom of post

As I got out of the car at the Charlotte airport on Friday, Garrett yelled at me "Get the A-standard!" before closing the door and zipping away. I shook my head at him, both for his unwavering confidence in my abilities, but also for shooting for the stars. Despite his vote of confidence, my goals were a little different. I knew that on a great day with perfect conditions, I was ready to run around 2:38-2:39. Given the fact that I Gallo-walked at the Olympic Trials Marathon in January 2012 and also failed to make it to the start line of Philly Marathon 2012, running that fast was somewhat daunting. I hadn't run a marathon in almost two years. However, my workouts and races over the past two months indicated that I was primed and ready to achieve my goals.

Sunday definitely wasn't perfect, but I still achieved a substantial PR, punched my second ticket to the Olympic Trials and earned $1000 for my efforts. I'm pretty damn happy!

The weekend unfolded on Friday with an early 6:00AM flight out to Houston and then Sacramento. The rest of the day was pretty uneventful. I didn't qualify for any other benefits besides an elite entry, so I spent almost $700 on the trip here including rental car, hotel, gas and food. This just provided me extra motivation to get the Trials standard and prove the coordinators wrong.

The rest of the day went like this: I drove to the Residence Inn in my bright red rental car, went for a solo five mile run along the river, picked up my race bib before walking to a delicious restaurant for whole wheat pasta. After eating at 4PM, I went to Safeway to get some food and decorated my water bottles before going to sleep at 6:30PM. During these hours by myself, I really wished that I had bought a ticket for Garrett to come out here with me. Meagan's flight landed around the time I was changing into my pajamas, so I didn't get to hang out with her until the next morning.

Meagan and I, along with Jeannette Faber and Brett Ely, jogged together on a beautiful Saturday morning. We all noted that this weather would be perfect for a marathon, knowing that the temperatures tomorrow would be about 20 degrees cooler. My legs felt absolutely great, and I knew that tomorrow at least one of my goals would be attained. The rest was the day was spent using as little energy as possible in the elite hospitality suite, my hotel room, or at a restaurant with Meagan and Brett. For lunch, we ate at a fabulous vegan restaurant, Plum Cafe, where I easily spent $40 on lunch and baked goods for post-marathon. Brett and her husband are vegan, so I was glad she was there to encourage us to go! Our group, with Jeannette, ate dinner again at a cute Italian restaurant that evening before we all headed back to our respective hotel rooms with our goals for tomorrow looming over our shoulders.

Dinner with Jeannette, Meagan and Brett
At 7:30PM, I went to bed and at 3:30AM, I woke up, got ready, and was waiting for a bus by 4:45AM with Brett, Matt, Drew, Jeannette and Meagan. There wasn't a dedicated elite bus, so this awesome guy escorted us in front of about 300 other runners, knocked on the door of an empty bus and kindly asked: "These are professional runners, may they load your bus now?" The bus driver responded: "Well, I'm a professional bus driver, so hop right on!" We all cracked up at that, and I was very appreciative since it was 24 degrees outside with a small headwind.
Waiting for the Bus - Brett's face got cut off :(
After 45 minutes on the bus, we arrived at the elite tent that was heated for about two minutes before the generator went out, taking the lights with it. For about 15 minutes, we had heat intermittently, until they finally figured out that they were given a generator without any gas. It was damn cold. We even put our shoes in our plastic gear bags because it helped a little bit. Once that was fixed, it was already time to start getting ready. Meagan and I jogged about five minutes together before we were told to leave the comfort of our warm tent. I did some strides, went to the start line and about thirty seconds later, had started the marathon that I'd prepared for over the last three months. There wasn't even a gun to signal the start. If there was, it was lost in the moment. My best friend Meagan was at my side and it felt like any other race we've run together.

The Start - Meagan is near the bottom left and I'm a couple of meters behind
The first six miles of the marathon were my favorite because Meagan was with me. We started out at 6:04 and 6:03 before the downhills got longer and longer, and our splits got faster and faster. It didn't feel hard and I willed myself to back off the pace, but at times it felt physically impossible given the downhill. Around mile 3, unbeknownst to me, there was a patch of black ice. My foot slipped, and my arm automatically wheeled up, smacked Meagan on the shoulder, all in the same instant that I shouted out "SHIT!" Miraculously, Meagan's sturdy shoulder saved my ass and probably my entire race altogether. (Side note--I read later that other runners behind me slipped and did indeed fall on this same patch of ice, so I am very lucky to have run away without a bruise). I didn't wear a Garmin, and my average pace through 6 miles was 5:57. If I wanted to run the A standard, I was on pace for it.

After the fifth mile, I could feel that Meagan was faltering. On the uphills, she fell back a little bit and her breathing was more labored. Around the 10k mark, she fell back and I telepathically willed her to stay with me, not just for her but also, selfishly, for me. I knew we would both run better together and not on our own. From that point forward, I just kept my eyes on the few people ahead of me and focused on what I came here to accomplish, solo or not.

Up until the halfway point, I continued traversing the rollercoaster course completely alone. The downhills got steeper and the uphills got longer. Not because I was imagining it, but because they actually were. I couldn't help but think that this course was tougher than most people are led to believe. Everything still felt easy, and my slowest mile had only been a 6:10 on one of the uphill miles. My stomach was fine, my fueling had been fantastic, and I felt strong. I came through the half in 1:18:20. Perfect.

But, I was still completely alone. And this took its toll on me.

One man in a white singlet passed me and I tried to keep him within sights. There were a couple of guys 50-100 meters ahead of me and I passed a few girls that had dropped from their pace. The next seven miles were spent battling my own mental thoughts. I calculated how much more time I had running (less than 80 minutes is really comforting actually when you're solo) and kept my eyes focused on the big picture--getting to the finish in one piece. I wished that Meagan or Brett or Laurie were with me, but they weren't so I had to be a big girl.

Get it done, just get it done.

This became my new mantra, and I wasn't even hurting yet. I passed a blind man and his escort and got a burst of motivation from both their presence but also their dedication. I told him, "You're amazing" and continued on my way. Around mile 18, I could sense that my legs were getting heavier, but my splits were still at 6:10 or below. We had turned directly into the wind, and at this point in the race, I didn't need anything from Mother Earth to make my quest to the finish any more difficult. Suddenly my entire face felt frozen and raw as the wind whipped relentlessly at me.
Mile 17 - Freezing
I continued to take all my fluids to provide me motivation. I stopped trying to get my elite bottles since they were so far away on the table and I had missed half of them at this point. Instead, I took the cups of water at the normal stations. At one station, I drank the water and my throat immediately burned, like someone had put chili powder in it as a sick joke, which I believed could be entirely possible. Immediately, I panicked. I thought for sure my throat was going to tighten up and that I was going to have an allergic reaction (even though I'm not allergic to anything). Instead, it was just that the water so damn cold that it burned my freezing cold, raw throat. After a minute, the burning sensation went away and I relaxed a little.

By mile 20, however, things began to unravel. I began to notice all the little things. The 10mph winds felt like 20mph. My face was numb from the cold. My left big toe was burning--I had a blister. My quads felt like bricks were tied to them.

The final 10k of a marathon is about how well you can push those very real, very bad feelings aside and dig just a little bit deeper and hurt just a little bit more.

In order to come to an agreement with the pain I was trying so hard to push away, I started to make negotiations with myself. I told myself to maintain 6:15s through the finish and that would still put me right under 2:40. I truly thought I could do it, until mile 23, when I began to hit 6:25s and a woman passed me. I tried to go with her, but she blasted by me, probably at 6:10 pace, which felt like a sprint. I was doing all that I could to put one leg in front of the other. The only solace I could find was that I had less than 20 minutes of running left and that I most likely was still going to PR.

Mile 21 - Closing my Eyes
By mile 25, the man in the white singlet was nowhere in sight. The odd part was that I wasn't the only one dying. I passed at least three men during these final miles, which was a pleasant reminder that I wasn't dying as bad as some. Even though I had hit the wall, I was still passing people.

My hotel finally came within sight and I knew that I had less than 5 minutes of running. I heard Jordan shout out for me and was slightly embarrassed for him to see firsthand how much I had died. I rounded the final turn into the finish and unceremoniously walked across the finish line, looking and feeling depleted. I tried to smile, but it was almost impossible because of the cold.
Walking over the Finish Line

I could barely smile
I spent the next five minutes blundering around the finish line area, desperately searching for Gatorade.  I was woozy and couldn't speak coherently and really just needed some damn sugar...and a warm bath.  I glanced back at the finish line and waited until 2:43 to see if Meagan or Brett would be there, but didn't see them come through.  Now I had to take care of myself.  Volunteers almost took me to medical, but I really just wanted Gatorade and somehow escaped them.  When no one could find any Gatorade, and only Coke, I asked for the Sutter House, where the elites got some special treatment. 

I found my way there, hobbled up 12 stairs, and basically fell into Meagan's arms in both relief and sadness. Despite a sore hip, Meagan gutted out 18 miles at 6:05 pace before making the smart decision to call it quits.  Despite this, Meagan put on the biggest smile for me, gave me the biggest hug ever and helped me as though I just was the most amazing person in the room.  I knew that Meagan was disappointed and I was so grateful for her warmth and generosity in that warm room.  Unfortunately for her, I didn't really offer any consolation on her race because I was too out of it, but she didn't care.  Now, that's a great friend. 

Jeannette finished in 6th place in 2:38:32 and also struggled desperately in that final 10k.  Jordan commented that everyone slowed down a lot over the last half, which is either indicative of the wind, or poor racing tactics.  I'll go with a combination of both.  We found out later that Brett had been on pace to OTQ at 24.5 miles, but her foot broke and she spent the rest of the afternoon in the ER. 

Until I settled into a warm bath, I didn't have enough energy to look through the flood of texts, phone calls and FaceBook posts that were filled to the brim with happiness for me.  I was humbled by all the support from my friends and family, who are all truly my teammates in this journey to the Olympic Trials.

As I let my legs submerge in the hot water, I thought about the ten different ways I could have executed the race to perhaps come out with a different result.  Then I realized that it didn't matter.

It may have been ugly, but I did it!  I qualified for another Olympic Trials.

And there will be many more marathons where I can run even faster.  Some day, I will achieve the goal that Garrett shouted out to me at the airport. 

But first I must savor these next couple of weeks in Kauai and Los Angeles.
Post Race Fun with Matt, Drew Jordan and Meagan (Photo Courtesy of Jeannette)


lucinda smith said...

big congrats, caitlin. you ran a tough race that final 10k and i have no doubt you have the A standard in you. i've been following your blog for a while and this is my first comment, but i just want you to know what an inspiration you've been. i can't remember how many times i read your TCM recap in preparation for my first 26.2 (at the twin cities). i admired then and admire now your persepctive and positivity. i mean, acknowleding how amazing and courageous that blind man was to run a marathon while you're running so hard with your own goals in mind... it gave me goose bumps. enjoy your much deserved break (and the warmer weather!) i'm sure you're going to be at a whole new level with your training when you get back after it.

maryanne said...

Lucinda captured the sentiments of many people who have followed your writing with such inspiration, Caitlin. The difference is that she took the time to tell you about the difference your writing, and more exactingly, your determination and example and ability to gut it out, makes to the rest of us runners. This may be the best effort you have ever given to both your running - and your writing. Thank you for sharing this. We are fired up to go hike one of these North Shore trails in your honor!

Jaymee said...

Congratulations! While I would have much rather been running CIM, an injury forced me into becoming a spectator, but I felt lucky to cheer everyone on as they raced their butts off. I saw you a couple of times on course, and I was so impressed. You are a very strong runner and will most certainly achieve that A standard soon! Great race.

Jenny Stern said...

Congratulations, Caitlin!! Great race, so happy for you.

marc pelerin said...

Way to go Caitlin! Your training and racing motivates me to get back out there and train hard again! Enjoy your break!

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