Just call me international marathon extraordinaire. Not only did I make it through my third marathon just seven days after I killed my legs on my second, but I set a new PR!
I arrived at Calgary airport and found myself going through a tunnel of people in cowboy hats clapping in cheering. Did I get drunk, black out, and forget that I already did the marathon? Was this the finish line? No, apparently it’s just standard procedure during the Calgary Stampede, a huge festival going on in town.
I got my rental car and headed directly to the race expo, because it closed at 5 PM and there were clear instructions that if you were not there by then, you forfeited your entry. Thank goodness I didn’t have any flight delays! Unfortunately, I got delayed when I discovered that I had Google Mapped directions to 9th SE rather than 9th SW. I ended up in a bad part of town with nothing resembling an expo around! Fortunately, I found someone to explain my mistake, and I blindly set off across the city to where I was supposed to be. It’s times like this that I’m really glad I’m good with directions.
I arrived at the Mewata Armory and managed to find free street parking – score! I headed into the Armory and found that the expo had been set up in kind of a maze formation – you entered and looped around past all the vendors. It was nice because you didn’t have to get confused by different aisles, wondering if you had been down that one yet, but I actually wasn’t happy with the fact that it made it really hard to meet people. I was counting on meeting someone at the expo to go to dinner with, but following the path meant that you were only near a few people the whole time. I did get into a conversation with the race director of the Royal Victoria Marathon, and it sounds like a great race! I later talked to many runners who had done it, and it came highly recommended. Maybe I’ll have to change my goal to be “50 states plus DC plus 10 provinces” :)
Sometime on the flight I realized I had forgotten to buy/pack Shot Blox and Sports Beans. I wasn’t too stressed, because I figured I’d buy them at the expo – but then they didn’t have them at the expo! All I found were Powerbar Gels and Sharkies. I heard from Viper that Sharkies were awesome, so I picked up a few packs of them, but there was no way I was going to test them out during the marathon – those were to bring home. At the Running Room booth, however, I got someone to give me a vague explanation for how to get to their full store, and I stopped over there after to find the exact products I needed. I was really proud of myself for navigating around Calgary without a map or even specific directions! For the Sports Beans, I decided to mix it up and get one lemon lime (my standard) and then one strawberry. The strawberry turned out to taste good, but made me thirstier than the lemon lime, so I don’t think I’d get them again. As for the Shot Blox, I’ve tried both black cherry and strawberry so far with good results, and this time I opted for cran razz. They were decent, but not as good as either strawberry or black cherry. I know it’s bad to experiment during a race, but I figure keeping the same product but trying new flavors is okay. I could choke it down even if it were disgusting, and none of the things I picked were :)
After figuring out how to get to the University of Calgary, where I was staying, and arriving around 3 PM, I figured I’d check into my room and drop my stuff, then head out and see what I could see in Calgary. But checking in behind me was another marathoner who was flying solo. Deveda and I quickly made friends, and we even got the front desk to put us in dorms that were next to each other. After getting our keys, we made plans to meet up to do a carbo loading dinner together. Perfect!
I got my stuff into my room (old school college dorm… not quite the same as my room at the Westin, but for $60/night I was thrilled), and logged onto the (expensive international) internet just long enough to ascertain that there really weren’t any sights to see that were open past 5 PM, except the Calgary Tower. Deveda didn’t really want to pay $20 just to go up it, and I was ambivalent. It would have been kind of cool, but I had just done the Space Needle last week and there’s only so much gazing out of a tall building you can do! We settled for walking around the downtown area and then hitting up an Italian restaurant, Chianti’s, for dinner. On our way out of the dorms, we met another runner, Catherine, and though she had already picked up food to eat at the dorm for dinner, we made plans to meet up in the morning and go to the start together.
Deveda and I had fun downtown, taking this priceless photo at some bar (we didn’t go there – just walked by and then stopped to take our picture). My boobs look awesome, though perhaps a bit bouncy to run a marathon!
Dinner was great – I got linguini with shrimp and clams (I’m never scared of seafood before I race, though maybe I should be), and ate two huge hot rolls with it. The drink menu was so tempting (blackberry margarita!!!) but I was good and avoided the alcohol.
After dinner, we stopped at a used bookstore where I found the perfect Calgary souvenir: a copy of The Looniness of the Long Distance Runner. I’ve only read a few pages of it so far, but basically it’s an autobiography of a guy from London who is in his 40s and completely unfit… but gets drunk and decides to run the NYC Marathon. The next morning, he justifies his decision with a few brilliant rationales, one of which I’ll transcribe here:
The marathon is the event where you get maximum appreciation for your efforts. Spectators all along the route clap and cheer the runners as they pass. And the worse you are, the greater the amount of applause you will get. The dodderer who comes home in six hours will get three times as much appreciation as the elite athlete who does it in just over two. I estimate I should get at least four hours of applause. Four hours! No West End actor racks up anything like that in curtain calls. The most sycophantic standing ovation at a party political conference never went on that long. Not even Josef Stalin at the 18th Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union was that feted by the delegates, even though they could validly be sent to the Gulag for stinting on their audible appreciation of the Great Leader.
The book (so far) is absolutely hilarious. He kind of reminds me of Vanilla and Viper in terms of sarcastic and witty writing style, so if you can get a copy, I’d highly recommend it. I’ll post more about it as I read.
So basically I got home, laid out my race paraphernalia, read a chapter of that book, and went to sleep. Or – tried to go to sleep. My room was not air conditioned, and I couldn’t for the life of me figure out how to get the windows open. I fell asleep after a bit, but woke up in the middle of the night absolutely dying of heat. Since I couldn’t figure out a way to cool the room down other than leaving the mini fridge open (okay, I confess, I actually tried it for a minute or two, but it didn’t seem to make any difference and I knew I was going to hell for wasting electricity/polluting the environment) I finally remedied this by heading down the hall to the bathroom, jumping into the freezing cold shower for a minute, and then going back to sleep. Cooling my body down seemed to work, and I slept blissfully until early morning.
My alarms (cell phone, computer) were set for 4:45 AM, but I was little panicky about them. The phone I had put on “standalone mode,” which I thought meant I could use the phone features without getting calls/being charged for roaming, but I wasn’t entirely sure. And my computer experienced some kind of meltdown on Saturday morning where the screen would randomly go blank and it would sometimes completely power off and I’d be unable to turn it on again until I unplugged it, removed the battery, and then held down the power key to “bring the charge to the front,” as the tech I spoke with on Saturday morning explained. It seemed totally random, though now I think I’ve figured out that it seems to be something with the power cord, as I seem to be able to use it okay on battery power. I was nervous I would oversleep, but Catherine was going to knock on my door when we were leaving at 5:30, and two women I had met down the hall were also going to give me a wakeup knock when they got up at 5. Fortunately, I woke up at 4:40 on my own (yay Sarah Bernhardt talent), and spent the morning stuffing my sports bra with tissues and other necessities. By way of explanation: my new running skirt didn’t have pockets (?!), and I didn’t have a fuel belt, so I went for the “lumpy bra” look by storing shot blox, two packets of sports beans, emergency money, chapstick, and a ton of tissues for my cold. I think I may get a fuel belt in the future, even though I think they look kind of dorky. Like the fanny pack my mom would wear when she chaperoned our fifth grade class trip to go whalewatching.
Catherine, Deveda, and I had a great drive to the race, learning a lot about each other. Deveda was from Edmonton and this was her 24th marathon, having done most of them in Canada or the Pacific Northwest. Catherine was from Indiana originally, but now lived in China where she worked as a pediatrician! Their stories were great, and I was once again reminded of how one of the best parts of doing a marathon is the fantastic and interesting people you get to meet. Waiting for the start, I met two more cool people – Terry and Darwin, who are Marathon Maniacs! When I saw their shirts, I immediately went over and introduced myself, and chatted about various races and people (they knew Jeff, whom I met last week in Seattle and who had recommended Calgary to me). I told them that Calgary was going to qualify me to join the Maniacs, and they extended a pre-race welcome :)
When it got close to race time, I headed for the start and discovered that there was no 4:00 pace bunny. Although there were two for 3:45, three for 2:00 half marathon (but they were following a run-walk plan), and two for 4:15, there had been only one 4:00 pace bunny scheduled, and some misfortune had befallen him so he was now in the hospital! Selfishly, I was more dismayed at the news that there was no 4:00 pace bunny than the fact that someone was in the hospital, but I do hope he’s okay.
I lined up somewhere between 3:45 and 4:15, and decided it would be the ultimate mental test to try to make my goal on my own without using a pacer as a crutch. My goal was honestly just to get a PR (faster than the 4:26 I did in Burlington), but I thought 4:15 would be a good target to hit, and so that was my reach goal. My plan had been to start with the 4:00 group and then slow down as necessary, so my new goal was just to stay somewhere between 3:45 and 4:15, using the 4:15 group as my straggler wagon – if they caught up to me, I needed to pick up the pace.
On my date last week, I discovered that the guy and I had the same favorite music artist in common: Rascal Flatts. I was thrilled because it’s so rare to find someone in the Northeast who even tolerates country, let alone enjoys it. However, during our conversation I discovered that I had really been missing out. I only have Rascal Flatts’ last few albums, but had never heard most of his early stuff. So for Calgary, I got all the albums and then made a playlist that was all Rascal Flatts (4.2 hours worth). Some favorite new inspirational lyrics:
“Sunday was/A day of rest/Now it’s one more day/For progress/And we can’t slow down/Cause more is left/It’s all an endless process.” From “Mayberry” on the Melt album.
“There’s that star/One they said we’d never reach/Just close your eyes/There’s the missing moon/There’s the Milky Way/Heaven straight ahead/We’ll be there today/Rainbows right and left/Sunshine everywhere/If we couldn’t be, baby, how did we get here?” From “Some Say” on the Rascal Flatts (self-titled) album.
“A deep breath/And baby steps/That’s how the whole thing starts/It’s a long slow beautiful dance/To the beat of your heart.” From “Long Slow Beautiful Dance” on the Rascal Flatts (self-titled) album.
“She’s making plans and making tracks/She says, “Whoa, I gotta go and find me”/She found the strength to break free/Like a painted wild mustang/Flying out across the open range/Finally gets to live her life that way/No fear, no fences, no body/No reins.” From “No Reins” on the Still Feels Good album.
A litte bit into the race, I discovered something confusing – the “mile markers” were actually kilometer markers, and there were no mile markers on the course! With no Garmin, I’d have some trouble figuring out my pace. However, it actually turned out to be kind of a blessing in disguise, as having to do all kinds of math kept my mind occupied :)
I had mentioned earlier this week that I was sick. Unfortunately, that did not get better. I was basically coughing up my lungs the first half of the race, and spitting disgusting phlegm onto the road every 1/2 mile or so. This subsided somewhat as the race went on, which I at first thought meant that running cures sickness, but I later realized that it only meant I was too parched to have phlegm in my throat to spit! The tissues I had stuffed into my bra (apparently I had regressed to being a thirteen year old) went very quickly, but as we ran through the zoo, I grabbed a huge handful of napkins from a concession stand. I spent half the race blowing my nose and then feeling guilty handing the used tissues to a volunteer or leaving them on the side of the road, because… ew. Unfortunately, I had nowhere else to put them, except maybe back in my shirt. I opted to infect everyone else.
So speaking of the zoo, I saw some bactrian camels! That’s cool scenery for a marathon. Other highlights of the first part of the course were running through the Stampede Fairgrounds. I’ve never been to a fair before, but it looked really fun. There were lots of rides and delicious-but-bad-for-you food everywhere, as well as crowds of spectators – probably the most we saw anywhere in the race (including the finish).
The first half of the race was pretty uneventful, and as the half-marathoners split off around mile 11 (I know it was giving the distances in kilometers, but I kept translating to miles), I found the energy to yell “great job half-marathoners… see you in a few hours!” It always makes me feel like a good person when I can encourage other runners… I just always hope it doesn’t come off as patronizing. According to the official results, my 10K split was 56:56, but this was the only split they did. According to my iPod, I did the first half in 2:02:34, which is totally great! I felt good and thought that maybe I could push it and come in at 4:00. Warning: thinking like this can be dangerous, because chances are your original goals were more realistic and you’re just setting yourself up for disappointment by changing them.
As we came into the second half, the sun started to come out (actually, right as I was listening to “Secret Smile,” with lyrics that go “you make the sun shine down/you take the darkest clouds and turn them into rainbows”). It wasn’t hot – it was just a pleasant sun that made the run actually really nice! We crossed a bridge that was beautiful and peaceful, and now that the half-marathoners were gone, we were a little spread out so it was almost like running by myself for a little bit. It reminded me of my Boston training run, actually, and it was just great.
Shortly after the bridge, I came to an aid station that was staffed by Team in Training people. I don’t really have the time to commit to doing Team in Training (plus, I’m not in the same city for long enough to meet with a group regularly), but I love seeing them at races – they always make great signs, have enthusiastic volunteers, and just make it a generally more positive experience. In Calgary, they declared it the “Vegas Aid Station,” and they were dressed up like all kinds of crazy over-the-top characters, from Elvis to… well, I didn’t recognize anyone else, but just fun costumes :) I grabbed the proffered water and continued on, as the road turned to an uneven gravel/torn-up asphalt. Marathon Guide had mentioned that the road was under construction, but I assumed it wouldn’t be an issue this year and that it was a one-time thing. Apparently not. The road started requiring all my concentration, which made the kilometers go by a bit faster. It was at this point that I started seeing some people heading the other direction – so apparently this was an out-and-back part and I’d be done soon! I wasted a few minutes trying to figure out how fast I was going based on how fast the winners could be going, but couldn’t do the math since I didn’t know how fast they were going or what distance they had covered so far. If I get a fuel belt, I may start carrying a calculator while I run so I can play around with numbers like this.
We then went through some woods on a path that was just wide enough for two runners to pass each other. Unfortunately for our feet, the city of Calgary ironically had paved this path, so we didn’t get a break from the pounding. How can they manage to pave a small path through the woods but they can’t repave their torn up streets? Confusing.
Once around the bend, I saw the 31k mark on the way back, and I was at 26k, so I knew the turnaround was in 2.5k. But wow, that was a long 2.5k! Around my 27k mark, I saw the 3:45 pace group coming back the other way, and I thought I was doing well since they were only ~3k ahead of me. However, when I circled back and hit the 31k mark, I discovered that the 4:15 pace group was only a few paces behind me. Damn it. I would not let them pass me. I picked up the pace as I headed back through the woods.
Unfortunately, around 32k… they passed me. It was a group of about 10 people, and they were doing the 10 minutes running/1 minute walking program. I tried to console myself that they only passed me b/c they were currently doing the running section (and in order to match my pace overall, since I was running the whole time, they would have to be running faster than me when they weren’t walking). Unfortunately, this logic turned out to be completely faulty, as I watched them take off into the distance. “What Hurts the Most” came on my iPod, and I found the lyrics very appropriate. “What hurts the most/Is being so close…And watching you walk away/And never knowing/What could have been.” I was determined to know “what could have been,” so I refused to allow myself to walk even though I wanted to break at that point.
Speaking of walk breaks, I was really proud of how I did mentally with those. In Burlington, I ran the whole thing and didn’t even walk through water stations. I honestly just found it easier – if I didn’t walk, it was something I was never allowed to do, and it made it harder to break my rule the first time. In Seattle, I walked up the first tough hill, and from them on it was really easy for me to just quit and walk when things got even a little tough. Marathons are so much mental strength, and I decided it would be the ultimate test to allow myself to take walk breaks – but disciplined ones. Like tempting myself with a treat that I couldn’t have. I walked through every water station, but just long enough to drink my water and take my shot blox/sports beans. I will admit that there were a few times when I milked my water drinking, but I forced myself not to allow that for more than a few seconds.
I was wearing a band that Amy and Tom from Runners’ Lounge sent and I got the day before the race, which read “I am a runner.” My standard mantra for races always used to be “walking is for quitters,” which I always felt guilty about using b/c I know walking is not quitting and that plenty of awesome people walk through races. Today, my mantra was, “I am a RUNNER. Not a walker.” It worked like a charm, because I really wanted to believe that I was a runner. Thanks, Amy and Tom!
The last few kilometers were tough. There was a girl in a cute purple top and white hat who looked like she might be in my age group (judging by the results, she wasn’t), and we had been trading back and forth the whole time. I vowed to finish ahead of her, but in the last 2k she pulled ahead of me and I soon lost her in the distance. I was tired, and starting to get annoyed that there were no mile markers – I wanted the psychological boost of knowing that I was at mile 24 or 25, and doing those calculations in my head but not actually seeing signs for them wasn’t quite as good. You’d think that seeing a 40k sign would have been just as good, if not better, but somehow it wasn’t.
“Life is a Highway” is what I had playing as I came into the finish, which was pretty perfect since mile 26.0-26.1 was an uphill on a ramp to go up over the highway. What a tough way to finish! The good thing was I was so close that there was NO way I was walking up that ramp. The bad thing was that I didn’t have the energy to sprint it in, though I did finish strong. They announced my name and that I was “all the way from New York, NY – the Big Apple!” I threw my arms into a huge victory V when I heard that, even though I was still 50 feet from the finish. When I crossed and the clock was still only at 4:15:30, I was just grinning from ear-to-ear and trying not to cry with joy because I was SO proud of myself. Two marathons in eight days, and I had set an all-time PR in the second one by about eleven minutes!!!
I headed off to the finish area where I found oreos, chocolate chip cookies, and oatmeal raisin cookies! Not quite as great as ice cream, but I’ve turned into a bit of a cookie monster lately so I was thrilled. I saw people with rice pudding that looked awesome, but unfortunately they were all out of that. I was surprised – I didn’t think my 4:15 time was slow enough for them to run out of stuff, and they were doing a good job keeping the marathon food separate from the half-marathon and 10K food. I guess people are fast! After grabbing a lot of water and my checked bag, I quickly limped the two blocks to my car so I could immediately head off to the airport (yes, still in my race clothes).
At the airport, check-in took forever, but I was just glad I hadn’t missed the strict 60 minute requirement for scanning your passport for international travel! I didn’t think I was that smelly (and surprisingly, I had gotten a lot of compliments on my race outfit, which I had originally worried was too obnoxiously bright and pink), but I hit up the bathroom to sponge-bathe myself with the wet wipes I had brought and change into some fresh clothes. I did keep my medal on though! I suppose it’s bragging, but hey, it was well-earned :)
Distance: 26.2 miles (or 42.something kilometers… I never did figure out what that last decimal was)
Overall place: 377/694
Age group place: 5/16