Here I go again on my own,
Looking down the only road I’ve ever known
Like a drifter I was born to walk alone
But I’ve made up my mind
I’m not wasting no more time
And with Whitesnake singing background in a very apropos song (especially fortuitous since it was just what happened to play when I hit shuffle on my Droid holding more than 2000 songs), I began the Bermuda Marathon.
Going into the race, I was terrified. To steal a page from my friend Adam, my goals for the race were as follows:
A-level: Finish the marathon under 5:00
B-level: Finish the marathon, period
C-level: Finish the half marathon and don’t get injured
I really, really, really did not foresee finishing any faster than that. As I posted last night, I figured I would do the first half somewhere between 2:00 and 2:10 (depending how tough the hills turned out to be), and I knew from past experience (when I did the Staten Island Half Marathon with an injury but just wanted to complete it so I would finish the five borough half marathon chellenge) that walking a half marathon would, at best, net me 3:00. Add the two together, and I’d get a finish time of, at best, 5:00. So I genuinely thought that finishing sub-5 was a pipe dream, given how I hadn’t trained for this race at all.
To recap my long-distance training:
-Last full marathon completed in March. No runs longer than a half marathon since then.
-Last half marathon completed in November. No runs longer than 7 miles since then.
So what on earth was I doing attempting a marathon??? I didn’t know – I thought I really had no business doing so. Mind over matter, I suppose.
The race started out easily enough, and in a fairly low key way. After waiting in the ferry terminal next to the start (surprisingly nice pre-race accommodations: plenty of seats, shielded from the elements, and literally right next to the start – kudos, organizers!), I headed to the starting line at 7:50am, and took some pictures with my friends.
Before I could post them on Twitter, though, we heard the announcer mumble something into the mic as if he were getting ready to start the announcements. “Um, so, runners…” I started making sure my Garmin was set and getting the Cardiotrainer app loaded on my phone, but ten seconds later, he yelled, “Go!” No National Anthem? (I suppose not in a foreign country that bills their race as an “international marathon.”) But no pre-race welcome or announcements? Surprising, but I actually liked it – it meant that the race started right on time (big pet peeve of mine is when races start late).
We took off down Front Street – a nice flat jaunt (for now). At the one mile mark, we came to our first hill – a little baby one that wasn’t too steep and probably took only a minute from bottom to top. It felt good to get my heart rate up a little bit, and we were rewarded by an equivalent downhill on the other side. So far, totally fair.
Turning left, the road flattened out, and we ran by all kinds of pretty houses. I was rewarded for my nice pace by a group of runners doing the half marathon who exclaimed that they couldn’t believe I was a full marathoner running at their same pace. “For now!” I pointed out, and we all had a laugh. While usually this kind of comment wouldn’t come up, there were so many more half marathoners than full marathoners that I think it was just the novelty of my pink bib that made them comment. (Side note: anyone else think it’s funny that full marathoners got girly pink bibs, while half marathoners had a more hardcore neon yellow? I’m a pink lover, so I was thrilled… but still surprised).
For the next few miles, the road had some little ups and downs – nothing significant at all, and so minor that it was almost masked by the twists and turns in the winding road we followed. The one straightaway came when we headed through this gorgeous arbor of trees that provided a complete canopy of shade as we ran through (though the clouds were covering the sun pretty well at this point, so that wasn’t a huge factor). I wanted to take a picture of this gorgeous archway of greenery, but decided that since I was running now, I’d wait to stop and take a photo until the second half, when I’d likely be walking the whole thing. After all, double loop course means two photo opps for every cool sight!
At mile 4, we hit the first significant hill. I would compare it to running the main Harlem Hill on a counterclockwise loop of Central Park – certainly a challenge, but very possible to finish it without having to take a walk break. I pushed myself hard to make it to the top at a decent clip, reminding myself that I could walk it the second time around – and was rewarded for my trouble with a pretty speedy 9:11 pace for that particular mile (vs 8:30s for the previous three). As a further reward, we had a quarter mile or so flat section once we reached the top… and then a long, glorious downhill with stunning ocean views as the sun began to peek out from amongst the clouds. Woo hoo!
The next few miles had us running along the western edge of beautiful Harrington Sound – and again, I had to remind myself that there would be plenty of time for picture taking on the second lap. At mile 5, I was starting to feel just the tiniest bit tired, and I decided to take a gel there and then every 5 miles afterward, for a total of four gels (compared to my usual strategy of three gels: one at mile 6, one around mile 12/13, and one around mile 18/19). I was glad I did – the Gu Roctane (aka with caffeine) I picked served to pep me up without having to worry about the occasional GI issues that coffee can give me (what can I expect; it’s a known laxative). Washed down with some Gatorade, it was a pretty darn delicious treat – and I felt the sugar kick in quickly.
After the hill at mile 4, my pace never quite recovered to the 8:30s I was running beforehand; my times were now in the high 8:50s and low 9:00s. Fortunately, we weren’t hitting any real hills to worry about – just some tiny little ups and downs that I enjoyed, since they gave my muscles a chance to work harder on the uphills and then relax and speed up on the downhills. One of these baby hills brought us to Turtle’s Head – and I chuckled to think that a few weeks ago, this location was all I knew of Bermuda. Was anyone else a big Bobbsey Twin fan as a kid, and remember how they went to Bermuda and then Flossie took a tumble into the water while they were looking for “Slippery Sam” in a glass bottomed boat? Alternately, anyone else think it’s a bit pathetic that I can remember the plotlines of my 1st grade books (early reader here) verbatim? Too bad I can remember that better than I can remember discussions in business meetings less than a week ago :-/
Continuing west on the north side of the island, we started to hit some more rollers (again, none of which were terribly problematic) and a strong ocean breeze – which cooled me down nicely but also made my pace drop just a few more seconds per mile. Fortunately, I was soon to be pepped up: a DJ had set up shop at a roundabout around mile 8.5, and I excitedly switched from a jog to a dance for a few paces, getting totally jazzed up by the music and the crowd in the area. My pace picked up significantly for about a quarter mile, and it was just the boost I needed to push through to mile 9.
On the north side of the island, there were a lot of families sitting on their lawns and porches to watch the race – but only one who seemed to be making a tailgating party out of it. As I ran by and saw their beers and cocktails, I called out to them to save a drink for me on the next lap. Though they assured me they would, I’ve done this in enough races (Hartford, New Jersey) to know that spectators often think I’m joking about this request. To be clear: I never joke about beer. And especially not when I am running and thirsty and in need of motivation.
The last 5K of the first half had a ton of little rollers – not any bigger than those I had been dealing with before, but now in quicker succession. It was rare to be on a flat surface – we were always going either a little bit up or a little bit down. Looking around, I didn’t spy any other marathoners, so I decided to rally the half marathoners around me and encourage them by pointing out that they if they could stay on pace, they could hit a sub-2:00 finish (which is often a big goal). Almost everyone had those obnoxious headphones on where they couldn’t hear what I was saying (seriously, when can races start banning all headphones except safe ones like AirDrives? If you can’t hear another runner talking to you, your headphones are dangerous and stupid), but I did manage to encourage one woman about my age, who was running sans-Garmin and was pleasantly surprised to hear that she could break 2 hours… but also said she didn’t think she could keep the pace. As we came to a hill, I surged past her as she slowed to a walk, and I didn’t see her again until the out-and-back near the half marathon finish, where I estimated that she was about 2 minutes behind. But still running! Good for her.
As we came back into the town of Hamilton, my pace picked up just a bit so that I was back to 8:50s. Halfway point, coming up! The course had us turn off to do an annoying little out-and-back when we were about three blocks from the finish line – which also happened to be on a very slight uphill. On the one hand, it was nice to get a chance to see who all was going to finish just before and after you. On the other hand, I hated that we had to turn for a random out-and-back when we were so close… it seemed like they could have designed the course a bit better and put the out-and-back somewhere else in the race (which was only about a tenth of a mile long anyway). No matter – the finish line was coming up, and now I got to cheer on the half marathoners and see their victory sprints as I hit the left side of the road to continue on for on more loop. Looking at my watch as I passed the half marathon finish line, I saw it click over to 2:00:00 just as I passed – a time I was pretty proud of. Right on target so far!
As I kept running, I definitely felt fatigued… but I by no means felt dead and like I would have to walk the whole rest of the way. I decided to run at least as far as that first hill at mile 1 (now mile 14.1), when I could take a walk break heading up it. This goes to my overall pacing strategy – if you want a walk break but know that there is a hill coming up, make yourself hold out for the uphill (when you will probably want to take a walk break anyway). Plus, if the uphill is followed by a downhill, it’s the perfect time to transition back to running and feel like it’s not that hard!
At the foot of the hill, though, was an older gentleman who I at first thought was a spectator. He called out to me, “you’re 51st right now!” How cool, I thought, he must have counted everyone coming around a second time so that he could tell each person their place! But later, at the farthest point of the loop, a woman was making note of each runner’s bib number on her clipboard (to prevent cheating/course-cutting) and calling out their place, so I realized that the first guy must have been doing the same thing and I had just missed the clipboard. Neat feature though, to know exactly where you stood in such a small race! I’m sure that someday we’ll have some cool GPS feature on all our smartphones that will tell you what place you’re in and how far ahead the next person in your category is… but for now, this was a neat way to see where you were. As a result, I only walked half the hill – and then got back to jogging so that I could attempt to overtake the woman ahead of me. Top 50, here I come!
At the top of the hill, I started feeling some sprinkles hit my arms, and I immediately looked up at the sky. Was this going to be the start of a torrential downpour like we had seen yesterday? The sun was still shining, so I hoped it would just be a light and refreshing sun shower, but a few dark clouds loomed on the horizon, so I wasn’t sure. Luckily, the rain stopped after just a few minutes, never to return for the entire rest of my stay in Bermuda (i.e., 5 hours). Instead, the sun decided to come out and play – making for some gorgeous photos, some tan lines, and a bit of squinting, since the poor forecast made me decide to skip my sunglasses. Fortunately, it wasn’t too bright, so that omission was just a minor inconvenience.
When I came back to that tunnel of greens that had me so enamored on the first loop, I considered stopping for a picture, but decided to keep running. I was surprised that I had been able to continue running for this long, and I didn’t want a picture stop to get me out of my rhythm and cause me to lose what I currently had going. Sorry, pretty tree tunnel – I’ll have to come back and photograph you next year.
While I had been able to pass competitor #50 back on the downhill of that first mile hill, I had been trailing #49 for quite some time. The twists and turns in the road made it very hard to keep track of her, but whenever I caught a glimpse of her, she was pretty far ahead of me and keeping a good pace. I’m usually pretty good at maintaining pace through the later miles (when most people start slowing down), but I had no idea how I would do today – I expected to peter out and slow down myself. In fact, at mile 15, I was already getting a bit tired – this was the longest distance I had run in about 8 months! But the habits of dozens of marathons die hard, and while my feet were starting to hurt, something in my brain was conditioned to remind me that “15 miles is only 11 from the finish, and 11 miles is not that far.” Never mind that even a straight up 11 mile run would be my longest run in two months; somehow, that idea made me feel better, and like I was going to conquer this. And in the short term, I decided I was going to give myself a break and walk that big hill at mile 16 (previously mile 4).
Walking the hill allowed me to catch my breath while still maintaining a pace not too much slower than what I would have been able to run – so I think it was a smart decision. And at the very top, I did as promised and snapped a quick picture of the lush green and pretty steeple in the distance.
Now, for the pleasant downhill and my first second loop glance at the ocean. Despite having just stopped at a water stop and taken another gel, I paused for a quick picture here too, which doesn’t even begin to do the scenic views justice.
Spurred by my gel and Gatorade, I continued on – now starting to gain confidence in my abilities. For miles 19 and 20, I ran a 9:55 and 9:45 pace, respectively – a far cry from the 14 minute pace I had anticipated for the entire second half. Perhaps I had set my sights low – maybe it was time to aim for a 4:30 finish? With 6 miles to go and a current time of 3:10, it was certainly possible, even with plenty of slowdown in there.
To keep the pace, I focused on little milestones: how many miles until the dance break that had been at mile 8.5 on the first loop? How many miles till the tailgating party where I hoped there would be a drink waiting for me? How many miles till I had only 5K to go, at which point I’d switch over to my “power songs” playlist instead of the randomness I had been playing to this point? Fortunately, the answer to each of those questions was, not that much further.
First up was the mile 21.5 dance break – and I rocked out to the calypso (yeah, I don’t know why that was the music of choice either) songs as best as I could. Sure, my arms were pretty tired at this point (because every part of my body was tired), but a little bit of waving my arms to the beat brought a smile to my face and some renewed energy to my step – definitely worth it. Next, I looked for the tailgating party just a half mile further. Here, however, I was not so handsomely rewarded.
As I suspected, the tailgate party had been shocked that I actually wanted a drink, and they headed for their cooler to grab me a light beer. No thanks! I had my eye on the array of what appeared to be Dark and Stormies (rum + ginger beer), known to be the signature drink of the Bahamas. I asked, “how about that?”, pointing to a glass, and one guy said, “YEAH!” while another woman cautioned, “um, it’s pretty strong. It’s…” But before she could finish her sentence, I had taken a sip. “Vodka and beef consomme.” Um, seriously?? How is that possibly an actual drink and not just a way that alcoholics spike their lunches? Gross. I laughed it off gamely, but as I backed away from the picnic table to continue running, my headphone cord got tangled in one of the cracks in the picnic table, and I nearly pulled the entire table down with me. Oops! No harm done to the table (or more importantly, the drinks!), but when I got back on the road, I discovered that my headphones were no longer working. So much for my plan to make my next milestone the time for power songs!
The sun was beginning to heat things up, and the wind was getting stronger, to the point where it was definitely hindering my pace. Come on, wind, back off! Lacking music to motivate me, I focused on my watch, the road in front of me, and a new incredibly aggressive goal: 4:15. I consider anything under 4:15 to be a very successful and fast marathon for me, and it would be a huge coup if I were able to achieve it – and right now, I was on pace to do so. Go, Laura, go!
As I continued on at about a 9:50 pace, I started spying runners in the distance. Look out, #48 and #47, I’m a-coming for you! I tried to encourage each person as I passed them, but I was running low on energy myself, so my “good job, keep it up” was more of an under my breath huff than anything else. Most people seemed to be giving it their best already and just didn’t have the energy to push it more – not a situation where cheering can really make a big difference. Meanwhile, the mini rollers were starting to get to me, and I found myself gritting my teeth on the uphills and baring my teeth at volunteers (my attempt at a smile, which I had been keeping up pretty well until this point). Mile 24 was my worst of the race, clocking in at 10:42 as I took an extended walk break out of frustration at missing my music. Bad Laura!
But I brought that back down to 10:17 for the next mile, and at last, mile 25 was upon me. One mile and change to go! I looked at my watch as I passed the 25 mile marker, and saw that I was clocking in at 3:51 – so if I did an even 10:00 pace for the rest, I’d finish in 4:13. I made 4:12 my new reach goal – requiring a 9:30 pace for the next two miles. And then I ran.
Forget 10:00, and forget 9:30… I brought the next mile’s pace down to 9:10, and passed runner #46 and #45 along the way. I was now in 45th place, and had moved up six slots since beginning the second loop! I was so proud of myself, especially since my initial plan had been to do the first loop fast and then let everyone pass me as I slowed to a walk in the second half. But no rest for the weary – I had just about 10 minutes left in the race, and I was determined to push it from there. Could I maybe hit 4:11 instead of 4:12? Very possibly. WOW.
For the final full mile, I was in my glorious spot – running strong and sure past the Fairmont Hamilton and getting cheered on by half marathoners walking back along the course to their hotels and homes. I turned into that yucky out-and-back, seeing a few people ahead of me on the “back” section that I knew I had no hope of catching – but now I was racing not against them, but against the clock and myself. Final full mile: 8:57. That’s right, I’m back with a vengeance!
I didn’t quite have the energy to sprint down the finish chute (grr, now I wish I had tried harder), but I finished looking damn good – waering my gorgeous new Athleta outfit and with my shoulder pulled back and my legs long. No end-of-the-race shuffle for me! I was grinning from ear to ear as I crossed the finish line with 4:12:30 on the clock, and when I looked down at my watch to confirm it after crossing the finish line, I let out a little yip of excitment. Once again, I had far exceeded my expectations of what I was capable of doing. Hooray!!!
After getting my finish photo (how awesome is it that the medal ribbon matched the turquoise color in my shirt??? Yes, I think about these things), some oranges, and water, I took stock. How was I feeling? Answer: on top of the world! My legs weren’t any sore than they used to get after finishing a race (back when I was doing marathons regularly), and when I took my sneakers/socks off, I was also shocked to find I didn’t have a single blister. Score! Despite not having a ton of time to clean up in my condo before catching my cab to the airport, I was able to squeeze in a little “Born This Way” solo dance party in between my shower and packing. Dancing after a marathon? Um, what other way is there to celebrate??
Of course, there is a downside to the realization that I made a pretty successful marathon comeback today with basically no training. If I could do this well without training, what am I capable of when I really buckle down and prep? I have said that I want to set a new PR in a race this year, but perhaps it’s time to upgrade that from “PR in a race” to “PR in the marathon,” or break 3:49. Seeing that I was able to hit 4:11 without training, I think it’s definitely attainable… but it’s scary to think of all the hard work that has to go into reaching my true potential. Time for me to man up and stop wussing out – I was built for long distance, and it’s time for me to conquer!
Distance: 26.2 miles
Overall place: 46/??
Gender place: 16/51
Age group place: 6/24