On Friday, I started getting really excited about the race – but also kind of nervous about how little I had prepared. Since it was German-themed, I planned to run it in my German beer girl costume from last Halloween, but I honestly didn’t know how that would go over. Would it be comfortable to run in? Would I be unbearably hot? However, I didn’t have much time to dwell on it – I had a pretty busy work day on Friday, and soon enough it was time for packet pickup, dinner, and finally bed.
I didn’t sleep very well – there was a lot of prep I usually do the night before a marathon that I completely skipped for no good reason. For example, I had forgotten to bring Bodyglide/Aquaphor with me, but didn’t bother stopping to pick any up – leaving me to find a 24 hour drugstore in the morning to find some. I also didn’t lay out my race outfit, make sure my fuel belt was stocked, or even charge my Garmin. All of this made me wake up in the middle of the night and lie awake worrying. So dumb, so controllable, and yet – there I was sleepless.
When morning came, I had a cup of coffee along with my Powerbar, but it did almost nothing to wake me up. I ended up yawning continuously right up until the gun went off, to the amusement of my friend, who was doing his first half marathon and couldn’t believe I could be so low key about it. He was very nervous about his own 13.1, and kept telling me he couldn’t believe I was going out to run 26.2. At that point, I couldn’t really believe it either :)
We parked the car at the German club which had served as the packet pickup point in addition to the location of the post-race party, and I ducked into the bathroom to lube up with the Vaseline. For some strange reason, the bathroom lights weren’t working, and while women held the main door to the bathroom open to try to get some light in from the hallway, the stall was pretty much pitch black. Tricky to get a tight sports bra off and on when you can’t see! I ended up putting on more Vaseline than usual, just trying to make sure I didn’t miss spots, and emerged basically covered in the stuff. I also realized that I had accidentally bought a different kind than usual – this was Vaseline mixed with aloe lotion, so it blended into the skin more instead of providing a jelly layer of protection. I hoped it would work the same!
We hopped onto the schoolbus that would take us to the start, and were amused when our bus driver got lost getting there! Fortunately, our driver saw another race bus and decided to follow him, and we reached the park with no further incident. Meanwhile, I started getting pretty pumped up when I saw the sign at the park’s entrance. This was going to be such a fun themed race!
I hadn’t worn my costume to the start, but rather, packed it in my drop bag to put on over my running shorts and tank. While I had originally signed up for the race specifically because I was excited about the brats, beer, and fun theme, I was wondering how many people would actually be crazy enough to run a long distance race in the summer while dressed in costume. Sure enough, when I got to the start, I didn’t see a single other person who was dressed up. Yikes! Was I going to look like a complete idiot? Well, not that I wouldn’t even if there were others, but I didn’t want to be the only one! :)
Then I saw a group of friends from the 50 State Club and Marathon Maniacs. While I’ve done a few marathons this year (still sticking to my minimum of one a month that I set out in my Athleta goals), I’ve really lost touch with that crowd, and it was a little bit like coming home to see them all again. Being surrounded by friends also gave me the confidence to finally don my costume, which people found hilarious. A bunch of random strangers came up to ask to take a picture with me (ha), but soon some other costumed runners showed up too. One of them was a guy who basically had the Bavarian equivalent of a banana hammock, and after being asked by strangers to take pictures with them, I decided to ask him to do the same, along with another girl who was wearing a German dress. I was now really glad I had stuck with wearing my costume – it was going to make this race super fun!
My friend and I mostly kept to ourselves, since I didn’t want to drag him into the boisterous 50 state group when it seemed like he wanted to just be quiet and psych himself up. We had gotten to the race pretty early, as per the race director’s instructions to board the buses by 6:10am at the latest for the ten minute ride to the 7:30am start (I honestly thought that was pretty overkill, but I suppose better safe than sorry). Luckily, the time passed quickly, and it was soon time to line up for the start. Here we go!
We couldn’t really hear the race director’s announcements or the start of the race, but the field was small enough that we could see the runners at the front start running – and we soon followed. The race instructions had talked about a wave start, but as far as I could tell, everyone just followed each other. No complaints here though – I really love these small low-key races more than most of the megamarathons.
The course took us on a paved trail that was about 8 feet wide and wound through the woods – pretty! While the first few miles were pretty crowded, it wasn’t so packed that it was difficult to pass people if needed – just another reason why I love small races. While I was still somewhat sleepy, I felt good, buoyed by the energy of the costume and the start. I was happy that it was a fairly reasonable temperature at the start, and hoped it wouldn’t heat up too much as the day went on. I had no time goals for the day, no one to pace, and I was looking forward to just relaxing and having a bit of fun along the way :)
I got separated from my friend right after the first mile, but decided to go on ahead, since we hadn’t really made a plan to stay together anyway. Plus, the sooner I got done, the less time he’d have to stick around waiting for me! (Total trooper for doing that, by the way.) I put a good playlist on and just settled in for the long haul. I knew there would be a lot fewer people doing the full than the half, so I wanted to just take it easy so I’d have the energy to handle the second half. Earlier, I mistakenly thought that I had forgotten to bring my headphones (yup, another thing I stupidly didn’t check the night before the race), but now I was glad for them – people didn’t seem to be very talkative even on this first loop, and I knew the second loop would be even lonelier.
The first few miles were also surprisingly flat except for a few bumps, and I wondered when the hills were going to kick in. Reviews online indicated that this was a hilly course… but I’ve often found that other people’s definition of hilly is not necessarily the same as mine (that is to say, it goes both ways). I think what you think of the hills in a course depends a lot on your training (obviously), but also subjective things like how you’re feeling that day, whether you have a good song on while you’re ascending, etc. What you remember as a hilly course might have felt flat to me (if I was having a great day), or what you remember as a flat course might have felt like Everest to me (if I was having a sucky day).
At mile 3, we hit a pretty good hill, but it was over almost as fast as it started, not even long enough to make me take a walk break to scale it. The next few miles had two or three more hills of a similar nature – long enough to be a challenge, but short enough to reach the top in less than a minute. Nonetheless, I took plenty of walk breaks on them, which allowed me to revel in the saved energy I was able to put to use with a glorious downhill sprint on the other side. Compared to people around me who seemed fairly steady in their pacing up or down, I think I came out about even. That’s my hill strategy and I’m sticking to it!
In the midst of all these hills, I kept checking where the mile markers were in the direction I was going vs the return direction (e.g., shortly after passing mile 3, I’d pass mile 10, because the course was a lollipop design). Math on the run always helps the time pass faster for me, so I busily tried to calculate where the turnaround was. I also thought a lot about how a two-loop lollipop course is actually not a bad design for a marathon, since it breaks the long race up into segments of just 6.5 miles each, which is totally doable. “Halfway to the halfway point of the half marathon!” is what I kept thinking around mile 3… and while that sounds lame, it actually worked to keep me motivated.
At mile 6, we emerged out of the woods onto a grassy field, and there seemed to be quite a snakelike pattern going on. We headed up the left side (paved), down the center (grass), and then back up the right side (grass) before taking a right to go somewhere else entirely. I really liked getting to see quite a few runners ahead of me; I really disliked having to run on the grass, since there seemed to be sand underneath and it was a bit tougher than running on pavement (though of course infinitely better for my feet/knees). Fortunately, that section was short.
Not-so-fortunately, the right turn took us up into the woods and onto a narrow and rocky trail. I later read the course description more closely and learned that this is called “Mount Cuckoo” – which, had I bothered to read that beforehand, would have tipped me off. It wasn’t incredibly difficult, but it was certainly more of a challenge than the gentle rolling pavement we were on earlier, and I had to pay pretty close attention to my footing to avoid rolling an ankle (particularly when we descended “Mount Cuckoo” and were going faster).
As we came out of the woods, a volunteer handed me a gel (thanks!), and I soon saw a marker indicating that we were already at mile 8. We were somehow back on the original paved path we had taken to get out to Mount Cuckoo (not quite sure how that looped around without crossing), and were now on familiar territory. Just 5 miles back to the start, and then I’d head out for one more loop before finishing. Furthermore, while it was getting warm, my costume wasn’t nearly as hot as I had worried about it being. This all seemed totally manageable!
The last few miles back to the start went by quickly, perhaps because I now knew where I was going. By mile 10, I started seeing the frontrunners in the full marathon heading back out, and I cheered them on, taking special care to note the female frontrunners so I could give them extra cheers. This was not a course with almost any spectators, but I always like to call out the first few women because it seems like their lead gets lost/ignored when there are a bunch of men ahead of them. I loved that there were 5 miles that were straight out and back, because it meant that I was getting to see runners both 10 miles ahead of me and 10 miles behind me – or basically the entire field.
As I neared the half marathon finish, I noticed that none of the runners heading back out to do the full marathon were wearing costumes (well, except two guys who had on normal running clothes but had added suspenders). This meant a few different things: first, that I was absolutely crazy to be running a full marathon in the summer in a costume (noted); and second, that I might have a shot at winning the “Fastest Lederhosen” award. (Because if I can’t win a race award by being fast, obviously the next best thing is to win one by being a mediocre runner who is unashamed to look stupid!) Sure enough, I got to the turnaround and spectators looked rather confused by the fact that I was heading out for another lap instead of finishing, like all the other girls in dirndls. I had this in the bag!
But just when I started feeling confident, I also started getting uncomfortable. My costume was a lot tighter around my waist than it was when I wore it for Halloween last year (I could try to blame the extra girth of the sports bra and tank top I was wearing underneath, but let’s be honest, it’s more like the extra girth of the beers I’ve drank and fries I’ve eaten), and in addition to being constricting, the fabric was not exactly wicking material made for running. Only thirteen miles still to go, but they were going to be hot ones, and I knew my pace would slow. I had reached the halfway point in about 2:02, and I had gone into the race expecting to run about a 4:30 – negative splits were coming.
I pushed that out of my mind, though, and focused on cheering for all the runners I passed headed in the opposite direction to the finish line. There is nothing like cheering other people on to give you a big energy boost yourself, and the more people I said “great job!” too, the better I felt. Once I got into the rhythm of it, it became an automatic reaction to say something positive to every runner – to the point where two other full marathoners near me asked if I was the race director! Ha. (But if I did ever organize a marathon, you can bet it would be beer-themed just like this one.)
The “little” rolling hills were not so little this time around, and I started walking up them much earlier than I had on the last lap. I also wasn’t so quick to run even once I crested the hill, often taking 20-30 seconds to catch my breath fromthe incline before getting back to running. I tried to push myself by reminding myself that the faster I ran, the faster I’d be done (and therefore the faster I’d get out of the steadily-increasing heat), but sometimes that was easier said than done. Again, though, it was nice to be able to break the race up into four 3.5 mile chunks – halfway to the turnaround, at the turnaround, halfway back to the finish, and then getting to the finish. 3.5 miles at a time felt very doable, even with the heat.
When I reached the aid station at that “halfway to the turnaround” point, I stopped for a bit to snag an Oreo. I loved that this race was organized like an ultra, with random food at the aid stations instead of just gels! I personally don’t believe that gels really do much special for your energy that 100 calories of another food wouldn’t do just as well (though perhaps in a less portable manner). I’ve never gone quite as far as my friend Baker, who makes elaborate “race burritos” to eat on the run, but I definitely welcome cookies on the course when they’re available :)
Just after that pitstop, though, I got passed by a girl in a dirndl. She was incredibly friendly, introducing herself as she went by – but was also incredibly speedy and I was pretty sure I wouldn’t be able catch back up. So much for winning Fastest Lederhosen! My goal now shifted to just finishing the race in a “reasonable” amount of time, with “reasonable” defined for me as 4:30. That was basically allowing an extra half hour from my time in the first half, and I also figured that would be a time that I wouldn’t be embarrassed by later. (Generally when I’ve run slower than 4:30, it’s been more for laziness and lack of trying on my part than anything else.)
At mile 6, I once again came back to the open park area where the course looped back and forth in a zig zag for a bit. This time through, though, it was noticeably different – no long lines of runners headed across the field like ants on a log, but rather, a runner here and a runner there. The ranks had certainly thinned once the half marathoners finished! I guess I got a little too caught up in looking at the field and noticing this, though, because the next thing I knew, I tripped and was flying down onto the pavement.
Seriously? An uneven and rocky trail section lay just ahead and I tripped on the perfectly smooth pavement? (Okay, maybe not so smooth – that hurt when I scraped my hands and knees on it!) I was stunned when I first went down, yelling out as I did so. After falling, I lay there for a few seconds, just wishing I had someone to come rushing over and make me feel better – and then I realized what a wuss I was being. Seriously, Laura? You scraped your knee – man up and keep going! I then saw an elderly couple a few hundred feet away, turning back to come help me – geez, talk about selfish on my part! I quickly scrambled to my feet and yelled out to them that I was fine – and when I resumed running, I found that I was, in fact, just fine. Perhaps a little shaken, perhaps a little teary, but my hands weren’t cut up at all and my knee seemed to just have a minor scrape. I blinked my tears away quickly and continued across the grassy field – no way was this course getting the best of me.
Oddly enough, the pavement fall made me less scared of the rocky section than I had been the first time. I cruised through it fairly quickly (okay, I didn’t run quickly, but the time passed quickly for me) and was soon back out on the pavement for the final 5 miles. Looking at my watch, I discovered that I was doing better than I thought – if I could keep a steady pace, I might actually finish in 4:20! Not too shabby.
However, those last 5 miles felt much tougher this time around than the last time. I walked a lot more on the uphills, and my recovery on the downhills was even slower than before. I reminded myself that every few seconds now would be something I’d regret once I was done and had my time, but I still couldn’t quite get myself to stop walking. It was hot and I was sweaty! I didn’t have the mental boost of getting to pass people anymore – the back of the packers were well past where I was, and everyone that was left was going around the same pace. Unless I started going faster to pass other people (or so slow that they started passing me), I was alone till the end of the race.
So – I started picking it up after the last big hill just after mile 23. Knowing that I could finish in 4:20 if I hurried became pretty good motivation, since the difference between a 10 minute pace and an 11 minute pace would mean a “round” finish time or a weird 4:23/4:24. Furthermore, I knew that it was almost completely flat, with no more big hills till the finish, so there was really no reason at all for me to “give up” and walk. 4:20, here I come!
As I wrapped up the last few miles, I thought about how nice it was that I got to do the same thing twice. I know I talked about how it broke the race up into nice chunks, but I also appreciated knowing the course well enough to encourage myself to go faster. Sometimes, at the end of the race, you come to a hill and you don’t know what’s on the other side, so you stop to walk – and then you see that it wasn’t that long and there was a big downhill on the other side, so running for that measly 30 seconds wouldn’t have been bad at all. (I suppose this is why most people study the course map before they run a marathon – I have only myself to blame for that.) AS I entered the final mile of the race, I reveled in the fact that it was purely flat to the finish, and I just kept peering around the twists and turns, hoping to see the big trestle on the right that meant the finish line was only a few hundred yards away. Come on, bridge!
And then I burst out of the woods and into – well, not a sea of spectators, but a lot more than I expected given how small the marathon was. It seemed that quite a few people had stuck around, which was really appreciated! I put a little extra hustle into my finish, and just like that, it was done – 4:20:03 by my Garmin. Woo hoo!
Then it was onto the post-race party for beer and brats. No better recovery food than that!
The award ceremony was supposed to be at 1pm, but was delayed indefinitely, so rather than sticking around, we headed out… and then it was only later that I found out I I didn’t need that “Fastest Lederhosen” medal after all. I had actually won second in my age group, all on my own merits! (Thank goodness for small marathons, though my age group did have 7 women, so I didn’t entirely win by default.)
And with that, my June marathon was complete. I know I made the heat worse for myself by wearing a costume, but I am truly dreading whatever’s coming for July and August, whose races I still haven’t yet picked. What’s your vote for July – San Francisco Marathon? Around the Lake Marathon/Ultra in Massachusetts? Something else entirely? I’m all ears!
Distance: 26.2 miles
Overall place: 62/142
Gender place: 11/48
Age group place: 2/7