I finished 3rd this weekend at The Woodlands Marathon in 2:43:09– my quickest marathon turn-around yet, 13 days, and faster than Mercedes! It was also my 20th lifetime marathon and 3rd marathon of 2013. Since my foot is holding me back from running at max speed, I take that as a sign to… in the words of Chuck “Marathonjunkie” Engle… RUN MORE and LONGER! Sooo… I’m pursuing Doug Kurtis’s equivalent record of 12 sub-2:20 marathons (~sub 2:45:17 for a woman)– now have 10 more to go!
It was my second time down to The Woodlands, after running a solid 2:37:18 last year while in the best shape of my life. I had to go back to defend my title (this time with competition, which I welcomed)– plus, I love the people and community!
My arrival started off with a spark, as I was picked up by a spark plug, Mary Carter! What a riot and wonderful lady! She’s 50 and experiencing what she referred to as her “Second Childhood”. She loves arts and crafts and designed the most amazing pick-up sign ever- even has a race number with little pens. She has a sporty, red Mazda hatchback, decked out with a “RUN26M” license-awesome. I somehow got to telling her about how I used to race in Hooters shorts, but I lost them en route to Oklahoma. She felt bad about it and wanted to take me to Hooters to get new shorts. I thought she was kidding, but lo and behold we pull up to Hooters! Not only did she buy me the Smalls, but also the X-Smalls to make sure I got the right size, Lol! Then, her daughter works next door at the Fleet Feet, so we went over there to meet her!
That night, Adrienne, who took care of us last year and served as the elite coordinator this year (thank you Adrienne for your hard work!), took us to the Cheesecake Factory to meet up with Jenna Boren and her husband Chris. It was great to see them again, as we’ve been at several races together. Jenna was originally going to run the half and decided to switch to the full this week. I thought it was great cause it meant more bodies and competition. However, Mary Akor signed up as well 2 days before (they’d alerted me a few months before she’d contacted them but didn’t register). This was Mary’s 4th marathon for 2013, and she ran 26.2 for Donna 2 weeks ago! Suddenly having 3 very good marathoners made it a little trickier/possibly more tactical, since the money drops off significantly after 1st. I thought it would be a good test though to see how much I could push my body/foot. While I can “will” myself to do amazing things when I’m healthy/mostly healthy, I learned I’m more vulnerable when I’m not healthy! No fun having a mind that’s willing but a body that’s not!
The next day we had an amazing group lunch at Brio’s (mashed potatoes, chicken, and steamed veggies)– Adrienne, Rebecca and boyfriend Keith, and Adrienne’s Mom. Then I took a much needed nap and went to the Q&A session at the Expo, where I saw my friend Alex B. from Colorado!
The hotel we stayed at (Hilton Garden Inn, like last year), is absolutely amazing! Fresh-baked cookies, free Wifi, free gourmet cooked breakfast, friendly staff, always available coffee/tea… AND… a refrigerator and microwave in the room! I had collected leftovers and had a hodge podge of food for my pre-race dinner. Oh yeah, upon arriving, I received an awesome hospitality goodie box from the race- so much useful stuff… THANK YOU!
Got up at 5:15am on race morning and breakfast at my usual 90 min before (Powerbar Harvest Bar, banana, and coffee). Once again, much appreciated being able to use the hotel room restroom and being only 1K from the race start! Time kinda flew by (got a bit of a late start with my warmup)- before I knew it they were having us strip down to hand off bags and ushering us out to the race start (20 min before). It was pretty cold and windy too but not as bad as it is in Oklahoma. I was able to keep a shirt on while continuing my warmup, but didn’t get to do my full warmup or get my arm warmers.
I wouldn’t normally do this, after learning my lesson at Napa 2 yrs ago (bad idea to wear new/barely worn shoes in a marathon!), but I decided to wear my new Inov-8 Natural F-Lite 249s, which I’d only run in twice. They’re a hybrid of my 233 road shoes and 230 trail shoes (which I wore at Mercedes). They’re a women’s-specific shoe too with an anatomical fit and 6mm heel (which I like the best for marathoning). They felt so comfortable and smooth for walking, running, and doing strides… that I decided to take a chance this time. I have no regrets cause they felt amazing!
They changed the course this year, which meant 5-6 miles into the cold wind x 2 (since it’s a two loop course). They tried to minimize the number of turns, but the wind presented a situation where turns would have helped. I thought last year’s course was faster, with a few more turns and more protected by the trees. On the whole though, it’s definitely one of the faster courses I’ve run, which I highly recommend.
While I welcome competition, I welcome CLEAN competition. There was a rumor going around that someone doped with EPO. Unfortunately, very few races do blood testing for EPO, which also likely costs more than regular drug testing. I would honestly be willing to give my prize money towards drug testing/blood testing, if it means catching a longtime drug cheat, dishonestly taking money from clean, hard working athletes.
As expected, Mary took off hard, while I hung back the first few miles. We saw one of the little girls (of two sisters) who races long distances and was featured on TV recently. She was tiny- probably came up to my waist! Like most kids, she took off hard, and we soon passed her within a mile (pretty impressive though seeing a little girl going out in <6:30 for the first mile of an HM!).
I felt kinda rusty and sluggish the first few miles, and then my gait started to crank/open up and got in a groove. As always, I breath very heavy compared to those around, esp. in the wind (~scar tissue on my lungs from pneumonia in college), but I’ve learned to accept it. I started passing people and caught up to Mary. I run according to how I feel, so every time I felt like cranking the pace down, she’d speed up and [annoyingly] veer into me. I even tried to go wide around her a few times, and she’d move over and literally be up against my arm. She’d speed up too sometimes, but I run my own race, so I’d only catch back up when I felt like cranking it… and then she’d speed up/veer again as I was trying to go by. I’ve raced her many times before (she actually hasn’t beaten me since 2008), but unlike other times… she was racing slower and more tactically this time… not like I was catching her at mile 22 when she’s dying from going out in 1:16. We played the cat-and-mouse game at Cow Harbor 10K– I broke her after 5-10 surges and dropped the hammer the last 2K. However, the marathon is a much further “chess match”– have to stay mentally tough! She’s lucky this time I’m dinged up!
I felt great and fresh going through halfway (<1:20), feeling excited about the second half. I was thinking about racing how I did at Dallas White Rock, where I dropped the hammer on the two Africans going around the lake into the wind (10-20 miles). Then, maybe between 15-17 miles, I don’t know if I slowed down or she picked it up, but I started to fall back and felt “off”. My foot started feeling weak and sore like it did at Mercedes, with the nerve twinges down the medial side and going into the arch (like it suddenly couldn’t relax and felt stiff). My mind was willing, but my foot was not! It was extremely frustrating cause energy-wise and body wise… I felt good. Then, Jenna (maybe 100m back?) caught up to me around 18 mi.. I hoped my foot would shake itself out so I could start cranking it and push off properly again. I tried my best to hang in there and at least get under 2:45. Jenna had a sizeable gap, and then maybe the last 5K I realized I was gaining on her (while weaving around the HMers, which wasn’t as bad as last year). I had to concentrate really hard to push my weak foot to run a faster pace.
Overall, there wasn’t much of a time difference at the end between us 3 (2:41-43+). It was a good race experience– I needed to test myself/foot against competition. I feel like I’m making progress– at Mercedes it got weak around 12 mi and this time around 17. I felt better overall too, in terms of fitness, feeling rested (yeah, even after Mercedes!), and with energy. I felt about how I did bouncing back for NYC after the Pan American Games, although this time I felt like my energy level was better towards the end. I’m not ‘flowing’ effortlessly yet, but I’m getting there!
I did a relaxing 45 min. cooldown after the race (last long, hard effort before Two Oceans)– besides my peg foot, I had no soreness in my legs! It’s the best my legs have ever felt after a marathon! Even the past 2 days, my legs have not been near as sore as usual– this is a milestone for me, as I hope to some day pursue even more and greater endurance feats (as inspired by my Marathonguide.com teammates!).
Thank you to Adrienne, Mary C., Jon Walk (who’s Mr. Media/all-purpose guy and my ride back to the airport!), and Doug Storey (who took my shirt pre-race and was the elite coordinator last year), Race Director Willie F., and all the volunteers for the event! They worked hard and put a lot of thought into all the details. The Woodlands is a special place to visit and experience- was great to go back once again!
Now a month to go to my ultra debut, Two Oceans 56K! I feel like aerobically I’m in a good spot and need to sharpen up with some more speedwork. My foot is gradually tolerating more speedwork, being able to go faster and do more before it poops out. I’m thinking about looking into alternative treatments as well. Ironically, my friend Doug knows the foot doctor who discovered “Baxter’s Nerve“, which I think is my problem. I feel like I have my plantar fasciitis under control, but there’s still the ever-present pain and weird nerve sensations/weakness/loss of foot control.