Tuesday, January 15, 2008

RNR ~ the unabridged version

After a couple days of letting things sink in, I figure I’m finally ready for a race report. I was hoping for enough time to let the emotion of race day pass, and for me to get my head on straight and regain some focus. So tonight, in my North Carolina hotel room ~ following a couple glasses of wine and way too much Thai food ~ I figure there is no better time than the present.

Yes ~ I finished the RNR Half Marathon on Sunday.

Yes ~ I shaved about 2 minutes off my first HM from November.

I think at one time, that would have been the end of my post and I would have been ecstatic about the mere thought of finishing a half marathon. Problem is ~ I learned on Sunday ~ during the long 13.1 miles ~ that my perspective on running, and my perspective of myself as a runner ~ has drastically changed.

The weekend leading up to RNR was nothing other than FANTASTIC. I got to meet and hangout with an amazing group of runners ~ Marcy, Lori, Mendy, David ~ and of course, Lisa. I am hoping that by the time I post this, there will be pictures for me to steal from their blogs :P since I was the only one that forgot a camera all weekend long! Although he’s a little camera shy, I’m sure that David got plenty of great pictures of our group outings :)

The blogger dinner on Saturday night was also great ~ with a chance to see Pat & Amy, Eric & Lori, and Taryn & Clay ~ and a whole slew of other bloggers that I didn’t know. Even my dear hubby, who couldn’t give a rat’s tail about running, had a great time talking to all the wonderful people!

Race day morning went off without a hitch; at Pat’s advice, we took the shuttle and made it to the starting line in plenty of time. As an unexpected bonus, our charter bus (a.k.a. shuttle) had a restroom and we relished in that luxury all the way to the AZ State Capitol Building.

We had enough time to check our gear bags, chit-chat a little and make one final trip to the luxurious port-o-john’s before finding our corral and settling in for the start.

The atmosphere was amazing ~ incredibly crowded….but the people watching and listening was great. It is amazing to me to watch so many people about to run a race for such a variety of reasons. There were solo runners, charity group runners, parent & child runners, runners that looked tense, runners that were cutting up and laughing hysterically, and runners who looked as nervous and anxious as I felt in the pit of my stomach.

I took us just over half an hour to reach the starting line ~ we were corral 16 out of 28 ~ almost dead middle of the pack. The projected finish time for our corral was 2:30.

9:02 came and we were off. The entire group of us ~ Lisa, Marcy, Mendy, Taryn, Lori and myself ~ headed out together. The race was extremely crowded, so it made jockeying for position among other runners ~ along with keeping the group together ~ very challenging. Taryn and I both needed a bathroom break at about mile 2, and against our urging, the rest of the group waited for us.

We took of again, except at this point I could feel a change. We had been trucking at a pretty good pace for the first couple miles ~ much, much faster than my “comfort” pace. Yes, I know it’s a race…..but when you only have one pace, my comfort pace IS my race pace! (Lisa…I really need to get that shirt!!!)

In retrospect, I KNEW I should have broken away from the group at that point. I was way out of my comfort zone, and was doing exactly what I had promised myself that I would not do ~ and that was to head out too fast, only to bomb later in the race. But there was also a part of me that thought maybe ~ just maybe, with the 5/1 intervals ~ I could pull it off.

It became apparent over the next couple miles that this was not going to be the case. I was continually falling back ~ and Taryn, bless her heart ~ ran with me for quite a duration before splitting from the group all together.

Just after mile 5 (and I only know this since that is where both mine and Marcy’s Garmins died at the same time), I finally did the smart thing. I was getting way too behind during the run intervals, only to catch up with the group during walk intervals, and them needed an additional walk time to get my own break. It just wasn’t working.

So I finally took my own advice, which I had been repeatedly giving to Lisa in the days prior to the race ~ and decided to “do my own thing.” I said adios to the group and slowed my pace. We had been running anywhere from 9:30 to 10:30 pace during our running intervals, and it was just beating me up. I slowed down to my comfortable 11:30 pace and all became well in my world again. This also freed up the rest of the group to do what they needed to do, and not worry about keeping me in sight.

The only regret I have about this is my lack of an iPod. I purposely left it in my car, since I had full expectation that I would be able to stay with the group, and would have plenty of chatter to keep me occupied for a couple hours. But now, as a solo runner, I regretted this decision in a BIG way. The bands and cheerleaders along the way were great, but they definitely didn’t give me the motivation that a good playlist could have.

The next couple miles were uneventful really. I ran pretty continuously, without a need for much walking at the slower pace. Up ahead, I could still see the group ~ Mendy’s pink shirt gave me something to track, and it was good to keep them in my sight.

I think it was about mile 6ish that I felt a new sensation. My hamstring muscles were tightening, which was new to me. During long training runs, the only issue I’ve ever really had was hip flexor tightening, and just general fatigue. But I didn’t think much of it, and figured it was just a result of the faster pace for the first 5 miles.

I remember hitting the half way point and thinking ~ COOL, I can do this. Let’s wrap this bad boy up and set a PR. At that point, I still had 2:45 on the brain. If I could do 3:06 at Big Sur, certainly being better trained for RNR, I could knock off a chunk of time on a much flatter course.

Sadly, the running gods were not aligned with me in this thinking. As clear as anything, I remember exactly where I was near mile 7.5 when the first leg cramp hit. It attacked my right calf first (I remember because at Big Sur the issue was with my left leg) ~ and within less than half a mile, the other leg fell victim too.

I started racking my brain for a solution. I ate Gu…and more Gu. I told myself ~ outloud, I believe ~ to listen to my body and walk at the onset of a cramp. I knew all too well that ignoring the initial twinge would leave me curled up on the side of the road. I did a lot of research on the cramping issue after Big Sur, and knew it was nothing to be messed with.

So I ran when I could, and walked when I had to. Out of desperation, I choked down one of the salt packets that I had stashed in my waistpack ~ ANYTHING to try and alleviate the cramping.

Nothing worked.

By mile 8, I was a complete mess. I kept telling myself that it was “just” another 5 miles ~ like an easy training run down to Fry’s and back ~ just another 5 miles. The cramps became more frequent, which meant less running time between them. I was walking a lot.

By this time, I had lost sight of Mendy’s pink shirt and new I had seriously lost time. It was at that point, I knew ~ in my heart ~ that I wouldn’t even break 3 hours. That realization hit me like a ton of bricks, and I could feel my motivation heading for the hills. It was ALL gone. I couldn’t stomach the thought of doing worse at my second half marathon that I had at my first. It was not supposed to work out that way.

By mile 10, I had consumed everything in my pack. That meant 3 Gu packets, 2 salt packets, plus another energy gel from an aid station. My water bottle never became empty ~ I drank as much as I could stomach without going overboard. Nothing was going to eliminate the cramps, so the intent became just to find a way to make it to the finish line.

At mile 11, I was mentally defeated. The pain had gotten so bad, I was so hot, tired and frustrated ~ that I contemplated the curb. Yes ~ I literally considering sitting down on the curb and calling it a day. In other words ~ QUIT. I was astounded to think it had even entered my thought process. But two miles is a long way to go under my circumstances, and I just wanted the race to be over.

It was just at that point when a runner next to me got a call on her cell phone. “That’s so awesome!!!” she yelled, and then proudly exclaimed to her running partner that her dad had just finished the Disney Marathon in 5 hours and 50 minutes. They hooted and hollered, and I found myself being happy for a person 2000 miles away that I didn’t even know.

Then I thought of all the other people I knew racing that day….and all they great things they were accomplishing. And I knew right them that a big, fat DNF on my record was not going to happen.

I was fully able to walk the next couple miles if that is what it took. It was my PRIDE that was tempting me to quit, not the PAIN. Pride said I needed to finish under 3 hours; my body said I would finish when I finished, one way or another.

The last couple miles are blur for me, even now. In the final stretch over the Mill Avenue bridge, the spectator crowd grew. I fought with everything in me to keep running (vanity, of course) and to hold back the tears. There was no way I was having a race picture of me bawling like a baby. Afterall, I have a reputation to uphold ;)

I made it through the chute, and across the finish line (I may have even put my arms up in honor of Lisa) before it all exploded. I was fine until I saw Lisa, and then all the pain and frustration from the last 6 miles just gave way. I am not a cry baby, so the emotion of this event astounded even me.

Lisa, being the mom that she is, tried to get me to the medical tent to get me checked out, but this time my pride prevailed. I knew I just needed some time to walk and stretch, and I would be fine. My calves were still extremely tight, but the spasms/cramps had stopped.

We went on to take what I’m sure will be a fabulous finisher picture as a group, and my running buddies were just as supportive as they could possibly be. Lori ended up being the slave driver; Mendy got the endurance award for feeling like crap and still making a good show of it; Lisa set a great new PR; and Marcy had a leisurely jog and never broke a sweat! :P

Lisa and I went to track down Pat, with the hope of running him in for the last half mile of his marathon. We found him, and he was doing GREAT! I thought that after an hour of rest, I’d be able to help my buddy, but unfortunately, that wasn’t the case and Lisa had to run him home. I am SO proud of Pat for his accomplishment.

Me? Yeah, I am proud of myself too. Not proud of the race itself, but the fact that somehow I managed to make it across that finish line when everything in me was screaming to quit. Maybe the most beneficial part of my training the past couple months was the little bit of mental toughness that I had been lacking before. The physical training may have failed me, but the mental got me through. And for that, I am grateful.

I realized over those last 6 miles, that somehow over the past couple months, the mere thought of finishing had become no longer enough for me. I had a new set of expectations for myself, which I never dreamed of having. I had trained and prepared well for this event, which is why it was so disappointing to fall short. The Pokey of the past would have been content to finish ~ running, walking or crawling ~ it would not have made a difference. What I realized, is that I am no longer that person.

Right or wrong, I have a new set of expectations and ambitions. In the past, I had never expected much of myself as a runner, and never really thought that I would. Boy, have times changed.

I now have a new set of challenges ahead of me. It is time to seek some medical advice for the leg cramps and try and get to the root of the problem. All the training in the world isn’t going to help me if I cant make it thru race day without cramping. Part of the deal that was so heart breaking for me is that I felt like I had worked SO hard in preparation for RNR ~ only to have it go by the wayside for something I cant control.

So I need to find a way to take control of that situation. I know I am not the only runner that has ever suffered from cramps like this, so I know there is a solution. I just have to go find it.

So I’m finally over myself, folks. I spent the last couple days being crabby and dodging as many of the “how’d it go” phone calls as I could.

I can’t lie and say that I am not disappointed. I will ALWAYS be disappointed about the way this race turned out. But my efforts are much better spent concentrating on the future of my running and how I’m going to get past RNR and learn from it. For starters, this means a trip to the doc to discuss my stupid legs. Anyone got any better ones they want to trade in????

I appreciate all the support from everyone, more than you will all ever know. And to Micheline, who got the major brunt of my frustration on Sunday ~ thank you for being such a great friend.

And Lisa ~ who texted me tonight to make sure I was aware of all the support ~ you da bomb. And you put on one helluva Java Fest! :)


Non-Runner Nancy said...

Oh Pokey, I'm so sorry this happened but I'm really excited for how you perservered and for the way you are handling it now. You have nothing to be disappointed about. It was out of your control and you still beat it. Good for you!

Michelle said...

I'm sorry your race didn't go better. But I think you did great!!! I am proud of you for finishing despite being in pain!

I can't wait to run my first HM in May. All these race reports are making me jealous!! ;-)

angie's pink fuzzy said...

pride vs pain: truer words never spoken

and way to go on your PR, even if it was 'disappointing' (which just means, like you said, you've moved into a new era of running!)

Nat said...

Not sure what to say, I hear you. I've been there. I guess they can't all be great. :)

Pat said...

You are going to be fine. You will look back at this race and say how much you've learned. You'll be running half marathons just like you run 5k's today. Well, like last week. :)

You know the parking lot next to the baseball stadium you have to run up on the HM course? I was miserable there last year. And the porta potties at the bottom, were home for 5-10 minutes last year. We learn and we get better.

You have bigger fish to fry than these half marathons. We'll get there together.

Wes said...

I suffered some extreme cramping at Rocket City. At Disney, I got not a single cramp. Somewhere, between those two races, lies the answer. I took salt tabs from the get go. I drank two cups of something at every aid station. I peed six times :-) I also started out too fast at Rocket City, and it was humid, and I paid the price.

This was heartfelt, honest, wonderful race report Pokey. As runner, you are still a babe. You have a long, long time to figure it out and get to where you want to be. Don't get in a big hurry. K?

Bev said...

Even if your time was not what you wanted, you should be proud of the guts you displayed (kinda a gross thought) in finishing and not sitting your rear on that curb. Take this experience and put it in your training notebook. Someday this will be a great reminder of how far you have come.

Viv said...

Pokey, I am so sorry for the obstacles you jumped over to finish this race. I cried when you crossed the line. To me you showed nothing but pure strength to continue on and finish the race. I still think your awesome and inspiring, even more now than before.

Marathoner in Training said...

Pokey you rock. I am sorry the race did not go as planned, but we all know that those last few miles we have a FRIEND that always joins us, called pain. We need to accept and envite him to join us on the last few miles. Keep it up, you are awesome.

Jeff said...

Pokey, what an amazing, heartfelt post. I am truly inspired by the obstacles that you overcame. As time goes on, I'm certain that this victory will become more impressive in your mind as you think about the pain you suffered to cross the finish line.

Thank you for sharing -- you rock!

RunningCrazyAfter3 said...

I know you didn't get the time that you were looking for and that really sucks, but you seriously should be soooooo proud of yourself! You really stepped up and showed your grit by not sitting on that curb or walking off the course. That is more than any finish-line time can ever say about you! :)

Mendy said...

I am so proud of you, Poke, for getting through the race despite the pain. Do you know how many people WOULD have sat down? Not you, and that's what you need to be proud of. Seriously, you did terrific!

I absolutely LOVE the race report. You are growing so much as a running, and to be wanting to put the pressure on yourself to improve and not settle for "just crossing", is showing your drive and determination.

I had a blast meeting you. We had so much fun!!!

Email me at mendysc@yahoo.com and I'll send you the link to the pictures. They are ALL up and take as many as you like!!

VA Beach (Javafest 2008 part II)?

Chief Wahoo said...

Awesome job toughing it out and finishing and a PR to boot!

Excellent post - we have all felt that frustration that comes when our mind is ready and willing to keep runing and our body betrays us. Thanks for sharing.

Taryn said...

Karen, I am so proud of you for pulling through all the woes you faced... from the cramps to the mind games... they are all things we runners unfortunately have to face. And you, my new friend, have definitely turned into a true runner.

I just read on Lana's blog something like - pain never hurts as much as regret - and I think you've learned that lesson at such an early stage. You didn't quit because you knew facing a DNF would hurt so much more than those last few miles. That's a diehard runner in my book.

I hope you are able to get to the root of the cramping. And that you don't let frustration and disappointment get in the way of your potential. Running 13 miles is an awesome feat, no matter how fast you do it. You did it and will do it again. Here's to you runner girl!

Taryn said...

Oh, and I meant to tell you, Clay was soooo happy he was sitting next to your husband. He was really intimidated going into that dinner and he was glad to sit with some cool kids ;). Hope we can all do it again!

Bev said...

Hey Karen, I was so moved, literally, by your post, I had to right a post of my own about you! If you get a chance, check it out.

Marcy said...

Poke you ROCKED!!! I know you're disappointed but I think sometimes our worst runs are in fact our BEST runs. Look at all the things you had to overcome just to finish? And not only did you finish but you PR-ed!!! Keep this race in your head for futures ones that may not be going so well. If you could pull a PR finish out of this one, you can do it in ANY one ;D ;D

David said...

You have every right to be proud! One of my favorite Lance quotes is, "Pain is temporary, but quitting lasts forever." You didn't quit, and when the chips where down you sucked it up and ran in. Good for you, and learn from this one. Find your mantra, and talk through the success.

What an absolute freakin blast we had this weekend! Thanks so much for driving our frigid butts to the race, and our stinky butts (literally) back from it. And it was really great hanging out with you and your husband, along with the rest of the desert dawgs. I hope we can do it again soon! Va Beach?

Oh, and can you send us some delicious Chandler water? And a bushell of lemons? ;-)

Cheryl said...

I loved your race report, because it is so honest and raw. You are amazing to have pushed through the pain and finished the race! I think you're awesome! Hope you can figure out the leg problem and have a great next race, cramp free.

Christie said...

Pokey, I've never run a race, but I definitely hear what you're saying. But you still did it even with all the pain you had. Be proud of yourself and sign up for the next race. It will just get better from here.

Rob said...

You made it all the way to the end, you should have no regrets. Great job.

P.O.M. said...

Man - you have such an amazing attitude! I like reading your blog :)

Dan Seifring said...

Pokey, great job getting through the race. You did great and will learn from RNR. Can't wait to hear what 2008 has in store for you.

aerorunnergirl said...

Oh, I'm so sorry to hear that your leg muscles didn't want to cooperate. It doesn't matter, though, because your heart is clearly much stronger than your legs are anyway. I'm proud of you for finishing in such a state. You are an inspiration, Pokey, and I wish I could have been there to share the day. Congratulations!