Okay, do me a favor. Next time I set a race as specifically being a test race and something goes wrong remind me to listen to that, huh? I decided during the City of Lakes 25K that I probably shouldn't do Whistlestop and then changed my mind. Sigh. Of course, I know I would have regretted not giving Whistlestop a go, so there's that, too.
So. Right now it feels kind of like a waste and I'm pretty frustrated but I did do a lot of things right and that's good. I've heard from a couple different people that it takes 10 marathons to finally figure them out and this was number 8. The short story is that I had a great first 18/19 miles and then my knee decided to start with the shooting pain, forcing me to walk a ton. Let's start from the beginning, though! What's a marathon race report from Sam if it's not a million pages long?
It took until Friday afternoon for me to start getting nervous and I was freaking out a little on the drive over. The spaghetti feed calmed me down quite a bit though, so that was good. I got to see Shelly and Rick and meet Mark again and the spaghetti was loads better than I remember it being from last year. I ate a ton. And then we went to Dairy Queen :)
We timed the morning out pretty perfectly - Kyle dropped me off at the bus pick up in Iron River, I joined the port-a-potty line and then the bus line and was at the starting line with about 20 minutes to the start. Back to the bathroom line (there's a line in Marathoning for Mortals that goes something like 'When you get to the starting area, get in line for the porta-potties. When you get through the line, come out and go back to the end of the line. Repeat') and then just enough time to duct tape my shoelaces down (sometimes, I do learn!) and re-tighten my pony tail before taking off warm clothes and heading to the road. I found Tonya and went to stand next to her for the start, though neither of us were very talkative.
It was so much warmer this year! It was nice to not be freezing while waiting for the start. It was a little too warm by the middle, though. There was one point where I had skipped water at one of the stations because it was so close to the previous one but then it was a while to the next one and I got super, super thirsty. That's one thing I wish was different - that the aid stations could be more evenly spaced. Though, I know they can't really control that - it depends where there's trail access.
Back to the start, though! It was one of the stranger starts I've been at - first the usual count down "Two minutes to race start. One minute to race start. 30 seconds." and then a count UP "1, 2, 3 go." Okay, that doesn't read nearly as strange as I (and others around me! Not just me!)found it that morning . . . ah well.
Off we go. Down the road for just over a mile and then onto the trail. I had Bobby Darin's version of Mack the Knife in my head for about Ten. Straight. Miles. Don't get me wrong, I love this song, I listened to it on the drive to the bus specifically because I don't mind it being stuck in my head but by mile 10 I was desperately trying to get something else stuck in my head. I ended up with Lake Pontchartrain by Ludo in my head for pretty much the rest of the race.
I focused right away on making sure I wasn't starting out too fast. I needed 8:12s to run a 3:35. I would find a good pace, speed up a little, see the time and slow down a little, see the time and try to even everything out. I did a great job of not panicking if a number was too fast or too slow and just adjusted my pace accordingly. I had some great splits at times: 7:54, 7:58 (great start, not too fast, slow it down just a tich), 8:15, 8:11 (perfect!), 7:57 (oops, a little excited), 8:07, 8:29 (oops, too relaxed!), 8:13, (the next miles are where I found a great rhythm. I had a fabulous group hanging right behind me and sometimes beside me and it was fun to be the person that everyone else was hanging onto for a good pace) 7:55, 7:53, 7:47 (oops, too excited. I said 'calm down, Sam' out loud here), 7:55, 8:19, 8:01, 7:59.
Here's most of my group of fun! I guess we weren't together for all that many miles but it felt like a while.
So that's the first 15 miles. Kyle said I was 13th woman coming through mile 16 and I was on pace for a 3:33. Giving myself the usual slowing down it seems a 3:35 would have been very doable (of course, who knows in a marathon, right?). I knew that sub-8:00s were faster than the plan but they mostly felt effortless and I figured as long as I kept myself right by 8:00s, I'd be okay. Too fast? Maybe but I don't actually regret it like I regretted last year's pacing. Last year I ran the first half with lots of upper-7:40s feeling like I had to because there was a guy I was running with and I was afraid to lose him. This year the pace was slightly slower and felt right and smart and not out of control at all. This year I was the one that others were using to hang onto a pace with.
Coming into mile 16, I suddenly started bonking a bit the last half mile before the aid station. Suddenly, I couldn't keep with the girl I've been running with for miles and she was running in front of me rather than the other way around and pulling away. That's when I realized that this was my 6 mile stretch between gels. So I focused on staying calm, trying not to let her get too far away and knowing I'd get some more fuel in soon. Now I know that 6 miles is probably too far in between food for me since I was good to go pretty much as soon as I had more.
Miles 18 and 19 I'm very proud of. I started slowing down there partially to my knee hurting some and partially to legs getting tired. I focused on just running a mile strong at a time. Going through my head were thoughts like "Just run this one mile strong then you can re-think. It's okay to fall apart later just do this one mile and then you can remember mile 18 and be proud that you ran it strong." I had been making similar deals already - just whenever my mind caught up and I suddenly realized 'Wait! I'm going fast!' I was able to cut of any negative thinking of 'there's no way I can keep this pace' and just decide to keep the pace (if it was reasonable) for 3 more miles and see if it was still comfortable after that.
Somewhere around mile 19 my knee started very painful stabbing pain. Of the surprising variety that brought Boston to a sudden, panicked, painful halt. Something else I'm proud of, though - I didn't panic. Not even a little. There were no tears at all. There was lots of frustration, some quiet swearing when it first starting, plenty of bitching (see below), and some thought about dropping to save my knee for Wild Duluth but no tears. I quickly abandoned any thoughts of stopping since I figured I could easily walk 5 miles (that's about where I briefly entertained the thought) and there was no way I wanted to voluntarily get my first DNF for such a 'silly' reason.
Here I am somewhere around mile 22. I saw Kyle way ahead of time and then saw him pull up the camera and I laughed at him and waved him off. He took a picture anyway, of course. My knees seem to be angling in pretty bad in this one. Maybe because I'm going so slow? I walked some when I got to him to let him know my knee was ridiculous. Oh! And you can see my buddy just behind me in the picture there. He caught me soon after but I ended up going by him in the last mile.
I was almost enjoying myself with about two miles left - asking a couple seated spectators if they wanted to trade knees (shockingly, they didn't), finding a fellow injured and bummed runner (the guy in the picture) to run/walk and bitch with. He was also having an unexpectedly bad day and having some bad cramping. Though, he was more bitter/annoyed and I was more going with it at that point. I was looking around and had a mix of finally enjoying the pretty day (I was rather focused earlier on) and thinking how long it took to walk so I would try running for a bit and then a stab would make me walk some again. My slowest mile by a lot was mile 23 with a 12:13, I think that might have been the mile I saw Kyle in. When I was walking, otherwise, I was trying to channel Lisa. Okay, that sounds a little mean, but that's not how I mean it! She's been working on the ultrarunner power walk when she has to walk up hills on trails so I tried to think about walking strong as long as I had to be walking. It didn't always work but it helped divert my thinking from negative things, anyway.
I decided I wasn't going to walk any of the last mile. I figured I couldn't do any more damage to my knee (faulty thinking to be sure!) so I might as well finish strongish. The last mile was 9:00 exactly which was much faster than I had been going but slower than I figured it would be. I don't know if it was all those turns (if you haven't run Whistlestop, about 3 or 4 blocks from the end for are a bunch of right angle turns that you make) or just the sudden running for a straight mile on sudden pavement but I super gimped my way down that last block into the finish line. Lisa, Leslie, Shelly and Rick (and Wayne? For some reason, Wayne was really hard for me to pick out, though I know he was cheering for me at several spots!) were at the beginning of all the turns and I gave them a smile, shrug and thumbs-down. It was weird to feel so good at the end.
I got to experience yet again someone trying to convince me to head to the medical tent. This time was much more light hearted, though. The guy at the finish grabbed me and lead me through the chute/blanket/medal area and kept asking "are you sure you don't want to go sit in the medical tent?" and seemed amused with my "Nah, it's just my knee" answer.
I limped on Kyle for a while but after about 30-40 minutes (I think) I was fine. We got my warm clothes back on, got my medal engraved, talked with fellow runners and sat down for a while. I wanted to go find people to talk with but I also wanted to eat so we headed for home after not too long. First stop, med tent for ice to go on my knee for the drive home.
Final time was 3:49.03. So, still not terrible despite it all. I figured since it was under 4 hours and since I was proud of the things I did right, I wanted to engrave the time. I love that they offer that service - it's $8 and you get your name and time official engraved on the back of your medal. I love it!
The trail was in a lot worse condition this year. It was a lot harder to find a good running surface for much of it and that got frustrating. I think one of my official pictures caught me in mid-grimace/glare from the bad footing, even!
The shirts were great this year. A nice color, good fit and pretty design. I like the side zipper pocket but the shoulder pocket is a bit strange.
So this left me wondering: what do I do about the Wild Duluth 50K? I decided on super rest, some nice walks and giving running a test go on trails on Wednesday. That went a-ok, no knee pain, so It's on! I think having to walk a ton at the end of Whistlestop probably helped me but I think it would take me not being able to run a step to keep me away since I've been super excited about this all year! Two days to my first ultra!