Sunday, May 10, 2009
Rotorua - The Marathon
As I ran over the start line it was difficult to collect my thoughts. The Maori warriors were gathered at the entrance to the Government Gardens but I was on the other side of the road from them and didn't have much of a chance to take them in. We ran through the city streets and turned to start heading out of town.
I don't remember a lot about the early minutes of this race. I was focussing mostly on trying to keep control of my pace as I was worried about going out too fast. Even so I caught up with the 4.30 pacers and kept overtaking large numbers of runners. The guys who had been standing next to me dropped off and I didn't see them again.
My legs felt ok. Not amazing, but not that bad either. I got ahead of the 4.30 pacers then told myself off and slowed down a bit. I found myself running alongside them and, feeling comfortable with their pace, decided to stay with them for a while. I don't normally try to stick with pacers as trying to hold that constant speed drives me nutty, but I figured doing so for a few kilometres would keep me in check.
Looking at the elevation map the first 6km or so trend gradually uphill, but honestly it's such a gradual incline as to be almost unnoticeable. I figured this early part of the run would give my legs a chance to warm up and that I would enjoy the very short, slight downhill at 7km. We hit 5km in around 30 minutes, which would have felt ridiculously slow were it not for the distance still to cover.
My legs were still feeling ok, but my bra was showing signs of chafing. What the heck? I'd worn this particular bra all through my training and it had never given me any problems and NOW it was going to rub? To add to this the four gels and medication in the pocket of my running tights was causing them to fall down, and I was nervously tugging at them ever few minutes to avoid giving the runners behind me a bit of an eyeful.
Oh well, nothing to be done, so I kept running. Around 7km in my stomach started acting up. Fantastic! The nerves and the huge amounts of sugar in my cereal were combining to make me feel less than stellar in the gastro department.
I kept running regardless. I had planned on taking my first gel around 10km in but with my stomach not playing nice I decided I would instead concentrate on walking the first few drink stations and sipping on some Leppin until I started to feel better. This proved to be an excellent strategy. I continued to be a bit burpy throughout the whole race, but I never felt like I might need to pull over for a bit of a vomit. Given the inauspicious end to my first half marathon (my first and only DNF), that much was a relief!
At 10km I was feeling fresh and happy to be at the start of a long gradual downhill. We had climbed a short but noticeable hill and were about to lose most of that altitude gain over the next 5km. From memory I knew there was a flat stretch past Hamurana Springs before the biggest hill around the 18km mark.
It was lovely to turn onto Hamurana Rd and to be running along the lake. This road is normally closed to traffic but today was open to allow travel to and from a tangi. Even so, traffic was light. Had it been a clear day it would have been beautiful, but today it was grey and a touch gloomy, with a bit of a wind stirring up the water.
At the 12km mark a local group always sets up a champagne breakfast. I could hear the music playing as I advanced and when I rounded the corner there they were - all in fancy dress and holding out cups of bubbly. I would have loved to have downed a few mouthfuls, but with my stomach still grumbling it wasn't an option. I vowed that I would return next year and ran regretfully past.
Up till now I had been running with the 4.30 female pacer. In fact at times I had been running on her left shoulder with the balloons bumping in my face. At each drink stop she would get away a little, and then I would catch her. At 16km we hit the big hill. This was the hill I had been stressing about, the hill which had me running up Mt Vic in the last few weeks of my training trying to get my hill stamina to kick in.
In the end the hill was an anticlimax. The old guy next to me who was Gallowaying his race agreed with me that it wasn't that bad, but I left him and the pacers behind me as I cruised upwards. So THIS was the feared hill? Admittedly it did get steeper and more windy as I neared the top, but I'd run much worse back home and it gave me huuggggeee confidence.
I let the pacers catch me again on the way down, then fell back in with them. Around the 18km mark I finally felt ok enough to down a gel, and from that point on I took a gel every 45 minutes or so. I didn't get the whole gel down each time, but I would have gotten at least half. I didn't notice a huge lift from them this time around but psychologically it helped to know I was getting some calories in.
As always, it was the flat parts of the course which I found hardest psychologically. The next big hill arrived at around 26km in and it was almost a relief. I felt a bit cheated to arrive so quickly at the top, although the downhill was lovely!
Before I knew it we were at the 32km mark, but it barely even registered that I was now running further than I'd ever run before. I'd settled into a really steady plod that just kept me putting one foot in front of the other. Another step was another step closer to the finishline. I never 'hit the wall', and I think that's because I took it really slowly, but this part of the course was again quite flat, and it again ground on me a little.
There was one point where I was running up a long, very slow incline. Looking at the course elevation I think this must have been around the 35km mark. I could see a line of people running ahead of me with nothing to break up the monotony and suddenly, without giving myself permission, I felt myself walking. I looked at my Garmin and gave myself a one minute walk break, after which I felt good again. I did this one more time over the last few kilometres. So strictly speaking, I didn't end up having to Galloway the last 10km, but I did take a couple of walk breaks. I'm a bit annoyed with myself about this. I feel that if I were a little tougher on myself I could have kept going.
This last part of the course was also less scenic, as we headed back towards Rotorua. The pacer I had been running with had failed to hold the correct speed and we were about five minutes behind. The other 4.30 pacer had disappeared and taken most of the pace group with him. He ended up finishing a few minutes too fast! I think the group of women I had been with at the start must have gone with him, because I lost them.
By now we were passing people who were clearly in the death zone. Men who looked like they should easily have run a sub-4 were limping or swaying along the footpath. It was hard not to feel pleased with myself as I passed walker after walker and it gave me momentum to keep going.
By now the runners around me were handing round bags of gummy lollies and I thought it might be fun to give one a go. I slipped an orange jube into my mouth, chewed on it a few times, sucked it a bit, and then realised it wasn't going anywhere but out. I just wasn't capable of swallowing. Feeling a little grubby I spat it into my hand and dropped it into the gutter. Sorry!
I knew the last 7km trended ever so slightly downhill and was counting on it to bring me home. About mid-way through the run I'd gone into a strange little zone. When I take part in cycle races I'm incredibly social. I chat a lot to other cyclists and call out comments to supporters. Running races? Not so much it seems! I had been very, very quiet for some time. I was totally in my head. This was a shame because the crowd support out there was excellent.
It was a woman standing on the side of the road as we entered suburbia who changed that for me. "Only 6km to go," she called out, "enjoy yourselves". I realised she was right. Here I was, running a marathon, and I was going to finish! And not only was I going to finish, but I was going to finish in a time I was going to be happy with.
About now I was also starting to feel a little thirsty, so I walked one last water break and lost the pacer. She wasn't that far ahead of me and I considered catching her again but couldn't bring myself to make the effort. Instead I concentrated on actually responding to the people who were calling out encouragement. I in particular remember one young guy about a kilometre from the finish who appeared to have finished the race himself some time earlier. He called out that I was nearly there and that I'd done well. For some reason he struck me as being really sincere, and I was so grateful to him. I wanted to yell out that it was my first marathon, but for some reason I just smiled.
Internally there was a little groundswell of emotion. I was doing it. I was really doing it! I was overtaking people all over the place, and so I switched to picking them off one after the other. It was at this point that my body decided to rain a little on my parade. I'd taken an extra 5mg of Hydrocortisone three and a half hours in, just to be safe. However I hadn't taken any extra Fludrocortisone, and with one and a half kilometres to go my heart started fluttering just a little. I tried to ignore it but it came back and, feeling a little unnerved, I dropped to a walk for a few metres. I was really frustrated to be walking so close to the finishline, and even more annoyed when a young woman I'd brushed past on the narrow footpath minutes earlier overtook me again.
With the fluttering dissipating I picked up the pace again and overtook a few of the women who had just overtaken me. I felt really embarrassed but determined not to lose too much ground. Suddenly I was at the gates to the gardens. There were spectators everywhere. My Garmin had consistently run 200 metres long the whole way so, looking at my wrist I could tell that I had 200 metres to go. I kicked it a little to the finishline, but in my race photos I look like I'm barely lifting my legs! I was looking left and right, knowing Hamish would be somewhere nearby, and hoping someone else would be there to cheer for me.
Over the first of the sensors and I got a huge shock when the announcer called my name. Good - anyone nearby would know I was finishing! Over the finishline, making a conscious effort to look up and not at my wrist. I didn't want a finishing photo of myself stopping my Garmin. As soon as I was over and I thought it was safe I hit stop. 4.37. That'll do!
And there was Hamish. Just over the finishline he was on the other side of the barrier with the largest grin on his face. I got my finisher's medal and had a photo taken. The finisher's medal felt soooo heavy and incredibly good around my neck. The woman in front of Hamish shifted to let him through and he leaned over the barrier for the longest hug. I got a little teary.
I'd finished. I'd run the Rotorua Marathon. And it didn't even feel that bad! I'd never really hit the wall, just got a little psychologically weak once or twice. I knew I had in fact paced myself really well. I tried not to let myself think I could have gone faster.
Hamish was a little naughty and jumped over the barrier to join me. I wanted my cider but he hadn't been able to find any in any of the nearby stores. As soon as I stopped I started hurting. I had a blister on one of the toes of my right foot and boy was it now letting its presence be felt!
I was in a huge daze as I shuffled the 10 metres or so to the volunteers removing transponders. That 10 metres felt like an eternity. I slumped down onto a bench next to another finisher. He asked if it was my first marathon and I replied that it was. He then asked if it was my last and I replied "NOPE!" Hamish continued to hover with a huge grin on his face.
I pulled myself to my feet and shuffled into the expo centre. I was now incredibly thirsty so took a cup of Leppin. Bad idea. I took a cup of water. For some reason I ignored the broth, which would have been perfect. I got my finisher's shirt and I honestly don't remember ever having been so happy to receive a piece of clothing, or ever feeling that anything had ever been as well deserved. I also grabbed the standard banana.
Still in a daze I told Hamish I needed to sit down for a few minutes, and I shuffled into the auditorium and found a couple of empty chairs. H handed me my merino (clever boy) and I put it on, but completely forgot about the polyprop around my waist. As I sat down all I could think was "ouch - my glutes". My poor butt was on fire to the point where it almost made my eyes water. I've never felt anything quite like it! To add to this my quads were stiffening up quite spectacularly. Walking back to the car was going to be interesting.
However walk back to the car I did. I walked incredibly slowly, but I got there. It probably did me good. After running all that way it felt good to think that there was no longer any need to worry about getting anywhere and no need to hurry at all.
As soon as I got outside I started to shiver, and I had difficulty getting warm for the rest of the day. I made it back to the hotel and somehow even managed to walk through the hotel lobby back to the room. I even managed to make it into the bathroom for a very long, hot shower. After the shower and a bit of a time spent on the bed txting and Facebooking I picked myself up again and shuffled back to the car. By this point everything was stiff, but it was the blister on my foot that was causing the most difficulties. Time to numb the pain - we drove back towards town in hunt of cider.
Cider was easily found at the local Belgian pub, but unfortunately the publican was on his own and, stuck behind the bar, he couldn't cook us any food. No frites met mayo. Oh well - the cider would do to start. I found a table by the fire and celebrated my successful race. Dehydration, a huge run, no food and a big glass of cider. Hmmm - this could only go in one direction!
The cider went down waaayyyyyy to quickly so we shuffled a few metres down the road to the Fat Dog cafe. I found another table by a fire, as I was still having difficulty keeping warm. All I could imagine eating at that point was a bowl of wedges, so that's what H ordered for me. A huuugggggeeeee great big bowl arrived and I tucked in eagerly. Unfortunately, although I was mentally ready for food (by this time it was at least 3.30 and I hadn't eaten since breakfast, having only managed a mouthful of the post-race banana), physically my stomach still wasn't working. I managed a good stab at getting some food down, but I left a woeful pile of potato behind me.
Back to the hotel (sharing wry laughs with other shuffling people on the street) and I found myself lying facedown on the bed. Well, that wasn't exactly where I'd intended to end up, but it seemed to be working for me so I decided to stay there. I may even have dozed.
On the advice of the hotel receptionist we'd booked a 6.30 session at the private mineral spa at the QE Hospital near the lake. The spa turned out to be the hospital's hydrotherapy pool so not exactly luxurious, but what the heck, it was private and it was hot and it was thermal. Now of course a hot spa is exactly the last thing you're supposed to have after a marathon (all those muscle tears and inflammation don't need any more heat), but there was no way I was leaving Rotorua without a dip. As a compromise I turned one hot shower nozzle on my shoulders while I ran cold water on my quads before jumping in. It was bliss. Total bliss. I may even have stopped feeling cold for 30 minutes.
Out of the pool and it was time to shuffle back to the car. We headed back to Fat Dog where I huddled under a gas heater while Hamish fetched me some vegetable soup and bread. Unfortunately my stomach STILL wasn't working. I managed one piece of bread and about half the bowl, and finished that up with some chocolate back at the hotel.
Still suffering from temperature regulation issues I was quick to jump under the duvet back at our room. I went through a brief spell of feeling more than a little miserable. I was just aching so badly everywhere! In addition to the temperature issues and aches I was also feeling sort of uncomfortable in my skin - a kind of internal or psychological itchiness. In retrospect I suspect I was also low on cortisol. I'd taken that extra 5mg during the race at around the time I'd normally take my mid-day dose, and hadn't taken any more at the finish. I'd followed that up with my standard 5mg at 6pm. So in total I'd taken only 10mg more than usual. NOT ENOUGH! I think if I'd doubled my 6pm dose I would have felt a lot better. Duh ...
I slept very heavily that night, waking after around ten hours, still feeling very stiff and more than a little lethargic. Realising that my body was still playing catch up I did at least have enough sense to double my morning dose of cortisol, and boy did that help. I actually started to feel a little more normal. Still sore, but normal!
Back to Fat Dog and I ordered a bowl of muesli with fruit and yoghurt. I managed about half of that again. It seems my stomach still wasn't working ... I was starting to feel a little concerned by this point, but there wasn't much I could do about it, so I let it go. I did, however, ask Hamish to start off the driving. I wanted to feel a little more on top of things before I jumped behind the wheel.
I ended up taking over the driving at Waiouru, and was fine the rest of the way back down the country. Still no food though. We didn't snack at all while driving and didn't stop anywhere for lunch. We dropped into a client of Hamish's in Waikanae so H could do a quick bit of work for them, and then we stopped by some friends' in Titahi Bay. I was a little concerned about how I was actually going to get to their house, as they are up a long, steep and very badly formed path. To my surprise my legs were feeling a bit better and it wasn't as much of a challenge as I'd expected.
One glass of wine later and it was late-afternoon. I looked over and there was a bag of potato chips. I ate one. It tasted good. Minutes later the bag was almost gone. H looked over at me and I looked back at him. Time to go then! We didn't stop until we were at Mavericks, our local fish and chip and pizza place. Back home I wolfed down an entire Margarita pizza and it didn't even touch the sides. It seemed my stomach had finally decided to work again. It only took 30 hours. Sheesshhhh.
So I did it. I ran the marathon and I finished in a time which was slow, but which was pretty much exactly the time I'd expected to finish in. I clearly had a realistic idea of my capabilities.I think I went out there with a really good knowledge of my strengths and weaknesses and where I was at with my training. I knew from experience what works for me and what doesn't. The best part is that I know I can easily improve. Even if I simply don't walk the water stops next time I can cut a good chunk of time off. If I do a few more long runs and don't have gastro issues I'd be looking to finish closer to four hours. Even though flat courses do my head in it's tempting to find a flat, fast marathon and to attempt to really go for it. However with so much else on my plate it's likely to be Rotorua again on next year's dance card!
As I mentioned, by Sunday evening my legs were already starting to feel a little better and by Monday I was still stiff but able to walk with a semblence of normality. By Tuesday I was brimming over with energy and itching to get back into some exercise. By Friday night I was being gripped by waves of euphoria as my body tried to work out what to do with all that stored energy.
To my credit I held off till Saturday, when I allowed myself a run around the Bays and back up over Maida Vale. It's only around 7 to 8km. I expected to feel really weak and horrid but in fact I had a great run. Again, I tried to start out easy but on the way back got the bit between my teeth and concentrated on chicking a few guys around Te Papa. So although I didn't wear my Garmin I think I ended up setting a really good pace. I then followed that up with a wonderfully relaxed Balance class in a warm little puddle of sun by the windows overlooking the Terrace.
All that training hasn't put me off running at all. I'm focussing now on running two fast half marathons this year and I'll hopefully be able to mix that up with a few trail runs. I know that I really achieved something on Saturday. It'd be one ticketed off the bucket list, if I had such a thing. I ran a marathon - a freaking marathon!