Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Rock 'n' Roll Marathon San Diego, race report

Here, finally, is my race report:

Sunday morning, June 3, 2007 started for me at 3:30 am. I had set two alarms to go off at 3:40 but since I was wide awake most of the night I just turned them off and got out of bed.

I had gone to the race expo on Friday night after my mom picked me up at the airport. I figured I could beat the crowds that way, and I was right. I picked up my bib number, incredibly cheap white short-sleeved tee shirt and goody bag, then wandered through the race-branded merchandise. I think the Elite people give away such a crappy shirt in hopes that you'll buy a better one. This year I didn't, I have enough RnR shirts. I did buy a hat though, I've been wanting another white running hat and I like how their hats fit.

The expo this year, while still in the San Diego Convention Center, had been moved upstairs to the Sails Pavilion. This seemed a much smaller room than the one they'd used downstairs in previous years. It seemed like there was a smaller selection of vendors and exhibitors this year too. It's still one of the largest expos around though and for first timers, or those used to small races, is quite a sight.

We started to wander around and all of a sudden my mom started feeling poorly. We looked for somewhere to sit, then decided she'd go outside of the expo and I'd meet her there. I continued on my merry way and it wasn't until I returned to the side of the room we'd be on that I found her slumped on the floor, leaning on an information booth. Turns out there weren't any chairs and she couldn't stand any longer. We could have left then, but she insisted she was alright and I should just come back later. So I did.

I needed to get some shorts, body glide and Ultima and hoped to find them at lower expo prices. Yes on the first two, no on the last; nobody was carrying Ultima this year. See, I am the only person who likes it! I periodically returned to check on my mom and make sure she was ok. At some point someone got a chair for her so that she wasn't just a sad old woman on the floor. Each time I returned she looked a little better and she said she felt a little better. Especially after I brought her a sample of a drink the Starbucks booth was passing out. When I had seen everything and bought the stuff I needed I gathered her up and we left.

Our team was staying in the Handlery Hotel which -- ick. We had stayed there a couple of past years too and I had hoped, not remembering quite which one it was, that we were actually staying down the road at a different hotel. Too bad, I was wrong. I checked in Saturday afternoon (I spent Friday night with my mom) and I was in the last building, lower floor. I had been given a single bed room even though I had requested a double (for more space) but after carting all my stuff over there I decided to suck it up and stay there. The room turned out to be, um, well, filthy describes the bathroom best. I didn't realize it until my 3:30 am Sunday shower but it very obviously hadn't been cleaned after the last occupant. Oh gross! There was hair -- I'm not going into details, take my word that it was disgusting. Not like I could do anything about it that early in the morning, and not like I wanted to do anything after I had run a marathon, but they'll be hearing from me. ::shudder::

Anyway. Because the race expo was in the room at the Convention Center where TnT used to hold their pasta and victory parties, those had been moved. Rock 'n' Roll is a destination race for every TnT chapter in the country so tons of TnT'ers come to the race. They had to split the Pasta parties in half; part of the teams had a Saturday pasta party at lunch, part at dinner. We were with the later group. It was at the Town and Country Resort, within walking distance of the hotel. We met up in the hotel lobby and trotted over there together.

The TnT welcomers were the loudest, most exuberant I had seen in all my pasta parties. I don't know where they came up with all those people, but it was a pretty amazing gauntlet to run. The food was buffet style; rolls, salad, pasta, veggies and chicken strips. It was surprisingly tasty for such a bland choice. The tables inside had bags of pretzels, bananas and oranges to take home. The speakers were the usual, including John "The Penguin" Bingham as MC and speaker. There were the funny speakers, the touching speakers and the heart breaking speakers. Tears ran freely in the audience, including at our table. Including me. We found out that the almost 4000 TnT runners and walkers for this event alone had raised -- get this -- 12.5 million dollars for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. Wait, what?? Twelve and a half MILLION DOLLARS for this race alone!! In the ten years of San Diego RnR Marathons, Team in Training has raised $122.1 million. Wow. WOW!

Finally the program was done and we met for a couple of minutes with the coaches, planned to meet in the morning in the lobby at 4:30 am. Thus the alarms being set for 3:40 am. I walked back to my room and got my gear set for the morning, knowing I'd have no brain and would forget anything that wasn't in one little pile. I decided to wear the shirt, not the singlet, but I cut the sleeves off. Custom shirt, nobody else wearing one. Right, only purple shirt on the course...

I wasn't thrilled at the lack of sleep but once I got going (and got over the condition of the shower) I figured I was ready for anything the race had to throw at me. We got the bus to the start, all getting split up in the process, and prepared to wait (and wait) (and wait) for the start of the race. They had a million porta potties, booths with water, bagels, juice and coffee, and a line of UPS trucks to carry gear to the finish line. It finally started getting light out, we all checked our gear, and it was time to get into our corrals. Although I had initially been assigned to #23, at the expo I changed to #19. I had to take it on faith that there was actually a start line up there somewhere. I lined up with some teammates and waited. People started moving forward and we thought maybe the race had started but it was just compacting the corrals. We waited some more.

Finally, the anthem was sung, the gun went off and -- nothing. We just stood there. Then we walked. Walked a little more. Walked faster. Hey look, there's the start! People started running just before the mats, and it was on. Time to do the damn thing. Time to get on pace, feel good, have a great race, and ... too many people. There was no way in the first mile to feel your pace. You were either going around someone, about to slam into someone, sprinting a step to side-step someone, hitting the brakes when someone dashed in front of you.

I had a plan. Isn't there always a plan? I was sure I could finish about 5:45; a 13:10 minute mile. This was based on my race at Avenue and the weeks in-between. To do that, I wanted to start out the first, oh, five miles or so at 12:30-12:45, run:walking at 9:1. I knew I'd be slower at the end; that happens whether I'm faster at the start or not, so why not start a bit faster at a pace I could easily do. I also knew I'd slow down between miles 8-11 when we were on the uphill canted freeway. I planned to start run:walking 4:1 after the half, but only if I was feeling at all tired.

My first mile seemed to be on pace, 12:34, but that wasn't the full story. There was that whole darting around people thing, where I swear I ended up running a couple of tenths extra in that mile. The next mile was 12:38, also on pace, except it still wasn't a smooth pace. Then the downhill started, both literally and figuratively. Miles 3-6 were 12:21, 11:53, 11:52 and 12:19. Oh crap, that's way the hell too fast. Especially with the crowds and the fast/slow running and what's going on here?

I was cooked, I knew when I started running on the freeway that I'd blown it. Oh well, not like I wasn't going to finish; it just was going to be ugly. I was torn between feeling like I should just take it easy from then on, walk whenever I wanted, take breaks when I wanted, put no more effort into it. Or, I could work my ass off and still do the best I could. I decided not to embarrass myself and to work for it.

The weather turned out to be a big factor. It was very damp and overcast and probably about 60 degrees at the start. Very humid, any sweat just staying on your body without any cooling evaporation. The sun started to come out after about 3 hours, and was fully sunny not long after that. There was a very cool breeze which made up in comfort for being a headwind that took more effort.

Support along the course was amazing. The bands all seemed to be playing and the cheerleaders cheering when I passed. This is the first time that's happened, usually they're taking breaks just when I go by. It seemed like there was always another water stop right along the way, and the cheering throngs were everywhere. Partially because it's such a huge TnT race and partially just because it's a plain huge race, there were spectators everywhere. I know a lot of people get off on their energy. I pretty much ignore them, or try to keep them in the background.

There were the usual characters along the way, both spectating and participating. Lots of people running in costume (what's up with that? what kind of idiot do you have to be to run 26.2 miles in a costume??). Elvises all over the place. Superman, superwoman. Old people, young people. Very old people (an 84 year old woman finished in 6:30; an 83 yo man in 6:48). Old people faster than me (a 79 yo woman finished in 5:43, how embarrassing is that?) and young people way the hell faster than me (14 yo girl finishing in 4:45 - shouldn't she be in school learning something??).

So, run run run, slower slower slower. I did the first 10k averaging 12:16/mile, the half at 12:44/mile, 21 miles at 13:26/mile. Are we seeing a progression here? Between 16 and 17 I stopped and waited at a porta potty and almost decided to walk it in from there since I had to wait in line about 4 minutes. That was an almost 18 minute mile, including the wait in line. I figured that had really thrown out a decent finish time but then I started running again.

That break made a difference and mile 18 was faster. Too bad, mile 19 was slower (there was a hill there, I think I walked the hill). I was feeling pretty bad by that time. Nothing really hurt, just my energy was very low and my legs didn't have the turnover they'd had earlier. I was overheated and dumping one glass of water over my head for every glass I'd drink. I got some ice and that helped for a while, but my core was still overheated.

I saw Coach Al between miles 22 and 23 and told him I was hurting. He told me he knew I'd finish. I told him that finishing wasn't in question, it was how long it would take me to get there. Funny, I think I always look better than I feel during races. Miles 24 and 25 were just plain ugly, both my mood and the scenery. Course support and crowd support were still great that late in the race, lots of people still out there, lots of water still at the tables. The last few tables even had iced water, very welcome in my superheated dehydrated condition.

My running-challenged brain was busy the last few miles trying to figure out how fast I had to go and still finish under six hours. I was pretty sure I had to run my ass off, and knew about what pace I was shuffling along, but somehow I ended up with different numbers every time I'd try figuring it.

Unfortunately the ugliest part of the course is the last couple of miles. For an urban marathon this is a pretty scenic one, except for those miles. Since I've run this one before and know the ending pretty well, I knew when I got closer to the MCRD that it was still quite a way to the finish. I swear, if one more person yelled "you're almost there" or "it's just around the corner" I would just stop and beat them with my water bottle. Finally, Finally, Finally I turned the last turn and started running along the finishing stretch. I saw the finish line, tried to smile for the cameras while I was gasping for air, tried not to start crying, start laughing. I finally finished, an official chip time of 5:57.51 and clock time of 6:07.02. I was amazed how exhausted and worn I was for such a slow time.

I got my medal, had the chip cut from my shoe, got a cold bottle of water that I drank down in a couple of seconds. I got an iced towel and wiped it all over my head trying to cool down. I waited and got my picture taken. The secure finishing area had tons of exhausted finishers, food, drinks, free Spenco sandals. I grabbed a few things and found my UPS truck with my bag I had checked earlier, then set off through the crowds to find the TnT tent. And a porta potty. I found both.

I collected my 26.2 TnT pin and got a pb&j sandwich and some chips in the TnT tent. They did a superb job of handing out food and drinks. I badly wanted to go get my free beer, but I was too wiped out. I wanted to see what booths were at the finish area, but again, too tired. I hung out with some teammates until we all walked over to the bus to take us back to the hotel.

The only way to do this race is if you can get on one of those buses. Other people have to hike about a mile away to the parking areas. TnT buses also get right of way leaving the facility. It's definitely a plus. I've heard from people that it can take almost an hour to get out of there.

After the bus dropped us at our hotel I dragged my sorry self back to my room and realized that I had dropped my iced towel on the bus when I stood up. I also realized I had snagged my shorts on a jagged edge on the bus seat. Damn, they were my favorite race shorts and now they're only good for treadmilling in the privacy of my own home. Stupid bus.

After showering (::shudder::) and resting a while I dressed and walked over to the victory party. I hadn't eaten (not hungry) and had forced myself to drink the bottle of electrolyte stuff they had given us at the end of the race. I met up with some teammates as we stood in line. I was totally unimpressed with the spread. Usually the food at the RnR/TnT victory party is really good, they realize that we've been (supposedly) eating a strict training diet and this is the time to go all out. This looked more like what you'd eat the week leading up to the race; salad, bean salad, overheated chicken breasts in a light tomato-y sauce, overheated fish in a creamy-type sauce, some other protein dish I don't remember, and roasted potatoes. The dessert table almost made up for it. There were several bars set up and after I put down my plate at our table I hurried over to one to get a glass of wine because -- oh crap! I forgot my wallet in my hotel room! Damn! I sat at the table, ate some of the food I had gotten and decided I was just going to have to go back to the hotel because I really wanted that wine.

So I walked allllll the way back to the hotel, got my wallet, and met up with more team members. We walked allllll the way back again and I was able to get my wine. I also got a big piece of cake which was surprisingly good. We all sat around eating and drinking and telling each other about our races. Then we all got out on the dance floor and danced until they were ready to kick us out of there.

A group of people were going to continue the party down in the Gaslamp District but a couple of us decided to just have one drink in the hotel bar and call it a night. The bitchy bartender was unaware that about 20 people were descending upon her and she wasn't very capable of getting drinks made for everyone. Finally the big crowd cleared out and just a few were left. We had one Grey Goose martini, made with way too much vermouth. We had the second one and requested less vermouth, it was much better. Then we decided to see if a third could be made even tastier. Yup, it was. Then we decided to go to bed and uh oh. Nothing like exhaustion, dehydration, very little food, very little fluids and lots of vodka to impair one's self. I bounced my way back to the room (literally; "hi wall, nice to see you") and fell senseless into bed. Best sleep I've had for years!

So one more race finished, one more TnT season done. I'm glad I got my finishing times back under 6 hours, even if I just squeaked this one through. It was a course PR too, even though it wasn't a race PR. On the old course I was almost ten minutes faster, but the one other time I ran this course I was a whole 9 seconds slower. Impressive progress, huh! I'm hoping that my fall marathons, whatever they end up being, will be more in the 5:4x time, maybe even in the 5:3x. I have a lot of work to do!

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