Monday, June 2, 2008

Sunburst Half-Marathon Race Report

Well, Lam asked for a happy-happy-joy-joy half-marathon race report . . . and so I’m going to attempt to make this one, despite the fact that my time was actually kind of crappy (and by “kind of crappy,” I actually mean “shockingly atrocious”—but yeah, trying to remain positive here!). You see, I somehow managed to continue my ridiculous streak of bad racing luck with the Sunburst Half Marathon this weekend in South Bend, IN.

Let’s back-track a little bit. Earlier last week—Wednesday, I believe—I woke up with a head full of congestion, a throat full of swelling/scratchiness/pain, and an overall feeling of ickiness. As this had happened in the week prior to the LA Marathon, I didn’t fret . . . I instead worked on pumping my body full of Echinacea, green tea, clear fluids and all things vitamin-C. While these tricks had proved successful prior to LA, and managed to kick whatever illness I had contracted then, it simply didn’t work this time around. My mutant sinus infection was far too severe to allow such silly little home-remedies to beat it!

Wilson and I flew out to Chicago on Friday morning after a bit of a delay due to crappy Chicago weather. Once on the plane, the flight went fine for me up until the dreaded landing. All I could do was grit my teeth and pray for the flight to be over—the pressure in my ears was practically unbearable. After what seemed like an eternity, the plane finally landed. I was convinced that my left ear drum had burst, and I was SO not a happy camper. While I had managed to survive, I could tell I was going to be deaf in my left ear for the majority of the weekend (and I was). In addition, after spending approximately half of my annual salary on a plethora of cold/sinus medications, I still hadn’t found one that actually relieved my severe congestion. The trip was NOT off to a good start!

My father kindly volunteered to take care of packet pick-up for my family while my mother picked Wilson and me up at O’Hare . . . and then we all met up in South Bend and grabbed dinner at a cute Italian place called
The Vine. While I’m positive that my bowtie pasta with grilled chicken and sun-dried tomatoes was quite delicious . . . I couldn’t exactly taste it, due to my horrific sinus condition! Sadness. We finished dinner, drove to yet another pharmacy in search of a magical sinus drug (apparently none exist), and then settled into our suite at the Innisfree Bed and Breakfast (as an aside, this place is all Celtic-like and just totally adorable—and it’s actually cheaper than the crap South Bend chain hotels that SERIOUSLY overcharge for all events semi-related to the University of Notre Dame—if you ever have any reason to stay in South Bend, I highly recommend this place! They have the BEST coffee and the yummiest oatmeal ever!) I showered, got my race gear together (all the while praying my sinus infection would magically disappear overnight), and then attempted to drug myself to sleep around 11:00 p.m.

I actually slept relatively well, all things considered. The congestion was still out of control, but I think I was just so tired that I managed to sleep through it. I woke up around 6:00 a.m.—about 15 minutes before the alarm. I figured I might as well get up, as I felt pretty well-rested and not at all sleepy. I got myself up, went to use the bathroom, and realized that my chest felt kind of funny. That’s right, folks. My stupid sinus infection had begun to take over my chest as well. I debated all morning long about whether I should run or not. I knew it wasn’t the smartest idea to run (especially given the fact that I am scheduled to start training for Chicago in a week), but I really wanted to hang out again on the field in Notre Dame Stadium!!

After some firm but encouraging words from my father, I decided I would at least give the race a shot. If I felt really crappy I could just walk the entire thing . . . or hell, I could drop out if I absolutely had to. We walked over to the College Football Hall of Fame, where the races started (the BnB was only about a half-mile away), and arrived around 7:05 . . . just 10 minutes before my mother’s 5K race was set to start. I wished her and my father (who was running the 10K at 7:45) luck, and then Wilson and I wandered around hoping to find gear check in the short time we had before our own race started (at 7:30). We found a volunteer, asked her where gear check was, and she responded, “Oh, I don’t think there is one.” WHAT?! I knew she was wrong, but couldn’t figure out where the heck it was. Finally, Wilson and I turned around and realized it was in a not-so-well-marked tent right behind us. I sent Wilson over with the bag, looked at my watch and realized it was already 7:20. I pounded a gel and some water, and we hurried over to take our places at the start line.

On the way, we managed to run into my group of college friends who were all running various races. We chatted for a couple minutes, and then headed our separate ways. Wilson and I took our places just in front of the 10:00 pace marker. While I had originally (secretly) hoped to run the race in under 2:05, I knew that all bets were off, thanks to my little congestion/cough issue. Wilson was kind enough to start with me, even though I knew he was shooting for a 1:50 finish. I attempted to stretch out a little bit, and before I knew it the gun had gone off, and we were on our way.

As I crossed the start line, I miraculously remembered to hit start on my Garmin. This is shocking because, in the excitement of starting a race, I almost always forget to do so. I looked around me, and tried to take stock of the situation. The weather was pleasant . . . overcast and in the mid-60s (although that would later change). I felt crappy, but not unbearably so. Breathing was difficult, but not impossible (yet). I felt pretty good about my choice of clothing, and hell, Wilson was even running with me, giving me someone to chat with! All of a sudden, we passed the mile-1 marker. Um, huh?! That was fast! I looked at the clock and saw that it read around 6:45. That can’t be right! I looked down at my Garmin . . . the time was about right, but I only had about .7 mile! As it turns out, the mile-1 marker was just for the marathon . . . which took a little bit of a different starting route. I wouldn’t figure out that the mile marker signs were ONLY for the marathoners until somewhere around mile-8 (the mile-markers for half-marathoners were painted on the ground). Ha . . . oops!

The first three miles were a breeze. I started to think that perhaps I wasn’t quite as sick as I’d originally thought—or perhaps somehow running had magically cured me of my sinus infection. I actually felt . . . good! We were cruising along at about a 9:40 pace, and running felt easy. Sadly, that all changed somewhere around mile-4. I don’t know what happened, but all of a sudden, I became very aware of my inability to breathe through my nose, and of my body’s generally high level of fatigue. In addition, it was right around this time that the sun came out and the temps started rising. I seriously thought I was done. There were points where I was pretty much gasping for breath. I pushed myself on until an aid station somewhere around mile 6 (my Garmin crapped out early on, and was just totally out of sync with the actual race mileage--so I can't be sure). I slowed to a walk to take a gel and grab some water . . . and then, for some reason, I just felt the need to keep walking. I insisted that Wilson go ahead, as I didn’t want to be responsible for screwing up his first half-marathon.

I let myself walk for a good quarter-mile before I felt well enough to pick it back up to a run. I generally would have been beating myself up in my head over the fact that I was walking, but instead I actually started trying to think positively. It was kind of odd. I patted myself on the back for even being out there on the course. I knew that most people probably would have stayed in bed, were they faced with a similar condition. I told myself it was okay to take it slow . . . and that it might be a good idea to reassess my original “healthy runner” race plan. I decided on trying out some intervals. For the remainder of the race, I decided to run ¾ mile—walk ¼ mile. A lot of times, I actually extended my running distance to a mile or 1 ¼ miles if I was feeling okay . . . other times, I would extend the walking portion a bit. I mostly tried to play it by ear (or maybe "nose" would be more accurate) . . . and listen to my body.

There was one excellent stretch of about 1 ½ miles that I really enjoyed—I think it was somewhere around miles 8-9, on a path along the St. Joseph River. It was nicely shaded, and just gorgeous. It reminded me a lot of the bike path I used to run on as a teenager—back when I ran for the joy of it, rather than to train for specific events. Also, along this path, I encountered what I *thought* was a snake (it was a twig). Now, in case you didn’t already know this, I have what has to be the biggest phobia of snakes of anyone on the planet. I jumped so high when I saw that twig, it was ridiculous . . . and I swear that my heart just about leapt right out of my chest. I’m sure it was entertaining for the people around me!

After we left the beautiful riverside path (around mile-9), we wove around the surrounding neighborhood. By this time, it was H-O-T, and there were very few spectators around. I was bummed. Still, I just kept telling myself that the less I walked, the faster I’d be done. Somewhere between miles 11-12, we merged with the 5K “fitness walk” participants. By this time, I seriously wanted to beat them all in the face. I was hot and grumpy, and I couldn’t breath . . . and I still felt all weird because my left ear was clogged up. These people looked like they were actually--GASP--enjoying themselves! How dare they! Anyway, besides my obvious envy over the fact that they weren’t suffering nearly as much as I was, I was also pissed . . . these people kept trying to take up the ENTIRE road, despite the fact that a million and a half volunteers kept yelling at them to stay to the left! There was hardly any space to pass anyone! Thus, I finally allowed myself to slow to a walk, promising that once I hit Notre Dame Avenue at mile-12, I would run in strong until I hit the finish line.

As we turned onto ND Ave., I picked it up and began to pass some people. It felt really good! As we quickly approached Notre Dame’s campus, I began to have flashbacks to my college years, and the runs I would go on around campus. My legs were a little fatigued, but overall, I felt good. I knew I had a strong finish in me. We turned onto Angela, and then onto Eddy . . . and we ran straight up Eddy towards the stadium. I continued to pass people. A couple of high-school aged girls were running right in front of me, and when we were not even a 1/3 of a mile away from the stadium, one of them slowed to a walk. Her friend tried to convince her to start running again, but she refused. As I approached her, I tried my hardest to convince her to pick it back up, “We’re so close—just into the stadium, then we’re done!” But she was NOT having it.

Satisfied that I’d at least tried, I continued on, pushing myself as hard as I could. We reached the north end of the stadium and ran in through the tunnel with the Victory March blasting! It was as wonderful as I remembered it being the previous year--probably moreso, since I had to run farther to get there! I had the goofiest smile of all time on my face as I ran through that tunnel Rudy-style! I clapped my hands and screamed the words of the Victory March out, all the while trying to keep myself from wiping out (the tunnel contains quite a steep downhill!). As we entered onto the field, I kicked it up to a full-out sprint, and passed a big handful of people on my way to the finish line. It was one of the best kicks I’ve ever had . . . according to my Garmin, I maxed out at a 4:00 pace over the last 50 yards or so. I crossed the finish line, immediately received a cold, wet washcloth (LOVE that they do this), had my chip removed, my medal placed around my neck . . . and I stumbled a few yards ahead to discover my own little fan club! My parents, Wilson and my college buddies were all hanging out, waiting for me to finish. I was SO happy to see them all.

Wilson grabbed me a popsicle, while I received compliment after compliment over my crazy kick at the finish. There’s just something about getting to run through the tunnel and onto the field at ND that gives me so much energy! I swear I could run a 200-mile ultra and have a great kick at the end, so long as the race finished up on the 50-yardline of ND Stadium! My friends and family chatted for a bit and enjoyed the wonderful post-race food donated by Meijer, and then headed off to our various hotels/homes/etc.

When we got back to the BnB, we arrived right at the same time as an older gentleman, who was obviously staying there as well. He asked how our races had gone, and we muttered some kind of casual, non-descript answer . . . and then asked him if he had run in any of the races. He replied that he actually was there to watch his son run the marathon. We asked how it had gone for his son, expecting a similarly blah answer. Imagine our shock when he answered, “Oh, it went pretty well. He finished in, I think, 3rd or 4th place.” Um, WHAT?! We expressed our genuine shock and awe over the fact that his son had actually placed, and he continued with, “Yeah, it was his first marathon. So I guess it went pretty well. He qualified for Boston.” Um. Yeah, by like a half hour (I forget what his time was, but it was around 2:40)! Wow. Wow. Can I just say wow again?

So what was my official time? It was 2:19:54, which averages out to a 10:40 pace. Not a good time for me . . . but considering the circumstances under which I was forced to run, I’m pretty happy. I think I saved myself a lot of time by deciding early on to switch to intervals. It seemed like the 3-4 minutes of walking every mile or so really helped me out with my pace over the remainder of the mile. When I was running, I averaged somewhere around a 9:45-9:50 pace.

While I’m clearly very anxious to “redeem” myself, I’m not going to make the same mistake I made after my disappointing marathon time this March. Instead, I’m going to try to hold my level of fitness for the next week by cross-training, and fitting in a decent long run on Saturday—then I’m going to enjoy a nice week-long vacation in St. John, U.S. Virgin Islands (YAY!), and come back refreshed and ready to train for Chicago. Because this time around? I’m going to make sure that I’m so ready, luck won’t matter!

I leave you with a photo of "the kids" and I . . . everyone kicked butt at his/her various events! I think it's just the angle at which the shot was taken, but holy crap do I look like a little person! Also, please forgive my obscenely pale stomach. Whoopsies! I guess that's what St. John is for, no?

Hope you all had lovely weekends! I look forward to (again) catching up on your fantastic blogs!


Meg said...

Nice job! I'd be proud for finishing with a cold that bad! And at a 10:40 pace while walking that much? That's awesome.
It's cool is it that your parents were running that day too!
Feel better soon!

Laura said...

Congratulations! I'm especially impressed that you had the discipline to do the run/walk... for me, I have too much of an all-or-nothing mentality even when it would be better to mix it up.

Sounds like a really exciting finish to the race too - I'd love to try someday.

Get well soon!

*jen* said...

I'll be happy to complete my measly 5k doing 10:40 miles...and I'm not sick. GREAT JOB!!! Feel better soon.

Alissa said...

Nice race report. Congrats on finishing even though you were sick. I'm with Laura, I have too much of an all or nothing mentality, I probably would have skipped it. Oh and you and I are much the same with it comes to snakes. I have this huge fear of snakes and I am always scoping out the path in front of me checking every twig to make sure. And I have jumped a few times like a crazy person when there was no snake, just a twig, or a noise that sounds like a rattle or something strange feeling under my foot. I don't know why they scare me so much but they do!

The Laminator said...

Okay, this is not exactly the happy-happy, joy-joy race report I was looking for...maybe just one happy and one joy! =)

Congrats Irish on finishing the half-marathon. I think the impromptu switch to the run/walk saved the day for you. I'm impressed that you were able to come up with that mid-race. I can hardly ever think clearly at the start of a race, much less in the middle.

Have a great vacation and we'll cheer you on as you train for Chicago!