Cape Cod Marathon Recap
|November 2, 2010||Posted by Lauren under Running|
I’m sitting here in my bright orange CCM shirt, finally writing my marathon recap. But before I start, I just want to take a minute to thank you all for your wonderful words of encouragement. Yesterday, as I hobbled around at work feeling tired and (I’ll admit) a little grumpy, all I had to do was read through all of your comments and the smile would return to my face. So thank you again. You all know how to make a sore marathoner feel on top of the world!
The morning of Halloween 2010 started off normal enough — for a marathon day, that is. I woke up before the sun, shaking with nervous anticipation as I pulled on layer after layer in the cold dark. I then triple checked my marathon bag to make sure I had everything, choked down an almond butter and honey bagel and chugged coffee and gatorade in the car on the way to the Cape…all while trying not to think about the challenge I had in front of me. Despite my relaxed-sounding marathon mentality, I was nervous. This was my first marathon in a year and a half, and I wasn’t sure how my body would handle the distance.
With just over 1,000 runners, the Cape Cod Marathon was also my smallest marathon to date. I was nervous about the long time between water stops, the sparseness of the crowd, and whether I’d be running by myself the entire time.
The race officials had sent out warnings before the race about construction on the Bourne bridge that was slowing down traffic, and recommended that we give ourselves an extra hour to get to the race. Not wanting to risk missing the start, Evan and I left really early…and got to the start with over an hour and a half to spare. For me, extra time before the race just meant extra trips to the bathroom (if it’s there and I’m waiting, I’ve got to use it!). Benefit #1 of running a small race: there were plenty of bathrooms without a long wait. The CCM race headquarters were at a local high school near the starting line, which meant plenty of bathrooms to choose from.
Finally, with about 15 minutes to the start, I worked my way through the crowd to the starting line. Benefit #2 of a small race: you don’t have to line up wicked early to get a spot near the front.
The sun was shining and the air was cool – a perfect day for a marathon. At 8:30am, we were off! The marathon and relay runners all started together, and I got swept up in the excitement of the crowd.
How Not to Run a Marathon
The following serves an account of the worst race strategy ever (or I suppose you could also argue that it was the best — depending on how you look at it). I ran this race much faster than I expected and ended up qualifying for Boston (well, for Boston 2012, that is). Even so, I wouldn’t exactly recommend my strategy to anyone in search of a BQ.
The CCM course starts in Falmouth Village, and winds through Falmouth, Buzzards, Bay, and Woods Hole. The course is extremely scenic — running along the ocean, through idyllic wooded roads, and along cranberry bogs. It is also very rolling, with the second half being notoriously worse (particularly miles 15.5 through 23.5). But the truth is, there are rolling hills sprinkled throughout the entire course. Over 26.2 miles, we climbed a total of 1018 feet. We weren’t climbing mountains, but 26.2 miles of rolling hills definitely does a number on your legs.
This is why race officials recommend going out conservatively and saving your energy for that challenging 8 mile stretch of hills. I knew the course. Evan and I drove the second half on Saturday so I’d know what I was facing. Armed with this information, what do you think an experienced runner such as myself did? Why, start off like a bat outta hell, of course! The first several miles wove through downtown Falmouth and along the ocean. The scenary was so beautiful that I got swept up in it all as I ran along. I was filled with wonder at the beautiful views; and gratitude for just being able to run this race. I kept thinking: “I’m running a marathon! I’m running a marathon!” And it felt GOOD.
Then suddenly, just after mile 5, a wave of panic hit me. We had left the ocean and I found myself running by myself, in between two packs of runners. To make matters worse, my right knee (which had been bothering me during the last couple weeks of training) started hurting really bad. Worse, in fact, than it ever had. I didn’t know what was going on, but I knew it was way too early for my body to be acting up like this. Normally, this would be the spot in the marathon when I’d turn on my music, put in my headphones, and just zone out to my favorite songs. Now that this wasn’t an option, I found myself panicking — how the heck was I going to make it 21.2 more miles?
Then, like a mirage, I saw Evan and Koli standing up ahead. Benefit #3 of running a small race: it’s really easy for people to cheer for you at multiple spots; and for them to pick you out of the crowd. Seeing them gave me the boost I needed. I gave a little surge to catch up with the group running in front of me, and let those runners carry me for the next few miles.
The next five miles were relatively uneventful. We ran through farmland and along cranberry bogs. My pace picked back up again as I allowed a group of runners to pull me along. I took my first GU around mile 8 and sang to myself to forget about the pain in my knee.
MIles 10.5 to 12.5 brought more uphill. My group of runners split up and I felt the positive energy draining out once again. I kept trying to focus on how much I’d accomplished already, but my brain kept switching to thoughts of how long I had left. I didn’t remember it ever taking so long to get to the halfway point. I then started getting annoyed at myself for not enjoying the race, which of course made matters worse. After all, my one real goal for this race was to have fun. And at this point, what I was feeling was as far away from fun and enjoyment as I could get.
I finally got the negative thoughts under control and forced myself to break the race up into small, manageable pieces. All I had to do was to make it to the water stops, and once I did, I just had to make it until I could see the awesome people who came to cheer me on — Evan, Becky, and her mom. They were all over that course! Every time I saw them I got an extra boost of energy that would propel me on.
After mile 15, the course started getting significantly hillier and my pace dropped to an 8-something mile, where it stayed for the rest of the race. Each time I turned a corner and saw another uphill in front of me I just kept repeating, “there’s always a downhill!” The course was a loop after all. I had to come back down somehow.
By mile 17ish, I started getting extremely hungry. I had taken my second GU at mile 16 and had been trying to drink some Cytomax (the energy drink handed out during the race) along the way, but my stomach wouldn’t stop grumbling. When I saw Evan again after mile 19, he handed me some Gatorade and a Cliff Bar. He ran along side of me as I took a few sips from the Gatorade and chatted about the never-ending hills that just seemed to be getting worse. All too soon we parted ways.
Miles 19 through 24 were particularly rough. My pace slowed way down and my stomach kept switching from feeling ravenously hungry to nauseous. I tried to choke down some of the Cliff Bar, but without any water it just turned to paste in my mouth. I felt like I was slogging up those hills, clinging onto that bar for dear life — convincing myself that just holding onto it would give me the energy that I needed. I eventually caught up to a girl running the relay and we chatted for a little bit about the tough course. When I told her that she got the worst leg, she quickly responded, “No, you have the worst! You have to do the whole thing!” Which made me laugh and brightened up my mood a bit. She said she’d run Boston 5 times and this course was definitely tougher. I was just glad I wasn’t crazy. When I finally got to the next water stop (mile 21), I chucked the Cliff Bar, realizing that it wasn’t going to do me any good to carry it the entire way. For the first time since starting the race, I walked through a water stop. This became my new strategy — to only let myself walk a few paces while drinking.
Of course, at this point, I also realized that my time was going to be better than I had expected. Even though I felt like I was crawling, I was still somehow managing to keep my pace around 8:30 (besides my walk breaks). And due to my crazy pace at the start, I knew I was well under the Boston qualifying time. Every time I passed another mile marker, I would quickly recalculate how much time I had left to make it in under 3:40:59. And with each mile, I realized that I could run slower and still make it. Call it twisted, but the only thing that kept me moving along was knowing that if I kept running sub-9 minute miles, I could practically walk the last couple and still qualify.
Just after mile 24, I saw Evan and Becky one final time. They cheered loudly, screaming that I was almost there.
The course had finally flattened out, and I knew I still had a little over 30 minutes to finish with a BQ. You’d think this fact would have been exciting enough to make me pick it up to the finish line. But the reality was that my legs were completely out of gas. My fast pace at the beginning and the long stretch of hills had sucked all the energy out of my body — and all rational thought from my mind. With each step that I took, the urge to stop and sit by the side of the road got stronger and stronger. If you’ve never run a marathon, it’s hard to imagine just how long those last several miles can feel to a person that’s already run over 20. You’d think that 2 – 3 miles would seem like nothing. But on Sunday, those last few miles seemed to stetch out into an eternity. We ran along the ocean, with views of Martha’s Vineyard in the distance. I tried to focus on the beauty of it all, tried to get excited about the fact that I was going to run a really good time. But all I could do was pray. Pray that my legs wouldn’t buckle from under me and that I’d have the strength to finish what I started.
Finally, finally mile 26 neared. As we rounded the corner to approach the 26 mile marker, a guy passed by me shouting out words of encouragement, “Keep it up! You’re going to make it under 3:30!!” I didn’t believe it. There was no way I’d finish that quick.
But somehow I did. I passed mile 26, turned onto Main St, and saw the clock in front of me. I watched the numbers tick closer and closer to 3:30 and moved my lead-filled legs as fast as they could go. I dug deep, pulling out reserves of energy that I didn’t know existed, and hobbled across that finish line.
My final stats according to Garmin:
My official stats:
- Time: 3:29:49
- Pace: 8:01
- Place: 127/829 finishers
- Division (18 – 49 female): 19/208
After a few moments of feeling like I was going to collapse and throw up, the reality of what I had just done finally sunk in. Not only had I finished the marathon, but I had finished way faster than I really thought I could.
All the challenges of the past 3.5 hours were suddenly worth it. My thoughts immediately shifted from how physically and mentally drained I was to excitement: I was a 3:30 marathoner on a hilly course! What could I do on a flat one?
What can I say? Us distance runners are a crazy bunch.
And as for the headphones? Have I become a convert to running without music?? The course was beautiful, the volunteers wonderful, and the other runners extremely supportive. But honestly, I missed my iPod. I know that I’m strong enough to make it without it (and for that, I am happy and proud), but you better believe that I’ll be running my next marathon with my favorite playlist in tow.
Thank you so much to those of you who came to cheer me on. Your support seriously got me through the race — I couldn’t have done it without all of you!