Monday, January 27, 2014

Newcastle Racecourse Marathon 2013

     I realized today that I never wrote a race report for the Newcastle Racecourse! Although, considering the experience I had, it is not particularly surprising that I would try to forget it.
     The race was held December 8th on the High Gosforth Park Racecourse. The competitors, all 100 or so of us, ran around the service road that is normally reserved for ambulances and grounds keepers. To get in the appropriate mileage, we started part way around the track with different start lines for the half, full, and 50K so that everyone would finish up at the same place. It was almost 16 laps for the full marathon, 19 for the 50K runners.
    You really get to know the terrain when you go around so many times. I tend to stop looking around and focus only on what is on or next to the track; the hay bale that is ½ way around, the billboard that is ¾ of the way around, the crest of the hill, the beginning and end of the section into the wind. It all becomes very redundant. It was not an ugly course, there were trees and hills, but it was foggy with occasional rain and incessant wind. I would get a bit too warm running with the wind, and then freeze running into it so I was shucking or donning my jacket every 10 minutes or less.  There were also golfers in the center of the track.  I don’t know how anyone could play in that wind, but these folks North England folks are tough and a little bad weather does not keep them from their weekend golf game! On many occasions I would hear that sickening thwak that sounds like impending doom, but to the best of my knowledge, none of the runners were hit with golf balls.
     The 50K runners really impressed me. All of them finished their 19 laps before I finished my 16, whizzing past me in happy chatty groups. My head and my heart were simply not in this race and it showed in my slogging steps and downcast eyes. I ran it just to run it, an intermediary step between Dublin and Anglesey in January (which I did not end up running at all.) I think 26 miles on the treadmill would have been easier mentally and certain logistically and financially.
     Another nasty surprise came when I realized the drink I had been chugging each lap had artificial sweeteners in it. They make me very sick and normally I can taste them in the first sip, but everything tastes odd to me in England so I did not think much of the flavor. It never occurred to me that anyone would give low sugar drinks to runners, but after asking about it on the Marathon Maniacs’ page, it seems this is becoming more common so I will have to keep a sharp eye out for it. It really crippled me for the race. My stomach was killing me and my mood turned even darker and angrier. The food dye Red-40, and artificial sweeteners have the same effect on me. They do something to my nervous system that makes me want to jump out of my skin and rip peoples’ faces off. It is a horrible feeling and one that is very hard to overcome in order to finish a marathon. A very hard day turned into a completely miserable one.
      I really only needed to run 20 miles to get in the time I needed on my feet so I could easily have walked away after 12 or 13 laps, but I was so mad at how poorly I was doing that I was determined to stick it out and get my lousy medal. When I finally finished there were only 4 or 5 people left on the track, all full marathoners duking it out with the wind. I really appreciated the volunteers that stayed at the finish line/lap station, making off runners as they came through and manning the drink table. The emergency workers on bicycles had long since retreated to the hut where it was warm and out of the wind, which really made me angry because I saw a runner nearly collapse. She had bent down to retie her shoe and set off a vasovagal response. Fortunately, she was not running alone. I stopped to make sure she was okay and then went ahead to alert the volunteers while her partner took care of her.
     When I finally finished, I hung around for a few minutes to watch the girl that had been struggling to come in and cheer her on. While chatting with the volunteers, the race director told me I was the only woman in my age group to finish the race so, Tah-Dah! I had a little first place plaque to go with my medal. It always seems kind of silly to get an award with such a painfully slow finish time (5:16:17), but considering the conditions and that fact that others in my group had registered, but not shown up to run, means I’m just a little tougher than they are so I will take the win.

I believe I am done running races just to run a race. If there is no reason to look forward to the course or the race in general, it is just miserable. I ended up not running the Coastal Trail Series race in Holyhead (on Anglesey Is.) because I just could not face another freezing cold race in high winds. Jacksonville was awesome and Malta will be awesome in February. In the meantime, I’ll run outside when it suits me and run on the treadmill to get the bulk of my mileage in. Thank goodness for a home treadmill with an incline!

Friday, January 17, 2014

Jacksonville Bank Marathon 2014

        It has been a while since I had a really great race, but Jacksonville was one of them! Since I had been on the road for a week, living in a hotel and eating in restaurants, I did not have high hopes for a great finish, but I knew it would be fun with lots of fellow Marathon Maniacs and it was my 20th lifetime race of marathon or longer distance.
Pouring rain, but beautiful
Photo credit:  Jurgen Englerth
      A few days before the race, my husband checked the weather forecast and told me, in a very grave tone, that it would be in the upper 60’s (F) and raining. Clearly he is not a runner because that is an awesome forecast for a marathon!  Near the beginning of the race it was a bit warm, but I never felt over heated or cold, just excited, it was awesome! Several times we got a full on Florida downpour, but once you are soaked with sweat, rain water, or both, it hardly makes a difference to get soaked again when you are warm. I did have a bit more chafing than usual in some pretty unpredictable places, but nothing that was a problem during the race. The one down side being the weight added to our shoes from running through ankle deep water.
                Jacksonville is a truly beautiful city and the race course did not disappoint. We ran through gorgeous residential areas of multi-million dollar homes, lined with ancient trees that were hanging with Spanish moss. Often, I am so focused in races that I hardly look at where I am, but this time I enjoyed the views immensely.  Although there were quite a few turns, it was a pancake flat course and is a Boston Qualifier so a good one for folks with an eye on qualifying.
Photo credit:  Jurgen Englerth
                Of course, one of the best parts of the race for me was the Marathon Maniacs!  Being able to look ahead and see 3 MM singlets at once was such fun! When you see that shirt, you know you will find a good attitude, a smile, and all the encouragement you need. 
Jurgen himself! It was awesome to meet him in person finally,
but better to beat him to the finish line :-D
                Once again, I used my Galloway style run/walk with a 4 minute run and 1 minute walk. I spotted a couple of official Galloway pace groups, but when they run they run too fast for me so I stuck to my own pace and intervals and it worked really well.  Jacksonville was my 4th fastest marathon to date and my second fastest for the year (my all-time personal record having been set in March.) I have tried dropping to a 3/1 interval, which is closer to the interval recommend by Jeff Galloway, but it just slows me down and does not help me recover any faster.

                 My last couple of marathons have been plagued with a weird soreness on the top of my ankle, but I seem to have resolved it as there was no tenderness there at all this time. Matter of fact, I was only a little sore from the race and the soreness was spread evenly over my body, including my core muscles. That is my next focus area, abs and back! I have been terrible with my training the last few months, particularly my core training, so it is time to get my plank time back up and start hitting the stability ball more often.
Loads of MM's and HF's on the course
Photo credit:  Jurgen Englerth
                The main reason this race went particularly well was my mental state. I was happy to be there, happy with all the people around me, rested, and excited to be running.  Normally, miles 13-20 are brutal and it is all I can do to keep myself moving, but this time I hit mile 15 and realized that I still felt great physically and I was still in a really positive place mentally. That is highly unusual for me!  The second half went so well I almost managed my first negative split for the halves (missed it by 8 seconds, LOL.)
Ahhhh, warm rain!
                It was a ton of fun and I’m primed and excited for my next marathon in Malta. I was supposed to run a January marathon in England, but life got in the way and I am taking a pass. As much as I hate to miss a scheduled race, it will allow me the time to build my paces back up for Malta and maybe hit a new PR. More important is my need to focus for Two Oceans in April. I have a lot of running to do!

Jacksonville loves it's runners!
Photo credit:  Jurgen Englerth