Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Mobile First Light Marathon Race Recap

January 8th, 2017

I chose to run my third marathon at Mobile First Light primarily for the cause that it supports.
L'Arche Mobile is one of many L'Arche communities worldwide. L'Arche is an international federation of communities in which people with intellectual disabilities and those who help them can live, work, and share their lives together. The members of the L'Arche Mobile community spent countless hours on the unique handmade wooden medallions and they presented them to the runners at the finish line.

Any race that supports organizations that benefit people with disabilities is special to me because of my brother Raymond who had Down Syndrome. He lost his battle to two types of cancer both diagnosed in the last year of his life. He was just 13 years old. Raymond would have turned 27 on January 7th the day before this race. They say that time heals all wounds, but there are times when the pain of losing him feels so fresh like it just happened yesterday. This weekend was one of those times. Everywhere I turned I was reminded of him, which made for an extremely emotional race weekend experience.

It started while waiting for the elevator in the parking garage at the hotel. I struck up a conversation with a woman with Down Syndrome. She traveled from Chicago to participate in the fun run. She asked me what race I was running. When I told her I was running the marathon she hugged my neck and said, "I'm so proud of you." I tried to hold back tears and swallow the huge lump in my throat. I imagined Raymond would say the same thing. This was a sweet reminder that he is with me always.

We checked into the Admiral Hotel next door to the Government Plaza where packet pick-up and the expo was held. This hotel offered a reasonable race discount. It was convenient to the start and finish lines and was within walking distance to several restaurants downtown.

View from our hotel room
Packet pick up was quick and easy. The expo was on the smaller side with only a few local vendors and discount merchandise. L'Arche had a booth with some handmade jewelry and crafts. I bought a necklace from this booth. I met several members of L'Arche at the expo. They were excited for the race. They talked about their pasta dinner that evening and about how cold it would be on race morning. I purchased a pair of Hot Hands at the last booth. They were a hot commodity.

We had dinner at the Pizzeria Delfina. They served delicious authentic Italian cuisine: pizzas, calzones, Stromboli, and pastas. I had the traditional spaghetti and meatballs. The meatballs were huge! I wish I remembered to take a picture (blogger fail).

We got back to the hotel around 7:00. Good thing because I spent the next two hours debating on what to wear on race morning. It was going to be in the 20's at the start with the real feel in the teens and the temperature wouldn't reach the 40's until I was finished. To add to the chill, the wind was going to be a steady 10-15 mph. After much debate I decided on my long thermal tights instead of capris and a long sleeve insulating layer under my half zip pull-over. I was worried that I might get too hot once I got warmed up, but fortunately that was not the case.

A winter storm blew though the south on Friday. Some people had snow, but it brought mostly freezing rain and ice accumulations. Unfortunately for runners attempting the Back 2 Back Challenge (Mississippi Blues on Saturday + First Light on Sunday) this storm cancelled the Mississippi Blues on Saturday. It was a good call by race officials but still a disappointment for runners. Mobile First Light was not affected by the winter storm. There were some patches of black ice coned off on sidewalks and a few fountains were frozen, but the course was clear.

Race Day

The race started at 7:30. Runners flooded the hotel lobby. Everyone was trying to stay warm before the start of the race. I finally braved the cold and walked to the start line around 7:15. It was just outside the hotel lobby on Government Street. I'm all about convenience. I was glad I got to meet an IG friend Katherine (irunthislifeins) briefly at the start line. She was running the half as a training run for her upcoming full marathon and 50K.

Me and Katherine at the start line

My goal for this marathon was to run a PR (4:45 or better). I trained longer and harder for this marathon than I had for my first two. I used Hal Higdon's Intermediate plan instead of his Novice plan adding an extra day a week of running and an extra 20 mile long run. My training went well. I was confident that I would reach my goal.

The first several miles run through portions of downtown and through residential areas. I loved looking at the historic homes. The architecture reminded me of New Orleans. I was settling into a comfortable, steady pace.
Mile 1-10:00
Mile 2-10:11
Mile 3-10:07
Mile 4-10:25

Michael captured these pictures of me in the first few miles of the race. I never even saw him.
Michael took this picture of the Church Street Cemetery. We passed it around Mile 4.

 Mile 5-10:17
Mile 6-10:15
Mile 7-10:02
Mile 8-10:14

The half marathoners split just past mile 8. I felt confident when I turned left for the full marathon course. Only a few other runners made the turn with me. Not long after making the turn, I felt a twinge in my right knee. I assumed it was because of the frigid temps. Maybe I didn't allow myself enough time to warm up. Maybe my tights were too restrictive. I stopped to adjust them. There was a seam along the knee cap that I hoped wouldn't aggravate things any worse. "I've got a long way to go." "If I felt this bad miles ago I would have split off with the half marathoners." I tried to drown out the negative thoughts by turning up my music on the iPod. Despite the pain in my knee I was maintaining a consistent pace.

Mile 9-10:13
Mile 10-10:24

There's a misconception that Mobile is flat and fast. I didn't look at the elevation chart until after registering for this race. Miles 11-20 were uphill climbs followed by downhill stretches. I tried to simulate this in my long runs. I ran the biggest hill I could find near my house three times on my last 20 miler.

It's hard to see, but this is the elevation chart for the full marathon. You get the idea.

I encountered the first hill around mile 11. I almost reached the top of it before stopping to walk. My knee felt fine while climbing the hill, but when it leveled out I could feel every step pounding the pavement. I reached the half way point in 2:15. I was on track to reach my goal of 4:45 or better.

Mile 11-10:38
Mile 12-11:10
Mile 13-10:39
Mile 14-10:29
The next hill was just past mile 14 before entering the University of South Alabama campus. It was a steady incline but not terribly steep. I walked most of this hill while I ate my Honey Stinger chews. I fueled with the chews every five miles. There were several times on the course when I wished I had my cell phone. The USA campus was one of those times. I wanted a picture with the statue of the Jaguar mascot. We ran past the Mobile Museum of Art during mile 17. I wanted pictures of the neat looking sculptures along Museum Drive.
Mile 15- 11:27
Mile 16- 10:25
Mile 17- 11:45
The water station at Mile 18 was awesome! They served warm chicken broth, Fig Newtons, fruit, and of course water and Gatorade. I wanted to partake in the chicken broth, but I decided to stick with what I knew worked for me during training. This water station must have been strategically placed because the toughest hill was just past it. My hill back home couldn't prepare me for this one. This is the most challenging hill that I've ever encountered. I walked every step of the way to the top and clocked my first 12 minute mile.

Mile 18- 10:34
Mile 19- 12:35
We ran through the Springhill College campus just past mile 19. The streets were canopied with oak trees. Once again I wished I had my cell phone to take pictures. This was a beautiful campus. I reached the 20 mile mark in 3:35 still on track to reach my goal of 4:45, but I didn't have time to spare. I knew the last 10K was all downhill and I hoped to pick up my pace.
Mile 20- 10:57
Mile 21- 11:21
Mile 22- 11:50
I completely fell apart when I reached Dauphin Street at mile 23. I took my beanie and gloves off earlier because I was getting warm. I was glad I held onto them when I got to this point because the headwind made me feel chilled. I was shivering from head to toe. Several runners commented that the road was slanted. I could definitely feel the slant in the road as the pain in my right knee intensified with every step I took. I tried to run towards the center of the road, but the traffic was getting congested on this open course. The bike support asked me if I was ok several times. They were so encouraging throughout the entire race. I didn't come this far to give up now.

Mile 23-12:49
Mile 24-13:00
I clocked my slowest mile at Mile 24. It hurt to walk much less run. I've never experienced so much pain during a race. I cringed with every step I took. My goal was out of reach by now. "I can still sub 5:00." I told myself as the grinding, burning, and aching in my knee intensified. "Forget sub 5:00, just focus on finishing."
Mile 25-12:27
Mile 26-12:20
Tears filled my eyes when I caught a glimpse of the finish line ahead.. I almost begin bawling.  I was overcome with so many emotions: disappointment that I didn't reach my goal, fear of what caused the excruciating pain in my right knee, and elation that I was within a few hundred feet of finishing my third marathon. I noticed Michael in the crowd of spectators and I immediately tried to gain my composure.

Michael captured this picture of me approaching the finish line.

0.45 Mile- 4:51 (10:46 pace)
I crossed the finish line in 4:51:49. I was pleased that despite my struggle in the final miles my finish time was still faster than my first marathon. A young man with Down Syndrome welcomed me at the finish line. I hugged and thanked him before he handed me my medal. He smiled and asked, "Do you want your medal now?" I will cherish that handmade medallion forever.

They had plenty of post race food and entertainment at Bienville Square. We didn't stick around long because I wanted to get back to the hotel and shower before heading home. I loved this race and the special cause it supports. I would definitely run it again, but I will stick to the half marathon in the future.




Friday, January 6, 2017

2016 Running Recap

It's already January 2017, but I wanted to recap my year of running in 2016. Better late than never I guess.

These were my goals from 2016 (copied and pasted from my post at the end of 2015):

1. Run 1,200 miles (I've fallen short of this goal the past two years, but not by much.)
I am proud to say that I exceeded this goal. Although 2016 got off to a slow start with sinus infections and just plain lack of motivation, I logged 100+ miles each month beginning in April through December. My total mileage for the year was 1,243 miles.
2. Moon up in Half Fanatics. I'm at the lowest qualifying level and would love to improve my stats.
I mooned up to Saturn by completing 4 half marathons in 28 days.
3. PR the half marathon. This is going to be tough since it took me so long to sub 2:00, but I think I'm capable of reaching it one day.
My previous PR was 1:59:57. It wasn't easy and it wasn't by much, but I did manage to PR the half marathon by exactly  1 minute and 1 second at the Pensacola Half Marathon in November. My new half marathon PR is 1:58:56!
4. Run a 3rd Full Marathon in the fall and hopefully reach my 4:40 goal or better. I think I may have settled on which full, but more on that when it's official.
I didn't run a full marathon in 2016. I had all intentions of running my third full marathon at Pensacola in November. I registered as soon as it opened in March and began training in July. I was consistent with my training until our house sold in late August. I struggled to complete my long runs while house hunting and packing. We found a house in the final stages of construction, but it wouldn't be completed until one month after we moved out of our house. We had to put everything in storage and move in with my grandfather for a month. This meant two moves: one on the date of my 18 mile long run and the second on the date of my last 20 mile long run. I decided to drop to the half marathon in Pensacola.
Shortly after dropping to the half in Pensacola, I registered for the Mobile First Light Marathon in January 2017. I've completed my training and I am hoping to finally break that 4:40 time goal that I've had for over a year now.

5. Be more consistent with cross training. I purchased my Trek a year ago and I'm ashamed to say I've only ridden it a handful of times.  I fell while test riding it and I've been nervous ever since then. I want to gain more confidence on the bike, and the only way to do that is practice, practice, practice!
Michael bought me a bike trainer in May. The trainer is not going to help me gain confidence shifting and steering, but at least the bike will get some use. I was riding once or twice a week for a few months until we sold our house and the bike was put in storage. I only logged 67.5 miles for the year. I hope to get back on the trainer soon. I could definitely feel the difference when I was riding consistently.
I accomplished most of my goals for 2016. Here are a few other accomplishments that weren't included in my goals for 2016:
I PR'd the 5K. It was only by 21 seconds, but a PR just the same.
I also PR'd the 10K by almost 2 minutes!
I ran my first ever trail run.
I completed the Runner's World Summer Run Streak, 39 days of running at least a mile each day from Memorial Day to the 4th of July. I wanted to do the Winter Streak too, but it interfered with marathon training.
I've thought long and hard about my goals for 2017. I'm sure that I will think of many more goals as the year progresses. These are just a few:
1. PR the marathon (4:45 or better). I'm hoping to check this one off my list on Sunday, January 8th.
2. Run 1,300 miles for the year. Why 1,300 you might wonder? That's an average of 25 miles a week for 52 weeks. I think this will be a nice challenge.
3.  Be more consistent with cross training. I include this one every year because I still struggle incorporating activities besides running into my routine. One day it is going to catch up with me.
To help me be more consistent with cross training, I will add a mileage goal for cycling (250 for the year). That is only 20 miles per month. I am number's person and I do better working towards goals that can be tracked or measured over time. I'm sure that is the teacher in me (It's all about that data).
Did you reach your goals for 2016? What are your goals for 2017?


Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Pensacola Half Marathon Race Recap

November 13, 2016

I planned to run the Pensacola Marathon for my third full. I registered as soon as registration opened in March. I started my training in July. Despite the heat, I was maintaining consistency with my training.

That was until our house went under contract at the end of August. Completing my long runs while packing and house hunting was difficult. We found a house that was in the final stages of construction. It wouldn't be ready until a month after we closed on our house. We had to put everything we owned in storage and spend a month with my grandfather. This also meant two moves, the first on the date of my 18 miler and the second on the date of my second 20 miler.

I didn't have the time to commit to that level of training, so I decided to drop to the half marathon in Pensacola. Sometimes life gets in the way of our best plans. The great thing about running is there is always another race. I decided to register for the First Light Marathon in Mobile after dropping to the half. I couldn't wait to run another full marathon and having one on the calendar gave me a goal to continue to work towards. I started back with week one of training at the end of September, which put my longer runs off until November and December. We would be settled in our new home by then.

We drove to Pensacola on Friday afternoon to pick up my packet. Packet pick up was well organized. There were a few booths from local vendors and discount merchandise from Running Wild. I didn't spend much time browsing the expo. We were staying at my mother in law's condo in Gulf Shores about 45 minutes away. I was ready to get settled.

We went to my sister in law's to watch the Bama game on Saturday. We ate at Wolf Bay Lodge later that evening. They have a decent menu with plenty of options. I like their Shrimp Alfredo and salad bar. After dinner we went back to the condo. I laid out my race day outfit and tried to get some rest.


We had to get up early on race morning to make the drive over to Pensacola. The race started at 6:30. I was worried about traffic and parking once we got downtown, so we left around 4:45. Traffic wasn't as bad as I anticipated and there was plenty of parking just a block from the start line.

Rick and Jodi arranged for several of us to meet before the start of the race. I met them at the Rock n' Fly Half earlier this year. It was great to see them again and meet new IG/Blogger friends: Alicia, Michelle, and Kari. It was also nice to see Valerie from back home. We took several pre-race selfies before lining up at the start line.

 IG/Blogger friends:Rick,  Jodi, Alicia, Michelle, Valerie, and Kari. 

If I wasn't going to run the full, I was going to push my hardest for a half marathon PR. I knew it wouldn't be easy, but I felt like I had a decent chance of making it. I ran my current half PR in the middle of my last marathon training cycle. They had pacers for the full marathon. My goal was to keep the 4:00 marathon pacer in sight until the split.

The first mile ran around Veteran's Memorial Park and parallel with Pensacola Bay. The water views were beautiful. I was settling into a comfortable sub 9:00 pace. The 4:00 marathon pacers were several strides ahead of me, but I tried to concentrate on keeping their sign in sight.

Mile 1- 8:53
Mile 2- 9:01

Just before reaching the Graffiti Bridge, a woman started running alongside me. She asked me if I was running the full and I replied, "No, I'm running the half." She explained that her running partner was injured recently and she was running this race without her. She wanted to run a sub 2:00. I told her that I've only run a sub 2:00 once before, but that I hoped to do the same. The woman's name was Jen. She was from the Mobile, AL area and she participated in First Light Marathon relay in year's past. She told me all about the race that I planned to run in January.

Graffiti Bridge
I enjoyed more stunning views of the bay during miles 3 through 5. Jen and I continued to pace well together. Conversation with her was a nice distraction as well.

Mile 3- 8:46
Mile 4- 9:01
Mile 5- 8:59

The photographer on course captured this picture of me and Jen.

The full marathoners split around 7.5 miles. As much as I can't wait for my next full marathon, I was so relieved to continue going straight. I was over halfway to the finish!

The split where the full marathoners turned right. Not today!

That excitement was short lived when we reached a decent sized hill just around mile 8. Jen said we couldn't afford to slow down on the hills. She took the hill in stride and I tried my best to stick with her. Once we reached the top, I had to take a walk break to catch my breath. I noticed we reached the point on the course where the streets were canopied with trees. I had to get a picture.  Jen kept going. I told her I would catch up.

Mile 6- 8:58
Mile 7- 8:56
Mile 8- 8:48
The street canopied with trees
I never caught up with Jen. She checked back on me a few times and encouraged me to catch up. I told her to go on without me. I didn't want to slow her down. I reached an overpass around mile 10. There was an awesome drum line to motivate runners on the climb. I was so worn down from the hill at mile 8. I didn't attempt to run this one. I figured I could probably walk it up as fast as I could run it. Jen was widening the gap ahead of me. By the time I reached the top of the hill she was out of sight.

Mile 9- 9:22
Mile 10- 9:12

This picture doesn't do this hill justice. It was much more intense in person.

My overall pace was slowing on my Garmin. If I was going to PR, I couldn't afford any more walk breaks. The hills were behind me. It was time to push. The final 5K ran back towards and through downtown Pensacola. I turned down several photo opportunities, including the Pensacola pelicans, to reach my goal. I noticed some more race photographers on course. I tried to look strong and smile for the cameras even though deep down I couldn't wait to be finished.

Mile 11- 8:59
Mile 12- 9:12
Mile 13- 8:49
Mile 0.25- 8:14
The clock read 1:59:19 when I crossed the finish line, which was a PR. I knew my chip time would be faster, but I didn't know by how much. My Garmin read 1:58:56 and I hoped my chip time would be 1:58 as well.
Jen waited for me at the finish line. I thanked her keeping me company and for pushing me. I was disappointed that I couldn't stick with her until the end, but I was still proud that I reached my goal of a PR. I don't know if it would have been possible without her motivating me most of the way.
Post race selfie with Jen
They had plenty of post race food, entertainment, and massages at the finish. I grabbed a banana and a chocolate milk. I couldn't wait to get the print out with my official result. It read 1:58:56, same as my Garmin time. I was so excited! I PR'd by 1 minute and 1 second!

I met up with Valerie at the finish for a post race photo. I wish I could have stuck around to visit with the rest of my IG/blogger friends, but I wanted to go back to the condo to shower before heading home.

Post race pic with Valerie
I loved this race! The entire race weekend was well organized. I liked the race shirt, bag, and poster. I looked forward to the Blue Angels on the race shirt and medal and I was disappointed that they weren't part of this year's design. I wish the shirt and medal encompassed more of Pensacola's background and sights. The free photos are great quality and they captured some decent ones of me on the course. The course was pretty scenic and mostly flat, but the few hills were a real challenge. I would definitely run this race again!