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.




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