Grandma's Marathon - First Half

FINALLY getting around to this. I've been putting it off because it takes so long to write... but know I need to, just to capture all of the details/thoughts/etc that went into the day. It's SO helpful to look back on.

This isn't very polished yet, and I'm sure I'll be adding to and revising this frequently within the next week, but at least wanted to get the majority of the first half of the race's details down here.

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The night before the marathon, we all headed to bed early – around 10 or 10:30. The half marathoners in our cabin (Nate, Jess, Nate’s dad) had to be up EARLY for their 6:30 race start. I was happy to try to fall asleep early.

Morning came early. Nate’s alarm went off at 4:30 (or something ridiculous like that). I had asked him the night before to make me oatmeal when he woke up. I knew I wanted to eat a lot for breakfast, but also knew that I couldn’t do so within an hour or two of the race. So, he woke me up around 4:45 or so with a serving and a half (my typical!) of oatmeal. Yum. I really do love oatmeal.

I lay in bed after he left, and excitement filled me. This is the day! Oh, man, oh man. It can’t be; I’m not ready! So much to think about. But – I knew I needed to sleep as much as I could, so tried to fall back asleep. I think I was successful, and got about another 30 minutes or so.
At 6:00, my alarm went off. I immediately leapt out of bed. A feeling of excitement and strange apprehension fell over me. I changed into my race uniform, making sure I had my chip and number. Everything else in line? Do I have my race bag ready? Luckily I had packed the night before – I don’t think particularly well in the morning, so I’m sure I would have forgotten something. I had already pinned a gel to my race shorts, had the gels and water I needed to access during the warm up, clothes for after the race… anything I’m forgetting? I ate a bagel with jam and headed out the door.

The “boys” (brother and cousin) packed up their bikes, strapping them to the back of the vehicle. Nate’s mom was nice enough to drop all of us off at the start line. My goal was to be at the start line by 6:40, latest 6:45. By the time Karen dropped us off, I hustled across the road and through the car dealership to the start, it was exactly 6:45. Perfect.

I found Brenden almost immediately. Amazing how people stick out in a crowd. We talked a little (mostly about the game plan, what I was asking him to do, etc), and then headed out for a 5 minute warm up at 7:00. My legs felt GREAT. Light, springly, and effortless. My one calf muscle wasn’t working (still a knotted chunk of muscle tissue – great), but I ignored it. It’ll be what it’ll be, I guess. Despite that, I knew good things were going to happen. I turned and smiled to Brenden during the warm up and told him, “Good things are going to happen today :)”.

Then it was time for the bathroom (where the line was surprisingly long, considering they have dedicated porta-potties for the Elites) and another 4 minute warm up. I picked it up for the last minute to a little slower than marathon pace. Dang, I felt good. Time for a gel (caffeinated), and one last time at the porta-potty, and off I scurried to the start line. Because of the long lines at the bathroom, I was running much more behind than I normally like. I threw my sweat bag down near the car (too many people, too little time, and the car was too full to actually make an attempt to get it in there).

The elites were separated at the start, so Brenden called out to me to let me know he was at the start of the “non-elite” start. I found the pack of trials-hopeful women I had been talking to before the race (about 10 or so women? I had been emailing abut 4-5 of them), and settled in. The excitement in the air was contagious. I did a quick check of myself: everything according to plan. Breakfast was good, warm-up good, bathroom good, gels good. I should be set!

I had told the group of women that I was planning to start slow. Jerry’s plan called for 3 miles at 6:30, 1 at 6:20, and the rest at 6:15 (with some cushion for a slow down the last 3-4 miles). I loved this plan. First, it suits my running style very well. I tend to like to start slow and warm into a pace. Second, then you’re passing people for much of the way (huge confidence boost). Third, I am a VERY strong closer (I am amazed at this… or rather, how others don’t have this gift… it seems so natural to ramp it up that last 10k that I can’t imagine having to plan for a major slow-down).

The gun went off. I was as near the front as I could be (at one point I was right behind 3 Russian women, all speaking Russian, but then backed off a row because I knew I didn’t belong there :) (although I was the same height as all of them!!) -- but I wanted to be as close to the mat as possible! Olympic Trials standards are based on gun time, not chip). Brenden found me within the first quarter of a mile. All he said was, “I’m here”. It was amazing to me how little we talked throughout the race. We just KNEW what the other was doing, and I think had a great trust in each other so that we didn’t need to say much. Plus, we had a great game plan going into the race. His role was to read out actual splits each mile (based on course miles, since my Garmin clicks off every mile and almost always measures short). His other tasks were to lead us through the tangents (since I find when I’m zoned out that I tend to just follow the person ahead of me & forget to run the shortest distance) and to NOT let me let up during the last 10k. My role? To just run :). I was SOO blessed to have Brenden there with me, helping. Honestly, I am more than eternally grateful.

The first mile was a 6:27 from the gun. Next few miles were right around 6:20. Faster than Jerry’s plan, but it felt right. I knew that the first few miles were more downhill anyway, so allowed myself the quicker pace. After mile 3, I knew I needed to notch it down a little and find 6:15s. I worried a little before the pace change – 6:20s felt pretty good. 5 seconds faster? Uf. But, the subtle pace change was really easy. 6:15s came so NATURALLY. At mile 4 I told Brenden, “This feels so easy!”. That would be one of the few things I’d tell him during the race.
From mile 4 through half way, there was nothing really exciting that happened. I caught up to the “even pace” OTQ hopefuls and passed them. Hmm, did I pass them too early? I couldn’t see the “fast pace” group, so I knew I was somewhere in between the two groups.

My miles came so easy. Brenden read off the mile splits as we hit them – 6:15, 6:16, etc. It was amazingly consistent, without effort, and without monitoring via my Garmin. I think that’s the key of racing a good marathon: allowing your legs and lungs to find a pace that comes naturally (hopefully it’s a fairly fast pace!). I’ve had marathons where I’ve had to rely on the watch for pacing, and it’s SO much effort. One mile is too slow, another too fast – you’re constantly changing paces and your body can never relax.

I didn’t think much during the first half of the marathon. About 4 miles in I noticed I was running a little funny because of my cramped calf. Great. Leave it to this to stop me today. Don’t worry about it, I told myself. It’s not bad now, so just keep running, relax, and try to run as normally as you can. I saw Jerry about 6 or 7 miles in (?), and smiled. He had made it! He was on bike, so I guessed he was planning on biking in and out of the course. I also saw my “boys” multiple times the first half. So cool to have support along the way.

I had two splits written on my hand for the first half: one at 10k, the other at 10 miles. I was right on at 10k, just a few seconds under. At 10 miles, I think I was about 20 seconds under. Wow, I thought to myself! The miles were seriously FLYING by, effortlessly. I zoned out, not thinking of much. Before I knew it, we were at the half marathon mark, crossing it at 1:22.30. Perfect!

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Read here about 2nd half of the race

Nichole Porath

Nichole is a blogger, elite level runner, and coach. She ran professionally for Brooks for two years after qualifying for the 2012 US Olympic Marathon Trials. During that time she founded TNC endurance, where she coaches and motivationally speaks to organizations large and small. This blog details her rise to national-level racing, and continues to follow her as she gets back into racing after starting a family. Read on, friends!

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