Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Race Report: Akron Marathon

OK, peeps, here we go... time for my race report from the Akron Marathon!

Akron is about an hour away from where my family lives so it was yet another super early race morning for me. I think I got up around 4AM that day (which is technically 1AM my time). Wasn't so bad since I had all that pre-race excitement going on.

Just like Roadbunner had said, this race is very well organized. The website was full of helpful info with directions and suggested parking garages. Even when you got off the highway, there were helpful signs pointing you in the right direction. I arrived around 5:45AM and had lots of time to kill before the 7AM start time.

Through the power of twitter, I was able to meet up with the super cute Kimi who was running the marathon as part of a 5 person relay team. I later figured out that the relay was a huge portion of this race. There were about 10,000 runners total and of that:
  • ~1,500 ran the marathon
  • ~3,500 ran the half marathon
  • ~5,000 ran the relay (aka ~1,000 teams)
We're pretty cheery for 6AM!
I later went to my start corral and was feeling pretty good. The weather was just how I like it - cold! :) I found the 5 hour pace group and decided to start with them. Even if I didn't stick with them, I could at least use them as my pace bunny to gauge how I'm doing. There were two pace leaders, one was named Jim and was actually the owner of the pacing company. I forgot the other guy's name, so let's call him Bob.

In addition to the national anthem, they also had someone start off the race with a prayer. Is this common? I know I've done lots of races, but can't recall this happening before. Anyway, it's fine with me just thought it was curious.

Time to follow the blue line (marked through almost the entire course) - off we go! There was actually quite a large pack of us running with the 5 hour pace group and it was kind of fun. The two pace leaders ran on different sides of the pack and were shouting out really corny jokes to each other. They were the kind of lame jokes that my dad would tell me so I kind of appreciated it. Anything to keep us entertained for the long haul, right?

The one problem is that they were running rather slow. And I don't think it was because of any congestion at the start of the race or anything. To finish in 5 hours, you have to maintain an 11:27 pace and we were running way slower than that (which admittedly, is already pretty slow).

Now in my head, I had practically memorized the elevation chart. You know, the one I freaked out over in my previous post.
I knew the second half was going to be much more challenging than the first half so even splits (or whatever they were planning) weren't going to work for me. I was hoping to log better splits earlier in the race to give me some room to deal with the hills at the end of the race.

(Side note: Found this interesting quote in an article Naomi sent me about the NYC marathon.
"I have a little saying: Bank = Bonk. That is, if I try to "bank" time early in the race, I give it all (and more) back late in the race when I "bonk." Best to stick to your pace." - Jeff Dengate. 
Is this a bit of foreshadowing? Maybe. Maybe not.)
Anyway, I ditched the group and just ran my own comfortable pace.

Mile 1 - 12:03
Mile 2 - 10:54
Mile 3 - 10:58

I had my phone send me (and my family) little tracking updates. I didn't look at these while I was running of course but added them here. Updates were tracked at all the relay exchanges.

So far, so good.
There were actually quite a few smaller hills in the first part and I was proud of myself for running up them. My big concern was that I walked almost all the major hills in my training - it was practically programmed into me.

As for the course... well, I can't really remember much of it. This would be a good time for me to point out that Roadbunner's race report would be an excellent source of that information. I do remember that we started downtown and looped back again around mile 10.

Mile 4 - 10:48
Mile 5 - 11:03
Mile 6 - 10:33
Mile 7 - 10:46
Mile 8 - 11:35
Mile 9 - 10:57

I would guess around mile 10 was when I had a feeling this wasn't going to be my race. The weather still felt nice and cool and the course hadn't been too bad, but I just didn't feel like I was in race mode.  I felt tired, my legs felt tired, and I wasn't even at the halfway point yet. I was definitely concerned. But I tried not to dwell on it and kept trucking along.

It was nice to have some pockets of cheering stations here and there, especially as we ran through the University of Akron because I think I really needed it at that point.

Around mile 12, we hit the big drop that I had noted from the elevation chart. It wasn't as downhill as I had hoped, but it still helped.

At that point, we entered the Towpath Trail. I remembered Roadbunner discussing how much she liked it. I have to agree, it was a nice change of scenery. We also had lost the half marathoners at this point, so it definitely felt more quiet and peaceful. I ended up turning off my iPod during this part of the course because it was nice to just embrace nature and hear the birds chirping, yadda yadda yadda.

Mile 10 - 11:10
Mile 11 - 10:59
Mile 12 - 10:12
Mile 13 - 11:00
Mile 14 - 11:00
Mile 15 - 11:34
Still hanging on.
And then it started to get kind of ugly. There were a few things going on:

1) We hit the first of many hills that I knew would continue for most of the remainder of the race.
2) The sun was peeking out. (It is known energy drainer for me.)
3) I was starting to feel queasy.

The last part is something that has plagued me in several marathons. I think one issue is that I took Gatorade from the aid stations during the race. I never train with Gatorade - just water and Gu.  Hello, rookie mistake! (I won't be doing that in NYC, trust me.) I'm OK with taking Gatorade during half marathons but I'm thinking it's because I'm not out there as long. Or I wonder if it's just the heat combined with the effort that messes me up. I didn't feel so queasy during CIM or Goofy, which were run in 30 degree freezing temps.

In any case, I was feeling pooped. I totally struggled with that hill and walked a lot of it. And once I break the seal on walking, I do a lot more of it.

Around mile 17, I hear a big group of runners approaching and I see that it's my 5 hour pace group led by Jim and Bob! I'm thinking, maybe it's a sign - they're here to pick you up. Just follow them and you'll be OK.  So I tagged along with the back of pack and tried to follow them and not worry about anything else.

By this time, the group had thinned out by quite a bit and was mostly just dudes save for one girl in the back that I remembered seeing at the start. And guess what - Jim and Bob were still exchanging corny jokes back and forth. I missed one of them but I could tell by the way Bob groaned that maybe Jim's joke was not so PC. I definitely heard the next one and it basically went like this:
Jim: A guy comes home from work and sees his wife packing up her things. He asks what she's doing and she responds, "I'm leaving you! You're sick! You're a pedophile!" He responds, "Pedophile? That's an awfully big word for a thirteen year old!"

So yeah, I was definitely NOT in the mood to listen to 9 more miles of that so I dropped off the pack and I was on my own again.

At this part of the Towpath Trail, there were a LOT of people walking around me - even the relay runners!!! (They were easily identifiable as they had pink bibs and also wore Relay bibs on their backs.) I mean, couldn't they have tried to motivate me at all??? (heehee) It's a lot more justifiable to walk at mile 17 when you see people who couldn't have been running more than 5 miles also walking. But that's probably just me.

Mile 16 - 13:01
Mile 17 - 12:26
Mile 18 - 13:08
You know, I really wish I could give you this amazingly inspirational race report where I overcame these obstacles and challenges and came out victorious.

But I can't. 'Cause I didn't.

It was kind of a Charlie Brown "wah wah wah" theme for the rest of the race. I went back to my old ways and walked each and every single hill. And there were a lot of them. If it was flat, I would trot along for a bit.

We hit a lot of neighborhoods and it was definitely nice to see them set up these really great cheering stations. It still felt like a death march to me though.

At the expo, I became aware that there is a hill called "Heart Rate Hill". Well I found it at mile 22. Mile 22!!! Again, wah....

But afterward, we hit the Stan Hywet Estate which was a really nice area. A gorgeous property with a big garden and mansion (somewhat like Filoli Gardens) and was all decorated for the fall. I remember thinking that I wished I was in a better mood to appreciate this. Haha.

I jogged just for this photo.
I still felt queasy and was struggling with taking any more Gu. I actually thought I would feel better if I did make myself sick and even tried once I found a portopotty! You would think looking straight down at a pile of feces from strangers would make anyone hurl, but alas, it did not work. Sorry for being gross, btw.

Mile 19 - 13:24
Mile 20 - 13:42
Mile 21 - 14:33
Mile 22 - 14:49

Not once did I feel you're in the final stretch, you're almost there! Mostly because there were just so many GD hills. I was so beat down at this point that I could only manage to run if there was a downhill and there were a couple toward the end. But it was totally frustrating that there were still uphill climbs, even in the last mile.

FINALLY - we started making our way back downtown to the finish. There were tons more spectators lined up toward the end and a lot of them were other runners (who had already finished) cheering us on.

OK, I know this sounds crazy but for some reason, I felt like these spectators really got what we had gone through - their cheers felt more supportive and encouraging and maybe even sympathetic? Or maybe I just appreciated them more because the finish line was literally in sight? Whatever it was, I got really emotional at this point and started tearing up and then uh oh, my breathing was getting messed up and I was almost hyperventilating (but not really).

Fake smiling.
Thankfully, I passed the mile 26 marker and turned the corner to enter Canal Park stadium where I knew I would be immediately greeted with the finish line. I do love when races have you finish inside a stadium (first time was the Giant Race).

You want to see this from another angle? Ok, here you go!

Mile 23 - 13:46
Mile 24 - 17:17
Mile 25 - 13:54
Mile 26 - 10:52 pace
Yet, not a new PW! :)
As soon as I crossed the finish line, I heard my name being called out. I look up at the stands and see my mom and my sister waving down at me. I walked over and as soon as got to them, I just broke down in tears. Because, you know, you can do that with family. Of course, they tell me they were worried about me since they had been getting my tracking updates, too,  and as of mile 18, I was supposed to finish in 5 hours. I told them that I was fine, just that it was so hard. And they kind of smiled and laughed at me saying, of course it was hard - you ran a marathon! Heehee, oh yeah.

Let me out!!! :P
So I wiped away the tears and carried on with the rest of the finish line journey. They had this little maze set up where you would get your water, collect your medal, take a picture, and grab a food bag. I love that they made it so easy to get your food and go. I can't remember the specifics, but there was a bunch of food inside: a bagel, banana, chips, and other stuff. I had no appetite for it, but it was nice not to have to deal with the balancing act.

The rest of the pics are from my now retired iPhone 3G - sorry for the poor quality!

Another view of the finish line
It's not a big deal, but I think there should be a bigger difference between the medals - like different color straps and stuff so it's more obvious who did the full vs relay, etc. (Yes, I want my props! lol)

I can see why the relay is so popular though... you can get a pretty nice medal and a tech shirt just for running a few miles! 

The one drawback to finishing inside a stadium is having to exit up the stairs on some beat down legs. Wasn't too bad though. Here's another view of the set up. They even had a band to entertain the spectators.

I rejoined my family and sat down to watch some of the other finishers. I'm glad that at least my mom and sis could sit comfortably while they waited for me.

By the way, I ran alongside this guy for a bit. Understandably, he got a lot more cheers than me.

I didn't realize this beforehand but this race has a 6 hour time limit and they definitely started shutting things down then. Glad I came in when I did!

I checked my super fancy schmancy race jacket so I was able to finally put it on after the race.

Real smiling.

And my stats, in case you are interested:

Clock Time5:27:41
Chip Time5:20:55
Overall Place1247 / 1389
Gender Place411 / 488
Division Place64 / 74
3 5M00:38:51
9 25M01:42:54
15 502:53:11
18 303:30:12

This time, I really was back of the pack! It kind of goes with my theory that midwest runners as a whole are more hardcore than what you find here in Cali. I just don't think the weather there lends itself to "jolly joggers" (peeps like me, heehee). As a result, I always feel like it's a more competitive field in Ohio. Then again, a 6 hour time limit may have scared away runners more my pace. Feel free to discuss.

Oh, here are some extra pics. (Taken with my way more awesome iPhone 4S.)

Close up of my medal, already added to the others
Some extra goodies. Not sure what I'll do with the bandana-tube thingy.

This was definitely a nicely organized event and I absolutely love my race jacket but I would never run this course again. Just too many hills. I'm OK with how I did though since I clearly was not trained to handle this course.

And it's not that I hate hills. I've done Nike five times and that has tons of hills. But I like hills when you climb to the top, have a view of something really cool, and then immediately go downhill. Not climb a bit, suburb, climb a bit, suburb, climb a bit, suburb, and so on and so on until you end up where you started. Where was my cool view??? Where was my immediate downhill??? But I've always been a picky runner.

I'm glad I have this under my belt though. I hear the NYC Marathon has some hills so at least I know I'll be somewhat prepared for them :)


kimi said...

Nice race report! You did great. Akron is a TOUGH course from everyone that runs it. Good job!

Cate said...

That sounds like a TOUGH race. Awesome job sticking with it and finishing strong!

naomi said...

I didn't realize how tough this course was! I felt your pain and toughness through every mile recap. Great job A - so proud of you!

joyRuN said...

It's all flat around here, so hills make me weep. Great great job sticking it through for the finish!

"Jolly Joggers" - haha! I like that!

Zero4 said...

Akron is a very tough course...However, that makes crossing the finish line much sweeter.

I ended up running this race in 4:27:xx. I was feeling good (pace 3:55:xx) until just after the half-way banner on the trail. That whole downhill into the valley killed me.

When down there, I started chatting it up with the relayers and telling them to slow down (when they sprinted past) and gave a few of them hard times when they were walking. It was a lot of fun, and even tho I was hurting, it was a great event.

Did you see the guy dressed up as Wile E. Coyote? I thought that was awesome for the "Road Runner" Marathon!

Keep up the great runs, and Good Luck at NYC!!

Aron said...

Nice job on a TOUGH course! Now have fun in NYC you crazy girl ;)

Laura said...

Great job in Akron!!! And now I can't wait to read your NYC report :)

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