How it all began…
“I have no desire to ever run a full marathon.”
Those were the words I said to Wendy just a week before signing up for the Utah Valley Marathon! What the heck happened?
For weeks Donna would mention UVM when we were out horseback riding and I would just acknowledge and tell her the same thing I told Wendy. Then we were at a Ragnar meeting and Donna was talking about it to the group. We got home and Gina posted on Facebook that she registered. So for the first time I actually looked at the website:
- Downhill course – Cool! I love running downhill
- Boston Qualifier – this at first meant nothing to me until I saw I only needed a 3:50 to qualify and at this point I was running the strongest I had ever run in my running life so realized it was doable
- Boston Qualifier Tech Tee handed out at the finish to those that qualified – SOLD!!
And the next thing I knew I had registered Richard for his first half marathon and me for my first full. I printed off my training scheduled from Runners World SmartCoach and according to it I would be finishing my first marathon in 3:42 if I followed it – Boston is in the bag! Or so I thought…
Little did I know there was a little something brewing in my belly until about a week later. At my first doctors visit I told Dr. Wiese I was still running and she said that was fine, just no marathons! Uh-oh. She said half’s were ok, just not full. Well… So I told her I had already signed up for a marathon and what I had read in my research and she agreed that since I was already so active and as long as I didn’t “race” it she’d give me the ok to keep going. Bye-bye Boston…
So the training began. Actually, I had initially printed an 18 week schedule but scrapped that as I was running the 10k in the Havasu Triathlon and needed to be fast and had a different plan for that (yes, that one I did race and set a PR!) Once that was done I picked up marathon training which left me 12 weeks.
For marathon training I consider anything longer that 13.1 miles a long run. My first 14 miles, the longest I had ever run at that point, was suppose to be the same day as the Havasu Half so I ran it the next day instead. OUCH! I was exhausted from lack of sleep and poor eating habits for that entire week and it played it’s toll on me. I struggled from miles 9 to 14. Because of that I was very nervous about my 16 miler the following week. That turned out to be a great run. Donna, Gina and I started early – Jamie joined in halfway through and on the way back we picked up several other Hustlers running in on the group run. I did fall behind around 14 miles but I felt better at the end of this run than the week before so I was happy about that.
The next long run was 18. Gina and Wendy helped me through the first 11 miles but I struggled once again from 14 to 16. Something different happened I had never experienced before though, after 16 miles I suddenly felt better the last two miles and ended the run strong! That was a total mental booster for me.
At this point in my training my pregnancy didn’t seem to affect me that much. I was easily holding my pace in the beginning of my runs, I hadn’t gained any weight, my belly wasn’t much bigger so I thought this was all going to be great.
Then came my first 20 miler. Gina, Donna and I started at the top of Bison and worked our way up Jamaica to McCulloch around and down to the highway. As we were running down the multi-use path Gina wasn’t feeling well and fell behind and Donna was feeling great and pulled ahead. So for the next 11 miles I was on my own. Once again I struggled around 16 but the good news was when I hit 18 I was five minutes faster than the 18 I had done the week before so that gave me a boost. However, it was getting warmer and warmer and my final mile was in and around Rotary Park. When I got to where the rest of the group was waiting I had 19.42 on my Garmin and I thought that was enough! I was hot, thirsty and couldn’t imagine running another .58 miles! Turns out a couple people on that mornings run threw up along the way due to dehydration!
The next week was a nice short 7 mile run and I was so looking forward to that. It was also the 17th week of my pregnancy and that’s when I started to notice it was becoming more difficult to catch my breath while running. That nice short 7 miles felt like it went on forever! Thankfully I had Wendy with me to keep me going. There was no way I could’ve done 16 like Gina and Donna did that day.
That break must’ve been exactly what I needed though because the next one was a 22 miler – our last really long run – and it went great! Wendy ran with me for 13 miles where we averaged a 9:20 pace. I was on my own from there to 18 where we added a nice long climb up S. Palo Verde and I actually still felt good. I ran into London Bridge Beach where the car was to get more fluids and Erika was back from the group run and asked if I wanted her to run the last four with me and I said sure! So we took off around the island maintaining a 9:30 average. All in all, I’d say that was the best run of all my training! I felt great at the end – aside from tight, sore legs; averaged a 9:37 pace overall and was absolutely ecstatic about that! Because this run went so well for me I thought UVM was in the bag! Oh, if I only knew…
The next two weeks were our taper weeks. We had a 16 miler scheduled and stopped at 15 due to the heat and an 8 mile our last week which I only did 6.42 of. My pregnancy was definitely starting to affect me now. My times for the last two weeks were continually getting slower, my breathing more labored and my belly getting bigger.
We drove up Thursday with Bill and Gina, had breakfast Friday morning at the hotel where we ran into Jim and Donna. After breakfast Richard and I went to packet pick-up. I thought it was an added step and congestion that you had to look up your bib number before getting it and your bag. Why not just alphabetize by last name? It would’ve saved them from printing hundreds of sheets of paper they hung in three separate areas of the expo for people to crowd around to find their number. When picking up my shirt I was told they were men’s sizes which the small I received is definitely a women’s. I can’t wear a women’s small even when I’m not pregnant! And it’s a cool shirt so I’m bummed I won’t be able to wear it.
Later that morning, Gina, Richard and I set out to drive the course. This is where the fun began! Once we turned off University Avenue which is relatively flat and the last 5 miles of the course we headed up towards the mountains. Yay, this is the downhill portion I’m looking forward too… that is until we suddenly start DESCENDING down a long 1.3 mile hill which means we’ll be running UP it!! From there on out it seemed we were rolling along, up and down with one more pretty good descent before we made the turn into a farmland area. This area was absolutely beautiful with huge pastures, horses, barns and the snow capped mountains in the background. I know the course map shows this as all downhill but it felt and looked fairly flat which was fine. I was just hoping for more of a decent.
We turned around and were now driving the course in the direction we were going to run it. Gina got quieter as we climbed the hill around mile 8, rethinking her strategy. Donna had text me earlier saying the course wasn’t that bad, that the hills Rhett’s friend wrote about were hardly noticeable, etc. So I text her back to ask if we drove the same course?! This exchange went back and forth and Gina and I decided we weren’t going to believe anything Donna told us anymore! So when she text to let us know the Mel was at packet pick-up we didn’t believe that either! 😉
We continued our drive on the course and this is when I truly decided that time absolutely did not matter to me. Because I thought the course would have more significant downhill portions to it I initially was hoping for a 9-9:30 pace which would’ve put me with a 3:55-4:10 finish. But while driving the course I remembered how I pushed myself in training and averaged a 9:37 so with the unexpected hillier/flat course and the elevation I was going to be happy with a 10 minute pace, or 4:20 finish.
Friday evening was our pre-race dinner at Donna’s brother, Bruce’s house. He was hospitable enough to host all of us from Havasu – plus a couple others – 20 in all! Their mother, Martha, cooked enough lasagna to feed us all twice! And there was desert! Richard, Gina and I retold our tale of driving the course enough to make Chick reconsider even running the half! Donna again kept saying it wasn’t that bad and to quit scaring everybody! My thought was to tell them it had more hills than expected so that when they ran it and didn’t think it was that bad they’d be pleasantly surprised. See, I was looking out for others! 🙂
We all left dinner relatively early since we had to get up at 3am to catch the bus to the race start. Even though I had lights out at 9pm I tossed and turned in bed for 2-1/2 hours! It was close to 11:30 when I finally drifted off to sleep. When the alarm went off at 3am I felt surprisingly good – excited about the race I guess. I got ready, kissed Richard good-bye and wished him good luck and headed down to the lobby to catch the bus. In the lobby I saw Jim and Mary so the three of us headed over together and loaded up. I ate a little peanut butter and jelly sandwich on the ride up and drank some Gatorade, same as I always did in training.
We were initially following another bus up the mountain until the turn-off into the farmland area. The front bus didn’t know exactly where to go so our gal zoomed around him and he followed. Well, it turns out our gal didn’t know where she was going either! Have you ever seen a full size bus try to turn around on a narrow dead end road… with another bus right behind it? It was quite comical really and I knew we’d eventually get there and wasn’t worried but the looks of other riders on the bus told a very different story. It was funny.
We finally reached out destination and Jim, Mary and I made our way up to the fire pits. It was much colder 1500 feet up the mountain than at the hotel! We still had about an hour and a half until race start so we actually sat down on the concrete as close to the fire as we could get. About 5:15 Mary leaves to get in line for the bathrooms. Jim and I decided to wait another 15 minutes (mistake in hindsight).
At 5:30 we found a line to stand in for the port-a-potties. It was the slowest line too, I swear! We were still about 6 or 7 people back when we heard the first gun shot go off for the wheel chair participants. Then it seemed people started to hurry up a bit in line. We still had 7 minutes to the start. Unfortunately the line wasn’t fast enough and the starting gun went off just before we hit the stalls. I was more concerned for Jim than me as I knew he was hoping for a sub 3 hours and wanted to be near the front of the start to avoid having to weave through runners. Since it was chipped timed and I wasn’t planning on going out strong or fast it didn’t matter to me.
Once out of the stalls I jogged down to the gear truck, stripped off my sweats and headed to the start line. I was absolutely amazed by the amount of runners still milling around the start area with no sense of urgency or anything. There were at least over a 100 people still, talking, using the bathroom, getting water, etc. It was the craziest thing to me.
I crossed through the start – no mats to run over, instead some overhead thing that must register your “chip” in your bib. That was different too. I looked at my watch which read 6:04 so I was 4 minutes from the start.
My race experience…
The first mile I was getting settled into my run, trying to warm up, checking that my glasses were on my head, etc. Soon I saw a Hustlers shirt ahead and it was Mel! I said “Havasu Hustlers Rock” as I ran by, he said “go Karen” and I continued on. Shortly after that a guy came running up behind me and tells me he lived in Havasu for 4 years. I mentioned the Havasu Half in April and he said he had run it once. So far this is a lot of fun! And because I started 4 minutes late I was actually passing quite a few people. I also took a Gu in the first mile hoping it would help me through the first 7. Mile one was 10:03 but I wasn’t concerned. I knew I was warming up and there were some downhills I could make up some time on. Once again I was approaching another Hustlers shirt and this time it was Mary off to the side to take off her jacket. I “whoohooed” her as I ran by and kept on truckin’.
My second mile was a 9:12 and I was getting into my grove. I loved the scenery, the people around me, the sights and sounds. I didn’t bother turning my music on until we were out on the highway, I was enjoying it so much. Those miles through the farmland, by pastures with horses running along side, a few residents out cheering you on, ringing the “breakfast” bell just made it so enjoyable. I averaged around 9:20 the first 7 miles.
Then we turned onto the highway and our first big climb. I slowed way down to a 10 something but kept on shuffling up. Soon I saw the Sue swagger up ahead but she was wearing a sweatshirt (Hustlers shirt underneath) so I wasn’t 100% sure at first. The road flattened out temporarily where she picked it back up and then I wasn’t gaining on her until the next climb. She slowed to a walk again to rehydrate and now I knew it was her so as I was coming up from behind, and as we are climbing UPHILL, I ask her how she’s liking this “downhill” course! See, I wasn’t making it up at dinner! I told her I’d see her at the finish and I kept on shuffling up the hill.
My “Ahhhhh” downhill came at mile 9. This was how I was hoping the entire course was going to be. Nice grade, stretched out my stride, picked up the pace and felt great – except for the sloping of the road and the concrete we were running on. My “ahhhh” moment was short lived though as around mile 11 it flattened out and I looked ahead and saw runners on a slow but gradual climb around a mountain bend. Damn!
This entire time I had felt like I needed to pee but every rest stop had a line for the port-a-potties and I didn’t want to stop. So as we were running up mile 12 there was a concrete wall on the right with an opening in it halfway. I saw a guy run out from behind and knew that was my stop! I was quick and back to shuffling up the hill in no time. When I got to the half marathon start (which was the only place that had no line for the port-a-potties) I took my third Gu, looked at my Garmin which read 2:06 and thought alright, I’m halfway through. I knew the second half was going to be tougher as I was already started to feel the fatigue in my legs. The 4:20 finish I gave myself was looking to be the ticket. Soon I saw that looming hill I knew was between 15-16 miles and as I was nearing the top I took my first walk break. My legs were really starting to ache as well as my feet and I didn’t see any reason to push myself. Once at the top I started back up but never quite felt good again. Although miles 18 through 20 were all a gradual downhill I was aching so bad I wasn’t enjoying it anymore. Thoughts as to why I was hurting so bad at mile 18 during the race but felt fine at mile 18 in all my training were running through my head. To try to negate my thoughts of pain I started singing “I feel good” in my head (my music had died back at 15 miles). Yea, that didn’t work.
We turned onto University which starts at mile 21. My first thought as I stepped past the 22 mile marker was this is now the farthest I had ever run! But instead of celebrating and thinking positive another unusual thing was happening to me – negative thoughts! The last three miles I had only manged an 11:30 pace so instead of thinking only four more miles to go I was thinking “oh-no, I still have over 45 minutes left! I don’t know if I can make it!” Tears started filling my eyes, especially when spectators were cheering me on as if they could see the anguish I was feeling. Now I knew 4:20 was completely out of the question and it came down to me just finishing at this point.
There was a man ahead of me for the past 10 miles I noticed because he had the same form as Mel – he was just a little shorter. He was taking regular walk breaks and I’d get close to him but then he’d start running again and pull away. Finally, between 22-23 miles, he was walking longer than usual. As I shuffled past him I told him “I’ve been following you for 22 miles. Come on, let’s go!” and I waved him on. He told me no, he’s walking from here on out and I never saw him again. He must’ve been feeling how I was!
At 23, which was the next aid station, I really didn’t want to walk to drink water because it hurt so bad to start jogging again. So it was a welcome treat when they were handing out otter-pops! I was able to suck on that while still going, no walking necessary! I think mile 24 was actually a 12:05 for me – that is almost considered a walk!! I just wanted to cry. These young girls in a car next to me at a stop light yelled and screamed saying “you can do it”. I said thank you so much to everyone that cheered me on, including these girls and also included a little eye rub and frown like I was crying. They knew what I was saying and cheered even louder for me when they drove back by. It brings tears to my eyes right now just typing this and thinking about it again, how supportive people are out there!
Then there was a gal on the side of the road saying that it might not look like it but it was downhill from there. She must’ve been right cuz mile 25 was an 11:15 for me. I never thought I’d be happy to see an 11:15 pace but when the last six miles had been anywhere from 11:30-12:05 I was super happy. Then I saw Richard on the side taking pictures and cheering me on – again I had to hold back tears. The finish was in sight and I tried to pick
up the pace but was just hurting so bad I didn’t think I did. But the last mile was a 10:51 so I must’ve managed somehow to give it a little something across the finish line. It was such a welcome sight to see Gina in the finisher’s area, cheering me in and when she gave me a hug I actually lost it and really had tears come out for the first time! Ended up finishing with a respectable 4:34:26 – a 10:28 pace overall.
I loved, loved, loved, the camaraderie of the entire process – all the training; the pre-race dinner; the race itself; cheering our local winners, Jim and Donna at the awards (sorry I missed Wendy’s) and notice their cool Boston Qualifier tech tee’s – jealous!; gathering around the hotel hot tub that night and telling stories – I don’t think I’d have nearly the fondness for a marathon if it wasn’t for the run club members that decided to participate as well.
Looking at the course elevation map again, now that I’ve run the course, I can see that what looks like a nice downhill grade is really only about 300 feet over the first 6 miles which is actually very gradual. We probably should have trained more along London Bridge Road to better simulate some of the course and not quite so much downhill. Also thrown in a couple more hill climbs earlier in our training.
Will I do another one? I said absolutely not during the last six miles of this one and the following days. But maybe, just maybe, if the right one comes along, I’m NOT 5 months pregnant, and we can get a great group to all do it again I just might consider it. I learned a few months ago with my “I have no desire to ever run a full marathon” statement to never say never.