Saturday, January 21, 2012

Conquering the Full

Last Sunday, I ran in the PF Chang's Rock 'n Roll Arizona.  My first full. Something I NEVER thought I would do.  When I began my running journey about 4 years ago, I could barely go 2 miles without huffing and puffing and taking a couple of walking breaks.  Now I have six 1/2 marathons and one full under my belt.  Me.  This girl.  I still can't believe it.

Going into this race, I had very low expectations.  Just to finish upright.  See, I did not train like I wanted to for this race.

My friend Monika and I had decided way back in the summer that we were going to tackle the full.  My friend Tracey who has a decent amount of marathon experience mapped out a training plan for us, and I managed to stick to it pretty well for awhile.

Then life smacked me in the face, and it became increasingly harder to fit in those long runs.  I had kid stuff, and school (both my own and my work), and sickness, and a surgery.  So the longest runs I ever managed were two 1/2 marathons (WHM in Scottsdale and RnRLV) and one 14 miler.  That's it.  I still had 3 to 4 days a week of running, but I couldn't manage to carve out the big chunks of time for the long runs. 

Meanwhile, Monika stuck pretty well to the plan.  She had several long runs, including two 20 milers, in the weeks leading up to the race. 

My friends were taking bets at what mile I would hit the wall.

On the Monday before the race, Tracey asked me what I was going to do.  Was I going to drop down to the half?  Eh, I said.  I'm just going to go for it.  Why not?  I wasn't trying to get any particular time...I just wanted to finish.   And I felt like I could finish.  I didn't know how much walking I would have to do to get to the end, but I knew I could get there. 

Fast forward to the weekend.

Now, Monika and I were participants in the colossal cluster known as Rock 'n Roll Las Vegas. We both wrote scathing reviews of the race on our participant surveys, but we had already registered for RnRAZ before Vegas.  We were hoping Rock 'n Roll would redeem themselves.

Monika and I at the expo

And guess what.  I think they did. More about that later.

Race morning.  As usual, I had everything laid out for the morning the night before.  The next morning, I noticed that my puppy had chewed the top of one of my water bottles.  Grrrr.  Then my favorite hat broke.  I quickly problem-solved and fixed it with a safety pin.  Then I realized I was out of coffee.  Ugh.  No solution there....just had to go without. 

We parked at the finish, then took the light rail to Downtown Phoenix and the start line.  This was our first full, and we definitely sensed the difference in the attitude of the runners.  As Monika put it, "no riff-raff."  People just seemed a little more serious about it all.

We arrived at the start, hit the porta-potty then headed to our corral, which was the next to last one. Not knowing what to shoot for at all, we had both put our expected finish time at 5 hours. 


After a 1/2 hour delay due to traffic issues, etc., the race was underway!  And right from the start, I was really grateful that I wasn't jockeying for position for the first few miles.  It's amazing what a difference there is when there are only about 4000 runners vs. 20,000+ runners.  No shoving, hardly any zig-zagging.  It was great.

Monika and I had decided before hand that we were going to run 9 minutes, walk 1 minute right from the start.  It felt really strange to stop and walk after only a mile or so, but this method ended up working brilliantly for us in the end.  We divided the labor.  Monika kept track of the walk break schedule, while I tried to keep us at a steady pace during the 9 minutes.  We hadn't really discussed pacing since we weren't trying to achieve any particular time, but we would just fall into what was comfortable for us at that moment and then try to maintain it for the entire 9 minutes.  As it turned out, we were running about a 9:30 pace for the first 1/2 of the race.

When we reached the 1/2 mark, I can almost swear that I heard my body shout "Woo hoo! We're done!"  It felt so weird not to stop.  Miles 14 through 18 can be summed up like this:  they sucked ass.  My hip flexor started really hurting at about mile 15, and somewhere in there I turned to Monika and said "My stomach is growling!"   I was actually starving.  I'm not sure why.  I ate really well the day before and the morning of, and we were refueling periodically throughout the race.  Since this was my first full, I haven't figured out what works for me yet.  We were running about a 10:15 pace through this section, but it was tough.

And then something wonderful happened around Mile 19 (I think...the miles were all running together at this point).  There were these kids sitting out in their driveway with a table.  And on this table was manna from heaven....pretzels and peanut M & Ms.  It was almost time for us to stop and walk anyway, so we grabbed a handful of each and chowed down while we walked.  And they were the best snacks ever. Those kids are officially my heroes.

Mile 20.  I turned to Monika and said "We just ran 20 fucking miles....we can do this!"  And I had a second wind.  My hip had quieted down to a dull roar (the walk breaks were actually a good opportunity to stretch it out a bit), and everything else felt really good.  We had settled into a 10:30 pace, which is a pace where I feel like I can run forever.  After the walk break between Miles 21 and 22, we decided that the next one would be our last.  It was getting too hard to start back up again. 

About Mile 23, I heard Monika say something I never thought I would hear:  "Can we slow the pace down a bit?"  See, Monika is definitely a faster runner than me.  She's a beast.  She can go forever, and she's got about 4-5 extra inches of leg length on me.  But her back, knees, and ankle were hurting.  So we backed off a bit and then just cruised on in to the finish, where we went straight to the medical tent.  Monika grabbed ice for her knees and I grabbed ice for my hip.

We had done it!  We had finished 26.2 miles.  And I had finished it much faster than I could have anticipated.  4:45:15.  Perfectly respectable considering I really felt completely undertrained. 

The rest of the day, I soaked in the tub, spent some time with my foam roller, and napped.  My lower body was stiff and sore for the next 24 hours or so.  By Tuesday, only my quads were a little sore, and by Wednesday, I felt completely normal. 

Now, about the race itself.  As far as I'm concerned Rock 'n Roll redeemed themselves.  I don't know if each race is organized by different people in each city.  If so, then the Vegas people definitely need to have a chat with the Phoenix people.  Because the Phoenix people did a fantastic job.  The expo was well-organized and easy to get around (unlike Vegas).  There were TONS of volunteers everywhere (unlike Vegas), lots of water (unlike Vegas), an organized and efficient gear check (unlike Vegas) and several fully-staffed Medical stations along the route. Oh, and I noticed several water service tanks along the route (no hydrant water!) and all the volunteers were wearing gloves (don't know if they always did this...never noticed before).  They made some real positive changes in the Phoenix race in particular...the route was much nicer (not as much "urban blight") and having the full and the 1/2 start in different locations was great.  I think I might give Rock 'n Roll another chance....maybe not Vegas, but I'd definitely go to another city. 

When we decided to do this, we said it would probably be one and done as far as fulls were concerned.  But now I don't know.  It wasn't as bad as I imagined it to be, and I'm very curious what I can do if I really follow a good training plan. 

Never say never!