This past weekend, I journeyed to the Quad Cities for the Quad Cities Marathon and all the subsequent festivities. This was the setting of my first marathon (in 2013) and I was eager to revisit this magical place again.....only this time, I was part of a relay team.
I was recruited to join the team (of Kristi, Carie, Eleanor and Lynn) by reference of a mutual friend. I knew it would feel strange to not be running the entire distance myself, though. I have done other relay events before, but they were for much longer distances that I wouldn't be able to complete on my own. This would be a new experience, and I was eager for the adventure.
Having recently run a half marathon (with a very satisfactory finish time), I kind of wanted to see if I could run another with just as good (if not better) finish time. I had agreed to be the first runner for the relay, and my leg of the race was 6.6 miles...so I'd already have more than half of the distance covered. Hmmm...maybe I could hand off the "baton" to our second runner (Eleanor), then continue on to the 13.1 finish line? I inquired to the race officials, and they informed me it would be allowed, but I'd need to also register for the half marathon (and have an additional bib for that particular race). As it turned out, Eleanor had a conflict arise, and asked me if I'd be willing to run her 5.6 miles for her instead. It wouldn't be quite 13.1 miles, but it would be a substantial distance (12.2 miles) none-the-less. Although I really wanted to do the half marathon, my loyalty was with my team, so I agreed to run the first two legs of the relay and take a pass on the half marathon. The half marathon and full marathon share the same route for the first 8.5 miles before they split and go separate directions, otherwise I could have done both without issue. Besides, I could still try for a decent "pace PR." I have run many 20K's (12.4 miles), and I could try to better my (approximate) 20K PR (1:55:19).
|most of the marathon course....my two legs of the race would have me finishing in Rock Island (lower left ), near the 12-mile mark|
Having never met any of these gals (other than group messaging via Facebook), we decided to meet up at the hotel where myself and Lynn were staying. Lynn had arranged to get us matching shirts (and had given my shirt to me the evening prior so I could "get crafty" with it), and we also needed to get our race packet stuff from Kristi, our team leader. After that, we headed to the race site (about a 20-minute drive) and arrived on the scene a good hour before race time.
|With Kristi, Lynn, and Carie...our "before" team pic|
|Relay-bibbed up and ready to run!|
We spent a few minutes walking around, checking out the start line excitement and getting a few team pics. Carie commented that she liked how my shirt had turned out, so I offered to customize her shirt for her. Lynn also asked me to fix hers as well. So we headed back to my car (#havescissors #willcraft), and we did some quick crafting and cutting in the parking lot.
Before long, I had to head to the start line. Everyone wished me well as I climbed over the fence (#longlegs) to sneak into line. I knew I'd see Lynn at the relay exchange, but didn't know if I'd see Carie or Kristi until the finish line.
|Fuel Belt in place, let's go!|
I had great luck using Tailwind for my fuel during my last race, so that was my fuel of choice again. Not wishing to hand-carry it (Tailwind is a powder you mix with water), I opted to dig out the Fuel Belt that has a holster for a water bottle. UGH. I have used this for a few long training runs, but never for an actual race (since there's always water stations along the race routes, I don't usually need to bring my own). This belt is very useful, but I have not (yet) grown to love it. It feels heavy (when the bottle is full of water), and cumbersome because I have to wear it high on my waist (and as tight as possible) to keep it from it bouncing. Not an ideal set-up, but manageable. I also was using PlowOn gum (for my energy source), so I popped that in my mouth as I waited for my watch to secure a satellite.
|Ready for the start line|
The Star Spangled Banner always gets me teary-eyed. Also, I was feeling very excited and nostalgic. It was surreal to be lining up in the exact spot where I'd run my first marathon two years ago. I still have a hard time believing I've not only run one marathon, but four (and one of them was an ultra!). The gun went off, and my feet started moving.
|We can see this enormous American flag from the start line, and we pass under it just after the start of the race and right before the finish line|
I kept feeling that awkward, giddy smile on my face.....where you're so overcome with emotion that you can't tell if you're about to laugh or cry. I could feel my eyes welling up, but was able to keep it together. The first mile is very crowded as all the half marathoners, full marathoners, and (first leg) relay runners make their way across the first bridge.
Just around the second mile mark, we begin the ascent of the only major hill of the race. There are a few small "rolling hills" along the course, and every time we cross a bridge there is some substantial climbing involved. For the most part, though, the course is pretty flat (and also fast, for those who are attempting to BQ).
My usual stiffness was pretty much gone by the time we started the hill, so it felt great to just let everything go. I didn't have to pull over at any of the water stops, which is a freedom I don't usually enjoy. I could tell my legs had loosened up because everything was feeling effortless.
Miles 4-6 take us on a path along the Mississippi River, working our way from Bettendorf towards Davenport. Before long, I had made it to the 10K mark and was still keeping a solid 9-minute (average) pace. I kept grabbing the water bottle out of the harness every couple of miles. I was pleased to realize that once I got going, the belt really wasn't that bothersome.
Before long, I came up to the place where the half marathoners split off from the full marathoners' route. Next, we had a short out-and-back segment, finished the ninth mile, and then begin climbing another bridge, this one taking us to Moline. I had been running pretty strong and steady, but was starting to feel a little tired when I made my way into this next town. Mile 11 felt slow and a little sluggish. I knew I had run some of those mid-point miles pretty fast, and it was coming back to haunt me.
Just before the last mile, I had to walk briefly. Looking back, I probably could have kept running, but at the time I really was zapped of energy. As usual, a brief walk (10-15 seconds?) was all I needed to recharge and finish strong. I rounded the final corner, and could see all the other relay runners lined up, waiting for their turn to take to the streets. I immediately spotted Lynn waving at me, so I unsnapped the slap bracelet and had it ready to hand over to her.
|There you have it! Almost a PR ;-)|
It felt so awesome to finish strong and then pass the bracelet to Lynn. I wished her good luck told her to have a great race....and then I took a deep breath. My watch said 1:53:19.....and my GPS said 11.98 miles. WHAT??? I thought I was going about 12.2 miles? I was well under the targeted time of 1:55:19 (by an entire two minutes!)...but if I didn't run quite as far, that would mean I didn't run quite as fast either...right?
And then, almost instantly, I stopped the "Numbers vs. Pace vs. PR" game that was playing in my head. Geesh. Yes, I was hoping to run this race just as fast (if not faster) than I had run that 20K a few years ago (which, incidentally, was an entire different route, and mostly downhill)....but a few years ago I was not running marathons (or ultras) and dealing with Piriformis Syndrome and angry hamstrings, nor had I ever heard of Plantar Fasciitis. Geesh (again). Although I did not beat that 20K PR, I came pretty close, and I felt awesome in doing so. And, given the fact that I have had long distance races the past two weekends (and also ran those well), I'm calling my Quad Cities 11.98-mile performance good.
Anyways, after that brief pep talk, I realized just how hot it had gotten. I was lucky to have cloud cover until the final mile couple miles, so I hadn't really noticed how humid it actually was. I took off the fuel belt, and my shirt was a saturated mess. I noticed water dripping around my ankles...and realized it was sweat dripping from my elbows (ewwww!). I finished off the remainder of my Tailwind water (I had started the race with about 10 oz. water in the bottle), and walked around for a few minutes (and stretched) as I searched for the shuttle bus to take me back to the finish line area.
The buses were running every 20 minutes, so I didn't have to wait long. Once on the bus, though, it seemed like it took forever to get to our destination. I was one of the (not so lucky) ones who had to stand, so I held on for dear life to the strap hanging from the overhead grab-bar. It was a bumpy ride!
|I couldn't even get a clear pic from all the swaying...|
When we arrived back to the finish line area, I grabbed some water and stretched for a few more minutes and rinsed out my bottle (from the fuel belt). I knew it would take Lynn about an hour for her leg of the race, but I didn't know how long it would be before she'd return from her bus ride. I decided to head to my car and switch out my shoes and socks for flip flops. I also did a quick baby-wipe-clean-up on my arms and legs. I figured it would be a couple hours before Lynn, Carie, and myself would need to meet up and wait for Kristi to come in so we could all run that final stretch to the finish line as a team.
By the time I made my way back to the finish line, about three hours had elapsed since the race had begun. All of the elites had long since finished, but now all the "non-elite" fast racers were starting to filter in. Wow. I will never be in their caliber...finishing 26.2 miles in three hours? I clapped and cheered for all of them. I tried to read the names on their bibs, but they were clipping along pretty fast towards the finish line. And most of them we very focused, and kept their gaze steady towards the finish line.
After awhile, I decided to wander back and grab a snack. I never have much of an appetite after running, so I hadn't eaten anything since finishing my run. I realized one of the downsides to being on a relay team, is that even though you have run and are done, you don't get your finisher medal until the team crosses the finish line....so it felt kind of awkward to be walking around, partaking in the post-race festivities when you technically haven't finished the race yet.
Knowing I'd need to start searching for Lynn, I headed back to my car and put my socks and shoes back on. By this time, it had been more than an hour since I'd been back and I knew she'd be returning soon. From where I was situated, I could see the 20-mile mark (the runners then had an out-and-back segment for the final 6.2 miles) and I spotted Carie as she made her way towards the exchange point (to hand off to Kristi). A short while later, Lynn and I found each other. Next, we just had to wait for Carie to return from her leg of the relay, and then watch for Kristi.
If you want inspiration, just plant yourself near the finish line of a marathon. Sure, it's breath-taking to see the fast runners as they come blazing through...but honestly, I LOVE seeing the "average" and the "slow" runners. They are the ones who truly inspire me. They are the ones laughing, crying, limping, and high-5'ing the crowd of onlookers. They do not take any of those final steps to the finish line for granted. Most of them were emotional, and so was I.
|I took 3 or 4 pics...but this is the only one that showed up on my phone...|
Carie found us, and a short while later we spotted Kristi coming towards us. All of us joined her, and TOGETHER we crossed the finish line. Even though I had not run the entire marathon that day, there's something about retracing my steps from two years ago that had me in tears. I could hear the people cheering and shouting, I could see the finish line, and I could feel the electricity in the air.
|There's the finish line up ahead!|
|Our team's "after" pic....WE did it!|
(9:28 average pace)
|This beautiful medal shimmers & sparkles (and is almost bigger than my hand)|
|Hands-down, this is the most amazing race shirt I have ever received....awesome color, and very cool graphics on the front and back!|
Have you ever returned to the course of you first marathon? Ever participated on a marathon relay team?