It had been 16 months since my last marathon (Grandma's Marathon). I had rallied back from an emergency surgery. There had been several races done, a sprinkling of age group placings, and many miles run. It was go time.
The race site was in and around Country Park in Greensboro, North Carolina. We arrived on the scene around 7:30, giving us ample time to find the porta-potties, warm up and find the start line before the 8:00 start. The weather was absolutely perfect...mid-50F's at the start line (and in the mid/late 60F's when we all finished). There was a clear sky, plenty of sunshine, and a breeze out of the north.
When I say "we," I'm referring to the group of us from Iowa. Did I mention this race was in North Carolina? Some hometown friends of Barb (my main runner gal who does most of my miles with me) are on a quest to run races in all 50 states. The token guy in the group, Dick, has a sister in the vicinity of Greensboro...so the Cannonball Marathon was chosen. Also, this was going to be his and Jennifer's first-ever marathon! The other gal in the group, also named Barb, was running the half marathon. All of us were excited!
|Ready for the start! (L-R) Barb-1, Barb-2, Dick, Jennifer, and myself
The first four miles took us on asphalt trails through the woodland. The trails were anything but straight or flat, but very scenic. Right at the 4-mile mark was a porta-potty with no line. Even though I had taken care of business before the race start, my bladder was about to explode (sorry for the TMI), so I pulled over and took advantage.
Around the 4.5-mile mark, we crossed Lake Brandt Rd. and immediately had a short, but steep, downhill...back into the woods, towards Bur-Mil Park. We continued on the twisting trails, crossing a couple of bridges, until the turn-around near the 7.5-mile mark.
Just before the 11-mile mark, I saw the same porta-potty I'd used before. Again, my bladder was borderline bulging, so I pulled over. Again, ugh. I had been grabbing water at all the water stations (every two miles), but had only been drinking a few a few sips at a time. The temps were comfortable, and by no means hot, so I had not felt thirsty...I was sipping the water to merely stay ahead of the hydration game, so it was a surprise how badly I needed both of those potty stops.
Anyways, onward! The course had turned, and near the 11.5-mile mark was where the half marathoners turned right (to head back to the finish line) and the full marathoners turned left (for approximately 14 additional miles on foot).
The thing is, there was a sign in the middle of the street (with the directions for each route), and a few people by the sign directing the racers to their desired route....but that was it. Once I turned to head out on the back half of the marathon route, there were no further signs. I crossed the intersection, and had to ask a volunteer if I needed to go straight or if there was a turn I hadn't seen.
All I could see was a long stretch of highway (with the farthest right lane closed off by orange cones), and a long, long hill. Seriously? We were out of the woods (literally), but the hills were going to continue? I passed the 12 and 13 mile marks, then finally saw an arrow to turn right. This brief out-and-back took us out (on another curving hill) and the turn-around was just past the 14-mile mark. The 15-mile mark was just after we turned back onto that hilly highway.
By this time, the hilly highway was gradually leaving the city limits. Also, the crowd of runners had drastically thinned out, and I was pretty much on my own. It was looking (and starting to feel) rather bleak...no crowd support, minimal traffic control and no signs (or painted arrows) to assure me I was headed in the right direction. At the 16-mile aid station, I asked the volunteer if we'd eventually be getting off the highway, and she assured me the route would be turning right ... further up the hill.
Finally, I spotted a policeman (at the top of the hill), and he had a route marker indicating to turn right. Just after the turn was the 17-mile sign...and another hill to climb. At least with all the uphills, there should be some downhills coming...eventually (at least that's what I kept telling myself).
As I approached the 18-mile mark, I passed a guy on the road. He looked much younger than me, and had a pretty fit build....but he was walking. As I passed him, I told him to "Hang in there! Only single digits of miles remain!" He didn't say anything.
I had been glancing at my watch at most of the mile marks, but I had pretty much given up on that PR. I had lost a good chunk of time with both of my potty stops (5-6 minutes?), and had been chatting briefly at some of the water stations with the volunteers (mainly because there was no one else to talk to LOL). And I had about had it with all the hills.
I can't remember exactly where, but I decided to start power walking the uphills for awhile (around mile 19 or 20?). At that point, I knew I could walk the uphills faster than I could run them, and I wanted to conserve some of my energy.
Then, around the 21-mile mark, the route curved onto a different road, a road with no shoulder to run on and no blocked-off traffic lanes. Oh, and more rolling hills. I kept passing other racers, and most of them were walking. When I got to the 22-mile marker, I grabbed a couple cups of Gatorade. It was blue Gatorade and tasted like heaven. I had started to feel a little light-headed, so I thought I needed more than just water at that point. I almost grabbed a third cup (opting for what I thought was yellow Gatorade)...only to hear the gal mention that the pickle juice hadn't gone over well. UGH...pickle juice??? I was so glad she'd made that comment BEFORE I'd drank it (I detest pickles, and probably would have been in danger of spitting it right back out and gagging).
It was at the 23-mile mark that the route turned back onto that hilly highway we'd climbed earlier (miles 12-17), but now we finally were rewarded with a decent downhill as we started the final trek back to the finish line. I ran most of the next two miles feeling like a new person. As I was approaching the 25-mile mark, though, the road started inclining again. I grabbed a few pretzels at the water stand and some more Gatorade. The gal asked me how I was feeling, and I told her that all these hills were a nightmare. She smiled and said,"Welcome to Greensboro! Unfortunately, you do have a couple hills remaining before the finish line..." She was being so nice about it, but I had just about had it with all the excessive hills (have I said that yet?).
I tried to run as much of that final mile as I could, but my mind (and my mojo) had completely shut down at that point. My finish time was gonna be way off and I was feeling mentally (and physically) done. As I made my way back into the park for the final stretch, I saw Barb-1 (at the top of the final hill). She immediately gave me a cheer and ran over to me and hugged me. Having run the half, she'd been done for a couple hours....and said she was so proud and impressed at the rest of us for "conquering" all 26 miles.
My overall thoughts on the event....
As I said, this was a tough course! Even if you're well-trained on hills, it would be difficult to snag a "fast" finish time or a PR, especially if you're running the full 26.2 miles. The fist 11 miles of the course were very scenic; the numerous trees along the trails were beautiful and provided great shade cover. The back half (of the full marathon course), though, was painfully boring. There was ZERO crowd support, and with the bulk of the racers doing the half marathon, the actual number of runners (doing the full) were few and far between. The route did have signs at every mile mark, but there were numerous long stretches with no signage (or banners or painted arrows, etc.) to assure me that I was, indeed, where I needed to be.
I would have liked to have seen more aid stations, especially in the final 10 miles or so, if for nothing else to break up the monotony. All of the aid station volunteers, though, were fantastic and helpful.
There were a few segments of the course that were potentially dangerous. Police officers were stationed at all of the crossings, but along those busy highways there really should be more traffic control.
Obviously, I would have loved to have run this with a faster finish time. I alternated with Honey Stinger chews and SiS gels (at miles 3, 8, 14, 19.5), and then Gatorade at miles 22, 24 and 25, and never felt depleted of energy. My legs took a serious beating in the first half of the race, and seeing that long hill for miles 12-17 really messed with my head. I think it was more of a mental battle (than physical) in the final miles. When I was running, I think I was running strong, but I just was so DONE with all the hills that I simply didn't care towards the end.
This race did reinforce my will to finish what I started. I never felt like quitting (though the thought of peeling off at the 11.5-mile mark and doing the half marathon instead did cross my mind LOL). A mantra that came to me in those later miles was "Too Much Grit To Quit," and that really carried me through to the finish line.
In all honesty, I really am more of a runner than a racer. I get a lot of satisfaction in knowing I can run these kinds of distances and still walk the next day (as this goes to press, three days post-marathon, I feel almost as good as new). I don't need a desired finish time to validate my status as a legit runner. I'm just grateful I can choose to run. It really is quite a gift to be treasured.
|We all finished!!!
|The long-sleeved hoodies are nice (purple for ladies; grey for guys)
|...and the medal is a beauty (different colored ribbons for the 13.1 and 5K)
Have you ever done an especially tough race, but felt extremely proud for the battle? What's your perfect race day weather...mild temps with sunshine, or cool temps with cloud cover? Ever been registered for a marathon, but decided (on course) to finish the half marathon instead?