Saturday, March 17, 2012

Race Report: Rock 'N' Roll USA Marathon

5 a.m. the alarm clock goes off.  I am still not used to this daylight savings time change (we're on day 6 now) and I really want to hit snooze and go back to sleep but I know if I don't get on the 6 a.m. metro there could be issues getting there on time.  So I force myself out of bed, wake up the baby, feed him, stick him back in his crib, get dressed, eat a Clif bar and down my coffee and head out the door.  In the car at 5:50, on the train at 5:55.   Score.  Especially since by the time we hit about 7 stops the car was completely full and people were getting turned away.  It pays to live at the end of the line.

Weather was about 64 at the start... fine for my throwaway long sleeve shirt and shorts.  Portapotty line went quickly and at 6:55 I started to wonder what I should do for the next hour.  They were letting people into the Armory (really?  Letting us INSIDE to wait for the start?  I like this race already.) so I decided to chill out for awhile, hit the bathrooms again, and get the body glide on.  

At 7:40 I headed out to find my corral.  Sheesh there were a lot of people doing the race -- most of them doing the half. It took me a good 15 minutes to get to the 3:55 pacers.  Decided to ditch my shirt right away at the starting line.  I was already hot.  This 26.2 I'd be wearing as little as possible -- with a high of 75 predicted after training throughout the winter, I knew those last miles were going to be tough.

I had the Nike+ GPS set to give me splits at every half mile.  After the first mile I decided to run ahead of the pace group... I always go slower the last 6 miles or so and in order to break 4 hours I figured I'd "run my own race."  Usually I play my MotionTraxx during races (it's a podcast set to 180-185 beats per minute and really helps me keep my foot cadence in check) but I was afraid that in a race twice as long as anything I'd done this year I'd get really sick of it after a couple of hours so I just enjoyed the sunshine and bands... good to get used to running without music since I can't do that in the Ironman anyhow.  

Nearing the 7th mile I saw a bunch of people with full marathon bibs running the opposite direction.  They yelled to me "You're going the wrong way!  The full course is this way!"  Seriously?  So I followed them.  After maybe a minute someone yells "That's a different year's course!  The half and the full are together until 12.5!"  YOU HAVE GOT TO BE KIDDING ME!  I turned back around cursed a little bit and looked behind me to see if the 3:55 pace guy was in sight.  I couldn't see him -- I was still far enough ahead -- so I decided to speed up for a minute and hope that sort of made up for the little directional snafoo.  I took my first Clif shot and hoped for the best... race nutrition often is my downfall.  

Now my GPS was all screwed up.  When I got to 8, it told me I was at 8.5  How far did I really run the wrong way?  Ugh.  I turned it off for a half mile thinking that would correct it, but it must have tried to catch up because then it was really telling me the wrong splits.  And the pace was completely off (I think it told me my average pace was 8:19.  Which would have been nice.  But... no.) Although I had no idea what my time or pace was, I could tell was slowing down big time as I approached the 10 mile mark.  I turned on my music and tried to figure out how to get the GPS to shut up at every split without turning off the clock.  Couldn't figure it out so I tried to just ignore it. Took another Clif Shot.  Bid the half marathoners farewell (and really good riddance because I was getting sick of hearing "You're ALMOST THERE!")  and headed towards the 13.1 split timer.

I was still feeling pretty good at this point and it wasn't too hot... yet.  I had no idea when I crossed the starting line and the clock said 2:02... I still couldn't see the 3:55 pacer so I figured I couldn't be doing too badly.  I just tried to stay in my rhythm and take it easy on the (many) uphills and speed it up on the way down.  Took another shot.  

My friend Tuan was meeting me at the metro stop on mile 18.5 so I spent 16-18 visualizing his company.  I was getting hot and my legs were starting to hurt but I made myself keep pace.  I knew he'd push the crap out of me once we met up -- he's the reason I broke 4:30 4 years prior on a hot hilly course when I wanted to quit.  Oh was I glad to see him.

18.5 to 21 weren't bad.  Then... I started to feel like I was going to puke.  My digestive track has killed me on two previous marathons and I thought I had it all figured out -- I can't do a Gatorade and Clif Shot combo.  Gels and water had worked on my long training runs with no ill effects.  I'd just had water and 4 shots up until this point.  At 21 the sun was blazing, it was over 70 degrees, I was sweating profusely and my legs were killing me.  I think we were somewhere in Anacostia but honestly I don't remember much after 21.  My brain was missing some glycogen.  I walked through the water stop, drank three cups, had my 5th shot and then tried to run again.  Still felt like I was going to puke, and started cramping.  Really bad.  Tuan asked me if I wanted a gel and I resisted the urge to throw up on him.  Nothing sounded worse than gel right at that moment.  What I really wanted to do was ball up into the fetal position right then and there.  And cry.

Somewhere around this point the 3:55 pace guy passed us.  So between Tuan ordering me to pick up the pace and the devastation of slowing down so much in the final stretch, I made myself run through the cramps and nausea.  Around 23 my legs really started to hurt.  Of course my thought process is going something like this:  "Why did I pay $95 to torture myself?  Why did I sign up for ANOTHER marathon last week?  AND WHAT WAS I THINKING WHEN I SIGNED UP FOR AN IRONMAN?  Who does this after they bike 112 miles, never mind the swimming part?  I am insane.  I am truly insane.  I want to quit.  Forget breaking four hours.  If I stop right now and just walk to to finish I'll still get a PR.  OH SERIOUSLY THERE IS ANOTHER HILL?  Why did they put so many hills in DC?  Why is it so hot?  I know I always complain about winter but couldn't it have lasted one more week?  Okay Gretchen there are only three miles left.  That's like your recovery run out the front door to the elementary school and back.  The 3:55 pace guy is still in sight... just keep following him."

Final water stop.  Tuan dumps water all over me.  Which soaks my Iphone and I'm convinced he's killed it and I'm going to have to pay $200 to get a new one so I yell at him.  I give him my phone and tell him to dry it out and make sure it's still working.  He ignores me and tells me to run faster.  

And finally -- I see RFK Stadium.  At 25 miles I wished I could pick up the pace... Tuan is telling me to sprint to the end and I kind of feel like slamming him.  Because there is no way I can go any faster.  I am so done with this marathon.  People are yelling at me that there is only a half mile to go and I want to yell back at them that that's great but I already ran 26 thanks to the kind folks at mile 6.5 and really, this is killing me.  Then I hear "GRETCHEN!  You're almost there!" and our friend Saguna, who did the half, runs with Tuan and I for a little bit.  And my friend Katie (also did the half) is at the finish (waiting to cheer on her husband) and yells out my name.  And Tuan yells that I can still make 3:55.  SO.. I start booking it.  The 3:55 guys are ahead of me and I try to catch them.  Tuan ducks back to the sidelines and says he is going to meet me at the finish.  He'd better.  He has my phone.

The clock says 4:02 when I cross.  I knew I broke 4 but didn't think I did 3:55. However... I had signed Tuan's phone up for runner tracking so he could find me.... and lo and behold.... 3:54:53.  Just made it!

Pain?  Oh yes.


I was quite amused that the recovery drink they handed out at the finish shute is the same chocolate milk they serve in our school cafeteria!

THE AFTERMATH:  Apparently they had an after party with free bands and beer.  Who can drink beer after a marathon?  I still felt like puking.  After calling my husband (who said congratulations and could I please come home so we could go to a Saint Paddy's party at his friend's?) and lying underneath a tree for 20 minutes while Tuan tried to convince me to eat something (I refused - still felt like puking) we got on the metro.  I thanked him profusely for his supreme pacing and motivation and bid him farewell at the red line transfer.  30 minutes to go.  I am really going to throw up.

Which I did as soon as I got off the train.  Into a trashcan.  Then I got in my car and drove back home.  I got into the tub but then had to get out to puke again.  I was feeling really lightheaded.  Jamie calls and asks if I'd be ready to go to the Saint Paddy's party when he pulls up to the house (he'd been at swim lessons with Susie) and I tell him I need help.  Puke again.  I get into bed and ball up into the fetal position.  Jamie had been home sick with the stomach flu Monday so maybe that is what it was?  I say hello to my kids and he gets me some fluids.  I tell him to party on his own because what I really need is peace and quiet.  He happily leaves.  I puke one more time and take some Gatorade.  Then miraculously start to feel better.

So it wasn't the flu.  I think my electrolytes were out of whack.  My dad (a pediatrician) said I probably got hyponatremia from drinking all water and no sports drink.   I looked up the symtoms.  Disorientation (yes), vomiting (yes), chills (yes), severe headache (yes), and possibly coma and death (thank God... no.)  Lesson learned.  Need to come up with a better nutritional strategy.  I don't think Gatorade is the solution so I'm going to experiment with salt tabs or Nuun.  

Overall -- pretty happy.  PRed by 33 minutes.  Not bad.  


  1. Congratulations on a great result. Seems like you had quite the adventure yet you still pulled out a great finish. Congratulations.

  2. What a trooper you are! Congrats. We were 3 cheerleaders in SF.

    Would your dad recommend Pedialyte?