Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Running in Nashville

   It's Monday night and all day long I've been struggling with my race recap. I had over 9 hours of driving and all day today to think about about my race and how I actually feel about my performance. There is so much to be proud of and yet something inside of me is angry. I feel like the hills of Nashville got the best of me. I keep justifying not hitting my goal on the course, weather and my injury. In my mind they are all excuses but I guess every endurance athlete has a bad day. Ok....I feel a little better getting that off my chest now for the lessons learned and my race experience.

   I arrived into Nashville on Thursday night after a long drive. The only thing I wanted to do was run a few miles and knock off the rust. Instead of running the four I had set my mind on I actually listened to my body and only pulled off three just long enough to give me a good nights sleep.

   Friday went by in a flash. Probably because of the anticipation of the next days event. I got to meet new friends, had fun and learned some stuff at the expo and had the pasta dinner preparing for the race in the morning. The quiet time alone in the hotel room is where my mind started to stir. I kept going over my game plan, my pacing and my fueling strategy to get through the 26.2 miles. Needless to say with all of this circling my mind I didn't sleep to sound.

   Race day is finally here and after months of training the time had come for this moment. All of my morning preparations had been completed. Before I knew it I was in the corral. I was one of the first sitting on the ground stretching my injured hamstring. The hills of Nashville were on my mind as I loosened up. I didn't quite know what to expect out of my hamstring. In my prior long runs it was giving me a solid 10 miles before acting up so with it taped and on some rest due to the taper I was hoping for the best.

   The National Anthem was sung by Danny Gokey and honestly that's all I remembered from the start. I felt like I was in a zone. Before I knew it my corral was released and finally I was off running.The first 2 miles went by in a flash. My legs felt light and my strides were smooth. I'm not sure why, but in every race that I've run there has been an emotional wave crash down on me and this wasn't any different. Entering the 3rd mile and rounding a corner I saw a guy standing there cheering the runners. Normally this wouldn't cause me to tear up but he had his dog with him. A mixed boxer that looked like my Sammy who I lost just a month prior to the race. I made eye contact with his dog and just like that Sammy was with me again.

   I carried her memory with me for the next few miles until I was side tracked with the overwhelming urge to pee. Mile 6 is where I lost two minutes for my pit stop. We had already climbed some steep hills and from what the map of the course looked like I only had to get through another two miles before it flattened out. My hamstring didn't give me any issues and I knew, or so I thought I knew that the next two miles were going to be the toughest climb in the race.

   Mile 7 came and the funniest moment of the race happened. As I was pacing along focusing on my stride I passed a corner with some supporters when a woman standing with her friend shouted "Oh my God, marry me !!" All I could do was laugh and I kindly replied with "Sorry I've got somewhere to be." Now I'm not sure where that came from but it did make me laugh as I pressed on.

   Cruising along with no pain or issues I felt like I was running my race. I had completely forgotten about my hamstring issue until mile 12 when it decided to remind me it was still there. My thoughts were well that's two more miles than normal and with the pain quickly going away I felt it was going to be a good day. At the halfway point I was on pace to hit my goal. I had reached 13.1 miles faster than I ever had before and I wasn't pushing my pace. It was an easy comfortable run to that point. Then mile 15 came and the race began to unravel.

   Mile 15 was up a steep incline that I wasn't expecting. I knew there were a few small hills left on the course but the map didn't show this monster. At this point is where my hamstring wanted to quit. It was pulling and getting tight. Tight enough I had to stop for a few seconds to stretch it out. Up the hill I went and at the peak I knew I was in trouble. I knew my goal was probably going to be out the window because the pain wasn't going away so I made a conscience decision to adjusted the goal and set a new PR.

  I was slowing and my leg had a hard time extending. My form was getting sloppy and all I could focus on was my hamstring. As the miles went on my leg wouldn't open up so my shoe kept clipping my ankle rubbing it raw. At this point in the day the spring sun was beating down and at the aide stations they had volunteers spraying hoses for the runners as we passed by. At mile 18 my leg was completely gone and I had to readjust my goal to just finishing the race. All of the hard training through the winter months came down to just finishing. A very sobering and disappointing moment.

   At mile 19.6 I passed a house full of supporters. They had a microphone plugged into some speakers to cheer on the runners. The guy behind the mic saw me struggling and noticed my Ohio State hat. He came on the mic and said "Come on Buckeye !!" I smiled until he came back with "O-H..." I shouted back "I-O !!" and the house cheered as I slowly passed on. There is something about being from the Buckeye state gets me fired up. That encounter got me to mile 23.

   In the fall this is where I hit the wall. My energy level crashed because I didn't stick to my fueling game plan. This time around there was no wall to hit. I fueled perfectly and I felt like I could go faster my leg just wouldn't let me. Mile 23 was through a park and yet another steep hill. Small, but steep and there were plenty of people starting to walk. This is where I changed my goal one last time. Finishing was in sight so I only wanted to beat the guy with the red mohawk in the daisy dukes (not fun to be running behind I might add) and the girl who kept sprinting, walking and sprinting (I was getting irritated with her for some reason).

   As we climbed the last hill coming to mile 25 I began to get emotional again. I can't say why. Maybe it was the way the race played out. Maybe it was because I didn't hit my goal or maybe it was because I knew I had pushed my body so hard when most people would have quit. I'm still not sure and I'm OK with not knowing.

   Coming to the end of the race my playlist hit the song 'Till I Collapse. I was the perfect song to cross the finish line strong. I crossed the line and unlike in Columbus where I raised my hands excited and happy I looked down and cursed my hamstring. I received my medal and immediately went to the aide station for them to wrap my hamstring with ice. I grabbed a few bottles of water and some fruit bites and found a place to sit. It just so happened that it was in the middle of the parking lot of LP field. I layed back and just enjoyed the warmth of the sun and the nice breeze that was blowing. Some peaceful moments during all of the racing chaos to gather my thoughts.

   There is something to be said about endurance athletes and I was recently reminded that we are a gutsy group of people and that "running is not defined by the days we go out with a number pinned to your chest." I finished the task at hand and I am proud of that. There will always be another race and I'm grateful for what Nashville has taught me and I'll use that knowledge to grow as an athlete doing something that I love, running.