The good, the bad, and the ugly.
The Good: meeting up with two bloggers: Chiarunner and Jahowie.
The Bad: forgetting my camera AGAIN so no pics.
The Ugly: the hard, hard, hard course.
I signed up for this race because Jan wanted that medal so badly. And they are really nice medals, as you can see. But I started getting concerned about the race when the race info said there was a strict time cutoff: 2 hours, 30 minutes. In a nutshell, "if you can't run 12 min. miles, stay home." Well! What had I gotten myself into?? The other concern I had was the course itself, but after a while I started thinking it was a fairly flat course. Where that idea came from (maybe it was a secret hope?) I don't know. Rereading the course info again, I just sort of blocked out the statement "Ann Arbor is in the Huron Valley, so you have a big hill at the end." That was an understatement. And then just a day before the race, I finally got an e-mail from a friend of a friend of a friend who was on the race committee, and he assured me I didn't need to worry about any cutoff. So that was a relief.
Race day started at 3 am, even though I didn't need to get up until 4. Once I was awake though, my mind was racing (ahead of my legs) and I finally got up about 3:45. I should sleep well tonight!
Knowing it was going to be an early start, I had wisely organized all my stuff the night before. I had to meet Jan by 4:45 and I don't like keeping people waiting.
Its amazing how dark it is at 4:30. Dark dark. But yet, I could hear the birds twittering, just stirring in their nests as I loaded up the car. It was so dark, I thought I was turning onto a side street and actually turned into a school driveway. I was glad I wasn't driving the whole way and turned on my brights then. Not too many people out anyway.
It is about a 2 to 2.5 hour drive to Ann Arbor, and with one stop we made it in about 2 hours. We parked in downtown Ann Arbor (home of the Michigan Wolverines--Go Blue!) in a very nice parking structure. Packet pickup was right across the street, so we nade our way to get our packets and then made a last stop to the porta potties before the lines got too long. We were actually on the bus to go to the start line (in Dexter, 13 miles away) by 7:15. By 7:30, we were at a school in Dexter and then began the long wait until the start at 8:50 am.
I almost immediately ran into Chiarunner. I recognized her from her green shorts! We chatted, I introduced her to Jan, and then we headed inside to stay warm. Another person I was looking for was Jahowie, but he actually found me. It was great meeting in person and talking with people you blog with!
Eventually, the race started. I thought I heard there was 2500 people, and it looked like it. It was a chip start, so no need to crowd in the front. All of a sudden, a gun went off and we slowly started moving forward.
I didn't know what kind of pace I would be able to hold. My secret goal time was 2:37:19, 12 min. miles. I was a little dismayed in the first mile, however, that we were starting with a nice long incline. But I felt okay. My breathing was okay, and by the first water stop at 2 miles, I was really surprised to see my time just barely over 22 min. It was too early to get excited yet, but I walked through the water stop and continued on without missing a beat. I had to laugh here because there was an old folks symphonic band playing---Black Sabbath, Ironman! That kept me going in my mind until the next water stop at 4 miles and I found again I was keeping fairly consistent slightly over 11 min. miles. I took in some sport beans here, trying to keep ahead of the usual stomach cramping I get on long runs. I'm still learning it seems how to prevent that stuff from happening. On I went to 5 miles, with my pace now around 11:30, but still within my goal pace. Between 5 and 6 miles, it is a steady uphill climb, nothing serious, but seriously getting annoying.
At six miles, I was still under pace and took some more beans. I think there might have been a downhill here, but I can't exactly remember. At this point, I was getting extremely bored with the course. On the one hand, it was probably one of the most beautiful and scenic courses I've ever run; on the other, it was boring to me--too much of the same thing I see at home. My goal is to find races that are FUN. This was not fun!
And at 7 miles, I about wanted to cry. Here we had ANOTHER hill, an extremely steep hill, and I was very irritated with the whole thing. I walked that hill. Another woman came along side me and I told her I hated this race and I hated this course! And I realized it was true. I was hating this race--there was nothing to look at, nothing to keep me focused on each mile. At the top of the hill, I did refocus though and continued running. Volunteers at this point said no more hill once we got up there, but that was only true for a very short time.
At 8 miles, I again walked through the water stop, taking in a gel, feeling somewhat better. "Elvis" was singing here, so that perked me up! Then the next boring mile to 9 miles. Now I was starting to gain on people who were more frequently walking, feelling probably the same way I did.
I was thrilled to see the 9 mile mark and realized I was still under pace. Only 4 more miles. I allowed myself now to calculate what I might be able to do and started getting excited when I realized I might actually make my secret goal time. Barely.
Of course, that excitement was short lived because we were nearing what I could see was ANOTHER hill. A big one. Oh no! I was completely deflated here. I almost couldn't stand the thought of another hill. And then I heard a volunteer say it was 12 miles, only 1 more to go. Not for me of course, and then I realized we were going to have an out and back portion of the race, and these were runners finishing. And right then I saw Jan! I glanced at my watch: 1:55. Woo hoo for her! She was probably going to do about 2:03 or 2:04! That was an excellent time for her, and that meant I probably could at least get a 2;40 at the worst.
Having something to look at now other than just the roadkill on the road made getting to mile 10 seem faster. I was now taking regular walk breaks, but here again was some progress for my fitness level: I was going 10/2 instead of the 8/2 I did my last 2 races. About this time, I saw Chia and we slapped hands. She was almost to 11 miles. Lucky her!
There was a turnaround somewhere, I knew it, but it couldn't get there fast enough for me. I was seriously hating this race, hating every minute now. The crowds had thinned and I was really having a difficult time mentally and physically now. But then more ugly came when we did the turnaround. Now we also had the strong winds in our faces, that wind I thought was in my face on the way out turned out to be headwinds instead on the way back! But the upside here was I also could see I was far from being last. There were many people behind me. Yeah, I couldn't help but get giddy about that!
Mile 10-11 was very slow and difficult, fighting the wind and the urge to want to quit. I wanted to be done in the worst way! I was starting to really feel like I do in a triathlon on the bike portion when it seems like it will never end and I am losing ground every minute. And I was. By 11 miles, my pace was now at or over 12 min., so I was losing ground fast. It was such an effort here to pick up my feet and push against the wind, but I was also feeling a little better overall from having taken a couple of walk breaks. I just couldn't go any faster.
Between 11 and 12 miles, I passed 2 women walking. At least I was actually passing someone! And then, miraculously, I could see the turn to go up the hill. Almost at 12 miles. But here, it REALLY got ugly--that hill was so straight up and steep, I don't know how a car could get up it! Okay, now I was really mentally broken. I walked at 12 miles up the FIRST part of the hill. But then the one woman I passed was coming up along side of me. I got going. I was barely able to do more than a slow shuffle up the rest of the hill, which was probably 7/10 of a mile. I passed another guy, again saying how much I hated this race. I just concentrated on putting one foot in front of the other, pumping my arms some to get some momentum. I was so miserable I just wanted to scream! Who were those sick people coming up with this course??
By the time I reached the top of the hill, the volunteers were saying another half mile to the finish. I was beside myself here, and was now starting to realize I would not even make my worst goal of 2:40. It had already come and was quickly going. 2:42 didn't even seem possible, since I could barely move my legs. So I was getting very disappointed here and that made it harder, I'm sure.
Where was that finish line?? Why couldn't I see it?? Finally, a volunteer said, "see that banner ahead? That's the finish line!" I about wanted to cry. It was like a bad dream where you are running and running and running and you never get where you want to go! And then, just past the 13 mile mark, this guy I passed earlier comes up and grabs my hand and thinks we are running in together hand in hand. Whoa, if you can run faster fine, but otherwise, let go! He was seriously slowing me down and no way did I want this taking longer! I finally said, I need my hand, and broke loose and started pumping my arms and picking up the pace and got ahead (away) from him! And then finally, that sweet sound of my chip going off! I was DONE!
And then I saw my friend Elisa handing out medals and she was so happy for me, saying I wasn't last after all, etc. And then there was Jan and Chia and I felt bad having Jan stand out in the wind and freeze waiting for me, but she said she was okay. Her time? 2:05. Fantastic. Chia thought her time was about 2:35, also very good, considering this was one hill of a race! My time: 2:44:32, about 26 seconds faster than Louisville, on one of the hardest race courses I have done.
I am trying to look at the good here in my performance, and for the most part I think I did well, all things considered. Of course, I'm disappointed my time wasn't faster, but again, I have to make some comparisons with other races, and considering the difficulty, I think I did okay.