Sunday, September 30, 2012

It's Always a Good Time- Akron Marathon! :-)

Rocking my AkRun Marathon Finisher's jacket + 9 Marathons medals earned in the 25-29 age group :-)
To conclude my final long run leading to the roads of Columbus, I decided to use the Akron Marathon as my final training run. I decided on this hilly course, notorious for being brutal with the best of compliments, a few weeks ago during a hot and sweaty 20 mile long run on Labor Day weekend. Despite how less-than-ideal the weather conditions were that morning, I felt good although under-paced in comparison to how I ran my long runs the year prior. My sub-par training this summer had me change my 26.2 focus of 3:15 to whatever my legs felt like doing race day. And, with that lackadaisical mentality, I came across a sign on the Tow Path for the Akron Marathon on September 29. It was also the date of my final 20 miler and 3 weeks out from the Columbus Marathon. I decided at that moment, with no real time focus in the back of my mind, that I was going to take on the challenge of 26.2 in AkRun! I knew it was going to be hard, but I just felt this burning desire to do it for reasons I can’t fully explain. When I got home after my run, I discovered that the full marathon had CLOSED and there was a wait list that was to close at midnight that very night! I knew it was fate, put myself on the wait list, and if it was meant to be I’d be running the Akron Marathon at the end of the month.

Two weeks later, I received an email from the Akron Marathon team indicating a spot was available if I was still interested in running! I was ecstatic, and truly haven’t been more excited to run a marathon since my first Boston. I signed up immediately, and a few weeks later was picking up my race bib and a super sweet jacket from the Expo the night before the big race!

A few weeks prior, I ran the River Run ½ Marathon. The race went well in that I felt good through each mile and ran a steady, even pace. However, I was shocked when I crossed the finish line over a minute and half off my P.R. finishing 1:31:40. I was convinced that my poor summer training had me off my A-game, and that fall marathoning was just going to be a wash. I didn’t expect much more than a scenic, fun experience at Akron as my final 20 mile training run. I didn’t taper really at all before the race, except I ran a 5 mile easy run on Thursday in place of my scheduled 10 mile pace run. My goal was to run the marathon around an 8:00ish min/mi pace, and I was willing to be okay with being a bit over. I knew NOTHING about the details of the course, and had no real game plan beyond enjoying the experience.
Rive Run 1/2 Marathon!

I woke up Saturday morning at 3:45am, ate a light breakfast, got on my race gear, and stepped outside to a gorgeous dark sky with a full moon beaming OH so brightly. The temps were perfect, it was an absolutely beautiful morning, and I knew it was going to be a great day right away! My phenomenal sis picked me up at 5:00 am, and we were on our way to Akron. We got down with no problems, walked to the start line filled with easily accessible Port-a-Potty’s with little to no lines, did some light stretching, and then lined up to start! There was no race morning chaos, and this is primarily due to how INCREDIBLY well the Akron Marathon is put together.

The National Anthem was beautifully sung, the Good Year blimp was flying past wishing the runners good luck, and then fireworks were set off! Talk about an AMAZING way to get a race started! My adrenaline was soaring for more reasons than just the fireworks. This marathon was not just my final 20 mile training run before Columbus. It was also my final marathon in the 25-29 age group. Maybe I’m a bit too emotional, but I was so overcome with emotion reflecting on how far I’ve come since my first marathon in 2009 that I rumbled in to tears. Then, I crossed the start line and got my act together! I ran through the first mile a bit fast, I believe around a 7:20 mile, but I felt good so I just kept going…Then, I finished mile 2, still fast, but kept going…Then, mile 4 I saw my dear friend Jeness, going too fast but kept going…Once, I was at mile 5, I decided I’d try sticking around 7:25ish until mile 10. That way, I’d make up for the 10 mile pace run I skipped on Thursday. And once I finished mile 10, I still felt good so I kept going…Then, I saw my sister at mile 11. She had the biggest smile on her face and said, “OH MY GOSH, MP, YOU’RE KILLING IT!!!” At that moment, I decided to hold on to a solid pace for as long as I possibly could!

The course was very challenging; lots of steady inclines and a few big hills. Most of the big hills were in the second half of the course, the largest being during mile 18. I’d say that hill is worse than Heartbreak Hill in Boston, and a few other runners I’ve talked with post-race agree! But for every hill, I kept telling myself (sometimes outloud) that for every uphill, there had to be a downhill. Although my pace dropped, that mentality somehow helped me to keep pushing without totally wimping out. And, when there were downhills, I did my best to make up for the time I lost on the uphills without destroying my quads for Columbus. I stuck around a 6:40 on the downhills, even when I knew I had a bit more to put out.

Once I reached mile 20, I was pretty exhausted and my legs started to feel spent. I had my 3rd and final gel to keep me going, and the positive support of the crowd was AMAZING! As I came into mile 22, I knew I had lost some time but I was still so happy with my unexpectedly well-performance. I couldn’t help but smile through each mile, thanking the volunteers and the crowd where I could because I couldn’t have done it without their support!

Once I was at mile 24, the awesome spectators shouted that it was mostly downhill to the finish. I put out what I could, and said a few prayers to get me to 26.2 without doing something foolish to screw up my great race. Once I rounded the corner into the Akron stadium, I didn’t even care what my time was. I was SO impressed with my stamina, positive attitude, and strength through the entire marathon. I felt like the old MP! :-D

I ran through the shute, hands in the air, to be personally congratulated by the Akron Marathon President. That was AWESOME! I was on a high, and SO proud of my final 26.2 accomplishment in the 25-29 age group!! I saw my sister in the crowd, and had tears in my eyes knowing she and my good friend Jeness were there to support me. I’m so grateful to have such loyal, good people in my life to call family and friends. It meant SO much to have them there!

Oh, so my finish time! I was excited to discover I finished 3:20:55, 7:40min/mi; I was fourth in my age group and 15th female overall! Not too shabby for a girl out for a training run! Plus, I earned my 9th marathon medal, got a cute running hat to wear with my finisher's jacket, and had the rest of the gorgeous weekend ahead of me!
Proud with my 9th marathon medal!
My good friend and cheerleader, Jeness--one week away from her Chicago Marathon!
My amazing sis, who had been up since 4:20am to come cheer me on!!!
SO good to see Jess back to running!!

Now, I’m OFFICIALLY in taper mode for Columbus which is just 3 weeks away! As I’ve closed the door on the 25-29 age group, I will be opening the door for the 30-34 age group! It’s crazy to think that I will be 30 years old, but it’s even crazier to think of how much I have managed to accomplish in my 20s. I think the biggest lesson I’ve gained throughout my 20s is the benefit of taking risks. Without trying things that were difficult, challenging, and sometimes totally uncomfortable, I would certainly not be the teacher, runner, or person that I am today. It's said that our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate, but that we are powerful beyond measure--and my experiences thus far have proven this true!

Here’s to a new decade, with new challenges, and new opportunities!!! :-)