Sunday, November 17, 2013

The Harrisburg Marathon: Team Hart

I'm going to give full credit to Marc Parent, writer of the Newbie Chronicles for Runner's World magazine for the idea to do this.  Last March, I was reading his column in which he recounts the marathon relay that he had run with his family. He had requested that his family run a marathon relay with him as a birthday gift to him that year.  As March is my birthday, this was very timely.  Immediately after reading the column, I gathered my family around and let them know that I would like to make the same request of them.  At first I got blank stares.  Crickets. "No really," I said," we can do this. The Harrisburg Marathon has a relay. It's not until November. We have plenty of time to get ready for it." I grabbed the laptop and googled the Marathon to research the distances.  4 people relay, leg distances of 5.7-7.4 miles. "We can do this!". I think the responses were: "maybe", "we'll see", and "yes". The yes came from my 10 yr old son, the one we have dubbed "the runner".  At the time that I suggested this, he was in the middle of track and field training. His favorite event is the 1600m, and he had run several 5K's. He was also planning on running a 10K later in the spring. At least I had one willing participant.
  Time went on. "The runner" ran the 10K, I continued to train through the spring and summer, eyeing a fall marathon.  Once fall came, our weeks became very busy with school, and after school activities. My oldest son had joined the middle school cross country team, so he was running 5 days/week, but his maximum distance was 4 miles.  The "runner" started ballet training with CPYB, and rehearsals for the Nutcracker. It quickly went from 8 hours a week of ballet to 20+hrs. No time for running in that schedule. He also complained of some pain in his Achilles tendon 3 days before the race. My husband and I were also nursing injuries right before the race. 
  The night before the race, as we sat down to dinner, we discussed our race "strategy".  It came down to "don't worry how long it takes us" and "we just want to have fun out there" and "the course is open for 6 hours". We had no time goal, no aspirations other than to finish. I was really just hoping we would finish, and that they wouldn't all hate me for making them do this. I had a very fitful sleep the night before, with visions of crying, pouting and long-term resentment.
  In the morning, I decided I would just commit to a positive attitude, and hope that my attitude would rub off on them.  We had decided to come up with a t-shirt design for our team a few days before. My daughter had slept over at a friends house, so the four of us on Team Hart were up early, ate a quick breakfast, mixed up some Nuun Hydration in our favorite flavors, and were on our way to Harrisburg.  The marathon is set up very well for the relay.  I was runner #1, so we all headed to the start line together. I lined up at the start line, right behind the 8:55 min/mile pace group, figuring that was a good place to start.  As the race started, I waved to the rest of the family, assured them I would "return with honor" (inside joke among us), and I was off. While I was running, my husband was to take my oldest son, Runner #2 to the exchange point located only 1/4 mile from the starting area. Then he and my youngest son (Runners #3 and #4, respectively) would head to the other exchange area at the 1/2 marathon point. 
  As soon as I started to run, I knew it would be a tough one.  My left leg was already bothering me, and all I could hope for was a decrease in pain once I was warmed up.  I stayed with the 8:55min/mile group, feeling pretty well for the first 4 miles. At this point the route went on the Greenbelt path, a gravel trail.  I enjoyed this part of the course because we were off the pavement.  I started to slow a bit, mostly because of the pain increasing in my leg.  The pace group got a bit ahead of me, but they were still in my sight.  By the water stop at 5 miles, I was hurting. I walked through the stop, sipping water, then gave myself a inner pep talk to get through the last part of the run. I knew that my son was waiting for me at the exchange. I knew that he had never run more than 4 miles in his whole life, and I was expecting him to run 6.4!! I needed to show him that he could do it, that our team was strong and we could do it together.  I didn't allow myself to walk, I just kept going.  With 1/2 mile to go, we crossed the Market St. Bridge. My stride was altered at this point, but I pushed through.  I saw my son at the exchange, he was so excited and smiling! I removed the relay timing chip from my ankle, and attached it to him.  I handed him my watch, and he was off! The distance of my leg in the relay was 6.7 miles.
  I was in pain, limping as soon as I stopped. I headed to the Carousel Pavilion, where I picked up my drop bag with warm clothes, and it was a place I could wait until my family was finished running and we could meet at the finish line. I called my husband to let him know what time I handed off to my son. He suggested that we plan on running across the finish line at the end. I suggested that he forget that idea since I was now limping and unable to run another step.  So much for the positive attitude!
  Now I had to just wait. For 2 and 1/2 hours it turned out to be.  My husband called me to tell me that he was almost finished the 3rd leg, he had run faster than he thought he would. He also had run the most challenging leg: 7.4 miles, including hilly miles through Wildwood Park.  I could not believe we were already 3/4 done with the relay!
  Soon after, my husband called to say that he handed off to "the runner" and that they were heading to the finish area. I started hobbling to the finish line, which was less than 1/4 mile away. It was slow going, my left piriformis muscle was very angry with me. The full marathon runners were walking much better than me. It was quite sad, really.
  I looked at my watch when I got to the finish line. It was now 3 and 1/2 hours since we had started. We may just make it under 4 hours! So exciting. I was still concerned about my youngest son. His Achilles had been bothering him for several days, and now we expected him to run 5.7 miles on it. What if he didn't make it? What if he hurts himself, and he is hobbling like me? The next thing I knew, my husband and older son were there. They said they had passed "the runner" with about 1 mile to go and he was looking good. We started watching the finish line. We could hear the crowd getting excited, we looked, and there he was! Coming down Walnut Street Bridge, smiling and happy. The crowd was cheering as he raised his arms while crossing the finish line.

 I looked at my watch 11:40. That means we ran the marathon in 3:40 (official time ended up being 3:39.11, by the way).  We had done it. I was thrilled, despite my personal pain. I hobbled over to my team, we had a group hug, and we headed to the food tent.  People were congratulating us, we felt like rockstars!
  After grabbing some food, we posed for a team photo.

So, thank you to Marc Parent for a great idea. There were no tears, no pouting, no grudges harbored. At least not for today.  We are already talking about next year's race!


Tuesday, November 12, 2013

What Would a Mother Runner Do? Drop to the Half.

     I had registered for The Delaware Lehigh Heritage Marathon back in May of this year. I was looking forward to a low-key, non crowded marathon with a beautiful course within 2 hours from my home. Perfect.
      I trained all summer, through the heat and humidity of the East Coast. I did tempo runs, hill repeats, intervals and long runs. I stretched, foam-rolled, did my core routine, followed every workout on my training plan.  I even worked in Ragnar NWP and Ragnar DC.  My training went so well, until it didn't.
  My last, longest run was scheduled for Oct.12. 20 miles, easy.  I woke up super early that morning in order to get in 10 miles before joining my running group at 8am. The plan was to run the last 10 with them.  My left piriformis muscle felt a bit tight during those first few miles, but once I was warmed up, I felt fine.  I was able to complete the run in 3hours and 20 minutes, an avg. pace of 9:30 min/mile. Perfect.
  The next morning I woke up early to get ready for church, and I had to hobble to the bathroom.  My left leg/hip was tight and sore. Not so perfect.  I then proceeded to take a day off, foam rolled, stretched and tried to loosen up my left piriformis.  I hobbled through a 2 mile run/walk with my 5K group that I coach on Tuesday, ran a slow, uncomfortable 3 miles on Thursday, and somehow managed to run 10 miles at the Army Ten Miler on Oct.20.  2 weeks before I was scheduled to run the marathon.  My one marathon of the year. My "A" race. The one I had trained so hard for. To finally run a sub 4 hour marathon.
  I was still determined to run the marathon.  I made an appointment with my Nurse Practitioner in order to get a Physical Therapy referral and in the meantime just continued with stretching and foam rolling. 
  I was able to see Physical Therapy a few days later. The diagnosis was piriformis syndrome, hip bursitis and very tight hip flexors.  The therapist did ultrasound therapy, massage and stretching, and then introduced me to a therapy that I was not familiar with: iontophoresis.  This is used in order to administer medication to the affected area. Like having a cortisone shot without the needle. Pretty cool. And completely painless.
 So, after 4 physical therapy sessions, it was time to make a decision about the marathon.  I was feeling better, but certainly not 100%.  I had contacted the race director on Wednesday of the final week to inquire about whether or not I could change my registration to the half marathon, since there were no deferrals for refunds.  She got back to me quickly, and let me know that I could drop to the half if I needed to, as long as I told them when I picked up my number on Saturday. This gave me some sense of relief, knowing that I at least had the option. 
  I decided to rest from running until Saturday, and then go on a very short run just to see how I felt.  I was now walking normally, and feeling pretty well.  I ran for 20 minutes on Saturday morning and did feel some "pulling"  and discomfort in my left leg. I made the decision at that point to drop to the half. I just didn't know if I could tolerate that for 26.2 miles, and I knew it would get worse before it got better.  I also knew that I had plans to run the Harrisburg marathon as a relay team with my family on the following weekend.  I needed to be able to recover enough to run my part of the relay 7 days after this race.  Plus, I couldn't be in so much pain from the marathon that I wouldn't be able to function in my normal "mother" duties at home.
  I drove to Northampton, PA Saturday afternoon and my first stop was at the bib pickup.  It was located at the Northampton Recreational Center, and was easy to find, and park.  When I asked for my number, I found out that I had already been changed to the half marathon. Well, I guess the decision was made for me! No problem, I picked up my t-shirt and number, and then I was off to the hotel to check in. 
 I stayed at the host hotel for the race, the Hilton Garden Inn close to the Allentown-Bethlehem airport.  A very nice, clean room welcomed me! I was glad to fill up my water bottles and settle in for a few hours rest before heading out to dinner.  I started to check out local churches and restaurants so that I could attend Mass and eat before heading back to the hotel for an early night. 
  I few days before the marathon, I had tweeted to a couple of people from Runner's World for some restaurant recommendations, since their headquarters was close by.  Megan and Bart Yasso tweeted me back some suggestions.  I decided on going to Melt in Center Valley for dinner, because of this tweet from Bart:
Unfortunately, Bart was out of town for the NY Marathon, otherwise I would invited him to have dinner with me. ;)  Because I was going to be there for dinner, I decided to find a Catholic Church close by to attend Mass. I found Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, in a place called, of all things, Bethlehem. How could I go wrong, right? I made my way there, and attended a very nice service, took some time to relax and get my head in the right place for the race the next day.  Just what I needed.
  Melt was located in a large shopping center very close to the church.  It took me a really long time to find a parking spot, but I finally did, very far away.  The restaurant was very busy, but I was told that I could eat at the bar on the 3rd floor.  The bar only had a few people there, so it was perfect for a quiet meal.  I ordered a Guinness and looked at the menu. There were some great looking appetizers. I decided on the sesame crusted seared tuna.  Since I also wanted some type of pasta dish, the waitress suggested I order a "side order" size of any of the pasta dishes. I chose Penne Boscaiola: penne pasta with chicken, wild mushrooms, zucchini, sage and cream.  I asked them to prepare the dish without the chicken, which was no problem, the kitchen staff suggested that they just add extra vegetables.  Everything was delicious, especially the tuna.  It was served with wasabi and soy sauce. It was so fresh tasting and yummy.
 As I ate, I took the time to look through my Believe I am Training Journal.  I find it helpful to look through the last few months of training in order to see how much work I have put in, and how much improvement I have seen in my running during a training cycle.  It can be a real confidence booster before a race, especially one when I am not feeling my most confident.  Seeing that I was able to do 15, 16 mile runs in the hot humid summer at a decent pace assured me that I had the fitness to do well in the half marathon.  The only question was whether or not my left hip/piriformis was going to be an issue.
  I returned to the hotel early and settled into bed. I took the time to catch up on some old episodes of Project Runway Allstars. Having the extra hour of sleep due to the end of daylight savings time was a nice bonus for sure!
  The hotel was providing a free breakfast, as well as a shuttle service to and from the race start.  I was up at 5:40, had a quick shower and then headed downstairs for a breakfast of bagel, peanut butter, orange juice and coffee.  I chose to wear my Oiselle singlet, arm warmers, my favorite shorts, Rogas in poppy, Superfly hat and orange Pro Compression socks.  I also had an old hoodie sweatshirt to toss at the beginning to keep me warm until the race started.  The forecast was for 40 degree weather with windy conditions. 
  The shuttle got me to the start 30 minutes before the start. Since this was a small race (total 700 runners, with a half and full marathon), that was plenty of time for a porta potty stop, checking a bag with some warm clothes and a short warm up walk. 
 The race started right at 8am. It was a low key start, with a few announcements, and then the half marathoners were off!  The scenery of the route was beautiful! The first part of the course is on pavement through Northampton.  Before long, we ended up on The Delaware-Lehigh Trail, where the rest of the course was. This was a nice, soft gravelly trail with pretty trees and water views. Just lovely to run on!! Especially with the leaves all turning color at this time of year. I settled in to a nice pace after the first few miles.  I tried to keep most of my miles right around the 8:30min/mile pace.  I did feel some "pulling" in my left leg, but nothing that affected my stride, or stopped me from running.  I stopped at all the water stops for sips of water (miles 3, 6, 9 and 11). I also took a Gu gel at 6 miles.  I tried to keep a steady pace, but found it difficult after the 8 mile mark. The wind picked up significantly at that point, and I was unable to keep my miles under the 9 min/mile pace.  I had a few ladies around me that seemed to keep leap frogging with me. Every water stop we would get behind or ahead of each other, but at the end of the race I did try to pass most of them.  I know one lady with a blue tank top and a blond ponytail I just couldn't catch at the end. I do think she was significantly younger than me, so that's just fine! I do remember thinking to myself at the end that I was very relieved that I had chosen the half marathon rather than the full. It was a wise decision, considering my leg pain. Once I crossed the finish line at the Lehigh Gap Nature Center, I was given my medal and a bottle of water.  I walked for a few minutes, and then quickly went to grab my bag of dry clothes. It was cold and windy at this point, and I was surprised by how much salty sweat I had on my face! I slipped on my most favorite pants of all time, and my Oiselle happy hoodie sweatshirt. Instantly toasty and warm.
  One of the best parts of this race was the post-race food!! It is really the best selection I have ever seen, especially given the size of this race.  They offered the runners 2 types of soup: Tuscan Bean vegetarian and regular, Vegetarian and Beef Chili, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, Black Bean Veggie burgers, regular burgers, celery and carrots, cookies, coffee, hot chocolate and Gatorade!! Wow, what a spread.  There were tables for us to sit in a tent that was blocking the wind and it was perfect for a recovery meal.  Since I finished under 2 hours (1:56), I was there early enough that I didn't have to wait very long in line for the food. By the time I was finished eating, the line had become very long, and I felt sorry for the runners waiting in the cold for their food.
  The race provided a shuttle back to the start, so I took advantage of this, and then called the hotel shuttle to come and get me. I had just enough time to return to the hotel to have a shower before having to check out.  Waiting for that shuttle to arrive seemed to take FOREVER, even though it was only about 15 minutes.  It was so cold and windy out there and I was completely alone at the now deserted start line. The shuttle driver was very pleasant to chat with though, and before I knew it, I as back at the hotel.  I think the Hilton did a great job for the runners, and I only hope that maybe they could have offered a late checkout for the full marathoners so that they could shower after the race.
  My leg was definitely sore after the race, and I was hobbling around. My iliotibial band was bothering me as well. I think I was compensating with my gait during the race, and this affected my stride.  Once I returned home, after a 2 hour drive, I was very sore and stiff.  I foam rolled my legs, and iced my IT band.  I am blessed to have such an understanding husband, who had bought groceries, and treated me to a yummy dinner of pasta, salad, wine and chocolate cake for dessert! I am so spoiled!
  I was very pleased with this race overall.  Even though I didn't PR at the half marathon distance, I placed 11th in my age group (out of 58) and 147th overall (total for half marathoners: 439).  I was happy to complete any distance due to my injury.  And the course was just beautiful.  It was a small, low-key race. The volunteers were exceptionally helpful, the food was the best I have ever had post-race and it was very organized.  I hope to run this race again, hopefully the full next time, so that I can finally conquer "Heritage Heartbreak Hill".