The weather forecast kept changing and each time I checked it got a little worse. But when my Android app for The Weather Channel said that the rain on Sunday morning would total 1/4 of an inch, I started freaking out. For a good half hour I let myself think that once again my training would be thwarted by bad weather. But I got myself under control. I can’t do anything about the weather. All I can do is run the way I’ve practiced. Worrying about the weather is just wasted energy. Let’s not sabotage myself. Mark and I got dinner from Wegmans in Corning, which was prepared for the onslaught of runners, welcoming us with a sign and having a case stacked with pasta bowls. After dinner, we settled in for the night watching Pirates of the Caribbean on television until I could no longer keep my eyes open.
On race morning, temperatures were in the low 40s which wouldn’t be so bad if weren’t for the rain. The radar showed that it will definitely rain on the Wineglass Marathon but that it’s coming in segments, not a total block of rain. Wait a few minutes and the rain will pass. That becomes my weather motto of the day. Following advice from two coaches, I put a very thin layer of Vasoline on my feet and between my toes to help prevent blisters since my feet would definitely get wet. I dressed in layers so that I would be warm at the start. Over my normal race clothes I wore a pair of old fleece pants and three extra layers on top, all of which were chosen because I was OK with throwing them all away, shedding layers as the day went on. The extra clothes turned out to be key. While others were freezing from the time they arrived at the start area, I was pretty comfortable.
I lined up properly, in the back of the pack behind the last official pace group — the 4:40 marathon group. The race started 15 minutes late (which honestly was annoying, especially as we stood around in an increasing drizzle) and as the group started moving, I shed my sweatshirt layer. Off we go.
The course starts on a downhill which means it’s difficult to purposely run a slower pace. But I was determined not to give in to the great feelings of Mile 1. I was a bit faster than my start goal pace, but not by much and I felt good. I ended up running with my friend Caryl, who hoped she could start out with me for a few miles since all her friends switched to the half marathon. No problem, I told her. Her goal time was a bit slower than mine so I encouraged her to run whatever pace she needed. We ended up running together and talking for the entire first half of the race. Granted, the talking became more intermittent by Mile 9 or 10, but the first two hours of the race flew by.
We stayed behind the 4:40 pace group, but had them in our sights. I was feeing pretty good. Then again, I knew I would feel good. The first half is supposed to feel pretty easy. I was talking and running and checking my pace and trying not to get too excited about how good I felt. By the time we got moving, the dampness of the rain didn’t bother me at all. I shed my cotton t-shirt at Mile 2 and then at Mile 4 ditched the handwarmers I had in my gloves. I kept the gloves on for most of the race and even though they got a bit wet, they kept my hands from getting too cold. My hat was also key, keeping the rain and sweat from dripping into my face.
As I approached Mile 9, one of the friends and family viewing sections, I could hear Mark’s voice. For real. I could hear him cheering on the runners and ringing a cow bell. I actually snuck up on him. He didn’t see me coming right away. “I’m on pace!” I yelled at him. I was happy not just that I was running a sub-5 hour pace but I was running right about what I had planned.
It rained on and off for the entire first half of the marathon. At times it was a steady rain, but nothing terribly soaking and thankfully, there was no real wind. The worst part was the dampness on my hands (my left pinky started feeling a bit numb at one point) and the wetness in my sneakers. But overall, it wasn’t horrible.
We hit the halfway point at about 2 hours and 20 minutes. This is fantastic, I thought, not because of my time but because of how I felt. I felt pretty darn good. Caryl told me she was backing off and I carried on, trying to keep my average pace steady. Eventually the rain slowed up and stopped. I kept moving forward and sticking with my nutrition plan. There’s a temptation when it’s cool and rainy to skip water stops because you don’t feel thirsty. But your body still needs the fluids and the nutrition. I avoided the mistake of my first marathon. I stuck to my nutrition plan. I walked every water stop and alternated Gatorade and water. I took a bite of Honey Stinger Waffle about every 5K. My body was feeling pretty good.
Then came Mile 17. And I started to get tired. Not really sore or hurting. Just tired. Like I needed a nap or a cup of coffee. I knew neither were likely at that moment. I kept moving forward and kept running. My average pace was still pretty good, but it was starting to get a bit hard. At this point I knew I had to focus. The good folks at Wineglass keep the water stops pretty close — about every two miles you will hit one. Just get to the next water stop. That became my only goal.
Before you hit the 20 mile mark, there is a stretch of the course that goes along a rather busy section of road. The runners are conned off in the shoulder. This is the most unpleasant part of the course. This is where I wanted to throw up and start crying. I was starting to hurt. I didn’t want to stop, but I had to work hard. I had to convince my brain that we could keep going. I saw Mark around 21 miles and told him I wasn’t feeling so great. “Five miles Amy!” he said. Yes. Five miles. I can do this.
For most of the race, I had my Garmin set to display distance and average pace. At Mile 20, I switched it a screen which showed overall time, distance and current pace. My current pace had slowed considerably. But I hit 20 miles around 3:35. That meant I had an hour and 25 minutes to run the final 6.2 miles. This was encouraging to me. How many times had I run a 10K? I can do this.
The last six miles were hard. I had to stay mentally in the game. I counted my breaths a lot. There were more spectators out at this point offering encouragement and you can always tell which ones are runners themselves. They’re the ones who look you in the face and tell you you’re amazing. And for some reason that always chokes me up a bit, in a good way. At some point in those last six miles I took a walk break outside of a water stop. I don’t remember where, but I’m sure that I did. I also took an extra long walk break after one water stop. But I fought the urge to walk as best as I could. I was running a bit slower, but I was so close.
I hit the 4-hour mark and I had about four miles left go to. It hit me that I might be able to make 4:45. I dug in more mentally than physically. All around the 24-mile mark people were encouraging the runners: “Two miles! Two miles!” It was a relative “two miles” but it was good to hear. As I hit the Mile 25 I checked my watch and smiled. I passed a woman who was running with a friend, clearly helping her get through the marathon. She said something to me and I responded that I was going to break 5 hours. “You’ve got your PR girl!” Didn’t I know it. I could walk to the finish line at this point and break 5 hours.
But that 4:45 was hanging out there. What if I pushed for it? What if I got what I really wanted? I dug in that last mile. It was going to be close. Half a mile to go. Still close. As I approached the final turn one of the spectators told me, “Only three or four blocks after the turn; 600 meters.” I don’t know if was 600 meters, but I knew it was close. I dug in mentally. Two blocks before the finish line I picked it up. I passed someone. I finished strong and crossed the finish line. I stopped my watch.
The first volunteer asked if I was OK and aside from walking a bit like a drunk, I felt OK. They fetched me a space blanket to keep warm. “Do you need anything?” they asked? “How about a medal?” I responded. And a young woman eagerly came over and placed the green glass medal around my neck.
(To be continued tomorrow.)