Monday, February 18, 2008

AT&T Marathon Race Report

I AM... a runner.

I AM... a marathoner.

I AM... a qualifier.


I did it, I did it, I did it! OMG OMG OMG!!

I can't believe I did it. (I'm a little excited, in case you can't tell!)

As you know, yesterday was the AT&T Austin Marathon. 26.2 miles of hills, concrete, sweat, blood and tears. And I ran every damn step of it. Me, with my two feet. 26.2 miles. Yep. Cuz that's how I roll.

Wow. What an experience. I'm not even sure where to begin on this one. It's weird because usually on races or long runs, as I'm running, my blog entry just kinda starts writing itself as I'm going along. And by the time I'm done, all I have to do is get some time at home and transcribe it from my head. But this race was different.

I'm not sure if it was because I've never done this distance before or if it was because I needed to do this distance at a particular pace. Actually, I think it was the time goal element of it that threw me into a dither. Usually I approach new distance boundaries with the simple of goal of just finishing. I execute conservatively so that I know I will definitely finish. But this marathon specifically had a goal pace...and the goal pace meant a lot more than just was also qualifying.

I think if my original MGP wasn't close to qualifying time, I wouldn't ever have even considered going for it, you know? It would've been to just finish. But with that BQ time just dangling right there...tantalizingly just kinda have to go for it, you know? So there were 2 bogeys out there...finishing...and finishing at a particular time. So what do you do? Freakin strap on your shoes and just do it!

I prepared for the race like I'd been preparing for all my long runs this season. I was confident that I'd nailed all my attire, nutrition and bathroom issues, so that was a HUGE relief!
(Tip #1: When they say practice this it. Do NOT blow this off!!!!!)

At the race, I gave myself plenty of time to find parking, go to the bathroom, find the rogue tent, go to the bathroom, hang out, go to the bathroom, drop my clothes, go to the bathroom, and finally find my pace group in the chute. I really like how they had the big signs to get everyone queued up appropriately. Going into the race, I had done two of the long runs with our pacers Jen and Andy (Bob joined us on race day too.) and they were awesome. My plan was to just stick to them like glue and they would get me there.

I lined up at the 3:45 sign and looked around. Wow. There are a lot of fast looking people here. Not a lot of chicks. Not a lot of chicks my age. And of those, I wondered how many were moms. I wondered, holy shit. What have I gotten myself into? This ain't right. Then I took a BIG breath and let it out nice and slow and looked around. There was Nick, Rabbit, Michael, Jen, Andy, Bob...all the familiar's going to be ok. Calm down. Relax. Relax.

The nervous energy was tangible. You could see on people's faces, hear it in their voices, feel it in the air. We were all ready for the cannon to boom, the fireworks to crackle and to get this bad boy started!! And then it did....and we were off!

How cool was that start???!!!! HELLO! The fireworks as you cross the bridge, everybody yelling and cheering, looking out across town lake, the sun shining gloriously! I mean, really, how can you not be pumped up with all that??!!!!

And then you look ahead....and your gaze goes up, and up, and up as you stare at the sea of runners heading uphill for 2.5 miles. Holy shit.

The two miles went by quickly actually as I spent most of my time weaving in and out of traffic trying to keep up with the little 3:45 sign. I kept is it that I have to pass people when you were supposed to line up by pace? There shouldn't be anyone slower than me in front of me, right? Let alone walking at mile 1.5!! WTH? Oh well, dodge, weave, speed up, slow down...whatever it takes to get close to the 3:45 sign. Don't lose the sign. DON'T LOSE THE SIGN.

(Tip #2 -- via Wiley -- Carry a plastic water bottle with you so you don't have to fight the congested water stops in the first miles. Wow. Was that a great tip!!!! DO THIS!)

Before I knew it, we were up and down the Congress and S.1st loop and heading into town. I saw Kryz on the bridge and he gave out a big yell for me when I ran by. Thank you!! And then I got my first glance at the AWESOME support team of Kris, Shorey, Tim S., Kerry (not Carrie), Carrie (not Kerry), who looked like a killer bike team. Y'ALL ROCKED!!!

I tried to follow Sisson's race plan and just get into the flow of the race and settle into MGP. Our pacers had already made up anytime we had lost on the first uphill so we were pretty much on pace and ontime by the time we made it through the dog pound loop and cranked up Veterans.

I made a couple deals with myself during the race:
1. I wasn't going to even look at my pace bands until mile 13.
2. I wasn't going to turn on my music until mile 20.
3. I wasn't even going to think about using the bathroom. ever.

However, my nutrition plan was that I would eat every 5 miles. But with the melee and the masses of the first 6 miles, I had totally forgotten about it. I was settling into to Lake Austin Blvd, when I realized...SHIT! I forgot to eat!. I tore open my first pack of gel blocks and started chowing. And yes, it takes me about a mile to get them all down...but it makes the mile go by!!

Before I knew it, we turning into the hill section around mile 9. It was time to settle in and do some work. Oddly, those hills did not seem as nearly as tiring as Congress! Part of that was because as I was running, I heard this, "Hey D!" There aren't many folks who call me that and it was from a voice I hadn't heard in awhile...I turned slowly and it was my old high school friend, Ron Bennet!!! We ran together for about a mile it seemed, just catching up since it had been probably a year since we'd seen each other last. He was "recovering" from running a marathon..! Yea, he's that fast. As we chatted, I slowly started losing ground to my beloved pacers and so I had to shut up and pick it up to catch up. He must've seen the concerned look on my face because he said, "Ok, D...have a good run and I'll see ya later." I put my head down and caught up to my pacers. I just had it in my head that if I lost them, I would lose my I couldn't lose them. ever.

And props out to the fry guy and company, Tim, KP and HP....y'all were hysterical! What a great time seeing ya'll all over the course! Thank you!! "Take that Hill! Take that Hill!" Cracking me up....

Right around mile 11 or 12, I had my first mental challenge. I was tired. I hadn't even gone half the distance yet. The halfers had already turned off. I was tired from the hills. I still had a long, long way to go. I hadn't felt this bad at this mileage before. What does that mean. Am I bonking? Am I not going to make it. I was sad. But I remembered Sisson and Panther and Wiley and JJ and so many others talking about how the marathon is a head game...not just a physical challenge. I started the internal dialog.... C'mon D, you can do this. It is supposed to be challenging. It is supposed to be hard. You like hard. Yea, that's what she said..... that made me smile. Then I realized it had been about five miles and it was time to eat again. Good. Maybe that's why I was feeling low...I was a little behind on the nutrition. Eat. Eat.

Mile 13 food had kicked in. I wasn't feeling the chills or the whapida whapida in my ears anymore. Phew. I'm back in it this thing and the worst of the hills are behind me. Thank god.
About half way done. Checked the internal gas gauge...hmmmm....seemed like there was enough in there for another half...but not by much, that's for damn sure. It's gonna be freakin' close today people.

PLUS -- I need to buck up because the support team should be somewhere around here and I need to look good when I pass them dammit! This turned out to be a recurring theme....thank god y'all were out there!!!

Mile 18 was monumental in that I remembered from the graph, it was generally downhill from there. Yes, there were a couple little hills in there...but overall, it was down to the river. Thank GOD!

Mile 20. The next mental moment. Dear lord, someone save me. I looked down on the pavement and someone had spray painted....Your Race Starts Here. Yes. It does. Here we go. The hardest 10K I've ever done. Let's do this.

But as I looked around, my beloved pace group was falling apart. No one was talking, save Bob, Jen and Andy. Bob's footfalls were loud and there was some other guy in our group who was breathing really, really, really loudly and hard. That was not part of the mental image I needed right then, so I sped up a little and moved over so I would be out of earshot.

I thought about turning my music on just then, but I still felt like I could go. I wanted to save my music for emergency. It was almost as if my iPod had a "In Case of Emergency, Press Play" button on it. I knew it would get me through 3, maybe 4, maybe even 5...but I didn't want to chance it for 6.

I think it was around Mile 23, I had just eaten but was in that no man's land of waiting for the food to kick in and feeling very very tired, sweaty, chilly, slow and the whapida whapida had returned to my ears..... then an angel appeared in my sights. Blond hair, big smile waving frantically at me and then falling into step beside me. It was ERIN! I'm not sure how long she ran with me, but she ran and talked and encouraged me the whole way. Telling me how she'd been getting texts from everyone saying how strong I looked and how she knew it was true because she was seeing with her own eyes, how proud she was of me, how she knew I was going to make it and that I could keep going. It was exactly what I needed to hear and when I needed it most. Thank you, E. Seriously. Thank you.

Now I was refocused. I had all the food on board that I was going to take. I would get water or powerade at the remaining stops, but there was nothing left to do except finish.

Mile 24, Bob came up next to me. He said, "You know you've got this, right?" I smiled back. "Yea, I got this." Then I heard the words I had been waiting for from Jen, "OK, whatever you've got left in the tank, go for it now." I picked up my pace. All I knew is I wanted Jen, Andy, Bob and that 3:45 sign at my back. Not in front of me, not even with me...BEHIND ME.

I popped my ear buds in my ears and hit play. I pressed with the chest, leaned into it and started running. In actuality I probably didn't even really pick up that much speed, but I put those guys behind me just a bit. I didn't even want them in my peripheral...and there was still the San Jac hill to contend with.

I could feel the cramps in my calves and shins teasing me. I knew if I stopped at all, they would seize up. It reminded my of going up Ladera Norte on my bike. So many times I wanted to stop on that damn hill, but I was going so slowly that if I stopped, I wouldn't have enough time to clip out and I would just fall over, so the the only option was to just keep pedalling. That's what this was like. The only option...and I mean the ONLY option was to keep running. Don't stop. DON'T STOP!

I passed the stadium and even though I'm not a Longhorn, I threw up my horns and yelled, "Get your horns up!" to no one in particular. Strangely I thought about running in a cheerleader uniform at that moment. Then I thought, good lord, I'm losing my mind. Just shut the hell up and run, D. So I did.

Around mile 25, I looked at my watch for the FIRST time.... 3:34. SHIT. I have 9 minutes to go 1.6 miles? I can't do that. Is that right? Was that the 25 mile marker? Shit. I'd better giddyap. But the pacers are behind my watch right, was that sign right? shit. shit. shit. Just shut the hell up and run, D. So I did.

I rounded the curve and stared up at San Jac. I thought about the hill. I thought about the right turn before the capital. I thought about the final sprint to the finish. I gotta go faster, I gotta go. I can't be this close and not make my goal.

The San Jac hill actually felt good on my cramping legs, stretched them out or something, change of pace? I don't know. But it felt good. Approaching the top of the hill. Streets are lined with was amazing! They almost pull you up the hill and around the corner. It's like being on the end of a bungee feel the pull from your core and it just pulled me up and slung me around the corner.

I turned right towards the capital. There was the Blue Thunder cheering section! YAY! OMG! OMG! You can do it! Go DIONN! They were yelling! Yes, Yes! I thought to myself. Good thing I was wearing my shades so they couldn't see the ridiculous tears welling up and threating to roll down my face.

My legs were cramping, but I just kept running. I turned left onto Congress and saw the Finish gate. OMG..I'm going to do this, today, right now, I'm going to do this. I got closer and closer. I was trying to look for my family because I knew they were there, but I couldn't see anything except the finish...and the clock. It said 3:44 and something. SHIT. SHIT. SHIT! I've got to get there now, I'm not going to make it. Go faster, GO FASTER! I saw it change to 3:45 and I still wasn't there yet. FUCK!!! GO, D, GO! C'mon! Dig, Dig, Dig. You have to do this NOW!!! I quit looking for my family and just ran. I gave it everything I had. Crossed the clock it said 3:45:59. Oh thank god. THANK GOD!

I stumbled forward a few more steps and clicked stop on my watch. 3:44:29. What? Oh DUH. In my delirium, I was looking at the gun time on the big clock, not my start time! I'm such an idiot. But guess what??



I stumbled into Carolyn and she gave me a great big hug. I cried on her shoulder. I apologized afterwards though.

I soon came upon JJ and Wiley and got big hugs from them too. They made me drink and get food and walk. I'm sure I had a dazed looked on my face, but they kept me moving in the right direction.

Eventually, I made it back to the Rogue tent for some R&R. I even got an awesome congratulations from Ramsey who was one of my very first Rogue coaches four years ago..back when I was running 9:30's and hadn't run anything longer than a 5k. She made me feel like I made her proud....and that was really, really cool.

What an amazing experience. I couldn't have done any of it with the love, help, butt-kicking, cheering, coaching, counseling, listening, talking, drinking, running and support of my family, friends and coaches. You are all an inspiration to me and all that I do. There is NO way, NO FREAKIN WAY, I could've done any of this without you all. Thank you, Thank you, THANK YOU.

I am making it my next goal to make sure that each and every one of you know how thankful and appreciative I am of you.

So....who feels like a trip to Boston in April? ;)


Shorey said...

I might just work in a business trip to Boston. You are awesome & I'm so proud of the true competitive athlete you've become over the past 5 years. You have so much to relish!

Mark said...


I like the blurb from Coach Gundi's Rogue Bio, and now you can adopt it too:
"[has] Run a qualifying time in every marathon"

Awesome job, and congratulations :)

Ron Bennett said...

Great job D!

You looked like a champ out there. You pulled me up that hill on Enfield.


p.s.: you couldn't really see me watering the tree on Great Northern. But if you did, it was just "shrinkage" I was cold.

MikeW said...

You are fantastic. I think I've told you that already. great great job!

As for Boston, do you mean Boston 2009 ?!??! I'm slowly building back up!

Erin said...

Rockstar!!!! If there was ever a person I'd put money on for qualifying, it would be you. I'm glad I got to share it with you for a minute.

Yes, bring on Tri Season. Woot!!!

Jane said...

You freakin' rock!

Kris said...

I'm so proud of you, Dionn! There was never once a doubt in my mind you could not only finish, but qualify. I wish you could have seen how strong you looked every time we saw you--absolutely amazing. When other people were falling apart at 20 or 22 or whatever it was up there by Tony's house, you looked like you had another 10 miles in you (at least).

I simply could not be happier if I had qualified, myself. Congratulations!!

Katie said...

Congrats!!! You looked strong at mile 18 ish. Way to go!!!

ironmaggie said...

awesome job!! you looked so strong heading towards the finish line!

Why me? said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Rabbit said...

Congrats Dionn! Of our little Blue Thunder 3:45 group you were the only one who actually pulled it off. But if I had to pick one person who would make it would be you. You truly are HFC!