Thursday, February 2, 2017

Celebration Marathon Race Recap

Whelp, I can officially check "run a marathon in the freezing cold rain" off my to do list!

About a week or so ago, the weather forecast for yesterday's race was absolutely perfect.  Upper 40's and mostly sunny.  I could not have asked for better racing conditions and was fired up ready to crush my 8th full marathon, and maybe even finally get that BQ I've been hoping for.

As the week went on, however, the temps, the rain chances and of course my emotions were up and down.  By the end of the week, it became apparent what we would be facing on Sunday and it didn't look good.  Low 40's at the start of the race, windy and a 90% chance of rain.

I don't mind the cold.  In fact, temps in the 40's make for my favorite running conditions, especially for a full marathon.  And the rain wasn't expected to be that bad, mostly a drizzle, not a torrential downpour or anything.  But what I was most concerned about because of the weather was the fact there were several boardwalks on the course that have been notorious for people slipping on them during past races.  So I knew I would have to make some adjustments to compensate for my time lost running cautiously on those.

This would be my third marathon in four months.  So I was physically and mentally prepared for whatever would come my way.  So despite the weather, I was ready to go out and give it my best shot.


The Town of Celebration is a quaint, planned community just outside of Orlando, right across the interstate from Disney.  There are golf courses, beautiful homes and gorgeous landscaping, an adorable little downtown area as well as schools and community buildings.  The expo is held in their town hall, which is no bigger than an average high school gymnasium, if that.   Due to the size of the venue, it's an incredibly small expo, but it is very well organized, efficient and there were still some great vendors in attendance.

Packet pick up was an absolute breeze, the swag bag was full of great goodies, there was a fun photo both and the location of the expo made for a great afternoon with the family.  My sons had a blast running around in the baseball and soccer fields near the expo and afterwards we headed to the downtown area for a late lunch at the Avocado Grill.

The clouds started rolling in as we were finishing up lunch and we could feel the temps start to drop.  We were all getting a little chilly and I still had some race day preparations to make, so we headed back to our side of town about 45 minutes away.  I vaguely remember the parking situation from the first time I ran the three years prior.  So I scoped it out for the next morning and felt confident I should have no problem finding a spot if I got there early enough.


I had goals for this race from several months back.  The key word here being "had."  Realizing that many races in that short period of time could really go either way for me, and recognizing I would be running in less than desirable conditions, I was pretty indifferent about the race as it approached.  So the night before Celebration was one of the least stressful race preps in as long as I can remember.  Probably the only frustration was trying to figure out how I was going to stay somewhat warm and dry for 26.2 miles!

I made a yummy salmon, quinoa, mushroom and spinach bowl for me and my family.  Took a bath in peppermint oil and Epsom salt to loosen up my muscles.  Then laid out all my clothes and packed up all my race day essentials.  After all the preparations were done, I relaxed on the couch with a nice hearty IPA, watched some NBA and then headed off to bed.  Pretty much a normal pre-long run evening as far as I was concerned.


My alarm went off at 4:37, just a few minutes earlier than a normal work day so I wasn't in a cloudy haze when I heard the sound.  I hopped up, got dressed, poured me some coffee and was ready to go all before 5am.  As I opened the garage door, I could feel the chill in the air and see the drizzling rain. I realized the weatherman was, for once, in deed correct.  It was going to be a cold and wet one and there was nothing I could do about it.

Just as I suspected, my early (maybe too early) of arrival made race day parking a breeze.  I found some street parking less than 100 yards from the start and finish lines.  Because I was still pretty early and it was raining I waited in my car.  I had already eaten one of my bars and went to grab my second one only to realize I had forgotten it.  Trying my best not to freak out, I ate my post race snack instead.  Not ideal, but it would have to do.  Plus, I knew there would be course nutrition if I needed it.

I made my way over to the MRTT meet up inside the Grand Bohemian lobby around 6:20ish and found several of my buddies.  It's always nice to see a familiar face before a big race, it helps to calm the nerves.  With the race start about a 2-3 minute walk from our warm, dry location, we waiting until as late as possible to make our way over.
Find my adorable friend Kristen, we were staying warm/dry inside the lobby!
As we walked over to the start, the rain had let up, the air, although chilly, was no where near as cold as I had anticipated, so I was excited and feeling good.  The crowd was much smaller what was projected, so it was clear several people decided to forgo due to the conditions.  I found the 3:35 pace group, introduced myself to the pacer and fellow runners, ditched my poncho and was ready to go.


The race is set up so that the half and full marathoners all go out together and branch off after mile 12.  It was pretty congested in the beginning plus, it seemed as if everyone was rather nervous about the slippery conditions, so the first mile was kinda slow, probably around 8:30ish.  Our pacer had us make up some time in the next two miles, but we were still conservative holding around an 8:16 minute miles.  She told us because we would have to slow down a bit on the boardwalks, she would have us picking up the pace soon to compensate.  The sun was trying hard to make its way out through the clouds and the rain was pretty light if at all at this point, so when we ran the next few miles in the low 8's and even broke into the upper 7's, I was feeling great!  But I knew it would continue the entire time, so I tried to hold back my excitement and not get ahead of myself, or the pacer for that matter.

The first set of boardwalks came up and we had to slow down a bit.  My GPS signal went a little haywire with all the trees around so I wasn't exactly sure of my pace at that point, but based on feel, it hadn't dipped that much.  I could feel a few heavy drops of water fall on me while running through the boardwalks under the canopied trees.  I just assumed it was just rain from earlier finally make its way off the leaves.  But as we left the tree covered boardwalks, I had learned the rain had started to fall again.  I could also feel a little drop in the temperature.

Still keeping a great pace, the rain and suddenly cooler temp didn't seem to bother me too much.  I even found myself several strides in front of the pace group with a few other runners who had broken away too.  We kept it up together for the next several miles.

MILES 8-14

The rain had continued to steadily fall and didn't seem as if it had any intention on letting up any time soon.  I realized at this point my husband and kiddos would not be meeting me at the finish line.  We had discussed them not coming if the conditions were not favorable, so I was ok with the fact I they wouldn't be there.  I didn't want anyone getting sick!  I also realized these conditions were going to make for a tough second half, but the faster I ran, the faster I would be done.  Plus, if I could keep this pace through to the finish, that BQ would be as good as mine!

As we twist and turned through neighborhoods and over another set of boardwalks, I could start to hear those voices in my head filling me with doubt.  Around the same time, I could feel my hamstring, the one that has been giving me issues since Chicago, and low back start to flare up.  I pulled back a pinch on the pace and stuck back with the pacer.  I did so for a few miles right after the branch off point and then things started to deteriorate from there.

MILES 15-20

I was able to keep an eye on the 3:35 pacer for a mile or so, but soon lost her.  At this point I decided to make a decision.  Do I try to fight to catch her, probably wasting way more energy than I had to spare or just continue to run my race and do the best I can?  I chose the later and surprisingly did not regret doing so.  I felt like a weight had been lifted off my shoulders and I could just settle down and cruise.

My pace dropped from the low 8's to the high 8's at this point.  Even at the slower pace, my legs felt incredibly heavy, my lungs burned from the cold air.  I could feel my start slipping physically and mentally.  I made a commitment to myself at this point that regardless of my time, I had two goals for the rest of this race.  Do NOT stop running and finish as strong as I could without beating myself up over it.  So I pressed on at my much slower pace of around 8:45-8:55.

The 3:40 pace group passed me right before the boardwalks but I did not let it defeat me.  My head, heart and body were just not in it from the get go so I accepted my fate.  I kept up a steady pace on the boardwalks and shortly thereafter.  But around mile 20, I caught a terrible side stitch.  I made the mistake of chugging some course Gatorade and choking down one of their nasty Gu's.  I slowed down and even limped for almost a half a mile coming upon a bathroom.  My jog slowed to a shuffle and I came insanely close to stopping.  But since I had let go of almost all of my pre-race goals, I felt as if I had to at least honor the ones I made for myself just a few short miles back.  So I pressed on even picking up my pace a pinch.  The side stitch mostly worked itself out but I was still moving pretty slow with my pace breaking into the low 9's at this point.

MILES 20-25

In true marathon style, everything was a blur for those last several miles.  Everything hurt, my form was starting to go, I stared at the ground to avoid the rain in my eyes and I just putz along at my annoyingly slower and slower pace.  But I did not stop.  With each passing mile, I gained a new sense of confidence in myself.  It was a little odd considering I was failing at my goal.  But if I could just keep running, no walking, no stopping and no (more) excuses, this would make the first marathon out of eight that I actually ran the entire time.  It would certainly not be a PR, definitely not a BQ, in fact it would be one of my slower times in recent years.  But pushing through and running for the entire 26.2 miles is something I have never done, so in doing so would be a huge accomplishment in itself.

So I pressed on through winding neighborhood streets, sidewalks and boardwalks.  I maneuvered through half marathoners still working their way to finish and gave them pats on the back with words of encouragement.  I passed by full marathoners who were struggling more than I was that day offering them a comforting smile over my shoulder.  I continued running through water stops, folding my cup, sipping my water and tossing it away like I meant business.  Though slow, nothing was stopping me now.


Coming in a close second to seeing the finish line is seeing the 25 mile marker.  It is a beautiful reminder of how far you have come and how little you have left to go.  Because the course is a double loop, I knew exactly where that marker was, but it was even more glorious than I had remembered it when I passed it around mile 11/12ish.  I ran down a tiny little bridge onto a sidewalk that would take us around a pond.  There were trees to my right and beautiful homes on the other side of the water.  The sidewalk was narrow and crowded with half marathon walkers.  I'm a little to nice at times to shout out "on your left" but I was at this point in no mood for pleasantries.  Taking over the left side of the side walk, I began my final push to the finish line, shouting out to anyone and everyone in my path.  Building my pace back into the 8's, then into the 7's, my legs and lungs were on absolute fire.  I came to the final boardwalk where the race marshals were directing me to the right where I would soon find the finish line.

I saw the 26 mile mark and to my excitement and relief, I accidentally said allowed "F*CK Yeah" in which case I apologized to the people around me as I sprinted by.  Not being able to see the finish but knowing exactly where it was, it was time for me to give it my absolute all.  Yes, I had let go of my original goal several miles ago, and even goals B and C had slipped on by shortly thereafter.  But I was holding on hard to my D goal which required the two new goals I had established for myself mid-race.

I dialed into one of my favorite aspects of training and saw that last quarter mile as any other 400 I would crush on any given Track Tuesday.  Last one best one came to mind.  Pushing my pace to suicide pace, I dead sprinted towards the finish line unaware of anything going on around me.  I saw nothing or no one but the finish and pushed as hard as I could, until...

I saw a tall, handsome man with a small child in his arms and another loosening his grip on his pant leg to come my way.  They were smack dab in the middle of my path to the finish.  Just as I was about to dart around them and/or shout at them to move, I snapped out of my laser focused push and realized it way my husband and children!  I had not expected them there at all.  I experienced about every emotion possibly within a few split seconds.  Initially, I felt horrible they came all this was to stand in the cold rain to see me come short in my goal.  But their smiles and cheers immediately erased that and I could just feel there excitement as I was about the cross the finish line for my eighth marathon!

Nolan, my oldest, came next to me and we ran side by side to the finish.  I was crying tears of joy as we crossed the finish line together and he shouted "yey mommy, you won" as they handed me my medal.  Of course I didn't have the heart to tell him I was far from the race winner, but in his eyes I had accomplished a huge feat.  And you know what, he was right!  I let them put my medal on him and he grabbed the finish line snacks and poncho as if he had just ran the whole marathon.  His pride and excitement diminished any disappointment and regret I had experienced.  And sharing a finish line with him is a moment I will NEVER forget!

I came out of the shoot to find my husband Hunter and our youngest son Lincoln.  I opened my mouth to apologize for my time and their inconvenience, but he stopped me before I could even speak saying he wouldn't have missed my finish for the world and was proud of me no matter what.  Of course I started to cry all over again, hugging him and my babies.

Because it was so cold and still raining, we both agreed it best he get the boys home so we didn't risk them getting sick.  We snapped a couple of photos, hugged and kissed, then said our goodbyes.  I then made my way through the thinned out crowds to see if there was anyone left there I knew.  I caught up with a few friends to recap our race experience, with the common complaint of course being the weather and the boardwalks, but all in all we did our best that day.

Lee CRUSHED her first full and Beata ran the half marathon (she was smart to bring a thick jacket to change in to!)

The rain had also really put a damper on the post race activities and it seemed like the few vendors that were there were hoping to pack up sooner than later.  Everyone left just seemed so miserable and over it at this point.  Not realizing how insanely cold I was until a friend informed me my lips had actually turned white and I was shivering uncontrollably, I figured it was probably about time I dry off, change and head home.  Luckily the fine folks at the Grand Bohemian allowed me to change in their bathrooms.  The concierge, noticing my medal, gave me an incredibly big smile and said "congratulations on your race, you must be very proud!"  And you know what, I damn sure was!


I suppose I could dwell on the fact that I missed my original goal by 10 whole minutes and failed to BQ yet again.  No this wasn't my best race by any stretch of the imagination, but there were some great accomplishments out there I should be proud of.  I ran the entire race without stopping.  I pushed through in less than ideal conditions.  And I crossed that finish line with no regrets and my head held high!

Until next time Celebration, I will see you again next year!
(Probably just the half in 2018 though, and fingers crossed for better weather!!!)

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