Monday, December 14, 2015

Best Damn Race Marathon Cape Coral

Grab a snack and settle in - this is a long one.

Today, I'm at a loss. How do you respond to the question, "How was the race?" for a race like this? It's complicated. It was really, really hard, but I feel gratified. I struggled, but I overcame. I cried, but I was mostly happy. I hated it, but I loved it.

Can you ever put into words the marathon experience for those who weren't there?

I don't really know where to start with this recap. In a way,  I don't even feel the race happened. I spent so much time training and thinking over every aspect of race day, and now that it's passed, it seems impossible that it's over!
But, it is! Race weekend has come and gone, and it was bittersweet. Those of you on my Facebook and Instagram already know the condensed version of the story, which is that I not only missed my A, B, and C goals, but I came in 10 minutes slower than my first marathon last year!

Still, I can't seem to feel bad about it. I finished another marathon, it was more emotionally grueling than any race I've ever done, and I truly know that I trained the best I could and went in as prepared as I could be. Race day is often unpredictable, and there are always uncontrollable elements that we need to work through as best we can. In the end, I'm proud of my training and my strength, and although I didn't meet my goals, I know that everything I could control and prepare for, I did correctly. And I can't ask for much more than that.


I was expecting to pick Megan up from the airport around noon, but her flight was delayed due to fog. Her new landing time was supposed to be around 2pm, so I made a trip to the running store to pick up Gu. While there, I decided to go on a hunt for a white tank top for race day. I knew by then that the weather would be hot and sunny, and I couldn't wear the dark tank I'd been planning on if I really wanted to be smart.

At 1:30, Megan called; she had landed early! I quickly paid for my tank - luckily I found one in a similar style to a tank top I already own so I knew it wouldn't cause chafing or issues - and went to get her. After some confusion about where she was waiting for me, we finally met! I recognized her immediately - she looks and sounds just like she does on her blog/vlog!
Bib pickup.
We drove back to my house and picked up Matt, then headed to the expo. The race expo was really small and cute. We had time to wander around a bit and check out the start line before Kristina met us. We figured out logistics for the next day, took a couple pictures, and went our separate ways.
After stopping at Publix to pick up fixings for dinner, we arrived back at home just in time to meet my sister. We pretty much cooked immediately and had a nice, family-style dinner before putting together our race day things (Steph helped me put on some temporary tattoos she got me for the occasion) and going to bed early.
Asparagus, pasta, and chicken for dinner!
Flat-Ali: Nike dri-fit tank, North Face Bounce-b-Gone sports bra, Pro Compression calf sleeves, Pro Compression PC Runners, Apple Watch, Jaybird blu-tooth headphones, Sport Skirts lioness skirt, Asics Kayano-21.

The smell of coffee woke me up before my alarm, which was the plan. I made myself a cup and sat in bed from 3:40 to until 4:10, obsessively checking the weather, and finally woke Matt. Because I only live about 25 minutes from the race venue, the idea was to leave just before 5am and have plenty of time to park, use the bathroom, and relax before the race began at 6:45.
"Partially cloudy" was mostly a lie, but those wind speeds were pretty accurate. So were the high temperatures - it got up at 83 by the time I was at mile 19.
Everyone was up and ready to go on time. I ate my oatmeal in the car. We stopped to grab a bag of ice so Matt and Steph could hand it out along the course when I saw them.
RIP neon green 404 hat...more on that later.
At the start of the race, we found Kristina and Sean and had time to use the toilets before lining up. I found some colleagues of mine at the back of the corrals (one of them was running the half injured so they were planning to go slowly) and wished them luck before joining Kristina for the start.
Ready to go!
Within the first mile, I already felt warm. It was 67 at the start, but the late start time meant the sun was already rising, so the temperatures climbed quickly. I put in my headphones early on (I was going to avoid that and just check my pace on my Apple watch, but I had messed with the settings earlier and couldn't get Nike+ to work on it, so I put the headphones in to track my pace) and listened to Heather Dubrow's World Podcast. 
Kristina and I cross the start line!
My first few miles felt nice and easy, but my pace (which I wanted to keep between 12:30 and 12:40) was in the low 12s. I tried to slow down, but that seemed to hurt a little, so I just went with it. My left knee hurt a little at mile 4, but then felt fine. For the first half of the first loop, I felt good, confident, and strong.
Around mile 4.
That changed quickly, though. I was surprised by how early on I hit my wall. I had eaten a Gu about 20 minutes before the race began. Then I ate one at mile 5. I ate another at mile 10...and from that point on I wanted literally nothing to do with food or drinks. The heat was starting to make me feel bloated and full, and the wind was making it really hard to breathe.

(I think this is an asthma thing, because non-asthmatics seem to think it's unusual to have trouble breathing in strong wind; my mom pointed out that it could be from the pollen or dust in the wind, too. Anyway, it happened at Space Coast last year, too, but it never seems to happen on training runs! I ended up needing my inhaler three times during this race.)
Coming up on mile 9.
I saw Matt and Steph at mile 9ish and stuffed ice down my shirt. By then, I had lost motivation to even finish the race. I felt awful. There was a moment that I wondered if I'd really get it done; finishing at the 13-mile mark was really tempting. Still, I made it through the first loop.
Despite my struggle, I was still keeping good paces.
I had an orange slice at mile 13 and that seemed to help. I saw the 3:00 half pacer, who's in the Sub-30 Club, and shouted a greeting. I waved at Kristina as we passed each other. I waved at my colleagues. Seeing familiar faces on the course was a nice boost.

At mile 14 I saw Matt and Steph and ate more ice; Matt told me a girl had asked him for his hat, because that's how hot it was. He gave it to her.

I told them I was really struggling and had no motivation, that I knew my PR was long gone, but that I'd get the race done one way or another.

It was really, really hard, guys.
I remember feeling my worst at mile 16.5, and my splits support that. I had sudden stomach cramps and literally thought I was in danger of an emergency bathroom situation. I doubled over, took my inhaler, and just let myself sulk for a minute. Then, I got back on the course.

By mile 18, I was beginning to feel better. Tiny little clouds began to dot the sky, and those little breaks from direct sunlight made a huge difference. I convinced myself to just shuffle along as best I could; at this point I was disappointed in how much I had walked, and I was really emotional, but I was determined to salvage the race as best I could.

I began to keep a steady running pace; I passed quite a few marathoners who had begun to walk. I tucked my head down to block the wind and just kept chugging.

At mile 19, I saw Kristin. She had parked near a turn-around and had a smorgasbord of food and drinks; I gulped down some Coke and it was the best thing ever. She ran about a quarter mile with me and pointed me in the direction of Matt and Steph, who were at mile 20.
I continued to feel better. The dark part of the race slipped away. At 20, I shed all my Gu and extra pockets and told Matt and Steph to go straight to 24 (they were going to go to 22, but I just wanted to dig in and get it done without anymore distractions).

Miles 20-23 were tough, but mostly okay...if that makes sense. I was back in neighborhoods with no shade and no breeze, but I was kind of in the zone. I experienced another awful intestinal cramp (I never got these in training!) just before Kristin showed up at mile 23.5 with a cup of ice water. I asked her to tell me stories while she ran with me a bit, and again she told me, "Matt's just ahead at 24!" and left me for the finish.
Mile 24...check out the ambience haha.
Just short of mile 24, a woman who lived on the course tried to flag me down to ask me a question (probably about when the race would be over/roads would open) and I kind of snapped at her. "I'm nearly done, I'm not stopping to talk!" I shouted. I feel bad about it today!

At 24, I saw Megan, Kristina, Matt, and Steph all there cheering for me with ice and smiles. They told me I looked really good, that everyone else coming through was walking, that I looked strong...and I was seriously unable to speak because I wanted to cry so badly. I wanted to tell them that I was confused about my pace and my time and the course length but all I could say was, "I'm too emotional to talk; see you at the finish."
27?! Seriously?! Sean's GPS was right at 13.1, but Megan's and Kristina's were both long, so I'm attributing the extra distance to not running the tangents and stepping off course for ice.
At mile 25, I realized my GPS was tracking long (because it told me I was done!) and, dejected, took another walk break. An absolute angel driving by handed me a water (I saw she was wearing her medal) and I poured it all over myself. At this point, I began talking to myself.

"You did it. You're going to finish another marathon. This was hard, but you did it. Keep going. Just get it done."

At 26 miles, I saw Sean waiting for me. He began running with me, coaching me along. "Just one more turn and a little sprint!" Again, I felt tears welling up.
All alone in the finishing chute.
And then I saw the finishing banner. I was the only one in the chute. Sean peeled off behind the barricades as I went, picking up speed as I saw my cheering section.

The clock read 5:52:52.
I managed to finish with a smile. My official time was 5:51:50.
More than 30 minutes off from my A goal; more than 20 minutes off from my B goal; more than 10 minutes off from my C goal/PR. Ten minutes slower than my first marathon.

I wasn't sure what to feel. I was extremely confused about the length of the course and my pace according to GPS...According to it, I was on track and doing 12:30 miles the entire race. How had I lost so much time? Was it human error? Was my math off?
Finishers! Sean secured the PR he was aiming for and Megan placed first in her age group!
As I sat on the ground thinking about this, the rest of the group gathered. My sister threw her arms around my shoulders, and I decided I was really happy with the race after all. I had the most amazing support I could ever wish for, just seriously wonderful and loving people there at the finish, and I was too elated to be done to really care that I had failed.
The Squad.
Having Stephie there was a major perk.
I hobbled back to the staging area and we took photos. After Kristin and Sean left, the rest of us came back home to shower, then went to lunch. (I wanted brunch but Skillets was closed, so we had Jason's Deli, which was a nice compromise.) We saw Steph and Kristina off and then spent the afternoon napping, hanging out, and eating. It was a good evening.
This year I was hungry enough after the race to eat half my Reuben...last year I ate three bites of tacos and called it quits.

I figured out the discrepancy in my pace and finishing time...I accidentally had "auto pause" enabled on my GPS. So, while my running paces were on track, the times I stopped to use my inhaler and stuff ice in my bra ended up adding up. That was my mistake - pure human error. Still, my time spent moving was directly on track for the vast majority of the race, so I'm happy with that; next time I plan my goal paces, I'll keep in mind that sometimes I need to fully stop - either for a bathroom break, or for medicine.
Finally, Skillets! I had a GF blueberry pancake and a southwestern omelet with grits!
Because Megan had a slightly later flight, and because we weren't able to get my dream meal Sunday, we went out to brunch at Skillets before I dropped her at the airport. This morning, my left IT band hurt pretty badly, but Kristin generously gifted me with a massage, and that took care of the worst of it.

I'm planning to take at least a week off from running, and my plans for the rest of this month are mostly to work on cross-training and easy runs only.

Final Thoughts

This race was much harder than Space Coast. I didn't realize until Sunday how lucky I was to have such an "easy" (by comparison) first marathon.

Even though I had a great training cycle and was mentally totally ready for it (the lack of spectators and quiet/repetitive route never bothered me), the weather destroyed me. There's nothing I could do about that. I know it sounds like an excuse; non-runners especially may hear that and think it's a copout. But I know, and those who ran the race know, that the weather was a huge factor. It was brutal. Not only was it hotter than last year's marathon, but it was windier and had less cloud coverage. The race began 45 minutes later than last year's, so we were running in the sun from the very first mile.

Other than practicing training runs in the sun, I couldn't have done anything else to prep for the mid-December heat wave...I know you northerners are really happy about running in shorts in December, but we in Florida are hating it.

I'm mostly proud of myself. I ran a smart race. I finished upright, running, and uninjured. I pushed myself to limits I haven't faced before. I trained really, really well. I conquered 26.2 miles (or more) for a second time. I'm disappointed, but mostly I'm just proud.
My walking pace was in the 18s, but when I was running I was moving along well, even later in the race. So again, I need to account for walking/pausing time when I plan my next marathon's goals.
I know that failing is part of the process. Without failure, there is no learning, and without learning, there is no growth. Maybe you'll think I should be more down on myself for falling short, but I can't seem to care that much because in the great scheme of things, this is just one race and I know I'll have a chance to conquer my goals again in the future.

Thinking about last year, my random calf cramps seemed to be my kryptonite. This year, it was the weather. What I've learned is that 26.2 miles is a long way to go, and it leaves room for a lot of unexpected things to happen. So next time (in 2017 - I'm still not planning a marathon for next year), I'm going to need to prepare for the unexpected, and set more realistic expectations based on unforeseen circumstances.

I am so glad that Megan decided to fly down and do this race. It was so fun to have her here, and I feel like her being here gave the weekend an extra element of fun and wonder. I hope we made her first-ever trip to Florida something really memorable!
I'll think of you whenever I look at it! :)
I don't think it can be said enough that having people there for you to cheer and support during such a big race is a huge, huge deal, and my support crew is honestly the best out there - they drove to any point, brought anything I wanted, said all the right things, and saw me at the finish. That makes a huge difference in motivation when you're in the last couple miles of a marathon, and I absolutely don't take it for granted.



  1. I teared up reading this, for all the emotions you felt during your race experience. It's really inspiring to read about your journey and regardless of how it worked out, your feelings, etc. Joe and I sat together to read about it and are really proud of you! It is a great accomplishment and something you should be really proud of! Congratulations Ali! Thanks for sharing! :)

    1. Thanks, Danielle. It's hard to write a post where you kind of have to eat crow...I was really hopeful about meeting my goal! But I know that sometimes the struggle is more worth sharing than a success :)

  2. This was weird to read all tucked up in my own bed because I was JUST THERE! :) I am still trying to figure some things out from this race as well, and the more time that goes by, the more I feel there is to think about! Like you, I am proud of myself for finishing a tough race even though I didn't hit my goal. And yes, there will be MORE races. :) I'm glad I got outside my comfort zone to travel and meet new people. I am also glad I didn't die in a plain crash!

    1. I think if we look at the weekend as a whole, despite our not meeting our goals, it was a huge success. You traveled to Florida and took a big risk, we got to hang out and really meet, and we both accomplished big things! I'm proud of us!

  3. Like Danielle, I definitely teared up reading this ... and I bet Megan did too, since I saw her cry several times for strangers at the race ;)

    I honestly cannot think of anything more inspiring than when we saw you at mile 24. You looked so well composed and in control given the situation! I was so, so impressed with how you handled the blazing heat, wind, and all of the other curve balls that were thrown at you over the course of 26.2+ miles. You're a total champ and a tough runner!

    1. Thank you so much, Kristina!! Seeing you all there was such a major perk of the race, and it's a memory that will always stay with me. I really felt like I was just trudging along as best I could by then - all those walkers you saw were beating me! I'm glad you thought I looked composed :)

  4. Great job. There is something about marathons...I finished my 2nd marathon too in Nov. and I didn't meet my goals. I did the best that I could on that day, and I am more than OK with that. You did a great job--super proud of you! I think how emotionally exhausting a marathon is something that is hard for non-runners to understand.

    Great JOB!

    1. Thank you! I think when it comes to the marathon, any finish is one to be proud of!

  5. Congratulations Ali! I want to say I'm so sorry that you guys were stuck with shitty weather, but I almost don't need to because you've got such a positive attitude about this and it's very inspiring to read. I'm about to start my marathon training and I have been thinking a lot lately about what if I don't hit my goals, or what if it's hot, and how I'll deal with it. I'll have to come back to this post as a reminder for how to be strong :-)

    I think with the marathon, it's disappointing if you fall short of goals, but it is always gratifying to finish no matter what time, because it's something you can't just up and do every day. It really takes an incredible amount of effort and strength to get through it and I think that's why we are often so proud of ourselves even when the race doesn't go the way we wanted it to. With shorter distances, it's a little easier to feel deflated if we miss our goals or something goes wrong on race day.

    Congratulations again and enjoy your much-deserved recovery! I'm anxious to see what you have in store for 2016

    1. Ah, thank you, Hanna! That's a really nice compliment coming from a strong runner like yourself! I think it was definitely good that I faced failure head-on, put my goals out there, and let myself try. Sometimes I don't actually TRY because I'm so scared of this was a good experience for me.

      You're right - finishing a marathon is a huge accomplishment no matter if we meet our goals or not, so it's a lot easier to still be happy at the end!

  6. You are amazing for running a the grand scheme of things, not a lot of people can say they can do included! Way to go Ali...I knew you'd finish!! Now take lots of time to recover, run for fun, and enjoy your holidays!!!

    1. You're so right Courteney, thank you! Perspective is key - not everyone has run a marathon, and I've run two :)

  7. Congratulations on marathon #2! This sounds like it was an incredibly difficult race, but you hung in there and finished strong despite the terrible weather. Unfortunately we've had hot temperatures for the LA marathon the last two years, but at least we don't have humidity like you do. I don't know how you did it.

    Enjoy your recovery period! You've earned it!

    1. Thanks Lizzy. In a way, I feel kind of silly because some people really can make it through heat without being affected, but I'm just not like that! I feel like I got screwed out of a PR I was really ready for, but there will be a next time!

  8. Too funny about that lady wanting to talk to you at mile 24. I would have totally done the same thing, so don't feel bad. Not exactly the best time to be having a conversation!! Congrats on getting this race. Sounds grueling - good choice on that white tank top. I would have melted!!

    1. For real, did she see me trudging along and think I looked ready to stop and chat?! Talk about a blow to my ego!

  9. Thank you so much for sharing your marathon #2 experience!! You are such an inspiration and I got teary eyed reading this! You should be very proud that you trudged through and finished! Way To Go - Congratulations!!!

    1. Thank you, Michelle! I firmly believe in sharing the honest truth, good, bad, or ugly...and this was a little bit of all-of-the-above.

  10. I'm sorry you didn't get the time you hoped/trained for but this race can only make you stronger. I think it says a lot about you that finished strong and are staying so positive about everything. You seriously look great in your finishing photos! I'm glad that you, Megan, and Kristina had such a great time together!

    1. I'm sorry, too...but like you said, I know this race is going to make me a stronger runner and racer! I learned a LOT out on the course!

  11. Congratulations on completing your 2nd marathon! It is a huge challenge and you made it through, despite your struggles. I don't understand how Floridians run marathons in such weather, when I ran my 1/2 in June in Philly, the heat and humidity was soul sucking! I don't think acknowledging the weather is an excuse at all. You had such a great support team along the way, and you'll continue to get stronger!

    1. Thanks, Janelle...I know runners get it, that heat can really kill your race, but I still feel kind of lame citing it as the reason for my struggle!!

  12. Congrats on marathon #2! Enjoyed reading your recap. Whether it is the 2nd, 3rd or 100th...those marathons are tough! Great job. Wish we lived closer, we could prob train together!

    1. I think training together would be great...we seem to have similar goals and paces!

  13. I think everyone had a rough race weekend that weekend: I had a friend who did a slower than normal half and I didn't PR in the Battlefrog Race. The sun was pretty brutal and it was very hot most of the day. Weather is definitely a viable reason! Anyone who says otherwise I challenge to go run that distance in direct sunlight.

    I also think the asthmatic thing in the wind could be right. I have trouble breathing when I'm running into direct wind. Since I have exercised induced asthma, it may be true that it affects us worse than other people.

    I'm really proud of you and congrats on finishing your second marathon!!

    1. For sure, it was a really rough weekend for everyone. I'm glad I wasn't alone in my struggle, but it sucks that so many runners had to suffer!