Sunday, November 14, 2010

Chickamauga Battlefield Marathon Race Recap

Hail my running brothers and sisters!  If it wasn't true before, it is true now, that I can count myself as a marathoner.  Yesterday was the second official marathon that I finished.  While I didn't have the finish for which I was hoping, I was glad that I was able to 1) actually run this race (as opposed to the Middle Half which was a DNS) and 2)  actually finish this one (as opposed to the Country Music Marathon).  Post-race excuses and rationalizations:  Unfortunately I believe that my accident a month ago weighed heavily on the outcome of this race.  Missing two weeks of training and 2 big long runs (which included a race to test my speed and endurance) left me unsure as to whether I would be able to run this race.  When I was able to get back to training, I ran every step tentatively, wincing at every pain, because I was sure that it was an indication of an impending stress fracture.  Still I was determined to run this race, even if I had to crawl across the finish line. Luckily that wasn't necessary, though at times during the race, I was sure that it was a near thing.

For background, the Chickamauga Battlefield Marathon takes place in Ft. Oglethorpe, GA on the Civil War battlefield of Chickamauga.  It's a small race of about 500 runners for the marathon.  There were also about 700 half-marathoners.  Likewise the expo was small with a few vendors.  Still it was a nice, friendly atmosphere that emphasized paying tribute to the history of the area as well as being friendly to families.  The hours before the race, I stood huddled with several other runners around a heater inside the registration tent as the 39 degree chill felt much colder.  Still I managed to take care of some of my normal pre-race rituals (poop and pee), but I did not do a warm-up jog.  I was just too darn cold!

Eventually, they called for the imminent start, so I lined up with the rest of the runners at the starting line.  I found the 3:40 pacer and stood near him.  Chickamauga starts off their race by firing a canon (they also fire it for the first finishers of the marathon, half and jr-marathon!).  I knew about it, but I still jumped when they fired it.  Early on, I had decided to hold back and keep an easy, but quick pace.  I just wasn't sure what I could handle physically since the accident and  loss of training time.  Still as the miles ticked away, I felt strong and stable as I stayed with the pace group.  I stopped at the water stops for a minute or two and even took a porta-potty pit stop once or twice.  

The race itself was beautiful and eerie.  We started out at dawn and as the sun rose through the air, I could see rays of sunlight cut through the treetops and fog.  It was like some hazy special effect, and at any moment, I kept expecting to see a ghostly Civil War soldier materialize out of the fog.  Adding to this, the steam from the runners' labored breathing added to the ghostly quality of the race.  I almost stopped to take a picture of this scene (and wished that I had), but my competitive drive wouldn't let me give up the pace.  The course was generally flat, but it had a fair number of hills and some decent elevation to make it challenging.  Though it was a double loop course, the scenery of the park and the monuments throughout the battlefield never made the course seem boring.  There were plenty of volunteers riding on bikes throughout the course checking on runners, providing medical aid, duct tape (for blistered runners!), and Powerade from their bicycle baskets, if necessary.  The water stops and aid stations were well-manned and well-stocked.  So all-in-all, my race experience went fairly well.

Mile 15.  Feeling good.
Now the race was supposed to provide shuttles (in this case, small school buses) that would take spectators to various points along the race every 15 minutes or so.  According to my lovely bride, this did not happen.  So it was, that I was only able to see my family at mile 15 before the finish.  When they saw me, I was still feeling good and moving well unlike when they saw me at mile 18 of the Country Music Marathon.  I was just ahead of the 3:40 pace group by maybe a minute or two, and after shedding my extra clothes and kissing my family, I headed back to the race.  About 1/2 a mile into mile 16, I noticed the first bit of cramping.  I was surprised as I had tried to maintain my fluid intake, and had even made sure to drink a big bottle of water prior to the race.  I soon came upon another water/potty stop and decided to use the "facilities."  That's when I discovered that my pee-pee urine was a darkish brown.  Now, I'm no dummy (though my lovely bride has told me that I can be a dumbass).  I know what this means.  I'm majorly dehydrated.  I cursed my lack of training and started downing the Gatorade that my lovely bride had given me when I saw my family.  I thought briefly about dropping out, but I dismissed that thought immediately.  I kept sipping on my Gatorade, and when I got to a water stop, I two-fisted water and Powerade from the volunteers.  Still the cramping, like my pace, got worse.  I briefly hoped that if I could slow down to 9-10 minute miles that I might have some hope of finishing under 4 hours, and had I been able to do that, I probably would have finished under 4 hours.  

My daughter running to me at the finish.
However, my legs were screaming at me to stop.  My IT band was flaring in fiery, hot pain from the top of my thigh down to my knee, and every tendon and muscle touching it joined in the hate-fest.  At several points, I had to stop and bend over to stretch out my calves and thighs, or I might have locked up on the spot.  Around mile 24, I made an attempt at finishing stronger than my last few miles, but the pain was too much. Throw in that I was not mentally ready for it, this time my pace again dropped to crawl.  Still I refused to quit, though I must have been quite a sight as a couple volunteers asked me if I was okay.  I told them that I felt better earlier this morning, but I would be fine once I finished.  Eventually I did reach the finish.  I even passed several people, but I got passed by even more.  Still, nothing was better than seeing my family waving at me as I crossed the line.  My children ran out to me and my lovely bride hugged me and told me how proud she was of me.  I told her that I was glad to just be standing.

With the help of my family, I stiff-legged my way over to the Finisher's tent and ate and drank as much food as I could get my hands on.  Pizza never tasted so good as it did in that moment.  Before I could stuff a 4th piece of pizza into my mouth, the officials were calling for the start of the Jr. Marathon, of which both my children were participating.  I waved my wife and kids on telling them to hurry to the start as I gingerly followed behind them.  When I caught up to them, my kids were picking their way up to the line.  I gave them hugs of encouragement and my son told me that he was going to try to win it!  I told him to go for it and stepped back to my wife.  At the last minute, I decided to see if my daughter wanted me to follow her (hoping she wouldn't need me), and hobbled towards her.  Before I got to her,  the canon went off and the crowd of kids rushed off the line.  I'm not sure why, but I walked behind, following the crowd. That's when I saw the crowd of kids move around something and the officials rushing into the pack.  I knew from my experience with cross-country that meant someone had fallen, and somehow, I knew that it was my daughter.  In fact, it was.  She is so small that I imagine she could not keep her balance with the surge of the crowd and she was trampled.  The officials had picked her up and she was crying loudly.  I came up on them, told them that I was her father, and I scooped her up into my arms.  I'll admit that I had little left in the tank, but even I couldn't just let my little girl stand there crying.  So while she clung to my neck, I started walking around the junior course.  I tried soothing her, so I could calm her down and she could finish her race.  I don't know why, but for some reason, I thought it would matter to her if she didn't finish.  I carried her for awhile, and eventually I was able to calm her down enough so that she could walk. Holding her hand, we walked the course well behind the pack.  We talked a bit, and though I wasn't able to get her to stop sobbing, she kept going.  She even agreed to shuffle-jog into the finish when her brother came back to us and she got her medal.  After that, I let her have as many cookies as she wanted!

Team Vallejo finishing the Jr. Marathon!

Overall, the race was a great experience.  The course was beautiful and the weather was near perfect.  The officials and volunteers were friendly and helpful.  Now for the usual post-race questions:  Was I hoping for a better race?  Of course, I was.  Am I happy/proud with how I did?  Absolutely.  It wasn't the epic fail of the Country Music Marathon, and I proved that I can still overcome adversity to finish something that I started.  Was this race dedicated to anyone?  Yes.  Of course, I dedicated this race to my mom, but also to my friend Joe Lynn Smith and my sister-in-law's Uncle Bob.  Will I do another marathon?  Absolutely.  I think that I'm going to take another stab at the Country Music Marathon for next year, but I may end up pacing a friend.  What about qualifying for Boston?  I'm not saying it's out, but unless I really re-vamp and re-focus my training, it doesn't seem likely.  The marathon is such a beast, I have no idea how Ultra guys do longer.  I think that I'm just way too competitive to give up on striving for Boston, but realistically I can only mentally train to race one marathon a year.  I think that physically I can do more than 1 marathon a year, but rolling out sub-8's for 26.2 miles is a lot to train for.  Official time:  4:07:03, 9:26/mi.  I finished 38th out of 71 in my age group (Ugh.  I'm a Masters now.  When did I get so old?) and 182 out of 502 finishers overall.  My pace times were (thanks to Garmin) in order:  8:21,  8:21, 8:08, 8:50, 7:35, 7:51, 7:58, 8:14, 8:19, 8:13, 8:29, 8:30, 8:11, 8:28, 8:11, 9:16, 8:20, 9:19, 11:50, 10:38, 11:14, 12:47, 11:48, 9:50, 11:58, 11:47 and 10:18 for the final .2 of a mile.

For now, I am going to rest and recover.  I'm going to re-vamp my training plan and hopefully get ready for my final race of the year, the Rudolph's Red Nose 5k this December.  Keep the faith, kids!


Psyche said...

Law Monkeeeee!!! CONGRATS on overcoming so much and grabbing that Bad Ass finish!!! And then, ...being a terrific dad. That's why I love you, man:)

I completely agree with you that running a fast marathon is the hardest thing to do. I'd rather run a crazy multi-day 600 miler than go for the fastest marathon in me!!

ROCK ON!!!! -Psyche

Moore On Running said...

Great recap Joel and awesome finish!

Do you take salt during your runs? I have cramped on all three of my marathons but not as bad on my last race.

I am going to to have to checkout that race for next year. It sounds great. I am is Vegas getting ready for my second Marathon this month. I will let you know how it goes. Its the Valley of Fire Marathon.

Keep running!


lawmonkey13 said...

Psyche - you are nuts!!!! But that's why you're my hero! Cause you did it your way! Awesome. Mucho love backatcha.

Noah - Man, you are putting me to shame! Julie asked me why I wasn't running another marathon in a month. I told her it was because I'm a giant puss-weasel. Good luck bro!

Moore On Running said...

You are much smarter than me :) That race kicked my ass! Time to get ready for my 50k!

smartwool socks said...

I am going to rest and recover. I'm going to re-vamp my training plan and hopefully get ready for my final race of the year, the Rudolph's Red Nose 5k this December. Keep the faith, kids!

great lines...congrats..

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