February 22, 2013

Mercedes Marathon, February 17, 2013

Mercedes is my hometown race, and I have to say that every year I run it, I'm increasingly convinced that there is a lot more to why I love it than sleeping in my own bed. But sleeping in my own bed automatically ranks this at the top of my must-run list. Warning: I am biased towards races that allow me to use my own toilet on race morning. Sorry, port-o-lets, you lose.

Expo: I went to the expo Friday night about an hour before closing. All of the retailers and booths were still in full swing.

The Birmingham Track Club reeled me in with their 1200 Mile Club gear and free Hammer gel samples. Oh my freaky deaky, the apple cinnamon flavor is amazing. Not a flavor I thought I would like, but I have since purchased a drawer full.

Lisa, Jennifer (BTC prez), Stacey

I also finally got to try some Simple Bites, made by my local runner friend Erica. Yum!

Erica with the Sweaty Moms Running Club ladies

The Swiftwick crew was in town for the event too. At this point, my Swifty compression socks were already washed and hanging on the drying rack, just waiting to boost my legs for a marathon. Spoiler: they worked.

Lisa, Hunter, Sam

After picking up my packet, I made one last stop to register for the Team 413 Get There and Share Half Marathon, which I prefer to call the Jesus Half (because it's much shorter) or My Birthday (because it is). They offered $15 off to register at the expo, and I knew that my birthday would be awesome if I was out running a race. So done and done.

If you add up (monetarily) all those expo stops, you will know why my husband wants me to take a race break after this month. He says he's worried about my legs, but, well, ya know.

At least I didn't cave to every cool thing available to my debit card. Like this shirt I really wanted.


But I would have preferred it if they spelled it "motha." 

Travel: On race morning, we arrived downtown about 6:25. Parking was limited on the east side of Linn Park, but we found a spot near the library on 7th Ave. N and 22nd St. N. I'm pretty sure on a normal day I would have gotten a ticket for parking there (no meter and a no parking sign nearby), but my brother swears that downtown Birmingham does not issue parking tickets on the weekend. He's lived here forever, so I trusted him. We didn't get a ticket, but I was pretty nervous. If you want a good legit spot, go earlier. Or maybe try the west side of Linn Park.

Weather: High of 50 and low of 23 with no rain or wind. Basically my perfect running weather. Because I had overdone it the week before with running tights, I opted to wear shorts, compression socks, a tank, arm warmers, gloves, and an ear warmer. I figured that when I got hot I could toss the gloves and ear warmer. I wore the ear warmer for over half of the race, and I think my gloves came off somewhere around mile 23. The clothing choices worked! My legs were kind of numb feeling during the first half, but I think it helped to keep them perky. Overall much better than my legs being too hot in tights.

Pre-race: The Boutwell Auditorium is open for people to warm up in before the race. The only problem is that the thousands of people running the race all think that is a superb idea, so it gets pretty crowded. Surprisingly the bathroom line that snaked far into the lobby moved pretty quickly. I picked a designated meeting spot for me and my bro for after the toilet break, and from there, we pushed our way through the crowds to the bag drop. To walk through that crowd and stay together took some serious concentration and a thousand excuse mes, but bag drop was quick and painless.

Lisa and Jimmy

Because the crowds on the auditorium side were ridiculous, we decided to cross the street in front of the start line to get to the Linn Park side. Still not uncrowded, but much easier to find a way into the start corral, which seemed impossible on the Boutwell side. We ended up right behind the 7:00/min.-mile pace sign, but we couldn't move forwards or backwards. So we stayed put, which worked out just fine as far as our pacing went. Smooth start.

In front of us 
Behind us. About to start a camera war with that dude.

Course: This is a double loop course, so you know just what you are getting into the second time around. Except that you also know it will be more painful during that second loop.


It also includes a fun set of rolling hills that honestly don't feel too bad on the first loop, but I did start to question when it would end on the second loop. The hills definitely felt more significant on loop two, and somehow I could have sworn that the final two downhill miles were slightly uphill.


There are three official GU stops and lots more water stops. Plus, there were several unofficial stops set up by people who were just coming out to cheer people on. One stop near the finish had pickle juice and gummy bears, and I'm pretty sure the Hash House Harriers were out with their cups of beer again this year. I insta-gag just thinking about drinking beer while running. People who do this, feel free to explain how it is possible.

And a special shout out to the random group of people out cheering and dancing with awesome music in the Highlands. Galvanize was on as I came through on my second round, and that pretty much made that whole segment possible for me. Were they runner angels? It seems like it in my hazy marathon memory.

The only cruddy thing about the double loop is that a lot of the race cheerleaders take off after the first loop, so you really have to have your mental game ready for the second loop. The water stops stay strong and amped for the entire ride, but the extra spectators disappear.

My race: I never really intended to run the full marathon here. Blue Cross Blue Shield was giving out free race entries at the end of January (as they did last year), and the half marathon free entries filled up. So I did what any totally crazy person would do, signed up for the full with a marathon already on the calendar for the week before and a 50K the week after. Knowing that I had races the week before and after, I decided that Mercedes was going to be my fun run, but when I missed my goal time by 12 seconds at MS River Marathon, I changed plans. I decided to race this with the intention that if I ever started to feel something go wrong (like dislocating a hip from too much running), I would back off. But nothing ever happened. I just kept running and running and running.

Right as the starting horn blew, I realized that I had not synced my watch. Syncing ended up taking somewhere around half a mile, but for the rest of the race, I was never really sure what my mileage was. I could see my splits after that, but I think it helped only having a vague knowledge of my total time and distance so that I couldn't psych myself out. I just knew that I needed to keep running as fast as I could.

As usual, having my brother run with me helped tremendously. He was having a contest to see who could be the nicest person alive, and I officially nominate him the winner, forever. He knew about 99% of the people lining the course and was in constant hello-and-good-to-see-you mode for the first half of the race. On top of that, he wasted a lot of energy keeping the conversation rolling with me, as I could only do random grunts or two-word replies.

He even sacrificed getting a picture with the rector at South Highland Presbyterian because I, the party pooper, refused to stop. So I made him one later.

Original photo by Marathon Runs. Crappy photoshop by yours truly.

I also loved that this year there were a lot more familiar-to-me faces along the course. Shout out to Greg from Fleet Feet for hanging with me until around the halfway point. And to the many people who waved to me, talked to me, or smiled and danced for me (we had some awesome water stops), I thank all of you. It was a huge boost to see so many encouraging and familiar faces during this race.

My family, the most encouraging faces of all, came out to cheer me along the course too. They brought me my energy drink at mile 18, which I think really helped give me a boost for round two with the hills. This is my first time using this during a race. I usually only take one right before the start of a race.

We all make sacrifices. His was pants.

I also took Hammer gel at miles 5, 10, 15, 20, and 23. Three with caffeine and two without, alternating. I lined them up in order in my SPIbelt the night before the race. At each fluid stop, I drank water, except for one of the last ones, where I took the Powerade to try and make my legs move faster.

I used my music for miles 18-23, but somehow it started to skip songs erratically (still not sure what happened). So for the last few miles, I heard every song for about three seconds. It kind of matched my mind's ability to focus at that point anyway. 

My goal was to keep my pace from 8:00 to 8:20, but on some of the downhills I was able to bank time, getting in some sub-8 miles. On the flat course the previous week, I knew I needed to keep my pace even, but with the hilly course at Mercedes, I figured that I should push when I felt like I could push. Turns out, I could push up until mile 24.

I felt really lucky to have my brother with me on those last two miles because I was in the struggle zone, barely able to eek out 9-min. miles. According to the last clock I had seen at mile 22, I thought I had it as long as I kept moving forward, but I knew I couldn't trust my mental race math.


At mile 25, I thought the clock said 3:33, and my heart sank. I knew that my legs were absolutely spent, and I was positive that I couldn't run 1.2 miles in 7 minutes. But as I got closer, I realized that it read 3:23. That was the moment I knew. Holy crap, if I could just keep moving forward, I was going to make it. 

My brother kept saying, "Um, I think we're running kind of slow." He doesn't wear a watch to know, but instead of me being able to explain what I had just seen on the clock, all I could do was a kind of rude, "Shhh!" And give him the talk-to-the-hand hand. Between the exhaustion and not being able to breath, I couldn't manage any words, but I figured I'd explain later. He's a good brother, so I hoped he'd understand. 

According to all of the race photos I was asleep during those miles anyway.   



Very happily asleep. But my eyes were open long enough to see a 3:35:xx on the clock as I crossed the finish line. I didn't even need to wait until my official results came through to know for sure I had made it. 

I could not believe it. I did it. The feeling of joy and relief is hard to describe. One week after failing by 12 seconds on a flat course. Two months after a miserable and vomiting 4:37 BQ attempt. Three months after missing it by 2 seconds at Savannah. And a little over two years after my running journey began. 

"If I ever go looking for my heart's desire again, I won't look any further than my own backyard." (from Wizard of Oz -- thanks, Kristie!) This race taught me to never underestimate the power of home. With friends and family surrounding you, hard things become a little bit easier to bear. Or to be exact, 5 minutes and 30 seconds easier to bear. 

My final time was 3:34:42, 8th in my age group, 30th woman, and 165th overall. 

Post-race party: As always, Mercedes knows how to throw down. At the finish line, you get your medal, a space blanket, snacks and a finisher's cap.  

This is also where I got to meet Michelle who I e-met through this blog. Her husband had finished the marathon that morning too. She was the first person I got to tell that I made my BQ time, and she probably thought I was crazy for crying about it to her. She covered for my awkwardness by being super nice. 

Michelle and me

My first post-race text was to my coach. Most giant shout out of all to Coach Alex for adjusting my training plans to match the crazy plans I made. And for putting race mantras out there all the time for me to latch on to. I must have told myself to dig deep 480 times during this race.

When I got into Boutwell, I cried and told the story 100 more times. Plus I got to hear a bunch of other success stories for the day, like how my friend Lara got a 25-minute PR in the half marathon. 

Lisa and Lara

Oh, and we ate. With your bib, they give you a post-race meal ticket for a barbecue sandwich, chips, and fruit. Lots of drinks are on tap, and they set up plenty of tables and chairs for wobbly post-race legs. Plus there are tons more seats at the top of the auditorium. 

More than any race I've been to, people love to stick around after this race. They have a band and masseuses on hand (about whom I always forget until it's time to go -- dang it!). Every year, I feel like I'm dragging myself away from the party, even though we've been there for hours. This year we stayed two hours after the race, and the place was still packed tight as we headed out. 

When I finally made it home, I found this giant poster plastered on my front window along with a congrats banner homemade by my daughter. I cried. Again. Thanks, family!


And my awesome runner friend capped the night by making supper for all of her friends running Mercedes. Seriously, this town rocks. 

Swag: For this race, the full marathoners get a long sleeve shirt (halfers get short sleeve) and a larger medal. 


There was also a Talladega 2100 koozie and a Marathon bar sample in the race packet. I ended up swapping out my women's v-neck shirt for a men's because they were out of my size in women's at the time of my online registration. For some reason, the women's shirts they provide always seem to run a bit short. I'm a short person anyway, so if it's too short on me, it's too short for about everyone on the planet. The men's version was good for me, except the sleeves were long. I opted not to just get it in my husband's size this time because I really wanted to wear this one. 


New favorite idea: Putting Skin Sake (or other ointment) on marathon rash BEFORE getting into the post-marathon shower. Try this! Unfortunately I thought of this after I was already in intense pain in the shower. Got out and Skin Saked up the chafed spots, and it was much more pleasant on the return shower trip.

Second favorite new idea: If you like storing stuff in your bra for runs, wear two. Then you can protect your skin by putting items between the two bras. I haven't been able to break the habit of putting my phone in my bra. I use the SPIbelt for all my fuel, but I just want that phone where I can grab it fast if I need to take a picture. My chest still had unhealed chafing from last week's marathon, so I tried the two bras at Mercedes. No new chafing! I think I'm going to use this at all marathons from now on. Unless it's really hot. Another reader showed me this North Face bra that is the same idea with less hassle.

Overall: Whether you are an Alabama resident or not, you should add this race to your list. It's festive with great swag. Unfortunately the marathon is not as exciting (translation: much fewer spectators) on the second loop, so be prepared for that mentally. I train in Birmingham, so the hills don't feel terrible to me, but if you are from a flat area, make sure to add hill training to prep for this race. And if you're an Alabama resident, like Blue Cross Blue Shield of Alabama on Facebook so that you can see when their free race entry promotion pops up at the end of January.