Feb 11, 2008

the hills of birmingham. part 1

this race report could be easily summed up in one sentence: it was a hilly mofo of a marathon. but that’s no fun. i know when i read race reports, i want every detail, every split, no stone unturned. i want all the agony of defeat & the thrill of victory. so here it is. plenty of agony, thanks to the hills and victory in simply finishing.

i have never gone into a race more calm that i did yesterday. i didn’t wake up yesterday and spend 30 minutes maniacally pacing the room, as i did 12 weeks ago the morning of the columbus marathon. i woke up, got my oatmeal & climbed back into bed to eat it. my husband said he liked the new me. when i asked what he meant, he replied “you’re not up on the ceiling”. and in my head, i thanked jen for this nice place i was in on race morning. this was the third race i have run with coach and i was always in awe of the calm zen he brought to the start line, cause i was always on the opposite end of the spectrum; a bundle of crazy nerves, entertaining thoughts of running off to the side to throwup real quick. i finally felt like i was in this calm place while waiting in the corral for the race to start. it’s a nice place to start a race.

so we started. with no fanfare - not even the blaring of sweet home alabama - we’re off. the pace was a bit hard to gauge, because the mile markers didn’t jive with what coachs’ garmin was telling him. some miles were not quite a full mile and others were just over. some of our splits were 7:23 and 7:35, i knew this was not possible, because it certainly didn’t feel like i had just run a mile repeat. because it was jacked up, i said to coach that i was actually happy that we never found any pace bracelets at the expo, they just add to the pressure. i just wanted to run, hit the button for my lap splits and not have to compare them obsessively to any bracelet on my wrist.

so that’s what we did – we just ran. the first few miles downtown were rolling and there was a big hill ahead at mile five. it was tough and long, but we stayed right on pace. at the top was a little strip mall of stores – “red mountain” shops or something like that. yeah – mountain. that’s about right. and that was just the beginning. now i honestly can’t really recall too many specifics between here and 10 or 11. this is where coach is good – cause he remembers every mile and knows every split. if he posts a report, i’ll link to it. mostly, it was just hill. after hill. after hill. with weensy flat parts in between.

the hills would crop up where i wasn’t expecting them, or maybe, just as the miles went on even the little rollers were killers. there was a point, going up yet another hill, i don’t know at which one or which mile when i announced to coach: i hate you a little bit. and there were other points where i thought running marathons suck. running sucks. i hate running. and i thought of vanilla’s post where the advice he gave to new runners was to quit. quit before its too late, quit before you find yourself running a hilly mofo of a marathon. (he didn’t say that part – i threw that mofo marathon bit in for good measure). that's what i was thinking. this is madness.

at mile 13, the course went off the main road onto a really nice running path. it was gorgeous, and i wished i could have enjoyed it more, but at this point, i had started to feel some familiar and disappointing stomach cramps and i tried to figure out where they were coming from. what had i eaten or done wrong? i was disappointed & surprised, but not freaking out – i had dealt with this a few times on long runs (even after getting my ducks in a row) and knew that i could just work through it & the feeling would pass. unfortunately it never did pass and i knew i would need a bathroom. soon. and i also knew that would mean lost time & i was bummed. but there was no getting around it. my foray into the porta potty took way longer than i planned. there was a bit of a wardrobe malfunction. timing is everything. and if you can’t get those damn shorts off in time and you’re dealing with a fairly explosive situation, you could be hosed. or rather, you could have to hose yourself off with the heed from your water bottles. enough said. 4 minutes later, i emerge from the porta potty.

so i don’t know where we are now, somewhere in the hills. i knew the next mother was coming up at mile 22. but before we got to 22, there was a little hill leading up to it. yes – there were hills that led up to hills. just for fun. just in case it wasn't challenging enough. but it was on this little (comparatively speaking) hill that i got slower and slower until i finally admitted to coach “i justhavetowalkalittlebitjustforasecond”. i must have really been hurting, cause i don’t normally walk and i certainly would never, ever voluntarily walk in front of my bad ass coach who would give me all kinds of grief for walking. but i totally caved - i was powerless to stop my legs from the brief respite. we started again, and turned the corner where team zanne was in full force and cheering loudly - and headed up the last, biggest, baddest mother of them all. but the operative word here was last. and just to add insult to injury, it had a little kicker at the end – it got even steeper at the very top. i walked a little bit of this part too, but ran (cause coach made me - that's what coachs' do, make you run when you want to walk) to the crest – where it took a sharp turn and immediate and very steep descent. he reminded me to shorten my stride, but it got a little wiggy right at the turn and i could see how things could cramp up or get blown out, very fast & very painfully. and in fact, my toes, which had been going into little charlie horse cramps for a long time, all cramped up making that turn. now we had a blazes fast & long downhill that, at the bottom, made a sudden transistion to just flat. coach said going from a downhill to a flat like that was like running into the ocean and he was so right – there’s a weird and big slowdown in making the adjustment to stride & speed, it hurts as much as the uphills.

the hills behind us, we had about 3.1 miles to go. i was thrilled to have just crested that hill, the worst one and come out the other side of mile 22 and still be running. as opposed to 12 weeks ago, when all i heard at this point was "runner down" and it was me. i looked at my watch and thought there was a very slight chance i still had 3:50, but i’d have to really push it. and when i looked again with 2.2 miles to go and 15 minutes left on my watch, i knew i couldn’t do sub 7:30’s for the last two miles. miles 23 and 24 felt pretty fast. i was excited and felt like i had really picked it up and could finish strong, but by 25, it was like a swicth went off and it was all gone. i felt like i had lost all juice. that last 1.2 miles may have been the hardest. i wanted to stop, i wanted it to be over. i had nothing left to give and couldn’t even punch it a little bit.

we crossed the finish and i decided i never wanted to run another marathon again. i would have been happy to pick a sport, any sport other than running out of a hat & try that one. of course, a day later. i am thinking of the series of races i may do in the spring. and i'm wondering what flat qualifier i could try for in the fall, and i think i'd like to ring in my 40th this fall by running a 50k. it's sick. my quads are still killing me, and yesterday i was perfectly happy to hang it all up. but today, i'm thinking after a nice week off, i'll run again. strangely, even though there was no BQ, the pressure for one is off. i can run just to run. boston will always be there and i will try again.

other than the hills, the most significant thing about this race in comparison to last time is the place my head was in. i felt physically and mentally strong and really good – as good as you can feel in those hills. and even with the stomach issue and the portapotty fiasco, i wasn’t worried. there wasn’t the all out obsession or the desperation over the final time or the BQ. maybe that’s because i honestly thought going in to this race that i had it. but even when it was clear that i had lost it, i didn’t freak out. it was just a race. a shit hard race. and i did it. and i finished in one piece with a better time than my first marathon.

like coach always says, "it's just running".

part 2, the post-marathon weepy and much deserved thank yous to coach and team zanne forthcoming.
team zanne was as always -
amazing, in full force and with a new member.
there was also a team at home that must be thanked...


Nancy said...

AWWW, you are in such a good place. I love the new Zanne too.

What an inspiration you are. Great job on this nasty course. Maybe we will go run an all down hill one sometime. I hear there is one and it's ladies only!

SO SO excited for you and proud. You should be really proud. You've worked really hard to get the ducks in a row.


Anonymous said...

Yay Zuzu!! This is what the boys were yelling when we watched the live coverage online.....the whole crowd at the starting line and I pointed at a random blur of a person and I said, there is Zuzu...they were screaming and jumping up and down. You are amazing and yes you should be very very proud!

Anonymous said...

and....Michael is amazing. Loved the photos of him smiling away...was he holding your banana too? What a great coach!

Unknown said...

I took a look at the elevation chart and thought, "Yowza!" You're obviously more woman than I.

And not that I'm HINTING or anything, but perhaps you'd like to check out this site:


May be a bit far for the Airstream, however!

house on hill road said...

i am so damn proud of you. when i got the not pacing email, i smiled. when i talked to you after you finished and you were upbeat, i smiled bigger. although you didn't get your BQ, you have been on an amazing journey the last few months. i can't wait to see your final destination. wherever it is, i know it's going to be great.

Jamie said...

You seem to be in a great place. Isn't it funny how after such a difficult race you swear you'll never run again then on second thought we reconsider. Congrats again! You did amazing!

Anonymous said...

Zanne, I think it is amazing that you PR'd on such a tough course (Red Mountain Shops, lol - yeah, probably not a good sign!) and with GI issues, issues to boot.

I think you totally have the right attitude. Boston isn't going anywhere and you're closing in on it fast with all your hard training and your new nutrition program.

I love that you were so calm about the race this time. That's awesome. Take care and be proud!!!

Holden said...

Coach's race report posted:


Complete with pictures.

RunToTheFinish said...

Way to go. The time on the clock is only part of your running story, congratulations.

Vickie said...

Great report. I love all the details too! Another invitation offer: we have a 50k on the North Country Trail, about 90 miles north of GR. Look it up. It gets fantastic reviews, and of course, its some of the great runner/triathlete volunteers we have here. I may even do it with you if you come! Of course, I'll be far behind. 50ks aren't that bad. Easier than a marathon. Less pressure. Just a little longer. And congrats on finally beating one of my PRs.

Laurel said...

Wow! You should be so proud of yourself! Congratulations on the PR. I know you didn't BQ, but like you said, it will be there, and you will try again.

It really does seem as though you were in such a better place mentally for this race. It seems you have come so far in this past year as a runner. Especially since we all know how marathon running is just as much mental as it is physical.

You are going to rock your next race, whatever you choose to do.

Congrats again! :)