Sunday, May 29, 2011

Notes on a Third Half Marathon: Madison Half Marathon

For my third half marathon, I chose the Madison Half Marathon, a much larger race than I'd ever done. There were 3479 finishers in the half marathon alone! There was also a wheelchair race (amazing competitors), a full marathon, a quarter marathon (6.55 miles) and a kids' fun race. Here are my observations from this weekend:

1) So glad I chose this race. Though it was bigger than the small races I've done closer to home, it felt intimate, because everyone was friendly. Madison is a city that feels like a town, and that community spirit was evident throughout all the proceedings. Plus, Madison is a great food town!

2) This was my first time at a race with a runner's expo, which is a trade show for runners. There were booths from all sorts of running-related companies, freebies (I got free gels; more on gels later), and information on upcoming races. I could have dropped a lot of money at the expo, but I exercised self control. The expo would be great if you forgot something necessary at home though. This was also my first time with the timing chip you tie onto your shoe.

3) Since I ran a half last week, my legs were still coming around. So I remembered my compression socks and my compression tights and ran in those. Though I felt like I was stuffing myself into a sausage casing, it totally worked and my legs feel so much better after this half than last week's. My stylish lilac top came from Madison's totally awesome Goodwill store on State Street.

4) Last week, I experienced the dreaded runner's bonk--I hit the wall during mile 12 and needed assistance on the course. I got a PR--personal record--but at a cost! I had blisters on my toes, needed a two-hour nap after the race, and was achy for days. I was so sore that I thought I might change to the quarter marathon. But there was no point in going to Madison for something only a bit longer than a 10K. So I rethought all I'd done wrong and didn't do it this time. In Collinsville, I ran faster than I should have. In Madison, I stuck with the 2:10 pace group. If you get the chance to run with a pace group, take it! I really loved the way sticking with the pace group forbade me from running too fast. In Collinsville, I didn't use gels--those packets of sticky-sweet goop that taste like frosting gone wrong--because my weight loss was keyed by sugar reduction. But running 13.1 miles requires sugar from one source or another--or your blood sugar will plummet and you will bonk. So in Madison, I used one of the free gels I got at the expo and used one that was given to me on the course by a volunteer.

5) Speaking of volunteers, this race had great ones in charge of the water/gatorade/gu/orange slice stations. But a bigger race means that it's harder to get to the folks at the water stops--some water stops I passed up because there were too many people in front of me.

6) In addition to proper fueling and hydration, I didn't run with music. Oh I had my headphones and one of my many mp3 players, but I decided early on to listen to what was going on around me, to look at the lovely town of Madison (how can you not love a place with this many lakes) and to appreciate the spectators. It was great seeing people out on the course--most were looking for specific people to cheer for (a lot of "super Mom" signs), but some were just there to cheer people on. My name was on my race bib (first time for that), so I got cheers of "Go Allison" from strangers. The spectator signs were great: "Chuck Norris Never Ran a Marathon," "Nice Ass," "Stop Reading, Keep Running," "Beat Oprah," and many more that made me laugh as I ran. In Collinsville, I ran to music, but the music was faster than I should have used. My new rule: never run a race to music you've not run to before!

7) I worked on my form as I ran. I remember that one thing that caused my bonk in Collinsville was breathing raggedly because I was running too fast and overstriding as a consequence. I deliberately made my stride shorter and quicker, kept my breaths even, and didn't overswing my arms, keeping my upper body stable. I also tried to run from the hips, not from the knees--if that makes any sense at all.

8) Race directors always seem to throw in an extra obstacle at the end of a race. This race started and ended at Wisconsin's state capital. We started off at a decline; so at race's end, we were coming up an incline. It wasn't that bad, but I saw a lot of folks start to walk at that point. I was damned if I was going to walk at that point. But neither was I going to sprint. I just kept on running.

9) The best finish line I have experienced yet: a photographer for post-race pictures, a medal immediately around my neck and lots of free food and drink. Despite the crowds, Jon (husband and runner support) quickly found me, a happy and satisfied me. Happy because this was a hugely entertaining race in a great town; satisfied because even though I didn't PR, I ran a great race my way.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Allison's Second Half-Marathon: YMCA of Southwest Illinois

Here are a few notes/observations/questions about today: my second half-marathon, May 21, 2011

1) Choosing your second half is as important as choosing your first. This new race, sponsored by the YMCA in Collinsville/Maryville Illinois, was perfect for me. Not much bigger than the races I run further south, and only 2 hours from home, an area of the state we're familiar with. Jon (husband and runner support) got us a room at the Doubletree and since he's a Hilton Honors member, they gave us late checkout. Very important, since it allowed me to nap and shower after the race.

2) The race was about 300 people, not bad for their first time, not bad at all. Lots of it took place on the MCT Trail (, which is beautiful this time of year--lush and green. I would urge anyone who runs, bikes or walks in the Collinsville/Maryville/Troy area to get familiar with the trail. Lovely, just lovely. And I would urge anyone living in this area to become part of the YMCA of Southwest Illinois. If I lived in this part of the state, I would totally take advantage of their half-marathon and marathon training. The volunteers were plentiful, enthusiastic and very helpful to me (see next note).

3) There were plenty of aid stations with volunteers offering water and gatorade. I am stubborn, and so I wouldn't stop running to properly drink the water or gatorade, so as a consequence I was probably dehydrated. I kept thinking," well, I didn't need water during my first half." But race comparisons are not always useful. My first half was in February in the cold; my second in May in the humidity and heat. I definitely needed more water. Since I was probably dehydrated, I bonked.

4) In runner's parlance, "bonking" means you run out of gas, you hit the wall, you reach your limit. This happened to me in mile 12. I was shaky during the latter part of 11, but during 12 shaky turned to full-on weaving, dizziness, and a case of the jelly legs. I was like a drunk driver up in this piece. Up until mid-11, I was doing pretty well. But 12 was the first time ever in a race that I've experienced the bonk. Fortunately, it must have been obvious, because a series of race volunteers helped me through that mile. I am stubborn, and I didn't want to walk, but walking was forced upon me by the bonk!

5) Could the bonk have been prevented? Yes, I believe it could have. I had gels (which are gooey packets of sugar that endurance athletes use so they can, well, endure), but I didn't use them during the race. The bonk forced me to use one AFTER the race. If I had used the gels, I would not have experienced the drop in blood sugar that accompanies the bonk. But again, I'm stubborn: I don't use gels on long practice runs, I thought, why I should I use them now? Well, I'm learning again that training and racing are two different things. I usually avoid sugar like the plague, but now I'm thinking it's infinitely useful on race day.

6) The course was basically flat except for a "hill," a pedestrian bridge we had to pass over twice. So cute--the race organizers had cheerleaders from Collinsville Middle School there to cheer for runners on the bridge. Passing over it twice was challenging!

7) I ended up with a PR (personal record) for this distance: 2 hours, 4 mins, 56 seconds. A full five minutes faster than my first half (2:09:58). I am proud of both times, but I've learned comparing them isn't all that useful. During my first half, I was dealing with ice, gravel, mud--winter. That really isn't the same as a race that is on a paved bike trail with just a few moments of running in a residential neighborhood.

8) Since I had that shaky mile 12, I let the EMTs file a report on me. I did not feel so bad that I needed to go to the hospital, but I let them check me out. I'm stubborn, but I'm not stupid. I checked out totally okay--130/60 BP. Both the EMTs staffing the race and the race volunteers were surprised to learn my age. I was not so out of it that I couldn't appreciate the compliment! Again, big ups to the YMCA of Southwest Illinois for their great handling of my situation.

9) Would I trade that new PR for no bonk? Hmm. Let me get back to you on that one. The bonk is something every runner needs to learn to deal with, whether you are doing 5Ks or marathons or ultras. Now that I've experienced it, I'll be better equipped to deal with it when I know it's happening.

10) I hope that the YMCA gets to do this race again next year--I know I'll want to participate. And I'm pretty certain that with another year of running under my belt, there will be no bonk.