If you haven't guessed by now, the IronMAJ is over. Complete. Kaput. Finished.
I mean "I won," not just in the sense that I finished, but in the sense that I somehow managed to rack up a 43-minute PR at my second marathon of the year, even after century training and iron-distance swim training for months.
But first, let's begin at the beginning.
PACKING LIGHT and TYPE A-NESS
Before this race even started, there were a lot of things going on in my life that suggested I wouldn't be able to perform well. The drive from Orlando to Savannah was miserable - for the last few weeks, I've been having debilitating bouts of fatigue and dizziness from my vertigo and migraines. I was so exhausted on Friday that I had to nap twice, once during the drive when I had to turn the wheel over to Blake. I am not saying that I was sleepy, or tired. No, I was physically incapable of operating a vehicle. And that was scary - how the hell was I going to run 26.2 miles in that condition?!!?
Once we arrived in Savannah, we realized that the city hadn't prepared for the 23,000 participants flooding its convention center, and we spent almost an hour just getting to packet pickup (let alone perusing the expo and getting the packet itself). Dinner was delayed, and I was setting out my race gear with the fear of getting to bed extremely late. Nothing was running by my tightly organized plan.
That is where the wheels usually fall off the wagon for me. My type A-ness takes over and I flip out, certain that impending disaster is indicated by the disorganization and chaos around me.
Instead, this is where I let go. I looked at B, looked at the race gear, and said "You know what. Tomorrow is going to go the way it is going to go regardless of how much I freak out about it tonight."
|Me and the B|
So I stopped freaking out.
I Couldn't Stop Smiling
It was a good thing, because the buses taking us to the start line were also not as organized as they could have been, and I didn't get to the start line until 51 minutes after the race had started. Thankfully, I wasn't the only one. Everyone had gotten there at the wrong time, so instead of sending us out by projected finish times, they sent us off by crowds as we arrived.
|I Couldn't Stop Smiling|
Even with this minor setback, I couldn't stop smiling. I mean, I was smiling SO HARD when I asked the B to snap this pic of me with his phone that I was almost in tears. I was about to DO this Damn Thing. Finish the IronMAJ. Rock'n'Roll Savannah. Go into the off season. And PR. By how much, I wasn't sure. And when I looked ahead on the Bay Street bridge at mile 2 and saw the wave of people so deep that it looked like they weren't even moving ahead of me, I did momentarily freak out that I'd have to slow down a lot. But they were moving - there were just oceans of them - and at that moment I felt like a part of something real, amazing, and so much bigger than me. So I kept smiling.
|Somewhere around mile 8|
I had divided my race into 3rds by 8.7-mile section. My strategy was to run each section progressively harder by heart rate zone, with an extremely conservative first 2/3 pace. This was difficult and frightening, because I kept feeling like I could be pushing so much harder, and every time I passed a milestone (5k, 5mile, etc) I looked down at my Garmin and thought "Oh my God, I'm going to run this slower than ever!"
But, when I realized that my Garmin was repeatedly showing me a pace almost 2 minutes per mile faster than I ran New Orleans, and when I realized how great I was feeling, I just kept smiling. And running.
What a charming city. It is ironic that I chose this as my second marathon, since it is the sister city to New Orleans, where I ran my first. Both courses were incredibly flat and fast, even flatter and faster than Orlando, which is damn near below sea level.
The spectators were AMAZING. Everyone was out in their yards, on the streets, yelling "good morning!" My morale was sky-high through the first third of the race. Bands were great, weather was perfect, and I felt amazing. I stopped around mile 10 for the porta-potty - shortest line I had seen all race - and had a great conversation with some locals.
Water, water everywhere
There was another problem, though . . . almost every station was out of Cytomax. I got water at every stop and had salt pills, so hydration wasn't an issue. What was an issue, however, was calories. I was packing it super light with only 2 <200-calorie packs of Honey Stinger chews. And in the backof my head I found myself wondering, how the hell am I going to run 26.2 miles on less than 400 calories of drink and chews?
But I made like Forrest Gump and just kept running.
I pushed back the nagging thought that I may bonk soon. I was nearing my final third and I still felt amazing. It was hard to hold back, but I had so much left to give, so I played it safe and followed my strategy.
If I bring this home strong, I can finish in 5:50 or less.
Don't Apologize; Your Friends Don't Need it and Your Enemies Won't Believe It
We all know that I'm a philosophizing marathoner. Around the tree-lined streets of Daffin Park we went, and a lady passed between me and a fellow marathoner abruptly. "I'm sorry," she called as she went by. The male marathoner responded with something I will never forget: "Don't apologize. Your friends don't need it and your enemies won't believe it."
Huh. He is kind of right, I thought. There's no need to apologize for yourself if you're really not doing anything wrong. Wonder how my life would change if I stopped apologizing for being who I am?
I kept smiling. By now it was mile 15 or 16. And when I saw the entrance to "Optimist Park" in front of me, I decided to quit worrying about calories. "The question is not whether you're going to finish this, IronMAJ," I thought to myself (and may have muttered outloud). "The question is not whether you are going to PR. The question is how bad do you want it?"
At this point I realized that. not only was I going to break 6 hours, I was going to do it feeling GREAT, and by a LOT.
If I bring this home strong, I can finish in 5:40 or less.
I texted B that I was on the final third and stopping for a potty break again. I had been telling myself all race that I'd get to turn it loose eventually, but now it really was just about time to turn it loose up in this bitch.
Turn it Loose
At this point of a marathon I'm usually dying. There are 10 miles left to run. People around me are starting to walk, bonk, and fade.
But I still felt like I owned the world.
I looked down at my Garmin again and realized I was no longer running way slower than I hoped, but instead I was lighting the soles of my shoes on fire. I was not even at 4 hours, and mile 18 was gone. This was faster than my training runs and I had way more OOMPH left in me. It was time for me to stop holding back and go into my final-third strategy of the race and I was already so quick and felt so good. I couldn't believe it.
I just kept running. I did realize my muscles were fatigued, but I had so much more to give the race. I never stopped unless the stops were planned. I pushed my pace up another minute per mile and thought, at mile 20 if I am still strong I can run the final 10k near lactate threshold.
If I bring this home strong, I can finish in 5:30.
Mile 20 came quickly, and I decided to hold off until 23-24 to hit my highest heart rate zone, but I was still sailing past people who were stopping to walk, and I was still getting faster. I had started the race at an almost 13-minute pace and I was now logging something like an 11 or 11:30.
|Last 200 yards|
I saw the 40k mark and shook my head - no way could you get me to do an ultramarathon. And, just then, the blister that always appears on my left pinky toe POPPED ceremoniously. This happened in New Orleans, but back around mile 20-22. Of course, I was much slower in New Orleans, so I was already at mile 25+ here in Savannah. I can't begin to describe the pain to you, but I didn't stop. I let myself slow to 12/mile to absorb the pain, and then when I saw the 26-mile marker I was so happy I didn't care any more.
|My aunt cheeering for me at the finish|
So I just kept running.
I looked down at my watch. If I brought this in strong, I was going to be in the 5:30s with no problem. And I STILL COULDN'T STOP SMILING.
So that's exactly what I did, and crossed the line in 5:35:58, with the freshest legs I've ever had during a marathon, and - no doubt - the biggest smile.
So now I have to design myself an IronMAJ medal with a little elephant and a MAJ-dot instead of an M-Dot.
Ok, so maybe I won't do that. Maybe I'll just go into the off-season with a giant smile on my face.
Florida 70.3 has no idea what's headed its way this coming May.