As I've already mentioned, the Ocala Marathon was an amazing experience. I went into it with low expectations, and I managed to PR while having a great time. Before I get into the details, let's get the stats out of the way:
- Time: 5:21:29 (1:04 PR)
- Pace: 12:16
- Overall: 146 / 175
- AG: 8 / 9
- Gender: 45 / 60
- Runmeter: 26.45 in 5:21:28 @ 12:09
- Splits/Map: http://j.mp/zxyEB3
Saturday was a busy day, so I had no problem falling asleep by 8 pm, only to be wide awake by 11:30 pm. I tossed and turned barely sleeping until around 2 am, then I woke up just before 4 am and sprung into action. I still had not finalized what I was going to wear, but I had set a few things aside. I chose my Space Coast Marathon race shirt with a black running skirt and knee high compression socks. There was a chill in the air, but I was trying not to overdress since the forecast said it would be in the mid 70s during the last hour or 2 of the race. I wore a tank top under the shirt so I could wear the race belt under the shirt without having it against my skin, and in case it got too hot for sleeves so I wouldn't have to run in my bra :) I packed my cold gear just in case (gloves, arm warmers, buff, jacket), but I didn't put them on. I was hoping my homemade Mylar blanket poncho would keep me warm enough until the start, and it worked great.
We arrived at the race around 6 am. I got my race packet, used the port-a-potty, put on my mylar poncho, and went to find my group while Jason stayed warm in the car. I met up with a few Sole Mates and fellow fanatics/maniacs for some photo ops and before long Veronica, Brenda and I were walking to the marathon start line. This was a really small race, so the start was literally a line on the ground drawn with flour. So great! As we walked to the start line, there was a woman with her bare behind squatting to pee (I hope) on the side of the road in plain view of everyone. We were just shocked, but it kinda set the tone for this fun-anything-goes race.
We lined up and stood there trying to stay warm, and exchanged nervous banter as the announcer said something important we didn't really hear. I was feeling good and confident that I was going to have a great race, so all I cared about was hearing the gun so we could start already. It was a few minutes past 7 am, and we were off ...
This was meant to be the last long training run before the Breast Cancer Marathon on Feb 12 for Brenda and I, and I didn't really know what to expect because of the hills, so I stuck to my plan of 1:1 intervals from the start. This was a bit of a mental challenge because within the first mile most of the field had passed us and we were nearly last, but that's not hard to do when there are only 175 runners. I knew we'd pass a lot of those people soon enough, so I didn't let it bother me.
What made this such a great race for me was that I ran it smart. If you look at my splits, they are all over the place instead of my usual negative splits, but that was the right strategy for a hilly course. I kept my phone in my pocket most of the time and just went by feel. Knowing I had another marathon in 3 weeks at which I hope to PR big, I didn't want to destroy my legs on the hills, so we modified the 1:1 intervals as needed to walk all the uphills and make up for it by running the downhills. At first this was mostly flip flopping the run and walk intervals occasionally. Since I was feeling so good, I really took advantage of the downhills during the 2nd half, and also ran a lot of the flats until the next hill if it was close enough. If a hill didn't appear, I'd take a walk break every 3-4 minutes, then go again until the next hill. The conservative start from the first half really meant I had a lot left in the tank to be able to run that much, and that fast (considering), during the second half.
At the start of the 2nd loop, which was really the last 10 miles, I began to lose steam because I had just run 2 hilly miles on a highway in the sun, and I was hot and sick of hills. I swear that those hills we joked about earlier being no big deal had doubled in size and length now. Despite the fatigue, I was still feeling good and in high spirits that I would finish strong. I was running alone at this point, so of course it was time to battle my inner demons. I thought I felt a twinge of my IT band around mile 19, and I had horrid flashbacks to Space Coast for a moment, but I quickly pushed that out of my mind and kept moving. Thankfully, the pain never materialized!
I was never really alone because Jason biked the course to take photos. It was really funny because he rode a fold-up bike with tiny wheels and was having as much trouble as me, if not more, climbing the hills lol But it was great to have him nearby to hold my extra gels or items of clothing as I shed them. I was really glad I had wore that tank top under my shirt! At one point a bit after an aid station I realized I had not eaten my gel and he saved the day with his water bottle lol He did a great job capturing the beauty of the course and setting up shots for us to jump into without having to lose too much time.
There were plenty of other runners on the course that I would pass occasionally, and of course the wonderful volunteers, but I no longer had Brenda to distract me and remind me this was a training run. I remember seeing Jason around mile 18 or 19 while climbing a hill and I was exhausted and just wanted it to end, but I was moving. Whenever I took a walk break, it seemed like time stood still, but when I started running again I felt like the flash. I somehow got a 2nd wind and just kept pushing (to keep moving not necessarily to go faster), but I still stopped to eat at every aid station, and take a photo with a horse lol Jason remarked how this was when my intervals really shine as I was passing people left and right who were struggling to walk. That gave me a little boost. Looking at the results, I passed over 2 dozen people.
Near mile 23 was the second to last water stop and the volunteers were amazing. We had just a 5K to go, but it would all be in direct sun with only one water stop left before the finish, so they were letting us know that and passing out cups of ice. I poured one on my hat and it felt great melting over my head. I downed a cup of water and rinsed my face and neck with the other, then took off. I was hurting of course, but nothing more than the usual soreness of the last few miles. Jason was practically biking right next to me at this point and I just told him to go ahead to the finish. I didn't need him anymore. I was hurting but feeling strong, and I was going to finish this on my own. I felt like I needed to do it alone.
As I began to climb the last hill towards mile 26, I wasn't sure if I would PR. I didn't want to obsess over it, so I wasn't looking at my phone much, but I was keeping an eye on the time of day on my watch. It was inching ever closer to 12:20 pm, but I knew we had started a few minutes past 7 am and that I really only needed to finish around 5:22 to PR so there was still hope but it was slim. I took one last walk break and then began running as I rounded the last corner. I could see the finish line in the distance, but no matter how hard I tried it didn't seem to get any closer. I was moving because I had somehow passed the couple in front of me, but it was a struggle resisting the urge to walk. I was finally close enough to see the clock read 5:20 something, and I realized I was going to PR but it would be really close. I could not remember how many seconds above 5:22 my previous PR was, so I gave it everything I had and as soon as I crossed the finish line I burst into tears. It was a mixture of laughter, tears and gasping for air -- I was practically hyperventilating -- but I was so happy. I had done it while still enjoying the experience. Jason found me, and I threw myself at him as more tears rained down my face. I grabbed something to eat, then waited for Veronica and Brenda to finish. They both did great and had PRs too! It was such a great day for all of us, and I'm so proud of everyone. There wasn't enough food left that I wanted to eat, so we found an awesome Thai place to refuel before heading home.
I was really impressed with this race. It is a very small race, but they do not cut any corners and treat us like we are running a much bigger race. I highly recommend it and hope I can fit it in my race schedule for next year. I still cannot believe I PRed on a hilly course and despite all the stops for photos and to take something out of my foot (I had to remove my shoe and compression sock, and then wrangle them back on). I could have easily finished in 5:15, but then I would not have had nearly as much fun, so I would not change a single thing. I ran the race I wanted to run, and I'm ecstatic with the results. But it gives me hope that I can meet my goal at BCM. I'm going to try and see what happens and take comfort in knowing that whatever the result, I gave it my best shot.