Sunday, February 24, 2008

#5- A marathon entry

Another marathon down! I realized today (too late...I'd already paid the 4000 Yen registration fee and logged all of the training miles, and run about half of the course!) that only a crazy nut would run the Okinawa Marathon a second time.

This course is a killer, people. Hill after hill after hill, but those don't show up until around the 7th mile when you just start to think "hey, this is actually fun!". The hills hurt my back and made me feel like my glutes were connected to my quadriceps by two very cheap and fragile toothpicks. After it was all over, one of my training partners said he couldn't believe I would do this course a second time. I mused that maybe this is one of those experiences like childbirth, in which I always hear that no matter how awful it is, the memory eventually becomes clouded over and many women are willing to do it again. However, around mile 20, I began encouraging myself with self-talk saying, "You never have to run this course again. If you're a good girl and you just finish this one last time, we'll move away before you have a chance to do it again." I hope I didn't jinx myself into another surprise extension.
Anyway, here I am talking about mile 20 already and I am practically depriving you of the description of the actual enjoyable part of the marathon.

David had to get special permission to drop us off at the marathon this morning since we're still grounded. After a smallish quarrel about my race number (David said it was crooked the way I had pinned it on the night before and insisted on pinning it on himself, and the result was even worse than when I had done it, which meant I had to waste my time doing it all over again and explaining to David that he had practically ruined my whole marathon experience and doesn't he understand that, as a person with far more race-number-pinning experience, he should just leave these kinds of things to me?) we went to meet our fellow carpoolers at the gym. There was Chief W. and Will, who are regulars at running group, and some mysterious stranger called T.J., thus marking my 2nd marathon in a row in which I ride with a stranger. Interesting. Well, not really. David was awesome and dropped us off right across from the athletic park where the race began, so I decided I could consider cutting him some slack with regards to the race number incident.

We picked a spot to put our things very close to the finishing area. Chief W. was nervous about leaving his stuff there but I think he felt comforted when I asked him what person in their right mind would want to steal his old cut up thermal t-shirt and if they stole my post-race nuts and gummy bears, I'd be no worse off than I would if I decided not to bring them at all. Amazing, isn't it, how I can be so sensible about some things (nuts and gummy bears) and yet so flabbergasted by others (coughrace numbercough)? As we walked around looking fruitlessly for other runners we know, using the bathroom, and stretching out a bit, we learned that the mysterious stranger was running his first marathon. Chief asked him, "what kind of shoes are those? they look very light-weight." and I informed him that they actually looked as if they were about to fall apart. The kid's been running in these shoes for several years and they probably saw their last mile about 700 miles ago. Well, actually I take that back. You see, our young friend informed us then that he hadn't actually trained for the marathon ("but I've always been athletic") so I don't even know if he's actually run 700 miles. His shoes still looked like they were about to fall apart. Even the proverbial man with no shoes would probably refuse to wear them during a marathon. (That was for you, Aunt Margie!)

So, it's time to line up at the start, and for this particular marathon, they assign you a starting number based on your previous or estimated time. My number was 2128. Chief's number was 3 thousand something. Will's number was 6000 something, and our untrained runner's number was 8000 something. We had a little chuckle at his expense when he announced that he was going to go start at the front and left. I used my race number to get Chief & Will into my starting area (nobody really cares anyway once you're in the 2000s) and we learned later that # 8000-whatever was asked to leave the front! He still didn't go back to the 8000s though...that's important to know for later, I swear.
Anyway, the run begins and Chief & I run together for a while. Will takes off a little bit, but we catch up to him very soon. My goal was to do ten 10 minute miles to start off, thus putting a stop to my going-out-too-fast problem that I had last year. We moved on without Will at probably 3 miles or so. At almost 6 miles, Chief stopped to grab a quick banana but never came back. I looked around a little, but kept going. I just maintained my 10 minute pace, sticking to my goal and thinking that he'd probably be able to get back with me if I did.

Oh, I should also note that you go under a couple tunnels in the first quarter mile or so and lose your Garmin satellite reception. I discerned that the Garmin had missed a tenth of a mile when I passed the 5k point...right on pace, but the Garmin had just clocked the 3rd mile. Just saying, so you know that anything I say about a particular mile is really just an estimation. As if you're going to come run the Okinawa Marathon (even though I've said such lovely things about it!) and then argue with me about a particular hill actually not being where I said it was.

Anyway, my main goal going into the marathon was to feel better and run more sensibly than I did last year. Last year I practically felt death looming over every step. My knees, ankles, stomach, gaping heel wound, etc. all hurt. It was great to run past places and remember how miserable I was last year. Each time (until late in the marathon) I was able to tell myself, "but today you feel great!" Up the first major hill, I was still able to maintain my goal pace. Atop the first major hill, my Garmin started acting up, just like last year. I tried to avoid this situation by moving over toward the middle of the road, thinking that if I weren't so close to buildings, maybe that satellite would find me. No such luck. The darn thing kept beeping- AutoPause. AutoResume. AutoPause. AutoResume. Fortunately for me, I am a brilliant genius who lives and learns and wore my good old-fashioned Timex watch on my right hand so I would know my actual time no matter what. As I passed the point where I stopped to adjust my bloody sock last year, I said a little thank you to my current socks and once again told myself (honestly) that I felt great!

After the half-way point, the hills that had been clouded from my memory showed up. I wasn't actually expecting another hill until mile 16/17, but here they were. I pressed on up those stupid things though and jogged right through the water stops.

But, the mile 16 hill was totally intimidating, even though I've run up it at least 6 times before. I grabbed a piece of delicious grapefruit from one of the nice people lining the streets sharing things that they bought just to give out to strangers (they're not officially affiliated with the race sponsors, they just want to be nice!) and decided to walk up most of the hill. It seemed silly to waste my energy running at about the same pace I could walk up it anyway. Oh, pace. Now that I've mentioned that word, I should probably go ahead and tell you that my "get faster later" plan did not work. I got a little faster than I thought I would the first couple of miles after the tenth mile, but those hills in the 2nd half are just not made for negative splits! I was now about 10 minutes behind where I had thought I would be. But who really cares, anyway? I ran a marathon, for Pete's sake!

I took one of my three energy gels on my way up the hill, so there could be a reason behind my walk. I was worried about taking a gel before the 16th mile because I only had 2. One (my favorite flavor, of course!) fell out of my pocket within yards of the start and was quickly trampled, as I would have been if I had attempted to recover it. Grabbed some water and a delicious hard candy and started my run before turning into base.

Coming in Gate 2 is really a fun experience! There's a big crowd of people that cheer in English, and 2 of those people were my super-loud bunco friends Jessica and Jamie. One of the teachers from school was also out there and saw me and cheered so that was a nice surprise! Jessica, Jamie & Michelle (the teacher) gave me a little burst of energy that was much needed by that point! I began looking around for David, who I thought would be around there somewhere, but didn't see him. I was beginning to think maybe I would have to rescind my motion to forgive him about the race-number incident, but luckily I spotted him and Erlinda (another teacher) a mile or so later. He tried taking a picture and they cheered for me and David said "I love you" and that was so sweet... so I went ahead and forgot all about the race-number. After I passed them, I decided it was safe to grab a water and walk through the water-stop, but then David saw me...walking! I quickly threw my cup and started running again but it was too late, he told me he saw me walking and tried for another picture. On the way out, Samantha from running group was there to cheer (her husband ran the marathon too).

When I left base, I practically rejoiced that nobody I knew would be out there and I could walk again! I guess that was the good thing about our lock-down! After base is all rolling hills until a giant hill, which is followed by another almost-giant hill, and then a big downhill to the end. Grabbed some more candies, a little orange segment, and then some water to split between my mouth and my sticky hand. I found it a bit odd that my sticky hand totally irritated me, even though the rest of me was covered in salty dried up sweat, and that didn't bother me at all.

I thought I'd see a couple friends near Camp Foster, one of the toughest parts of the run, but they weren't there. So I ran that part of the course for nothing! There was some light-purple Gatorade there and drinking it was so heavenly I thought it might be liquid Tanzanite or something else superbly royal.

During this time, I was also trying the whole visualization technique, which is harder to manage when your watch continues to malfunction and the darn marathon is marked in kilometers rather than miles. That meant I only knew how far I had gone on kilometers that were multiples of 5 or 10. So, I won't attempt to estimate what the actual mile times were for my last 6 miles but I will tell you who they were each dedicated to.
20-21- I dedicated this mile to all my virtual pals at ScrapVillage! I imagined their avatars/profile pictures and clicking keys cheering me through! Plus, there's a Virtual Crop going on this weekend that I was motivated to get back to!
21-22- I thought of my old running pal Rhonda during mile 22. She is uber-positive (sometimes to the point of annoyance) and I thought I could really use her smiling face and silly little sayings ("Relax, power, glide" and "Don't think of it as a hill. Think of it as a challenge") at this point. Rhonda was one of my training partners last year and we continued to run together at least once a week until she moved this past December.
22-23- I knew the 23rd mile would be tough (the monster hill!) and I decided to dedicate it to my dad. My dad was my first marathon-training partner. I called up some memories of him from our training, running together on weekends, him cheering for me at practically every one of my high school and college meets. Almost a year ago, my dad was diagnosed with prostate cancer. It's all been taken care of, but it's been a long road to recovery and he's been working hard to get back to a place where he can run 26 minutes, so I wanted to be sure to be thinking of him during the 26 miles. Besides, he's practically my sponsor. He bought my running shoes and possibly my socks. (If I would've chosen a different running outfit for the day, chances are he may have bought that too).
23-24- I figured I might lose my competitive edge by this point, so I decided to focus on someone who surprised me with her competitive edge this summer. My great-aunt Mary (who turned 100 years old on July 13!) proudly told us at her birthday party that she wheels herself down the hallways faster than and does more reps at exercise class than some of the 90 year olds at her nursing home! I imagined her sweet voice and her surprisingly strong hug cheering me along!
24-25- My first fans at my first marathon never saw me until we all made our way to our meeting place after the finish! The 25th mile went out to my first fans, my mom, Aunt Margie and my "little" cousins Samantha and Nicholas. They had signs and posters and poor Samantha and Nicholas must've been pooped after looking for me for so long!
25-26- Coach Hey kept his special place as my inspiration for the last mile. I can take care of the last .2 (or in this case, .44) on my own, but it was nice to imagine Coach Hey's smile and voice encouraging me. Coach took me to my first marathon (as a spectator)- our team worked a water stop- and he was the first person I called after my first marathon (as a runner). During my first-ever track practice, he said to me, "I think you've found your sport," and that was a great thing to replay in my head during the last bit of the run. As an extra bonus, I imagined his wife, Mrs. Hey rooting me on, too. She's a great rooter-oner.

I'm not going to lie...the last miles sucked. But they would've been much worse had I not had all kinds of people I love to think about.

The marathon finishes on a track, and there's a pretty big crowd there to support you. The volunteers are really efficient at removing your chip, scanning your barcode, printing your certificate, and giving you your medal. My finish time was about 13 minutes slower than last year (but I felt better...despite what the above explanation may lead you to believe... and that was my main goal) It was also faster than my slowest marathon. My chip time was 4:27:39. (Because in these big races it takes a few minutes for some people to even get to the starting line, your own personal time is started when you cross the starting line, rather than when the gun goes off. I believe it took me 12-15 minutes to reach the starting line in my first Chicago Marathon. This is important to know for the next paragraph.)

I walked back to our meeting area and lo and behold, the guy we had given a ride to was sitting there. Honestly, I was a bit disappointed to see him. I was dreaming up ways to ditch him and leave him to find his own way back to base if he had seriously gone out, without training, and run his first marathon, in dilapidated shoes, and finished in 3:30 or something. Please don't think I'm a horrible person, keep in mind that my brain was probably lacking a bit of oxygen by this point. Besides, David is so stinkin' nice he'd never let me get away with something like that. So anyway, he said he had just finished about a minute ago and I took a look at his certificate. If you know me at all, I'm sure you can begin to imagine the pure bliss I felt when I saw that although he crossed the line a minute before me, his chip time was actually ONE SECOND SLOWER than mine. And if you know me at all, I'm sure you won't find it hard to believe that I didn't even think twice about informing him of this, nor did I consider doing so in a way that didn't fully convey my joy, pride and, well, superiority. Him as well as everyone else I knew that I saw after the race. Twice.

We walked to the food booth together so I could show him the ropes. After all, I am an experienced marathoner who ran an entire second faster than he did. On the way back with my Aquarius (yummy Japanese sports drink!) and my Ramen, I saw David. We hung out by our meeting place and David rubbed my legs for me. He's no massage chair, but it did make me feel a little bit better. We waited about 45 minutes for Will, and longer for the Chief. David and I walked over to the bit right before the finish line so we could cheer him in when we saw him. When he did come by, he didn't look great. He was favoring one side of his body and was walking. It looked like he started a jog as he got closer to the track. Turns out, he had been in quite a bit of pain since he fell back near the 6th mile. A couple weeks ago, he broke a rib and thought he was healed (or close enough) but running the marathon exacerbated his condition. He said he saw his wife around the 20th mile and she said she should probably take him home, but he refused to quit. Now that's something! I walked Will & the Chief over to get their food & drink and I got a 2nd drink. I hadn't turned in my ticket the first time. But I didn't get my drink last year, so it all evens out.
After they ate, we walked across the street to a convenience store and David went back to the van (about a quarter mile away) rather than make us walk.

All in all, I'm glad I got a permission slip (seriously!) and was allowed to do the marathon. I would've been more glad if the road crews had gotten out there and leveled off some of the hills before the marathon, but still... it was a great cultural experience (despite the events leading to our current time-out). From using a squatty potty before the race, to Taiko drummers and Eisa dancers performing, to grabbing a wedge of grapefruit and saying "arrigato gozaimas", to hearing thousands of Okinawans cheering "Gambatay" (which I asked my Japanese friends about last year, since I was slightly nervous that it might mean, "you're bleeding!" or "your shorts fell off!"), to sampling Japanese hard candies along the way and wishing I had saved the wrappers so I could go out and buy some more, to the post-race meal--Ramen noodles--yum!--it's unlike any marathon I have ever, or will ever, run anywhere else.

Back at the ranch, I iced my ankle, which was the worst ailment. I also caught up on the chat over at ScrapVillage while icing and lying on the couch. Then I stood up and my knees hurt so much! I made it to the shower and commended myself for choosing the perfect sports bra combination (I am too cheap to buy the good expensive ones, so I just buy cheap ones and double or triple-up...I'm not actually sure that this ends up saving money at all) because there had been no chafing right above my zyphoid process. (Are you impressed with my mad anatomy skillz?) But when I turned around...yeouch! Seems I may have unknowingly run much of the marathon with a creeper (or wedgie as some call them) because I did have a little chafing on my tush. I decided to include that little factoid because if you're reading this blog, then you probably know me. And if you know me, then you probably love me. And if you love me, then why on earth wouldn't you want to hear about a little bit of chafing on my tush!?! Some of you loyal readers probably even changed my diaper a time or two! In the shower, I also discovered that I added to my collection of tan-lines today. I now have a running-shirt tan line to go with the myriad of bathing suit tan lines I acquired in Cabo. Greeeaaaat. After the shower, I put on my pjs and David ordered dinner. Chili's of course! I wanted something I wouldn't have to stand up to prepare. After dinner, I hopped in the massage chair. That massage alone makes the whole purchase completely worth it.

Well, this post has turned into my 2nd marathon of the day! Thanks for being my fans!


Anonymous said...

WTG Becca! :) Eileen

OneScrappyChick said...

Go Becca Go! I am so proud of you.... you inspire me to do better.

Running Knitter said...

Yahoo!!! Awesome job!

Anonymous said...

I'm so proud of you! Way to go. -Cyndi

Anonymous said...

I am soo proud of you and your many accomplishments. I felt I was running with you (of course that's a total nightmare since I feel like I've conquered the world walking 2.5 miles per day. Love you girl!!!aunt margie

ceslone said...


We haven't met, but I'm David's cousin Craig. Great job on another Okinawa marathon, and I really enjoyed reading your marathon entry. I see we are kindred spirits, as "sticky hand" vexes me too! I've had the same strange thought about what a mess I am while running a marathon, yet the sticky hand is the bane of my existence; must...clean...hand. Also, glad you beat no-training-man. I qualified for Boston this year and will (with God's grace and no injuries between now and then) run that bastion of marathonism 21 April. Very jealous of the Australia marathon! Have a great time and hopefully we'll be able to meet face-to-face someday. ces

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