Saturday, March 24, 2018

March Madness: When Emotions Run High

I'm honestly not sure how many times I've run this race, but this will be my 3rd time writing about it. And I'm not gonna lie, the keystrokes feel like dejavu every time.

I always take off faster than I should (even though I was given permission to "bank time" this year by Speedy). I always convince myself around mile 11 that "it's just not my day" and that any sort of success story for the day is off the radar. I always walk away from this race limping for days, fearful of the stairs. I always build this day up more than most would expect. And in the most recent years, I always walk away so.damn.emotional.

This year has girl had *something* to do with the emotional part
Ryan has been working his magic on my legs thus far this winter. Their first test: March Madness Half Marathon. I won't lie, I bow down to those that are full bred runners. I know that the worst is still to come, but I still can't imagine the past 12 weeks without my recovery rides on Sunday afternoons and multiple swims a week to keep my body in check after some wicked speedwork that will damn well keep you honest and humble. Yes, I'm still "young." But not necessarily for someone who has 20 years of running under their belt, still trying to get faster and faster. At some point, things just hurt all the time. Waking up in the morning takes a few extra stretches and a little more caffeine. Needless to say, it's been a fun game of "is that hurt, sore, tight, or just a muscle that's getting old?" all winter. 

Ryan never truly asked me about my goals going into March Madness. At one point we had discussed the opportunity of a PR, but as it got closer and closer I think we both knew deep down that the chances were slim. The mountains of Cary, IL are no joke and would require some Hogwarts magic. The week before we both agreed that a COURSE PR wasn't out of the question at all and likely the most realistic option. Sub 1:40 or bust (aka - sub 7:38/mile or better).

Kati and I took off for a few warm up miles with Todd (Strugglebus member). The 2 had never met, but were quickly acquainted over those 2 miles. We ran back inside to drop our sweats, slurp down a gel, and snag our Speedy friends (Jacqui and Ryan) before heading out to the starting line. 

Repeat after me: I will not cry. I will not cry.
With seconds to spare, the 3 RyBread ladies of the group toed the line and all choked back a lump in our throats. You see, exactly a year ago this is where Jacqui and I were formally introduced to Kati as she joined the RyBread team. It's been a year of ups and downs and tears and laughs and everything in between. And today, today was Kati's last race as an Illinois resident. Her bags are packed and her story continues in Golden, Colorado in a few short days. Now, now you see why these final 13 miles hold some serious sentiment.

The gun went off as Kati and I were lost in conversation with her Fleet Feet friends and we simultaneously yelled, "OH SHIT!" as we started our watches. 

Todd and I locked eyes as we took our first steps over the start line and made sure to hang tight to each other. In years past, we're good at hanging out together for as long as possible during this race. But every year it's a mystery: who will drop who and when will it happen? Last year we couldn't run together, but 2 years ago I dropped him at mile 8. I'd be lying if I didn't secretly want that to happen again.

Mile 1: 7:08 
Adrenaline movin'. Spectators all along the course. Very steady downhill. The fact that I kept this mile over 7 minutes is damn near a miracle. 

Mile 2: 7:06
Todd and I speak very little as we race. But just after we crossed mile 1 he glanced over at me and said, "How was that?" I responded with, "Perfect. Let's keep it right here for a few more miles." And that we did. We continued to work our way downhill and took full advantage of topography being on our side. 

Mile 3: 7:12
The famous "10 mile hill" in reverse. This is where you bank all the time you can. Todd is better at letting his legs go out of control on the downhills, so his stride separated us briefly. Once we found the bottom, we reunited and hung a left, the real fun about to begin.

Mile 4 7:24
A very gradual incline for an entire mile, mile 4 is very deceiving. Your adrenaline is still flowing mighty strong from the start and flying down 10 mile hill, but you don't realize that you're actually climbing the entire mile. I still felt very strong, but knew that my "fast" miles were about over and it was time to lock into the pace I wanted to maintain the rest of the race. Todd, on the other hand, looked about as fresh as I've ever seen him. {Full disclosure: Todd has turned himself into a full blown ultra trail runner. His training takes place in all the forests and his speed never goes over an 8 minute mile on a fast day. How was he holding strong? My mind was blown. Surely he'll be down for the count soon.}

Mile 5 7:30
Just after we made the right hand turn onto Rawson Bridge Road, I knew it was time to dial it back and settle into my comfort zone. Within seconds of telling Todd it was time for me fall back, long time friend Andrew blew past me and found Todd. The 2 of them chatted and took off together. I kept them in my sights for quite a few miles afterwards. I was perfectly content getting comfy and hopefully finding Todd later on in the race.

Mile 6 7:40
The first decent climb kicked my ass {glanced at my watch at one point and read 8:50 pace} but cruised on the downhill. I'm officially in the thick of the hills and there's no turning back now.

Mile 7:46
Sneaky hill. Gets me every single time. A quick left into a neighborhood followed by an immediate right greets you with the maybe the steepest hill McHenry county has to offer. And it's a b*tch. Found my groove after getting back out onto Crystal Lake Road. The recovery is short because the next one comes quick and isn't any better.

Mile 8 7:39 
Substantial hill reminds me of a large skating ramp. Banked and curved. And never seems to end. But the volunteers handing out gels on the side of the road help the pain and seem to distract me. And as soon as you reach the top, you can start flying downhill and making your way towards the fastest mile of the course. And once I reached the bottom of the hill I spotted Mark, waving and cheering. I did my best to look alive. Great success.

I didn't promise pretty pictures.
PS - a small part of me hates this race because look how pasty I am!
At least you can't see the pain from the back. 
Mile 9 7:22
A very steady decline with the wind (usually) at your back, this mile can be the fastest of the day if you play your cards right. I definitely did some major work to put some time back into the bank. I was hoping for high 7's but was very satisfied with a sub 7:30. Although, the entire time you're running mile 9 you can see mile 10. And mile 10 takes no prisoners. 

Mile 10 7:57
Fully expected. Fully prepared to take the hit. This is why you bank as much time as you can in the early miles. Mile 10 offers the same hill that we flew down during mile 3, a quarter mile of hell. It never ends and will humble the cockiest of souls. I made sure to reserve, short and quick steps up the hill. Let yourself go slow, conserve for the end. The water station at the top of the hill greeted me like the Pearly Gates and I was ready to tackle these final 3 miles. 

Mile 11 8:08
No matter what I did I could not find my groove. The hills are fierce and aggressive these last 3 miles, but I felt like I was throwing down MUCH faster than an 8 minute mile. My body wasn't responding. Shit. Maybe this isn't your day. You don't have enough time in the back for a COURSE PR if you keep this up. Hell, you're not Boston material if you can't get your shit together. Might as well take up chess, Megan. 

Mile 12 8:07
This hill isn't officially named, but if I had to name it I'd call it "WTF WHERE'S MY BREAK?" hill. I felt like I was crawling. I glanced at my watch and technically, I was. Seriously why the hell do I think this is fun? This is miserable. 

Mile 13 7:44
This last mile is decent, nothing drastic at all. But your body is literally shot from the first 12 miles. Once my watch clicked at 12 miles and I saw the overall time (1:31) I did some quick math in my head and knew that 1.1 miles in 8 minutes and change was doable if I got my head out of my ass. And I did. Pretty sure my heart rate reached an all time high that last mile (including all the climbing) but it was worth it. 

Sorry dude, you don't get to cross before me
Told ya.

Official time: 1:39:47. Plenty of time to spare. I crossed the finish line and Ryan was there almost instantly to greet me. I huffed and puffed while he talked my ear off. All I did was flash him my watch so he could see: Sub 1:40 or bust. I made it happen. Moments later Kati and Jacqui were on the fence with me, congratulating me and demanding a cool down run right away. I found Todd and congratulated him on his 1:36 (seriously, how does that happen when training for a 50 mile trail race?) and asked him if he'd want to come with us for a cool down. He immediately declined and said his goodbyes. The Strugglebus is good at ghosting these days, no post race goodies or anything. I wasn't kidding, they do everything they can to race and get back home to the family right away. I spotted Russ on my cooldown and tried to run him into the finish line, but my body instantly rejected any pace over a 9:30. I let him finish this one up on his own.

Those hills really did a number on me this year. In case you're curious, this is the elevation map:

Who knew there were mountains in Cary, IL?
Celebrations continued with the group while we dissected our races over hot stadium style pretzels (probably the only reason I keep coming back year after year) and then over brunch. 

This is why we can't have nice things, Mark
Jacqui: 1st female!
Kati: 4th female!
Ryan: 1st male!
Me: 3rd place in age group!

Also, might you note our newest and shiniest accessory? Those new RyBread coats are courtesy of Kati. She thought up the plan and made it happen. And now, RyBread Racing is flashy and official in our brand new warm up jackets (that also reflect like crazy, we glow in the dark!)

Because we're cool now
We continued the fun at breakfast and lingered as long as possible. No one really wanted the morning to end. Saying goodbye for the day also meant saying goodbye to Kati. I'm proud to report, there were no tears (in front of the group) and we all have a day on the calendar that we'll see her again soon. I made sure to send her off with Suburbia's best donuts (because this girl is a donut connoisseur like you wouldn't believe) and the biggest hug. I've said it once and I'll say it again. I'm convinced that people are brought into your life for a reason and I know for a fact that Kati was truly a blessing when I needed it most. I already have Chicago --> Denver on hopper ready to give me the best deals at at a moment's notice. Certainly distance makes the heart grow fonder, yes? 

Told ya she's legit
As far as the racing scene goes, I couldn't be happier with my results. I did exactly what I wanted to do. I raced smart, hard, and with everything I had. I was reminded that mental toughness is finding fuel in an empty tank. Success at this race was a step in the right direction because now I can officially dive head first into marathon training with the right mindset. 

Wait what? You mean official marathon training hasn't started yet? Please, the fun is just getting started. As of today, Grandma's Marathon on June 16th is 12 weeks again. I'll have one more test before the big BQ attempt. I'm so excited to say that I'm headed back to college town, USA. The band is getting back together again and reliving the glory days in Champaign, IL at the Illinois Half Marathon in April. 

Alma, get ready for me. I'm comin' home. 

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