Hang in there - it's a long one.
Whew. Where to begin.After enjoying the race expo on Friday, I was pretty fired up for Saturday's race. Yet, I was feeling pretty nervous as well. Despite that, I slept fairly well Friday night and woke up ready to go about 6 a.m. Saturday morning. I was not feeling hungry at all, but forced myself to eat some peanut butter toast and banana and drank a bit of coffee. I slipped into my race outfit, particularly enjoying my Team Sparkle skirt. Perry followed me around and refused to back off when Mark tried to take my photo. Ah well, good thing he's cute.
I left my house shortly after 7 a.m. and leisurely headed downtown. I went using side streets and decided to just grab a spot on the street. It wasn't a very long walk downtown and it was free. Bonus! I caught the end of the first 5k heat:
I meandered around, just taking in the atmosphere. Although it was barely 7:30 a.m., the party was hopping! The official post-race party began at 7:30 a.m. and was open until 1:30 p.m. I believe. That was a little crazy to me since my race wouldn't begin until 8:20. I made my way through the party plaza and caught the 10k before the more than 6000 runners took off:
Then I headed down and found a very long line for the porta potties. Admittedly, there was probably many others available with shorter lines, but I was hesitant to leave my spot (where I could keep an eye on the line up). Fortunately, my turn came with plenty of time to spare. From there, I headed to the 25k staging area. Admittedly I have limited experience, but I thought this was very well organized. There were volunteers with big blue signs lined up to organize people into groups based on pace (in 30 sec intervals). The race encouraged people to line up realistically, sticking with a pace they could maintain the entire race. Obviously many people ignored this, but they tried.
Per my previous goals, I slipped in with the 11min/mile folks. As I was standing there and more and more people swelled around me, I was thankful that I am not claustrophobic! A few factors came into play: (1) I am short, (2) West MI folks are tall (dang Dutch), (3) there was nearly 7000 runners in the 25k race!
Along with the blue line-up signs, there were also yellow pace signs.There were pacers between 7 min/mile to 12 min/mile (every 30 sec).
I had lofty goals in the back of my mind of sticking with the 11 min/mile pace group for the first 7 miles or so and then, hopefully feel good enough to start moving ahead (still had that sub 2:45 goal in the back of my mind). Well, it quickly became apparent that 11 min group wasn't feeling easy that day. Actually, the weather was overall excellent, the day started out remarkably humid. Not super hot by any means, but definitely warmer and more humid than my training has been.
My new goal quickly morphed into staying with the pace group. I realized quickly it was going to be a mental race for me, even more than physical. I had already run this distance so I knew my body could do it, but I just knew that the mental aspect was going to rear it's ugly head eventually.
I didn't take any photos while running. It took all of my energy to run! But it was actually a nice route the majority of the way. Early on I started chatting with one of the pacers and then with another runner for a couple of miles. I run by myself the vast majority of the time, so it was nice having someone to chat with. Unfortunately, she decided to hit the porta potties around mile 4 and I never saw her again. :(
Around mile 6.5-7 the course turns back around and heads back toward the downtown area. This is where the hills begin. Now, Michigan is not particularly hilly and I don't run specific "hill" workouts. But there are several decent hills on a few of my regular routes, so overall I felt pretty strong at first. Well... none of my regular routes has that many rolling hills. These really took a toll by mile 10. By this time, our pace group had whittled down significantly and there were many people walking all around me. Ugh. So hard to keep going! But I hung with the pacers and grew more and more thankful for them as the miles passed.They took the time to learn my name and they kept an eye out for me. There were aid stations about every 1.5 miles or so and our group was naturally broken up a bit through them. As we proceeded down the course, there was always at least one pacer that kept a look out for me to make sure I was still with them (often yelling - "hey, where's cat!?")! There was also another runner I attached to. We didn't talk too much but we kept an eye for each other. She mentioned at one point that if she fell behind, she'd look for my sparkle skirt and catch up. :) She had a distinctive headband, so when I fell back, I was sure to look for it too! As a side note, we crossed the finish line very close together, which was kind of cool.
I thought the overall spectator support was fantastic.There are a few areas that are kind of sparse, but just when you really need a boost, it seemed like there was a band or a cheerleading squad or a wonderful woman with her hose (so refreshing around mile 13?). I still can't get over how much the cheers add to the overall experience. If I ever do run a marathon, I think I will need to plan on a fairly well established, well-spectated event. I'll need those cheers to get through!
As we passed the zoo, we had only 2.5 or so miles left. Prior to the race, I really thought the last couple miles would be pretty easy and the excitement would carry me. Umm... no. The last 2 miles were a.w.f.u.l. I couldn't believe how seriously I considered stopping to walk. Seriously - I ran that entire way and at mile 15 I STILL seriously considered stopping! As we ran into downtown I couldn't help it, I told the pacer I didn't think I could keep going. She didn't even acknowledge it (or maybe didn't hear me). Instead, she kept up the positive talk and urged me on. As we were less than a quarter mile from the finish (and the finish line was in sight) the pacers yelled for me to push forward. And somehow, I did. I stopped thinking and just let my legs stretch out. I picked off a few people down the homestretch and crossed the finish line.
Final chip time - 2 hours 50 min 35 seconds.
It felt incredible. My legs halted, shaky and I seriously wondered if I was going to fall! But I stayed upright and kept walking forward, grabbing some water. I knew Mark couldn't be there, but one of my best friends had planned to bring S and G down for the finish. I looked around at the thousands of people and wondered how on earth I was going to find them! I stared kind of blankly around and before long I heard my name! I turned and saw these faces grinning at me. And that was pretty incredible.
After oodles of excellent hugs I got to hear a little bit about the part of the race they got to watch. I threw on a sweatshirt and we headed into the post-race party. With registration, every runner had a free drink ticket and I was definitely going to use mine!
The beer tent was intense, but I made it through. And enjoyed that beer. We also just stood around a bit,soaking up the post-race atmosphere. Calder Plaza was humming with the beer tent, BW3 lunch spot and dueling pianos. The girls enjoyed climbing on the sculpture, La Grande Vitesse:
After a bit it was time to head home. I just wanted a shower! I wasn't too sore, but I did make the mistake of not stretching out nearly well enough. But the rest of the weekend was fairly lazy and I got in some well-deserved relaxation.
Overall, I thought the entire race process was incredible. I definitely plan to do it again next year and even if I weren't going to do the 25k, I would want to do the 5k or 10k. The upside to doing the shorter race is that I would have been able to see the elite runners finish. This year, the overall male finisher Robert Letting finished in an incredible 1:14:54. Even more impressive, first place woman finisher was Janet Bawcom who finished in 1:24:36, setting a new record for US women! Butch Martin broke the handcycle record, finishing in 41:04. Just blows me away.
In the interest of full disclosure, there was a downside to the race. For some reason, my race results were not posted as expected on Saturday. Nor Sunday. :( I saw on Facebook that other runners were having some trouble as well. I called the race number this morning and they were very nice and looked into it right away. The women called back within moments and said my results were now showing up online. I have no idea why there was a delay, but it certainly wasn't earth shattering. I'm thankful to have an official time and only a teeeensy bit bummed out that it wasn't officially a sub-2:50 time.
Nevertheless, I know I ran as strong as I could have and I am so proud of myself. :)
The 25k is a somewhat unusual distance, but was a lot of fun. This race was considerably more exciting than the half marathon I ran last fall. The extra 2.4 miles isn't a lot more, but certainly was a different challenge, but not such a grand leap as a marathon. The Riverbank Run is the largest 25k in the country and is the official US Track and Field race at that distance. I would say for those looking to add a Michigan race to their resume, this is an excellent one to hit!