The short version – I thought I put in enough training, but “the wall” hit me good, and the marathon humbled me… as it should! Not super disappointed because it was my best effort for the day, and I have a lot more respect for the distance again. BQs are not easy and that's why they are magical! I will be trying again!
The Atlantic City marathon is my 17th marathon, but only the 3rd that I have raced, and the first that I have raced in 10 years. I followed a Garmin-provided training plan pretty-well but missed the longest runs just because I didn’t want to give up family time for 3 hour runs. My longest training run was 16 miles and I thought I could push the final 10 miles. Spoiler alert. I was wrong. Oops.
A week out, the weather looked perfect - 50-65 degrees, partly cloudy with light winds. Then Nestor formed in the Gulf. I studied the hourly forecast obsessively since Thursday. The storm was supposed to get to AC around 10am, and ramp-up the wind and rain between 11 and 12 with winds out of the ENE (a direct headwind for the final 5 miles with 4 of those miles on the exposed boardwalk). Not a good forecast for someone aiming for a 3:20-3:30 with an 8am start time, and the forecast was pretty much spot-on. Possibly dumbly, but I’ll never really know, my race strategy was to try to go slightly faster in the first half to maybe beat the increases in the wind. So, I started at the fast end of my goal time.
There was not much to note at the start. Parking in the garage was easy. I found an out of the way bathroom in the casino that had no line and I got to the start with a nice 15 minutes to spare and easily made my way to the 3:20 pacer. (side note – only 50% of us starting in that area were NOT wearing the Nike shoes – maybe that’s why I missed my goal– Ha!). The weather felt pretty nice, but oddly I didn’t feel chilled at all so maybe it was warm and humid. I wore a thin t-shirt, shorts and detached sleeves, which was perfect for what happened.
There was a countdown clock at the start line and the race was off exactly on time! Nice organization. My plan was to stay with the 3:20 pacer and see what happened. He went off on the fast side and our first mile was 7:18, but we settled in around 7:35s after that. It was a great group. I was happily chatting away as the first 6 miles just clicked by. I was feeling good- amazing even! DH and DD were at the 10K split cheering for me, and I waved and smiled as I passed. Life was good! We got back to the boardwalk at mile 8ish and DH and DD were there again. I separated from the group and ran over for a DD high-five and was still feeling great!
We passed the finish line at mile 9ish, and slight fatigue started to creep in, but nothing too bad. Then something happened between 10-11. I got a slight side-stitch, which has been happening in some training runs too. Then I lost my place in the course. I thought we were coming up on 12, when it was only 11 – bleh. The wheels started to come off here. (I rolled my sleeves down hoping that would help – it didn’t) I decided to slow up to hopefully get rid of the side stitch, so dropped from the 7:35 miles to 8:05 for 12 and 13, which would still be good for under a 3:30. It started to drizzle. I started to hurt. Where did my awesome feeling go????
Thankfully, my Mom was cheering on the second half of the course, and she was at 14ish. I was hurting, but as a veteran marathoner, she had the sage advice to keep going you never know how you’ll feel in a few miles. She was right I slowed to 8:30s ( BQ still possible) and started to feel better from 15-20. I was trying to mentally convince myself that there was only a 10K left, and that got me through to mile 21, but then we turned into the wind, and steady rain.
My Mom was awesome at getting all over the course to support me, but it wasn’t helping my physical state. My words to her at 21ish were “everything just hurts.” It did. I tried to focus on body parts that didn’t hurt, but that just pointed out how even things like my nose hurt with the wind and rain. Oddly, my muscles were feeling as good as could be expected, but all my joints hurt. The tip of my toes hurt, my feet ached, kneecaps were screaming, hips throbbing, ribs and shoulders were tight, and my nose, even the tip of my nose, had a stinging sensation.
At this point my running slowed to 9:30 and that was a struggle. I knew BQ was out of the question. Finishing was going to be hard enough, and I HAD to finish so I could wear the shirt. It is a cool shirt! Haha!
At 22 I was done. Completely done, and thirsty. I was drinking every water stop, but I was thirsty, which I’ve never felt before while running. I focused on running to the next water stop. Then I was going to walk and enjoy Every. Last. Drop. of the Powerade and water! I did just that! BUT oh, walking hurt too, and differently. It accentuated the hip pain but helped with the rib pain. Whatever, I had to pick up some form of run, or it would take forever to finish and I was getting cold. (I put my sleeves back up – Yay sleeves – I do love those things). So, I shuffled along at an 11:00 pace, but would get a disconcerting pain under my ribs and I was also making some horrible grunting noises. Since my time was shot already, I’d just walk every time that pain would start and pick up a shuffle when it went away. Miles 22-26 were between 10:30 and 12:45 pace. To be honest, I felt so bad, I didn’t even notice how windy and rainy it was until after I finished, so I doubt that impacted my race too much.
To sum up how I felt in those last 4 miles… The 3:50 pacer passed me with 100 yards to go, right where DH and DD were cheering and said, “you can’t let me pass you now in front of the kid,” and I just yelled back, “sure I can!” and I did. BUT I still finished under 3:50 and I was 5th out of 71 in my age group and 25th woman overall, which I believe indicates the tough conditions of the day. Today, I am proudly wearing my “finisher” shirt as, even though my time wasn’t what I hoped, I am proud of my effort and that I put it all out on the course yesterday. Plus, I can say I finished a marathon in the remnants of a tropical storm! Oh, just as a kicker, today the weather is absolutely gorgeous!
Day after race day thoughts: “This race would count as a good long training run…I wonder what local marathons there are at the end of November? Maybe I could run Philly better…” Contemplating it at least! 😊
Lessons learned: Marathons are a special form of hard and you can’t underestimate them. Only racing a marathon can show you what racing a marathon is like (kind of like only childbirth can prepare you for what childbirth is like– and that is the only comparison that can be made between those two things). I don’t think a perfectly flat course worked for me. The only inclines were before mile 5 and I think the complete flatness contributed to the joint pain. There was no variation on what was being impacted with EVERY step. Don’t wear shoes that do not fit perfectly – duh – stupid rookie mistake for someone that is not a rookie. Practice fueling – my fueling while running was pretty much non-existent, which probably contributed to that wall-smack.