Tuesday, May 8, 2012

PAC Attack and Pigs

It's done.

Another Flying Pig Half Marathon completed and I'm now home and "digesting" the eventful weekend.

I arrived into Cincinnati on Friday afternoon and got checked into my lovely room on the 18th floor of the Hyatt before walking across the street to the convention center and the Fitness Expo being held inside. 

I love how they have this event set up.  They do it the same way every year...no point changing what works perfectly.  First stop is the packet pickup area.  I headed for the half-marathon tables and to the letter "S."  So here's the first problem of the weekend.  They can't find my packet.  The female volunteer looked through all of the "Smith's" but no packet with my name on it.  She identified where mine should have been:  Right before the one labeled "Becky Smith."  Then she looked through all of the packets in the box, but still came up empty. 

There were two other folks standing off to the side with, as it turns out, the exact same problem.  One was a young man named Mark Smith.  There was a "Mark Smith" packet but it clearly belonged to another person with that same name, since the age and home city/state was not his.  So she rounded us up and we waded our way through the lines of people to get to the "HELP" desk.  The solution for the three of us was to assign a new bib number and update our registrations in the computer.  This meant we lost our custom bibs with our names on them and it also meant notifying anyone who had signed up to track us live on race day, to give them our corrected bib numbers. 

Well, that kinda took some wind out of my sails.  Someone has my bib and I wasn't sure what the ramifications of that would be on race day (I now know, and will report on that later). 

So the next area we pass through as we wend our way through the Expo is the Flying Pig Merchandise Store.  Normally I buy things I absolutely don't need, only because their selection is outstanding!  They use Brooks and Asics apparel and have some really cute and unique designs every year.  But this year I was so bummed about the bib situation, I couldn't get excited about shopping.

On to the Proctor & Gamble aisle!!  This is always awesome!  P&G is the major corporate sponsor for this race and they always give away copious amounts of retail-size products.  Last year I picked up, among other things, a full-size contact lens cleaning kit.  This year I picked up a bottle of shampoo, conditioner, and some L'Oreal eye cream. 

I wandered aimlessly down the aisles, bought several packets of GU, then headed over to the last aisle to get my event shirt...always a great quality Asics shirt with a cute Flying Pig Marathon/Half Marathon graphic on the front and back. 

Last stop before exiting the hall at the far end was the chip check station.  Of course, the computer didn't recognize the chip, since it was just assigned to me less than 30 minutes ago.  That fact added to my funk.

Before heading out on foot to look for dinner, I stashed my packet in my hotel room and checked Google maps for the nearest Subway Sandwich shop.  It was just two blocks up and 2 blocks over - an easy walk - but alas!  It was "under new management" and would be "opening soon."  So on to plan B.  But I had no idea what that plan would be.  As I wandered around the downtown area looking for something suitable, I came upon an Indian restaurant.  Rice and Tandoori Chicken might make for a good dinner, so I stepped inside and ordered from their menu.  Take-out please!  Sag paneer and a cup of kheer for dessert were added to the order.  I also ordered some naan but, even though they charged me for it, they forgot to include it with my order.  I didn't discover this until I got back to the hotel.  Too late, now!  And I was so looking forward to it, too!
This year's cool volunteer shirts

Saturday morning I went back over to the Fitness Expo to try scanning my chip again...still no ID recognition.  And of course I stopped by the packet pickup area to see if someone realized they had the wrong packet and returned mine.  No luck there, either. 

While out and about, I headed over to the cupcake shop off the lobby of the Hilton Hotel and bought a dozen mixed cupcakes for my post-race lunch get-together at Skyline Chili.   I walked over to the parking garage and tucked the box safely into the back seat of my car then returned to my hotel room to chill out for the rest of the day, but not before picking up a burger at the hotel restaurant and taking it up to my room to nosh on for lunch. 

The Pasta Party was Saturday evening and I signed up for the 5:30 PM seating.  It's held in a big tent on Fountain Square, just a couple of blocks down 5th Street from the hotel and it's always festive on the square!  This year was no exception since Saturday was also Cinco de Mayo.  A stage was set up and live music played outside the tent while we chowed down on salad, ziti with meat- or meat-less sauce, and big hunks of garlic bread.  And those famous Flying Pig sugar cookies!

I chatted a bit with the folks who were sitting at the same table, but everyone seemed as eager as I was to eat and get back to the room to start winding down for the night.  When I returned to my room, I got my race gear organized so that I wouldn't have to think too hard about it the next morning.  Alarm set, clothes laid out, I began to fade in front of an HBO movie.


Race day morning was clear skies and perfect temperatures at the start:  58 degrees!  The reorganization of the corrals was a huge improvement over last year, which was when they introduced the corrals to the race start.  I complained in my post-race survey last year that the corrals were too hard to get to and created enormous congestion on the sidewalks trying to fight our way down to the appropriate corral.  This year they broke the field up into more corrals (A-H, versus A-E last year) and they staged the last two corrals - G and H - onto one of the side streets right near the start line.  I was in corral G and it was very easy getting into the corral.  They had jumbotron screens set up along the edges of the corrals so that we could watch the start of the race while we waited for our turn.  We could see the runners passing in front of us and then - 20 minutes after the initial start gun - our corral was turned loose. 

The improvement in flow was immediately noticeable.  Last year I was in the last corral, which lumped everyone 12:00 minute mile or slower together.  This meant runners and walkers were starting together.  Last year it took me 20 minutes to run the first mile, dodging huge groups of walkers.  This year I ran my first mile in just over 12 minutes, so definitely a great improvement.
Running on first bridge
The route is great!  It is so varied, taking us past the baseball stadium, over the first of three bridges spanning the river, running along the quaint streets of Covington KY for a few miles before heading back over two more bridges and into downtown Cincinnati.  Things were going great.  I was getting into the groove of a comfortable pace; I was in among runners of approximately the same pace as me; the walkers were all well behind me. 

Somewhere around mile 4 I began to notice something was wrong.  I was suddenly short of breath and having a hard time keeping my pace.  It came on so suddenly and the breathlessness so severe, I had to slow down to a slow jog and then to a walk.  I was okay as long as I walked, but as soon as I tried to break into a run I would be gasping. 

Walking up steep hill toward the
overlook near mile 7
There was a row of Portalets at this point, and I really need to regroup and figure out what was wrong.  So I got in line and waited, using this delay to catch my breath.  It was here that I noticed that my heart was beating very fast and irregular.  An old demon raises its ugly head again!  I had an incident - my first - about 8 years ago while running a 10K race in Houston.  This led me to a cardiac workup.  I had been previously diagnosed with a slight mitral valve prolapse (heart murmur) and PAC and the cardiac workup didn't uncover anything different, but I started on a beta blocker to slow down my heart rate which would be easier on the mitral valves and reduce the incidence of PAC's. 

Ha!  Running and blowing
my nose at the same time!
Somewhere near mile 9
But I hated the side effects of the beta blocker, including poor sleep patterns and it exacerbated my asthma which is normally very mild and requiring no medication to control - just avoidance of triggers such as cigarette smoke and extreme animal environments.  So I weaned myself off of the beta blocker with my doctor's approval and cut out caffeine from my diet.  This seemed to work.  I had no more incidents.  That is, until this one.   I "noodled" on this, trying to think what might have been different, would have triggered this.  Hard to know.    Air quality?  Pollen levels in this city? 

So portalet stop done and back on the race route, I could run as long as the terrain was flat but just the slightest incline (and there are many on this route!) and I simply could not catch my breath.  This meant that I had to walk much of the next 7 miles of the route, miles that the previous two years I was able to run.  Once I got to mile 10, there was a long downhill stretch so I took full advantage of this, trying to make up precious time.  But then I had to walk the last two miles and had to walk across the finish line.  I was so disappointed.  And soooo wiped out!  I was exhausted!

I could hardly walk the three blocks uphill to 5th Street and my hotel.  Once back in my room, every movement was an effort: showering, drying my hair, packing up.  I was still short of breath and my heart rate still had not calmed down and stabilized into a normal rhythm.  It was still beating erratically.  But I needed to get checked out, get in the car, get over to the Skyline Chili restaurant just over the river in KY. 

Once I could settle into the car, sit quietly for the next 20 minutes as I drove out of the city, things began to settle down.  I was still a little breathless but my heart rhythm was settling down. 

We had a great turnout for the "Ride to Eat" at Skyline.  Friends from the MTF (motorcycle tourers forum) showed up and a couple of them brought friends so in all we had about 14-15 folks show up.  The cupcakes were a big hit and my Skyline "3-way" chili hit the spot perfectly.  Great race recovery food!  And great company!  The discomfort and disappointment just hours earlier were soon forgotten.

Oh, and about that purloined bib...someone else actually wore that bib and ran the race.  Their time is posted, but searchable only by bib number.  Because it was disassociated with my registration data, it appears as a "no name, no age group" with only a race time with splits.  I searched using "no name" as the criterion and pulled up almost two dozen such bibs.  Sounds like the race organizers may have a problem on their hands...a new way of becoming a quasi race bandit!!

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