Friday, January 15, 2016

A Goal Was Set....and Met!

When I think back to my early days of running, of my first or second or third full marathon, I can't help but smile.  Way back then, every runner I knew lived for doing that one marathon a year.  Only the kooks would even consider doing more than one in a year.

2002 - after finishing my first full marathon

But then, years later, when I stopped doing full marathons in favor of the shorter half marathon distance, something happened.  I saw a race in the state of Ohio that I wanted to run, the Flying Pig Marathon/Half Marathon event.  It was less than 4 months after I had run the Houston half marathon. Was that too soon after doing a race to do another?
In my orange shirt, nearing the finish line in my first Flying Pig Half Marathon

I ran it, I survived, even set a PR on that extremely hilly course in Cincinnati. Over the next couple of years I got braver.  I ran three half marathons in a year.  And I didn't die.  My legs didn't fall off. The ground didn't open up and swallow me whole. Then I discovered the Half Fanatics running club and realized that I had already qualified to join because I'd run three half marathons within a three-month period.

For the next several years I was content to stay with that half marathon distance, traveling around the country and combining interesting races with sightseeing in some of this country's most spectacular regions.

But in the back of my head, a little voice was taunting me, telling me to do what it takes to qualify for the sister club to the Half Fanatics, The Marathon Maniacs.  That little voice dared me to qualify before I turned 70 years old, before it was too late.  It's a little voice I tried to ignore and tried to drown out with thoughts of other goals and objectives. It wasn't working.

So when I turned 67 years old this past June, I gave in to that little voice.  It was now or never.  And 2016 was going to be the year of "now."

I registered for the Texas Metalsaw Marathon to be held on New Year's day. It would be a test for myself, see if I could prepare for and then successfully complete a full marathon after a 12 year hiatus from that 26.2 mile distance.

If I succeeded in finishing that marathon, my plan was to meet the Marathon Maniacs qualifications by doing two marathons within 16 days.  I picked out two marathons, one here in the Houston area in latter half of March, and a really cool destination marathon overseas in early April, and then signed up.

But then I learned that the early April marathon was being rescheduled for one week later due to conflicts within the city.  Not good! This moved it too far away from the March marathon to qualify me for Maniac membership.  So it was on to plan B, which was to do three marathons in three months and still be able to qualify.  Another marathon, one in late February, was added to my race calendar so that I'd have those three marathons: one in January, one in February, and one in March.

Ugh! The thought of dragging this out over three months, mixed in with other half marathons I'd wanted to do, got me thinking and more closely studying the long list of possible races. There was a race in Mobile AL the second weekend in January, a race which I'd signed up for last year but at the last minute was unable to do.  If I signed up for it again this year, doing the full marathon instead of the half, it could be combined with my planned race on New Year's Day and qualify me for Maniac status.

The only downside was that because it was one week after the New Year's day race, there wasn't a lot of time to recover in between. But I knew that if I didn't do it this way, it would most likely never get done.

Fast forward several months.  On New Year's day I successfully completed the first of two marathons needed to meet my goal. Now, a week later, I was up at 5:30 AM and on the road Saturday morning, heading for Mobile AL and my second of the two marathons.

A couple of major road closures - Beltway 8 Ship Channel Bridge and a stretch of I-10 through Baytown didn't slow me down, as I took 288 up to 610 to 225 to 146 instead of the Beltway.  No time lost here at all.

The major traffic delay on I-10 just west of Baton Rouge did slow me down a bit but thankfully I had my GPS and was able to bail out and work my way up to US-190 going around the north side of Baton Rouge to 110 south to rejoin I-10.  I learned, once I rejoined I-10 and could see what was happening, that the major backup and delay was due to an 18-wheeler whose trailer had collapsed as he was making the curve on the on-ramp where I-10 and 110 join.  I hate this stretch on a good day.  It's only one lane that bears right after crossing the Mississippi River bridge and merges with the bottom end of 110 and it's always backed up for a mile on the bridge.

Semi trailer collapse had this ramp shut down and traffic backed up for miles.

But this wasn't a good traffic day for Baton Rouge. As a result of this 18-wheeler issue, traffic was backed up for miles on I-10, as all vehicles were being diverted onto Rte 1 north to US-190 to 110.  I had the foresight to bail one exit earlier.  I was still delayed working my way to that exit ramp, but I was in much better shape than those who didn't know to take that exit. No doubt it took them an hour or longer to work their way along the two or so miles to the Rte 1 exit.

Traffic backed up for miles.  The green dotted line was my bail-out route.  The
red dotted line was the detour route for everyone else, who didn't bail out at the earlier exit.
I saved a tremendous amount of time by getting off one exit earlier than everyone else.
Hooray for GPS's!!

That mess now behind me, it was smooth sailing the rest of the way to Mobile.  I arrived around 2:30, got checked into the lovely Renaissance Hotel, and then walked the short 3 blocks to the Government Plaza building to get my race packet. Packet pickup was set in the very nice atrium of this building.

The pretty atrium of Government Plaze, packet pickup.

Four lovely young southern belles.  They were at the start line, as well.

I ordered room service, laid out the things I'd need for the next morning's marathon, and then settled in for an afternoon and evening of football. I ordered some additional items to have in the room for the next day: a fruit platter and a blueberry muffin.

Race day morning!  It was going to be chilly for the the race...winds 15 mph out of the north, mostly cloudy in the morning hours, early morning temps in the 40's.  It's so hard to dress for these weather conditions. The wind out of the north was the biggest factor in comfort for me. I wore gloves, a bandana around my neck in addition to long-sleeved shirt, lightweight fleece over that, and my oversized bright orange windbreaker.

I got down to the start line, just four short blocks from the hotel, just as they were singing the national anthem.  It was clearly a very small race, probably fewer than 1,000 participants, with more than 75% of those doing the half marathon. I positioned myself toward the rear of the start corral, maybe 30-40 feet ahead of the "balloon ladies," who are the course "sweepers" and maintain a 16 min/mile pace. As long as I can stay ahead of them, I'll be good. Fall behind them, and I risk not getting an official finish time, something I need in order to submit my qualifications to Marathon Maniacs.

The start gun popped and we were off!  Within a couple of blocks I spotted a woman just ahead of me wearing a 50-States Half Marathon club jacket.  I ran to catch up with her and we stayed together all the way to the 8-mile marker, which was the split off point for the full marathoners.

Now I was alone.  There was no one visible ahead of me, and I could see only one woman about 100 yards behind me.  This was going to be a long, lonely next 18 miles for sure!

That woman ultimately passed me at about mile 10, and then another woman passed me at around mile 12, and then a man overtook me at around mile 13.  Depending on the lay of the road, I could see these three ahead of me for much of the next 7 or 8 miles.  It was enough to keep me motivated.

Some serious hills in the second half of the marathon. Elevation data
from my Garmin GPS watch.

The middle miles of the marathon course - miles 11-20 - were very hilly and I could definitely feel it in my thighs.  A one week recovery is definitely not enough for a full marathon and I was paying the price for having done that full marathon the previous weekend.  But I knew I had to finish what I'd started. No wimping out allowed!

The marathon route, data from my Garmin GPS watch.

The route after the half marathon split was quite nice, as it took us through the very pretty U. Southern Alabama campus, past a large and beautiful golf course and mansion-like homes, through Mobile Botanical Gardens, and then through the campus of Springhill College.

The worst of it were the last few tedious and boring miles straight down Dauphin Street back into downtown Mobile.  At least the course was now flat. But I could feel the pressure from behind, as the rear "sweep" was slowly gaining on me, even though I was maintaining a sub-time cut-off pace.

Once I got into the downtown area, could see and hear the finish line ahead, I knew I'd done it! As I crossed the finish line, the volunteers were all cheering and applauding for me.  The race director was there to greet me and said, with a big smile, "We kept the light on for you."  Sweet!

Finisher medal, hand made by L'Arche residents.
 I collected my finisher medal and headed straight for Royal Street and to the most excellent little coffee shop, where I ordered myself a large hot coffee and then took it the short 1/2 block to the hotel.

Sitting down never felt so good!  Sipping on a good, hot coffee...even better!  I did it!!  It was sinking in.  I'd completed two full marathons just 8 days apart, something I never thought I'd ever do until now. So it's official!  I qualified for The Marathon Maniacs and to be a Double Agent (member of both the Fanatics and the Maniacs)!!

I took a nice warm shower, put on comfy warm clothes and then ordered room service:  Two bottles of beer and a nice bacon cheeseburger with fries.  Then settled in to watch the Green Bay Packers football game!
Recovery food! Beer and bacon cheese burger.  The fries were excellent!

Once the race staff could get the results posted at their website, I was able to check them and see that I'd come in 3rd place in my age group!  Cool! That made it all the sweeter!

I placed 3rd in my age group!
My third place age group award plaque, handmade by L'Arche Mobile Community Center residents. Very special!

Coming up next: Aramco Houston Half Marathon the next weekend.


  1. Congratulations!! You did it, and another half marathon next weekend. Good for you.

    I hate to ask how sore you were after this second race.

  2. I did it! It's still sinking in, one week later. I was surprised that I was less sore after the second one than I was after the first one. I'm sitting here now, watching football after doing the half marathon here in Houston. My legs are definitely begging me for a respite for a while. I will gladly oblige. :-)