Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Kona: The run, miles 13-26.2

So where was I? I was halfway through the marathon, I had walked the past 2.5 miles and had 13 to go. It was time to reassess my race plan.

Here's how the math worked out: I had to do 13-minute miles to finish with a PR of 14:30. My original plan called for 12-minute miles, so I was actually in pretty good shape. But this is where things got interesting: if I did 11-minute miles, I would beat 14 hours.

Now you might think it would be obvious to try to run 11's and if it didn't work out just go back to 13's. But endurance running doesn't work that way. If I bonked, then for every 11-minute mile I did I might pay for it by walking a 16, 18, or 20-minute mile later on and I'd completely miss the PR.

In all honesty, I ran a pretty good technical race all day long. But the thing I am most proud of is that it took me all of about 2 seconds to decide to go for the 14-hour finish. There really wasn't any debate. I was in Hawaii for the Ironman World Freaking Championships and I would rather burn out going for it than playing it safe.

So I started running. And running and running. I trained by doing 5-minute walk breaks every hour but I had no time for that now. I would walk for 15 seconds to take a drink at the aid stations but that was it.

And speaking of aid stations... I was avoiding all solid food for the first 13 miles because I was worried about cramping and I finally allowed myself to eat some pretzels. I don't know how much the impact was physical and how much was mental but it really did feel good.

If I have one regret for the day, it's that I didn't experience the true Energy Lab. This is the turn-around point of the run where most people are baking in the hot afternoon sun. I experienced the winds on the bike, I certainly experienced heat it the first part of the run. But by the time I hit the Energy Lab the sun was far below the horizon. It was dark, and cool - and I hate to say it - pleasant running conditions. So I was "in" the Energy Lab, but I was not "of" the Energy Lab.

When I say it was dark along the run, I mean it wad DARK. For most of the run there were no streetlights. There was no ambient light rising up from town because THERE WAS NO TOWN. We were running through lava fields in the middle of nowhere. I could barely see the road right in front of me. The most frustrating thing is that in some places it was too dark for me to read the mile-markers. I would pass a piece of plastic on the course and wonder "was that a mile-marker? Or a kilometer marker? Or just an arrow?" Dark.

I don't know how I did it, but when I was able to see a marker and check my pace, every mile was 11 minutes. Not 10:55, not 11:05, but 11. I constantly tried to pick up the pace a bit, but it just wasn't happening.

For the last few miles, I don't remember being in pain so much as I just felt... drained. Like I didn't have even enough energy to feel any pain, so maybe that was a good thing. I do remember sighing and grunting a lot, especially every time I came to a "hill." If you were in a car you would barely notice the inclines, but after biking 112 miles and running 20, they seemed enormous.

It was right at mile 25 that I realized just how tight it was going to be to make 14 hours. I think I had about 12 minutes to go and 1.2 miles. I wouldn't make it at my current pace, but fortunately there was a big downhill section heading back into town (this was the same hill that wiped me out trying to run up it a few hours before). I just relaxed my legs as best I could and let myself fall down the hill.

The hill heads straight for the finish line. You can see the lights, you can hear the music, you can hear Mike Reilly calling out "You are an Ironman!" to each of the finishers. But then, in some perverse cruel prank, you have to turn 90 degrees and run AWAY from the finish line for several blocks. That really stung.

Originally I had big plans on how to finish. This was my one shot at Kona, and I wanted to soak in the finish line as much as possible. I was going to basically walk through the chute, high-fiving everybody I could. When I got to my support crew, there would be hugs all around and I'd stop for a few pictures. I coined a phrase for it: I was going to "milk the chute".

Well all that changed when I realized how close I was to 14 hours. I didn't think I was going to make it, but I also knew that they weren't using my $29 wristwatch as official race time. My watch could have easily been a minute fast so maybe I did have some extra time. I didn't want to take any chances so I threw out any plans of milking the chute.

I "ran" the last mile as fast as I could, although I know it felt much faster than it really was. I saw my support crew, but they were acting strangely. You'd think they would have been pointing at me and cheering me on, but instead they were all pointing at a strange woman in the crowd. That was my mother, who flew out to watch the race without telling me and this was the first time I saw her. (Full story here.)

Somehow I managed not to trip over my own feet while turning my head 180 degrees to see my mother and I raced for the finish line. I still wasn't sure what the time was, and it wasn't until I had maybe 50 yards to go that I saw the official race clock. It was past 14:00, but not 14:01, and I was thrilled.

Official time: 14:00:51. I got a P.R, in Kona, beating my previous Ironman best by almost a half hour. It was a helluva day.


Blogger Molly said...

Way to go! :-)

Is it OK to tease that it took yuo 5 months to finish the race report?

10:49 AM  
Blogger Wedgie said...

Molly, not only is it OK, I think some people would say it's encouraged.

10:21 PM  

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