Tuesday, April 30, 2013

St. Luke’s Half Marathon, Lehigh Valley PA: Race Report

The St. Luke’s Half Marathon (formerly known and fondly remembered as the Lehigh Valley Half Marathon) weekend kicked off Saturday, April 27th in Allentown, PA with the opening of the race expo.  I hold this race dear to my heart for a few reasons:

  1. In 2009, I ran this race as my first half marathon, chronicled here.
  2. In 2010, I set a half marathon personal record.
  3. In 2011, too pregnant to run, I volunteered and happily led runners into the entrance of the Parkway.  I also welcomed their pathetic faces as they came out the other side just three miles shy of the finish line. 
  4. In 2012, I followed up a Tough Mudder finish with the half marathon.  Posting a not-so-bad time considering my physical state.
  5. Finally, this race showcases Allentown, my hometown.

I always encourage newbies to sign up for this race because of my personal opinions AND it’s a great course.  This past weekend would be no different; I was sure of that.  A small group of runners from work signed up and I knew a few people from some running circles who would be there.  I personally knew a handful of ‘newbies’ which increased my excitement for the race.  In the months leading up to the race, my training wasn’t exactly regular, but I absolutely could handle the distance.  My longest run clocked in at ten miles and I finished as if I could run another ten.  The bigger challenge would be to balance my diet with my training.  For the past five weeks, roughly, I eliminated virtually all grain from my diet.  What can I eat, you ask?  A lot, actually.  I learned a while ago that the focus should be on what you can eat, not what you can’t eat.  Fruit, vegetables, meat, nuts, deliciousness.  I haven’t had any issues with energy and that ten mile run proved it.  I was good-to-go in that department.I decided to focus on finishing the half and not set any other goals.  I had not run long distances since the November Philly Marathon.  I came off that marathon nursing a hell of an injured calf that sidelined me for the remainder of the 2012 calendar year.  But, my tune soon changed a few weeks out – I felt very confident about my fitness level and got sick with half marathon fever.  I needed to leave everything I had on that course.  I needed to kill it and PR.

Saturday morning, I got up early to head to the expo.  I planned to meet a friend (NEWBIE!!) to grab our packets and relax with a cup of coffee.  Thankfully, we didn’t spend a lot of time in the expo.  I bumped into a lot of people I knew…this absolutely gave me another boost of excitement.  We picked up a cup of coffee – she, an Ethiopian blend, and I, dark roast, of course.  She talked about her training, nerves, excitement, clothing dilemma, food experiments and other topics that fed my fire.  We both parted ways with equal nerves, wishing each other luck.  I spend the rest of the day relaxing with my family while drinking a lot of water and rolling (my trainer would be proud). Before heading to bed, I selected my outfit (which only cost me ten minutes), pinned my Boston ribbon and 4.15.13 bib and packed a diaper bag for the girls.  The hubs planned to hang out in the park (on the course) the following morning to cheer me on.

Race Morning – I love race morning.  I typically spring out of bed and bounce right into the shower.  Sunday morning was no different.  I quietly slipped my outfit on and made my way downstairs to brew a strong cup of coffee.  Delicious.  I spend approximately 30 – 45 minutes watching CNN, sipping coffee and rolling some more.  I also drank another 32 ounces of water.  The weather called for a high of 67 degrees, with the start time temp hovering just below 50 degrees.  The sun was also scheduled to be in full effect.  This time the meteorologists didn’t let me down.  I got there earlier than necessary.  I found a friend in the high school gym and chatted until it was our time to head outside and line up.  I clearly was bouncing off the walls, excited to get the show on the road.  Thankfully, I found most of my runners before the masses headed outside to the starting line.  Just before a moment of silence in honor of Boston, the announcer asked us to hold hands.  It was such a powerful moment; we were all one.  Before anyone could settle in the moment, we were off.  I adjusted the sound on my iPhone while walking to the start line.  As my right foot crossed the mat, I took off fighting my way through a few packs of people until I could settle into a good rhythm.  (As a side note, I don’t usually run with music, but with the thought of a PR in sight, I wanted some motivation that would help me dig in.  And besides, the playlist took me almost an hour to build, I wasn’t going to give up on it then!)  Familiar with the course, I started to chase the 1:55 pace group.  After catching up to them, I slowly pulled away and hovered, comfortably, between the 1:50 and 1:55 group.  I averaged 8:30 minute miles during the flat stretch over Martin Luther King Boulevard.  A few times during these miles, I surprised myself with my capabilities.  As I said earlier, I had not raced since Philly; it felt good to get out.  I prematurely started doing some calculations in my head.  I could absolutely catch the 1:50 group…maybe I could pass them.  And then, it hit me…       

I didn’t hit the wall, but something was preventing my feet from comfortably pounding the pavement.  Sounds like an oxymoron, but I prefer running on the road, as opposed to racing on trail; I do, however, love trail running.  It’s complex…perhaps I’ll save that for another post.  Nevertheless, my legs felt fine, my breathing steady, but my feet, damn my feet.  I started to feel a blister on the inside of my right foot and, strangely, that blister slowly moved itself into my head.  That blister caused everything else to fall apart.  My pace slowed dramatically and I attempted to change my foot placement to minimize the rubbing.  Nothing helped.  As my mind started to fail me, I felt my core disengage and I visualized myself with spaghetti arms and legs – NO CONTROL.  All this before I came to the Parkway.  As I expressed in my mini-post this am: The Parkway – HATED IT.  I run the Parkway on a fairly regular basis.  I run it alone.  I run it with friends.  I run it in the cold.  I run it in the heat.  I do not like it, Sam I Am.  I need to figure out why and fix it, but that reactive solution jumping was not going to help.  I tried to make the most of it. 

As the blister infected my mind and caused chaos in my physical body, I became obsessed with a sudden urge to pee.  Well, maybe sudden isn’t the right word for it.  I had gone twice before the start of the race.  Just before we lined up, I had to go again.  Fearful that I would be stuck in a line as the gun went off I passed up the opportunity.  Grrr.  So, as I said, I had to pee suddenly and obsessively searched for the perfect spot.  I know the location of every bathroom, but I felt that this would waste time.  The 1:55 pace group had already gained and passed me, but there was still the hope to PR.  Just after mile 9 we slowly climbed a paved hill leading to a gorgeous home overlooking the Little Lehigh River.  This where my nemesis musical act is stationed.  For some strange reason I want to punch the Frank Sinatra impersonator in the face.  I really don’t know why, but the blister slowly encapsulating my brain and the extreme urge to urinate made me so angry.  I powered past him and flew down the hill.  At this point, I needed to take matters into my own hands. 

With each step I scoured the landscape for the perfect location: too far out, not enough coverage, too much brush.  And then I saw it, an oasis in the barren desert – the perfect tree.  Without losing my pace, I veered off the trail with the gasps of the runners behind me, high stepped through some vegetation and came to a dead stop behind the tree.  In one fluid motion, I dropped my skirt and squatted.  What a freakin’ relief!  I must have let out a long sigh because for a moment the brain blister started to drain.  The pressure started to release.  I got up, pulled up and high stepped out of the brush with some weeds wrapped around my right leg.  I weaved from left to right, trying to get my balance, while moving towards the trail.  I only lasted another mile before stopping at the hydration station.  I grabbed two waters and a Gatorade enjoying them under the shade of a tent.  I must have stopped for about 3 minutes – definitely out of character.  The brain blister was back and the sun started to annoy me.  I just wanted this race to be over. 

I tossed the cups, picked up my feet and started along the trail out of the Parkway.  As the heard of people rounded the corner, back on the road, I smiled.  The Parkway was behind me and I only had three more miles to go.  The rest of the race is a bit of a blur, except when I saw my cheering section in Cedar Beach.  I just kept going.  I powered up the final hill to get into the stadium.  My feet hit the cushioned track and I barreled towards the finish line.  After receiving my medal, foil blanket and water, I collapsed inside the track with my arms outstretched.  A few minutes later a lovely police officer ordered me to ‘get up and get off the track’ – two simple commands, yet so difficult to execute.  I conceded and hobbled over to the medical tent.  I planned to just hang out for the shade, realizing that I should use the time to check out my feet.  Sadly, the blister on my right foot was actually three large blisters and two beauties popped up on my left foot.  I, ultimately, had all drained by a podiatrist with a sense of humor.  I dilly-dallied around the finish line, eventually getting some food and heading towards the car.

Sunday wasn’t my best race.  I was determined to PR, but shit happens…and shit happened.  It could have been worse.  I crossed the finish line in 2:05.  All that mattered was finding my cheering section to soak up the love…and a more comfortable pair of shoes.     

      LV Half Marathon 2013 and my cheering section