This has been a LONG time coming. I started training for my first half in 2013 but got a stress fracture in my right foot about halfway through training. I was out for six months after that. And then I finally ran my first half — the St. Jude Half in Memphis — in 2014. I ran the Little Rock Half a couple months later and injured my knee, and I was out for another six months. Then I ran the Great American River Run Half this past May with my sights set on finishing my first full — the St. Jude Marathon — in December. I somehow managed not to get injured while training this time, and my goal became a reality yesterday. That's an amazing feeling!
I thought I'd dedicate this LONG post (sorry!) to recapping my race and my pre- and post-race meals. Tomorrow, I'll share my carefully crafted day-before-the-race nutrition plan. So I'm basically working backwards here.
I went to bed super-early Friday night so I'd be well-rested for the race. I woke up at 5 a.m., fed the critters, and put on my race gear and a little light makeup. I always wear eyeliner and mascara in races because I need to look for those race photos!
Then I had my standard pre-long run breakfast of an oat cup with nut butter. This time, I had a Quaker Real Medleys Cranberry Vanilla Almond steel cut oat cup with Steem caffeinated peanut butter. I don't do coffee before runs because its makes me pee, so I figured caffeinated nut butter would do the trick.
I headed to the race, which met at AutoZone Park, around 6:15 a.m. Even though it didn't begin until 8:30, I knew downtown parking would be a nightmare if I waited too long. I ran into my Lululemon race team buddy Tristan (I was on Lululemon's fundraising team for this race) and her partner, and we chatted for a bit. They were doing the half-marathon. After I separated from them, I snacked on a banana (probably around 7:45ish). Then I made my way to the starting corrals. On the way there, I ran into my coworker Sadie, who was running her first half!
I shed my throwaway hoodie and sweat pants ($3 at the Goodwill!!) outside the corral gates. St. Jude donates all those clothes back to charity. I made an impulse decision to get into a faster corral than what I projected my pace would be, and I'm so glad I did. There was a three-minute wave start between corrals, and jumping ahead allowed me to start sooner rather than stand there freezing and waiting. And the corral I started with didn't reach their goal pace until way later anyway, so it didn't force me to start out too fast.
Sadly, my awesome wireless Yurbuds headphones wouldn't sync with my phone in the crowds. Instead, my phone was trying to sync with other people's Jawbones and Fitbits. But I had good, old-fashioned wired headphones in my pocket for backup, so I used those throughout the race. Before I knew it, we were off.
I'm a master at crafting a running playlist. Seriously. Somehow, just the right song always comes on at just the right time. In the first mile, when people in front of me were running too slow, Kylie Minogue's "Get Outta My Way" came on just as I began weaving through people. Skrillex's "Breakn' a Sweat" came on right when I realized my hands were hot inside my throwaway gloves, which I then ditched on the side of the course (volunteers gather those things later).
Around Mile 4, I got a high-five from a pug. A lady was cradling her dog in a backpack and holding up his paw for runners to high-five. The dog was probably miserable, but it made me happy. And then we ran through the St. Jude campus, where parents and child patients of the research hospital gave high fives and cheered us on. The race is the largest fund-raiser of the year for the hospital, which treats its young patients for free. Pretty awesome!
Those first few miles flew by. I remember looking up at the signs for miles 6 and 8 and thinking, "Wow, already!" Turns out, I was flying (at least for me)! My friend Misti was tracking my splits online, and she sent me this afterward. I'm a slow runner (12:30 per mile average), but I was running under 12 minutes per mile for the first half. That half time is 8 minutes faster than my current half-marathon PR!! You can see I slowed down SIGNIFICANTLY toward the end but more on that in a few.
Going out faster in the beginning of a race and slowing down in the second half is called a positive split, and it's not a good thing. On the contrary, you're supposed to aim for a negative split and save your energy for the end. But I had a reason for booking it in that first half. In the months and months of training, I'd been worrying myself sick about making it to the half/full split by the cut-off time. The half and full follow the same course until mile 11, and then they split off in different directions. If marathoners didn't make it there by 11:50 a.m., they were sent to finish the half instead. And I couldn't bear the thought of not getting to finish after putting in so much work.
But I made it there in plenty of time, thanks to my positive split. That may have had a detrimental effort on my energy level later, but at least I got to finish the full. Back to that playlist, right around Mile 11, just as we were splitting off, Steve Aoki and Laidback Luke's "Turbulence" came on. There's a line where Lil' Jon says, "We hit turbulence" before the DJ breaks off into some crazy beats. That line came on just as I made the fork in the road to carry on with the full. Ha! And it was so true.
But I didn't know I'd hit turbulence just yet. You see, my coworkers at Crosstown Arts had a spirit station at Mile 12, and I knew that was right around the corner. I was too pumped about seeing them to feel any pain yet. I knew they were bringing a karaoke machine, and my boss asked if I had any special requests the day before. I said "I Ran So Far Away" by Flock of Seagulls. That's what I was expecting. Instead, I got this!
Yes, that's my boss, dressed as some sort Hedwig-inspired, fabulous drag queen. Of course, I stopped for lots of pictures. Here I am with Chris/Hedwig and Jazzy (the other side of her sign said "Every Time You Take a Step ..." inspired by an incident the other day when I caught a roach in the office and set it free, much to her disgust).
That spirit station made me so happy!! And I knew my friends Andy and Patrick were waiting to cheer me on less than a mile away since the course ran right past their house. Before I reached them, I saw my friend Diane cheering on runners, and she ran onto the course and hugged me. And then as I approached Andy and Patrick, I noticed they were both holding signs with my name on them! Andy's said something like "Way to Go, Bianca!" I stopped for a pic with Patrick.
Again, I was recharged! It's amazing how impactful those little moments can be in a race. And I knew my friend Susan was just down the road waiting for me. I saw her around Mile 15, and she snapped this pic. She asked how I was doing, and I remember saying, "Great! I feel great!" or something like that.
But then things got hard. Haha. I remember, right around Mile 16, the very moment when my feet went from feeling light and springy to feeling like lead weights. Every step was hard, but I just kept going. I had to. Walking through the aid stations helped, and I think I stopped to pee about four times. I also looked very forward to my walking breaks to eat my energy gels every four to five miles. I got a brief second wind around Mile 17 when I ran into my friends Jennifer and Simon and their dog Riley. Jennifer had a beer waiting for me, but I didn't think I could handle it just then. So sweet though!
I did, however, take the two small beer samples offered around Mile 10 and Mile 20. Those helped! I also saw Jennifer and Simon again at Mile 19. Since their house was in between 17 and 19, they were able to pop up on the course twice! At that point, I stopped to pet their dog and asked if I could just stop running. Simon said no, so I kept going.
Around Mile 20, I remember thinking that six more miles couldn't be THAT hard. But at the same time, it also sounded like forever. There was nice lady offering salted potatoes — just diced, boiled potatoes dipped in salt — around there, and SHE SAVED MY LIFE. My morale was pretty low at that point because I was hurting and tired. But that little blast of saltiness was just what I needed. At that point, everything I'd eaten had been sweet — oats, banana, energy chews, energy gels, NUUN at aid stations — and I was craving salt like crazy. Another women, about a mile away, was handing out pretzels. Perfect. Next time, I'm definitely carrying some salty snacks.
I got a high-five at Mile 22 from Holly Whitfield of the I Love Memphis blog, and she yelled "Bianca! Nice butt!" She was wearing a penguin costume. That helped. Seriously, I learned that the tiniest bright spots make such a difference in a marathon.
The very last mile — mile 25 — was the HARDEST MILE OF MY LIFE. Seriously, it felt like five miles. By then, my run had slowed to a shuffle. I had to pee again (even though I'd just stopped at Mile 22 to pee). I considered waiting until after the finish, but then I thought, well, I don't care about my time and I really just care about how I feel when I cross the finish line. I'd rather be concentrating on how awesome that is rather than thinking about how bad I have to pee. So I made one last porta-potty pit stop.
When I rounded the corner into the finish line, I cued up Katy Perry's "The Moment," and I couldn't help but tear up a little. I'm sure I looked ridiculous with my happy cry, but I was just SO PROUD of myself. That amazing feeling made all the pain that day and all the time spent training worth it. Worth every damn minute.
After I crossed the line, I got my medal! I love a good race medal, and these were way cool. The center piece spins around.
I got my finisher pic taken, and then I heard, "Are you Bianca?" A guy introduced himself as a blog reader from Nashville (I wish I'd remembered his name! My brain wasn't working all the way yet. But if you're reading, hi guy from Nashville!). He asked where he and his wife should eat while they were in town, and of course, I suggested Imagine Vegan Cafe.
Then I made my way to the free food and beer area. All of the hot food — pizza and soup — was gone by then, but that stuff isn't vegan anyway so I didn't mind. I did get a couple bags of Takis, which are vegan, and these were the greatest thing ever at that moment. I needed salt!
I also got my two free beers, but it was so cold and rainy by that point that drinking them was pretty miserable. My heat blanket, given to me at the finish line, helped a little but not much. I was there alone, but I chatted with another guy enjoying his beer. It was his first marathon too, and he said "it's the hardest thing I've ever done in my life." I agreed. Then I walked around a bit, but eventually I was so cold, I just decided to make my way to the car. I was shivering as I made that five-block walk to the car.
Once I got home, I had some Silk Chocolate Soymilk and a Chocolate Clif Builder Bar (20 grams of protein!). And then I hopped into the shower. Man, that shower felt AMAZING!!
I'd made plans to meet up with friends for post-race pizza and beer at Mellow Mushroom, so I got dressed and headed out east to meet up with Mike, Jennifer, Simon, Megan, Joey, Andy, and Patrick.
Jennifer had ordered the wrong beer — Oskar Blues Dale's Pale Ale — before I arrived, and she didn't like it. So I had a free beer waiting for me! I happily drank that pale ale, and then I ordered a Founder's Nitro Oatmeal Stout.
And I got a personal-sized Mega Veggie Pizza — vegan-style with Daiya and crumbled tofu. Man, pizza and beer is soooooo good after a marathon. I finished three slices there and ate the last slice at home afterward. My original plan was to eat pizza at Mellow Mushroom and then pick up a Ben & Jerry's vegan milkshake afterward, but I was way too full for a milkshake.
When I got home, I opened a bottle of Williams Landing Yazoo Rouge red muscadine wine that I'd been saving for a special occasion. I have this awesome marathon wine glass that I picked up at the Little Rock Marathon expo in 2015. For the first time ever, I filled it to the 26.2 line (that's about 14 ounces). I enjoyed that as kicked up my tired feet and caught up on the last season of Game of Thrones.
Remember that milkshake I didn't get? Well, today, I made that happen. I woke up thinking about that missed milkshake opportunity, so I drove to Ben & Jerry's for a Vegan PB & Cookies Shake (made with almond milk). The perfect ending to a amazing race weekend.