Saturday, May 20, 2017

I Loved It Even Though It Hurt -- Fargo Marathon Race Report

State #41, marathon #50, and my right foot is f****d.

I apologize for offending the sensibilities of my more proper readers, but after lengthy consideration and use of a thesaurus, I've concluded that there is no other single word that describes the condition of my right foot today. Here are the things that caused problems in today's race: plantar fasciitis (most recent flare-up started after OKC and just went away two days ago), Achilles tendon (came back today after lying dormant for almost a year), mystery pain in the ball of my foot that felt like a stress fracture but I'm HOPING is just worn-out shoes, and blisters on the tops of three of my five toes because for some reason today my foot was just too big for my shoe.

Despite the fact that almost every step of this marathon was painful, it was still a great marathon, good enough to earn a spot in my top 10 list. There was not one thing I didn't like about this marathon other than the fact that getting to Fargo is a little bit of a pain. You can choose whether to make it a logistics pain (by flying into Minneapolis and driving 3 1/2 hours to Fargo) or a financial pain by flying into Fargo. (My round trip flight from Detroit would've been over $1000.) I went the Minneapolis route because I like to drive. The drive was painless. The freeway through Minnesota was as nice as the ones in Michigan are horrible. It was smooth, like driving on a road made of glass. Can someone tell me why Minnesota has nice roads and Michigan does not? I do not believe that it's weather, so it must be money. But I digress.

North Dakota was the second-to-last state in the U.S. that I had never been to. (The last is Hawaii, and I'm going in December.) I was excited to visit it. My great-grandparents were homesteaders there. I like the idea of being descended from North Dakotan homesteaders. I mean, seriously, it takes tough people to farm out here, especially in the 1920's and 1930's. I totally intended to drive out to the middle-of-nowhere town where they actually lived, but I ended up not having time because it was two hours west of Fargo, and I was on a tight schedule. I will just have to come back some time, I suppose.

The first thing about this race that is awesome is that it starts and finishes in the Fargodome, the giant stadium at North Dakota State University. The Fargodome is huge! 7000 people can fit on the floor, and 25,000 can fit in the stadium. So parking and bathrooms were more than adequate for the 2000 marathoners and 6000 half-marathoners. The expo was in the Fargodome too. This race has the best goodie bag ever. Not the goodies, but the bag itself. It is a really nice Under Armour bag, with zippers and lots of pockets. And the shirt is a lightweight hoodie, which is my new favorite kind of race shirt. But the best thing of all about the expo was that I easily got a (free) parking spot about 200 feet from the entrance. (Hear that, Oklahoma City? I did not have to drive around for 20 minutes and then walk through four blocks of wind and rain on my sore foot to get to the expo.)

After the expo, I went out to dinner with three random strangers. Actually, they were not quite random because I "met" them on the Marathon Maniacs Facebook page, and they were staying close to my hotel. So we all went to a pizza and pasta place right across the street from my hotel. I like when I get along well with total strangers and am actually interested in what they have to say. That's a rare experience for me! All of them were also 50-staters. There were lots of 50-staters here checking off North Dakota, because North Dakota is really slim pickings for marathons, and Fargo is clearly the star of the ones they do have.

I had done everything possible for my foot (everything, of course, except rested it) -- rolled it on the lacrosse ball for literally a couple of hours every day, taped it, deep stretched my calf at every opportunity, taken Advil all day, worn a night splint -- for the past couple weeks. It was pain free for two days in a row prior to race day, good enough for me to take a chance. I suspected there would be problems, though. I had such bad pain at work last week that if it hadn't improved, I would not have gone. When getting through a day of dog training was agony, even I wouldn't be so stupid as to try to run 26 miles. But it resolved just in time, so I figured it was worth a try. I have all of my remaining states planned out so I can finish in New Jersey next October, but that schedule is heavily reliant on me remaining injury-free. Fargo was one I really did not want to miss because there are hardly any other North Dakota marathons, and none I wanted to do. I figured in the worst case scenario, I could walk the whole thing, as long as I made the time limit. I was secretly hoping my foot would be totally fine. Plantar fasciitis is weird. It flares up and goes away for seemingly no reason sometimes. Maybe today it would just go away?

My foot felt good on race morning, no pain at all. I loaded up on Advil and stuffed three extras in my shorts pocket. I stretched and rolled my foot. The forecast leading up to race day was for rain, but luckily the morning was clear, with no rain predicted till after noon. Now it was supposed to be cloudy and mid-to-high 40's, with no wind to speak of, another vast improvement over OKC. This would be a good place to point out again how nice it is to have a stadium start. It was warm! I was comfortable! There were no vile porta potties and I didn't have to hide under my blanket shivering like a homeless person until gun time! Even gear check was in the stadium. One more word: Jumbo Tron! This alone would've been enough for me to give this marathon a 5-star rating even if everything else sucked, which it didn't. Nothing else sucked. I'm telling you, it's a great marathon.

The actual start and finish line were both inside the stadium, but they had opened up one of the big doors to the outside, so of course we weren't inside very long. Outside it was chilly, but the kind where you know you're going to be really comfortable really soon. There was plenty of room on the roads for everyone to spread out because we had the whole road. Another thing this race is, is FLAT. It's like running in Michigan. I think I had something like 160 feet of elevation change over the whole marathon, and nothing that I would actually consider to be a hill.

The first several miles of the course went through very pretty residential areas. Just like in OKC, there were huge numbers of spectators out. This course also had a lot of bands and DJ's to keep things fun. There were just enough turns to keep me interested in finding out what would appear around the next turn. Everything was great until Mile 2, when I started to feel a nagging heel pain. Naturally, I began catastrophic thinking immediately. "It's going to get worse -- it's going to feel like it did at work last week -- I need this state done -- what's the time limit -- what if it's so bad I can't walk -- when is it going to become really painful?" By Mile 3, it had gone from nagging to dull, steady pain. By Mile 8 (when we switched to running through a park along a river, and also when, by coincidence, I looked up and saw a bald eagle flying overhead), it was painful enough to alter my gait. My Achilles hurt just as bad as my heel, and I really didn't know what that ominous pain in the ball of my foot was. I slowed down and walked a little, but it hurt exactly as bad when I walked as when I ran, so I figured I should run as long as I could if the pain was the same either way. That became my strategy for the whole rest of the race.

I saw a marathon cheater for the first time in any race right after Mile 8. The path we were running on bended and curved and generally meandered along close to the river. This guy skipped most of the curves and ran the shortest straight line he could find, even if that put him on grass and very far away from all the other runners. He did this for about a mile. I could hardly believe he would do something so blatant and obvious, and wondered what his reasoning was. Did he not know you weren't supposed to do that? Did he not notice that he was the only one doing that? He probably saved himself a good quarter mile, not that it really helped him, because I passed him walking and looking terrible around the half, and never saw him again, but still, what a dummy. Not that I really cared; I cared much more about my own feet. After all, that guy is the one who has to live with himself, not me!

At Mile 10 I learned that stuffing Advils into skin tight shorts is a bad idea. They had dissolved from heat and sweat, and left their coating all over my shorts and car keys. Luckily the actual tablets were still intact, just minus their coating. I swallowed them and told myself now I had one 10-mile run and one 6-mile run left, and that was doable. The Advil would kick in and get me through the 10, and then I could walk the 6 if I had to.

I was right at 2:00 when I got to the half, which was much better than I thought I would do, and then I relaxed a little, because I knew that even if my foot fell apart, I would still be able to finish. It hurt, and I wasn't running fast, but I was still running and felt like I could continue as long as I could accept a moderate level of pain. I could. It was worth it to me to get this medal and finish my 50th marathon without ever dropping out of a race.

At Mile 19 there was an aid station with a sign that read "Medical Dropout." The guy manning the station had a little Cavalier King Charles with him. It was the same color as Duncan. I had to stop. I stepped up on the grass and the guy came walking over with his clipboard, looking concerned. I said, "I'm not dropping. But can I please, please pet your dog?" She was looking at me with big, adoring brown eyes just like Duncan's, and wagging her tail. "Sure, she loves to be petted!" the guy said. "Of course she does!" I answered, and petted her for about a minute while the guy took picture after picture of me petting her. I really hope they end up on the Fargo Marathon's Facebook. I got renewed energy from petting the Cavalier, which was great! Usually I only get renewed energy when I see someone else suffering more than I am.

At Mile 21, I gradually started overtaking a girl who looked like she had had a most unfortunate accident. She had white tights (why any runner would get those, I can't even imagine), and one leg was splattered with brown swirls from the crotch all the way down the leg. I stared, horrified. Sure I have heard of people deciding to just go on the run if they were about to PR or something, but we weren't even going to break four hours. I couldn't take my eyes off of this disaster. Finally, when I was immediately behind her, I saw other random swirls of the same color on the front of her tights and way up by her hips, and realized that they were colored that way on purpose! I was relieved that she hadn't had an accident, but it was absolutely inconceivable to me that anyone would either make or buy those tights. To each their own, I guess.

We had a couple miles through Fargo's downtown at the end, which is a great place for a downtown stretch in any marathon. Fargo has a cool downtown, and again I wished I had more time to spend there. From there it was a little more than a mile back to the Fargodome. It started sprinkling just as I turned into the Fargodome parking lot. Do I have good timing, or what?

I got to see myself finish on the Jumbo Tron. I was 20 seconds faster than I was in OKC. My foot hurt in all those different places, but at least I could still walk on it, which was by no means a foregone conclusion. I got my medal and then dove into the food. Chocolate milk, donut holes, pizza, and something I had never seen at a marathon before -- little plastic cups of cookie dough! Not cookie dough ice cream, but actual cookie dough. Oh yeah!

One final awesome thing about Fargo -- we got to use the Fargodome showers for free. And there was good water pressure and the water was hot. Imagine how great that felt after 26 miles in the 40's? Pretty amazing!

I am more proud of races like these, where I get a bad time after suffering, than I am of races that I breeze through and get a good time. I believe that pushing through suffering in races like these gives people strength for getting through the Mile 19's of life. Not that I have any of those in my life; my life is perpetually Mile 5, where I'm all the way warmed up and full of energy, but I guess no one gets Mile 5's in life forever, so I can only hope that when I hit Mile 19, I'm prepared.

I'm registered for Casper in two weeks. While I know I probably shouldn't do it, I also think I will be able to get through it since today's race didn't cripple me. I will get some new shoes and probably not run at all between now and Casper. I'll do what I need to do to get through Casper, then take a month off running, then maybe actually train for Baltimore in October. (What a concept, I know! I'm not sure I can actually stick to that, but it seems like a good thing to try.)

Monday, May 1, 2017

Great Event, Lousy Day for State #40-- Oklahoma City Memorial Marathon Race Report

This was my second marathon of 2017, and I don't think I ever had any hopes of it being a good one. I hadn't run more than 10 miles at a time since the marathon in Mobile in January, partly due to that massive ankle sprain that happened in February (and cost me a month of training) and partly because it was winter and gross and I didn't feel like running. Also, I'm at least 10 pounds heavier than I should be. This makes a huge difference in comfort when running, trust me. Finally, I had bought a pair of Altras about a month ago just to try them. They are very comfortable when running, due to their incredibly wide toe box and incredibly generous cushioning, but after every run in them, my heel hurts again. Meanwhile, when I ran in my regular Brooks, they hurt while running (because my toes felt all cramped in them) but my heel didn't hurt afterwards. So I didn't decide until the day before the race which shoes I would wear. I settled on the Brooks, because I ran an easy five miles two days before the race in the Altras and afterwards my heel felt as bad as it had at the worst of my plantar fasciitis, so bad that it was very painful to walk through the airport the next day. 

As if all that wasn't bad enough, the weather was also dismal. I flew into Oklahoma City on Saturday through violent skies, with giant black thunderheads, scary lightning, and wind that slammed the plane up and down and side to side while we were coming in for landing. We had already added 45 minutes to the 2-hour flight because the plane had to go far to the west and circle back to get around the worst of the storms. Nevertheless, it was all supposed to clear out for race day although the cold temperatures were predicted to remain. (By "cold," I mean mid-40's, which some runners -- not me -- would call "ideal.") Saturday, though, was a total wash. It poured most of the day. It was absolutely not a day to make anyone feel like getting out and exploring the city. 

People in Oklahoma are friendly, and I mean really, really, aggressively, in-your-face friendly. I remember that from the one other time I was in Oklahoma City. I did a home training there more than ten years ago. Everywhere I went with the guy, it was like I had a dozen new best friends there immediately. At the time I thought it was charming; now, older and crankier, I mostly think it's annoying. For example: the woman at the rental car counter greeted me with an enthusiastic, "Welcome to Oklahoma! What brings y'all here?" When I told her the marathon, she said to her coworker, "Oh my gosh, Becky, did you hear that? She's running the marathon! Wow! Is this your first?" I responded, "No." She asked how many, and I reluctantly told her it was my 49th. A very long discussion ensued during which she made sure every single person renting a car knew how amazing that was. Meanwhile, I was like, give me my car so I can go to my motel and SLEEP!

Finding parking for the expo was a pain. I drove around and around downtown in the rain but literally could not find anywhere to park where I wouldn't get soaked walking to the expo. Finally I parked six blocks away and walked -- or more accurately limped on my very painful right foot -- through the rain and through the gigantic puddles at every intersection. I was very annoyed about the parking situation. I know Oklahoma City is a big city, but, at the risk of sounding like a coastal snob, I believe that every city in flyover country should have plenty of free, available parking everywhere, downtown included. 

The expo was huge. I hadn't really realized quite how big this race was. Over 25,000 runners between the marathon, the half, the 5K, and the kids' run. It was one of the biggest expos I've been at in a while, but a lot of the vendors had nothing to do with running, and there weren't a lot of free food samples, so it wasn't a very exciting expo either. I was feeling pretty blah about the day and the whole event until I checked out some of the displays on the history and meaning of the race. It was established to commemorate the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah federal building back in 1995, which I had sort of forgotten about. I definitely didn't remember how many people had been killed -- 168! I would've guessed 20-something -- and I had no idea how much damage had been caused to the building. There were plenty of pictures, videos, and other things on display from that day that reminded me what a massive tragedy it really was. There are still a lot of first responders and friends and family members of the victims who run in one of the races. When I saw all that stuff I felt a little bad about being so cranky about the weather and the race.

After the expo, I went straight to my motel and slept for several hours while the storm went on outside. There were several races in surrounding states that were cancelled on Saturday, and I'm sure this one would have been too if it was planned for Saturday instead of Sunday based on the amount of damage I saw driving around later. There was one street where a whole row of power poles were done, some snapped in two or three pieces, and several places with giant trees blown down. Stop lights were out all over the city. It was a big mess. Even when the storm passed, the wind was blowing like nothing I've ever experienced. Let me tell you, it takes some pretty violent weather to make Michigan weather look tame, but Oklahoma had that weather this weekend!

Race morning it was raining and still very windy. I went back and forth -- tights or shorts? It was 45 degrees out, but felt much colder with the wind. I went with shorts. This race had a 6:30 start, which is early for marathons. I totally could've used another hour in bed, but at the same time, I was happy about the early start. Just like teaching class -- you can't finish it and be done with it until you start it, so you might as well start it sooner. 

I had made a point to find the closest McDonalds for my race breakfast, and check to make sure it was open 24 hours, but when I got there it was completely dark. I found another one and drove to it. It was also all dark, with a handwritten sign saying "Closed for weather." I was forced to settle for a Circle K ham and egg sandwich and coffee, and now I was a little late, too. Fortunately it was much easier to find parking in the morning than it had been for the expo. Unfortunately, as soon as I got out of the car I knew shorts was the wrong choice. I should've had tights, and also a buff and a hat. The wind was so strong it was hard to hear anything else. 

I sat wrapped up in my blanket right next to the gear check tent until the last possible moment, wondering how all those volunteers in gear check could possibly be so cheerful. I couldn't have felt less cheerful. I so did not want to be running a marathon in these conditions! Or in any conditions really, with my sore foot and my ten extra pounds of fat. Nevertheless. I wanted that medal and I wanted to check Oklahoma off my list, so I was at the start line at 6:30, even though surrendering my blanket to gear check was very difficult, and I was instantly freezing. 

This race is known for both hills and iffy weather. Rain and wind have both been factors about half the time in this race's 17-year history. I did not mind the hills at all, but the wind was a different story. If there is one weather condition that is more depressing to run in than any other, it's wind! I would rather have rain, heat, snow, even extreme cold. There is just something about wind that has always sucked every bit of motivation out of me, and now I was facing 26.2 miles of it. The hills, on the other hand, I didn't mind at all. I like races with a lot of up and down. They keep me from getting bored. I was hoping that the challenge of the hills would keep me going.

The race started downtown, right next to the memorial and museum. We had a couple miles of downtown and then started heading toward the capitol. My legs were dead. I felt like I had already run a marathon on them. At least my foot didn't hurt, though. I told myself that I would warm up and feel better, and that the wind couldn't be head wind all the way.

We ran up to and past the capitol building around Mile 3. That was the coolest part of the race in my opinion. You could see the building up on a hill in the sunrise, silhouetted against the sky. There is an oil rig in the middle of the road on the way up to it. I think I read somewhere that Oklahoma is the only state that has an oil rig on capitol property. That whole thing was cool, but then it was done. 

I don't really remember that much about most of the rest of the race. There were some really nice neighborhoods with amazing numbers of spectators out there freezing their asses off but somehow still managing to cheer with enthusiasm. There was more crowd support than any other big race I've been in lately. I think it may be because residents of this city really care about the cause. It's personal to them, therefore they don't mind being out there in the cold cheering. Good for them! It's just too bad that I was still so cranky that nothing could cheer me up. Not first responders, not family members of victims, not adorable little kids with their hands stretched out hopefully for high fives, not hot men in uniform manning water stops. This was just not going to be a good day for me, and there was nothing to do but grit my teeth and gut it out. 

Mile 15 was where it really got bad. Several miles of the course runs along the shoreline of Lake Hefner. This is a very pretty part of the course I'm sure, but it turned us directly into the wind. Wind blasted across the lake and into our faces. Worse, I knew how far we had to run in this general direction. There were giant whitecaps on the lake, making it look more like the ocean than like a freshwater inland lake. That was one of the most depressing stretches of any race ever. And still, STILL, there were happy, cheering Oklahomans, even some out on boats, getting slammed up and down but still cheering for runners! How could that be? I would never, not for any reason, be out in this weather if I didn't have a very good reason, and cheering for runners would not be a good enough reason. 

Nothing really exciting happened the rest of the race. Oh, except that it started to rain, despite the weatherman's optimism that the rain would have cleared out. The sun was shining, but it was still raining. It rained most of the last ten miles, never hard, just enough to soak my clothes and make me colder. There seemed to be a lot more uphill than downhill in the last ten miles, though my perception was not to be trusted by that point. I walked when I felt like it, ran when I had a little extra energy. I knew I wasn't going to break four hours, and when I know that, I sort of give up. Also, my foot started hurting around Mile 18 or 19. Not like a real injury, just like I'm tired and I'm sore and it would've been nice if you'd trained properly -- or at all -- for this race. My calves also started to cramp going up hills, something that never happens to me in races, but, again, I never go almost four months without running more than ten miles at a time, either, so I pretty much deserved this. 

I finished in 4:14:43, one of my worst times and definitely one of my worst race experiences. The finish line had decent food -- Carl's Jr cheeseburgers among other things! Because I hadn't run fast, I didn't feel nauseous, and immediately inhaled a burger and two chocolate milks before I realized I was in danger of hypothermia if I didn't get warm quick. I picked up my bag from gear check and walked to the YMCA, where they were letting us shower for free. I was the only one in the YMCA, and even though the water in the shower was barely a trickle, it was deliciously hot. I stood there in the scalding trickle for half an hour and discovered something even better when I came out -- a sauna! I sat in there for even longer, roasting comfortably. I love heat. I love it so much I swear that I will never, ever complain about heat again. 

When I was done showering, I put my bag back in the car and then had to make a decision. My race bib got me free entry into the memorial museum, which was only two blocks away, but that would require me to go out into the terrible cold wind for two blocks and hobble to the museum on my sore foot. What to do? Finally I sucked it up and went to the museum, and I am so, so glad that I did. Anyone who is anywhere near Oklahoma City should not miss this museum. It has some horrifying stuff in it, but is also very tastefully done, and overall is one of the best museums I have ever seen in my life.

State #40 is done, and even though it was a terribly unpleasant experience due to weather and my own lack of training, I can't say anything bad about the race itself. It's a great course, a great experience, and a solid choice for Oklahoma for 50 staters. Now I can just hope that this counts as a training run for my next marathon, in Fargo on May 20, and that that one is not as painful as this one was.