Thursday, September 22, 2011

A Cure For Taper Madness, Part 2: The Fox Valley Marathon Races

There is so much to say about the Fox Valley Marathon Races, that I've decided to do something a little unorthodox with this race report and tell the story mostly with pictures.  Oh, there will still be plenty of words, because y'all know me - I just can't shut up.  But in the interest of not boring you all to tears, I think pictures are really the way to go with this story.  So let's start with a little backstory....

Fox Valley was a big event for several FASTies, so I was really excited to meet up with everyone in St Charles and have a fun race weekend.  It wasn't an A-race for me, since I'm in the midst of tapering for my A-race marathon, but it was an A-race for fellow FASTies Kristi and Cathy.  And it was going to be Katie's first ever half-marathon.  I texted Kristi on Saturday morning to find out when she was planning to leave for St Charles.  Her response...

(Click to enlarge)

...had me pretty worried.  We had been looking forward to this event since January!  She couldn't possibly miss it just because she wasn't "feeling the greatest".  That was not an acceptable excuse!  Fortunately, she texted again later to say she couldn't cancel her hotel reservation, so she was just going to "run it and hope for the best".  Good, because otherwise I would've had to kidnap her and drag her to St Charles myself.

I made the 2.5 hour drive up north and headed directly to packet pickup.  After I got my race packet at the small, but well-organized expo (where I was enthusiastically greeted by race officials), I headed to my hotel to check out my swag.  By the way, I was relieved to note that my hotel was only a block away from Walmart...  just in case.

Best.race.shirt.EVER.  Comfortable and slimming. I kid you not. I look 10 lbs thinner in this shirt.

Then I met up with my fellow FASTies at a carb-loading feast at Za Za Trattoria in downtown St. Charles.  This dinner was arranged by the Fox Valley Marathon organizers as an opportunity to dine with actual race officials and other runners, so we could ask questions about the event and get to know some of the people who helped make the event possible.  I'd like to give a huge thanks to Dave and Jodi, who were our race committee hosts for the evening. 

Dave and Jodi answer questions about the Fox Valley events while the rest of us stuff our faces with bread and olive oil.

 But once the food came out, I forgot all about what's-his-name and what's-her-name from the race committee, because I was too busy drooling over my wild mushroom ravioli in a light basil cream sauce.  *drool*  Believe me when I say it was some of the best carb-loading I've ever done.  I would drive 2.5 hours just to eat at this place, it was that good. 

FOOOOOD!  Oh yeah, and the FASTies are in this picture too.

*burp*  All gone!  I was sufficiently carb-loaded.

After a so-so night of sleep (you would think all those carbs would've knocked me right out, but I guess not), I got up bright (dark?) and early on Sunday morning and went through my usual race-prep routine.  Coffee - check.  Granola bar - check.  Banana - check.  Running shoes - double check!

Team FAST representin'!  Yvonne, Kristi, me, Cathy, Katie and Louisa.

Kristi, Katie and I were all running the half-marathon, so we decided to carpool together.  It took a little effort to find a parking spot, but all things considered, being parked in FREE parking just 3 blocks away from the race start/finish was a pretty good deal...  As opposed to, say, paying $25 to park a mile away from the race start *cough cough* Chicago Marathon *cough*.  We moseyed on over to the start area with about 30 minutes til race start and performed that most important and beloved of all pre-race rituals:

When you gotta go, you gotta go... before the race starts!
Notice the sun is shining in that picture. The forecast actually called for clear weather until early afternoon.  The forecast lied.  Like a dog.  As soon as we started lining up in the start corrals, it got cloudy and started drizzling.

Hey sunshine, where'd ya go?

It also got rather chilly, so I was pretty antsy to start running, just so I could get warm.  My plan was to run this "race" at goal marathon pace, as a sort of pacing exercise.

Well folks, plans change.

I started off faster than I intended simply because I was trying to get warm.  I tried to slow myself, but my legs just seemed to want to go.  So I went with it.  My first mile, at 8:50, was well below my existing half-marathon PR pace of 8:56.  I didn't know if I could hang on to that pace, given that I hadn't tapered for this race and my legs were definitely not fresh, but I felt pretty good over the first few miles, so I figured I'd give it a shot. 

Yes, I almost always smile when I run.  I'm weird like that.  And who's that right behind me?  Oh, it's Kristi-who-almost-didn't-run!

Kristi stuck pretty close behind me for about 8 miles.  Pretty impressive for someone who wasn't feeling too well the day before.  I knew what her existing PR was and I thought she had a pretty good chance of beating it, even if she fell behind me in the latter miles. 

Despite the drizzly rain that soaked us for almost the entire race, this event was simply wonderful.  The course was scenic and beautiful, running along a lot of riverside bike paths and over bridges across the Fox River.  I wouldn't call the course "flat", at least not compared with courses like the Indy Mini-Marathon, or Chicago Marathon, but it wasn't really "hilly" either.  I thought there was just enough terrain variation to keep it interesting.  The water stations were plentiful, and the volunteers...  how do I even begin to comment on the volunteers?  They were outstanding in every way.  They cheered loudly and enthusiastically for every runner by name.  I lost count of the number of times I heard "Way to go, Emily!" "Want some water, Emily?" "Emily, you're looking strong!" and other personal words of encouragement. 

These personalized cheers came in really handy in the last 3 miles, when things started getting pretty intense for me.  I had managed to hang on to my pace thus far and I knew I would PR if I just hung on a little longer.  I was well past being able to do time math in my head, so I didn't even try to calculate what my finish time would be at my current pace.  But in my mind, I was hoping to break 1:55 (my existing PR was 1:56:52).  I thought I might be  close to being able to do that.  I pushed hard in the last 3 miles, willing my tired legs to keep going.  When I rounded the final turn and saw the finish line, I kicked with all I had left.  I had the entire finish to myself; nobody else was beside or ahead of me.  I pumped my fist to get the crowd going.  They cheered for me.  I ran faster.  They cheered harder. The finish line announcer called out on the loudspeaker "Give it up for Emily from Metamora!" and I ran faster still.  It was easily the most enjoyable finish I've ever experienced; I was grinning from ear to ear.

Woo hoo!

I glanced down at my Garmin and was thrilled to see I had PR'd and made my 1:55 goal.  A very kind volunteer placed the medal around my neck, and another kind volunteer gave me a much-needed mylar blanket, and yet another kind volunteer came over to me, personally congratulated me and asked me how I was feeling.  I had never experienced such personal attention like that before.  I was astounded. 

And just a couple minutes after I finished, guess who came sailing through the finish line with a huge PR...

And to think, she almost didn't run!

Several minutes after that, Katie came down the final straightaway to finish her very first half-marathon.  PR's all around for Team FAST! 

We made our way through the finisher's area and my eyes grew as big as saucers when I saw this most glorious of post-race sights:

A veritable smorgasbord of post-race treats! Bananas, bagels, pretzels, chips, cookies... you name it - they had it.

We then found the results tent and proceeded to get printouts of our official finish times.  I was very pleased to see my finish time of 1:54:54.  It was a PR by about 2 minutes, which was really something considering I didn't taper at all for this event.  And heck, I didn't even decide to race it until I started running it!  But if not for Kristi's keen eyesight, I would've completely missed something very important.

"Wow, look at your Division place!" she gasped.

Um.  Ohmigosh.  I placed?  In a half-marathon!?  I PLACED???

I actually didn't believe it.  I thought surely someone would finish behind me with a faster chip time and I would get edged out.  It says right on the bottom of the printout that "Divisional placing is subject to change" and I was positive it would change. 

Well, it didn't change.  A few minutes later, I received the most beautiful trophy I've ever gotten.  It's etched clear glass and is exceptionally difficult to photograph, but that didn't stop me from whipping it out for our group finisher's photo.

Drenched, freezing and happy!  And ooooo, look at that shiny trophy!

If not for the fact that it is made of breakable glass, I would carry this trophy with me everywhere and show it to anyone who seems remotely interested.  And also probably to anyone who doesn't give a crap. It was a completely unexpected, incredibly wonderful way to cap off a great race. 

By this time, we were drenched with rain and freezing, so we headed back to the hotel to get dried off and warmed up.  Then it was back to the race finish line to watch the marathon finishers come in.  Fellow FASTie Cathy had been training hard for this marathon, and I had a feeling she was going to do very well. 

Why didn't I think to bring one of these umbrella things while I was running?

As we were standing around at the finish line, I happened to pull my phone out of my pocket and saw that I had just gotten a voice mail from Cathy.  I panicked!  Had she gotten hurt?  Was she not running well?  It turned out she had just called to tell me she was at Mile 25.  I glanced at the race clock.  She was on target for a serious marathon PR.  I relayed the good news to Kristi and Katie, and we staked out a spot at the finish where we would be able to see Cathy running in. 

Then I got another phone call from Cathy.  I panicked again!  Turns out she had butt-dialed me.  So all I could hear was the sound of her running and breathing.  I took that as a good sign and hung up.  (As a side note, I figure it's only a matter of time before I butt-dial someone while running. I apologize in advance.)

A few minutes later, there she was coming down the final stretch.  She looked strong.  And very emotional.  She knew she was about to PR.  I felt a little misty-eyed myself, I was just so proud of her, and of all my fellow FASTies.  Cathy took 10 minutes off her previous PR! 

The face of a serious marathoner.

How do you celebrate so many victories in one day?  With delicious food, of course!  After Cathy got dried off and changed, we found a neat restaurant called Prasino and proceeded to have a delicious post-race feast. 

My pizza.  MY pizza.  Yes, I ate the whole thing.  No, I don't feel guilty.

After that, it was time for us all to go our separate ways and head back home.  As I tried to keep myself awake on the drive back, I thought about what a great day it had been for all of us, and how the rain didn't spoil any of our parades. 

We all agreed we wanted to run this event again next year.  It was so well-organized, so personal, so affordable and so scenic, that I can't imagine ever doing another huge marathon.  So I guess it's a good thing my upcoming marathon is also a smaller event.

Oh crap.

I have an upcoming marathon! 

It's only a week and a half away!  I haven't picked out my race clothes, or packed my bag, or shined my running shoes, or anything! *begin panic attack*

Well, so much for being cured of taper madness... 

Peace. Love. Train.

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