All of the weeks of running and preparation culminated on Sunday when race day finally arrived.
We spent the weekend at the Woodchip Campground in nearby Byron Center. It turned out to be a good fall camping weekend and a lot of fun with the company of my cousin Lisa and her husband, Tom, and my brother. It was a little chilly, but nothing hot cider and a warm camp fire couldn’t make better. Fall is always a good time to visit Michigan because the fall colors there are unlike anything we get by us. I only got these couple of photos at the campground, which really doesn’t do the whole Michigan fall scene justice, but you get the idea.
It was our first time at Woodchip, and I would return if I every find myself visiting the area again, or running the marathon again. It was much smaller than all of us expected after looking at the online map of the property. But, the sites were all fairly spacious and everyone we talked to (and there were very talkative people there) were very nice. And the best part? No one complained when we inadvertently blasted 80s R&B songs outside the camper for more than an hour. We were outside by the fire when we decided to go inside my cousin’s camper to warm up. My brother brought a DVD of 80s R&B videos. The audio for the DVD player and TV comes through the stereo system which includes speakers on the outside of the camper. You can turn those speakers on and off, of course, and none of us even thought about the possibility they were on until Brian went to the bathroom and the music seemed really loud — because the outdoor speakers were on the other side of the bathroom wall. We turned the speakers off as soon as we discovered they were on. We assumed maybe the cold had driven everyone else inside their own campers and that’s why no one complained. Or maybe they were all enjoying our music, which is possible since, who doesn’t love 80s music?! Am I right?
I went to bed relatively early Saturday night to get off to an early start the next morning. When I got up Sunday — race day — I knew it was going to be cold, but didn’t expect the frost that was covering the ground and our truck. I was glad I picked up a headband to cover my ears at the race expo the day before since I had not packed a hat.
The campground was about 13 miles from the race so we left about an hour before the start. I’m glad it wasn’t any later since traffic was backed up by everyone getting off the highway at the same exit and turning the same way. We parked about a half mile from the start and I starting to get stressed on the walk over since I knew I had to hit the porta potties before the race and time was running thin. But, I made it and was happy to have made it just in time since it was c-c-cold standing in place at the start line.
I wore a long sleeve shirt and a jacket over it expecting to shed the jacket a mile or so in, but it stayed on the entire time. My headband also stayed on until the final quarter mile. It was actually nice. Any time other than while I am running, I prefer hot over cold, but I love running in cold weather.
The first 4 miles or so were in the downtown area of Grand Rapids. The race draws a pretty good crowd of spectators, which is always nice. The highlight of this portion was the crossing of the Grand River on the Historic Sixth Street Bridge, one of a handful of pedestrian bridges in the city. There was steam coming up from the water and with the skyline as a backdrop, it was very picturesque. I wished later I had stopped to take a picture.
After mile 4, the course entered a trail system toward Millennium Park. This area was quite nice, with the colorful trees, but it got a little crowded with the elite runners coming back as us middle-of-the-roaders were headed out on opposing side of the same trail. For about a mile and a half I was running in a wolf pack, unable to pass with people constantly yelling, “Stay to the right!” It got especially crazy when the wheelchair racers came through two deep. Luckily, I was in the middle of a pace group that was running my goal pace to finish in under 2:15. Speaking of pacers, I don’t know if all the pace groups were like this, but they named what would normally be the 4:30 marathon race group “Team Oprah” with a goal time of 4:29, Oprah’s marathon time. The pace group leader’s sign had a big picture of Oprah so it was easy to keep in site.
The half pace group leaders were carrying a smaller version of the same sign, complete with the 4:29 time on it so it was a little confusing, but she had a “1/2” on the front of her sign. The full marathoners and halfers stayed together until about 8.5, then they split off from one another.
The out and back in the trail system took us to just over 11 miles, then it was the home stretch. I have to say, I did a good job with the timing of my nutrition. I planned to take an energy gel about 15 minutes before the race, but with the rush to get to the start, I forgot. So, I took my first gel at about mile 4, then another at mile 8. Even though I only had a mile left at that point, I should have just taken another one at mile 12 because I felt myself really struggling. Until I saw the finish line, that is. Then I kicked it into high gear and sprinted the last leg. I never got really fatigued until that last mile. I skipped the Gatoraid and just had water at each aid station with the exception of the last station, which I skipped all together. I think the perfectly timed gels combined with my power breakfast, which I will write about in another post, made for a perfect nutrition plan.
I immediately spotted Brian right before the finish line. I had not been tracking my time at all, so I wasn’t sure where I was clockwise. Although, Team Oprah finished right ahead of me so I figured I was right around 2:15. I pulled out my phone after I crossed the finish and turned off my MayMyRun app at 2:14:39. I knew there were a few extra seconds from turning it on a few seconds before the start and a few seconds after the finish, but I knew it likely wasn’t enough to set a new PR. My official time was 2:14:28, a missed PR by a minute. The interesting thing is, I noticed this morning that the calculated distance on MapMyRun was actually 13.46 miles. I’ve always known MMR to be accurate but I can’t imagine the race organizers got the distance wrong. Just a weird thing to think about. This course was a little hillier than the Fox Valley course where I PRd last year, so I figured with that taken into consideration, a minute wasn’t so bad.
There were a couple of things that stuck with me during the race. The first was … you know those one-leg wheelchair deals where the injured leg is tucked back on a scooter thing and you use the good leg to push yourself. Hmmm…maybe easier if I find a picture.
Ok, this. A woman was running the marathon in one of these! No, really. I did a double take. Couldn’t believe it. And she was MOVING FAST! She was one of the runners making their way out of the Millennium Park trails as I was making my way in. That’s a level of dedication I can promise you I will never possess.
Next, I passed two men running the race pushing their disabled sons in wheelchairs. It was very sweet. The first son in the wheelchair was sleeping. The second one had a look of sheer joy on his face that was indescribable.
Lastly, the signs. I decided I want to run a race in which I care nothing about time so I can stop and photograph every funny sign that I see. I can never remember all the noteworthy ones. But I did remember a couple this time:
“You’re chafing your dreams!”
“You’ve got this. You trained longer than Kim Kardashiam was married.”
“If you haven’t pooped your pants yet, you are already a winner.”
I’m a winner! The lady with the funny sign said so.