The Connection Runners + [training]

Kalamazoo Marathon Recap!

DONE!

Marathon Number Two is now in the bag. Woo-hoo!

Although it was a tough, hillier-than-expected course, I had a blast and ended up setting a new PR.

Here's how it all went down:

We set up our gear the night before, a pre-race day ritual. Pinning bibs, stowing GU, laying out every single item is an absolute must-do in my book. It gets me excited and pumped; plus, my Type-A personality thrives on being prepared.

I like to pin my Gu packets to the inside of my shorts for extra long races where I'll be carrying more than two. My husband figured out this neat method: pin the packet from the outside and then flop the packet over to the inside to cover up the pin. When you're ready to consume, just rip off and enjoy (well, as much as you can enjoy 5, 10, 15, 20 miles in!)

We hit the sack by 10:30 and slept surprisingly well. Despite setting alarms for 5:30, I woke up naturally (weird) at 5:29 on the dot. Guess I was just ready.

Matt, our friend and Kalamazoo host, had breakfast ready to go - bananas, toast, PB, coffee, and a few bites of homemade protein bars from his awesome mom.

Two of Matt's friends were running the 5k (there was a half-marathon too!), so once they were ready to go, we piled in the car at 6:15 and hit the road. The start line was a few miles from Matt's place and since we got there fairly early, we snagged a close parking spot.

With just under an hour to go until start time, we managed to snap a few pics:

I took a quick warmup jog around the perimeter of the site and snapped a photo of the gorgeous sunrise. Temps were perfect: in the upper 40's with abundant sunshine.

A few more bathroom breaks later, we ready to go. The organizers did a nice job there - porta potties were everywhere, which was nice since there were 7,500+ participants between all three races who had nervous tummies.

The actual start corral, however, was another story. With the marathoners and half-marathoners taking off at the same time (7:30), cramped quarters was the name of the game. We managed to jog over and squeeze in just as the national anthem was ending.

You could smell the nerves and the excitement. (Or was that just b.o.?)

I grabbed some pics of Kevin and Matt looking pretty cool. Yeah, my husband rocked that headband and those T-Pain sunglasses. I would've taken photos of myself, but I had that Race Morning Fug goin' on.

And then allofasudden, we were off! I exchanged hugs and kisses with Kevin, and gave Matt a hug as we prepared to set off for Marathon Number Two (cue ominous music).

The first couple of miles were great - flat, fast, and fun. I felt like I was running extremely slow, but checks of the Garmin told me that I was actually moving a little quick. I didn't want to burn out like last year, so I reeled it in.

Around mile 2, I spotted the billboard for the Marathon's theme this year: More Cowbell!

We headed through a few industrialish areas, which weren't my favorite, but I did spot more cowbell signs!

Hilarious! If the scenery wasn't all that great, at least the signage was.

The course took a quick left and headed into downtown Kalamazoo just before mile 4. The sun hitting the buildings made for a pretty entrance, and spectators lined the streets to cheer us on.

I held a steady pace through downtown and was feeling great as we exited the area and headed over to what would be one of my favorite course spots - the campus of Western Michigan University, my alma mater!

We didn't stay on campus for too long, but I loved being back on my old stomping grounds, even despite the few nasty little hills we encountered.

The course first took us by Waldo Stadium, where the football team plays (duh):

Then we turned right onto Oliver Street, where we ran by one of my favorite places in college, the Rec Center. Ahh, old college meatheads lifting too-heavy weights as the prepped their Spring Break muscles - that's what I remember, anyway.

And we even got to see the good old Bronco statue. Intimidating, eh?

After a short downhill, the course went back out to the main road, and I took my first Gu (lemon-lime, mile 6ish). We trekked down Stadium Drive on our way to the longest and steepest hill of the course.

I spotted this guy and his cute little sign just before the ascent.

After feeling all puppies and rainbows for about 47 seconds, I looked up and saw this.

I remember running walking up this hill when I was in college. It was hard then, and turns out, hills don't really change in 5 years. They're still hard. I trotted up it, keeping my resolve to not stop to walk even if that meant hitting 10:30 or 11 minute pace (oh, and I did hit those numbers).

Luckily, the hill passed quickly, and we were already at mile 9 as we entered the WMU Business & Technology Park for a few pretty, albeit very quiet and nearly spectator-less miles. The Park was mostly flat though, so I regained my composure from the hill and got my pace back on track.

After another water break, (I planned on stopping at every water station, and I did - all 15 of them), I turned right out on to Parkview and saw this huge traffic jam. Runners are so awesome that we can stop traffic!

Literally. This mess was backed up for a good mile, but most of the people were cool enough to honk and cheer for us while they waited.

At this point, I was still feeling great, sweaty as I was. My pace was even, my legs felt strong, and the course had been good enough to me.

We spent a few miles weaving in a few neighborhoods where people came out in bunches to support us. Always nice! I took another Gu (strawberry banana) at mile 12 and pressed on, hitting the half marathon mark around 2:10. Perfect.

After a few more short but mostly painless uphills, the course treated us to two gorgeous miles on Bronson Boulevard, a stunning neighborhood filled with towering colonials, lovely Tudors and, best of all, downhill road the whole way.

At this point, though, my quads were starting to feel the effect of 16 miles and sun. I was tired.

There aren't many photos between the end of Bronson (mile 17) and mile 21 since I was starting to fight the mental battle. I don't think I was hitting the wall yet, but I knew that it was coming.

When I saw the mile 18 marker, I downed another Gu and consoled myself with the thought that I had only single digit miles left to run. That's one way I got myself through long, lonely runs on Sundays, and I figured it would help. (It did. Kind of.)

By miles 19 and 20, I was tired. Blisters started to antagonize my feet and I slowed to a walk here and there. Pace dropped to the mid-10's.

With a 10k left to go, we ran by a guy yelling inspirational things. I don't remember what he said, really, because I was mostly blacking out pretty beat down by then.

Somewhere in miles 20-22, we ran by another More Cowbell Skit sign. My brain was fuzzy, but I at least stopped to snap a photo.

By this time, I was really tired and really sore. I wanted to stop and walk, but I told myself that if I could just keep running in tiny steps, I'd get there soon enough and be done that much faster.

We hit another big hill somewhere around mile 23 or 24, I don't know. I think the wall was hitting me full force by then because even though I remember running trotting like an 86-year-old man up it, I have no clue how I did that.

One last downhill was in store for us as we entered a small park for miles 24-25ish. Although downhills are usually nice, this once sucked hard because it was steep, and my quads had no business trying to lead the rest of me down a steep hill after that many miles.

Pacing hit an all-time low in these miles - four of the last six miles were 11:00+. I didn't care. I was ready to just finish.

I left the park with high spirits; however, those were immediately diminished when I turned out and saw one last hill (I swear I heard it snicker at my efforts).

Again, I somehow dragged my practically lifeless body up the asphalt (this time with help from Mumford & Sons "The Cave") before entering one final neighborhood in the last mile.

I was never so happy to see the massive crowds again when I finally began to approach the home stretch.

My pace increased (slightly), and the 26th mile marker was off in the distance. Home Free! I thought, and I was.

By then, the finishing chute was fairly cleared out, so I took off my earbuds and listened to the crowd cheering while my heart soared. I'd made it!

On the sidelines, Kevin and Matt, already done, yelled for me and I waved wildly while striding out the final few feet.

With fists pumping, sunglasses foggy, and heart raging, I crossed the finish line and checked my watch: 4:28:14 - a new PR! Definitely didn't hit my original goal of 4:15, but there will always be other marathons and new PRs to set.

Final stats, splits & elevation break downs:

Pretty finishing medal! Not my favorite, but any Marathon finishing medal is pretty bad ass, so I'll take it.

The rest of the day was pretty much a blur.

We napped.

We took a fug photo (sorry in advance for my close-up mug here).

We drank some celebratory bubbly out on Matt's deck and ate pizza and brats and chips.

Special 26.2-edition style bubbly!

I look scared.

Matt's pretty much a natural though.

We also played with pups Sadie (Matt's dog, on the right), and Oliver (our friends Shannon and Eric came to visit post-race, too).

Today was a rest day, although we did do a ton of outlet shopping on the way home from Kalamazoo. It was nice stretch our legs a bit, however painful!

Now we're doing a whole ton of this:

Snuggling with the hot dog kitty, Baxter. (She likes to snuggle in right between Kev's calves like a little hot dog.)

And catching up on blogs and the rest of the world.

Tomorrow we head back to work and back to a, for now, marathon-training-less world. That's gonna feel weird for a while.

Overall: Great weekend for a great race with great friends. Looking forward to some rest time now!