Driving home from downtown Akron yesterday morning, a Mark Twain quote came to me. I'm not sure that it's perfectly analogous, but it seemed to fit how I felt: "A man who carries a cat by the tail learns something he can learn no other way."
Our trial run on the actual Akron Marathon National Interstate 8k course was really hard for me. Harder than I expected. That last mile kicked and scratched at me like an angry cat. But in the end, I learned a lot of things I don't think I could have learned any other way.
1) I have underestimated the need to be prepared for hills. Every time I run the towpath and hit a small incline, I'll pat myself on the back and say, "Ok. That's a hill. Good for me!" But even the elevation changes we tackled at Green's Southgate Park are nothing compared to a slow and steady assent for 200 yards or so. There were no really big hills, just the annoying kind that look endless when you get halfway up and realize you're not done. Thanks to the opportunity to run the course, I experimented with a couple of techniques and found it helps to move my hands like I'm doggie paddling, and if I keep my eyes on the ground I'm less likely to focus on how much farther I have to go.
2) Eighty minutes under the summer sun is going to get brutal. There was not a lot of shade on the course, as there is on so many of the trails we've trained on, so I need to be better prepared for those rays. I'm definitely going shopping for a "tech" shirt, and if you are fair-skinned, I highly recommend some sunblock.
3) Perhaps most disappointing of all, I learned my old phone is not giving MapMyRun an accurate reading. It told me I hit 5 miles as I headed toward Gate 1 at Infocision Stadium. But the course continued around the block and, on race day, will go into the stadium. Now I know I have been short-changing myself on my training and I need to find a more accurate way of recording distance and pace. On trails where the mileage is known, I'll simply trust the trail map and divide my time to get my pace. If I'm running an unmarked route, I'll still use MapMyRun but be sure to throw in an extra half mile.
4) Water. By the time we hit the water station at 3.7 miles, I felt like I was in the desert looking for an oasis. I know I'm supposed to be drinking water before a run but I often put it off for fear that I'll need a restroom right at the moment none are around. At my age, I don't get a lot of warning! There will be portable toilets on race day so if I need to use them, I'll use them. But I won't deny myself water again.
5) Running with a group of people can carry me like I'm caught in its wake. Since I'm slower than any runner (and many walkers), I usually run alone during our Saturday meetups. But at our dress rehearsal, I was so motivated at being surrounded by everyone I shaved nearly two minutes off my average pace that first mile! It felt amazing, but I think I paid the price for that later. While I don't want to hold back and I do need to get faster, I will try to remain vigilant about getting too carried away at the start.
6) To quote LeBron James, "In Northeast Ohio, nothing is given. Everything is earned." Well, I thought running 5 miles would not be that big of a deal, but I was barely moving at the end. I hardly ran any of the fifth mile. I realize now, thanks to a bad phone GPS, that training runs I thought were 4 miles were probably 3.5 - which means I added a full 1.5 miles to my longest run in one gulp yesterday. But I did it. I made it to the end. It wasn't pretty. My pace fell below a 16 minute mile. But I got there. YOU got there. And we will get there again on June 24 - not because anyone gave it to us, but because we will have earned it.
I can't thank enough all the people who made yesterday's trial run possible. Akron Marathon Race Director Brian Polen set signs along the course, gave us direction, hung with the back of the pack so no one got left behind, and collected all the signs as he passed them. Akron Marathon staffers Carrie and Lauren manned the water station and Brian's son, Beau, provided some entertainment right when we needed a push. (Seeing you three was such a bright moment for me!) Akron Marathon co-founder Jeannine Marks gave us a history lesson and a peptalk. And marathon Executive Director Anne Bitong - well, I can't imagine where Blue Line Beginners would be without her commitment to making us a success.
Come back tomorrow and I'll post the details about our next Saturday group run, which we are moving to Copley.
(Photos by Karen Schiely - and more to come on her Tuesday blog!)