So...while we were at Ironman Florida, Sara was seriously thinking about doing a marathon before season's end. We returned from Florida on November 9th and she started researching what was left, how many long runs she could squeeze in, and traveling logistics. She had been putting in some decent training weeks and wanted to use the fitness she had built up.
We purposely did not talk about with friends and family because we didn't want to jinx it. Sara had trained really well for a September half-ironman but unfortunately got sick just before and had to bail on the race. She didn't want to repeat that so we kept it quiet for luck. The other challenge was fitting it in with my work schedule. I had a trip to Phoenix in the first week of December and another to Los Angeles the second week. Fitting her last long runs plus the trips would be tight but doable. In the end she chose the NCR Trail Marathon in Hunt Valley Maryland. This was the 25th running of the race. A trail marathon was of interest because Sara prefers to run trails. It was about 7.5 hours drive and was 2 days before I had to fly out.
We checked the profile and reviews of the course and it showed a net incline then decline. In fact the first 4k was hilly but the last 4k was brutal!! At left is a picture at the bottom of the climb - it reminded me of Valley Inn Road on the Bay course. After the decline of this one another climb started which kept going and going until you made the turn 200m from the finish. Sara knew that this would be mentally and physically challenging given that this was at the end of the race.
We made our way down towards Baltimore on the Thursday (race day was Saturday). We did not realize though that nothing was open restaurant-wise due to American Thanksgiving. We finally found a McDonalds open around 7:30 and reluctantly grabbed food there - ugghh!!! The other thing we found is that the Baltimore area is really hilly. If they ever put on a triathlon it would be nasty course.
Race day saw much cooler temps - not ideal for the race but Sara got bundled up like a Italian woman in mourning and got race ready. The other challenge she faced was due to the lack of aid station nutrition. There would be only Gatorade and water, oreos and donuts at the aid stations. She would have to lug all her nutrition and Infinit with her the entire race - you could definitely hear her running with all the stuff jostling in her jacket. She would stop whenever she ran out of liquid, mix some powder and water and continue on. More importantly she was not sick on race day!!
Once onto the race trail (like a rail trail) Sara did a long out n`back. The trail intersected with country roads every few kilometres. Logan and I felt like we were on the Amazing Race and we navigated remote roads with a map trying to hook up with the trail to see her. We were warm though in the truck and I worried how the cold would affect her race. Above is Sara at the 8k - smiling and having fun. With all her supplies onboard she would get lighter as the supplies dwindled and the race went on.
Back onto the trail. The next checkpoint where we could see her was challenging. It ended up being some one-lane road deep into the forest. Very scenic but we thought we were lost. Sara ended up running with a couple of ladies for the next 10k. She enjoyed the company but it took her off her goal pace. It dawned on her around 18k and she parted ways with them to pick up the pace. Her time at the 21.1k turn was 2:08, much slower than she wanted but, given the cold, a decent result. She was still in great spirits and, as you can see from the pic below, managing her liquid refills at the aid stations.
Pic of Sara with the two ladies. We missed her at the 34k checkpoint - the only checkpoint we missed on the day. I was disappointed because I knew she`d be feeling the effects of the cold and run at this point and would likely welcome the support. Not only that the hilly section leading to the finish was closed off by the police. Logan and I headed back to the finish and parked ourselves at the top of the 4k climb only 200m from the finish. While waiting for Sara`s arrival we checked out the other athletes as they crested the climb. Everyone was looking rather spent as they made the final turn - the climb really took its toll. The last 4k was the, by far, the most challenging section and it comes when the athletes were most depleted.
Here`s Sara at the top of the climb. She was steady and strong - I was so proud of her!! In a cruel twist the sun finally came out with about 2k to go and warmed up to about -3C. Sara said the sun felt good - no doubt! She ran the whole climb which was a feat in itself. Not only that she did a negative split by closing with a 2:06 second half marathon. Given the 4k climb this was outstanding. She finished the race with 4:13 - a great result for a trail run!
Here`s Sara trying to warm up. The cold definitely was a factor today. We got her back to the hotel, had a hot shower and buried herself under the blankets - she felt good to warm up! Sara felt that she could have gone faster if she hadn`t run with the ladies for 10k (they were going slower than a 6:00 per km pace). Given the cold and running on trails I thought she did great. Also, being her first marathon, you don`t know how your body will respond. She definitely would like to do another one but next time will try an urban race. She would also like to do a destination race and make a vacation out of it. I`d like to do the same - go see a different part of the world and get in a race - love it!!
Anyway, all in all, she did great. Completed an unique race, survived the cold, met her goal and did not get sick! Winning!!
Now she`s enjoying Christmas treats and resting the body for the New Year. I have a feeling I may get `chicked` in the near future....