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When I finished Rock N Roll USA last year, I knew I’d have to go back for more marathon. After weeks of sickness affecting my peak training time, and a final 8 miles that felt like a death march, I knew I wanted to try again. I just didn’t know when. But with running, it seems like when I am ready to do something, I just know. And last fall, I just knew. I was about a month into a now-164 day run streak, my base was up, and I was uninjured, save for the occasional tweak in my right hip. My winter training season here in Atlanta was coming up, and a marathon seemed like the right goal to have for late winter.

Myrtle Beach fit all my criteria: Saturday race, late winter, within driving distance, and (major bonus) FLAT. My best running friend Katie and I signed up and off we went.

The training went so much better than I had anticipated, thanks to my Ragnar Chicago captain Tim, who customized a training plan for me and kept me both motivated and in check. I went through two shoe changes during training, and much to my delight, the hip issue even resolved itself just through switching from the ASICS 2170’s into the Brooks Ravenna 3.

However, in between those two shoes I had a horrible encounter with the ASICs GT-2000. It upset my knees to the point that I felt like I did when I was a new runner trying to do to much while carrying a lot more weight on my frame. The support in them is much less than in my old shoe. I continued to walk in them, though, until I realized that even that was stressing my left calf, which in turn began to pull on my left knee. I didn’t realize the cause until about two weeks out from the marathon, and have spent more time stretching my calves, getting massages, and foam rolling my legs in the last three weeks than I care to think about.

All of which is to say, while I went into this race extremely well-trained, I had very real fears that I would DNF and, even worse, have to take major time off due to a blown-out knee. I actually spent some time two days before the race envisioning a DNF just so I would be prepared to make the call and not do something stupid. To me, a DNF is better than six months off running.

But when the time came to leave for Myrtle Beach, I was hopeful and excited. I had to do some last-minute juggling to find people to watch my kids, as my friend who had agreed to watch them was sick, but it worked out—I am so thankful for generous friends! Katie and I shoved off from Atlanta and started the long, boring drive to South Carolina. Honestly, I think there is a gap in the time-space continuum somewhere on I-20. It felt like it took forever. After some hemming and hawing over what lunch place would be least likely to upset our delicate GI systems for Saturday, we got a chicken breast, roasted potatoes, and pasta from the Augusta, Georgia Fresh Market. Perfect.

We arrived in Myrtle Beach at 6, checked into the hotel and hit up the expo next door. It was a tiny expo, and we were short on time, so we grabbed our numbers and went to get shirts. The shirts are great—super-soft cotton, and flattering, and there were different ones for the half and the full. Ours very clearly say “26.2,” which I like. They also gave us some unexpected swag—a big fleece blanket! Katie and I were so surprised to get them we tried to give them back. The volunteers said, “Oh no, they’re yours!” Bonus points for surprise swag you can actually use, especially for a race that was really relatively inexpensive ($80 at the time I registered).

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Tigers at the Expo!

We hustled out to make our dinner reservation at Toscano’s Italian Bistro. While we were not the only runners there, we were the only runners who had not figured out that this place is pretty nice. We were woefully underdressed, both in running shoes and very casual wear from the drive. Thankfully, they didn’t say a word and seated us for a great meal. Over Chicken Picatta with Gnocchi (me), and Spaghetti with Bolognese (Katie), we pulled out our race magazines and planned some things out for the next day.

The race was set to start at 6:30 AM, so with a 4:30 wake up call looming, we headed back to the hotel. I threw my things out on the floor but didn’t do a lot of prep, because we were within walking distance to the start line and there would be enough time to do the last minute stuff between the 4:30 AM Feeding of the Runners and our departure time of 5:45.

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My trusty racing shirt, all bibbed up.

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Go Time!

I fell into bed just before 10 and slept blissfully… until our wakeup call came half an hour early. We laid in bed until 4:30 and then started eating. Bagels. Almond butter. Coffee. I taped my knee with KT Tape. We got dressed and headed downstairs for a pre-race run around the block. This is essential if you are running a marathon. Not only does it speed things along for your morning bathroom routine, but it also allows you to get a feel for the weather. Even in the pre-dawn hours, you could tell this was not a day for winter running gear. For me, it was a day for capris, a tank, and arm warmers, plus a removable fuzzy headband. Back upstairs, I coupled that with a warm throwaway sweater for the start line, and got everything else ready. (I think the race time temps started at about 40 degrees and ended at 50. Pretty perfect.)

I’ve been fueling for this race with stroopwaffels. I started buying the expensive Honey Stinger ones, but then realized the mini stroopwaffels at Trader Joe’s have the same nutritional makeup at about a third of the price. I bag them up in Ziplocs and they have worked perfectly. I’ve had not a single GI issue since I started doing this, and instead of gagging on GU, I get to eat cookies when I run, y’all! Cookies! I tucked 18 of them in my various pockets, and fuel was taken care of.

The other new thing I’d done in training was to run loops in my neighborhood, leaving my stroopwaffels and Nuun in my mailbox. I love not carrying anything when I run, but I wanted my Nuun for the race. I didn’t want to carry more than one 8 oz. bottle with me, so I prepared it with water and a full tablet of Nuun. The race plan was to take water at the stops and take occasional sips off the over-concentrated Nuun. To save you the suspense, this all worked beautifully during the race.

At 5:45, we were out the door. The only problem was that my Garmin 210… the thing supposed hooked up to satellites… was reading 5:19 AM… and not changing time. It was completely frozen. HOUSTON, WE HAVE A PROBLEM. I’d never reset my Garmin, and had no clue how to do it. I called my husband, who has reset it, but who couldn’t remember how to do it. He groggily told me he’d look it up. We hung up and I tried looking it up. It appeared I needed to hold down two or three of the four buttons in some combination. It was still dark outside, and we were in motion, walking to the start, so I just started pressing buttons. I somehow got it to do something… that resulted in only a big, black rectangle on the screen. My mind was racing as to what to do if I had no Garmin. The Garmin asked me if I wanted to shut down, and I told it NO, as I had no idea how to get the thing to turn back on! Then it dawned on me—if it wouldn’t work, I could run with the 4:30 pace group. I wanted faster than 4:30, but 4:30 would still be a huge PR for me, and would be better than me getting upset and fading because I didn’t have a measure of how I was doing. The Garmin was still doing nothing that looked like normal, and when it asked me to shut down again, I told it yes. The little screen went blank. Ugh. What now? I cautiously touched the menu button and it blinked cheerily at me and fired right up. It even had satellites within about 10 seconds. Nothing like a little pre-race excitement.

With that problem put to bed, we had arrived at the start area and encountered the only issue either Katie or myself had with the race organization. She had a bag to check, with her stuff and mine, and the line was… long. Really long. It was already after 6 AM, and she still wanted to do a shakeout run and we both wanted to hit up the portapotties. I told her to get in line for bag check. I would stand in line for the bathroom, go myself, then get back in line to hold her spot. I went, got in the back of the line, got to the front, and still no Katie. We sang the national anthem. Still no Katie. I started letting people behind me go, and still no Katie. Finally as the started the wheelchair racers (6:25), she appeared. When she was done, we had just a couple of minutes to get into the start line area say a prayer and then get moving. My Garmin had gone into power save and I realized I still had my sweater on. Thank goodness for chip timing—I pulled over to the side and got the Garmin going and the sweater off before I hit the start.

And then we were running. And for the first time that morning, I checked in with myself. I did not plan to use music until mile six. I didn’t want adrenaline and Pump Up Music causing me to go out too fast. Well, I can assure you, the adrenaline problem was not an issue. As we ran along from first light through sunrise, for the first four miles, here were my thoughts:

“I hate running.”

“Why am I doing this?”

“I don’t feel like running for 4.5 hours today.”

“I have to pee.”

“Why start if my knee is going to blow out and I’m going to DNF?”

“Oooooo… there’s a Krispy Kreme over there… Mmmmmm…Donuuuuuuuuuuuuuts.”

“Running is dumb.”

These are my typical low-blood sugar thoughts, though that wasn’t a problem that day. I was just worried about my knee and it was manifesting itself in those thoughts. But the brilliant part of the negativity was that I really reserved the energy in those first miles; the time I normally trot along thinking “THIS IS GREAT! I COULDN”T POSSIBLY GO SLOWER! LOOKEE HERE HOW GOOD I FEEL GOING THIS FAST!!!” All of which is followed by me completely bonking.

Not this time, though. This time, I took it nice and slow until mile four. By this point, I was nice and warmed up, and I really was tired of hearing other people’s conversations. I also found myself behind both the 4:30 Marathon pace group and the 2:15 Half-marathon pace group, and they made a solid wall in front of me. I wanted to pass and I could not pass. I was growing more frustrated, and finally peeled off to the left and went around them. In went the music, and up went my pace. The sun was fully up, and I felt good.

We reached a long out-and-back portion. I had no idea where Katie was at this point, but I got to the left so I could get a good glimpse of her if it worked out. I saw the 3:35 pace group go by and I knew she would be behind them shortly. I saw her bright yellow hat and yelled at her. She saw me and hooted back. She looked great.

We were coming up on the mile 6 marker and to be honest, I really did have to go to the bathroom. I had overhydrated, and had been scouting out the portapotties along the way. For long enough, I had done the dance in my head of “You can’t stop.” “But I have to pee.” “But you will lose time.” “But I can’t run as well when I am uncomfortable” At mile 6, I saw a bank of four portapotties with only three people waiting, so I stopped. I’d say it cost me under 90 seconds, and I’m sure I’d have lost that much running while that uncomfortable.

I got back on the road and by about mile 7 I realized I was about to come up on a woman I’ve tweeted with about the race for months! If you’ve ever questioned whether to put your name or your Twitter handle on a race shirt—don’t question it! Do it! It was great to see her. Sarah and I ran together for a couple of miles, and it was so nice to meet her and have a pal for a few minutes. As we made our way up Ocean Boulevard, though, I realized I needed to pick up the pace and try to catch (and pass) the 4:30 pace group again.

This stretch of the course was nice—a fair amount of support from the people staying in the hotels on either side, plus both kitschy old hotels to look at, new ones to admire, and the occasional view of the ocean to our right. I caught and passed the Wall of 4:30 Pace Group Runners. Just after mile 11 the half-ers split off and we headed on up the Drive. The course turned more residential around mile 13, so there were beautiful homes to look at, and the race organizers also, quite kindly, put the majority of the music acts on the second course.

I will also say this about the race, with every bit of praise for the organizers—every mile marker was extremely well marked. The water stops happened at EXACTLY every two miles (with the exception of one, which I’ll get to). The volunteers were all extremely cheerful, and since our names were on our bibs, were able to greet us with a smile and our names. It was so nice to know that always, just ahead, there was help and a smile waiting for you.

At mile 14.5 we turned and ran even closer to the ocean, and for about half a mile with unblocked views of the Atlantic. Beautiful. The sun was really out at this point and I tossed my gloves into the trash at a medical tent. I remember somewhere in here there was a guy playing the Rocky theme and encouraging us to put our hands up!!! I was hurting some at this point, but obliged him.

Miles 16-20 hurt. I cannot tell a lie. I like to count down in single digits, but this is just a mentally hard part of the race for me. Well over half way, but nowhere near the end. We reached the northernmost part of the course at Mile 17 and had a nice out and back before turning on one of the main drags in Myrtle Beach. At mile 18.6 there was a sensor to track our splits so I knew the folks tracking me would know how I was doing. I also knew I was a couple of minutes behind the pace I wanted to be for my Reach Goal, but I also knew I was well on my way to a huge PR, and I just didn’t feel like beating myself up. As we turned the corner onto Highway 17, I saw the mile 19 marker and steeled myself for the what was sure to be Mile 20 Wall.

Or was it sure to be? First, I realized it was warming up, and I took off that somewhere my arm warmers. Then, right before the Mile 20 water stop, I realized my shoes felt too tight. My friend Lisa always says, if you’re in pain, change something. Anything. So I found a low fence and put my feet up and re-tied my shoes. Shortly thereafter we ended up on a trail area, and I adjusted them again. On the trail, I saw a red balloon ahead of me and realized the 4:30 pace group had passed me again. So now I had a rabbit to chase. At Mile 22 was the only water stop that wasn’t right on the marker—because it was so big and awesome they couldn’t have done it on a trail; they needed a tiny out and back for it! For about .25 miles, there were people offering GU, oranges, bananas, water and Powerade. And the brilliant thing about the organization was that they had multiple offerings of the same thing. So if you declined the GU the first time, but changed your mind, there was someone else offering it a minute later.

More praise for Myrtle Beach: Just after that we needed to cross a four-lane highway, and the police were clearly giving every preference to the runners. I’m sure the drivers were none too happy about it, but it was an extra added touch that really shows off how made-for-tourism Myrtle Beach really is. They WANT the runners there during this late-winter tourist downtime! And after running races where we are considered a nuisance, it was a real treat.

At Mile 23, the self-pep-talk came: “It’s a 5k, Lindsay. You are a 5k away from a massive PR.” In my first marathon last year, I had finished, weak, in a miserable 5:02:58. At this point a 4:22 (and 40-minute PR) was out of the question, but I could easily make an upwards-of-35 minute PR if I just hustled a bit.

A half mile later, I came up on the blasted 4:30 Pace Group again. I had noticed some of his runners had dropped back a bit, and so I had no trouble passing them this time. The pacer looked at me and said, “Hey Lindsay! How ya doing? You gonna be my girlfriend for this last little bit?” I said, “I don’t know. Honestly I’ve been fighting with you all morning, and keep breaking up with you.” I smiled and he chuckled. Then I heard him say to his group, “Hey guys, you have done an AWESOME thing this morning!!! You should be so proud! Only 20 minutes left on this course now!” I realized I was not in the mood for praise at the moment. I needed something different to motivate me, and I had to get away from that pace group IMMEDIATELY.

Somehow, I sprouted wings for that last 5k, and I got even faster after my run-in with the pace group. At a time when most everyone was fading, I got faster. I’m pretty sure not a single person passed me in that last 3.2 miles. But I passed a LOT of people. It was a straight shot from Mile 24 to Mile 26 and I was running a good :30-:60 seconds faster than my average for the whole race. As the crowd thickened toward the finish, they knew to look on the bibs for names, and those people were AWESOME. I heard lots of “Go Lindsay! Wow! You go!” That was what I needed to hear—very specific praise.

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So thankful this thing cooperated!

At mile 26, there were two more turns into the finish area. It was wide open and I took off in a sprint (for me). I finished, and even though I had to talk myself out of puking (really, I was looking for unoccupied spots of concrete in case my force of will failed), I was smiling a really huge smile. I got my medal and smiled even harder. I had gotten marathon redemption after the race I was so unhappy with in 2012. I had finished strong (though I wouldn’t realize just how strong until later). Best of all, I still loved running! When you finish a race loving it more than when you started, you know you did something right.

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I found Katie, who had set her own 14-minute PR over last year. She gave me some warmer clothes, and I went through the food chute. It was chilly and she was freezing at that point, so we headed back to the hotel. The rest of the afternoon consisted of stretching, foam rolling, and a mustard-and-Epsom-salt bath (me) and stretching, showering, and napping (her). For dinner that night we headed to Louis’s at Sanford in Pawleys Island. A bit of a drive from Myrtle Beach but if you are considering running Myrtle Beach, it is definitely worth the drive for a celebration!

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Bacon-Scallion Hush Puppies

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We got in bed by about 8:30 and woke up with no alarm by about 6. We hit up the coffee bar and had some breakfast, then went out to do a recovery run, or as I call it, a recovery shuffle. It was a slow and painful mile, but it gave us what we needed to stretch further and make some headway on being able to move again. Plus, a massive cold front had moved in late Saturday and it had snowed! So our recovery run was a unique one—surrounded by palm trees and snow. How cool is that?

After more stretching and showering, we got ready and left the hotel. We had a brief church service by the beach before heading home to make evening church services in Atlanta. And we spend the long drive home talking about—what else?—the next races we’d like to do. Now THAT is a great way to end a Runcation!

Official Results:

LINDSAY MAST

10k Split: 1:07:20

13.1 Split: 2:14:06

18.6 Mile Split: 3:07:46

Chip Time: 4:26:50

Average Pace: 10:11

Age Rank: 65 F-35 to 39

My splits, according to the Garmin, for the last 5k:

Mile 24: 9:45

Mile 25: 9:35

Mile 26: 9:09

.2 8:03

I also negative split the race: 2:14:06 for the first 13.1, and 2:12:44 for the second. I couldn’t be happier about that! I know that was in large part due to my malaise at the beginning of the run. But when all was said and done, I left it all on the course. And the fact that I didn’t leave it all out there until the end is such a confidence booster. It is so discouraging to end a race in struggle. I’ve been there. But it is so much better end strong but spent!

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