Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Santa Claus/Arctic Circle Marathon 6.30.07

Hi all,

Race 19 was the Santa Claus Marathon, also known as the Arctic Circle Marathon. We started on the north side of the Arctic Circle, ran south over the line, then 26.2 miles around northern Finland (around Rovaniemi).

Goals: I wasn’t sure what to expect after my recent bout with tendonitis and the adverse reaction to the medicine I was given to treat it. Rather than having a time goal, I wanted to run smart and finish without hurting my knees. Also, in researching the race, I read comments about people getting lost, so one of my goals was to not get lost. There were comments about the hilliness of the course, which I sort of disregarded until about 2 days before the race when I found the elevation profile on the race’s webpage: At that point, I wondered if “flat” and “very easy” have different meanings in Finland. And reset my goal to stop running whenever my knee hurt to make sure I’d be able to get through the entire race.

Jany and I took a nap in the afternoon to get some rest before the night race. We got up, dressed and went to the lobby to wait for the bus to Santa Claus Village. The few marathoner runners were milling around (I even saw some warming up and I’m kicking myself that I didn’t warm up myself), but Jany and I wandered around taking pictures. I loved that I was at the Arctic Circle. Santa came out and all of the adults suddenly turned into children, rushing over to get their pictures taken with him. Including me! In my pictures, he’s mostly walking away, trying to get over to start the race. All of a sudden, I realized that it was time to begin and I hadn’t even checked my bag. Jany took it for me, I ran over to the start and, before I had time to get my watch ready, the gun went off. I started my watch on the run and headed south. I had planned to start out at 12-minute miles, but hit the first kilometer marker at 8:25 pace – not good. I spent the first half of the race trying to slow down. The course was supposed to include Santa’s Workshop, but they discovered mold or some other fungus and it’s been shut down for reconstruction until November. I was very upset when I learned this. We ended up running through a residential area along the pedestrian road. The rain started shortly after the race did and for quite a while, it was a downpour – I nearly lost my contacts. I think it rained for about an hour and a half, including the light rain after the downpour. It wasn’t horrible, but our clothes were soaked and we had to carry that water with us the rest of the race – it was too cold for them to dry on the run. Anyway, I kept running the kilometers too fast and trying to slow down, but I felt like I was trudging. There was a British couple (an assumption based on their wearing Union Jack shorts) running in front of me that I tried to use for rabbits, but they got away from me during the rain. When I got to a certain point in the first half of the race, I started seeing runners coming at me. I freaked out a little, thinking I’d gotten lost (the turn-around is between 30 and 35 kilometers). I asked one of the guys if he was running the half (they were supposed to be on the same course as the full marathoners, but they started an hour later and split out at about 19k), but he was actually running the 12k. So I quit panicking and kept running. It became obvious, at about this point, that the rain had presented an unexpected hazard. The course was marked by chalk (the town would not allow paint) and the rain washed away the route in several sections. A number of people did get lost, including Jany and John and a couple of other runners we talked to at the finish. We ran into town and then past my hotel (temptation point 1). We crossed the railroad bridge after a slightly confusing turnaround (I saw one guy miss the turnaround and have to come back down off the bridge and run it properly). At the end of the railroad bridge was the split-off for the half marathon finish (temptation point 2). I followed the marathon course, but had to double check with the guide about which way to go. I trudged on and on, stopping every other kilometer or so to walk out my knee and do knee swings to loosen up the tendon. I was getting slower and slower, but I was still going (and wondering why the hell I was doing this with every painful step!). I concentrated on getting to the 25-kilometer marker, thinking that I would only have 17 to go after that. I don’t know why I picked 25, but that was an important marker for me. In fact, it was so much on my mind that I started thinking I’d already passed it. I had started counting down to 30 (my next important marker point, because then I could count down to 40), but the next marker I hit was 25. Confused? Oh, yes. But, I rallied and started the countdown over. When I hit the turn for the 5k to the turnaround point, I started on the wrong side of the street, but the volunteer called me back and got me onto the right (and correct) side of the street. This was the closest I came to getting lost. At this point, I started seeing runners coming back at me. I tried counting them, but when I got to 40, it was too depressing to think about how far back I was, so I quit counting (after I hit 50). I’d started passing runners by now (including the Union-Jack-butted couple) and, happily, was only passed again by only one of those people. The rest stayed behind me. At 30, I was desperately trying to speed up. I was tired and I hurt everywhere. My entire pelvis was aching (does that happen to anyone else? The bones were hurting so badly that I just wanted to curl up in a ball – I tried, but you can’t run that well when you’re curled over) and I really wanted to stop. But, I kept going. I hit the turnaround, running past the water station to make the turnaround before I stopped to drink and walk. Less than 10k to go now! I passed a woman who was running with a man, but heard him say he couldn’t help or needed help (they were German and my German is definitely poor, but I know the word help) and she ran on without him. We ended up passing each other for the rest of the race. I wasn’t exactly racing with her, because I was stopping to rest my knee whenever I had to (and probably more often than that – I’m very embarrassed about my mental performance (lack thereof) in this race), but she was running and walking at about the same pace I was. When I got back to the main road and was heading back to town, a mantra developed in my head: campers, festival, ValdeMare (the restaurant that hosted the pasta party), bridge (Lumberjack Bridge), hotel, finish. Those were the remaining landmarks and they sounded over and over and over in my head. I felt a genuine sense of relief pass over me as I passed each one and dropped it from the mantra. When I hit the 41km marker, I decided that I wasn’t going to stop again until I’d finished, no matter how slowly I had to go. I ran up the slope to the bridge, ran across it, and headed back towards town, passing my hotel again (temptation point 3). Turning up towards the town center and the finish, I hit the hill that I had told Jany I would be running up – and I did. She and John (a Runner’s World writer that I’d met before the race) were having a drink at Hemingway’s and I saw them briefly when Jany called my name. She ran alongside me, but I couldn’t stop. The German woman finished about 10 seconds before I did and waited at the finish for me, which I thought was so nice! I hadn’t meant to be racing her, but I think I helped push her along, after she lost her running partner nearly 10k back. My legs turned to rubber and I couldn’t move. Jany caught me and walked me to the food table for water, then walked me around, refusing to let me sit down, though she did let me lean at one point. I was shaking hard and turning blue, so she gave me her jacket. When I was leaning against a wall that was about thigh-high, another runner, Gina, who was in the same condition, came and leant with me. Jany went off to check the results and John came up to chat. Jany came back very excited, because she had WON the half marathon!!!! I knew she would – I’d told her and everyone who would listen (including John and the race directors) that she was going to win, but everyone, including Jany pooh-poohed me. I was soooo happy for her!!! She wanted to take me back to our room so I could shower and change into warm clothes (I’d forgotten to pack my warm coat, which I’d brought especially to wear after the race). Gina and I decided to walk back together, because I didn’t want Jany to miss the winning ceremony (she couldn’t get confirmation of when the ceremony would start and it was already close to midnight). Gina’s friend had come in 3rd in the half and Gina herself came in 3rd in the full, but we didn’t know that. She and I hobbled back to the hotel, cursing the hill that we now had to get down after having just run up it to finish. I had to lift my legs with my hands to get into the tub, but I made it. I showered in the hottest water I could tolerate, but as soon as I turned off the water, I was shivering again. I turned the water on again, but couldn’t get warm, so I just got out, dressed as quickly as I could (which was still pretty slow), and “hurried” back so I wouldn’t miss Jany’s winning ceremony. I ran into her before I’d even gotten back to the hilly street (whew). I was very sorry that I’d missed seeing her win, but we met some guys the next day who’d videotaped it and they’re going to send it to her (hopefully). My fingernails were still blue, so I was going to get back into the shower, but Jany told me to just get under the covers and I’d warm up soon enough and I did.

There weren’t very many spectators, but the few that were there definitely made up for it: one guy cheered us on right after the start, then biked across to where we circled back to head south to Rovaniemi; there was an entire family dressed in costumes; the volunteers at the 20k water station were dressed as elves and ringing jingle bells; the volunteers at the turn-around point were calling out cheers to everyone; there was a family on the turnaround road that called out “hup, hup, hup” to give us a cadence; another family was cheering and ringing bells and the children ran along with the runners for a little way (I know it wasn’t just me, because they ran back from running with me to run with the guy I’d passed before reaching them). And when we got back into town, everyone I passed was supportive and cheering – I didn’t encounter any of the smirkers complained about in the comments I read about the race.

The refreshment tables – these were well-stocked, but there weren’t quite enough of them! There were 12 possible stops, including the ones that counted double (10 separate tables) and the table at the finish. They had water, juice, Gatorade (plain, not Endurance), and a combination of 2 or more of the following: raisins, pickles, orange slices, bananas. Because my stomach was still bothering me, I was afraid to eat anything, so I just drank water and ate 3 of my gel packs. I should have eaten more, but I kept forgetting about them.

Official stats: I finished in 4:43:51 for an average pace of 10:50 over the 26.2 miles – no PR for me, which really distressed me. I was 66th out of 82 total finishers, putting me in the 20th percentile, and 17th out of 24 female finishers, putting me in the 29th percentile*. I was 4th in my age group, out of 6, putting me in the 67th percentile. It was about 50°F (10°C) and it rained for about the first hour. My kilometer splits from my watch were: 5:14, 5:53, 6:11, 5:44, 6:01, 6:29, 6:01, 5:44, 6:06, 7:08, 5:59, 6:08, 7:05, 6:18, 6:20, 6:18, 6:17, 7:11, 6:30, 7:17, 6:35, 6:13, 6:48, 7:46, 6:43, 6:37, 7:40, 6:59, 6:35, 8:01 [my watch only holds 30 laps – have to find a new watch] and the final 1.165 km split was 8:40 (7:26 pace).

Consolation treats: Eventually, I was able to indulge in some treats, including a Finnish Dr Pepper (oh, yeah – I found one – okay, more than one), some of the Thornton’s chocolates that Jany brought me from London, some Finnish candy (I love licorice), a cinnamon-bun-flavored ice-cream bar (!!) and a sauna (Finnish-style)!

Post-race wounds: the usual chafing, plus bands around my ankles from my tights; bloody holes in my heels from the zippers at the bottom of my tights; a swelling in the small of my back from the gel packs banging into me while I ran; a gel-pack-sized chafing wound on the right side of my back; a big bruise on my thigh (I have no idea where that came from, but it’s going away now); plus, every joint ached and my knee was really pretty bad. The joint pain was so bad that I couldn’t sleep all night, even though I took a Celebrex before I went to sleep. I also had to get up in the middle of the night to get food and water, because I hadn’t eaten anything or had more than a small cup of water to drink after the race. All I had was water (good) and Greek flavor Pringles (I’m going with good on that – carbs and salt!).

Next up: Naples Park to Park 10k (7/14), Run for Central Park (7/21) and the Run to Home Plate (7/22).

Thank you for all your support!

Pictures from the race are available here (as always, there is commentary in the slideshow):

I’m thinking about writing recaps for the pre- and post-race activities – let me know if you’d be interested in reading them.

Pictures from before the race are available here:

Pictures from the Hiking/River Rafting excursion are available here:

Pictures from the Shaman’s Village excursion are available here:

Pictures from the ATV excursion are available here:

Pictures from my last day and some random pictures from the trip are available here:

*One of the women in the 60+ category finished the marathon in 3:02, but I suspect she actually ran the half, rather than the full marathon. I was very impressed with her time and thought she might have been an elite runner at some point in time. My research, however, showed that her previous marathon times were 5+ hours. If she didn’t run the full, then I was 65th out of 81 total finishers, putting me in the 20th percentile and 16th out of 23 female finishers, putting me in the 30th percentile. Not much difference, but I like 30th better than 29th.


LeesMyth said...

Go, GiGi!!! I'm so proud of you for all that you have accomplished - though boy, do you suffer for your art. When I have more time or a faster internet connection, I'll take a look at all those photos.... Hope your race this morning went well/is going well.

Aurora Robson said...

You George, are the wonder. I love that you work so hard at this. It is really beautiful and inspiring.

Jamie said...

Hypothermia in late June, gotta love it! :-) Great job! I wouldn't be too disappointed with not getting a PR given the conditions. Sounds like a grand adventure and one you won't forget soon!