Saturday, December 24, 2011

Dalena’s Savannah GA Marathon Recap 2011

Throughout my life I have always been active in sports and fitness but never really considered myself a “runner”.

My husband Rich and I along with our Yorkie-Poo Gita moved to Charlotte from Pennsylvania 6 years ago for warmer weather and jobs. During our first year in Charlotte I was asked by the doctor I worked for to train and run the Thunder Road 1/2 marathon. Not having any knowledge about long distance running, I agreed and this began my love for running. After a few years of running shorter distance I decided to join USA Fit and train for my first full marathon. I ran the Thunder Road Marathon in 2008 with a time of 3:21:39 . Though I was happy about finishing my first marathon and qualifying for Boston Marathon I was not pleased with my race. I hit the preverbial “wall” around mile 20 and struggled through the last 6 miles rotating between walking and running. I took a year off and decided to give it another go at the Marine Corp Marathon in 2010. This time I made it to mile 23 before crashing and again did the run/walk finish to a time of 3:17:55.

After 2 frustrating races, I was thinking of just running the Boston Marathon and calling it quits on the marathon distance. But then I met some amazing new running friends and my love for running grew deeper as we all decided to train for the first Savannah GA Rock’n Roll marathon. I became accustomed to the 4:30 am alarm and meeting at the Dowd YMCA by 5:15am to begin our early morning runs through Charlotte. I not only had great running partners but I also was being educated on proper training by a very knowledgable runner, Aaron Linz.

The week of the marathon had arrived and while sitting at dinner with my running girls and Aaron, we were given our race goals. When I was told that my race goal was to average a 6:40 pace which would put me right under a 2:55 marathon, I thought “but my previous PR is over 20 minutes slower than that!” Then I remembered some inspiring advise that Megan Nedlo had shared with me one day on a run. She said that you have to make up your mind that you can do it and then just go do it. Seemed pretty simple but that’s exactly what I had to do.

On the morning of the race, I got up early and went through my usual routine stretching, peanut butter toast with banana and double checking to make sure I had all my gear in my bag. Luckily Carolyn Maye, Jocelyn Sikora and I arrived at the shuttle stop early and made it to the start line with plenty of time to spare. After warming up and tossing off my old sweats, I was ready to go. It was calming to have so many fellow Charlotte runners by my side at the start line. The announcements were made and the Star Spangled Banner sung then finally it was go time! The gun fired and we were off on the 26.2 mile journey through Savannah.

I had made the decision prior to the race to wear my Garmin watch but not display my current pace. I wanted to run based on how I felt instead of pacing myself according to my watch. The first mile of any race can be a challenge and I knew I needed to relax and not destroy myself. As we approached the 1 mile marker my watch beeped showing a 6:39 pace. Right on! The next 6-7 miles I continued to work on settling in and getting my legs use to the 6:40min/mile pace. The cheering and crowd support was great in those first 12 miles but then it was time for us to split away from the half marathoners. We headed up onto the quiet and somewhat lonely interstate away from most of the crowd. Over the next 4 miles I continued to feel strong. I came to the realization that if I cheered for the bands and cheerleading/dance teams along the route they would cheer back even louder. So we continued this back and forth support for each other. I kept trucking along and began to notice that there was more and more distance between runners. I had only seen one other girl in front of me at that point. She began to struggle and I passed her around mile 15.

After training for the last 3 months with other runners, I have found that it can be difficult to keep your mind from taking over when you run alone. I knew that I had to remain positive and ignor any negative thoughts that ran through my mind. At one point, I remember thinking, “I have 9 miles to go, which is like a thursday morning Colville run with the gang. I can do this. I do it all the time!” Another challenge came as we headed back up onto the interstate at mile 21 into a strong headwind. It was at this point that I recalled some advise that Aaron Linz had given me. “At the end of a race, when you are tired, it hurts whether you slow down or keep pushing. So you might as well keep pushing, finish strong and feel proud of your race.” So right there, with the wind at my face and my legs starting to feel the last 22 miles, I made the decision to push it to the end.

As I turned the corner to the last mile I was met by a huge crowd of half marathoners finishing on my right. The runners and crowd cheered me on as I pushed my way up the slight incline. My legs were really burning and I was at the point that I didn’t know what was keeping them going. Then finally, I saw the metal gate that lead to the finish line. I was almost there! I turned the corner, heard my name announced “5th place overall female, Dalena Custer from Charlotte, NC!”. I glanced up as I crossed the finish line. 2:54:44! I had done it! I was exhausted, my legs were exhausted but I had finished the Savannah Rock’n Roll Marathon! My husband rushed over to congratulate me and we continued to cheer as the other Charlotte runners completed the race. My training had paid off and it was time to celebrate! After having 2 previously frustrating marathons, I was so thankful to finally have a strong marathon from start to finish.

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