Well guys … I finally did it! I ran the Mississippi Gulf Coast Marathon Sunday and it was everything I could’ve hoped for and more.
Having recently run a massive 5K PR (17:22!) that wasn’t really in line with any of my other race times, I was in uncharted territory going into this race. I shared lots of details about my training cycle in my last post, so check that out if you haven’t already! The TL;DR version is that strength training makes a BIG difference (get you some!), I ran lower mileage in general and my longest run was 16 miles. I wasn’t comfortable basing my marathon goal off of a 5K time, especially given that my times don’t typically translate as expected the longer the race distance gets. I typically fare better in shorter races than longer races. Based on my 5K time, the VDOT calculator predicts a 2:46 marathon time which makes me laugh out loud a little bit.
Ultimately, I approached the race with 3 goals. My A “pie in the sky” goal was < 2:50. I knew that this was likely not going to be the outcome, but my coach felt like it was a reasonable goal. My B “more likely than not” goal was < 2:55 and my C “I’ll be happy, but somewhat disappointed” goal (which has been my A goal for years) was < 3:00.
I REALLY wanted to negative split this race (meaning that I wanted the second half to be faster than the first half). More specifically, I wanted to start out at a somewhat conservative pace and make a conscious effort to pick the pace up (even just slightly) every 6 miles along the way. I saw a quote that said, “In the first half don’t be stupid and in the second half don’t be afraid,” and this really stuck with me. I guess that basically became my race mantra. I told myself to “be smart” and to “be fearless” over and over. I also told myself to “not be stupid” and to “not be afraid,” but I ended up liking the positive phrasing better. Both versions were needed at different points along the way though, which is kinda funny. I spent lots of time out there trying to decide if I was “being smart” or if I was “not being stupid.” The marathon is a funny thing.
The marathon started at 7 a.m. in Pass Christian, Mississippi. The packet pickup closed at 5:30 a.m. in Biloxi, Mississippi (where the finish is). Biloxi is only an hour and fifteen minute drive for us, so several of us decided to ride over together Sunday morning. I set my alarm for 2:40 a.m. (YIKES) and decided to get up, take a shower, have coffee, etc. and meet my friends just before 4 a.m. to leave. I don’t typically take a shower race morning, but I knew that I would feel so much better if I did and really, you just need to do whatever it takes to put yourself in a good place mentally pre-race. A cup of coffee and a shower go a long way with me!
I made another cup of coffee to drink on the drive and also packed my breakfast and a bottle of UCAN to drink about 30 minutes before the race. I laid all of this stuff out the night before to eliminate as many steps as possible on race morning. I also had all of my clothes laid out and packed the night before as well. In case you are curious about the clothing, I went with my McKirdy Trained singlet, Lululemon Train Times 6″ shorts, Handful Y-Back sports bra, Target gloves, Injinji socks and my trusty Nike Zoom Vaporfly 4% shoes. It should be noted that I have essentially raced in the exact same outfit for every race this fall. Call me superstitious, but it’s working and I see no need to change anything now. The only thing I hesitated about for the marathon distance was the shorts, as they only have one pocket and I could only fit two gels in there. I ended up putting the other two gels in the back of my sports bra. Perhaps not ideal, but it got the job done.
We made really good time and arrived in Biloxi at exactly 5:00 a.m. The packet pickup was very easy. There was no line (most runners had picked up their packets the day before) and we were in and out in no time. We made a quick pit stop and then made our way towards Pass Christian to the start. Thankfully it was still dark out, because the 26.2 mile drive to the start line seemed very long and would’ve seemed even longer had we actually been able to see how far we were going!
We had plenty of time to relax and collect our thoughts before the race. It was chilly out so we didn’t really want to get out of the car, but otherwise, we were good. We made our way over to the starting area about 30 minutes before the start. Unfortunately, the porta potty lines were out of control and seemed to hardly be moving. Also, several people that did come out indicated that there was no toilet paper. Not cool! I stood in line for about 15 minutes before realizing that there was no way I was going to make it to the bathroom and to the start line on time. I knew from last year’s race that there were plenty of porta potties along the course and I just told myself that if I had to stop, it would be okay (luckily I was fine and didn’t have to stop).
The weather was quite nice. There was a mix of a tailwind and a crosswind, but nothing crazy. The temperature was in the upper-40s and it was overcast. Pretty much perfect conditions for marathoning. It was time to GO!
Miles 1-6 (6:48 pace)
I planned to start the race around 6:45 to 6:50 pace. When my first split beeped at 7:05, I was a bit concerned, as I felt like I was running at closer to 6:45 effort. I tried not to let it bother me too much and told myself that I just needed to warm up a bit and settle in. I was the lead female from the gun, so I had a bike escort with me the entire race. This would prove to be very beneficial during the final miles once the full marathoners caught up to the half marathoners. After the first mile, I pretty much settled in right where I needed to be. I had a couple of guys to run with here and there, but I never got to run with any sort of group to speak of. I took my first gel at mile 6. I didn’t feel like I needed it yet, but it is best to fuel “early and often” and I knew that I would need it down the road (literally and figuratively).
Miles 7-12 (6:42 pace)
I got into a slightly better rhythm during the next section of the race. My splits were pretty consistent and I didn’t feel like I was working too hard. My mom and dad planned to meet me at mile 12 and I was really looking forward to seeing them! It was really nice to have things to look forward to along the way to help to break up the course a bit. I really like this point to point course, but it starts to feel a bit redundant after a little while. The course runs along the coast and the scenery is great, but with no turns, there just isn’t much to break up the monotony. I saw friends at several points along the way and that helped me tremendously. I took my second gel at mile 12. By then, I was actually ready for the gel and knew that I needed to take in as much as I could to keep myself running efficiently.
Miles 13-18 (6:26 pace)
Once I got to mile 13, I felt like the race was really just beginning. Mentally, I was feeling very good. I “only” had a half marathon to go! I never expected that to be a thought that I had during a marathon, but it was there and I went with it. I guess when you don’t go out too fast, you don’t feel like death halfway through. Who knew?!
My half marathon split was 1:28 and some change. I expected to be somewhere around 1:27, so I was pretty much right on pace. The good news was that I felt really strong and I was able to dig deeper and click off some quicker miles after the half. I saw my mom and dad again at mile 16 and as they drove by, I said to them, “I’m going to do this! Today is the day.” If you’ve run a marathon, you know that making a statement like this at mile 16 is a bit risky. A LOT can happen in the last 10 miles of the race, but there was literally no doubt in my mind that I was going to break 3 hours. The question then became by how much.
I took another gel at mile 17. I had been taking them in 6 mile increments, but that would’ve put the last one at mile 24, which wouldn’t have done me much good. I decided to do 17 and 22 instead and this seemed to work really well. I had a decent breakfast before the race (two granola bars with peanut butter and a banana) and I also had a serving of UCAN. Fueling wise, having breakfast, UCAN and four gels along the way seemed to work really well for me. I also took water at pretty much every water stop along the way. There were water stations every mile and a half or so and I only took a few sips each time, but this kept me properly hydrated during the race.
Miles 19-24 (6:20 pace)
I started to feel REALLY good during this section of the race. My coach told me before the race that if I felt good during the second half of the race that I needed to JUST GO. He said that at some point I would need to make a decision about how much I was willing to dig. The miles in the 6:teens were likely a bit rich, but it was a calculated risk that I was willing to take. I felt really strong and smooth and didn’t feel like I was too far out of my comfort zone.
I was passing tons of half marathoners at this point, as the half marathon started 30 minutes after the full and started halfway along the course (we all finished together). My bike escort was riding ahead of me and was letting people know that the “lead female” was coming through. Everyone was SO supportive! I got so much encouragement from the half marathoners. Lots of “you go girl,” “girl power,” etc. I loved it and it really pumped me up! I took my last gel at mile 22 and told myself to just get to mile 24. I knew I could will myself in for two more miles once I got to 24.
Miles 25-26 (6:41 pace)
During mile 25, you run up the infamous interstate “on ramp” and run along I-110 for about a mile. The good news is that this year, we actually did run an entire mile on I-110 (the course was short last year and the snafu happened due to the placement of the turnaround cone on the interstate). The wind hadn’t been too much of an issue during the first 24 miles of the race, but when we turned north and starting running on the interstate, it was TOUGH. The wind was right in your face and it was definitely blowing. I think my effort stayed fairly consistent, but my pace faded some. I am so happy to be able to say that “my pace faded some” only means that it faded 15 to 20 seconds per mile. Believe me, there have been many a marathon in the past where my pace has faded closer to a two minutes per mile during the last part of the race.
The race finishes at MGM Park and you can see the finish line from I-110 as you run out during mile 25 and back during mile 26. I wasn’t even really thinking about what my overall time was at this point. I changed my watch over to average pace during the last two miles and I knew that my average pace was close to 6:35. I knew that I needed 6:30 average pace for 2:50 and 6:40 pace for 2:55, so I guess I could’ve deduced that my time was going to be somewhere in the middle, but I wasn’t really thinking clearly at that time. I made the turn into MGM Park as Guns N Roses Sweet Child of Mine played over the loudspeaker. They announced me as the first place female and I crossed the finish line in 2:53:05!
My previous best marathon time was 3:02:47, so this was almost a 10 minute PR (9:42). I am over the moon happy with this result!
I was so happy to see my friends and family after the race! There were hugs all around. Of course as soon as I stopped running I was about to freeze to death, but otherwise, I was as happy as can be. My dad graciously let me wear his jacket. I’ve got several post-race photos in his trusty blue jacket actually now that I think about it.
Rebecca paced the 4:00 group, so we had a little while to hang around before she arrived (right on time, of course)! There ended up being a pretty good group of runners from our area that made the trip over to Biloxi, so we saw lots of friends and friendly faces. I was so happy to have Rebecca and Jessica there with me. They’ve both been like sisters to me over the years and running definitely wouldn’t be the same without these two.
Going back to my pre-race mantras, this was BY FAR the smartest race I have ever run. I stayed patient (which is hard for me) and I trusted myself to pick it up when I needed to. My fueling was on point and I never really “crashed” or “hit the wall.” My mental game was also on point and I never went to a dark place. I trusted my training and it got me where I needed to go! This race was years in the making and I have learned so much along the way. As always, I am so thankful, both for the ability to run and for every mile that has brought me to this point.
Thanks for reading and following along with me on this crazy journey!