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Avoiding Alligators in Alabama's Big Beach Marathon

I have to admit when I read reviews about the race, I hesitated to register for it but I am so glad I did. I registered soon after I ran the Mississippi Gulf Coast Marathon (in December) and thought why not squeeze in another marathon this winter. I analyzed the logistics and could get there fairly easily and I would check off another state in the process. Although I am not in a hurry to complete marathons in all 50 states, I enjoy the experience of it. I thought I recovered fairly quickly but the truth is, retrospectively, I realized during the Big Beach Marathon that I was not really fully rested but I still enjoyed it - if that makes any logical sense?

To begin our journey, Pat and I left on a Friday afternoon to ensure we didn't run into any winter flight delays and although there was no bad weather, we did have an hour or so delay on our connecting flight to Pensacola. In the DC airport, we met other runners going to this race too. This is what makes our journey so fun. You meet people just like you! So the hour delay at least had some positives! However the late flights pushed me off my biorhythms as we arrived in Gulf Shores, Alabama around 11:30pm central time and I often go to sleep between 8-9pm EST! I really don't like being off my schedule in any way, but you do what you have to do. We finally went to sleep around 12:15am, which felt like 1:15am to us and tomorrow was another day. We spent the following day relaxing at the hotel and walking around the Gulf State Park. We spent hours on the 5th floor balcony getting a tan and talking to some awesome people from the south. Both couples were newly retired and they were just enjoying their lives with traveling and visiting new places. I was thinking how much I liked these people because they understand what is important in life. They have worked hard and now it was time for them to fully enjoy their time and that is exactly what they were doing. I loved hearing their stories and although we are fully enjoying our lives right now too (because why wait, we have worked hard too), we still have a couple of younger kids to raise. (We are almost there!!) Overall, we find that the southerners are very laid-back and pleasant and it's such a stark contrast to the northeast where everyone is yelling at you and flipping you off on the roadways. I wish everyone would just chill out sometimes! Besides a little bit of sightseeing, we didn't do much. We put our feet up, relaxed and ate an early dinner (by 5pm). We knew we wanted to go to sleep early and sure enough my watch tells me I was asleep by 7:56 and awake at 4:16. Not bad for the night before a marathon. We got ready and were shuttled to The Hangout until the start of the race. It was raining and chilly (45 degrees but 90% humidity) and I didn't want to be too cold on the course. I wore my daughter's "Snuggie" that she no longer cared about as a throwaway and chucked it at mile 1.5. The race was mostly flat with some slight inclines here and there, but I really would not call them hills in any way. Pat and I ran together the entire way. He always stayed a little bit in front of me (like as if he was my pacer LOL)! It didn't bother me that he did that. His legs are longer than mine and I need my personal space!! I don't really like it if someone runs right next to me anyway - even him! We kept a decent pace throughout the race. Around mile 3-4, I noticed Pat was chatting with someone, but I had my headphones on and you know for him to run with ME, he can breathe easier and have a conversation, so I didn't try to interfere. He had on his NH shirt and then I noticed the woman had on a shirt with a NH company logo on the back too. I thought they are probably from NH too! I thought it was cute they were a husband and wife running together too. So we kept waving to them the rest of the way whenever we saw them again. As we approached mile 8, we went down a road and back so we could see the faster runners on the other side of the road. These people were waving to us and giving us high fives. It was so awesome. I love runners. We all cheer each other on. We passed the 8.5 mile mark at 1:12 which is pretty good. We intentionally started this race much slower than normal. Other recent marathons, my first 2 miles were in the 7's and we had a strategy to start decent but not extremely fast so potentially we would feel stronger later. I am NOT so sure that worked though!! Our pace for the first 10 miles was in the 8's so that was normal for us. There was not a clock at the half marathon split but I know we were at 1:52 and change at mile 13 and my watch tells me we crossed 13.1 miles in 1:54:25. That is slower than what we usually do but again, we were HOPING that discipline to hold back would help us later on. The course was mostly on the paved trails and wooden boardwalks in Gulf State Park. I actually loved running on the boardwalks. It helped to break up the course and some of the boardwalks were very long. There were a lot of turns in this race (see map below) and the course was a bit confusing however there were plenty of signs. There was one point though where runners went the wrong way and Pat almost did too but I told him to follow me. We took a bathroom break around mile 16-17, just to empty out and feel like we could drink more again (extra if we had to). Our pace slowed into the 9's from miles 10-20 and then we dipped into the 10's for the last 6 miles. This is mostly due to significant leg fatigue. I had to pull over a few times to stretch my legs. My hamstrings ached and I thought if could stretch a bit, it might help. I felt a little frustrated because this happened in Mississippi too but I figured I was just tired then and the heat was too much. At one water stop, I drank 2 cups of Gatorade and that seemed to help speed me up, so I thought maybe I was dehydrated? But I didn't think so because I was drinking all along, but I was going with the fact that my legs felt better again so I was just trying to push through it as much as I could. I have to admit, I don't always feel like this for my last 6 miles. Just the last 2 races. I mean sure, I get tired and my legs ache a bit but not to the point that I am significantly slowing down to a pace in the 10's. I have run in the 8's and 9's for my best marathons, so I'm slipping a bit in my old age. (LOL!) All this time, you know I had my eyes on the swampy areas. I was petrified an alligator was going to come out and grab me by the ankles. Then I would have a real problem. That's another reason I didn't want Pat too far away just in case he had to punch one in nose. LOL. Somehow I don't think he WANTS to take on an alligator - a beast of the animal kingdom - but I'm sure he would if it meant saving me. As we emerged from the swampy areas and got to a safe area, volunteers were handing out lei's at mile 25 and then we proceeded to run over the bridge crossing the major roadway and to the finish line back at The Hangout. It was raining heavier now but it felt good. Cars were driving by us and waving and beeping. The people in Alabama are so nice. I really enjoyed the race even though I knew my time was not going to be my best (3:49). I really didn't care at that point either. I'm with Pat, we are running a marathon together, it's raining, we are GOING THE DISTANCE YET AGAIN, it is marathon #25 for me, state #23 and I am physically able to do this (in spite of my aching legs). I mean, what else could I ask for? I am living my passion and I love feeling I have pushed hard and propelled my body 26.2 miles (my Garmin says I went 26.51 miles). I mean it's absolutely an incredible feeling to be able to do that. So who cares about the time. Right now, it's about finishing this race and simply conquering it. As we approached the end of the race, Pat was a little bit in front of me and I said, "Wait for me!" and then we had to follow cones to the finish line. I saw the clock and said to him, "I have to beat my Mississippi time (4:09)!". So I just gave whatever I had left in the tank to finish in 4:08. (My watch said I was pushing a 7:14 pace then, but I'm telling you that was only for about 100 meters!)

When we went inside and saw the results, it said I was 1st in my age group, so I cracked up at that, but thought ok, I guess that is meant to be. We hurried up and got a sandwich (although I didn't want to eat) and found the shuttle so we can go back to the hotel, take a shower and checkout by 1pm. It was now 12:15pm, so we had to be QUICK!! We checked out of the Lodge at Gulf State Park (very nice BTW) at 1pm and went back for the awards ceremony. I was wearing my socks and slides and since it was raining pretty good, my clean socks got wet so ironically, one of my awards was a pair of Big Beach Marathon socks!! Jackpot! (Otherwise we were going shopping.) Soon thereafter, we hobbled across the main road to the rental car and took off to Pensacola International Airport for a flight home. In true husband and wife fashion, we shared a cookie dough smoothie with protein and it was such a treat and 800 some odd calories but who cares when it's Marathon Day. Plus we shared it, so really only 400 each! As we got to our gate for our first flight, we met up with the nice NH people from the race. And I forgot to mention that the woman WON the MARATHON in 3:28. Unbelievable! And what was really neat, was that we got to talk to them for about an hour before our flight all about running, kids and fun stuff like that. They were super nice and I was so happy for both of them. It was also her birthday and her husband's 1st marathon. I mean, that's just so incredibly AWESOME and they deserved to have such a great day. While we were in the Pensacola airport, we saw other people wearing their race shirts or medals and it's always a great camaraderie with our fellow runners. We get each other. Anyone who went the distance gets it and feels bonded in some way. Even in this race (and others) I will see runners wearing the same exact race shirts I have from other states, so I know we have been in the same place before. It's really cool.

Eventually we got on the flight to Charlotte and after landing there, we were stuck on the tarmac for 40 minutes and deplaned via stairs (remember.. my slides are on and I am sore and my backpack feels like it has rocks in it)! Our other flight was leaving at 10:10pm and WE HAD TO RUN IN AGONY WITH SANDALS ON to the gate (same terminal but far away). We arrived at the gate at 9:58pm and that was WITH RUNNING. That trek hurt so bad, but I was NOT missing this flight. It seems like every time we stop in Charlotte, we run into issues (remember... last month we missed our connection to Gulfport, MS!!)

POST RACE: It's now just 2 days after the race and I'm sore but I feel pretty good. But, I realized something important after this race. I pushed myself TOO HARD after the Mississippi race (DEC 15th). I almost immediately jumped up to 45-50 miles a week and I ran 5 long runs since that time before this marathon.

DEC 25: 10 miles

DEC 28: 18 miles

JAN 1: 20 miles

JAN 6: 16 miles

JAN 11: 17 miles

It was simply too much running and not enough resting. I felt good on the surface and I fooled myself into thinking I was recovered but I was not. I also took 11 rest days during this time but I thought if I pushed longer and harder when I was running, I could train my legs to deal with cumulative fatigue however I was only making it worse because I never adequately recovered. As we know the marathon does a lot of muscle damage and it is important to let yourself rest to fully recover. (I need to listen to my logical self!) I would only let myself be stupid and run those kind of miles (above). I would never tell a fellow runner to push that hard. It was only OK for me because I take my own risks and bear that responsibility if it doesn't go according to plan. But in spite of this, I still find it amazing that I ran an "as well as I did" marathon only 42 days since my last marathon with all of those miles logged. AND what's even more crazy is that this was my 3rd marathon in 77 days!! I can't forget my favorite state of North Carolina! My plan now is to rest and completely recover before running again. I do have a 4 mile race on Sunday but I am not running until then. I'm taking time off to do other things and ensure I have recovered before my next marathon. Although the next course is hilly, I believe my performance should be better if I take the proper time to rest so I am looking forward to that.


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