Five Days. Five Marathons.
For those who are unaware, there is a group out there called Mainly Marathons. Actually, as best I can tell the “group” is two brothers who organize and one wonderful lady who keeps the aid station at every event stocked. I stumbled across their website a couple of years ago when I started looking for back-to-back marathons on my quest for a BQ in every state. They organize marathons in adjacent states over consecutive days (up to 9, I think). Perfect! I reached out to them to see if their courses are certified because this quest of mine requires (by my own rule-making) a certified course. They aren’t. So, I went on about my business. They crept back in my mind as the clock started ticking on 2020. The year I plan to do the World Marathon Challenge. What better training for 7 marathons in 7 days on 7 continents than 5 marathons in 5 days in 5 Gulf Coast states? So, I registered for their 2019 Gulf Coast Series last summer.
Just four weeks after running my longest race (50 miles), I was about to run more miles in a five-day span than I’ve ever run in a week. By a lot. I knew all the courses would be multiple laps of out-and-back, which would be a new mental challenge. When I did my back-to-back races in November. My coach told me to just focus on the race I was running. One at a time. So, that was pretty much my mindset going into this. I also knew recovery would be key. So, I made sure I had plenty of all the recovery things packed for our road trip. Hydration, electrolytes, nutrition (for pre-, during-, and post-race), new compression tights, and variety of rolling devices. Time to do this thing!
Day one was in Florida. A nice 14 laps of road in a waterfront State park. It was warm and humid, even for the south in February. I learned quickly that the Mainly Marathon events are more casual than any other event I’ve ever done. The start/finish line was described with a general arm sweeping motion. Over the course of the next few days, I realized the vibe was so casual because many of the participants do a lot of the Mainly Marathon events. So, they are like a family. Back to the start of day 1, Florida. Warm, humid, but overcast. I was in a bit of a funk from the get-go. I wanted to run by pace (8:00 min/mi) to moderate myself for the long haul. But, I couldn’t get comfortable at that pace. I’d start feeling comfortable. 7:45. So, focus on slowing down. 8:15. And, so it went. Back and forth. But, physically, felt okay. Did okay with nutrition and hydration, but the humidity started to get to me later in the race. Was very thankful for a few off-and-on sprinkles. Finished the day with 3:34:24 over 26.8 mi. Here was the second lesson about these events… all the course are long. Not certified, but they make sure you get your distance covered! Changed into my recovery tights right after the finish and downed some chocolate milk. Ready to hit the road to race number two.
Each day we located the next day’s race site before hitting the hotel. First, it helped with mental preparation. We knew exactly where we were going in the morning. And, second, it gave me the opportunity to walk around. Get the blood flowing to help muscle recovery. This was especially true the first afternoon. The course for day two was on a Civil War battle ground in Alabama. So, it was a fun afternoon walking around the area. The morning of day two, I realized the course was all trail and involved a couple of fairly serious hills. 14 laps again, which meant I’d go up and down those hills 28 times!! So, I figured my 3:30-something goal (forgot to mention, sub 3:40 for all the races was my A goal going in), might need to be adjusted. As I’m not a seasoned trail runner, I knew I’d need to adjust my pace . I started out wanting to keep an 8:30 pace. And, did. For a little bit. It got hot quickly (nearly 80°F) and the hills were really taking it out of my legs. I decided to just take what the day would give me. There was a lot of struggle. My dad was there and ran the hill at the end of the lap with me for three consecutive laps. Definitely gave me a mental boost. With one lap to go, I realized that I was still set for sub-4. That gave me a little extra pep. As did the encouragement of others on the course. I said earlier it’s like a family. Day two is when I really started to get that family vibe. With the out-and-back style of all the courses, you see the other participants a lot. And, everyone is so encouraging. Epitomizes the running community I love so much!! Anyway, the last half of my final lap, as I lapped one of the other participants, he started running with me. Then, ahead of me. “C’mon, get that sub-4.” And, I did. With his help. 3:58:11 for 26.6 mi. A trail marathon PR!
Day three. Mississippi. 12 laps on the Gulf Coast beachfront path. We had hoped for cooler weather and got it. A lot cooler (50-ish) and windy. If you’ve ever run on the coast, you’ll know what I mean. The wind has a way of whipping around so it feels like you are constantly into a headwind or crosswind. Why can’t it be a tailwind?!? Legs were tight and calves a bit sore to start the day. A great thing about the multiple lap race is that I was able to start with a light jacket and drop it after the first lap. Legs loosened up and I was getting into a somewhat comfortable rhythm. Still fighting the wind. Then, a small downpour. Jacket back on. Legs tightened up. Stopped to stretch. Rain stopped. At this point, I was running by feel. Thoughts and plans for goal times were gone. I just tried to keep a steady effort. About a 10K to go, another downpour. Stronger winds. Finished in the rain and gusting wind in 3:49:38 for 26.6 mi. Day three, done! Over halfway there!
Day four was in Louisiana. 22 laps. Yes, 22! A small walking path around a little pond. Cool again, and overcast. Threat of more rain. Legs a little tight at start, but better than the day before. Those trail hills on day two really kicked my butt!! This one was a mental challenge to start. I was getting worn down. And, I really don’t like running in cold rain. My least favorite weather. Last year’s Boston didn’t help that feeling. Coming from the previous day’s cool, wet conditions, I was just hoping to not have more rain. I was subconsciously building excuses as to why this would be slower than before. But, I got out and got going. Positivity started winning my internal mental battle. The rain held off. At least real rain did. My legs were loosening up nicely. I started feeling good. Probably better than I had during this adventure so far!! Back to some sub-8 miles. Fatigue started to creep in. My hubs jumped in and ran the last few laps with me, giving me a much needed pick-me-up. Finished out the 27.1 miles (yes, nearly 1 mi long) in 3:45:38.
We’re on to Texas. Day five. Of five. The last one. Just one more marathon. 14 laps of a nice asphalt walking path in cow country. Similar weather as day four. Again, the rain held off. But, it was a bit windier. Thankfully, not Gulf Coast wind. So, headwind and tailwind. I think I sort of shut down before this race started. I was so close to the end with “only” one race to go. I didn’t give it the respect it deserved. That made day four a huge mental challenge. I let the cold wind get to me. I let all my little aches and twinges get to me. But, the only way to finish is to keep going. So, I did. I fought my own mind for a good part of the race. I told myself that at halfway, I’d drop my jacket and get serious about this. That came and went and I was still wearing the jacket. And, thankful for it every time I turned back around into the wind. Finally, I won my mental battle and with three laps to go (~10K), I dropped the jacket. Made a real effort to pick up the pace. Finish this series strong. And, I did. I was able to push down to 8:30-ish pace (from closer to 9-ish). It was still a mental battle. It shouldn’t feel easy, I kept telling myself. But, you've got this. 26.6 miles in 3:50:47. Done! Five marathons in five days!!
It was a roller coaster of emotions. A physical challenge. A test of mental fortitude. But, I did it. My goal was to do all 131+ miles with an average of 8:23 pace. I did it with an average of 8:31. I’m good with that. Super experience with the Mainly Marathons family. New friends made. Lessons learned. Now, to make sure I get fully recovered so I can tackle Boston 2019!!