Leaving Dubai, I fell asleep almost as soon as we got on the plane. I barely even realized that we had a delay on the ground before the take off for Madrid. And, I was out for most of the flight. When we landed, the reality was that our previously tight schedule to get all seven marathons completed within the 168 hours was even tighter. The good part of that was that Spain did not require us to completely unload the plane. That saved us the time of picking up the checked bags. However, the RD needed everyone to finish in six hours. He explained this to everyone on the bus from the airport to the track. “If you need to walk, walk with purpose”. Excellent words. And, true beyond the immediate meaning and context. And, yes, I said we were headed to a track. A Formula 1 race track. At night, so we got to race under the lights, which was super cool!
The weather was cool too. Upper 40s, low 50s. Low humidity and virtually no wind. Perfect marathon weather for me. For the first time, my legs were a bit sore at the start. I consider it a win, that I didn’t have real soreness until marathon #5! Worse than the soreness, though, was my mental game. I struggled with my “break” in Dubai. Debated with myself as to whether I was running smart or wimping out. I can say now that it is very easy to “armchair quarterback” and judge myself as the latter because there is so much distance between the physical and mental struggle. The fact remains, there was a huge mental struggle for me most of this race.
I started out with the same general pack as the previous few races. It became apparent quickly that I was not as strong a hill runner as the others. That’s right. There are hills on a F1 track. The first one was a long, winding climb. The second one short and steeper. After the second lap, the gap the pack put on me on the first hill was just too much to try to make up. I decided I just needed to run my race and settled into a good rhythm. This did not do wonderful things for my mental state. I felt good, physically, as I maintained effort (but not pace) on the uphills. Mentally, the struggle continued the whole time, but I got into a sort of mental rhythm up the big hill, along the back stretch, around couple of turns then up, around, down, and into pit lane (where the aid station was). Repeat. My legs actually seemed to get sorer as the race went on, but still solid. Definitely feeling the effort, but not pushing over the edge. After I crossed the finish line, the RD gave my medal to my husband and had him present it to me. Made an emotional race even more so.
I finished in 3:23, so the first non-Antarctica race not meeting my 3:20 goal. But, I felt okay about that. I ran smart. Felt good. Two races to go. Both likely to be in heat and humidity. Familiar conditions. I opted to not take a shower, although there were portables available. So, it was a wet-wipes “bath” and some warm, dry clothes! We had access to a nice room over pit lane to rest a little bit while everyone was finishing. With the six hour cut-off, there wasn’t much down time before we were back on the bus headed to the airport.
I got another solid bit of sleep on the plane from Madrid to Fortaleza. This was going to be our first daytime race (the sun doesn’t set in Antarctica this time of year, so there was light there, but this was to be a real daytime race). It was a different feeling getting out of the airport in the light. And, what a change from Madrid! It was nearly 90°F with all the humidity you’d expect from near the equator. There was a decent breeze (12-14 mph) which helped cool it off. I loved it! Reminded me of home! I was super excited about the conditions, and ready for some redemption. But, first we had to get to the starting line. The bus pulled up in front of the hotel and we started unloading. A bunch of tired, yet eager to get going again, runners. All packed into the lobby. As we were waiting for directions on where to go, people were getting ready to race. Changing shoes, putting on sunscreen. Finally, someone emerged with room keys. We were told that the women were to go up first, so a bunch packed into the elevator with their luggage. I waited for the second trip. And waited. The elevator was so slow. Finally, got up to the floor where our rooms were supposed to be. One of the keys didn’t work. No one could communicate with the hotel staff (because none of up speak Portuguese), so there was lots of pointing. Finally, we got everything straightened out and into rooms to finish final race prep.
Folks finally started making their way out of the hotel and across the street to the starting line. The locals had a nice World Marathon Challenge backdrop set up, so the ladies took advantage of that for our now standard pre-race group picture. The aid station was a dozen or so feet off the running route, so I was extra glad Ron was there. I could avoid the extra time and distance heading over to the aid station each lap. Planned to run with the pack again, but the pack quickly dissolved. One guy went out super strong, way ahead. Another quickly dropped back. So, it was pretty much me and Kristina. There was water at each end of the loop and ice-water soaked sponges in the middle (near the aid station), so you could get them twice. That really helped keep the heat at bay.
Regardless, just like any hot race, I had a difficult time getting in enough nutrition. Around mile 16, another issue. My hamstring started to cramp. So, I started walking and massaging until it loosened up. Kristina passed. I’ve never cramped in a race before and was scared that if I pushed too hard, I might not be able to finish. Or worse, be hurt and not able to really race in Miami. I took a couple of swigs of Pickle Juice (shout out to Aaron at Run N Tri for the recommendation as I was doing some last-minute shopping before heading on this adventure). I decided to be conservative, enjoy the rest of the race, and be prepared to give it all the next day in Miami. So, I took a few walk breaks when the leg started to tighten up. Was able to chat with some of the other competitors who were walking. I took in as much electrolyte fluid as I could until I felt confident in running again. Was finally able to get back to a solid pace off-and-on for the last few miles. Certainly not the race I had wanted, but it was the most enjoyable in some ways. And, now there was only one to go!