Cox Providence Marathon 2010: A VFF Milestone

The day before the Providence Marathon I got up, got breakfast and set about gathering all of my gear for the race. I didn’t put a lot of thought into it, I’ve done it so many times, just grabbed it and stuffed it into my bag. I sort of kept a mental checklist as I went, but that was the extent of my planning. When I was done I made sure my four legged little girl was safely with her sitter for the weekend, threw my bag in my truck, and headed for Providence.
It was a beautiful spring day. The sun was shining, the skies blue, the temperature warm and all was well. It was a great drive until about midway when I realized I’d forgotten my running hat. This put a little damper on the drive, but I quickly shook it off knowing the hat wasn’t critical and that I could pick one up at the race expo.
I pulled into Providence a couple hours before expo close. It took a while to find parking due to the circus being in town, and the circus protestors with them. I found a spot about 1/2 mile from the expo and host hotel, The Westin, and quickly made the walk there.
Packet pick-up was easy, and well organized, but the advertised expo was non-existent. There was a booth for Team-In-Training, and one for Team MS, and another for small smaller charity group doing the race. The few remaining booths were for the non-running related race sponsors, there wasn’t a single thing there for runners. So much for buying a hat, restocking on Body Glide or anything else.
The expo may have been lacking but they did have a very nice race shirt for us and a fancy new timing chip. The T was a long sleeve tech shirt that just happened to be in my school’s colors. Which meant I had a great shirt to wear under my staff shirts when covering games on cold days. As for the timing chip, I’d never seen anything like it. The chip was 2 magnetic strips that almost resembled refrigerator magnets. They were attached to the back of the bib number, so no lacing into shoes or strapping on a chip belt. It also meant nothing to turn in after the race because they were one use disposable chips. Not sure they are very ‘green’ but I liked them.
I was in and out in less than 10 minutes and then went to check in at my hotel, The Marriot, a mile away. The next couple of hours I spent using my Droid to find ‘running’ stores looking for a hat. Didn’t need it, but I had the time to kill. Found out after walking all over the mall that none of the ‘running’ stores in it actually carry any running gear. They’re all about ‘fashion’ not about function.

Finally I found City Sports just outside of downtown and got what I needed. I stopped at a pizza place to pick up dinner and headed back to hotel to relax. After pizza, I had a soak in the hot tub and made good use of the foam roller in the hotel fitness center. Afterwards it was time to get some sleep.
Race morning came way too early, as they always do. I got up and had my preferred breakfast of champions, cold pizza, and started to get ready for the race. Put my number with its cool new b-chip (timing chip) on my race belt along with pouch to hold my droid (for pics and tweeting). Stuffed a couple of Accel gels in pocket of tri top I’d be wearing along with some electrolyte capsules. Stuffed my body glide and my VFF Sprints in my race bag with couple shirts for after race and left the hotel.
It was .9 miles from my hotel to race starting line and instead of trying to deal with finding parking and worrying about post race traffic I elected to jog there. I had on my VFF KSOs and I covered the distance quickly and without incident. When I got there I went over to bag check, changed to my Sprints and tri top, put bandage (I developed small cut on top of foot previous weekend from top strap) on top of feet and covered with Body Glide, put on race belt and I was ready. Turned in my bag and headed out.

On the way out from bag drop I heard my twitter name, IronmanLongRunr, called and I turned around to find at @Luau coming my way. He was a literal walking billboard with names and charities written in marker on every square inch of skin that was showing. He’d sold off parts of his body for display if they would donate $22 to charity. I believe he got 22 people for a total of $484 for various charities.
We chatted on the way out to the start line. This was going to be his 3rd marathon, 2nd in 2 weeks (he’d run Boston exactly 2 weeks before) and all in VFFs. We’d both run the Manchester marathon back in the fall, his first, my 20 something and were introduced to each by @oblinkin.
We milled around at start for a few minutes before race start, both of receiving many stares for our choice of footwear and fielding a number of questions as well. It wasn’t a very big race and we were able to find a space relatively close to the starting line, just slightly ahead of the 8min/mi pace signs which is what both of us were going to try and run.
They played the National Anthem and off we went. The first few miles were uneventful. I spent most of them running with @luau and chatting with him. There were some stares at our ‘shoes’, more comments and questions, but for most part it was a nice easy run. We started out at just under an 8 min pace and sort of hovered there for a while.

Around the 3 mile I started noticing some pain in the top of my right foot and realized that I was reverting to old form again. I slowed slightly, dropping slightly behind @luau and focused on correcting my form. About as quickly as the pain came on, it was gone again and I slowly started to ease the pace back up.
It wasn’t long before I was back up with @luau again and running comfortably. Shortly after I caught him, @luau yelled out ‘nice shoes’ and pointed to other side of the road. Running the opposite direction was a non-racer out for a run in red VFFs. He smiled and waved but I don’t think he noticed that we were sporting similar footwear.
Around the 5 mile mark we were both still running sub 8min pace and @luau backed off trying to settle into it. I was just focused on my form and not worried about pace and slowly pulled in front of him. But, since my pace wasn’t that much under 8min I’m sure he remained relatively close.
The next 4 miles were uneventful. I had several more conversations about my VFFs and tried to keep my focus on my running form. My feet and legs were feeling great but I was starting to realize that I wasn’t going to be able to hold pace. I’d slowed to around an 8 min pace and knew I probably wouldn’t hold that much longer.
Around the 9 mile mark @luau caught me again and we ran for a short ways together again. He was doing well, but was having some problems with his knee. About this time I also noticed that my bladder was starting to ask for attention. I saw a wooded area ahead that another runner was already using for same purpose and pulled off the course to answer nature.
After a quick stop I was back running. @luau was no longer in sight and I put on a bit of a surge to see if I could catch. About a half further there was a 180 degree turn and for about 1/4 mile we were able to see some of the runners ahead of us on the way back. I saw @luau who still had a sizable gap on me. We slapped hands in passing and I continued to press the pace.
I chased him for about 1 1/2 miles before I started noticing the pain in the top of my right foot returning. I backed off pace, which I wouldn’t have been able to hold much longer anyway, and refocused on my form again. The pain quickly disappeared again and I was feeling good again, but I could still feel the effects from having pushed the pace in my legs and decided to stay at pace I was currently running.
The next 10 miles were pretty uneventful. I had some good scenery to look at for just about the whole race, got many more stares, questions about VFFs, and generally just had a good run going.
Around mile 22 I started to really feel things in my legs. I knew the last miles were going to be a test, but I’d basically been expecting that. I really hadn’t put in the kind of mileage I needed leading into the marathon to be able to expect much. I’d experienced a little concern about my feet making the distance when I passed the 20 mile mark, which was farthest I’d ever run in VFFs, but that quickly passed. Now I was simply concerned about my legs getting me there. Fortunately, I’ve been to that point enough I now how to push through, and push I did.
I did find some entertainment the closing miles to take my mind off of the legs. Still not sure what to make of the guy, but he was enthusiastic and great support when really needed and so I’m thankful for him. I saw him about 5 or 6 times in closing miles, he kept moving spots, and first couple times I wasn’t sure if he was male or female. He had long wavy hair, a shirt that exposed his midriff, which was a bit of a belly, and was banging on a pot with a spoon. He definitely loved my VFFs and made sure everyone in the area saw them. By the 3rd time I passed him I was sure he was a guy, but from then on I wasn’t sure if he had a wig or not, whether he was trying to look like a woman for fun or really dressed that way or what, but at the same time I didn’t truly care. He was a good crazy, having fun and making things easier and more enjoyable.
I finally left the one man cheering section behind and started the final stretch to the finish. About 2 miles from end we crossed a bridge that was under repair and had a very narrow walkway to navigate. It was impossible to run side by side with anyone the whole length of the bridge which made passing difficult and rather acrobatic. I did a few pirouettes, twirls and spins as I passed people and then did the descent from hell. We ran a wheelchair access ramp back down to ground level. With quads burning we went around and around and around and down and down and down. It was a series of short down ramp followed by 180 turn and down another with another 180 and on for what seemed like miles.
After Satan’s ramp I figured my legs couldn’t feel any worse and I started a final push to the line. My increase in pace wasn’t anything to brag about but I was emptying the tank. About 1/2 a mile from the finish there was a stretch of pavement the was old and had buckled a bit. I was pushing hard enough I wasn’t paying close enough attention to my footing and I kicked a hump in the pavement. Fortunately it wasn’t with my toes, it was the ball of my foot, but I almost wiped out. I’m still not really sure how I stayed on my feet because I swear I was only inches from face planting in the middle of the road.
But, stay on my feet I did but the ball of my left foot was in incredible pain and I could barely put pressure on it. I hobbled on best I could and about 200 yards later despite the pain I was almost running normal again and I could hear the finish area just ahead. When I turned the final corner I made my final surge and crossed the line. 3:37:38 was my official time, not a PR, but I was very happy with it for my first attempt at a marathon in VFFs.
My foot that kicked the road now merely felt hot, but I didn’t care. I was elated because I had just finished my first VFF marathon and I did it only 8 months after starting to run in them. It felt like my first marathon all over again. I was a VFF rookie no more.
I collected my medal, and headed for food. On my way I ran into @luau again. He’d run his 2nd PR in 2 weeks taking almost a full 2 minutes off of his Boston time. We chatted a bit and then he went off looking for ice and I for food.
They had a pretty good spread of the usual plus pizza. I loaded up on pizza and Gatorade and wandered out of the food area. There was an area just outside of there where one of the sponsors, Harpoon Beer, was giving a free sample to racers and selling beer. I quickly secured my free beverage and went off to eat my pizza and drink my beer. I of course snuck back and due to a poor job marking my bib # the first time was able to make off with a 2nd freebee.
After filling my belly I went and reclaimed my checked bag and did the .9 mile jog back to the hotel. My feet, despite the incident near the end of the race, felt great the whole way. A quick shower, checked out and I was on the road for home.
Despite the lack of expo and poorly placed and too few aid stations, the Cox Providence Marathon was a great event. With planning it is easy to adjust for the distance between aid stations, it was a beautiful course partially along the water and through a number of nice neighborhoods. The race was well organized from packet pickup (which was available race morning which has become a rarity) to finish area. Volunteers and fans were fantastic and made the day much easier. The Marriott was great with the late checkout, which is also becoming a rarity. All in all a great race which I highly recommend.
PS – next day, despite running in VFFs, my feet still felt great!
(original post 5/10)
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About Douglas Sawyer, MS, ATC

I am an athletic trainer who is also a very avid athlete. My first love is running, but I also love cycling and triathlons and many other activities. I'm not a swimmer though, I just don't drown for 2.4 miles... As a athletic trainer I work with sports injuries. I currently work at a school with athletes in 7th-12th grade in a wide variety of sports. I can be found on twitter at two different names: @IronmanLongRunr - where I tweet about run, bike, tri, & more @Longrunr - where I tweet about athletic training
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