In January the Salty bloggers shared our New Year’s goals for 2013 in one roundtable post. I actually had three, but shared one: to run a sub-4:00 marathon. The other two were to finish my first hundred (check!) and to run a fast 50 miler as another Western States Qualifier. That last opportunity is coming up at The JFK 50 in November.
I didn’t realize it then, but I was in store for a really fantastic year of running and that dream of finally finishing a marathon with a 3 in the hour column was going to happen!
I planned my race calendar out well, tackling the 100 miler, the loftiest goal first. Then I eased back on the mileage for a while to focus on getting faster to take on the two time goals: the marathon and the 50 miler. I chose Akron as that fall marathon, since it’s inexpensive, close to home, well-organized and the course yielded both my half marathon PR (1:54:08, 2010) and full marathon PR (4:11:27, 2012). The course is hilly and challenging enough to keep this trail runner interested and the race date allowed enough time for me to recover from the Mohican 100, but still be early enough to get good training in for the JFK 50.
I hired a coach from McMillan to help me get there. With her help and planning, I actually did real speed work and stuck with it, really training hard for Akron. Before I knew it, the end of September was here and I anxiously awaited race morning!
I couldn’t really sleep the night before from nerves and had a hard time getting moving in the morning. With the exception of the 100, I usually fall asleep just fine and spring out of bed in the morning like a kid on Christmas morning. This time, I was a bundle of nervous energy and really anxious to get down to Akron.
It was the first time the race had assigned corrals. We were supposed to enter through the back, but of course, people don’t always follow the rules. After a couple pit stops, I was second into mine and lined up at the very front. I figured I’d stick around with the 3:55 pace group and if I felt better, I’d pull ahead. If not, I could keep them in sight. Unfortunately they weren’t in my sight now…. By the time I turned around and saw the pacer sign way behind me, there were so many people between us I knew I wouldn’t make it back there. No big deal.
I did my best to start easy and steady, but had a hard time not getting caught up with the crowd. Early on, I got to see the leaders coming back over the first bridge and had a chance to cheer on Rocket and my friend Heidi, who were both kicking ass in the half. I didn’t have to do too much dodging, but found myself checking my watch a lot, paying too much attention to my pace and not really being able to relax and settle into a groove.
I don’t know if it was nerves, the fact that I haven’t run a race in months or that, since I’m primarily an ultrarunner, I’m not used to running a race with so many people, but it took until around mile 4 for me to relax and run a more even pace. As we came back through downtown and around to Firestone Park, I was feeling good and pacing strong. I had picked it up to an 8:37-8:40 pace and kept having to remind myself that I needed to slow down, as the strategy was to hold an even, relaxed pace until around mile 20, then hammer out faster miles to the finish, just like last year.
I held that pace and watched the half marathoners turn off. I usually enjoy this part since it feels like I’m kind of on a really boring trail and it’s a nice little change. I hit the half-marathon mark in 1:54:45, not even a minute slower than my half PR and about a minute faster than where I wanted to be. The spectators and signs in this section broke up the monotony nicely, but by the end of the Towpath miles I was ready for some hills again and was wondering, “How the hell am I going to last during the 26 miles of the C&O Canal during JFK without getting incredibly bored?”
As I passed the 16 mile mark, during all the uphills in Sand Run, things really started to hurt. I had to stop and walk to take a salt tab and my hands were so cold my fingers wouldn’t work, so I had a hard time getting it out of the baggie. Soon the 3:55 pace group passed me and I realized between miles 16 and 20 my pace had slowed to 9:37. At that point, I made a new friend, a UA student named Liz. She was running her second full marathon. We shared a few miles until I knew I needed another salt tab to get through the last few miles and let her run on without me. Part of me regrets not keeping up with her, but I’m not sure I could have.
As I reached the entrance of Stan Hywet, I knew I needed to pick up the pace if I still wanted to come in under 4 hours. There was no giving up, I had to make this goal! It sucked and was painful, but I made one of the last turns and tried to pick up the pace more and more. I kept reminding myself of the last miles of the 100 miler, when everything hurt but I was on my way to accomplishing a huge goal and still running my ass off to get to the finish. And there I was again, about to accomplish another huge goal, only this time the pain paled in comparison to that of 99 miles in my legs. I still had control and I was going to make it. I knew a 3:56 was within my reach.
I fed off the energy of the crowd on Main Street and started running faster. I saw Patrick right before I turned to enter Canal Park to head to the finish. As soon as I could see the finish line I started sprinting. I remember thinking “I’m going to throw up when I cross the finish line! This is really happening! I don’t feel good, I need to throw up.”
I crossed the finish line at 3:56:18. I didn’t throw up, but I felt mixed emotions when I crossed. I had done it, I ran a sub-4 marathon! It was all I’d really wanted for more than three years!
Even though I know I could’ve done better, when I went back and read my post from January, I realized how much I’ve improved this year and just how much has changed since I ran Mohican. I love what I’m doing and I love that I’ve gotten such a huge opportunity to grow and get better at it. I can’t wait to tackle the next goal!