Once upon a time (okay, it was last weekend) in a land far, far away (Alaska, so maybe add one more “far”), there lived a neurotic red head with an audacious idea stuck in her head about running a Boston qualifying marathon. Truth be told, it was her Fairy Runmother, Salty, who got her into this mess, leading her to believe it was actually possible to progress from barely finishing a 5k to chasing down a 3:35 marathon.
And for the record, as usual, Salty was right. Because – wait for it – I just ran 26.2 freaking miles at a waaay faster pace than my first 5k. Can we just pause for a minute while you apply this little tidbit to your own life? Because I’m telling you, three years ago, I had NO reason to believe I could do this. NONE. With a little willingness to suffer and a stubborn commitment to log the miles, you’d be amazed how far (and fast) you’re capable of going.
Anyway, I suppose I should stop with the Tony Robbins impersonations and just get on with the race report. Because nothing says inspirational quite like the minutia of mile splits and intestinal issues.
I arrived in California late on Friday, and spent the better part of Saturday with my good friend and fellow runner Sharone as we carb-loaded and hit up the race expo. I had intended to try to talk to the pace group people, but completely forgot about it in all the excitement of stock piling Honey Stingers and Sport Beans.
We got back to the hotel in plenty of time to lay out our gear and get some sleep, turning lights out by 10 p.m. Unfortunately, the portion of my brain that does the flipping out decided to throw a slumber party and keep my body up well past 1 a.m. Which made my 4 a.m. wake up time all kinds of fun.
I tried to get my tried and true peanut-butter bagel and latte breakfast down, but found there was very little I could stomach. Sharone’s half marathon didn’t start until an hour and a half after mine, but being the amazing friend that she is, she got up early to accompany me to the starting line. Having her there was such a comfort, as I didn’t have to freak out all alone. (Sharone will attest that she was the recipient of way too much information with respect to my digestive system.)
The First 20
It was still dark and chilly when the gun went off at 6:15. I’d promised myself that I would err on the side of going out too slow and focused on finding an easy rhythm in those first few miles. It was too dark to see my watch, so I just kept the 3:35 pace group in sight and concentrated on holding back.
First mile came in at 8:23, followed by another three in the 8:05 range. By now I could see my watch and ran up alongside the 3:35 pacer to ask him about the strategy for tackling the hills. (The course was a rolling out-and-back, with a somewhat sizable climb around mile 9 and a total elevation gain of 822 feet.) I stayed with the 3:35 group until mile 8 when they blew through a water stop and I slowed to wash down some sport beans. I caught back up with the group on the mile 9 hill, at which time I started feeling the familiar niggling pain in my left glute and hamstring.
These were areas that had bothered me leading up to the race, so I wasn’t surprised. I told myself it would probably pass, and that even if it didn’t, I could handle the pain. By mile 11, after enjoying the what-goes-up-must-go-down benefit of an out and back course, my left hammy was cranky enough to make me worry.
So you can imagine my relief when at mile 15, everything began to hurt evenly. I must have found the return of symmetrical pain encouraging, because I picked it up and clicked off my only sub-8 split of the last half.
I remember such a small fraction of the first 20 miles. It’s mostly a blur. But I do remember feeling pretty amazing at mile 17 (8:04) and thinking, “I’ve sooo got this”. And I remember feeling pretty pissed at mile 19 (8:40) and thinking, “Who put the $*#% hill here?”
The final 6.2
In the last half of the race, I drank at every aid station, stopping to walk and get a few ounces down. The sun was out and the temps were up to nearly 70 degrees when I hit the final stretch. By then, I knew if I could just stay fueled and hydrated enough to avoid the bonk, I’d finish with a BQ time and minutes to spare.
I picked up the pace in mile 22, clocking an 8:01 mile and feeling tired but still strong. At this point in the course, we joined back together with the half marathoners and the road became quite crowded. Cheering spectators began lining the streets as well, and the excitement was palpable. However. (There’s always a however.) The half marathoners at that stage were probably averaging a 9:30 pace, and they were taking up the whole dang road. Which meant I couldn’t just dig in and surge forward. I had to weave in order to maintain anything close to my target pace. And weaving takes energy. And energy isn’t exactly your number one resource when you’ve been running your darndest for the past three hours.
At mile 23, I saw another friend cheering at the crest of the hill and gave her a high five as I continued to weave through the half marathon crowd. That energized me a bit, along with the idea that I had less than a 5k left to go. I saw an older man (late 60s I’m guessing?) with a BAA jacket on, and in my adrenalin-laced stupor yelled, “I’m getting that jacket! I’m getting one!” He looked bewildered, like maybe I was planning on taking his. In retrospect, it’s probably best that you refrain from yelling anything about anything after mile 20. Because it’s not going to make sense. And it might frighten innocent senior citizens.
Just past mile 24, a prolonged and sizable hill emerged. Yes, I’ll take things that will be the death of me for $300 please, Alex.
Still weaving, uphill. A rogue aid station with beer popped up around mile 25. A half marathon dude crossed over to take one and ran right into me. I gave him the literal shove off. I was so pissed. GETOUTOFMYWAYSTUPIDBEERGUY! Drinking is for AFTER the race! That’s when the downhill part appeared. I didn’t know how long it was going to last, but I knew those beer-drinking half marathon dudes were about to get seriously chicked.
I ran. I ugly faced. I cringed. I daydreamed about margaritas and In-n-Out cheeseburgers.
I finished! 3:36:13!!
And then I waddle-limped. And cried (happy cry!). And waddle-limped some more. The waddle-limping would continue for sometime after that.
It was more than enough to qualify for Boston, and more than enough to make me want to do it again. And now that I’m several days post marathon and walking down stairs no longer requires copious amounts of courage, I’m totally scheming about the next one.
They say you never forget your first. And I’d have to agree.