If there is one truth about marathons, it is that there are no guarantees.
I went into my 15th marathon with the hope of running somewhere between 3:35 and 3:40. My backup goals were: (1) to qualify for the Boston Marathon (BQ) at 3:45 and (2) to run faster than my slowest and first marathon, 3:53. My family and friends repeatedly assured me I’d hit my goals with no problem. My PR from 2012 is 3:23, so a 3:35 should be easy peasy, right?
Not so fast. If you’ve raced a marathon, you know it isn’t that simple. I knew it, and my race day demonstrated there is nothing simple or easy about running 26.2 miles, no matter how seasoned you may think you are.
Training and Goals
I had a very short training season (13 weeks) and ran relatively low mileage (maxing out at 53 miles, but usually landing in the mid 30s and 40s for mileage per week). My saving grace was that I ran 3 quality workouts a week, with intervals, tempo runs, goal race pace miles, long runs and lots of striders. I knew I wasn’t in PR shape, but I knew I had the fitness to cover the distance. My coach and I decided a good goal was between 3:35 and 3:40. He advised me to go out at 3:40 pace and pick it up at mile 20 if it was there, knowing the last 10k would be tough with my low volume training. Fellow Salty writer, Pepper, suggested I just race it by feel and throw it all out there. I decided to combine the two concepts. I’d generally shoot for 3:35-3:40, but I would let my body dictate the pace. I wore my Garmin (hey, way too Type A to leave that behind), but would check it only at mile markers to gauge my pace.
I woke up at 4:00 am with my normal race day excitement. It’s race day, baby! My family was with me and it was supposed to be a perfect day for running (windy, but sunny and 40s). I felt pretty great and was really happy because my stomach was not happy at all when I went to bed Friday night.
We arrived at the starting area without a hitch. My race was set to start at 7:00 am and the boys were doing the 2 mile Family Run starting at 7:20. I lined up just before race time and, as always, felt very emotional when the National Anthem was played. I let a few tears fall and my heart filled with gratitude. Some day I will not be able to do this. Today is not that day.
The gun sounded and the field took off. The half and full start together and stay together the first 12 miles, so there is a relatively decent sized field. The first miles were very comfortable and easy. My breathing was relaxed and I focused on enjoying the race. My laps ranged between 7:58 and 8:15 pace – right on track. I saw my boys at mile 11 and it was great to see them. At mile 12, I was happy to see the half marathoners break off, even if it meant the race got much quieter. I hit the half around 1:46 or 1:47 and thought for sure I was going to have a strong race. I saw the boys again at mile 14 – they told me they rocked their race and came in 1st and 3rd – so awesome.
Unfortunately, right after I saw them, my stomach started getting very rumbly. I decided to ignore it as I know often times these things pass. Much to my chagrin, it did not pass, however, and progressively got worse. I hit the turnaround at mile 19 and was feeling miserable. I finally stopped for a bathroom break at mile 19.5. I lost 2 valuable minutes with that break, but I was hoping I’d feel a lot better and be able to bring it in for a BQ even if I ran a 9:00 pace the rest of the race.
I started running again and my stomach was somewhat better, but my calves were screaming at me with every step. I thought I did a really good job carbo-loading and electrolyte loading during the days leading up to the race. Apparently not. It hurt so bad I stopped to walk a few times during miles 21, 22 and 23. I looked at my watch and contemplated walking it in. I’d finish in 4:1x something.
Wait – what?!? This is not Mint talking. I do not give in. I do not give in. A BQ is still within reach…. RUN!
I took off once again, but my entire body – particularly my calves – yelled in protest.
The home stretch of this race is right along Lake Michigan and it was super windy at this point too. I won’t lie: it was really hard. The combination of regular fatigue at this point of the race plus tummy issues, screaming calves and a treacherous head wind made my mental game falter. I do not give in. I do not give in. I thought of the beloved six women written on my bib number. One died a few days earlier after an unfair and brutal fight with cancer. The others are all either battling illness or preventative surgeries. I can do this. My fight is nothing compared to theirs.
As I passed the mile 24 marker, I hit the lap button on my Garmin. 9:25. Damn. I kept going. Everything hurt. I passed the mile 25 marker and hit lap. 9:01. Okay Mint, run faster.
Just before the mile 26 marker, both of my boys came running toward me. They were fired up and were screaming, “Mom, you only have 2 minutes to hit your BQ – go faster!” I yelled to them to run with me and to my delight, they both obliged. I hit the lap button as I passed mile 26, but did not even look at it. James yelled, “you really need to go faster Mom!” Apparently I shot him a stern look because he followed that with, “Sorry Mom.” :)
I gave it everything I had. As I crossed the timing mat in the chute, I turned off my Garmin. It read 3:44:59.
My boys came running up to me and I showed them both my watch with delight. They were so thrilled and immediately tore off to go tell their dad and my good friend, Michelle, who came to watch.
I couldn’t believe I cut it that close. I would have been SO mad at myself had I missed my BQ with one of those walk breaks or the bathroom break. But I didn’t miss it. It was a rough race and I really had to fight for it, but I landed my BQ.
As we drove home, I checked the official results. 3:44:57. Woo Hoo! Even better, I somehow managed to land 3rd in my age group. Nice. When we got home, I also downloaded my Garmin results. I ran mile 26 in 8:38 and ran the last .2 at a 7:07 pace. I know there is no way I would have pulled that finish off without my boys encouraging me. It is so cool that they get it and were there to push me so hard.
This race was much slower than I had expected, and I admit that there was a time that this result would have really disappointed me. Not today. I fought hard for it and it was truly a great race.
Today I am sore, proud and excited for what’s next. I am registered for Chicago 2014 and plan to have a much longer and more intense training season. In the meantime, I plan to recover and relish this victory.
For those of you who encouraged me in person, here and/or on Facebook – many, many thanks – you were with me along the way.