How can my heart be overflowing with joy, while at the same time breaking just a little bit?
This race day started like every other race day that had come before. Waking up before the alarm. Leaving the house ahead of schedule. Waiting in line for the port-o-pots. Checking gear. Chatting and laughing with friends. Walking the dimly lit streets to get to the corrals. It was all very familiar stuff for Ginkgo and me. We were both very relaxed. It felt just like the beginning of every training run we had done.
When Ginkgo and I met up, she divulged that she had completely forgotten her GPS watch. She had charged it in the kitchen to avoid waking up the rest of her family and she left the house without it. We planned to run with our watches covered, but this was another sign that the watchless challenge was meant to be. We had one watch between the two of us.
The 2017 Columbus Half Marathon coincided with my first semester of law school. If I had to sum them up, separately but also together, I would say, “What a ride.” Wow.
I had always been told that law school is a different beast from undergrad, and that I couldn’t or shouldn’t even try to run. However, I’m stubborn, and I registered for a half anyway. I told myself that Columbus is my favorite race ever, and even if school caused me to toe the starting line a little less than fit, I would do it anyway because I enjoy the race.
I’ve been putting off this race report because it was easier for me just to pretend it didn’t happen. But 2 full weeks and a big glass of wine later, I’m finally ready to process exactly what happened over my 13.1-mile-long (or 13.4 according to my GPS) meltdown along the streets of Houston. Read more >>
This race was the ultimate dichotomy: It was not my day and it was my day. Confused?
I should probably start this recap at the start line of the race, but I’d rather back up and start somewhere else: the beginning of the training cycle. If you’ve run a marathon, you know that there is so much more to a marathon than the race itself. I trained with 6 friends who were all training for the same race. We ran 9 tune-up races, 35 workouts and 1,300 miles together. Sharing the journey with friends made this one really special; the camaraderie carried us to the finish line. Read more >>
Spoiler alert: Stick a fork in me, I might be done.
I decided to run the Houston Marathon fairly soon after the Richmond Marathon in November. I felt like I would recover from Richmond quickly since I basically ran 18 miles hard, then struggled the last 8 with massive quad cramps, finishing in 2:52:39. Richmond was a good starting point as my first serious race back after having baby #3, and before the quad cramps I ran those 18 miles at 2:47-2:48 pace. My ultimate A-goal was to run under 2:45 and qualify for the Olympic Trials. I thought I’d get there by building on my Richmond performance with a little more training and going for it at Houston.
Logistically, it also made sense. I didn’t feel the need to take a lot of time off after Richmond, and I didn’t have the patience to start over and go through a typical 12-week marathon training cycle. I recently read an interview with Sara Hall where she explained her attitude towards racing frequently. She likes the approach of generally staying prepared and ready to race whatever comes up, rather than relying on “perfect training cycles” for a single goal race. I agree.
So after a few days completely off after Richmond, and two weeks of easy building back up, I felt ready to train again.
The clock was ticking. The seconds felt like minutes. 3:19:54, 3:19:55, 3:19:56. My official finish time was four seconds shy of 3:20 on the dot, which would undeniably been worthy of a #nailedit … if I hadn’t been the official pacer for the 3:25 group.
As I crossed the finish line, I heard the announcer booming over the loudspeaker, “Here comes our 3:20 pacer! Wait. No. 3:25?! Someone is a little ahead of schedule, aren’t we?” Well, thank you, sir, for so eloquently stating the obvious. From this brief overview of the end result, one might conclude that my first experience pacing a marathon went terribly wrong. While in some ways it did, in other ways, it was a success. So let me tell you exactly what went down and what I am taking away from this amazing (learning) experience.
Happy New Year, Salty Readers! Lately I’m a much better Salty lurker (I read every day) than contributor. But I wanted to write my race reports for 2017, which was a good running year, plus I have some exciting 2018 news to share. So here goes!
“Are you training for a marathon?” My husband, Ben, confronted me as I was trying to get out of the house on Saturday morning for a long run. As I stood there wondering what to say, he crowed and laughed, “You are! You are! You are training for a marathon! When were you planning on telling me?”
Drats! My secret was out.
After a disappointing race season last year and much work-related stress, I lost all desire to train for another marathon. Marathons and I were on a long break for 2017. Or so I thought. Things in my life changed for the better. A much-needed reduction in work responsibility lessened stress and gave me more time to devote to the life part of the work-life balance. I hired a running coach. Me, of all people. I once declared that I was uncoachable, but I realized that I had taken myself as far as I could with what I was doing. I needed to change. As months passed, I noticed small incremental improvements in my running. I began flirting with the idea of marathon training again, but I shied away from committing fully to training until I nailed an 18-mile race in late August.
I asked my coach, “Do you think I can BQ?”
“Yes, I absolutely do.”
I clarified, “I’m not interested in a marathon PR. It’s BQ or nothing. If I can’t BQ, then I don’t want to do this.”
“You can do this,” she reaffirmed without any hesitation.
A Boston Qualifying time for a 40-year woman is 3:45, more than 14 minutes faster than my marathon PR that I set two years ago. I haven’t had huge improvements like that in over three years. I knew I could have simply settled on working for a PR, a much more doable and easier goal, and still have what anyone would have called a good racing season, but it wasn’t enough this time. I wanted to go big or go home. It was BQ or nothing.
I quietly started training without saying a word to anyone, not even to my husband. I was secretive about marathon training for a couple of reasons. Two years ago, I wrote how announcing your goals on social media is detrimental to goal accomplishment because the praise you receive for the attempt fulfills your achievement needs. The other reason is that I discovered that I loved being left alone with my training. I went out, did my training runs, and that was the end of it. There was no endless discussion from know-it-alls about how I was doing it all wrong. It was way less stressful for me. For several weeks I successfully trained without arousing much suspicion from Ben. Eventually he figured it out and good-naturedly agreed to keep the secret from our running friends.
I chose the California International Marathon for my BQ attempt because 1) I love downhill point-to-point courses, 2) the December race date meant that long training runs were in the cooler fall and not in the sweltering summer, and 3) I had a friend living in Sacramento who was thrilled to provide me with accommodations and be a race sherpa. My friend was amazing because she chauffered me everywhere and put up with last minute panic attacks that I was in over my head.
I took the pre-race shuttle from downtown Sacramento to the start area in Folsom, which looked like a scene from a post-apocalyptic movie with runners dressed in throwaway clothing wandering aimlessly in an empty intersection. The entire area had been closed off to traffic for CIM. The convenience stores were open, so I bought a small cup of coffee to sip nervously as I waited to start.
While standing in line for the portalets, I found two running friends in the line next to mine. I switched over and we chatted about our goals and expectations. Upon finding out that one had a similar goal time as me, we decided to run together for as long as we could, but that at any point one of us could take off. I really like that because it meant that I had company, but at the same time I was free to run my own race plan and didn’t have to debate with myself about whether I could stick with her if I wasn’t feeling it for any reason. For the first 15 miles or so, she and I ran within a few feet of each other. Sometimes she was a little bit ahead, sometimes I was, sometimes we were right next to each other. I really enjoyed having company, and along with all the great crowd support (just like NYC Marathon, only a lot smaller!), the miles flew by! I felt great and it was hard running 8:25 because I felt so good. I really wanted and was tempted to run an 8:15 pace. Seductive thoughts of blowing my time goal teased me. I was running so easy at 8:25 and honestly, 8:15 didn’t feel like any more work. I COULD DO THIS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Every time that devil tempting thought crept into my head, I firmly shut it down by whispering to myself, “Easy, easy, easy. 8:25. You have a plan. Stick to the plan,” and “Patience, patience. A marathon is a game of patience.” It was really hard running more slowly than I felt like. I forced myself to soak in the atmosphere. I smiled and waved (a little — had to conserve energy for later) at the cheering crowds. In my head, I sang along to the songs being played over loudspeakers. I punched a sign that said, “Punch here for Power.” I gently tapped a little girl’s hand who was eagerly giving out high fives.
Somewhere around mile 15 at a water station, I lost my friend. I was still feeling super good. I thought about Wineglass Marathon in 2015 and Steamtown in 2016 and how I felt in the second half. Although Wineglass went extremely well for me, I started to have mental problems starting at mile 14. Here I was at mile 15, 17, 18, and I was not suffering at all. I celebrated how differently I felt at CIM.
The first 20 miles were amazing and all I could think about was how I was going to do this.
Then at Mile 20.5 I hit The Wall.
No, seriously, they have a faux brick wall with a giant hole in the middle where the course goes through, so runners literally run through a wall. There was a huge cheering crowd, so it was a lot of fun.
It’s now time to fly! If only my legs would let me.
Mile 21, my legs are starting to feel tired, but it’s okay. Nothing I can’t handle.
Mile 22, legs are definitely heavier, as if they were starting to turn into cement. Things are less okay.
Mile 23, things are definitely NOT OKAY. My legs feel like cement blocks. I was slipping down to 9, 9:30 pace every time I glanced at my Garmin. I really wanted to stop. And since I couldn’t stop, I really wanted to slow down. Even running at a slower pace felt like a lot of effort and I couldn’t fathom running at my original intended pace of 8:25. I looked at the overall elapsed time, did some mental math and realized with horror that I could lose it all in the last 3 miles.
If I slowed down significantly I was not going to BQ. I’m starting to think that I wasn’t going to be able to do this. I thought of my race sherpa friend who was volunteering at an aid station at Mile 25. Her shift was going to end before I got there, but she promised to stay and wait for me until I passed through. I told myself, “Less than 2 miles until you see her. Push, push, push! You HAVE TO PUSH!!!” I had to concentrate hard and repeatedly tell myself, “Push, push, push!!!” in order to keep my legs churning. Otherwise, I was going to slow down too much. That easy 8:25 pace during the first 20 miles was now an uphill battle.
Mile 24, push, push, push!!!
Mile 25, I was so relieved at seeing my friend. Her broad smiling face dulled the pain in my legs the way no anesthetic could. She cheered extra loud for me and I gratefully grabbed a cup of water from her hand, which I promptly dumped over my head. I told myself, “There are 10 more minutes of suck left.”
That last mile was hard. I was so tired. My leg muscles were twitching. A blister had formed under my left big toe. I needed the bathroom. I just wanted this to be over. With every fiber of my body, especially my legs, screaming to rest, I pushed on.
I glanced at my Garmin and saw that there was only a half mile left. I told myself to take a moment to enjoy all this because it was going to be over soon. The other part of me said that it wasn’t going to be over soon enough.
I had studied the course map carefully and knew that there was a left turn at 8th Street, and after a few yards, there was another left turn to the finish line. I looked up and saw I was at 15th. I counted down to 10th Street, and then I sprinted for the finish line.
The last final turn, I see the finish line right in front of the gleaming white state capitol and I’m overwhelmed by the thought that I was going to do this. I raised my arms in victory as I cross the finish line.
I BQ’D! I ran CIM in 3:40:36, a time that gets me almost four and a half minutes under the BQ time I needed. I rang the BQ bell with the utmost enthusiasm.
I was interviewed by a news crew and I could hear my voice crack with emotion as I talked about BQ’ing. Until I BQ’d, I didn’t realize just how much it meant to me. I didn’t want to think about it as a coping strategy because I wanted to keep the pressure off me. And now that I had BQ’ed, an avalanche of emotions subsumed me. I was delirious, happy, exhausted, verklempt, and just about everything else.
7 months of coaching + 1,024 miles of training + 26.2 miles of racing = 3:40:36
I had a plan and I executed it.
My feelings about this race ranged from excited expectation to business-like execution to serendipitous joy. The Ghost Train Half Marathon is a small local race put on by the Parks and Rec Department of the towns of East Hampton, Colchester, and Hebron, CT.
Five years ago, I introduced my friends Snarky Girl and Fast Friend at this race and they ended up running the whole thing together. It was the start of our teaming up for lots of shared running adventures. I had initially been looking forward to meeting up with the two of them this year, but then Fast Friend pulled her back and couldn’t run. For me, it was also only three weeks post-Hartford. In the days leading up to the race, my original excitement shifted to a case of the blahs.
While texting Coach Mick on Thursday, he threw in the word “relentless.” He doesn’t know it, but that word has been something of a touchstone for me this year. Something to focus on when getting up to go swim or ride the video bike last winter. “Relentless pursuit” — of getting healthy, of running faster, of figuring out how to live and run on my own terms. My daughter Rose can be incredibly relentless — not always a lovable attribute in a child — but maybe she got that from me.
Friday before the race was a good day. I did some solid writing for work. I met Rashi for coffee. It was all fine, but I felt like I was checking off boxes mentally. My main mantra for the race seemed to be: Don’t screw up, which felt less than inspiring. I told Coach Mick and he texted back: “Try Not To Suck” (Joe Maddon — Cubs manager). I wondered if the Cubs were a great source of inspiration … but that was their motto for 2016, the year they won the World Series. That puts a whole different twist on it.
“Trying Not To Suck” in my mind means no major mistakes. It means things like, eat the pre-race breakfast that works, get to the race on time for a proper warm-up. Line up appropriately. Don’t go out too fast. Remember to fuel and hydrate. Do a cool down and take care of my foot. This is sort of basic stuff in some ways, but it’s surprisingly easy to goof it up. It is a little like checking off boxes though and for the first time in my life I thought – is this what people mean when they say running feels like a job? Is remembering to pack Gu the equivalent of getting your PowerPoint presentation in order? Is this “professionalization” of race routine the thing that sucks joy out of running for so many people? Then I thought, nah, at least not for me. I still love running and come to think of it, I like my job pretty well too. It’s ok to want to do both of those things well and “Trying Not To Suck” is for sure a part of that.
“Trying Not To Suck” came together as a five-point plan for this race. 1) Get to the race on time and do the planned warm-up. 2) Stay on top of fueling and hydration. Particularly because this race supposedly only had three water stops and because not looking at my watch has left me a little disconnected from fueling. 3) Start slow to finish fast — i.e., don’t go out too fast. 4) Stay strong at the end — relentless pursuit. 5) Do a cool down and post-run foot routine.
Race day morning prep was solo this time and I missed Corgi Speedster’s excellent spirit! But the Incredible Mervus left out a fun note for me.
I wanted to balance “Relentless” and “Try Not To Suck” so I took them both with me by writing them on my forearms.
Snarky Girl and I drove together and arrived on time for the very first shuttle to the start. So far so good in terms of Operation Try Not To Suck. We got our bibs and the very nice race shirts and hung out with Fast Friend’s husband in the school gym. Eventually I said I wanted to warm up and Snarky Girl moaned and groaned a bit but came with me, as she always does. We found a little dirt track, did a little running and some drills, all perfectly timed for the start of the race. Yeah!
Then I went back into the school for one last chance to pee. Uh oh. Earlier there had been no one but now the line was HUGE. Oops. It was 8:50 with a 9 a.m. start time and there were a bunch of women ahead of me. No waiting for the men’s room, though, so I started agitating with another woman that we should just go ahead. The men coming out said “You don’t want to go in there. The smell is terrible. Place is a mess.” Hmmmm. I said I can stand a little smell in order to make it to the start on time and my fellow agitator made her move. I followed. The smell was fine. We had to be careful where we looked because, well, not everyone in a men’s room pees in a stall. But we were done quickly and we weren’t the only women invading that “male space” that day.
Out at the starting line, I found my friends getting ready to line up. They had an actual chalk line on the street for the starting line, completing the Beardy Guy nature of the race. I am not even sure they had a gun because we didn’t hear anything so maybe someone up at the front just said Go! And off we went.
I ran 1:55:39 at Hartford three weeks prior to this race in hotter weather on a hillier course. I was hoping to go a bit faster at the Ghost Train run but I was pretty sure I was not close to PR territory of 1:52:44. Part of the reason for the feeling of box-checking was surely that I felt pretty confident I could beat my Hartford time and equally confident that I was not in shape to PR. Where’s the excitement in that?
Then, just a minute or two after we started, Ghostie popped up next to me. Ghostie is a friend of the Retiree’s who I have met on a few occasions, most recently pre- and post-Hartford. He asked me what I was running and I said sub-1:55. He said something or other about pace and I said I was running without looking at my watch. Then he made an interesting move and covered his own watch. We agreed to run together for awhile, as long as it worked out.
The first mile was definitely too fast, but of course, the start is exciting and the weather was perfect and this race starts downhill. Ghostie asked how I was feeling and I said, this is too fast. I had planned to check my watch after the first mile because I had done that at Hartford and I liked being able to calibrate how things were feeling. 8:20. Yup, too fast. But it wasn’t just the number on the watch — it felt too fast. For the next mile or so, I worked to get back to the pace where I wanted to be. Snarky Girl passed us. A girls’ cross country team passed us. Some other folks passed us. Let them go, I thought. Better to start slow. Try Not To Suck stage 3.
Then Ghostie and I fell into a fantastic groove. We were running at a decent clip. Fast enough that I knew we weren’t too slow, but slow enough that we could chat. We filled each other in on our various friends who were racing that day. We discussed the Hartford race again. We talked a bit about running and racing without a watch. We went over how many times we had each done the Ghost Run. It was absolutely downright delightful.
Unlike Hartford where I felt very dialed in on my breathing and focused on maintaining the right effort level, here I had an actual conversation partner so it was much easier to tell my pace in terms of “sentences.” The whole first 3 miles were a tad faster than I would have wanted them to be, but we settled into a good pace and I figured I did not need to speed up much after mile 3. Ghostie sometimes pulled ahead a little when someone passed us or at water stations and I just let him go. He slowed a bit and waited for me. We passed a lot of happy miles that way with his occasionally checking on my effort level and my occasionally holding him back a tad. At one point I did see my watch by mistake and caught sight of an 8:42 split. Perfect.
This race is billed as flat and by Connecticut standards, it is flat, but Strava shows that you actually run downhill for the first 8 miles and then uphill for the last 5. We got to the uphill portion and it certainly felt like more work. Ghostie again asked how I was doing and I said something about wishing we didn’t have quite as far to go. Miles 8-10 were the hardest of the race for me and that shows in the splits. I caught a glimpse of the 9:07 mile by mistake and thought, urg, let’s get going here.
By mile 10 I remembered the plan of trying to pick up the pace, if possible. I wondered about the wisdom of the somewhat-quicker-than-planned start again, but heck, it was only a 5K to go at that point and I found a little bit of gas left in the tank, even going uphill. Ghostie and I were so tuned in to each other that he felt this too, of course, and I said, it’s ok, this is part of the plan. Conversation had dwindled on my part by now. But then we saw Snarky Girl ahead of us and we were reeling her in. Passing Snarky Girl in a race is not something I have a lot of experience with (by which I mean, zero experience) and I admit to enjoying it even though she was running with a slower friend. Then we saw that girls’ cross country team ahead of us and I said oh, let’s get those girls too. I threw in a bit of a surge and we sailed by. Fun!
Then it was pedal to the metal until the end. I know this stretch of trail pretty well and I flashed back to a training run with Fast Friend and Snarky Girl when I was running so hard I was almost hallucinating and they were chugging along having some conversation about a TV show about cats. That was three years ago! Funny how certain stretches of ground can trigger a particular memory.
By now we were almost done. I tripped on a rock and almost went down, which would have taken the race right into boy-did-that-suck territory, but luckily I stayed upright. Finally we rounded the last corner and ran into the school parking lot to cross the finish line. Ghostie and I high fived each other like crazy. 1:54:24! Running with him was SO much fun!
I have said not looking at your watch meant you get your splits as a surprise at the end so we took a peek. Very happy with the results! This is my second race without looking at my watch and mostly we were right on track. The start was a little fast and I had one slower mile when the hill at the end got into my head, but otherwise good. I’m completely shocked at how fast I’ve acclimated to running #nowatchme and how much I like it.
Fast Friend met us at the finish line with her adorable daughter, Mini-J. I continued with stage five of Try Not To Suck and managed a short cool down, but I was pretty darn done. Instead I mostly enjoyed the post-race chili, chatted with friends, and played a bit on the playground with Mini-J. Third in my age group really Did Not Suck though I know that’s mostly about who shows up on race day.
Snarky Girl and I stopped for donuts and coffee on the way home and I did my post-run foot routine at home because they didn’t have ice at the race. I also went out to dinner with the family to our favorite race-day restaurant. These are also boxes to get checked off, in a sense. I feel really good about how this race went, both in terms of results and the process. I did not suck. Combined with Hartford, the two races give me a good sense of where my fitness is and also show me that I didn’t forget how to do this race thing. Maybe most importantly, I got two chances to do what I love and I still love it even after that big break. Bring on marathon training.
As I sit here the day after the Richmond Marathon, writing my race report, I don’t feel like I just ran a marathon yesterday.
That about sums up my race.
Let me backtrack a bit. On a run 10 days before the marathon my knee started to hurt. It hurt enough to call it a day at 3 miles, then take the next several days off. After switching my shoes and consulting a chiropractor, I tried running again. While it didn’t hurt now, it still had a little pull and wasn’t 100% normal.
My coach advised me to take the following week completely off and then do very short runs the Thursday and Friday before the race. During that week, I set up my bike trainer in the basement and biked the equivalent times I would have run. My knee felt fine and didn’t bother me at all running the two days before the marathon. I focused on the mental aspect of dealing with this extreme taper; I knew the work was done, and I hoped that an 8-mile pre-race week wouldn’t affect my performance.
The elite coordinator Thom had invited me to be the guest speaker at their Sports Backers club dinner Thursday evening and talk at a school Friday morning. Last year they had Desi Linden – quite an act to follow! – but since the race fell on Veteran’s Day this year, Thom (an Air Force Vietnam Veteran himself), thought it would be neat to have a veteran as the speaker. I was very honored and looking forward to talking with and meeting other fellow runners. I thought it would be fun since I used to speak with school groups while in WCAP.
I debated whether to travel to Richmond solo or with the kids. My husband was in the field all week and training nights, and he couldn’t leave until Friday. My Mom was willing to drive over (she lives an hour away) and watch the kids at the hotel while I was at my speaking engagements, but ultimately we decided the easiest thing to do logistically would be to leave them at home with a babysitter while he was working. That meant I wouldn’t have my race support/cheering squad there, but I would hopefully get two nights of solid sleep and time to myself.
The speaking engagements went well. The dinner Thursday evening was coincidentally at the high school my Dad graduated from, and it made me feel like a pro to field questions from a range of people running their first to 20th marathon. Friday I talked with the run club at a military middle school in the city, which was fun. As I relayed some of my Army experiences, I realized that the kids weren’t even born when September 11th happened, an event that had completely shaped my young adult life as a 2001 West Point graduate. That evening I met up with one of my best friends and teammates from college and her boyfriend for an early bird dinner, th
en headed back to the hotel to get a good night’s sleep in a crisp, neatly made, all-to-myself bed before race day!
I woke up two hours before the start to eat breakfast, which I had no appetite for and had to force down. I managed to eat a plain bagel, part of a banana, and bottle of water. I took a quick shower to help wake up, then rolled my legs and stretched a bit. I was only a few blocks to the start and wanted to leave the hotel as late as possible since it was below freezing outside and I didn’t want to shiver for too long!
Mentally, I felt good. I had accepted the fact that running a marathon was going to be unpleasant, that I was going to be out there for a long haul, and that it was going to hurt. After dreading it for the last several weeks, I was looking forward to getting it done.
I ran up to the start and got to the line about 20 minutes before go time. It was cold: 25 degrees at the start. My ponytail froze into one solid ice chunk. I kept my sweats on for as long as possible, then stripped down to my shorts, singlet and throwaway gloves. Mistake #1: I should have worn compression socks or sleeves and possibly arm sleeves. I never warmed up the entire race.
I started up front and settled into a comfortable pace. The first mile was 6:23, but I didn’t use my watch too much after the first few miles as I tried to dial into a pace. It was freezing, and it felt like there was a cold wind no matter who I tucked in behind. My next few miles stayed consistent around 6:20-6:22.
I entered this race thinking I was fit enough to qualify for the Olympic Trials (2:45). I felt like I had gotten in a solid training block and that in good conditions I could do it. A OTQ requires a 6:17-8 pace, and I was just slightly off. I didn’t freak out or become discouraged and throw in the towel. I felt good where I was. 6:20-6:22 just happened to be my rhythm that day. I also thought that maybe when I warmed up a bit, I could get into a faster groove.
Around mile 8 I finally began to feel my face and hands again. My throwaway gloves were perfect for gel storage. I always debate pinning my gels to the inside of my shorts or tucking them into my sports bra, both of which result in awful chafing in weird places. I ended up keeping my gloves on the entire race because of the cold and just tucked my gels into them so I didn’t have to hold anything.
I went through the half at 83:16. Still on 6:21 pace, so I’d definitely found my rhythm. I felt good, working but in control. Surprisingly, I was enjoying myself. The marathon was a beautiful course with nice crowd support spread throughout. It seemed to be going by very fast. Normally, even if I don’t look at my watch every mile it still seems like a long drag between the markers, but in this race it felt like the miles just kept clicking away.
If I could keep that consistent pace, I thought I would end up running 2:47-2:48, which I would be happy with. It would make a good starting point for another consistent training cycle. On an easier course in better conditions, I’d be confident to run several minutes faster. While I knew I wasn’t going to negative split it today and qualify for the trials, I was perfectly happy with where I was at and confident I’d maintain it.
And then came mile 18. My quads completely locked up. Sure, at some point in every marathon my legs start to really, really hurt. That’s the nature of pounding the pavement for 26 miles. But this was different. It was serious cramping, enough that I wanted to stop and stretch but didn’t because I knew it would be hard to start again. I felt like I was half stepping, my stride length reduced to nothing. The only thing I could do was try to maintain the same rhythm, although my steps felt incredibly short.
What happened? Maybe the hills finally caught up to me? Richmond is a very hilly course. Some are obvious, others are long stretches that you don’t even notice until you’re running them. The whole thing feels rolling. But I generally run on hilly routes while pushing the stroller, so didn’t think the Richmond hills would bother me that much. Could it have been the cold from wearing shorts? My butt was still numb from cold at the end of the race.
Later that day it dawned on me that my quad cramps were probably the result of my biking for the last 10 days; I hadn’t ridden my bike trainer in years, so starting a new activity to substitute running the week before my race (ie: stressing different muscles) probably wasn’t a genius idea. Mistake #2.
Needless to say, I lost 4-5 minutes the final 8 miles. I got passed by 2 women, handfuls of men, and finally finished as 6th female in 2:52:39.
I was immediately disappointed in myself, because I felt like I had just run, not raced, 26 miles. Which unfortunately characterizes how I’ve felt after many of my races this season.
On the long drive home (only about 3.5 hours driving, but I stopped frequently to walk around and stretch my legs), I did nothing but analyze my race. Did I run slower than hoped for because of environmental factors (the cold and fact that I never warmed up, the hills, my quads) or because I mentally gave up at mile 18 when my quads seized up? I think it was my quads. Mentally I tried; when people passed me, I used that as motivation to go with them. I’d latch on for several paces, then my quads would seize up again and I’d be reduced to half stepping. It was frustrating that my body wouldn’t cooperate with my mind.
Overall, despite the cramping, I enjoyed the marathon. Which I don’t think I’ve ever said before. I wasn’t engulfed in doubts or negative thoughts about quitting. I actually was thinking about what I wanted to run next, which NEVER happens: it’s normally “run fast so you don’t have to do this again.” It went by very quickly for a marathon.
Based on how I feel, I think I’m going to recover quickly. My quads and a very chafed belly button (thanks diastasis recti) are the only battle wounds I have. While taking some recovery time I plan on analyzing my training cycle to see what I can change and revamp for the next one. My buildup for this marathon was good, not great, and just like this race, my intermediary races were mostly lackluster and left me feeling like I hadn’t left it all on the course. And that means it’s time to refocus on what is next.
I had arrived home from the race spent and crusty. I lost and, although that part wasn’t unexpected at all, I had run probably the most miserable marathon out of my total of 15 finishes. The Columbus Marathon, not to mention a few hundred other runners, had beaten me thoroughly. Read more >>
Recently, I ran a half marathon 5 minutes slower than I’d hoped to, and I wasn’t sad at all.
This may not seem like a big deal, but 2 years ago I ran a half marathon with the exact same goal (1:29), and the exact same finish time (1:34) and I was devastated. As in, sobbing Nancy Kerrigan-style after the race, throwing the medal away, refusing to speak about it for months. I was so upset that didn’t run another half marathon for a year and almost swore off running for good. Yet after this year’s series of unfortunate race events, I was eating chicken and waffles and smiling within an hour of finishing. So what changed? Have I grown older and wiser or just lost my competitive fire? I think maybe a little bit of both.
Let’s start with my most recent race. I’d trained harder than I ever have for a half marathon before. I peaked at 60 miles a week, and was feeling mentally kind of blah and physically a little beat up going in. For the last week of training and going into the taper, I’d been experiencing some pain in my SI joint, radiating into my left hip. I saw a local chiropractor who wasn’t able to offer a ton of help or advice, except that probably nothing was broken and it may or may not resolve itself (by the way, if you live in the DFW area, please send me your best sports chiropractor/sports medicine docs!). Mentally, I’ve been training pretty hard since May and just really was ready for some down time. I’d been on team “break 1:30 or die,” but during the taper made peace with the fact that that might not happen for me.
When I woke up and checked the weather race morning, I immediately thought “not a PR day.” The weather was forecasted to be mid- to high-60s with high humidity and sporadic showers. I have run all my PRs in 30-degree temps, and I know I dehydrate very easily and would struggle. I shoveled down half a plain bagel, made it to the start where I ran a quick warmup, peed twice and gagged down a caffeinated Gu with 15 minutes to spare. I eyed my fellow competitors and pegged one girl to be my biggest competition, purely based on her clothing (buns and a cross country tee), and before I knew it we were off quickly. Too quickly, as it turned out. Just past the first 400 meters, I looked at my watch to discover the female I eyed at the start and I were running 5:30 pace. I backed off and let her go, and tried to force myself to slow down to my planned 6:55, but it turned out to be too little too late. When my watch beeped at 6:37 I knew I’d shot myself in the foot.
My low back was sending shooting pains into my hip by mile 2. The way-too-fast pace, humidity, and pain slowly caught up to me. I went through the next few miles in 6:50, 6:51, 6:51, 6:55, 6:57 and then I knew I was toast. I was working way harder than I should have been at mile 5 of a half marathon. I remembered my PR half marathon where I felt like I was effortlessly gliding and knew I felt not even remotely like that. I stopped looking at my watch at mile 6 and focused on not letting any other women pass me. The miles slowly, painfully dragged by until I slogged over the finish line in 1:34, second female by only a few seconds. I sat in the grass and caught my breath for a few seconds, ignoring the searing pain in my hip, and then limped off to find my husband and kids who were handing out jelly beans on the course.
I got several “are you ok?’ and “I’m so sorry!” texts after this race, and here’s the thing: I’m shocked with how fine I am with all this. I wasn’t sad even for a second. I was irritated that I’d gone out at such a stupid pace and a little miffed that I didn’t have any fight in me, but I don’t feel like I’ve failed as an athlete the way I did two years ago.
During the taper, I thought about my running career a bit. I ran my first half marathon in 2009 and finished in 2:07. Five months later I ran another one in 1:42, and slowly chipped my way down to 1:31. 1:29 sounds like a nice number, but if I never get any faster, is 1:31 any less impressive? I have rheumatoid arthritis, and I’ve had 2 kids, and 1:31 is a time to be proud of — just like 1:42 was and 2:07 was. Running doesn’t define me as a person the way that it used to. I used to constantly agonize over tempo runs I’d missed paces on. I tracked fellow runners on Athlinks and berated myself for not putting out similar times. Now, running is a fun part of my life, but not such a huge part that I feel incomplete if I don’t meet running goals.
In the wake of this, I made a few decisions. Most importantly, I switched from the Houston Marathon to the half. I would like to try to not run like a dummy in a half again, and I really just don’t have it in me to train for another marathon. There’s no way I’ll top the experience I had at Boston last year, and while part of me would like a faster marathon PR, the more realistic part of me realizes that my body isn’t ready for it. I’m going to lay low training-wise for a few weeks, and then get back into half training. I’m going to attempt to add more yoga into my training. I always feel so much better if I can get it in at least once a week, so if you can recommend any great YouTube yoga classes, let me know!
I’m excited to try to run a half marathon PR again one day. But I know that even if I don’t, I’m still a good runner, and I’m still proud of what I’ve done.
The NYC marathon: 26.2 miles running through the streets of NYC. A unique way to see the city, covering all 5 boroughs, along with 51,000 other runners. On Sunday, Nov. 5, I toed the line at the 2017 NYC Marathon.
I went into Manhattan Saturday to pick up my bib and check out the expo. I arrived right when the expo opened — I didn’t want to be stuck in the city all day (I wanted to be able to rest during the evening). I walked straight up to the desk with my bib number range, collected my bib, and went into the expo. I looked at the New Balance NYC Marathon gear online before arriving at the expo, so I already knew what I was looking for. I found each of the items and then visited the nuun, Run Ottawa (for a little taste of back home!) and Saucony booths before leaving.
Sunday night was the time change, but fortunately our clocks were turning back an hour. I was a bit nervous about missing my alarm, but ended up waking up a few minutes before it went off at 4:30 a.m. I already had all of my gear laid out and items for athlete’s village packed. I got dressed quickly and my husband drove me to MetLife Stadium to board the bus at 5 a.m. Knowing that this was a huge race, I wanted to be there early, because I wasn’t sure how long everything would take. I was in Wave 1, Corral B, which also meant I didn’t have any time for delays.
I boarded the second bus and arrived at Fort Wadsworth before 6 a.m. It was dark, cold, and the ground was wet from the rain that stopped shortly after I woke up that morning. I spread my rain poncho out on the ground and tried to close my eyes and relax for awhile. I had a LONG time before I had to move to my corral, and the place was still pretty empty. I was too cold to fall asleep. As more people arrived, everyone started talking about where they were from, if they had run NYC before, if this was their first marathon, and a variety of other topics. It was fun to meet other people from all over and to have conversations to help pass the time. At 8:20, they started moving Wave 1 into our corrals. I offered my rain poncho to another runner, as well as a pair of my throw-away gloves, and made my way over to my corral. There wasn’t a lot of space, and the ground was still wet. One of the volunteers graciously offered me a plastic bag to sit on. It was large, so I opened it up and shared with some other runners so that they had somewhere dry to sit too.
Around 9:30, we were able to move from the corrals to the bridge. On the walk over, someone yelled my name, and I was so happy to have run into another runner I knew from back home (Hi Colin!). We hadn’t seen each other since Boston, so it was nice to catch up! The cannons went off, the rain started, the wind picked up and we were off. Running over the Verrazano Bridge was incredible. It was difficult to get through the crowds, especially because you didn’t want to go too far out to the sides where it was incredibly windy. After we were over the bridge, it was a bit easier to break out of the packs that had formed, but there were still people everywhere. It stayed that way for the first 10k or so. The crowds were absolutely amazing. I had been told that the atmosphere was like nothing else, but it’s truly something you don’t understand until you’ve experienced it. The energy from the crowd was contagious, and likely why I spent the first half of the marathon feeling like I was on a cloud. The crowds through Brooklyn were so big, and everyone was so supportive.
I ran fairly even splits the first half, with the first 5k in 22 minutes, hitting 10k at 44 minutes, 15k at 1:06 and the halfway point in 1:34. Around the 16k mark, my Garmin started going haywire, and was telling me I was dropping 3 minute kilometers, and I knew by feel that I definitely wasn’t. The distance was also totally off (in the end, my Garmin says I ran 44.9km, not 42). I didn’t panic very much, but felt totally confused and was a bit lost on my pace, as I knew that I couldn’t trust my watch from that point and would have to figure my pace out manually at the clocks.
I started to ride the pain train when crossing over the Queensboro Bridge. I had been warned about this bridge. I’ve driven over it, I’ve watched footage of the marathon over and over to make mental notes about the bridge, but none of it prepared me for running over it. I felt like it was never going to end. I slowed down a bit and took the opportunity to take in some Cliff Bloks. I tried not to think about the fact that the course only gets tougher after this bridge, but it consumed my brain. Coming off the bridge, I was waving to people in the crowds and trying to pump myself up. It worked for a few kilometers, but entering Manhattan and running up First Avenue also felt like it was never going to end. We would ascend uphill for a bit. Flatten out for a bit. Ascend some more. I felt myself getting slower and slower — and colder and colder. It had been raining on and off during the first half, but was raining very consistently at this point. It was a bit windy, but wasn’t actually that cold outside, so I couldn’t figure out why my body felt so cold. My hands and legs were so cold, my joints were starting to stiffen and my hands were looking a little purple. When I looked at my race photos after, my legs were reddish-purple during the second half as well.
I would look at the clocks, do the math, and was getting a bit discouraged as I realized how much slower I was running. I don’t usually stop and walk, but I was walking the water stations to try and drink more. Although I didn’t go into the race with a specific time goal, I had been hoping to run somewhere around my PR, which is a 3:17, but knew NYC was a hard course and was also aware that maybe 3:25 was more realistic. As I started slowing down, at that point I just told myself I’d be happy with another BQ.
As we approached Central Park, I knew we were getting closer to the finish, but also knew that the course wasn’t going to get any easier. The crowds thickened throughout the park and it definitely helped boost my spirits. Once I saw the 800m to go sign, I felt instant relief. The race was almost over, and I would run another BQ. I crossed the line in 3:30:48, definitely not a negative split. The second half of that course is no joke. I can think of a million things I would have done differently about this race, but I’m not beating myself up over it. I ran 10 minutes faster than I did in Boston, which is a big positive.
After crossing the line, I asked the volunteer that gave me my medal how Shalane had done. “She won!” replied the volunteer and I couldn’t stop smiling. I was so happy for her. She is a runner I admire, and she fought hard for this. She got the big moment she was hoping for. I still can’t get through race footage of her finish without crying — I probably never will.
I selected the finisher poncho instead of the baggage option, and made my way to the designated area as I ate a bag of pretzels and downed a bottle of water. I had my poncho placed around me and made the trek from Central Park down to Port Authority to get on the bus back to New Jersey. We have cousins in New Jersey that graciously allowed us to stay with them that weekend. Due to the weather, I told them, and my husband and kids to just stay at the house and track me online. I didn’t want anyone getting sick or the kids being miserable in the rain. It was just as easy for me, because I could just exit the park and get to the bus station.
I think the 24 block walk actually helped with my recovery, as my legs were feeling pretty good the next day, and by Tuesday I was able to do stairs, which normally doesn’t happen too quickly for me after a marathon!
The NYC Marathon capped off another banner year for me on the running front. I ran Boston in April, raced my first event in the elite field during Ottawa Race Weekend, won a 10k race in Ottawa that meant a lot to me in September, and ran NYC.
NYC also marked the start of my marathon hiatus. I’ve only run three marathons, but they all took place over the past 17 months. During that time, I also noticed big drops in my 5k and 10k times, but marathon training often got in the way of me pursuing my goals at the shorter distances. For the next year or two, I’m going to focus on shorter races and getting faster. It’ll be just as challenging as training for the marathon, but I am ready to put in the work.
To the City of New York, the NYRR, race organizers, the volunteers, the spectators, my friends, family and everyone else who has been along for the ride with me this year, from the bottom of my heart, I thank you.
Be like water making its way through cracks. Do not be assertive, but adjust to the object, and you shall find a way around or through it. If nothing within you stays rigid, outward things will disclose themselves.
— Bruce Lee
Much earlier this year, before I ever decided to sign up for the Baystate Marathon, I threw out my marathon time goals. Let’s face it: While a sub-5, sub-4, BQ, or some other arbitrary round number is nice, it’s not what the pros shoot for. Even they don’t PR every time. They think about their performance and their racing. (When told he nearly broke the masters record at New York, Abdi Abdirahman said, “To be honest, I didn’t know anything about those masters records…I was just trying to be competitive. My goal was a podium finish.”)
And also, to be honest, I was just fed up with obsessing over time.
Back in 2014, I ran my 6th marathon at Gold Coast in Australia. While it was a gorgeous day out, marathon #6 was a crushing disappointment for me, due to debilitating cramps and likely under-training and under-fueling. Yes, it was a PR; but a PR by a single, hard-fought second, and way closer to the 5-hour mark than I wanted to be, or that all the race equivalency calculators said I should to be.
In the three years since, I’d convinced myself that my inner “turtle girl” was right — that I have no real business running marathons… but the itch to do so was still there. So in June, I signed up for the Baystate Marathon: Massachusetts’ other, smaller, lesser-known marathon.
When you have absolutely nothing to lose, you let go and become a master of total non-attachment. I let go completely of any marathon time goals. My process goal for Baystate was to train properly, stick to my race strategy, and see how it went. I even outsourced my training plan — I asked one of the coaches from my running club to write me a plan for a small extra fee, and we’d check in with a phone call every so often.
Somewhere along the line I said to her, “I know exactly how I want to feel during the race. You know the middle miles of a half marathon? With the sun shining and the wind in your hair, and you’re flying along, feeling the earth return to you all the energy you put into it with every step? THAT is how I want to feel.” I believed this with every fiber of my being, and I knew that it was true.
I’d trained using a theoretical goal pace of 9:05, which roughly dictated my tempo and speed efforts, but I honestly couldn’t care less if that was race day pace or not. By the time race day rolled around I was so burned out from work and other life stresses that I knew I wouldn’t hold that pace anyway. (See: no time goals.) Plus, I tend to be on the slower side of race calculator predictions the longer the distance gets, even if conditions are perfect. Perhaps I’m just too chicken to race a hard half or full marathon. That’s fine. I’ll get there.
But not October 22.
I drove up to Chelmsford the day before and shared a hotel room with my club-mate, T. At 5 a.m., her alarm went off — bzzzzzzzt! Morning routine, totally practiced and utilitarian after weeks of 5:30 a.m. long runs. Instant oatmeal, coffee, nuun, wash face, visit bathroom, get dressed. Bodyglide, bra, tank top, shorts, socks, shoes, Garmin. Decided to run without visor, gloves, arm sleeves, or water bottle. 6:15 shuttle bus to the start. Drop off bags. Run into friends, take selfie, head in to UMass’s Tsongas Center to wait, pee, eat a Luna bar. I felt … loose. Preternaturally calm. Totally zen.
By 7:45, it was already warm enough that I wasn’t shivering in the start corral — so, a little warmer than ideal. So what? That’s not something I can control. I’d trained through the entire summer’s worth of heat; I knew my hydration needs; this was nothing. Plus I had no sleeves, gloves or bottle to weigh me down. I planned to start with 9:30s and hold that pace throughout. Anthem. Pushrim start. And then we began.
Miles 1-5. 10:20, 9:21, 9:16, 9:32, 9:40. Gel at mile 5. My plan was to take a gel every 5 miles and water at every water stop (about every 2 miles).
I started somewhere around the 10min/mile section of corral, and took the start very easy (10:20, mile 1). I chatted with people, including a woman doing her first marathon, and then had to pick my jaw up off the floor when we ran by her family and FIVE kids — the youngest were 4-year-old twins. (Spoiler: she finished with me.)
I saw my fan club (Mr. Mango and D-money) who had driven up from Boston that morning and strategically situated themselves up the road from a giant playground. After I saw them the first time … well, what do you do with a toddler while mom runs a fall marathon? You go pumpkin picking, apparently. Now we have two enormous pumpkins and a toddler who has learned the word ‘wheelbarrow’ and uses it enthusiastically.
Miles 6-10. 9:29, 9:16, 9:37, 9:28, 9:28. Gel at mile 10.
This, not April, is the best of Massachusetts. Fall colors were on full display. The course wound through mostly residential neighborhoods until we got to the part along the river, heading northeast towards the Tyngsboro Bridge. At mile 8 I saw another club-mate — hooray! — who shot the single happiest photo I’ve ever seen of myself during a marathon. It’s pretty easy to be happy at mile 8.
Miles 11-15. 9:38, 9:25, 9:53, 9:28, 9:38. Gel at mile 15. Surprise! I got the single salted watermelon gel I’d packed in my SPIbelt amid all the sea salt chocolate GUs I’d bought in bulk. It was a very tasty game of roulette.
I sang “Top of the World” to myself over and over in the exposed middle miles, and meant it.
Somethin’ in the wind has learned my name
And it’s tellin’ me that things are not the same
In the leaves on the trees and the touch of the breeze
There’s a pleasin’ sense of happiness for me
I’m on the top of the world lookin’ down on creation
And the only explanation I can find
Is the love that I’ve found ever since you’ve been around
Your love’s put me at the top of the world
Other things I thought to myself at this point:
- Why is nobody else running the tangents? People are weird. (For the record, I finished with 26.2 on my Garmin, and I think this is actually just really good tangent-running rather than a short course.)
- Roadkill: Only two dead animals this year! The “highlight” of last year’s half was a flattened raccoon.
- Slow and steady. If I’m Turtle Girl, I’m going to own it.
Miles 16-20. 9:48, 9:30, 10:04, 9:59, 9:53. Gel at mile 20.
I still felt good, like I was merely on an extended long run, but the lengthy exposed stretch around mile 18 was starting to get hot. I knew that I could certainly make it to mile 20, as I’d done on my long runs, and then I could re-evaluate how I felt beyond that.
To distract myself, I chatted with a senior gentleman. At my pace, there are always Senior Gentlemen (and Senior Ladies, too!), the sort of crusty gent who’s been running for decades and is now basically enjoying life. This one told me war stories of marathons past and talked about running Baystate in its early days. When we got to mile 20, I said, this is the fun part now, isn’t it? Clearly it was, for him — when I looked him up in the results later, I found he had BQ’ed by finishing a few minutes ahead of me.
Miles 21-23. 10:21, 10:16, 10:41.
I could feel my quads starting to protest, and gritted my teeth at mile 23 as the protest crescendoed into a full-blown revolt. It was warm now, and I knew from last year that the final miles were in direct sunshine. At each of the last few water stops I downed a full cup of Gatorade, which helped stave off the cramps for a minute or two each time.
Be like water, I thought, channelling Bruce. Where normally I’d start to freak out at the first twang of cramps, checking and rechecking my watch to calculate whether I’d make some arbitrary round-number time goal I’d set for myself, this time…nothing. So I’m cramping. So I’ve cramped in 6 marathons now. This one’s already gone better than any of the previous ones. Cramps? Not a roadblock. Around. Over. Through. I can finish. I can do this. Mentally and emotionally, albeit not physically, I was totally relaxed.
Miles 24-26.2. 10:56, 10:39, 11:21, 9:37 pace for final 0.2.
With my quads cramping hard as usual, I was in no mood to walk and take a gel at mile 25 — I just wanted to keep shuffling on into the finish. Shuffle, shuffle. One foot in front of the other. All I had to do was not stop and I could be proud of my effort.
I didn’t stop. 4:19:38.
You guys. YOU GUYS. That is nearly 35 minutes off my last marathon time. The cramps didn’t kick in till mile 23, much later than usual, which I think is testament to being (mostly) properly trained and being pretty conservative.
What did I learn and what would I do differently next go-round? A 22-miler next time, perhaps? Step-mill for cross-training, to focus on what clearly is a physical weakness? And some real lifting instead of just my MYRTL routine. Mentally, I still have trouble with the idea of pushing medium-hard for that long. I’d like to get more practice racing some hard half-marathons for effort rather than time.
I think what I’m happiest about here is that I finally feel like I’m beginning to run the marathon to my potential, my fitness and my training. I managed to stick with the race plan until the cramps really started in earnest. That decision to try and hold 9:30s, or rather a comfortable sort of just-a-little-faster-than-long-run pace, instead of pushing any harder, was the right one. I enjoyed the whole darn thing. Even the crampy bits.
Maybe one day I’ll race a marathon — go out at a harder effort, endure discomfort for more of the marathon, and see where it gets me. Right now? I’m satisfied with this.
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