Marathon Redemption! Catnip’s Columbus Marathon Report

Flying through the last 10k - really?! Photo credit Eric Fruth/Columbus Running Company.
Flying through the last 10k – really?! Photo credit Eric Fruth/Columbus Running Company.

Allow me to state the obvious: Marathons are hard. And after my back-to-back DNF marathons last fall, training for a 2015 marathon was more mentally than physically challenging. So my goal for the Columbus Marathon was to (finally) complete marathon #13 feeling strong and with a smile on my face.

I asked my coach, who trained me to a sub-17 5k a few years ago, to write me a marathon plan. He crafted a flexible training schedule that perfectly accommodated my working mom lifestyle. I’ll fill in the details in my training logs, but I peaked at 81 miles, with several weeks in the 70s. I ran four 20+ mile runs. I raced a 37:54 10k three weeks out.  I  nailed an 8x 1 kilometer workout and a week later 20x 1 min hard/1 min easy averaging under 6:40 pace for the entirety.  And somehow I didn’t realize I nailed the whole darn training program.

Race day was cold, but I was happily distracted by a group of friends in my corral and the wait for the starting gun flew by! My race plan was to make sure to run the first 5 miles no faster than 7:00 pace. I figured my fitness was in the 3:00-3:10 range. I just missed meeting this goal, running 7:39 7:07 6:59 7:08 7:07.  I took a gel at the 30 minute mark. After the first mile I consciously reigned myself in, remembering the sage advice about “banking” time in a marathon is almost never a good idea.

Just five miles in and I was already a little bored and wondering why the heck I’d subjected myself to another marathon and the misery that was surely awaiting me. I was feeling fine, though …

… other than having some GI discomfort. Ugh! I had to stop for a restroom before mile 8, which cost me over 2 minutes (tick tock tick tock), which made me doubt myself even more. However, in retrospect this bathroom stop was a good thing! I had started to get a little hungry for a sub-3, but was able to remind myself that the sole focus of the day should be finishing happily. I allowed my body to find a comfortable pace and let my watch click off splits without judgment or analysis: 7:01, 7:09, 9:22, 7:05, 7:08 for miles 6-10. I ate my second gel 75 minutes in.

Unfortunately that potty stop had put me behind the 3:15 pace group and I caught them around a lot of turns and through a water stop. It was like running a gauntlet, but once I was through I could feel my body relax. I spotted two friends as I ran up High Street and, unlike last year, I was not tempted to make a break for the half marathon finish. In fact, I was suddenly and effortlessly running faster splits: 7:01, 7:05, 6:47, 6:46, 6:54.

Knowing that this marathon could turn hellish at any moment, I tried to hold back in these middle miles. I imagined unleashing a killer final 10k, or at least a final 10k in which I was doing something slightly resembling running. Another emergency restroom break at mile 17 disrupted my focus, especially since I had to run off the course for it. It was less than 90 seconds, though, and well worth it! I planned on gel #3 at the 2 hour mark, but it sounded unappealing. I rejected the first one I pulled out of my bra and dug around for a second flavor that sounded less disgusting! Miles 15-20 ticked off in 6:55, 8:07, 7:04, 7:13, 6:57.

I could not believe how quickly I’d arrived at mile 20 or how easy it felt to get there. The ball of my left foot ached a bit, but that was it. My stride was fluid and my energy was good. With 3 gels in me, I took a few sips of Gatorade occasionally to top off the tank for the finish.

At this point, I was passing runners so fast I had to focus almost completely on doing the least amount of zigzagging possible – I almost missed some friends around mile 21 and then again at 22.5 and 24! And I know there were more I missed because I saw photos of myself on Facebook!

I was counting down the minutes – just a half hour left, just 20 minutes – and then I realized I needed to recalculate because I was going faster than expected. Is this real life? Suddenly we turned right and I could see the finish line. I kicked.

Is that a smile on my face? At mile 25?! Photo credit Seth Westfall.
Is that a smile on my face? At mile 25?! Photo credit Seth Westfall.

I found out later that only the top 3 women ran a faster final 10k: 6:37, 6:39, 6:29, 6:41, 6:54, 6:40, and then 2:45 for the final .46 on my Garmin.

My final time was 3:07:13, my 3rd fastest marathon. After a 1:36:08 first half, I ran the second in 1:31:05 with mile 20 to the finish in 41:28.

Even though my PR is over 15 minutes faster, I am over the moon at this result, mostly the execution of it – not only did it not hurt, but I had fun! I still do harbor a small amount of healthy fear (they’re hard, you guys) but I think I may love the marathon again.

I'm a 20-year veteran of competitive running, USATF certified coach, mom of a toddler -- and still trying to set PRs. I write about training from 5k to marathon, motherhood and competitive running, and the elite side of the sport. The 5k is my favorite race (16:56 PR) but I've got a score to settle with the marathon.

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22 comments

  1. Wow! What a great example of how running by feel and rolling with the punches can make for a great race. So many of us would have been derailed by the time lost at the first bathroom stop, but you didn’t dwell on it and came back strong! Welcome back to the marathon!

    1. Thank you! I’m still trying to figure out how a more relaxed approach can be successful with an ambitious time goal in the future.

  2. Totally agree with Dill! I judge myself so harshly every time a split is slow or I encounter a minor setback. Totally need chill and just roll with it! And maybe the secret to success is running 3 mp intervals with short rests 🙂

  3. Catnip! I definitely saw you finish!! I was hanging out around mile 13 reading runner’s bibs and screaming for people. I remember seeing a woman named Paige kicking some ass! I yelled for you and you nodded. I am 100% sure it was you because I recognize the photo, but at that moment there were only a handful of women finishing among the men. 🙂 Awesome job!!

    1. With my name on my bib I was so confused about who I actually knew and who was just reading my name. That’s so cool you spotted me!!! We need to meet up!

  4. Awesome job Paige! Very impressed with you getting back out there. I think 4 of us had a faster 10k. Ellie closed in 39:06, kangogo was 40:02, Sarah was 40:25 and I was 40:38.

    1. Shoot – I’ll correct when I get back to a computer.
      Becki, awesome race yourself! I hope you get a chance to take another attempt because you’re super fit!

    1. Thanks Kathy! I was in total disbelief when I caught those splits!
      Posted a couple summer training logs this evening and will hopefully catch up to October by the end of this week!

  5. Congratulations and thanks for the inspirational race report! Gives me things to think about during NYC Nov 1. Looking forward to reading your training logs.

  6. Thank you Paige! I think I’ll give it a shot. The fitness is there! I hope you keep this train rolling! You’re getting strong again and it’s awesome to see!

  7. What a great race and recap. You bring up a lot of good points and important reminders. When you’re trying to get back to previous fitness, it’s so easy to become discouraged when workouts and races are a lot slower than before. However, finishing races strong and in control gives you the confidence to get back there. I shall remember this during my fall races!

    1. Thanks, Ginger! I’m still trying to analyze and figure out what exactly I did *right* so I can eventually (hopefully) translate it to faster races. Good luck with your upcoming races!