Race reports are so easy to write when you have a big win, hit a PR, have a great race.
The crappy ones? Not so much. Those are a lot harder to document, to rehash, to reflect upon. But, alas, they are important parts of the journey too. And it really is all about the journey.
When I started running marathons almost ten years ago, a more seasoned running friend told me that if I kept doing them, it was only a matter of time before I had a bad one. He was very right. Over the years, I’ve definitely had my marathoning ups and downs. This fall’s race unfortunately crashed like a brick in the down category.
Down as in DNF – did not finish.
Backstory & Race Goal:
Chicago was going to be my 16th marathon. I ran it in 2012 and crushed it, finally reaching my long-standing goal of breaking 3 hours and 25 minutes. I took the Spring of 2013 a little lighter to give my body and mind a break from all the training. My intent was to take a swing at sub 3:20 in the Fall. But unfortunately I was in a bad mountain bike crash during a trip to Wyoming and I couldn’t train without pain for several months. I slowly rehabbed and eased back into marathoning this Spring. Training was very light, but I ran the Wisconsin Marathon and eeked out a BQ. This summer, I felt it was time to ratchet things back up. I wanted to go big, train hard, and go for that sub-3:20. My coach started working on my schedule early this summer and shot me an e-mail telling me this training cycle was all about 200. 200!!
Yes, I would run the Chicago Marathon in 200 minutes or less (sub 3:20).
Heck yes I would! I knew that was a stretch goal given it took me 5 years to even break 3:25. And hey, I’m certainly not getting any younger. But man, YES, I wanted it. I was ready and willing to put in the time to work for it too. So I pulled a bit of a Shalane Flanaghan and announced my big fat, audacious goal to all of my friends and family throughout my training – for better or for worse – 200 baby! Go big or go home.
My training cycle was 19 weeks long. Most weeks saw mileage in the mid 50s, but I bumped up to high 60s and 70 a couple of times. I generally ran 3 hard workouts a week and 3 easier workouts a week. Historically, I have always been a bit of a horse when it comes to mileage (relatively speaking as a local age grouper not elite). I can pile it on pretty well without getting worn down or injured. My biggest obstacle is usually finding the time to get it done.
Then I turned 40. When I started running marathons in my early 30s, I recall reading articles about how Masters runners needed more recovery. Less mileage and a lot more recovery between hard workouts. I remember thinking, “that will never be me.” Yeah, a hem. Then I turned 40.
This training cycle, I simply couldn’t hit my hard workout paces consistently. I was sore between workouts and it was definitely taking more time to recover. But I am stubborn, and as I started hitting my peak weeks before taper, I kept pushing through. I told myself that I just needed to push through and make it to the taper. Then I’d have plenty of time to recover. My stubbornness and tenacity has served me well to hit my goals in the past. I hoped it would this time too.
A little over 3 weeks out, during my last peak training week, I was scheduled to run 90 minutes with 9 miles at goal race pace (7:35). I was tired and beat up from my interval session two days earlier and by my beast week the week before. My coach told me to take it easy if I needed to. But I pushed through and did it anyway (did I mention I am stubborn?). After 6 miles at GMP, I stopped for water. When I started running again a few seconds later, my right hamstring/butt hurt. I felt okay once I got going again, but after 8 miles, I pulled the plug and just finished easy.
At first I was super proud of myself for pushing through. Boom – I did it! Then, around 3 pm, I got up from my desk at work to go refill my water and I could hardly walk. OUCH. My right hamstring and piriformis were NOT happy. I broke my butt. Dammit. How could this be happening my last peak week?
I had my last super long run of 3:20 scheduled for that weekend. I knew that would be pushing it to run that far, but I would not even think about skipping it altogether at this point. THIS IS THE LAST BIG WEEK. Plus, I did have 3+ weeks to recover… (again, stubborn). So I got out there and ran 20 miles easy. It hurt at first, but as the miles progressed, I felt better and better.
Throughout my taper, it was more of the same. It would hurt for the first mile, then I was okay. My problem was I couldn’t open up my stride at all and really couldn’t run much faster than a 9:15 pace. It will get better, I have time, I told myself. I foam rolled, I got a massage/ART (yeeeouch!), I stretched, I slept, I ate well and I prayed to the running gods to heal my broken butt. None of it worked.
9 days out, I panicked. Maybe I can’t do it.
But I seemed to be slowly improving. It will be okay. It will be okay. It will be okay.
Race weekend came and I decided to go for it. I knew things may not work out as planned, but I felt recovered enough to race 26.2. I wasn’t injured, but I was about 85%. Maybe even better. I didn’t know as I had definitely been slowing down the train in the name of the taper. My goal of 200 was still on the table, but definitely with an asterisk. My broken butt may throw a wrench into things, but I felt certain I could run a strong race as I was improving and I knew I was very fit after the last 19 weeks. My race strategy was to run by feel (read: not even look at Garmin until mile splits) and see what happens. I was not going in with any specific goal race pace. Run strong. Finish strong.
The Friday night before the race, the doorbell rang and the boys I helped train for the half brought me some bright, awesome flowers. 26 of them – one for each mile. They were super excited for me and it was just so darn cool. It was totally a shot in the arm too – I can do this!
Saturday morning, my husband, John, and I drove to Chicago and hit the Expo. The Chicago Marathon is my favorite race and I love the Expo. We had fun running around as I ran into friends and took in all of the positive energy. My phone was blowing up with Facebook messages, texts and e-mails from friends. The excitement was palpable.
Saturday night, John and I ate early, then hit the hotel room. We watched The Fault in Our Stars, and wow – in case you haven’t seen it – total tearjerker – I was crying so much my nose was stuffy and I couldn’t breathe. Seriously. John and I laughed as I said I needed to re-hydrate just because of the movie.
Who knew tears would be a theme for the next 24 hours?
Race morning was great. I woke up feeling good. I had slept well and everything pretty much went as planned. I got to the start line just when I wanted to and took in all of the amazing energy. As the gun went off, I and 45,000 others embarked on my all-time favorite race. The weather was amazing, and, as always, the crowds were fantastic. As I hit the first mile marker, I realized that my butt did not hurt at all. A first in the last 3 weeks. Yay! 7:45 pace too. Nice.
I continued on feeling pretty good and logging 7:45s – 7:55s for the next several miles. Around mile 8, however, I started feeling that darn piriformis barking at me. I didn’t hurt, but I could feel it. I shouldn’t feel it. By mile 10-11, the barking turned into biting. It started hurting and I slowed down a little thinking that might help. Dammit. I knew I’d see John at the half and I could drop. But I didn’t want to drop. I need to at least finish. Most of all, I didn’t want to tell my son and his 2 buddies I coached all summer for the half that I gave up. I didn’t want to tell my GOTR girls. I didn’t want to tell that to my friends and family. So as I passed John at 13, I gave him a bit of a smile, but a bit of a this is not good look (he later told me he thought I didn’t look unhappy, but that my gait looked like crap). Around mile 14, I hit a tiny bit of a dip in the road. Maybe a manhole cover? Not sure, but as my right foot landed, I felt the pirformis or upper hammy stretch and scream – I was done and I knew it.
[insert some f-bombs here]
Every ounce of me said “don’t quit,” but I knew if I continued on, I would be risking longer-term injury at this point. I made my way to mile 17, where I knew John would be. I saw him, said “I’m done” and walked off the course. He made his way through the crowd to me and gave me a big hug. My tears began to flow. I can’t quit! I don’t quit! He asked me if I could jog it in. For nine more miles? No. I was hurting and I knew I needed to pull the plug.
So we walked back to the hotel with my broken pride stuffed into my Spibelt with my unused gels. John was, as always, a rock star and super supportive. But I was sad and upset. I have never DNFed before (well, I did once because it was hot, but I ran a marathon the next weekend). And I never trained that hard before only to walk off the course hurt. Done. DNF.
We booked out of Chicago pretty quickly . I posted an update of my DNF on Facebook and Instagram as I knew people were tracking me and would be wondering. As supportive messages came streaming in as we were driving home, I tried to read them to John, but often couldn’t as again, I was totally choked up (read: mess). I simply could not believe all the love and support my friends were sending. So freaking cool. I am one lucky girl. I took it all in and it helped heal my broken heart and pride (not so much for the broken butt, but you can’t have it all). And I know that if the worst thing that happens to me this year is that I have to walk off a marathon course after months of solid training and a strong body with good friends and family by my side, I am doing pretty damn awesome.
I haven’t run much in the last 2 weeks, but on Saturday, I ran the last 10 miles of a marathon (that actually turned into 28.2 miles) with a good friend. She ran her own ultra marathon to celebrate her 40th birthday. Every mile, she was supported by family and friends. How awesome is that? I loved celebrating with her and getting in those last miles I couldn’t get in Chicago. No better way to do it. We even did a cartwheel when we were done. It’s all about the journey.
Cheers, and until next time, friends. Many thanks for your support.