Catnip’s Glass City Marathon Report or Why You Shouldn’t Run A Marathon That Passes Your House at Mile 20

Smile at the finish (even before the pizza and beer).
Smile at the finish (even before the pizza and beer).

Long story short: my Glass City Marathon finish time of 3:03:07 is disappointing, nowhere close to my 2:50 goal. Even worse, I enjoyed only a handful of the 26.2 miles I raced.

However, even just a couple minutes after finishing, I started to feel pretty happy about the whole thing: I faced failure, dueled with the DNF devil and chose to keep working.

Now for the long story.

Winter training pointed to marathon fitness in the low-2:50 range. As race day approached I felt less confident about hitting 6:30s, instead planning to start around 7:00 for the first mile and then drop to 6:45s. Then ideally, I’d be able to pull off a negative split like in Columbus.

Race day weather was perfect and the first few miles went according to the plan: 7:11, 6:48, 6:40, 6:46. I wasn’t expecting the first bit to be quite so crowded but I forced myself not to weave around other runners, knowing I could save energy now and make up a couple seconds later.

Mile 5 began with some turns and hills along with my first gel at the 30 minute mark. I was going back and forth with another woman running the full and made sure to focus on running my own appropriate effort level rather than getting competitive and matching her. I was discouraged when 6:34 for mile 5 felt overly hard, but I reminded myself that the first part of a marathon can be kind of a boring grind and that in Columbus my easiest miles were at the end. Ran 6:42, 6:49, 6:58, 6:51 for 5-8.

Happily waving to Marcie around 2.5 miles in.
Happily waving to Marcie around 2.5 miles in.

Just before mile 9, we entered Wildwood Park where I’ve run literally thousands of miles. I was casually monitoring my splits and starting to wonder how the heck I was going to be able to drop the pace. And of course my belly was starting to get angry but I refused to stop. I imagined the map of the race course and started to feel overwhelmed by the miles that remained. Just get to 13, I told myself. On the way there I clicked off 6:52, 6:49, 6:55, 6:53 for 9-12 with my second gel at the 75 minute mark.

My parents and JB cheered for me at the entrance to my high school and I managed a weak smile for a brief moment. Someone at 13.1 called out a number and I thought I heard 1:29:18. Even coming in at 2:59 – nine minutes slower than my original goal – seemed impossible. Did I have 90 minutes left? 95? I tried to motivate myself to just get it over with! The long straightaway was mentally draining and my angry belly flared up again. Then another long straightaway. The woman I’d been yo-yoing with was gradually moving away but spectators let me know I was in 4th place, giving me something to fight for – but then a woman in purple passed me. 5th place. 6:44, 6:43, 6:57, 6:57, 6:58 through 17 miles.

The great thing about the long straightaways on the Glass City course is that it’s easy to keep your momentum and run tangents. Happily, my Garmin was beeping almost exactly next to the mile marker flags. On the other hand, it was overwhelming to see two miles of road laid out in front of me — and know I had seven more to go beyond that.

As any marathon runner knows, 20 miles is a big deal. It’s often a turning point (the bad kind) and I was pretty sure that would be my fate. The DNF demon had been whispering in my ear for a while but this was where I started to engage with it: Instead of turning into the park for mile 20, I could take a left and lie down in my parents’ yard. No, actually, the neighbors have a spare key. I could take a shower. Or a bath. And eat a snack. My drop bag just had junk clothes in it anyway. 

Mile 18, 6:58. An hour more of running? Or a nap? Next woman that passes me knocks me out of the money. 

Mile 19, 7:03. Yep, no sub-3 today. Wonder if they have ice cream in the freezer?

There was a crowd at the turning point. I remembered how sad I was after quitting two marathons in the fall of 2014. I turned right.

My parents and JB cheered from the side of the path. I grimaced and threw them my gloves. That’s it, the moment was over and my decision was made.

Mile 20 was behind me in 7:34 and I was back on the paths I knew so well, remembering how when the long boardwalk was built, we sneaked in to check out the construction. Now I crossed it to mile 21 and the patio where my high school teammates and I would take “stretch” breaks. 7:12, 7:30 and then mile 22 brought us to the bike path, a three mile straight shot back to the university campus.

I’d started taking Gatorade at the 1:50 mark and continued to take a sip or swish at every station but fatigue was setting in hard. I realized I could close my eyes most of the way and still navigate by the yellow dashes on the center of the path. I vaguely wondered how close the #6 woman was but I’m not sure if I cared.

Closed eyes hidden behind green sunglasses, I told myself, I do hard things. My legs were still moving me forward after all. Mile 23, 7:28. The path looked just as long as it had a few minutes before. I do hard things. Mile 24, 7:28.

Then there was a small figure in an coral singlet stepping onto the grass. A woman, the same one I’d run with early in the day. A pacer near me veered over to check on her. She bent and stretched: “Cramps.” I was happy she wasn’t in real trouble but knew she could still come after me. Somehow I changed gears for a 7:06 25th mile.

And another woman walking. I was shocked. Seven minutes to go and I’d moved into third. I don’t know if I was more excited by the competitive aspect or by the idea of just being done but my legs were moving pretty well for mile 26 in 7:08 and then 1:34 for the final turns, the voices of JB and my parents rising out of the crowd.

I do hard things.

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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  1. I grew up in Toledo and ran Glass City a few years ago (and also had tummy trouble)! I can definitely relate to the “why you should never pass your house in a race” feeling. Also, I know the Manor House hill in Wildwood isn’t awful, but it used to KILL me in high school. So, having to run that twice during the marathon was a huge mental hurdle for me. Even though you didn’t hit your goal, it sounds like you still ran a great race and had a good, positive mindset coming out of it!

  2. Great read! I am so inspired by your toughness! And feel confident you’ll get to cash in on your fitness another day.

    1. Thanks, Caper! I’ve had sub-par marathons in the past that were great stepping stones to a new PR so I’m hopeful for my fall season.

    1. Seems like a lot of people struggled – sorry you were one of them, too. It’s strange, considering the weather seemed to be perfect. When I look back, I’m surprised that I was still passing a few people, even in my worst miles.

  3. Congrats on finishing when you were having an off day, and even more so for picking it up at the end and moving into 3rd! Way to stay strong!
    I don’t know if I could run a race right by my house. While it would be nice to have a fan club cheering right there, that would be way too tempting to stop when things got hard.

    1. Thanks, Parsley! When I saw those women I felt so bad for them – one had gone out at like 2:42 pace and finished in 3:07ish. Ouch.

  4. No bathroom breaks?! In addition to your time still being strong enough for 3rd, you should feel good that mb your GI demons may be settling. I’m having mild success with daily probiotics but time and more racing will test this strategy. Congrats on perseverance.

    1. Thanks, Susan! Yeah, I am going to use my downtime to really get to the bottom of the GI issues. Even though it wasn’t terrible last Sunday it’s still holding me back quite a bit. Glad to hear probiotics are working for you. I hate that they need to be refrigerated because I keep forgetting about them when they’re tucked away like that.

  5. Awww, this sounds just like I did at that mile 20 turn into Wildwood. Except I gave in to those little voices in my head and walked right there! 🙁 Congrats on your race and powering through the tough parts!!

  6. What made that course tough was the lack of crowd support and the run through the park with barely anyone around. Congrats on gritting it out. I followed your training logs and was looking forward to your recap.

    1. Thanks, Margaret! To be honest, I was so deep in the pain cave the last 10k (eyes closed & all!) that I hardly noticed whether anyone was around!

      And congrats on your PR!

  7. Glad you were able to fight off the urge to DNF. Been there. There’s a lot to be gained from gutting out a race that does not go according to plan. This will definitely make you tougher. I liked your mantra at the end. Hope you have some nice recovery time now!

    1. Thanks, Poppy! Even though it wasn’t the MP I trained for, I felt like it was the feel of MP and being able to sense that was sort of a breakthrough.

  8. Great report. Your stomach may have been off, but your mental game was super strong! So tough.

    Now I’m worried about the Berlin marathon though – it goes right past where I live! Oh no!

  9. So proud of you for toughing it out!! Great motivation for me to keep going when my voices start talking!

  10. Great report Paige! It’s so refreshing to read the race reports when it doesn’t quite go as planned. I think those are more helpful to hear about than the ones that go perfectly. I appreciate your honesty! Great job gritting it out. The next one is yours!