To start, my race plan was … non-existent. Coach and I had talked on Wednesday and stepped through a couple of the goal times I had out there. “If you run 3:03 [my original B goal, and four minutes off my spring PR], we’ll sit down and figure out what we need to change. 3:01 would be okay. 2:59:59 is a lot more exciting than 3:00:10, but don’t focus too much on the splits.”
But then he opened the door: “How far under 3:00 can you go? I’m not going to guess at that.”
There it was. It was on the table that he thought I was ready, and I thought I was ready, so … Ultimately, he said to “let the race come to you,” with which I completely agreed. I was worried if I went out explicitly trying to break 3 hours and hit 6:50 pace every mile, it would be overwhelming. And what if the course was long or my watch was off?
I needed to rely on my ability to assess my perceived effort.
“Run smart, run hard, and good things will happen,” Coach wrote in an email to the team later in the week.
On Friday, the mister and I headed up to Indianapolis in the afternoon and checked into our hotel just a couple of blocks away from the expo and start/finish. This was my first time as part of an “elite” field, and there was an elite meeting to attend at 5:30 p.m. Mr. Chicory was also running, so we picked up his packet and walked around the expo.
The meeting was mostly to go over details of the morning: where the hospitality room was, the escort from the room to the start, bottle locations. It was also our chance to drop those bottles if we wanted them. I did, because it gave me an opportunity to 1) not carry my gels stuffed in random parts of my outfit and 2) make sure I was getting in some electrolytes since I’m a heavy, salty sweater.
We had dinner at Rock Bottom Brewery, then back at the hotel I got my gear check bag together and set out everything else I needed for the morning. I went to sleep around 9:45 and slept fine despite all the stuff the mister was doing.
I woke at 6 a.m. for some wheat toast onto which I put a chocolate-hazelnut Hammer Gel. For my long runs, I have been taking a gel before and that’s it, so I wasn’t planning to eat very much. Before the half a few weeks ago, I had toast with jam, so this was a really awesome upgrade. I downed a cup of decaf coffee and I was set. … except I still didn’t know which top I was going to wear.
I brought five with me; four PBT ones and a generic singlet just in case. After trying on every one, I decided to go with the new singlet that arrived Thursday. That allowed me to wear the bra I had run most of my long runs in, so that felt mostly safe.
I bundled up in a throw-away long sleeve, thermal, warm-up pants, gloves and a headband because it was 36° out. Surprise! We headed out from the hotel around 7 a.m. and took Mr. Chicory’s bag to gear check before it got too crowded. Then we walked across the street to the government building where the elite holding pen was. I met up with my PBT teammate Jen and fellow Salty Pesto, and we began warming up on the government center porch. Oddly enough the porch area only wraps around three sides, so everyone was making these big Us and turning around. We did an entire mile like this! I dropped my warm-up clothes off, and we had an “escort” to the start at 7:45, which made it slightly faster to get there. I did a few strides to stay loose and not get nervous.
I lined up with Jen and Mr. Chicory — none of us had a formal plan to run together, but we were all hoping to run about the same time. And I had just run half marathons with them both! (Jen had just run 3:01 something in Chicago, but thought she had a better race in her.)
I had mantras for different sections of the course, broken up by where my water bottles would be. My first 8 miles were “calm and comfortable.”
As the race started I said something to Jen about going out easy and not getting caught up in the fast people and going 6:45s. We immediately went out at 6:45 pace. Then 6:50, 6:46, 6:43, 6:36. At that one I laughed and said, “Coach is not going to like this.”
At this point, my watch lost its mind and I had no useful splits until mile 20.
The half split off just past the 7-mile marker, and I felt great. Just cruising, we had our little pack together: me, Jen and Mr. Chicory.
Mantra miles 8-14: “confident and courageous.” At mile 8 I snagged my first water bottle and gel. I wanted to remind myself for the next 6 miles that I had done the work and this was just another day. Don’t back down, don’t get nervous. Just run.
Dead dog in the leaves on the side of the road. Too much.
My watch had totally mucked up GPS and was clicking off miles way too soon — like every 4.5 to 5.5 minutes. Fortunately Jen was keeping me generally apprised of the pace — she’d tell me splits occasionally, but I also knew if she was still with me, we were probably still running about the same pace.
Around mile 10, some other guys caught up and chatted with us for a minute. They asked what our goal was and we said three hours, and they said we were ahead of pace. We were like, “Yeah, we know.” P.S. I caught both these guys later. Go mansplain even splits to someone else, kids.
We went through 10 miles around 65 minutes, which was a little alarming just because my 10 mile PR from January is 65 minutes. We caught one woman somewhere around mile 10, and another caught us a few miles later, and those are literally the only women I saw during the entire race. Weird feeling.
The 10-mile marker was a good mental checkpoint because it meant just 16 miles left — and 16 miles is a short Saturday workout day. Just focus and think of it like any other workout. Don’t get comfortable, keep my foot on the gas. Jen and I still had Mr. Chicory, too, who was literally running just a couple of feet behind us and not saying anything, sort of like a body guard. My own secret service.
We came through halfway in 1:28:24 (officially, I think it said about 1:28:30 on the clock when we crossed), and I said to Jen, “Okay, now let’s just do that all over again!” I was feeling great, mentally and physically. It would’ve been easy at halfway to get scared; I had just lowered my half PR in September to 1:28, and then shaved two more minutes off 3 weeks later.
I whiffed snagging my next water bottle at 14 and literally had to spin around and grab it. In hindsight I should’ve just let it go, because I had an extra gel with me in case that happened. Also, I shouldn’t have filled the bottles up so much because they were heavy! I didn’t want to carry it for long. I took a couple of swigs and ripped the gel off and tossed it.
Mantra for miles 14-20: “strong and smooth.” I lost Jen up ahead but didn’t fret, I just relaxed and got my nutrition in and held the effort, knowing I’d catch back up. I wasn’t really sure where Mr. Chicory was behind me at this point, although I couldn’t easily see him any more so I figured he had slipped back.
The hills on this course, which are not significant, are in the 16-18 area. I had eased back up to Jen and some other folks but I ended up passing her on a hill. Mr. Chicory told me after the race he saw her drop around 17.
Running through Butler University is always a fun part of the course, and then through a park and around the front of the Indianapolis Museum of Art. This is always my favorite spot because they have a bomb-ass DJ spinning in front of the museum. I listen to a lot of rap when I do speed work and I always get pumped up in this section. There’s also a ton of crowd support in these miles, which is great because 14-16 are pretty quiet. But I was feeling strong and passing guys — literally, I mean passing guys. Chicking, as we say.
The next two miles were along the White River Parkway, which needs to be repaved and is not very interesting. Thankfully someone put a bunch of random factoid signs along it. I do not remember any of them. I had calculated that if I made it to mile 20 by 2:15, I was on-track with time to spare (that’s 7:15 pace for the last 10k). I grabbed my last water bottle, took maybe one swig and ate about half of the gel. I had been drinking water at most of the aid stations along the way, so I didn’t need the fluids. They were mostly a back-up in case it was hot and I needed the electrolytes (and more fluids in general).
Mantra 20-finish: “bombs away.” From the Geronimo song … and I wrote Geronimo on the bottle because I thought dropping off a bottle with unknown fluid in it that said “bombs away” might make race organizers uncomfortable. This was the last mantra to click into place — I knew the first three way in advance because they’re phrases I use more often in training and racing. I had this song on my tempo playlist, which really only gets used on the treadmill or before races. One day listening to the song, it clicked that the chorus “bombs away” was it. A perfectly recallable phrase to remind me to give it everything I had left.
I had been hand-splitting my watch at the mile markers, hoping the GPS would catch back up. Finally around 20 it was almost back on track. I have splits-ish for the last 10k.
I was also reminding myself that I knew this wouldn’t be easy. In “How Bad Do You Want It,” Matt Fitzgerald retells a story about Jenny Simpson’s bonk at her last NCAA cross-country championship and her redemption at the World Championships.
“Beating all 11 of the women to her left would be harder than anything Jenny had done before — it would demand her absolute best effort, and perhaps even that wold not be enough. But she was determined to try for nothing less.”
Instead of going into this race envisioning an absolutely enjoyable, pain free, magical experience, I told myself repeatedly — including during workouts — that it would not be easy. It would be hard. Possibly the hardest thing I had ever done. And that was okay. Hard is okay.
This was starting to get into the carnage part of the race, although it seems like the faster you’re going, the more prepared people are and so there are less blow-ups. Not totally though — I had passed back a number of guys from earlier. Any time I saw someone stopped, I’d encourage them to keep moving, start walking, hang in there. I ditched my gloves before mile 21, also where the course turns east for a couple of miles. Not a lot of crowd support in this area, and I was focused on keeping my pace and effort up. At 23.5, we made a sharp right and rejoined the half course.
Monumental gets major props for having this entire section coned off and doing a good job keeping half-marathoners on one side and marathoners on the other. I did almost plow someone over who had walked across the lane for some reason. At 24, you don’t want to be in my way.
The somewhat questionable feedback I was getting from my watch was that I was still in the 6:45-6:50 range, even though I felt like I was going so slow. There was so much more crowd support plus all the half marathoners, so this stretch was really motivating. I was in a bit of a slow fade but only by 5 seconds, so I don’t know if that even counts.
There weren’t many guys ahead of me but I was trying to chase them down one at a time and drag them in, too. I will let you hitch your man-caboose to my freight train.
We made one last turn just before 26 and there were a bunch of running group tents on the sidewalk and a ton of people. I saw the orange of our Personal Best Training club and people were cheering for me — some who knew who I was at least via the internet, some who just knew I had on a team jersey. I was SO excited, finally realizing/accepting that this dream of breaking 3 hours was really going to come true. I wasn’t going to blow up, crash out, fall short. I still felt good, and I just had to run for something like seven more minutes. I was yelling and fist pumping or whatever I was doing, and Lindsey Hein (of the “I’ll Have Another” podcast) was there yelling for me — her husband finished just ahead of me — and she got a great photo that really captured the moment.
This stretch is also downhill for which I am very grateful. I made the last right turn, with just a few hundred meters to go. The crowd was huge, there was music, and I was staring down the finish line. I could see the clock which appeared to say 2:56, which did not seem right AT ALL. AT ALL.
But it really did. I saw it roll over to 2:57 and I was looking across the line to see if my coach was there. All the race officials were in orange, so I was having a hard time figuring it out, but as I got close I knew he was there because he was standing in the middle of the lane yelling for me.
Last steps. Arms up. Arms up more. Huge smile. Huge hug from coach. Tears. More happy yelling by Coach. More tears by me. Repeat. Officially 2:57:03.
Mr. Chicory came through in 3:03, a PR for him after a very long time (like 8 years at least) and a big BQ especially since he just went up an age group to 3:10.
While I was standing at the finish line, they started playing Geronimo! How crazy.
At the results tent I found out I was the 9th female finisher overall (!!!) and that my splits for the halves were 1:28:24 and 1:28:40. Third in my age group, but I think one woman will pull out for overall. You don’t get a lot more even than that! My average pace was 6:46 — the same pace as the last mile of my blind marathon pace workout the Saturday before.
My legs are tired but my heart is happy. All the work paid off. I ran smart, I ran hard, and good things happened. Now to recover mentally and physically, and reset for spring.