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.
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.