Nearly 6 months of training came to a close last weekend and while I am proud to say I finished my third marathon, things did not play out how I had hoped. But let’s back track about a month to when Eric and I had our regular status. (This is a long one, so buckle up and maybe grab a donut.)
We all know I have a Boston dream and while it may not have started out that way in 2015, as I got deeper into the running world and more days went by that I couldn’t imagine my life without running, it only seemed like the next big thing to check off. I think that’s where I got a bit lost though – a small part of me only wanted to check it off to prove that I was a big time runner. I got lost in that “goal” and forgot that while I am a runner, I’m still pretty far off from being able to consistently run an 8 minute pace.
So when Eric and I talked, although I heard myself saying I wanted to BQ at Wisconsin, I knew in the back of my head I wasn’t there yet. To cut almost an hour off of my PR in less than a year (with a couple months of sub-par training because winter was ROUGH for me guys) was a bit insane. Not knocking my ability but realistically, it’s crazy.
So when it came down to race week and we were talking strategy, I felt confident when Eric said to go for the 3:50/8:45 pace. Yes it was still 20 minutes away from my dream, but it was so much closer that it would give me that boost I needed. Because while I had re-surfaced from getting lost within my goal when we had that status, I was still hesitant that I would even be able to achieve it. So needless to say, I was ecstatic when Eric said I would crush my PR and would have to fight for the 8:45 but it was definitely possible.
All race week, I’m not even going to downplay it, my stomach was in knots and I was a nervous wreck. It wasn’t until Friday night that I began to calm down due to a girlfriend date with some homemade pizza. When I woke up Saturday morning, I was feeling good, although a little tired (it was 4:45am). I bundled up in my pre-race sweats, I even made a comment as my mom and I arrived that I felt like a real runner with a warm-up on to which my mom replied, “you are! You’re about to complete your third marathon!”
The air at 6:25am was already starting to thicken, I knew we were in for a hot one but being naive, I didn’t let it worry me too much because I typically like running in the heat. At 6:45am, I put on my headphones and got into the zone. When the start gun went off at 7am, I was ready to take on the course but reminded myself to start slow as I always have a problem starting too quickly (spoiler alert, while I started at the perfect planned pace, I should have adjusted way more to account for the heat). You could see it on my face, I was pumped to be there and so ready to crush my PR.
The first 6 miles brought easy breathing, quick and light feet, and a spotting of two ex co-workers that brought a giant smile to my face and an extra pep in my step. I saw my mom right before mile 7 where she of course made friends that helped cheer me on. I knew as I approached that mile though, there would be some rolling hills. I reminded myself to make quick, short steps on the uphill and let the downhill carry me home.
With a turnaround right before 10, I was feeling good although I noticed the sun was starting to get a bit hot. When I came down the last hill after passing mile 12, I saw my mom and her new-found friends again – I was running with one of the ex co-workers at this point and as she bolted for the half finish line, I silently thought about following because the heat was beating down and my breathing was starting to get labored. That put me in a bit of a panic, it was much too early to hit the wall. And to top it off, I had to pee. Of course I went twice before the race but as any nervous person knows, it’s just never enough. Even before I crossed the start line, the urge had come back and so as I was passing a line of porta-potties right after mile marker 13, I made the decision to stop.
I still haven’t decided what would have happened if I didn’t stop at this point. I knew I was about to hit a wall and could use a tiny break since I’m usually pretty good at getting back into it once I take a minute. But I also know that once you stop your momentum, it’s hard to get it back going. There’s just no winning. However, looking back on it, I would have hit the wall far too early regardless of that stop and would’ve ended up peeing on the side of the road (and probably getting a ticket knowing my luck) had I not.
As I continued on, I knew my pace was slowing down. I did some quick math, factoring in my bathroom break and what I would have to run in order to achieve at least a sub-4 and realized I could still make it. But then mile 14 happened. I could feel it coming but I tried to push through. Once I hit 15, I had no control and both of my legs just stopped. Although my heart rate was a bit higher than I would have liked, my breathing wasn’t terrible but my goodness my legs! I was cramping from right below both of my butt cheeks all the way down to my toes. So I slowed to a walk, already predicting where the rest of this race was going to take me. Which I hate to say because Deena Kastor’s book had been such an inspiration to me leading up to this day and I had been practicing turning any negative thoughts into positive ones but this was just straight truth. It wasn’t getting any cooler and there was no shade anywhere on that course. Making the realization that I wasn’t going to crush my PR hurt but I quickly made the goal that I needed to finish that race and I needed to finish it the best I could.
So I pushed through those last 11 miles in the 80 degree heat and cloud-less sky – power walking when the cramps were too much to handle, running when the cramps subsided. I smiled at every single person I passed, thanking each spectator or volunteer and shouting a “way to go!” or “keep it up!” to each runner. People must’ve thought I was crazy but really, the more I gave to each of those people, the more energized I felt. When I was able to run, I was hitting a 9 minute pace and when I had to walk, I hit a 13 minute pace, joking with a few spectators that I was going to win the power walking world champion (yeah, I think I was delirious at that point too).
I walked most of the last mile, something that literally kills my pride admitting. But even trying to turtle jog at that point was unbelievably painful. When I hit mile 26, I don’t know what happened but it was like those last 26 miles were absolved. I sprinted the last 0.2 miles, crossing the finish line with a water bottle in my hand (generously provided by my mother and another by a spectator) and the biggest smile on my face, thankful it was over.
Andddddd then I collapsed on the ground. My legs couldn’t support me and all I wanted to do was cut them off. Literally, it was like cramping combined with restless leg syndrome and it was terrible. As I lay on the ground, absolutely exhausted, sweat dripping in my eyes, salt crusted in my hair, I was so happy I made it. I didn’t know what my time was at that point but I didn’t expect it to be anything good. My mom happily exclaimed I PR’ed by 2 minutes and 27 seconds – I was a bit bewildered, (1) because how did I squeak out a PR when I walked nearly half of the course and (2) because how did I train that hard for that long and only PR by 2 minutes and 27 seconds?! It was a bittersweet moment and while I still may be a bit salty about the outcome (figuratively, not literally because obvi washed all that salt off real quick LOL), I keep reminding myself that I completed ANOTHER marathon. That’s not something many people can say. It’s easy to lose sight of that when you’re so deep into it but I think that’s the real lesson to learn out of this. Boston will eventually come but it’s going to be a journey. It will take hard work, dedication, tempo runs and early Saturday miles. This race was just a stepping stone to get there. To get my mind right and get me prepared for what is to come. So remember that next time you set a goal. It’s not going to come with the snap of your fingers and you may have some setbacks in the process but if it’s something you truly want, it will be yours. Patience is key (young grasshoppers).
A gigantic thank you to my amazing support system especially my mom who woke up at 4:30am to cheer me on at 7 different points on the course and helped hand out water while she waited for my return. You da real MVP, Helene. Another huge thank you to my coach, Eric Turner. Thanks for dealing with me over the past 6+ months and being my ultimate running resource.