Note email subscribers, you might prefer to read this post via the web -just click here- because there are a lot of pictures. I actually restrained myself from posting posting many more, but your inbox may not appreciate loading the ones that did make the cut.
This post is more or less two re-caps for the price of one, so it’s feature-length. If you’re not in it for the long haul, I have a much shorter version on my Daily Mile page, click here to go directly to that post. I won’t be offended. However, if you do read the whole account here, please do leave a comment so I can thank you!
I’ll be honest. I wanted to win this race. I wanted to take first place so much that I considered not running at all, and using the upcoming Chicago Marathon (targeted all year as my “goal” race) as my excuse. Yes, that would be poor sportsmanship (had I acted upon such leanings), but this is the psychological journey I think we all take when we work hard for something, and when failure and success are both equally possible outcomes. Especially with an event like the marathon, where any one of a hundred variables could cause you to completely fall apart, and the right combination of another dozen needs to
occur for success. I was worried if I didn’t finish top 3, or had to DNF (did
not finish), especially after hurting my knee a couple of weeks ago, that I wouldn’t be able to move on, that maybe I would lose my joy of running, and my
dedication to it. I’ve never worked so hard at anything, or with as much patience, as I have at running over the last few years, and I’m only now realizing that. An epiphany like that makes you feel very vulnerable.
There was also a second goal: run a 3:15. A few days after I ran my first marathon (Portland, Oregon 2010), and earned my first BQ (Boston Qualifier 3:37 –former standards), my father asked me what my goal would be for my next marathon. I said a 3:30, and he said, “Why not a 3:15?”. I think I actually laughed, and explained (this was via text message) that to take 15 minutes off my time was preposterous. BQ’ing on my first try was also preposterous, but I’d done that, so the seed was planted and over the next 18 months (I was basically sidelined by injured for all 2011), I made 3:15 my goal. I made the mistake of sharing this with many veteran marathoners while training for Boston 2012 and without fail, every single one (actually, there were a few sub-elite/elite men who encouraged me, they know who they are), made that tooth sucking sound that means “ooooh, you silly thing”, and then said some variation of “that’s a really big PR” (personal record) or “that seems unlikely given you’ve done only one marathon and it was a 3:37.” Veteran runners, specifically those who’ve held BQ’s for a long time, tend to be brutally honest and opinionated. It’s actually rather endearing, I promise. Anyway, my point is that I knew, and my biggest fan knew, that I had a 3:15 in my future, I just had to learn to not get discouraged by other people’s comments about my goal or opinions on my training style, put my head down, and chip away at it.
For the last month leading to race day I had a weird conflict when
I visualized the race. When visualizing things going as planned, that is,
running a 3:15, and winning, every time I got very uncomfortable and couldn’t
get past mile 16 in my mind. The only person who knew I really wanted to go for
it at No Frills was Meredith, my training partner this cycle (more accurate
term “person with whom I obsessively text about every workout or plan
adjustment, everyday”). Joking (but not really) about us finishing 1-2, or
winning together, holding hands while crossing the finish line, or grabbing
each other’s pony-tails in an effort to take first, helped to resolve the inner
conflict. It also confirmed that given the data available, last year’s race,
the course, weather, my training and so on, my first marathon win and a PR were
plausible. But given that I have two additional marathons to run this fall, conventional wisdom would be to run only part of the race (20miles or so) then drop out or walk, and I got tired of hearing people say that, so I sort of blurred my goals when talking about it.
I finally registered two weeks before the race. I had just committed to dedicating my marathons this fall to GCS and raising $5,000. Instead of increasing the performance pressure, this commitment actually made me relax and focus. I found myself feeling excited again because I knew those supporting my efforts would not hate me, or regret supporting my cause if I had to DNF because of an injury, or if I didn’t run fast, or heck, if I didn’t win. It’s the cause that’s important, and the better I performed, the more people would contact the cause.
You can read about race-eve activities here. I spent the week before the race trying to speed up the healing process for my right knee, which I fell on, hard, the Friday before the race. I shared plenty of my woe’s on that front via Daily Mile.
The race itself I’m going to share with quotes from Meredith’s race re-cap that she wrote for her training journal. We’ve relied on each other so much over the past year that our performances in Wisconsin were really intertwined, which we were hilariously in denial about until after the race. What I mean is that we both have been practicing mindfulness and focusing on “running your own race” in a variety of aspects. But then as we reflected on the race, we realized that our performances had become rather co-dependent.
Although we were awake and together for 2hrs before the race start we didn’t talk much about the race. We did however exchange lots of denial statements about the weather. Which was 65 (degrees, at 5am), 93% humidity, and included thunderstorm (translation: NOT ideal for running a marathon as fast as you can). We both knew our goals, and each others. And we wanted it all. It was entertaining, however, trying to explain to Meredith’s parents why we didn’t care as much about the possibility of rain as we did about the dew point, downright hilarious, actually.
Meredith : Waiting for the women’s bathroom , ” I gave myself a little smile, knowing that it really didn’t matter if my tennis shoes and this particular pair of socks got wet, because I had dry socks along with my race shoes in the car. I just enjoyed the moment and the feeling of being super prepared!”
Me: I was huddled under the bathroom building overhang waiting for the unisex porta-potty with 5 men. 4 of home were friendly, one of who would annoyingly not stop fidgeting and was wearing ear-buds (so was clueless). We chit-chatted about the course, and other race, and with eat bolt of lightning and shimmy to get outs feet out of the rainfall, pondered aloud if perhaps they’d delay our start a tad.
Answer: nope. 7:00am on the dot.
Meredith’s line went a lot faster than mine (gender stereotypes do not apply to marathoners), so she made it back to dry land (aka her father’s car) before me. Here’s what she had to say: “And then I realized. It was raining. I needed body glide for my feet. ‘Geez, I hope Annabelle has some Body Glide,’ I said as I turned around and saw it sitting there on the seat. I knew she wouldn’t care. She wanted me to run a PR and get my BQ almost just as badly as I did! So, I grabbed the glide, and like the good friend I like to think of myself as, used my fingers to put the glide on my feet. Seconds later, when Annabelle got back from the bathroom, she told me to go ahead and just glide up! Friends…I tell you…are PRICELESS!”
At the start:
Meredith: “Don’t be shy,” Annabelle said, as we made our way to the front of the pack at the start. The winning woman from last year ran a 3:24, so we were expecting to be among the top finishers and I especially wanted to be sure I got a good start with my goal of BQ’ing in mind. As usual, we were mainly surrounded by men, some of whom were talking about running a 3:25. Annabelle and I exchanged looks when we heard this, and normally I would have moved to the other side of the group thinking these men would chat the whole race, but I decided, “Why not embrace this moment?” as the rain was falling around us. It was almost hilarious, really, so I smiled and yelled back that I’d look for them because I was also shooting for that time (Did I believe it at that moment? Not sure!). One guy then thought I was talking to him and announced he would be “going much faster than that,” as he pushed his way in front of me.
Me: An acquaintance from Chicago with whom I’d done a few workouts last winter during Boston training was also running, as was his girlfriend (her first marathon!), so I was chatting with them. Until he stepped on my foot as he dove into a quasi-track start position, then I focused on not losing my focus. My toes are in really bad shape, and the piggies on my right foot hurt until mile 3 after that. Also, for those of you who aren’t marathoners, a “running pose” start isn’t necessary, it’s show-boating.
Sadly, these subtle shows of misogyny (or just arrogance) are rather common at races, but at No Frills, after these two less than excellent displays of etiquette, there were none to be had. I passed none or 10 men after mile 8, and they were all extremely encouraging. I even got two low-side-5’s.
The first third (miles 1-8):
I spent the first 1.5mi running off and on (our paces really didn’t match) with the Chicago acquaintance, then he fell back and I didn’t see him again. The first 8 miles of the No Frills course are a combination of neighborhood streets, a major route (rt. 51), fire roads, and what feel like little spur trails but I don’t think they are. These many changes in terrain make this first part of the race leading up to the Bearskin Trail go by really fast, and it can be hard to remain patient, because you want to really start racing, meaning, you want to start trying to pass people and pick up your pace, but it’s too early, and too much can happen over the rest of the race (newsflash: marathons are long).
Meredith: I knew my dad was coming up when we came out of the woods and crossed a road on the way to the Bearskin, because I could see him off in the distance, and that was just so wonderful! I also knew that he had decided to come check on me at that spot, since we were all worried about my feet and how they would hold up in the rain, so I did a little bit of a check. My feet were fine, and I could do this. I waved and yelled at my dad, he told me Annabelle was in first, and I ran with a little pep in my step onto the Bearskin Trail. I was on pace for a 3:25 and she was nowhere around me, which meant it was completely plausible that she was on pace for her 3:15 goal. We were going to do this!
Me: There were two women ahead of me for the first 4 miles. I knew I could overtake the first girl when she ate a gel at mile 2.5. I’m not trying to be funny or disrespectful, it was just that between that, and a few other things about how she was running led me to put on my Sherlock hat and deduce that she’d gone out too fast. The other girl leap-frogged with me until I think mid-mile 5 or 6. She, I thought, might be a problem, because when we hit the first water two stops she was very cheery, and had a support crew (a CUTE soft-haired Wheaton Terrier, and a strapping young fella) handing her nutrition, which I guessed meant she was either a first timer or going for a time goal. After I passed her I started worrying about Meredith on the trail and fire-road portions of the roads. I thrive on trails and hills (even if I do fall a lot), I love them, and so does she, but she has foot issues, so I was worried she’d be too cautious and lose time. I got a huge rush seeing her father at the main trail head. He gave me a heartfelt confirmation that I was in the lead and asked if I needed anything.
The middle third (mile 8-16ish): I like the juxtaposition of what Meredith and I were each experiencing here and how those experiences mirror each other in our physical discomfort, doubts, calculations, and also observing how others are doing.
Meredith: The second half of a marathon is hard. I don’t care who you are, what kind of time you run, what kind of shape you are in…it’s hard. This is the allure of the sport, though: running the second half of a marathon as fast as you can…I passed another Chicago runner at 15. I didn’t know him well, but he didn’t look good and I didn’t want to waste my mental energy trying to make him feel better, so I ran on by… I don’t know where I took the Pepto or the Excedrin, but I do know my left side started to hurt so I took Pepto somewhere between 13-20 and my foot started to hurt so I took Excedrin somewhere in there as well… At sixteen miles, I took another salt, and I do know I passed mile 17 still on pace. At this point, I started calculating…if I ran the last 9 miles at a 10:00/mile pace, I would have a PR! “Don’t get too excited. Spotlight on NOW.” I kept running to 20.
Me: It’s hard to explain with credibility, but seeing people who you know truly are rooting for you really does give you wings. My next half mile after seeing Meredith’s father was too fast, and my knee got very painful for about 10 minutes.
I was terrified until about mile 12, after two waves of pain, that I might have to drop out at some point. I focused on my pacing plan, and my breathing (3 steps to inhale, 3 to exhale) whenever I got anxious. Anxiety attacks are my biggest race killer. Last year at Chicago I totally melted down in Chinatown (I know, it should be a band name). I thought I was having a heart attack, I mean, I REALLY thought that.
I also tried NOT to think about winning, too much pressure. So instead I thought about Meredith, and how I didn’t want to go to Boston next April without her. When the bombing occurred this year and she couldn’t get a hold of us (meaning, our teammates and I) for hours, it was awful for her. She was at work in Chicago and no one understood the gravity of the situation. I’ve said it before and will say it again, it was worse NOT being there. We knew we were safe, but our loved-ones were in the dark.
Outside of the intermittent knee pain, I felt pretty good at a 7:20-7:25 pace. I did begin to fret over maintaining it, so I focused on my nutrition plan, which was to take about half a Power-Gel every 40-45 mins (a full one ALWAYS results in major reflux), and at least 2 ounces of water at each water station. I also started to take in the environment. With only occasional other runners around me, I could hear the comforting sounds of their running rhythm on the path from about a tenth of a mile away (maybe more). And the woods! I love the woods. I expected the humidity to start slowing me down at mile 16 so I mentally prepared to accept a 30 second slow down on my pace, which would still have me finish at 3:15. I passed three or four more runners I’d started with through this stretch a people were starting to feel the consequences of not respecting the weather, and the excitement of a small race.
The final third (16ish-26.2):
Meredith: At mile 23…I saw my dad cross the trail up ahead…he was going to hand me my handheld water bottle that I could carry for the last three miles of the race, but something was wrong. He was running across the trail and would be on my left side! I carry my bottle in my right hand! “Daddy, get on the RIGHT!” I yelled, and then, just in case, slower, “On…the…RIIIIIIGHT!” I saw him scramble across the path and assumed my mom was laughing, but I was too focused to really laugh myself (even though it was absolutely hilarious).
After 23 miles, my pace sped up. My dad had told me I was in fourth and Annabelle was in first, so my thought at that point became to catch the third place woman. I had visions of great marathon wins go through my head…of a sprint down the home stretch, and I wanted to find this girl! And then I started imagining where Annabelle was on the course, how HAPPY she must be to run her PR, hoping that she had run UNDER 3:15, and started to get excited about celebrating a successful day together. My brain wasn’t working well enough to calculate my finish time, but I knew it was good.
I passed the third place woman and then saw the bridge that means the finish is coming. I KICKED! I actually KICKED at the end of a marathon! My pace sped up from a 7:35 last mile to a 7:01 pace in the last 0.2! I heard my dad yelling at me to kick hard, I heard Annabelle say, “You’re going to BOSSSSSTON!!!!!!” heard my mom’s cheers (which are the best things EVER!), imagined her jumping up and down (which I know she was doing!), and saw that clock reading 3:23:14….oh…my…gosh!!!! I ran soooo hard across that line, leaving absolutely everything on the course, and smiled up at the photographer before bending over at the waist and preparing to puke. I’ve never had THAT happen before! It was just dry heaving, but I still couldn’t catch my breath or focus on what I had done. Which, by the way, amazed the HELL out of me…
I ran a 13.5 minute PR, I qualified for the second wave of Boston registration with a BQ-11.5, I broke 3:30, I ran a 3:23, I ran my 16th marathon….
Me: I had a few more waves of knee pain, but now I knew that they were probably related to some combination of grade (uphill or downhill) and pace, so I focused on staying calm and not changing my gait (form) when they came.
Each time, they passed, though, and by mile 20 I had resolved that a DNF was not an option, but if the pain worsened or I was forced to change my gait, then I would walk. Not winning was better than not finishing.
My pace slowed several times as fatigue set in. One of my goals this race was that when I got tired I would SURGE, I would speed up and then aim to settle back into my pace. Typically the inclination is to allow yourself to slow down for a little while in an effort to recover. I’ve been reading a lot about the physiology of running lately and if you SPEED UP rather than SLOW DOWN you’ll actually tap into the ability to maintain your effort (that’s it in a nutshell anyway). This was wicked hard to execute. I found I was actually negotiating with myself, trying to justify slowing down, then reminding myself that in all likelihood if I slowed down intentionally to “rest” then I would not get a 3:15, I would surely be caught by one or more female runners, and so my chance at WINNING a marathon would be gone, I wouldn’t be able to speed up again, and I would have to walk away knowing that I didn’t fight and give it all I could.
I vividly remember, starting at mile 22, until the finish I looked behind me every few minutes hoping to see Meredith, because then she could push/pull me to the finish. This was always coupled with a fear I’d see some woman OTHER THAN Meredith, which was terrifying. I wanted to win, and I wanted Meredith to break 3:25, and I couldn’t fathom anything else.
I can’t express how much I was looking forward to seeing Meredith parents at mile 23. They were AMAZING! Dan handed me my hand-held water bottle (with 2 gels in the pocket), and from the left side of the road (Meredith’s mom had noted that I’m left handed, they are saints). You might notice this means I probably messed up Mere’s hand off! Dan and Susan were yelling happily that I was holding first, and all I had to say was “Can you take this….please….it’s sticky.” I HATE it when people throw their trash on the ground outside of water stops and trash bins at races. It’s entitled, arrogant, and disrespectful, especially if it’s a trail race, so I’d been holding a half empty gel packet for like 2 miles.
The last four miles were rough, and I didn’t have anyone in sight except for creeping up on and passing two men in mile 23. I connected a sweet side five with one of them while noticing he was wearing a Boston Strong bracelet. My chest hurt instantly and I started to cry. I shook it off by visualizing winning, and calling my father, who I knew would absolutely freak out.
By mile 24 I was able to surge and hold onto a 7:35ish pace and I was so thirsty! I limited myself to sips from the handheld so I wouldn’t throw up. I fought like hell until mile 25.75ish where I realized how close I was to the finish, I dug in, stopped thinking, and stopped looking behind me. If I was going to win, I wanted to look confident while doing it.
I’ve never been happier than as I ran across the Minocqua Trestle bridge to the finish line. Meredith’s parents were yelling “number one!” and the 50 or so people (it could have been less, I have no idea) cheering may as well have been a dang Olympic stadium full of people for how special they made me feel.
I was so anxious and excited to see how Meredith was doing that as soon as I had my medal, I walked back to the edge of the bridge (50ft from the finish?) to join Dan and Susan and watch Meredith finish. When they told me how good she seemed at mile 23, and that she’d been in 4th place, I didn’t feel tired at all anymore, and I totally forgot that I just hit a major goal. And HOLY CRAP, she looked so strong when she hit the Trestle and we could see her! All three of us screamed at her, in a good way. Once she’d regained her composure the phone calls began and we headed once again to the finish to wait for the other two Chicago runners to finish.
For those who like the numbers:
Minutes per Mile
Also, I got to eat cake, stomach-ache free. So the day really was amazing!