On November 4th, I ran my second fastest marathon to date, despite some foot pain and lots of stomach issues. I finished the race slightly disappointed in my time, but proud of myself for fighting through adversity to a strong finish and even prouder for managing to have fun some fun along the way. A few hours after the race, I had done some processing and reflecting, and I decided I was content with the result of the day, but the fire inside of me was burning brighter than ever. I knew I needed to take some time off, and was looking forward to doing so, but at the same time, was eager to run again with sights set on big goals in the spring.
“You can be proud of yourself and want more out of yourself at the same time.” -Alexi Pappas
I took a full week completely off after the race before going for a 10 minute jog with my puppy one day. To my surprise (and dismay), the foot pain I’d experienced on and off before New York and then significantly during the race, had not resolved itself during my week of rest. For the first time, I realized I might actually be injured. A week later, I found this to be true, receiving my third stress fracture diagnosis.
I experienced a range of emotions over the next few days, most significantly, frustration at feeling like I should have known better, but overall I coped pretty OK. Fortunately, a number of running injuries, including the previous stress fractures, have taught me lessons in patience. In addition, I am lucky to have a tremendous support system, including the Lane 9 community and my coach, to lean on when I felt defeated. At times I felt like it was my fault, but I knew deep down that I trained smart and treated my body as well as I could have.
Sometimes injuries just happen.
So let’s fast forward. It’s now the middle of January and I can confidently say that I am fully on the mend. Progress started slowly. Very slowly. But now I am beginning to feel like I’m gaining momentum.
It began a month ago, December 23rd to be exact, with 15 minutes of 1 minute running, 1 minute walking. Those 15 minutes were incredible. I was just so grateful and thrilled to be outside again, moving my body in the way that I love. From there, the running increased slowly and the cross-training days became less frequent. But as I began my third week of running, frustration began to sink in. I was finally starting to run continuously, without the walk intervals, but it felt slow and hard, and like I wasn’t making any progress. I was quick to get down on myself and started to wish I did not have a spring marathon on the horizon. But each time I let the doubt creep in, I forced myself to take a deep breath and practice patience. I reminded myself that I’ve been here before and chances are, I’ll be here again. Progress will come in due time, but fitness cannot be rushed, especially if I hope to remain injury free.
I am nowhere near where I hope to be come April and honestly, I probably won’t reach peak fitness by then. But on Saturday, I had the best run I’ve has since that race on November 4th. For the first time in months, running felt smooth, natural, and dare I say…fun! I even felt a little fast again. Sunday, was the opposite and I felt slow and robotic as I surged into a strong headwind, but I kept Saturday’s run in mind. I tucked away that memory of feeling good on the run and reminded myself I’ll feel that way again soon.
I’ll have my first mini-workout this week and no matter how it feels, the fact that it’s on my schedule at all is a testament to how far just one month has brought me. I’ve still got some cross training on the schedule, but Saturdays are getting longer, hill strides are getting easier, and my pace is getting just the slightest bit quicker. Progress is slow, and it’s not linear, but damn does it feel good.
Last week, I had the privilege of running the streets of New York City with over 50,000 other runners. It wasn’t a perfect race, because that doesn’t exist, but it was certainly a different experience than any other marathon, one where I had to make some decisions I have not previously faced and one where I was able to test my resilience in a new way.
In the weeks approaching New York, I struggled with a lot of doubts. Training through D.C. summer makes it nearly impossible to know what actual shape you’re in, and training through the first few months of a new school year is down right exhausting. I originally had a goal of breaking three hours, but going into the race, I put that goal on hold and vowed to focus on running smart, strong, and having fun.
New York is unique in that you get on busses to shuttle to the start before the sun comes up, yet you don’t start racing until around 10:00 am or later, depending on your wave. The Boston Marathon is similar, but in my experience, because the shuttle to the start is shorter, I’ve been able to sleep in longer than I did in New York. I knew since I was getting up before 5:00 am but not racing until 9:50, I’d need to focus on getting an adequate amount of calories in before the race. So before catching my Lyft to the midtown library around 5:30, I ate a little bit of oatmeal.
Once I got to the library I jumped in the massive line for the busses. Shockingly, I was able to spot the top knot of my friend (and NPDC co-leader) Maria just ahead. I shouted her name and was lucky to catch up to her and ride the bus together. Having someone to chat with during the two hours it took us to get to the start area in Staten Island was a relief. Not only did it help pass the time a little, but it took my mind off the race and any nerves I had. During the bus ride I ate some more (a Kind Bar and a Honey Stinger Waffle) and drank Nuun.
We got to athlete’s village (or whatever they called it in NY) just after 8:00 am and went through security. We then went our separate ways to wait for our wave to be called to the corrals. I immediately got in a bathroom line (which was long but nothing like the lines I’ve waited in at Boston or Chicago) and ate a second Honey Stinger while finishing up my Nuun. This was the last I’d planned to eat or drink before the race. By the time I made it in and out, they were beginning to call my wave, so I hopped into my corral and kept my eyes out for another friend I had plans of meeting.
As we began being ushered to the Verrazano Bridge, I ran into Claire. We excitedly shuffled onto the bridge while we caught up and swapped race plans. It was a crowded and overwhelming start, so it was nice to have a friendly face around. Before we knew it, the howitzer fired, we wished each other good luck, and we were off!
The first mile was more crowded than any race I’ve ever run, but I didn’t mind because it kept me from running too fast. I also spent my energy focused on not tripping over the people around me and I honestly didn’t notice we were running up hill at all. My first mile was around 7:30, slower than planned, but that was perfect.
The next 4-5 miles flew by and I felt like I was running downhill for a lot of it. My frozen feet had finally warmed up by mile 3 or so and I was just cruising along. My mile splits were a bit fast, but the effort felt even easier than I wanted it to, so I wasn’t worried. Around mile 6 I caught up to the 3:05 pace group and settled in with them.
Fueling during the marathon has been my weakness since I started running them and I wanted to really focus on getting it right this race. I feel like I nailed my hydration in my last couple marathons, so nailing my fuel was the next step in improving my race and really finishing strong. I decided to take my first Huma gel around mile 7 while I was feeling great and surrounded by a pace group to do the work for me. Between mile 7 and 9 I took most of the gel and kept cruising along. The miles were going by so fast I couldn’t believe that I was already coming up on the half. I knew I was running faster than planned, but I felt like I was jogging, so I figured I was safe.
Around mile 11, my stomach started bothering me and that’s when things took a bit of a turn. I debated for a while, but just before the half I took a quick pit-stop at the porta potty. I’ve never stopped for the bathroom in a race before and I was hesitant, especially when I was running so well, but I made the choice and hoped it wouldn’t ruin everything. To my surprise, my legs felt fine when I started running again and I only lost about 30 seconds on the mile. Unfortunately, I still felt sick and took another stop at the end of mile 14, just before heading over the bridge. I lost a bit more time there, but was still on pace to run under 3:05 if the rest of the race panned out, so I kept pressing.
I got going again and fell right back into the rhythm of low-7’s and my stomach was feeling much better. The dreaded Queensboro Bridge felt like nothing to me and I didn’t slow down at all. I flew off the bridge, taking advantage of the downhill while others hesitantly scooted down. I clocked some of my fastest splits from mile 18 to 20, averaging around 6:50. During those three miles my stomach was feeling fine again and I knew that if I didn’t at least try taking another gel I’d risk bonking, so I took the chance of feeling sick again and took about half a gel during those miles. My stomach quickly turned sour again and at 22 I took another pit stop (which was conveniently timed with an untied shoe) and lost about another minute. Stopping at 22 really had me worried about being able to move my legs and run fast again, but after a few steps they felt fine and I was able to run a decent mile 23.
After the second gel my stomach just didn’t recover and during mile 23, although I maintained a decent pace, I was fighting getting sick. Just past the mile 23 marker, my body took over and I found myself keeled over on the sidewalk, throwing up for about 3 minutes. The crowd and volunteers were amazing, cheering me on and checking to make sure I was alright. A woman handed me a mini-water bottle which I walked with and sipped on for about 30 seconds before getting back into a run headed toward the finish. It crossed my mind to walk jog to the end or to walk to 25 and jog the last mile, but I knew I still had a shot of running a solid time, so I wasn’t ready to give up.
Central Park was amazing and I wish I could have enjoyed it more than I did. I was really freaked out about the hills heading into New York, especially the hills at the end, but those fears were unwarranted. The hills in New York seriously are not as bad as people make them out to be. Honestly, I felt like I was running downhill through most of Central Park. I tried to run hard and kick to the finish but I could only do so much without puking again. I was also in a lot of pain from a nagging little niggle that flared up during the race and caused some compensation during the later miles.
Despite the nauseous feeling I ran with through the park, before I knew it I could see the finish line. Fighting up the hill to the finish, I heard my name and turned to see a friend of mine finishing right beside me. It was pretty amazing that out of over 50,000+ people. we happened to finish side by side! We crossed the finish line and after I spent a little more time emptying the contents of my stomach, he and I waddled through the shoot together and rehashed our races. Just like at the start, it was nice to have a friendly face around.
I made it back to where we were staying and spent some time drinking water and resting before hopping into a long and glorious shower. I waited quite a while before finally eating and fortunately, my stomach was ready for food again. The rest of the day was filled with mimosas, pizza, beer, nachos, and friends. It was fantastic. We also went out to the finish around 7:00 pm to cheer on the final finishers, which was incredibly inspiring and made me tear up over and over again ( I later connect the dots that one of the woman I watched finish is a fellow SWAPPER).
I felt better the rest of the day and the following days than I ever have after a marathon and I think that’s in part because I wasn’t truly able to test my fitness. I’m ok with that though. I had so much fun and enjoyed running a beautiful course on the best marathon weather day I’ve ever experienced. I think New York forced me to persevere in a different way than races in the past have which definitely taught me a lot about what I’m actually capable of. A couple of years ago I would have definitely given up on myself, if not at mile 13-14, definitely at mile 24. I have no doubt I would have walked it in and regretted it later. But I didn’t do that because in the past few years, and especially since working with my coach, I’ve learned so much about the marathon and about myself. I know I am capable of so much more than I think I am every time I’m out there.
I didn’t leave NYC with a shiny new PR, but I did run my second best time, a time I would have killed for only a year ago, and that’s pretty damn cool. Sure, there’s a level of frustration when I think about what I could have run if I didn’t have stomach problems, but I’m comforted knowing I gave it all I had, I controlled what I could, and my fastest days are still ahead. I am proud of myself, but I am hungry for more.
This time five years ago, I would have been recovering, and beginning to run again, after completing my first marathon, the Corning Wineglass Marathon in October. Those days feel so long ago, but also like just yesterday. Looking back, I am baffled by how far I’ve come.
During the fall of 2013, I was living in NYC and “training” for my first marathon. A few months prior, I had run my last college track race and with that, I shut the door on my competitive running career. At the time, there was no place in my mind for serious post-collegiate running, and even if there had been, my relationship with running was so broken that I would not have entertained the idea. I had registered for the Wineglass Marathon only to run a race with my mom and to check “Run a Marathon” off the bucket list.
In the summer leading up to the race, I worked at a summer camp where I was a bunk counselor and running counselor. I spent my days running loop after loop around camp with high school girls who were aiming to stay in shape for their upcoming field hockey or soccer seasons. Since most of those runs were slower than I was used to, in addition, I’d run early in the morning or during my off periods in order to get my “actual” marathon training in (even though I had NO idea how to train for a marathon). I didn’t count much of the running I was doing with the campers toward my mileage, and as a result I was likely, without realizing, putting in the highest mileage of my life. Since my relationship with running, food, and my body was so poor at the time, I wasn’t eating enough, resting enough, or listening to my body either. By August, I had a stress fracture in one of my metatarsals.
Fast forward to fall and few weeks into my time in NYC, I was given the clear to run again. If I remember correctly, I was about 3 weeks out from Wineglass and my long run PR was still just 12.5 miles. In those three weeks, I ran as much as I could around Central Park. I tried forcing fitness I didn’t have and running mileage I wasn’t ready for. It was dumb, painful, and it definitely didn’t make me happy. I absolutely loved running around New York, but I never fully enjoyed it because not a single run was done for the right reasons. Every run was a means to an end. A way to get thinner and be better. Whatever that means.
Finally, race weekend arrived and I took the bus back upstate to meet my mom in Binghamton and then drive to Corning. Don’t ask my mom about that day. She would tell you I was an absolutely miserable person to be around. I was grumpy about running the race, I knew I was unprepared, and the idea of waking up at 5AM to run more than double my longest run ever was daunting at best. But I did it and to my surprise, I finished a little but under four hours. I really can’t remember feeling anything other than tired when I finished, but it was pretty awesome having run the same marathon as my mom. That’s not something most people get to say.
It didn’t happen right away, but not long after crossing the finish line in Corning, I knew I wasn’t ready to put the marathon to rest. I didn’t have any big dreams of being competitive again and I didn’t even want to qualify for Boston yet, but I knew I wanted to race again and that I wanted to go faster. In two weeks I’ll be back in New York for marathon number 9.
I find it fitting that five years later this marathon takes me back to where it all started and in the past few weeks of training I’ve done a lot of reflecting. I didn’t expect running my 9th marathon to feel like some huge milestone, but it kind of does. Five years and 8 marathons ago I was unhappy, and I was struggling with disordered eating and an unhealthy relationship with running and myself. I hated the sport I’d once loved and I never thought I’d enjoy it again. I had no clue what my plan was past students teaching and really, I just felt lost.
Since then, so much has changed. It began when I moved the the D.C. area for my first teaching job. My environment changed, my friends changed, and relationship with running started to shift. I ran the Marine Corps Marathon in 2014 and qualified for the Boston Marathon for the first time, which started to bring back a little bit of my competitive fire. It didn’t happen quickly, but over time things began to change and by the time I ran the Marine Corps Marathon again in 2016, my fourth marathon, I think I could actually say I enjoyed running again.
In the early summer of 2017 I began working with a coach for the first time since college. I was hesitant due to my relationship with running the last time I had a coach, but I can say with confidence it was one of the best decisions I ever made. In the fall of 2017, I ran a 9 minute PR at the Chicago marathon, officially reviving my desire to be competitive, and then in the spring of 2018, despite horrific conditions, I shaved off another 6 minutes to run under 3:10 for the first time in Boston.
Although Chicago and Boston were my seventh and eighth marathons, I feel like they were the very beginning. For a long time I thought I had potential to break 3:20, on a perfect day, but now I know it’s so much more. After Boston, I set my sights on breaking 3 hours.
Training for New York has been far from perfect (as most training blocks are). For one, summer in D.C. is brutal with heat and humidity, so I rarely felt successful during a workout or long run. Then came the stress of switching back to teaching kindergarten at a new school and adjusting to the incredibly busy schedule of the school year. And finally, in the past month, the kindergarten germs knocked me down and I was forced to adjust some training because I just didn’t have the health or energy to get everything in.
October has been littered with doubt and fear. I’ve been holding on tight to the goal of breaking three hours, but my training hasn’t necessarily given me the confidence to believe that’s realistic. I’ve had a difficult time keeping things in perspective and not being too hard on myself, but this week I’ve finally started to get past that mental block and take on a more optimistic attitude.
I don’t think I’m ready to break 3 hours in New York, and that’s OK. I’m confident that I’m ready to run a great race. New York is a tough course and it isn’t known for impressively fast times. My training has been hard and I’ve dealt with a lot of life stress. Is it possible that I could have a perfect race and make it happen? Sure. But that’s not my goal at this point.
I’m turning this race into a celebration more than any other, because not only do I get to celebrate finishing another marathon, but I get to celebrate five years of tremendous growth in my life. Once again, I love running and I have fun with it. Finally, I eat food and I enjoy it. For the first time, I am comfortable in my own skin and I no longer spend time hating my body. Running fast times is great, but there is so much more to running and life. In the grand scheme, the time I run on November 4th does not matter at all. My life won’t change whether I run a 3:10, a 3:05, or 3 hours. It won’t even change if I run 4 hours. But I do believe my life will be a little better if I savor every step I run around the beautiful city of New York and appreciate what an amazing opportunity it is to be where I am today.
I’ll break three eventually, when the time is right, but I don’t need to rush. I am focused on the present moment and I am meeting my body and mind where it is.
In high school, running scared was my favorite thing to do.
I had a very different definition of running scared back then.
My senior year of high school, my 4×800 meter relay teammates had a knack for handing me, the anchor leg, the baton in first place. I’d accept the exchange, and run like hell, visualizing my competitors on my heels. I never looked back, always willing myself to reach the finish line before I was caught. For an entire season, I fearfully ran myself across the line first. Running scared was fun. Running scared was a thrill.
Today, I’d do anything to no longer run scared.
This evening, as I laced up my Cliftons, strapped on my Garmin, and situated my phone in my Spibelt, I left my headphones behind. I almost always wear headphones when running alone. I see running as time for myself and enjoy listening to my favorite podcasts on easy days. I keep the volume low enough to hear my breath and my footsteps but today, that didn’t feel like enough. I approached what should have been a relaxing and stress-reducing recovery run with fear and trepidation.
Less than two minutes into my run, my heart raced as I made eye-contact with a man walking diagonally across the street toward me, only to realize he was on route to the entrance for CVS. As I continued up the street, I took a wider than normal breadth around male pedestrians. By the time I reached the National Mall, I was holding back tears, my fear juxtaposed to songs of ice cream trucks and idle chatter of tourists. Continuing on, I noticed every man I passed and felt my stride quicken just slightly each time one reached his hand into his pocket. In my 15 years of running I’ve experience catcalls, cars repeatedly passing by, harassment, and men lunging at me and as a result, I haven’t felt truly safe in a long time. But now, this fear is heightened as I am faced with the question of whether or not I will make it home alive each time I leave to train.
This may sound dramatic. It is.
This evening, I exhaled a sigh of relief as I walked back into my apartment building upon ending my run. Relief because I’d made it home, something Wendy Martinez was not lucky enough to do just two nights ago. But with this relief came grief and guilt, as well. Guilt and grief over the fact that on Tuesday evening, I ran the streets of D.C., just miles away from where Wendy would be murdered roughly an hour later.
This is not the first incident of its kind that has led to the feelings of grief, fear, and anger I am currently processing, but I’d be lying if I said this didn’t hit me a little harder and make my fears feel a bit more real. This time it was Wendy, but how easily could this have been me or one of my closest friends? We all run these streets, and like Wendy did, we often run them alone.
We’ll see articles and news reports filled with safety tips for runners. Uninformed men will ask why we don’t just run inside or find a male friend to run with. Someone will try to make this Wendy’s fault. To all of that, I give the middle finger. The problem is not that we, as women, are making unsafe choices. The problem is a world where women are unsafe simply existing.
To be very blunt, we live in a world where women are forced to think, “I really hope no one tries to murder me on this run”, as we leave the house. This makes me sick to my stomach. And it sure as hell ain’t fair.
I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t scared. And I’ll admit I considered staying in my apartment gym and running on the treadmill tonight. But in the end, I went outside because really, what else can we do? We female runners, will not retreat. We cannot and will not hole up in gyms and seek refuge on treadmills. We will not allow senseless violence to rob us of our passions.
Running is mine and I’ll be damned if I ever let fear take that from me. Yes, I am running scared, but I’m still running. And I’m running with a little more passion and purpose as I remember the lives’ of women whom I did not know. Women who were taken from us far too soon.
My deepest condolences are with the friends and family of Wendy Martinez. I did not know Wendy, yet my heart is broken.
No thank you to covering up and hiding behind clothes that feel safe. No thank you to keeping the tank on while running in 100 degree weather, for fear of being judged as not thin enough. No thank you to ideal body types and unrealistic standards. No thank you to diets, restriction, and food rules. No thank you to excuses like “I’m not hungry” or “I just ate”, when your mouth is watering and your stomach is rumbling. No thank you to gluten-free, fat-free, carb-free. No thank you too anything ‘free’ other than my own body. No thank you to BMI charts. No thank you to earning desert and exercising away guilt. No thank you to arguments about macros and why “that diet worked for me”. No thank you to Weight-Watchers and Flat Tummy Co. targeting teens.No thank you to scales. No thank you to diet culture.
No thank you to gazing eyes of strange men. No thank you to catcalls and “you should smile more”. No thank you to “hey baby”. No thank you to “bitch”, when I ignore you. No thank you to older men calling me honey. No thank you to looking over my shoulder when I’m walking alone. No thank you to holding my keys between my knuckles. No thank you to checking the backseat before getting in the car. No thank you to pretending to talk on the phone in parking garages and on the street once the sun has gone down.
No thank you to undermining educators. No thank you to scripted curriculums and shackles on creative freedom. No thank you to teaching about Christopher Columbus as if he were a hero. No thank you to standardized testing. No thank you to taking resources from “failing public schools”. No thank you to buying books for my classroom with my own money. No thank you to taking work home every night, yet barely earning enough to make ends meet. No thank you to iPads as babysitters. No thank you to neighborhoods so unsafe that kids can’t play outside. No thank you to low expectations placed on low-income students and students of color. No thank you to segregation. No thank you to guns.
No thank you to gender stereotypes and unequal pay. No thank you to questions of marriage and children. No thank you to “that’s so cute” in response to my profession as an educator. No thank you to mansplaining. No thank you to fear of failure. No thank you to the linear career path. No thank you to settling. No thank you to the appreciation of what you have as an excuse not to want and work for more.
The Boston Marathon is known for many things, among those things is its unpredictable weather. Marathon Monday has seen everything from blizzards to 90 plus degree days. There’s a lot of information out there about how to prepare for the Boston Marathon down to the mile by mile, but one thing you cannot possibly prepare for is the weather.
We’re now within a week of the 2018 Boston Marathon and it seems like the weather is all that anyone is talking about. Participants are glued to the Weather App, as if willing a mild forecast to appear. After two hot years, many runners, myself included, believe we’re due for a good weather year. Unfortunately, it looks as if that might not be the case. The current forecast is calling for rain and high-winds. But remember, this is Boston we’re talking about so we actually have no idea. (Bring multiple race day outfit options.)
Looking at the current forecast it’s easy to freak out and think it’s impossible to have a good race. Don’t do that. That’s so far from the truth. Weather is weather and you can’t do anything about it, so instead focus on controlling the controllables. Control what you do this week as far as running, eating, and sleeping. Control how much time you spend on your feet on Sunday. Control your attitude.
If you adjust your expectations and run a smart race you can absolutely run your best marathon yet, no matter how bad the weather is.
It might be hard to believe but you can have a great race regardless of the weather. A great race in bad conditions may not mean a personal best time, but there’s no reason it can’t be your smartest, strongest, or toughest race.
Last year’s race brought temperatures in the mid-70’s with relentless sun. The Boston Athletic Association sent out an email to participants before the race, warning of warm temps and urging runners to slow their pace to account for the conditions. I didn’t listen. Although I’d been training through the winter and only had a handful of warm days under my belt, I thought to myself “I’ve got this, I’d rather run in heat than cold anyway”. I was dead set on running a PR and I didn’t think the weather would get in the way of that. I took off in Hopkinton with the same race plan I would have had if it were 45 degrees and overcast, and I expected to achieve the same result. I refused to adjust my expectations to account for the weather and I learned my lesson the hard way. I ended up walking before I reached the half and I was lucky to even finish, something many runners who made the same mistake that day couldn’t say.
When I ran the Chicago Marathon this fall, it was a similarly warm day, reaching the low-70’s with significant humidity. But this time, I took the lesson I learned in Boston and applied it. I adjusted my expectations for the weather and reminded myself to control the controllables. I pushed my goal time back by about five minutes and told myself that the only thing that mattered was running a smart race. As a result, the same heat that had crippled me in Boston barely phased me in Chicago and I managed to run the second half of the race fast enough to hit my original goal time.
We won’t likely have to worry about being defeated by heat in Boston this year, but the idea stays the same. Control the controllables and adjust your expectations for the weather. If we’re facing rain and a head wind, know you won’t be able to hold the same pace you would have if there was no wind. Dress appropriately and try to stay warm in athletes village. Don’t decide that you can’t run well because the weather isn’t perfect. If you believe this you certainly won’t. The time on the clock is one way to measure the success of a race. One way. Not the only way. If the weather is such that it is likely to slow you down, accept that and slow down from the start. You can always speed up if the weather improves or if you’re feeling great, but you’re much more likely to punish yourself by running too fast early on than by running too slow. Instead of aligning your goals solely with pace, base your goals on effort. Aim to make those early miles as easy as possible and run just beyond comfort for most of the race so that you can gut it out in the end rather than slog to the finish. If you adjust your expectations and run a smart race you can absolutely run your best marathon yet, no matter how bad the weather is. Your best race may not be reflected in your time, but you’ll feel it in your legs and in your heart.
The time on the clock is one way to measure the success of a race. One way. Not the only way.
Finally, if you do make the mistakes I made in Boston last year, don’t let that take the experience away from you. You’re running the Boston Marathon. Again, you are running the BOSTON FREAKING MARATHON. Do not take that for granted. Running this race is an incredible privilege and although it may not seem like it among the mass of people during the race, you’re one of a small fraction of runners who has made it here. If you make mistakes and you suffer because of it, don’t beat yourself up about it. Everyone has those races. Instead, shift your perspective. Soak up the experience a little more. High-five kids, thank volunteers, and encourage those around you (last year, a fellow run-walker got me through some of the toughest miles of mile life). And no matter what the time on the clock says when you cross that finish line, celebrate.
This weekend I ran the Shamrock Half Marathon in Virginia Beach, my fifth half marathon. Previous to this race I ran a half in the spring of 2014 back home in upstate New York, weeks after recovering from pneumonia (it wasn’t pretty), and the Rock and Roll D.C. half the next 3 springs after that. The first two races were rough and didn’t yield great times, but the third and fourth we more fun, faster, and fueled a desire to find out what I can do at the distance. Rock and Roll D.C. is a pretty tough course, featuring a brutal hill around mile 7. My PR was run on this course, so I knew I wanted to race something flat. According to Google, the Shamrock Half Marathon was exactly what I wanted.
Over the past few months I’ve been preparing for the half, as well as the upcoming Boston Marathon and my workouts told me I was ready to run a PR, but I wasn’t sure by how much. Having run so few half marathons in a 5 year span, I have a hard time predicting what I can do. I decided my goal was to run happy, smart, and try to run under a 1:27, which would give me at least a 90 second PR.
Leading up to the race I had a rough week. Teaching is hard and parent relationships are even harder. After taking an extra rest day on Wednesday to sit on my couch and cry (#transparency), I couldn’t wait to get away for the weekend and leave the stress behind. Friday and Saturday I fought an upset stomach, but I was determined not to let anything stand in the way of a fun race and a fast time.
Race morning was the type of weather distance runners dream of-something I hadn’t experienced in my previous 4 half marathons or any of the 7 full marathons I’d run. It was around 40 degrees, overcast, and no wind. I knew it was going to be a good day.
As the start time approached and we headed to our corrals, I felt excited and confident. I knew I was capable of running faster than I ever have before and I was ready to go out and prove that to myself. Before the race, my coach wrote to me, “the race is a celebration, not a test”. This became my mantra for the weekend. I didn’t realize until later that with this in mind I hardly felt a single nerve before the gun went off. I was simply ready to celebrate.
After a chilly wait, the countdown began and before I knew it, we were off. The night before, I wrote down my race plan, in short, it was: have fun, start conservative, make the last three miles the fastest. When I passed the first mile marker, I worried I was going to be in trouble. Instead of the 6:45 I’d planned on, I went out in a 6:33–a pace that would result in big PR, IF I maintained it. For the next mile, I tried to back off, ease the pace a little and just feel good. I ran a 6:39 and tucked in behind a couple I overheard saying they wanted to stick with 6:40’s for a while (they didn’t run a single 6:40, they ran much faster). The miles passed and I continued to tick off miles between 6:30 and 6:36 consistently. I felt good, but since I was already running faster than anticipated, I was hesitant to try speeding up.
The race is relatively large, but around mile 6-7 I found myself isolated. There was a pack up ahead, but I wasn’t in a position to make up the 15 or so seconds and try to hang on. For a while it started to feel like a time trial as I passing less than one person a mile. Miles 8 and 9 were quiet and lonely and they felt long as my body started to feel fatigued, but as I looked at my watch, my pace remained consistent. I knew if I could make it to mile 10 on pace without too much pain, I’d be in a great place.
Finally, there were 3 miles to go and as I got closer to the end of the race the number of spectators began to increase, a relief after the miles of silence. At mile 10 I began to push the pace a little and managed to run 10, 11, and 12 under 6:30. Finally, for mile 13 I tried to give it my all and dipped below 6:20 for the first time. I was happy to achieve my goal of running the last few miles the fastest but was a little frustrated I didn’t run them faster. Every time I pushed a little too hard, I felt like I was going to throw up. After throwing up with 200 meters to go at the Chicago marathon I wasn’t going to risk that, so I pumped the brakes a little each time and let the feeling pass. Finally, when I crossed the finish line, I was greeted with a 3 minute PR.
I am thrilled with the race I had and am so happy I ran a smart, consistent race the whole way but I also have a lot to take away from the experience. It wasn’t perfect and I finished with way too much left in the tank. My biggest takeaway from the race is I want to run more half marathons. Although I’m pleased with my time and my race, it felt a bit like a long tempo workout. I ran consistent and I felt uncomfortable in the last few miles but I never truly challenged myself. I was so scared to fall apart in the last few miles that I didn’t have the guts to push the middle miles. I put pressure on myself to run a smart race this time around, but I’ll need to experiment and take chances in future races if I want to see what I’m truly capable of. I need to practice the distance more to figure out how much I can make it hurt without falling apart.
For the next few weeks I’ll turn my focus solely to prepping for the Boston Marathon, but after that, I look forward to racing more and taking some risks.