I made it!! I not only finished my marathon, but I finished with a huge 16-minute personal best!!
I experimented with some high volume training for this race – 55+ miles per week along with Crossfit 2-3 times per week. Mondays were usually a rest day, but otherwise I was training at least once every day. It is the highest volume plan that I have ever tried to use. And I hurt. I was sore, tired, and completely burnt out. Six weeks before the race, I contemplated scrapping the whole thing. Not running at all. I was so mentally fried from training. My body hurt. I was exhausted on so many levels.
This is the first time that I’ve run a marathon on my own. I’ve always had someone training for the same race. We don’t necessarily run together, but we run the same race. So there was a bit of loneliness in my training. I felt like I was dreaming big all by myself. Dreaming big is inherently scary and to do it alone is terrifying. However, the more I started sharing my dream with people, the less alone I felt in my training. People were encouraging me, affirming me, and my support group started growing. Sometimes the best way to get something is to simply ask for it. Sometimes it really is that easy. After that, I felt more encouraged in my training and I pushed on.
Tapering felt like Christmas. That might be a little dramatic, but when I eased up on my mileage, I felt so much better physically and emotionally. Hard training definitely requires a good taper. In my previous marathon build-ups, I usually had heavy legs right up until a few days before the race, which was challenging mentally. That’s not something I noticed this time around, which was awesome! I think my body responded very well to the reduction in mileage. Race week, I scaled way back and by Friday, I was amped up and ready to go! I don’t remember feeling so ready to run before my other races. I was antsy and energized – I’m sure some of that was nerves but it was nice to feel so energetic right before a race. Saturday morning I ran a few easy shakeout miles and tried to relax as best I could until I headed to packet pickup. After that, it was up to Estes Park, where the race started. My mom and I hung out at the hotel until my sister came up to join us for dinner. We went to the Grubsteak (which is phenomenal and food-allergy-friendly!) and I ate a yak burger. Delicious. I think I might make yak burgers and sweet potatoes a new pre-race tradition.
The race was scheduled to start at 6am, so on Sunday morning, I was up at 4am to eat and caffeinate. Same routine as before my other long runs. My mom and sister dropped me off at the start and I jogged around to warm up/ keep warm (it is chilly before sunrise!), talked with a few people and tried to calm my nerves. The start was delayed by about 15 minutes and there was no starting mat, but otherwise, it went off without a hitch! I forgot how much of an effect altitude can have, so my first mile was a bit slow – but that’s how it should be! The decline started early, the course was beautiful and I felt good.
I was on pace to break 3:35 by mile 6. The course was mostly downhill and fast, so I just tried to relax and ride the downhill while everything still felt easy. There weren’t many spectators, but my mom and sister would stop every few miles and cheer and wait for me to pass. It was so great to have that support!! I hit the half split right on pace and felt good. I tried to keep myself relaxed as best as possible and not kill myself by pushing too hard too soon. We drove the course and I knew I was in for some ugly hills at the end. The real work would come in the last 10k. And it did.
At mile 18, I was feeling relatively good, at mile 20 I didn’t feel as great but still relatively good, and by mile 22 I was definitely struggling. With 5K to go, I was real uncomfortable. When I hit mile 24, I decided that running a marathon was the dumbest idea I ever had. Mile 25 felt like hell and mile 26 was just me holding on for dear life. The last 385 yards was a “sprint” with the minimal energy I had left. There were some serious climbs in the last 10k, which certainly didn’t help. The mile 25 marker was on top of a hill. It was terrible. Mostly because you had to run 25 miles before that hill!
I crossed the finish line and couldn’t decide if I wanted to cramp, vomit, cry, dance, fall over, or all of the above. I’m not sure you can do that simultaneously, but I would have figured something out. My official time: 3:31:26. A 16-minute PR and fast enough to qualify for the Boston Marathon!! I’ll take it!
Most of the other runners had a positive split – the second half of the run was slower than the first. Mine was just about even – I negative split by 40 seconds. Which makes me wonder if I should have taken more advantage of the first part of the course. Would that have helped? Would I have broken 3:30? Or would I have absolutely died in the second half? Was it wise to spare some energy instead of pushing it on the downhill sections? Who knows?! Maybe I’ll run it next year and see how that strategy goes. There is a chance that I could have run it faster and there is a chance that pushing it early would have killed me later. That’s why marathon pacing can be tricky. A lot can happen in 26.2 miles. Regardless, I set a huge PR, I qualified for Boston, and at the end of the race, I felt like I left it all out there. I felt like I ran the best race that I had in me.
Overall, it was a pleasant race experience – a fast, beautiful course, no real issues to speak of other than fatigue, and I blew my “break-3:40” goal out of the water. I felt like I laid it all out on the line. I had this tiny hope that I would qualify but I knew it would take everything I had. It was a big dream and sometimes it’s scary to dream big. It comes at a cost – usually discomfort of one type or another. Maybe I could have shaved a minute or two off my time with a different pacing strategy, but when I crossed that finish line I felt like I earned it. Like I left it all out on the course. One of my mom’s running mantras is “find what is strong”. You pick a muscle group that still feels strong and you let that carry you. By the end, the only thing I had left was determination and heart. So I ran the last two miles with my heart. Fueled by hope and the dreams that I was brave enough to chase.
And now I get to take time off!! I have been looking forward to this since I started training for this marathon. I haven’t taken an off-season in several years. And I am so excited to finally have a real one. I have bounced from race to race to physical therapy to racing without giving myself much time in between. Physically, I am able to recover in that short time, but to be continually training hard and trying to PR every race gets exhausting. Training is very much a mental battle and an exercise in perseverance. It’s definitely a good thing and it helps you grow as an athlete, but being “on” all the time is exhausting. I don’t have to start training again until December and while I will probably pick up casually running again before that, it’s nice to know that I have up to 3 months off.
My plan for recovery this week: Normatec on Monday at my chiropractor’s office and a massage on Wednesday. I’m gonna try to do some easy walks and bike rides, but I don’t really have any plans to run. Maybe crossfit on Friday or Saturday if my legs are feeling up to it. I have friends who sell essential oils and they were kind enough to give me samples of muscle recovery blends, so maybe the combination of the Normatec, massage, and essential oils will bring my poor body back to a functioning state. My quads feel like they went through a food processor and my calves feel like they might actually explode. The joys of marathoning!
I submitted my application for the 2015 Boston Marathon on Monday – I’ll find out on Wednesday if I am officially in or not! Fingers crossed!