Catching the Unicorn! My 2019 California International Marathon Race Report

I ran my first California International Marathon (CIM) on December 4, 2016. I had been running on pace to break four hours, but also running with a questionable femur. Things had been going well, but with less than 5k to go, I felt a pain in my leg that I could not run through. I stopped to stretch it and was not able to start running again. By the final mile, I could barely walk. I hobbled my way to the finish line, limping over it in 4:22. I received some crutches and a femoral stress reaction diagnosis to go along with my medal, and I could not ski all winter. It was my second stress reaction diagnosis of the year, and my second marathon (of the five I had completed) that had ended with crutches, which left me wondering if my body just could not handle the distance.

In spite of my broken, depressed, and defeated state, I still had my dream of running Boston. I had joined the Boise Betties in 2014 when my friend Gretchen started this coached women’s running group in hopes that I would become a faster and better runner. When I told her that I wanted to run Boston one day and she told me it was possible, I didn’t really believe her. I thought that she was just being nice and encouraging, as any good coach would be. I didn’t tell other people that I wanted to run Boston because I thought they might look at me as if I had just told them I wanted to build a rocket ship and fly to the moon. However, slowly, over the years, I began to admit to people, one by one, and then to everyone, that this was my goal. Someday. I would inch towards a place where it would seem somewhat attainable, but then the qualifying times would get harder. It is a moving target.

There was also the issue of my brokenness and inability to run a marathon. Or at least that is the story I was telling myself. In 2018 at Onward Shay Boise Marathon, I was finally able to execute a marathon properly and break four hours. It took me seven marathons to run one well. After seven marathons, I finally felt like I had the capacity to run the distance. Now I had to convince myself that I could run a Boston qualifying time. It didn’t matter how much my coach believed in me. If I didn’t believe that I could do it, it wasn’t going to happen.

Ever since my heartbreaking run at CIM in 2016, I dreamt about going back in 2019 to run a Boston qualifying time. I knew the course. I knew what the finish line looked like. I pictured the last 5k, except instead of limping the last 5k I pictured feeling strong during those miles. I had the 2016 poster in front of my treadmill with a Boston 26.2 sign right in front of it.

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View from my treadmill for the past three years

The week before CIM 2019, I was not in a good headspace. My anxiety was high (partly seasonal, partly due to the race), I was stressed out about the weather (the forecast included lots of rain and wind), and I wasn’t sleeping well. At one point during the week, I was standing in the kitchen in tears telling my husband that I really needed my mind to participate in this run and I wasn’t sure how to get it on board. I went to the library and checked out every book I could find on mental training in a last ditch effort to fine tune my brain game. I picked up a few tips from a book called The Brave Athlete: Calm the F*ck Down and Rise to the Occasion (the title really spoke to me!), and I’d recommend it.

I got a migraine the day I flew to Sacramento and it never completely went away before the race. I almost gave up on my goal and thought “well, I can try again in June.” But I also remembered how hard I had worked, all the money I was spending on travel, all the time spent away from my family for training and to race, and all the extra work my husband does so that I can train for and run marathons. And then I recommitted to my goal. Or at least leaving it all out there. If I left it all out on the course and didn’t give up on myself when it got hard, I would consider the race a success.

1st 10 miles – Grateful

I thought about how thankful I was just to be there, just to make it to the start line with a healthy body and the fitness to go after a big goal. As my friend Sarah reminded me, “it is a gift.” I thought of my coach and family who were instrumental in getting me there, my training partner Amber who was also running, and anyone who had run miles with me to help me through this training cycle. I thought of all of the people tracking me and cheering me on. By miles 3-5 I started wondering if I was going to get tired too early. I went back to feeling grateful. “Run with joy,” I thought. “This could be IT. This could be THE run. Enjoy EVERY step. Run like you never want it to end.” At mile 8 I definitely was worried I was too tired for that point in the race and I started to tell myself that it wasn’t going to be my day. I got scared. Then I remembered what my coach had told me before my marathon last year. “Don’t get scared if it starts to feel too hard.” I also identified it as “just a thought,” (a tip I got from The Brave Athlete!) and tried not to attach too much meaning to it, to let it float on by. I kept running, tried to notice other things around me, and soon forgot about it. I eventually saw the 3:45 pace group ahead of me and felt reassured that I had not gone out too fast.

2nd 10 miles – Grind it out

Miles 13-16 had a headwind. After a brief panic, I thought to myself “ok you have done this before” and remembered my marathon last year with the headwind. I also thought about how unlike my marathon last year there were all of these people to help block the wind. I tried to find a group to run behind and also reminded myself we’d be turning in a few miles.

I stayed behind the 3:45 group and noticed that the pace felt relaxed. I thought “oh my gosh I am almost at mile 17 and I feel GOOD!” and then I remembered that I was only at mile 17 and never to get excited during a marathon at any point until you see the finish line. But I did allow myself to feel THANKFUL that I was feeling good at that point and just kept running. I also saw a spectator dressed as Santa on the sidelines cheering and told him I had been good and could I please have a PR. I think he heard me.

I reminded myself that the race had not started yet.

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CIM spectators are awesome! I saw this gentleman at least twice on the course and he brought a big smile to my face. Thank you, sir!

Last 10k – Grit

At mile 20 I told myself, “OK, this is the race. This is where it starts. 10k to Boston.” I had my Believe journal sitting in my hotel room which contained entries of the 1500 miles I have run this year in preparation for this race. I just had this 10k to go. And there were all of these people around to support and encourage me. I looked at my watch and knew I was about where my coach and I talked about me being at the 20 mile marker. I just had to hang on. It’s a big request for the last 10k of a marathon, but there was a lot on the line.

After one of the aid stations I kind of naturally went ahead of the 3:45 group and I just kept going. Once I passed them I was running a little scared because I felt like if they passed me it would be mentally defeating. I had no idea how far behind me they were, but I figured they were just a tad behind me because I could still hear the crowd yelling “3:45!!!” at the pace group as they saw the sign that one of the pacers was carrying. Every mile for the last 10k I told myself “OK, just one more mile like that. Just one more 8:30.” I said out loud, “BOSTON.” I told myself, “You have worked SO hard for this. Do NOT lose this race in the last 5k.” I told myself that I had done track workouts or tempo runs during this training cycle that were harder than this. I vividly remembered the last time I was at the end of that course and could barely walk. To be able to run strong down those streets was such sweet redemption. I can’t even describe the feeling. The last mile I looked at my watch and knew I could make it in under 3:45. I told myself “this is your victory lap!” I had the *intention* of speeding up and it sure felt like I was, and I was picking people off, but in reality I was just hanging on to my pace. Which at the end of the marathon, I will take! I ran down those last blocks before you make the two turns towards the finish wanting to cry. I felt so much emotion, but I was still running my heart out and trying not to feel all of the emotions yet because I still had to make it to the finish line. When I turned and saw that finish line, it was amazing. Since I was there in 2016, I have imagined going back to CIM and doing this. I have visualized this moment SO. MANY. TIMES. Every track workout during this training cycle that was hard, I visualized turning the corner and running towards that finish line victoriously. I would look at the poster in front of my treadmill during treadmill runs and picture it. For months and weeks before the race, I would lie in bed and night and visualize it. AND IT WAS FINALLY HAPPENING. My coach was right. If your mind can conceive it, and your heart can believe it, your body can achieve it.

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When the moment you have dreamed of for years becomes a reality

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The best sound!