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!

 

The Girl in the Arena

Man in the Arena

Growing up I was never an athlete. I was usually picked last in gym class, unless my friend Katie was the team captain and would take pity on me. (Thanks, Katie!) I played field hockey for a season, but spent most of the time on the bench. During adolescence, I hated my body and abused it through vicious cycles of bingeing and purging. In early adulthood, I discovered distance running and gradually learned that if I treated my body well and fueled it right it could do some cool things. I was strong, I was capable. My body could run long distances. It could make babies and birth them. If I gave my body the respect it deserved, it would perform well in return.

In 2005, my friend Laurie convinced me to run my first marathon, the Chicago Marathon. Sometime during the training cycle I looked up the Boston qualifying times out of sheer curiosity. They seemed totally and completely unattainable. I remember thinking that if I was still running in my 60s, I might have a chance of getting in. Fast forward to 2014. My friend Gretchen, a fellow mom I knew from preschool, mentioned that she was thinking of starting a coached women’s running group. I sheepishly asked if I might be able to join, not knowing if such a group would include middle of the pack runners like myself. Fortunately, the group was for all types of runners. All paces, all ages, all distances.

I joined. I got up early. Really early. In all sorts of weather. I began doing more structured speed workouts. I committed. I got injured. I got back up. I recommitted. I kept going. And I kept this idea of Boston in the back of my head. Maybe? Could it be possible? Someday? I shared my goal with my coach and my family, but not many other people. I didn’t want to share with too many people because a) I didn’t want for them to think my goal was ridiculous and unattainable, and b) what if I tried and failed? Also the qualifying times and accepted qualifying times kept getting harder so that when the goal might seem within reach, the goalposts would move further away.

As I told more and more people, I realized that those around me (at least the ones that matter) believe in me and support me, but the only person that needs to believe that I can reach this goal is ME. My coach believed in me from the very beginning. Now I realize that it doesn’t matter how much she believes in me. If I don’t believe in myself, I cannot get there. As for the failure part, if I am not willing to risk the failure, I can’t get to the triumph. Big goals come with big rewards, but they also come with risk.

On December 8, I am going to chase that big goal. After years of hard work, many training cycles, and years of thinking “maybe someday, but not today,” that someday is now.

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Dear Santa, I’ve been good this year

Famous Potato Half: Say yes to the pain cave

Since Boise races are notoriously inaccurate and I had heard this course was long (spoiler: it was), I did not go into this race with a time goal in mind, only an average pace goal. I have found that I do better with average pace goals anyway, as it helps me focus on the process and run the mile that I am in.

The start of this race was a little hectic. It was delayed due to the fact that not all of the busses had arrived. The port-a-potty lines were long. I was standing in line with my friend Laurie when she pointed out to me that I really needed to calm down. I know that my pre-race anxiety is an issue and one that I need to get under control in order to keep my heart rate low at the start of races, but what I did not know is that it is an issue that is apparent to those around me. I thought I hid it well. I guess not. While we were still in line, the MC suddenly announced, “ok, everyone is here, let’s start!” Laurie was kind enough to offer to drop off my bag at the gear check for me and I ran off to the start line, trying my best to get a place at least in the middle of the pack. This was not the best way to begin a race.

I plodded along on pace and did fine until about the 7th or 8th mile, when it started to feel hard, as it typically does in a half marathon. Around mile 10, things really started to feel awful. Also around mile 10, the race goes by the finish line and then loops around the last 5k. I do not like races that give you a preview of the finish before you finish.

The 10 mile mark of this race also marked the entrance to the pain cave, and it was a place I did not want to go. I was afraid of the discomfort, fearful of failing, so I let the negativity creep in. “You could just stop right here,” I thought. “Just step off the course right here and this all stops. All of it. The pain, the agony. You don’t have to do this. Why are you doing this?” I thought about stopping. Then I wondered what I would say to my kids at home. That I stopped because it was hard? That I didn’t know if I could stay on pace the last 5k? That I didn’t even try? No, that wasn’t acceptable. As in life when things get hard, we must stay the course and keep going. One step at a time. Because the way out is forward. So I moved forward. Slowly, painfully, up the hill, past my teammates and coach who were so kindly cheering but who I can only remember in a blur because I was so deep in the pain cave, and towards the finish line.

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In the pain cave. Unhappy. (Photo @boisebetties)

Although it felt like I had slowed exponentially in the last 5k, I had really only slowed down one, maybe two seconds per mile, and when I crossed the finish I had met my average goal pace.

Lessons learned:

  1. Don’t fight the pain cave. Say yes.
  2. The only way to get to the good stuff on the other side of the pain cave is to run through the pain cave.
  3. Keep going. Always keep going.

 

 

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Outside of the pain cave with giant potato. Much better.

Positive Affirmations For Pessimists: Thinking my way to my first sub-four marathon

I have been trying to break four hours in the marathon since 2015. This year’s attempt was at a hometown race, the Onward Shay Boise Marathon. Although initially I was not thrilled about running in such a familiar place that I knew would have little to no crowd support, by the end of my training cycle I appreciated the benefit of knowing the course well and being able to visualize every mile of the race. There was no magic of New York this year. This was the year to focus, to push hard, and to break four hours.

From that standpoint, I was putting a lot of pressure on myself. In my mind, I had never executed a marathon property. Always fading significantly towards the later part of the race, the 26.2 mile distance eluded me. I had never performed to my capabilities in the marathon. I wanted to prove myself. If I didn’t this time, I was scared I might give up and never run another marathon again.

Physically, I knew I was capable of running a sub-four time. I put almost 650 miles on my legs over 18 weeks of consistent training, hitting all of the prescribed paces. Day after day I showed up. I worked hard and consistently. But my mental game had to be strong. I couldn’t give myself an out, and I couldn’t beat myself up and force myself to the finish line with unkind words. Close to the end of my training cycle I read a Hansons article entitled, When Do I Know I’m Ready? The part of this article that really resonated with me was the part about focusing on the process. So many times in racing I have tried to force the result or berate myself to the finish line. I took these words to heart and set the intention to focus on the process while also working on confidence and preparing myself for the difficult task ahead.

The last 10k in particular terrified me. I had a history of slowing down significantly during this portion of the race, and I had a bad experience in one race of getting hurt during this segment. I wanted to go into this marathon with the mindset that I could push through without fear, that I could Be Brave. I loved this piece from Carrie Mack about giving it all in Chicago. I thought about her words often both before and during my run, reminding myself to be patient during the first 20 miles and Be Brave during the last 10k. I wrote “I AM BRAVE” on my arm.

The week before the race, I wrote several positive affirmations on post-it notes on my bathroom mirror. Things like “Be Positive,” “Be Brave,” and “Sub-4.” I later decided that I should write them as “I AM” since that is a much stronger statement that adopts these things as true: I am brave, I am positive, I am a sub-four marathoner. I wrote these things and more in my journal and read them over and over before the race. I acted as if it had already happened. Normally, I would feel that behaving in such a way would “jinx” my performance, but I was going to try this. My mental game had been the weak link for so long that this was worth a shot. What did I have to lose? I felt like I needed to go into this race with the unwavering confidence that all of the things I was proclaiming to myself in the mirror – positive, patient, limitless, flowing, letting the race come to me, brave, transcending discomfort, strong, ready, a sub-four marathoner – were true. After all, my coach and teammates believed these things about me, why shouldn’t I believe them about myself? It felt weird, saying these things to myself, but I kept doing it. Even if just a small part of me believed, maybe it would make a difference.

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The morning of the race, I had sore areas on my posterior tib and my heels that I was slightly concerned about. I gave them a pep talk. Out loud. “Ok legs, we’ve done 600+ miles and you can do 26.2 more. Then we rest. You are strong, you are ready. Let’s do this!” And again, I repeated my affirmations in the mirror. “I am brave. I am a sub-four marathoner.”

I lined up at the start and was pleasantly surprised to see pacers. There was even a 3:55 pacer. I thought “Great! I just need to stay comfortably behind her!” I followed her for the first mile. 8:57. Perfect. Second mile. 8:44. She was going way too fast! But I didn’t freak out that I had run the second mile that fast. I took a deep breath. I told myself, “You know how to adjust,” (words directly from my coach to help counteract my tendency towards catastrophic thinking), and I let the pacer go. Banking time was not the strategy I was going for. I lost sight of the group several minutes later, even though I was running under the average pace needed for a 3:55.

As the miles ticked off, one by one, I remembered to be patient. “I am patient. I am relaxed.” My coach had told me not to be scared when I started to feel discomfort, and those were very important words for me to remember. When I started to feel discomfort, I acknowledged it, and moved on. “I’m getting warmed up. Each mile is different. One mile at a time. I am flowing. I am letting the race come to me.” I focused on the process. Mile by mile. Keeping my splits in check and being careful not to go too fast. Around mile 13, the 3:55 pacer was in sight again! However, also around that time, the wind picked up and I found myself running into a nasty headwind. My next two splits were 9:07, even though the effort felt harder. My initial reaction was discouragement and I could feel the negative thoughts trying to creep in. My body started to tense up and I could feel the fear and anxiety in my stomach. I had to work hard to stay positive. “I am positive. This is fun! I am doing it! I feel great!” I thought if I told myself I feel great, it might be true. I knew that my coach and teammates would be at the mile 16 aid station, which was also the turnaround point. I reminded myself that I was running towards them, that I was excited to see them, and that once I turned around the wind would be at my back. Seeing my coach and teammates at mile 16 was wonderful, encouraging, and definitely provided me the mental boost I needed at that point in the race.

I glanced at my watch and noticed after seeing my friends and turning around with the tailwind and slight downhill I had picked up the pace a little too much. So I held back, reminding myself, “Be patient. The race doesn’t start until mile 20. This is your warm-up. You are doing great.” I knew from experience how much can go wrong in the last 10k, so every time I started to think it was going well, I worked to temper any excitement and to just stay with the moment. To stay present and to run the mile I was in. Mile by mile, I was working my way to the finish line. When I got to mile 20 the 3:55 pacer was still in sight. “Be brave,” I said out loud. “Go with her.” I picked up the pace a bit for miles 20 and 21. However, that proved to be a little too much and by mile 22 I was back to 9 min/mile. Mile 23 was difficult and at the end of that mile a biker got in my face and said, “Do you need help?” The course was not a closed course and I didn’t know if the guy was a race volunteer or a spectator joking around with me. Either way, it messed with my mental game. This is the part of the race where your mind is overriding your body’s signals saying “Hey, can we stop or slow down?” and you are leading with your heart, and when this guy asked me if I needed help I started thinking “Do I look that bad? Do I look like I need medical attention? Am I about to collapse, but I’ve somehow convinced myself I am fine?” It took me a good half mile to collect myself and get back on track. Miles 24 and 25 were my slowest at 9:10 and 9:20. I could see the 3:55 pacer, who I had almost caught, getting further away, and was trying so hard to keep her in my sight. “Don’t let this race slip away from you now. Keep going. To that tree. 400 meters at a time, 200 meter pickups. You can do it.”

Coming into mile 25 my friend Kylee appeared like an angel in white on the side of the Greenbelt. She ran beside me to the end saying words of encouragement, but never expecting a response, as she knows well the pain cave you are in at the end of a marathon. My family was there at the last .2 and Kylee took photos which I will treasure forever. I crossed the line in 3:55:59, an eight minute PR and my first sub-four time after three years of trying. It was so special to have both my family and Kylee there to share that moment with me.

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Coming into mile 25. Dying. Photo by my friend Kylee.

Although of course you need the training and a healthy body, I firmly believe that it is the positive and process focused thinking that got me to the finish line in under four hours. There were three points that I looked at my overall time during the race: the 16 mile mark because I told my friends what time I thought I would be there, the 20 mile mark because I knew what time I wanted to hit that point, and when I saw Kylee so I could mumble to her how much time I had to will myself to the finish in under four hours. The rest of the time I was focused on the process. On each mile and properly executing the mile I was in. On staying positive, relaxed and keeping the right mindset. I didn’t try to force it. And when I did all of that, 3:55:59 was there waiting for me at the finish.

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Did I just luck out and happen to have a good run that day? Maybe. And certainly things like weather and the way I physically felt on that day were important.  But I don’t think that was all of it. I think the positive self talk and intentional confidence, as weird and unnatural as it felt to me (and even if it felt like I was faking it), made a big difference. So I have made a commitment to implement it throughout my training (not just during the taper) as well as in other areas of my life. Let’s see where it takes me. Onward!

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Keep Showing Up

After yesterday’s historic win at the 122nd Boston Marathon, Desiree Linden, the first American woman to win the race in 33 years tweeted, “6th time’s a charm! Keep showing up!” Her winning run was her 6th running of the Boston Marathon. Five previous attempts had ended in an 18th place finish in 2007, a heartbreaking 2nd place finish in 2011 where she lost by only 2 seconds, an 8th place finish in 2014, and two 4th place finishes in 2015 and 2017. It would have been easy for Des to say after 3, 4, maybe 5 attempts at winning Boston to say, “You know what, I gave it a good shot.” After all, an American woman had not won Boston since 1985. But she wanted to win Boston. And she never gave up on that dream.

Des is an inspiration to women, people around the world with all sorts of dreams and she sends an important message that hard work, persistence and patience pays off. Not only that, but good deeds are rewarded. Earlier in the race Des slowed to help fellow American and race favorite Shalane Flanagan catch back up to the lead pack when Shalane made a quick bathroom stop. This amazing display of sportsmanship demonstrates that we are truly better when we work together. It turns out that Des was not feeling well earlier in the race. By helping fellow Americans Shalane Flanagan and Molly Huddle she was able to distract herself enough to reset herself mentally and refresh her legs. Those of us watching her charge the Newton hills and dominate her way to the finish would never had known she had considered dropping out earlier in the race. There is an important lesson here. If you don’t feel well early in a race, just wait until the next mile. Smile and thank the volunteers. Help a fellow runner. Don’t despair because your race could easily turn around in the next mile.

Des’ message to keep showing up really resonated with me. I have a dream to run Boston. Of course, I will never find myself in the front, but rather will enter the race as a squeaker who gets in by barely making the cutoff. But to me this would be a dream come true and the same as winning a marathon. It will take a lot of hard work, patience, and resilience to get there, but I believe that if I keep showing up, I can do it. The same is true for other endeavors.

There are many days when I don’t feel like getting up at 4:45am to go running. Keep showing up.

There are many days when I feel like my writing is not good enough. Keep showing up.

There are many days when I feel that my parenting could use some work. Keep showing up.

There are many days when I wonder if I am being a good friend. Keep showing up.

As long as we keep showing up, we cannot fail. We are making forward progress towards our goal and moving towards ultimate success. Des is proof of that.

Choosing Happiness: My 2017 TCS New York Marathon Race Report

“So I went to New York City to be born again. It was and remains easy for most Americans to go somewhere else and start anew. …. and when the [train] plunged into a tunnel under New York City, with it’s lining of pipes and wires, I was out of the womb and into the birth canal.” ― Kurt Vonnegut Jr.

Like most marathoners, I have a love/hate relationship with the 26.2 distance. I am drawn to it for its elusive nature and unpredictability. As a type A control freak I want to control and dominate the marathon, yet it refuses to be controlled. I come back again trying to control and it will continue to teach me that it cannot be controlled until I let down the walls of perfection, let go, and open my mind to the possibility that perhaps what I had in mind for the race is not what the race had in store for me.  I come out of each marathon a better, more self-aware person.

Prior to the November 5, 2017 TCS New York City Marathon I gave some real thought to the why of the marathon. Why do I do this? Why do I intentionally put myself through this pain and suffering and call it my hobby? Lauren Fleshman says that as runners we are privileged to be able to choose our form of suffering. Not everyone can be so fortunate. For me, being able to go to that place of suffering and to push through to the other side helps me realize that I am stronger than I think I am. There is beauty in the suffering, particularly when it occurs collectively. The struggle offers  the ability to practice coping skills that are needed in real life, and allows me to learn more about myself and about humanity.

New York was marathon number six for me. Marathon number five (California International Marathon in December 2016) did not go as planned. I had trained to run a sub 4-hour marathon and my training went really well – right up until the taper when I started to develop pain in both of my femurs.  As a result I found myself in an MRI just four days before the race. I had some swelling in the bone, but was cleared to run. I rested until the marathon, had a good 22 mile run and was on pace for that sub-4 time, but ended up limping through the last 5k and hobbled over the finish at around 4:22. Aside from the extremely disappointing last 3 miles, it was a good run and I learned a great deal about pacing and positive thinking.

The sub-4 hour marathon time is like that cute, popular boy in high school that would flirt with me but never ask me out on a date. At times the possibility feels so real to me I can taste it, but it has remained just out of my reach. In training for New York, rather than focus on a time goal, my coach had me run fewer miles and less often with the goal of getting me to the start line injury free. Even with this plan, I developed some shin pain in my left leg. With some last minute modifications and physical therapy we accomplished the goal of getting me to the start line feeling healthy, yet I felt under-trained. My mind wanted that sub 4-hour time, but I understood that my body may not be trained for it. All of the stars would have to align just perfectly. And in a race like New York, with the long wait before starting, the crowded course, and the bridges and multiple turns in the second half of the course, I wasn’t sure if I should attempt my BHAG (Big Hairy Audacious Goal) on minimal marathon training.  Regardless, it was in the back of my mind.

I left my hotel room at 5:20 a.m. and took an Uber to meet my friend and teammate Sarah in midtown Manhattan. We waited in a very long line that wrapped around several blocks to catch a bus out to Staten Island.

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On the 90 minute bus out to Staten Island

Once we arrived in Staten Island we went through a security check (thanks NYPD for keeping us safe!) and then waded through the masses at the start village to find our starting waves. Sarah was wave 1 green and I was wave 2 orange.

My friend Jessica was also wave 2 orange so we had the pleasure of waiting in the corrals and starting together!

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At the start!

I will never forget standing at the start line and hearing and feeling the thunderous boom of the start cannon followed by “New York, New York” and thousands of runners climbing the Verrazano bridge to begin their 26.2 mile journey through New York’s five boroughs. It brought tears to my eyes.

As we started our run, a light rain began to fall. The first mile is a gradual uphill to the crest of the bridge with the second mile being a gradual downhill to the bottom of the bridge. This is the greatest elevation change of the entire race. My first mile was around a 9:30 something and my second mile was around an 8:30 something. My coach and I had discussed anywhere between 8:45-9:15 as a suggested marathon pace and I was trying to feel out what was comfortable, while keeping the pace reigned it. I did not want to run under a 9 minute per mile pace (with the exception of the downhill mile). I ran comfortably through Brooklyn and tried to relax and follow the runners in front of me while enjoying the crowds and the neighborhoods.

The day before the race I had the honor of hearing Meb Keflezighi speak. Before Meb spoke, Mary Wittenberg, the former race director for the New York City Marathon, also spoke. She gave a great overview of the course and some wonderful tips on course strategy. But the piece of advice that she gave that really stuck with me was this: “When I was the race director I used to always tell people to keep their heads down and run. But then I ran the race.” (Wittenberg did not actually run the New York Marathon until after her time as a race director.) “Now I tell people the exact opposite. The crowds are what make this race. Enjoy every moment. High five every child, every police officer.”

There are three start waves in the New York Marathon: orange, blue and green. The three colors run a slightly different course until mile eight in Brooklyn when all three colors merge. The merging caused a large bottleneck which was exacerbated by enthusiastic spectators that were migrating onto the race course. To make matters worse, the rain had picked up slightly making the roads slick. Suddenly, I was unable to run even a 9:30 pace without significant weaving or throwing elbows.

I tried to keep close to a 9 minute per mile pace in a effort to stay on track to finish in around 4 hours, but I found it extremely difficult. I was having to zig-zag in and out of runners, I slipped slightly on a GU packet, and ran up suddenly on a wheelchair participant that I was unable to see due to the crowds. I was also elbowed by another runner trying to jostle his way through the pack and witnessed a curse word laden fight between two runners, one of whom believed she had been wrongly shoved. It was not a pretty scene and it was not how I wanted the next 18 miles to play out. I could feel the frustration growing inside of me as my pace began slowing. And then I made a choice.

For the month prior to the marathon, I had struggled with finding happiness in my running. Filled with paranoia of recurring injury and fear of being too “slow,” my workouts had been marred with feelings of unworthiness and doubt. Instead of congratulating myself for showing up, I would beat myself up for not being good enough. This led to two of my workouts being cut short in the month leading up to the marathon due to my anxiety while running. Both my coach and my mental health therapist had expressed concerns to me about going into a race in the mental state I was in. I was not confident in my ability, not confident in my body’s health, and I was constantly beating myself up. I would try to relax and do positive visualization in the week prior to the marathon and end up in a panic. It was not good.

Before leaving for New York, I had written down all of my negative feelings about my running and the race and given them to my coach to destroy. I did not want them anymore. And in mile 8 in Brooklyn, I chose happiness. I chose running to build myself up, not beat myself down. I took Mary Wittenberg’s advice to heart. I high five’d all of the kids, thanked the police officers and volunteers and tapped on the signs in the crowd that said “Tap Here for Power!” When I saw my husband at mile 17, I stopped and gave him a big sweaty hug. After all, I was running THE NEW YORK CITY MARATHON! I would never again have this chance in my life, so I better enjoy it and get the most out of it!

When I made that choice there was a small voice in the back of my head that wondered if I was somehow giving up, if I was making an excuse not to try my best, or if my coach would be disappointed in me. I quickly quieted that negativity and told those voices that choosing happiness is the best choice, the stronger choice. Mental strength is so important in running and in life and I was making a choice that would not only get me to the finish line healthy, but would also help me enjoy the experience along the way. Having a mind that can stay relaxed, focused and positive will help me post faster times when my body is physically ready.

I smiled my way through Brooklyn and Queens, enjoying the crowds and going with the flow. I enjoyed seeing the different neighborhoods, reading signs, listening to music. Running over the Queensboro Bridge was amazing: going from the silence, solitude and camaraderie with other runners to the loud cheering on First Avenue is something I will never forget. Around Mile 21 runners cross the Madison Avenue Bridge from the Bronx back into Manhattan. When I crossed it there were two people at the top of the bridge with signs reading “Last Damn Bridge” and shouting “Really! It is!” It gave me a good laugh at a point during the race when I really needed one. I so appreciated all of the spectators who came out to cheer in the rain!

At Mile 22 I started to feel something tightening in my hip flexor. This is the point in the race and the point in my body when things started going south in my last marathon. I took a deep breath, reminded myself that this was not my story any longer, that I had left my fear and negativity with my coach, and continued running. Before I knew it, my mind drifted on to to the fact that I was running towards Central Park and towards the finish line! Turning into Central Park and the last two miles of the course in the park were probably my favorite part of the race. At that point, I knew I would finish, and finish running strong! Being able to run across the finish line and run across the finish line of New York — the same one that Meb, Shalane and Stephanie Bruce had crossed just a couple hours earlier — was absolutely amazing.

I crossed the finish line in 4 hours, 18 minutes and 44 seconds. That’s 4 hours, 18 minutes and 44 seconds of not beating myself up mentally. Four hours, 18 minutes and 44 seconds of choosing to race happy. Do I still want that sub-4? You bet I do! And when I get it, which I will, I will enjoy every bit of it. I will not feel disappointment because I ran a 3:59 and not a 3:57. I won’t get there by beating myself down. I will only get there by building myself up. One good choice at a time.

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Rest, Recover, Repeat!

California International Marathon was almost four weeks ago and I still cannot walk properly. I am finally off crutches, but it is still painful to do anything weight bearing on my left leg. My doctor was not sure if it was a minor bone injury or a muscle injury, but my physical therapist thinks I may have a femoral stress reaction. The jury is still out. If it is a stress reaction, this will be my second one in less than a year (my 40th year no less!) so I find myself wondering WTF is up with that.

It is easy for me to fall into the 2016 was the worst year ever line of thinking, turn that on myself personally, and focus primarily on my injuries. Yes, if there is a bone issue I need to get that figured out. I did have my blood checked and learned that my Vitamin D levels are low (not shocking because it’s winter and I exercise in the dark) so that could be a big piece of it. But my injuries are not my story. They could be my story if I wanted them to be, but I don’t.

As it turns out, I have a lot to celebrate in 2016. I started the year off by running Rock and Roll Arizona, my first post-baby marathon. I worked throughout the summer on conquering some of my fears on the bike (I’ve got more work to do in that arena, so heads up 2017) and placed in my age group in a couple of short triathlons this summer. This fall I completed a 10k (PR!) and a half-marathon while working towards my goal race, the California International Marathon. I had many beautiful runs and rides and so much fun running with and training with my friends. I learned about enjoying the journey and appreciating each run. I also learned that I am not patient and really bad at resting and recovering!

As I look towards 2017, I have a few goals in mind but with my current, undetermined physical condition I do not yet know what is realistic. My goal, first and foremost, is to be patient with my body. There are things I can do right now and things I cannot. My goal is to accept the things I can do, appreciate where I am, and work towards becoming the athlete that I want to be in 2017 and beyond. Cheers to 2017, to good health, to happiness, and to enjoying the ride!

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When Almost is Good Enough: My California International Marathon Race Report

I completed my fall goal race today, the California International Marathon from Folsom to Sacramento. I trained for this race with the hope of breaking four hours. Until the past couple of weeks when a new leg issue started plaguing me, I believed it was possible. But these things happen and I arrived in Sacramento just thankful for the opportunity to be there and participate. Last night I sent my coach the following revised race goals:

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I started this morning nice and easy. My legs felt good! I lined up well behind the 3:58 pace group and told myself no matter how good I felt, I would not pass them until after the halfway point. When I started to think about my leg, I employed one of many distraction techniques.  I put my hand over my heart and thought about my running friends back home who cheered me on during so many of my workouts and were cheering me on then. I thought of my family. I looked at the beautiful scenery. I absorbed positive energy from other runners and spectators. I reminded myself of all of the strength training I did and told myself that my muscles were strong, that I was strong. I kept smiling, and I kept going.

One by one the miles ticked off. Effortlessly. I found myself inching closer and closer to the 3:58 sign and wanting to pass them, but reminded myself of my promise to hold back. I relaxed, stayed consistent, and enjoyed the view and each mile.

After the halfway mark I allowed myself to pass the 3:58 pacers and run my own race. I put my music in and looked forward to meeting my coach Gretchen at mile 15. She wouldn’t actually be at mile 15, but I had a mental plan to meet my coach and many of my running friends for one mile each during the race, and the first was Gretchen at mile 15. This strategy proved to be very effective. It not only gave me something to look forward to, but it kept me mentally present, running only the the mile I was in. I met Gretchen at the start of mile 15, listened to her words of encouragement, and followed her to the next mile where I met my next friend.

I have no idea how far ahead I pulled from the 3:58 pacing group but at some point just before mile 20 they caught back up to me. Also, around mile 18 or 19 the race started to get mentally tough. At mile 17 I was still smiling, having fun and running to the sidelines to Tap For Power on signs, but that stopped around 18 or 19 and then when the 3:58 pacers caught back up to me I started to worry. I felt like I had hit that inevitable late marathon slow down. I felt myself mentally starting to slide with thoughts of defeat trying to creep in.

At that point (and this happened a couple of times between 18-22), I remembered my commitment to myself, my coach, and my family. I remembered all of the hard work I had put in and what I came here to do. And at that point I thought “I commit. I will not give in, I will not give up. This is like my tempo runs. Hang on.” I focused on my breath, I focused on my form. I remembered Meb saying that he repeated the word “technique” in the later miles of Boston when he got tired, so I tried that. I thought of my coach Gretchen and her hard and beautiful effort at California International in the later miles when she qualified for the Olympic Trials. I focused on the next tree, the next street light, anything to keep me in the moment and to keep me from giving in. It was hard, I was hurting, but I was determined. I had a sub-4 marathon in my sights!

I used these techniques with success, as each mile (painful as it was) I found myself pacing close to a 9 min/mile and on my way to a sub-4 marathon. I passed the 22 mile marker and knew if I could do just four more of those, I would meet my goal. My leg was speaking to me, but I passed it off as late marathon muscle fatigue. “Hang in there, stick with the pacers and GO!” The pacers were women wearing pink, our running team’s signature color, so I pretended they were Boise Betties, which made it that much easier. I was hanging on for dear life.

At mile 23.5 I felt a sharp pain in my groin that radiated down my left leg all the way to my knee. I stopped to stretch it out and when I tried to start again, my body would not allow me to run. I hobbled to the finish, crossing the line in 4:22 something. I had to be assisted to the icing tent and am having a hell of a time walking.

With the way I feel now, I am so proud just to have finished. The race did not end how I ideally would have hoped, but I am so proud of my effort, I learned a ton, and I met so many wonderful people along the way. I ran a solid, consistent 23 miles, I finished the race, I had joy in my heart, met my revised race goals, and I am so thankful for the experience. I walk (well, hobble) away a wiser and stronger runner today. Thank you, California International Marathon. I’ll be back!

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Overcoming Fear of Failure

“The reality is that if your dream is to accomplish something awesome, it’s not going to be easy. If it were easy, everyone would be doing it. People who go for greatness are going to get knocked down a lot. They’ll have difficult times. They’ll struggle with doubt and uncertainty. People around them will question the wisdom of their quest. The issue is not whether you’ll fail, because you will. It’s whether you’ll get back up and keep going. It’s whether you can sustain your self-confidence and your belief in yourself and keep bouncing back. Failure is only final when you stop striving.” – Bob Rotella

My taper has not gone according to plan. I noticed some leg pain in my last big tempo run, and although I took it easy after that, it has continued to pester me. I went to the doctor to get it checked out this week to ensure I would be okay to run my goal race this weekend. He sent me for an MRI, found some minor swelling (but not in a high risk area) and cleared me to run as tolerated. I have rested all week (light cross training, no running) so I have no idea what will happen when I hit the course on Sunday. I am excited that I have a chance to run the race and put it all out there, but I am scared s#$%less of failure.

The irony of course is that this fear of failure is restrictive. This fear of failure made me want to stay home and not even try, even when my doctor and coach both told me it was okay to try, that I should try. The fear of failure makes me tense and keeps me focused on the negative. The fear of failure makes me feel embarrassed and ashamed. It keeps me from being able to enjoy the moment. And the fear of failure makes it more likely that I will actually fail.

What exactly is failure in this situation? Is failure not meeting a goal time? Not having a “perfect run” (whatever that may mean)? Not enjoying the run? I met my goal time in a recent race but still felt like a failure because I beat myself up mentally in the tough miles. I would propose that true failure in this situation would be not trying. Not showing up and giving my absolute best effort.

Failure can actually be a gift, a wonderful teacher. When we fail at things, we learn. We learn from mistakes. We learn from bad runs, bad relationships, bad decisions. We learn, we grow, and then we do better. When we are afraid to fail we deny ourselves these learning experiences, these life lessons and opportunities for growth.

So given the opportunity to toe the line on Sunday, I will not be afraid. Or at least I will try my very best to not be afraid. I will embrace the experience with an open mind and an open, positive and thankful heart. I will try my very best to not be afraid to fail big. To learn big. And if I fall down, I will get right back up with more wisdom in my pocket than I have today.

 

Ten Mile Tempo – The Struggle is Real!

This morning I did my last big workout before my goal race, California International Marathon, which is coming up in just over two weeks. It was a ten mile tempo run and I have been dreading it all week. A ten mile tempo with warmup and cool down is over 12 miles, which is a lot of mileage to get in on a weekday morning before the regular morning routine of getting ready for school and work. Then there is the fact that I am still feeling tired from my high mileage week last week. Needless to say, I was looking forward to being on the other side of this workout. So much so that I scheduled a massage for this evening over a week ago!

Last night I checked the weather before going to bed. It was going to be below freezing in the morning. Now let me just say that I have totally lucked out on this training cycle. We have had beautiful weather this fall and most of my runs have been in the perfect 40-60 degree range. But this morning it was in the 20s. Brrrr! I put out ALL of the running clothes, hand warmers, and wool socks last night, and then I set my alarm for 4:30am. I tossed and turned, dreamt I slept through my alarm, and was relieved when it went off and I saw that it was still dark and I had plenty of time to do my workout.

I bundled up, headed out, and the cold air hit my face like a ton of bricks. This was my first run of the season in sub-freezing temperatures. As I started moving, my legs felt extremely unhappy. My left quad hurt, my hamstring hurt, and I felt a pinching sensation in my groin. I told myself it was mental and stopped several times during my warmup mile for some extra stretching. Nevertheless, my warmup mile was still slower than normal. After my warmup mile, I attempted to run 600 meters close to tempo pace and struggled to get near it. My coach suggested 8:20-8:30 minutes per mile, but I thought I might aim for 8:35-8:45 minutes per mile instead. Like in yoga class, I thought about bringing and accepting the body that I had today. And today’s body was feeling a little cranky and sluggish.

As I started my ten mile tempo, I struggled with the 8:35-8:45 range. A couple of miles into the run I wondered what time it was and thought about my running group. They meet not too far from where I was running at 6am so I wondered if I could bail on my tempo run and meet them for a different workout. I really needed some companionship and encouragement! But then I told myself that my coach and running friends would not be with me in a couple of weeks when I am running California International Marathon, so I needed to soldier on.

I noticed that when I focused and pushed hard that I could hold the 8:35-8:45 pace that I had suggested for myself. However, when I relaxed or when my mind wandered, my pace slowed to the 9:05-9:20 range. I became frustrated with myself and thought “How will I run a marathon at my sub-four hour goal when this ten mile workout is so hard?” I felt defeated. My chest tightened. I wanted to quit and cry. I worried that I would have a full blown panic attack.

But then I envisioned myself pushing through all of that. And I did. I told myself that the workout was hard because I was tired and that during the marathon my legs would be more rested. I told myself that this hard workout was good mental training. I envisioned myself feeling that tired during the last several miles of the marathon and pushing through. I told myself this was the last time I would get to do this workout during this training cycle so I was going to make the most of it. I struggled with the workout and it felt hard, but I was proud of myself at the end because I did it and I was consistent with the pacing. I stayed very close to the adjusted 8:35-8:45 range with my mile splits being: 8:37, 8:41, 8:42, 8:34, 8:46, 8:40, 8:31, 8:42, 8:42, 8:38. Now I am looking forward to that massage this evening!