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!

Running with the Locals, Running with the Legends: My Onward Shay! Race Report

Today marked the running of the inaugural Onward Shay! Half Marathon and Marathon in Boise, Idaho to honor of Shay Hirsch. Shay was a Boise native and runner who lost her courageous battle with cancer in 2014. She would often encourage others with the phrase Onward! and she loved the Wizard of Oz, so the race adopted a fun Wizard of Oz theme and the name Onward Shay! For its inaugural weekend, the race hosted several running legends many of whom helped organize the race.

At the start line I saw my coach chatting with Nick Symmonds (hopefully they were planning a beer mile) and Joan Benoit Samuelson grabbing Frank Shorter to go take a photo with local celebrity writer Tony Doerr. The runners had to wait an extra 30 minutes at the start, but watching these running legends and chatting with friends kept me entertained. Parts of me started to get antsy (also wet and cold), but I reminded myself that in a racing I need to practice on focusing on what I can control. I cannot control things like the weather and the delayed starts, but I can control things like my attitude and my breathing, so I focused on those.

Finally the starting gun went off and we were running through the streets of Boise. About a mile into the race I found myself running right next to Frank Shorter. Often called the father of the modern running boom and the only American to medal twice in the Olympic Marathon, Frank Shorter is one of the most respected distance runners in the world. I could not believe that I was running right next to him down the streets of Boise, Idaho, the place I currently call home. Amazing! This will certainly go down as one of the best moments of my running career.

As I continued, I started to see familiar face after familiar face carrying me through the course with their smiles, cheers, funny signs, and positive energy. Even though it was a cold, wet, rainy day, Boise showed up for this event. My mom and husband brought our three small kids out to cheer. I saw countless friends and strangers who felt like friends street after street, house after house. Much of the course, particularly the parts in the North End, felt like a huge party. Because of the way parts of the course looped out and back, my running friends and I were even able to cheer each other on at multiple points. I typically run with music unless I am running with another person and trying to talk, but I did not want music during this race. I wanted to fully experience the spectators, other runners, and the course surroundings. I thoroughly enjoyed saying hello to all of the family and friends I saw along the way and feel so grateful to each and every one of them for coming out today.

Those of us who run, race or do some type of endurance exercise understand that we could not do what we do without a tremendous amount of support from friends and family. To have those friends and family not only support us throughout our training, but show up on a wet, rainy race day, means the world!

Around mile eight, the wet and cold started to set in. My quads felt heavy from the cold and my shoes were squishy from the weight of the extra water they were carrying. Everything was soaking wet and I could hardly see through the water in my eyes. My plan to speed up the past few miles did not happen due to the wet and cold conditions, but I held my pace and felt strong through the finish. Most importantly, I ran and finished with joy in my heart and with gratitude for a healthy body and fun race. I hope this race continues for years to come and grows in popularity, and I look forward to seeing how it evolves. It was so much fun to be a part of the inaugural event!

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Pre-race with my running team, the Boise Betties

Photo Credit: Gretchen Hurlbutt (Thanks, G!)

 

Reflections on Rock ‘n’ Roll Arizona

“Risk taking is essential for success in all sports.”

Dr. Jim Taylor

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Yesterday morning as I gazed out of my hotel room window, watching the sun rise over the Arizona desert, I felt a large range of emotions: excited, nervous, thankful, afraid. I had no idea what would happen on the race course that day. The last marathon I completed, almost a decade earlier, I had idiotically attempted on an IT band injury, ending with my hobbling across the finish line in 6 hours. I knew this would not be a repeat of that and was thankful to be toeing the line injury free and in mostly good health.  I had been battling a cold earlier in the week and felt somewhat run down and exhausted, but free of any running relating injuries. I had waited many years to redeem that 2006 Marine Corps Marathon run and to have another attempt at the marathon distance, having had three kids and battled several injuries in the decade in between. I was training for St. George this fall, but that plan was derailed when I ended up in the hospital with appendicitis on August 19.

The weather was great. Upper 40s at the start, 60s at the finish and sunny. Light winds, but nothing too bad. According to my practice half marathon race that I had run four weeks ago, I was fit enough to run a 3:48 marathon. I thought 3:48-3:55 seemed like a reasonable target range. My ultimate goal if all of the stars happened to align just right would be to run a Boston Qualifying time, which for my age would be a 3:45. I thought this might be a tad ambitious, but I spent much of the week trying to convince myself that I am actually capable of running a 3:45. One of my weak links is self-confidence. Like everyone else, I am a work in progress. I have also felt afraid of declaring to the world that I have a goal of qualifying for and running the Boston Marathon. As I discussed with a couple of friends of mine, declaring this BHAG (Big Hairy Audacious Goal) of mine to the universe is scary. I am a perfectionist and tend to like to create goals for myself that I know will be easy to meet, not ones that will likely take several tries to accomplish. Declaring this goal to the world, makes me feel vulnerable. But as my friends have pointed out and as I am finding, it also opens up a whole new world of support and a louder cheering section along the way!

So my “A” goal going into the race yesterday was to run a Boston Qualifying time of 3:45. My “B” goal was to run a sub-4 hour time, and my “C” goal was to run a PR. My previous marathon PR was 4:30. I thought a lot going into the race about how I wanted to take risks, try to define my limits, do my best and leave it all out on the race course. I thought about trying to brace myself for those tough miles between 18-23 and visualized pushing through those and having pride in my efforts. I felt that my training leading up to the race had gone well and I was proud to have made it though a full training cycle without injury or unexpected surgery!

I toyed with running with the 3:45 or 4:00 pace group and decided to just go for it and run with the 3:45 group. What did I have to lose? I asked the pacer if he had a pacing strategy and he said he ran evenly and perhaps the first few miles would be slow due to congestion on the course. I ran with the 3:45 group for the first 10 miles and then got tired of the pace group. One guy in the group was wearing a Bluetooth and took at least two phone calls during that time, another chatted on and on about how he was running this easier pace because he got sick and fell off his training plan. Also, the group did not slow down at aid stations to drink and I kept having to make small surges to keep up with them. I felt like it was starting to tire me out. So at mile 10, I pulled out my ear buds, started listening to music and decided to try to run my own race. I think in future races, I will run my own race from the start, trusting in my own abilities to pace myself.

In addition to getting annoyed with the pace group, I felt like I was getting too tired period and needed to readjust. Around mile 8 my legs started to feel more exhausted than I thought they should be at that point in the race, which was worrisome to me. Around the same time I looked into the crowd and saw a sign that said, “Only 18.2 more miles to go!” Worst. Fan. Sign. Ever. I felt deflated and immediately tried to put that sign out of my mind and focus on running the mile I was in. So by mile 10, I left the pace group and ran on my own. At that point, I slowed from about an 8:35 to and 8:45 pace, watching the 3:45 pacing sign slowly fade into the distance along with my dream of running a Boston Qualifying time yesterday.

I crossed the half at 1:53 and although I expected to slow in the second half, I hoped that I could hold on for the sub-four hour finish. I spent the next two hours trying to swat away all of the negative thoughts that would frequently pop up and try to distract me from that task. My coach will be disappointed in me for not running 3:45. I’m a failure of an athlete. I don’t want this enough. I should be skiing this weekend. What’s the point? I don’t belong here. I want to quit. Instead I tried to think of the people back home that I knew would be tracking me and cheering for me, and I tried to channel some of their good energy and support. I tried to keep my head up high and maintain good form. I tried to remember that others around me hurt just as much as I did and that we were all suffering together. I would speed up for a bit, and then slow down. I would walk through the aid stations for water and/or Gatorade, and every time it got harder and harder to start again. But I did start again, each time.

I passed the mile 20 mark at 3:00 hours and told myself that I could run just under a one hour 10k and sub four-hour marathon. I tried to use all of the mental tricks I could think of to get my legs moving faster, as I know I can run a barely sub-one hour 10K, even on tired legs, but the dreaded marathon fade kept taking me down. Somewhere around mile 23 or 24, the 4:00 hour pace group passed me and I felt another wave of disappointment. Since they had started in a corral a few minutes behind me, I knew that meant my time would be over four hours.

I fought to come in under 4:05 and ended up with a 4:04:06, an almost 26 minute marathon PR! Although I was hopeful I might run even better, I am happy with and proud of my run. I now have a starting point and a list of things to work on along with my coach for the next one. One of those things is mental fitness. I have been reading Matt Fitzgerald’s “How Bad Do You Want It?” and tried to as he says brace myself for how hard the race was going to be, but it had been so long since I had tackled the marathon distance that I think I had really forgotten how difficult it is. I also wish I had enjoyed the experience more. I tried to do that as much as possible, by noticing surroundings, thanking and high-fiving spectators, etc., but I think I spent a lot of the race not feeling well and therefore not enjoying it as much as I would like to enjoy a race. But how do you really “enjoy” an event where you are trying to push yourself to the max, or as Matt Fizgerald says, walk the hot coals? If anyone has tips on this, please let me know. Most of all, I am thankful that I am healthy and walking today, with soreness but no running related injuries. My hips, which have been an issue for me with my running for four years, feel great. After a little time for rest and recovery, I am looking forward to training with my running team again!