Boston Marathon 2021 Race Report (Part 2 of 2): Living the Dream!

“Be here now.” – Ram Dass

To keep people spread out due to COVID, the 2021 Boston Marathon start was a rolling start. Instead of bringing everyone out to the start line and starting all at once in a big mass, runners were bussed out to the start gradually over several hours and started whenever they got to the start line and felt ready to go. I personally liked the rolling start. It was nice because it was not overly crowded, and the port-a-potty lines were short. It was definitely a different vibe though without the excitement of a mass race start and the national anthem. It felt a bit strange just to walk to the start line and start your watch whenever you wanted like you were going on a Saturday long run.

2021 Boston Marathon start line. You just walked up and started whenever you were ready.

After some final stretches and one last trip to the port-a-potty in Hopkinton, I walked up to that beautiful blue and yellow start line, pressed the start button on my Garmin, and started running. A few steps later I heard a volunteer shout, “You’re running the Boston Marathon! How cool!” I felt the tears well up in my eyes again. I could not believe this was happening.  As I passed the mile one sign, I blew a kiss into the air and thought to myself, “I let go of expectations.” My plan for the race was “Be here now.” I knew it would be hard with warmer temperatures and a shorter training cycle, but I wanted to enjoy every moment. I had worked so hard to get to the start in Hopkinton and I wanted my run from Hopkinton to Boston to be a celebration.

That feeling when you are finally doing the thing you have been dreaming about for years.

I started my run around 10:30am. It was already 70 degrees with 80% humidity. By mile two I felt too hot. Slight panic started to creep up, but I came back to my race plan, “Be here now.” At the water stations, I started taking a couple of sips of water and dumping the rest of the cup on my head. I tried to keep my pace smooth and not get carried away by the early downhills. With long deep breaths, I tried to hold myself back because I knew I would need to conserve my energy for later in the race. One spectator was yelling at people to relax on the downhills. I felt like he was speaking to me personally, and it reminded me to let go of the tension I tend to hold in my upper body.

By mile nine, I felt tired. Too tired. I just noticed the feeling and told myself, “It’s ok to feel tired. This is hard.” Then I thought to myself, “You are running the fall Boston!” I did my best to ground myself in the present moment, observing the leaves and the beautiful fall colors reflecting in the nearby lake. Be here now. It is interesting to note that by doing this practice I seared that moment into my memory. I can still clearly remember the beautiful fall leaves on the ground and the humidity hovering above the water.

The Boston spectators and volunteers were phenomenal. After almost two years of no races, having the opportunity to run a large and well-supported race was electrifying. Many spectators shouted, “We missed you!” because there had not been an in-person Boston Marathon since April 2019. They had Halloween decorations, therapy dogs, trick or treat stations, otter pops, beer (I was very tempted by the Coors Light within grabbing distance at mile eight!), and anything else you could think of. I was wearing my Boise Betties singlet and every time someone would shout, “Boise Betties!” I would feel so much gratitude towards my Betties teammates and coach who helped me get to Boston.

Mentally, I had broken the race up into segments: Miles 1-10, 10-16, 16-21, and 21 to the finish. Although it felt hard early on, I focused my attention on breathing, relaxing and holding back a little bit, and noticing the beauty around me. I knew that there were some hills coming up later in the race in the 16-21 segment and I didn’t want to blow up prior to the hills! I would not allow myself to mentally calculate how many miles were left in the race. When my mind tried to go there I reminded it, “Be here now” and came back to the present moment.

As I approached Wellesley at the halfway point, I could hear the cheering from the scream tunnel of Wellesley College girls almost a half mile away. The high pitched roar sent chills up my spine. It was so fun to run through and high five some of the girls. I didn’t see anyone actually kissing this year, but many of the signs said “Blow me a kiss!” so I did lots of that!

After making it through Wellesley, I knew that the Newton hills would be coming up shortly. I tried to absorb the excited energy of the Wellesley girls and keep it in my back pocket for the Newton hills. Around mile 14 or 15 I saw some spectators with a “Go Go Idaho!” sign that looked like a play on the famous Citgo sign. I ran all the way to the other side of the road to give them some Idaho love, show them my Boise Betties singlet, and take a photo of their awesome sign.

Ran by these people somewhere between Wellesley and Newton and loved their sign.

As I entered Newton and approached the first big hill at mile 16, I tried to focus on running it by effort and not by pace. I was about to find out if I had relaxed and taken it easy enough on the downhill during the first several miles. In my mind, the first hill was the hardest. It was hot and the incline seemed long. I made it past that one and thought, “three more of these?!” However, I didn’t really notice the second or third hills because they were much shorter. The spectators helped carry me up and over the fourth hill (also known as Heartbreak Hill), and once I made it over Heartbreak Hill, I was done with the Newton hills!

I knew from studying the course map that Boston College was just after Heartbreak Hill around mile 21. This University of Virginia alumnae has never been more excited to see Boston College fans in her life! I made it past the hills and still felt OK! These last few miles were going to be amazing! There might be some suffering along the way, but if I stayed with the discomfort, there would be joy as well. I was big enough to hold both.

Up until this point, I had done a good job of fueling and hydrating. I had been taking water and/or Gatorade from every water stop and a gel every four miles. After mile 20, however, slight nausea started to creep in. I opted to skip the mile 23/24 gel, but was able to keep up on the water and electrolytes. Anyone who has run a marathon knows that the real part of the race starts after mile 20 and that anything can happen during that last 10k. I tried to stay focused and keep grinding – one step and one breath at a time. I said the sound of OM a few times and thought of my yoga family and perhaps others around the world who also might be saying the sound of OM. I connected with something larger than myself to propel myself forward.

When I passed the “Entering Boston” sign, I could again feel the tears. I couldn’t believe that I was running the Boston Marathon, made it into the city of Boston and hadn’t hit a wall yet. I started hearing people cheering “Go Danica!” and realized that I was running just behind NASCAR driver Danica Patrick. I saw the famous Citgo sign on the horizon. My family told me that they might come to cheer around mile 24 so I started looking for them which was a nice distraction. When I didn’t see them I figured they had found something more fun to do.

Photobombing Danica

After I gave up on finding my family I realized that I was getting really close to making what I consider to be the most famous turns in running: Right on Hereford, Left on Boylston. I had imagined making these two turns in my head for years: while visualizing and preparing mentally for other races, while doing hard workouts, and while just daydreaming about what it might feel like to run the Boston Marathon. 

What actually happened as I made the final turn and ran the last 600 yards or so down Boylston Street far exceeded anything I had imagined. I blew a kiss at the street sign at the corner of Hereford and Boylston. I made my way down Boylston Street feeling good and strong, shouting “F*&! Yeah!” (sorry to any kids that may have heard) and “Thank you, Boston!” The energy on that final stretch was absolutely phenomenal. I glanced at the sidelines about 400 yards from the finish and saw my husband and kids there cheering for me! (They were shouting “Hu! Hu! Hu!“) I crossed the Boston Marathon finish line with one hand over my heart to honor my inner child and the other hand extended upwards towards the sky in gratitude. We did it!

Going into the race I had an A, B and C goal. My A goal was 3:50, B goal was under four hours and C goal (which really was the most important one) was to have fun! I crossed the finish line in 3:51:07 and was absolutely ecstatic to have run the Boston Marathon in under four hours.

Every physical or mental setback, every tear, every workout or race where I imploded – it was all a part of this journey and it could not have happened any other way. No matter what that big, scary, seemingly unattainable thing is that you dream about, I am here to tell you that you can make it a reality. Write it down, be consistent, keep showing up for yourself, and when it’s time it will all unfold with beauty and magic.

Finish line feels

Boston Marathon 2021 Race Report (Part 1 of 2): Getting to Hopkinton

What’s meant for you will never miss you, and that which misses you was never meant for you. – Unknown

Getting to the start line in Hopkinton was the hard part. I wasn’t sure if this day would ever come. After working for years to qualify, then finally qualifying in December 2019 with a 6 minute and 14 second buffer, I thought I wouldn’t have to worry about getting into the race. However, COVID related delays, cancellations, and reduced field sizes proved me wrong. I went from elation and excitement over the anticipation of running in April 2021, to riding the roller coaster of uncertainty for months.

In a strange twist of fate, instead of running Boston on April 19, 2021 (the originally scheduled date of the 2021 race) I was getting an MRI for mysterious ankle pain. In all of the visualizing I did for my qualifying race in December 2019, this was not how I pictured April 19, 2021 going.

I was not initially accepted into the 2021 Boston Marathon during registration in May 2021. After allowing myself to feel grief over not getting into the race, I was able to somewhat let go of my attachment to running it. Deep in my heart I knew I would run Boston one day. I had no idea that day would be October 11, 2021.

On August 18, 2021, I was eating lunch and checked my emails on my phone. There was one from the Boston Athletic Association that said, “Limited In Person Entries Available.” In disbelief, I said to my husband, “I think I may have just gotten into Boston!” I wasn’t sure if the email was real or not, but I eventually decided it was legit. I registered with the code provided in the email and received my confirmation of acceptance a couple of hours later. I couldn’t believe it! The Boston Athletic Association had offered entries to qualified U.S. entrants of the Virtual race as well as to athletes who narrowly missed the qualifying cut-off time. The universe was showing me that if I could trust and let go of the desire to control and attachment to outcomes, things might just work out ok.

I quickly booked a hotel and flights, and my amazing and brilliant coach put together a 7.5 week marathon build. The training part was mostly uneventful, with the most stressful part being trying not to get COVID. The fear part of my brain worried that getting COVID at the last minute might be the thing that derailed the dream. Then I realized that by worrying about getting sick I was denying myself the joy and excitement of looking forward to running the race I had dreamed about for years. 

The entire trip to Boston felt surreal. Going to the expo, seeing the finish line that I would cross, and sharing the experience with my family who has supported and encouraged my dream from the start was amazing. I had tears in my eyes when the volunteer handed me my race bib.

I woke up early in the morning on October 11, 2021, put my hand on my heart, and told my inner child, “Today we get to run the Boston Marathon!” Although a bit skeptical, she felt joy and excitement. I crept around the hotel room in the dark trying to get ready without waking my family. In doing so, I caught my pinky toe on the edge of a chair, bending it backwards. I felt the pain in my toe and tears welling up in my eyes. I examined it, iced it for a few minutes, took an Advil and hoped for the best. Although the throbbing was there for a while, by the time I got on the bus to Hopkinton a couple of hours later, it felt fine.

I made my way from the hotel room, to the bag check, to the security line for the busses. At every step of the way I was greeted by excited and helpful volunteers. They let me on a bus a few minutes before my scheduled bus time. I was on my way to Hopkinton! The excitement and anxiety on the bus was palpable. I did my best to tune out, ate my Need for Seed Picky Bar and focused on taking deep breaths and feeling so grateful for the opportunity to run.

Picky Bars = Medal Fuel

After about an hour on the bus, our driver pulled into a lot of empty busses. Other runners on our bus quickly realized that our driver was lost! Some runners were sticking their heads out of the bus window yelling for help and asking for directions while others tried to use their phones to navigate to the start line drop off point. I could feel my anxiety increasing. Although there was a rolling start, the forecasted high was in the 70s. I wanted to start running earlier rather than later in an attempt to avoid overheating. I also really had to use the bathroom! After 30 more minutes of driving around, we eventually made it to the correct drop off point.

I followed the lines of runners a little less than a mile down the road to the start area. I found the “It all starts here” sign. After years of dreaming about it, it was time to actually run the 26.2 miles from Hopkinton to Boston!

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!

 

Jack and Jill went down the hill

I took a quick trip to North Bend, Washington this weekend to run the Jack and Jill half marathon. There are several marathons on this rail trail course and I wanted to run the half to see if I might be interested in doing the full. Having done just a moderate amount of training since my half in May, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I was also going into the race with a migraine and it was 70 degrees with 70 percent humidity. So there was that. But it was beautiful!

The course is a net downhill and I had no idea how to adjust my pace to compensate for that, so I just ran by feel. My first few miles were about 8 seconds under my recent half marathon pace and that felt comfortable, so I just decided to roll with it. I also had no idea if some of the miles were more downhill than others, which is another reason why I wasn’t overly focused on my pace. Just as the Famous Potato Half I ran in May, this one also started to feel hard around the 8ish mile mark. I reminded myself that the pain cave was coming and that when I saw it I was going to say YES to it and run directly into it.

I refused to let the negative voices dominate, pushed myself as hard as I could on the day, and surprised myself with both a PR and an age group win! Up next: CIM!

JJ Half

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.

 

 

FP Finish

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

Boise Spring Run 5k

My father-in-law used to say that even a blind squirrel catches an acorn every now and again. And so, too, even a middle of the pack runner can win a 5k every now and again. I ran the Boise Spring Run 5k as a fitness test. The field was small and none of my teammates were running, which is precisely why I was able to place first overall female. The other reason is that something happened to the woman ahead of me. She either got lost or went to the bathroom or decided that she wanted to go for coffee or something?! There was a super fastie woman in front of me that I had no chance of catching who somehow ran across the finish line several minutes after me and I never passed her. So I don’t know what happened there. But somehow I crossed the finish line first. And it would have been a PR if the course had been measured accurately, but since this is Boise and we don’t have accurately measured courses, I can’t claim this one. This course was too short. But I did get a prize bag and I got to tell my kids that I won a race. They always ask me if I won and I always tell them, “No, I am not trying to win, I am just out there to have FUN!”, but this time I actually got to say, “Yes, I won! The blind squirrel caught an acorn!”

Boise Spring Run 2019

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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Scout Mountain Race Report

I have crazy friends. Mostly because like minded people seek out like minded people and crazy = fun! Some of these crazy friends convinced me to sign up for a 55k this summer called Beaverhead. It is on the Idaho-Montana border, much of it on the Continental Divide trail, and looks gorgeous! However, it is also at 10,000 feet, contains a 3+ mile scree field across a ridge starting around mile 23 which is then followed by a very steep descent down a game trail. I am neither a fan of heights nor steep downhills, yet somehow my friends talked me into this. They are convincing, particularly when I am under the influence of endorphins. But this post is not about Beaverhead. This is about Scout Mountain, a 21 mile trail race I did as part of my training for Beaverhead.

Scout Mountain is a trail race in early June in eastern Idaho near Pocatello. Like Beaverhead, it involves about 5000 feet of climbing and descent, but without the scree, the altitude and the steep downhill. Sold.

The first several miles were awesome. Steady uphill, beautiful wildflowers, perfect spring weather – I love trail running!

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The aid stations were awesome too. The volunteers were the kindest and most helpful volunteers you will find at any race. If you are within 50 feet of the aid station they are running up to help you. “Can I fill up your pack with water? Tailwind? What do you need?” And these people are out in the middle of nowhere for hours supporting runners. Superheros. Then there’s the food. It’s like trick-or-treating. Gatorade and GU doesn’t cut it. Here we’ve got candy, chips, cookies, fruit, fig bars at an all you can eat buffet! Who knew this was the race fuel I needed! But afraid to break the cardinal rule of not trying anything new on race day, I just refilled with tailwind, grabbed a fig bar and headed out.

As we climbed above 7500 feet I could definitely notice the thinner air. Running took more effort and power hiking was more comfortable to me. At that point I wondered if the 10,000 feet at Beaverhead would be a problem.

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But look at the views!

Just over the summit is where my problems started. First, there was this snow/ice patch to slide down. Wait, what? This race involves sliding down ICE? I didn’t sign up for this! But ok, here we go!

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Where’s the sled, yo?

I made the mistake of putting my hands down to slow the slide. Bad idea. If you find yourself in this situation DO NOT USE YOUR HANDS TO SLOW YOURSELF DOWN. They will burn. And they will burn for awhile. Consider yourself warned. Also, the Oiselle Long Roga shorts held up remarkably well on the ice patch. They have endured both this and multiple falls without any sign of wear or tear. But I digress.

After the summit, there was a STEEP descent. We lost about 1,000 feet on the first mile alone down a technical trail full of loose rock. WHAT?! Nobody warned me about this! Had I known, I might have carried poles. It sucked. I passed lots of people going up. But on the way down, all of those people, their parents, grandparents, dogs, and three-legged cats all passed me. It was not fun. I did not like trail running anymore. I was tripping over rocks constantly and cursing their existence. “Are all trail races like this?,” I thought. “I’m not coordinated enough to do them.”

At one point, a nice woman ran up behind me saying “oh do your knees hurt like mine do?” I thought, “oh, great. I am running like my knees hurt? It’s obvious to people? I thought this was just between me and my knees. I didn’t know I was broadcasting it.” How much more of this? Around mile 12 I tripped, landing hard on my knee, elbow and shoulder. I was actually surprised that this was the only time I fell during the race.

The last several miles of the race were on grass. Although grass is hard to run on, I was so happy to not be on rock anymore. And I was even more thrilled to come upon this sign:

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My first thought upon finishing was “F* another 13 miles of that!” My friend who also did this race later said to me (not knowing that this was my first trail race), “That was hard. If I had done that as my first trail race, I might never do another one again!” I was so glad she said that because it validated my feelings and gave me hope that maybe I can still run in beautiful places like this.

My knees were trashed after this race and I was mentally burned out for awhile. I ended up not doing Beaverhead, but had a good training cycle and a great time running on the trails in the Boise Foothills this spring with my friends. I probably would do this race again – it’s so beautiful and extremely well run – but I need to learn how to properly run down technical downhills.

Let’s Talk About the Beer Mile

Holiday gatherings got you stressed? Worried about keeping up with your running routine? Did someone just bring up politics at the dinner table? I’ve got a solution for all of that. Might I suggest an impromptu beer mile.

This one was not impromptu. This was planned. Which beer should I use? Will I need some La Croix for backup? How ’bout pretzels in case I puke?

I had never tried a beer mile until earlier this year when a few friends of mine and I got together one Friday afternoon for some beer mile shenanigans. A beer mile also serves as a great happy hour and start to the weekend. I will admit, I was nervous about the timing of ours. I was in the throes of marathon training with back to back long runs scheduled for the weekend and questioned the wisdom of trying a beer mile the night before. The good thing about the beer mile is that by beer number two you are no longer concerned with any workouts you might have scheduled for the next day.

So here’s how it works: drink a beer then run 0.25 miles. Then do it again. Then again. One more time. Total of four beers and four 400s for a total of one mile of running. Ideally you do it on a track but the only track we had access to was at our local neighborhood high school so we chose to do laps in the neighborhood. Also, you are supposed to use beer with a minimum alcohol content of 5%. I don’t think any of our beers met that threshold. Next time. I used Coors Light which is 4.2%.

I wasn’t too concerned about the alcohol content of my beer because, I’m ashamed to say, I didn’t think I would be able to do it. I know, I know, if I don’t believe in myself, who will? I need to work on being my own champion. Or maybe I just need to do more beer miles. Either way, my prime drinking days are long behind me and even when I was in tip top drinking shape, much like in running, I was more of an endurance kind of girl. Chugging, like sprinting, was never my forte. Nevertheless, I wanted to give a beer mile the old college try. Because beer. And running. Together!

So we set off chugging our beers and running our laps and, as you would imagine, each one got progressively harder. Trying to run on a stomach full of beer is hard. Is there some technique? Like a waddle run?

Woah, we’re half way there! Woah, livin’ on a prayer! Two down, two to go!

My goal going in was to at least complete half. A beer 800 is legit, right? But once I got two down and was still having fun I was determined to do the full mile. Go big or go home! BELIEVE!

Coming in for the win! Who has form this good after four beers? This superstar! Beer mile champ x 2.

After finishing we enjoyed some good laughs and pizza as well as some discussion on strategy and how to improve future beer miling. But mostly pizza.

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Was I really on the ground like this? Because I don’t recall being down on the ground like this. Must’ve been doing some post race stretching. That was smart!

My Garmin clocked me at 16 something for the mile. Jesse Thomas suggests that a mid packer beer mile should be around ten minutes. TEN MINUTES?!?! First of all, that seems super fast. Secondly, I’ve got some work to do. And finally, the off-season is a great time to practice.

So if things start to feel like too much inside over the holidays, grab some beers and Cousin Joe and go outside for some beer mile practice! Even a beer 400 will leave you feeling refreshed, relaxed and able to stay unengaged from political debate. Cheers!

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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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