This past weekend I ran the Charlotte Marathon race, with a goal of qualifying for Boston Marathon registration 2018. I ran well and hit my goal, but it is so much more complicated than that. Whether you’re a runner and “get” this kind of thing, or you’re not a runner and just want some inspiration and hope for your own goals, I hope you find what you’re looking for in my race recap below.
From start to finish, it has been a pretty different training journey. Well, over the past 2 years, my training regimen has definitely looked “different” next to any other marathoner. But when I say different, I mean DIFFERENT. I trained for this race in about 2 months, after realizing mid-September that while I had a base set from consistent running, building my distance was an urgent need. I was addressing some random knee pain by experimenting with orthodic-inserts by recommendation from my chiropractor. That turned out to be a fiasco- my knee stopped hurting, but due to the structural adjustment it was causing, everything else started hurting! After about 40 days of testing them out, I sent them back and went with my gut- I went back to using a lightweight stability model shoe after a year of running in a more minimal style. I think that the professional, medically prescribed orthodics have their place in functional movement, however, I also believe that self-education, assessment and informed decisions can move us forward- and this was mine.
Using a ragnar relay to kick start my hill-training and mileage increase, I mapped out what my long runs “should” look like over the next 8 weeks. And despite the sense of dread that tried to creep in during that time, I pressed into what I knew about running, what I knew about the body and what I knew about myself, and followed my plan. See, most traditional marathon training plans will have you add mileage by the week in steady, incremental increases for both individual runs and weekly mileage. However, what I have learned about the real-life marathoner… you know, the one who works, volunteers, takes care of their kids, commutes to a job, enjoys a social life, serves in their church…otherwise known as doesn’t-get-paid-to-run. Well, what I’ve learned about that person is that over-time, a typical training regimen will set them up for failure. When I say typical, I mean 6 runs a week, cross training, and increasing from 15 miles a week to almost 50 miles a week over the course of 8-12 weeks. This type of plan requires that a LOT of time go into running. And what I’ve learned over the past 6 years of my marathon-life, is that when you are focused on quantity, the quality lacks and you may well miss your goals due to overwhelm, fear of failure, over-training, stressing and not supporting the appropriate areas of your body.
So here’s to the longest intro to a race recap ever… but, my point is that for me- QUALITY always serves better than quantity. I believe in numbers, don’t get me wrong, but I believe that they are information and support for the quality that is being attended to, regardless of the focus!
Carrying on with this theme of different, I’ll start by saying that pre-race was completely incident-less. My husband and I drove 5-ish hours to Charlotte, NC, went to the expo, picked up my packet and checked in at our hotel. The hotel was phenomenal and we’d been generously gifted a significant discount by some friends who are affiliated with it. We had an amazing dinner with all my favorite pre-race fuel (which do not adhere to traditional choices like pasta, potatoes or rice). And for the first time in my running history, I went to bed and slept well, all night long! Everything was going so well!
The morning of was great…kicked off with decent hotel coffee, a list of powerful scripture to remind me who He says I am and what He says I can do, courtesy of a good friend, and a 10 minute yoga stretch, courtesy of 3 week yoga retreat via Beachobody on Demand. It was a crispy 46 degrees, which was welcome warmth in comparison to the expected possible 30’s forecasted. As the sun rose, I knew I wouldn’t need my long sleeves or the hot packs I’d stuck to my abdomen and back for very long.
The start line was not corralled, so I huddled up close to the timing pad, finding my pacer for a 3:30 race. As always, I got teary-eyed as I listened to the National Anthem, this time sung by a local accapella quartet, raising my hands in gratitude as they sang the final chords. At the words “runners take your mark” I zoned in fixed my finger on my watch and took off as they said “go!”
The first mile was nothing less than invigorating and treacherous… seriously- I’ve never been elbowed in the starting mileage of a marathon before. But these people were serious about sticking close to their pacers. I knew I wanted to keep them in my sight, but I didn’t care about how close my gait was to theirs, so I edged away and found some solitude on the outskirts of the road. It stayed tight, elbow to elbow for several miles. I felt good, almost comfortable…but glancing at my watch I knew I was right where I needed to be and STAY at fairly consistent 7:40 miles.
It’s funny how you break a race down- 5k, 8k, 10k…steady as she goes, I was holding my pace between 7:30-7:45 miles, rolling with the hills and inclines. I literally had the thought…”this is too easy” several times in that first half. But they say if something seems “too good to be true, it probably is.” While I don’t make it a habit to think that way, it is kind of fitting for my race. Because just as I was headed into 13.1, things took a turn.
I found myself being overcome by a group of very tall dudes… found myself chatting with them. They were “halfers” and were feeling the burn. I jokingly told them they better beat me because I still had half my race to run, and they picked up their pace after a little light-hearted trash-talk. I cross the half mark (their finish) and realized quickly something was wrong… the attendants were handing out medals to halfers-normal, but they were not guiding full marathoners through to the next part of the course- not ok! I shouted at a volunteer, “where’s the marathon turn, I can’t lose this timing!” and was redirected back about two blocks, to turn left, where I should have turned right. I was running fast now, trying not to waste time, but I was also racking my brain- how had I missed that turn? I ran right by it?
The only thing I can think of still today, is a) I was caught up with half-runners and didn’t notice the little signage that was on the course for the turn, or b) by that point in the race, marathoner’s were pretty spread out so I wasn’t “following” any one doing the full. Either way, I added a little more than half a mile overall to my distance. As I literally raced to the actual halfway point of the marathon course, I was caught up mentally and paid no attention to my physical state. I’d picked up my pace and came up with the idea to have Jacob, my loyal husband who would be on the course between 13-14 miles, go talk with the timing people while I finished the race.
Sure enough, he was there, ready to hand me a plastic water bottle with some nutrition in it. Usually, at this point, I go in for a quick kiss or high five for some encouragement as I run by, but not that day. I added a quick “I love you!” to the end of my desperate explanation of what had happened and looked back as he started walking as soon as I’d passed. I said a quick prayer that my race would not be in vain, my time would count and I would be able to fulfill my goal.
Right around then, when I started to take sips from the water bottle, I realized that the adrenaline from the emotional chaos, and my quickened pace, had left me parched… and between that and the cubes of clif shot blocks I was taking in every 3-4 miles for energy, I had that sticky, disgusting feeling in my mouth. Let me tell you, the spit was flying for the rest of the race. I picked up a pattern of water, shot block intermittently for the rest of the race. The rolling hills continued on and I found myself getting tired. I reminded myself, the marathon is NOT easy, no matter how breezy the first 13 miles feel. I was pleased that I was still steady running a pace of only about 10-20 secs slower than my start pace and told myself repeatedly, “just keep running.” The best part, and a huge relief, was that nothing on my body hurt or was in any pain or discomfort. That’ a HUGE break. Miles 19-22 passed without the historical break-down I remember from marathons past.
Since my watch was clocking miles about a half-mile too soon due to my mishap, I was distracted by reconfiguring my remaining distance at every mile. My mind stayed sharp and focused on what was left in front of me and I stopped thinking about what I’d left behind. I knew I could still qualify despite the extra time I’d added to my race. My only concern- “would it be good enough?”
See, the Boston Marathon is so competitive that even if you qualify, you are not guaranteed entry. Each age group has a cap for registrants, and you get in based on how much FASTER you are than the qualifier for that group. My age group has to run a 3:35 marathon to register. I know from last year that a 3:33:06 was about 30 seconds TOO SLOW to get me in. Tough break, but that’s the way it is.
So, when I crossed the finish line (so gratefully!) at 3:33:20 on Saturday, I was filled with a mix of emotions. Thankful, proud, and happy that I’d run a hilly marathon with a qualifying time. Sad, angry and embarrassed that I’d missed a turn and created my own obstacles for running the race I SHOULD have run. Frustrated and defensive because I had looked down at my watch when it read 26.2 miles and seen that I’d clocked a 3:28 flat marathon. Overwhelm and disbelief still grab me as I realize that I ran a completely FLAT marathon just a year and half earlier at 5 full minutes slower than that time. How had I improved my speed by that much!? And further, how is it possible that nothing hurts?
After spending days after my first marathon puking and in pain, we (we being my husband) decided that no matter how awesome it is to run a marathon, it is NOT worth it to sacrifice your body or health for it. So, since then, I have been teaching myself how to fuel properly with training nutrition and supplementation, reconfiguring expert training plans, and basically bucking the system. Leading up to this race, I knew I was in a good place- I felt strong, I’d avoided injury and illness, I had put in some decent miles. But, even as these things were pointed out to me by training buddies and comrades, I remained in a place of denial. It’s not possible that the way I do things will pay of… it’s completely converse to what runners are told by popular media, culture and experts. It’s not possible that people are really different enough for something this adverse to really work!?
But it is. And although I am left with an unfinished sense of disappointment regarding my clock time versus what I know I ran for a 26.2 mile race, I am left with extreme excitement, as well. I now have 2 qualifiers under my belt and a system by which I got them. It’s not a fluke, a one-hit-wonder, or a mistake that the way I fuel and run works to support performance improvement. In the next week or so, I am going to pour back over my training logs and calendars and put my plan to paper. I’m going to list out the foods, and supplements, and treats, and cheats. I’m going to process all of the different workouts I did and take note of the fatigue levels and injury potentials I worked through.
This plan will not be for someone who wants to run their life away. It will be for someone who wants to run, but wants to live their life and reap the rewards of that balance! Running is an incredible supplement to living. It gives you solitude, community, achievement, self-realization, time with God, time away, recognition of your ability, and hope for your potential. It gives you an amazing appetite and an equally amazing strong, beautiful body, when done right! I want to share the gift of running with anyone who wants to accept it!!
And I start my training regiment back up soon because I’ll be going for that 3:28 finish at the One City Marathon in March 2017. Care to join me? Send me an email and we’ll get started!!