The last five weeks have been very stressful for me. It felt like there was a huge weight on my shoulders, needing to get a legitimate Boston Qualifying time, while recovering from an illegitimate Boston Qualifying performance, and putting way more pressure on myself than I should have. I just wanted it to be over and done with and to breathe a huge sigh of relief that I wouldn't need to keep trying again and again to succeed.
I DID IT.
Five weeks after elation and heartbreak at Mississippi Gulf Coast Marathon, I am an official Boston Qualifier, having run 3:49:53 at The Louisiana Marathon.
You know what that 5:07 under my qualifying time means?? It means that I will likely know within a few days rather than a few weeks whether my time is accepted. I won't be in the last group to register, wondering whether I squeaked in under the cut off or not. Up until this point, the strictest cut off was 3:23, so I'm crossing my fingers and hoping that 5:07 is enough. If they open up registration again after my group registers, then I know I will be accepted.
I'll be running the Boston Marathon on April 15, 2019, as a QUALIFIER!!
It's surreal to me that I could improve on my marathon time so much that I could earn myself a spot at the starting line. I finally figured out how to race a marathon. It just took 9 years and 12 marathons to get it right. My 13th and 14th marathons were nearly perfect and finally showed me what I'm capable of.
But, Marathon #14 was still so different from Marathon #13. It was an epic battle of wills practically from the start. Where do I even begin?
I was a nervous wreck the entire week leading up to the race. The weather forecast was not really helping. It would be cold, but in all honesty, it was almost going to be TOO cold. The forecast kept dropping until it was set to be about 25 degrees at the start and not getting above freezing until I was well over halfway done with the race.
Packing for the race wasn't easy. How many layers would I want? What if the forecast changed again? Do I wear tights or capris, long sleeves or short sleeves, have a throwaway jacket, one or two pairs of socks? I basically packed about five different outfits. This would be my coldest race ever and it was making me nuts! On a positive note, I was running the 5K the day before, so it would give me a chance to test out clothing to see if I felt too cold or too warm.
|Deja Vu time again - running both the 5K and the Marathon|
Saturday morning really was a lot of fun. My husband decided to also run the 5K and one of my friends, Tony, was also with us and was running the 5K while trying for a Boston Qualifying time in the marathon as well. It was COLD, windchill of 22 because of the 10 mph winds. My face hurt. But I layered up, sucked it up, and got my cold butt to the start line. The crawfish platter we'd earn for running both days was totally worth the freezing temps (not really.)
My plan was to run about 20 seconds faster than race pace overall, trying not to overdo it too much but trying to shake out my nerves. I had only run twice during the week so my legs were nice and rested. Greg was going for a sub-7 min pace 5K and Tony, who I had been coaching for this marathon, was told to take it easier than he'd like (he didn't listen). My first mile was right at my super stretch goal race pace of 8:35, and I picked up my pace slowly after that, finishing with a 7:40 final mile. Overall I ran 25:06, an 8:05 pace, about a full minute faster than last year's 5K but it seemed easier, so that was really nice. The cold weather probably helped. I got too warm during the race so I knew I was overdressed and it gave me a good idea on how to dress for Sunday's marathon.
I had a super competitive age group as my 25:06 got me 8th out of 112 in my age group. I was 28th overall woman, so there were a large number of those faster ladies in the 40-44 age group! Greg ran a 21:34, meeting his goal at 6:58 pace, and missing an award by 5 seconds. He's damn fast. Tony got a talking to since he didn't listen to me and raced too hard to pull off a 22:55 and first place Grandmasters. He's a pain in my butt.
The finish festival at the Louisiana Marathon is the best I've ever experienced but we only stuck around long enough to get a couple beers, some gumbo, and collect Tony's award for being the fastest old guy. Greg and I also collected our Beach to Bayou medals for racing at Mississippi Gulf Coast and Louisiana. We spent the rest of the weekend teasing Greg about his destination 5Ks and that he should start a 50 state 5K club. I need to get that guy to run another half marathon or actually want to run a marathon.
I was an absolute bundle of nerves as soon as I woke up. I was scared and excited and I pretty much wanted to cry. I was looking forward to racing through Baton Rouge, because it's a great city, but I knew I'd be in a lot of pain and just hoped it wasn't so much pain that I couldn't enjoy the sights.
|I wore the same thing as I did in Mississippi, plus the pink jacket|
Greg was awesome. He ran all the way back to the hotel to grab a second pair of socks for me because my feet were frozen as we waited for the race to start. Having to wear two pairs of socks during the marathon was definitely a first for me. But it really was stupid cold.
Tony and I spent several minutes warming up before the start. Just like in Mississippi, there would be no warm up miles in this race. We would both be going out racing right from the start. My stretch goal was 8:42 pace, which would get me under my 3:48:17 time from the shortened course Mississippi race. But what I really wanted as an "A" goal was to get under 3:50, giving myself the 5 minute buffer on my qualifying time. I'd have to run a few seconds per mile faster than Mississippi. I planned to speed up sooner than I did in Mississippi and just try to hold on to that pace, and hopefully speed up further, in the second half. It would once again be a big risk, just like in Mississippi, but I was willing to take that risk. If I didn't, then I'd kick myself for not putting in a surge sooner and missing my goal. Tony needed a 3:40 to qualify and didn't really have any goal under that necessarily; he just wanted to qualify whether it would be enough to get into the race or not.
Louisiana is a much bigger race than Mississippi. Instead of starting with 440 other marathoners, we started with over 3000 people, marathoners and half marathoners together. The half/full split wouldn't happen for 11 miles, and there are seven miles that meander around the lake by LSU. This was where I was going to get very nervous. Mississippi was straight for 24 miles, so I never added on any distance due to turns. In Baton Rouge, I needed to cut the tangents as tight as possible, which would mean paying attention to any runners behind me so I didn't cut anyone off. I'd have to be hyper focused for several miles until we left that area and moved into the neighborhoods, where there were many more straight sections. My goal was to add in less than 2/10ths of a mile.
The race started off without much fanfare. I planned to get through the first two miles in 18:20 and they came in at 18:09, with a 9:08 and 9:01. Those were the only miles over 9 for the entire race. Looking back, it's pretty funny that so much of my race mimicked how I ran Mississippi. I passed the 4:00 hour pace group during mile 3, and that mile was a bit fast at 8:41. I needed to chill out and relax. I slowed it down to around 8:45-8:50 pace for the next few miles. The first opportunity to see Greg would be at the 10K point, and this was where I planned to give him the lightweight jacket I was wearing over my tank/arm sleeves. I was a little nervous about taking off the jacket, however. I was sweating but not really very warm. It was still probably only about 27 degrees out, with very little wind thankfully. I wasn't wearing a throwaway I could toss wherever (I wanted to keep that jacket!), so either I needed to give Greg my jacket now or have to wait until I saw him again at the halfway point.
Running my pace felt only "ok." It wasn't as easy and effortless as in Mississippi. The combination of the sub-freezing temps and the shortened recovery period was most certainly having an effect on how I felt. I tried not to let it get to me, because I knew this was still a pace I could run and hold. It just would hurt more, and I wasn't looking forward to how that would feel. I needed to get over it, though, because my goal was way more important to me than a few hours of discomfort. I was terrified of failing.
I saw Greg right before the timing mat at the 10K point and I threw my jacket at him and stuck my tongue out at him like a moron. Nice photo, honey.
I was so glad to see him. I am so thankful he decided to come with me and that his parents could watch the kids at home while we were gone. I'm not sure I could have done this without knowing I would see him during the race.
I hit the timing mat at 55:15, 8:54 average pace, with 6.22 miles on my watch, running a bit faster than I had in Mississippi. This was where I wanted to be.
ONTO THE HALFWAY POINT
After I left Greg, it was time to put my game face on. 20 miles to go and it needed to be fearless. I was warmed up (okay, so actually now I was kind of freezing my ass off without my jacket). I was in a good groove on my pace, not needing to look at my Garmin very much. It would soon be time to speed things up into the 8:30 range. We were running around the lake and I was focused on all the turns on this part of the course. There was one lady running right off my left shoulder who kept telling me she was on my left. I think she thought I was going to run her off the road or something because I was staying close to the edge. Thankfully she pushed ahead of me and stayed there for awhile because I didn't need someone getting feisty with me when I was, in fact, being vigilant about not cutting anyone off. I noticed that a lot of the runners were also trying to run the tangents well so it was fairly easy to follow along with them.
I eased into some faster miles after a bit of a slow mile 7 (8:54). By mile 10 I was down to 8:51 average pace overall and hadn't added too much distance on yet (my Garmin read 10.03 miles when I passed the 10 mile marker). I think I was speeding up a bit too fast here as mile 10 was 8:36 and it felt like a little bit of a struggle, so I held back a bit during mile 11 (8:51) and calmed down, before easing back into some faster miles. Now it was time to have my miles in the 8:30s and hopefully not slow down. Damn, this wasn't going to be easy at all.
Greg was hanging out at the 13 mile marker and he was a sight for sore eyes. As I passed him I told him this wasn't going to be easy but he reassured me with his faith in me and off I went past him.
I hit the halfway point timing mat at 1:55:49, and my Garmin read 13.15 miles, so I had run the tangents pretty well up until this point. I was a minute ahead of my halfway point time in Mississippi. From 10K to 13.1 I had run 8:47 pace.
HALFWAY POINT TO 19 MILES
It got a little awesome and then it started getting really hard. This was most definitely a different race than in Mississippi, yet at the same time it was a better race than that one was. I was now pulling 8:30 miles, including my fastest marathon mile to date at Mile 15 in 8:28. After seeing me at Mile 13, Greg ran through the neighborhood and waited for me around a corner before I hit mile 14. He's kind of awesome like that. I had been chatting with a couple runners who were aiming for a sub-4 (they did it, by the way!).
Mile 14 included an out and back section, where I got to see that Tony was about 3/4 of a mile ahead of me and we high-fived and then about halfway between us was the 3:45 pacer. Do you have any idea how awesome that was? I was only a couple minutes behind the 3:45 pacer, something I never in my life thought I would ever be. And the running buddy who I had coached through this training cycle was well on his way to a huge PR and possible BQ. This was also the section that needed to be 100% accurate on a turnaround in one location. Sure enough, as we came upon the turnaround I noticed a permanent painted "x" right there in the road. It was accurate! Big weight off my shoulders, that's for sure. It was really the only point on the course that could have gotten screwed up and it didn't.
I think what kept me going during this 6 mile stretch was knowing that I would see Greg at mile 19. I wanted as many miles under 8:40 as I could get, but it just was not at all easy to hold that pace mile after mile. My heartrate was okay, however. I was still averaging no more than 150 and I wasn't seeing any unusual 160+ spikes. I think I was just feeling the fatigue from having done this only 5 weeks prior. Doing that is just damn hard.
Greg was a sight for sore eyes at Mile 19. He mentioned something about a 3:45 being mine, but he was a liar. 3:40-something, sure, but I didn't think I could catch that pacer.
I hit the 19 mile timing mat at 2:46:27 and had dropped my average pace down to 8:47. My mileage on my Garmin showed 19.07 so I was still doing very well not adding much distance. From 13.1 to 19 miles I had run 8:35 average pace. I still needed to try to drop the pace more, however.
THE FINAL STRETCH
This was where things just got HARD for me. I needed to maintain some semblance of a pace under 8:50 in order to break 3:50. It was a good thing I kept running the numbers in my head on how fast I needed to run to hit my goals, because it did keep my mind off the pain somewhat and it made the miles go by a bit faster.
When mile 20 came in at 8:44 and then mile 21 at 8:48, but it didn't feel any slower, I sort of wanted to cry a little. I refused to slow down anymore and was getting really really worried I would truly hit the wall. Mile 20 to 24 messed with my head like you wouldn't believe. I knew I had less than an hour to run, and then when I had only five miles left, I only had to pull 9:50 miles to BQ, and 8:50 miles to break 3:50. I could do it. It would hurt, but it was totally within reach and that is about the only thing that got me through the next 45 minutes of this race.
I'm pretty sure I did hit the wall somewhere around mile 22. I was full on in hell at this point. Everything was hurting, my mind was playing ridiculous tricks on me, and there was a lady that was run/walking, except when she ran she was probably going 7:30 pace, would pull out in front of me, and then start walking. Do you have any idea how hard it is to concentrate when you can't shake someone who keeps walking right in front of you? Eventually I didn't see her again and my focus went back to my own fight to finish strong.
After a long straight stretch, there are a couple turns that will eventually lead to North Blvd. and the final 2 kilometers of the race. Every turn I made, my mind became clearer as I could finally see the light at the end of this incredibly dark tunnel. Miles 22-24 were 8:49, 8:51, and 8:51....certainly very steady despite feeling like I was turning into a sloppy runner but not what I wanted to be running. I figured I could try to make a final surge after hitting the 24 Mile marker, but I still struggled through that mile, getting through it in 8:53.
Right before the 25 Mile marker comes the only real hill during this race, an overpass. I don't think it looked so bad, and frankly was surprised that it didn't even feel any worse than running the flats. Perhaps it was the recruitment of some different muscles, I don't know, or the elation of knowing my final mile was coming up. As I crested the hill and passed the mile marker, my watch showed just under 3:40. A little over 10 minutes to run the final 1.2 miles. I had absolutely no choice but to speed up if I wanted to break 3:50. This was it...do or die!
I used the short downhill on the other side of the overpass to try to relax. I slowly quickened my pace until I saw the lap pace on my watch drop to the 8:30s. Oh, my gosh, this mile was SO DAMN HARD. I had so little left in the tank that even though there were less than 10 minutes to go, it was going to be a battle. I kept looking straight ahead, hoping to see the final turn coming up at 4th Street that would take me to the last 3 or 4 minutes and the finish line. The previous 3 hours and 40 minutes had seemingly gone by fast, but every minute now was a slow crawl...isn't that how it always is at the end?
I looked at my watch every 20 or 30 seconds to be sure my pace wasn't slowing. It wasn't, thankfully, staying right around 8:35. I just needed to get to the 26 mile marker with 1:50 to spare and I would be just fine. I passed it at 3:48:10 after running an 8:36 mile 26.
1 minute and 43 seconds later, I crossed the finish line.
A BQ by 5:07
The feelings I had when I stopped my watch were surreal. That's the best way to describe it. It just didn't seem like this had actually happened. I had pulled off the impossible, and had run even faster than at Mississippi Gulf Coast Marathon. It was a whole hell of a lot harder, but I had managed to fight through those last miles to accomplish my goal. I didn't beat the shortened course time in Mississippi of 3:48:17, but that's okay. This was still my new personal best. An 8:46 pace marathon. A Boston Qualification by 5:07.
(Side note: somehow in the finish chute, I restarted my watch, and I'm still thoroughly pissed about that. I edited the Garmin entry to reflect that I stopped my watch at the finish at 3:48:54 and 26.3 miles, but sadly my Garmin watch stats now show my fastest marathon as 3:57, the time I noticed I had inadvertently restarted my watch. Small beans in the big picture, but still annoying.)
I saw Greg and Tony right away. Tony was still in the finish chute waiting for me, Greg on the sidelines with what sure looked like tears in his eyes. I got my medal from the sweetest young lady, who gave me purple Mardi Gras beads from around her neck in addition to that hard earned medal. She asked for a hug, and I started crying. It wasn't the ugly cry finish in Mississippi, but rather much more subdued, but the tears were still there. What a sweet volunteer she was to give me the hug I desperately needed.
I got hugs from Greg (more tears!) and Tony (and more tears again!), who missed a BQ by only 51 seconds (those 51 seconds that he should have tacked on to his 5K, but hey, he gets to be 1st Grandmaster! Haha), but took 23 minutes off of his PR and ran a sub-4 hour marathon for the first time ever. A 3:40:51 marathon was just phenomenal. He and I were in an incredible amount of pain as we tried walking out of the chute. A few steps, cramping, a few more steps, whining, a few more steps. Did I mention I was still REALLY REALLY COLD? Greg got me blue and yellow balloons and made a sign for me to celebrate my second BQ (and first legitimate BQ).
Now, 3 days later, I'm still in a little bit of awe. I honestly don't know where that strength came from to do this twice in 5 weeks, to do it faster (barely!) the second time, and to push myself to Boston Qualifying caliber. I get to run the Boston Marathon and it just seems so damn crazy. I am one stubborn woman who just never gave up, even when I wanted to, even when my doubts were overwhelming, right up until those last few minutes of that race, when I finally knew I could do it and that I would. I'm also in awe that I basically coached myself (and Tony) to these new marathon times. I wrote the plan and executed it without anyone telling me what to do, with the exception of Tuesday morning interval and tempo workouts. Coach Christine from my triathlon group was the boss that morning every week. She would tell me what to run and how fast to run and I did what she said. Tony and I have to give her so much credit for making us truly see how fast we could run. Our determination combined with great running buddies, great advice, and priceless support all around, helped us to succeed.
It's interesting to me to look back on the past 38 days and everything that's happened. I BQ'd on December 10, only to see that the course was short. My time would've been just under 3:51 had the course been accurate. I had to recover fast and smart and try not to lose too much fitness over the next five weeks so I could do it again. I BQ'd again, this time by more than the 4:00 minute buffer I would've had in Mississippi. I think that's a really big positive to take out of this. I had a better finish time in Louisiana, so I have to see that as a silver lining to the stress from the last five weeks. Had my BQ counted in Mississippi, I doubt I would've raced as hard in Louisiana, and quite possibly would've only run the half marathon. I also learned something from this race that didn't really come into play in Mississippi. Be careful of hydration. I did not hydrate enough because of the cold and I'm sure that slowed me down a bit at the end. I still would've felt pretty icky but perhaps a little less. I fueled with gels very well, however, and I'm pleased with that. Every 45 minutes practically on the dot I had a gel and that was enough nutrition for me, in addition to the salt a couple of times during the race plus the hydration mix in my water bottle. But the water consumption was too little and I need to be better about that in cold weather.
We learn something from every single race, no doubt about that.
I have to note that I had three teammates running the Houston Marathon, and each of them ran a great race, too. Two new PRs and a BQ. I was actually the slowest marathon out of all five of us, so it was certainly a really great day.
The rest of the day consisted of gumbo, beer, rum and coke, a hot bath, pizza, Fireball, more beer, king cake, Starbucks, and some good times checking out Mike the Tiger on LSU campus. Poor Greg had his hands full babysitting us. But I think it was worth it to him to be able to see me run another awesome marathon.