aka Tom isn't completely insane
aka loving my life
aka becoming legit.
This is probably going to be like 20 pages long. And it will probably take as long to write as it took for me to run the damn race. And it's sappy, and a little ridiculous, and more than a little rambly. So if you read the whole thing I salute you...and would recommend finding a blanket and a beverage [I am enjoying a victory Fin du Monde as we speak]...otherwise feel free to skim, there are several pictures!
So you may have noticed that I didn't blog for pretty much the entire 2 weeks before the marathon - no crazy pre race jabberings, non of the usual. To be honest, my life has been CRAZY the past couple of weeks - last weekend I went back to my beloved Madison for the homecoming football game and insanity ensued, and this past week I was slammed with an exam on Monday and my first ever PT clinical on an inpatient rehab floor on Friday...not a whole lot of time to think about or dwell on the race. Which was a GOOD thing - it's hard to psych yourself out when you are spending the day helping with rehab on spinal cord patients [so. freaking. cool. I've been thinking that I might really want to go the neuro route in my PT career, and day 1 of my clinical has only confirmed this theory] So pretty much this entire week I haven't even had 5 seconds to think about the race. I did my usual taper runs, an easy 6 on Tuesday which pretty much felt like poo, then a couple of 4s and just some really short shakeouts at the end of the week. Everything was feeling pretty good and in place, but then again, it was before Boston too, so I wasn't exactly shouting from the mountaintops about what a fantastical race I was going to have. Just trying to stay focused and relaxed.
The day before the race I took the commuter rail up to Lowell to pick up my packet, which was an interesting experience in itself...I planned to take the noon train, but got into a crazy snafu at Government Center, waited forever for a green line train to North Station that apparently was never going to come, ended up power walking to Haymarket [great thing to do the day before a marathon, no?] and miraculously getting on an orange line train to North, and literally getting on the train to Lowell with 2 minutes to spare. On the train to Lowell I created my marathon day playlist and was actually planning on writing a quick pre-race blog...buuuut my computer has literally 40 minutes of battery life so that didn't quite pan out haha. I took a leisurely walk to the high school, and picked up my packet without much ado...compared to Boston, the Baystate 'expo' is about the most low key thing you could imagine...pretty much little tents for all the major shoe companies and a couple of cafeteria tables set up for packet pickup...and you know what, I am completely fine with that. No fuss whatsoever, I was in and out in 15 minutes with my number  and race packet in hand. The tech shirts this year are AWESOME, I absolutely love the new Baystate logo, and it was really nice that they decided to go to tech shirts this year, as well as different shirts for the marathon and half. Then I walked back to the train station and played Bejeweled on my phone for like 45 minutes while waiting for the next train home haha....really really addicting by the way. On the train on the way home, I wrote myself a little mental checklist sort of thing...just random reminders to myself for race day. Things like:
-listen to your legs/breathing...above all RELAX through 15
-if you're feeling good at 20, go for it the last 6.2
-gels at 7, 14, 21 (if you want)
-water every other stop, only take Gatorade if you think you need the sugar/salt
-the first few miles might feel weird, no panicking, RELAX
-pick off as many club women as possible
- DON'T STOP BELIEVIN
You'll notice how many times the word "relax" appears in that checklist...and really, I think staying relaxed came to be a huge, huge factor in my success in this race. Anyway, I finally made it back to Boston and pretty much grabbed my stuff and headed to Charlestown, where we were staying with my friend Kelly who was driving us to the race. This was also the night of the HUGE Wisconsin vs #1 Ohio State game [BADGERS!!!!] and as it turns out Kelly's boyfriend used to play football for OSU...I don't think he liked me very much haha. At halftime they headed out to a bar to watch the rest of the game, and Andrew and I just relaxed and watched the rest of the AMAZING Badger victory. It was incredible seeing the student section storm the field and honestly watching the end of that game was the first time I really, truly got nervous about the race. For the Badgers to win was such a huge long shot [we haven't beaten a #1 ranked team since 1981, and we definitely haven't beaten Ohio State since I've been in school] and somewhere deep in my mind I had thought to myself "if the Badgers win, I'm going to have an amazing race". So stupid, but I felt like it was a good omen for the day to come. As soon as the game was over it was lights out...I still don't think it had quite hit me yet that once again I was here...on the bring of running a marathon...26.2 miles to glory.
I woke up only once during the night, at 4:15 am, and I fell back asleep pretty quickly and had a RIDICULOUS dream about putting my spandex shorts in the laundry, them somehow morphing into super baggy capris, and running around a mysterious marathon expo in a hotel ballroom trying to find some running shorts to buy before the race started, and NO ONE was selling running shorts. Er...talk about nerves manifesting themselves in an interesting way? Anyway, I was instantly awake with my alarm at 5, up and about, putting on my racing attire, grumpy that I couldn't effectively crumple my number because of the timing chip attached to the back, eating my banana and deconstructed peanut butter sandwich, making sure I had all my Gus and random crap I wanted for pre race...the half hour before we left went by in a flash and soon enough we were out the door and on the road to Lowell.
After a little bit of confusion with the GPS, we made it to the Tsongas Arena without incident. Everything was just as I remembered it...plentiful bathrooms, plenty of space, a comfortable lovely building to find a corner and prepare to race. Perfect. I quickly found myself a space after making a lap of the building to see if I could find any GBTC teammates. And here I was again, exactly a year later...in my corner, ipod on, stretching and waiting and hoping and wondering what the day was going to bring. Which is the thing about the marathon, or any race for that matter - you just don't know. You could be about to have the race of your life, an absolute breakthrough, or you might be about to have a total breakdown on the course. But unless some external factor- sickness or injury or whatever - is changing your outlook...you have no idea what the day is going to bring. All you can do is let it unfold and hope that your legs and heart and mind are ready.
We were there EARLY which is just my style...plenty of time to hit up the bathroom like 4 times [there was a HUGE line for the men's bathroom and none for the women's...I have to say, this was the first time in my life I've ever experienced that. And perhaps it accounted for the multitude of men I saw peeing off in corners out on the course...or the one man I saw randomly peeing into a bottle on the concourse of the arena...awkward.] ANYWAY...enough bathroom tales. I bounced around and assaulted Andrew [I decided that after 3 years he deserves to actually be called his name instead of the BF...haha] with my ipod music and he told me I was nervous and I was like, no just excited! Which was amazingly, true! I can't say I was ever nervous-nervous. Maybe I've finally reached the turning point in my career where I'm able to not have a panic attack over races? Because I really had no specific goals set for the race, but I knew I was fit, I was pretty much just excited to get out there and see what I could do. Soon enough it was time to head to the start line...no sooner were we out the door of the arena when we ran into Kelly, who has been my training buddy all summer and pretty much the one who got me through the darkest days of marathon training. We walked together to the start, I really wanted to hit up the porta potty one last time but the lines were INSANE and I wasn't messing with my start for the sake of what was probably just nerves anyway...so I headed back to the start with Kelly. I also saw a gaggle of 3 PUGS right before the start...which had to be a good sign, right? Because I love pugs, and pugs x 3 are even better. :) Just like last year, we were right at the front of the pack which was fine by me...better the front than the back! And then we waited...making small talk with a girl nearby, bouncing up and down, waiting.
Finally the loudspeaker came on as someone welcomed us to Lowell and to the marathon...they were going to play the national anthem but apparently there was some glitch in the player or mike and so they couldn't play it. Suddenly, someone out of the crowd of runners started singing, and people started joining in. It was such a quiet morning and the only sound was of this crowd of runners, each of us standing on the line, about to begin this marathon journey, all singing the national anthem. It was, no lie, one of the coolest moments I have ever experienced, and I was holding back tears as I sang...it was just so powerful and really, really cool. I had to keep the emotions in check though because as soon as the song was over...it was go time!
I can't even remember if there was a gun, or a horn, or just someone saying go, I don't even know...but we were moving towards the line, and about 10 seconds after whatever mysterious GO signal occured, I was over the timing mat, starting my watch, and off on the journey that would be my 3rd marathon.
Miles 1-8: Calm mind
7:04, 7:24, 7:41, 7:41, 7:38, 7:41, 7:43, 7:36
The first mile was the usual flurry of adrenaline and half marathoners shooting by and just general blazing insanity. My mind was on a continuous loop of relax relax RELAX but it's really hard to relax when everyone is busting out of the gate and it's always hard to get a handle on pace the first mile of any race, let alone a marathon. My effort seemed a little high but I wasn't sure if that meant I was about to have a very bad day or if I was just running like a moron...my fears were alleviated when I came through the 1 mile mark in 7:04...err...AHH! Way, WAY too fast, obviously. But, ya know, keep calm and carry on. I have to say I was sort of in shock because yeah, I knew I was running harder than marathon effort, but to be honest...it didn't feel THAT much harder. Alright, dial it back Audrey, don't be an idiot. Mile 2 was a 7:24, still too fast, and I must have made some sort of noise when I saw the 2 mile go by at under 15 minutes, because a dude in a grey shirt next to me was like "yikes, too fast" and I was like "uh yeah"...which of course he took as his signal to begin a conversation with me, which was OK I suppose...for a couple minutes. He asked me what I was hoping to run and for the first time I actually blurted out "3:20...if I have a really good day. But probably 3:30" And he was like, "oh, I HAVE to run under 3:30"...I assume that would be his BQ time. We actually hung together for awhile, and I can't remember whether I passed him or he passed me, but one way or another I didn't see him any more after awhile. I also got the first sight of my cheering section of Kelly and Andrew at the 2 mile - which was so much fun because I wasn't expecting to see them until later in the race!
Mile 2...me in the red singlet off the shoulder of the girl in the red long sleeve
Finally, with mile 3, I fell into the steady steady pace that I would keep until mile 20. Mile 3: 7:41. Mile 4: 7:41. Nice little downhill through the back neighborhood, I seriously felt like I knew this course like the back of my hand. Every mile marker, every little hill, I remembered it all so vividly from last year and it was really mentally nice to be like "oh yeah, I remember feeling like this mile took forever, but the mile marker is just after this store..." or whatever. Mile 5 - 7:38. Mile 6 -7:41. I took my first Gu [Tri-Berry...which I had made a special trip to Marathon Sports to buy because although I've shaken most of my ridiculous racing superstitions, I needed the damn Tri-Berry Gu...not mandarin orange, not vanilla..tri-berry. OK?] and it was delicious, and the "hills" in the backside of the course were pretty much nonexistent compared to the crap that I ran on at Cape Ann and Nahant, and I was feeling like a rockstar. At the same time I was mildly perplexed that I was running as fast as I was and feeling as good as I was, because in all of my raceday prep/calculations, the fastest I even dreamed of running on like...the best day ever...was 7:50s. And thus far I had seen exactly zero miles at or over 7:50s. So obviously that kind of factored into the back of my mind...like hmm...is this all going to end in disaster? But I really tried to keep the negative thoughts at bay and just focus on the moment, and at this moment, I was feeling strong and amazing. Might as well ride it out and see what develops!
At mile 7.5 there was a great water stop, I actually forgot but I probably should have voted for them in the high school challenge. They were super enthusiastic, they were playing music, and there was a girl with a giant DON'T STOP BELIEVIN sign which for some reason almost brought me to tears. I was only at mile 7 but down in my gut...somewhere...I just know. You know when you are in a race and you just KNOW? That today is your day and everything you could possibly dream of is out on that course for the taking? I think that was the moment I realized it. Everything just felt so, so RIGHT. I was feeling fantastic and strong at this pace, reeling people in and passing them like it was my job, occasionally a girl would fly past me but something told me she would come back...everything just seemed to be falling into place. At mile 8 I got to see my cheering section again and I was grinning and waving my arms in the air, giving the thumbs up for the camera, etc. Never in a race could I ever remember feeling this wonderful and happy. In the back of my mind there were still a few doubts as to whether I could keep it, after all there were 18 miles to go. But I think in my heart I knew that I would.
Mile 8, feeling great! Onward to the bouncy bridge...
Miles 9-13.1: Hips don't lie
7:42, 7:36, 7:37, 7:34, 7:37, 1:39:30 at the half
Over the bouncy bridge I ran, it was just as unsettling as last year although less slippery which I appreciated. Honestly it almost felt like I didn't have to do any work to run over it which was nice...I guess...but still weird, and felt very weird when I got back on solid ground. I still was looking at my splits with this feeling of disbelief and vague anxiety...I just kept expecting to see the slowdown before I felt it and so far I was just clicking off steady splits like it was my job. I spent what seemed like eternity with my eyes trained on a girl in blue shorts [you can see her ahead of me in the picture] and for the life of me I can't remember if I ever ended up passing her or not...but regardless, thank you blue shorts girl for giving me a target to pace off for some of the middle miles! I kept thinking to myself "I don't even know what I'm doing right now!"...which somehow made me think of the song Hips Don't Lie and the lyric "I don't, don't really know what I'm doing...but you seem to have a plan"...and then I thought to myself hah! It's like my legs have a plan, right? and I don't even know what's going on! And the song is about hips, and my hips are working really hard! So fitting right? Uh...okay...thank you marathon induced insanity lol. Anyway, 10 miles came and went and here I was still running under 7:40 pace, what in the world. Once again the little sneaky negative thoughts started sneaking in..."it's only the 10 mile, you can't keep this up, bah"...but I crushed them with my two mantras for the race: "Looking good, feeling great" and "LOVING MY LIFE!"...positive thoughts only. :)
I knew the half was coming up and was getting excited because that meant bridge + crowds + cheering section + halfway, etc. Miles 11 and 12 seemed to take a very long time, and I though that I was slowing down, but like clockwork I kept looking at my watch and there those beautiful splits were. Lots of cheers for GBTC along this stretch, and I saw Tom who yelled something to the effect of "you're running for the winning team right now!" Unsure of how to respond to that, I think I threw my hands up and yelled woo! or something equally stupid haha. If I remember right, mile 12 or so was the only time during the race where I took Gatorade [vs water, which I took at about every other stop, but I've realized I really dislike the taste and stickiness of Gatorade during a race]...and part of my motivation was this high school kid who was singing and dancing and yelling about his glorious Gatorade...it made me laugh. Soon enough we were at the bridge...and did I miss the memo about the whole bridge being a gradual uphill? Because...yeah...it seemed to last pretty much forever, and I was psyched to see the other side. As soon as I hit the other side, I saw Andrew and Kelly again, yelling and just going crazy. I was grinning from ear to ear, and I yelled at them "who AM I????" I was just in complete and utter disbelief at the pace I was running, what I was doing, and how this race was unfolding.
Probably the best race photo ever taken of me...complete and utter joy :)
I hit the half in 1:39:30...yeah...like a minute off my half PR and my second best half ever...WHAT?? A guy nearby said something like "I have this strange sense of deja vu...like I've been here before" as we headed out on the second lap...I was like "yeah, but I didn't expect to be back so soon!" At the half I was already 10 minutes ahead of last year and showing no signs of blowing up anytime soon...
Miles 14-20: I'm not afraid
7:37, 7:41, 7:37, 7:45, 7:43, 7:45, 7:55
I remembered the second time around the backside of the course being tough mentally, and this year was no different. It's like after the adrenaline rush of passing the half in such great time, you go back into the somewhat ugly, sort of "hilly" as far as this course goes, section, and you're too far out from the finish to be close to home but far enough away from the start that fatigue is definitely starting to set in. I took my Lemon Sublime Gu at 14 or so, and saw Ryan, Katie, and Kelly's parents around the same time...who told me I was looking strong! And I felt strong! It was around this point of the course that I picked up Chatty Cathy and her pal Chatty McChats a lot. Remember my tale of the talkers at Nahant? This was just as bad, if not worse. Ahh! These two girls, running along and just talking! I'm not knocking people who talk during races, it's just...we're clearly running a fairly competitive pace, and I couldn't deal with being near these two just talking away about their social lives and plans for the week and just random crap while I was trying to focus on my race. It took me a couple of miles to pass them, and even then they were on my heels for a solid 3 miles more before I finally lost them for good. To distract myself from the talking I tried to find a song to throw into my mental mp3 player...here's what I came up with
I'm not afraid to take a stand
Everybody come take my hand
We'll walk this road together
Through the storm
Whatever weather, cold or warm
Just lettin' you know you're not alone
holler if you feel like you've been down the same road
And it was true. I wasn't afraid anymore. All of the demons that had plagued me since Boston, that I wasn't good enough or fast enough or strong enough to ever run a better marathon than I did last year, that I couldn't really compete, that I didn't have that mental toughness or something....I just KNEW. I finally knew that I did. And after coming this far in this race I knew - even if I hit the wall from here on out - I'm coming in under 3:30. And holy crap, is this happening? Is this for real? It is, it is, it IS!! People were slowing down and I was passing them, as I chug chugged along. Soon enough we came up on the 7.5/17.5 aid station, where the girl with the Don't Stop Believin sign was...I couldn't help but to throw out my hand [which had DON'T STOP BELIEVIN written on it] and be like "I love your sign!!" Once again, the entire backstretch I really felt like I was slowing down, but really I guess it was that my effort was going up [obviously] but I was still holding pace. Freaking holding pace! I knew the breakdown was coming and when it did it wasn't going to be fun, but at this point I knew that barring walking the last 6 miles, a PR was in the bag, now all that was left to do was see just how big of a PR it could be.
At 18 I got to see my incredible cheering section again, which obviously gave me a boost, and Kelly jumped it with me briefly and told me that if I needed her at mile 23, she'd be there to run me in. I was still feeling great at that point but had the feeling that 5 miles down the road it was entirely possible that I would be in need of support. Having her and Andrew out there at so many spots along the course all day was just incredible for me...knowing that they were going to be there in just a few more miles was such a huge energy boost, and being able to smile and look strong when I came past made things all the better. :)
Mile 18, and over the bouncy bridge once again! There was a lot of cheering going on for myself and the pack of girls I was with, which I guess should have been my first indication that we weren't too far back in the general scheme of overall women [I ended up as 32nd woman overall]. I wasn't feeling bad yet, but I was definitely starting to feel...well...less good. Relaxation and fun times and rainbows were over now...with 8 miles to go of one of the best races I've run in my life, it's time to get down to the nitty gritty. But I still kept repeating that mantra "looking good, feeling great. looking good, feeling great" You could see people starting to break down and the number of people I passed increased by a lot over the last 8 miles as people began walking, stopping to stretch things out, or just dramatically slowing down. I had grabbed a Gu at the 17.5 aid station and was planning on waiting until 21 to take it, but I could feel my legs starting to grumble and I was thinking glycogen depletion was probably a reason, so I decided to mow down on it at like mile 19...with no aid station in sight. GENIUS I tell you...let's just say I hope there were no photographers in the vicinity, because I probably look like I crawled out of a swamp with chocolate Gu absolutely coating my teeth, lovely!
At the mile 20 mark someone had painted "THE WALL" on the sidewalk...I yelled out to no on in particular "THERE IS NO WALL!!!" I was slowing down a bit but nothing super significant, and I figured even though I had dropped a bit of time I could hold it for the last 6 miles. I can't remember what the clock at 20 read, but it was something like 2:30. I came to the realization that I had an entire HOUR to run the last 6.2 miles to come in under 3:30 [still, STILL not even considering the sub 3:25. I still couldn't even believe it.] and it was like...this is happening. I may crash and burn and burst into flames in the next 6 miles, but unless I am reduced to a walk for a significant portion of the rest of this race, I'm hitting sub-3:30.
Miles 21-26.2: Don't stop believin'
Somewhere, in the deep recesses of my mind, I must have known I could do it. If I didn't think I could, I would have backed off the pace, or never gone out that fast in the first place, or panicked, and would have never known what I could truly do. But somewhere there was that tiny spark of a thought that was whispering "You are better than you know. You are better than your times make you seem. And today is the day to show the world, and show yourself, what you really are."
It's funny, because when I signed up for this marathon I had no specific aspirations or goals other than to requalify for Boston. And my training was so much less regimented, and so much more about getting the miles in, doing the long runs, getting workouts in when it made sense and when it felt good, running easy on the easy days and hard when it seemed like a good idea. I really thought that even if my fitness was right, I would never have the guts after Boston to go for a goal time ever again. But somehow, I knew, that yesterday was the day. And now I feel like I've blown my marathon possibilities wide open...that this is a huge breakthrough race for me. I mean, I basically just ran a time that in my wildest imagination I didn't think I would achieve in my lifetime. All because I finally figured out how to relax, let my legs do their thing, and not be afraid to take my shot.
Boston 2012, you better get ready. I've got a score to settle. :)
As a PS though it's likely none of them will ever read this, I also have to give the biggest thanks possible to Kelly my training partner, for being the catalyst for pretty much everything I've done this training cycle, talking me out of tears when I just couldn't bear the thought of going on another 7 am long run in the middle of the summer, and generally being an incredible role model and inspiration. And a thanks to Kelly my new running buddy, for the pasta, couch to sleep on, ride to the race, and for getting me through the last 3 miles, I could not be more grateful. And finally of course, thanks to Andrew, for not being mad when I occasionally ditch him for running and for learning that spectating a marathon can actually be very fun...which is a good thing, since he's got many more coming. :)
And if you made it this far in my race report, congratulations to you as well! Because given my wordiness that's quite an epic feat haha. I'm sure I'll be back with some sort of wrap-up recap and what's next post sometime in the near future...but I think I've given you enough to read for now. :)
Never, never, never stop believin'.