Monday, October 23, 2017

Break the ceiling: Baystate Marathon 2017

I wanna cut through the clouds, break the ceiling
I wanna dance on the roof, you and me oh boy
I wanna cut to the feeling, oh yeah
I wanna cut to the feeling, oh yeah
-Cut to the Feeling, my Carly Rae Jebsen JAM this training cycle

I actually don't even know where to begin with this race report. So, I suppose, I'll start with the facts: yesterday, I ran a 3:12:34 marathon at Baystate, and I can hardly even type that number without my eyes starting to fill up with tears. I keep saying "I can't believe it", but obviously, since I went for it during the race, somewhere inside I must have believed I could do it. But after 2 and a half years of training, training, training, and feeling like I never got anywhere with my race performances, to FINALLY go out there and do what I had almost given up hope of ever being able to do, and then some, almost feels unreal. That crazy spreadsheet I made in July, checking the boxes, the doubles, the early mornings, the runs in endless shit humidity in September, the races with 6 mile warmups and cooldowns - I did it all on the faith that it would all add up to something. I was nervous going into the race because I KNEW I was in shape. I had read this post by elite runner Sarah Crouch sometime in the week leading up to the race and it completely summarized how I felt. I knew I was in the shape of my life. I knew that my training had gone about as perfectly as it could have, that I had worked harder than I ever had before. Would I be able to step out into the unknown, take that risk, and run the race that I trained for? That the answer turned out be yes, and more, was absolutely incredible.

I feel like I typically get a pre-race burst of anxiety that requires a rambling blog post in the last week of taper, but I didn't even do that this year! My last week of taper was actually horrible - I took a really bad fall during my run on Wednesday, busting up my knee, and felt sick all day Friday. I'm somewhat convinced that my body mounts an immune response to pre-race anxiety, because EVERY marathon I've ever run I've felt genuinely sick at some point in the week before. So Friday I literally spent like $30 on various cold-fighting items including Zicam, an outrageously expensive pressed juice (delicious, but $8 for a 16oz bottle of juice? Only in desperate times) and thankfully all of that seemed to do the trick. I realized on Saturday that I haven't run a marathon that wasn't a) Boston, with all it's pageantry and general intensity of the whole weekend, or b) something that required travel in 7 years, so it was actually really nice to have a completely normal day on Saturday. I went for a shakeout run, watched the Badgers beat up on Maryland, went on a "I can't sit still" anxiety induced bout of cleaning/laundry, and finished the night with my ultimate prerace meal of the last several years, this pasta (seriously, it's so easy and absolutely amazing), garlic bread, and of course my obligatory pre-race beer. This year's selection was a Night Shift Morph IPA, an excellent choice. I paged through Once a Runner, which I usually re-read in the week before a marathon but this time was otherwise engaged with a *classic* YA dystopian novel called "Qualify" (semi-awful futuristic novels where teens have to compete for something or another are a huge guilty pleasure of mine) hahaha.

I slept pretty well, though I did wake up around 3:30 thinking my alarm was going to go off any second. The alarm eventually did go off at 5:10 and thanks to my prep the day before, I didn't have much to worry about. Just get dressed, grab food bags, make a bagel, GO. I think typically my nerves are the most aggressive the night before and during the "travel" phase of the marathon, and I was being a class A diva the morning of the race. I had agreed to drive to the nearest Dunkin Donuts and then Andrew would take it the rest of the way, but I couldn't find one close enough and was just being ridiculous haha. We eventually did get coffee AND get to Lowell in one piece, parked, and made our way into the Tsongas Arena, where the race volunteers were kind enough to let Dayton join us inside! Yes, the night before we decided that our dog should come to spectate the race too. We met up with some of my GBTC teammates and just relaxed for a bit, goofing off and taking "mugshots" in front of the random curtain we had posted up near. I'm thrilled to report that with the addition of my makeshift second pocket (made from a dance 1/2 sock!) my racing shorts can now hold 4 Gus, plus another baggie of salt tabs - it was definitely nice not to have to shove anything in my bra #chafagealert. My stomach was being a little sketchy - while I pretty much have my pre-race fueling down to a science at this point, some days it just goes down easier than others, and so around 7:35, we decided to try to hit up the porta potties one last time which was probably the most anxiety provoking point of the day. The lines were just NOT moving and I started anxiously stripping off layers and retying my shoelaces and stretching so I'd be ready to just get myself to the start as soon as I was done. I finally got to the porta potty just as the national anthem was starting, and I kind of laughed to myself because all I could think was that Trump would not approve of this 😂. I quickly finished my business, threw my bag at Andrew (he's a great sherpa!) and dashed to the start line - I ran into Deepti on my way there and we somehow managed to find our other two teammates, so that the whole women's GBTC squad was together at the start! This was really my first experience starting a marathon with a team, and it was pretty cool. Maybe it was because I missed the anthem, or maybe it was just the headspace I was in, but I didn't get my usual rush of emotion before starting the race. I said something to Deepti like "just a nice long run!". We both agreed that we were going to go out nice and relaxed, and a few moments later the horn sounded and we were off.

The race

Miles 1-7: 7:13, 7:22, 7:20, 7:19, 7:23, 7:25, 7:21
I took off at what felt like an extremely relaxed, easy pace. Deepti and I were running side by side and she said "OK can we agree that even if we're running relaxed, that we're not going to talk?" No issues from me on that score - and anyway, I had the suspicion that her relaxed and my relaxed weren't the same thing, and that we wouldn't be running together for long. (She would go on to run a PR of 3:06). Still, it was nice to have a familiar face nearby for those first couple of miles! The first 2 miles are always a little confusing since the half marathoners and marathoners start together, and it can be more difficult to keep calm when people are blowing past you because they're running the half. I had a couple of girls almost elbow by me which I found really annoying - like, come on, there's plenty of room on the road and plenty of time to go for us all. The weather at the start was pretty solid, just under 50 degrees, and while there was definitely some morning humidity it was really comfortable overall. So I just bopped along, focusing on staying relaxed and calm. I felt a little bit tight the first couple of miles but I basically chalked that up to warming up the gears, and tried not to put too much stock in it. After a slightly fast first mile, I seemed to be settling in right about where I wanted to be. Actually, in my head, I had planned on going out behind the 3:15 pacer and starting even more slowly, but because of my position at the start I was in front of them and running what, I knew, was faster than 3:15 pace. That was a little bit scary, but I had told myself before the race that I was basically not going to pay attention to splits and totally run on how I felt, especially in the first half. So, I told myself, whatever. If 7:20 is what feels good, then it's what feels good! Don't question it. I had been telling a few people about my 'YOU'RE A PONY!' mantra from my PR at Boston in 2015, so naturally as I urged myself to stay calm and relaxed, I found a ridiculous little jingle from a toy unicorn hobby horse that I had gotten as a gag gift in high school in my head. "I'm a pretty pooooony, clippity clop, clippity clop. Such a pretty pooooony, clippity clop, clippity clop." It was completely ridiculous, yet also perfect. No one needs pump up jams at mile 3 of a marathon - you need whatever is going to keep you calm.

It's been a long time since I've run this course but I remember it well, and it was nice to pretty much know exactly what was coming next. Right before the marathon/half marathon split around mile 3, I saw my cheering squad as well as coach Tom, who I think almost missed me haha. We then headed into what I've always thought of as the "little neighborhood section", which in my head was always a couple of miles, but in reality is maybe half a mile long? Hah. There are a couple of little rollers in this section, nothing major, but just enough to get you thinking. I was looking at my splits every time they came up but not really doing anything with that information, just sort of being like, yup, OK, that's a number. Nothing means anything yet. I had a hilarious inner monologue going on during this section of the race because I was trying so hard to stay relaxed and not focus on running, so I was reading signs and looking at the leaves, and going off on silly trains of thought. I remember looking at a sign for "the historic village of North Chelmsford" and spending a good 2 minutes being like, what a delightful village, but what exactly is so historic about it? Somewhere in this area I also had to sidestep a dead opossum on the road and couldn't help just saying EW out loud. In general, though, the course was much prettier than I remembered! Maybe it was because we're having a late fall this year, so the foliage is out right now, but this back stretch which I remembered as being hideous and industrial was actually not bad at all. We were running parallel to the river and some railroad tracks, and there were far fewer sketchy businesses than I remembered - though there is some sort of super dumpy Chinese restaurant that I definitely did remember, and giggled as I passed it.

While I was taking in the sights and sounds of exciting Chelmsford/Tyngsboro, I was continuing to run at a pretty good clip. Again, I really couldn't let myself think anything of the numbers at this point - they just were what they were. I was sticking to my plan of running what felt relaxed, and if that meant some fluctuations in the pace that was fine. I took my first Gu at around mile 5 after some difficulty getting it out of my pocket...practically had to pull my shorts down to get a hold of it with my left hand. The water stops are every 1.5-2 miles in this race and while I applaud people who don't need to take a boatload of liquids during marathons, I'm not one of them. With the temps during the race likely to hit the mid 60s and the sun out in force, hydrating early and often was my policy. This stretch in particular was pretty much in full sun, and I remember thinking that it maybe would suck on the second loop as things warmed up. But that was a problem for the second loop. Meanwhile, my brain's song choice had shifted from the pony song to, of ALL things, The Wheels on the Bus. I'm seriously trying to remember if a school bus passed us or if I'm just completely insane, because I don't have the slightest idea where that came from and it was both hilarious and awkward because I could NOT get it out of my head. I started thinking up my own lyrics to go with the song (ie "the guy in front of me has a yellow shirt, yellow shirt, yellow shirt, the guy in front of me has a yellow shirt, all through the town"). Yeah. I don't know either.

We passed the mile 7 mark and received an absolutely beautiful view of the bridge we would soon be crossing - again, not sure how I have NO recollection of this from the past two times I've run this course, maybe because this was the first time I was trying to relax in the first half, but it was truly lovely. There wasn't even a breeze so the bridge was reflected in the calm water, with the autumn foliage all around - I've never cared much about the scenery when I race marathons, but it was so nice to be able to appreciate something pretty during the course of the race! Heading up to the bridge, I was feeling pretty good. I hadn't yet run a mile at goal pace (everything was under), I felt totally in control and calm, right where I wanted to be at this point. Oh, and I still had the Wheels on the f*cking Bus in my head hahaha.

Miles 8-13: 7:19, 7:22, 7:18, 7:13, 7:19
There's a miniscule incline leading up to the bridge that for whatever reason I really felt on the first loop - it might have been that there was some really uneven pavement here but I felt like I slowed down a lot (turns out that was completely false, but whatever). We then headed over the bridge, which again, was a lot bigger and cooler than I remember it being? I feel like they must have done some construction on the bridge in the past 7 years (seems reasonable hahaha) because not only were we running on a pretty wide road under the arches, but the bridge DOESN'T BOUNCE anymore! One of my strongest memories of my first marathon is feeling that bridge bounce underneath me, and honestly, I wasn't mad to have a more firm surface this time. The mile 8 mark is just after the bridge, and I was pleasantly surprised to find that if anything, I'd actually picked it up a bit that mile. Plus, now we were into the stretch of the course that is definitely my favorite - a beautiful, mostly flat or downhill stretch by the river on much nicer roads. There was almost zero crowd support here this year but that really didn't bother me - I didn't need it. Somewhere in here a girl came up on me and we chatted briefly; she asked what I was going for and I said "uh, 3:15? I think I'm a little fast for that but who knows. Just trying to stay relaxed" She went on her way (I think she ran around a 3:10), but I had a flashback to basically the same conversation which I had at mile 10 of Boston 2015. And I remembered. Mile 10, I'm feeling relaxed, feeling good enough to be talking with people... I passed a WMDP woman and gave her some encouragement (this would be the LAST WOMAN I would see for the rest of the day). I got my next split and I suddenly got that chills, emotional feeling. I had this vision of myself holding on to this pace and running - what, what pace even is this? 7:20 pace is a 3:12. A 3:12! And then I got a hold of myself. Steady Zaferos, steady. Lots and lots of miles left to go. Let's get to the second lap before we start getting any big ideas.

 I had finally kicked the wheels on the bus to be replaced by Imagine Dragons' Polaroid: all my life I've been living in the fast lane, can't stop now gonna roll like a jet plane...(turns out the lyric is actually "I'm a rolling freight train" lol). Another Gu at mile 10, followed by water shortly after. I was still feeling comfortable both temperature-wise and legs wise, and cardiovascularly I felt like I could go all day. Wait, wasn't that something Tom said "just run at a pace where you assume you're going to be running all day"? That was what this felt like. It just felt so RIGHT. Every time a split in the 7 teens would pop up I would think for a second, wait, this is crazy. That's so fast. But then I would check in with my body and be like yup, this still feels exactly like it should feel, let's just roll with it. Trust yourself. You're doing just fine, in fact, you're doing great.

The backstretch passed quickly, and soon enough we were heading up towards the halfway point. After several miles pretty much devoid of fans, it definitely brought a smile to my face that you could hear the roar of the crowd about a half mile out from the bridge that essentially marks the halfway point of the race. In fact, I did a lot of smiling in general during this race - I smiled at volunteers, at cops, tried to smile at every person who yelled "Go Greater Boston!" And let me tell you, I was grinning as I rolled through the spectator alley, particularly when I saw Joy and Brenda pop out of the crowd, Joy holding some kind of ridiculous pony sign, and saw Brenda literally sprint across the road to scream and form a cheer tunnel for me. I threw my arms around and did what can best be described as an awkward pony dance, then left the roar of the crowd behind and headed onward into the second lap, the lap where you really find out what you're made of. I thankfully remembered from running this race in the past that the bridge you run over to start the second lap is fully at an incline, so I was prepared for the fact that running suddenly felt just a little bit harder than it had before. A guy in blue came up on my left and said something like "you've got a great cheer squad!" to which I smiled and said "yup, I've got some great friends!" I later figured out guy in blue was named Bob, and we ended up pacing each other for the next 8 miles. I've never run "with" anyone for anywhere near that long in a race! But at this point in time, he was just "guy who thinks my cheer squat is great" We came over the bridge and headed back towards the neighborhood, and I did a quick systems check. Cardio, perfect. Legs, feeling it a little, but still comfortable at this pace. Stomach, OK. Heat, OK. And then I laughed because I came through the half in just over 1:36, aka literally 30 seconds slower than the half that I *supposedly* raced all out 6 weeks ago. Ummm. OK. Looks like I don't have an excuse for ever racing a 1:35-1:36 half again...

Miles 14-20: 7:24, 7:20, 7:17, 7:23, 7:13, 7:12, 7:16
We headed back into the neighborhood, and I continued to focus on just staying relaxed, calm, focused and running on feel. The pack had thinned out substantially now, and it was just me, Bob, and a few dudes up ahead. Several people who'd gotten ahead of me on the first loop were coming back to me now, and I applauded myself for staying so calm on the first lap. And yet, I had run the first half faster than I've run the first half of any marathon in my life. I think that was the key with this race, and really every good marathon I've run: you HAVE to go with how you're feeling on the day, and not how some random arbitrary number says you're supposed to be feeling. At any point yesterday I could have been scared off by the fact that the numbers were faster than what I expected to be running, but I trusted the way that I felt and figured as long as I kept feeling that way through mile 20, there was really no reason to change what I was doing. Bob and I ran along over the couple of small rollers into Chelmsford, and he commented "I thought this course was flat!" I mentioned that I had definitely forgotten about some of the small uphills since the last time I'd done the race (I'm actually chatting while running along at sub 7:20 pace, what is my life....)  At 15 I took my 3rd Gu, and I was definitely starting to feel like I wanted the carbs, and the salt. The sun was out but I still wasn't too bothered by the heat - it probably got into the mid 60s by the time I finished, but I think it's the old "frog in boiling water" thing...the temperature was rising slowly enough that my body wasn't perceiving the change. I also continued to really be aggressive about my hydration, taking water at every stop. I did get a minor side stitch somewhere in here but was able to head it off by jamming my hand into the spot as soon as I started to feel it, counting to 10, and then taking a deep breath - worked like a charm.

I definitely felt like I was working a little bit harder from 15-16 and perceived that I was slowing down, but my splits show that not to be the case. In fact, upon seeing my mile 17 split I laughed out loud and said to Bob "I can't believe I'm still running this pace!" My favorite water stop was also at 17, which included an amazing high school XC team dressed up in all sorts of costumes ranging from one of those T-rex suits to a crocodile to a pirate (I saw on Twitter later that they were apparently Peter Pan and the lost boys...didn't catch that one during the race, but still amazing!). I made a snap decision to grab another Gu - as an aside, they had ALL different brands of gels which I thought was amazing. Personally I can only stomach Gu, but the fact that they had Gu, Clif gels, and I think Powerbar gels as well I thought was really a nice touch so that everyone can get the fuel they need. The Gu was Triberry flavor, my weird superstitious flavor that I just HAD to have early in my marathon career, and I thought, perfect. It was just what I wanted and I was immediately happy with my choice - I felt like I gained some energy as we headed back toward the bridge. "8 miles to go after the bridge", Bob, who I had decided I was enjoying running with, said. Holy shit, 8 miles, and I'm still running under 7:20 pace. I'm running SO FAST right now, and it feels great, and I'm having so much fun! Again, that flash of adrenaline. This could be it, I thought. This could be the race I've been waiting for for over 2 years.  And again: steady now. A lot can happen in 8 miles.

We headed back up to the bridge, where a guy was still clanging on a cowbell (Bob: "He was doing it the last time I came by here too!") and back over the bridge, where Bob and I took it upon ourselves to put in a surge and pass by about 5 guys. When I saw mile 18 was a 7:13 I literally almost started laughing, because I knew the next 2 miles were some of my favorite of the race and given how I was feeling, would also probably be fast. By now I had FINALLY found something off of my pump up mix to play in my head, and Taylor Swift was singing "look what you made me do" over and over and over. At 19, Bob's Garmin beeped a little before mine and he casually mentioned "well that was the fastest one yet, that was a 7:10!" You know the noise someone makes when they spit out a drink? I made that noise, and then said, in the most ridiculously silly disbelieving way possible, "shut UP! No way!" I grinned. "I still can't believe this is happening," I said. "Well, sometimes you've just gotta go with it!" Bob replied. He was right. The marathon is such a fickle beast, and I've had more bad ones than good, but man, when you are having a day, don't think about it. Just let it roll. We ran on, continuously coming up on people and passing them. This was an experience I've never had in a race before, the experience of running side by side with a stranger (I didn't even know his name until I caught a glance at his bib around mile 20, and he never knew mine), but there was indeed this invisible force that I felt, a pull between us, that I think kept me pushing just a little bit more than I otherwise would have. It was a really cool feeling.

We continued to pick up the pace through this stretch and I kept blinking at my watch in awe every time another 7:1x popped up for a mile split. I remembered how every time I ran "goal marathon pace" in a workout, it came out right around 7:15, but I always assumed I was just being an idiot and failing at my workout. No, holy shit, I was running 7:15s. IN A MARATHON! We came up over a little crest around 19 where there were volunteers directing traffic. I beamed at them. Everything was amazing. One of them said something like "wow, look at that, still smiling!" I was feeling a little thirsty/hungry and grabbed some Gatorade at the next aid station - again, I don't have any strict rules about when/if I take Gatorade vs. water, I just try to let my body tell me what to do. The Gatorade was exactly what I wanted. Somewhere in here, we also encountered Bob's cheering crew, who passed him a bottle and he commented "I found myself a pacer!" Hey, that's me! He offered me some of his bottle, but it was skratch labs which I've never tried before so I passed - still, BOB YOU'RE THE MAN. Soon enough, we hit the mile 20 mark, where "The Wall" is painted on the ground. I giggled at the clock, which read 2:26 something, just a casual 2 minute PR for that distance. From here on out, I thought to myself, 4 more miles to stay relaxed and hold this line, then 2 miles to go for it. 6 miles left. It's amazing the difference in the way that time passes between a good race and a bad one - the miles were clicking off so quickly that I could hardly believe we were already here at mile 20. Or maybe that was just because of how good I was still feeling at the pace I was running? Either way, at mile 20, there was no wall in sight.

Miles 21-26.2: 7:16, 7:12, 7:19, 7:28, 7:24, 7:16, 6:55 pace for the last bit
Sadly, just after mile 20 I lost Bob as he dropped behind me. I was a little sad to lose my pacing buddy but I sent good thoughts his way and continued on. I'm looking at that 7:12 mile 22 split right now and I STILL CANNOT BELIEVE how strong I was still feeling at this point in the race. I took my last Gu at 21, I had planned on saving it until 22 but I was getting hungry again and I could feel my legs starting on the downward spiral towards lack of glycogen so I felt like the time was right. In other news, I think I absolutely NAILED my fueling and hydration during this race - I got exactly what I needed, when I needed it. It may have taken 12 marathons but I think I finally know what I need to do to fuel myself correctly for this distance. Anyway, by this point the field was VERY spread out and I actually found myself having to go around groups of people who were still on their first lap of the marathon. The fact that they were completely oblivious was somewhat annoying but luckily the road was wide enough that I didn't really have to expend any extra effort going around. There's sort of a long, wide stretch leading up to the bridge where there aren't many spectators, but at some point I heard a guy yell "Yeah Greater Boston" and 5 seconds later one of my teammates popped out of the woods yelling GO AUDREY! Exactly the laugh I needed at that point - we made eye contact and both cracked up. I also knew I'd be seeing Joy and Brenda again soon and I was just so damn excited to be feeling so strong that I couldn't stop smiling. The fatigue was definitely starting to come on now, and perhaps more annoyingly I was feeling my knee that I had fallen on on Wednesday starting to tighten up pretty painfully. Luckily, while it might have made my stride look a little awkward, it was something I could put in the "things to deal with later" box. I actually remember thinking to myself "well, if I have to go to the medical tent and get some ice at the end of this race, I suppose that's not the end of the world". The roar of the crowd returned and soon I was running through the gauntlet of fans at the bridge, including Joy who I think was like doing ridiculous squats?? And who then jumped in running with me. She asked me how I was doing and I'm pretty sure I said "Um. Running REALLY FAST". I couldn't say much after that but I remember being weirdly happy in my brain that she was wearing the shirt from the half we ran together hahaha. She ran with me for a couple of minutes and then had to peel back. Soon enough down the road I saw Brenda, who had jumped in to run with Deepti for a bit. This was the point where the fatigue was really and truly starting to set in, but I was excited to see my friend and finally at a place in the race where I could really and truly know that I was having a great one.

Smiling at mile 22 :)

Mile 23...oh boy....was where all of a sudden things started to get very, very hard. The exertions of the past 3 hours finally were catching up to me, but I knew this was where I had no choice but to put my head down and do it. I was running a PR. I kept looking at my watch and doing this thing I always do, which is calculating how slowly I could run the next xyz distance and still run a PR. "You could run 3.2 miles in 30 minutes and still run a PR". But of course, I didn't want to slow down. It was just getting so, so hard to keep moving forward. My knee was really becoming aggravating and the general muscular shutdown was coming on. Mile 24 definitely felt like the longest mile of the race. It's a straight shot and I think it actually might be slightly downhill, but I'll be damned if it didn't take 9 hours and not 7 minutes and 28 seconds (my ONLY mile of the day that was over my original goal pace of 7:26 seconds, lol). I had told Bob earlier on that I never let myself think about times or PRs until the 24 mile mark. At mile 24, I looked at my watch, knew I had slowed down way less than I thought, and realized that I could practically walk it in and still run a PR. I was fighting and fighting, and I kept thinking too myself: THIS is where it's all worth it. I made a list as I ran of all the things that were worth it right now: the early mornings. The doubles. The 70 mile weeks. The suffering through the endless humidity and heat that never seemed to quit. The 6 mile warmup you ran alone in 75 degrees and humidity before tempoing a 10K. The workouts. The long runs. Everything. Everything you did, every risk you took, every mile you ran, it's worth it. This, THIS is what makes it worth it. There's a beautiful downhill after the 24 mile marker that I welcomed with open arms. The field was super spaced out by this point but I found myself still running by dying men like they were standing still. We had to run through what I can only describe as a construction zone which was not super enjoyable, and my spaced out brain at one point interpreted a brown towel lying in the road as a giant piece of roadkill, awesome haha. But we hit mile 25, and I had somehow run a 7:23, and oh my God I just couldn't even believe this was happening. Everything hurt so, so much but it was happening. All that was playing through my mind was this quote from Once A Runner, at the very end of the book when Cassidy wins the culminating race: He kicked from 500 yards out but it was YOU, Quenton Cassidy, it was YOU all the way. It was you all the way. It was me, all the way. After 2 years of mediocre racing, Boston breaking my heart twice over, practically convincing myself that 3:17 was about as good as I'd ever be, and deciding to commit to really going for it, one more time, it was me. And in mile 26 of this race, with my legs straining at the edge of their limits, feeling like even the slightest misstep would send me tumbling to the pavement, in as much pain as I've ever been in during a race, I thought again and again: it was you, it was you all the way. 

We crossed over the final bridge, the one I vividly recall referring to as a "speed tunnel" the first time I ran this race, and I ran down 3 more men. Passing by the baseball stadium where the race used to finish, I knew there was just a little more. For the first time all race, I looked at my Garmin to try to know how much I had left, how much more pain to endure. 25.65 miles Nearly there now. Nearly there. Another long stretch behind the arena and I can start to hear the finish line now. I literally feel like I'm on the verge of stumbling and falling over, like I have no idea how I'm still even moving forward. We make a right hand turn, and on my left I see Andrew and Dayton, cheering for me. We pass the 26 mile marker and I nearly roll my ankle in a hole, but I somehow stay on my feet. Less than 200 meters to glory. Another left hand turn, and I honestly haven't been doing the overall time math in my head, so when I make the final turn into the finish chute and I see 3:12 low on the clock it is almost too much to believe. 3:12. Oh my God. The super secret, I've never told anyone this except that one time I mentioned to my coworker that I "weirdly have 3:12 as this number I think I could run in my mind", so much better than just sub 3:15 or just a PR or just ANYTHING goal, 3:12, is actually happening to me. I almost wish I could relive those 30 seconds just before I crossed the finish line over and over again. I probably lost 5 seconds closing my eyes and waving my arms but I don't even care, because this moment is the one that you dream of. It's the moment that gets you up at 5 am to run before work and the one that brings you back after race after race goes poorly, it's the one that makes you do that extra interval or run 10 miles after work instead of 6. I've been running long enough to know that these moments come once in a blue moon, but when they come, well, they are something that anyone would be willing to fight another few years to have again.

I crossed the finish line and immediately went hands to knees, hyperventilating and nearly crying. One delightful thing about this race being fairly small was it seemed they actually had an individual volunteer to walk each runner through the chute - my volunteer got me water, my space blanket, my medal, asked me about my race. I was grinning ear to ear - again, a volunteer said something like "she looks so happy for having just done that". And then I locked eyes with Andrew from across the fence. "I ran a 3:12!!" I yelped, and I felt the tears start to come. I came through the chute, flew into his arms, and promptly began SOBBING. "Oh my god. Oh my god. I can't believe I did it. I CAN'T BELIEVE I DID IT." Andrew, simultaneously trying to wrangle a dog and a ridiculously emotional post-PR fiance, was an excellent sport. We headed through to the post race area where I got absurdly excited about the fact that there was soda (whatever, I crave Mountain Dew after hard running, what about it?), got my special BQ and PR keychains that they were handing out (also a really nice touch) and was interviewed for a promotional video - I guess I must have really looked good! BOB also found me which I was really happy about - he finished just a couple of minutes behind me, and I thanked him profusely for being such a great support during the race. We eventually ran into Deepti, who had also run a PR - it was really an incredible day for the GBTC team, with tons of PRs and everyone was really excited about their races. I feel so proud to be a part of such a fast squad!

So even as I've relived this day writing this recap, I am still pinching myself that this race unfolded the way it did. My marathon training progress has never been linear, but I feel like when I PR I tend to do it gigantically (3:39 --> 3:22 --> 3:17 --> 3:12). But even though I felt like 3:17 was really good, 3:17 to 3:12 feels like a HUGE jump. I actually ran an entire marathon at a pace that still, even now having done it, sounds insanely fast to me. But I took what the day gave me, stayed calm, bided my time, didn't let the numbers freak me out, and knew that I had the training to back it up. But even all that being said, this really goes beyond my wildest expectations for this race. Like I said, I had had 3:12 deep down as this weird "super A goal" that I didn't tell anyone about, but I was convinced that I would be too afraid to ever even go for it. Early on in the race, when I was clicking off 7:20s and it felt so easy, I thought to myself "well, if nothing else, I guess you're giving yourself a chance". And I feel like I finally achieved my goal for the year of being brave - of going out there, doing my thing, not giving a damn how crazy the numbers seemed or what anyone else expected of me, and just feeling what I had inside of me, taking what my training had built, and capitalizing on it. It was me, it was me all the way. And holy shit, I guess now a sub 3:10 is the next big goal in the crosshairs. Who would have ever thought. 

Baystate Marathon 2017
3:12:34 - PR
173/1328 OA, 24/594 women, 12/163 F30-39

Sunday, October 01, 2017

An entire summer of training and racing, summarized in one post!

Whew! Where have I been?, racing, and running a LOT. When we last left off, I had just run the Mount Washington Road Race and was getting ready to ramp up for fall marathon training. Turns out, fall marathon training (along with various other life things) is time consuming, and hasn't left a lot of time for blogging! I've meant to pop open this blog from time to time but it's always gotten away from me. So here I am, 3 weeks out from my fall marathon, and I guess I'll sum things up month by month until we get to the present.

Nothing really happened in July. I didn't race at all. I gradually started easing back into some longer runs and things that resembled workouts (often failing at the latter). It is kind of funny to look back at July, because in particular I recall doing a 2 x 1.5 mile tempo run at like...6:50 pace. Which right now doesn't actually sound very hard, or all that fast. But at the time it was IMPOSSIBLE. Other July events included hiking a couple more 4000 footers on the 4th of July, MOVING (back in with my then boyfriend, now fiance! See August...hah) and some really hot weather.

Running started to intensify quite a bit! I really didn't race much at all this summer, but did wind up jumping in a random 5K the weekend of the 12th because I was supposed to be in WI for a wedding, but my flight got cancelled and I didn't get to go, so I decided to do a 5K instead. I don't know, logical? The 5K was held at 11 am in the middle of August, and I think that's pretty much all that needs to be said about that. It was 85, I literally ran my goal marathon pace for the 3rd mile, and the course was a quarter mile long. Fun times had by all..including Andrew, who volunteered as tribute to also run the race to make me feel better about my cancelled flight. What a guy! There was BBQ and Aeronaut beer afterwards though, so that was cool.

Another running related thing that happened in August was for the first time in my ENTIRE LIFE, I began running in the morning before work about once a week. I cannot even emphasize what a big deal this is for me: I have always dreamed of being a morning runner but for 10 years have never been able to make it happen. But you know what they say about habits...once I had been going for about 3 weeks, it became pretty normal and easy to just roll out of bed, sleepwalk through 5 miles, and save myself all sorts of time later in the day. It was a great accomplishment for the summer, and was definitely useful in upping my mileage as was my plan for this training cycle.

Slightly more important and exciting than morning running was the fact that Andrew and I got engaged on August 21! In the interest of full disclosure, we had planned that weekend for about a month and honestly I'm not sure how I kept myself under control in the first 3 weeks of August. We hiked Mount Jefferson in what turned out to be a foggy, windy, cold day, but loved every second and got engaged on our way down the mountain. We then spent the night at the super swanky Mount Washington hotel which was an absolute blast as it's not the sort of thing we would typically EVER do. So I've now added wedding planning to my list of outside of work activities! I don't hate it. ;)

September has been QUITE the month. Back in maybe July I sat down and made a spreadsheet of my planned training schedule for Baystate with anticipated daily runs, races, and mileage goal numbers. I patted myself on the back for these high, high numbers I was supposedly going to be running, and then I sat back and looked at it and thought "oh god, you didn't give yourself ANY days off. Well there's no way THAT'S going to happen". Well, imagine my pride, excitement, and surprise when I actually managed to stick EXACTLY to my plan for September - a plan that included taking a grand total of ONE day off (during which I hiked 12 miles in the White Mountains, so not exactly a rest day). I hit 70+ mile weeks for the last 2 weeks of the month, only the first and second time I've ever done that. And I'll tell's been a lot of work, and frequently I've contemplated how I feel like all I do is go to work and run, but I'll be damned if I don't feel some power from it. Back at the beginning of September I ran like a 61 mile week and I remember thinking "ugh my legs are SO tired" at the end of it. This week I ran 73 miles, and honestly, my legs don't feel all that bad. It's like they've just become numb to the workload and are just sort of like "meh. Well. OK. I guess this is what we do now".  I finished the month with nearly 300 miles, a huge PR for me. I think that really sums up this training cycle - I'm putting in the work and actually really enjoying it, even if it doesn't seem to be showing up in my race performances yet. I've also not been feeling injured at all despite the increased mileage, so I guess that shows I'm being smart as well!

Aside from the higher mileage load this month I've also been doing a pretty decent workout load which has included the most running at goal marathon pace I've ever done in the cycle. I also raced 3 times (twice really with the goal of truly racing, and once as a tempo) and am just this marathon away from completing the USATF-NE Grand Prix series, which I for some reason set out to complete this year. I suppose I'll briefly recap these races for the sake of this blog, and looking back on this someday and being like "so, why exactly did you race 3 weekends in a row again?"

Surftown Half (9/10) - The experience of this race was actually pretty fun, but definitely a classic rust buster in that I didn't run well at ALL. I suppose when you don't race from April to September, this is to be expected. The weather was medicore; a little sunny and quite humid, but relatively cool (in the 60s), nothing I'd really complain about in early September. I started off the first 2 or 3 miles running right around 7:00 pace, and feeling really good. The good feeling lasted about 20 minutes - we then headed into a mildly hilly section of the course and I immediately could tell that bad things were around the bend. I settled back in around 7:10, trying to use effort as my guide - I figured on tired legs (this was the aforementioned first 60 mile week) I wasn't going to PR anyway, but wanted to put in a good effort. This went OK until mile 7 or 8, at which point I started to feel really shitty. I'm convinced I straight up fell asleep during mile 8 because my watch buzzed a 7:42 and all of a sudden I was like shit! You can't be doing that! I was able to pick it up a bit and ended up running 3 or 4 miles at right around goal marathon pace which is fine I guess, not bad as a training stimulus, but I was just completely not in the mood. Thankfully there were two women near me, one in purple and one in gray, who I had been leapfrogging around with, and they were basically the only thing that kept me engaged in the race. I was able to lose them both, hilariously, on the one major hill on the course, a very short but VERY steep incline. I then picked it up back to like 7:08 for the last mile and wound up finishing in 1:35:3x - an acceptable time, but nothing to write home about. The half marathon is a tough distance for me - I think I often panic at how hard a certain pace feels early and can't convince myself that it's sustainable for a whole 13.1 miles, so I back off (probably too much) and then figure out I have something still in the tank the last couple of miles. I doubt it's a very effective pacing strategy and it's something I hope to work on when I actually aim to set a half marathon as my goal race sometime soon. The remainder of the day after the race, however, was EXCELLENT. We drank silly cocktails out of ceramic glasses which we got to keep, sat in giant beach chairs, and went to a brewery. It was fantastic.

Providence CVS Downtown 5K (9/17) - The following weekend, I raced a 5K which I planned to race all out. And I DID race it all out, but was hoping for a slightly better result. This was a Grand Prix race, so definitely good competition, and it's definitely a good course to go fast on, but the weather was atrocious! The humidity was 100% in the morning but at least it was overcast...of course then maybe 15 minutes before the race the clouds parted, the blazing sun came out, and we were hit with temperatures in the 70s with 95% humidity. Yikes. I also ran the first mile of this race in 6:05...OH DEAR. It is definitely a downhill mile but still...there's no need for that. The second mile I ran 6:38 and that was OK, 3rd mile the heat and humidity were really just getting to me and my calf was cramping up (probably because I wore racing flats for the first time in months and months). My official time was 20:32, still one of my better (second best, I think) road 5Ks I've ever run. Based on my own GPS and other people's Stravas, the course may be a touch long, so I definitely felt good about my fitness after this race. I'll get that damn sub 20 someday! I was also supposed to do a 10 mile cooldown after this (lol) - thankfully my ride wanted to get back to Boston, so I only did 5 and then doubled it up later in the day. You can file that under "things I never thought I'd do".

Lone Gull 10K (9/24) - Because this was the 3rd weekend I'd be racing, I decided in advance that I'd be tempoing this 10K because I had to do it as part of the Grand Prix. I was very, very happy with that decision when we were gifted with an even hotter, still sunny, and just as humid day! I did a long warmup (6 miles) and felt like I had sweated out everything in my body...and then I had to go run the race! Finished with an average of 7:15 pace which is a little fast for GMP, but I think I did a good job of reining it in and not letting myself really go all out. It was kind of nice to be able to be like...uggh so hot...hey guess what you can slow down! Perks of the race-as-workout situation, I guess. The course was really lovely though - beautiful ocean views and just some mild rollers, I'd love to come back and do it again and actually race it.

So that basically brings us up to date with what I've been doing running wise. I'm sure I'll have to come back here and ramble a bit before the marathon, because I've definitely got some mental games going on that I'm trying to get past and probably just need to spew out on a page to help with that, haha. No matter what, I'm really happy with this training cycle and the work I've been putting in...just really, really hoping it can pay off come October 22!