On Sunday, September 30th, a little before noon —I feel in love with marathons.
But let’s back up a bit. On Saturday evening, I took a quick plane ride up to Elmira (where the race was), and killed the 30 minutes in the air by writing down some notes to remember on race day…
After getting picked up at the airport by Laura and Brad, we tried to find dinner. Howeveeer, the small town of Corning pretty much triples in population on marathon weekend, so the three restaurants that take up the town had huge waits. We opted for a just-as-delicious trip to Wegmans, and then fell asleep at our hotel to the sounds of Spirit of the Marathon in the background. (But actually.)
I kept waking up in the middle of the night (WEIRD racing dreams) and then abruptly greeted my “friendly” alarm so I could have enough time to eat something, change, freak out a bit, and get down to the start.
The walk to the start was BEAUTIFUL, and I was soaking in the surroundings while simultaneously worrying we’d miss the start. (Rookie racer=not knowing that bag check-in takes 2 seconds.) We still made it to the line with a few minutes to spare, and since this was a small race, the atmosphere was super relaxed. There wasn’t even a gun…the announcer just casually said “alright, well…go!”
And so we did.
My race strategy was this: Go out slow. Very slow. After six of so miles of 840’s-9 minute pace, speed up…just a bit. By mile 10, bring it down to low 8’s. Then for the last 10K, kill it.
I pretty much was having an internal argument with myself the whole entire race — but especially the beginning. Jocelyn told me over and over and over not to go out too fast. (One of my huge issues, I suck at pacing sometimes.) She warned me I would feel like I was walking, but to just TRUST it was the right move. So I stuck behind the 3:45 pacing group for the first 10K. Half of me was on cloud-9 (cloud 4.5?) but I literally felt like I was jogging and wanted SO badly to speed up. My thought process went something like this:
“This is ridiculous. I want to speed up.”
“Jocelyn will kill you.”
“I feel too good. I can maintain sub 8-s the whole time NBD..”
“You’re an idiot. You have HOURS to go and your legs will get tired.”
“Jocelyn will kill you.”
“After the 10K you can speed up a LITTLE. Then at mile 10, fine…go. Haul ass.”
I kept this inner-dialogue up for pretty much the first 10 miles, which (luckily) happened to fly by. The scenery was beautiful, the crowd quaint and lovely, and the weather near perfect (high 50’s). I went through the 10K in 52:30ish (8:30 pace, still a little fast) and then dropped my pace down to 8:20’s until reaching mile 10. Then, I went.
(Keep your head up, Laur!)
The hardest part about your first marathon is you really have no idea how to run one. I quickly learned races that distance take experience — they take knowing how your body is really going to feel. Since I was injured, my training was thrown off and I only fit in a few long runs before a pretty serious taper. I had little to no idea how my legs were going to react to the distance at the pace I was going — would I get tired at mile 15? Mile 20? Never?! Should I speed up since I was feeling good, or still conserve? How the heck do I know how fast to go without “hitting the wall”?! Or do I just push through it?! I was pretty much a mental case throughout the entire race, wondering when my legs would start to “feel it” and when this would get ridiculously hard. I still had no idea if I was going too fast or too slow. I needed to shut myself up.
I went through the half in 1:50. Exactly where I wanted to be. Now I just had to pick it up a bit and maintain. It was at that point that I realized I could BQ (Boston Qualify).
I was ecstatic.
Aside from my back-and-forth case of the crazies, I was also overjoyed. My body felt amazing and I was thinking about how incredibly lucky I was to be running and feeling as strong as I did. I looked at my surroundings and saw hillside after hillside of amber leaves and misty ponds — I was in my element. (I also had gatorade all over my shirt and gu stuck on my hands, meaning I was a literal mess, and therefore doubly in my element.)
And then at mile 14, I started to cry. Yep. Marathons are super emotional, and most people I talk to say they shed a tear or two. I started thinking about everything else in my life: my life in Brooklyn, my job, and an incredibly tough relationship I ended only a few days before. I thought about my friends who inspired me to run this, and were there for me every step of the way. Then, I thought about my dad who was waiting at mile 20 to run with me.
For miles 10-20, I kept my pace a bit lower (wavering between 7:50-8:10), until I was introduced to mile 18. That’s when my legs finally started to say “oh hello, I’m actually very very tired. Let’s stop.” Rather than going into freak-out mode, I counted down the steps until I would hit mile 20, so I could find my dad and then magically everything would become easier. Right?
At mile 20 I didn’t see him. My mind was going crazy and my legs were exhausted. I knew this was the point I had to speed up — it’s why I went out conservatively! — except…I was just really, really tired. My premature expectation to BQ was fading fast, I was an emotional mess, and for the first time the whole race… I wanted to give up.
I finally found him around mile 21 when the goin’ was reaaaal tough, and I shut off my music and basically spurted out “THANK GOD YOU’RE HERE.” He immediately picked up the pace to where I should have been (7:50) and I told him to just talk to me. He started asking me questions (what’s this, a talk test?) and since I could barely respond, I put my music back on while he ran beside me for another mile. (Actually, he ran pretty much in front of me…at this point I was having trouble breathing and was cramping all over and was very, very, very cranky.)
At around mile 23 I was all on my own again. I told myself it was a simple 5K to the finish and I just needed to compose myself. I looked down at my watch and saw that I probably wouldn’t hit 3:35 (BQ time) and… I was relieved. The LAST thing I wanted was to feel disappointment crossing the finish line, and I knew I was still running the strongest I could. So I stopped caring about time or pace. I just dug deep and tried to toughen up as much as possible.
This is where the race truly starts.
Those last three miles were a blur. I barely remember the scenery, my thoughts…anything. I do remember feeling like I wanted to throw up and curl myself up into a little ball on the side of the street. Instead, well, I kept running. I shut off my watch. Focused on form. Breath. I just wanted to finish…and finish strong.
I crossed the finish line and all I wanted to do was sit. Lie down. Throw off my shoes. Pump nuun into my veins. Instead, I kept walking and stumbling around, chugging water, catching my breath, and composing myself. I found my dad and basically hung on to him so I could stand straight. I was exhausted, I was in so much pain. I was so, so, so incredibly happy.
(+1 to the Wineglass Marathon for giving out bottles of champagne…)
Looking back at it, I think I ran a near perfect race. My first half was in 1:50 and the second 1:48. I negative split like I wanted to, and I didn’t go out at a stupid, crazy pace. I also had a freaking BLAST (despite my crazy inner-dialogue) and was smiling for most of those 26.2 miles. I didn’t stop once (a silly goal, but a goal nonetheless) and I broke 3:40 — the goal I set back in the spring when I registered for the race.
But this “near perfect race” would absolutely NOT have happened without all the amazing on and offline support I had. From my nuun family to my greatist family, to my family-family and closest friends…..getting to that starting line was because of all of you. And a special thank you to my dad, who pushed me through those hardest miles and was the reason I was able to break 3:40. And the outpouring of excitement and congratulations after I finished? Overwhelming. Words can’t express how much it all means to me. So thank you.
I still have a lot to learn. Back in January, my longest run up to date was a mere eight miles, so I still consider myself a total newb. But now that I’ve caught the marathon bug, I have time to really learn how to train best for my body — to figure out what works and what doesn’t. And with that, let me announce I just registered up for the Eugene Marathon in the spring (thanks to some very-convincing nuuners) which I’ve been told is a magical, magical course! I’m excited to get serious about training, become more familiar with those long runs, get a better feel for pace, and be confident when I get to the starting line.
Boston, I am coming for you.