Well that was an experience. While you were busy betting high on me doing exceptionally well at Richmond, I should have also had you bet on the most bizarre and horrible weather I have run in causing everyone’s days to go a little differently than planned. When we went to bed the night before we were all under the impression that we were going to wake up to 40s, which would increase to mid 60s, while thunderstorms threatened to crash our marathon party. Instead we woke to 70s, overcast, humidity over 80%, and high winds (20-30 mph at points). Walking to the start it was apparent it would be warm. We still thought that we were going to end up with steady rains at some point during the day and despite the heat we all lined up with the same goals we had worked hard for.
I joined the 3:10 pace group and noted that I was one of very few females up front. I felt a little out of place but was still confident this was where I was supposed to be. I had no doubt all my hard training was about to pay off. As is par for the course the first few miles went by quickly. Unlike normal there was no throw away gloves or jackets. It was warm and it was humid.
I had planned on an electrolyte pill starting at 30 minutes and every hour after. I altered the plan quickly and took a pill at the first chance which was mile 2 at the first water stop. By mile 3 I was already looking for the next water stop which would be mile 4. It was warm and I was already concerned about hydration. Water stops were every 2 miles until mile 20 when there was water every mile.
Our pacer eased into pace and it seemed we were doing relatively well. The pace didn’t feel bad, but it didn’t feel great. I chalked it up to the fact that it always takes me a few miles to get into the groove. We had a few fast miles, but there were a few slight declines so I assumed we would get back to even soon.
By mile 6 I was already taking water for drinking and cooling off. It was still muggy and overcast and the roads were slippery. At a few points I was concerned that my shoes were not cut out for the slippery surface but I managed to avoid any slipping.
After mile 6 there is a pretty sharp downhill. The pace group took advantage of the net decline and had a really fast mile. I held back from the group, I didn’t want to run that aggressively that early in the race. I missed the mile 7 marker but the guy next to me said we had run the last mile in 6:40. Not good. The bottom of the hill turned you into the first party spot and the pace group did not ease back into the pace instead holding the surge through the crowds. I decided not to go with them. It was too early to be surging. But I was ticked because now I was pretty much on my own with occasional guys to keep me company. The course starts to wind around by the river before mile 8. I did my best to hold my pace and told myself I would slowly work my way back up to the group over the next few miles.
Mile 8 came and I realized I had slowed a bit from 7:15 pace. My average pace was still 7:12 and I figured I would just try to hold around 7:15s and turned it up a notch. No response. The next mile had some inclines and was slow. I realized I was going to have to tap into my gels earlier than planned. I assumed my carb loading hadn’t been effective which was explaining the slow down, that and being on my own rather than with a group. Already counting the time to mile 10 wasn’t exactly how I pictured this day to go. I consoled myself that a few slow miles through 10 were okay, I would get a gel at the next water stop and it would get me back on pace and there was downhill at the finish I could take advantage of. My average pace was still under 7:20 and I was hoping I could get to the half by 1:36. The gel at 10 had some effect by 12, and then we were heading back uphill again and despite passing people miles 11-13 were closer to 8 than 7. I was getting a little worried at this point but chalked it up to the hills and did my best to keep running and hoping the pace would come back down. Oh and at this point the sun had come out to heat things right up.
I don’t know at what point I started to give up hopes on the 3:10, I am actually surprised in retrospect that I thought I could get back to pace for so long. I think at the half I realized it was unlikely, coming in over 1:37. But I was still determined and thought if I could run a 1:35-1:37 on the back half I could still get a 10 minute PR. Unfortunately the miles just kept getting slower. I didn’t know what was wrong with me. Nothing hurt (other than a few blisters that had popped and a few that were forming) but I just couldn’t get aggressive. Every time I felt like I stepped it up, it just resulted in the same pace or an even slower mile. I kept thinking that I did not remember the course having so many inclines. The whole run was starting to turn into a bit of a blur, I can’t remember half the details I normally would remember for a race.
Despite the pace slowing I still tried to enjoy myself. I smiled at spectators and thanked volunteers. I was holding out on a sub 3:20 and thought I could salvage the day once I got some more calories in me. Mile 14 I took a gel and kept waiting for the mile 16 junk stop where I could get cola. Taking it two miles at a time I stopped paying attention to the watch splits and just tried to run well. I was still passing people and wasn’t getting passed by too many. The bridge at mile 15 had a pleasant surprise in that it was a tailwind when I was expecting it to be a headwind…then the wind stopped. Seriously, how frustrating! This crazy wind all day and when it is actually at my back it dies. I was on a mission to get to 16 and that cola though so I pushed on. I knew my parents were going to be at 18 with more cola and I knew 22 or 23 was another junk food stop. With a gel at 20 I figured I could get in calories every two miles and perhaps put the pep back in my step.
I must have been one of the first to partake in the cola at 16 because the volunteers looked shocked when I asked for it. I probably sounded like a person who had been stuck in the desert for weeks without water with how desperate I was for that cola. I followed it with water and another dousing. Around mile 17 they had wet cloths and they were heavenly. I was so hot, sweaty and gross it was so nice to wipe some of that away with a cool cloth.
Pretty much in survival mode I knew my projected time was getting slower with every mile. I was so tempted to walk but soldiered on. I was passing lots of people walking up hills and kept telling myself to get to the cola at 18 and 22 and that from there it was downhill and I could salvage some of the dismal paces I was turning out. The cola from my parents at 18 was a much welcome distraction. I plastered a smile on my face and thanked them as best as I could. They informed me PR wasn’t far ahead which made me sad. He was going for sub 3, and I was already so far from my goal of 3:10 I knew he must be having a worse day than me. Up until this point I had just chalked this run up to my mental strength not being strong enough, that I just wasn’t holding up well on the hills, etc. It wasn’t until I realized someone else in our group was struggling that maybe it was the conditions on the course that was causing my suffering.
Drank the coke and laughed at the guy ahead of me as we passed a large group of college guys out drinking on a porch and he yelled at them all “I hate you guys” and they replied that “they hated their selves.” At least in our suffering we were able to revel in some laughter. I couldn’t believe I still had 7 miles to go and at one point confused the miles and thought I had only 10k before realizing my math error.
By mile 20 the wind had really kicked up. I was hot and struggling but just keeping focused on the next place I would get water or calories. Around 21 or 22 I ended up by a runner who had a crew of people on bikes helping him, not sure that is actually allowed, maybe it was a special charity or something. But I must have looked like I was suffering because one of the cyclists took an interest in me and assuring I was hydrated. Insisting I needed to dump water over my head because I was beat red and needed to get my core temp down. I welcomed the distraction listened to him chat about his running past and cycling endeavors as I slowly caught up to PR.
PR was looking beat. Turns out he had lost all of his dinner on the course and was completely depleted. We stayed together for awhile. I heard a spectator yell that I was the 19th female which surprised me. Going into the race I had assumed if I ran a 3:10 I would place around 20th female and about 5-6th in my age group. So it did make me feel slightly better that I was still meeting my place goals even if I was so far off my goal pace at this point. Then within the next mile I was passed by 4 or 5 girls.
I was rejoined by the cyclist as PR fell back to cramps. I could feel my calf threatening which I knew meant my electrolytes were low. I took another electrolyte pill and kept my thoughts on the cola I knew was waiting for me. The wind was in our faces for most of the last miles. And despite remembering the last 4 miles being downhill we were still going up inclines. Not to mention that nothing looked familiar to me. Turns out they have changed the course since I last ran it. So much for that strong downhill kick I was banking on. I gave up on sticking with the girls who had passed me at this point and for the first time allowed myself to get angry. I was pissed I had worked so hard for what was now looking like would be a day slower than my last marathon. “What was all that work for?” “All that effort only to result in a decent run.” I was expecting this huge breakthrough and here I was not even running my long run pace at this point. I was struggling to get from aid station to aid station… And then I sucked it up put that smile back on my face and continued pushing to the finish.
I made it my goal at this point to start picking off those girls who had passed me. If I couldn’t PR at least I would try to place as well as possible. My parents were at mile 25 cheering and my dad called out that I should at least try to PR. So with a smile/grimace I dug deep and turned it on as well as I could, and then headed into yet another ridiculous headwind. I just pushed as hard as I could, passing another girl rather than drafting her, I pushed to the next runner and another as I made my way to the finish. With 0.2 to go and finally a downhill I hammered as hard as I could passing one more female runner and eeking out a 4 second PR.
At the finish I had settled within myself that this was not my day and that to expect better in these conditions was putting too much pressure on myself. I had trained hard and instead of a breakthrough day I would have to be happy for a PR on a day when most were happy to finish. I had a strong placement in the field, 21st woman (that girl I passed going to the finish line nabbed me by a few seconds with chip time!), 4th in age group, and 153rd overall, which is what I was expecting to do if I ran 3:10.
I called my husband and let him know the results. It was an awful day to run the marathon and I had done the best I could. Because of the slower pace my body will recover quickly and I can enjoy a mental and physical break in the next couple of weeks. My right foot is injured. Coming into the race it had been sore in the mornings and during runs, but the pain was bearable, walking around in flip flops and barefoot after the race it is apparent that it is not okay so I will take some time off to heal that but thankfully my quads were not damaged at all and other than tight hip flexors and tight calves I feel exceptionally good.
I promised myself that no matter the result of this race I would not dwell on it. I set an aggressive goal for a good day, it is apparent Saturday was not the day for aggressive goals. I am happy to have finished my 14th marathon faster than I have ever run before, even if it was only 4 seconds. I realized during the race that I am not quite as attached to the fast marathon pursuit as I thought. It is so much work to leave up to one day’s conditions. I have some soul searching to do but I think I will be backing off the goals a bit the next few years on the marathon front. Get faster a little slower, try to enjoy the training more and focus a bit more on the ultra scene. I really do love the 50ks and even on a bad day on the trails I have so much fun. It’s such a different task. Yesterday was miserable. I did my best to enjoy myself despite the effort it took and I was successful, but it was work. (Although I do admit there is that small voice in my head screaming for a redo to prove all this work has resulted in much greater fitness)
I am happy with my effort on the day and although disappointed I know that I can only get better for the time being. I am so grateful for all of those that stood behind me and dreamed high with me. Given that I placed almost exactly how I thought I would if I had run a 3:10 I am confident on a better day I would have been a lot closer to the goal, and that is a comfort to me. And I know I could not have gotten this far without the support of my friends and family. Thank you!
Congrats to all of my friends who ran with me on this miserable day. You all continue to amaze me. We should all be so very proud of how well we held up on such a crappy day! Three top five age group finishes in our group of ladies! We all finished under 4 hours! It is important not to lose sight of the fact that what we are doing is not the norm, even by runners’ standards. It is easy to lose sight of it when we come up short, but I am so grateful for my abilities.
I am sure I will be reflecting on this experience a bit in the next few weeks. This is the raw report written on the long drive home yesterday while the whole thing was fresh in my mind.
Quadruple thanks to my parents who are the best athlete Sherpa’s around. I don’t know too many runners whose parents will drive their butts 8+ hours back and forth and walk all over a city to cheer and pass out cola to their crazy running daughter. I hope you guys had fun. Know that I am forever grateful for all of your support through all of the years I have been running.
Splits: (Garmin ended on 26.29. Mile markers seemed extremely accurate. From 26 to the finish my Garmin read 0.23 and under 6 pace, thank goodness for that downhill and the crowds. I definitely owe the small PR to the crowds rush and the huge finishing decline from 25.5 to the end.)
Mile 7-8-14:18 (6:40ish and 7:30ish) (Huge downhill just after 6 and huge crowds at the bottom of the hill, lost the pace group here, intentionally, but never caught back up to them)