The marathon is where I put all my training effort. It’s what I really want. These posts are all about each marathon I’ve done, starting with The Beginning. So far I have completed 20 marathons and race a little more often than most, but it’s all part of my long-term running goals.
Coaches have helped many runners progress and excel at the sport, and a lot of runners really like having one. This post is NOT meant to discourage anyone from exploring that option. It is about why I will never have one again.
Since I never did track or cross-country, I had never had a running coach before. After my first couple of marathons I started reading a lot on my own and for the next several years built my own plan. One of the first things I realized after doing some research is that I had had some success doing the “wrong” things. Also, it didn’t take long to find conflicting information on how to train and all the different methods and ideas out there. So I took what made sense to me and ran with it (pun intended). As I kept progressing, a coach was suggested to me more and more. I started to accept that I would get a coach – one day…after I break 3 hours.
Some of you know, breaking 3 hours in the marathon took me a little while. But when I finally did, it was an 11-minute personal best and my 18th marathon. I broke a lot of the “running rules” in the training process. Plus, it was my 4th marathon of the year along with racing a bunch of shorter distances. I went out “too fast” and ran a huge positive split. However, I had already convinced myself that I would start looking for a run coach after getting that goal. I dragged my feet a little and in the next few months I PR-ed in the 5k, 10k, and 15k while training for my next marathon. Still, I was set on trying this coach thing. I found one and decided to start working with him a month before that next marathon. Since my training cycle was almost done I convinced him to let me do my thing until after the race. My goal was to PR again. I came close, but I was about 90 seconds slower than my marathon five months prior. It was on a harder course and at 4200 feet (versus sea-level), so I still felt good about it and like I was headed in the right direction.
Being coached was a nightmare. I didn’t feel good about it at all. I dropped out of the next marathon and fired him. I told myself I wasn’t ready for a coach, but in the future, I would be. I still held on to the idea that I would need a coach. And subconsciously, I still held on to a lot of other running rules that made their way into my head. The rest of the racing year went poorly. I dropped out of an OTQ (Olympic Trials Qualifier) attempt at Chicago and then tried another coach. I gave a poor performance at a last ditch effort for the trials at a marathon in January. My mindset was all screwed up, and I knew that – the passion was gone. I didn’t know why or how to shake it off. I kept working with the coach, until I got too frustrated for it. The coaching side of the relationship was gone, but he was able to bring up what was bothering me mentally. Fast forward until the Logan marathon that I recently dropped out of, and it finally clicked. I was too concerned with what others thought of me in the running world. I was seeking out validation from doing all the “right” things, training and racing the way I’m supposed to – all while also knowing that a lot of what’s out there isn’t true. It created quite the conflict inside.
So now, I’m working on being more confident in what I’m doing. I enjoy making my own plans and trying new ideas. I glean knowledge from all kinds of sources and test out what I want. I throw out what doesn’t work and use what does until it doesn’t and start with something else. It’s not that I don’t know rules – it’s that I reject them. How I train and how often I race is up to me and my goals. Nacho Libre said it best:
This past weekend I started a “real, live” marathon. All physical systems were on point, and even the weather cooperated. Once I got going, I felt heavy and lethargic. I ran a few more miles to see if I would shake it off. A photographer on course told me to smile, so I reluctantly looked at the camera and gave her one. Then she yelled, “Remember this is fun!” and that was all I needed to hear. (Had anyone been beside me, the click in my head might have been audible). This isn’t fun. It hasn’t been fun for a long time. It just wasn’t until now, that I began to understand why. So at the next aid station I walked off the course.
Pretty desperate for a road race, a little over a month ago I searched the USATF-Utah website for anything that might still be on the schedule. I was pleasantly surprised to find two half-marathons that were happening a week apart. Both were about an hour away so I looked at the websites, results, and course profiles and they both looked pretty similar – big drops. Well, those kinds of courses aren’t my favorite, but beggars can’t be choosers. Why not do both and make it interesting?!
The first one was the Hobblecreek Half Marathon in Mapleton Utah. I had never been to the area, but was willing to make the drive. The description said the race originally began as a prep in training for the St. George Marathon in the fall (at the time I was planning on racing St. George, but it was unfortunately cancelled a few days ago). Hobblecreek boasted a 1250 foot drop from start to finish and the elevation profile looked pretty smooth. Of course, one doesn’t really know until they run it.
I didn’t taper too much for this race, cutting my mileage plan by 40% the week of. I had had an easy week after the 50k so I felt a little awkard in how to best approach race day. The morning of I felt excited and also nervous. It had been a minute and I knew this race was very competitive. My legs felt mediocre – fine, but not fresh. I didn’t get quite the warm up I wanted to have in, but I was as ready as I was going to be for the day. Go time!
I went out pretty hot. I wanted to see how long I could push the pace, especially with the big drop. It turned out to be 6 miles – ha! After that, the course started adding a few rolling hills and flattened out a little (or at least felt like it flattened out). My pace slowed by 20 seconds per mile for the next few and then I blew up. I pushed with what I had to the finish and felt confident it was all I had for the day, but was surprised that I couldn’t hold on for longer. In hindsight, there were two sessions in the week that I would have altered and probably would have given me fresher legs. When the course profile changed, I still would have slowed, but probably would have been able to level my pace and shave a few minutes off. Hindsight is 20/20. Below is the course chart courtesy of Strava.
Final Stats (race #1)
36th of 345 overall
7th of 196 female
3rd of 24 in age group
Alright, on to the next one! Having just put forth a hard effort, it was time to really really rest up. Coach Judd wanted me to try barely running at all in the week between and keep activities mild. I had a 5-mile recovery run Monday and that was it until race day. I walked, I yoga-ed, I swam, I slept, I ate, I did my body-weight workout cut in half a few times….it felt weird. I didn’t start to get agitated until Thursday. I think it helped knowing that I was trying something new and different than what I’d normally do. I wanted to see what would happen and how I’d feel.
Again, I hadn’t done this course before, but the profile looked smooth and 1100 foot drop. The results said that historically this race wasn’t competitive, but with covid who knows. At the start it was easy to tell that this race was much smaller than Hobblecreek and much more laid back. We started with the “waterslide” method and I was the only one willing to admit I was shooting for 1:20 so I was up first. It was weird going out by myself.
I was instructed to go out at an easier pace with the idea of maintaining and speeding up. I wanted to go by effort and mostly ignore the watch. Around mile 3, another local runner caught me and we ran together through the finish. The first 7 miles flew by, even though it felt like my quads were…not firing? Isolated only to my quads. I hadn’t felt that before. Two other guys passed us, but that was it as far as the racers go. We did have a fair amount of weaving to do with other people walking, running, and cycling. There were a few more uphills than the last half and the downhill was a little gentler. The last 4 mile I faded and couldn’t recover. The rest of my legs felt good, but my quads never got to work – still troubleshooting that. The race was a bit short, coming in at 13 even.
Time – 1:23:39
4th of 96 overall
1st of 56 female
Having done things very differently the weeks before each race, I gained some new insights for what works best for me. We’ll see how the rest of the year unfolds with what covid will allow. I’m still hopeful about getting a marathon in.
“Nope. Absolutely not,” I told my mentoach as he was starting to suggest I find an ultra race to do. I had recently finished my second 30-miler in training and since the marathons and other road races I had on the schedule had been cancelled, he thought it presented a unique opportunity. “Now wait a minute and hear me out,” he said as he started listing and explaining some of the reasoning behind this idea. He had some good points, enough to make me stop and think about it for a second. “Nah,” I said. “The ultra world is something else entirely.” He ignored that comment and continued listing the ultra races nearby he had googled. I was rolling my eyes but then I heard it – “Speedgoat.”
Are you kidding me?? I thought to myself. I wasn’t even part of the ultra world, but just by being a local I knew the reputation it had. It was designed to be one of the hardest courses in North America. Taking place in the mountains, the LOWEST elevation was 7,500 feet above sea level, and included 11,500 feet of GAIN throughout the course. Even the ultra runners I knew shied away from this race. So of course, I at least had to look up the website…
After listening to my mentoach’s reasoning, and realizing that my road races were already cancelled anyway, one more tiny detail broke me down to register. In describing the course on the website, Karl Meltzer (famous ultra runner and this race director) said “If you think this should be your first ultra you’re probably wrong.” And with that, I was in. I had about 10 weeks until race day.
If you’re a runner you eventually notice different “cultures” within the running world. There are Track Princes/Princessess, Road Kings/Queens, and Ultra Kooks. Cross-country may be fun, but it’s more of the ugly step child of running – nobody focuses solely on cross-country. Many runners will transition through labels throughout their running career, but there’s usually a focus on one for a period of time. Each of us have our quirks, and if you haven’t already been offended they are quite funny. I am most definitely a Road Queen, and as a Road Queen I was completely out of my comfort zone in doing this race.
Most of my training didn’t change too much, with just some added trail and a little extra climbing. Part of the point was to go in somewhat blind. I knew the details on paper, but I needed this to be something really really hard and unknown. This was technically my first trail race, too but I had been used to doing one trail run (6-10 miles) a week so I wasn’t worried about the terrain…at the time.
Race morning Kyle drove me to the start and sat with me in the car until it was time for me to check in. It became real, and I was really going to do this. I was so terrified I broke down. Kyle asked, “Do you want to go home?” I said “No.” He asked, “Do you want a road race?” And I sobbed, “Yeeesss” and then we both laughed. I got my butt out of the car and headed to the start corral. It was wave starts, twenty people at a time. I already looked a little out of place (an Ultra Kook quirk is their garb). There was only one other woman in my wave start and as we made eye contact and nervously smiled at each other I wondered if we would end up racing against each other (that was the Road Queen coming out).
We were off and running and around mile 2 I got a headache from the elevation level. It wasn’t bad, and I knew it wasn’t going to get much worse, but that also meant I had lost that gamble. I notice a difference in training when I go from 4500 to 6500, but I was wondering if I would feel it as much with this kind of slower-paced effort. I had previously noted that being up there, casually walking I didn’t feel it. We kept climbing and that woman and I started a very long leap frog dance. I wasn’t sure if I was up for the added challenge because by mile 6 I was pretty over the event. The climbing was one thing, the terrain was another. I did not expect to be hiking up boulders. I thought I would be able to run at least some of the course and even make up time on the downhill, but the grades were steeper than I imagined. It’s runnable with practice, but tearing and/or breaking a body part was not on the agenda. Once I understood that I wasn’t going to be able to run hardly at all, I let the misery sink in. I did not want to be doing this. Am I mad at Judd? Should I be? It was his idea. No, I’m the one that gave it a green light. I’m the one that had the final say. We got to the top of the first climb at 9 miles and I contemplated dropping out. Would it be worse for me mentally to quit or continue doing something I don’t like? I filled my camelback with ice and moved on. A bit of downhill now, with a view and lots of wildflowers. I can do this. I started descending and the headache began to disappear. Every time I went up it came back, and every time I went down it went away. I was getting close to halfway and there was about a 2-mile stretch that I could run. My spirits were lifted. The next aid station had popsicles and though I had packed my own nutrition and intended to only get water refills, I took up the offer. There wasn’t as much coverage from the sun that I thought there would be and it was starting to feel pretty hot. I’m pretty good at running while eating so I ran with the popsicle. If I choked or tripped and stabbed myself I figured death by popsicle was okay at this point. Soon it was time to go up, up, UP again. With every bend I comforted myself with “almost to the top” and then I would make the turn and see that was never the case – ever. Around mile 23 we crested and went through a short tunnel that had a concrete sidewalk floor. Home! I laughed to myself. Out the other side was the next aid station. I still had water so I decided not to stop. One of the volunteers tried to convince me I needed calories as she held up a slice of Domino’s supreme pizza. I wanted to barf at the thought. Hard. Pass. That is an Ultra Kook quirk that I cannot understand – the aid station fuel is absurd. I thanked her and said I had my own and she said, “Are you sure? You’re going down and then you’re going back up again.” I said “Yeah, I’m fine” and moved on, but I thought, down and up again? She’s lying. I’m at mile 23. She has to be lying. She wasn’t lying.
There were parts where I could only focus one flag at a time (course marker flag) because there was no path/trail – just flags. Some portions I had to grab onto shrubs otherwise I’d fall backwards (and yes, I did consider it). Poles seemed to be helping other people but I didn’t want to invest for this feat. A few steps at a time and I got to the final aid station. My camelback was dry so ice water and a few bites of watermelon. I had to keep moving. As slow as I was going, the idea of chilling out at an aid station was so foreign to me (another roadie thing). Back down the boulders and then onto some trail. There were a few more ups, but they were relatively short compared to what we already had done. I was getting awfully close to 31 miles and I knew we weren’t that close to the finish. Road Queen started to get grumpy. Roadies like their race distances to be exact. I pushed forward remembering that the woman I had been leapfrogging might be close behind. I just focused on lengthening the gap. At least my competitive spirit didn’t die. Mile 32…33…where’s the finish?!?! There, one more S curve and there it is – 34.42. I jogged it in and Karl handed me the coveted mug. I confessed to him that he was right – this should not be one’s first 50k.
I was really happy and proud that I finished. It was the hardest physical event I’ve done thus far. Afterwards, my feelings are “I regret nothing.” I thought if I could go back, maybe I would just do more of my training higher to avoid the headache and ease my breathing, but since I finished, can I really say that?
It is worth noting, that I did not get lost. Anyone who runs with me on short trail runs knows that that means the course was marked really well. I was impressed. The volunteers were amazing and the event as a whole ran smoother than a lot of road races I’ve done. In summary, it was really hard, I’m glad I did it, and I actually am glad it was my first ultra.
CHICAGO “Gate.” What is she saying? I don’t know. What? I could hear the crowd of people forming around me, but I hadn’t opened my eyes. “Gate.” I muttered again. “Gate!” I started to open my eyes and see people staring back at me. They were all sideways. “I need to get to my gate.” Ah, a complete sentence. I felt terrible but I was talking. A paramedic told me I wasn’t flying anywhere. They were taking me to the hospital. “No.” They tried to tell me I couldn’t fly. “I will be fine.” I sat up, I drank some water, and I began insisting harder. I knew my name, I knew where I was going, and I could feel control coming back. “What color is my face?” I asked. My color was better they said. “I will be fine,” I insisted again. The paramedic begrudgingly brought out the refusal paperwork, and I was wheeled to my gate.
CARLSBAD This was the most excited I had been for a race for a really long time. Very few people knew I was racing this marathon. It was one last shot at qualifying for the trials. If I got it, I would go right? I wasn’t one hundred percent sure, but after dropping out of Chicago, I wanted a good marathon. My focus was on time over anything else.
CHICAGO I was more anxious to go to Chicago and get the deed done than actually racing it. I was angry at all the naysayers up until this point, and I was ready to prove them all wrong. My goal time was an OTQ, but I didn’t really want to go. I just wanted to get that “reasonable and realstic” accomplishment out of the way so I could really get to work.
CARLSBAD 3:15 a.m. my alarm went off. I wanted to be awake for three hours before the start. I began my pre-planned morning routine and headed to the starting area to finish my warm up. I was calm. I felt good. I was ready. I didn’t feel pressure. I didn’t feel doubt. I visualized the course again before stripping down to my race kit.
CHICAGO The ADP athletes were herded like cattle to the starting coral. We were all nervous, I didn’t notice a single calm athlete. Was I ready? What happened at the airport? I hadn’t had issues like that in months. I kept trying to reassure myself that it’s fine and I fully recovered to run a fast race. “Under Pressure” by Queen started playing. I laughed to myself. Perfect.
CARLSBAD It was a small race, so I knew I would probably end up in the top ten, but as the gun went off I was leading lady. It bothered me, but I tried to put it out of my head and focus on the effort. I wasn’t going to pay attention to my watch either. The first six miles flew by and I felt light and fresh – like I was moving smoothly, but not at a hard effort. Shortly after hitting mile six, my stomach started to cramp like I had to crap, which I thought was odd because I thought I emptied out pretty good before the race.
CHICAGO The herd took off and I quickly settled into pace, but it was labored. I reminded myself it was normal for the first few miles of any marathon, let alone a big one like Chicago. I started falling behind pretty quickly and reached the 10k time clock at 39:17. Uh-oh. I re-grouped my thoughts and told myself I can still PR, even if my time goal was out of reach. I reached the 15k and continued to slow down quickly. Forward motion was really hard. My heart felt really heavy. Am I going to be able to finish? Of course you are, keep moving – it’s Chicago. Halfway point and I felt even worse. I needed to stop. This wasn’t going to end well. I moved over towards the side of the road the medic tent was on, but jerked away. I couldn’t. Not yet. Give it a few more miles.
CARLSBAD Was this it? Was this going to be the race that I crapped myself? At mile six, really? Guess so…I went through it all in my head and decided that even though it was early and I’d have to deal with sand paper between my cheeks for 20 more miles, I’d still rather keep going. I tried to relax. I couldn’t. How could I not just go? It was really hard to relax my anus while running. I developed a new level of respect for those I’ve known that were able to do so, because I didn’t see how I was going to do it. The cramps worsened, so I decided stopping to use the porta-potty would be faster than trying to run with the cramps. I stopped just after mile nine. I was still in the lead, but not by much.
CHICAGO I gave it a few more miles, but I felt like I was trying to run with the flu – no energy, and my heart was still so loud and heavy. I’m not going to finish am I? No matter how much more I slow down, if I push much farther I’m going to end up collapsing and I don’t need any more of that drama this weekend. At the next medic station (30k) I stepped off the course and said I needed to quit. I couldn’t believe I was dropping out of Chicago.
CARLSBAD Since relieving myself, the cramps lessened and over the next few miles they went away. Working through that and it not completely derailing my head was a mental boost. Shortly after that I got a side stitch and did the exact same thing. I gave myself a pat on the back. At mile thirteen, I grabbed a cup from a volunteer at the aid station and took a swig of WHAT WAS THAT?!?!? Was that rubbing alcohol? That is exactly what that tasted like. It couldn’t have been that though…I grabbed another cup from another volunteer to try and wash it out of my mouth, but I had already swallowed a gulp. I told myself it was fine and it couldn’t possibly have been alcohol.
CHICAGO After being cleared by the first set of medics, I loaded on the shuttled bus back to the starting line. I was so angry. I had to go through medics again at the start and that took a little longer, but Kyle was able to meet me with my stuff and take me back to the hotel. Physically, I knew nothing was seriously wrong and that all I really needed was rest. Mentally, I was not in a good place.
CARLSBAD My stomach tightened a little, and I still had no idea what pace I was at, but still held on to the lead. I expected to be overtaken any minute, but she never came. It was hard to drink much after that fluid stop at mile thirteen, but I tried a little. At mile eighteen I was able to finish most of my first gel, but was really slowing down. Unaware of my actual pace, I kept pushing and hit the final turnaround. Once I got to mile twenty, I knew I was going to finish but I felt my goal time was long gone. Pain in my ankles and calves got really bad. I avoided any more aid stations for my stomach from that point on. Surprisingly I was still in the lead, but I didn’t feel like I really cared. I just wanted the pain to end. I also wanted this dumb motorcycle “leading” me to move over and let me breath real air and not exhaust. For the next four miles he stayed right in front of me. Finally he moved beside me and I yelled at him for the exhaust. He stayed behind me for the next two miles, but other people doing the half marathon still had to deal with him. I didn’t understand why they couldn’t hire cyclists instead. Anyway, I kept slowing and slowing and just after the 26th mile, 2nd and 3rd female, who were running together, passed me. I saw them go and I couldn’t respond. I just let them go. I didn’t care I just wanted to the pain to end (of course, later I did care that I didn’t even try to surge or tag along). I made the final turn and saw 3:08 on the clock. I hadn’t realized I was going that slow. I crossed the finish line and sat down right away against the fence. I need to be off my feet. Someone handed me a bottle of an electrolyte drink that I noticed was different than what was on course and I started to sip that. I told the medics I was fine and just needed to sit for a minute. Before I even finished the drink, I began to feel much better.
What happened in Chicago was physical, and an episode that I’ve had many times before, but I thought I had it under control. I hadn’t had any issues for several months leading up to Chicago and I haven’t had any since. Mind and body are connected in more ways than we understand. I think I cracked under the pressure and my body responded in negative way. At least going into Carlsbad, I felt better mentally. I was way off my goal time, but there were some good things to come out of it. I am continuing to work on getting back to my focus for running.
This race was supposed to be the second part of a recovery experiment I had been working on for a few years, but since I had to drop out of Ogden, all that went out the window. The initial plan was to race Ogden at a hard effort, follow a planned recovery regimen and then two weeks later race Utah Valley at another hard effort and see if I could produce the same finish times. In other words, could I plateau my fitness to hold hard efforts that close together. The courses looked similar enough (and they are), and the marathons were both local for low expenses. I couldn’t do this in training because I don’t have the funds to set up race “simulations” and I needed verifiable results, so these particular races back to back were my best option.
I dropped out of Ogden at the halfway point because I had been vomiting and felt something was really wrong. I made the decision a little before the mile 11 marker, but needed to get somewhere where I could find a ride back. Long story short, I had irritated my stomach ulcer. It sounds worse than it is, but there are levels and having pushed too far in the past I knew I made the right decision to drop out. That being said, I was really disappointed and frustrated that my experiment was ruined. I didn’t know if the opportunity would come up again, and even if it did, I wanted to be done racing so often. I wasn’t sure if I should even bother doing Utah Valley anymore. Even if I healed enough physically to be able to run it, I knew racing it was almost assuredly out. It took me about 20 minutes to decide what I was going to do, because what if…
It was – racing was definitely out of the question. But I didn’t know that for sure until race morning. No matter what the odds are, I will always hope for the best possible outcome.
The two weeks in between Ogden and Utah Valley were a little rough as far as my running life went. I was frustrated, sad, and unmotivated (and it wasn’t just because I couldn’t have coffee). But I knew I had to get those runs and workouts in, give Utah Valley a go, and move on with Chicago training or else I was going to spiral into a funk. I was reminded of Scott Jurek’s book when he would say, “Sometimes you just do things!” This was one of those times.
My alarm went of at 2:45 a.m. because the buses to the start started leaving at 3:15 (GEEZ!). Everything was pretty typical of a race morning, and the organization of the event seemed pretty good. I decided this marathon was all going to be about effort and I wouldn’t pay attention to the splits. My stomach had been feeling fine, but given the distance I wasn’t 100% sure it would be okay. There were definitely improvements made in the last two weeks, but I didn’t want to backtrack or run myself into the ground.
At 6:00 a.m. we were off and as I said, I simply went by effort. Rolled with the downhill for the first seven miles, tried to relax for the uphills in the middle, and did my best to focus on forward motion for the last six. Because it was a small marathon, the hardest part was not racing. I happened to be third until mile 18, but I couldn’t push to keep it. My stomach was okay, but I still felt it.
You read and are told that the gut is the core to your energy source, but reading and knowing is different than feeling. These past two weeks I could really feel that. My legs felt ready, and I realize that’s why I still thought I could maybe race, but the endurance and energy required for your body to perform at it’s best wasn’t there.
When I was able to see the finish line, I felt so grateful that everything went relatively well and it was almost over. I was reminded of why I love the marathon so much. Whether you finish in two hours or six, it’s hard. It will always be hard. I was advised not to do this marathon. It wouldn’t accomplish anything or help me achieve my running goals, and would reflect poorly on my “resume.” My response to that doesn’t need to be said here, but you can imagine. I will drop out or remove myself from the starting line if I am seriously ill or injured, but I will not throw in the towel because of a poor performance probability. Respect the distance. There’s no cherry picking and no guaranteed goal getting. If you’re not willing to be humbled, then the marathon is not for you. This one gave me my focus and motivation back.
The Salt Lake City Marathon could not have been an OTQ attempt, even if I was physically ready. Not only does it have a net elevation loss of 680 feet (the max allowed is 450), but it’s sanctioned by the RRCA and not the USATF.
Last year I ran this course in 3:08 finishing 3rd, and I wanted to give it another try. This year I had a much better training cycle, and I wanted to race this course hard…maybe even go for the win.
After CIM, I took a month off from training because it was time, and because I needed to fix the IT Band/Quad issue. I didn’t stop running altogether, but I stopped training. It was a good break. I fixed my knee and came back feeling refreshed with sixteen weeks to train for the Salt Lake City Marathon.
During a marathon training cycle, I always have found myself reflective on some particular aspect of life. This time, it was unfortunately death.
Within a few weeks of resuming training, one of my friends lost their baby girl just two hours after giving birth. It was heartbreaking to see what was supposed to be a celebration of new life turn to death. Instead of a baby shower they were having a funeral.
I was hitting paces in training that I hadn’t been able to hit before, and I made new personal bests in the 5k, 10k, and 15k during the cycle. I was staying injury free, and grinding away the workouts. Everything was pointing towards a new personal best – one that I could be proud of.
My husband is a cyclist, a roadie, and of course there’s always a worry in the back of my head. I trust he is careful and tries his best to be safe, but a car against a bike is not a fair fight. And then it happened – Kyle was out on a ride when a truck turned left in front of him. He didn’t have time to stop and slammed his shoulder and head into the cap of the truck. He ended up with just a broken collarbone, but yeah I thought about all the possible outcomes.
I have enjoyed “coaching” myself and making my own training schedule. Trial and error has gotten me into A LOT of trouble, but has also taught me things about myself and how my body works that you can only get from experience. Nevertheless, I knew there’d be a day when I’d be ready to get a coach, or at least try to get one – finding someone who was willing to put up with me might be a challenge, but I reached out to one I was particularly interested in and asked if he maybe might possibly be potentially willing to coach me…in the future. Things were going so well with this training cycle, I didn’t want to switch things up just yet.
I like to brag on my immune system. When I do get sick, I can usually feel it coming on early enough to kick in 12 hours. But this was a whole different ball game. I woke up one morning feeling “off.” I was fine, but something was weird. When I was driving to work later that day, I started to feel really tired, and a little sore? even though I hadn’t done anything that day. Then in the middle of my first appointment, I found myself struggling to finish the hour. I didn’t know what was going on. I felt awful. I left work early and had a fever by the time I got home. I tried to sleep it off, but my spine felt like it was going to explode. It hurt to exist. I drove Kyle to work the next morning and told him I was going to urgent care later if I didn’t feel better. On the way back home, my vision started tunneling. “No, no, no” I thought as I moved into the far right lane as fast as I cou – BLACK. What? Cars were whizzing by, horns were honking, I could hear. My foot was planted firmly on the brake, hands gripping the wheel, I could feel. I was conscious, but I couldn’t see anything. What do I do? How am I supposed to get out of this? “Jesus, I need to see!” I started to get some sight back and saw a drive I could pull into just a few yards ahead. Drive, park, key, fall into passenger seat. I didn’t think I was going to die from the virus, but I understood how someone could.
After telling this coach my plans, my less-than-ideal race schedule, my current personal bests, and future goals, he offered to put me on his elite team. I wasn’t expecting that, but was I ready? He gave me a training schedule for the next four weeks, at this point with the marathon just a few weeks away, and I completely freaked out. No! I cannot change things this drastically so close to race day. No way. Not for this one. After stressing out way too much about it, I asked him to let me finish my training cycle for this race and he agreed.
Kyle dropped me off at the starting line, with fresh snow on the ground. It was cold, but the forecast said it was going to get warmer and be perfect racing conditions. I did my usual pre-race things, and lined up in the starting corral. I wanted to win, but my goal time was more important. I told myself to stay focused. On this course, you just have to roll with the hills by effort, so I knew my splits would be all over the place. Right away, with less than half a mile run, the lead escort tagged me. “Okay, I guess we’re doing this,” I thought to myself. Taking the lead early can be nerve wracking, but I wasn’t going to purposely slow my effort to not be in the lead. I sailed on, feeling strong. Halfway, past most of the steep hills, I felt I needed a few grace miles, so I took them before trying to get back to goal pace. My heart was full of energy, but my quads started really feeling all the elevation changes. My goal time was slipping, but I seemed to have a pretty strong lead as first female, even top 10 overall. I continued to press on and watched the miles come and go. I thought about some of my hardest marathon finishes and this wasn’t even close to being that bad. I was evolving. Just three more miles! They were slow, but they were steady, and I got my first marathon win – lucky number 19.
At first, I didn’t understand why I was losing my mind over my coach taking over my training. Isn’t that the deal? Was it really just a control thing? Because I was sure I convinced myself it was time to let go, and bring in “the big guns.” Why was I being so protective of this race? But then a few days out I started to understand. I needed closure. Training on my own for the past eight years has been quite the journey. And this training cycle, this race, was going to be the one where I used all those “lesson learned” disappointments to give my best performance ever – a poetic end to an emotional and dramatic roller coaster. And though it wasn’t a PR, it really was my best run marathon.
When one thinks about death, one inevitably thinks about life. We think about who we are, who we were, and where we’re going. We think about the level of importance we give to different areas in our life. As much as we fight for those people or things, we never have the guarantee of another minute of life on earth with them.
Akron crushed my spirits like no other marathon had before. I felt physically ready to go well under three hours, and I was dying to prove my current capabilities. Realistically at that point, I didn’t even need every little thing to go right to get under three – to at least be done with the “Breaking the 3-Hour Barrier” thing. But I didn’t. I wasn’t even close. Though I knew I was capable, WOULD I ever?! All of my future goals seemed hopeless. Kyle pulled up my face and said “I believe in you.” I broke down with the realization that I wasn’t sure if I believed in me anymore.
I took a week off with low, easy mileage then tried my best to stay focused and not give up. I tried to tell myself that big disappointments like that were bound to happen because part of truly understanding and conquering the marathon is getting crushed over and over again and learning how to overcome the mistakes.
Though the hip pain I had during the race was due to changing shoe brands and quickly went away, it was still unilateral, which means that side needed a little extra TLC. I decided to try out a sports doctor who did dry needling and developed knee pain shortly after that. I couldn’t pinpoint the real cause of it, but knew it was probably due to unraveling muscle tension. We thought it was the IT band, but it was sticking around and not getting better. I was told to run through the pain, but I couldn’t get all my mileage in. I had gotten two solid weeks of training done, but now a month out from race day, I was struggling to put in the work before taper time. Then I got hit HARD with a cold and that took me out for a week. I know it doesn’t sound that long, but for me that’s a long time to be sick. I can usually kick something like that in about 12 hours. Maybe the extra down time would help my knee? Nope. It made it worse (with muscle tension stuff a lot of times not moving makes things worse). Now I was desperate. I didn’t know if I could even finish a marathon, let alone run a personal best.
Kyle and I were heading to San Diego to spend Thanksgiving with his family. At this point, I couldn’t run a mile without pain. My last ditch effort to fix this thing was my old acupuncturist. He has crazy good knowledge of the human body and in the past I responded well to his trigger point acupuncture. I made a last minute appointment and he informed me it was actually the vastus lateralis that had a few spots of scar tissue built up in it. So after the needles, he scraped that out (yes, it hurt a lot). I was so sore after, but knew instantly that it was going to be okay. The next day I ran 13 miles pain free, along with the rest of the taper.
With renewed hope, race weekend was here. I didn’t get in the training I wanted, but I had experience on my side, and I was so relieved to get to the starting line pain free. So what was I going to do now? I could stick with the 3:00 pacer and just focus on getting under 3:00, even if it would just be 2:59. Maybe I could go for my goal time at Akron, which was supposed to be a 6:25/mile pace. OR, I could just chase the 2:45 pace group and do my best to hang on to the pack. It’d be risky because I didn’t think my fitness was there to hold on for the whole race and it’d probably mean hitting a wall hard and maybe not even finishing under 3:00. But WHAT IF…
Race morning was one of the smoothest ever for me, having everything planned, getting where I needed to be, having the right nutrition, and wearing enough throw off layers. I really only had to wait around at the start for an hour, which isn’t bad compared to the big races like Boston and New York. The weather looked like it was going to remain perfect as we all crammed into the starting chute. I looked down to see a sea of nothing but Nike 4% Vaporflys. I had to chuckle. The elites and seeded runners were off and we followed right behind. I went out at what felt like tempo pace, but ignored the buzzes on my watch. The 5k clock put me at 19:32, which was well under 3:00 pace. I didn’t care, I was still going for it. Then just after mile 4, my knee started to hurt. WHAT?! It had been totally fine, but I guess with the low mileage week of taper, there was still some tension in the surrounding muscles that needed work. The pain wasn’t bad, but I knew that since it started this early it was going to get pretty ugly. Now I definitely had to keep pushing to try and bank as much time as I could. At the 10k I was at 38:58, and the 15k 58:55. The 2:45 group was still in my sights, but it was time to let them go. The pain reached another level. I told myself to just get to the half and then reassess. I reached that point at 1:23:23. That was enough right? I thought it was. Now I just needed to focus on 6:50s. Anything less than that I could bank. Mile 14 was when I first looked at my watch for the split – 6:33. I felt like I was running so much slower than that. Alright, just get through mile 16. The pain kept getting worse. Should I drop out? No, I wasn’t giving this one up without a fight. After mile 17, my knee started to buckle and I told myself to pull it together and get through 20. Miles 18-20 were 6:51, 6:45, 6:54. Was that enough? What did I need? I figured I could still pull it off with 7:15s for the last 10k. So I focused on that, one mile marker at a time. I got through mile 23 and looked at my watch time. I was going to make it! Even if I did 9 minute miles the rest of the way, I was going to break 3:00. Focus! Mile 26 was my slowest at 7:30. I made the final turn to the finish and saw 2:55 on the clock. That was so worth it. I was so happy that I didn’t quit. Even though it wasn’t my goal time, I FINALLY broke 3 hours, qualified for some free entries next year, and am able to move into Chicago’s ADP for 2019. Oh man, my knee hurt so bad.
Yes, I AM happy with my performance. It was a big positive split, but I don’t regret running it that way. It’s what I needed to do in those circumstances. I’m glad I could experience the course, with all it’s rolling hills. I was a little bummed that I didn’t get to run with a pack (there wasn’t much with 2:45 group ahead and 3:00 group behind), but I guess I’ll look forward to that at Chicago. I was also sad that I didn’t really get to race it either. The last 10k in the marathon is where you usually get to see some race magic happen, but as the runners kept passing me I just had to keep focusing on not stopping.
On to the next segment of “My Story!” It’s called 2020 Vision (you have NO idea how long I’ve been waiting to use that one…because I also have horrible eyesight).
This was probably my most disappointing marathon after finishing “Boston Bound.” I was so ready and everything lined up perfectly.
After Ogden in May, I was taking a little break. In the last five months, I’d finished three full marathons, and seven other races ranging from 5k to 1/2 marathon distances. Finding a good job in the area had proven difficult and it was depressing. My running goals had to be modified/postponed from tearing a muscle in my foot in January, but physically I felt like I was ready to train hard for my goal race at Akron. Mentally, however, I was aloof. I wasn’t where I thought I’d be and I wasn’t doing what I thought I’d be doing. I had made some good running friends, but it was still hard to connect.
I took an InBody test to see where I was at before starting the training cycle. In six weeks with two marathons, I had gained one pound of muscle and lost two pounds of fat. The numbers gave me an instant pick me up followed by a downward spiral of feeling guilty for being happy about numbers. Ha!
About a month into the training cycle I got so frustrated trying to balance work schedules, home life, and running. So I threw out my training calendar and bought a new one to fill out one day at a time. I wouldn’t exactly say I was winging it, because at this point I had sixteen marathons under my belt. I knew I had enough experience to go by how I felt and get the mileage I needed without a “map.” This decision made the rest of the training cycle feel smooth, even though it looked hodge-podgey on paper.
I wasn’t able to go over or get in a full 26-mile training run, but I felt confident in the long runs I did get in. I had a few bad experiences with a couple of them, but locked that knowledge away for future use. The only real different strategy I was implementing into this cycle was a longer taper – three weeks, instead of two. I made sure I kept up strength training, mobility, and all the little things that make a big difference on race day. My aerobic system felt great, and I had zero musculoskeletal issues. The weather forecast looked perfect. I had no doubts.
Being in my hometown, and where I ran my first, this race was extra special. Also, my whole family was going to be there, some traveling up from North Carolina. Kyle was able to fly there from a job he had been working in Virginia the previous week, so I had a full “support team.”
On race morning, everything was going fine. I got to the start without any issues, felt fueled, loose, and excited. There were several competitors vying for the win, and with my slow(er) marathon time I knew I was the underdog. But I also knew that I hadn’t hadn’t raced a marathon that showed my current potential in over two years. In the marathon, when you have a disappointing race, the silver lining is that you still have the progress made in the training cycle.
The gun went off and I relaxed into a comfortable pace. I set my watch to have 3-mile splits so I wasn’t checking my watch every single mile of this hilly course. I needed to go by effort for the first 21 miles, just in case I had to settle for my B time goal of sub-3 hours. My first three splits were right on target. But I started to have a little hip pain on my right side. I hadn’t had any trouble in training, so I wasn’t sure what was going on, but the only thing I could think of was how cambered the road was compared to what I had trained on. I started trying to run in the middle, and hoped it would go away, but I began to slow significantly. I reached the half point at 1:29 and the pain had gotten worse. Unless the pain suddenly went away, I knew I was in for trouble. Frustrated, I slowed even more and was desperate to see mile 20. I thought about dropping out. My time was gone, and my hip was really painful. But I couldn’t bring myself to quit. The pain was brand new and I had already run 10 miles on it, so 6 more wasn’t going to do much more damage. I took away the risk of long-term injury excuse and I reminded myself that this is all part of the process. I can’t quit, I can’t drop out. It would hurt me more psychologically than staying in would hurt me physically. I started to alternate walking and jogging as my hip allowed.
I finished the race and hobbled to the side fencing for support. The medics came over and I assured them everything was fine, and that it was just a muscle issue. They weren’t busy though, so they offered a wheelchair ride to Kyle. Putting any weight on it was hard to do, but after getting to my parent’s house and soaking, I could limp on my own.
Kyle and I flew home later that evening and even though I still couldn’t walk normal, I predicted I would be fine in a few days (if I was right about why it all began in the first place). I woke up the next morning and was able to walk normally, but that hip/glute/IT band was crazy tight. Nothing else was sore though – both a happy and frustrating realization. And now, on Monday morning, the unilateral tightness is almost gone.
Bummed is an understatement. I’m also angry. The good news is that everything else didn’t get much stress from the race, so in a week I anticipate resuming training in a better state than I had originally expected. In two months I will be racing the California International Marathon in Sacramento.
Part eight! I have to laugh to keep from crying. I’ve said I’ve been trying to hit this time goal for over two years now. While my first two attempts may have been slightly unrealistic, I still stand firm on believing that 3-5 were achievable. Six, I was just happy to run injury-free and seven I felt like everything went well, I just didn’t have the fitness back. But if there’s one thing I know how to do, and do it well, it’s how to hop on the gain train. I’m not saying I’m an expert, but I’m pretty good at recovery. At the Salt Lake City Marathon, I pushed hard and knew that Ogden could give me a pretty big PR if I played my cards right.
There were four weeks in-between, so I kept up my speed work and tempos and just did one long run in the middle. My foot/achilles gave me a nag, but I worked it out and felt really good heading into this race. The course looked smooth, fast, and beautiful. The weather was looking like it would stay clear, but not get crazy hot. I slept hard throughout the week and felt well-rested. There was just one thing I was worried about.
It was about that time for me to start my cycle and I’ve always had issues, but to keep it short, 75% of the time I have a 4-6 hour episode where I’m in intense pain, I can’t even sit in an upright position let alone carry out the day’s tasks, I get lightheaded/dizzy, my face turns gray, I start shaking, and then eventually the pain goes away and the rest of the cycle is fine. However, after all that takes place I’m exhausted and not good for much until the next day.
Unfortunately, the afternoon before the race I found out timing wasn’t on my side for this one. I went to sleep that night for two hours and then awoke with the pain and was up most of the night. Around 3 a.m. it subsided in enough time for me to doze off for 45 minutes and dream that I missed the buses. I woke up and realized that it was just a dream, but I didn’t have time to fall back asleep.
The lack of sleep alone, I wasn’t worried about because one usually doesn’t sleep well the night before a race. It’s the week(s) before that you really should care about. But I did feel that deep exhaustion that I always get after one of those episodes. I stumbled around the hotel room trying to get ready and psyche myself up. I managed to still be hopeful and excited by the time the buses arrived at the starting area – I didn’t feel like there was any other option, but to hope that I could borrow the energy. I found the other track club members that were racing and waited around for an hour and a half.
6:50 rolled around and we all headed to the start line. I made my way to the front because I was vying for another podium finish which meant gun time mattered. I looked around at the competition and picked a few I wanted to beat. Okay, well obviously I wanted to beat them all, but sometimes at the beginning of a race I pick one or two for extra fun and added motivation.
The clock started and a string of guys tore off. In the first mile, I was in second, but wasn’t concerned about the place. I was tired, not sleepy tired, but really really tired. I stayed steady for three miles, and caught up to the first female. “No!” I thought to myself, “I can’t race right now, I can’t spend the energy, and I can’t handle the lead so early.” I tried to relax and keep my own pace. Finally, she overcame me a few miles later and pushed the pace by herself as I gratefully watched her fade in front of me. Focusing on my own effort, I tried to enjoy the beautiful surroundings of the mountains, rivers, and canyons. My legs felt great, despite how the rest of me felt. I managed to hold goal pace through mile 7. By the time I made it through the halfway point, I was still in second, but I had no energy. My shoulders felt heavy and I was struggling with thoughts of stopping.
Pressing on through 16, I told myself just three more miles until you get to the hard stuff, and then you’ll grit it out. My legs were still holding up great, and soon mile 20 came. I was surprisingly still in second, and I began thinking that maybe I could hold onto it after all. But tired…so tired. At mile 23 the course turned onto a bike path and some rolling hills. Third female came up behind me and I surged without really thinking about it. I pulled her along for maybe 30 seconds, but she passed me and I couldn’t hold on.
Just a few miles left, and my pace slowed even more, to an 8-minute mile. All of my time goals were gone, but at least I was in third and I was almost done. The finish line was in sight. The crowd was cheering and as I entered the final stretch, I thought I felt a competitor behind me. I turned to look at the crowd to try and read their faces, and looked at my shadow to see if there was one behind, but I didn’t see anyone. I ignored the feeling. The finish was just ten yards away. Then suddenly, when I couldn’t have been farther than three yards from the line, 4th female came up beside me. Instantly I surged, angry that I had let that happen. We crossed the finish line and I hit the pavement. I thought I beat her, I felt I beat her, but I couldn’t know for sure. I also couldn’t breathe. Or move.
That whole race was a mind vs. body battle. In the end, my mind won – I didn’t quit. But when it was over, there was nothing left to peel me off the road.
After laying down in the medic tent for just a few minutes, my heart rate was 58 and body temperature 93, confirming my exhaustion. My heart rate should not be that low that soon after a race, and the lower body temperature is a way to conserve energy. Those things aren’t really a concern from the medic side, but for my own personal performance log I found it helpful. Once I convinced them I was fine, one of them helped me walk to the results tent (because priorities) but they hadn’t come through yet, so she walked me all the way to my hotel lobby. We were both surprised at how good my legs felt. I finished my recovery drink and rushed to check out of the hotel so they wouldn’t charge me extra for a late checkout and headed back down to the finish festival to find my friends and wait around for results.
Chip time, I knew she beat me by a few seconds. But for the podium, gun time is all that matters, and when the results came through I had won by one second. I found it ironic because just the day before I had answered some questions for a feature in the track club newsletter about my most memorable races. I said one of them was the 2017 La Jolla Half Marathon because I missed 2nd place by 33-hundredths of a second, and I learned that every second counts. I guess I needed a reminder of what that felt like.
The next day, I was able to walk down the stairs normally at work, and was only a little sore in my calves and feet. It was clear my legs didn’t get the workout they had expected. The last time my legs felt this good after a marathon was last June, when I raced hyponatremic. Even though I didn’t come close to my original time goal, I’m happy I didn’t quit, still made the podium, and got some mental strength gains from this race.
Is it wrong to be disappointed with your performance, most of the time? Everyone tells you not to be too hard on yourself, and appreciate the little “wins” along the way. I get that being dissatisfied most of the time makes it hard for one to continue on in whatever it is they’re doing, but what if it doesn’t? What if being “unhappy” with your results doesn’t make you want to quit?
Racing morning was perfect. I felt excited and confident, the weather was cool and forecasted to stay there, my foot hadn’t been giving me any issues, and my nutrition and hydration felt good. All systems pointed to a great race. I had tape over my watch again to make sure I was going by effort and not freaking out over my splits. I found one of my fellow track club members and we chatted until it was time to get in our corrals.
Historically, this is a slower race, so I knew I was a contender for the podium, but that means that there is at least one other runner there thinking the exact same thing. I made my way to the front, eyeing the competition, but tried to relax and focus on what I really wanted – my goal time.
The course was hard with hills, even though it was technically a net downhill. I was told it was really the only fair course around (the other local marathon courses are going down mountains). The biggest downhill was at the beginning and I just let my legs go with the flow. Trying to “pace” yourself on a downhill can waste energy. For the first 9 miles I thought I was in 4th, but I guess I was in 3rd. I was trying not to care, but I can’t completely erase the racing mentality from my mind. But I slipped into 4th and was able to let the new 3rd female go. I watched her fade in the distance and remained calm.
Just after the halfway point, all within a minute, I got passed by another female and then watched who must have been 2nd drop out. With no one else around, I was a lonely 4th for the next seven, long miles. The sun was warm, but not hot. My legs felt trashed with still six miles to go and I knew my goal time was gone. I began having a sharp pain in my right adductor attachments. I realized it was probably from my foot injury that felt fine, but was still weaker than the right so my body had to compensate. I started to worry that it was going to get bad, but then at mile 21 the course turned and there she was. 3rd female, still several hundred yards out, but I saw her. Instantly the pain started to dissipate. I wasn’t going to get a sub 3-hour marathon, but I could still try to make the podium.
Over the next two miles, I slowly closed the gap. I didn’t want to rush it because I was really starting to struggle, and didn’t want to leap frog through to the finish. A short distance after the 23-mile marker, I overcame her and another guy and just tried to push my pace so I was never running with them. I had 2 1/2 more miles and all I had to do was just keep the pace. It didn’t have to be pretty. It didn’t have to be fast. I pressed on until I finally saw the finish line. I couldn’t hear anyone behind me, but I mustered up all the energy I had left to just get there already.
Third place female, my first marathon podium. It was my second fastest marathon. My splits were all over the place, but my heart rate was steady – I was pretty satisfied with that. I also raced well, and didn’t blow up trying to keep up with other competitors. However, my legs were not strong enough to break three hours, and I am disappointed in that. I would rather have come in 20th place and beat my time goal. I’m also sad that my next marathon is a downhill course next month. I’ve said before that I didn’t want my first sub 3 to be on a downhill course. I really thought this race was going to be it. But in Ogden I will race again, and I will do my best to smash it with a time to justify the course – break ‘n’ build.
Of my fifteen marathons, I’ve had three that I would call successes. That means 85% of the time, I’m disappointed. I’m not a glutton for punishment (well, maybe) but I am pretty okay with working really hard for months, putting a lot of time and effort into training, getting excited to perform and attain a desired goal, and then having it all slip through my fingers in just a few hours. I know what I want, and it’s very focused and specific. When your target is that small, you have to give yourself plenty of chances to miss.
Let’s back up to three (ish) months before my goal race last year, the NYC Marathon. I was thinking about my 2018 race plans and and schedules and what I want to accomplish even a decade down the road and decided to enter BOTH the Carlsbad Marathon and Surf City Marathon BECAUSE they were three weeks apart. These races were for data mining purposes – to see what my body could do racing marathons so close together and feel out what recovery was like. I had hoped to PR and break three hours at New York, so Carlsbad and Surf City were not meant to be part of a personal best pyramid. However, I didn’t break three hours at New York, and then I became injured two weeks before Carlsbad, so…
The marathon will never be what you think, even if you’ve done it a dozen times, or executed the perfect race strategy, or had the best training cycle. It remains unpredictable. I like to register for races far in advance, not just for the price break, but mainly because I want to watch the already-paid-for obligation come at me. Ready or not, give what you’ve got, and possibly more. That’s part of the competition. You don’t get to choose your perfect day to run your best race.
It had been six years since I’d had a real running injury and I was scared. I had these two marathons back to back with a slew of shorter races immediately after and I didn’t know how I was going to make them all happen. It hurt to walk, to stand. I took the entire week off running before Carlsbad, knowing that it wouldn’t hurt my fitness much, but coming to terms with the possibility that I might not be able to finish. Towards the end of the week, I was able to walk mostly pain free, but it was still pretty stiff. On race morning I was hesitant, but still wanted to go for it. I don’t regret that decision. For the first few miles the pain was there, but very mild. Around mile 6, it started to get worse and then at mile 9, the other foot/leg started compensating. Suddenly there were two figures talking to me, one on each shoulder. On the right, was my Midwest, stubborn grit mindset screaming “NO! You do NOT quit! Embrace the pain, and finish what you started! OHIO GROWN!” On the left, was my California hippie intuitive spirit saying, “Heeeeyy…you need chill. Let your body heal, ya know? Make the exit, you’ll be fine. You don’t wanna miss out on what’s to come. But whatever man, you do you.”
I considered my options, and decided to drop out, a little ways after mile 11. It was my first DNF. I wasn’t willing to let this injury progress, and rob me of future miles and races. It was hard, and I still felt awful about it, but I knew I had made the right choice. I took the following week off running and started my recovery strategies.
Alright, three weeks later I’m heading back to San Diego to attempt the Surf City Marathon. I had been able to start running, and without pain, but in the five weeks leading up to this race I had run ten times totaling a mere 80 miles. I was NOT ready. But my foot felt pretty good, and I worked up enough confidence to convince myself to at least test it out. Running a marathon following an injury is a really stupid idea, I get that, but as long as my foot would stay okay, I could still get some of that data I wanted. It would just be a different kind – the kind you get when you run a race you haven’t trained for.
My strategy to was run like it was my first marathon. I predicted I would maintain a comfortable pace until mile 20, and then fall apart on tired, heavy, unconditioned legs. If my foot remained pain-free, nutrition and hydration were good, and the weather stayed fine, my time goal was a sub 3:20. I couldn’t race, I knew that, so to help keep my focus on just running and having fun, I put tape over my Garmin and didn’t wear my usual race outfit. My prediction was spot on. My 5k split was a 7:02 pace, 10k at 7:04, halfway at 7:05, and 20 at 7:05, and then I blew up. My fueling and hydration felt good, and it wasn’t a particular muscle group that was bothering me, it was just everything. Everything hurt. I knew it was because my muscles weren’t prepped for the distance, and that was okay. My foot felt COMPLETELY fine and I was so happy with that. But again, shortly after mile 20 two figures popped up on each shoulder. One said, “Duuuuude…why are you so tense? Relax, you’re not racing. Your foot is fine, thanks to me by the way, so just take a break already. Walk a little. You’ll finish, that’s all you wanted, right?” The other said, “DON’T! You are SO close! You do NOT need to walk, you’re not hurting anything you KEEP RUNNING! Break and build! This is you breaking! You need to break yourself today! You don’t quit you don’t stop until you’re done! GO!”
This time, I knew to let the inner grit and determination embedded in my bones surface and push me through. I slowed the pace my a lot, but I kept running. I crossed the finish line and I swear it felt like I lost my marathon virginity for the second time. It was amazing. At first, I couldn’t believe it. I couldn’t believe that being in as much pain as I was just a few weeks prior, I finished a marathon without any! It was my proudest marathon. I was proud of myself for dropping out of Carlsbad, for not getting too discouraged about recovery, and for not stopping to walk at the end.
Of course I got my data and insight for training, but like I said at the beginning of this post, the marathon is not what you think. I learned that my mind really needed a break from competing. I love to race, and compete, and try to teach my legs to run fast, but just like physical recovery is part of the training program, mental recovery needs to be in there, too. It doesn’t have to be nearly as often, but it needs to exist. I felt mentally refreshed after this “fun run” and found the rejuvenated eagerness train and race hard that I didn’t even know I lost.
New York, new training plan – less scheduled long runs, more strength training, more speed work, more cross-training. I incorporated three different strength routines (2-3 times each per week) and swam one mile sessions three times per week. Another big change was alternating my long runs with long tempos (10 miles) and by doing so, worked up to a 28-mile peak run. It was the longest run I had ever done.
Throughout this cycle, I had gotten leaner, lighter, and stronger. I didn’t have any injuries worrying me, but I always try to stay extra sensitive. Two weeks from race day and two days after my peak long run I did a 15k prep race, and ended up with a nine second PR. This was the best I had ever felt before a marathon. Prepared and excited, I went into taper time knowing this was going to be a good race as long as I didn’t screw up food or hydration and over think things.
On Friday, two days before the race, I landed at JFK anxious to get to the hotel. My husband was flying in from Paris to meet me there and I hadn’t seen him in seven months (talk about a fool-proof plan to eliminate pre-race nerves!). We both went to the expo on Saturday to get my bib, but I made sure to keep it quick and not even go into the actual vendor section. It’s easy to spend too much energy at a race expo the day before. Chipotle was next, that being my day-before-a-long-run meal in training, then back to the hotel to rest and relax the rest of the day.
4 a.m. race morning my alarm went off and I felt fueled, rested, and fired up. It was a little less than a mile walk to the bus and I was assigned to board at 5:30. The streets were already buzzing with race day jitters, and I had plenty of time. I was told the bus would take 90 minutes – it only took 40. With four hours to kill before go time, I found my way through security, gear check, and four more bib checkpoints. It was a little chilly, but I had throw-off layers and thankfully it wasn’t raining. The forecast said it would, but I hoped it wouldn’t start before the gun.
The wait time is annoying, but one of the things I love about these big races are the people. You get to see many different countries represented, but also the diversity of the running community as a whole. I simply like watching. I sat down on the cold concrete with fluid and food. Lots of people were running with friends, some were nervous loners, some were wearing costumes, and some were clearly out for blood. I listened to conversations of marathon veterans and first-timers, saw a few instagrammers, and enjoyed looking at footwear choices. However, the most interesting thing I observed was a runner chomping on whole carrots, celery stalks, and broccoli. It looked like he had just dropped by the grocery store on the way. Interesting choice for pre- endurance event fuel, but hey – whatever floats your boat…or…fuels your run?
Finally moving into my starting corral, I didn’t have to wait too much longer before moving onto the bridge where the start line was. During the national anthem it started to sprinkle, but that’s all it ended up doing. I was starting with a 3:05 pacer, but had no intention of sticking with him.
It was time! Though I was cold just standing there, before I hit the second mile I regretted wearing a shirt. I should have known better. My arm warmers were already tossed to the side. My first mile was relaxed at 7:47, but I didn’t want to “waste” another mile at that pace. My second was 6:16, which was not a pace I felt I would be able to sustain. “Find the grind,” I told myself. By mile 4, I decided that the grind should be in the 6:30-6:40 range. Strong and relaxed, I enjoyed the next dozen miles. My fueling strategy felt really good, and I was making most water stops.
All body systems felt fine at mile 20, but my hip flexors killed. Did I start too fast? Why isn’t anything else falling apart? I tried to adjust and focus on just getting 6:50s in, but the pain became worse and spread to my lower back as I began to lose form. This was awful. I didn’t want to, but around 23 I started to take walk breaks. I knew with the circumstances it would make me finish faster. Breaking three hours was no longer in reach, but I needed to at least PR. I was disappointed, but really all I could think about at the time was the pain.
Hobbling across the finish line at 3:06, I shaved off five minutes from my previous personal best, but I couldn’t say I felt proud of the race I had just run. I also couldn’t walk – 6.5 on the pain scale and my hamstrings were starting to seize. A medic came over to me, but I knew everything was fine – heart rate, breathing, no lightheaded or dizziness, nausea, no body temperature issues, etc. so I refused the medical tent. It really was just muscular.
Unfortunately, I had a long ways to walk to get to my bag. So at a 40-minute per mile pace (not exaggerating), I was handed from one volunteer to another to help me get to the UPS truck that had my stuff. One runner came along side me and told me he’d done this marathon for the past 29 years, and that I shouldn’t be discouraged about my time. He walked and talked with me all the way to my bag. Once I pulled my phone out and told my husband I was sort of on my way, the volunteer currently holding me up wanted me to sit down and put on my pants and jacket. The fellow runner was my advocate in assuring the volunteer that that was a bad idea. We both knew I wouldn’t have been able to get back up. I was passed off to one more volunteer who walked me past the exit barricades to my husband, though I don’t think he was actually supposed to leave the park. My husband had me drink my Vega recovery accelerator and put on my clothes for me. I was helpless.
Getting back to the hotel was a trip, but at a snail’s pace we got there. I sat in a hot bath that at least made me be able to stand and move forward on my own, but the rest of the evening and next day were rough. Never have I ever been in so much pain after a race. At first I thought I had simply gone out too fast, but I’m not so sure that’s all that it was. I’ve hit the wall before, with total body exhaustion, and that wasn’t it. My “gut,” heart, and lungs weren’t tired. And why did it start with just my hip flexors? My fueling felt great, but I think my hydration and electrolyte balance wasn’t. I was shy on my pre-game water intake due to my last marathon disaster.
I’ve experienced severe dehydration and severe over hydration in endurance activity, but there’s still a lot of space in between the two that affect performance. With travel and the weather being cool and humid, I don’t think I drank enough. It’s easy to under estimate how much you need based on feel in that type of weather. So I’m not going to say I simply went out too fast. I think if I was smarter with fluids, I could have sustained the pace to hit my goal time.
I didn’t break 3 hours and I didn’t finish strong, but I am happy that I got a new PR, executed a good fueling strategy (which hasn’t been easy for me in the past), had a productive training cycle, and experienced the largest marathon in the world.
New York, I can’t say I love your vibe, but you do have a pretty cool marathon. They say you’re tough, but I disagree. You’re just not easy. It’s what makes you real. I don’t want any crazy advantages in a marathon course. I won’t be back for awhile, but I’ll see you again.
I didn’t want to write this. This was the most disappointing race I’ve had to date. But I know that regardless of who (if anyone) reads this, I will want to have it written down for myself in the future.
Five months ago, I began my first training cycle of the season. I was slower than I thought I’d be, coming off a four-week break. Mentally that was hard, but physically I benefited from the rest. Scheduled in the midst of my training plan was a 10k, half-marathon, 15k, 5k, half-marathon.
The February 10k I didn’t feel ready for – I wasn’t “back” yet, but it went better than expected with a new PR. The first half-marathon in March I had higher expectations that were left unfulfilled, shaving less than a minute off my PR. My lungs weren’t ready for the pace and my legs felt heavy. After that, I cut back on the heavyweights to try and lose a LITTLE muscle mass in my legs. Two weeks later I ran the 15k but again, didn’t perform well. The next weekend was my 5k and even though I only PR-ed by a few seconds, that was my turning point in training. Immediately after the race, I could feel my lungs starting to break free.
Two months before the marathon, my husband started a new job that took him overseas, where he’ll be through October. That was and is hard, but it’s what made me decide to join the San Diego Track Club. I was nervous, as I don’t run or train with anyone and up until that point I’d never done anything on a track. For the first few weekly workouts, I felt like a hamster on a wheel, going around and around in a circle, but I began to find my place. It was good for me.
Six weeks out was the other half-marathon – La Jolla. This course crushed me last year and I really wanted to pay it back. My training was going really well and I knew all I needed to do was stay calm and avoid going out too fast. I beat last years’ time by three minutes and took 3rd female overall. It was pretty satisfying, but now it was time to focus and get some solid long runs logged.
Recovering from the La Jolla hills took a bit longer than expected, but I was careful to use body sense and not overdo it. Going out for a 22-miler, I stopped at 8. Unfortunately, it was on my out and back route so I had to walk the 8 miles back home. I realize this sounds silly, but the next week I went out for the distance and rocked it. Listening to my body, 22 miles was my peak run for this race. I was okay with that. I had a few more long runs, and in the end, I felt really good about my training as a whole.
Taper week was here and I was getting so excited. Beets and spinach smoothies, carb-loading the last few days, and letting my legs rest up. I’d never felt this good before a race. I had confidence in my training, how my legs felt, my fueling, everything felt ready.
It was the day before and I had everything set and laid out. All I had to do was work the morning shift, come home, foam roll, and relax. In the past, I’ve had trouble with dehydration, so I made sure I drank A LOT of water throughout the day. By mid-afternoon, I was peeing every hour, sometimes twice. My brain felt a little fuzzy and I started to get a headache, so I was able to fall asleep pretty early.
Race morning was chill. I woke up before my alarm and was able to skype my husband. I drank my yerba mate tea, ate my cheerios with honey and banana, and headed to the start line! I live close enough I was able to walk (about 1.5 miles).
The starting area was crazy as usual, but what I felt was not the usual. I wasn’t anxious like I’ve normally been. I was calm. I was focused. Sub 3 was going to happen that day.
The stampede begins. Within the first few miles, I felt odd – something was off. I was a little slow, my breathing was a little labored, and my energy level was low. Mentally, I stayed calm as the feeling continued through mile 11. Then I started to get concerned. This wasn’t right. I pushed on, staying cautious.
Somewhere around mile 14, I was with several other runners about to enter a turn-around loop in the course. The road was split by cones, and there was a hand cyclist coming out of the loop on the other side. A car was rolling behind him and I didn’t understand why or how. As our group of runners got closer, the car suddenly turned and ran over the cones heading toward us. He cut back over in front of the hand cyclist to get to a freeway on ramp before I finished my “oh no!” thought. What just happened? Well I don’t know the whole story, but apparently the police chased the guy for quite a ways (about an hour North) before catching him.
Anyway, at 16 I knew I wasn’t going to meet my time goal. I was fading fast and by this time I knew it had something to do with hydration, but I still didn’t know what exactly. I was so confused. I pressed on, looking for my in-laws who said they were coming to cheer around mile 20. I started to vomit in my mouth every 20 minutes or so, and shortly after seeing my family, I started the walk/jog shuffle. Whenever I stopped to walk, I became dizzy. I just had to keep a forward motion, as runners around kept encouraging me. I made it through the finish line and collapsed onto the side rails. A runner and a medic team member helped me to the finish line medical tent. I stayed there for about 15 minutes while they did their thing and helped me sip Gatorade. In that moment, I had never tasted anything SO FREAKING GOOD! It was amazing. My mind was “aha-ing” while they wheeled my weak, pitiful looking body to the major medical tent. One person was pushing the wheelchair while the other was keeping me upright. “Why was I so deficient in electrolytes?” I thought to myself. During the race I had what should have been plenty. I spent another 40 minutes with the doctors, but with much more Gatorade I was feeling like I could sit up. They kept me for a little bit longer, but the doctor came back and saw I had color in my face and said I could go. As I was waiting to be discharged, a medic student came over to me and quietly asked, “Excuse me miss, but is your name Amy Cragg?” I stared at her for a second and smiled. “No..” That was my race day highlight. Bless you! Haha – In case you don’t know, Amy Cragg placed 9th in last years’ Rio Games.
After retrieving my stuff from gear check, I walked the 4 miles home. Yes, I was exhausted, but my legs weren’t that bad. They didn’t really get the workout they wanted. After getting home and eating, I did some research with the facts that I had. Long story short, hyponatremia. It’s usually caused during a race by drinking too much water and not enough electrolytes. But it can be caused by over hydrating before an event, too. Symptoms include fuzzy brain, dizziness, headache, nausea….yep. By trying to make sure I wasn’t dehydrated for the race, I over-hydrated, flushing out all the minerals and electrolytes I would normally already have in my system for race day. So instead of my race fuel keeping my body stocked with what it needed, it was trying to play catch up the whole time.
Fortunately, once you get what you need (in a timely manner), you bounce back pretty quickly. That’s why I was able to walk home. I was really upset. I had been so hopeful for this race, and I’d worked so hard, I wanted to prove it, and it was there. At the end of my “recovery” run the next day, I looked down at my watch and there was goal pace. Part of me was relieved, in that it proved to myself that I wasn’t crazy, part of me was mad, in knowing that it was there and I screwed it up, but all of me was brokenhearted. However, as my husband pointed out, I don’t really know how to run yet. Marathons aren’t typically what one tackles first. I don’t have the experience or knowledge that a lot of competitive marathoners do. When I told him before the race, that I didn’t know what I would do with another disappointment, and he said I would just keep on keeping on like I always do, he couldn’t have been more right. I still have my training and the progress that came with it. I’m still going to beat the odds. I’m in for one heck of a PR in November. New York, street lights, big dreams, all lookin’ pretty.
I knew before I started this training cycle it would be my last time using this plan. Not that I ever end up sticking to the original plan anyway, but for the last several marathon races I’ve had similar training plans. I felt like my body was almost ready to switch things up.
My last summer race was a half-marathon at the end of August. It was time to “get down to business” and put in some early, long, hard miles. I missed my first 20-miler due to illness, but I was able to pound out a 22 the next week. Going out for a 20-miler again, I quit at 18. It sounds silly to stop just 2 miles short of what I was supposed to do, but I was done. I could tell I was getting stressed with work, life, and running in general. I didn’t have time to take a break from training, but the break came anyway. I left the house the next week with the intention of doing 24 miles. I did 4.5, walked home, and ate almost an ENTIRE pint of fudge mind ice cream – and it was only “almost” a full pint because my husband had apparently already had a few bites. Otherwise, it would have been the whole thing. Physically and mentally, I couldn’t. I didn’t run the next day, but I squeezed in a 10-miler on Sunday (which is normally a rest day). I needed to get my head together. I only had a little over a month left to train. However, I made those last weeks count – 22, 24, 26, 20, 16, RACE!
For the first time in a training cycle, I did a prep-race – two days after that last 20-miler. It was a small 15k, and the point was to see what I could do on legs that didn’t have much time to recover from a long run. I also thought it would be good for me personally to get some competitive energy out of me so I wouldn’t get overly excited and go out too fast again for the marathon. The race went well, with a 6:41 average pace. My legs were tired when I started, but not sore. My recovery routine was working out pretty well. With that and the past four weeks of solid long runs, I was getting excited for Charlotte. I tapered, I carbed up, I packed, and I was off. In and out of the expo in record time, I enjoyed the time I had with my family. My mom and brother were running the half together.
Looking back, I had a few rough patches in training, but overall I PR-ed a lot in my long runs this time around. I had gotten faster. My mid-week runs remained solid, and my nutrition strategy improved. I increased HoneyStinger intake and added Pasokin (a peanut butter candy) around miles 14 and 18.
Race morning I woke up feeling great. I knew the weather would be cool, so I packed arm warmers, but generally high-thirties, low-forties seem to be when I perform the best – even when I don’t live/train in that weather. Everything was perfect. This race was going to be so good – I was going to break three hours, and I was going to win (small race).
Leaving my mom and brother in their corral, I made my way to the front to get behind the 3-hour pacer. I was wearing my watch (for the first time during a marathon) to make sure I took it easy, but since there was a pace group I wanted to run with the extra support. There I go.
Immediately, I lost the pace group. I thought they were in front of me, so I figured I’d catch them after the pack dwindled. My first 2 miles were too fast, but then I quickly settled at my 6:50 goal pace. I was confused at why the pace group would be so far ahead, but whatever, I had my watch. I felt great through mile 9, and then suddenly the pace group came up behind me. How did I get ahead of them? I don’t know, but now there were two other female contenders. Just before the half, I started realizing something wasn’t right. But I couldn’t tell what it was. My legs, feet, and joints weren’t giving me any issues, and my breathing seemed okay. Nutrition was fine, and the weather conditions didn’t change. I just started feeling…awful. And almost sleepy tired. Identifying the problem in a distance race is half the battle because as soon as you identify the issue, you can use your mind power to start battling it. I was frustrated because I couldn’t figure it out. My goal pace began slipping away and I couldn’t bring it back.
At mile 19 they had a race clock, and when I looked at the time, my first thought was that one day, I will have just finished the marathon by then – I will have run 7 more miles by that time. My second thought was on that day, I hope I will remember how miserable and defeated I felt now. I never want to take fast for granted and forget what I had to do to get there.
The second place female dropped out, so I took her spot. I plundered on through mile 24, but had to start walking/jogging. I quickly fell into 3rd, but not before I gave one last “sprint” to try and keep my standing. It last for about 10 yards. I had nothing left in me and couldn’t compete. My stomach and head started to ache and then came nausea. I threw up in my mouth a bit. Even thinking about eating or drinking anything made it worse. And then it hit me. I was severely dehydrated. I hadn’t thought about how much (or little) fluid I’d been taking in, but I realized it wasn’t much. The cooler weather made me not feel thirsty, so I didn’t hydrate like I should have from the start. I understood. But it was WAY too late. Dragging myself the last few miles, I finished 4th female at 3:19:18 (small race). There was no hiding my disastrous mistake – into the medic tent I went.
Disappointment trumped any frustration I might have had. I had nothing to show for my training, and my next full wasn’t until June. I made a terrible mistake that ruined what would have been a great race. I was ready to break 3 hours, but I didn’t. It was a completely empty Nutella jar in the cupboard. It was there. I smelled it. But I didn’t taste it.