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Breaking the 3-Hour Barrier My Story

Breaking the 3-Hour Barrier, Part 8

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.

Final Stats

Time – 3:06:26

35th of 1167 overall

3rd of 541 female

1st of 50 in age group