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Breaking the 3-Hour Barrier My Story

Breaking the 3-Hour Barrier, Part 10

Well that only took forever.

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).

Final Stats

Time: 2:55:16

708th of 7832 overall

190th of 3644 female

48th of 532 age group

 

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Not So Random Writings

The Dirty Downhill

After spending a few years in the racing side of running, I have seen an influx in downhill road racing among my peers, mainly in the distance field of marathons and half marathons. There are a lot of different opinions floating around out there on them, ranging from “it’s cheating” to “it’s harder to run downhill.”

Let me start off by acknowledging that running downhill, uphill, or on flat ground all produce a different level of workload to your muscle groups. They all use quads, hamstrings, and glutes (there’s more, but for simplicity…) However, the ratio between which muscle groups actually depends on what your form looks like. I think this might be why some people believe it’s harder to run downhill.

Gravity is a powerful force. All of the downhill races that I have seen advertised market that they have a FAST course with a high percentage of Boston qualifying times. Though you might feel more pain or be more sore the next day from a downhill course, you do have a pretty big force pushing you forward. It’s irrefutable. Statistically, downhill races get you a faster time than flat or uphill courses. This is where you have to be real with yourself. Is your PR on a downhill course? Uphill races, few as they are, statistically give you a slower time. Do you not give yourself a little break if you don’t hit your goal time? This is why we have come up with labeling courses as “easy,” “hard,” or “fair.”

I want to be clear. Racing a marathon or half marathon is never easy, and I understand why labeling a course with your PR time on it as such is offensive – you trained hard, you raced hard. If you’ve raced downhill, I’m not trying to take anything away from you. If your main running goal is to get a specific time, and you don’t care what kind of course it’s on, go for it, get it, and don’t let anyone take that pride away. But unfortunately, what I see quite often happening, are runners that get huge PRs on these downhill courses and then don’t understand why they didn’t improve their time on their next race, which wasn’t a downhill course. If you really want to gauge time progress in a way that is fair to yourself, then you’d have to run the same course year after year.

Sometimes time goals aren’t the end game. Maybe you want to win. Maybe the timing and location is convenient. Most of the downhill courses I’ve seen around also advertise a scenic route. Perhaps you’re looking for a nice long run through nature, or you’re building a vacation around the race. There are so many reasons to choose a downhill course, a lot having nothing to do with the benefit of elevation loss.

There are many ways to gain time advantages in a race. Drafting, staying in a pack, choosing a race with a later start time (or earlier if you prefer), weather advantages, etc. I’ve done two Abbott Marathon Majors so far and I PR-ed at both of them. I’ll be the first to admit that it’s easier to run in a pack. (Side note: This is why I don’t think Boston should have given any prize money to the non-elites who had faster chip times. Bite me.) If you wanted to, you could analyze, argue, and asterisk PRs in a long list of ways.

There’s a reason why both men’s and women’s marathon world records (and several other records) were run in London. Some courses are harder than others, but they are all hard. If you are training for an Olympic Trial qualifying time, then be aware that the course has to be USATF-certified, USATF-sanctioned, and more relevantly, cannot have an elevation loss of more than 3.25 meters per kilometer, which is a little more than 450 feet. The world record cannot be broken on a net downhill course. These rules have to mean something, right?

I encourage you to be aware of all the possibilities downhill courses could bring. Be fair to yourself, and remember that not all courses are equal. Don’t let other people’s standards for themselves rob you of your pride in your own accomplishments, AND vice versa. Be kind to others, and know that their goals are probably different than yours.

 

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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

 

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Breaking the 3-Hour Barrier My Story

Breaking the 3-Hour Barrier, Part 7

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.

Final Stats

Time – 3:08:19

24th of 699 overall

3rd of 297 female

1st of 59 age group

 

 

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Breaking the 3-Hour Barrier My Story

Breaking the 3-Hour Barrier, Part 6

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.

Final Stats

3:16:39

42nd of 1472 overall

8th of 597 female

2nd of 75 in age group

 

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Breaking the 3-Hour Barrier My Story

Breaking the 3-Hour Barrier, Part 5

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.

Final Stats

3:06:17

1,505th of 50,647 overall

110th of 21,060 women

38th of 3,469 age group

 

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Breaking the 3-Hour Barrier My Story

Breaking the 3-Hour Barrier, Part 3

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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.