When I first started running, I had no idea I would ever come to love it as much as I do now. In fact, part of the reason in my life was because so many people– myself included– told me I couldn’t or wouldn’t do it. I don’t like being told I can’t do something. Most times, I make a silent covenant in my head and think, Oh yeah? Watch me.
I know I’ve written about this before, but the biggest lesson running has taught me was not to limit my own potential. Once I ran my first marathon, my mindset changed from, “I could never do that,” to “I could try and do that.” It’s not about setting unreasonable goals, it’s about making a choice to test the limits of your brain and body because you want to see what will happen.
Running is about participating in a life-long experiment to see what I’m capable of. It’s about understanding that I may fail, but that I can always stop, reassess, and try again.
When I started this blog about a year ago, I was trying to get into the habit of writing more consistently. I was also hoping to document my running goal of 2015: to run a sub-4 hour marathon.
Today, I beat that goal with nearly 10 minutes to spare.
I’m elated, for lack of a better word. While, in retrospect, my goal was fairly conservative (I’d run a 4:04 marathon last year), I can’t help but remember the girl I was five years ago, who looked at a marathon course and thought, “I could never do that.”
Then, she made a choice and did. Then she did again, and again. Through blistered feet and aching legs, that girl ran. When it poured rain or she fell and cut up her knees, she put her head down, dusted off her hands, and kept running. When every voice in her brain said, “You can’t do this,” she remembered every step she had taken before, pounded her feet and roared back, “Watch. Me.”
So, when I crossed the finish line today, I was running for that girl. Me. Because I have to be honest: I’m pretty damn proud of her.
Alright! Running! Yay! Final time: 3:50:28.
So, I’ll be honest, some of the reason I didn’t write much in the past few weeks (besides travel) was because I’ve been freaking out about this race. There felt like a million things that could go wrong, and I was worried that by setting this goal, I was setting myself up for disaster.
By the time I landed in Sacramento and got to hang with my family, though, I felt good. I’ve tried to be better about nutrition, so I’d been slowly increasing my carb intake (mostly with rice and, oddly, ramen since I was battling a bit of a cold) over the past few days. I had a small vermicelli bowl and tried to grab as much sleep as I could.
On race day, I woke up early to catch the shuttles to the race. CIM is great because you not only can get shuttled, but you can stay on those shuttles until the race starts. Warmth win!
Speaking of which: despite my fretting, the weather actually didn’t feel that cold. Certainly a few shivers here and there, but it was near 50 degrees when we started amidst some light showers, so I couldn’t complain.
The first few miles were wet and fast. It was mostly rolling hills that were clearly heading down. Still, the course was crowded at this point. CIM is a fast course, which means that while people are on pace, there was still a bit of weaving. I was trying to stay with the 3:55 pace group, but would lose track and get caught a little bit behind.
I realize now, this was probably a key struggle in my racing last year. Since I ran without a watch, I had no way to make sure I was starting my races off at a steady pace when I’m so focused on trying to get through. This led to lots of catching up later on previously. Glad I made the commitment to time this year!
Miles 3-6 were all pretty fast, and by the time I was at mile six, I realized I had long left the pacer and run an 8:30 mile, nearly 30 seconds faster than planned. Eep!
Part of me wanted to try and slow down. I’m a conservative racer and normally stay at a slower pace until the second half of the race. Most of my training splits, though, had been in the 8:30-8:45 range, instead of the 8:55 range it needed to be. I decided to see if I could stay in the 8:40-8:50 range as long as I felt good. I promised myself if I still felt strong at mile 15 (when the course really started becoming fast), I’d let it go.
Fortunately, miles 6-9 made me slow down since there were some solid hills (nothing compared to Kauai, of course, but certainly enough to make me be mindful of my running). Fortunately, I also took the time to prep this year by studying the course and had prepped for this.
All of that melted, though, at mile 10. I have to say: Sacramento’s spectators did not disappoint throughout the ENTIRE course. It was nearly as populated as LA, full of funny signs and adorable families and folks of all ages cheering us on. Mile ten was particularly dense, and as your round a small uphill, you can’t help but smile at all the amazing signs and shows of support.
I rode that energy for a few miles and ended up pacing at 8:35 all the way until the half-marathon point, including through the toughest hills on the course. This was… a calculated risk that I certainly felt later on. While I’ve been running 8:35 as my half marathon pace, I hadn’t considered it my marathon pace. Still, I decided this was the year to push myself and leave it all on the course.
At mile 14, I could feel myself start to slow, and was so tempted to listen to music at this point. I had run the entire race without music, but had my headphones in case I wanted to call someone or really was struggling.I made myself calm down and keep pushing, not wanting to call in reinforcements just yet. I ended up dropping my pace back down to 8:50 by the time I hit mile 16.
I’m a pretty nervous consumer of energy gels (I worry about stomach issues) and usually train without them at this point since I’ve had enough experience with Gu’s to know they work for me. I had taken in fuel at miles 5 and 10.5 I wasn’t planning on taking another gel until Mile 16 or 18. I decided I had more than enough gels to last, and took a caffeine Honey Stinger at mile 14.5. It worked, and by mile 16 I felt back on track.
At mile 16, I had a hard conversation with my body. “Body,” I said, “this year, if we’re leaving it all on the course, it means the next 10 miles are going to hurt a bit.” My legs flexed in momentary protest, but then buckled down and ground it out.
Miles 16 and 17 were fast for me (8:35 pace, and in the middle of Mile 18 I could feel my legs start to lock. I momentarily began to panic, but made myself calm down. “Don’t get in your head,” I thought. “You’re trained for this. Stay in this pace right now.” I took another energy gel and begged my legs to stay with me.
By mile 19, I was starting to feel it, and dropped back down to an 8:50 pace — not in my heart or chest, but in my leg muscles. I was nervous I was cramping, but kept telling myself to breathe and relax. “It’s yours if you want it.” I kept thinking.
At mile 22, I started listening to music intermittently. I was really worried my pace was going to slow, and I wouldn’t make my goal time. Still, Sacramento’s crowds were so awesome, and the scenery so beautiful at this point, I had to stop listening and just stand in awe. I realized that I loved doing this– running– so much. I wanted to make sure I enjoyed it.
I ran mile 24 a near 20 second slower (9:10) for reasons I still don’t understand. Honestly. Was it music? Was I just not focused? I am still bewildered.
When my watch showed me my pace for mile 24, I freaked a little. I decided that, in these last two miles, now was my time. I knew that, unless I walked, I beat my goal, but wanted to see what I can do. Mentally, the last few miles are so hard for me because it feels like I’m so close but take so much longer than I want them too. My legs were starting to ache at this point, but my heart and lungs felt strong and I knew I needed to just keep grinding.
By Mile 26, I pushed as hard as my stiff legs would let me, and by the time I made the final two turns I was flying as fast as I could. The ending split was confusing (why have two different endings for men and women?), but I ran to the end and couldn’t believe what I’d done.
So, I am actually running another marathon…. next Sunday.
Crazy, I know. I saw the races on my calendar and felt bad canceling Honolulu. So, I wondered if trying to do back-to-back marathons was nuts.
It’s not common, but actually not out of the realm of possibility. Emily Abbate’s story in Runner’s World resonated so strongly with me, that I know I want to try. I make these important caveats:
- While I PR’d here, I didn’t finish feeling so thrashed I can’t move. I spent much of the rest of today walking and feeling good, just tight.
- I plan to roll and ice this week to recover, with one run on Wednesday just to see how I feel.
- I have zero time goals for Honolulu. I just want to finish. Frankly, I might walk parts of it, and I’m fine with that. If worse comes to worse, though, I’ll drop out and not finish.
The thing is, I just really want to see if I can do this and finish, even slowly. I think I can, and that alone makes it worth a shot.