The Most Epic Run

Okay, I think I’m ready to talk about the Boston Marathon now. I’ve been recovering since Monday, and I’m still not 100% – I won’t be for awhile yet. But it’s also taken me a few days to stew in the aftermath of the run, to let the awesomeness come to me. Unlike a lot of people, I was not overtaken by the greatness of running Boston. I was simply in survival mode, trying to get the course behind me. I did not relish in the moment, or cry at the finish line. In fact, I was hardly aware of what was happening around me. But, as the moments pass since Monday afternoon, it’s coming to me in little waves, like an amnesia stricken patient getting her memories back. I’m looking back on the run with complete awe.

I can’t believe I did that.

I had a really tough time sleeping the night before. I had horrible dreams of getting lost and going the wrong way. I wanted to sleep in as long as possible, but couldn’t even make it to 6 am. I lounged in bed, drinking some horrible hotel coffee and watching the news. As expected the local station was all about the marathon, the insane weather, and the stories of various athletes that would be running in a few hours. There was a story about a group of runners driving all night from Toronto because their flight had been canceled. There was another group from Minnesota in the same boat. Suddenly my drive in the day before didn’t seem so bad.

I got dressed and applied my Vaseline. Ate my oatmeal, drank my sports’ drink (“a bottle in the belly!”) I sort of felt like I was preparing myself for a battle, like I was headed off into some unknown. I wrote my final Facebook post – a farewell to my former non-Boston Marathoner self I suppose – and packed up the room.Screenshot (48)

Being in the second wave (corral three), I didn’t start until 10:25. This meant I could take the 9am shuttle bus from the hotel to the South Street bussing area where I could take the official shuttle bus to the Athlete’s Village. I was assured the whole trip would take less than 30 minutes, giving me ample time in the village to get to the starting line. However, with the extreme weather and long lines of cars trying to get off the highway, my shuttle from the hotel was delayed. The official bus filled quickly and we were on our way within a few minutes. But most of us on the bus were Wave 2 runners and we nervously checked our watches. The bus creeped along in nearly stalled traffic and we inched our way to the Athletes’ Village. We weren’t going to make it!

The bus let us off at 10:20. We jogged, panic mounting, into the Village, while an intercom was directing Wave 2 runners to the start line. It’s nearly three-quarters of a mile from the Village to the start line – I had to move! I started running through the crowd, avoiding mud when possible, tearing through it when inevitable. Runners were packed in like sardines and the dense throng of people plus the need to get to the starting line ended up being just the right seeds for a panic attack. I needed to get to a space  away from the crowd and the noise where I could sit for a moment and calm myself down, but there wasn’t time for that. I couldn’t think straight. I couldn’t see straight. Fear was beginning to take over. I was stripping warm up gear as I went, trying to focus on the yellow poncho in front of me. The guy was big and tall and making a path through the crowd to the start line, so I stayed tucked in behind him. Suddenly a gust of wind knocked his ball cap off and he stopped to turn and grab it. It was like plowing into a brick wall. I didn’t have anything to focus on now. I tried to stay calm, but it was disorienting in the rain, the crowd. I pulled off to the edge of the crowd and changed my shoes. Changing shoes in the rain while trying to keep your socks dry is an interesting exercise in futility. I kissed the old New Balance Vazee Paces goodbye and looped the laces together. These shoes carried me through Toronto, the race that qualified me for Boston. I was going to miss them, but I hoped that they would be donated to someone who could use them for a few more miles. The New Balance 1400v5s felt like gloves; warm, dry, snug.

I frantically crossed the start at 10:31 – 6 minutes late.

Now, of course it doesn’t matter when you cross the start line because it’s all CHIP timing, but I wasn’t thinking clearly. I was flustered. I was starting in the back of corral 8. Gary from Halifax was at my elbow, calmly talking to me. I don’t know if he could tell I was having an anxiety attack or if he was just friendly, but focusing on the conversation with him was incredibly helpful. That distraction was exactly what I needed to calm myself down and get my brain in order to tackle the mission ahead. Unfortunately I lost him by the 5k mark, but by then I was okay and able to trudge on alone.

My first 3 miles were very, very slow since I started with a slower group and muscled with an anxiety attack. I tried to make my way through the crowd, but didn’t want to spend too much energy weaving in and out, so I made peace with the conservative start. There were plenty of miles ahead of me to make up for it. I clicked into the pace around mile 4 and actually held on fairly consistently. The aid stations were slow, but I had no choice but to use them. I could not open my fuel pouches due to frozen, numb fingers and had to rely on the Gatorade being handed out as both fuel and hydration.

I knew that my husband would be at the Ashland station near mile 6, so I stayed to the left hand side. Sure enough, he was there, looking in the wrong direction! I shouted several times to get his attention & he caught a glimpse as I sped by. Sadly, because I started late, I was “behind schedule” (even though I was on pace) and this meant that he missed the train to the next stopping point. It was two hours for the next train, and I’d be done by then, so he and a fellow spectator shared a Lyft to the finish. Running, I had a feeling I probably wouldn’t see him again until Boylston Street, but couldn’t help by scan the sides the rest of the way into Boston.

I kept feeling the sensation that my shoes were coming untied, but every time I checked, they were fine. Thankfully my shoes did not hold on to water too much and my feet felt light the whole way. Unfortunately, racing shoes were not the best option in the rain or the down hills as my feet slammed to the front of my shoe repeatedly. By the end of mile 16 I was in agonizing pain. I could feel the blood squishing between my toes and tried to convince myself not to think about it.

The rain pelted down hard and fast. There were moments where it let up a bit, but it never fully stopped. I struggled with a headwind almost the entire way and gusts that nearly knocked me over. There were moments where the rain came so hard that it felt like stinging needles and there was no option but to put your head down and push on.

Large white medical tents with warming blankets and EMTs tempted me from the sidelines. “Come in, stop, and it can all be over” they beckoned. It was becoming harder and harder to pass by them. I began talking to myself and counting down the miles out loud to distract myself. I whooped with glee when the rain fell in sheets – not because I enjoyed the rain, but because I wanted to trick myself that I was.

The spectators were loud and dense. They lined the streets nearly the entire course, despite the freezing, awful wet. High fives, ponchos, food, dry socks and gloves were being handed out the whole way. I saw people opening Gu packets for runners and tying their shoes. Medical staff and police officers dotted the crowd as well. It was all a controlled chaos. It was all so intense.

Word spread to us in the pack that Desi Linden had won the women’s race. Elation erupted from us as we all celebrated her victory from our places on the course. I think the joy of her win helped give us all a little second wind and motivate us to keep trying for a little bit longer.

I made it to the Newton hills and that’s where it all nearly came undone. The going up was fine, it was the going down that wasn’t. My feet screamed at me at the slightest down hill and I felt relief when the elevation increased. I started to wonder if my foot was broken. I got through Heart Break Hill okay, but actually cried in agony when I slowly came back down the other side. There was plenty of more down hill through mile 24 and I wasn’t sure if I could make it. I passed a man running barefoot and it struck me as a great idea. I wanted nothing more than to rip my shoes off. But I knew the ground would be icy and if I had broken my foot, I would need all the cushioning I could get. Not much mattered now except getting to the finish line.

I always thought I’d be emotional once I’d see the Citgo sign. It’s the iconic moment when you know you are nearly there. But I was cold, I was in pain, I was dizzy. I didn’t even have the energy to cry anymore. The only thing that kept my body running was knowing that walking would take longer. I was also afraid that if I stopped, I might never start again and not finishing Boston was not an option. Time didn’t matter – finishing did. But with a mile and a half to go I glanced at my watch. I was behind pace. This was slightly crushing, but I kind of knew I was behind for awhile due to those hills. I had trained for a 3:15, but readjusted my goal to a 3:20 once I knew the weather would be awful. Now I wasn’t even on track for that. I did some quick math. If I really pushed it I just might make it in with enough to beat my qualifying time. I didn’t have much left in the tank, but I figured I might as well empty it and see just how close to the finish I could get.

It wasn’t pretty. I pushed. It wasn’t good enough. I pushed harder. I needed to get to the finish line faster, but I couldn’t. My body wouldn’t. I turned right on Hereford and gritted my teeth. I wanted to scream. I wanted to never run a marathon again. I turned left on Boylston and smacked into a wall of sound. The crowds were screaming frantically. I was running frantically. I wasn’t going to make it, no matter how I tried. My soul was collapsing in on itself. I pushed more. The finish line loomed ahead, big and blue in the grey. I was never going to make it.

I dug down into the last little bit and found a wee kernel left in the bottom of myself. Strava data tells me I peaked at a 4:46 per mile pace. I don’t recall it, but the race photos reveal me crossing the finish with my arms wide and a smile on my face. My official CHIP time came through at 3:17:30. That’s a personal record by 47 seconds. I did that.

I ripped my shoes off and the release of pressure gave immediate relief. I staggered along, sock footed, as volunteers draped a cape around me, slung a finisher’s medal around my neck, and handed me water bottles and food. I began shaking violently and had to stop every three steps to muster the strength to go three more. The nearly quarter of a mile walk to the family meeting area seemed to stretch out in front of me for impossible miles. Medical staff kept asking if I needed a wheelchair, but I knew a trip to the med-tent could take awhile and my husband was waiting in the cold with my warm clothes. I had come this far already, what was a short walk to the end of the block?

Sure enough, he was standing there on the corner, waiting for me. He was wet, but solid and warm. He helped me into the John Hancock Building where a warming center had been set up for the hypothermic athletes. Using my cape as a personal privacy tent, I stripped off my wet clothes and pulled on the dry ones. My feet were a rainbow of colors and blood seeped from under the toe nails. My right foot was quite swollen and tender to the touch. But there were so many runners in much worse shape and I felt that I was taking up valuable space on the carpet, so after I was changed I cleared out. Walking was difficult due to the pain in my foot (and quads!), but mostly because I was shivering so violently. The rain continued to pour as we made our way to the train station.

I shivered on the train for an hour. I shivered as we waited for a taxi to take us back to the hotel. I shivered on the two and half hour drive back home. I shivered in my sleep. It took a very long time to warm up again. But after lots of hot beverage and good food, the numbness is lifting and memories of the race are coming back to me. There aren’t any pictures because we were afraid the camera might get ruined in the rain, but I am able to replay it all in my mind like a movie, and it’s fantastic. Looking at some of the info the BAA has posted, I’m amazed at what we all did on Marathon Monday.
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Boston Marathon 2018 was indeed the Most Epic Run. I don’t even know if anything else will ever compare. It was a battle and a half, it was both exhilarating and humbling. It showed me just what kind of grit I’m made of and man, oh man am I okay with that. While I swore off running at mile 24, now, a few days later, I really cannot wait for the next gun to go off.

 

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My Stats:
Official Time: 3:17:30
Pace: 7:32
Overall Place: 4749…………..top 18%
Gender Place: 624……………..top 5%
Age Division (18-39): 564……top 10%

Race day statistics from the BAA 

My Strava Data

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Atlantic City Marathon Recap

AC7Sunday, October 22nd was the 59th running of America’s 3rd oldest marathon; the Atlantic City Marathon. This race is considered “pancake flat”, which makes it a great first marathon for a lot of people. It starts off on the iconic boardwalk alongside the water & grand hotels casinos before splitting off for a quick loop around the eastern portion of the city. Then it’s back to the boards for several miles before hitting the streets for a couple of loops through the western part of the city, and back to the boardwalk for the finish line. Straight forward, simple course – a PR in the making!

I chose to run this race after lots of research and consideration. I liked that it was fairly close to home & on a Sunday. This meant that we wouldn’t need as much in hotel & food accommodations & my husband wouldn’t need to take off time from work. I liked that it was flat. I had yet to run a truly flat course, and felt that this would really show what I was made of. I also liked my prospects. After going over the results from the previous years and taking note that it was two weeks out from the New York City Marathon, I figured that if I PRed and fought hard enough for it, I could make the podium. I was looking at 3rd place & the potential for prize money. But I would have to get under 3:20 to do it. So, when I started my training back in July, I set all of my paces to a 3:18 marathon & I focused on running hard, especially when tired. I knew I would need it.

I was staying at a hotel that was about a mile from the starting line. So at 7:20 I slowly jogged my way down to the start area, used the facilities, drank my water-downed Gatorade, stretched, attempted some drills (but the crowds of people ended up being too dense to get much in), and nervously paced back and forth until 8am. The race staff kept the starting corral closed off to runners, which was nerve wracking as the start time drew close. Throngs of marathoners and half marathoners pressed up against the metal barricades, watching the Pace Leaders wander back & forth, alone with their signs inside the corral. We kept asking each other what was going on, but no one knew. The pacers couldn’t give out any information, the police wouldn’t give out information, and we couldn’t find anyone that looked like they were officially with the race. Eventually we all just pressed through, many jumping the fences to get lined up.

I hemmed and hawed between Pace Groups. There was a very welcoming looking guy holding a 3:25 sign and an extremely chatty guy holding a 3:15 sign. I had met them both the day before at the expo & felt that the 3:15 guy had pretty much brushed me off. When I had stated that I planned on breaking 3:20, his response was “Aww girl, you just gotta get a 3:30!” I explained that I was already in Boston, but I got the feeling he didn’t think I could run faster. I didn’t feel like running with a guy who didn’t believe in me. I also don’t like chatty pacers, so I ended up deciding to try it out solo.

I lined up just behind the 3:15 group & realized that I was only three rows deep from the starting line. I had never started a marathon so close to the front before, and it made me feel a little nervous. I tried to take note of other women around me, but with backs to me, I couldn’t tell who was lined up for the half and who was there for the full. I decided that it didn’t matter; I had a long ways to go before it would matter & I would deal with it then. A few deep breaths. The National Anthem played. Bouncing. High knees in place. An air horn sounded followed by a barrage of hundreds of watches beeping and we were off!

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That’s me in the white crop top. Martin didn’t even know he was taking a picture of me!

I tried to stay in control. My head kept screaming at my body to wait, to hold back a bit. But my legs were fueled with nervous energy and they did not listen. I pounded away with the crowd off the boardwalk, through the streets, down the tunnel & toward the expressway. I flew through the first few miles too fast. I was running low 7s, but it felt like I was going for an easy stroll. Still, I knew this would bite me in the end. Marathon Rule #1: whatever time you take off at the front gets added on at the back with interest! I needed to be running even 7:35s, but I wasn’t able to slow myself down until the half way point, and I knew it was probably too late. This was now going to be a “hang on & hope for the best” run.

The boardwalk was slow, and tedious, and long. While it was a beautiful day for spectators, the incredibly sunny 70 degrees felt like torture to the runners. The boardwalk offered no shade and the pace felt harder and harder to maintain. The boards were soft and some were even loose and wobbly. The runners were all strung out, so it was a bit lonely. But then I saw the leaders finishing the half marathon. Two women who were running stride for stride passed & darted for the finish chute. They were halfers, which meant I was further up than I thought! As I reached the end of the boardwalk & was about to turn off, a spectator jumped up & down enthusiastically. “Go girl!” she screamed, “You’re the second one!” Second?! This was intimidating information since I still had 12 miles to go & no idea where 3rd place was.

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Pushing through the aid station at Mile 8.

The rest of the race was done in a panic. I was still running ahead of schedule, but I was starting to feel it. The water in the 2nd half of the race had a strange taste, almost like sulfur, so I couldn’t get it down. I was dehydrated. My stomach was cramping, my chest was hurting, my legs felt like shredded meat. The finish line felt like forever away, I still didn’t know where 3rd (or even 4th) were, my sports’ bra was chaffing.

And then came the positive splits.

Miles 20 & 21 were painful, but doable. Mile 22 brought on a massive wall. The only thing I could think about was stopping. I constantly argued with myself in my head. I was hurting bad, but I knew that if I walked I’d never get started again. Runners were dropping off the course around me and it took a lot of willpower to not join them. I counted ten steps at a time, pleading with my body to make it through the last five miles. My pace had dropped from sub 7:20s to 8:00, 8:09, 8:30. I wanted to cry. The last mile was incredibly difficult. Not only was it hot and painful, but now the boardwalk was crowded with people who didn’t seem to realize there was a race going on & I had to weave my way through them.

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I’m so tired, but trying to tough it out.

The inflatable arch marking the finish line was ahead, but didn’t seem to get any bigger. I was running and running, pushing the pace with what little umpf I had left, but it seemed as if I was running in place, not getting any closer. Suddenly I saw my family on the left side. My kids were screaming. My husband was screaming. People along the barriers were whooping and clanking bells. Did I blank out? This is the end. GO MAZY! I “sprinted” with every little thing I had left in my body across the timing mat.

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Giving it all I’ve got with only a few meters left to go. It will end eventually.

A finisher’s medal was draped over my neck and a Gatorade shoved into my hand. I limped toward the barriers. I wanted to beg for help, but couldn’t speak, and didn’t really know what I wanted anyway. Someone gave me a bag of ice, a chair. I sat down & iced my hamstring that felt like it was on fire. My children clamored at the barrier excitedly, my husband snapped pictures. He was teary eyed. I was the 2nd Female Finisher and 20th overall. 3:18.17. I finally admitted to him that there was prize money for me. Six minutes later they announced the finish of the 3rd Female.

It was over, finally. I made the podium after all, in fact, I placed even better than I had planned. And I had set a PR. But I was still dissatisfied. While I did do well by the numbers & ran my fastest race, I couldn’t claim it as my best race. I made a lot of mistakes. I wasn’t prepared adequately (not enough sleep, hydration, or food), and I ran with my gut, not with my head. I am thankful I had the strength to pull off the last five miles when it got tough, and I’m lucky I was far enough ahead that my wall didn’t affect my placing. The 3rd place finisher ran beautifully even splits and her last five miles were faster than mine! While I am proud in my achievement, I am more proud of the fact that I have this experience under my belt & the knowledge (and confidence) that my training worked. While I didn’t pace myself evenly, I still walked away with the time I had spent three and a half months preparing for. I will humbly accept this event as a lesson & learn from it. Oh, and I am really looking forward to some down time & a beer!

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1st, 2nd, & 3rd Place Female Finishers.

When It Gets Ugly

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I love all the memes and stock images of runners and racing. They are so lovely and inspirational. Beautiful toned bodies, effortlessly floating through the air; arms outspread, breaking through a finishing tape; a solitary trail, scenic overlooks, rolling hills and a runner meditating on a long run. Who doesn’t want a piece of that?

stock-photo-man-trail-running-for-fitness-on-stony-path-in-high-mountains-with-peak-view-and-blue-sky-459868003And sometimes we do get a run where everything comes together nicely and we get that floating on air feeling. It’s effortless; we are strong, powerful, fast. It is beautiful.

But not all runs are picture perfect. In fact, some runs are down right ugly. We can’t hit our paces right or a nagging pain plagues us. Or for whatever reason we bit off more than we could chew & are forced to decide to spit or choke. It happens to everyone, but what you do about the ugly run can define you as a runner.

I decided to run, rather last minute, the 1st Andover Lake 5 Mile Race last weekend. Unlike my town’s 5k/10k which is practically all flat on the rail trail, this race was mostly pavement and quite hilly. I know the lake loop like the back of my hand. It is one of my favorite training courses – but I wasn’t sure how a 5 mile race would pan out for me two weeks before my marathon. After lots of nudging, I conceded. It was local, it was familiar, and it would benefit my town – why not!

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I knew where the hills were, so I knew better than anyone how to pace myself for them. But I also knew what I could push on this particular course, so push I did. And let me tell you, it was not pretty.

There was grunting, a little barking, lots of huffing, and even a minor whimper near the end. I ran a lot of the race stride in stride with a young man, urging him along. He had the potential to do well – he just needed to run faster! I was dropping mile times nearly 30 seconds faster than intended. But I kept pushing it. The last half mile was going to be a serious up hill, with 95 feet of elevation gain. I had only ever run all the way up the hill a handful of times, and none of them at 5k race pace. This was going to be a brutal test.

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Fast mile splits made for an ugly finish.

We chugged on to the hill bravely, knowing our fate but trying to pretend it wasn’t real. At the base of the hill my new running buddy deflated a little. “Oh shit,” he murmured between gulps of air. “It’s okay. We got this,” I huffed back and we charged on. I took the hill slightly ahead and did what I could to keep my form steady, my breathing under control, and ignore my pace. That’s when things got real ugly.

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I died here.

I ran out of steam half way up. I didn’t want to run any further. And this was torture because I could hear the crowd gathered at the finish line just at the top. I knew how close we were. I just didn’t care anymore. The young man began to pass me and urged me to keep going with him. “No, I can’t.” But he insisted. “Don’t say that! You’ve got this!” As we shuffled over the crest of the hill I urged him to make the dash to the finish chute.

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No. I can’t. No uglier words have been said in a race. I knew better than to say it out loud, but I honestly wasn’t even thinking them – at least not consciously. My pace was shot, I was now in third place, and my confidence busted. My form was all over the place and my chin was covered in drool & sweat. It was ugly. But what did I have to loose?

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I couldn’t hold my pace in the last quarter mile of the race, but I could push through the nastiness that hard races put before us. I dug deep and found a sprint (not a fast one, but still) and pushed it out. I wasn’t going to take my place back, but I really was okay with it. That kid put in a lot of work and deserved that 2nd place finish. It was a hard race, harder than even I had anticipated, but it felt rewarding to look it in the eye and beat it down. When you put everything out on the course and run your heart out you feel beautiful, no matter how ugly it may have gotten out there. And you never dwell on those ugly parts. You just move on, happy to have finished, happy to be strong. Happy to be done.

When the course gets ugly, you get ugly right back. This sport isn’t about being pretty; it’s about being powerful.

Another Jaunt Down the Hop River Trail

Yesterday was 5th Annual Hop River 5k & 10k here in Andover, CT.  I enjoy this race because it’s local, it’s flat, and it’s a lot of fun racing down the trail that I train on almost every day.  And, it lines up perfectly in the beginning of the second quarter of marathon training.  I’ve run it two other times before (2014 and 2016) and both times I ran the two miles to the event as a warm up and home again as the cool down.  But Saturday was a different story this year.  Torrential downpours flooded from the skies and severe thunderstorm and tornado warnings loomed.  Unsure if the race would even take place, my husband and I decided it would be best to drive there and park to save my feet from getting too soaked and to make it home again safely if the weather turned even worse.

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Just stepping from the car to the registration tent had me soaked to the bone.  By the time I had finished my warm up my soggy socks were inducing blisters. Thankfully we missed out on thunderstorms (and tornados!) and the rain even took a break by the time the gun went off.  I ran in my usual fashion: rabbit out the start and try to hang on as long as I can.  I made it through the first half a lot faster than I had planned.  I hit the three mile mark at 19:09, well over two minutes ahead of my plan.  NOT SMART!  I hit the turn-around and started back to the start/finish line, but was really feeling the humidity, the blisters, and the strain of moving too fast.  I looked at my watch a little more often than I probably should have, but it assured me that I was keeping the pace under 7 minute miles.  “Don’t get comfortable, Mazy” I kept telling myself. I was delighted to come across the five mile marker. Almost home!  Despite some cramps and sore feet, I had it in me to surge through the last half mile and actually kicked it in to the finish.  Seeing my family, neighbor, and best friend cheering in the final stretch was a glorious feeling!

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I sailed through the finish line, being sure to take a long stride OVER the wet and slippery timing mat, and nearly fainted when I looked my watch.  41:32.  This was nearly a 45 second PR in wet, slippery, muddy conditions.  My Garmin also recorded a new 5k PR, 19:49. Not too shabby.  I finished 6th overall and was again the top female finisher.  It was totally worth the rain and blisters!

After I got home I uploaded my Garmin data so I could compare this year’s race to last year’s race.  It was the same course, but a few variables changed.  Last year was incredibly hot (90 degrees, with a heat index of 105) and bright sunshine.  This year it was cool and incredibly wet.  Both years I hit a PR though.

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What was the same was my incredible gung-ho attitude about flying out for the first half and scrambling to hang on through the second half.  That’s certainly something I need to work on.  I’m not finishing as strong as I know I can, so I can work on pulling out a better kick as well.  But I am getting stronger. I am getting faster. And, maybe, I’m getting smarter about it all.  It was a fantastic run, and despite my slow down, I have no regrets.  Can’t wait to see what I pull off next year!

***Oh, and I want to send a special shout out to one of my readers who’s beautiful third place finish won her her age group.  FANTASTIC RUN, MARISSA!!***

Niantic Bay 10k & The High Cost of a PR

I went into the Niantic Bay 10k unsure of myself. My previous PR from last summer was a 43:53, but I felt that I probably had a 43:00 10k in me somewhere. But then again, I’ve been taking the last month super easy, just jogging along waiting for my next training cycle to start.  My best friend, who also entered the race, was in the same boat, and we took on the event as a pop quiz or place marker to test out our fitness levels and give ourselves an idea on where to start in the next couple of weeks. Due to lack of speed training and heat, I wanted to aim for 7:00 miles and basically went in with a come-what-may attitude. That is, until I got there.

The race parking, registration, and start line were at McCook Point Park, overlooking the Sound.  It was a nice little spot; very pretty, very sunny, a bit warm, but thankfully no wind.  The course was an out and back that ran through residential areas along the beach & was for the mostly flat.  I arrived with the kids to register about an hour or so before the start time & watched as runners milled about.  I couldn’t tell who was fast and who was running for fun.  I was trying to scope out the female competition, but I really couldn’t tell. Everyone looked fast to me.  My husband showed up a little while later and took the kids to play on the beach while my friend and I did some warm ups and found positions on the start line.  I felt rather conspicuous since I walked right up to the line while the rest of the field stood back several paces.  It seemed that everyone was too humble to start up front and I was coming off as cocky.  Finally a teenager and few others stepped up with us.  The gun went off and we all started to run.

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But I got excited and went out a bit fast.  Okay, I went out a lot fast.  I knew I was moving a bit too quickly, but there was a teenager on my left shoulder and I felt the need to shake her.  When I tried to settle into the pace, she would nudge my elbow.  It’s one thing to be drafted from, it’s another to be pushed.  I didn’t like that someone was trying to push the pace.  I was also annoyed at her close proximity.  It was a large open road and a relatively small field; there was no need for her to be jostling for position as if we were bottle-necking in a cross country race!  I blazed through the first mile in a cool six minutes and she backed off a bit.  Without the kid’s nudging and heavy breathing, I was able to settle into a fairly comfortable 6:35 pace.  It felt quick, but the effort wasn’t so overwhelming that I couldn’t hang on to it.  I could hear breathing and foot falls behind me, and guessed that it was another female, but didn’t dare look back.  That was rule number one my high school coach instilled in me: Never Look Back.  I trucked along happily in 4th place behind three other men.

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The half way point was a blessing.  I felt as if I’d been climbing up hill for three miles and was welcoming a return down hill to coast for a bit.  But of course, it only felt like an up hill.  In actuality it was all flat.  We turned and headed back to the park, but I was afraid of losing steam.  “Just a 5k more,” I kept telling myself.  I was afraid of slowing down, but every time I glanced at my watch  I was relieved to see that I was indeed holding the pace.  At four miles the breathing and footsteps revealed that it was indeed a second female.  She passed me and a part of me was thankful to no longer be responsible for holding the lead. I was holding this quicker pace a lot longer than I thought I could, so I might be able to stick with her a bit longer.  She trotted on ahead and I stayed comfortably a few strides behind.

I was tired, I was thirsty, I was very hungry, but I was doing well and despite a side cramp, felt very good with the race.  I was going to break my PR and then some!  I was too cocky though.  In the midst of congratulating myself on such a great run at mile five I felt my hamstring slide.  It was an odd sensation, like rolling an ankle but near my buttocks, followed by burning pain with each stride.  I could no longer safely maintain my pace like this.  I slowed to a 6:45, then 7:00.  At 7:20 pace I felt doomed.  Then I heard her coming.  The teenager with her gangly stride and pointy elbows ran past.  Damn.  I knew I wasn’t going to pass her back — she had this one — but I was determined to keep her in sight.  I hobbled up to the finish, keeping the best form I could.  I really had no choice but to accept 3rd place.

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I came through the finish chute to the glorious sounds of cheers and bag pipes.  I had never been so glad to reach a finish line.  I was the third female and seventh overall finisher.  I may have not won the race, but I did walk away with an awesome personal best; 42:16!!  I saw the physical therapist at the finish line who congratulated me on my accomplishment, then strongly urged for me to call a PT on Monday.  She poked around, found some tight, sore spots in my psoas muscle and gently stretched some of the tightness away.  I ran a stupid race and I paid dearly for it. I knew this right away.  I could have achieved a PR, possibly even the same finish time, but with less pain if I had run smarter.  This was supposed to be a test to assess my fitness level, not an all out sprint for six miles.  I don’t know what I was trying to prove or to whom, but here I am.  Now I’ve got some repairing to do before I can even think about my next training cycle.

At least I learned something, right?

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The Not-So-Bad-After-All Race: Toronto Marathon Part 2

To say that I was nervous about running the GoodLife Fitness Toronto Marathon would be an understatement. The race was five days ago and my stomach still flip-flops when I think about it! I was a hot mess of nerves leading up to the event. Basically anything that could go wrong, did go wrong, which wasn’t helping my state of mind at all.

But I knew that focusing on the negative (like getting lost in the middle of Toronto and running for two hours instead of twenty minutes the day before a big race) wasn’t going to help me achieve my goal, so I did what I could to turn what I could into positives, even if it meant lying to myself. The weather forecast continued to predict nasty weather: cold, wind, rain, a possibility of snow flurries. I carried on about how great this was. I loved foul weather! The worse the sky was, the better I’d run. I looked forward to getting wet. (NOT!) I was on day 28 of my cycle, but this was really a good thing. I always feel a huge tension release once my period starts, so this was perfect timing. (NOT!) The start line was a full 45 minute drive from where we were staying. That meant I had all that time to sit in a warm cozy van – maybe even more time if there was traffic on the freeway. That had to be better than standing in a starting corral freezing, right?

Deep breaths, Mazy.

On Saturday, my family walked from our rented condo on Hanna Avenue to the Enercare Centre where the Expo was taking place. We were running a full hour behind schedule since I had gotten a bit lost on my run, so we missed meeting up with our friends who had also come from CT and were running the marathon as well. Because we were late, we went through the Expo ourselves. Packet pick-up was a little awkward. Before entering the arena I was halted by a kid with a tablet & required to fill out information like my name, address, phone number. It turned out I was signing up for some sort of raffle for a free gym membership. I tried to explain that we were from the States and it was unnecessary – even if I won I wouldn’t be able to accept it, but the kid just kept taping on the tablet. Fine. I was entered. And now I have to figure out how to unsubscribe from these Emails.

There weren’t a whole lot of people at the Expo, so there wasn’t even a line to get my bib. And I was surprised I didn’t have to identify myself in any way. In previous marathons I’ve always had to present a picture ID when picking up my packet. But, the part I found most strange about the ordeal was that I then had to take my bib, walk to the far end of the expo center and have another set of people “activate” it. Now, perhaps this was to make participants walk through the Expo and see the vendors, or perhaps the coordinators were expecting more of a crowd. Either way, those handing out the bibs could very easily have had the device to activate bibs in the same location and done it all right there, causing less confusion (and fewer personnel).  Also, the table handing out T-shirts could have also been located in the same spot for convince sake.

Anyway…like I said, there was certainly an underwhelming crowd in the expo center and very few vendors. It was the same basic stuff seen at all running expos with the same persistent non-runners attempting to hawk their Made-In-China It’s-On-Sale-Only-For-Today crap.  There are a few running related things I’ve been on the lookout for (a visor, foamy slip on sandals, a tank with pockets) but either no such things existed or they were fresh out of my size. Ah well. We were about to walk out with nothing but a bunch of promotional postcards when I saw her; Kathrine Switzer!

She was standing behind a table with a blown up copy of her iconic photograph from the 1967 Boston Marathon. She was chatting to a lady as she signed books. Books! My other weakness!! My husband immediately started fishing around in his pocket for the Canadian bills and I excitedly waited my turn.  She signed my copy and shook my hand. She gave me advice for the following day. She was just so pleasant! Then she told me to come around the table so she could take a picture with me.  She then gave me a hug and told me she knew I’d do well. And suddenly, for the first time in weeks, I knew it too.

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So we spent the rest of the day attempting to relax and fighting off the excitement that was building. I continued to guzzle down Gatorade and water. I ate an early supper of pork chops and pasta (the same pre-race meal I’ve been eating for the past 20 years), and went to bed super early.  Well, I laid down super early. I didn’t sleep, like at all.  I was too excited, too nervous, too pumped.

I gave up trying to sleep at 4:30 am and got up, made the terrible hotel room coffee, mixed up instant oatmeal with a crunchy granola that tasted a bit like car exhaust. I swilled some more water. “A bottle in the belly!” I had to get down as much water before the race as I could since I had decided to forego the hydration pack after all. I was to meet my friends in the street at 6 am and we would drive up to the start together. I put together a pack of warm clothes and dry socks, face wipes, and granola bars for Hubs to bring to the finish line.  The skyline was just beginning to illuminate as I stepped outside. I was smacked in the face with a bitter, forceful gust of wind.

Shit. This was really going to suck.

Before long M and her husband had arrived in their rented van. J had already been waiting with me in the shelter of the main lobby.  There was next to no traffic this early on a Sunday morning, so we had zero issues getting to the other side of town.  Roads were blocked off and it was a little unclear where we needed to go. We got as close as we could to the start area and S pulled over at a Starbucks to let us out.  “Good luck!” he called as he merged back into traffic. The three of us stood a little stunned in the wind. We agreed that we would all have to pee several times in the next hour, so we headed into the coffee shop.

We wandered into Mel Lastman Square where a large building with ridiculous toilet lines kept runners shielded from the wind.  It was cold, but it looked like there would be breaks in the clouds, and it definitely wasn’t going to rain.  My friends were both checking bags, but I hadn’t brought much with me. I’d finish my water then toss the bottle in recycling before we headed to the start. I had on pants that I’d be okay losing, though M insisted I put them in her bag before checking it.  I wore a full zip jacket that I planned on wearing until after the gun went off to keep as warm as possible and tossing once we got going.  At 7:10 am the gear bags were loaded up on a big truck. We found a bathroom with no lines down a hall and ran to it.  Others caught on and like lemmings, a whole crowd of runners flocked down an obscure hall to a single stalled bathroom. At 7:20 am we made our way out to the start where the crowd buzzed. M and I had lost J in the bathroom melee, but he wasn’t seeded in the same corral as us anyway.  This was M’s first marathon, so we sought out the pace leaders together. She wanted to keep her eyes on 3:40, 3:50, and 4:00. My strategy didn’t involve a pace leader, simply my watch and breathing.

As the time drew near my fingers were getting stiff with cold. I decided to try carrying my gel flask (filled with maple syrup) in my shorts’ pocket instead of my hand so I could tuck my fingers into my shorts to warm them. I was wearing a pair of cheap thigh high socks with the feet cut off and thumb holes as arm warmers, but had no gloves for fear of losing them once I warmed up. My two side pockets were filled with packets of mashed sweet potato. I wasn’t carrying fluids, but there would be Gatorade and water every two to three kilometers along the course, and I was confident in my pre-race hydration.  My nerves melded with excitement as the crowd pushed in. It was almost time to go.

My plan was simple: Run an 8 min/mile pace, be prepared to slow on the hills as much as 24 seconds (miles 4 & 7 with some consideration for miles 15 & 22), start off conservative, take the down hill (miles 11 through 15), but don’t get carried away. Expect a wall somewhere between miles 18 & 20 and just do whatever you have to to get to the finish from there.  I would take fluid at every aid station that wasn’t over crowded and only focus on the shoulders of the runner ahead of me. I could do this. I could do this. I could do this.

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The gun sounded at 7:30 am and the crowd shuffled to the large, blow up arch over the starting mat. I waited to start my watch until I got to the timing mat, but in hindsight I should have hit the button right away. I started easy, comfortable. I was just behind a 3:30 group, but had already vowed to not be a part of it. Their chatter was already driving me nuts. The crowd of runners was dense, so dense that there was no way to rabbit out and run too fast. This, I conceded, was a good thing. Within a half mile I was quite warm and ditched my jacket by a lamp post. Discarded clothing was being collected for donation, so I’m happy to think that someone somewhere in Toronto is dressed in a sporty bright pink warm up jacket right now. I hope you like it, whoever you are!!  I was coming up on the first mile marker when I realized I didn’t feel an annoying bounce in my shorts. I reached back to find that my waist band lacked a particular bulge. I had dropped my flask of maple syrup! I stopped and looked frantically over the street, but there were too many people. I couldn’t find it and I didn’t dare go back against the crowd. Panic washed over me. I had 25 miles ahead of me and no fuel. The sweet potatoes were to ward off hunger in the last 8 miles or so. I’d never used them as actual fuel before. I began calculating how I’d break them up to make them last the rest of the way. I passed through the first mile mark 13 second ahead of schedule.

I pushed the fear of not fueling away and focused on getting through the race in three mile chunks. As mile four approached, the first hill, the pace group I kept behind began talking about how they could distract themselves from it. Sure, you could see the hill coming from a long ways off, but after training in Andover, this was nothing more than a gentle incline. But this group was afraid of it. I had no time for that kind of negativity and pushed past them. I finished up four miles in 31:08. Definitely ahead of schedule.

I got through mile 8 in an hour and a minute and started talking myself down from the pace. I was going too fast! At this rate I’d burn up, especially since I didn’t have any sugar for later on. I did still have my Electrolytes capsules and two more bee pollen tablets, so I popped one of each. I’d take more electrolytes in five more miles, and the other bee pollen when I began to hit a wall. If/when my pace slowed below the target pace I’d eat a packet of sweet potato. This was going to happen!

The down hill section was indeed fast.  The miles flew by, even though I attempted to hold back a little to keep from destroying my quads.

Mile 8 —   7:19
Mile 9 —   7:09
Mile 10 — 7:30
Mile 11 — 7:16
Mile 12 — 7:22

Yikes!!

I managed to get control of myself again at the half way mark and ticked through miles 13 & 14 at just under 8 min/miles. But then we entered the city. I stopped bothering with my watch because the buildings were throwing off the GPS pacing. It was also a wind tunnel and I was being blown all over the place. On a narrow street a man, who looked like my dad until I actually got up close to him, looked me right in the eye. “The 3:20 pace group just went by. I think you can catch up to them!” I was startled. I had ten more miles to go. I shouldn’t be moving this fast. I couldn’t do this. And yet, I totally was.

I drafted through the city off a young man who also admitted that he was running faster than what he’d trained for. He was from Ontario. “The wind might change when we get to the water,” he warned. A left and a right and we strode together into the park. My family was up ahead and I was so incredibly happy to see them. Because I was 8 minutes ahead of pace, they weren’t quite ready for me. They scrambled to the edge of the sidewalk and screamed and clanged bells as we passed, but Hubs never got a chance to get the camera ready. Next up was Nick’s family, who was equally as elated to see him and just as unprepared for his early arrival. But the kid was right. As we got closer and closer to the harbor, the wind became more and more unpredictable. He pushed on, but I decided to hold back. I wanted to focus on maintaining effort, not pace. And so far I was feeling like I was flying. This marathon was, at least so far, practically effortless.

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I ticked through the next few miles calmly and carefully. Maintain breathing. Maintain form. It’s all about the effort, Mazy. Hold….hold……………HOLD STEADY WOMAN! But when I saw the sign for mile 20 I got excited. I had a 10k left. And I’m good at 10ks. This also meant I had gotten through the rocky part, the part of the race where I usually fell apart. I hadn’t walked. I hadn’t stopped. I was still going! With five miles to go I was back to well under 8 min pace. With a 5k left I was pushing 7:30 pace. I WILL QUALIFY became a mantra on an endless loop in my brain. I was actually going to pull this off.

I felt the pain of the distance and all those miles on pavement when my watched bleeped the 24th mile. My calves began to cramp up and burn. But, unlike every other race, I did not despair. I could handle it for two more miles. Real pain took over at mile 25, but I was now moving even faster. I was down to a 7:20 pace and gaining speed. I passed Nick going up the hill along the freeway. “Hey, there you are!” he cheered as I came up alongside him. “Wow, you’ve got a kick! HOLY SHIT!” I grunted for him to come with me.  “Come on!” I started urging all the runners around me. “We are almost done!”

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I couldn’t help but smile. In fact, I was almost laughing. I was in pain. Wind was blowing hair in my mouth. I wanted to eat NOW. But I was running. I was doing the thing I love to do most and I was doing it so well. The cheering at the finish chute was like a tunnel of noise. I saw my family out of the corner of my eye, and like a corny movie, everything slowed down. The world stood still a moment as I moved as fast I could. I used up everything I had left in me and kept my eyes glued to the large clock over the finish line.

 

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Overwhelmed and fighting back a lump in  my throat, I staggered through the chute. Someone shook my hand. Someone was giving me a hug. Someone put a giant medal around my neck. Someone took my picture. Nick came in shortly behind me and I gave him a high-five. I had done it. I came with a goal, I came with a desire, I came prepared, and I had done it. I had qualified, at last. I was going to Boston.

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Setting Myself Up for a Bad Race: Toronto Marathon Part 1

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I began training for the Toronto Marathon shortly after the holidays with the goal of stepping myself closer to a BQ. I wanted to pull five more minutes off my time with the idea I could then, possibly, pull another five minutes off in the fall, hitting the qualifier. I’ve wanted a 3:30 marathon since college, but there was always one excuse after another as to why I wasn’t there yet. But finally, I was running without a looming pregnancy, without nursing, without injury. The only one holding me back was me — and not having excuses turned out to be scary in and of it’s self.

So the goal was a 3:35, but I wanted a 3:30, and I fanaticized (secretly of course) about a 3:28. I envisioned myself doing well, running strong, crossing the finish line with a kick and seeing on the clock that I had indeed done it! I trained with the idea that I would do it. And then I wrestled with the fear of disappointment.

And then, just as my training was winding down, things began to fall apart. I began to fall apart. My new shoes, despite having a hundred break-in miles, were continuing to cause pain and blisters. I didn’t have the money to purchase another pair and my back up had close to 500 miles.  I had been convinced in the store to purchase a pair they had in stock rather than what I had gone in for. I was told that the shoes I wanted wouldn’t stand up to a marathon distance and I needed a sturdier shoe. But I’m used to running in light, flexible shoes so these just never ended up working for me. Without a receipt, definitely worn, and past the 15 day return period, my never-take-no-for-an-answer husband was able to get the shoes replaced AND a store credit! But now I had less than a month to get these broken in & race ready. Plus, if these shoes didn’t work out, there was no time to replace them. This started the trickle of anxiety.

Three weeks before the race I began to slack on my workouts. I was tired and sore after every run and it was all I could do to get up in the mornings. With only two weeks left I was completely exhausted, only getting out of bed to put the kids on the bus, feed the animals, and then crawl back in to sleep. I was quickly losing weight and I had almost no appetite. I feared that I was suffering from over-training. I began to panic.  If I was really this tired, HOW could I ever get through the race? Suddenly a marathon seemed like the most daunting task in the world and I was sure I wouldn’t be able to make it, let alone come anywhere close to my 3:35 time. I could rest, but not training didn’t seem like an option either. I altered the remainder of my training so that threshold runs and intervals were to be run at race pace (8:00 min/mile) and everything else was to be run at 9:00 min miles.  I cut nearly every workout in half and took it incredibly easy. If I nipped it in the bud, perhaps full on fatigue could be kept at bay and I could pull this thing off anyway.

I carbo-loaded. I hydrated. I worked on gaining weight and sleeping. I cleaned my house like a mad woman to keep my mind off running. My darling children brought home a stomach bug that kept me confined to the bathroom for far too long. I was now terrified of running. I so badly wanted to do well, but I just wasn’t catching a break. Finally, with just a few days to go, I began to feel like a normal person again. But my nerves were already frayed.

On the long drive from Connecticut to Toronto I couldn’t help but think of the things I did wrong. I had greatly slacked on strength training. I’d lost a lot of weight and feared what that could mean for the distance. I ran a lot of workouts much too fast. I ran a lot of workouts much too slow. My longest training run was only 22 miles and I had only done it once in the whole training cycle. In fact, all of my weekly mileage was fairly low. Then I started second guessing myself. Maybe I should wear a different singlet. Maybe I should just wear long sleeves. Maybe I don’t really need my hydration pack. Maybe I’ll fall apart without it. Then something terrible happened.

The day before the marathon I went out for an easy 20-30 minute jog before meeting up with my friends and family at the Expo Center for packet pick up.  We had walked around the city a great deal the two days before, so I felt confident leaving my phone at the condo. I ran loops around the convention centers and up and down the streets until I ran into a gate. I needed to get through the gate to head back to where we were staying, but a highway and lack of sidewalks was on the other side. How exactly had I gotten here? I had crossed a narrow bridge, so all I had to do was get back to it, keeping the CN Tower on my left and a billboard advertising a beer on my right. Unfortunately, every time I looked up, I either couldn’t see the billboard or the CN Tower was on my right. It got truly terrifying once the Tower ended up directly behind me.

I kept getting stuck on the wrong streets. I stopped and asked directions several times and people either had no idea where Liberty Street was, or they sent me in the opposite direction.  Everyone was very nice to me, but also very wrong. As time clicked by and my watch continued to beep mile markers at me, I became more and more afraid. It was very cold, very damp, and very windy. I knew that being exposed to these elements for this long wasn’t going to me any good. Plus, running this far on pavement the day before a marathon was probably not ideal.

When I made it to the harbor I was nearly in tears. I knew this wasn’t where I should be, and I had no idea how far I had to go and whether I needed to head east or west. I found a streetcar map, but it only showed the train’s route, not all the streets and where I needed to go was not on any route. I was cold, wet, and very hungry. I was frustrated and scared. A woman approached and with a thick Scottish brogue asked if I was all right. I explained that I wasn’t from Toronto and that I needed to get back to Liberty Street. And no, I didn’t have a phone with me, and yes, my husband was probably freaking out by now (and I had his keys so he couldn’t even come looking for me).  She held an umbrella over me as she carefully and patiently explained where I needed to go. And man, once I saw familiar streets again I was beyond elated. I got back to the condo having run more than ten and a half miles!

Now my fear from being lost dissolved into anger at myself. I knew I had screwed up my race. I was stupid to have run in a new place without a phone or a predetermined route. With everything else I had messed up along the way, this was the final excuse to ensure I wouldn’t be able to do it. I still wanted that 3:35, but I was very disappointed that I was going to have to work that much harder for it in the morning.

I went to bed grumpy and hardly slept at all.