Let me just get this out of the way in the first sentence: I missed qualifying for Boston by a mere one minute and 30 seconds, and yes, that stings. But you know what eases the pain? The fact that in two races over the last three months I have taken nearly FOURTEEN MINUTES off of a PR that stood – out of reach and untouchable! – for five years.
Boston will happen, mark my words.
So let’s talk about yesterday’s race!
I signed up for the Modesto Marathon like a hot minute after crossing the finish line of December’s CIM. Training for and running that huge PR was a gift in the form of unprecedented self-confidence and a new understanding of exactly what it would take to run sub-four: I was going to have to work hard and truly believe that it could be done.
Working hard? Check! I love my training plan (I got it for free from the Cool Running website – you can see their plans here. I used the intermediate one and followed it with very little modification. Mostly I had to move the days around to fit my schedule, and I shortened it a little for the MoMary because I didn’t have the full twenty weeks in between races.) This plan worked for me on SO many levels. First, there are six days a week of running, which I love. Second, there are no dictated paces for the speedwork. You’re supposed to run whatever you think you could bust out in a 5K that day. And some days, you’re not feeling it, you know? So not trying to hit something specific for the speedwork or the long runs (or, really, any of the runs) was in fact a huge confidence-builder, because I was super happy with anything I did. And speaking of confidence building, this plan goes all the way to 26 miles for a long run. I know that’s controversial for some of you, but I tell you what. Training to 20 has never given me the confidence I needed to be able to execute on race day. Running a full practice marathon three weeks before the big day had me on cloud nine. I KNEW I could do it, and I knew I could run it well.
So, that whole truly believe thing? Check!
Standing at the starting line yesterday, I was a little nervous, of course, but mostly I was just excited. I knew, deep in my bones, that I was going to have the day I’d been dreaming about, the day I deserved. I was trained and ready. All I had to do was the actual running, which was totally the easy part.
One of the many things I have learned over the past year or so is that I absolutely cannot go out at my intended race pace. It’s like the fastest way to ruin my race. So, I’ve practiced almost every day in training with negative splits. Go out easy and come home hard.
With that in mind, I lined up in the way back of the field, with the 5-hour pacer. I knew this would mean a lot of dodging and weaving in the first few miles, but felt it would be worth it to not blow myself out of the water in the first five miles. And it worked great! I managed to run the first mile at a 10 minute pace, which was exactly what I had planned.
But then, apparently, in Mile 2, I was feeling so good that I broke my own rule (I have a saying, “Every mile in the first five that you run at or below goal pace is a mile in the last five that you’ll need to take walking breaks.” And, yes, that is foreshadowing.) I thought I was running easy, I really did. I felt amazing! My legs were light, my stomach didn’t feel like it usually does on race day. I seriously felt like I was running a very cautious, comfortable pace. Mile 2 was 9:09 pace. Oops. Mile 3 was about the same. Mile 4 was slightly less aggressive, but only just.
I felt so good, I can’t even tell you. My hydration was on point. My playlist was grooving with all the right songs. At Mile 8, when I passed the 4:07 pacer, I knew I was going to run a PR. (Quick note about the pacers – they had very unusual times! I wondered about it, but didn’t try very hard to figure it out, thinking that maybe the RD was just being silly. Nope, they were all 3 minutes under BQ times, to help ensure that you not only qualified, but actually got in to Boston. That’s pretty cool!)
This race course is not exactly an out-and-back, but there are lots of parts where you can see people coming back at you. I love watching the fast runners streaming by. And I loved seeing the 3:52 and 3:57 pacers just minutes before I reached the turnaround (which is somewhere around Mile 14 or 15, I think). I knew I could catch the 3:57. I also knew that I had to be at least a minute or two off the gun time, so if I could catch her, I could qualify.
I hit the halfway point at 1:58:50, which is my third fastest half EVER. I was sailing, flying! I kept looking forward, focusing on catching and passing people. I had more in me, and I set my sights on getting to that 3:57 pacer.
I gave myself until Mile 20 to catch her, and now, in hindsight, I really wish it had taken me that long. Miles 15-18 were all run around 8:30 pace. Way too fast! I could see that bobbing sign, though, with that magical number on it, and all I wanted in the world was to reach it.
I caught and passed the pace group during Mile 18. I was ecstatic! BQ today!! This was really happening! I flew through the next mile, anticipating the glory that was waiting for me at the finish line!
There was nobody in front of me. I mean, there totally was. Obviously. But I had reached my goal of catching the pacer and, while it can be motivating to stay in front of a pace group, I quite suddenly ran out of gas.
I remember thinking that I never hit the wall at Mile 20 (because I never have before), and I remember checking in with my nutrition plan. Yep, on target with calories and liquids. But, OMG, I just died. Like. DIED.
I started walking through water stations. It had gotten really warm, so I drank some water and dumped some water on my back to cool off.
I started walking. Just in general. Not long breaks, probably no more than 10 or 20 feet, to be honest. But I felt like I couldn’t even make it to the next mile marker. I walked at the mile markers, too.
I was exhausted. Hot. Tired. Delirious. And mad. I was so pissed at myself! I wanted to run this whole thing! My legs were fine. Well, okay, they weren’t fine, but they weren’t done, either. I could run this whole thing! But here I was walking, fading. I chastised myself for giving up so easily and told myself to pick my shit up and GO, already!
The miles still kept rolling under me. 19, 20, 21.
I don’t know exactly where it was, but somewhere around 21-ish, the 3:57 pacer caught back up to me. I’m pretty sure I swore. No, I am sure I swore, I’m pretty sure it was out loud. And I think I cried a little, too. I tucked in behind her and hung on for dear life.
We traded places a few times, but by Mile 24 I knew I couldn’t keep up. I told her I needed to stop at the water station. She told me to pick it back up and stick with her. I walked. I cried again. Everything hurt.
I was so damn close to the finish line, but I had no idea how I was going to get there. I thought very, very, very seriously about texting SOS to my husband and having him come out and run me in. I wanted company, a friendly face, some reassurance that I could do this. But I gutted it out and never even pulled out my phone. I picked it back up to a run. I passed some people, some people passed me.
I have never fought so hard for a finish line in my life.
I kept looking at my watch. I had plenty of time. Seriously, unless I crawled in, I was going to make it under four hours. I felt good about that. I mean, hello, it was still a huge PR! A goal I’ve been chasing for the last ten marathons!
I kept putting one foot in front of the other, and lo and behold, there it appeared before my sweaty, teary and disbelieving eyes – the final turn into the finishing chute! My family, cheering for me! The clock! That’s the number THREE! (And, sidebar, I was so freaking glad to come in as far under four as I did, because nothing sucks more than starting a few minutes off the gun time and having the clock say the completely wrong hour, am I right? I got to run under the finishing arch while it still said three!)
I crossed the finish line with a huge smile on my face. The 3:57 pacer was still standing there and I gave her a giant bear hug. She asked me like three times if I made my goal. Yes, yes, yes! What a day!
I collected my enormous and awesome medal and found my husband and kids.
And promptly burst into tears. Gigantic sobs. Tears of relief, and joy, and bitter, bitter anger that I hadn’t kept it together enough to run a minute and a half faster.
Results are official today, and here are my stats:
Finish Time – 3:56:29
Overall Place – 151/573
Age Group – 4/28 (Yes! My reign as the Queen of Fourth Place remains intact!)
First Half Split – 1:58:50
Second Half Split – 1:57:39
That’s right, I negative split the course to run my second fastest half marathon EVER. Can you believe it? Looking at my mile splits on Strava after the race, I was astounded. My slowest mile (except for Mile 1, where I was intentionally going at a conservative pace) was 9:27. Even with what felt like a ton of walking, I was running a faster pace than what I ran in 2010 – a PR pace that I couldn’t dream of surpassing for five years.
I can’t stay angry at that. As hard as it was and as miserable as I felt for several long miles, I’m so freaking proud of my effort.
Next time, I will run more than the first mile at an easy pace. Next time, I will watch my pace in the middle miles, even when I’m feeling bulletproof. Next time, that BQ is mine.