Last month (yep, this post is a tad overdue) I ran my sixth marathon and finished in 4:04:59. Unlike Eugene when I threw a hissy fit about another failed sub 4 attempt, I’m proud of this time and equally proud of how I ran the race.
There was a cold front that hit most (all?) of the West Coast, which made for a balmy race weather forecast of 27 degrees at the start and 32ish at the finish. Although I wasn’t thrilled about the weather forecast, I wasn’t too stressed. I like running in the cold, and I’ll always take cold-weather running over hot-weather running.
Dad and I arrived in Sacramento Friday afternoon. Saturday morning, we hit the expo.
After grabbing our bibs and packets, we sat in on the press conference for the elite runners, which was very helpful and inspiring.
We spent the rest of the day doing a whole lot of nothing (other than sitting on our butts and eating carbs). It was a little boring and my anxiety was in full swing, but it’s important to stay off your feet the day before a marathon. Definitely succeeded in that!
After what felt like 15 minutes of sleep, the alarm went off at 3:30 a.m. I probably slept a total of three hours, but I was wide awake and excited to finally run this thing!
Dad and I ate and headed down to the hotel lobby, where the shuttle bus came at 4:45 a.m. Our hotel was near the finish, so it was a bit daunting to take such a long ride (in the dark cold) to the start. Were we really about to run this far?
We got to the race with about 30 minutes to spare, which we spent hydrating, porta-pottying (not a word), eating and trying to stay warm on the bus (they let you stay on the bus until the race starts — major perk!).
About five minutes before the race started, Dad and I dropped our sweats off at Gear Check and found our way into the corral, between the 3:55 and 4 hour pacer. Around 7 a.m., people around us started walking toward the front. I hadn’t heard the national anthem or the gun go off, so I thought we were all just moving closer to the start. Nope, the race had actually started!
It was super anti-climatic, but I liked the undramatic, no frills start. It helped me not freak out and get too much in my head. I was excited but calm about the race — taking the complete opposite approach as I did in Eugene, when I was a total psycho headcase beginning at mile 1.
I had a few strategies for running the race:
1. Focus on the present mile. When I ran Eugene, I was terrified of mile 20 before I even finished mile 1. I broke CIM into five-mile segments, and I forced myself to not think beyond those five miles.
2. I had ear buds in the entire race, but I didn’t turn the music on until mile 15 (my original plan was to wait until 16, but I got impatient). I wanted something to look forward to in the later miles.
3. I let go of my end goal (finish sub4) and just focused on doing the best I could on each mile.
4. GU often. In previous marathons, I GU’d every six miles. During this training cycle I played around with GUing every five, and I prefer this fueling strategy.
5. Aim for 1:58 half and then pray to the running gods to just hold on. That didn’t quite work out, but it was a good idea in theory.
Since it was so cold, Dad and I started the race wearing our throwaway jackets. My feet were numb for the first few miles, and I joked that maybe my legs would go numb and I wouldn’t feel the pain in the last 10k. Didn’t quite work out that way.
The race started on a nice decline, a wonderful way to start a marathon. Then the rolling hills began and continued until about mile 15. Up and down, up and down. I normally don’t like running hills, but I really liked the course. None of the hills were steep and I knew each uphill would be followed by a lovely downhill. Plus, it kept things fresh, and the miles flew by.
At mile 5, Dad and I pulled off to the side of the course to GU and shed our throwaway jackets. The jacket I wore was really snug around the wrists, which posed some problems since my Garmin is a massive, old-school 305. It took me a minute to remove the jacket, but I didn’t panic about the lost time.
At mile 10, Dad and I made another pit stop to GU and take some ibuprofen. I’ve never taken ibuprofen this early in a race, but my left shin was bugging me and Dad had a terrible calf cramp.
Even though my shin was a little annoying, I was really happy and felt great at mile 10. And I still felt good when we reached the halfway point in 2:00:20. When I looked at my watched and saw we were 2.5 minutes slower than our goal for the half, I looked at Dad and jokingly said, “Are you ready to negative split this thing?”
Dad just smiled. Though neither one of us said it, we both knew the chances of breaking 4 were pretty small. I have never negative split a marathon. (Yes, I know that’s what you’re “supposed” to do, but it’s not something I’ve ever been able to pull off.) Although I was disappointed, I was OK with the prospect of not breaking 4 and still had my sights on a PR.
We kept running together until 15, which was a slow and steady incline and my least favorite hill of the race. At this point, I was starting to get tired and was ready for the course to flatten out.
As we ran up the hill, I slowly pulled ahead of Dad. Without intending to do so, I created a gap between Dad and myself. Several times I looked back and hoped Dad would catch up, but I was also prepared to run the last bit by myself.
Once I realized I was running solo, I turned on my iPod and was happily greeted with Justin Bieber and Jaden Smith’s song, “Never Say Never.” The song is totally corny, but I like it.
When I got to mile 16, I told myself: “Ok, let’s just get to mile 20 without feeling totally dead.”
I finally reached mile 20, the time in a marathon when things usually go from a slow unravel to a fast and steady downward spiral. My legs got pretty heavy and my pace slowed, but I tried to manage the unraveling as much as possible. With my PR chances quickly diminishing, I set a new goal to beat my Eugene time.
There was a small hill at mile 22, which I really wanted to walk, but I forced myself to slowly run up and over. I had read in a blog that there’s a street sign at the hill that you shouldn’t read, so of course I had to look. The street was named “Howe.” I smiled and thought how perfect that was.
I was very tired in the last 10k but also really happy. As I ran by spectators with cowbells and funny signs, I kept thinking “I am so lucky to be able to do this.” This was the first time I’ve felt “lucky” in the final 10k of a marathon (usually I’m praying to be hit by a car so the suffering can stop).
I kept counting down the miles until I got to the final stretch. The final stretch, as usual, took forever, but I finally made the left turn to the State Capitol and saw that glorious finish line. I looked at my watch and realized I could beat 4:05, so I gave it everything I had left and finished in 4:04:59. My second fastest time and 96 seconds slower than my PR.
After crossing the line and hobbling to receive my medal and space blanket, I sat down on a curb and did something I’ve never done after a race: I cried. Happy tears, not sad or disappointed tears.
It was a really nice moment. For the first time in a marathon, I stayed fully present — from start to finish — and as I sat on that curb and processed what had just happened, I was totally content knowing I had run the best race I could that day.
After collecting myself, I got up and had my picture taken. I got food, put on my sweats and eventually found Dad, who finished in 4:13 (his second fastest time since his return to marathoning).
The race certainly didn’t go how we originally planned/hoped. No sub 4. No BQ for Dad. But I don’t feel discouraged or view my third 4:0x finish as a setback.
I plan to run marathons for as long as I’m healthy and able (which hopefully is for the rest of my life), and I’m not upset that breaking four hours is taking longer to accomplish than I anticipated. My struggles and challenges will just make the moment I cross the finish line with 3:xx on the clock that much sweeter.