Oh for the love of all things good and sweet, that s*** was hard! I would easily place this effort in the top two hardest things I've ever done. Running 100 miles being the only other thing physically harder, but equally as mentally difficult. But boy did we have a blast!
It is so insanely rewarding to set a goal (not to mention a whisper goal that I was too afraid to make widely known) and then to actually achieve it. I can't say that, in my running, I've really ever done that before. I've made loose goals that I knew would require little more than a natural disaster to keep me from achieving it; those were easy, safe goals. But, this time I stepped it up a few notches and, without any really solid supporting evidence to bolster my reasoning for setting this goal, I leaped way outside my skin. I decided to run a road marathon (my very first) at more or less the last minute and aim for a Boston qualifier (BQ). I'm pretty sure I won't get into Boston since it's become so freakin' popular and everyone and their mother wants to run it, but just to be able to say that I qualified would be an honor. For reference, as a female between the ages of 0-34, I would need to run a 3h:40m marathon (that's an 8:23 minute per mile pace, for 26.2 miles) in order to BQ.
When in Rome!
This was the inaugural running of the Crossroads of Indiana Marathon, in Lowell, IN, and I found out about it through a CHUG member that was recruiting volunteers for the April 3 race. This was less than two weeks out from race day. I checked out the website, and for some reason had the sudden intense desire to run this thing. I dunno where it came from, it certainly hasn't been something on my radar (running a marathon, that is). So before the excitement faded, I e-mailed Geof to see if he'd want to run it too and he was immediately on board! I registered us for the race that night and with that the anticipation began to build. My line of thought was, "hey, we've got a long run to do anyhow, may as well make it a race."
Geof is a major fastie (fast runner) and has a marathon PR of something like 3:02, and this race was going to mark his 31st marathon race. It had been a few years since he ran one, and this was only going to be my second marathon (my first one was a painfully slow trail marathon a couple years ago), and first one of which run entirely on the road. I had no idea what I was shooting for, but I knew I wanted to run under 4 hours. That sounded mighty nice to me, and like a very reasonable goal, 4 hours. But as Geof and I discussed it more and more over the next couple of days, we both concluded that we'd really like to try and BQ. That meant Geof needed to run a 3:15 or faster, and I needed that 3:40 or faster. We've done no actual speedwork, and zero marathon-specific training, but our 50k/50M training has been going so well all winter and we've had such solid long training runs that we figured it was entirely possible for both of us. Easier said than done? Yes! Suddenly my goal went from sounding 'very reasonable' to 'holy crap, what am I thinking?!'
We woke up Sunday morning at 4 a.m. to make the hour or so drive down to Lowell, IN. The weather forecast was incredibly crappy with 20-30 mph winds and thunderstorms all morning. But, at least the temps were going to be in the upper 50s to lower 60s. We were warned in advance by fellow CHUG/Indiana-ite (Indianan? Indiana-ese? Hoosier?) Connie that the course was reasonably flat, but jam packed with rolling hills in the final five or so miles, and to be ready for serious wind. How true this warning was! Since it's in its first year, the race was small with only 109 Maries (marathon runners) finishing the marathon, and 381 Halfies (half marathon runners) finishing their 13.1 miles. The course wound around Cedar Lake and Lake Dale, along very quiet country roads that went on and on as far as the eye could see, rolling up and down and around sleepy residential areas near the lakes, and left the runners completely exposed to some seriously wicked wind. The good news? NO RAIN!!! The skies were fairly ominous for awhile, but eventually things started looking friendly and the sun even popped out a couple times around my mile 22/23. All in all, we were very lucky with the weather.
Now, I've never actually "raced" a distance race...meaning I've never really pushed myself to the max. I generally just go out and run on what I have in the tank, never coming close to tapping the reserves, and just aiming to finish. Not on this day. I was heading into this race with the intention of pushing it the entire time, emptying the tank, then emptying the reserve tank and finishing completely spent. I was aiming to find my true potential and see what I was made of. No more pussyfooting.
And that's exactly what I did.
It is freaking exhausting going all out like that with no hope for rest until the finish line! Physically, my body was pretty much ready for the effort, but mentally I had no clue what I was getting into. To be in the moment for every single step of the way, and keeping focused on pace was mentally exhausting. I wasn't running scared because I knew I had it in me, but I've never paid such close attention to maintaining my pace. I don't wear my GPS anymore, and I rarely look at my watch until I hit stop at the end of a run. So this was pretty new for me. And kinda stressful! I was looking down at my GPS every so often at first, and staring at it in horror when I saw that my first 6 miles were each run between 7:47 - 7:51 pace. I didn't know what to do...it was WAY too fast, but it felt totally effortless. I tried pulling back, and resolved to stay behind the gal who ended up winning it (in 3:31), but even that was something I had to work to do. For some reason, slowing down was hard.
I was listening to my iPod for pretty much the entire run, and boy am I glad I had it. I needed the musical distraction. I wouldn't say the course was totally scenic from what I could tell, but I was barely paying attention to my surroundings as I was so grossly focused on pacing myself.
Around Mile 4...thinking happy thoughts :)
At some point, of which I couldn't tell you, it just seemed to happen suddenly, the marathon course merged with the halfie course and I found myself surrounded by swarms of people. It was bizzare and I couldn't figure out what was going on at first, but then I put two and two together :) The Halfies were very supportive and encouraging as I passed by them. It was a bit of a lift to be in the midst of that! But I needed to concentrate, so I turned up the volume and put my head back down, running into the wind as we wound around Cedar Lake. Eff, that wind was something else!
I passed a woman that had been ahead of me for some time right at the halfway mark. She stopped to do a wardrobe change and she never did catch back up to me. That was kinda fun :) I had noticed that I cruised through the half marathon point in 1:46, which is a major PR for me (my halfie PR had been 2:01, back in 2008 I think). That was pretty exciting to me and I did a little cheer outloud when I saw that :)
I read the course description a little bit, but none of it sank in so imagine my surprise when I saw Geof running towards me on an out-n-back section. Yay, my sweety! And, he looked amazingly good, moving so smoothly! We high-fived and continued on our respective paths. This gave me a much-needed lift.
Geof is all business running around Cedar Lake, looking smooth and cool :)
I noted that now I'd be able to see what the field looked like in front of me since we had this out-n-back section. I counted women as they passed in the opposite direction and counted two before hitting the aid station at the start of the lolli-pop loop. I didn't see her, but there was a third on the loop already, but in my head I was thinking, wow, top three? This lifted me a little further and for the first time I considered the possibilities that laid before me. I could actually, reasonably come in top 5 women overall. How sick is that?!
I was running with three Honey Stinger Waffles in my jacket pockets, a small baggie of S!Caps for salt, and relying on the aid stations for water and Gatorade. No bottles, no pack. The stations were close enough together (about every 1-2 miles) that carrying liquid wasn't necessary. At two hours, I ate another waffle and started day dreaming about the finish line. Man, I was getting tired.
I noticed that my splits were slowing down some, finally, to around 8:05ish or something of that nature. For some reason that worried me. After the lolli-pop loop and the return to the main road I started pushing more, though my pace wasn't changing for some reason. It just felt harder. My mind was reeling. God this sucks! I wanna walk so bad, but I can't! B-Q, B-Q I would chant in my head, followed up with sub-3:40, sub-3:40. I turned off the tunes for a bit, enjoying the serene quiet and brief break in the wind. Have I mentioned how friggin' windy it was? It was insane! Very much like the wind we experienced at the Red Hot 55k, and similar to Chicago, storm-front-moving-in wind. At least it was warm-ish wind. Somehow I managed to totally blank for a number of miles, maybe 3 or 4? When we came around a curve and there was an aid station right there. I still had another 20 or so minutes before I would need more fluid or salt, so I sailed on by, smiling at the really happy-looking volunteers. One woman was standing away from the tables and shouting numbers to someone else who was taking them down. As I passed by she yelled, "8-3-2, looking GREAT!! You're 4th woman overall, keep it UP!!" That confirmed it. And suddenly, I had new life in my legs. I felt my torso straighten more, my hip muscles contract and my chin lift. I didn't want to know the distance still so I made sure to only note my current pace as I glanced down once more at my GPS. 8:00mpm. Solid.
Then it got sunny out. And there was a dude just ahead of me that kept walking every single mole hill. I was super tempted to do the same as the miles were finally wearing down my legs a little. I found a nice little technique that worked pretty darn good. It almost always works on trails, but I've never tried it on pavement inclines before. Pull the brim of your hat down to your eyebrows so that you have to physically move your head up in order to see ahead, and look straight down at the ground in front of your feet. Run. It's not great on Hope Pass sorts of inclines, but on normal hill climbs it's great. Something about not being able to see the incline tricks your legs into thinking they're running flats. Try it, it works.
The mile 22.5 aid station appeared as I rounded another corner (this section was twisty-turny and along really quiet residential roads. I grabbed a cup of Gatorade and a cup of water and walked it out of the station as I gulped them down. Ate my third and final Waffle and took a final S!Cap as I moved back into my stride. This final waffle made me feel a little pukey for an instant. I wasn't keen on eating at that moment, but I needed to. And I needed to be running.
Eventually I passed walk-every-incline dude for good and came back out on a road we had already run in the opposite direction. Now I knew it was getting close to the end. Yesssss! Back down toward the silo, I suddenly had another pick-up in my pace and I cranked out an 8:01 for mile 24. Shazam! A left turn put the wind at my side and it pushed me around, side-to-side as I made my way along the road. It felt like it really picked up even more at that point. There was a shorter guy in front of me that had gotten a ways ahead, but I began to reel him in as he slowed in the wind. One final righthand turn, followed shortly by a lefthand turn and we were on the final straightaway to the finish line.
The wind switched directions and was now a full blown headwind, and it was intense. My eyes were watering like crazy and it felt like running in place. I kept my head down and eyes squinted to avoid anything getting in my contacts. I saw the 25 mile marker spray-painted on the ground and felt a little crestfallen knowing I still had just shy of 2 miles left to go (the course is actually 26.8 miles long, according to the website). There were a bunch of walkers up ahead, Halfies, and I picked them off one by one. I made a goal to pass up the shorter guy in front of me, and I did so with maybe a 1/2 mile left to go. It felt like a million miles away, but I could see the finish area. I looked at my GPS and noted I had just a few minutes to go to get under 3:40. Holy CRAP! I can do this, I can do this! It's a 1/2 mile, just push it! You can do anything for a 1/2 mile! The road undulated, rolling cruely along. I peeked my head up to see where the finish line turn was and saw Geof walking towards me with the camera. What a wonderful thing to see!! As I passed by him he said it's just a little ways up, and a left turn into the parking lot. I groaned very audibly and put my head back down. It hurt so much, my mind was saying walk, walk, walk! and I refused to slow even though the wind was so strong it actually made my quads ache to move forward. I remember thinking how unbelievable it was that I could even move my legs in the wind and not have them swept out from under me. I felt a little pukey again. I'd never pushed so hard in my life. So this must be what it feels like for all the fasties...painful!
The guy behind me is the one I finally passed for good. So close to the finish!!
There was a large crowd of on-lookers and the race director standing at the entrance to Freedom Park, and the finish line chute. As I rounded the corner the RD shouted my number and said, "It's your 4th place woman everyone! Congratulations Number 832!!"
I noted the timing clock as I ran through the chute and was handed a finisher's medal...3:39:23.
I did it. Holy mother-eff, I did it!
Geof hugged me and announced he made it by the exact same margin...with 37 seconds to spare. We both qualified!!
After some stretching and changing into warm, dry clothes we made our way to the shelter to get some nutrition and to check to see if we won any awards. It was very informal and the woman handling awards just took your word for it and assumed you were who you said you were. We each gave her our name and she handed Geof a 2nd place age group award, and I got a shiney 1st place age group award. Yippee!! They are supremely cheesey trophies, but we earned them and we were both pretty darn pumped.
Geof really did an incredible job out there and knocked out a 3:14 finish, good for 4th place overall (booya!), so we were like race twins with our finish times and placement :-) Awww, how cute.
We stopped for pizza at a place called Zuni's House of Pizza, in Dyer, Indiana, on the way home. It was delicious, and salty. Perfect post-run food that day :) I love pizza. I decided I didn't want to deal with DOMS again, so we picked up three bags of ice before getting home and I indulged in a 10 minute ice bath. Geof felt the peer pressure and decided to give it a try as well. It was hilarious, and totally adorable :)
In the aftermath, I'm feeling pretty great and getting around just fine. I think I can credit that with wearing my RecoFit calf sleeves throughout the race, the ice bath, then changing into full-length compression tights for the rest of the day. I will admit though, racing a marathon, in the wind, with hills, is almost more painful than just running 100 miles. Almost ;) It's a whole 'nother kind of mindset. The focus isn't on just finishing, it's on pacing, strength, form and never losing sight of the task at hand. It's not giving into the demons in your head; it's not slowing down even when it hurts ('cuz, usually, the 'hurt' is mostly just in your head anyway). I kept telling myself I could do anything for 26 miles, not the least of which was run faster than 8:23mpm. Beyond that, I'm not sure what my legs would do to me, but I knew I could at least do that much for that distance :) So I did.
Goal = achieved. And basking in it, I am.
Like I said, when in Rome!
P.S. You can check out Geof's race report HERE.