For whatever reason, I get quite a few questions about running in the weeks before and after a race. Among the most commonly asked question is "When am I ready for a full marathon?" First, take my advice with a grain of salt. I'm not a trainer, just a mom with a computer. Second, I think some folks believe a full marathon is simply twice as long as a half. (yes, technically, whatever). Let me be the first to say - as a lover of this sport and a somewhat self-appointed ambassador to it (I will never NOT encourage you to run) -- it's not. A full is a completely different animal than a half marathon. Think of it this way: if a half marathon was a domestic house cat with a penchant for nipping at your fingers, a full marathon is an angry, hungry 800-pound tiger that wants to eat you. The half marathon can be irritating and slightly painful but it's not going to ruin your whole day. You can shoo it off your lap after it bites you without fear it's going to rip your head off. The Marathon, however, - you don't tell the Marathon what to do. You just let it be. Your best bet is to figure out how to simply co-exist with the Marathon or it will shred you.
This was a particularly tough race mentally after the drama in St. George. As dumb as it may sound, that nagging voice in the back of my head kept questioning if I could get past mile 15. DNF'ing is a crazy psychological hurdle to overcome - I didn't pay much attention to it in the days after George, mainly because I was so focused on moving on, but the fear and self-doubt really crept in in the few days before CIM. What if I couldn't get past mile 15? What if, despite having an ultrasound of my innards and detailed medical confirmation, it wasn't terrorist ovaries at play but simply me being a wuss? A quitter? What if I could have run through the pain to finish? And the worst lingering question -- what if it happens again?
Tigers, DNFs, and the weather were all on my mind when we flew up to Sacramento on Saturday. In some kind of strange cosmic happenstance, the weather for the weekend was absolutely gorgeous -- except between the hours of 5am and 11am on Sunday. It bounced from 80% chance of rain, to 100%, back down to 50%. I finally just stopped checking it because I was so annoyed. I took it as a small blessing when the local weatherman for the NBC affiliate was on our flight (Hi Kevin!). We had mutual friends on the flight (Hi Susan and Eric!) who knew Kevin and his wife (who was also a runner, yet not running CIM), so all of us stood around and chatted before boarding. He mentioned he would try to do something about the weather on Sunday, because we all know weathermen have magical powers. I thanked him for his efforts. My mantra for the weekend was, "It's going to be okay." If I've learned anything through this process, it's focus on what you can control. Weatherman on your flight = good sign.
Another thing I discovered in the days before the race, also to be filed under "Things You Cannot Control": they were serving Nuun on the course. Nuun. This blew my mind (and my apologies to the good people of the state, but seemed so hopelessly California-n). Nuun is a zero-calorie, zero-carb electrolyte replacement drink. In lieu of Powerade or Gatorade, which has about 21 grams of carbs (all sugar), they opted for Nuun, a trendy ZERO-calorie drink. Did I mention it doesn't have any calories? As in, zero. None. Nada. Um, we are not super models here. We are runners. Carbs and calories are good things when running long distances. I'm not running for weight control, I'm running to PR. Give me my damn calories! Not to mention - Nuun contains sorbitol, a sugar alcohol. That absolutely tears up my stomach, it has such a strong laxative effect. I mean, why don't you just serve up some ice-cold whole milk on the course? Or pass out sugar-free chocolates? As Alex said after I moaned to him about this issue, "Avoid it - or you'll join Team Poop and Scoots." The last time I consumed only water during a full marathon was Vegas 2013, I developed horrific cramps in my legs around mile 18. I packed some salt tabs to be on the safe side, but I'll be honest, I couldn't believe race organizers would remove a known quantity to replace it with...Nuun.
I felt good about the course. The weather? Not so much. My shoes were essentially mesh, so any amount of precipitation meant soggy socks. I set the alarm even earlier on Sunday morning, opting for a 3:30 wake-up, to ensure plenty of time to coat every part of my body twice in Body Glide. I paid extra attention to toes and feet. I wasn't about to lose this race to a highly-preventable blister.
Speaking of waking up...while I know I have many more marathons in me, I'm not quite so sure how many more "Night Before the Marathons" I can take. Seriously. It's absolutely, unequivocally the hardest part about this whole process. You know how some people say running is like therapy to them? Well, at the rate I'm going, I'm going to need therapy because of running. That's how I feel about the Night Before. I wasn't anxious or distressed, I simply could not sleep. It's like whatever happened in LA back in March has opened this insomnia-window that I cannot close. I took a hot shower before bed, read the most boring book I could find (sorry, Michael Pollan), let myself doze off...and within an hour, I was wide awake. Stayed awake until 2am, staring into the blackness of my head. I didn't panic like I did in LA, but it was still awful. I tried deep breathing, mediation, picturing my brain as a waterfall of happy thoughts -- whatever. Nothing worked. I got up before my alarm even sounded and told myself I'd sleep later.
In the elevator at the hotel, I met some other runners on the way to buses. A woman clad in her throw-away bathrobe (is this a thing now?) cheerfully told me she wished the temperature would drop so instead of rain, we'd have snow. Considering I was working off of two hours of sleep and staring down the barrel of a 26.2 mile run that might land me in a wheelchair post-race, I had a hard time not letting the f-word slip in my reply to her. As in, "Are you f-ing nuts?" She, equally as cheerful, replied that she's "from Texas!" and doesn't know anything about snow.
I stalked off the elevator and hoped to never see her again.
The buses were to begin boarding at 4:45 with a departure time of 5am. I hopped on the first bus I saw, and with it only half full, the driver took off. 4:42am. Uh, what? It felt a little like the Titanic. I looked at all the empty seats and wanted to shout, "Wait! We can take more people!" but instead, buried my head and prayed for time to pass quickly. We got to the starting line at 5:12, an hour and 48 minutes early. It quickly turned into the longest 108 minutes of my life. I listened to nervous race chatter -- weather was a hot topic. It wasn't raining, but it felt like it was going to open up at any second. Lots of talk about qualifying for Boston. The dude next to me played Angry Birds on his phone and tried to steal my banana. I sat there and rocked silently. Mind like a waterfall. Empty your thoughts. Eye of the tiger. Meditation is stupid. Oh, whoops, back to that waterfall thing.
Blissfully, blissfully, it was finally time to run. I was so ready - and so over the nervous anticipation of it all - that I practically bounced up to the 3:40 pace leaders. CIM is a super smart race and very well-organized; not surprisingly, they had really thought out their pacing strategy. Each time had two leaders, not one, and because the qualifying standards for Boston are getting so fast, hitting your time doesn't guarantee entry. So while Julie was pacing the 3:40 group, her partner David was going to split from the group at mile 18, take everyone who felt strong enough, and pick it up by 5-7 seconds. This would ensure a 3:37, 3:38 finish. Again, I marveled at how much thought they had put into this. It *almost* made up for the Nuun hiccup.
As we stood in our corrals, it began raining. Just a light mist, no big deal. People laughed nervously. Then, with five minutes until the start, the sky just opened up. A cheer went up as the water came down Honestly, they could have slaughtered a live goat at the start line, we were all so jacked up. I ripped off my super-awesome, sad-to-part-with throw away jacket, shook out my arms, and turned my music on. Finally! GAH! GO!
First couple miles? Easy peasy. The ground was slick and those fallen autumn leaves made it even more slippery, but I ignored it. Up, down, up, down. Weeee! This was fun! This was an awesome course. Every up had a down and I just concentrated on hanging with my new best friends Julie and David. The road was narrow and it was a super tight pack; we were all on each others' heels. I realized pretty quickly that I was thirsty - huh? How? I had consumed 4L of water the day before and spent the entire week hydrating. I could simply open my mouth and get hydration from the sky, but that would make for an awkward race photo. So I opted to keep an eye out for the first water station, around mile 3.
This would be the only other concern I had about CIM - the fueling stations were only on the right side of the course. Considering we are running east to southwest, the best bet to run a smart (and shorter) race is to stay on the left side and run the tangents. Hanging on the right side meant slower runners and going longer than 26.2 miles. When I tried to move to the right to get the aid station, I had to start a half-mile ahead in order to weave my way through the runners. It was annoying and could have easily been prevented had there been stations on both sides of the road. Just a little thing, but still, it equated to more time (and energy) spent.
Something happened around mile 3; I don't know if I stepped in a pothole, twisted my ankle, or did something as I weaved to the right, but pain flared up directly above my Achilles on my left leg. I have never, ever had an issue with this part of my body. It ached - it wasn't a cramp, it was something else. It hurt to put weight on it. A strain? Did I pull it? It wasn't unbearable but it certainly changed my stride and my pace. I tried to think about that waterfall thing again (I had read a book about mediation earlier in the month and there was much talk of waterfalls), reminding myself I am healthy and strong. Let the pain out. Don't focus on what's going wrong; focus on what's going right.
What was going right: my pace. I was keeping up with the 3:40 group without problem. My splits were perfect: not too fast, not too slow. 8:19, 8:29, 8:08, 8:27, 8:19, 8:25 and 8:23. My 10K split was a little slower than what I intended - 52:18 - but considering I was slogging up and down hills with completely soaked feet (my shoes were making that squishy noise with every step), I felt good.
Then, mile 8. The hills were getting bigger. Longer ups, less downs. We were coming into the town of Fair Oaks, and I knew the worst part of the course was between miles 10-13. Interestingly, they also did not offer any aid stations between these miles. I double-cupped it at mile 8 and 10.5, but man, was I thirsty. Why? It wasn't hot, I was completely hydrated...I didn't get it. And my left ankle was killing me. I fell off-pace at mile 8, hitting 8:43 and mile 9 was no better at 8:59. I made a mental agreement with myself to stop thinking about ridiculous waterfalls and mile 10 got a little better (8:35).
It was mile 11 when I realized I wasn't going to BQ. I was using too much energy; there was no way for me to pick it up at this point, especially with nine more miles of hills and then a 10K after.
Strangely, I accepted this. I didn't get upset, I didn't cry, I just realigned my goals. No BQ, that's okay. That was pie-in-the-sky. Absolute must-hit goal was sub-4, and then anything between 3:40 and 3:55 would have been amazing. Besides, mile 15 was looming in front of me. If I could just get past that and maintain a 9-minute mile, I would be fine.
Just after the half, which I hit at 1:53:10 - way behind pace - I realized not just my shoes were sopping wet, but I was sopping wet. And getting colder by the minute. Ironically, while it was pouring, the temperature really was not that low. At the start it was maybe 45, 48 degrees. At hill day, anything mid-40s and up, Kat and I are practically naked. (the backless runsie made it's hill day debut several weeks ago). I'm a firm believer that mittens make everything better. Always dress like it's 15 degrees warmer, right? But at the moment, water was unhinging my marathon effort, not temperature. I began to seriously regret wearing running tights. It was a tough decision between those and shorts (I brought both with me), but ultimately, I went with the pants for fear of being too cold. And I was cold - but only because my pants were soaking wet. Would bare legs have been warmer?
While my legs froze, my hands were in no better shape. My beloved grey gloves, my absolute favorite pair, were curling my hands into paw-like blocks of ice. The gloves also weighed about three pounds from water absorption. With a heavy heart, I realized they needed to go. Right on the corner of Fair Oaks and Manzinita by Noah's Bagels, I bid farewell to my gloves. They were unnecessary. As soon as I took them off, I found chalk white, pruney fingers lurking beneath. Ick. But at least I could open gels without feeling like I had baseball mitts on both hands.
Brian and I had made a plan to meet around miles 19-21 for fluid replenishment. I was so pissed about the Nuun situation he offered to be ready with yellow Gatorade. I didn't need much, but I was used to something. Unfortunately, it came a bit too late. At mile 18, my left calf seized up into a ball of agony, reminiscent of the Vegas marathon. Nooooooo. Was it an electrolyte imbalance or the fact my running tights were acting like an ice bath on my legs? By mile 20, both quads followed suit. I didn't see Brian at mile 19 or 20, ruefully accepting the fact he didn't make it. The street closures literally shut down the town; it's okay, I told myself. I'll ::sniffle:: see him at the finish. ::big sigh::
And then, right before mile 21, clad in a bright green Packer sweatshirt - there he was! HOORAY! With tiny bottles of Gatorade! The sight of a loved one in the later miles is probably one of the best feelings in the world. I shuffled up on dead legs, gleefully accepted my wee hydration chock full of calories (take note, CIM organizers) and hobbled off. I would later learn Brian had to run a 5K to get to that spot since so many roads were closed. He fought through the rain, really unfriendly California Highway Patrolmen, and the crowds to get there. He then had to hustle back to the finish, dropping the car at the hotel first before sprinting to the finish line. He only got there about 10 minutes before I crossed. I gotta say, you know you have a keeper when they are willing to do the thing they hate the most (in Brian's case, running) to ensure a successful outcome for the thing you love the most (in my case, running). Brian is shaping up to make an excellent crew leader when my first 50-miler comes up.
(somewhere, he just slammed his head on his desk)
Gatorade having nourished me, I plodded my way to the finish. Gone was any vision I had of sprinting the last 10K. I was so relieved to finally, finally, finally hit the numbered streets. The cramps were almost unbearable and any lateral movement to any side caused each leg to seize up. It's so funny because the more races I do, the more of a mental arsenal you can draw from. I dialed up the feeling of finishing Vegas and concentrated on that. I thought back to this summer's ET 10K, running down that black highway, and told myself to push it. I thought about how awesome it was to run on the Miracle Mile last October in Chicago. Isn't that what they tell you to do? When you can't run with your legs anymore, you run with your heart. Thankfully, mine was full. I gave up on waterfall images and thought about past successes.
Okay, 58th Street. Only 50 blocks to go. I noticed a blond runner in front of me with an orange trucker hat on and day-glo yellow shorts. I instantly dubbed her Amy Schumer. Who wears a trucker hat to a marathon? I was going to beat Amy Schumer in this race. I stayed behind her until about mile 23, when the 3:55 pacer, a tiny little man clad in a Santa hat and an unnaturally good mood, trotted up along side me. He was waving his pacer sign and skipping. Asshole. I could barely put one foot in front of another and this was clearly a walk in the park to him. It was a healthy reminder though - if I wanted to hit sub-4, I gotta get going. I let the happy elf pass me and concentrated on Trainwreck in front of me.
The worst part of all of this? I wasn't breathing that heavy. It wasn't like I was totally cashed or completely spent. It was just my damn legs. If my Achilles wasn't aching and these cramps went away, I felt...fine. It was then I realized my fitness is great but I still need to work on my mechanics. My endurance is good, it's speed and the current conditions that are causing my body to break down. Good to know, good to know. File that under "Stuff to Remember in 2016."
Amy somehow managed to hang on until mile 25. Then, full of nothing but total stubbornness, I forced my now-tree-like, unbending legs to turn over faster. Ow, ow, ow. Oh the pain. Stupid f-ing cramps. I knew the turn at 8th street was going to be awful - even if I even veered a tiny bit left or right, pain shot up both sides. I steeled myself for the turn with the promise that this would be over soon. I hit the curb, slipped on some leaves, and dug deep. I honestly thought both legs were going to give out right on that corner. Think happy thoughts. Scott Jurek. Vegan chili. Beer. Pretty flowers. 800m to go. 400. 200. The final turn onto the Capitol ----
YES. It was done.
I'm not going to lie, not BQing is a bummer. But sub-4 - in the rain, with the cramps and the leaves and the squishy shoes- I'll take it. Crossing the finish line didn't just mean my race was over, but it culminated in the end of the last 28 weeks of my life. 28 weeks. As Courtney said, you could have gestated a child in that time. Instead, I ripped up my arms, busted an ovary, and ran circles around a track with 60+ high school boys present. I ran and ran and ran. I ran when I didn't feel like running. I ran in the darkness, in the heat, in the sunshine, and in the cold. I didn't miss a single workout in 28 weeks, even after two ER visits. I skipped Thanksgiving dinner for this.
And you know what? Totally worth it. Of course.
So to talk numbers for a second: 3:57.42. I'll take it. It's 20 minutes slower than my needed BQ, which means about 40 seconds per mile. Somewhere, in the next year, I need to find an additional 40 seconds per mile. But - considering my first full was just over two years ago, it's a 47 minute improvement. I'm delighted about that. More than anything, I feel like I'm just now starting to get comfortable with this distance. I may never tame the tiger completely, but at least that 26.2 doesn't seem quite so terrifying. I don't know what the future holds, but I'm definitely not giving up anytime soon.
After the race, I showered, screamed as the salt washed over all my cuts, and hydrated. Aside from being achy, I felt...fine. I have your typical post-marathon whip marks on my body, mostly on my collarbone (how does that even happen??), but otherwise, I'm in pretty good shape. My ankle is swollen and bruised, but I'm guessing it's just inflamed. A few days rest will help it settle.
Brian and I went to the most appropriate place we could think of to celebrate - an Irish bar. My cheeseburger with extra pickles tasted phenomenal. Meat and beer is a delicious combination, and since I just ran a marathon, I figured I could take a holiday from vegan-ism. I got about halfway through my burger when my stomach told me in no uncertain terms that I would see this food again, one way or another, if I did not stop eating. I listened. We ventured to a chocolate shop, bought some sweets, and then didn't eat them. It's almost like I just wanted to look at the forbidden food because now I could. (I ate it on Monday and it was delicious). I ate my turkey sandwich on the plane and promptly passed out. It was wonderful.
A race recap is never complete without massive thanks going out to everyone who played a part in this. Most of all, I need to thank Alex and Reinier for all of their coaching, support, and advice. I just found out last week Reinier reads the blog, so hi! Thanks for being awesome and always challenging me. Thanks to Alex for pushing me to get faster and occasionally throwing some tough love my way when I wanted to wimp out. (I learned that this (-___-) is an unhappy face via text). All the people who helped and supported my long run efforts - Vince, Sharon, Brooks, Teri, the Lulu running club - thank you. And everyone who ever offered a nice comment here or on Facebook, thanks. It means a lot to me.
In the end, despite the crazy number of hurdles that this race posed, both on and off the course, it all turned out fine.