It's a lesson that has hit me over the head time and time again. When I picked up this strange sport in 2011, I had no idea the journey I was about to embark upon. Through the miles, I've learned more about myself than I ever thought possible as well as gained an entire catalog of running knowledge. Running a good marathon is nothing more a massive science experiment in physiology and psychology. It's a test that requires your body and mind to work together, simultaneously, yet sometimes against each other. Unfortunately, you don't know what will be considered an improvement until it's over.
Build on the success, grow from the mistakes. But above all, never give up.
On Saturday, November 4th, I feel like I finally "got" it. I had just enough pieces of the marathon puzzle to be able to see the final picture. It's taken six years and eight marathons to get to this point. Controllable variables (training, diet, gear) lined up with the uncontrolled ones (weather, pooping before the race) and what resulted was an *almost perfect* race. I only screwed up one thing - one very large item, haha. But that's okay, because now I know. And you better believe I'm not going to make that mistake twice. (more on it later)
It's taken me several days to process everything that happened at the Indianapolis Monumental Marathon. I've started writing six times, scrapping each draft. Nothing sounded right. I wasn't able to conceptualize the essence of what happened on Saturday until Wednesday, four days post-race. On my first run post-marathon, it hit me: I need to run to write. My creative juices stalled along with sore legs. But during my super-relaxed three miler, my brain loosened up along with my quads. Ahhhh...running really is amazing.
In November 2013, I ran my first full: Las Vegas Marathon. I legitimately thought I was dying on mile 22. I experienced the worst leg cramps of my life during that race, pain akin only to childbirth. They don't offer epidurals during races so I had no other option than to absorb the misery and lean in. When we crossed the finish line, I was so surprised I had been able to weather the torment that something wondrous cracked open inside of me: the knowledge that I was mentally stronger than I ever dreamed.
That race offered the biggest and most significant part of the marathon puzzle. I'll be forever grateful to Reinier for dragging my sorry butt across that line in all four hours and forty-four minutes. Without him, I know that experience would have had a much different outcome. What could have been a nightmare turned into pivotal moment in my life. That race changed my life.
During the ultra-marathon in 2014, I realized the significance of having friends and family on the course. I planned to run the whole thing by myself but a few weeks before, several kind-hearted friends jumped in, agreeing to crew for me. I don't know if I really needed a friend to offer me the choice between a pickle or a cookie on mile 20 (both looked revolting), but what I did need? The friendly smiles and emotional support of Michelle, Kerry, Nancy, and Stesha at various points of the race. I had no idea just how mentally taxing the race would be; the sight of their sweet faces made a long night so much more bearable. Had it not been for those four, I think I would still be out there running through Rachel, Nevada.
Likewise, seven weeks later, Chicago Marathon clued me in to the insane value of a strong pre-race diet. That was the first time I truly "carbo-loaded" - not just the night before, but the 72 hours prior to race morning. I stocked my carb stores so completely, I never wilted during that race. Sure, it wasn't exactly a land-speed record, but I breezed through that finish line in 4:14, delighted with a shiny new PR, a thirty minute improvement over Las Vegas. Coming on the heels of the ultra, I knew diet saved Chicago and is a critical piece of the puzzle.
The LA Marathon in March 2015 was all about uncontrollable variables, namely weather. In short, HOT MARATHONS SUCK. Dumping heat while you run tires the body faster and leads to dehydration. Your time will suffer and mine did. A five-minute PR at 4:09, but LA was an exercise in humility. It was clear: just because your training cycle goes well, you are not guaranteed to run well on race day. Running the Summerlin half four weeks later proved that toeing the start line after a disappointing race is the best way to recover. I ran a sub-2 that day and yes, it was on that ghastly route that took us up Far Hills. St. George in October taught me to expect the unexpected; literally anything could happen on race day, including but not limited to terrorist ovaries that blow themselves up on mile 14. But again, I walked (okay, limped) away knowing a) I can run X number of miles at marathon pace even if something in my body is exploding and b) the best way to deal with failure is to keep moving forward. I was surprisingly unemotional after DNF'ing in George. I ate some potato chips, had a few glasses of wine, and rationally assessed the situation. By Monday, less than 48 hours later, I gained admission to the California International Marathon despite its sold-out status, a result of a sympathetic race director who believed in me (after reviewing my ER discharge papers).
2015 was an unbelievably challenging year - LA's agony, George's gut-punch, and who can forget: FenceGate. Interestingly, in retrospect, it was also the year I grew the most. Each time running hit me in the face, I got back on my feet, wiped the blood off, and braced myself for more.
By May 2016, I knew two things: I wanted to BQ more than ever and believed I could do it. I had never prepared for a race with this level of focus and conviction. At times, training felt like a part-time job. It strained relationships, caused me to quit other activities, and consumed almost every moment of every day. It worked. I BQ'd. I hated the Revel race and wanted to quit on mile 12, but knew enough by then to employ Piece of the Puzzle # 2: Station Loved Ones Around the Course. I only kept going because Brian and Scotty were at mile 20. Thankfully, it worked.
This year has been arduous. Boston taught me that if you can't run fast, run happy. Cedar City highlighted the importance of a good pacing strategy. And the triathlon, already an afterthought at this point, simply solidified what I already knew: running is a relationship in my life. It's something I need, something I love, and something I hope to do forever.
What does this lovely historical review have to do with Indy?
Each of these slices came together to create my strongest, best marathon ever. No, it wasn't a PR. But it was darn near perfect.
Of course, I didn't know the outcome as I stood in my corral Saturday morning, gently shaking my legs out. My mom had just wished Johnny and I a good race, at one point clutching her heart and exclaiming, "I'm so nervous!" Johnny and I laughed; we understood. Spectating was hard work.
Legs felt good; arms felt great. I had done my very first unsupported chin-up on Thursday morning, an honest-to-goodness real chin-up. Upper strength, as I'm learning, is critical to a strong running economy. In some ways, that glorious chin-up validated every single failed Presidential Fitness Test from middle school. Suck on that, sixth grade. Thirty-nine year old Kim is finally coming into her own.
Speaking of fitness, I felt ready. More than ready. My eight-day carb depletion leaned me out, getting me to racing weight two full days early. It was challenging, yes, and had I donned a witch's hat for Halloween, I don't think anyone in my life would have refuted it. But that depletion opened the door for three days' worth of carbo-loading, which I'll be honest, is really fun. Johnny and I happily noshed on oatmeal flaxseed cookies over coffee and conversation during the entire flight out.
Don't worry, it wasn't an all-out carb-crazy buffet. While eating the same amount of calories per day, I simply readjusted the ratio of carbs to protein to fats. On a regular training day, about 60% of my diet is carbohydrates (*not bread or pasta, but fruits, veggies and grains. Or tasty Honey Stinger waffles). Starting twelve days before race day, I dropped down to 50-60 grams of carbs per day. That's about 200-240 total calories, about 15% on a 1600 cal/day diet. I raised my protein (all plants, mind you - a bit challenging) to 60% (over 200 grams) and fat upped to 25% (around 50 grams.) That is a LOT of vegan protein shakes, fermented tofu and protein bars. I did that for three days until I realized I would be divorced and friendless very, very soon. **Editor's note: lack of carbs makes you very cranky. On day 4, more out of necessity than race strategy, I went up to 80 gram, then 100. I was still running too - gutting out each run with essentially no gas in the tank. There were six rueful runs during this depletion period, including one tempo run and one bout of speed work. While excruciating, it did two things: 1) it further depleted any leftover carbs in the body and 2), it simulated bonking in the later miles. Oddly, this is what I wanted: I needed to know and understand it in order to conquer it.
On November 1st, three days before the race, the equation flipped. Suddenly, carbs dominated 70% to 80% of my diet - between 280 grams, up to 340 grams of delicious, yummy carbs per day. I've never been so happy to eat a banana. And apples! Apples are DELICIOUS! Who wants a Honey Stinger waffle? On Friday, Johnny and I stumbled upon this market place after our shake-out run that offered both veggie crepes AND plant-based bowls that included black beans, brown rice, and sauteed tofu over sauteed spinach. OMG YES!!! Pasta and a kale salad for dinner on Friday rounded out my carbo-loading, and by Saturday's bowl of pre-marathon oatmeal, I knew I was ready. Who has two thumbs and has full glucose storage? This girl!
A little unconventional, but it worked. Really well. I never even saw the wall, let along crashed into it. Not at the famed mile 20 and never after that.
Speaking of food, I knew I was running well - calm, collected, easy. The training cycle that encompassed the previous twelve weeks was one of my favorites. Usually I give up all kinds of stuff - namely alcohol - to prep for a race, but this one, I chose not to. In fact, alcohol became an integral part of recovery. I'm not quite sure how it happened, but after every Saturday long run, Johnny and I would stop to get a Michelada. He's kind of obsessed with the drink, which is ironic because before meeting him, I had no idea what it even was. I actually asked the question, "Is that a restaurant or something?" since he referenced it so frequently. Once the laughter ended, he educated me on the merit of the Michelada - which, by the way, is essentially a Mexican bloody Mary. I enjoy a good Bloody Mary from time to time, but vodka after a long run? Yuck. Thankfully, the Michelada is just beer along with a bunch of other stuff. Surprisingly refreshing post-run, I'm not sure where the miracle recovery properties exist: the carbs from the beer, the salt from the Tajin on the rim of the frozen mug, or the Vitamin C from the lime juice? Perhaps a combination of all three, plus a tiny bit of brujeria? Regardless, it is tasty. Johnny is so passionate about the Michelada, he thinks of himself as something of a pastor for the potion, spreading the gospel of the Michelada far and wide. I've listened as he's ordered the drink in both English and Spanish, suggested different ingredients to the bartender/waitress, and practically stepped behind the counter to make it himself. He even made me my own Michelada mix, complete with very detailed instructions, when he was out of town for a weekend long run.
(The formula, much like our water drop algorithm, is top secret. Sorry.)
Running relaxed was important. By the time my wave started at 8:05, I was excited, not scared. The weather couldn't have been better: cloudy, 48, and dry. Rain threatened but the roads remained dry. I couldn't believe our good luck. NO MORE HOT MARATHONS. If you don't believe in climate change, start running. Seriously. One hot marathon and you'll be begging scientists to save our planet. Heat is miserable. If it's bad for us, just think of the poor polar bears.
The full marathoners started with the halfers, which I will admit, it kind of annoying. Running a full isn't twice as much effort as a half; it's 10x as much. I've said it before and I'll say it again: the full is just a completely different animal. As my wave took off, I noted with dismay several runners started walking within the first half mile...why did start you in wave 2? Although irritated, I was more concerned about being around folks that could be a little reckless with their energy than the walkers. Sure, bad pacing in a half is painful, but in a full? That's suicide. Watching some dart off while others slowed, I decided that time spent hating on the halfers was a waste of energy, so I turned my brain off.
Time to concentrate on running.
Indy's course is fairly flat with a few climbs in the middle miles. It took us through the downtown area, into the 'burbs with lovely homes and expansive lawns, and through the White River area. We curved around the large buildings and the Circle Monument, the symbol of the marathon. On mile 2.5, standing exactly where she had promised, was my mom, holding her neon yellow sign, waving like a madwoman. I had removed my gloves by this point to accommodate my rapidly rising body temperature. I gently tossed them to her as I ran by. My first test of the morning ("See mother, remove gloves") had gone off without a hitch. Only 23.7 miles to go!
We gradually wound our way into the quiet neighborhoods, bright with fall colors. Some strip malls but that's okay. Sure, running by a Papa John's and a Pep Boys isn't exactly inspiring, but it's how most road races go. It's a colossal undertaking to find 26.2 miles of roadway in a city; not everything will be squirrels and pretty fall planters. It didn't matter; by mile 4, I had found myself a nice little pack to tuck into, all dudes. Why am I always with the boys? It wasn't windy, but drafting is a great way to conserve energy, especially in the early miles. I'm not sure the lead guy knew he had an entire tribe of people tightly packed behind him, but we all seemed to have the same idea: let him do the work. So we did.
By mile 8, to my relief, my pack retained its shape as we split from the halfers. The 3:45 pacing group was running a few meters behind us, so I gradually made my way over to the lead pacer. "Are we running a 3:45 right now or going faster?" I asked casually. My watch suggested we were running almost 40 seconds faster than we should be. This might feel fine now, but it could lead to disastrous results in the later miles.
The orange-shirted guy responded exactly how I thought he would. "Yup, we are running about 40 seconds under pace," he panted as we hefted along together. Wow, I called that one. "Are you all planning to split in the later miles?" I asked, nodding at his running partner, hoping my questions weren't annoying him. What I meant by my question was: because there are two of you, will one of you take the runners who still feel good around mile 18 or 19 a bit faster, to get us in under 3:45? This was a concept introduced to me at CIM and I thought it was absolutely brilliant. Of course, by the time I had hit mile 18 in CIM, I was dying a slow death, nowhere close to a 3:45 pace, but two years had passed and I was a much stronger runner. I could taste my 3:41.
"Negative," the pacer informed me. "We are going to hang together the whole time and bring you all in as close to 3:45 as we can."
That's all I needed to hear. I thanked him and sped up, silently saying good-bye to my little tribe of runners. I didn't want a 3:45 finish. I wanted 3:41.
Splits for the first 10 miles: 8:33, 8:29, 7:52 (whoops), 8:44, 8:36, 8:11, 8:19, 8:24, 8:29 and 8:22.
Best of all: I was barely working. Even without drafting, my legs were just clipping along. I kept repeating to myself, "If it feels like work, you are working too hard." That would reel me back in, settle down, and remind me to concentrate on form and breathing.
After mile 10, I started looking for my friend Jill. We graduated high school together, are Facebook friends, but I hadn't seen in her in person over 20 years. As she told me the day before, "I still look like Jill, just the 38 year old version." That made me laugh. And sure enough, there she was on mile 10.5 with one of her beautiful blonde daughters, holding a sign that said, "YAY KIM!"
Tears instantly. For her to brave the cold with a child in tow - and a sign that had my name on it - was too much. I think she teared up too as I passed by. We high-fived and I felt this enormous boost of energy. I had less than 16 miles to go, felt fresh as a daisy, and just got a giant rush of love. The power of having friends and family out there is just indescribable.
My first half: 1:51:00, or an 8:26 pace. Exactly where I needed to be. 8:26 will bring me in at 3:41.
That's when I started to believe. Prior to the start of the race, the idea of BQing again was in my head, but felt like such a lofty goal. After all, the first one nearly killed me. I hadn't put in nearly as much work as I did for Revel, had been tossing Micheladas back for weeks, and even ran a silly tri two weeks ago. The taste of Lake Mead lingered in my mouth. How audacious could I get? Such a greedy runner.
But something in my brain told me...why not? Go for it. Dream. Believe. Achieve. Alex told me that right before St. George. It's an old Deena Kastor quote, and I didn't really get it until that moment. If I wanted this, the first step was believing I could do it.
By mile 20, the only thing I felt was disbelief when looking at my Garmin. Miles 14-20 were just as carefree as the first half, a breezy 8:26, 8:36, 8:43, 8:32, 8:27, 8:18 and 8:23. Did I really just run an 8:23 mile 20? Not to mention, the course became very hilly around mile 16. We climbed up for two miles, hence the 8:42 and 8:32. But still, under 9 minutes! In my wildest dreams, I did not anticipate that. My legs were starting to tire, but overall, I still felt really strong. Best, I had just finished the hardest part of the course.
After mile 21 (a solid 8:42), I began to fantasize about my finish time. I was still on my 8:26 pace. If I could just hold on for another five miles, maybe, just maybe, I''ll back in Boston in 2019. Right on Hereford, left on Boyleston. Let's do it again...
Miles 22 - 26: an unreal 8:35, 8:42, 8:42, 8:40 and 8:32. How the hell is my last mile almost the same as my first? Did I really pace myself that well? The 3:45 group was well behind me; I wasn't about to waste precious energy craning my head to find them. Instead, I put everything into running as fast as I could. Two more turns then the finish. Is this really happening? I sprinted. My watch told me it was a 7:40 pace.
...I crossed the finish line as their clock read 3:48, five minutes and thirty seconds off because a wave 2 start. Wait, 3:43?? Huh? Where was 3:41?
How did that happen? What the...?
When I looked at my watch, I realized my glaring error: I ran long. Yes, I ran an 8:26 pace - but I ran 26.4 miles instead of the prescribed 26.2. It's not uncommon to run extra, especially in a marathon with a lot of turns, but sadly, the official time only counts the 26.2 distance...so my shiny 8:26 suddenly morphed into a shockingly ugly 8:32. What the... Officially: 3:43:25. A BQ technically, but I'll never get in. The qualifying standard this year was over three minutes, meaning that while I met my qualifying time, there will be plenty more faster runners who will be admitted before me.
Wow. I did not see that coming.
Looking back, I realize the error of my ways. I should have been 3-5 seconds under pace per mile to accommodate for a long course. I was so focused on hitting perfect splits that running farther than 26.2 miles never occurred to me.
But like the seven marathons that came before this, Indy will fall in line as yet another learning experience.
While I'm disappointed about no Boston (I'm not even going to apply with a 1:35 cushion), I am deliriously pleased with my overall performance. I feel like Indy was an accurate display of my current fitness. I paced myself well and came within 85 seconds of even splitting. Ever since BQ'ing at Revel, the nagging doubt of a "downhill course" lingered in my thoughts. I truly believe that there is a give-and-take to downhill courses: sure, you don't use the same aerobic effort, but you usually pay for it in another way. I got my 3:33:33 but was left with Achilles tendinitis and unable to run for five weeks. Indy, however, would be in line with Chicago, just a bit more challenging. Flat with a few hills: this, to me, validated my first Boston. I can run both downhill AND flat and still BQ. Whew!
The best part of Indy is what I learned after Boston: if you can't run fast, run happy. Somehow, I managed to do both at the same time. I may even offer a third option too - run happy, fast, and strong.
You know, it's funny. Ever since I started running, Boston was my goal. Boston, Boston, Boston. That's all I thought about. And then I got there and the actual race was completely different than I thought it would be. Because of the calf strain, because of my expectations, take your pick. But now, in my first race post-Boston, I realize Boston was never the goal. It was the beginning.
And Indy is the start of the second chapter.