This post has been swirling around my head for a while (I really wanted to write it in March) and then on my computer as a draft for another while. Turns out it was harder to write this one than I thought! This was/is just such a huge accomplishment for me and I am so proud, it’s hard to put that all into words; like words don’t do my feelings justice. But of course, I will try.
Qualifying for the Boston Marathon was something I never thought I’d be able to do. And I did it. I mean, Boston is a race only for elite runners, right? I am definitely not an elite runner so even though, of course, I always “wanted” to run Boston, it was just never in the realm of possibility for me. My first open marathon was the 2011 SF Nike Women’s Marathon with a finish time of 4:48 and for sure after that, I believed there was no way I would ever run a sub 4 marathon, let alone Boston.
Fast forward 3 years and 3 more marathons, each of those marathons was under 4 hours, one painfully close to a BQ (LA 2013), and finally a BQ in Sacramento on December 7.
I was really happy with my training for this race. I followed a plan out of a book and modified it to fit my schedule. First, I was doing cyclocross races almost every Sunday in September and October so I had to switch my long runs either to Saturday or Monday, and I used the cross races as anaerobic/power training. Second, I didn’t train Mondays other than those few days I had to make up a long run from the weekend. I don’t work Mondays and I find especially when I’m training a lot I need my Mondays to do business work or errands. I also rarely ran on Fridays because I typically feel too beat up after a week at work to entertain the idea of training Friday evenings. So pretty much I ran 5 days a week, which I feel worked just great for me. Third, I can get pretty skinny from training (especially running) a lot but when I do, I start feeling weaker and less powerful, so it was really important to me to keep some pounds on my body. How did I do that? By maintaining my post-IM Boulder diet of beer and poutine – the most calorie-laden food I can think of! Pretty much every long run was followed up by beer and poutine on Sunday night, and it was amazing. And finally, I ran 20 miles (with my awesome training partner, whom I could not have done this without). Twice. I’ve never done that before in training. I know, I know. Clearly, it helped, and next time I will add a 22 miler.
My goals were:
1) 3:30, because this would BQ me in my old age group which I tried for before, but I age up for 2016
2) 3:35-3:38, just to BQ (standard is 3:40)
3) finish, if all hell broke loose, because finishing a marathon is always a great day
But first, (let me take a selfie) some photos from training:
I arrived in San Francisco late Friday night, stayed in a crappy inexpensive hotel and drove to Sacramento Saturday morning, to another (really) crappy inexpensive hotel. I spent a surprisingly short amount of time at the expo got my little shake out run done no problem. I hadn’t run outside for a couple weeks prior to the race because of cold temperatures and icy paths, so I was in heaven running outside in shorts. I had my usual “errands” to complete while in the US – REI, Trader Joes, Whole Foods, and I had dinner at my favourite restaurant, Old Spaghetti Factory.
Race morning arrived, well early. I don’t like mornings and I hate waking up early. I grabbed my breakfast I made the night before (almond milk, chia, buckwheat, hemp, fruit, PB) and walked about 7 blocks to catch the bus at 5am to the race start in Folsom. It was all set up really well and the whole process was very smooth. When we arrived at the Folsom Dam we were confronted with the most porta potties I have ever seen. There must have been 300. Major kudos to the race organizers for getting so many potties, I barely stood in line. I organized my nutrition and music, dropped off my gear bag, and ran through my warmup. I had a throw away sweater from a friend that I could wear until the gun went off which was really helpful. The temperature was beautiful, around 50F, foggy and still, which I was really thankful for because previously it was 30F last year and pouring rain the year before. I knew I had to take advantage of the favourable conditions. Finally I lined up with the 3:30 pace bunny and waited for the start. I love racing, I don’t get nervous, even before big races, and I totally thrive in those few minutes before a race start. It’s always so exciting!
For as much as this course is net downhill and “flat”, the first half is NOT flat! I was actually quite surprised by the rolling hills. None were really big, I never had to really exert myself on them but they were just pretty relentless for 13 or so miles. The road was also more crowded than I was expecting, even though both sides of the street were closed to traffic. I guess I thought since there was only 9000 people or so it would be less busy than the 24,000 at the LA Marathon, but I actually think this race felt more crowded. I didn’t feel like I had clear road in front of me until well after half way. I also didn’t know what side of the street the aid stations would be on, turns out they were on the right. I don’t carry water/hydration with me so I depend on the aid stations and they were BUSY the whole way. I got cut off a lot by people cutting quickly across the road to get to the stations, and then they would suddenly stop to drink. Clearly, they didn’t take “Amy’s School of Aid Station Etiquette.” 🙂
The first 6 miles went by in a flash and I felt great. I wasn’t able to run right on the shoulder of the pace bunny as I had planned because everyone else wanted to and I didn’t want to put the energy in to fighting them.
Thankfully the sun never came out, it was always stuck behind a layer of fog so the temperature stayed cool, and still I was getting warm! It was more humid than usual, I think, and coming from dry Calgary made it seem worse. But in any case, the next miles to half way flew by as well. I did a system check at the half marathon point to see how I was feeling, and the conclusion was that I felt fantastic. I felt fresh, like I had only just started to run. I knew it was going to get hard at some point, but of course there was a little part of my head that said “maybe it won’t get hard this time!”
I continued to run easy and relaxed through 20 miles. By now the crowd of runners had thinned so getting to and through aid stations was more straightforward. The 3:30 pace bunny had brought us this far 30 seconds under predicted pace and this is also where I started having to work. My mantra for this race was Britney Spears “WERK bitch!” I just repeated to myself “if you wanna BQ, you gotta WERK bitch!” The bunny started to pull away from me a bit around mile 21 but I just stayed focused on my own race. I noticed that some people who had started with our group and had been right on the bunny’s shoulder had been dropped so I felt thankful to still be holding on.
I lost a few seconds between mile 21-23 and then things got really bad. Not as bad as LA this year but I guess just the typical end-of-marathon-leg soreness. No cramps or anything, but my legs just sort of started turning to cement and no matter what I did or what I said to myself, my legs would not move faster. That’s a really interesting place to be, when you want something so bad and your head is totally in it, and your body just says “no way!” But I knew I had built up a cushion so I just needed to keep moving forward the best I could. My pace took a huge hit, like it fell off a cliff, so this is definitely something I need to improve for next time, but I didn’t stop or walk, so that counts for something.
I am always amazed how freaking LONG the last 2 miles of a marathon take. I swear it’s equal to the previous 24 miles. OMG. Somewhere before mile 26 I saw 3:30 go by on my Garmin and I was definitely disappointed but I also knew I was going to get my BQ so I’m sure I let up a little bit and tried to enjoy the final moments. I made the 2 final left turns into the finishers’ chute (there’s actually 2 finishers, chutes – 1 male and 1 female! weird! First time I’ve ever seen that!) and let me tell you, I was pumped. I stretched out my arms, (a girl pipped me right at the finish line, more on that later), and crossed the finish line in 3:32:25. A PR and BQ.
Surprisingly, I didn’t cry! I am a big crier in races and I have no idea why the water works didn’t flow. I just felt calm and proud. It was like a big weight had been lifted off my shoulders.
But I needed to lay down. I have learned the hard way that the finish line people and medical staff don’t like it when you try to lay down right AT the finish line. That’s the sort of shit that gets you taken into the medical tent (been there). So I got my medal, my bottle of water, my foil blanket and stumbled as far as I could away from those people (it wasn’t that far, 20ft or so!) and finally laid down flat on the ground. It was glorious. Medical did keep coming over to check on me but I was able to convince them I was fine. I am allowed to lay down after running 26.2 miles, thankyouverymuch!! After a period of time that seems lost to me, I pulled myself together, found my phone and called my mom. That was the first time I cried, when I told my mom “I did it.” And I rang the BQ bell, that was cool!
I will spare the ugly details but I had to walk to 7 blocks back to my hotel and car, and what took me about 8 minutes to walk that morning, I’m not even joking, took me 1hr+ post marathon. Brutal. Then I ate a bunch of In N Out, drove back to San Francisco, and when shopping at Bloomingdales.
So what about the girl who beat me right at the finish line? I was annoyed for a second when she came running by me but then quickly forgot, as I was savouring my accomplishment. That is, until I got my finish line photos. As it turns out, she was part of a relay so just ran a portion of the marathon! And ruined my finish line photo, which was my biggest concern. Thankfully my friend fixed it for me 🙂
Back home in Calgary, I proceeded to get super sick, as I always do following a big race, recover, then get sick again with the stomach flu and actually make a trip to the ER! Good times.
So the moral of the story is that everyone starts somewhere and hard work and perseverance will get you to places you never thought possible. So finally I get to say: I will be running Boston 2016.
What I wore:
Newton Distance 3 – 5 lugs, brand new pair!
Betty Designs tri top – the pockets in the back allow me to carry all my nutrition, and it looks cute
Betty Designs trucker hat – to be fashionable of course
Nutrition – Hammer gels (peanut butter, raspberry, Montana huckleberry), PowerBar gel blasts, Salt Stick salt tabs