At some point in my twenties, I started to feel like I had stopped progressing as an adult and decided on a whim that I’d like to tackle a marathon. So, I registered for and ran The Louisiana Marathon in Baton Rouge, LA in 2012. It was a miserable experience. There were several points along the course where I imagined knocking on a random door and phoning my parents to pick me up. When I crossed the finish line, I could barely stand and I couldn’t fathom why this whole “marathon” thing was a popular event. I remember expressing my distaste for the distance multiple times while lamaze breathing through the throbbing in my legs. I also remember walking back to my hotel and thinking how “fun” it would be to run a marathon in every state.
My second race was the Cape Cod Marathon in Falmouth, MA. I chose Cape Cod because of its fall timing and its convenient proximity to New York City. My experience this time around was only slightly less uncomfortable than the first, but now I was officially committed to the whole 50 states thing. At the post-race meal, I heard a few girls celebrating the fact that they had just qualified for Boston. This was the first time I had ever realized the Boston Marathon was something normal people do. It was also the moment I found out it required a qualifying time. I was intrigued, but since I had just finished running in Massachusetts, I wasn’t terribly interested in adding another marathon to my already overwhelming list.
I kept moving forward with my goal, focusing solely on finishing each race, no matter how long it took. I started piling on the marathons, running as many as thirteen in a year. Once it became clear that I could run 26.2 miles at a moment’s notice, my previously lofty goal became a nagging to-do list.
Right when I started to dread crossing another start line, I won a contest to meet and run with my marathon hero, 2018 Boston Marathon Champion, Des Linden. My friend, Jess, and I were flown to San Antonio, TX for a VIP experience that included handing out 5k medals, attending the VIP banquet, choosing a new Brooks running outfit and running the Rock N’ Roll Half Marathon, all of which we did with Des. That weekend gave me the motivation I need to keep checking off states and suddenly, I had a new goal: In 2019, I would try to qualify for the Boston Marathon.
As a 32 year old woman, I would need to shave 19 minutes off my PR to run a 3:30 qualifying time. I registered for a few spring races to get back into marathon shape and decided I would attempt to qualify at the Indianapolis Monumental Marathon. I bought Sage Canaday’s BQ Marathon Training Plan and over the course of four months, put my heart and soul into training. I shocked myself with unwavering dedication, logging miles regardless of time, weather, or location. I struggled to keep up with some of the speed workouts, but felt myself getting stronger with every step. By peak week, I was averaging 75 miles a week and I could feel it in every inch of my body.
When race weekend rolled around, I knew I had given everything I had to my training. On Friday morning, I hopped on a flight with my backpack and the latest Women’s Running Magazine. I read that issue from cover to cover, soaking in whatever last minute bits of wisdom I could. There was an article titled “Inside the Minds of Marathoners” that said “Those butterflies you’re feeling–that light, woozy sensation of your stomach turning–there’s been research that shows elite marathoners see it as a cue that they’re ready”. Well, I thought, I must be ready.
I landed at noon and took a cab directly to the Indiana Convention Center. The expo included typical race booths, with an added bonus of Deena Kastor signing books in the corner. At the back of the room sat packet pickup, where volunteers efficiently handed out assigned bibs and the race’s tech t-shirt.
Normally, I’ll find a few places to check out in the race city, but this time I wanted to get to my hotel and off of my feet as soon as possible. Besides, I knew I would be getting a 26 mile tour in the morning. I checked into the Westin, which was conveniently located right across the street from the Convention Center and only a two blocks from the start line. Then, spent the rest of my day sipping Nuun and watching movies, leaving my room only once to pick up a pasta dinner.
As the clock approached 8:00 PM, I triple checked the start time, set out my clothes, and tried to calm the knot in my stomach. The forecast predicted a chilly 27 degree start, slowly approaching 40 during the day. I chose my warmest layers, including a few extras that I didn’t mind parting with as I heated up on the course.
During the night, I woke up every hour, paranoid that I had missed my alarm. When it finally started beeping, I was equal parts relieved and anxious. I went through my usual pre-race ritual, eating a granola bar, drinking a hot tea and rolling out my legs. When I couldn’t think of anything else to do, I went down to the hotel lobby and joined a few hundred other runners who were avoiding the cold until the last minute. While I paced around the hotel’s perimeter, Jonathan gave me one last pep talk over the phone. Before heading outside, I made my final restroom stop and was irritated to discover that my period had arrived just in time to join me for the race. *Insert eye roll*
Unable to waste any more time, I walked the two blocks to the start and burrowed into my designated corral. As I waited, nervous and shivering, I tried very hard to remind myself that I enjoy running, despite my current anxiety. The gun went off at 8:00 AM on the dot and a few minutes later, I crossed the start line just ahead of the 3:30 pace group.
I didn’t want to go out too fast and burn all of my energy, so my first mile was an overly cautious 8:14. After we spread out a bit, I got into a comfortable rhythm in the 7:50 area. The pace felt surprisingly comfortable and I was skeptical of how long it would last, but I powered on.
At least once every race, I unintentionally sync strides with another runner. Somewhere between miles 5 and 6, I fell into pace with Kara, who was also chasing a BQ. We shared running goals, ranked our past races and waited for each other at water stops. We held a solid average pace of 7:50 for the first 14 miles and couldn’t believe how quickly we passed the halfway mark. I was equally surprised that I hadn’t had to stop and use the port-o-potty once. That in itself was a huge victory.
As promised, the course was mostly flat with a few minor hills in the second half. Water stops were abundant and well stocked, evenly spread about every mile and a half. After mile 15, Kara and I slowed to around an 8:08 pace, but we felt confident in the time we had already banked. If we could stay below 8:10, we would cross the finish with a BQ. We tried to keep a conversation going, but eventually, we had no extra breath to spare. I was so focused on putting one foot in front of the other, that I didn’t pay much attention to my surroundings, but I do recall running through a lovely park with a great big Christmas tree around mile 19.
Around mile 21, the 3:30 pace group caught up with us. I heard the pacer proudly announce that they were about a minute ahead of schedule. Great, I thought, I can latch on to this group and it’ll be smooth sailing to the end. Unfortunately, I couldn’t keep up. They stayed in my lined of vision for a while, but by mile 23, they were long gone. The course turned right onto a long straightaway and into a strong headwind. I wished I had a pace group to block the gusts, but the runners around me were all very spread out. During those last four miles, I slowed down significantly. I ran 8:24 (23), 8:25 (24) and 8:46 (25), but I remained confident that the BQ was in my grasp. It wasn’t until halfway through the last mile that I realized it wasn’t.
When I crossed the finish line at 3:31:35, one minute and 35 seconds past my goal time, I was numb. I zombied through receiving my finisher medal and blankly stared at the volunteer who offered me a space blanket. I went through the motions of getting the water and snacks, half-heartedly posing with my medal for the race photographer. I was devastated.
For years I had been telling myself that if I actually trained, if I put in the miles and did the speed work for one training cycle, I would have no problem qualifying for Boston. I searched for something to blame that extra minute and a half on, but couldn’t come up with anything. Yes, I started my period right before the race, but that never has any effect on my speed. Yes, it was about twenty degrees colder than what I had been training in, but the low temperature actually felt great after the first mile. Yes, there was a strong head wind in the last three miles, but I had had plenty of solid speed workouts against the wind. The race organizers had thoroughly planned and flawlessly executed every detail of this race and I simply wasn’t fast enough.
Hours later, I posted my disappointing results on Instagram. Posting your goals for everyone to see them is all rainbows and unicorns until you fail. But when I landed back in New York, I had a comment from Des Linden, “The rule is – you’re not allowed to be upset when you run a PR. Easier said than done, but you are better than you’ve ever been before. Congratulations – onwards!”She was right, I had taken 17 minutes off my PR and had no right to be upset. Yet again, Des got me out of my slump and motivated me to keep my head up and goals in check.
That night, I decided I would try again at the Albany Snickers Marathon in Georgia and for extra motivation, Jonathan agreed to run with me. Five days after our wedding and two days before we start the Appalachian Trail, Jonathan will run his first marathon and I will run my 43rd. Onwards!