If you read my 2019 goals at the beginning of the year, you would have seen that I am the type of person who likes to put my goals out into the universe and make them public. I wrote that I was chasing a 3:20 or better marathon at Boston and a 1:32 or better half marathon. In April, I ran a 3:20:09 marathon at Boston and in March during the lead-up to Boston, a 1:32:19 (there is power in writing your goals down!). I had also written that my Fall plans were a 3:15 or faster marathon IF I ran a Fall marathon and if not I’d be chasing a sub-1:30 half.
It’s funny how a few months can change everything.
In March, I ran a half-marathon on an extremely challenging course (dubbed the most challenging half marathon course in northern Illinois) that gained 700 feet of elevation and dropped about the same over the course of 13.1 miles. It’s the kind of course that breaks the body down – steep hills up and down are tough on those quads! I was extremely nervous going into this race and ran “blind”, not paying attention to the pace on my watch and just running off of effort. I ended up coming away with nearly a 3-minute PR, running 1:32:19 and I realized just how strong I had gotten during the marathon cycle.
In my Boston build-up, I had my strongest marathon training cycle to date and came away actually in better shape than a 3:20 (closer to a 3:17-3:18 marathon according to my coach). However, in order to capitalize on your top level of fitness the stars need to align the day of the race. As you all have read by now, the weather at Boston in 2019 while much more ideal than it was forecasted to be was pretty humid and temperatures got very warm for marathon running in the afternoon. I was so proud of how my body battled that day and still came away with an 8 minute PR, notching a 3:20 marathon.
My Fall plans have changed.
I AM running a Fall Marathon and I AM chasing a sub 90-minute half. They are no longer separate goals but one in the same in pursuit of my marathon goal. I ran my first marathon in a 4:10. When my coach and I talked about my next goal time for CIM after Boston, I wasn’t scared, I was excited. And I held onto that excitement for myself for many months because I wanted to make it my own and have time to process it individually. I now feel ready to put my goal out there. After having a strong Boston cycle and coming away with more fitness than I thought going into it, I am now chasing a 3:10. This number is special to me because it represents a full hour between my first marathon and hopefully my eighth. I’ll admit I was curious what I could do on a flatter, faster course in both the half and the full marathon after my most recent PRs have come on hilly courses. Maybe one day I’ll run a flatter marathon course but CIM has been on the bucket list for awhile now and after training for all the Boston hills this winter, I kind of fell in love with rolling hills. My half marathon this Fall on the other hand will be on a flat course; I will be running the Indy Monumental Half Marathon as a tune-up race during my CIM cycle where hopefully if training has gone well and I am healthy, I’ll be chasing that sub-90 minute half too.
It’s crazy to me to think about how I have evolved as a distance runner over the last several years. It is a testament to hard work, dedication, and commitment that has gotten me to where I am today and it is that same work ethic that will get me to my goals in the future. I am excited to embark on this next season of marathon training in August. I know it won’t be easy; going for something you’ve never done before never is, but I have no doubt that it will be worth it. Bring on all the miles, the sweat, the tears, the pain; I’m ready to go chase down bigger goals this Fall!
Last week was really hard. I lost my dog of 16 years on Monday and spent the first couple days locking myself in a bathroom stall at work, putting my hand over my mouth to contain the sounds of crying, and wiping away tears with strips of toilet paper. It felt like an eternity leading up to the Fourth of July, even though it was only 3 days. I had signed up the week prior to race a 5K on the 4th in Barrington, the town I grew up in and ran for on the high school teams. I had no time goals for the race, especially after the emotionally charged week I was having, but just wanted to run hard and see where I was at fitness-wise. On the 3rd, something I ate for lunch at work unfortunately didn’t sit well with me and instead of spending time in the bathroom stall crying, I was making emergency trips to the bathroom stall the rest of the afternoon at work up until I left to go home for the holiday weekend.
Things seemed to be improving when I got home and I quickly fell asleep being tired from the mentally exhausting week. Unfortunately, I woke up at 3 a.m. and made another emergency bathroom run which not only interrupted my sleep but also just further contributed to my dehydration. I was able to fall back to sleep around 4 a.m. before my alarm went off at 6 to get ready for the race. I had never taken Imodium before but knew that if I wanted to get through this race with my pride in tact that I would need to try something. I popped one pill and prayed it would help me get through the race.
It was hot and humid on the 4th of July and my warm-up felt uncomfortable. I was dripping by the time I got to the starting line and knew that between the elements and how I was feeling that it was going to be a tough day. My only goal was to run as strong as I could, also hoping I could potentially beat my high school self on this course, and when the gun went off, that’s what I set out to do. The first half mile is flat and I used that to my advantage, knowing that we were about to hit the uphill section of the race (from about .5-2 miles). I saw my family at about .8 miles and gave them a wave but they could tell I was hurting. Mile 1 clocked in at 6:27 and I knew it was going to be a grind. I didn’t give myself permission to step off the gas but my body was just toast and I tried to keep pumping my arms and doing the best I could. I could tell I was dehydrated – I felt pretty weak and my stomach was cramping pretty badly. Mile 1-2 includes more uphill and that second mile slowed quite a bit with a 6:56. Fortunately, there is a bit of a reprieve past mile 2 with a nice downhill for a majority of the mile and I was able to pick up the pace back to 6:42. Around 2.7, I saw Jeff who I had met at a Memorial Day 5K; I recognized his purple singlet as he approached and then passed me and told myself to go keep up with him. I focused on keeping his purple singlet in sight and when we hit the uphill with about .1 to go to the finish, I charged forward in a 5:37 pace reminding myself that I hadn’t done all those hills for Boston training for nothing, and crossed the line in 20:54. I grabbed a water bottle and Gatorade from a volunteer and sat on the curb for about 10 minutes until I felt better.
Reflecting and Moving Forward
The 4th of July 5K was brutal but I knew I had left absolutely everything I had out there on the course on that day. I was not upset at myself by any means, but I was a little disappointed by the circumstances and knew that I had more in me if given an honest day without digestive issues. I gave myself a few hours to process and texted Jessica, my coach, asking what her thoughts would be on racing again on Sunday. She asked me to give myself a day to process and see how I felt but that it wasn’t a bad idea – this is the beauty of the 5K. You can race more often safely unlike distances like the half marathon or marathon which should only be raced sparingly because of the physical tax on the body. Friday rolled around and I wasn’t sore at all on my recovery run. I still waited to sign up for another race until Saturday, however, because in my experience 2 days after a hard effort is when I feel it most. I also wanted to make sure that mentally I was ready to battle again, which was confirmed after having a really good shakeout run on Saturday morning. I signed up for the 5K that morning, picked up my race packet, and really only told my coach, husband, and family since I didn’t want to make a big deal out of it and add unnecessary stress. This effort was going to be for me.
July 7th 5K
Sunday morning was the first cool (70 degrees), non-humid day we’ve had in weeks and you could tell it was the perfect day to run hard. There was a slight breeze in the air but for the most part things were still. I hesitated to call it PR weather, but after weeks of humidity, that’s exactly what it was. However, my focus wasn’t on a “PR” so much as it was on just running hard and giving myself the opportunity to run an honest race. The course was flat which played to my advantage since I live in an area with rolling hills and don’t get to run on flat very often. During my warm-up, I felt smooth and strong. I felt comfortable since this was the same course I had run before on Memorial Day weekend and also because many of my running club friends were here; I was calm. And then I saw a big group of cross-country girls line up and started laughing about my chances of getting on the podium for females. I quickly snapped out of it though and reminded myself that I was in it for my race and my race alone. While placing would be nice, it wasn’t as important as just running the strongest effort I could.
The gun went off and a ton of men/boys went flying to the front. Surprisingly, none of the cross-country girls were up near the front and I only saw one other woman ahead of me and focused on staying in contact with her. I looked down at my Garmin and saw 5:XX. “Ok calm down. Relax and get things under control. The race is not won in the first 400 meters.” The first mile was fast and I came through in 6:10. I knew I wasn’t in shape to hold 6:10 for another 2 miles but I just focused on effort and continuing to push. My coach had told me before the race to check in with myself every 2 minutes and see if I could push any harder; pushing harder here meant pushing to stay in contact with the woman and putting myself into a world of hurt. I knew if I could get to 2 miles that I could run the last mile on guts alone and so I kept pushing to that 2 mile marker sign and my watch clicked 6:25. This was more in line with the kind of shape I’m in but I definitely paid for the fast mile from mile 2-3. I grabbed a cup of water just past the 2-mile marker and dumped it on my head and splashed some in my mouth. It was a nice distraction from the hurt for a few seconds and then I just focused on pumping my arms to keep the momentum going. I remember saying to myself, “Katherine, sub-20 is yours to lose right now. Keep pushing, you are doing this today.” The first place female was probably about 10 seconds up on me at this point but I could see her blue singlet in the distance. My arms were so tight; I hadn’t felt this much tightness in my arms since…high school. The kind of tightness that comes with running as fast as you can for a short distance.
When I turned the corner to head into the finish, the finish line looked so far away (about .4-.5 miles; I can’t exactly remember). I focused on digging deep and knew that the faster I ran the faster I could be done. I hit mile 3 in 6:34 and somehow found it in me to sprint the last little bit in 5:46. I could see the clock ticking “19:45, 46, 47” and it was up to me to see just how far under 20 minutes I could get at this point. I crossed the line in 19:53 and dropped to the ground (common theme here with 5Ks). I grabbed some water, sat on another curb for about 5 minutes until I finally caught my breath, and then excitedly texted my coach a photo of my time and cry-face emojis because I had finally broken 20, my husband got, “I broke 20 and beat all the little high school girls!!!”, and my family, “I’m officially as fast as my high school self”.
Unpacking Stored Baggage
I couldn’t wipe the smile off my face on the 2-mile solo cool-down. To say I’ve been working for a sub-20 for a while is somewhat accurate, but I haven’t really devoted the energy to it until this summer so it hasn’t really been an honest attempt. After high school cross-country, I was left with a sour taste in my mouth for the shorter distance events. I had gotten caught up in the comparison trap pretty badly and instead of focusing on being the best runner I could be, as the team captain, I was constantly feeling like I had something to prove and put a ridiculous amount of pressure on myself, pressure that I often crumbled under. My senior year was defined by being injured with a stress fracture for the state cross-country meet and being out of shape for indoor track as a result. By the time I got to the track, I wasn’t in the shape I was in my junior year and had to focus instead on 800s instead of my preferred 2-mile race because I just didn’t have time to get into 2-mile shape. I remember breaking 2:30 in the 800 in one of my last track meets (2:29) for the first time and just being exhausted and mentally worn out from chasing arbitrary time goals. I think I associated these feelings so much with shorter distance events that I wrote them off for a long time.
For so long I have pigeon-holed myself as a long distance endurance athlete, and while that’s pretty true, until now I haven’t given myself a real shot at much of anything else because it didn’t come as naturally as the longer distance events. We set these arbitrary time marks in our head for distances – sub 20 is one of those – but I can honestly say that now that I’ve done it I’m curious just how much further I could go if I kept training for these kind of races. They are so far outside of my comfort zone but I am having so much fun being able to race more often because I absolutely love to race. However, at the same time, doing well in this race reignited a spark for marathon training in some odd way. I do miss the long tempo runs and the long runs on Saturdays and I’m looking forward to getting back to them later in August. But until then, I’m excited to take another crack or two at this distance after a few more weeks of training. I’m thankful I did this summer of speedwork to try something new and to remind myself that I don’t need to “specialize”; I’m not a professional and while marathon training will always be my favorite, as amateur runners we have the opportunity to try lots of things without much risk since our careers don’t depend on this.
My call to you all is to try something new this year and risk putting yourself outside of your comfort zone; it’s where the most growth happens. I have mad respect for the 5K and think that the hurt from a hard 5K can be even worse than a marathon – if you don’t know what I’m talking about, you probably haven’t trained for and run a 5K hard enough so give it a go! You should hear the alarms sounding from a half mile in, but be willing to keep pressing hard on that pedal until you reach the finish line no matter how much it hurts. And if you’re a self-declared endurance athlete like myself, I promise you the mental strength you’ll gain from doing something like this will pay dividends in your marathon. Give it a try and let me know what you think!
“Everyone wants instant gratification”, Jen Bigham recently said on the Ali on the Run podcast. People don’t want to work for years and years to get that BQ or OTQ, she says, they want it now. Initially I was all “heck yeah, I worked for 6 years to get my BQ so I totally get this!” And then I realized that a big part of why I’ve been having a rough time lately with running is because I’ve been subconsciously expecting that things should be going well and I should be feeling good; I’ve been subconsciously expecting instant gratification. I’ve expected to feel the same way I felt while training for Boston last cycle when the build-up was challenging coming back from an injury but where I felt strong nailing workout after workout. I didn’t expect to be feeling sore all the time, to be sucking air for weeks as my body adapts to the hotter temperatures, and to be feeling so worn out throughout the day. I also didn’t expect that I would feel like crap on nearly every run that I do. Subconsciously, I think I had been telling myself all along that 5K training and strength work would be challenging, but that it would be nothing like the demands of marathon training and it was foolish of me to even consider comparing the two.
While it’s true that my weekends have quite a bit more time without a long run, during the week I’m putting in just as many hours between all of the added strength work and keeping up with runs. Speedwork intervals are generally short, but they’re fast, which means they can be just as hard if not harder than a tempo run.
I wrote a couple months ago that I knew a summer of speed and strength was going to be challenging, but internally I thought I’d struggle for maybe a few weeks, adapt, be pushed on speedwork days, but generally feel comfortable on an aerobic-paced run. After running a PR in the 5K at the end of May without any formal speedwork and coming off of marathon legs (talk about instant gratification), I was feeling pretty confident that things were going to trend in the right direction. And then the fatigue set in and I was served a nice slice of humble pie. 5Ks have never been my strong suit. I can run tempos at 6:45 pace but as soon as I try to dip below that I struggle. But I thought maybe because I had gotten fitter in the half marathon and marathon that it would translate to the shorter distance events. It did a little as evidenced by the 5K PR, but any fitness gains in the distance beyond that was going to require more training tailored specifically to shorter distance racing.
So here we are, about a month into this summer of speed and strength, and the only light at the end of the tunnel I see is marathon training ironically enough. I know it takes time to adapt to any new workout routine and I am enjoying pushing myself with strength training, but I’m struggling mentally with how much it’s affecting my running while I still haven’t adapted. I’ve made the mental decision though to stick with it and to give myself a real chance before calling it quits. However, if this awful sluggish feeling continues throughout July, I’m pulling back on the reins in August because I don’t want to dig myself a hole that I can’t get out of prior to CIM training. I don’t think the fatigue is solely workout related, I’m busy in nearly every facet of my life right now, but it’s all by choice so I’m not complaining. However, I need to figure out a schedule that works for me and can’t expect that everything is going to run smoothly instantly.
I want to work hard, I want to improve, and I want to see the fruits of my labor. I didn’t enter this phase of training thinking that it was going to be easy, but deep down I think I probably thought I wouldn’t be struggling as much as I have. I expected to repeat my winter training cycle’s success, and it’s too early to say this cycle won’t be, but it’s a totally new ballgame and I have to treat it as such. My strength has always been putting my head down and going to work consistently so that’s what I’m going to do. I’m approaching this expecting to struggle sometimes, to fail occasionally, but to come out on the other side stronger. It’s not supposed to feel comfortable all the time – if it did, I wouldn’t be growing. Speedwork is tough, but if there’s anything I’ve learned before from past training cycles, I am tougher.
The night before my 10K, I was restless. I’ve gotten bad sleep the night before a race but for a race I wasn’t nervous for, I’m not quite sure why I wasn’t able to sleep (ok, I think it was because my husband was at a bachelor party so I kept waking up wondering if he was home yet but that’s not his fault), but I probably got about 3 hours of sleep total Saturday night. My alarm went off at 5 a.m. on Sunday morning and I got up, took care of the dogs (we were watching my parents’ dog due to my sister’s graduation), and left a little bit behind schedule at 6:30 a.m. to drive the 40 minutes into the city. I had no issue with the drive and had purchased a parking spot on Spot Hero the night before for a garage not far from the race. I parked my car, then headed over to the race to use the bathroom, change into my racing flats, gear check, and do a quick warm-up.
I knew as soon as I started my warm-up that the day was going to be tough. It was already 68 degrees with nearly 100% humidity and my 7:30 paced mile with strides felt tough as is. Running in the heat is hard, but I can acclimate to it over a couple months. For me, running the heat/humidity comes with the additional challenge of my exercise-induced asthma which is further aggravated with extreme conditions (it’s the same way in the freezing cold, too). I hadn’t run in 68 degree weather much at all prior to Sunday’s race (it just hasn’t been consistently that warm in Chicagoland yet) so I knew it was going to be a challenge, but the forecast had been calling for passing thunderstorms so I think I preferred the sufferfest of the heat vs trying to run fast in the pouring rain.
I lined up near the front of the 10K start knowing that last year I was the third overall female in this race and knew approximately where I would stack up against the field. A few minutes before the start, Amanda (@blackbeenqueen) found me in the corral and we got to start together. We had talked ahead of time that we would try to run together and that if one of us was having a good day that we’d be ok with that person taking off. My strategy from my coach was to go out around 6:50-7:00 pace for the first 3 miles and then to try to take it down from there and that lined up with what Amanda’s plans were, too. The gun went off and we started running, having to weave in and out of people for the first few meters or so from people who had positioned themselves incorrectly. I was following Amanda until all of a sudden, a huge gust of wind hit us and sent my visor flying behind me. It’s my favorite visor, the one that I ran my first BQ and Boston Marathon in, and so I wasn’t ok with just letting it fly away. So I turned back, sprinted towards it on the ground seeing a stampede of people coming my way, grabbed it, then sprinted back to catch up with Amanda with my visor in hand. Not the best start to a race and running in the opposite direction of the course was not ideal! We would deal with 15 mph winds off of the lakefront throughout the race so I spent about half the race holding my visor so it wouldn’t blow off again.
We went through our first mile in 6:45 which was a little faster than what I had wanted, but not far off. It didn’t feel good though and I knew that the next 5 miles were going to hurt. I tried to stay with Amanda but she looked comfortable and had a nice clip going so I tucked in closely behind her and tried to focus on staying as close to her as I could. I needed to distract myself as being in a pain cave already at mile 1 was not what I had been expecting to happen so focusing on keeping her orange hat and orange singlet in sight was what pulled me through the majority of the race (thanks, Amanda!). My second mile clicked at 6:50 and I reassured myself that this was where I wanted to be for these miles and just prayed that I would get a second wind in the second half of the race when hopefully the wind would be at my back. At around 2.5 there’s a turnaround in the race and you have to cut back across the half marathon and other 10K runners so it’s chaotic to say the least. Amanda was a few strides ahead of me at this point but seeing her at the turnaround I was able to give her a big thumbs up and say “you’re doing great” while trying to hang on. I was faltering and crossed mile 3 in 6:56. I tried to rally because this was the point in the race where I was supposed to start picking up the pace and bringing it down mile by mile but my mind just wouldn’t cooperate. For the next few miles, I would focus on keeping Amanda in sight while also working on and off with a guy in another orange singlet with the words “alumni” on the back of it, obviously part of a college running team. We played a game of cat and mouse for the next few miles and I tried to use mental tricks to get my head back into the game.
The half marathon had started 45 minutes before the 10K and so around mile 4 the 1:30 pacers caught up to me. They only had 1 runner with them at this point so I tried to tuck in and just hang on with these guys knowing that a 1:30 half marathon was around 6:52 pace. I hung with them for a couple minutes and then just couldn’t keep going at that clip anymore. I think this is where I just completely mentally shut down. Sub 1:30 is one of my goals this year and this evil thought entered my mind, “if you can’t even hang on for a 10K at this pace, how do you think you’re going to hang onto this pace for a half marathon.” Looking back at it now that’s BS. I ran a 1:32 on a course that gained 700 feet of elevation this March on marathon training alone. I can certainly run sub-1:30 on a flatter course with the right training and hard work. My mind started becoming overrun with negative thoughts. It was dark place to be and I wanted nothing more than to step off the course and just be done. But I thought of all my athletes that I am privileged enough to coach, and about Maddie who was running the same race I was only the half marathon which was over double the distance I was doing, and said (in my head), “Katherine. You are ok. You are going to finish this race. When things get hard, we do not quit. That is not the example you want to set. It’s ok to have a bad day. It’s not ok for you to throw in the towel just because you’re not running the pace you wanted.” And so I kept going, wanting more than anything to be done and trying to run faster for the sheer fact that it would mean I could be done sooner.
How I really felt during the 10K
Looks like fun, right?
My body just wasn’t firing. I was a little sore from my new strength training routine (to be expected), but the part that was really hurting was that my chest was tight and my breathing was heavy. I did carry my inhaler with me in case I would need to take it during the race, which I never ended up doing, but looking back I probably should have tried to because of what happened when I crossed the finish line. The lakefront path runs along Lakeshore Drive and this is where I would hit mile 5 and then the 1 mile to go sign. I swear that sign wasn’t properly placed because the next mile felt like an eternity, but I tried so hard to pick it up to the finish. No gas. If my body was a car all of the maintenance required lights would’ve been flashing because I had pretty much pushed myself to the edge. I turned the corner with about a half mile to go and was greeted with a nice little hill and a huge gust of wind. I tried to tuck in behind a guy in front of me but it wasn’t doing anything to block the wind. I hit the 6 mile marker in a 7:23 pace, and then somehow found the guts to pick up my pace to a 5:48 for the final 0.2 miles.
I crossed the line and got down on my hands and knees sucking air. A volunteer came over to get me out of the finish line area and wanted a medic to listen to my breathing since he saw my inhaler in my pocket. Everything sounded fine, so I hung out in the tent for a couple minutes to appease the medics, then was able to leave and go meet Amanda who had finished the race 7 seconds ahead of me. I think my favorite part of the race was being done and getting to hang out with IG friends who have become IRL friends and also to get to see my company’s CEO who completed the half marathon! (My company paid for my entry to this event which is a really nice perk!)
I would later see that my HR had averaged 190 bpm over the course of the race and spiked at 203 bpm so I’m not quite sure if there is anything I could’ve done differently pace-wise, but mentally I’m frustrated by how I just broke down. I had run an unofficial 10K PR in my half marathon in March (42:20) and while I ran a 43:27 in yesterday’s race with was on paper an 8-second PR, knowing that I was able to run over a minute faster in a half marathon for 10K just stung a bit. I don’t think I could’ve pulled off 42:20 in the conditions yesterday, obviously my heart rate shows I was working at max capacity, and most likely in overdrive, but for those asking how I could be upset after running a personal best, this is why. I just know there’s more in this body based on tangible results in the past.
I should be proud of how I hung in there, but I think it’s ok to let this sting a bit before moving on. I need to learn from my mental shut-down because I’m going to encounter this again in these short races; as Eleanor (@smileygirlrunning) reminded me after the race, you’re in the pain cave the entire time in 5Ks and 10Ks unlike half marathons and marathons where you have time to “gear up” for the hurt. This is exactly why I’m focusing on speed and strength this summer though. I need the turnover to get faster in my halves and fulls (my favorite events) and speed/strength are a necessary evil to get there. I am also realizing just how much this is going to help my mental game because I can obviously still fall victim to old tendencies like I did yesterday where I shut down after an arbitrary time went out the window. Bad days make us appreciate the good days that much more so I’m going to allow myself only through today to be down about yesterday and then I’m moving on, because this girl has a 5K on Saturday and it’s a new opportunity to set a baseline. I hate 5Ks more than 10Ks so I really need to start mentally preparing and get over yesterday’s emotions.
I was listening to Tina Muir’s podcast today and the opening line was, “you don’t have to win all your fights, but you have to fight all your fights.” I think that’s going to be my motto for this summer. Yesterday I showed up and fought and that’s what counts in the end. I wanted to step out of the ring many times but I didn’t and I kept going even as I was being beaten down harder and harder with every mile. I’ll keep showing up and even though yesterday was awful, I think I learned the most from this negative experience than I have in many of my more positive experiences in recent history, and for that I’m pretty darn grateful.
The day I finally got to wear my unicorn jacket! I had hung up my jacket in my closet as a reminder of what I was working towards all winter with the promise that I could wear it to kick off the weekend traveling to the airport. We left for Boston on Friday afternoon as I wanted time to relax before the race and to give us a buffer in case of any flight delays/cancellations since race bibs had to be picked up by Sunday. We were fortunate enough to have a free stay at a family friend’s apartment who was out of town for the weekend in Cambridge; hotels in Boston are really expensive on marathon weekend! We arrived in Boston around 7 p.m. and headed straight for the grocery store once we got our rental car. I wanted to eat foods I was used to as I am someone who has suffered GI issues in races multiple times. We got to the apartment around 8 p.m., had pizza and salad, and shortly thereafter went to sleep.
Saturday we headed to the expo around 10 a.m. and used the day as our primary activities day since I wanted to be off my feet as much as I could be on Sunday. The line to get through security to get into the expo wrapped around the convention center, but it moved relatively quickly. Once inside, I saw a unicorn statue and had Ross snap a photo of me. As we were walking away from the statue and into the room for bib pickup, I couldn’t help but get teary-eyed that my dream was finally coming true. All the years of hard work had paid off and I was finally at the race of my dreams. Bib pickup was seamless and the volunteer checking me in was so excited for me in my first Boston Marathon; it just added to the excitement! From bib pickup we headed into the rest of the expo to pick up the official race packet and then to of course buy some official merchandise. I got the little stuffed unicorn named Spike and a coffee mug with the Boston Marathon logo imprinted on it. The line for checkout for gear was insane and not the most organized (there was a break in the line so people were cutting unfortunately), but after the checkout we went into the vendor section of the expo and got to see some really cool displays. My favorite display was Saucony’s as they had a whole donut display case for the donut shoes and lots of fun signs related to Boston (and donuts!). We waited in line for the Brooks vending machine for about an hour but with the line barely moving and me starting to feel light headed, we decided it was time to get off our feet and to grab some food. As we were leaving the line, we met up with my friend from Chicago, Marie, and we were both so excited to be in Boston!
For lunch, we walked along Boylston until we found a cute restaurant that caught our eye called Abe & Louie. I had some corn chowder and a delicious salad and my husband indulged in some seafood and we were good as new again! After food, we walked along Newbury Street where I stopped into the Runner’s World pop-up shop to get my photo taken like a magazine cover. The sun was beating down on us and we were getting hot walking along the street so we decided to head over to the Sam Adams brewery tour earlier than our reservation. The brewery tour was a lot of fun and I sampled 3 beers (I hadn’t drank since 2018 so I could feel the little samples in my head!). After the tour, we headed out to drive the Newton hills so that I could start to visualize them for Monday; since I am terrible with directions, we ended up driving the course in reverse…so we decided to come back Sunday to drive that section of the course again.
On Sunday morning Ross and I drove over to the Thinking Cup near Boston Common to meet up with Jessica and Paula from Team Sugar Runs. Jessica is the owner and founder of the team (and also my coach!) and Paula is the team’s registered dietician and nutritionist. I recently was added to the team’s staff as a running coach at the beginning of the year and since all 3 of us were running Boston, Jess’ husband Ricky was able to snap some photos of us together! After our mini photo shoot, we met up with all of Jess’ athletes who were running Boston. She had over 10 athletes qualify for Boston which was so cool to see; I got to meet some of the other runners that I follow on Instagram as well as meet some new friends! We did a 20-minute shakeout run through Boston Common and then talked about the race, hearing from some of the Boston Marathon returners on their advice. It was at this point that everything started feeling more real to me and I’ll admit I was a little nervous that our 8:45 paced shakeout run felt a little fast in the humidity (but I’ve also never had a shakeout run that felt particularly good so I was comforted a little by this fact). We all hung out for a little bit at the coffee shop after the run before heading our separate ways.
Ross and I walked around Boston Common a little longer to kill time before heading to the airport to pick up my parents who had flown in for the race. Once we were all together, we went over to lunch overlooking the bay to stay off my feet and get some fuel. I was feeling pretty exhausted so after lunch we went back to the apartment so that I could nap. After about an hour nap, we drove back out to Newton and went to the Heartbreak Hill Running Company store where my dad picked up a pair of sunglasses (I convinced him to get Goodrs!) before we drove the hills. The worst hill while driving seemed to be the one just past the fire station around mile 17; I had heard this from some locals before too and after running it, I think it’s accurate. After the drive, we went back to the apartment so that I could make dinner. I wanted to keep my routine as similar to possible as when I’m home so I made Banza pasta with crushed tomatoes and the Turkey Trot Meatballs from Run Fast Cook Fast Eat Slow. After dinner I laid out my race outfit, knowing at this point that it was going to be a warmer race, and then headed to bed.
I’ve been having a hard time putting into words what my experience was like at the Boston Marathon. It made me smile, it made me cry, it made me fall in love with the marathon all over again after being unsure if the distance was right for me (spoiler alert: it is).
I woke up to a thunderstorm Monday morning and the skies had opened up. I had slept horribly all weekend being in an unfamiliar place but I was calm, calmer than I’ve ever been before a race before, especially a marathon. I ate my oatmeal that I had brought from home and a cup of coffee and changed into my race day outfit. After one last trip to the bathroom, we headed out from Cambridge to catch the T to get to Boston Common. We got soaked walking from the apartment to the station, but luckily the only wet things were my throwaway shoes and the cheap 99 cent ponchos I had bought on Amazon. We were on the T for about 30 minutes before reaching the Boston Common stop. It was still raining when we made it over to the buses that would take me to Hopkington, so I hugged my parents goodbye, kissed Ross, and headed to use the porta-potties before the long ride out to Hopkinton.
I got on a bus rather quickly around 8 a.m. and chatted with the runner who sat next to me, Daniela. This calmed my nerves a bit to have a friendly person to talk to and we talked nearly the full hour there to Hopkinton, looking at the weather together but assuring one another that we would be just fine. I ate a small bagel on the bus to Hopkinton to get some more carbs in and drank a full water bottle as I didn’t start until 10:50. I didn’t realize how far away the start line was but I had left with plenty of time to spare because I wanted to be relaxed before the start of the race. By the time we made it to Hopkinton, it had stopped raining and it was enjoyable walking around. I had a pair of throwaway sweats on and a sweatshirt with a poncho on top of it all. I teared up seeing the sign that said “Welcome to Athletes’ Village”, snapped a photo, and headed inside. I had heard from friends that as soon as you got to the village that you should get in line for the porta potties. They were not wrong. The lines were insane and I met a friendly girl in line who told me that the lines were much shorter in a different section by the high school as long as I was willing to get a little muddy. Since we both had tossaway shoes on, we were up for it, and headed over together. Our shoes got stuck in ankle-high mud over and over again but they never fell off. It had been worth it to struggle through to the porta potties in this new section because the lines were so much shorter. After the bathroom, I waved goodbye to my new friend who was starting in Wave 2, and headed up for another bagel and water bottle since I had a lot of extra time. While getting a bagel, I ran into my friend Marie from back home in Chicago completely unplanned. We also ran into runners from another Chicago area running club and it helped calm my nerves to chat with them before the race.
After leaving the friendly faces from Chicago, I picked a spot in the tent in Athletes’ Village to just sit down and relax on the old IL Marathon heat sheet I had brought with me particularly for this reason (it’s a cheap version of a tarp!). I tried to send some texts but the service was really spotty with the cell towers being overloaded. Around 10:05, I started heading to the start line which was about a .7 mile walk from the village. I had to change out of my throwaway shoes and left my sweatpants as I was already a little warm from the 60-degree, 90% humidity day. While walking to the start line, I started chatting with an older woman who had run Boston many times. Through talking we found out we were both University of Illinois graduates and bonded over that! Shortly thereafter we had made our way to the corrals and I got to walk all the way up to the front of the wave being in Corral 1. It was so cool to actually see the starting line from my position and I had someone snap a picture of me in the corral. I was warm in my sweatshirt and poncho so I discarded the two and threw on a $7 pair of arm sleeves I had bought on Amazon for the start of the race. It was time to start and I remember the gun going off and then immediately could feel the downhill at the beginning of the race that I had been warned about.
The pace went out slow at the beginning and I kept repeating “relax, relax, relax” out loud to myself. I didn’t want to go out too fast and the slower pace was helping to keep me under control. I didn’t realize how many rolling hills were at the beginning of the marathon since all I had heard was that it was downhill for about 10 miles but because I was super hill trained, I didn’t bat an eye about it and just ran. My first mile clicked at a 7:39 (goal marathon pace was 7:30-7:40 so this was perfect). “Good job, Katherine, you’re letting the hill do the work; that didn’t feel hard at all,” I told myself. I spent the next several miles just letting myself run but paying attention to mile splits to make sure I was controlling. Ideally I didn’t want to see anything under a 7:20 in this first section because I knew the hardest part of the course started in mile 17. I did a pretty good job of that with the exception of mile 4 which was a 7:15; the energy on the course was electric and I think crossing the 5K mark made me a little emotional seeing all the fans out there supporting the runners. “You’re running the Boston freaking Marathon. How cool is this?!” I carried a half-full water bottle with me for the first 10K and used it to take my first gel packet. In hindsight, this was one of the smartest things I did to keep myself hydrated for the sunny conditions that were ahead that were unexpected to all of us, so I feel lucky I had done this purely to avoid the first few aid stations. I soaked in the crowds and the course at every mile and soon enough we were at mile 13 and the Wellesley Scream Tunnel. I was fist-pumping with the girls and taking in all the energy they were giving to the runners. This was probably my favorite part along the course because it was incredibly scenic, flat, and also the cheering was unreal. The sun had come out at this point and I could feel it beating down on me.
Around mile 14 I took my arm warmers off and stuck them in my pocket since I knew I would probably see my family around 16.5 and could toss them to them (and if not, they were only $7 so I was going to chuck them). Knowing that my family was close to 17 really helped me power through the beginning of the struggle period. I threw my hands up in the air when I saw them, tossed my arm warmers in their direction, and turned the corner to head up the first hill (Fire Station Hill) which in my opinion was the most challenging hill on the course incline-wise. I remember gasping for air along these hills because of the humidity but had a phrase getting me through them “10 hard steps at the top of each hill to get back to marathon pace”, was a tip I had heard from Ryan Hall on a podcast. I took water at every aid station, sometimes taking an extra cup to dump over my head to keep cool. Because of all the water I was taking in, I could no longer control my bladder and I think I peed on 3 different portions of the course. Yep, it was embarrassing, but I was also still moving pretty fast so I tried to push it out of my mind and just focus on the running. There were so many people walking up the hills, something I wasn’t expecting at the pace we were going. I caught a lot of runners who had started in Wave 2 25 minutes before me on the hills and used that as energy to keep running. “You are doing great. Just keep picking people off and stay strong.” Heartbreak Hill lived up to its name and I ran my slowest miles of the day in this section (Mile 20 was 8:10 and Mile 21 was 8:36). Because I had run a really tough half marathon over hills, I knew it was to be expected that my pace would slow here, so I didn’t freak out about it at all. I wish it had been less sunny because I do think that my pace would’ve been a little faster in this section, but we were all dealing with the same conditions so there is no room to complain. After cresting Heartbreak Hill I could tell we were descending again and I used this as a time to recover before picking it up. By mile 25, I had gotten my pace back down to 7:41 and was running on pure guts at this point.
Mile 25 to 26 was one of the longest miles of my life and although I should’ve been excited about making that right onto Hereford, I was really just thinking, “just hang on…we’re so darn close. You’re almost there.” I didn’t realize there was an incline up Hereford (maybe it’s not noticeable on a regular day but after 26 miles my body was screaming). When I turned left onto Boylston, I could see the finish line in the distance, but there was still about .3 miles to run down it. I looked at my watch and knew I was going to be so close to breaking 3:20, but my body just had nothing more to give. When I look back on the Strava segment, I did get my pace down to a 7:10 for Boylston Street so I’m happy that I got to tap into some more speed, but I wish I had more for my finishing kick. I started approaching the finish line and threw my hands up in the air hoping that someone would snap a good finish line picture of me. I was crossing the finish line of the Boston Marathon. My dream race. And I was crossing it in an 8-minute PR. As soon as I crossed the line I got down on my hands and knees gasping for air. Humid air is hard enough to run in but humid air as someone who deals with exercise-induced asthma is a whole different animal. There were many, many times on the course that I thought by pushing as hard as I was that I was risking a crawl to the finish, but I just kept reminding myself that the faster I ran the faster I could be done (seriously) and used the energy of the crowds to pull me along and get me out of some really deep, dark places. A volunteer got me up off my feet and wanted me to walk; I protested but heeded his advice when he warned me that I might cramp up really badly if I didn’t keep moving. I hobbled my way through to get my race medal, thanked every single volunteer that I could, and kept shuffling along for what felt like hours to get to the family finish area.
I knew I hadn’t broken 3:20 and that I’d be short by some change, but it didn’t matter. My goal at the beginning of the cycle was 3:20 and while I know I was in shape for something in the 3:16-3:18 range had conditions been 100%, even though I didn’t run that time doesn’t mean the fitness gains aren’t still there to be capitalized on in the future. I hobbled my way down to “S” where we had decided to meet for Team Sugar Runs and found my Coach who screamed “3:20!!!” at me before giving me the biggest hug (sorry I was literally probably the grossest person to hug, Jess). I then found my husband and mom who also both gave me big hugs and I asked Ross what my official time was. 3:20:09, a 7:38 pace. The pace I had been working so hard last year to run for just a half marathon and I now did it twice back to back. “You were so consistent”, Ross said to me. It was so, so special and to get to share the finish line with my coach and my family was something I’ll never forget.
Shortly after finishing, it started to get super windy and the rain came in, so we started making our way back to the T to get to the apartment so I could shower up before heading to dinner with my Chicago friends. The trip back was rough and I fell asleep on the T, so I think next year if I run I will fork over the extra money for a place closer to the finish line.
The entire experience was magical and I can’t believe that it’s officially over. I was so prepared coming into this race and grew to love hills and challenging courses as a result. I learned so much as an athlete, but more so I learned so much as a person. While I’m not looking forward to the downtime because truly I just love running so much, I know I need it, and so I’m not going to run again until my coach gives me the ok. Once I do resume running again, it’ll be pretty easy paces and mileage for awhile but I’m excited to enjoy the run and to stay healthy. I have a 10K scheduled on 5/19 but it happens to fall on the same day as my sister’s college graduation so we’ll see if I run it or not. I won’t be training for it specifically and will just be running on whatever fitness is left from this past season if I do run it so no expectations. I do think I can pull off a 10K PR if the weather cooperates, though, since my half marathon PR is officially the same pace as my 10K PR…lol (I have never trained for a 10K specifically before). I plan to use this summer as my “summer of speed” to get myself uncomfortable with short 5Ks and 10Ks and to work on turnover speed that will translate to a faster finish in my marathons. My next big race is CIM in December with a tune-up half marathon at Indy Monumental so I won’t be starting the official cycle until the end of summer/beginning of Fall. I haven’t set my goals for that yet but I’ve already started dreaming big again so stay tuned…
The first marathon at 19 years old. I trained for this properly following an online training plan and getting up to a 20-mile long run but it would be the race that completely humbled me. It was cold and in the second half there was a light drizzle that would send a chill down my spine. I went out way too fast and crashed and burned in the second half, but I crossed that finish line as a marathoner and was hungry for more. I thought being a track and cross country athlete the year before in high school had kept me in good enough shape to run a 3:35 BQ (8:13 seemed really easy as a pace to someone who was used to running sub-6 paced two miles on the track but little did I know how different the marathon was from a track event). It left me longing for the BQ, but due to a busy schedule as a student, I realized maybe marathon training as a college student wasn’t the best idea so I waited until my senior year to try again.
April 26, 2015 – Illinois Marathon – DNF
The Illinois Marathon has both a half marathon and marathon course. I made the decision at the split-off portion to turn left back towards Memorial Stadium and finishing out a half marathon instead of the full marathon. It was pouring out, freezing, and the wind was howling. I hadn’t been properly fueling and was feeling very off. I made my way into a medical tent after crossing the finish line to find a phone to call my parents and now husband and let them know I had stopped early. The people at the medical tent instead took one look at me and told me I needed to get help from them and now. I didn’t realize that my lips were completely blue and that I looked white as a ghost. They stripped my wet clothes off me and started putting dry blankets on me to help me warm up. The race would later be called due to lightning so I received a comped entry into the race for the next year. (I actually have no photos from this race…it was that rough!)
October 11, 2015 – Chicago Marathon – Time: 3:57
It was a hot day at the Chicago Marathon in 2015 but I was determined to get a sub-4 hour marathon. I had learned that I needed to chip away at the time vs going out hard and trying to hold on for something I wasn’t ready for yet. Breaking 4 was a big step but I found myself still disappointed knowing I was not reaching my full potential.
April 30, 2016 – Illinois Marathon – DNF
Another pouring, miserably cold day. I had told my parents before even starting that I might just turn this into a half marathon. Mentally, I was pretty broken when it came to running and having so many flashbacks to the year before where I ended up in the medical tent in similar conditions didn’t help. I made it to 13.1 miles in a pretty slow time and called it. I had trained pretty hard for this and was in good shape so I ran a half marathon a week later and dropped my time down from a 1:47 to a 1:41. It helped ease my mind from the pain the marathon had brought me but I felt embarrassed about my marathons and like I had something to prove.
October 9, 2016 – Chicago Marathon – Time: 3:38
Leading up to this race I was pretty busy planning our wedding that was in November as well as a big work trip that I coordinated for about 50 people the week before the marathon. I think the distractions and excitement of it all kept my mind less focused on the marathon and more focused on being happy that things were going well at work and in my personal life getting to marry my best friend. I had trained hard for Chicago, following the Nike Chicago Marathon training guide, and ran with the 3:35 pace group for just over 21 miles of the race. I lost contact shortly after 21 but kept pushing, finishing in 3:38, just 3-minutes off of my BQ time, but finished with a breakthrough race and the feeling that I had finally performed to my potential.
October 8, 2017 – Chicago Marathon – Time: 3:49
Prior to the 2017 Chicago Marathon we had been through a lot of life changes. I got a new job that I started in June in Chicago during the training cycle, leaving my husband in St. Louis until he found a job in August. We officially moved in mid-August to a rental house and moved all of our belongings in a UHaul thanks to my husband’s family who loaded everything up in St. Louis as I was unable to take time off of work to move (should’ve been the first sign that this new job wasn’t going to be the best decision). I started running with a local running club and trained for the marathon with them wanting to try something new. The marathon ended up being super hot and I stopped on the side of the road at mile 15 dry-heaving. My asthma was really kicking in in the heat and it was a death march to finish the race. I thought I was in shape to BQ for this race, I’m not sure if that was the case or not, but had the heat not been a factor I knew I would’ve finished a lot better than I did.
After the marathon, I ran a turkey trot half marathon where I crumbled yet again finishing in 1:45. It was here that I realized something needed to change in my training since I knew in my heart that I was capable of more. In January, I finally got the courage to hire my first running coach post-high school. It’s when I finally started running for me and not to prove anything to anyone but myself.
Spring 2018 – Half Marathon Breakthroughs
I ran 2 half marathons in the spring, the first in a 1:37 breaking my goal of 1:40 for the first time and the second in 1:36. This gave me a lot of confidence going into my next marathon training cycle where I would go on to run a 1:35 half marathon 6 weeks before the big race. I felt fit and stronger than I had ever been leading into the Berlin Marathon.
September 16, 2018 – Berlin Marathon – Time: 3:28
The Boston Qualifier. My confidence was at an all-time high leading into this race and I knew the BQ was mine to lose at this point. I was a little frustrated with the course and logistics of this marathon because some of these things did slow me down (corrals were not seeded well and I had to weave in and out of people for the first half marathon of the race, plastic cups were not conducive for drinking out of or running on top of once they were on the ground…and aid stations were not manned so it was a free-for-all). I came out of this race so excited that I had secured my place on the Boston starting line but a little disappointed that I hadn’t run to my full potential at the time due to factors outside of my control.
October 7, 2018 – Chicago Marathon – Time: 3:53
I had an amazing first 15 miles running right on track for a nice PR…and then GI issues hit me like a brick wall. I spent about 20 minutes in porta-potties and ended up running more distance running off the course to and from the bathrooms. It was the most unpleasant experience I’ve had while racing and I was very tempted to just drop out since this race was supposed to just be for fun, but being the competitive person I am, I had to finish. I should’ve been running slower; I truthfully shouldn’t have even been running at all only 3 weeks after another marathon. And being dumb, I injured my hamstring and adductor muscle pretty badly by pushing myself too hard after another marathon. Pro tip – if you’re going to all-out race a marathon, it’s not wise to run another one shortly after. This made for a very unenjoyable fall running season running my lowest mileage months in years.
The Boston Build
November & December 2018 – Running Funk
I felt out of shape post-injuries and unsure if I would perform well in Boston, let alone if I wanted to even run another marathon. It was a huge mental struggle to get out the door every day and run, especially in the cold, but because it was Boston, I knew I needed to keep showing up.
January – Polar Vortex & All the Indoor Running
I spent 13 of my running days inside on a treadmill or indoor track in January. I was nervous it wasn’t going to translate to outdoor running and especially not on hills like I would see in Boston. I was also super busy this month as I officially started my LLC, started coaching new athletes, and started a new full-time job, too!
February – Confidence Building Month
I started gaining confidence as long runs with pace work started to come in around goal marathon pace and speed workouts started touching speeds I hadn’t seen before in training. “I’m fitter than I’m letting myself believe,” was my key takeaway from this month and this month was where my mind finally started clicking with my body.
March – The WTF Is Happening Month
A huge month both in miles and in mentality. I dealt with my TFL muscle flaring up at the beginning of the month and was so nervous for my half marathon on crazy hills. I was so afraid of failure throughout the weeks leading up to the half and considered dropping out of the race and running a less hilly one. However, I swallowed my pride, just went out to race hard, and I ended up running a nearly 3-minute half marathon PR of 1:32 in a half marathon with 700 feet of elevation gain. This is where I started believing that I was more than in shape for my goal at Boston and things just started flowing from there. I was no longer intimidated by seemingly hard workouts on paper, I was just running with fire in my eyes and in my heart. After my 3-hour simulation run averaged goal marathon pace, I knew my body had truly done something special this cycle.
April – The Reflection
I recently realized that out of the entire training cycle I only missed 1 run due to the stomach flu. I showed up every single day in every possible kind of weather and I am feeling my strongest going into Boston. This has been a life-changing cycle for my running. When you start doing things for yourself and not to prove anything to anyone else, special things can happen. I’m so excited to pin on that Boston bib and to run the course I’ve dreamed about for years. I’m not sure what the weather will be like, but I’ll be showing up to the start line ready to do what I trained to do – to race my heart out because this is Boston and my time has come.
I was so nervous leading into this race and I think my coach knew that. We had a pre-race conversation and she asked me how I felt about running this race somewhat blind. What she meant by that was that it would be an effort-based run where I wouldn’t look at my watch to see my pace during the run and would purely just be pushing hard up and down the hills. I could look at mile splits if I wanted to but the rest of the time I would just focus on running a comfortably hard effort and let my inner GPS take over.
Saturday, March 16th – Day Before
I went for a 25 minute shakeout run the day before running the half marathon. My overall pace was a 7:57 but I didn’t feel great. My body felt sluggish and tired as I was on very un-tapered legs from marathon training. I came back into the house and immediately put my legs up on the wall. My husband came downstairs, laughing at the sight of me, and asked how my run went. “I didn’t feel great,” I said, “but I’m going to do everything I can to get my legs recovered for tomorrow.” I started with an Epsom salt bath and then took a nap, because rest is so crucial to the recovery process (and I really love naps). After my nap I headed out to pick up my race bib in Crystal Lake at the Running Depot. Packet pickup was easy and the volunteers were so friendly. I don’t know what it is about packet pickups but they always get me in a good mood for racing! For dinner that night I made the Turkey Trot Meatballs from Run Fast, Cook Fast, Eat Slow along with Banza spaghetti (I honestly prefer this chickpea pasta to regular pasta!) and the marinara sauce from the cookbook. We ate shortly before 8 p.m. which is later than normal before a race so I had a Kind bar while cooking to start getting in some fuel. Lights out around 10 and I would end up sleeping very well which is rare for me the day before a race; I think getting to sleep in my own bed where I was comfortable made a big difference.
Sunday, March 17th – Race Day
I woke up at 6 a.m. on race day and got changed to do a quick 10-minute shakeout run on the treadmill a couple hours before my race. I have done this before every half marathon I have run over the last year and it really helps loosen things up early on and get my body temperature to rise after sleeping. To learn more about why I started doing this, click here to read an article from Runner’s World (the same article that convinced me to try something new last year). After the shakeout run, I made some Quaker instant oatmeal and a cup of coffee for breakfast along with a glass of water. I let myself eat slowly and was unusually relaxed for race day. I had run the Cary course 3 times in training and so I think it felt a little bit like just a regular long run morning for me being at home in my kitchen. After breakfast, I changed into my outfit which I had laid out the night before. I said goodbye to my husband, who I told could stay home since I had no idea what I was going to do out there, and he told me that I was the most inspiring and strongest woman that he knew and it brought the biggest smile to my face. I threw on a pair of sweat pants over my shorts and a jacket and headed out to the race which was about a 25-minute drive from our house.
When I got to the race, I had to park a little over a third of a mile away from the high school because the lot had filled up already. I used this as an opportunity to do a light jog up to the school to get my legs moving after sitting in the car. I met my running club for a photo in the gym, then changed into my Vaporflys and checked my bag at gear check indoors which was a very smooth and easy process.
I started my mile warm-up and strides at about 8:20 a.m. which was 15 minutes before the race started. The timing of this worked out well as I was only in the corral for about 5 minutes and didn’t get cold; had this been a bigger race I wouldn’t have been able to do that but I took advantage of the 1000 participant size and used it to my advantage. My warm-up mile with strides was at 7:18 pace and it felt effortless. “Hmm,” I thought, “let’s make this a fun one.” The gun went off at exactly 8:35 and we were off. The first mile flew by, literally, and my watch clicked at 6:42. My first thought was “lol you did exactly what everyone told you not to do on this course, you went out too fast,” and my second was, “well 6:42 felt pretty comfortable, let’s just take it down slightly but keep this comfortably hard effort going.” My friend Marie came up on me shortly after but having my headphones in I didn’t hear her at first. She looked so happy and comfortable and we ran stride for stride for a couple minutes until she kept going ahead. I felt a little bit of a cramp in my right ab but tried to focus on my breathing since I get this cramp pretty regularly and know that it’s often caused by uneven breathing. My second mile came in at 6:46, so I didn’t exactly slow down, even though I felt like I had. I felt very in control and while normally I would have freaked out about these fast miles, the goal of the race today was just to go run hard so I had no time pressure on me. Miles 2 and 3 are net downhill so I kept pushing ahead running off of effort. There was an aid station and I normally don’t take fuel in so early on but I took a swig of Gatorade and used it as a distraction for the upcoming hill.
Mile 2.5 has the first climb in the race and I let people pass me here; I didn’t want to use energy pushing up this hill because I knew I’d be greeted with a long downhill on the other side (the same section that becomes a major uphill leading up to mile 10). I cruised down the hill to finish mile 3 in 6:37. It was here that I made the decision that I was just going to keep going no matter how many 6’s I saw on my watch that day. In racing, I normally make calculated risks, but on Sunday, I just took a flat out risk. There was nothing to lose. It’s possible I could blow up later in the race but what a perfect opportunity to go test it with nothing on the line besides pride. Mile 3 to 4 is an ever so slight incline but Krishna, a friend who I had asked for advice prior to this race, had told me not to waste my energy here since I’d get it as a nice decline on the way back. So again I let some people pass me and just maintained my effort-based approach. 6:54. Yep, there was that incline, but seeing another 6 pop up was pretty cool.
From running this course during training, I knew that the first big hill of the race would be coming up just after mile 5. I used mile 4-5 as an opportunity to coast and go on auto-pilot as it’s a slight downhill for most of the mile. 6:49 clicked. I could see the big hill ahead and told myself to just work up it off of effort and to not blow my legs out on it. I remembered what my friend, John, said about this course being a series of surges and recoveries. This would be a surge and I could use the other side of the hill as a recovery. I focused on the people ahead of me and tried to let them pull me along up the hill. As soon as I made it up I opened up my stride and let the downhill take me. 7:03. My first mile in the 7’s, but also the first mile with a big hill (named Shoe Tree Hill). After 6 miles I looked at my watch and knew I was about to set a big (unofficial) 10K PR. 42:20, over a minute faster than my last 10K. I smiled big even though no one else around me had any idea what I was smiling about. The smile quickly faded though as I knew it would only be a matter of minutes before I got to the next hill and one of my least favorite on the course, “Sneaky Hill”. It’s a short hill, probably about .15 miles total, but incredibly steep. Again I didn’t waste too much energy here and just worked my way up. 7:02; consistent with the last mile and I was happy with that given the nasty hill. Mile 7-8 winds around and you end up climbing for quite a bit up the next hill, “Substantial Hill”, but I knew I would be greeted with an aid station and a downhill on the other side so I started moving. I thought about taking my gel but the thought of it made my stomach queasy so I decided to stick to my swigs of Gatorade and water. After the aid station before a turn, I saw my friends, Tim and Fred, cheering and I gave them a big smile and a thumbs up. They gave me momentum and mile 8 clicked at 6:46.
I was truly in awe of what was going on in this race. I felt great; I was relaxed, my form was really good, and I just felt happy running fast. Mile 8-9 has the slight decline that was the slight incline from miles 3-4 and I could feel myself picking up speed. “Work this section”, I thought to myself, and ended up running with some guys for the mile. 6:37 for mile 9. It was about this point that things finally started to hurt but I thought about the fact that I only had about 4 miles to go and that I could and I would do this. I embraced the hurt and had mentally prepared for it. It was here that I really let myself believe that I was going to have a massive PR on a ridiculously challenging course and I used that to help get me through the toughest section of the course. Not only is it tough because of where the miles fall in the race (the latter portion) but this is also the section with the most back to back hills and the longest ones. “10-Mile Hill” rocked my socks off, but it was also doing that to everyone around me. I felt like I was slowly marching up the hill but I wouldn’t let myself stop and walk no matter how much I wanted to. I was counting random objects that John had told me about to get me through it; a speed limit sign, a mailbox, etc. I knew the aid station would be on the other side of the hill since we had come down this earlier in the race so I kept the legs moving. At the aid station I took some Gatorade again and mentally prepared for the next hill I was going to encounter in about half a mile. I tried to find my speed again after “10-Mile Hill” but my legs were toast. “You knew this was probably going to happen after all these training runs out here. This isn’t a negative-split kind of course so just hang in there. There’s still a big PR coming, and you get to determine how big it is.”
Mile 10 came in at a 7:18; not surprising because of how slowly I crawled up the hill which is about a quarter mile long. Less than a half mile later I was pushing up “Big Hill”, appropriately named. It was here that I saw someone begin to walk but although I was basically crawling up it, I refused to stop running. When I made it to the top, I let gravity take me down a slight downhill in a neighborhood and mentally started preparing for the last big hitter, “Lung Buster Hill”. Mile 11 clicked at 7:30 and then I was climbing Lung Buster Hill. “Just hang on. You knew this was going to hurt but this is the last big one. Keep pushing. You’re going to see Tim and Fred on the other side.” So I kept grinding. Seeing Tim and Fred brought so much joy to me and I yelled, “I’m going to PR!” and pumped my fist. I was seriously so tired and so ready to be done but like the saying goes, “fake it till you make it”. I’m not sure where my fist pump energy came from as mile 12 was still a 7:32 but at least I was hanging on consistently. In training, I kicked it in this last mile to finish out a 20-mile run. I tried to do the same here and did bring mile 13 down to 7:20 but I really had nothing left to give. I tried so hard, knowing that I was going to be dang close to qualifying for the New York Marathon with this half, and while my mind was still in it, my body had given it everything it had and I had to respect that. I somehow kicked it in at 6:30 pace, stopped my watch after crossing the line, got a medal and water, and found a nice spot in the parking lot to pop a squat. I let myself look at my watch. 1:32:20 (my official time would come in at 1:32:19). It was officially a 2:43 PR on the most challenging course I’ve ever raced.
2 medals – 1st place Age Group, Race Medal
To everyone who believed in me even when I wasn’t believing in myself, thank you. Just a few shout-outs…A few weeks ago I was struggling through a 20-mile long run in Barrington Hills talking to Marie Billen about this race and how there was no way I was going to PR here. She pushed back on that belief and both she and I ended up running the races of our lives yesterday (1:29 for my super speedy friend!). My chiropractor, Nick Nowicki, encouraged me to run this race and told me that because of the competitiveness of the field, I would likely have a lot of people to run with who would push me. Both true statements. My coach, Jessica, who helped get me into the best shape I’ve ever been in and encouraged me to run this off of effort to manage my nerves. I’m pretty sure she knew the kind of shape I was in from my workouts and just wanted me to prove it to myself; mission accomplished. Finally, my husband who said the sweetest things to me the morning of the race; he’s my biggest supporter and I’m so, so grateful for everything he has done to help me be the best version of myself. I think I was the only one who had doubts about myself going into Sunday and with that I had several takeaways for my last few weeks of training for Boston and beyond.
I’ve had a little bit of time to digest this race and there are a few things I’m taking away from this experience.
1. Racing is not always about getting a PR. Sometimes we race as part of our training and part of a bigger goal. That’s all Sunday’s race was about for me; doing something hard to gain fitness for Boston. If we lose the fun of racing and it only becomes about getting a PR, then is it really worth it anymore?
2. Sometimes the stars all align for something really special. On Sunday, we had really great racing weather; low 30s, partly cloudy skies, and light wind. On top of that I woke up feeling well-rested, had no pain for the first time in weeks when running, and my mind was in a great place. All of this made for a strongly executed race. We don’t always get ideal conditions but when we do, we owe it to ourselves to make the most of it.
3. Keep showing up every day no matter what excuses you have. Showing up might look different each day (i.e. if you’re sick, “showing up” might mean getting extra sleep to kick your illness to the curb), but the end goal should always be kept in mind with the decisions you make.
4. Stop being so scared of failure. Give it your all, whatever that is on that day, and stop overthinking everything. Trust in your training and how it has prepared your body and your mind.
5. Dream really freaking big and believe in yourself. If you believe you can, you will find a way to get there. Manifest the sh*t out of your own destiny.
I have been struggling to find the words to describe how I’ve been feeling about racing this coming weekend and so I decided to just put pen to paper and let the words and thoughts flow. Writing is how I best process my thoughts; whether it be through free-writing or making lists, it makes me feel more in control.
I signed up for the Cary March Madness race back in December; the race sells out in 30 minutes and is limited to the first 1000 runners who sign up. It is known in the area as the most challenging half marathon, with many runners using it as a tune-up and check-in for the Boston Marathon. In just 13.1 miles, runners will gain about 700 feet of elevation. The hills are so intense that they even have names (one is referred to as “lung buster hill”; see photo below for the hills). This race scared me from the moment I signed up to run it, but knowing that Boston was a hilly course, I wanted to sign up and see how I could do. I knew with signing up that it likely meant I would not see a half marathon PR in the spring. At the time, that was ok with me, but I think I’ve gotten caught up in the comparison trap a little seeing some fast half marathon PRs coming from other athletes who have raced on good courses. “How embarrassing would it be if I’ve been posting good workout times and then have a slower pace at Cary?” This is probably the number 1 thought that has been going through my head lately.
Pride. I am afraid that this race will be a ding on my racing “resume” and not be indicative of the kind of fitness I’m in by time alone. I think what scares me the most is what it’ll do to my mind going into Boston. I know this course is humbling; I’ve done 3 training runs on it so far (12, 18, and 20 miles) and while each time I’ve gotten stronger, I’ve battled windy conditions and massive hills that have pushed my brain and body to its limits. Back in August 6 weeks before the Berlin Marathon, I ran a half marathon PR in super muggy and hot conditions and it gave me loads of confidence going into my marathon. Because Illinois is cold and icy during the winter months, there haven’t been any races for me to test my fitness at; I’ve been running really hard workouts and hitting paces but there’s something about the racing environment that can’t be duplicated in a workout.
When I started experiencing pain in my hip area (diagnosed as a tight hip flexor and TFL muscle), I panicked that all the hills were starting to erode my body. I was and am worried that racing on Sunday will aggravate the tender areas even more. But I have a feeling it’s more than just being worried about physical pain. I think I’m afraid more-so of the mental pain that can come with running a challenging course.
After a successful workout Tuesday, it hit me. I am afraid of failure. Or at least what I perceive to be failure. I know that not every race will result in a PR, but I feel like I’m in shape to run a fast half. I need to use things like yesterday’s 10-mile workout to reassure me that the fitness is there and I just need to keep trusting the process and not let my ego get in the way. The race on Sunday is intended to be effort-based. I should be doing this for me, not to post on my blog or Instagram that I ran a new PR. It’s supposed to be making me stronger for Boston. Boston is the goal; it always has been and every decision we’ve made this training cycle was to prepare me for it. I can’t lose sight of that and I’ll get my chance to leave it all on the line there when it matters most.
Heading into this weekend, I am checking my ego at the door. Everyone running this race is dealing with the same conditions, the same course, and the same challenges. I am going to run hard and push myself to my limits. That’s all I can ask. I’m going to use the fact that I’m in really great shape to help propel me over those hills. It’s going to hurt, it’s probably going to get ugly at times, and my time may reflect that, but I think what this race will be able to teach me more than anything is mental resilience, and that is invaluable.
Back in December, I signed up for a secret marathon. I told no one, except for my husband for the first couple months. To date I’ve told less than 3 people. It wasn’t to be able to make some big announcement, it was because I wasn’t really sure that I’d want to run another marathon in 2019. The marathon distance scares me still. It’s not easy and I’ve never run one that didn’t hurt. It requires a crazy amount of discipline and about 3-4 months of commitment. It means waking up early on Saturday mornings to start long runs and going to bed early on Friday nights to get enough sleep. A half marathon if trained for on its own can be pretty intense but it pales in comparison to the marathon.
I’ve been having a strong itch to do a solid half marathon training block. I did one last winter/spring and completely fell in love with the distance. I talked with my coach a little bit about this and I like the idea of focusing the first half of 2020 on the half marathon. Marathons take up a lot of time. I feel lucky to be where I’m at in my life right now – in a stable full-time job with a good income, home most weeks, and having the flexibility to make my own schedule after work and on the weekends. I recognize that I won’t always have all this time and that life is only going to get busier as I get older. I have goals to grow my business and to one day have a family and while the latter is farther out, we really only have 1-2 good marathons in our legs every year and I want to make the most of that. For awhile, I had hit a plateau in my training and had started to accept that maybe the marathon just wasn’t the distance for me. But then I hired a running coach and ran times that helped me to start believing in myself again and saw teammates accomplish incredible things, too. Things that I could only ever dream of, until suddenly, they didn’t seem so unrealistic.
There are about 10 months left in 2019 and after Boston, I’m excited to do a summer stint of fast racing from May-August. I’m not exactly sure what that will look like yet but I’m pretty excited to hit the track in the heat of summer and run some fast intervals. I think it’s just the kind of thing I’ve been craving. Come fall though I’ll be lacing up my trainers again and hitting pavement training for what I hope will be my 8th marathon, the California International Marathon in Sacramento, CA. I was inspired by so many of the performances I saw at the race last year and want to be a part of that this year. After 2018’s Chicago Marathon, my fourth year in a row running it, I knew I needed and wanted something different in 2019. I think CIM will be that for me and I’m looking forward to being part of a race where many women will make their last attempt at running an Olympic Trials qualifying marathon. While that will not be my goal, I’d still like to run a pretty speedy time. TBD what that looks like, but I’m excited that the cat is finally out of the bag and I don’t have to lie when someone asks me what my fall plans are!
You get back from a run that you’re feeling overjoyed about. You just hit all the paces in your workout, ran a great pace over a long distance, and you’re feeling good about yourself. You get all excited to post about it on Instagram to brag a little about that awesome run you just had. You click on the Instagram icon on your phone, type up your post along with a picture of you giving a big thumbs up after that awesome run, and click “Post”. People start liking your photo, commenting things like, “you rock!” or, “awesome workout!”.
And then you start scrolling. Scrolling through everyone else’s posts from their runs and seeing how they nailed “xyz” workout and you come across someone who ran the same distance as you but maybe at a faster pace. So you start justifying. “They probably didn’t run as many hills or as challenging a course as I did.” or “They’re running in beautiful weather and I’m stuck with this garbage weather so of course their run would be faster.” or even “Well the pace doesn’t tell everything. Maybe they stopped on their run but the overall time doesn’t reflect that.”
Hold up. 5 minutes ago you were happy with the run you just had, elated. So why does seeing someone else having success suddenly make you feel less-than or that you have to justify what you just did? It’s the all-too common comparison trap, and thanks to sharing sites like Instagram and Strava, it’s easier than ever to get caught up in it.
There’s a shirt out on the marketplace that says, “My Race My Pace”. As amateur runners, the only person we need to be comparing ourselves to is well, ourselves. We’re not elites, our paycheck doesn’t depend on how fast we run or how we stack up against the competition. That doesn’t mean you still can’t be competitive on a racing circuit, however, this is your journey and you’re going to progress at a different pace (literally) than other runners on Instagram or beyond. Celebrate your personal victories, regardless of how they stack up to people you admire on Instagram. We are all on an individual journey and if you’ve been hitting your paces in challenging workouts, that should be reassurance to you that you’re on track to achieving your goals, not that you’re any less-than someone else who may have had a faster workout.
We don’t always know what our peers’ goals are and even if we do they may have a different plan to get them to those goals; there isn’t only one way to get to a goal and coaches often have different philosophies and strategies for each of their athletes depending on their schedules, injury-history, etc. As athletes we are all different. Although it may be frustrating to see someone with natural ability reach higher levels without having to extend as much effort, relish in the fact that you have a strong work ethic and even if it takes you longer to get to the same goal you have continued to be persistent and trusting the process.
There is always going to be someone faster, someone stronger, someone who appears to be having success in everything they do. Utilize these individuals as inspiration, not as someone to compare your own times to. Look back on how far you’ve come as an athlete and use that as your benchmark for success. When out on the race course, you can still be a fierce competitor, but be in it for yourself most of all. Congratulate those you follow who are doing a great job, too. This community will only continue to be a positive one if we commend one another for a job well done and be happy that others are reaching their goals, too.
Comparison is the thief of joy. This is your journey and no one else can do a better job of being you than you.