Notes on the Build-Up
After Boston, I felt very lost and confused for a while as to what goals I should set for my CIM cycle. I was trying to find joy in running again after having achieved a goal I had set for myself 7 years prior and had been working at constantly. Throughout the summer, I shifted gears and focused on 5Ks to really get some speed back into my legs because I realized that if I wanted to move to the next level in my running, I was going to need to do something different. 5Ks were very outside of my comfort zone – the 5K hurts only about a half mile in when truly racing it but feels like it goes on forever. I’ve always preferred threshold work where I’m right on the edge of pain but not too deep into a pain cave. However, growth often happens when we are uncomfortable so I spent 3 months working on heavy lifting and speedwork to build a stronger body going into my next marathon training cycle. I set my goal for CIM to run a 3:10 marathon which would be an hour off the first marathon I ever ran in 4:10. A secondary goal was to run a sub 1:30 half marathon during the cycle.
The build-up to CIM was anything but smooth. Early on in the cycle I had to take time off for a really bad cold, mid-way through I was dealing with some health issues that were yet to be diagnosed and less than 3 weeks out, I had an excruciating pain in my foot that would be linked to tendinitis. There were high highs during the cycle but there were also some really low lows. There were many times I considered deferring my entry for CIM, thinking that maybe my body just wasn’t able to complete 26.2 miles this time around, and I strangely became ok with that. I was bummed, disappointed, heck I even cried on the floor about it once or twice, but eventually I came to peace that sometimes things just don’t work out the way we planned and that that’s life.
Then a glimmer of hope came in the form of a 1:27 half marathon at the Indy Monumental Half Marathon. It was the first week in months that I wasn’t dealing with bad heartburn and acid reflux and the timing could not have been more perfect; I was really lucky that week and I realized that although I had not always been having smooth workouts or long runs up to that point, because my body was often working overtime to account for the health issues, when they were not present, I was able to cruise because that weight had been lifted off my shoulders both physically and mentally. I had an endoscopy the week following the half that revealed that no, this reflux/heartburn was not just something minor that could’ve resolved itself as I had a sliding hiatal hernia that was pushing my stomach up into my esophagus and causing the reflux. I went on a prescription medication shortly after and have not had my symptoms since.
Unfortunately, later that weekend on a 23-mile long run, I had some really bad arch pain that I had assumed was just from running the half marathon since I had a little lingering pain throughout that week. By the end of a recovery run Sunday, putting pressure on that foot was unbearable and as someone who has had a stress fracture in their foot before, I began to fear the worst. Fortunately, I was able to get in to see an orthopedic on Tuesday and a stress fracture was ruled out after some x-rays and I was diagnosed with a form of tendinitis. I took a couple days off that week from running, missing about 15 miles of training mileage, and went on an anti-inflammatory to see if that would help resolve the issue. Sure enough, I was running pain free again by Wednesday and had one of my strongest long runs of the cycle in a 16-miler that Saturday. I would gain confidence in my final two weeks and realized that I had a real shot of not just running CIM but racing it for what I had trained for.
My alarm went off at 4 a.m. to get up, change, and eat breakfast before catching the 5 a.m. bus to the start line. I had coordinated to ride the bus up to Folsom with Corinne, one of my athletes, and it made the bus ride so much more enjoyable to just chat with one another. It was dark out when we got off the bus and into the lines for the porta-potties. After going to gear check, we parted ways to go to our corrals and I lined up with the 3:10 pace group. At this point, it was still dusk but it wasn’t raining like the forecast had called for earlier in the week which was a plus. There was a countdown to the start and soon we were off, charging downhill which gave me flashbacks to Boston. I had been told by my coach the day before that the pacers were planning to run the course off of effort with all of the hills but the pace seemed really fast and not exactly effortless that first mile. Sure enough, it was. My watch beeped at 6:58 as we passed the first mile marker; for reference, a 3:10 pace group is right around a 7:15 pace so this was quite fast. And then we began our first steep uphill climb. I had trained for hills but I had built it up in my mind that these would be more gentle rollers than steep climbs. I tried to push the thought out of my mind and just focused on working with the pace group. The roads were slick from the rain the night before and I quickly learned to avoid the painted lines on the road as they were extra slippery as well as the reflective plastic pieces on the road since they hurt to land on. Miles 2 and 3 were still fast at a 7:04 and 7:07 and I started to have a hard time to breathe in the humidity. It was going to be a long run ahead and shortly after, I noticed a slight discomfort in my arch, the same type of dull pain I had a few weeks prior. I told myself that I was ok and that it was possible it was just phantom pains popping up and pressed on.
Around mile 5 I noticed my Team Sugar Runs teammate, Natalie, was running right up by the pacers. I was afraid if I got too close I might trip her so I tried to wave but she didn’t notice me. At mile 6, I felt a gentle tap on the shoulder and we exchanged some greetings before getting back in the zone, not wanting to waste energy talking too much. I remember asking the pacer around this same time when the next water station would be as I had wanted to take my gel and wash it down. One mistake I made was not looking at the map ahead of time to know when/where there would be aid stations; in the larger marathons, it isn’t as much of an issue because the tables are long and not as spread out but when I missed a couple aid stations, it added up since I’d have to wait about 2.5 miles to the next one. However, at the time, my breathing didn’t seem too labored while I was talking to the pacer and I used that as positive affirmation that I could do what I set out to do. I zoned out for awhile, knowing that my plan was to stick with the pace group until halfway and then I could go run my own race, then came out of the zone when I saw a rogue chicken running in the middle of the street (not even kidding!) and tried really hard not to bust out laughing.
I saw Elyse (@milestomedals on Instagram) on the course just before mile 12 and it gave me a boost to see and hear her cheering. At this point, the sun was bright and shining and I was thankful I had brought my visor with me. Around mile 12.5, I was ready to take my second gel and grabbed what should’ve been a cup of water (the white cups were water, the blue Nuun cups were Nuun), squeezed some gel, then some of the liquid, and quickly realized the cups had been messed up and there was Nuun in the water cups. It was sugar overload trying to take the gel with Nuun and I began to worry that my stomach would have issues later on since sugar overload was my issue in 2018’s Chicago Marathon where I spent a half hour in porta-potties. I tried to push the thought out of my head, focusing on the fact that I’d get to see my family at the halfway point as planned, and kept moving. I crossed the halfway point in 1:34:40, just slightly ahead of the pace group at this point and pretty darn close to where I should’ve been with the 3:10 group. It was time to race now and up to me to determine how far under 3:10 I could go. I didn’t see my family until a little after halfway but after I saw them, my next mile was a 6:46. It was a little too soon to be dropping paces like that but I was just so excited to get to see them. I quickly refocused and ended up running with Natalie for a little bit in the next mile. Around mile 15, I had another tap on my shoulder and looked back to see Katie (@2fabfitchicks) waving at me. This gave me another boost to keep on moving and it was so great to see her on the course. Shortly after, I decided to take my arm sleeves off as I was getting quite warm with the sun and I put them in my pocket just in case I’d need them again. I don’t exactly remember when it started but I think it was around mile 18 that it started to rain. It had sprinkled a couple times up to this point but the rain later in the race was stronger and I was so thankful to have my visor on to keep the rain out of my eyes; I had debated not wearing it that morning since it looked like the rain was going to hold off but between the sunshine and random bouts of rain, I am really thankful that I did. I did some mental math and realized that I was on track for a big PR even if I ran 8-minute pace the rest of the race; I think every runner is guilty of doing mental math while on the course and for some reason 8-min pace is my default for calculating paces. I tried to convince myself that I was just going out for an 8-mile run, something I do all the time, and somehow it tricked me into keeping my pace consistently right around a 7-min mile.
I knew that my family would be at mile 20 and I focused on getting to them. In the live photos, you can really see the rain coming down when I saw them at mile 20; spectators are troopers for standing out in that weather. I tossed my arm sleeves to my parents, then saw Ross further up the road and waved to him before continuing on.
I think miles 14-21 were probably my strongest on the course – both strongest feeling and strongest splits (other than mile 1…lol) but we got hit with a bridge around 21.5 and although the hill was not much, it felt so much bigger this late in the marathon. I had remembered reading something about a final bridge at this point though and focused on the fact that it should be mostly downhill or flat for the rest of the miles which was pretty accurate. Around mile 22, Natalie came up on me and ran past looking strong. I tried to go with her, but my legs just didn’t want to move any faster, so I tried to keep her in my sights and just keep pushing. My body locked into a pretty good rhythm and miles 22-26 were all between 7:11-7:17. I had wanted to throw down in these final miles but my legs were toast after the hills. I knew, however, that I could hold a consistent effort over those final miles and just focused on getting to each mile marker. I hit the 400 meters to go sign and knew it was time to push. I started sprinting and when I got to 200 to go, I grabbed Natalie’s hand and told her it was time for us to go. We both turned the corner to run into the finish, and finished very nearly together. Coming across the line my legs completely locked up and I had a hard time standing up, but she was there to hold me up (after running her own marathon nonetheless) and I was so grateful that we had each other out there on the course as teammates. I looked at my watch and saw 3:07 and was so happy and at the same time just so tired and ready to be done running. We grabbed our medals and finisher ponchos, then I saw my family and Jessica’s family near the finish and she gave me the biggest hug. She had also run a big PR that day and we were just so excited. After lots of pictures, hugs, and some tears, we all ended up going our separate ways, and I got to celebrate with my family over a big brunch!
My race strategy for CIM was to run the first half with the 3:10 pace group and then to go run ahead of them trying to pick up speed as I went. I don’t think I could have executed the plan any better, other than knowing some of the aid stations wouldn’t be on both sides of the course as it caused me to miss a couple opportunities to get water. Talking with Jessica before the race on a race strategy phone call, based on my cycle, it looked like I could run in the ballpark of 3:06:00-3:08:59, and I finished right in the middle at 3:07:40. I ran my first ever negative-split in a marathon, running the first half in 1:34:40 and the second half in 1:33:00. In August 2018, I set a half PR of 1:35 and was elated; just over a year later, I ran a marathon with each half faster than that PR which is really cool to see. My slowest split ended up being a 7:19 and fastest at 6:46; it still boggles my mind how my slowest mile split was once a pace I craved to run in a half marathon. Although the splits don’t reflect it (the HR readings per mile definitely do!), this race was hard and there were a few distinct rough patches throughout it. Because of experience, I was able to recognize each of these and I am so proud of the way I responded to them and worked through them knowing that it was likely temporary if I could just hang on and keep pushing. The weather was tough for me but I know it was tough for many people. I hadn’t run outside in shorts since October living in Chicago and for the last month and a half of training was running in 20-40 degree weather. The start temperature was 55 degrees and from what I saw on other people’s Instagram stories, 95% humidity. I’m glad I didn’t look at that part before my race or it may have psyched me out since my asthma can get the best of me in humid conditions. When I finished, it was 63 degrees out, which is pretty warm for running a marathon. I ended up taking more Nuun on the course than I had planned (my plan was water only) and I think it helped me get in the extra electrolytes to combat the humidity and water loss as a result. I also think that mentally I was ready to fight after having been through so much that training cycle and knowing that I came out stronger as a result. I drew many parallels between this course and Boston – the weather conditions were similar to when I ran it, the hills and elevation was similar, it’s point to point…I think the thing that makes CIM more “runner friendly” than Boston is that the hills are all in the first 18 miles or so of the marathon and in Boston, the biggest uphill climbs begin around mile 16 when your legs have already taken a beating on the downhill. I was thankful to have done so much strength training to prepare my legs for the hills and for being able to run on rolling hills for every long run and workout to really simulate race day.
I want to celebrate this PR for as long as possible. I think too often we accomplish something and want to jump to the next goal but if we never take time to celebrate the achievement, it means nothing. There’s a difference between being hungry for more and not ever being satisfied. I’m excited to set new goals, but I want to relish in this victory and am just so proud of what my body has been able to do this cycle. It was certainly a breakthrough cycle in terms of times run and because I know that likely not every cycle will end in a PR, we really need to celebrate the ones that do.
That being said, I will be running the Boston Marathon in 2020. I have an idea of a potential goal, but honestly I want to take these next couple of weeks to just be excited and happy before jumping into training and goals again. I’ve never tried to do back to back cycles like this so I’m taking it one day at a time, but we never know unless we try and now is as good a time as any to see what works for me!