Race Week – Eugene Marathon

Race week is here and the excitement is building. So far the weather looks really nice in Eugene and my body is feeling equally as good with the taper. This cycle was one of the more turbulent ones I’ve had and it’s left me with mixed emotions heading into race week on where my fitness is at. I’m in shape to PR (sub-3:07), the question is just how in shape is that and how in shape is my mental game to let me get there.

This cycle and year began tragically, suddenly losing my uncle after having seen him for Christmas just a week before. My mom’s side of the family is small, it was just us and his family, and this grief hit harder than any grief I’ve experienced before, and continues to from time to time. This training cycle became dedicated to him and when things got really hard, it’s the reason I kept showing up because I reminded myself just how lucky I am to have a healthy body and a mind that chooses to do this when so many don’t have that privilege.

In late February, my goal marathon, The Illinois Marathon, announced that it would no longer be hosting its signature event, the 26.2 distance. I was in the middle of a 20-mile run on the treadmill (winter snow and ice) that was going horribly when I got the email and called it quits at 12 miles. I’ve been open about the fact that I considered stopping training at this point, but something inside me became more and more infatuated with the idea of running the Eugene Marathon which was on the same weekend and had been on my bucket list for awhile. Because the course topography was similar, my training wouldn’t need to change and could continue as planned.

Winter was relentless this year. As someone who does not like winter running, it was challenging to continue to train in big jackets, fleece-lined tights, wool socks, and ski mittens through most of March and even half of April. What was lucky was getting the opportunity to race The Shamrock Shuffle in March on a beautiful day in Chicago; this experience gave me a lot of confidence that I was fit and would show it on a good weather day and the spark I needed to keep moving and working hard.

At my goal half marathon in Carmel the second week of April, we were greeted with snow, sleet, and strong 15 mph winds that did not make for PR conditions. I was hoping going into this tune-up to get a good read on where my fitness was at for Eugene, but it just left me with a lot of doubts after my high hamstring tendonitis (a recurring issue that has pretty much gone away but resurfaced in the cold at a high intensity effort) flared up and I basically jogged the back half of the course in finishing in 1:32 (a time in the past I would have been happy with but not reflective of the kind of shape I was in this year). I walked away knowing I did everything I could in that race given the conditions, but it didn’t make it any easier not knowing if the goals I set out for myself at the beginning of the cycle were realistic anymore since we didn’t get good feedback from this race.

It’s safe to say I wasn’t having as much fun with training as I usually do, but the marathon is like that sometimes. It’s a long distance and training can eat you up and spit you out sometimes. In 2019 I had what I consider a breakthrough year, taking a total of 21-mins off my marathon time from the beginning of the year to the end (3:28 to 3:07) and was feeling so strong. Prior to 2018 I had gone through a plateau so I had a feeling this big breakthrough would also be met with a bit of a plateau to make the next big leap, but that doesn’t mean it was any easier on me to go through it even though I knew what I might expect. That’s part of training – it takes the body time to absorb training and so big leaps don’t happen every training cycle and are the result of stacking healthy cycles back to back which is what has kept me coming back for more every time.

The last week has been fun with the weather changing and seeing a glimpse of fitness I haven’t seen for a long time. It makes me confident that a PR is in the cards with the right conditions and right mental headspace this weekend, although it might not be the sub-3 performance I was hoping for when I first started this cycle. You have to do the work to get to your goals and while there were many good excuses for why things didn’t always go perfectly in workouts, at the end of the day good excuses and bad excuses are the same in that they don’t move the needle on our goals. Is it possible I’m in sub-3 shape and I’m just not fully believing it? Yes, it definitely is. But that belief in ourselves is essential in our ability to go after our goals, as my coach has continued to remind me. The quote I’ve been keeping at the forefront of my mind this last week is, “doubt kills more dreams than failure ever will.”

I find myself with mixed emotions this week. Excited because I know I’m in shape for a strong marathon and that I’ll get to be in a racing environment again with lots of friendly faces around. Optimistic for what this means for future cycles. Proud that I continued to fight these last few months and that I’m showing up healthy and fit. A little conflicted on how I want to race on Sunday. For now the focus is on closing these last few days out strong and showing up to the starting line Sunday ready to work hard and do something that scares me.

A few overall thoughts on the cycle…

Things That Went Really Well This Cycle

  • Nailing my nutrition: I worked with Meghann Featherstun of Featherstone Nutrition and learned so much about how to fuel my body especially pre and post-run. I eat before all of my runs now, no matter how short or easy, and make sure to eat within 30 minutes of finishing a run and my recovery times have greatly improved.
  • Strength training: I am in the process of obtaining my NASM CPT certification so it was neat to write my own strength program this training cycle. I was consistent doing 3 days/week of heavy strength training in the first half of marathon training when mileage wasn’t as high and 2 days/week once my mileage was much higher.
  • Staying healthy: I never had to take any days off due to injury or illness. There was the occasional shuffling of workouts for one-off things like feeling nauseous but I stayed healthy this entire training cycle. The only flare-up I had came in my half marathon where my hamstring got really tight in the cold and snow; it resolved after a few days and I didn’t have to take time off (I’ve dealt with this before and knew what it was so a week of easy running did the trick). Staying healthy had a lot to do with good nutrition, good sleep, strength training, and a smart periodized training plan.
  • Hitting my highest mileage weeks/months: I set a goal at the beginning of the cycle with my coach to hit a 70-mile week during training. We hit 70 and 71 during this cycle and I ran my highest mileage month in March of 266 miles! Expanding my aerobic base was something I thought I was an area of improvement for my training and it was neat to see that my body could handle it and responded well to it, too.

Things That Didn’t Go as Well This Cycle

  • Mental game: Ever since the pandemic, I’ve had a really tough time getting back into the groove of being comfortable with things hurting again with marathon training. Taking almost 2 years off from racing a marathon left me out of practice with being in the pain cave and I’ve been working on getting my mental game back ever since. I psyched myself out of a lot of paces in this sub-3 attempt because they seemed so scary on paper; my coach reminded me that when you get to these paces the majority of the difficulty actually comes from your mind allowing you to believe you’re capable. I believe that more than ever after this cycle.
  • Long run workouts: In the past, long run workouts have given me a lot of confidence going into race day being able to hit goal paces in the middle of being on tired legs. This cycle I had no long runs or long run workouts that ever fell on good weather days; it’s no secret this winter was never-ending and as someone who does not fare well in the cold (I’ve gotten the early stages of hypothermia in 2 marathons I’ve run so far – my body just doesn’t handle cold well), it was really challenging to keep showing up knowing I’d likely have a problem breathing (thanks, asthma) and to never feel strong in these workouts. I had several long run pace workouts where I bailed out on the pace work itself and just ran mileage.

I look forward to sharing more after the race this Sunday! It has been one of the most challenging training cycles I’ve tackled to date, but I am so happy I stuck with it because I’m fit and ready to run my heart out this weekend in what looks to be a beautiful day to race.

Carmel Half Marathon Recap

The Carmel Half Marathon was intended to be a tune-up race for me 3 weeks out from my goal marathon. I’d be racing on tired legs still in the peak of marathon training but hoping to get a little confidence booster going into the Eugene Marathon on May 1st. As race week rolled around, the forecast loomed over us with things not looking good for race day. It was forecast to be in the low 30s with strong wind, overnight rain and snow, and snow showers on race morning. I hoped throughout the week that things would change but they unfortunately held steady. The biggest concern for me was that the roads might be icy with overnight wetness and freezing temperatures in the morning; it’s one thing to race in the cold and wind, it’s another to race on black ice.

Half of Ross’ extended family lives in the suburbs of Indianapolis and when I picked this race, we made plans to see everyone as it had been many years since we had gotten together due to the pandemic. Seeing what the weather was going to be like Saturday, I would likely have skipped making the 3.5 hour drive one way from my home in the Chicago suburbs to Carmel since it’s extra stress on the body to travel and for a race that wasn’t the “goal”, it might not have been worth it. Since we had plans, however, I was going to run the race regardless so I went in with a few different plans after talking things through with my coach.

Plan A: 6:30 pace for the half if the conditions were right. It was unlikely we’d be able to go after Plan A but good to talk about nonetheless based on workouts in the cycle.

Plan B: 6:50-6:55 pace, aka marathon pace. If conditions weren’t great but it wasn’t icy, the plan was to go out at marathon pace and try to hit that for the half.

Plan C: Just run the mileage and don’t get hurt. If the roads were icy, it wasn’t worth risking an injury so the plan was going to be just to run the 16 miles I had planned for the day and then hit some harder workouts the week after.


We left home around 1:45 p.m. on Friday and arrived in Carmel around 6:30 p.m. with the hour time change and only 1 rest stop along the way. The drive took a little longer than we anticipated with traffic but for the most part it was smooth sailing. When we got to Carmel High School where the expo was, the plan was to get in and get out to get to the hotel to eat dinner. The expo was smaller and well-organized so it was easy to be in and out within 10 minutes. We stayed at the Renaissance which was only 1.5 miles from the start/finish line and one of the official race hotels. The hotel was also hosting a pasta dinner which we were able to get reservations for the day of which was very convenient (in fact we got to the hotel around 7 p.m. and got seated at 7:15 p.m., 6:15 Chicago time). After a big meal, Ross and I relaxed in the hotel room watching some scenes from The Hangover before going to sleep (there was nothing on TV!). The nice part about being in an official race hotel is that most people are there to run the race so it was super quiet on our floor at night.

Packet pickup on Friday

Race Day

I woke up at 5:30 a.m. for an 8:10 a.m. race start. Before every half I’ve gotten into the routine of waking up and doing an easy 9-10 min paced mile on the hotel treadmill to get my body moving early in the morning. I ate breakfast around 6:30 (half a bagel and oatmeal with my coffee), then got changed into all my winter gear. Looking out my hotel window I could tell the roads were wet but people were walking in the parking lot and not slipping so it was a good sign that they probably weren’t icy! I left my hotel at 7:30 and did my warm-up over to the start line, getting there by 7:45. I found my friends who were running the marathon just in time for it to start snowing like crazy on us; we got a photo in the elements then hid under a tent until about 10 minutes till start time to try to stay dry. I headed over to the start line at 8 a.m. and got into the corral between the 6 and 7 minute pace signs. I could see a pacer for a 3:05 marathon (this race was both a half and full) so I positioned myself just ahead of this group to start. Fortunately the snow let up for the start and standing in the corral I was quite warm with all the other people around me. It was funny to see how everyone had dressed. There were a lot of us in tights and long sleeves, but others were in shorts and tank tops; I know I always run cold so I made sure to layer up for the elements.

With friends from Chicago who were running the full marathon in the snow before the start.

The gun went off and shortly after I crossed the starting line. I knew I’d have a tailwind or cross-wind for the first half of the race and more decline with the headwind coming in the second half and more incline when we started running west. The roads were wet but not slippery, but I stuck with the 3-hour group for the first couple miles to ease in; they were actually running a bit quicker than 3-hour pace (my first 2 miles with them were 6:40 and 6:43) but it’s possible the pacer knew the course well and how to run it. After we hit 6:43, I decided to make a move and try to see if I could push closer to 6:30 pace. It was a risk since the elements weren’t favorable, but no risk, no reward so I went for it. I saw Ross and his family cheering for me around 2.3 and this gave me a little extra burst of energy. Mile 3 was a 6:25 and my watch was actually very dead on with the mile markers at this point which was a nice change from some of the big city races I’ve done where sky-scrapers throw things off. Miles 4 and 5 were both at 6:32 and I had settled into a good rhythm, but could definitely feel my body getting a little tired. I tried to remind myself that I had under an hour left of hard running at this point. I took my first gel around 5.5 miles at a water station and that slowed mile 6 down a bit trying to get the gel down and drink at the same time; a lot of the water ended up on my hand which was freezing in the weather and I wish the aid station was a little longer so I could’ve grabbed a second cup to wash the gel down with. Mile 6 split 6:45 which I was expecting since I knew the aid station slowed me down a bit. I saw the family again shortly before the halfway point of the race and this helped propel me up the hill but I could tell I was getting tired and I could feel my hamstring starting to hurt. I started climbing up the hill that the 7-mile marker was on (there’s a really steep hill in a neighborhood at mile 7 and I knew about this from the last time I ran the race) and got passed by a woman who I had passed earlier. I hit mile 7 at 7:00 and was bummed to see my first 7 in front of a mile split for the race.

Very big difference in clothing choices!

The pain in my hamstring started getting worse and worse and I felt like I was running with a straight leg on one side that wouldn’t bend. “Ugh. This sucks,” I said to myself, fully knowing at this point the PR was out the window (I was about 30 seconds ahead of a PR at the halfway point so not a huge buffer) and it became more about clawing my way to the finish. Mile 8 was mostly uphill and the sleet started to pelt us in the face with the headwind in this mile. It was adding insult to injury at this point and there were barely any crowds out. Because I was still ahead of the pace groups but had slowed down from the people I was running with, I was in no-man’s land for awhile, until I got passed by people left and right for the next couple of miles. That was not a good feeling and I felt embarrassed. “They probably think I went out too hard and am just bonking,” I thought. I really slowed down and just tried to manage the pain at this point, getting pushed back by the strong wind and not being able to see with the sleet in my eyes. I considered stopping around mile 9 and just having someone come get me but kept moving because I didn’t want to quit since my family had come out to support me and also because it would be faster to finish than to wait for them in the cold to come find me in the middle of a neighborhood with closed roads.

Miles 8-11 were definitely the roughest into these conditions (7:26, 7:30, 7:55, 7:31) but once I hit 11 I knew I’d make it back. I took a gel at mile 10 and the same scenario with the water from the cup freezing my hand occurred; I think if I run a freezing race in the future that I will bring a handheld since this was not pleasant at all, especially with Raynaud’s where my fingers already go numb in the cold (I had handwarmers that helped a lot, fortunately). Mile 11 enters a trail and I was by myself for awhile here, just focusing on putting one foot in front of the other. Somewhere between mile 11 and mile 12 there was a pedestrian bridge on the trail and I started slipping and sliding and nearly ate it; I probably looked pretty comical to the people who were walking in the other direction towards me. Fortunately I stayed on my feet and the bridge was short but bridges hold ice more since they don’t have the warmth of the ground beneath them. This was the only slippery part on the course so in that sense we were quite lucky. By mile 12, I started passing people who were walking either the 5K or 10K to the finish. Mile 12 split was 7:33 and we got off of the trail around mile 12.5 and ran through downtown. I started picking it up at this point, starting to pass some people who had slowed down, and tried to focus on maintaining a harder effort to the finish. I hit mile 13 in 7:14 and then ran the last bit in a 6:10 pace, crossing the finish line in 1:32:51 officially, a 7:05 overall pace.

Heading into the finish shoot ready to be done.

I was so happy to be done and was lucky that my family was at the finish with a car parked close by so I didn’t have to walk very far and could warm up. This was over a 4-min course PR for me in much worse conditions than the first time I ran it in 2018 (1:37:10) so that was a positive to take away from it, but I couldn’t help but feel a little disappointed by the way everything transpired. By all accounts the weather was not favorable for racing but I think I could’ve held it together a little more had my hamstring not acted up; this is the same hamstring that has given me issues in the past and often rears its nasty head when I run hard in the cold (it seems to make it tight) so it wasn’t surprising, just more frustrating since I’ve done so much work to try to fix it including countless hours in the gym and PT exercises. I haven’t dealt with the pain this cycle other than the occasional flare-up but it just stinks it had to be on a race day.

Reflections and Moving Forward

I ended up running between the A and B goals for the first half of the race (officially 6:39 pace for the first 6.55 miles), and between the B and C goal for the overall race (7:05 pace vs goal marathon pace of 6:50-6:55). I know I did the best I could on the day that I was given (snowy, sleeting, 33 with a real feel of 25 and 10-15 mph sustained winds), but it was quite frustrating to wake up Sunday morning in Indy to 0 mph wind, sunny skies, and 35 degrees. The race ended up having over 300 feet of elevation gain and some true rolling hills which I must have blocked out of my memory from the first time I ran it but I’ve made note of it for the future this time. The marathon I’m running in Eugene has just over 400 feet of total elevation gain so that should feel really nice in comparison!

As I write this, Eugene is 20 days from today, and I would be lying if I said I wasn’t a little nervous. I know I’m in shape to run a strong marathon, but right now a little less confident with how I’m tracking to the sub-3 goal. Sub-3 has never been my “dream”, but it became a goal after running 3:07 in 2019 and realizing it could be possible in the future. I’ve been working hard towards it, pushing myself to see how far I can go, but trying not to put the pressure on for hitting a certain time to determine my worth as a runner since I learned the hard way on that during my Boston qualifying journey.

It’s a lot more fun to share recaps when races go well but only sharing those stories paints an unrealistic picture of what it’s like to be a runner. This cycle has been hard. I’ve been healthy for it which is a huge positive but I haven’t had any one long run workout that I’ve thought, “yep, I nailed that one.” This is largely due to the fact that I haven’t actually had any ideal running conditions on a long-run in general this whole cycle! It’s been nuts! It’s been super cold, wet, and windy for nearly every long run and on most of my speed workout days as well. It’s made it difficult to gauge fitness, so I’m hoping to get a better read on that in the next couple of weeks with it warming up now. I’m hoping sub-3 is still in the cards, but I’ll also be happy if I feel strong from start to finish on marathon day even if it’s not quite there yet. This isn’t me throwing in the towel on the goal, I still really want it, but I also want to run a smart race for where I’m at.

My hamstring is improving but we’re keeping this week easy until a bigger long-run workout this weekend to let it loosen up and feel better. I still have a bigger mileage week ahead and am looking forward to one more opportunity to test the fitness this weekend before tapering hard for marathon day. Truthfully, the taper can’t come soon enough after this wild weather we’ve had all winter long and into a fake spring!