May 28th came the news many of us were anticipating but were hoping would never come – the Boston Marathon had been canceled for the first time in its 124 year history. I was really disappointed when Boston was postponed in March being only 6 weeks out from race day at the time. It was because of this that I wanted to guard myself from these feelings again and so I approached the last couple of months thinking that I would train and if the race happened in September, it would just be an added bonus to gaining the fitness. My heart was also in a different place this time around as I had been itching to do a speed block after April’s Boston anyway, and so I decided in April that I would spend the rest of the year working on my speed in shorter distances like the 5K and potentially train for a half marathon in the Fall. When the news that the September Boston was canceled was announced, I was sad, but not devastated because I had prepared myself for this likely being the case.
My heart is broken for first-timers who will not get the opportunity to line up in Hopkinton in 2020. I ran my first Boston last spring and I know I would be reacting much differently today had this been my first one and because it was so recent for me, I feel that pain and emotion for these runners. I am sad for the charity runners who don’t know if they’ll get to run again next year but had likely worked hard to race the funds for this year’s race. I am sad for the Boston community that rallies around this event year after year and loves welcoming the world to their city for the weekend. The B.A.A. announced that the qualifying window for the 2021 Boston would extend the first qualifying date back to September 15, 2018 which was the first day a runner could qualify for the 2020 Boston Marathon. However, they do not guarantee that there will be enough places for everyone to run in 2021. In my opinion, they should give priority to the runners who would have been first timers in 2020 and have these runners be automatically entered into 2021’s race and then fill the rest of the field size accordingly. In an ideal world, they’d roll over all of the 2020 entrants to 2021 (if they want to run) and add an additional wave to account for people who qualified for 2021; it would be the largest Boston ever and they’d likely have to start earlier in the day but it also wouldn’t be fair to 2021 qualifiers not to have an equal shot of running. It took me 6 years of hard work and determination to qualify for Boston so I understand the pain a first-timer might be going through right now. When I finally ran a BQ in Berlin in 2018, I was so, so happy and I’ll never forget that day crossing the line in Berlin knowing I had finally caught my unicorn. Many people work for years to have the opportunity to line up in Boston and these 2020 runners earned their place in the race; they shouldn’t be left out because of a virus that was out of their control and it disappoints me that so far the B.A.A.’s stance is to leave it up to chance next year for these runners.
However, I have to believe that the B.A.A. is making the best decisions with the limited information that they can right now and that maybe the decisions to be made are ongoing. The email and Q&A seemed to leave a lot of room for changes and in today’s world, nothing appears to be set in stone. No one wins in this situation; the B.A.A. doesn’t win, the city of Boston doesn’t win, and the athletes do not win. I truly am curious to know how many runners have qualified for 2021 so far (Berlin, Chicago, and New York were all run pre-COVID so it would be interesting to get the stats on how many qualifiers came out of the majors) and if that guided the B.A.A.’s decision at all. As someone who was supposed to run the 2020 race, I can say I appreciate all of the communication the B.A.A. has provided throughout this process and that they made this decision before marathon training was in full swing to allow people to make other plans before getting in too deep. I hope that in the months to come, they reevaluate their qualifying process for 2021.
A virtual option is being offered for the 2020 Boston with limited information so far on the price since it will include a shirt and a medal. As for me, I am unsure if I will participate since I don’t have much interest in training for the next 3.5 months to run a marathon by myself in the September heat but have not ruled out running it for fun with other friends who were supposed to run Boston 2020 if it is safe to run with others at that time. Prior to this, my plan had been to work up to about an 18 mile long run just to be able to run the marathon distance safely, but I wasn’t going for any PRs in September wanting to focus on short speedwork instead for my summer. I may end up still working up to those 18 miles, or I may not. I do know that this season of speed feels right to me though and I am following gut instinct this year to keep enjoying running and having fun trying something more outside of my comfort zone. I’ve had some people ask me how I continue to have motivation without races on the calendar and I feel lucky that my motivation in this sport has always come from just a pure love of running and pushing myself to reach my potential. It does make it tougher not having a date in mind at the end of this all to work towards, but it’s also been freeing in a sense to be able to give into how I’m feeling and let my heart dictate what the focus is this year. I can’t really explain it but if I never got to race again I think I’d still be waking up 6 or 7 days a week to get out the door just loving the sport.
Moving past Boston 2020, I do have thoughts for bigger races once they’re offered again. I haven’t shared this with many people but I do technically have an entry into this year’s Chicago Marathon. I entered with a time qualifier hoping that my siblings or my dad would get in through the lottery and that we’d get to run their first marathons together, but unfortunately, none of them got through. As a result, I had been planning on deferring that entry to 2021 but am waiting to see what happens on that; it doesn’t look promising living in the Chicago area, but there’s no harm in waiting to defer at this point since it may mean a refund or free deferral to next year. Looking beyond the Fall, I have a BQ from 2019’s CIM and will likely enter the 2021 Boston with that time. I am hopeful that it will be safe to gather in larger groups by April 2021 but I don’t think we’ll have a good idea until later this year what things will look like; I pray for much more than just racing’s sake that things are under control by the end of this year. I want to go back to Boston and to feel that magic again, but I want it to be in an environment where we can have fun and not have to worry about getting sick or getting others sick.
Please feel free to reach out if you want to talk through your disappointment on Boston being canceled; I understand what you’re going through and I’m so sorry that we didn’t get our chance to chase the unicorn this year. I hope that you know that you earned every right to wear that jacket if you were registered for 2020’s race and you should wear it proudly. Runners have the uncanny ability to rise up when disappointment strikes and I have no doubt this will light the fire for the next race we run.
I’ve been getting a lot of questions lately from friends, family, co-workers, etc. on what I’m training for and what my goals are for Boston. It’s weird for me to be almost a month into 2020 and to not have clear-cut goals defined but my timeline has been a little different this year coming off of CIM in December. Prior to 2019, I had never raced seriously beyond October (Midwest is super dicey past that) and always had November and December as “down” months where I had decreased my mileage and just ran for fun while maintaining a base. That timeframe shifted a bit as a result of racing and I feel like I’m just now getting into more structured marathon training which has made it hard for me to be able to set new goals. This season is a little different trying to race 2 marathons in a 4-month time-span; it seems like a lot of time but it’s really not when you consider that a marathon training cycle itself is typically about 4 months long. Because of this, my goals also look a little different because I want to give my body grace trying to do a quicker turnaround and shorter training cycle. Goals give me something to chase, so here are the goals I have laid out for myself for the Spring:
Boston – The Goal Race
For anyone who has run the Boston Marathon before, you know it’s a grueling course between the hills and the unpredictable weather conditions in April. After talking with my coach and internalizing things a little over the last month, my biggest goal here is to replicate a similar effort from CIM on a tougher course (aka run a course PR). I would love to squeeze out even a small PR but if I can run a similar race on the Boston course as I did in CIM (similar time, negative-splitting), I will consider it a success for my future training goals. We’ll see how training goes over the next 13 weeks to be able to hone in on where my fitness is at and what seems realistic but right now I’m just really grateful for a body that has seemed to bounce back well from CIM and excited to get to run my favorite race in the world in April.
The Half Marathons Along the Way
I am currently signed up to run the Publix Atlanta Half Marathon on March 1st and the Cary March Madness Half Marathon on March 15th. Both courses are hilly and will be a good tune-up for Boston. However, they are two weeks apart so I will not be racing both. Between my coach and I, we will decide which race makes more sense to run race pace and which should be more of a workout effort (or simply a supported long run). I signed up knowing I wouldn’t be racing both but the thought of going to the Trials really excited me and the Cary course is only 25 minutes away from home and on a bunch of hills that were great training for Boston last year (I ran a 1:32 here last year in favorable weather conditions, which at the time was a PR). Right now I don’t have specific goals for the race, but I would love to run a sub-1:30 on one of these courses. My PR was set back in November at Indy Monumental (1:27:48) which was a very flat, fast course, so being able to run a 1:29 or better on a more challenging course would indicate that I’m in shape for a faster marathon. One of my goals for 2020 in general is to get more comfortable running sub-1:30 halves since I’ve only done it once before!
Beyond the Spring
I plan to take time off from structured training after Boston through May to just enjoy running and life! I qualified for the NYC Marathon through both the Indy Monumental Half and CIM so I will be signing up for guaranteed entry to the race (and hopefully getting in since they seem to limit the number of qualifiers from non-NYRR races!). Assuming I get into NYC, it will be my goal race for the Fall. I am really excited to put a big, scary goal out there for the future – I want to chase down a sub-3 hour marathon in the near future. Like Boston, NYC is a tough course with lots of hills so I don’t have specific goals just yet, but I want to chip away at that sub-3 goal and run another strong marathon on a tough course. I don’t have a set timeline on achieving this goal and respect the heck out of it, but I feel so privileged to have it be within the realm of possibility and excited to work towards it in the future! If for some reason my guaranteed entry to NYC doesn’t go through, I’ll be readjusting my plans, but I have a backup if need be – just not sharing that yet because the Fall is so far away and I’m not ready to make firm goals!
Overarching 2020 Goals
Apart from my own personal running goals this year, one of my biggest goals is to grow my coaching roster under Team Sugar Runs and pour a lot of my time and energy into my athletes. I have found my passion and this is something I want to eventually take full-time; it’s going to require a lot of work to get to that place! Chasing my own running goals gives me the energy and excitement to pour into chasing goals in other areas of my life, but I see 2020 as being more of a building-block year for myself to be able to run down big goals in the future. I would love to squeeze some PRs out of this year but I know I’ve chosen 2 races with challenging courses so I know things will look a little different! But I’m not writing that story just yet…there are still over 11 months left in the year and anything could happen!
Some Other Thoughts on My Mind
I fell in love with the marathon again in 2019 but my original goal was to spend spring 2020 working on half marathon speed again. That changed when the urge to run Boston again consumed me but I think the half marathon is a distance I have more untapped potential in as I’ve only ever focused on it for one cycle. It’s possible I may change things up in the Fall and decide to focus more on the half with the added component of running NYC and getting my 4th World Marathon Major Star, but thankfully I don’t have to decide that just yet. I love the half marathon distance because my body has less fast-twitch muscle and likes more longer distance, but it’s a race I can run faster in and take more risks because you can always run another one in a month or so, unlike a marathon where you really only get one quality shot in a 4-6 month time span (note: there are exceptions to this rule, but generally when you’ve run race pace for a marathon, your body isn’t going to be able to replicate that effort shortly after; typically you’ll see people jump into a second marathon after a race hasn’t gone to plan and they didn’t actually get to run their race pace so their body wasn’t trashed). I want to chase sub-3, but the half marathon is tugging at my heart strings and so it’s something I’m considering. I think the marathon gets a lot of attention and other races seem to not be as glamorized or held with the same amount of respect, but I think training for any other distance at a high level requires just as much dedication and commitment (maybe just a little less on the time end of not having to run those 20+ mile runs) and these are the race distances that often make a stronger marathoner in the end.
If nothing else from this post, I think you’re probably getting the message that my mind is conflicted! My body seems to be cooperating, but my mind isn’t quite sure what it wants with this 2020 season, and that’s ok. For now, I’m going to keep following the plan and doing my workouts to be able to set myself up for whatever I decide to go after but I’ll be staying in touch with what my heart wants and communicating with my coach who will help guide the training. Ultimately the decision is up to me, but I truly appreciate having someone who is able to separate my emotions from what is truly the best decision for me with my future goals in mind!
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!
I am one of the lucky ones. One of the ones who found running as an adolescent but still have a healthy relationship with it. One of the ones who had a healthy coach-athlete relationship where my coaches saw beyond the present and wanted us to have longevity in the sport.
Yet the adolescent mind could not help but wonder…if I hadn’t gotten my period at age 11, would I be faster? The fastest girls on my team were thin, pre-pubescent, and nearly all identical builds. I had hips, a butt, and had been menstruating for 4 years by the time I joined the track team. It didn’t take long for me to realize that I was a different “build” than the traditional high school distance runner. But there was a time that I didn’t realize I was any different than anyone else.
I began running on the middle school track team, competing in the 400 meter dash most often. No one in my family was a runner and I had rarely run more than a mile at a time in soccer practice or in the high school mile. Our middle school coaches were not intense and let us pick our events; the 400 seemed like a good fit for me since I didn’t have overly quick startup speed and at the time didn’t possess much interest in running long distance. At this point in my life, running was a fun activity to enjoy with friends also on the team. I’ve always been competitive, but I knew nothing about fast times or runners’ bodies and I was primarily competitive with myself, or with others I knew from school but not much beyond that. For that reason, I was not a top runner in middle school, and at this point in my life, I was mostly focused on soccer anyway. This would continue through my freshman year of high school until I decided to make a change with my sports focus.
During my freshman year, I was playing travel soccer in the fall and it was expected that I would play high school soccer in the spring. In the time between travel soccer and high school soccer, I decided to join the track team and compete in indoor track. It was a good way to stay in shape between seasons and our girls’ track team was one of the best in the state. The culture I found in the team was unlike any other culture I had been a part of in a sports team. The coaches were serious, they were committed to bring out the best in the athletes and setting each of us up for success, but also a little goofy, forming strong relationships with many of the runners who had been on the team for multiple years. The girls were welcoming, kind, and dedicated. Because the track team was open to everyone, there was a wide range of individuals. I would argue it was one of the most diverse clubs let alone teams at the school and it felt like a safe place to be yourself, which in high school, could be hard to do. It’s a place where cliques vanished, stereotypes disappeared, and girls who would probably never talk to one another in the hall were suddenly old friends. Having been bullied online by a few of the girls on my travel soccer team (a story for another day), I finally felt like this was where I was supposed to be and felt like an integral part of the team from Day 1.
Unfortunately, once the winter season was up, I had a choice to make. Would I remain a part of the track team I had grown to love so much, or would I pick spring soccer, making good on the investment my parents had made into travel soccer to help me be able to make the high school team? I remember approaching the head girls’ track coach before practice one day, and letting her know that I had made my decision. I would be playing soccer that spring. I didn’t hold it together very well and distinctly remember crying as she gave me a hug and told me, “You’re always welcome back on the team. Many girls have gone the route you are choosing and have come back the year after.” I turned in my uniform and proceeded to have an awful spring, relying on only two peers on the team for support and knowing that chatter was always going on behind my back. I would come home from soccer practice and often go out for a run, logging a lap or two around the lake we lived on (just over a mile around) because I felt like I hadn’t gotten a good workout in; little did I know it was also a big stress-reliever at the time.
I quit travel soccer after that spring season and started running on my own, only a couple miles at a time without timing myself. I was committed to rejoining the track team that winter and when it rolled around, I decided I wanted to run with the distance crew. I had recognized that I didn’t have natural speed for sprints and had grown to enjoy running further distances. I started off running with some of the JV girls, but quickly realized that I had good endurance and was able to keep going when many of them would want to stop and catch their breath. I gathered my courage and one day asked the varsity girls if I could run with them. I had no business being there – I hadn’t proven myself yet and had only been racing in the shorter distance events at meets but I wanted to improve and I knew that running with people who were faster than me was probably the best way to do that. The girls were gracious and invited me to come with them. There was one varsity team but two groups that normally went out to run, one faster and one slightly slower. I started with the second group and was able to keep up, but was often a lot more gassed than they were, remaining quiet in the back as I was breathing heavily and letting the other girls carry the conversation. Gradually, though, I became more comfortable, joining in on the conversations when my breathing was no longer labored, and eventually being noticed by the head distance coach who encouraged me to go out for cross-country in the fall and to continue running with the girls over the summer to stay in shape.
It was a no-brainer. I was committed to the team and to the girls I was running with and felt like I had found the sport I truly belonged in. I was continuing to improve because I was doing something I hadn’t done before; there was a lot of room for growth and progression. I quickly became one of the top 5 runners on the cross-country team my junior year, happy that I was scoring points for the team (there are 7 runners who run in a Varsity race and only the top 5 actually score points for the overall team score). My body was changing as I was running more and more, becoming very lean and toned, and people were recognizing it. I remember my junior homecoming all of the moms commenting on how thin I was, as if it was a very positive thing, and liking the attention I was getting for the way I looked. I didn’t change my eating habits, and if anything I probably ate more carbs than I had before at carbo-loading parties we’d have before big invitational meets, but it was the first time I really started associating body type with running and recognizing that a certain look was considered “normal” for distance runners.
I went on to have a strong junior year in both cross-country and track, breaking 12 minutes in the 2-mile with 11:53 and running my fastest mile in 5:33. I claim no natural ability in running; truly this was the result of hard work and determination and it would has been the backbone of all of my training for years to come. I was also selected as one of captains for both the cross-country teams and track teams respectively for my senior year. I felt on top of the world, loving every minute of running and school, so I wasn’t ready for the changes that would happen on our team that next year, or in my mind.
During my senior year of high school, there were a few new faces on the Varsity team, girls who had either come out of middle school as strong runners or had made a lot of progress during the track season in the spring. I found myself just vying to stay in the top 7 that year and to be able to compete for Varsity. We had a very competitive, strong team; in nearly every other team in our area apart from a couple schools, a 19:23 3-mile athlete could run Varsity and be in the top 5 runners consistently. It was hard for me to take in mentally, but it definitely pushed everyone to be their best and continue to work hard. It also unintentionally bred a cutthroat environment. Instead of the supportive, caring group we once had, it seemed like it was everyone out for themselves. We were working together in practice, but we knew that every workout and every dual meet mattered for which of the “Top 12” (12 individuals can be listed on a Varsity roster but only 7 get to race in the Varsity race), would get to compete for the Varsity team on the weekend invitationals and which would run from the front of the pack in JV. I found myself often winning JV races that season as I was typically number 8 when it came to speed that year. It was heartbreaking to always be just one spot away from running the varsity race, but I tried to let it fuel me, crossing the line in the top 3 consistently in the JV race and trying to prove to my coach that I belonged on the varsity starting line. I had waged mental warfare on myself, and I saw other teammates crumble under the pressure to stay at the top as well. I remember protein powder infiltrating its way into our practices and having to take it immediately after we finished a hard workout or after a big meet. I also remember it being the first season we had a session with a sports psychologist and our coaches encouraging us to begin seeing him regularly. I felt weird asking my parents to pay for such a thing in high school so I refrained from going, but I started to question if part of the reason some of my teammates were improving was because they had someone to talk through the mental challenges of running with.
I think the darkest thing I saw, however, was a new obsession with weight. It wasn’t just by the girls on the team, it was by parents who subtly made comments when they thought no one else was listening, or other high schoolers who didn’t realize how far their words went. “Oh well she’s so tiny, of course she’s fast.” “She hasn’t hit puberty yet, as soon as she does, she’s going to slow way down.” I had already gone through puberty so I couldn’t change that fact, but I could control my weight from getting any higher. It was during this season that I became obsessed with weighing myself daily, thinking that if I could stay under 120 pounds that I would stay fast. At 5’5’’, the normal weight for a female is 113 pounds-138 pounds according to online research. I would hover around 118 pounds that season, within normal limits which is probably why no one had reason to question anything, but at this weight I sustained injury after injury that would plague the rest of my senior year. It obviously wasn’t a healthy weight for me to be at, but I didn’t realize this until very recently when reflecting on how I’m at my heaviest today have been running my fastest times because I am healthy and have let my body dictate where its weight should fall.
I’d like to make it clear, I’ve never had an eating disorder, I think back in high school I just wasn’t eating enough calories to fuel my body for long distance running. I remember in health class, we once went to the computer lab to do research on caloric intake. If we were to go back to the lab today, I could tell you exactly where I was sitting and at what computer I was sitting at, that’s how etched into my brain this is. We put in our height and weight into a website and it spit out an average number of how many calories someone with our body type should be consuming per day. It had an option to put whether or not you were active, but it didn’t quite specify how active. I selected the “active” option. 1800-2100 calories. So naturally, the 17 year old brain fixated on the lowest number only. In my mind, 1800 calories was the recommended consumption for a 5’5’’ female with an active lifestyle (to give you an idea, according to the registered dietician I recently worked with, I should be consuming 1800-2300 calories per day; 1800 is on the low end and is essentially for when my activity level is low, not when I am in peak training). Back in high school, I didn’t know any better, so I began following that guideline; if we learned it in health class, it had to be accurate, right?
The computer research should have been a harmless exercise, but looking back I think, shame on those teachers for having high school students researching this at a vulnerable time in their lives. I understand their intent was to help students make healthy choices later down the road when they were living on their own but high school girls, especially, are already so self-conscious about themselves during high school, and this was just one more reason for us to be. I began counting calories on wrappers, always opting for the non-fat or low-fat option when there was one, and at 17 years old I was choosing salads over cheeseburgers at fast food restaurants. While cheeseburgers are not necessarily the answer to a balanced diet, helping athletes understand that food is fuel is critical. I was trying to eat like the media was promoting in commercials (low fat or non-fat everything because all fat was bad for you – very, very false) or what others around me were eating, not like an endurance athlete should be. Without the right balance, bad things can happen.
And bad things did happen. Shortly before the cross-country state meet, I sustained a stress fracture in my foot and was in a boot for a month. I remember swimming to try to stay in cardio shape but falling into a deep sadness over muscle tone that disappeared and pounds that were added to the scale. It was around this same time that I had decided to become a pescatarian, a person who is a vegetarian but also consumes fish. The funny part is, I only like salmon and tilapia so really I just severely cut down my protein intake and increased carbs because I was hungry all of the time. I continued to eat like this for 4 years, eventually growing frustrated with feeling exhausted from not fueling properly and also gaining weight from eating carbs constantly, and added back in chicken and turkey to my diet. My energy levels returned and my weight started to normalize because I was eating a more balanced diet again. I think there is a right way to eliminate meat and still be an endurance athlete but as a 17-year old whose family did not eat this way, I had no idea what I was doing and how to eat properly to fuel myself (note this is not on them at all; I take full responsibility for irresponsibly cutting an entire food group out).
I struggled through my senior year of track after coming back from my stress fracture, but found myself in physical therapy later on for IT Band Syndrome which had gotten so bad that I once collapsed on the field while doing a stride during track practice because my knee just gave out. The signs were clear long before this incident that I should have taken a break, but I was stubborn and more than anything I wanted to get to the state meet and run around the infamous blue track. Instead, it was a season riddled by injury and frustration, and as a result I never had an opportunity to actually run in a state meet, which when I look back on my time in high school is the one thing I feel like I never accomplished (I would later feel the satisfaction I was searching for from this by qualifying for and running the Boston Marathon). I would continue running in college because I enjoyed it for both exercise and stress relief and later in my sophomore year, my weight started to increase, more towards where it probably should have been to be healthy for me. It took me a very long time to accept the changes my body went through, often looking back at old pictures from my high school running days and idolizing the way my body used to look.
I wish I could go back in time and throw out the scale in my bathroom at home. I wish someone could’ve told me that 1800 calories a day was not enough to fuel my body running and lifting 6 days a week. I wish it wasn’t assumed that anyone who had gone through puberty early would never make it at the top in high school. I wish that I loved my body then as much as I do now and could show my younger self all that it could accomplish when all of the pieces are aligned.
I shouldn’t have to be considered “lucky” that I made it out of the sport at a young age and still love running and competing today. I have quite a few teammates who were at the top and have either stopped running altogether or only do so on occasion and it makes me sad that something that used to bring them so much joy became a monster. I want the new normal of adolescent running to be all body types represented at the highest levels, letting girls’ bodies come into their own and not forcing them to fit a mold they weren’t meant to. I want to set that example for younger girls who might be following my running journey, and if I ever have the opportunity to coach high school athletes, to put a focus on helping them be comfortable with the body they’re in and celebrating what it can do for them. I would love for my own future children to be runners, and if they choose to be, I want them to be in environments that support them as people first and runners second. My life is better because running is in it, and that’s how it always should be.
I ran the Indy Monumental Half Marathon as a tuneup race for CIM in 4 weeks. I did a small taper the week leading up to the race, but because this was during the marathon buildup, I was really running on tired, un-tapered marathon legs. I talked to my coach on Wednesday before the race to get a race strategy in place. I had come off of a really strong workout on Tuesday and was feeling a lot more confident going into Saturday’s race. We were shooting for a sub-1:30 half, around a 1:29, and the plan was to go out with the 1:30 pace group through 7 miles and then for me to pull away and race the last 6.1. I felt comfortable with the plan, but admitted that running all my mile splits beginning with “6” was still pretty intimidating. I had never done it before in a half marathon and this would be the first attempt. She reassured me that I was ready and capable of running these times and so I trusted in her, in my training, and in myself.
Ross and I took the day off of work on Friday and I ran my shakeout miles prior to hitting the road for Indianapolis. It was a 3.5 hour drive with an hour time change and my original goal had been to get to the expo in time to hear Deena Kastor’s talk. When we reached Indianapolis, it was shortly after 2 p.m. and I was really just in the mood to get my packet and get out of the expo. I don’t like to spend much time at expos the day before a race because it can be a lot of time on your feet plus with so many people around I get nervous that I’m going to catch a cold or some virus so we went in, got the race packet, snapped a photo, and went back to our hotel. Everything was within walking distance since we were staying downtown and it was very convenient. I tried to take a short nap back at the hotel, maybe got 10-15 minutes of intermittent sleep, and then we left for dinner with running friends at Buca di Beppo (thanks for organizing, Chris and Marie!). It was a big group but everyone knew at least one person in the group; I had been messaging with Marrisa Castner, another Team Sugar Runs athlete, and we finally got to meet in person for dinner after many Instagram DMs over the last year or so. Dinner was a great way to calm my nerves and to share some laughs and smiles with other runners. We said our goodbyes around 7 p.m., and then went back to the hotel where Ross and I would watch 2 hours of Animal Planet before going to sleep. I remember telling him that I was scared for the race because it was going to hurt and him reassuring me that I was ready for this and that I’d do great. I’m lucky to have a really supportive husband who while not a runner himself, understands how important this is to me and travels with me to nearly every big race I run.
My alarm went off at 5:30 a.m. Saturday and I got up and did a quick 10 minute shakeout in the hotel gym. I have done a shakeout mile at 10 min pace 2-3 hours before every half marathon I’ve run in the last 18 months and I really like that it gets the blood flowing early in the morning. After the mile, I got a cup of coffee and half a bagel with some peanut butter on it from the hotel breakfast and headed back up to the room to make my bowl of oatmeal. I made sure I was done eating by 6:45 (the race started at 8) to give myself time to digest, but also to not be hungry at the start. The temperature was cold outside, 28 degrees with a real feel of 21, so I stayed inside the hotel as long as possible to avoid standing in the cold outside. There were a few things I did on race day that looking back on really helped me with the race. The first was wearing compression arm sleeves under my long sleeve shirt, which Ross had recommended I do the night before to help stay warm. My arms have the tendency to really tighten up in the cold and I’ve lost time not from my legs being tired but from my arms being so tight and I didn’t want that to happen since it’s not fun to watch your goal slowly creep away because of something silly like tight arms. I made the decision to wear long tights as well knowing that I have suffered from hypothermia in a race before and that my body doesn’t react well to cold weather. I had an old sweatshirt of Ross’ that I wore over everything to warm up in and to stand in the corral with and though I was a bit sweaty by the end of the warm-up, I was toasty. The second thing I did right was putting hand warmers in each of my gloves to keep my hands warm. I suffer from raynaud’s syndrome where the cold makes my fingers go colorless and numb and I typically run in big puffy mittens in the winter, but for the race I wanted to be able to use my fingers to open gels so I was happy to be able to use the hand-warmers in gloves to make it happen.
I had brought a half-full water bottle with me for the warm-up to take my first gel with before starting the race. This was a suggestion by my coach since I would be trying to run a fast time and was going to be using a lot more energy per mile than I had before. It was my first time “pre-geling” and I think it really helped keep my energy levels even throughout the race. I ended up keeping the water bottle with me for the first 6.5 miles of the race, the third thing I did right that day as it allowed me to skip all of the early aid stations and be able to take my gel throughout mile 6 instead of shoving it down in one go with a little cup like I normally do. But more on that later. I was able to enter the corral just after 7:45 which was really nice since I’d never be able to do that at one of the majors like Chicago. I found the 3 hour marathon pacer and shortly after, the 1:30 pacer who was specific to the half marathon. We introduced ourselves to him and I ended up talking with a Notre Dame undergrad student for the first 10 minutes before the race started who was also planning on running with the pace group. The atmosphere was friendly and nerves really weren’t kicking in, and then all of a sudden some air horns went off and everyone started rushing forward to the start.
The 1:30 pacer went out hard and I just let them go initially, keeping his flag in my sights but not wasting energy weaving in and out of people just yet. Mile 1 felt pretty uncomfortable and not really in control but I would catch the group shortly before mile 1 clicked at a 6:39 and it made sense to me why it felt fast – it was 13 seconds faster than it should’ve been! I decided to give the group another mile to see if the pace would settle down hoping that I wouldn’t have to run the whole race solo as I was hoping to just tuck in for awhile and let the pacer do the pacing work so I could just run. Mile 2 was a 6:44. A little more in control but still about 8 seconds fast, but I felt really good so I decided to stick it out with the group. Miles 3 and 4 were quick again at a 6:38 and 6:31 but they didn’t feel that fast, I just hoped that I wasn’t messing up my whole race by hanging with this group. After mile 4 the pacer apologized for the fast pacing and things started clicking a little more consistently. Mile 5 actually felt a little more recovery-like at 6:48, or at least that’s what I told myself in my head. I turned my headphones off for a little bit and listened to the conversation going on around me. I decided not to join in on the talking though as I wanted to save my energy for the race since this was still really early on and I still had 8 miles to go. At mile 6 (6:51), I found myself running side by side with the pacer and began to take my gel. I was grateful to have my water bottle still with me to be able to take small sips of water and small sips of the gel. Just after about 6.5 miles, I tossed the water bottle off to the side of the course with it being empty and started mentally preparing to break away from the pack as my coach had instructed me to do at 7. Seeing the flag for mile 7 I started running in front of the group and reminded myself that this was just like a workout where I have the warm-up portion and then go straight into the speedwork without stopping. I wanted to look strong as I pulled away and knew that now was when the race really began for me.
I felt good pulling away but wanted to keep it under control. I started having fun passing people and got energy from being the one passing and not being the one being passed. When mile 8 clicked at 6:26, though, I realized it was too early to be kicking like this and tried to dial it back. I think it was around mile 8 that I took a cup of water and choked on it, coughing a bunch and thinking to myself, “this is not how this is going down”, and then finding my stride again. I thought I had dialed it back, until 6:23 came up on the watch for mile 9. “What the heck is happening,” I asked myself. At this point my watch was clicking a little before each mile marker so I knew it wasn’t exactly dead on, but something special was happening. It’s also when the race started to get hard, however, as miles 9-13 were all running south towards a direct headwind. I hoped that leaving the pace group behind was the right choice as at this point, there weren’t many people around to block the wind so I was on my own battling the elements. I reminded myself of the runs I had the past weekend and week where I was dealing with 15 mph winds and told myself that I could manage 8 mph winds for the next 4 miles. “The faster you run the faster you’re done!”
Mile 10 came through in 6:30 and I was starting to hurt. The wind was not letting up, but neither was I. It was at this mile that I came to a critical point in the race asking myself, “why not you?” What I was asking myself was why couldn’t I run a faster time than a 1:29. I was feeling a little bit of imposter syndrome running the way I was, as I had never come close to this before, and talked to myself throughout the next mile (in my head, of course!) about why I was questioning if I belonged in this group and why I was scared to make something magical happen. I still can’t find the right words for it, but I think I was scratching the surface of some suppressed thoughts from earlier running days where I had accepted my speed for what it was and that I’d always be a good, but not exceptional runner. So the question “why not me” was giving me some freedom to write my own story and break out of that old mold I had created for myself back in high school running. Mile 10 was full of raw emotion, and I quickly came back to reality when I could no longer control my bladder and yep, I peed myself. I wouldn’t be telling the whole story if I didn’t include that bit but when I’ve gone to the well in a hard workout or race, this typically happens to me. Sorry not sorry.
Mile 11 was slower at a 6:41 but I was still running well below the 6:52 average needed to break 1:30. My coach had told me to give everything I had in those last 2 miles and so I didn’t step off the gas, but it just got harder as the wind gusted in our direction and we were tired having run for so many miles already. When I hit mile 11, however, I saw that I had 16 minutes to run 2.1 miles and still get under 1:30, and I knew in that moment that it was up to me to determine just how far under 1:30 we were going to go. Mile 12 was consistent with mile 11 and came in at a 6:43 and I knew that I only had a little running left to go. I saw a couple women ahead and pushed myself to catch up to them and ultimately pass them in that final stretch. I knew 1:28 was likely, and then I saw my Ross at 12.9ish cheering for me and thought, “you know what? At this point you could keep running this pace and easily get 1:28, but if you push yourself this last bit, you could run a 1:27 half marathon. What’s it going to be?” I used his cheering energy to blast forward past a couple men, hitting mile 13 in 6:36. We turned the corner to run the last 0.10 into the finish and I could see the timing clock in front of me ticking down. It had already reached 1:28 but this was chip timed and I hadn’t started right at the beginning so I had some time left. I didn’t want to waste energy looking at my watch knowing it would be close so I continued to push forward, faster and faster, crossing the line, clicking off my watch, and stumbled to get a heat sheet before getting down on my knees trying to catch my breath.
I finally looked at the watch, 1:27:50. I had not only broken 1:30, I had broken two more minutes and became a 1:27 half marathoner. My official time would come in at 1:27:48 and truthfully, looking at it today still doesn’t feel real (though my sore body would tell you otherwise!). Ross found me at the finish and gave me a big hug and told me that I was going to NYC (the qualifying time to run the NYC Marathon with a half marathon time is 1:32 for my age group and gender) before we started walking back to our hotel. I had forgotten all about it and quite frankly was too tired after the race to really think or feel much emotion; all I wanted was to get out of the cold and wind and to take a hot shower. But don’t worry, on the walk back I started getting pretty excited about what I had just done and started acting less stunned, which probably had something to do with the ups and down I’ve experienced this cycle.
This training cycle for CIM has not been perfect and many runs, especially long runs, have felt much harder than in previous cycles. I have been struggling with some health issues and it’s weighed on me physically as much as it has mentally. I felt really, really lucky that I wasn’t dealing with any of those issues on race week for the first time in weeks; the timing really couldn’t have been any better. I think the biggest lesson I’m walking away with from this race is that you don’t have to have a perfect cycle or perfect build-up to have an A+ day. I was able to 100% execute my race plan from start to finish yesterday, negative splitting, running a 4:31 PR, and I can tell you while I’ve run nearly all the miles I’ve needed to this cycle, the workouts and long runs have been pretty challenging and I can count more long runs that I’ve felt discouraged from than gained confidence from. It was a reminder in continuing to show up even when things get tough because when we show up, we win at least half the battle and sometimes that’s more than enough.
With the 2019 Chicago Marathon just around the corner and quite a few of my athletes racing in the city this year, I wanted to put together a helpful guide based on my experience running the event. I have run Chicago the last 4 years (2015-2018) and this will be the first year that I’m on the sidelines cheering instead of on the streets of the city. It is one of the most amazing races I’ve ever been a part of and so special; if you are running Chicago this year for the first time, you are in for a treat!
Transportation to Expo
If you are able to, I suggest going to the expo on Friday to avoid the big crowds and to be able to take your time walking around since it won’t be the day before the race. If you are planning to go Saturday, however, don’t worry, this is one of the most organized race expos I have been to before. The expo is held at McCormick place which is a convention center 2 miles south of Grant Park where you’ll be lining up on Sunday morning for the start of the race. There are a few different ways to get to McCormick place if you are coming from downtown. My favorite way to get to the expo is the Metra Electric line as the train lets out underneath the convention center. If you’re staying near Millenium Park or Grant Park, there is a stop at Millennium Station or Van Buren Station that you can get on and take about a 10 minute ride to Grant Park. The marathon also provides shuttle service from 4 hotels to and from the expo (scroll down to the section in the link labeled “free bus shuttle service”). The lines can be long for the rides back so know that you’ll have to bring your patience. The ‘L’ is Chicago’s subway system and you can get close to McCormick Place but still have to walk a little bit. A more active option is to take the Lakefront Trail down either on a Divvy bike rental (bikes you can rent all over the city and return to any Divvy location), do a shakeout run there, or walk. Finally, Uber is an option, but I have a feeling there will be surge pricing due to the high volume of people trying to get in and out of the convention center so that’s something to be aware of.
Spending Time at Expo
The Chicago Marathon expo is extremely well organized. You should have received either a booklet in the mail with a QR code or an online email you can scan when you get there to pick up your packet. Last year, security was increased due to recent events in the country at large public gatherings so I spent a lot more time in line for security than I had in previous years; this is just something to be aware of when making your plans. Once I got through security, the process was seamless. Your pass will be scanned and you’ll be directed to a certain counter where you will get checked in and pick up your race bib. Then you will be directed to head over to pick up your race t-shirt and goodie-bag which is organized by shirt size (can be found on your race packet). There should be free posters around the expo and I recommend picking one up to commemorate your race! After you’ve picked up your goodie-bag, you’re free to walk around the rest of the expo. Since Chicago is a world marathon major, pretty much every major running company is going to have a booth and they’re often very intricate and give out fun free things. If you aren’t concerned about alcohol before your race, check out the Goose Island booth which gives out free samples of the beer you’ll get after crossing the finish line in Chicago! If you want a pace band with mile splits, check out the Nike Pacer stand at the expo to get a free temporary tattoo pace band for your goal time. If you’re looking for your next race, many of the booths will be other races there to promote their events and offering special discount codes for expo attendees. There will also be speaker series at the expo where you can hear from professional runners and beyond. Check your guide for all of the details. I would recommend picking one or two of those since it’ll force you to sit and not be walking around too much before the race. Truth be told, my approach to big expos is to get in and get out so that I don’t risk picking up any germs or taxing my body too much walking around. You won’t feel like you’re spending too much energy walking but you’ll be surprised just how many steps you’ll pick up while in the expo. If you’re looking for more information on the expo, click here.
Where to Do a Shakeout Run
If you are staying downtown near the start/finish line of the marathon, your best bet for a running route is along the Lakefront. The views are spectacular, it’s flat, and it’s where you’ll see tons of other runners in town for the weekend (including the pros!) getting their runs in before the race. The trail is a safe place to run and a great place to take some great action shots running! If you’re part of Team Sugar Runs, you should have received an invite to our team shakeout run if you’re running Chicago. If you’re on the team and are not running the race (like me!), you are still welcome to attend.
Where to Eat While in Town
Before the Race
Although I live outside of the city, I have stayed downtown for 3 out of the 4 times that I ran the Chicago Marathon to be able to sleep in more before the race. I’ve done takeout from Noodles & Company to eat in my room and avoid the hustle and bustle and I’ve also eaten at Italian Village which houses three Italian restaurants under one roof. I recommend making reservations ASAP for somewhere to eat if you haven’t already because you’ll notice that all of the Italian restaurants fill up pretty quickly on marathon weekend. If you can’t find a table at Italian Village, you can always order carryout and bring it back to your room while watching some TV to calm those nerves! Last year the marathon did a big pasta feed but I haven’t seen any information on that for this year (note: I have never participated in the pasta feed).
After the Race
Pizza. Pizza. Pizza. This city is all about its deep dish pizza and Chicagoans are pretty divided between Giordano’s and Lou Malnati’s. I personally love the texture of Lou’s and the chunky tomato sauce but I have to admit that when I think of Chicago deep dish, Giordano’s is what comes to mind. You can’t go wrong with either option but I really don’t recommend eating this before the marathon because it’s heavy and greasy, both which can make for unwanted porta-potty stops along the way. You can find multiple locations of these restaurants across Chicagoland and if you aren’t feeling like going out to eat, order a pizza for delivery or takeout (and send your significant other to go pick it up for you if they didn’t run). If you’re eating in, you can make a reservation and call ahead for your pizza since they take about 45 minutes to bake.
Still looking for more tasty treats? Check out Garrett’s Popcorn which is known for its famous Chicago Mix popcorn (cheese corn and the most delicious caramel crisp popcorn you’ve ever tasted). They also have seasonal varieties, or for the plain Janes like myself, you can buy a bag of a single style of popcorn (I go for the caramel corn because I have a sweet tooth!). Another Chicago staple is Stan’s Donuts, a specialty donut store in the city. I don’t love their coffee so I’d recommend stopping somewhere else for that but their donuts are to die for.
One thing I like to do when in a new city is to try the beer brewed in that city. Chicago’s most known beers are probably Goose Island and Lagunitas Brewing Company. They will be served on tap at restaurants throughout the city. Lagunitas allows employees to bring their dogs to work so if you’re a dog lover like me, it’s easy to get behind the brand! Both offer tours (I have never been on either) so if you’re looking for something to do in the city afterwards, this may be a good option.
How to Dress
I recommend bringing tossaway clothes as you will likely be standing outside for awhile prior to starting the race. Last year it was rainy for the race so I kept my clear poncho on (good for being able to still see a bib through) until I got to the starting line. It kept me dry for the start of the race and even if it’s not raining I recommend a poncho if it’s a cooler morning to keep your heat in and not waste your energy warming your body up before you’re running. I’ve also brought sweatshirts and sweatpants to tossaway before and all discarded clothing will be donated to local charities.
I have run the Chicago Marathon in all kinds of weather. In 2015, it was hot and all I needed was a tank top and shorts to run in and line up in. In 2016, the weather was perfect and I wore a tank and shorts to race in and wore a trash bag over my body to the starting line to stay warm before the race. In 2017, it was hot again and I just needed the tank and shorts. In 2018, it was cool and rainy so I wore a tank top and shorts for racing and wore a poncho over me to keep me warm and dry for the start. The common theme here is shorts and a tank top but I would recommend you bring extra layers in your suitcase just in case. I have packed gloves and a headband before along with tights just to have everything I could possibly need as the weather can change quickly along the lakefront. One piece of clothing I would plan to run with is a visor or hat to keep either sun or rain off your face. My visor was my life-saver in 2018 and without it I wouldn’t have been able to see with the rain getting in my contacts. I will try to give an outfit update closer to race day when I see what the forecast is.
Security will be tight getting into the corrals and I nearly missed getting into my corral last year after waiting in line for nearly 45 minutes due to stricter security. I recommend getting there early so you don’t have to deal with the stress of nearly missing your corral (but rest assured, if you do, you’ll be able to start in a farther back corral and won’t miss the race. Not ideal but you’re not completely out of luck). If you are planning to gear check, you’ll want to get there even earlier to have time to do that and make it into your corral. Once you get through security, you will have to find the letter that corresponds to your corral. You must have your bib on and will be checked prior to gaining entry into your corral.
Course & GPS
The course is flat. I gained a total of 149 feet of elevation according to GPS last year and lost 143 feet; over 26.2 miles that is nothing. There are occasional bridges but they are short and they are not steep. The only real incline is up Roosevelt about 400 meters out from the finish; it’s affectionately known as Mount Roosevelt in this race because when you’re 26 miles into a marathon, an uphill climb is going to hurt and feel like it goes on forever. You’ll “climb” up the elevation for about 200 meters, turn, and then it’s a flat sprint into the finish. My most asked question about the race was on GPS. Expect that your GPS will most likely go haywire for the first 3 miles of the marathon. Don’t panic, there are mile markers at every single mile of the course so you’ll still know how you’re doing based on your overall time. Pretty soon after starting the race you go through a tunnel (around mile 0.5) and GPS will not be working properly. No, you’re not suddenly running a 4 or 5 minute mile, it’s most likely just GPS not being able to pick up signal. You’ll notice this for the first 3 miles or so if you’re looking at the pace on your watch while you’re running through downtown and the skyscrapers so my suggestion is to either turn off GPS and manually click your mile splits when you hit the mile markers to know exactly how long it was between each mile, or to just be aware that things can be a little wonky. Once you get out into other neighborhoods and out of the skyscrapers, however, I haven’t had an issue with the GPS. One last thing on GPS: I recommend getting your watch synched up shortly after entering the corral. With all the people lined up and also trying to sync, I have noticed it can take awhile to get signal (last year it took me around 15 mins for it to finally sync!).
There is a single blue line painted on the entire course if you are running in the middle of the course; this marks the tangents where you could run an exact 26.2. Unless you’re in the elite corral, however, you most likely aren’t going to be able to follow this very easily with lots of people being in your corrals so don’t stress too much about it; yes, you’ll probably end up running over 26.2 but in a world marathon major, that’s bound to happen with all the people running. You may be able to follow the line in later miles when less people are around but I would suggest just running your race and not focusing on this so much; spend your energy wisely, you have a long way to run! The one thing you can do for certain, however, is make sure that you don’t run down the middle of the bridges and choose the carpeted sides. There are grates all on the bridges and it’s uncomfortable to run directly on them so making sure you position yourself for the carpeted portions is important. Fortunately, however, if you get stuck off the carpet, the bridges in Chicago are pretty short so you won’t be on the grates for too long. You will notice that the first 10K can be a little crowded, however, I’ve never had an issue running my goal pace in these early miles. The streets in Chicago are wide so there is plenty of space to run your race, whether that’s by following a pace group or if you decide to go it alone (the pacers are great in my experience if you’re looking to stay with a group but that’s not always possible depending on which corral you’re in and what time you’ve trained for).
The Chicago course takes you through many different neighborhoods in the city, each with their own unique flair. One of my favorite neighborhoods to run through is Boystown around mile 8 because it’s a big party and everyone is so energetic. The toughest part of the course for me has always been miles 20-24. Yes, it’s partially to do with the fact that those are the later miles in the race, but it’s also where the crowds are a lot thinner since it’s in an industrial area so there isn’t as much energy. Chinatown is at mile 21 and this helps a little but prepare to need to use your mental tips and tricks here. Pick a mantra and repeat it through these miles. Some favorites of mine have been “one foot in front of the other”, “pump your arms and lift your knees”, “I’m doing this today”, or “throw it all down”. Maybe it’s one you’ve been using through training, or maybe if you’re running with music this is the time to play your favorite pump-up jams to power you through. Once you come out at mile 24, however, there will be tents lining the course from different charity organizations that have runners in the race and they’re really awesome spectators and will propel you to the finish. When you hit mile 25, you’ll be back downtown again on South Michigan avenue and the crowds will be growing as you approach the finish. Use this and let everything you have left out here. The noise will become deafening as you get close to the intersection of Michigan and Roosevelt where you’ll turn and head up “Mount Roosevelt”. I get goosebumps thinking about this because finishing Chicago is so special; crossing the giant finish line, cameras will be waiting to take your photo so throw those arms up in the air because you’ve made it!
Note, there will be a video of the course at the expo on a big blow-up screen that I recommend checking out to get yourself pumped up for the big day but in the meantime, click here to watch the course.
Tips & Trips
Being a world marathon major, there are over 40,000 people who will run the race. After having run the race the last 4 years, here are some of the tips I’ve picked up on:
Run past the first few water/Gatorade tables and use the second set. There will be far less people using these tables so you’ll be able to continue to run and have less of a chance of bumping into someone. If the cup is full, dump some of the liquid out, then crease the top of the paper cup to make a small spout so you get all of the liquid into your mouth and not just all over your face. Don’t stop after getting a cup before you’ve gotten out of the way or you might get run over by the crowd behind you!
If you’re trying to see family/friends along the course, have them tell you exactly where to stand to find you so you know where to be looking for them. I often miss my family at large races but the more narrowed down we get down to the mile they’ll be at, the more likely I am to see them. Chicago is an awesome course for spectators because they can see you at multiple points along the course by riding the “L” to different stops.
If you’re going to run with music, that’s ok, I run with music too, but for the first mile or two I normally have it on pause so I can hear the roar of the crowds through downtown. It’s electrifying and it makes me so happy to see and hear how many people came out to support the runners.
Be aware of the GPS issues in the first few miles and don’t freak out too much about it. You can always look at your overall time as you’re at mile markers to see where you’re at in relation to your goal. There will be a Nike Pacer stand at the expo giving out free pace temporary tattoos with every mile split on it for goal times. These are awesome to have on race day!
If it’s a warm day, the Chicago fire department will be shooting off water from trucks to cool runners down. Run through it and let yourself get wet; it’ll cool you down for a little bit and is worth getting wet for.
Let a pacing team do some of the “work” for you in the early miles. More information on pacing teams can be found here including which corral pacers will be in. You can’t move up in corrals (you can move back) so if a pacer isn’t in your corral, you can still run your own race just like you have been doing in your training. You can find out more information about pace groups at the expo; you don’t need to be registered for a pace group to run with them but if you feel it will help, you can always get the pace team bib to wear on the back of your shirt for race day. I typically skip that piece because I don’t like that added pressure but everyone is motivated differently.
After crossing the finish line, you will shuffle your way through to get your medal and a heat sheet prior to getting some water/Gatorade and food. This is also where you can get your souvenir Goose Island beer can which you can save and write your finishing time on after you’ve finished your drink! You are not allowed to leave the finisher area with your full beer so you either need to drink it or dump it if you want to keep your can. There will be photo stations along the way where you can take a finisher photo with your race medal with one of the course photographers.
Once you’re ready to reunite with family and friends, you can exit the finisher area into the family-meet zone which is coded with letters. Pick a letter to meet at (choose the first letter of your first name or the first letter of your last name to make it easy – you get to choose this with your family!) and plan to meet up there. Cell phone service can sometimes be spotty with everyone trying to text/call relatives and pinging the same cell towers so having a plan ahead of time for how you’re going to meet up is advised. Go celebrate your hard-earned finish with your loved ones!
Being a Tourist
If you are sticking around after the race for a few days, there are lots of fun things to do in the city. Here are some recommendations based on the type of experience you’re looking for (make sure to check out prices online as well for tickets).
Chicago has some of the best museums in the country with easy access through public transportation (the Museum Campus). The Field Museum is one of the largest Natural History museums in the world and is home to “Sue”, the giant T-Rex fossil. They have rotating exhibits that come through as well so check out the museum’s website here to learn more.
If you’re more into aquatics, then check out the Shedd Aquarium which is also located on the Museum Campus. This is my favorite museum in the city because I love seeing all of the different fish and it is definitely an entertaining one for people of all ages.
If you’re into science, you’ll be in for a treat at the Museum of Science and Industry. This museum is great for kids and adults alike as the exhibits are fascinating and able to be understood at a variety of levels. You may also be interested in the Adler Planetarium where you can learn more about the solar system.
Finally, Chicago also has an amazing Art Museum, the Art Institute of Chicago. I will fully admit that art is not of big interest to me so I haven’t been in a very long time to this museum but it’s one of the largest art museums in the U.S. so if this is your interest, I would definitely take a trip while you’re in town.
After running a marathon, the last thing you probably want to do is walk around a lot, but you most likely still want to see the city. Doing a river cruise is a great way to see the city by water and from a different angle. I recommend the Wendella Tour; I have taken Wendella boats to get from the train station to other parts of the city before but they also offer guided architecture tours where you can see some of Chicago’s iconic buildings along the river. There are also tour buses that go around Chicago but knowing the Chicago traffic, I personally wouldn’t pick something like this and would prefer to walk and see the sights (but that’s not to say these tours aren’t great, too).
Chicago attracts major Broadway shows and musicals and there are many theatres in the city to check out. Here is more information on what will be showing and where when you are in town: click here.
If you’re looking for some comedic relief after your race, I highly recommend seeing a Second City comedy show. Comedians of the likes of Tina Fey and Amy Poehler started at Second City and the group is extremely talented. Note that these shows are generally not appropriate for children and can sometimes be a bit raunchy so know your own personal preferences. You can check out which shows will be playing when you are in town and learn more about what each of them are about: click here.
Michigan Avenue and State Street are the two major shopping areas in Chicago. On State Street, you will find the iconic Marshall Field’s clocks (now Macy’s) as well as a variety of department stores. Michigan Avenue has more department stores, Nike Chicago’s main store, as well as Water Tower place mall. If you’re over by Water Tower, check out the Ghiradelli store where you can get a delicious hot fudge sundae or other chocolatey treats. The Hersey store is also on the same block for the chocolate lover.
Places to See
The Willis Tower (formerly known as the Sears Tower) has one of the best views in the city if you’re ok with heights. You can pay to stand on the glass floor that juts out past the building and if you’re brave, to look down below.
Millennium Park is home to the iconic “Bean” where you’ll see lots of tourists taking photos. It also neighbors Maggie Daley Park which is a free outdoor big playground for kids; if you have young ones in tow, here’s a spot to let them get their energy out! You will finish and start the Chicago Marathon in Grant Park where you can check out the Buckingham Fountain, another icon of the city. If you don’t get a chance to on race day, this isn’t a far walk from Millennium Park.
The Lincoln Park Zoo is one of the few free-admission zoos in the country. This is a fun place for both kids and adults to visit exotic animals!
If you’re into sports, check out the Chicago Cubs, Chicago White Socks (boo!), Chicago Blackhawks, Chicago Bulls, or Chicago Bears websites to see when they’re playing in town. I am a Cubs fan so I am biased but nothing says Chicago more than sitting in a seat at Wrigley Field with a hot dog in hand cheering on the Cubbies. We are lucky to have so many sports teams in the city so someone is always at home playing a game.
Finally, Navy Pier is a fun attraction for families. They recently put in a new ferris wheel that gives great views of the city from the lakefront and you can shop and eat out near the lake.
I hope that you found this guide to be helpful and all-encompassing for the full Chicago Marathon weekend experience. If you are running the Chicago Marathon this year, I wish you the very best of luck! Trust in your training and in the process and know that you belong on that starting line on October 13th. I will be out cheering with Oiselle’s Cowbell Corner near mile 17.5 of the course so let me know if I should be cheering for you and look for me! I am so excited to be a spectator in my hometown race for the first time ever and cannot wait to welcome you all to this wonderful city of ours. Go make those dreams a reality!
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.