The Vermont City Marathon – Part 2

I wasn’t really going for the dramatic effect when I ended that last post. It was just getting too wordy. I finished Part 1 of the Vermont City Marathon recap when I was still on the congested trail winding along Lake Champlain. Eventually it came to an end and we re-entered the city. I began to hear the rhythmic sound of the Taiko drummers signaling our ascent up Battery Hill. I got so caught up in the intense energy of the drumming and the unbelievably enthusiastic spectators on both sides of the street that I almost missed my family. My sister suddenly jumped onto the course and told me she was going to run with me for a bit.

I was losing steam at this point as we took off up the massive hill at mile 15. I felt a stitch in my side as we rounded the top of the hill and I had to walk a bit. My stomach could not tolerate a gel, but I felt so parched. I was extremely grateful when someone handed me an orange slice. I wanted something cold and refreshing, not sickly sweet.

I wasn’t expecting my sister to run with me. It was a complete surprise, a very welcome one. Having my sister there with me was more special than she might realize. She may be my younger sister, but I’ve always looked up to her and admired her. Nicole was the athlete when we were growing up. She was a terrific soccer player and physical fitness seemed to come natural to her. I spent years envying her slender figure, petite features, friendly personality and the way she seemed so at ease in every situation.

From a young age I convinced myself that I was everything she wasn’t. I told myself the same story for so long I actually believed it and it strained our relationship terribly. Until one day after having Carlos I told Nicole I wanted to learn to run. That sounds funny doesn’t it. Who doesn’t know how to run? Well I didn’t know how to run without getting winded in two steps. Nicole told me to run the long sides of a track and walk the short sides. I did just that until I could finally run a full loop around and then two and so on. Nicole and I ran my first 5K together, in the pouring rain. That was the moment I caught the running and racing bug. Nicole has been one of my biggest supporters throughout this journey and I am grateful to have this second chance to rebuild our relationship.

My sister stayed by my side until we neared mile 17 where I had another very special guest waiting to run the last nine miles with me.

For the last year and a half I have been seeing a Health Coach. I sought help about 6 months after the Montreal Marathon because I simply could not push past the funk I had fallen into and whatever it was that sent me hurling back into old behaviors. Laura is part running/fitness coach, part nutritionist, part life coach and part therapist. She has been a steady source of support throughout my injury and has really helped me come to terms with the runner I am today post injury.

After I made the decision to register for Vermont City she offered to run with me for a bit. I never imagined she would run 9 miles with me. Those last 9 miles were mentally and physically challenging. The stitch in my side would not go away and when it finally did my legs started to feel the stress of the mileage.

As the miles ticked by so did my personal goals. My A goal to come in under 4:29 (aka beat Oprah’s time) came and went. My B goal to finish below my Philly marathon time of 4:38 also came and went. At that point I was just aiming to finish in under 5 hours. I never doubted my ability to run the distance. If worse came to worse I knew without a doubt I could walk to the finish. It didn’t come to that thankfully. I did take walk breaks in those last 9 miles. However, as we approached mile 25 I refused to walk at all through that last mile. About a quarter mile before the finish I gave a quick hug to Laura as she made a graceful exit off the course. My eyes welled up. I really couldn’t believe that she stayed with me through all those miles. Her support meant more than she will ever know.

As I turned my gaze back on the course I could hear the excitement of the finish line. I rounded a corner and the lake was to my right sparkling alongside the final stretch of the Vermont City Marathon. The runners were received by a huge crowd of cheering spectators, loud music and enthusiastic announcers. I caught a fleeting glimpse of my family as I entered the finish chute. I slowed to a walk as the gracious volunteer placed a medal around my neck. Tears poured down my cheeks as I wrapped myself in the silver blanket (which should not be used like a tissue to wipe said tears off hot sweaty face…bad and rather painful idea!).

I did it! I finished my 4th marathon. In that very instant as I walked away in a bit of a daze I absolutely did not care what my time was. I didn’t care that I took some walk breaks. I didn’t care that I hadn’t had a more thorough training leading up to the race. I did the very best I could given the circumstances and I proved to myself once again that I am so much tougher than I give myself credit for both on the course and off.

IMG_2318

 

For those who are dying to know my time, it was 4:52:54. This was my slowest marathon yet I can honestly say it was my proudest finish.

IMG_2324

 

The Vermont City Marathon – Part 1

I really wanted to get this race post up by Monday, but life happened and the blog post didn’t happen. So I’ll jump right into it. Last weekend was amazing!

Last Friday I took the entire day off to accompany Carlos’ class on a field trip to the Heifer International Farm in Rutland, MA. What an awesome experience! The upper elementary class has been selling soup each month to raise money to donate to Heifer International.

We got home around 3:45, I finished packing and we were on the road to Vermont by 4:15. Last year when we were talking about making the return to the Vermont City Marathon, I knew I wanted to spend the entire long weekend in Burlington. I didn’t want to rush through the weekend. We took our time on the way up stopping in Montpelier for dinner.

On Saturday morning we strolled through the farmer’s market in Burlington, tasting the samples including a little wine (sips just sips) and then enjoyed coffee on Church Street. I dropped Carlos and Orlando at the hotel so they could go swimming while I explored the expo…ALONE! I really wanted to soak it up and take my time wandering through the tables and exhibits. I’m so glad I did.

IMG_2264
Vermont City Marathon Expo

 

IMG_2267
My swag bag

 

My sister and her husband arrived in the afternoon and we all met up for a stroll along the waterfront. At dinnertime Orlando and I left to attend the pre-race pasta dinner. I have always opted out of these dinners in the past, but honestly all I want to eat the night before a marathon is a simple plate of pasta. We trek around trying to find just that and this took all the guess work out it while benefitting a great cause. The proceeds for this event went to the Ronald McDonald House in Burlington. I also had the opportunity to hear Olympic bronze medalist, marathoner, Deena Kastor speak. She told a very interesting and witty story of how she became a professional runner.  Her journey is inspiring. I left the dinner feeling motivated and really excited about the marathon. Deena would be running the relay the next day with girls from a local high school track team.

IMG_2278

I slept horribly because I was worried my alarm wouldn’t go off. Typical pre-race fear. I was up at 5AM to engage in all my pre-race rituals. Carlos came down to the hotel breakfast area with me around 6. There were other runners down there and a very high strung spectator who was stressing me out. She kept telling her family to hurry all the while sitting down at the table eating her own breakfast. Her voice became very shrill at one point as she scolded the children and presumably the runner in her family for the 15th time. I told Carlos I had to get back up to the room because she started making me nervous about getting to the race one time.

Carlos begrudgingly posed for a pre-race photo. Remember how smiley he used to be in these photos?

IMG_2288

I woke up an equally grumpy husband. Actually Carlos is truly a morning person, just not a take a photo of me first thing in the morning person. Orlando is definitely not a morning person so I let him sleep as long as possible and at 6:45 I told him it was time to go. The race was to start at 8:03 and I knew there would be a bit of traffic getting me close to the starting line.

They dropped me off about a half mile from the start and as I followed the mass of people down towards the starting area I was invigorated by the collective energy and excitement along the way. Oh how I have missed this feeling!!

IMG_2290

IMG_2291 IMG_2292 IMG_2294


IMG_2301

I wandered around soaking up the positive vibes. I took in the gorgeous view of Lake Champlain. The air was tinged with a light chill, but there was a hint of humidity signaling imminent heat that was to come later in the day.

Soon enough I found myself lining up somewhere between the 4:45 and 4:30 pacers. My internal voice kept telling me to avoid the pacers and just enjoy the race, what will be will be, but the hopeful side of me really just wanted to beat the elusive time of Oprah’s one and only marathon. It was a serious long shot though and by long shot I mean miracle.

During the national anthem I got goosebumps and tears welled up in my eyes. Geez what is it about these marathons for me?! I’ve been so lost since I crossed the finish line in Montreal in September 2013, but as the gun sounded I knew I was right back where I was meant to be and this was only the beginning.

The first 4 miles flew by. Then we found ourselves on the out and back portion of the course along a relatively flat highway. I thought it would be boring, but since you were able to see everyone ahead of you as they looped around it was fun cheering them on. The miles ticked away surprisingly quickly and before I knew it I was heading back into the city toward mile 9. I knew I would see my family very soon.

IMG_2302

 

 

IMG_2303

Orlando, Carlos, my sister and her husband were waiting for me just before I turned onto Church Street. I was so excited to see them. They had a Vega gel and a Perfect Fuel waiting for me. I stopped for a minute and then kept on going right down through the enthusiastic spectators along Church Street. This was without a doubt the best spot along the course.

IMG_2304

IMG_2305

Once we left Church Street there was a bit of a lull in spectators. We wound through some nice neighborhoods and eventually reached the halfway point. I knew I ran a strong first half, not fast, but consistent. I felt terrific and I went with it.

However, shortly after the halfway point we entered onto a bike trail. It was narrow and suddenly I felt like I was in the midst of a herd of cattle on the verge of being trampled. I was stumbling to hold my pace and became claustrophobic. I had nowhere to go so I tried to just hold steady. Prior to this I was ahead of the 4:30 pacer and I thought maybe, just maybe I could hold onto it, but as we inched along this congested trail the 4:30 pacer passed me. I didn’t care. I just wanted off the trail. The scenery to my left was stunning and I tried really hard to focus on the lake instead of the 20 people at my heels.

The tightness of the trail and the heat started to get to me. I felt a bit nauseous. I longed to catch a glimpse of the road again, but all I could see were the runners at less than an arm’s length in front of me. I needed to take a gel or eat some pretzels, but the thought of what I had in my spy belt made me even more nauseous. I just wanted to drink. The water bottle in my hand was warm and uninviting. My insides were crawling and screaming “MOVE! Get out of my way people and get me the hell off this trail.”

Racing Thoughts

I worked Sunday night at the hospital and then went for a run at the reservoir right after. It felt like old times. I ran a little over 6 miles which gave me plenty of time to think. I’ve been slowly putting the marathon in perspective mentally. Initially it was easy to conjure up all the negative aspects leading up to Vermont City:

  • my training was unorganized
  • I trained during a brutal winter
  • the Achilles injury has slowed me down
  • the sinus surgery disrupted an already disjointed training right at the crucial 20 and 22 mile long run weeks
  • the miserable 22 mile run!
  • new job, new schedule

Running, in my opinion, is much more mental than it is physical. For many years I’ve lived parallel to the philosophy of positive thinking and its power to create change. I’m open to the idea and I embrace it for short periods of time, but for so long I’ve found it easier to let the negativity in my mind control my thoughts…thoughts about myself, others and situations. However, I keep coming in contact with this idea of using the power of positive thinking to really control and direct life in a more purposeful manner. I’m moving closer and closer to that as I learn more about altering my thoughts. On Sunday evening I followed a link that Kris Carr posted on Facebook. Kris Carr has a fascinating story of healing herself while living with an incurable disease. The link led me to Louise Hay’s new movie, You Can Heal Your Life. It may seem a little out there to some and I get that, but I needed to see it and hear the message at that moment.

I am currently reading this interesting book called The Art of Work by Jeff Goins. These three passages stopped me in my tracks on Sunday. I have read them a number of times.

“Maybe a coach encouraged you or a parent pushed you or in a moment of inspiration you motivated yourself. But you dug a little deeper, increased your dedication, and somehow accomplished the impossible—all because you changed the way you thought. Hardwired in our brains and bodies is a potential greater than we realize, and all we have to do to unlock it is believe. ” (p64)

YES! I have done many things I didn’t think I was capable of and I love that feeling. I love proving myself wrong. I am no stranger to going outside of my comfort zone. I have dug deeper, dedicated myself to the “impossible” and conquered it.

“With the growth mindset, however, potential is unlimited. You can always get better. For this kind of person, the goal is not so much to be the best in the world but to be better than you were yesterday. Regardless of natural talent or the lack thereof, every person has the ability to improve themselves.” (p64)

I know this is true, but I often don’t give myself enough credit. Yet lately I am beginning to feel the tug of my life clock ticking. I want to do big things. I want more. I want to shoot for the stars and see just how far I can go.

“it’s more important to try than to rest on your natural ability. Why? Because you’re capable of more than you realize, and in trying, you learn something new as you push past possibility. As a result, you grow, learning that most skills are not inborn, but learned. Practiced. At least, they can be, if you’re willing to adopt the growth mindset and dedicate yourself to the practice that follows.” (64)

It’s really about learning to love the process and accepting growth and change along the way. This winter I bought skis and a ski pass. Carlos and I hit the slopes a number of times and I royally suck at skiing down anything but the beginner hill. I can’t even get off the chair lift without falling. I really don’t care. I love being out there. Next year I will get a little better. I might take a lesson or two. I definitely don’t plan on giving up on skiing.

Skis

Carlos has been helping to compile my marathon playlist and he popped one of our old faves on in the car on Monday morning, Let’s Go, Calvin Harris and Pitbull. These lyrics jumped out at me that morning even though I’ve heard them so many times before,

It’s all about where you’re going
No matter where you’ve been

So basic, so simple, but so true. Move forward. Stop looking backwards.

After my run on Sunday morning, my encounter with a little inspiration, and some soul searching this is how I really feel about running the marathon next weekend:

  • I’m so excited to run this course. I’ve heard really positive feedback about the race.
  • The finish line is right on gorgeous Lake Champlain.
  • The weather looks beautiful for next weekend.
  • This hasn’t been my best training, but so what? Seriously, so what! I could walk a marathon if I had to so no matter what happens on the day of the race I know these legs can go the distance.
  • Being aware of what didn’t work this training cycle will be really helpful when I begin training for the Hartford Marathon.
  • I worked as hard as I could, did as much as I could and I am going to be proud of that on race day.

I am going to run this marathon and I will finish. I’m going into it as the runner I am today, not the runner I was on September 28, 2013 when I finished Montreal. From here on out Vermont City will be my new baseline marathon. I have goals in my head, big goals and Vermont City is my jumping off point. My goal next Sunday is to run the best race I can and finish it smiling and uninjured. Those other goals, well I’m going keep those to myself for right now!!

Injured

I’m inured. It’s my Achilles. It happened last week. I felt a little discomfort after my run on Tuesday, but it went away so I ran again on Wednesday. Both of those were treadmill runs because Carlos was on school vacation and I had to run late in the evening. It also happened to be raining both nights making outdoor runs even less. My schedule was upside down due to the school vacation and it just so happened to be my biggest mileage week for marathon training. My sister said she could watch Carlos on Thursday so I could attempt my 22 mile run. I was psyched to have the opportunity to do such a long run on an entirely new to me trail. I really welcomed the change of scenery.

About a mile in the discomfort crept up and I slowed down a bit contemplating what I should do. It didn’t hurt at that point, it was simply a nuisance. By mile 4 I stopped at a dock overlooking the Charles River. I burst into tears before turning back. I was in pain. I hobbled and limped back to my sister’s place. I was frustrated, angry and worried.

Cut to today. It’s not much better despite all of the interventions I have tried. Here is the list:

RICE (minus the R)

  • icing
  • compression
  • elevating

Medicine

  • Ibuprofen (not helpful)
  • Aleve (just started taking yesterday and I do feel some relief with it)
  • Homeopathic herbal supplements like Arnica, MSM, Magnesium and Bone & Tissue Support (I would like to believe that the injury would be much more painful still without these supplements, but there’s no way to know.

Other therapies

  • Icy hot (just because I had it in the medicine cabinet)
  • Epsom salt soaks
  • Shoe inserts made to relieve heel pain (I’m returning them! Horrible, no relief what so ever)
  • A slip on ankle sleeve (soothing, but not life changing)
  • Sports massage (I just had it done today. No immediate relief, but perhaps I will notice a difference in the morning.)
  • Stretching (I’m reading conflicting viewpoints on stretching with an Achilles injury. Some doctors I’ve read online say stretching is key, other

I have an appointment next Thursday with a Sports Medicine doctor. He was a Pentathlon athlete in the XXI Olympics and continues to compete in triathlons. I was told he will be empathetic to my situation.

The massage therapist I went to is a runner and used to do triathlons. She was not very optimistic about my plan to run the Vermont City Marathon in 3 weeks. She asked me if I had resolved myself to the fact that I may not be able to run. I lied and said yes. Truthfully I haven’t given up hope. The only intervention that isn’t on the bullet list is rest. Life goes on and my life is active with or without the training. Since the injury occurred I also worked almost every night except for Sunday and last night. I’m off again tonight and tomorrow night. My plan is to take the next two nights to actually rest as much as humanly possibly. Carlos is sleeping at my mom’s tonight. Orlando just ran out to pick up dinner. I’m lying on the sofa with my left leg elevated on a bag of ice. Friday nights sure have changed!!

I welcome any advice, words of wisdom or stories to commiserate with me.

A Very Long Run

I have become increasingly more intrigued by ultra marathons this year. When I told a fellow runner and ultra marathoner/triathlete that I was considering an ultra marathon next year he told me he had the perfect race for me. Seth’s Fat Ass 50K is a local ultra in mid-December. However, it wasn’t quite what I envisioned when I thought about ultra running. Ultras are usually on trail. This was 10 loops of a well known 5K course at a local park. The thought of it was kind of mind numbing. Yet I was anxious to see if I was capable of running beyond the marathon distance and I preferred beginning with a 50K as opposed to a 50 miler.

The Fat Ass race was started in California in 1978 by Joe Oakes, an ultra marathoner who needed a qualifying race for the Western States 100. The first took place around New Year’s and the idea was to encourage people to shake off the holiday heaviness by getting off your “fat ass and move!” The race was no frills – “free entry, no medals or fan fare” and participants are free to run as little or as much of the race as they wish. Today there are about 25 Fat Ass races all over the country. Some take place before the holidays, some after; some are 50Ks, some 50 milers.

About 5 years ago Seth Roberts got tired of trekking up to North Adams, MA for the annual Fat Ass ultra so he decided to start one of his own in Springfield, MA. Much like the original Fat Ass races the registration form announces “No Prizes, No Wimps!” The race features one aid station with water, Gatorade and refreshments that you pass through at the end of each loop. You are welcome to leave your own gear and fuel as well.

Seth’s Fat Ass 50 (50K)

The race began promptly at 8:30 a.m. The course starts with a short uphill climb. My B goal was to finish in the 7 hour time frame and my A goal was to finish in under 6 hours so the name of the game for me was slow and steady. I ran up the hill on the start then settled into a gentle pace. From there on in the aid station and the hill were the only parts of the course I walked.

After the first five loops it was a bit like being in that movie Groudhog Day. The repetition of the course was both a blessing and a curse. It gave you the advantage of knowing what to expect while simultaneously yielding boredom because it is a dull course to begin with. I dug deep into my thoughts, tuned out to my music, lip synched, wrote mental lists of things to be done before Christmas and zoned out. I also began to obsess about how many loops I had left. I started doing math in my head trying to figure out if I had to run up to 10 or go to 11 to make it 10 full loops (confused? me too!).

The temperature remained in the teens throughout the race. It snowed the entire time, mostly a light snowfall, but heavier towards the end. I wore new Under Armour waterproof running pants and sweatshirt both a lifesaver. I kept hand warmers inside my gloves and ear muffs on throughout the race. I never shed any layers, but what I wore was comfortable for the event. 

I didn’t overanalyze the race prior to the start. I signed up at the very last minute once I was sure my schedule would allow it. I didn’t formally train. I did my best to maintain my level of fitness from the Montreal Marathon.  To think about the distance was daunting, but I wanted to try it to see if I might possibly be able to handle a 50 miler someday. Once the decision was made to run the race I told myself that it was simply a really long run.

According to a local news article 115 runners registered for the race, but only 88 showed up at the start due to an imminent snow storm. Out of the 88 runners who started the race only 38 finished the race. I was one of those 38! It took me 5 hours and 40 minutes. The organizers, runner and volunteers were a supportive, enthusiastic and kind bunch of people. It was an awesome experience.

“Whether you think you can or you think you can’t – you’re right.” – Henry Ford

Montreal Marathon Recap

I wrote about my training and my marathon results, but for some reason I haven’t been able to finish this post about race day and actually running the Montreal Marathon.

We stayed at Le Nouvel Hotel in Montreal. It was a short walk to the metro from the hotel and a quick metro ride to the starting area. I headed out into the cold, rainy early morning alone. Orlando and Carlos would meet me later at the finish line. The metro was packed with runners so I wasn’t worried about getting lost. 

I arrived at the starting area with plenty of time to spare so I jumped in line for the port-a-johns. The girl in front of me was beside herself because she had never used a port-a-john. When it was her turn she let me go ahead of her! I wonder if she ever mustered up enough courage to go inside.

The entrance to the Jacques Cartier Bridge was jamming with a live band and swarms of runners. I retreated to a grassy area nearby. It was a dreary morning, but the rain had subsided for the time being. I took the opportunity to stretch and relax. It was nice to take time to clear my mind, stretch my body and just be in the moment.

About 30 minutes before the start I began to walk to my corral, Corral 18. As I was walking up the Jacques Cartier Bridge I noticed in contrast to my red bib everyone else seemed to be wearing green bibs causing me to worry that I had been given the wrong bib. When I finally spotted another red bib I asked which race she running. I was relieved when she said the red bibs were for the full marathon and the green bibs were for the half. There were approximately 14,000 runners in the half marathon and only 4,000 running the full marathon.

I settled into my corral and got to chatting with some friendly women from Montreal. Both were in their 50s and doing the half marathon. One had lived in China and ran the Great Wall adventure marathon and the Beijing Marathon (I thought of you Carina ). She was running the half that day in preparation for the Marine Corps Marathon in October. The other woman had qualified for Boston during her very first marathon in her 20s. She had been out of running for some time and this was her first long race in many years.

As we chatted the rain returned and really began to pick up. I marveled at the sheer ingenuity of so many of the runners who came equipped with a simple trash bag over their head. Absolutely ridiculously brilliant, simple and cheap! Guess who now has a trash bag in her running bag?! I had a throw away sweatshirt on with a hood and gloves to keep my hands warm which turned out to be enough.

We made our way very slowly across the Jacques Cartier Bridge towards the actual starting line. Corral after corral we inched closer and closer. My legs were getting antsy and I was itching to run. Finally after at least 45 minutes Corral 18 took off. The rain was coming down at a good clip and I had ditched my sweatshirt already. I really didn’t care too much about the rain. I was more focused on keeping my feet out of puddles. Running with soaking wet shoes that early would not be fun.

What's a little rain?
What’s a little rain?

During the first 5 miles I excitedly spotted the 4:30 pacer. I somehow managed to pull ahead of her and stayed in front of her for the rest of the race. I was very satisfied with that, but I continued to be on the lookout for the 4:15 pacer to know I had a good cushion for time. I never did see the 4:15 pacer!

At approximately the 10K mark we crossed the St. Lawrence river again via the Concorde Bridge. I love running over bridges. I frequently run across a nearby bridge into a neighboring town just to glimpse views of the river. Before reaching the end of the bridge I realized the rain had stopped. The weather continued to be overcast for the rest of the race, but no more rain! On the other side of the river we ran through Old Montreal, past the Notre Dame Basilica and up the bustling Ste Catherine Street. At Lafontaine Park we broke with the half marathoners. This would also be the finishing point for the full marathon. The spectator support was fabulous through Old Montreal and grew in intensity as we neared Lafontaine Park. This was the finish area and also where we would break off from the half marathoners.

737236-1161-0049s

However, as I cheered the runners whizzing by me who were finishing the half marathon the noise and excitement of the race also disappeared. I looked ahead and saw two lone runners way up in front of me. I jerked my head to look behind me and realized I was basically alone. At this point I settled into my pace and into my thoughts. I felt great, better than I had expected both mentally and physically.

737241-1062-0013s

The second half of the course meandered north through some rather quiet streets before turning east towards the Botanical Gardens and Olympic Stadium, neither of which I remember passing because I believe we just ran past the outside of the sites. There were wonderful volunteers along the back half of the course and because it is a Rock ‘n’ Roll marathon there were bands in various places along the route. Before the finish line was even in sight I could hear the roar of the cheering spectators. It is still amazing to me that people come to cheer their hearts out for the runners. It brings tears to my eyes every time. Montreal supporters did not disappoint.

Almost there!
Almost there!

As the finish chute came into sight I felt a surge of energy ignite my body. It was as though I was just beginning my run as opposed to finishing 26.2 miles. The last quarter of a mile or so was like an out of body experience. Just before I crossed the finish line I caught sight of my husband and son to the right beyond the finish. “Yes,” I thought, “they made it!”

Montreal Marathon Mom!
Montreal Marathon Mom! Together we are Boston Strong!!

And so did I!

737263-1021-0048s
A proud moment

This post has taken me so long to write. Sometimes I feel really alone in this running journey. No one around me really “gets it.” This race started out as just another marathon, yet it turned into so much more. I knew I had a good chance of running a sub 4:30 marathon which for someone like me is a huge accomplishment so to run it in 4:16:35 is still a bit mind boggling. I exceeded my own expectations far beyond what I believed to be possible for me as a runner. I’m not sure how to channel that right now. I’m exploring goals I have previously scoffed at, but now they don’t seem so strange or unattainable. I have a desire to run longer races and I can’t quite explain why. Yet I feel I need to explain why before I sign up for one. I don’t just want to run though, I want to run healthy and clean. I also want to feel strong and flexible. I’m not sure exactly what is next for me, but I am anxious and excited to find out. I am also a little bit terrified.

“One of the greatest discoveries a man makes, one of his great surprises, is to find he can do what he was afraid he couldn’t do.” Henry Ford

Prelude to a Marathon PR

In my last post I cut to the chase and announced my marathon results. What I didn’t explain was the significance of my race time.

Back in June I outlined my race plans for the summer up until the Montreal Marathon. At the end of that post I said this about my marathon goals:

“I have big goals. That’s right Oprah I’m coming for your time sister (Oprah ran the Marine Corps Marathon in 1994 and finished in 4:29:15)! I’m light years from ever qualifying for Boston so I need to shoot for something more attainable. Given the way my training runs are going I actually do have an even bigger goal in mind, but I’m going to keep it to myself for now.”

For some time now I have been running at a sub-10 minute/mile pace. When it became more consistent run after run I was astonished considering where I began with my running. My speed has improved so naturally and gradually over the course of my running. I don’t have a coach or anyone forcing me to do more than I am doing. I do speed training and some high intensity interval training to help improve my speed, but I am always mindful to do what feels right to me. I love running and I want to continue to love running. However, if it feels too much like work then I might not love it so much anymore.

In order to accomplish my goal of beating Oprah’s time (which really was just a fun way to strive for a sub-4:30 time) I would have to average a pace of 10:16/mile. My last marathon time was 4:38:52 or an average pace of 10:38/mile. When I first set my sights on running another marathon this seemed like a lofty goal, but one to work towards. As I began my training I also started to feel like I might be able to challenge myself even more given the improvement in my speed and overall running. So I set three personal goals:

B Goal = beat Oprah’s marathon time of 4:29:15

A Goal = maintain an average pace under 10 minutes/mile which would be 4:21:45 or less

A+ Goal = finish in under 4:20 for an average pace of just under 9:55/mile

Ok that’s a whole lotta numbers. Are you still with me?

The bottom line is this training was vastly different than my previous two marathons. I have begun to come into my own with running. I have developed some confidence in my running and my ability to improve at running. I worked hard and pushed myself without pushing to the point of injury or burn out. I upped my weekly mileage as much as possible this time around. I was diligent about maintaining strength training 2-3 times a week and P90X Plyometrics once a week. I stretched and foam rolled. My hill training was awesomely difficult, but it yielded results. I ran races and set PRs in many of them. My long runs peaked at 22 miles, and included two 20 mile runs along new routes.

In reflecting on the training period I have also identified other factors that were instrumental in helping me to accomplish my goals. I had no setbacks in this training unlike the last two. Four months prior to Disney I broke a toe and two floating ribs and throughout my training for Philly I endured calf and Achilles issues. My diet is cleaner with a central focus on eating whole unprocessed foods as much as possible. I food journaled consistently throughout training either online or on paper. I have shed some weight since my last marathon. I paid close attention to hydration especially throughout the hot summer. I switched my fuel during long runs to Vega Sport Endurance Gel, pretzels and dates. Vega* products are entirely plant based and complimented my diet nicely. I drank Vega Pre-Sport Workout Energizer prior to long runs and races. My pre-race and pre-long run meal used to be toast, nut butter and banana. I have traded the toast for a chia pudding made with 1-2 tablespoons of chia seeds soaked in water or almond milk topped later with banana and nut butter. Weird, I know, but it didn’t weigh me down and I am really starting to wonder about the power of those little seeds! I also followed up my long runs with Vega Sport Recovery Accelerator. I seemed to bounce back very quickly from long runs this training. I know I can’t give all the credit to Vega Sport Recovery Accelerator, but I do believe it helped as I experienced little to no muscle soreness the following day after my 13-17 mile runs and much less than typical soreness on my 18-22 mile runs.

There is one other component that affected my training and ultimately the final event for me and it is largely psychological. Back in April I wrote about my PR in the Plattsburgh Half Marathon and my dear friend who, at that time, was recently diagnosed with breast cancer. What I didn’t tell you was that my friend was also pregnant with her second child. Throughout her chemo treatments this summer, pregnancy hormones, navigating life with cancer, a toddler and a baby on the way I have been completely humbled by my amazing friend who has handled it all with such poise and grace. She is truly a Wonder Woman.

There were moments during training and even during the race that felt difficult, but my thoughts immediately shifted to my friend and I pushed the discomfort away because I knew nothing could possibly be more trying or uncomfortable than what she has been going through. As a result I had so few doubts about this race. If she could kick cancer’s ass then I sure as hell could run another marathon faster than my last. In the grand scheme of what my friend has had to cope with this year I felt like the least I could do was push past my mental limitations once and for all.

I purposely chose this race in Montreal because I knew it would give me the opportunity to stop and see my friend as we passed through upstate New York on the way home. I didn’t know my final time yet when we arrived at her home. It didn’t matter. I knew I ran a great race. I felt phenomenal the entire way. Given the distance that separates us I couldn’t be there for my friend as much as I would have liked. I was able to spend a couple of weekends with her but mostly we stayed in touch through email, text and phone calls when possible. Her positive attitude, courage and fighting spirit are a constant source of inspiration and motivation. I thought about my friend so much during the marathon knowing that she is running her own marathon and there was no one else I wanted to share that medal with more than her.

Race Together Fight Together
Race Together Fight Together

When I finally received my official time my eyes filled with tears. It’s not really about the actual time 4:16:35 or that I shaved 22 minutes off my marathon time. It is about me finally believing in myself. It is about reaching my full potential. It is about exceeding my own expectations. It is about committing to something, setting a goal and following through. It is about going the distance.

“The miracle isn’t that I finished. The miracle is that I had the courage to start.” John Bingham

*I should note that I do not work for Vega, nor did I receive any of the aforementioned products from Vega. I purchased them with my own money and all opinions are my own. I was not contacted by Vega to discuss their products. I just happen to really love them.