October 12, 2014
Walking up North Columbus toward the starting line the cold wind took my breath away. I was still in a state of disbelief that I was making my way to the beginning of THE Chicago Marathon. I had started my training hoping to achieve a sub-4 hour marathon. A lofty goal for anyone that isn't naturally gifted with endurance running speed. Looking at some recent data, approximately on 25% of marathon runners (in major races) are able to finish in under 4 hours.
My training had fallen off course so that goal was not realistic any longer. After struggling to complete my long runs and trying to get my nutrition on track I decided to talk to my Triathlon Coach, Mari, and get her take on how to approach the race. Her advice, and one I had already been toying with, was to go 100% by feel race day. To collect data, I could use my Garmin, but I shouldn't use that as a way to pace myself. Instead, I was to use my perceived exertion and a flexible game plan of how hard I wanted to push at certain mile points.
My goal was simple. Beat my current PR of 4:19:58. I had a secondary goal of beating 4:10:00, but that was only if I was feeling good during the race.
My game plan looked like this:
- Start with the Corral behind my assigned corral of F. I know I start slow and in order for me to be true to my natural running form, I need to start with a group that has a slower pace.
- Miles 1 - 3: It should feel a little bit uncomfortable, but allow my legs to get warm and loosen up. No pushing hard, no matter what.
- Miles 4 - 16: Every run interval should feel challenging, but maintainable. It should feel FUN. I should be able to high-five kids, look around at the buildings and neighborhood and enjoy the race. Fuel using Gu at miles 5, 10 and 16.
- Miles 16 - 20: Every run interval should be HARD. I should be ready for each walk break. Keep arms swinging during the walk intervals. Remember Mirinda Carfrae's form as she ran the marathon portion of her IronMan Championship win. Try to keep that form. Start drinking the Nuun Water I had on my hydration belt in addition to using the water stations.
- Miles 20 - 26: Change playlist to the fast BPM (Last 6 Miles on my Spotify Playlist) and just keep the tempo with my feet. No matter what, keep the turnover quick and steady. Take in a Gu at mile 21.
- Mile 26 - Finish: All out. Don't stop. Pick it up and finish strong.
At the beginning of the race I felt really strong and confident that the race would be fun. The atmosphere was electric, excited and pulsing with adrenaline.
I met another runner, Anna, who had traveled from Hamburg, Germany to experience this race. She and I connected immediately and we started talking about our goals for the race and our previous races. She had run one marathon and I told her this was my fifth. She snapped this picture for me as we started moving en masse toward the start line. As we crossed the start line we high-fived and promised to talk in the Hospitality Tent after the race was done.
I stuck to my plan. My first few miles were about getting warmed up and comfortable. I only pushed a little bit so that I wouldn't completely tank my overall pace. By mile 3 I was in a good rhythm and felt strong. I was giving high-fives to all the kids (and some adults) and smiling ear-to-ear. It stayed that way all the way through mile 15.
As I approached the half-way mark I knew it was time to decide what I wanted to do for this race. I was feeling good, my hamstrings were tight, but I knew that was going to happen. I wasn't in pain and I felt like I had plenty of reserves left. I gauged my mental state and knew that if I went for a good over all time, it was going to hurt. It wasn't going to feel "good" - but I had listened to an interview with one of the Kenyan elite athletes and he did a wonderful job talking about how he is able to finish as well as he does, he said something along the lines of this:
It hurts. Of course it does. But, everyone else is hurting, too. If you want to do well, you just keep pushing forward.
I decided that I could go for the best time possible - whatever that might be. I wasn't using my watch to check my pace and I wasn't using the elapsed time displays at each mile to track my individual mile paces. I was running 100% by feel and I loved the freedom.
I picked up my pace around mile 16. I focused on good form. I had the mental image of Mirinda Carfrae running in my mind to emulate. Mile 19 came up and I switched my playlist to my Last Six Miles playlist on Spotify. I dug in and just kept my feet moving with the beat of every song. I wasn't smiling and I was very intense. I had a single purpose and I was there to make it happen. I didn't look around, I turned my vision inward. Miles 23 and 24 felt like the longest miles of my life. When I saw Mile 25, I knew I could keep going strong and steady. I was SO tempted to check my watch and see my time. I didn't. I didn't want to be disappointed. I knew I had run a solid race and I didn't want anything to take that away from me. Towards the end, there were more frequent distance markers. Now they said 1500 meters to go! 1000 meters to go! At this point I had run out of my playlist. No more music. Just me, the cheers of thousands of spectators and my sole desire to finish as fast as possible. I focused on making my feet move faster. Quicker turn-over. I let the joy from the people lining the streets fuel my momentum. I ran next to the one guy for a few seconds. He was struggling. He had another friend next to him cheering him on, too. I looked at him and said, "We are almost there. Don't stop. You can't stop. You are SO CLOSE." He smiled at me and then I kept going.
The finish line was up ahead. I saw it and my heart just started leaping. I ran faster. As I approached the line I threw my hands into the air. I did it. I ran MY RACE. Start to Finish, I did what I wanted to do and what I had hoped to do. Then I stopped my watch and I started to cry. I had no idea what my time was before that moment. I looked down and saw:
I couldn't resist taking a picture of myself in that moment:
I think my smile says it all.
For the first time since I started running races, I have zero regrets about how my performance. I wouldn't change a single thing about how I ran my race. I was able to get a massage immediately after the race was done and went through a great yoga sequence on Monday morning. Between those two activities and lots of water and refueling, I was able to come back to Atlanta and jump right back into teaching my BodyPump, CXWORX and BodyCombat classes - along with teaching a bonus Spin class Tuesday morning.
Here is what I've learned from this entire experience:
- It's okay to start slow. I am runner that naturally achieves negative splits. I am going to stop fighting that gift by trying to push too hard too fast.
- With serious training and a running coach, I could qualify for Boston. I was able to knock 17 minutes off of my time in spite of the fact my training hadn't been optimal. I need to knock at least another 17 minutes off to qualify, but with the proper help, motivation and accountability, that can definitely happen.
- I love Chicago. I'd move there in a second. I know the winters are cold, but they were cold in Massachusetts, too.
Thanks for stopping in!!