Saturday, March 25, 2017

Marathon personal best 5 years in the making

So I've decided to update this blog because someone called me a Grandma.



No, that's not why, but I appreciate the motivation. It's been a year since I've blogged, but I've still been running a lot, and I've been pretty active on Strava. If I remember correctly I logged somewhere in the neighborhood of 3,500 miles of running in 2016, and I hope to log more than that in 2017 if my legs allow it. By the way, I'm also on Instagram, too.
NACAC Mountain Running CHampionships 2016

So to summarize my running in 2016 (because after all, this is a blog about running) I believe that 2016 was a pretty good year.  After New Orleans, I attempted a few half marathons and 10ks that went terribly, so I decided to quit road racing for a while and train primarily for mountain running. I did well on the mountain circuit; I finished 2nd at Canadian Mountain Running Nationals in Squamish B.C., and then went on the finish 3rd at NACAC Mountain Running Championships in Tepatitlan, Jalisco, Mexico. After a few weeks of contemplation, I eventually decided to defer my spot on the World Team. It was a hard decision, but I fell like I still made the right one. My daughter was starting Kindergarten, my husband was in Rio, and I was at home with both kids just trying to keep our life in order. I also had plans to start training again for a fall marathon, so I decided to apply for an elite bib at Canadian Marathon Championships, in Toronto Ontario. 
The Podium at NACAC Mountain Running Championships

When Houston put my plan together for Toronto,  I knew I was going to be about two weeks short of a full training load. But deep down I really wanted to run nationals, and I felt like I was in good enough shape to PR. And, I really was. It just didn't turn out that way.



Toronto Marathon, October 2016

I had a pretty good race up until the 35km point where I went to reach for my bottle, and I got cut off by another athlete who sped up to pass at that exact moment. It forced me to stop short, and tense up because I was trying to keep myself from falling. It was only about a second or two, but it was enough to make my legs locked up completely. When I went to take a step forward, I could not get my legs going, so I panicked. I totally panicked. The panic caused a horrible stitch in my chest that I could not to get it to go away. I went from being on pace to running nearly a 4 minute PR, to jogging, walking and making myself throw up. In the last 4 miles of the race, I added 3 min 45 seconds to my final time.

I finished in 2:50:51. I was angry about it for a long time. But, I was having bigger problems. My pre-race and travel anxiety was getting so bad that I could barely leave Starkville city limits. I had a mini panic attack every time I got onto an airplane or traveled out of town for a race. I was also tired of not sleeping the night before every race, which is something I had been dealing with for a few years.


I had a total meltdown in the airport on the way home to Mississippi. It was a full-blown panic attack. I decided that I needed to find out what was wrong with me, so I decided to get help, like real professional help.
Toronto when things were going well
At first, I felt like a total bum, going into someone's office and talking about how my entire day might get derailed over being 5 minutes late for work. I also had this little voice inside my head that tells me the worst case scenario in every situation, and that it was seriously making me unstable. Surprisingly, taking about these crazy thoughts over some weeks, and then months, things started to improve. I felt like I was starting to pull myself back together.

The regular sessions at the Psychology Clinic, and a light workload made me start to feel good about my training and my running again. I decided that I wanted to give 2:45 another shot before I trained for anything else. I also didn't feel drained or tired from Toronto, and I had some weeks over Christmas break where I could really get some good training. Eventually, I signed up for Mercedes in Birmingham mid-February.



Mercedes Marathon

My training for Mercedes could not have been more perfect. Though I wasn't flying through my interval work as I was before Toronto, my long runs were better and I had a few really long tempos that were positive and I helped give my confidence. Just one problem: Mother Freakin Nature.

Feeling fresh off a few hours sleep, I woke up on race morning in less than ideal conditions. It was warm, borderline hot, and extremely humid and the little voice in my head told me, "this is not a good idea."

I gave it a go anyway.

I felt good for the first 6 miles, and even found someone willing to run with me through the first half. However, as soon as we hit the hills, my calves felt heavy and tight. I thought things would get better, but they didn't. By the time I hit the 11-mile mark, I was completely alone, running into the wind in 2nd place, 1 place nowhere in sight. Worst of all,  I was going to split about 1:24, which was 2 minutes slower than I wanted. As hot, humid and windy as it was that day, I knew I couldn't run the second loop 4 minutes faster than I ran the first loop. With 2nd place clearly in the bag, I made a really hard decision. I dropped out.
Racing a 5km with Emma during Fall marathon prep. Finished 2nd in 17:16, which is my new 5k road PB by 9 seconds.

Ouch, right? I was actually pretty ok with it. I knew if I wanted to run a fast spring marathon I needed to give myself an honest shot. I've won marathons and I've been second before, and prize money is not that important to me either. Reaching my running goals is, however.

After a few days of easy running, I realized my legs still felt pretty good. I had been struggling with a sinus infection for over a month, so I had tapered for Mercedes much longer than I normally would, which made me a bit uncomfortable. I knew that if I was going to try to run 2:45 again this winter, I was going to have to do it very soon.


Backup Plan

I found two races that I could potentially try for a fast time. Pheonix and New Albany. When looking at the courses and the quality of the elite field, I felt like Phoenix was my best option. I was so late in registering, that I had to enter with a charity bib, and the hotel room that I found ended up being more than I would have paid for my airline ticket. However, I wanted that 2:45 BAD, really REALLY BAD. At this point, the cost was irrelevant.

My trip to Pheonix was a good experience for me for multiple reasons. Because I had been going to the Psychology Clinic for my anxiety and constant worry, I had to face all my worry and anxiety and instead of just pushing it aside and hoping it would go away, I had to force myself to recognize my fears and deal with them each individually. And because one of my biggest worries is not sleeping the night before the race, I just decided to go to bed hours earlier than normal. As a result, I actually got a decent amount of sleep. I woke up on race morning feeling more race ready than I had in years.


Phoenix Marathon

Because the race was point to point, I had to Uber to the catch the race transportation, and then spend another 35 minutes riding a bus out to the race start. It was then I was able to relax, eat my breakfast, and reflect on all the training I had put in over the last 16 weeks. When I finally got to the start, I was able to warm-up quietly with the other elites while most runners huddled around heaters to keep warm. 

It was 55 degrees. Perfect.


Race Start

When the gun went off the majority of the elite female field took off in front of me. I was in 6th place (or maybe even 7th?) less than a mile into the race. Because Phoenix has a net elevation drop, I was told to be really cautious in the first half. So I did just that. In fact, I found the down and up in the first half of the race to be extremely uncomfortable. 

Like every marathon I have ever run, I didn't start to feel really relaxed until about mile 12. At that point, I decided to make my first move. I crossed half way in 1:22:15. I had barely looked at my watch during the first half, but I knew the whole time I was running a good pace. I decided to take a chance and go for it.

For the last few months of training, I have been fortunate to run a lot of my long runs with MSU's cross country team, which finished the season ranked 15th in the nation. Running regularly with Olympians and NCAA Champions, I have learned that if you happen to glance down for any reason and see what pace we are running, you might start to doubt your ability. So, when I started to push in Phoenix, I told myself to stop looking at my watch.


This year I also became Rock and Roll Marathon's new poster girl. What do you think? And yes I'm only kidding.

I started to feel tired at about 16 miles. but I didn't doubt myself. I didn't think about how much I had left, I just thought about weathering each storm as it came. Then 16 became 17, 17-18, and eventually, I reached 21 miles still on pace.

I had found someone to run with right after half-way, and we took turns pushing the pace for the remainder of the race. At one point he pulled out a bag of salt (I'm serious, table salt in a bag he carried in his shorts) and started eating it. I quickly realized I wanted some. We had sort of befriended each other, so I felt comfortable enough asking him, which he never even hesitated and was gracious enough to hand me the bag. It was enough to perk me up a bit for the remaining miles basking in the Phoenix sun.

Things were going pretty well for us until about mile 22 when we ran right into the back of the half-marathon and spend the next 3 miles dodging walkers all over the road. In their defense, they didn't hear us coming, but it was still frustrating because it was slowing us down significantly. I started to worry about my pace, but I still felt like I was running PR effort, and before I knew it, the road opened up, and I hit mile 25.

I felt the excitement rise up in my stomach. I realized that I was really going to do it this time.

The last 1.2 miles was dreamy. I felt sort of out of it. I was running, but I wasn't sure it was even real life. I turned a corner to see a sign for 26 miles, and I started kicking. I watch the clock tick into the 2:44....I was going to run my 2:45...



I kicked like crazy. In disbelief but also giving it one last push to run as fast as possible. I crossed the line in 3rd place running 2:44:53 (later learning the clock was off by 10 seconds, and I actually ran 2:45:04)...finally running a 4 minute PR, and time I had been chasing for 4 years. I was in total. shock.

The next 30 minutes I spent sitting on a curb balling my eyes. It was good tears, but my stomach hurt and when I tried to walk, I felt dizzy. Fortunately, a muscle milk volunteer didn't recognize the fact that he had already handed 3 chocolate MM on 3 separate occasions, so when I stomached about two and a half of them, I got up enough energy to go stand near the awards. It was success like I had not felt with my running in a really, really long time.

I have felt that I was capable of running 2:45 for years, but I didn't fully believe in my ability to do it until recently. I  finally did it. I ran a 2:45 marathon.

I am a 2:45 marathoner.

"

"Never give up on a dream. Never sell yourself short. Never say you can't. Never say you're not worth it. Surround yourself with people who believe in you. You can. You always can. I just did. All the tears..." 



1 comment:

Ewen said...

Congratulations on the 2:45. Great story of perseverance.