I ran my 13th marathon yesterday and while I gave up on maintaining this running blog, I do always like to document all the feelings related to a race and oh there were feelings. About two years worth. I couldn’t sleep last night so I started writing this all out and ended up with a six page document. So buckle up. I’ve included The Back Story and The Race, in case you don’t want to read it all.
The Back Story
I was training to run the Boston Marathon when COVID first arrived. I was coming off a 2:55 at Chicago and of course, as I was in the habit of doing, I had made a new goal of 2:50. This was a habit that was not really serving me well, I can now see. Back in 2015, I returned to the marathon to see if I could qualify for Boston after a 7 year hiatus from running them.
I hit that goal so then I thought “I want to run a 3:15.”
I crossed that off the list and then moved to the sub-3 marathon.
I crossed that off the list and then started thinking about OTQ times.
You see where this is going.
I’m not saying that continually setting goals isn’t a good thing, but the more I chased goals, the more anxiety I started having in relationship to running. I was not sleeping well nights before workouts. I was uber fixated on paces.
So when COVID hit, I honestly felt a little relief to have a break from all of that. There were no races to run so I didn’t have to worry about pace.
I didn’t worry about pace for a whole year. I just ran when I wanted, which some weeks was often and some weeks was not.
Then a vaccine was available.
I really had hope that the year long funk I was in was going to be over. I noticed that Lakefront Marathon was planning for its 40th year…the same year I turned 40. It was a sign, right? I thought this was going to be the perfect thing to get back to marathoning – it was a local race, I didn’t have to worry about logistics. I was going to be fully vaccinated and I had hope that by that point my whole family would be.
Well then I had to reckon with the fact that I needed to actually train for the damn thing and I was not really coming off of any sort of consistent mileage so I set out to get a few consistent weeks of 40-50 mile weeks per the advice of my coach friend E.
I think E could sense that I was a little burned out and so we didn’t talk goal pace at all. The goal was to get into marathon shape again. Full stop.
I can’t say that I totally returned to marathon training with gusto. Many weeks I was flying high and loving it. Many weeks I found myself thinking, “What is the point?” more often than not.
I think a large part of this was COVID and just the fact that the constant decision-making in relationship to it wears you down. My sleeping was nonexistent. I know how important sleep and rest are in marathon training and yet here I was awake at 2-4 AM most days. The hamster wheel on my brain not getting the memo that my body needed rest.
Another part though is that I just was not into running in the same way that I had been. At some point, I stopped listening to any running related podcasts with any regularity. The magazines were piling up on my coffee table going unread.
Then, I felt guilty for not being super into running because I knew people who were injured or had other things going on that prevented them from it.
I stuck with training because I thought something would come back. E was sending me plans one week at a time and I really liked it. It helped me from ruminating too much on future workouts. My fitness had taken a big hit with the COVID break, naturally, so the focus for the early weeks was just building fitness.
Overall, I felt like I was in a fog most days. I usually am really organized, and I was forgetting meetings or messing up our calendar. All of those COVID articles about languishing really resonated with me.
So you have a glimpse of my mental state throughout the last two years (the CLIFFs notes version anyway). Let’s jump over to the physical, shall we?
My right hamstring had been talking to me in some of my previous training cycles and races. It went away when I stopped doing any long runs or speed workouts during COVID but was happy to return on the scene once those workouts resumed. Then, my lower back was giving me trouble. I decided to see a physical therapist before anything got too ugly. I had 6 sessions (or maybe it was 7) with Carrie and she was really wonderful in helping me through my physical woes but also my mental woes. For the first time with regularity, I was doing warm up exercises. The hamstring and low back were managed to a degree that I could keep training.
Then let’s go to my menstrual cycle. This might feel TMI but this is a huge part of being a woman runner and I for one would like it if more people talked about the impact this has on running. I have an IUD and though some women do not have any period with an IUD, I still had one every 26-28 days like clockwork. The week before my period came, I always felt like a slug in training. But, because this was predictable, I never worried about a bad workout during that week. Earlier this year, I went 52 days without getting it. I took a pregnancy test because I was like WTF is going on. I wasn’t pregnant and shortly thereafter my period came. Phew. Except then it never went away. This can’t be menopause, can it?! I finally went to my primary care doctor and she was not able to find the strings of the IUD so she thought the IUD perhaps was misplaced. I had an ultrasound and the IUD was right where it should be so she referred me to my ob/gyn. He prescribed me a month of estrogen to try to repair my uterine lining. He said there was a 50/50 chance this would work if in fact the IUD was causing the issue. I left with a prescription. I was on estrogen supplements until two days before the race. I didn’t notice any side effects from this, and it didn’t fix the problem either. ARGH.
At some point in the training cycle, I got a plantar wart on the outer edge of my right foot. I tried freezing it off with a home kit, and then I was using those salicylic acid pads for a few weeks. It seemed that the wart was going away (slowly) but a few weeks ago, I noticed that the area around it was puffy and it was making running and walking sometimes painful. Had it not been for a conversation about cellulitis with my mom a week out from the race, I would not have thought about the doctor. I tried making an appt with my primary care doctor but it was going to be a month so the scheduler suggested urgent care. I went last Monday night and yep! Cellulitis. You have got to be freaking kidding me. The doctor gave me antibiotics and said I would be fine by race day.
Then Walgreens was not filling the prescription and it wasn’t going to be ready until late Wednesday evening. After over 30 minutes on hold with them, I was able to get the prescription filled on Tuesday and started taking the pills. By Friday night I was freaking out a bit because my foot was not any better and it was really swollen and painful. I stuck it in a big bowl of ice.
By Saturday, it seemed a bit better and I just resolved that I was going to have to ignore it when running.
I talked to E about a race plan at some point last week and had to laugh when he said, “Well, the training for this race has not been optimal.” Understatement of the year. “But I still think you have some good fitness.” We decided that I would run the first five miles at 7:00 pace and work from there. He thought I could do 6:50s for the next ten miles and start working toward 6:40s if it was a good day. I didn’t disagree. I thought a 3:00-3:05 finish was realistic based on the training and to go sub-3, everything would have to go amazing on race day.
Then there is this concept of “fun”. I think I started equating running PRs and having fun during races and that if you were serious about running you didn’t have fun during races. I wasn’t totally off base with this – at the elite meeting they were saying that we wouldn’t notice anything on the course because we were running fast and focused on that. I get that AND it also made me bristle when I heard it. I vowed to notice things and smile a lot during my race.
Well, if you’ve stuck with me this far, you’ve made it to race day! Congrats. Ha ha ha
The day before the race was a bit of a show. My son had a soccer game in one city, my daughter had a swim meet in another. Paired with volunteer obligations for the swim meet, we were in for an all-day affair. Oh, and then I had to get to the east side of Milwaukee by 4 PM to get my race packet and drop off my fluid bottles.
Record scratch. Did I say fluid bottles?
At some point last week, I was included in an email from the race director welcoming me to the elite running group for the marathon. I had some mild imposter syndrome until I got to the sentence saying I could have 5 bottles on the course. I don’t know what it is about bottles but I really feel like that is living the life. I was used to drinking a LOT of fluid during my training runs because it was such a hot and humid summer and race day was looking to be warm and humid so I was having a bit of a crisis wondering what I was going to do about fluid until I got that email! PRAISE BE.
Ok, back to the day before the race.
My husband took the volunteer stint in the concession stand so I could stay off my feet so I was on duty to drive kids around. My son had a great game, my daughter crushed her races and so I was off to the marathon expo. I got my number and headed to the elite meeting to drop off my bottles. It was here that I met Sara, who I knew from Instagram. It is always fun meeting runners from social media in real life! We chatted a bit and got the details for the next day and then I was off to meet Nate and Will at Noodles for dinner.
I made my overnight oats and got all of my stuff laid out and then went to bed. I was so tired. I ended up waking up around 3 AM to pee but thankfully fell back asleep. Nate had to wake me up from my sleep because I didn’t hear my alarm.
I peeled myself from my bed and went downstairs to eat my overnight oats. I got dressed and braided my hair on the first try and we made our way out the door. I felt like I was in a bit of a fog all morning like I was out of race morning practice. It was pouring rain and I didn’t even think to bring a poncho or other clothes to wear to the start.
We were on the road by 6:15 and made it to the start line around 6:45. The start line is by a high school and the high school is open so we could wait inside and stay dry. My bib got me into the VIP area which had real bathrooms. No waiting in porta potty lines! Honestly bathroom access is clutch. Will did my old lady hamstring warmups with me on the floor and I made one more bathroom stop before heading out the door. By this point the rain had slowed to a drizzle. Nate and Will walked me with umbrellas to the start. There are a lot of perks to a small race! It was already warm where wearing my crop top and running shorts felt fine to be wearing.
I saw Sara at the start and wished her luck. Sheila saw me and slapped my butt. It was 7:30 and time to run!
I started running and my hair and hat situation was annoying me so while I was trying to adjust my hat, I stepped into a big puddle a quarter mile into the race. ARGH! Marathon starts are such a head game because everyone is running fast and you have to just be ok with tons of people passing you to stay on your pace, knowing you will hopefully pass them at some point. I was trying really hard to stay around 7:00 pace but every so often I would catch myself running faster. My right hip felt a little creaky but overall I felt decent.
The race director told us about an accordion player that is always on the course around mile 2. I didn’t know if he would be out given the weather, but sure enough there he was under his tent! My first bottle was going to be around mile 3.7. I wasn’t really thirsty but I knew better than to rely on that so as I scanned the table, I realized my bottle wasn’t there. Are you kidding me?! My bottles had Andrew Scott Fleabag memes on them. They were pretty unique. I rage ran for about 0.25 miles and then realized that was dumb and settled down. I had to take my first gel at mile 4.
Shortly thereafter there was a big group of spectators. I was expecting to see Nate and Will here and maybe my friend Jill. I didn’t know if she would make it out given the weather but yep! There she was! I blew her a kiss and again made sure the high of seeing them didn’t make me run too fast.
I got through my first five miles and none of them were 7:00s. 6:49 / 6:54 / 6:58 / 6:56 / 6:47 I felt good but not amazing so I decided it would be best to try to maintain those paces for the next five.
I had a moment when I crossed the 10K where I realized how much fitness I had gained from the 10K race I did in early summer. It’s always fun to have those moments. 42:49 was my marathon 10K and my 10K race time in June was 42:41.
I took another gel at mile 8 and a deer jumped across the path at some point which was kind of neat.
At some point, I heard “Are you Amy?” from behind me and it was my PT’s student, Lisa! I knew she was trying to run around 3 hours so I ran with her for a bit. The next bottle station was at mile 9ish and thankfully my bottle was there. I drank about half of it (~6 oz) over the course of the next mile and then was sick of carrying it so I tried throwing it in a trash and missed. I made some joke about playing basketball in high school. I took another gel at mile 12 and then we were halfway done!
Miles 6 – 13 were 6:56 / 6:50 / 6:49 / 6:49 / 6:52 / 6:47 / 6:48 / 6:52
I had made it halfway in 1:30:09. I was starting to feel a bit tired.
At this point, Lisa had taken off and I didn’t feel like I could go with her. I wanted to stay chugging away at my 6:50s for a bit more. I think the 3rd bottle stop was around mile 15. I grabbed it and again drank about half of it (about 6 oz).
Around mile 16 it started pouring. This was a turning point in my race. I felt that up until this point, I was pretty steady with my pacing and my mindset was good. I was smiling a lot felt focused on the task at hand. Once the down pour started, I quickly soured. I wondered why I was even doing this and was ruing my wet feet. I almost forgot to take my mile 16 gel. I saw 7:xx on my watch for the first time and it felt really defeating.
Miles 14-17 were 6:55 / 6:49 / 6:55 / 7:10
I stayed in this funk for about two miles. By this point, I had caught up to a woman and we ran together for a bit. I ascertained that her name was Natalie because she had a good cheer squad chasing her and running with her helped me get out of my head.
Miles 18 and 19 were 7:02 and 6:54. Maybe I was able to get back to the 6:50s!
I got to mile 20 in 6:59 and grabbed another bottle and it was also time for a gel. I could not get my gel opened while carrying the bottle so I stopped running to open and quickly down my gel. As I started running, I saw Nate and Will! I was not expecting to see them so it was a fun moment. Natalie and I were running for the next mile or so, and Nate was driving along the course while Will yelled versions of Go Mom out the window. It made me smile.
It had stopped raining but then it felt pretty warm and humid. Definitely not fall marathon weather!
Somewhere around mile 22 I lost Natalie behind me. My legs did not feel like they had any other gear available so I stopped looking at my watch and just tried to keep moving and keep smiling when people cheered for me. Honestly smiling and giving a hand wave to spectators got me a lot of cheers which in turn helped me keep moving. I was by myself for the last 3 miles of the race. At mile 24 I saw my PT! I yelled to her “I was hoping to see you!” She yelled at me to stop talking to her and run. Ha ha ha. I took my 6th and final gel at mile 24 and got my last bottle. I drank a few ounces and threw it in the trash.
I passed a few guys on my way to the finish but still was primarily by myself which helped when I got to the finish area because no one had anyone else to cheer for so I had a lot of cheers. I saw Nate and Will in the stands which made me smile extra big. As I approached the finish line, I started tearing up. I just felt really lucky to be there and have run that race.
Miles 21-26 were a train wreck by time standards. 7:24 / 7:13 / 7:01 / 7:01 / 7:15 / 7:23. Yeah don’t follow this marathon for training tips. Ha ha ha
My finish time was 3:03:24.
I crossed the finish line and got my medal. One of the pacers asked to take a finish line photo with my medal and I smiled. I grabbed the food bag and expressed joy at the fact that there were Uncrustables. Why have these not been at any other race I have ran?! They are the perfect post-run item!
I saw Nate and Will and Nate said he thought that I got a Master’s prize. I went over to information and asked and she said, “your results should have been emailed to you.”
Well at that point I realized that my phone was in the glove compartment of my car and that I didn’t put it in my post-race bag. No big deal, I’ll just check my Gmail on Nate’s phone. Except that I have two-factor authentication enabled and needed my phone to get the text code. We went through the results and realized that I had placed either 2nd or 3rd in the masters and decided to stick around for the awards ceremony.
I got my beer and then realized there was no line for the massages so I signed up for one, as it was included with the VIP bib. It felt good to have my legs massaged even though part of me felt gross because I was covered in salt.
We stayed for the awards ceremony and found out I was 3rd place in the Master's Division. I got a little trophy and $50. It was time to go home. Another training cycle complete.