This past Sunday, I ran a 2:42:42 during the U.S. Championships at the California International Marathon coming in 31st place female. This is a 6:13 minute per mile pace, qualifying me for the 2020 U.S. Olympic Trials Marathon B Standard. Believe me when I say, it is surreal in the least to type those words out. After crashing into an exhausted slumber on a red-eye flight home, I woke up alone on a dark airplane and for a split second thought it was all a dream. It was a dream….a f*cking dream come true.
The thing I love about the marathon, my favorite distance, is that it is overwhelmingly honest. It’s symbolic of life. People say you put in the work and you get the results you deserve but marathoners know that’s not always the case. Life isn’t fair. The marathon is not fair either. Things happen that are out of your control. Even the things you can control can spiral out of grasp before you even knew the hit was coming. If you haven’t stood at the outskirts of a finish line, in a tiny outfit, with gel all over your hands, wondering where it all went wrong, then I envy you. I’ve been there plenty of times and then signed up for more. You have to pick yourself up and fight again. So when I say it all came together for this marathon, I truly am humbled and grateful. It means so much because it is so rare for the hard work and the luck side of it all to come together for the perfect storm. Sunday was my perfect storm on a perfect weather day.
Since the majority of texts and messages I have received were asking how I did it, I’m going to try to provide the most practical info in this recap. It’ll be long. It won’t be a traditional race blog recap. I apologize in advance. I also apologize for lack of good photos but I thought this was blog was going to die and truth is my desire to edit/add photos and writing is zilch. So here we go- I’ll start by saying that in March of this past Spring, I suffered an injury that killed my opportunity of a Spring marathon. I was heart broken. I had wanted to race the Shamrock Marathon badly. Truth is this was a blessing in disguise. My body got 45 days off training off. It was a fresh start. One I didn’t want or think I needed but I now believe was crucial to this past Sundays performance. After this break I had a long SLOW build up that was absolutely uninterrupted. I basically had 8 months of consistent training for the first time in years.
Secondly, that injury was a catalyst for a change in my program. I’m stubborn as an ox but my coach was wise enough to say this isn’t working, lets experiment. Short intervals were eliminated. Injuries can stem from many different places but one thing we noticed was my body hates speed. I am a heel striker and 400’s, 800’s, and mile repeats were killing my calfs. So they were gone. I did many 400 strides. Strides may not be an accurate description but this is different than intervals in that I never pushed them. They were all done at just a coasting pace and all after easy runs. They were never hard.
I NEVER ran doubles. The majority of elites/sub-elites do. I’ve done twice a day runs in the past and they are exhausting for myself and my family. My husband travels very very often for Navy work (including deployments with zero or minimal communication) and we have no family nearby to help. I’ve learned that I can only do what I can do. It was very easy for me to compare my training to others and this cycle I told myself I wouldn’t do that. There is more than one way to do things. Please remember that. I saw many workouts done by my peers that left my jaw dropped. Workouts I could honestly NOT do. I worked on my strengths and reminded myself that it was okay. Your PR peers may do workouts that you think are impossible but know that they may have better short speed or better endurance than you, but you may be better at other things. Every workout my coach prescribed me was specifically completely on tired legs. That is where my strength lies so there were few workouts that on paper looked like a knocked-out-of-the-park workout or something a 2:42 marathoner would struggle at. There is no one exact way to be successful at anything in life and the same is true for marathon prep.
When it came close to race day, I did TONS of mental prep. I had a lackluster New York City Marathon last year. I wasn’t proud of that performance and the fear of a repeat was huge. I can (and I say this so that YOU can) be proud of any time on the clock but if you know if your heart that you didn’t perform up to your ability, execute properly, or made too many mistakes, then it sits wrong in your gut. I did not want to set myself up for another grueling heartbreak. I had listened to many sports podcasts (sorry, can’t remember which) and one that stuck in my mind stated that you must face your fears. You cannot tell yourself its only going to go perfectly on race day or visualize only good things because then your mind may react abruptly when something does go wrong. You must prepare for all potential problems. So I dove into the dark side. I anticipated a bad day at CIM. I was honest with myself. Could I continue if I ran a bad race? Could I continue with a terrible first half? Terrible mile? Stomach pains? Fear? The answer was of course. I love running. I love training. I love the journey. I am doing this for the right reasons, simply because I love to run the marathon.
Once I accepted that something MAY go wrong, that a bad day was possible again, and that I knew I could handle it, a change came over me. I felt calm. There was no more fear of the unknown. I went for it. I was all in. I was “Fearless in the Pursuit of what Sets your Soul on Fire” as the quote says.
Now here are the race day specifics that I know were key to my success-
1.) Perfect weather and course. We lucked out with the weather. Absolutely perfect. Course? Some people do not like the rolling hills. They were relentless the first half. I thrive on rollers. I knew I would be fine because the hills reminded me of the first 18 miles of Twin Cities where I also had a good day. The hills don’t stop until late in the game so you are forced to focus the entire time. Some people hate this, I love it. When I’m not focused is when my mind wanders and pace falters. Know your strengths. Some people would be better off on a course like Chicago that is flat.
2.) Time Change. I live on the East Coast (Virginia Beach) so the time change to Sacramento time was huge for me. I arrived on Friday and went to bed at 7:00 West Coast time. I woke up at 3:30 am and felt like a million bucks, then repeated the following night for race day. My body thought we were racing at 10:00 am. I was wide awake and ready to go.
3.) Nutrition. CIM provides Nuun Performance and Clif Energy gels on course. I was not given an Elite spot so I was not allowed personal bottles. Never having used Nuun, forced me to practice with it more than I would have. Honestly I thought I would hate it but truth is, it is a faint taste so was very easy to get down. I drank a few sips every single chance I could get on course. It has much fewer calories then Gatorade so I had no fear that it would upset my stomach once mixed with gels. I had NO nutritional issues. Any experienced marathoner knows that is to be celebrated in a race. Caffeine- I also took two pieces of Run Gum thirty minutes before the race. This was instead of coffee, which I love but can upset stomachs. I then took one piece of Run Gum at mile 16. PLEASE do not do exactly as I did. Experiment in practice. Caffeine affects everyone differently and is a little scary for me because I can get too jittery if I drink too much coffee. Each piece of Run Gum is supposed to be about one cup of coffee so I had the equivalent of 3 cups of coffee for the race. I have no affiliation with Run Gum so this is not an ad 😉 I NEVER hit a wall. I was full of energy the entire race as you can see from my splits. I also had three Clif energy gels that the race handed out beginning at mile 7.5.
4.) Splits. I’ve said before that one of my favorite time and places on earth is the last 10K of a marathon. It’s pure guts out misery and all you can do is fight with everything you have. The goal for this race was to drop the hammer the last 10K and I did. I had practiced it a million times. My coach and I discussed dropping to 6:10 pace the last 10K. I blew this out of the water and averaged less than that the entire last half. I basically ran out of my mind. Sure I was in agony but I was ambitious as hell and embraced the pain. I felt LUCKY to get a chance to face that pain. I never wanted to settle because when I have tried to settle in one set pace, my legs get stale and can falter. Keep pushing always. I started conservatively and started to slowly drop the pace after the half. Every single time my mind screamed that I was running too fast and should be careful, I told myself to BE BRAVE. Corny? Yes, but it worked. I never let ANY negative thoughts in my mind. Shut that stuff OUT. Here are my splits below.
5.) Run with a pack. Someone told me that running with a pack will cut 10 seconds off per mile. I have no clue if thats true. 10 seconds per mile seems insane. Doesn’t matter though. I told myself to stick with a pack and I did. I bravely contacted a woman I admire and said “Wanna work together?” and she said yes and it was awesome. Runners are great like that. We stayed together for 12 miles and I’m so thankful we did. Once two men came up and started chatting with us. We all discussed pace and I noted in my mind that they were incredibly consistent. So I latched onto them and took my turn leading as well. I kept my head down and kept grinding. They made me run the down hills faster than I felt comfortable and in the end that was good. I didn’t want to lose them so I pushed myself harder than I would have alone. Eventually another man came up to our group to pass us. I told myself to be brave and latch onto him. It worked. I did that the entire second half. The last 10K the most amazing woman came flying by me and I was in awe so I stuck with her. We went back and forth leading not really working together but it felt awesome to just have bodies around that were cutting down the pace. Any person who was faster than the current group, I latched onto and forced myself to help lead as well. There was no settling. People have asked and I never saw the 2:45 pacer. This was probably a great thing that I missed them or else I may have felt compelled to stay.
6.) Watch Screens. This was an absolute game changer. On my Garmin, I switched screens so that I could only see distance and OVERALL pace. I could not see my mile splits unless I specifically looked when we passed the mile marker, which I rarely allowed myself. At a half a few weeks before this race, my watch said I was running 6:13 pace for the entire race. Because of tangents my actual race results average was 6:19 pace. I’ll say again, THIS WAS A GAME CHANGER. The entire race I believed I was going to average much slower than I actually was. I NEVER allowed myself to believe I would qualify for the Trials. I went into the race hoping I would set a PR (sub 2:47). Even the last 10K I thought I would be in the 2:45-2:46 range. I NEVER let myself think about it. I focused on the mile I was in. If I had known I was dropping sub 6:10 miles, I may have freaked out. The best advice I got was DO NOT OVER THINK IT. Focus on whats important at that specific second and nothing more. Do work. I never believed I would qualify until that final turn. A man, who I do not know, pointed to myself and another woman and said “You and you are Olympic Trials Qualifiers.” I will never forget that moment for as long as I live. Whoever that man is, I love you. The photo below shows the look on my face during that final stretch. Its complete disbelief. Is this real??
Alright, I am positive I am forgetting many things but considering I already wrote a novel, I will end here. I wanted to say a HUGE thank you to Running, Etc. They have supported me for years and truth is, they didn’t have to. I am so very grateful. They are a knowledgable team that I’ve asked for countless bits of advice from over the years. Thank you to the J&A Racing Training Team. They are an incredible group and if you are in the area, you should check them out. SO fun, great coaching, always positive. I could write a novel on how wonderful the team is for runners of all abilities. Thank you to my coach, Jerry Frostick, who also had no real incentive to take a chance with me. When he started coaching me, we barely knew each other. I was perpetually injured and socially awkward. I try to be as professional as possible but there are times I’ve done or said some really dumb things, like “What if I forget how to run?” and he just sighs and has patience. The biggest thank you goes to my husband, Steve. Hearing his voice on the phone after the race was one of the best moments of my life. He is my best friend. Making him proud is something I’ll always crave and cherish so quite simply it was a dream moment. He has been unrelenting in his support for me to do this insane sport. He is my favorite team mate.
There are about a million other people I could thank but it would go on and on, and I would feel terrible not thanking everyone I’ve ever met right down to the darn UPS man who cheers for me as he drives by me on the road. I am SO grateful for everyones support. I set out on the goal many years ago and I don’t feel like I did it, I feel like We Did It. Thank you all!! Many congrats to the friends who had a successful race on Sunday! I’m so proud of so many of you!