My initial worry going into this race was that I wasn’t ready. Throughout training, I had an overall feeling of being worn out from jumping right back in after Tokyo. Also, my longest run was 17 miles and that’s a first for me. But like I’ve said before, I knew that anything can happen on a marathon course. Plus, my coach reassured me that I was ready. So, in the days leading up to the marathon if you were to ask me how I felt about a PR I’d give you a smile and a shoulder shrug.
I believe in the power of prayer and I pray everyday, but on the nights before a race, I always pray for the same things- comfort, peace, strength, and endurance. But in this night’s prayer, I felt the need to be a little more honest… I told God what I needed was the strength to fight when things got really really tough, not just endure. I needed mental strength, not just physical strength.
After my prayer, I tried to sleep, but that’s usually something that doesn’t happen the night before a marathon.
In the morning, the plan was to catch the hotel shuttle bus at 8:00am to the marathon start. I woke up at 6:00, showered, threw on my clothes, and Jenesey and I took our bagels down to where they were serving breakfast to have them toasted. Back in our room, we ate and continued to get ready, and discovered that we had plenty of time to spare. (To be clear I ate half a bagel with Skippy peanut butter, a packet of honey drizzled on top, and 12 oz. of water in a Blender Bottle with some unflavored modified corn starch and a packet of Kroger brand Wild strawberry Morning Boost drink mix.) Since we were all set to go, and had about 45 minutes to go, we laid back down and tried to get some rest since we both didn’t sleep well.When we got to the start, we did the usual- potty lines, check bag, I ate a banana, potty lines again, then lined up at the start with about 15 minutes until the gun. I like having lots of time be at the start line. It doesn’t always happen, but I knew today that it would be important because I had read lots of reviews of the course and knew that it would be very crowded- which means its very important to be around people who are running a similar pace. Being at the start line with time to spare gave us time to make sure we were in the correct spot between the pacers. Coach’s pace plan had me finishing at 3:41 so I was somewhere in between 3:30 and 3:45, but was closer to the 3:45.
Something to note about the days leading up to the race, which was different than races past, was that there was no hype. And by hype, I mean hype created in my (crazy) head. It is actually shockingly similar to how I approach every half-marathon I run (is this why I’m so much better at running half marathons????) I think it was a combination of feeling like I didn’t train with the same focus as Tokyo, being distracted by being in a place I’d wanted to visit for many years, and a general feeling of just wanting to love this race and just have fun. And maybe I was too tired to think about the effort it would take to run 26.2 miles 🙂 I didn’t write on my arm, I didn’t care about my playlist, I didn’t think about what I was going to wear (until that morning- I never do that.) My plan was to make it to the halfway point with the pace Coach told me to run (8:25), then evaluate how I feel. If there was even the tiniest sliver of a feeling that I was struggling, I was gonna not worry about pace at all, and just have fun. So basically in my head, I was only racing a half marathon 🙂
When the gun went off, it was quite crowded. The reviews were right. I did the best I could with an 8:25 pace, but it was impossible. I lost Jenesey in the first couple miles. At the 5K mark, I pressed the lap button and my average pace had been 8:35. I knew to even out my average pace to 8:25 over the next 5K, I’d have to average an 8:15. So that’s what I did. Next 5K was 8:16 average. I knew now that I was back on track with about an 8:25 average so I could dial it back for the next 5K and run about an 8:25. However, 8:25 felt a little too easy, and I was feeling really good at this point, so I thought, I could run an 8:20 5K and be okay. So that’s what I did- next 5K was 8:20. By that point I had passed the 3:45 pace group (even though I started ahead of them, they passed me at some point in the first mile, and holy cow that pace group was ginormous and it clogged up that race course like no other.)
Now we’re at the 15K mark. It was about this point that I knew my second toenail in on my left foot would be a goner. I also realized that with all of these international races that I have become an expert at converting kilometers to miles. 15K=9.3 miles. Side note: Thank you, London Marathon for having both mile and kilometer markers! I knew I had one more 5K (and then some) before I had to evaluate how I was gonna finish out the rest of the race. So I thought, I’ll run this next 5K one second faster than the last- it’ll be faster, but it’ll still feel easy. Plus, I was running on the Tower Bridge in London- hello! So that’s what I did- next 5K was 8:19 average. By then I was at the halfway point and I felt too good to let it all go. I made a deal with myself- just focus on the next 5K and run it at a pace that’s one second faster than the last. By the end of that 5K I was still feeling really good, and ended up running it at a pace that was (a whopping) two seconds faster than the last- 8:17. Then I thought, well, jumping up the pace by two seconds still felt good, I wonder if I could run the next 5K five seconds faster than the last. So I did- average pace for the next 5K was 8:12.
But before the 30K marker, I passed the 18 mile marker and I have a theory about the 18 mile marker. The feelings at mile 18 are a good indicator for how the rest of the race is gonna go. For example: a feeling of doom or worry at mile 18 is not good (and my heavens, I would know) and a feeling of, “I’m hanging in there aren’t I? Good for me!” and “I’m doing it!” and “Considering I just ran 18 miles, that went by pretty fast!” are very good things and means that the last 8.2 miles are gonna go well. Well, I passed the 18 mile marker and there was no sense of doom. I felt pretty darn amazing and thought, “am I really gonna do this??? Am I really doing this???” I’m pretty sure I smiled to myself. That’s when I thought, “Hell yes, I’m doing this!” So from 30K to 35K I dug every single morsel of “I’m tough” out of myself. I told myself that my stomach wasn’t hurting (and downed a Gu at mile 23 like a champ- whether or not I choose to take that Gu at 23 is always a coin toss determined by my irritable stomach. For the record, my stomach was hurting.) I told myself that an 8 minute mile was a piece of cake. A hill would come, and I would tell myself that I needed to climb dammit- you can rest when you’re on your way down on the other side. I was doing math in my head like I was Russel Crowe in A Beautiful Mind and I knew that getting a PR at this point would be a matter of seconds and it turned me into someone I didn’t recognize. From 35K to 40K I averaged 8:08 and passed what felt like hundreds of people. And then there was Big Ben right beside me. I was doing it!I typically take out my headphones at the last mile or two so that I can really take in the energy of the crowd, but at mile 25, “The Summit” by Your World Within came on. I realize he’s cheesy (B can’t take him seriously), but my shuffling iPod couldn’t have had better timing. I had listened to “The Summit” a few times before, but when it came on this time I really soaked it in. He talks about fighting to get to the top of the mountain after you struggle with the ascent. The piece goes on and on (you should listen to it to get the full effect- click here for the YouTube video, click here for the iTunes audio, I prefer the audio) and I was convinced at mile 25 that it was written for me to listen to in that exact moment. The last 2.2 kilometers I averaged 7:49 when the goal was 8:00.
When I crossed the finish line I knew I had set a new PR. I knew it wasn’t by much, but I had set it. I freaking did it. I beat 2010 Maury. I couldn’t believe it. I was so happy that I couldn’t focus on anything else… I know I was tired and my stomach hurt, but I felt so good. So so good. So good that I thought, I wonder if I could have gone faster. And I needed someone to hug!! And I need to go get my phone in my check bag so I can text my sleeping husband!!
A few things of note:
- This is the first race EVER that I did not take one walk break. This was made possible by the fact that London Marathon hands out small water bottles with sports tops (all bottles are collected and recycled.) EVERY RACE SHOULD DO THIS. It was so easy to grab and run with it. Sometimes I didn’t drink it right away, I just hung onto it knowing that I would need it soon. I hydrated more during this race than in recent races. I kept telling myself, it’s better to have to stop at a potty than to throw up. Took Gu’s at miles 6, 13, 18 and 23.
- I had to be aggressive when it came to claiming my spot on the race course. It was really really crowded. It’s not in my nature to behave that way, but it had to be done.
- I ‘d love to say that this PR was magical and effortless, but it was not. In every way I could put forth effort, I did. I was constantly watching my lap pace, thinking about hydration, doing math, tucking in behind tall men when the wind picked up, getting prepared to take a Gu, fighting for my spots. There wasn’t room for slacking. And I’m so glad I stayed on my game because if I hadn’t, I could have easily missed my PR by a slim margin.
I grabbed my check bag and texted my sleeping husband, “I FREAKING DID IT!!!!!!!” He was awake, waiting for my text. Not only was he holding down the fort at home (not easy), he spent the night drifting in and out of sleep, refreshing the results page. He kept telling me how proud he was, and that he knew this day would come. He’s just the best.
Some afterthoughts… True, it was only a 23 second PR (they adjusted my chip time from 3:38:10 to 3:38:08 a couple days after the race), but that’s really not even why I’m considering this race a victory. The win here was over the marathon distance: I had complete control over this race. I was the boss. I beat this race and this race did not beat me. I have never been more proud of a race performance.
This was a fun thing to look at afterwards (I’ve never seen a race do this before):
I’ve had several people address the fact that my time was a Boston Qualifying time by 1:52, and last year the cutoff was people who had qualified by 2:28 or more. Guys, in the past year I have raced in Paris, Rio de Janeiro, New York City, Tokyo, and London- I have nothing to complain about. There are already too many races I want to run with too little time. I know I’ll get back to Boston one day. Just you watch. In the meantime, I am having lots of fun racing my way around this planet.
I just have one more thing to say about this PR pursuit I was wrapped up in for 4 years: At times I may have lost all hope, and I may have lost all faith in myself, but I never, never, never stopped trying.
To my readers, you guys know better than anyone how badly I wanted this and how hard I worked. Thanks for following my journey. Thanks for every kind word. None of it goes unnoticed.
Onto the next one (and figuring out what the next one is.) Because Heaven knows I’m not done.