Officially a Marathoner
Marathon week is here!! Or shall I say virtual marathon week is here. The reality is I had big plans of running the NYC Marathon this year. I registered the week before Covid shut down major races for the foreseeable future. I had two choices 1) pout and feel sorry for myself or 2) lace up- keep training and fundraising and run the race virtually.
Many people say that you should be really intentional with your first marathon. A course that is desirable. A course with amazing fan support to keep you going. Well friends- I had a course that was around my very hilly neighborhood mapped out and my crowd support included some deer, a squirrel and a few dogs along the way. So this wasn’t quite the ideal marathon situation. But it was the best I could do for 2020 and I was determined to make the most of it!
In the days leading up to “race” day I stalked the weather like any runner to make sure it was going to be dry. And by days before I mean as soon as I could get the 10 day out forecast for Saturday, October 17 I was checking it a few times a day. Now, this is a completely silly practice as the weather changed multiple times during the week. At one point there was a threat of rain. But the weather ultimately would look perfect dry and cool, almost cold. My sweet spot for running!
The Day Before
I swore up and down that I wouldn’t sub the day before the race because I wanted to hydrate and rest. But part of me also knew that if I was home all day I’d be obsessing about running and maybe that wouldn’t be good either. Plus I was the mystery reader in my oldest son’s class. I’m guessing you can see how this went…I definitely wasn’t home twiddling my thumbs the day before race day. I was the sub for the librarian and ran around to make sure I was also available to read to my son’s class. His teacher inquired- are you really running a marathon tomorrow?? Yes, yes I am. At which time my son made sure to educate his classmates that a marathon is 26.2 miles. Got to love that boy being so proud of his Mommy!!
My big concern was making sure I got enough water in during the day. While I didn’t drink quite as much as I wanted to during the day, I made up for it when I got home. Hydration begins in the days leading up to a run/race!
Next big question- what’s for dinner?? I knew I wanted to have pasta for dinner. So I made a meat sauce on Thursday afternoon to keep it simple when I got home from school with the boys. Protein, carbs, water- good to go! Bread and pasta the night before seemed like the right combination!! Early to bed!
I got up early and enjoyed the quiet of the house. This is a rarity!! I wanted enough time to drink my “Green’s Cocktail,” eat, and drop off my hydration at the various friend’s houses along the route. I was a ball of emotions. If my nerves and emotions were this high for a virtual run, I can’t even imagine the “real” thing!! I sat and thought about how I got to this day. I’ve truly only been running again (for the first time since high school) for about 20 months. Running has truly become an outlet, especially during the pandemic. It was one sense of calm and norm. It was something I could control. Having a training cycle kept me focused. The marathon dream became my way of honoring my dad every time I lace up my shoes. When someone you love gets diagnosed with Alzheimer’s you feel completely helpless. There’s literally nothing you can do to make it better. Nothing you can do to change the outcome. You have no control. Running gave me a focus to work on fundraising for the Alzheimer’s Association- to focus my worry and energy on something positive. Needless to say, race day took on a whole new meaning when it stopped being about me but rather about Dad.
As promised the weather was cold and dry. I thrive in cold weather runs. It was close to 30 degrees colder than the day I ran my 20 miles. Crazy, right?? In my mind an absolute blessing!! I couldn’t be happier for the cooler temperatures. I keep saying how much I learned during that 20 miler and I intended to use it to my advantage for the marathon. Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate. Never in my life have I felt the way I did after the 20 miler. My body was clearly depleted when I finished so I knew two things 1) I didn’t want to feel like that again and 2) if I was going to add the additional six miles I needed to hydrate and use nutrition effectively!
While I had originally planned to wear my Camelbak I changed it up and went with my Spibelt and waist water bottles since I knew I had water/electrolytes every five miles. Huma Gel has been life changing. I struggled to find a gel/chew that didn’t cause digestive issues. I have had ZERO issues with Huma Gel, which is a HUGE relief! Stay tuned for a separate post where I’ll break down what I wore, when and why (yes there was quick change of gear at one of my rest stops)!
On your mark, get set, go
It’s go time! I look out the front door and I notice that the tree service company is here to take down two trees. Well, that’s an added obstacle to coming up and down the driveway. I put on New York, New York by Frank Sinatra and sang with the boys. Then I hit the road. I literally was teary eyed as I started because I truly couldn’t believe after all the prep this was really going to happen. This was literally the culmination of months of running, not just the last ten weeks of the training cycle. My why makes me emotional too. And this was providing some closure to 2020 racing.
I’m not going to lie, earlier this year there were tears shed about the marathon being canceled. I had to regroup mentally and figure out what it meant for me and my quest to run a marathon before my 40th birthday in January. With races being canceled the only real choice was to go virtual. But, let’s just for a moment stop and think about what this means. Less that .5% of Americans will run a marathon in their lifetime. 26.2 miles is FAR and I was determined to do it solo. I must definitely be crazy!!
While I love the cooler temperatures, I knew that it would imperative that I keep an eye on my pace. Cooler temperatures for me, generally means that I run faster. Faster isn’t better when you need to go the distance. A brief word on this topic. Since we’ve already covered the fact that I must be a little crazy to attempt a solo marathon let’s talk about pace and goals for completion. My most respected friend and running coach extraordinaire, Suzy’s advice for a first marathon is to have the goal to finish. Boom. Just focus on finishing. Now, this sounds good and if Suzy says to do it I’m going to do it. But, there was this piece of me that was chasing 4 hours. This just verifies that I am in fact crazy. A four hour, first marathon with zero crowd support. Sure. Anyway, when I ran the 20 miler training run I maintained a pace of 9:00-9:15 minutes per mile. I felt fine until around mile 18 when I clearly had tapped out. Many marathoners say they feel good until mile 18 and then hit the wall. This is generally an indication of a pace that’s not sustainable. But the way I was feeling during the 20 was for a variety of reasons- temperature, humidity, poor nutrition and hydration. For race day I had better temperature/humidity and a much better handle on nutrition and hydration. So I intended to try to maintain that pace.
Between the adrenaline and the cooler temperatures my first two miles were as you would imagine a little bit faster than my target pace. By mile three I settled into my goal pace and I was feeling good. Remember I was so concerned about staying hydrated?? Well, I was clearly hydrated because by mile four I was modifying my route because I knew I as going to need to stop home to go to the bathroom. No biggie. After months and months of running routes in and around my house I tagged on an extra mini loop so that when I hit my house I would have a little over 7 miles done. I called from the road please 1) open the garage and 2) unlock your car so I can get all the stuff I thought I was going to get at mile 10.
I went zipping into the house- that’s after I negotiated the tree workers in the yard. Decided to change to a Havana tank and light n tight hustle shorts out of my Chill shirt and Light n Tight leggings. I also ditched my hat. Refilled my water bottles. Drank some Phytosport and I was back out the door. Now to do the “right” side of my loop. At this point I was feeling really good. I was maintaining my pace and didn’t really have any complaints. Heck, I was even checking in live on Instagram.
That second loop was closer to six miles so when I reached the house again I was just pasted the half way point. Half a marathon down, half a marathon to go. I loved the mile markers that NYRR provided. It was fun to think about where along the “real” route I would be. So welcome to Queens.
Another stop at home. This time just to refill water, drink some Phytosport and to go to the bathroom. Oh, and I snagged a banana as well. As far as nutrition I was using the Huma Gel with x2 the electrolytes every five miles. My calves were cramping a little bit by the 13 mile mark so I though the potassium from the banana would help. Out the door again to do the first 7ish mile loop. The hills on this loop are pretty intense but with the more moderate pace totally doable. I had a few miles in this section that were closer to 9:40 per minute and some that approached 10 minutes a mile. But you know what, the goal was to finish. The mental challenge was to just keep going even when it got hard. That pesky left knee started to hurt and I started to get worried that it would prevent me from finishing. Just in case I haven’t said it recently running is just as much mental as it is physical.
So what was I doing to pass the time as I was running??? Well, I had finished the podcast that got me through my twenty so I decided to listen to a book. Yes, a book. And yes, every time I’ve told people that this is what I did I get a raised eyebrow. Listening to a book helps me to maintain my pace for longer distances and not go out too fast. Music gets me hyped up and then I run to fast and with this many miles I couldn’t risk running too fast. So I got through half of Edge of Evil by J.A. Jance. Little secret, I’ve never actually listened to an audio book. But it was perfect. I did listen to music for the last 3 miles or so because at that point I certainly needed to get hyped up!!
The next stop at home came at mile 21. This was very intentional. I added an extra little loop to make it 21 whenI hit the house instead of 20 because 5 miles to go after the stop seemed much more mentally possible than six. Yes, this was an actual conversation in my head. So at this point I had already run further than I had ever run before. I was feeling much better than my twenty miler. But I was starting to hit the wall. My hamstrings and calves were tight, which was causing that knee pain. Mile 21 pit stop included 2 Advil, some cheddar cheese goldfish (sodium!) electrolytes and back out the door.
As I made my way down the street yet again I had a surprise visit from some friends who live over an hour away. They made the trip just to cheer me on on those late miles. Cue the waterworks. For the last five I was keeping the course as flat as humanly possible. That meant running kind of in circles. But I have a solid 3-4 mile loop that’s as flat as I can find and just added another straight away. Finally, one mile out. Time for the call. This has become a ritual towards the end of a race to let my husband know I’m heading into the final stretch. At this point I was exhausted but the end was so close I could taste it. I was rocking to my music- picked up the pace and headed for home.
Part of my anxiety was making sure I ran far enough for Strava to count my run as a marathon. In order to earn my NYC Virtual Marathon medal I needed to prove that I had run 26.2 in one continuous effort. OK, I know it’s not all about the medal. I would know I did it, but come on it’s a marathon I wanted to make sure I earned the damn medal! Since GPS tracking does weird things I decided that running 26.5 would make more sense to have a cushion. I imagined that the final “extra” .3 would feel awful. But I was pumped. I knew my family and friends were waiting for me, and while I was no Sarah Hall in London I sprinted to the finish- crashing through the family made finish line. Total distance run 26.52. Total running time 4:07:29. Total elapsed time (including all those bathroom stops) 4:26.27.
So how did I feel when I was done?? Proud doesn’t even begin to describe it. My word of the year for 2020 was DETERMINED! When the year started I could have never imagined how determined I would have to be to accomplish this goal. While, running a marathon around my neighborhood was not quite what I had envisioned I don’t think it could have been any better! I had the flexibility to stop at home and change my clothes, use the restroom, refill my water bottles. I got to finish with a route I designed and controlled so that those last few miles were as “easy” as possible. Having my family be there at the end being equally as proud of me was what it was all about.
Remember your why and soar! Did I want to run in NYC? Heck yes. Will I get a chance in a future year. Most definitely. But, why did I want to run a marathon? To fundraise/raise awareness for the Alzheimer’s Association and to honor my Dad. 2020 couldn’t take that away from me. I was still able to fundraise. I was still able to run a marathon. There are so many variables in life that we cannot control. However, there are times when we can take back control of the situation and do it on our terms. So I will continue to run for those who can’t and to #endalz!!