Thursday, April 16, 2015


I did it!  I raced the GO! St. Louis Marathon on Sunday.  I am a marathoner!!  The weather was not exactly ideal but it was good enough.  The crowds were wonderful.  The volunteers were top-notch.  And the camaraderie among the runners was just as I'd hoped.  If you just want the Cliff Notes version, that's it.  If you love race day minutiae, however, read on.  I've got it for you in spades:

My dear BRF, who was not running due to injury, offered to drive me to the starting line, and I greatly appreciated her calming voice and peaceful spirit in the early morning hours.  I was sad that she wouldn't be by my side on the course, but I looked forward to seeing her, along with my family, at various points on the course as my dedicated cheering section.

Waiting around before the race, I felt more calm than I expected.  I chatted with a few folks, but I mostly sat quietly on a park bench waiting for the race to start.  I'd packed my pre-race fuel (I love to eat a peanut butter graham cracker and banana immediately before a long run) and ate it just before I entered the starting corral.  Again, in the corral, I felt calm.  I took in the sight of the huge field of runners, focused on my breath, and waited for my turn to go.

The view in my starting corral; my mantras for the day;
pre-race shoe selfie.

The wave start was a bit haphazard.  We neatly lined up in our corrals, but the officials did not put much distance between the corrals.  The elites took off on their own, and then the rest of us more or less went out in two massive herds.  Not at all the start I was expecting, but the shoulder-to-shoulder crowd kept me at an easy pace for the early miles, an essential part of my race strategy and one that I thought would be hard given race day excitement.

The crowd remained very thick throughout the early part of the race.  Our first mile took us through downtown St. Louis and then onto the first of two bridges.  The bridge trek was fun, though the running lanes on the first bridge were quite narrow, and my pace stayed lower than I expected.  We crossed over into East St. Louis, IL, and I was pleasantly surprised by the crowd support.  Many residents were out cheering, and the atmosphere was very upbeat.

The only thing dampening the Illinois crowd was the rain that began to fall.  Rain?!  It wasn't supposed to rain!  The forecast showed 0% chance of rain that morning.  Yet here I was, at mile 2.5 in a sprinkling rain.  Fortunately, the shower was very short-lived; it was done by the time we crossed the second bridge heading back to downtown St. Louis.

My incredible support crew on race day.  Not pictured are the photographers: my dad and older sister.
The Little Lady is also absent from the pictures but she was surely there
high fiving lots of runners along with her sister :)
Running on the second bridge, I learned the phenomenon of mechanical resonance.  I suddenly felt unsteady on my feet and momentarily worried that something was wrong with my electrolytes or hydration.  Then I realized that everyone else felt it too: the bridge was bouncing from the feet of so many runners.  Like the rain, the sensation did not last too long, but it was a bit unsettling.  The traffic on the second bridge seemed even thicker, and I worked hard to keep a lane so I could pass slower runners on the uphill section.

By mile 4, we were finishing up the second bridge and heading towards the north part of the city.  We heard a great live band at mile 5, and I saw my cheering section there, too!  I waved and blew kisses at them, feeling strong and happy.  My pace was right about where I wanted it, and though the field was still dense, I felt like I was in a good groove.

Elevation and pace chart for my race.
Clearly, I started taking more frequent (and slower!) walk breaks near the end,
but my running pace stayed remarkably consistent throughout.

Mile 7 took us back to the starting area with an absolutely bustling crowd!  High energy and wonderful enthusiasm.  By mile 8, I had finally found my way out of the thick group of runners.  I felt like I had some breathing room and could set my pace a bit more easily.  I saw my husband, kids, and other sister at mile 9 and collected some quick hugs before continuing towards the Anheuser Busch Brewery.

The fans near the brewery and in Soulard were spectacular, as always.  I saw a good friend at mile 10 and gave high fives to my kids at mile 11 as I headed back up Broadway towards downtown.  Miles 11 and 12 included lots of uphills, but I kept telling myself "kill the hill!" as I charged and passed people left and right.  In mile 12, I found myself next to a woman who was running her 100th (!!) marathon.  I stayed in her general area for almost 10 miles, and she and her posse were a wonderful boost to my spirits.

At mile 13, as the half marathoners were upping their efforts towards their finish line, I had to remind myself to stay focused.  I felt myself getting swept up in the energy of the finish line crowd, and I had to work hard to maintain a steady pace.  Once the half marathoners turned, the course became a ghost town.  We headed (uphill!) into a more industrial part of town, the fans were sparse, and the runners felt few and far between.  As I neared mile 15, my left knee started complaining, and I hit an unexpectedly hard mental period.  I saw my parents/sister/BRF right around 15 and told them that it was getting tough.  My sister reminded me that my only goal was to finish, a timely reminder that sharpened my focus.

Still churning out industrial-area miles, I saw my husband/kids/sister again around 17 and stopped for a moment to talk to them.  I knew I was close to Forest Park, so I felt mentally renewed as I ran away from them.  Entering Forest Park was like finding an oasis in a desert.  The crowds were energetic, music blasted, and I fell into step with a few more runners.  I cruised through familiar sections of the park for several miles feeling tired but content.  When I saw my parents/sister/BRF at mile 20, however, my commitment to the cause was flagging.  I paused to eat some banana and drink water and told them that I really just wanted to sit down.  They pushed me away, wisely saying that sitting was a terrible idea.

A summary of the day: running strong; crossing the finish line;
legs up the tree post-race; my crew in matching shirts.
My sister and BRF offered to run with me for a bit; I asked if we could walk instead.  We walked for almost half a mile, and though I can hardly recall what they said, their energetic and encouraging voices kept me going.  When they peeled off, I told myself that I'd start running again in 20 more steps.  Nearing the end of this walk break, a kind runner asked if I was ok.  "You look strong!" she told me.  "Pump your arms.  You can do this!"  Too tired to disagree, I followed her directions and resumed my running stride.

We remained in the park through mile 22, and I kept up a reasonable pace.  I stopped to walk at each water stop, with my walking pace becoming slower and slower each time, but I always returned to my run and told myself I only had to run until the next water table.  I saw my husband/kids/sister again at mile 23, and my husband ran and walked with me for about half a mile.  He kept trying to push the pace, but I assured him that I was moving as fast as possible.  He pointed out that I only had a measly 3 miles to go, the equivalent of a simple neighborhood loop that I've run hundreds of times.  I told him that I wasn't sure I cared to finish, but he called my bluff.  "Go get it!" he told me.  "You've got this!"

After parting ways, I headed back into the industrial stretch this time with tired legs and a headwind.  Mile 24 found me running uphill with the wind in my face.  Instead of feeling defeated, however, I pushed my pace on the hill and told myself that this is just how things happen for me.  I don't get the easy path; things don't just fall into my lap.  Instead, I work hard, fight through tough conditions, and get the job done.  I walked (slowly!) through the water stop at mile 25 and told myself that I had to push hard to the end.  No more walking until I crossed that finish line.

I felt mentally recharged in that final 1.2 miles.  My knee ached, my hamstrings were fatigued, my toes hurt, but I was going to finish strong!  I turned up the pace even higher at mile 26, not sure that I could maintain it.  I charged down the final straightaway, sensing rather than actually seeing the crowd, hearing their cheers but with eyes solely focused on the finish line.

This photo captures it all: joy, pride, exhaustion, and the unbelievable
feeling that I set out to do something hard and I did it!!

And then I crossed it!  Upright and smiling, just as I had hoped.  Under 5 hours, as I had dreamed.  Under 4:40, the goal I set for myself in mile 24 when I needed motivation to run rather than walk.  I crossed in a time of 4:38:33.  The feelings that flooded in that moment were unlike anything I could have expected.  Elation, fatigue, invincibility, strength, pride, amazement jumbled together in a crazy mishmash in my brain.

I saw my family a few minutes after I finished, and all I could say was "I f@#*ing did it!"  I apologized to my oh-so-innocent mother for the strong language, but nothing else could capture my thoughts.

I did it!  I f@#*ing did it.

Friday, April 10, 2015

I Get To

As I stand on the precipice of 26.2, my mind is swirling.  I jump from task to task: preparing race day checklists, doing laundry, ensuring I have the fuel I need, verifying that the rest of the family calendar aligns with race weekend plans.  Amidst it all, I'm feeling surprisingly calm.  I know race day jitters will set in big time on Sunday, but for the moment, I am unexpectedly peaceful.

Earlier this week, I polled my favorite mother runners on Strava, asking their last-minute advice for this rookie marathoner.  I was floored by the amount of terrific advice and overwhelmingly encouraging words I received.  I don't know how anyone could train for a marathon without the support of a full BAMR squad.  Their role in my training success cannot be overstated.

Among the advice I received, which I hope to cull into a separate post, several mentioned to remember my mantra, perhaps even writing it on my arm so I can see it when my energy flags in the later miles.  I love mantras and have several that I pull out when the going gets tough (on a run or in regular life!).  But none of my standards seemed quite right for this moment.  Then it hit me: I get to.  I don't have to; I'm privileged enough to have the opportunity.

The next time I lace up these shoes, they will carry me 26.2!

I get to:

  • spend several hours doing what I love.
  • traipse through my favorite city, exploring the sights in the unique way that only covering the distance on foot allows.
  • soak up the energy of my fellow runners and the fans along the course.
  • see the faces of my sweet family and dear BRF as they cheer for me (at multiple spots!  They are too good to me.).
  • carry the words and well wishes of my amazing Strava friends, strong women who motivate and inspire me daily.
  • test my limits and prove to myself that I can do hard things.
  • finish this journey that began 18 weeks ago in the depths of winter when this glorious spring day seemed so far away.

I get to run a marathon.

Saturday, April 4, 2015

The Road to 26.2: Weeks 16 and 17

Real life has kept me away from my blog.  My grandmother, who has been battling dementia and other health problems since late-September, had an especially difficult time over the past three weeks.  Her anxiety was high; she was incredibly restless and insecure; she hardly slept; no medicine on the planet gave her any relief from her mounting symptoms.  My sisters, parents, supportive friends, and I took shifts to keep her under constant 24/7 care.  To say the process was exhausting is a vast understatement.

She took a sudden downturn last week, and we knew her remaining days were short.  She suffered greatly in her last days.  We felt helpless with no real ability to lessen her agony, but our presence brought some comfort.  After a grueling 8 days without food (she could no longer swallow), she finally passed away early Tuesday morning.  We are sad for ourselves as we lost an amazing role model and friend, but we're so happy that her pain is over.  After 101 years (and 10 months!), her time on this earth is finished.

With such intense family needs, I'm so grateful that I had entered the taper phase of my training plan.  I can't imagine supporting my mom as much as she needed while also logging serious training miles.  I've had to shorten a few cross-training workouts over the last two weeks, but I've done all my runs and continued with my strength training.  Post-run stretching also took a hit, and I can definitely feel a difference.  I've renewed my commitment to thorough stretching, and I'm pulling out the foam roller nightly.  To catch you up on the last two weeks of workouts:

Week 16:
Monday (3/23):
  5 mile run.

Right on the heels of the 20-miler, I was surprised by how good my legs felt.  They were stiff for the first mile or so, but they felt far better than I expected.
Tuesday (3/24):  mini yoga and strength.
An exhausting day as a caregiver, I could only fit in a little workout.  Something is better than nothing, right?
Wednesday (3/25):  4 mile run and strength work.
I fully embraced the taper by sleeping in (all the way until 5:07!).  Even with the later alarm, I still had plenty of time to complete my miles and a bit of strength work before waking up the kids for school.  Tapering rocks!
Thursday (3/26):  5 mile run.
I had intended just to run some easy miles, but my lungs felt healthy and strong for the first time in a month.  I think I've finally beaten that cold that plagued our entire household!  I felt very good through this rainy run and pulled off picture-perfect negative splits.
Friday (3/27):  neighborhood walk and strength work.
Another exhausting day as a front-line caregiver.  I snuck in a brief walk and some strength work in the afternoon, which helped to clear my head.

Glorious sunrise during my long run.
This photo doesn't do justice to the beautiful purple hues;
simply breathtaking.

Saturday (3/28):  12 mile run.
I planned an out-and-back route and couldn't believe how quickly I made it to the turnaround point.  Not that I was running at light speed, but the first 6 miles were over in a flash.  I love that this 12-miler felt like a moderate effort.
Sunday (3/29): REST and mini strength work
Mostly a rest day, but I added a little bit of strength work: squats, planks, glute and core work.

Neighborhood tree week 16: more green grass!

Week 17:
Monday (3/30):  3 mile run plus 3 mile walk with my BRF.
An easy three-miler before meeting up with my BRF for a walk.  A walk with her is always a wonderful start to the week.
Tuesday (3/31):  yoga and strength work.
Seeking peace on an exhausting day through deep breathing and controlled movement.  Not a resounding success, but I did feel somewhat better after the workout.
Wednesday (4/1):  4 mile run.
A highly emotional, teary run as I processed Grandma's death.
Thursday (4/2):  4 mile run.
A rare chance for a weekday run in the daylight, I enjoyed this quick little run before the rain came.
Friday (4/3):  yoga and strength work.
I convinced my husband to join me for part of my yoga!  He may never agree to it again, but I was happy to share the workout with him.

Week 17: an explosion of spring!
If you can look past the sweaty camera lens, you might notice
that several trees in the background flowered this week :)

Saturday (4/4):  8 mile run.
Since I was regularly running weekday 8-milers just a couple weeks ago, this run felt like an easy Saturday effort.  I ran a familiar loop with an engaging podcast and made it home before the kids were up for breakfast.
Sunday (4/5): REST
Or so I intend.  Between Easter and a wake, there's plenty of family activity packed into our day, so I expect to take a full day off from working out.

Now there's just one week left on my training plan.  Very few miles but lots of mental preparation.  Time to make it happen!