The last three weeks just culminated on Sunday in the most ridiculous running experience of my life. The backstory: Three or so weeks ago, a friend mentioned she probably wouldn’t be able to run CIM because of an injury. I’d considered signing up earlier, and then opted out as I thought I’d be traveling for work. But I still had a good base, and I was hosting friends at my parents’ house by the start, so the gears started churning. Two days later I went out and ran 20 miles, felt fine and decided that three weeks from that day I’d run my 3rd marathon.
I didn’t post about it on the blog for a variety of reasons, including 1) that I wasn’t sure if I would actually end up running it and 2) I didn’t want to encourage others to run a marathon on 3 weeks’ notice. No one comes to my blog for running advice, but at the same time, I think distance running needs to be treated with respect and I wanted to take the choice to run a marathon seriously. I talked to several friends about it, I had a constant base of 13-15 miles with two 16s and one 20, so I thought I’d make it.
The weekend before, I had to ditch a long run after one mile after my injury from back in June flared up. (This is another story). I decided to take it easy all week and these became my goals for the race:
1) Have fun! (as always)
2) Run injury-free and STOP if I didn’t feel good
3) Beat my last marathon time of 4:22
4) Walk less.
Marathon weekend came, I was feeling pretty good after barely running all week. After an annoying two mile run (pre-race jitters!), I picked up Alyssa and we drove to Sacramento for the epic race weekend. You’d think we were moving:
At the Expo, we got to meet Laura, a fellow SFM Ambassador! I can’t wait to fully dive into my Ambassadorial duties. : )
We also met up with Naomi and Katie and shared pre-race anxiety and excitement.
I’m super excited for the sweet fish medals Alyssa and I are getting at the Maui Half.
Then it was off to the supermarket to pick up chow for the crew of runners that would be infiltrating my parents’ house in Granite Bay! Angela, Michelle, Alyssa, Layla, Karin, and Sesa all joined for a carbolicious dinner.
I slept okay that night, waking up every half hours drenched in nervous sweat as always, but it could have been worse. When 5AM arrived, I was up, dressing, organizing the RIDICULOUS amount of stuff that goes into running a marathon, and trying to get my head in the game.
Layla dropped us off at the starting line around 6:30 where it was chilly but no freezing wind like I had feared. By the time we used the portapotties and dropped off gear it was time to start! When walking into the crowd with Angela and Alyssa I suddenly started crying and it took all I could to collect myself to get ready to run. Often when adrenaline kicks in or wears off, I start crying. It’s creepy. Courtney crying at start and finish lines = creeper status.
I had decided to run with the 4:10 pace group (9:32 pace). I knew I should be able to hold that pace for at least 20 miles and then just try to hold on. I found the group and the cool leaders and then we were off!
The first couple of miles were MUCH more crowded than I expected—I clocked 1.03 miles for the first mile and I freaked out! (Do the math. Times 26…) Luckily it cleared up. The first six miles I just enjoyed the run up and down Oak, chatted with people in the pace group and others around me, and just kept my pace super easy.
The weather was perfect! Chilly at the start, but I ditched my fleece throwaway and cheap gloves at mile 2.5 and ran in a tank top and arm warmers, which were eventually pushed down. It was truly beautiful. Around mile 6 I passed up the group and just tried to keep them in my sight behind me, but the 9:30 was just a little too slow to be comfortable. Eventually I lost sight and just figured that when I inevitably slowed I would do everything to stay with me when I caught up. I drank the Gatorade in my bottle over the first 6 miles and took my first GU at 7.5.
Miles 1-7: 9:12/9:23/9:29/9:07/9:43/9:33/9:22
At mile 8 I saw Beth, Jana and Karin which was a HUGE boost! So glad they came out. At mile 12.5 I actually started laughing because the miles seemed to tick by like seconds. It was just flying by! I crossed the first half at 2:03 feeling like I could EASILY run another 13. Well paced. Took my second GU soon thereafter.
Mile 8-13: 9:36/9:27/9:18/9:16/9:13/9:07 (Half: 2:03)
zomg both feet up!
I started feeling the run around mile 15 or so but still felt fine. I called my mom at mile 16 to tell her how I was doing and was still speaking easily. Honestly I was having so much FUN! The course was rolling hills but I LOVED them. Living in SF is such an advantage—people around me would be saying “phew, we’re over that one!” and hadn’t even realized we were climbing! I love easy rolling hills. Then again, running slow helps…
At mile 16.5 or 17 I was ready for a boost to bring it in the last ten miles. I turned my iPod on at that point—earlier I was wondering if I could go the whole marathon without music, but at this point I knew it would help. I also took my third GU around mile 19 to keep my fuel up.
Miles 14-20:9: 20/9:26/9:24/9:22/9:15/9:15/9:40
I crossed the 20M mark at 3:08 and knew if I just kept a sub-10MM pace I would finish sub-4:10. I changed my focus to my goal of NOT WALKING. See, I’d walked constantly throughout my first two marathons and never thought I could run one without a walk break, which became my number one goal. I think there is GREAT value in a Run/Walk method, but I also know that in the tail end of a marathon, once I start walking I don’t stop, and I knew I could make it another 10K without stopping.
(Mile 20 Photo courtesy of Steve – got some great shots! Check out his gallery.)
My pace slowed, intentionally. I wanted to keep it around 9:20 but was scared I’d have to walk so I just tried to keep it under 10MM. The last five miles went by slowly as they tend to and my left quad cramped, but I never stopped running and I knew that after just 5/4/3/2 more miles, I would have a much improved marathon time and, what I was MORE proud of, I would’ve run the whole thing!
After three Gus and a bottle of Gatorade, I still felt like I would bonk around mile 22 so I grabbed the Honey Stinger waffle out of my fuel belt. I had another GU, but wanted to gag just thinking about it, real food sounded much better. I didn’t account for the fact that I wouldn’t have the energy to chew at mile 23, so I just kept breaking off pieces and putting it in my mouth to dissolve! A part of it was still in my hand at the finish as I couldn’t get all of it down. Gross. Nothing like not having energy to CHEW!
When I hit mile 24 I knew it was basically over and I’d finish in 4:08. I kept it together, thought about what an amazing and perfect run it had been, and charged to the finish line, where Layla caught me and gave me a medal. It was so amazing to have her there.
Miles 21-26.2: 9:27/9:42/9:40/9:42/9:45/9:40/2:48 (0.35 mi)
Official time: 4:08:14
Thinking: I’m gonna look damn sexy in this final photo.
Everything came rushing in at that point. I realized that my three-week whim had resulted in nearly 15 minutes off my marathon time and (what I was more proud of), a marathon in which I kept running. My quads seized soon thereafter and it took me what felt like 10 minutes to reach the sweats, which I didn’t have the energy to put on. I felt disoriented and shaky and teared up, and luckily Beth came and helped me to the group. There, I found out that Katie had run through a horrible cramp at mile 8 to finish in an amazing 3:10 and that Alyssa had run an awe-inspiring 3:35! (Angela and Sesa both killed their first marathons as well, and Michelle PRed by 24 minutes!)
My mom found us too, and we headed to Tower Café for some food. Pumpkin pancake? Yes please. (I could only eat half of it, so obviously my body was still in shock. I do NOT leave pancakes on the plate…)
(As Sesa would say, new match.com profile pic? God, I look beat.)
I also got to meet SFM Ambassadors Monika and Charlie on the way out, who also PR’ed huge at CIM!
It’s been a few days now to reflect and I am still on my own runner’s high. So often I fall into the comparison trap and negative talk—I’m so slow, I suck at running, I’ll never be as fast as you, why do I bother trying, etc etc. Sunday I didn’t. Sunday I rejoiced in the fact that I have been given a gift of being ABLE to run. I am not a natural runner, it doesn’t come easy, I have to work. But to go out there for 26+ miles, you figure out where your strength is that you didn’t know you had. Some races break your heart. Other races everything goes right. This was one of those races.
This was the race where everything went right. The weather, the people, the course was PERFECT for me, fueling, the excitement and support around it, my mental game which cared only that I enjoyed myself—and I did. This weekend to me was a celebration. In January of this year, I ran my first training “long run” of 7 miles, beginning training for my 1st marathon. This Sunday, I crossed the finish line for the 3rd time, 20 minutes faster than that first time but years ahead in terms of recognizing just how powerful running can be. Why do I beat up my body for not being perfect when I can run 26.2 miles? Why do I think of myself as weak when face down four hours of mental demons and emerge the victor? Why do I put myself down when the runners I’ve been lucky to meet are the most amazingly kind and supportive bunch of people in the world?
I’d say that this race made me feel proud, but much more so than that it made me feel grateful. Grateful for my ability to run a marathon and be completely healthy after minus the pain of walking down evil stairs. Grateful that I have something in my life that helps quiet my mind. Grateful for the support of friends and family. Grateful for that feeling of pure, unadulterated joy that I experienced for about 21 miles today. (The last five miles… well, that’d be lying.)
Thanks for everyone who was a part of my race weekend and a huge congratulations to all those out there who killed it. I’m excited to look towards the future of more races and faster times, but for today, I’ll stay grateful for what I had.