I’ve never enjoyed the marathon distance. After my first one (Hudson Mohawk Marathon in 2010) I crossed the finish line and swore I wouldn’t do another one. But I felt obligated to do Boston the following spring, so that happened. Five years later I did Winter Warm Up Columbus (a one mile loop 26 times) on a whim, qualified for Boston, and ran it again. And that’s my marathon history.
Every time I tried to train for a marathon I seemed to get injured, or bored, or lose interest. I never thought I’d grow to like that event. Triathlons (and even half marathons) were more appealing.
But earlier this fall, I was really enjoying my long runs and decided to register for A1A Marathon in Fort Lauderdale in late January along with some friends and Rocksport teammates. It would be a nice way to break up the winter with a little Florida sunshine.
I began training in October, and it went extremely well. I averaged 50 miles per week, with my peak weeks in the high 60s and one 70. There were a few things I did differently in this build, including a few split long runs (for example running 13 miles with my 5am group, and then another 10 on the trails later that day with my training partner Sarah.) I also did a medium long run on most Sundays with my husband (in the 10-14 mile range.)
I had three races during this period- Monumental Half Marathon (1:29:12,) a bust of a 5K at Thanksgiving where I couldn’t get going, and then a pretty solid hilly 10 miler on New Year’s which I won first female while running marathon pace the first half and then putting down the hammer the second half for a 6:54 avg. So the two longer races had me optimistic about A1A.
Three key runs stick out in my mind as particularly helpful. One was a 21 miler in Minnesota over Christmas. I was listening to podcasts and felt like I could run all day. My goal was 8:30s or slower, but I kept having to slow down. It was a huge confidence booster, and I threw in a hard final (uphill) mile at 7 minute pace.
Another was two weeks out. Sarah and I did a 16 miler that included six late miles at race pace. I averaged 7:00 and felt strong in the wind and warm temps. She crushed it too.
Finally, one workout I did about 10 days out before the half and full was a set of 8-10 800s with a minute cruise recovery after each. Before Monumental I averaged 3:22s on the track and before A1A I averaged 3:17s at a hilly park, so my fitness had definitely improved.
Aside from running, I tried to get in three swims a week and an easy bike. I also strength trained a couple times weekly. Everything worked well, because I never had so much as one little ache or pain throughout the whole training cycle.
My husband Damien and I also really cleaned up our eating. We are plant based already, but cut flour and sweets a month before the race which allowed me to get down to racing weight of about 123. I also continued to do intermittent fasting about 5-6 days a week.
Damien, Sarah and I flew into Fort Lauderdale the afternoon before the race, which was not ideal. We felt pretty rushed going to packet pickup and lunch. But we got to hang out with our friends Bo and Kara at lunch, so that was nice.
For dinner, we went to Vegan Fine Foods and I had a big plate of macaroni and cheese with chorizo. This was after a big buffalo tempeh burger at lunch. I hadn’t consumed flour since Christmas, so why not stuff myself full of it the day before the race? What could go wrong?!
Damien and I woke up at The Granada Inn (lovely boutique hotel) the morning of the race at about 4am, since it would be a 6am start. I didn’t want to get up for my typical Picky Bars oatmeal breakfast that I usually eat three hours out, so I had a stroopwafel with a little peanut butter about at 5am. Unfortunately, I woke up feeling like I had a brick in my stomach from poor food choices the previous day.
The good news is that the weather looked spectacular. The humidity was low, and it was 55 degrees at the start. There wasn’t much wind either.
The three of us took an Uber to the start, with the strangest guy I’ve ever encountered. It reeked of BO in the car, and from what I gathered, he was dishonorably discharged from the military. He also had a big duffel bag in the front seat (full of weapons or maybe body parts) so we squished into the back. I felt grateful to have made it to the start line.
Because of the early start, it would be pitch black for several hours. Sarah and I went for a very easy jog to loosen up the muscles, and found a really nice bathroom. My lower GI system was not cooperating, and I was a little worried about bathroom breaks during the race.
Finally, we made our way through the crowds to the front of the starting line. My plan was to go out with the 3:15 pace group, but I didn’t see them. The gun went off, and I just went by feel because I couldn’t see much in the dark.
The first mile was quick, 7:01. I felt great but had planned closer to 7:15s, so slowed down a little.
At mile two, I had a sudden debilitating pain in my foot. It lasted about a mile, and fortunately disappeared as quickly as it appeared. It would be one of many sensations related to wearing Nike Next % in the wrong size. I had worn them on a training run, and could tell they were a little too big but my correct size was sold out so I figured I would put up with them.
Around mile two, my husband Damien joined me. I don’t think we have ever been able to run in a race together. He was doing his first half in six years, due to a long time knee injury. We also joined up with another guy and were able to chat and take our minds off the impending 24 more miles of doom.
A few miles in, as we got to the coast, we were herded into a loop around the Hugh Burch State Park. It was like going into a haunted house. It was dark, eerie and there were creepy animal noises. Maybe our Uber driver was lurking in the trees. You couldn’t see at all in there, and a few people tripped and collided. However, once we exited, we turned onto A1A along the water just as the sky was beginning to turn a muted pink. Watching the sunrise during those earlier miles would be magical.
Damien stayed with us until mile 8 eight or so, and then he hit the turnaround of the half. He was all smiles, and I knew it would be a good day for him. I hated to say goodbye though!
My new friend and I stayed together a while longer, and we picked up another guy Kevin. We came across the half split at 1:33 and change, about 7:08 avg. Kevin said his goal was to stay with us until the turnaround at mile 15ish. He did, and at the turnaround I found myself pulling ahead of them and entering no man’s land.
This race has a lot more participants in the half compared to only about 600 of us in the full. The turnaround was a mile loop through a residential neighborhood, and the cones marking the way were a little confusing for me. The road was also a little uneven so this was the toughest part of the race for me (so far.) I eventually came out, and was surprised to hear the volunteers shouting “Second place female!”
It was about mile 17 when I started to feel the effects. My left hip/adductor had been bugging me for several miles and I kept debating whether to stop and stretch it. I didn’t. Now my muscles were starting to tighten and I was having to put in some effort.
I stayed on top of nutrition well. I ate a Huma gel at the start, and would nip on them throughout the race for a total of three gels. I also took a couple good gulps of water at most aid stations. In the later miles, I walked for a few seconds to get the water down without choking. It was also getting warm now, so I was dumping the extra water behind my Headsweats visor and down my back.
About mile 23 I was starting to pick up a lot of the slower half marathoners, so there was a lot of weaving in and out of people. I was also feeling rough, and was going to need to hit a bathroom soon. In that regard, I would make it. The woman behind me would not, as she mentioned on Instagram that she “crapped her pants at mile 16,” and I love her for owning that.
Fortunately, the scenery was changing into lots of beachside shops, bars and more spectators. This helped with the motivation. I could feel my pace slowing now, and I had to really push to keep moving. 7:20s was all I could do now, and I did fall off pace about a minute on the final 5k.
Finally, I could see the beach park where we would finish. I started smiling, and couldn’t stop. This was going to be about a 15 minute PR!
I turned into the last stretch and could hear Damien and Kara screaming in excitement. I tried to pick it up, but I think I just finished steady in 3:07. I was handed the biggest medal I’ve ever seen, and then went straight to the port o’ potty.
I found my friends and was able to watch Sarah finish in an amazing BQ performance that gave me goosebumps. She trained incredibly hard for this race, and being new to marathons we knew that a BQ would be a stretch goal. But she did it and it was just awesome to bear witness to that. I almost cried, and I am not an emotional type!
Damien was also super excited about his half. He picked up the final miles to finish in 1:32 and loved every second of it. Kara had really enjoyed the half too, despite battling some injuries.
We watched our other teammate Bo come to the finish with a huge smile too. His goal was to break four hours, and he ran a 3:57. That was about a half hour PR for him. What an exciting day!
Afterward, we all hung out (along with other friends Grae and Gilly who also had big days.) This race has the best finish line atmosphere of any race I have ever done. It is right on the beach, with palm trees and ocean backdrop. The sun and the temps were perfect to prevent that typical post-race chill.
After collecting our awards, Sarah and I decided to walk the 1.2 miles home. The sand and ocean water in our toes felt amazing, and was the perfect way to end a perfect morning. I also managed to get lost trying to cut through a huge parking garage, so that was fun 28 miles into my day. There was no cursing or anything. Damien hitched a ride home and was chilling by the pool by the time I arrived.
I would hands down do this race again, but I don’t know if we would get so lucky again with the weather. At any rate, it made me realize that maybe the marathon is my distance, and it would be fun to buckle down and do another one later this year. We’ll see what happens.