Until recently, I was a triathlete who dabbled in marathons. All four marathons I did (other than my first) involved a lot of biking and swimming during the build, and not that much run mileage. But in 2019, I broke 90 minutes for a half marathon and decided I wanted to properly train for a marathon. I would put the triathlons on the back burner for a while, and see if i could get closer to my potential as a runner.
I traded in the Pearl Izumi tri shorts for Rabbit gear (what real runners wear,) started listening to running podcasts all the time, and began following all the pro runners. I upped my mileage to about 70 miles a week for a month or two, and toed the line at A1A Marathon in Fort Lauderdale in January of 2020. I surprised myself with a 16 minute PR of 3:07, finishing 2nd overall female. The spark was ignited. Unfortunately, the beginning of Covid was just around the corner and I wouldn’t get a chance to have another shot at a marathon for over a year.
During Covid I ran….a lot. I was thriving on long runs and 70, 80 even 90 miles a week as I trained without a goal in sight. Sometimes on my long runs I would run the marathon distance just for fun, since no races were on schedule. I loved everything about it, and kept looking for races.
Finally, in September I had a chance to test my training at the Indy Women’s Half. I ran a strong 1:26, and started thinking that maybe I could knock out a 3:05 full.
As races started to come back, I figured Indianapolis was a safe bet. The Carmel Marathon organizers had successfully put on that women’s half, and seemed to be very organized. I signed up for Carmel, along with a handful of my athletes.
We spent the winter training, and we trained hard. There were long runs in the rain, sleet and one very memorable one with pace miles on treacherous ice with Caroline. That was the hardest run workout of my life. We hit the track, we did hill repeats and we trained until our legs felt like they were bricks, and then we trained some more.
My athletes stayed relatively healthy. I did not. I had a chronic calf issue that would rear it’s ugly head every time I overdid it. I had to take a few days off going into races and long runs, and then take a few days off after. But, I knew I could run through it and also knew if I could get to the starting line I could probably make it through the race and then I had all the time in the world to let it heal.
I had one prep race- the Greenville Half- and it did not go great. I ran another 1:26 and finished third master, but felt uncomfortable and off the entire time. My legs locked up (an unfortunate occurrence that happens to me on flatter surfaces and treadmills) and I couldn’t shake it. I was still pleased with my time though. It was good enough that I planned to go for 3:05 at Carmel.
The day before Carmel, my friend/ athlete Sarah and I drove the 3+ hours and got to packet pickup around 3. We did a little shopping and headed to our hotel (Spring Hill Suites.) Sarah loved driving through all the roundabouts.
After a decent, plant-based bowl at Public Greens, we headed back to the hotel early and got a decent night of sleep. I woke up at 5:30 to have my Picky Bar How About Dem Apples oatmeal, and then relaxed in bed for an hour. After that, I did the Myrtl Routine and sipped on a Nuun electrolyte drink. Sarah drove myself, Shannon M and Caroline to the start of the race.
We got really lucky with the weather, other than the wind. It was mid 30s and sunny. Last time I did the half here it was pouring rain.
We parked at a church about half hour before the start, and headed to the port a potties. That was a mistake. The lines were crazy. Operation Find A Bush ensued. Thankfully, there was an isolated area near the car.
We warmed up for about ten minutes with easy jogging and drills. My calf hurt when I put weight on it, but I knew it usually loosened up. I ate an Untapped waffle and lined up. My plan was to run with the 3:05 pace group, and I was so excited to work with a pack. Unfortunately, the 3:05 pacer was not there so that plan was aborted. I freaked out a little because I hadn’t thought of a strategy, so decided to just wing it at about 7:05 pace.
The gun went off and so did I. There was a lot of chaos, as people darted all over the place while blindly taking off their masks. I tripped mildly a couple of times and then found running room. My legs didn’t feel great, and I was worried this might not go well. I decided to focus on just one mile at a time. The first mile was 6:54… a little quick.
I didn’t feel much better the next three miles, but around mile 4 or 5 I found a rhythm. My legs showed no sign of locking up, and my calf had warmed up and I knew it would be OK. The next few miles I settled in smoothly and averaged about 6:53.
At mile 6.5 we went over a timing mat and I had my first gel- an apple cinnamon Huma gel. I was also making sure to drink every time we passed an aid station. I carried a 20 oz electrolyte bottle of water and Nuun right in my Senita shorts pocket, and it was super handy to just reach down instead of pull off to the side of the aid stations. It definitely saved me some time, and I plan to keep doing this.
A couple miles later, I made a friend. Jonathan and I had been running together for a little while, and struck up a conversation. He was with a big group from Knoxville. One of his training buddies, Andy, was about 150 yards ahead. Jonathan said he was trying to stay behind Andy, because Andy would be closer to a 3 hour marathon. I made a mental note to stay behind Andy too.
Around mile 11 things got a little tough. We were running into a headwind, and there are a couple uphill miles heading back into the finish area. It was motivating seeing some of the half marathoners pick up the pace and take off toward the finish. I was also starting to notice a couple female elite bib numbers around me, as well as runners in briefs, and that made me question whether I was in over my head. I don’t think I am worthy enough as a runner to don briefs. Those women are hard core.
I crossed the half marathon timing mat at exactly 1:30:37. I remember this part clearly, because that is almost the exact time I ran in 2019. I was trying so hard to break 90 minutes that day, and was struggling at the end. This time, I felt so comfortable and like a different runner altogether.
The comfortable feeling didn’t last long. About mile 14 the wheels fell off. We had been running into a headwind, and that mile was kind of an uphill grinder. I was trying hard to hang onto a couple guys, and felt them getting away. I took another gel, and that helped tremendously. It had just been a rough patch, as happens often in 26 miles. It wouldn’t be the last.
Once we were out of that nasty headwind, things were better. I passed a few runners and caught up to Andy. I talked to him a little bit, and we played cat and mouse. My miles in this stretch were about 6:57 pace.
Mile 17 was my hardest mile. It was also my slowest so far, at 7:05. That was another rough patch. I had to keep reminding myself that pain was temporary. At this point, the sun was starting to beat down. Even though it was a cool day, the glare off fresh blacktop and no shade was a factor. I even started pouring water on myself at the aid stations.
About mile 19 I had another gel. They were going down well and my stomach felt very good. But, I ran out of my water and from this point on I would drink at all the aid stations. That definitely slowed me down a bit, as I have to walk to get water down or I choke on it.
Getting through mile 20 was a mental positive. I had a solid 21, clocking a 6:56 even with a water stop. I caught back up to Andy and we played cat and mouse again. We didn’t say much at all, but suffering with another person always seems to help.
Mile 23 to the finish was a battle. We turned back into the headwind around 24, and I took my last gel. My fueling plan worked out well, but my legs were not working so well at this point. I was so relieved they never locked up, but muscle cramps started. My quads, my hamstrings and my calves were all protesting. But I knew I could push through it, and I was starting to get excited about my time. At this point I knew 3:05 was going to happen.
The last thing Andy said was that his legs were cramping. There were a lot of people pulling off to the side of the road and rubbing their muscles. I remember seeing one girl pull off in these late miles, getting her vitals checked and taking off her bib. I felt so bad to see that.
Miles 25 and 26 were back up that bike path and straight into the headwind, which was much stronger now than it had been 90 minutes ago. I tried to suck it up and grind, even though I saw the pace on my watch lagging. My last two miles were 7:16 and 7:30, but I was still passing a lot of people. There were definitely a few that passed me too though!
Finally, with about 150 yards left we took a right turn out of the wind and even down a little hill. The finish was in sight, and the crowd was cheering loud! I looked at my watch and knew I would be in the 3:03s. It was too late to break 3:03, so I slowed down and took in the moment. I was grinning from ear to ear, and even though everything hurt, I was so happy. Unfortunately, another Master’s women took that opportunity to fly by me and beat me by a few seconds. I must not have a competitive drive because instead of trying to race, I was just super happy for her!
I crossed the finish line with a huge smile and other than the cramping legs, I felt fantastic. I was still energized and fresh. But I just couldn’t move too fast! Within about 30 seconds I was walking like Frankenstein.
I grabbed a water and headed to the finish line to watch my runners come in. Like any other race, there was excitement and there was disappointment. No matter how well we train, it is not always our day, and I hate to see people not have the race they hoped for. However, everyone came back sound and will live to fight another day. Cheryl had a solid half even though it was just off her goal. Sarah was sick during her race and still gutted out the half. I did get to see Caroline crush it with a 3:10, Austin finish his first marathon, and Shannon absolutely smash her PR and finally achieve her dream of a BQ after many attempts, with a 3:26!
In retrospect, there is not much I would have done different. Training build was ambitious but doable, with a few 300+ mile months in there. If I could have stayed healthy I would not have had to cross train through the taper with almost no running, so I may have overdone the build by a week or two. Fueling was perfect. Clothing choice and shoes were good, although the laces on the Next bruised the top of my feet.
I feel lucky to still be improving and running PR’s in my 40s. I am fairly confident there is a sub 3 in my future, which still is hard for me to believe because I spent years chasing a sub 90 half. I guess high mileage is magical, and has been key in all of this improving. Having only trained hard for two marathons, I keep learning. I never thought the marathon would be my distance, but there is something addictive about it.
For now, it is time to step back and let the calf heal. I’ll be back on the bike and swimming more this summer, and work on my 5k speed which is pretty bad. What 3 hour marathoner can barely run a 20 minute 5k?! And as soon as I forget the pain of miles 24-26, I’ll start thinking about finding a fall marathon.