My friend Kate ran the San Luis Obispo (SLO) Marathon this past Sunday. Despite the hilly terrain, she managed to set a shiny new PR of 4:20, besting her performance at Pittsburgh (yet another tough course!) last year of 4:48 by 28 minutes!! I was really excited to hear about her marathon experience and asked if she would share her thoughts on my blog. To my delight, she agreed! Without further ado, here’s Kate!
Last year, after the Pittsburgh Marathon left me feeling completely and utterly defeated against the marathon distance, I swore off road marathons. I focused only on trail running, and by the end of the year, was doing pretty much all my training on trails.
What brought me back to road marathons was learning that a friend of my partner’s was recently diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia. I wanted to be a part of Team in Training again, and raise more money for cancer research. Once I made that decision, I started getting excited about the opportunity to run fast (for me) on roads again, and hopeful that I could break this sub-4:00 time goal that I’ve had in my head pretty much since I started running.
I also started working with running coach Tim Long in mid-December. I sought him out because I have some trail-running goals in mind for later this year, and really wanted a coach for that process. He surprised me by saying that he could coach me for my road marathon as well. He is a hardcore 100-mile racer who lives and trains in the Colorado Mountains, so I didn’t think my marathon goal would be exciting enough! You can read about his adventures here: http://footfeathers.blogspot.com
I learned so much from working with Tim during this training cycle though, and really enjoyed the training. Tim had me do a lot of heart rate/base training, and it made me faster. I ran higher weekly mileage than ever before, and completed multiple 20 mile training runs and one 23 mile training run. I had so much confidence from all my training runs, and felt good about my preparation in the weeks leading up to the San Luis Obispo (SLO) Marathon. I knew that trying to take 48 minutes off my marathon time was a big goal, but by the end of my training cycle I knew that I was better prepared for this race than for any of my prior marathons.
We drove down from the Bay Area the Friday before the race, in order to spend a few days exploring the area since we hadn’t been there before. Friday was fun, but by Saturday, I was just a mess of nerves. I spent at least an hour dragging AJ around downtown SLO checking out different restaurants, looking for the perfect blend of carby, non-greasy, delicious, not-too heavy food. Clearly, I am so much fun to be around before a marathon. We also hit some snafus with our check-in time at the TNT hotel, which resulted in me attempting to nap in the car while AJ went shopping, because I was too stressed to be in stores or around people. Again, so much fun pre-marathon.
Finally, we checked in, and I had about 20 minutes to get ready for our team inspiration dinner. Hanging out with my teammates helped calm me for a little while, and I managed to choke down the bland food and get my carbs loaded. Back at the hotel, I got my gear ready, set my alarm for 4 am and hopped into bed by 9. AJ had agreed to drive me to the race start, so I didn’t have to use the race shuttles which departed at 4 am. Seriously, she deserves a medal for all her support.
Everything went smoothly on race morning. I had set out all my gear the day before, so I just ate my English muffin with peanut butter, drank a little coffee and water, got dressed and hopped in the car. AJ was able to drop me off about 5 blocks from the start, and I followed the other runners to the high school where the start line was set up. I saw a few of my teammates (only 4 of us were running the full, and the half started at 6:30) and listened to the race announcer’s bad jokes until it was time to line up.
This was a pretty small race, with only around 600 people running the full marathon, so even though there were pace corrals set up, we really didn’t need them. I stood with Jennette and Katrina, feeling pretty calm, and before I knew it, we were heading over the start line. It was 6 am, dark and quiet, as we ran through the downtown.
The first few miles really seemed to fly by. I couldn’t read my garmin, since I had brought only my prescription sunglasses with me and it was still too dark to put them on. Instead, I focused on keeping my breathing even, and not using all my energy on the early hills. In what seemed like only minutes, I saw the mile 3 marker, and shortly after that, one of my TNT coaches ran up alongside me checking in. I really enjoyed how cool and peaceful it was in the early morning, and found myself wishing the sun would stay asleep for a few more hours.
I continued through the rolling vineyard hills, still feeling pretty good physically and mentally at this point. I hit the turnaround point for the half-marathoners (around mile 6.5) at around the hour mark, as the sun was starting to peek out from behind the fog. Mentally, I had divided the race into quarters, so felt happy knowing that the first quarter was done. Around mile 8, I spotted the 4:15 pacers a distance ahead of me, and made it my goal to first catch up to them and then pass them, which I did by mile 10. The sun was out in full force by this time, and I began grabbing water at each aid station to dump over my head – this felt amazing! Also, this was one of the best supported races I’ve ever run. Despite being a very small race, there were aid stations about every 1.5-2 miles, and dozens of volunteers at each aid station.
As I was getting closer to the marathon turn-around point, I started seeing the faster runners on their way back. I love out-and-back courses for this very reason, since it makes me so happy to see these other runners. The turn-around came at mile 12.5, and once I made the turn I was delighted to realize that I was now running into the wind. On many days, this would frustrate me, but since I was rapidly overheating, this strong breeze immediately helped me cool down a bit. I remained grateful for this breeze the rest of the race.
I felt that I was still running pretty strong, but after I hit the loop turnoff at mile 13.5 (the course had only a short out and back portion, then added a 6 mile loop before returning to the downtown) I knew that I needed a bathroom. I found one at an aid station just before mile 15, and watched the seconds on my garmin tick by. When I emerged 2 minutes later, I was really sad to see that the 4:15 pacers had passed me, and appeared to be quite far ahead. I tried to pick up my pace and catch them but struggled for several miles. With every hill I walked up, feeling defeated, I saw them fade further into the distance. Eventually I just let go of the thought of catching up to them, and refocused on finishing the race.
I continued tossing water on my head at each aid station, and got back into my fueling routine, which I messed up with my bathroom stop. I really knew from much earlier on in the race that I wasn’t going to run under 4 hours – I hadn’t been on pace for it from the beginning. But staying in front of the 4:15 pace group had me hoping for a 4:10ish finish. By the time I hit mile 19, I realized that I needed to stop dwelling on what wasn’t happening, and just stay in the present. I focused on running/power-walking the hills, and running on the downhills and flats. I pulled my bunched up arm-warmer over my garmin, and did not look at it for the rest of the race. (In retrospect, this was a poor decision, as my garmin stopped recording data at this point, and recorded nothing after mile 19.5).
The last few miles were tough, but I kept myself moving, and at mile 24, I told myself no more walk breaks, and that I had to run to the finish. The course had me running up over this weird railroad bridge, and then onto a bike path which wound its way down into the Madonna Inn property. I started passing some half-marathon walkers at this point, but there weren’t many other full marathoners around. I could see the finish line from pretty far away, and even as I ran towards it, I felt like it kept moving further and further away from me. I saw AJ along the fence cheering, and then finally crossed over that last timing mat. I got my medal and promptly found a patch of shady grass and laid down.
To sum up this incredibly long race report, I’m including what I wrote to Tim in the race recap I emailed to him:
“This race was my favorite type of road race – small enough that I never felt crowded or that I couldn’t get around someone, with beautiful scenery. Despite all that, I didn’t have the excited running mojo that I really prefer to have. The first few hours of the race didn’t feel bad, but they didn’t feel good either. They just were. The last hour was a mental struggle for me, and I am really disappointed by that. My body felt good, and I know I am stronger and capable of a stronger performance. I am pleased with my clock time because it’s much faster than last year’s, but I am less pleased with my overall performance. I need to set goals that are not clock-related. Having a clock-related goal that is so broad gives me way too much room to say “it’s ok that I didn’t make 4:00 because 4:20 is still a huge PR.” And while that may be a true statement, it’s not the statement that makes me feel the best about me and my race. The statement I want is “I pushed as hard as I thought I could and then I pushed even more and then still kept going.”
I’m choosing to take this race as a learning experience. To feel proud of the things I did well, and to learn how I need to train to feel stronger after my next race.
Thanks Jen, for letting me share my story here!