Mile by mile: the marathon that qualified me for the Olympic Trials

Incorporating a lot of fresh air in this marathon recovery, and I’m seriously surprised at how good I feel. Like, really good.

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So I’ve been pondering some more things to tell you about the race. I thought I should do my best to recount the miles or at least as many of the miles as possible. It’s always nice to go back and recollect just how a race unfolded.

Let’s start with the night before the race:

I have always found myself to feel utterly inadequate when comparing myself to other runners. The night before the race at the elite runner meeting, this was at an all-time high. I looked around the room and saw nothing but a bunch of beautifully fit runners. I sheepishly wanted to march my tall self right out of there thinking, “What the heck am I doing here!? I don’t belong in this meeting.” The meeting was for both the full and half marathoners and the room, an average-sized conference room, was mostly full. So I’m not talking a few people but dozens of fast people, and I felt completely and utterly under-prepared to compete in such a fast-looking field.

And then we went to supper.

Nothing like pear-Gorgonzola thin and crispy crusted pizza with caramelized onions and a pile of mixed field greens on top to take your mind off your woes. I ate two pieces and all of the greens. Saved the rest for my post race meal – let me tell you, those four pieces went down very easy after the race. So I dined on pizza and lots of laughs with my friend / traveling companion plus my aunt and her boyfriend. It was very lighthearted and a nice way to wind-down pre-race. Just what I needed. We continued on with our evening but my angst continued to mount.

There was a lot of self-talk going on at this point.

The Pansy in me was saying, “Well, I guess you better just take it easy tomorrow. You don’t want to pull something.” Doubting my body’s ability to cope with the freezing weather and wind.

The Hard-charger in me countered with, “Pull something!? Ha! UH… Noooo! You didn’t come all this way (a 500 mile drive) to just ‘take it easy!’” 

I had to remind myself that, no matter the weather, “someone will win this thing and someone will qualify.” Maybe me? Who knows?

So my pre-race mantra became, “Stick to the plan.” No matter how cold, no matter how windy, no matter how inadequate I felt, I was going to run my race. I bolstered my mantra with this: “Stick to the plan, one mile at a time.” For whatever crazy reason, this made me feel better. To look at a 26+mile race as 26 miles is really hard to swallow; divide the race up into 26 bite-sized pieces and it starts to look a little more appetizing.

Then it started snowing and my heart was sinking. But I reminded myself, “Stick to the plan!”

I turned in around 9:30 and slept well.

Race morning:

I woke at 4:55 before my alarm, but I felt very alive and well. And FAMISHED. So I perhaps ate more than ever before on a marathon morning. I had about a cup +/- of coconut rice and an entire medium-sized baked sweet potato (no skin), plus a bunch of water and a whole little coffee-latte-flavored-coconut-water- thingy, probably 10 oz or so. Oh, and about 6 oz. of strong coffee with MCT oil – Bulletproof, Baby! This just seemed like the right thing to do and it all sat very well in my stomach.

I worked to stay very very warm and keep myself from shivering, even to stay extra warm to keep away the nervous shakes. I just kept thinking, “Cozy. Stay cozy, for as long as possible.” Shivering expends energy and just makes you feel lousy. So I stayed very cozy and thus, relaxed.

We arrived at the elite warm-up building which was wonderful and COZY. I promptly sat down on the floor and continued to try and remain as calm as possible. It helped to have friends to goof around with…

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And to share a swig of espresso with, too…

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Notice how everyone else is standing? Me too. At this point, I’m wondering, “Why is everyone else milling around?” I’ve always been under the impression that the more that you can keep off of your feet before a marathon the better. No problem with warming up (which I did for about 5 minutes), however, if you have the option to sit or recline a bit, then why tire your legs even if just for a few minutes when you’re about to pound those precious legs into the pavement for 26 miles? Makes sense, no?

Exactly 45 minutes before the race, I took my BeetElite shot mixed in a few ounces of water and I was done consuming anything from there on. (Until during the race at least).

We headed to the start as an elite pack and that was good. We only had about 5 minutes, maybe less, to stride out a little and get ready for the gun. Nowhere near long enough to get cold.

This is so funny…

I was so disoriented where they took us at the start because we just jumped into the street so easily and just started to do strides. I looked down the street. Seeing almost no one I thought, “Where is everybody? The race starts in two minutes!” Then I realized that I was looking down course, all of the thousands of people were behind a barricade the other way! I was just looking the wrong direction! Ha!! This was actually a great illusion that helped me to laugh at myself and relax a bit more.

Then the wheelchair race started.

And then we were off.

Just typing this makes my hands clammy with residual nervousness.

Breathe!

I felt the cold for only a few strides, then I just felt numb to it. Not that I felt numb, but I just felt numb to the sub-freezing temps. I had on tall compression socks, mostly for warmth and because the Altra compression socks are a bit thicker for warmth, than the Altra Endurer no-show socks that I would otherwise wear. I also wore long arm sleeves, those brown $2 fleecey-on-the-inside-scratchy-on-the-outside farmer gloves and a headband. I felt perfectly clothed to take on the miles and wind.

The first couple of miles we turned a lot. Actually, the whole race we turned frequently and this was perfect since there was a strong NW wind of about 18-20 mph. I found one of the 2:43 pacers Whitney Blevins-Lazzara, I asked her where the other pacer was who was supposed to go for 20 miles at 2:43 pace. At the meeting we were told that Whitney may only go seven or 10 or whatever, she wasn’t sure. I thought it wise to hook up with the other pacer. Someone said he was starting out at 6:30 pace. That was too slow for me because I wanted to get as fast a first 20 miles as possible. I surged ahead a bit and hooked up with a small pack of women who were following an angelic man who was obviously okay with us all drafting off of him. We took turns clipping each others’ feet. I realized that one slip and several of us could be down for the count, a costly mistake. So I made sure to stay back off of the others and give enough room to run. In the wind it is easy to want to stay as close as possible. Thankfully, I had read an article the night before to try to prepare myself for the wind. It said that even running 2-3 meters behind someone can reduce 80% of the effect of the wind. So I backed off a bit. Around mile 5 I said, “This man is an angel.” And I heard a couple of, “Uh huh”s from other gals. The man was not a designated pacer as I could tell, but just a sweet man taking the brunt of the wind for us. He was not a young man either. I could see lots of gray in his beard. I would guess him to have been possibly even in his 60s, but I have no idea? No matter, he was tall and valiant for us.

I stuck with this group until around the 10k where I realized we were probably still only doing 6:20 or so. I needed a faster pace. So this was one of the gutsist moves I’ve made. I backed off, moved out and around the group and left them. The whole time, as I’m starting to pull away, I’m thinking, “Each and every one of those gals in that group is going to catch you and destroy you in the final miles.” Okay maybe not destroy, but something to that effect. But I knew I owed it to myself to “STICK to the FREAKING plan!

I hopped from runner to runner as I surged ahead to get a tiny reprieve from the wind. No one seemed to be doing quite the right pace, so I was largely just on my own. My water bottle at the 10k – which was actually a one-liter coconut water bottle filled to about 8 oz. with coconut water and a pomegranate-acai HoneyStinger gel squeezed into the liquid – was great. I drank every drop I could tip back into my mouth. I also had a gel taped onto the bottle that I didn’t take. A bit of a waste, but glad to have had the choice.

Running on solo, a troop of what sounded like 100 runners running together approached me around about mile 8. I could hear Blevins-Lazzara calling out various heads-ups (right turn up ahead… then a nice downhill… etc) and that was very neat of her. She was leading that group well. Turns out she ran the entire race, and I imagine she helped several people on to PRs. I, however, didn’t linger on with this group. I again surged on with a few tall guys that had sort of broken off from that initial group of 100 (which was probably more like 10, but you know.)

We hit 12 miles where we had another table of elite water bottles. This time I had Skratch Labs: Matcha+Lemons mixed into my coconut water. I drank most of that, and I tried the swish and spit method for the GU taped on the side. Really, I just didn’t want to waste this gel; it was a favorite – chocolate with lots of caffeine. I squeezed a small chunk into my mouth, but it was like a Tootsie Roll due to the cold temp. I knew gnawing on that wouldn’t be good. The swish and spit method is sort of a way to trick the mind into feeling like you’re taking care of yourself. The glucose in your mouth tells the brain that, “Okay, she’s not going to run forever and never feed me again.” It’s a self-preservation sort of thing. At least that’s how I understand it. And now I’m thinking it works. So I swished and spat.

I happily hit half-way in I think 1:21:25 or so. This was perfectly on pace, and I felt like I could carry on like this for a while. I also was excited each time we crossed a timing mat to know that my family and friends who were receiving text updates and cheering for me from a distance could know that I was making progress.

Not long after half-way, one of the original women from that original group (who I expected to all overtake me eventually) caught up with me and we ran together.

At some point she said, “We can do this.”

We’d never met. We’d never talked – other than my apologizing to her for knocking her elbow earlier on – but I knew exactly what she meant. I didn’t have to ask, “What do you mean: ‘We can do this?’!”

Nope, I knew.

We both had the same thing on our mind.<2:43

This could be one thing that I love about racing. I love running into and running with someone amazing. She was working hard and staying calm. Running beautifully. Determined, we carried on together for several miles. It was about mile 17 or so when she surged ahead. She was looking very strong (and ended up second female), and although I didn’t realize it, this was where I was probably starting to struggle. We hit mile 18 and had the last of my three personalized elite fuel bottles. This one was the same as the last with Skratch in it. I drank as much as I could but wasn’t feeling like I could stomach quite as much as the last two times. I chucked the attached gel to the birds, untouched.

Earlier I had said “I couldn’t care less what place I am” to another runner. I completely meant that. But it was around mile 20 that I had to tell myself, “racing makes you run fast and right now I need fast.” So I saw a gal not far in front of me, and I zeroed in on her. Over the next mile or two, I passed her. I was running in third.

We wound through a nice park-ish neighborhood and the swirling wind seemed to be at its peak. I felt the most dragged down by the wind between miles 20-23.

And even though I had my watch which shows my pace and time, I’m never quite 100% sure of how I’m doing. I had memorized a few key mile markers and the exact time that I needed to hit at each of those miles. One that I remember was mile 21 in 2:09. Just before we hit 21, I was really hurting. We had 5+ miles left and I was approaching that netherworld of pain. But we hit mile 21 and there was a timer (which were only placed about every 5 miles +/-). It read 2:09:and some change. And the “change” was even pretty low, so I knew I was right on pace. I had enough time.

By mile 23 we finally turned and had almost three miles straight in to the finish. No wind!

Lots of sweet half-marathoners yelled to encourage, but I was to the point that I don’t remember much of anything that anyone said.I do remember that a gal, looking very strong, passed me and said, “Let’s GO.” Doing my best to pick it up and stay with her, I know she helped to propel me toward the finish.

We hit mile 25. I was SO close in terms of my time, and I was so afraid that I was going to come in in 2:43:01. My body was just begging me to let up. But I knew I would be so disappointed to have come so far and to be SO close.

In my head I screamed, “Command!” Trying to command my body to obey my desire for more speed. I think it worked. I saw that we were at about 25.6 miles and I was doing a 5:55 pace. Soon after that a cop said, “half a mile left” and I knew he was right on, including that point 2. There was a timer that said 2:39… I knew that if I could maintain my 5:55 then I’d make it in less than three minutes.

There was one last turn right here – a short stretch to the finish.

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Dazed, I could see the finish line clock. 2:42:15… 16…. 17…  Just stay upright and FINISH.

I crossed the line and just absolutely collapsed to the ground.

It was a mix of hyperventilation and tears and joy and relief and utter disbelief.

I truly couldn’t believe it.

Several people swarmed around me. Quickly I was wheeled to a medical area. Concerned that I was really not okay, they kept asking how I was. Finally, between heaving for air and weeping tears of joy, I just said,

“I’m…. just…. really…. happy!”

So that’s that.

Onto California. We’ll see how that goes. But the pressure’s kinda off. At least for now.

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26 thoughts on “Mile by mile: the marathon that qualified me for the Olympic Trials

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  2. OMG! CONGRATS! This is completely awesome and very inspiring! So happy for you, way to kill it in this race and stick to the plan!! See you at CIM 🙂

    • That makes the “creative writer” in me so pleased. Thanks! Crazy, but it makes me believe there is so much more. Seriously, I know I’ve not tapped too deep into my full potential. Scary. And exciting. Thanks again for reading.

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  7. This is just a really fantastic race recap. I’m not sure how I found your blog but it’s really good. Very inspiring story. And that time, holy moly, well done!

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  11. Thank you so much for sharing this! Wow!!! Congratulations on what reads like a race of a lifetime!! I truly got chills just reading your words describing all the honest emotions and feelings you went through leading up to and throughout the race. I am currently training to run a sub 2:43. Working each day to get stronger, faster, and closer to my goal time! Thank you for this read. I know I will be reflecting back on it leading up to my race day. Again, Congratulations! Your hard work definitely paid off! I respect your dedication! — Jen de Hueck (South Dakota)

    • Jen, thanks for reading! You can do it! It looks like you are close. Just find a nice course on a cool day and hit it hard! I think cool weather is huge. Looking back on my race I remember finishing and thinking, “I don’t think I even sweated at all??” It was that cold but to everyone’s benefit in the end. Happy training. If you have any questions let me know. I’m no expert but I’ve just “been there.” Thanks again! ~Susie

      • Oh no worries, I think I commented on two different posts and I remember you replied to something, so no worries at all! Excited for all of you. Watching the gals today hit their Qualifier at Chicago was so cool. What a great day!

  12. What an awesome recap!!! Way to continue on to your goals. It might be all everything you expected at this time, but way to keep going! This post definitely gives me some inspiration for my next race!

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