It took me a whole week to come and write this. Maybe it was because I haven’t written in a while and it felt clunky. Maybe it was because I was a little disappointed with the outcome of this race. But here it is, the good, the bad, and the ugly.
Via Marathon Training
As many probably already know, the Via Marathon was my first Boston Qualifier (BQ) attempt. My third marathon, the Marine Corps Marathon in 2018 went very well, and I knew I could gain a lot of fitness within a year and go for the BQ for 2020.
However, they decided to change the standard to 5 minutes faster. I still had my eyes set on that prize. I trained hard for a half marathon and a 50K in the spring, and my fitness improved tremendously.
I wasn’t sure if I should or could go for a 20+ minute PR for a Fall Marathon, so I decided to find a coach to see if that was even possible, and who dared to help get me there.
My coach, Matt Chittim from Lowell Running, is pretty well known in the running community. He has an awesome podcast network, and has coached sports professionally. His humor and positive nature let me know that we would click very well. I asked him if he thought I could achieve this goal, and he excitedly said yes and decided to work with me and help me get there.
So, for the first time ever, I had a running coach to support and train me towards my goals. It was fantastic — the stress of which workout to do and when was gone. He gave me paces and runs I never thought I could do, but I pulled them off. He believed in me more than I ever could believe in myself. And he was there for me when the workout didn’t go so well, and adjusted the plan as needed to keep me going. I ran more days and more miles than ever, and stayed healthy throughout the process. It was the best decision I had made in my “running career”.
I’ll start off by saying this taper felt pretty good. Running didn’t feel awful, I wasn’t overly tired, and the niggles that popped up were nothing of concern. So I went in to race day feeling very confident that race day would go smoothly (I should have known better).
Matt and I discussed my race plan in the final week and we talked about how well training had went. It was definitely my least-perfect build up — I nursed a small injury at the very beginning of the training cycle, then had a full week of being sick, a few bad workouts, and a lot of humid hot days of running. However, he and I knew my performances were leaning towards a Boston Qualifying time, which was my goal. If I had a good day on race day, I’d get to Boston in 2020.
The Day Before
The day before, I was feeling good and full of energy. I ran as a virtual runner for the Speakup 5K in Richmond, VA. My best friend’s family was running the race in memory of a loved one, and the cause supports those who struggle with mental health. It was near and dear to my heart to support the team, so I ran my shakeout in honor of them.
I was feeling anxious and wanted to keep my mind occupied, so I walked around at the Wood Street Festival in Burlington with my mom and husband. I figured I’d be able to rest my legs up the rest of the day, so a little walking and shopping wouldn’t be too much.
However, because we went to the festival, my eating plan for the day was all off. I got very hungry while I was there and ate a late lunch at home before we drove up to the race. We drove directly to the tiny expo — I just ran in to grab my bib and ran right out to get to our AirBnB. Because of the big, later lunch, my plans for dinner were off. I was going to do a light dinner at our AirBnB, but my husband and I had planned to go out. So we still did.
After dinner, I felt really heavy. I hadn’t even eaten a lot, but I think I just ate the two meals very close together. It almost felt like the meal had exploded in my stomach. I had a few hours before bed to digest, and was trying to drink some water and tea to help with that. Then right before bed, I had a touch of heartburn. It made me nervous for the next day.
I tried to relax and eventually drifted off to sleep, but I kept waking up throughout the night. I was afraid my alarm wouldn’t go off, and my stomach was still feeling overly full.
Race Day Morning
Finally I got some hours of sleep and my alarm went off at 4:30AM.
I felt tired. I immediately grabbed coffee and started to make breakfast. I ate it very slowly, still feeling a little full and heart-burny. And not to get too TMI — but then I had some real stomach problems that hit me.
I paced around, tried to calm down, and kept myself busy organizing things before the race. I listened to Meb’s new book (for the second time) and was inspired by all the ups and downs in all of his marathons. I was listening to the chapter about his win at the Boston Marathon and I was inspired. I was as ready as I’d ever be for this race.
My husband drove me to the start around 6AM. I couldn’t believe it was still dark when we left the house! We found parking very close to the start, headed for the bathroom line, and began to warm up lightly. I said to my husband that my stomach still didn’t feel right. He said it was probably just nerves. It didn’t feel that way, but I hoped that was the case.
It was a really small start line area. The “corrals” were only 3 different pace signs for 6, 8, and 10 minute milers. I jumped in around the 8’s and was just feeling ready to start.
Finally, it was race time. The gun went off and we went immediately downhill. It was a cool, beautiful morning, and I was just excited to be starting this 26.2 mile adventure. I couldn’t help but smile.
The first few miles were rolling hills. There were more uphills than I expected, but I tried to keep it super easy on the up them. My pace was right on target and I was feeling good. But the pain in my stomach morphed into a small cramp in my side. I just breathed deeply and kept running along. I still felt really good.
We came up to the first water station and there weren’t many volunteers there. I grabbed a water and it was filled about one whole ounce. It was early on, so I figured I’d be able to get more at the next stop — no big deal.
We got to the next water stop pretty quickly after that, and I grabbed another cup that was hardly filled. It wasn’t hot yet, so I hardly noticed that it wasn’t that much hydration. I was feeling fine, but that little side stitch lingered.
I ran along and started to settle in to my pace and the course flattened out. I began to realize there were no water stops for the next 3-4 miles. I was getting thirsty and the day was warming up quickly. We were lucky to have cloud cover for most of the race, but the temperatures were climbing. By mile 8, I was starting to feel very thirsty and the side stitch started to get serious. I ignored it as much as possible and tried to settle in to my pace at around 7:50.
I was chugging along as we hit the towpath trails (yes, there are trails for much of this race!) Although I run well on trails, my effort started to feel labored, and I was only at mile 9. My pace slowed to about an 8-minute mile and I figured that was okay, and that I’d be able to make up for it later on in the race if I was feeling good.
But it just kept getting harder. I knew at this point, this pace should feel a lot easier. I kept checking my watch and was shocked at how hard I was working for how slow the pace was. My breathing got heavy and the side stitch kept reminding me of its presence. By Mile 12, I couldn’t hang on to that pace anymore, knowing I had 14 miles to go. I had to take it back to a marathon effort, whether I was on pace or not.
So I slowed to about an 8:20 mile. Between that and my side cramp getting worse, my hopes for a BQ were fading quickly.
I threw myself a short pity party and even thought about dropping at the halfway point. I knew my husband would be there to see me, so I thought “maybe I’ll just DNF and try again at New York”. I immediately rejected that thought and told myself I was finishing this race, even if I had to crawl to the finish line. I trained for a marathon, and I was going to run a marathon that day!
I saw Kyle right after the 13th mile and gave him a kiss (something I wouldn’t have done if I thought I had any chance to BQ anymore). My goal at that point was just to finish as strong as possible, and maybe snag a PR.
We got back on the trails and I just kept my pace somewhere a little slower than marathon effort. I wanted to keep my side from cramping more than it already had. WI got to a water stop at around Mile 15 and I knew I needed to hydrate badly. I drank about 3 cups of water…and it was a huge mistake. My side stitch got so aggressive that I had to stop dead in my tracks. I breathed, tried to walk it out, and prayed for it to feel better. I just kept moving forward.
I heard a voice from behind that said “Come on, let’s go, we’re running together”. I was so taken aback by this declaration that I just started running again. A woman came up and said she saw me crushing it from the start and asked how I was feeling. The pain was intense, but now I had someone to pull me along. We continued to chat (as much as I could since I was sucking wind) and I learned her name was Abbe and she was going for the same goal as I was of a 3:27 finish. Based on how we were both feeling by that point, we knew that was no longer feasible, and we were just fighting for a finish. We were now in this thing together.
After a few minutes, the side stitch got so bad, I told Abbe to go ahead so I could walk this thing out. My coach then texted me cheering me on, and I told him about my issues, and that my BQ dream had faded. He told me that no matter what had happened or will happen, as long as I gave it my all, I’d have no regrets that day. I decided to push through all my pain and run as fast as I could.
At that point, “as fast as I could” was only about a 9-minute mile. My body felt exhausted and fatigued and the day was just getting hotter and hotter. People around me were starting to fade and walk. I pushed through. At one point, my quad completely seized up. I ran through it. Both of my feet were cramping, and I ran through it. I kept catching up to Abbe, and then falling behind, and we encouraged each other when we could. She also inspired me to cheer on others throughout the race, so I did just that. As I passed others, or others passed me, I gave them words of encouragement. I thanked the volunteers and smiled as much as I could. And I just kept pushing.
The miles started to tick by and I tried to do as much race calculus as possible to see what my finish time would be. I figured I’d be sub-4, but couldn’t calculate much past that. I kept grinding through the cramps and fatigue and eventually started to feel a little better. I grinded as hard as I could in the last 10K, mostly because I just wanted this thing to be over.
Finally, we were close to the finish and I saw my new friend Abbe right ahead. I was feeling good and catching up to her. I began to pass her as she was trekking up the final hill and I said “Now’s not the time to walk, the finish is right ahead! Let’s do this together!” I pulled her along with me and we ran the straightaway towards the finish line.
I saw my dad and Kyle right before the finish line, and saw that they saw me, too. I ran over and gave my dad a high five. I then looked back to Abbe and gave her a big high five, too, right as we were crossing the finish line.
I couldn’t believe it was over.
3:43:20 was my official time, and a 6-minute PR!
I kept saying that over and over again: “I PRed!” After all the struggles, I truly couldn’t believe it.
Abbe and I chatted a bit in the finishers chute — she was SUCH an inspiration for me, and was so kind to talk to to me and help me at my lowest point. This is one of the many reasons I love the running community. She was so selfless, and when she was struggling, she still took the time to lift me up. We thanked each other, got a picture together (which never made its way onto the internets) and went our separate ways.
I was so happy with my PR and that I had finished a marathon, but the disappointment of not reaching my goal began to set in. I was walking a lot better than I had for my last marathon, and was much less fatigued, so I knew my body had more in it. Not that I was pain-free — I was in a TON of pain and was exhausted.
As I began to reflect on the race I had just finished, I remembered a quote I had heard just a few weeks prior: “You don’t get what you deserve, you get what you fight for”. This never felt more true in that moment. This race day was far from perfect. There was heat, dehydration, and my body was not cooperating. But I never gave up, and I fought hard to the finish, and that is something to always be proud of.
We walked back to my dad’s truck and got changed. (I am obsessed with these shower wipes and would highly recommend them to anyone after a race! I found them right before my Ragnar and they are amazing.) We then drove off to an amazing brunch at Two Rivers Brewing. Apple cider donuts, a peanut butter bacon burger, duck fat fries and a beer flight later, I was content. (Although, I took about 70% of that home as leftovers, because I never have an appetite right after a big race.)
We drove home, watched the Eagles game, and had dinner at my parents and picked up Prim. All-in-all, I felt content and was riding the post-race high the rest of the day.
The next few days, my legs were beat up. Maybe it was the trail, or that final push in the last 10K. Or, my body was destroyed after the dehydration for so many miles. Either way, I didn’t run for a full week. I tried to eat nutrient-rich foods, enjoyed CBD-infused Epsom salt bath, stretched and walked a lot, and focused on recovery.
I’ve gone back and forth about my next goals for running. My big plan was to BQ for 2020 and not have any big hard training cycles for the foreseeable future. Now, those plans are scrapped and the next set of goals are still in the making. I know I have more in me and will still get that Boston Qualifier. It’s just a matter of when.
Also, I have the NYC Marathon on the horizon. I’ve decided not to put any pressure on myself for that race and see what comes on November 3rd. I know it will be an amazing experience no matter what.
Overall, this training cycle and the race itself were amazing experiences, and I can’t think of much that I would change differently. Yet, there are always a few tweaks to make and lessons learned. But I fought hard, made a new friend, and was truly fulfilled by another marathon, and am so grateful for those things.
I was, am, and continue to be SO grateful for my husband, my coach, friends and family, the wonderful running communities I’m surrounded by, and everyone else who has supported me and these big goals. Your belief in me keeps me going and fighting for more, and I couldn’t do it without you all.