Alt Title: Overly Confident, Greatly Humbled, Exceedingly Proud
Last weekend, I traveled home to Florida to race the Tallahassee Marathon with a long-time running buddy and spend some quality time with some of my best friends and mom in Tally. I was so looking forward to this race for a number of reasons: I attended college in Tallahassee and truly love the city, I was excited to spend the weekend with friends and family, and after a fantastic training cycle at altitude, I was eager to race at sea level. While the weekend itself was absolutely magical, the race itself was not what I hoped for, but an incredible learning opportunity nonetheless. Here is a mind dump from pre, during, and post-race!
A note on my training cycle—I trained for 12 weeks for this marathon, starting with a base of a ten mile long run. I used the Furman Institute SMART marathon plan which I used for my first marathon as well. I enjoyed only running 3 days a week because they were all quality miles (no fluff), I still had time to swim and bike, and I didn’t get as burned out as I may have running 5-6 days per week. I missed one long run (a 17 miler) in lieu of walking a million miles around Chicago in December. My 20 miler was unicorns and rainbows on rolling trails in Louisville, CO, so I felt pretty confident coming into this race. While training for my first marathon (4:04, Snickers Marathon Energy Bar Marathon, 2012), I got hip bursitis 6 weeks pre-race and did verrrry little running up to actual race day, so I felt like I was much more prepared and also mentally dialed in for this second marathon…perhaps a little too confident.
Ten days before the race I came down with a sinus infection and I was really disappointed. I had eaten well, drank tons of water, and gotten loads of sleep and was rewarded with a sinus infection that knocked me off my feet. I am thankful I had time to lay low and recover and that the sickness came during taper so I was able to stay off my feet and focus on getting better. By race day, I felt about 90% healthy from a sinus perspective, but my fitness felt 100%. I was ready to do the thing.
The night before the race, my friends Jillian and Artie hosted myself, my mom, and our friend Kellie (my OG Tallahassee running buddy) for a delicious meal of chicken and rice, zucchini, wine, and cupcakes (naturally). It was a fun night of catching up and enjoying each others’ company—I really didn’t feel nervous which was nice! I went to bed around 10:30PM after getting all of my race morning things laid out, and pinning my bib to my November Project 5280 singlet. Locked and loaded. I slept soundly and woke up at 5AM.
The morning of the race, I ate a bagel and peanut butter and donned my layers. My mom picked me up from Jillian’s house and we headed towards the race start. Racers were milling about the Tallahassee Courthouse waiting for the race to begin, and I met up with Kellie, who I blame for getting me to run the full in the first place (love you, Gerbs). Kellie and I headed toward the start and got to hug the one and only Dr. Laura Osteen who ran the half marathon—Dr. O’s hugs are legendary and it was such a sweet gift before we started the race. Before we knew it, we sang the National Anthem and the race was off! Kell and I made it slowly toward the timing mats at the starting line, and then we were off.
The Big Show
The first mile the euphoria of the race just carried me through. I kept an eye on my Garmin, as my pie in the sky goal to break 4 hours meant I wanted to stay around 9 minute pace for the first 20 miles and then go from there. At the first mile marker, a police officer yelled “12 miles to go!” and I chimed “25 miles to go!” to giggles from Kellie and a few other racers nearby. A note on the Tallahassee Marathon is that since the course change (pancake flat and boring to hilly tour of the city), the participation in the full marathon has dwindled. Taking a look at race results, there were almost 800 half marathoners, and 180 full marathoners. So, Kellie and I were in for a shock when the half-marathoners went to the finish and we had 13 lonely miles to go. Anyway, back to the first bit.
Kellie and I were running together and enjoying the ease of a downhill start and the energy of the race. We were going a little faster than I would have wanted, but I also felt good so I went with it. This would come back to bite me in the butt. At mile 2.75ish, we saw Jillian and Artie on a corner near their house—we hugged them and headed back on the course with big smiles! It is always so good to see your people. At mile 4.5 we turned onto Tennessee Street and this is where the hills would begin. Another quick hug from Carolyn Barringer at the Girls on the Run water stop, and off we went. This is also about where we saw my favorite sign of the race, “Flats ahead. ALTERNATIVE FACTS!” So true, lady, so. true.
Miles 4.5 to 14 were basically continuous rolling, punchy hills. Kellie would pull ahead of me on the uphills and I would catch her a bit on the downhills. Around this time I also noticed a man run/walking who I was playing leapfrog with and I genuinely asked myself….wanna join him? I probably should have because he crushed me by the end of the race, ha! Run/Walking is a real thing, y’all. This stretch of the race I knew I was exerting myself, and truthfully more than I wanted to, but I also looked forward to the flats in the second half of the race and wanted to try and keep my goal pace. Kell pulled ahead of me around mile 7 and I wouldn’t see her again until an out and back stretch at mile 19-22. I still had loads of half marathoners around me though, so I wasn’t too worried about losing her comradery. I would miss this during miles 14-26.2. 😉
On the hill from mile 10-11 I started to feel the energy deficit I was putting my body in. I was taking in fluids and electrolytes (Skratch) through my handheld water bottle, as well as a Honey Stinger chew each mile and a GU every 6 miles. This may not have been enough, but from a nutritional standpoint I felt okay, just that I was much more tired than I felt I should be. Wasn’t I supposed to just float through this race coming from altitude?! It was mile 12 that I thought back to the words of my fast friends Julia and Birdie, and realized what I was losing in physical strength I would need to rely on my mental strength. This was going to be a long second half.
I saw my mom at mile 12 and dropped off my arm warmers and gloves. It was getting warm for this Colorado girl. Mile 12 was the marathon/half marathon split and my group went from 15-20 runners to me, myself, and I. There was a runner about 50 yards ahead of me, and a few people behind me, but this became no-man’s land. I came through mile 13.1, half way, in 2:02 and felt like this wasn’t too off target, but also that the second half was going to be its own race. I thought about stopping my watch and restarting it, but just kept on and mentally began counting down from 13 rather than up to 26.2. My body really wanted to just head to the half marathon finish line, which is a great feeling when you have 13.1 miles left to run, ha!
No music, few humans, little crowd support except for water stations, this would be my reality for 13.1 miles. I tried to settle in and stop looking at my watch because I could tell my effort was becoming more and more labored, and in doing so I was barely holding a 10 minute/mile pace. At mile 14, I accepted that this wasn’t the rainbow and unicorns day I wanted to be having, shifted my focus to finishing the race, and put a smile on my face, regardless of how forced it felt. This shift helped, and I exhaled deeply knowing that I WOULD finish, and that would be a victory for the day. I focused on thanking the police officers and volunteers as I passed them and continuing to take in nutrition. I saw my mom again at mile 17 and enjoyed the views of one of my favorite cities! I honestly don’t remember much from miles 15-19 because I was just focusing on moving forward.
Around mile 19 we hopped on the St. Marks bike trail for a 2ish mile out and back. This was great because we got to see other marathons coming towards us and not feel so alone! I saw my friend Alyssa who was crushing her first marathon and cheered on the runners heading back towards FSU. I saw Kellie about a third of a mile from the turnaround and she looked good. We high fived and I felt her energy. At the turnaround (almost mile 22ish), however, I expected to turn around and feel a pulse in energy as I headed back to town but I just felt dead. The marathon shuffle became a real thing and I looked forward to just getting closer and closer to the finish. Definitely not how I hoped to feel for the last 4 miles! These miles became very reflective as I questioned whether I am built for long-distance endurance sports. I love going fast. I love the explosion of putting every ounce of effort into getting from one place to the next as fast as humanly possible. Barely lifting my feet off the ground to shuffle through this marathon was not what I craved.
Around mile 23, I was running only on mental energy. I started run/walking in 4 minutes run/1 minute walk cycles to break up the miles. It’s funny how far 3 miles can feel when you have already run 23! I didn’t experience this level of deterioration in my first marathon, possibly because it was flat as a pancake, but these miles were not much fun. I tried to keep smiling, and enjoyed the chance to stretch out my legs during the walk breaks. Mile 24.5-25.5 brought us onto FSU’s campus and past Doak Campbell Stadium, the Circus tent, the gym and through the heart of campus. I love FSU and enjoyed shuffling along the brick walkways in the sunshine, even if it was obscenely painful. I caught up to a girl in front of me whose mother had asked me to encourage her. She looked like a student and I could tell she was in pain, too. We shuffled together for a minute, and I relayed to her just how proud of her that her mother was….it was a sweet moment and gave me energy as we climbed the last hill back to downtown. Yes, the last mile was uphill. So, so cruel.
As I crested the last hill, and started the descent into the finish line, I was overcome with a flood of emotions: relief that it was over, excitement at having finished, gratitude for the journey, eagerness to see my mom and Kellie, and thankfulness for my body carrying me the whole way. In that moment, I tried to combat the disappointment that this was not the race day I had envisioned. This has been an honest point of reflection for me since the race.
This could probably be its own blog post so I will try and be succinct here. As a person, I am naturally competitive with other people but also within myself. My goal on any given day is to be better than the day before, so to hope for a sub-4 hour marathon and run a 4:32 was a giant slice of humble pie. BUT, the course was a challenge, this was only my second marathon with the other being 5 years ago, and I know without a doubt that I gave everything my body could give on that day. That is the beauty of the marathon. Very few people finish and say, “Yeah, I could have run faster.” It takes all of your mind, body, and spirit to finish a marathon. I am coming to terms with the fact that endurance sport is about the journey and the finish time on the clock can never capture all the things you learn and experiences you have in training and on race day. As my mom so gently reminded me after the race, “You know, you ran the 800 meter in high school….” I had never thought of it like that, but it’s true—I never even ran the mile and I hated cross country. My strength lied in the shorter distances, the races that let me expend every ounce of energy I have in a sprint-until-you-pass-out fashion (that is a story for another day, right Coach Telford?). Will a run another marathon? Most likely. I already daydream about it and have Googled a few races (somebody talk me down). Will I be an elite marathoner one day? No chance. Will that detract from the joy I gain from running? Only if I let it. I don’t think I will.
With smiles and miles,