The answer to that is in April, 2003. Where I completed my very first marathon in Cleveland and finished in 5:14. And I was so happy to finish and knew nothing and trained alone and followed a plan out of a book I found. No GPS, no fancy gear. Just me wondering if it was possible to do something that hard, that far, that challenging.
Never, ever in a millionbilliontrillion years would I have believed you if you told me that in 10 years, I would miss qualifying for the Boston Marathon by 78 seconds. I would have stood there and told you I couldn't even imagine running 10 minute miles.
I would never, ever have believed you.
Throughout this training session, Coach Emily was a Jedi Master at knowing exactly what to do to strip me down of all my ridiculous worries and just run. Some runs were a breeze; others literally left me gasping and just feeling raw. But I made it to the start line not only healthy, but feeling confident.
The last two weeks, I read up on some good books on the mental game: Racing Wisely by Sage Rountree, and Stillpower by Garret Kramer. I think they really did help a lot. I tried to prep myself for the fact--yes, fact--that this was going to be hard and hurt a lot, and if it didn't then I wasn't doing it right. This was the upper-limit physically of what I could do at this moment. I would either make it--barely--gasping and collapsing, or I would miss it much the same way.
I did not feel for one second that it wouldn't be close. The numbers weren't lying to me. I've consistently put in paces that put me on the cusp of achieving this difficult goal.
For the record, let's just state that this goal two years ago would have me qualifying at a 3:45:59. I would be lying if I said that I wasn't bitter that when I decided to really go for this, the B.A.A. decided it was getting "too easy" and lowered it almost 6 full minutes to 3:40:00. Or, to be more specific, more like 3:38. Because I believe that this rots. There is a HUGE difference between a 3:45:59 and a 3:38...at least in my world, that is. Yet, I get it, and it's the way it is, so now I needed to rise up and do it.
I stayed quiet on the days leading up to the race and tried to just focus as much as I could on the fact that I could do this. I believed 100% if I stayed in the moment, then I could do it.
Ana and I headed down Saturday afternoon after, in classic fashion, I picked her up at Chuck E Cheese from a birthday party. Totally our lives right now. We drove down in the pouring, cold rain, and were so thankful that the race wasn't Saturday. In fact, the weather looked pretty amazing for race day: cold and clear, with a little wind. I don't get my panties in a bunch over wind on a run because I always think how much more wind stinks on a ride. So the stars were aligned; my perfect running weather was going to be here.
Neither of us slept very well. At 4:45am, we got up and I had my oatmeal with craisins, some Belvita biscuits, and just a tiny bit of coffee. I also drank a good amount of water and hoped to get everything through the system in time. We made our way to the start corral and had to stand there for a half hour, which was no fun at all. My nerves started to get to me. I tried to stay warm by dancing around to the band playing, but I just wanted to freaking GO ALREADY. We found the 1:50 half marathon pacer so our plan was to stick to him for the first half. For some reason, this marathon that had 18,000 participants had pacers for 3:35 and 3:45, but told me twice how "3:40 is not a major Boston time" so they weren't offering that pace group. I was like, huh? In Cleveland we literally have pacers for every 5 minutes. Not gonna lie, that was a bit annoying. But we figured at least we'd have a half pacer to reign us in a bit and then we could just use our watches to keep us going.
Note: I turned off Auto-Lap on my Garmin so I could rely on their splits, because, let's be honest, that's all that counts, right? And unless you run tangents *perfectly*, every single marathon you EVER DO with a GPS watch will be "long." It's not. It's just that you ran zig-zaggy and stuff. The funny part? By my watch, I ran 26.4 miles and averaged an 8:23/mile. That, my friends, would have punched me a ticket to Boston. But unfortunately, my watch doesn't matter. Too bad I don't rule the universe...yet.
So, here's how it went:
Mile 1: 9:23 (I missed the first marker, so this was a little long)
Mile 2: 7:43 (a little short since I missed Mile 1)
Mile 3: 7:59
Mile 4: 8:09
Mile 5: 8:03
Mile 6: 8:01
Mile 7: 8:27
Mile 8: 8:13
Mile 9: 8:05
Mile 10: 8:14
Miles 1-10 flew by literally effortlessly. I felt amazing. We were banking time and I noticed we were even close to the 3:35 times since I grabbed a pace band to just wear so I could keep an eye on things. Ana and I hammed it up for the cameras, were high-fiving all the kids we saw, and enjoyed the awesome crowd support. Columbus really knows how to throw a marathon, for sure.
Mile 11: 8:20
Mile 12: 8:26
Mile 13: 8:26
We hit the half in 1:48--my second fastest half marathon, ever. And we felt amazing. I started to feel a little bit like maybe, just maybe, this was really going to happen.
Mile 14: 8:20
Mile 15: 8:12
I saw my parents at mile 15 or so and it was so good to see them! They had driven down just to cheer me on. I really appreciated it! We were still feeling great and just clicking off the miles with time to spare.
Around 17.5 we got to run in the OSU Stadium which was all kinds of awesome. I hadn't been there since I went to a game WAY back in 1998. It was empty, of course, but that might have made it even more impressive because I got to see just how huge it was.
Mile 18: 8:45
Mile 19: 8:31
Mile 20: 8:34
Right about at 18, something started to happen. My legs weren't responding as well and I was laboring. Oh hello, old friend Pain. Here you are. I was beginning to think you weren't coming to this party. Ana still looked strong and tried to encourage me, but I knew I needed to ride this out. Here's where I started to really do something different. In the past, when this happens, I definitely slow down or start getting negative. But I stayed in that moment in my head, and kept thinking "This too shall pass, this too shall pass" and before I knew it, it did. I had lost a little bit of time, but I could still see Ana nearby. At this point I thought, maybe it's best if I run my own race from here on out. I was still good to go for the sub 3:40, and I was afraid that if Ana was still on for a 3:36 or so, I might blow up and run out of steam. So I settled in around 20 and got ready to work.
And I worked.
Mile 21: 8:22
Mile 22: 8:28
Mile 23: 8:45
I fought back. I fought really, really hard. And I am so proud of how I handled those miles right there. That there NEVER would have happened before that day. I would have gotten discouraged and given up, but I felt like Here I am! I'm back! It's okay! I can still do this!
And then, I couldn't.
Mile 24: 8:28
The wheels fell off, my legs felt like bricks. Absolute bricks. And I knew that this wasn't a momentary rough patch; this was it. Nothing I was doing was working; my body simply was not responding. I tried everything. I growled. I swore--loudly. I felt badly that there were little kids around to witness the animal I was turning into.
(Note to all parents of young kids out there: do NOT, if at all possible, spectate at Mile 24. It AIN'T PRETTY. NO ONE IS MAKING SENSE OR KNOWS THEIR NAME OR HAS ANY CONTROL OF THEIR BODILY FUNCTIONS.)
I tried music. I tried no music. I vaguely remember some people dressed up like chefs around Mile 24's aid station (Kroger? Or something like that?) and they were handing out oranges. I grabbed an orange and some flat coke, and promptly spit it out all over myself and, I'm pretty sure, the person in front of me.
Nothing. I was out.
I kept going.
I looked at my watch and did the math: if I could just hold 9 minute miles, I could do it. How on earth could I not hold 9 minute miles? I can do that in my sleep. I have this. I still have this. It's not going to slip away.
Except that it was.
I gritted my teeth--literally. My face must have been contorted up. I looked and felt like a rabid animal. I was NOT GOING TO LET THIS HAPPEN. My legs simply had to catch up to my heart, and that was the end of the story. I leaned forward, I closed my eyes, I prayed. Please, please. Please legs, go.
And no matter what I did, they didn't go.
Mile 25: 9:08
At mile 25, in my delirious stupor, I decided that what must be making me slow was my nice, fleece-lined 2XU arm warmers! That MUST BE IT! So I peeled them off and...threw them on some guy's front lawn. Because, you know, THAT was TOTALLY the problem.
I still can't believe I did that. My poor arm warmers. I'm out like $40. That's how freaking out of it I was.
I made the turn and saw Mile 26. I looked at my watch and saw 3:39. And you know what I thought?
I CAN STILL DO THIS! I CAN DO 0.2 MILES IN 1 MINUTE! I CAN DO IT!
This is how out of it I was at this point. Do you know what I'd have to do to make that happen? I do now, because I looked it up. That would have to be a 5-minute mile pace.
But I ran as fast as I could, which must have looked awful, because now I was delirious, could barely move, pretty sure I barely knew where I was, and let's be honest, wasn't in any kind of shape to run the required 5 minute mile pace to make that BQ happen.
Mile 26.2: 11:17, average pace 9:21
But I still had hope. I never once gave up hope in this race. Not until the end, when I crossed the finish line, collapsed into the arms of two volunteers who had to steady me because I couldn't stand alone, and walked to the side of the road where I sat down, looked at my watch, and cried.
I cried. I didn't even have many tears coming out, but I wrapped myself in my mylar blanket and just cried.
I cried because I took off 17:40 from my best marathon ever. EVER. I took almost 18 minutes off my best marathon ever, and that is not easy to do. People don't just do that. I worked so hard, so, so hard.
But it still wasn't quite good enough. And I was disappointed. And happy. And elated. And crushed.
I found Ana, and it turns out she ran into some rough patches, too. She wasn't sure if she made it, but we checked and she did: by 17 seconds. Which yes, we all know is no longer enough (again, that's B.S. I'm sorry, it is.), but still, she made it, and I'm so proud of her.
In the evolution of me as a marathoner (is that even a real thing? I sure don't feel like one...I feel like a triathlete who poses as a runner from time to time), it looks like this:
2008, 3:58.58 (so pretty much 3:59)
Pause for a moment and think about that, because I am now. I was a solidly back-of-the-pack marathoner when I started 10 years ago. Now, I'm 36. I have two small kids. I work full time. And somehow, I just posted the best marathon time of my life, and arguably the best race of my life. The race where I showed more grit and determination than I ever had in my 20s, when I had a heck of a lot more time on my hands. I raced this marathon like a boss, and I will not apologize to the B.A.A. for that. Their new policy targets all the Me's out there, and complaining about it will get me nowhere. I just need to use it to make me better.
I already have.
I allowed myself yesterday to wallow just a bit and have a few tears. And now that's done.
Because, you guys, EIGHTEEN MINUTES.
No one--I don't care WHO you are or WHAT your story is--no one is EVER allowed to be sad after a nearly 18 minute PR. It's just unreal, and it's amazing. And I am really, really proud of it.
I simply can't allow my heartache over missing the qualifying time to overshadow the unbelievable progress that I made in this race. Really. I honestly can hardly believe it.
The clock should never be an enemy of the journey.
I don't know what is next for me quite yet. I have a few ideas, and of course, one of them is redemption in the spring. But I've made a promise to myself not to make any decisions until I can walk normally and sit on the toilet like a normal person.
I got home and got mobbed by newly-toothless Bug (that day!) and Bean and literally toppled over with the love I got when I walked through the door. I could not have made it to this start line, let alone the finish, without them.
Thank you to Matt, who thinks I am a little crazy for all this but supports me 100% no matter what. For making me pancakes to eat with everyone when I walked in from my long runs, for doing extra laundry for me, for picking the kids up so I could squeeze in a run. For holding me Sunday night while I needed to just have one more good, hard, cry. And then for getting me two different kinds of Mitchell's Ice Cream and some flowers.
To my parents, who drove all the way down to catch a glimpse of me for a combined 97 seconds. They are my biggest fans and I'm so grateful for their support.
To my coach, Emily, who knows just what to say and do and pushes me really hard, but lets me balance, too. I've seen this amazing progress since I've been working with you, and there's a reason for that. There's no way I could have done this without you. Thank you.
To Ana, who will always be one of my running soulmates and also a pretty amazing friend, and who is the perfect model of grace and inner strength. Always, but especially over the past two weeks.
To my other running girls, Kim and Katie. So proud of all your accomplishments and so honored to be your running partner.
To my team, who cheered me on all day and always make me laugh.
To my students, who suggested great songs for my playlist and think I'm slightly nuts.
It's been an 10 year journey and a few thousand miles so far. I may need a few hundred miles more, but I know now that I will get there.
It's just a matter of time.