10 years ago I started running and when I would go to run a race my mom would always ask me, “Oh, are you going to run "The Boston?'” Many times I explained to her that no, “The Boston” is a full marathon…26.2 miles, not 13.1 or 3.1, and that Boston is for real runners and I would never be that kind of runner. Before she died I ran my first full marathon and I had to explain to her that no, it still wasn’t “The Boston” and no, I’m still not that kind of runner. The “I’m not that kind of runner” was the conversation going on in my head in the last mile of Saturday’s race, headed to the finish line, realizing I was about to qualify for the Boston Marathon.
Setting a goal:
Two and a half years ago I did something I had never done before. I set a time goal for a race and I told people about it. And the second I did I regretted it.
Running a race for me has always been like a party on feet—take some pictures, sing and be obnoxious, high five every kid and kiss every race sign. The goal was to finish having as much fun as possible.
Committing to a goal, particularly out loud, meant carrying a burden with me that followed me on every run. That’s why, when two of my Running Club friends both saw one of my race times and told me they thought I could qualify for Boston if I trained I laughed at both of them, told them they were crazy and then went home and let myself actually think about it…for like one second.
I then got kind of mad at myself for actually thinking about it, and didn’t do anything for awhile until I heard about the Mount Charleston race and something about that race (pretty sure it was the 20 miles of downhill...it was definitely the downhill) made me think about going for it. And that is how I found myself signing up for the race and actually saying out loud “I think I’m going to try to qualify for Boston.” And then I started to train.
I’ve actually been training for the race for two years it seems like. I was ready to run a year ago, when days before the race Jeff’s mom passed away. She had been sick for awhile, but it was still a surprise and left us all reeling as we planned a funeral and began the grief process. I think, at that point, part of me just decided that was a sign and I shouldn’t think about racing so I surprised myself a little when I signed up again for this year’s race and once again, said it out loud—I might try to qualify for Boston..or at the very least just go race one time.
Revel Mount Charleston is a different kind of marathon. Revel races (there are others in the race series) are known for being fast and beautiful. This race descends over 5,000 feet, which makes it fast if a person can get through without blowing up and ending up in the medic tent. I needed to run the race in 3:56, a 9 minute pace to qualify. Training has not only involved the physical training for running but also my obsession with anyone who would talk to me about running, about their strategies, training, tips..anything. Turns out everyone has a LOT of very different strategies and training. The physical training for me was 5-6 days a week, with race pace runs on Fridays and Long runs on Saturday. Mondays were a rotation of track work and tempo work. Hill work was on Tuesdays, where I developed a love/hate relationship with a hill loop in my neighborhood that travels up .47 and down .53 of a mile. Over and over I ran that damn hill. One late night I ran that hill for 18 miles trying to figure out how to get my quads ready for a 21-mile downhill race (actually trying to get my quads ready to run 5.2 miles after that 21 miles of downhill).
I did long runs with the flu and one with bronchitis where I sat on the side of the road in between each mile for 22 miles. I have joined everyone who would have me for long runs and done a whole lot of solo runs. Almost every run had the same theme: What in the world am I thinking???? I can't do this. There is NO way I can do this. At least two runs ended in some tears and my last 20 miler those tears were embarrassingly in front of the sweetest group of runner friends who rushed to calm me in the middle of my meltdown. Seemed like every time I went for a long run I got slower instead of faster and the work just got harder. I doubted myself more and more with each run and I was super embarrassed that I ever said a goal out loud.
Day before Race:
Got into Vegas, grabbed Lauren from the hotel we had selected (which should be another blog post about why you should never pick a cheap Vegas hotel even if you are just using it to stay for a few nights and don’t think you care) and headed to the Expo which was on campus at UNLV. The expo was great and things were starting to become very real.
While the others tried the leg massager thing I went to hear the Revel Coach talk through the race course. I was trying not to look at the weather but I knew the forecast was cold at the beginning and hot at the end and the wind was supposed to be bad. People were talking about it. I kept trying to tell myself not to put a single excuse in my head because I knew I would drop them all out on the course on race day to trip over and weather would be first on my list…but still I freaked out. We ate dinner, headed back to the hotel, and I began realizing all the ways that despite 30 plus weeks of training and worrying, I still was not prepared for the race. I realized I had zero nutrition plans because not one thing ever keeps me out of a bathroom on long runs. My stomach is my worst enemy (is this something I’m not supposed to share publicly? Runners lose the ability to decipher between public and private information). I also have porta potty fear, so I was completely unprepared for how to fuel the next day. I did, however, buy some salt tablets at the expo
and try them for the FIRST time (runners will all tell you this is the dumbest thing anyone can ever do and yet…). I also drank 5 bajillion gallons of water and only
one two Diet Cokes, which
was the closest I came to anything smart about the day before the race.
I also realized I still didn’t have my pace strategy worked out. We had driven the course so I knew where the hills were and the coach for the Revel team sent out an email telling about how to break the course down into seven parts. I had ordered a pace band online but realized, despite the fact the company sent three, that I did it wrong. I decided I would turn one of the bands over and re-do it so I would know what pace to run. HOWEVER….I also had taken some stuff to make me sleep, which I always have to do the night before I run..so the next thing I knew I woke up to my jacked up-half done pace band
and the realization that today was race day.
We had to be on the buses to take us to the top of Mount Charleston around 4 so we woke up at 3 (which was really 5 Nashville time, so not bad) and got dressed. I packed a whole lot of clothes and wore a whole lot of clothes because we had been told temps would be in the 40s at the top of the mountain and for every 500 feet down, we would gain 5 degrees. The temps were not in the 40s. They were in the 50s, which meant we all knew we were in for a very warm run.
We got to the parking lot and they dropped me off for my bus. As I was looking around the bus I started to go into panic mode. Everyone around me looked super legit. This race is one people use to try to qualify and so it tends to draw a fast crowd. I started chatting with the guy beside me and he was telling me all about running Western States and the people around chimed in with their stories of running Boston this year and I start to realize I’m on the wrong bus headed to the wrong race. I clearly don’t belong.
I remind myself to focus and calm down and start to think of all the things I will do once the bus gets to the top of the mountain before the race starts. I get off the bus and get into one of the super long porta potty lines where the guy beside me takes a pic.
We are standing there chatting, talking about the beautiful sunrise, when I hear them say the race will start soon and I look at my watch and FREAK OUT. There are only 10 minutes (not the 45 I thought...it somehow had taken all the busses much longer than I realized to get to the start. I panic, trying to figure out what clothes to keep on and what to get rid of, where the drop truck was, if I had both (yes both) of my Garmins on, where my headphones were and then they started to announce the start of the race…while I was in the porta potty line. Ugh. Full on brain freak out. They delayed the start five minutes since all the buses go there late but we still didn’t have time to use the porta potties. Remember all that water I drank the day before…umm…yeah…and my bathroom issues..ummm…yeah. The next thing I knew we were starting the race and then….
Running. And once I started running….it was all okay. Every bit of it.
First mile I knew to take it a little slower—there was a small uphill and altitude. Next few miles, although they were a fast downhill, I also knew what was going to happen because I had read everything I could about the race and watched Revel's videos and knew altitude would make things feel a little harder. I also knew I was going to not have to fight the bathroom issue and just made up my mind that I would try to be fast. That race stop cost me two minutes filling my water bottle and using the porta potty but turned out to be a good decision because my stomach behaved completely the rest of the race in a way that never happens for me. I settled on my plan--Water from my handheld, 3 swigs of powerade from the aid station every 2. 5 miles and a Huma every 5. I did salt tablets once every hour on the couse (I had done them the day before and right before I started and I think they actually saved me from having the problems many other runners had that day in the heat).
Miles 6-21 I knew would be mostly downhill. I decided to try to stay between the 3:45 and 3:55 pace group and I knew I wanted to bank some time because the last five miles would be hillier and hot and lots of folks have their race blow up there. The problem was…I couldn’t find the pace groups. I finally caught up to the 3:45 but the pace group leader didn’t seem to have a solid plan so I ran ahead of them. At mile 6 my calf was hurting and I stopped a couple times to stretch it out, I said a quick prayer , took the Tylenol I had brought with me and just decided to keep running on it and hope for the best. I readjusted my pace strategy to just go with perceived effort and found that I was running in the low 8s. Water stops were killing me because they were busy and there wasn’t an easy way to fill my water bottle so they were adding time but I knew I needed to take the time to get my water filled and get some fuel in.
At mile 16 my brain started to hit panic as things started getting harder. I knew I had the hardest part of the race coming. I could feel the heat. My calf was hurting and unlike any other race I've ever done, no runners were talking around me. I fought the wave of panic. I stop. I think of NRC. I make myself think one by one of the different messages people had sent me leading up to the race. I think of the training runs with friends and the late nights alone and the cold weather runs and the miles and miles in the rain and I realize that all of that was working and in that moment it was putting me through mile after mile. I think of Max, and our conversation about "doing hard things" that we had just had that week. I suck it up and keep running.
By mile 19 I kept reminding myself I would see Jeff or Lauren at 21 and they would run with me and all these things held me together. I called Lauren to see who was going to meet me (she and Jeff had told me they would work it out and one of them would be there) and she said, “well, what do you need?” And I almost started crying because at that moment I couldn’t think and I told her “I don’t know what I need..just someone and I need Tylenol and a Gu because I think I dropped my last Huma on the ground." She could hear the panic in my voice and she said “You’re good. We will be here, both of us.” And then I looked up and saw them both there; they had decided to not run their half because they were afraid they would not be able to do it and get to me on the course and run the last 5 with me. And that was the switch. That was what I needed to get me going and we took off and everything was good.except…it was hot…getting hotter. “Distract me! Tell me a story. Tell me anything!” I pleaded with them and the two of them, two VERy talkative people, suddenly couldn’t think of anything to say. Lauren decided to sign the lyrics of songs to me, and deciding one of the only two songs she knew had too many offensive words, she settled for the other one, Strawberry Wine.
So there we were, singing “hot July night, saw everything,” at the top of our lungs trying to make it through the hot, uphill part of the race. At that point , people around us were dropping off, walking—the heat and the cramps were getting to folks. We saw a lady who was on the verge of collapsing, with another runner, trying to prop her up. Jeff stopped to help and Lauren told me to keep going, with only 1.5 left in the race. I told Lauren we could slow down and wait for Jeff and we do for a beat and then Lauren tells me to fly and I know Jeff will be upset if I don’t so I take off running and that is when it hits me that I really, really am going to qualify for Boston. I tried not to cry.
And then...it was over. I saw my freckle-faced girl and her husband cheering for me at the finish line and the race people were putting a medal around my neck and I saw my time and it was so much faster than I thought I could ever go. I couldn't stop smiling. I still can't.
Today I can barely walk. That calf hates me so much. My quads agree with my calf. I am making sure every restroom I use has a handicapped stalls with hand rails. But I don't care one bit. I am post race high and still processing what it meant to step out of my comfort zone and set a goal out loud and to let people believe in me and cheer me/help me through it. It makes my heart hurt how badly I wish I could call my mom and say “hey mom, you know what I’m going to do next year? I’m going to run "The Boston.” She would still probably think it was a 5k and she would be proud.