Several years ago, when Brian and I were about to graduate from college, we were at an awards banquet where he was being honored for having a GPA of, like, eight million or something, and they asked all of the honorees to say a few words about their goals when they were recognized. Brian got up and accepted his certificate, and then said, “I have two goals in life: to qualify for Boston, and to be useful.”
I liked that. I still like it. In fact, I like it so much I ended up stealing those goals for myself. And even though we’re only about a sixth of the way through 2015, this year has so far been the year where I have made real progress towards both goals. I’ve been donating time, money and even my blood to help other people out, which I like doing because I have been blessed with so much in my life that it feels selfish not to look for ways to be of service to others.
But really, the goal of “being useful” is an ongoing goal, one that doesn’t really have an end point, not the way the other goal does. That’s the goal I’m going to write about in this blog post, specifically how I’m just a little over two weeks away from trying to qualify for the Boston Marathon for the first time.
Qualifying for Boston seemed like an incredibly far-off goal – like the Pluto of goals – until the winter of 2012, when I ran two half-marathons in 1:43. When that happened, I suddenly had to recalibrate my mental shit so I could take this whole new universe of running ability into consideration when setting goals. And that was the first time Boston seemed like a real possibility.
There was a problem, though! At the time, my marathon PR was 4:49, while my BQ was 3:35. That’s a huge gap! We figured it would be foolish to try to make that kind of leap in one race, so instead we focused on chipping time off with each marathon I ran. That’s exactly what I did: 4:18 at Big Sur, 4:08 at Bahamas, 3:54 at Clearwater. And now, on March 7, I’m hoping to run a 3:37 at the Albany Marathon in Georgia. (My BQ is now 3:40 because I got older, but I still want to come in well below it because so many people qualify these days that it’s not enough to come in just below the standard.)
So once we set my target race, I started training my ass off. (Not literally, of course.) This time I’m using the Run Less, Run Faster* program, which I know is controversial because you only run three times a week, but dudes, I have gotten so much faster since I started running this program. Check it out: I ran three half-marathons in three months and I PRed in all of them.
The last PR came earlier this month at the Best Damn Race in Safety Harbor, when I cut three minutes off my PR and went sub-1:40 for the first time ever. And here’s the sick thing: it was totally manageable. I never once felt like I was out of my depth. I ticked off mile after mile at 7:30-ish and felt perfectly fine the whole time. And I had the most remarkable set of contrasting feelings the entire time, where I felt this quiet confidence in my abilities as well as utter disbelief that I had just run a 1:39 half-marathon. And then, just because I wasn’t feeling weird enough as is, I also knew that I could probably run even faster.
You know how I wrote above that I had to suddenly recalibrate my mental shit? I’ve been doing that a lot lately. Forget the fact that I was a total bookworm as a kid, or that I only played sports in high school because coaches saw I was tall and were like, “You, get over here,” or that I was a smoker for nearly ten years. When I first started running, I looked at women who ran races like that as if they were not even part of the same species as me. And then over the years, I’ve watched as my times dropped and my age-group rankings rose, and then one day I realized I was running alongside some of the women I used to admire from afar.
But even with all of these confidence-boosting races and training runs, I still have some apprehension. A marathon is a totally different beast from a half-marathon. There’s something about those last six miles and that utter emotional desolation that sets in when you realize you’ve already been running for hours and you still have so far to go… Nothing – not even a twenty-miler – can prepare you for that.
And speaking of twenty-milers, this past weekend I finally got my first-ever (non-ultra) twenty-mile training run in, and it was crushing. From the very beginning my legs felt sluggish, and then I spent the last five miles running straight into a headwind. I still managed to hit my paces and finished my training run in 2:57, but man, I came into my house feeling like I had been thoroughly whipped. So I know it’s not going to be easy, and I don’t expect it to be. Like Tom Hanks said in A League of Their Own, “The hard is what makes it great.”
I’m so ready to see if I can do this. I believe I can, and now I am anxious for the opportunity to prove it to myself.
*Once I finish my race, I plan to write a post comparing and contrasting Run Less, Run Faster with the Hansons Marathon Method. I just want to see how it works out come race day before I do so.