I’m not even going to bother with trying to make this suspenseful, and besides, if you follow me on Twitter or Instagram or Facebook or, uh, Facebook, you probably already know. But yes, it is true – Project BQ is officially a success. This past weekend, I achieved a goal I have been working toward for the past three years. I qualified for the Boston Marathon.
In retrospect, what I was experiencing in the weeks leading up to last weekend’s Albany Marathon was a pretty classic case of taper madness. I felt antsy over my decreased activity levels, I started second-guessing every stupid little tweak in my legs, and not even two weeks had passed after my twenty-mile run before I said to Brian, “I’m pretty sure I’ve lost all my fitness.”
This video is the most accurate description of my feelings during this time:
It was all compounded by the fact that I had trained using Run Less, Run Faster, which is a low-mileage training plan and thus totally upends every bit of conventional wisdom regarding marathon training. My highest mileage week had me running 38 miles, which is just not how most marathon plans are conducted. I was totally bugging out and basically begging everyone I talked to who knew anything about running to reassure me that everything was going to be okay. Ugh, I was such a needy mess!
But then last Thursday, I was driving home from work late at night, listening to the running playlist I’d put together to make sure it was going to suffice, and “Panama” by Van Halen came on. This song has a new significance for me after watching Brian at Ironman Florida in 2013, because this is the song they play at the start of the swim leg. Anyways, “Panama” came on, and I cranked that shit up and started rocking out as I drove through those empty streets.
Suddenly I felt the strangest sensation. It was like all of the miles I’d run, all that sweat and all that energy and all that effort, it all coalesced in my chest into a solid, powerful mass of sheer will. And it was like all of the doubts and fears fell away, and I knew in that instant that I was going to do it. Up until then I had been couching my language in the euphemisms of sports: “I’m going to give it my best shot,” “I’ll do my best,” etc. etc. but I was now saying, “I’m going to do it.”
Fortunately, everything converged to provide ideal racing conditions. We picked the Albany Marathon because it boasts a really high percentage of Boston Marathon qualifiers – something like 20 percent last year – and as I ran the race I could understand why. Not only were temperatures in the 40s and 50s, but there was almost no wind and the course was essentially flat. (Well, flat to everyone but Floridians, but I’d modified my training in anticipation of that by running up and down overpasses every chance I got.)
I have to admit that I didn’t have the best night of sleep beforehand. Despite that flush of confidence I’d felt the previous night, I was still awash in nerves the night before the race. Making matters worse was the fact that the hotel room next to us was occupied by what was apparently the world’s most amorous couple. I was okay with it the first couple of times but when they started up for the third time at two in the morning, I’d had enough. I rolled over and slammed my fist against the adjoining wall, which shut them up. (I know. I’m That Person, such a sexytimes killjoy, but come on.)
So when I got up three hours later, I was feeling sort of worn out from two nights in a row of less than ideal sleep. I dressed, drank a couple of cups of hotel coffee as quickly as I could, then started my pre-race calorie shovel fest. (These days it’s mostly hard-boiled eggs and Clif bars in macadamia nut and white chocolate.) We drove to the Albany Civic Center and parked, then made our way to the start line to warm up. It was pretty chilly, about 38 degrees, but because there was no wind it actually felt really nice. By the time we finished our warm-up and said our good-byes, I was sweating under my cotton long-sleeve shirt, so I decided to get rid of it right then and run in my Kennedy Law Racing singlet with just a pair of gloves on, which I would throw away later.
Because of the recent situation with so many people meeting the BQ standard, I was aiming to come in at least three minutes below my BQ of 3:40 so as to maximize my chances of actually getting into the Boston Marathon. I thought that attaching myself to the 3:40 pace group was risky, because it meant I’d have to speed up in the last miles to get those extra minutes, so instead I decided I’d latch onto the 3:35 group, as I could always fall off a bit and still achieve my goal. Plus the 3:35 pace leader – a guy named Greg – had run something like 42 marathons and his personal best was in the 2:40s. I felt like I would be in good hands with him.
I talked briefly with two women in my group – one of whom was from Plant City! – then the race organizers sounded a huge cannon that scared the bejesus out of everyone. It was time to run.
Our first three miles took us on a little spur through the Albany State University campus, which was really lovely and peaceful at that hour. I noticed our pace was slower than the 8:12 we were supposed to be targeting, but I didn’t worry, as Greg had said that’d be the case and that he’d have us back on our pace by mile six, and I trusted him.
We looped through the campus, then came back out onto a main road that took us over the Flint River and into downtown Albany, where a bunch of spectators were already out to cheer us on. (That was something I really loved about this race – it was small but the community seemed to be really into it, and the volunteers were so supportive and awesome. Southern hospitality, y’all. It is a very real, very beautiful thing.) We stayed on this road for the next seven miles. It was not the most scenic thing I’d ever run on, as it was basically your standard commercial thoroughfare, but I had good music on my iPod and the group was pushing the pace a bit, so those miles passed pretty easily despite the lack of pretty things to look at. I glanced at my Garmin every time we hit a mile, and I was both surprised and pleased to see that we were running almost all of those miles well under pace.
At about mile nine, though, the blahs caught me. I started feeling tired, which in turn made me feel annoyed with both Chaotic Work Schedule and Amorous Couple, and I had a moment where I was like, Do I really want to do this? I still have seventeen miles. This is so dumb. It was at that moment that Britney Spears swooped in to save the day. “Work Bitch” came on my iPod, and while I do not want a Maserati or a hot body, I knew she was speaking truth in that song. If I wanted a BQ, I better work, bitch.
After that I felt rejuvenated, just in time for a turn into a neighborhood that surrounded a golf course and country club. The streets were winding and tree-lined, and the houses were all stately and expensive-looking, and for a second I almost felt like I was visiting my in-laws in Princeton. My legs had relaxed a lot by this point, but I was still cautious since we were running so far under pace (with miles coming in between 7:57 and 8:09) that I didn’t dare expend a single bit of extra energy. Many members of the pace group had a different attitude towards things. A group of some youngish bro-types had joined us, and they were clowning on each other and telling jokes and cutting up. Part of me was entertained, but then part of me was all, “Dudes, you’re going to need that energy at mile 23. Trust.” But hey, not my race, right?
We hit the half-marathon point at 1:47, which was a bit of a trippy feeling as it wasn’t that long ago when I was basically killing myself to hit that mark at the end of a half-marathon, and yet here I was cruising comfortably past it during a marathon. This might be a good point to describe how all of this felt physically. When I was first starting out as a runner I thought that what faster runners felt was similar to what I felt as a slower runner. As I’ve gotten faster, I’ve found that isn’t the case for me. I work hard when I run, but what’s changed is my capacity to handle that hard work. I still work hard to run those faster miles but they don’t leave me feeling like I’m going to vomit, and I can sustain that pace longer, whereas before I couldn’t.
Miles 13 through 18 were a bit of a blur. In fact, I’d locked myself so firmly in my cocoon of focus that it wasn’t until a couple of days after the race that I found out that a guy from my local running group had been with us the whole time! The only thoughts I can really recall from that time came when I looked at my Garmin and saw sub-8:00 miles and thought, This is suicidal. I started debating with myself over the right time to let the pace group go. Do I play it conservatively and let them go now? Or do I see how far I can go with this? I opted to see how far I could go with them.
Historically, mile 18 has been the start of some really rough spots for me, as that is the point at which I am like, I’ve run how far? And I have how much farther to go? But being with that group of runners, even though I wasn’t talking to them or even really interacting with them at all, shielded me from the emotional desolation of those miles. Just being around them was enough to keep all those long-distance demons at bay.
And surprisingly enough, when I checked in with myself, I realized I felt decent, all things considering. I mean, I had a sore spot in my left quad that was annoying me, and my right big toe kept jamming up against the toe box of my shoe, and my left arch was hurting, but aside from those things I felt…well, I felt okay.
It was at mile 22 that I finally decided to let the pace group go. I had a feeling that if I kept trying to push that pace, I was going to blow up, and I wasn’t going to risk my BQ for that. I let my pace drop every so slightly, keeping the pace group in my sights, but I was no longer in their midst. I was okay with that.
At mile 23, a song came on my iPod that i knew just wasn’t going to cut it for these final miles, so I pulled it out of the pocket of my Oiselle Rogas – which, by the way, are the only running shorts I’ve ever found with more than one pocket – and skipped ahead until I found “Black Betty” by Ram Jam, then put it back in my pocket. At some point, though, my earbud cord got all tangled with my handheld, and I yanked my iPod out of my pocket, and it landed on the street. My slowest mile of the race came because I had to go get the stupid thing and get it going again. But my slowest mile was still faster than my fastest mile of my last marathon, so it’s not like I could be too mad.
I’m not gonna lie – by this point I was hurting. I don’t even know how I managed to keep my legs going at a decent pace, but somehow I did. And instead of the usual kinds of self-talk I’ve dealt with in the past, where I had to deliberately force myself to remain positive and upbeat, this time that little part of me got super hyped up, and she was all, This is so fucking cool! Look at what you are doing! Holy shit, you’re gonna do it! How cool is this! Yeah, everything hurt, but who cares? Look how fast I was running!
At that point I started doing the math and I realized that I could basically slog through those last miles at a ten-minute pace and I’d still hit my goal. The realization that I was so close to doing it nearly reduced me to tears, but i quickly pulled myself together because I wasn’t about to celebrate my touchdown when I wasn’t even in the end zone, you know? But that didn’t keep me from feeling totally exuberant about what was about to happen. I ran into the water stop at mile 25 and took a cup of water from a volunteer. He told me to keep it up and that I was doing great, and I turned to him and yelled, “HOLY CRAP I’M GOING TO QUALIFY FOR BOSTON!”
This goal I had wanted for so long was right there, so close I could reach out and grab it, so I kept running until I came up to the riverfront park, where I had to cross some railroad tracks – which the organizers had thoughtfully covered with some indoor-outdoor carpeting so we wouldn’t trip – and then get over a curb onto a sidewalk before heading into the riverfront park. At this point, Beyonce’s “Flawless” came on, which just felt so fitting for this moment, and I picked up the pace as hard as I could.
I ran through a little tunnel and out into the finisher’s chute, which snaked through the park. It was there that I saw Brian for the first time, and he ran out to me, crying and saying, “You’re doing it! Oh my god, you’re doing it!” And I was! Holy shit, I was!
I looked ahead of me and saw the finisher’s line. I threw my arms up in victory and crossed the finish line in 3:34:55.
(I actually just had to take a few minutes to collect myself after writing that, because even though it’s been three days I can still barely believe it happened. I mean, a 3:34 marathon! A PR of 20 minutes! It’s crazy, right? It’s crazy!)
I caught my breath and hugged Brian, both of us crying and laughing at the same time. I collected my medal – which awesomely doubles as a beer bottle opener, how fabulous is that? – and my Mylar blanket and hobbled over to a folding chair by the river. Brian had his phone, and he said Facebook had been blowing up with updates from the Kennedy Law Racing team, which had been posting updates about my race throughout the morning. (By the way, that’s like reason #276,987 why I love my team. Seriously, they are the greatest. I don’t think it’s any coincidence that I qualified for Boston within a year of joining the Kennedy Law Racing team.)
My quads were totally seizing up by this time but I felt amazing in spite of that. I had just done what I once thought was impossible. The only time I could remember feeling that proud was when I graduated from college, for crying out loud.
Later that day, after I’d showered and eaten some food and started feeling a little, I posted the following on Facebook:
You guys! I did it! And I thought of all of you and all the support you’ve given me and how you all believed in me, and it really helped lift my spirits when things got tough. This Boston-bound lady couldn’t have asked for a better group of friends. Thank you!
For what it’s worth, that goes for all of you who commented on my blog to show support for me as I set out on this quest, and really all of my other scary ambitious quests. I’ve gotten a lot better about believing in myself, but sometimes I falter, and when I know that a whole bunch of other people believe in me, it helps me to bridge the gap between where I am and where I want to be. So thank you, from the bottom of my heart.
P.S. Before I wrap up this hella long race report, I just wanted to say that I highly, highly recommend the Albany Marathon. If you are looking for a fast marathon in the spring in the Southeast, this is one race you should look at doing. It doesn’t have a lot of gimmicks or frippery. It’s just a well-organized race put on for people who simply love to run. I cannot say enough good things about this race. I thought it was splendid.