Monday, January 19, 2015

The Road to Boston

Yesterday, I qualified for the Boston marathon. The qualifying time for women age 25-35 is 3:35:00, and I beat that by 87 seconds, with a time of 3 hours, 33 minutes and 33 seconds. At my 3rd completed marathon, age 33. 

I beat it by 87 seconds. That was the real fight.

Why? Because not everyone that qualifies gets to register. You can put a BQ (Boston Qualifying) time  down, but never get to go.  Boston only takes the fastest of the fast.  Last year, only people that beat their qualifying time by 62 seconds could register. In 2012, it was 72 seconds. So, I needed to push. A second could be the difference between merely qualifying and actually getting to go.

My previously best marathon time was a bit of a surprise when I ran 3:42 in 2012 (44 minutes faster than my first marathon, hence the surprise). In 2013, I didn't run a marathon, being pregnant, but I did plenty of quality running. I got a PR (personal record) at the Allstate half marathon, a PR for the Turkey Trot and would have done another half, but the Dallas marathon was canceled because of the ice storm.

Casey and I talked about how me qualifying was possible since I was only 7 minutes away on my previous time. I could have waited a year to try, considering I'd just had a baby, but there's no time like the present. I could always try again if I didn't make it this year. Casey did some research and recommended that I sign up for two marathons close together, so that if the first one doesn't seem to be going well, I could drop out, rest and recharge and try again at another race. And that's exactly what happened eight months later. Dallas was the first Marathon, then Houston was a backup.  I was looking forward to Houston because everyone says it is "flat and fast" so I signed up.

I trained with Luke's Locker marathon training program, which has the Dallas marathon as their final race.
In July. Front row: Lauren, Ashley, me-with my eyes closed-grr, and Coach Michelle,  
Middle row: Stacey, Jillian, Alison and Coach Cecil, 
Back: James and Mario

So that is what I have been doing.  Lots and lots of running. During the summer, it was relatively easy to get the runs in, as I could run in the morning after mom came to the house to watch the baby.  I had lots of muggy 10am runs, along with great Saturday morning runs with the group.

When school started, it was mostly weekday runs on the treadmill after work. I started re-watching Battlestar Gallatica, and it lasted me the whole season. Perfect.

Here's an example of what the training was like. Green group. Running six days a week, hard runs on Tuesday and Thursday, long runs on Saturday, and easy the other three, off on Friday. I did a pretty good job of keeping to the schedule, skipping only an occasional workout. Thankfully, I didn't get sick or injured, unlike multiple members of the group. To go through 8 months of rigorous long distance training in a high impact sport uninjured was pretty amazing, really.

 Many, many hours spent with running with the core of the group: Paul, me, Lauri Ann, Cameron, Ashley, Lauren, Mario and Alison.

First came Dallas.  The morning of the race, it was raining and warm.  Bad conditions.  During the race I was slipping on wet roads while a hilly, winding course took a toll. I made several serious mistakes on top of that. I didn't eat enough prior to the race and forgot to start eating until mile 8...way too late. I was so pumped at the start that I went out too fast at an 8:00 pace, so by mile 7, the 3:35 pace group caught me, and it was a struggle from then on. At the lake I started to lose the pace group, and by the time we hit the turn around, into strong wind, I was clomping along. At 17, I saw Casey and asked him if I should drop out, and he told me to do so.  Bless him. He was there to tell me the hard truth, but the sweet man was there, ready to support whatever choice I made, so I hobbled to his scooter, and we scooted home. 

It was the smart choice. But not fun. I was disappointed and, more than anything, deflated. I had been really pumped about Dallas, had told all my students, co-workers, friends, posted signs in my classroom, on Instagram, etc. And it was humbling to take them all down, knowing that I didn't finish Dallas. But, there was a take two.  Houston was in 5 weeks.

My marathon training buddies- Paul and Alison and I compared notes and planned the month in-between. I'm so glad I didn't have to do that alone. I was pretty scared after biffing it in Dallas that I wouldn't be able to maintain the training, not get injured and stay motivated through the holidays and beyond for a month more. But we did. In the interim I ran a 21 miler, then 12, and 9. It was time to go to Houston.

I was a big ball of nerves the Saturday before the race. The weather forecast was good, high 40's and no rain, so that was a relief...but could I do it? Would it be a struggle? Would I have to drag my carcass across that finish line? I didn't dare get my hopes up.

Despite the nerves, I got to the start line without a hitch, found Alison and chatted for a bit, then found my place to start, between the 3:30 and 3:40 pace groups. Already, I was doing better. I had eaten more and was calmer than at Dallas, and I had my playlist set up to play mellow music for the first hour or so.

Houston is flat! And with optimal weather, I felt great starting out, but I had to keep telling myself not to go out too fast, to hold back and save it for the second half.  I saw Casey at mile 6, told him it felt easy. I thought, "Today is the day I qualify for Boston." At 12, I told him I could do this all day, and he told me I was on a pace for 3:34, so then I knew it was time to push a little. Today is the day I qualify for Boston.

A little after that, I was surprised to see two people from my Dallas running group, Lauren and Mario, had come down from Dallas to cheer us on.  I was so touched that they would come all that way to cheer on a few people. That was awesome.

Hoorah! I was pumped, and it really gave me a boost. It bumped up my overall pace by a second a mile. The course was really pretty, lots of greenery, pretty neighborhoods. Miles 18-20, aka the Wall, didn't bother me. People started to slow down, or walk. I didn't want to get over-confident and put on the burn too early, though.

And that was a good idea. Because, as we approached downtown, the course started to get hilly. And I was getting tired. I lost a second on my pace. At mile 23, Casey asked me if I wanted him to run with me. I said no initially, because, heck...he's my ride, but then yes. I needed him to get me back on pace. I was tired but not ready to give up on the dream. The hills went down, then up and again. Casey ran a little a head of me, pushing to to keep the pace. I kept thinking, just 30 minutes longer, just 20 minutes longer, keep the pace, keep pushing. I was passing people who were walking up the hills. We were all tired. But I can't let myself slow down. Then ten minutes. Around a turn, and I could finally the convention center where the finish line was.

A mile to go. Just 8 minutes left. Lungs burning, muscles spent, the soles of my feet feeling like hamburger, it was getting closer and closer. I saw some friends on the sideline, but all I could think was don't give up, give it all you got. I saw a guy suddenly stop because his leg seized up. Keep going, keep pushing. Then I passed the 26 mile marker. Two tenths of a mile to go. The I sprinted knowing every second counted. Finish. 3:33:33, a pace of 8:09 per mile.

Elation. Fatigue. Relief. Joy. After the finish, they funneled all the runners into the convention center and we hobbled like zombies: WATER! CARBS! But it was over, and I did it. Today was the day I qualified for Boston. Many thanks to my husband, who supported and pushed me the whole time, my family, especially my mom, who encouraged me and watched my kids while I ran, and my coaches and running buddies who put in the miles with me. It's been a team effort.
So, 87 seconds. Come September, registration will open up, and we'll see. The road to Boston is 1,769 miles by car. I've run about 1200 miles of that in the last eight months of training, and have many more to go. Can't wait.