“And I won’t let you, get me down/I’ll keep getting up when I hit the ground/Oh, never give up, no, never give up, no no, oh”
I write the race report for my 4th marathon with quite a bit of emotion, swaying back and forth between feelings of immense gratitude and disappointment. Originally, I was supposed to run the Charles River Marathon on September 8th to go for a 2019 BQ. Shortly before leaving for my honeymoon (about a month before the race), I broke my toe on a piece of luggage. While I swam, biked, and walked through it, I could not run for three weeks. When I finally returned to running, my gait was seriously messed up and workouts that once felt easy, felt awful. I made the decision to not start the Charles River Marathon when, one week before race day, I had trouble maintaining marathon pace for just 2 miles. In order to remain a part of race day, I paced the 3:52 marathon group for the last 18 miles, which was a fun and rewarding experience, and made for a great long run.
Since the Loco Marathon was my first marathon, it holds a special place in my heart. My husband and I decided to set our sights on that, even though it would be too late for a 2019 BQ. Unfortunately, the toe was stubborn and things were iffy right up until 4 weeks before race day. I got another x-ray and revealing that the toe was 90-95% healed and my doctor said to just “go for it and see where you are.” That was a scary prospect. My doctor, who jokingly says that he doubles as my running coach, made me promise that I would not freak out if I ran quite a bit slower than my PR. I kept training. After a successful marathon pace tempo run (that still did not feel as good as it used to), I decided to sign up. My husband kept reminding me that if this race did not go as well, I should not panic since we plan to get me (and possibly both of us) a coach and sports nutritionist for this spring.
Knowing the rough training cycle I had, I decided to set three goals.
C goal: to finish under 4 hours and not get hypothermia, making this at least better than Boston 2018.
B goal: qualify for the Chicago Marathon, which for me, needed to be sub 3:40 since I will be 30 by race day.
A goal: sub 3:30, PR and 2020 BQ on the new standards (for those of you that do not know, the BQ time for my age group was 3:35 until this September when they lowered all standards by 5 minutes. This explains why I BQed twice but never broke 3:30)
Looking at the Chicago Marathon, I started to get excited and the sub 3:40 felt more like a more doable goal, though still challenging. I feared I was not in 3:30 shape like I used to be, and said to my husband pre-race, “should I just go out with the 8:10 pace group to go for Chicago?” Bryan would not hear of it. “You can do a CQ, but go for the BQ.” So, I tapered better than I ever did before, just telling myself “you can do this.”
Prior to the race, I had really bad calf pain, a compensation injury from the toe. My wonderful doctor and physical therapist were kind enough to respond to an emergency freak out e-mail to them two days before the race. The pain never subsided but they assured me it likely was not bad enough that it would tear in the middle of the race, and Bryan, per doctor’s instructions, massaged the muscle twice a day for me to relieve some of the tightness. I still kept saying, “maybe I should go out with 8:10 or 8:20, because what if I blow up and don’t even get Chicago?” Bryan would not hear of it. “You go out with 8!”
When we arrive at the race, my calf is still hurting but it eases up with a warm-up jog. The day before the race brought a Nor’Easter to New England. It is five degrees cooler at the start than expected and the ground is super muddy. I am already panicking since I brought a race outfit for 45 degree start, 50 degree finish and am now faced with 38 degree start, 45 degree finish. I keep reassuring Bryan and myself that I will be fine, but at the last minute, as we are lining up, Bryan takes off his ear warmers and his extra gloves and puts them on me.
“I don’t need these.”
“Yes, you do. Trust me.”
“But you need them. It’s my fault, I should have packed mine. I’ll be fine.”
“No, you have an extra loop than me.”
I take them and am grateful for them when the race starts and my hands and head are warm.
I line up with the 8 minute pacer, figuring I will see how that feels. If it’s tough, I will slow down to 8:10 and if it feels good, I will try to speed up to 7:50 later in the race. Bryan does not like running with pacers, but places himself near the 8:55 pacer to aim for sub 9s for his half.
Before the gun goes off, I already like the 8 minute pacer, Karen and she inspires me. She says she ran her first marathon at the age of 40 with three children under the age of three, to which I replied, “so like a year ago?!” She tells me that she is 55. Also lined up with us is Liz, a buddy from online. She ran a 3:22 a few weeks ago and is running this marathon for fun, seeing how long she can stick with the 8 minute group.
The gun goes off and I stick to Karen like glue. A few minutes into the race, I realize my watch never started (for those of you who follow Strava, this is why it says I only ran 26 miles). Everyone tells me not to worry, that they have me covered. I actually think it might be a blessing. Since I know my time is off, I cannot obsessively check my watch. Karen is amazing with the pacing- the splits stay in the range of 7:47-8:05. I am feeling surprisingly good. I want to speed up, but the course has a lot of rolling hills and I know I need my energy for the second loop.
At mile 7, I start to get worried. I am supposed to take my first GU but my stomach still feels uncomfortably full. In my first two marathons, I bonked really badly from not eating enough. This time, I think I added pre-race fuel that my body was not yet ready for, even though it may have been the ideal amount. I vow to see a nutritionist when the race is over, and decide to skip my first GU. I know my body will reject anything except water right now.
Mile 9, I am still feeling great cardiovascularly but I still cannot stomach the GU. At this point, we make our way to the rail trail, the last 3.5 miles of the course. The rail trail is supposed to be fast and downhill, but due to the mud, it does not feel that way.
With no GU in my stomach by mile 12 and knowing that the 8 minute pacer is only with us for half of the race, I start to contemplate going through the half-marathon shoot. I am really worried that I am not going to finish the race without having to puke or poop (sorry to be gross, but this is marathon running for real, folks!), and I know that a stop to do either will jeopardize my goals. My fellow runners tell me to keep going, and that I look super strong, which I do (below is a rare race picture of me smiling).
At the half-way point, I open a GU and decide to take it little by little. I am surprisingly on pace, even on the uphills. I am quite proud of myself. Normally, when I have no pacer, I either start going 7:30s or 8:20s. At mile 15, Liz lends me some gummies which are easier to get down than my GU. I figure one GU and 2 gummies will be enough to get me to mile 20 and then I will re-evaluate and take in more toward the end of the race when the fear of a bathroom stop starts to wane.
By mile 16, I realize the hills are getting to me. I am on pace, but its harder. “If only this was flat!” are my words for the next three miles. I decide to keep going by effort, slowing down on the uphills and taking advantage of the downhills to speed up.
Mile 19- the calf injury rears its ugly head. My ankle really hurts. One of my online running buddies felt the calf issue had to do with ankle mobility- I realize he is probably right! This mile also has a climb in it. My pace slows to 8:15. I start to worry that if I keep slowing, my B goal will slip away. I keep telling myself. “You knew this wasn’t going to be a PR anyway. Just focus on Chicago. Work for it. You can still get a Chicago qualifier and register this week. That will be fun.”
My pace stays between 8:10-8:20 and I am working at my B goal. I then meet a woman named Lisa at mile 20. I tell her that I am now working on my B goal, and she tells me not to give up on A. Another runner who is a friend of hers says she will pace us to the end. I try to keep up with them, but cannot quite do it. However, I keep them in sight and stay as close as I can. I decide to not push it now, and to save my ankle and my energy for mile 23 when the rail trail and the downhill start.
I get to the rail trail and my ankle is starting to hurt less. I am down to 8:10 again. “Let it rip!” I say, only 3.5 miles to go. I have the most energy I have ever had this late in the marathon. It is the first time that I am not bonking from hunger (maybe the extra food was a good thing after all) However, the mud is even worse than it was the first time around. I speed up to 7:30, then suddenly go down to 9:40 when my feet get stuck. My pace ends up still averaging to 8:10s and 8:20s, even though I feel like I am flying.
At mile 25, I am tired and hurting, but I have it in me if there is a chance. I yell to Lisa’s friend, “do I still have a chance?” She says that I do and encourages me to keep going. I pass them, I fly, I am letting it all out. My watch says the PR is over, but I know it started late, so I figure I need to still give it my all. I want my A goal. I know I am close to it. I am no longer satisfied with just sub 3:40.
However, as much as I fly, the split ends up 8:30. If you look at Strava, you can see how I am weaving between 7:15 and 9:15. It’s crazy.
I see Bryan at the finish. I anxiously await his words. If I can still make it, I know that he will be screaming at me to “hurry up!” I get upset when I notice he is not moving or trying to run with me. He is just standing there with his phone. I know something must be wrong. Instead of “hurry up!” like I got for my first two marathons which were both BQs, I get “Go Kate! Go Kate!” Not what I want to hear. With Bryan being so nice, I know the goal must be gone.
I look at the clock. It is past 3:30. I cross the finish line and all that “I just want to qualify for Chicago” stuff goes out the window. As one of the volunteers places my medal around my neck, I start to cry.
“Why are you crying?”
“I’m sorry, I just wanted to go to Boston in 2020 so bad. I just wanted it so bad and I was so close. I’m sorry, I know I’m being silly here, I was just so close.”
Then a hand touches my shoulder. It is Lisa, she has finished just a few seconds behind me. She holds my face in her hands and makes me look into her eyes.
“You will be in Hopkinton at the starting line with me in 2020.”
This lady must be nuts or else she thinks I am 35. “I won’t! I didn’t make it! They changed the standards. It’s not 3:30 anymore, its 3:35! I didn’t make it. I’m not 35 yet.”
Lisa smiles. “Yeah, I know that. I know there is no way you are 35. But you will be there. You had so much more in you today. Imagine what you would have done on a flatter course without all that mud. See you in 2020!”
When we get inside, Bryan is hugging me and telling me how proud he is. We go and check my official time. 3:31:56. My heart sinks. I realize how greedy I am. Just 40 minutes ago I was begging God to just get me to sub 3:40, and now, here I am, so close to my BQ and so disappointed. He makes me change out of my wet clothes. He keeps trying to encourage me to sit down, but all I want to do is ruminate over what I could have done differently. I’d gladly do-over the last two miles right now if I could!
I do cheer up when we notice that I am second in my age division. Since this marks the last year of me being in the 19-29 age group, I am pretty excited to have beaten a lot of younger runners! When we go to pick up my age group award, we realize it is not a medal but a bunch of random gifts. Bryan is trying so hard to make me feel better, that he oohs and aahs over each item as it is pulled out. “OMG, Kate- I’ve always wanted socks like that!” “OMG, I love this glass, I want it, this is so cool!” They actually were some pretty neat and useful gifts. Besides the warm socks and glass, I got an LED light for running in the dark and a tote bag which I have actually been using to carry around my students’ midterms this week!
Finally, it sinks in that my time is my time and overall, it still went better than expected. I may not have reached the level where I hoped to be, but my finish time indicates that I am at least back to the level I was at before all of the injuries, and the stress of defending a dissertation and planning a wedding. That gives me a good boost of a confidence as I start to prepare for the next training cycle. When we get in the car, I finally feel up to talking to people and we call my parents and Bryan’s parents. I realize that although this marathon is not a PR, in many ways, it was one of my best performances. My parents cannot believe the race is over because I sound really coherent and upbeat. It then occurs to me that this is the first marathon I have run where I have not needed medical attention at the finish. Unlike my previous marathons, I am also not hungry. I did not bonk at mile 23 from nausea or worry about passing out. I sip on electrolyte water and nibble on some small snacks until we get home, knowing I need to get stuff in me even if my body does not think it wants anything.
In the midst of this, I also forgot to mention that Bryan ran his half-marathon in 1:52:53, not a personal best (but close), but way better than he expected after a tough training season. I am so proud of him!
Hunger finally hits after I shower. Bryan tells me we can go wherever I want for dinner, and he makes early dinner reservations at The Stockyard so I can get a rack of ribs (and unsurprisingly, also finish half of his ribs). We toast to Bryan’s successful half and we toast to Chicago, which I sign up for the next morning.
Overall, this race is one that I do not regret for a second nor do I regret how hard I tried for my A goal (I would never know how close I am if I did not go for it). The very next morning, this race helped me explain to my students how to maintain belief in God in light of modern science and the suffering that surrounds us. God does not answer prayers by coming down to us and just fixing things. When I said, “God help me,” during the race (which I said a lot by the way), God did not ease my queasy stomach, God did not clear the sticky mud from the rail trail, God did physically push me so I could fly to the finish line. God certainly did not change the clock to read two minutes faster. In one sense, one could say that God was not listening. God wasn’t there. But God was there. God did listen me, but instead of coming down from the sky and overturning the laws of nature, God worked through other people. When my stomach could not handle the gels I had on me, God worked through my buddy Liz who reached over and gave me some of her gummies to get something in my stomach. When my calf injury was acting up, God worked through the people in the crowds who cheered me on and made me feel like I was kicking butt, even though I knew I had slowed down. When I reached the finish line, God worked through Lisa, who held my face in her hands, made me look her in the eye, and told me how amazing I was, how many obstacles I overcame both before the race and during the race, and how she would see me in Hopkinton 2020 because I have so much more in me and am not going to give up. God worked through my husband, who I found out after the race, lied about not needing his ear warmers and extra pair of gloves so that I would take them and not feel cold during the race, and who let me submit my time to the Chicago Marathon the very next day. God brought me new training partners with similar paces and goals, who I cannot wait to run with and get to know better. God even worked through social media, sending me messages through online running buddies who sent me words of encouragement, and who are giving me lots of advice for Chicago in October. Opportunities to be the presence of God in someone’s life are constantly presenting themselves to us. I hope that when they come to me, I take them and I hope that in future races, I can give back just half of what the running community has given me. See you in Chicago, folks!