I wanted to run the Hartford Marathon 4 years ago, when I was first really bitten by the running bug. I had gone, almost overnight, from thinking that anyone who would run a marathon was completely crazy, to wanting desperately to become one of those crazy people myself.
I got injured, though, and couldn't run the full, but was able to run the half, and had a great experience. And I almost went back and ran Hartford 3 years ago, as my first full marathon, but ended up staying local and running the Breakers Marathon in Newport instead.
But this year, I was on a mission to qualify for both the Gansett and Boston marathons. I knew I'd have a better shot at that if I ran a slightly less hilly marathon, but I still didn't want to travel too far, so Hartford seemed like a good option.
And I have to admit, I kind of liked the idea of going back there to finally do what I had wanted to do in 2007. There was something prophetic about it - like I was fulfilling my destiny, or something profound like that.....
Destiny or not, it was nice that Hartford was a little familiar to me, anyway, and it was exciting driving into the city Friday night. I had been listening to my race playlist in the car on the whole drive down, and seeing the city skyline gave me goosebumps.
A very strange thing happened on the drive there, too. A spider walked across the windshield of the car. Totally freaked me out, of course, but it soon disappeared, and although I was kind of creeped out thinking that it was somewhere in the car, and could end up crawling on me at any point, it wouldn't have been that significant. Except for the fact that, as I drove to Newport three years ago to pick up my packet and go to the expo for my first marathon, the EXACT same thing happened!
I know that seeing a spider in your car is not that unusual, but I honestly can't think of another time between then and now that I've seen a spider in my car. And you have to admit, that's kind of a weird coincedence. I chose to take it as a good omen.
All went smoothly with packet pickup, and I took a quick walk around the expo, got myself some pasta, and went back to my hotel room to unpack and get my things ready for Saturday.
My room in the hotel overlooked the park where the race starts and finishes, so I got to look out at the magnificent arch all night long. It was pretty awesome to be right next to the race start like that - convenient, and also a great way to get me even more excited for everything.
For being in a hotel room, on race-day eve, I got a surpisingly good night's sleep, and woke up just before my alarm went off. Had my usual race day breakfast of coffee and bagel, and spent the next hour trying (with varying degrees of success) to relax.
It was fun to watch the race day coverage on the local news, and simultaneously be able to look out my window and see it unfolding live. People were beginning to make their way into the park, and the sun was coming up over the horizon, and I was ready to go.
I checked out of the hotel and made my way over to the park. There was about an hour 'til the race started, so I had plenty of time for last-minute porta-potty stops, and made a few of those. And I spent a good amount of time just walking around and soaking up the scene. There is nothing quite like the energy of the crowd on marathon morning. It's an amazing thing to experience.
Let me note here that the weather was awesome! A little windy, but wonderfully cool, and blissfully dry. After running hundreds of miles in disgustingly humid weather this summer, some of which had spilled over into our unusually warm fall, I was so relieved that we were going to be spared tropical air and would instead enjoy much more seasonable (i.e., comfortable) weather.
With 25 minutes to go, I made my way to the start. It was still pretty quiet over there, so I found a spot in between the 8:00 and 9:00 pace signs, and waited. When I first got there, I was ridiculously nervous. But as the minutes ticked by, and the crowd filled in, I got almost eerily calm. I think I was just relieved that I was finally going to actually do this. I was ready.
After what seemed like an eternity, the pre-race ceremonies were done, the horn sounded, and in just about 30 seconds, I had crossed the mat, hit start on my Garmin, and I was on my way. I left my iPod off for the first 3/4 mile, so that I could enjoy the sounds of the crowd - a good decision, I think : )
Miles 1 - 13 don't need much description, because they were really the easiest part of the race for me. I had printed out a pace band for myself, and was checking it religiously at every mile, and I was exactly on pace and feeling wonderful.
My mind was kind of all over the place, and I kept getting ahead of myself a bit, and remembering how hard it was going to get in the second half, and wondering just how awful those last 6 miles were going to be.
But every time I started thinking that way, I reminded myself to stop worrying and just enjoy where I was right now. This was the fun part, and I needed to focus on being in that moment and enjoying it.
I didn't want to look back and see the whole race as a horribly stressful experience. And I think I did a good job of pushing out the worry and stress, and I really did have fun those first 13 miles. I smiled a lot, and took all the encouragement I could from the spectators who lined the course at many, many spots.
When I crossed the timing mat at the halfway point, I smiled again, knowing that my time was going to be sent out to my Facebook page, letting everyone know that I was on track, and that I was doing this!
It was a tough spot, too, though, because as great as it is to be halfway done, you're also ONLY halfway done, and you know full well the second half is going to be nowhere near as enjoyable as the first.
Mile 14 - 20 were my least favorite 6 miles of the entire course. They were run as an out-and-back loop on a long road. I'm not a fan of out-and-back loops like that to begin with, and on every single long training run I did, those were the toughest miles of the run for me, so it was kind of a double whammy.
I tried to think positive, and it was pretty cool at first to see the marathon leaders go flying past us in the other direction. But after a while, I was just tired and annoyed and wanted to be on that other side, going in the other direction.
It seemed to take forever to get to the turnaround at mile 17, but finally, finally, it was there. There was a litlte bit of a headwind on the way back, which was a little disheartening at first, but it let up a little bit at times, too, so I don't think it really affected my time all that much - just got my spirits down a bit.
But I was still holding on. My pace was slowing a bit, mostly because my walk breaks at the water stops were getting a little bit longer. I always stop for a quick walk break when I stop to get water, but in the early miles those breaks are super quick. In the later miles, it's harder and harder to get moving again. I tried not to drag them out too long, but that did slow me down a bit.
I wasn't too far off pace, though, and since I was aiming for 3:40, but my qualifying time was 3:45, I had a little wiggle room, so I knew I was still doing ok.
Crossing the 20-mile timing mat was again both encouraging and disappointing. I was so happy to be at that point, but the thought of running 6 more miles and maintaining my pace seemed nearly impossible. The race really does start at mile 20.
People always say you should have some kind of motivational catchphrase you can call up at times like that, but I've never really had one. And I didn't have one in mind for this race. But out of the blue, one came to me, from a very unlikely source.
There's a pretty popular children's book called "We're Going On A Bear Hunt," and the family goes on a bear hunt, through all different kinds of terrain, and as they approach each type of terrain, their refrain is "We can't go over it, we can't go under it, we've got to go through it."
And that - of all things - is what popped into my head, and what I kept repeating as I ran through those final 6 miles.
There was no way around it. I hadn't come this far to not succeed. I wasn't going to run 20+ miles and give up. The only way out of this was to go through it - through the pain, the exhaustion, and the mental fatigue.
I don't think that's what I was consciously thinking at the time (my brain was kind of fried by that point), but looking back, I think that's why that phrase popped into my head.
Wherever it came from, or however I interpreted it, it doesn't really matter, becuase it worked.
I was hurting, and I so did not want to be doing this anymore, but amazingly, the miles still seemed to be ticking by pretty quickly.
I had a brief moment of near-meltdown when a bug flew in my eye around mile 22. Seriously? With everything I was already dealing with, I was now going to have a bug in my eye?
Luckily it was nothing a few blinks couldn't get rid of, and I prevented the meltdown and got myself back on track.
Mile 23. Thank god. Only a 5K left. And as long as I can run 10-minute miles, I'll still make 3:45.
Mile 24. Two miles. Can I really keep this up for two more miles?
Mile 25. Scott should be just around the corner. Thank god. I could use a friendly face right about now.
Mile 25.5. Uphill. A small one, but at mile 25.5, even a small hill sucks. But there they are - Scott and Carmine. Hallelujah! I don't know where I got the energy, but I managed to throw my arms up in the air and yell "I got this!" I knew I had my qualifier at that point, and seeing them there gave me such a boost. I ran up that hill faster than I had run any of the previous 5 miles, grinning the whole way.
Mile 26. Just around the corner, I'll be heading up the final stretch and crossing under that arch. I cannot BELIEVE I'm really doing this. Almost burst into tears here, but held it back - I wanted to finish smiling.
The finish. And the lifting of an enormous weight off my shoulders. Victory. Success. Mission. Accomplished.
Every single training run, every single mile logged, every single lap around that godawful track, every blister, every disgusting Gu consumed, every lost toenail, every 4:30am wakeup. ALL WORTH IT. All totally and completely worth it.
I walked around a bit, waiting for Scott, and he came up a few minutes later. Carmine was not at all impressed with my achievement, and was far more interested in getting out of the stroller so he could run around and check everything out : )
They only stayed a few minutes, since Scott had to get back home to get Gabe and Dante. And I didn't hang around too long, either. I wanted to get home and be with my family, and I had a 2-hour drive to get there, so I wanted to just get on the road.
I did make sure to walk around for a little while, though, to keep the blood flowing, especially since I'd be sitting in the car for a while.
So now that I've had a few days to reflect, I can honestly say that I don't think the day could have gone better. I wish I could have gotten a teeny bit closer to my 3:40 goal, but realistically, I was expecting to finish right around 3:42, so I'm very, very happy with 3:43.
And I feel very certain that all my race preparations were spot on - the taper made me so rested and refreshed, and the carb-loading really helped, I think. And I honestly feel like, as hard as the race was, it didn't take as much out of me as my 20-mile training runs in the heat and humidity of the summer did. I never once felt anything close to dehydration, and didn't have any of the stomach issues I had on some of my long runs this summer. Weather is such a huge factor in an event like that, and I'm so, so fortunate that the weather cooperated for me.
I'm now officially registered for the Gansett Marathon on April 14 next year. I cannot wait to run this race. A qualifiers-only marathon in my backyard - what could be better?!!!
And I'll certainly try to get into Boston for 2013, and I hope I get in, but if I don't, I think I'll be ok with it. I'd love to have the experience of running it once, but my goal was to qualify, and I definitely did that - with two minutes to spare, no less!
Because I like to have them recorded, here are my splits:
Mile 1 - 8:19,
Mile 2 - 8:08
Mile 3 - 8:43 (ducked into a porta-potty for a pit stop)
Mile 4 - 8:26
Mile 5 - 8:25
Mile 6 - 8:12
Mile 7 - 8:16
Mmile 8 - 8:31
Mile 9 - 8:34 (stopped for my first gel)
Mile 10 - 8:14
Mile 11 - 8:19
Mile 12 - 8:13
Mile 13 - 8:15
Mile 14 - 8:16
Mile 15 - 8:44 (stopped to have Shot Blocks - they take way too long to chew!)
Mile 16 - 8:16
Mile 17 - 8:23
Mile 18 - 8:17
Mile 19 - 8:36
Mile 20 - 8:26
Mile 21 - 8:53 (stopped for last gel - so hard to start running again)
Mile 22 - 8:27
Mile 23 - 8:46 (water stop - nearly impossible to start running again)
Mile 24 - 8:25
Mile 25 - 8:43 (final hill on the course)
Mile 26 - 8:27
Final .2 - 7:32
I've never been so proud to write down the stats from a race -
Official time - 3:43:11
Marathon PR by 29 minutes!!!!!!
Pace - 8:30
11 of 149 in my age group
90 of 891 females overall
485 of 2200 overall
And, of course, Gansett- and Boston-qualifier!
I love happy endings : )