It isn't often that you miss your marathon goal by three minutes, spend the last 8 miles of the race feeling like you want to die, and still refer to it as your best race experience ever.
But for me, that's what this race was.
I knew it was going to be an amazing day, no matter what the clock read when I crossed the finish line, and I was right.
I've mentioned time and again how proud I was just to be participating in this race, and I'll say it again - the only qualifiers-only marathon in the US - and I was running it! Just pinning my race number on gave me goosebumps.
Running a local marathon also makes for the simplest race prep ever. I cooked my own plate of pasta Friday night, ate dinner with my family in the comfort of my own home, didn't have to pack any bags or consult any maps, and got to sleep in my own bed. It was lovely!
I was still up pretty early, so I had time to eat and digest, and then found myself with tons of time to spare, so ended up making pancakes for the boys for breakfast. It was actually a lot better to have something to do, though - nicer than just sitting around a hotel room being nervous.
Left the house around 7:10, got to the start around 7:20, made a few pit stops, chatted with a few people, and before I knew it, we were headed over to the street.
Scott and the boys were there to watch the start, so I got to give everyone a few more hugs and kisses, and then it was time to go. I was definitely nervous, but as with most races, once I was actually lined up on the road, knowing that I was finally going to get this done, I started feeling much calmer.
The weather could not have been more perfect. It was probably close to 50 when we started - perfect for a tank top, shorts, and arm warmers. There was a bit of a breeze, but it didn't seem like it was so windy that it would present any issues.
I have spent the past 9 months training on this course, and I knew that, given how flat most of it is, I'd have to be really careful about not going out too fast. So I lined up at the back of the pack, and concentrated really hard on a moderate pace for the first few miles - and was very happy to see my first few splits come in at 8:18, 8:17, 8:20, and 8:17.
Running down Ocean Road is one of the nicest parts of the course, and I was just cruising along, really enjoying myself. Since it's a small race, everyone spread out pretty quickly, and I was mostly running alone, but there were still people nearby, so I didn't feel lonely. And since I do lots of my long runs solo, it's really nothing new for me, so I was fine with that aspect of it.
Miles 4 and 5 might have been a tad too fast - both 8:13 - so I did my best to slow down a bit, and got miles 6 and 7 back down to 8:17 and 8:16. I was aiming for an 8:18 pace, so I felt like I was still doing ok pacing myself.
Another advantage of running a local race is that a great number of the race volunteers were members of the local running club, many of whom I've met at least once or twice, and some of whom I've run with numerous times. Being cheered by anyone is an instant boost when you're out there, but being cheered by people you know multiplies that affect tenfold, so it was really awesome to see all those familiar faces.
And one of the great things about this race is that the volunteers had lists of all the participants, so even if they didn't know your name, they'd spot your race number, find your name on their list, and give you a personal shout-out as you ran by. Very, very nice touch, and so appreciated.
Miles 8, 9, and 10 were again a little fast - 8:11, 8:13, 8:13, but I didn't feel like I was going so fast that I'd pay for it later. I did try to rein it in a little, though, and was helped by the fact that Mile 11 (8:17) had a long gradual climb, and Miles 12 and 13 (8:23, 8:21) were on my least favorite part of the course - the stretch along Route 108.
Miles 14, 15, and 16 were the end of the first loop, and a part of the course that I always tended to run faster in training, and I did not want to go flying through those miles and start the second loop feeling completely drained, so I really focused on holding a slower pace, and did well at first. Mile 14, 8:21 and Mile 15, 8:17.
Kind of screwed up with mile 16, though - 8:09. Oops. Passing the finish line, where a good friend and her family were cheering me on, gave me a little too much of a boost. It was so fabulous to see them, though - worth maybe running a little too fast.
I knew that now the real work was going to begin. Loop courses are mentally very tough, and I was just hoping that the fact that I'd done some loops during training would help me out. I kept reminding myself that I had trained for this, and I knew what I was in for.
And I also kept thinking about the fact that I'd be seeing Scott and the boys right around Mile 21 - that definitely gave me motivation to keep moving.
I was still doing ok for Mile 17 - 8:15 pace. And I was feeling pretty good. Getting tired, for sure, and feeling warmer, as it was getting later in the day and the sun was strong. But I still felt like I could handle this pace for at least a few more miles, if not the whole race.
Then at some point during Mile 18 I went around a bend in the road, started running into a headwind, and started falling apart.
I don't know that the wind was any stronger than it had been the first time down this stretch, but it felt like it was. I suddenly felt like every step was a struggle, and every muscle was aching, and this whole endeavor had instantly turned into a battle.
The splits tell the story - Miles 18 through 25: 8:29, 8:21. 8:39, 8:44, 8:28, 8:56, 8:40, 8:45.
I was hurting. Bad.
I had taken two Gus up to this point - one around Mile 7, and one around Mile 14, and my plan was to take my last fuel around Mile 20. I knew I wouldn't be able to stomach another Gu, so I had some Honey Stinger chews, and I worked on forcing those down. It was work, too. The last thing I wanted was any more disgusting gooey crap, but I knew I needed them, so I ate them and kept plodding along.
As I got closer and closer to Mile 21, all that was keeping me going was knowing that Scott and the boys would be there, so when I saw them, I broke out in a huge grin, despite feeling competely and utterly horrible.
Gabe and Dante were jumping up and down screaming my name so loud, I felt like a rock star : ) They ran alongside me for a minute, and I gave them high fives. I would have stopped for hugs, but I was afraid if I stopped, I'd never start running again.
A few more cheers from the volunteers at the water stop, and then, sadly, I was turning the corner back onto the dreaded Route 108 section, and feeling like 5 miles seemed like an eternity.
This part of the race is kind of a blur to me. It was pretty much a constant battle between my body, which wanted nothing more than to sit down on the side of the road and take a nap, and my head and my heart, which had no intention of giving up.
These were some of the toughest miles I've run in any race. I kept trying to remember if Hartford had felt this difficult, but I couldn't recall - probably because I was just as out of it during that stretch in Hartford, too.
I was exhausted, I was sore, it was getting warmer, sweat was running down my face and stinging my eyes, my music was annoying me instead of inspiring me, and I felt like I was going to be running forever.
I really was just willing myself to keep putting one foot in front of the other, and somehow, I managed to do it. I remember seeing some more friends from the running club at around Mile 23, and being so thankful to hear their encouragement.
The turnoff from Route 108 onto Kinney Drive was the milestone for me at that point. I knew if I could just make it to that spot, I'd make it the whole way. I did give in to two walk breaks, though. One around mile 23.5, and another at the water stop just after turning onto Kinney Drive.
I knew my sub-3:40 goal was gone at this point, but I felt pretty good that I could still get a PR. And as hard as it was to start running again after that walk break, I knew I was heading into the home stretch now, so I put my head down and told my legs to get moving.
As I headed into the final mile, I knew I wanted to finish strong. I knew my parents would be there, and my friends, and Scott, and my boys, and I wanted them to see me crossing that finish line with a smile on my face.
For the past 7 miles, I had felt like it was a miracle I was still standing upright, but I somehow summoned the energy to get my feet moving a little faster, and fought through the pain and the exhaustion as I turned the corner and headed back toward the beach.
There were no roaring crowds like at Hartford, and no spectacular finish line banner, but I didn't need that, because there was still that breathless anticipation of knowing the chute is finally within reach, and you just have to hold on for a tiny bit longer.
The final .2 loops around a small grassy patch of land across from the ocean, so my little group of spectators was able to see me as I started that final .2, and then quickly walk right back to the finish and see me cross the line.
I'm still not sure how I managed it, but I ran Mile 26 in 8:03, and the final .2 at a 7:36 pace. And with a grin that stretched from ear to ear.
It took me a few minutes to catch my breath, and I was feeling pretty out of it, and in retrospect, I think I might have been slightly dehydrated. I stopped at every water stop, and there were plenty of them, but I don't think I took in enough water every time. I was not in any kind of danger, but I think drinking a bit more water would have been a good thing.
I took the time now to drink several big cups, and some Gatorade, and grabbed a few orange slices, and started to feel a little better. I hung around for a short while, but I wanted so badly to get home and take a shower, I didn't linger too long.
As I look back at how the day went, I'm not 100% certain why I faded so fast at Mile 18, but I think it was just a combination of factors. The temperature (low 60s) was warm enough to be a factor by the time I was starting the second loop + whether the wind was stronger or not, it felt like it was, and that dampened my spirits + I wasn't hydrating quite enough + the plain old physical and mental exhaustion of running 26.2 miles. It all added up to a really painful 8 miles.
And it also added up to me missing my goal by quite a bit. I had hoped that the first two numbers on the clock would be 3s, but it just didn't happen, and I am a little disappointed about that.
But I'm also incredibly proud of the fact that, in the course of 6 months, I took more than 2 minutes off my marathon PR. That's no small feat.
And even more than that, I'm proud of the fact that I prevailed, despite how rotten I felt during those last few miles, and that I did not let the negative thoughts get the best of me.
Running this race, with so many familiar faces out there, and running among so many incredibly talented athletes, and in such a great atmosphere of camaradarie and enthusiasm and sheer love of the sport - it was something that I don't know if I'll ever experience again. But I'm thrilled that at least I experienced it once!
The final stats -
25 of 38 females
Gansett Marathon Finisher : )