Every marathon training cycle, you wait for one of those great, confidence-boosting long runs. One of the ones where you feel stronger than ever, and your legs seem like they're on autopilot, just pulling you along.
And when you finish, you know - you just know - that you're ready. You're beyond ready to tackle those 26.2 miles on race day, and you'll have moments where you struggle, but you're ready to push through those moments and cross that finish line like the strong, healthy runner that you are.
A few months ago, I wasn't waiting for one of those runs. I was just waiting to run any distance without pain. The idea of having a great 20-mile training run seemed like nothing more than a pipe dream. But yesterday, I made it a reality.
The forecast all week had been calling for 40-degree temps and steady rain on Sunday. That forecast quickly deteriorated to become torrential rain. Downpours. Flash flood warnings started coming in. It became very clear that this was going to be ugly.
For various reasons - none of which now seems nearly compelling enough - we decided to stick with our plan to run Sunday instead of Saturday (when it wasn't going to rain at all). Our plan was to run 10 miles, and then jump into a local 10-mile race to finish up the 20.
My personal plan was to to run easy with my friends beforehand, and then run the race at a slightly faster pace, which I figured would mean somewhere around 8:15 or 8:20.
Amazingly, not a single one of us bailed, and we all met up as planned to carpool up to the race location Sunday morning, driving through enormous puddles that covered the entire road in spots. We geared up, commented several times about how insanely stupid the whole thing was, and set out to get it done. Because we are runners, and that's what we do.
Not even 100 yards into the run, our feet were soaked. Avoiding puddles was almost pointless, as the rain was relentless, and we were going to be drenched no matter what. We ran a few loops around part of the course, and avoided (or so we thought) one section of road that was completely underwater. Unfortunately, when we looped back to make our way back to the race start, we came up against this same section of road, but we didn't have time to backtrack, so were forced to wade through the freezing cold ankle-deep water.
As we completed our ten miles, we reminded ourselves over and over again that we were building character - we were hardcore! - we would always remember this run - and if we could do this, we could do anything!
We had time for 9 miles before the race, and got done just in time to pick up our numbers and put on dry socks and shoes and clothes. We knew they'd be soaked again in minutes, but it was nice to at least start out feeling slightly less soggy.
I had made a playlist for this race - something I haven't done in years. I had a feeling it would be a good thing to do, and I was right. I put in my headphones almost immediately and really enjoyed having some music to listen to, now that I was running alone. In the rain.
It was a small race, but due to the washed-out road (that we had waded through), the course had been changed to an out-and-back, with a turnaround at mile 5, so there was always someone running relatively close by, which was nice.
I took off way too fast and ran the first mile in 7:46. I knew that wasn't going to be sustainable, so I tried to back off a little bit, and a few glances at my Garmin told me I was staying right around an 8:00 pace.
I didn't know if I'd be able to hold that for the full 10 miles, but I was feeling so amazingly good, I thought I'd try to stick with it for as long as I could. I couldn't get over the fact that I had just run ten miles, yet I felt like I hadn't run at all, and was starting out with fresh, rested legs.
There were a couple of turnarounds where I got to see my friends, and also got to see three other friends from the running club, who were the first, second, and third female finishers - so great to see them in the lead!
The course is nothing to rave about. It's run through Quonset Point, which is a decidedly non-scenic industrial area, with some train tracks, some nondescript buildings, and a lot of very flat, open stretches of nothingness. Throw in the gray, gloomy weather, and it was even less inspiring. It was flat and fast, though, and I had my tunes keeping me distracted, so the miles were really flying by.
As we turned around at mile 5, I was still feeling good, but I was glad to be halfway done with this part of the run. I was still staying right around the 8-minute pace, and I knew if I had kept it up this long, I'd be able to finish it off. I also knew it was going to start to feel a lot tougher, though, and I mentally prepared myself for that.
Miles 5 - 7 were ok - I started to get tired, but my legs were still cooperating. At mile 7, I had to start playing a lot of mental games to keep things moving. At mile 8, I came back to my old "just get through this mile" tactic, knowing that once I hit mile 9, I could count on adrenaline to get me to the finish.
As we turned the last corner and headed into the finish, I passed a woman I had been running just behind for most of mile 8 and 9. I was mostly competing with myself at that point - I wanted to finish strong - but yes, I was competing with her, too. And as it turns out, she was in my age group, and that last little push at the end put me in first place for that age group.
I crossed the finish in just over 1:20, and was absolutely elated. Running 10 miles, then taking first place in your age group in a 10-mile race is a guaranteed confidence booster, for sure.
I waited for two of my friends to come in, and then headed out to run one more mile. We had only gotten in 9 beforehand, and there was no way I was going to go through all that and not run a full 20 miles.
The weather during the race was a teeny tiny bit better than it had been during our pre-race miles - showers, rather than downpours - but I was still drenched all over again, and couldn't wait to get into warm, dry clothes.
Since it was a small race, the awards were done pretty quickly, and I scored a nice mug and a keychain for my age-group win. Always nice to get something I'll actually use, instead of a medal or a plaque.
There are so many more stories to tell about this epic run - how we tried to come up with some kind of military-type cadence to sing/chant as we ran. How two of my friends tried to outdo each other by seeing who could remember - and sing - all the lyrics to "Eye of the Tiger" and "Gloria." How there was very randomly a swing on a tree next to a dumpster, in the middle of this absolute nothingness we were running through, and how one of my friends got on for a quick swing (I wanted so badly to take a picture, but the thought of extracting my phone from the plastic bag and armband it was in was too daunting). How we waded through the ankle-deep puddle and almost lost our shoes to the muddy grass. How I came to a point during the race where I almost laughed out loud at the absurdity of it all.
But what I'll remember most is how thankful this run made me to have this group of friends. I was so tempted on Saturday, when it was nearly 50 degrees and blissfully dry, to just go out and do my 20 miles solo. But we had plans, and I knew that even though the weather was going to absolutely suck, I'd rather run with my friends than run alone. And I am 100% certain that I made the right decision.
As I trained for Boston last year, I got all the emails about when everyone was running on the weekends, and I wished I could go and run with them. But I was focused, and I had goals, and I didn't want to sacrifice those goals. And I'm glad I didn't. That's what Boston was about for me last year, and I'm proud of how hard I worked and what I gave up in order to succeed at what I set out to accomplish.
But this year has never been about that. I had thought it would be, but then I got hurt, and I had to shift my way of thinking. I had to shift it a lot, and it wasn't easy at first. I let go of my PR goal. Then I let go of my re-qualifying goal. Then I nearly let go of my 'please let me just run it and finish' goal.
And as I've made my way back and been running regularly again, I've been tempted over and over to try to find a way back to some of those goals.
But every time I thought about going out for my long run alone so that I could try to run a faster pace, I quickly changed my mind and opted to go with the group. I have nothing to prove this year - not to myself, and not to anyone else.
What I have is a need to be there, and to run the course, and to soak it all in, and to reclaim my Boston Marathon experience - and to be a part of the field of 36,000 that is reclaiming it for all of us.
The phrase on this year's banners is "We run together," and that just couldn't be more perfect.