A Song of Wind and Rain

Let’s be real. Who in their right mind races a hilly 9.3 miles at the crack of down in the cold, wind, and rain as a rust buster out of winter training year after year? It’s a Portland thing, apparently.

Last weekend I raced the Shamrock 15K Challenge for the fifth time since moving to Portland in 2009. It was my first race back after taking almost two months off this winter due to pneumonia. While the couple of months of training leading up to the race had been going well, I knew my fitness wasn’t where it was when I ran my personal best in the same event last year. Still, I love racing Shamrock year after year, and I wanted to get out there and see what I could do. Plus I wanted to add another goofy St. Paddy’s Day theme finishers medal/bottle opener to my ever growing collection.

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Spoiler alert: mission accomplished

Waking up the morning of the race was rough. I had set my alarm for 4am because the race was at 7:30 and I like having a few hours to eat breakfast and wake up before racing. Not only was that so early, but daylight savings began that day so it really felt like 3am! My body was so confused! I peeked out my window to see that it was pitch black outside and raining heavily. Joy! I had my usual pre-race breakfast and coffee, but instead of energizing me it just made me feel full and sleepy. At one point I laid down on the carpet next to my cat and considered going back to sleep then and there. It was then that I smacked myself in the face a few times, dragged myself off the floor, and started blasting Gwen Stefani on Spotify. I had a race to run!

Walking out my front door into a dark, spooky, steady rain was probably the most difficult part of the day. I would be drenched before even starting the race. As I jogged toward the start on Naito Parkway, I finally started to warm up and not focus so much on the weather. I’m used to running in the rain, and since when was that the most terrible thing? I can’t say I’ve ever had a bad workout or race because of rain. Wind, maybe. This was going to be fiiine.

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Pre-race with my Oiselle teammates Sarah Matsumoto & Sara Westermeyer

I ran into some friends at the start line and we exchanged our time and pace goals, hoping to find a bud to pair off with. My goal was to finish under an hour, but would be happy with a pace of 6:30 per mile, equal to a 1:00:35 finish. After taking a moment for a youth choir to sing the national anthem (without the mics or speakers working… because rain), we were off!

My official plan was to go out kind of fast in the first two miles because the course was flat at that point. I hoped to bank a little bit of time before facing the rolling hills up Broadway and Terwilliger. Elevation chart for reference:

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Considering race day adrenaline and getting swept up by the hundreds of runners around me, I anticipated my “fast” would be maybe around 6:00 flat for the first mile. In reality, I went through in 6:30. Oh dear. That indicated to me that I was nowhere near the shape I thought I was in. I told myself that the race was just for fun anyway and if I needed to jog it in to the finish that would be okay. Yeah, I gave up that easily. From that point I just stopped looking at my watch and ran.

The uphill climb began on Broadway. Hills have never been my strong suit, but I tried to maintain the rhythm of my breath and cadence. Those running within my vicinity began to pull away and I let them. This happened every year- I was used to it! We had several more miles of hills ahead of us and I was in no hurry. Toward the end of Broadway though, around mile three, the tide turned. The runners that had gotten away from me earlier were slowly coming back. Rather, I was catching up. This most certainly had not happened in past years. A particular group including three women that had lost me about a mile before were suddenly within reach. I ran with them for a bit then continued to sail on by.

After that little boost of confidence, I continued to zip right up the hills of Terwilliger, passing men and women left and right until settling into a comfortably hard pace. All the while still going uphill. The next three miles or so took their toll as I was seriously sucking air. My heart was pounding through the roof. This also happened every year. My lungs couldn’t handle the intake and it was beginning to sound like I was giving a demonstration of those old school breathing methods to use while giving birth. “Hee, hee, hooo!” with an occasional “HA!” It was pretty embarrassing.

I turned my focus to a new short term goal, which was to catch the next woman in front of me, up about 50 feet. She was quite petite and ran in quick, short strides. It seemed that every time I closed the gap between us a little, she’d pull away again. It might have had something to do with my obnoxious breathing. I didn’t exactly have the element of surprise on my side.

I began to hear a low drone in the distance, which could only mean one thing- the bagpipe players were near! They were stationed at the highest point of the course, meaning it would be all downhill from there. As I dashed by the kilt-clad bagpipers, the road finally dipped down and I was finally able to catch my breath and let gravity do its thing.

After the next turn onto Barbur Boulevard I began to gain on the woman I had been trying so hard to catch up to. Now that we were going downhill, I had a major advantage- my height! I opened up my stride and with each step I covered just a little more ground than she did. I strode past her along with a guy with long hair and tattoos I had been chasing all the way up Terwilliger.

There was really no way of letting up from the downhill momentum over the next couple of miles. I also couldn’t get my legs to physically turn over any faster. A few guys passed by me like it was nothing and even shouted at me to “C’mon!” and “Keep moving!” I tried, but felt totally maxed out. I ran my seventh mile in 5:38, and later calculated I ran the last 5K of the race under 18 minutes. My 5K PR is 18:13! The road finally evened out as it merged into the homestretch on Naito Pkwy. I had lost the momentum of the hill but the finish line was looming near. As I got closer I could make out the number on the digital clock, which read 59:xx and counting. I still actually had a shot at finishing under an hour! I pumped my arms hard and kicked it in across the line with five seconds to spare. Official time, 59:55! It was more than I could have asked for. I couldn’t stop smiling all the way through the finisher area.

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Paparazzi caught me on my run home, finisher medal in hand.

Some valuable feedback from the race:

  1. Incorporating more hills into my every day runs paid off. I’ve never felt so strong on the uphill portion of Shamrock.
  2. A race can totally be salvaged even if the morning routine or the first couple of miles don’t go perfectly.
  3. I’d like to think nutrition and core work played a role in how quickly I bounced back after time off this winter. That was all the encouragement I needed to keep it up.
  4. Must work on leg speed!

Speaking of, I entered the Willamette Invitational 5000 this Saturday, March 26th! Now to translate that downhill 5K onto the track…

I Left My Shoes in Berlin

This has been a year of many firsts and my recent trip to Berlin, Germany was no different. I ran my first international marathon, and for the first time, got to start a marathon as an elite runner.

As I mentioned in my last post, I was feeling a little uncertain about my fitness in the week leading up to the race. However, all of those worries began to vanish as race day got closer. During my last shakeout run the day before, my legs felt springy and ready to go. The weather forecast was perfect. I thought back to all of the successful workouts I had which gave me confidence that I would be able to hit my 2:55 goal.

So the elite start- my family had some connections with the organizers and surprised me for my birthday in August by telling me I would get to start in the elite corral! This meant I would have a ride to the start area with the professional athletes, a private warm up tent and restroom, volunteers that would take my warm up gear from the start area and have it waiting for me at the finish, and of course a starting place right up in front. For an event like Berlin Marathon that hosts almost 40,000 runners, this was truly a treat. While my personal bests certainly do not warrant an elite start in such a prestigious marathon, I was determined to show I was capable and fast.

The day before the race, I attended a technical meeting for the professional athletes which was pretty fascinating. They had very specific protocols for every little thing. At the start of the race, they would announce the top contenders on the loudspeaker and TV. The athletes were to smile, wave, and essentially do something that would look good on camera. At the end of the race, the winner was to celebrate with their arms wide so that all the race sponsors on their bib would be visible for photos. They were also instructed to show emotion and hug their coach or manager. You know, just in case you forget what to do when you win a major marathon!

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Correct vs. incorrect way to win a marathon

On race morning, I waited in a hotel lobby with the top athletes and their coaches to be shuttled to the start. In all directions you could hear every which language being spoken. As we found our seats on the buses, I couldn’t help but think of the precious cargo aboard- the eventual winners Eliud Kipchoge and Gladys Cherono, Emmanuel Mutai and Geoffrey Mutai, who have both run sub-2:04 marathons, and many more prolific runners.

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The elite runners loading onto the bus. I spy USA runners- can you name them all?

We were dropped off right at the start line and ushered to our private warm up/changing tents, separated between men and women. It reminded me very much of the accommodations provided for artists at music festivals, so the territory was somewhat familiar- just replace the open bar with bananas and a stack of Mylar blankets.

After warming up, we were led out to the starting area. I briefly felt like a celebrity as cameramen and spectators alike were filming our every move. Bleachers full of fans clapped and cheered as we strode and stretched along the road. Newscasters made a beeline for the most well known runners, hoping to get a few last minute quotes before the race began. Ravel’s “Bolero” was playing over the loudspeakers, giving the whole scene a feeling of grandiose anticipation.

We lined up soon after and the fastest runners in the field were announced for television. Seconds later, we were off! I tried to be careful not to get swept up in the excitement. The fastest women would be running at a blazing pace of 5:20 minutes per mile (3:18/km). My goal pace was 6:40 per mile (4:08/km), pedestrian by comparison.

My very favorite part of the course was within the first mile. We ran through the Tiergarten and split around the Berlin Victory Column, which featured a beautiful bronze sculpture of Victoria, the Roman goddess of victory. I learned later that Berliners have nicknamed her Goldelse, meaning something like “Golden Lizzy.”

I settled into a pace that felt good, looked down at my GPS watch and saw that I was right on 6:40 pace. Perfect! While my watch kept track of the miles, I kept note of the overall time at each kilometer mark on the course as well. As I was aiming for 4:08s, I paid attention to the seconds and just did the math every km- 8, 16, 24, etc.

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The first ten or so miles of the marathon went by pretty swimmingly. I was clicking off 6:40s like it was no big deal, enjoying the scenery, and navigating the water stations as best I could. Note for those thinking of running Berlin- it was very, very crowded which caused some jostling and the water was handed out in plastic cups, making it hard to drink without spilling all over yourself.. which I did, every time. Not a reason to not run Berlin, but something to be prepared for.

The course took the runners from one district to the next, and all throughout locals lined the streets shouting out “Super! Super!” to all the runners and since my name was printed on my bib, I heard lots of “Go Liz!” and “Leez!” I felt a few random pangs in my ankle early on, but didn’t think too much of it.

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I went through the halfway mark just under 1:28 still feeling pretty good, and confident I could run a faster second half as I had in Philly the year before. However, whatever had been bothering my ankle earlier was becoming more pronounced. And worse, my knee on the same side was beginning to give me trouble as well. What began as a minor discomfort turned into definitive pain. Not good!

As the pain worsened, I accepted the fact that this race would be very difficult to push through. I kept looking at my watch thinking that surely I had slowed down, but it still read 6:50-7:00 pace. Slower, sure, but still fast enough to run a significant personal record.

Then things began to spiral downward. Approaching mile 20, My hips tightened up and my ankle and knee were throbbing. I took my third gel earlier than planned and grabbed sports drink at every aid station, hoping the electrolytes would alleviate the tightness or whatever was happening to my body. I felt a temporary boost, but went right back to feeling awful. I glanced at my watch again- still in the high 6:00s, low 7:00s. Considering how wretched my joints felt, I was still clipping along okay. As my watch chirped at 20 miles, I did some quick math and realized I could still finish in under three hours if I ran the last 10K in 44 minutes. I thought, could I run a 44 minute 10K? I exclaimed out loud, “F— yeah!” I can run 44 minute 10Ks in my sleep!

Boy, was I wrong. Mile 21 was in 6:59. Still good. The next mile was in 6:55. Even better. Then everything just shut down. My legs were done. My hips were done. Time was slipping away and my stride was reduced to a shuffle. Any effort to do more than that was met with the utmost resistance. I stopped a few times to walk and a few times to stretch. I felt like such a disappointment to the spectators whenever I did so, but when I’d rally and begin running again, it was met with applause and cheering. A runner that I remembered passing a few miles before gave me a sympathetic pat on the back as he went by. Thanks, kind stranger!

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It was hard not to feel dejected through those later miles. Here I was at this prestigious marathon, wearing an elite bib, and I felt like the farthest thing from being an athlete at all. You know how you hear about that runner’s high, when running just feels like the most natural thing in the world and you could go on forever? This was the complete opposite. Running felt like the worst, most alien thing I could be putting myself through.

The timing couldn’t have been better for my husband Andre to appear on the sidelines. He cheered for me and took a bunch of photos, and I couldn’t help but laugh at the situation. It wasn’t my day, but what could I do? While I was unable to run anywhere close to my goal pace, I just focused on what I could do- shuffle forward, enjoy the sights, and be happy that I was there and that I WOULD finish this marathon!

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I made it a point to soak it all in until the end. The course took me right by the Berlin Philharmonic concert hall, bringing back memories of “Bolero” playing at the start line. The final turn brought the Brandenburg Gate within sight, the grand finale of the race.

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While my legs resisted, I pushed to the finish and relished the moment as much as I could. I kept up with the official finish protocol from the day before (okay, maybe that was just for the winners, but still) and my “C” goal for the race which was to have fun, and threw my arms up in celebration- something I never do! And just like that it was over. Official finish time, 3:08:50.

 

I don’t remember much from that point on, other than having a strong urge to lay down, which I did on the grassy lawn in the sun by the Reichstag building. It was glorious. Soon after I made my way out to meet Andre, but not before grabbing a pint of non-alcoholic finishers’ beer, a Berlin Marathon tradition.

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I’ve had a few weeks to reflect on this race and I still don’t know exactly why it went the way it did. I flew to Berlin a week before the race with plenty of time to adjust. I stayed off my feet as much as I could and ate what I normally ate. My training went well and I feel confident that I could have PR’ed easily, if not run a 2:55, had the pain in my knee and ankle not been so bad. I will certainly work on my core strength, stability, and flexibility going forward, as poor core strength or running form may have been the culprit. It could have been that my racing shoes were beginning to break down, affecting my form. They had 150+ miles on them, a poor oversight on my part. Wanting to blame something, I took it out on my shoes by leaving them in my hotel room. I’m done with you, racing flats! Of course I can’t complain about footwear too much, as the men’s marathon winner did so with bloodied and blistered feet from the insoles of his shoes slipping halfway out!

Otherwise, I don’t want to dwell too much more on it. I’m more excited about looking forward to what’s next and improving my training for the next go around, which in this case will be the 2016 LA Marathon! But more on that later- I’m heading to the gym.

 

Race Report: Boulder XC National Champs

My goal going into the USATF Cross Country National Championship was to not finish last. It wasn’t an entirely unreasonable objective- I would be up against some of the toughest runners in the country!

I arrived in Boulder two days before the race with my husband Andre. That afternoon, we went for a little hike to catch a view of the Flatirons overlooking the town. I noticed the effect of being at 5,000+ feet elevation right away because I could feel my breath getting short just from walking.

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The Flatirons.
Andre looking stoked to have his photo taken.
Andre looking stoked to have his photo taken.

The next day, Friday, I went to check out the race course at Flatirons Golf Course and do a little pre-race run. I thought the course would be relatively empty, but it turned out many other runners had the same idea. I ran into a few members of Oiselle’s Project Little Wing, a professional training group based in Bend, Oregon. Collier Lawrence and Christine Babcock would be racing and Lauren Fleshman was with them as their coach. Collier and Christine were finishing up their warm up drills and asked if I’d like to join them for their shakeout run. Of course I said yes! Moments into the run, I once again felt the effects of being at a higher altitude. We were running at a comfortable pace, but I could feel my lungs working hard to keep up with my legs. I eventually found my rhythm and began to feel pretty optimistic about the next day’s race. The sky was clear, the grass we were running on was nowhere near as muddy as I predicted, and my legs felt fresh. After completing one 2K loop around the course, we merged with a group of women decked out in Brooks gear. It was none other than the Brooks Beasts (great name), another pro training group including Katie Mackey and Angela Bizzarri. The Brooks and Oiselle runners knew each other and we completed the rest of the second loop together. As this was happening, a guy with shaggy blonde hair and a light, choppy stride skirted around us. I recognized him right away- it was Ryan Hall, the fastest ever American marathoner. He must have been there to support his wife, mid-distance specialist Sara Hall, who I saw warming up just a bit later. Then as we were finishing our run, there casually walking by was Dathan Ritzenhein, one of the favorites for the open men’s race. I’ll admit, I was a little giddy being in the presence (and running with) some of the top runners in the country.

Race day morning, I was still feeling pretty optimistic. My legs felt fresh and it was a gorgeous day. I arrived early to cheer on my coach Greg who was defending champ in the Masters 8K. It was a nail biter of a race. The men went out REALLY fast. Greg stayed right in the mix and even took the lead at one point. In the end, he placed second overall. It may not have been the result he wanted, but he ran a smart race and gave it everything he had. In fact, he ran 11 seconds faster than his winning time the year before. I was very inspired after watching him run, and knowing that we had done similar workouts in preparation for the race gave me a lot of confidence.

Photo by André Allen Anjos
Greg!

Before long it was time to get ready for my own race. I warmed up with a fellow Oiselle runner, Arlene Espinoza, and her teammate Ashlee from Dukes Track Club. I found our team manager, Kristin Metcalf and gave her a big hug, and I did a few drills alongside the Little Wing gals on the warm up field. There is something to be said about being part of a team when charting such unfamiliar territory. I’ve run cross country before, but not in such a high caliber meet and not in the foothills of the Rockies. I was really happy to see some familiar faces (and singlets)!

As I changed from my training shoes into cross country spikes, I felt relaxed and positive. I told Andre I had a pretty good feeling about the race. I made my way to the starting area, did a few strides, and joined my teammates at the start line.

The gun went off, and the women attacked the eight kilometer course at a blazing pace. I thought I would have to restrain myself from doing the same, but it turned out I didn’t have to. I was huffing and puffing within the first thirty seconds. I tried to find a pace that was fast enough to get some good leg turnover while still maintaining breath and composure. The majority of the field quickly got away from me, but I knew if I tried to go with them I’d crash hard. Along with my primary goal of not finishing last, I kept in mind my secondary goal of not being passed in the second half of the race.

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The start of the open women’s race.

I went through the first two kilometer loop in 8:08, around 6:30/mile. Not bad (for me), but already my lungs could not keep up with my legs, and I had to slow down. I’d like to think that fading so early was a foreign feeling, but it brought back some very specific memories from when I first started running in high school. I ran countless cross country meets in which I’d run an excellently optimistic first mile, then crash hard in the second and third, walk some, and ultimately place somewhere toward the back of the field. Now I was reliving it all over again. The field had gotten away and I was straggling behind. I tried not to panic and focused on the things I could control. My breathing was out of control, but my legs and arms felt great. I focused on making my stride crisp and efficient, I ran the tangents of the course whenever I could, and I made it my goal to catch and pass the next woman ahead of me.

I went through the 4K mark at 16:59. I had majorly slowed down and still had two laps to go. I was already suffering, but I tried to keep it together knowing that I wasn’t the only one out there having a tough time. No matter where anyone was on the course, we were all gutting it out together. I tried to stay strong for the people I knew were out there watching- my husband Andre, my coach Greg, my Portland friends (shout out to Kelly Kruell for cheering in no-man’s land on the backstretch, it helped so much!), and the Oiselle crew including Colorado team members, Kristin Metcalf, the Oiselle founder and CEO Sally Bergesen, and pro runners Lauren Fleshman and Kara Goucher. Everyone cheered loud and shouted words of encouragement each time I ran by, though they could probably see I was hurting. I had to keep it together for them! Every time I heard my name, I perked up and picked up.

In the third lap, I felt like I had found my rhythm. I began to gain on the runners in front of me and matched the pace of my second lap. I passed two women and going into the fourth lap I targeted another one. She could hear me approaching and clearly wasn’t going to let me go without a fight. Every time I gained a few steps toward her shoulder, she strode out. She zipped around a sharp corner, but I covered the move. Speaking of high school memories, I remembered my coach in high school always saying to “pass with authority” so I did just that. I passed her and kept my pace up until I was sure there was at least a few seconds between us. After that, I focused on closing the gap between myself and the next runner ahead of me, Drea McLarty of Oiselle (who wrote a wonderful recap of her race here). She was pretty far ahead of me, but chasing her gave me something to focus on and pull me to the finish line. With about four hundred meters to go, I mustered up whatever kind of kick I had in me (which wasn’t much). I thought my heart might burst out of my chest. Andre later told me I looked a little pale toward the finish, which is pretty evident in the photo below. I crossed the line with a time of 34:32, my final lap twenty seconds faster than the previous two, placing 62nd out of 75 women. It was not a pretty race, but I accomplished my goals. I didn’t place last and I didn’t get passed!

The final stretch! Closing my eyes is my signature race-pain coping mechanism.

I took away a lot from racing in Boulder. First of all, I loved getting a chance to meet/reconnect with the Oiselle crew. This was my first time meeting Christine, Collier, Arlene, and Drea, and they were all so sweet and genuine. There are Oiselle runners all over the country and being able to make those in-person connections is really meaningful.

Me, Christine, and Arlene at the finish
Me, Christine, and Arlene at the finish.

Second of all, the race left me feeling very humbled, but more motivated and inspired than ever to be a better runner. I got to witness some incredible talent up close by sharing the starting line with some of the best runners in the nation. Christine’s stunning 13th place performance was good enough for a ticket to Colombia for the Pan American Games. Jen Rhines, a runner I greatly admire, made the podium at the age of 40, qualifying for her 7th USA world cross country team (check out The Rejuvenation of Jen Rhines via Running Times). If my eyes weren’t open before, they are now. Since returning from Boulder I’ve dived back into training with more purpose than ever.

Thanks for the memories, Colorado!
Thanks for the memories, Colorado!

Chasing the Sub-3 Dream in Philly

While waiting for the horn to signal the start of the 2014 Philadelphia Marathon, I couldn’t stop shivering. It was frigid outside. Perfect for running, but not perfect for standing around in shorts and a singlet. I had jogged for about ten minutes and had done all of my skips, leg swings, and A-skips in an attempt to warm up, yet still found myself back at the start with a tad too much time to spare. As the start time drew nearer and marathon participants gathered closer to the start line, a gentleman behind me exclaimed, “I’m getting cold just LOOKING at you!” While I should have been going over my game plan or giving myself a pre-race pep talk, I could only really think about two things: the fact that I was REALLY cold, and wondering if I had time to pee. I decided the answer was “no” and hoped I wouldn’t regret it.

The first six miles were filled with a healthy mix of excitement, hope, uncertainty, dread, and just a hint of panic. My goal for the 26.2 mile race was to finish in under 3 hours, which would require 6:51 minute miles. Luckily for me, there was 3 hour pacer, making his presence known by carrying red balloons and a sign marked 3:00. My plan was to tuck in behind his group and only allow myself to pass them after the 20 mile mark.

Mile 1 – 6:56
Mile 2 – 6:55
Mile 3 – 7:04

Throughout these miles, I saw my parents and sister not once, but twice! I gave them a big wave and a smile both times, and afterward they told me how happy I looked.

Mile 4 – 6:52
Mile 5 – 6:45
Mile 6 – 6:48

Then naturally, as anything can happen on race day, my grand plan unraveled pretty quickly. First of all, the pace felt uncomfortable, and that worried me. 6:50s should have felt easy, at least in the first 10K! Second of all, I was definitely regretting not making one last trip to the restroom before the start. I really had to go. I considered not stopping and holding it. I considered not stopping and peeing my pants. I wouldn’t have been the first marathoner to do it! Then I thought it over and decided if Paula Radcliffe could make a pit stop and still go on to win the London Marathon (2005), I could somehow make this work. The 3 hour pace group had been slowly slipping away from me, but I decided to reel them in a little and minimize the gap as much as possible before making my stop.

Mile 7 – 6:24

I turned a corner and the glorious restrooms were in sight. It was game time. I dashed over, picked a stall, and snapped the door shut. I was hyper-aware of how every second I was in there was another second away from my goal. I had a moment of sheer panic when I couldn’t get the paper to tear off of the brand new roll of toilet paper. THE CLOCK WAS TICKING. I clawed at the roll, desperate to peel away the paper which wasn’t budging. It was like a bad dream. I did what I could and afterward the roll looked like it had been attacked by Wolverine. I didn’t care. I had to get out of there! When I emerged from the room, the 3:05 pace group had just passed by. Oh no.

My immediate reaction was to want to rush back up to the 3 hour group, but I knew if I did I would risk burning out. I picked up the pace just enough to continuously pass the runners between me and the pace group, but not so fast I was leaving them at a standstill.

Mile 8 – 7:56

The time lost wasn’t as bad as I thought. I didn’t time the length of my stop, but it couldn’t have been more than a minute or so.

Mile 9 – 6:42
Mile 10 – 6:55

Right around miles 9 and 10, just by the Please Touch Museum, I caught a glimpse of the red balloons marking the 3 hour pace group. They were still pretty far ahead. I panicked slightly.

Mile 11 – 6:37
Mile 12 – 6:38

As I passed the 12th mile marker, I glanced at the clock displaying the overall time, which read 1:23-something. It was then I realized I was absolutely fine. I may not have caught up to the pace group, but I would make it to the halfway point in 1:30 and change, which was right on target.

Mile 13 – 6:56

Mile 13.1, halfway split – 1:30:30

After passing the halfway mark, I felt so calm. My legs felt fresh and my breathing was relaxed. For whatever reason, a mantra came to me that stuck with me through the remainder of the race: “You have a job to do. Now get it done.” Something about that phrase made it all seem so simple. I thought back on my training and how much time I had dedicated to getting from point A to point B in a very specific amount of time on this very specific day. The work had already been done. All I really had to do was carry it out. For the first time during the race, I felt totally confident in what I was doing.

The next stretch of miles took the runners along the Schuykill River. We were becoming pretty spread out, especially since the half marathoners had split off toward their finish. It was a little windy and I thought about how nice it would be to be running in a group and not all by myself.

Leading the way in no-man’s land.

I tried to keep picking up the pace with the hope I would catch the 3 hour group. How lovely it would have been to just latch on and coast to the finish with them!

Mile 14 – 6:33
Mile 15 – 6:43

At mile 16, I saw my friend Steffi handing out water at an aid station. She might have even handed me water. She cheered me on and it gave me a huge lift. Thanks Steffi! The course then took up into the main street of Manayunk. I loved this part of the race. It reminded me of the quaint New England towns I ran through during the Boston Marathon earlier this year. There were tons of spectators lining the street and cheering, which made for a really fun and energetic atmosphere.

Mile 16 – 6:49
Mile 17 – 6:51
Mile 18 – 7:08
Mile 19 – 6:41
Mile 20 – 6:47

Getting to mile 20 was a big one for me. The mile mark was just after a hairpin turn in Manayunk, and that turn would be my last one before heading to the finish. My plan was to give it everything I had in the last 10K and not hold anything back. I knew that time had come. There was nothing to lose.

Mile 21 – 6:41
Mile 22 – 6:37
Mile 23 – 6:44

Miles 21-23 were my absolute favorite part of the race. Typically those would have been the miles where the pain would really set in. I’d get a deep churning sensation in my stomach and my legs would revolt. This time, however, those miles were simply euphoric. I’ve never experienced anything like it. I felt as if I were firing on all cylinders. I was passing people left and right, and they actually cheered me on. I cheered for them right back. My legs were becoming fatigued, but that was okay. That could only be expected. It was the fact that I was pushing and my legs were allowing it.

Mile 24 – 6:44

You know how I said I was firing on all cylinders? Apparently I could only take so much of that. The screws were coming loose. If I had a little red warning button, it would have been flashing. My right IT band, which I’ve had all kinds of problems with, started to throb. My head started to feel a little foggy. I wasn’t thinking. It was almost like I was on autopilot. You have a job. Get it done.

Mile 25 – 6:55

The end was near. I spent the 26th mile desperately hoping each next curve in the road would bring a glimpse of the Philadelphia Art Museum, the landmark I would pass just before the finish line. I told myself that I could continue to cruise, but as soon as I saw that museum, it would be time to go. Somehow I continued to pass other runners, only for the sheer fact that maybe I was hurting slightly less than they were. A man called out, “You were the one shivering in front of me at the start!”

Mile 26 – 6:56

The art museum finally made its grand appearance. I took off my gloves, you know, just so everyone around knew I was SERIOUS. I contemplated symbolically throwing them on the ground (they’re just cotton throwaway gloves), but then thought I should save them for next time. Why was I even thinking about that? Focus! My knee throbbed. I felt somewhat delirious. I had tunnel vision. I entered the final stretch of the race in front of the museum, with throngs of people cheering on either side. I knew my family was watching and I tried to listen for them. I saw the clock reading 2:59-something and kicked it in as hard as I could across the finish line. Then I stopped. Stopping was glorious.

Gloves off, eyes on the finish! Also slightly disoriented!

I spent the next few minutes in a sort of stunned zombie walk through the finisher area. A volunteer wrapped me in a mylar space blanket and another ceremoniously placed a finisher medal around my neck. I found a huge cart of salted soft pretzels and it was the most beautiful site in the world. I realized that my back really hurt. I bent down and put my hands on my knees, which made it hurt even more. Then I started to sob.

I continued the long shuffle to the exit and somehow found my parents and sister right away. My Dad ran over to me and the first thing he said was, “You did it!” Somehow hearing it from him made it actually seem true for the first time. My sister showed me my finish time, which had been automatically sent to her phone, and it read 2:59:22. They all gave me big hugs, we took some photos, and just like that it was done.

I’ve had a few days to reflect since the race and I feel like I’m still processing 2:59 and what it means. I gave that race everything I had. Once I crossed the line I there was nothing left in the tank. I actually did throw out my back (though after two chiropractor visits and a sports massage it’s a lot better now). My hope is that I haven’t hit the ceiling, and that this is merely a checkpoint on the way toward greater goals!

The Finish Line: Boston Marathon Recap

On Monday I took part in what some are calling the greatest day in running history. It was a day of healing, celebration, and for me, a day to overcome. I ran the Boston Marathon!

Early that morning, there was an energetic and positive vibe in the athlete’s village in Hopkinton. Everyone, including myself, seemed really excited to be there. The security may have been heightened a little as expected, but it was still easy for my Dad to drop me off right in front of the village, and in order to enter, all I had to do was show my race number and get a quick check by a volunteer with a hand scanner.

I was assigned to Wave 2, Corral 1, which meant I got to start in the very front. The first time I ran Boston in 2011, I was assigned toward the back of the first wave, so by the time I actually crossed over the start line, the only thing I could see ahead of me was a sea of bobbing heads. This time, however, there was nothing blocking the view of the pavement leading steeply downhill. It gave me an idea of what it would have been like to start up front like one of the elite athletes earlier that day. It also allowed me to visualize what the scene would have looked like fifty years ago, when the number of entrants was only 400 and it was probably possible to start up front no matter who you were.

The first ten miles or so of the race had some major downhills, especially toward the very beginning. My plan was to run conservatively, with my goal pace being between 7:40 and 8:00 per mile. Even though I started toward the front, I was immediately swallowed up by hundreds of runners passing me on both sides. Despite my intentions, I was shocked when I looked down at my watch as I passed the first mile mark- it read 7:04. I did my best to slow down, but with the combination of having well rested legs, the swarms of people passing me and carrying me along, and the spectators lining the streets and cheering on the runners, it was difficult to rein in my pace. My next mile was in 7:14 and I felt like I was jogging, when in fact, I was well ahead of my goal pace. Eventually I settled in and hit a rhythm of 7:30-7:40 minute miles.

Leading up to marathon day, my left foot had been giving me quite a bit of trouble. Even as I was walking around the athlete village race morning, I had felt a few pangs. After about ten miles into the marathon, however, any worries I had about my foot began to disappear. It felt completely fine for the first time in weeks. I knew my husband and family and friends were tracking my progress online, and I so badly wanted to communicate with them, “Hey, I feel great! I’m going to be fine!” so they wouldn’t have to worry. I went into cruise control, gliding from town to town, smiling at all of the spectators and giving a wave or fist pump to anyone that saw my Portland Running Company singlet and yelled “Yeah, Portland! Go Oregon!”

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Around mile 15, a fellow Portland runner from Team Red Lizard came up beside me and said, “Hey, I think I just heard that Meb won.” Wait… wha?? I had to make him repeat himself. Because this guy was telling me that Meb Keflezighi, an American runner whose personal best was more than four minutes slower than the top contenders in the field, had won the Boston Marathon. I needed more confirmation. As I ran through the next water station, I asked several volunteers who had won the marathon. They had no clue. I asked several spectators as I ran by, and one said, “An American!” Then finally, another runner out there with me shouted, “MEB!” The news was spreading like wildfire- Meb had won the Boston Marathon! He was the first American to do so in 31 years. I absolutely could not contain my excitement. I was grinning ear to ear. It was all the inspiration I needed. I could no longer hold myself back and I started to take off, passing runners left and right. Over the next few miles, the amount of spectators grew, and at soon enough I was dashing through the main street of Newton, its sidewalks filled to the brim with people. My energetic running was earning a LOT of cheering for Portland! It was an unforgettable moment. I kept telling myself that if Meb could win the marathon, I could stand to pick up the pace a bit. I finished that mile in under seven minutes, and threw in a few more 7:30s.

After that magical little moment, it was back to business. It was time to tackle the Newton Hills, and I was ready. I had held back so much earlier in the race, that once I started to ascend the hills, I felt that I could give myself permission to let it hurt a little more. I was able to maintain my sub-8:00 goal pace, but this time I had to earn it.

Once I made it past Heartbreak Hill and entered Brookline, my goal was to not fall apart. It’s always through those last several miles when it seems that time slows down. Despair starts to set in. You start to wonder when you’ll ever see the next mile mark, and when you do, all you can think of is how very far from the finish you still are. It was through those last few miles that I really drew from the support of the crowd. I tried to keep my chin up and be strong for everyone cheering. I wanted to be strong for Portland and strong for Boston. I thought of the the mantras that two of my running heroines had written for me on my bib number just days earlier. Lauren Fleshman wrote, “Be the lion.” Kara Goucher had written, “Always believe.”

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I thought back to the time Kara had run Boston for the first time in 2009, and I was home watching on TV. At the same point in the course I was at, she was chasing down Salina Kosgei and Dire Tune with all of her might. It looked for a moment like Kara had been broken, but then just near the tunnel with 1K to go, I remember her throwing off her gloves and surging ahead once more, refusing to let the other women break away without a fight. I tried to be strong like Kara and strong like Meb had been on that very same day.

As I turned the final corner toward the finish, I did my absolute best to keep it together physically and emotionally. The sound of the crowds cheering was deafening. I heard my name in what can only be described as a ROAR coming from my Dad somewhere in the throng of spectators. My legs felt pulverized and I was getting passed by what seemed like multitudes of marathoners raising their arms and celebrating their soon-to-be finish. I definitely could not lift my arms. I definitely was not thinking about smiling for the cameras. But I definitely kept my eyes on that finish line and continued pumping my arms forward in seemingly slow motion until finally I had crossed.

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I made it. With a finish time of 3:22:31, which is more than I could have asked for considering this crazy year. I was honestly a little stunned. After months and months of worrying about the outcome of the race (read about my training leading up to Boston), and whether or not I would even make it to the start, let alone the finish, there I was, just past the finish line with a volunteer congratulating me and hanging a medal around my neck.

As I slowly and painfully made my way through the finisher’s area, I was met by the friendly faces of volunteers congratulating me, handing me water, and wrapping a Mylar space blanket around my shoulders. I did my best to thank each and every one of them for being there. I eventually turned a corner to make my way toward the family greeting area, where I was met by another big group of volunteers. There were maybe twenty or thirty of them, and they all began clapping for me. I tried to hold in my emotions, but it was impossible. I felt so humbled. I thanked them for being there while trying to wipe the tears streaming down my face. I learned later that almost all of the volunteers in the finish area were returning volunteers from the previous year, when the bombing had occurred. I can’t imagine the emotions they were going through by returning to that very same place.

I continued hobbling along to the family meeting area, which getting to seemed like a mini-marathon in itself. I desperately scanned the crowds for my family, then finally, I saw my sister Katie who gave me the biggest smile. She, my Mom, and my Dad came rushing over and gave me huge hugs, and of course I lost it again. There’s nothing quite like the comfort of being embraced by your family after being in so much physical pain. There’s nothing quite like the Boston Marathon.

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