It’s no coincidence that in the aftermath of a four week music tour then running the New York City Marathon soon after, I’ve gone through my house and filled bag, after bag, after bag, of things I don’t need. For one thing, I found on tour that I was perfectly happy living with only what I had in my suitcase. I missed nothing from home, save my cats. When I crossed the finish line of the NYC Marathon in Central Park, I felt as if I had shed whatever emotional weight I had carried with me up to that moment. After a year of worrying, fretting, stressing… I made it. I did okay. No, I did just fine.
“I have a good feeling about tomorrow. I feel really good.” That’s what I told my husband André the night before running the Chicago Marathon. My training leading up to the race had gone as well as I could have asked for. The 60, 70, and 80+ mile weeks had been logged. I could run six minute and 40 second miles in my sleep. I flew to Chicago a few days early to adjust to the time change. I did my little shakeout run and strides that morning to stay loose. I had the perfect pre-race pasta dinner and had my race day spandos laid out. My breakfast of two stroopwafels and a banana was perched on my hotel desk next to the coffeemaker, prepped to brew at the flick of a switch. I felt calm and excited. I was ready.
While I ate my breakfast race morning, I picked up where I left off in The First Ladies of Running, a book profiling pioneer women in the sport of running by Amby Burfoot. I was particularly inspired by a quote from Julia Chase, the first woman road racer who did so at a time when women were not permitted by the Amateur Athletic Union to run more than 1.25 miles. This was in 1961.
“Running puts you in touch with your primal self and your deepest resolve. You learn how to deal with pain and other obstacles. You realize that it’s not important to do conventional things. You can do whatever feels worthwhile to you.”
That really said it all. I’ve never known why I’ve felt the need to run. It’s always been in me. It’s shaped who I am and how I live my life and solve problems. I wanted how I raced in Chicago to be an expression of that.
I warmed up by running from my hotel to the starting area of the race. I had qualified for Chicago Marathon’s American Development Program, which allows faster amateur runners a chance to start right behind the professionals, plus amenities like a private warm up area, tent, restrooms, and gear check. After passing through security, I took a second to take in the scenery. Dawn was about to break, the hum of news choppers could be heard in the distance, groups of elite athletes from various countries jogged laps around the warm up area, and solo runners like me were just milling about. It hit me that I had been at that exact spot before, when I played Lollapalooza Music Festival with RAC just two years prior. Worlds collide!
Around 15 minutes or so before the race, the American Development runners including myself were shepherded to our own separate entrance into the first race corral. We formed into a line to make way for the elite athletes going in ahead of us. At one point a very petite Florence Kiplagat breezed by- she would be the defending champion that day. Once they had entered, we were allowed in the corral but had to stand back and squeeze in tight together to allow room for the elites to continue warming up and striding out. It was cold and I could sense the runners around me getting antsy to move. Minutes later, we were finally allowed to jog forward and tuck in as close as we could to the start line. One catch of being in that corral was that you were eligible for top placement and prize money, meaning only your gun time would be recorded. Every second would count! The top male and female contenders were announced for the crowds and television broadcast alike. I could see them waving from where I stood. It was a very “20 feet from stardom” moment. The national anthem was sung. The gun went off.
The beginning of the race played out just as I had imagined it would. I had watched a course preview on video, so I knew I’d be running through a large tunnel right away and I anticipated all of the quick turns within the first few miles. What I didn’t expect was just how many participants would be filling the street in a matter of seconds into the race. If I thought I was anything special for my 2:55 time goal, there were literally hundreds and hundreds of men and women flooding around me. I didn’t allow myself to get swept away and kept at a pace that felt comfortable and easy.
Mile 1 – 6:53
Mile 2 – 7:00
Mile 3 – 6:51
5K – 21:27
The next ten miles or so were completely methodical. The water and Gatorade stations came in steady waves every couple of miles. I kept an eye on my watch to make sure I was keeping at a steady, conservative pace. I took my GU gels filled with sugar and electrolytes exactly as I planned. I smiled and waved every time I saw my husband and parents-in-law, who had strategically planned out how to see me at as many points of the course as possible.
Mile 4 – 6:45
Mile 5 – 6:45
Mile 6 – 6:39
10K – 20:57
Mile 7 – 6:34
Mile 8 – 6:42
Mile 9 – 6:41
15K – 20:48
Mile 10 – 6:48
Mile 11 – 6:44
Mile 12 – 6:51
20K – 21:18
Mile 13 – 6:49
Halfway at 13.1 – 1:29:09
As I went past the eleven mile mark, I did a quick check-in with myself. I was feeling good and the pace was still comfortable. My average mile split was somewhere in the 6:40s. If I could maintain that for the rest of the race, I would be in the 2:57-58 range which I would have been very happy with. If I could drop it down even more, I wanted to wait until later on, when I was positive I had the reserves to hold on. I deliberately eased up the pace through miles twelve and thirteen and cruised through the half in 1:29:09. Side note: En route to running a 2:59 in the 2014 Philadelphia Marathon, I had gone through the halfway point in 1:30:30 which included a 60 second pit stop. When I attempted a 2:55 in Berlin 2015, I went through the half a smidge under 1:28 then crashed and burned with a 3:08 finish.
Right around the halfway mark was my very favorite part of the course. After the runners were taken way up north beyond Lincoln Park and back, we were once again in the heart of the city. The crowds were enormous and they were LOUD. I loved it. How often do you get to run through one of the biggest cities in the US with massive amounts of people lining the streets and cheering for you? That part I will always remember.
Mile 14 – 6:42
Mile 15 – 6:43
25K – 21:19
After the high of running through the city, it was back to business in mile 14 and 15. Mile 14 took us out directly west, then I was in for a rude awakening as we took two quick left turns to head directly east toward Lake Michigan, which happened to be directly into a headwind. I tried to find small packs of people to draft off of, but I never like running in the back. I compromised by running with a pack for a few seconds, then picking another pack a few steps ahead to work my way up to, then another, and so on. I was surprised when I looked down at my watch to see I was still on pace, but targeting little groups of people to chase must have helped to keep up the tempo.
Mile 16 – 6:47
Now this is when things started to get a little hairy. That mile into the headwind was when I began to notice little signs of fatigue. I was working a little harder to maintain pace and I could feel just a little twinge in my ankle. One of my goals for the race was to stay relaxed and comfortable through at least mile 17, if for no other reason than knowing a big group of my teammates from the Oiselle Volée team would be there. Leading up to the race I had even mentally envisioned myself running by my team with ease, smiling and waving, feeling amazing. Presently, I was unsure of how I was feeling. I felt okay, but I was nervous. My ankle didn’t feel great, and each step was a little more painful. Then little by little, another point of pain began to creep into my knee on the same side. Efff.
Mile 17 – 6:52
I spotted André, Arménio, and Elizabeth for what I knew would be the last time I’d see them before the finish. I wanted them to know I was still doing okay so I perked up, waved, maybe gave a thumbs up. I ran by my team. They had all kinds of hand painted signs and were cheering their hearts out. They were awesome. Megan Murray tweeted out that I had just gone by their cheer squad “at a SPICY pace!” I smiled, waved, and ran with ease… or at least pretended to. My knee ached even more. Not fifty meters later it became too much to bear and I stopped off to the side to stretch my leg out, just for a few seconds.
Mile 18 – 6:52
30K – 21:09
Mile 19 – 6:54
My leg was not getting better. In fact, it was rapidly getting worse. I stopped somewhere in mile 20 to stretch out again, and I knew then it was a losing battle. My ankle was throbbing, my knee was wonky, and my hip was getting tighter and tighter, as if there was a taut wire running down the right side of my body and someone was pulling the crank.
Mile 20 – 7:48
I jogged until I arrived at a water station just past mile 21. I stopped and asked a volunteer if a medical tent was nearby and she directed me across the street. I checked in with the course medics. They logged my bib number and offered me Gatorade. I told them I was in pain and I wasn’t sure what to do. They offered me ice, but I didn’t take it because I didn’t want to freeze up my muscles if I was to continue running. They offered me a ride to the finish. I debated about whether I should take it. A DNF would be devastating. But what could I do? Hobble it in for five miles? A volunteer was kind enough to let me use her personal cell phone. I called André but it went to voicemail. As it was ringing, a volunteer told me there would be a medical tent at every mile from there to the finish line, so I could get a ride to the finish from any of those points if I needed to stop. I saw the three hour pace group run by and my heart sank a little bit. I left André a message saying that I hurt my leg, that I was okay. I was going to keep going, but would take a ride to the finish if it was too much. I ended the call, stretched out one more time, took one more swig of Gatorade, thanked the volunteers, and went on my way.
Mile 21 – 11:17
35K – 27:02
The next few miles were a little better. My leg felt okay after stretching it out, and it was more manageable to run with at an easier pace. I could see the three hour pace group not too far ahead and tried to go with them.
22 – 7:11
23 – 7:07
Annnnd nope. My leg and my hip did not like that. I shortened my stride which seemed to help. I came up on a guy that was walking and felt for him as he was struggling too. I said, “Hey! Want to run with me?” and to my surprise he said “yes!” then together we were shuffling. We chatted for a bit and he asked me a few questions, but he had just about the thickest Scottish accent I had ever heard and I couldn’t understand a lick of what he was saying. Plus I was practically in some sort of dream state as I was trying to process what was happening to my body and the rapid deterioration of whatever aspirations I had for that day. I could hardly form sentences myself. But even if for a few moments, we were strugglebus buddies.
24 – 7:48
25 – 7:52
I don’t remember a whole lot from the final miles. I thought things like, “Stay in this. You’re still in this. Less than 5K to go. Two more sub-8 minute miles and you’ll beat your Berlin time.” The most tortuous part was how easy the pace felt versus the pain I was in. It was like any other long run on a gorgeous, perfect day. In marathons I’ve run in the past, it has always seemed the last few mile marks would take forever to show themselves. I would desperately be looking for those big flags reading 24, 25, and so on. This time, the mile marks came and went just like that, blips in time. When I envisioned the last mile of Chicago Marathon, I thought seeing the cityscape and Grant Park coming into view would be this huge relief, like this big arrival. But in that moment it came as a shock- I was that close already? How could that be?
26 – 7:35
.2 – 1:47
I was still in shock as I crossed the finish line in 3:07:52, my second fastest marathon finish. I put both hands over my heart in gratitude. I stumbled my way around the many other finishers celebrating around me. A volunteer put a medal around my neck. I started bawling, which was super embarrassing but I couldn’t help it. I was grateful to have made it to that finish line and simultaneously really upset that everything had gone so wrong. Moments later a photographer snapped my picture. It pretty much says it all.
Another volunteer wrapped me in a Mylar blanket. I continued to move along, one in a sea of little white capes. It was a looong walk back to the tent where I had left my belongings. At one point I accidentally dropped my water bottle. I had to stop, grab onto a trash can or something, and slowly bend down to grab it without toppling over. The next ordeal was walking down approximately three steps to get to another section of the park. All around me finishers were groaning, “what were they thinking putting stairs here??” Yeah, marathon runners are silly.
Little did I know, Chicago Marathon’s race tracking app stopped recording my splits at the 40K mark, a little over a mile from the finish. No one including my family had any idea that I had finished. When I finally got to my phone, there were a lot of messages from people just wondering if I was okay. Yes! I was more than okay! I had finished the Chicago Marathon!
Another short hobble to the finish party zone and I was reunited with André, Arménio, and Elizabeth. There was much hugging and photo taking. It was the first moment that I really allowed myself to be happy and proud of what I had just accomplished. You can set the loftiest goals you want in the marathon, but at the end of the day there is no better feeling than finishing (relatively) in one piece. Especially when I had come so close to giving up.
Later we returned to our hotel and I opened up my laptop. The quote that I had posted earlier that morning popped up again. I read it again, a different person than I was just several hours before.
“Running puts you in touch with your primal self and your deepest resolve. You learn how to deal with pain and other obstacles. You realize that it’s not important to do conventional things. You can do whatever feels worthwhile to you.”
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!
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.
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.
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.
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!
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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!”
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.”
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.
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.