It ‘s all so strange to think that the baby was only a few weeks old last April when I signed up to run a marathon in mid-November. At the time I thought it would be a miracle if I was able to do much training, but the race was downhill so I hoped that gravity would help out where the baby left me unprepared. I just wanted to do a marathon again, to run a big race and to remember what it was like. I last ran the Boston Marathon in 2014, and while it doesn’t seem so long ago when I type it out, it felt like ages ago—a different life. I had lost myself and I hoped that running a marathon would help me feel more like myself again.
And so it’s also strange to think that I feel like I hardly know the person who ran down the mountain on Saturday, who ran 26.2 miles more than 5 minutes faster than I ever thought I could. I had such low expectations for this race going into it. I didn’t really make any goals except to get to the finish line. But then things didn’t go as I expected.
The first surprise was that the baby was very kind to me through training. He’s been my only baby who has slept through the night at all before 10 months. So for the first couple of months of training last summer, I was getting enough sleep to be able to run before Micah went to work. When school started, I could run with Little Miss and the baby later in the morning. So, to my great surprise, training was not the fiasco I had imagined. And while I didn’t nail every workout, I did almost all of them. My training plan worked well for me—it seemed to be the ideal balance of work and rest with the speed and strength days in all the right order and spaced just right.*
As race day came I felt strong and well-trained—but still, I had no idea what to expect from my training and my body. I didn’t know if I’d done enough downhill running for a race that was essentially down a mountain. One nice thing was that my sister and a good friend were running the race as well. Abby takes a much different approach to running and training than I do. She said that she fully intended to take the full amount of time allotted to her—6 hours 6 minutes, or 14 minute miles. And Madison was so dedicated to her goal of running her fastest marathon. When the race started I just kept telling myself that I needed to run my race and not be concerned about what anybody else was doing. Because some people were there for the scenery and some people were there for the speed.
With my last marathon, I wrote happy thoughts on my arms to keep me inspired and distracted (if need be) throughout the race. I did the same this time and tried to focus on one thought per mile. It was another good reminder that I needed to run my own race, feel my own body, and not worry about what everybody else was doing. Which was great because around mile 8 or 9 I found out that I was running much faster than I had anticipated and that the crowd I was with was hoping to finish much faster than I thought I could. At first I was sure I had gone out too fast and that I would burn out before I got much farther. But I took stock and discovered that I felt fine, good even. Some minor cramps in my legs that passed as I kept running. And soon after the halfway mark, I was able to leave the crowd who were hoping to break 3:10.
To be honest, I didn’t know how I was doing, what my pace was. I just kept going and hoping that each cramp in my legs would pass, and they did. Through each aid station I took a few gulps of water and poured the rest of the cup on my legs, especially where they felt tight. Each time, it worked like a charm—the cramps eased. At least until the last 4-5 miles when everything hurt, but I was pretty sure I could make it anyway.
So when I turned the final corner, with 1/10th of a mile left and saw that I was going to finish in 3 hours 8 minutes, I was shocked. It was such a surprise. It was so far beyond what I ever thought I would be capable of that it still seems unreal. And I still feel like I don’t know what to do with it. Accept it as the best I’ll ever do? Figure it as a fluke of a downhill race? See if I can match it on a flat course?
But then there is this: I wanted this race to be a way for me to come back to who and what I was before I got pregnant and then lost the pregnancy and myself. And I feel like in some way it is a way of giving me hope that not only can I get back to being me, I can be stronger and faster—and more and better.
As for Abby, she didn’t take quite the whole time. But she did come dancing down the final straightaway before the finish line chute in style while my other sisters and brother-in-law cheered her on. She ran her own race—and didn’t walk a step.
*If you are curious, my plan was something like this: a shorter (4-6 mile) run and strength training on Monday, an easy 6-10 mile run on Tuesday, speed training on Wednesday (alternating hill repeats, 30-45 minute tempo runs, and 800 meter intervals each week), rest on Thursday, a 6-10 mile pace run on Friday, and an easy long (8-20mile) run on Saturday, with another rest day Sunday.