Race Recap: Swamp Rabbit Race to Greenville Half Marathon

I raced a half marathon for the first time in over a year on February 23rd, 2019. I’m on a 50 state race quest and I like to use my February birthday as an excuse to travel somewhere new, a bit warmer and run a half marathon. This year I chose Greenville, South Carolina. That meant my race would be the Swamp Rabbit Race to Greenville.

I didn’t know anything about this race, but I knew it would be warmer than Chicago, so I was in. Kyle and I booked our flight and planned to spend three days in SC. I was really excited to race even though it would be on only 7 weeks of training and untapered legs. I didn’t have big expectations, but I knew I would try to run fast. I was excited until the Thursday before we left when Kyle got so sick. I felt bad for him, was worried he wouldn’t be able to go with me and worried I’d get sick too. But he mustered up his strength and we got on our flight Thursday night.

On Friday I went to pick up my race packet. It was very low key and the volunteers were really friendly. An easy, nice packet pick up is one of the reasons I love smaller races. It helps me stay relaxed.

After dinner I set out my race outfit, drank my coconut water and went to bed early. I was calm.

This race is a point to point, so you start pretty far away from the downtown area. It was 43 degrees and drizzling when I got to the start area. Kyle dropped me off and I had 15 minutes to warm up. I covered about 1.50 miles and threw in some strides. I was just trying to focus on the fun I was about to have, not the pace I was going to try to run. My coach had asked me to cover my watch for this race. We’ve chatted about how my watch can hold me back if I see I am running at a faster pace than I think I can sustain. So, I agreed to try. I figured there would at least be clocks on the course.

I went to line up for the National Anthem after my warm up. There weren’t corrals, but I did see a few pacer signs so I went in between the 1:30 and the 1:37. It was a crowded start and once the cannon blew I still had about 10-15 seconds of easing my way through the starting mats. But I was off. My watch was under my sleeve and there it was going to stay.

I found myself right by the 1:30 pacer by mile 1. He told us he would run the first 4 miles a bit slower since they included all the hills, but then he would pick it up. So I decided to stay with him for 4 miles. There were some definite hills in the beginning, but nothing as bad as what I have been training on. I remained confident and followed this guy for 4 miles. And realized I hadn’t seen a time clock, but there had to be one at the half way point at least, right?

Wrong. I had been feeling good. I didn’t know what pace I was running, but I wasn’t as tempted to check as I thought I would be. I focused on how strong my body felt and how I just needed to lock in my pace and stay there. But I think part of me was really expecting a half way clock. When I didn’t see one, my heart sank. But I was over 6 miles in, I thought I was cruising and I wasn’t tired. I took these all as good signs. It didn’t really matter what pace I was running because I felt comfortable and that is what mattered.

I took my GU with water around mile 7. I half expected some stomach cramping, but happy to report it did it’s job and I felt fine. At this point I just had to stare straight ahead and keep moving.

The rain started at about mile 10. It wasn’t super heavy, but definitely more than a drizzle. A spectator with an umbrella and a cute pup shouted to me, “28th woman. Looking strong.” And it was a nice pick me up. The 28th woman was probably running her PR pace, right? It was kind of unreal not to know. But it helped me mentally to just focus on running. No numbers, no clock checks, no watch checks. I was shocked at how good I still felt. And I was only 3 miles from the finish.

Now this had been a straight shot on the Swamp Rabbit trail since mile 4-5. I didn’t expect any turns. And all of a sudden I came to a bridge that required a right turn. And I turned in front of it. It was a dumb move, but I was so focused that I couldn’t stop my forward motion. A volunteer called for me and I got back to the bridge, but it had cost me probably about 10 seconds. Not that I thought it would matter.

I didn’t spend any time beating myself up. I was having a great race, and this wasn’t all about time after all. This was to test my fitness during this Boston Marathon training cycle and based on feel I knew it was a confidence boost.

The last mile I told myself to just “pick it up” – whatever that meant. I wanted to leave it all out there. I could see the finish line from around the corner and I knew I had less than half a mile left. I rounded the turn, sloshed through a huge puddle and made my way to the grass. The last 0.15 stretch to the finish was on muddy grass, but I thankfully didn’t slip. I threw my hands up and tried to smile. I made it.

I looked down and saw the 1:32:05 on my watch. WHAT. That’s a 3+ minute PR from the last time I ran a half. But I was also instantly bummed to have missed NYC Qualification by 5 seconds. Not that looking at my watch would have made a difference, but how was I so close… I met some IG friends after and it was great to hear how everyone’s races went. Found Kyle near the finisher area and saw my official result read 1:32:08. It was what it was. I was still super happy. I looked at my splits and 9 of my miles started with a 6. My last mile was my fastest of the race with a 6:45. I was in a little bit of shock that I had just run this time and felt so good.

I love the half marathon distance. It’s a challenge, but it’s the kind of race I can run in a new state and still have energy to explore post-race. South Carolina was my 13th race state and I’m so happy I chose this as my February adventure. It’s always a good thing to get out of your comfort zone and explore a new space. If you’re looking for a well run, fun race in Greenville – I highly recommend the Swamp Rabbit.

This race was a big personal win for me. It gives me confidence going into my last 6 weeks of training. I am faster than I think and sometimes I just need to trust myself. Covering my watch and running just for my love of running really worked for me. I think I’ll have to try the same thing at my next half (and find myself those missed seconds).

February 23rd, 2019. 1:32:08.

Boston Marathon Training: Week One-Week Five

Here we are. January 31st of 2019. This month felt both quick and long at the same time, but in terms of Boston Marathon Training, it was definitely quick. I feel like I just started running consistently again and all of a sudden I am five weeks into training.

This training cycle has been a slow build. I was hardly running in November and December, so I couldn’t just jump back into 30 mile weeks off the bat. I try to train smart. Having a coach helps with that. I eased in, I still prioritized strength and yoga, and I am finally feeling a little more in shape.

It’s easy to compare my training to where I was last year at this time. Or two years ago. But I have learned I need to practice patience and it doesn’t do me any good to compare past me to current me. I am confident I will get into the shape I need to be in to run a strong Boston this year. Trusting the process!

Here’s what my first fives weeks have looked like.

December 24th-December 30th:

  • Monday – 75 minute yoga class + 4 miles
  • Tuesday – 1.50 miles
  • Wednesday – 4.27 miles
  • Thursday – HiDef class
  • Friday – Cycle 45 class + 3.32 miles
  • Saturday – 5.26 miles (with tempo miles)
  • Sunday – Rest day

 

December 31st-January 6th:

  • Monday – 3.50 miles
  • Tuesday – Rest day
  • Wednesday – HiDef class + 4.05 treadmill miles
  • Thursday – Hot yoga class, 3×3 class + 5 miles
  • Friday – Hot yoga class
  • Saturday – Hot yoga class + 8.25 miles
  • Sunday – Yoga flow 75

 

January 7th-January 13th:

  • Monday – Strength with Jake
  • Tuesday – 4.34 miles
  • Wednesday – Hot yoga class
  • Thursday – Hot yoga class
  • Friday – HiDef class + 4.23 miles + Yoga class
  • Saturday – 10.50 miles
  • Sunday – Yoga flow 75

 

January 14th-January 20th:

  • Monday – 5.35 miles
  • Tuesday – 5 miles + Strength with Jake
  • Wednesday – 9.26 miles speed workout (400s) + Yoga class
  • Thursday – 5 miles
  • Friday – Rest day
  • Saturday – Rest day
  • Sunday – 10.03 miles + Yoga flow 75

 

January 21st-January 27th:

  • Monday – Hot yoga class
  • Tuesday – 6 miles + 45 minute strength class
  • Wednesday – Strength with Jake
  • Thursday – 10 treadmill miles
  • Friday – Hot yoga class
  • Saturday – Rest day
  • Sunday – 10.28 treadmill miles + Yoga flow 75

Chicago winter has been challenging lately. I am not great on the treadmill and I have had to shift things around, but I’m embracing being flexible. Not much I can do about a polar vortex.

January was also a good month for me for a lot of non-running reasons. I gave up alcohol for 31 days. I focused on getting more sleep. I finally found an answer to my breathing problem after 3.5 months of appointments and tests. And I gave up coffee (which is something I never thought I would do). I feel better today than I have in months. I don’t plan to give up booze or coffee entirely from here on out, but I want to treat both categories as a “treat” kind of thing. I don’t need to have caffeine everyday and I don’t need to drink every weekend. Taking a step back from something let’s me really think about what it does for me and how I want to move forward. I know I am feeling better now than I was on December 31st. Little changes add up.

I’m happy with this start to the year and this start to my training. I have a good feeling about this one.

Winter Running Fixes

It’s no secret that training through a Chicago winter is tough. But if I’m being honest, winter is my favorite season to train in. I just think you have to be prepared.

1. Have people to meet.

I am way more likely to get up early on a cold Saturday morning if I’m going to meet friends. It’s so easy to cancel on yourself. You can just roll over, hit snooze, and say you’ll run later. In the summer I always want to go early to beat the heat, but that isn’t an issue in the winter. So, having a group or a few friends to meet is way more motivating.

2. Be flexible

If ice is bad on Saturday, run on Sunday. If you know a snowstorm will hit at the weekend, maybe run longer during the week. Weather is unpredictable during Chicago winters, but I try my best to plan my schedule so I can run safely and outdoors. I am not a treadmill person, so I’ll do whatever it takes to be outside. Most of the time, this requires me to be flexible.

3. Have the right gear.

I’ll expand more on this later, but having warm gear makes a huge difference for winter running. I swear by a wool base layer, fleece tights, wool socks, and proper shoes. You’ll want to keep your feet as comfortable as possible. When my feet are cold, my whole body is cold.

I’ve been running in the new Mizuno WAVEKNIT R2s recently and can attest that they fit wool socks nicely and do a good job of keeping my feet warm. Since they’re so light to start, they don’t feel as weighed down by snow or rain. Finding the right shoes is crucial for being a happy runner anytime of year.

4. Make your goals prominent.

I try to put motivation on my refrigerator so I see it every day. I write out my time goals, my goal race and put something up from the race itself. It motivates me to get outside when I see that in the morning before I go face the cold.

5. Sign up for a couple fun races.

I think a warm weather destination race is a great escape from winter. I usually go somewhere for a fun race in February for my birthday and I look forward to it through all my December/January training. I think I’m more motivated when I have a fun race in the future. Try it!

What You Don’t Know Can Hurt You

You remember that phrase “what you don’t know, won’t hurt you” ? I was getting ready for bed tonight and this popped into my head. I don’t agree with it. I think what you don’t know can hurt you.

And that’s coming from someone who struggles with anxiety. I can’t fall asleep most nights because I’m thinking of the 19184719 things that could happen the next day. Things I worry about, things that probably won’t happen. But it’s crazy to me how fast your situation can change – for better or worse.

I think there is a fine line between oversharing and sharing enough of the human side of yourself on Instagram. I try not to overshare. But I also think there’s something to be said for sharing real things that other people might be going through as a way to find authentic connection through a platform.

I’m not going to get into all the details of my personal health problems right now. The truth is, I still don’t have any answers yet. And I don’t really want to talk about the “what.” I want to talk about the “why.” Why fearing the unknown can feel as bad as having bad answers. Why not knowing what’s wrong can eat at me all day long, even when it shouldn’t.

I try to put things into perspective each day. I personally know so many people facing tough challenges. Life beats people up, good people who don’t deserve it. I feel other people’s feelings and I forever wish there was a button I could hit to take pain away from people I love. But there isn’t. And the more I think about it the more I think not knowing what the future holds is one of the scariest things.

I get the whole “just try not to worry about the future” idea. Relax. Be here. It sounds easy enough. But really, who can do that? I know I’m a worrier, but is there seriously anyone out there that never worries or has a negative thought or fear about the future? It’s hard for me to not think the worst. When I feel chest pain, I think heart problem. And then my anxiety makes it worse. I know this. But not having a concrete answer makes me crazy.

It’s not that I would want a whole life timeline, or to know exactly what would happen to me every day, but sometimes I wish answers were more clear.

This is rambl-y and doesn’t really have a point. Word vomit from a phone screen when I was too worked up to drift off to sleep. But sometimes I think words & feelings are worth sharing.

Basically, I think my point is, not knowing what’s next or not knowing what’s wrong can be exhausting. And if you’re just hanging in there, that’s okay.

I have to hang on to the idea that everything will be okay. For me, for you, for anyone who needs to hear it. Hang in there.

Miles in Mizuno WAVEKNIT R2s

Post marathon time for me means less mileage and time to reset. I take a look at what worked and what new things I want to try. Usually, trying new shoes is something I’m most excited about.

What I’m running in right now: the new Mizuno WAVEKNIT R2.

Mizunos are new to me. It’s my first time running in the brand, but I’m excited to share what I think of this pair.

Here’s what they look like:

Cute, right? I was really happy when I opened the box. I haven’t had a black pair of running shoes in a long time and I love how easily they match with everything. They’re knit, so they’re breathable. I slipped them on and noticed how comfortable they were immediately.

I’ve been walking in these guys a lot lately too, in addition to running. I wear running clothes a lot of the time, so I’m happy these shoes go well with my outfits and offer my feet the support they need. No shame in my walk to work running shoe game. I always told my Dad I’d never become that woman, but here I am. Comfort over everything most days. And then if I want to run home? I’m ready! I’ve been doing that more and more lately and I like being ready to go at any time.

So let’s talk motion. Mizuno is focusing on “Fit In Motion” with these. Meaning they know your foot changes shape when pounding the pavement and they want these shoes to be comfortable at all times. The shoes almost feel like socks because of how easily they slide on and how snug they are on my feet. There’s plenty of support, but they’re also light and responsive. When my feet swell a bit after some miles, the shoe responds. They don’t feel too tight or restrictive.

I like trying new things, but they don’t always work out. This new pair of shoes was a nice surprise. I’ve got a lot of miles to put in on these and I’m excited for where they’ll take me.

Chicago Marathon 2018 Recap

It’s no secret I love the Chicago Marathon. This race day always ends up being a good race day for me. The city lights up, crowd support is incredible, and I get to see so many of my supportive friends and family members. It feels like a holiday. It’s one of my most favorite days to be a runner and a Chicago resident. And this year did not disappoint.

October, 7 2018 – my fourth Chicago Marathon and my ninth marathon. Regardless of how I was going to perform that day, I was excited to get to run the streets again. I went into this knowing it would be my last Chicago for awhile and I wanted to make the most of it. But that does not mean I was not nervous. I’m always nervous. Marathons are hard!! No matter how many you have run or how fast you run them, they are always hard. That’s kind of the point, isn’t it? We don’t run marathons because they’re easy. I love that even though I am getting faster, stronger and smarter when it comes to marathon training, I still feel those start line nerves. I know there will be miles that hurt. I know I will have to be mentally tough. But I get excited to push myself and see how it will go. But let’s talk about this start line.

I “woke up” at 4:50 a.m. on Sunday morning after tossing and turning all night. I never sleep well the night before a big race. I expect it, which is why I try to get really good sleep the few nights leading up to the night before.  I got dressed, drank some water and ate my peanut butter banana toast. I had been a nervous wreck the day before, but race morning I am usually okay. I was ready. I got on the Brown Line with Kyle and headed downtown.

Getting into the start corral was a little crazy. It seemed much more crowded to me in my corral than previous years. I was trying to find Megan and Steph, but it was pretty difficult. After searching for a bit I just put my phone on airplane mode and accepted the fact that this race was going to be entirely on my own. No one I knew directly next to me, no headphones or music in my ears. I was going to just let the support of the strangers running next to me and the spectators on the sidelines carry me through. Someone sang the national anthem. I shed my usual few pre-race tears. And I was ready. I told myself my time did not matter today, but it mattered that I had fun. My goal was to start out at a sustainable, fast pace and see if I could hold it. If I couldn’t, I couldn’t. And with having been sick for the past week and a half and still having difficulty taking a full deep breath, I wasn’t expecting myself to be able to hold it.

But I started.

The first few miles of Chicago are always chaotic. Your GPS will go crazy, it’s crowded, and you have to bob around people. I had to do a lot of weaving this year, which was a little frustrating, but I tried not to waste too much energy on it early on. I went out at 7:55 pace and felt pretty good. My watch beeped to tell me I had run a 5:22 first mile, which was obviously incorrect, but this is why it is SO important to practice your race pace in training. You have to know how it feels. Being too reliant on watches and pace numbers is not a good thing. You have them in training to help teach your body how to feel the pace – and luckily I had this down.

At mile 2.50 I saw my parents. They’re my biggest fans and have not missed a Chicago Marathon of mine. I really can’t say how much their support means to me. Seeing them on the course lights me up. And it helped that they were easy to spot since my Mom always makes cute signs for me.

Around mile 5 I saw Cait, Jenny, Arielle and Kyle. They were going nuts and it made me so happy to see them. I had a little bit of negative self talk happening mile 4-5 about being able to hold my pace for 26.2 miles, but when I saw them I knew I had to try. These women (and Kyle) have helped shape me into the runner I am. We’ve all crushed marathon courses together and even though they weren’t running next to me today, seeing them reminded me how strong we all are and I knew I was going to try to make them proud.

I was feeling pretty good by mile 10. It takes me awhile to find my groove, but 10 was groovy. I loved the course change this year and getting to run farther north early on so that by the time I hit Old Town I was already around mile 11. I saw my crew again even though I wasn’t expecting them there and this started my favorite part of the course. Running down Wells brings tears to my eyes. I think about the hundreds of times I’d run down it to go to a speed workout. All the late night and early morning runs that had gotten me to this point. I think it’s really important to reflect while you’re running a marathon. It is no one day or one week that gets you here. It is months, even years of hard work. Celebrate it.

I saw my parents again after the half marathon mark. I shouted to my Dad, “It’s okay – I feel really good!” And he laughed. He was really worried about me running today after having trouble breathing all week, so I wanted him to know I was okay. I would not have pushed it if my breathing was truly labored while I was running. Thankfully, it wasn’t. And I had run the first 13.1 miles in 1:41:12, right on pace for a PR.

I told myself now was the time to relax. I was running around 7:45 pace comfortably and I didn’t want to get ahead of myself. I was gaining energy from the crowd and having fun. Truly. Running marathons are fun for me. I smile so big from the signs, the cheers, the bands, everything. Miles 14-18 are when I really try to enjoy the experience.

When I get to 18 I tell myself the real work starts. So, I pushed the pace. I dropped down to 7:35 and felt pretty good. I was kind of worried I wouldn’t be able to keep it up until 26 though, so around 20 I pulled back a bit. I was still feeling good and was confident I was going to have a strong finish, but I also wanted to conserve as much energy as I could so I would have a final surge.

At mile 21, my legs started feeling tired. That’s totally normal, but I told myself I had to just “hangout” where I was. Just “jog” at 7:45-7:50 pace and I’d get to the finish. As if that’s a jog, but I was trying to convince myself in the moment that it was. Then, I ran into Amanda.

Amanda, (@blackbeanqueen), was running next to me and said, “hey you look familiar.” We follow each other on Instagram, but had never met in real life. Funny how things work out. She was hurting too and we weren’t talking much, but we said we’d stick together for the next few miles. I so appreciated the company. We knew we were hurting, but we were still cruising and it was nice to have the extra little bit of support. We stuck together for about 3 miles and I’m really grateful for that. I started picking it up a bit and she was all about me going ahead, so I went with it. The last 2.50 miles were going to be on my own.

I tried to push my legs a little bit faster and the turnover just didn’t feel like it was there. I wasn’t slowing my pace, but I wasn’t really picking it up either. For a minute at 24 I had the thought, “do I really care if I PR? I could slow down to 9 minute pace and feel way better.” I went back forth for about a minute. The temptation to relax and slow down was there. But I don’t give up easily. It was a silly thought. I literally said to myself out loud, “Dale, you can do this. You’re going to PR.” And that was that. I was going for it. I wasn’t really looking at my watch, but I knew I had to just hold my pace and I would do it.

I had a few other strangers shout “Go Marathoner Dale!” as I ran by, which I loved. The support from you all means so much to me, especially out on a race course. And as I got to mile 25 I saw Jenny and crew again and waved. I yelled, “I’ve got this!” and was 100% confident I did.

That last mile is LONG. It feels like the longest part of the course. You’re tired. You’re ready to be done. But the energy is unreal. I kept telling myself to just put one foot in front of the other. One step at at time.

800 meter mark. This sign always gives me chills. It’s just an 800. One 800 meter rep from a speed workout. I reminded myself I had run my 800s this training cycle at a 3:11 average and one was a piece of cake. (Not ever a piece of cake, but I told myself that anyways and forced a smile).

400 meter mark. SO CLOSE. And this is where you have the little baby hill that worries people. Chicago is as flat as a pancake, so at this point of the race this hill does feel like a hill. But I love hills and I was ready for it. I surged ahead, passed people, and knew that finish line was mine when I turned the corner.

The final sprint. I have no idea how fast I was moving, but it felt FAST. I was giving it all I had until I crossed.

I stepped across that finish line at 3:22:58. A 3+ minute PR and I was elated.

It’s hard for me to even describe the feeling of a marathon finish line, especially when you PR, but it beats most things. I LOVE it. I’m exhausted, but proud of myself. And I love to just take a minute to stand there and take it in before reuniting with my people. Ran into my coach just past the finish line too and he said, “How’d that feel?” Good. Damn good.

The slow walk over to Grant Park feels like miles, but I always enjoy it. Everyone is shuffling along and smiling so big. When I get to the family meet up area I always get hugs, some tears, and high fives. I have such supportive people in my life and I don’t take that for granted. They make this day even better for me.

The Chicago Marathon is a world class marathon. It is well run, well spectated, and FUN. It’s a holiday to me. I gave it all I had this year and it was a better day than I imagined. A little faith in yourself and a lot of hard work goes a long way.

But no matter the outcome, I am grateful for the marathon. It’s an accomplishment that makes you work for it every time and I just keep coming back.

Here’s to the next.

A good training cycle?

I’ve been thinking a lot about what makes a “good training cycle” lately. I am one week out from the Chicago Marathon. It will be my 4th Chicago Marathon and my 9th full marathon. I have done the training thing a little differently each time and I have learned a lot along the way. Do I feel like this time around was a good one? Yes. I think so.

(Photo: Aaron Ross Stories)

I got a late start to marathon training this time. I usually like to train for 17-18 weeks, but I needed an extra long recovery period after the Boston Marathon, so I didn’t actually start training for Chicago until the second weekend of July. To be honest, feeling behind wasn’t great for me mentally. My first few weeks of training felt awkward, difficult and not very fun. I even thought about withdrawing from the marathon. I don’t like to do things unless I give them my all. That is true for just about everything in my life, but especially marathons. I know it isn’t smart to go into a marathon under trained or feeling unhealthy, so I sat with this decision for a bit. But after a few weeks of slogging it out I started to feel like myself again. Runs started feeling easier and I had some speed back in my legs. So, I decided I was going to run this marathon after all and I was going to give it my all for the next 10 weeks.

The heat was pretty brutal this summer. And I won’t sit here and say that every single run I had from August on was amazing – it wasn’t. But I committed. I got out there when I didn’t want to, I struggled through some tough runs, and I got stronger. My peak week this time was lower mileage than my Boston training cycle. I cut a few tempo runs short. And my monthly mileage totals were a little lower than what I usually do, but I felt good. I felt like I was putting in solid work. I was running injury free and I was happy with my return to the grind.

So, this all got me thinking. What makes a good training cycle? Is it hitting 50+ miles a week? Is it running injury free? Is it not skipping any runs? Is it feeling consistently mentally strong? This answer depends on the person. I’d love to hear what you think. But I wanted to decide if for me, this training cycle was a “good one.”

Despite the late start and the first few weeks of struggle, here was my “good”:

  • I logged a long run every weekend.
  • I shuffled around my schedule to make my training work with my life.
  • I had two of the strongest speed workouts I’ve ever had.
  • I avoided over training.
  • I made it to yoga once a week.
  • I strength trained 1-2x a week.
  • I used running time as friend time when I could.
  • I reminded myself why I love marathon training.

So to me, this was a good training cycle. It wasn’t perfect by any means and I think on paper my Boston training cycle was a little stronger. But I felt good throughout these past couple of months and I am proud of myself for getting back into this sport I love. I juggled some life changes, I kept up my social life, I had a fun summer and I still logged important, happy, fast, slow and therapeutic miles.

I actually think the way I treated my training this time around was the healthiest yet. I worked hard, but I didn’t let it stress me out. I ran because I wanted to run. And I wasn’t taking my ability to train for granted. I logged my easy runs easier than ever and I ran my fast reps faster than ever. I recovered well. I took my nutrition seriously. And I can say tonight that I am truly looking forward to toeing the start line of my 9th marathon next Sunday.

I love the marathon distance. I love that you can’t cheat it. It’s always hard, you’ll have to believe in yourself to get to the finish, but you’ll also see your true strength. Am I going to PR again on Sunday? I don’t know. Am I going to enjoy every step? Yes. I love the Chicago Marathon so much and I am feeling grateful for the chance to run again. I’ll do what I always do – I’ll run the first half with my head and the second half with my heart. No matter what the time on the clock says, I will be proud of another marathon training cycle conquered and another marathon finish line crossed.

The Boston Marathon Recap: 4.16.18

On April 16th, 2018 I ran my first Boston Marathon.

I knew the day would be epic, but I didn’t anticipate just how historic it would be. When you work to get somewhere for years, you can’t let anything stop you from living out the dream and crossing the finish line. Standing in the start corral with my poncho and pink dish gloves in the pouring rain I felt fearless and unstoppable. That’s the energy I knew I needed to get me through 26.2 brutal miles and I was ready. But let’s back up.

Flying into Boston on Friday I felt like a celebrity. I saved my Boston jacket for that morning before heading to the airport. It hung in my closet for months, but I didn’t so much as try it on. I wanted that moment of feeling done with training and rewarding myself for all my hard work when I got to the airport to head to Boston. Putting it on at 3:15 AM before heading to Ohare made the ridiculously early wake up a little easier. It felt good. I was proud. It was something I had worked toward for years. I couldn’t get the smile off my face. People were probably like “why is this girl so happy at 4am??” But I was. Getting to my gate and seeing multiple other people in their jackets made me feel like we were all in some really cool club. Boarding the plane came with congrats from the flight attendants and a few other passengers. It’s like people knew how much this meant to me. I could barely sit still the whole flight as my body buzzed with excitement.

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Saturday was the day I picked up my bib. Jenny and I met up once she landed and headed straight to the Expo. It was overwhelming sure, as most expos are, but I felt like everyone was in the best mood. I smiled at everyone. I didn’t mind the crowd. We paused for photo opps and made the most of it. 15350 was the number – it was mine. This was happening. I kept feeling like I had to pinch myself.

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Sunday was fun day (I mean the whole trip was), but this day was all about trying to remain calm. We went on one last shakeout run and it was almost as great of a run as the marathon itself because we ran right into MEB! We were right next to the finish line and he was walking past to take a picture at the memorial from the 2013 bombings. We stopped running and he waved us over to join him for the picture. After we took the picture he pulled us all in with his arms around us and gave us some advice I’ll never forget. He said we were running for those who can’t, the people we lost at the 2013 Boston Marathon, and for ourselves to celebrate our ability to move. We just had to focus on being grateful to be out there and we’d have an amazing race. He said the marathon is always hard, but be grateful for the hard. It was one of those moments where I felt myself hanging on every word trying to imprint it in my brain forever. I couldn’t believe this happened on a little 2.50 mile shakeout run, but it felt like fate. Thanks Meb.  I carried your words with me that next day and always will.

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Sunday night after the Red Sox game and dinner with my Boston 365 team I was feeling pretty calm. Kyle went to stay with my family, but I stayed with Steph and Melissa. Jenny hung out with us for awhile – we talked game plan, wake up time, logistics, etc. We knew the weather was going to be horrendous. It was a high of 40 degrees, 40 mph winds, and constant rain. We were ready. We had our ponchos laid out and Jenny had a brilliant idea to go out and buy us dish gloves. She came back with 4 pairs of hot pink rubber gloves that went up to our elbows. I’m not kidding. And these gloves would end of being my life saver. After Jenny left and we were trying to relax/get tired I did get pretty anxious. As excited as I was, I was nervous. It was the Boston freakin’ Marathon after all. I wasn’t all that worried about the weather, but I was afraid the course itself was going to be brutal. I got in my head a little bit, but Melissa and Steph decided to sing musical soundtracks and all was right with the world. I can’t even say how glad I am that I had them to share my first Boston experience with. We talked for awhile and had trouble falling asleep, but it was almost time.

5.15am: alarm goes off.

Despite my panic over not waking up for my alarm, I was wide awake. I didn’t even feel like I slept, but I knew that would be the case. I got up, brushed my teeth, got dressed, grabbed my peanut butter toast and went downstairs to meet Jenny. We were lucky enough to have a meeting place in our hotel for our team and a bus was coming to pick us up right outside the front door.

6:30am: we boarded the buses.

We were able to walk right from the hotel covered circle drive onto our bus. Have I mentioned how amazing the Boston 365 program is? They spoiled us. I was surprisingly calm knowing I was still dry and would be for awhile. It took about an hour to get out to Hopkinton. We parked in a lot just a short walk from the athletes village where we’d stay for the next hour and a half or so. Once we stopped moving, my nerves heightened, but I was thankful to have so many calm, experienced runners around me. We all knew this was going to be rough, but everyone was in good spirits. And maybe the best thing about the bus? The bathroom on board. I could nervous pee as many times as I wanted without having to wait in a line in the rain – game changer. Jenny and I waited as long as we thought we should and then made our way to the outside world. We were excited, but there’s only so long you can sit still and watch people walk past outside the window in the pouring rain and crazy wind. We were ready to just get out there.

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~9:45am: getting to the start line.

This part is a blur. The rain was coming down and even though we didn’t have to go far, we weren’t confident in what was happening. We got to the athlete village and found a van to stand behind with our feet under the bumper for another 15-20 minutes before they called our corral. Once they called us, we went over to the influx of people and stood and waited looking for Steph and Melissa. We probably stood there for another 10 minutes, but didn’t see them and felt like we were running out of time. So, we went to the start. Turns out we were at a dead stop for too long because people weren’t walking through the bathroom lines. There was no real way to know what was happening, so we waited as patiently as we could. But once we got up to a volunteer and said, “we’re wave 2 corral 8” and she said, “oh they all already left” – we panicked. So, we started running. We didn’t want to miss the start time of our first Boston Marathon. You know those stress dreams where you wake up late and find yourself sprinting a few miles to the start line (no just me??), well that’s what this felt like. We were RUNNING. We honestly probably ran close to a mile before we got to the start. And we didn’t even stop when the start line was in sight. Jenny helped me rip off my poncho as we crossed over the timing mat and all of a sudden we were running the Boston Marathon.

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~10:30am: mile one.

I tried to take some deep breaths and realize what was happening. The start line was a cluster with this weather and it really didn’t feel real. I had to tell myself “this is really happening, I am running the Boston Marathon.” Jenny and I told each other again that we were calm and ready and we’d just stick together as long as we did: no plan. We were going to take this one mile at a time.

10:56am: 5K cross. (7:56 pace)

We were just cruising. We found a groove and we weren’t going to let this crazy weather stop us. To be honest, it was crowded. We found ourselves weaving a lot, but we were trying not to worry about it since there was nothing we could do. My biggest fear for this race was going out too fast. I DID NOT want to crash and burn. And I knew my energy would be up with this late in the day start time and all my anxiety around it. I’m proud of holding a 7:56 pace for the first 5K. It was fast, but not too fast or too slow. It was a perfect start.

12:14pm: half marathon cross. 1:42:52. (7:48 pace)

I’m skipping to the half way mark because the first half was pretty much a blur. The hardest part? Getting out fuel with soaking wet everything. At each water stop Jenny and I grabbed water and figured out where we’d attempt to take fuel. The first time – around mile 6-7 was the most difficult. We held each other’s rubber dish gloves while we were moving and got those little plastic packages open. It was tough.  But that doesn’t mean we weren’t having fun. At around mile 5 Jenny looked over at me and said, “Dale, we’re running the Boston Marathon.” At mile 7, I said, “this is 7 already?!” And each time we stepped over a time mat in lock step we said, “another text!” – thinking of our friends and family getting texts that we were still running together. It was great. I was so thankful for the company. We weren’t focusing on the toughness of it, but rather the epic-ness and I’m proud of us for that. We crossed the half way mark at 1:42:52 and Jenny looked at me and said, “Dale, I think you’re going to PR.” I laughed and said, “we will see” but we did pick up our pace a little and the idea was in my head. Could I? In these conditions??

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1:09pm: 20 miles. 2:38:00. (8:00 pace)

To our amazement, Jenny and I were still together at 20 miles. We weren’t looking at our watches or worrying about time, but just trying to take it all in. We’d look out for our spectators, grab water, repeat. The miles FLEW BY. My Garmin never read an 8+ minute mile, but I guess we did slow down a bit before mile 20. The hills started kicking in around mile 17. I didn’t even know where Heartbreak Hill was exactly, but I was bracing myself. We had practiced on the hills out in Barrington for so many Saturdays, we knew we were prepared for this. The first big hill seemed intimidating, but we got to the top after passing a lot of people and I thought to myself “wow that wasn’t bad at all.” I saw my family right after the first one and I couldn’t get the smile off my face after that. I felt worse for them standing out in this weather just to watch me than I did about running in it. They were troopers and I was SO happy to see them on the course.

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At some point in this set of miles a volunteer told me Des won. I’m not even sure which mile it was, but I was like “Really?! You’re serious?” I yelled. I was SO happy for her. I’d had that thought for a couple miles of the race picturing her breaking the tape knowing that in this brutal type of day she’d be a top contender. Hearing she had won while being out there was incredible. A huge thank you to that volunteer who told me. She must have known I would want to hear.

But back the to hills. We kept clicking them off one by one. And we kept weaving and passing people. It was such a confidence boost. Yes, the course was hard. And yes, the rain was coming down and the wind was wailing, but we were strong. We didn’t lose steam – we gained it. And that’s where Steph came in.

1:23pm: 35K. 2:51:37. (7:18 pace)

Peep that speed boost. I’ll call it the Steph/Des boost. So, right between mile 20 and 21 I heard someone calling my name. I shook it off at first feeling like I was hearing things (you know mile 20 brain), but I had the urge to turn around and check. Sure enough, it was Steph. She was yelling “Des won! Des won!” And she zoomed by. She was cruising. Jenny looked at me and said, “Should we go? I think I’m gonna go.” And I said go. I wasn’t ready to put it into high speed yet, but wanted her to go catch Steph. I held steady and kept them in sight. They were really only together for a minute and then Jenny kept going. I caught Steph and she said go catch Jenny. She was tuning with her headphones in and looked good, but I listened. I wanted to keep Jenny in my sights, so I picked it up. The pace really felt good. I was almost kicking myself for not picking it up sooner, but I had no idea what to expect with the hills. I didn’t want to lose all my energy by mile 21 after getting beaten down by hill after hill. The good news was I felt better than I had all race. And I told myself I was going to PR. I knew it.

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1:49pm: 25.2 miles. 3:18:19. (7:40 pace)

The rain came down harder. I laughed. I really was smiling ear to ear. I tucked in behind tall guys when I could to try and block some wind. I kept an eye out for my family again since they said they would be near mile 25. I saw them from far enough away and was able to run up to them for high fives. I felt good. Their smiles and cheers brought me to tears. I glanced down at my watch for the first time in a while and saw a 3:18 on the clock. The tears came harder. I knew I had a new personal best in me. I was on track and I was running the FREAKIN’ BOSTON MARATHON. It’s hard for me to even put this into words. I didn’t want to waste any energy on crying, but I couldn’t help it. I couldn’t believe how good I still felt and how close I was. I kept my head up, eyes up, feet moving. I wiped my tears (not that it mattered in this rain). And I tossed my rubber gloves to the side. I had less than a mile to go. I had to focus.

1:57pm: finish line. 3:26:08. (7:52 pace)

Right on Hereford. Left on Boylston. I was repeating these words to myself for the last half mile. I knew what was coming even though I had never run this course before. The crowd was huge. The people were screaming and smiling in their ponchos. I was smiling big. And I was cruising. One of my biggest goals for every race I run is to have enough energy left to haul it in once the finish line is in sight. And Boston was no exception. I used the energy from the crowd. I thought about my years of hard work to get here. I thought about the history that had come before me. I used it all to propel me forward and I ran my heart out. That final stretch was my favorite moment and a moment I will never forget. It was just me. At least that’s what it felt like. I was becoming a Boston Marathoner. I stepped across that finish line, smiling, feeling tired and teary eyed, but happy. I was a Boston Marathoner. And I had a run a personal best of 2+ minutes.

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6848 overall. 1378 gender. 1177 division.

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The tears really came now. I am sure I ugly sobbed. An Instagram friend caught up to me and said she saw my doughnut shoes zoom by her at the end and tried to catch me, but couldn’t. She was so sweet. We congratulated each other and split up. I kept walking and crying. A volunteer put my medal around me and another gave me a hug and said, “You freakin’ did it!!” I ran into Maddie from Instagram too. We took a finisher photo and walked out together. It was so nice to have a friend at that moment. It was like an out of body experience. We parted ways to head back and find our families. I almost made it back myself. My body felt pretty good, tired of course, but I wasn’t limping or anything. I just felt a little lost, so I called Kyle and he found me. We took an escalator down to my family and I cried again. I was so grateful they were all there to celebrate with me. I’d be nothing without my support system and it really meant the world to me to share this experience with them.

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I was proud. It was a blur, but an amazing blur. I took in as much as I could and I can honestly say I enjoyed every mile. I kept all negative thoughts out of my head. I never once told myself, “Wow this is miserable.” or “Ugh I don’t know how I will do this for 26.2 miles.” I stayed positive and that made me strong. I was grateful for all my tough training in harsh weather and my ability to focus on the good. Nothing could have stopped me from getting to that finish line. The PR was just icing. I learned just how tough I am that day. And the true power of positive thinking. When things get tough you can push through or bail out, those are your options. I pushed through. I had fun. I became a Boston Marathoner.

Boston, I love you. This race stole my heart, and I will be back to run it year after year for every year I am able. There’s nothing like it.

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The Boston Dream

The Boston Dream: To Conquer the Original.

I decided I would one day run the Boston Marathon before I had ever run a marathon. I had run some half marathons and I knew I really enjoyed running, but the marathon was a distant dream for me. 26.2 miles? At a sub 8 minute pace? Crazy.

In August of 2014 I went to Boston for the first time as an anniversary trip and one morning I decided to lace up and run to the finish line. I stopped when I got there and kind of just stared at it. It’s weird to feel like paint on concrete is emotional, but I was overcome with emotion standing there. I stood for a few minutes, decided I was going to cross it for real one day, and jogged home. I bought a Boston Strong shirt and I wrote down in a notebook: “I am going to be a Boston Marathoner.”

I wrote it down, so I had to make it happen, right?

I ran my first full marathon in October of 2014. I didn’t train with a group, I didn’t do a lot of speed workouts, and I didn’t think a BQ would be attainable any time soon. When I said I would cross the Boston Marathon finish line some day, I meant it – but I didn’t say how long it would take. Who knew. I figured I might have to wait until I was in my 40s or 50s. I finished that first marathon with a 4:13:20. I was so proud. And I thought, I’m faster than that.

Fall of 2015: the trail marathon. I had what I would call my worst marathon in terms of how I felt. I was under fueling pretty consistently, I bonked, I cried, I in all honesty did not enjoy it. But I crossed the finish line in a 3:53:33. A 20 minute PR when I was feeling horrible. Part of me doubted that I could ever run faster than that, but the little Boston dream in my head made me want to try again.

Fall of 2016: I joined a running group. I started taking speed work and eating well seriously. I started eating to fuel my runs rather than eating for what I thought would make me look a certain way. I gave into my appetite. Because marathon training makes me HUNGRY. It should. And you should eat to fuel your goals. I still had a similar attitude throughout this training cycle as I had in the past. I didn’t know that I would have a stronger race, but I knew I wanted to enjoy it. I wanted to smile. I needed a new marathon experience where I felt good. And that’s what Chicago 2016 was for me. I ran strong. I had energy left for the last 6 miles. Arielle ran up to me at mile 24 and said, “Dale are you going to Boston?” I screamed in her face (and had to apologize profusely later), but it was kind of an out of body experience. Her words stuck with me for those last few miles and I thought, this is it. Yes. I am getting my BQ. I kicked it into high gear. I tapped into that dreamer in me who knew I was capable. I had a negative split. I flew for the last few miles. And I crossed that finish line with a 3:33:53 (yes flipped those exact numbers for another 20 minute PR)! The best part? I felt amazing and I was smiling. I had my first Boston qualifying time (sub 3:35 for my age group).

Now, the timing with Chicago Marathon means you can’t apply for Boston until the following fall. I was proud of my time, but I knew it would be hard to wait a year to apply and risk not actually getting in. I toyed with this decision for a long time, but I knew I had earned my spot at Boston 2018. I wanted it. So, I didn’t want to risk not getting in with my 3:33 since Boston takes the fastest people first if they have too many applicants.

After a shorter training cycle in the summer of 2017 I decided to race a last chance to BQ in Grand Rapids in September – the weekend before applications for Boston 2018 opened. This marathon is a flat loop course designed specifically for people trying to BQ. I think it’s mentally more difficult than a major marathon, but at least you can kind of zone out and just go round and round. I had an incredible support system there that day that helped me get to that finish line. I hurt at the end. I kept frantically checking my watch thinking I had lost my goal time. But I had Steph next to me for the entire race and she said, “Dale if you look at your damn watch one more time I’m taking it and throwing it.” So I stopped looking. Sometimes you have to ignore your brain and all your control freak tendencies and just have a little faith. We turned the corner and saw Arielle and Jenny jumping up and down screaming at me to run faster. They hopped in with about a tenth of a mile to go and we all crossed that finish line together in 3:30:54. I can’t even say how grateful I was for them that day. I needed the extra support. And I knew I had it. I was going to Boston 2018.

Sure, I still had to wait to apply and get confirmation of acceptance. And those days waiting for that email were filled with anxiety and doubt. What if everyone was even faster that year? What if I didn’t do enough? But I had to wait. I had done all I could. Years and years of work for a dream I carried with me every day came down to an email.

I was sitting in a meeting with my phone in my lap, when I saw the notification. I discreetly opened it under the table and saw it: “Congratulations! This is to notify you that your entry into the 122nd Boston Marathon on Monday, April 16, 2018 has been accepted.”

I had chills.

I teared up immediately and had to remain calm hoping no one noticed. I waited until the meeting was over, went back to my desk and did a happy dance. It was the best email I have ever received. I was going.

With the pressure off, I was still planning to run the Chicago Marathon a few weeks later for fun. I had no time goal since I’d already locked in my spot. But the beautiful thing? Running without pressure is amazing. I stuck with Cait the whole time and crossed that finish line with a 3:28:30. Another 2+ minute PR and a BQ for 2019. It was unreal.

For me, this training cycle has been all about staying healthy. I know not putting pressure on myself works for me. It’s easier said than done, but that is what I have been focusing on this winter. After all this work I didn’t want to do anything stupid and hurt myself before I got to the start line. I have an incredible team behind me who have helped me stay healthy and become a stronger version of myself. I have so many people supporting me and rooting for me who have made this journey all the more worth it.

I get to run the Boston Marathon one week from today. I could type that over and over and it still won’t feel real. I’m having “pinch me” moments every day. I know I earned this spot. I worked so hard to earn it. It wasn’t luck and it wasn’t a fluke. I consistently worked hard and dedicated myself to this dream for the past three and a half years because I knew I was capable. You have to believe in yourself because if you don’t, who else will? It starts with you. In 2014, little inexperienced half marathoner me had no real reason to believe she would qualify for Boston, but it was a dream I wanted to work toward.

So I did.

And at this time next week I will be a Boston Marathoner and that is pretty freaking cool.

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