Sunday, October 18, 2015

4 Weeks to a Marathon

It all started the night of August 20th when my coach, Daniel, called to let me know his wife, Katie, had a new job and they were moving to Minnesota.  Most of our communication is online, so it wasn't going to affect me much other than no longer having the random sightings of him at the pool.  Yes, I was happy for him, but still a bit sad for me.  Anyway, as the conversation progressed, I brought up my desire to have him coach me next year through my first marathon.  We had previously briefly talked about my retirement from triathlon and what the future would bring, but the focus was on now, not next year.

His response to me was basically don't wait until next year.  His theory is I am in better marathon shape now as a former Olympic distance triathlete (they end in a 10k run...not all that close to 26.2 miles) than if I train as a marathoner next year, so take advantage of all the training I've done this year.  And, I'm healthy now, and maybe I won't be next year.  As my sports medicine doctor and physical therapist can attest to, I don't have the best track record with running and overuse injuries.  His final words of wisdom were to not make a decision now, but wait until after the World Championships.

I took a look back at my run training over the past few years.  My longest training run ever was while training for Ironman Wisconsin in 2011, and was 18 miles.  Last year I had a few 14 mile runs prepping for a half marathon.  This year my half marathon plans were derailed due to a running injury over the winter that kept my from running for 8 weeks, so my run training maxed out at 10 miles.  Can I really go from a long run of 10 miles to a marathon with 4 weeks of training?!?!

In previous years I have considered throwing a marathon in at the end of the year, but by the time the last triathlon rolls around I am more than ready for the racing season to be done.  For some reason this year has been different.

The closer I got to the World Championship, the more interested I became in running a marathon.  September 19th rolled around, I completed my last triathlon, and promptly texted Daniel that I was in...for a marathon in 4 weeks!  Let's test out this theory that I'll have a faster marathon this fall vs next fall!

The plan...6 days per week of running including 2 long runs at marathon pace, a 5k race to try to go sub-20 which I was never able to accomplish with last fall's running block, and a few track workouts thrown in.  But, take it a week at a time and see how my body responds.  The race doesn't sell out, so I can wait until the last minute to register.  Because of this, I kept my racing plans quiet (Wes, not so much).  I had hoped it would all work out, but if it didn't, I didn't want to have to explain that to anyone.  I put so much pressure on myself during tri season, and wanted to reduce that for this race.

Week 1:
One day off after my final triathlon race, then right into 6 days of running including a 10 mile fartlek run.  This doubled my weekly run mileage.  My injury from last fall seemed to be creeping back.  Not a good start.  I remembered that my doctor told me to wear compression calf sleeves while recovering from the injury this spring, so I started wearing them again.  I think they are the dorkiest looking things, but if it will get me through this, I'll wear them!

Sunday was time for my first long run.  I realized that I needed to get some items to prep for it.  I stopped by my favorite running store, We Run, and picked up a really awesome running belt from Fitletic along with some flask holders to attach to it to carry water, and a couple Gu packets since that it what will be on the race course.  The running belt and holster things are made from neoprene, like wetsuit material, which I hopped would reduce rubbing my skin off.  Ran with it for an 8 mile run with no issues (awesome!), before taking it out on the long run.

I was given a pace to hold as long as I could, and the choice to run for 18 to 20 miles.  He recommended I run on the Macbride trail out of Solon.  Such a beautiful trail to run on, but it's only 4 miles.  A bit of back and forth, but I got it done, and increased my pace the last two miles to below the goal pace.  That went much better than I had expected.  Sweet!

Crushed limestone trail along Lake Macbride

However, I discovered new areas for chaffing!  I'm not used to running that far in run shorts and a sports bra. Time to research alternatives.  I had been eyeing some new Zoot shoes, and discovered they also sell butt hugger shorts.  Hopefully they will work.

Week 2:
Back to the track.  Between the warm up, workout, and cool down, I ran in circles for 12 miles!  The best part of running on the track is an older woman that I see there frequently.  She's always complementing others on the track. I talked to her a bit afterwards.  She had been running for about half the time I was there, and is training for the Run for the Schools like 82 years old!  Amazing!

Long run #2, and a new, faster pace to hold.  Really?!?!  For the first long run I needed to get it in early, so just had a banana before starting the run. This time I wanted to try out my normal pre-race breakfast that I use for triathlons...egg and turkey bacon sandwich on a English muffin, melon, and 3 cups of coffee with soy milk about 2 and a half hour before starting the run.  From mile 1 all the way through the end I could feel it sitting in my stomach.  At several points I wondered if I would feel better trying to puke it up.  I also had no desire to take in any Gu or water (no issues with this for the first long run).

My plan for long run #2 was to also try out body glide to help with chaffing, and forgot all about it until I arrived in Solon.  So, another painful shower when I got home.

Week 3:
Another 10 mile fartlek run, this time a bit harder than the first.  Got it done, and it was nice to know that was my last real 'work', other than the 5k race, for the training block.

My goal was to find a flat, fast 5k race the weekend before the marathon.  At the gym I saw a poster for the Team Breast Friends 5k Rack Run in Terry Trueblood park, which is a fund raiser for breast cancer.  Can't get much flatter than that area!  Coach's advice was to race with an "all or nothing" attitude to break 20 minutes.  "22min is the same as 20:01, so don't be afraid to race with reckless abandon." Ummm..ok, but that sounds painful.

I arrived at the race site with enough time to get in a decent warmup, but cut it short as they seemed anxious to get everyone to the start line well before the race started. Good enough.  I lined up at the start line.  The "gun" went off and I was in the lead...until I missed a turn that was clearly marked to not be a turn (chalk arrows painted forward and big "X" on the ground to the right.  The volunteers which were just down the sidewalk on the right yelled, and I turned around.  Not a huge deal as I had my watch set for 3.1 miles so wherever that happened to be is where I would get my unofficial official 5k time.  I was no longer in the lead.  It would have been really cool to win the race overall, but as the miles went by I slowly lost ground to first and second place.  At 2.5 miles I didn't think the race would ever be over. I checked my watch and the pace it was showing gave me little hope of breaking 20 minutes, but I also didn't know how fast I had taken out the first two miles, so I kept going.  At 2.95 miles I crossed the finish line, saw that the clock said 18 something, and just kept running.  The volunteers probably thought I was crazy.  At 3.1 miles I stopped, looked at my watch, and 19:55!!!  Oh, yeah!  Garmin file proof here.  I walked back to the start line, explained my crazy actions, then took off for a 2.5 mile cool down.

There were a lot of walkers at the race (they had their own division and start time), so I did my cool down around the lake and got to see so many friendly faces also making their way to the finish line. Along the course there were a few groups of high school cheer leaders. They were awesome and peppy, both times I passed them.  Great to have them there!  I also had a chance to look at the signs that were out on the course.  "Save Second Base" was one of my favorites.

The local newspaper wrote up an article on Monday.  You can read it here.

Photo from newspaper article

Week 4:
Race week = full on taper time!  My only hard workout was a fairly easy, short fartlek on Thursday.  Friday and Saturday were short runs to loosen up the legs. I was feeling more confident with each that I could have a decent go at the goal pace for the race, and that my body could handle, so on Monday I signed up!

Also, my butt huggers arrived!  Tried them out for a 5 mile run and the 6-mile fartlek. They worked great, just hope they work just as great for another 20 miles. 

The goal for the race was pretty much stay with the 3:15 pace group as long as possible. Daniel's words of wisdom where "I think on your best day you can maintain pace the second half, but even if you fall off you'll still have set yourself up for a great finish time.  It will come down to just making yourself really uncomfortable the last 10k."  Oh, joy!

Saturday, after the awesome Hawkeye win, we headed over to Des Moines for packet pickup, then I cooked up dinner at my aunt, Carol's house, and my mom and step-dad stopped over as well.  Good family time.  In bed by 10am, slept amazingly, and up at 5am for a bowl of cereal, banana, and a whole lot of coffee!

The Race:
At packed pickup I stopped by the pacer table in hopes to talk to my pacer, but they had all left for the pasta dinner.  But, they had handouts with information from the pacer, which was VERY helpful.  Abel's plan (my pacer guy) was to aim for 3:14.  I though 3:15 was a stretch, and now to stay with him I was going to have to run even faster!  A little stress.   But, I still decided to stick with him as long as possible. 

We arrived at the race site around 7:15am, easily found a parking spot a few blocks away, located port-a-potties with no line, the wandered over to the race start corrals.  Wes found our neighbors who were doing the half so we chatted with them for a bit before making our way near the 3:10 pace group.  I waited and waited for the 3:15 guy to show up.  I started thinking of backup plans just in case, but he made it!  Yeah!

And, we're off!

Right at 8am the race started. It took a few seconds to get to the start line, but thankfully the individual timer doesn't start until you cross the start map. At this point, I was just a few seconds ahead of the pacer.  I hit start on my watch, but apparently not hard enough with my gloves on, so hit it again, which meant my watch time was going to be slightly off from my chip time.  I didn't figure it would be a big deal.

I had my watch programmed for our goal pace +/- a few seconds, and loaded it with two that alerted me if I was out of range for each of the first two miles (these are relatively flat miles) and the other that alerted me each mile for the first 13 miles (these are fairly rolling).  I started what I thought was the 2 mile version, only to find out at mile 3 that it was still yelling at me.  Ugh!  The poor people around me!  But, I didn't want stop my watch or reset it because I would loose my total time.

The pace felt good, but I already knew after a few miles this was not going to be easy.  The miles kept ticking off faster than I had expected.  I felt like we were constantly at another water station, or seeing another mile marker sight.  It was great! 

At mile 10 we saw the leaders coming back at their mile 13 mark.  Wow!  So beautiful to see them run so gracefully, yet SO fast.

At mile 12 the course goes into Drake stadium in the track.  I loved the change of running surface, and picked up the pace a little for that 1/4 mile.

Jumbotron at the track 
Around about mile 12.5 the rolling stops, and we start our decent into Water Works Park.  It's all downhill and flat from there to the end.  Yeah!  Going into the race I had heard the hills were horrible, but I found them to be pretty okay.  Good stuff.  But, I was still glad they were done. 

Mile 14

Mile 16
Mile 18 ("the wall") came and went.  I was still sticking with my pacer.  At mile 20 I realized I was entering uncharted territory, but only 10k to go!  My legs were starting to get tired, and our pace group was falling apart.  We started with about 10 and lost about half of those.  Abel let us know we were still on pace for 3:14.  I started doing the math.  I could back off by 10 seconds/mile and still make 3:15.  I also knew that for each mile I could stick with him, I would have more of a buffer those last few miles to drop off pace.  Miles 21, 22, 23 came and went.  Only 5k left and I was still with the pacer.  I also noticed the mile markers which had been right in synch with my watch were now off by about a tenth of a  mile.  Hmmm... 

Mile 21
Mile 23
Last night's motivational email from coach was "when the going gets tough remember that you're done at the finish line.  Not just done for the day, done for as long as you want to be done".  Just a few more miles.  I can do this, and I'm still with the pacer!  At mile 24 I started getting a spring back in my step.  I was feeling good, hurting, but good.  It was an odd combination.  At mile 25 Abel said we were still on track for 3:14.  Really?!?!  I felt like I was picking up the pace a bit more, but also wondered if it as actually Abel slowing down (garmin data shows I was not any faster, but at least I felt better...such a mental race).  I was his only person left... I had my own personal pacer and he was a great cheer leader, too!  I kept asking where we were.  Was the next corner the last corner?  I expected to see the finish line. Where the hell was it?!?!  With each question he answered, and then said to just stay with him.  That's all that matters.  My watch goes off one more time at 26.2 miles...and I AM NOT AT THE FINISH LINE!  I can see it...but I'm not there.  I can also see the clock...and my watch...and both getting closer and closer to 3:15.  I gave everything I had left, which wasn't much.  I crossed as my watch flipped to 3:14:56...but, I had started it after the start line. Was is 3 seconds after the start line or 5?  After over 3 hours of running, 2 seconds would make the difference between sub-3:15 or not. 

Just me and Abel at mile 26

I hobbled across the finish, met back up with my neighbors and Wes just like 3 hours earlier, found my pacer and thanked him over and over...pacers rock!, then over to the massage tent (oh, that felt so good), food line (wow, they have an amazing selection), then in the car back to home. 

Steph, Dan, and me post-race

Oh, and my official time....3:14:59 :)

If you're a data geek, my Garmin file is here, all 26.31 miles of it.  And, that extra .11 took 44 seconds.

Huge thank to my amazing sherpa, Wes, and to those I randomly saw out on the course.  Since I registered so late, my name wasn't on my bib number, but I still heard my name yelled out and didn't always recognize where it came from.  Each and every time it made me feel a little more inspired to keep pushing forward.  Hopefully if you're one of those people, you read this post and made it all the way to the end :)

Fast like a rabbit!


  1. I saw your name on the age group results for the marathon (I was third) and it was familiar -- I have to ask if you are the Daniela who was my roommate at UNI in the fall of 1995. I'm almost sure you are, but it could just be a coincidence! :-) You ran a great time! Congratulations!

  2. Courtney! Yes! Crazy small world!