My blog is a little bit like my running, isn’t it? It goes through some rough patches but it just keeps stubbornly hanging on. I haven’t given up on you, little blog!
I ran a marathon last month, so I guess I should talk about that in glorious detail. I had a nice little solo “away mission” to Virginia Beach. Surely, the question on everyone’s mind is “why another marathon? Why keep attempting a distance that has pummeled you relentlessly and left you injured or frustrated and sad?” Fair question, dear reader, fair question. It was a question I had to spend a lot of time thinking about at the end of last year. Back in December, I used those long, lonely miles I was running to think about what came next. The more thought I put into it, the clearer the answer became: I needed to run another marathon. It wasn’t about redemption or closure; it was about what I want to get out of this sport in the long term. My goal is to compete for Canada at a major championship, and my most realistic shot at doing this is in the marathon. I could spend the next five years working at the 10,000m, banging my head against the wall, and still not break 32 minutes. A sub-2:35 marathon (Canada’s standard for the 2013 and 2015 IAAF World Championships), I believe, is within my reach in the next few years. And to run fast times in fall 2015 and in 2016, I needed to get another marathon under my belt for the experience and to bridge the gap between my first-marathon-blowup and a time that could qualify me to a major championship.
I decided on the Shamrock Marathon in Virginia Beach because of its flat course, generally favourable weather, and early spring date. The early date was important, as a later marathon would interfere with a summer track season. But it also meant I doing my training during the worst months of another tough Ontario winter. It was far from a perfect build, but overall my workouts were more consistent than last winter. The only major snag was an inflamed peroneal tendon that forced me to take a few days off in late February. I managed this setback fairly well and I was able to hit some good workouts and long runs in the final weeks of my build.
And so I set off for Virginia Beach, cautiously optimistic about my second go at the marathon. Since I was travelling alone, I made sure I had a lot of distractions on hand. Reading Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows may have been a mistake, as being on a taper tends to make me a little more emotional than usual, and that book is a damn tearjerker. Curse you, JK Rowling and your murder-happy book, for playing with my emotions! No, I take it back, you’re amazing. So I switched to watching Marvel’s Agent Carter and playing Dragon Age: Inquisition on my laptop, which are both awesome.
Race morning arrived with decent weather; there was some wind, but the temperature was around seven or eight degrees at the start. I felt pretty comfortable as I settled into my pace hit my first few miles splits right on. Another woman was right with me, but it was far too early to worry about anything other than hitting my splits. After five miles we made the turnaround and started heading north into the wind. I was doing most of the leading and slowed a bit, but I was happier leading and running the pace I wanted instead of tucking in and risking slowing down.
Around mile eight I started to notice I was having some GI distress (to put it politely), which I tried to ignore. After a slow mile split and a lot of mounting discomfort, I made the decision to, ummm…make a pit stop. Now, I’ve made trailside stops or ducked inside a washroom plenty of times on runs, but I’ve never had to do this during a race. Let me tell you: it’s stressful! The on-course porta-potties were who knows how far away, and I couldn’t find an even somewhat sheltered spot on course, so I had to just pull off to the side of the road and go for it. I’m not as skilled as Paula Radcliffe, but I got it done. I felt a little better after, but my stomach was still pretty unsettled. Thus commenced a long “rough patch” where my pace slipped to over 6-minute miles. On the plus side, it took me less than two miles to work my way back up to the lead woman. She must have really shut it down when I pulled to the side of the road for a pit stop, so nice of her to let me catch up! I took the lead again and came though the half in 1:18:46, feeling pretty rough to be honest.
Around 15 miles I finally dropped the woman tailing me for good. More accurately, I more or less maintained pace while she slowed down. It was nice to have a comfortable gap on second place, but damn was it ever lonely out there. Eventually I hit the scenic stretch of the north end of the course, trying my best to keep rolling and ignore the mounting fatigue and soreness in my legs. The cyclist for the lead woman was particularly helpful here, as he shouted a bunch of encouraging things at me. I don’t remember most of them due to marathon-delirium, but it was probably something like this. He was dressed as a leprechaun, so it is entirely possible that the whole thing was a hallucination.
I hit mile 19 and bloody hell, things got bad. Just fatigue everywhere and a strong desire to take a nap at the side of the road. It sucked. I had stopped taking in gels after my pit stop for fear of upsetting my gut any further, so I thought to myself, “well, shit. I guess this is how it feels to hit the wall.” This turned out to be just a bad patch and my brain jumping to conclusions. Miles 19 and 20 were slow; I won’t tell you the splits out of embarrassment, but things got a little better once I hit mile 21. I’m sure it was mostly mental; six or seven miles left to the finish seems so far, but somehow five didn’t seem that bad. I was still hurting, but another 30-some-odd minutes of suffering suddenly seemed manageable to my foggy brain. I pushed hard and managed to get my splits back down to around six-minute miles. Those last five miles were tough, but I was willing to suffer to get my sorry ass under 2:40. My official time was 2:39:33.6, and I felt like I fought hard for each and every one of those 24.6 seconds I was under 2:40 by. After crossing the line I knew I was the first female finisher, but I was surprised to learn that I had been 3rd overall across the line. I guess some men who were ahead of me must have dropped out.
So, the post-mortem: I was moderately satisfied with my run. My A-goal heading into this race was a sub-2:36, while my B-goal was sub-2:40. I was satisfied to have hit my B-goal despite some difficulties during the race. It sucks to have to deal with GI issues, but I think I managed to salvage a decent day out of it. Breaking 2:40 is a good step forward for me and helps close the gap between my previous personal best (2:50:54, which I considered to be a very poor race) and the times I need to hit over the next few years to achieve my goals. The marathon is a really, really ridiculously hard event and I still have a lot of work to do. I am excited to have another go at it next fall, and now I will be able to head into that training block with a bit more experience and confidence.
BTW, here’s my Strava activity (you know, because if it’s not on Strava, it didn’t happen.)
Onward to track season! Happy miles, friends!