Race Recap: Charles River Marathon

The TL;DR:

I had one of the best races of my life! With very few goals in mind other than to nail my BQ, I walked away from yesterday’s race with a 3 minute PR, a BQ with a 9.5-minute cushion, and a second place trophy. It was a magical day and the result of a sweaty, exhausting summer of hard work. I’d say it was by far the best I’ve ever felt before, during, and after a marathon.

The backstory: 

This whole story starts back in April, after the craziness that led me to drop out of the Boston Marathon at mile 21 (more on that here). I knew I wanted another shot at that finish line in 2019, which meant that I had to find another marathon to run before 9/10/18 (more on the insane Boston process is here if you’re unfamiliar). I started hunting for early fall races and came upon the Charles River Marathon, a super-small local race on a 10 lap course. It sounded perfect, but it was sold out. I emailed the race director to see if I could squeeze in, and he told me if I could raise  $150 for charity within the next couple of days I was in. I sent some frantic emails around and within 24 hours–I was ready to roll!

This was my summer.

I spent the next month working with my PT and getting my knee situation under control. In the meantime, I did some poking around for local coaches. I love the coach I’ve worked with in the past, but I thought I could use a push and a change. And I needed someone to agree to coach me to a BQ in just 12 weeks–most people do at least a 16-week buildup. Luckily right around that time I saw that Anoush, a speedy local runner, was taking on new coaching clients. We emailed back and forth and I jumped into a two-week trial. I was all-in after that–her workouts were challenging but doable and she was 100% behind getting me to my goal.

Just as I dug into training, a couple of things happened that could have thrown me off–first, we bought a house, and second, we had one of the hottest and muggiest summers on record. The easier choice would have been to give up–sleep in, skip workouts, and not push hard in the heat. But I didn’t go that route. I stuck to the plan, I stubbornly sweated it out day after day, and I executed. I wanted to know I had done everything I could to get to my goal.

The race:

As race day approached, I knew the weather was going to be good–and it turned out to be one of the coolest mornings of the summer. It was cloudy and in the low 60s and a little bit humid, but breezy. The race started at 7am and I had already picked up my bib, so J and I drove to the start with about 45 minutes to spare, which was just enough for a couple of bathroom trips and some pre-race photos with my teammates. At the start line, I sidled up to the 3:27 pace group so that I could see who was there–with just 200 people total, I wanted to have a sense of who I might end up running with. At a few minutes after 7, we took off on a little added loop before hitting the first full loop of the course. The 3:27 and 3:32 pace groups immediately shot off ahead of me. It was tempting to hang with them, but I had a solid race plan and I knew one of the cardinal rules is that you can’t bank time in a marathon–going out too fast almost always leads to disaster! So I hung back and promised myself I’d keep the pace above 8:10 for the first two loops/first 5ish miles. Splits came in at 8:11, 8:14, 8:10, 8:09, and 8:10.

I grabbed my handheld water bottle from J along with my first Gu, and revved the pace up a bit faster for the next couple of laps. I got a little bit overexcited but could tell I was moving a tad fast, so I pulled back to keep it right around an 8-minute pace. In my head, I was telling myself to keep it steady and even and easy. I quickly overtook a few folks in front of me and clocked the next few miles at 7:46, 7:36 (oops), 8:08, 8:00, and 8:02. After more Gu and hydration (I carried my water every other loop or so–a huge perk of the looped course) I was ready to amp it up just a little bit more.

Loops 5 and 6 I was aiming for a just sub-8 minute pace. Again, I wanted to keep it feeling fairly comfortable and easy. I was mostly by myself at this point, so I focused on getting from Jeremy on one side of the loop to the Oiselle cowbell crew on the other. It was SO incredibly helpful to be able to see my cheer squads every mile or two! These miles came in at 7:53, 7:46, 7:48, 7:48, and 7:40. I didn’t have my watch give me individual mile splits, but I did know my overall average pace for the whole race, so I was able to run by feel during each mile while I made sure the average was where it needed to be. Loops 7 and 8 I held and kept it nice and steady–thing were starting to feel hard, but I got a big boost from a bunch of new and fun surprise spectators! It was so fun to see my friends Cait and Bry out on their long runs, and my parents had shown up with some fun signs 🙂 My splits for this section were 7:45, 7:53, 7:47, 7:31, and 7:40.

After having spent most of the race myself I found myself in lockstep with another female runner. With just a few words back and forth, we decided to stick together to get through what we could. We ran loop 9 together and it was so nice to have someone next to me (thank you, Shira, and congrats on your BQ!). I think marathons really start during the last 10k, so I kept it at what felt like a doable sub-8 pace. We ended up at 7:47, 7:49, and 7:48. As we crossed the start line into our last loop, I felt a rush of adrenaline and knew I had a little left in the tank. Then I heard someone yell out “you’re the third woman!” and something in me clicked into gear.

I set my watch so that I couldn’t see my pace and poured my heart into my legs–that last lap was for ME. I pushed through at a faster clip and as I turned the corner into the last mile, my brother appeared sprinting next to me. He gave me my time minute by minute, trying to push me to get to a sub 3:25 (next time) and then peeled off before the final sprint to the finish. I gave it everything I had left and blasted through the finish, grinning hard and feeling strong. My paces were 7:20, 7:12, 7:11, and 6:51 for the .2.

The next hour or so was a blur–lots of sweaty hugs and kisses, a flurry of excited texts, tons of water, and accepting my second place plaque–it was just surreal. This race took a village, and I want to thank Jeremy, my rock and #1 fan, for supporting me every day in this crazy endeavor and for being the best race crew out there. A big thank you to Anoush both for pushing me and pulling me back so that I could get across both the start and finish lines strong and healthy (if you need a coach, check her out here!) Lots of love to Alexa, Cait, Dana, Sarah N., Sarah D., Kelly, Amanda, Michelle, Jess, Nora, and the rest of my Oiselle Volee for being such amazing running buddies and the best goddamn cheer squad out there (seriously). And to my parents and brother for always being there.

I have another post coming along about what I did differently this training cycle that I think made it so successful, but I wanted to get these thoughts out there while they’re fresh.

On to BOSTON 2019!

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Why I hired a running coach (and you should too)

I’m probably not your typical candidate for needing a coach. I brought my half marathon time from 2:13 in 2012 down to 1:36 in 2016 all by myself. I cut 29 minutes off between my first and second marathons sans assistance. I really enjoy reading about training strategies, researching training plans, and listening to running podcasts. I’m fairly type-A and I thrive off of being busy–accountability is not a problem for me. That all said, after coming frustratingly close to a BQ in Chicago, I knew a few things had to change. I could pinpoint specific components of training that could have gone better, but I had an inkling that an outside perspective would be the thing that pushed it over the edge for me.

I honestly didn’t do a ton of research into different coaches. Coach Laura had been on my radar for a long time because of her fantastic blog. I really liked that she and I are similar runners–a lot of coaches are super speedsters and probably can’t even remember a time when they were gunning for a 3:30 marathon. I also knew, as a blog reader, that she was thoughtful, methodical, and eager to learn new things–all important aspects of coaching.

I actually entered a giveaway for a free month of coaching from Laura and when I didn’t win, she reached out anyway and offered a free two week trial of her services. From then on, I was 100% in. After starting with an in-depth evaluation of my background and goals, Laura and I got on the phone to hash out a plan of how to get me to my BQ. In case you’re curious, here’s what came with my one-on-one coaching package:

  1. Detailed daily workouts with specific goal paces based on both time and effort delivered daily to your inbox and via the Final Surge app (see a sample to the right)
  2. Built-in plans for fueling, nutrition, recovery, and dynamic warm-ups
  3. Individualized feedback on every workout (sent on a weekly basis)
  4. Bi-weekly 30 minute phone calls
  5. Unlimited online communication via Slack
  6. Specific strength training routines utilizing whatever equipment you have available (I ended up buying a set of resistance bands but otherwise everything was at-home and equipment-free)
  7. Incredible flexibility in terms of switching long-run days, tailoring the plan due to travel or work commitments, or change-ups due to weather

I’m planning to put together a full post on the specific training tweaks that I think made the difference for me, but for now I’ll just say that I had the race of my life and blew my goals out of the water, thanks in no small part to Laura’s guidance and support.

Also! Just so it’s out in the open, coaching isn’t cheap. I saw this as a major investment in my running goals–for me, it was worth it to pay for coaching instead of a gym or yoga studio membership. Coach Laura is more affordable than many other coaches out there, luckily, but this isn’t a financial decision to be taken lightly. Think and do your background research before you sign on the dotted line. Full disclosure: if you end up signing up for Coach Laura’s services and tell her I referred you, you get my undying love + you earn me a discount on future services I get from her as well. It’s a win-win 😀

Please feel free to comment below or reach out directly if you have ANY questions about coaching! This was a big decision for me and I’m more than happy to do what I can to help.

Linking up with Amanda for Thinking out Loud Thursday!

Sugarloaf Marathon Race Recap (BQ!!!)

Hello hello and greetings from could 9, where I’m riding the incredible high of yesterday’s race! There’s a monster post ahead but TL;DR–I ran by far my strongest and smartest marathon and finished in 3:28:30, smashing my A goal, PR-ing by 7.5 minutes, and qualifying me for the 2018 Boston Marathon with a 6.5 minute cushion.

Let’s take it back to the beginning… when we hit the road Saturday morning for the drive up to Maine. Armed with lots of bottles of water, we scooted up to Portland and got yummy sandwiches at Sister’s Gourmet Deli (amazing homemade bread, both gluten free and gluten-full!) J and I drove my running buddy Denise and her friend Alisa, and my parents and brother caravaned along with us. We then drove another hour to pay a quick visit to our cabin, where J and I are getting married in September! It’s getting a long-overdue renovation and it was so fun to see it coming together. The last leg of the trip took us on backroads up to Sugarloaf, where we picked up our bibs at the “expo”–marathon for the girls, 15k for J. The bib pickup was smooth and easy, which makes sense given that the race is TEENY–just 1600 runners total. The rest of the night we took super easy. We had a little condo for me, J, my big bro Ari, and my parents–complete with a decent kitchenette that we used to cook up some chicken, roasted sweet potatoes, and a simple salad. Extra salt on everything for me, and some pasta for the gluten eaters. I kept this pre-race meal carb-y and simple, which I think was a big part of why my stomach behaved so well during the race.

After a just ok night of sleep, we were up and at ’em at 5 am for a quick gf bagel (with pb, banana, and salt) and coffee before grabbing the shuttle bus to the race start. We were running a couple of minutes late but we made it onto the last shuttle, which was great until the shuttle BROKE DOWN and had to turn back to the hotel. We still had an hour to spare before the race, but there wasn’t another shuttle in sight (cue freak out)–and then in a glorious moment I ran into a friend from track who offered us a ride to the start! Everyone else did make it on another shuttle, but big ups to Steve for the extra few minutes of cushion. The second amazing coincidence was that I walked directly into Denise and her friends Amy and Sarah who were already halfway up the porto potty line!! We did our business and then shed our layers (it was in the high 30s–BRRRR) before dropping our check bags and lining up at the start. One jarring shotgun shot later, and we were off! 

The first few miles were gorgeous and slightly downhill, but we stuck diligently to the plan and kept them at an easy 8:00-8:10 pace. It was absolutely beautiful along this stretch–still lakes, mountains, and sweeping forests. Once the feeling crept back into our fingers and toes, we hit the first series of rollers, keeping the pace around 7:55-8:00 through mile 8. We knew the hills would be over by the end of mile 10, so we ran based on effort and actively kept the pace under control, even on the rolling downhills.  Mile 9 was a doozy with 178 feet of elevation gain, but all of that training on the Newton hills paid off and we hit the top feeling steady and strong at an 8:26 pace for that mile (by far our slowest of the day, as it should have been!)

Alisa had been driving along the course and we had seen her a few times, but I knew my folks were going to be at mile 11 and it was so amazing to see them after the first steep stretch of downhill. We held it back but let the pace dip to a 7:42 during mile 12 (158 feet of elevation loss), and then settled in around 7:50 until mile 20. Thanks to Coach Laura, I had split the race (in my head) into a 20 mile long run and then a 10k progression run, so we kept joking about the fact that we were just warming up and that the race start was still ahead 🙂 The focus during this section was definitely on fueling every 45 minutes and drinking at every water stop (I ran with my handheld until mile 20, where I ditched it, but I drank whenever we passed a stop and refilled 3 times).

At mile 20 the pain had started to creep in, but my legs had some juice left in them so we amped the pace up to the 7:40s and started to pick people off. It had gotten hot at this point, and I was pouring water over my head at every water stop. I kept repeating my mantras in my head (STRONG. FAST. CONFIDENT.) and Denise and I checked in with each other every few minutes. My knees felt a little bit creaky and I was nauseous, but I managed to hold it together and maintain a sub 7:50 pace through a gradual but deadly uphill climb from miles 23-24. At this point I knew we were safely in BQ territory, but I didn’t let myself get too excited about a sub 3:30 until we rounded the corner into chute. A big perk of such a tiny race was that we finished by ourselves–talk about feeling like a rock star! We decided to grab hands and hold our arms up, and it felt like we flew across the finish at a 7:25 pace.

It was over, finally, and I gave everyone the sweatiest hugs and shed a few incredulous tears when I saw that we had not only BQ-ed (sub 3:35), but that we had broken 3:30 (my A goal) and that I had PR-ed by 7.5 minutes off of my Chicago Marathon time. And oh yeah, we ran a super solid negative split, crossing the first half at 1:45 on the nose and nailing the second half in 1:43:30. Ari finally hit his goal of breaking 3 hours (yup, he’s a beast) and J ran his longest race ever and finished the 15k at a killer 8 minute pace! After the race we showered, snacked, and hit the road towards some decadent burgers and well-deserved beers/ciders in Portland.

I have so much more to say about this race experience, but I have to give the biggest thanks to Jeremy for being incredibly supportive and tolerant, to Coach Laura for her belief in me and her deep well of wisdom and support, and to Denise for being a wonderful friend and for carrying me through the last few miles with grace and strength. I am finally a BOSTON QUALIFIER!!!!!

Linking up with The Weekly Wrap (hosted by Hoho Runs and Miss Sippipiddlin), with Eat Pray Run DC for her training linkup, and with the Jess’s (Jess Runs ATL and The Right Fits).