It was a beautiful, late summer day, the blue sky was filled with cotton candy clouds and my husband and I were looking forward to having a little time together by ourselves on the drive to my marathon in Pocatello. In fact, this was the first time we’d been more than an hour away from our kids overnight, and even though the oldest is now 13 and the “baby” is 5, I felt a little misty-eyed kissing each of them goodbye as we left for the weekend.
We hopped into our little Escort and started driving to Pocatello for my 5th marathon – the first one where I felt that my training and preparation meant that I had a shot at qualifying for Boston. For those who are unfamiliar with the process, those runners who want to run in the famous Boston Marathon can’t just sign up, pay the fee and show up to race as in most marathons around the country or world. Instead, you have to first run a “qualifying time” based on your gender and your age in another certified marathon just to have a shot at going to Boston. So, this was my first attempt at “BQing” as other competitive marathoners refer to it.
In May, I ran the Famous Potato Marathon in 3:48:32. Since I’m turning 40 this year in November, I need to run a marathon in 3:45:00 or faster (which works out to about an 8:35 min per mile pace for 26.2 miles) to qualify for the Boston Marathon in 2013. I had chosen the Pocatello Marathon specifically due to the course having 1,550 feet of elevation drop in the race, since I have always ran faster and stronger on downhills and figured this course would help me shave off those 3 1/2 minutes from my time.
The day was lovely and Wayne and I were relaxing and taking in the desert scenery as we drove from Boise to Pocatello. About an hour into our trip, the car started giving off a bad odor like burned oil or the smell a car has when you leave the emergency brake on and drive down the freeway. We pulled into a rest stop and Wayne inspected under the hood and even pulled off the left tire since the bad smell seemed to be coming from around there. While he did that, I took the opportunity to stretch out the legs by doing laps around the parking lot. When Wayne couldn’t find the cause of the trouble, he put the wheel back on, checked all the fluids (which were looking good) and we headed on our way, hoping there’d be no more trouble ahead.
Unfortunately, that was only the beginning of our car troubles. We decided a couple years ago that we were tired of having a car payment and so we paid cash for our little, white Escort wagon ($350!) The car has had trouble here and there, but each time we’ve had minor repair we’ve reminded ourselves that we were saving a bundle by owning our older, used car. So, it was not a huge shock when our cheapy, high-mileage car started acting weird. Too bad for me, though, it was on my marathon weekend, so I was trying not to panic!
We started having a hard time getting the car up to freeway speed. Wayne realized it was the clutch going out and we were trying to decide what to do. We were kind of in the middle of nowhere and were able to maintain a consistent speed of about 40 mph, so Wayne turned on the emergency flashers and he started driving along the shoulder, keeping us moving forward towards civilization but out of the lanes of faster traffic. Each time we’d pass an exit, we’d look at one another and say, “Go on or pull over?” and we’d both say “Let’s keep going until we get to a bigger town!” And, on we putted.
We made it to Jerome, Idaho before the car just couldn’t do it anymore. Thankfully, we weren’t far off a freeway ramp, so we pulled over, parked the car and got out and started walking towards town. Since Wayne and I do not have web service on our cell phones, I texted my running buddy, Ryan and asked if he could look up a few car rental places in the area that we could call. I was incredibly grateful to him and his wife Michelle for being so helpful during our little crisis!
On the walk off the ramp, I spotted something shiny and leaned down to pick up a lucky penny! Wayne said, “You’re going to get us killed! This isn’t the time for that.” I said, “I think we could use a little good luck right now, actually!” Surprisingly, I found one more penny that was totally scratched up and banged up before we arrived at a gas station. I pocketed the two pennies in my running shorts’ pocket and believed in my heart of hearts that it meant everything would turn out just fine in the end.
We called Enterprise first since their motto is, “We’ll pick you up!” They said they were all out of cars for the weekend. Darn it! Then we called another agency. That call went straight to voice mail. Finally we called Hertz and both breathed a huge sigh of relief when they said they had cars and we could rent one! The only catch? They were 14 miles away in Twin Falls and were standing at a Shell station in Jerome. Thankfully, my friend Sean and his family were coming the same direction from Boise and when I told him about our dilemma, he said not to worry and that he’d give us a ride to the car rental agency! The best part was that he was only forty minutes or so behind us! Yay!
Sean and his family arrived shortly after, we climbed into the car and enjoyed some fun conversation as we headed into Twin Falls. Sean was excited since his 21st birthday fell on race day and he was hoping that the good luck from that coupled with his hard work in training would bring him a BQ, too! We talked about the race and soon we were at Hertz. We thanked Sean and his family and happily paid for a working car to get us to Pocatello!
I have to admit that I breathed a giant sigh of relief when we were finally cruising down the road towards the race again. And, it didn’t hurt that we were doing it while sitting on leather seats! Whew! Disaster averted! Onto the MARATHON!
Once we arrived in Pocatello, we checked into our hotel (the Super 8 that I’d scored a room in for $30 less than the host hotel fee) and then we headed across the street to the host hotel to pick up my packet. I had heard so many rave reviews about this race and it’s schwag! And, I was not disappointed! I was given a nice, sports bag, a cute, technical, long-sleeved tee-shirt and a sack of Idaho Potatoes and a little carton of hash browns to boot! It doesn’t get much better than that! I will also say that I was very impressed with how well organized the packet pickup went. We were in and out in about five minutes and every single person I encountered greeted me with a smile!
It was getting close to dinner time when we got back to the hotel, so Wayne and I ate, I took a bath and then I laid out everything for the race so it would be easy to find in the morning. Then I set an alarm, laid back on the bed and fell asleep while Wayne watched the BSU game.
I slept well and woke up before my 4 am alarm went off. I had heard rain pounding on the windows during the night, but by the time we headed out to the host hotel, it had stopped. It was a chilly, but lovely morning. I hopped on the first bus and we took off shortly after towards the start line. I was so happy to find my friend April on the bus, so we sat together and tried to calm each others nerves down. April, also had Boston dreams, so we talked about our race plans for the day.
We arrived at the starting line and it was really unique. We were out in the middle of the country, on a farm! There was a red barn with adorable baby goats to pet and many runners were huddling in there to keep warm in the early morning chill. They had set up huge lights, which was really nice and there were two long rows of porta potties and a table with bottles of water for hydrating before the race. It was really well organized and I had a nice time walking around and mingling with the other runners as we waited for the 6:15 am race start.
They called us to line up a few minutes before 6:15 and I heard the most angelic version of the National Anthem being sang. The woman hit the high note on “free…” and it just floated, perfectly in tune way up in the sky. It was beautiful and gave me shivers! Then they yelled, “GO!” and we were off! I had planned to run the first half of the race in 1:51 or better, assuming the downhill would make it the same effort that I had ran a 1:52 first half in May. I held back, tried not to let myself go out too fast and tried to just tune into myself and run.
The scenery was spectacular! We started high up on a mountain and there were lush, pine trees all around. The air was fresh. The temperature perfect. I felt pretty good and made sure not to “race” anyone who passed me. I thought I was in control and though I felt good, I did not feel quite as light and feathery as I’d expected to early on. But, my Garmin started ticking off the first miles like this:
Mile 1: 7:53, Mile 2: 8:13, Mile 3: 8:17, Mile 4: 8:15, Mile 5: 8:13. Things were going steady, smooth, strong and I wasn’t even breathing hard. I thought I was playing my hand smartly. I knew I could run those downhills faster but I held it back and just tried to ride the wave of gravity, never pushing, just coasting along — or so it seemed….
I walked through every single aid station, taking Powerade or water, taking a GU and and S Cap every hour just like I’d done in May at the Potato when my race went so well. I had my IPod playing loudly and just tried to zone out and run and hoped I could keep up the pace I needed to qualify for Boston by the end.
At mile 7 or so, there’s a little spur on the course, so it was fun to see the smiling faces of those runners up ahead of us coming down the little hill as we went up it. This would be the first of many little (and not so little) hills in the race. I was honestly surprised how many times I was climbing, especially after mile 10. As I was coming down the hill, I saw my friend, April and we high-fived. That put a smile on my face! Mile 6: 8:06 Mile 7: 8:07, Mile 8: 8:14, Mile 9: 8:30.
The course levels off around mile 10. There’s an elevation loss of 1,500 in the first 13 miles, but most of that is done by this point. There’s only another 150 of loss the whole rest of the way and lots of little ups and downs and plenty of flat especially towards the end. The prettiest part of the course is the first ten miles or so. Then, as it levels out, we were running through the industrial part of town, with factories here and there and railroad tracks running parallel to the road. My legs went from feeling fairly good to fatigued around this point. I was able to still hold the faster pace, but it became harder as the course leveled out and the thrashing my quads had taken on the down took their toll. Mile 10: 8:18, Mile 11: 8:22, Mile 12: 8:02, Mile 13: 8:50.
I was running strong, feeling ok and realized I was coming up on the half point in the race, when I looked down at my Garmin and realized that I was in fact going to be on target with a 1:51 or better. In fact, my PR at the half marathon officially is 1:53:05 from about two years ago (the last and only time I’ve ran a flatter road, half marathon), though I have ran a nonofficial half in training in 1:51 and did the first half of my May marathon in 1:52. Imagine my thrill when I saw a 1:47 at the half point!!!!!!!! A PR by several minutes! Woo hoo! I was running with the 3:40 pace group at this point (who were all ahead of pace!) I started feeling hopeful, but reminded myself, “You still have a LONG ways to go! Do not get overconfident until you see the finish line in sight and have a BQ pace on your Garmin!)
Around mile 14, the marathoners around my pace (about 8:15 average) caught up with the half marathoners. Suddenly the road was swarming with people and just like that I could not see my pace group! And, the hardest part was we’d caught up with the walkers at the back of the half marathoning race, so mentally I went from running on pace with only other marathoners also going my pace to suddenly being swarmed by those going a much slower pace. There were also crowds cheering along the streets here and lots of cars drivnig in the lane next to us. I tried to dodge the walkers and get around them, but they often were talking and having a nice time in rows of 3-4, so it made it really hard to get by without heading into traffic. Mentally, this section really got to me. The half marathoners also had pace groups, so while I was looking for the pace sign above the crowd to help me find my same-paced marathoners again, I was confused to see other pacers from the half in the crowd.
Mile 14: 8:28, Mile 15: 9:32, Mile 16: 9:22
In what seemed a blink of an eye, I went from feeling pretty good to feeling pretty fatigued, to having cramps in my calves and hamstrings, deep soreness and exhaustion in my quads and the realization that after all that downhill running, I needed to find a bathroom asap! I finally saw my husband for the first time at around mile 14. I had been eagerly looking for him along the way and got my hopes up many times when I’d see other people cheering along the side and mistakenly thought it might be him, only to get closer and realize it was someone else, cheering for another runner. By the time I saw him, I already was starting to fall apart physically. I know myself and how I am supposed to feel at that point in a marathon and I knew I was not going to get Boston by that point. I was still holding onto the proper average pace through mile 17, but the wheels were coming off and I knew it. It wasn’t going to happen and I knew I had no choice but to stop and take a bathroom break, which would only make it harder to catch up to the pace I needed again. I gave my husband the “thumbs down” sign when I saw him. I rarely speak when I run road races, to conserve energy, so this has always been our way of communicating when he sees me along the course. A thumbs up means I feel awesome and am on goal. A thumbs down means, well, it means “Today sucks bigtime!” I had tears in my eyes when I made the signal and saw the sadness reflected in his eyes. He knows how much Boston means to me, how much I’ve talked about it and dreamed about it over the years and we both knew that this was likely the best chance for me to qualify this year… and I was watching the paces on my Garmin get slower and slower with every step and it seemed there was nothing I could do about it, but keep moving and just accept my fate.
Mile 17: 10:05, Mile 18: 11:20, Mile 19: 11:29, Mile 20 13:02
I finally found a porta potty in mile 20. There was a line. Coming to a stop and waiting for the bathroom was symbolic. I was having a crappy day! Everything hurt. I was suddenly so tired. I just wanted to lay down and be done with it. Finally, I had my turn and went in and sat down to take care of business. Within a minute, I heard a rapping on the door and an anxious man saying, “CMON CMON! HURRY!” That stressed me out, so I didn’t “finish” what I needed to do and hurried out of there and back into the race. But, my stomach was saying, “I don’t mean to be a bother, but we weren’t really done back there! You’ll need to make another pit stop up ahead if you don’t mind!” Ugh!
The biggest hill of the course happens after mile 21. It’s steep. Traffic is thick through this section. It was hot and everyone I could see up ahead was walking. It was a low (though elevationally high) point. I slogged up the hill, eyes scanning the road up ahead for the glorious turquoise color of a porta potty. Mile 21: 13:28. Mile 22: 15:38
Finally, I spotted one and aimed straight for it! Shutting the door and sitting down, I had the urge to just pretend I was no longer in a race at all. I just wanted it to be over. I did what I needed (thankfully without any rapping on the door this time) and then slowly stepped out of the loo and back into the race. My brain is a little fuzzy on the details, but somewhere around here there was this darling little old lady standing outside her mobile home, pointing to a mister that had been set up to run under. She offered and I thanked her and walked under that pleasant coolness. It was a nice touch! That’s when I realized that I needed to make the best of things no matter how slow I was going. I turned off my IPOD and started looking every volunteer in the eye and saying, “Thank you so much for being here today!” I smiled and cheered for each runner who passed me the rest of the way. I gave a thumbs up sign to the band playing Eye of the Tiger alongside the road. I giggled when I saw the aid station worker dressed up as Elvis and took a hard candy at the table and thanked them all for their help. I wasn’t going any faster, I still wasn’t going to qualify for Boston or even PR or break 4 hours, but step by step, I started to enjoy the race again. I spotted a woman in a Pulse shirt and struck up a conversation with her and I felt much better, much happier just talking to people and walking and willing my legs to just keep moving towards the finish line.
Mile 23: 12:19, Mile 24: 13:54, Mile 25: 14:33, Mile 26: 13:41, Last .31 – 9:08 pace.
My husband had parked the car and walked back up the course to find me at about mile 25. It was so nice to see him. I yelled out, “There’s my pacer! I’ve been hoping you’d show up, but you’re about 10 miles too late to save me now!” He laughed and I grinned. We both knew it wasn’t my day but I was ok with it. He said, “Your buddy April is back there.” I didn’t believe him. April is a much faster runner than I am and I assured him that he must have seen someone else back there who looked like her. But, he was right. Within a short while, April caught up to us and we hugged and shared our sad stories. April had stomach problems for much of the race so had not been able to run her usual pace either. We both said we were sorry for the other, but both also agreed that misery loves company and we agreed to finish it up side-by-side.
When we finally could see the finish line, my heart lifted again. I knew it had not been the day I’d dreamed of, the day I’d hoped and trained hard for.. not even close — but here I was with my husband running ahead and snapping pictures and saying, “Good job, ladies!” and my friend by my side running stride for stride with me, that the day was not a loss. The marathon had been the master and I was once again the student, coming away with lessons about what NOT to do in future races, but at the end of the day, everything was going to be ok. We picked up the pace to about a 6:45 as we grabbed hands and started sprinting towards the finish line, smiling and lifting our hands in victory. It had been a tough day. A difficult course. But, in the end, we conquered. We finished what we started. And we did it together!
Finish time: 4:27:01 – about 42 minutes behind my “goal.” And, if you’re wondering about the splits. First half: 1:47. Second half: 2:40. This, kids, is what NOT to do in a marathon! Negative splits are much prettier to look at!!!!
I’ll find that Boston time. It’s in my blood. I can feel it. My May race was just 3 1/2 minutes off of the time I need. It’s here in me and it may need more lessons on other tough days before I finally have my magical moment and cross that finish line with a shout of “YES!!! I FINALLY DID IT!!” Because when it happens, it will have not come easily. I will have worked very hard and fallen down many times, dusted myself off and got back up again to fight again. For isn’t that really what the marathon is all about — never, ever, ever giving up. Finding out that down deep you are stronger than you think. You run with your heart. You don’t quit. You hold your head up and you keep moving no matter what!
Sean was waiting for us in the park as we finished. We all hugged and congratulated one another on running a difficult race. Sean ran a 3:23, which was a PR for him! He didn’t get his Boston time either, but it was still a pretty sweet birthday race for him – especially when he found out he was 2nd in his age group!
We showed off our medals, which I have to tell you, were the HUGEST medals I’d ever seen! They are awesome and they were worth the fight out there! I have it hanging proudly on my Marathon display rack and it makes the other medals feel insecure and puny by comparison!
My husband shared this with me today and I think it’s perfect! I hope you are inspired by it too!