Thursday, April 13, 2017

TBT: My Game-Changing Marathons

Even though I am currently not training, or even running at all- it doesn't mean I don't think about it or even take the time to reflect on where I have been with my running. Between 2011 and 2016 I ran 14 marathons, 10 of which were personal bests and 6 of the 14 are races I consider big turning points in my running "career". It feels a little odd to call it a career because it's far from my job- but at the same time we all know training for marathons is essentially adding another job time wise.

I decided to look back at the 6 races (and the training cycles that led up to them) that I consider to be pivotal to my "personal success" as a runner and athlete. 5 of the 6 listed were PR's at the time, but no my current PR and 2:58 marathon I ran at Erie isn't on the list. While it was a breakthrough for me in many ways, it was mostly because of the things I learned and took away from these other races. I found a lot of my turning points came from breakdowns whether in training or the race itself.

Marathon #2: Rochester Marathon 2011 {3:41}

Rochester was the slap in the face that I needed. We've all heard people say you need to respect the distance and what it takes to get to the start AND finish line of a marathon. I know that going into this race I 100% didn't respect it. My first marathon was 6 months earlier and I finished in a strong and respectable 3:46 off very minimal and basic training. After spending the summer doing many runs with friends who have run Boston many times- I felt like I just HAD to qualify. I felt like a BQ was the only way to define a successful runner (my friends never told me that EVER, but being around them made me want it THAT bad). I dove in maybe 2 months before the race and "trained"- my miles were all over the place, I didn't practice fueling, and I didn't set realistic goals. When race day came, I made more mistakes. I went out way too fast being cocky and arrogant and by some grace of God managed not to completely crash and burn until after mile 17. The last 6+ miles were a death march, only made worse by the fact that I didn't fuel (at all), I was under-trained, over-confident and had no right to PR let alone BQ.
The Mile 20 something death march

I did managed to PR by 5 minutes, but missed a BQ by a minute (it was the last time the BQ was 3:40 for open women) while being 11 minutes off of my unrealistic goal time. Looking back I am so glad I didn't BQ, otherwise I don't think I would have gotten the lessons that I needed to really drilled in my brain. Setting a PR and coming close to a BQ was the spark I needed to change. If I wanted more I needed to earn it.  I started pacing myself, actually fueling, training more consistently (though still not great), and set a goal to run my third marathon without wanting to jump in front of a bus in the later miles. Less than 10 weeks later I ran a 3:37 (still missing BQ since it had changed to 3:35) but finished feeling confident, smiling, and proud of a solid race performance.

To this day, after all of the races (any distance) I have run- Rochester is the race that humbled me and taught me the most. I will forever be grateful for the ugly crying that happened in the later miles, and that not only did I not meet my goal time but I also didn't qualify for a race that I had no business being in yet anyways.

Marathon #4: Marshall University Marathon 2012 {3:21}

This marathon was run 7 months after a car accident in which I broke my cuboid bone (foot). Doctors originally told me that it would be 6 months before I could even try to run but instead I did everything they told me to and bounced back stronger than ever. I was running in far less time, and under the guidance of PT's who made sure I didn't overdo it. For the first time, I made a training plan and actually stuck to it unlike the first 3 marathons I ran. The training and consistency was huge, and paid off even bigger at the race. I took the pacing lessons I learned (the hard way) in my first few marathons and used my new found skills to my advantage. I ran a 7 minute negative split from the first half to the second, focusing on my realistic goal which I then blew out of the water by minutes. For the first time ever I trained smart, raced smart, fueled smart, and reaped the rewards with a 16 minute PR and BQ.

Mentally this marathon was another eye opener though. I had been limiting myself thinking I needed to JUST BQ. I needed to reach a time set for me by an organization instead of allowing myself to determine my own goals. I had been using the BQ as a limit. I never thought of running faster than a BQ (at least not by that much) and this was the breakthrough and turning point I needed to start realizing that I had to stop letting others dictate my limits.

Marathon #7: California International Marathon 2013 {3:13}

This race was a turning point in running, and life for me. Running wise, I took a risk and decided to do this race 9 weeks after a 4 minute PR at Wineglass marathon. I was shooting for a 3:15 and was stubborn and felt I needed to try one more time before the year was out. The 3:15 was to try and qualify for a team, but what I didn't realize was that this race would be a whole lot more than just trying to hit a time.

The best adventures usually stem from my best friend Heather and I's crazy ideas. In this case, it was less than a week after Wineglass where we both said we wanted to run another marathon. We booked flights, hotels, registered for the race- and dove back into training as best we could. Because, why not? In the end I met my goal of breaking 3:15, ran a strong race trusting myself and ignoring people who said a million and one contradictory things about running so soon again, my pace plan, or my life in general.

The team I was trying to make lowered the time right after that so I no longer qualified, but I didn't care. I got so much more out of this race than just a time to meet someone elses' standards (see turning point at marathon #4...stop living by others standards or goals and limits). I had built so much trust in my abilities and my own instincts and this was the eye opener. This was a game changer for my running but also my life- a few months later I used that trust and personal instincts to start over in life in a lot of ways- one of the hardest but best things I have ever done and led me to where I am today.


Marathon #9: Rochester Marathon 2014 {3:11}

Training ALL summer on my hometown course
Returning to this marathon wasn't something I was sure I would ever do even being my hometown race. After the 2011 race, I learned so much but was also scarred from a running aspect of not wanting to repeat that course. Earlier in 2014 I made some big life changes (see previous marathon lessons) that left me with a lot of other scars, on top of years of other ones. Fear held me back in some ways and pushed me in others. I spent the entire summer training for this race, and to face the fear of going back to the death march of 2011. I ran myself into the ground the first half of the summer trying to prove something to myself, to take back something (control) that I felt I had lost. I was happy but on a dangerous path with my running.

Eventually things started to get bad and instead of fleeing in fear I reached out and got a coach for help. Eventually I started actually dating again. Eventually I started doing things with purpose instead of doing things just because I could. I realized that taking my life and running back, meant getting some help and that is not a bad thing. When race day came, I ran a small PR and finished feeling frustrated but knew that I was on the right path. I was taking control of my life in a smarter way, asking for help when needed, and accepted that some things just take time. Getting my life and running to a place I wanted them to be at wouldn't happen overnight. Patience.

Marathon #11 Boston Marathon 2015 {3:04}

I refer to this marathon for me as "setting fire to the rain". It was about taking all the bad, the negative, and the flukes and throwing all that shit out the window...or setting it on fire in the middle of a rainy windy day in Boston. Four months prior I ran a 7 minute PR for a 3:04:30, and I was ECSTATIC. It was the breakthrough I was looking for in the fall and had been working towards. The patience after the tough summer, and rocky race at Rochester paid off and I finally felt like I was racing more to my potential. I also received some negativity following that race though which soured my emotions a bit. A lot of disbelief in my time, as in it being a fluke or just a good day...even a "friend" telling me I got lucky! Unfortunately I let those negative thoughts affect me and wondered myself if Memphis was a fluke. It made me wonder if my other goals (sub-3 mainly) were unreasonable or further off than I thought they were.

I trained my ass off that winter, in all sorts of crap Upstate NY weather- and many treadmill miles too. I was building upon the great foundation I had been building for years now and it was paying off. When Boston came, it wasn't perfect but I made the absolute best I could of it. My grandma was literally on the last few days of her life (ended up passing 2 days after the race), the weather was far less than ideal, and I was feeling pretty frustrated in my personal life with friendships and relationships. But you know what, I didn't let any of that noise in and ran a negative split into the wind and rain and proved to myself and others that Memphis was not a fluke. It was a small PR that day in Boston (27 seconds) but on a much harder course and in much worse conditions. Before the race I had made my goal known that I wanted to break 3, not necessarily at Boston but soon and this race proved to me that it wasn't as far off and that letting what others say needs to stop affecting me as much. I mean I know we all try and work on that but even as adults it's hard not to let the noise in.

It also was a great catalyst to get me to stop focusing so much on weather for races. I've ran some of my best races in the worst weather, and reality is that we all have the same weather and have to deal with it in our own ways. You can complain constantly about all your bad weather races, or just suck it up and work on getting better at handling it or adapting to it. Would it be nice to have ideal weather days when we want or need them? DUH. But its' not a personal vendetta from mother nature, don't make yourself a victim of something as trivial as weather for a race (you know, when at the same time that horrible weather could be destroying peoples homes or lives). *Steps off soapbox*

Moving on...last but not least...

Marathon #14: Boston Marathon 2016 {3:16}

This is a different turning point than the others, in the sense that it has less to do with running and more to do with life. A year ago today we found out we were going to be starting a family. I was without a doubt in the best shape of my life, wrapping up one of the strongest training cycles, and prepared to go big mentally and physically on the Boston course in a few days. The race was nothing I originally planned, but was an eye opener in many ways. I left my pace band in my luggage on purpose, I started steady and a little slower than planned and went in with 100% knowledge that I may pull the plug. I hit the half at sub-3 pace and shut it down. My head and heart were not there, my body was telling me it didn't want to run fast....so I didn't and I was A-ok with that. I ran and walked the second half. I took many bathroom stops. I soaked in the sights and sounds, and I crested heartbreak without even realizing it and finished completely ready for the next step in life and not worrying about finishing 20 minutes slower than planned.

I didn't run for almost a month after that. I focused on everything else, the things that I hadn't during training and the new things I was dealing with being pregnant. A few more weeks after that we found out our story wasn't going to have the happy ending. After wading through all of that I decided to train for another marathon, one that would be my last for a while so we could focus on building a family in 2017. But as the summer went on, my head and heart still weren't in running. They hadn't been since before Boston and before we found out we were pregnant.

So when we got pregnant again, it all made a lot more sense. That April when I chose my health and my baby over some meaningless time goal in Boston, my head and heart never switched back. So here I am, 33 weeks pregnant today and happy as can be. I'll be watching Boston coverage for the first time in 3 years from my couch, while probably eating ice cream from a bowl that can currently sit on my stomach without falling (unless little loo decides to kick it off...which is a good possibility. I may have spilled an entire cup of water that way already).

Boston 2016 may not have been the epic running race I planned or thought it would be, and since day one I have been okay with that. I chose my family over running that day and something I will never hesitate to do. One day I'll get back to running/racing and I'll get back to Boston(because I love that race and city and not because I feel I have something to prove)- but right now I'm going to enjoy this turning point in my running and my personal life as one of the most important(to me) yet.


It all boils down to...

I've learned so much over the years from ALL of my races, and I'm grateful for where I have been and what I have been able to do. It's also taught me that coming back to it will be so worth it, but doesn't mean the time away isn't worth it either. Each of these turning points and breakthroughs built upon the last, and doesn't even include the things I learned and took away from the other marathons and races I have done. I love that I am a student of the sport, always learning and trying to get better. I love that I can use those lessons in running AND life. It's a good reminder that even the bad times (literal and figurative!) can have silver linings.

7 comments:

  1. Wonderful reflections. I think it's important to stop and take time to think about where you've come from, how you grew, and how it all relates to your current state. I enjoyed hearing about all these races.

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  2. Great and thought-provoking moral to this article. It teaches us several lessons such as, not giving up, getting back up after falling several times, having faith in yourself and a higher, supreme being. Trusting that whatever happens, happens for a reason and it was meant to be.

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