Like most Rogues . . . and much of the world, I couldn’t make sense of the news on Apr. 15. I had taken a long lunch to watch the live stream of the elites and race stalk our friends, cheering them on from my computer and via texts with other race-stalking friends. As I went back to work, text and phone messages came flooding in, this time about explosions at the Boston Marathon. Being a bit Pollyanna, I was sure it had to be a mechanical/electrical failure and that the media likely were making more of it than necessary. It didn’t make any sense that someone would want to harm people at the Boston Marathon. Unfortunately, the news was true. Something truly tragic and life-changing had happened.
Watching the news stunned, I worried about our friends. We had 50+ Rogues in Boston and 27 personal friends/teammates that I had been tracking. Were they safe? What about their families? How could someone intentionally do such a thing? We anxiously awaited news that everyone was okay. Finally some good news, they (and their family members) were.
For our non-runner friends, the Boston Marathon is the equivalent of the Super Bowl for runners. It’s the pinnacle of our sport for recreational runners, the oldest marathon in the country, and the most exclusive. You have to earn your way in –running a qualifying time in order to register for the race. And if it wasn’t tough enough already, they tightened qualifying standards in 2012 by 5:59.
This year, the Boston Marathon also became one of the saddest, most tragic athletic events. Runners in disbelief, went out and ran. Runners united and ran together with 1,000+ people joining Gilbert’s Run for Boston on the Lady Bird Lake Trail on Apr. 18. We hugged our teammates a little longer when they came home and celebrated their successes in spite of the tragic events. We contributed to The One Fund Boston, which has raised more than $27M to help the victims. Nothing rang more true than a quote circulating online, “If you’re trying to defeat the human spirit, marathoners are the wrong group to target.”
If I hadn’t wanted it enough already, I wanted it even more now. The Boston Marathon had taken on even more significance.
I guess I should say I’ve been working toward this for years. The reality is that I didn’t think I had the ability to qualify for Boston . . . until about a year ago.
In April 2012, I lined up in London with a goal to break 4 hours (with a marathon PR of 4:07.) I typically raced 1-2 marathons a year, but had gone through 2 years of ups and downs in training. Finally, I was strong, healthy and ready to run my first sub-4. . . . nowhere in the vicinity of qualifying for Boston with a 3:45. I had a good day and ran a 3:52 — a big PR (personal record), and as one friend coined it, my “breakthrough race.” All of sudden new goals were possible. Self-imposed limits were gone. The spark that I could potentially qualify for Boston was ignited.
That little spark became a burning flame. I set my sights on achieving my Boston-qualifying time (BQ) in December 2012 in Sacramento at California International Marathon (CIM) – known as one of the top races for qualifying – a good course with good weather and high % of Boston qualifiers. I trained consistently with a 7-month training block devoted to one goal — to PR & BQ by running a 3:45:00 at CIM. That day brought the craziest weather I have ever run in, literally an “atmospheric river,” but I gave it my all. I was crushed when my time was 37 seconds short of my BQ. I had PR’d by 7 min. running in 30-40 mph wind gusts, torrential rain and ankle deep water on parts of the course, but still narrowly missed. I knew I could do it. I just needed another chance.
The flame grew into a big, raging bonfire. I would go back to the Eugene Marathon in April 2013 — one of our favorite destination races, where I had my biggest marathon PR in 2010 going from 4:37 to 4:07. I went back to work, hitting a little setback with a calf injury for 4-6 weeks, cutting my training cycle short. I failed miserably at our first race prep (a hard workout within a long run, where you test your mental and physical readiness for race day – usually 20ish miles with sets of marathon goal pace work or faster). I had had rough workouts and race preps that didn’t go as well as I would have liked, but I had never FAILED at a race prep. I cut myself off and walked home in tears. My confidence took a big hit. I questioned if I could hit my goal in Eugene . . . maybe I needed longer since I’d lost time due to injury. I planned some back-up options, but really wanted to race Eugene. I mentally regrouped and focused on my training even more. I built back up to peak training weeks of 70 miles/week and felt stronger with each workout.
With the majority of my team running Boston, and their race being 2 weeks earlier than mine, I was the only one who needed to run race prep #2. The thought of doing it alone was scary. Then my coach said he was going to run the pace work with me. The thought of running it alongside my coach was even scarier. What if I couldn’t do it? What if I mentally cracked again?
That race prep was a turning point and a treat. Coach Jefe (aka Jeff or El Pollo Grande) designed a route similar to my race course. Alongside him, even chatting through the first few sets of pace work, the miles passed quickly. Race prep #2 was a success! I could get my BQ in Eugene.
Life threw a few more curveballs before Oregon (caught a cold, work travel, etc.) and the last two weeks passed way too quickly. Then we were in Portland with our good friends, Heidi & Joe, and the reality set in that the clock was running out. I had to do this. Jeff & I agreed to a conservative race plan. I didn’t want to risk too much by going for a big PR. I just needed to run conservatively and shave off those last 37 seconds. I was extremely nervous on race day (and the day before). . . maybe even more so than CIM. This was attempt #2. The sky was clear, the air was crisp (49 degrees at the start), little to no wind – no atmospheric river in sight.
Eugene and Hayward Field, where the race starts and finishes, have good running juju. This is where the running greats have and continue to run. This is Steve Prefontaine’s old stomping ground, where his and many other running legends live on. This is where the Olympic Trials for Track & Field and Oregon Relays are held. I don’t know how else to describe it other than, there is running magic in the air.
I felt enormous pressure. I knew it was self-imposed pressure, but what if I couldn’t do it? What if I failed? There were too many people cheering me on. I didn’t want to disappoint them. Why did I have to live out loud? If I were a quieter person, I could have slipped off unnoticed and gone for it. But, nooooooooo, that’s not my personality. I would succeed or fail . . . and everyone would know it.
My nerves were getting the best of me. I was short with my poor hubby and friends. It was warm in Eugene. (We actually laid around in our backyard garden Saturday and I got a tan!) This had paralyzed my decision-making ability on what to wear for the race. (I know it sounds trivial, but it’s a pivotal decision when marathoning.) It took me at least 15 min. on race morning to get my # pinned on right. I made silly mistakes like handing off my checked bag with my disposable water bottle in it. I needed to chill out . . .so I took off for a super easy 2-mi. warm-up to zen out and get my head in the game. (Huge thanks to Carol Willis for giving me her disposable water bottle at the start line allowing me to skip water stops until mi. 10.)
The flame had turned into a raging forest fire. I had to do this. I started slow, then settled into my race plan. My pace was steady and consistent mile by mile. There were a couple that were a little fast, so I backed off and settled in. My goal was to run a more even split race, rather than a big negative split. You never know how your body will react after mile 20 and I didn’t want to rely on having to ratchet down the pace.
I ran alongside teammate, Emily Howell, at the start, then with Maggie Cochran (in the pic in yellow) from about miles 3-10, before she needed to pick up her pace to hit her BQ time.
I was tense the first few miles, but then locked in and got into a steady pace. Surprisingly the miles passed pretty quickly. I was relaxed, but focused. I knew I was a little ahead of pace and just wanted to stay there. Scooby was all over the course. I saw him at mi. 3, 6, 8, 13, 16, 22 and then at the finish with Heidi and Joe. I felt pretty good and was ahead of pace. I allowed myself to stop for a quick pitstop at mile 20 (the first time I have EVER stopped for a potty break during a race.) It was tough to get going again. Tired was setting in. But, I got back on pace, even picked it up a little to make up time from my stop. I had been watching my mile splits throughout, but I never looked at my total time or at my pace band. I just ran by feel and kept it steady.
At mi. 22, I hit another rough patch. I acknowledged it and knew it would pass, but I was tired and there were still 4 miles to go. At that point, I heard the 3:45 pace group leader behind me chattering to his group. He mentioned that they were at mi. 22 and were 30 sec. ahead of pace. That meant I was at least 40 sec. ahead of pace. I could do this. I still had it. I could NOT let him pass me. I thought about the people who believed in me and were cheering me on. I thought about the women I train with . . . and chase for many of the workouts. I needed to just #$@#% get this done. I kicked it in and chased my teammates (this time imaginary Amy, KB, Brandy, Dana & Julie aka the chickens) one more time. I thought of Jefe running alongside me and motivating me on that last race prep. Race prep #2 was a success. BQ attempt #2 was going to be a success. Just chase the chickens. That’s all I had to do.
The miles passed. . . 23, 24, 25. . . what? 25? Okay. I only had the equivalent of 5 laps of a track to go (a mental trick that helps me break down the last 1.2 mi. of a race.) I kicked it in, determined to get to Hayward Field and the finish line in <3:44:59. That would be success.
As I ran into Hayward Field, onto that amazing track, I gave everything I possibly could. I knew I had done it. 3:43:04.
Eugene will always hold a special place in my heart. I have PR’d all three times I’ve raced there, but even better . . . I qualified for Boston there.
AND, I got to share it and celebrate with great friends — who ran awesome races themselves. Of the Rogues in Eugene, there were at least 6 PRs, 2 BQs, 2 first-time marathoners, and 2 friends who surprised themselves with their HM improvements. It was a good day.
Twelve days later, I still cannot believe I have the opportunity to run the Boston Marathon with my friends in 2014. Congratulations to all of our friends on their successful races in Boston, Eugene, soon-to-be Ojai, etc. You all inspire me to push my limits and aim for more.
My lessons learned (or reinforced):
1) Don’t underestimate the value of mental training (visualization, positive self talk, mantras, etc.) It’s at least of equal importance as our physical training, maybe even more important.
2) Have 1 goal (not 2 or 3 for your race.) That way you succeed or fail. With multiple goals, it’s hard to be happy unless you hit them all. With one goal, you get to be happy when you achieve it.
3) Believe you can do more than you think you can — before, during and after your race. Thanks to the people who’ve pushed me to think bigger, especially Ruth & Schrup, who initially made me think I could BQ; Chris, who forces me to think bigger about my lifetime running goals with insane times I wouldn’t have imagined possible; and Scooby, my biggest fan who believes especially those times when I don’t.
The fire is now under control, but it’s still burning. Cheers to big goals — your’s and mine! –jennfire
P.S. (Next stop, the SeaWheeze Half Marathon in Vancouver in August with 150 Austinites!)