This is a story about the power of positive thinking in a marathon.
Picture a start line with heavy, sideways rain, knock-you-back wind gusts of 30+ mph, shivering runners, and panchos and Target sacks flying around like Dorothy’s house in the tornado. That is what the start line at the California International Marathon (CIM) on Sun., Dec. 2 in Sacramento was like.
An atmospheric river (yes, it’s a real thing), also known as the “Pineapple Express,” sat on the West Coast last week dumping up to 15 inches of rain — a “river of rain” on Northern California. It’s when winds sweep tropical moisture into narrow filaments or atmospheric rivers that lead to intense storms one after another.
Like most marathoners, I started stalking the weather about 5 days out, which also meant stressing about the weather the days leading up to the race. When you train year-round for 2 marathon races, you stress about the weather on those 2 days. The weather for CIM wasn’t looking good.
On Saturday, a few of our Team Rogue teammates got together and drove the course. At that point we were trying to remain positive and stick to our race plans. Coincidentally, our coach called when we were together and passed the phone as he gave each of us advice and good luck wishes. He even suggested the option of bagging CIM and saving our legs to race the following weekend in College Station or Dallas. Some friends offered similar advice. Others said to ignore the weather and run like a Rogue.
A good friend shared a story. She had been in the middle of an Ironman triathlon and had injured her hand. It was actually broken, but she didn’t know that yet. She didn’t want to continue. But she also didn’t want to wake up the next morning and wonder, “what if?” Her husband told her, “Then you’ve got to get your head in the game.”
If I postponed til the next weekend, I would always wonder “what if?” Decision made. I got my head in the game. I would think positive and race CIM. I could make a game-time decision on race morning or even shut it down at the half-way point and finish the second half as an easy run if the weather was that bad. That would save my legs for a future race. But I set my intention to go for it. This was my race.
Race morning, it was pouring rain. We waited in the buses in Folsom as long as possible. Ginger, Ryan and I reluctantly got out of our bus. Both of their panchos were flying behind them and above their heads. They looked like Batman and Robin.
We hit the portapotties, something CIM does really, really well. There were tons of them. We waited in line 2-3 min. each (that’s all!) and it was 20 min. before the race start. It was so warm, dry and cozy in the portaloo, I thought maybe I could just stay in there a little while. (Seriously. Ryan admitted that he had the same thought!)
We met up with Stephanie and Tim and all headed toward the start line. As much as I tried to remain positive, I will admit that I had my doubts. The weather was intimidating. Could I really hit my goals in THIS?? I’ve run long distances in crazy weather, but to race for a personal record (PR) and a Boston-qualifier (BQ) is an entirely different thing. I asked Ryan (a 2:56 marathoner who planned to pace Ginger and Stephanie) if this was his race, what would he do? Without hesitation, he said, “I would stay positive and stick to my plan.” That’s what I did.
No more doubts. My race plan was to start easy, +10 sec./mi. for the first 10k, MGP through 30k, then picking it up with -10-15 sec./mi. for the last 10k with a strong finish. This was doable, conservative even.
Race starts are always crazy. People zigging and zagging, jostling for position. This was insane. At one point I laughed out loud. It was such a spectacle with clothes and bags flying everywhere. My problem in my race preps recently had been starting out too fast. I could not make that mistake and hit my goal. No problem. There was no chance of starting out too fast in these conditions.
There were crazy get-ups – the standard panchos and trash bags, but people had enclosed their entire feet/shoes in plastic CVS bags tied or duct taped around the ankles. People were wearing shower caps. One person actually had on ski goggles!
The first mile or so was an obstacle course trying to avoid getting your feet caught up in the discarded bags on the ground or dodging them from hitting you when a wind gust sent them flying. We also were heading directly into the wind.
It was also about 60 degrees. Cold when it’s wet, windy and you’re standing around, but warm after running a mile. Good thing because we were soaked the entire race. (For non-marathoners, most of us consider around 40 degrees, clear, cloud-cover and little to no wind to be ideal conditions.]
I pushed ahead and settled into a rhythm at my “start easy” pace once we turned and the wind was at our side. The wind was S T R O N G when it gusted. Kamran mentioned it almost knocked him into Asia (his wife, not the continent.) That first 10k was rolling hills, rainy and heavy wind gusts. Surprisingly I was on pace. Okay, let’s do this. I had a shot.
Around mile 6, we turned heading into the wind again, plus some rolling hills. I knew it would last about 5 miles before we turned out of the wind, so I found people to draft off of. Poor Mr. Brooks, my name for the big guy in the orange Brooks jacket. He didn’t know he was being used as a wind block. I smiled and waved to Scooby at mile 10. I was feeling pretty good, weather and all.
There was a steep climb between 10 and 11. I was still on pace for the second 10k. That was the most we would have to run directly into the wind (a total of 8 miles, 6 of them done), while tackling rolling hills. My plan allowed me to make up time once the course flattened out around 19-20.
Miles 12-18 are a bit of a blur. The mile markers weren’t substantial – feather signs or sandwich boards, some of which had blown over in the wind, so I missed some of the markers. There were places throughout the course with ankle-deep water (really.) At the half-way point, I estimated that I was a little more than a minute off my goal, pretty close to where I was supposed to be. Positive thoughts. I had a good rhythm going, despite slogging through some deep water. I was kind of enjoying it.
Around 14/15, I hit a brief rough patch, acknowledged it was a rough patch. It happens. It was inevitable and I knew it would pass. Then it was gone. I was taking in nutrition on a schedule (something I have failed at in the past., but was doing right this time.) 30k done. I estimated that I gave up about 5-10 seconds during that 10k section. No problem. It was still raining, but the winds had died down. I was having a good day.
I recognized the intersection at mile 19. Still raining, but I remembered that this is where the course flattens out. I would need to step it up in a couple more miles. I felt surprisingly good. I could do this.
Scoob was waiting for me at mile 21. I was already at mile 21?! I had run right through “the wall.” (Scoob navigated the course via light rail and a single-speed cruiser and had quite a CIM adventure himself.)
I was getting tired of working, but I was in the home stretch. I was on track. My goal was within reach. I couldn’t believe I felt this good this far into the race at this effort level. Mile 22 – time to kick it in. Math at this point in the race is usually difficult for me, but I had a pretty good idea where I was. I had given up a few more seconds than anticipated with the weather. I now needed to shave 15-20 seconds/mile. I kicked.
Scoob biked alongside and encouraged me to go for it. I did.
Around mile 23, the rain stopped. I wasn’t quite at the pace I needed to be, but I could do this. By mile 24, it was getting tough. I knew I had a good PR at that point, but my goal was to PR and BQ. PR wasn’t enough. I came to BQ. I had to keep pushing. I tried.
I was putting out an incredible effort, but my pace didn’t match it. . . had . . . to . . . push . . . harder. Mile 25 . . . 8 laps of a track (actually 9, I corrected myself.) Man, this felt hard. Kept pushing. I remember thinking, just keep going as hard as you can, this will be over in about 8 min. Push. You can do anything for 8 min. Goooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo.
I was light-headed and told myself to just get across the finish line. I could pass out after that. Final kick to the finish.
I clicked my watch, but couldn’t look at it. I knew. But I didn’t want to know.
I shuffled through the finish line chaos — medal, photos, food, gear check (where my bag of dry clothes was sitting on the ground in an inch of muddy water, no dry clothes), etc. I couldn’t find Scooby. I didn’t want to eat. My change of dry clothes were wet. I just wanted to sit and cry. Needed somewhere to sit and cry. I needed my Scooby.
I finally looked at my watch and confirmed what I thought. 3:45:37.
I had missed my BQ by 37 seconds. I cried.
I found shivering Scooby, who was also soaked and freezing. He knew.
It didn’t register for a while that I had run a 6:37 min. PR . . . in an atmospheric river.
I finished in the top 25% overall, top 15% of women and top 15% in my age group – my highest finishes ever. I stuck to and executed my plan. I ran a negative split. I just didn’t have the close that I needed. I did not hit the wall. I was positive throughout the race. I was mentally and physically tougher than I had ever been.
I have no regrets. I gave it everything I had on that day. The power of positive thinking prevailed. I didn’t have to wake up the next day and ask, “what if?”
Congratulations to our friends who toed the line at CIM. It took guts to start that race. Kudos to Muz (sub-3!), Jim (PR), Kamran, Asia, Ginger, Ryan, Stephanie (40th), Tim (1st) and Amanda (PR) — all super tough Rogues!
Enormous thanks to Coach El Jefe (aka Jeff Knight) and Team Chicken for pushing me to a new level, offering advice, support and a little tough love. The outpouring of support from friends before and after CIM was unbelievable. I am fortunate to be surrounded by incredible people.
P.S. (Typical of many marathons, the next morning it was 42 degrees and clear at 7 a.m., race start time and turned into a beautiful day!)
Photo credits to: Scooby, the Sacramento Bee & Sports Photo