I did it!! I qualified! The short story - I finished the Quad Cities marathon in 3:44:15. The long story as follows...
As I wrote before the race, I was very nervous and somewhat doubtful going into my marathon that I would be able to qualify. My legs had felt tight and heavy all during taper week and I just couldn't seem to find much confidence. My nerves finally started easing a little on our drive to Quad Cities. Just having the race day closer and being surrounded by other runners made me feel better.
Once we picked up our packets and walked around the expo a bit, I had wanted to do a quick "shake out" run. I thought if I could move my body, I could help keep myself calm and focused. Sadly, the "shake out" run never happened. Partly because we were cutting it close to the pasta dinner and also because Eladio advised against it. The weather was cool and there was a light rain. He thought it would do more harm than good. Against my wishes, I followed his advice and went to the pasta dinner instead.
We got our assorted pasta dinner provided by "Noodles and Co." and settled down to listen to the keynote speaker, Dane Rauschenberg. He shared his experience of running 52 marathons in 52 consecutive weeks. At times it seemed like he was just bragging about his running abilities, but in the end, he shared some helpful words of inspiration. He said something to the effect of testing our boundaries and finding out what is impossible - since we usually already know what IS possible, why not see what is impossible. Those words came in handy the next day.
Finally, after dinner, we checked into our hotel. We stayed at the Radisson right at the start/finish line. The room was very nice! It was like a mini suite complete with a sitting room, refrigerator and microwave, two TV's and a sleep number bed. I set out my race clothes and gear and got into bed by 10:00 (still early for me). I read a little and watched some TV before turning out the lights around 10:30. Thankfully, I was tired from the road trip and stress of the week and was able to get to sleep quickly.
I slept soundly until the alarm rang at 4 A.M. Eladio got up while I stayed in bed for another 30 minutes. (I like waking up slowly). By 4:30, I was up and eating my pre-race banana and drinking water. I took a quick shower and then got dressed. I was pretty much ready to go by 6:00, but didn't have to be anywhere until 6:30. I was amazed at how many times I could use the bathroom in those short 30 minutes! My running buds (Ann, Mallika, and Renea) came to my room to drop off their bags and take some fun pre-race pictures. Finally, we headed out to the lobby to meet up with my dad and our other running buddies.
I had seen the weather forcast all morning, but I finally got to feel for myself the wonderful, cool fall weather we were going to have. Starting temp was 50 degrees and no rain! A couple more bathroom breaks, then at 7:10 my friends and I started our warm up. I don't know if we just went out too fast, but after 10 minutes, I started feeling hot and my legs were starting to work hard. I stopped and walked. We shed our warm up clothes and with 5 minutes to go, lined up at the start. I was getting panicked because I don't like cutting it that close in a marathon. I'm usually lined up no later than 10 minutes before the start. I ran and left my friends to find my spot. Thankfully, they were close behind and found me.
At last, standing at the start with minutes to go, I felt calm and ready. I still wasn't 100% confident, but at least I wasn't nervous anymore. I wished my friends good luck since I wasn't sure we would stay together for very long. Most of them were doing the half so they were going to take off sooner. The gun (or cannon, it sounded like) went off and within 45 seconds, I was across the starting line. The first mile was great! I bid my friends farewell as they got right into their half marathon groove and I took in the crowds as I let runners pass me by. I had my pace strategy down and planned to follow my pace band as closely as I could. My first mile was to be a 9:20. I kept glancing at my Garmin and had to keep slowing down until I got there. More runners passed by, but I didn't care. I ran with a smile on my face, happy that I was finally running my race and all the months of hard work led to this moment. No more waiting, no more worrying. I was going to do what it took (or so I thought). In those first few miles, I was passed by two pace teams, the 3:45 and 3:50 groups. My friend Mallika was following the 3:50 pacer closely. As we climbed up the large hills on the bridges, I reminded myself that the race isn't won in the end, but in those first precious miles. I was confident that as my pace increased, I would eventually catch the 3:50 group. I prayed that at some point I could also catch up and hopefully pass the 3:45 group too.
By mile 5, I was in my goal pace zone - 8:24 minute miles. But really, using the LapPace feature on my Garmin (which I highly recommend as the most accurate way figure out your pace), I knew I needed to be running between 8:15-8:19 minute miles. Having served as a pacer in the Kansas City and Hospital Hill half marathons, I knew that my Garmin would hit the mile mark before I got to it in the race. It has to do with the slight inaccuracy of the Garmin and the exact measurement of the course using all the tangents. Anyway, I knew where I needed to be. So far, so good. I was either right at or slightly below my average pace the first 10 miles. I don't know exactly what happened after that. Maybe there was a large hill/bridge crossing and/or I took a little too long at one of the not so well manned aid stations. Whatever the reason, I started falling behind pace after mile 10. By 13.1, I was 3 seconds behind my overall pace. (I was supposed to be at 1:51:53). I had my pace bands made to help me finish in 3:44:59. I wanted to do everything I possibly could to make sure I was under 3:45. I didn't want to have to rely on those extra 59 seconds. That would be too stressful. But now, I was starting to worry that I had hit a slowing trend and every mile was going to be a struggle from that point on.
It was! Not only was I slightly behind pace for silly reasons, but I also started noticing my legs were feeling tight and stiff. Thankfully, I didn't have any specific pain, but it felt like the start of cramping all around my quads and hamstrings. I was worried I wasn't getting enough electrolytes, even on this cool day. I have few complaints about this race, but they need to improve their aid stations! More volunteers are needed in the beginning miles where the 5K, half, and full are still together. And, they need to provide more Gatorade in those middle miles. At least I was prepared for this though. I had noticed on the website where fluids would be provided along the course. Gatorade was fairly abundant early on, but nothing, just water and GU, was provided between miles 13 to 21. I had brought 4 Hammer Gels with me and made sure I took some of the GU's they were passing out. Because of my fears of slowing down and my already tight legs, I took more gels than I ever have in a race - 6 total! I drank at every aid station except the last one. Although I never got the "jolt" I normally do from taking gels, I think they helped me tremendously, if not physically, than mentally. Just knowing I was doing something for my body made me feel better.
I wish I could tell you more about miles 13 to 22, but I was fighting the urge to slow down with every step and it took every ounce of mental energy I had to stay focused on my pace. Somewhere around mile 14 or 15, I saw a person carrying a pace sign not far ahead of me. I thought, Finally, I'm catching up to the 3:45 pace group! If I can just catch up to them or even pass them, I'll feel better about my slight slow down. It took about a mile, but I finally caught up to this small group of 3 or 4 runners. The woman carrying the sign was not the pacer I had met the day before at the expo. I had trouble reading the handwritten sign, so I asked if she was in fact the 3:45 pacer. She said she was running 8:35 minute miles and her plan was to finish in 3:45, but she was not the official pacer. I didn't have much energy to talk, but I mustered out, "You're behind pace." Recalling this now, I know it sounds rude and blunt. It's not something I would normally say. I just was frustrated that I was behind pace and here was this unofficial "pacer" carrying the pace sign and not even doing her job! I think pacing a few races has made me a little critical - (ya think?!). :-) A guy running with her thanked me for letting them know. He said his watch had stopped working a while back and he wasn't sure what they were running anymore. I decided they didn't know what they were doing and not to trust them the rest of the way. I had to rely on myself, my pace band, and the Good Lord to see me through.
Little by little, I began inching away from the unofficial 3:45 pacer and her chatty crew. For the life of me, I couldn't figure out how she had so much energy to actually carry on a conversation with people she just met. She acted like she was on a long training run! It was driving me bonkers, so I pulled away from the noise. I needed to get back into my head and into my pace. Somehow, the miles were clicking by. It wasn't easy and I still felt unsure that I would reach my goal, but I was reassured knowing that I would see Eladio, Ann, and my dad at mile 22. I thought if I can just hold on until then, I'll have one of them jump in and pace me in if I need help. I wasn't desperate yet, but knew I might be after 20.
Around mile 20, I got a little burst of energy and was able to get back down under my mile pace. I was still slightly over my overall time, but at least I wasn't losing any more ground. I noticed I was starting to pass other marathoners who had slowed, as well as some half marathon walkers and relay runners. It felt good to be the one passing and receive their encouragement as I went by.
At mile 22, we hit (ran through) "The Wall." It's literally a large wooden wall all the runners have to pass through. We had seen it on our warm up run and it was funny then. Not so much now. I was just relieved to know I would be seeing Eladio soon. There was no question now, I was going to need his help. I couldn't afford to slow down those last 4 miles. As soon as I went through the wall, I saw my crew cheering me on. I couldn't speak, but pointed at Eladio and moved my arms in a fast running motion. He said, "You want me to run with you?" I nodded and he jumped in. In that moment, he became my hero, my angel!
Over the next mile, I told him how I had been feeling and that I was struggling to make up some lost time. I asked him to pace me at 8:30 and to do whatever it took to keep me at that pace. Even though my pace band allowed for some slow down at the end, I didn't want to take any chances. Normally, I have issues running with Eladio. He likes to talk and make silly jokes, but he knew better than to do that now. I even told him to yell at me if I started to slow down. I needed to get angry if I had to, anything to keep me from slowing down. I didn't know, until later, just how badly Eladio was hurting at that point. He wasn't talking and joking just because I asked him not to, he couldn't! I didn't know that his calves had cramped up on him right after he finished the half. I did learn that he had reached his goal and broke 1:30. He ran a 1:28! I was very happy for him, but couldn't relax and be completely joyful just yet. I needed to stay focused and finish my race.
Just having Eladio by my side took off a lot of pressure. I no longer had to be so strong on my own. With him running next to me, I finally tried to talk a little. I started sharing how hard this race had been from the halfway mark and how surprised I was by that. The more I shared, the more emotions started flooding out. I about broke down at mile 23 when I told Eladio that I couldn't slow down. All my thoughts and feelings came out. I kept saying, "I'm fighting for seconds! I can't believe it's coming down to seconds! Seconds...seconds...seconds..." gasps, and tears... Eladio's response - "Don't do this now! You can't think about this now. Just work, focus, breathe! You can tell me about it when it's over. Keep going." I shut up and just thought about how many Saturdays I gave up with my kids, how long I had dreamed of this day, how many people had helped me get to this moment. I couldn't let them or myself down. I had to fight. Fight for every second! Make every second count! How would I feel if I missed qualifying by mere seconds?! No, it wasn't going to happen! I fought back. The tightness in my legs never ceased, but I didn't stop pushing back. Mile 24...just keep running. Mile 25...you're almost there! My Garmin beeped at mile 26 when I was at mile 25.5 on the course. I ignored it and looked straight ahead. Eladio pointed out the finish line. I looked down at my watch. It read 3:43 something with about a quarter mile left. I had two minutes to finish under 3:45. There was no juice left in my legs. I so badly wanted to sprint, but couldn't go any faster. Miss "Unofficial Pacer" came racing by me in the last 100 yards. I didn't care. There was no fight left in me. I just kept my pace and focused on not falling or cramping so close to the end. Eladio pulled off and I ran, no LEAPED, over the finish line. I did it!!! I threw my arms up in the air and yelled "Boston Baby!!" Official time - 3:44:15. (Consequently the exact same time as my KC 1/2 co-pacer, Stacy Scalfaro, when she ran QC at 35 and qualified for Boston too! How amazing is that?!!)
Whew! I'm exhausted just writing about all of this. It was a good day, but a tough race. I firmly believe God answered so many of my prayers that day. He gave me physical and mental strength when I was weak, He gave me peace at the start, and He enabled Eladio to be able to pace me at the end. I'm so thankful and humbled by God's grace and provision.
I learned a valuable lesson I'd like to share with you from this race:
If you have a time goal, you have to really want it, to go for it. At some point, you might have so much pain, you feel like you can't hurt anymore and you want it to stop - stop moving forward, stop putting your feet down, just stop.
At one point, I thought, "I'm already hurting. Going slower will just prolong the pain. I might as well keep up this pace and get it over with sooner." I've run marathons slower, much slower. In fact, most of my races have been above 4 hours. But what I have found, in all but one of my marathons, is that it's going to hurt at some point and I'll think about stopping or slowing down a lot in those last 6-8 miles. The goal and desire have to be big enough to get you through this pain. You also have to have faith and rely on more than just yourself in those moments.
Now that the hard work is done, I'm looking foward to pacing the KC 1/2 and then taking it easy the rest of this fall. I will be signing up for Boston 2011 when registration opens on October 18th. I can't wait to make it official!
Thank you for sharing in this journey with me and supporting me along the way!!
I'll consider posting more as I train for and then run Boston next April. Until then...Adios!