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Fingers Crossed

This morning I submitted my application for acceptance into the 2015 Boston Marathon.

Boston Marathon application

As you might know, priority is given to the runners who qualified with the most time to spare: those who met the qualifying standard by age and gender by 20 minutes or more, then 10 minutes or more, then 5 minutes or more. The Boston Athletic Association posted an update this morning after registration closed for those fastest qualifiers last week:

Approximately 16,000 application submissions from the fastest among all qualifiers were submitted during the first week of registration (September 8-13). At the conclusion of the next phase of registration, the B.A.A. will accept up to 8,000 additional qualifiers.

So today the field opened up for 8,000 additional qualifiers from the group of runners like me who met the qualifying standard by age and gender by less than five minutes. However, these entries are not accepted on a first-come, first-served basis; priority is given among these entries for those who qualified by the largest margin (meaning that someone who qualified with 35 seconds to spare gets priority over me and my 34 precious seconds). Registration remains open for this group through Wednesday September 17 at 5 p.m. ET. (and then re-opens later to all qualifiers if spots still remain.)

Now the waiting begins. The email confirmation of my application stated that acceptances for this latest group of entries will be sent out in October, although I suspect we might hear sooner than that. I think chances are good that all of us “squeakers” will get accepted, but I’m not considering it a done deal by any means.

In the meantime I am taking time to celebrate my marathon finish time, 3:44:26, whether or not it is fast enough to get me accepted into the 2015 Boston Marathon. I realized that in my stupor in the days after the race I didn’t even acknowledge the fact that 3:44:26 is a personal record for me by 8 minutes and 16 seconds! That is pretty significant, even if it only boils down to 18-19 seconds faster per mile over the 26.2 miles. For someone like me who did not start running until she was staring down 40 years of age, and was 4 days shy of 43 years of age on race day, it’s a big deal to run 26.2 miles at 7 miles per hour. Even now, after having gone the distance at that pace, I can hardly even imagine setting the treadmill for 7.0 and running for 3 hours and 44 minutes and change. You know, the other day I was talking to a friend who is training for his first full marathon coming up this October in Long Beach. He said he finally understood the appeal of marathon running: the amazing sense of satisfaction you can achieve by challenging yourself to do something you couldn’t have done a year ago or even a month ago. It’s definitely worth celebrating.

Runners to the Rescue

On September 11, 2001, I was in the second month of pregnancy with my first child. I remember wondering what kind of world I was bringing a child into. Thirteen years later, I think it is fitting to tell a story that reminds us that there are good people in the world.

Yesterday I dropped off one of my children at her gymnastics lesson and headed out for a run. If I’m a very good girl, I can squeeze in 4.5 hilly miles in 50 minutes. It’s not easy to do, especially since I much prefer running in the early morning rather than in the late afternoon. But I like to get in hill work at least once per week, and I like to take advantage of the time that my daughter is in her lesson, rather than wasting it by driving home and back to pick her up. So I set off on foot and huffed and puffed through the 93 degree weather. Yes, 93 degrees.

I only made it eight minutes into the run though, when I happened upon an elderly woman who called to me for help. She was on the sidewalk, clinging to a wall, clearly struggling to walk in the heat. Her car had run out of gas a little way down the road, and when she could not tell AAA her exact location, she set off on foot for help (without her cell phone, purse, or any water). Thank goodness another runner, Carlos, soon came up behind me, and together we were able to support the woman enough to assist her back to her car. Another driver saw us all on the side of the road, and when she stopped we asked her if she had any water. She set off to the nearest store to buy some for each of us.

I called AAA again and gave the representative our location, and then Carlos and I stayed with the woman until the service van arrived with a couple of gallons of gas. During that time, we tried to assess the woman’s physical and mental condition. At first we believed she just needed some cold water and a little rest and then she would be fine to drive again. However, the more we talked with her, the more concerned we became. (I didn’t think she showed signs of heat exhaustion or heat stroke, but perhaps I should have been more concerned about that. If I thought she was in immediate physical danger I would have called 911, but she kept insisting she was fine, and just needed to rest a bit). Carlos and I decided that we would have the AAA driver fill up her tank with the two gallons of gas and then lead her to the gas station down the road just to be safe.

After waiting for half an hour, I had to run (literally) back to pick up my daughter, so Carlos stayed with the woman until the AAA guy arrived a few minutes later. I drove back 10 minutes after that to make sure everything was okay, and saw that the AAA guy was there with the woman. Carlos told me that unfortunately the woman was not in any better condition to drive, and the AAA driver made the assessment that she required a tow truck to pick up the car and take her home. In retrospect I wonder whether we should have called the police to have an officer assess the situation, because the longer it went on the less clear it was that she had all her mental faculties, and the less clear it was whether that was due to the heat alone or due to a more serious decline in her mental health prior to getting lost and running out of gas. I was reassured by the fact that she recited her address correctly (based on her driver’s license) and she insisted she knew the way home, and at this point I just have to trust that the AAA man and the tow truck driver did what they needed to do to make sure that she got there safely (and got her additional help if she truly needed it).

When I finally got home at 5:30 p.m., I hopped on the treadmill to finish off the remaining 2.3 miles of my run. It wasn’t easy, and it took me a long time to wind down from the day’s adventures. In the end, I am grateful that within the space of half an hour, four people had taken time out of their day to assist an elderly woman in a crisis. And I’m happy to have met Carlos, who will be running the LA Marathon as his first full marathon in March. I’m sure our paths will cross again, and I can rest assured knowing that good people like him are out running, patrolling the streets, ready to help anyone in need.

Today I turned 43 years young! I took a few minutes this morning to reflect on the fact that I am more fit now than when I was 33 or even 23 (not when I was 13 though — I was a competitive swimmer then, training alongside Olympian Janet Evans before she became Olympian Janet Evans.)

My family spoiled me from the moment I got up this morning. I turned off the alarm on my cellphone and then checked my email to find that my husband had booked my airline tickets to Santa Rosa — that’s right, I’m headed back to Santa Rosa in September to run Ragnar Napa Valley with my college roommate Renee and the rest of the Ragnaritas!!

Then I saw that my 9-year-old chose to wear this shirt today:

I love mom

and she insisted on making my coffee for me in the Bodum French Press. She is very handy in the kitchen and she makes excellent coffee!

Also waiting on the counter for me was this beauty:

Breville Juice Fountain Duo

Breville Juice Fountain Duo

I have wanted a juicer for a long time and my husband got me the perfect one! And you’ve gotta love the note he left with it:

The note says "Boston Fuel Machine. Happy birthday!"

The note says “Boston Fuel Machine. Happy birthday!”

So, even though the cat threw up on the carpet this morning and I have to spend my birthday evening at the junior high for 2-3 hours of Back to School Night, it’s a very happy birthday indeed! P.S. I got the best birthday wishes on Facebook too. Someone knew just what I wanted:

Have a wonderful day and may you cross the finish line ever earlier.

“To B(Q) or not to B(Q)?” That is the question. If you’ve been reading along you already know the answer. If you’re playing catch-up with my Santa Rosa Marathon recap, here is Part 1 – Race Morning and Part 2 – the First Half.

When I reached the half marathon mark, I did a quick assessment. On track according to the pace band? Check. Body feeling okay? Check. My left hamstring had been mildly complaining at me for miles 1-10 but it miraculously loosened up and it felt good by the half. Breathing okay? Check. While it was definitely getting harder to maintain the 8:25-ish pace, I felt good overall, better than I had at the halfway mark at Mountains2Beach or Long Beach. I was really relieved that the mild cold I had caught from my kids the week before didn’t seem to be bothering my lungs at all. I had a bit of a runny nose but don’t we all while running?

At every mile mark throughout the race I did a check on my posture and running form. When I start to get tired, I’m terribly prone to hunching my shoulders, clenching my fists, and jutting out my chin. I made sure to relax my shoulders back and down, release my fists by pretending I was lightly holding a potato chip under each thumb, and draw in my chin (“shutting the drawer” as Coach Stephanie would say). I also made sure I was utilizing my core, tightening those muscles to help power my legs. This training cycle I really worked a lot on core strength and I could tell it made a difference. In the Long Beach Marathon, right around mile 17, there was a female spectator who was obviously an experienced marathoner. As I struggled on the relatively minor hills through the Cal State Long Beach campus, she called encouragement to me to use my core and run strong. That had stuck with me this whole time, nearly a year later!

Miles 14 to 16 (8:25, 8:28, 8:24)

As I ran mile 14, I started giving myself a pep talk. The mental game definitely began at that point. I knew I was on target to BQ if I could stick to my race plan. I told myself to prove each mile that I could do it. Just run 8:25 for the next mile. Prove it. Each mile felt like a huge success. At the same time, I started to break down the race into pie pieces. You’re halfway done. You’re two-thirds done. You’re three-quarters of the way. Don’t give it up now!

Somewhere around mile 15 I passed the 3:45 pacer, who still had a crowd of 10-15 runners clustered around him. Remember, I was targeting an 8:25 pace at this point and he was probably running a more even 8:30-8:35 throughout the race. So while I’d always had him in my sights, I finally passed him at that point. That gave me a boost of confidence and I knew as long as I stayed ahead of him I had a nice cushion on that 3:45 time (foreshadowing, much?)

Miles 17 to 19 (8:28, 8:24, 8:32)

There were times when I believed I could do it — I could maintain pace and BQ — and times when I did not know how I was going to keep up that pace. It got harder and harder each mile, especially during the ones that I stopped to walk through an aid station to gulp down some Gatorade and then I had to pick up the pace again to bring my average back down to 8:25. I knew though that if I didn’t keep up my fuel intake I would bonk at mile 18, 19 or 20 as I had in other races. I was super happy to see that 8:24 pace on mile 18, because it meant I hadn’t hit the wall and I could still run strong.

What surprised me is that my quadriceps started getting sore. Not cramping up or anything, but definitely getting sore, which is unusual for me during a run. Sure I get sore after, but during? Clearly I was putting in a lot of effort to maintain pace. That’s when I really had to dig deep. I started drawing on all the good wishes from friends near and far:

Your legs are more than ready. Your heart will do the rest. (Andrea)

You’ve put in all the hard work, now you get to enjoy the race! (Jen – Running Moves Me)

You have worked hard and … you will get to see your hard work pay off! (Kim – Day with KT)

Sending cheers and cowbells down the coast. (Geli – Run Oregon Blog)

I know you can do it! Sending you energy and good vibes! (Angie – Maybe Marathoner)

I know you have it in you. Stay strong and push through! (Sandy – Boston Bound Brunette)

It sounds cheesy to say so but I thought about all the people who believed in me, perhaps even more than I believed in myself! They boosted me up and motivated me to run as hard as I could. I knew my family and friends would be tracking me using the RaceTec Live Tracker (finally, a live tracker that actually worked!) and I wanted to reassure them that I was hitting my time goals and I was where I was supposed to be at miles 8.23, 13.1, 20.2 and the finish. I know I ended up worrying people a bit because the tracker showed gun time and not chip time (which was about 1:03 faster), so the closer I got to the finish, the less clear it was that I was going to make it. Either way it was going to be a “squeaker” for sure. Who knew the sport of marathon racing could be so exciting?!

Miles 20 to 22 (8:27, 8:33, 8:44)

I had told myself before the race that if I got to mile 20 and was feeling good, I should try to pick up the pace. My legs were quite sore by that point and they certainly did not want any part of picking up the pace! My calves started threatening to tighten up too. I concentrated on staying loose with a quick foot turnover, as fast as my mind could force my legs to go! I developed a new mantra, one that convinced me to keep running my hardest no matter how improbable a 3:45 seemed at that point:

It wouldn’t be Boston if it were easy.

It wouldn’t be Boston if it were easy.

It wouldn’t be Boston if it were easy.

Meaning, I shouldn’t get discouraged if I was struggling to qualify for the Boston Marathon. Of course I was struggling! If I weren’t struggling it would mean that I wasn’t putting in my absolute best effort. So I just kept repeating:

It wouldn’t be Boston if it were easy. Leave it all out on the course! Don’t give it away now!

By that point in the race the full marathon course had joined back up with the half marathon course on the greenway. Frankly, that was a little frustrating and discouraging. I do not mean to criticize this race or the half marathoners at all — this happens at a lot of races where the two courses converge at the end. Personally, I find it very hard to face the wall of half and full marathoners, many of whom are struggling at that point in the race (just like I have in other races). There were lots of walkers and slower runners. They weren’t blocking the path, but they messed with my perception of how fast I was going. I thought I was booking it (and it certainly felt like I was putting out a tremendous effort) when my pace did not always reflect that. I had to fight for every second, and remind myself to go by my watch, run my own race, and not key into anyone else’s pace (more foreshadowing).

Miles 23 to 25 (8:40, 8:48, 8:22?)

There was one person’s pace I needed to key into though: the 3:45 pacer, who snuck up behind me at mile 23. The sight of him really put the fear into me! I might not make it! By then, he did not have a single runner keeping pace with him. All those runners who had hung tight with him in the early miles had faded away, and I despaired as I watched him pull away from me, too. I literally gritted my teeth and determined to keep him in my sights. I went back to my old mantra: Prove it. Each mile, prove that you can hang in behind him. Don’t let go! I knew that I had a little bit of a cushion because he’d crossed the starting line before me, but I also knew that it was only a matter of seconds, not minutes. Precious seconds.

At some point during every race, usually in the last mile or so, I realize I’m not actually going to collapse and die right there on the course and I can afford to put on a kick with every last bit of reserves I have in me. I don’t know if that 8:22 split is accurate for mile 25 or not, because I kept hitting the wrong button on my new Garmin — hitting “stop” when I wanted to switch to the next screen to see the TIME/DISTANCE readout rather than my usual PACE/DISTANCE readout. Once that happened a second time I told myself to stop messing around and JUST RUN! At that point I was either going to make it or I wasn’t and I just needed to run as absolutely fast as I could without looking at my watch anymore.

Mile 26 and the last 0.2 — well, 0.36 by my Garmin (9:04, 8:23)

The course hit the streets of Santa Rosa again and I knew I was getting close to the end. I told myself what I always tell myself at that point in a race:

The faster you run, the faster it will all be over.

I was never so happy to see the finish line before in my life! Except the finish line gun time clock also came into focus, and I saw it said 3:45:XX! I knew then that I would have to run my heart out and hope for the best. I heard the finish line announcer call my name and that gave me one last surge of energy to cross the timing mat. I crossed it, and I didn’t even smile. No arms up in the air in victory like I had pictured when I envisioned getting a Boston Qualifying time. No sobbing of happy tears. I was completely and utterly spent, like a big balloon that had started the day all inflated and happy and had slowly leaked air until it lay like an empty, limp shell on the ground. I must have looked stunned because the guy handing out medals asked me if I was okay. I nodded numbly, accepted my medal, and glanced down to check my Garmin. 3:44:25. I had done it. I had qualified for Boston. My official chip time was 3:44:26. I had 34 seconds to spare. Precious seconds.

Looking back, I realize that at the time I didn’t quite believe that I had pulled it off, that I had really gotten the BQ I had been training for ever since I ran my first marathon in 4:02 nearly two years before that. I felt like someone would come up and tell me it was a mistake, that I hadn’t really qualified, and they’d take it away. Partly too it was that I knew that if I let myself believe it, I really might start to sob right there at the finish line. Slowly throughout the rest of that day, I let it start to sink in, and eventually I wanted to tell anyone and everyone who asked: “I qualified for Boston! Finally! Fourth full marathon, first BQ!”

So now you know all the crazy thoughts that go through my head before, during and after a race. When you run 26.2 miles, you spend a lot of time in your head and it’s always interesting to see what thoughts go through it and what you end up taking away from the experience. This time I took away a sincere gratitude for all the encouragement and support I had received during training and during the race.

We interrupt this Santa Rosa Marathon recap with the least original thing said after a marathon, ever: I am so sore. It’s been 48 hours since the race ended. I feel pretty good if I keep walking around, but as soon as I sit down for any length of time, or worse yet, sleep? I can barely get moving again. My quads are so sore that it took me three tries to get up off the couch this morning. Finally I succeeded by doing a newborn giraffe move involving spreading my legs wide and using my arms to press myself up to standing.

If you missed the thrilling first installment of the race recap — Earthquake! Axe murderer! — you can read Part 1 here. I left off at the starting line.

Start: 6:03 a.m.

You might recall that one of my goals was to go out slow, up to as much as 40 seconds slower than marathon goal pace, in the hopes it would help me keep from bonking later in the race like I did at Mountains2Beach when I went out too fast. I had written up a marathon pace band starting at 9:10 for mile 1, 8:50 for mile 2, 8:40 for mile 3, 8:30 for mile 4, and 8:25 for every mile after that. Assuming I could run the tangents well enough to run 26.4 miles total (just 0.2 over the plotted course), that would bring me in at the finish line at exactly 3 hours 44 minutes. The night before the race I decided I couldn’t quite bear going out 40 seconds slower, but I would try to go 15-20 seconds slower for that first mile, and then ease into marathon goal pace over the next three miles.

Miles 1 to 3 (8:43, 8:33, 8:32)

I loved starting out at an average 8:43 pace for the first mile. My legs felt fresh from taper but I didn’t make the mistake of going out too fast because of that. I found that I wasn’t huffing and puffing, and the first mile felt like a nice warmup. The whole field of runners set off in harmony and I easily settled in without having to dodge around other runners as is often the case at larger races.

The first 2.5 miles of the race wound through the city streets of downtown Santa Rosa. It seemed like a lot of turns but it went by quickly as I focused on running the tangents (running the most direct route possible). I knew that those 2.5 miles would help spread out the field of runners so that when we hit the narrower greenway path at 2.5 miles it would not bottleneck and back up. Thank goodness that was indeed the case. It didn’t feel crowded on the greenway and I didn’t feel any frustration with my position in the trail of runners. I did worry that at some point I would want to pass the 3:45 pacer and the pack of runners clustered around him, but — spoiler alert — that didn’t happen until mile 15 when we were out on the road.

The greenway is just that: green and beautiful and mostly flat. Note that for safety reasons, runners are only allowed to have one earbud in while they are running on the greenway (that was the 2014 rule anyway). I choose not to listen to music while I race. I can listen to an audiobook during training runs, but during a race I like to focus on my surroundings, on how my body feels, and on my pace and form. I don’t mind if others listen to music as long as they are aware of others around them.

Miles 4 to 6 (8:30, 8:27, 8:24)

Aid stations popped up every 2 miles or so on the course. They were well stocked with Gatorade Endurance and water. (Only once did I suspect my cup of Gatorade had been watered down a bit. The lemon-lime flavor that tastes like liquid gold when I need it tasted more like Gatorade-flavored water that time. Overall though the aid stations and volunteers get a big thumbs-up from me). The best stations were the ones that had water on the left side of the course and Gatorade on the right. That made it easy to grab the correct cup from the volunteers. I also saw volunteers handing out oranges, bananas, and gels at aid stations later on the course. I did not carry any fuel with me and I relied solely on the course aid stations. I had practiced this at the Santa Barbara Wine Country Half Marathon in May and on interval workouts during training. I knew I needed to get 6-8 ounces of sports drink at each aid station, which meant asking for two cups and taking about 8 gulps as I walked. I burn over 3,000 calories during a full marathon and I wanted to take in at least 1,000 calories on the course. Ten minutes before the race I had gulped 16 ounces of Gatorade (enough to prime the system, taken in close enough to the race start that it did not make me have to stop at a porta potty along the course. There were plenty of those but I’m grateful I didn’t need one).

Miles 7 to 9 (8:24, 8:22, 8:28)

Just after mile 8 the course leaves the greenway path and hits the road. There are some rolling hills, never more than 30 feet of elevation gain and loss. Any potholes were marked with yellow spray paint around them. The course was marked in green sticker arrows and white chalk (blue arrows for the half marathon). I never had any problem navigating the course.

Miles 10 to 12 (8:23, 8:25, 8:27)

Around mile 10 the course veers into beautiful DeLoach Vineyards, one of the sponsors of the race. That’s the one hiccup on the course — you have to run on a very short section of dirt road, just a few hundred feet. I wouldn’t have minded it but the runners ahead of me kicked up a lot of dust. The reward for running over that stretch though is getting to run through the barrel room at the winery. Watch out for runners stopping to take photos at this point and of course if you are one of those stopping to take a selfie, remember to be considerate and step all the way to the right to stop. The course heads back out past the rows of grapevines. The vines were dripping with full clusters of grapes at this time of year. Some of the trees on the course were already starting to blush with fall color even though it was only the end of August.

Mile 13 and 0.1 – The Half Marathon Point (8:30)

At the half marathon point by the distance shown on my Garmin, my time said 1:51:05. The race timing mat at the actual half marathon point registered my chip time as 1:51:48. That was just 3 seconds slower than the target time I had written on my pace bracelet: 1:51:45. Things were looking good, but I knew from experience that the race really starts for me around mile 18. Only then would I know if I could break through the proverbial wall and run on pace to qualify for Boston with a 3:45 or less. And now, Part 3, the thrilling conclusion!

The night before The Santa Rosa Marathon I set two alarm clocks, one on my phone for 3:45 a.m. and a backup one on my Garmin Forerunner 10 for 3:50 a.m. I turned off the lights for bed at 9:20 p.m. and I had surprisingly little trouble falling asleep. Race jitters used to keep me up and anxious the night before a race, but I seem to have conquered those. I still get terrible jitters in the days leading up to a race, and the morning of, but sleep is such a precious commodity in my world that I have learned to drift off to sleep by reassuring myself that all the work I could have done is done, and my only remaining job is to sleep! I slept very well until 3:20 a.m. when I felt one of my children jump into the bed. But then the bed kept rocking and rolling, and I thought it must have been my two indoor cats fighting. But the rocking and rolling continued, and I woke up enough to remember where I was – alone in a hotel room bed, sans kiddos and sans cats. Earthquake! By the time my addled brain registered that fact, I thought for sure the rocking and rolling would stop any second. It lasted so long though that I really ought to have vacated my room on the second floor of the hotel (regardless of the fact that I didn’t have any pajama bottoms on). So much for my survival instincts!

Thank goodness we did not seem to have any injuries or serious damage in Santa Rosa, and we didn’t lose power like much of the Bay Area did. Turns out the earthquake was a biggie, a 6.1 centered not far from Santa Rosa. Just my luck I would be up north for the largest earthquake in 25 years!

There was no going back to sleep after that so the morning routine continued apace (ha, a little running pun there). For pre-race breakfast I had coffee with skim milk, oatmeal with a dash of sugar to make it palatable, a banana, and 16 ounces of Gatorade. I tried to finish all that by 4 a.m., two hours before the race was scheduled to start at 6 a.m., but I didn’t quite succeed. I then hustled into the race gear I had laid out to make Flat Angela, and I taped on my pace bracelet. I packed my phone, sunscreen, hotel key, and another 16 ounces of Gatorade and I was ready to go by 4:45 a.m.

As I pulled out of my parking space at the hotel, I saw another runner starting to walk the two miles to the starting line. I didn’t want to scare her but I took a chance and rolled down the car window. “Do you want a ride to the race?” She was stunned but quickly judged that I was not an axe murderer and she gladly accepted. I think I got the better end of the deal because Yara turned out to be a very nice person who kept me company until it was time to part ways right before the race. We parked in the parking structure at Sears ($3 and very convenient) and walked a couple blocks to the starting area. We hit the porta potty lines twice (I guess ladies do like to go to the restroom in packs!) and then I headed off to strip off my sweats (compliments of the Goodwill thrift store in Santa Rosa) and check my bag. The weather was great, 55 degrees at the start and yet the humidity took a little edge off the chill. I made it to the race chute with 15 minutes before the 6 a.m. start. Santa Rosa is a smaller race with 1,235 full marathoner finishers so there were no corrals; people placed themselves by the pacers or wherever else they wished to be. The race started on time, just as the sky began to lighten. I crossed the timing mat at a slow jog and hit “start” on my Garmin Forerunner 10 (my 110 died a week before the race, but that’s another story). We were off! Click here for Part 2 of the Santa Rosa Marathon 2014 recap!

BQ Baby!

I’m still traveling home from Santa Rosa but I couldn’t wait to post my thanks to everyone who offered support to me in the comments on my posts leading up to The Santa Rosa Marathon. You all made me believe I really could go for that elusive Boston Qualifying time, and I did it! I hung onto the 3:45 pacer to come in at 3:44:26! I think I gave lots of people nervous attacks because my gun time went over 3:45, but that trusty RFID chip said I had 34 seconds to spare! I am still in a state of disbelief. If I let myself think about it too much I start to cry happy tears. Stay tuned for the full race report and review in the coming days!

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