“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.