I’ve been reflecting on the outcome of my Baystate Marathon performance and missed BQ goal, and I am really surprised at how ok I am with how the race played out. Happy even. When I ran the Providence Marathon in May, I mentally gave up just before the halfway point. I was miserable for so much of that race. But the one saving grace for Providence was that once I decided I would finish at around mile 21 (three miles after I saw my husband and begged him to get the car and he refused), things got better and I finished pretty strong.
The Baystate Marathon puts on a fantastic event, and it’s definitely a PR course. I’d recommend this race to anyone seeking a BQ, and it was a better choice for my attempt than the Providence race. I’m still bummed that my stomach reacted so badly to my race anxiety. I’m pretty sure it wasn’t nutrition or hydration or a bug. I’ve had three races when this has been an issue and all three were my “A” races with time goals (Disney Wine & Dine, Providence & now Baystate). I sense a trend. But I’ve talked about it with my coach, and she’s made some suggestions that will hopefully make these race nerves work to my advantage. I think understanding where the problem starts gives us a way to attack it. I feel positive and excited (and scared) to work on this.
As a recovering alcoholic, I’m a work in progress. I have come a long way from the girl who tried to drink away her pain. However, the pain still is there — and I don’t think it’s a terrible thing for me to acknowledge that my childhood hurt me deeply in ways that never will be fully healed. The key is for me to transform that into something that can serve me to become a better person.
I’ve talked about it here on the blog, but one of my running goals has been to quiet the vicious negative tape in my head. Back when I first started running 21 months ago, that tape was very loud trying to discourage me from running. My very first race was a battle of me trying to ignore the voice saying “you suck, why bother, you’ll never be good enough, you’re lazy” over and over. I had to turn my iPod music way up to drown it out. My next few 5ks were similar experiences. Sometimes I used that negative voice by telling myself I’d hate myself more if I stopped to walk, that it would make me a “quitter”.
I can’t say wielding my mother’s critical voice to push myself is the best path towards motivation.
One of the best things about having a coach and using a training plan is that I know that these people know what they are doing. It’s nice to sort of defer to their expertise and have a way of consistently improving. Gaining confidence in my ability to run and get stronger and faster has been fun. The McMillan Running coaching and plans work. I am a far faster and stronger runner than I ever dared imagine. I’ve also had the support of a coach who knows that the mental aspect of running is as important as the physical. I spent much of this training cycle giving myself mental pep talks, even when I didn’t really need them, so that it would be second nature when things got hard. It wasn’t exactly second nature, but it was much easier to draw on that training at crunch time because I’d deliberately attacked this self-esteem problem.
My coach gave me what would’ve been a perfect race strategy had I not felt sick. She wanted me to run between an 8:55-9:00 through the first half, speed up to 8:50-8:55 through mile 20, then if I felt good, drop it below 8:50 to the finish. I hit the first half at 1:57 — an average of 8:56 per mile. If I could’ve just held that pace, I’d have made my goal. I kept hoping the queasiness would subside, but it just continued to make me feel like I was going to have to puke or find a port-a-potty. Just keeping my focus was tough and it felt like all my energy was going towards my ailing GI tract.
Ironically, the parts of me that were the most in knots after the race were my jaw, neck and shoulders. That’s what white-knuckling through a race will do for you.
I thought I’d share some of the many tactics/successes that I managed in the course of this race. The more I think about it, the prouder I feel about my performance. I believe the first thing I said to my husband when I met him in the finisher chute was, “That was epic.” I don’t throw that phrase around.
What I Did Right
- Didn’t linger in aid stations — I didn’t stop at any (I carried my own UCAN) until mile 16 and only walked through long enough to drink water then Gatorade with no lollygagging. I’m glad that water and Gatorade did not make my situation worse.
- Periodically scanned my body when my brain tried to say, “you can’t go on” and realized I was fine/uninjured/had strong legs to continue safely.
- Stayed in mile — This one is BIG. It never felt like I was never going to finish because I stayed in the moment. Except that I wished I was going faster, the miles ticked by pretty quickly.
- I mentally broke up the race into pieces: first 10k, less than 4 miles to double digit miles, I see my husband in only 3 miles, only 3 miles until I only have single digit miles left, just 4 miles to 20 miles, only 10k left… I can run a 10k!, this last 5k is a new section of the course, enjoy the scenery…
- Realizing I didn’t need audiobook/music — My iPod battery died just after mile 18. I just shrugged it off. In the past, the idea of being alone in my own head terrified me.
- Reminded myself that I’ve felt worse and still made it to the finish line.
- Kept my pace pretty steady the second half, if significantly lower than what I needed to BQ. I just felt drained of energy, not beaten. I told myself I was ok with keeping that pace. I didn’t flame out because I took off too fast. In fact, I nailed my first half plan. But I just had zero pep to pick up my pace. The way I stayed solid for the second half makes me happy with my execution under less than ideal circumstances. Mile 21 was my slowest at 9:57, but most were closer to 9:30 or faster.
- When I saw my husband at the halfway point and I told him my stomach felt terrible, he asked if there was anything he could do to help me. I replied, “No, I’ve just got to tough this out.”
- I didn’t let the too-fast pace group passing demoralize me. The 4:00 pace group caught up to me around mile 4. They were going way too fast. It was tough when I got stuck in the middle of their pack because I find running with others unnatural and stressful. I pulled a tiny bit ahead of them, but then they passed me a few miles later. At one point, the pace leader announced, “8:52. Perfect!” Uh, no. Your pacer shirt said that you were supposed to be going around a 9:07 and running even splits. They did at least one mile faster than 8:50 while they were near me. When the group passed me for good, they had thinned out significantly. This was not a course that needed “banking time” (which, frankly, is seldom a good strategy, if ever). I don’t know what the pacers were thinking. I feel bad for those runners trying to run with them that might’ve suffered later in the race because they went out too fast.
- Thought about my little running buddy, Liam. I had his name written on my bib and someone yelled, “Go Liam!” at me. It made me smile and get excited to tell Liam about it.
- Thought about my friend Bethany who puked through the English Channel swim. She is my hero.
- Smiled whenever the opportunity arose.
- When I realized I probably wouldn’t BQ, I decided I was going to get as close to it as I could, and then didn’t worry about the time any more except as it pertained to that particular mile.
- High-fived some kids. They gave me juice!
- Never doubted I’d beat previous marathon PR.
- Told myself that continuous forward motion was a positive.
- “You got this.”
- “It’s supposed to be hard.”
- “I love running. Even right this minute.”
- When I hit mile 20, the race course had a brick wall busting open painted on the road. I said to myself, “What wall? There is no wall” <=The Matrix reference.
- Thought about the book Elite Minds that Coach Emily had suggested I read and how if I gave into not believing I could continue, it would be a self-fulfilling prophecy.
- Recognized I’d done the work to get to this race and that my body was ready for this regardless of my stomach pain.
- “This isn’t so bad.”
- “I’m glad I’m out here. It’s a great day to be on a run.”
- “This mile might be tough, but the next one could be better.” Funny thing about this one is that I didn’t really think about how one mile compared to another after the fact. But this particular thought helped me get through the current tough mile.
- “My feet hurt, but it’s not going to last.” I don’t like the “pain is temporary, pride is forever” mantra for a lot of reasons, but taking note of what I knew was not an injury-type pain and then ignoring it worked for me.
- “These hills aren’t the worst I’ve run. Just shorten your stride and increase your cadence.”
- Reminded myself a ton that less than 2 years ago I couldn’t run a mile at this pace. My first 5k in April 2013 was at a slower pace. Heck, my second half marathon in September 2013 was at a slower pace.
- Noted that my breathing was steady and unlabored and that my legs felt good.
- “Yes, I am running with my heart!” — thought when I saw a sign saying when your legs got tired, run with your heart.
- To the sign All this for a free banana?: “But I really like bananas!”
I’m stunned that I could be alone in my thoughts, feeling unwell and not meeting my goals and STILL not rip myself to shreds. I was present in the moment and accepting of discomfort, uncritical about what was happening that was out of my control. I didn’t worry about what might happen or what had already passed. I did what I could to make the best of the circumstances. I’m getting teary-eyed just thinking about it. The only way I did not execute my race as I was trained was in how my anxious stomach sapped my speed.
This race was a triumph for me. If it had gone as planned, I would not have turned this corner in being kinder to myself. It took me 44 years for this breakthrough. But hell yeah, it was worth it.