We arrived in Albany around 4:30pm and headed into the expo. This is a small race, a little over 1000 runners, so we easily grabbed our numbers and shirts and then took a little stroll through the rest of the expo to see what was what. About two minutes later, we were approached by some students of Albany Medical College who asked us to fill out a survey for a research project that they were doing on marathon runners. Neither of us felt like we could say 'no' despite the fact that there were about five sheets of questions to answer and we didn't really want to deal in general. But, we've been on the other side, having to ask for help for things like this in the past, so we decided to give them support.
After our surveys, we continued to stroll, looking at all the gear and collecting samples and cool giveaways (ie. rainbow highlighters) to bring home to the kids. We made a quick stop over at Janji where we met and chatted with co-owner Dave Spandorfer. I've actually done a couple blog posts and giveaways with these guys over the past few years. It's a really cool company that does so much good for others and if you have the time, I'd recommend checking them out. Kirsten bought a sweet t-shirt and Dave and I talked music. And then we took a selfie. I also ran into my friend and fellow Runner's World Loopster, John P. who would be running the half the next day as part of a training run. He's coming back from an injury, too, so we talked turkey for a while and then wished each other good luck.
Shortly afterwards, Kirsten and I decided to head over to our hotel and settle in for the night. We brought our dinner from home in fear of not finding a restaurant that would satisfy our needs. So we dined on pasta, rice, potatoes and salad on our beds, while watching Iron Man and trying very hard to relax. We eventually turned in around 8:30 as we had a 5:45am wake up the next morning and wanted to get as much sleep as possible. If you've been reading this blog for a while, you know that an 8:30pm bed time is not too far off from my norm, so I was sawing logs pretty quickly after we said good night. At 5:15am, my lids popped open and my nerves kicked into high gear. I started checking email just to keep myself busy while Kirsten slept a bit more. Finally, we both got up and got ready to go. Our hotel happened to have a Starbucks in the lobby which opened at 5:30am. That was a HUGE perk. We grabbed some coffee on our way out and then drove over to where we'd be getting on the bus to ride out to Schenectady, which is where the race was starting. It was pitch black, very early, cold and damp, so we huddled into the seats together, sipping coffee, eating our bagels and working really hard to wake up.
The bus dropped us off around 7:15 and as we made our way over to the bag check area we were treated to the beautiful music of a bagpiper who happened to be playing next to a pond as the mist was rising up behind him. That was pretty surreal.
As we always do, Kirsten and I used the bathroom about 5 times each. We also did a little stretching and chatted as we waited. Both of us had cold hands and feet and Kirsten generously donated her gloves when I let her know I couldn't feel my fingers. She's the best. Finally it was time to head over to the line. We walked together, gave each other a few last words of encouragement, hugged and then lined up with our pace groups. After the national anthem and a quick Ready, Set, Go we were off. My plan, which I'd made with my coach the day before, was to tuck in with the 3:05 pace group for a few miles to see if I felt comfortable running at that speed and to hopefully get a sense of whether I could potentially stick with it. Around mile 4, we made a turn to get on the bike path and the sun was just starting rise up over the Hudson. The view was stunning and I took a moment to let it all soak in. Funny, Kirsten, who runs with her phone, had noticed the same thing and took a picture while she was running.
As I mentioned, I hopped in with the 3:05 pace group from the get go. Our first mile was a 7:05, which was right on the nose. But then the pacer picked it up to around 6:55 for the next few miles, which I didn't know at the time because I had decided to run by feel and not to look at my watch. So much for that. It definitely felt a little fast and for a while I wasn't sure if I could hold on with the group but I tried settle down and told myself to do what felt right and not worry about sticking with them if that didn't seem feasible. I let them go and ran solo for a while, trying hard to just zone out. I ate my first GU at mile 6 and got an immediate boost of energy, so I joined the group again and held tight. The pacer was a very friendly and insanely energetic gentleman name Jamie. He was pretty chatty at first, and despite his efforts, I couldn't really engage as I was too focused on maintaining my pace and focus. He was incredibly supportive, often filling us in on our progress and helping us navigate the water stops. I started to feel a certain level of comfort by running next to him and this worked in my favor for miles 6-12 which were all in the high 6s or low 7s. Again, I didn't know this at the time, but checked my splits after the fact. In hindsight, if I'd known I was pushing the pace, would I reigned it in? I'm honestly not sure. We hit the half at 1:31, which was a little faster than we needed for our 3:05 goal, but still pretty close. Nice work, Jamie. At this point, I'd just taken my second GU and my body was responding well, so I began to pick up the pace. My thought was that I'd just go on without the group and fall back if it felt like it was too hard to hold on. But, things were clicking really well and my miles were ticking off smoothly so I rolled with it. The half is a little early to switch gears and in looking back, perhaps I unleashed too early, but it felt right and I decided at the time that the risk was worth it. Miles 15-19 were all in the 6:40 range and by mile 20 I really started to feel it in my legs. Holy shit they were heavy and each rotation felt monumentally harder than the next. I began to worry that I wouldn't be able to hold steady for the last 10K. This is when I started talking to myself. I don't remember the specifics, but it was something like, there is NO way you've worked this hard to peter out now. You can run a 10K in your sleep. And you've held on for much longer than this in your workouts. You need to dig in now, Rebecca and do what you know you are capable of. I've never eaten more than two GUs during a marathon, but I was a little desperate for fuel so I grabbed a third at mile 22 and sucked it down. That was hard as it didn't go down very smoothly. I could sense that miles were getting slower at this point. And even though I was holding steady in the low 7s, I felt like I was running 9s because of how tired and heavy my legs were feeling. I refused to look at my watch and focused on trying to catch up to the people in front of me. Miles 23 and 24 were brutal. But, once I hit 25, I knew I had it locked in. I caught up to a girl and passed her in the final mile, but she wasn't having any of it and came back and passed me in the final stretch. Kudos to her! I had nothing left in me to fight it out and I didn't care. I was done. My watch said 3:03. I wanted to scream. But, that would have been akward, so I didn't. I made my way over to the bag check and grabbed my stuff. I sought out my dear friend and Oiselle teammate, Mollie, who I knew had just run the half. I found her nursing her 3 month old with a medal around her neck. WHAT?? Yes, she's insane and such a badass. I walked over to the results booth to get my official time. I stood in front of the computer and read the screen which said 3:01:47. Again, WHAT?? I didn't believe it. I asked them to check again. Same time. I still didn't believe it. I told Mollie I was going to try to track down the girl who came in right before me and check my time with hers, but I couldn't find her. So, I went back to the results booth and stood in front of the computer again. The people behind the table were like, weren't you just here? I told them I wanted to see it again. It was the same time. The lady who was working the computer and now seemed a little annoyed, told me to take a picture so I wouldn't have to keep coming back, so I did.
As you can imagine, I was FREAKING out. Never in a million years did I think I could pull this off. All my hard work over the past year had come to fruition. I was totally beside myself. I grabbed some chocolate milk and headed back over to Mollie to catch up with her and spend some time with baby Natalie.
Then I checked my watch and realized that Kirsten would probably be rolling in soon, so I made my way over to the finish line to see if I could catch her. I found John P. again and chatted with him about his race, which he was pleased with given that it was 13 miles of a 16 mile training run. And then shortly after we said goodbye I saw Kirsten cruising down the final stretch with a huge smile on her face. She claims she doesn't remember smiling, but I happened to catch it on camera.
I grabbed her and hugged her. I might have cried. She'd done it. Fought back from an injury and taken it down. And she'd run a time that she was very pleased with, to boot. Amazing. We slowly ambled to grab her bag and chill out for a bit so she could recover. I introduced her to Mollie and got to hold little Natalie for a while as Kirsten made some phone calls. Then we just sat and soaked in the awesomeness of the moment. Finally, once we were as ready as we could be after having just run 26.2 miles, we headed back to our car. We took a quick photo by the river because we were both elated and it was just so damn gorgeous.
And then we headed home. We made a few stops for food and bathroom breaks and we battled some bad traffic so it took a long time to get home. In the beginning of the trip, it didn't matter because we were still so excited. By the end, we were starting to lose it. After 3+ hours in the car, we were itching to move and everything hurt. I dropped her off around 5:00pm. Her family was there to congratulate her and I got those warm, fuzzy feelings all over again. There might have been another tear. We said our goodbyes and I rolled over to my house. My girls were down the street with my husband and some friends playing soccer, so I just sat on my front porch and did nothing but breath, relax, and smile. It was a really nice moment.
The love and support that poured in from my teammates, my friends, and especially my family throughout this whole training cycle up to the race itself has been incredible. My husband is the trooper of the year and my kids are close behind him. I'm not paid to run, but it's something I need to do and even though my training takes up so much time, none of them question it. Ever. And that is such a gift. Am I already thinking about my next race? Hell yeah. But, I'm also basking in the glory for a little while longer just because I can. This.....among so many other reasons...is why I run.
Listen to this:
BELIEVE - MAPEI or listen w/