Tuesday, November 14, 2017


Here we go, in this crazy life
'cause don't you know?
We're all a little insane sometimes
~ Grace VanderWaal

Five weeks ago, I ran the Mohawk Hudson marathon.  The weather was brutal, super hot and humid, and because of this I wasn't able to achieve my A-goal, which was to come in under 3 hours.  I wasn't disappointed with my performance.  I ran smart, pushed hard and was able to meet my B- goal, which was to place top 3 (I took 2nd).  So, I did not walk away angry, just frustrated with Mother Nature and annoyed by the fact that, no matter how well we prepare ourselves, it is virtually impossible to have that perfect day.  My coach, Lowell, reminds me of this all the time, but it's still hard to accept given the amount of work that goes into it.  Two days after my race, Lowell and I got on the phone to discuss our next move.  I told him I wanted a "do-over" and that mentally I didn't want to wait out another training cycle to try again.  I expected him to say something along the lines of, I understand, Rebecca, but we have to let your body recover before we dive back in.  But, to my surprise, he did not say this at all.  Rather, it was something like, I'm not a big fan of back to back marathons for obvious reasons.  But, I agree the weather was a bummer and that, had things been different, you likely would have reached your goal.  So, assuming your body can handle a short training cycle, I'm fully supportive of you trying again in 4 to 5 weeks.  Which, as you can imagine, was music to my ears.  I immediately got online, did a bunch of research and eventually landed on the Harrisburg Marathon in PA.  The upside of this race was twofold.  One, I could wait until the morning of the event to register, so if the weather was looking grim, I would just bail all together.  And, two, the course was fast and flat, which is what I needed if I was going to pull off a good time.  I made a conscious decision to keep this plan on the down low as it was something I just needed to do quietly, by myself.  If I did pull it off, awesome.  If not, well, it would be just another race in the books and I could just move on, hopefully without missing a beat.  Fast forward 5 weeks.  On Thursday before the race was set to take place, I learned that an arctic front was moving in on the East Coast and it was going to be in the twenties on race morning.  Just....really?  In a panic, I texted Lowell to discuss the situation and decide whether or not I should go ahead with this madness.  

Me: An arctic front.  Of course.
Lowell: Brr. But wind should lay down for the weekend.
Me: Aaron (Lowell's brother and a friend and fellow coach of mine) told me to pick a race with predictable weather.  Please back me up when I respond that this DOES NOT EXIST.
Lowell: Almost impossible. Hawaii.  But that's always too hot.
Me: At least it's predictable!! Ok, I'm done now. Bring it on.
Lowell: It snowed when I finished my first marathon and I hit my goal time spot on.
Me: I knew I texted you for a reason.

Side note, in case you're ever wondering why a coach, see above.  Okay, so it's Friday and the temperature is plummeting by the hour.  On Saturday, my XC team and I headed out to Wrentham for the EMASS Divisional Meet.  Every single one of us was wearing a minimum of five layers until 10:30am at which point the girls had to remove all sweats, blankets, etc and stand on the line in race singlets and shorts.  After which they proceeded to race their brains out, taking second place and sealing their spot in the upcoming All-State meet this weekend.

DIV 1, 2nd Place

It was an incredible race and day overall and after an emotional awards ceremony, I hugged my girls and headed straight to the airport as I was flying to PA.  Sound familiar?  Yes, I did the exact same thing after our State meet last year when I flew to PA to race the Philadelphia marathon.  For some odd reason, I like to make things as logistically complicated as possible in my life.  To my good fortune, though, my dear friend, Nicole, lives about twenty minutes from Harrisburg and kindly offered to pick me up from the airport, feed me dinner and let me crash at her house for the night.  It really couldn't have been any easier for me.  Nicole and I met through the Oiselle team and have been friends for about five years now, but I haven't seen her in way too long so this was a huge bonus and totally sweetened the deal for me.  After two quick flights, I landed around 7:30 and after easily finding each other we zipped to her house without any issues.  So far so good.  

I was welcomed at the door by some beautiful artwork done by Nicole's daughter, Danielle.  Yep, that's me...willing to run and also, Rebecca.  I loved it.  We all sat down together for some pasta (thank you, Chris) and then I made my way up to bed as I was mentally and physically toast.

I got up at 6:00am and could already hear Nicole downstairs starting up the espresso machine.  For the first time in a while I would not be having issues finding my pre-race coffee.  Beautiful.  We had some breakfast and then took off around 6:45 as we had our 20 minute drive back into Harrisburg and the race was starting at 8:00.  The main event was taking place on City Island, which we found easily, because, you know, it was an island.  After parking, I had about 30 minutes until go-time which I spent shivering while while wearing multiple layers of throw away clothes and bundled up in a blanket because it was 28 degrees outside.

I had that blanket wrapped tightly around me until the 10 second count down.  Like my Lex girls had been the day before, I was sporting a singlet and shorts, so I, too, was waiting until the very last minute to surrender to the cold.  I was not smiling because I was excited. Oh, no.  I was definitely having a Holy shit, what the hell am I doing right now??!! moment.  But, I was just trying to fake myself out and believe that I was ready to rock, which is also what I'd told my runners to do when they were on the line.  Practice what you preach, right?

Miles 1-5 (6:45, 6:46, 6:36, 6:51, 6:50)
By the time we were ready to go, I couldn't feel my feet.  Whatever.  Feeling is overrated.  The race route started on City Island and took us throughout Harrisburg and along the Susquehanna River.  We ran a lot of it on a bike path, some on hard packed trail, crossed a couple bridges and then we ended in the city.  My goal pace was between 6:45-6:50 and I hoped to run steady from start to finish.  I had no idea how my body would hold up pushing at this pace so quickly after my last marathon, but there was no reason to hold back if I was going for the sub-3.  I settled in easily as we made our way down to the bike path. 

Stopping my music so I could chat with the bike guide

Around mile 4, a woman on a bike pulled up next to me and introduced herself (Heather, I think?).  She let me know that she and the other guy she was biking with were assigned to the women's lead and would be riding along side me (or whoever was in front) for the remainder of the race.  She also told me not to hesitate if I needed something, which was good to know as I'd missed water at the last stop because the woman at the table had her back turned to me.  I've never had any support like this during a race and I won't lie and tell you it wasn't nice to have the perk.  I thanked her and let her know I was in good shape for the time being.

Miles 5-10 (6:45, 6:41, 6:49, 6:44, 6:44)
By now, I'd shaken off the cold and was running smoothly.  We clovered a bit on the bike path so I was able to see Nicole a few times during this first stretch.  That was awesome.  At this point, I was happy, smiling even.  Side note, look at the size of this guy in front of me!!!  Nicole took the above photo and then offered me gloves which I declined.

Miles 11-17 (6:49, 6:42, 6:42, 6:45, 6:44, 6:44, 7:31)
Right around mile 12, I started to doubt myself.  The force was strong and I was struggling hard to fight it.  More than once, I heard my head saying  I want to be done.  Let's just be done now.  And more than once my heart (thankfully still overruling my head) was saying, Shut up, Rebecca.  Let's go.  I also shout F-Yeah several times in honor of Shalane Flanagan, thinking that if she could suffer/crush it alone at 5 min pace, I could certainly suffer at 6:45.  Serious mind games.  Then, at mile 15, I had a major problem.  I had to go to the bathroom and I couldn't stop thinking about it.  (Forgive me, this is part of the story I just can't leave out.  Feel free to skip if needed.).  With each mile, the situation got worse, mentally more than physically, and my stress about it increased until finally, at mile 17, I realized I had to pick the lesser of two evils; one being going and losing time and the other being not going and potentially falling off.  I decided to go.  It was the right call because afterwards, such a mental weight was lifted that I was able to fall right back into my groove and pick up where I left off.  But, as you can see, the damage was done.  I lost about 45 seconds during my stop and that, in the end, is what cost me the sub-3.  Mind you, I was too out of it to realize this at the time so I continued to fight as if I still had a shot.

Miles 18-26.2 ( 6:44, 6:47, 6:47, 6:56, 6:54, 6:59, 7:06, 7:14, 7:18)
Since I was now relatively free in mind and body I was holding on nicely.  My legs were starting to get heavy and felt so incredibly tired but I was sound enough to know that I could hold on for 9 miles if I just focused on one at a time.  My headphones died at mile 25, likely due to the cold, so running that final mile without music to motivate me was rough.  On the upside, I still had my biker guides along side me and both of them were cheering me on, which was huge.  You can see in the final stretch above that I was officially on the pain train.  Part of me still hoped that my goal was within reach.  Part of me knew it probably wasn't.  But, I ran like anything was possible and left nothing behind.  I looked up to see both the finish and Nicole holding the tape.  I remember thinking, that's strange, how did she manage to pull that off while also thinking I really need this to be over.  And that, my friends, is all she wrote.  Final time...3:00:05.  Yes, I was thrilled to take the win.  Yes, I was grateful to my body for holding up.  But FIVE FREAKING SECONDS???!!!  It was just too much to process.  I fell into Nicole's arms and she wrapped me up and just held on for a while which is exactly what I needed at that moment.

Once the dust settled and I walked off the course, I found and thanked both of the bikers who'd rode with me and let them know that their support had been invaluable.  The guy gave me a big bear hug and congratulated me.  I think he was more excited than I was that I'd taken the win.  That was cool.  Shortly after that, the cold started to set in and my body began to shut down.  I'd already put on my clothes but I had such a bad chill and knew if I didn't get inside soon I was likely going to get sick.  The awards ceremony was not going to get started for another 45 minutes and there was no way I could wait that long.  Nicole and I found the race director and let him know that we needed to get going so he gave me my first place medal ahead of time.  I thanked him for a great race and we bee-lined it for the car.

Next stop....burgers and beers.  Nicole had made a reservation for us a the Millworks Brewery, this hip, industrial art gallery/restaurant right in town.  If you are anywhere near this area, it's a must-do.  I was still frozen to the bone and going through the experience I'd just had in my head but sitting and relaxing with Nicole was just such a perfect end to this crazy adventure.    

So, now what?  I have no doubt that I'm capable of running a marathon in under 3 hours.  I mean, take out the bathroom break, and I did it, for Pete's sake.  Is that good enough?  Do I shift my focus onto something else; a new goal, perhaps?  Do I try again or just let it go?  On the plane ride home, I read an article that my sister-in-law sent me about Shalane Flanagan and her recent NYC Marathon victory.  One paragraph, in particular, really hit home for for me.  I'm not a professional athlete, but I strive for my own personal victory day in and day out and my fight isn't that much different from someone like her who's at a much higher level than me but wants the same thing...to achieve a goal and is willing to do whatever it takes to get it.    

The Flanagan kind of feminism — a ruthless adherence to goals — rarely makes for interesting stories in the moment.  It took Flanagan from the time she turned professional, in 2004, until this year to win a major international race; years of tedium and drudgery, and robotic routine (churning her legs through 130 miles a week).

You see, it took her 14 years to accomplish the one major goal that she'd set at the start of her career.  I'm sure as hell not saying I'll keep striving for a sub-3 hour marathon for the next 14 years, but I'm also not ready to hang up my hat.  I've been trying for about 2 years now.  I've gotten so close I can taste it.  But, I've got time and I, too, am ruthless when it comes to training.  It's going to happen.  I know it will.  And I'm willing to wait.  And I'm having a killer party when it happens and you're all invited.  Kidding.  Sort of.  Stay tuned.

Listen to this:
Insane Sometimes - Grace Vanderwaal


  1. Man oh man, those 5 seconds! Seems to me you can't let this go, not just yet.

  2. Congrats! I was the guy that finished right in front of you. Our little pack helped me mentally. I think the left hand turn that went up that steep ramp at mile 25.5 took the sub 3 out of me. I couldn't move after that. Felt like 9 min pace. lol

    1. Hey Rob. Congrats to you, too! And, yes, that turn was brutal. Probably ruined my chances as well. What's your next move? Perhaps we'll meet again. :)

    2. Going to take it easy the next few weeks with some easy runs then start training for Boston in January. How about you? I only ran Harrisburg for the same reason. The weather in October was brutal here in the Midwest. I will never run a marathon with a start temp of 50 degrees or higher. I excessively sweat too much to run well.

    3. I know I'm late to the party, but just found your blog, and I'm happy to have people to commiserate with about that hill. 3:00:10 in 2018 and it destroyed me too (also the 50 feet of climbing over the last .3) . Hope your got your sub3!