Friday, November 25, 2016


"Believing in others is easy.  It's believing in yourself that's the real challenge."
~ Giuseppe Bianco

Fair warning, this is a lengthy one.  You might want to grab another cup of coffee before you sit down with it.  I'll start by reminding you that I had intended to run the Wineglass Marathon on October 2nd.  I won't rehash the story but, as you may already know, I was not able to race due to a freak accident involving my foot and a metal door.  I cried a lot and felt sorry for myself for a day or two afterwords and then I moved on because that's what we do.  A few days after that, I assessed my situation, re-set my goal and started over.  Because, that's also what we do, especially runners.  Six weeks later, I was gearing up for the Philadelphia Marathon.  I was not as ready as I'd been for Wineglass but, given that I wasn't even sure a fall marathon would be happening after my injury, I was fine with it.  I just wanted to race.  First and foremost, however, I would be focusing on my high school girls XC team as they would be running at the MA State Championship meet the day before Philly.  Do I realize how ridiculous it seems to work a marathon in around the biggest meet of the season for my team?  Yes, yes I do.  I was going to have to get creative to make it work.  Instead of riding the bus, I would need to drive to the meet, which would be starting at 12:30pm.  The girls would race, we'd wait for the results and then instead of sticking around for the boys' race and the awards, I'd have to head straight to the airport to catch my flight to Philly which was at 4:20pm.  It was not ideal.  But, the girls were totally on board with my plan as they knew how important this race was to me after having gone through the whole Wineglass debacle.  I'm a very lucky coach.  The LHS girls team hadn't won a State title since 2001.  This particular crew, however, had been running incredibly strong all season, especially during the weeks leading up to this meet and we had a very good shot and placing somewhere at the top.  It would take me a totally separate post to describe the race but basically the girls threw it all down, ran their hearts out and took the win (watch the post-race interview here).  It was beyond awesome and I can't even attempt to put into words how proud I was of them.  Not surprisingly, we went totally nuts when we found out, celebrating for a solid thirty minutes afterwords - screaming, jumping, hugging, crying, laughing, dancing - all of it.  When it was time, it was really hard for me to pull myself away from the celebration and say goodbye but I had a plane to catch and my own goals to chase the next day.


I made it back to Winchester easily and scooped up my good bud/running partner Kirsten who would be coming to Philly with me and running the marathon "for fun".  Yes, that sounds weird.  But it's true.  She wanted to get another marathon after Wineglass, which she'd raced while I cheered, and was ready and willing to be my wingman again.  Go TEAM BACON!  After a relatively painless flight, we landed in Philly and grabbed a cab to our hotel.  As we'd been doing regularly for the past few days, we checked the forecast to see what we'd be dealing with the next morning.  To our dismay, though not to our surprise, the forecast for Sunday had not changed and it was looking grim.  No rain, which was good.  But wind starting early and picking up throughout the day.  For the race start at 7:00am, the winds would be steady at about 15-20 mph.  Then around 9:00am, conditions were predicted to get much worse with gusts between 40-50 mph.  Maybe they'd be wrong, Kirsten and I hoped.  They weren't wrong.  When we got out of the cab, as if on cue, the wind picked up and hit us dead on.  Note Kirsten's hair below.  The wind machine effect is great for a photo.  For a marathon?  Not so much.

Super model wind hair

We were trying hard to stay positive but it wasn't going well.  We went to two different restaurants before we finally found a place to eat.  Everyone around us was talking about the weather to anyone who would listen.  Are you worried?  How bad do you think it's going to be?  Are you as nervous as I am?  I'd been almost stupidly excited to come do this race after all that I'd been through.  I was not as excited anymore.  After dinner, we made our way back to the hotel to get ready for bed.  We'd arrived so late that we hadn't had time to get our bibs from the expo.  Fortunately, my dear friend and Oiselle teammate, Sue, had picked them up for us the day before and dropped them off at the hotel.  She rules.  We laid out our gear for the morning, taking a minute every once in a while to glance out the window and see the flags whipping madly.  We couldn't help it.  We went to bed nervous and full of dread, not the ideal mindset for the night before a big race but kind of unavoidable.  Our alarm was set for 5:30am and I popped out of bed a little early because the guy at the front desk had told us there would be coffee ready at 5:00 sharp.  I crept out of the room and beelined it for the breakfast buffet.  I'm sure you can imagine my devastation when I learned that the coffee was not, in fact, ready as they had promised. 

My conversation with hotel the staff member who was standing by the breakfast table:
Me: Good morning, Sir.  Where's the coffee?
Him: Oh, let me check on that for you.
Me: But, wait...I....they told us.....(my confused mumbling continued as he walked away)
Him: Ma'am, the kitchen said it would be ready at 6:00am
Me: No, no.  That won't work.  The race is at 7:00 and we need to leave by then.
(for the record, I was not the only one stressing and crying out in disbelief over the situation)
Him: (smiling) I'm sorry.  It's just what they told me.  I wish I could help you.

I didn't cry, but I came close.  Back up to the room I went.  Kirsten was in the process of waking up and I asked if I could turn the light on so I could use the Keurig.  We made some weak, nutty flavored coffee and sucked it down as we got ready to leave.  At 6:00, I let her know that I was going to go back downstairs for coffee and she could just meet me there when she was all set.  When I got to the lobby the coffee was set up and I ran over and and poured myself a cup, finally able to sit and relax a bit.  For like five minutes, actually.  Because, as I sipped, I noticed that there was only one bus out in front of the hotel which I thought was odd because there had been a long line of them only minutes before.  I went outside and asked the driver when the next bus was coming.  His response?  There are no more buses, Ma'am.  This is it.  And we have to go.  WHAT??!!  I told him I needed to grab my friend and my stuff and I'd be right back.  He was shaking his head NO as I spoke to him.  Sorry.  We can't wait for you.  Then we'd have to wait for everyone.  We've gotta leave now.  OH SHIT.  I called Kirsten and told her she needed to book it down or we wouldn't be getting a ride to the start which was over a mile away.  Just as she made her way through the lobby, I watched as the bus pulled out.  We bolted through the doors and made a run for it, hoping to catch it at the light.  I sprinted with my coffee in hand, which was spilling all over me though I refused to ditch it.  It was a ridiculous scene which we laughed about only minutes later.  I wish I had a photo for you though if Kirsten had taken one at the time I probably would have killed her.  We didn't get the bus, so we hopped in a cab and told him to follow it and we finally caught it at the next hotel.  Again, the bus driver told us to hurry up; that he wouldn't wait for us.  Good grief! I was searching madly in my bag for money to pay for the cab and was coming up dry.  Finally, I just looked at him in desperation and said something like  I'm sorry.  I can't find my cash.  PLEASE!!  We have to go or we're going to miss our race.  He rolled his eyes and said Ok, JUST GO!  We jumped on the bus and sat, both of us in utter disbelief about the events that had just unfolded.  I guess we got our warm up, I said to Kirsten.  Funny, kind of.


Minutes later we arrived at the start.  Sadly, the meteorologists had nailed it with the forecast.  It was windy and cold.  It was also dark and spooky out.  Kirsten and I agreed it felt a lot like doomsday in Gotham city and decided it was worth pausing for a photo before we moved on.  I had an elite bib for this race, which was a treat as they gave us a special tent with a heater in it so we could wait comfortably.  Not that I really needed it as by the time Kirsten and I hugged and said goodbye it was about 6:45 and already time to head to the start.  I found Sue when I lined up and reached over the rope for a hug which was an instant lift to my spirits.  She wished me luck and told me to get after it.  Okay, I thought, it's now or never.  Let's do this.

(photo by Sue)
Miles 1-6 (6:47, 6:41, 6:38, 6:49, 6:54, 6:38)
I was so eager to get going that when they finally sent us off I was almost giddy.  I was also nervous about the wind so I made a conscious decision to bank some faster miles up front while it wasn't as bad as it was predicted to get.  It's a huge marathon, about 30,000 runners.  We ran through the city for the first couple miles and the crowd was thick so the wind wasn't a major factor yet.  I was cautiously optimistic that things might go okay so I tried to settle in at my goal pace (6:50) or a little faster and just glide along.  After all the stress of the travel and the crazy morning that we'd had, it was nice to just zone out and run.  My body was happy.  I was happy.  I felt good.  I enjoyed these miles a lot.

The hills

Miles 7-14 (6:36, 6:53, 6:34, 7:00, 6:53, 6:47, 6:54, 7:00)
Mile 6 was uphill but Sue and some other Oiselle gals were at the top and their cheers and smiles got me super fired up.  Mile 8 was up again and this one was long and steady but I was still riding high and feeling good so I just dug in and kept at it.  Somewhere in this section I had linked up with a gentleman who was running a similar pace to mine.  We ran step by step and hit a steady groove for a while so I just stopped looking at my watch.  Bad idea.  He was a really cool dude, offering me water after he got his own, checking in on how I was feeling, even looking to make sure I was still with him if I was out of his line of sight.  After a couple miles, I asked my new partner what his pace goal time was.  I'm going for a 2:55, he told me.  Uh oh.  This isn't good, I thought.  I truly believed I had a shot at a decent time, maybe even a PR, but given the weather, I was 100% sure that a sub-3 hour marathon was not in the cards for me and that I should definitely not be running with this guy anymore.  So, I backed off and let him go.  I told myself three things at this point: run your own race, reset your head and try not to panic.  My average pace was still hovering around 6:50 but the damage was done and I would pay for it later.

Cool running guy

Miles 15 - 19 (6:56, 6:57, 6:56, 7:05, 7:25)
Miles 15-19 were along Main Street and as I headed toward the hairpin turn at mile 20 I watched as the elite athletes passed us on the other side of the street.  I was both inspired and envious and really, really tired.  The wind, which had been steady but bearable, was now a much bigger factor.  It had picked up and was coming at us from all directions.  Each big gust was a major mental and physical blow.  

Pain train in the wind

Miles 20-22 (7:45, 7:38, 7:33)
My legs were now feeling heavy and my energy starting to deplete rapidly.  At mile 20 my battle to the finish began.  I was giving myself lots of pep talks now.  Come ON, Rebecca.  You've run on tired legs.  You've got to stay strong.  You want this.  Let's GO!!!  And while I still had some fight left in me, my legs were making some other, very different, decisions of their own.  At mile 22 I saw Kirsten.  At this point I knew my PR goal (sub 3:04) was long gone.  I was struggling big time.  And everything hurt.  But, still, I smiled because I thought it would help.  And between her encouragement and the change in my mental state, I managed to power on.

Mile 23-26.2 (7:36, 8:11, 8:09, 7:55)
The wind was at full force now.  As I ran, I specifically thought of my daughter when she was learning to ice skate at age 2.  She was using a crate for support and while her little legs were moving as fast as they could go she wasn't actually getting anywhere.  This is exactly how I felt when the wind bore down on me.  I had used up almost all my energy during the first 2 hours and had run several miles at a pace that was just too fast for me to hold so I had absolutely nothing in reserve.  This was it.  But, as I shuffled along, I knew, at the very least, that I would be able to finish.  All my training, getting through my injury and then ramping back up again; all the mental and physical hurdles that I'd gotten myself over to get to this day.  Those were pulling me through.  I was able to cross the line with a smile on my face.  And while I wasn't thrilled with my time I was really proud of my effort.

Final time: 3:08:29

I headed straight for the tent to grab my bag.  It was so cold that my teeth were chattering and all my limbs were shaking.  I found my bus and settled into a seat happily soaking up the warmth.  Kirsten texted to let me know she was about to cross the line and that she'd meet me at the hotel.  For the record, she rocked her 9th marathon and truly enjoyed herself from start to finish.  So awesome.  I sent a note to my coach with my results, letting him know that I had been worried about the wind and taken a risk early on and that it hadn't played out as well as I'd hoped.  I told him that I was bummed with my time but happy that I had been able to fight it out until the end.  His response was this:

"You went for it and if the wind was down early, I don't have any issue with you going for it as long as you could.  I don't think you had a realistic chance of a PR let alone sub 3 in that weather.  You should feel good about the effort and that you had the courage to go for it."

As I'd told my own athletes to do just the day before, I, too, had stepped up to the line with no fear.  I'd trusted my training, as broken and weird as it had been after Wineglass, and I truly believed in myself.  And because of that, I finished.  The marathon throws out all kinds of challenges beyond the race itself.  We can do everything perfectly leading up to race day but we can never be 100% prepared.  It's the nature of the beast and why, as my coach always reminds me, more people don't do marathons.  It's also why, I'm now fully convinced, I keep coming back for more.  In the end, the challenge is the reward.  No matter how it plays out, good or bad, there will always be another battle waiting to be fought.  And I'm nowhere near ready to put down my sword.  EN GARDE.

Listen to this:
Escape - Tongues.


  1. I feel so lucky to know you. Seriously. I'm super proud of you and what a gutsy race in HORRIBLE wind. I described the wind last Sunday as disrespectful because I couldn't think of any better word to describe it. :) Love you - can't wait to see what's next for you!

  2. That is a killer time in some beastly weather! Congrats on a job well done.

  3. Congratulations! The challenge IS the reward for sure! Thank you for the reminder! I'm racing my 5th marathon this Sunday and going through the usual taper jitters and crazies. I'm going to remember that as one of my mantras to tell myself. Thank you!!

  4. Did not know about all the pre-race drama. Talk about the universe messing with your head! We've got to have time someday to talk more. Maybe next time I'm in Boston ('18 or '19). In the meantime, I'll keep following you here. That wind was as much a challenge as the race that day. Call it a win.