"Some days it just flows and I feel like I’m born to do this, other days it feels like I’m trudging through hell. Every day I make the choice to show up and see what I’ve got, and to try and be better. My advice: keep showing up."
~ Des Linden
This past Saturday, I woke up early and headed over to LHS as our girls XC team would be racing at the Catholic Memorial Invitational at Franklin park later that morning. The distraction was exactly what I needed as I would be lining up for my 22nd marathon the next day and I honestly didn't want to think (er...stress) about it if I didn't have to. The Lex girls ran their brains out and completely crushed it, handily taking the win and far exceeding my expectations; something they've been doing a lot this season. I was so proud of them and incredibly inspired by their performance, as I often am. It was quite a boost for all of us and exactly the motivation I needed as I switched gears to focus on my marathon for the rest of the afternoon.
I got home around 1:30, quickly shoveled a sandwich into my mouth and then, as promised, made my way back out to take Grace, Rosie and their friend, Caroline to Party City so the girls could get the final pieces for their Halloween costumes. Probably not the ideal pre-marathon agenda but Grace, in particular, likes to plan and wouldn't relax and until she had all the accessories she needed for her Jellyfish. No rest for the weary, right? As we pulled into the parking lot, Rosie mentioned that she'd like to shop for jeans and asked if she could hit Marshalls while we were in Party City. My knee jerk reaction was...Really? Jeans?? Today?? But, she, too, was goal oriented and, in fairness to her, she did need some additions to her wardrobe. Okay so costumes, check....
Hmmm. Blue hair spray? Silver eyelashes?
and jeans, also check. Three pairs actually. Yes, I am a sucker. And I really just wanted to get out of there. So, Rosie won.
Rosie's wearing my shorts. Jeans clearly needed.
I dropped all the girls off around 3:00 and then turned around and went back out again, this time to Chelmsford to pick up my race bib so I wouldn't have to deal with it the next morning. It was about an hour trip all in but totally worth it to help keep the stress at bay. Then finally, around 4:30pm, I put my feet up and attempted to relax and get myself mentally prepared for the next day.
I got in bed around 8:30 and read for a bit, trying to settle my nerves and praying for sleep to come. Sunday morning, as I'd done all week, I woke up at a ridiculous hour - 4:45am - and couldn't get doze back off. So, I got out of bed at 5:00 and started my traditional pre-race routine: make coffee, feed Clover, chill on front porch and zone out for a bit. After having run several marathons these past few years in locations that have required planes, trains, automobiles and hotels, I can't tell you how nice it was to sleep in my own bed and wake up without an ounce of worry as to whether or not the guy who was supposed to be coming in early to make coffee would actually show up for his job. Eh hmm. That was at Sugarloaf and, no, he did not show up. I will never forgive him.
Coffee for me. Rabbit patrol for Clover.
Given the time, it was basically pitch black out, but the temp was relatively mild and the fresh air felt good, so it didn't stop us from having our porch session. After a walk and some last minute organization, I got in my car around 6:30 and drove out to Lowell where the race would be starting. The race organizer had suggested we arrive 2 hours beforehand, which I thought was nuts. But, then when I got there I had to wait in line to get into the parking garage, a line that was moving at a snail's pace, so I understood why he'd made that suggestion. I didn't panic at this point, but I was grateful that I'd already dealt with my bib so I could just park and start my warm up.
Surprise hug from Liz
Shortly after I walked out of the garage and started toward the arena I ran into my dear friend and Oiselle teammate, Liz. It was so nice to see a familiar face as my nerves were officially in high gear and a hug was both welcome and appreciated. Liz just ran a marathon, like a week ago, and decided to just "jump in" to Baystate to see how it would go. She's crazy badass! We said goodbye and I found an enclosed area to put my stuff down and do some drills. The wind, which I hadn't thought would be a factor, was now picking up and very clearly going to be a factor. Awesome. At 7:45, I took off all my layers and handed my bag over to gear check. Just as I set out to the start I realized I'd forgotten to pull my gels out of my bag before I checked it. SHIT. I ran back and asked them to dig it back up. They were not thrilled as it was in a very big pile and my bag was a small, white plastic grocery bag. Fortunately, they were able to find it and I thanked them profusely despite their eye rolls. Okay, so up until this point the only two somewhat minor issues that I'd had to deal with were the line for parking and forgetting my fuel. Overall, not too bad as I've dealt with a lot worse. I walked over to the start and tried to find the 3:00 pacer, a new pace option this year. A lot of people were trying to qualify for Boston with this race and the qualifications have gotten tougher, so they added a few extra pace groups at those faster times in order to help rabbit folks along. Lucky for me. The day before I'd talked to my coach, Lowell, about starting out with the 3 hour pace group so I didn't go out too fast or worry about my watch in the beginning and we decided it was a good strategy. It was now very, very cold and the wind was in full force. The gentleman next to me told me I looked freezing (I was) and offered me his hand warmers, which I happily accepted. Bless the running community, you know? Always ready and willing to help each other out. I tucked those puppies into my palms and squeezed them tight for warmth. About 5 minutes before the start I tossed my t-shirt, an oldie but goodie that I didn't think I'd need earlier that morning. RIP purple Oiselle 'FLY' shirt. Hope you go to a nice new home. Finally, at 8:00am, it was go time.
One of my goals, as you likely know if you've been reading this blog lately, was to run this marathon in under 3 hours. But, it was also to run smart, try and place in the Masters category (40+) and have fun. As I mentioned, Lowell (yes, my coach happens to have the same name as the host city of the marathon. Odd, no?) and I had talked the day before. In a nutshell he told me that I should not focus on my overall finish time when I lined up but just to take one mile at a time; to break it up into little pieces. That, he told me, is what it is going to take for you to get the job done. He also told me I was ready and I just needed to go out there an execute. Cool. No problem. Just freaking do it. Later that afternoon I texted him in a panic because the weather had turned and was showing wind and rain. WTF???!!! You can't control Mother Nature he said. The training is in the bank and you have sub 3 fitness. Tuck behind someone when the wind is in your face as much as you can but you are going to get this done. Yes. Okay. Trust the Sensei. We got this.
3 Hour Pace Group
Mile 1-6 (6:40, 6:42, 6:47, 6:59, 6:40, 6:51)
Shortly after the gun blew I sought out the 3 hour pacer as I'd seen him briefly before we got going but did not start directly behind him. It took me a little effort to catch up to him which explains the fast-ish start but after a couple miles I settled into the group as planned. At mile 4 I reached out for a cup of Gatorade and it fell out of my hands. I'd seen the guy in front of me successfully take one, so I just went ahead and asked him if I could have a sip of his if he had any extra when he was done. I've never done anything like this before. But, I had my eyes on the prize and I needed those calories, dammit. He took what he needed and then passed it back to me. BLESS HIM. I thanked him and took a sip and then the guy next to me reached out for it, so I gladly passed it over. I mean...come on. Does it get any better than that? We were all in this together. I felt the love.
Cruising w/ Brian
Mile 7-13 (6:45, 6:53, 6:54, 6:50, 6:46, 6:49, 6:52)
I worked hard to zone in on a rhythm for these miles and tried not to pay attention the mile markers. Our pack stayed together for a while and continued to help each other out at water stops, mainly moving out of the way when we'd gotten what we'd needed. During this stretch I hooked up with my friend and fellow coach from Wilmington, Brian Schell (#470). I've done a couple other races with him but he's often aiming for a 5K PR so I was surprised to see him out there. He let me know he was shooting for a BQ and needed to run under 3 hours as well. Perfecto. We fell right into pace with each other and settled in. I was feeling rock solid. I was hitting the splits plus or minus 10 seconds depending on the wind and who was in front of me. I was lucid and mentally on my game. I was pretending that I was doing a tempo workout and that the race hadn't even begun yet. I didn't want any false confidence at this point as I knew there was a lot of work to do.
Rollin' (Pacers in orange behind us)
Mile 13-22 (6:52, 6:47, 6:46, 6:54, 6:49, 7:00, 6:52, 6:47, 6:54, 6:49)
Brian and I were just rolling along now. He actually knew I'd been chasing a sub-3 for a few years as we'd talked about our goals more than once. I'm pretty sure this is why he would jump in front of me when the wind picked up to offer a little shield. He's not much bigger than me but it made a monumental difference, probably as much mentally as physically. I was thanking him repeatedly as we ran, just so incredibly grateful to have his help out there and to have a wingman in general. Things were getting tough now. I was still holding on well and felt strong but the wind on this stretch was a beast right up until we crossed the bridge at mile 17. I wasn't super worried about it yet in regards to my time, but it was definitely on my mind and I knew it was starting to wear on me physically. Just beyond the halfway point the guy who'd been pacing us passed the sign off to the woman next him who I then realized would be taking over for him for the rest of the race. Brian and I ebbed and flowed in front of and behind the group with each mile. We seemed to be steady and they seemed to be picking up and pulling back. But, I felt that if we could just keep them in our sites we were good to go. Around mile 20, Brian let me know that his hamstring was seizing and that he was going to have to pull back. He told me to go ahead. I felt awful for him and was sad that we wouldn't be finishing together. I was also a little nervous to have to battle through the rest alone. Therein lies the marathon, though. You never know how things are going to go down and you have to be prepared for that. We wished each other well and I continued on solo.
Miles 22-26.2 (6:49, 6:46, 6:55, 6:54, 7:13)
So here is where the race began. And I was basically on my own. My average pace was showing 6:48 which was exactly where I needed to be. Close to my target with a little cushion. I did a mental check here. Yes, I was wiped. Yes, my legs hurt. But, I was still holding it together. I had one last GU to take if needed and I had 4.2 measly miles to get done. FOUR. That was it. I had done four mile runs in my sleep during training. There was a lot self talk at this point. Okay, Rebecca, time to dig in. Time to get gritty. No excuses. Let's just get this thing done. And so on. I was starting to get nervous at this point because the pacer was slightly ahead of me and I couldn't reel her in. I began to worry that my watch was wrong and that maybe I didn't have the buffer I thought I did. But, at the same time, I knew she hadn't started pacing until the second half and wondered if maybe she was fresher and just running a bit faster than she needed to. Talk about a mind f***. I checked my watch at each mile and the distances were matching up, so I had to believe my time was right and just tried to focus on myself and not her. She did throw out some words of encouragement which I appreciated though I think I would have been better off had she not been there at all as I was wasting energy on the situation and was annoyed with myself because of it. Around mile 25 my overall average had jumped up to 6:49. SHIT. I was still well within range (2:59:59 is a 6:52 average), but I had absolutely no room for error now. My legs were hurting so much. I was willing them to move faster but they were telling me to F off. Every step was torture; just picking up my feet was ridiculously difficult. At mile 26 I saw my dear friend Kelly and she was screaming her head off, telling me I needed to get moving. Yes, she also knew about my time goal. I happened to look down to see a text on my watch from someone who was tracking me that said, YOU'VE GOT THIS, BUT YOU GOTTA GO NOW TRAX!!! Sweet Pete. I had nothing left in the tank and yet I had to find something. I took the last turn and looked to see the time on my watch switch from 2:58 to 2:59. Oh my....now I was freaking out. I just threw down whatever I had left, which you can see from my last mile split was not much. And then I saw it. I saw the official clock. And the finish line. And I was pretty sure it was there. A fat smile spread across my face. And I lifted my hands up in joy. HOLY CRAP. This was happening.
Wait...was it happening? I had crossed the line but I wasn't 100% sure, hence the nervous expression on my face below. I needed confirmation before I let the tears fly.
HOLD THE PHONE
and there it was. I saw a 2 on the clock. It was official. I'd done it. This was the day. My day. I'd run a sub 3 hour marathon. Hallelujah. Praise be. And cue the water works.
The relief poured through me. I couldn't believe it. I was crying like an overtired toddler; snot flying and tears streaming. One of the EMTs asked me if everything was okay. Yes, I slobbered, I'm ok. Just happy. Three years and nine tries. So much work. Countless miles. Heartbreak. Doubt. Injuries. I've dealt with everything. Tried everything. And still, despite all that hadn't gone right, I kept lining up because I wanted it more than anything. And it had finally all come together. It was just the sweetest moment for me. Worth every single day I'd given to this goal and then some.
I walked through the chute, quickly found Jeff and the girls and went in for a hug, my messy toddler crying starting all over again. Rosie and Grace weren't quite sure how to respond as they've never seen me in this state, but Jeff got it. He squeezed me so tight. Probably as relieved as I was. Probably more so. There is no way to put into words the joy I felt here, just having achieved my goal and being surrounded by my family. It was everything. I threw on all my clothes and we all walked back to the garage where we'd parked. Again, the beauty of a local race? I got to jet home, take a hot shower and plant myself on the couch for the rest of the afternoon. Please and thank you.
Shortly after I got back my friend, Cecille, dropped off this beauty; a gift from a group of my Oiselle teammates. And, once again, cue the tears. But seriously, this journey has been with them and with so many other people. My friends, my family, everyone has been along for the ride in some way. I'm guessing half of the GD running community is relived to know that I finally did it. What I'll say is this, there is absolutely no way I could have reached this goal without the people who have been supporting me along the way. You can't do this stuff alone. It's just not possible. You need others to pick you up when you're down, cheer you on, relate to your experiences, tell you it's worth when you're doubting it; remind you why you do it day in and day out. In the words of the great Eliud Kipchoge,
"It’s really a circle. You cannot train alone and expect to run a fast time. There’s a formula:100% of me is nothing compared to 1% of the whole team. And that’s teamwork. That's what I value."
There is so much truth to this. My husband, my kids, my coach, my LHS athletes, my co-workers, my friends, my teammates; even those who I've never met but with whom I've connected while on this journey. They are my team. And I am nothing without them. My success on Sunday is as much theirs as it is mine. I am forever in their debt for all they have done for me and the strength and love they have given me over the years. I have learned a valuable lesson during this very, very long process. I proved to myself and to anyone else out there who may have doubts about whether their big, scary goals are attainable, that there is almost always a way to get it done if you want it badly enough. I hate to sound cliché but there is just no other way to lay it out there. Yes, it may take longer. Yes, you may have to get creative, work a little harder, sacrifice a little more, and, at times, trick yourself into believing the unbelievable. But hell if I haven't made it clear to all of us that, again cliché, where there is a will, there is a way. So, what now? Well, I suppose this particular chapter is finally closed. But the story? That is still unfolding, my friends. Stay tuned, there's definitely more to come.
Listen to this:
Moment - Mikky Ekko