Or, “The Race That Probably Shouldn’t Have Been a BQ, but I Somehow Managed It Anyway”
I’m sitting here Sunday afternoon, watching the snow fall and trying to figure out how to write this post. I don’t exactly know how to organize all my thoughts about yesterday, so I’m just going to jump right into it.
(I took barely any photos because I am a bad blogger. So, you’ll have to use your imaginations, or read other blogger’s recaps that did a better job of taking photographs).
Friday afternoon J-Money, Rudy and I hopped into the car to head down to Phoenix. It was raining and kept me checking the weather obsessively. Luckily, it was pretty dang warm in Phoenix (almost 80* when we got there) and sunny. The drive down was pretty uneventful. There was way more traffic than either of us expected, but other than that, fine. Google took us on a really roundabout way to Mesa, including getting on the wrong direction of the 10, then getting off and making a u-turn to get on the right direction and we sat in a fair amount of traffic once we got into Phoenix–Friday rush hour, I guess. We pulled up to the expo at around 3:30, so I missed all the blogger meet-ups, which was disappointing.
We walked in, grabbed my bib, I bought a new pair of Pro Compression sleeves for the race, and then went inside Sports Authority to get my shirt (side bar: this is the nicest race shirt I have ever received. It’s a super cute tank and I kind of love it). We rushed through it pretty quickly since we had Ru-dog with us and it was a tad overwhelming for him.
After the expo, we headed over to our hotel to check in and unwind a bit. We were both kind of stressed out, so we decided to order out some pasta from Olive Garden. We carb loaded up while watching a marathon of Modern Family on USA. After eating, I spent some time getting everything laid out and ready for the morning, and was heading to sleep by 8:45.
I got up at 3 and started moving. I made some coffee, ate half a peanut butter sandwich (took the other half to eat before the start) and a banana. After checking obsessively that I had everything I needed, we headed out the door at about 3:50ish.
We had a bit of difficulty finding the bus drop off due to closed streets and detours, but we managed to find it. I kissed Jeff goodbye, he wished me luck and I headed over to the buses. I got onto one pretty quickly and ended up sitting next to a fellow Flagstaff runner! We chatted and right before our bus exited the freeway…it stopped. Our bus driver came over the speakers and said “Uh..the check engine light just came on and the engine just shut off…I’ll call this in and get you another bus.” Not exactly how you want your morning to start. We got a new bus pretty quickly though, and got to the starting line with over an hour to spare.
I went immediately to the Porta Potties and got in line. One thing I will say negatively about this race is the lack of porta potties. The lines were HUGE. I waited in the them twice and ended up finding a bush twice (one was RIGHT by the start line. I think we had about 3 minutes left before the start and I was like oh crap I gotta pee again! Sorry if I mooned any fellow runners. You gotta do what you gotta do.) The time before the race was pretty uneventful. I kept walking around to see if I could recognize anyone and then settled under a heater for the last few minutes. I ate my sandwich and hung out.
They played the National Anthem before we all moved to the start line, and shot off some fireworks (which was so great! I wish I had gotten a photo, but I had kept my phone in my Spibelt and couldn’t get it out in time). I found the 3:30 pace group at the start and settled in slightly ahead of them. Pace groups always mess with my mind, so I wanted to stay just slightly ahead of them, so I wouldn’t have to worry about falling behind (or the crowds that inevitably follow the pacer). I took my jacket off right before the start and crossed the start line about 30 sec. after the gun went off (and more fireworks).
Right away I felt pretty good. I couldn’t really see my pace as it was still pretty dark out, so I just went out on feel. I didn’t want to go too fast, but wanted to see what was going to be comfortable. The weather was perfect. It was cold at the camp before hand, but the minute I started moving I felt fine. I had kept gloves on, but ended up throwing those away within the first two miles. The first miles felt great and easy and I was moving comfortably
7:49, 7:45, 7:54, 7:57
I was worried about moving too quickly, but since I didn’t feel like it was taking much effort I went with what my body wanted to do, keeping as close to a 8 min/mile pace as I could. Around mile 4.5 we started the only major climb of the course. I pulled back and ran the next mile and a half easy. The course at UVM had a few big hills that I ruined my legs on by trying to maintain pace and I didn’t want to make that mistake again. I figured taking it easy on the incline would give me room to make up for it on the decline. Around mile 5, the 3:30 pace group caught up to me and surrounded me. I got blocked in for a while and couldn’t get around them. I finally ended up just squeezing through two people since I couldn’t deal with the claustrophobic feeling. I jumped just ahead to get out of the crowd.
Mile 6 beeped and we were heading back downhill. I opened up my stride and let my legs do what they wanted. This was also about the time where we really hit the wind. It ended up being a headwind for almost the entire race (so much for the hope of a tailwind!) and at 20 mph, it was killer. I found myself counting down to the halfway mark over the next few miles…which I realized was not a great sign. I tried to stay positive, telling myself I felt good and I can handle the wind.
7:42, 7:49, 7:56
Around mile 10, I really started looking forward to the halfway mark. I already wanted to be done, which scared me. The 3:30 group had caught back up, and I stayed just about even with them for a while.
7:53, 8:00, 7:42
We were hitting some rolling hills at this point, going over and under freeways, and the wind was so brutal! I found myself listening to the pace leader as he yelled out turns, eagerly anticipating the moment we would turn away from the wind.
Mile 13 was a 7:52, putting me at a 1:44 half (7:58 avg). It was here that I really started to have some mental game issues. I told myself, regardless of anything else, maintain an 8 min/mil pace. The 3:30 group was still near me, so I ducked in, hoping to draft off them and block some of the wind. It didn’t help, but I was still feeling okay through mile 14. Mile 15 I was starting to tell myself to just get to 16 and then only 10 miles left—5 mile halves. Easy.
8:01, 8:02, 8:06
Mile 17 is where I entered the Pain Cave and I stayed deep, deep, in the cave for the rest of the race.
I started doing mental math–an 8 min mile pace was getting too hard, so how about an 8:10? That would still give me a qualifying time.
8:11, 8:15, 8:18.
Mile 20 is where I broke. I was fighting, fighting, fighting, with myself. Telling myself to suck it up and get through it. It was only 6 more miles and then I would have a BQ! I texted Jeff and told him I didn’t think I had it in me and he texted me back all the right things; I did have it in me, to just push through it, I was almost there.
I fought with myself a LOT during the next few miles. The 3:30 pace group had long since passed me and left me in its dust and I was struggling just to put one foot in front of the other. My quads were burning and I could feel the beginning of a blister on my left foot. I just couldn’t get my legs to move any faster.
8:32, 8:50, 9:10, 8:29
I thought for sure I had lost it. I had slowed down so much and was trying so hard to push myself and just wasn’t moving. During mile 24, I was doing the math and wondering if I could push myself to an 8 min pace for the last 2 miles. I tried, and my legs just weren’t turning over the way I wanted so desperately for them to.
I slowed to a walk at an aid station, and started debating whether I wanted to try to finish for a BQ and miss it by a few seconds, or just keep walking and accept that today wasn’t my day.
I texted Jeff again saying I didn’t have it in me and he replied “Don’t give up now! You’re SO close!” And I realized that even if I didn’t qualify, I would be more upset at myself for giving up a mile and a half from the finish then if I pushed myself to the end.
The last mile I gave it everything I had. It was mostly downhill and I kept thinking “Pain is temporary. Do you really want to have to do all this again? Keep going”. I hit 25.7 and was in so much pain and so badly wanted to stop. I had 4 min to get to the finish line in order to BQ. And I just ran with everything I had
I got to the chute and couldn’t see the finish line and almost started to cry. I actually stopped for a split second and then yelled at myself “WTF ARE YOU DOING? YOU’RE .2 MILES AWAY”. I started running again and almost immediately saw Jeff and Rudy. I grabbed his hand and kept going. I turned another corner, and there was the finish line. I ran as fast and as hard as I could, picking people off at the end, staring down the clock, desperate to finish before it hit 3:35.
I crossed the finish and almost fell to my knees. I managed to make it to a chair near the finish where I collapsed and kept my head between my knees until I stopped seeing spots and I could breathe normally again. I got up shakily, and started making my way out to the food. I grabbed a water, my medal and a towel (instead of a space blanket??? I couldn’t believe they didn’t have space blankets at the finish with the weather) and slowly started moving to find Jeff.
When I finally found him and Rudy, I gave him a huge hug and said “I did it.” My Garmin read 3:34:44. I had done it…just barely.
Chip Time: 3:34:43
Division Place: 15 out of 99
Gender Place: 88 out of 851
Overall Place: 342 out of 1900
First Half: 1:44:11
Second Half: 1:50:32
20 Mile Split: 2:43:06
Last 10k: 51:37
This race took everything I had in me. It was the hardest race I have ever run. I am so incredibly proud of crossing that finish line with a BQ, even if it was only by 17 seconds. I so easily could have given up and decided that I wasn’t going to do it that day. Do I wish I had a bit of a faster time? Sure. I’m aware that if I hadn’t stopped to walk and text Jeff, or walked at the aid stations, I would have crossed that finish line sooner, but I didn’t give up. I wanted to–so, so badly. I didn’t let myself quit, and for that I am infinitely proud. I know getting this BQ doesn’t guarantee I’ll be toeing the line in Boston next April, but I’m staying optimistic about that. The goal was a BQ and I achieved that on Saturday, despite the shitty wind, despite the way my legs and mind quit.
Overall, this was a really well organized race. The announcers at the start line were INCREDIBLY annoying (or was that just me?) and they needed more toilets, but other than that, it was great. The aid stations were extremely well organized and all the volunteers were great. The spectators along the course were amazing. I saw the same people several times and they all cheered so loudly each time. I can’t really say much for the course, however. The beginning was beautiful and then you were mostly in neighborhoods. At one point we ran by a grove of orange trees, but I was battling the wind and trying to hang onto my pace that I didn’t really notice much else. On a better day, I think this would be an amazing course to PR at. I’m already thinking about running the half next year.
Thanks for all the support and good wishes sent my way last week! It was an incredible experience, as painful as it was. I haven’t been able to process everything about it (perhaps a post on that later), but I did learn one thing: I can do hard things.