It really shouldn’t have happened. I’m sure most people thought I was crazy to even THINK it could happen. BQ six weeks after running a 50-miler? Using a 50K as my last long run before my goal race? Coaxing a sub 4-hour out of my aging body at my 20th marathon for the YEAR? That’s crack-smoking talk.
Yet thanks to strategic planning, an impromptu encounter with an elite runner and favorable weather conditions, I managed to smash my goal with nary a toke on the ol’ crack pipe, finishing the 2010 Seattle Rock ‘n Roll Marathon in 3:55:41.
Upon returning from Beantown this year I began to set my sights on next year. There’s something about being around such speedy runners that gets me motivated. However, I assumed Boston would sell out even earlier this year, which might make a fall race moot. Given I’d be running the Rainier to Ruston 50-mile on June 5, I didn’t think I’d be recovered in time to try at Seattle Rock ‘n Roll. Missoula was two weeks later; still not ideal, but at least it’d give me more recovery time. And if I didn’t succeed, no big deal. After all, my darling still hadn’t BQ’d, and I wouldn’t have wanted to drag him back again if I were the only one to race.
All that changed on May 2 when he ran a 3:18:28 at the Tacoma City Marathon.
As with my race, the odds of him BQing that day were slim. It’s a particularly hilly course, plus it was his 18th race in so many weeks. But if anyone has the grit and stubborn determination (along with a bit of dumb luck), it’s my hubby. Now the pressure was on.
As we were milling around in the recovery area one of my Maniac friends asked me about my goal for the Redmond Watershed 12-hour two weeks later. I had hoped to get in 35-40 miles as my last long run before Rainier to Ruston, but she wondered why I wouldn’t go for 50. It wasn’t as if I wasn’t ready; if I could run 13 marathons/50Ks in 12 weeks, I could certainly run a 50-miler, especially in 12 hours.
The gears in my head started spinning — what if I ran 50 miles there instead and switched to the 50K option for Rainier to Ruston; could I possibly get into BQ shape for Seattle Rock ‘n Roll? That race was preferable since I knew it, plus Missoula can get quite hot. I figured it wouldn’t hurt to try.
My new plan left me with eight weeks of training; I’d have to not only incorporate speedwork, I’d also have to work in the 50-miler and 50K. I turned to my trusty Pfitz and began following the final eight weeks of his 12/55 plan (12 weeks, up to 55 miles per week). I also rejoined the Women’s BQ thread on Runner’s World online, hoping those fabulous speedy women would provide some much-needed motivation and inspiration. (While they never said it, I’m sure they thought I was a bit delusional for thinking I could pull it off).
After taking a couple of recovery days, I ran a 4-miler at an 8:47 overall pace (each mile split was faster; I ended with an 8:36). Promising, but I knew I needed to do better. Next up was a 5K race; I felt like my lungs were going to jump out of my throat, but I managed to finish in just under 25 minutes (a PR). Remembering how much the Carkeek hill training helped me last fall, I once again hit the trails. It’s not a fast run, but it sure works my quads and calves. I also decided to go for it during a free half marathon a week after my 50-miler; I finished in 1:54:16, just 41 seconds shy of my PR. When I plugged that time into the McMillan calculator it indicated I was capable of a 4:00:59 marathon; talk about no margin for error!
In addition to hill training I also incorporated several longer midweek runs (10-13 miles). I had neglected to do so while training for Portland last year, and I believe that contributed to my blowup at mile 21. It was tough to head out for those runs after standing on my feet all day, but I knew it was a necessary evil. My final tuneup race was a 15K on May 29; while my 1:19:43 finish predicted a 4:01:25 full, it was still encouraging.
While my last long run was longer than recommended, because I was pacing a friend for the last 50K of his 50-miler, our pace was exceedingly slow (we followed a 3-minute run, 1-minute walk strategy). In fact, toward the end I would speed up for the last 1/2 mile before the aid station just to stretch out my hip flexors. I’d then wait for my friend to arrive and we’d start all over again. However, once we got to the final aid station with just four miles left to go, he told me to run ahead at my own pace. While we had been averaging just over 13-minute miles, I ran the first three miles on my own at just over a 10-minute pace, then ran the final mile in 8:46!
Although it was now time to taper I still had a couple of speed sessions to get through. I’ve found I do better with tempo runs — running just over marathon race pace over a sustained period — rather than interval training. But I did incorporate a 5.25-mile fartlek workout where my paces were in the sub 8-minute range (albeit for very short distances). The following week I surprised my running group by running three miles at progressively faster paces: 8:41, 8:24 and 7:57 (normally I use that day for a recovery run). My final speed session was a 7-miler with two miles at MRP (I was shooting for a 9-minute overall pace).
My darling and I decided to make a day of it — pick up our packets, wander through the expo and then sit in on a presentation by Scott Jurek, ultrarunner extraordinaire (and local boy). We originally planned to take the bus down as there was a Mariner’s game on (their stadium is right next to the expo), but we got a late start and ended up driving down. Sure enough, it was a traffic cluster f@#k, so we parked about a mile and a half north and walked. (Since I was skipping my 4-mile recovery run that day, I figured I’d be fine). Scott was great; very warm and humble. He even took time to sign autographs (hubby and I had him sign our RnR shirts).
As we were leaving we saw a fellow Maniac who had flown in from Hawaii. We invited him to join us for lunch where we carbo-loaded on pasta. I got home that afternoon to find an email from Brooks Running saying I had won a pair of shoes; SCORE! Another Maniac friend was just heading to the expo, so we jumped back in the car to pick up the shoes and meet her and her family for dinner.
The Meb Mojo
Hoping to have even one iota of his speed rub off on me, I waited in line for more than half an hour the next day to have Meb Keflezighi sign both my Boston and Seattle Rock ‘n Roll bibs. I wore my 2010 Boston shirt — natch — and told him about my aspirations for the race. I knew when things got rough I’d simply look down at my bib to see his words, “Go for it, Meb” and I’d have the strength to continue on.
Fortunately we lucked out with the weather — cool and overcast. My darling and I caught an early shuttle since last year many of the buses were late (I’m such the Nervous Nellie). Within minutes the starting area became a sea of Maniac yellow, so we chatted with many of our friends. After not one, not two, but THREE port-o-potty stops I felt I was ready to race. Although my bib was 15017 (which would have put me in corral 15), I was able to change to corral 6. One of my Maniac friends, Suzanne, was also trying to BQ with a 4-hour time, and Steve Yee, the president of the Maniacs, was going to pace us. Our goal was 3:59:59, which would give us a 1-minute cushion.
Garmin had recorded last year’s course as 26.66 miles, so I figured out the mile splits based upon a 26.6-mile course (again, to give us a cushion). I had us starting out a bit slower — 9:08 miles — then increasing our speed accordingly based upon the terrain. However, our first two miles were much faster — 8:56, 8:47 — and I began to worry we’d blow up toward the end. I was a bit bossy in the beginning, trying to get us to dial back, but then I too got into the groove. I thought I lost them at mile 4 when they stopped to say hello to some coworkers, but they then caught up with me. That happened a couple more times. Suzanne would bomb down the hills, while I would power up them. And since Prez typically runs in the 3:20-3:40 range, he had no trouble keeping the pace.
8:34 (can you say “downhill”?!!)
I got ahead of them again just before the out & back on the I-90 bridge. We split from the half marathoners at that point, thinning out the swarm of humanity. I love out & backs — this race offers several — as I get to see many of the frontrunners and say hello to my Maniac friends. As I made the turnaround I saw Suzanne and Prez weren’t far behind. However, by now I was running into a headwind, and even though I was running a flat section my pace slowed.
I hit the halfway mark in 1:58:08; Suzanne and Prez were just a couple of seconds behind. This gave a nice cushion, however, the worst of the hills come in the second half. While I ran the race last year, I had forgotten about some of the hills (they’re different when you’re actually trying to go fast). The headwind certainly was of no help either. To keep up my energy I ate more gels than I normally do — 5 or 6 as opposed to 2 or 3. While I can’t stand Cytomax, I would grab a cup, pour a little out, then dilute it with a full cup of water. Made it MUCH more tolerable and gave me needed electrolytes. While it wasn’t hot, I was sweating a lot so I also took a couple of salt tabs.
I got further ahead of Prez and Suzanne during the out & back along Aurora, which was the worst of the hills. I saw Suzanne walking as I was coming in the opposite direction; turns out she hit the wall about mile 17. But Prez caught up to me and said he’d stick with me until the end. I knew we were doing well (most of my splits were sub 9-minute miles; the only ones that were more than 9s were the steepest portions of the hills), but I also knew anything can happen in the latter miles. In order to get enough fluid in me I started walking through the aid stations, but would immediately ease back into pace. By mile 20 I saw I could slow to a 10-minute pace and still come in under 4 hours. Can’t take things for granted though!
At mile 23 we passed the finish line; boy is that tough! You hear the bands and people partying; all you can do is look down and wish you were there. There was another slight headwind, but I figured it’d give me a boost once I turned around; NOT! Somehow it managed to be in our faces both ways. There’s a particularly cruel, yet short, hill at mile 25; my calves were screaming at me by then but I kept pushing on. Any time I looked at my watch Prez would yell, “Quit looking at your watch! I’m pacing us now!” By then we had quite the cushion, and I thought I could possibly beat my PR of 3:54:34. Just before mile 26 there’s a nice downhill section, then you make a left through a parking lot and another left to the final stretch before the finish line. With a few yards to go I finally started pumping my arms, yelling “I’m f@$king going to Boston!” (Such potty mouth).
8:33 (pace for the last .48 Garmin measured mile)
I found my darling at the finish and told him I’m once again two BQs ahead of him (he gave me the one-finger salute). After grabbing some water, chips and a banana I wandered over to the Sony booth where Meb was signing autographs. One of my friends was just finishing up with him, so I cut the line to call out, “I did it Meb! Thank you for the inspiration!” He gave me a big smile and a double thumbs up.
As my darling and I were heading to brunch the next day it dawned on me: not only did I qualify for Boston, I also qualified for the Exeter Marathon which will be held two days prior! (It’s standards are five minutes stricter than Boston’s). Always gotta one-up that hubby of mine.