Mile 13- “The Halfway Point; you are NOT almost there.”

This blog post is about keeping your chin up and never, ever giving up; no matter where you are or how far you have yet to go. 

We’ve all seen the signs, usually in the first few miles of a marathon. There is almost always at least one “funny” spectator along the course, grinning wide, as they hold up a sign that says “Keep going, you’re almost there!”, and thankfully, your legs are still fresh and your mind still bright enough to see the humor in this and so you laugh. By the 13-18mi mark though, there is almost always someone out there who thinks they are funny too, as they hold a sign up in one hand while they chug a cold beer in another; their sign says: “You are NOT almost there.”, and they laugh. By this point though, your legs are beginning to tire and your mind is beginning to tank, and you might just have to choke back the first threat of tears from your eyes as the dread over the impending “wall” taunts you even from miles away. It is in moments like these when you start to find what it is that truely motivates you to keep running. This is the point in the race where your body and your mind begin to argue with each other as to wether or not there is really any justifiable reason to continue. 

Recently, as my own training runs have continued to increase in their degree of difficulty, I have begun to wonder the exact same thing. I have found myself flying high one day, feeling as if I could run forever and find the mechanics of it effortless; and yet, the very next day, I’m begging my legs to move and wondering why they just won’t perform as it takes everything in me just to keep them moving around the track as my Coach increases the distance between us and nails the pace that I just can’t quite reach. Or when my long run has begun to incorporate “tempo miles” that push me to the very edge of my ability and cause me to loose my breath in ways I have never experienced before…and, in that moment, wish to never experience again.

On days like these, the gap between where I am and where I need to be to qualify for Boston seems like it will never be close enough to bridge, and I wonder why I continue. In times like these, my thoughts wander to those exact same moments in the middle of a marathon/race, and in those moments, what it takes for me to continue is to look around and remind myself that “everyone here is suffering”. I am no different. I am not special. I am simply one of the thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of runners that continue to run, to push, to try, to progress, and to chase Boston as if it were the only race that mattered…and we do this because Boston, while still a marathon, is so different from any other marathon in this world.   You can’t just wake up one morning and decide you want to run Boston, then go sign up to do it. It is the only marathon that you have to qualify for and be invited to run. With a field of just 27,000 invited runners, the qualifying standard is quite competitive and only the best of the best get in. Just qualifying at your standard level hasn’t even been enough, in previous years, to get in. Therefore most, if not all, attempting to qualify aim to exceed their qualifying time by at least 5 minutes to ensure that they have a chance of actually getting their invite. Sure, there are many charity bibs to choose from that one could opt to run under after raising $xxx.xx, and while it is admirable and helpful to these charities for you to do so, that is not how I desire to run Boston. I want to run Boston because I earned the right to be there, through my own hard work, blood, sweat, and tears…just like the other 27,000 runners in that given year.

I recently experienced a few “speed bumps” myself and was afraid that my journey to Boston was about to be benched. I posted on my Instagram profile about what “Boston” and “BostonStrong” means to me: 

“Boston”, itself, is not just a place. It is a platform for higher performance. It is the epitome of your very best. It is a dream to chase…and, in chasing that dream, you discover that “Boston” is, also, a state of mind; #BostonStrong : a state of mind that believes the “impossible” is possible and never, ever gives up. “Boston” is strength beyond measure despite any hardships that arise or obstacles that present themselves. “Boston Strong” is the realization that, no matter what, life goes on and, therefore, continues to live on, even in the hearts of those who have yet to be there or to achieve it. So when things go wrong or “speed bumps” arise in the pathway to your dreams, always remember the resilience of Boston, and strive to be #BostonStrong.”

As in life, giving up is never the answer. Sure, it feels good in the moment to raise your middle fingers, say “F@#% it!”, and act like you no longer care…and, in the middle of the marathon, taking that short “I don’t care anymore” walk break through a water station around Mile 20 is sometimes the brief break you need to lessen the stress on your mind and your body. In both instances, however, you usually rebound quickly, remembering that you do this for YOU…and the only way to get through this and make yourself proud is to pick back up the pace and FINISH THIS! And so you do. You run to the best of your ability and you find a way to get through it. I, specifically, repeat to myself over and over to keep my chin up, finish strong, finish fast, and “DON’T STOP TILL YOU’RE PROUD!”. This has always worked for me in the past, yielding me a new PR at every big race I have ever run. And every new PR gets me one step closer to my coveted BQ. Yes, I have a very long way to go. I am NOT almost there! But the only way that I am not going to get there is if I quit. And I am not the kind of person who quits. So I just keep lacing up my asics day after day and putting one foot in front of the other. I perform the workouts to the best of my ability and remind myself that when I fall short of the assigned pace, the most important thing is that I finish it. I give it my best and I do not quit. Eventually exercising this level of mental and physical discipline will yield me the times/paces that I need to take this training to the next level…and I will repeat this same process over and over again until I am good enough, strong enough, fast enough, and able to make that BQ marathon attempt. It is the hope of all that is ahead that keeps me motivated to keep going. Nobody ever wins when they quit…and those that are tired of starting over need to realize that the key to success is to simply stop giving up. The ultimate goal may be so far out of reach that it seems impossible, but the only way to get there is one step at a time, repeated continuously. I look at where I was just one year ago; running 10 minute miles. Now, less than 2 weeks ago, I ran a new half marathon PR with 9:00 minute miles; and pretty comfortably for the first 10 miles of it. Now I am starting to play with 7:50-8:30/mi paces in my current training. It is hard. It hurts. Some days I don’t believe I can do it…and the other day at the track workout I couldn’t, no matter how hard I pushed my legs to turn over. But I finished the workout and did not make any excuses or take any shortcuts. I am currently on a Break 4:00 Marathon Plan and, even though I just ran the half marathon slightly under that pace equivalent, I am nowhere near ignorant or arrogant enough to believe I am capable of a sub-4:00 marathon yet; but I am closer than I was last year and even closer than I was just 2 months ago when I ran Pittsburgh. I will continue to do my best on this plan moving forward towards the Erie Marathon in September and simply run a race that I can be proud. I am looking to find the patience to start slow and the strength to finish strong, as well as, the mental capacity to keep my head up in those mundane middle miles where every runner’s demons hide, waiting for your weakest moment to pop up and tell you all the reasons why you “can’t” anymore. In our track workout this past Wednesday, I had many of these such moments; when the workout called for one mile repeats at 7:50 pace and my legs could not and would not turn over any faster than 8:01-8:37. One mile has never felt so long or so hard; this perception being magnified in broad daylight on that hot track as 4 laps at such a pace seemed impossible. I did the best I could and when Shep kept pace and the gap between the two of us increased to at least 100m or so, I simply did whatever I had to do to keep moving forward, chasing him, and trying to close that gap before he crossed the line at 1600m. My arms ached from pumping so hard, trying to make up for what my legs lacked. In our recovery jog, he asked me what was going through my mind in each of those four laps. I had to laugh and bite my tongue at first, as the only words I could initially come up with were 4 letters in length and worthy only of censorship, but, after that, I expressed how on the first 400m I thought about how I could totally do this. As we entered into the 2nd lap and crossed the 800m mark, I was no longer sure. On the 3rd lap, my mind was pleading with him to show mercy on me and call it quits at 1200m. And as we entered the final lap, I was pumping my arms and digging deep, begging my legs to move and close the gap that had widened between us. On the final straightaway I knew that I could no longer catch him but found a way to finish strong. He smiled in a way that makes me believe that he has been here before, and he went on to tell me that I need to focus on only one lap at a time. When running the first loop, do not concern myself with the 3 ahead; simply run the one I am on to the best of my ability. “Just like in the marathon”, he said, “You simply run the mile you are in and repeat that 26 times, to the best of your ability, before going crazy in the final quarter. Focus on the process and the results will inevitably come in time.” Wise words. (Thankfully, he did also admit that the day’s workout had made him struggle a bit, as well.)

So as my journey continues, I shall strive to keep my focus simple. Let the workout for today be the only one to occupy space in my mind. And when approaching that workout, focus on running just one segment/mile/interval at a time to the best of my ability. By immersing myself in the process, I hope to find the quiet patience and inner peace that comes with letting the results naturally evolve and come to me…like “finding grace”.

 (See link below for this inspiring article written by Christopher Michel and published in Runner’sWorld July 2017.)

#ChasingBoston #ForTheLoveOfTheRun

Mile 12: “Make Peace With The Distance”

I raced at the Presque Isle Half Marathon this past Sunday. I can honestly say that I did not focus on that particular race in training. It was just a race that I had signed up for to motivate myself to keep training throughout these hot summer months; something that I have honestly never done before. I have usually taken the summers off from training and just run whenever I felt like it. I have come to realize though that this has contributed to my lack of further progression in the past. I achieved a marathon pr by training all winter long for the Pittsburgh Marathon. Now it is time to build on that base and strive to achieve faster times in shorter distance races. That being said, I set my heart and mind on a half marathon pr for Presque Isle just a few short weeks before the race because, like it or not, I can’t help but be competitive with myself at an organized race. I enlisted the help of a friend, Lori, whom I had met back in February/March of this year at another local race, where she paced the 9:00/mi group through an 18 mile race. She is an inspiration to any who have the privilege of meeting her and running with her…not to mention she is a professional pacer and a SPOT ON one, I must add. She, in all her running craziness, had gone out and run a 50K Trail Race the day before, then got in her car and drove to Presque Isle at WTF o’Clock and met me to run/pace me at 6:45am Sunday morning. I am still in disbelief and awe…but eternally grateful because, without her, I would have burned myself up in the first half of the race and had nothing left in me for the end. We started out slow, as the crowd is always thick in the first few miles, but we hit our stride by mile 2 and settled in with easy conversation. ​​​​

Over the next few miles, I matched her stride and she reigned me in multiple times. This is what she does…and she’s good at it. I wanted to try to fuel at the 4.5-5mi mark but my stomach was a little queasy. She suggested I try again around 6mi. That wasn’t an option either. I was “ok”, but knew that if I took anything in it would most certainly come right back up. I had already resorted to just rinsing my mouth out at the water stations rather than actually drinking the water. At mile 7, I threw up in my mouth. Gross, I know. I wasn’t SICK. I wasn’t hurting. I was keeping pace, still running strong, and feeling good. We were still talking easily and then all of the sudden- PUKE! It is what it is though and my mind began to think back on Meb Keflezighi talking about the day he won the 2014 Boston Marathon. He had been running so far for so long on the very edge of his ability, giving that race everything he had, and trying to extend the gap between him and the athlete in second position, that at Mile 24 he was about to throw up. He said: “…so what you gotta do is: DEAL WITH IT! You’ve just got to hold it in. I know it’s disgusting but it won me the Boston Marathon.”
**Watch the full inspirational video recounting his experience firsthand here:

So we continued on and only slowed a few seconds throughout the next few miles as I came to terms with it and repeatedly found a way to “DEAL WITH IT”. My true struggle began at 10.60 miles…right about the time when I had hoped and planned to pick up the pace. Lori could see that I needed to “stay” though and she placed herself directly in my path to keep me clinging to her and avoiding either extreme; going too fast or slowing down and falling off pace. I don’t remember much about miles 11 or 12, they are a blur of misery and heavy breathing to me as I struggled to stay in control of my rising heartrate and thirst for air, but when the orange cones came into sight as the final pathway to the finish line, Lori shouted over her shoulder that it was “time to dig deep and finish this!”. I heard a few spectators screaming “Go girl! Bring it home under two!”. I can not say this any clearer:  Lori TOOK OFF! All I could think at this point was that I had not held on this long or suffered so much in the past few miles to lose this now. So I tucked in and “took flight”, telling myself “Don’t stop till you’re proud!”. It hurt like hell, but I caught up to her and brushed her elbow as we both crossed the line; she was one foot strike ahead of me…and THEN I puked! 😂 1:59:17 was my official finish time. (A half marathon PR by 38 seconds!) MISSION ACCOMPLISHED!

In the days since, I have kept moving and have been performing some easy recovery runs, as well as, stretching, massage/chiropractic care, and Cryotherapy. I have been thinking about this race and being very realistic/honest with myself; I am not yet capable of a 4:00 Marathon. I did what I did on Sunday to break the 2:00 Half Marathon, but it took everything I had. I could not imagine that being the halfway point of my race…I was DONE. That being said, I am not saying that I can’t get there. I most certainly will. It’s just going to take me a little longer. I am coming to terms with the fact that, despite the races that I have run and the countless training runs I have performed, I am still quite inexperienced when it comes to that level of endurance running. I have to make peace with the distance before I can actually conquer it. So I am continuing with the Break 4:00 Marathon Plan but relaxing more when Shep steps in and modifies my workouts based on my performances and presentation. For instance, today we went out for my weekly track workout and instead of doing 9+miles of Yasso 800’s, we did 8x200m, 2x400m, and 1x200m with a significantly shorter warmup and cooldown run and he let me walk the recovery periods. It was 90 degrees, humid, and sunny. I wasn’t sore from the race anymore but my muscles felt stiff, my legs felt heavy, and I was experiencing a deep down level of fatigue that I have not known before. Something that he, in his 47+years of experience, was expecting and knew was bound to happen…but I was a little surprised. He explains the science behind the sport/progression of athletic fitness to me, and I listen, but don’t always understand. Piece by piece though, it all starts to make a little more sense to me over time and, as we continue this journey together, I believe that one day all the pieces will come together and I will begin to fully understand the bigger picture. Until then, I listen to those who know and I take this one day at a time, one run at a time. 

My goal for the full marathon in Erie (September) is not centered around an actual, specific time goal. (Aside from simply a marathon PR, of course.😂) I am focusing more on the distance itself and planning to run a race that I can be proud of. Maybe not a FAST race, per se, but a CONSISTENT race, a STRONG race, a race where I can look back and say that there was not one single moment/mile/point in the course that broke me down. I want to make peace with the distance and not fear the marathon. Once I do this, I can then start down the path of making my inner/mental strength and my outer/physical strength collide and bridge the gap towards a faster future marathon time…one that will, eventually, earn me the title: “Boston Qualified”. This is my journey. I will get there when I am ready.

#ChasingBoston #ForTheLoveOfTheRun