This column was published in the Running Journal, June 2016 (e-edition here).
Six years ago, I ran a marathon PR. I ran six marathon in 3.5 years, including Boston twice, and I was 22 minutes faster than my first marathon.
Six years ago, I was certain the 3 hour barrier wasn’t far away.
Six years ago, I was running on borrowed time. A stress fracture in my anterior tibial cortex was lurking in both shins, and a hamstring ready to strain. For 2.5 years, I didn’t run a marathon or hardly anything competitively worth noting.
Six years later, I have a new personal best. A newfound faith in my training and the hard work in both running and strength training and all the other “extras.”
I raced the Carmel Marathon, just north of Indianapolis, on April 16, finishing as fourth female in 3:07:30. It wasn’t a perfect race, by any means, but a PR of 2 minutes, 41 seconds, is not something I’ll complain about.
I ran this race in 2013 — it’s only in its sixth year, so still pretty small but well-organized. This year, there were 686 marathon finishers, 1,659 in the half, 783 in the 8k and 627 in the 5k (definitely a distance for everyone).
My coach is based in the area so I had my husband and my coach both there, which is a pretty perfect support system. Coach had a booth at the expo, so on Friday I got a short pep talk, discussed parking for the morning, where our tent would be near the start/finish, who was expected to run, what to do about the weather, etc.
The weather. The bane of every marathoner’s existence. Low 50s for the start and then sunny with a high of 80 degrees. Coach’s advice: if it seems like the pace is too hard too early in the race, back off and race for place. The only good thing about bad weather is that you’re all in it together.
The biggest downside to the Carmel Marathon is the way the marathon meets back up with the half marathon several times. You run the first 3 miles together, then catch them again at marathon mile 12 (half mile 5), stay together until marathon mile 18 (half 11), and then meet them again at marathon mile 24.5 (half 11.5).
My plan was to hang with the 3:05 group and evaluate somewhere around 16-20. In the corral I talked to fellow Louisvillian (and Urban Bourbon Half Marathon race director) Michael Clemons, who was hoping to run the same time so we started off chatting and running together.
Miles 1-5: 6:59, 6:58, 7:03, 6:54, 7:04. Pretty much in the ballpark, a smidge fast. Into the sun, with the pace group, chatting. The half marathon has a turnaround at 3.75, so we got to see the leaders coming back.
Miles 6-10: 7:07, 7:01, 7:02, 7:05, 6:56. We lost the pace group around mile 5 as Michael and I continue clicking off right around 3:05 pace. I take my first Hammer Gel as we wind through a small park … which wasn’t closed so we were weaving around some pedestrians, pets and strollers. I don’t remember much from this section, which is good. The less I’m having to focus on what I’m doing in the early part, the better. Just lock in and cruise.
Miles 11-15: 6:58, 7:01, 7:00, 7:05, 6:50. I see my husband again early on in this section, I think. It might’ve been late in the last section. We’ve caught back up with the half marathoners and it is a total headache. I’m calling out that there’s a runner back and trying to find direct, smooth ways to get around people. I even encourage quite a few but get little response, so I give up on that. A few encourage me, and for that I am grateful. The course is slightly uphill (300 feet of gain or so) from 10-15.
I lose Michael around mile 11 and from there until 20, I’m pretty much flying solo. This, my friends, is why I’ve been doing most of my long runs alone. I might joke or chat with people along the way, but for most of that 26.2 miles, I’m inside my own head. Assessing my body, doing damage control, thinking super random thoughts, ping-ponging from topic to topic, finding myself coming back to the same three lines of a song I haven’t heard in years like it’s stuck on repeat. If you’re not prepared to get yourself through a marathon mentally, your physical training won’t matter.
Miles 16-20: 6:56, 6:48, 7:04, 7:07, 7:04. I had no idea I dropped that 6:48 until I was writing this. Mile 15 was the start of the Hagan-Burke Trail, which brought with it almost 2 miles of blissful shade. It was tough running around the half marathoners but at this point it just was what it was. I saw my husband again heading on to the trail — best cheerleader ever. Craziest part of the day was at the 16.5 water stop — I had just grabbed a water, having dodged all the half marathoners to get to it. We’re all in the left lane, and there’s a car in the right hand lane waiting to turn. He started turning right into the stream of people. I missed getting my cup of water into his window by about three inches.
Miles 21-26: 7:07, 7:06, 7:12, 7:12, 7:51, 8:17. It is sunny, it is hot, it is desolate. Not much to look at, not many people cheering. Not a great last 6 miles. A couple of guys pull away from me. I catch another woman at the 22 mile water stop. Sometime earlier I thought I heard I was fourth. I’m hoping this means I’m in third, but I don’t really know. I basically use the water stop as a screen, hoping to get by her without her trying to chase me down. A little past 22 the 3:05 pacer catches me but I can’t go with them (I think he negative split). Around 24, I take a walk break. I take four or five walk breaks in the last 2 miles.
With a mile to go, I’m dumping water on my head. I am hot and I am frustrated at myself. Frustrated for having to walk. For not being tougher. For not being stronger. We make a right-hand turn around 25.25, then it’s a long, slightly uphill climb to the 26 marker. My husband is at the top of the hill, and I am sucking it up as much as I can. He tells me I can get under 3:10, I’m thinking I had better because I know I’m only at about 3:06 and if it takes 4 minutes to run two blocks, I’m never doing another marathon. I turn the final corner knowing my watch will be way long. I end up with 26.4, with the last .4 at 6:26 pace.
It was a great day for the Personal Best Training crew — coach had the first and second place men and first and fourth place women in the marathon. It took six years to set a new marathon best, but I feel like there are more around the corner.