This is not going to be the best race recap ever — not much interesting stuff happened. Or at least I didn’t notice it. But I think the ending is worth it.

To start, my race plan was … non-existent. Coach and I had talked on Wednesday and stepped through a couple of the goal times I had out there. “If you run 3:03 [my original B goal, and 4 minutes off my spring PR], we’ll sit down and figure out what we need to change. 3:01 would be okay. 2:59:59 is a lot more exciting than 3:00:10, but don’t focus too much on the splits.”

But then he opened the door: “How far under 3 can you go? I’m not going to guess at that.”

There it was. It was on the table that he thought I was ready, and I thought I was ready, so …

Ultimately, he said to “let the race come to you,” with which I completely agreed. I was worried if I went out explicitly trying to break 3 hours and hit 6:50 pace every mile, it would be overwhelming. And what if the course was long or my watch was off? A friend ran 6:52 pace straight through one year but she was using her Garmin and it had the course long, so her watch says she ran 6:52s but her official time is just over 3 hours.

I needed to rely on my ability to assess my perceived effort. [Foreshadowing: this ability would come in handy.]

“Run smart, run hard, and good things will happen,” Coach wrote in an email to the team later in the week.

On Friday, Chris and I headed up to Indianapolis in the afternoon and checked into our hotel just a couple of block away from the expo and start/finish.

Coach giving instructions!

This was my first time as part of an “elite” field, and I had an elite meeting to attend at 5:30 p.m. We picked up Chris’s packet and walked around the expo for a few minutes before the meeting. The meeting was mostly to go over details of the morning — where the hospitality room was, the escort from the room to the start, bottle locations. It was also our chance to drop those bottles if we wanted them. I did, because it gave me an opportunity to 1) not carry my gels stuffed in random parts of my outfit and 2) make sure I was getting in some electrolytes since I’m a heavy, salty sweater. I did Hammer Nutrition bottles with Hammer Fizz in them and a gel taped to each (photo above).

We had dinner at Rock Bottom Brewery — Chris had wings and steak tacos, I had a turkey burger. Sometimes my husband makes interesting food decisions for someone with a history of GI issues.

Back at the hotel I got my gear check bag together and set out everything else I needed for the morning … except I still didn’t know which top I was going to wear. I brought five with me, actually — four PBT ones and a generic singlet just in case. I went to sleep around 9:45 and slept fine despite all the stuff Chris was doing.

Piles of shirts.

On race morning, I hit up the hotel breakfast (I love you, Hampton Inn) at 6 a.m. for some wheat toast onto which I put a chocolate-hazelnut Hammer Gel. For my long runs, I have been taking a gel before and that’s it, so I wasn’t planning to eat very much. Before the half a few weeks ago, I had toast with jam, so this seemed like a really awesome upgrade. I highly recommend this idea … they also have peanut butter, and a bunch of fruity flavors that would taste like jelly, too. One gel is probably enough for two pieces of toast, although I crammed it on one. If you let it sit for a minute, is solidifies a bit and isn’t messy. Plus a cup of decaf coffee and I was set.

After trying on every top, I decided to go with the new singlet that arrived Thursday. That allowed me to wear a sports bra I had run most of my long runs in, so that felt mostly safe.

I bundled up in a throw-away long sleeve, PBT thermal, warm-up pants, gloves and a headband because it was 36* out. Surprise! We headed out from the hotel around 7 a.m. and took Chris’s bag to gear check so we could get there before it got too crowded. Then we walked across the street to the government building where the elite holding area was. I dropped my bag and had Hammer’s Fully Charged pre-exercise fuel and another gel, then met up with my PBT teammate Jen and my fellow Salty Running writer Rochelle, and we began warming up on the government center porch. Oddly enough the porch area only wraps around three sides, so all the elites were just making these big Us and turning around. We did an entire mile like this! Finally I dropped my warm-up clothes off, and we had an “escort” to the start at 7:45. It made it mostly faster to get there but not really. I did a few striders to stay lose and not get nervous.

I lined up with Jen and Chris — none of us had a formal plan to run together, but we were all hoping to run about the same time. And I had just run half marathons with them both! (Jen had just run 3:01 something at Chicago, but was disappointed and thought she had a better race in her.)

I had mantras for different sections of the course, broken up by where my water bottles would be. My first 8 miles: “Calm and comfortable.”

Literally as the race starts I say something to Jen about going out easy and not getting caught up in the fast people and going 6:45s.

So we immediately went out at 6:45 pace. Then 6:50, 6:46, 6:43, 6:36. At that one I laughed and said, “Coach is not going to like this.”

At this point my watch lost its mind and I have no useful splits until later.

Chris was hanging right off the back of me and Jen, and we were getting a lot of cheers because we were girls surrounded by guys and dressed in the exact same outfit.

The half splits off just past the 7 mile marker, and I felt great. Just cruising. We had our little pack together. At mile 8 I snagged my first water bottle and gel, and moved on to mantra 2: “confident and courageous.” I wanted to remind myself for the next 6 miles that I had done the work and this was just another day. Don’t back down, don’t get nervous. Just run.

Dead dog in the leaves on the side of the road. Too much.

My watch had totally mucked up GPS and was clicking off miles way too soon — like every 4.5 to 5.5 minutes. Fortunately Jen was keeping me generally apprised of the pace — she’d tell me splits occasionally, but I also knew if she was still with me, we were probably still running about the same pace.

Around mile 10, some other guys caught up and chatted with us for a minute. They asked what our goal was and we said 3 hours, and they said we were ahead of pace. We were like, “Yeah, we know.” P.S. I caught both these guys later. Go mansplain even splits to someone else, kids.

We went through 10 miles in 65 minutes, which was a little alarming just because my 10 mile PR from January is 65 minutes. We caught one girl somewhere around mile 10, and another girl caught us a few miles later, and those are literally the only women I saw during the entire race. Such a weird feeling.

The 10 mile marker was a good mental checkpoint because it meant just 16 miles left — and 16 miles is a short Saturday workout day. Just focus and think of it like any other workout. Don’t get comfortable, keep my foot on the gas.

Jen and I still have Chris, too, who is literally running just a couple of feet behind us and not saying anything. It’s sort of like a body guard. My own secret service.

We come through halfway in 1:28:24 (officially, I think it said about 1:28:30 on the clock when we crossed), and said to Jen, “Okay, now let’s just do that all over again!”

I was feeling great, mentally and physically. It would’ve been easy at halfway to get scared — I had just lowered my half PR in September to 1:28 (although 3 weeks later I ran 1:26).

I whiffed snagging my next water bottle at 14 and literally had to spin around and grab it. In hindsight I should’ve just let it go, because I had an extra gel with me in case that happened. Also, I shouldn’t have filled the bottles up so much because they were heavy! I didn’t want to carry it for long. I took a couple of swigs and ripped the gel off and tossed it.

Mantra for miles 14-20: Strong and smooth.

I lost Jen up ahead but didn’t fret, I just relaxed and got my nutrition in and held the effort, knowing I’d catch back up. I wasn’t really sure where Chris was behind me at this point, although I couldn’t easily see him any more so I figured he had slipped back.

The hills on this course — which are not significant — are in the 16-18 area. I had eased back up to Jen and some other folks but I ended up passing her on a hill. Chris told me after the race he saw her drop around 17.

Running through Butler University is always a fun part of the course, and then through a park and around the front of the Indianapolis Museum of Art. This is always my favorite spot because they have a bomb-ass DJ spinning in front of the museum. I listen to a lot of rap when I do speed work and I always get pumped up in this section. There’s also a ton of crowd support in these miles, which is great because 14-16 are pretty quiet.

But I was feeling strong and passing guys — I had passed a girl around mile 10 with Jen, and then another girl passed us around 14. Literally I saw no other women, so I literally mean passing guys. Chicking, as we say..

The next 2 miles were along the White River Parkway, which needs to be repaved and is not very interesting. Thankfully someone put a bunch of random factoid signs along it. I had calculated that if I made it to mile 20 by 2:15, I was on-track with time to spare (that’s 7:15 pace for the last 10k).

I don’t remember what the clock said, but I knew I was on track. I grabbed my last water bottle, took maybe one swig and ate about half of the gel. I had been drinking water at most of the aid stations along the way, so I didn’t need the fluids. They were mostly a back-up in case it was hot and I needed the electrolytes (and more fluids in general).

Mantra 20-finish: Bombs away. From the Geronimo song … and I wrote Geronimo on the bottle because I thought dropping off a bottle with unknown fluid in it that said “bombs away” might make race organizers uncomfortable. This was the last mantra to click into place — I knew the first three way in advance because they’re phrases I use more often in training and racing. I had this song on my tempo playlist, which really only gets used on the treadmill or before races. One day listening to the song, it clicked that the chorus “bombs away” was it. A perfectly recallable phrase to remind me to give it everything I had left.

I had been hand-splitting my watch at the mile markers, hoping the GPS would catch back up. Finally around 20 it was almost back on track. I have splits-ish for the last 10k.

I’m also reminding myself that I knew this wouldn’t be easy. In “How Bad Do You Want It,” Matt Fitzgerald retells a story about Jenny Simpson’s bonk at her last NCAA cross-country championship and her redemption at the World Championships.

“Beating all 11 of the women to her left would be harder than anything Jenny had done before — it would demand her absolute best effort, and perhaps even that wold not be enough. But she was determined to try for nothing less.”

Instead of going into this race envisioning an absolutely enjoyable, pain free, magical experience, I told myself repeatedly — including during workouts — that it would not be easy. It would be hard. Possibly the hardest thing I had ever done. And that was okay. Hard is okay.

This was starting to get into the carnage part of the race, although it seems like the faster you’re going, the more prepared people are and so there are less blow-ups. Not totally though — I had passed back a number of guys from earlier. Any time I saw someone stopped, I’d encourage them to keep moving, start walking, hang in there.

I ditched my gloves before mile 21, also where the course turns east for a couple of miles. Not a lot of crowd support in this area, and I was focused on keeping my pace and effort up. At 23.5, we made a sharp right and rejoined the half course.

Monumental gets major props for having this entire section coned off and doing a good job keeping half-marathoners on one side and marathoners on the other. I did almost plow someone over who had walked across the lane for some reason (portajohn, maybe?). At 24, you don’t want to be in my way.

The somewhat questionable feedback I’m getting from my watch is that I’m still in the 6:45-6:50 range, even though I feel like I’m going so slow. There’s so much more crowd support plus all the half marathoners, so this stretch was really motivating. I was in a bit of a slow fade but only by 5 seconds, so I don’t know if that even counts.

There aren’t many guys ahead of me but I’m trying to chase them down one at a time, and drag them in, too.

Just before Mile 26. Team PBT out in force. Pumped. (Photo: Lindsey Hein)

We make one last turn just before 26 and there’s a bunch of running group tents on the sidewalk and a ton of people. I see the orange of PBT and people are cheering for me — some who know who I am at least via the internet, some who just know I have on a team jersey. I am SO excited and finally realizing/accepting that this dream of breaking 3 hours is really going to come true. I’m not going to blow up, crash out, fall short. I still feel good, and I just have to run for something like 7 more minutes. I’m yelling and fist pumping or whatever I was doing. Lindsey Hein (of the “I’ll Have Another” podcast) is there yelling for me — her husband finished just ahead of me — and she got this great photo that really captured the moment.

This stretch is also downhill for which I am very grateful. I make the last right, with just a few hundred meters to go. The crowd is huge, there’s music, and I’m staring down the finish line. I can see the clock which appears to say 2:56, which does not seem right AT ALL. AT ALL.

But it really does. I see it roll over to 2:57 and I’m looking across the line to see if Coach is there. All the race officials are in orange, so I’m having a hard time figuring it out, but as I get close I know he’s there because he’s standing in the middle of the lane yelling for me.

Last steps. Arms up. Arms up more. Huge smile. Huge hug from coach. Tears. More happy yelling by Coach. More tears by me. Repeat. Officially 2:57:03.

The 3 hour pacer comes through, another of our PBT guys, and coach tells him I was one of the people he was supposed to bring in under 3. We’re also watching for Jen, not knowing that she had dropped, and Chris. He’s giving me an update on the handful of other athletes we’ve had finish. I think I’m top 10, but not sure.

Chris comes through in 3:03, a PR for him after a very long time (like 8 years at least) and a big BQ especially since he just went up an age group to 3:10.

While I’m standing at the finish line, they start playing Geronimo! How crazy. It takes a few minutes to get Chris up from where he decided to sit on the road. Plus I’m literally bouncing around, cheering for people I know (quite a few, apparently), talking to coach, generally being overexcited.

Even splits.

Chris asks me how I did, but I don’t hear him, and I give him a thumbs-up. He says, “What does that mean?” And I figure out he had asked me a question. “Oh, 2:57-low!” He does kind of a double-take, which I believe is what a lot of people did. (Even me, but just a little.)

We check the results tent and get printouts, where I find out I was the 9th female finisher overall (!!!) and that my splits for the halves were 1:28:24 and 1:28:40. You don’t get a lot more even than that!

My average pace was 6:46 — the same pace as the last mile of my blind marathon pace workout the Saturday before.

My legs are tired but my heart is happy. All the work paid off. I ran smart, I ran hard, and good things happened. Now to recover mentally and physically, and reset for spring.