This marathon cycle I unplugged a little bit. I didn’t write training logs for Salty Running. I did a terrible job, frankly, of even updating my logs for my coach to review. I didn’t post a lot about running on social media. I also hit taper with mixed feelings. I could see in those aforementioned neglected logs that I had done plenty of work — in fact, higher weekly mileage and better speed work than before Chicago — but I just didn’t feel like I had worked as hard. Was that because I didn’t spend as much time dwelling on my training? Or because I ran more with friends? Or because I ran a lot on the treadmill, which doesn’t require as much mental energy for me?
But leading into Carmel I set myself three fairly clear goals: Place in the top 3; run under 3 hours; don’t walk.
You can laugh at the walking thing, it’s okay. This is a habit that I am trying to break. With I believe exactly three exceptions, I have walked in all of my marathons. That includes marathons run in 3:10, 3:07, and 2:59. It’s embarrassing.
I felt these goals were pretty attainable and I talked to my coach, Matt Ebersole, about them the Thursday before the race. Of course, I said, there’s only so much I can do about who shows up to the race in terms of finishing place — but I felt ready to fight for it. When I ran Carmel two years ago, I was fourth. Fourth is the worst place, right? I had hoped to have a shot at first, but another of Matt’s athletes decided she’d go for her OTQ.
I also told Matt I wanted to run a smarter race than I did at Chicago, where I got sucked in by the energy and went out like a crazy person. I wanted to run the first half of Carmel in 1:28:30-1:29: fast enough to be right around PR pace, slow enough to not fall apart in the second half (like splitting 1:27:29 at Chicago). He supported that plan, and it worked with the new course layout. We’d run the first loop with the half marathon, come through the start/finish, then head out for a different second loop. I knew I needed to not get pulled in by the half marathoners, especially around mile 11-12 when they started to push for home. I also knew I would not know my placement in the women’s full until the second loop started — and that was if I could get someone out on the course to count.
I studied the course map pretty diligently, because the forecast predicted high winds. I wanted to have in my head where the major directional changes would be so I could plan my race accordingly.
We headed up Friday afternoon, with the expo as our first stop. It’s the kind of expo where you could buy something you forgot, but you’ll still be in-and-out in 10 minutes. Coach Matt had a booth so we chatted with him. His “intel” was that there were three women who had submitted they could run under 3 hours. One was my teammate going for the OTQ, one was me. The third was a mystery although I trolled the bib number assignments for other women with low bib numbers. No shame.
Dinner was at a local Italian place. Back at the hotel, I did some foam rolling and logistical planning, figuring out where we wanted to park and what time we would leave. I went to bed early and slept like a champ. We’ve been staying almost exclusively at Hampton Inns the past few years, and as rewards members we got upgraded to a suite this time, which was great. It allowed hubs to stay up however late he wanted in the sitting room with the tv on, while I could be in the separate bedroom asleep. Winning.
In the morning, I pulled on all my layers and went downstairs for coffee. I had that, water, and an Rx bar around 6 a.m. I did Jasyoga’s race day warm up and race day meditation, loaded up my stuff, and we headed out. We were only a couple of miles from the start/finish, but with the cold temps that morning I wanted to have my bag full of gear and extra clothes instead of just jogging to the start. Also that would’ve meant walking (because for real, who jogs back after a marathon?) a long ways back freezing my butt off after. We got a pretty good parking spot, dropped our bags at coach’s tent, grabbed a friend and did a 13-minute warm-up jog. I had Hammer Nutrition’s Fully Charged at 7:30 and a Hammer Gel at 7:45. Dropped a whole lot of clothes, did a couple of strides, kissed my husband, high-fived my coach and headed to the start.
The weather was around 38 but windy, the windchill a few degrees cooler. The wind was expected to pick up as the day went on, getting closer to 15-20 mph by the time I finished. I opted for shorts, singlet, headband, gloves and sunglasses. My sunglasses have high-contrast red lenses in them so they aren’t super-dark and provide great protection from crap blowing into your eyes on windy days. I had four Hammer gels with me, planning to take them every 10k — about every 45 minutes. This leaves a weird gap because I take the third one at 2:15 and intend to finish before I would need a fourth — so I carry a fourth emergency one that I can take late in the race, or in case I drop one, or in case I need to take one of the others earlier for some other reason. Each one had a mantra for that section of the course, which I had written out in my notes ahead of time and matched to sections of the course.
I had another friend running the full hoping to run 2:53-2:55 and starting conservatively, so I started next to him.
Miles 1-6: 6:39, 6:45, 6:43, 6:40, 6:46, 6:48.
I immediately went out a little too quick, but felt comfortable. I chatted with a few people around and tried to settle in somewhere around 6:45. The course has quite a few rolling hills, and I knew we’d be turning in and out of the wind, so I didn’t panic that the miles weren’t exactly the same splits. I wanted to run based on how I felt, not on what the watch said. I saw Mr. Chic a few miles in, as he was able to run across the course. I took a gel around here somewhere — my target was around 45 minutes but there wasn’t a water stop nearby until mile 7.
Miles 7-13: 6:45, 6:41, 6:46, 6:49, 6:49, 6:44 (maybe).
I packed up with three guys, two of whom were friends running and chatting together and clearly veterans. The third was a younger guy with headphones who was clearly running the half and couldn’t run in a straight line. At one point I told him to stop cutting me off. Stop weaving, dude. We were staying with the half marathoners all the way through the finish, and I knew I needed to be sure to not start picking it up when they did. For a bit I was in a pretty big pack that included another Louisville guy, so I ran and talked to him for a few minutes before he pulled ahead. Relax relax relax. We got on the Monon Trail for a bit and I tried to save that into my memory so I would know the last bits of the race — we’d come the same way for the marathon, but start farther out on the Monon.
Another Louisville guy, my friend looking to run a similar time, caught up to me. We ran together as we near the halfway point, where we’ll drop off the half marathoners. Coach Matt was around 12.5 cheering. We came up the hill to the finish area and it’s no joke heading into the wind. I missed the 13 mile marker in all the finish area chaos but hit halfway in 1:28:35. Perfect. As I cross, a pace bike takes off with me.
“You’re second female,” he says as he starts pedaling.
Miles 14-20: 6:44 (ish), 6:51, 6:47, 6:52, 6:54, 6:56, 6:38.
I knew there was a chance I’d come through in second but honestly I thought one or two other women would go through the half fast and I’d try to pick them up later on. I expected this so much that I asked Mr. Chic to try to get to 14 or so and give me a count so I’d know what I needed to do.
Meet Ben. Ben is now my escort unless I am passed by another lady. My new job is to keep Ben with me for another hopefully-less-than-90 minutes.
I also realize I haven’t taken my second gel, which should’ve happened at the 90-minute mark. I got excited about nailing my split and being in second and forgot about the gel. *Face palm.*
My friend Michael asked what my plan was. Having studied the course map and the weather forecast that morning, I had a loose plan based on where the winds would be worse. They were steadily growing stronger as the day went on — eventually it was windy enough that the finish line structure had to be dismantled — so I didn’t see any point in pushing hard while going into the wind.
I told Michael my plan was to sit back until 17 or so, when we turned out of the headwind. I see Mr. Chic at 14 and wave excitedly that I’m in second. Michael started to pull away and I let him go. He had attempted sub-3 a couple of times before and hadn’t made it, but a recent half said today should be his day. I was happy to see him go, really, because I wanted him to have a great run.
But once that happened, I was in no-man’s land. Definitely no-lady’s land. There wasn’t a lot of crowd support or many other runners … but I had Ben! We chatted some, mostly Ben talking, which was totally fine.
I try to find my rhythm but am not feeling it as we ran into the wind. There were more hills and bridges than I expected. I had been running a long time.
We rounded a corner at mile 19 and I used the opportunity to sneak a peek backwards.
There’s a lady back there. Like close. I take my next gel as we do this weird out-and-back down a driveway, but it gives me a chance to look at her. I know who she is, loosely, because I Googled every woman in the full with a low-digit bib the night before. (What? I wanted to know who the mystery sub-3 woman was!)
Boosters engage. I dropped a 6:38 and feel fine. We were finally out of the wind, although in a few more miles we would find ourselves running straight into it again.
Miles 20-26.2: 6:44, 6:50, 6:40, 6:43, 6:44, 6:54; 1:23 for the last smidge.
At 20, the other woman had several friends out there cheering for her. I came through in 2:15, with just enough mental capacity to conclude I have 45 minutes to run a 10k to make it under 3.
At 22, my coach’s wife was cheering for me on the side. This was a great boost; after the other woman’s cheer squad and being passed by a few men, I was struggling. The wind was definitely picking up, and even the miles I hoped would have a tailwind don’t, really.
I knew there was a bit of a U-turn at 24 that would drop us straight into the wind for the last couple of miles. As we made the tight turn — nearly knocking Ben off his bike in the process — I was able to watch for the woman behind me. She was close, but not as close as she had been. I knew I needed to push as much as I could into the wind. However, we also met back up with the half-marathoners soon after. Thank goodness for Ben. He cleared a path, calling to
runners/walkers ahead. So many of them were nice enough to clap and cheer! There’s a series of turns at the end … as you come off the Monon Trail, the course opens from a narrow path to two lanes of traffic, which was hard to navigate with all the half-marathoners and coming into the next right-hand turn.
Then — up the hill. I knew it would be even steeper and windier the second time, and I was right. You can see it in that last mile split! My husband was there as I made the final right and the downhill finish was very, very welcome. As I ran the final stretch, it was lined by PBT teammates and I was pumped. Coach was just past the finish and I crossed as second woman in 2:57:35, just 32 seconds slower than my PR and on a much tougher course on a much tougher day.
It wasn’t a PR, but I met all three of my goals for the day. What’s more, I showed myself the first 2:57 wasn’t a fluke — I can do it. And I dug deep and fought hard. After, coach said I “gave more instead of giving in.” It’s a race performance I’m proud of, for sure.