I ran my ninth marathon on Sunday—the New Jersey marathon on the Jersey shore in Long Branch. This was the first marathon I have ever repeated, and I did so because it was well organized, flat, had great weather in 2007 and I had quite a few friends running it. To get to the punch line, I had a horrible race which resulted in me being taken into the medical tent at the end and didn’t come close to my goal.
I was hoping to qualify for the Boston Marathon, so I needed a 3:40 or faster. I’ve been working toward this goal since June of last year. In March of last year I ran a 3:51:49 on about seven weeks of training, averaging 40 miles per week. I figured that if I did an 18- week training program averaging 50 miles per week, I could dramatically improve my time.
The problem with this plan was that instead of being just 18 weeks, it ended up being about 11 months. My original BQ attempt was supposed to be in October of last year, but I was sick for four weeks leading up to the race so I didn’t run it. I immediately resumed training for the Arizona marathon in January, but I didn’t BQ there because of the heat, cramping, and foot issues. I recovered from that in three weeks and immediately jumped back into training for the NJ marathon. When all was said and done, I had been training to BQ for nearly 11 months, with an overall average of about 50 MPW, peaking at 61 in March.
In my mind, this was a good thing, and all of the training would certainly drop my time way down, in comparison to the training I did for my 3:51 back in March 2008. But I now realize that it was probably too much and as, Amy, a runner who I respect very much, said, “You probably missed your peak,” and that I needed an off season. But my personality isn’t like that. When I have a goal in mind, I work and work and work at it until it’s achieved. I never felt run down during training (except for when I was sick last fall). I was never injured, and I enjoyed every training run. I wasn’t over-trained in the traditional sense of hating running and getting slower times, but my body probably needed a break at some point in order to be able to perform at maximum capacity on race day.
If I had to identify my “peak” it was probably in mid-March of this year, when I ran the Shamrock half marathon and broke my November PR by nearly 5 minutes with a 1:44:04. I felt amazing that day and that half marathon felt easier than any other half I had ever run. I am kicking myself for not doing the full marathon that day, but I guess hindsight is 20/20.
This race had nearly doubled in size since I ran it two years ago. It was a marathon, half marathon and relay with about 9000 runners. The city was just too small to accommodate all of these people. We were told to park in a satellite lot and take shuttle buses to the start. The buses were an hour late, and I was panicking as I stood there waiting, wondering if I would get to the start on time.
The buses finally did come all at once and there was mass confusion as everyone scrambled to get on a bus. Then the bus drivers didn’t even know where we were going or where to drop us off. Because of all this confusion and the traffic getting to the race, the start was delayed by 30 minutes, which meant 30 extra minutes of standing out in the cold. The rain didn’t start until about 15 minutes into the run, but had we started on time, we would have had an extra 30 minutes of dryness, which would have helped me immensely.
It was in the low 50’s for the entire race, but it felt much colder as the rain picked up. For the first half the rain was like a misting drizzle, but during the second half it was a steady rain, and towards the end it got pretty heavy.
I need an 8:24 average pace to BQ, and for the first 10 miles, I was perfectly on pace. I didn’t go out too fast and I ran my own race. The 3:40 pacer was in my sight for these miles, but the pace group was going slightly too fast for my liking. Everything felt great. Marathon pace felt like a 9:30 training pace, just as it should be. It felt like all my other good marathons when the first 10 miles were a walk in the park and I could easily hit the pace with each mile:
At mile 11, the pace didn’t exactly feel “easy” anymore so I started to get a little bit worried. I knew I could continue to hold that pace, but based on previous marathons that had gone well, I felt like I was working too hard for it to just be mile 11. But I told myself to “trust my training” and I knew I had trained for this.
I crossed the halfway point in 1:49:49, which was just about perfect. It allowed for just a slight slowdown in the second half, but I hadn’t really “banked” time. I had a burst of energy crossing the halfway point with the crowd cheering for all the half marathon finishers.
At this point, I had lost the 3:40 pace group entirely and I knew they must be going much faster than they should be. Normally my “sweet spot” in a marathon is miles 12-18. That’s when I really hit my stride and that’s usually where the fastest miles are. But yesterday, I started to feel more tired as I hit mile 14 and then 15. I knew this was a problem and by mile 15, I realized that a BQ was highly unlikely.
I still felt decent at this point, unlike in Arizona when I felt like I needed to quit the race at mile 16. It’s just that I needed to run at a slightly slower pace. I figured if I could just run sub-9:00’s for the rest of the race, I could set a decent PR and maybe run around 3:45. So the notion of a PR kept me going and I kept thinking positive thoughts. I didn’t focus on the fact that I would miss the BQ I just told myself to continue at this easier pace and hold it for the rest of the race.
When I got to mile 20, I realized that I was feeling pretty bad and that sub-9:00’s for the rest of the race wasn’t going to happen. The rain was coming down harder and I wasn’t having fun anymore. I knew that one of my friends, Audra, awould probably pass me at mile 22, and she ended up passing me during mile 21. She looked so strong and I called out her name. She was going faster than me but looked so happy and she had so much energy in her. She looked like how I felt during my previous marathons at mile 21 when they had gone well. I remembered back to the Richmond marathon at mile 22 when I ran into a friend and told them how awesome I felt. But today was completely different. She ran past me and I kept her in my sight for about a mile and used her as inspiration until she faded away.
I didn’t hit a “wall” like I did in Arizona. In Arizona I felt like at mile 15 I just slammed into a brick wall. This was a gradual slowdown. It felt wall-ish towards the end because it was so hard, but the most walking I ever did was during mile 25, for maybe about 15 seconds. In Arizona, I walked for a good portion of the second half. I was proud of myself for continuing to run, even as the possibility of a PR was slipping away.
I felt so awful during this last stretch. I knew that if I could just stay in the low 9:00’s I could get a PR. All of the runners looked like they were hurting at this point. As much as I was hurting, I was still passing people and I probably looked a lot stronger than I felt. The rain was coming down steadily and I was cold and miserable and not having any fun. I just wanted to get to the finish line so badly.
I removed my headphones at mile 24 because the music was no longer motivating me.
I looked at my watch as I passed mile 25, and it said 3:39. My ability to do math was completely shot to death at this point, but I knew that if I ran a sub-10:00 pace for that last 1.2, then I could still get a PR. I knew it would only be by a few seconds, but I needed to salvage this race. I trained too long and too hard to not even get a PR out of the race. I was fueled by anger. It had been over a year since I PRed in a marathon and yet the past year of my life had been consumed by marathon training. I needed a PR so badly, because I knew I would be so depressed if I couldn’t even get that.
During the last mile I became delirious. A friend from Runner's World who had done the half was yelling to me from the parking lot way off of the course. I knew it was her and I screamed back “help me! I need you! Help me! I need!” And I pretty much was saying that for the last quarter mile until I got to the finish line. I knew she couldn’t hear me, but for some reason I just kept saying it. I was losing my mind.
0.2 (9:14 pace)
The finish and medical tent
I crossed the finish line in 3:51:09 according to my watch. This was a PR by 40 seconds. I was relieved that I got my PR, but it was still a “3:51” so essentially it’s the same time. But I need to remember how hard I worked for it to be a 3:51:09 as opposed to 3:51:49, and then those 40 seconds mean the world to me.
I immediately stopped dead in my tracks after crossing the finish line and couldn’t take another step. I don’t really remember much about what happened next but that all the medical people wanted me to sit down in a wheelchair and I refused. The next thing I knew, I was in the wheelchair anyway being taken to the medical tent. I must have been drifting in and out of consciousness because I don’t really remember much about getting into the medical tent. I heard the EMT guys tell the doctor that I was passing out and that they put me in the wheelchair as I was passing out. I thought to myself that these people were nuts and I was perfectly fine. In my head I felt completely rational and okay, but yet I couldn’t talk and couldn’t sit up straight. I felt extremely weak and helpless. They took my vital signs, and they were all fine.
Soon after, my friend Randi was brought into the medical tent and I called out for her, but I couldn’t get her to hear me. Eventually I got her attention. “Did you BQ?” she asked and I shook my head and said “no.” The medical people were asking me all sorts of questions and I just was not able to properly communicate the answers. Turn out I had hypothermia. My clothing was soaked and I was shivering vigorously. Randi told me that my face was white and I had zero color, but that my lips were blue. They said I needed to get out of the wet clothing immediately, but they didn’t have any dry clothing and nor did I. They gave me a huge blanket, which helped. The only reason they let me leave the tent was because they knew I needed to get out of those wet clothes ASAP. I got out of the tent and it was pouring. My checked back was in the hotel which wasn’t too far away, but I couldn’t make it there. Some guy saw me shivering and flagged down a cop car to drive me to the hotel. I could hardly move and I couldn’t talk.
I feel like Goldilocks and the three bears “The marathon is too hot” and then “This marathon is too cold”. From heat exhaustion to hypothermia and nearly a year of training, to shave just 40 seconds from my marathon time. The whole thing is extremely disheartening. I know I need a break from marathon training and an ‘off season’ but I just want this so badly. I know I can do it. Back when I was setting PRs with each marathon everything seemed so easy. But I guess back then, I was setting “soft” race goals for myself and then smashing those goals. Who knows what would have happened yesterday if my goal was a 3:45? Or even to simply break 3:50?
I always put 100% of myself into anything that I go after, so it’s going to be challenging to back off for the next few months and realize that the BQ probably won’t come until my December marathon. And even then, I risk too hot, too cold, or getting sick/injured. It just seems so easy for other people, and I just can’t seem to get my body to do what I want it to do, and what I know it CAN do.
I know that I ran my best race out there. I trained hard, I pre-hydrated, I tapered, I paced the first half correctly, and then I ran so hard I passed out at the finish. I gunned it at the end when I thought I had nothing left for a 40 second PR. So I am proud of myself for how I ran. I’m just extremely disappointed with how it all panned out and that after a year of hard work, and KNOWING that I am a much better, stronger and faster runner, I can’t get a time to reflect that.
I feel defeated, and I feel like the marathon has chewed me up and spit me out. But I love this sport, so I will endure.