Yesterday I turned 45. And I ran a marathon. My 33rd marathon, but the only marathon (or race, for that matter) that I've ever done on the day of my birthday.
I was supposed to run the Marine Corps Marathon two weeks ago, but 16 days out I developed hip pain which resulted in two weeks of almost no running. Just some 2-3 mile runs here and there to "test" it out. Two visits to the doctor and cortisone shots eventually cleared things up but it wasn't 100% in the days leading up to the race, so I decided it wasn't smart to run it. Plus, the weather ended up being quite warm (so much so that they shut down the race early) and I would have likely switched to Richmond anyway. So it was going to be Richmond regardless, but the hip pain meant two straight weeks of nearly no running.
I had only run the Richmond one time before, in 2007. It was my 5th marathon and my first sub-4:00 marathon. I remembered it well, though, thanks to my detailed blog post. As my first sub-4:00 marathon, it carried good memories. I had also set PRs at the half marathon there in 2008 and 2015.
During the hip saga, I was headed down a dark path and I turned things around by truly letting go of any time expectation for a fall marathon. My goal became to simply run a marathon healthy and without hip pain, fully accepting that it might be one of my slower races. Letting go and truly embracing the marathon as an experience instead of a goal was mentally refreshing and really lightened my mood.
When I'm training for a marathon, much of the motivation to crank out the hard workouts comes from the desire to run a fast race. Otherwise, why would be I out there running hard tempos or long track workouts? Switching my mindset from "I am highly motivated to run a fast marathon" to "I just want to have fun" was a big shift in attitude, but one that had to happen.
Getting back at it
One of the benefits of taking so much time off was that I was really fresh when it came to do my last long run. Once my hip started to feel better, I was able to crank out 17.4 miles with some marathon pace work and have it feel totally manageable. However, this resulted in some serious DOMS (Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness) for the next 3 days since it was a shock to my system. I was familiar with this after my Boston Marathon fiasco last year. I took 9 days off shortly before Boston for an SI Joint issue and when I finally did a hard long run, my legs were really sore. So I knew this was no cause for concern.
11 days out from the marathon, on Halloween, I decided to run some mile repeats at 10K effort. I coached myself for this marathon, and I know that faster-than-lactate-threshold workouts are a weakness of mine, but extremely effective when I do them. I had just included marathon pace miles in my long run, so I thought this would be a good sharpening workout. I was targeting 6:45 for the repeats but didn't look at my Garmin for pacing. Running by feel, I ran 6:41, 6:34, 6:30 and they all felt like 6:45. This meant that I was in better shape than I had believed myself to be in. Wow. And my legs were still sore from the long run too.
7 days out from the marathon I did my last long run: 11.11 miles. I ran it as a progression run starting at the slow end of my easy zone and ending at the fast end of my easy zone. The entire run felt effortless with the first mile clocking in at 9:05 and the last 4 miles at 7:52, 7:47, 7:44, 7:50. I honestly couldn't believe how easy those paces felt. I was peaking for sure.
On Monday, 5 days out from the marathon, I decided to wear my race shoes for my final speed work, which would be 5 x 3:00 at half marathon effort. My plan was to wear the same shoes I wore in Houston (the adidas Adios Pro 2) as they only had 38 miles on them and they worked well there. However, I turned around and came home after running a mile out because my feet were slipping and sliding all around in the shoe. They were too big! How was that possible?
So then I tested another pair of the Adios Pro 2, the ones I wore in Boston 2022, and those also felt too big. I had one pair that was a half size smaller, but those shoes had too many miles on them for me to want to race a marathon in them. I then pulled a brand new pair of the New Balance Fuel Cell Elite 2, which is last year's model of the shoe. I heard many people say that version 3 of this shoe had issues and everyone liked version 2 so much better. So I bought a pair of version 2 and stashed it in my closet so I wouldn't even need to try the 3.
I put them on my feet and they fit perfectly. I ran 3 sets of 3:00 at half marathon pace and I felt zippy. Compared to the Adios Pro, they have a much softer landing and the fit is more locked in. I generally prefer the Adios Pro because they are more responsive and seem to have more pickup. But then I remembered my reason for running: to have fun. So what if these shoes weren't quite as fast? They were still fast and definitely faster than the shoes I wore when I ran my 3:15 PR, which did not have a carbon fiber plate.
The fact that they matched my planned outfit perfectly was a sign that it was meant to be. And having comfortable shoes might trump having faster shoes during those later miles. Usually I like to break shoes in a bit more before using them in a marathon, but I didn't have time for that.
The weirdest expo ever
Greg and I drove down to Richmond the day before the race with my friend Laurena. Laurena and I worked together nearly 20 years ago and hadn't seen each other since. But we stayed in touch and she reached out when she saw I was running Richmond. The drive down 95 was traffic-laden but the time went by so quickly because Laurena and I had 20 years to catch up on.
|Laurena and me after the expo|
I can't even imagine how uncomfortable the vendors must have been in the cold and if other runners were like us, they didn't want to spend a ton of time there visiting the various booths. They had some featured speakers too and they were in an outdoor, uncovered space.
I do not understand why the expo wasn't held at the convention center that was literally right next to the start line and race hotels. That would have made so much more sense. A more convenient location, climate controlled, more space for the vendors. But for some reason (I have to imagine there is a reason) they haven't held the expo there in all the years I've been running it (2007, 2008, 2012, 2015, 2018).
Food and Fueling
I am making this its own section because I often get asked about my fueling strategy. So here it is, all in one place. (Feel free to skip if this stuff is boring to you!)
I have a history of not being able to get gels down during the later miles of a marathon so it has taken me years to figure out a fueling strategy that works for me.
In the 3 days leading up to the race I tracked my water intake to ensure at least 60 ounces of water each day. I would have aimed for even high if the race was forecast to be warmer. I have a smart water bottle that tracks my hydration on an app. I used two packs of Uppermost Hydration each day on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday. I like the ways this hydration mix tastes and it has the added benefit of B and C vitamins.
I did not carb load per-se, but I was mindful of what I ate and I made sure to eat carbohydrate-rich foods. Some examples are oatmeal, bagels, muffins, rice, pretzels. Pretty basic!
The day before the race I ate the following:
- 2 hardboiled eggs
- A medium-sized pumpkin muffin
- A turkey sandwich on a plain bagel with goat cheese
- A banana
- Lots of almond butter filled pretzels (Wegman's brand) - seriously a lot of these!
- Drank about 8 ounces of beet juice just before noon
- Had a beet salad with dinner
- Chicken parm (no cheese) with spaghetti and Pomodoro sauce at local restaurant
- Bread basket at dinner
2 hours before the race start:
- About 10 ounces of fluids (water + Skratch Labs Hydration)
- About 6-8 almond butter filled pretzels
- Half a banana
|All the fuel I brought, actual intake outlined below.|
- Strawberry banana UCAN gel with 5-6 ounces of water. UCAN is a slow release energy so if you take it 25-30 minutes before start time it kicks in when the race starts and slowly releases energy. Maurten gels, on the other hand, deliver a burst of energy right when you take them.
Once I started racing:
I carried a 24 ounce bottle of water + Skratch Labs Hydration mix. This mix has electrolytes + carbs. I used 1.25 scoops which equates to 100 calories. After each mile marker: I took a small (1-2 ounce) sip from my bottle. I drank the entire bottle and was finished with it after 16 miles.
At mile 20, I took water from a water station and drank that while walking for 4-5 seconds. I probably got a good 4 ounces in. I had no other fluids after mile 20, which was fine for a cool day. I used this same strategy in Houston with warm temps and I ended up dehydrated.
I timed my gels as follows:
- 0:20- 2 Honey Stringer chews
- 0:40- Maurten gel
- 1:20- Maurten gel
- 2:00- Maurten CAF gel (my only caffiene)
- 2:40 - Maurten gel
- 3:00 - One honey stinger chew
Everything went down easily. I estimate that I consumed around 600 calories including the UCAN gel, Maurten gels, chews, and Skratch mix.
This could have been its own blog post but I like to write novel-length marathon race reports, so it's here.
It was 38 degrees at the start and warmed up to around 52 by the finish. Winds were 2-5 mph and there were only a few times I noticed wind, mostly over the big bridge. The sky was mostly cloudy at the start and the sun started peaking though towards the end. It was quite humid in the beginning so 38 degrees felt more like 45 degrees - and Kathy and Greg agreed with this "real feel. On my personal weather scale it gets a 9 out of 10. It would have been a 10 if it stayed under 45 degrees and it was less humid. But 9 out of 10 is pretty darn good weather!
Based on how great my training runs felt leading up to the race I knew my fitness was still intact. So I did not revise my goal from what I had originally planned for MCM: sub-3:20. This would be a men's BQ for age 45-49. The last time I ran sub 3:20 was in the fall of 2021 so I figured I should try to do that again before going for a PR (3:15:34). My marathon pace runs had averaged 7:25 for marathon pace, but I'm not bold enough to go for the marathon pace I run in training as it has never worked out for me. I thought 7:30-7:35 would be more realistic. I figured if I had a good day, I would run my second fastest marathon ever and it would be 3:17-3:18.
Additionally, I am registered for Boston in 2024. I used my 3:26 from Houston as my qualifying time. I thought that time might put me in wave three, which has a later start time. I wanted to submit a faster time to get back into wave 2 like I usually am. If you run a time faster than the time you registered with, Boston allows you to submit it for a faster wave/corral assignment.
Before the Race
I hadn't slept particularly well all week due to my body clock being "off" from daylight savings. I have a very rigid circadian rhythm and if it gets disrupted my sleep suffers. Thankfully I learned from CIM that you can have epically horrible sleep and still run well, so I was not concerned. The night before the race I got about six hours of mostly peaceful sleep. I went to bed at 8:20, woke up at 9:30 to go to the bathroom, slept from 9:45 to 2:00. And from 2:00-4:00 I was mostly awake but had some brief periods of sleep. I did not have any anxiety dreams about missing the race or any dreams about the race at all, which is rare.
I got out of bed at 5:00 and started eating (see above). I got dressed, which included putting body glide everywhere to avoid chafing. I also used a body marker to write on my arms which miles had the most uphill and which miles had the most downhill. That way I knew not to worry if I was going slower on the uphill portions or seemingly "too fast" when running downhill. I ultimately ran the race based on effort/feel, but it was nice to have a little guide of what to expect.
It was my 45th birthday. So the birthday text messages were already rolling in! I tried to minimize the time I spent on my phone so I could focus on getting ready and ensuring I had everything I needed. All of my fuel fit in my shorts pockets. For the honey stinger chews, I removed them from their package and wrapped them in tiny pieces of plastic wrap. The chews were mostly meant to be a backup plan in case I couldn't get the gels down. But they would also serve as supplemental energy as tolerated.
I left my hotel room at 6:30 and met my friend Kathy in the lobby. We chatted and that's when I had my UCAN gel. Shortly after we left the hotel and headed towards the start line. I tried to run there for a warmup but that was short lived because it became too crowded. Oh well, I would use the first mile as a warmup.
I lined up in the corral between the 3:10 pacers and the 3:25 pacers. There was no pace group for 3:20 or 3:15. I was happy about that because I don't run with pace groups and I find it annoying to be caught up in the big pack of runners. Since I was trying to run a time of around 3:18, I figured I should never see a pace group during this race if things went well.
The race seemed to start quite suddenly but I was ready. Mile 1 is always about finding a rhythm, especially since I hadn't warmed up. I go out at what feels like easy run pace and then adjust from there. I was expecting to see Greg at the first mile marker but I ended up seeing him a lot sooner. No worries, I was able to gracefully weave through the runners to greet him on the side of the course.
A lot of people have conversations early in the race so eavesdropping is unavoidable. It was a nice distraction for me as I focused on their conversations instead of thinking about all the miles ahead of me. I stayed in the present.
Somewhere around miles 4-5 the 3:25 pace group came up from behind me and I found myself caught up in them. I definitely did not want to be in the middle of the pack and even though I was confident in my own pacing, it was still somewhat demoralizing to have a pace group catch you. A 3:25 marathon is a pace of 7:48, and they were running notably faster. I dealt with it by speeding up to get out of the pack and once I felt like I was a good bit ahead of them I slowed back down.
I removed my arm warmers at around mile 5 which was sooner than expected and I ditched my hand warmers not longer after. With temps ranging from 38 to 52, that was my layering strategy.
Mile 1: 7:43
Mile 2: 7:37
Mile 3: 7:32
Mile 4: 7:35
Mile 5: 7:36
Mile 6: 7:36
By this point the crowd had thinned out and I knew that my favorite part of the course was coming up. This portion runs down by the James River and it's quite scenic with all the fall colors. It's peaceful and mostly flat. There were a lot of curves during this section and a small part of torn up pavement. I had to watch my footing and pay attention to the tangents. But thankfully the pavement got better after about half a mile. The shoes were still feeling really comfortable and soft.
As I was running mile 11, I said to the person next to me: it's mile 11 on 11-11 which is also my birthday! Let's make it a good mile! We chatted briefly and he asked me what my time goal was. I said 3:18 and he said 3:20. I lost track of him somewhere around mile 16 an I don't know if that's because I passed him or if he passed me. I wanted to savor every moment of this race. This was my birthday marathon and I almost didn't get to run a marathon due to my hip. I was grateful. I ran the entire race with gratitude.
My splits below reflect the profile of the course. "Gently rolling hills" is an accurate description. None of the hills here were too crazy, but it made of uneven pacing.
Mile 7: 7:17
Mile 8: 7:26
Mile 9: 7:30
Mile 10: 7:43
Mile 11: 7:18
Mile 12: 7:37
Mile 13: 7:18
My half marathon split was 1:38:58, which is an average pace of 7:33. I knew Greg was tracking me and I had told him to expect me in the high 1:38s or the low 1:39s, so I was executing exactly as planned. He later told me that he got no text message or email alerts. The tracking did not work. Oh well, at least I believed it was working and that helped me mentally!
At this point, I was on track to squeak under 3:18. Perfect. I felt really good but I had no idea how I would feel by mile 20 so it was too early to predict if I would be able to get under 3:18 or not. I stayed present and thankful of the fact that I was feeling good now, so I continued on.
I did not turn up the gas intentionally but I got faster anyway. There were a few downhill miles which got me into a faster groove so I ran surprisingly fast during the toughest part of the course which are miles 16, 17 and 18. Those three miles are net uphill and include a bridge that is always windy even on non-windy days. I can easily see how those miles could be the beginning of the end for many runners!
In fact, once we were running over the bridge I didn't even realize we were on the bridge until I looked on either side of the course and noted it was mile 16. By this point I had finished all the water in my handheld bottle. Fueling was going according to plan and so far everything was sitting well.
I knew that Greg would be somewhere in the 18th mile and I found him at 17.5. I was so excited to see him. Before the race he asked me if I could give him some indication of how it was going at that point. I told him I would give him a thumbs up if it was going well. And he got a huge thumbs up from me! I was absolutely beaming. I had never felt so happy during the 18th mile of a marathon.
Mile 14: 7:16
Mile 15: 7:15
Mile 16: 7:39
Mile 17: 7:31
Mile 18: 7:26
Mile 19: 7:20
Mile 20: 7:30
I honestly could not believe how fast I was running. Similar to my mile repeat workout from 10 days earlier, I felt like I was running 7:45s when in reality I was running under 7:30. I think I must have been peaking at exactly the right time. And apparently all that time off from my hip did me some good and left me feeling fresh. I coached myself this training cycle so I gave myself a nice pat on the back for a job well done!
My official mile 20 split was 2:30:16, which is an average pace of 7:31. The tracking system was not working but I didn't know that. It perked me up to know that Greg could see how well it was going.
I hadn't had anything to drink since mile marker 16 so I decided to walk through the next water station. I didn't want to stop again after that so I made sure to drink the entire cup which was probably 4-5 ounces. If it were warmer I would have needed more stops, but thankfully it was a cool day. The sun was starting to come out but it didn't seem to bother me.
I still had no idea what to expect from the rest of the race. Supposedly the last six miles were mostly downhill. But I remembered running the half marathon back in 2018 and it felt like there was still plenty of uphill in the last three miles, which are the same last three miles of the full marathon.
My energy level was high and my spirits were high. I couldn't believe I was still going strong. Every time I glanced down at my watch my speed would blow my mind. Even though I wasn't on track to PR, I was not running this fast at the end of my PR marathon, which had been a positive split.
Miles 21-24 were magical. These are always the hardest miles of a marathon and they didn't feel nearly as hard as they usually do. Splits were 7:27, 7:13, 7:17, 7:19. UNREAL. I could not believe it.
The thought of getting a PR did cross my mind but I felt like I was very fragile at this point. Like I was so lucky to be doing what I was doing that any change in effort and it would all come crashing down. I was on a good path. No need to drastically shake things up.
Mile 25 and 26 were the only truly hard miles of the race. My legs got achy and I was on autopilot. I didn't have much control over my speed, I just went with whatever I was given! I knew I was on track to crush my goal so I focused on taking it all in and remembering that marathons are what I love to do! I spend so much time and effort every day out of the year to prepare for this one day, this one moment. Mile 25 clocked in at 7:37 and mile 26 at 7:20.
I saw Greg just before mile marker 26. He snapped some photos and I knew the end was close!
Richmond is known for its screaming downhill finish. Once you get to mile marker 26, the run to the finish line is a very steep downhill. I increased my cadence and let gravity do its thing. According to my Garmin, the last 0.31 miles was a pace of 6:11!
My official time was 3:16:04. This earned my 4th place in my new age group 45-49.
It wasn't long before I vomited. For the past four years I have thrown up after every long distance race. It's inevitable. It doesn't mater how well the race goes, my digestive system shuts down. There was A LOT of vomit, but it was all liquid. It was a yellow-green liquid and I am not sure where that color came from. Once I got it all out I proceeded to find Greg.
Before I did, someone stopped me and asked me to sign his copy of Boston Bound. Yes, it was another surreal moment. This person just happened to have his book with him at the finish line. I guess he brought it in hopes of seeing me. He ran a time of 3:10 so I guess he got his checked bag and then saw me. I signed the book for him and it made me so happy that someone brought my book to the finish line!
Greg and I were supposed to meet in the family meeting area, but I did not see that anywhere. I used someone's phone to call him and we eventually found each other. It was there that he told me he had no idea how I did because the tracking wasn't working. But he was able to zoom in on the photos he took of my watch to know it was going well.
It was nearly a mile for us to walk back to the hotel. I was on Cloud 9 the whole time. My legs felt pretty good and nothing was hurting. Truly a rarity post-marathon. Back at the hotel I created my Instagram post and then took a shower. I read my splits to Greg and I was giddy with excitement. 45 was off to a great start.
Here are some fun stats:
- This was my 33rd marathon
- This was my 14th BQ
- I qualified by 33 minutes and 56 seconds
- I qualified "like a man" by 3 minutes and 56 seconds
- This is my biggest BQ cushion ever
- I was 30 seconds slower than my PR of 3:15:34
- This is my second fastest marathon ever
- This is my fastest marathon on a hilly course
- I placed 4 out of 164 women in my age group (45-49)
- First half was 1:38:58, Second half was 1:37:08
- This is a negative split by 1:40
- Miles 22, 23, and 24 were all sub-7:20 and they were relatively flat
- I set a course PR by 40 minutes and 45 seconds; my time from 2007 was 3:56:41
- I beat my Houston time from January by over 10 minutes
- I will now be in wave 2 for Boston instead of wave 3
Everything worked out the way it was meant to. My hip injury was a blessing in disguise because the weather for MCM ended up being warm. And being injured on the cruise allowed me more time to enjoy the cruise instead of running on the treadmill. Once I flipped my mindset from a time goal to simply being grateful for the opportunity to run, then I was able to relax.
- A short training cycle. No runs longer than 16 miles until 12 weeks out.
- Focus more on high volume and less on long runs; no runs longer than 20 miles
- High mileage doesn't wear me out - long runs do.
- I get the biggest training benefit from running slightly faster than LT pace
- Easy runs should be no faster than 9:00 in the summer
- Houston: 3:26 - Too hot and humid
- Two Rivers: 3:19 - Injured during race, slightly overtrained
- Harrisburg - 3:23- Digestive Issues
- CIM - 3:22 - To hot and humid
- Boston: 3:26: Torrential Downpour and 25 mph winds
So much of it comes down to having a good day. Good weather, good fueling, good mindset, low stress other areas of life. It's admittedly been frustrating having had SO MANY cycles when I felt like I was in shape to PR but then the stars didn't align. Even though I technically didn't PR yesterday, I wasn't trying to do that. I still enjoyed that same magical feeling of exceeding expectations and having that race day magic. A PR is really just a technicality. It's my fastest race on hills and I am 45 years old, not 40.
I'm encouraged by this race. I've shown that I can run really fast with self-coaching and through having a positive, relaxed mindset. I enjoyed every moment of this and I am glad I savored it.