Sunday, June 7, 2015

I FINALLY DID THE THING: Rockford Marathon BQ!

*Re-posted from my running blog, Robot Lady Runner. Because I'm sharing it everywhere.




The entire week leading up to Rockford Marathon I kept five different weather tabs open on my laptop. Every time there was a lull in whatever I was working on, or if I hadn't checked in the past oh, 30 minutes or so I would click over to them and go down the line:




I thought someone must be playing some kind of cruel joke on me by forecasting 40 degree temperatures on race morning. Obviously, this was going to change and I would be slogging through unbearable heat and humidity (or both) like I expected when I registered for the race.

It wasn't until Friday afternoon when the temperature in Milwaukee started to take a sharp nosedive that I started to actually believe that this thing could possibly go my way.  I mean, the only missing piece to my puzzle was the weather, right? I felt like if I couldn't pull this race off when everything tipped in my favor then I really had no excuses left.

I drove to Rockford on Saturday afternoon so I could pick up my race packet. They do have race day pick up but I was antsy, and I wanted to make extra triple sure I had been switched from the half to the full marathon like I requested. Pickup at the Clock Tower was super no-frills and I was in and out in probably 5 minutes flat. (Bonus: The postcards we sent for the PNC Milwaukee Running Festival were in the bags!) 

I still had some time to kill before I needed to meet my dad for dinner so I decided to drive down to the race start. On the way I stopped at a nifty t-shirt shop called Rockford Art Deli and picked up an "I Heart Illinois" sweatshirt with Abe Lincoln and the Sears Tower on it. (Yes, I can totally love both Illinois and Wisconsin and no you can't stop me.) Once I was down there I thought, why not drive the course? I certainly didn't want a repeat of th course shenanigans at the Chitown Half Marathon in April. I pulled the map up on my phone and drove most of it (except for the parts it hops on the bike path.) This made me feel good because I was also able to scope out the long uphill stretch I was concerned about. It didn't look too bad driving it but because the course was 2 loops I knew the second time through this section would hurt. 

Course Exhibit A

When I got back to just before the finish, I pulled my car over at the top of the hill at what would be mile 26 and tried to visualize coming down the last stretch seeing the clock at 3:3X:XX. It may sound hippy dippy but it felt like something I needed to do.

The rest of the evening was pretty standard pre-marathon stuff: Pasta dinner at Capri (a classic Rockford Italian restaurant) with my dad, brother and sister-in-law, followed by general race prep fussing and bed by 9pm at my dad's house. I set my alarm for 4am since the race started at 6 and I like to have plenty of time to eat, drink coffee and get ready. Lights out.


Obviously I woke up and went to the bathroom about a half dozen times and eventually woke up about 5 minutes before my alarm at 3:55. I wasn't tired at all. The first thing I did was check my tweets and texts and saw this from Jason (who was back in Milwaukee with the girls.)

Something about that really struck me and I kept thinking about it. (Pssst. Foreshadowing.)

I got ready in about 15 minutes and basically just waited around for coffee to clear out my system before going. (Truth.)  During this time I got a message from my good friend Shiow in Chicago and she informed me that her plans for the day were canceled and that the would be coming in to cheer for me! I sent her the proper cheer coordinates and felt pretty excited since I thought no one would be there on the course. My dad also woke up and paced around with me even though he swore up and down he would never get up this early. He told me he would drive down to see me at the finish later and I was out the door at 5am.

General pre-race stuff. Blah blah. I dropped my bag at the start and stretched a bit. It was cold! Awesome. I think it was about 44 degrees- although clouds would have been nice. One thing I definitely noticed was the wind coming pretty strong out of the north. I got a text from my friend Chris warning me about the wind projected for the day and he told me to tuck in behind other runners and draft in a headwind. I wondered how much I would be able to do this at a small race? I was a tad worried about this development.

Onward. So this event is super low key. They call it a "runner's race" but sometimes I think that's just code for "cheap?" This would be my fifth time running it and although it's always pretty well organized and full of great volunteers, it's still very, very no frills. Last year they didn't put on the marathon at all (only the half and 10K due to money issues) so this was the first year back for the full. This year there was no one announcing anything at the start until about 2 minutes before the race started. Not even an national anthem? Weird. Somebody just picked up a mic a minute before 6am and counted us down. Ok then. We were off!

Oh hey, I guess I'm doing this again. After 22 weeks of training and a DNF 4 weeks ago. I was so excited that I didn't realize that my Garmin didn't actually start when I pressed it. Balls! When I finally got it started I wasn't sure how many seconds had went by. (Pssst. More foreshadowing.) I tried not to let this bother me too much though and began to settle in. My strategy this time was to play it super conservative. The first 6 miles were going to be going north, directly into the wind I was worried about earlier- and also a steady uphill for about 2 of those miles. The week leading up to the race I was considering going for a 3:35 based on my training but in the end I decided there was no way I was going to risk bonking again so my plan was to aim for just under a 3:40- about 3:38ish. I decided I would go out at an 8:15 pace for at least the first 13 miles and re-evaluate there. The cool weather made the pace feel pretty ok but because of the wind and the uphill I wouldn't call it "easy." Still I felt optimistic! We always do in the first 6 miles right?

On the way north on the first loop I was lucky to tuck in behind some half marathoners. The were chatting and having fun and I was right behind them trying to shield myself from the wind. I felt like I was dealing with it ok andI kept telling myself it would all pay off on the way back south when I would have the wind at my back. I managed the 2 mile climb without faltering but I knew it would be a killer on the second loop. 

Course Exhibit B

Around mile 7 or so we crossed the river and headed back south. I was surprised that i didn't immediately feel a strong tailwind at my back to balance everything out. Lame! The air did feel super calm though so at least I didn't have the wind in my face anymore. Also, I was going to see Shiow at mile 12! I took this opportunity to guzzle the rest of the water in my handheld. I figure if I had a friend to refill for me I would take advantage of it. There was no way I was going to end up a dehydrated mess like I did in Kenosha four weeks ago. Around this time I saw a woman with a sign that said "What Would Harry Potter Do?" Honestly I was confused. I thought about yelling "Accio Finish Line!" at her but decided to save my energy. 

This stretch of the course is the best since most of it is on a bike path right next to the river. It's super pretty and FLAT and there are people around to cheer you on at various points. And then I saw Shiow! She has cheered for me at multiple races (where I've failed to meet my goal- womp) but she always wears a bright tomato red hoodie that I can see from far away. When I saw the hoodie I pumped my fist in the air. Woooooooo! She ran beside me and asked me how I was doing and I said pretty good, but would she refill my bottle for me before I saw her again at 18. 

Rockford's "Symbol" sculpture. Being symbolic of something. (No I did not take this during the actual race.)

She took off and I felt like I got a huge boost. Although this section of the course was great I felt like the second loop was looming hard- especially that hard trip back north into the wind. Seeing Shiow got me energized and I trucked onward, passing the half marathon mark in 1:48:19. Nice, but I didn't have a lot of wiggle room if I slowed down. (Ahem. Foreshadowing.)

So here I was re-evaluating my pace at the half. I felt pretty good but I also didn't want to risk speeding up when I knew miles 13-18 were going to be the uphill/windy section again. After the half marathoners finish it get's pretty desolate at this race too so I wouldn't have any one to draft off of. I decided to stick with an 8:15-ish pace and check back in again when we hit the turnaround. 

This was wise. The second time out was exactly what I expected. The hills felt hillier and the wind felt winder. Luckily I don't mind races where I'm alone because that's pretty much what it was like. I always had someone on sight ahead of me but I was never running "with" anyone after this point. I allowed myself to slow just a bit during miles 15 and 17 since these where the more significant inclines. I figured I could make it up when we hit a big downhill at 18.5. I saw Shiow again at the top of the larger hill before 18 and she handed me my water bottle back. Backstory: this is where I dropped out in Kenosha so it felt awesome to grab the water bottle and shout that I was going to do this thing! Shiow wooo-ed at me and said she was headed to the finish and I made my way to the glorious glorious downhill.

Mile 19.5 I finally got to turn away from the wind and head south towards the finish. Only about an hour left to go! Ooof. This was when I hoped to kick it into another gear and sail to a 3:35-3:36ish finish but.... waaaah. Maybe the wind took more out of me than I expected or maybe it just wasn't meant to be. Whatever. I couldn't speed up but I was going to try like hell to hold on to whatever I had left. I started thinking about that tweet from Jason. I kept saying to myself, "TODAY IS FOR YOU." Because eff missing my goal again! Today was my day whether it wanted to be or not. I was going to MAKE THAT SHIT HAPPEN. 

Again, where was my tailwind? Those last 6 miles of racing a marathon are going to feel like a butt no matter what. Maybe the tailwind was there but I didn't feel it. At this point I was clinging to whatever I had left. When I got to mile 22 I was pretty sure I had enough of a buffer to still get a 3:38 as long as I ran under 8:45 minute miles but dammit math is not what my brain was wanting to do right now. Also, I had no idea how many extra seconds my Garmin didn't pick up at the begining of the race. I passed a few runners who were fading and walking so that part felt good but overall I was so stressed out over the math at this point that I just kept pumping my arms and repeating my mantra: TODAY. TODAY IS FOR YOU.

After mile 25 we left the bike path and headed down the final, long stretch of road. It's flat and long except for the part where you can see the hill waaaay down at the end leading up to mile 26. It's one of those hills that would never really feel like a hill except for when you've run 26 miles beforehand. As I slogged my way up the hill the final song on my playlist came on. OH SHIT. If this song ended then I knew it was all over. (Lyrics: The clock keeps turning, the world keeps burning, it's life and death, we won't rest, 'til we're dust and bones...) I was pretty sure I had enough time but those last tenths of a marathon seem like an eternity. Also my Garmin was now 2 tenths of a mile ahead of the mile markers so DAMMIT MORE MATH. At the top of the hill at mile 26 (where my Garmin said 26.2 thankyouverymuch) I saw a girl with a sign that said "Touch Here For Power" with a big green button drawn on it. I slapped the cardboard button with one hand and then took my now empty water bottle and spiked it on the ground in a fury. I didn't want a single ounce of extra weight as I turned the corner and ran towards the finish. 

I rounded the corner and although I couldn't make out the clock just yet I could see Shiow's red hoodie in the distance! I punched my hand up in the air and sailed down the hill. 

As I approached got closer to the finish Shiow came out into the street and started running next to me, screaming: "GOOOOOOOOOOOOO!" She started dropping names of everyone who was cheering for me back at home: JASON AND SARA AND ROCHELLE ARE ALL CHEERING FOR YOU! GOOOOO! I still had probably another tenth of a mile to go and I shouted back, "WHY IS IT SO FAR AWAY?" Seriously we must have been the most ridiculous thing. I would pay so much money for a photo of this moment. (There was no official race photographer at this event. Mega-womp.) 

Anyway, the clock finally came into focus for me and it made sense why she was screaming. It said something like 3:39:XX! I was baaaaarely going to squeak this sucker in. ( I know, I can't handle the drama either.) I stared straight ahead and pushed those last couple strides out to cross the finish at 3:39:41! 

We might have won the Loudest Finish Award.

I immediately put my hands on my knees in shock that it was finally over. There was someone there snapping a bunch photos of me and it was honestly very overwhelming. (I need to figure out who this person was- I was told there was no "official" photographer but I now for a fact someone was there taking pictures of the finishers.) My knees buckled for a second and I put my hands on the ground and tried to catch my breath. I looked to my right and my dad was standing right there waiting for me! I pulled my emotional mess of a self together and went over to him and Shiow shouting, "I did it! By this much- but I did it!"

My dad and me!

Now here's the kicker: Although my time technically qualifies me for the Boston Marathon, a 3:39:41 most definitely won't be good enough to allow me to actually register for the 2016 race. They take the fastest qualifiers first and work backwards until the race fills up. Historically "BQ squeakers" don't get in. BAH. This means Im still going to have to qualify harder again at another race. (Most likely Lakefront Marathon again, which will then qualify me for 2017.) At first this might seem a little bittersweet but honestly nothing can take away from the high I felt at that last moment when I knew all my hard work was going to finally pay off down that last stretch of pavement. Even if I don't run Boston in 2016 I KNOW I DID IT. I really did it! And the long drawn out story of trying/failing/trying/failing only intensifies how accomplished I feel about finally reaching my goal. Looking back at my splits I could hem and haw over where could have gone faster but the truth is I could not have run one bit faster that I did in those last 4 miles. I left every last thing out there on the course so there's no point in second guessing things.

Exhibit C

Never ever ever when I started running did I think I would qualify for the Boston Marathon. When I finished my first marathon 5 years ago in 4:26 it never even entered my mind that it would be something I could someday do. When I ran my first sub-4 marathon it never was something I considered. When it took me 2+ years to whittle my time down to a 3:50 it still seemed like a complete fantasy. Something about Chicago Marathon in 2013 though lit a fire in me and I can't quite explain why. All I know is that I'm so glad it did.

And now I get to experience yet another awesome moment when I smash my 3:39 into oblivion this fall. :)