Now that I have returned to the world of people who can walk normally and go down stairs without cringing, I felt like it was time to give you a full run down of my day at the Tobacco Road Marathon.
I QUALIFIED FOR THE BOSTON MARATHON!!!!!!!!!!
Very long version:
Race weekend started Friday night with a relaxing night in. Ross left that Friday morning for a business trip in Asia, so I was on my own. I planned a date with a frozen vegetarian burrito, huge bottle of water, and reruns of “Grey’s Anatomy” on Netflix. I know, wild night, huh? And in case you were wondering, when Ross is out of town, yes my meals do consist predominately of frozen foods or meals that can be prepared in under 15 minutes. Just so there is no question about who is the cook in our family…
Saturday the goal was to stay off my feet as much as possible to rest up for the big smack down that would be the race on Sunday (do people still say “smack down?”). I went to the race expo early in the day, picked up my race bib and parking pass, and quickly made a lap by all the tables and vendors. I already had everything I needed for the marathon, so it was more for curiosity sake than anything else.
Mom and Larry got into town late afternoon and we had a delicious carb-o-load pasta dinner at The Boot in Durham. Eggplant parmesan was exactly what the
doctor runner ordered. And a trip to Local Yogurt for chocolate peanut butter frozen yogurt with crumbled Reese’s cups. I offered Larry my last few bites (I was pretty stuffed from the eggy-parm) but he responded that in several hours I would be 20 miles deep in a long run and I would wish I had that frozen yogurt. I agreed… and licked the bowl clean.
We turned in early, and in a blink of an eye my alarm went off at 3:45 a.m. (which is just a gross hour to set an alarm for). I went through my normal long run morning routine of water, banana, water, PBJ sandwich, water, get dressed, water, until we left the house at 4:50. It was a quick 30 minute drive over to Cary, and thankfully traffic was light (imagine that at 5:00 a.m. on a Sunday!).
It was quite chilly at the pre-race tent area, and I was so, so, so thankful I had “splurged” and bought the race day parking pass last minute on Craigslist a few days prior. Folks without a parking pass (hundreds of runners and spectators) had to park at a satellite lot and ride a shuttle over, before shuffling around in the cold for an hour plus, until the race started. The logistics were well-planned and it looked like everything went quite smoothly, but I was so happy to be able to hang out in the car (in between frequent trips to the porta potty) and stay warm.
At 6:15 Mom, Larry and I said are good-byes and I trudged over to the massive crowd of shuffling bodies while they headed off to get in position to spectate. Mom’s good luck message was “Don’t run too fast. Just take it easy. I will see you soon! I’ll be the one with the poster!” I am not sure if she was being completely serious or ironically funny (it can be hard to tell with us sometimes) but I laughed and joined the swarms of anxious starters. I looked for the Pace Group signs to find the corral I wanted to start with, and was able to push up to the 3:25 group. I knew this was an extremely optimistic place to start, but it was all part of my race strategy.
(Now is where you ask me what my race strategy was….)
Well since you asked, I will tell you exactly what my race strategy was! :)
Most (like 95%) of coaches, training guides, and running articles will tell you that the most healthy and effective way to race is by negative splitting (which means your last half of of the race should be faster than the first, and you are gradually getting faster the longer you run). The reasoning behind this has a lot to do with how your body burns energy, fatigue, and so forth. I get it, I really, really do. But…. I suck at it. I am what I call an “excited runner.” Whether it is a race I have been training towards for months or just a long-run with friends that I have been building miles for, I tend to jump out of the gate like a prize pony at the Kentucky Derby, ready to go go go go go. And somewhere along the way, I ease into a rhythm, stay fairly consistent for a bulk of the miles, perhaps clock a couple of slower than pace miles towards the end, before I kick it back up a notch at the end. So usually my fastest miles are my first few, and usually the very last one. It’s a weird way to run, but it has always worked for me.
So, my plan was to kick off with the 3:25 pace group, bank some time when I was excited in the beginning, hope to goodness to hold on to that speed for as long as I could, then hang on for dear life as I burned through all the energy I would have for the last few miles. I joked with my friends before the race that there was a good chance I was going to qualify for Boston, but there was a good chance that I would blow up and wouldn’t even finish the race. But I was going in ready to give it 100% of my all, and hope I didn’t bust along the way.
When they rang the bell signally our start, we all took off across the line. I made sure to completely lift up my outer layer shirt so that my bib would be completely exposed and would register as I crossed the start line (and thus leaving no shadow of a doubt to creep in 17 miles later). My watch was calculating nicely, so I was happy as a clam. Except that the race started up a hill, and it really hurt. I was a little nervous when our first half a mile was way over pace (which is pretty normal as you shuffle through the crowds at the start), so I kicked it up a notch to get away from the masses. Somewhere in the starting herd, I passed the 3:25 Pace Group.
Without a Pace Group to guide me, I was on my own to gauge my speed (which I wasn’t too worried about since I had done all of my long runs this training cycle on my own). But in the absence of a Pacer, I started playing a mental game with myself. I needed to run at a 8:12 per mile pace to hit 3:35:00 which is the Boston Marathon qualifying time for my age group. However, if I actually wanted to have a chance at running Boston, I needed to be closer to the 3:30 – 3:33 time frame, which was around 8:00 pace. So I convinced myself that I needed to run a 7:50 pace, and added every mile below that pace to my bank of extra time. It may sound silly, but I was totally able to “convince” myself that this was the reality when it was in the heat of the race (since 70% of running is a mental effort anyway).
After a couple of miles on the open road, we hit the Tobacco Trail a bit passed mile 2. I was on the look-out for Mom and Larry, unsure as to where they would pop up along the way. By mile 3 I had stripped off my outer long sleeve shirt, but I was hesitant to toss it. You see, the long sleeve I was wearing was my lucky race shirt. It was an old, grungy, stained long sleeve shirt that had started every single half and full marathon with me. And every race I was prepared to toss it and never see it again, but every race it somehow found it’s way back to me (most notably was the Crystal Coast Half Marathon a couple of years ago… I tossed the shirt at mile 2, and some kind spectator took it to the post-race party and it was the first thing I saw once I hit the finish line, sitting on the side of the road.) So, by this point, this shirt and I had a good thing going, and I really didn’t want to separate from it. So for a couple of miles, I ran, water bottle in one hand (packed with energy gels), and a long sleeve shirt wadded up in the other hand. It wasn’t really the most energy-efficient way I have ever ran, but I didn’t really mind. Around mile 4 we passed an aid station and one of the volunteers shouted “Wow! You are running carrying your shirt?!” I didn’t really think it was that amazing, but his comment made me smile, and gave me the encouragement that I was doing the right thing by keeping a hold of my lucky shirt.
The race was set up as T-shape with two out and backs on the American Tobacco Trail. By the time I got to around mile 7 the race leaders were starting back towards me on the trail. The (insanely competitive) racer in me decided to count the females that passed me by the time I got to the turn around. By mile 8 turn around point, I was still in the top 20 females. My friends Ashley and Nestor were at the turn around cheering and snapping pictures, so tossed them my lucky shirt, gave them a big smile and started off in the other direction.
Miles 8 – 19 were a straight shot down the south end of the American Tobacco Trail. I was a little nervous about this section because it was a long straight stretch that wasn’t overly entertaining. But I kept taking it one mile at time, and tried to just focus on staying on pace for that one mile. At mile 12 I still felt pretty strong and was making really good time and putting a lot of extra seconds in my “bank.” I realized I was going to be really close to breaking my half marathon goal for the year (a sub 1:40 half) and decided to go for it. I know… I should NOT have been worried about my half marathon split, and I should have been focused on the bigger picture. But, I argued, if I didn’t get the marathon time I wanted, at least I would get my half goal, so I went for it. My watch clocked a 1:39:48 half, beating my half marathon PR by 32 seconds.
My next group of friendly faces were around the 14 mile marker, with cheers from Mom, Larry, and some awesome Bull City Running Company ladies. Mom had her homemade race poster, complete with another embarrassing selfie picture I had sent her months ago. I have really got to stop sending her those…
In a couple of miles my pace started easing back and I began looking for my next spectator support. I strategically placed my lovely supporters throughout the course at places where I thought I would need them the most. Laura, my training buddy from Richmond, was there to yell for me at Mile 16, which was the boost I needed to get me to the far south turn around, where Ashley and Nestor surprised me again.
Around this time the 3:25 pace group passed me, which was totally expected but still a little deflating. I knew I was slowing down, but was trying to hold on to any speed I had left. Mile 18 had been a sluggy 8:28 pace, which wasn’t terrible, but I knew I couldn’t fall into this pace and still hope to qualify. Mile 19 I picked back up to 7:57, but somewhere in there I started to fade. I had 7 miles to go, and I was starting to panic. Miles 20 – 24 were not pretty. My time was way off, and I started questioning whether or not I was going to make it in under 3:35. The 3:30 pace group passed me at mile 23 and I started to freak out. The 3:35 group was still a good ways behind me, but I knew I needed to be close to that 3:30 group if I had hopes of actually running at Boston next year. I later realized that the 3:30 group was running faster than their goal pace, but at the time I was afraid I was watching my qualifying dreams jog away in a bright yellow shirt.
When I hit mile 24 I knew I had to go. We were off the trail, back on the open road, and it was all or nothing. I kept visualizing the map I had made obsessive notes on for the days leading up to the race, and on mile 24 I had written GO! in large letters. If I wanted to qualify for Boston, I had to take off, and I had to do it now. I started picking up the pace, and when I rounded the corner at about 24.5, my cousins Peter and Cara were there yelling and jumping up and down. I had no idea they were coming to the race, and was totally surprised to see them. They ran behind me for the next mile, occasionally yelling out “Wooo Katie! Yay Katie!” which gave me the push I needed to get to mile 26 and the down hill finish.
Rounding the last corner I saw my sister-in-law, brother-in-law, and nephew, my mom running beside me, and Laura biking ahead. I just had to sprint the last 0.2 miles. At this point I had no idea what my final time was going to be, unsure if my watch was completely correct. I figured it was going to be close.
When I crossed over the finish line, I checked the clock and was shocked… 3:30:34. I had qualified for Boston. I had gotten a PR by 9 minutes. I was exhausted.
After congratulations pictures, obligatory ringing of the victory bell (once for my BQ and once for my PR), and sweaty hugs for all my friends and family, we made our way to the recovery area. I got in line to get my results, and Laura jumped in next to me. She seemed antsy. The rest of my fan club/family was no where to be seen. I told the officials my bid number and waited. They checked the results, passed the computer to the next official, and waited. After a minute they wrote down my time, and said “congratulations you qualified!” I already knew that based on the race clock time, but hearing it out loud from a race official was really cool. At that point Laura let out a huge sigh of relief and told me that my bib didn’t live track. It had registered that I hit the 3.4 mile marker, but they hadn’t gotten any live updates on me after that. My mom was terrified that my bib hadn’t tracked again, and I would be devastated. I don’t know why the live tracking didn’t work (I am cursed perhaps) but the official results came in, so crisis averted.
I have to be a bit more long-winded and say thank you (again) to the wonderful people who made me feel so special on race day. I know for a fact I would not have reached my goals without your support – you are amazing:
- To my Mom and LarBear: thank you for putting up with my obsessive training, high-set goals, and crazy race moods. You two are my favorite spectators.
- To Ashley and Nestor: you get running… and you get me. That’s rare. Thank you for surprising me multiple times on the course as paparazzi and for taking the best finish line video. (Ashley was crying while she was cheering… it’s priceless.)
- To Laura: thank you for riding your bike up and down the ATT and for supporting me in my BQ journey. You knew it was a long shot, but you knew I could do it. You’re next my friend.
- To Cara and Peter, thank you for being my running cheer squad for the last big push. You had me smiling at a time when my whole body hurt and I wanted to sit down and cry.
- To Courtney, Matt, Ty, Sky, Mama G, and Mr. B: thank you for being such supportive in-laws and for representing the Bowden name in Ross’s absence. Y’all make a girl feel real special.
- And to all of my friends and family who sent messages, texts, and calls… thank you for supporting me in this crazy journey. I am so proud to know each of you.
So that my friends is the magical day that I qualified for Boston. I have some more post-race feelings to share, but that will have to be another post for another day. I am pretty sure you are tired of reading at this point, and I know I am surely tired of typing. That’s all for now!