NJ Marathon: an analysis

This time last week, I was just getting home from running my first marathon. My stomach was yelling at me and I was replaying the whole morning in my head, with a smile on my face. Now, my legs are no longer sore (but my ITB decided to act up…trying to tell myself it’s fine, the marathon’s over and I’m allowed to rest!), and the high I got from the race has lost its initial intensity. I wanted to write more about the race and what it means in the context of my life as a runner, both past, present, and future. 

May 2011. My view, pretty much every meet in college. Expert lap-counter.

What this really means

If you asked anyone this day last year (when I was celebrating my college graduation with a gift to myself: a brewfest ticket…) if I would run a marathon less than a year later, feel awesome, and qualify for Boston, probably 90% of people I knew would have said no. Not because of willpower, dedication, or talent, but because of luck, or lack thereof. If you’ve read my running story, you know I was not the typical college athlete. There was no guarantee I would start or finish any given season. I tried as hard as I could to prevent getting hurt and every single time I failed, for reasons neither I nor anyone else could figure out. Every spring, after Fridays spent in class, then in the pool sweating out some boring “miles,” the training room, and then the library late into the night, I would pack a bag and head to my car, off to watch my team compete at track meets. I would try to nurse whatever injury I was dealing with at the time on the way, leaving old plastic bags once full of ice all over the floor of the car, Ibuprofen stowed somewhere in case it felt worse from being on my feet at the meet. I would stand on the side, losing my voice cheering for my friends, filling up my watch with split times and my camera with hundreds of race pictures. I would smile and celebrate when the team did well, which was often. I would head back to my car and make the trek back to campus, and each time among the excited thoughts about how everyone ran, there would be a resounding voice that said, why not me? Someday I want to accomplish something like this and not be happy just because everyone else did. This would happen every single weekend, and I would feel further and further away from ever obtaining that feeling. I remember watching my best friend run a provisional time for the 10k on Princeton’s track past 10:00 at night, in the freezing cold, and then breaking down once I was in my car, having no one to talk to about the feeling since it was a strange one: I was excited for him and everyone else, I wasn’t exactly jealous, or selfish, or hopeless. It was hard to understand, and equally hard to deal with. 

March 2010. Not a real bike, but it could have been. Note boot on right side.

The first weekend of May has always been a big one for me as a runner. It is the weekend of my college conference championship meet, as well as my friend’s, which I would often travel to Pennsylvania to watch also. I would drive all over, often with the contents of my dorm in the car, watching all these exciting races happen, and come to terms with the fact that yet another year had gone by and I hadn’t had a chance to do what I wanted to do, with running. I hadn’t had a chance to score points in the 5k, or ride the van back to school after a big win with the team. And I didn’t know why it kept happening. Freshman year, I ran the meet injured and it was quite disastrous. Sophomore year I was injured and was assigned about a dozen duties working the meet because it was at home. Junior year, I drove a couple hours north to watch the meet, injured again. I went right to visit a friend after in some attempt to not let it get to me. It would always be so beautiful outside, the sun shining and the perfect temperature for a PR. By junior year, I could not even imagine having the chance to run an entire spring season, and cool down from my last race thinking how it was time to take a rest before training again. That had not happened to me since 2007. 

Smiling.

Last weekend, I was finally given my chance. I could go on and on about what I did differently to get here, but I’m honestly not totally sure what that is. I took one day at a time. I maxed at 40 miles per week, and that was the week I did my 20-miler. I only ran what I needed to run, and filled in the gaps with anything that would help me recover and stay healthy. In the final half mile of the race, I couldn’t stop smiling (that is actually a smile in the photos…don’t question it). This was my victory lap, it was finally happening. I said what I wanted to do, and went out and did it. Most runners want the race to be shorter at this moment, I imagine. Just let it end. But I had a strange desire to make it last. That did not deter me from bringing it in at sub-7 pace, of course, but I remember thinking about how grateful I was to be here, on this little brick walkway, approaching the finish line of the New Jersey Marathon. Finish lines have not been readily crossed by me, over the last four years. I could finally, finally, be excited about an accomplishment of my own. What’s more, I’m looking forward to doing it all again.

Image

An analysis of my race

So, I ran 3:25:02. At first, I was overjoyed. 3:25 was not even on my radar.* I thought I would run between 3:27 and 3:30. The ladies I ran with until Kate came along ran 3:27:45. I was told to “respect the distance,” and respect it I did. But…I felt pretty darn strong in the last 6.2 miles. I held back until mile 20. I honestly thought I would hit some wall at 21 and count on running miles significantly over eight minutes. It was only logical to think this would happen. But it didn’t. This is very good…but it leaves me thinking I was in shape to run faster. I know Brennan is very intrigued by McMillan’s running calculator. I decided to check it out, and my half marathon time, which I think I ran all-out for my first time, predicts I can run 3:16 and change. Now, that sounds a bit quick. Here is what I do know: 1. I ran 26.57 miles…I know this is normal, but my actual pace would give me 3:22:10 for 26.2 miles. 2. I could have ran every mile 3-5 seconds per mile faster and not bonked. Okay, I don’t know this for sure, but I have a pretty good sense for these things and given the way I felt the first 20 miles and the last 10k, this feels about right. So, next time, I shouldn’t be worried about starting out at 7:4x. That felt incredibly easy at mile 18. 3. I want to finish that way again. Now, I know if I go out faster I risk not feeling that good, but now that I know I can pick it up with 10k to go, I want to use this as experience and repeat it again, regardless of the pace difference. A goal for my next marathon, as of right now just because? 3:20:25 – averaging just under 7:40 per mile. I’d say that’s my B goal. But why am I saying all this now? I’m crazy. 

(*note: I learned that I have to wait two extra days to register for Boston in September since I qualified by 9:57 and not by over 10:00. My crazy self is frustrated by this.)

I think this is my favorite, going to buy it…or tell my mom to?

SO WHAT’S NEXT?!

Well, this week I’ve been:

– Having a pool & gym crisis…this might be resolved soon but for right now I really want to lift and swim and have been simultaneously kind of cheated out of the deal I was getting. Time to get sneaky, friends. Or innovative. Same thing? Sore subject here.

– Biking and such

– Running a little: three miles Thursday without a hitch, about six yesterday leaving me with a very tight left IT band…once I stopped running. I’m pretty concerned about this because I’ve been doing exercise to prevent this religiously for over a year, and when I had ITBS it felt similar to this and I was out 7 weeks. What did I do wrong? I’m trying to calm down and tell myself the marathon is over and I’ll be okay. 

– Choosing summer triathlons! I’d like to do three…a sprint, an Olympic, and…a half Ironman or just another Olympic if I don’t have the funds/I don;t get in enough biking or something. I’ve decided I can’t afford a new bike, so that’s that. Triathlon post coming shortly. 

I really just want to run another marathon, if you couldn’t tell by the goals I set for myself, like, the next day. Thoughts on running three in a year span: NJ, Philly, Boston? Too much? If I do a fall marathon it will definitely be Philadelphia, that’s not a tough decision. 

BANANA BRENNAN!

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Back on the track: alumni mile! (And why I didn’t like college.)

Every year, my college team hosts two home track meets, one the second Saturday and April and the other on the last Saturday. The second meet features the anticipated Alumni Mile, a coed race consisting of cross country/track alumni who show up to either hardcore compete with each other or find their way around the track four times by some other means. On the last lap, many of the guys, and some girls who have steeplechasing backgrounds, decide to give the water barrier a shot, to the amusement of the spectators. I have always been among the spectators, but this year I was excited to race! And yes, I was planning to race….

In December, after only a couple workouts back with the Intervals group, I ran the “PI Holiday Mile” in 5:53. I was happy with that, and told myself I’d give it a go again next at the alumni mile. Given that I have been doing a lot of training since then, I thought I would set my goal for sub-5:50. I’m sure racing a mile the week before racing a marathon is not in most runners’ training schedules; but, it needed to happen. I warmed up with some alumni and felt great. We all stood around with nervous excitement about racing on the track again, watching runners finish the 1500. As we were told to line up, three of my former guy

On the starting line.

So, if my legs get tired during the marathon, just remind me that I can always try to run it with my arms…jeez, I don’t know how this happened. And I thought I was developing a case of “the skinny arm.”

teammates ran up to the line out of nowhere dressed as Batman, Superman, and a Ninja Turtle. Thus, we began the race while laughing. I was smiling and laughing the whole time, almost. Well, except not in the photo that was taken of me, to my surprise. My coach was providing some hilarious commentary, which I could only hear when I was on one side of the track. I went through the first 200 in around 40-41 seconds feeling really tired, and thought to myself, well, if I don’t break six, it’s okay, I’m marathon training and already sore. I think I started my watch late though, because I was at 80ish for the 400 and could have sworn I’d slowed down. I’m not sure what my other splits were, I’d assume 2:54ish or something but I kind of made that up? I was able to pick it up with 400 to go and finished strong somewhere between 5:48 and 5:49. My watch read 5:49.08, but my coach called out “about 5:48.” It was the easiest 5:48 mile I have ever ran, that’s for sure. I was the first female to finish, about 5-10 seconds behind the Ninja Turtle (aka Rob).

Our photo finish...can you spot the superheroes???

Our photo finish…can you spot the superheroes???

I cheered in my former teammates in the final straightaway, chatted with them a bit, and then went on the best cooldown ever. I felt amazing. This was good. I thought about many things on the cooldown….

– I ran to my house I’d rented senior year and thought about all that I’ve been through since then. 

– I thought about how I had never ran a race I was truly satisfied by in college. Ever. 

– I thought about how I was only able to run at this meet once before, a 1500 freshman year. If I’d stopped at 1500m today my time would have been about 15 seconds faster. 

– I thought about how many awful runs I had on these streets, coming back from various injuries and not feeling like “myself.” I felt like “myself” now. 

– I thought about the countless nights, weekends, early mornings I had spent in the library studying, rushing around, worrying, stressing, having breakdowns over classes and exams, when everyone else was probably dealing with some of the life lessons and emotions I am dealing with now, in this year after graduating. Did I really miss out on all that and have no idea? Things hardly felt simple then, but they really must have been. My only cares were becoming a healthier, faster runner, feeling like I belonged, and doing well in school. How did I care so much about those things, try so hard to achieve them, and have none of those things actually happen?


As you can see, what started as a happy, carefree “that mile was so fun, I can’t wait to run a marathon next weekend!” little cooldown turned into a twenty minute reflection of what college was “supposed to” be like versus what it was like for me. It’s like I got everything backwards, and now there’s nothing I can do about it. Everyone has their own unique ways of getting where they’re going, though, and all I can do is be confident that I’m taking advantage of what’s in front of me at the moment, running with it, and seeing where it gets me, in running, my personal life, and academically.

So back to what this was originally about….