I feel like I often say that this is the “hardest training cycle I’ve ever completed. I guess it always feels like that when you’re in the thick of it. This time was a little different though because I made the decision to get back to basics. No more trying out different training plans or coaches. No more experimenting. I returned to the style of training I did back when I ran my first sub-3:40 marathon in the spring of 2015.
In 2016 after I ran three marathons right around a 3:39 I thought it was time to mix things up and try something new. I think maybe what would have served me better at the time though was to have stuck with what was working and just been a little more patient. (Ugh, patience! So hard.) But when you’re chasing big results the view can often get muddied with emotion. I could tell myself that I “wasted” the past two years running races that were below my abilities but in reality all of those experiences just gave me important lessons I needed to learn at the time. Plus, all that training still gets stored in your collective muscle memory.
Another thing I realized this cycle was that I needed to focus on training my brain along with my body. Last year I had a series of races where I dropped out when things weren’t going my way. On one hand I was pretty sure I made the right decisions by dropping out at those races but I also knew that I needed to prepare myself mentally to finish THIS race, even if I found myself falling off my dream goal pace.
So.... the actual training is kind of the boring part to read about. It was 18 weeks of cold, ice, wind, mixed in with endless loops on the track and running bundled up on the treadmill in my garage when it was below zero. It’s not glamorous but winter training really suits me. I logged 1000 miles in those 18 weeks, I just needed the weather to stay cool enough into mid-April so I could reap the rewards. When it appeared that it would be high 30s and no wind on race morning I was absolutely giddy. To hit the jackpot with a solid, uninterrupted training cycle paired with ideal race weather is a very rare thing indeed.
|Most of my training looked like this.|
I can't say enough good things about the group that puts on the BQ.2 races in Geneva, IL. They literally set everything up so that you don't have to worry about anything other than focusing on running your fastest time. In fact, 60% of the runners qualified for Boston at this race! (It was a very small field but that's still an amazing percentage.)
The marathon course is a 3.25 mile loop that you complete 8 times. (I know, hell for some runners but it clicks for me.) I figure if I can run 20 milers on the track or going back and forth on a three-quarter-mile stretch on the lakefront during the dead of winter, this is a piece of cake.
At the start/finish there is what they call an "elite" water bottle station where you can grab your bottle as you pass by. You then can toss it in a designated area on the way out where volunteers retrieve it and place it back on the table for the next loop. That combined with two other regular aid stations on the loop makes it so there are nice short chunks to break up in your head mentally. The fact that you run the loop eight times also lets you get really familiar with every curve and slope on the course. (Though it’s fairly flat there are a few slight inclines and believe me you know exactly where they are by after the second loop.) I literally only thought about getting to the the next landmark on every loop and didn’t let my brain get ahead of itself.
My “A” goal for this race was sub-3:35, which would pretty much guarantee me a spot in the 2020 Boston Marathon. (My BQ qualifying time right now is 3:40 so that would be 5 minutes under the standard.) My “B” goal was to run a PR (under 3:38:58). This was the time I ran back in April 2016 at Circular Logic Marathon in Indiana.
I didn’t have a "C" goal. I was positive I could do this. This was going to be my day!
Can I just say that one of the most annoying things about this whole process has been explaining to people how complicated the Boston Marathon qualifying process is? For example, before this race I had actually run SEVEN qualifying times over three and a half years. I submitted my best times in 2015, 2016 and 2017 and none of them made the cutoff. (I’m literally too tired to even type out the difference between the qualifying times and the cutoff times again so here’s a link.)
- The first three BQ times I ran were all right around 3:39- a minute under my qualifying time but the cutoffs those years were a BQ -2:28 followed by BQ -2:09.
- When I aged up to the female 40-44 age group my qualifying time changed to 3:45. Piece of cake now right? Easier said than done. I ran four more marathons in the 3:42-3:43 range putting me close to 3 minutes below the standard BUT the cutoff jumped to -3:23 that year and I missed out again.
- In 2018 I didn’t run a BQ time at all because I was too busy dropping out of races and failing spectacularly all over the place in frustration, but the cutoff that year skyrocketed to -4:52 and the BAA decided to lower all the qualifying times by 5 minutes, thereby moving my goal post back to a sub-3:40.
SO. Here I was again trying to run under 3:40, plus whatever mystery number yet-to-be-determined in September once everyone submits their qualifying times.
The actual race:
The plan was to go out at 8:15 pace for the first loop (3 miles) and then drop down to right around 8:10 pace. I’ve tried multiple times to go out a lot slower and run a big negative split but I’ve found that all my best races were all pretty steady pace throughout. I have this romanticized idea of being able to crank out a fast 10K at the end of the marathon but I just don’t seem built for it no matter how I come at it. I get locked into my happy pace and can’t shift gears so I picked what I thought I was capable of for this race and stuck to my guns for as long as I could… which played out really quite well until mile 18!
It wasn’t a “wall” or anything significant. The miles up until then were ticking off like clockwork right at my goal pace but all of a sudden every time I glanced down at my watch I was suddenly at about 15 seconds slower per mile while running at the same perceived effort. I kept trying to push it and get back up to speed but nothing was working.
Now usually if I start slowing down this early I would freak out. To be losing steam at mile 18 usually indicated I will crash and burn after 20 miles and be running a minute (or even two) slower by the end of the race. This time however I felt like I was more mentally prepared for this situation. Instead of writing everything off I just told myself that I could stick with this new slightly slower pace for 8 miles, no problem. It probably meant that getting 5 minutes under my BQ time wouldn’t happen but I knew I could still PR and qualify with a decent buffer if I stayed the course and didn’t freak out. I did slow down a bit even more in the last 5K but nothing close the the big drop offs I’ve had in other races. On the final loop I knew I had it in the bag if I just stayed positive.
|Official time: 3:38:48!|
Will the 8th time be the charm?
I’m hoping since they lowered the qualifying times 5 minutes across the board that there will be no cut off for the 2020 race. However I will also not be surprised at all if tons of runners rise to meet the new bar. I still find it so frustrating that there is no big moment you can celebrate when you cross the finish line because of the complicated registration process. Instead of a "YAY!" more of a "YAY???" If I had just run this time last year before they lowered the standards it would have been a -6:12 buffer instead of a -1:12. I could be mad about that but it won't do me any good to waste that energy.
I will say that I am unbelievably happy to have recovered the speed I thought I had lost! At one point I last year I started to question whether my days of getting faster were just over. Now I know that I do have a little left in the tank and quite possibly a few more years before I reach my full marathon potential. After years of trial and error I’ve identified the training and racing style that works best for me and that is really exciting.
For the first time in years I’m not looking for another marathon to run in a few weeks. I’m super satisfied with this performance! Training was solid all through winter, I avoided getting sick in the taper, there was perfect weather on race day, and I stayed mentally strong. You can’t ask for anything more than that….other than no cutoff for Boston 2020.
*I listened to Tigernite during a large part of this race.