Saturday, April 27, 2019

BQ.2 Race Report: Success is the Sweetest Revenge*

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.

Sunday, March 10, 2019

Friday, October 19, 2018

Wrap Up, Hard stuff, and Lessons Learned

Yep, that's what happened at Chicago. I still stand by what I posted after the race because I refuse to have a negative outlook based on one crappy year of racing... BUT now I'm ready to pick apart what exactly went wrong for me this year and how to fix it going forward.  

Recapping some other stuff first:

1. I did go to Geveva, IL again in September to run the Last Chance to BQ Marathon. After 20 weeks of training with not even a sniffle I managed came down with a 101 degree fever- no joke- the day before the race. *Punches things* It was the dumbest of luck, but me being even dumber I still drove to Illinois and curled up in a hotel bed for 12 hours hoping I would be able to put something together on race morning.

Of course I couldn't! I was absolutely miserable and started walking at mile 15 before dropping out shortly after. I figured I at least had to give it a shot since there was the slightest possibility I'd be able to shake off the sickness and run well, but it was very clear once I got going that could not outrun a fever. 

2. Mistake number two was not just chilling out, extending my training for a month, and taking a shot at a redemption run in Chicago. Instead I signed up for the DoLittle Marathon in Waukesha just two weeks later. It's a very small local race on a super fast course, so when I saw the weather forecast was going to be perfect on race day (temps in the 40s, no wind) I got on board.

It was at this race when I started to realize that my problem this year is that despite my best efforts, I'm just not currently in sub-3:40 marathon shape. Even with a very conservative start at DoLittle, I still couldn't keep my goal pace when I needed to. By mile 17 or so and quickly fading, I realized that at the pace I was going I was going to be lucky to finish in around 3:50. (A perfectly good time just not what I've been working so hard for.)  At mile 20 I started walk/jogging and at mile 23 the course went close to where I was parked so I took off my bib and bailed once again.

Yes, that makes four races that I have DNF-ed at this year. Granted three of them I had legit reasons (sickness, heat, sickness again) but fourth one I honestly just got really down on myself realizing I wasn't at the level I thought I was at. Not my proudest moment but the last thing I wanted to do was have to talk to a bunch of local running friends at the finish when I was feeling so bummed out. 

I decided then that when I ran Chicago all time goals would go out the window. I'd go out "slow", enjoy the spectators, and finish happy at what has become my favorite marathon:

Having fun! And not even breaking 4 hours!

Wow I felt pretty terrible at the end of this one, but at the same time I actually really enjoyed myself and for the first time in quite a while I took the time to take everything in around me. Jason came down to cheer for me at the final turn before the runners head up Roosevelt to the finish and I about lost it I was so happy. Chicago really is my favorite race and l look forward running it many more times in the future. I knew going in that I had missed my peak to even try to run a fast-ish race that day but being fast was not the point. I needed a finish in 2018 and I got it.

So that's it for marathons this year! No looking for a November race to try once again to scrape a better time together. I have to face the fact that the new training plans I followed this year just didn't work for me. I really wanted to switch it up this year and I put a lot of faith in the training I followed but looking back now I kind of knew in the back of my mind that things weren't totally clicking for me. My marathon pace never felt dialed in during tempo runs when in the past an 8:15 would feel pretty comfortable for me. I also completed every interval workout on pace but nothing ever felt "good.  I was just barely making it through. At the time I chalked it up to having the "cumulative fatigue" of training but at some point things really should begin to come together. It's ok to have bad days from time to time but to never have a real breakthough in months and months of training is pretty rough. 

In conclusion I've decided that I need to return to what got me into PR shape in the first place- so I'm going back to the training method that got me my 3:38 and 3:39 marathons a couple of years ago! Back then I thought I had plateaued with the Pfitzinger training plans but now I feel it's time to return to what got me the best results. Additionally, I need to add back in my strength training routine at least twice a week. I don't know why I fell out of doing strength workouts this past year but I did. I put too much faith in all the running I was doing when really I've always believed that consistent strength training can be key in putting you over the top. It's silly that I let it slide so now I'm firmly back on the kettlebell train. 

Next up! I plan to run the Last Call Half Marathon in 6 weeks to see what my starting point is for spring marathon training. I am down but never out.

Sunday, May 6, 2018

Double DNF!

Holy moly is the weather at Wisconsin Marathon ever not a complete mess? If it's not 30 mph winds then we're suddenly treated to the first 80 degree day of the year. This year unfortunately turned out to the be latter. The only thing I can say is at least it wasn't a surprise as I tracked the forecast all week. I knew things were probably not going to go my way but you can't fault a girl for trying.

It looks like a spring marathon finish is not in the cards for me this year. Is it strange that I'm actually kind of ok with it? I ended up dropping out of the Wisconsin Marathon at the half when it because pretty clear the heat was turning my race into a shitshow. If I had trained all winter to "just finish" the race I would have stuck it but with time goals being my end game I wasn't really excited about wrecking my body walk/jogging another 13.1 miles in the heat just to say "I did it."  It felt better to just chalk it up to bad luck and build on my current training for a fall marathon instead.

So that makes not one, but two DNFs for me this spring. After training harder than I've probably ever trained before in my life! 800+ miles total these past 4 months... and a big goose egg.

After I dropped out of the Spring Chance to BQ race two weeks ago I was baffled as to why I felt so bad. It turns out by Monday I was sick. The cold I had been battling during my taper came roaring back to life and I dragged my butt to urgent care to get some antibiotics. Luckily everything cleared up in a few days (mostly just gunk clogging my throat/lungs) but the damage had been done. I felt like all my training went up in a puff of smoke and was so disappointed that I "wasted" perfect 40 degree conditions at the Spring Chance race that I decided to sign up for Wisconsin Marathon to hopefully still capitalize on my fitness.

And we all know how that went!  It was just so, so. brutally hot that morning for a marathon. Sometimes the odds are just not in your favor. I keep telling myself that of all the things in the world to struggle with, I'm very lucky that this is my personal struggle. I'm very conscious of the fact that it's a gift for me to be able to do the things I do. I also want to make sure that I keep writing about and sharing the bad races I have because it's important to not just talk about the times you do amazing. It's all part of the process and if I only shout it out when I have successes then that just seems disingenuous, right?

I've been fortunate to qualify for Boston three years in a row now,  but unfortunately unlucky to not get into the race before it filled since my qualifying times have all been right on the bubble. I may have bit the big one this time around but just because this training cycle was a bust doesn't mean I won't continue to improve. So my plan is to build off of what I've done for the past 4 months and bust my bottom for a race in September. The good news is that I still love training hard. It's what makes me excited about each day when I wake up in the morning. I'll just need to live in a bubble during those final weeks so I don't come down with a stinking respiratory infection again.

18 weeks until the next one! Let's get started.

Saturday, April 21, 2018


Looks like my 16 week training plan is probably being converted to an 18-week one. I had the worst time at my stupid race today! So bad that I dropped out at 16 miles. Truthfully I only finished 16 because I wanted to salvage it as a long training run and hopefully come back at another event.

I don't even know what my problem was. I'm kicking myself for squandering perfect race conditions (40 degrees/cloudy/no wind) on a flat course for.... ?? I just felt sluggish and slow and like my legs were dead the whole time. I was working so hard for a pace that should have been (and HAS been in the past) easy for me on race day. I always tell myself not to worry if I start out and don't feel amazing but once it gets to mile 8, 9, 10 and I'm still struggling to fall into a groove and keep up I know I'm toast. Was my taper not long enough? I struggled with how short the Hanson's taper was on paper because I was so tired for all of my training but I really wanted to trust the process and do it (mostly) by the book. I probably should have listened to my gut when I was feeling so bad because my legs are definitely not rested enough. Still, how would I know? "Cumulative fatigue" is supposed to be the point on this training plan.


The good news is since I only ran 16 today (12 of it at pace) and I've been running pretty decent mileage during what was supposed to be a "taper," I might be able to get some REAL tapering/rest done in the next two weeks and get another stab at this at Wisconsin Marathon. I'm really glad that I didn't slog out a 3:50-4:00 marathon and totally trash my legs for dead but JFC I'm frustrated!

 This quest of mine, man. The saga continueth.

The one stupid photo I grabbed from the
video they posted on Facebook. I might
have felt good for these first five steps. :-/

Sunday, April 1, 2018

Peak to Taper


Long run is "only" 16 miles but omg the rest of the week.

Lol joke's on me though because the Hanson's marathon method apparently doesn't believe in tapering.


To be fair, it really just doesn't believe in a full three week taper. Even though my last "long" run is behind me I still have a few more pretty intense workouts coming up and a decent amount of overall mileage to run before I finally get to start my taper about 10 days out from the marathon. The plus side of this is that I will have less time to sit around obsessing over everything because I'm still training pretty hard for the next week and a half at least.

So what's been good over the past few weeks? Overall I'm still pretty tired most of the time but I have have had a couple of bright spots where glimpses of the training taking hold have broken through. I ran the Chicago Get Lucky Half a couple of weeks ago where I practiced my goal marathon pace for 10 miles of the 13.  I felt pretty strong that day but I was also ready to be done by the end of the race. I had run 60 miles total that week so I keep telling myself that on marathon day when I'm well rested and fueled things will tell a different story. My legs still never really feel totally fresh for any run (thanks cumulative fatigue!) so I'm still looking forward to seeing what I can do when I'm fully prepared to race.

The best run of my training definitely came this past Wednesday. Once again I had a 13 mile run with 10 miles at marathon pace (8:10) on the schedule. This wasn't even my "long" run for the week but just another mid-week tempo run in the middle of a 63 mile training week. (Again, see why I'm always tired?) Everyone was on Spring Break at my house so I decided to drive to Chicago for a change of scenery and run along the lakefront there. I don't how much the location played into my success but everything came to together perfectly that morning and I executed the strongest tempo run of all my training this cycle! The paces I ran were the the same as when I ran the Get Lucky Half but I felt so much better and stronger overall during the run- and I didn't even have the adrenaline of a race environment this time. It felt so good to have such a solid workout at this late stage in training. Once again, my legs never felt fresh and peppy but my lungs and heart rate felt relaxed and even the whole time. I sound like a broken record but I just can't wait to see what I can do on fresh legs!

I love Chicago running.

My marathon is now just under three weeks away. I need to start working on a pacing/fueling strategy but most of all I'm really just trying to relax and trust my training. I know I've done things a lot differently this time around (which was the whole point) and I'm excited to see how it all plays out on race day.

Monday, March 5, 2018

This Will Be an Update

I'm doing things completely different this time. Over the past few years I've got pretty good at finishing marathons in the 3:38-3:43 range, but I realized recently that if I ever want to make a big leap in my training I'm going to have to switch things up a bit. After all, don't they say that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again but expecting different results?

I had heard about the Hanson's training method before but I never gave it a hard look because it doesn't have training runs over 16 miles. I admit I kind of turned my nose up at that because I've always been "good" at running the super long training runs and wasn't wanting to give them up. Also, I was a little skeptical about being able to run a marathon at an aggressive goal pace without a few 20-22 milers in the build up. After reading the Hanson's book though, and looking at the training plan as whole, I really started to buy in to the mentality that "cumulative fatigue" was just as good (if not better) than breaking your body down with those extra-long 20+ milers. In the past I've trained and had success with the Pfitzinger training plan as well as with my own coach, but still haven't been able to have that "big" breakthrough I feel like I've been on the cusp of for a couple of years now. So I figured "what do I have to lose?" and decided to give the plan I thought I'd never do a shot.

Right now I'm in week 10 of 16 so I'm well into the second half of the journey, and I have to say I'm the most tired I've ever been in any marathon or ultramarathon build up I've done. Part of me wants to say it's because I'm a few years older than when I first started on this quest to run Boston, but another part knows that I'm definitely training differently than I have before and something new (hopefully good?) is happening.

I'm so tired. And hungry, or course. But mostly tired. I almost never have "fresh" legs anymore. I'm doing the workouts and hitting the paces but dang I wish they felt good! I used to hate running slower for recovery runs but now 10 minute miles on recovery days are just about the best thing I can think of and even then I'm still tired and sore when I run them.

What has changed? Funny enough, the mileage is pretty much the same-it's just broken up differently. Even without an 18, 20 or 22 miler I'm still hovering around 55-60 miles a week right now. The biggest difference really, is the intensity. Now, I'm not a stranger to hard speedwork. I really enjoy running intervals and you can get results from doing them fairly quickly. What's new for me though is that in addition to the weekly speed workout there's also a weekly hard tempo run at marathon pace. Theses tempos started out at 5 miles (plus a warm up/cooldown) but eventually work their way up to 10 miles at marathon pace. On their own they would be manageable but every tempo day my legs are still fatigued from interval day. And then every long run day I'm still fatigued from tempo day. (See how this works now?) Of course on all the inbetween days I'm still running too- just super slow- so everything is continuously compounding. Oh, and there's one whopping rest day a week. Woo!

So alllllll this cumulative fatigue means that when I go out to run *only* 16 miles for my long run, I'm really simulating the last 16 miles of a marathon instead of the first 16.  At least, that's the mentality behind the training. And people really seem to swear by this method- according to many reviews and race reports I've read online. (Oh, and you better believe I've read tons!)

I guess the tl;dr is this: Stuff is hard. I have to idea if anything is really working but I'll find out in six weeks. So pretty much like every other time I've done this. Yay running.