Hello again! I thought maybe I’d lost you as a reader when I admitted my Newport Marathon race recap would consist of multiple parts. Thanks for hanging in there.
So, where was I? Oh yes, the race start.
There was no National Anthem, no announcement. There was only a feeble air horn that sounded, tearing A, Heidi, and me from our conversation. “The race started?!” Men in singlets were running across the start line as we stood there, outside the start chute, looking in. A took off like a bullet as I fumbled with inserting my headphones jack into my iPod Shuffle. Heidi was… I don’t know where she was. All I knew was that I was supposed to be running, at 8:29/mile pace, and to do that I needed to get my music going and run across the damn start line.
I managed to get my music started and crossed the mats at the start, failing to see what the clock read. I was so consumed with getting going that I also forgot to turn on my Garmin (doh!), so I turned it on several feet beyond the start line. I was about halfway through the Yaquina Bay State Park before I realized I had powered on my Garmin but I hadn’t actually started the clock (holy Hell, Molly–get with the program!). This sucked for the rest of the race because I didn’t have an accurate read on what my total time was; I had to base everything on pace to determine whether I was keeping on track with my goal of running a sub-3:45.
Mile 1: 8:52
Mile 2: 8:19
Mile 3: 8:24
Mile 4: 8:18
The crowds were thick for about the first mile as we ran on the narrow drive of the park and through the streets that ran along the ocean. There were several turns, too, and when I looked at my watch I noted I was running around an 8:50/mile. “Oh that will… not… do…” I thought, trying to speed up but being foiled by the crowds and corners on the course. So many turns those first 4 miles!
I started obsessively glancing at my Garmin as I tried to make up for the lost time of the first mile, which I figured wasn’t as bad as trying to bank time in a race (which we all know is a cardinal sin), so I ran the next few miles faster than my goal marathon pace. Oops.
After running through the western area of Newport, we headed back into and through the Yaquina Bay State Park and down a long hill onto Bay Boulevard, the town’s main drag. We ran by the Rogue Pub and several seafood restaurants, fishing companies (complete with fishy smell), kitschy souvenir shops…and very few spectators.
I wasn’t feeling so hot. Not because of the fishy smell downtown (although that certainly didn’t help) or the lack of spectators, but because I was still in that weird state of detachment. I was comforted by the fact that my coach, Kris, and her husband, John, would be waiting for me at Mile 4.2 with my mini-water-bottle. I downed a Gu and used the water from my existing bottle to wash it down before I got to them.
“You look good!” Kris said when I encountered them. I acted like I felt good, too, even though what I really wanted to say was, “I don’t know what’s wrong, but I feel weird.”
I tried to enjoy the gorgeous view of the harbor, with its many boats and the early sunlight reflecting off the water, but it was too difficult to look at that and focus on my Garmin like a Class-A clockwatcher.
At Mile 4, I ran up a relatively steep but short hill, passing by the finish area (which I willed myself to ignore), then after cresting the hill ran down a long hill. As this was an out-and-back course, I was mindful of the fact that I would have to run up that long hill at the end of the race. Fun.
Mile 5: 8:25
Mile 6: 8:29
Mile 7: 8:27
Mile 8: 8:29
Mile 9: 8:30
At Mile 5, I knew that I had a beautiful but long and monotonous course left in front of me. I tried to settle into my pace, and I did, but I kept looking at my watch and my pace band and couldn’t enjoy myself. “Must… run… 8:29 per mile.” Chug chug chug. It truly felt like work, which is really my own fault, because isn’t that how I decided to approach it before the race? Why did I ever decide to approach it like that?
I also started to get bored by the course at this point. The scenery was pretty, yes. A lot of trees and a nice view of the bay, yes. But I run along the saltwater a lot at home and the novelty isn’t there for me. There were no real distractions on the course. Few spectators, and only some houses and small businesses sprinkled here and there. It was a good thing I had my music.
I kept running, and eventually started to feel like I could tell what pace I needed to run without looking at my Garmin every 20 seconds like a crazy person. I was getting into a groove, and was kind of getting excited about seeing Kris and John at Mile 10.2.
…Until around Mile 9, when I had this feeling like I needed to go to the bathroom at the next water stop. Like, I really really needed to go. And I started freaking out because every second counted (Boston, Molly!) and I didn’t even know if I could last until the next water stop. I started having images of myself going to the bathroom in the middle of the course and it being super obvious because I wore my light green shorts. I actually started to feel a little sick.
And then I did this really weird thing. I just tried to put the idea that I needed to go to the bathroom out of my mind. I denied its existence. I tried to think about other things. And you know what?
Mile 10: 8:33
Mile 11: 8:28
Mile 12: 8:33
Mile 13: 8:26
Mile 14: 8:25
Mile 15: 8:34
At Mile 10.2, I downed another Gu and saw Kris and John again. Kris gave me another mini-bottle of water and ran along with me for about 100 yards. She asked how I was doing and gave me additional pointers, which like earlier in the day I don’t think I really heard. I was just running forward, moving forward, like an automaton.
I really fell into a groove during this stretch of the race, which like the preceding miles continued to run along the snaking, northern shore of Yaquina Bay. I had fretted a bit pre-race about the camber of the road, but it wasn’t that bad. I didn’t especially enjoy the fact that we had only one lane of the road to use, however, and this lack of enjoyment increased when the faster marathoners and half-marathoners started coming back, which meant we had even less space to use.
At around Mile 12, I came upon another water station and nearly missed spotting my husband and daughter, even though they were standing right there on the shoulder of the road, cheering. It must have been that intense focus I had. I continued running through the water stop and was surprised to find that my son and A’s boys were handing out cups of water to the runners!
I kept running and running, with a little boost of energy from seeing my family. This leg of the race felt relatively easy, and was the only time on the course that I felt strong. At about Mile 14, I spotted A’s bright green shirt ahead of me, which surprised me because I thought she was much farther ahead than that. I started closing the gap and wondered if the foot ailment that had bothered her during training had come back.
I had another Gu at Mile 15. At that point I began to see the course’s turnaround point, which was marked with a hokey (though welcomed) set of Greek columns and multicolored balloons. As I approached the turnaround, I caught up with A. We ran together for a bit and chatted. I was right; her foot was hurting. I glanced down at my watch and saw that I had slowed down. I decided to keep pushing forward with my goal marathon pace and said goodbye to A.
Mile 16: 8:26
Mile 17: 8:37
Mile 18: 8:30
Mile 19: 8:36
At some point during Mile 16, I passed Heidi, who was running on the first half of the out-and-back towards the turnaround. I could tell that her Plantar Fasciitis was holding her back, but she was still smiling and having fun with her race. I waved and she did a little Prancercise routine for me, which made me laugh.
I was still feeling good and strong at this point. My legs were really a non-issue. I started to imagine myself at the Boston Marathon, and became a little bit (and prematurely) verklempt. I was on pace to end with a 3:43, and I was excited.
So excited, in fact, that I started breathing too shallowly or something because I began to feel the whisper of an ache right under my bottom rib on my right side, closer to my sternum than my flank. That barely perceptible ache turned into a full-on, “Oh, Sweet Jesus”-ache in about 15 seconds, and I began to fight to keep a decent pace. I wanted to walk. I wanted to stop. In fact, I had done both things at the New York City Marathon when the same thing happened at Mile 24. But that was Mile 24, and not Mile 17.
“What the hell is happening? Why now, when I’m trying to qualify for Boston? It’s not supposed to happen this early!” (Hmmm… maybe it had something to do with the fact that I was actually running this race at full effort, unlike the NYCM, which I ran for fun, with no time goal.)
I gutted it out and tried to keep running, and I actually managed to stay pretty close to my goal marathon pace. I don’t know how I did it, I just kept my goal of BQ’ing at the front of my mind and willed myself to keep running. The ache passed after about a half of a mile, and I felt normal again. Huge relief.
I kept trucking along and ran again through the water stop where my family was stationed, still volunteering and cheering on other runners. (I love that they did this, and that my kids were able to get involved with the race in that way.) My husband ran alongside me for a few seconds to video me, which was pretty funny. His words of encouragement gave me a little extra boost, too.
Mile 20: 8:39
Mile 21: 8:36
Mile 22: 8:56
Mile 23: 8:37
Mile 24: 8:57
Mile 25: 9:00
Mile 26: 9:00
That boost carried me only a little bit farther. By Mile 20, when I ran into Kris and John for the last time, I took another Gu but it didn’t do much for me. A nasty headwind had kicked up when we last needed it: for the last 6 miles of the race. While my legs felt pretty good (or as good as legs can feel 20 miles in), my mental game was slipping.
Kris had apparently planned to run with me for Mile 20 and then let me go. As we ran that mile together, she told me that I was on pace to qualify for Boston as well as finish in the top 10 for my age group. I was struggling with the wind, though, and my pace was starting to slip. As that slowed down, I started losing my focus and will. Kris saw it and decided to keep running with me into Mile 21 and 22 and as far as I wanted her to go with me. Kris ran in front of me to act as a “rabbit” so that I had something to chase.
As you can see from the splits above, Mile 22 was the start of when it got really rough. There were some strong gusts of wind at my front (I later read that these were sustained winds of 10 to 15 miles per hour, with gusts of 20 miles per hour) and I had to use a lot more effort to try to keep the pace.
My effort didn’t seem to make a difference, though, as I watched my pace on my Garmin slip more and more. My breathing suffered and I was taking little, quick, shallow breaths. Predictably, I developed another side ache (again! 2 side aches in one race!) and worked on breathing through it, even though it hurt like hell.
I don’t know what happened at Mile 23. The only explanation I have for that semi-normal pace is that we were protected from that gnarly headwind for a bit. Because once we hit Mile 24, it all went to hell again. Mile 25 was also shit.
During these miles through the pain cave–the longest pain cave I have ever run through, by the way–I kept trying to think about different things to motivate me to keep running forward, to fight for that time. I repeated in my head a mantra, “Be water,” which apparently worked for Bruce Lee at some point, and he was a total badass. I silently said “Be strong” to myself. I even at one point thought to myself, “There is no try, there is only do” and almost laughed/cried because it sounded like a Yoda-ism. I was really trying everything at that point. I repeatedly glanced down at the temporary tattoo Heidi gave me, and silently repeated its message: “I am powerful.” Honestly, that one was the most helpful.
Kris told me I was too close to qualifying not to fight, and she was right. I kept watching her run in front of me through these miles, and thought, “How can I let her down, after everything she’s doing to get me to qualify for Boston?” And then I thought about my blog, and how I didn’t want to report to my readers that I hadn’t met my goal, that I had missed it by so many seconds.
It was all of this that kept me going, even though I felt awful those last 6 miles as I ran into the seemingly impenetrable wind.
As we approached the Mile 26 marker, Kris sent me off to finish the race on my own. I had to run up that last hill–a long, gradual climb–at the top of which I would run down a short, steep hill to the finish. She told me to run up the hill as best I could and, at the crest, to run like hell to the finish line. I didn’t know if I could do it. I chugged up the hill like the Little Engine That Could, and I managed to pass at least one runner. At the crest I tried to forget how tired I was, how hard it all was, and to just run and let gravity help me towards the finish.
Mile 26: 7:12/pace
I ran down the hill as fast as I could and picked up speed as the course leveled out. I don’t know where I found that last bit of speed, but I did.
I saw and heard my husband and A’s husband cheer for me, and saw my son run out into the road, to join me as I ran to the finish. I turned into the finish chute and kicked as hard as I could. As I ran across the finish line, I turned toward the clock and saw it tick off 3:45:28.
My heart stopped. I walked through the finish area and someone grabbed my chip from my bib, and another person placed the race medal around my neck. I was preoccupied with what my actual time was, because I hadn’t started my Garmin on time, and the clock time wasn’t accurate. I just didn’t know how far off it was. I was really worried because it didn’t seem like it had taken me thirty seconds to cross the start line.
My family and coach found me and congratulated me on my race. My husband seemed more impressed about my performance than he had at past races, telling me that I “kicked ass.” This all felt great, but I really wanted to know my time. I spotted a board in the finish area but no times slower than around 3:36 had been posted yet. There was an official-looking man seated at a laptop, however, who appeared to be handing out little slips with race results.
“Hi! I’d like to know my results, please.”
“Sure!” He glanced at my bib. Click, click, click. The wait was excruciating, even if it was only a few seconds. “Ah, good job! 3:44!” I cheered and started tearing up and hugged my husband and my coach.
I couldn’t believe I did it. I still can’t believe I did it. I knocked 28 minutes off of my marathon PR and managed to pull off a Boston Qualifier despite the horrible final six miles, headwind, and side aches. I had done it.
How did A and Heidi do? Well, A finished slower than she had hoped, but she still managed to pull off a kick-ass time for her first marathon in 10 years, and after having 2 kids. I just know she’ll qualify again soon (she has already run the Boston Marathon twice), and am encouraging her to make another BQ attempt in the early fall.
Heidi had a tough race. I was right, her Plantar Fasciitis had flared up and she experienced a fair amount of pain starting pretty early in the race. Her pace suffered. But she didn’t give up and she ran/walked it and made some new friends along the way.
So, about my BQ. My success belongs as much to my coach, Kris, as it does to me. She expertly crafted a training plan that took me from a 4:12 marathoner to a sub-3:45 marathoner, and she did so without flaring up the IT Band problem that derailed my training in 2013. She helped me fight the demons in my head that had convinced me I wasn’t capable of running a BQ. And when it came time to go to Newport, she traveled hundreds of miles to help support me at the race, and ended up running almost all of the last 6 miles with me because she knew I was struggling, and she didn’t want me to lose that BQ for which I was on pace.