Unfinished Business: 2016 California International Marathon Recap

To recap this race, I have to take you back a few months. Back to the completion of my 12th marathon (Grandma’s Marathon in Duluth, MN) – which I unfortunately didn’t recap (likely because I wanted to forget the experience as soon as it was over). That day was one of the hottest, most miserable races of my life (second only to 2012 Boston). Following that race I was disappointed. Disappointed that I had had an amazing training block and the only thing stopping me from getting that PR was the weather. I was crushed and the first thing I did following the race was turn my focus to the next one. Unfortunately, as can be expected, going head first from one training block into another block without taking any rest, and then being thrown a bunch of life curve balls – well it didn’t exactly lead to ideal conditions to PR less than 6 months later.

Reality Bites

I don’t want to make excuses. God knows I have them for this race. The bottom line – and it’s hard to face – is I could have worked harder, trained better, been more disciplined. But sometimes life gets in the way and we have to take a deep breath and slow down.

I spent the summer attending four weddings (and unfortunately, like the movie, a funeral), traveling, moving across town and starting a new job. And attempting to fit running in when I could. By the time October rolled around I was burned out. Like really burned out. So bad that the one thing I could count on to bring me joy, help me destress and work out any problems no longer brought that. It became a burden. Another thing on my to-do list. And I grew to wonder if I’d ever find that joy again.

Burn Out

I began to dread every workout and long run and found even easy days felt like a hassle. I started to count down the days until race day. I just wanted a break. I didn’t know how to shake my mood – just that I had to keep pushing forward.

Once I started my new job and got into more of a regular day-to-day routine, the joy of running slowly creeped back. It was gradual. But day after day, minute by minute, I started to enjoy running again. Some of it I can attribute to the cooler temps of fall. And some was inspired by watching my teammates crush the Chicago Marathon. A lot was watching my coach nail his marathon debut. But ultimately, what helped the most, was changing my attitude. I would do the best I could do in each run. It might not always feel good – but I would give it my best and I would be realistic going into this marathon. Unfortunately with less than a month to go, it was too late to hope that my fitness would catch up.

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The final long run

Two weekends before the marathon, I did my last long hard effort at Busse Woods. A slightly rolling trail in the northern suburbs of Chicago. It went about as good as it could go for me. 15 miles at marathon effort with a long warm up and cool down for a total of 20 miles for the day. I felt great – maybe this could go well. I treated myself to a mani/pedi and enjoyed a rest day. Two days later I woke up early for an easy 6-mile run. I was actually looking forward to it and really liked my changing attitude. Unfortunately, less than 2 miles into the run, shooting pain from my hip down to my foot caused me to cut the run short and walk home in excruciating pain (and tears). I contacted my sports chiropractor who graciously fit me in. After 30 minutes with him, I felt better – but nowhere near able to run a mile let alone 26.2 in less than two weeks. I was crushed. I talked to Dan, my coach, and he reminded me the power of the mind. Staying positive and doing everything I can to rehab my back/butt issue, was the only way I was going to get to that finish line.

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At the finish line of the Turkey Trot with my Uber Fan

 

Thanksgiving came and went and thanks to a very supportive boyfriend and his family, I hobbled my way through a Turkey trot and a couple treadmill runs. Gradually the pain started to subside and I was able to get my last week of workouts and easy runs in. I actually felt good and even nailed my last tempo run prior to the race.

Race Weekend

Heading into race weekend, I was full of nervous excitement. I enjoyed my shakeout run with my uber fan (boyfriend) followed by a quick stop at the expo and team lunch. We went back to the hotel after lunch and really enjoyed the rest of our lazy Saturday in California. Our team dinner came with more words of encouragement from our fearless leader and an early bed time.

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Pre-Race at the Expo

I awoke race day rested. For once. Typically sleep is hard to come by the night before any race – but especially a marathon. I was thrilled. I showered, at my pre-race meal and was off to the bus with my team. We enjoyed the quiet bus ride to the start. The race is a point to point race – from Folsom, CA to downtown Sacramento. We made our way to the port-o-potties. Let me tell you – these race directors are clearly runners. I don’t think I’ve ever seen that many in one place before.

 

We started our dynamic warm ups and tried to stay warm. Conditions were absolutely perfect for running – upper 30s to low 40s at the start and anticipated mid to upper 50s at the finish with barely a cloud in the sky. I decided I should use the bathroom one more time and realized I might not have enough time. Thankfully I did but had to sprint to the bag check – which was the likes of a mosh pit – then up to the front of the start line.

Let’s Do This! #TeamNoHeadLamp

I planned to start right behind the 3 hour group and attempt to negative split – go out in the 6:55-7 min/mile range then try to cut that down at the half mark. The anthem was sung, I lost my throw away shirt and we were off. The whole first 6 miles feels like a blur. I felt beyond amazing. My legs felt strong and I was keeping the pace in the easy range – well at least for the 2 miles. Then miles 3 and 4 I dropped closer to 6:40. I knew I couldn’t maintain that and slowed my roll. 5-10 continued in the 6:55-7min range and I was feeling great. I saw my coach and uber fan and smiled away.

Somewhere in between miles 4 and 6 I noticed a blind runner with a couple guides running about my pace. They were engaged in a pretty entertaining conversation so I latched on to them to take my mind off the race a bit. As we jogged along, I laughed along with their jokes and was inspired by this runner and his guide. Come to find out the guide was Scott Jurek! Pretty cool to say I ran about 10 miles with the Eat & Run author.

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Around mile 17

Half Way Still Means Another Half To Go

 

As I neared the half way point, one thing that started to catch up with me were the rolling hills. Going into the race, we knew it would be net downhill and a fast course – but that there would be a few hills. Well that was no joke. While the uphills weren’t too steep, the downhills started to just destroy my quads. And my legs started to feel it. I started to get into my head after mile 15 and it was all I could do to get through each mile. I had to break up the race into 2 mile increments. It’s amazing the mind games you play with yourself during a marathon. At 18, my butt/back started to remind me of the pain I was in a couple weeks prior. I really struggled through 22. At one point trying to cover up my watch – and even considering taking it off and giving it to my coach. Just before mile 20, I saw my uber fan and this time instead of a big smile, I told him ‘no pictures allowed’ and did my best not to cry.

As we made our way into the city, I realized – regardless of the time – I would finish this race. I would be ok. I started to recall the pre-race motivational text our fearless leader and coach shared with us – something about how Rob Krar runs his ultras without a headlamp — ensuring he finishes before dark. There was no turning back. If Rob Krar can run without a headlamp, I would finish this race. I didn’t need a headlamp. And I would finish with a reasonable time AND without stopping. I started to feel strong again and pick up the pace. I started to pick people to pass – and I did. I turned the corner and saw the finish line, my uber fan waiting for me, and I sprint to the finish – and almost collapsed in the arms of the volunteers handing out medals. I was so happy to be done running. I embraced my boyfriend (uber fan) and we made our way to the bag check. At this point, my legs felt like complete crap. I couldn’t control the muscle spasms and had to sit down. I started to cry as my boyfriend handed me my bag. His first time watching one of my marathons – I cannot begin to tell you how thankful I am and was in that moment to have him with me. His support – and encouragement – all those early mornings and moments when I know I was a lot to handle – well he deserves a gold medal. Needless to say – we both enjoyed that post race beer and celebration of a tough couple of months leading up to this race.

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Finish line smiles (and free beers!)

Gratitude

 

While it wasn’t my best race — it was so hard fought and one of the most humbling experiences I’ve had in a long time. I’m fired up for 2017. I left a lot of unfinished business out there on the roads this year. And now that my life is in a great place, I can’t wait to see what the future holds. But first – I’m taking a couple weeks off – enjoying some R&R – so I can start the New Year fresh and in the right mindset.

It’s amazing what the human body is capable of. Special thanks to all the support, well wishes and encouragement I received from friends, family, my coach/teammates at DWRunning and especially my uber (and super) fans. You are what helped me get to that finish line with a smile on my face. Here’s to a New Year with new goals, dreams and aspirations!