March 2nd, 2013
Well, this has been quite a journey for me! Over the past few years I have learned a lot about myself, become stronger both physically and mentally and I have made amazing friendships that have taught me the importance of having a support system. Thanks to everyone who has joined me on this journey – I couldn’t have done it without you!!!
I apologize for the length of this post – if you just want to read the review of Phoenix Marathon, skip to the bottom.
My marathon experience started on a whim in January 2009 when we decided to give the P.F. Chang’s Rock & Roll Arizona a go. I had never been a big fan of running but we had done several 1/2 marathons and figured it was time to try a full – we were no longer playing team sports and needed something to focus our attention on to stay in shape.
My training plan was lousy (err – nonexistent!) and I was battling with IT band issues (although, at the time I didn’t know that was the problem). Needless to say, race day was miserable – I knew nothing about nutrition, hadn’t run more than 13 miles – ever – and completely hit the wall somewhere in the 19 mile range. I remember getting to a point where I could barely maintain a 20 minute mile. After the race I swore I would never do another because it was such a horrible experience.
After that I stopped running for a while and that summer we purchased road bikes. We did a good amount of riding and were really enjoying it. That fall I started adding a little running back into my routine as we decided to tackle our first triathlon (Blue Water). When I went back to running I was surprised at how much quicker I was because of the cycling and I started to actually enjoy it (a little).
We really enjoyed the triathlon and decided to sign up for Ironman Arizona which would take place the following fall. Upon signing up, I had a few friends remind me that I hated running the marathon. They wondered if I realized there was a marathon at the end of an Ironman. I assured them I did and would figure it out.
First thing I’ll say – the marathon portion of an Ironman is VERY different than running a marathon on it’s own! By the time you get to the run, you have already done so much and those 26 miles are you have left to do to earn the title of Ironman. So, mentally I was in a very different state – especially since I was off the bike with enough time that I could walk the whole marathon and make the time cutoff.
While it wasn’t necessarily comfortable and I didn’t particularly have a quick time, this was a much better marathon experience and gave me hope.
Next up was Goofy’s Challenge – January 2011. This was something we had been wanting to do and we figured now was the best time to try since we had just come off Ironman training.
Kris and I ran the 1/2 marathon on Saturday together a little slower and then both tried our best in the full marathon on Sunday.
Kris and I ran the 1/2 marathon on Saturday together a little slower and then both tried our best in the full marathon on Sunday.
I had a great run, despite the fact I had been battling IT band issues (again) and hadn’t done much running since Ironman. I was very happy with the race and attribute a lot of it to the Disney way – it’s hard to be in a bad mental state at runDisney events! And, one thing I have learned along the way – your mental state makes a HUGE difference!
That summer we tackled our 2nd iron distance triathlon – Vineman. I figured I had learned a lot with Ironman Arizona and should be able to cut a good amount of time off – I printed out a training plan and actually followed it pretty well (first time ever!). All went well until the last month of training.
My knees started bothering my while riding my bike during the Double Triple Bypass in Colorado three weeks prior to Vineman. That ride really brought me to my breaking point. So, I took the next few weeks off and then it was time to head to California for Vineman.
The swim was fantastic and the first half of the bike was pretty good … I was on course to crush my IMAZ time! Then my body was done. I made it through the bike and was happy to be on the run – still well ahead of schedule. First lap (3 loop course) went well but then the IT band issues were back and my knees hurt so bad I couldn’t run. I got through the second lap and saw Kris at the turnaround and I broke down – I did NOT want to go back out … walking that last lap was miserable. But, I finished and now had another marathon under my belt.
After that I was ready to take a break from the full iron triathlons for a little bit and wanted to focus on my running again. We did the Tinker Bell 1/2 Marathon the following January and I PR’d with a 1:40 … that was the first time I actually thought it may be possible for me to BQ. My qualification time is 3:35 so my pace was right on target. We were signed up for the LA Marathon in March and I was going to give it a shot.
I woke up that morning and my body wasn’t cooperating – I felt so sick and ended up quite dehydrated. It was cold and rainy in the morning and I was miserable. Despite that, I was actually able to hold my race pace for the first 10k – but, my stomach wouldn’t let me eat anything to replenish calories and I fell apart.
I really should have quit but I’m too stubborn and I wasn’t okay with a DNF … so, I kept going … and, once again the marathon had defeated me!
Here’s when the mind, body and heart started to battle … on paper, there’s no reason I shouldn’t be able to run a marathon quick enough to qualify. I knew it was something I could do but when it came down to it, I couldn’t pull it off … so, what was I doing wrong?
Well, it was time to face the truth: yes, I was physically capable of doing it … IF I actually committed to it and trained correctly for it. I was able to get away with running decent half marathons without doing much to prepare and I was trying to take the easy road with marathons as well. It’s a lesson I should have learned after my very first marathon – yes, I had come a long way from that one, but I still wasn’t giving the marathon the respect and dedication it needed … if I truly wanted this, I was going to have to work for it.
In addition, I needed to be held accountable and I needed others involved. It’s easy to quit on a goal you only tell yourself about. Sharing my goal with others would make it harder to back out of. It also meant I was making myself vulnerable, something I don’t do well! Getting friends involved doesn’t guarantee success – I could still fail … and then everyone would know. It was a risk I had to take – for one of the first times in my life, I was really putting myself out there and it was scary.
Kris knew my goal – now it was time to recruit some girlfriends. I knew a couple cycling teammates who had been thinking about training for a marathon – so, I sent out an email … within a few days we were all registered for the Phoenix Marathon. The next day I began chatting with Jen, who I had met briefly in July (so grateful for that!). As we got talking she realized the timing would work out well for her and I now had a new running buddy!
A few days later Kris and I were in California for the Disneyland 1/2 Marathon where I had another opportunity to meet and chat with Jeff Galloway (we met him at the Tinker Bell 1/2 but didn’t know much about him). While we were at his booth at the expo, Kris pointed out his book on how to qualify for Boston … perfect timing! Jeff signed it with a few words of encouragement and it was time to figure out my training plan.
Within the next few days I had plugged in the training schedule on the calendar and I started my journal. I wrote out my goals and decided I was going to write down my activities every day.
As you can see – I took the journal and calendar seriously and it helped me a lot. I definitely wasn’t perfect – there were a number of days I’d forget or not take the time to write … but, I always made it up – every day is accounted for … some just a little better than others!
The Training Plan: Training started on September 10th and went for 25 weeks (it’s a 30 week plan so we started a couple weeks late). Training went really well through the fall. On January 13th we were scheduled for a 26 mile training run – we figured we might as well do this run on course. Jen’s friend, Terra, was preparing for a 50k and joined us.
People thought we were crazy – why were we running the full distance as part of our training plan? Most plans out there say you only need to get to 20 miles – why overdo it?
Here’s my take – never once did I question this plan and I am so glad we followed it. Doing this training run was a HUGE mental boost for me! I felt great at the end and actually picked up the pace for the last couple miles so I could hit a new marathon PR … on a training run! I now knew the course, knew my nutrition plan was good and knew my body could handle the distance … why WOULDN’T we want to do this?
The week after this training run Kris and I headed to California for another go at the Tinker Bell 1/2 Marathon. We again had the chance to hang out with Jeff Galloway – this time it meant even more than it had in the past because we were so far into his plan and had been seeing such great results. We told him about our progress and asked a few questions. Afterwards, I was ready to tackle the final month of training.
In February we were scheduled for a 29 mile run (again, everyone thought we were nuts!) – Jen found a 50k trail run for us that weekend. Wow, that was an amazing experience – never did I think I would do an ultra … but, I did and it felt great! We stuck with our long run training plan and were able to finish strong. Again – what a great confidence boost – 26 is nothing compared to 31! Now we just had one more speed workout and it was taper time.
The speed workout didn’t go as well as I would have liked it to, but it was done and we were down to our last couple weeks – time to really focus on rest, nutrition, hydration and getting my mind in the right place.
The Mental Battle: This was the hardest part for me and oddly enough it was because I felt so good. Never before had I fully followed a training plan and made it to race day without being burnt out or dealing with an injury of some sort. Through the years I have gotten pretty good at sabotaging results – doing something dumb in the last month or two so I have an excuse for why I couldn’t perform at the event. Never before had I made myself so vulnerable – I didn’t have an excuse – training went really well and I felt great … Things were really falling into place for this to be a great race! So, if I didn’t perform on race day it meant I failed because of me … and I let so many people in on this goal – they would all know.
I had a really hard time letting go of this pressure I was putting on myself. I had to constantly remind myself that I needed to ‘trust myself and trust the plan’ – I did everything I could and needed to believe in myself – I was ready for this!
For the two weeks leading up to the race I worked on visualizing myself at different times and places along the course – I would picture myself strong, confident, right on pace and telling my cheer squad how great I felt and I would be able to say, ‘I’m doing it!’ I would picture myself crossing the finish line with time to spare and celebrating with anyone who was there waiting for me.
Of course, as I was visualizing the positive – negative thoughts would always enter and I’d see myself crossing the finish line, missing it by seconds and being devastated … I tried to shut these thoughts out as quick as they entered by replacing them with something positive. This wasn’t always easy!
Two weeks before the marathon, Kris made his attempt at a BQ at the Lost Dutchman Marathon. Wow, this was an emotional day for me!
I was tearing up as I dropped him off at the start … I was tearing up as I rode my bike to meet him along the way … I was tearing up as I cheered him on … I was tearing up as he approached and crossed the finish line … and I was tearing up when they put the medal around his neck and he earned his BQ. I could not keep it together!
I knew it would be my turn in two weeks and that I had been on quite a journey. Big journeys always have bitter sweet endings – it feels great to be done, but it can be hard to move on. I even told Jen that I wished we could just keep training – that had become my comfort zone and I loved the time I spent with her (even though I didn’t always love the workout!). I wasn’t (and I’m still not) ready to give up that time with her! At the same time, I wished it was me who was done, had my BQ and could go celebrate!
The days that followed were among my toughest. Not only did Kris BQ that day, another friend of ours did as well at a different marathon. In addition, we had a friend get his qualification earlier in the year and I knew, without a doubt, that Jen would be getting hers at the Phoenix Marathon. So, the pressure was on me – I didn’t want to be the only one to not make it! I was starting to panic and had a tough time sleeping.
Fortunately we had an amazing opportunity handed to us the week leading up to the marathon and I would have another chance to hang out with Jeff Galloway in Florida during the Princess 1/2 Marathon. While there he offered some great advice:
During that weekend in Florida I came to terms with everything, took the pressure off myself and remembered race day is the celebration of how far I’ve come and how much I’ve done. I accepted that things beyond my control could keep me from reaching my goal but that wouldn’t take away the hard work I have put in … this didn’t have to be my only chance.
In the final week, I also finally realized an important truth. This was the first time I was truly doing something for myself. I was the one who wanted this goal. With that, I was the only person I could let down. Everyone else was there to support me … I wasn’t doing this for them. So, why did I need to carry the burden of feeling like I could let them down? … I couldn’t, no matter what, they were there for me! And, I needed to do this for ME!
I slept well all week, felt great and was actually excited to get to race day.
The Expo: Friday after work I headed over to Road Runner Sports for packet pick-up and the expo. It was very well organized and easy to navigate. I was able to pick up Kris’ goodies and had no problem getting in and out of there!
After the National Anthem they began moving the runners to the start. Along the way there was a big U-haul with volunteers ready to take our gear bags and transport them to the finish (this was a very quick and easy process … toss the bag to the volunteer and keep walking … just make sure your bag is tied tight!)
All the quick guys headed to the start – this included Kris with one of our friends. I followed until I spotted the 3:25 pace leader and stopped there. Here we were, a couple minutes from starting the race I have been training months for and I was ready!
I had my plan and I told myself I was sticking to it – now’s not the time to question it or change anything. I would keep my run/walk the same as I had been training – 4 minutes of running with 30 seconds of walking. I told myself I could cut down the walk breaks but that I would only skip them if I had a fast downhill – otherwise I was taking every one so my body had that little bit of rest it was use to. I knew I needed an 8 minute pace to make my goal of 3:30 … my plan was to keep the pace at 7:50 as long as I could to build up a cushion for the last few miles when I knew I would get tired.
For nutrition, my plan was a Hammer Gel every 5-6 miles with a few Perpetuem Solids in between. I would drink water at each aid station since it was suppose to be a warmer day and I would take an Endurolyte and Anti-Fatigue cap each hour.
First 8 miles went by quickly and I was feeling great! The first four were a pretty steady downhill – but gradual enough that it gave you extra speed without killing your legs … those miles flew by and I cut my walk breaks down to 10-15 seconds because I just wanted to run! My average at this point was under 7:50 which was great because I knew I would be slower for the next two miles as we hit the uphill section. Miles 5 and 6 were 8:09 and 8:18 but I didn’t worry because I knew I had already given myself some time to play with and I knew there was a steep downhill coming up where I could make up some of that time … which I did – mile 7 was a 7:18 and was where I skipped my walk breaks because I was moving and feeling great (I love downhills!).
As we hit mile 8 we were starting to level out – there would still be gradual downhills to the finish but we were now on main roads and it was time to work on keeping a consistent pace. Each mile that went by with a sub-8 felt great and I got closer and closer to my goal – I was in a happy place at this point!
I hit the half marathon mark at 1:43 – I was still pretty close to my 3:25 pace group and was right on track with where I wanted to be. I was sticking to my plan it it felt great! The nice part about the walk breaks is it helps keep nutrition and hydration on schedule – my stomach gave me no issues all morning!
As with all marathons, you eventually hit a point where you get tired and your body wants to stop. This is where the mental battle begins. Miles 15 and 16 I began slipping.. Nothing hurt, I was just tired and needed to push through. Those miles were a little slower. Luckily I had a few friends waiting on the corner during this time and that gave me the boost to fight through and get the pace back to sub-8 for mile 17.
Then the real fun began. As the day went on it got hotter and we really hadn’t done much training in warm weather – it was an unseasonably cold winter for us. As it warmed up, I began overheating and felt like I couldn’t get enough water. I was drinking a couple cups at each station, I was dumping water on my head and I couldn’t cool off. Up until the last few miles, they only had water stations every other mile and there were definitely times I wished they had more!
With each mile I slowed more and more. I watched my average pace creep up closer and closer to 8 min/mile … it was amazing how quickly my time buffer was diminishing. I knew I needed to pull it together if I was going to make my goal!
This is where the negative self talk really started to get to me. I don’t do the ‘I’m not good enough’ or ‘I can’t do it’ … instead, I start rationalizing failure – I began telling myself what a good lesson it is for kids to see we don’t always make our goals on the first try but that we can try again. I started picturing myself crossing the finish and telling people why I didn’t make it and how I was going to come back and get it next time. I knew right away I had to stop this! It wasn’t okay to give up on myself and start making excuses!
Here’s where my mantras came in and I was glad I had them written on my hand. Each time I would look at my Garmin, I would see my mantras and I began repeating them in my head. I didn’t want to do this again – I was going to BQ today! I told myself I am strong and can push through … I just needed to hold on!
As we ran past the 10k start I began thinking about my students – all 18 of them who ran the 10k that morning … and I thought about what was written on my back … I needed to believe in myself – I can run a 10k at a 9 min/mile pace … that was all I needed to do to get my BQ. Forget about 3:30 – just worry about going sub 3:35 … I can do this!
The last few miles are fuzzy – because of the overheating I was getting lightheaded and dizzy and using all my energy to focus on the road and what I needed to do.
Around mile 22 I caught up to Kris. I tried to ask how he was doing but I think I only got a couple words out. He said something to the affect of how he bonked and that’s why he hadn’t finished yet … he stayed with me for a quarter mile or so and said he’d meet me at the finish line. (remember, he ran his BQ marathon only 2 weeks prior … and a 1/2 marathon the weekend in between … there was no reason he shouldn’t have bonked!)
At mile 23 I was struggling. During our training run this is where I had my big boost and picked up the pace for my PR – I was hoping the same would happen today but it didn’t. Then I felt a hand on my back and heard Jen encouraging me … she couldn’t have caught me at a better time! She needed a 3:45 to qualify and was rocking it!
This is about where the 3:35 pace leader caught me as well and Jen told him I needed his help … I did! In the few words I could get out, I told him I HAD to get in under 3:35 … and at this point, I was committed and wasn’t backing down. I knew I couldn’t afford any more walk breaks – it was all out from here!
Here’s where I will say the pace leader was AMAZING. I heard his voice loud and clear telling me exactly what I needed to do for those last 3 miles. With him yelling at me and Jen by my side I couldn’t quit!
With 2 miles to go I spotted a few more friends cheering on the corner … again, having the right people at the right time makes a world of difference! At this same time, a teammate of mine came rolling in on her bike – I spotted her immediately and she rode next to me the rest of the way in. She was one of the friends who originally signed up to run this race but unfortunately didn’t end up doing it … but, she still supported me the whole way through and was there for the big finish which meant so much to me!
I knew if I could push through miles 24 and 25 I would have a nice downhill to lead me into the finish (a perk of having run the course ahead of time!) – I was excited for that downhill! With the aid of the downhill I was able to pick up my speed and I held onto it through the finish – mile 26 was a 7:52 and then that final .42 (yeah, I obviously overran the course) I gave it everything I had and ran it in at a 7:22 pace.
Here’s where it got dramatic. As neared the finish line I could finally see the official clock – remember, there were no time clocks on course other than the 1/2 marathon mark – for those last 3 miles I didn’t look at my garmin once … I put all my energy into staying ahead of the 3:35 pace leader and trusted him. So, I had no idea how close I was to my goal. As I could finally make out the clock I saw it was at 3:34 … and then it changed to 3:35 as I’m still running towards the finish. My heart sank as I gave the final push and collapsed over the finish line – yes, I was one of those finishers. Luckily there were two very nice, attentive men volunteering who caught me as I was falling and helped walk me to a chair.
Thinking I missed my qualifying time, I looked down at my garmin and couldn’t believe it when I saw 3:34:41 … I may have made it after all!
As I was laying there, Kris came in – he and our friends brought me Rockin’ Refuel and Otter Pops … YUM!!!
My muscles finally relaxed and I mustered up the strength to walk around the athlete area – they had a lot of goodies for the runners and it was a nice open space.
Once we had everything we thought we needed from the athlete area we ventured into the crowds to get my new Boston Qualifier hat (a neat perk of this race – thank you race directors!) and our gear bags and head home.
I was so glad to catch Jen for a picture before she left!
Back at school we had an end of the season celebration for running club and the kids and parents surprised me with these signs and gifts … I LOVE my job!!!
Overall thoughts of Phoenix Marathon:
*Fun, fast course – would definitely run that course again!
*Spectator friendly course in terms of having many great places to watch and cheer … not as good for spectators who want to stay still, though, since it’s a point to point.
*Well organized from start to finish – great communication through emails and signage
*Great pace leaders!!!
*A lot of goodies and support at the finish
*For being the first year for this marathon, I am very impressed!
-My main complaint is the crappy timing chips – you can see it in Elliot’s hand in our picture above – the yellow thing that looks like a picture frame. It is about the weight of a magnetic picture frame and they were glued onto the back of the bib. This made the bib heavy and inflexible. In addition, since they are recyclable, they were not all securely attached (they pealed off easily and we were suppose to return them after the race). A number of them fell off during the race which made getting official results a hassle for one of our friends – I know everyone was complaining about these and hopefully they change them for next year!
Overall thoughts on the training plan:
*Using the walk breaks early and often have taken away GI issues, kept my heart rate down, decreased fatigue, increased speed and taken away any knee/IT band issues
*Using a low mileage plan kept me injury free
*By having only one long run a month I avoided burnout
*Being able to chat with Jeff Galloway regularly was PRICELESS!
*I encountered a lot of criticism for using this training plan … but, my results speak for themselves. It worked for me! I felt great throughout and saw results right away.
Overall thoughts on the journey:
This has been one of the hardest and most rewarding things I have done. It is an amazing feeling to know I set a big goal for myself and was able to reach it. I am so grateful for everyone who has supported me along the way – it really showed me how lucky I am to have so many incredible people in my life. This has given me a new sense of pride and confidence I didn’t realize I was missing.
Now, what’s next ???