Spoiler Alert: I did it. I ran a sub 4 marathon. 3:52:11 to be exact.
I realize this does not qualify me for the Olympics or Boston and certainly does not deserve much in the way of accolades, but for me this is a big deal.
A HUGE deal.
I ran my first marathon in 2007. My time was 4:29 ish. I went on to run 5 more marathons, all within the same time frame. My PR up until Saturday, November 1, 2014 was a 4:15:59 set in the fall of 2011.
In between that PR, I landed a much more demanding job than I had held up until that point. I had been a freelance writer and part-time waitress, and while these jobs are not easy to say the least, I did not work close to 40 hours and I never struggled to find time to run.
Then, I had a baby. He is the most amazing, special little guy in the world (I know, every mom says this. Sorry for the annoying bragging). And while I love every moment that I spend with him, he took what little running time I had left up with his feedings, dirty diapers, not sleeping and play time.
Since my last full in 2011, I have run 6 half marathons—2 while I was pregnant—and while I enjoy running halves, I was hungry for a full. And a PR. With very little free time—AKA NO free time—it was a huge challenge for me. I had to beg, borrow and steal to find the time to train for this marathon.
Fast forward to the day before the race. My less miles approach had me more nervous than I ever had been before any race. It was Halloween, so I tried to push the marathon out of my thoughts and enjoy the day with Andy and Max. We suited Max up in his Frankenstein outfit and took him to the Children’s Museum to play.
Once Max was thoroughly worn out, we headed over to the expo. Since little man was ready for a nap, we made it quick. No time to listen to the speakers or peruse the booths, but it looked like there was a lot of great stuff there. I did hear a lot of side conversations about the next morning’s weather, and the fact that the forecast was calling for snow(!) that night. This was a little troubling, but I filed this away in the can’t-do-anything-about-it folder and carried on. Packet in hand, we high-tailed it out of there and drove home to put cranky pants down for his nap.
That evening, after Andy left for work and I was debating on whether to attempt trick-or-treating with an 18-month-old in sub-freezing temps, it began to snow. With the sight of that first snowflake, I began to relax about the race. I’m not sure why this calmed me so much. I think because I had been stressing so much about something going wrong—falling off my pace, forgetting to put my bib on, my Garmin dying (how can I LIVE without my Garmin?!)—that something like the weather hadn’t crossed my mind. I can’t control it, and if the weather was going to be shitty, what could I do? Wear some gloves, grin and bear it.
Needless to say, I didn’t take the munchkin trick-or-treating in the snow. We visited my in-laws and then we went home to relax. Of course, Max had other plans. He was in full wild man mode. Seriously, he ran in circles from the living room to the kitchen to my room and back for about an hour. It took me forever to get the little dude to wind down and go to sleep. I think I finally tucked him in around 9:45. Eeek.
I still had dinner, bathroom and kitchen cleaning, and outfit selections to make. I know I sound crazy for cleaning the night before a race, but our bathrooms and kitchen were hurting, and I knew I wasn’t going to be able to do it post-race or even on Sunday. There was no way I could deal with a gross house until Monday.
So I cleaned. Then I ate my go-to pre-race meal of chicken noodle soup and a shitload of crackers, chose my outfit and crawled into bed around 1:30.
The incessant beeping of my alarm started all too soon a mere 4 hours after my head had hit the pillow, but I dragged myself out and got ready. I was pleasantly surprised to see that the temperature was in the low 30s. I was expecting a lot colder. Plus, the light dusting of snow from the night before was all but gone. It was shaping up to be perfect fall race weather.
I got downtown and parked with plenty of time to spare. I stopped at the Westin to use the restroom and hang out in the heat before heading to the start line, and it appeared that about 10,000 other racers had this idea as well. The place was PACKED. The entire lobby was full, the Starbucks had a line out the door, and the bathroom lines were rapidly growing. I used the restroom and hung out for awhile. Then, I headed to the start.
Unfortunately, this race does not have corrals for average racers like myself. They have multiple corrals for those who run faster times. I believe you have to run faster than a 3-hour marathon to be in a corral. Everyone else starts behind these speedy groups. I don’t remember this being the case the last time I ran this race, so maybe this was new? While I love this race, I really think this is a flaw. This puts everyone from 8-minute milers to walkers all together, in a race with thousands and thousands of people. I think that definitely needs to change.
Once the gun went off, I spent the first couple of miles jostling for position. The beginning miles go through the streets of downtown Indy, and it’s absolutely beautiful. The sky was growing lighter and lighter and my legs felt good. I focused on not getting too excited. My plan was to hang around 9-minute miles for the first half or so, and then see how I felt. If I had anything in me to speed up, I would. If not, I was pretty confident based on my training times that I could hold on to a 9-minute pace for the entire race.
After a week of barely any running, however, I wanted to speed up! Holding back was frustrating, so I focused on listening to a book on my phone. NERD ALERT! Yes, I listen to books while running. Not during speedwork, but most regular runs and definitely long runs. I love to read, but I usually give up reading time to run. So what better way to enjoy a book than by combining it with running? I never claimed to be cool 😉
The miles downtown ticked by quickly. Around 2.5, we went under a bridge and my Garmin lost its satellite connection for a minute or so. When it returned, the paces it was showing were totally off. I panicked a little. How was I going to stick to the plan if I didn’t know what pace I was running? I tried to chill out and run on feel, but I’ll admit this threw me a little. When the next mile began (and my Garmin was about 2-tenths off of the clock), I was able to see my pace again. I was still right where I wanted to be, so that was positive. After winding around downtown, the course heads down Fall Creek Road. Around mile 7, the half marathoners peel off. They were all super supportive, shouting “good luck!” to the all of the full-marathoners. After that, I had a lot of elbow room and felt a little more relaxed. We turned onto 38th street and headed down to some of the most beautiful neighborhoods in Indy. The colorful, tree-lined streets were a welcome change from the city atmosphere we were just in. People were outside their homes, cheering and handing out Halloween candy. Some houses were blasting music and I even saw spectators wearing Halloween costumes. It was definitely a good time. It was in the neighborhoods, around mile 11, when I began to feel a twinge in my left hamstring. I wasn’t sure what the hell was going on, so I tried to ignore it. My plan was to take a gel every 6-miles, but I went ahead and took one right then. I really had no idea what to do, so I went with eat. That’s pretty much what I do in my everyday life too 😉 The twinge subsided and I continued to focus on the pace.
We headed through Broadripple and past the halfway mark. According to the race clock, I came in around 1:57. So far, I was hanging on to the plan. I didn’t feel like it was smart at this point to go any faster. Most of the times I was seeing on my watch were in the 8:50s and that felt doable. I knew how brutal the final miles could be, and I wanted to have gas in the tank.
At mile 15 the one and only “hill” of the race began. After the Nike Women’s Half in San Francisco two weeks ago (Recap coming soon—I swear!), this hill was nothing. It was like a tiny bump. I felt strong and barely fazed. In fact, I even sped up a bit here. After the itty-bitty incline, we headed towards the Butler area. I absolutely love this area of Indy. We went right past Hinkle Fieldhouse and lots of cute little houses. Then, we headed towards the Art Museum of Indianapolis, which is stunning. As my watch bleeped out I was at mile 19—one-tenth of a mile behind the clock, grr—I realized that I had more. So I pushed the pace a little. As each mile ticked on, I felt stronger. I was only dropping about 10 seconds per mile, but I’ve had marathons where after 20, I’ve lost up to a minute per mile off my pace. To be gaining speed felt soooo good. As we headed towards downtown, I kept trying to turn it up. There was no need to conserve now. 22, 23, and 24 ticked by quickly. At mile 25, I let go and ran as fast as I felt I could hang on to for the next 1.2 miles. I glanced down and saw my pace was hovering around an 8-minute mile. Damn, that felt good.
At the 26-mile marker, I sprinted. The fan support at this point was amazing. I felt like I was flying! I couldn’t believe how good I felt. I have never experienced that in a marathon before. I crossed the finish line in 3:52:11 and was overcome with emotion. This training cycle had been such a challenge, mainly because I had to give up time with Max to get in the miles. To hit my goals was such a triumph and I think Max would have been proud of his Mommy if he understood what she was doing! I’ve never finished a marathon that strong before and it was amazing. I’m still riding that runner’s high days after the race. Meeting the goals of running sub-4 and running negative splits gives me confidence that if I put in the work, I can achieve even more. BQ, I’m looking at you! I have so much more to say about this race, my training and my goals for the future. If anyone even made it through this marathon length blog post, I’m impressed! More to come soon!