Friday, October 12, 2012

Chicago Marathon recap - "I didn't know!"

I know, I know...I haven't blogged in two months and haven't said a word about my training. But I just had an AMAZING race, and I don't want to forget about it. I am still sort of processing what happened on Sunday. I smashed my goal to get a sub-4 marathon, and PR'ed by almost 19 minutes.

Let's see, where to begin? I guess I'll do a quick rundown of my training. Tired of stress fractures and suspecting "volume" (i.e. running too many times per week) was the culprit in last year's stress fracture (uh yeah, I ran the NYC Marathon with a stress fracture...), I decided to search for a different type of training plan. I had heard about the Runner's World book "Run Less, Run Faster," which relies on FIRST to guide its training. (FIRST = Furman Institute of Running and Scientific Training) The program is 16 weeks long and asks you to run three days per week and cross train (stationary biking, swimming, or rowing) two days per week. The three runs all have a purpose: key run #1 is speed, key run #2 is tempo, and key run #3 is long. There are also prescribed paces for each run, which are based off of your 5k time. Since my only 5k time is from my first race ever (29:24, what what!), I guesstimated that I could do a 25:20 5k and based my paces off of that.
Running three days a week was incredibly manageable - I think I missed a grand total of two runs over all 16 weeks and missed maybe four or five cross training sessions. The program suggests strength training as well, but I was pretty terrible at doing it throughout the training cycle. I did incorporate lots of planks and did P90X's Ab Ripper X moves about once a week to increase my core strength, though.

The first two-thirds of my training were tough, I think mostly due to the heat, but the last third was actually kind of magical. I found a new shoe to run in after the Brooks Ravennas were completely changed and no longer worked for me (I now run in Brooks Defyance) and I swear, as soon as I switched to the Defyance, I felt like I got faster - like I was running differently and better, somehow.

Training went well overall, I hit my paces (though definitely struggled with the speed workouts in the beginning - I had never done speed runs like the ones they prescribe in this program and they took some getting used to!), I ran hard, and I took care of myself (no illness and no injuries!). I came to Chicago hoping that I would get a sub-4 marathon - the flat course, my last 20-mile run at a 9:05 pace, and my positive frame of mind all boded well for this goal, but you just never know until you're doing it.

The night before the race (which was also my 28th birthday...yes, I ran a marathon the day after my birthday!), Shawna and I searched for inspirational running quotes that we could write on our hand or keep in mind when things got tough. We came up with a great list, and in the end Shawna went with "Run like it's the zombie apocalypse" on her arm, while I went with "Be fearless. Be relentless. Be limitless" (sort of like my "Think strong, be strong, finish strong" last year). This was somewhat inspired by my friend Zack who texted me the night before the race saying, "Don't be polite. Draw some blood!" (words to live by in a marathon!), and while I ended up wearing my arm sleeves on my hands for most of the race (after chucking my gloves a bit pre-emptively), I definitely repeated this phrase more than once throughout the race.
Shawna and me, ready to kick ass and take names
At the expo the day before, I picked up a pace tattoo at the Nike pace team station. I wanted to go for sub-4, so I selected the 3:55 tattoo. My Garmin got funky about four miles into the race, so I ended up resetting it and exclusively referring to the pace tattoo and the timer at each mile to know how I was doing on time.
My savior in the race
And now for the race...

Miles 1-4: 9:15, 8:47, 9:23, 7:50 (according to the Garmin). I made sure to look at the start clock as I crossed the starting line and knew that I passed it at around 35 minutes (something I'd refer back to at least 26 times throughout the race). I kept my pace relatively conservative, but the Garmin was telling me I'd already weaved an additional 0.1 mi by the time I hit the 4 mile mark (which I felt was incorrect and would potentially throw me off mentally for the rest of the race), so I decided to reset it at mile 4 and go from there (looking back, I suppose I could have used it just as a stopwatch since I ended up relying on the clock and the pace tattoo for most of the race - however, I felt the splits were wonky and I think resetting it helped with that). I saw a girl who was running around my pace and asked what she was aiming for time-wise (she said around 4 hours) so we decided to run together for a bit. I think I lost her around mile 4 though, because I started to fall into a rhythm and felt good going a bit faster.

Miles 5-8: 8:24, 8:51, 8:34, 8:20. Um, no, I do not know why I decided to run this fast. Perhaps the crowds in Boystown invigorated me and it wasn't quite so crazy-packed as it had been before. I can't really tell you what I was thinking at this point - I probably looked at my watch a few times and noticed it was a bit faster than what I usually do, but I also checked my breathing and it seemed relaxed enough (I usually do in for three steps, out for three steps in my long runs), checked in with my legs (felt good, and also cold...numb legs = less painful legs), and just kept going.

Miles 9-13: 8:43, 8:30, 8:36, 8:36, 8:47. I ran the first half in 1:54:57, a personal best for me in a race (previously I've run 1:57:44 in a race). I popped in my headphones somewhere around mile 8 or 9 since I don't know Chicago so didn't really know where I was at any given time, and I didn't think I'd know anyone on the sidelines cheering. Again, checked in with my legs and breathing and felt good so kept going!

Miles 14-18: 8:17, 8:24, 8:30, 8:22, 8:32. Hello there, speed demon Margaret. I think somewhere around here must have been where I saw the 3:55 pace group (and passed them). I briefly questioned if that was a good thing to do, but decided that yes, yes it was. (And let's face it, "Stronger" and "Titanium" probably also came on in these miles, further pumping me up.) Somewhere around here I also realized that I could keep up this pace for as long as possible, then drop 30 seconds in pace if I had to (to 9:09 min miles) and STILL get a sub-4 marathon. Also in here I started telling myself things like, "You've run 12 miles so many times!!! You can do it! You've run 9 miles zillions of times! Go go go!" etc, pretty much at every mile marker. This area was where I realized that hey! I'm 8 minutes ahead of pace for a 3:55 marathon! Which means I could break 3:50!!!

Miles 19-23: 8:21, 8:31, 8:36, 8:36, 8:46. Here's where I started to slow down a little. I still felt good and I absolutely did NOT hit the wall like I did in NYC last year (where I had what I called a "runner's blackout" - not dangerous or dehydrated or on the verge of fainting or anything, but just in my own head and unable to focus on anything except putting one foot in front of the other). I can't say what I can attribute this to, but I did take gels about every 5 miles to keep up my nutrition and had a hearty bagel/pb/banana breakfast - plus Chicago is flat flat flat, so I think that helped with keeping the energy up, too.

Miles 24-26.2: 8:51, 8:49, 8:36, 8:12. I was WILLING my legs to go faster but they wouldn't have it for a couple of miles. I focused on maintaining a sub-9 minute pace and managed to keep it up. I also happened to hear cheers for me around mile 25 but was super confused because I thought I didn't know anyone on the course and I was definitely not wearing my name anywhere on me - turned out it was my friend Jessi! It gave me a little boost and I kept moving. I actually said to myself, "Omigod, YOU'RE GOING TO GET SUB-3:50!!!!!!!!!!!!" which really kicked me into gear.

I crossed the finish line and immediately checked my phone since I had signed up for text message updates for myself (exactly so that I could know my time right away). And that was when I saw this:
I immediately started sobbing and called my dad who was as flabbergasted as I was (maybe more?!). I said something like, "I didn't know! I didn't know! I didn't know I could do this!" and I'm pretty sure that just about everyone around me thought there was something wrong with me. No, it's not a BQ (that wasn't a goal of mine anyway!), but I surpassed my goal time significantly, I stayed positive throughout the race, and I ran my little heart out.

I really did NOT know what to expect going into this race - I improved by 7 minutes in the NYC Marathon, and I was going to be happy if I improved by another 7 minutes this time. But almost 19 minutes??? I did not expect that and did not know that it would even be possible for me to run a 3:4X marathon. As my old boss (who's a big marathon runner) put it, "It's really quite unusual." Later on I also realized that I'd run a negative-split race as well and set a NEW half-marathon the second half of the marathon (1:52:43!). I am still sort of in shock with it all, but I am SO PROUD of myself for this.

As you can tell, there was no wiping the smile off my face after this accomplishment:
Proud. Happy. Still standing.
Till next time!