You know those days where your stride is fluid, your legs are light, breathing is calm, the surroundings fade away and you feel no strain as the pace comes so effortlessly to you? This was not the case the day I lined up at CIM. As many of you know I set some lofty goals going in, wanting to win the race and run under my PR of 2:29. Coach Ben and I had discussed a race plan of 5:45s. We decided if that put me in contention to win late in the race, great. I knew I couldn’t change my plan based around the leaders. As the race approached, my heart was whispering believe, dream big, fight hard, but also deep down a voice was questioning, wondering.
THE LEAD UP
About 6 weeks before CIM we started to really hit the workouts. I was feeling the flow and the marathon vibes that I had once had before my kids were coming back. At this point on the build up we call it being in the “thick of it” where every workout is long and grinding and ever so calculated preparing you for what you will experience in the marathon. My “Prep with Steph” workout was a few days after the NYRR Dash 5k and by far my best workout of the training block. I felt tired but strong and locked in.
Immediately following that glimpse, things took a turn and spiraled downwards, hard. My left SI and back flared up, scaring me into thinking it was a fracture. I scheduled an oh shit MRI but, luckily, as suspected by many it was clean. All that had come up was the same pattern I have had early in my career and much more pronounced since having kids. My pelvis tends to shift around quite a bit during training and although I religiously do strength work and get treatment subtle movements in our mechanics it’s magnified by 10-18 miles a day and causes undue stress.
Because I’ve learned from my mistakes in the past I took 3 days off as soon as I felt something in my butt. We moved training around, I missed my original 16 miler but after a rough awkward few runs I was back in the cycle. 2 weeks out I ran a 15 miler with a nasty headwind on Lake Mary. Pace goal was 6 mins, but that wasn’t happening that day because of the wind. I settled into 6:05s, then 6:11, then a 6:18. I didn’t cuss or freak out as I rode the curves of Lake Mary and as I shifted out of the wind closed my last 2 in 5:51, 5:43. I wasn’t broken but admittedly a little shaken. 3 days later I ran a fartlek with my teammate Kellyn and Rivers (local stud and pacer extraordinaire). It was just over a week out from race day. 5 hours later I was shaking in my bed with a fever, hot and cold sweats and couldn’t even be a mom let along run.
Sicknesses as runner are awful, obviously, but as a parent literally the most helpless feeling I’ve known. Thanks goodness for Ben. I was knocked out for 24 hours but then felt the energy fighting back into my body and 2 days later I headed out for an easy 4 miles. But 1 minute in I had excruciating pain in my left chest, pec, and shoulder. I could not run a step without severe pain. I thought, “this is unbelievable and frankly ridiculous.” It felt like I had been shot in the shoulder. I walked back home and later that afternoon thought maybe it was a fluke and tried to run again. No dice. Made into 2 mins and the pain was searing. I don’t usually put too much stock into signs or karma but for a solid day I thought I wasn’t going to make it to the starting line and the marathon was just not meant to be for me this year.
This past spring I suffered so much “what ifs” and heartache when I never got to see how I could have performed at the Trials had my osteitis pubis not flared up. I felt so strong and fit in May, just like I was feeling in November one month out from CIM. Only now was it deja vu? Was the hard work not going to show itself? One of my favorite excerpts from the Believe I am Journal is “Attachment depletes your power. A healthy attachment to your sport is to be expected- you feel happy when you run well and disappointed when you don’t. Attachment becomes unhealthy when your self-worth is at stake in every workout and performance. I wanted to crush it at CIM. It was my 1st marathon in 3 years, 1st marathon post my 2 kids, and part of me wanted to prove 2:29 was not a fluke PR. But prove to who?
I landed in Sacramento. And race weekend began. It’s a lot of doing nothing, and trying to keep nerves quiet. I did my bottles and met up with “my people”. Attended the technical meetings. And got ready to toe the line.
I made it to the starting line. The gun went off. Mile 1 was 5:48, right behind a pacer that was set for 5:45s. Mile 1 did not come easy. It’s amazing how you sometimes feel and sense how your race is going to play out within the first few minutes. I didn’t have much pop, I wasn’t “holding back” a 5:48, and I would be straining too early to hold onto 5:45s. So I let go of the dream goal of sub 2:29:35, for now. I didn’t let go of winning or of having a great day and time. The pacers held onto 5:45s as I slowly slipped back to 5:48-5:50s. I was running solo and would continue to do so for the next 18 miles. Around 10 some joksters from Oklahoma who knew my teammate Scott Smith asked what I was trying to run. I said “this right here, you want to join.” They did, for about a mile then they drifted ahead. I ran into 2nd place around 12 miles but could not see the leader. The crowds were telling me she was about 2-3 minutes up. It felt like a lot of time to make up but also not a lot of time when you know what the death march in the last 3-4 miles of a marathon can do to someone. I kept focusing on my breathing, my stride and staying locked in that rhythm of borderline over the edge, borderline just under.
Mile 17 I came up to a guy and he amazingly ran stride for stride with me for the next 3 miles, thank you to whoever you are out there. My quads were shot, strained from the ups and downs, but I was determined to give winning the race a chance. The crowds were now yelling “she’s fading, you’re closing on her.” I still could not see the leader. Get to 22 miles and then try to let out everything you have, reminding myself to measure my strength, gather the stardust in my pocket. I couldn’t get my legs to run any faster than 5:49/5:50 for the last 6 miles so when I hit 22 I poured it out there. I ran a 5:38 and thought “I’m doing it. I can run down the leader, and win this bleeping race.” Then a huge gorilla (metaphorical) jumped on my back. Then his family also joined the party and jumped on my back. But in all seriousness I was done.
I mustered all my strength to run 5:58, 6:00, and 5:55 for miles 24, 25, 26. Coach Ben was just after 25 miles and yelled “you got this, go go.” I am going, I’m laughing inside my head when my every part of my fibers will move no faster than 5:50 pace. I turned the corner heading towards the Sacramento Capitol and although the clocked read over 2:32 and I was the 2nd female finisher that day, it was an incredibly proud moment. I finished the damn marathon. I made it back to the startling line 15 months after Hudson was born. I ran 3 minutes off my personal best, and I believe I am just getting started. So yeah I missed my big dream goals. But I’d be remiss if I didn’t step back, realize how much I was able to accomplish, thank all the people who supported me along the way, and believed I could I could come back to this event. I closed the chapter of 2016 on a high note and now it’s time to start writing the next chapter of 2017 and beyond.
Splits for the nerds out there (like me)
5:48, 5:46, 5:46, 5:39, 5:47, 5:45, 5:48, 5:50, 5:48, 5:45, 5:45, 5:50, 5:48, 5:47, 5:46, 5:47, 5:45, 5:51, 5:48, 5:55, 5:47, 5:39, 5:57, 6:01, 6:03, 5:55