It’s been said that one should run the first third of a marathon with your head, the second third with your personality, and the remainder with your heart. I have no idea what “running with your personality” even means, but every repeat marathoner has some way of mentally breaking up the seemingly endless miles. For me, the first half is about staying calm and comfortable and trying not to freak out. The most mentally challenging portion is the section between 13 and 19, and then once I hit 20, I know I’m going to at least finish.
Two weeks ago, I toed the start line of the Indianapolis Marathon. Leading up to the race, I had been traveling and then staying with Abby and John in London, Ontario. John and I completed the final two running workouts of our training plan together, Abby and I logged a swim workout that Wednesday, and I felt good and sharp. Running slightly faster than goal marathon pace felt pretty comfortable, even to where I could carry on a conversation at a sub-10 minute pace without straining much.
My friend Jen and I have a bit of a friendly competition chasing each other’s PRs. Last year, she finished Marine Corps a minute or so ahead of me, which I then bested at Rocket City. Earlier this year, she lowered her time significantly, and while my A goal was to go under 4:40, my B goal was to beat Jen’s PR…until she clocked a 4:27:xx at Chicago the week before Indianapolis. I even told Abby, “There’s no way I’ll beat that!”
On our drive down to Indiana the Thursday before the race, we were stuck in terrible traffic, delaying our arrival until late in the night, and irritating my knees and hip flexors. Then the weather forecast started to fall apart. After putting in some hot and humid miles during the Middle Tennessee summer, I was looking forward to the 40-degree race day temperatures. Until rain entered the forecast. But with anything, there are variables you can control and variables you can’t control. One of the variables I can control is my attitude. Despite stiff knees, lack of quality sleep, and rainy race day weather, I tried to stay positive.
Our hotel was across the street from the expo, so it was easy and quick for us to get our packets. Then we made a Meijer’s run for some race day food, and Abby decided to make spectathlete t-shirts for herself and my dad, which I don’t have pictures of, unfortunately. I made my flat runner trying to account for the weather conditions. If the rain stopped and the sun came out, I could ditch the arm warmers, and the visor would keep the rain (or sun) out of my face. The blue flower symbolizes “Content” from Fellow Flowers.
Sure enough, we woke up that morning to rain, not a heavy downpour but a steady drizzle. My mom’s flights had gotten messed up, and she didn’t arrive in Indy until after 9 pm. She was not up to running the full 26.2 and threatened to not even start, but she lined up in the corral anyway.
John and I before the start. Doesn’t this look like fun?
My race plan was to go with the 4:30 pacer and hang on as long as I could, re-evaluating how I felt along the way. When I got into the corral, the 4:30 pacer was nowhere to be found. I spotted the sign for the 5:00 and the 4:15 pacers and lined up somewhere in between, but I was disappointed and a little panicky. I talked myself down a little bit, knowing I was shooting for clocking each mile somewhere between 10:10 and 10:20.
I didn’t take off my throwaway shirt until two miles in. A woman started talking to me about Marathon Maniacs. She was attempting to qualify with 2 in 16 days and was scheduled for run/walk intervals. It took a while to warm up, but I was right where I wanted to be, maybe even a little faster. I tried to get myself to slow down and relax even though I felt good.
There was a slight hill at mile 3 that didn’t phase me too much, and we spent some time outside of the park before heading back in. Abby was cheering at mile 4, though that was the last time I’d see her until the finish. I was running with a woman wearing a “Birthday Girl” sash and her friend. They were doing the half, but we traded some encouragement. At mile 11, I had to make a bathroom stop, jumping a fence to use some non-race Portolets on a golf course. Then the big hill hit. People around me were freaking out, but I chugged up, one foot in front of the other, logging my slowest mile of the day.
The half-marathon split off at mile 12.5, and by then, I was ready to see them go. The pack thinned out considerably. Mentally, I told myself that the real work was still ahead of me. I came through the mats at 13.1 in 2:13:44, a little faster than on-target. Then, lo and behold, ahead of me was a man in a orange shirt with “Pacer” on the back. “Are you the 4:30 pacer?” I screamed at him, probably a little louder than necessary. “Yes.” “Sweet!” I latched on to him and wasn’t going to let go.
Our pace group was the pacer, me, and another woman named Michelle. We entered a ten-mile out-and-back stretch, and we talked about family, running, different races, etc. I was trying to trust the pacer as we clocked sub-10:00 miles consistently along that stretch. When the wind kicked up, our pacer told us to draft off of him. I was looking for John to be coming back the other way and got a little nervous when the 3:30 pace group went by with no John in sight. I saw him later than I expected to and knew he wasn’t having the race he had hoped, but he yelled, “See you at the finish line!” so I wasn’t too worried. We lost Michelle at an aid station, and the pacer told me to go ahead. Suddenly, there was the turn-around, just past mile 19. Thanks to Iain, our fabulous 4:30 pacer, I had gotten through the most mentally difficult stretch without a second thought.
When I passed the 20-mile marker, I did some quick math in my head. To break 4:30, all I had to do was keep at least an 11:00 pace, which felt completely possible. Every mile faster than that was that much more under 4:30. Physically, I felt great. Despite the rain, I didn’t feel any chafing or blisters though my quads were substantially fatigued. The out-and-back was fun because I got to see the other runners and cheer on my fellow Maniacs. The volunteers, other runners, and photographers told me I looked good, and this time, I actually believed them. I was passing a lot of people and tried to give them some encouragement to keep going.
From studying the course elevation chart, I knew the last mile was uphill to the finish. Cruel but necessary. I started to put the hammer down past the 24-mile marker, as we headed back through the park. By this time, we had run this stretch at least 3 other times, so it felt familiar, and I knew where I was in relationship to the finish line. The last mile WAS uphill. As hard as I was working, my pace kept dropping. Finally, we were out of the park for the final push to the finish. The rain had stopped, and the cloud cover lightened. Only then did I peel off the arm warmers.
I knew I was within striking distance of Jen’s PR from Chicago, as I hit the 26 mile marker. My parents were there yelling and cheering and I threw them my arm warmers and kicked it into my last and final gear. My mom said she told my dad, “She’s after Jen’s time.” Abby & John were near the finish chute cheering as well.
I started to tear up like I always do at the finish and hit my watch as I crossed over the mat. I didn’t even need to look at my time to know that I ran a hell of a race, that it didn’t matter if I’d beat Jen’s time or not because I knew I ran sub-4:30 by a few minutes. 4:26:59. Official time – 4:26:52. Nearly a 15-minute PR, a negative split, and a better race than I could’ve imagined. Mom, Dad, Abby, & John met me just outside the finish chute. I couldn’t really speak when my mom asked me my time; I just held out my watch.
My mom had ended up running the half. Weirdly, we were running nearly the same pace but never saw each other. John finished his first marathon in 3:51 after struggling with some cramps. His race report is here. Abby and my dad, then joined by my mom, were miserable, cold, and wet for the morning, as it turned out the course wasn’t very spectator-friendly. Once we traded brief race stories and I had stopped crying from joy and exhaustion, we ATE. The post-race party included hamburgers, brats, baked beans, coleslaw, and cookies. I never know what might sound good after running that distance. The thought of baked beans turned my stomach, but the hamburger, coleslaw, and cookie was delicious.
After all of that, I was ready to return home victorious and see Joe, having been gone for 10 days.
Next up: Adventures in Canada!