Anchorage Marathon: Hilly, Lonely but Beautiful

I have never walked during a marathon. I’ve always been in the “just keep running, even if it’s barely a jog”-camp. During the Anchorage Marathon, I walked five times—that I remember!

It wasn’t my prettiest race, but it was the prettiest marathon I’ve done.

For someone who was debating whether or not to even do the full marathon or drop down to the half marathon due to my IT band/knee injury two weeks ago, I’m proud with how it turned out: that I finished.

The Beginning: Running Together

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In my head, the game plan was to stick with Joanna until the half-way point. Before my knee injury fiasco (now about a month ago,) our goal had always been to run a sub-4 hour time together. This would mean our pace would be at about 9 minute/mile. We’ve trained and have completed three marathons together in the past. This would be no different, except this time we would reach that time goal.

I knew running 9’s the entire race would be pushing it for my poor left knee. That’s why my personal goal was to stick with Joanna until the half and just see how I feel from there on out.

However, that’s not what happened.

It was perfect race weather at the start. Sunny, but not too hot. We were running in the Last Frontier, surrounded by beautiful mountain ranges! We saw Bryce, his mom, and Joanna’s boyfriend Dan at about the 4-mile mark. I was feeling good. My knee didn’t hurt, except for a “funny feeling” behind the knee. (To note, I had never experienced any sort of feeling behind the knee before. It felt stiff).

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Joanna and I waved at our fans, going stride for stride together. After we passed them, we took on a short hill on a road that we were running.

Eventually we met up with a gravel trail. It was mile 6 and this is when Joanna mentioned she didn’t feel “quite right.” I asked her if it was her stomach but she said it was more like she just felt like she didn’t have any energy. We kept on running together but our 9 minute pace dropped to 9:30, then 10.

This isn’t good, I thought to myself. I told Joanna that at the next aid station, she should take the energy drink (despite it tasting like medicine when we took a swig of it at a prior aid station).

At the mile 9 (I think) aid station, Joanna took a cup of energy drink and stopped to walk and drink. I stopped to take a rock out of my shoe.

If we aren’t going to PR together, we may as well run slowly together.

But then Joanna decided that she actually needed to take a walking break.

“You go on ahead,” she said.

I asked her if she was sure and that it didn’t really matter because it wasn’t like I was going to PR in this state. She insisted. She said it would make her feel worse if I stayed back with her.

“Ok, see you at the finish,” I said as we high-fived each other.

The Middle: Running Worried

After I went off on my own, I picked up the pace. I got back down to 9’s and kept at that pace. My knee didn’t hurt but felt tender. Even though my physical therapist told me this wasn’t going to be a PR race, it didn’t mean I couldn’t give it my all, right? (I hope she’s not reading this!)

Two Team In Training coaches found me a little after mile 9 and mile 10. The first coach ran with me just for what felt like a few seconds but I didn’t mind because I felt “relatively good.” I told her I was more worried about my friend and teammate, Joanna, and if she could keep a look out for her. The second coach I came across ran with me for a bit longer. We chatted a bit and I also told him to look out for Joanna. He assured me that he would.

I was still running on the gravel trail and there were some rolling hills. Nothing too horrible. The sun felt a little stronger but I kept going on. I wasn’t sure where I would see my cheer squad next but it was around mile 13 and I was so happy to see them.

I’m not one to stop during a race when I see my friends/family cheering for me but I did this time. Bryce told me to keep walking so I walked with him as I told him what happened to Joanna. I wanted to stop and hang with them longer, I wasn’t tired but felt bummed to be running by myself when Joanna was struggling.

I didn’t know this because I wasn’t paying too much attention to my Garmin, but Bryce says I was still on pace to sub-4 at the half-way point.

The Second Half: The Ugly Miles

It’s getting kind of hard for me to remember everything.

The course took us from the gravel trail to actual mountain dirt trails. As I slowly jogged up a hill, I cursed under my breath that this wasn’t supposed to be a trail race, despite looking and feeling like one. I took a pit stop at a porta-potty around mile 14 or 15.

At mile 16, I started experiencing actual IT band pain. I pushed through.

Then at mile 18 it started hurting significantly more, although the pain shifted from the IT band (so outer side of my knee) to the knee cap.

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I saw my cheer squad for the final time at mile 18. The course was now along a major road. I stopped running while they cheered and took photos and encouraged me.

“Can I just wait here for Joanna?” I pleaded to them. “I’ll just wait here so I can run with Joanna.”

Bryce and Dan told me to keep on going, that Joanna was at least 10 minutes behind me. (Little did we know that she was more like 30 minutes or more behind me). Bryce told me that the first Team In Training marathoner was just “a ways” in front of me. He told me I could still catch him if I tried. Then I could be the first Team In Training finisher, he exclaimed.

“Do it for Jo!” Dan added.

Bryce filled up my water bottle and I went on my way. I wasn’t really that serious on catching the guy since he was no where in sight, but I guess I could keep running.

However, from mile 19 on, I was in a lot of pain. Not only did my knee hurt, my legs were shot. I suppose the last four weeks of limited running due to my injury had caught up to me. I felt out of shape.

Everyone around me appeared to be in pain as well. It felt like a zombie death march to the finish. We were now away from the road and on a concrete bike path. I tried to stay on the side of the path where the surface was softer. Maybe it would alleviate the pain in my knee. It didn’t.

There was an aid station at mile 21.95 but prior to it there was a small incline. This was the first time I walked. I walked 10 steps. I know this because I counted. Then when I arrived at the aid station, I stopped and walked to the porta-potty. I didn’t really have to pee but I wanted an excuse to rest.

Another Team coach was waiting for me. She asked me how I was doing. I told her I hurt. I forget what she said back to me. She gave me a salt tablet. I continued on.

Mile 21.95 to 26 were lonely and slow. They made me question why I decided to do the full. But, they also gave me time to reflect on all the people who helped me get to this point. I thought about all my fellow teammates who were also running or had finished their races in Seattle that same day. Thinking about all these people made me feel better, but I was still in a lot of pain.

The Finish: The Cruel, Cruel Finish

I knew going into this race that there was a hill “right before the finish.” What I didn’t know was that there would be THREE hills right before the finish. I’m talking less than a mile before the finish and that last hill is literally RIGHT BEFORE THE CHUTE.

If I had cried during any point of the race, it would have been at this point. But, I was too tired. I decided to take the trail runner’s racing mentality and walked up the first hill, and then second hill and even that last hill. No one around me was running up these beasts.

As soon as I walked to the top of the third and final hill, I could see the finish. The cheering became louder and my infamous kick came through. I sprinted through the finish chute and somehow managed to smile. I smiled because I was doing it. I was about to finish my race. I smiled because my coaches told us all to smile at the finish and I try my best to be obedient!

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I sprinted past a few people right at the end. It was finally over.

I walked through the rest of the chute and came up to a table and immediately took three dixie cups of water. It was like taking shots, but of water. I received my medal and my finisher’s shirt.

My friends Alex and Liz found me right away. Liz had done the half marathon. And my Team In Training mentor, Marie, also came up and congratulated me. I immediately started unloading all of my stuff (water bottle, medal, etc.) to my friends. I took off my race bib to hand off to someone.

As eager as I was to finish that race, I was to go back into it. I had to go back out to run Joanna back into the finish. We could still finish together.

But then the worst part of the race occurred. Alex or someone else told me Joanna wasn’t going to finish. She had dropped out.

This wasn’t how it was supposed to be. 

My heart sank and felt heavy. I was tired and felt even more defeated.

We went back to the mile 19 mark, where Joanna’s race ended, to pick her up. She had been throwing up on the course and eventually had to stop. A stomach bug she had the week before was apparently still with her.

This race just wasn’t meant to be. If my knee had been fully functioning, it wouldn’t have felt like a victory if I reached my goal time but Joanna didn’t even finish. And, I can’t imagine she would have felt good racing a PR if I came in with my slowest marathon time ever. (Yes, that’s what happened in Anchorage, I clocked in at 4:27:53, which is my slowest time out of 8 marathons completed).

I have more races left in me. I’m not going anywhere. Joanna and I have many more miles to train and race together.

Also, everyone told me going into this race how Anchorage is a net downhill race. It did not feel like that! Even if I had been healthy, this would have been a darn hard course to PR.

But, this race was never about PR’ing, even though sub-4 is a goal I have had for a few years now. This race wasn’t even about finishing.

Joanna and I raised ~$7,000* together with the help of friends, family, teammates, colleagues and strangers for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. This is money that will go directly to blood cancer patients and research. We had a pretty solid marathon training cycle (minus my injury at the end).

I’m proud that we did all that and showed up to the race.

This one’s for you, Natalie.


*The ~ is because money is still coming in through some company matches. Thank you to all who donated and supported us! 

Anchorage Marathon: First Thoughts

First thoughts from the Anchorage Marathon earlier this morning. Don’t worry, full race recap to come soon.

  1. I finished!
  2. Alaska is beautiful! (But, I already knew that because this is my second visit).
  3. I clocked in with my slowest marathon time ever, but I don’t care!
  4. My left IT band/knee hurt quite a lot during the race.
  5. This marathon course was much harder than I anticipated. Who puts in THREE hills literally right before the finish??
  6. This was the first marathon that I actually walked a little bit (umm, like on those last hills) and … I don’t care!
  7. So thankful for the support of my friends, family, Bryce, and teammates near and far. And, my partner in training and pain, Joanna. I couldn’t have done this one without all of you.

Running while injured sucks. Racing while injured is, well, just very painful. I’m glad to be done!

 

Anchorage Marathon: 1 day ’til race day!

I’m finally starting to get excited about this race.

I’ve accepted the fact that I may not be as fast as I want to be. I’ve accepted the fact that my IT band may start hurting a few miles into the race.

The other day I was talking with my coworker-friend about whether or not I should even race with my Garmin. I felt that timing myself and seeing my (potentially very slow) splits would make me more stressed out during the race and not be beneficial towards having a fun and good time.

“But what if you wake up Saturday and your knee is magically better?” she said.

I’m not sure my knee will be any better tomorrow than it is right now.

But, as I have experienced in many past races, anything can happen on race day.

“You’re going to have so much adrenaline on race day, you won’t even notice your knee!” Bryce told me last night.

I hope so.

But, regardless of knee pain, this race is for you, Natalie.

But, what about your marathon?

The Anchorage Marathon is two weeks away.

My IT band injury isn’t being horrible but at the same time, it hasn’t significantly improved in the last week.

This past week whenever I came across someone new to tell my injury story to (a friend, coworker, etc.,) everyone’s reaction has been the same: But, what about your marathon?

Today at PT, I asked my physical therapist if it would be OK if I raced Anchorage and pushed myself. I think I already knew the response before she said it.

“Oh, no. This won’t be a PR race for you.”

It’s so hard to come to terms with the fact that I won’t be able to fully race this race that I have spent so much time and energy training for over the last four months.

Not only that, but I feel like I am letting my training partner, Joanna, down.

On race day, will I just let her go off and run after that sub-4 hour time that we both have been striving to achieve? Do I attempt to stay with her as long as possible only to have a horrible race because I am in too much pain to enjoy the scenery?

I guess I still have two weeks to decide.

At least I am not fully sidelined from running.

I’ve been doing my PT exercises diligently, icing and resting a lot. I’ve been running very minimally and when I do, I have been going at a very slow pace so as not to aggravate my IT band/knee.

I’m grasping on to that last bit of hope that just maybe I will have no significant pain on race day and the stars and sun and moon will align — I will cross the finish line with Joanna with a big smile and a new PR.

I know that’s a lot to hope for.

But, I can still dream.

 

Road to Anchorage: Less than 3 weeks ’til race day!

I’ve been negligent in timely blogging mainly because this is a running blog and I haven’t been running much in the last week.

But Kristin, you’re training for a marathon, aren’t you?

Yes, I’m still scheduled to run the Anchorage Marathon on June 18 but I had a little blip in my training plan.

I had sudden left IT band pain that arose strong early last week. So … this is what the past week of training looked like …

Monday

Rest day: 0 miles – My IT band pain began the night prior to this day but on this day, I awoke with very bad pain. I couldn’t bend my left knee at all without severe pain! I’m not exaggerating when I say I was walking around my office with a limp. I iced a lot and scheduled an appointment with a physical therapist. (Thank goodness my insurance doesn’t require a doctor’s referral for PT!)

Tuesday

Rest day: 0 miles – The pain has subsided. I can walk normally. More icing.

Wednesday

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PT day: 0 miles – Saw the same physical therapist I saw three years ago when I had IT band pain on the right side. Her words upon seeing me: It’s good to see you! I mean, it’s not good to see you! The verdict? I need to work on strengthening my glutes and hips. (I see lots of clam shells, bridges, and resistance-band crab walking in my present and future). Bryce cheered me up by taking me to eat one of my favorite comfort foods: Korean tofu soup.

Thursday

Easy run: 4 miles – I ran with Joanna around our neighborhood at a slow pace. The knee/IT band was off and on achy. (FYI: My physical therapist says I do not have to quit running). Did my PT exercises.

Friday

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Rest day: 0 miles – While I would have liked to run today, I took it easy. Did my PT exercises. Saw the Mariners lose at baseball …

Saturday

Rest / gloomy day: 0 miles – I had planned to go with Joanna to our Team run and just “run as much as I could” with hopes of doing around 10 miles. (Before I got injured, Joanna and I had planned this day to be our 22 miler). No running happened because I woke up with pain in my upper abdomen / sternum. It hurt to move, especially turning my body side to side. I tried to do my PT exercises but my “stomach condition” made it too difficult. I pretty much spent the entire day watching Netflix, reading, napping and feeling sorry for myself. I may have cried once or twice since I had no idea what was causing my abdomen pain. (Dr. Google told me it could be anything from stress or cancer!)

Sunday

Long run: 9 miles – I woke up with the abdomen pain mostly gone but lingering a bit. I decided that since my IT band felt more or less fine, I would give my long run a go. I was able to get nine rainy very slow miles in. They were more mentally challenging than physically challenging. By the end, my IT band felt pretty tender (which is why I stopped at nine and didn’t do 10). Feeling way more optimistic and positive than I did the day before!

Takeaways: Training doesn’t always go as planned. But, all I can do is listen to my body and stay positive.

That in the middle phase

I’m in that weird “in the middle” phase of training.

The Chuckanut 50K (my first ultra!) was about two weeks ago. And, I’m about 11 weeks out from the Anchorage Marathon.

Anchorage is my goal race of the year. I now need to buckle down and make sure I am sticking to the training plan Joanna and I have for this race. If it means waking up early and doing a 30 minute run before work while also doing a mid-distance run after work, then I’ll do it. If it means showing up before our Team In Training group meets at 8 a.m. Saturday to get a few extra miles in beforehand, then Joanna and I will do it.

Folks, you heard it here first. (Make sure to hold me accountable!)

This will be my third (yes, third) attempt at breaking four hours at the road marathon.

The first time I tried was at Portland two years ago when Joanna and had a few mishaps, the weather was way too hot and I finished heartbroken and crying.

I quickly signed up for Eugene. I trained with my friend Shannon, who runs at a pace about a minute faster than I do. But, I kept up with her during our training runs — which we did many together! I felt confident going into the Eugene Marathon last year. And then, (a small) heartbreak finish followed. You can read the full recap here but basically I came up a minute and 19 seconds short. I clocked in at 4:01:18 — with a pit stop!

Being this close to sub-4’ing, I’m doing everything in my power now to prepare for that race finish time that I have been literally chasing after for two-and-a-half years.

I’m tired of chasing. I’m ready to race and crush it.

In running: Levels of crazy

When I first started running half-marathons in college, other people were “pretty impressed.”

“How do you run that long? Don’t you get bored?” The questions like these ones kept rolling in on the daily.

Back then I wasn’t even racing. I mean, I didn’t know about proper nutrition. I didn’t know how to properly train to get faster. I didn’t so speed work.

I just ran.

Because I liked to run.

But eventually I learned that it’s also fun to really train and to crush your PRs.

And then it became fun to try new distances, to log in more miles.

I started training and racing full marathons. Six years ago after completing my first full marathon, I never would have even dreamed of being a sub-4 hour marathoner.

Today, I’m not a sub-4 hour marathoner.

But, I am training every day to become one. (OK, yes, there are rest days but rest days are included in training, right?)

The goal is to cut off at least 1 minute and 19 seconds from my marathon time because my current PR is 4:01:18. (I know, it pains me too).

But before the Anchorage Marathon in June, I’ll be tackling my first ultra marathon in March. An ultra is any distance longer than a standard marathon (so, 26.2 miles).

“What’s wrong with you? You have issues,” my coworker sarcastically said to me last week when I mentioned my plans for the weekend included doing a 25K for fun as a volunteer.

I tried to explain that in the realm of runners, I wasn’t that crazy.

“There are runners crazier than I am,” I replied. “There are people out doing 50-milers, and 100-milers, or more!”

It’s all relative, right?

My normal is someone else’s crazy. Someone else’s normal is my crazy.

I shake my head when I think of my 22-year-old self who ran her first half-marathon in a cotton T-shirt and only took a few cups of water during the summer race.

If anything, I was pretty crazy back then!