Finally getting that marathon PR

It feels really good to finally accomplish something you have been trying to do for three years.

I got my marathon PR at the Vancouver Marathon two Sundays ago.

But, I didn’t just “get” my personal record time. It wasn’t handed to me. I earned it. I trained for the past three months for it. I ran in the dark with my headlamp. I ran in the rain. I ran while traveling in Europe. I ran before work at 5:30 in the morning (that one time).

I wasn’t going to let what happened last year, happen again.

I was here for redemption.

My thought going into the race was to just take the first half easy, run 10 minute/mile pace, whatever.  I will just negative-split and still PR in the end, I told myself.

I did not have negative splits.

I never ran at 10 minute pace.

I don’t own a GPS watch so I basically just went with “how I felt” and did some basic calculations of my estimated pace whenever I passed a mile marker (which, didn’t seem as often as I had liked since I noticed more kilometer signs than miles. Darn you, U.S. public — and private — education for not thoroughly teaching me the metric system!)

I felt good at the half-way mark but not good good, just OK good. I woke up race morning with my lower back feeling kind of tight and was worried it would just give out on me (it did not). Also, at the half-way mark, I had now been running with a pack of 30-something-year-old women for five miles now. I noticed them at about the 8-mile mark and just stuck with the three of them. Was it weird running with a pack of strangers and not say a single word to them? Yes, kind of. I definitely scrambled at water stations to catch up with them a few times because it’s not like they were going to wait for me! (From my observation of the three of them, they were friends and knew each other).

The three runners on the right are the ones I stuck with for a good number of miles.

Somewhere between the 16 to 18-mile mark, one of the three made a move. She started running ahead (or, the other two were just slowing down). I didn’t feel like death. I knew I was going to PR, but I wanted to secure my PR so I decided to stick with her.

Apparently this is my race face when I don’t know my dad is taking photos. This is about a mile or so before yellow shirt and I leave the other two runners behind.

After we went up the last hill of the race (which is a bridge), somewhere around mile 20, I finally said something to her. I said: You’re the most polite runner I have ever met.

I wasn’t trying to be mean. I was just impressed with her good manners! She was literally saying “thank you” to every spectator that cheered for her or to a group that may have included her/us. This Vancouver native told me she was a teacher and it was just out of habit for her to give thanks.

In my head I told myself I would stay with this polite-Vancouver-runner-teacher until the finish.

That didn’t happen. (I left her).

At mile 20 or 21 I looked at my watch and calculated that I was going to PR. I wasn’t nervous anymore. I was finally going to break my cursed time of 4:23:29. I’m bad at arithmetic but I estimated that I would beat my time by at least five minutes or so.

That didn’t happen. (I crushed it!)

My right foot started to cramp but I tried my best not to think about it. Yes, my body was not feeling as comfortable as it normally does. It was getting painful. But, not to the point where I was going to give up. From mile 21 to 26, I was passing more runners than other runners were passing me.

With about two miles to go, my hands began to feel slightly numb. This is when my stomach sort of cringed. Last year, with one mile left to go in the race, my hands, arms and feet all became numb to the point where I couldn’t feel them. I shook my hands out and kept on running though. I was too close to think about these side problems. (And, I was too focused on my race to notice I was getting some major chaffing under my arms!)

I finally turned the corner onto Pender Street (which, by the way, is an incline!!) and both sides of the road were filled with people cheering, yelling and screaming. My heart was beating very fast. Now, I was in pain.

Straight ahead, off in the distance, I saw the finish line banner. All I could think about was that the road was an incline, ever so slight, but still an incline. My parents spotted me and yelled at me. I didn’t wave at them like I did the previous four times I saw them along the course — Yes! Four times! Aren’t my parents the best cheerleaders ever? — but they did allow me to get myself in check.

I kicked it in.

I didn’t full-out sprint quite yet, but when I was maybe 300 meters away from that finish, I sure did kick. I sprinted past a good six to 10 people before I crossed that line.

And, right when I crossed that line, right in that moment, I knew.

I knew I had a new marathon PR.

It wasn’t until I looked down at my watch that I knew it was a 16-minute PR. (I stopped checking my watch somewhere between mile 23 and 24 for fear that I would get too nervous and go into shock or something …)

My final time was 4:07:40. This is 9:26 pace! Becoming a sub-4 hour marathoner now seems very feasible. (Sub-4 hours is something I never even dreamed of before since it was so “out there.”) Watch out Sarah Palin, I’m going to beat your marathon time (3:59:36).

“I can’t move my legs so I guess I can stand and pose for this photo.”

There was really no trick to how I did so well in this race.

You know back in school when you really studied well for an exam? You knew going into the test that you were going to ace it because you had prepared. That’s how I felt going into this marathon. I studied really hard for three months. I learned from my mistakes in my past races. (Don’t start the race with people faster than you. Don’t not eat breakfast before a long run. Do speed workouts not just long runs during training).

And, I fought (in mid-70 to upper-70-degree temperatures!)

I fought for those 4 hours and 7 minutes.

And, I’m more than thrilled to do it again in five months at the Chicago Marathon. (Hello, flat course!)

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Obviously I’m so rude that I made this post all about me and how great of a race I had … blah blah blah. Although running is a solo sport, it’s not. I did high school cross-country and that was very much a team sport. My team this weekend were my parents who cheered like crazy for me. Bryce, Jackie and Brent who carbo-loaded the night before with me. Jackie and Brent did the half marathon and came back out to see me at the finish. Bryce also did the full and kept me calm — sort of — before the start of the race. And, to all my other friends who went on a long run with me during training, or understood that I couldn’t hang out because I had to be in bed early for said long run: You are all the best team to be on.

I am ready

I will be running the Vancouver Marathon in six days.

SIX DAYS!

I just returned from a 20-day trip to Europe Friday night but I cannot wait to leave home again next weekend to run 26.2 miles in Vancouver, British Columbia.

I have put a lot of time and energy into my training this time.

I did track workouts when I didn’t feel like it.

I listened to my doctor and started taking iron supplements because apparently I am anemic.

I ate breakfast before doing my long runs.

I stuck to my training plan while traveling in Europe.

I am ready.

Am I nervous? Scared?

Of course I am. I’ve put the past three months into really training for this one race.

I’m scared that I will have a repeat of what happened last year (when I, uh, “hit the wall” in the last one mile of the race). I’m nervous that I won’t PR again.

But,

I am also extremely confident in my training. I am excited to run in six days.

P1010821

And, do you know what else really pumps me up? The fact that Shannon (my friend, Mo’s younger sister) raced the Eugene Marathon this morning and qualified for Boston! Shannon is a Boston Marathon qualifier! And, a mutual friend of mine got a 20-minute PR at Eugene also! And, an acquaintance from college (who I am Facebook friends with) also ran Eugene and not only was it her first full marathon ever but she also qualified for Boston!

They all had fantastic races and that is really inspiring. I’m proud of all of them. (Even if the one is through Facebook stalking but, hey, the news showed up on my feed!)

I can’t wait for next Sunday to arrive. Until then, I will sleep well, eat well, hydrate like it’s my job and remember that I am ready.

The worst one mile of my life during my best marathon

Let me preface by saying that my best marathon wasn’t a PR (personal record). But, I still felt like it was my best.

Vancouver Marathon 2012

When I crossed the finish lines of my first two marathons, my immediate thought was that I would never do another full marathon again.

When I crossed the finish line two Sundays ago of the Vancouver Marathon, I knew I would be signing up for my next full marathon soon.

Even though I didn’t beat my fastest time, AND I hit the wall during the last mile — yes, I turned into a crazy person with only one mile to go! — I had to do another one. I guess this is what an addiction feels like.

This was my first marathon that I ran by myself. The past two I had trusty Joanna by my side for the races — we coincidentally (and thank God) are the same pace. I was worried about having to be alone. But really, when you’re running, you’re never alone.

Leah and I at the beginning of the race

I ran the first four miles with Leah. Despite the fact that we were running a good minute-and-a-half to two minutes faster than my normal pace, it was a good way to ease into the race — by having a friend to chat with. (Sure, it may have been the reason why the last one mile was a good five minutes slower than my regular mile pace, but, whatever. I prefer running in good company than no company).

And, my parents! They drove up to Vancouver to watch, cheer and photograph my friends and I run the 26.2 miles! They strategically positioned themselves throughout the course and I was able to see them and hear their encouragement four times! And, there was also the support from dear strangers — I quickly realized that if you want someone to cheer for you, look them directly in the eye and they will!

Like I said, I was “on track to PR” throughout the entire race — as long as you don’t include the last mile. More or less, my body “felt good” (considering it had been pounding the pavement for four hours) and I was confident I would break 4:23:29 (my fastest marathon time). In the last two races, my body died around mile 18 or 20 and I was in pretty horrible pain all over for the remaining 6 to 8 miles. This time, my body was “fine” even at mile 25! I looked at my watch at the 25-mile mark and calculated that I had about a minute to minute-and-a-half buffer. (My average pace at that point was about 10 minute/mile pace).

However, once I emerged onto the last straight away — curse you, Pender Street and your incline! — my body and/or brain shut down. Suddenly I couldn’t feel my hands. They felt numb. I couldn’t feel my feet either. I can’t even remember now if anything hurt. But, I was hitting the wall — at the last mile. It was the longest one mile of my entire life. A stranger even yelled, “Kristin! Breathe and count to 10!” — I guess this is just how bad I looked! Someone was telling me to breathe! I wasn’t walking but I may as well have been at the pace I was shuffling.

When I turned the corner and saw the finish line 100 meters away, I had enough to reel out the “infamous Kristin kick” that always makes an appearance at race finishes. Apparently my friends were at that corner cheering for me and said I made eye contact with them — that I looked right at them. I have no memory of this. I guess I looked right through them.

Immediately after I crossed the finish, my lungs felt heavy — I told you I had some kick even if it was probably the shortest kick I have ever kicked! (am I using the word “kick” too much?) A volunteer quickly came toward me and asked me if I was OK. “I just need to stand here for a second I said” as other finishers walked and stumbled past me to receive their medals. The woman motioned for me to have a seat in a nearby wheelchair. “Oh, I’m OK, I just need water,” I said. The kind volunteer brought me a water bottle and because I thought my hands were still numb, I had her take off the cap for me. And then I drank the entire bottle in two or three gulps.

I wanted to cry during the last mile. The tears were ready to come, but I think I was just too crazy to even let the tears flow. After I left the volunteer and got my medal, I slowly walked to the food and to find my parents and friends. Again, I wanted to cry. “I let my PR (figuratively) slip through my fingers!” I thought to myself. I felt like I had just “given up” in that last one mile, that I could have dug deeper.

I’m only friends with marathoners 🙂

I didn’t give up. I trained in the snow, rain and (some) sun for that one day. I declined going out many times so I could wake up at a decent hour to do long runs on Saturday mornings. I didn’t walk during my marathon. For turning into a crazy person for that last mile, my 4:26:57 finish time is pretty good, I’d say. When I tell this story about how I finished this marathon, everyone’s immediate reaction has been: It sounds like you were drunk.

I wasn’t drunk, I was just running a marathon.

 

The do-what-I-feel marathon training

I had 17 months between my first marathon and my second one. This time, for some reason, I gave myself seven months. (And to be clear, this wasn’t seven months of full-on training).

And, unlike the last two times when I took my training “seriously,” this time, I kind of just went by “how I felt.” This led to pushing my training schedule back a few weeks because one weekend I skipped on my long run and went bowling, and another time went to see cute animals at the zoo.

In the past, I always participated in “no-alcohol-in-my-body-the-one-month-before-race-day.” Not that I am even a big drinker, but I always thought that it was a good thing to participate in. This time, it was more like “Oh, but that mango Mojito sounds so tasty and it is happy hour so who cares if I am running 26.2 miles in a week.” The drink was really tasty, by the way.

The “do-what-I-feel” method is good because marathon training doesn’t have to consume your life — just a large portion of it.  However, it does have its negative points because at times one does not take training as seriously as she should.

The other morning I was getting nervous about the race — it’s going down May 6 — and my mom made a comment that was something like “WHY are you nervous? You’ve done two marathons before! You know you can do it. You even have several friends running this one too.”

But then I replied that I have never run a full marathon all by myself. The two prior ones, Joanna has always been right by my side. And, all my friends who are running Vancouver this time with me are all much faster than I am.

Vancouver Marathon 2010

My mom sort of scoffed — if you know my mom, she doesn’t really have a scoff — and said something like, “Well, don’t kill yourself. If you have to walk, then walk some of it.”

I always tell myself that I won’t walk during a race. And, I never have. (Swiveling and stopping at crowded water stations does not count as walking in my book).

I guess this time, under all the circumstances, I just want to finish. I’ll do what I feel like. And if I feel like walking? I’ll tell myself that’s not an option.

For now, I’ll do my best to get eight or more hours of sleep a night, stay hydrated, eat three well-balanced meals a day and attempt not to freak out. And if I do start to freak out?

Like I said: I do what I feel.