Well, it's over.
It's kind of hard to believe. I've been preparing for this race for months and months, to have it all be over in a day.
I got up super early on race day - I'm usually a person who rolls out of bed and cruises to the start line with mere minutes to spare. But this time, be it nerves or knowing what kind of prep it takes to even get to the start line. So I was up at 5:30. I went and grabbed an egg and put it on top of my (cold) rice and ate as much as I could stomach.
I foam rolled my right quad and did the resistance band exercises trainer-coach recommended. When I said goodbye to Joe, I cracked. All I remember is bursting into tears and blubbing, "What if I can't?" It was the final moment of doubt. All I wanted was to go into this with zero uncertainty, to know that I had trained and that I was ready. Joe came back with "Well, we'll cry about it later, not now."
And then I sauntered over to the waiting area for the shuttle bus to the start.
One of my favorite feelings during a whole race is the pre-race silence with your fellow runners. We all sat on the curb in a silent electricity. Maybe all of us were thinking about what we wanted to accomplish. Maybe we were all thinking about our play lists. Maybe we weren't thinking at all.
I got to the start area an unprecedented 50 minutes ahead of time. Gave me a chance to take it all in:
Could have been worse.
I paced around the start area, getting a lay of the land: portos, pace group gatherings, a good place to plop down and get dressed. Since my track days, I don't usually show up to the race in my sneakers and the clothes I'm planning on running in. Usually it's flip flops and a hoodie with some tear away pants. Why mess with a pre-race ritual?
So eventually, I got dressed, and I was ready to go!
My best friend and running buddy met me at the start line - which was awesome for a bunch of reasons. One of them was the baggage check line spanned into New York State, so there was no way I was going to be able to store my bag before the gun time. It was also just great to have someone there to help the nerves. She gave me her running hat (white to match). There wasn't a cloud in the sky - perfect for a beach day, FAIL for a long, long run like mine. I needed something to keep the sun off my face (plus, my biggest fear is looking like a raisin before 40).
Finally, I got into the start corral. I actually ran into the 1 person I knew who was running, right in front of the 4:30 pace group. The chances of that happening seemed so low - but then I got to commiserate while we waited for actual starting gun (and not puke everywhere...because that's how I felt). Finally, the gun went off.
I crossed the mats, and just started running. I mean, what else was I going to do?
I found the 4:45 pace group and stuck by them, holding my breath, waiting to see what my knee would be able to take. About 2 miles in, I realized how hot it was going to be that day. It was probably only in the 60s at the start, but it was also 8 AM. I had run in the heat in Boston, but there was also a ton of shade around the Charles path, so while it's hot, there is always a lot of relief.
I saw my entourage around mile 3, and then I was off for the first 6+ mile stretch outside Burlington.
The most striking thing to me about Burlington was the distribution of spectators. While I liked that I came through downtown 3 times before the finish, and the crowd through Burlington was energizing, the other stretches were boring and soul-sucking.
The 4ish to 8ish mile loop was only saved by the fact that it was an out-and-back turnaround leg, meaning that we eventually were running by the elites (which is always cool - to see people with those strides and that kind of power is always inspiring and humbling all at once) and the other pace groups. Since we were less than 10K in, nerves and spirits were still high, so everyone was cheery and encouraging when we saw each other.
I cruised past the 5 mile marker, and then went on high alert - waiting for any sign from my knee area that it was about to lock up and that my race would be over. I took at picture of the mile 6 marker to tell my friends that I had at least made it through my first hurdle. Miles 7 through 8 were a long, grinding hill. Like a fool, I spent a ton of energy trying to stay with the 4:45 pace group up this hill, lest I look like a wimp to my friends to be dropped before mile 9. Total idiot.
So I caught 4:45 and came through downtown Burlington at miles 9 and 10. Bands were rocking. I saw my entourage. Things were looking good.
Miles 10 and 11 were pretty terrible. There were spectators, sure. But we're in this long stretch of warehouses and commercial areas, no shade in sight. And that's when the sun started slowly crushing my will to run/live. Around 12, I lost 4:45 for good. I didn't even really care. Now it wasn't about time. It was about getting through it. (I ate more GU gummies to help my brain space...being this angry at 13 is not a good way to enter the 51%.)
So from 12 to 13, there was a gorgeous view of the lake (for about 100m) and a Newfie that was the size of a small bear. I actually asked the owners if I could ride him to the finish line. They politely declined.
I pushed through to 13.1, where the 2 person relay hand-off was. People were in happy and peppy, mostly because they were either ending or just beginning. I wasn't doing either, so I glared. Don't get me wrong - I'm all for the half and whole race day...but I think splitting the whole into 2 halves and watching fresh legs speed away while you have 13.1 on your legs and need to go 13.1 more is cruel. (And don't EVEN GET ME STARTED on the 5-person relay they had going. More on that around 21.)
But 13 to 14 were easily the best views of Lake Champlain. And there was a breeze which was pretty clutch. Around 13.5, a friend called me. I literally had to pick up (since it was interrupting my tunes!) and answer with "I'm running a marathon...what's up?" This may be the most creative hello I've ever had.
At 13.7 I stopped to stretch. Another girl stopped with me; all we did was look at each other and laugh. There are no words for the pain, the emotions, the knowing that you're over halfway there, but still have so far to go.
Thennnn around 13.9, I realized I was going to have to run up the giant-ass hill. OH COME ON.
At 14ish, I saw my fluorescent entourage again. One of them said, "Amy, you're not even sweating!" thinking it was a compliment. I replied with "Um....that's bad." And I picked up some more food and water. And I looked up at the hill. Welp, this was it.
There were these AWESOME drums (that you can hear in this video of the race) that literally propelled me up the hill. I also knew that 2 of my best friends were up there, waiting for me. I couldn't look like a pussy! So slowly but surely, I started climbing that hill. You can see how far it was and the incline:
Allllll the way behind me was my food and water pick up. Ugh, that thing was a beast, but I saw my girls waiting for me at the top and just focused on getting to them. When I got to them, I hugged them like I had just come out of captivity or something. My face pretty much said it all, the perfect mixture of joy and pain:
And then I was on my way for the final 11 miles, with no entourage action until the end.
Miles 15.5 through 19 seem to be a blur in my head. There were people with spraying hoses and a little shade to take the edge off. Somewhere in there I think there was a little kid with a broken arm handing out ice chips with his mom. I stopped and asked "What happened, buddy?" and he replied with, "I broke my arm...but not by running." At some point around there, I saw the 5:00 pace group, and kind of deflated. Especially since they dropped me pretty quickly. It was the nail in the coffin that I would not break 5 hours in this race.
But really, I really, really didn't care. I felt a thousand times stronger than I felt in Chicago. I had trained. I had actually prepared for this race. I guess for some people, that would make the missing the goal time sting more, but for me, it was more comforting. I'd finish when I finished. Regardless of what the time was when I crossed the line, I knew I had succeeded in many other ways.
It was in the middle of that thought process that I hit the wall. At about 19.5. With 6.3 to go. Ugh. So I started running 2 minutes, walking a minute. My pace slowed from the 11ish pace I was carrying to high 13s. Joe texted me that he was waiting for me at mile 24 - which could have been 1000 miles away as far as I was concerned.
When I got onto the bike path - the final 5ish miles, I was just spent. I didn't know where I was, I was so tired that I couldn't even think about what the distance would be at home (which is one of my tricks to getting through stretches of the unknown), and my stomach was grumbling. While I was eating literally anything I had left in my pouch, this girl goes powering by me. Not like...oh, running a couple minutes walking a couple minutes...full on 5-K pace. So here's the thing: I'm a back-of-the-packer. When you're not trying to Boston Qualify, you're hanging out in the 4ish hour and beyond, you are not at 5-K pace at mile 21. (For reference, my 5-K pace is somewhere in the low 9s...and I was running 13:40s at mile 21).
I think the final straw was the 5-person relay team aspect. I mean, I get it. Marathons take a lot out of you: 18 weeks of training, grueling mileage and speed work, the time commitment, the wear and tear on your legs. But...really? 5 people? That's like...a little over 5 miles a person. That's not even a 10K. So take your fresh legs for the last 5, and get real. I love my fellow runners, and I would never belittle someone whose goal was different than mine...but I was really insulted that these people are flying through this marathon course, picking off all the people who dedicated 18+ weeks to training and really experiencing and appreciating the marathon as a personal accomplishment. I think relay teams are great - just during a relay event. It is what drove me to decide I will never run this race again. [/rant]
The one plus of the bike path was the sporadic views of the lake:
So I kept on. I saw Joe a little after 24, and the first thing he said to me was, "You can still PR." I had been watching my time tick by on my watch, calculating how many minutes I had left to PR (to that point, my best time was 5:18:07 at Baystate in 2009) - dividing that time by the mileage I had left, and then comparing that to what my mile splits were to that point. So yes, I knew I could PR. I was hoping I actually would - but in past races, I have become complacent with only a couple miles to go, thinking I could dog it, and then tacking on unnecessary time onto my finish. So I tried not to think about it. My legs didn't really care, anyway. They were dead and achy.
After Joe handed me more water bottles, I croaked, "Run with me". I was so lonely on this path. I had no one to talk to, I didn't know where I was, and the finish could have been in New Hampshire for all I knew. So like a champ, he ran-walked with me. He let me run ahead when we saw one of the course photographers, so that it would be a picture of just myself. He stayed with me through about 25.75, and then told me the rest was mine. I moaned and started jogging on without him.
I turned a corner, and someone yells "You only have a quarter mile from here!" I was like A QUARTER MILE?! And my legs forgot about the 25.95 they had gone, and I started to run. I got onto the sidewalk, that I knew led to the finish line, and I was ready. I started picking people off, one by one (I think I accidentally elbowed an old man - sorry!) and saw the banner that said ALMOST DONE that was attached to 2 hay bales. I knew I had PR'ed - I only had a little bit to go, and I was in the 5:13 zone:
So I cranked. Oh God, it hurt so bad and was so euphoric at the same time.
They said my name as I crossed the finish line. 5:14:41. I PR'd by 3+ minutes. I felt great.
I got my medal and met my entourage to give them all the biggest hugs, ever:
I really have to give a shout out to my friends and my sister for making the trek up to Vermont with me, and were my support system - not just on race day, but since I started reevaluating running last May. These guys keep me going through the exhaustion and the pain:
After I finished a large Ben & Jerry's ice cream, I sat down to take my sneakers off. Around mile 7, I had realized I forgot to put the anti-chafe on my feet. I cursed myself, but I never felt any pain, which was a win. So I nonchalantly start peeling off my socks, to find this gem (warning: it's pretty frikken gross):
So after a trip to the med tent to fix it up (thanks to those poor medics who touched my feet AND THEN had to deal with the blister) - we were headed to the bar! I got my celebratory beer (aptly named the Ayinger Celebrator):
I made it about 5 sips in and then......
All in all, it was a great weekend, and a fun race. I have 136 days until Newport (let the countdown begin!) but for now, I'm focusing on resting and recovering (and reading about how to break through that wall).
Special thanks to Val and Tim, who documented Burlington awesomely - I swiped a bunch of their pictures for this post.
The quest for 4:59:59 begins again on July 8th!