Monday, November 7, 2016

Because taking no chances means wasting your dreams: Bass Pro Marathon

Going into this marathon, I knew the risks involved.  I was exactly 4 weeks off of my first sub-3:00 performance at Prairie Fire, and trying to run 2 all-out marathons in 4 weeks is a trick.  I went into the race knowing there was a chance I’d fall apart, or even DNF, but there was also a chance I could net my second sub-3:00, so I took the chance!

Everything about the race was relaxed.  I picked up my packet on my Friday lunch break at work, with the race expo being 1.1 miles from my office!  I stuck to my typical routines during the week leading up to the race, including a super busy week at work that made me forget I was even tapering.  I was also so excited for Jamie’s marathon at Indianapolis Monumental, and for Missy and Ashley’s halves at Bass Pro that I really didn’t think about my race.  I ate at home and slept in my own bed on race eve – which is hard to beat!  I also had 5 amazing family members in from out of town (my parents, brother-in-law, niece, and nephew), in addition to my husband and daughter.

Marathon morning, I arrived at Bass Pro with my family, met Missy and Ashley for an easy mile warm-up, talked to many wonderful area runners pre-race, and reveled in the hometown feel of the event.  Standing on the starting line at PF, I was nervous and anxious; standing on the starting line at BP I was calm and relaxed.  I also knew at the start that I’d be racing for third, with Kim Reed and Camille Herron (100K World Champion) in the event.  Two very inspiring women who have netted several Olympic Trials Qualifying marathon times each!

Ashley, me, Missy - we rule the farm roads at 5 a.m. & McDonalds on race morning
I started the race with Scott, who was also gunning for a sub-3:00.  Scott and I ran side by side from the gun through mile 17!  We ran with some other men here and there, including one who was with us for many miles and also aiming to go sub-3:00 (he ran 3:00:08!).  From mile 1 on no one passed us, but we picked off many men.  The miles flew by and our pacing was excellent; Scott told me I was a metronome.  I was constantly comparing where I was at in the race to where I was at at the same point in PF, and it was always quite close, e.g., opening 10K of 43:10 at BP vs. 43:16 at PF; half of 1:29:38ish (based on mile 13 course marker, as there was no half mat) at BP and 1:29:40 at PF.  I also had on a course-specific pace band targeted at 2:58:44, or 6:49 pace exactly, based on a conservative start and adjusted for course elevation changes, and I was right where I wanted to be with it through the half.  I felt strong, despite more challenging elevation at BP compared to PF, but also not as fresh as I had at PF, and in the back of my mind I had concerns about running this with PF already on my legs.   I planned to enjoy the ride as long as it lasted though!

Running happy with Scott!
As we passed mile 17, Scott told me he needed to back off a little, and he did but barely.  I pressed on, but he was still pretty close behind.  I couldn’t see anyone else in front of me on the frequently turning course at that point - which was very reminiscent of PF! – but I was so thankful to have had Scott with me for so many miles, and I felt confident I could gut out the final 9 on my own if I needed to.

At mile 19, I was about 25 seconds under my pace band, so I did the math and figured that if I ran the rest of my miles at 3 seconds each under my pace band course miles, I could pull out a high 2:57.  I thought I could do that, and I was pretty excited at the prospect of another sub-3:00 and even a possible PR -- but I also knew that it wasn't over until it's over!  I've run enough marathons to know that I felt good enough at mile 19 to know that I was not going to bonk, but there is a difference between not bonking and finishing at 6:30 pace vs. not bonking and finishing at 6:55 pace.

The pace band
At about 20.5, we came upon Phelps Grove Park and a fork in the road.  I didn’t see any newly painted green arrows, and there was no one standing at the fork or anywhere near it.  I had no idea which way to go.  In the past, the race has gone left there, and there were several arrows going left (there are a lot of races in that area).  But someone had told me this week that they thought the course changes had us going right around Phelps Grove.  I hesitated.  I did a little back and forth dance at the fork.  I even said out-loud, "Which way?!".  I almost burst into tears from indecision.

The marathon is a metaphor for life in so many ways, and sometimes in life, we make split second decisions that change our lives.  At this point in my marathon, I made a split second decision that changed my marathon; I went left.

What felt like both a second and an eternity later, I heard Scott screaming my name and looked back to see him turning right.  I knew then I’d made the wrong call.  I had a huge shot of adrenaline as I turned on a dime and went back right.  Scott told me he'd yelled 3 times before I'd heard; he was a saint for continuing to scream at me, at a time I know he was hurting!  I picked back up with Scott and our other sub-3:00 seeker Kevin and berated myself.  They told me not to panic.  I was panicking (funny because I had been Miss Positivity for our group until then, shooting down their negative comments about falling off pace and telling them they were great!)!  I anxiously awaited the next course mile marker to see how much time I’d lost.  I came through mile 21 nearly a full minute behind my total pace band goal at that course mile, so realized that I’d lost about 1:20-1:30 or probably 0.2-0.25.  I was so angry at myself for making the wrong choice, and also worried that I wouldn’t even make it under 3:00 because the mistake.  I also started worrying that the adrenaline I'd just experienced would do me in prematurely.

I regrouped the best I could and pressed the final 5 miles; that was all I could do at that point.  I felt far better than I did at PF as I passed the final mile markers, but all I could think about was my error and what it had cost me.  I knew I was going to have to close strong to still get under 3:00, and I was worried about the final 2 miles and all of the incline in them.  And I was just so mad at myself.

One of my big goals for this race was to finish with a stronger 10K than at PF, and I ended up with a 6:37 average for the final 6.59 -- and I passed a lot of men in those miles!  A man I didn’t know ran me in from about 24-25.25 after a friend of his didn't want to be run in (!!), the female lead cyclist came back for me for about the final mile, and Missy and Ashley ran me in from around 25.3-26!  I was shocked and amazed that I kept my final 2 miles in the 6:30s, as I’d budgeted them at 7:00 miles on my pace band because I couldn’t even close strongly on them last year when I ran this as a training run.

Ashley took this while she & Missy were running me in, haha!  These girls were tough!
I finished in 2:59:04 – my second sub-3:00 marathon ever, coming 4 weeks after my first sub-3:00!  I was so very thankful to still make it under, but it was so bittersweet being 11 seconds (11 seconds!!) off of a PR, 5 seconds off of the 2:58s, and feeling that I would have run a high-2:57 without the wrong turn.  My Garmin had 26.59 for my distance, compared to 26.37 at PF, which had just as many turns.  Garmins will often read slightly over on correct certified courses (plus you don't typically run every tangent); the course is right and your Garmin is wrong, but this time I ran the wrong course!  I was 3rd overall female, and I wasn't at all close, but I also wasn't as far behind those women as I anticipated, which I believe also shows that this is not a fast course (they ran 2:44 and 2:52, while both have PRs in the 2:30s).

Garmin shot
However, I guess nothing is for certain, and maybe without that extra adrenaline and emotion from my wrong turn, I wouldn’t have closed as quickly in the final miles, and therefore not gotten the confidence boost of knowing I can improve my PR.  Maybe the error distracted me from the pain and enabled me to finish strong.  This can certainly be filed under “first world problems,” and although it was so important to me, I’m working to let it go (admittedly, after many hours of post-marathon insomnia asking myself – “Why didn’t you just go right?”!).  God has blessed me greatly with all of my races this season, and the perfectionist in me always finds what didn’t go right, but I also need to remember all that did.  Most of all I am thankful for the opportunity and thankful for being healthy through it!  I am so thankful for the support of my family, friends, and training partners.  It’s likely I wouldn’t have done either sub-3:00 had I not met Missy almost a year ago – she has been such an amazing support and I love her to death!

In true Sara fashion, there will be a few more Bass Pro blogs.  I’m glad I took this chance and accomplished a dream for a second time, but I also know that God’s plans are better than anything I can dream up on my own!  Onward!

Splits 1
Splits 2


  1. OMG. Why can't they mark course turns? That's such an amazing recovery. I think the natural reaction would be to blow up, but you re-focused and achieved another sub-3. Maybe there's something to this "marathon every 4 weeks" thing.

    1. To their credit, it was marked on the ground, but I couldn't see it from the side of the road I was running on (the left) and there were MULTIPLE arrows in the area because they have a lot of races around that area. It was definitely a spot they needed a volunteer or cones. Aside from waking up in the middle of the night thinking, "Why didn't I go right?!" repeatedly, I've been handling it I guess. I KNOW I can run faster now.

      And I think there is something to be said for using one marathon as your longest long run for your next marathon, but it's also a roll of the dice and you don't know what you're going to get from it until that second race day! Glad I gambled though!