When I chose CIM, I selected it with the express purpose of trying for a 2:45:00 or faster marathon. God placed the dream of achieving an Olympic Trials Qualifying time on my heart, and after an almost painful amount of marathon research I decided that CIM would be my best chance after the qualifying window for the 2020 Trials opened this fall. As race day grew closer, I felt like I was ready for a PR, but not for a 2:45. 2:46-2:47 felt more realistic, and I lamented on this quite a bit during my taper. I ended up deciding to target 2:46:55, 6:22 pace.
As marathons always do, once the race began, it took on a personality of it's own. Miles 1-10 were at an average of 6:22 pace - right where I wanted to be. Then something clicked in my head, and for the first time I felt confident that I could run a 2:45:00 after all. I typically hit a stride like this in the marathon, where I feel like I can conquer the world. I start thinking with endorphins, and thoughts like "6:15 is way too fast for that many miles" are replaced with "6:15 seems doable for the rest of the race". Around mile 10, I could hear my husband's advice in my head: "You should try for the 2:45; if you lose it at the end, you lose it at the end...but you'll never get it without trying." I could hear my coach saying, "6:22 is a good starting pace, but don't be afraid to drop the pace as the race progresses." I prayed, "God, please make us strong and brave" ("us" being my friends Jamie, Kris, and I -- full story about the miles I spent with each of them during this race to come). I suddenly believed that I could run the remaining 16 miles of the race at 6:15 pace, which I knew would get me in at just under 2:45.
From miles 10-22.5ish I did just that. Each mile that passed I was hitting right around 6:15 pace, with some variation for elevation, and each time I passed a mile marker I just knew I could run the remaining distance at 6:15 pace. A similar thing happened to me at BMO Mesa-Phoenix, when I just knew I had the rest of the race in me at 6:30 pace or better (on the other hand, at Dallas I knew I was going to come up a few miles short). Mile 18 - yep, I've got 8 more miles of 6:15s in me. Mile 19 - yes, I can do 7 more miles of this. Doubt crept in here and there, and I would question if I had enough left, but I just kept running the mile I was in and praying to be brave. When I hit mile 20 in 2:06:10, I believed I could run the final 10K in 38:50, or 6:15 pace. For the first time in this entire training cycle, I fully believed I was ready for a 2:45. I thought of all of the fast finish runs I'd done; I was ready to close with a solid 10K.
Then around mile 22.5, my neck started spasming. My legs were still intact, so initially I didn't worry, but tried to tilt it forward and to the sides for some relief. It quickly worsened, and I also became dizzy. I knew it was the benign paroxsymal positional vertigo (BPPV) I'd experienced during my taper, and I knew it was trying to steal my 2:45! I wasn't going to let it take my dream without a fight, but I quickly felt like I was losing the battle. I felt like a puppet, my head pulled back on a string. I couldn't keep my head forward and I couldn't see the road. My peripheral vision was off and I almost felt like I was running into the unknown. I tried to focus on a girl's head in front of me, and kept telling myself "just follow her in, just get in". I didn't see my final 3 mile splits because I couldn't look at my watch, but they weren't nearly good enough for the 2:45 (6:40, 6:46, 7:01 -- I did see mile 23 which was 6:26 for the start of my slow-down). I wasn't sure I was going to make it in at all, so my disappointment with slowing down was replaced with thankfulness to finish. Something is going to give at the end of a marathon, and this was just it for me in this one.
I crossed the finish line in 2:47:14, a PR by over 2 minutes on a course that was more difficult than where I ran my 2:49 (you can't earn an OTQ at Phoenix due to the amount of net downhill). I was overcome by so many sensations at once: excruciating pain as I fell to the ground in the finish chute, joy for the PR and to have made it to the finish, and disappointment that after finally feeling like I could run a 2:45 for about 12.5 miles, I was unable to even come close. I finished 65th female in the USATF National Marathon Championships, after not being seeded in the top 100 going in.
Could I have run faster had I stayed at 6:20-6:22 pace instead of dropping to 6:15? Most likely; pretty much anytime you slow down at the end of a marathon you're well-trained for it's because you didn't pace within your capacity earlier on, and it's always better to negative split. I may have gotten in at 2:46:30ish, but I still wouldn't have gotten the standard. As much as I hate not having a strong finish, I am glad I took the risk. A marathon PR is always a risk, and this Big Time Goal was a Big Gamble for me.
One thing that's changed in addition to my bright shiny new PR is that, for the first time, I feel confident I can run a 2:45. It's going to take everything going right (no BPPV!), but now I know I have it in me. Phoenix was a turning point because I knew I had to try (who is going to run a 2:49 and not try?); CIM was the point that I knew I could do it (who is going to be content with a 2:47 when that 2:45 is right there?!). Just like after my 2:49 at Phoenix, even if I never run a faster marathon, I am really proud that I ran a 2:47. I am thankful God gave me the strength to run it and put people in my life to help me get there. It wasn't that long ago that 6:22.7 pace was my 10K pace, and it flummoxes me to think that I ran 19:49 5Ks for 26.2 miles straight.
I have over 2 years to find 134 more seconds. Trying is always going to be intimidating, because it's freakin' 6:17 pace for 26.2 miles! But as at CIM, God will make me brave enough to try.
Official results are here. This link also has a few race videos and links to several super ridiculous-looking race photos (the crazy posture I ran the final few miles in is illustrated well, and I now can't look at them without laughing!).
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