Friday, June 28, 2019

Grandma's Marathon: When God is your everything, you can do anything!

The short version:

One of my race day mantras for Grandma's was "When God is your everything, you can do anything!"  I hoped that "do anything" would mean accomplishing my Big Dream Goal of a 2:45:00 or better marathon, but instead on June 22 it meant holding on for a 2:47:44 through a rough final 4.5 miles.  Although I didn't grab an OTQ, I had an amazing experience working with numerous other women who were pursuing the same dream.  I never felt like I was racing anyone, but instead that all of us were on the same team against the harsh competitor of the clock.  Although I was 30 seconds off of my PR, I believe this was my best marathon because the course is not as fast as the CIM course.  In addition, for the first time I am no longer scared of the pace I need to run to net a 2:45; it felt strong and smooth for over 21 miles.  After running 4 marathons between 2:47-2:49, I don't know if I have what it takes to run a 2:45, but I DO know that I'll never regret trying, and that I'll keep trying and enjoying the journey!

Official results (plus finishing videos) are here.

More marathon details can be found below and at:
Pre-race excitement
Warm up to half way there
Half way through 20
20 to bonk to the sweet finish line
Post-race reflections & mind-blowing stats 
After Grandma's vacation
Run Superior!
The less short version:

During my taper for Grandma's, I decided I was going all in on race day; I was either going to run under 2:45 or blow up trying.  I rationalized that I didn't need another 2:47-2:49, so if I tried for the standard, completely bombed, and ran 2:55, 3:05, or 3:15, it didn't really matter - particularly in this race where anything out of the 2:30s wouldn't place.  2:46 or 3:46 would produce the same significant outcome: not qualifying.  I felt confident that I could run 6:20 pace for the marathon, but I needed 6:17 pace...amazing what a difference a few seconds can make both mentally and physically!  If I'd have estimated my fitness at 6:30 pace, I wouldn't have gone for it, but none of us can estimate our fitness exactly (although I did before the Chisholm Trail Marathon!), so trying to run 3 seconds faster per mile than I thought I was ready for was a gamble I was willing to take.  A lot of my confidence was based on one killer workout, since my bronchitis half didn't give me much to go on, but I'd been running solid mileage and tempo workouts for the previous 2 months during my abbreviated build.

I knew numerous women would be chasing the standard at Grandma's - so many, in fact, that the elite field filled before I applied at the end of March.  I thought that if you had a qualifying time you got in, but learned that was not the case and once the field reached capacity no more elite spots were awarded.  While I did miss the elite perks I had last year, I still felt this race was my best chance at a fast time, and was excited that I'd likely have a lot of women to work with during the race.  I reached out to several other women I knew or had connected with through the #breaking245 pursuit (thanks, social media!), looking to build a pace group of women who wanted to start a little slower and build into goal pace.  Most of the ladies I spoke with wanted to start closer to 6:15, which wasn't for me, but my friend Jessi and her training partner (who is now my friend, but who I hadn't met before the race) Chandler were in for my pace plan, which was something like:  miles 1-2 at 6:25, 3-10 at 6:20, 10 on at 6:15.  I talked to a couple of other ladies who were interested in connecting, and my coach Nichole planned to start with us for the first half mile or so in her pursuit of 2:49.  I ended up doing the exact math on two similar pace plans, and memorized where I wanted to be at the 10K, half, and 20, which was 39:20-39:30 at 10K, 1:22:35-1:22:55 at 13.1, and 2:05:40-2:06:00 at 20.

I feared it could be a logistical nightmare trying to connect with Jessi, Chandler, and Nichole before the race, but we all ended up meeting up easily and getting on the starting line together.  The temperature was wonderful for late June, at about 50 degrees, but the sun was powerfully bright in the clear sky.  The 7:45 a.m. start was delayed until 7:53 a.m., and while we were all dying to get going I kept thinking that every minute we waited was a minute hotter it was going to get.  But soon we were off!

Jessi, Chandler, and I stayed together in the crowds as the field gradually thinned out.  It remained crowded for quite a bit longer than last year, and there were packs and packs of women all around.  After racing by feel in nearly all my races for the past 18 months, I looked at nearly all of my mile splits during this race.  I just figured I'd be the idiot who would run 2:45:01 due to not looking at my watch!  I also didn't want to go too fast too early, which is generally not an issue for me, but could happen when tapered, in good conditions, and with so many women around.  I didn't obsess about my watch or look at it between miles, but every time it beeped I checked my split.

The beginning miles passed quickly and on pace, and I occasionally chatted with Chandler and Jessi and others around us.  The effort felt strong and smooth, and we passed the 10K in 39:05, which was a little faster than I'd planned, mainly because miles 1-2 had been 6:20 instead of 6:25.  I told Chandler and Jessi I thought we should stay at about 6:20 through the half instead of dropping to 6:15 at mile 10, and they agreed.

The half came in 1:22:37 and I said to myself and out loud to Jessi and Chandler, "All we have to do is that again, about 15 seconds faster."  It felt do-able.  I began saying the mantra "I'm qualifying today" to myself.  We picked up with several other women at various points during the race, and everyone had the standard on their minds and race agenda.  It was such a supportive environment, and I loved being out there with so many strong women!  Before the race I prayed that every woman chasing the standard would achieve it, and I continued to pray that during the race.  We were all on Team OTQ together.
Chandler & Jessi leading one of the many
packs we were part of during the race
At several points during the race, we passed women who I did not expect I would ever be passing; women whose training I followed who I expected to comfortably surpass the standard, women who had histories of times in the 2:30's, women in pro racing kits.  My heart went out to those who were suffering early on; the marathon can be cruel.

The sun beat down on us, even though the temperature never rose out of the 50's.  I took a cup of water and a cup of ice at every aid station, drinking the water, then drinking the melted ice water before dropping half of the ice into my racing crop and the other half down my shorts (fun fact: cooling your crotch is one of the most effective ways to cool yourself, due to all of the veins and arteries in that area).

Around mile 18, I felt a dip in my energy level for the first time.  I started on my third gel (I took my first and second around 10K and 20K), and quickly perked up from the sugar and caffeine.  Relief followed, and I pepped myself up:  "Only 8 miles to go!  You've got this!  You're qualifying today."

Jessi was feeling really good and picking up the pace.  I didn't feel comfortable dropping under 6:15 at that point, so after seeing mile 19 come in 6:08, I wished her the best and backed off slightly (a little too much in mile 20, but I was still feeling good).  Chandler and I stayed together and Jessi really put the pedal to the metal.  I'd told her before the race that based on her half times I thought she could run 2:40-2:42, and she did (2:41, with her final 10K in the 36's - in contrast to mine that was 42:07, ick!).  She was a brilliant racer with starting off conservatively and then dropping the hammer.

Chandler and I passed mile 20 in 2:05:37, and I calculated that we could run the final 10K in 39:20 (6:20 pace) and make it.  I again told myself, "You're qualifying today!"  Chandler asked if we were still on pace and I told her we were perfect.  I saw a runner from Kansas who I really admire, Raquel, up ahead of us, and pushed to reel her in.  As I pulled up by her, I started to feel fatigue creeping in.  I asked her if she could help me in, and she told me she would do anything she could to help me qualify; she already had a qualifying time.  Runners are amazing people!  Unfortunately, I got separated from her at an aid station and couldn't pick back up to her, though.
With Raquel after the race
The course is net uphill from mile 18 to 22.5.  It's gentle so you don't really notice it during the race, and even Lemon Drop hill is pretty minor, but on tired legs it can affect pace (I remembered this from last year but chose to ignore it).  Around mile 21.5, I really started running out of gas.  Strong and smooth became struggling real fast.  I tore into my "emergency" gel around mile 22, hoping I'd get the boost I'd gotten from my mile 18 gel, but I didn't perk up this time, plus I choked on the gel, coughing until I made it to the next aid station for water to wash it down.  People ahead of me began pulling farther ahead of me.  I was passed by a couple of men, and ordered my legs to go with them, but they wouldn't go.  Chandler pulled ahead and encouraged me to come with her, but my body wouldn't.  I kept my self-talk positive, "It can turn around, you're still on 6:17 average, you can do this, your body can do more than your mind wants to allow, it's not about how you feel it's about what you're trained for, that guy up there is 2:45 - catch him."  I tried everything I could.  It didn't work.  Qualifying was fading away and there was nothing I could do to catch it.  I stayed positive, while at the same time knowing I wasn't "qualifying today" after all.
Course elevation
I pushed with all I could for those final miles, and it certainly wasn't pretty, but I got it done.  My body just didn't have any more to give; I felt out of gas, even though I felt fine aerobically and was never breathing hard.  Fatigue pulled my neck and head backwards, as it tends to at the end of marathons.  I saw the mile 25 clock tick by in 2:38:59, a time about 2 minutes slower than I hoped to see at mile 25.  I was lightheaded in the last mile, but we can do anything for a mile!  Seeing the finish line was such sweet relief.  I stumbled in and stopped my watch, knowing I'd run a good marathon but that it wasn't enough.  I must have looked pretty bad, because two volunteers grabbed me as I crossed the line and walked with me for a while (this was captured on my finishing videos for all infamy, hah).  I normalized and picked up my medal, shirt, and lots of water before getting a few finishing photos and seeing my parents at the side of the chute.
I fought for this
My fatigue lean
In hindsight, I'd say I was ready to run 6:20-6:25, so by trying to run 6:15-6:20, I suffered hard at the end and couldn't hold pace.  It's crazy what a difference 5 seconds a mile can make!  I thought I ran out of glycogen because of the pace; my coach thought I just wasn't quite strong enough to hold the pace through the end due to my short training cycle (I only began working with her on April 1) - Strava made this video to summarize my training cycle, although I don't know how many weeks it summaries.  Either way, I wasn't quite there for this one.  Running how I did isn't the smart way to run a marathon or the way to PR (anyone will always get more out of themselves with a more conservative start and negative split), but I was close enough to 2:45 fitness that I had to risk it and try!
Jessi netted her OTQ & Chandler grabbed a huge PR!
It's hard to be unhappy with a 2:47 marathon.  However, it is very difficult to be satisfied with a 2:47 marathon, given the Olympic Trials standard!  Funny, before the race I said I didn't need another 2:47-2:49, but I got another one anyhow, and of course I am thankful that I got it over a time in the 2:50's or over 3:00.  I will also always treasure the experience that I had working with so many other women going all in that day at Grandma's.

And it's still true that when God is your everything, you can do anything.  Every marathon I understand more why the Christian faith is often compared to a race.  In both, we press on to a prize worth fighting for.  The world is hard and everyone has struggles that don't make sense, but what a prize awaits us in heaven!  Races are often a struggle, but the finish line is so sweet.  "I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Jesus Christ." - Philippians 3:14
Splits - my Garmin usually short-changes me
(it read 26.19 in this one)
Splits with grade-adjusted paces 1
Splits with grade-adjusted paces 2
I agree that CIM is a faster course!
How not to pace the end of a marathon
Read my detailed recaps starting here...


  1. Loved this recap! You’ve got this!

    1. Thank you! I don't know if I do, but I know I'll try. :-)

  2. That Strava video was pretty cool! I love that attitude of, "I don't know if I can, but I'll try." That's all you can do, keep trying. I really think with this cycle being effected by injury and the conversion for CIM, it will come at CIM! I'm super excited to keep watching you try. Whether you get there or not, you've been an inspiration. It's scary to go out there and put yourself out there like you did, especially feeling like you were more in shape to run 5 seconds per mile slower. I know what a difference even a few seconds per mile can make in how I feel at the end of a half. You are so tough!

    1. Strava emailed me that video after the race - I assume they made them for everyone who ran Grandma's. I'm not sure how many weeks of training it covered, but it was fun to watch.

      I really enjoy the training and was planning to run a fall marathon no matter what. When I initially set this goal I didn't realize how long it could take, but I think if I accomplish it that will make it that much sweeter. Even if my best is always 2:47, I don't think I'd have run it twice without training for the 2:45. And like I said, I'll never regret trying!

      Grandma's also really showed me how many women are trying for it (more than ever before), and it's really neat to be a part of that. I've already talked to several women who didn't get it at Grandma's who will be trying along with me at CIM.

    2. That is very exciting! And you are part of a very exclusive club of women who have a shot at that standard. That in itself is something to be proud of. And like you've quoted before, "Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss you will land among the stars." You've already reached the stars!

  3. I love your recap and feel every emotion as I read it. I still miss participating in such a grueling, yet enjoyable event. Keep at it Sara as long as you can. On On. Chet Smith

  4. I am so grateful for the insight I gain in reading your race recaps. Working with other women toward an OTQ is something I look forward to experiencing in races someday.