Marathon stories are kind of like birth stories in that they’re all basically the same, but still filled with personal meaning for the woman who wen through it. They’re also similar in that they’re super boring unless you’re going through the same thing. I used to scour the internet for stories of women who’d gotten their BQ. Here’s my contribution to the cache.
I’d already run two marathons and was pretty sure I was done with all that. The first time I ran the St. George marathon because I wanted to see if I could do it. The second time it was because I’d won a raffle for a free entry to Rock ‘n’ Roll Seattle. I hadn’t ever strictly followed a plan. I think with those two I’d just downloaded a Hal Higdon beginner plan, ran the long runs on the weekends, and then did whatever I wanted for the rest of the week. There was no speed work at all.
A little over a year ago I got a text from my sister saying that she wanted to train to qualify for the Boston marathon and that I should do it with her. I don’t remember this part clearly, but apparently I’d told her the summer before that I would never EVER run another marathon…unless it was to try to BQ.
I’d been running semi-consistently over the previous year. Emphasis on ‘semi.’ My focus had really been more weight lifting and spinning. I had a 5 mile loop around my house I’d run sometimes, but anything longer than 3 miles on the treadmill was too boring to endure.
Then she sent me a link to the Tunnel Light Marathon. Running a couple of miles in a tunnel with a headlamp? The rest on trail in the woods? I mean, that’s pretty rad. Plus, I’d be turning 40 so I had an extra bit of cushion in my time goal. Plus, the race was a year away. And finally, I’m a sucker for any type of peer pressure. I said yes.
I needed to beat 3:45 to get in, so I set my sights on under 3:40 and cracked open my copy Train Like a Mother to start planning my next year’s worth of workouts, from 10k to half marathon to marathon. I picked these plans because the mileage seemed doable, the workout schedule is flexible, and there are plenty of cross-training days built in so I could still take my beloved spin classes.
I committed 100% to those plans and, for the first time in my life, did regular speed work. From October 2016 to April 2017 I’d gone from lungs-burning at a single 8 minute treadmill mile to a half marathon PR with an average 7:54 pace. Speed work really makes you faster. Who knew?
At this point I was all set with 5 months to go until the goal marathon. So of course, this is when another sister, Claire, lets me know that the trip to Norway she and I’ve been talking about going on with my aunt in a few years has been scheduled for this August and I need to buy my tickets now.
There was no way I was going to be doing long runs on vacation, but there was no way I was going to skip out on the trip of a lifetime for marathon training. I’d committed to Gwen and I’d already put so much work into this process. Time to look for a new race.
I signed up for the Uberthon Oregon Summer marathon, adjusted my training schedule, and kept going.
My training paces during the marathon portion of my training were:
- Marathon pace: 8-8:15 min mile
- Tempo: 7:30-7:40 min mile
- Easy/Long Runs: 8:50-9:30 min mile
Weekday runs were all done on the treadmill during my lunch breaks. Weekend runs were outside starting from my house if I wanted hills, or at the Snohomish River Trail if I wanted something flat and with no stoplights. Gwen lives on the other side of the country so we’d check in by text every couple of weeks to talk about training and commiserate. For the most part, I trained alone.
Around this time I started getting obsessed with internet articles about BQers and read the Running and Advanced Running reddits like they might have today’s winning lottery numbers. I’m not sure this was a great idea. I became convinced that there were two few miles in my plan and started adding some doubles into my day and an extra mile here or there. The highest weekly mileage I ever hit was 55, which is still pretty moderate, but seeing as I have two kids and a full time job with a stupid commute and I’m in a band, that left no extra time for anything.
My the time I got to the taper there was no room left in my head for anything other than running and I was second guessing all my training, wondering if I should have done more and if I should be doing more or less at this time. Wondering if the weather in Vernonia at the peak of summer would end up crushing me and if I’d be able to get enough running in while on vacation to make a second attempt in September at Tunnel Light (that was still on!)
Finally, race day. I wrote a little bit about it in my first post. Most of it is honestly a blur. I had my tried-and-true long run breakfast of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and tried to relax as much as possible while Josh drove me from our hotel to the start line.
I mentally broke the race up into three portions – the first half until the peak of the mile 13 hill, the next 8 downhill miles, and then final flat push to the finish. It’s hard to be exact because of the garmin issues I was having, but around 18 miles in I was on track to finish around 3:35 or better. My dual mantras were “I’m flying” (to express how great this whole experience was) and “don’t be a hero” (as a check to make sure I kept my pace reasonable and didn’t try to pull any race day magic trick).
When Josh met me around mile 8 I was still feeling fresh and strong. Next time I saw him at mile 13 I was looking forward to the upcoming hill so I could finally enjoy the downhill portion I’d been promised. The last time I saw him, honestly I don’t know what mile it was, he told me he could tell I was not having fun anymore.
By the last four miles it was clear that being a hero was not something I needed to worry about. There was no more shade. I was hurting so I let myself walk through some water stations. Then I let myself walk just until the next tree. Then I picked a person and ran until I caught up with her and then let myself walk. I did not finish strong at all.
But I did finish under 3:40 by 5 seconds and that was enough to secure a Boston entry. I got my huge medal and some water and walked right to a shady tree where I sat and didn’t move for a really long time. I had enough battery left in my phone for a couple of text exchanges with Gwen to tell her I’d done it.
Eight weeks later, Gwen flew out to run the Tunnel Light Marathon. As expected, I couldn’t keep up any kind of training schedule during my trip and wasn’t nearly as prepared for this one. I kept up with her 8min pace for about 14 miles and then let her go ahead to finish in 3:32:26. A BQ time for her, but we found out later not by enough margin to get into the race for 2018. She’s unfortunately not old like me so she has to be really fast.
Here’s the craziest thing about this whole experience that took over my life for a year. I loved it. I thought the training was fun. It made me feel good to line up all those workouts in my planner, feel intimidated by the tough ones, and then check them off one by one. I felt really strong and I could measure how much stronger I was getting week to week. I loved checking in with Gwen and comparing notes.
Now that Boston training is only a month away I’m itching to get back to it. Gwen’s going for another BQ attempt in May so we’ll be training long distance together again. I’ve already written down my weekly workouts on sticky notes and put them in my weekly planner pages because I’m a nut.
So that’s the long version of my BQ story. My advice for anyone attempting this is to embrace the speed work. Also, if you can be old that really helps too. Peer pressure is a great and legitimate motivator. Finally, do not get a massage the day after the race. You will not want your legs to be touched. Three days out maybe, but the day after is for walking funny and celebrating.